Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) falls on the first full week of October, meaning that this year it will occur October 7-13. MIAW was established by Congress in 1990 after the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) pushed to increase public awareness about mental health and illness and to reduce stigma in talking about mental health issues. In 2018, NAMI is promoting the theme of CureStigma to get rid of the environment of shame or fear that prevents individuals from seeking help. There are several other days in October further dedicated to the focus on mental health in our society. World Mental Health Day falls on October 10 with the emphasis this year on young people and mental health in a changing world. Recent previous themes include mental health in the workplace (2017), psychological first aid (2016), dignity in mental health (2015), and living with schizophrenia (2014). Furthermore, October 11 is National Depression Screening Day, and October 9 is National Day Without Stigma.
The goal of these October events is to increase awareness about mental illness, promote community outreach and public education, advocate for treatment and recovery, and fight stigma that prevents people from seeking help for mental illness. At the Rockefeller University, we have the chance to do that too. Rockefeller has many resources available to those struggling with mental health, if one just knows where to look. One common complaint I have heard from the campus community is that these resources may be hard to find, so I have worked with Human Resources to compile this list below:
- Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik
Private confidential sessions on-site in OHS, HOS118.
Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Call x8414 for an appointment.
- Weill Cornell Psychiatric Center
315 East 62nd Street, 5th Floor
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
$15 copay (RU Choice and RU Managed Care Plans)
20% coinsurance after deductible (Oxford Plan)
- Employee Assistance Program Consortium
409 East 60th Street, Room 3-305
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
On-call therapist available after hours
Occupational Health Services
OHS serves to promote a culture of physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Two nurse practitioners and an occupational health nurse are available to help with any stress you may find yourself dealing with. The office is located in HOS 118 for drop-ins, or call x8414 to schedule an appointment.
Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction
Tuesdays, 12pm or 12:30pm, RRB110; September – May
Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor health. Its effects can cause physical illness, damage relationships, and negatively impact work performance. Mindfulness meditation is a means to reduce stress, boost the immune system, improve attention, and promote well-being.
To help manage stress through healthy eating habits, the University offers a nine-month lecture series and one-on-one nutrition counseling sessions. The series begins in the fall.
This is a seven-week series throughout the year designed to focus on different parts of the body. The fall series begins September 10, 2018 in the Great Hall, Welch Hall.
Beginner Class at 12 p.m.; Intermediate Class at 1 p.m.
Must register at x7788.
Tuesdays 12pm – 1pm. Meet at Security booth at 66th Street.
Step away from the stresses of your day and walk or run with a group or solo at your own pace. See Tim Blanchfield, Fitness Manager, for more information.
Exercise is also vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress.
Located on the 6th floor of Founders Hall, from free weights to cardio equipment and classes, the gym contains several options to fit everyone’s fitness needs. For more information and to find classes you may be interested in, click here: http://inside.rockefeller.edu/hr/aboutGym.
Stressed over childcare?
Bright Horizons offers backup daycare for when your regular arrangements are unavailable. They have center based and at-home care available. Call 877-BH-CARES for more information.
Stressed over Eldercare?
Bright Horizons offers assistance in finding a home health care provider. Call 877-BH-CARES for more information.
Retirement Planning – A TIAA representative is available on-site to discuss your personal financial situation. This includes discussions about saving for college, purchasing a home, etc. while continuing to save for retirement.
Saving for College – Applying for college can be stressful, but what about paying for college? The University offers you the option of payroll deductions for the NY State 529 plan. Find out more at www.NYsaves.org. Additionally, the University offers tuition reimbursement for fulltime staff employees.
While most of these resources are available to students, post-docs, faculty, and employees at Rockefeller, the options may differ based on your position or immediate needs, so please reach out to Human Resources if you are unsure which option would be best for you.
We do have fantastic resources available at Rockefeller, but from my experience, some students are hesitant to use them. Cost should not be a factor, as the psychiatry services available are either free or a small co-pay. Some people are afraid of their mentor or peers finding out that they are struggling, as this may affect the perception of them as a scientist. As a community, let’s break the stigma of being able to talk about mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health and Rockefeller is working hard to foster an environment of overall well-being for its community. Academia can be a highly stressful place in which to work, especially if one lacks encouragement from a superior or peers. The university is a place where support can come from many levels that all contribute to the current and future success of its trainees. One of the most protective things that I have found for my own mental health is feeling a sense of community, both inside and outside of the lab. So look out for each other, find things to engage in that you are passionate about, and take advantage of the resources Rockefeller has to offer. This is how we will set up trainees to be successful, productive, and satisfied.
With another academic year underway and Halloween at our heels, what better time to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? In this two-part play, the Hogwarts students that we came to know so well through J.K. Rowling’s seven book series now have kids who are attending the same school of witchcraft and wizardry and having their own adventures.
Like many Potter fans, I picked up the script when it was published, hoping for a nostalgic hit of the magical world from my childhood. And like many fans, I was disappointed with what I read because it didn’t have the feel of J.K. Rowling’s writing, making it easier to start nitpicking at the plot and some character developments. I still knew I was going to see the show because I’ll see anything Harry Potter related, but I had reservations. Would John Tiffany and Jack Thorne’s script be translated to magic on the stage? Or would it feel like a commercial cash cow? Did it need to be two shows?
The most affordable way to see the show is by entering the Friday Forty on the TodayTix app. Every Friday from 12:01 a.m. until 1 p.m., you can put in an entry for the following week’s shows, and then they contact the winners between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. that same Friday. New blocks of tickets are released every few months from the box office if you want to avoid paying marked-up resale prices, but you might have to wait a few months for your date. However, another Broadway secret to getting a ticket to a nearly sold out show is cancellation lines. The show’s popularity and the day’s weather usually determine how early people start forming a line at the box office for cancellation tickets. These are tickets that are returned to the box office on the day of the show; the box office will sell these tickets to the first person in the cancellation line as the tickets are returned. Most cancellation tickets aren’t sold until minutes before the show is about to start, and frequently these are center orchestra tickets at face-value. The number of returned tickets fluctuates every day (though rainy days tend to have more), and this is not a guaranteed option. You could wait all morning and go home empty-handed.
This was the option I decided to go with to see the show this summer. I always bring something to read with me to pass the time, but I’ve also had many wonderful experiences meeting new people in theatre rush or cancellation lines because everyone already shares a common interest in the show. There is also often a sense of camaraderie in waiting so you can pop out of the line to get food or coffee or find a restroom. This summer, I got in line around 9:30 a.m. and about five minutes before the show started, I was called into the box office to get a ticket that was ten rows from the stage, directly in the center of the theatre for face-value. Still a splurge, but definitely worth it.
My reservations about seeing the show quickly vanished as I watched the magic unfold on stage. The costumes are stunning and the staging is impressive. Even the carpets around the theatre are on theme; the Lyric Theatre was specifically redone for $33 million dollars for this production, and it shows. They even have a cafe inside where drinks, sandwiches, and snacks are surprisingly available for prices that may be cheaper than what you can find around Times Square otherwise. This play is promoting a #KeepTheSecrets social media campaign that encourages people who have seen the show to not reveal the visual effects and moving moments so that everyone who comes to see the play can share the same experience, even those who have read the script. I want to respect that tradition, so I will avoid sharing details. But I will say that the acting and staging dramatically change the experience of the story from just reading the script, and the visuals are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen on stage. I found myself being more drawn into the themes of how PTSD affects parenting (because how could Harry not have PTSD) and how being raised by people of fame changes childhood more than I was when just reading the script. So if you’re coming to see the original book series or movies on stage, you might be disappointed, but if you let a new story be told in the same realm you are familiar with, you’ll get your hit of nostalgia with a great day of theatre. Does it need to be two shows to tell the story? Probably not. Does it need to be two shows to let you soak in the magic that theatre and Harry Potter can pull off in just a few hours? Probably.
- The process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically : the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli
- a : Opportunity to be heard, to present one’s side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated
b (1): a listening to arguments (2): a preliminary examination in criminal procedure
c : a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses
- chiefly dialectical : a piece of news
Over the course of the past year, activism has erupted around topics that have slowly but steadily been creeping into the public consciousness. In the era of activism surrounding the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, hearings—as well as the absence of them—have been permeating the news. Trials and convictions for the shooting of unarmed black men and women, as well as those for cases of sexual harassment and assault, have been both present (in frequency) and elusive (in the follow through). Notably, most recently, and what sparked my curiosity about the word “hearing,” has been the four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, the slated replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court.
During these hearings, Senators questioned Kavanaugh regarding his stance on various political and legal issues that would affect his time on the bench. At a base level, this process is consistent with the second definition listed above: a hearing is the “opportunity to be heard, to present one’s side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated.” It further defines a hearing as “a listening to arguments” or “a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses.”
Based on this definition, a hearing takes a conceptual step away from the simple nominal form of the word “hear” and adds on the process of listening for the purpose of making a decision. The process of explicitly connecting the simple act of listening to the law took about three hundred years, starting as early as the 1200’s. In the early 13th century, the verb “hear” was defined as “the perception of sound by ear,” or “the action of listening.” Originating from the old English heran, it also meant “to obey, to follow; to grant, accede to,” and—most interestingly—“to judge.” In the 1570s, the verbal noun used in the context of the law surfaced, defined as “a listening to evidence in a court of law.”
It is clear from these definitions that the verb “hear” is not just a general awareness of sound. It is also referring to the perception and understanding of that sound, meaning the act of listening is intentional, not passive. When thinking about this definition in the context of the law today, and specifically in the context of Kavanaugh’s hearings, one must question whether this definition is truly applicable. Listening with the intent to understand does not seem to be a skill in the wheelhouse of many of our politicians. White House officials and Republican Senators alike have withheld hundreds of thousands of documents about Kavanaugh’s record; conversely, confidential documents have been leaked anonymously. Kavanaugh is supported by conservative Republicans almost exclusively, and opposed by Democrats almost exclusively. The Republican agenda to push him through to confirmation seems to be motivated not by a willingness to truly listen to the arguments of those who may suffer with another conservative judge on the bench (due to his stance on Roe v. Wade or his definition of birth control, for example)—ironically, in this regard, these politicians have turned a deaf ear.
Following the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018) and the Telluride Film Festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), the Oscar race is unofficially (or officially, depending on with whom you speak) underway. In many ways, the last Oscar race took place during the year of the woman. For one, people across America took part in the Women’s March—widely considered the largest single-day demonstration in the history of the U.S. But for another, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) tied a record for nominations of women set in 2016 by nominating them across most Oscar categories, including those traditionally dominated by men such as cinematography, directing or film editing. The official Academy tally shows that forty women received nominations in competitive, non-acting categories. Brava, but if the impending confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land is any indication, sadly there is a long, long, long way to go. So, let’s keep our attention on women and begin this first of a four-part series focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race.
Last year, we saw #OscarsSoWhite kept at bay for a second year in a row with people of color represented in the major categories, and of course, #MeToo was front and center with many stars wearing black at the Academy Awards in solidarity. I had asked in my first column of this series whether the Academy would shy away from the state of the nation under Trump’s thumb with their nominations or look him square in the eye. I would argue the latter based on how things shaped up. The critical reception of the films that will screen over the next couple of months will tell this year’s tale. For now, let’s examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.
The Best Actress race saw Frances McDormand leading the field with her powerhouse performance in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri as Mildred, a mother who goes on a warpath against the complacent police department in her small town who failed to solve her daughter’s murder case. McDormand went on to win the Oscar but not without competition from Saoirse Ronan, who plays the titular teenager in the coming of age drama Lady Bird.
Of the roles that were discussed here, only two secured Best Actress nominations: the aforementioned McDormand and Meryl Streep for The Post. Mother! was too divisive for Jennifer Lawrence to get her foot in the door, and Kate Winslet’s shot with Wonder Wheel went down along with helmer Woody Allen who became embroiled in the #MeToo controversy. Meanwhile, Emma Stone was overlooked for her remarkable portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, likewise Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom in Molly’s Game. The Academy also couldn’t find room for Dame Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, likely because the film itself was a bit stilted. That left only Emma Thompson, whose film The Children Act was pushed to this year and fell out of contention. Instead, the last two slots were filled by Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya).
THE RED QUEEN: Olivia Colman – The Favourite (director: Yorgos Lanthimos):
FYC: This biographical drama focuses on the behind-the-scenes politics between two cousins who compete to be court favorites during the reign of Queen Anne (Colman) in early 18th century England.
Most of Colman’s film accolades have been for 2011’s Tyrannosaur, which won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress and the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema – Dramatic Acting award (shared with co-star Peter Mullan). However, most of her overall acclaim has come from television. All told, Colman has earned two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards 1) in 2013 for two separate performances in Accused (Best Supporting Actress) and Twenty Twelve (Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme), and 2) in 2014 for Broadchurch (Best Leading Actress), three additional BAFTA nominations for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme (Twenty Twelve in 2013, Rev. in 2015, and Fleabag in 2017), and a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. That’s a pretty lengthy list, but with critics singing Colman’s praise in Venice and Telluride for her performance in The Favourite , her list of film accolades is about to get much longer. There has been a lot of chatter about whether she or either of her two co-stars (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) is the lead in this Golden Lion nominee of the Venice Film Festival, so Colman could end up in the Best Supporting Actress category but a nomination seems inevitable.
THE FIRST-TIMER: Glenn Close – The Wife (director: Björn Runge):
FYC: In this drama, based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name, a wife questions her life choices as she accompanies her husband to Stockholm where he will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Would you believe me if I told you that Close has been nominated for six Oscars but has never won? It’s true. Beginning in 1983 for her supporting role in The World According to Garp, Close earned three consecutive nominations in the category for The Big Chill and The Natural. She then earned her first of three Best Actress nominations in 1988 for Fatal Attraction followed by Dangerous Liaisons in 1989 and Albert Nobbs in 2012. Close is already receiving rave reviews for her performance, including my own:
“Glenn Close packs a perfect punch in The Wife. Her low simmer heating to a boil has never been better, and she is headed straight for the Best Actress Oscar race!” that combined with her perpetual bridesmaid status should be more than enough to land her in the top five.
THE MUSICIAN: Lady Gaga – A Star is Born (director: Bradley Cooper):
FYC: Yes, that Bradley Cooper. The actor has stepped behind the camera for the first time to tackle one of Hollywood’s timeless tales of love and stardom in which a musician helps a young singer and actress (Lady Gaga) find fame as age and alcoholism cause his own career to spiral downward.
This is the fourth time the film has made it to the silver screen. The first, in 1937 starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, both of whom earned Oscar nominations (six Oscar nominations and two wins, including an Honorary Oscar for W. Howard Greene’s color photography, Metacritic Score: 77). The second, in 1954, starred Judy Garland and James Mason who were also nominated for their roles in this musical version of the classic (six Oscar nominations, Metacritic Score: 89). The last version, in 1976, starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, neither of whom were nominated for acting (three Oscar nominations and one win for Streisand for Best Music, Original Song, Metacritic Score: 58). Forgive the pun, but critics from Venice to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been going gaga over the latest version, and Gaga’s performance in particular. She has been nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song for the documentary The Hunting Ground in 2015, and has found success as an actress on television winning a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for American Horror Story just two years ago. The film is easily one of my most anticipated of the year, and with even skeptics falling for it, it looks to be a major awards contender this season (current Metacritic Score: 87).
THE WIFE: Viola Davis – Widows (director: Steve McQueen):
FYC: Set in contemporary Chicago, this heist drama based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name, follows four desperate women who pick up the slack after their criminal husbands were killed and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Davis finally won her first Oscar in 2017 for Best Supporting Actress (even though her role was really a lead) in Fences. I suspect the category fraud was to make room for her in a crowded field. Davis was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2008’s Doubt and famously lost Best Actress for The Help in 2012 to Meryl Streep. She has also been a regular in the television awards circuit, receiving back-to-back nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama for her role in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. This same role netted her a Primetime Emmy in 2015. Most recently, Davis earned an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series nomination for her crossover role on Scandal. One could argue that Davis is overdue for a Best Actress Oscar and reviews out of TIFF for Widows suggest this may be the role to do it.
THE COMEDIENNE: Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? (director: Marielle Heller):
FYC: Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, this drama tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorts to forgery to revitalize her failing writing career.
McCarthy was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Bridesmaids in 2012, a role that also netted her BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations. In 2011, she won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Mike & Molly, a role she was nominated for subsequently in 2012 and 2014—both years where she earned double nominations for Saturday Night Live as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. McCarthy also earned nominations for SNL in 2013, 2016, and 2017 for her hosting duties, and a Golden Globe nomination for Spy in 2016 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Here, McCarthy steps into the dramatic arena having built a successful career as a comedian, and following the film’s premiere at Telluride, many critics consider it the best performance of her career. It could very well be her ticket to a Best Actress Oscar, but could the roles of other women in the category be considered more important?
THE DETECTIVE: Nicole Kidman – Destroyer (director: Karen Kusama):
FYC: In this crime thriller, a police detective (Kidman) reconnects with people from a previous undercover assignment to make peace with her demons.
Kidman’s 35-year career is on an upswing. Last year she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Lion and just this year she won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Big Little Lies. She was first nominated for Best Actress for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and won in that category the next year for The Hours. Kidman was also nominated for Best Actress in 2011 for Rabbit Hole. Following the premiere of Destroyer at Telluride, Kidman was lauded for her performance. Although a nomination is not out of reach, a win could be a bit difficult because the film itself is said to have some issues. Kidman is also competing against herself and may instead be nominated for her supporting role in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased.
THE NEWCOMER: KiKi Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk (director: Barry Jenkins):
FYC: Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, this drama follows an African-American woman (Layne) who scrambles to prove the innocence of her fiancé, who was wrongly-convicted of a crime, while carrying their first child.
Jenkins’ last film Moonlight, featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors, took the world by storm when it won Best Picture in 2017 following what is now known as the worst flub in Oscar history: when La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Moonlight was nominated for seven other Oscars, two of which it won: Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and included a Best Supporting Actress nod for Naomie Harris. Given the success of the film, all eyes were on Beale Street at TIFF, and early word is that it doesn’t disappoint, announcing Layne as a star in the making. The film, Layne’s first feature film, currently boasts a Metacritic score of 86, well within the realm of a Best Picture contender. Given what Jenkins accomplished with Moonlight, which is only his second film, could lightning strike twice?
THE WHITE QUEEN: Saoirse Ronan – Mary Queen of Scots (director: Josie Rourke):
FYC: This epic historical drama, based on John Guy’s biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots, chronicles the 1569 conflict between Mary Stuart (Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth I, who had Stuart imprisoned and facing execution for plotting to overthrow the Queen of England.
Ronan first earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 2007’s Atonement, and she has since been nominated for Best Actress twice: last year for Lady Bird and in 2016 for Brooklyn. Those same roles earned her BAFTA nominations as did her role in The Lovely Bones in 2010. The latter, along with Lady Bird, earned her SAG nominations, and she has been nominated in three different categories: Best Young Actress (Atonement, The Lovely Bones, which she won for, and Hannah); Best Actress: (The Lovely Bones, Brooklyn, and Lady Bird); and Best Actress in a Comedy: (Lady Bird).
Unlike the other films discussed here, this one has yet to screen so we don’t really have much to go on outside of Ronan’s stature in the Oscar field. But she looks very strong in the trailer and appears to showcase a lot of range. Ronan joins Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain as an actress who is likely to win at least one Oscar for her work—she just needs the right role at the right time. Could this be it?
The leading roles discussed here are a snapshot of safe bets as the Oscar race begins. There are many others to consider, including Claire Foy in Damien Chazelle’s space biopic First Man based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, which examines the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the Apollo 11 mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Foy has received raves out of Venice and Telluride for her performance and with the film a likely Best Picture contender, she should figure prominently this season. It will be interesting to see if Toni Collette can hold on for a nomination following the premiere of Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. The last time an actress was nominated for a horror film was in 2010 when Natalie Portman won for Black Swan—a film that was originally seen as not “Academy friendly”. There’s also a shot for Felicity Jones who plays Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in On the Basis of Sex, Carey Mulligan in Wildlife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in All About Nina, and the aforementioned Thompson for The Children Act. Oh, and if it has an Oscar-qualifying run, Taraji P. Henson in The Best of Enemies.
Stay tuned in November when I examine the Best Actor race and the leading men that drive it.
Camila Cabello’s Havana Wows Pop Music
Photo: Sony Music Entertainment
The first time I heard the pop song Havana by Cuban-American recording artist Camila Cabello was on a radio tuned to one of my 20-year-old daughter’s stations. I was immediately floored by the the great groove and the unusually complex, smooth, and melodic vocals. I’ve lamented for many years that most contemporary rock and pop songs bounce back between two or three chords and depend on singing lines that border on the monotonous. I’ve also long held the opinion that the main concern in today’s music is tilted towards the emotional state of the lead singer, too often an expressive lament over a broken relationship or other adolescent issues that have long ceased to concern, amuse, or interest me. Therefore, as an old-school rock-and-roll geezer, my attention was pleasantly caught by Havana as it played that first time for me over the airwaves. When I got home, I located the song on Spotify and found it sounded even better on good audio speakers. My daughter popped into the room as I listened, informing me that she too loved the song, and suggested I find Cabello’s version in English, rather than the Spanish one I was listening to. I had been so transfixed by the entirery of the music that it didn’t register that I hadn’t comprehended a word.
Havana was released in the summer of 2017 and was composed by Cabello and nine other writers. But the magic, along with her fantastic singing, is in the tune’s brilliant production by Frank Dukes. Much of the song is done with just a few instruments, a minimalist and smart use of piano, horns, and creative bass playing. The bass line hits many wonderful lower fret notes, and they buzz and reverberate while remaining softly cool, calm, and completely unaggressive. Cabello’s voice is stunning, displaying multi-faceted and multi-dimensional textures and emotions. The lead vocal is powerfully up front in the mix, teeming with a Latin pop feel expressing sensuality and confidence, along with a big dollop of subtle and clever humor. In the sections with just a sparse piano and bass accompaniment, her singing is bold and forceful. Each time I listen, I look forward to two of her well-produced vocal twirls in the melody, nailed by Cabello with delightfully awesome wonder and beauty. Her multi-tracked backing vocals are best listened to with good headphones with the singing “placed” and separated by producer Dukes to the far left and right sides of one’s internal listening space, making it startling, fresh, and surprising every single time.
Soon after I fell for Havana, I read an interview with Cabello in Rolling Stone magazine and learned how she has deftly handled the social media attention and drama surrounding her leaving a girl group that we rock-and-roll geezers don’t give an old man’s hoot about. But she also spoke about choices and chances and more on the art and craft of music than many of her contemporaries about whom I’ve read interviews.
Last month, I hunted down the song’s video, which is truly clever, downright funny, and does justice to the song. I’ve since learned that the video won many music industry awards and has been viewed 680 million times on YouTube. Cabello plays several roles in the short film, and there is a telenovela-in-a-video, a family sage-in-a-video, and a movie-in-a-video in Havana as well as other unexpectedly funny turns. Cabello’s Spanish-speaking grandmother in the video is played by a bearded man wearing a wig and a nightgown and his heartfelt concern about Cabello’s lonely, homebound alter-ego makes you forget it’s a young man doing the worrying. There is a short rap break in the song performed by Young Thug that is tasteful and fits in well with the groove of the recording. Once again, the production makes the transition from Cabello’s singing to the rap a seamless one, and Young Thug’s appearance in the video works nicely within the framework of its many shifting themes.
Havana is the best song I’ve heard in twenty or thirty years. The only great rock and pop songs in recent memory for me have been by Joe Strummer and The Mescleros, which were composed and recorded between 1999 and 2002. Havana delights with each listening experience. As one who records and writes his own music, I find it inspiring on many levels, from composition, performance, and in cleverness and production. I hope to hear many more songs in the coming years from this young talent expressing her good vibes and playful humor. I recall that as a teenager in 1975, I read a music review in Rolling Stone by its editor, Jann Wenner, of a concert in Los Angeles by the Rolling Stones, which he felt was the best show of their entire tour at the time. The last line read something like, “For days I talked about it to anyone who would listen.” Since hearing Havana I am doing the same, telling friends, colleagues at work, and even random strangers just how great this tune is.
Cold Spring Harbor, NY
Where the trail ended there stood a handful of trees in a field, one seemingly impaled by the fragment of another. Under the chainsawed end of fragment there was a glinting light. Upon closer inspection, the light revealed itself to be a glass hemisphere, and when viewed from the right (wrong) angle, the hemisphere displayed a warning. Maybe not all that is intriguing deserves investigation.
One of the best ways that I know how to take myself out of lab life is to see live theatre, and I’m lucky that New York City offers an overwhelming number of options to do this affordably (though Hamilton ticket prices may have you fooled about this).
One of the aspects I love most about going to the theatre is the acute feeling that I am part of a connected community. As an audience member at a live theatre performance, you’re part of the experience in a way that is different than watching a movie or reading a book (pastimes I also enjoy and support!) because your attention and energy mix with those around you. This atmosphere affects the performers and the audience’s experience, for better or worse. One of my more memorable theatre-going experiences was seeing the final performance of The Color Purple revival in 2017. The Clintons arrived. The house shook with applause that never quite died down as each song about the female protagonist, rising above the oppression of the men in her life, unfolded on stage. Not every theatre experience is as emotionally charged as that one, but they all offer a chance to see life from a different perspective and with a unique group of people. In future posts, I hope to highlight shows I’ve watched on and off Broadway, but this time I want to give you tips for seeing theatre on a budget.
If you are a full time student, teacher, or faculty member (or other qualifying category), the Theatre Development Fund is your friend — https://www.tdf.org/nyc/24/Eligibility-Requirements. For just $35 a year, you will have access to dozens of theatre experiences in the city, many of them on Broadway. You can purchase tickets in advance for multiple people, and prices range from $9-49, with only a $4 processing fee. Hamilton and Wicked won’t show up through this service, but popular shows like Carousel and Hello Dolly have. You don’t find out where your seats are until you arrive at the theatre, but I’ve often lucked out with orchestra seats! Seeing Broadway on a budget is rarely going to get better than this.
Lotteries also offer a way to see a Broadway show inexpensively, but of course, you shouldn’t rely on winning to have plans to see theatre that night. Some shows like Mean Girls, Book of Mormon, and Once On This Island offer in person lotteries every day that are usually drawn two hours before the performance. In the last couple of years, many shows have begun to offer digital lottery options. Broadway Direct (https://lottery.broadwaydirect.com/) offers digital lotteries for Lion King, Aladdin, Spongebob, and Summer. The TodayTix app (https://www.todaytix.com/) currently offers the digital lottery for the Harry Potter play on Broadway. Also, shows such as Hamilton (https://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery/), Dear Evan Hansen (https://dearevanhansenlottery.com/), and Book of Mormon (https://www.luckyseat.com/book-of-mormon/) offer their own digital lotteries on dedicated websites.
If you have patience, rush tickets are also a wonderful budget-friendly option. Some shows restrict their rush policies by age or student status, but many are open for the general public. Rush tickets are sold when the box office opens (typically 10am Tuesday-Saturday and noon on Sundays), but you’ll want to get in line at least a couple hours before to better your odds. Each show has discretion for how many rush tickets they will sell on a given day, but you can usually count on around twenty tickets sold at the rush price. If you’re one of the first ten people on line, your chances are pretty good. Some shows have also started offering a digital rush in the TodayTix app as well, including shows at The Public Theater (https://www.publictheater.org/).
Speaking of which, don’t overlook seeing shows Off-Broadway! The houses are smaller so the shows are more intimate and the tickets are often more affordable. Student discounts or age-related discounts are also usually available if you ask the box office. I’d recommend checking out The Public (https://www.publictheater.org/), 2nd Stage (https://2st.com/), New World Stages (https://newworldstages.com/), Classic Stage Company (https://www.classicstage.org/), and the Atlantic Theatre Company (https://atlantictheater.org/) for starters.
There are also four TKTS booths around the city (https://www.tdf.org/nyc/7/TKTS-ticket-booths) that offer same day Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets at a discount. The seats are usually in the orchestra section, so you might still be paying more than $50 for a ticket, but your view will be great and it’s still cheaper than buying from the box office. The TodayTix app sometimes offers tickets for a discount compared to the box office, but not all the time so be sure to double-check!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of budget-friendly ways to see theatre in the city, but it should be plenty to get you started! Always get in touch with the show’s box office for the most accurate information on rush or lottery policies. And here’s a website that keeps up with the rush and lottery options for Broadway shows (http://www.broadwayforbrokepeople.com/).
Remember to be kind to the audience members around you by turning off your phones, unwrapping your candies, and keeping fidgeting and talking to a minimum during the performance. And of course, enjoy the show!
Ascensus Volume VII Launch Event
Ascensus: The WCM Journal of Humanities will be hosting a launch party and exhibition for volume VII of their publication this month. Ascensus is a student-led organization that promotes the humanities by collecting and publishing works from members of the Tri-Institutional community.
The launch event will feature select pieces from the upcoming publication and short performances.
Date: September 11, 2018
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Weill Greenberg Center, 1305 York Avenue, 2nd floor (rooms A/B)
Email Megan E. Kelley at email@example.com to submit your art, music, performance, sporting, or other event for next month’s Natural Expressions bulletin.
Visiting Michelangelo’s Sculptures in Florence
One of my personal goals during a late May 2018 visit to Florence, Italy was to view as many sculptures by Michelangelo as possible. Here is a rundown of my thoughts on some of the works that I saw.
The Deposition at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and Palestrina Pietà at Galleria dell’Accademia
These two sorrowful scupltures are very much akin. The Depostion was created by Michelangelo originally for his own tomb and it is generally agreed that the hooded figure of Nicodemus carrying the body of the dead Christ is a self-portrait of the artist. It is a moving, emotionally strong work of art reflecting the deep-rooted inner pain suffered by Michelangelo. The sculpture seemingly begs to be read as a statement of profound religious ideals, but it can also be read as a harsh metaphor for mankind’s turmoiled existence. The Palestrina Pietà is another study in grief, also depicting Christ in the moments after his death, this time supported by two figures, the one to his side most likely his mother, Mary. This sculpture is now attributed to Michelangelo, though may be a work he started that was later completed by another hand.
Museo nazionale del Bargello: Brutus, Bacchus, and Madonna (“Tondo Pitti”):
Brutus is a fantastic marble bust depicting Julius Caesar’s infamous assassin. Although Dante placed the ancient Roman far down in the depths of Hell, Michelangelo’s work leans towards Brutus’ heroic nature, mirroring the Florentine movement of Republicanism against the notion of tyranny, a perspective current to the artist’s sphere. While many sculpted busts from the Renaissance, ancient Greece, and Imperial Rome illicit only an appreciative glance when I visit museums, the rough texture, turned head, and other features of Brutus compelled my extended meditation. Based on photos I’ve viewed in art history books, I had concerns about seeing Bacchus face-to-face, in the God of Wine’s all-too-very naked flesh. I found the inebriated young man easier to view in person than in printed reproductions. At the Bargello, I was also delighted to encounter the gracefully sculpted Madonna (known as “Tondo Pitti”). It is one of the Master’s emergent marble bas-reliefs and a study in nuance, poise, and gentle religious rendering. The sculpture is breathtaking in its simplicity and the stone’s ethereal color.
Galleria dell’Accademia: David and The Bearded Slave
The big enchilada of Michelangelo’s achievements and one of the most referenced works in all of art history, David, does not disappoint when encountered in a museum setting. The Master’s creation is enormous in size and impossibly carved with a polished gleam. The youthful figure liberated by the artist from a block of marble into the absolutely stunning, striking image of the Biblical hero makes for an awe-inspiring personal encounter. While I found many other sculptures by Michelangelo more engaging on emotional and philosophical levels, David’s undeniable beauty is quite enough for any viewer to experience joy in its presence. The Accademia lines the approach to David with several unfinished pieces that are grouped together under the heading of non-finito. The works garner less attention from many tourists than the colossal David at the end of the passageway. These odd, yet beautiful “slaves” or “prisoners” in varying twisted or turned poses offer great insight into Michelangelo’s working process and showcase the tragic aspect in the forefront of many of his late works.
Casa Buonarroti: Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs (detail)
Palazzo Vecchio: Genius of Victory
I chanced upon Michelangelo’s Genius of Victory while roaming through the huge chamber of the Palazzo Vechhio’s Salone dei Cinquecento. One walks in the majestic space gaping at enormous military and battle frescos. It was beneath one of these paintings that this sculpture by Michelangelo drew my attention. This great work of art is made even greater because of where it is situated. Nestled along a wall below the massive, colorful frescoes, it is strategically placed in the company of several other monumental statues, including Vincenzo de’ Rossi’s Labors of Hercules. The Palazzo Vecchio was also the site where Michelangelo planned to paint and Leonardo da Vinci toiled unsuccessfully with “dueling” frescos that are now lost to history. David was also originally displayed in the outside courtyard of the Palazzo.
Museo delle Cappelle Medicee: Tomb of Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici with Night and Day and Tomb of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici with Dusk and Dawn
On my final day in Florence, after seeing hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and architectural wonders of the bejeweled city on the river Arno, my very last stop was at the Medici Chapel, where I stood with a handful of visitors to take in the sight of two tombs designed and executed in marble by Michelangelo. One set of sculptures depicts Giuliano, Duke of Nemours (and a brother of Pope Leo X) flanked by reclining statues of Day, in the guise of a strapping man, and Night, depicted as a sleeping woman. The other is the tomb of the Duke of Urbino, Leo’s nephew. The Duke’s pose is thoughtful and pensive as he sits with Dawn on his right and Dusk on his left. All of the figures in the room led me to a state of bewildered, confused meditation. The gestures and bodily postures of both deceased men, as well as their distant facial expressions, led me into serious thought and an odd, quiet sadness. They came across as holding an internal, desperate gravitas, tinged with the mournful aspect one finds in ancient Greek and Roman funerary steles and sculptures. The four reclining mythological figures appeared in my mind’s eye as a mirror of the deepest religious, spiritual, and philosophical state that embodied the soul and genius of Michelangelo. These figures are beyond allegory. I stood in the Chapel for a very long time, dumbfounded and amazed that an artist’s inner being could reach so profoundly and harshly into such deep and dark territories unknown in his time – and to this very day.
The Venice of the North
By Elodie Pauwels
So many Venices in the World! Before booking my trip to Russia, I had no clue that Peter the Great wanted the city he founded, Saint Petersburg, to look like Venice, Italy.
During the never-ending summer days, discover this colorful city with dozens of palaces along canals and the large Neva River. Lose yourself in the Hermitage Museum and its famous green Winter Palace. And catch up on the Romanov dynasty while visiting Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the middle of the fortress, the very place the city was founded in 1703!
The past few weeks have highlighted the mental health crisis that our society is facing. Two high-profile and esteemed celebrities, fashion designer Kate Spade and Chef Anthony Bourdain, were found dead just days apart. These perplexing suicides remind us that success does not make one immune to unhappiness. Spade and Bourdain were far from alone in their struggles with mental health, but their deaths do stress a public health issue that has long been set aside. Suicide rates have risen in the past ten years, and this increase has not been addressed adequately by our society, our policies, or our institutions. It is time to destigmatize depression as a society, and especially here in our own circle at The Rockefeller University.
The realization that important figures in society face the same mental health challenges that many of us do has the ability to start a movement to combat this crisis. Spade and Bourdain gave the appearance of mental stability to the outside world, though people close to them admitted that they were both struggling with depression. These tragic suicides have resonated with people who have realized how they themselves have been grappling with anxiety and depression and has also motivated others to reach out to their loved ones, friends, and acquaintances who may also be struggling. The Twitter hashtag #MyStory has gone viral as many people, including celebrities, address their mental health struggles in a public forum.
Why have people suffered in silence for so long? And why do we still have so far to go in preventing these tragedies? The Center for Disease Control recently released a report indicating that 54% of people that have committed suicide in the past decade are people who were not known to be suffering from a mental illness like depression prior to their death. But many of these people were struggling with relationship or job problems, addiction, physical illnesses, or other immediate crises in their life. While people facing physical illness are often readily supported by friends and acquaintances, those suffering from mental illness usually feel that they must cope by themselves. Society regularly brushes off depression as mere sadness and suggests that, if someone just controls their thoughts, they will get over their feelings of misery.
We need to make mental health a priority. People who suffer need access to affordable and accessible mental health services. Adding more barriers to treatment deters the people who need it the most who are already overwhelmed and who we should nurture rather than push aside. The Trump administration is trying to strike down a provision of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits insurance providers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions, which include any history of depression or anxiety. If this is passed, it could be devastating for people who need mental health services, making them essentially unaffordable. Empathy for those suffering from mental health conditions is also lacking. Depression and anxiety are not a choice—they are real conditions derived from physiological changes and our health system needs to address them as such. Pharmacological and behavioral therapies do make a difference when treatment is done properly.
In the type of academic environment that I work in, a shift in focus on mental health is paramount, because it has been shown time and time again that individuals in academia suffer greatly. A recent study published in Nature Biotechnology showed that graduate students experience depression and anxiety at rates six times higher than the general population. Sleep deprivation, stress, and the scarcity of tenure-track positions all play a role. Young trainees put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well, and often face many internal mental challenges even though outwardly they may appear incredibly high-functioning. Females and non-gender conforming individuals suffer at higher levels than cis-males, and the relationship of the trainee to the principal investigator also contributes greatly to anxiety and depression, suggesting that mentorship is a crucial factor in student health.
I am now almost three years into my PhD and I fully understand how this environment can breed depression and anxiety. At breakfasts and lunches with prominent scientists hosted by the University where we have the chance to discuss career development, I have repeatedly heard that to make it to the top, you have to be tough. You have to battle to move up and not be affected too greatly by the challenges along the way. Although it is easy to suggest that resilience is the most important trait, I am often left with the feeling that success in academia is largely a solitary pursuit. Yet not everyone can just ignore an assault, or struggle on their own to come out on the other side stronger. Without a reliable network of mentors, friends, and other people you feel are facing the same things, it can be easy to get lost. Feelings of isolation and despair can be overwhelming. Yes, resilience is crucial, especially when failure is inherent in scientific research, but, as a community, we need to be better at developing this resilience in our trainees and showing them that they do not have to weather their struggles alone.
There is no one factor that leads to depression, anxiety, or suicide, but there are steps that we can take to cultivate mental health in our community. This must go further than sending out an e-mail once a year listing the mental health services available. Some things that can help are stress and mindfulness workshops as well as events that promote physical, mental, and social health among the trainee population. Students should feel as if they are able to talk to their mentors to gain advice about career opportunities, especially if they are interested in careers outside of academia, in order to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with reaching post-graduation goals. At the University of Minnesota, students are required to fill out annual evaluations that address both research progress and also overall well-being. Principal investigators then look over these self-evaluations and discuss the reports with their mentees. Simply having this formal system in place has led to increased communication between mentors and mentees about expectations and continuing steps in the training process. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, we must cultivate a culture that makes individuals who are struggling with mental health feel as if they can speak up and ask for help rather than suffer alone in silence.
Recent celebrity suicides have shed light on mental health issues. Now society needs to step up and address this public health crisis. Change can be made at the community level, and institutions should assess how they can prevent similar tragedies. Graduate students are a particularly vulnerable population and because the system of graduate education is a known risk factor for anxiety and depression. It needs to be addressed head-on. We must shift towards more openness in the ability to discuss these issues. Our communities do have the choice to increase access to mental health services and to promote cultural change. At Rockefeller, a vibrant institution full of some of the best scientists in the world, no one should have to go it alone.
Rockefeller University Counseling and Mental Health Care Resources:
Confidential access to personal counseling and mental health care for all students is available through the Tri-institutional Employee Assistance Program Consortium (EAPC). If your life seems to be getting harder to deal with, do not hesitate to contact EAPC. In an emergency, they are available at (212) 746-5890, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Employee Assistance Program
409 East 60th Street, Rm. 3-305 (between York and 1st Ave.)
Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
EAPC provides short-term counseling to members of the Rockefeller, Cornell, NY Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, and Sloan-Kettering community—students, their families and significant others included. The service is provided at no charge to individuals.
EAPC is a confidential referral service geared towards short-term problems-solving for any personal problem you may have—depression, loneliness, relationship or family issues, substance abuse, legal or financial problems, child care services—anything. The social workers on staff will first help you evaluate what your situation is, and then discuss all possible avenues for resolving the situation to your satisfaction. There is no long-term counseling offered at EAPC, but they can set you up with counseling if it is needed. Referrals for counseling include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists of other types, and social workers. A few visits to EAPC (maybe only one!) may be all that is necessary for you. Appointments may be made during normal business hours and there is a 24-hour emergency cover given through the number given above.
On site counseling services are also available. Dr. Daniel Knoepflmacher, M.D. is available two days a week to meet privately with members of the RU community. If interested in scheduling a confidential appointment, please contact Occupational Health Services at (212) 327-8414.
For those who prefer a more holistic approach to mental health, Rockefeller Wellness has got you covered:
Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction
Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor health. Its effects can cause physical illness, damage relationships, and negatively impact work performance. Mindfulness meditation is a means to reduce stress, boost the immune system, improve attention, and promote well-being. Try Sitting Meditation or the Body Scan on your own with a guided audio clip of Dr. Patricia Bloom.
Patricia A. Bloom, MD is a Clinical Associate Professor of Geriatrics at the Icahn Medical School of Mount Sinai and the past Director of Integrative Health for the Martha Stewart Center for Living at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. Her main interests include the promotion of healthy aging, integrative health, stress reduction and Mind Body Medicine. She teaches meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for patients and conducts stress reduction workshops for professional and workplace groups. Dr. Bloom has been listed as one of New York Magazine’s “Best Doctors” for 15 years. In 2012 she was honored by the New York City Zen Center for Contemplative Care for her work advancing integrative medicine in academic settings.
Mindfulness Resources in and around New York City.
Editor’s Note: Access to the URLs in the above Rockefeller Wellness section is restricted to those within the Rockefeller community.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Guide:
Warning Signs of Suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
- Do not leave the person alone
- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
Are you looking forward to the Fourth of July holiday? It’s great to get a day off from work, and, of course, it is a celebration of the country’s independence. Yet another thing to get excited about is the traditional fireworks displays. Fireworks have been a part of the Independence Day tradition since the holiday started. There are all sorts of displays across the country, from hour-long, high-tech shows in big cities to local fire departments setting off Roman candles and a few standard fireworks in small towns.
Where did fireworks come from? Although some sources credit India as the country of origin, most sources say they were invented in China as far back as 200 B.C. People would roast bamboo branches, then the air pockets inside the bamboo would make a loud pop. At first, the Chinese would use these to ward off evil spirits. Some time between the tenth and twelfth centuries, they learned that if they put an early form of gunpowder inside the branch, it would make an even louder bang, which is credited as being the first firecracker. Adding shavings from iron or steel inside the bamboo make them sparkle. After a while, they learned to attach firecrackers to arrows, and shoot them at enemies. They even created simple rockets by putting gunpowder in a wide tube with the bottom end open and lighting a fuse, which they then aimed at opposing armies.
During the twelfth century with the development of the Silk Road, gunpowder and fireworks started making their way to Europe. Throughout the Renaissance, fireworks spread across Europe and became popular to use for celebrations. They were used during the wedding of Henry the VII of England and the coronation of Anne Boleyn. Italy became famous for its experts in fireworks manufacturing and the production of colorful displays. In 1742, George II ordered a display to mark the end of the War of Austrian Succession and commissioned Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks specifically for the event.
The early European settlers brought fireworks with them to the American colonies. Captain John Smith set off the very first fireworks in America in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608. It was John Adams who started the tradition of using fireworks, or “illuminations”, as they were then called, to celebrate Independence Day. On July 3, 1776 he wrote a letter to his wife about the Continental Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence. In the letter, he wrote, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. … It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Philadelphia held the first Fourth of July fireworks show the following year, along with shooting off guns and cannons. In 1789, fireworks were used for George Washington’s inauguration. At that point, fireworks were widely available for sale to the public. Over the years, it became common for politicians to use them to attract attention to their speeches, though early displays were relatively small by today’s standards. By the mid-1800s it was common throughout the country to have fireworks for the Fourth of July. A relatively long fireworks show was launched over the Brooklyn Bridge in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas. Notable pyrotechnic shows were held in Washington D.C. in 1976 for the Bicentennial and New York in 1983 for the Brooklyn Bridge Centennial. What many consider the greatest display was held over New York Harbor in 1986 for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
The very early fireworks were nothing more than a big bang and a flash of orange light. It was the addition of various chemicals over the centuries that created the different colors and shapes that we know today. The Chinese early form of gunpowder consisted of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and carbon from charcoal. In the 1800s, Italian masters added various chemicals to create colors and the sunburst shape. Today, pyrotechnics are made up of two parts: the mortar that propels it up into the air and the shell that explodes in the air in a pre-determined shape. The mortar contains gunpowder, where currently, potassium nitrate is replaced with potassium chlorate, an oxidation agent, raising the combustion temperature of the fireworks to 2,000 °C (3,632 °F). This allows for the utilization of a variety of chemicals for colors. The shell holds gunpowder and nodules of chemicals, called stars, which give the firework its colors. Various metal salts burn to give off the different colors. Calcium salts burn orange, sodium salts burn yellow and copper salts burn blue. If the stars are distributed randomly in the shell, they will explode in a circular shape. If they are packed in the shell in specific patterns, they will explode in specific shapes, such as a weeping willow or concentric circles. The chemical reaction of gases expanding faster than the speed of sound makes the loud boom.
Unfortunately, fireworks also have their downside. They can be very dangerous and cause damage, injuries, and even deaths. As early as 1731, a law was passed in Rhode Island banning the “mischievous” use of fireworks. By 1783, out of a growing concern for public safety, weapons for Independence Day celebrations were phased out and municipalities encouraged only official fireworks shows. From 1903 to 1907, 1,153 people were killed and 21,520 were injured in the United States from fireworks. In 1964, a Macy’s barge set up with fireworks for the Fourth of July show went off prematurely. Two people were killed and four were injured. A fireworks factory in the Netherlands exploded in 2000, destroying 400 houses and killing 17 people. As late as 2013, eight people died and 11,000 were injured in the U.S. A. alone. On July 4, 2015 Jason Pierre-Paul, a defensive end for the New York Giants, severely injured his hand trying to setoff some fireworks. He subsequently had to have his right index finger amputated, which significantly affected his career. Today, the sale of fireworks is illegal in many states, including New York. In those states where it is allowed, fireworks sold to consumers are supposed to contain less than 50 milligrams of gunpowder.
However, here in the city, we can enjoy some great pyrotechnics without the danger. Macy’s has had a Fourth of July fireworks show for over fifty years. The barges will be back on the East River this year, which means that some of it can be seen from the Rockefeller campus. The actual fireworks show starts at 9:20 p.m., but the television broadcast on NBC starts at 8:00 p.m. There are always a number of celebrities performing. This year they will be marking the 100th anniversary of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, with a rendition by Kelly Clarkson. Whatever you do during this holiday, be sure to be safe.
This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Dakota Blackman. We would like to thank her for her dedication and for helping Natural Selections to become what it is today.
Dakota joined Natural Selections in May of last year as a contributor and editor. She served as the Editorial Assistant and contributed a regular column titled Word of the Month, where she provided the origins of a particular word and deftly examined the timeliness of that word and relevance in today’s society. In a short time, Dakota has made an indelible impact on the Editorial Board. She leaves us this summer in pursuit of a Ph.D. at Princeton University.
We wish her all the best!
Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything
Bloomsbury Sigma, 2018
Consider the Barreleye, a deep-sea fish named for its two long, cylindrical eyes pointed directly upwards towards the water’s surface. These googly eyes are covered by a clear, membranous dome, giving the fish the distinct look of some unhappy alien, stuck in a space suit, drifting along listlessly on its back. These aesthetic quirks are not what make the barreleye interesting; it is what is inside the eye. The Barreleye uses tiny microcrystals in its eye to reflect light back into the retina, acting as little mirrors collecting every trace of ambient light. It is the only known animal to use mirrors to see.
The Barreleye is just one of the many strange, finned beasts we meet in Helen Scales’ new book, Eye of the Shoal, which takes a wide ranging, deep diving look at the fascinating history and biology of fish. Eye of the Shoal focuses not on a particular underwater ecosystem or community, but a hodge-podge of fishy players exquisitely adapted to fill every watery nook and cranny across the globe. Scales makes a compelling case for looking closely at any fish that crosses your path; although many of the characters we meet live in the reef, she makes sure to give the residents of your local fish tank their due. In Eye of the Shoal, Scales brings us into the rich, diverse, glorious world of fish full tilt—and has a good time doing it.
Eye of the Shoal is the story of fish told through their evolution, their diversity, their colors, their communication, and their intelligence. Scales, a veteran science writer and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, has a knack for meshing storytelling with scientific insight. In one section, she brings us into the complicated inner life of a cleaner wrasse, a small, blue-streaked reef fish, which makes a living cleaning parasitic crustaceans off the bellies of fish and picking gunk out of the teeth of normally vicious predators. The wrasse’s customers line up around the metaphorical block to get a lippy scrubbing down by the cleaner wrasse, many returning multiple times a day. Although the wrasse mostly subsists off of his customers’ unwanted detritus, he would much rather take a big nutrient rich bite of fish flesh instead. If the wrasse becomes known as a flesh-eater, however, he will be distrusted and lose his customers. Scales walks us through the complicated social dynamic that controls the wrasse’s business—when can he take a chance for a fleshy bite? Which clients will continue to patronize his business given this breach in social contract? Navigating this complex social exchange “requires a surprising amount of brainpower”, Scales points out, and the reader is sure to come away with a deeper appreciation for this fish’s non-human intelligence. Helen Scales, breaking down species bias one fish at a time.
Within the larger structural framework, Scales leaves plenty of room for animal rarities and oddities. We meet the Pacific and Atlantic herring, which are “the only animals known that communicate with flatulence.” We meet the long-lived Greenland Sharks, who “may mate for the first time when they’re 150 years old.” We meet fish who scuttle between ponds (the Walking Catfish) and fish who live for months out of water (the Mangrove killifish). We meet the beaky parrot fish, which have “a second set of teeth at the back of the throat” used to grind up between four and six tons of limestone a year, building veritable islands out of their poo. Scales highlights these “fish stories” to make a bigger point about fish, their diversity, their lives—but she also brings a feeling of genuine glee to all her interactions with these weird and wonderful animals.
Although Scales does not explicitly set out to make a statement—about global warming, loss of habitat, overfishing, or any of the other slow motion ecological disasters affecting fish—any book on the topic of fish and their many environs would have a gaping hole without mentioning how humans have impacted their water-bound neighbors. The most touching of these examples is a personal anecdote from Scales, who studied a community of humphead wrasse in the South China Sea during her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. After spending years studying these fish and their complicated mating habits, she discovered that the entire community was fished out of existence shortly after she left her field station. “My efforts to study humpheads suddenly felt hollow,” she writes—and we, the readers, are left feeling hollow as well. If we come away from Eye of the Shoal caring more about fish and the ocean, it is not through overt messaging but through the genuine feeling Scales communicates.
Eye of the Shoal is largely a fun romp through fishy space and time, but it does suffer from overreach. Summarizing the whole of fish science and history in 320 pages is impossible, and the attempt leaves the book, at places, weak in its connective tissue. In an attempt to emphasize the importance of fish throughout human history, Scales scatters fish-related myth and legend throughout the book—a conceit that frequently seems forced. In order to orient the reader in fish ancestry, Scales spends the first chapter climbing through the evolutionary tree of life, branch by laborious branch. Unfortunately, it drags. I sincerely hope this slow opening does not turn the reader off of Eye of the Shoal, as it is out of character with Scales’ normal carnivalesque approach to her subject matter.
In the end, Scales does what she set out to do: “to convince you that fish matter, and that they’re worthy of our attention and esteem.”
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
Houghton Mifflin, 1990; originally published in 1976
Two cylinder seals with modern impressions; top: Weather god on a lion dragon, Northern Mesopotamia, Mitannian period, mid-2nd millennium B.C.; bottom: Worshiper and a god with a rod and a ring, Mesopotamia, Kassite period, reign of Kurigalzu I, early 14th century, B.C. (The Metropolitan Musuem of Art; photo: BL)
Wall-sized Assyrian palace scupture (detail); 883-859 B.C. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art; photo: BL)
Mable statue of a kouros (youth) with close-up of face; Greek, Attic, ca. 590-580 B.C. (The Metropolitan Musuem of Art; photos: BL)
Having read two-thirds of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes, Ph.D., I am comfortable in discussing the ideas proposed in this groundbreaking, extraordinarily exciting treatise prior to finishing the book. Dr. Jaynes lays out his theories and conclusions from the very start, working backwards by examining detailed supporting evidence, which he offers as proof of his hypotheses. The Origin has evoked a wide spectrum of reactions since its publication in 1976, labeled by some critics as nothing more than an outlandish set of propositions, while others embraced it as a revolutionary and unique perspective on how the mind developed in the ancient world.
Dr. Jaynes’ presentation of such a large-scale and all-encompassing overview on the subject of the history of mankind’s inner thinking can’t possibly hit the bullseye. Yet in The Origin he proposes with confidence and endearing, affable humility that he has discovered how human neurological development worked in tandem with historical, religious, cultural, economic, and social events mostly over the last three thousand years he discusses how this ultimately leads to the unique, individual, and highly structured voice we maintain today: our inner consciousness.
Although this book is at times scattershot, it must be recognized at least as a great start to further engage in a more complete, nuanced, and timely follow-up. Dr. Jaynes’ theory centers around details of the biology of the brain and interpretation of the vast ancient historical record, and he readily notes that such an enormous theory of everything needs more work and study. Dr. Jaynes concedes that many of his ideas are speculative, but he does not waver from his belief in its basic foundation. One may criticize, for example, his dependence on selective writings, artifacts, and remains from the ancient period for use in generalizing what motivated the behavior and interior observations of all people thousands of years ago.
When looking at the statues, buildings, imprints of seals, ivories, and so on from ancient Middle East, we can’t help but make assumptions about the past based on our contemporary atmosphere. Yet it is apparent, as Dr. Jaynes notes, that in the regions covered by the book the expressions and features of kings, gods, attendants, and others are coldhearted and emotionally distant.. Eventually, there’s a slow progression, culminating with the ancient Greeks at about 700 B.C, as the images morph into representations graced with loving beauty, heroic postures, grand gestures, and an appreciation, bordering on ecstatic at times, on notions of both body and soul.
Dr. Jaynes details the Greek reaction to the horrific misery of the “Dark Ages” which were initiated in about 1200 B.C. and lasted several centuries, set in motion the timeline that will eventually resolve into the way we speak to ourselves in our heads to day. The proposed “bicameral mind”, presented in The Origin can’t be observed or proved to actually exist, yet the theory is beautifully described with personal passion by Dr. Jaynes. He believes that the left and right portions of the brain were divided in the way they processed the external world surrounding ancient mankind, with one half fooled by the other to believe that hallucinated voices originated from sources that could be deemed as commands by the gods. These voices, heard only by some, arose as spoken language along with the development of the written word. Those with the strongest connection to what they believed was the forceful directing of society by these vocalizations took on the roles of king, priest, or intermediary with the gods.
Dr. Jaynes proposes this system developed regionally and with individual characteristics throughout the area under study. The so-called “breakdown” of the bicameral mind occurred slowly over centuries, after populations grew, war became unexpectedly common, and trade led to increased contact between varying tribes and societies. These changes introduced incompatible rival gods and customs in the region leading to confusion of the voices, akin to the described mayhem in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Dr. Jaynes also describes several natural crises that put the normalized system of the period into panic. By the start of the first millennium, Homer’s work had been passed down for generations and finally canonized in The Iliad, and Dr. Jaynes unveils the tense struggle within the general population, as the hallucinated commanding voices needed to be replaced for survival’s sake by an emerging personal, inner dialogue. Jaynes’ discussion and analysis of these changes motivating the non-evolutionary, yet biological shift, reads as the most historically and scientifically sound section of the book. Ancient mankind perceived the world through external instinctual sensation, which Dr. Jaynes’ believes was dominated and ordered by invisible vocalizations. After 1000 B.C., the world had to adapt to changes on many levels making internal decision-making processes take over based on reactions to visual stimuli. The world moves from the shackles of auditory constraints towards the eye’s window to the soul.
I have to admit that I do not completely believe Dr. Jaynes’ idea that the minds of those living in the ancient civilizations under study lived and died by the commands and rules laid out by hallucinated voices of the so-called gods and divinities. The tenuous biological support of the wider theory, which relies on studies that discussed observations of patients today with neurological conditions and symptoms mirroring what he believes were the hallucinated and god-like voices in the heads of the ancients (e.g., schizophrenia).
Perhaps the works of the Pre-Socratics and others who put aside the conception of the gods as creators of the physical world and the actions of men can be read as the evidence of the final labor push of the birth of the inner individual. Standing in front of the famous Kouros sculpture from ancient Greece the other day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I meditated on its mysterious face in light of the theories of Dr. Jaynes. The sculpted youth appears ready to wake up, was along with the whole world, to freedom granted by new consciousness. You can almost hear the voice of reason speak for the first time.
“She is quick and curious and playful and strong. She is a voracious reader and a fantastic dancer. She saves old snapshots but always loses her umbrella. Her emails pile up, but she never forgets to call her grandmother. She has $7 in change at the bottom of her handbag.”
-Kate Spade on the typical Kate Spade girl
Qiong Wang – Morocco Series #2 – Fes
Fes, one of the four royal cities in Morocco, is famous for its rich culture and history. The old medina is like the sacred labyrinth of the moors. Hundreds of uneven narrow lanes turn and terminate capriciously, and thousands of short old houses have managed to squeeze themselves inside this royal city for over a thousand years. The tiny streets are so narrow that when a horse passes by, everybody needs to stand by to let them pass. Sometimes the lanes are ensconced in darkness — even during the day, keeping you alert. Less than 10 minutes after stepping into the medina, I found myself lost completely, and realized that English and Google Maps were not that useful.
The most famous scene of Fes is, of course, the colorful view of the dye pits from the rooftop at the expense of a very bad sulfur smell. This is where whole pieces of skin are stripped off the animals and processed into genuine leather. Luckily, the smell was not as strong during winter, but, still, it was not a pleasant scene to see up close. It is hard to imagine the factory workers submerging themselves in the dying barrels for hours each day. Fes might be a sacred place for many, but I think I will avoid a second visit.
Bernie Langs – Italy
Italy remains a favorite spot for my family to enjoy vacations. In May, we spent several days sightseeing in Florence and took a fabulous day trip for wine and cheese tasting, which included stops around Tuscany in Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino.
As one climbs inner, narrow stairways to the roof of the Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo di Firenze), there are areas where one can emerge to view the cathedral from catwalks high above, including the fantastic sight of the upper painted interior under the dome. The Duomo, a majestic wonder of both architecture and engineering, was completed in 1436 from designs by Filippo Brunelleschi, and features paintings of the “Last Judgement” done by Giorgio Vasari, Federico Zuccari and their collaborators in the mid- to late-16th century.
The interior dome of the Florence Baptistery of Saint John is covered with spectacular mosaics. The octagonal building was constructed between 1059 and 1128 with the mosaics added over a century starting in the year 1225. The building’s famous “Gates of Paradise”, sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the early 1400s, have been restored and are now housed in the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Pienza is a beautiful small city in Tuscany near Siena. The 15th century Pope Pius II had the town rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance village, working with the Florentine architect Bernardo Rosselino. The views of the surrounding countryside are heavenly.