Eclipse: Protect Your Eyes for The Big One

Miguel Crespo

Summer is here and again sun, humidity, and mosquitos will relentlessly plague our days. But the firmament reserves something unique for us: a celestial spectacle we do not get to witness every day. On Monday August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cast its shadow across America. For those who happen to be in the right place at the right time, a once in a lifetime experience will take place in the form of a couple of priceless minutes when the sky will switch colors like the canvas of a mad artist.

But what is a total solar eclipse anyway? A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon stands between the Sun and the Earth, briefly obscuring a patch of land where night and day become indistinguishable for a few moments.

The ancient Chinese legend has it that solar eclipses occurred when a legendary celestial dragon devoured the Sun. In Vietnam, a frog eats the Sun, while people of the Kwakiutl tribe on the western coast of Canada are convinced that the mouth of heaven consumes the Sun. Myths and legends of the ancient world always had something romantic to them. As a child, I loved to believe them until one day I was pointed to a scientific source, only to learn from Stevie Wonder that “…when you believe in things that you don’t understand then you suffer, superstition ain’t the way.” Modern science has elucidated mythical representations of natural phenomena—the Hubble telescope taught us that red light comes from farther away than we thought, and yes, the Earth does revolve around the Sun. Times of darkness and ignorance are long gone for humanity. Or are they? A quick YouTube search is enough to come across countless videos proclaiming the wackiest ad hoc interpretations of this summer’s forthcoming eclipse. Fulfillments of biblical prophecies always come in handy, and contrary to the general opinion, never get old. However, Numerology is my all-time favorite. Desperate subtracting and adding in search of the just too probable coincidence, ideal for the construction of the pyramids by Martians but may also be invoked in case of an eclipse. Together with a few Web sites of the same genre, this serves as a reminder that, as Sam Harris said, “Civilization is still besieged by the armies of the preposterous.”

The majestic gift from Helios is as beautiful as it is ephemeral. Only two to five minutes in the path of totality guarantee the full-blown eclipse experience. The path of totality is a 70-mile-wide stretch of land that will diagonally run from Oregon, all the way down to South Carolina. In search of a reverse path of enlightenment, thousands of enthusiasts will travel to those areas, carefully mapped by NASA, where Selene and Helios will unite in the short-lived affair that the Ancient Greeks anticipated so many centuries ago. Hotel owners and tour organizers alike have also taken note of the event, offering the best rates to enjoy the unforgettable experience together with music festivals, river cruises or even a trip on horseback.

Anticipation has been building during the last few months. Currently, myriad Web sites offer relevant information, including the best spots to view the eclipse, the weather forecast, timing, eclipse simulations, and the exact dates of past and future eclipses. As a matter of curiosity, the longest eclipse will last seven minutes and twelve seconds, and will happen on June 25, 2522 for those who are still around. The best maps can be found on the NASA site, while offers everything you always wanted to know about eclipses but were afraid to ask.

Some might wonder if those meager two minutes of glory are worth the travel, the wait and the expense. Well, here is what we can expect from a total solar eclipse. If you are within the path of totality, the so-called Contact 1 marks the beginning of the show. The Moon disk seems to tangentially come in contact with the Sun, biting a tiny little piece of its periphery. As it progresses further into the Moon, the Sun starts looking more and more like a crescent, the tables turn and it becomes “a little moon” for a moment. This image is priceless, though just as harmful as looking at the Sun at any other time: only special eclipse filters or glasses can be used to safely enjoy this moment. The good news is they are inexpensive and easy to find, remember: Google is your friend. As the Moon incessantly munches on the defenseless Sun, eclipse watchers will notice its shadow looming closer and closer. There is no way back; only a silver ring will be visible when the two celestial bodies finally join in this improbable turn of events. But there is more: from that point on the atmosphere becomes eerie, the air acquires a rare quality, the sky darkens, and birds start to chirp in bewilderment. As the temperature drops in the improvised night, the miracle finally occurs and the entire Sun is hidden behind the almighty Moon. Only then can one look at the Sun without protection, and only in these circumstances will one be able to see the Sun corona. An aura of plasma extends into the sky surrounding the Sun, like a pearly white crown emitting ever-changing rays. The glow of a multitude of mutating colors in a shimmering cotton candy around an impossibly black hole. No photo, no National Geographic documentary would do justice to the uniqueness and the magic of witnessing a total solar eclipse.

ANTOINE CARON “Astronomers Studying an Eclipse”

Boxing in 2017: A Resurgence for the Sweet Science?

Owen Clark

GGG and Canelo exchange a cold stare ahead of their September showdown.

In my prior musings, I’ve alluded to the cliché of “__ is dead.” I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue against the notion that the sport of boxing is the undisputed pound-for-pound champion of this futile declaration. According to many, if not most, boxing has been dead for essentially my entire lifetime. If I’m being deadly honest, there’s a fair amount of truth to this assertion, certainly when compared to the glory days of the 1940s to the 1960s when boxing was one of, if not the most popular sports in the USA—my aunt (whose contempt for violence makes her a reasonably unbiased source) often mentions how in the 1950s Bronx of her childhood, everyone would watch the fights come Saturdays. We’re certainly a long way from the times when boxers like Muhammad Ali, and even the Mike Tyson of my early childhood were arguably the most famous athletes on the planet. However, for fans of the sweet science, there’s a certain whiff of excitement in the air at the host of marquee matchups that 2017 has had/continues to have, garnering near-feverish excitement at the possibility of the ultimate comeback story for this historic sport.

Through my many failed attempts to get friends and family interested in the sport, I’ve come to accept that most see it as one of the two B’s—barbaric or boring. I can certainly understand both of these positions. I actually classify myself as a seemingly paradoxical anti-violence boxing fan. I’m the furthest thing from the stereotypical “casual” that tunes in to see an all-out hands-at-the-waist slugfest, complete with gushing blood and mangled faces. I’m more of a highly skilled, ultra-slick, defensive tactician kind of guy—simply out to appreciate the mastery of a boxer like Floyd Mayweather Jr. taking the “hit and don’t get hit” ethos to matrix-like levels. I definitely feel a sense of guilt when fighters suffer serious injuries; and seeing an ageing Roy Jones Jr.—one of the greatest boxers of all time—getting knocked out by guys that couldn’t tie his shoes twenty years ago—makes me well up every time I think about it. But perhaps that capacity for tragedy is one of the many facets that makes boxing so captivating.

Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua lands a thunderous body shot on fellow 6′ 6” behemoth Wladimir Klitschko.

As for boredom, I’d say as with all sports, but actually boxing in particular, it becomes far more interesting once you know a little about the boxers and understand their styles, personalities, rivalries, and legacies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more tedious than watching out-of-shape heavyweights bumble through a 12 round clinch-fest, and bouts frequently fail to live up to expectation. However, it’s no accident that so many films have been made about boxing (eclipsing any other sport by this metric) from historic classics like Rocky to modern-day masterpieces like The Fighter, both of which won multiple Oscars. It’s also no accident that legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway waxed lyrical about the sheer exhilaration of boxing, while artists like George Bellows chose the sport as their subject matter. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain poetry and beauty to the sweet science—that gladiatorial aspect of two pugilists stepping into the squared-circle, after potentially years of rivalry, and expectations concerning the matchup of contrasting styles—and the fact that it all goes out the window once that bell rings. There’s also an element of the complete unknown that is fairly unique to boxing, in that no matter what happens during the course of the bout, it can all end with one punch—one of the main aspects that keeps fans on the edges of their seats. Lastly of course, it’s an underdog’s sport. As legendary Middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler put it, “…it’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.” Boxing is unquestionably the sport of the poor; the list of boxers that have risen from the depths of poverty, crime, and deprivation to become world champions is too long to count. As the saying goes “You don’t choose boxing, boxing chooses you,” and for many boxing still offers the potential for fame, glory, and riches for those otherwise short of hope.

OK, so I can tell at this point that I’ve probably hooked you in as a bona fide boxing fan, so the next obvious progression is to list a whole host of complaints about the current state of boxing, because as boxing fans that’s mostly what we do. I can give a pretty good rundown, but if you prefer to hear the struggles of the industry by having them yelled at you by an angry Brooklyn native, I’d suggest you checkout promoter Lou DiBella voicing his many complaints on sports writer Chris Mannix’s excellent podcast.

Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon boxing venue sits in disrepair, a foreboding metaphor for the state of boxing

First of all, the obvious elephant in the room, the landscape of the boxing viewer seems at times as if it’s almost designed to be impossible to navigate. The majority of fights are either on HBO or Showtime, both premium cable channels that represent a significant cost to the average viewer. Then, to add insult to injury, all of the top fights (and these days plenty of the lower caliber fights), are on pay-per-view (PPV), which in the U.S. at least carries the frankly astounding price tag of $75-100 per fight. As Lou says, “The entire business model is irrational. You don’t have the World Cup on PPV!” It’s pretty tough to see a path to entry for new fans with the current premium channel/PPV-heavy format, and until boxing is taken into the twenty-first century, it may remain as a niche sport propped up by its most loyal and devoted fan base. Even if you’re OK with ponying up that kind of money to watch a fight, the undercards of PPV fights (i.e. the bouts preceding the main event) are often woefully poor matchups, with the main event not coming on until midnight or so. I’ve heard plenty of tales of fans throwing boxing parties to get their friends on board, only to have people fall asleep by the time the main event comes on. It’s a dire state of affairs in many ways.

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Challenging Conventions in Rei Kawakubo’s Art of the In Between

Dakota Blackman

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a classic tourist destination in New York, overflowing with a sweeping collection of art that traverses time periods and cultures. Among the classics, which include the Greco-Roman sculpture hall, or a collection of European paintings from Rembrandt to Gauguin, is a more modern draw: the Costume Center.

Founded in 1946 with the help of funds from the fashion industry, and reopened in 2014 as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, it focuses on the intersection between fashion and art in both the present day and the past. The Center consists of a range of works throughout the museum, from nineteenth century dresses and trousers to the museum’s comprehensive collection of medieval armor. More well-known efforts of the Center include dedicated gallery spaces for thematic exhibits such as Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty in 2011, and an exploration of the punk movement in PUNK: Chaos to Couture in 2013. Former First Lady Michelle Obama, who cut the ceremonial ribbon at the 2014 reopening, describes the Costume Center as a place “…for anyone who cares about fashion and how it impacts our culture and history.”

Along the lines of the former First Lady’s words, the work of Rei Kawakubo, the designer behind the clothing label Comme des Garçon, is currently on display in a thematic exhibit at the Costume Center. Among works of art that are defined by the very notion of convention, Kawakubo’s Art of the In Between is presented as an exhibit that pushes against the conventions of classic art, of culture, and of fashion itself.

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

Kawakubo’s commentary on, and pushback against, the norms of fashion has long been a hallmark of her company’s work, and it is exemplified in both the layout and garments on display in Art of the In Between. The architecture of the gallery, which was designed by Kawakubo herself, isn’t simply dress forms on display behind panes of glass; the exhibit has museum-goers weave through a maze of snow white architectural anomalies—domes, pods, hollowed cylinders with small methodically placed cutouts—to catch a glimpse of the garments inside.

The bright white architecture provides a stark contrast to the vibrantly colored and uniquely shaped garments, which undoubtedly fulfill the goal of the Costume Center by turning a commentary on culture and fashion into art. The exhibit is divided into ten parts, all of which present two sides of a defined binary within which the garments exist: Clothes/Not Clothes, Design/Not Design—and, perhaps most notably, Fashion/Anti-fashion—to name a few. The titles of individual exhibit sections help to align the viewer with the question posed by Kawakubo and how her garments seek to answer it.

Kawakubo isn’t afraid to tackle big issues, and in the exhibit, she explores class, time, age, gender, and even the human form. High/Low, for example, juxtaposes the styles of bikers and prima ballerinas: the dress forms donned in skewed black tutus under meticulously cut leather jackets. This section questions class, placing the garments in the intersection between the high, or elite, and the low. In another section, titled Object/Subject, Kawakubo’s “Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress” collection from the 1970s is on display. Kawakubo wraps ginghams and pastel pinks and blues around dress forms augmented with intentional but unnatural masses distributed throughout their forms, producing pseudo-dresses. These lumps and bumps, as the collection has been deemed by critics, are reminiscent of those formed by a child stuffing a pillow in their shirt to grow a pretend belly. The garments encapsulate the heart of the exhibit, creating a completely new human form and challenging viewers to reorient their view of what a standard, conventionally fashionable garment can and should do. In an interview with Vogue at the time of the collection’s release, Kawakubo said, “It’s our job to question convention. If we don’t take risks, then who will?”

True to her word nearly fifty years later, Kawakubo has continued to take risks. The garments in Art of the In Between are not particularly beautiful, at least not by conventional standards, but it is clear that beauty is not Kawakubo’s goal. She rips fabric, forms “lumps and bumps,” and even mixes plaids (a fashion no-no). But there is a new kind of beauty within her garments, and within Art of the In Between as a cohesive unit. They play with norms in a way that is both mischievous and thought-provoking, and—most importantly—refreshingly accessible to those casually interested in fashion, in art, or both. Art of the In Between will be on display at the Met through September 4.

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

This month Natural Selections interviews Jazz Weisman of the Scientific Computing Users Group

Juliette Wipf

Picture: Jason Banfelder, Director of the RU High Performance Computing Systems, talking about the most commonly used computing tools at the inaugural meeting of the SciComp group.

On April 12, Scientific Computing Users Group (SciComp) of The Rockefeller University’s (RU) held its inaugural meeting in CRC 406. The founders of the group, Jason Banfelder, Director of the RU High Performance Computing Systems (HPC), and first year graduate student Jazz Weisman, led the meeting. I caught up with Jazz Weisman about this new group on our campus.

NS: How did you and Jason come up with the idea to start the SciComp group?

I attended Jason’s Quantitative Understanding in Biology course at Cornell University and wanted to learn more. When I asked him about opportunities he said that starting a group is always a good, as well as a feasible idea. In fact, he had thought about starting something for a while as well. I actually recommend Jason’s lecture, or a similar intro level data analysis class, to everybody. A lot is already going on in that area, and we tried to create something in this pool. The future is definitely more computed, and we have to start somewhere.

NS: What do you think is the biggest plus of the SciComp group?

Painful and repetitive work should be reduced as much as possible. So many things can be done a lot easier with the help of computing, which will make repetitive tasks in science a lot less painful. But there are a lot of side benefits to our group. People get to know Jason as a representative of the IT department, which will make communication between the scientists in the lab and IT easier. People tend to be a bit shy about their computer skills, and we hope to make the IT department more accessible. Finally, we want to get interested people together. Labs can sometimes be a bit insulated; however, their computational interests would be similar.

NS: Researchers (myself included) can sometimes be a bit scared of using new programs, even though we use computer programs daily. Why do you think that is?

I think most are afraid of messing up their data. We also don’t want the design of our results to change, since we have long chains of experiments, sometimes generated over years, and a change in the output can sometimes make it hard to represent data neatly. But, as I said, most of our experiments come in long chains. Programming languages, such as R, Python or MATLAB, can simplify such tasks, and are actually a lot faster and easier to use than, for example, Microsoft Excel. Most importantly however, they make things repeatable, which is always better. If we use code to perform a string of tasks, this code can be given to a new student for example, and everybody can be sure the desired analysis was executed exactly the same way as usual. The student, on the other hand, can also study the string of code in peace and quiet, which will make understanding of the method easier for the new student as well.

NS: What can people expect from those meetings? Are there exercises that you do on computers together, or is it more of a discussion round?

Our group meetings usually start with a short talk of approximately 15-25 minutes on a chosen topic. For example, in our second meeting on May 18, we chose to talk about the data visualization tool ggplot2. After the presentation, we hope to get an open discussion going where everybody can ask questions. You can bring your laptop because it can help showing others the actual problem you are experiencing. It is not necessary that you attend the whole meeting; you can also just come for one part of it. We want our meeting to be an open thing. Also, we understand that everybody is busy and that you might have limited time for stuff.

NS: Who can attend the SciComp meetings? What skill level is expected from participants?

Absolutely everybody can attend our meetings and no previous experience is required. If you want to learn more on the discussed topic, please come. We expect nothing and are simply happy you are interested. If we talk about an R-based tool like ggplot2, for example, it will all make a bit more sense to you if you know some of the programming language R already. But it is not expected at all. We want the group to be widely accessible. Everybody who wants to should come!

NS: What do you expect from the participants (ask questions, prepare, etc.)?

People shouldn’t be afraid to get a discussion going. We are happy to answer the most basic questions! This is exactly why we thought the group environment would be nice, just to make everything more laid-back and relaxed. Ultimately we hope to also see group members helping each other out, with me or Jason only assisting when needed.

NS: What topics will be discussed in the meetings?

People can actually vote on which topic will be discussed. In this Google group, people should add their requested topics. If you and your colleagues want to learn about a specific program your lab is using, you should individually log onto the Google group and vote, so we can see how big the demand is. With this approach, reruns of hot topics are also possible if needed; just reenter the topic into the Google group. We hope to soon talk about DNA or RNA sequencing, which I definitely think is the topic most people are interested in at the moment. In addition, we will use the Google group for general updates as well as a place for people to ask questions.

NS: In your inaugural meeting, you talked about the most successful tools currently available to get a feel for the needs and interests of the attendees. In the last meeting you discussed the R plotting tool ggplot2, which makes all kinds of beautiful plots and graphs. When will the next SciComp meeting take place and what topic will be discussed?

We’ve decided to have the next meeting on August 3 in CRC 506 from 5:30 – 6:30. We will discuss Dynamic documents in R, presented by Thomas Carroll, head of the new bioinformatics resource center​. Finally, if anyone is interested in becoming a co-organizer they should contact me via email at I think that one or two more people to plan and put the word out could be a good thing for the SciComp group.

Jason Banfelder, Director of the RU High Performance Computing Systems, talking about the most commonly used computing tools at the inaugural meeting of the SciComp group.


Culture Corner


Who Killed Rock and Roll?

Bernie Langs

Bob Dylan with President Obama after playing at the “In Performance at The White House: A Celebration of Music from The Civil Rights Movement” concert, February 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for…
“Not I,” says the referee
Don’t point your finger at me
….It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all…”

Who killed Davey Moore…
“Not us,” says the angry crowd…”
“Not me,” says his manager…”
“Not me,” says the gambling man…”
“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist….
“It was destiny, it was God’s will.”

Who killed Davey Moore

Why and what’s the reason for?

(Excerpts from Who Killed Davey Moore? by Bob Dylan)

Who killed rock and roll?

Why and what’s the reason for?

Not us, says the popular radio stations. We have charts and graphs and demographic studies proving what the people want to hear. So what if the classic rock stations play the same exact songs for years after years, grinding them into the ground and reducing the so-called precious recording artist’s output to a handful of songs? They should be grateful for the exposure if not the royalty checks. It doesn’t matter at all that what was once rare and precious is as free as oil spreading across a pristine bay. We have to maintain our advertising revenue. No shame in that, for after all, any good rock star will tell you a buck is a buck. “Hotel California” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” until your ears bleed? Get a real problem. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

“Not us,” says MTV, we just made songs visual for all to see. Okay, maybe we had a few years of blatant racism until we saw the dollar signs in Michael Jackson’s eyes, and perhaps there are hundreds— okay, thousands—oh, okay, tens of thousands of videos demeaning women, reducing them to sexual objects for the pleasure of idiotic bad boys. Okay, the whole thing is one Marxist, drooling commodity fetish. But we spiffed up the genre with dancers! Scantily clad dancers, sure. And now we have really good looking artists, posers, and fashion leaders. If anything we expanded rock’s reach. We don’t even know what auto-tune is! They all lip-sync anyway! Live videos? Live is dead, man, get with it. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us, say the popular magazines. Sure, we loved to cover all the tragic rock stars’ meteoric falls into drug and alcohol abuse and their paranoid ravings and simplistic political posturing, but we also have our tearful in-depth profiles of their rebirths, their recoveries and all the life lessons learned. And now they’re making the very best music of their lives (of course not, but, hey, what do our readers know – just what momma would call “a little white lie” as Forrest Gump says). Really, doesn’t everybody want to know about the songs written about breakups between our stars, more craft in the guessing than in the actual music composition? As a guitarist yourself, you know you can strum from C to G all afternoon and get at least ten songs out of it! If you think of it that way, that’s real talent. And as our reporters are let into the artist’s inner sanctum, our readers just love to hear how we ate sushi with them and went to the studio and someone thought they saw Bono crossing the street. That’s news, my friend! Let us tell you a trade secret: There ain’t no art there in the first place, so why ask about it? Besides, we make drugs and drinking and promiscuity keep up the image of sex and drugs and rock and roll. You say that was always just a cheap slogan and never had meaning for the real music? That’s why you are writing for an online newsletter and not Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us, say the music stars, even Elvis didn’t really play guitar. Sure you think that David Bowie’s music predicted the emotionally dead, empty-thought, technological charred ruin of an ISIS Internet state, and that Led Zeppelin’s journey through Kashmir is as mystical as a real life Aladdin carpet ride, and that The Beatles grew in leaps and bounds as composers the likes of which we haven’t seen since Wolfgang Amadeus. Be happy you had that and don’t blame us for not measuring up to those standards! It’s a job, for crying out loud. It’s community, the swaying sing along at the end of the show proving we are all one, we are together, we all love, until we get to our cars to go home—and if that guy doesn’t get the hell out of my way…Didn’t Elmo sing “Every day can’t be Christmas”? Well, every concert can’t be Woodstock. And you try to write a hit, my man, there are only so many notes on a guitar and a piano, they’ve all been taken, my friend. A wise man once said that there are only three or four plot lines in literature. Well, we’re just repeating the same old guitar and piano lines, but look at the polish of it! Our producers have more power in their consoles than the rockets that went to the moon! If you’re looking for art, try twisting a volume control these days—not so easy! And this constant criticism of our parties and of stars gazing at stars—seems a bit like sour grapes, Mister Home Recording hermit. It isn’t us who makes rock fall, you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us says Dylan, Springsteen, the Stones, Paul, Ringo and Led Zeppelin, we’ve kept our integrity. And this is something of which I completely agree.

Who killed rock and roll? Why and what’s the reason for?
Laid low in a cloud of mist
“It was destiny, it was God’s will.”


New York State Of Mind

Guadalupe Astorga

This month Natural Selections interviews Maria Encarnacion, Customers Service, Weiss Café, The Rockefeller University

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

37 years.

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

First I lived in High Manhattan for 22 years and I recently moved to New Jersey. I like this city, it’s really calm compared to The Big Apple.

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

Overrated: the rent prices, they are just too high, also the transport. Underrated: the salaries, they are not high enough to compensate.

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

To be honest I don’t miss anything because I like to go out and relax and forget about the stress of the city.

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

I feel really happy to live in this city and in this country, and I am lucky to have all these opportunities, but I think I have not changed.

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

I would decrease the poverty and crime in some neighborhoods. I would like that people respect each other more.

What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

I like to walk, visit the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the Rockefeller Plaza on Fifth Avenue. I think it’s a nice place to go.

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

I’ve been working at RU for 17 years, and I love working here because people are kind, comprehensive and inclusive. It’s been an honor for me to work here.

Bike, MTA or walk it?

Good question, I love the bicycle and I have always ridden since I was a teenager. However, here I don’t have a bike because it wouldn’t fit in my apartment. I use the subway and the bus.

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

I belong here, but I also miss my country. Unfortunately, there are two social statuses there: rich and poor. So, I prefer the life quality here or in Florida.

Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?




For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

Jim Keller

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes (2017) FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

No matter how you spin it, 2016 was not a kind year for women who remain trapped on the other side of a cracked glass ceiling. So it is with great pleasure that I begin this first in a four-part series focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race. Last year’s race saw the defeat of #OscarsSoWhite with people of color represented in all of the major categories, and of course, Best Picture, in a turn as dramatic as the films themselves, going to Moonlight following an envelope mix-up backstage. (Can someone please explain why that guy hasn’t been fired yet?) As we look to Oscar nominations in January 2018, we do so under the shadow of a man who is hidden behind a veil of secrecy. It will be interesting to see how the Academy is affected by the state of the union. Will they choose to support performances from films of heavy subject matter, or go the opposite direction and support those from films of lighter fare? If the historic win of Moonlight this year is anything to go by, the shiny happy sheen of a film, such as La La Land and those who dream, was not what the Academy wanted, to make a bold statement. Last Oscar season, the race came down to two very deserving actresses in roles that were the polar opposite of one another: the eventual winner, Emma Stone, as the fictitious young ingénue in La La Land and Natalie Portman as the titular Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. What story has yet to be told this year? The film screenings to take place over the next couple of months will weave that narrative. For now, let’s examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.

Of the eleven roles that were discussed here, only two went on to join Stone and Portman and secure Best Actress nominations: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins and Ruth Negga for Loving. Viola Davis ended up being nominated in a supporting role and winning for her searing performance in Fences. Jessica Chastain and Rosamund Pike’s films, The Zookeeper’s Wife and A United Kingdom, respectively, were pushed to this year, thereby falling out of contention. Finally, Allied, Passengers, and The Light Between Oceans were seen as genre fare, promptly taking Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence, and Alicia Vikander, respectively, out of the running and leaving behind Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train) and the aforementioned Adams who had two chances for a nomination: Nocturnal Animals and Arrival. I would argue that when all was said and done, the only real snub was Adams who all but literally carried Arrival on her back to earn eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The last nominee was Isabelle Huppert (Elle).

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – The Papers (director: Stephen Spielberg):
FYC: This historical drama, inspired by true events, involves a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents and drove the country’s first female newspaper publisher of The Washington Post, Kay Graham (Streep) and its hard-driving editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to join an unprecedented battle between journalists and the government in publishing the Pentagon Papers. Streep is discussed every year in this column. The actress has racked up 17 Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you know that the film is highly relevant following constant attacks on the press by, and several ongoing investigations of, the man who currently occupies the White House.

THE LESBIAN: Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes (directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris):
FYC: The comedy-drama film is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Stone) and ex-champ/serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Stone is on fire at the moment having won the Oscar for Best Actress just this year. She was previously nominated for her supporting role in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2015. What’s more, the last film directed by Dayton and Feris, Little Miss Sunshine, was nominated for two Oscars and won two others, including Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin.

THE WILDCARD: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (director: Martin McDonagh):
FYC: A dark comedic drama that depicts the plight of a mother (McDormand) who takes a stand against a revered chief of police (Woody Harrelson) using three billboards leading into her town after several months have passed without a culprit for her daughter’s murder. McDormand was first nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1989 for Mississippi Burning. She won Best Actress in 1997 for Fargo, and earned two more Best Supporting Actress nominations for Almost Famous and North Country in 2000 and 2006, respectively. Although McDormand has largely remained outside of the Oscar conversation since her last nomination, the trailer for the film shows a lot of range from the actress, who appears to be relishing in the role. Sight unseen, I have her as the one to beat this year.

THE DAME: Dame Judi Dench – Victoria and Abdul (director: Stephen Frears):
FYC: This British-American biographical drama film based on Shrabani Basu’s book of same name depicts the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Dench) and young Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). It’s hard to believe that Dench who has been nominated of Best Actress five times (most recently for Philomena in 2014) and Best Supporting Actress two others (Mrs Brown in 1997, Chocolat in 2001) has only won a single Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love in 1999. Further, like McDormand, if the range depicted in the trailer is anything to go by, we will be seeing an awful lot of Dench this awards season.

THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Mother! (director: Darren Aronofsky):
FYC: Although very little is known about this thriller-horror that centers on a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive, disrupting their tranquil existence, Aronofsky’s Black Swan did quite well with the Academy (despite naysayers saying that the film wasn’t within their wheelhouse), earning four nominations, including Best Picture, and winning the Best Actress Oscar for Natalie Portman. Black Swan is also described as a thriller; could lightning strike twice? Lawrence earned her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone and she won the Oscar in 2012 for Silver Linings Playbook. She went on to net a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle (2014) and her third Best Actress nomination for Joy last year. Even though all of her performances do not catch fire in the awards race, Lawrence remains one of the most bankable actresses to date, and in our capitalist society, bankability often translates to awards heat.

THE REDHEAD: Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel (director: Woody Allen):
FYC: The plot is unknown for this period drama set in a late 1950s amusement park at Coney Island, Brooklyn New York, but Allen’s films often find themselves in the thick of the Oscar conversation. Winslet’s career has yielded two Best Supporting Actress nominations (Sense and Sensibility in 1996 and Iris in 2002) and three Best Actress nominations (Titanic in 1998, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2005 and Little Children in 2007). In 2008, she infamously won the Oscar for Best Actress for her would-be supporting role in The Reader over Streep’s wonderful turn in Doubt. Winslet last brushed shoulders with Oscar when she was nominated for her supporting role last year for Steve Jobs. Early images from the film show Winslet with red hair engaged in a passionate argument with co-star Justin Timberlake. Given that she excels in relationship dramas, and the film has a December 1st release date, she’s a pretty safe bet.

Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake in Wonder Wheel (2017) AMAZON STUDIOS

THE CLASS ACT: Emma Thompson – The Children Act (director: Richard Eyre):
FYC: This drama based on Ian McEwan‘s novel of the same name concerns British High Court judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) who is asked to rule in the case of a minor refusing treatment because of his family’s religious beliefs. Thompson won the Best Actress Oscar in 1993 for Howard’s End and went on to be nominated the following year for The Remains of the Day. 1996 brought her not one, but two Oscars: Best Actress and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published for Sense and Sensibility. Thompson was most recently in the Oscar conversation in 2013 for Saving Mr. Banks, but she was snubbed by the Academy for her role as P.L. Travers—the author behind the Mary Poppins books. It’s important to note that the last film to be adapted from one of McEwan’s novels, Atonement, garnered six Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Picture. It seems a safe bet to throw Thompson’s hat in the ring at this early stage.

THE GAMBLER: Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game (director: Aaron Sorkin):
FYC: This drama marks the directorial debut of Sorkin and is based on Molly Bloom’s memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. Bloom was a former Olympic hopeful-come-successful entrepreneur who became the subject of an FBI investigation after she established a high-stakes, international poker game. Chastain, perhaps the actress most overdue for a win discussed here,

was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Help in 2012 and Best Actress the following year for Zero Dark Thirty. As per usual, she has a few other films in contention this year: The Zookeeper’s Wife, and Woman Walks Ahead. But having more films, doesn’t necessarily equate to more chances to win—especially with an actress as talented as Chastain who consistently delivers—because the Academy often splits the vote without a consensus. For now, I’m putting my money on this one having the highest profile of the bunch, and that late November release date sure doesn’t hurt.

As always, the women discussed here are some of those with the pedigree to earn a nomination. Others include Saoirse Ronan in another McEwan adaptation On Chesil Beach—a drama set in the early 1960s centered on a young couple on their honeymoon. The actress also stars with Annette Bening in The Seagull, who also has a shot with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Then there’s Helen Mirren in The Leisure Seeker who stars as one-half of a runaway couple on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV called “The Leisure Seeker.” Sally Hawkins also has two films to consider: The Shape of Water from visionary director Guillermo del Toro and Maudie—a role for which she is already winning rave reviews. As if that weren’t enough, Halle Berry has her shot in Kings from Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven in a drama that follows a foster family in South Central LA just before the city erupts in violence following the verdict of the Rodney King trial in 1992.

The Oscar race will really get its start with the Venice International Film Festival August 30 – September 9, 2017 and the Telluride Film Festival August 30 – September 4, 2017. These festivals often set the stage for the season to come as frontrunners emerge. Stay tuned in September when I take a look at the leading men of the Best Actor race.

Life on a Roll

Qiong Wang

One World Trade Center semi-visible under a veil of clouds on an overcast morning: this is what the Manhattan skyline looks like from 15 Exchange Place, Jersey City. I bet it is not often that one gets to catch a glimpse of the new symbolic landmark like this.

One minute after hopping onto the under-river train, I was already at the new World Trade Center PATH transit station in Manhattan, a new establishment completed in 2016. As you might have heard, the look of this construction resembles a bird taking off. The first thing in sight coming off the train was a dazzling huge flag of stars and stripes, hanging down from a lofty white space, supported by long parallel comb-like beams. The blue and red flag, the pure white interior, it is minimalism well executed!


Who Will Lead WHO?

Aileen Marshall

Most of us here at The Rockefeller University, and the Tri-Institutions, do basic research: figuring out the molecular mechanisms of various life forms. Many of us also do translational research: taking that basic research and applying it towards a product. However, we all do our work for the betterment of the human race, to paraphrase Rockefeller’s motto. We are all concerned in some way, of different aspects of human health. Most of us have probably dealt with some data from the World Health Organization (WHO) at some point in our careers. How many of you know that WHO is currently in the process of electing a new head, the title of Director-General? How much of an impact this will have on our work remains to be seen, but WHO’s work effects many people around the world in some way.

In 1945, Chinese United Nations (UN) delegate, Dr. Sze, proposed the creation of an international health agency under the UN to focus on public health. WHO was finally ratified on April 7, 1948. It was the first specialized UN agency to which every member pledged. In its early years, WHO ran programs to give mass vaccinations for tuberculosis and started a malaria and small pox eradication programs. They started an epidemiological information service that has become a standard today. In 1977, they released their first list of essential medicines: a list of drugs that WHO believes all countries around the world should have on hand. This can be very helpful to healthcare workers and advocates around the world in order to petition their governments for funding for these medications. In 1979, WHO reported that small pox had been eradicated, and with that, it became the first disease to be eliminated by human intervention. In 1986, WHO started its global program on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS around the world.

WHO is currently focused on many areas, primarily communicable diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, malaria, and tuberculosis. It also has programs promoting reproductive and occupational health, nutrition, healthy aging, and substance abuse prevention. WHO encourages countries to develop reporting methods, promotes cooperation between scientific and medical groups, and help governments develop research agendas. Today, it is known as the organization that puts health statistics from around the world in a unified system.

Besides these accomplishments, WHO has also endured controversy and criticism. It reproached the Vatican’s ban on condoms as being dangerous considering the AIDS pandemic, and it has been criticized for its classification of red meat and cell phone signals as possible carcinogens. In recent years, they have had negative media attention for a slow response to the Ebola crisis. Some say their focus is too wide and that the organization engenders too much bureaucratic red tape and internal politics. There have been calls for more accountability and transparency within WHO. There has also been a lack of funding for many of their efforts.

Located in Geneva, Switzerland, today WHO has 194 member states, and offices in Congo, Egypt, Denmark, India, the Philippines, and the United States. It is financed by contributions from member states, the largest contributor being the United States. WHO’s policy making branch is the World Health Assembly, which member states appoint delegates to. The delegates meet annually, usually in May, to vote on matters of policy and budget, and they elect a new Director-General every five years. The next election will have taken place by the time of this publication (at the end of May). The current Director-General is Margaret Chan, a physician from Hong Kong. Currently there are three candidates for the new head: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Ethiopia, Sania Nishtar from Pakistan, and David Nabarro of the United Kingdom. Whomever is elected will take office on July 1, 2017.


Tedros Ghebreyesus, 52, was born in Eritrea, and received a Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Asmara in Ethiopia. He has a Master’s of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Ph.D. in Community Health from the University of Nottingham. He is the only non-medical doctor of the three candidates. Ghebreyesus’ first job out of college was as a junior public health expert for the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia where he worked on methods of malaria prevention. Then Ghebreyesus worked as the head of a Regional Health Bureau. He is recognized for a 20% reduction in AIDS and 70% reduction in malaria cases in that region during his tenure. In 2005, he was appointed Minister of Health. As Minister, he hired over 30,000 health extension workers throughout the country, increased hospital staffing and connected hospitals to the internet. He initiated a program that distributed 20 million insecticide-treated nets throughout Ethiopia. During his time as Minister of Health, deaths from malaria decreased by 50%, new AIDS infections by about 90%, and infant mortality by almost 30%. In 2012, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs where he encouraged Ethiopia to adhere to WHO guidelines during the Ebola epidemic. He is known for having published many papers on malaria. As a candidate for Director-General, Gheebreyesus has stated that he supports strengthening health care systems and universal health care coverage.


Sania Nishtar, 54, was born in Peshawar, and received her medical degree in cardiology from Khyber Medical College in Pakistan. She earned a Ph.D. in Medicine from King’s College London. After medical school, she worked as a cardiologist at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. In 1999, she founded Heartfile, a health policy think tank based in Islamabad, focused on ways to improve Pakistan’s health care system. She has served as an advisor to WHO on many occasions, most prominently co-chairing the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. Nishtar wrote Choked Pipes: Reforming Pakistan’s Mixed Health Systems, a book that was published in 2010. In 2013, she was a Federal Minister in the Government of Pakistan, overseeing the Ministries of Science and Technology, Education and Training, and Information Technology and Telecom. In this role she helped establish a Ministry of Health. Nishtar is a member of the Lancet and Rockefeller Foundation Commission on Planetary Health and the Working Group on Private Sector Health Systems established by Results for Development and the Rockefeller Foundation, among many other boards.


David Nabarrro, 68, is from the United Kingdom and obtained his medical degree from the University of Oxford. In his early years, he was a Medical Officer for Save the Children in Iraq and a District Child Health Officer in Nepal. Later, he became South Asia Regional Manager for Save the Children. Nabarro joined WHO in 1999, first as a project manager for Roll Back Malaria, a partnership among countries to coordinate efforts against malaria. Next, he helped start their Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In 2003, he moved to WHO’s Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments division. He was the UN Special Envoy on Ebola in 2014. In 2015, he was Chair of an advisory group on WHO’s responses to outbreaks and emergencies. Now he is special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on sustainable development and climate change, and leading the UN’s response to the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. Nabarro has said that if he is elected WHO Director-General, his four goals would be: sustainable development goals, responses to outbreaks and emergencies, building relations with member states, and people-centered health policies.

By the time this issue comes out, it may be publicly known which of these candidates will be the next Director-General of WHO. Whichever one of the three candidates is elected Director-General, let’s hope WHO keeps up their high standards of statistic reporting and encouraging collaboration between scientific groups.

New York State Of Mind

Guadalupe Astorga

This month Natural Selections interviews

Jens Matthes, Information Security Architect.

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

18 years, since March 1999. I remember I was terrified, I wanted to go back home after a week.

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

I live in the Upper West side near the Central Park and that’s probably one of my favorite neighborhoods. I also like the Lower East side, it’s fun down there.

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

Overrated all the touristic places like Time[s] Square and the Statue of the Liberty. Underrated, the public transportation, it’s actually great here, even if people always complain about it. They don’t realize how much value it adds. I also like the ease of the access, everything is close, pharmacies and stores in every block. People don’t realize how convenient and easy it is to have it.

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

The fact of not having to drive. Every time I go somewhere and I have to drive everywhere, it really gets on my nerves pretty quick, to sit in the car for everything. I also miss the food, all the fantastic options, whatever you like for however much you want to pay. Also, the public transportation, most places, especially in the U.S., don’t have it. I remember I went to L.A. like 10 years ago and I hated it after three days.

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

I come from a really small city in Germany, so things like homelessness and crazy people in the street would have affected me much more, because it wasn’t common and not a big issue. Here, I got a bit jaded about these things. When I see crazy people in the subway all I think is “I hope he doesn’t throw me down the tunnel.” I don’t think “how did this happen, or how could one help him?” This has definitely changed. Also, the stress of the city, when I get visitors they say “why do you have to run like that?” It’s something you don’t realize, you just become part of it. It’s negative, but after so many problems you see, you cannot get involved all the time, it’s just too much.

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

One thing is the noise, it really stinks. It’s always noisy, also where I live, even the Central Park.

Another thing is prices. It’s just crazy, I don’t know how people live. I have a full-time job and also my wife and I still feel poor, that kind of sucks.

What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

I like my brunch, NYC is definitely the capital of brunch. I like to play some tennis, do things with the kids, watch a show, or listen to some live music. I like to take advantage of the culture that NYC has to offer.

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in NYC?  

We used to go with some friends to the World Trade Center, in the twin towers, tower number two, 110th floor. “The Windows of the World”: on Wednesdays they had a cool DJ with good music, it was very impressive to have a beer there, see through the windows, especially after 9/11, I always remember that time.

 Bike, MTA or Walk it?

It’s too far to walk home. I had to do it for the “Blackout” [of 2003] and it took me two and a half hours. I use the Citybike quite a bit if it’s available, it’s a great way to get around, saves me some time. MTA, of course, in the winter, subway and bus.

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

I could live in Florida, I have some family there, it’s cheap. California, of course too. I could also move back to Germany; I may even have to think about it with the current political situation, which really sucks.

Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?

I have always been told that it takes about 20 years, so I’m not quite there. But, I guess I feel pretty much like a New Yorker, people from out of town come and complain I talk too much, I walk too fast, I talk too fast. So, they definitely think I’m a New Yorker.

I still feel connected to my roots and my culture, I have a lot of friends and family in Germany. In that sense, maybe a New Yorker with roots, I think that’s very common in NYC.

The Giro D’Italia


Francesca Cavallo

The Giro dItalia, or Tour of Italy, is one of the world’s most famous bicycle races. Twenty-two international teams compete for three weeks in a contest of racing tactics, willpower, and raw athleticism. The 2017 Giro is extra special: it’s the 100th race!

Even if you’re not a cycling enthusiast, you have probably heard about this multiple-stage bicycle race held in Italy every May, which, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España (collectively known as Grand Tours), represents the world’s most prestigious road bicycle race. Also, known as Corsa Rosa (Pink Race, because the race leader wears a pink shirt), Giro dItalia was established in 1909, an idea of Tullio Morgagni, a journalist with the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. At the time, cycling was already a popular sport, with the first races having taken place in 1869.

The first Giro dItalia left from Piazza Loreto in Milan on May 13, 1909. Overall, the first Giro consisted of eight stages, held three times a week, between May 13 and May 30, covering a total of 2,448 km. Since then, except for interruptions during World Wars I and II, the Giro dItalia has taken place every year in May over the course of three weeks. Although the starting point varies every year, the arrival is always in Milan, the headquarters of Gazzetta dello Sport. In 1931, it was decided that the race leader needed to display a symbol that would make him instantly recognizable amid the dense pack of racers; thus, the iconic maglia rosa, pink jersey, was introduced.

The golden age of the Giro was between 1931 and 1950, when such cycling greats as five-time winner Fausto Coppi (il Campionissimo) champion of champions and his historic rival three-time winner Gino Bartali (nicknamed Ginettaccio) competed and inflamed fans, dividing Italy into supporters of one or the other. Between 1956 and 1978, the race lead was taken by foreigners, especially the Belgian Eddy Merckx, who won the Giro five times in seven years and earned the nickname “The Cannibal” because, it was said that he wouldn’t let anyone else win.

The 1990s saw the emergence of Marco Pantani, who became a real sports idol in Italy, winning the Giro dItalia in 1998 (the same year, he won the Tour de France, the last cyclist, and one of only seven, to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year). Nicknamed “il pirata” (the pirate) because of his shaved head and the bandana and earrings he always wore. Pantani is considered one of the best climbers of his era. In 1999, while leading the race, he was expelled due to irregular hematocrit values. He was accused of Erythropoietin, or EPO, use, which is thought to have led him into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004.

The latest years of the race have been dominated by the Spaniard Alberto Contador (one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours of road cycling), and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (like Contador, he has won all three Grand Tours). Since the beginning, Nibali has been nicknamed Lo Squalo (the shark) for his technique, which consists of always rushing to the attack, and for his Sicilian origins. Nibali is the current Giro dItalia title holder, having won the 2016 race (he previously won the 2013 edition).

2017 marks a special year for the Giro dItalia as it celebrates its 100th edition. Giro dItalia 2017 will run from Friday, May 5th to Sunday, May 28th, from the island of Sardinia, to the heel of Italy’s boot, to the Alps. After leaving Sardinia, where the first three stages will take place, it will move to another island, Sicily. The Sicilian leg’s highlight will be the climb up the Etna volcano. The next day, the race will end in Nibali’s hometown of Messina. Giro dItalia 2017 will continue through the heel, traversing Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, then proceeding north through Umbria’s Sagrantino wine country. Two stage starts will be Tuscany’s Ponte a Ema and Piedmont’s Castellania, birthplaces of Italian cycling greats Bartali and Coppi, respectively. The Apennines traverse will be followed by the Alps, with the climb of the famous Stelvio Pass. Then it’s the majestic Dolomites, which will involve some brutal climbs (stage 18 features five ascents!). Like every year, Giro dItalia 2017 will conclude in Milan.

If you are inspired by Giro d’Italia and you are an active person I suggest that you bike across Italy. You will pedal to extraordinary art cities such as Venice, Florence, Lucca and Pisa. If you have enough time, add to this the rural landscapes of Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Chianti and Maremma areas of Tuscany and you will have the best of Italy. One of the most popular bike tours in Italy is coast-to-coast cycling from the Adriatic coast in the east to the Tuscan coast line in the west. This bike route takes you form Marche through the Umbrian hills and onto the Tuscan mountains before descending to the Tuscany coastline. Along the way you can have a wine tasting at a family winery, observe the medieval art, and learn culinary secrets behind the incredible regional cooking.

Last but not least is the biking tour in Sardinia. The captivating island is famous for its beautiful beaches and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sardinia’s best kept secret is its amazing network of immaculately scenic and quiet roads that are perfect for cycling. The island’s rugged and remote mountainous interior boasts rivers, lakes, archaeological sites and an amazing variety of wildlife such as flamingos, falcons, and wild boar.


Yvette Chin

Rebooting the traditional food production model to improve climate and environment is driving innovative entrepreneurs to pursue a vegan path. The resulting alt-foods are, unlike alt-facts, solidly grounded in science, as the personnel list at these companies—data scientists, bioinformaticians, chemists, biologists, nutritionists and chefs—attests. While we already have soy-based meat alternatives, such as tofurky and veggie duck, the challenge lies in faithfully replicating, and even exceeding, the appearance and taste of animal-derived food products using solely plant-derived substitutes.

The most prominent/poster child of these is the Impossible Burger created by Impossible Foods – a one hundred percent vegan burger made with potatoes, beets, coconut oil, and most importantly, a plant version of heme protein—a distinctive component of animal muscles, which gives meat its distinctive taste. The founder of Impossible Foods is aware of the high threshold he has to overcome to win over die-hard meat-lovers. But undaunted, that is his goal—to not simply improve food options for vegans and vegetarians but to convert red in tooth and claw carnivores. So far, the feedback is encouraging with comparisons to turkey burgers.

The Impossible Burger isn’t alone—Beyond Meat, another startup, has a handful of pea- or soy-based “meat” offerings, including the Beyond Burger, Beyond Chicken Strips, and Beyond Beef Crumble that can be cooked just like the meat items they aim to replace. For those of you who failed to celebrate National Hamburger month (May) this is your chance to make amends. The Impossible Burger is served at several establishments countrywide, including BareBurger & Saxon+Parole here in NY. The Beyond Burger is available in grocery stores, including Whole Foods Market.

The stronger green credentials of Impossible Foods’ and Beyond Meat’s approaches are to be appreciated when compared with the efforts of Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn-based biotech company that aims to grow meat and leather in the lab using cultured cells from livestock. While noteworthy and arguably a more difficult undertaking to grow meat from scratch, the trouble with cultured mammalian cells is the requisite fetal bovine serum—a vital elixir for their sustained growth & nourishment—derived from unborn calves’ blood which doesn’t exactly circumvent the environmentally wasteful and greenhouse gas-emitting livestock industry.

Evidently, eggs from cage-free and pastured chickens weren’t sufficiently humane for the founders of Hampton Creek—they decided to get rid of eggs altogether, substituting them with a yellow pea protein as the emulsifier in their vegan Just Mayo. The company has other vegan offerings (salad dressing, cookie dough) and a mission to mine the cornucopia of thousands of plants to create cheaper, healthier and more stable foods than those that are animal-derived.

Living in NY, we are quite spoiled for dietary choice. Even so, one can imagine there can be moments when nothing appeals to the taste buds and yet life must be sustained. At such times, one can reach for Soylent—a completely animal-free food that provides a nutritionally complete meal from soy, algae and other plant-derived components in several easy to consume formats: bottled drink, powder, bar, and best of all, coffiest—breakfast + coffee in one drink. It seems like it was designed with busy New Yorkers in mind—no cutlery or flapping containers to deal with, just chug or chomp and go! For those of us who are neither culinarily gifted nor inclined, Soylent can replace hours of schlepping groceries, prepping ingredients and slaving over a stove before finally indulging in a meal. To some ardent foodies however, Soylent seems abhorrent (not least owing to the sci-fi reference) and only to be resorted to in a food desert.

Our industrial food system provides bountiful affordable nutrition and so the pressure to embrace these innovations is not yet urgent. Do we have this luxury? The human population is set to climb from 7 billion to just under 10 billion by 2050. The climate change debate is raging but the disappearing summer Arctic ice signifies a stark reality. However, a noble impetus to save the earth cannot force adoption of the healthier and sustainable foods 2.0. Ultimately, their success will be determined by the most important factor—taste.

Culture Corner

Bernie Langs

Martin Scorsese and Silence

Martin Scorsese (source: Wikipedia)

Martin Scorsese, who I consider America’s greatest living film director, is a creative talent with the ability to continuously surprise his audiences in terms of what he chooses for his huge enterprises. Yet, the quality of the final story on the screen may vary. With that said, I find some of his movies absolutely brilliant, from their rich palettes of cinematography, to the impassioned and inspired performances of the actors and actresses, and the stimulating ideas that always aren’t black and white in these tales of extreme moral and ethical quandaries. My personal favorites from the Scorsese oeuvre include Raging Bull, The Departed, Good Fellas, and The Aviator.

From his early days of films such as Mean Streets and later (more blatantly) in The Last Temptation of Christ, it became apparent that the Italian-American Scorsese was struggling to come to terms with his Catholic upbringing and the meaning behind the story and lessons from the life of Jesus Christ. In the final scene of Raging Bull starring Robert DeNiro in a beautifully nuanced performance as troubled boxer Jake LoMotta, the screen displays these words from the New Testament (John IX. 24-26): “So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind and said: ‘Speak the truth before God. We know this fellow is a sinner.’ ‘Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know.’ the man replied. ‘All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see.‘” The idea of being clothed in the darkness of ignorance and having the light shine in on life, courtesy of a Savior, is powerful.

Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence is right up there as one of his very best. It is a movie about not just Catholicism because it also examines the boundaries, trials and tribulations, and other tumultuous ethical situations surrounding the ideal of staying true to one’s own morality and choices, not only in God’s eyes. It is a long movie and didn’t fare well at the box office, but I was absolutely riveted from start to finish and overwhelmed by the force of the ideas on display.

Silence stars Andrew Garfield as Sebastião Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Francisco Garupe as a pair of young 17th century Jesuit priests traveling from Portugal to Japan to locate their former teacher (played by Liam Neeson), who had gone to Japan to teach and convert the populace to the ways of Catholicism and goes missing after supposedly renouncing his faith.

When Fathers Sebastião and Garupe reach Japan, they are taken in and hidden by the terrified villagers who are converts to Christianity at a time where the religion is being violently suppressed and must be practiced in secret. While watching Silence, I was awed by the beautiful, lush scenery of the mountains and foliage depicted. The stunning scenery becomes the backdrop of the violence that reigns down from the minions of a horrific inquisitor on these people. The inquisitor is masterfully played by Japanese actor and comedian, Issey Ogata, who the New York Times noted as stealing ever scene he is in.

As one watches the struggles of Sebastião unfold, dozens of questions and ideas run through the mind of the viewer on issues that center around the crux and core of faith in God, but also Western ideas forced onto Eastern cultures, and on the difficult notion of whether one should betray ones greatest beliefs for the greater good. The focus centers on the dilemma facing Sebastião when he is given the choice of renouncing Catholicism or seeing villagers tortured to death. All of the intellectual banter of the inquisitor and his interpreter, the latter beautifully portrayed by Tadanobu Asano, devolves into their extreme meeting out of violence on the bodies and minds of the poor villagers, who they deride as worthless peasants. By breaking Sebastião, they can publicly break a man who has devoted his heart, life and soul to what they believe is the affliction invading Japan.

Before Sebastião does his act of apostasy, the inquisitor brings in the man Sebastião has come to find, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, played by Neeson. He arrives late in the movie like Marlon Brando’s Kurtz does in the film Apocalypse Now. As he begs his former pupil to renounce his religion in the hope of saving lives, he makes one extremely powerful argument: that these poor, uneducated Japanese men and women, the derided so-called peasants, aren’t truly practicing Christianity because of their prior beliefs and ingrained culture and simple notions of spirits. He’s basically saying, “It’s all for nothing.”

Silence is a reminder that barbarity, such as that practiced by ISIS today, the torturing and murder in the name of God and religion goes back to the dawn of man’s conceptualization and organization into religious sects. The inquisitor, a witty, well-read man of knowledge, can banter with Sebastião on ideals and ethics one moment, while ordering the decapitation of a prisoner in a courtyard for all to see the next. Scorsese has a long history of using extraordinary violence in the hopes of finding some inkling of why God has put us on earth in the first place, and to seek an idea of how to live one’s life in the face of brutality and terrible suffering. But he never openly actually says, “Jesus is the answer.”

From the interviews I’ve read with Scorsese about Silence and from what I’ve learned from reading about him in the past, he is more a man who is opening up ideas about searching for rather than explaining the meaning of life. He often sounds quietly and admittedly lost, but very glad to have the opportunity to make art and films about his state of confusion.

It has become my opinion that because most people are taught about faith and religion in childhood, it is incredibly hard to shed any of the major faiths later in life. It’s akin to an indoctrination. As I’ve grown older, I’ve read many of the books from the past by religious luminaries, such as Rashi’s commentaries or Jerome’s letters and books by Augustine and Philo; the texts of ancient Buddhists or the ideas behind the spirit religions of Japan; the fascinating words of the “Upanishads” and the “Bhagavad Gita” and the creation stories as presented in Assyrian myths or related by Hesiod to the Greeks, and many other illuminating treatise. I believe at some point one must start anew with a clean slate and admit that the spiritual notion behind the concept of God is as complex as advanced physics and that a child’s idea of what lies behind the abstraction, hinted at in the Old Testament, that a casual once-a-week (at most) rote Sabbath notion has as much truth and merit as an adult belief in say, Santa Claus. Imagine that the power and forces of life or what is popularly called “the divine” is encased inside of a statue of a golden calf and that all of the major faiths and religions are blind and given only one part to feel with their hands and gather its meaning. Each religion falsely and confidently believes they know the full statue and its secrets, while in truth, the one with the dominant voice in society may very well have its hands on the rump. None of the followers of any religion knows or realizes that the power lies hidden inside the idol and that the statue has very little to do with the immense power of this vaguely traceable treasure. Why settle for one set of rules and rituals when there is such a rich tapestry available for study, which weaves together everything from philosophy to astronomy and on and on, endlessly woven, ripe for discovery and continued revelation? (Unified Field Theory indeed). What is really so terrible that we end up like Martin Scorsese in some way: in awe of the unanswerable, and finding ways to express our intuitions and discoveries in art, music, books, and science? Because in the end, whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Islam or the religions of the East, the zealots of each faith make them all superstitious faiths borne of unspeakable and unjustifiable violence while serving as Band-Aids to the open wound of awareness of one’s own mortality.

Life on a Roll

Beaune in Burgundy, France

Elodie Pauwels

Beaune is one of the wine capitals of my country, and is known for its Hospices and its famous roof made of glazed tiles (which you can glimpse in the 50-year old comedy, La Grande Vadrouille).

However, I have a clear preference for the Hospices’ courtyard itself, which hasn’t changed in years.

See more pictures taken in Beaune on my photoblog.



Dominique Ansel Nominated Best Pastry Chef in the World: A Cronut Comeback?


Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

Who hasn’t heard of the famed 2013 food the Cronut? After quickly gaining worldwide attention, Cronut followers were soon considered frivolous, and the pastry over-hyped. TIME magazine naming the pastry one of the 25 best inventions of the year in 2013, can be a particularly bittersweet pill for us scientists to swallow. However, the fame of this hybrid delicacy is based on the skills of an extraordinary chef, Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, who recently won the title of “Best Pastry Chef in the World,” as part of the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Ansel received his training at Fauchon in Paris, a legendary delicatessen company and symbol of French-style luxury. Without having any sort of culinary degree, he started as a seasonal staff member, and ultimately worked himself up to head of Fauchon’s international expansion. In 2005, he settled down in New York City and worked as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, a renowned French restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue. Many ascribe a large part of Daniel’s success to Ansel, who worked at the restaurant when it first received three Michelin stars. He finally opened his own bakery in Soho in 2011, which gained cult status long before the Cronut® hype. Other popular pastry creations by Ansel are the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a Breton puff pastry), Frozen S’mores (ice cream covered in chocolate millefeuille and flamed marshmallow, served on an apple wood-smoked willow branch), the Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot (a shot glass shaped cookie filled with cold-infused vanilla milk, only available after 3 p.m.), the Magic Soufflé (notably the only soufflé that does not collapse, with Grand Mariner liquor and orange blossom), the Gingerbread Pinecone (a layered pastry finished with 70 individual chocolate petals), and the Christmas Morning Cereal (only available in December). You can also choose from more conservative, but similarly beautifully presented pastries on display, or a classic chocolate croissant. My favorite is the Pear & Champagne Mousse Cake.

In case you decide to try a real Cronut, let me give you some advice. Everyday, about 350 Cronuts are made. The flavor of the Cronut changes every month, and is never repeated. Dominique Ansel Bakery opens at 8 a.m., and to secure a Cronut you should arrive before 7:30 a.m. If you are lucky, the bakery will serve you a sweet little appetizer while you are waiting in line. Once you get to the cashier, you can purchase two Cronuts per order. However, you can go back to the end of the line, wait again and purchase two more. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can plan ahead and preorder the pastry online. Every Monday at 11 a.m. sharp, orders are taken for dates two weeks out. You will therefore wait longer for your pastry fix, but are allowed to purchase up to six Cronuts at a time.

Good Luck!

Picture by Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

What We Celebrate on 5th of May or Cinco de Mayo


Guadalupe Astorga

We can appreciate Mexican culture in the United States like no other place in the world. We have all probably entered a shop in New York City and experienced the magical sensation of being instantaneously transported to Mexico. This is not only because cashiers are Mexicans wearing self-expressive t-shirts, or due to the language they speak, but it’s also the traditional rancheras music they play, and their kindness that immerse us in such an inviting atmosphere.

It’s no coincidence that Mexican culture today is deeply ingrained in the American one. This is not only because parts of the American Southwest belonged to Mexico less than 200 years ago, but also because a large number of Mexicans were incorporated into the US together with that land, bringing their own culture and traditions.

Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. Independence from Spain was a 10-year process that ended in 1821 and is celebrated on September 16. Shortly after, Mexico was at war with the US, unsuccessfully defending its ownership over Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California (yes, almost half of current United States land). A treaty was signed in 1848, where Mexico gave up its sovereignty over those territorities.

Years later, driven by the desire of extending the French empire to the Americas, the French army, led by Napoleon, attacked Mexico from the Atlantic coast. Outnumbered three times in size by the French forces, the Mexican army had little chance of success. After taking over several cities, the French advanced towards the Mexican capital, Mexico City. It was in the city of Puebla that Mexican troops defeated the French in the heroic “Battle of Puebla” in 1862. After this, the French army withdrew their forces from the country. This victory unified Mexico and restored a lost sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Although Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, the states of Puebla and Veracruz have declared it a holiday where people preserve the traditions and celebrations of the day. So why celebrate it in New York City? Maybe it’s due to the important population present in the city who are native to the state of Puebla.

May 5 is a meaningful day for me, not only because important people in my life were born on that date, or because it’s the name of the street where my mom grew up and where I have so many childhood memories, but also because it’s the date that represents the improbable victory of the weak against the powerful.