Friday, September 28, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
What's Not to Like?
I've been taking TheraFlu, which is this mixture of a decongestant and analgesic in a packet, and you pour this packet in boiling water and you drink it like tea. Which is a nice, relaxing thing to do if you've got a cold, and the medicine gets absorbed by your stomach lining and goes straight to work.
But there's a problem with TheraFlu, and every other cold remedy on the planet, because what they use for a painkiller is acetominophen. Paracetamol. Tylenol. "The most prescribed pain reliever in the world," as they say in the ads.
Except they don't have to prescribe it, they give the stuff away by the metric tonne. They put it in every over-the-counter remedy whether you want it there or not.
The reason it's so common is that acetominophen has fewer side effects than aspirin. But it does have some nasty interactions. If you take it with hydrocodone or codeine or any other opiate, it wildly increases the chance that you will OD. And if you take it with alcohol, there is a non-zero chance that your liver will cease to function and you will die.
And you will die. There is no way to reverse this, once it happens.
Benign ol' Tylenol, "the most prescribed pain reliever in the world," can kill you dead.
So I have been refraining from alcohol while I've had my cold. Which is a shame, because quite frankly the cold would have been more fun if I'd been splayed in my easy chair watching Dr. Who while hammered on margaritas. I mean, I already had the headache, y'know?
But this weekend I'll be out of town at a literary event (see the poster below, somewhere), and nice folks will be taking me out to dinner, and I thought it would be nice if I could have a beer with said dinner.
So I went to the pharmacy in search of a decongestant that I had no acetominophen in it. And the only one I could find was Sudafed. Which was not actually on the shelf, but was available in the form of a ticket that I could take to the pharmacy counter.
Why? Because speed freaks were buying cartloads of Sudafed to take home, dump into plastic trash cans, and brew up into crystal meth, which they would then sell to other meth junkies, including (presumably) the pair who broke into my home last year. So you are restricted as to how much pseudoephedrine you can purchase at a time.
Not that this practice seems to be slowing the growth of yaabaa as a recreational drug, because it isn't.
So anyway, I take my little ticket to the counter, and I ask, "Can I have two packets, or will that put me on the DEA list?"
And the pharmacist says, "I'll check." And then she asks for my ID.
So the next thing you know, she'd entering the contents of my driver's license into a computer, and then informs me that "They" will allow me to have only one packet. I don't know whether "They" is the government or Big Pharma.
So. I am now on The List, as a Suspicious Person who bought twenty little capsules of pseudoephedrine.
I don't know what The List is used for. I don't know who keeps it. I don't know who has access to it. I'm just pissed off that it fucking exists at all!
Another element in the Total Surveillance Society, slipped in without anyone noticing.
Our Superiors have concluded that the way to combat meth abuse is to treat ordinary citizens as if they were criminals, or at least parolees. Just as the way to combat terrorism is to treat ordinary citizens as if they were terrorists, and make them take their shoes off in airports.
Fuck that. Fuck them. Fuck them all.
On a more positive note, Judge Ann Aiken has struck down two provisions of the Patriot Act.
"Prior to the amendments [to FISA], the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances -- a principle upon which our nation was founded," Aiken wrote.
But the Patriot Act, she said, eliminated "the constitutionally required interplay between executive action, judicial decision and Congressional enactment."
"For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law -- with unparalleled success. A shift to a nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised," she wrote.
To quote Jim McDonald, "we applaud the courageous judge who struck down two of its provisions while at the same time mourning that a judge would have to be courageous to do so."
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Music, Ho Ho
Puerto Plata's real name is Jose. He renamed himself after his home town in the Dominican Republic. He's 84 years old, and he's just released his first CD after performing for sixty years. He's pretty much got the entire history of Dominican hardwired into his brain and his fingers, and he was happy to recapitulate it for us. Son, merengue, musica jibara, guaracha . . . and his band absolutely rocks.
I bought his CD, and he signed it "Jose" in a hand that was clearly not accustomed to forming words. Perhaps he has come late to literacy.
The CD is a lot more acoustic than the dance band he brought to the festival, but it makes pleasant listening nonetheless.
Eventually I did drag myself away, to see Dragon Art Studio, a family of Chinese puppeteers. (So there you have my priorities. I rank good Caribbean music over Buddhist chanting, but behind Chinese puppets. Go figure.)
The puppet show was funny, charming, and ingenious. We saw a peddler beset by rioutous monkeys. We saw a throwdown between a haughty crane and an ingenious tortoise. We saw a dancer recreating the postures shown on 1500-year-old Dunghuang cave paintings. And we saw a ferocious ping pong match between two supernaturally gifted opponents.
Alas, we didn't get to see the Monkey King at the Flaming Mountains. We only had an hour.
From the puppet stage we headed off to the Roy Disney Theater to check out Ilgi, a band from Latvia that I wanted to see out of a sense of Baltic solidarity. These folks were the subject of much attention from the Authorities during the Soviet occupation, when Latvian folk music was more or less forbidden, but are now at the top of the Latvian charts.
First off I saw an accordion, a dulcimer/harp/lap thingie, and an instrument that looked as if it were made of a couple strings stretched over a pine box. There was also a bagpipe of a non-Celtic type.
The music was excellently-performed "post-folk." We also learned that the way to say "thank you" in Latvian is to say "Paul Diaz."
Next up was the Italian band Fianna Fumana on the main stage at the Plaza Mayor. Despite having a long-legged young woman in a miniskirt and tights who was carrying a bagpipe, the music was a lot more "post-folk" than we'd heard from the Latvians. It was pretty much indistinguishable from rock 'n' roll, except that we were assured that the melodies and lyrics were traditional. Good rockin' sounds tho, and the bagpipe made me wonder why more rock bands don't have bagpipes.
(This one was a regional bagpipe called a piva Emiliana, but it looked identical to the Latvian one.)
Afterwards I caught a bit of Lankandia Cissoko's set. He's a Senegalese griot who plays the kora, which is basically a harp made from a honkin' big calabash with a stick rammed through it. He was playing with a much younger man who was playing a kind of balafon, the African instrument from which the marimba was developed.
Expertly done, I'm sure, but I lacked the context for full appreciation.
The evening's big finale was Mickey Hart's Global Drum Project. I'd been looking forward to this, but the results were not quite what I expected. I'd figured with so many drummers on stage, you'd have a hard time not dancing, but nothing danceable occurred. The huge crowd jamming the dance floor swayed back and forth for a while, then gave up swaying and just watched.
Mickey Hart was center stage, in a polo shirt and glasses, very busy and bustling around behind an enormous wall of equipment. He produced a lot of electronic sounds and lyrics along the lines of, "Rhythm moves throughout the Universe, and Beyond the Universe." I noticed that the other drummers seemed to be trading licks around him, as if he weren't there.
Perhaps in another mood I would have listened to this, but I wasn't in that sort of mood. I still had virii infecting my lungs, and it was getting late and cold.
So we drove home, playing Puerto Playa all the way.
Return of Pink Force Commando!
Lady Ninjas have taken down a gas station in Pennsylvania.
Here's the video.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The music featured goes by the name of "World Music," a vague title that usually translates to "music sung in a language other than English"--- except, of course, when it's sung in English. I suspect that "World Music" really means "music unlikely to be heard on commercial radio in the U.S."
We packed myself and Kathy and my wretched cold and my wretched cold meds and not enough warm clothing into the Subaru, and arrived a bit late. We wandered into the Roy E. Disney Theater to see Marta Gomez, a Colombian singer, finish the last 15 minutes of her set.
I'm going to describe her as a "folk singer," because she didn't do dance music. Her songs were strongly melodic and had an Argentinian influence (her band is Argentinian). The subject included one tender song about child labor in Peruvian mines, with a chorus in Quechua.
On my way to the next event I caught a few minutes of Chango Spasiuk, an Argentinian accordianist of Ukranian origin. His music seemed rather moody and introverted, far more Ukranian than Argentinian, but I didn't stay for long so it was hard to judge.
I was on my way to Anjani's Kathak Dance of India. Kathak (rhymes with "attack") means "storyteller," and so Kathak dance is a dance that carries a story. (Indian dancing girls plus narrative! What's not to like in this?) There were three dancers, a Big Boss Lady dancer and her two juniors, one of whom was her daughter (soon to be a regular on the coming season of Grey's Anatomy, hey).
The orchestra consisted of a tabla player and a woman who played an ancient-looking harmonium of the Indian type--- meaning that one hand plays and the other pumps the bellows. This is not an easily dismissible skill--- the one-handed harmonium has to play in time to the complicated Southwest Asian rhythms. No wonder the woman looked like she was working out some kind of complicated mathematical formula in her head. She was. Sometimes she also sang.
The dances were lovely when they weren't very energetic. The faster foot movements looked a lot like tap dancing, except performed with bare feet--- the tapping didn't make a noise in itself, but energized the rows of ankle-bells.
Of interest to any choreographers in the audience was the fact that the ancient Kathak masters came up with a vocabulary for describing the dance--- in fact for commanding the dance, on the fly. Big Boss Lady would rap out a lengthy series of commands, and the dancers would do it, right there, on the spot, as their boss continued to give orders a split-second ahead of their furiously pounding feet.
What it sounded like was this: "tikki-tikki-tai-tai-tikki-gikki-hai-gikki-tai-dai-tikki-tikki." Spoken, at times, with incredible speed, certainly too fast for me to follow.
Dancers from other traditions, I expect, would have stared at this with their mouths hanging open.
After the dance we checked out the last half of Yungchen Lhamo's set. Born in a labor camp outside Lhasa, Yungchen learned forbidden Tibetan songs from her grandmother, and later walked a thousand miles to freedom in India.
She sings with no accompaniment. She mentioned that people had urged her to form a rock band, because with her voice she could earn a lot of money. "But I'm not interested in money," she said.
She uses the entire audience as her backup singers. She teaches them a chant--- "Om padme mani hum," say--- and then she weaves her song in and around it. This dissolves the wall between performer and audience, something I was of two minds about, because I found myself concentrating on my chanting instead of listening to the remarkable person I had come to hear.
She mentioned that Westerners always ask her three questions. "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "What is your shampoo?" (She has very long, very lovely hair.)
Her talks in between her songs were given in a very low, nearly inaudible voice. This forced us all to listen. The girl's a pro.
And she has a lovely smile. (Why, I need to know, are Buddhists smiling all the damn time? Are they all just blissfully happy, or what? I mean, there's no way you can convince me that Pope Benedict is a happy person, but on the other hand there's no way you can convince me that the Dalai Lama isn't a happy person. While there's a lot of the Doctrine I quarrel with, I have to admit that they've discovered a way to make people happy.)
There followed the Big Discovery of this festival, the band Baka Beyond, "the original Afro-Celtic crossover band." The band started with a couple Brits who traveled to Cameroon to listen to the music of the Baka Pygmies, and now it's a band, a charity, an online shop, an online forum . . .
With all that going on, it's a surprise that the band is really, really good. With a sort of ethnically correct mixture of three black musicians and three white musicians, composed of three Brits, two Africans, and one French fiddle player, with music inspired by Baka Pygmies and beetle-browed Caledonians, this whole brew really shouldn't work, except that it does. It's just great. The two CDs I bought are in more or less continuous rotation on my sound system.
The music mostly sounds West African, with the guitarist tuning his instrument to the chimey-plunkey sounds they like there (please note my extensive musical vocabulary)--- but every so often the Isle of Skye shows up in the music, as the Breton fiddler wails away. The two singers--- one black, one blonde--- had the whole West African dance thing down: heads shaking, arms windmilling, hips and buttocks moving in ways that had all the guys staring at the stage in utter reverence . . .
I danced, though every so often I had to stop and wheeze and cough and apply more cold meds.
Lest people chant "appropriation!" or other meaningless but potent political insults, allow me to point out that the proceeds from every CD goes to aid the Baka people through the Global Music Exchange and the One Heart charity.
Please give them money. I did. Thank you.
Last up for the evening was Koko Taylor. I'm not sure how she fits into "World Music" exactly, but when someone calls Koko Taylor to the stage, I'm not about to complain.
I was interested in hearing how she sounded, because I knew she went through some major abdominal surgery a few years ago, and is now back in harness. (Hey! Just like me!)
She's now 79, and her voice is just fine. She's lost some weight. She seemed a little erratic when it came to the play list, and a couple times announced a song she'd already sung, but the voice was all there, and the band--- Her Blues Machine--- was splendid, led by guitarist Vino and driven by power drummer Ricky Nelson, who decorated the backstage area with shattered drumsticks.
Koko seemed a little put out when the festival organizers told her she had to stop--- I don't think she's used that, exactly--- but she gave us one last rocker and then shambled off to wild applause.
And dudes, that was just Friday night!
Afterwards, I wheezed off home to more cold meds, a humidifier, warm clothes, and aspirin.
But reader, it was worth it.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Say goodbye, while you can.
Knickers in a Twist
Thus begins a letter from Commander [Redacted], inquiring as to whether the lawyer for Mr. Aamer, a Guantanamo detainee, had smuggled him illegal underwear.
(Commander [Redacted] has a point. I mean, I don't want to see Islamic terrorists in Speedos, either.)
Commander [Redacted] might have checked his records first, however, since the lawyer hadn't seen his client in over a year.
The lawyer's deeply hilarious reply may be found here.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
That's what's happening outside as I type this.
I shall avoid answering the door tonight, lest I be confronted with a 60 Minutes camera crew or the bhoys from Homeland Security . . .
To the Moon
The salary range is $59,493.00 to $130,257.00 per year
"The open positions require extensive travel on Earth and in space. Possible destinations may include, but are not limited to, Texas, Florida, California, Russia, Kazakhstan, the International Space Station and the moon."
All positions require mandatory drug tests
Women, minorities, and teachers are specifically encouraged to apply
The positions are only open to U.S. citizens
Applicants must be between 62 and 75 inches tall to fit in Soyuz space capsules
Minimum requirements are a bachelor's degree in specific math and science fields, as well as 3 years of experience in the workplace
New NASA employees receive 13 days of paid vacation per year, plus 10 federal holidays
Most NASA facilities have free parking
You want that free parking, don'tcha? Get cracking and apply!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Six or seven years ago Kathy had to do a training course in Charleston, and I flew in to do some sightseeing and to keep her company. I called Harriet just to say hello, and despite the fact that we hadn't seen each other for ten or twelve years, she and Jim very kindly had us to dinner. The roast was lovely, and Harriet's 18th Century antebellum home was spectacular. Jim was a lively and engaging host, and showed us his collection of pipes and netsuke. They had season tickets to the symphony, and gave Kathy a ticket for a night when she was free and they were not. (I would be home by then.) These were small kindnesses, but they were a few among thousands: Jim and Harriet were known for doing good turns to people around them.
I admired Jim's fight with the Reaper, a battle that seemed composed of equal parts pugnacity and good cheer. I doubt I will be quite so good-natured when it's my time.
My condolences to Harriet and the other members of the Rigney circle.
I Have a Cold
It's not a bad cold, as colds go, but it's inconvenient, and it sucks away energy.
This is something like the fifth cold I've had in the last eighteen months. I conclude that my immune system has gone to hell.
Any home remedies I should try?
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Annihilation! Cool Flying Dudes! And other stories from the world of science . . .
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
It's an okay novel. It follows the history very closely, and if you're interested in that sort of thing, you'll be interested in this. No great insights are obtained. It makes Cicero out to be a friend of the common man and a champion of democracy, which I rather much doubt, but does nothing that can't be supported by the available facts and/or the convenience of drama.
What I note, however, is that the book is written in the first person by Cicero's slave/secretary and real-life biographer, Tiro. (The fellow who invented shorthand, by the way.) The great man, as we see him in this book, is the invention of his sidekick, as Sherlock Holmes is (as we read him) the invention of Watson.
I mention this because some years ago I was trying to sell a novel about Benjamin Franklin, something that I utterly failed to do. Most editors didn't even bother to return my agent's phone calls, and thus I have no idea why the work met with such utter indifference. (Most didn't even bother to reject it--- I suppose it's still officially on submission in half a dozen places.) But the one kind editor who actually did talk to me gave a long list of reasons why the book wouldn't work for him, mostly having to do with the book's failure to fit convincingly into one category or another. (The editor who talked to me was promptly fired. I hope these events are not connected.)
The reason that didn't have to do with category went something like this: "Your book is written from the point of view of a famous historical character. Readers are intimidated by the thought of having to enter the mind of a genius, and so would be much more comfortable viewing Franklin from the point of view of a more ordinary person." From the point of view of a Watson, in other words. The Alienist was given as an example, a novel which featured Theodore Roosevelt pursuing a serial killer but which was written from the point of view of a fictional college chum. (He could also have mentioned all of Gore Vidal's historicals, none of which are written from the point of view of the title character.)
Franklin wrote his own puffery and had no need of a Watson, and I felt uncomfortable inventing an ahistorical character in a book wherein every other character actually existed, and so never followed the editor's advice. Franklin was such a protean character that I very much enjoyed the challenge of writing from his point of view. (I also never mentioned that I didn't think The Alienist was a particularly good novel, for all that it was scrupulously researched.)
If I'd had my wits about me I would have mentioned Margaret George, who has written fictional autobiographies of Henry VIII, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, and Helen of Troy, all of which seem to have sold briskly. Also I, Claudius, as well as Robert Graves' other historicals about Belisarius and Jason. (By the way, have I mentioned that the Spanish translation of the Claudius novel is Yo, Claudio?)
So the truism about readers being uncomfortable reading something from the point of view of a famous character is pretty much untrue.
As writers, we're often told one thing or another about the publishing business that later turns out to be, umm, premature.
Any other examples?
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Why A Duck?
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Th.J for Fake
“I used to brag that I got the Thomas Jefferson wines,” heAs a sometime stage magician, I enjoy a good sleight-of-hand. I like a colossal monstrous jape, a clever bit of illusion, and Orson Welles, both for his War of the Worlds broadcast and his film F for Fake, his dual biography of the forgers Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving.
said. “Now I get to brag that I have the fake Thomas Jefferson
Now it seems that a German con man may have duped a whole bunch of rich people into buying phony cru. Including some allegedly from Thomas Jefferson's wine cellar. And that one of his dupes, a guy who models himself on Old West sheriffs, is intent on bringing him to justice.
Makes it hard to figure out who to cheer for.
I wish Orson Welles were still around to make a movie of this. He would appreciate all the little nuances, I'm sure.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
"Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as
"I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced. "
So here's Roy F. Baumeister, Princeton graduate, attempting to explain the differences between men and women. Some of his conclusions seem a little stretched to me, but on the whole they are reasonably presented.
Will women enjoy being told that their genetic destiny is to occupy the middle of the bell curve? I suspect not.
But them I'm a member of the patriarchy, so what do I know.
Strike in Second Life
During the talks to renew IBM’s Italian internal collective
agreement, the works council, supported by the majority of IBM Italy employees, asked for a small salary increase. IBM responded by cancelling their "productive results benefit", resulting in a loss of €1000 per year for each employee. For a company that wants to lead in corporate social responsibility, this is unacceptable.RSU (Rappresentenza Sindacale Unitaria) decided to organise the first virtual strike ever in Second Life with the help of UNI (Union Network International). It is time for IBM, a company with one of the highest profits, to share some of the fruits with its workforce. IBM workers will go on strike in Second Life this September.
All union supporters are asked to join them online.
I have to wonder what their avatars are going to look like.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
High civilization is besieged by those possessed of inferior genetics! A heroic man of action and a brilliant scientist team up to find the secret of immortality, in order to create a super race!
The time was the 1930s. The man of action was Charles Lindbergh.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
“These are the sharpest images ever taken either from the ground or from space
and yet we are essentially using ‘Blue Peter’ technology. Amateur Lucky Imaging
is popular because the technique is so cheap and effective. The low cost means
that we could apply the process to telescopes all over the world.”
Rain, Thunder, Hail, Beef!
Thirdly, Williams Lake without the tourists. Picture the silence of the scene, followed by the hiss of hail as it crosses the water.
Lastly, the happy ending, strip steaks on their way to the grill.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Thunder, Lighting, Hail
The holiday weekend was full. On Friday night Kathy and I journeyed to Santa Fe for Carl's birthday party. Next morning, following breakfast at Melinda's of Lamy (eggs baked atop spinach, brie, havarti, and cream), we journeyed to Snow Bear at Taos Ski Valley for a weekend with our friends Pat and Scott.
We drank good wine. One night we grilled some glorious New York steaks, another night we ate out at the local Bavarian restaurant (I had the Mixed Sausage Plate, but though the sausage was fine the best part of the meal was the homemade sauerkraut). We watched Hot Fuzz and Call of Cthulhu. And I got to hike up mountain trails every single day.
On Saturday, Kathy descended into Taos for shopping while Pat, Scott, and I decided to march up the Williams Lake trail. This is about a three-hour round trip, and involves hiking over an 11,000-foot pass. The sky was cloudy but promised rain, though our landlady assured us that any rain would be light, because the sky was clear in Taos and that's where the weather comes from.
So for the better part of two hours we meandered through ponderosa forest, mountain meadows (created by avalanches), and the giant sprawling remains of rock slides. (You might say that the area's geology is rather active.) The New Mexico mountains seem to attract a polyglot crowd, and on the way up we passed folks talking in German, French, Spanish, and what might have been Tagalog. The cloud cover kept things cool and the occasional spatters of rain were negligible. But shortly before we crested the pass, the rain began to come down steadily and we took shelter beneath some pine trees.
I had packed like an imbecile--- I had no cool- or wet-weather clothing at all (it was all in the car we didn't take). At least I remembered to bring a water bottle. Scott more than made up for this--- he had even brought garbage bags for use as emergency ponchos. So he kitted us out in fashionable black plastic tunics, and we continued our walk, over the pass and down to the little lake.
The view was stunning, as I hope to demonstrate if Scott will kindly email me some of the excellent photos he was taking. The lake itself isn't very large or very exciting--- and it's barren, because it freezes to the bottom every winter--- but it's set in an idyllic valley set between massive peaks. It's very close to the tree line. Maybe some day I'll haul a tent up there and camp out for the night.
I was standing on a bluff overlooking the lake when the water began to hisssssss as if it were a teapot about to boil. The sound created simultaneous but contradictory reactions.
- Wow, that's soooo cool! But---
- That sound means more, um, interesting weather is coming!
The interesting weather turned out to be hail, accompanied by thunder and lightning right overhead. As even pea-sized hail could sting through the trash bag I was sheltering in, it became clear that there was a natural limit to the amount of time we were going to spend at the lake.
So the return journey began, through gradually worsening weather. (The annoying thing is that we were up so high we had a clear view of blue sky off in the distance. The blue sky just wasn't approaching very quickly.) Despite our plastic tabards we were thoroughly soaked and very cold--- amazing how quickly chill can become a problem. We spent about half the time sheltering from the worst of it, and the rest sliding down an increasingly slippery trail. I only actually fell once, when some liquid soil slid out from under me and I did the involuntary splits. As I am not one of those intended by Nature to do the splits, I pulled a groin muscle somewhere in the sprawl.
Scott very energetically jumped off the trail and, by wrenching and trimming branches from fallen trees, made us all walking sticks that made mud-sliding less likely.
We made it back to Snow Bear and hot baths after four hours of adventure. I didn't consider myself recovered until I'd wolfed down a steak with all the trimmings.
"Adventure," I recall SM Stirling remarking, "is a whole lot of shit happening to someone else, very far away."
But any adventure that ends with a hot bath and a steak can't be all bad.