East Of Eden

"A curious mix of the relevant and reverential"


Some Saturday Stuff- October 19th.

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The world's best hot chocolate, at The Chocolate Bar, Winchester, Virginia.

 

 

So I'm back home after a fabulous AND busy week down in Virginia with the BFF. I've now gone down there so much some Facebook friends are asking if I've moved. Nope, still in Jersey, just enjoying one of the benefits to being a SAHM to a two year old. We can go away for a while without obligations and reprecissions like pink slips and visits from truant officers. And since my health has been relatively stable (and I haven't had IVIG in nearly four weeks; the plasmapheresis really seems to be a better treatment for me at this time), I've also taken advantage of the mild weather to go out and you know, have fun, lol.

 

On Tuesday, Zoe and I accompanied Sapphira's class on a trip to High Hills Farms. We went on a tractor pulled hayride, picked pumpkins, and saw a horse and other animals.

 

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The whole week seemed to fly by, and now I'm super sleepy. But, it's the start of a new week, it's gorgeous out and I might be having brunch with Joscelyne's BFF Jennie and her kids in a couple of hours. So, I submit, a day late, yesterday's "Some Saturday Stuff", which I didn't have time to post because I was at Giddel's baby cousin's first birthday party yesterday afternoon (really, I've actually been pretty busy). Without further ado, the links.

 

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I've been rocking my natural in a faux-hawk style- corn rows on the sides, braided by Giddel. I added leave in conditioner and gel to the middle part that is left out to define my waves and coils.

 

From The New York Times, a story about the almighty afro, which I'm proud to rock:

 

Dante de Blasio’s towering Afro, a supporting player in his father’s mayoral campaign, riveted attention once more last week when it caught the eye of President Obama. Introducing Bill de Blasio at a Democratic fund-raiser in Midtown, Mr. Obama digressed to point out, “Dante has the same hairdo as I had in 1978. Although I have to confess my Afro was never that good.”

 

Nor was it as voluminous, or as apparently devoid of a political charge. As 16-year-old Dante implied in an interview with DNAInfo.com, an online local news source, hair is just hair. “Some people want to take photos and I’m really just happy,” he said. Others want to reach out and touch it, and some did at last week’s fund-raiser, their enthusiastic petting prompting the elder de Blasio to joke that he might have to call security.

 

The mayoral candidate was doubtless aware that Dante’s outsize hair placed him in a league with a current generation that has adopted what once was a badge of revolt as an emblem of style’s cutting edge. Resurgent in films and television and the streets, inspired by a galaxy of pop culture idols, the Afro today seems friendly enough, even downright disarming — a kinder, gentler “natural” pretty much shorn of its militancy.

 

Images like those of Halle Berry’s tightly coiled halo or Nicki Minaj’s poodly pink Glamfro on the cover of Allure last year have played a part in resurrecting the hallmark style. Hoping to stand apart from her more famous sister, Solange Knowles last year chopped her chemically processed hair to reveal the wedge-shaped Afro that has since become her signature. And the actress Viola Davis showed off her natural curls at the Oscar ceremonies a year ago after walking most of the red carpet season in a wig; Prince poses regally in his Afro on the August issue of V magazine.

 

Even the customarily conventional Oprah Winfrey stepped out to front the September issue of O, the Oprah magazine, in a 3.5-pound wig that spanned its cover nearly edge to edge above the cover line: “Let’s talk about HAIR!”

 

The style’s current iteration bears little kinship to the anti-gravity hair flaunted in the late 1960s by Angela Davis, Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and other icons of the Black Power movement. “In the ’60s the Afro was looked upon as ‘Wow, you’re stepping out there, you’re really going against the grain,’ ” said Andre Walker, the man who fluffed Ms. Winfrey’s wig into its umbrella-size proportions. In contrast, “When I talk to a lot of the kids from this generation,” he said, “the whole civil rights movement, it’s very vague to them.

 

“I don’t think they really know the meaning of how radical an Afro was in the day,” Mr. Walker added. “It’s a different time now.”

 

Though his father wore an Afro in the 1970s and ’80s, 16-year-old Noah Negron, a high school senior in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was not bowing to family tradition or the politics of a bygone era when he decided to grow out his hair. “I’m an environmentalist,” he said. “That’s where the locks come in. It’s like all natural.”

Reluctant to treat her hair with potentially damaging lye, another Brooklyn resident who identified herself only as Tamar A., declared: “This is just how my hair grows out of my head. I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m just more comfortable being who I am.”

 

Those comments were echoed by the often eco-conscious champions of unprocessed hair captured in photographs by Michael July in his new book “Afros: A Celebration of Natural Hair.” Many of his subjects told Mr. July that going natural was a way of embracing their racial heritage or rekindling their self-esteem.

Some seemed to share a rationale expressed by Ms. Winfrey in the September issue of O. “When I was 22-years-old,” she recalled in the article. “I got a bad perm and lost all my hair. And I thought I had lost myself.” Abandoning hot combs and chemical relaxers had a share, she indicated, in restoring that self-regard.

 

But others in Mr. July’s book went out of their way to distance themselves from the radical politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation. “I don’t wear my hair natural because I’m strictly Afrocentric or don’t believe in the white man’s perm,” Sofia Loren Coffee said. “I wear my hair this way because I truly think I look adorable with natural hair.”

 

I kind of feel like Ms. Coffee. My hair is not screaming some kind of political agenda. It's my hair. It's texture is thick, coily and yes, sometimes wild. But I'm really not. It's my hair, not my personality.

 

Next up, this story from The Atlantic on how Oreos are like cocaine:

 

The rat stands in a plastic maze. At the end are two rooms, each decorated in its own unmistakably unique, gaudy fashion. The rat knows them both. Inside one room, he has received injections of morphine or cocaine. In the other, he's gotten injections of a saline placebo. The rat has learned to prefer the drug room.

 

He even chooses to lounge in the drug room after the injection supplies have dried up. It's kind of like how you might hang out in the parking lot outside of an old high school, remembering the glory days; or at the apartment of an ex-lover, befriending the new tenants. Your ex-lover is dead, but it still feels good.

 

This is a paradigm called conditioned place preference. It's a standard behavioral model used to study the Pavlovian rewarding and aversive effects of drugs. Dr. Joseph Schroeder's rats are not pioneers.

 

Schroeder is an associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral neuroscience program at Connecticut College. Last year, Jamie Honohan was a senior student researcher in Schroeder's lab and scholar in the college's Holleran Center, which focuses on social justice issues, public policy, and community action. Honohan was interested in the obesity epidemic—specifically, why there is more obesity in urban, low-socioeconomic-status populations, and the role of a lack of nutritious food.

 

So Honohan came to Schroeder with an idea for some research based on the rat conditioning model. What's a thing that both rats and humans like? Sewers, tunneling, hammocks, ... Oreos. That's it. Oreos are also cheap calories, widely available, and contribute to the obesity epidemic. Would feeding Oreos to the rats in this model have the same conditioning effect as giving them drugs?

 

Honohan, Schroeder, and some other students designed an experiment. In terms of behavior, the Oreos did it. The rats trained with Oreos spent just as much time in the Oreo room—as opposed to a boring rice-cake room, even after there were no Oreos or rice cakes—as did the rats trained with cocaine or morphine.

 

Then the researchers went a step further.

 

What if we cut open their brains, too, they wondered.

 

Eww.

 

"We examined the nucleus accumbens," Schroeder explained to me, "which is the brain’s pleasure center. We measured the expression of a protein there [c-Fos]. So it basically tells whether that brain center is being turned on or not in response to a behavior. And we found that there was a greater number of neurons that were activated in the brain’s pleasure center in animals that were conditioned to Oreos compared to animals that were conditioned to cocaine [or morphine]."

 

"What that indicates," Schroeder says, "is that, perhaps, high-fat, high-sugar foods are stimulating the brains in the same way as drugs of abuse and can be considered as a potentially addictive substance."

 

That concept has been shown before, but remains important. In a 2010 study published in Nature Neuroscience, rats who spent 40 days eating bacon, sausage, cheesecake, and frosting—someone please market that combination; I mean please don't—became "addicted." They continued eating even in the face of electrical shocks. Non-addict rats did not. The researchers, at Scripps Research Institute in Florida, likened the brain activity in the addict rats to that of cocaine and heroin addicts.

 

"We make our food very similar to cocaine now," commented an unmoved Dr. Gene-Jack Wang at the time. Wang is a biomedical imaging researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory. "[Now] we purify our food," he said. "Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we're eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup."

 

Shudder. I don't buy Oreos because admittedly, I have a problem with them. I can easily down a whole row of a big pack without blinking. I realize I'm weak. My exposure must be limited for my own good.

 

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A family picture from yesterday's birthday party.

 

Also from The Atlantic, an introduction to the National Selfie Portrait Gallery:

 

Rembrandt did it. So did Raphael. And Van Gogh. And Kahlo and Beale and Courbet. The self-portrait, as a form, has been around almost as long as portraiture itself has—a testament to artists' obsession not only with form and function and beauty, but also with themselves.

Photography, along with everything else it did to and for art, lowered the barriers to the form, allowing people who lacked painterly talent or tools to engage in the time-honored art of the selfie. Almost as soon as cameras became common, selfies did, too.

 

So while "selfie" as a word may be a recent addition to the official lexicon—and while it may have spawned various taxonomies and sub-categories (the mirror selfie, the intentionally unattractive selfie, the with-others selfie, the solitary selfie, the duckface selfie, the hot-dog-legs selfie)—the concept itself is very, very old. The difference now, of course, is that anyone who has a smartphone—or, for that matter, anyone who has a camera and access to an obliging mirror—can take a self-portrait. And incremental advances in photographic technologies—the front-facing camera that came with the launch of the iPhone 4, mobile-photo-sharing apps like Instagram—helped the selfie to gain new traction in the public imagination.

 

Which is all a way of saying that selfies aren't just self-documentation; they're also art. Art that has a place in the long story of the self-portrait.

And curators are beginning to recognize them as such. Today, London's Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair is launching a new installation: the National Selfie Gallery. (Actually, technically, the National #Selfie Gallery.) And it's pretty much exactly what you'd imagine it to be: a curated collection of selfies. In this case, however, the selfies are short-form videos, commissioned from 19 emerging artists from both the U.S. and the E.U. The videos (each no more than 30 seconds in length) are installed on two screens that display the films in rotation. They were selected "specifically for their established practices, ranging from poetic internet confessionals to humorous commentaries on exhibitionism and experimental new-media portraiture." 

 

In other words, they celebrate the selfie not just as a mode of self-expression, but also as art of a more transcendent variety. "Self-portraiture is the most democratic creative medium available," the installation's curators, Kyle Chayka and Marina Galperina, explain, "both as a performative outlet for the social self and an intimate vehicle of personal catharsis, for artists and non-artists alike."

 

And as, obviously, a vehicle for duckface.

 

Historical selfies. Because humankind has always been narcissistic.

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Because I'm a narcissist, too: a selfie snapped on Friday after Giddel did my makeup.

 

Finally, a story on my favorite Law & Order: SVU cop- Sargent John Munch- who retired after two decades of service on NBC, which took him from the gritty streets of Baltimore on Homicide: Life on the Streets to SVU. He even made appearances on Law & Order classic and HBO's The Wire. By the way, since becoming a SAHM a couple of years ago, I've seen every episode of all four of the shows. I'm aware of the weirdness of that little tidbit, but I've had a thing for cop show dramas for most of my life. And I've had a thing for Munch- conspiracy theories and all- for quite some time. From The LA Times:

 

On Wednesday night's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Detective John Munch, played by Richard Belzer, retired. And in a fitting send-off the fictional cops of New York's 16th precinct threw him a roast.

 

Belzer's time playing the perpetually sunglasses-wearing detective is unique in broadcast television, in that he's played the same character on 10 TV shows across five channels and 20 years.

 

While Belzer's run ties with Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane and James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke" for longest portrayal of a single character on TV, the breadth of Belzer's apparances sets him in a league of his own.

 

Belzer was known primarily as a stand-up comedian when he was cast as a detective in the highly acclaimed NBC police drama "Homicide: Life on the Street." The show debuted in 1993 and aired for seven seasons.

 

He joined the cast of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in 1999 after "Homicide" ended and has played Munch there for 15 seasons, rising from senior detective to sergeant and finally on to DA special investigator in his final episode.

 

But in addition to being a regular on those series, he's also made guest appearances as Munch on "30 Rock," "The Wire," "Law & Order: Trial By Jury," "The Beat," "The X-Files," "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "Arrested Development" and, one of Belzer's favorites, "Sesame Street." In a farewell essay he wrote for the Huffington Post, Belzer took special note of the sunglasses-wearing John Munch puppet that Sesame Workshop built for the occasion.

 

While Belzer is indeed leaving the show, a spokesperson for NBC indicated that the door was open for the Munch character to work with the SVU squad in the future.

To commemorate Munch's retirement, NBC has released the extended version of the Munch roast. Fans of the character's long history should keep a special eye out for a cameo from Clark Johnson, who played Munch's Baltimore colleague, Meldrick Lewis, on "Homicide."

 

You can check out the video below. I also enjoyed seeing his ex-wives.

 

And because I heard a whole lot of Justin Timberlake this week while riding around with Giddel this week, here he is with "Mirrors". Have a great week!

 

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