March 16 – March 22 2015
The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.
Picture of the week
On the 18th of March, NASA announced that its spacecraft (MAVEN), designed to study the red planet’s atmosphere, observed a phenomenon close to the ‘aurora’ that happen on Earth; the spacecraft detected a bright ultraviolet glow in Mars’s northern atmosphere (as shown on the picture).
MAVEN also has found a giant dust cloud drifting far above the surface of Mars. The reason underlying the formation of such a massive dust cloud remains shrouded in mystery: scientists think it may come from the remaining particles left by comets around the sun, or dust coming from Mars’s two moons, Phobos and Deimos. It could also come from Mars itself, but nothing so far can satisfactorily explain how dust wafted into Mars’s atmosphere in such quantity.
Discovery of the week
Orcas are the second know species whose females experience menopause (the other know species is… humans of course!) Lauren Brent, from the University of Exeter, thinks that menopause may be a step towards the female orcas’ “ecological widsom”.
Indeed, old killer whale matriarchs, who often live up to 90 years, are the guardians of a vast accumulated knowledge; for example they know the unlikely areas where to find salmons in times when preys become scarce. The fact that matriarchs detain ‘ecological wisdom’ is not so surprising since it can be found in other species such as elephants: in this case too, older females have very precise memories of the location of food and water hotspots and communicate them to their herd. However, scientists are still trying to understand how exactly menopause can constitute an evolutionary benefit towards greater wisdom.
Outraging news of the week
The Front National (FN), France’s far-right party led by Marine Le Pen obtained the best score in its history for local elections, with 25% of the votes. France was electing the members of the departmental councils in its 100 departments. If mainstream parties were “relieved” that the FN did not become the first party in terms of elected council members, it is nonetheless a very sad state of affairs to think that 1/4 people who voted chose to give their votes to such a hatred-based, program-lacking, dangerous party.
The success of the FN does not stem purely from its ideological stance, but rather from the people’s discontent which regularly manifests itself through this “no to mainstream politics” vote. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s father, an even more extremist person and conservative person, but paradoxically less politically dangerous because less ‘likeable’ than his daughter) gathered more than 16% of the votes at the presidential election and acceded to the second round, during which he was defeated by Jacques Chirac.
One of the roots of the problem may be that the more or less recurring state of disenchantment that the French people experience towards their political leaders (and often rightfully so) lacks a suitable political expression. The two main parties, the PS (Socialist Party, left-wing), and the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, right-wing) keep bickering and negating many of the achievements reached by the other. More often than not, the presidential election sees the candidate of party A win, only for party B to gain a majority at the following legislative elections, and vice-versa. There is no real alternative apart from those two, and attempts at bridging this gap by creating a centrist party have repeatedly failed. And most high-profile politicians are too busy looking at their belly-buttons to take constructive measures to address French people’s “ras-le-bol” (meaning ‘being fed up’).
Heartwarming news of the week
Jean Vanier, philosopher, theologian and humanitarian, was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in recognition of “his advocacy of belonging and social justice, […] and [his] efforts across the globe to nurture dialogue and unity among Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other faiths […].”
Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche (The Arc), an association which provides residential accommodation, support and community services to people with disabilities. It all started in 1964 when Mr Vanier, a Canadian living in France, welcomed two disabled men into his home after discovering the lack of structures and the despair in which many people with disabilities lived. From that moment on, the structure kept growing, and now L’Arche comprises 147 communities in 35 countries.
Beyond his practical work, Jean Vanier’s theoretical contribution to thinking about disabilities and more generally to accept life in its diversity, including its “weaknesses”, is quite remarkable.
Here is a short video of him answering the question “What does it mean to be fully human?”:
I think a few passages are well worth quoting:
“To discover who I am is also to discover a unity between my head and my heart. The head we are called to grow, to understand, and to work through things. But the heart is something else. It is about concern by others. We are born into a relationship. And that relationship that we all lived is a relationship with our mom. We were so small. So weak. So fragile. And we heard the words which are the most important, and maybe the words we need to hear all our life: I love you as you are. You are my beloved son or my beloved daughter. And this is what gives consistency to people. They know they are loved. And that’s what they’re seeking, maybe for the rest of their lives.
And terribly fragile in the little child. If the little child is not loved at the moment of his birth or the few months after there’s a deep, deep inner wound. And from that wound comes up anguish, from anguish comes fighting and wanting to win, and to prove that I am someone.
The problem today is that many people are filled with fear. They are frightened of people, frightened of losing. And because people are filled with fear they can no longer be open to others. They’re protecting themselves, protecting their class, protecting their group, protecting their religion. We’re all in a state of protection. To become fully human is to let down the barriers, to open up. And to discover that every person is beautiful. Under all the jobs they’re doing, their responsibilities, there is you. And you, at the heart of who you are, you’re somebody also crying out, “Does somebody love me not just for what I can do, but for who I am?””
Interesting article of the week
Over at Brainpickings.com, Maria Popova reminds us that boredom has a lot to offer “for the life of the mind and the life of the spirit”. She retraces what great philosophers, writers and artists said about the beauty of being bored in an insightful and much-needed article titled: In Defense of Boredom: 200 Years of Ideas on the Virtues of Not-Doing from Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds.
Video of the week
After having missed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and most of the season following the re-injury of her right knee, Lindsey Vonn made history again by winning the downhill race at the World Cup in Meribel on the 18th of March. The next day, she won the Super-G event too. She is the alpine skier (regardless of gender) who has won the second highest number of races in World Cup events, with 67 races, behind Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark who won 87 World Cup victories in the 1970s and 1980s.
Here is the video of her downhill race: