Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Carl Sagan "We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself"

Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science populariser and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences.

Dr. Sagan spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientific skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Dr. Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote. The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name. Carl was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Samuel Sagan, was an immigrant garment worker from Russia, in today's Ukraine. His mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a housewife from New York. Carl was named in honour of Rachel's biological mother, Chaiya Clara, in Sagan's words, "the mother she never knew". Sagan graduated from Rahway High School in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1951.

He had a sister, Carol, and the family lived in a modest apartment near the Atlantic Ocean, in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighbourhood. According to Sagan, they were Reform Jews, the most liberal of Judaism's three main groups. Both Sagan and his sister agree that their father was not especially religious, but that their mother "definitely believed in God, and was active in the temple ... and served only Kosher meat". During the depths of the Depression, his father had to accept a job as a Theatre usher.

According to biographer Keay Davidson, Sagan's "inner war" was a result of his close relationship with both of his parents, who were in many ways "opposites". Sagan traced his later analytical urges to his mother, a woman who had known "extreme poverty as a child" and had grown up almost homeless in New York City during World War I and the 1920s. As a young woman she had held her own intellectual ambitions, but they were frustrated by social restrictions: her poverty, her status as a woman and a wife, and her Jewish ethnicity. Davidson notes that she therefore "worshiped her only son, Carl. He would fulfil her unfulfilled dreams".

However, his "sense of wonder" came from his father, who was a "quiet and soft-hearted escapee from the Czar". In his free time he gave apples to the poor or helped soothe labor-management tensions within New York's "tumultuous" garment industry. Although he was "awed" by Carl's "brilliance, his boyish chatter about stars and dinosaurs", he took his son's inquisitiveness in stride and saw it as part of his growing up. In his later years as a writer and scientist, Sagan would often draw on his childhood memories to illustrate scientific points, as he did in his book, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Dr. Sagan describes his parents' influence on his later thinking:

"My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method"

Dr. Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the American space program since its inception. He was a consultant and adviser to NASA since the 1950's, briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon, and was an experimenter on the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to the planets. He helped solve the mysteries of the high temperatures of Venus (answer: massive greenhouse effect), the seasonal changes on Mars (answer: windblown dust), and the reddish haze of Titan (answer: complex organic molecules).

For his work, Dr. Sagan received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service, as well as the NASA Apollo Achievement Award. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is named after him. He was also awarded the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award of the American Astronautical Society, the Explorers Club 75th Anniversary Award, the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation, and the Masursky Award of the American Astronomical Society, ("for his extraordinary contributions to the development of planetary science … As a scientist trained in both astronomy and biology, Dr. Sagan has made seminal contributions to the study of planetary atmospheres, planetary surfaces, the history of the Earth, and exobiology. Many of the most productive planetary scientists working today are his present and former students and associates").

He was also a recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences (for "distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare…Carl Sagan has been enormously successful in communicating the wonder and importance of science. His ability to capture the imagination of millions and to explain difficult concepts in understandable terms is a magnificent achievement").

Dr. Sagan was elected Chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For twelve years he was the editor-in-chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. He was cofounder and President of the Planetary Society, a 100,000-member organisation that is the largest space-interest group in the world; and Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

A Pulitzer Prize winner for the book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence, Dr. Sagan was the author of many bestsellers, including Cosmos, which became the bestselling science book ever published in English. The accompanying Emmy and Peabody award-winning television series has been seen by a billion people in sixty countries. He received twenty-two honorary degrees from American colleges and universities for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment, and many awards for his work on the long-term consequences of nuclear war and reversing the nuclear arms race. His novel, Contact, is now a major motion picture.

In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honour, the National Science Foundation declared that his "research transformed planetary science… his gifts to mankind were infinite".

Dr. Sagan's surviving family includes his wife and collaborator of twenty years, Ann Druyan; his children, Dorion, Jeremy, Nicholas, Sasha, and Sam; and grandchildren.

Further information here, here & here.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Henrietta Lacks — Life After Death

Henrietta Lacks (sometimes erroneously called Henrietta Lakes, Helen Lane or Helen Larson) was an African-American woman who was the unwitting source of cells (from her cancerous tumor) which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research. This is now commonly known as the HeLa cell line.

Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia, to Eliza and Johnny Pleasant. Her family is uncertain how her name changed from Loretta to Henrietta. Eliza, her mother, died giving birth to her tenth child in 1924. After the death of his wife, Henrietta's father felt unable to handle the children, so he took them all to Clover, Virginia, and distributed the children among relatives. The 4 year-old Henrietta, nicknamed Hennie, ended up with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks, in a two story log cabin that had been the slave quarters of her white great-grandfather's and great uncles' plantation. She shared a room with her 9 year-old first cousin David "Day" Lacks (1915–2002). In 1935, at the age of 14, Lacks gave birth to a son, Lawrence. In 1939, her daughter Elsie was born. On April 10, 1941 she married "Day" Lacks, her first cousin, and the children's father in Halifax County, Virginia.

At the end of 1941, their cousin Fred Garret convinced the couple to leave the tobacco farm and have Day work at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrow's Point steel mill. Soon, they moved— Lacks' husband first, then Lacks herself and two children—to Maryland. Day bought a house for the family with the money Garret gave him when he went overseas. Their house was on New Pittsburgh Avenue in Turner Station, now a part of Dundalk, Baltimore County, Maryland. This community was one of the largest and one of the youngest of the approximately forty African American communities in Baltimore County.

Lacks and her husband had three other children: David "Sonny" Jr. (b. 1947), Deborah (1949–2009), and Joseph (b. 1950, later changed name to Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman). Rahman, Lacks' last child, was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November 1950, just four and a half months before Henrietta was diagnosed with cancer. At about the same time, and to Lacks' great distress, the couple placed Elsie, who was described by the family as "different", "deaf and dumb" in the Hospital for the Negro Insane, which was later renamed Crownsville Hospital Center. Elsie died there in 1955.

On January 29, 1951, Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital because she felt a knot inside her. She had told her cousins about the knot; they assumed correctly that she was pregnant. But, after giving birth to her fifth child, Joseph, Henrietta started bleeding abnormally and profusely. Her local doctor tested her for syphilis, which came back negative, and referred her to Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins was their only choice for a hospital since it was the only one in proximity to them that treated black patients. Howard Jones, her new doctor, examined Henrietta and the lump in her cervix. He cut off a small part of the tumor and sent it to the pathology lab. Soon after, Lacks learned she had a malignant epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix.

Lacks was treated with radium tube inserts, which were sewn in place. After several days in place, the tubes were removed and she was released from Johns Hopkins with instructions to return for X-ray treatments as a follow-up. During her radiation treatments for the tumor, two samples of Henrietta's cervix were removed—a healthy part and a cancerous part—without her permission. The cells from her cervix were given to Dr. George Otto Gey. These cells would eventually become the HeLa immortal cell line, a commonly used cell line in biomedical research. In significant pain and without improvement, Lacks returned to Hopkins on August 8 for a treatment session, but asked to be admitted. She remained at the hospital until the day of her death. Though she received treatment and blood transfusions, she died of uremic poisoning on October 4, 1951, at the age of thirty-one. A subsequent partial autopsy showed that the cancer had metastasized throughout her entire body.

Lacks was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Lackstown, a part of Clover in Halifax County, Virginia. Her exact burial location is not known, although the family believes it is within feet of her mother's gravesite. Lackstown is the name of the land that has been held by the (black) Lacks family since they received it from the (white) Lacks family, who had owned the ancestors of the black Lackses when slavery was legal. Many members of the black Lacks family were also descended from the white Lacks family. For decades, Henrietta Lacks' mother had the only tombstone of the five graves in the family cemetery in Lackstown, and Henrietta's own grave was unmarked.

In 2010, however, Dr. Roland Pattillo of the Morehouse School of Medicine donated a headstone for Lacks after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The headstone, which is shaped like a book, reads: Henrietta Lacks, August 01, 1920-October 04, 1951. In loving memory of a phenomenal woman, wife and mother who touched the lives of many. Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal cells will continue to help mankind forever. Eternal Love and Admiration, From Your Family.

The cells from Henrietta's tumor were given to researcher George Gey, who "discovered that [Henrietta's] cells did something they'd never seen before: They could be kept alive and grow". Before this, cells cultured from other cells would only survive for a few days. Scientists spent more time trying to keep the cells alive than performing actual research on the cells, but some cells from Lacks's tumor sample behaved differently from others. George Gey was able to isolate one specific cell, multiply it, and start a cell line. Gey named the sample HeLa, after the initial letters of Henrietta Lacks' name. As the first human cells grown in a lab that were "immortal" (they do not die after a few cell divisions), they could be used for conducting many experiments. This represented an enormous boon to medical and biological research.

As reporter Michael Rogers stated, the growth of HeLa by a researcher at the hospital helped answer the demands of the 10,000 who marched for a cure to polio shortly before Lacks' death. By 1954, the HeLa strain of cells was being used by Jonas Salk to develop a vaccine for polio. To test Salk's new vaccine, the cells were quickly put into mass production in the first-ever cell production factory.

In 1955 HeLa cells were the first human cells successfully cloned. Demand for the HeLa cells quickly grew. Since they were put into mass production, Henrietta's cells have been mailed to scientists around the globe for "research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits". HeLa cells have been used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue, cosmetics, and many other products. Scientists have grown some 20 tons of her cells, and there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells.

In the early 1970s, the family of Henrietta Lacks started getting calls from researchers who wanted blood samples from them to learn the family's genetics (eye colors, hair colors, and genetic connections). The family questioned this, which led to them learning about the removal of Henrietta's cells. In 1996, Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta recognized the late Henrietta Lacks' family for her posthumous contributions to medicine and health research. Her life was commemorated annually by Turner Station residents for a few years after Morehouse's commemoration. A congressional resolution in her honor was presented by Robert Ehrlich following soon after the first commemoration of her, her family, and her contributions to science in Turner Station. Events in the Turner Station's community have also commemorated the contributions of others including Mary Kubicek, the laboratory assistant who discovered that HeLa cells lived outside the body, as well as Dr. Gey and his nurse wife, Margaret Gey, who together after over 20 years of attempts were eventually able to grow human cells outside of the body.

In 2011, Morgan State University granted her a posthumous honorary degree. On September 14, 2011, the Board of Directors of Washington ESD 114 Evergreen School District chose to name a new health and bioscience high school in her honor. The new school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2013, will be named Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School. "It is such an honor to name our new school after a person who so impacted the world of medicine and science," said school board member Victoria Bradford, who also served on the naming committee. "It is also a privilege to be the first organization to publicly memorialize Henrietta Lacks by naming this school building after her".

Neither Lacks nor her family gave her physician permission to harvest the cells. At that time, permission was neither required nor customarily sought.[34] The cells were later commercialized. In the 1980s, family medical records were published without family consent. In March 2013, German researchers published the DNA code, or genome, of a strain of HeLa cells without permission from the Lacks family. This issue and Mrs. Lacks' situation was brought up in the Supreme Court of California case of Moore v. Regents of the University of California. On July 9, 1990, the court ruled that a person's discarded tissue and cells are not their property and can be commercialized. In August 2013, an agreement by the family and the National Institutes of Health was announced that gave the family some control over access to the cells' DNA code and a promise of acknowledgement in scientific papers. In addition, two family members will join a six-member committee which will regulate access to the code.

Images. Top: HeLa cells. under the microscope. Middle: Henrietta Lacks' death certificate, 1951. Bottom: clockwise: 1. The home-house where Henrietta was raised, a four-room log cabin in Clover, Virginia, that once served as slave quarters. 2. Margaret Gey and Minnie, in the Gey lab at Hopkins, circa 1951. 3. Deborah with her children, LaTonya and Alfred, and her second husband, James Pullum, in the mid-1980s. 4. Deborah Lacks at about age four.

Further information here, here & here. Video content: Modern Times, The Way of All Flesh by Adam Curtis (1998).

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Children of Men — A film by Alfonso Cuarón

In 2027, after 18 years of global human infertility, civilisation is on the brink of collapse as humanity faces the grim reality of extinction. The United Kingdom, one of the few stable nations with a functioning government, has been deluged by asylum seekers from around the world, fleeing the chaos and war which has taken hold in most countries. In response, Britain has become a militarized police state as British forces round up and detain immigrants. Kidnapped by a militant immigrants' rights group known as the Fishes, former activist turned cynical bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is brought to its leader, his estranged American wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), from whom he separated after their son died from a flu pandemic in 2008.

Julian offers Theo money to acquire transit papers for a young refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), which Theo obtains from his cousin Nigel (Danny Huston), a government minister. However, the bearer must be accompanied, so Theo agrees to escort Kee in exchange for a larger sum. Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Fishes member, drives them and former midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris) towards the coast to a boat. They are ambushed by an armed gang and Julian is fatally shot. Luke kills two police officers who stop their car and they escape to a safe house.

Kee is the only known female to be pregnant, revealing her importance to Theo. Julian had told her to only trust Theo, intending to hand Kee to the "Human Project", a supposed scientific group in the Azores dedicated to curing infertility. However, Luke persuades Kee to stay. That night, Theo eavesdrops on a meeting of Luke and other members and discovers that Julian's death was orchestrated by the group so they could use the baby as a political tool to support the coming revolution. Theo wakes Kee and Miriam and they steal a car, escaping to the secluded hideaway of Theo's aging hippie friend Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), a former editorial cartoonist who cares for his catatonic wife.

A plan is formulated to board the Human Project ship Tomorrow which will arrive offshore from the Bexhill refugee camp and Jasper proposes getting Syd (Peter Mullan), a camp guard he knows, to smuggle them. The Fishes trail the group and Jasper stays behind to stall them, giving the government-issued suicide drug Quietus to his wife. Before escaping with Miriam and Kee, Theo is horrified to witness the Fishes murder Jasper, but is forced to move on. They eventually meet Syd, who transports them to Bexhill disguised as prisoners. When Kee begins having contractions on a bus, Miriam distracts a suspicious guard by feigning mania and is taken away.

At the camp Theo and Kee meet gypsy woman Marichka (Oana Pellea), who provides a room where, that night, Kee gives birth to a girl. The next day, Syd informs Theo and Kee that a war between the British Army and the refugees, including the Fishes, has begun. After seeing the baby, Syd threatens to turn them in, but Marichka attacks him and the group escapes. Amidst the fighting however, the Fishes capture Kee and the baby. Theo tracks them to an apartment under heavy fire from the military and escorts her out. Awed by the baby, the combatants stop fighting temporarily, enabling them to escape. Marichka leads them to a boat in a sewer and Theo rows away. As they watch the bombing of Bexhill by the Royal Air Force from a distance, Theo reveals to Kee that he had been shot in the fighting. Kee tells Theo she will name her baby Dylan after Theo's son. Theo then slumps forward lifeless, as the Tomorrow approaches through the fog.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Iain Smith, Hilary Shor, Tony Smith, Thomas Bliss, Armyan Bernstein. Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Clive Owen (uncredited). Based on The Children of Men by P. D. James. Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston. Music by John Tavener. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Editing by Alfonso Cuarón & Alex Rodríguez. Studio: Strike Entertainment & Hit and Run Productions. Distributed by Universal Pictures. Release date: September 22, 2006. Running time: 105 minutes. Country: United Kingdom.

Further information here, here & here. Video content here, here & here.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Alvin Toffler — Futurist

Alvin Toffler (1928- ) is an American writer. His writings on futurism address communication, digitalization, and corporate expansion. The Financial Times declared him “world’s most famous futurologists”. In addition, he is considered to be one of the fifty foreigners who shaped modern China and its preeminent position on the world stage. He was an associate editor at Fortune magazine.

His intellectual concerns addressed the potential effects of crippling media saturation. He later wrote about the military and technological expansion and its relationship to late capitalism. The Russell Sage Foundation gave Toffler a visiting scholar position. Toffler has also held faculty positions at the New School For Social Research and Cornell University. Perhaps, his greatest work is the ground breaking Future Shock.

Alvin Toffler has received many awards including the McKinsey Foundation Book Award for Contributions to Management Literature and Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. He has also been awarded appointments, as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

In addition to Alvin Toffler’s success as a writer and theorist, he is known for his influence as an entrepreneur. Alvin Toffler has been declared one of the important business leaders by Accenture. Accenture placed Toffler at the top of their list immediately after Bill Gates and Peter Druker. In the mid 1990s, Toffler would team up with Tom Johnson to found Toffler Associates—a consulting firm that deals with management. This agency was designed to provide business solutions for many of the problems that Toffler addressed in his writing. The agency has advised businesses, non-profit organizations as well as the American, South Korean, Brazilian, and Australian governments.

Alvin Toffler’s marriage, beyond its social component, has also been an important vehicle for his professional growth. Alvin Toffler’s wife, Heidi, is a writer and so-called futurist like her husband. The Tofflers have collaborated together. Some of their best-known collaborations have included The Eco-Spasm Report, The Third Wave, Previews & Premises, The Adaptive Corporation, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, War and Anti-War, and Revolutionary Wealth. They have also won Brown University’s Independent Award in 2006.

In 1928, Alvin Toffler was born in New York City. He attended New York University. While he was a student, he became acquainted with his future wife. Toffler studied English at an undergraduate level, and Heidi was pursing a graduate degree in linguistics. Their Left wing politics prompted them to leave school. They relocated to the Midwest of the United States. Each took a position on an assembly line. They used this first-hand experience to investigate the affects of mass productions in daily life. Heidi Toffler eventually elevated to the position of union shop steward. Alvin labored as a welder and millwright. Toffler was able to leverage his position as a manual laborer into a job in the Washington office of a union sponsored paper. He covered the political beat of the American Congress and the White house. Heidi Toffler found employment at a library that serviced business and social science research.

When they moved back to New York City, Fortune hired Alvin Tofler to write a column about labor. He later expanded the subjects he covered to include management and business. IBM employed Toffler to write an essay on the role that computers would have on society and organization. This research connected Toffler to many of the original theorists on artificial intelligence. Xerox and AT&T would later hire Toffler to do similar work. Toffler’s research indicated that AT&T should break up. This advice anticipated the government mandate that they must break up by a decade. The Tofflers began working on the body of text that would evolve into Future Shock in the 1960s.

In Future Shock, Toffler anticipates shifts in the society that resulted from the changes in post-industrial society. Toffler identifies one of the main agents in the society is the modular man. In his configuration of identity, each individual can replace any other individual in society. Toffler addresses this formation in regards to employment—it can be see in the customer service ideal of the zero-training service model. Toffler goes further to address how modularity might affect the family lives. Toffler imagines a society in which families are also modular. Each member might be replaced by anyone. This vision, perhaps, is rooted in the serial monogamy that is becoming the standard formation for the post-industrial West. In some ways, Toffler also seems to anticipate Jean Baudrillard’s concept of fractal values.

Future Shock also addressed other ways in which Toffler thought society would change. He envisioned a world in which some nuclear families might center on same sex couples. He also saw that subcultures and interdisciplinary fields would dominate the cultural landscape. Ultimately, he was concerned about the perception of the changing world and its psychological impact on individuals. He envisioned a condition that was analogous to culture shock or jet lag in which the culture changes too rapidly for people to adapt. Although Alvin Toffler wrote about how technological advancements should not be the sole focus of advancement. Society should also develop its capacity for empathy. Toffler theorized that the illiterates of the contemporary world would be those who were unable to learn, not those who were unable to read an idea borrowed from Herbert Gerjuoy.

Alvin Toffler argues that society advances in a series of waves. He writes about this extensively in The Third Wave. In this text, Alvin Toffler describes how new societies push older cultures away, subsuming them. The first wave replaced subsistence gatherers and hunters with agricultural societies. The second wave brought the nuclear family, corporate entities as the Industrial Revolution pushed out agrarian societies. The most recent wave, the so-called Third Wave, came with the advent of the post-industrial society. In this society, information can replace the necessities of most material resources. This wave brings with it a diversity of subcultures and fluid organizations. Despite the seeming progression in this formulation, Alvin Toffler insists that these movements can move in any direction... Read more here.

Further information here, here & here. Video content here, here & here.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Cosmopolis — A film by David Cronenberg

"...Time is a corporate asset now. It belongs to the free market system. The present is harder to find. It is being sucked out of the world to make way for the future of uncontrolled markets and huge investment potentials. The future becomes insistent. This is why something will happen soon. Maybe today. To correct the acceleration of time and bring nature back to normal, more or less. You have to understand. The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind. This is what the protest is all about. Visions of technology and wealth, the force of the cyber-capital that will send people to the gutter to retch and die. What is the flaw of human rationality? What? It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the scheme it builds. This is a protest against the future. They want to hold off the future. They want to normalise it, keep it from overwhelming the present. The future is always a wholeness, a sameness, we're all tall and happy there. This is why the future fails. It can never be the cruel happy place we want to make it. What would happen if they'd knew the head of Packer Capital was in the car? We know what the anarchist have always said. Yes. Tell me. The urge to destroy is a creative thing..."

Directed by David Cronenberg. Writing by David Cronenberg (screenplay) & Don DeLillo (novel). Produced by David Cronenberg, Paulo Branco, Renee Tab & Martin Katz. Music by Howard Shore & Metric. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Film Editing by Ronald Sanders. Casting By Deirdre Bowen. Production Design by Arvinder Grewal. Art Direction by Joshu de Cartier. Costume Design by Denise Cronenberg. Release date(s): 25 May 2012 (Cannes), 8 June 2012 (Canada) & 17 August 2012 (US).

Cast: Eric Packer - Robert Pattinson, Didi Fancher - Juliette Binoche, Elise Shiffrin - Sarah Gadon, André Petrescu - Mathieu Amalric, Shiner - Jay Baruchel, Torval - Kevin Durand, Brutha Fez - K'naan, Jane Melman - Emily Hampshire, Vija Kinski - Samantha Morton, Benno Levin - Paul Giamatti, Anthony Adubato - George Touliatos, Ibrahim Hamadou - Abdul Ayoola, Dr. Ingram - Bob Bainborough, Danko - Zeljko Kecojevic, Michael Chin - Philip Nozuka & Kendra Hays - Patricia McKenzie.

28-year-old billionaire currency speculator/asset manager Eric Packer rides slowly across Manhattan amid traffic jams, in his state-of-the-art luxury stretch limousine office, to his preferred barber. Various visitors discuss the meaning of life and inconsequential trivia. The traffic jams are caused by a visit of the President of the United States and the funeral of Eric's favorite musician, a rap artist whose music he plays in one of his two private elevators. Despite devastating currency speculation losses over the course of the day, Packer fantasizes about buying the Rothko Chapel.

He meets his wife, Elise, in her taxi, for coffee, in a library, and outside a theater. She declines sex with him. Packer has sex with two other women. When after a day of poor trading he destroys a large part of his wealth, his wife takes this as a reason to dissolve their union. Anti-capitalist activists demonstrate on the street. They wave rats, and declare "A spectre is haunting the world: the spectre of capitalism". They spray-paint Packer's limo, and later one subjects him to a pieing. Packer learns that an assassin is out to kill him, but seems curiously uninterested in who the person might be.

In his car, his doctor performs his daily medical checkup. Eric worries about the doctor's finding that he has an asymmetrical prostate. As the currency speculation wipes out most of his fortune, Eric's world begins to disintegrate. Eventually he kills his bodyguard. At the destination, the barber, who knew his father, cuts Eric's hair on one side. The barber and limo driver discuss their respective careers driving cabs. The barber gives Eric his gun because he had thrown away the bodyguard's gun.

Eric follows a path of further self-destruction, visiting his potential murderer, former employee Richard Sheets a.k.a. Benno Levin. Eric seems ready to commit suicide, but instead deliberately shoots himself in the hand. Sheets/Levin, who feels adrift in the capitalist system, explains that Eric's mistake in speculating was looking for perfect symmetry and patterns in the currency market; he should have looked for the lopsided - his body with its asymmetrical prostate was telling him this. The film ends with the potential murderer holding a gun to Eric's head threatening to kill him, but does not show a final shot.

Further information here, here & here.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Jonathan Miller's Whistle and I'll Come To You

"There are more things in philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth"

Professor Parker arrives at a guesthouse in Norfolk, where he is taking a short winter break. The Professor remains distant from his fellow guests, dining at a separate table and declining an invitation from the Colonel to join him for a round of golf, choosing instead to explore the district.

The Professor's walk takes him along the beach and onto a hill overlooking the sea, where he comes upon a bedraggled graveyard. Moving in for a closer look at the most distant of the graves, which stands at the cliff edge and has been partly worn away, he spies a small bone object. He pockets it and makes his way back. As he makes his way back along the beach, he sees a figure behind him, silhouetted against the falling sun.

That night in his room, the Professor remembers the object in his pocket. Sitting at his desk, he begins to inspect it. It is a small bone whistle. Cleaning away the mud that cakes it, he observes an inscription. A rubbing reveals the text in Latin, which he translates as "Who is this who is coming?" The Professor puts the whistle to his lips and blows. As if in answer, a wind rises, which continues until after he turns out his light for the night.

At breakfast the next morning, the Professor is questioned by the Colonel about his belief in ghosts. The Professor is sceptical, using his learning to challenge the question itself, and ends up rather pleased with his own wit. The two men leave the guesthouse together, but once again the Professor elects to go off alone, and spends an uneventful day hiking on the dunes.

That night, however, he is troubled by the words of the inscription. As he lies down to go to sleep, he imagines sounds of movement in the room. His sleep is disturbed by an alarming dream, in which he is pursued along the beach by some formless horror. Eventually he gives up his attempts to sleep and reads a book.

In the morning, the maid asks him which bed he wants his blankets put on. When he says to put them on his bed, she asks which bed is his, as both his and the second bed in the room appear to have been slept in. The Professor is at a loss to explain how both sets of bedclothes could have ended up rumpled.

He spends that day in the guesthouse, reading his books and, eventually, falling asleep by the fire in the lounge. That night, he is once again convinced he hears sounds in his room. Getting up from his bed, he is horrified to see the bedclothes in the second bed rising up. Summoned by the Professor's shriek, the Colonel enters the room, but the apparition has gone. As the Colonel rearranges the disordered bedding, the stunned and bedraggled Professor stares blankly into space and mutters to himself, repeatedly, "Oh no".

For Omnibus, BBC1, 7/5/1968. 42 mins, black & white. Director: Jonathan Miller. Production Company: BBC. Producer: Jonathan Miller. Adaptation: Jonathan Miller. Story: M.R. James. Photography: Dick Bush. Cast: Michael Hordern (traveller); Ambrose Coghill (colonel); George Woodbridge (hotel proprietor); Nora Gordon (proprietress); Freda Dowie (maid).

Further information here, here & here.

Video content here, here & here.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Seven Minutes to Midnight — Part 4

Though present earlier, the fear of nuclear holocaust, or more precisely: the fear of a breakdown of society, leading to the decline and possible extinction of mankind, as a result of nuclear holocaust, increased made it's presence felt, during the 50s, 60s 70s and 80s.

It's hard for us to imagine how preoccupied people became in our age of apathy. At its peak, during the 70s and the 80s, the fear of a mushroom cloud hung over us like a metaphorical black cloud, and, on some level, affected and infected every aspect of our waking lives, and our nightmares, seemingly made real. As if this wasn't distracting enough, during the mid 70s onwards, fear of virus and/or chemical attack, were added to the mix.

No dust cloud ever came (though the verdict is still out concerning virus and chemical attack), yet the metaphysical fall-out spread far and wide, in the form of fears and ideas. Inevitably, these fears and ideas filter into and thru Hauntology, as Hauntology filters into and thru these fears and ideas.

It is my considered opinion that, as you've travelled with me this far, you have a feel for the of kind popular and unpopular culture that has reflected this fear most overtly. It is also my considered opinion that, as you've travelled with me this far, you have a feel for the kind of popular and unpopular culture that has reflected this fear less overtly. Piggybacking on these fears and ideas, to consider more abstracted scenarios.

Chances are, some of the specifics have been or will be covered by The Hauntological Society (all this has been and will be again), therefore, you will forgive me if I take a scattergun approach, and over a four part post, pull together seemingly disparate elements to try to give you a flavour of the kinds Atomophobia, and related media, that has been in evidence over the years, to the present day, and beyond... (r/j/l-h).

"Beautiful Enola Gay Signed Item: A 3.5" x 5" Sepia Photo of the Enola Gay that has been mounted onto a bluish cardstock that has been signed by Enola Gay crewmen: Paul Tibbets (Enola Gay Pilot), Dutch VanKirk (Navigator), Morris Jeppson (Bomb test Officer), George Caron (Tail Gunner) & Richard Nelson (Radioman). (all but VanKirk are now deceased). Overall size of signed presentation is 5" x 7". See All Attached Scans - Monticello-Autographs is a member in good standing of The Manuscript Society and UACC". EBAY / 2013

Yorkshire CID detective Ronald Craven witnesses the murder of his anti-nuclear campaigner daughter. His police bosses believe the bullet was meant for him, but Craven's investigations introduce him to a shadowy world of environmental politics and nuclear intrigue.

Edge of Darkness, BBC, 4/11-9/12/1985, 6x55 min episodes, colour. Director: Martin Campbell. Production Companies: BBC, Lionheart TV International. Producer: Michael Wearing. Screenplay: Troy Kennedy Martin. Photography: Andrew Dunn. Cast: Bob Peck (Ronald Craven); Joe Don Baker (Darius Jedburgh); Joanne Whalley (Emma Craven); Jack Watson (James Godbolt); Charles Kay (Pendleton).

This six-part drama serial was transmitted on BBC2 in Winter 1985 and repeated on BBC1 in three parts, on consecutive evenings, just ten days after its BBC2 run ended. This remarkably swift repeat highlighted the impact and significance of this five-hour nuclear thriller, broadcast at a time when nuclear politics were firmly on the political and public agenda. Critically acclaimed, the drama was also very popular, with an average audience of four million on BBC2 and double that for the BBC1 repeat. Edge of Darkness received four BAFTA awards, including Best Drama Series/Serial.

Writer Troy Kennedy Martin began work on the serial in the late 1970s and a number of influences and events shaped its development. Kennedy Martin's previous work on crime series like Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) and The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78) clearly influenced the portrayal of the police, with Ronnie Craven (Bob Peck), the Yorkshire police detective at the centre of the drama, moving from an Establishment position at the beginning to take up an increasingly sceptical and oppositional stance as the serial proceeds.

The murder of his daughter in episode one, and his dissatisfaction with the restricted nature of the official police inquiry into her death, leads Craven to undertake his own investigation. This leads him into a labyrinthine network of government secrecy and duplicity, involving the illegal manufacture of weapons-grade plutonium at a nuclear waste disposal plant in Yorkshire, which becomes linked to US government plans to develop a Strategic Defence Initiative - Ronald Reagan's so-called 'Star Wars' defence umbrella - designed to safeguard America from nuclear attack.

A drama which begins, then, on a human scale, with Craven mourning his daughter's death, gradually opens out to embrace national and international issues as it moves from an investigative film noir to take on the conventions of a political thriller, before transforming into a nuclear thriller with implications of global apocalypse. For Kennedy Martin this was a deliberate strategy, facilitated by the serial form: "The art is to start with a familiar idea and take the audience with you on a plane, so that when they look down they are thousands of miles above the Earth." For a drama concerned above all with the future of the planet, this analogy is particularly apt, and the continuing relevance in the 21st century of the issues Edge of Darkness addresses confirms it as one of the great works of television drama.

Lez Cooke

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Produced by Sojiro Motoki. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Fumio Hayasaka & Hideo Oguni.

Starring: Kiichi Nakajima — Toshirō Mifune, Dr. Harada — Takashi Shimura, Jiro Nakajima — Minoru Chiaki, Toyo Nakajima — Eiko Miyoshi, Sue Nakajima — Kyoko Aoyama, Yoki Nakajima — Haruko Togo & Kimie Nakajima — Noriko Sengoku.

Music by Masaru Sato & Fumio Hayasaka. Distributed by Toho Company Ltd. Release date(s): November 22, 1955. Running time: 103 minutes. Country: Japan.

When a wealthy foundry owner decides to move his entire family from Tokyo to Brazil to escape the nuclear holocaust which he fears is imminent, his family, afraid of losing their status and inheritance, tries to have him declared mentally incompetent. The original Japanese title, "Ikimono no kiroku", is literally translated into "Record of A Living Being".

Made at the height of the Cold War, with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still a recent memory, and with the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union all competing in nuclear tests, this blazing attack on complacency stemmed from the same H-Bomb paranoia that gave birth to the Godzilla films. Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune delivers an extraordinary performance as Kiichi, a man twice his age, as does Takashi Shimura, who two years before had starred as the cancer-stricken clerk in Ikiru.

I Live in Fear, though one of Kurosawa’s least commercially successful films, was the one he expressed himself proudest of having made:

“As we [Hashimoto Shinobu, Oguni Hideo and Kurosawa] worked on the script we more and more felt that we were really making the kind of picture with which, after it was all over and the last judgement was upon us, we could stand up and account for our past lives by saying proudly: We made I Live in Fear. And that is the kind of film it turned into. While I was making Seven Samurai I went to see Hayasaka, who was sick, and we were talking and he said that if a person was in danger of dying he couldn’t work very well. He was quite ill at the time, very weak, and we did not know when he might die. And he knew this too. Just before this we had had word of the Bikini [atomic] experiments. When he had said a person dying could not work I thought he meant himself – but he didn’t. He meant everyone: all of us. The turn-out for this film was very bad, few people came, and it was my biggest box office failure. After having put so much of myself into this film, after having seriously treated a serious theme, this lack of interest disappointed me. When I think of it, however, I see now that we made the film too soon. At that time no one was thinking seriously of atomic extinction. It was only later that people got frightened, and that a number of films on the subject appeared, among them On the Beach”.

This film was one of two that Toho had produced at this time about the threat of nuclear disaster and damage from radiation poisoning - the other film was 'Godzilla'.

Further information here & here. Video content here & here.