Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Native’s Guide to Boston, Part 3: Harvard School of Public Health, by G. Adams

I'm writing this covertly on a computer in the professor's lounge, high up on the top floors of the Harvard School of Public Health on Huntington Ave. I bluffed my way in past security, grabbed a lab cot off of the back of a chair in the commissary and have been wandering loose ever since.

Now I'm in the place where it happens, where the doctors and professors and best Harvard has to offer let it all hang loose, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes with men and women whose intellect, whose sheer genius, I cannot comprehend.

I'm learning their names. The one wheeling the elaborate sensor apparatus across the lounge carpet, stethoscope gently thumping against the hand-tailored silk shirt he wears beneath his white canvas lab coat is Dr. Barnacle, famous for his work at the Intergovernmental Health Policy Project at George Washington University.

Barnacle orders a pair of the shaved-headed, programmable chimps to open one of the windows that looks out over Huntington Avenue, then shoves the antenna arm of his massive wheeled machine out through the gap, like an enormous thermometer being slid into the ass of the city. He throws the switch, and his large, wheeled instrument becomes a thing of lights and dials, of whistles and bells.

"How is the public health today?" one of the other doctors asks, looking up from his game of Rummy. This is Doctor Puff, and he has been playing a strong game. His winnings-- a pile of glass vials containing embryos, viruses, animal sweats and designer narcotics-- are stacked up on a small table next to his chair. Another monkey with dark glasses and a scimitar stands guard over his winnings.

I've been watching the monkey, and he pulls hits off of Dr. Puff's cigar, when the good doctor isn't looking.

"The public health is excellent, Dr. Puff." Dr. Barnacle replies. His watery eyes flash over the long ticker tape of data that is streaming out from the rump of his machine. "Excellent. Come have a look for yourself, if you like."

Several of them do, but Doctor Puff remains at his game. His opponent, a massive computer mainframe (think 'Deep Blue'), sends a surge of inspiration out through the pigtail wires that are hard-patched into the brain of its avatar chimp. The monkey rubs a long simian finger beneath its pouting lip, before tossing several cards onto the table. Dr. Puff stares at his own hand, as if he could change the suits by pure will. I watch the chimp grin, which means that the mainframe is pleased.The doctors over by the machine all stare out the window, looking down at the street. They murmur and hum in the way of educated men, with the occasional clear remark, such as "That one, there. He looks exceptionally healthy."

None of them pays any mind whatsoever to the data that continues to pour out of Barnacle’s contraption like puss from a cyst.

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