Monday, February 27, 2012

"Saving Face" takes Oscar® for Best Documentary Short

Saving Face tells the stories of two acid-attack survivors: Zakia, a 39-year old whose husband threw acid on her after she filed for divorce, and Rukhsana, a 25-year-old whose husband and in-laws threw acid and gasoline on her, then set her on fire.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad, put his London practice on hold to return to his home country to help Zakia, Rukhsana and other victims. Proving that attack by sulphuric acid is neither isolated nor unique to Pakistan and south Asia, Dr. Jawad made news for restoring the face of British model Katie Piper, victim of an acid-throwing in London in 2008. But key to a crucial disparity in cultures is that Ms Piper's attackers are serving life in prison, and she has found her way back, however excruciatingly, to a fruitful life.

Nicholas Kristoff has been trying to bring attention to this barbarity for some years, writing in the New York Times that in spite of intermittent and wan efforts at increased controls, it is still “easy in Asia to walk into a shop and buy sulfuric or hydrochloric acid suitable for destroying a human face.” Says Kristoff, “The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.”

Directed by Oscar® and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Daniel Junge and Emmy®-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Saving Face is a powerful look inside Pakistani society, and the ongoing legal and political efforts to allow desperately needed change. “We want to dedicate this award to all the heroes on the ground working in Pakistan,” said Ms. Obaid-Chinoy.

Saving Face  airs in the United States and Canada on HBO, Thursday, March 8, at 8:30 pm.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Face Transplant as Hero's Journey

Dallas Wiens
Images of 25 year-old Dallas Wiens are all over the Internet, especially in unguarded contexts that invite repellent invective in stupid comments. But Raffi Khatchadourian, writing in The New Yorker recently, recounts Wiens’ riveting story as a hero’s journey—how he went from handsome wrong-headed teen to philosophical Melon Head, to heroic recipient of the first full face transplant in the U.S. How the arc of a young man’s journey became a crucible for intrepid scientists and human possibility. His grace in survival, his willingness to hang on against all odds became an inspiration, and the impetus behind medical miracles that came together around him.

Scholar and noted mythologist Joseph Campbell taught that all peoples in all times idealize human potential in a “Hero’s Journey":

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a plastic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, has led the surgical team that has performed all of the full face transplants in the United States. Pomahac explains, “Full face transplantation include the forehead, eyelids, nose, lips, chin, and cheeks, with or without underlying    bone… [and] has been considered nearly impossible, because of the complexity of the blood supply—as well as ethical, psychological, and social implications."

In 1997—the year, incidentally, that doctors had to excavate my own face to get at a fast-growing bone cancer in the sinus space behind my right cheekbone—the hot action thriller was a fabulist brain teaser called Face-Off: Bad-guy Nicholas Cage switches faces with good-guy John Travolta, effectively becoming each other for the balletic chase and spectacular explosion of those climactic cigarette boats. In the end, the bad guy dies and the good guy gets Travolta’s face back. It was diverting and preposterous.

Now, a total of 18 patients have full facial transplants. 
And it is always a hero’s journey. 
Thanks to Mr. Khatchadourian and The New Yorker for giving Dallas Wiens, Dr. Pohamac, and all the others, the epic context they deserve.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


In her new book “That’s Disgusting; Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion”, psychologist Rachel Herz writes that DISGUST is one of “the six basic human emotions”. In fact, DISGUST itself has become a hot topic among neuroscientists and behaviorologists alike. James Gorman, in a recent Science Times article, gives a handy overview of the "disgustologists", psychologists, neurologists and anthropologists who are finding implications moral, evolutional, and emotional in the phenomenon of DISGUST per se.
Apparently it affects us at levels both amygdalar and cerebral, hormonal and aesthetic, from our diet to our choice of mate and/or political affiliation. Author Hertz writes that DISGUST is a “cognitive emotion”— i.e., though universally experienced, it is not innate but learned, and culturally conditioned. That is, we’re not all disgusted by the same things. Still, we know DISGUST when we see it.
It is the signature expression of Roman water spouts and Medieval gargoyles; in 1870 Charles Darwin explored the expression of DISGUST—why it is so universally recognized, what that may mean to us and say about us—in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.”  

Drawing upon his observations of his own children, and citing the documentary photographs of Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne he described the face of DISGUST as like that when “one expels some horrible-tasting substance from the mouth.” Furthermore, "...the protrusion of the tongue in letting a nasty object fall out of the mouth, may explain how it is that lolling out the tongue universally serves as a sign of contempt and hatred [pg. 274]." 

The Facial Action Coding System [FACS] describes the “essential actions of one kind of DISGUST” more succinctly. Disgust consists of, in the upper face, AU9 [a wrinkled nose]… AU 4 [eyebrows pulled down]… AU 7 [lower eyelid is tensed]… AU 6+AU7 [eye opening narrowed]… AU 41 [upper eyelids relaxed]… AND, in the lower face, AU 26 [mouth open]… AU10+15 [upper lip drawn up, lip corners depressed]… A turn of the head is consistent with avoiding something distasteful.

Thirty-five years ago, psychologist and facial micro-expression expert, Dr. Paul Ekman was a pioneer in the study of facial expression. Identifying about three thousand facial muscle movements, individually and in combination, Ekman compiled 500 pages of notes into a catalog of human emotion, now widely used by neuropsychologists, police forensic departments and cgi animators. 
Dr. Ekman himself has entered popular culture as the model for Dr. Cal Lightman (played by actor Tim Roth) of the Fox TV series “Lie to Me”. Says Ekman: "DISGUST expressions are often displayed as a commentary on many other events and people that generate adverse reactions, but have nothing to do with the primal origin of DISGUST as a rejection of possible foodstuffs..."

How do YOU read these facial expressions?
Candidate Newt Gingrich, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Candidates Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum,  pictured here with Random Voter
Let's look for them this election year.