Giving Us A Reason To Watch The Oscars Again

I didn’t watch the Oscar broadcast last night.  I haven’t watched it in years, as the broadcast has gotten longer and longer and the speeches more self-congratulatory and tedious.  I’m not alone in this — the Nielsen ratings for the Oscar awards ceremony have been falling for a number of years.

US-OSCARS-SHOWSo, when I saw this morning that the Oscars, through Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, screwed up the announcement of the best picture in legendary, unforgettable fashion, I wondered:  could this have been done to try to increase the ratings for the show?

After all, people like the possibility of surprises.  Many Nascar fans go to races in hopes of an exciting crash or two, and lots of hockey fans yearn for a throw down the gloves fight.  Reality TV shows are all about unexpected twists and turns that leave viewers talking.  If the Oscars is just going to be a bunch of tuxedo-clad and ball gown-wearing stiffs reading cards from an envelope, it’s pretty staid stuff.  But if there’s a chance that the announced winner turns out not to be the real winner, and there’s a big, confusing scrum onstage while things get sorted out, maybe people will start tuning in again.

It’s hard to imagine how the announcement of the winner for best picture could be so botched.  I feel sorry for the people involved in making La La Land, who initially thought they had won, and I feel sorry that the people involved in making Moonlight, which I thought was a fine film, had their moment of triumph tainted by a foul-up.   But maybe this colossal screw-up will make Hollywood a little less smug.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Say Yes To The Dress?

We’ve got a wedding in the family coming up later this year.  Although the blessed event itself is still months in the future, the time for carefully analyzing and evaluating what dresses should be worn to the wedding and the rehearsal dinner apparently is . . . now!

autumn-dresses-wedding-guestI had no idea that quite so many websites featured dresses for the family members who are attending weddings.  Dresses of every imaginable length, cut, and hemline.  Dresses with jackets and without.  Dresses that feature something mysteriously called a “bodice.” Sleeveless dresses, dresses with poofy shoulders, and dresses with curious slashes, like they’ve been attacked by Freddy Krueger.  Dresses in every conceivable color of the rainbow, from azure to lilac, from saffron to magenta, from sea foam to garnet, with every subtle gradation and shade in between.

Never has fashion been the subject of such passion.

For the husband, there is no avoiding it.  When I get home I’m going to be asked to choose between dress styles with subtle differences discernible only to Parisian designers.  I’m going to be asked whether I prefer the periwinkle or the lavender, the teal or the aquamarine.  And, because every dress website that Kish has accessed has deposited a girl scout squadron’s worth of cookies on our home computer, every pop up ad on every sports website that I check these days features solemn women modeling dresses.

After some weeks of this, I suddenly became concerned.  “Honey, should I be worried about what I’m going to wear to the wedding?” I asked.  Kish laughed heartily.  “Don’t worry about it,” she said.  “No one pays attention to what a man is wearing.”

Too bad, because I was thinking of something in cornflower.

Treasure-Hunting Around Mars

Those of us who’ve been waiting patiently — for years, and years, and years — for the United States to get back into the manned space exploration mode have always thought that perhaps crass commercialism might be the impetus.  If governments aren’t spurred by noble thoughts of advancing into the final frontier and exploring for the benefit of all mankind, maybe they’ll be motivated by cold hard cash.  With a compelling case for a serious financial return from exploration, modern governments might — like the European nations exploring the western hemisphere during the 1400s and 1500s — be willing to commission a few ships, set sail, and see what they can find.

We’re about to get an answer to that question, because in a few years NASA will be launching a mission to a solitary asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter that — all on its own — would seem to make space exploration fiscally worthwhile.

1200x600The asteroid, called 16 Psyche, is about the size of Massachusetts and has been battered by meteor strikes.  It’s composed primarily of nickel and iron.  The vast quantities of metal on the asteroid is a kind of treasure trove that causes NASA to say that 16 Psyche is worth about 10,000 quadrillion dollars.  How big is a quadrillion?  Well, apparently there are about one quadrillion ants on planet Earth.  Multiply that mind-boggling number by 10,000, and you get the value of 16 Psyche.  Even Bill Gates would be impressed by that sum.

Of course, we might not want to cart all of that metal back to Earth, because that would be pretty expensive.  We might decide that the treasure trove would be better used to build settlements on Mars, or to manufacture space stations or space craft, or for any of countless potential uses of metal in space.  And it’s all out there waiting for the first intrepid country, or group of countries, that is willing to go out and get it.

So — why not get back into space, already?  We’ve twiddled our thumbs long enough, and you can tell that private enterprise is starting to look pretty seriously at space as an investment and development opportunity.  In fact, some people are arguing that, with private enterprise leading the way, we could be back on the Moon, permanently, in four years, and then moving on to other planets in the solar system thereafter.  Who knows?  Maybe a President who talks about “the art of the deal” couldn’t resist trying to lay claim to a titanic treasure.

With all of the bad things happening in the world these days, it would be nice to turn our eyes skyward.  I wouldn’t mind a little greed for $10,000 quadrillion if that’s what it takes to motivate us to get back into space to stay.

Rethinking Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease has been a known condition since it was discovered, in 1906, by a German doctor, and it has been the focus of lots of attention and research for decades.  It ranks as one of the top causes of death in the United States and is the third leading cause of death among people 60 and older, just behind heart disease and cancer.

So, after more than a hundred years, why haven’t we figured out how to treat this dread and deadly disease that robs people of their minds and personalities and leaves them empty shelves of their former selves?  Why, for example, have doctors and drug companies been able to develop effective treatments for HIV and AIDS, but not Alzheimer’s?

alzheimer_brainIt’s not that the scientific and medical community isn’t trying — but identifying the real cause of Alzheimer’s, and then devising a meaningful treatment, is proving to be an incredibly elusive challenge.  A brain with Alzheimer’s is like a car crash with no witnesses, where the accident reconstruction expert tries to find clues from the physical evidence.  Do those skid marks indicate that the driver was going too fast, or do they suggest that the driver was distracted, or was the driver paying attention when something like a deer unexpectedly came onto the road?  In the case of Alzheimer’s the brain is mangled and distorted and physically changed, both chemically and structurally.  Are those changes what caused the disease, or are they mere byproducts of the active agent that does the real harm?

For more than a quarter century, Alzheimer’s researchers and drug companies have been focusing on the “amyloid hypothesis,” which posits that an increase in amyloid deposits causes the disease, and have worked to develop drugs to target amyloid.  The hypothesis was devised because Alzheimer’s patients have an unusual buildup of amyloid in their brains, amyloid buildups have been found to be harmful in other bodily organs, and people with a genetic history of Alzheimer’s in their families also have been found to have mutations in the genes responsible for amyloid production.  With this kind of evidence, it’s not surprising that amyloid production has been the focus of treatment efforts.

Unfortunately, though, the trials of drugs that address amyloid production haven’t been successful — and after repeated failures, some scientists are wondering whether the amyloid hypothesis should be scrapped, and the disease should be examined afresh.  The amyloid hypothesis remains the prevailing view, but a minority of researchers think that the focus on amyloid buildup is like trying to close the barn door after the livestock have already escaped.  And they wonder whether the amyloid hypothesis has become entrenched with so many people, who invested so much time and money in developing amyloid-based treatments, that work on alternative approaches is being undercut.

It’s a classic test for the scientific method.  Over the years, there are countless examples of instances where prevailing views on medical, or physical, problems were overturned in favor of new approaches that turned out to accurately identify cause and effect.  The scientific method is supposed to objectively find the right answers.  For Alzheimer’s disease, maybe it is just a matter of tweaking how to develop the right treatment for the amyloid build-up — or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Those of us who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in our families hope the scientific and medical community put aside preconceived notions, dispassionately assess the evidence, and explore every avenue for developing a successful treatment.  This disease is just too devastating to go unaddressed.

Tiny Door (IV)

The latest addition to the German Village tiny door club has made its appearance, this time on Macon Alley, near the intersection with Beck.  The elf who lives here must be an indolent athlete — sufficiently skilled and vigorous to scramble up the bricks and latticework, but unwilling to repair his rickety front steps.

Mead, Indeed

Last night Kish and I were out on the town with the Bahamians, and we decided to hit the Brothers Drake — our first meadery.  It’s on East Fifth Avenue, across from The Table and in the rapidly developing area between the ashore North and south campus.  Last night, even with a $10 cover charge, the Brothers Drake was jammed with people eager to quaff a wide range of meads and hear a good band play some live music.

We all got our inaugural cups of mead and took a few cautious sips.  I’d heard that you have to watch the sweetness scale if you’re going to drink mead — it is made with fermented honey, after all — so I’d ordered a spiced mead that that was supposed to be on the lower end of the sweetness spectrum.  Even so, it was too sweet for our tastes — kind of like drinking a dessert wine.  I think I could develop a taste for mead, though, with a bit more experience and guidance on the different varieties.  I’m glad I gave it a shot.

A February For The Ages

We’ve had a run of unbelievable weather lately, and today was the crown jewel –mid-70s and sunny, in the middle of the normally gloomy Columbus winter.  If you didn’t have a calendar, you’d swear it’s May.  The plants on the Ohio Statehouse grounds appear to agree with that assessment.

Weather like this can’t last, so you’ve got to enjoy it while you can — which is why I decided to leave the office a bit early this afternoon.