The survivors

Joel Achenbach is "still thinking about Hunter" today. So am I. I did a little self-check after I read the news on Monday, and decided that I wasn't upset about him killing himself. I was sad that Thomson had died, in the same way I would be if it had been a heart attack (it might have been different if he were young).

I guess my attitude about suicide crystalized in 1994 when Kurt Cobain died. My brother (who was maybe 14) was stomping mad at Cobain and cleansed the house of Nirvana CDs. 11 years later he's still upset (or at least he would be if anyone was silly enough to bring it up). I didn't react that way.

I never reacted that way - I remember a girl in my hometown who was 15 and on her second suicide attempt when I was 12 (she didn't succeed, and I think she is still alive now and as ok as anyone). I remember people being angry about it the next day, and I thought, "Why?" Why are you angry at someone who is miserable, whose parents have turned their back on her, who (whether for its comfort or for your attention) has turned toward death? How can your hearts be closing more tightly than ever?

I have been right up onto the borders of suicide. I have found myself in that twilight country two or three times, when I have been so withdrawn that I could not hold up one end of a conversation, I could only apologize for the state of myself. So despairing of my ability to function socially that I felt the need to apologize and leave early. So sure that I could not contribute (do work) that I wanted to get out of the way.

Those weren't balanced moment for decision making; blessedly those moments are also times of low energy. I can't imagine living with guns and ammo in the house, it's way too easy - there have been times when I have emptied my house of sharp things as my mood slid downhill.


Pop music from hell

I'm getting a lot of visitors from Corndoggerel's Worst Cover Songs discussion. Hi folks!

In my defense, I don't know who Tara Reid is either - I knew roughly what year the truly awful "Piece of My Heart" cover was on the radio, and hunted up a Billboard hits list to discover the guilty singer.

*Shudder* If it's bad to be 13 and to be the only person you know who listens to Janis Joplin (except your mom), it's much worse if your classmates are humming a flat dancepop cover of one of her most soulful songs.


Conglomo (Time Warner) at my house

A salesman came to my door 10 days ago. This never happens, so I let him talk. He was going door to door, he said, with a special offer from Time Warner. My hackles went up - I don't like companies that buy companies that buy companies and have a piece of every market. He went on, "I can offer you a great deal! You can try out cable, the digital tier, and a DVR box for a month, free of charge. Installation is free. What day would you like us to come hook you up?"

* * * * * * * * * * we own you * * * * * * * * * *

Hook me up was right - I felt like I was being offered that free first hit by a drug pusher. I was about to send him on his way, when said, "Are you interested in broadband internet?" Two days later, a cable guy spent an hour in my basement hooking up my computer and my tyrannosauric TV to super-cable. I have everything!

I have watched more movies in the last 4 days than in the previous 6 months. I am finally getting to watch the first season of Malcolm in the Middle. Last night, I discovered I have access to an on-demand channel with AbFab. If I'm posting sporadically, you can guess why.

I hope I can give it up at the end of the free month. I have to give it up at the end of the free month - it takes one and three-quarters days of work at my sh*t wage to earn a month's digital cable payment. Besides, the dog is getting increasingly belligerent about being ignored in favor of the TV, finding socks, potting soil, and stuffed animals to tear to smithereens and spread across the house while I sit there absorbed. There aren't enough hours in the day for TV and real life.

I've noticed that Nicktoons runs two episodes of Animaniacs a day, carefully screening out the episodes that feature allegory for Dubya and Dick. Narf!

Fear and Loathing in junior high school

I got a Rolling Stone coffee table book with my Christmas money when I was about 13. I read it cover to cover, scary pictures of Sid Vicious cutting himself and all. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72' was in there, complete with Ralph Steadman pictures of drunken debauchery and naked ladies. I was shocked. Thrilled. The phrase "Fear and Loathing" entered my vocabulary at that tender age. I skimmed the story - I didn't much care about a political campaign 5 years before I was born - and I paused to appreciate sharp observations and to savor well-stated contempt for the men who abuse power.

Hunter S. Thompson was a master of his craft.



Neighbors and the war

I just found a great analogy about the invasion of Iraq involving the contents of your neighbor's potting shed. It doesn't exerpt well, so go and see for yourself (it's in the second section of the post).


The biggest and most enjoyable timesuck I've discovered this year is webcomics. I've been reading MegaTokyo since October - ScaryDuck's l33t references sent me googling and MegaTokyo was on the first page. One afternoon, I followed some links away from MT and the world of webcomics balooned before my eyes. Today I found Webcomics Examiner, and have discovered enough reading material to keep me busy for months. Hooray!

Check out MegaTokyo and Seraphic, and let me know what I should add to my reading list next.

Roll call of "ultra-Darwinists"

Joel Achenbach, who covers science for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine, has been blogging for about a month. He wrote recently about new species discovered in the Marianna Trench, and the following day his editor posted, as counterpoint, a couple of paragraphs on Intelligent Design. He is being drummed out of the room by readers' comments. I'm thrilled to see so many people stepping forward for the fundamental stability and correctness of evolutionary theory. A comment from Gary Oxford posted yesterday said
If ID proponents get the benefit of the doubt, why don't evolutionary
biologists? Is it because their ideas are more complicated, require more thought
to analyze, are more than simple bromides calculated to make the uneducated feel
good about their ignorance?

Amen, brother.


The cult of Douglas Adams

I am hooked on Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I listen to Douglas Adams reading his books, on audiotape from the library, at bedtime every night (it drowns out the voices in my head and is cheaper than valium). I always have a set of tapes checked out and I wore out one set last year - I wonder if my library will catch on to my compulsive behavior, and if so, what they will say about it.

It's hard to say if the effects of this addiction, individually or together, are positive or negative. I'm getting to where I can recite the books. I'm getting good sleep. The stories are becoming background noise. I can't listen to Douglas Adams read anything when I drive, because my eyelids get all heavy and my brainwave pattern shifts toward sleep.

If I have to be compulsive about an author, Douglas Adams is probably a sound choice - his stories hang together well, his science is solid, he is wicked funny. And Stats class is a lot more fun if you think of a white running-shoe ship every time the teacher mentions "probability." I am incredibly grateful for being turned on to Richard Dawkins's work via his connection to Douglas Adams. On the mental health front, it's good to have Arthur Dent in your head to compare yourself with, because on any given day you're probably doing well by that standard.

All this is segueway to the fact that the trailer to the H2G2 movie (release date May 6) is headlining at Amazon.com today. You can go direct to the movie website, or read a Q&A with the director and producer here. I haven't been over to Garth and Nick's homepage, Tongsville, since last summer, but it was wicked cool then (warning: big big site, too big to view at home, and too noisy for sneaking over to it on your cubicle computer).

I was worried that I wouldn't like the redesign of Marvin the paranoid android when all I knew was that Warwick Davis would be playing him. No worries now - the little robot is wonderfully expressive and depressed in the pictures available today. I loved Zooey Dechanel's performance in Elf and look forward to seeing her take on Trillian. I hope to hear notes of both the "vaguely Arabic," thoughtful Trillian in the books and the bubbly Trillian played by Sandra Dickinson in 1981.

I think I had better get back to work now.


Time for train travel?

A climatologist in Wisconsin has been studying the effects of jet trails on surface temperature. The jet exhaust isn't especially contributing to greenhouse gas buildup, but it is creating clouds where there wouldn't normally be any - above the troposphere, where clouds seldom form. The last thing we need is a new fluffy blanket to hold more heat close to the planet. Harumph.

I'm dreaming of having a decent train service in the inland US, if the hidden costs of air travel come out.


I don't have a problem with the word "nanotechnology," but it has spawned a spreading wave of nano-words that are getting very annoying - see here: Small science may clean a big problem csmonitor.com

Why use the term "nanoparticle" when the word "molecule" is already available? Answer: marketing. It would be nice to have some detail in what these large molecules containing iron are - a Frankenstein's hemoglobin? Engineered using enzymes from living cells, no doubt. Hemoglobin has hundreds of carbon atoms for each iron atom - I feel like I'm getting spin-only here.

Ok, I can use google. The abstract of the original research is on the ACS site here: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/asap/abs/es049190u.html Must schedule a trip to the science library to look at the actual article.

Baghdad Burning

There is a great new post over at Baghdad Burning.


I was running low on links

Neil Gaiman's journal is four years old today. He has chosen a soundtrack for the celebration (well, a song) and you should go listen if you were alive in 1991. Really, you should.

A suprising number of reading-and-writing people weren't alive in 1991, or at least weren't old enough to be allowed to watch Mtv. Back when Mtv had videos.

Scaryduck, on whom I rely for daily news of Reading UK, tells us that the Pope's condition has (perhaps) deteriorated in a new and amusing way.

I was getting concerned that Riverbend in Bagdad hasn't posted for 2 weeks - then I looked back and see that she often is unable to post for weeks at a time for reasons relating to no power and no dial tone. Stupid, stupid occupation.

On the other hand, the King of Nepal has cut the telephone lines on purpose as part of his new "I am absolute ruler and you almost forgot, didn't you?" campaign. *sigh*

Ted Kooser's laurels

He's not resting on them.

I saw Ted Kooser, the new Poet Laureate of the US, speak this week. We're all very proud to have a poet laureate from this part of the world - "The first Poet Laureate from the Great Plains," the dignitaries kept saying.

After the dignitaries walked into the wings, the laurel-crowned poet spun out a few jokes to put us at ease. He told us it was uncomfortable to be a small figure in front of a large audience, and he expected that any second an enormous foot would descend from the sky and squish him flat. No one expects a Python reference!! (Not around here).

My favorite image from the evening was (I quote from memory): "He stood on the station platform, three feet above the rest of Kansas." Yes.


She's leaving home

Mom is retiring next week and roles are reversing fast. I imagine that this is what it's like to send a child off to college - a close family member is about to disappear over the horizon and I won't know what's happening in her life except for quick reports to the folks back home.

We are the kind of close that allows for finishing each other's sentences. I moved far away after college, and, my independence secured by physical distance, we talked more than ever before. I moved back and our conversations became shorter and grumpier. Now it seems likely that she will be behind a cloister wall by autumn and we won't talk at all except maybe in letters. Huh? Aargh!

Her going-away party at work is this afternoon. Someone thought to theme it around her mid-eighties start date, which is keeping it light (but only a little). Every contact I've had with her coworkers has reminded me: they are in mourning. She has been a steady and pleasant part of their work lives for twenty years, and they don't welcome this change.

I'm writing here to help me cope - I'm losing my soundboard for ideas, for far-fetched connections, for sharing silliness. I need to think out loud, and a journal between two covers doesn't satisfy that need.


Tea Maven Origin Story

A few years ago, I chose tea making as my chore for a weekend retreat (other choices were dishwashing, mopping, shower-scrubbing, etc. - it was an easy choice). I had to dash around before breakfast and at break-times so the tea would be ready and waiting for the 2 dozen other people there for the weekend.

First, run 2 or 3 gallons of water into a huge cookpot and fire up the foot-high bunsen burner under it. Duck out of the tea-making lean-to, cross the damp deck without slipping, and pass into the dining room. Check the 3 airpots: the pot of Irish Breakfast needs topping up, the pot of Earl Grey is completely empty, and the last pot is almost full - no takers for the Darjeeling this morning. Leave the Darjeeling for any urgent tea consumers (it's better than nothing) and take the other two back to the tea shed.

Inside the lean-to, the water is almost boiling. Take down the tea sieve (it's the size of a salad bowl) set it over the airpot, and measure Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey into two metal brewing pitchers. The water is boiling, so let's turn off the burner and grab the potholders. Pour into the pitchers, relax while it brews, pick out an herbal tea for the afternoon caffeine-phobes. Start a pot of spearmint brewing. Top off the Irish Breakfast pot, then trash the soggy leaves. Do the same with Earl Grey. Take out the 2 fresh pots, trade the Darjeeling for spearmint, done. My clothes are steamy from the lean-to when I rejoin the others, chores done.

By the third retreat of moving through this routine, I danced through it, and friendly Steve dubbed me the Tea Maven.

Here's my answer to Celestial Seasoning's famous armchair bear tea:

Dreams of Milarepa Tea
1/4 cup dried nettle herb
1/8 cup dried chamomile
1/8 cup dried spearmint
2 quarts water
Brew for 5-7 minutes, remove herb from water, pour into 2-quart airpot

Milarepa had many accomplishments, but only one requires the writer to suppress giggles: the feat of turning himself green by eating only boiled nettles.

A friend tells me that what I call black tea is called red tea in Chinese. I am intrigued - it seems that the Chinese name describes the brewed liquid in the cup, and the English name describes the dried leaves in the cargo ship's hold.

This isn't going to be a tea-themed blog (I hope) - I just picked my stickiest nickname. That said, this seems to be a tea post, so why not indulge in a quick desert island list?

1. Earl Grey, with milk and sugar of course. *
2. Kukicha (twig tea) **
3. Hojicha (roasted green tea) **

*Tazo has the best Earl Grey I've found. On the other hand, Twinings-of-America Earl Grey tastes alarmingly floral, and I threw out the last packet I purchased. OoOooh, I suddenly remembered Taylors of Harrogate - Yum! I haven't been in a store that carries this tea for 2 or 3 years. I wonder if the price has doubled to keep pace with the dollars-to-pounds exchange rate. *shudder*
**Green tea mostly makes me pucker, but roasting takes away the sour nastiness - these two are mellow and wonderful. Edensoy/Eden sells very good Japanese teas in the US.

Moving woe

My mom is retiring, dissolving her household, and becoming a wandering mendicant (almost). Her lease was up at 12:01 this morning, and fortunately her landlord wasn't there at 12:02, because we were still loading the car and vacuuming at 3:30. Be forgiving, dear reader: I have had 5 hours of sleep.

Do you have a co-worker that is slow on the uptake and that has a set way of doing their tasks which cannot be deviated from? And when you must work closely with this person, have you found that you must approach things the way they do, with an optional wasting-of-your-breath in the attempt to persuade them to try another method for once?

My mom is a bright person. I got to be a bright person through interacting with her over the last 29 years, and I enjoy spending time with her. But last night as bedtime came and went, she turned into one of those slow co-workers with whom persuasion should not be attempted. To be fair, I probably did too. We divided tasks and stayed out of each other's way, but exchanges along the lines of "Where's the packing tape" would take several minutes to complete. Like this:

Me - Keys to Jeep? (shouted over vacuuming noise - box in my arms)
Mom - Huh?
Me - Where are the keys to the Jeep?
Mom - Yes, that box is stuff to keep.
Me (leaning over and turning off vacuum) - Where are the keys to the Jeep?
Mom - Oh. (Pats jeans pocket.) Here.

Notice how my question was a subject, an object, and a question mark. I was two steps from grunting and pointing.

The sudden influx of family furniture is overwhelming - I thought there was no such thing as too many dressers, but I was mistaken. I have 3 bureaus in my bedroom, all half-full. The dog and the goldfish have their own bureau to share. It's ridiculous. My house is chest-high in stuff, with paths from the front door to the couch to the kitchen to the bedroom. I hope it will be a house again in a week or so.

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