Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN
Published: November 18, 2007
Sunny days! The earliest episodes of “Sesame Street” are available on digital video! Break out some Keebler products, fire up the DVD player and prepare for the exquisite pleasure-pain of top-shelf nostalgia.
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For adventures in digital culture, don't miss The Medium, a blog by Virginia Heffernan.
Just don’t bring the children. According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”
Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. “What did they do to us?” asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.
Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.
Live-action cows also charge the 1969 screen — cows eating common grass, not grain improved with hormones. Cows are milked by plain old farmers, who use their unsanitary hands and fill one bucket at a time. Elsewhere, two brothers risk concussion while whaling on each other with allergenic feather pillows. Overweight layabouts, lacking touch-screen iPods and headphones, jockey for airtime with their deafening transistor radios. And one of those radios plays a late-’60s news report — something about a “senior American official” and “two billion in credit over the next five years” — that conjures a bleak economic climate, with war debt and stagflation in the offing.
The old “Sesame Street” is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper “Elmo’s World” started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original “Sesame Street” might hurt your feelings.
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.
Snuffleupagus is visible only to Big Bird; since 1985, all the characters can see him, as Big Bird’s old protestations that he was not hallucinating came to seem a little creepy, not to mention somewhat strained. As for Cookie Monster, he can be seen in the old-school episodes in his former inglorious incarnation: a blue, googly-eyed cookievore with a signature gobble (“om nom nom nom”). Originally designed by Jim Henson for use in commercials for General Foods International and Frito-Lay, Cookie Monster was never a righteous figure. His controversial conversion to a more diverse diet wouldn’t come until 2005, and in the early seasons he comes across a Child’s First Addict.
The biggest surprise of the early episodes is the rural — agrarian, even — sequences. Episode 1 spends a stoned time warp in the company of backlighted cows, while they mill around and chew cud. This pastoral scene rolls to an industrial voiceover explaining dairy farms, and the sleepy chords of Joe Raposo’s aimless masterpiece, “Hey Cow, I See You Now.” Chewing the grass so green/Making the milk/Waiting for milking time/Waiting for giving time/Mmmmm.
Oh, what’s that? Right, the trance of early “Sesame Street” and its country-time sequences. In spite of the show’s devotion to its “target child,” the “4-year-old inner-city black youngster” (as The New York Times explained in 1979), the first episodes join kids cavorting in amber waves of grain — black children, mostly, who must be pressed into service as the face of America’s farms uniquely on “Sesame Street.”
In East Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1978, 95 percent of households with kids ages 2 to 5 watched “Sesame Street.” The figure was even higher in Washington. Nationwide, though, the number wasn’t much lower, and was largely determined by the whims of the PBS affiliates: 80 percent in houses with young children. The so-called inner city became anywhere that “Sesame Street” played, because the Children’s Television Workshop declared the inner city not a grim sociological reality but a full-color fantasy — an eccentric scene, framed by a box and far removed from real farmland and city streets alike.
The concept of the “inner city” — or “slums,” as The Times bluntly put it in its first review of “Sesame Street” — was therefore transformed into a kind of Xanadu on the show: a bright, no-clouds, clear-air place where people bopped around with monsters and didn’t worry too much about money, cleanliness or projecting false cheer. The Upper West Side, hardly a burned-out ghetto, was said to be the model.
People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading. Don’t tell the kids.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Within Discredited Stem Cell Research, a True Scientific First
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By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: August 3, 2007
The world of stem cell research was set reeling two years ago when its most successful practitioner, the Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, was found to have fabricated much of his work. But according to a new post-mortem of his research, he did achieve a scientific first, though not the one he claimed.
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Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press
The Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk was found to have faked data.
Dr. Hwang said he had derived embryonic stem cells from the adult cells of a patient, but the claim was discredited after parts of his research were found to have been faked. A team of Boston scientists has now re-examined stocks of Dr. Hwang’s purported embryonic stem cells and arrived at a surprising conclusion: His embryonic stem cells were the product of parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, meaning they were derived from an unfertilized egg.
A team led by Kitai Kim and George Q. Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston reports this conclusion today in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Embryonic stem cells derived through parthenogenesis cannot develop normally, so they are free of ethical objections. The cells could perhaps help treat degenerative diseases in women capable of supplying eggs, should effective treatments ever be developed.
Other researchers have since developed embryonic stem cells from parthenogenetic eggs, but Dr. Hwang’s team would have been the first to do so had its members recognized what they had done.
“It could have been a seminal finding if they hadn’t had their blinders on,” said Kent E. Vrana, an expert on parthenogenesis at Pennsylvania State University.
John D. Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University who had a ringside view of the Hwang affair as a member of the journal Science’s advisory board, said parthenogenesis had always been a possibility.
“I’m delighted there was an explanation that didn’t involve fraud,” Dr. Gearhart said.
Dr. Hwang soared to prominence after asserting in a report in Science in 2004 that he had developed embryonic stem cells from a patient, the first hurdle in the idea of rebuilding patients’ tissues with their own cells.
He said he had removed the nucleus from an unfertilized human egg and inserted a new nucleus from the adult cell of the patient. The egg developed into an embryo, from which his team claimed to have developed embryonic stem cells.
The editors of Science, the journal that published his claim, later retracted the article because the Korean committee that investigated Dr. Hwang’s work found that the supporting data had been faked.
As to the source of Dr. Hwang’s embryonic stem cells, the Korean committee said parthenogenesis was possible. But this could not be proved with the methods then available.
Dr. Daley has been studying parthenogenesis in mice with new devices that can analyze DNA at up to 500,000 sites on the genome. Recognizing that parthenogenetic cells have a special and unexpected genetic signature, Dr. Daley realized he could resolve the origin of Dr. Hwang’s cells.
“It becomes an historic irony that Hwang was the first to produce the parthenogenetic stem cell but didn’t appreciate what he had,” Dr. Daley said.
Although some creatures can reproduce by parthenogenesis, virgin birth would be a miracle in humans because the chromosomes from the mother and father each carry special chemical imprints, and both are required for normal development. Parthenogenetic embryos, in which both sets of chromosomes carry a female imprint, are not viable.
But Dr. Daley said that a case is known of a male patient who is a parthenochimera (“chimera” meaning an individual who is composed of two different types of cell). Two embryos, one normal and one parthenogenetic, fused in the womb. Some of the patient’s cells have the X and Y chromosomes of a normal man, but his blood has the two X chromosomes of parthenogenetic cells, evidently an instance of semi-virgin birth.
Dr. Hwang seems unlikely to get much scientific credit for developing embryonic cells via parthenogenesis because he said in his 2004 article that he had done tests showing that parthenogenesis was unlikely. He also said he had removed the nucleus from every egg, which he could not have done in the case of the egg that developed parthenogenetically.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
DC is great I had a wonderful birthday with food and friends. Thanks to Lauren I also participated in my first Crab Feast. A very special east coaster thing. Reading Harry Potter 7, on the long commute I have every day.
I'm living with my sister Mychell which has turned out to be not bad at all. Actually quite good except for that whole "I'm used to living alone thing" so I occasionally for get to do some common sense things that wouldn't cause issue in my house (like forgeting to replace the tp in one of the bathrooms.
On the whole all is pretty good.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
So I'm insane and taking 19 credit hours, originally so I could finish my dual focus MPH in two years so I could start my MD in '08. Well this plan completely backfired as I don't have enough time to study and take the MCATs again and will have to wait until '08 to apply. Leaving me with at least 9-6 months of working (hopefully) somewhere. Which everyone (everyone being my study partners Tony and Morgan and my sisters Mychelle and Marya) thinks is actually a good thing.
Maybe it is, but I dislike when my plans are rearranged.
Meanwhile. . .work work work. I do have some friends and my friend Stephan comes up to visit from Cincy so I do take time out. I'll post some pictures soon, meanwhile here's my favorite new clip.
Friday, February 16, 2007
So watch it then join in the fun.
Do try the link it is pretty fun
Monday, February 05, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
7th and Final Potter Book Out July 21
Filed at 3:40 p.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- Let it begin: the countdown, the party planning, the predictions, the meaning of it all.
The tears -- for the end of Harry Potter.
The world's most anticipated book finale, ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' will come out midnight, July 21, according to author J.K. Rowling and her British and U.S. publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, Inc. Ten years, and a few hundred million sales, after the first Potter book was released, Rowling will wrap up the magical adventures of the boy wizard, his friends and his enemies.
The author posted a brief announcement on her Web site Thursday, followed soon by releases from her publishers.
The news landed like a silent meteor. ''Deathly Hallows'' almost instantly topped the best seller lists on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, displacing another industry titan, an Oprah Winfrey pick, Sidney Poitier's ''The Measure of a Man.''
Potter readers, who had speculated the book might be published July 7 (7/7/07 for the seventh book) or July 31 (Harry's birthday), posted dozens of ecstatic messages on the Potter fan site, www.the-leaky-cauldron.org, within minutes of the announcement.
''OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!!!!! I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS!!!!'' read one typical message.
''WAH!!! I think I'm going crazy!!!! We finally have a date!!!'' added another fan.
Other comments were sadder, noting the series' conclusion.
''I can't wait to read the book, but at the same time, I'm afraid to read it,'' read a message from a fan named Christine, who identified herself as a ''30-something'' mom. ''I can't stand the thought of anything happening to the characters that I've grown to love! What an odd feeling.''
Christine and others have a lot to look forward to -- and to fear. Rowling's stories have darkened considerably since the first release, ''Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,'' and the author has said two characters will be killed off in Book 7.
''I don't always enjoy killing my characters. I didn't enjoy killing the character who died at the end of Book 6,'' Rowling said during a reading last summer at Radio City Music Hall, declining to name that person in case someone had yet to finish the book.
''I really didn't enjoy doing that but I had been planning that for years so it wasn't quite as poignant as you might imagine. I'd already done my grieving when I actually came to write it.''
Rowling left millions sobbing at the end of Book 6, with a death and Harry's decision to take on the evil Lord Voldemort. Other cliffhangers for the faithful:
--Who is R.A.B., the mysterious person who took one of the magical items Harry has been searching for? And what did he do with it? And where are the other ones?
--Will Harry and Ginny ever be able to be together?
Still more unanswered questions: How many copies of ''Deathly Hallows'' will be printed and how many pages does it run? Judging from the suggested cover price, a meaty $34.99, $5 more than for Potter 6, ''Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,'' the last book will likely match or exceed the 600-plus page length of previous releases.
''We have held the price for the past four years,'' Scholastic publicist Kyle Good told The Associated Press. ''In that time, costs of production, paper, trucking, gas and security -- to be sure all readers can enjoy the book at the release time -- have all increased.''
Fans can pay much less for ''Deathly Hallows.'' Amazon.com announced that it would sell the book for $18.89, a 46 percent discount. Barnes & Noble.com offered the same price, but only for store members. Price competition has been so intense over the years that many retailers have acknowledged they don't make money on the fantasy series, depending instead on customers buying other books along with Potter.
Since Rowling first introduced Harry and his fellow students at Hogwarts to the world 10 years ago, the books have sold more than 325 million copies in 64 languages, broken countless sales records and shattered assumptions that young people, especially boys, don't like to read. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,'' published in 2005, had an announced first U.S. printing of 10.8 million copies and sold 6.9 million copies in its first 24 hours.
Four hit movies already have been adapted from the Potter books. The fifth film, ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' is scheduled to come out July 13, just eight days before the release of ''Deathly Hallows.''
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this story.