Friday, November 06, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss

"I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit... For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." -- Ecclesiastes 1, 17-18.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"The Doc said he would inoculate me with a vaccine, then I'd be immunized"

With Swine 'Flu (don't forget that apostrophe, folks!) and regular 'flu stalking the land, conversation this Fall has often turned to the subject of the 'flu shot. Or indeed shots, plural, because regular influenza requires a different (... uh... vaccine? inoculation?) shot from the more scary H1N1 virus, also known as Swine 'Flu.

What is the difference, I wonder, between these verbs, which we all use interchangeably? To vaccinate; to immunize; to inoculate?

Inoculation, strictly speaking, means putting something into another organism where it will grow or reproduce. It is used most commonly to refer to putting serum, vaccine, or antigenic substance into the body of a human or animal, especially to produce or boost immunity to a specific disease.

Vaccination: the word originates with the work of Edward Jenner, sometimes known as the Father of Immunology, because he figured out that milkmaids did not seem to catch Smallpox (and had fair, unmarked skin), because their work with cows (French: la vache, from Latin: vacca), caused them to catch a milder variety of the disease, Cowpox, which produced an immune response. Ergo: they could not catch Smallpox.

Immunization means the process by which an individual's immune system becomes fortified against a disease or pathogen.

After all that, I sort of see how each word differs in its definition, but also how they overlap. It's time for a joke: last winter, a man says to his friend, "I said that Americans would never elect a black man as President, never in a million years, pigs will fly before that ever happens! And the next thing that happens? Swine 'Flu!"
[Adding a final word or three to this post: a fairly common expression at home in Ireland, aimed at anyone who talks a lot, is: "Where you inoculated with a gramophone needle when you where a child?" It seems to be a common expression across the English-speaking world].

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Like a slow sledge hammer!

"You are a terrible woman; but I love your pulse!"

I recently watched — and loved — The Millionairess, a play by George Bernard Shaw, in a 1972 BBC production starring Maggie Smith as a monstrous English woman in the title role. Tom Baker hilariously plays an Egyptian Muslim doctor, who is her polar opposite.

She is stinking rich; he gives every penny he earns away to the poor. Shaw uses the play as a vehicle for his Socialist ideals, ramming home point after point about the evils of the wealthy accumulating their money/power while the poor starve, fall sick, suffer and die. He is acute on every point, and though almost too didactic, he is far more subtle than say, Arthur Miller, whose plays are blunderbusses to Shaw's scalpel (and with none of Shaw's humor).

Tom Baker (yes, Doctor Who!) is seen above after discovering that stinking rich Epifania, the Millionairess of the title (Maggie Smith), has kicked someone down a hotel staircase, then pretends it is she who is in need of medical attention. He checks her pulse, and gasps. For she has a pulse "like a slow sledge hammer..."

I love Baker's voice when he delivers this beautifully alliterative line. Of course, the doctor falls in love with her:

THE DOCTOR [coming to her and feeling her pulse]: Something wrong with your blood pressure, eh? [Amazed] Ooooh!! I have never felt such a pulse. It is like a slow sledge hammer.

EPIFANIA: Well, is my pulse my fault?

THE DOCTOR: No. It is the will of Allah. All our pulses are part of the will of Allah.

ALASTAIR: Look here, you know, Doc: that wont go down in this country. We dont believe in Allah.

THE DOCTOR: That does not disconcert Allah in the least, my friend. The pulse beats still, slow, strong. [To Epifania] You are a terrible woman; but I love your pulse. I have never felt anything like it before.

PATRICIA: Well, just fancy that! He loves her pulse.

THE DOCTOR: I am a doctor. Women as you fancy them are nothing to me but bundles of ailments. But the life! the pulse! is the heartbeat of Allah, save in Whom there is no majesty and no might... One, two, three: it is irresistible: it is a pulse in a hundred thousand. I love it: I cannot give it up.

BLENDERBLAND (whom she had kicked downstairs): You will regret it to the last day of your life!

Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity

My friend Drucilla Cornell has written a new book: Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity.

Briefly: Professor Cornell, a former union organizer and professor of feminist jurisprudence is the presently occupant of the national research foundation chair in customary law, indigenous values and the dignity jurisprudence (that's a mouthful) at the Law Faculty at the University of Cape Town.

She has been interested in the transition of Eastwood (below, with his wife) from his Dirty Harry days to the introspective, even ineffectual men of his more recent movies, grappling (she says) with the classic male American stereotypes — cowboy, cop, soldier, boxer — and, she argues, he has helped sink these images as they were already foundering.

Monday, November 02, 2009

There Are Some Things Money Can't Buy

There are so many reasons to vote that little shit Bloomberg out of office tomorrow, as he attempts to buy a third term (should we say steal a third term?), but here I present two. The first one is the above photo; need I say more?

The second is this fact: at a time when 'ordinary' people are struggling with hard times, poverty, lay-offs, no cash or not enough cash to go around, "Bloomberg is spending $35,000 an hour out of his own pocket on his campaign." [NY1]

Riverside Church Labyrinth

Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is the tallest church in the U.S. and also — to my fascination when I first discovered it years ago — has a labyrinth or maze outlined on the floor of the nave.

The labyrinth is designed to be walked by those of faith while pondering and meditating. In the largest sense, it represents the twists and turns of the road of life, those times of confusion or moments of uncertainty, when, in reprising them by walking the labyrinth, one gains at very least perspective on one's problems. Two images of the actual Riverside Church labyinth, below.