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Sophocles and the Marine Corps

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It's an unlikely pairing to say the least, but translator/director Bryan Doerries is convinced that the ideal audience for many ancient Greek plays is a military one; that despite the 2,500 year gap between when they were written and the present, they're more relevant than ever. Bryan is a friend and writing partner of mine, and yesterday he invited me down to San Diego to a staged reading he's translated and directed of several scenes from Sophocles' Ajax and Philoctetes. But the venue wasn't some blackbox theater and the audience wasn't comprised of typical theatergoers; it was the Marine Corps' annual Combat Operational Stress conference, in which about 800 top brass gather to talk about how to handle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military. Four-star generals sitting down to hear actors from New York read ancient Greek plays? Yep -- and they loved it.

jesse_eisenberg.jpgOf course, these weren't just any actors -- the cast was comprised of David Straithern, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck, Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, Rodger Dodger), Broadway powerhouse Bill Camp and the talented Heather Raffo, whose one-woman show Nine Parts of Desire put her on the map a few years ago. And these weren't just any Greek plays: Ajax is about a hero who, psychically worn down after nine long years of war, snaps at a perceived insult upon returning home and goes mad, slaughtering animals as if they were men -- and finally, himself. Philoctetes concerns an injured man left behind years ago by fellow soldiers on a tiny island, whose wounds, both physical and mental, have only grown more chronic with time. (Would that I had video of the performances, I could share them here; suffice to say, the plays have aged well.)

bill_camp.jpgThe reason they're so relevant today -- especially to a military audience -- seems to lie in the fact that Greek civilization was not only the birthplace of drama, but was a highly militarized society, in which all able-bodied males were compelled to serve. Theatrical audiences were comprised mainly of men; therefore, by veterans. And the urge to tell stories, to create these dramas, came out of the need to share battle stories with one another. Moreover, Sophocles was himself a twice-elected general in the Greek army; he knew of what he wrote. And the military assembled for Bryan's reading responded with accolades, with heart-wrenching stories, and with a plea: if we can share our stories the way these people, who seemed to share our values, 2,500 years ago did, then we can start to relieve some of the psychic pain conferred upon us by war.

The BBC, AP and LA Times were in attendance; when these stories hit, I'll certainly be posting bits of them.
All the above photos I shot during a rehearsal; the performance itself was in panel format, seen below. Bryan Doerries is on the right, introducing the material.

UPDATE: here's a link to the Associated Press' story on the reading.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.


A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.


Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.


Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.


The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.


Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.


Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]


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