Thursday, 14 February 2013

On the meaning of control in Stalinist Russia

Here is an essay I wrote a year ago on the nature of control and power in Stalinist Russia. I booked at George Orwell's famous novel 1984 as a basis for establishing the meaning of control in the political climate.

The essay is a few thousand words long, so I will probably shorten it in the near future to provide a more concise, blog-friendly version of my argument. I also haven't looked at it in a year, so please be forgiving; as a 16 year old this was my first lengthy essay and the first essay whereby I conducted independent research and wrote the whole thing on my own. Since I wrote it in the space of a week and a half my research wasn't extensive, so some of the opinions are simplified.

The meaning and level of control in Stalinist Russia

To look into control in Stalinist Russia, the meaning of total and complete control must first be established. The political novel 1984 by George Orwell depicts a society in which controlling the ideas and thoughts of the people is more important than a physical repression of the opposition. Following this theory, if the thoughts of an entire population are controlled completely, then absolute control exists. If we take this as the definition of ultimate authority then it cannot exist, even in a repressive regime such as that of Stalin. However 1984 very effectively portrays a realistic society in which the people accept everything without doubt or question. 1984 suggests that it is more important for the ideas of a regime to be maintained than a single individual’s power. Therefore the question the political novel raises is about the possibility of complete control over a population, not in the hands of an individual but an ideology, as Party member O’Brien reveals whilst torturing Winston:

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A quote from 'Hamlet' by Shakespeare

"this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o-erhanging firmamentthis majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours...what is this quintessence of dust?"
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2 Hamlet here talks to Rosencratz and Guildenstern whilst in his 'antic disposition'.
I am studying Hamlet this year, and am ashamed to say I have relatively little to say about this passage except for the fact that whilst re-reading the play tonight whilst writing an essay for it I found it particularly brilliant in describing teenage angst and apathy. 
Next time I quote from Hamlet I would like to give a much more prominent quotation which relates to some of the core ideas of the text.
Here the 'foul and pestilent congregation of vapours' refers back to the key idea of promiscuity between his mother and Claudius, her husband(who is her previous husband's brother and who murdered his brother to become king)
It also deals with the notions of perception; Hamlet here despite acting in his 'antic disposition' seems to be voicing his own views (this speech reminds me particularly of his first soliloquy, and the line "oh, that this too too sallied flesh would melt" which I will need to do a whole separate blog post on)
Obviously another theme is the corruption of the court and the idea of surveillance, being able to see through everything that happens at the court so that there is no possibility of privacy.
The 'quintessence of dust', which is a beautiful phrase, asks questions about the nature of death. In context, it shows how Hamlet goes from the knowledge and capabilities of mankind and life to discussing death. 

The entire section from which this quotation is taken shows the mix of idealism and pessimism that Hamlet battles with; his father is constantly idealised as a god-like figure, however here Hamlet voices the pessimistic ideas linking both with the corrupt court and Claudius. He also voices the pessimistic ideas associated with the end of the Renaissance period contrasted with the optimism of the Early Renaissance(voiced in the line "What piece of work is a man"

I hope to quote a lot more from Hamlet in the future, 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

On transplanting cells, not organs

This is fascinating. Here Susan Lim discussed the benefits of using iPS cells, and other stem cells in new forms of transplants.
These are adult cells taken from a patient's body and then turned back into undifferentiated, or pluripotent cells. Pluripotent cells can become any cell type in the body, which is really useful considering that adult stem cells eg. from the bone marrow, can't. Using embryonic stem cells, which is the alternative, is also fraught with ethical and moral dilemmas that go back to the question of whether an embryo is human; ie. when life begins. So this seems like a great way to go: however, consider this article in the Guardian that discusses a recent study where iPS cells were rejected in mice.
This is shocking because the iPS cells in the study came from the mouse itself, so in a way the mice were rejecting their own cells. The cells that came from iPS cells were implanted and then quickly destroyed by the mouse's immune system, whereas stem cells from embryos were not. The study is published in Nature.
This is probably down to abnormal gene expression, which has also been noticed in a variety of other cases. Cells derived from iPS cells have also been known to create tumours and a variety of problems, so they may not actually be the best way forwards.
Consider this article in the Guardian discussing the potential of reprogramming rather than transplanting tissue. Since these cells turn from one type to another, skipping the stem cell phase (ie. they re-differentiate), perhaps the ugly problems in iPS cell studies could be avoided.
This topic is very interesting, and research on stem cells and other forms of transplants and tissue repair are always emerging. The debate over transplanting organs and limbs vs. transplanting cells is also something to consider.