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Member since: Sat Dec 6, 2008, 12:53 PM
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What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower “with its top in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:

Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.

The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension.

The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.

It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.

Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?


Engineering armour for good gut bacteria against all-conquering antibiotics

Researchers of synthetic biology based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US have devised a system to protect the gut microbiome from the effects of antibiotics.

The new study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, reports on the successful use in mice of a “live biotherapeutic” – a genetically engineered bacterium that produces an enzyme which breaks down antibiotics in the gut.

“This work shows that synthetic biology can be harnessed to create a new class of engineered therapeutics for reducing the adverse effects of antibiotics,” says MIT professor James Collins, the paper’s senior author.


Eta this is a big deal because people who have to take a lot of antibiotics over time can develop life threatening growths of a bacteria called c. diff which can take over the gut biome and kill you. This new therapy prevents that.

How Russia Evades Sanctions via Syrian Loan Schemes

The Russian Federation extended two loans totaling $1 billion to Syria with the condition that the money be used exclusively for payment to specific Russian companies during a six-month window, with a penalty on any unused funds thereafter, New Lines has learned from a leaked tranche of documents.

The Russian companies listed in the agreement include those belonging to oligarchs Gennady Timchenko and Yevgeny Prigozhin, who have been sanctioned by the U.S. and EU for their role in facilitating President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s mercenary army, the Wagner Group, has also been implicated in gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in Syria including the torture and mutilation of a Syrian army deserter.

According to the documents New Lines has examined, companies controlled by Timchenko and Prigozhin stand to gain substantially from the loans, suggesting that they may have been designed from the Russian side as a scheme for sanctions evasion and may have already been used to that effect.

One agreement, which was signed in Moscow on Dec. 2, 2020, includes an export loan in the amount of $700 million, with the “Russian share being 100% of the total value of materials supplied and services provided,” the terms stipulate, adding that the entirety of the amount had to be used by June 30, 2021. A penalty of 1% was to be levied on all unused portions of the loan thereafter, to be “paid in euro or ruble … as compensation for expenses incurred by the Russian side.”


A Familiar Script in Israel Might Have a New Ending

On Tuesday night, Israel was shocked by a terrorist shooting spree that left five dead. Less than 24 hours after the attack, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition, insinuated that Arabs in the country were collectively responsible for it. “We must restore peace and security to Israeli citizens,” he said. “A government dependent on the Islamic movement isn’t doing this and probably isn’t capable of doing this,” he added, referring to Ra’am, the Arab party that sits in the current Israeli coalition.

In actuality, Ra’am’s leader, Mansour Abbas, had forcefully condemned the attack, and Netanyahu himself had previously courted Abbas in his own attempt to cobble together a government. But Bibi’s intent was not to reflect reality; it was to execute an old playbook for political advantage.

That traditional script kicks off after a terrorist attack on Israeli civilians. In the past week, Israel has experienced three of these. The first took place in the southern city of Beersheba, claiming the lives of four victims; the second occurred in the northern city of Hadera, claiming two more. Both assaults were perpetrated by Islamic State sympathizers from Israel’s Arab community. But the most recent attack, carried out by a Palestinian from the West Bank, was the most deadly. Footage from the scene in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak shows the gunman methodically mowing down innocents in the street, shooting one man through his car window and murdering a father who shielded his toddler from the bullets.

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