Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Editing the Human Genome? Welcome to PARADISE GARDENS, http://maglomaniac.com/editing-the-human-genome-welcome-to-paradise-gardens/

Humans now have the possibility of editing our genome (NY Times
 (3/20). Ethicists are discussing the implications of being able to 
not just produce physically beautiful and intellectually superior people, 
but to pass down those traits forever. Of course scientists have
already edited the genomes of mice and other lesser mammals, 
though how that might change the planet doesn’t seem to be 
a concern. Superior mice simply exist to show the procedure will 
work on humans, the leap from mice to men is a small step.

This procedure, considered relatively easy, is sure to catch on.
Manipulating gender by aborting females is already a norm in
 some countries, so look out for a world of smart pretty people. 
Will this boon, the most coveted of human fantasies, be widely
available? Or will the process quickly disappear from public view, 
controlled by a group of mega corporations?

In the 1980’s, when I began my novel PARADISE GARDENS, I was
 reading an economics history about the passage of society from 
medievalism to capitalism. I was wondering under what conditions it 
might reverse and, for this fiction, it was fait a accompli in the
 2050’s on the Earth’s surface. In 3011 those futuristic medieval 
estates would flee to an underground feudal world.

The basis of those corporate business estates was the production
 of employees, whose individual genomes were a matter of 
inheritance based on family performance. They were determined 
by destiny lines planned by the “Psychologicians”, the keepers of 
the database that governed the UBS, United Business Estates. 
Beauty is a given, at higher levels for “average” employees than 
“superiors” with more intellectual decision-making capacity.

Admittedly, this is what used to be called “paranoid,” speculative 
fiction, rather than science fiction. But now the possibility is 
science fact. I believe it was Freud, who once said “paranoia is a
 sign of health in an insane world.” Perhaps, rather than ethicists 
wringing their hands, while licensing is already in the hands of 
big Pharma or other nongovernmental hands, scientists might 
consider a unified revolt–bite the hands that feed their research.
I ponder whether allegedly non-conformist, original thinkers could 
actually become worldly enough to seize control of a product that
 may be the zeitgeist of our time. Consider Wikipedia’s definition:

The German word Zeitgeist is often attributed to the philosopher
Georg Hegel but he never actually used the word. In his work 
Lectures on the philosophy of History he uses the phrase der Geist 
seiner Zeit (the spirit of his time)—for example, “no man can surpass
his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit.”

Are we doomed to a world, where beauty is not just commonplace
 but mandated by business? Where plastic surgery to banish aging
 is a requirement for continued employment? Where intelligence is 
only valued, when used to create wealth for the UBS? Where 
employees happily accept the advantages they receive for
 productivity, as they reach levels of their career?

Welcome to PARADISE GARDENS. Cautionary tales are just that.
 And even in the UBE, rebellion could not be bred out of a 
genome, just muted by other characteristics. Where the wild human
 soul is concerned, even psychologicians could not predict al
 outcomes. But, Cassandra that I am, I can see this one coming. 
Step aside, I think. Are we mice or men?


Friday, March 20, 2015

In the Reluctant MidWife by Patricia Harmon,The Great Depression Meets a Plucky RN

In THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE (William Morrow, March), Becky Myers takes on The Great Depression and is almost bested but she makes it through with more than a little help from her friends. As the story opens she and Dr.Isaac Blum, a once brilliant surgeon now catatonic, owe months of rent and must sneak out in the night and trust they have enough gas to make it to Hope River in rural Virginia.

Patricia Harman's heroine is actually short on hope, fighting the edge of despair. Becky's almost glad survival is occupying her mind. Though she's been a respected nurse in a woman's clinic and Dr.Blum's practice, hard times have made inroads into her cheerful middle class respectability. When she learns Blum's house in Hope River has been sold, along with his belongings and tools from his practice, she knows they are not just broke but homeless.

Though Becky tries to find any kind of employment, she's told there are "able-bodied men out of work," and offered a humiliating hand-out. Yet plucky Becky fights desperation, until Blum wanders off lured by the smell of a soup kitchen. She' runs, desperate to retrieve him. Though harmless, Blum's complete silence and vacant eyes scare people. Becky is loyal but Blum's a 24 hour job, so incapacitated he can't go to the bathroom alone or brush his teeth. When his wife drove into a river, she took his mind with her. Then Blum's own brother turned him out, Becky, without family, has made him her charge, though she thinks, ironically, how he's dependent as any child.

They need help but who? Unexpectedly, Blum says "patience," and she knows he means find Patience, her old friend, the midwife of Hope River. She has about enough gas to reach the cottage with the blue door, which turns out to be empty. Patience must have left the area, Becky thinks but soon learns she  only moved a short distance with her Veterinarian husband and son. The family
welcomes Becky and Blum, gives them the cottage and food. There's a sense of family after her alienation and fear. Yet, Becky must earn their living. When Patience reveals she's pregnant and shows Becky a list of local women in need of her services, Becky quakes. She owes a lot to Patience, but is reluctant to become her assistant.

While enormously competent and hardworking, Becky aided Blum in deliveries but midwifery was different. Blood and mess aren't fun,but it's the unpredictability, as well as her own ineptitude that fills her with dread. Still, she prods herself to help Patience. Worse are cases, when she finds herself alone with women in jeopardy, as they all seem to be. There are supposedly easy deliveries, where everything goes wrong, complex situations, such as a blind mother-to-be, where it goes easy. Becky finds the work frightening. But over time she accepts that in midwifery, like life, all you can do is prepare. Yet she's thrilled to trade it for a nursing job at the camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

There's great characters there, among the injured and maimed. The dashing captain, who recruits Becky, and takes her to a dinner, where she even meets Eleanor Roosevelt. Becky proves heroic during a horrendous forest fire and when it comes to Patience's delivery, But it's the day in, day out caring for the lost Blum that shows a quiet courage--to carry on while grieving the man he used to be,faith. Then, almost under her nose, Blum returns,

THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE is both heart warming and authentic.. The feeling you get for these people is earned. The story is realistic, nothing feels contrived. The Depression meant the end of possibility for many people. Living close to the land, nature is both beautiful and malevolent. How these people managed to just continue and thrive is about the human capacity to change and adapt. Becky is resourceful. She holds onto the idea of happiness. In this very gray winter, I felt cheered by her pluck.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sam Shaw's Lens was True. 100 Photos of Sam Shaw for Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is a non-profit organization headquartered in France and they do 3 or 4 of these photographer portfolios every year to raise money for the organization. 

Sam Shaw Book

Sam Shaw (with Marilyn above) was a photographer of films known for his iconic Hollywood shots. Remember the one where the heating grate sends Marilyn's dress upward? He also shot documentary films and John Cassavetes' cinema verite. But what I found stunning in this book were not the star turns but character portraits behind star poses. You actually get a sense of who they were. There's Liz the beauty looking goofy, Marlon in an altered state. Real people. He shot meaning beyond pretty people in pretty photos. His lens was true.

And he went after meanings in other forms. Here from an online bio:
In the 1960s, Shaw branched out into producing. He made the film Paris Blues (1961) starring Paul Newman and Sydney Poitier as American jazz musicians in the French city. The score for the film was composed by Shaw's friend Duke Ellington. Shaw later teamed up with filmmaker and actor John Cassavetes to produce such films as Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Opening Night (1977) and Gloria (1980). Cassavetes called Shaw a "renaissance man"; his multi-talented friend Shaw was the production designer for A Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and also photographed Cassavetes' films and designed their advertising campaigns.

Actress Gena Rowland

There is also a grey hardcover book with 200 images from the 1940's through the 1980's. It is the catalog to a retrospective exhibition tour launching this year in September. The book is here:

The Exhibition is opening on September 11th, 2015 at the Cultural Center of Caiscais, in Caiscais Portugal. The exhibition then continues to travel to various European countries through 2018.