# 08 Mar 2007, 01:41PM: Fixin' to Go:
I'm working on columnness right now so that I won't have to send one in while Leonard and I are away. My most recent published MC Masala: on the history of medicine and perspective.
There was a long period in the 18th and 19th centuries where researchers were making leaps and bounds in theoretical understanding, but it didn't much help patients. Regular doctors, not just scientists, had to understand that bloodletting didn't help and handwashing did; that took a while.
It's just astonishing, the things we take for granted. Vitamins were isolated less than a century ago. The first real blind clinical trial was in 1946, and it pointed to a cure for tuberculosis. Surgeons and doctors used to think of their professions as quite separate; the original Hippocratic oath banned surgery by doctors.
The Hippocratic oath also prohibited doctors from participating in certain euthanasia and abortion methods. (This is so unusual, according to what we know of ancient Greek beliefs, that it makes some historians think it was added later.) But the most surprising item in that old oath is the rule against teaching medicine to students unapproved by one's master.
You might recall my obsession with perspectives from my previous column. Being disoriented means you're making progress. Leonard and I will be visiting Mysore (in Karnataka, India) from the 10th until the 13th, and in London from the 13th until the 16th. I've never been to London before and hope it massively surprises me. I also hope Leonard doesn't get any weird tropical diseases, and that melatonin helps me fight jet lag and not be a jerk. It would also be nice if I didn't get my period during the trip, but that's probably a lost cause.
To see in England: Avedon Carol, Brendan Adkins and his host Kevan Davis. If possible: Paul Wright and Daniel Davies, as well as my friend Priya. Recommended to me: the clock room at the British Museum, Evensong at Westminster Abbey, the original walking tour of London. Requested but very mildly: a souvenir from Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop.
In closing for now: look at the coasters we made!
# (1) 17 Mar 2007, 01:19AM: We're Home!:
Thanks especially to Avedon Carol and her partner Rob for putting us up in London-town. After sleep, and an all-day Columbia class tomorrow, more fun details.
# 18 Mar 2007, 12:59PM: Quick Travelogue:
Caution: may be boring. This really serves as a skeleton for my future recollections, but it's better than the nothing that I invariably posted after past trips.
I took Thursday the 8th off from work even though we weren't flying till late that night. Excellent decision and reduced packing/errands stress. The flight to London was uneventful and we caught up with my sister in Heathrow and flew with her to Bangalore.
After a sunrise drive to Mysore, I think we spent most of the first day in India just staying awake and talking at home. An uncle accompanied Leonard and me to a bookstore so we could restock on Amar Chitra Katha comic books, and I got fitted for a blouse and skirt to wear to my dad's birthday party the next day. Leonard's few words of Kannada impressed everyone. We took melatonin tablets to go to sleep on time, and continued doing that throughout the trip - an excellent jet lag remedy.
The next day my dad had his big party and puja; Leonard, Nandini and I were accessories to this, appearing and smiling and bowing at the correct moments. We talked with relatives in the shade when we could. As in all family reunions, there were tens of distant relatives coming up to us and saying, "We haven't seen each other in fifteen years. Do you remember me?" and then identifying themselves by relation instead of name. Leonard and I may have been married again, sort of -- there certainly was a lot of rice-throwing, powder-daubing, and gift-giving.
My mom really wanted us to take a tour of the famous Mysore Palace, but instead we just saw it from the car, during the day and lit up at night.
Early the day we left, Leonard and I climbed the Chamundi Hill. It has monkeys. I am afraid of Indian monkeys. We were fine, though it is tiring both up and down. The last day increased my mom's velocity of gift attempts (the feeding attempts were constant throughout our visit).
Aside from multiple babies touching off each others' cries, our flight from Bangalore to London wasn't bad. Avedon had given us specific directions to her place, but Leonard thought he knew a better way; as it turns out, we were wrong. I did rent a cell phone at Heathrow and drop it off just before flying back to New York - well worth it for the fluid, unplanned, see-lots-of-friends trip we had.
The first night we just hung out with Avedon and Rob and saw her very Indian neighborhood. Then the next day we took a beautiful train ride to Cambridge to see Paul Wright for lunch at the tasty but slow Rainbow Cafe. We walked around the campus a bit, and looked at the used bookshops and the tent market. That evening we had a fine dinner ("Eat and 2 Veg") and a central-London walk with Priya.
The next day Leonard slept really late because he'd skipped his melatonin the night before; then we spent the afternoon eating and playing party games with Kevan Davis and Holly, Maria, and Brendan in Battersea. On the way to and from their place, I did get to use a double-decker bus, which I'd last thought about while watching Children of Men. Avedon and Rob invited us to their Thursday pub night, so all six of us tromped off to an out-of-the-way monarchically-named tavern in north-ish London. Bartenders got confused when I tried to tip them. I stayed up late that night just chatting with Avedon, who was quite sad that she could not show me her pictures of Durham.
We got to the airport on Friday to find out that our flight had been cancelled. I'd checked the airline site from Avedon's before leaving and had seen nothing about this! The people in front of us in the queue got the last seats for an earlier flight, so we waited for five hours instead of three to get on the plane to New York. Given the weather conditions on the East Coast, I'm just glad we were only delayed two hours! (Leonard grumble. He was a good sport.) We got home and had long showers (as Leonard called it, "The Mega-Snana"), email and RSS checking on our own computers, and slept in our own bed. Now: homework!
I assume pictures are coming soon but that's Leonard's detail.
# 19 Mar 2007, 02:56PM: The Annoying-Industrial Complex:
Faceless corporations and their renovation/building! Crepe o Chocolat, a fantastic bistro in downtown SF, is hurting for no good reason! The crepes are so good, and Sylvie is one of the acquaintances I miss from SF. Yay for progress and for David Lazarus's muckraking.
# 19 Mar 2007, 03:14PM: Hundreds Of Hours After School In The Comp Lab:
I just explained to a new colleague, with reference to "Oregon Trail", that if his workload goes past steady into strenuous or grueling, he should let me know so I can bear some of it. You can sing "Oregon Trail" to the tune of "Minimum Wage" by They Might Be Giants. Achewood remembers. Where On The Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?
# 20 Mar 2007, 01:13PM: MC Masala Columns on Flesh:
My two most recent MC Masala columns are on food/body topics. On modeling classes and beginning to exercise:
If they let me in, they must have let anyone in; I was like a sparrow taking swimming lessons. Of the fame-seeking little boys and girls in that room, earnestly practicing our cold-reading skills on pages from sitcom and "90210" scripts, how many actually got something out of it? I recall only a vague annoyance at the scattershot training and a miraculously unscathed body image.
On a ruined beet salad, and gaining a palate.
If the restaurant specializes in U.S. or European cuisine, I just check the menu first to make sure it offers more than one vegetarian entree. You see, if there's just one, it might be a token that no one ever orders. (This especially goes for vegetarian omelets. Diner cooks often forget that sticking raw mushrooms and broccoli in the middle of already-cooked eggs doesn't work.) But if a healthy proportion of the menu is meatless or meat-optional, then I know the restaurateur doesn't just conceive of a meal as "hunk of meat surrounded by little sides of starch and color."
# 21 Mar 2007, 11:42AM: Notes From Overachievers:
A wry coda to an essaylet from my colleague Eric:
"So I'm going to be thinking about these concepts. Figure out where I want to be getting results, and therefore what I should be paying attention to. Spend time on self-reflection in order to identify areas of improvement, and then determine how I can use deliberate practice to attack those deficiencies. Of course, the problem is that it requires self-discipline to do all of these things and that's one of the areas of improvement. So we'll see how things go."
And a note from a former federal prosecutor. The Bush Administration really does not grok overachievers. Tracy Flick, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, what have you. How much of an overachiever do you have to be to make it to that level of play? How much would it burn you, and destroy your loyalty, to see your former bosses malign your competence? Of course they fought back.
# 21 Mar 2007, 12:05PM: Tendencies, Or, The Lives Of Others:
I'd like to see that film, The Lives of Others. Maybe it would help remind me of this bit of wisdom, one that's been slipping off me no matter how many times I try to pour it on: "Never judge your inside by anyone else's outside." Garrison Keillor echoes: "We have a backstage view of ourselves and a third-row view of everybody else."
If someone seems together, I won't like them. Once they've showed vulnerability, I can enjoy their company. Preferred: someone who's subtly but bravely struggling with some issue -- personal, job, etc. -- and laughs at my jokes. And whose tastes coincide with my own. If they're more critical than me, I feel defensive, as though I'm trying desperately to manufacture taste on the spot. If they like things I don't, what a terrible snob I feel!
How much does it cost to be a hermit for a year?
# 22 Mar 2007, 09:36AM: What Kind Of Animal?:
Yesterday, talking with a classmate about tricks to discipline ourselves into eating better, I found myself saying: "If your brain can't override your appetites, then you're no better than an animal." Bruce Schneier reminds us that our brain, too, is an animal's brain.
# 25 Mar 2007, 12:47PM: MC Masala on Vice & Tolerance:
Pot, gambling, adultery, what have you. Quotes Daniel Davies.
It gets more obvious when you see political moderates turn into radicals. The cycle of marginalization and radicalization has gotten to Ralph Nader, just as it gets to kids who become martyrs to any cause. Rebels don't conform when you punish them; they rebel harder, especially if they don't have any stake in the stability of their world.
# 25 Mar 2007, 11:45PM: Cursing At The Screen:
Battlestar Galactica made me yell a real curse word at the screen tonight. Not "frack," either. The culprit: not the 60s song, not the revelations of Cylonitude, but the "back in 2008." Noooo! For those of you who actually watched Star Trek: Enterprise, remember the 3rd season finale where the last ten seconds had an alien Nazi reveal? This was like that.
# 26 Mar 2007, 05:03PM: "Deferred Success" = "Failed":
The other day I referred to poop as "the deliverable." More "Performance evaluation euphemisms invading everyday speech (ironically)" from Raymond Chen's blog.
# 27 Mar 2007, 10:40AM: Earworm Alert:
"I'm Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer" by Atom & His Package. Has a faint kinship with the Ben Folds/Shatner version of "Common People."
# 27 Mar 2007, 11:28AM: First "Oregon Trail," Now This:
A colleague's tale of a multiple-anxiety dream (late to work + train is going the wrong place + never actually graduated from high school) caused me to tell him about Weird Al's song "Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White." I hadn't heard it in at least five years and still knew the lyrics. Even though the rhymes aren't perfect. Address/test/chest/rest.
# (3) 28 Mar 2007, 07:54AM: "Leonard's Still Asleep" Digest:
Leonard is still asleep, so I can't draw his attention to these:
- A groan-inducing pun about Ender's Game.
- Sadly, the only way to get Seth to write a blog entry is to make an error in modifying a Latin-cum-English phrase. For all I know he's been gritting his teeth over "Cogito, Ergo Sumana" for ages.
- "The algorithms of Matt Cutts!"
- Andrew and Claudia, I miss you.
From the outside, I can imagine the American habit of supporting political arguments by making reference to "The Founders" seems bizarre, if not necrophilic. A rational interpretation of this belief is that Americans think these million-year-old dudes in powdered wigs were some kind of prophets, or supermen, capable of pulling eternal truths - inaccessable to mere mortals - from the ether, and distilling them into perfect words to endure for all time. The Bill of Rights as the new Ten Commandments, or something like that.
And you'll like the kicker, Leonard.
- NSFW (unless you, like Leonard, work from home) Chris Rock bit on prescription and illegal drugs.
- Likable guy? "Oh, far from it. No one likes me. Will you be my friend?"
# (1) 29 Mar 2007, 11:42AM: By The Time I Come Back I Expect Jetpacks:
A year and change after I left the Bay Area, Muni leaps into the future: selling FastPasses online and partnering with NextBus to provide online location tracking for 16 bus lines. In contrast, NextBus for New York only provides updates for the NY Water Taxi.
# 30 Mar 2007, 11:01AM: QOTD:
In a discussion about She-Hulk #1 this morning: "Robert's Rules of Order are not a suicide pact." -Leonard.
Thanks for the recommendation, Zed.
# (4) 30 Mar 2007, 11:01AM: The Horror! (x2):
Morning work discussion included proposing which films, and which films' special effects, still hold up on contemporary viewing. Suggested watersheds in special effects: Star Wars, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Matrix. Candidates without a broad consensus: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jaws, The Blair Witch Project, Toy Story. I found Blair Witch quite frightening while a colleague found it amusing; I noted that a work of horror, as in porn, either pushes your specific buttons or it doesn't.
I don't generally read or watch horror, for fear of nightmares. I did pick up High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale at Borderlands once when a bookshop employee suggested it as a gateway drug to horror. I appreciated it, but it didn't expand my comfort zone. I still can't trust the squick to stay in its little box, going away when I close the book. I fear that it will attack again when I'm asleep, defenseless.
Yesterday I saw a trailer for a new horror film called Vacancy. Intellectually, I can decompose the premises, viewpoint and structure of the movie. It reminds me of Blair Witch and The Truman Show, and of what I've heard of Saw and Hostel. Viscerally, I can tell that Vacancy would actually push my buttons and scare me -- even the trailer is memorably scary. At least, it pushes my specific buttons.
Before "boundaries" became an in-vogue pop-psych word, I had already decided that I wasn't going to watch or read horror because it might make me uncomfortable, especially in ways I couldn't control. But every once in a while I peek over the edge. Blair Witch, Lansdale, an afternoon in the Pegasus bookstore at Durant and Shattuck reading Carrie.
I guess I'm trying to figure out what people get out of horror. Is it a thrill ride? Is it a reminder of the nearness of oblivion or hell, like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (Slacktivist name-check) or Camus? Is it catharsis or feeding for bloodlust?
# 30 Mar 2007, 11:11AM: Reminder:
Speaking of horror: Dr. Andrew L. Creighton once told my Sociology class that he watches a particular clip from Alien when he needs to stay awake. He was a fantastic lecturer, and the best PowerPoint user I saw until Colbert's The Word. All I can find of him now is records of his 2004 political donations; I hope he's doing well.
# 31 Mar 2007, 11:52AM: Conflation -> Comedy:
Edward James Olmos + Admiral William Adama =
Does Eddie Adama have a deal for you?! Just look at the prices on this Raptor! Why are my prices so low? I have no choice. Just come on down to Crazy Eddie's; SO SAY WE ALL!
# 31 Mar 2007, 11:39PM: The Three Skills of Adulthood:
Now, I foist upon you an extended excerpt from Rachel Chalmers's "I follow my nose":
...It occurs to me that all the really important decisions of my life - who to marry, where to work, when to sprog - were made on the basis of my gut. I think there are three sets of skills necessary to modern adulthood. The first is mastering administrivia; taxes, visas, passports, job applications, budgets, credit card bills, doctor's appointments, admission forms, financial aid. A second and quite closely related skill-set concerns your performance. These skills involve figuring out what's expected of you and serving it up, ideally with a twist that no one would have thought of but you. Bedrock director Jimmy Fay summed it up as "Say your lines and hit your marks." Haim Ginott's variation is my oft-cited parenting mantra: "Don't just do something; stand there."
Gut feelings fall into a third, seldom-used group of skills. For me, the only way not to get paralysed by the sheer earth-shatteringness of big decisions is to make them behind my own back, as it were, or in some other form of massive denial. Jeremy and I have long described our relationship as "the one night stand that went horribly wrong." We pretended we were only moving to California for a year or two....
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