The Monthly Memo — July Edition


The Vatican is a European Institution

The case of sick baby Charlie Gard has reignited the debate on the role of state in making health care decisions for those who are incapable of doing it themselves. In this case, should Charlie's parents be allowed to bring him to the United States for experimental treatment, or is it really in his "best interest" to be taken off life support, as the state claims? The Vatican weighed in recently, but with a very surprising press release that sided with the courts and not the baby's parents. What was behind the uncharacteristic statement? European technocrats. I explain in detail below. 

But what is overlooked about the Vatican’s initial comments on the subject — and it is the Vatican’s, not just a wing of it — is that it was written within an entrenched European technocratic bureaucracy that is usually found more in the upper echelons of the European Union, not the Catholic Church.

For all Europe has to offer the world, one of its greatest failings is its tendency to use the state for any number of policy objectives that we in the United States usually leave to individuals or local government. In this case, judges-as-doctors is not strictly a European phenomenon (the Terri Schiavo case reminds us of that), but it happens in Europe more often, and for certain reasons that don’t exist in the United States...

Sometimes it is easier to speak of empathy and prayers than it is to cross a multinational, faceless, and entrenched state, especially when political philosophies are already so aligned. Those philosophies are ultimately the lens through which both institutions view their corner of the world. 

Read more at Medium.

Instagram Food is a Sad, Sparkly Lie

I do not have an Instagram (I like photography but don't have much of an eye for it myself). But I am still familiar with Instagram food -- the aesthetically pleasing pictures of outrageous dishes, exotic restaurants, or basic "fancy" food. Think artisan ice cream. Here, Amanda Mull from the food site Eater takes on the illusion of Instagram food and tears it to shreds. Her critique is compelling, even though I tend to reject the way she tries to fit everything into a race/class/sex framework. Instagram food might be fun to look at but it ultimately leaves something to be desired. 

There are rules for being an Instagram influencer. First of all, be famous, or at least related to someone famous, and if you can’t be famous, at least have the decency to be rich. Second, as in most public-attention-based endeavors, be young, female, and conventionally attractive. Third, you’ve got to go on vacation. No one needs to know why, or what you’re vacationing from, you’ve just go to go on vacation all the time. Fourth, you are obligated to, at some point, post pictures of food.

Not just any food — Instagram food. Maybe a sushi donut, or something covered in glitter that isn’t usually covered in glitter, or a confection so full of food coloring that its bitterness needs to be evened out with massive amounts of sugar. Here’s the important part: Even if you just did it for the 'gram, you’ll have to swear up and down that you cleaned your plate.

Read more at Eater.

Prime Cut
The best of the best

Huh’s math career began with much less acclaim. A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied to graduate school, he was rejected by every university save one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world. He is best known for his proof, with the mathematicians Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito, of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his collaborators achieved it—by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in another where they didn’t seem to belong. This past spring IAS offered Huh a long-term fellowship, a position that has been extended to only three young mathematicians before. Two of them (Vladimir Voevodsky and Ngô Bảo Châu) went on to win the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics.

That Huh would achieve this status after starting mathematics so late is almost as improbable as if he had picked up a tennis racket at 18 and won Wimbledon at 20. It’s the kind of out-of-nowhere journey that simply doesn’t happen in mathematics today, where it usually takes years of specialized training even to be in a position to make new discoveries. Yet it would be a mistake to see Huh’s breakthroughs as having come in spite of his unorthodox beginning. In many ways they’re a product of his unique history—a direct result of his chance encounter, in his last year of college, with a legendary mathematician who somehow recognized a gift in Huh that Huh had never perceived himself.

A Math Genius Blooms Late and Conquers His Field from Wired