Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Summer's over and my head hurts

Although the two aren't related.  I was just thinking that it was official, Autumn is definitely here because I felt the urge to turn the furnace on this morning (it was 64 in the living room when I came stumbling down the stairs heading for the coffee pot), and then I heard Nebraska Congress critter Lee Terry in the background.  And he was saying something that had my jaw dropping. 

I never agree with Lee Terry.  He's one of the Congress critters that comes across (at least to me) as smarmy beyond belief, another one of the vacuous Herb Tarlek-types who slither the halls of the Capitol while spouting platitudes about the sanctitude of life and family values. 

So what shocked the bejesus out of me?  Terry is introducing an amendment to the healthcare legislation that would make the same type of cafeteria insurance plan (the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan) senators and congress persons enjoy available to everyone in the country.  He stood there agreeing with ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson that the complaints about Congress not wanting ordinary folks to enjoy the same sort of health care they did were totally valid, and the FEHBP should be available to anyone who wants to opt into it.

Of course, Terry being a Republican I'm sure there's a catch somewhere, probably in the financing details, but, still, I'm stunned.  Lee Terry said something that superficially sounds good.  I'm also totally suspicious, of course.  Because it is Lee Terry.  And it's Nebraska, the heart of the heartland, a state so red it bleeds.

[I will concede that much as I dislike Terry, he's smarter than he looks.  He went on the Colbert Report very early in the history of that show, before politicians had had much of a chance to size it up and figure out exactly what Colbert was up to, and actually displayed more wit than I thought he possessed.  He may exude used car salesman vibes, but he's definitely not stupid and does have a sense of humor.]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Econ 101

I've been mulling over a post on opportunity costs, externals, economic illiteracy, and how they all tie together with the healthcare finance reform hoopla, diaster relief, states rights, teabagging, saving the planet, reversing global warming, and peace in our time. . . and I had really, really good intentions of writing it today.  Maybe later.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some things are so predictable

It's pretty much a given that Georgia is a red state, chock full of teabaggers and states rights foamers who fuss constantly about socialism, the intrusive federal government, and abolishing all taxes.  The opinion blogs on the AJC are full of rants about how evil the Democrats are, Obama wasn't born in this country, and we're all going to hell in a handbasket because of the meddlers in Washington, DC.

Then we had a flood.

You guessed it. 

The cry has changed from "Obama's a socialist!" to "Give me a FEMA check!!" and complaining that the federal disaster declarations didn't go out fast enough and don't cover a wide enough area. 

Totally typical.  This state is full of people who don't want to pay taxes, don't think they should pay any attention to government regulations, and spend a lot of time fulminating about individual responsibility and getting government off our collective backs.  As soon as something goes wrong, though, they're right there demanding help immediately, and bitching when it's not delivered fast enough. 

Once their living rooms dry out, it's also totally predictable they'll go right back to ranting about socialism and getting the government off their backs.  In fact, it's totally predictable they'll also bitch about the process, the financial assistance being inadequate, and the response being too slow.  For some people, there are no learning experiences.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Serious journalism

Long, long ago in a galaxy far away I was part of the staff of a small town daily newspaper.  There are days when I miss some aspects of that job, like writing headlines, especially when I see news items like this:

Environmentalists Seek to Wipe Out Plush Toilet Paper
Soft Toilet Paper's Hard on the Earth, But Will We Sit for the Alternative?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Joys of insomnia

Somewhere in this house there is a cricket with a death wish.  If I could track it down, it would be a smear on the carpet.  It is absolutely astounding how loud one insect can be when a person wakes up at 3 a.m. and can't get back to sleep.  Sunday night it was the weather radio with flash flood warnings every hour on the hour; tonight it's the cricket.  It's going to be fun trying to stay awake while editing articles about MRSA in swine later today. 

The swine article does have some interesting bits of trivia in it.  Who would have thought that in some parts of the world hog noses go into soup?  Whenever I watch Bizarre Foods, it seems like Andrew Zimmern is focused on the other end of the animal -- the man eats a lot of testicles.  Somehow, though, I can't picture myself ever deliberately ordering hog nose soup off a menu anymore than I can picture myself asking for the sauted bull's balls.  Both dishes seem to make a strong argument for going vegan.

The good news here is that the rain does seem to have stopped, which means that maybe some of the people who were stranded on the interstates and elsewhere around the Atlanta metro area have finally gotten home -- or to a Red Cross shelter.  Aerial shots yesterday had the downtown connector (I-75/I-85) looking more like a canal than a freeway.   According to the AJC, about a foot of rain fell in 24 hours.  Haven't heard yet just how much of the state will be declared a disaster zone, but quite a few counties must qualify. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tin foil hat time, again

I don't know why I bother to listen C-SPAN on the weekends.  Some days the level of lunacy provides a strange sort of comfort (good to know some things never change) and other days it just depresses me.  Someone will be on there, carefully lay out all the facts, explain that even though the common perception might be one thing, the reality is something else.  Like crime.  The common  perception is that crime is rampant, lots more violence, and so on, when statistics show that simply isn't true.  Even when when statisticians correct for factors like underreporting, there is not as much violent crime per capita today as there was 30 years ago.  Then, after the expert has carefully laid out the facts, someone will call in to rant about the U.S. being soft on crime (even though this country has the highest incarceration rate in the world now and some of the most draconian sentencing laws) and that if we'd all just agree that it's okay to beat the crap out of kids -- okay, they don't say that.  They advocate for spanking or using a paddle -- the streets would be full of unicorns.  I guess this is one of the mornings when my tolerance for willful ignorance is close to nonexistant. 

Or maybe I'm just depressed because I actually found myself agreeing with Frank Lutz a time or two.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book review: The Forger's Spell

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick is one of the most fascinating true crime stories I've read in a long time.  Usually when forgers get caught it's because they've fooled one person too few. Han van Meegeren had the opposite problem, he fooled one person too many -- and that person happened to be Hermann Goering, Reich Marshall of Nazi Germany and Hitler's right hand man. 

Of course, when van Meegeren began his forging career, he didn't intend to sell fake Vermeers to Nazis; his motives were the more usual mix of a middling artist wanting to fool the critics who had disparaged his own work while making some money in the process.  He also didn't start off with fake Vermeers -- he began by forging works by 17th century artists who had a much larger body of extant work, like Frans Hal, and a less distinct style.

Van Meegeren had actually enjoyed a pretty comfortable life as a Dutch artist.  His work didn't get much respect from the critics -- his style was seen as both old-fashioned and too maudlin or saccharine -- but he was remarkably successful with the public.  At one time, copies of one of his drawings, "The Deer," could be found in almost home in Holland.  He was also a favorite portrait artist of the wealthy upper class.  In short, he wasn't starving in a garret in Delft and desperate for money.  (When he began working on his Vermeers, he was living in a villa on the French Riveria.)  At his trial, his defense attorney used the fact van Meegeren wasn't motivated by money as a mitigating factor -- van Meegeren wasn't interested in wealth, he just wanted to prove the critics were idiots who didn't know what they were looking at.

The Forger's Tale thus is an intriguing tale of the foibles of human nature and the wonders of social psychology.  People see what they want to see.  As long as people were prepared to believe they were looking at a Vermeer, the painting they saw was a masterpiece, a wonderful example of the interplay of light and shadow, a work of sheer genius.  As soon as they learned it was a van Meegeren, it turned into cartoonish, clumsy, downright ugly, a crude pastiche of Vermeer-like elements, and not worth the canvas it was painted on. 

As author Edward Dolnick explains, Vermeer was a highly risky choice for a forger.  Unlike many Renaissance artists, e.g., Rembrandt, Vermeer's body of work is distressingly small.  Less than 40 known paintings exist, and most of them are distinctly different from the work being done by his contemporaries.  And, as anyone who has ever seen one of the iconic Vermeers (e.g., The Milkmaid) knows, Vermeer's use of light can be stunning. That small body of work, however, also made Vermeer a choice that could have a huge payoff for the forger if the forgery succeeded.  Every art collector, every museum curator, every art historian dreamt of being the person who found a lost Vermeer.  The fact that it had happened once or twice -- in 1901 a painting with a Biblical theme, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, was revealed to be a Vermeer -- fed that fever.  The Dutch art historian who found that Vermeer spent the rest of his life hoping to find another.  (Thanks to van Meegeren, he died believing he'd found not just one more Vermeer, but several.)

As forgers go, van Meegeren was a genius.  He knew all the things that can trip up a would-be forger and managed to dodge most of them, particularly in the first two or three Vermeers he cranked out.  Canvas and stretchers, for example -- if you want to paint a convincing 17th century Vermeer, you need to find 17th material to paint it on.  Van Meegeren did, and then painstakingly scraped off whatever low-value painting happened to be on the canvas rather than painting over it.  He wasn't going to take a chance on an x-ray showing that "Vermeer" had painted over a work by another artist that had been documented as being created a few years after Vermeer's death.  And then he solved the problem that made old oil paintings almost impossible to forge successfully. 

Oil paints dry extremely slowly, literally over decades of time.  Dolnick gives a number of examples of other forgers who settled for lower price points when they created fakes tied to artists who had been dead for several centuries:  charcoal drawings, for example, or pen and ink.  There were still technical issues involved (you needed old paper), but not nearly as difficult as those an "old" oil painting entailed.  An oil painting can be dry to the touch, but the paint remains soft for many years.  Fresh oil paint dissolves easily in turpentine and will stain turpentine-soaked swab.  After several centuries, however, oil paint is truly hard and relatively imperious to solvents.  Van Meegeren did not have the luxury of waitng several decades for his Vermeers to dry to a convincing hardness -- by the time they achieved it, he'd be dead.  And then he discovered Bakelite.  After experimenting for many months, van Meegeren devised a way to turn his oil paints into plastic.  He'd solved the softness problem.  Now all he needed was a sucker. 

He found one, of course.  In fact, between the mid-1930s and the end of World War II, he found several.  His Christ at Emmaus was hailed as a masterpiece, the finest Vermeer in the world.  A Dutch museum spent the equivalent of several million dollars to acquire it and then made it the centerpiece of their collection.  Looking at it now, a person can't help but wonder how anyone could be fooled by it.  But of course,  I know it's a fake.  If I didn't know it was a fake, but I'd seen other Vermeers, my reaction would more likely be along the lines of "Not quite what I was expecting, don't like it as much as some of his other stuff." 

With each Vermeer, van Meegeren got sloppier, the paintings cruder, more cartoonish, and the technical details messier.  Which, in the end, may have saved van Meegeren's life. 

One of the last Vermeers van Meegeren produced got sold to Hermann Goering.  Although the general perception is that the Nazis just looted, period, that isn't quite true.  Hitler, Goering, et al., had some pretensions of what constituted civilized behavior (I know; that's a phrase not normally associated with that regime) and did indeed "pay" for what they took.  They also kept meticulous records detailing every transaction.  They generally paid a lot less than what a piece was worth and they also made it very clear the seller didn't have much choice in the matter, but they paid.  Hermann Goering forked over the equivalent of $10 million for his fake Vermeer.

Then the war ended, the stashes of stolen art were found, and the investigations in the Netherlands and elsewhere into collaborations began.  Within two weeks of the end of the war, a Dutch investigator had found van Meegeren's name associated with both Goering and Hitler.  The immediate conclusion was that van Meegeren had collaborated with the Nazis in stealing Dutch national treasures, e.g., the Vermeer.  Not being a fool, van Meegeren realized that given a choice between being shot as a traitor and spending a few years in prison as a forger, the latter looked pretty good.

Of course, no one wanted to believe him, especially when he said he'd also done Christ at Emmaus, and that's when the book gets really good.  The immediate (and totally understandable) reaction was that van Meegeren was just trying to save his collaborating ass.

The fact the book is called The Forger's Spell:  A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century tells the astute reader that van Meegeren did eventually persuade enough of the right people that he was a simple forger, but what  is rather fascinating is the number of people who, despite scientific tests that verified van Meegeren's claims (like the x-ray that showed the original Abraham Hondius painting under Goering's Vermeer), still refused to believe they'd been wrong about the Vermeers.  Hermann Goering, for example, went to his death insisting his Vermeer was the real thing.  So did several of the art critics and historians who had decided van Meegeren's Vermeers were genuine when they'd first been "discovered."  They insisted that it didn't matter what the scientific evidence was, the only thing that counted was their own expertise.  

The Forger's Spell, in short, is a wonderful description of the way we all manage to fool ourselves.  We see what we want to see.  In some cases, once we're told what the hoax is, we can see it.  In others, especially if we're emotionally invested, no matter how many times the truth is revealed, we'll cling to our illusions (Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, Barack Obama was born in Kenya).  This book focuses on a very narrow segment of society -- art and art collectors -- but the insights into human behavior are applicable everywhere.

[First painting shown is Vermeer's The Milkmaid, the second is van Meegeren's Christ at Emmaus.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Natchez National Historical Park

My Labor Day weekend in Natchez included visiting Natchez National Historical Park. The park consists of three sites -- the William Johnson House (pictured above), Melrose (pictured below), and Fort Rosalie. Fort Rosalie is apparently a site with no structures; the other two have (obviously) buildings and exhibits.

I found the William Johnson House to be the most interesting. Mr. Johnson was a free man of color who operated a barbershop in Natchez. He was a successful businessman who owned plantations and slaves and was doing quite well for himself and his family until he was murdered in 1851 by a man with whom he was involved in a dispute over plantation property lines. He and his family lived in an apartment above the barbershop in downtown Natchez. After his death, his sons continued the family business.

Mr. Johnson was freed as a child, which was unusual (the law in Mississippi at that time specifically said children could not be freed), and apparently received a good education, although it's unclear whether he was self-taught or was fortunate enough to receive some formal schooling. He kept a detailed diary, which was first published in the 1950s.

The Johnson house provides an interesting look at the life of a middle class businessman (the Johnsons were definitely financially comfortable) as well as highlighting the racial tensions of the antebellum South. It was well known who murdered Mr. Johnson, for example, but he could not be successfully tried because there were no white witnesses. Given that every other historic house tour in Natchez is of a property similar to Melrose, the William Johnson house is a welcome contrast and reality check. Obviously, not everyone in Mississippi could live the way the folks at Melrose and the other antebellum mansions did, but if all a person did was tour the mansions you might start to think life was just one mint julep after another until the Civil War.

Melrose, built by John T. McMurran, a successful lawyer, is a Greek revival two-story mansion with basement and attic. It's a lovely house architecturally and, because changes in ownership didn't happen very often, it survived with something like 80% of its original furnishings intact, although the Venetian blinds in the dining room below and other rooms of the house are replicas (and that bird on the table is one of the most unappetizing pieces of fake food I've ever seen). The wooden thing hanging from the ceiling is a punkah, a type of ceiling fan that's also referred to as a shoo fly. (The Wikipedia page I've linked to actually shows the Melrose dining room from a different angle; serendipity in action.)
Some of that furniture struck me as sufficiently awful that one wonders why it survived -- Victorians had strange tastes by 21st century standards -- but it is still there, although most has been re-upholstered. The Park Service being sticklers for authenticity and replacement in kind, any new fabrics are replicas of the originals.

The settee below is one of the stranger pieces of furniture I've seen. There was an even odder piece in the front parlor, but flash photography is not allowed inside the house and I wasn't able to hold the camera steady enough to get a picture good enough to post.

The building pictured below housed the kitchen (there was no kitchen in the main house) and dairy on the first floor and had living quarters for slaves above. The parapets at the ends of the roof differ because the end of the roof to the right in the photo faces in the same direction as the house. It's the end of the building that visitors to Melrose were likely to see as they approached up the drive, and is designed so it shares the Greek revival style of the main house. A matching building that currently houses the park's visitor center can be seen sticking out to the left in the photo of the main house. If there weren't trees to the right of the house in the photo, the kitchen and dairy building would be visible, too. When Melrose was built, the design plan wasn't for the house alone; it included the grounds, too, complete with formal gardens, vegetable gardens, and orchards in addition to the various secondary structures like the carriage house, barn, and slave quarters.
The small building to the left of the kitchen and dairy building is a privy. It was a 16-holer. It was divided into 4 separate spaces, each with 4 holes (2 adults, 2 children). The privy was used only by the slaves, of course.

The buildings shown below are former slave quarters and a barn. One of the slave quarters buildings is now set up for interpretation with one furnished room and other displays. The other building is used for office space for the park. The family that owned Melrose kept both horses and dairy cattle so the barn has both box stalls (for the horses) and stanchions for the cattle.

Admission to the William Johnson House is free and you can wander the grounds at Melrose without paying anything, but there is a small fee to tour the house. It's worth it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More proof the U.P. is different

Having been born and raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I've gotten used to people asking "is that part of Canada?" However, I did not expect fellow historians and scholars to assume it actually had successfully seceded from the downer peninsula. I was wrong.

Earlier this week the American Society for Environmental History notified me a paper I proposed for presentation at the 2010 annual meeting has been accepted. The topic of the paper? A civil engineer's response to an 1893 typhoid epidemic in Ironwood, Michigan. The theme of the panel I've been placed in? International perspectives on water pollution and health. The other three papers focus on events during the colonial period in third world nations.

Then again, considering what conditions were like in Ironwood in the 1890s, maybe it's an accurate placement.

Tin foil hat time

I love Saturday mornings and C-SPAN. The absolute certainty that in any 10-minute period there will inevitably be a phone call from someone with a Southern accent ranting about Obama mind control, the evils of socialism, and the Democrats wanting to control every aspect of our lives is oddly comforting.

This morning, of course, they're talking about health care reform. And once again callers are focusing on "choice" and preventing bureaucrats from coming between them and their doctors. What choice? Unless you're one of the extremely fortunate few, i.e., independently wealthy and paying cash for everything, you're either dependent on what your insurance company tells you to do or or, if you're uninsured, keeping your fingers crossed you stay healthy. Anyone who thinks the insurers don't control what treatments you receive and when is living in a fantasy world.

I've gotten to witness that (again) this past year. In April 2007 I went for the annual physical, the one that included a full range of blood work (lipid levels, white and red cell counts, etc) and a chest x-ray. The radiologist spotted a possible aortic ectasia on the x-ray, so my primary care physician decided to do a cardiology consult, complete with echocardiogram. She had to give a reason for the echo, but said she could not use the aortic ectasia as the reason -- Blue Cross would not pay for it. She had to use either elevated cholesterol or high blood pressure. Or both. She went with the lipids.

Personally, I would have thought the aortic ectasia would be a damn good reason for further testing in and of itself, but my gold-plated insurance bean counters disagreed. And because my PCP put high cholesterol (for the record, mine usually runs right around 2o5, which is just barely over the line -- and I have a really good ratio of "good" to "bad") in the request, it colored the interactions with the cardiologist. He's busy worrying about clotting and blockages while I'm trying to get him to think about the semilunar valve and possible aortic regurgitation. In short, I've spent the last 18 months being treated for one thing while the other thing that does have the potential to kill me is being ignored. Thank you, Blue Cross.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Natchez Trace Parkway

I spent Labor Day weekend in Natchez, Mississippi, and along the way got to add another park to my NPS life list. Granted, I only drove about one-fifth of the Natchez Trace, but that's probably a higher percentage of what I'll see in most parks I visit. The Natchez Trace Parkway was established in 1937, no doubt as part of the public works programs begun as part of the New Deal, and placed under administration of the National Park Service the following year, 1938. It's 444 miles long, beginning in Natchez and terminating near Nashville, Tennessee. I got on near milepost 89, which is where it crosses I-20, and headed south. Sort of.
First I did a little detour north to a historic site noted on the park brochure, the Cowles Mead Cemetery. This is the cemetery. Think it's at about milepost 90.
It's a little odd: two monuments surrounded by an iron fence and a lot of sidewalk. If this was a 19th century family cemetery, there should have been more than two people planted there -- and the walkway around the graves cuts it close enough to the monuments that odds are the decedents are getting walked on. Very strange. Still, a good place to get out and stretch one's legs as the cemetery is set back a couple hundred feet from the parking area.

The Parkway is definitely set up for automobile tourism. The various points of interest along the way all feature humongous waysides, like Cowles Mead above and Deans Stand below, interpetive signage writ large enough for the casual tourist to easily read through a windshield. A "Stand" is another name for an inn or roadside tavern, a place for travelers to stop for the night or maybe just a meal. No trace of Deans Stand remains, although a short trail from the parking area does lead to a pioneer cemetery. No one named Dean is interred there, though, so it's rather a mystery, too.

Down around milepost 54 is the former community of Rocky Springs. Rocky Springs is one of the more elaborate sites along the Trace. There are trails, a campground (complete with pull-through sites for folks with RVs), and cultural resources (the old town site of Rocky Springs). The parkway also includes a number of bicycle-only campgrounds, which strikes me as a pretty neat idea. I did notice the Trace is popular with cyclists; I think I may have seen more bicycles than cars.
Not much remains of the town of Rocky Springs today, other than a few odd artifacts like the safe pictured above. In the late 19th century the town supposedly had a population of over 2,000, but poor farming practices that led to major erosion (and the subsequent drying up of the springs that gave the town its name) followed by the arrival of the boll weevil killed the cotton industry in the area.
The Sunken Trace is at milepost 41.5. I was impressed -- it's a pretty deep trench to have been created by foot (human and horses) traffic. Of course, loess does erode easily.

This sign is an example of the signage used to mark the turn-offs for the various sites along the Trace. Highly visible from a decent distance down the road. There are also signs posted about 1/2 mile in advance that give a person plenty of warning she's coming up on something interesting.

The photo below is an interior shot of the Mount Locust Inn. Mount Locust is at milepost 15.5, and is a nice example of an early 19th century "stand" along the Trace. The Chamberlain family farmed as well as providing meals and lodging to travelers, beginning with just renting floor or bed space in their own home and then later constructing a second building to serve as sleeping quarters.

The property was owned by the same family from 1784 to 1944, which is when the Park Service bought the house and 100 acres of land. The house has been restored to an 1820s appearance.
The above photo shows the house as it appears from the path leading from the Visitor Center at Mount Locust. The photo below shows the rear elevation. Mount Locust is the only NPS site I can recall visiting where the interpretive ranger on duty had such an intimate connection with the property.

Mr. Chamberlain's grandmother was the last private owner of the property, so it was his family's home for multiple generations. He knows its history well, and seems to thoroughly enjoy sharing that history with the public.

Other sites between Jackson and Natchez included the Battle of Raymond (one of those Civil War clashes that I'd never heard of before and will have forgotten fairly soon) and Emerald Mound, the second largest ceremonial mound in the United States. Emerald Mound is sufficiently impressive to be fairly unforgettable. It covers 8 acres and is a National Historic Landmark. I've seen mounds before, but nothing quite that huge.

All in all, it was an interesting 90 miles, and definitely pleasanter driving than the route I'd taken to Natchez in the past. One of these days I'll have to start exploring the other 354 miles.

More weirdness

I am really happy I don't work on the main campus. This popped up in my e-mail a few minutes ago:

It has come to our attention that members of the Westboro Baptist Church will be protesting outside of the . . . gates in the . . . Road Corridor September 9, 2009 from 10:55 – 11:30 a.m. Should this occur, employees may experience traffic congestion in this area.

The protest is being held because the church believes [Large Nameless Agency] is supportive of homosexuality. Please be aware of this protest and prepare appropriately when travelling in and out of the campus.
[Identifying information for actual location edited out in compliance with my policy of not stating explicitly where I work on a personal blog.]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Strange things seen in my travels

A rest area east of Jackson, Mississippi, along I-20 had signs posted on the rest room stall doors reminding people that the proper receptacle for used toilet paper is the toilet and not the floor.

I guess they do realize that people who need directions on the socially acceptable way to wipe one's ass may be a tad mentally challenged, as the signs did include pictures as well as words.

Pulitzer Project: Early Autumn

Okay. I'm up to 1927, and am noticing a pattern: one out of every 4 books has managed to stand the test of time and is still worth reading. Louis Bromfield's Early Autumn is not one of them.

I can, however, understand why it was a best seller back in the 1920s. The underlying theme is rich people (at least the ones with old money) are miserable, they lead lives of quiet desperation/ frustration, they're sexually repressed and suffer for it, their cherished family myths and values are built on fantasy and fraud, and they keep insane relatives in the attic.

Maybe I would have been more impressed if (spoiler alert!) the big reveal hadn't been that the insane relative in the attic wound up that way because her wedding night was so traumatic -- totally unprepared for what her Wifely Duty actually consisted of, her fumbling virginal husband's lovemaking caused the young, innocent bride to suffer a mental breakdown. Bromfield is, of course, making an argument that the repressive, puritanical attitudes of the past lead only to misery, broken lives, and mental hospitals, but it's pretty hard to take the melodrama seriously.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beware of people bearing baked goods

The latest MMWR is out. I want to know why I never seem to encounter sidewalk vendors selling brownies. All I ever bump into are the carts peddling strange-colored hot dogs with mystery meat ingredients.