Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Doctor Who

I spent months knitting my main accessory!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Der Golem

The swashbuckling hero Zorro, fencing away the evil oppressors of colonial California, gallops off the screen, followed by his worst enemies.  His ride is accompanied by traditional Spanish folk tunes and other live music.  At least it was accompanied that way today at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

The action of the movie was exiting, but even more exciting was the music, provided by the band Hesperus.  The band plays all sorts of instruments, from viola de gamba (a six stringed, fretted cello) to Renaissance violin (lighter weight and shorter than a modern violin) to single-drone bagpipe.  The music made the movie so much more compelling as the hero performed his dramatic, death-defying stunts.

While the performance itself was great, my favorite part was after the show when I spent some time talking to the musicians.  The violinist offered to let me actually play the special violin, a reconstruction of an instrument made during the Renaissance.  While it was very difficult to play because of its different size, it was tremendous fun to see how instruments have changed throughout the centuries.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Ecological Model of Health Behaviors: Eating Vegetables

As part of my study of heath this semester, I have started watching the Coursera lecture series Introduction to Global Health Policy, taught by a professor from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.

In the first lecture, the professor introduced the concept of the “ecological model” of health behaviors.  To demonstrate the model, he used the example of the use of insecticide-impregnated bed netting intended to prevent malaria and other mosquito-carried diseases in Africa.

The model involves 5 layers of influence on the eventual outcome of heath related decisions. I decided to try to apply the model to different health behavior: eating vegetables.

1. Individual: I like the taste of vegetables. Apparently, I’ve liked vegetables since I first started eating solid foods. My parents tell stories about how when I was a baby, I would cry and scream while pointing at bowls of steamed broccoli, delayed from serving while the family lit the Shabbat candles with friends.

Some people choose to eat vegetables because they are healthy, but I wouldn’t say that thinking applies to me. Although I don’t choose to eat vegetables because of their “healthiness” per se, I do often decide not to eat junk food because it isn’t healthy.

2. Family: I have always eaten the food my family cooks and grows in our front-yard garden. We eat most of our meals at home as a family. Since my parents have always bought and prepared a lot of vegetables, and then modeled eating them happily, I’ve always eaten lots of vegetables. While both parents stress the importance of a healthy diet of unprocessed whole foods, they serve vegetables mostly because they love to eat them.

3. Community: We live within walking distance to two wonderful Farmers Markets. I live around many vegetarians and other people interested in the politics of food, local food, unprocessed food, organics, etc

4. Institutions: I don’t go to school which I have heard feeds students poorly-prepared vegetables. And we live within walking distance to both a natural foods co-op and a chain natural foods grocery store.

5. Policy & Law: Most things I can think about don’t affect me directly, like the fact that organic farms have regulations, making organic foods more expensive. I have been exposed to national campaigns focusing on healthy eating such as Michelle Obama's Let’s Move as well as national guidelines like the food plate (and formerly, the pyramid).

One of the things I was curious about was where pop-culture would fit into the ecological model. For relatively isolated communities in Africa, this factor might not be relevant. But for us here in the US, I think it is very important. So I have added a sixth category:

6. Society: While it is not something that affects me greatly, because I don’t go to school or have a tv, I know that it is a great influence on many kids my age. That eating vegetables is uncool. While it could fit into community (what people in our community tell us) or that it might fit into institutions since so much of it is corporation and ad based, it could very nicely fit into policy as a social policy. Because of this overlapping nature, maybe it should be its own level of society and pop-culture (at least in America.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Free Verse: Flat and Hard upon the Page

(Comparing Two Versions of a William Carlos Williams poem)

The second version of William Carlos Williams’s poem “Young Woman at a Window” is an excellent example of imagism, employing many of the movement’s techniques and goals. The first version of the same poem fails to meet the requirements of the Imagist Manifesto and explores other poetic techniques instead.

Although both versions of the poem employ free verse, the cadence in the second version disrupts conventional speech more than it does in the first. For example, Williams uses line breaks to emphasize his breaking up of prepositional phrases. In both versions, he breaks after the preposition “on”: “tears on” and “her cheek on.” In the second, he brings this new speech further even more by beginning with a similar break: “she sits with.” At the end, the poet allows “in her lap” and “to the glass” to be presented together, nevertheless continuing his emphasis on the importance of prepositional phrases.

In the second version of the poem, Williams relies exclusively on a static visual image to convey his meaning. In the first poem, the boy acts and moves, rubbing his nose. But in the second, the image is utterly still and unmoving. Here the boy’s nose is pressed against the window, not dynamic and not in flux. The intense use of the prepositions of placement (such as "on" and "to" and "in") further emphasizes the staticness of the description by pointing out that everything is already placed in physical space. Similarly, the first poem assigns the active very “robs” to the subject of the boy, while in the second version the verb assigned to him is both passive and subsumed in an adjectival clause.

The static image the second version of the poem presents uses language and imagery that is never indefinite. While the interpretation of the poem as a whole might be open, the way the words describe the image itself is quite specific and closed. The image can easily be imagined as a painting hanging in a museum. The first version, on the other hand, states that the boy “who robs her knows nothing of his theft,” a claim that does not refer to a specific fact or image but instead to an abstraction. This phrase is highly open, and therefore the poem contradicts the goals of the Manifesto. Interestingly, at least in my view, the closed, definite image of the second version creates a poem with a more open meaning.

Finally, while both poems are condensed and concentrated, the second version is tighter than the first. Williams cuts his word count from twenty-nine words to twenty-three. He cuts the number of stanzas from six to five. In addition, in the second version but not in the first, no word is more than one syllable.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dadaist Poetry

From an online dadaist poetry generator:

Dada Barack
One Barack: On blue dogmas
on elected states and end to,
and most was end. Promises, politics
of the Obama’s We states.
Recriminations, dogmas
of the a, the far a was
have been of our politics.

Dada Barack 2
Barack on, and address strangled states.
In inaugural to promises,
worn out long most the elected,
We too.
One previous address, the an that have
appealing things, its dogmas.
Barack was collection states,
Was his have.

(Text from The Economist: "One of the most appealing things about Barack Obama’s previous campaign was its promise of bipartisanship. On the night he was elected, he insisted: “We have never been a collection of red states and blue states.” In his inaugural address, he declared “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics”.)


The idea for this poem came from Tristan Tzara's "How to Make a Dadaist Poem":

To make a Dadaist poem:
  • Take a newspaper.
  • Take a pair of scissors.
  • Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
  • Cut out the article.
  • Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
  • Shake it gently.
  • Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  • Copy conscientiously.
  • The poem will be like you.
  • And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Onegin Dines at the New Japanese Restaurant

I recently read Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin.  The style the author uses for his poetry is fascinating, similar to Shakespeare's but more convoluted because of the combination of masculine and feminine endings as well as the fact that each stanza uses a different rhyme scheme.   Overall, Pushkin uses iambic (da-DUM) tetrameter (four beats).  He uses 3 quatrains followed by a couplet, similar to Shakespeare.  The whole thing, with unstressed endings denoted by lowercase letters, is as follows:  aBaB-ccDD-eFFe-GG.  Since I love writing Shakespearean sonnets, I thought I should give this style a go.

When you are hungry, think of sushi:
Ginger, soy sauce, bits of fish,
Wrapped inside some nori seaweed.
It makes for such a tasty dish.

If you’re a vegan, try some tofu--
Or carrot, cuke, and avocado.
Wasabi adds a twist of spice
Then set upon the sticky rice.

Sushi is divine in flavor;
The food of gods, I do attest.
Sushi is indeed the best;
A plate of pleasure meant to savor.

When I am done, please bring to me
Some mochi and a cup of tea.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gogol's Government Inspector

The cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of 'The Government Inspector,' directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman. 

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Government Inspector, staged at the Lansburgh Theatre in DC and directed by Michael Kahn, could be compared to an overexcited German Shepard. It jumps up and licks your face in such a lovable way that, even though your first feeling might be discomfort at its over-the-top style, you quickly start laughing along with it.

The play (a farce) is set in a small town in the Russian provinces. When news is received that “a Government Inspector is on his way from the capital,” the corrupt government quickly descends into chaos. The town suspects that a visitor who recently arrived from St. Petersburg (masterfully played by Derek Smith) is the inspector incognito. The community leaders (played by such great actors as Floyd King and Rick Foucheux) proceed to put together funds to bribe the suspected inspector in order to attain a favorable review of their town. But the man they assume is the inspector is in reality just a broke clerk from St. Petersburg with a habit of drinking and gambling. He has no problem “borrowing” their money at all; in fact, he believes they give him money because he is so handsome. Soon, he has tricked the town into supporting him in other dastardly funny ways.

One of the most striking features of the play is how it resonates with modern views of politics. The play, originally written by Nikolai Gogol in the early 19th century and elegantly adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, feels almost contemporary. Hatcher creates a script which brings Gogol’s issue of government corruption into modern light. He pokes fun at government practices from education to the postal service to construction contractors. These jokes usually make reference to current American news topics. Perhaps surprisingly, Hatcher made a choice to follow Gogol’s original jokes about the inability of healthcare to provide cure rather than lampoon more contemporary politics of “Obamacare.”

Characters wear costumes designed by Murell Horton, ranging from a hot-pink ball gown to matching loud green-tweed suits to the mayor’s military uniform (who, as one character remarks, looks just like “an old door-man” with too many tassels and too much regalia). The ridiculous costumes fit in perfectly with the madcap comedy going on the stage. In fact, sometimes the extravagant costuming sets the scene for and allows the increasingly immoderate jokes not to fall flat and instead glean uproarious laughter from the audience.

The Government Inspector isn’t just comedy, though. At first, the costuming prevents us recognizing how similar the characters are to ourselves as modern people. Near the end of the play, after we discover who the real inspector is (and see consequences falling upon the town), the mayor looks out at the audience and utters a powerful line: “Those who laugh the most will be laughing at themselves!” This statement changes things, inspiring a down-right uncomfortable feeling in audience members about how we treat others, both as individuals and as societies. The play is certainly not a tragedy, but it is also not just silliness. It makes a satirical critique of many aspects of modern society, from bureaucracy to vanity. STC’s production provoked more thought about human nature and politics than about the plot.

Whether you are a seasoned theater goer or a government bureaucrat (like my father, who loved the play), I highly recommend you go see The Government Inspector.