Mao’s Bath

His last and final marriage was to the Shanghai actress Jiang Qing. When that marriage, in turn, soured, he preferred to avoid a divorce and simply took mistresses, sometimes several at once. It was easy enough for Mao to get them from among his nurses and assistants or from a special army company of dancers and singers.

“Selecting imperial concubines” was how a senior general described it.[37] Mao preferred young, simple girls who felt deeply honored to be chosen by the great man, even to the point of taking pride in catching a venereal disease from him. When his doctor suggested that the chairman might want to stop his sexual activities while the disease was being treated, Mao refused. “If it’s not hurting me,” he said airily, “then it doesn’t matter.” As far as hygiene was concerned, Mao’s solution was more sex: “I wash myself inside the bodies of my women.”[38]


By the 1960s Mao was totally cut off from the country that he ruled, so isolated by his eminence that bodyguards and advance parties choreographed his every move. Sex was his one freedom, the one moment in his day when he could treat other human beings as equals and be treated as such in return. A century earlier the boy Emperor, Tongzhi, used to slip out of the palace incognito, accompanied by one of his courtiers, to visit the brothels of Beijing. For Mao that was impossible. Women came to him. They revelled in his power. He revelled in their bodies. ‘I wash my prick in their cunts,’ he told his personal physician, a strait-laced man whom he took a perverse delight in shocking. ‘I was nauseated,’ the good doctor wrote afterwards.


Pretty Maids All in a Row

Today, while watching the first episode of the second season of Californication, I noticed one of the characters refer to several lines of cocaine as “pretty little maids all in a row.”

Naturally, I thought of the Joe Walsh-penned classic “Pretty Maids All in a Row” and, naturally, I then went on a ‘Net hunt for cocaine slang with which I’m unfamiliar. (In fact, this includes all cocaine slang beyond the word “blow.”)

In my hunt, I discovered this:

Yes, it’s John Landis talking about a movie I didn’t know existed.

So, anyway, I kept looking around, but, if anybody else has called lines of cocaine “pretty maids in a row,” they sadly either tucked it into some secret place on the ‘Net or, worse, did not even bother to put it on the ‘Net.

Perhaps some wise person will find this post someday and explain the reference in Californication. Maybe there’s a commentary track out there where somebody talks about it. Maybe somebody remembers an interview with Joe Walsh where he touches on this important matter. Maybe it’s the first time cocaine and Joe Walsh have ever been connected. Except, of course, that the album Hotel California was itself based on the often drug-fueled excesses of certain Californians. (And, of course, Walsh has spoken publicly about his past drug addiction.)

Man with Broca’s Aphasia

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Most neuroscientists would agree that the foundations of modern neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience were laid by the French surgeon, anatomist and anthropologist, Paul Broca, in the 1860s.

Broca was consulted about a 51-year-old patient by the name of Leborgne with multiple neurological problems, who had been without any productive speech for many years. Every time Leborgne attempted to utter a phrase or respond to a question, he could only produce a single repetitive syllable, “tan”. He could vary the intonation of the sound but was not able to produce any recognizable words or phrases. Broca saw Leborgne’s lack of speech as a test case for the question of language localization in the frontal lobes, since the patient clearly had no productive language. Leborgne died of his ailments several days later and, at autopsy, a lesion was found on the surface of the left frontal lobe as Broca had suspected.

A few months later, Broca encountered a second patient, Lelong, who also exhibited reduced productive speech as the result of a stroke 1 year before. This 84-year-old patient could say only five words, “oui” (“yes”), “non” (“no”), “tois” (a mispronunciation of “trois” (“three”)) which he used to represent any number), “toujours” (“always”) and “Lelo” (a mispronunciation of his own name). At autopsy, Lelong was also found to have a lesion in approximately the same region of the lateral frontal lobe as the first case, and Broca reported it to the Anatomical Society as an important case, confirming the localization of speech to this area.


The Lady Eve

This movie is about a “scientist” who falls for a grifter.

There are some nice moments, like when Barbara Stanwyck’s character seduces Henry Fonda’s character on a swanky cruise:

This is a roughly 4-minute scene and it’s easy to imagine impressionable men of any era falling under Stanwyck’s spell.

The premise involves Fonda’s character repeatedly falling (yes, both literally and figuratively) for Stanwyck’s, echoing devices in at least two other movies: Random Harvest and Vertigo.

Unfortunately, unless one has a fondness for the actors, it’s difficult to see what more this one has to offer. The “comedy” consists primarily of Henry Fonda tripping over things or having various foods and beverages dumped on him.

Yes, here he is, slipping in mud. Yes, he is a grown man. He has supposedly spent time in many wilderness settings. Presumably, he has stepped in mud before.

Here is Eugene Pallette, portraying Fonda’s father, acting “comedically” (i.e., like a young child with moderate mental retardation):

He’s hungry, you see, and so he must violently slam these metal lids together and against the table repeatedly in order to let his servants know that he is hungry.

As a final insult, the only science the movie attempts, it doesn’t even bother to get right. In this example, Fonda’s character asks a servant if the servant has seen an escaped snake. The servant says that he happily hasn’t and the camera then, of course, pans down to his feet, one of which has a snake coiled around it, completing a gag that I imagine must’ve seemed very sophisticated to Pleistocene primates:

Jonathan Crowe, a fellow film aficionado (who also happens to be a snake aficionado) writes the following:

[O]nce Pike has returned home, he asks his butler whether he’s seen a Crotalus colubrinus. (“With pink spots,” Muggsy adds.) “I rejoice to say that I have not, sir,” the butler replies, walking away — with what appears to be a Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) wrapped around his ankle. Crotalus colubrinus is not only imaginary, it’s an oxymoron if you know your Linnaean binomials.


Now, as it happens that I do not know my Linnaean binomials, I visited a site where one can look up such things. There, I found that crotalus is a genus name meaning “clapper” that is used for venomous pit vipers and colubrinus means “snake-like.” I’m not sure why this is an oxymoron. I am hopeful, however, that some herpetologist will stumble across this essay someday and explain it.