Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pure dag nasty evil?

I don't know. Today I spoke to a boy who I find utterly revolting. He's of indeterminate physical age, although I'd say his moral compass is about what you'd expect from an intellectually gifted monsterously spoiled 6 year old. As a kid, this guy pulled the wings off butterflies, I'm sure. He might well have a picture of Ayn Rand tattooed on his ass. He could have written the Satanic Bible.

I spent far far too long today speaking to him, having a conversation with him about personal philosophy, egoism, the pros and cons of altruistism, the difference between altrusim (which implies sacrifice) and collectivism, the nature of community participation (as a mutually beneficial act and goal), the price of ego driven isolation, and the like. None of this was stated as such. The conversation trudged around all of these topics with him mostly telling me that it is wrong universally for humans to act in a way that is anything other than blindly self serving. I of course gave vehement and varied counter arguments. But he is so committed to the correctness of his view that he sees all others as false, insincere, weak, or low. He still offered the usual platitudes of "people are who they are" but they were peppered with remarks like "but they choose to be that way" and "all humans are inherently selfish, I simply acknowledge this in myself and act accordingly". But they aren't! But you benefit from that!

Large men who think like this scare the bejeezus out of me.

I think I know how Clarisse felt after she talked to Hannibal. Not that this fella's a super genius, evil or not, but I felt a layer of moral filth sticking to me when I was done.

Thank god for friends and other good people I can be close to. Speaking to this boy today made me feel hopeless.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dr. Charm

Do I feel vindicated by the high publicity being given to this story (below)? Somewhat. What I think is especially important is the bit at the end of the article. My belief is that if someone displays enough arrogance and lack of social/personal sensitivity to make remarks like this in his professional capacity, that might suggest deficiencies of other aspects of character. Not that remarks like this are nothing...just that they are sometimes only the tip of an extremely ugly iceberg.

(excerpts from)
N.H. Doctor in Hot Seat Again Over Remarks

By J.M. HIRSCH, Associated Press Writer
August 30, 2005

CONCORD, N.H. - The state is investigating a doctor accused of telling a patient she was so obese she might only be attractive to black men and advising another to shoot herself following brain surgery.

"Let's face it, if your husband were to die tomorrow, who would want you?" the state Board of Medicine says Dr. Terry Bennett told the overweight patient in June 2004.

"Well, men might want you, but not the types you want to want you. Might even be a black guy," it quoted him as saying, based on the woman's complaint.

According to the AP story, the Good Doctor had this to say (an interesting defense strategy):

"That patient is currently in a nursing home completely demented, tied to a chair drooling on herself and doesn't recognize anybody," said Bennett, 67. "She was in pretty nearly that condition at the time she filed that complaint."


Bennett previously was cited by the board in 1995 when, as part of a settlement to avoid discipline, he admitted lying on his 1992 and 1993 medical license renewal applications about being denied hospital privileges. He was fined $1,000.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Outside the Box

My cat is large. My cat is old. My cat has arthritis.
All of which means my cat has problems with the litter box.

Since he's so friggin big, he doesn't fit in the normal sized ones. He hangs one end or the other out over the edge resulting in a mess either way. If he hangs the back end out, well that's obvious. If he hangs the front end out, he does this thing where he sort of rocks forward as he goes which results in a stream arcing from the litter line up up up the side of the box....and out.

In his younger years, he used a large plastic storage bin as a cat box. The bin was long and wide enough to accomodate his bulk while providing high sides as an extra precaution. Now that he's older and has arthritis, he can't jump in and out over those high walls.

I wasn't a huge issue before I moved as his box was on the top landing of the stairwell to my basement. The smell from his increasing number of misfires was not something that entered into the living area, and I could give the spot a good cleaning every once in a while without living in cat stink. Now that I've moved in my new cozy (small) apartment, the box is out in the living area and anything that doesn't go in the box and under lots of litter is immediately and enduringly noticable (scooping doesn't help if he's been shooting over the side).

I've gone through three versions - or is it more? I think three is the more proper number as two have involved only slight adjustjments to other more distinct models - of a box that will accomodate the kitty. So far, none has worked out entirely satisfactorily. All of them have included taking the largest cat box I can find and placing it INSIDE some high walled shell. Various materials have been used for the shell and various orientations of the box relative to the shell have been attempted. While I have managed to protect my carpet, wall, desk, and baseboard heater from friendly fire, I have not managed to find a box that functions in a fully box-like manner. That is, none of my models thus far have truly dealt with the issue such that the cat goes into the box, goes in the litter, and covers it without something escaping.

In the meantime, I'm about to try Cat Box 4.0. Much like Cat Box 3.1, this one will involve a large plastic tub but I will look for one with (a) higher sides and (b) a wider base. As with CB3.1, I plan to saw down part of one side for him to use as his point of entry, but unlike CB3.1, I will NOT saw all the way down to the bottom. For CB4.0, that will not be necessary since the entire plastic bin will be the box as opposed to the protective box "shell" in which the actual litter box was placed. The box in shell model has been my strategy for versions 1-3, but I am finding that although this protects the world around the cat box area from friendly fire, it does allow for another layer of mess (between box and shell). A quiet hidden mess that I don't find until I lift the box out of the shell. For now, CB3.1 is working with a layer of cat litter under the box (in the shell) but still I must remember to not tip it towards the cut side when I change the litter, and I also have essentially created two litter box surfaces for no really good reason. Hence, CB 4.0 will (I hope) bring it back down to litter and waste filled area while still (I hope) providing high enough walls and a wide enough area that he doesn't need to hang anything out of anywhere.

If this doesn't work, I'll be at the point where I'll consider posing the cat box problem online as a challenge to engineering students. Maybe I could get PetSmart, the Humane Society, or the ASPCA to pony up a prize of some sort for the university or student that can come up with the solution. It doesn't have to be a huge prize even. Just a token thing...especially if what I've heard about the rivalries between various engineering programs is true. MIT vs Cal Tech? You know, like the Beaver Cup? I wonder if I'd get any takers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I miss T. This is probably why I'm still up. School started, well not officially but everyone's back and face time is demanded. The return to this routine without T as my partner affects me in so many small ways.

We still talk, see each other, and e-mail. We both still care about each other, I am quite sure of that. But I am very much not a part of his daily life. I could be, I suppose, if I were to take the initiative. But that would mean returning to taking it all the time - being responsible for planning and coordinating nearly all aspects of our romantic involvement, allowing my own work to come second to his ability to engage in those plans, and needing to bite my tongue practically off when he tells me about his family and the inevitable shit they put him through for trying to grow up.

I can't do that.

So I just miss him instead.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


I spent way way way too long in Walmart this week. Some of my soul has been sucked away, I am sure of it. I hate walmart on many levels (oh * so * many * levels). I refuse to shop in that store, seeking alternatives or going without if none are immediately available. Inside the store, it is a non-stop assault on every sensory level. I think there is a psychic assault going on as well, but I can't quantify it in the simple and physical terms like decibels of the booming and ubiquitous walmart tvs or the number of maze like turns they strategically create with their towering shelves full of underpriced inventory. But there I was Thursday, just another lost and tormented soul wandering the narrow child choked aisles of a walmart superstore.

Why would I ever do such a thing, given my general hatred of shopping and specific loathing of walmart? I'm not sure if I was had, tricked, hoodwinked, or bamboozled. Shit, I'm not even sure if I did this to myself. I think I did a little. It seems in retrospect that I trusted too much to social convention, that I assumed what I still believe is a shared general consideration of the other (there's that naivete again). Well, it won't happen again, I am quite sure of that. Not with this guy at least. As the saying goes, trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me. (or in the words of our president "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again")

How did I even end up at walmart in the first place? I met one of our new students for lunch. And over lunch, I volunteered to take him out if he needed to run some errands. He had just arrived from Canada by plane, brining very little with him. He's living in the dread and dreary grad dorms because he can't afford a car here in the states just yet. So here this guy is, on campus, knows no one, without a car or the means to get off campus (we have one erratic local busline here in Nowhereville CT). And (as it turns out) he is without even sheets, towels, and a couple of other necessities. Now that last one I found out after the fact....I figured he'd need things like a lamp, you know, dorm type stuff. When I realized he had no sheets, when I saw the soiled-looking thin bedspread hastily thrown over the bare extra long twin mattress in his dorm room, I simultaneously experienced several conflicting feelings. I felt very bad for him. I felt quite guilty for having been so monsterously annoyed that I had been stuck at walmart while he shopped. I still felt monsterously annoyed and taken advantage of because my feet and head hurt from the hours spent in walmart. And I felt total shock that someone who is even remotely grown up and intelligent enough to get into grad school would fail to pack sheets and towels. I understand the need to travel light, but even Ford Prefect carried a towel for christ's sake.

Post hoc guilt or no, I was and remain highly annoyed that my good intentions to offer a little bit of help had been, at best, misconstrued as an offer to mother this maturity challenged individual. So how did I, a feminist and the least doormatty person I know, end up in this situation? Out of noble intention for a mutually beneficial goal, I contend. But some background is necessary for that to be clear. Otherwise, you might think I'm some kind of frikin' martyr. I don't know the word for what I am (I know there are several four letters ones that have been applied but that's a different topic), but I think it should be something like a confronter. When I see a problem around me, I am highly inclined to address it fully.

When I first started graduate school back in the Bronze Age, I was astounded at the complete lack of community in my department. My shock was provoked by the seemingly obvious functional necessity for even a loose community, as the rural campus afforded no other resources for the new (and possibly international) graduate student. And yet there was nothing.

When I got to CT in July of that year, I immediately contacted my department (well, by "immediate" I mean after I spent a day panicking because I thought I had lost my cat, who turned out to be hiding under the air mattress....the ONE piece of furniture that had not been packed on the strangely elusive moving truck). I wanted to get in there and start doing stuff because (a) I was bored shitless here in rural nowhereville; (b) I had a big ugly house to paint and make homey and while I like a little nesting now and again, I'm no Martha Stewart; (c) I figured there would be important things I should do before school started, like meet with my advisor to discuss the finer details of the program requirements, select and register for my courses, figure out how things worked so I could get the most out of my graduate experience. I don't really know what exactly I was expecting to find when I got in there. I guess I thought there would be some faculty and grads around. I realize now that this implicit belief must have come from my observations at the (state) university where I finished my undergraduate degree. At Other State U., summer undergraduate courses and faculty/graduate research had ensured a year round population. Other State U had only offered an MA in the field of study, and had not been as prominent a school as This State U, so I think it made sense for me to transfer the model of industriousness from the smaller less known U to the larger one.

I was wrong.

When I called, the secretary seemed perplexed by my questions. She explained, somewhat impatiently, that all the information I needed "should be on the white board". I had not yet studied presuppositions in detail, but I knew immediately that her choice to use this term with me was indeed a bad omen. It disturbed me that she believed I should somehow already possess knowledge of how to possess knowledge despite the clear fact that I was the proverbial "tabula rasa". I told myself that this was not necessarily indicative of the climate of the department, that she may simply be one of those not so great staff members who is suffered to continue in her position out of a mixture of pity, convention, and seniority.

I was wrong.

It turned out that the secretary was just one of those people who blandly followed the orders and directions she was given. None of the faculty or current grads had made a point of reaching out to incoming students to orient them to the new department. Therefore, the secretary's attitude reflected this. At one point, the secretary mentioned that I would have had more information if I had been admitted as a graduate assistant (GA). It seemed the grad assistants received a letter of some sort that explained things, according to her. Before learned just how little information was in the offer letter the GAs received, I was pretty pissed. I had been excluded from consideration of an assistantship because I was married to Dr. Bob at the time, and the sexist faculty member who was in charge of departmental assistance (money) had erroneously assured me that spouses of faculty (which Dr. Bob was going to be) had an automatic tution waiver. I felt doubly screwed then, since not only did I not get any funding my first year, but I also didn't get any information that an incoming student should get.

I came to realize that many students in my class were as confused and befuddled as I was, GA or not. The offer letter that the GAs got included only a little information, the most useful of which was the date for the university GA benefits fair where the GAs were able to interact with students from other departments where they actually took the time to inform their incoming graduate students about things like course registration, credit limits and requirements, photocopying accounts, plans of study, ID cards, setting up e-mail accounts, changes of address, and at least some of the details you need to get by even your first week in grad school.

What happened to me was not a localized problem. As I spent more time in my department, I saw other manifestations of a sort of pervasive academic rot. The same year I transferred out of that department, the "big name" tenured prof (30 years?) quit and moved to another university. This place was falling apart, the academic departmental equivalent of the House of Usher. It seemed to be rapidly moving toward a shitty reputation for the department and school, and ultimately my degree would suffer. "A PhD from Other State U.?" people would ask in horror. "They actually have a PhD program?".

Further, this was not just a problem in my department. There were a couple of other programs which looked to be going down the same treacherous path. The tenured faculty can hang on, delluding themselves into believing that things are going ok although junior faculty flee like rats from a ship and undergrad enrollment is (at best) a few thousand bored kids if the department is lucky enough to teach a general studies course. But you can see the effects more rapidly in the disaffected and haunted faces of the grads. In my department's case, the undeniably harsh effects on the graduate students seemed to come from a (theory oriented) department stuck in the middle of an identity crisis that transcended even this university. The old "apprentice" model for graduate training and education does not fit anymore, and yet there is a strange nostalgia for it in some programs. This allows retention of some of more dysfunctional aspects of graduate education and training. The obstinate refusal to adjust the "good old days" of grad life to the modern day reality of post secondary education (the corporate model that is rising in universities around the country) results in a pretty shitty role for grads in any department on any campus unless there are mediating factors like a good chance for private sector job placement in the field of study, a specific faculty effort to reach out to grads (through professional training opportunities or eve just social events), or a rich and vibrant surrounding community to fill in some of the gaps left by the academic one.

Some of this was apparent at the time. Some became clear only much later, after I had changed departments and had found the space to think about and research this issue more carefully. What I knew back then was that it sucks. I don't like it. And I wanted to change it. Of course, I know that I can't. The scope of the problem is massive. I can't make sure the attitudes in higher education will not move so far in this overly capitolist (and now fundamentalist/fascist) direction that there will be no job security when I and my peers have our PhD. I can't make sure that my theory oriented training will actually be relevant even in a contingent, profit driven, applied skill academic labor context. But I believed (and still do) that we each have the ability to help change what is immediately around us. It didn't need to be as bad as it was in my old department when I first got there. All that was necessary was a push in the right direction...the establishment of even a loose community. And to get there we needed better access to information and a forum for informal communication of and about that information. So I decided to work towards those goals. By the end of my first year, I had volunteered to put together the "welcome letter" for new students in my department. By the end of my second year, I had recruited the assistance of several other grads and we were including information about the area and non-campus based resources. By the end of my third year, I had started a yahoo group for grads at my university which now has over 100 students from about 15 different departments (given the decentralization of graduate study at This State U, this really is an amazing feat). I have fliered and stuffed mailboxes. I don't expect that everyone's life is better for it, but I do believe I've helped to set up resources so people can help one another and themselves better than they could when I first came here.

Now that I am in a much more organized and graduate friendly department, I don't have as much to do on the level of orientation and basic information. My department takes care of that. Nearly all of the students are funded, thus the general morale is better. There are social events and even some professional development opportunities. The faculty in my new department do not feel as threatened by the changes in higher education since they do research and therefore are not all and only theory based (for better or worse). In general, things are as good as they get at Other State U. in my current department. But the faculty character in my division of my current department is in a state of transition and it is not as good as it used to be. The old guard changed not too long ago, no one is really stepping up to replace them, and there is a slowly emerging split between the two areas of concentration in my division. I hope it does not turn into a rift, but in the meantime, the students are faced with some rather uncomfortable realities of funding confusion, inconsistent academic policies, unclear degree milestones, and a faculty/student disconnect.

As a result of this, some of us established grads have decided to be somewhat more accessible to the incoming and new students - providing them with information that is absent from, glossed over, or wrong in the limited interactions they have with our new division head (or with their advisors, who get their information from the often wrong new division head). We have also tried to do things like encourage involvement of new grads in social activities such as colloquia dinners and other get togethers. On the other side of our division, the faculty are responsible for this encouragement. Their students thrive in an inter-connected, collaborative environment. On our side of the division, it falls to the grads to do this for one another or live in isolation in our labs, sometimes to the detriment of our research or academic goals (e.g., the "connected" grads have more funding opportunities, more publications, better travel resources for conference attendance).

To be continued.....maybe. Someday.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Need to lose weight?

Sure I say and click on the ad to see how much weight I could stand to lose. I am taken to a diet site where I am asked for all sorts of personal information, weight and non-weight related. I log in as Anna Rexic and give my last known weight of 117 lbs and my approximate height of 5'5". I see that the Body Mass Index "calculator" on the screen has a field for my goal weight. I type in 100 lbs. There is also a field for time frame. Anna's in a hurry, so I choose the shortest options, one month or less. In the space where I can indicate the event I'd like to lose this weight for, I select "wedding". I've heard non-obese people talk about losing weight. E.g., at T's family's house, any gathering that involved female guests necessarily entailed a lengthy kitchen table discussion about weight gain and loss. My choices for Anna's diet profile seem to be in line with the goals stated in those settings.

What is my "diet profile"?
According to EDiets, Anna Rexic's BMI is 20 which is "...Within the normal range of weight for your height". There is a little red box with an exclamation point in it alerting me that "Weight is not always the true indication of your fitness. The BMI represents a range of healthy weight for your height. Your ediets plan will help you fuel your engine and get you to your goal weight without compromising your energy or good nutrition." Towards the end of attaining my goal weight without compromising good nutrition, the website lists daily calorie limits for the goal of a 17 lbs in one month loss (1200 to 1300 calories).

Anna Rexic indeed!
In fact, Anna's (and my) BMI is 19.5 based on the BMI calculators on non-diet selling, non commercial sites (like the CDC). According to the CDC site calculator, Anna's weight loss goal takes her from the low end of normal/healthy to a BMI of 16.6. 16.6 is severely underweight. There is nothing in Anna's output on the EDiet site that indicates this though. I figure a little alert saying "whoa there lady....with a BMI of 20 or less, you need to GAIN some weight" with an ad for cheesecake might be appropriate.

According to the American Heart Association, an appropriate daily calorie intake for someone of my weight with a low activity lifestyle is around 1500, meaning that since Anna and I (weighing in at 117) are already at the low end of normal, there is no way a daily calorie intake of 1200 is going to allow us to not compromise our "energy and good nutrition". The calorie intake designed to shed pounds off an already skinny person cannot possibly allow for good nutritional status. In fact, it seems it's not just daily energy levels that would be compromised with a diet which promises a BMI of 16.6 as the outcome. Dieting like that is life threatening.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, being underweight may present greater long term health risks than being overweight. While obesity (BMI greater or = to 30) had the highest mortality, being underweight was associated with greater "excess mortality" than being overweight. That's right. It seems you'd be healthier to have a few spare pounds on you than to be some bag o' skin and bones. One risk factor involved in the kind of malnutrition that results from dieting when you do not need to is associated with low triglyceride levels. We all want to have low triglycerides and low "bad" cholesterol. You type triglycerides into a google search and you'll find all sorts of info on how to reduce your levels. However, extremely low levels are associated with a much greater risk of death or severe debilitation from a stroke.

I spent a large part of my life underweight. I was one of those kids who couldn't put on weight to save my life. It turned out I was lactose intolerant at a young age, and so all the efforts to bulk up (Drink shakes! Have snacks (with milk of course)) only exaccerbated the malabsorption I was experiencing. I have almost always had a wonderful appetite though, thank god, and regardless of my weight, I enjoy cooking and eating. As an adult, I have been mostly "thin" but not underweight. This past year though something changed. I was losing weight rather quickly despite eating my usual amounts of food. My weight stabilized in June and now I think I'm putting weight back on (I don't own a scale and haven't stopped by the infirmary to "weigh in" since my clothes started fitting without safety pins at the waist). I suspect that it's just really bad IBS and that when I am not in school and teaching, I can arrange my schedule to accomodate my body better. Hence, the food stays in long enough to be absorbed.

While I was losing weight, I was cold, tired, and somewhat moody all the time. Severeal people remarked on my looking unwell. I would try to give them a short and polite version of what was up if they asked, which went something like "Oh, um....I can't keep weight on right now....Sure, I'm eating, believe me.....No, my doctor doesn't know yet...but I'm sure we'll figure it out soon". One thing I found really disturbing was that people I respected actually said things like "boy I wish I could lose weight like that!" even after being told I was sick. By their own observations, I looked like shit, and yet my friends and colleagues (who looked to be of a healthy weight) voiced the sentiment that they would give anything to have my "problem". This drove home just how pathologically we as a culture view weight.

If you want to diet, please choose one responsibly. Your doctor can refer you to a nutritionist or can help you come up with a meal plan that is not dangerous. Or you can look for diet/meal plans through a medically affiliated website, such as the American Heart Association. Don't be taken in by the fads, and remember that a healthy weight or fit body is not a social or cosmetic state. It is a physiological one that comes from adequate absorption and balancing your nutritional preferences and needs with your lifestyle.

A short update - I returned to the diet site (it remembered Anna's profile after I cleared my history, location bar, cache (by hand) , and ran two different spyware programs. That's freaky) to see what happened if I put in a weight that was lower to start with. I tried 115 lbs to start with a goal weight of 100. At that one, it told me that I was within normal range and that I should go back and set an "appropriate" goal weight (between 114 and 129 I believe). It did not say "you don't need to lose weight". Also, what's with that range? Holy shit. If you put 114 lbs into the CDC calculator, it gives a BMI of 19. The upper end of underweight at the CDC site is listed as 18.5. I guess this means the commercial ideal weight is just barely above what constitutes medically underweight. Good to know.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Our laws are based on the ten commandments

The quote above is from an attendee at the recent "Justice Sunday" rally in Tennessee. According to the news story, this man believes "Supreme Court justices try to create laws with their rulings instead of interpreting the Constitution"
Amen brother! This court indicated that protecting states' rights was its priority through most of their decisions prior to 2000 (even when the states' laws went against what some might have seen as the spirit of the US Constitution), but then in 2000 they determined the federal election law overrode state law and policy. Damned activist judges.

Speaking of which, Katherine Harris, former Florida Sec of State (whose decisions in November 2000 delayed the recounts and made such a mess of the presidential ballot recount that the state was left with a constitutionally questionable recount process, which provided the US Supreme court with the basis for their rulings) is running for Senate. Damned activist executive branch appointees.

(excerpts from)
Thousands Fill Church for 'Justice Sunday'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Thousands of people filled a church Sunday night for "Justice Sunday II," an event organizers said wasn't necessarily about pushing for the confirmation of John Roberts for the U.S. Supreme Court, but more about supporting justices who don't have radical agendas.

The second in a series of demonstrations televised for broadcast at churches across the country included in its list of planned speakers U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and conservative Christian activist Phyllis Schlafly.

Mike Miller, 54, of Gallatin who attended the rally, said he believes Supreme Court justices try to create laws with their rulings instead of interpreting the Constitution.

"Activist justices — we're trying to find out what we can do to stop that activity," he said. "Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments."

Full AP story through Yahoo is available here (for now).
More stories on this event
SF Chronicle
NY Times
Washington Post

Where'd this flak about activist judges come from? It seems to have been popularized by the morality freaks in our legislature, most notably, by Tom DeLay.

Who is Tom DeLay?
(Some highlights)
He's a rep from Texas and the house majority leader.
He was instrumental in ramming Medicare "reform" through the house.
He threatened judges.
He's corrupt.
He hangs with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council folks.
He's a directly elected official who continues to serve as Majority Leader because the house changed it's ethics rules to keep him in power. Which means we have no one to blame but ourselves for this. We elected these people.

I just gotta get on the soap box here for a sec.
If you're ever thinking that you're fed up with the political tone of the country, for the love of GOD, look up your federal legislative officials, contact them to let them know where you stand on issues, and cast an informed ballot in those elections. Imagine how different things would be if our senate and house had NOT gone along with Bush and Co. on things like the tax reform legislation from 2004, the recent energy "reform" package, medicare reform, the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq.....

We vote DIRECTLY for these people, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the christian fundamentalists vote directly for these people. Most of us don't even know who our reps are. That has GOT to change, otherwise we can look forward to more DeLays and perhaps someday in the not too distant future, Mr. John Q. Cracker will be correct - our laws will be written, interpretted, and executed by frighteningly smug zealots.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lyme Article and Letters

For an illuminating view of how doctors fight with one another over Lyme Disease, here's an article and a set of letters published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (The American College of Physicians publishes it).

The entire set of response letters can be found by clicking any of the hypertexted letters links above or by going to the November 2002 volume online and finding the heading for "Lyme Disease Controversy: Use and Misuse of Language" in the Letters section. Similarly, the link above for the article should take you to the PDF of that article, but if it does not, you can try accessing it through the March 2002 volume online.

It's interesting although somewhat alarming to watch doctors argue semantics in what should be a medical debate solved by good solid research. Instead, they evoke half understood philosophical terms and notions like "the dichotomy between rationalism and empirisicm" in an effort to invalidate one another's claims, references, and overall clinical approach.

I didn't realize that med school was heavy with curriculum in philosophy these days. Maybe they can get a certificate in it if they read "Atlas Shrugged".

Empirical evidence of lyme disease:
Recollection of a tick bite
"Flu like" symptoms
A big fucking rash

Positive serum values?
"Borderline" CSF test?
(Are those empirical?)

The rash got bigger and took months to fade. I got bit in June. I could still see it in December. I had a positive ELISA test and my Western Blot was positive for a couple of Lyme specific bands which I understand from every doctor I've spoken to means I had a positive diagnosis of Lyme. But according to the CDC surveillance case definition, I did not have Lyme. Well that's silly, right? The CDC explicitly says "This surveillance case definition was developed for national reporting of Lyme disease; it is not intended to be used in clinical diagnosis." Yes, they do say that. But the Lyme Disease Controversy is so controversial that it has spawned doctors who are too quick to use it to dismiss clinical symptoms and signs. I've met the people who didn't think to take a picture of their rash. The test results get disputed a year later. The symptoms disregarded or explained by "stress" (which fits because by now the patient is a wreck emotionally as well as physically). These types of docs are, I think, just too ready to jump in on the "rationalist" side.

I am starting to think I dislike rationalism. Maybe I just don't like armchair rationalists. Are there any other kinds? Chomsky's approach to human language faculty is also similarly "rationalist". That is, it calls for a nearly complete dismissal of observables in building a theory of cognition (language) as they are "unreliable".

I read Aristotle when I was in college. I was not a good student that first time through, so perhaps I misremember the reading. I recall thinking that some of it was extreme, but I kind of liked Aristotle better than that other stuff (Plato, Socrates). One of my classmates said I had empiricist leanings. I guess. I don't have names for these attitudes, these preferences of perspective. I don't presume to know what they are called in books I haven't yet read. But if I allow the doctors' debate in the Annals of Internal Medicine to define "rationalism" for the immediate and pragmatic context, then I am NOT a rationalist. What does "rationalism" mean to these guys? It seems that it means adhering to "fact" in one's observations, perceptions, and conclusions about the world around them (as in, you wouldn't see a black widow spider in the room if it's a "fact" that black widow spiders don't live in this climate). It means testing only "facts", looking for support for those known "facts", and ignoring, discounting, or in other (statistically?) ways disregarding any data that does not fit with "fact".

But if this is indeed the meaning of "fact", if "fact" means nothing demonstrably more than widely or importantly accepted belief, then how does knowledge grow?

Ah hell, I have to get to school.

Make that Eleven

Wow, someone really cares (I'm posting the comment to "10 devil day" as a blog entry below because it's so amazing I'd hate it if it got deleted or something).
First, a question: what did you expect your doctors to do with equivocal test results for a difficult to diagnose condition? I wonder if your expectations for western medicine have outpaced the reality . Second, your behavior in the pharmacy was, in my opinion, selfish and provocative, even as described through your eyes. I can only imagine the real situation was worse. Sorry for the intrusion, and I wish you good luck with your illness. For that, there is hope. For your impatience and unrealistic expectations there is, I suppose, valium.

I wonder if s/he expects me to answer the question...oh wait, it's answered already. Darn.

Dear Anonymous,
My goodness, you seem to have missed the points. Although you've done a nice job further illustrating some of them for me. BTW, thanks for the suggestion about the valium. I always kind of thought I shouldn't use valium except for acute situational anxiety (like claustrophobia in an MRI) but your proposal is certainly more in line with what I've seen of modern "western medicine". Obviously I have a pretty serious case of white coat anxiety now that might benefit from some introspection, discussion, and possibly directed therapy. But it would be so much more simple (and cheap!) if I just go get an Rx for brain candy from a compassionate physician. Can you refer anyone? Are you one?

Consider me won over. The world would be a much more civil place if those of us who obstinately suffer from the intense frustration of refusing to give up our unrealistic expectations (e.g., that our health care providers should actually use the results from even the standard diagnostic technology/procedures to create a care plan with the patient) would quit reacting overtly to the fear of further frustration that seeking treatment for an illness might bring. Or maybe we could stop seeking treatment when we are sick. That would help, right? I know, the discomfort that comes from the frustration may sometimes serve as a goad for us to better ourselves or the world around us, but so much better that we just get rid of that pesky feeling through reliance on medically condoned psychoactive drug abuse and blind trust in our failing health care system.
Thanks again!

Yours in Selfish Provocation,

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

10 devil day

"And I came tearing out of that room with ten devils behind me..." (pfg)
"I know. I've seen them"
Summer, 1998

I had an MRI today. The MRI was fine. But pre-MRI...well, here's the story.

In general, I used to be ok with medical folks and medical settings. This is why I worked as an inpatient medical secretary ("clerk") throughout most of the 90s. The comfort and familiarity I had with the setting was good, it got me a job with benefits in MI, and it had helped to take the edge off any medical procedures I needed when I was younger. All of this changed in my 30s, it changed because I got Lyme disease. I can't ever assume I'll be ok in medical settings of any type, and I'm less ok when I am having any kind of procedure (my definition of procedure means anything where I have to have an IV and/or drink gallons of something that tastes like they use it to wash the floor). I'm at my worst when I have to drive - or in cases involving sedation, get a ride - way the fuck out of my way (because nothing is close by anything in CT) to have a procedure that my rather jaded cynnical perspective on health care providers says will most likely be useless. That is not to say the procedure is useless, but that it will be applied uselessly.

Case in point - the spinal tap I had for the lyme disease back in 2002. Lumbar puncture sucks. The office I had it in was far away. The electricity went out just as the doc pulled the needle out of my back. While I was "recupperating" 25 bouncey country miles away at home, the puncture leaked and I had to go back to the hospital (far away). Was it worth it? It was supposed to help determine the best course of treatment for the lyme, as I was not getting better even after three months of oral antibiotics. It turned out that the test was "not positive", which my doctor said meant we should continue on the course we were on even though thus far that course had not helped one tiny bit. As I was still somewhat trusting back then, rather than believing that they put me through this procedure for nothing, that they were ghoulishly waiting for me to develop a host of neurological symptoms (as opposed to just a handful) before they explained my test results in a less ambiguous manner, I thought "well that is a relief I guess, to know I don't have neuro-lyme. I don't know why I feel like I do, but I guess I'll just keep on the oral antibiotics and I'll get better eventually".

Eight headache and double vision filled months later, when new and not so exciting lyme symptoms started popping up, I was told by my (far away) neurologist that the spinal tap wasn't in fact "negative". I said "But they told me it was..." then recalled no, I was told it "wasn't positive". I dug out the old results and looked at them in detail. And the neurologist was right. It was "borderline". I was put through a miserable procedure which has risks and inconveniences gallore only for my doctors to NOT use the information they gathered from that procedure correctly. Over a year after I first got Lyme, I ended up on a PICC line for IV antibiotics. In the time between getting bit by the tick and gettingthe IV, more than one full year was wasted being sick, miserable, and verbally abused by at least one doctor for continuing to insist that I was not feeling better. I could have just done the bloody IV right after the tap, instead I had a year full of too many doctors' appointments, and lectures from arrogant insecure physicians who wanted to use me to grind their particular theoretical axe about this apparenly controversial disease. As if I cared about what was clearly their personal opinions on the matter. I didn't. I just wanted to get better. I didn't realize that their personal opinions about the matter were so solid they couldn't be swayed by empirical clinical and laboratory evidence. I didnt' realize it was my job to not only advocate for myself and my health but that this advocacy would mean actually FIGHTING with doctors who were obstinately ignorant. I didn't realize that my physicians' personal beliefs were more important than my health. And when I did realize this, I was somewhat understandably, well, outraged.

That outrage is not far below my surface in any medical context now.

I tell you this so you understand that this whole several year long experience has added up to a sizable chip on my shoulder for things medical. On days when I see a new doctor, I am stressed and volatile. On days when I am going for a procedure, I'm probably clinically insane.

So now the MRI. Everyone was pretty nice about scheduling it and all that. And it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I'm a wee bit claustrophobic, something I never knew until I did a different kind of MRI for a friend at the lab who does functional neuralimaging studies on reading and such. I found out that day in the magnet that I don't like being in the magnet. Not one bit. I told my doctor this last week, and he got me an appointment for an "open" MRI. Yesterday, I was advised by the radiology people to get a sedative before hand. So a sedative was called in for me to pick up at the last minute on my way down for the MRI.

Today I got up, debated with A about all sorts of stuff political, academic, and the like for far too long over coffee and breakfast, then had to fly out of the house to make it to the drug store to get my sedative and then down to the MRI facility far far away.

Needless to say, I'm in a rush and the anxiety is setting in. The MRI place is down near the place where I was treated for my Lyme. I haven't been down there since the PICC line in 2003, and I knew there would be sense triggered memory of the horrible Lyme months along the way.

I got to the drug store and there was a small group of people at the prescription counter. A couple with a baby and a somewhat dirty looking man standing off to the side-ish. In fact, no one was really directly in front of the counter. I assessed the situation and decided that although I was in a rush, I didn't want to be rude.
So I said to the dirty looking man who was standing off to the side "are you waiting to be helped?"
He slowly angled his head and shoulders around to address me. He paused and looked me up and down. He looked around me. He looked slowly back at the tech. I was in this NOW NOW NOW mood and so this sluggish behavior was only slowing things down. Yes or no, simple answer. I could feel my blood starting to simmer. He looked about ready to speak, then didn't. He gestured to the pharmacy tech at the counter who had now focussed on me with a "can I help you" look on her face. He looked behind me, above me, then back at me.
Finally the man spoke. He said "a better question would be 'is there any hope?'."

At this point, I really have no good recollection of the exact order of events. From then on, the entire interaction is a series of adrenaline scorched snapshots in my mind. I know all of this happened, but the order of the events is a little vague.

I know I stepped closer to the counter and then said something like "What? Excuse me? Are you waiting or have you been helped?" to the man, and also somewhat to the tech.
The tech addressed me by name, saying, "Just the one script, right?" and started to look for it in the bin behind the counter.
I said "Yeah," to the tech, then turned back around to the man who had been muttering and said "You know I just wanted to know if you were waiting, I didn't mean to cut in front of you -"
He interrupted "But you did. You cut in front of me"
I said "And you were waiting? You were being helped? Why didn't you answer my question? I just came in to get one thing, my valium so I can go get a fucking MRI -"
"And I also" he said. I don't think he meant valium, because of the two of us, it seemed more than obvious that I was the one who needed the sedative. He needed a smack in the head, and I more than anyone in probably a 10 mile radius, really REALLY needed that valium more and more every second.

The clerk pulled my script and said "Do you have ten dollars?" I think she was desperately hoping I did, but no. I had a credit card. Great. We all wanted me the hell out of there as soon as possible, I realized this even then. And I didn't blame her. I handed her my card.
I waited while the she ran the card. I asked her "were you with the man standing behind me?"
And she said "oh it's ok, he's laid back..."
I said "Well I'm not."
The annoying man was standing far too close behind me. I guess people don't realize that when someone is that angry, it might be good not to antagonize it.
From his much to intimate position behind my back, he said, "I said I was waiting and you cut in front of me". Or something like that.

Lest you believe I was saying any of this in a polite and calm manner dear reader, allow me to dispell that. I was LIVID and it was obvious. My only restraint was that I had not reached out and smacked this ugly man standing behind me.

I said turning part of the way around to face him, "When I first came in, I was trying to ascertain whether you were in line, had been helped, or whatever. So I ASKED you if you were waiting, and you gave me some coy (I might have said "fucking" here) answer. I didn't want to cut you off, but what the hell kind of answer is that?"

While I was waiting for the card to go through, I turned around to look at the man. I leaned my back and hands against the counter, mostly looking for his eyes. I wanted this man to know that if he wanted to communicate with me, he had lost his chance by playing the games that older men think are funny to play with younger women. I wanted him to know that if he had anything else to say at this point, it would be fightin' words and he was going to have to say them to my fully hostile and confrontation ready face and not to my back.

Oh GOD did he pick the wrong woman to play games with today. I thought that telling him that I was there for the valium would have possibly been a bit of a warning, you know, like "hi I'm not ok right now and I am trying to be polite anyhow but you aren't so fuck off for everyone's good, ok?". The tech knew. I don't take valium or the likes, ever. Narcotic naive individuals who get a last minute script for 4 valium are getting it because they need to do something that causes them anxiety. And anxiety is easily transmuted into anger and other negative emotions. Your body's already on edge, then there's something that is threatening or hostile (I perceive that kind of condescending male rudeness to women as both) and you're just right over the edge. But understanding this would have meant this man would have had to curtail his little manly shit fit that I dared to even ask him if he was waiting. I truly believe that his attitude started immediately on my asking if he was waiting or being helped the first time, and that the attitude was because by my asking I was questioning his right to just fucking stand there and take up space like he's all this pharmacy tech has to do all day. Maybe she should have been peeling him a grape while he waited for whatever it was he was waiting for. It wasn't his drugs, they were on the counter. I don't really give a shit what it was, in fact. I don't think it matters. I think he was stuck waiting for some reason and thought anyone who came along should stand there while he petulantly stuck it out not letting anyone else get work done or business conducted. And then along came me. In a rush, anxious, and not particularly liking men who act like this even when I'm in the a more charitable and stable mood.

After the tech brought back my card, I said to the man "The next time someone asks you something like that, maybe you can just respond to the question instead of playing (fucking?) games."

I can't believe I didn't break anything leaving the store.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Rhode Island - Small

I gotta get going and get into the lab today but I was just having my coffee and muffin and reading the local headlines. This one sort of grabbed me.
Racial prof
iling study shows nonwhites still searched more often August 8, 2005
PROVIDENCE, R.I. --The latest round of data used for a racial profiling study of police departments in Rhode Island showed nonwhite drivers still were more than twice as likely to be searched as white drivers. But the statistics also showed white drivers were still more likely to be found with contraband.

Full news story here
ACLU report (basis of the story) here

I have mixed feelings about Rhode Island. For starters, I think there is a karmic issue there. The few times I've tried to go to Newport, something bad has occured. I am certain at this point that if I were to actually get there, I might find that I regret it. The last time I tried was the day I woke up with vertigo. I had big plans to go, I'd looked up the cliff walks and all that. We were going to do it. Then BLAM! Sick. I've not felt well since. I've decided to never make Newport plans ever ever again.

Historically, I've not like the state. Growing up on the South Shore of MA, I think I developed some kind of regional prejudice about RI - that it was populated largely by tacky, non-rich people who liked to act rich. I suspect this is entirely based on a series of TV ads for ONE travel agency that had numerous offices in RI. In the ads, a really annoying set of kids grinned and yelled at the camera about how fucking great their family's twice yearly vacations to disney world were. All of them had on Mickey ears. Suffering through far too many of these ads on the UHF station while my siblings and I watched our occasional cartoons afterschool (Spiderman, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets), Saturday morning's Creature Double Feature, or any number of Sunday afteroon movies, resulted in a strong childhood aversion to RI. As an adult, I have to admit that the Crimson Travel Agency ads, as annoying and disturbing as they were, are not truly sufficient grounds for disliking an entire state and it's citizens.

However, with adulthood came layers of awareness that I didn't have as a child. For starters, when driving on Route 128 in MA, beware the RI plates. I don't know, too much salt water in the Ocean state maybe affects the brain. They don't do highway driving well. Further, there is a feeling of sleeze I get when I have driven through RI (usually it's through, once or twice it's been to and from but that was for T's family beach vacations and those have oh so many negative and/or painful associations). I don't know why exactly. The year round forest of lawn signs with slogans like "Balducci for Animal Control Officer" hint at strangely Machiavellian town and state workings.

Well something about RI has always bothered me a little. Honestly, it probably really is just some kind of indelible reaction to the damned gapped tooth exhuberant disney visiting kid in his mickey mouse ears. I'm sure there are some nice and not racist people in RI. They just aren't cops or cop bosses.

(BTW, amusing observation from talking to a cop in my new home town recently. I never realized how hard it is not to say "cop" and various other casual terms for officers of the law until I found myself in a position when I felt I should try not to)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bad enough

As if it weren't. I just ran across a reference to what is coyly described as a Megachurch on another blog. And there's a soap box down here, but first, a Caveat:
I want to qualify this entire post by saying that I am NOT a christian in any sense of the word at all. I was raised in a very catholic area, attended Sacred Heart Elementary school for one year, and did not make any sacrament other than my christening. I attended congregational church for a while in my early adolescence, mostly out of a desire to try to find some kind of positive relationship with my mother (didn't work). Also, we went to Mug and Muffin for breakfast after....mmmmm. I have read a couple of versions of the bible. When I was a kid, we each had a copy of a big fat children's bible. For a while, my siblings and I would take great amusement reading the passage where someone holy says to this guy "Why have you beaten your ass three times?" In high school I was on a mythology kick, reading Irish, Norse, and Germanic fairy tales as well as a modernized language bible (start to finish and if you thought the Iliad sucked, try the whole bible sometime). In college we read the shit out of what I was raised to think of as the old testament. So I am not religious but I am interested in religion and while I never found the bible as compelling as other stuff like prechristian roman and greek religions/mythology, I am at least somewhat non-ignorant about the religious heritage I was raised in. Also, I do usually respect sincere spirituality. BUT! be warned, this post is choc full o'disrespect for church/religious trends, which I do NOT see as being the same as, engendering, or born from spirituality. Not by a very long stretch. Any association between institutional religions popular in western cultures and spirituality I feel is almost entirely incidental if not outright amazing.
Mega-Churches Offer Prayer, Play, Shopping
(excerpted from ABC news site)
March 27, 2005 — Americans are known for their love of "super-sizing" — from French fries to cars to houses — and on this Easter Sunday, many Americans are celebrating on a much larger scale, in huge congregations known as "mega-churches," where people can do much more than just worship. These mega-churches are places where members can not only pray, but work out in a gym, eat at a food court or browse in a bookstore. And they are becoming more popular across the country.
Oh this is my favorite part. Note the Reverend's use of the disjunctive.
The Rev. Jack Graham is astounded by the seemingly unending flood of people wanting to join the church. "It truly is remarkable to me," the pastor said. "I give an invitation every week, invite people to come forward to accept Christ or to join the church. And they just keep coming forward."

Full, creepy story is here.

I can't read it all. I got to that part up there where the reverend is bragging as if it's faith and spirituality (or even community) that's brining the people into the flock. Holy shit, can you believe it? How about maybe it's that they live in the middle of buttfuck nowhere and there is nothing else to do. Or that the communities are so uptight and "family values" that even if they live somewhere with real roads and the infrastructure to support a non-rural civilization, the crazy christofascist sects probably would have driven out most of the modern conveniences or entertainment we who don't live in Crackerville USA assume will be part of every city or well populated suburb. No bookstores that sell "dirty" books with lies about our great leader George WWJD Bush; no movie houses that show satan approved films which provoke in the youth homosexual thoughts, drug use, and gang membership; none of those so called "pharmacies" or clinics which provide items such as tampons and monistat that encourage women to behave licentiously and with wanton excess of their womb (I'm sure condoms are in fact illegal south of the mason dixon line and possession of birthcontrol pills can probably get you a charge of murder 1 unless you can pull an egg out of your ovary...oh, shit I just remembered I had a dream I was pregnant with twins! Eeeeeeek!, sorry for the stream o'c there.); no bars; no unionized supermarkets; etc.

Here's how the rest of the story goes in my head:
church sign
The reverend went on to say that he hopes people enjoy shopping at the church grocery store and outlet mall, which are now open to not only churchopolis members ("Or 'citizens' as we call them" said Jed Cartwright, a trainer at the fitness center in greater Churchopolis and a deacon for pews 101J through 201L) but offer limited shopping to members of the surrounding country as well. Citizens enjoy check writing priviledges, express check out, e-coupons, bags made of purple dyed linen, use of church blessed mules for carrying their numerous packages around the church, reserved parking, and eternal salvation. If a heathen shopper signs up for church citizenship today, he or she can use his citizenship immediately for instant savings of up to 20% off any purchase anywhere in the church with no interest for the first 8 days.

Halleluja! I do believe that our current form of "worship" needs to change (they can start with that term) but I don't think this is a step towards a form of spirituality that emphasizes personal growth, social balance, justice, and harmony. I mean this relative to all of the mainstream religions, not just the christian sects. Wall-Church or Churchopoles (Grk pl?) seem to be where the mainstream religions in this country have been headed for a while now, don't they? Get 'em in, fill the seats, collect the tithes, build a voting block. By all means, keep the flock engaged. Seen Dogma? If you're not catholic, the Catholicism WOW campaign will strike you as surreal. If you are, it is merely a slight exaggeration of a familiar theme.

Is it working? Does it bring people to the church? Yes. Does it bring people to god (whatever that means)? Are people coming there because they are hoping, in the words of the good rev Jack Graham, "to accept Christ"? I believe the answer lies in a quote from a typical churchopolis family. In the ABC story on the megachurches, the oldest daughter of this family says, "It's not like, 'Oh, gosh, I have to go to church and be bored and have them spit scripture in my face,'". No, it is not. She doesn't need to be bothered with shit (just one sound away from "spit" and also a bodily substance) like scripture, unless it's the Book of Paul wallpaper border that lines the nursery school. I guess she didn't notice the Book of Matthew tray liners at the food court. If she had she and the rest of the population of Churchopolis would be familiar with this one:
Matthew Chapter 22, verses 17-21
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

(King James' Version Bible)


I find astrology interesting. Not interesting enough for me to spend lots of money on tons of books and software, trade in my cheap and functional grad student wardrobe for a closet full of Stevie Nicks goes to the renfest clothes, or adopt a personna with a mysterious name like Aelita. I consider it a form of self enlightening entertainment where the enlightenment comes from reflection and deliberation about the generalizations, characterizations, and descriptions that are made as they regard self identity and interpersonal interactions. Crucially, I do not believe much enlightenment can come from literal belief in charts, transits, or forecasts.

From the NSSDC photo gallery

If your interest in astrology is anything more in depth than the info used for pick up lines ("hey you're a virgo? You like soap on a roap?" Ok, well maybe you won't encounter that one much. More likely it's something like "I'm a capricorn - that means I'm a goat. Heh heh."), you might have heard of something called a Saturn Return. If you have no interest in astrology, if you're thinking "Astrology? Right, like I believe that everyone's lives are dictated by planets moving around in space!" then what the fuck are you doing in my blog? Get out!

Back to the Saturn Return.
Your Saturn returns when it moves into the same position it was in when you were born. Saturn is a slow mover, so it takes about 29 years or so for it to get back to the place where you started. General cultural knowlege includes the associations of Venus with love, Mercury with travel or communication, the moon with emotion, and the sun with ego. So what's Saturn associated with?

Here's an excerpt from an introduction to the astrological influence of Saturn.
"Saturn...rules the responsibilities, restrictions and limitations we are apt to encounter, and the lessons we must learn in life...The karmic lessons we have come to experience and overcome in this lifetime are expressed by Saturn, the karmic initiator of the zodiac."

I'm quite sure the concept of the Saturn Return is a culturally relative characterization but there is some sense to it considering, as one site offers, "We live in a culture without (formal) distinct divisions between childhood and adulthood; this (Saturn Return) is a clear one" (parentheticals mine)

I guess my Saturn Return is over astrologically speaking. I have many friends who I am watching go through these difficult years. It is not easy. When I was 27, one friend quite sincerely told me that it was very difficult to be my friend. He qualified it with "right now" but it was hard to hear regardless, mostly because I absolutely knew he was right.

So how'd my Saturn Return go? I guess the things I dealt with, more or less (mostly less) gracefully and successfully these last few years have resulted in some lessons learned. In general, I think the most concrete and useful thing I have gained is a realization that my life is right here right now and not something that will start "when...". As in "when I graduate from college", "when I get into grad school", "when I get a divorce", "when I get done with grad school", "when I get a real job", "when I buy a house", when, when when. This doesn't mean I don't procrastinate anymore. But I don't get to excuse it with the tacit belief that I'm still rehearsing for the big show.

What got me thinking about Saturn tonight though was an entirely different matter. It was that I was thinking about the issue of posting images and photos on my blog and I got all sort of, well, paranoid? I found myself feeling concerned about copyright and public use and the like. You might notice some of my pix coming down or changing to links while I sort this out. I am not sure I feel that it is morally wrong for me to post things appearing in what I see as a public domain and which have perhaps less than obvious restrictions on use. I'd feel bad about posting someone else's personal work without giving them credit I suppose. And it is illegal to post copyrighted stuff, I know that. But some things don't have clear copyright info on them. I suspect that this does not matter in the legal world. If I were to scroll down or mouse over or something I'd probably find the info. I'm not using the images for profit or claiming them as my own, but then does that matter legally either? What's that saying about ignorance of the law? I think about this more though and I find myself wondering things like is posting such images against convention? Will I get caught? Should I care? The answer I've come to is that I probably should, and there is the issue. Why? Because I might get in trouble? Is that what matters most to me?

Which lead me to think "how saturnine of me", but then I thought I don't really think that is the right use of the word. It means morose and associated other stuff. So why'd it pop into my head? I guess because my recent experience with things Saturn related have had to do with cosmic spankings. This has apparently infected my knowledge of the word's relatives, usurping the existing definitions of those cognates. I wonder if the great Morris Halle has a rule for this process?

I find some validation of my lexical reflex in the two definitions below. That is, taken together and with a richer understanding of the influence of Saturn in the context of astrology, I suppose maybe this word is not inaccurate for my thought process regarding posting images.

One definition reads:
"Pertaining to the planet Saturn (archaic); born under the influence of Saturn, hence gloomy, grumpy, sour, and with a sarcastic attitude."
Another, from an astrology site, adds the word has "...a meaning borrowed wholly from Astrology, which defines it as one who has a strong Saturn accent."

So, saturnine. Used to describe one who spends too much time wondering about the roles that social convention and legal definition play in one's principles and personal conduct.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

August 06, 2005

Hiroshima Marks Atomic Bomb Anniversary
By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Writer
August 6, 2005

HIROSHIMA, Japan - Hiroshima marked the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb attack Saturday with prayers and water for the dead and a call by the mayor for nuclear powers to abandon their arsenals and stop "jeopardizing human survival."

At 8:15 a.m., the instant of the blast, the city's trolleys stopped and more than 55,000 people at Peace Memorial Park observed a moment of silence that was broken only by the ringing of a bronze bell.

Read the full AP story

I need something pretty today.

Friday, August 05, 2005

And the winner is...Dukes of Hazzard?

The Boston Globe reports: "Both Dukes of Hazzard, and the new Bill Murray flick Broken Flowers premiere this Friday across the country, and the red carpets have been tied up all week." Oh, which to see?

I am NOT a movie snob. While I didn't think it was a great movie, I did laugh at Deuce Bigalow. However....Indulging anything Dukes of Hazzard related, to me, is to come dangerously near a nightmarish bicentennial brand of hyper patriotic retro-new country wasteland. Writer and director are relatively small and not choc full o'anything but crap. And yet someone paid to make this movie. I do believe it is a sign of the times.

Knowing that there is a Dukes of Hazzard movie and that the Boston Globe staff writers announce it in the same write up as the new Jim Jarmusch movie (devoting three pages of pics and blurbs for Flowers after eight cleavage and whitened tooth filled pages for Dukes) recalls the words from Hunter Thompson's ether drenched observations of a disturbingly similar variety of "good clean american fun" nearly 34 years ago. "The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich. "

I see a long line of fate, national destiny stretching out from then to now, from Las Vegas in 1971 to Dukes of Hazzard 2005. I suspect that a map for this journey could have been read in the bumps, dimples, and craters of Richard Nixon's now deceased ass. But alas we missed our chance. Perhaps now we'll never know what's coming, where this path we are all on will lead to next. I only hope folks like Jarmusch keep doing what they do.

Hamburglar or Grimace?

My sister and brother once posed the following question to me.
Hamburglar or Grimace? If you had to fuck one of them, would you fuck the Hamburglar or Grimace?

I had no idea where this came from. I still don't. It sparked a lively, revolting debate at the time. I thought of it again recently.

I was catching up on the news today, checking out the story on a certain conservative commentator's suspension from CNN. It caught my attention although I don't usually follow the TV news or I guess what I can only loosely refer to as popular media. I do the AP stuff, look up a story on Google if it interests me to see what else has been written on it. This one, I think the reason it caught my eye was because I feel like there's been a degeneration of what the public seems to be willing to accept as serious journalism. I know, another hint that I really am naive. You'd have thought life would have smacked that out of me by now. Golly, I don't know though. I remember little slices of TV news from childhood, and it just seemed like although there was always this sensational side of the news, everyone knew that this type of sensationalism was not to be confused with "serious news". There was a distinction. I don't think there is anymore. Not when a debate on CNN, not FOX, but CNN who at least when I still watched TV touted itself as this very respectable news source, ends with one member of the debate storming off the set in a huff and swearing - not that I have anything against swearing but the conservatives are the ones who are just crazy about the indecency. For a high profile political hobnobbing conservative commentator to swear on CNN, I mean that's like Bush getting video taped dropping one of his daughters off at a clinic to have an abortion or Lynn Cheney publishing a novel with homoerotic overtones.

So there I was reading this story about the CNN commentator, and a quote in it reminded me of another person I think needs to go on the "odious fuck" list. I won't put the name in because the assbag or his numerous dim disciples troll the web for his name I am sure. Assbag makes a habit of not just ripping on politicians, government officals, journalists, or high profile (paid) editorial staff online. He goes out of his way to find small fry private folks who are using indy media resources to express or discuss their views. Assbag seems to like to get all bunched up (and to encourage his readers to launch ad hom attacks in the name of journalistic inquiry) about even clearly very personal and non-pro blogs like this one. And while it might be kind of unique to have a bunch of crazy conservative birth defects' opinions on my health, school, and love life, I dunno, I guess I don't really want all of them to have a link to my blog bookmarked on their browsers.

If you follow internet political malarky of the mass media variety (journal), you'll possibly know who he is (street). I only know of him because this spring he made a habit of insulting someone close to me in his online column (wall). You know, you google your friend who writes editorials for her school paper and your results include christofascist web rants referring to her via some assbag's mass media journal publication. Those people are dangerous spooky psycho and it kind of pissed me off that this guy targetted someone dear to me in his big media smear column.

Well, I've given it some thought and after reading various bios on the assbag, I've decided that among other things, the man is entirely unfuckable. This may in fact be his problem. Perhaps I should start a campaing to send him sex toys? Make the world a better place?

So here are your choices.
If you absolutely had to fuck one of them, who would you have sex with?

a. Hamburglar?

b. Grimace?

c. This assbag?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Big Fat Romantic Comedy

My sister's latest poll is "What are the defining features of a romantic comedy?" A young man she works with said something like "...and there are these guys who do shit no guy would ever ever do" Any feedback would be appreciated and would be forwarded to sister A.

I must now rant about a recent romantic comedy.

It's called Elvis Has Left the Building. I was told it was "by the person who did My Big Fat Greek Wedding". Now I thought that movie had some genuinely funny parts (the Bundt cake scene was great), although I didn't really see the huge attraction of the movie. It didn't speak to me on that many levels I guess. Just a cute quirky romantic comedy that didn't assume the audience is full of lobotomized romantically stunted fuckwads. So I looked up Elvis after watching it. Indeed, the director of Elvis Has Left the Building is Joel Zwick. His past credits include My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Fat Albert (2004), The Love Boat: The Next Wave (TV series), and Full House (TV series). You can definitely tell. So it seems that Greek Wedding's humor was most likely entirely a credit for the writer and occured despite the director.

Here's the synopsis of Elvis Has Left from
Kim Basinger plays Harmony, a cosmetic saleslady who was born at an Elvis concert and finds her life linked to the legend. One day while driving, she accidentally kills some Elvis impersonators and flees the scene. She goes on the run from the FBI and joins up with a depressed cosmetics advertising executive.
(italics mine)

My least favorite part of the movie:
John Corbett's character (Miles), who is smitten with/stalking Kim Basinger's character (Harmony) has a stroke of romantic genius that allows him to come up with the perfect sales pitch for his advertising company's lipstick account and a deeply romantic moment with Harmony simultaneously. You are not sure which came first at that point, which does nothing to enhance the growing sense that the romance underlying the film is a bit shallow. Were it otherwise, I should be able to surmise it was the love that inspired the act, not the fucking lipstick. This is supposed to be about love, not about ads or the appearance of love. I mean, even in the genre of dorky romantic comedy, this moment could have been grounds for a conflict that, through it's layered (and even comic) resolution, would show how much Miles really truly loves Harmony even though they've only had two very short conversations and he's sort of creepily stalking her across the southwest.

When Miles comes upon our heroine changing her tire by the side of the road and singing "Always on My Mind" to herself, you know it's coming. It's just a matter of refraining from hitting the Stop button. He walks up singing along, greets her, explains he is NOT an elvis impersonator, and holds out the tube of lipstick that Harmony left in his car (she used it to draw a heart on his passenger side window forever ago in the movie. Guessing Miles' face is shot such that it's framed in the heart in a later scene? Good call). Miles then takes Harmony's hand and draws a heart on her open palm with the lipstick.

You could feel the sell. The next scene was Miles on the phone to his ad flunky (back in some city, details like this are irrelevant to the writers) played by Sean Astin (eww) who is telling Miles that the heart on the hand is the most romantic thing he's ever seen. See how romantic the hand thing was? See? See? It was romantic! Even ad playboy Sean Astin (imagine) thinks it's romantic. You sense it may even have changed his life, leading him to abandon his wretchedly shallow and unromantic player ways.

I gotta say, I would have shoved that lipstick up Miles' ASS if I were Harmony. Not right away. I am a genuinely and deeply romantic person, after all. But when I found out that this cute ad exec guy who went so far out of his way to sweep me off my feet/stalk me took our perfectly romantic moment and used it as a national ad campaign, then indeed the guy would have been sporting a lipstick suppository.

Not only did this scene imply that the characters were vapid idiots who can't distinguish between sincere expressions of deep emotion and trumped up showy bullshit, it also implies that the writers and/or director think the audience is similarly impaired. The latter offends me more. Believe it or not, I am a charitable movie viewer. I think I might be a touch naive too. I figure sometime even the best intended stuff just doesn't work. Sometimes disbelief isn't that suspendable. Or I occasionally imagine scenes might get changed to suit the preferences of some no talent studio executive with a commercial agenda. The poor writer, I think, poor director. Bad talentless movie executive chomping his cigar and wrecking people's dreams!

I had no sympathy for the writers or director here. Their apparent assumptions about their audience left me feeling dirty and fucked with. I felt like the makers of this film assumed that my summer reading list includes any overpriced glossy with articles like "How to get your man to do what you think he thinks you want in bed without being bossy and unfeminine". Like they believed that I find TV and print advertising to be entertaining and fully intellectually engaging dramatic forms.
"Oh my god did you see this deodorant ad?" I'd ask my friend as we lay near the pool in Michigan.
"The one with the guy with the shirt?"
"Yes! and he's walking but he's bright and the background is dark and there's the grey horse standing there and the guy's got a red rose and Miami vice stubble?"
"Totally, and she's like sitting on the wooden fence dangling a half drunken bottle of champagne between her knees? That was amazing!"
"The fence part was ok, but my favorite part is the Guess Ad background, storm clouds and cliffs and a big shining road coming out of the tunnel...."
"Oh yeah, I thought the beer truck was a nice touch. I know, you just don't see the old Guess ad style anymore..."
"Sure don't. Hey pass me the SPF 1/2 sun oil, I'm drying out"
(sizzle sizzle sizzle)

I could sense the movie reaching out and probing around for the ad-femme mental receptor we women are supposed to have (men are supposed to have these also....for some it responds to Jock Jams style, for some it's better targettedwith a load of refined yet masculine post baby boomer scotch sipping Dennis Quaid bullshit). It slapped me in the face, smeared its greasy hand down my front (reassuring itself that I did in fact have boobs, small yes, but present) and then floppped around in confusion when there was no ad programmed button to push.

My favorite part of the movie:
I was watching as Miles views the spots his flunky (Astin) has created for the lipstick. It's meant to be over the top sexy nudity, too masculine. Miles' displeasure with these ads is not because they suck or are aimed at the wrong market. It's because he's a romantic man.
For a moment, I was engrosed in the movie and I said
"That's just stupid. Besides, guys don't usually buy women lipstick"
My friend A said after a rather lengthy pause "What do they buy?"
"Uh...." I hesitated not sure what typical men buy for typical women but pretty sure for some reason that it was not lipstick.
I was about to say "perfume?" when my friend said "Oh, I totally misparsed what you said. I was thinking 'What, is there MAN lipstick? Do they sell it at CVS?'"
I sat there silently for a second or 20 thinking about this.
Then my friend said "I honestly thought women lipstick was a kind of lipstick for a minute there"