History Has Its Claws Into You

Time to listen and maybe learn?


Well, the curse has come true. We live in interesting times.

It friggin sucks and I personally had hoped to avoid this. I hoped to live out my allotted span on this earth in an era without any new world wars, great depressions, or global pandemics. Basically nothing that would be a required essay question on a 21st century history exam.

We are hauling up on the two-year anniversary of the Covid 19 pandemic, and even with the amazing success of the vaccines that brought us so much hope this time last year, we’re finding that The Omicron Variant (which sounds so much like a Robert Ludlum novel I can’t help commenting on it everytime I say it) is dragging the whole thing out longer and making everyone more bitter and exhausted than we thought possible a few months ago.

I personally hoped I would never live through a global…

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Seeing It From Russia’s Point of View

The scary reality of US military might!

Aging Capriciously

maxresdefault“This week, with Washington rejecting two of Moscow’s three key security demands, Russian military equipment massing near the border with Ukraine and NATO “prepared for the worst,” the question dominating global affairs remains: Will Russia invade Ukraine?”

“The White House answer is a qualified yes, the Kremlin’s a qualified no. Two of Western Europe’s most powerful countries, Germany and France, seem to think Putin is bluffing; a third, the U.K., seems pretty sure he’s not. Kyiv, meanwhile, is downplaying the threat of an imminent invasion by Russia. Analysts are similarly split.” — Parsing the Evidence: Will Russia Invade Ukraine? January 27, 2022

There is an old saying that you should walk a mile in another’s shoes before you judge them.  Today, we are once more on the brink of a war with Russia.  For over 100 years, Russia has been the big bad boogie man for America.  Nothing Russia does…

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The importance of recognizing our own self-worth — Where on Earth is Francine?

Kindness is the essence of us.

Robby Robin's Journey

These are fragile times. People have endured unprecedented challenges and restrictions on their movements and social interactions for two years and counting, and for many, many people it will take a long time to recover. In the past 24 hours, two articles have shown up in my news feed that just wouldn’t have been there before our time with COVID.

On CBC online (Canadian Broadcasting Corp):  Anxiety, depression, loneliness at highest levels among Canadians since early pandemic: survey … Nearly 1 in 4 respondents said they needed — but could not access — mental health support last year. 

From the Globe and Mail: Why loneliness is a serious and growing problem among seniors.

It’s not just seniors who are grappling with these issues.  And the reasons and circumstances vary.  But the constraints of the pandemic has severely impacted people’s ability to lead full, rewarding lives.

A few days ago a…

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Learning Every Day

Here’s to learning.

Surprised By Joy

I am learning all the time. My tombstone will be my diploma.” – Eartha Kitt

I’d like to say that when I was growing up, it was a family tradition that we went around the table to say what we learned that day. I have a vague memory that we did in fact do that but as the third and youngest child, I think that maybe it fizzled out by the time it got to me.

Regardless, I’m happiest when I’m learning something every day. In fact I was happily driving alone in my car the other day to Costco, listening to a Brené Brown podcast and thinking in the back of my mind, my blog should be titled or subtitled “What I Learned Today.”

At possibly the very same moment, fellow blogger Rosaliene Bacchus of the Three Worlds, One Vision blog typed a comment, “Wynne, it’s a…

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We’ve missed our utopian future

A little something to think about.

Matthew Wright

Back in the 1950s and 1960s the popular vision of the 2020s was simple. The future was defined as the turn of the millennium; the 2020s were the future of the future, and this nebulous future future had every potential to fix humanity’s problems. By the 2020s all disease would be conquered. We’d have climate control. All social issues would be resolved. Oh, and apparently we’d also have flying cars, self-aware computers and Mars bases.

It was a utopian vision. Still, when I look around at the world today, beset with a pandemic that has served to intensify the social disruption provoked by social media; beset with the the end-stage social outcomes of neo-liberalism; confronted by climate change that we triggered – but where major nations won’t stop doing the things that make it worse; and where AI is mainly a set of algorithms cynically designed to allow corporates…

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My name is Marwa

A sobering modern day story of enslavement.

Reframing Life

My name is Marwa and I am a resident of Gaza Camp. The inhabitants of Gaza Camp aren’t legally recognized by any country, we are more like visible ghosts. We don’t have a Palestinian passport, we only have a 2-year temporary Jordanian passports especially for people from Gaza. So in the eyes of the law we’re neither Palestinians nor Jordanians, we belong to no country. The refugees in Gaza camp escaped war in 1967 on foot all the way from Gaza until they arrived in Jordan, and were given 750 square meters- less than a kilometer of space — in northern Jordan. It was intended to be temporary, but now many generations have been born there and nearly 45. 000 inhabit the camp. The camp is overcrowded and bursting at its seams, but restrictive government policies have made escape nearly impossible.

Gaza Camp, Jarash, Jordan

Gaza Camp residents are not…

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‘In the End, You’re Treated Like a Spy,’ Says M.I.T. Scientist

Gang Chen was arrested a year ago on charges of hiding his links to China. The charges were dismissed, but he said the damage — to him, and to American science — has lingered.

Last week, the U.S. government dismissed the case against Gang Chen, in which he was accused of concealing seven Chinese affiliations in applications for $2.7 million in grants from the Energy Department.Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

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Ellen Barry

By Ellen Barry

  • Jan. 24, 2022


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When Gang Chen returned to his laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday, the day after the government had dismissed charges of lying on grant applications, he was surrounded by well-wishers, offering hugs and congratulations.

There were invitations, too. Colleagues were asking him to join funded research studies, resuming the work that has occupied his adult life.

Dr. Chen studies heat transfer; he hopes to develop a semiconductor that could convert heat from car exhaust into electricity, or fabric for clothing that could cool the body. During the year since his arrest, that had been the hardest thing, tearing himself away from research.

Dr. Chen said thank you, but no. After the experience of the last year — the early-morning arrest, the handcuffs and shackles, being described, in a news conference, as loyal to China — he is uncertain if he will ever feel safe applying for U.S. government funds for research again.

“You work hard, you have good output, you build a reputation,” Dr. Chen said, in a three-and-a-half-hour interview at his M.I.T. office, the first he has given about the case. “The government gets what they want, right? But in the end, you’re treated like a spy. That just breaks your heart. It breaks your confidence.”

Last week, the government dismissed the case against Dr. Chen, which alleged that he had concealed seven Chinese affiliations in applications for $2.7 million in grants from the U.S. Energy Department. Prosecutors announced that they had received new information indicating that Dr. Chen had not been obliged to disclose those affiliations, undercutting the basis of the case.

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“We understand that our charging decisions deeply impact people’s lives,” said Rachael Rollins, who was sworn in this month as the new United States Attorney. “As United States Attorney, I will always encourage the prosecutors in our office to engage in this type of rigorous and continued review at every stage of a proceeding. Today’s dismissal is a result of that process.”

The dismissal is a setback to the China Initiative, an effort started in 2018 to crack down on economic and scientific espionage by China. Many of the prosecutions, like the case against Dr. Chen, do not allege espionage or theft of information, but something narrower: failing to disclose Chinese affiliations in grant applications to U.S. agencies. Critics say it has instilled a pervasive atmosphere of fear among scientists of Chinese descent.

Dr. Chen described the experience of the last year as traumatic and deeply disillusioning.

In recent months, prosecutors floated an agreement in which the government would have dropped the criminal charges in exchange for acknowledgment of some links to China, he said. He refused it, he said.

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“That’s just my mentality,” he said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The son of two mathematics teachers who were sent to teach on farms during China’s Cultural Revolution, Dr. Chen grew up without any hope of becoming a scientist. His parents, the descendants of landowners, had a “bad classification” from the Chinese government, and were viewed suspiciously. His father warned him he would probably spend his life as a farmer.

But then Mao Zedong died. Dr. Chen was one of the first classes of Chinese students to take standardized tests, and his scores vaulted him into an academic elite. He immigrated to the United States at 25, and became a naturalized citizen in 2000.

During his years at M.I.T., he added, he had often dissuaded scientists who were being recruited to take their research out of the United States. The prosecutions of scientists in the United States have shaken him so deeply, he said, that he isn’t sure he would do that again.

“I don’t know whether I could give the same advice,” he said. “I don’t know how this is going to develop. I think the country must wake up. We are killing ourselves. We are committing a real suicidal act, right? I really don’t know how to advise people now on this. Maybe give it some time. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”

“There is nothing to congratulate,” Dr. Chen said in the first interview he has given about the case. “It’s just a sad history, sad for the country.”
“There is nothing to congratulate,” Dr. Chen said in the first interview he has given about the case. “It’s just a sad history, sad for the country.”Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

By 2019, the Justice Department had begun to announce charges against scientists collaborating with Chinese institutions. Dr. Chen followed the cases casually, through friends and colleagues. He decided against taking a sabbatical year in China, for fear it would make him a target.

In January 2020, he was alarmed by the arrest of Charles M. Lieber, the head of Harvard’s chemistry department, who was charged with hiding his participation in China’s Thousand Talents recruitment program. But neither Dr. Chen nor his colleagues saw parallels with their own activities, he said.

“Most of us, when we looked at the government accusation, we said, ‘Wow, he did that?’” he said. “You see, you tend to believe in government.”

But he, too, was under investigation. That same month, Dr. Chen was detained for two or three hours at Logan International Airport as he returned from a trip to China, Egypt and Morocco. He answered questions from a Homeland Security agent, balking only at the end of the interview, when the agent asked for the passwords to his devices.

M.I.T. provided him an outside counsel, Robert Fisher, a former prosecutor who met with him eight times over the course of the next year. Still, Dr. Chen said, he had little concern that the investigation would result in anything.

“My thinking is, I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “So whatever they look at, they won’t find that I did anything wrong.”

At 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 14, 2021, he was making coffee when someone came to the door. He opened it to see between 10 and 20 federal agents. He was told to stand in a corner while agents went to wake his wife and daughter. When his wife saw that he was being handcuffed and led away, she began to speak to the F.B.I. agents, and he considered calling out to her, to tell her to stop, but was afraid to speak.

“I didn’t dare use Chinese — because I spoke with her in Mandarin, right, most of the time — but I didn’t dare to use Chinese,” he said. “I regret so much, once they took me away, because I should have shouted in Chinese to her, ‘Anything you say can be used against you.’”

Dr. Chen spent the next few hours in custody, pacing in his cell and then doing yoga. He remembers asking the F.B.I. agents whether they had been asked to make sure he did not commit suicide, and reassuring them that he did not intend to. When he was finally released, at around 2 p.m., and was in a car on the way home, he began shaking.

Dr. Chen, who has experimented with standup comedy, joked — half-joked — that the experience had so disgusted them that both he and his wife lost weight.

“We were both of us so disgusted,” he said. “We didn’t know what this word really meant. It’s real. Disgust is biological. We used to see this word, but it’s a biological reaction after everything that has happened.”

Understand the Case Against Gang Chen

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Who is Gang Chen? He is a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was arrested on Jan. 14, 2021, and charged with grant fraud. Born in China, he has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000.

What were the accusations against him? Dr. Chen was accused of hiding his affiliations with Chinese government institutions in applications for $2.7 million in grants, failing to declare a Chinese bank account and making false statements to government officials. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

What is the China Initiative? It’s a government effort, initiated under the Trump administration, to stop scientists from passing sensitive technology to China. Dr. Chen was charged as part of the program, which has been widely criticized for singling out Chinese scientists and is currently under the Justice Department’s review.

What was the reaction to the case? Dr. Chen’s arrest was met with protest from many in academia, who said prosecutors had overreached, blurring the line between grant disclosure violations and more serious crimes like espionage or intellectual property theft.

What is the U.S. now seeking to drop the charges? Prosecutors submitted a motion to dismiss those charges on Jan. 20, 2022, stating that new information had emerged during their investigation and could no longer meet the “burden of proof at trial.” A judge is expected to rule on the motion soon.

Dr. Chen was put on paid leave, so he was not allowed on campus or to have contact with M.I.T. employees. He had five or six active research projects, and during the months that followed, they slowed and faltered. The 15 postdoctoral students he worked with were transferred to other research groups, taking their knowledge with them.

“We are all losers, right?” Dr. Chen said. “My reputation got ruined. My students, my post-docs, they changed their career. They changed to other groups. M.I.T., the country, the U.S., we lose. I can’t calculate the loss. That loss cannot be calculated.”

Last September, he got good news. Prosecutors had floated the idea of a deferred prosecution agreement, which would have allowed him to return to work and apply for government grants in the future. In return, said his lawyer, Mr. Fisher, he would have to admit to having some ties to China, none of them a violation of the law.

Such a deal, Mr. Fisher said, is “very, very rare,” and would have insulated Dr. Chen from the risk of going to trial, something he tried to impress on Dr. Chen.

“A lot of people would view that as a win,” he said. “I told him, ‘God, this is going to be crushing for me if we get a guilty at trial and I’m sitting with you in the courtroom.’”

Dr. Chen said he considered the deal seriously. But he feared that there would be lingering questions about his innocence, or that he would be asked to speak to prosecutors about his colleagues.

“I would never incriminate anybody,” he said. “And seeing how terribly they can stretch the facts, I have zero confidence in them. Absolute zero.”

When the government’s motion to dismiss charges was made public, last Thursday, Dr. Chen was inundated with congratulations from colleagues. But he was somber.

“It’s hard to tell them directly that there is nothing to congratulate,” he said. “It’s just a sad history, sad for the country.”

He is not certain how he will resume his scientific career. Without a research group or a funding stream, he has been working on individual research papers. On Thursday, the day the charges were dropped, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. to finish a paper on energy transfer in water.

But he said speaking out about the China Initiative felt like an obligation. In an editorial in the Boston Globe, Dr. Chen has called for Congress and the Justice Department to review his case and hold people involved in the prosecution accountable.

And for now, at least, he has no interest in research grants from the U.S. government.

“I am angry, I am afraid,” he said. “My love is science. I did not want politics, right? I saw that, and I got away from it. I do my devotion to science. I help people, I support. But I learned that you can’t get away. Politics impacts everybody. So if there are things that are not right, we all need to speak out.”

The Beauty of Diversity

Another great post from John Persico on the theme of diversity.

Aging Capriciously


Diversity is the most beautiful thing in the world. If you can suspend your judgements and look at the world through the perspective of diversity, you will be treated to a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, habits, traditions, ideas, beliefs, and stories. You will see a world that is complex beyond belief. A world that no artist or musician or writer could even begin to describe. Take away diversity and the world is a grey amalgam of people who look alike, think alike, and act alike. Diversity makes the world interesting and challenging.

For some, diversity conjures up the idea of race. Many people think of diversity only in terms of race or gender. I remember when I used to facilitate leadership teams and project teams. I would use the Myer Briggs Personality Inventory to balance out specific psychological characteristics for my teams. My primary thought was that we needed a…

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Taking the Crust Off

Looking back at ourselves?

Surprised By Joy

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

Around Christmas, my mom was helping my 6-year-old daughter with some Legos. Frustrated by something she tried many times, my mom turned to me and said, “Do they sometimes forget to put pieces in these kits?”

I laughed because I’ve thought that many times. When the instructions don’t work and everything seems to almost but not quite fit and I want to blame the instructions. But from my experience, it has never been the instructions that have been faulty. I’ve usually found an error in previous steps that once reversed, it works fine.

Life has taught me that this just doesn’t happen with Legos. That when life feels blocked, often we spend a lot of energy trying to problem solve where we are at before realizing we go back a few steps to fix what…

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