Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Aging Brain

 Aging isn't pretty. Nor is the June 13 report from the field by scientists working on research and policy matters. (Marilyn Albert of Johns Hopkins; Dr. Reisa Sperling from Harvard and beyond;; Dr. Richard Hodes of NIH's NIA.) Alzheimer's  or AD, as it is known, is 70 percent of dementia in older persons, either alone or in combination with other diseases. Populations are aging; numbers will go up. Among so-called normally aging people  65 years and older, some 32 % show a 'significant amount' of the brain's amyloid plaque associated with the disease. And there is evidence the proclivity for getting AD begins much earlier since 15 years can elapse between the time when signs are discovered and the disease becomes full blown. One third of the current generation of baby boomers now turning 65 have AD or are at risk. At age 85 or older, nearly one half of them will "most likely" have AD. The burden on society is practically incalculable.
The panel speaking at AAAS  indicated that research is way ahead of treatment, and the policy field is up for grabs. There is no cure for AD at the moment, so the best advice is to pursue the same-old same-old health preventative regime : move a lot, eat less, stay mentally and socially active. Delaying onset for even 5 years would reduce Medicare costs by as much as 50 %, the estimate goes. But how we do that is, of course, open to question. More clinical trials are needed, and they are expensive, and the money isn't there unless chair of a key committee has a relative affected. Or so it would seem.  Ronald Reagan can't carry the banner anymore.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Write What You Know

The nonprofit 826DC organization is inspirational: in addition to providing after school tutoring in its Columbia Heights office, it turns young people into published writers and gives them proof their personal lives matter. George Pelecanos is inspirational: his conscience drives him. The two joined up a while ago after a simple appeal from an 826DC board member waiting in line for the noted author's autograph on his umpteenth book about Washington's underworld (for lack of a better term).
At a June 7 fundraiser for 826DC, GP repeated his mission - to write about what he knows best (just like 826DC students do). In his case, a special best as son of a Greek diner owner where he began working at age 11 and then ran the place when his father got sick. (The diner became today's C.F. Folks on 19th St. NW next to the Palm, a lobbyist and politicians hangout.) GP isn't much interested in politics, he says. Not cynical, just that he "doesn't like to write about them." He has more feeling for the characters he knew during the years he spent working  blue collar jobs to pay the rent. His first book came out when he was 31. It was the first book he ever wrote.  His latest, "What It Was," out in January, was written "in secret - outside my regular contract. I just wrote it and sent it up to New York." 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

George Bellows Isn't Only About Boxing

  George Bellows? You mean that guy who did those famously ferocious paintings of boxers fighting it out in the ring? No, I mean Bellows the author of many stunning portraits, especially of women and especially the commanding oil of his wife Emma at the piano. A nude in purposeful imitation of Manet. And the "Little Girl In White.' Isn't that one a bit reminiscent of Sargent's austere lady in white?  Think again. Look carefully to find out she was a child laborer who did the laundry in his New York building. She is a young beauty who might have been posing prematurely for her debut.
Bellows died in 1934 - of appendicitis at age 42 -perhaps too soon for his reputation to be established as one of the country's great artists on a par with his friend Edward Hopper. He may even have been more versatile - certainly more accessible - than Hopper, both of whom, curiously enough, portrayed some of the more sober and dispiriting sides of urban life while finding personal solace in rural and oceanside retreats. The National Gallery of Art is doing its best to make amends with the first comprehensive collection of his work in decades now on its walls from June 10 to October 8.
 The banner advertising the West Wing show should rightly puzzle anyone who thinks of Bellows as mainly an 'illustrator' of fight scenes, masterpieces though they may be. His social conscience was as remarkable as his skill. He did many large groupings of the 'lower classes' at work and play -  yet he insisted that art should not be formed by political activism. He drew and painted what he saw around him with a refreshing intensity, the chattering (upper) classes - so prominent in his day - be damned.   For sheer empathetic horror, reflect on works illustrating the horrors of racism and war.