Day 167: The Anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon

After being kicked out of psychology school, Bob Mankoff submitted over 2000 cartoons to the ‘New Yorker.’ Each one was rejected. Now he is the cartoon editor and in this talk, shares the stories behind some of the publication’s cartoons.
Mankoff explains why the ‘New Yorker’ is such a sensitive environment, with complaints about everything from the elderly to animals depicted in cartoons. When it comes to humour, he tells us, 75% success rate is the best one can hope for.
Eventually, Mankoff sold a cartoon to the magazine and was given a contract in 1980. At no point in the contract was the word, ‘cartoon’ mentioned. Instead, they were called ‘idea drawings’ and this is the sine qua non of the New Yorker.
There are many books of cartoons which were rejected from the New Yorker, and Mankoff explains why these are humorous to those who are already in a state of arousal. The New Yorker demands cognitive work on our part; cartoons demand bisociation, or the bringing together of ideas from different frames of reference. To understand the cartoon fully, these ideas need to come together in 0.5 seconds.


Day 166: What if we’re wrong about diabetes?

A number of years before this talk, Dr. Peter Attia was asked to assess an obese lady in the emergency department. His patient had type 2 diabetes and an ulcerated foot that required amputation and Attia tells us, he judged her. Why couldn’t she just have exercised more, or eaten less. He admits that while he gave her the best possible medical care, his level of empathy left a lot to be desired.

Several years later Attia, who exercised for several hours daily and followed the food pyramid to the letter, began to gain weight. It turned out he had metabolic syndrome. He had become insulin resistant, and was on his way to getting diabetes and all the associated conditions that accompany it. Attia began to change his diet radically, adding and subtracting things. He lost forty pounds and reversed his insulin resistance, while exercising less. This made him wonder; if the conventional dietary wisdom was failing him, who else was it failing?

Most researchers believe obesity is the cause of insulin resistance. Attia began to wonder if we have the cause and effect wrong. Perhaps obesity can be a symptom of some underlying cause. Insulin acts by regulating the fuel demands of the body. If something goes wrong with the system and insulin suddenly tells cells to burn a dangerous amount of energy, the body may react by deciding to store it instead. The logical place to store this excess fuel is in the fat cells, causing weight gain.

There are more suggestive facts. In some 30 million obese Americans, insulin resistance doesn’t exist and these people are at no greater risk of disease than lean people. Conversely, six million lean people are insulin resistant, and at risk of diabetes and other co-morbidities. 

Attia hypothesises that it is our increased intake of refined grains, sugars and starches that are responsible for this epidemic. But he wants to prove this, and to do so, he has surrounded himself with a team of the best diabetes and obesity researchers. 

Attia makes an emotional plea to his diabetic patient for forgiveness at the end of this talk. He wishes for a day that the medical profession can cure themselves of their new ideas resistance and help the many patients suffering from insulin resistance. We must question everything and understand that scientific research isn’t static but constantly evolving. And the research from Attia’s group promises to be exciting indeed.


Day 165: Camille Seaman- Haunting photos of polar ice.

Camille Seaman also takes photographs of icebergs and this talk includes an amazing video of an iceberg in Greenland turning.
Similar to her storm chasing pictures, with these photographs she aims to illustrate that we are all interconnected. As an iceberg melts, we breathe in its ancient atmosphere; as it melts, it’s water is used to nourish plant and animal life.
Like the clouds, icebergs are constantly changing. Seaman knows they will never exist again in the exact way she photographed them. For this reason, she describes her approach as like ‘photographing her ancestors.’ Her results are stunning.

Day 164: Camille Seaman- Photos from a storm chaser

2% of super cells clouds cause grapefruit sized hailstones and tornadoes. Three days after her daughter told her she should become a storm chaser, Camille Seaman found herself stalking one in her car. These, and many more sublime cloud scenes photographed, are the subject of her TED talk.
The photographs taken by Seaman are astoundingly evocative of her experience as a storm chaser, in which she describes the smell of the earth and the sight of the colours forming in the cloud. It is one of the best photography talks I’ve seen on TED.

Day 163: Profit and loss in the fashion industry

It’s difficult to find out proper information about where our clothes come from. We read about horrific incidents such as the fire in a factory in Bangladesh, where workers made garments for well known fashion labels who later claimed to be unaware their clothes were made in such conditions. Yet Oxfam estimates that almost all major American brands and some well known Australian names have their origins in sweatshops.
In this TEDx talk by Alice Jones and Louise Visser from Eco fashion label, Sinerji, the presenters ask why the company were unaware. In doing so, they challenge the traditional profit and loss model which only measures the balance sheet.
So are cancer, displacement, child labour or hazardous workplaces positive gains? Jones and Visser ask why we apply different rules to business than we do to life. They endeavour to work with the producers of their clothes, using natural dyes to prevent against the cancers and environmental destruction which are endemic in those working in sweatshops. They understand the need for ongoing quality control and training. As a result, there is constant chatter in their factories as communal issues are solved and the income earned in the community allows them to start banks and healthcare programs.
Of course, all business exist to earn money, and Sinerji is no exception. They report a 30% increase in takings each year, with figures rising to 70% last year.
There are many websites and publications in Australia promoting ethical, sustainable and fair trade clothing. If everybody made an effort to become more aware of where their clothes come from, we can collectively force the larger companies to do the same.

Talk available on:

Day 162: A sense of humour about Afghanistan

Aman Mojadidi came to Afghanistan to fight with 50 rebels in the battle for Jalalabad as a 19 year old vegetarian surfer from Jacksonville, Florida. He had been exposed to the war for many years through his heritage; ‘Afghan by blood, redneck by grace of God’. Mojadidi calls this his geography of self.
At the time of this talk he had been working in Afghanistan as an artist for over nine years. His highly politicised art disturbs identity, challenges authority and exposes hypocrisy. Here he talks about some of his past and future projects.
He spent a day in the life of a Jihadist gangster, who eventually ran for parliament to expose the Mafiosi. Through a work called ‘payback’ , where he set up a fake checkpoint on the streets of Kabul and stopped cars, he examined police corruption. Instead of asking them for a bribe he offered them money and apologised on behalf of the Kabul police department. He also did a line of pictures of fashion inspired by the war and expat life in Afghanistan.
Because he lives in Kabul, these things could get him thrown in, but Mojadidi explains he does them because his geography of self mandates it. That is his burden .

Day 161: Elizabeth Murchison- a contagious cancer

Something frightening is threatening the existence of the Tasmanian devil, as Elizabeth Murchison tells us here. An epidemic of facial cancer has shown that not only can cancer be contagious, but it can threaten an entire species.
The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, found only on the island of Tasmania. Their name comes from the shrill nocturnal screams they make. In 1996 a wildlife photographer took a picture of a devil with a tumour on its face, thought to be a once off. It’s now thought this was the first documented sighting of the cancer epidemic. The disease spread across Tasmania, leaving only a small portion in the East untouched.
The disease first appears as a tumour on the face or in the mouth of the Tasmanian devil, quickly progressing to becoming ulcerated. Evidence based on cervical cancer and AIDS pointed to the cancer being spread by a virus. But Murchison, with others, proved this theory wrong.
Normally cancer doesn’t spread outside the body. This usually means that with the death of the carrier, the cancer dies also. However in the case of hundreds of Tasmanian devils studied, the cancer on their faces all shared the same DNA, thought to have broken free of the first sufferer’s body. This is most likely spread more quickly by the practice Tasmanian devils have of biting each other when they meet in the wild.
A study in the 1950s; where people were injected with certain forms of cancer and very few went on to develop it; tells us that its probably extremely rare for cancers to be transferred between people, however in the circumstances it can happen. This is something epidemiologists and oncologists should be aware of in future. Murchison’s personal aim is to prevent the Tasmanian devil from being the first animal to go extinct from cancer.