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Radio Lab: Parasites and More

If you like to learn, even if you’re not particularly scientific, give Radio Lab from NPR a try. Today, like any that I listen, I learned heaps about a topic I’d never even think of. This time that topic was — parasites.

Yes, parasites. Not something we hear about on the daily news or in school or in conversation.

Listening to Radio Lab today, I came to respect, yes, respect parasites and the scientists who study them.

Here’s a bit that I learned that parasites like hookworm caused lethargy in the 19th Century South, which is said to explain in large measure economic slow down, that blood flukes can live in your system for 40+ years and eventually make you sick, and they’re monogamous. And that a parasite that thrives in cats can brainwash a rat it might have wound up in driving rats to fall in love with cats and as a result most likely wind up eaten so that the parasite is back at home in a cat. These parasites can also get in people and cause havoc. Some think there’s a relationship between schizophrenia and cats because after people started keeping cats as pets, schizophrenia became more common.

Parasites can be good. Good parasites are getting wiped out, and new diseases like Crohn’s disease have become common as sanitation has wiped out both good and bad parasites.

I’m not making this up. I came away thinking that nature is just astounding.

You can try Radio Lab here and choose a podcast on such topics as: color, synchronicity, time, God and many more. The tone, music and narrative used in these programs makes it fascinating.

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A Night to Remember

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

A Night to Remember (1958) is a disaster film with dignity. It lacks the sentimental love story, which was central to Titanic, but that’s why it’s a better film. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film shows the swells enjoying the high life and the boisterous fun below in steerage mixed in with the misplaced wire messages about the iceberg and the frustrating refusal of nearby ship called the California to believe the Titanic’s distress messages.

The film shows people of all sorts, some willing to help their fellow passengers and others who’ll kick and claw their way into a lifeboat. The film weaves the facts in so you don’t feel like it’s a history lecture. You root for the characters all the while knowing most won’t make it. When the boat starts tilting so much that it’s at a 45° angle, you feel dreadful. Still the film is rather emotionally restrained, much more so than the more recent film with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Criterion Collection offers a good essay on the film here.

Lyric’s Bel Canto

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Chicago’s Lyric Opera is now showing Bel Canto, a new opera based on Ann Patchett’s novel about the hostage situation in Peru in the 199o’s. Patchett added to the real event by creating a cast of characters, adding some romance and cross-cultural lessons.

Bel Canto takes place in Peru when the Vice President has throws a party for an important Japanese business man who’s a big opera lover. Soprano Roxane Cox, Mr. Hosokawa’s favourite singer, will perform. Thus the opera opens with the excited arrival of guests to a once in a lifetime event.

Yet early on the mood is transformed when guerrilla soldiers storm the mansion and take everyone inside hostage. Like the real event, the guests are held hostage for 4 months. During that time, romances blossom, cultural barriers crack and crumble.

Except for the very end, the opera follows the plot of the novel. I thought the music was wonderful, but some lyrics were too mundane such as a the piece between a rebel woman and a translator who’re in love. When they’re in the kitchen for some private space, they sing of pots and pans and saltshaker and amor. It didn’t work for me. All in all, Bel Canto is an accessible opera that fans of the novel will enjoy, especially if the composer goes back and makes some of the lyrics more poetic rather than mundane.

Also, the audience doesn’t get as intimate a sense of the characters as we did with the book. Now, of course, opera is a different art form, but great operas masterfully communicate the desires and thoughts, Bel Canto can too.

Readers, PBS’ Great Performances taped the opera when I was there so you don’t have to spend $50-289 to see it. Even though there were some rough spots, it’s well worth watching on TV.

More reviews

Safe & Sound blog
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wall St. Journal

 

 

CSI: Cyber Crime, Review

This image was downloaded from Serienjunkies.de

I caught this new CBS show when I was in Beijing. The plot was cookie-cutter and predictable. The character’s emotions were flat and simplistic. There was really little suspense and I pitied the actors in this franchise. Were they promised better writing?

In this episode the FBI Cyber team discovers that an evil computer genius has tampered with the airport outlets where people can charge their electronic devices. It’s called juice jacking, when the devices not only get charged but all the data is copied and sent to the criminal. In this story, starring Patricia Arquette, shortly after their data’s stolen, victims received a message instructing them to send $200 to an account or all their data would be put on the internet.

It’s a nefarious crime. I suppose each week, viewers learn about the multitude of ways they can be victimized via cyber criminals. There’s definite potential for drama, but the flat-footed characters would be hard to watch each week.

Chronicle of a Summer

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I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

A Touch of Sin

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A Touch of Sin , directed by Jian Zhangke, blew me away.

I think I was expecting a movie about love affairs or something with a touch, i.e. a little corruption.

The film could be called A Massive Dose of Sin as it dramatizes four true events in modern China. True events, my mind still swirls.

The film features four stories that overlap a tad. First we see a villager who’s fed up with the corrupt village chief who promised that proceeds from the sale of a mine would be shared with the villagers. While the chief travels by private jet and owns a luxury sedan, the villagers have netted zero. When trying to speak to the chief gets him no where, the villager turns to violence — in a big way.

A Touch of Sin - Stills - Lian Rong (Li Meng) 02 Copyright Xstream Pictures (Beijing)

Later we meet a professional thief who returns to his village for his mother’s 70th birthday, a mistress who gives her lover an ultimatum and a factory worker who heads to a bigger city, with brighter lights and more action. None of these characters fare well. They get caught in the wheels of the greed of modern China. There’s plenty of violence and blood in each story, which I still am stunned that they’re all true. The cinematography is outstanding and the dialog spare. Jia shows us these tales and leaves us with little commentary or preaching on what to think about the brutality. The scenes all feel so real, so real that it’s scary.

A Touch of Sin won for best screenplay at Cannes in 2013.

I’m glad I saw it, but watching a second time would be too much for me.

Grantchester

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When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

Downton Abbey, 5.6-7

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The last two Downton Abbey episodes have really moved along. I’m delighted that the pace picked up. In episode 6 Cora discovered that Edith is Marigold’s mother and she made Violet and Rosamund take her to the hotel where they had fled to. As usual, Cora was quite composed, though disappointed that she’d been kept in the dark about Edith’s pregnancy as any good mother would. She cooked up the scheme to bring Marigold into Downton’s nursery under the pretext that the farmers couldn’t afford to keep her and Edith would adopt her. By the end of episode 7, Robert guessed that Marigold isn’t really adopted.

I was surprised that Rose’s engagement was so short. Suddenly, at episode 7’s start everyone’s preparing for her wedding. The only problem is that Atticus’ is Jewish and both his father and her mother don’t approve of mixed marriages. Rose’s mom, the ultimate sourpuss Susan goes as far as setting up Atticus by having a floozie take suggestive photos with him. Fortunately, the ruse doesn’t work. Nor does Susan’s announcement that she and Rose’s father Shrimpy are divorcing stop the wedding, although Atticus’ dad disapproves of divorce. We don’t know that much about Atticus, but he’s good looking and seems nice. I just hope he doesn’t die. Mary, Edith, Tom and Rose’s generation does not have a good track record for marriages. I suppose someone’s spouse bound to live. (I’ll count Edith in this list though she didn’t get a chance to marry her beloved.)

The Lord Gillingham/Mary relationship has been over and it seems he’s moved on. He’s realized that his former fiancée suits him best. Nothing’s moved forward with Mary and Blake and since Mary’s so critical and aloof, I think he can do better. The energy they shared when they saved the pigs has cooled.

The police investigation has slowly moved along.  In episode 6 the police seemed to have Mr. Bates in their crosshairs, but by episode 7, they brought Anna in for a line up and then arrested her. Anna! She can’t have done it, though she had a reason. It seems way out of character.

Tom is seriously considering going with his daughter to Boston to start a new life. I really hope he doesn’t. He adds a down-to-earth perspective to the family and I doubt life in Boston would be preferable. It’s good for Tom to bond with Sybil’s family and he can find love in the village, he just needs to seek out someone with similar values and decent manners. He has valuable work at Downton and couldn’t be replaced.

The episode ended very much like season one of The Village did, with the ceremony for the unveiling of the WWI memorial.

Moone Boy

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My new favorite comedy is Moone Boy created by Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy. In this Irish sitcom import, Martin Moone (David Rawles) is a twelve year old with a full grown imaginary friend named Sean. Martin lives with his shambolic family, which consists of his father who runs a sign shop, his mother who becomes Weight Wishers counselor and three older sisters who don’t like Martin at all.

Martin needs someone in his corner and Sean helps him navigate the slings and arrows of school, romance, and family life. Set in 1989-90s, Moone Boy reminds me of The Wonder Years. It’s got wit and heart. The acting, particularly Martin’s performance, is natural and the pace is brisk. Each episode, available on Hulu.coma and PBS in some areas, wrings the most from every story. In the two seasons I’ve seen every episode delights.

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 5

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I thought episode 5, hummed along a bit faster than previous episodes. The big news was that Grigson’s death was confirmed and Edith was grief-stricken. Mary was her usual icy self. She seems to have lost any warmth she had when Matthew was alive. Yes, she and Edith are rivals, but most sisters form alliances every now and then. Mary has no women friends (well, no one on the show does, which seems odd) and shows zero compassion for anyone other than herself. (Which may be why she didn’t think twice of making Anna take her birth control and its manual home with her.)

Thus I fully understand why Edith ran to the farmers house, grabbed her daughter Marigold and fled. Life around Mary and the others who’re absorbed with their own little problems. Episode 6 should offer a lot of action for Edith.

Mr. Bates discovered the birth control and its manual and confronted Anna. In the end Anna explained they belonged to Mary, but Bates couldn’t fathom why Lady Mary, a widow, would need them. (Remember the “sketching trip,” Bates. Not everyone is truthful.) He’s holding a grudge against Anna.

There was a little thawing between Cora and Robert, who’s still angry about finding an art historian in his wife’s bedroom. Seems fair enough and Cora could have chucked that bounder out in a flash rather than going back and forth listening to Bricker spout off about her beauty and charm. No real damage was done and Robert’s sure to come round.

Mrs. Patmore looked into buying a cottage and that’s inspired Carson to think of buying property — with Mrs. Hughes. Love seems to be simmering under the surface, which is nice, but seems forced by the writer.

Mary’s second suitor Mr. Blake is matchmaking between Lord Gillingham and Mable Whoever. He connived to get them together at the equestrian event. It’s a little far fetched, but will probably work. I had feared that Gillingham was out for revenge and would spread rumors (well the truth) about Mary to besmirch her reputation. Seems that won’t happen.

Violet’s hired a new lady’s maid who’s very set in her ways and unwilling to abide by the customs of this house. If I were Violet, I’d just dismiss her. If the woman’s already a problem, it’s unlikely she’ll change her spots.

Rose is getting closer with Atticus Aldridge, a fine gentleman, whose only problem (for her parents I’ll bet) is that he’s Jewish. The show has brought up that Cora’s half Jewish this season and that’s a shock the Abbey inhabitants have absorbed, but my hunch is this will be an issue. The youngest woman in the cast is bound to marry someone who’s unacceptable; it goes with the territory.

The episode featured an important horse race, called a point to point or steeplechase. Mary competed and this time she explained why she rides side saddle, though most women rode astride since the end of the Victorian era. It seems her grandmother, Violet, would never let her hear the end of it if Mary rode astride.

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