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September 19, 2004

BehindTheMedspeak: You are an embryo - when it comes to stem cell transplantation

Nejm

Pardon me if I've said this before, but I'm still not seeing anyone else drawing this conclusion.

Turn a blind eye?

Turn the other cheek?

Both might be apt, after all.

Japanese researchers report in this week's New England Journal of Medicine that they have successfully transplanted thin layers of cheek cells onto the eyes of four blind patients with a rare and painful eye condition causing clouding of the cornea, restoring their sight.

The new corneas were still clear 14 months later.

They took 3-millimeter-wide squares of tissue from inside the patients' cheeks and used a low-temperature technique to grow them into thin layers in the lab.

The new cell layers stuck to the eye without stitching and, within one week, developed into tissue that looked and acted like healthy corneas.

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Awesome.

September 19, 2004 at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Waiter, there's a microchip in my pork chop'

Intelinside

Could happen, what with this morning's news that a half-ton of pork has been recalled by Sioux-Preme Packing Co. in Sioux Center, Iowa, after the company learned that the 110 pork shoulder butts in question came from a research herd implanted with microchips.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "intel, inside".

So, if the person next to you happens to say, "Domo, arigato," in a kind of metallic voice, just shrug and go about your business.

It'll pass.

September 19, 2004 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How many names has God?

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Judith Miller, the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter (currently facing arrest and imprisonment after being subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame/Robert Novak column flap), said 99.

Arthur C. Clarke, back in 1953,

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said 9 billion.

What do you think?

September 19, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Lab-on-a-Chip

Biochip

It's here.

True, it's still in the lab and not in your doctor's - or employer's - office, but it's coming a lot sooner than you think.

Think Big Pharma is lucrative?

Just wait until One-Hour DNA Analysis kiosks open in your neighborhood shopping mall.

The newest devices, about the size of your little fingernail, require only a tongue or cheek swab - no blood, no needles - to produce results.

The first chips will screen for 100 or so genetic defects, but that's just the camel's nose under the tent.

Multi-billions in profits await those who get to the market first.

September 19, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eiko Ishioka

One

I'd never heard of her until yesterday.

It was in a review of Cirque du Soleil's new show, "Varekai."

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The reviewer, Peter Marks of the Washington Post, couldn't stop talking about the spectacular costumes of the performers, designed by Ishioka.

Who is she?

Well, for one thing, she's considered Japan's greatest living designer.

In 1965, at age 26, she became the the first and only woman ever to be awarded the Japan Advertising Artist Club Prize.

In 1975, she became Issey Miyake's boutique designer.

In 1984, she won a special Jury Prize at Cannes for her designs for the play "Mishima."

In 1988 she won a Tony Award for best costume design for the play "M. Butterfly," as well as a Grammy for the cover of Miles Davis' album.

In 1992, she won the Academy Award for best costume design.

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So that's who Eiko Ishioka is.

September 19, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'It's like trying to find the meaning of life while standing on one foot'

Gehry

Frank Gehry, on how difficult it is to design a new chair.

It took 120 prototypes before his now-legendary basket-weave chairs for Knoll were deemed finished.

This coming Wednesday, September 22, a new show, "The Furniture of Frank Gehry," will open at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Hemicycle Gallery will display 17 pieces by Gehry: chairs, tables, stools, and a bench.

All remain in production at four of the most adventurous companies in furniture design: Knoll, Vitra, Heller and Emeco.

Easy Edges, the famous corrugated cardboard collection, was the earliest.

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Conceived and produced from 1969-1973, these pieces consisted of 60 layers of cardboard glued together, than cut and shaped.

The pieces sold then for $35-$100.

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Decades later, Vitra resissued four items from the Easy Edges collection, and now sells them for $1,045-$4,440.

Knoll now markets the bentwood chairs (a chair and ottoman cost $3,875),

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which are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The new Emeco Superlight, Gehry's take on the company's classic World War II-era Navy submarine standard issue chair, weighs 6.5 pounds and costs $350.

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[via Linda Hales and the Washington Post]

September 19, 2004 at 06:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Disturbing and at the same time gratifying' - Harold Bloom on St. Thomas

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Bloom has long admired the Gospel of Thomas.

He said, "Setting aside the New Age nonsense, the Gospel of Thomas has the dignity, power, and persuasiveness of a ritual text. Each time I've finished reading it I find him irresistible, this Jesus."

Bill Broadway, the excellent religion writer for the Washington Post, said in yesterday's story about Thomas that he is arguably the most popular chronicler of Jesus outside organized Christianity.

Broadway wrote, "Discovered more than half a century ago at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, the Gospel of Thomas is a listing of 114 purported sayings of Jesus that emphasize the divinity within each person. This and a lack of references to the Crucifixion, Resurrection and salvation through Jesus as Christ make for a kind of feel-good spirituality that appeals to Christians and non-Christians alike."

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"Dozens of Thomas titles are available in bookstores and via the Internet, and the mix of scholarly and popular offerings continues. Elaine Pagels, whose 'Gnostic Gospels' introduced Thomas to non-academics 25 years ago, boosted his popularity last fall with 'Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,' intended to appeal to Christians who no longer accept the church's traditional teachings."

September 19, 2004 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'It's my greatest compliment' - Groucho Marx

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He was talking about what legendary playwright George S. Kaufman (above, on the cover of the November 20, 1939 issue of Time magazine) said to him.

Kaufman told Groucho he was the only actor he'd allow to ad-lib from something he wrote.

This, from Dick Cavett's wonderful reflections on Kaufman, which appeared in Friday's Wall Street Journal.

Cavett is a superb writer; his pieces appear very sporadically in print, in the New Yorker and elsewhere.

Here's Friday's story.
_____________________

A Wit for All Ages

When I was a lad, there were four great wits alive in the land.

They were: Groucho Marx, S.J. Perelman, Fred Allen and George S. Kaufman.

And they were great wits, not just joke-tellers or sketch artists.

This is a fact, by the way, not an opinion.

Alas, the poor young today, who rarely seem to know anything predating their own birth, might score badly if they were asked to identify any of these names, particularly the man on the dustjacket of this book.

In case he should come up on the SATs, I will try to help them a little on who he was.

My adoration of George S. Kaufman was made possible by the arrival of network television, at long last, in Nebraska.

Until then Uncle Miltie was but a rumor.

Among the programs that finally made their way into our household was "This Is Show Business," with the urbane Clifton Fadiman as host (how many can identify him? hands?).

He and a panel of three "experts," including Kaufman, amusingly dealt with a performing guest's stated "problem."

On one show a callow Eddie Fisher sat down beside Fadiman. "Panel," he said, "my problem is that I'm appearing at the Latin Quarter, and the beautiful show girls, when they find out how young I am... they won't go out with me."

He then sang and returned for his advice.

Kaufman had a few words for him: "Mr. Fisher, there is a telescope on Mount Wilson so powerful that it can magnify the stars 16 times the magnification of any previous telescope. And, Mr. Fisher, there is atop Mount Palomar a telescope that can magnify the stars at eight times the magnification of the Mount Wilson telescope. [A pause, as people wonder if he is all right.] Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn't be able to see my interest in your problem." (Pandemonium.)

That same man was kicked off "This Is Show Business" for uttering at Christmas one year: "Could we make this one show where nobody sings 'Silent Night'?"

The boobs sprang from their lairs, making ugly comments and demanding that he be fired.

As Fred Allen noted at the time: "Television had but two wits, Groucho and George S. Kaufman. Now television is half-witted."

The network eventually came to its senses and Kaufman was allowed to return.

But of course television was only what today we might call a late career move.

Kaufman's fame rested most of all on his Broadway success, especially in the 1930s and early 1940s.

"Kaufman & Co." (Library of America, 911 pages, $25) presents comedies from this era by Kaufman and a dazzling array of collaborators: Morrie Ryskind ("Of Thee I Sing" and "Animal Crackers"), Edna Ferber ("Dinner at Eight" and "Stage Door"), Ring Lardner ("June Moon") and, most famously, Moss Hart, with whom Kaufman teamed to write "Once in a Lifetime," "You Can't Take It With You" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

All these works ended up as movies, sometimes truly memorable ones.

But Kaufman's daughter, Anne, said that her dad took no interest in the films of his work.

His attitude toward Hollywood was: "Grab the money and run for the train."

With wealth, he became the target of hucksters.

"Mr. Kaufman," one told him about a mine he should invest in, "I tell you, you can pick up chunks of gold off the ground!" To which Kaufman replied after his trademark pause: "You mean I have to bend over?"

Sometimes he had to bite the bullet and stay awhile in Los Angeles.

Standing outdoors one day on the movie lot, he and a friend were watching a skywriter at work.

"That," said Kaufman, "is the only thing I've read since I've been here."

The joys to be had reading these plays are considerable.

There is a miraculous non-datedness about them that is hard to explain.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the humor is not gag humor.

The laughs come from brilliance of construction, context and vocabulary.

The line that triggers whoops of laughter may well be no more than "I'm sure you will" or "Don't be surprised."

As for the characters, you find yourself liking them and wishing to see what happens to them next, not least because of the text's delightful stage directions, which come in friendly and colorful passages of prose seemingly addressed just to you. ("We see the living-room, if you can call it living." "To say the lady is sarcastic is putting it mildly.")

And by reading the plays, you get something that people only seeing them don't get - a chance to linger over the language and its brilliant satirical effects.

Satire remains hard to define.

Kaufman's undisputed mastery of it once caused him to be asked for a definition by someone hoping, no doubt, for a learned and wordy answer.

"Satire," Kaufman replied, "is what closes on Saturday night."

It is one of his most treasured sayings, revealing the notorious Kaufman pessimism, an outlook that led him to keep his second-string drama post at the New York Times well into his illustrious and financially rewarding theater career.

Brooks Atkinson, his boss at the paper, said: "Kaufman seemed convinced that theater success could wither and die, but that The Times would roll on - and feed him."

Not that he didn't earn his keep.

His reviews could be terse: "I saw the play at a disadvantage. The curtain was up." (Not for long.)

Of a doleful comedy: "There was laughter at the back of the theatre, leading to the belief that someone was telling jokes back there."

If holding human folly up to scorn is closer to your definition of satire, then "Dinner at Eight" is a feast.

The scenes from frivolous high society are full of pointed humor, of course.

Amid the cocktail chat someone suddenly says, "Goodness knows where any of us will be this time next year."

The cheery answer: "Oh, America will come out on top."

And does this idea - from one of the chatterers - ring a bell?

"They say it's getting warmer every winter.... They say there'll be palm trees growing where the Empire State Building is."

But there is a dark feeling that envelops you as you read this play, a creeping certainty that something just awful will be the fate of its glittering creatures after the curtain rings down.

Tragedy comes during the play for the sad John Barrymore figure, an actor on the fringe of the dinner-party crowd whose drunkenness keeps him fatally from it.

Though by no means prissy, the dialogue in "Kaufman & Co." steers clear of naughtiness, though not always.

There is a near-dodgy moment in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," the play about an acerbic New York critic marooned in a provincial household.

The flamboyant Banjo (modeled on Harpo Marx), visiting his critic-friend, keeps threatening to deliver a limerick but is always stopped after the first line.

Connoisseurs of filthy limericks will recognize the old classic, "There once was a lady from Wheeling."

Whether Hart or Kaufman supplied it, probably both were amused at getting it past the bluenoses, who might have been disposed to banish it if they only knew enough. (Kaufman was once heard to say to a playwright whose work was anything but subtle: "I hear your play is full of single entendres.")

"You Can't Take It With You" may be the only cuddly play in this collection.

Its Depression-era household, full of lovable eccentrics living together in harmony, is irresistible, even when only moderately well-performed.

Someone reported an instance when a group of mental patients were taken to see it.

The depressives all wanted to stay.

The gods did not allow me to know Kaufman.

While still in college, I stood in theater outer lobbies on Broadway opening nights to see who swept in.

After one or two minor sightings, one night I suddenly felt a galvanic skin response.

I had looked upon George Simon Kaufman himself.

I mentally lash myself now that I didn't wait around until he came out, even if only to get dismissed.

When you're young, you think there will be time for everything.

I went to his funeral in 1961.

Campbell's Funeral Home, on Madison Avenue, was packed, but I squeezed into a side room.

Standing before the casket was the fastidious and elegant Moss Hart.

He removed his notes for the eulogy from his jacket pocket and said: "I can hear George now, over my shoulder, saying 'It needs cutting.'"

I spotted, a few feet away, an intelligent-looking man, keenly listening and observing, holding an unlit cigar.

Groucho Marx.

That day, we became friends, and it greatly helped make up for my not being able to say the same about Kaufman.

Groucho told me (repeatedly): "You know Kaufman said I was the only actor he'd allow to ad-lib something he wrote. It's my greatest compliment." (He was visibly moved each time.)

Groucho had flown in for the funeral.

Just before I thrust myself on him, outside, mingling with the throng of mourners, I heard a low and lovely woman's voice say: "Hello, Groucho. I'm Edna Ferber."

I couldn't help thinking, "We're not in Nebraska anymore."

The world of these plays and the world of the people who wrote them - are they from a better time?

If only the answer weren't so easy.

September 19, 2004 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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