Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Better Science Through Cookies

This year we decided to do something different. The Christmas cookie medium has often been about a look back on the year that was. Unfortunately though, 2008 was kind of a rough year. I wasn’t sure if Christi’s nephews really needed a Christmas cookie depicting Ayn Rand raging through Wall Street, with foam and scraps of credit default swaps frothing from her mouth, as she rips chunks of flesh from the necks of hapless bankers? I imagine that that’s the image you could drop in the time capsule if you really wanted to sum up 2008, but as a Christmas cookie?

Also, it should be noted that Christi and I spend our Christmases with her family in Texas, one of the few remaining places where people still hem and haw a little before begrudgingly acknowledging that, yeah, I guess George Bush did break the world. Since the Bushes would be moving to Dallas after their occupation of the White House was over I saw no need to be making fun of the neighbors with some political jab at the outgoing administration. So I thought it best this year to, for the most part, look forward instead of back, to focus on the positive and shy away from the political this year. And that’s how this holiday became the year of the Stem Cell Christmas Cookies.

Coming out of one of the more historic elections this country has seen, the end of 2008 was rife with optimism. Times were starting to get rough but there was hope that fresh ideas at the country’s helm might bring about positive change. Among the many changes possible was a hope that the next few years would see science treated a little differently.

I don’t want to go all buck wild politico in this blog but I do have to go on record as being pretty disappointed in our country’s stem cell stance over the last 8 years. For what it’s worth I originally wrote a couple hundred words outlining my views on the subject. But looking back I decided to chop it out of this post. Spending 400 words to say “science is actually a good thing” seemed like a questionable use of your reading time. Instead I will simply assume we are all in agreement on this one. If anyone can explain to me how the ban on embryonic stem cell research was anything other than a case of the firewall between church and state not being properly maintained, then please help yourself to my comments section. If I am missing something here I would be happy to understand the issue better.

In the meantime I will just say that I am grateful to find out that our Christmas cookie optimism was not misguided. The current administration this week overturned the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Beyond just unshackling this vital field of research, I feel the president’s action goes a long way towards making us all look a little less retarded as a nation. For that I thank the President and wish I had actually saved him a cookie.

Coincidentally this week also marks the release of the DVD for Rachel Getting Married which almost got it's own cookie. I had very much wanted the obscure-media-slot in this year’s Christmas cookies to be filled by one of the scenes from that movie. While I’m not a real connoisseur of the torture porn genre, I’m hard pressed to imagine anything disemboweled from one of the Saw movies that could be as excruciating as the wedding toast that Anne Hathaway gives in Rachel Getting Married. Unfortunately I didn’t quite know how to nail the essence of a scene like that in almond sugar icing. So instead, the obscure-media-slot this year is filled by page nine hundred twelve, the last page of Roberto Bolano’s brilliant behemoth 2666, one of the many pages I never saw in 2008.

2666 got such unanimous praise that I actually considered wrestling with its over 900 pages. In the end though it just seemed like a damn lot of words. I’m more than man enough to admit that I was not man enough to conquer 2666 in 2009. And this might have been for the best after all, considering that an unpublished 6th section of 2666 was recently rumored to have been found. Bolano the author may have died in 2003 but he's quickly becoming the Tupac of Latin American lit. If I could put up blog entries half as many times as this dead guy puts out new books, this blog might be worth bookmarking. Anyway, even before 2666 became the new never ending story I felt it wouldn't hurt to give his masterpiece some cookie props

Sitting to the left of page 912 in the picture above is this year’s 3rd cookie, the memorial cookie. As I get older it seems like more and more important people die every year. I suppose that when I was 9 there simply weren’t so many people that I personally labeled as “important”. Just as many famous people must have been dropping like flies every day but I never noticed. In my late 30’s though, the names of those that have died are slowly becoming more recognizable. The obituaries are becoming home to people I’m bummed I will never get a chance to meet. One of those people is Gary Gygax. 2008 was the year that Mr. Gygax, as my good friend Dario so eloquently put it, “apparently couldn’t make his saving throw against abdominal aortic aneurysm.”

There were definitely people more famous than Gary Gygax who died in 2008 (Paul Neuman). There were also people who were funnier (George Carlin), more stylish (Yves Saint Laurent ), more conservative (William F. Buckley), more bigoted (Jesse Helms), more naughty (Betty Page), more literaryish (David Foster Wallace), and more Dolemitey (Rudy Ray Moore). But a case could be pretty well made for the fact that there was no one dorkier.

And that’s not to say we didn’t lose a lot of nerds in 2008. Robert Asprin, Majel Barrett, Arthur C. Clark, Bobby Fischer, Dave Stevens, Michael Turner, and Stan Winston are just a few of the new celebrity guests at that big convention in the sky. But still, I don’t know of anyone more identifiable as an icon of a certain type of Nerddom, than Gary Gygax the man most associated with the creation of the Dungeons and Dragons gaming system. So I felt quite justified in taking a yummy memorial moment to give remembrance to someone who added a decent amount of joy to my formative years.

And finally there was also a TV death that I felt deserved to be memorialized last year. It might seem insensitive to diminish the death of an actual person by placing it on a plate next to the death of a mere TV show. But I hope it is forgivable in this case.

Every so often a work of art is produced that transcends its medium. Like a person, it grows and matures and becomes something more than just an amusement that entertains us for some short break. It becomes a teacher of sorts. It helps us to see something in the world that we could never have experienced alone. In a way it becomes a friend that we are sad to see go.

2007 saw the end of The Sopranos and 2008 saw the end of a show just as powerful, just as complex, just as worthy. After 6 dense years of life, The Wire finally completed its arc on HBO. It didn’t seem right to have done a Sopranos cookie in 2007 and then this year ignore what very well could have been the single greatest show to ever make it onto TV. So that’s why I knew I had to come up with a Wire cookie this year. There was only one problem, and that problem was this, at no time in my entire life have I ever seen so much as a single episode of The Wire.

Naturally, I've always been aware of the fact I was supposed to be watching The Wire. I even made Christi get me the box set of season 1 for my birthday. But truth be told, like proper dental care, it was something I have stubbornly ignored to my own detriment. Sorry. Until now this hadn’t hurt me too much. At Christmas though, I saw that having never watched so much as a single episode of the Wire would definitely complicate the act of turning it into a cookie.

However, I soon figured that I could wing it if I just played it safe and stuck to the obvious things. Based solely on the one or two publicity stills that I must have seen accompanying the rave reviews I have been ignoring all these years, I decided to go with the two things that would absolutely have to be in the final episode of The Wire.

1) I figured that there had to be a gun somewhere in the episode, possibly fired, possibly only referenced in flashback. I don’t know how you do a show like the wire and not have some sort of gun somewhere in the final episode.

And 2) I knew that at some point during the episode Yaphet Kotto had to have cried. It didn’t have to be a full force Keitel Cry, maybe just one solitary tear marching solemnly down his cheek, but at some point Yaphet Kotto would have to acknowledge what he had witnessed, and it would break him.

Of course I have no idea if Yaphet Kotto actual is, or ever was, in The Wire but that’s pretty much irrelevant as far I’m concerned. A final episode of The Wire in which Yaphet Kotto doesn’t cry makes no sense to me whatsoever. And if for some reason it turns out that Yaphet Kotto doesn’t end up crying in the final episode of The Wire, or has never actually acted in The Wire, then I do not even want to know about it. Clearly a mistake has been made. I will just hope that by the time I finally get around to catching up on The Wire it will all have been fixed with some sort of CGI special edition.

So that was 2008. While I have no idea what cookies 2009 will bring, I have to imagine that by the time this year's done with us there might be a lot that needs icing.

(And for what it’s worth I fully understand that Yaphet Kotto doesn’t have blue eyes. I simply felt the welled up sorrow Mr. Kotto was releasing in such a powerful scene was best represented by sky blue icing. Poetic license. )

1 comment:

milk & Al Giardello said...

for some reason I felt the need to check on whether Yaphet Kotto was still alive and what he was doing (decomposing or acting). I came across your cookie and almost choked on my tea. Please note that I will be using this as a gravatar or FB picture.

He didn't do The Wire (which I watched on Netflix as if it were my last few weeks on earth), but he did do Homicide. B'more connection.