Today’s Google Doodle commemorates the 104th birthday of Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. She was an X-ray crystallographer (that’s also my field of expertise) who solved the structures of a number of biologically important molecules, including Vitamin B12, cholesterol, insulin, and penicillin. Her structure of Vitamin B12 confirmed the presence of a cobalt-carbon bond, which was at the time a fairly unique feature.
I encountered Dr. Hodgkin twice during my doctoral years. First, I spent two months at the crystallography lab in Oxford, which was her home base. Though she was mostly retired by that time, she was known to haunt the lab on occasion and, on one memorable day, was said to have been “fixing” one of the pieces of scientific equipment with a hammer. A couple of years later, she was awarded an honourary doctorate from my alma mater, and my PhD advisor was her sponsor and host. She was in her mid-70s and traveled in a wheel chair when any distance or difficulty was involved, but she was still sharp. One afternoon during her visit, my adviser put me in his office alone with her and told me to regale her with my thesis research. It was a warm day, August most likely, and the room was small and warm. After a few minutes, it seemed to me that she had nodded off. So, my question was: do I stop and wait for her to come around again or plow ahead? I chose the latter, never quite sure if she heard anything I was saying. Later, my adviser reported that she had told him I was “a sharp lad,” so I guess she heard something.
April may be the cruelest month, but May 2014, it seems, is the year that everything expires for me: my car registration, my vehicle inspection, my driver’s license and my passport. Also, I received on Friday my first ever jury duty summons to which I can legally attend. I got one not long after I moved to Texas, but as a non-citizen I couldn’t go. I’m sort of looking forward to it, although my wife assures me that as soon as they hear I have a PhD I’ll probably be dismissed.
We had a movie marathon on Saturday. First we saw Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Brolin is a prison escapee who insinuates himself into the house and life of Winslet and her 12-year-old son over the holiday weekend. He’s in prison for murder (the backstory behind that is eventually revealed), and he’s moderately threatening, but only when necessary, and the three people bond in unexpected ways. It’s beautifully filmed, perhaps a tad schmaltzy, but we enjoyed it.
Next, we watched August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, hell, just about everyone in Hollywood. It’s number one redeeming feature is the fact that it has a male character named Beverly, although he isn’t in the film long. His disappearance brings this uber-dysfunctional family back together and by the end of the extended visit, just about everyone is in a far worse situation than when they arrived. This is Tennessee Williams country relocated to Oklahoma, with Streep off her head because she’s taking just about every -pam and -one in the pharmacy book. She’s shrill, mean, confrontational and sometimes just bug-shit crazy. She has three daughters (played by actresses named Julia, Julianne and Juliette—that must have driven the director bonkers), one who is currently separated, one who is dating someone ill-advised (even more ill-advised by the end of the film) and one who is engaged to a creep. Her sister is played by Margo Martindale, and her brother-in-law by Chris Cooper. Granddaughter Abigail Breslin is in full-on rebellion mode. You have to admire the acting, but any sane person would have checked out of that madhouse during the first meal, when things started getting particularly shouty for the first time. Anyone who stayed after that deserved what she got. A little bit exhausting to watch.
Finally, we saw Dallas Buyer’s Club, starring the gauntest of gaunt Matthew McConaughey as a not very likable grifter who is infected by HIV during heterosexual sex with a junkie. His bigotry and homophobia (and that of all of his friends) is the touchpoint for the film: he can’t stand having a disease where being gay is the initial assumption. Jennifer Garner plays a doctor involved in AZT trials, but McConaughey can’t get on the program, so he starts out by stealing AZT, even though he has his doubts about the drugs efficacy. He goes to Mexico and starts bringing back unapproved drugs. He can’t sell them, so he sets up a “club” to the members of which he gives the drugs for a $400/month fee. This puts him at odds with the FDA, the DEA, the IRS and the pharmaceutical company trying to make big bucks off AZT. His unlikely colleague is a transvestite who goes by “Rayon” played by Jared Leto. It wouldn’t have been half the story if McConaughey’s character had been a nice guy from the git-go. Seeing him struggle with accepting the nature of most of his customers and eventually sort of kind of coming around is the film’s core. The best of the three.
We also caught up on The Americans, a show that really benefits from binge watching. Can’t wait to see what happens in the final two episodes. I watched the first episode of Resurrection, which seems like a remake of the French series The Returned, but isn’t. Quite good.
I was really impressed by the shooting skills of some of the people on The Amazing Race. That challenge would have been the death of me, I think (or, perhaps, of anyone standing nearby). It would have been nice to see the country singers come in first for a change—they really earned it and would have done so if not for a random wrong turn (directions have never been their strong suit). Still, should be an interesting rush to the finish line.