Monday, June 30, 2014

Prionic Man

bovine spongiform encephalopathy (photo by Dr. Al Jenny)
It’s not a laughing matter but a book review in the Times of Stanley B. Prusiner’s Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--A New Biological Principle of Disease (“A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist,” NYT, 5/19/14) about the discovery of prions and Creutzfeldt-Jakob brings up the problem of becoming involved in conversations with those whose brains have turned to mush. Communicating with someone who has the human form of Mad Cow is the neurological equivalent of knocking your head up against a brick wall. The same obviously hold true for Alzheimer’s which the review also alludes to in describing the substance of Dr. Prusiner’s book. The human mind, what’s left of it, at any given stage of life, is enormously inventive and it’s capable of projections and transferences which allow it to see an intelligence at work in a floating piece of shit. And so these conversations go on like the old knock knock jokes and the hope is that there’s someone at home, but in some cases there isn’t and a lot of time and energy has been wasted in the attempt to pass along vital information which is not being registered at all. In a lesser form this is happening all the time, since even the most valued correspondent, even the most admirably empathetic creature is undergoing their own version of Mad Cow, as consciousness withers away and dies, taking with it the repository of memory once lovingly and innocently entrusted to it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Speak, Memory

Memory is under attack. A recent New Yorker article by Michael Specter (“Partial Recall,” 5/19/14) discusses findings by neuroscientists which might enable memory to be edited. Though most of the work has been done at Mount Sinai and N.Y.U. with rats, it seems to offer the prospect of a more benign version of The Manchurian Candidate. The idea would be that survivors of atrocity who suffer from PTSD along with addicts whose addictions are often tied to people, places and things could be freed of symptoms by treating the mind the way the Avid deals with digitalized images. But let’s say that this can be achieved is it advisable? Do the means (which run the gamut from analgesia to eradication) justify the end of producing a so called happy and untroubled individual? Can bad memories be looked at like cancers which must be removed before they become systemic? The New Yorker piece has profound resonances because while it reports research, it’s also telling the story of Daniela Schiller, a scientist whose work is in part driven by her own history, which is that of being the child of a Holocaust survivor. The memory reconsolidation issue also is reminiscent of the lobotomy, a once prevalent approach to mental illness that is now rarely employed. If memory might be painful, can we say that removing it is a little like locking someone in a cell and throwing away the key? On a collective scale would we want to remove painful memories of mass murder, plane crashes, serial murderers under the theory that these instances create nightmares in children and an atmosphere of fear in society? Even if we could would we want to eliminate the bad and ugly to spare the good? And don’t the famous words of Santayana come into play, in considering both ontogenic and phylogenic consequences of using the neuroscientific techniques involving reconsolidation  amputate gangrenous recollection? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”  Speak, Memory was the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiographical memoir. Imagine the Proustian madeleine in a world of artificially induced memory reconsolidation. It would be just a madeleine.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Chef Off the Old Block


If you are a Food Channel regular and a devotee of Chopped you will love ChefIt’s a far  cry from reality TV, but it thrives off the same impulse of turning food preparation into an athletic competition. Chef is also a road move which should appeal to followers of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. But it goes one step further by making one of its lead characters an on-line celebrity critic named Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who uses social media to either elevate or excoriate his marks. Oliver Platt might have been helped in researching his role by the fact that his brother happens to be the well known New York Magazine critic, Adam Platt. At one point the chef, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), whose hipster personality derives from the same mold as Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, responds to Michel’s barbs by saying “You wouldn’t know a good meal if it sat on your face.” Casper’s young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), whose mother Inez (Sofia Vergara) strategically places her son in his father’s charge, has unfortunately just taught his father about Twitter. His adversary responds in kind by saying,  “I would rather have you sit on my face after a brisk walk on a warm day than have to suffer through that fucking lava cake again” and the whole exchange goes viral. Carl loses his jobs because of the exchange (one of his only prospects is to appear on a reality TV show called Hell’s Kitchen), but gains a lot of followers, a tight little conceit from which the rest of the movie devolves. So here is the recipe for Chef, take Vittorio De Sica’s classic Bicycle Thief, about a father and son left to their own devices, add a pinch of The Social Network and take your pick of any number of romantic comedies about estranged lovers who are reunited et bien “voila!”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diasporic Dining XXXVII : La Grand Bouffe

We always associate Epicurus with pleasure, but he really believed in moderation and considered pleasure to reside in the diminution of pain. So what would Epicurus have thought about the all you can eat buffets that are so popular with Americans. The idea of a buffet is that you don’t have to order one thing. Buffet applies not only to food, but to love. Open marriage and swapping are the buffet idea applied to sexuality. Why should you have sex with only one person? Why must fidelity be considered a requisite of true love? There’s the old expression, "you can read the menu but you don’t have to order." But why not order? That in effect is what you do when you go to a buffet and simply move through successions of chafing dishes, one seemingly more sumptuous than the other. Then there are the old-fashioned midnight buffets which used to be a requisite of most cruises, with their groaning boards of meats and roasts. The buffet absolves you from having to make a choice, but there’s also something lost in the process and it relates back to free love. At a certain point during the buffet you begin to get stuffed, one food obliterates the next. Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi were the stars of a move called La grand bouffe in which a group of aristocrats make a pact to have group sex and eat themselves to death. La Grand Bouffe was a buffet in extremis and what it did was to kill people as well as taste. Say you can have any woman or man you desire and you become a licensed serial adulterer. You may satisfy all your fantasies. But what happens when everything starts to taste the same?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Save Your Appetite!

“VM" is Ventromedial Nucleus 
If you are philanthropically inclined and looking for a cause to become involved with take a look at The Satiety Center. Located at the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus, The Satiety Center is instrumental in regulating appetite. While The Satiety Center has many functions, we all know that the desire for sex and food rank high on the list and a craving for either can lead to spurts in irrational activities such a promiscuity and gluttony. Epicurus believed that pleasure was based on the amelioration of discomfort and centuries later Freud would controversially propose that the pleasure principle and the need to gratify desire were drives that even infants experienced. Located on a prime piece of cortical real estate with an excellent view of the the upper brain, The Satiety Center is mandated with attending to all of these activities and is open 24/7 for business. Whether it’s an endorphin flood or a traffic jam on a neurogenic pathway, The Satiety Center is always there. It’s your biogenic surge protector when there's increased activity in the brain, allowing serotonin reuptake inhibition when necessary for the prevention of burn outs and break downs. For more information about The Satiety Center please fill up on your favorite sweets or soft drinks or take a gander at porn loop. If you take Cialis and  "get an erection lasting more than 4 hours seek immediate medical help to avoid long-term injury.”