A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Medical Item

On Daily Kos, of all places, I found this admirably lucid explanation of something I once experienced:

There's flu and then there's complications from flu. This one is a pneumonia complicated by pus formation. Think of a 2 liter soda bottle, empty, and then put a balloon in it and blow it up so that the balloon takes the shape of inside the bottle. The bottle is your chest wall and the balloon is your lung, filled with air. Put water in the balloon and you have pneumonia. But put an inch or two of water in the bottle, and then put the balloon in, and you get water outside the balloon/lung but inside the bottle/chest. It's a complication of pneumonia called a parapneumonic effusion and it's not good. It often has to be drained via a hole in the bottle/chest wall. But if instead of fluid you get pus, it's called empyema. That's even worse, and is difficult to treat, especially in young children (i.e. it's hospital stuff with maybe an invasive procedure for drainage. Do not try this at home.)

Bacterial pneumonia with empyema is a serious complication of influenza and commonly resulted in death during the 1918 influenza pandemic. We hypothesize that deaths caused by parapneumonic empyema are increasing in Utah once again despite advances in critical care and the availability of antimicrobial drugs and new vaccines. In this study, we analyzed the historical relationship between deaths caused by empyema and influenza pandemics by using 100 years of data from Utah. Deaths caused by empyema have indeed increased from 2000–2004 when compared with the historic low death rates of 1950–1975. Vaccine strategies and antimicrobial drug stockpiling to control empyema will be important as we prepare for the next influenza pandemic.

I include this because people often say, "but 1918 was primitive, and we have fancy medicine." Nuh-uh. Even modern medicine is seeing increasing bacterial resistance and virulence (think MRSA, another potential flu complication). If hospitals are full, medications are in short supply, and you have to deal with this at home, you are in big trouble. And if you want to add in the health reform/finance/insurance issues that interfere with excellent and timely care... well, in the meantime, get your flu shot.

On the Road Again

I can drive! Did it twice today, to the grocery store and tonight to the clinic. And it went OK. Yeah, there were a couple of moments when I flinched, discovering something on my left that I hadn't seen a moment before. But reviving a skill that has lain dormant for four months is still a kick.

In honor of that moment:


Thursday, January 22, 2009

"There is a pain so utter..."

There is a pain—so utter—
It swallows substance up—
Then covers the Abyss with Trance—
So Memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one within a Swoon—
Goes safely—where an open eye—
Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

Emily Dickinson, who never (so far as we know) gave birth, was still acquainted with time's anodyne, the erasure of the experience of pain most often associated with the recovery from childbirth. But there are other kinds of pain that time trances over as well. In my hospital stay, I never suffered much physical pain -- on the familiar 1-to-10 scale that doctors and nurses use, I don't think I ever got much past a 6. (My roommate, however, who came back from intestinal surgery howling in agony as the anesthetic wore off and before the morphine drip could be installed, responded to the 1-to-10 question, "It's a 12, goddammit!")

In my case, it was more the psychological pain, the disorientation, the hallucinations, that grew most acute as the fever spiked. Those I have mostly forgotten, but every now and then one of them resurfaces.

One night in the hospital, I awoke to find a strange, pale animal, something like a naked rat, in bed with me. As I reached in panic for the intercom to summon the nurse, the thing lunged for the call button.

It was my own hand.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change?

Nothing gets past Jon Stewart:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Classical Gas

Listening to Aretha sing "God Save the Queen" -- uh, I mean "America", brought back musty memories of high school Latin class, where we learned to sing:

Te cano, Patria,
candida, libera;
te referet
portus et exulum
et tumulus senum;
libera montium
vox resonet.

Because nobody studies Latin anymore, I guess I should explain that this is a rather free translation of "My country, 'tis of thee" etc., made by a Latin teacher named George D. Kellogg. I didn't remember all the lyrics, so I Googled it, which took me to some pretty obscure Web sites. (It's not on Wikipedia, although the Latin translation of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" -- "Mica, Mica Parva Stella" -- is.)


Change

There's a new sheriff in town.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ticked Off

The power went off for a second this morning and I had to re-set the digital clocks. And you can't dial POPCORN for the correct time anymore. My god, I'm sounding like Andy Rooney. I wonder if "60 Minutes" will hire me to grouse about inconsequentials when Andy finally goes to the Old Farts Home.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Goodbye to All that

I don't have much to say about Bush's farewell address that the bloggerati hasn't already said, except to observe that the thing from the speech that got sound-bit the most was his claim to have made "tough decisions." But really, was there one thing the Decider decided that wasn't promulgated by Dick Cheney, the neocon cabal, the oiligarchy, and the Christian reich -- uh, right?

As usual, Rachel Maddow said it best:



Watching this again, I'm struck by what I like best about Rachel: her tone of informed and impassioned irony. I think Jane Austen would have loved her. I even like the way she talks out of the side of her mouth, the opposite side from the one Dick Cheney talks out of.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clunk! Clang! Clunk! Clang!

And so another season of "24" counts down. Yes, it's a guilty pleasure, and yes, it's sometimes little more than terror 'n' torture porn for Dick Cheney and the dittoheads. And I bailed on last season when Jack Bauer's Rambismo got completely out of control. But like Michael Corleone (or for that matter, like Jack Bauer) I keep getting dragged back in.

I admit it's nice to see Bill (James Morrison) and Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and even the implausibly resurrected Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) again, even if Tony and Jack seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can out-glower the other. And if you can compartmentalize away the right-wing politics, the glaring continuity gaps, and the complete absurdity of the premise that all this is taking place in "real time" -- it seems, for example, that no place in L.A. or, this season, D.C. is more than a commercial break's distance from any other -- then you can have a litte fun.

For me, the pleasure of "24" is watching some really fine performers do what they can with really awful material. Who can forget Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart as the Logans? And this season we have the miraculous Cherry Jones as the president, a part she plays as a kind of mixture of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Margaret Thatcher. And the wonderful Janeane Garofalo, who seemed to be taking on Chloe's old role as the put-upon techie brainiac until Chloe herself showed up and got into a split-screen duel with her over control of the security system. We can only hope that Garofalo and Rajskub get lots of screen time together.

This season's McGuffin is a gizmo that can override all the security protocols of the federal government, including air traffic control. And the villains are African warlords on a genocidal rampage, who seem to have their fingers into everything, including the murder of the son of the president and the first spouse (a gaunt and glum Colm Feore). The ripped-from-the headlines premise of "24" has always been bogus, however. Best to just sit back and disengage your expectation that any of it should bear a resemblance to the real world.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cat Not Napping

While I was in rehab, my cat got sick and had to be euthanized. I miss the little guy, but this video reminds me that cat-ownership can be a mixed blessing.

The Two Smartest People on TV

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How They Make the Yellow Line

Those who know me well will be surprised to find my writing anything about sports. And I admit it: I'm totally lacking in knowledge of any major sport. I've never watched a basketball game in my life. I get caught up in baseball only occasionally. Watching golf on TV is a good nap spoiled. I grew up in football country, but I rarely watch a game on TV except during my brother-in-law's annual visit.

It was during one of those visits, when he asked if he could watch a football game, that I discovered the yellow line, that stripe that magically appears underneath the players to mark the down line. "Is that really on the field?" I asked. "Nah," he said, "they do it with the camera." He didn't know how.

But now, the magic of Internet video explains it all for us here.

Really, is there anything you can't learn from the Internet?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Take That, Macolytes!


Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Memories Light the Corners of My Mind. But It's Pretty Dark in the Rest of the Place.

At breakfast this morning, my brother-in-law, who is visiting us, asked, apropos of nothing: "Longfellow's 'Evangeline.' That's in iambic pentameter, right?"

No, I replied pedantically, it's dactylic hexameter, and I proceeded to chant:

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

(Old Henry W. was no Virgil, partly because English isn't Latin. He had to throw in a few trochees to keep things moving along.)

Don't ask me how I remember that. I haven't read "Evangeline" since eighth-grade English class. (You can imagine the snickers at "harpers hoar.") How is it I can remember something [mumbles a number] years ago, but can't remember what I had for dinner last night?

Anyway, that got me thinking (always a perilous thing to provoke) about stuff one remembers and stuff one doesn't. Like song lyrics, for example. Lately, I've got "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy stuck in my head. But when I try to supply the lyrics, I can't remember them. Like the ending, just before Ethel or Angela or Tyne or Bernadette or Patti belts out "Everything coming up roses for me and for you!" There are three lines that go:

Honey, everything's coming up [something and something else]!
Everything's coming up [more stuff and still more stuff]!
Everything's gonna be [these things and other things]!

But I can never remember what's coming up. So I substitute my own words:

Honey, everything's coming up hopscotch and sauerkraut!
Everything's coming up bluebells and cantaloupe!
Everthing's gonna be Dagwood and Mickey Mouse!

But that can't be right, so I Googled it, and learned that it's "roses and daffodils," "sunshine and Santa Claus," and "bright lights and lollipops." With all due respect to Stephen Sondheim, I think I like my version better.

Anyway, I guess the point of this is what Milton's Satan said:

The mind is its own place, and in it
self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Well, yeah. But it can also make a mess of things.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Vive la Californie!

Phil Trounstine, once a deliciously cantankerous political writer for the Mercury News and now a political "consultant" (whatever the hell that is), was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle today on the subject of Bush's attitude toward California: "He regarded California sort of like France -- as a foreign entity for which he had nothing but scorn. Except for this: He did more damage to California than he ever did to France."

Nicely put, and it reminded me of one of the defining moments (there were so many of them) of the Bush presidency, when he mocked a reporter traveling with him for speaking French -- to a Frenchman. In Bushworld, the only foreign languages allowed were apparently a few phrases of schoolbook Spanish that he came out with for stump speeches in Miami and the Southwest.

Bush rarely visited California, the article notes, and never San Francisco. To do so might have signaled some kind of endorsement of "San Francisco values," the right's anathema. To my mind, San Francisco values include fair-mindedness, diversity, and a concern for the rights of minorities and the welfare of the less fortunate. So I guess I can see why the Republican Party might reject them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

To Whet Your Appetite

I'm not much of a foodie, but I enjoy reading about food. So I've added to my blogroll -- A Few Good Sites -- over there two links to culinary sites maintained by a couple of friends and former colleagues: Aleta Watson's The Skillet Chronicles and Carolyn Jung's Foodgal. Both are treats.

Going Green

I'm not much of an environmentalist, I'm afraid. Oh, I insist on fluorescent bulbs, but I sometimes forget and throw paper or bottles into the trash instead of the recycling bin, and I can never remember what I'm supposed to do with the little dead batteries from the remote. But my stay in a couple of medical institutions shocked me. Every day, I watch several yards of plastic tubing and three or four little syringes tossed into the waste bin after my infusion. Not to mention the disposable gloves that the nurses pull on and toss after each procedure, even the ones that take only a few seconds.

I know there are perfectly good reasons for all this waste, but in a big hospital like Stanford it must be prodigious. What happens to all that stuff? Is it dumped? Incinerated? Or somehow purged of its previous uses and recycled? None of those alternatives is particularly attractive. And the energy costs of running all that equipment must be astronomical. (Is there a fresher word than "astronomical"? Cosmic? Galactic?)

In an age when we're all being urged to turn down our thermostats and recycle and drive less, it seems like the hospitals are exempt. Maybe that's how it should be -- I certainly don't want to get my meds through an IV line somebody else has used before me -- but I wonder how conscientious hospital management is being encouraged to be.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happier New Year! Please?

It's that time when we still write the previous year on checks. (If we write checks. I do most of my bill-paying online.) When the newspapers are full of lists of who did what and whatever it meant for good or ill. And when there are jokes about New Year's resolutions.

I make no resolutions other than to keep up my meds and stay out of the emergency room. I will not, I think, intentionally break those.

My hope for 2009 is that it will be a landmark year politically and socially. Someone observed recently that just as the Sixties ended with the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon in 1972 (and you can argue that the Eighties began with Reagan's election and the Nineties with Clinton's), so the 21st century won't really begin until Obama's inauguration on January 20. A specious observation but a pleasant one nevertheless. It embodies the hope we feel, not just at the beginning of the Obama administration, but at the prospect of the end of the Bush-Cheney reign of error.

I also hope that that tarnished old word "liberal" will get polished up again, so we don't have to keep using euphemisms like "progressive." (Progress being something of an illusion -- at least in the short-term scheme of things.) The problem with liberals -- oh, where to go with a sentence that starts like that? The problem with liberals is that they keep seeing their own faults. Conservatives, on the other hand, adhere to the "never apologize, never explain" rule, best exemplified by Bush's stubborn refusal to admit that he might have screwed up a teeny bit during his presidency.

Liberal ambivalence, and liberals' tendency to pride themselves on being open-minded, is often their undoing. Even Obama has fallen into this trap by being "open-minded" enough to invite the execrable Rick Warren to invoke his deity at the inauguration. Liberals can also be mighty self-righteous, which enables a wartnoggin like Jonah Goldberg to coin the oxymoron "liberal fascism" -- and for some ambivalent liberals to say, "Well, he might have something there." (Aside: Does Rush Limbaugh's pill-popping make him an Oxy moron? Sorry.)

There's no doubt that this New Year's begins on a somber note, with everyone's 401(k) in tatters, stores shuttering, unemployment ballooning, mortgages collapsing, Israel bigfooting it around in Gaza, the climate going wacko, and so on. If ever there was a time of "malaise" -- Jimmy Carter's infamous epithet -- this is it.

But Obama continues to radiate a calm determination that things can be fixed. Of all the character traits he's shown, his unflappability is for me the most attractive. "No drama Obama," his staff called him. We live in what might be described as "interesting times." (Remember the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times.") Maybe we should hope that they get a little less interesting -- no drama, please -- this year.