Saturday, August 27, 2011

It must have been the curry

Now I know how the patients in the case reports I edit must feel.

Gastroenteritis. Killer gastroenteritis. Enteritis that had me perched on the throne for hours on end clutching a wastebasket, losing it from both ends,  thinking this was going to be a remarkably undignified way to die* and wondering just how long it would be before anyone discovered the body. How many times would the phone go unanswered before the S.O. called the manager to ask him to check on me? He's still up at the retirement bunker, and we're past the stage in our relationship where we feel the need to talk to each other every day just to hear each other breathe.

Until last night I didn't know it was possible to puke so violently it could feel like I was going to break a rib or two in the process. To say I feel purged. . . there's definitely no excess choler** left in my system at the moment.

Odds are I got hit by a norovirus, but the question is from what? Much as I'd like to blame the curry because it was the last thing I ate, I know the time lag between it and the near death experience was too short. Norovirus causes most gastroenteritis, but it usually takes 24 hours or longer from exposure before the symptoms kick in. The other possibility would be a staph infection from my yogurt, but that just seems so highly unlikely. . .

On the other hand, symptoms for an enteric staph infection do include rapid onset and lightheadedness -- and lightheadedness and dizziness were actually the first two things to hit. And the good news is that whatever it was appears to have come and gone fairly quickly, also typical of enteric staph. I fell asleep wondering if I was going to have stagger down the hall one more time, and woke up 6 hours later feeling more or less human -- although my throat does feel like it was sandpapered.

*Ancient joke: I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car. . .

** From the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, written in the 12th century:

If Choller do exceed, as may sometime,
Your eares will ring, and make you to be wakefull,
Your tongue will seeme all rough, and oftentimes
Cause vomits, unaccustomed and hatefull,
Great thirst, your excrements are full of slime,
The stomacke squeamish, sustenance ungratefull,
Your appetite will seeme in nought delighting,
Your heart still greeued with continuall byting,
The pulse beate hard and swift, all hot, extreame,

Your spittle soure, of fire-worke oft you dreame.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where's my wallet?

Saw this over at the Rude Pundit. Definitely a step above "Homeless - Please Help."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How poor is poor enough?

Okay. I had said I wasn't going to think about politics, policy, or bloviating tinfoil hat types this weekend. I was going to purge my mind of all bad thoughts and just go to a happy place for a day or two. Then I made my usual weekend mistake. I turned on C-SPAN.

First up after open phones? A person from the Heritage Foundation who, in essence, was saying it's okay to shred social safety nets because you know what? Poor people in this country aren't really poor. Most of them are still living indoors and enjoying the benefits of being able to refrigerate perishable food. Jon Stewart ripped into this report a few nights ago on the Daily Show, and other bloggers have been going after it since these talking points started making the rounds on Hannity et al. -- "hey, the poor aren't that bad off -- they're not openly starving." "Instead of worrying about all those poor people, we should be proud that our poor people would be considered upper middle class in Europe."

You know what the Heritage mouthpiece was apparently basing a fair amount of that last bit of truly bizarre reasoning on? The fact that Europeans don't live in McMansions -- the average square footage of the typical European home is considerably smaller than that of the typical American (this isn't exactly news to anyone who's ever watched "Househunters International," although the American obsession with the en suite bathrooms and double sink vanities is creeping into newer construction globally). The fact that most European cities are really, really old compared to American ones and have always had to deal with higher population densities couldn't possibly have affected construction or living spaces -- the difference is solely the result of Americans always being better off than anyone else anywhere on the planet. We are number one. Even our poor people live in castles. And pigs can fly.

The other thing that struck me was that once again all the demographic information provided tended to be about minorities (x% of African Americans are poor, x% of Hispanics) without mentioning at all what percentage of the overall population those groups consitute provided more evidence that the reich wing loves to play to the racist fears of its base. You know, if one out of every 3 African Americans lives in poverty, but African Americans are only 12% of the total US population, that would make them a pretty tiny percentage of the folks relying on Food Stamps or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Ditto Hispanics -- if they're now 14% of the total US population, and they have a poverty rate similar to African Americans, then it's about the same -- 4 to 5% of the total persons in poverty. So if you take that 4% plus 5% and maybe round it up to 10% to allow for other nonwhite groups (Native Americans, for example), that would mean 9 out of every 10 people who are poor are also white. Ninety percent of the useless slackers on the dole, the folks too lazy to pull themselves up by their bootstraps because they're too busy enjoying the good life with their refrigerated food, are not minorities. [Note: percentages for US population breakdown are from the 2010 Census, and I remember the Reptile person saying 33% of blacks live in poverty. Hispanics are a guess, so consider the numbers theoretical. Bottom line is still that most poor people are white, but no one wants to admit that -- and the MSM cooperates in perpetuating the illusion only minorities are poor by almost always focusing on blacks or Hispanics when it covers anything related to programs like WIC or Food Stamps.]

I am totally convinced the Reptile people want to turn this country into Haiti. Or worse. This latest set of "fuck the poor, they're not all dying from starvation yet" propagandizing did nothing to change my mind.

Trying not to think about politics

Instead I'm going to focus on the fact my cactus is blooming for the first time in about 12 years. It hasn't been particularly healthy looking since it got hit with overspray when the painters did the outside of the patio fence 4 years ago, but nonetheless this year it decided to bloom. I'm going to take this as a sign it's looking forward to leaving Atlanta as much as I am.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Large Nameless Agency about to star in movie

If this trailer has me thinking about living in a bubble and never talking to another human being, I wonder just how frightening the movie itself is going to be? They did actually film a scene or two here at LNA, so I'm a tad curious as to what the film itself will be like. Supposedly no zombies, though, which I'm sure is going to disappoint many audience members.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The place no one is supposed to know about

I found this photo while going through some files from my NPS days. The site is in a remote location, relatively inaccessible and out of the way in a park I'm not going to name, and is one of those things that's kind of sliding into local folklore, the tiny concrete village that looks as though Smurfs have set up housekeeping in the wilderness.
I wonder if it's still there? It's been about 7 years since I last saw it, and rumor had it that if the park superintendent ever figured out where it was, those tiny Smurf houses would become mobile homes.

And I've always also wondered about who'd take the time to backpack in either sacks of Quickcrete or shoebox-sized house-shaped lumps of solid concrete, but people have carried stranger things while camping.

Another reason to stick with the dead tree editions

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One less clown in the car

I just heard via C-SPAN that Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. I'm not sure if the proper response is relief or regret. Pawlenty never gained much traction, probably because he comes close to being sane. At this point in the competition, the loonier the candidate, the more the extremist wing of the Republican party seems to love that person. End result? Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll.

Pultizer Project: The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936-1941: The Grapes of Wrath, The Harvest Gypsies, The Long Valley, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Library of America)Okay, it's confession time. I found another Pultizer winner that I flat out could not finish. Maybe my mistake was checking out a collected works book instead of the novel by itself, because by the time I got through the short stories I was already feeling less than enthusiastic about Steinbeck's work. People trapped in loveless marriages, murders, infidelities, beautiful women who turn out to be really, really creepy. . . There is a lot of misogynism in Steinbeck's work, and sometimes it's really thinly veiled. And then I got to the Dust Bowl and the Joads.

The Grapes of Wrath has a plot line that most people are familiar with: the Joads are a poor tenant farm family from Oklahoma that get pushed off the land when drought hits in the 1930s. Like many of their contemporaries, they decide to head for California in search of jobs. Much suffering ensues. Elderly grandparents drop dead along the way (shades of Imogene Coca vacationing with Chevy Chase), husbands abandon wives and kids, babies are stillborn, and conditions in general are horrific.

Of course, the reader is warned up front this is going to be a grim, grim book: the first chapter is devoted to detailed descriptions of the corn dying from lack of rain, and even the weeds giving up and shriveling into dust. Then we're introduced to young Tom Joad, an obnoxious ex-con and a drunk. Turns out Tom's just been turned loose early from the state penitentiary where he'd been serving time for a homicide. It's pretty obvious the Joads' lives were a tragedy long before the Dust Bowl hit; the migration to California and the hell they experience there is just the latest in a long series of bad things they've suffered through.

I think I could have coped with the initially repellant characters like young Tom Joad and the grimness if Steinbeck hadn't decided to indulge in writing dialect. Why, oh, why do some authors seem to think it adds authenticity to have their poor or their ethnic characters speak in dialect?! Maybe the author thought it would make it seem more like a novel and less like propaganda if he added a layer of color to the narrative. I don't recall Steinbeck indulging in dialect in other books, like East of Eden, so maybe he outgrew it. Some authors can pull it off, but in this particular book all the folkiness and dropped consonants did was add another layer of distraction. I was having a hard time focusing on the book to begin with, the dialect made it worse, and eventually I gave up. Given the general downward trend of the Joads (see above for dying grandparents, broken marriages, etc.), I figured the book was going to end with the Joads trying to do the 1930s version of surviving in a refrigerator box under an overpass -- and I didn't need to read any farther to figure out that migrant workers get treated like shit, California was not the promised land, capitalism sucks, and unions (in the field or in the factory) are a good thing.  

Next up, yet another book I'd never heard of before by an equally unknown (at least to me) author, In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maybe we're really going to do it this time

We've set dates for the move back north several times since first landing in Atlanta in 2007, but this is the first time I've started selling the furniture as that date grew closer. I'm advertising on an electronic bulletin board at work -- I was a little skeptical about how effective that method would be, but I think it's going to depend on the specific item. I tried selling a china cabinet that way a couple years ago and had no luck, but this time around a small chest of drawers had potential buyers in less than 2 hours. I had to scramble after work to get the thing emptied before the buyers came over to pick it up.

I'm going to try advertising the china cabinet again. It's not really my style, but, like most of our furniture, it was a yard sale find that I figured would serve its purpose until I found the mid-century modern cabinet of my dreams. If it doesn't sell this time around, it's going to Goodwill, along with a number of other items that we won't have a use for at the retirement bunker. Moving is always a giant pain in the ass, so the less that we actually have to schlep on to the U-Haul, the better.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why are we Americans such sniveling cowards?

I know this isn't a new question -- I've posed it before, and so have quite a few other people. It's even the underlying theme of Michael Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine: the typical white American wanders around scared shitless most of the time, totally convinced the world is full of people whose only goal is to invade his home, steal his worthless tchotchkes, rape his womenfolk, and probably abuse his dog while they're at it.

I was reminded of this pervasive paranoia recently when I read an account on one of the blogs I occasionally wander through about an incident occurring on the opening night of the Wisconsin state fair in West Allis a few days ago. As fairgoers left the grounds, a group of young thugs began assaulting some of them. Depending on the news account, it was described as a flash mob, a mini riot, a group mugging, and so on. Bottom line: you had a group of young thugs briefly running wild. No one's sure just how many thugs there were because it was the middle of the night, it happened fast, and people's impressions were confused (aided, no doubt, by the fact the Wisconsin State Fair has some wonderful beer gardens). Overall, the experience was frightening -- no one expects to have someone try to snatch your purse or knock you down as you're leaving a fairgrounds in suburban Milwaukee -- but injuries appear to have been minor and the total number of victims rather small, especially considering some of the initial hysteria following the news reports.

So how did the blogger who relayed this story respond to it? He's going to make damn sure he's carrying a gun the next time he goes to Wisconsin. WTF? A one-time incident with a handful of young punks means the entire state, cows and all, is now too dangerous to enter without loaded gun in hand? Does he think he's going to get mugged at a rest stop on his way to the Dells?  I then found myself thinking about the young guy who was on jury duty with me back in 2009.

This was a young man, probably early 30s, who was at least six feet tall, not an ounce of flab on him (not quite a gym rat bod, but definitely physically fit), who in the world of potential targets for muggings might as well have had a flashing neon sign over his head screaming Not Worth the Risk. He was probably the least likely person in Atlanta to ever have to deal with some young punk demanding his wallet. But it came out in conversation that he was both a major believer in the right to concealed carry and nervous as heck about having to walk from his car to the courthouse unarmed because "you never know what type of people will be around a courthouse." (Yeah, like cops. Sheriff's deputies. Bailiffs. And maybe people in handcuffs.) He was afraid to walk half a block in downtown Decatur without a gun. In the middle of the day! He probably didn't appreciate me laughing at him.

He also treated us to a long monologue about how he'd absolutely never take MARTA any place because it's just too dangerous, and he and his wife live in a gated community and don't understand how anyone could live in some of the old neighborhoods in Atlanta where you're right on a public street and "anyone can drive right by." It was bizarre. He didn't look certifiable, but he certainly had a fine case of galloping paranoia.

I don't get it. What are people afraid of? If you look around, how many armed robbers or home invaders has the average person actually encountered? Answer: zero. Everyone interacts with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, on a casual basis every day -- passing them on the sidewalks in cities, seeing them in grocery stores and shopping malls, working in a building with many, many people -- and none of those strangers tries to rob you or make your life miserable. What are the odds that you're going to encounter the one lone nut who's going to want your wallet? Minuscule to nonexistent. And, if you do encounter that nut, what's wrong with just handing the money over? Why would you want to take a chance on channeling your inner Wyatt Earp and possibly dying in the process over something as replaceable as a few credit cards or some cash?

The thing that I find the strangest is that it's usually the people who have never had anything bad happen who seem to worry the most and want to carry the biggest guns. They've never been burglarized, but they're convinced their house is so full of good stuff that some one's going to want it. They've never been mugged, but they flinch every time they pass a stranger on the street. They live out in the middle of nowhere, some tiny town in a rural state, but are convinced "terrorists" are going to target the local feed store. It's bizarre, narcissism and paranoia in one neat package.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (Signature)A week or so ago I finished reading Herbert Hoover: A Public Life. After learning more about Hoover, I found myself thinking that if the birth and death dates were just a little bit different, Barack Obama would have me believing in reincarnation. It would be such a handy explanation. Unfortunately, President Obama was born over 3 years before President Hoover died, so it's just coincidence they have so much in common.

Some of the similarities are obvious, although ideologically Hoover was a lot farther to the left than Obama. Hoover, for example, thought inherited wealth posed a major threat to the well-being of the country and pushed for high inheritance taxes to help break up great fortunes. He was against tax cuts for millionaires and pushed for lower taxes for workers on the low end of the economic scale. He supported unions -- he had the entire press run of a Republican publication destroyed when he learned it was printed in a nonunion shop -- and agreed with the concept of a minimum wage. He had an extremely dim view of banks and bankers, and was constantly battling Wall Street. He was a pacifist and not overly fond of the military -- one of his goals following World War I was arms reduction. He was, in short, an old-fashioned progressive Republican back when the Republicans were still sane.  If that was the aspect of Hoover that Obama was channeling, I think I'd be happy.

Unfortunately, Obama seems to have decided some of Hoover's other attributes are the ones to emulate. Hoover was a great believer in cooperation, especially after the great success he'd had with relief efforts in Belgium during World War I and in Europe overall immediately after the war. He truly believed that if you appealed to people's better natures, they'd come through. Businessmen would do the right thing because it was the right thing and not because they were forced to through regulation. As the Depression worsened and banks began to fail, Hoover resisted government intervention and instead appealed to the business community to think of the greater good of the country. The country was circling the drain, and Hoover was hesitant to take any direct federal action. Shades of Obama trying to be reasonable and craft a bipartisan agreement on the budget, the debt ceiling, and everything else.

The end result, of course, is that by the time Hoover left office he was thoroughly reviled. He'd been elected as a hero but went home to California 4 years later with his reputation in shreds. He'd had good intentions, he wanted to do the right thing, but most of his efforts can be summed up simply as "Too little, too late." Sound familiar?

I did find myself wondering if the similarities in their backgrounds had anything to do with similarities in their political style. Although Hoover did know both his parents, he was orphaned young -- his father died when Hoover was 6, and his mother passed away barely 3 years later, leaving Hoover totally dependent on the goodwill of various relatives. Obama didn't know his father, and his mother was absent for long periods of time in his youth. Like Hoover, Obama was dependent on the goodwill of relatives. If you spend your formative years feeling like you've got to keep everyone around you happy, maybe, just maybe, you're going to grow up to be someone with the negotiating skills of a marshmallow.

Incidentally, one thing that's always puzzled me about the Hoover administration was the debacle with the "bonus army." The US army commander, Douglas MacArthur, had been ordered not to march on the encampment. He did anyway, in direct violation of his orders, and Hoover failed to reprimand him. It left many people with the impression that Hoover had approved the brutal attack that left hundreds of civilians injured. End result, of course, is that over time it's Hoover's name that's become irrevocably linked with the mess, not MacArthur's. The book, unfortunately, didn't devote much page space to it -- I had to turn to Wikipedia for enough background to understand just what the issue was that caused the bonus army to assemble in Washington to begin with. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life provides a lot of detail about Hoover's life right up to the Presidency but then turns remarkably thin. Very strange, considering that one would think that the Presidency was the most important part of Hoover's career and it's Hoover's actions (or inactions) as President that are remembered today.  

Want to depress yourself really fast?

Read something by John Steinbeck. I can't say I wasn't warned -- following my last Pulitzer Project post, when I mentioned that The Grapes of Wrath was up next on the list, one commenter said he'd been unable to finish it. I think I can see why, and I haven't even gotten to it yet. I checked a collected works book, Steinbeck's output during 1936 through 1941, out of the library and figured I might as well read the whole thing.

The first section of the book is a collection of short stories, The Long Valley. It includes stories like "Flight" and "The Snake." I swear each one is more depressing than the last! The writing is great -- Steinbeck was indeed good with a pen -- but when your reaction to a story is, holy crap, that was really creepy, or, jeez, I need to read some Wodehouse immediately to get that out of my brain, you do find yourself wondering just how he managed to become a best selling author. Were things so bad back in the 1930s that reading Steinbeck could make people feel better because their own lives weren't nearly as bleak?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Cell phone tower masquerading as a pine tree. What's the point? It's behind a Walgreens and next to a Burger King in the middle of a heavily commercialized area. There are multiple other towers not far away, none of which are wearing disguises. Why bother hanging plastic branches on this one?

Monday, August 1, 2011

So what's the rudest thing anyone's ever asked you?

Are you an American?

What's your religion?

Is your mother Black or is it your dad?

How much money do you make?

I heard you're getting married. Are you pregnant?

What nationality are you?

Have you gained weight?

Do you have cancer?

Your kids don't look anything like each other -- do they have the same father?

I got to thinking about rudeness after reading a post over at the Field Negro about how often people with less than lily-white skin get asked about their ethnicity. I thought it was bad just getting asked occasionally if I'm Canadian, thanks to my Yooper accent. (Answer: No, but there are a lot of days when I wish I was.) It must truly suck to have people quizzing you about whether or not you're Haitian/Mexican/Native American/Samoan/whatever simply because you're not a blue eyed blonde.

So what's the rudest question anyone's ever asked you?

[The appropriate answer to all rude questions, of course, as all the advice mavens can tell you, is a simple "Why do you want to know?" followed, if they persist, by "It's none of your business."]