Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I knew the man could be an ass on multiple levels -- that came through loud and clear in everything he wrote -- but I'd never realized just how hard he worked at being that ass. I loved his writing so I guess I was hoping the total fucktard complete jerk persona was an act. No such luck.
Thompson apparently had more than his fair share of charisma -- from early childhood on he succeeded in charming various people into doing amazing favors for him, including keeping him from starving back before his writing career took off -- but that charisma definitely does not shine through in this book. No matter what the favor was, he consistently managed to pay it back by either destroying something his friends valued or by betraying a trust. His personality and ability to manipulate people has to qualify as one of those "you had to be there" things to understand because my reaction over and over to descriptions of his escapades was "why did people put up with that crap?"
Right now I'm only one-third through the book but, after learning more than I ever wanted to know about his long history of spouse abuse (the highlights include him routinely slapping his girlfriends/spouses around as well as his first wife having multiple Mexican abortions so as to not interfere with Thompson's writing career in the early 1960s), child neglect/abuse, irrational violent behavior, acts of vandalism, and just general assholery, I'm already looking forward to the suicide.
Update: Finished the book. Definitely a depressing biography. Thompson had potential, but squandered his talent. It could have been the drug and alcohol abuse, an underlying mental illness like bipolar disorder, or a combination of the two, but once he got trapped in his own "gonzo" image he was doomed.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Twilight horrifies me, but it mystifies me not at all; I know exactly what the appeal is, not just intellectually but viscerally. When I was the age of Twilight’s target audience, I hadn’t had any of those defining relationships, of course, but clearly I had the capacity to find disdain, paternalism, and misused power attractive.Now go read the rest.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The photo below is a view of the overseer's house as seen from the general area of the slave quarters.
One of the more interesting aspects of the history of the Cane River area is the role that free men and women of color played in the local economy. I'd read Barbara Hambly's historical novels set in early 19th century Louisiana, but had never really thought about the legal basis for the existence of hommes de couleur libre until visiting Cane River. The park has an excellent fact sheet on the "black codes," the French laws that dictated the responsibilities of owners and the rights of slaves -- and slaves did have rights under the French.
Probably key to the hommes de couleur libre was the fact that it was illegal for a French citizen to have sexual intercourse with a slave. If a white man wanted a colored woman as a mistress (or even a one night stand) she had to be free. He could keep a mistress; he could not keep a slave for purposes of concubinage. As a result, if a free man was attracted to a woman who was a slave he had to buy her freedom. Once the woman was free, any children she bore after receiving her freedom would also be free.
Not surprisingly, many of the women who attained their freedom proved to be quite entrepreneurial, as did their descendants. A number of historic plantations in the Mississippi delta region can trace their ownership back to hommes de couleur libre, including several in the Cane River area. Melrose Plantation, located close to the park but not part of it, began as 68 acres given to an African woman in the 18th century. By the time she died in 1817 the 68 acres had grown to thousands, her children were rich, and the ones who inherited from her owned quite a few slaves themselves.
Also not surprisingly, given Southern history in general and the tendency of local historical societies everywhere to engage in revisionism and hagiography, the spin the local bluehairs put on the history of Melrose Plantation is that the woman's owner freed her out of the generosity of his heart and not because it was the law. As usual, the popular mythology also includes the line "he would have married her if society had allowed him to."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Anyway, I've been thinking about the economy and how anemic it is. The proof is everywhere that things are a lot worse than the talking heads, the various paid experts, want to admit. The "Help Wanted" section in the Sunday Atlanta Journal Constitution has shrunk to being a super skinny section with the equivalent of 1 and 3/4 pages with a scant handful of box ads for the specialties that are always in short supply (e.g., nurses). This is for a metropolitan area with a population of approximately 5 million. The Real Estate section is also pitifully thin, and the difference in pricing now and a year ago is striking. To describe housing prices as having plummeted is an understatement. Housing values are definitely still in free fall, no matter how much the real estate industry would like to believe otherwise.
And then there are the malls. Sunday afternoon we drove past Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza on our way home from Piedmont, plus a bunch of smaller strip malls and specialty stores. This is Buckhead. We're not talking low dollar retail. Phipps houses Nordstroms, Gucci, Tiffany, and various other "not cheap" retail establishments; Lenox has Macys, Nieman Marcus, Crate and Barrel. . . you get the picture. Both parking lots had tons of available parking space -- that is flatout not normal, especially for Lenox. Once the Pink Pig is up and running (and eating up a huge chunk of upper level of the parking deck by Macy's) finding a parking space after noon on the weekend at Lenox is usually an exercise in frustration.
Then we went to the mall that falls more into my budget range, Northlake, to shop at JC Penney, Sears, or Kohls -- all stores where I know for sure if I buy a gift of clothing the recipient will be able to exchange it for something they actually like with no hassle. Once again, mid-afternoon on a Sunday less than two weeks before Christmas -- and the parking lot was half empty. No crowds, no long lines at the registers, no pushing and shoving to get the last size whatever on the rack. It was spooky.
On the other hand, we went to Lowe's last night to pick up a tree and they were just about sold out. The inventory was down low enough that they'd marked all the remaining trees down to $10 just to get rid of them -- so I guess it's a good thing we didn't make it to the Farmer's Market on Saturday.
Monday, December 15, 2008
So I remembered all the speeches the Younger Daughter has given me and the S.O. about being in the prime heart attack years -- she's apparently been expecting either myself or the S.O. to drop any time since we turned 30 -- and decided to kick the S.O. awake. He looked, as he always does when woken unexpectedly, totally befuddled, but managed to find clothes and stumble out the door, play chaffeur, and get me to the Piedmont ER without running into anything. In triage the heart rate was 189 -- definitely not good. In nothing flat I was on a gurney in an ER cubicle with multiple leads and devices (EKG, oxygen level sensor, blood pressure, IV port) being attached to the body and blood being sucked out of one arm -- over and over. It's absolutely amazing how many quarts labs seem to need to check for cardiac enzymes.
The good news, after 9 hours in the ER, 24 hours in the hospital, and a long conversation with an electrophysiologist -- it wasn't a heart attack. The bad news, because the electrophysiologist got me to admit I've actually had quite a few episodes of a racing heartbeat and the episodes seem to be happening closer together, is I got to learn a new (at least in terms of it being applied to me individually) medical term, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), and I'm also going to get to experience a new (to me) medical procedure, cardiac ablation, in the not too distant future.
Incidentally, I did learn one trick from the handouts they gave me at the hospital --if you ever have a racing heartbeat that doesn't seem to want to slow down on its own, plunging your face into a basin of ice water might shock it back into a normal rhythm. If it doesn't work, at least you'll be wide awake for the panic attack.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I guess the good news is that at least I'm not likely to be confused by any of the technical language in the paper.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Found out at yesterday's staff meeting the division chief has to hand carry copies to various players in DC on Monday (folks at the General Accounting Office, people with the Obama transition team, and assorted other "stakeholders" inside the Beltway) so whatever the document is going to be, it's going to be it by about 3 p.m. Friday afternoon to allow time for running it to Kinko's to have some spiral bound copies burned. After that, I should never have to think about it again.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The Younger Daughter suggested I bring them to Texas at Thanksgiving. She'd try them on, and we'd be able to extrapolate from her size to the dresses' sizes. So I did -- brought half a dozen dresses, and to say a size 16 from from 1960 is not a size 16 in 2008 is an understatement.
Both of these dresses are labeled as 16s. Tammi wears about an 8. The top dress, the pink polka dots, fit fine, although she did have a little trouble figuring out the mysteries of a side placket zipper (she'd never seen one before). (The dress has never been worn -- still has the tags from Gimbels department store -- but I have no idea why.)
This beautiful blue linen dress, on the other hand, although labeled as a 16, is more like a 6. Tammi was able to get into it, but it was obviously small -- among other clues, it flattened her chest into oblivion. Which was a shame, because we agreed it's a gorgeous dress. Fine quality workmanship, wonderful detailing (triple darts on the bodice), and a style that a person could actually wear into work today, if, of course, a person had an office job. Although it looks like a straight skirt, there's actually a deep pleat in the back that provides enough material to make it possible to sit comfortably.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The main house as viewed by visitors from the walkway from the plantation general store to the house. I thought the plastic walkway was a great idea for a wet climate. Water goes right through it, but no one ends up walking in mud. The garden in front of the house is known as The Bottle Garden -- the flowerbeds are outlined with wine bottles embedded neck down. It was kind of a neat effect, and I'm wishing now I'd gotten a better photo of it. The interpretive ranger wasn't able to provide much information (it was only his tenth day on the job so he was still learning the park; however, if we'd been at all curious about Natchez NHP he would have been a fount of information because that was his last duty station) but said he thought the Bottle Garden had been established in the late 19th century. Oakland was owned by the same family, the Prudhommes, for multiple generations, which is one reason it retained remarkable integrity and made it a good candidate for consideration as a historical park. They also drank a lot of wine so had lots of empties to work with.
View from the veranda looking down the live oak allee toward the main road and the historic approach to the house. I'm always fascinated by the resurrection ferns covering the oak limbs.
Outbuildings behind the main house include a laundry shed, chicken coops, and a carpenter's shop. The plantation also included a general store, slave quarters, mule barns, equipment sheds, a smaller house known as the Doctor's House which now houses administrative offices for the park and an overseer's house.
The overseer's house:
The park also includes Magnolia Plantation, but I think I'll do that as a separate post.
Friday, December 5, 2008
"[the document](hereafter The Strategy) takes stock of current capabilities and opportunities to improve to steer a highly distributed nationwide effort that makes better use of our nationwide health information infrastructure to assure health security for all Americans."
It's going to be a long day.
The formatting is still a mess, the pagination is not right, and I've got a project manager who thinks it's useful for me to spend endless hours in teleconferences debating whether or not "member states" should be capitalized when used in the phrase "member states of the European Union." She even had the nerve to put someone else on the computer to do the Live Meeting shared screen as we went through the document and to tell me to just "sit and take notes."
I also got to go back and forth with a scientist who wanted to use the phrase "countries with good public health surveillance capability, e.g., the European community, Canada, and Japan." The man has multiple degrees so must have taken an English composition course at some point in his career. He would have an absolute hissy fit if I were to say something like "infectious diseases, e.g., typhoid, influenza, and asbestosis.*" Didn't he ever watch Sesame Street?? One of these things is not like the others! Finally got him to agree to member states . . . and then we wasted another 15 minutes on capitalization. I finally got pushed into saying "You guys can have all the opinions you want on this issue, but if the Large Nameless Agency style guide says it's wrong, I'm going with the style guide. I won't argue science with you, don't argue grammar and punctuation with me." Jaws kind of dropped -- apparently support staff (and that's how the editors are viewed) aren't supposed to either argue or draw lines in the dirt.
Monday is going to be another day in hell -- nothing but meetings from noon to 5 p.m. -- but that should be it. Then I'll have 4 final days to clean up formatting and also clean out my office . . . Friday afternoon the document (or at least my association with it) is done, and the following week I'll be back in my cozy little cubicle dealing with one lead author at a time instead of committees and work groups.
I quite frankly don't understand why we bothered with the teleconferencing to "vet" comments at all. We received very few, and the ones we did get were extremely minor. One or two people suggested slight changes in phrasing, but nothing that altered the overall content or concept. I have, however, learned since arriving at LNA that the organizational culture here consists of endless second-guessing and fretting about minutiae. And there is a definite addiction to holding meeting after meeting to rehash stuff that's been discussed a zillion times before.
*Update/clarification: the first two illnesses are contagious diseases; asbestosis is a noncontagious condition caused by exposure to asbestos.
The central character, the "him" of His Family, comes across as a self-centered twit, a solidly middle class businessman with nativist leanings (he's appalled by the immigrants who are "ruining" his city), which may be intentional (Poole was a progressive journalist noted for his sympathies toward the labor movement and social reform) but it still makes it hard to get interested in either the primary character or the people around him. I'm already looking forward to 1919 and Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. I read Tarkington in high school, and have a vague memory of actually liking the book.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I hate to think that once again Chambliss's incredibly sleazy, low road, name calling politics managed to bamboozle the voters -- but it's obvious they did.