A Snowy Perspective

Our snowfall yesterday has blanketed our tiny back yard in white — and incidentally given a new perspective to the abstract sculpture that Russell made for us.  The snow has softened the edges.  When I look at the sculpture now, I see a human face where I didn’t see one before.

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Red Herring

Last night, Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger for a night at the theater.  We ventured out into the ongoing snowstorm — without water, mind you — to head over to Franklinton for dinner and then a play presented by Red Herring Productions at the Franklinton Playhouse.

Red Herring Productions is a little theater company with big ambitions.  It seeks to add a significant local resident professional theater company to the mix of Columbus art and entertainment options, and its efforts toward reaching that goal are equally ambitious:  for its 2019 season it is putting on 10 plays at the Franklinton Playhouse.  The Playhouse is located on Rich Street a few blocks west of the Scioto River, in the heart of the renovation and building efforts that are changing the face of Franklinton.  The Playhouse looks to be a commercial building with large, high-ceilinged interior spaces that has been refurbished to serve as a theater.  It’s a small venue — as configured for the play last night, I’d guess it could seat about 40 or 50 people on three sides of the stage — and it provides a very intimate theater experience.  The photo of the set accompanying this post was taken from our seats, which were directly next to the stage, so close that the actors brushed past our crossed legs during their performance.

The play we attended last night, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, & Count Leo Tolstoy:  Discord, by Scott Carter, was the first play in the 2019 series.  In the performance, Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy each go through a door immediately after their deaths, and find themselves in a spartan, gray room, equipped only with a metal table and three metal chairs.  They arrive within instants of each other, even though their deaths were almost 100 years apart.  After trying unsuccessfully to leave, they have to figure out who they are and why they are in the room together.  Eventually they realize that during their lives they each developed their own version of the Christian gospels, and in the play the characters, guided by a drawer in the table that mysteriously opens and closes, debate their significantly differing views on who Jesus was and what his actual message and teachings.  I won’t spoil the play for those who might be going, but let’s just say the discussion, and their ultimate confessions about how they didn’t live up to the ideals their different gospels espoused, is related to their ability to finally leave the room and presumably get on with their after lives.

It was an interesting play, with lots of laughs as well as thought-provoking discussion, and was well performed by the actors who played the three characters.  (We particularly liked David Allen Vargo, who portrayed a very flamboyant and conceited Charles Dickens.)  And sitting within inches of the stage gives an immediacy and decided punch to the experience.  As anyone who has seen ancient Greek and Roman theaters knows, you don’t need lots of gilt and fancy trappings — just a few seats, a few actors, and an interesting story will do just fine.

We enjoyed our snowy exposure to Red Herring Productions, and a look at the 2019 season shows there are some other intriguing offerings coming up.  We’ll be back.

 

Watering The Storm

There’s supposed to be a huge snowstorm bearing down on the Midwest, including our little neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.  Some people apparently are worried about it.

Last night, Kish and I went out to dinner, and our waiter asked us — only half facetiously — whether we had scurried off to the supermarket to lay in supplies of bottled water.  68212843 - closeup on mineral water green bottles in raw and linesWhen I looked puzzled, he helpfully added that an incoming winter storm was supposed to arrive overnight and drop 4 to 6 inches of snow on Columbus.  The message was clear:  winter storm = need water.  Lots and lots of water, apparently, and not the out of the tap variety, either.

Of course, we didn’t go directly to the store to buy a case or two of bottled water.  I’ve never succumbed to storm frenzy, and I’m not quite sure why other people are so susceptible to it.  In the Midwest, in winter, a snowstorm that drops 4 to 6 inches of the white stuff isn’t an everyday occurrence, but it’s certainly common enough that people shouldn’t freak out about it.

And the need for bottled water baffles me, too.  I don’t drink bottled water under normal circumstances, so why would I suddenly start doing so because of a snowstorm?  I’m perfectly happy with whatever comes out of the faucet.  And winter storms aren’t like hurricanes that might knock out water facilities and leave people without electricity or water for days or even weeks.  To my recollection, we’ve always had water even in the aftermath of the greatest blizzards, like the Great Blizzard of ’78.  And the nice thing about a snowstorm is — it provides its own supply of water.  If Kish and I get really desperate, we can always scoop up some of the white stuff and wait for it to melt.

As I write this, I see that snow has started falling.  The storm must be here!  You know, it kind of makes me thirsty.

Messing Around With Genes

Since 2015, Congress has included language in its funding bills to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from approving any application to create in vitro fertilization children from embryos that have been genetically modified.  Because the prohibitory language has been included in funding bills that have expiration dates, it needs to be renewed every year.  The House of Representatives just passed legislation that includes the renewal language, as part of an effort to fund certain governmental activities like food stamps and drug approvals.

Khan1The issue of genetic modification of embryos has some special urgency these days, with the recent news that Chinese scientists have announced the birth of the first genetically modified children — twin girls whose genes allegedly have been altered to supposedly make them specially resistant to HIV.  The Chinese scientists used a protein to edit the genes on a “CRISPR” — a stretch of DNA.  Some people question the validity of the Chinese claim about these so-called “CRISPR babies,” but there is no doubt that genetic manipulation of human beings is moving from the realm of science fiction to the reality of science fact.

The bar to such activities created by Congress ensures that efforts to genetically modify humans are not going to be happening in America — at least for now.  Is that a good thing?  The FDA Commissioner has said:  “Certain uses of science should be judged intolerable, and cause scientists to be cast out. The use of CRISPR to edit human embryos or germ line cells should fall into that bucket. Anything less puts the science and the entire scientific enterprise at risk.”  Others argue that Congress has taken a “meat axe” approach when it should be crafting a more nuanced policy that recognizes that some genetic manipulation could be beneficial.

It’s hard to know what’s right.  Scientists have been involved in the reproductive process for years, and their work, through processes like in vitro fertilization, has allowed people who are struggling to conceive to realize their dream of having children.  But I think the notion of scientists tinkering with genes to create “better” human beings crosses a line in several ways.  First, I’m not entirely confident that scientists know what they are doing and that there won’t be unintended, negative consequences from the removal of the genes the scientists snip out.  Anyone who has read about the history of science knows that scientists have been wrong before, and its reasonable to think they might be wrong again — only this time, their errors wouldn’t just be about the impact of certain foods or the properties of atoms, but would directly affect specific human beings.  Second, where do you draw the line in genetic manipulation?  Modifying DNA sequences to try to avoid diseases or debilitating health conditions is one thing, but what if scientists want to edit genes to create humans who are smarter, or more athletic, or taller?  Do we really want to permit the creation of “designer people” — like Khan Noonien Singh, that memorable Star Trek character who was genetically modified to be a kind of superhuman?  And finally, as this article points out, the whole issue brings up uncomfortable memories of the eugenics arguments of the early 20th century, where certain ethnic groups and traits were considered superior and others inferior.  If “improved” humans are created, where does that leave the rest of us?

In my view, this is an area where a sweeping rule makes sense — at least initially.  I think we need a lot more evidence, and a lot more thinking, before we should allow scientists to go messing around with human genetic material.

Tipping, Up In The Air

Next week I’ll be taking my first flight ever on Frontier Airlines.  It’s branded as a low-cost airline that differs from other carriers in that it charges you separate fees for things like your carry-on bag and basic in-flight drink and snack options.  Frontier presents its approach as allowing it to keep base fares low and giving travelers “options that allow you to customize your flight to match both your wants and your wallet.”

flight-crewNow I’ve learned that Frontier differs from other airlines in another, more interesting way:  it’s the only airline that encourages travelers to tip its flight attendants.  Beginning January 1, 2019, individual Frontier flight attendants can accept tips, and if a traveler purchases in-flight food or beverages, they get a prompt from the Frontier payment system notifying them that they have the option to leave a tip — just like you get in many restaurants.  In the article linked above, Frontier explains:  “We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment system] gives passengers the option to tip.”

The union that represents Frontier flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants International, isn’t happy about Frontier’s tipping policy and says that the airline should be paying flight attendants more instead.  The union and Frontier have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and one union official has said that “[m]anagement moved forward with a tipping option for passengers in hopes it would dissuade flight attendants from standing together for a fair contract — and in an effort to shift additional costs to passengers.”

I’m not quite sure how I come out on the issue of tipping flight attendants.  Obviously, their job involves a lot more than donning a little apron and serving drinks and snacks, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the tipping option — apparently presented only when food or drink is ordered — and the actual contours of the flight attendant’s job.  At the same time, many airlines are nickel-and-diming passengers with fees, so perhaps tip income for flight attendants is the wave of the future.  And I’m all for airlines adopting different models — like Frontier’s low-cost approach — as they compete for passengers, and letting the passengers themselves decide which approach they like best.

I’m thinking my flight on Frontier next week is going to be a bit of an adventure.

Columbus — A “Place To Go”

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Every once in a while the New York Times Travel section publishes an article that tells people “where to go.”   The 52 Places to Go in 2019 article came out this week and our city — Columbus, Ohio — actually made the list.  It’s number 47, right there between Houston, Texas and Plovdiv, Bulgaria.  The article notes Columbus’ innovation, food scene, and cool districts and neighborhoods, including our own stomping grounds of German Village.

The article poses the following question about Columbus:  “Is this the American city of the future?”  The honest answer is:  “Who knows?”  But Columbus is definitely a good place to live — as well as a “place to go” — and it’s nice to see it getting a little bit of recognition.

(In case you’re interested, Plovdiv is described as “a city ready for the spotlight.”)

Never Quite “Old”

Recently the New York Times ran a piece which once again addresses the question of what constitutes being “old” in America.  The writer, who is 61, says that the question of “what is ‘old,’ anyway?” is very much on his mind and is on the minds of the 70 million Baby Boomers who are older than 50.  He adds, by way of illustration:  “Dinner conversations are now hyper-focused on how to stay young or at least delay old.”

active-seniors-bicyclingThose sound like pretty damned boring dinner conversations!

It seems like we see these articles with regularity, as we Baby Boomers fight desperately to avoid association with “old age.”  The article linked above, for example, quotes a researcher who says that somebody who is 60 years old today is “middle-aged” and true “old age” doesn’t occur until men hit 70 to 71 and women hit 73 or 74.  Wanna bet that those numbers move back even farther as the bulge of the Boomer generation moves closer to the dreaded “old age” cutoff, to the point where, in a few years, people are saying 80 is the new 50?

It’s pretty ridiculous — and kind of pathetic — when you think about it.  Some people in the Baby Boom generation have always seemed more focused on how they are perceived than how they feel about themselves.  Now that they are aging, and they don’t want to be seen as “old,” they struggle to convince everyone that a different definition should apply. But the efforts aren’t working, and people still use the same criteria to define who is “old” — things like whether you’ve got gray hair, or for that matter any hair, and whether you’re approaching retirement at your workplace.  If you have enough of those criteria, you’re going to be seen as “old,” whether or not some researcher argues that advances in longevity really should change the definition.

If all Baby Boomers were really as rebellious as they like to think they are, they wouldn’t care about public perception.  If you’re seen as old by others, so what?  The key is what people think about themselves, not the labels assigned to them by others.  Baby Boomers would be better off if they stopped talking about “being old” at dinner conversations, and started focusing more on what they personally still want to do with their lives.