My Dysfunctional Brother Was Abused. How Do I Acknowledge His Past?

Recently one of my siblings confided in me about the sexual abuse that our brother endured by a man when we were children. Our brother was prepubescent at the time. He does not know that I know.

Throughout our childhood, I never knew. I never made the connection between this childhood trauma and his lack of ambition or even his dropping out of school. Over the years, he has suffered from mental health issues and substance abuse and recently sought help.

I know the perpetrator because he also made a “move” on me. I was groped in my own living room when my mother stepped away for just a moment. I screamed bloody murder and kicked over a coffee table full of tea and dishes and ran away. This saved me. My mother was clueless about this man and made me apologize for my behavior.

As my brother and I are both now middle-aged, how can I — or even should I — acknowledge his painful past? Part of me wants to apologize. I have watched him struggle with relationships and insecure work while I live a rather happy and successful life.

Perhaps my sibling can tell him that I was told, and this would open the door to a discussion. But how would that help him after years of suffering and counseling? I was there. I am so sorry he suffered, and I never had a clue. Name Withheld

Your obliviousness to your brother’s ordeal is far from unusual. It’s difficult to estimate the prevalence of child sexual abuse — many victims, experiencing a sense of shame, remain silent — but a 2009 study in Clinical Psychology Review estimated that 7.5 percent of males and 25.3 percent of females in the United States experienced sexual abuse before age 18. (This paper reviewed 65 earlier studies.) Those of us who have never been told of a single case of child abuse among our friends and family must recognize how frequently sexual abuse of minors is successfully kept quiet.

So it’s entirely understandable that you misunderstood the symptoms of his suffering; it’s entirely understandable too that you feel awful about it. Certainly the consequences of abuse can be deep and persistent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that chronic abuse may make a child more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder and to learning, attention and memory problems. It sounds as if your brother may have had some of these difficulties, which often continue in later life.

Still, he has chosen to keep his experiences private from you. Though he did nothing wrong, shame is not rational; it can even be described as a symptom of abuse. But it’s not for you to force an unwanted conversation on him.

At the same time, you can’t unknow what you know. You may well find it hard to speak candidly to your brother without revealing what’s weighing on your mind. So your plan to ask your sibling to tell him that you know is a good one. Your sibling should make it plain how you feel — and that you understand it’s your brother’s right to decide what to share with you now, if anything. If you and your brother do talk, make sure to do a lot of listening.

My wife and I bought our home two years ago from a brother and sister whose parents both died in the past few years. Two old friends of the parents, one a lawyer, executed the estate. After two rounds of bidding with several other prospective buyers, my wife and I paid for the home “as is.” The price we paid was well above Zillow’s valuation. Since moving in, we’ve discovered all the minor problems you expect to see in a 100-year-old property. We found the leftover paint and bald tires that sellers really should deal with but never do. And in a storage space under the stairs to the basement, we found four toolboxes full of collectible coins and bills worth almost $10,000. A couple of notes indicate that at least some items were gifts from the sellers’ grandparents. No one has reached out to say there’s been a terrible mistake. I’d like to sell the collection, make a $1,000 charitable contribution for good measure and keep the rest. Yet I can’t help feeling a little slimy. What do you recommend? Name Withheld

I can’t advise you about your legal entitlements and responsibilities. But this wasn’t abandoned property; it was mislaid property. It isn’t that the sellers failed to recognize its value, as sometimes happens with forsaken detritus; they evidently didn’t know, or remember, that it was in their possession. So the sellers hadn’t intended to convey it to you when they sold the house. While you may be within your rights to keep it, you’d do well to let the sellers know what you discovered, and let them retrieve the toolboxes. Maybe they could take away those tires and paint cans while they’re at it.

I don’t know if this is an ethical dilemma or a moral one. I have no children or siblings. I want to leave my mini-fortune to children of my cousins. Can I give money to one I adore without giving any to his chillier sister? Or would that be too mean? Should I give some to her or even make it equal? I don’t want my legacy to be hurtfulness, but I also don’t want to do what I really don’t feel. I don’t dislike her; I just don’t groove with her. Name Withheld

You don’t mention any needs here, so I doubt that’s relevant. I doubt too these children are expecting anything from you. In short, you don’t have a moral duty to either of these not-very-close relatives — first cousins once removed. I’m not saying you’re wrong to wonder about the effect of significantly different treatment. That’s what the family will discuss at your funeral. But I don’t see people getting terribly hung up on the special relationships involving the child of a great-aunt or great-uncle. It’s not emotionally fraught the way parental favoritism can be.

If you wanted to soften the sting when it comes to the chillier sib, you could give the children equal amounts of cash but leave your favorite a valuable something — say, your home, especially if your favorite has spent more time in it than his sister has. People think of meaningful things differently from money. In order to control the message you send, consider leaving a letter for your favorite cousin once removed to say what you’ve done and why. If you find the letter hard to write, you might reconsider your allocation.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/magazine/my-dysfunctional-brother-was-an-abuse-victim-how-do-i-acknowledge-his-past.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Seeking Soccer Talent, Club Executives Turn to Speed Dating

That informal structure has led to waste of as much as 10 percent, Rasmus Ankersen said, which would represent as much as $700 million based on FIFA’s total figures. The savings, he said, could come with more transparency in the marketplace, with clubs more easily knowing which players are available and the needs of other teams.

“There will always be a need for someone to represent the player, an agent, and who can market the player, negotiate his contract. Where the waste in football is, is in what we call ‘club intermediaries’ — these guys that are in the middle, connecting clubs, holding the information, brokering the deals, that is in many cases an unnecessary cost,” Rasmus Ankersen said.

Club-to-club meetings on a global scale like the one held in London remain uncommon. The scarcity is related to the baked-in paranoia of the soccer world, where clubs eye rivals’ motivations with great suspicion.

“If you stick a for sale sign up, you can weaken your stance in the market,” said Dan Ashworth, director of football at Brighton, a small club that will compete in the Premier League for the third straight season.

Ashworth has recently returned to club soccer after six years with England’s national federation. His club hired a new coach, Graham Potter, at the start of the season, and that’s likely to mean more changes than usual as Brighton tries to build a squad matching Potter’s preferences. When such changes occur, players who would once have been seen as indispensable may no longer fit. Such conversations can be delicate, requiring careful handling before a player’s availability for transfer can be communicated to the market, said Ashworth.

“You are dealing with human beings, it’s not a product,” he said, sitting in the calm of a quiet corner of Stamford Bridge, during a rare lull in a full day. “So when you put a for-sale sign up for a person, that person might not know they’re for sale, might not know that you’re looking to move them on, might not agree to move away. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”

A short while later, the bell sounded and Ashworth jumped to his feet. He had another date.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/18/sports/soccer/transfer-window-premier-league.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Andrea Camilleri, Author of Inspector Montalbano Novels, Dies at 93

Andrea Camilleri, who took a late-career stab at writing a mystery novel and came up with the Inspector Montalbano detective books, which became wildly successful in Italy and were the basis for a popular television series, died on Wednesday morning in a hospital in Rome. He was 93.

A spokeswoman for the hospital, the Santo Spirito, confirmed the death, which came a month after Mr. Camilleri was hospitalized with complications of a broken thigh bone and heart problems.

“I have an extremely disorderly manner of writing,” Mr. Camilleri told The Times in 2002. “I don’t write like Snoopy: ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ I couldn’t start with Chapter 1.”

A mystery, he thought, might force him into more manageable habits. “Everything has to follow a certain logic,” he said. “Everything has to be in a certain place.”

The experiment resulted in “The Shape of Water,” published in Italy in 1994. (It was not related to the Guillermo del Toro movie of the same title released in 2017.) The novel introduced Inspector Salvo Montalbano, who investigates crimes in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata. That isn’t easy, since corruption is endemic there.

In the opening novel, when a local power broker is found dead in a dicey part of town with his pants around his ankles, a coroner rules that he had died of natural causes, and officials pressure Montalbano not to look further. But Montalbano is a man with a strong sense of justice and a willingness to bend rules to achieve it.

The book, published when Mr. Camilleri was 69, sold well enough to warrant a sequel, “The Terra-Cotta Dog,” in 1996, and then another, and another. In a 1998 interview with the Italian magazine L’Espresso, he said word of mouth had done the trick.

“I sold 10,000 copies because people phoned each other, and in the same way you suggest a movie, they were suggesting my books,” he said.

The series, written in a combination of Italian and Sicilian, grew to more than two dozen titles.

Mr. Camilleri was four books into it when his inspector was elevated to a whole new level of popularity by “Il Commissario Montalbano,” a television series from the Italian state broadcaster RAI that has been running since 1999. It has also aired abroad, including on the BBC in Britain. Luca Zingaretti plays Montalbano.

The Montalbano books, too, gained an international audience. The first English translations appeared in 2002 and quickly found fans, including among book critics.

Marilyn Stasio, writing in The Times that year, called “The Shape of Water” a “savagely funny police procedural.” Four years later, when “The Smell of Night” appeared in English, she advised, “For sunny views, explosive characters and a snappy plot constructed with great farcical ingenuity, the writer you want is Andrea Camilleri.”

Andrea Calogero Camilleri was born on Sept. 6, 1925, to Carmella and Giuseppe Camilleri in Porto Empedocle, a town in southwestern Sicily that became a model for Vigata. (For a time in the last decade, the town changed its name to Porto Empedocle Vigata, hoping to capitalize on tourism inspired by the Montalbano books.)

His father worked for the Italian Coast Guard and, Mr. Camilleri told the British newspaper The Independent in 2007, was his model for Montalbano, a man with a certain disregard for authority, although that did not become clear to the author until several books into the series. His father, he told the newspaper, was a hard-line Fascist until the day in 1938 when Andrea told him a friend had been barred from school because he was Jewish.

“My father hit the roof, saying, ‘That bastard,’ referring to Mussolini,” Mr. Camilleri said. The connection to his famous inspector? “I’ve always tried to make Montalbano critical about the behavior and orders of his bosses, the imbecility of power,” he said.

After high school in Porto Empedocle, Mr. Camilleri earned a degree in modern literature at the University of Palermo. As a teenager and young man, he had some success as a poet. He was also involved in theatrical productions, and in 1949 he won a scholarship to study at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome. He lasted only a year there but stayed in Rome, working as a stage director.

Mr. Camilleri was hired by RAI’s radio division in 1958, then switched to the television side, directing and adapting scripts. He began teaching theater at the National Academy in 1974 and continued to do so for more than 20 years.

He had begun writing novels by this point, although the first, “The Way Things Go,” written in the late 1960s, wasn’t published until 1978. Several other novels in various genres followed, though none got much attention. The best known of the pre-Montalbano books was “Hunting Season,” a comic historical novel published in 1992. He was working on another when he got stuck and tried a detective tale.

The Montalbano books are known not just for their distinctive inspector but also for a colorful array of underlings and other recurring characters. And unlike most other crime series, they indulge in occasional commentary on Italian politics. Mr. Camilleri was not a fan of Silvio Berlusconi, the longtime prime minister, and his displeasure, which he voiced in a series of essays, could be detected in the books.

“In my books,” he told The Guardian in 2012, “I deliberately decided to smuggle into a detective novel a critical commentary on my times.”

More recently, he had been outspoken about Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, and his anti-immigration positions. An episode of the TV show in February that included a pro-immigrant message brought a flurry of criticism from Salvini supporters.

“Salvini reminds me of a member of the Fascist regime,” Mr. Camilleri told The Guardian in the aftermath.

Mr. Camilleri is survived by his wife, Rosetta Dello Siesto, whom he married in 1957, as well as three daughters, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Mr. Camilleri prepared years ago for the end of the Montalbano series.

“I finished him off five years ago,” he said in 2012. “That’s to say, the final novel in the series of Montalbano is already written and deposited at the publishing house. When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: Publish that book.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/17/obituaries/andrea-camilleri-dead.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Iraqi Militia Leaders and Ex-Governors

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is imposing economic sanctions on two former provincial governors and two militia leaders in Iraq, it announced on Thursday, citing human rights abuses in the north of the country.

American officials had determined that three of the four Iraqis were involved in acts of corruption, extortion and intimidation in Nineveh Province, which has minority populations of Christians and Yazidis and was an Islamic State stronghold before the group’s territorial defeat.

The Treasury Department said it was imposing the sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to use economic penalties to punish officials of other nations for human rights violations.

“We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The two militia leaders are Rayan al-Kildani, the head of the 50th Brigade, and Waad Qado, the head of the 30th Brigade. Both of the militias fought the Islamic State and fall under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces, armed groups that are recognized and paid by the Iraqi government. Baghdad did not immediately react to the sanctions.

This spring, some senior officials in the Trump administration were considering designating groups in the Popular Mobilization Forces as foreign terrorist organizations, in an effort to punish militias in the Middle East that have ties to Iran. Such a designation would have led to harsh economic penalties against the groups.

To an extent, the sanctions imposed on Thursday are related to the administration’s broad campaign to isolate Iran. One of the targets, Ahmed al-Jubouri, the former governor of Salahuddin Province, worked with “Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control,” the Treasury Department said.

The Iranian military supported some of the Iraqi militias that formed to fight the Islamic State. Many of the ones with ties to Iran are dominated by Shiites, since it is a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation.

The 30th Brigade has its roots in an armed group formed by the ethnic Shabak minority. The 50th Brigade is based on a Christian militia, but some analysts say its fighters mostly come from the Sadr City area of Baghdad, which is Shiite.

The “30th and 50th Brigades do not want to follow orders from the Iraqi prime minister, and nor do they want to give up lucrative moneymaking opportunities and Mafiosi-like power at the local level,” Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has done research in Nineveh, wrote this month.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, praised the move by the United States, saying her group had documented widespread abuses in recent years by the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Iraqi Federal Police. The 30th Brigade was among the groups that had carried out abuses, she said.

“One of our persistent recommendations, not just to the U.S. government but also to the Iraqi government, is that they need to clean their own house,” she said. “Evidence of the abuses has been pervasive for the last several years.”

“This is a very good step,” she added.

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan was the governor of Nineveh Province when the sinking of an overloaded ferry in Mosul in March resulted in the deaths of about 100 people. Mr. al-Sultan fled, and the Iraqi Parliament issued a warrant for his arrest. He had a history of corrupt practices.

Mr. al-Jubouri, the former governor of Salahuddin Province who American officials say has ties to Iranian-backed militias, was sentenced to prison in July 2017 after being convicted on corruption charges. He has since been released.

Trump administration officials “want to raise the cost to the Iraqi government of working with Iranian-aligned actors and force it to choose between the United States and Iran,” said Andrew Miller, the deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “Amidst the nuance and complexity of Iraq, such an approach is likely to backfire.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/18/us/politics/us-sanctions-iraq.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Johnny Clegg, South African Singer Who Battled Apartheid With Music, Is Dead at 66

Johnny Clegg, a British-born South African singer, songwriter and guitarist whose fusion of Western and African influences found an international audience and stood as an emblem of resistance to the apartheid authorities in his adopted land, died on Tuesday in Johannesburg. He was 66.

His manager, Roddy Quin, announced the death. Mr. Clegg learned in 2015 that he had pancreatic cancer.

From his teenage years onward, Mr. Clegg ventured with ever greater boldness across racial lines. He spent time in the gritty, violence-prone hostels reserved for migrant black mineworkers that were formally off limits to most of his fellow white South Africans. His music crossed racial lines as well.

In the bands Juluka (“Sweat” in the isiZulu language) and Savuka (“We have risen”) and as a solo artist, Mr. Clegg became known for songs and performances that resonated through South Africa’s long struggle against racial separation.

“We have a mission,” he told The New York Times in 1990, “which is to bring a whole collection of songs that are about the South African experience to the world.”

His song “Impi” (“Regiment”), from Juluka’s album “African Litany” (1981), celebrated the victory of Zulu forces over British colonial invaders at Isandhlwana in 1879. In “African Sky Blue,” on the same album, Mr. Clegg and the Zulu guitarist Sipho Mchunu, transposed those warriors to South Africa’s modern gold mines.

“The warrior’s now a worker, and his war is underground,” Mr. Clegg sang. “With cordite in the darkness he milks the bleeding veins of gold.”

“Scatterlings of Africa,” reflecting the myriad dislocations of South African society, became a breakthrough commercial success in Britain and elsewhere in 1984, enabling Mr. Clegg to abandon an academic career in Johannesburg as an anthropologist and devote himself full time to his music.

ImageThe cover of the album by Mr. Clegg’s band Juluka that became a breakthrough commercial success in Britain and elsewhere in 1984.

The haunting lyrics of his 1987 song “Asimbonanga” (“We have not seen him”), about the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, were so evocative of the era that in 1999, Mandela, by then a free man, joined a surprised Mr. Clegg onstage at a concert in Frankfurt during a performance of the song.

The moment had a particular poignancy: When “Asimbonanga” was written, Mandela was incarcerated and all but invisible beyond the prison walls under apartheid laws that prevented his image and utterances from being published.

With his spectacular onstage enactment of high-kicking Zulu war dances and stick fighting, Mr. Clegg was often referred to as “the White Zulu.” It was a nickname he said he loathed, but it nonetheless reflected the racial contortions and obsessions of South Africa both before and after the elections in 1994, which brought Mandela to power as the country’s first black president after his release from prison in 1990.

The South African government said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr. Clegg’s music “had the ability to unite people across the races,” and that he had “made an indelible mark in the music industry and the hearts of the people.”

Throughout the apartheid era, Mr. Clegg and his bands were harassed by the authorities and occasionally detained. Their performances were often disrupted, wherever they were held. Under apartheid legislation known as the Group Areas Act, white people were not permitted to enter segregated black townships without official permits, which were often withheld, while black people were kept out of whites-only areas by nighttime curfews and a web of zoning restrictions.

Other apartheid proscriptions kept Mr. Clegg’s music off state-run radio shows. (He said he was first arrested at the age of 15.)

At the same time, he was censured by the Musicians’ Union of Britain precisely because he performed in South Africa, in contravention of an embargo that was supposed to reinforce the isolation of the apartheid regime.

Despite that sanction, Mr. Clegg toured widely, securing an international following. He was particularly popular in France, where he was made a Chevalier of Arts and Letters in 1991. Britain named him an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2015. In South Africa, he received the country’s highest civilian medal, the presidential Ikhamanga Award, in 2012.

Mr. Clegg received his cancer diagnosis in 2015. Two years later, when the disease was said to be in remission after chemotherapy, he embarked on what was labeled the Final Journey Tour, taking him to Britain, the United States, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere.

“Johnny Clegg is not exactly a household name in Britain,” the British newspaper The Guardian reported after he performed in London. “But back home in South Africa he has the status of a national treasure, and it seems that every (predominantly white) South African in town has turned out to see him.”

Jonathan Paul Clegg was born on June 7, 1953, in Bacup, a onetime cotton milling town in northwest England. His parents separated when he was an infant, and he did not meet his father, Dennis, until he was 21 years old, according to biographical notes in “Learning Zulu: A Secret History of Language in South Africa,” a 2016 study by Mark Sanders, a professor of comparative literature at New York University.

Mr. Clegg’s mother, Muriel, a jazz singer from a Lithuanian Jewish family, moved back from Britain to her native Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980. She later married a South African journalist, Dan Pienaar.

The couple broke up when Mr. Clegg was 12. But before they did, Mr. Pienaar introduced his stepson to life in segregated black townships, which were rarely if ever visited by white people.

Mr. Clegg lived briefly in Israel and Zambia, where he attended multiracial schools at a time when education in South Africa was strictly segregated. In South Africa, “I felt like a migrant,” he said in an interview with the South African newspaper The Mail & Guardian in 2010. “So when I met migrant workers — Zulu migrant workers — there was something about them that I intuitively connected with, because they were also establishing these tenuous connections with different places.”

Despite the expectations of his mother’s family that he would be raised according to Jewish traditions, he declined to have a bar mitzvah and described himself as a “secular Jew.”

Survivors include his wife, Jenny, and two sons, Jesse and Jaron. Jesse Clegg has a successful career of his own as a singer and songwriter.

Mr. Clegg’s musical journey began when he was an adolescent and met Charlie Mzila, a Zulu migrant who cleaned apartments by day and played guitar by night. From him, Mr. Clegg often said, he learned a new kind of guitar playing, with the instrument tuned and strung differently than in the West.

He formed the band Juluka after meeting Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker at the time. That band, which blended traditional Zulu music with influences as diverse as Celtic folk groups like the Chieftains and American singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, achieved international renown before it disbanded in 1985 and Mr. Mchunu returned to his farm in Zululand. It reunited briefly in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Clegg’s second band, the more rock-oriented Savuka, was formed in 1986 and was nominated for a Grammy in the world music category for its 1993 album, “Heat, Dust and Dreams.” But the band was dissolved that year, soon after Dudu Ndlovu, Mr. Clegg’s drummer and onstage dance partner, was shot to death, apparently while trying to mediate in a conflict between rival cabdrivers.

Mr. Clegg dedicated a song, “Osiyeza” (“We are coming”), to Mr. Ndlovu. “It’s only you that remains with me,” the lyrics said in part. “Clear as the light of day.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/arts/music/johnny-clegg-dead.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Letter of Recommendation: Piezo Mics

I have a confession to share about shame and experimentation in a windowless room. The good news is it’s not about sex; the bad news is it’s about noise music.

It began last winter, when my musically intimidating friend Corey invited me to rock out. I agreed before remembering how bored and embarrassed I was of my guitar playing. So I decided to make new sounds instead. I started modifying old keyboards, rewiring them so they would distort and glitch — but I couldn’t really play keyboards either. If I was to maintain my dignity while jamming with Corey, I needed to get more abstract — so abstract that musical talent, or its absence, wouldn’t be a factor.

I began searching for old electronic children’s toys. By manipulating their voltages and then running them into an amplifier, I succeeded in making them sound more ominous and demonic than intended. Corey was impressed (“Bro, that sounds sick!”). I was relieved.

But even hacking keyboards and old toys comes with limitations, circumscribed by the chips inside their circuit boards. You can make interesting sounds — especially if you incorporate effects pedals — but you’re still building off the electronic guts you’ve inherited. I wanted to increase my options and start playing with sounds made in the real world. Perhaps a more disciplined musician would have picked up his guitar again. Instead, I discovered piezo contact microphones, these light, flat metal discs with a thin ceramic layer on top. They don’t pick up sound vibrations in the air; they’re not for singing into. Instead, they attach directly onto objects, converting surface vibrations into electric current (and vice versa; smoke alarms use piezo discs as speakers). Musicians install piezo mics in cigar-box guitars for amplification; you’ll also find pressure-sensitive piezo elements in underwater microphones.

They look unassuming, but once they’re plugged into an amplifier, piezo discs become psychedelic microscopes for your ears, completely changing your sense of sonic scale. I taped one to the bottom of a water bottle on a hot afternoon and ran the signal through a reverb pedal; the ice cubes banging around sounded like gongs from distant planets. Rubbing a piezo mic against a felt cowboy hat sent me down a sound-dappled path of contemplation, musing on the subtleties of surface texture and how difficult it would be to play croquet on a felt cowboy hat if you were, say, 10 molecules tall. My dumb guitar never led me to such insights.

Best of all, piezo mics are cheap — probably one of the most affordable technologies for completely transforming your appreciation of our world. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a high-quality contact mic specially designed for the subtle timbres of an orchestral string instrument if that’s what you want. If what you want, however, is to drink some beers, plug in some pedals and freak out some friends by turning an old Garfield paperback into a wailing orgy of dissonance, you can be up and running for just a few dollars (excluding the cost of the beers).

A common use of piezo mics among experimental musicians is in “noise boxes,” ungainly contraptions in which household objects are mounted around and amplified by piezo mics. I’ve built a few of these, including an old cookie tin I outfitted with various springs and filled with Ping-Pong balls. When I shake the tin and turn the volume up, it sounds as if the springs and the Ping-Pong balls are role-playing the end of the world. People build noise boxes with combs, wires, silverware, rubber bands, fidget spinners, sandpaper, old saw blades — tiny orchestras of singing objects, monumentalized by the mics placed inside. Indeed, my hobby has made trash nights newly enticing, as I wander the neighborhood looking for garbage that might sound interesting. My wife loves my hobby and never teases me about it.

Earlier this summer, I visited a different windowless room for a performance by one of the grandmasters of piezo-mic mayhem: Justice Yeldham, an Australian noise artist known for attaching contact mics to large pieces of broken glass. Yeldham uses glass like a wind instrument, smooshing his face against the pane as he blows, hums, bites and otherwise imitates the world’s least subtle peeping Tom. The signal runs through a small metropolis of effects pedals that amplify and expand the resonances and sputterings of his mouth against the glass. One moment you hear John Coltrane playing a volcano, the next you hear a string section being squeezed through a toothpaste tube. It’s a high-stakes, smeary embouchure that can end with Yeldham’s face covered with blood. (He ended the performance I saw by suddenly breaking his instrument over his head, something Yo-Yo Ma has yet to do.) This may sound like a gimmick — G.G. Allin for grad students — but Yeldham coaxes a truly amazing variety of sounds from his shard.

Realizing that Yeldham was playing the broken glass — that he was bringing talent and discipline to bear on what would usually be considered detritus — helped me understand what it is about piezo mics that excites me so much. They don’t just change how I hear things. They change how I see things: Every object is a potential musical instrument. Every object is worth engaging with, however briefly, however loudly, as you seek its potential to wow your friend in a windowless room.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-piezo-mics.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Conjoined Twins, Linked at Skull, Are Separated in London Hospital

LONDON — When Zainab Bibi gave birth to her eighth and ninth children — twin girls — it was five days before she was well enough to be introduced to them. All she knew was that they had both survived the cesarean section and were healthy.

At the hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, she was given a photograph to prepare her for the discovery to come: The girls were conjoined at the skull. Surgery to separate them, she was later told, would almost certainly end one of the girls’ lives.

“They were very beautiful and they had nice hair with white skin,” Ms. Bibi told the BBC. “I didn’t even think about the fact they were joined. They are God-given.”

The thought of losing one of them was unfathomable.

That was in the winter of 2017. A potential solution appeared three months later, when the family was introduced to Noor ul Owase Jeelani, a neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where teams of specialists have successfully treated two similar cases since 2006.

On Monday, the hospital announced that the twins, Safa and Marwa Ullah, had been successfully separated after more than 50 hours in surgery since last October, and thanks to the work of a team of 100. The final operation was completed in February, and it took until July 1 for the girls to be well enough to leave the hospital.

Until the operations were complete, the girls had never seen each other’s faces.

The two years between their birth and their separation were spent getting British visas, organizing travel and gathering funding for the series of surgeries that would allow them to live fully independent lives.

In multiple operations, surgeons separated the brains and the blood vessels intertwined in the girls’ conjoined skulls. Then, they inserted a piece of plastic between the two brains to complete the separation internally. Finally, the surgeons worked on stretching the skin and building separate skulls with the girls’ own bones.

Funding for the operations came from a donor who has not been publicly identified. But the team relied on more than 1.3 million pounds (more than $1.6 million) invested in the past six years into Great Ormond Street’s craniofacial surgery program and research.

Safa and Marwa Ullah’s condition was extremely rare. Conjoined twins occur in only one in 2.5 million cases, and only 5 percent are joined at their skull, according to the hospital. Less than half of those survive more than a day after birth.

Programs to help children with such conditions exist in only a few hospitals worldwide. Saudi Arabia has a long-running program to help children in similar situations from around the world. Since 1990, a team there has performed 40 procedures for families from 20 countries.

Great Ormond Street Hospital has a specialist operating theater for surgery on conjoined twins, and the series of operations on Safa and Marwa Ullah were supported by a team of scientists and designers.

The team used a virtual-reality replica of the girls’ skulls to understand the relationships between the girls’ brains and blood vessels and come up with the best strategy to separate them. They created 3D models to practice the surgery and develop cutting guides.

The hospital then worked with physiotherapists and dietitians, among others, to help the girls recover and prepare for their lives in individual bodies.

“I would be optimistic that by their third birthday they should be walking,” Dr. Jeelani said.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/world/europe/conjoined-twins-skull-separated.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

If Algae Clings to Snow on This Volcano, Can It Grow on Other Desolate Worlds?

In Chile’s Atacama Desert, Volcan Llullaillaco is Mars on Earth — or about as close to it as you can get. At 22,000 feet above sea level, it’s the second highest active volcano on Earth. Most of the mountain is a barren, red landscape of volcanic rock and dust, with thin, dry air, intense sunlight and winds that will blow your tent down the mountain.

While the ground can heat up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, air temperatures rarely reach above freezing. When snow falls, it turns to gas just as it hits the earth. Occasionally, snow can collect in windblown banks, which then melt into icy spires up to 16 feet tall. The Spaniards called these “nieves penitentes,” penitent ones, because they look like hooded monks doing penance.

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These conditions high up on the volcano made it seem about as lifeless as Mars. But a team of researchers led by Steven K. Schmidt, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies extreme life, have discovered microbes living in and around the penitentes at 17,300 feet above sea level, about one thousand feet above the point at which vegetation stops on Volcan Llullaillaco.

Dr. Schmidt thought the volcano might be an ideal place to study the limits of life on Earth after he heard about three children unearthed there in 1999. The 500-year-old mummies were perfectly preserved without embalming agents.

The mummies when buried were “huge bags of microbes,” full of water. That they hadn’t decayed suggested the conditions deep beneath the volcano’s soil were constantly too cold and dry for any life to function.

But what about closer to the surface, where environmental conditions vary?

Dr. Schmidt knew microbes had been found in the surface tephra, or volcanic soil, of the same volcano, as well as a nearby one at slightly lower elevations. But little was known about the summits or penitentes.

By discovering what conditions supported patches of life among this mountain’s sterile heights, perhaps he could truly understand life’s limits.

In March 2016, the team hoped to collect soil samples from the summit of Llullaillaco. But after a week’s journey from the coast to the desert, poor weather pushed them to explore the volcano’s penitente fields instead. This was not the volcano’s most extreme environment, but it was still quite harsh and far higher up than where it seemed life could persist.

When someone on the expedition serendipitously noticed red snow at the base of some penitentes, they wondered if it could be watermelon snow, an algae found in other frigid environments.

Scientists think penitentes are the result of an unusual mix of conditions, involving wind, temperature fluctuations and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As tiny indentations in snowpacks melt, penitentes grow up. This also liberates life’s vital elixir — liquid water.

Microscopic and genetic analysis confirmed the red patches at the bottom of the penitentes were snow algae. And the scientists also found cyanobacteria, yeast and even more complex microbes in the ice and shallow tephra downhill from where penitentes melted.

“We see the penitentes as an oasis in this harsh landscape,” said Dr. Schmidt, offering water and protection from the elements to wind-carried microbes that were likely dormant before the water reanimated them.

And because penitentes are also found in the Himalayas, Pamirs and Hindu Kush — as well as on Pluto and Europa — a closer look could point the way toward discovering lively oases on other worlds too.

“I am excited about this finding for its astrobiological implications,” Lynn Rothschild, an astrobiologist at Brown University who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/science/chile-volcano-snow-algae.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

How to Stay Financially Stable When the World Might Be Falling Apart

Unfortunately, rising markets aren’t necessarily great indicators of a healthy economy.

After Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, suggested this month that the Fed would cut interest rates, the stock market hit new highs.

That buoyed investments, but signs of slowing economic growth persisted, as did the fear that it may be too late to stave off another recession.

And though traders have been doing well, lower-than-expected wage growth, underperforming bond yields, trade wars, climate change’s effect on resource scarcity, Brexit and geopolitical tensions are leaving long-term investors still wondering: What’s the best way to stay financially stable?

Our quarterly report on investing provides some answers.

It includes coverage of some successful mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. It also highlights intellectual pitfalls that might hinder investors’ judgments, and how best to avoid them. As Conrad de Aenlle wrote in this special report, “The market has been largely unperturbed by the persistent economic weakness because each bad piece of data is taken as confirmation that the Fed will ease.”

Fed easing is usually assumed to be good for stocks. But, he argued, it may be time to make a contrary bet.

Not everyone will want to take such risks. If you’re looking for actionable advice for becoming financially independent, the author Ramit Sethi recommends three important parts: “conscious spending,” automatic savings and an understanding of why you are investing. Don’t worry about buying lattes. That’s not what’s holding you back, he said.

The world of exchange-traded funds is continually inventive, which sometimes raises difficult ethical questions. Just as there are funds on carbon credits, social media and even obesity, some funds are designed to profit off growing trade tensions. There are funds that, as Brian J. O’Connor wrote, ferret out certain companies likely to receive support from their national governments. Others invest in emerging markets but exclude companies listed in places where tensions are high, like China or Hong Kong. And some E.T.F.s seek bargains in beaten-down stocks.

“Short-term tactics aimed at exploiting trade tensions are risky in themselves,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Longer-term investing may make more sense for most people.”

At the same time, water scarcity presents a unique ethical quandary. A small group of traditional mutual funds and E.T.F.s already invest in water, and the prospect of shortages and rising costs may make this a lucrative investment. Big businesses are already hedging against climate change, and while water could become a lucrative holding, are you willing to profit from a potential shortage?

And since we’re talking about things to be skeptical about, John Schwartz wondered, in an essay, about the purpose of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency. Will it be a worthwhile investment, or is it even made for people like him? Or would Mr. Schwartz be better off just using a currency like Bitcoin — or even starting his own?

The rest of our report is full of analyses and introductions to investing. It may also help answer this question: What’s a long-term investor to do when the world might be falling apart? See the rest of the report below.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/your-money/how-financially-stable-investing.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Opinion | Will El Chapo’s Trial Change Organized Crime Forever?

How is this possible? Simple: Mexican drug lords have realized that the cooperation of their own people with American law enforcement can be considered a legitimate choice, not only for the personal benefits it can bring — such as sentence reductions or family protections — but also because if handled well, it won’t destroy the organization. Indeed, in some cases, cooperating with the authorities can help to protect the cartel’s assets and even give an advantage to one boss or another.

This strategy seems to be behind the collaboration of Mr. Zambada’s relatives with the American authorities. In particular, the testimony of Vicente Zambada, which many saw as a betrayal of his father, could instead be an act of extreme loyalty to him.

My reporting on the recent history of Mexican drug trafficking has led me to believe that Mr. Zambada may have had a hand in Mr. Guzmán’s capture. According to this theory, Mr. Zambada, accustomed to acting in the shadows and tired of the spotlight on his partner, which could eventually have brought ruin to the cartel, betrayed Mr. Guzmán and facilitated his arrest. (Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers tried to exploit this theory during the trial, portraying their client as a scapegoat.) In this light, even the younger Mr. Zambada’s testimony during the trial can be seen as part of a plan secretly orchestrated by his father.

Vicente Zambada’s testimony, which was crucial in the case against Mr. Guzmán, may simply be the price the elder Mr. Zambada must pay to ensure that Mr. Guzmán is locked away in an American prison, thousands of miles from Sinaloa. The information provided by Vicente Zambada will not destroy the cartel’s business, and it may well contribute to a change at the top that benefits his father. Cooperating witnesses are vital tools in the fight against cartels, but the danger now is that drug lords have learned how, while revealing some truths, to maintain their organizations’ power.

This new tactic is unlikely to be limited to Mr. Guzmán’s trial. It touches on one of the fundamental rules of mafias the world over, that of omertà, to which occasional exceptions are not allowed. You can’t allow one snitch to go unpunished and then return to normal enforcement. Either snitches are always punished or, if they are not, the rules have been changed. If the world’s largest drug cartel were to begin tolerating snitching, it would lose all credibility in the eyes of associates and rivals — it would be chaos. That the son of a Sinaloa cartel boss has turned state’s witness, leaving both his father’s power and the cartel’s strength intact, means that a new rule has been born.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/opinion/el-chapo-trial-witnesses.html?emc=rss&partner=rss