What to do Indoors When You’ve Already Watched Everything on Netflix


Elisa Lazzari

Winter’s gone, or has it? Even if most of the cold months are behind us, it might be too early to take out our spring trench coats. On February 2, Groundhog Day was celebrated across the United States, but this year’s forecast was dire. Contrasting predictions between Pennsylvania’s famous Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island’s very own Chuck left the case unsettled, so we might still have a few weeks of biting weather ahead of us. To play it safe, let’s look at some indoor entertainment options:


  • Bake. This is your chance to ask your cute neighbor for a cup of sugar! There are billions of recipes online, which sometimes require an overwhelming amount of kitchen gear. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned baker, muffins are always a good idea. They’re just as delicious as they are simple to prepare, and once you master the “muffin technique” (see blogs like myrecipe.com or kitchn.com for easy recipes) you’ll be able to wow your loved ones with elaborate flavor combos. Think apple-cheddar or dark chocolate-bacon muffins. Next thing you know, you’ll learn how to frost and fight on “Cupcake Wars”. Pros: baking will make your apartment cozy and smell delicious. Cons: some clean up required.


  • Join a wine club. Wine clubs are a good opportunity for many reasons. You like to experiment with different wines but don’t have much time to browse in local shops? Wine club. You dread inevitable conversations with the too well-meaning salesperson and want to get a good price on bottles? Wine club. Get a feeling for which subscription could work for you on websites like net. Also, you’ll have plenty of reasons to enjoy another fun indoor activity: throwing wine tasting parties. Pros: show off the cheese knife set you bought yourself at Pottery Barn a year ago. Cons: now your friends will know better if you show up with “2 bucks-a-bottle-with-pretentious-label” wine.


  • Play board games. A great reason to put down our phones and computers, and actually socialize. If you’re asking yourself why you should try it, consider the many benefits associated with playing board games. Besides enhancing brain function, board games are known to help reduce stress, increase creativity and strengthen relationships. If the last board game you played was either Scrabble or Monopoly, then you’re in for a big surprise. Adult board game options are now countless. Just to name a few: Settlers of Catan, Cards Against Humanity, Exploding Kittens, and What Do You Meme? With updated options like these, you’re bound to have fun. If you’re looking for someone to play with, you should know that New York City is home to The Uncommons, a board game café with one of the largest library of games on the East Coast. Pros: the perfect occasion to spend time with friends and family while wrapped in a sleeved blanket. Cons: too much fun?


  • Knit. Yes, I’m serious. I’ll argue that knitting is one of the very few mindfulness activities that actually results in something useful. You can choose to actively pay attention to every stich, or, much like doodling, simply keep your hands busy while your mind focuses on other things. Crafts can be very rewarding, crushingly cute (ex. baby hats. Enough said), and of all shapes and sizes. If you’re already comfortable with needles and infinity scarfs, challenge yourself with quirkier artwork, such as knitted cactus vases or faux taxidermy. Pros: you won’t ever have to worry about buying gifts again. Cons: the inevitable learning curve and your supplies may be bulky to carry around.


As much as we all hope Staten Island Chuck was right, winter time gives us a chance to get creative indoors. At the very least, we should be prepared in case a snow storm cuts out the WIFI.


Word of the Month


Dakota Blackman



noun | wom·an  | ˈwu̇-mən , especially Southern ˈwō- or ˈwə- |

an adult female person


The word’s primary definition is simple enough: according to Merriam-Webster, a woman is “an adult female person.” Also according to Merriam-Webster, it is in the top 10% of most-used online words. This is hardly a surprise. Feminism (a noun which Merriam-Webster defines as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”) is now in its fourth wave. Its current focus is on using social media to amplify opposition to all-too-common phenomena of violence against women, with an emphasis on sexual harassment. Feminism is seeping into popular culture as well. Beyonce’s song ***Flawless, for example, samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: in the middle of the song, we hear the activist read a few lines from her now-famous speech “Why We Should All Be Feminists.” Adichie says, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.”


This brief excerpt highlights what is most interesting to me about woman’s definition: in these few lines, Adichie reinforces the word’s inherent binary. Through the comparison of women to men (specifically, of girls to boys), she places women on one side of this binary, and men on the other. Interestingly, this binary is also reflected in the language: while a woman is defined as a “female person,” a man, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an individual human; especially an adult male human.” The gendered caveat of the word man lies only in the qualifying clause, skewing baseline humanity with maleness. Woman’s etymology further supports this: it is derived from the Old English word wifman, which itself combines the words wife and man—the former being the Old English synonym for woman, the latter being synonymous for human. The word “man” not only has more definitions than woman, but these definitions also extend beyond the confines of gender and even traverse into different parts of speech (the verb meaning to control or supply, for example). So not only is the word woman binarized, it is also linguistically upholds a gendered inequality. However, this binary does not solely exist within the confines of the language; it has somewhat insidiously entrenched itself into the norms of our culture. In fact, it is so subtly embedded that it can impact the way in which women think and feel about themselves and each other.


The word is especially appropriate given that March is Women’s History Month. It has been recognized as such in the United States only since 1995; before this, starting in 1981, just one week in March was celebrated as Women’s History Week. This week, and later the month, builds on the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, which has been recognized in the United States since the year 1909, but was only recognized by the United Nations starting in 1975. (It became a national holiday in Soviet Russia in 1917.) The resilience of the women’s movement is always striking when its history is considered, particularly in a country like the United States, which touts equality and progressivism in its ideological foundations. Women’s History Month has only, within the past twenty-odd years, been adopted as a mainstream, national holiday. It can be disheartening to think about how much more work needs to be done, particularly when the definition of the word “woman” upholds an innate inequality. Yet, one of language’s most beautiful characteristics is that it can be fluid and dynamic; with work, the norms embedded both in our language and our society have the potential to change.


A Special Obituary: Günter Blobel


Joseph Luna

Editor’s note: This article was originally published as Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes by Joseph Luna in June 2016.


Günter Blobel (May 21, 1936 – February 18, 2018)

Let’s start with a fantastical scene: picture a band of Neolithic humans in a hot air balloon overlooking modern New York City. What would they see and experience? Lacking a vocabulary and a mental model of twenty-first century life, our ancient friends would be awestruck at seeing miniscule specks and strangely ordered structures, lines and squares, in green and gray. Perhaps the occasional yellow rectangle from which specks would enter and exit would catch their attention. Or they might ponder a box with flashing lights, speeding its way across a grid. It’s near impossible to imagine being in their shoes, but it’s easy to envision the excitement as they try to describe and make sense of what they saw.

This totally novel experience wasn’t far off from what early cell biologists encountered, as they used the electron microscope (EM) as a sort of hot-air balloon to discover the cities inside cells. By the mid-1960s, they had plotted the geography of all sorts of cellular worlds, had given names to energy-making blobs and recycling vesicles, and with the help of radioactive amino acid labeling, had a basic sense of where proteins were made and where they ended up. But big questions remained such as how did a protein know where it needed to go? For a discipline built on EM observations from high above, this was a challenging question to answer, but it captivated a young German post-doc enough to dream as if he landed his hot air balloon and walked among molecules, where the view was much clearer.

Günter Blobel arrived in George Palade’s laboratory in 1967, shortly after completing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He joined a dynamic group of researchers who had stumbled upon an odd observation concerning the protein factories of the cell, its ribosomes: proteins destined to remain inside the cell were often made from a pool of freely cytoplasmic ribosomes, whereas proteins meant to be exported from the cell quickly associated with ribosomes attached to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). How a new protein made this decision to stay in the cytoplasm or go to the ER was a mystery.

Within a few years, and overwhelmingly without much evidence, Blobel and a colleague (and Rockefeller University alum) named David Sabatini formulated what became known as “the signal hypothesis” that might explain how proteins got sorted to their proper locations. It represented a truly imaginative and startlingly precise leap, as if one could envision a five digit postal code and a stamp authentication system simply by watching mail trucks from space. Blobel and Sabatini proposed that ER destined proteins contained a special stretch of amino acids that acted like a signal that became apparent the moment the protein was being made at a ribosome. This signal sequence, located at the head of a protein, would be recognized by a factor (or factors) that would, in turn guide the synthesizing ribosome to the ER, where the protein in question could finish being born as it translocated across the ER membrane. Once properly sorted into the ER, the signal sequence was no longer needed and could be removed by an enzyme, even while the protein was still being made. Once finished, the protein could then go and do its job.

For many, this all sounded needlessly baroque. One attractive alternative was to consider different types of ribosomes, where each type was responsible for ferrying a nascent protein to a particular location. Another idea postulated that the mRNAs encoding proteins somehow got to the correct place before undergoing translation from any nearby ribosome. The signal hypothesis was one of many possible models, and a far-fetched one at that. But it made very precise predictions that could be tested, the first of which was the existence of a transient signal sequence.

Myeloma cells provided the first toe-hold for testing the signal hypotheses, since they secreted lots of IgG antibody light chains that could be readily detected. Using cell-free translation systems, based on these cells, other laboratories had observed slightly heftier IgG molecules than those secreted from intact cells, suggesting that a larger precursor was made and pruned to a final, smaller form. Yet, worries of an in vitro artifact abound. Blobel first repeated this experiment, and once confirmed, tinkered with his cell free system to uncover the order of events. Using detergent, he separated ribosomes from bits of ER (called microsomes) and added a drug that blocked new IgG production. He then let the ribosomes that had already started making an IgG to finish, keeping track of what they produced and when. Early in the experiment, only the smaller form emerged, which made sense if these ribosomes had already been at the ER and were nearly finished making IgG when Blobel had isolated them. But later in the experiment, a mixture of larger and smaller forms showed up: ribosomes that had just started making IgG indeed made a larger version. But lacking sufficient ER targeting, the signal sequence wasn’t pruned efficiently. Blobel had glimpsed a totally new feature in the early lives of proteins.

This was just the start. Over the ensuing years, Blobel and his team devised ways of recapitulating numerous aspects of protein targeting in the cell, from isolating the complex that ferried a signal sequence bearing protein to the ER (the aptly named “signal recognition particle”) to later confirming and characterizing the protein channel at the ER (the translocon) that nascent proteins traversed for proper processing. In part because of Blobel’s efforts, the hot air balloon view gave way to detailed explorations from the ground. A dream, as all good hypotheses are, turned out to be true.


New York State of Mind


This month Natural Selections interviews Robert Gualtieri, Plant Operations 



How long have you been living in the New York area? 

Practically all my life, I was born and raised in Upper West Harlem, with the exception of 4 to 5 years that I lived in Puerto Rico.


Where do you currently live?  Which is your favorite neighborhood?

The Heights, in Washington Heights. I don’t feel like I have a favorite neighborhood, for me it’s more like spending good times in certain areas of the city that become favorite memories.


What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

The most overrated thing in the city are the new buildings with rents that are not affordable, and the most underrated are the people that can’t afford high rents.


What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

I would say everything…the lights, the sound escapes, the 24-hour grocery stores, just everything the city offers.


Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?

Well, I’m a native New Yorker. So, I’m trying to keep a positive disposition with everything that’s rapidly changing and taking place here in the City.


If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?

I feel I’ll pass on this question, lol.


What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

Staying up late listening to music (vinyl or live is even better), I dedicate myself to the arts; so, weekends allow me to concentrate on creating new works or sharing time with some of my friends that are in the arts musically or visually.


What is the most memorable experience you have had in NYC?  

I have to say writing my name on the subway trains in 1970 when I was 14, and watching my name go by as I sat on the bench at the station with other writers. 


Bike, MTA, or WALK IT???

It all depends where I have to go; sometimes I drive, take mass transit, or cab it. 


If you could live anywhere else, where [would] might that be? 

I’ve been to a number of cities worldwide, and entertained the thought that I can live there during my stay. After a couple of weeks, I get homesick and want to return to NY, so for now I’ll just say that I’m not sure.


Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?

If I don’t think I do by now, I don’t think I ever will.


Life on a Roll

In the Middle of Paris France

Elodie Pauwels


The Saint-Jacques Tower, with its flamboyant gothic style, is located in the middle of Paris. It is all that remains of a church built in the 16th century and demolished during the French Revolution. The 171-foot tower has had many functions since then (including a shot tower!) and undergone many phases of restoration. It is now open to the public (tour guide only), and the view from there is simply stunning.

Word of the Month


Dakota Blackman 



adjective  smit·ten  \ ˈsmi-tᵊn \ 

deeply affected with or struck by strong feelings of attraction, affection, or infatuation 

Greek statue entitled ‘Eros (Cupid) Sleeping’ from the 3rd-2nd century B.C.

The month of February often conjures up the all too familiar images related to Valentine’s Day: heart-shaped chocolates and balloons, bouquets of flowers, and Hallmark cards passed between young children at school and between romantic partners. In the United States, Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating love—often, to celebrate the state of being smitten. 

I am interested in this particular word because, in addition to its form as an adjective, smitten is also the past participle of smite. Smite, a verb, has two definitions, the first of which is “to be strongly attracted to somebody or something,” or “to captivate.” In the context of this definition, the derivation of the adjective smitten is intuitive. However, smite’s second definition takes a dramatic 180° turn, from something soft to something harsh and  violent: “to take,” or “to strike with a firm blow.” 

According to Merriam-Webster, smite originates from a twelfth century Middle English word meaning to smear or defile; the dictionary likens it to an Old High German word with a similar meaning. As it relates to romantic love, this definition is almost paradoxical. Perhaps “captivate” or “take” make sense (Merriam-Webster’s example sentence cites being captivated by a woman’s beauty), but for this word to also be defined by violence produces a fascinating contradiction: why are the two linked? 

To answer this question, we can look to another common Valentine’s Day symbol that stems from Greek and Roman mythology: the God of love, Cupid. Usually portrayed as a young and winged boy, Cupid is armed with a bow and arrow; anyone who is struck by one of his arrows, mortal or not, is overcome by affection and love. Cupid’s very existence takes into account both sides of smite’s definitions: the first being the gentle inspiration of love; the second being the violent mechanism by which love is inspired. In some depictions, he is wearing armor as he works to matchmake. This begs the question: does this interpretation fall into the softer definition of smite, suggesting that love is invincible or impenetrable? Or does it fall into the harsher one, likening love to war? 

Perhaps these definitions cannot be parsed into a binary. Instead, perhaps they must be considered together, particularly in the context of romance, of love, and of relationships generally. In the past six months in the United States, there has been a massive eruption of reports of sexual misconduct, particularly regarding high-profile and powerful men. The catalyst was Ronan Farrow’s exposé on Harvey Weinstein in the New Yorker, and from it has stemmed a resurgence of activist Tarana Burke’s social media hashtag #MeToo. Now known as the MeToo movement, the premise is, according to Burke, to “promote empowerment through empathy” by sharing among women, particularly those who are vulnerable (for example, young women of color), the all too prevalent experience of sexual misconduct. Alyssa Milano, an actress who encouraged spreading the hashtag after the stories of Weinstein surfaced, explained it as follows: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” 

It is important to dissociate from love the type of behavior displayed by Weinstein (and many, many others). However, it is equally important to remember the duality of smite’s definition, and to remember Cupid’s bow and arrow, and armor when thinking about love and relationships as they exist today, particularly in the context of the MeToo movement. Those in positions of power have been forced to confront the issue of accountability, some for the first time, and these considerations will then hopefully trickle down into more of an awareness when it comes to fair and healthy relationships. 

When one is smitten, one is, according to the word’s definition, “deeply affected” by feelings. It is imperative to take into account the depth of this impact. As the language suggests, relationships—and love—hold great power. 


A Little Less Laughter in the Halls! Rockefeller Mainstay Isaiah Curry Says Goodbye


Aileen Marshall 


What can one say about Isaiah Curry? Almost everyone on campus knows him. Many of us know him as “that guy you always hear laughing in the hallways.” And we also know him as the person who handles much of the hazardous waste we generate in our work. He’s always there to greet us with a smile, a joke, or even some helpful advice. If you want to know a tidbit of campus information such as where a certain room or facility is located, or who to contact to find help with different issues, or the history of how the campus has evolved, you can always ask Isaiah. He knows almost everyone at Rockefeller, past and present. After forty-four years of being a campus icon, Isaiah retired on January 31, 2018. I had a conversation with Isaiah one night in the Faculty Club and this is what I learned about his history here. Of course, several people stopped by during the interview to joke with him. 

Having grown up nearby in upper Manhattan, Isaiah had heard of the Rockefeller University through his mother, who had worked here at one time. He started in 1974, originally in the custodial department. In 1976, the Radiation Safety Department was established on the 11th floor of the Weiss Building (then known as the Tower Building), with only five people. One of them invited Isaiah to join the team, where he was trained to handle the radioactive waste. Later, the department changed its name to Laboratory Safety, to encompass more aspects of that area. Then Isaiah added the processing of biological waste to his responsibilities. The department is now called Laboratory Safety and Environmental Health, and Isaiah has been managing biological waste material for the entire campus ever since.  

In the early years, despite being assigned a large grey cellular phone, which was cutting edge technology for its time, Isaiah still had to push all those carts that transported the biological waste materials manually. Later he was upgraded to a flip phone, and eventually the university provided a Power Tug and a small electric truck to help pull and push those large grey carts that transported the material. Isaiah also learned to do his job more efficiently, such as processing the waste after pickup from each building, rather than waiting until he had picked up waste from the whole campus. He often stayed late to finish his work and came in on holidays so there wasn’t a backlog when he returned. He learned early on that students and postdocs work on holidays. “It has nothing to do with overtime, it has to do with staying ahead of the labs…I don’t quit until I’m finished.” He has noticed over the years that the radioactive waste is decreasing and the biological waste is increasing, an indicator of how research techniques have changed. He has always been trustworthy and reliable, and is always glad to help anyone with questions or errors in their waste disposal. Isaiah has returned after several surgeries over the years. Even two hernia operations, a torn knee meniscus repair, and a hip replacement could not keep him away from his duties for long.  

Isaiah is known for greeting everyone he knows with a smile and a joke. Isaiah often jests that he used to be shorter before he started picking up the radioactive waste. Over the years he has gotten to know the likes of Robert Darnell, Günter Blobel, Roderick MacKinnon, Charles Rice, Ali Brivanlou, Michael Young, and Jeffery Friedman. Friedman always invites him to his lab barbeques. Darnell, head of The Laboratory of Molecular Neuro-Oncology, commented “I will forever remember the generous, humorous, and wonderful spirit Isaiah brought to the laboratory every single day, year in, year out. He helped make Rockefeller a special place for the scientists, nurturing the feeling that we were all on the same team, friends and colleagues working together to do something important.” We all know him as one who could make us laugh during the work day. Victor Cisneros, from Information Technology, relayed one humorous episode with Isaiah. They were chatting in the hallway between Greenberg and Founders when a “well-suited gentleman” approached them and asked for directions to Founders. Isaiah gave him directions. After the man left, Isaiah wondered if the man would “get his act together.” Victor said “Isaiah! That’s our new president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne. It’s his first day on the job!” Susan Powell of the Proteomics Resource Center remembers how he helped her after she was mugged in 2007 on York Avenue and 64th Street. “Isaiah constantly finds me walking the halls looking downward. For years he warned me, “Look up, Sue!” meaning, be aware of my surroundings. He also showed me ways to defend myself using keys. “Carry your keys in your hand so they protrude between the fingers, and if you need to defend yourself, aim for the eyes.” She added “They say laughter is healthy, it relieves stress, it helps the immune system, it helps to heal, it contributes toward a longer life. If all this is true, Isaiah will be around for a very long time.”     

Isaiah has always been active in campus life. Some members of campus might remember Isaiah being involved in the basketball league that began sometime in the 1980s. Isaiah remembers that Patricia Murskey, then head of the Rockefeller library, donated money in memory of someone who had died to have a basketball tournament. They would play teams from other institutions, on a small basketball court, where the Greenberg building is now. And those of you who use the gym might know that Isaiah has always taught a class there. In the early 1980s, when the gym was located in the Graduate Students Residence, where the Child and Family Center is now, mailroom attendant Jose Santos would practice karate there, piquing Isaiah’s interest. Isaiah would work out with him, trained in Santos’s dojo, and eventually became a black belt. Even after Santos left, Isaiah continued to work out and practice in the gym, and other people liked what he did and asked to join him. Thus his class evolved, over thirty years ago.  He has never charged, and faithfully shows up, no matter how much work he has to do. He often goes back to work after class.  

Isaiah’s last official day at Rockefeller University was January 31, 2018. He vows to keep working out, and is toying with the idea of moving Florida. Considering that the Rockefeller is practically Isaiah’s second home, I wouldn’t be surprised if we still see him popping up here from time to time. He has always been a thread that unites us. As many people have commented “it won’t be the same here without him”.  


For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition


Jim Keller   


I maintain that one can liken the Oscar race to a horserace with each studio betting on its thoroughbreds hoping to place. In the analogy, the studio is the owner, public relations is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film. Here I’ve included my rankings as they stood on the eve of Oscar nominations—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose eight nominees for Best Picture out of a possible ten. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my original nominee picks, and those in red represent actual nominees that I had not chosen.  

 Because Christian Bale and Michael Shannon have history of sneaking in at the last minute, I chose to go with them. (See Bale’s Best Actor nomination in 2014 for American Hustle and his Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2016 for The Big Short and Shannon’s supporting role last year for Nocturnal Animals). That’s the thing about the Oscar race: just because you try not to get burned, doesn’t mean you won’t in the end. 

 With that, I give you my current Oscar predictions:


When Winter Makes You Feel Like Crap: A Look at Seasonal Depression


Antonia Martinez

A text message stopped me dead in my tracks: “The moving truck is coming next Friday.” So soon? Wasn’t it only a few weeks ago that my cousin mentioned the idea of relocating to Nevada? She has lived in New York City her entire life. Now, here she was nearly all packed and ready to leave for good. “What made you want to leave now?,” I asked. “It’s the cold,” she said, revealing that heading for warmer pastures had been a secret desire for years. “I get so depressed in the winter time.” Coincidentally, I had just been reading about people like her. “That’s a thing,” I told her. “Yeah,” she said. “I know.”  

That “thing” is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a pattern of recurring depression that coincides with the change of seasons. Winter SAD, or winter depression, is the most common. Symptoms appear in fall or winter then subside with the return of spring or summer.  Reverse SAD, or summer depression, is rare, accounting for only one-tenth of cases.  SAD affects an estimated 1-10% of the global population, predominantly those living far from the equator. It is more prevalent in women than men and more frequently starts in young adulthood. Roughly 10 million Americans suffer from SAD.   

The clinical definition of seasonal affective disorder began appearing in the scientific literature in the 1980s, but the phenomenon of illness triggered by seasonal change has been described since ancient times, including by Hippocrates himself. Yet, the exact cause remains elusive. Many scientists believe that seasonal shifts in the amount of available sunlight create imbalance in the hormones that affect our mood and internal clock, triggering depression. Reduced sunlight reduces levels of our “happiness hormone,” serotonin and increases levels of the ominous-sounding “hormone of darkness,” melatonin, which affects sleep patterns. However, some scientists question if SAD really exists. 


Signs and Symptoms 

If you find yourself desperately seeking brightly lit or sunny places every winter or keeping the lights burning all night at home, you might have SAD or a less severe form of the condition called “winter blues.” In his book, Winter Blues, SAD research pioneer Norman Rosenthal, M.D. says many sufferers instinctively gravitate toward light in an effort to feel better, but don’t necessarily make the connection. Some people worsen their condition by withdrawing to dimly lit or dark places in response to their darker mood. Other unhealthy attempts to self-medicate include overeating and excessive use of stimulants. Common signs and symptoms of SAD include: 

Winter SAD: low energy and extreme fatigue,  difficulty waking up, increased cravings for sweets and starches, increased cravings for alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or recreational drugs, weight gain, poor concentration, feeling down or depressed, social withdrawal, decreased sex drive, and unexplained aches and pains. 

Summer SAD: poor sleep or insomnia, loss of appetite, weight loss, and anxiety. 


Treatment and Prevention
If left untreated, SAD can become more severe, leading to other problems, including serious mental health issues such as eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. Treatment may include light therapy, medication, psychotherapy, and mind-body techniques such as meditation and relaxation techniques. Light therapy, the go-to treatment for SAD, exposes the patient to full-spectrum bright light in an attempt to rebalance hormone levels and readjust the internal clock. However, people may mistake SAD for conditions that have look-alike symptoms, among them: seasonal bipolar disorder, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. So it’s important to consult your physician if you think you may have seasonal affective disorder.  Preventative measures you can take to help reduce symptoms or your chances of triggering SAD include: exercise regularly, spend more time outdoors, stay socially active, restrict your sleep to 7-9 hours a night, eat a balanced diet, reduce stress, use full spectrum light bulbs and home and work, get plants, and add color to your walls and wardrobe. 


Explore these resources to learn more about SAD: 

Winter Blues:  Seasonal Affective Disorder and How to Overcome It, Norman Rosenthal, M.D. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (NIH) 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (Mayo Clinic) 

Why Winter Makes You SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder Explained (The Royal Institution YouTube Channel) 


Life on a Roll


Nan Pang

Machu Picchu is arguably the most famous historical ruin not just in Peru, but in the Americas. Since the re-discovery of this Inca citadel by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, this iconic lost city in the sky has been attracting visitors non-stop for the past century. 

 From the stunning view at the top of Huayna Picchu, to the carefree llamas chilling in the lawns, Machu Picchu possesses magical enchantments hardly describable by words. Peru prides themselves as “the richest country in the world” in their recent marketing campaign. Well, it was. It truly was. 

Getting a Head


Miguel Crespo

If you thought Dr. Frankenstein was just a figment of Mary Shelley’s imagination, history is about to turn against you. If you believed connecting heads to different bodies was just a gimmick of old-school science fiction comics, here is a slap in the face from destiny. After successfully transplanting hands and even faces, neurosurgeons are now trying to live up to the ultimate challenge of transplanting a head. Yes, you read correctly, this is not a typo.

Dr. Sergio Cavanero in Italy and Dr. Xiaoping Ren in China have already been trying to get around the legal and ethical hurdles that concern such a procedure, and they claim they can make it with more than a 90% chance of success. Detractors call him bombastic, but Dr. Cavanero pays no heed to critics. Most likely, the surgery will have to take place in China because no other country seems willing to permit it yet. Dr. Canavero is known to make unfounded claims and promote his work largely through the media. However, he is an accomplished surgeon with a solvent publication record in top-notch journals.

Dr. Sergio Canavero, who plans to carry out the world’s first human head transplant in December this year.

A similar procedure has already been carried out in mice by Dr. Ren where the spinal cord was sectioned with a diamond blade and the nerves glued back. The miracle was made possible by a chemical known as PEG, poly ethylene glycol by its full name. This amber fluid can break open the lipid membrane, which lines the neurons and fuse together two different cells, thereby allowing them to function as a single hybrid cell.

History is punctuated with attempts of head transplants in dogs and monkeys. The first “two-headed” dog came into being in St. Louis Missouri back in 1908. The bicephalic beast was again generated in the Soviet Union, and lived for 23 days.  In the 1970s, a surgeon named Robert White transplanted the heads of several rhesus monkeys onto others’ bodies. And in January this year, Dr. Ren was able to duplicate the feat. Unfortunately, these animals couldn’t do much more than blink, breathe, and follow objects with their eyes.

The first human to volunteer was 31 year old Russian, Valerey Spiridov. Paralyzed from the neck down, he can barely eat, type, or move the joystick that sets his chair in motion. He suffers from a rare muscle wasting disease. In spite of the surgeons’ optimism, concerns of all kinds have been raised. In the first place, the procedure entails the concert of 80 surgeons working together on the order of days. The limiting step in the process is keeping the brain cold after the head has been removed in order for it to be transplanted onto the donor’s body. The brain suffers irreversible damage within minutes of losing blood flow; cooling the brain can delay damage for up to one hour.

In this procedure, only one hour is available by injecting a liquid into the head blood vessels and recirculating it throughout. Once the surgeons get that down, then comes the rest of the procedure joining of the arteries, veins, muscles, and, ultimately, the skin. Such a procedure requires a great deal of choreography and its cost is estimated at $10-100 million, depending on where it takes place.

Is it worth it? Well, Spiridov himself initially said that he was not signing up for an expensive euthanasia and would not go through the operation unless success is guaranteed. But as the date approached, he announced he will not undergo the surgery.

However controversial, if successful, this procedure would bring hope to those who become immobilized from spinal lesions. But this raises more questions than answers: if according to Drs. Ren and Canavero this technology is available, why not apply it to remedy spinal lesions?

Many scientists and ethicists have slammed the project, accusing the surgeons involved of promoting junk science and raising false hopes. However shaky, others find scientific foundation in the project.

What we know so far is that hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs, uteruses, voice boxes, tongues, penises, hands, and faces can be transplanted. So there’s good reason to think that the next logical step would be the head. However, in this case immunological rejection becomes more of an issue than in the previous instances. And who is rejecting who anyway? Is it the body donor who receives a head transplant? Or is it the head donor who receives a new body from a neurologically dead donor?

Yet another way to look at it, what would happen if an older head was transplanted onto a younger body? Would we be at the gates of life extension technology? Another aspect to take into consideration would be personality. It is known that hormones produced by the body have an effect on the brain. Would this result in a body changing the person’s mood, a head commanding a new body, or a mixture of both? And if so, would the head donor be inheriting the ways of a dead person or imposing his on a corpse?

There’s no previous evidence to back up claims in any direction, and, unfortunately, there is only one way to know.

Nessa Noms: Paku Pakus



Vanessa J Wu*


Paku Pakus is a new ramen restaurant on 2nd Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd Streets. It is right off the 72nd Street stop on the Q line and opened on Monday, October 23. The restaurant is the culmination of two sisters’ love of food and Japan, modified to fit the needs of those on the Upper East Side. They are enthusiastic about their housemade products, signature flavors, and quality you can taste. I spoke with both the owner, Chin Ip, and the chef, Sarah Ip.

Paku Pakus Sisters.


NS: Would you say there’s a special meaning to the name Paku Pakus?

CI: Paku paku literally means open and close. So for dining, it means your mouth is opening and closing constantly. Eating nonstop and also in big mouthfuls. Paku paku is also this [picks up origami fortune teller]; it is part of our logo. This paper-folding is like fortune-telling, so it would be good to expect what is unexpected and let life tell you what is going on and the next step.

Paku Paku.


NS: What inspired you to open this restaurant?

CI: I spent quite some time in Japan–a lot of different kinds of places, a lot of different kinds of food. But ramen has really become my passion. I like trying different kinds of ramen from different regions. Different regions have different kinds of soup. Like kaito is more fattening, more rich. Soup noodle is one thing, but I found out I also like mazemen, which is with different kinds of sauce; it’s kind of spicy. In the Upper East Side, you don’t see a lot of ramen shops, unlike Lower Manhattan, so I saw this as a good opportunity to open one for myself. And I knew to find a good chef, so I hired Sarah and the team in the kitchen. I think, together, we can really make it work.


NS: Sarah, how did you start working with Chin and Paku Pakus?

SI: Actually, we’re sisters! So we’ve been working together for quite a long while. We’re always looking for good food, good restaurants. If we thought a restaurant was serving crappy food, we thought, “Oh, if we had a restaurant, we could do it better.”


NS: How long have you been cooking?

SI: I’ve been cooking since I was young! Actually, I was a pastry chef before. I love cooking and I went to Paris for cooking classes. Also, I spent time in Japan. We tried many different places for ramen, so we were like “Oh! Maybe this is something we can handle and try to make our own.”


NS: How long were the two of you in Japan?

CI: I have been on and off for 2-3 years; Sarah would travel to Japan and visit me. She also visited her friends there before. She and our cooking staff have been working on Japanese food for quite a while, so I thought this would be a good team to start with.


NS: What do you both think makes for good ramen?

CI: First of all, it should not be soggy. The noodles have to be chewy, but not undercooked. For soup noodles, the soup has to be steamingly hot, especially to fit the cold weather in New York. The meat–the chashu–has to be melty, not dry; it should still be moist, so we keep the fat to keep the moisture of the meat. Egg-wise, it should not be overcooked, it should be—

SI: Soft-boiled.

CI: Yes. That’s what I was thinking. How about you?

SI: No MSG! The soup that we cook, I cook over 8 hours. A lot of people just use from concentrate.

CI: We are trying to tell the story to the community about the birth of our most popular dish so far, the Rich and Creamy. So how we get it, we have a big pot and we load it with a lot of bones, full of gelatin, which is good for our cold weather.

Rich and Creamy.

SI: We use maybe 60-80 pounds of meat in order to reduce to only 20 quarts of soup. So in the summer, we will probably make it less concentrated, because it will likely be too rich for people in the summer. But in the cold, it is really good when it’s really thick. So if you put a spoon to your lips, it’s gonna’ stick.

CI: It’s one of our most popular ones so far. It’s really picking up in the cold weather.

SI: For the dumplings and everything, we grind the pork ourselves, do the dumplings ourselves, instead of just buying it from the store.

CI: The principle is that we are not making anything for our customers which we ourselves don’t eat. So for us, no MSG and the pork has to be hand-ground. That’s our principle; that’s our rule.


NS: What would you say is your favorite item, for each of you, on the menu?

CI: Tantan men! I always go for some strong flavor–black coffee, strong tea. So tantan is my favorite because it is spicy, nutty, sour. Everything seems to be going on in your mouth.

Tantan Mazemen.

SI: The chicken lollipops. First, we got the Japanese wing sauce, and after that, we thought why don’t we put some strawberry puree and balsamic vinegar? We loved it. That’s still my favorite.


NS: What are your future plans for the restaurant?

CI: After we get more business, we will be thinking of spinning off to other areas in Manhattan or Queens. That will be some years down the road. We want to really stabilize our quality, make this one successful, and make a name for ourselves before we start expanding.

SI: After we make this successful, maybe we can have a central kitchen and make our own noodles. It is only one store right now and the space in the kitchen is not really big, so we cannot make our own noodles. But if we have a central kitchen, we could.

CI: Our next step is making our own noodles. That’s how you can maintain the quality and customize it, too.

SI: For example, some of our customers think the lunch portion noodles are too big. If we could make our own noodles, we could make it a smaller portion for lunch hours. For lunch, we have our lunch combo with the salad and appetizer; if they have the full portion of the ramen, it’s probably too much and they’ll fall asleep when they get back to the office.

CI: Also, we think the mazemen, those with sauce, should go with a thick noodle. It’s like pasta. To me, I’d like for it to be like linguine, but when we check with our supplier, the thickest they can offer us is not really to our standards.


NS: And are you planning on expanding the menu?

SI: We are minimizing at the beginning because we like to do everything step by step. We still have a lot of interesting dishes that we’re going to do.

CI: Some of the items printed on our flyer, we are taking out from our menu, because we talked to the staff and they said it’s better to minimize the number of dishes and make sure it’s good quality before we expand the menu. I think the next step is vegetarian stock. We are now offering fish stock and the pork stock that we are proud of. It used to be a Jewish area, so the pork stock is actually a minus here. As for the fish stock, some people are vegetarian, so they can’t even take the fish stock. So we really want to embrace our vegetarian community.


NS: Do you have any sneak previews of what you want to add to the menu once you start expanding, besides making your own noodles and veggie stock?

CI: The ones we planned before that we’ve taken out from the menu. Like the cheesy gyoza. We find it quite interesting. The first few days, we offered it and people loved it; it’s just a little labor-intensive.

SI: It has parmesan on the bottom, so it’s crispy.

CI: It takes a long time to prepare, so I said let’s sacrifice it for the time being and come back later. That is one thing. Another is the eggplant, which is on our flyer, but we took it out as well. That one is –

SI: Spicy miso and also lime miso. We use the Korean spicy sauce, mix it with the miso on the eggplant, and grill the top; you can eat it alone or with chips.

CI: The miso that we use is four types of miso; we blend it all together in different portions, so it is something that is really house-made for us. It’s not something you can get from the supermarket. We want to use this miso blend that we have, our signature one, and use it in more and more dishes.


NS: The area we’re in is more Eastern, traditional seating while the rest of the restaurant is more Western style seating. What made you choose this difference in layout?

CI: Tatami is very uniquely Japanese. I thought a tatami table would be good especially when it’s facing the street, kind of overlooking the street: being seen and also seeing people. The problem with the tatami is that a lot of Westerners, probably with long legs, would have a harder time, because with the real tatami, people sit on the floor with their legs folded at the back. That’s why we have the hole down there so people can stretch out their legs. We tried to make it Japanese, but we modified it in order to try to fit the Americans. We have the long table over there in the back as well. We thought of putting those low stools, which is very Asian, but we found out this area, the Upper East, has a lot of elderly people, so they may have problems with backless seating. So for the backless, we have it at the bar, but for in the dining hall, we have something with a back.


NS: There’s this eye-catching mural all along the wall when we walk in. Tell me about how that came to be.

CI: Noodle shops usually have a long noodle bar. This was our first thought of what to do with our décor. But the thing is our setup is a little difficult, so we changed our mind. When you think of a noodle bar, it’s a long table. And we wanted to have a lot of different, colorful characters. When you think of a long table, with a lot of characters, the first thing that comes to mind is Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” So when I talked to my manga artist in Tokyo, I gave them the idea of a long table with different characters that [mimicks] Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”. So some of the gestures, you can find in “The Last Supper” as well. The judge who is holding back those two guys behind him, you can also find in “The Last Supper,” but we kind of changed it a little bit. The theme is still there, but instead of Jesus saying someone betrayed him, we get the reactions of colorful figures and how they handle their different bowls of noodles. A little boy gets shocked by his dad and drops his bowl, so it flies off the table and we have a girl in school uniform flying off and catching a mouthful. And we have a guy nonstop paku paku, nonstop eating. We also have a ramen competition–three contenders trying to get in the competition: the winner and the other two, still trying to fight for it and stay in the game. We’re thinking of different ways people will handle their noodles, how people treasure it, and fight for what they want.


NS: You mentioned the ramen eating contest. Do you think you’ll have anything like that here?

CI: That would be a very good promotion for us, but we haven’t really thought that through yet.


NS: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

SI: I really want to take any comments where we can make improvements from it. At the beginning, I don’t mind. Tell me, instead of not coming back!

CI: Daily, we are fine-tuning our recipes from the comments we are getting from our customers. The serving team and the cooking team are working very closely. If anyone isn’t finding it good enough for any reason, we always tell the cooking team.


*This interview was conducted on November 4, 2017. Since then, Paku Pakus has made some of the changes mentioned in the interview, such as creating a vegetarian-friendly broth.


For Your Consideration


Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller

As I have said in the past, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races of the Academy Awards are extremely unpredictable. Often a film’s narrative can decide who from the supporting races makes it in. Last year was a bit different, as you can see from the outcomes below, but look no further than Rachel McAdams’s nomination for Spotlight and you can see that there are plenty of other forces at work besides one’s actual performance. (For those of you who haven’t seen Spotlight, McAdams does next to nothing on screen). This is why I use a different format when discussing the supporting than with the leading races. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and whether I would bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down the various circumstances these actors find themselves in as a result of the film’s narrative, and how that may influence Oscar voters.

Various critics groups, including the National Board of Review (NBR), the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have announced their respective nominees. These announcements and the events associated with them help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories more clear as we approach nominations on January 23rd. In effect, they signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.



Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mahershala Ali — Moonlight: Ali was not only nominated, but he took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and deservedly so.

Dev Patel — Lion: He was nominated in this category, though his was a leading role (category fraud).

Lucas HedgesManchester by the Sea: Hedges beat the odds of being a young newcomer who was nominated.

Michael Shannon — Nocturnal Animals: My hunch that Shannon would end up being the only nomination for the film in the major categories was correct. In fact, it was the only Oscar nomination the film received in any category, and he bumped co-star and Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson out.

Jeff Bridges — Hell or High Water: As I predicted, Bridges easily took one of the five slots and earned his fourth nomination in this category.

The only real snub was Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) who gave his best performance to date. Clearly, by this time last year, it was easy to determine which supporting roles would go on to be nominated by the Academy.

Before we dive into this year’s list of contenders, let me touch upon some of the phenomena we often see in the supporting races:

Two for one: A film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set in both supporting categories back in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel competed against Olivia de Havilland for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Since then, we have seen this play out 29 times in Best Supporting Actress and only 16 times in Best Supporting Actor in the 89 years of the Academy Awards. This last occurred in Supporting Actor for 1991’s Bugsy when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated and in Supporting Actress for 2011’s The Help, which yielded a win for Octavia Spencer and a nomination for Jessica Chastain. Recently, many Oscar watchers have come to believe that a double nomination for a film would cancel both actors out, which could explain why we haven’t seen it in six years.

Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).

Category fraud: In years where there are too many high-quality performances to choose from, Academy voters often fill lead performance slots with supporting roles and vice versa. This year, keep your eye on Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name for the men. Similarly, Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project for the ladies.

Eyes on the newcomer: Oscar voters will often rally around a newcomer and anoint them the prom king/queen, e.g., Mahershala Ali in Moonlight).

Here is a guide to the precursor awards and nominations standings: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^), Golden Globe (#), and SAG ($). The symbols appear after the contender’s name.


Mark Rylance (Dunkirk), Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour)*:

In the year following the year that saw the #OscarsSoWhite curse beat back with a broom, we’re all hoping that the Academy will continue to stem the tide of controversy. But we do so perhaps with more on the line than the country is accustomed to. In any given year, the Academy Awards, to some degree, take the temperature of what is going on in the world. Last year’s the Best Picture lineup included Hell or High Water, at once a crime thriller and a comment on the plight of the disenfranchised American. This year there are three films in play for Best Picture that comment on the Trump regime, including two films that take place during WWII. The first is Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s gorgeous depiction of the evacuation of allied soldiers who were surrounded by the German Army. The film, which capitalizes on Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches”, illustrates the very air, land, and sea combat that he portended in his speech, but more importantly shines a light on what we can achieve when we work together. Enter Mr. Dawson (Rylance), a private boat captain among the 850 Little Ships of Dunkirk that ferried more than 338,000 soldiers to safety as part of Operation Dynamo. With a 94 on Metacritic Dunkirk is one of the year’s best reviewed films, and it has wracked-up eight BFCA nominations. Rylance’s subtle performance skillfully represents the courage and heart of the seafaring men. Where Dunkirk focuses on a singular WWII event, Darkest Hour concerns the whole enchilada. The film follows the newly appointed Churchill (Gary Oldman delivering a towering performance) while Hitler closes in on Britain, forcing Churchill to decide whether to negotiate or retaliate. Perhaps best known to American audiences for his work in Netflix’s Bloodline, Australian actor Mendelsohn plays the reigning monarch of the time, King George VI who was known for his stutter. His role in the Netflix series was well received by the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Golden Globes. Given the luck he has had in television, it will be interesting to see if the film community welcomes him. Despite both men missing out on precursor awards and nominations, their respective films stand firmly in the Best Picture race, which increases their chances for a nomination.

Mark Rylance (left) in Dunkirk.


Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)~ ^ + * # $, Armie Hammer* #, and Michael Stuhlbarg* (Call Me by Your Name): The second category of contenders dovetails nicely with the first because in dark times, we look to true leaders to lead us into the light. Dafoe, Hammer, and Stuhlbarg’s characters strive to lead by example—a characteristic that also shines through in Rylance’s character, I might add. Because many of the tenants living in the motel inhabited by mischievous Moonee (Prince, more on her below) and her young friends are too wrapped up in themselves to do any real parenting, Dafoe’s caretaker Bobby functions as everyone’s parent. And what is a parent, if not a teacher?  The film premiered in the Director’s Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival this year and went on to play at the Toronto and New York film festivals (TIFF and NYFF) where Dafoe earned frontrunner status. Dafoe has two Best Supporting Oscar nominations under his belt for Platoon (1989) and The Shadow of the Vampire (2001). Stuhlbarg plays the father of young Elio (a riveting performance from relative newcomer, 21-year-old Timothée Chalamet) who falls in love with Oliver (Hammer who has never been better) thus the two men teach the teenage boy about two distinct kinds of love. Stuhlbarg was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2010 for A Serious Man. He also appears in The Shape of Water this year thereby clocking in two memorable performances. In Call Me by Your Name, his performance is subtle but powerful, and the onus falls on him to deliver one of the film’s most poignant scenes. Hammer, on the other hand, has struggled to gain ground following his debut in The Social Network back in 2010. Here, he imbues the film with such a warmth and vitality that it proves he has more to offer than a pretty face. Between the two men, Hammer has the edge with his Golden Globe nomination, but Dafoe has maintained his frontrunner status. In fact, as the only actor in the race to be selected by every precursor awards group, a win by anyone else would be a shock.

 Willem Dafoe (left) and Brooklyn Prince (right) in The Florida Project.

Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name.


Sam Rockwell* # $ and Woody Harrelson$ (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water):

Where there is darkness, there are villains. In the last five years alone 7 out of 25 Best Supporting Actor nominees were villains. This may not sound like a lot, but when you factor in that 2 out of the 5 winners were villains, Christoph Waltz Django Unchained (2012) and J.K. Simmons Whiplash (2014), it can’t be ignored. Rockwell’s small town deputy is a racist momma’s boy who takes advantage of his station. It’s clear that much of what is disagreeable about him was homegrown, and so it is surprising to see his character go through such a transformation by the end of the film. The closest Rockwell has come to Oscar is a pair of BFCA nominations in 2011 and 2014. The first was for Best Supporting Actor for Conviction and the second for Best Actor in a Comedy for The Way Way Back. Harrelson, on the other hand, is the sheriff of the town whom is on the receiving end of the ire of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand in top form) following his department’s failure to catch those who raped and murdered her teenage daughter. I will not give anything away, but with limited screen time, he makes quite the impression. Harrelson has two Oscar nominations under his belt: Best Actor in 1997 for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for The Messenger. That brings us to Shannon’s performance in The Shape of Water, which takes place in the Cold War era and is the third film that fits the zeitgeist of this year. On display in his Richard Strickland is a hawkish brute whom has no regard for human beings, going so far as to relieve himself in front of the two cleaning women who ultimately work against him (Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer who both deliver in spades) and to cover his wife’s mouth during “love” making. He is a vile example of a man who in today’s society would be on the receiving end of a fair share of #metoo accusations. The Academy has singled out Shannon twice with nominations for films where other standout performances were overlooked: in 2009 for Revolutionary Road, and this year in Nocturnal Animals. Given this pattern, and the fact that The Shape of Water is a major Oscar contender, it’s tempting to want to pencil him in. Rockwell delivers what is probably his best work to date in this TIFF audience award winner. It’s not likely that he will miss the cut for an Oscar nomination, but if enough voters go for Woody Harrelson’s performance, the two could cancel one another out. Generally, Oscar loves a good villain, but maybe not this year when we have too many real villains in our midst.

Other considerations: All eight men I discussed here are white. If the Academy remains vigilant about #OscarsSoWhite they could mix it up with Idris Elba in Molly’s Game, newcomer Algee Smith in Detroit, Jason Mitchell in Mudbound, or Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. I can’t speak on the latter’s performance, but I can say that Smith’s, coming from my favorite film of the year, which has been woefully overlooked, is probably the most resonant. Elba holds his own opposite Jessica Chastain, who always delivers top-notch performances, and Mitchell is the heart and soul of Mudbound. Any of these men are more than worthy of a nomination, but haven’t been appearing in the precursor awards conversation. Sadly, even more white men have: Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Steve Carrell (Battle of the Sexes), and Patrick Stewart (Logan).



Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:

Viola Davis – Fences: She was nominated and won for her powerhouse performance as was predicted.

– Nicole KidmanLion: Kidman’s banner year began with this nomination and continues today with her roles in television (Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake: China Girl) and film (The Killing of a Sacred Deer).

Michelle WilliamsManchester by the Sea: She was nominated despite grumblings from some critics who claimed she didn’t have enough screen time.

Naomie Harris Moonlight: Nominated

Janelle Monáe Hidden Figures: She was not nominated despite a BFCA nomination.
– Greta Gerwig 20th Century Women: She also was not nominated despite her BFCA nomination.

Last year’s fifth nominee was Golden Globe and SAG nominee Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, who replaced Monáe, thereby earning her second Best Supporting Actress nomination.

By my discussing six nominees last year, you can see that on the ladies’ side, picking the eventual Oscar nominees was not so cut and dry—mainly because of the BFCA’s inclusion of Monáe and Gerwig in their list of six. Both actresses were ignored by the other awards bodies. Still, it was easy enough to determine almost all of the eventual Best Supporting Actress nominees by this time last year.


Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)+ ~ * # $, Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)* # $, and Allison Janney (I, Tonya)* # $:

TIME just named their person of the year: The Silence Breakers. This is big news in a year following one that saw an accused sex offender take the presidency. Women have become the new cause to champion, and rightfully so. For far too long our culture has enabled sexual abuse against women and children by turning the other way, or providing hush money—no more. The Oscar for Best Picture went to Spotlight in 2016. The film depicted the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the Catholic Church. One can only guess what the film that discusses details of Harvey Weinstein’s or any other of the countless sex offenders’ actions that have been exposed this year will be like. But I hope our society learns from this and moves forward with the same vigilance that we are now witnessing, and continues to champion women and those who have been victimized by these heinous acts. Through all of this, my thoughts have turned to the mothers of these women and children. How helpless they must feel bringing children into this world where they cannot protect them. No once captures that sentiment more perfectly than Metcalf (Lady Bird) who struggles to maintain a positive relationship with her teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan holding her own) as she prepares to leave the nest for college. Metcalf, perhaps best known as the titular character’s sister Jackie on Roseanne, earned multiple Primetime Emmy Awards nominations and wins for the show, and was also nominated for guest actress work in 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996), Monk (2006), Desperate Housewives (2007), and triple nominations last year for Getting On, Horace and Pete, and The Big Bang Theory. Outside of television, she has had a lot of success on the stage, and most recently won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for A Doll’s House, Part 2.  Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a gorgeous epic and at the center is Blige’s mother who, like Metcalf’s character, cannot protect her child (Jason Mitchell) from the evils that befall him. Blige is best known as a musician and performer, but here she strips down to the bare essentials, so much so that one hardly recognizes her, allowing her to fade into the role like a chameleon. Although her acting career is just heating up, Blige has been nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Original Song – Motion Picture: The Help in 2012 and again this year for Mudbound. Historically, the Academy runs cool on Netflix-produced films (see Beasts of No Nation last year, which failed to earn a single nomination). But something tells me that Blige will make it in the top five, even if it is just to stave off the curse of #OscarsSoWhite. Where it’s clear that Metcalf and Blige’s mothers love their children, Janney’s portrayal of the mother of one-time Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie giving the year’s best performance) in I, Tonya paints a picture of constant physical and mental abuse. Janney earned four back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards nominations for her work in The West Wing. She for the same role in 2000-2002, was nominated for lead the following year, won the next and earned one final lead nomination for it in 2006. In 2014, she won two Primetime Emmys for Mom and Masters of Sex; she also was nominated for a Golden Globe for the former and nominated again for both the following year. In 2017, she was nominated again for Mom. Like Metcalf, Janney has also enjoyed success on the stage, having been nominated for Best Actress in a Play in 1998 for A View from the Bridge, and Best Actress in a Musical in 2009 for 9 to 5. Metcalf appears to have the momentum, and hers is my favorite of those in supporting this year. But you certainly can’t count out Janney, and the possibility exists that the two veterans of stage and screen could cancel one another out, allowing Blige, or someone else to sneak in.

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird.

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound.

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya.

Comfortable Favorites

Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)* # and Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)* $: Oscar often retreats to what is comfortable, and what better way to do that than to nominate those whom have won or been nominated? In the role of the best friend to love struck mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins knocking it out of the park), Spencer screen time, making her very memorable. As I mentioned earlier, she won for The Help and was nominated for Hidden Figures, but it’s worth mentioning that both films were sprawling ensembles, and though not everyone gets nominated from an ensemble, she did. That is a testament to how strong her chances of a nomination are, though a win is unlikely. Hunter was first nominated for Best Actress back in 1988 for Broadcast News, she earned double nominations in 1994 for The Piano (lead) and The Firm (supporting), and was last nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for Thirteen. There has been a groundswell of support for The Big Sick, which chronicles the true story of actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily Gordon, who battled cancer. The screenplay was written by the couple and Hunter plays Gordon’s mother who struggles to deal with her daughter’s illness. The film is struggling to hold on for a Best Picture nomination, but looks strong for screenplay, and with enough support Hunter could also get in.


Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project)*: The performance from the seven-year-old actress is really a lead, but Academy members could slip her in here. She was recognized by the BFCA in the Best Young Actor/Actress category. Although it would be well-deserved, it is an unlikely scenario.

Hong Chau (Downsizing)*  # $: The Thai actress, perhaps best known for her small television roles in Big Little Lies and Treme, has the most heat for this social satire that asks if our lives would be better if we were able to shrink ourselves. Despite the strong buzz for the performance, there is a feeling that the Vietnamese woman that Chau portrays is more of a caricature. But it has been eleven years since an Asian actress (Rinko Kikuchi for Babel) has been recognized by the Academy (unless you count Hailee Steinfeld who is one-eighth Filipino and was nominated for True Grit in 2010), and the optics of this possible nomination should not be ignored.

Hong Chau (left) in Downsizing.

For the ladies, other possibilities include Kristin Scott Thomas for Darkest Hour as Clementine Churchill, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate as a stern Mother Superior, and Rosamund Pike as yet another kind of mother in Hostiles. There is also the opportunity to recognize Tiffany Haddish for her standout comedic performance in Girls Trip.


Any Oscar race is a wild ride; what seems like a sure thing can be gone tomorrow. We’re living in uncertain times where men (especially) are being taken down by their actions. Nothing is set in stone, and no one is safe.


Culture Corner


“Airbag” by Radiohead

Bernie Langs

I’ve come to believe that there are two masterpiece records that not only predicted the political, cultural and even emotional condition of the 21st century, but expressed them musically and lyrically in such a way as to leave themselves open to years of listening and thoughtful reflection. The first was David Bowie’s Heroes LP, released in 1977, and the other was Radiohead’s OK Computer, which debuted twenty years later and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The album and CD covers of these collections also display thought-provoking artwork subtly adding to the message of their music, Bowie poses in an oddly Vulcan-like, emotionally removed posture, and Radiohead’s is a near-abstract, blurred looped highway adorned with other clues to the record’s contents and message.

OK Computer opens powerfully with its most forceful and arguably best track, “Airbag,” penned by the band from the ideas of its leader, Thom Yorke. The song commences with an immediate production assault, courtesy of the band and the album’s co-producer, Nigel Godrich. Just as with Heroes, whose brilliance is enhanced by the production team of Bowie, Brian Eno, and Tony Visconti, “Airbag” and all of the songs of OK Computer soar to previously unheard heights of artistic and technical wonder. Both albums are thematically unified masterworks of rock composition, recording, and musicianship.

The conceptual undercurrent of “Airbag” and OK Computer goes farther than holding up a mirror to society’s emotional gutting in the face of obsessive commercialism, the feeding frenzy to satisfy the hunger of the capitalistic “commodity fetish.” Radiohead brings in the world’s dependence on the machine and its deadening, defeatist qualities, expressing the idea from several viewpoints and woeful tales. I am reminded of the hard-hitting forces and revelations of the groundbreaking work by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in the film 2001. In that movie, it’s not the manmade computer, HAL, that is absolutely threatening to our person and emotions. It is the idea of a human living out his days in the presence of “The Sentinel,” the sleekly constructed, inexplicably perfect machine of unknown origin, a machine about which he will never have any hope of comprehending, leaving him confused and unsure of his meaning and place in the universe.

In 1997, I’d never heard a song by Radiohead, but my younger coworkers at the time were all talking about the power of OK Computer. For some reason, I sensed that this album might be “the real deal” offering heights of music I’d longed for since the end of the 1970s. I sat down late one evening and put the CD on for a first listen. As the guitars of “Airbag” soared and pulsated around the room that night, I kept track with the lyric sheet like a boy checking his baseball score card at Yankee Stadium as he witnesses a perfect game. This was exactly what I’d been searching for from popular music for a long time. Everything worked for me, especially the masterful and innovative guitar work of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Colin Greenwood’s sparse bass playing in “Airbag” is mixed abstractly and beautifully with drummer Phil Selway’s pounding, and the effect transfixes the listener. I later learned that Selway had played a phrase which was looped and reconfigured through various tricks of production giving it an uneven, automatic and unreal feel.

Yorke, sings his guts out about the future during “Airbag.” He hits on something about the current world as well, something I’d always sensed around me but had not yet fully realized or been able to articulate. It was a naked exposure of the inter-emotional landscapes of people and how they were shifting quickly because of the currents set loose by technology, those from computers, TV and movies, and by obsessive advertisers trying every trick of the cultural book to sell their wares. And of course, the song was a warning sign about the rising tide of a fairly new thing at the time, called the Internet.

The story of “Airbag” is told in minimal lyrics, just a handful of lines. It’s a life life/death/life story taking place during a World War. The protagonist, Yorke, is in his fast German automobile and is saved from a horrific crash and his demise by the car’s airbag. We hear of how in the “deep, deep sleep of the innocent, I am born again” and how “in an interstellar burst, I’m back to save the universe”, sung with the powerful lamentation of a lonely soul surviving in a cold, sterile, yet still somehow mysteriously miraculous world. Yorke seems to be relating that we are all born to a fantastic uniqueness, each of us with the mission to save our immediate social and familial worlds, yet surrounded by machine, metal, and flashing neon lights, we forget our purpose, and thus, who we are, very early in life.

Bowie sang these lyrics in 1977 on Heroes, “Sons of the Silent Age, don’t walk, they glide in and out of life/They never die, they just go to sleep one day”; “Airbag” and OK Computer updated and upgraded that sentiment. The lead song on Bowie’s masterwork, the well-known ‘”Heroes”’ is an in-your-face drama about the Cold War and about the machine emotions of the times. Bowie’s lovers kiss amongst the guns blazing in the sky, holding on to each other amid the crazed war machine. In 1997, Yorke is alone, reborn with a flourish of a profound interstellar burst that no one bothers to find significance in but himself. He’ll lock himself away until his next fatal car crash and subsequent rebirth.

Radiohead saw the world at that time, saying “here we all are and this is where we are all going.” The first line of OK Computer and “Airbag” is, “In the next World War” and I took it to mean today’s World War, the current, ever-present World War of people and their deadening machines creeping, seeping in from all directions. Sure, a machine can drive you around and a machine can give you the joy and the art of recording unfathomable, timeless music. Yet, we live in a time when many of us are failing to notice or bother to think about the possibly irreversible emotional price we are paying for the non-stop technological life we’ve all willingly and complicatedly chosen to lead.

Life on a Roll


Qiong Wang

Philadelphia is renowned for being the City of Brotherly Love and the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, but, in my experience, people in this city seem to have a lot of appreciation for art. From an academic level, the city is home to many famous art museums including the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  From a street perspective, many strikingly usual wall murals are painted all over the buildings in Center City with awed messages. From every historical building you pass by and every street corner you turn onto, there is a sense of heritage and era.  Unexpectedly, you bump into a modern bank-affiliated coffeehouse offering hot drinks & free WiFi. How interesting!