Friday, December 31, 2010





Wednesday, December 29, 2010



Chef Tiffany

Arriving late, hungry and tired, having braved snow, delays, and the absence of good food on airplanes, Chef Tiffany, plus Greg and Judy from The Black Angus Grill at the Wyndham Nassau Resort on the Bahamas, revived our spirits with world-class hospitality and excellent food!

Huge Thanks!

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Thursday, December 23, 2010



The last weeks of this Congress were called a "lame duck" session, and perhaps 100 members will not be returning.

But, in fact, this Congress was one of the most productive, important, and successful since the New Deal, with the last weeks full of amazing accomplishments.

Among the early successes of this Congress were legislation to

This legislation was the result of extremely hard work, fashioning bills that could survive a wide range of views in the Democratic Party, and implacable Republican opposition.

Successes in the last days of the session included...

The price for this was to make rich people a little richer.

Despite these results, many of the Congressmen who helped make these bills into law are going home, not to return.

Given the legislative success, the failure of this Congress to appeal to voters is largely, I believe, due to the lack of public charisma in the leaders, Harry Reid & Nancy Pelosi. Getting legislation through Congress is only part of the job. The other part is to win the support of the public. They may be terrific legislators, but they are not good at communicating with the voters. Indeed they were not good at selling the "Media" either, which berated Congress (and the President) constantly during the last two years.

Killing the Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs, did not produce instant gold, it prevented more golden eggs from being laid. Similarly reducing the Democratic presence in Congress will not produce more great legislation, it will make it much harder to legislate anything.

Great credit should be given to President Obama whose willingness to compromise, and sheer determination, were critical in winning passage of so much needed legislation.

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Friday, December 17, 2010



Patricia Wen, a Boston Globe reporter, was online to discuss her 3 part series on disabilities in the Boston Globe.

The articles appeared Sunday thru Tuesday, Dec 12-14.

Here are links to the stories (they may require registration to access -- and may bring up pop-up ads):







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Friday, December 10, 2010



Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST, a film adapted from her own stage production of Shakespeare's play, provides a simple, beautiful, richly symbolic, clear, contemporary interpretation of this dramatic and fantastic classic. Taymor's version steers a clear path between the multiple traps of over-hammy acting or poor acting, overly mysterious or banal presentation, and simple confusion or over-interpretation, threading through with sensible and considered storytelling, modern acting, and a rich visual style that serves the film well.

It's a hard play to do, and a very hard play to film.

To be sure, the film was made on a shoestring, and in some places the bare bones are evident, notably the initial tempest. But for the most part, the film looked very good, and shooting the film in Hawaii provided a natural wild and beautiful location.

Using busy actors also reduced the amount of time available for rehearsals and in some cases made improvisation necessary. But Julie Taymor, who is one of the few true genius directors, made some of these problems into virtues.

Notably, Ariel was not available to shoot with the others in Hawaii, leading to the unique and -- mostly -- successful overlay of Ariel superimposed and added to the film separately. The nude but sexless Ariel was only slightly strange -- more for being sexless than nude.

Casting Helen Mirren as Prospera was the plan from the beginning. Changing Prospero (a man) to Prospera (for Helen) was seemless. Her performance was central and perfectly natural. The gender shift was/is a non-issue.

All the acting was very fine. This is perhaps surprising, since many actors were more or less new to Shakespeare and, as mentioned above, due to the small budget and their busy careers, rehearsal time was very limited. But when the director understands a play, actors can bring their performance into line; and one part of Taymor's genius is that she understands the story she is telling.

Another part of her genius is visual story-telling (she was known for her visual direction before she was known as a director), which is how on a small budget she succeeded in making a visually strong film.

Julie Taymor (who will be 58 next Wednesday -- born Dec 15, 1952) studied mythology and folklore in college, and then worked in puppetry. Her approach to Shakespeare (in Titus and The Tempest), both to the actors and to the visual style, seems to derive much of its force from this background.

Julie Taymor, of course, is presently in previews for Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, the most ambitious Broadway show of all time. If succesful, it will merge incredibly difficult and dangerous visual effects (quite a few injuries so far), with a mythic story.

THE TEMPEST was shown at the New York Film Festival (NYFF) and Julie Taymor appeared in several events talking about the film.

Julie Taymor
At the NYFF Press Conference
Photo by Eric Roffman

Here's an interview with Julie Taymor at the New York Film Festival Press Conference:
Here's an interview with Julie Taymor several years ago (at the time of "Across The Universe"): LINKS & EXTRA INFO... THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare Adapted and directed by Julie Taymor Cast: Helen Mirren as Prospera Felicity Jones as Miranda Reeve Carney as Ferdinand Alfred Molina as Stephano Russell Brand as Trinculo Djimon Hounsou as Caliban Chris Cooper as Antonio Alan Cumming as Sebastian Tom Conti as Gonzalo David Strathairn as King of Naples Alonzo Ben Whishaw as Ariel JULIE TAYMOR - WIKIPEDIA THE TEMPEST - IMDB THE TEMPEST - WIKIPEDIA SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK Currently in previews... SPIDER-MAN - WIKIPEDIA SPIDER-MAN ON BROADWAY -- Official Site

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Thursday, December 09, 2010




a café with an accent on science and the world



A discussion led by

Professor Ian Quinn

Music Department
Yale University

Saturday, December 18, 2010, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Blackstone Memorial Library
758 Main St, Branford CT

Math, Music and Mind, the three M's, have been discussed in the context of each other quite extensively. Although under general academic "norms" they are listed under science, art, and humanities respectively, they are uniquely interconnected, particularly in the context of perception.

The widely read Godel, Escher and Bach (Douglas Hofstadter) has been hailed as an exposition of concepts that are central to mathematics, music and the mind.

Professor Ian Quinn will give us his take on the unique aspects between Math, Music and Mind and about the possibilities of there being a common thread between them.

Deepti Pradhan
Photo by Eric Roffman

The Tilde Cafe is organized by Dr. Deepti Pradhan from Yale, as a casual place to discuss interesting and entertaining science. It's a cafe for the public - for everyone!

To ensure adequate seating. please click here if you plan to attend:

If you come around 2.45 p.m. you will not only have time to find a comfortable seat, but will also have an opportunity to purchase a beverage and/or eats from Lisa, of the acclaimed Lisa Theresa's Deli in Branford!

Who: Professor Ian Quinn, Music Department, Yale University
Why: Math, Music & Mind

When: Saturday, December 18, 2010, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Blackstone Memorial Library, 758 Main St, Branford CT



Tilde Cafe:

Past cafe discussions:

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Sunday, December 05, 2010


SNL Who Do I Have To Screw To Get A Drink Around Here?

SNL tonight with Robert DeNiro was a rather dreary evening 'til the end. The Open got in a few good shots at WikiLeaks. DeNiro's Opening Monologue was funny. Most of the skits were lame. Through the night there were too many DeNiro-is-a-good-sport skits. The worst featured DeNiro and a look-exactly-alike for Robin Williams sitting there at an interview doing nothing while the interviewer & friends did mad-stupid musical-dancy numbers. (Couldn't think which SNL regular it was doing a dead-on Robin; I'd of thought it was Robin himself except he looked in such good shape and was so quiet... the real Robin would've out-mad-danced the mad dancers. DeNiro even kept up the act... at the end thanking "Robin Williams". Must've been Robin Williams doing an impression of a quiet, fit Robin Williams.

(It's sometimes hard telling real celebrities from look-similars, especially when they don't say or do anything that evokes their aura... Just this afternoon I walked passed a woman who looked exactly like what Jennifer Aniston would look like if she were not a movie/TV star. Was it Jennifer in disguise as a real civilian? Or a real civilian with the Aniston look?)

But after almost an hour and a half of beginning to question why I was still watching, SNL came up with one of their memorable winners. Joined by (the real) Ben Stiller, in a bar with terrible service, DeNiro answered the question, "Who do I have to screw to get a drink around here?"

Here's the full sketch from SNL (which they politely call, "It's a Living"):'s A Living/1263416

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Thursday, December 02, 2010



Life is mostly composed of the elements Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Sulfur, and Phosphorus. And these are all generally taken to be essential to life. Phosphorus contributes to the backbone of the DNA double helix, and to energy related molecules, among its many functions. Arsenic is chemically similar to Phosphorus but heavier, and somewhat different in the strength of its chemical bonds. Most living things, when Arsenic is available may substitute Arsenic for Phosphorus in some of their body's molecules, but then their body's chemical reactions go awry and the organism dies.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon (a scientist working with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA) and her co-workers have isolated or created a bacterium that is able to substitute Arsenic for Phosphorus and survive in an environment that is very rich in Arsenic and very weak in Phosphorus.
(or pure Arsenic?)

The existence of life with chemistry significantly different from all other forms of life previously known obviously expands the possibilities for finding new life forms on Earth, and also in extra-terrestrial environments. It per-force widens the field of search.

There are many obvious questions. For example:

1 - Does this bacterium in its natural habitat substitute Arsenic for Phosphorus, or is the presence of Arsenic in its body an artifact or creation of the isolation process? In other words is this an old bacterium with Arsenic or a new form of life created in the Petri dish and the test tube?

1a - Does the bacterium directly from the pond survive in a pure Arsenic environment? Does the isolated bacterium survive in a pure Arsenic environment?

2 - Recent investigations have suggested there is a single ancestor for all life on earth ( Is this result a refutation of that study? Or is this bacterium a descendent of that ancestor that has developed special powers? Or (again) is this a new life form?

3 - Results announced at highly hyped news conferences and on the front page of major newspapers have a depressing history of turning out to be not quite right. Will this Arsenic endowed bacterium result survive the inevitable massive effort to extend or disprove it?

(Note 12/5/2010 -- Here's one example of a skeptical post with a critique of the way the results are stated and checked. It's not a refutation, but a call for more tests and clearer descriptions - Science works properly when results are obtained, described, and explained, and then the results are tested to obtain new, more complete results, and then these are described and explained.)

4 - If Arsenic can be substituted for Phosphorus in a living organism, can other substitutions be possible? Obviously Silicon for Carbon would be of great interest. (If the "organ" in "organic" stands for Carbon, then would a Silicon based life form be a "silicism"?) Also, Sulphur for Oxygen! (Some environments on Earth - and Venus - for example, are rich in hostile Sulphuric compounds.)

5 – After some confusion, the Press Conference seemed clear that this bacterium uses both Arsenic and Phosphorus. The substitution is not complete. Thus, would it be correct to say that, at least so far, it remains true that elements Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Sulfur, and Phosphorus are ALL necessary for life?

One major result that is still lacking is the X-Ray diffraction confirmation of the Arsenic imbued DNA. (Note... X-Ray diffraction studies by Rosalind Franklin of normal DNA was just recently the subject of PHOTOGRAPH 51, by Anna Ziegler, an EST / SLOAN theatrical production at the Ensemble Studio Theatre.)

There is no "SCIENCE of Unintended Consequences," just random warnings about the possible hazards of particular developments from some people, and vague assurances about their safety from others. The possibility of an entire new branch of biochemistry (essentially alien to all previously understood biochemistry) suggested by the video news conference about this result, should be one good reason for a scientific process of dealing with the ramifications of new technology.

(The possibility of alien chemistry life forms might permit one horror-story alien possibility: A strange life-form in space that senses electromagnetic radiations from a planet (eg Radio & TV radiating out into space) and then homes in on the planet to consume it).

Felisa Wolfe-Simon is attractive, enthusiastic, well-spoken, knowledgeable and bright. She is (and this can be bad or good, media-wise -- and irrelevant scientifically) cutesy, with a sly smile, somewhat egotistical (with a tendency to say "I" when "we" would be better, and to reference great scientific milestones), argumentative, and somewhat scientifically not-quite-clear-and-accurate when not speaking technically.

She came to the Press Conference well prepared, with clear visual back-up material. As a media personality and scientific spokesperson and advocate, Felisa may have a very bright future. (Video of the whole Press Conference is embedded below.)

The paper is published in SCIENCE, the journal of the AAAS. Unfortunately, the paper, while online, is not free, and requires either membership in the AAAS ($99 & up depending on your stage of life) or a fee for 24 hour use of the one paper on one computer. (Or wait a week or two for the December 2, 2010 SCIENCE
magazine to reach your library.)

Felisa had speculated earlier on the possibility of finding Arsenic tolerant bacteria.
(The following paper is also not available online for free):

Did Nature Also Choose Arsenic?
International Journal of Astrobiology (2009), 8: 69-74 Cambridge University Press doi: 10.1017/S1473550408004394

Here's the video of the Astrobiology Press Conference (followed by an earlier video from Dutch TV talking about what Felisa hopes to find in her work).

Here's the video, from a Dutch TV program, of Felisa talking about what she is trying to do in her studies...

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