Have a good ‘un, everybody. It’s going to be beautiful in New England.
August 31, 2007 — 11:50 pm
I’ll never forget the year and the approximate date Princess Di got creamed: it was shortly before my very first trip to Britain. That faded stamp at the top; that’s the trip. The “7″ in 1997 got stamped over. If my flight had been before the funeral, I could’ve made a fortune scalping my tickets. Oh, well.
Her funeral was on the 6th. I got there on the 16th and we went downtown, near the parade route. Apparently the main funerary action was next door at Buckingham Palace, but even in Hyde Park they had to use bulldozers to pile up all the flowers. Some of them were still there; a huge, wilted mountain behind portable fencing. Still. Ten days later. There were great pools of candle wax an inch thick puddled along the walkways. It was like the morning after some creepy Medieval religious festival. Our Lady of the Photo Op.
I stared at the giant pile of tribute for a while. It was mostly flowers, some with extraordinarily personal notes attached. There were deflated balloons sagging off the iron fence. And legions of stuffed toys.
Stuffed toys? For the funeral of a grown woman?
The whole business was embarrassing and unEnglish. Grief is one thing. Lining up by the thousands along the funeral route, silently mourning — that’s the kind of outpouring I expect from Britons facing history’s sad bits.
Balloons and toys and candles? It was so…unseemly. It was like an outburst of folk magic; like that weird fusion of paganism and Catholicism that happens in very rural, isolated places in backward foreign lands. Like a Cute Overload Santeria.
That was the first time I noticed or really thought about the spontaneous death shrine. I swear we didn’t build such things when I was young…did we? I’m sure I would have noticed. Now they seem to be everywhere; ugly warts along the highway, simultaneously tragic and tacky. Death kitsch.
What do the toys mean? “Your death gives me free-floating protective feelings as if I were in the presence of a child.” I guess.
The practice seems so alien to both the US and Britain. Very un-Anglo. I can’t decide if it really is a sort of Catholicism by osmosis, or evidence of that vague paganism that spontaneously takes hold in the absence of formal religion.
Whatever. It creeps me out.
— 6:21 pm
In this case, my theft of was cleverly detected because I slipped up and posted, “I have nicked this graphic” and included a link to the site wherefrom I nicked it. D’oh!
See, this is why nobody ever invites me to mastermind a jewel heist.
Not twice, anyhow.
August 30, 2007 — 5:13 pm
Remember that coonskin cap I told y’all my oldest brother knitted me? I found it in the basement this weekend when I was throwing away my old college clothes. Here it is, charmingly modeled by Chastity.
Then I looked him up on the web. My brother, I mean. He uses a singular online username and he sometimes mentions his real name (he’s got a highly cornpone Southern moniker, too. Thanks, Mom), so I easily tracked him down first time I tried. Every once in a while, I look him up to see how things are going. We were eight years apart and not even a little bit close. Getting in touch directly might result in…more of a relationship than I’m looking for. Still…you know. Fambly.
Turns out he still knits. He has gout. And three grandchildren, one of whom likes astronomy. And his favorite band is Tool.
Isn’t the internet neat?
August 29, 2007 — 11:44 pm
I once subscribed to a short — eight or twelve page (magazines always come in fours) — weekly science magazine that I liked a lot. Written for the layman, but not insulting. One or two paragraphs each on that week’s science headlines. I thought it was called “Science Digest,” so naturally I checked the obvious science digest dot org. I was surprised to find myself slapped in the face with these leading stories:
A STRATEGY of GENOCIDE and the DESTRUCTION of a CIVILIZATION: The American Paradigm for Democracy and Freedom
THE ZIONIST IN GOVERNMENT: A THREAT TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THE UNITED STATES
THE HIJACKING OF THE UNITED STATES BY THE PROPONENTS of the POLICIES of the PENTATEUCH: The Importation of Terrorism into the United States
“THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES”: A Paradigm of US Foreign Policy: ZIONISM: An Analysis of United States Foreign Policy in the Middle East
AMERICAN STYLE “DEMOCRACY”: THE CREATION of a NARCO-STATE in AFGHANISTAN
TERRORISTS or FREEDOM FIGHTERS?
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN ORGAN TRAFFIC OPERATED OUT OF ISRAEL
It’s obviously a labor of love for one author; one angry, bitter, not-fun-at-parties little mammal. The guy who registered the URL — for a ten-year chunk — has only one other Google hit: part-time high school science teacher. The rest of the site is pretty orthodox math-and-astronomy stuff. Er, well there was this:
THE EMPIRE OF EVIL and THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Let us hope that our attempts to reach other planets continues to meet with failure; that they remain far beyond our vitiating reach, until we purge ourselves of hate and greed and intolerance. Then we are ready to reach out beyond our own planet.
Not exactly the upbeat, breathless, gee-whiz style of science reporting so beloved of weasels.
Wikipedia says there once was a print magazine called Science Digest. It was similar to Reader’s Digest. That’s not the one I was thinking of. My magazine was called Science News and does, indeed, have an online version.
Eh. I almost hate to burn a good moonbat graphic for this feelth.
August 28, 2007 — 7:21 pm
And a third one pipes up and says, “you’re only supposed to feed birds puffins!”
And a fourth one says, “what’s a puffin?”
And #3 says, “I don’t know…isn’t that what Mary Poppins said? ‘Feed the birds, puffins a day’?”
I almost swallowed my tongue. I was a huge Mary Poppins fan, incidentally. Here’s a little something you can do that will affect your maternal relationship for life. Ask your mom, in a wistful tone, “Mother, if you died, what are the chances Dad would marry Julie Andrews?” Works a treat!
Oh, hey, and if you don’t read The Corner, you probably missed this:
“That morose day of Napoleon’s surrender…witnessed one of history’s grandest homophonic sentences, a homophone being, we might say, a verbal coincidence….Napoleon stood silent on the deck for a painful while and then muttered with resignation: ‘Cast off, it is time to go.’ Only the Corsican said it in his accented French which he had learned at the age of ten: ‘A l’eau, c’est l’heure’ [literally: 'at the water, it's the hour' -- stoaty]. A young British sailor standing on deck knew not the gilded tongue of mankind’s golden race. Under the impression that the fallen emperor was speaking English, the sailor was flattered by what he mistook for familiarity and later reported that Napoleon had the courtesy to address him, ‘Hello, sailor.’”
From a new book out called Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections. Looks like fun.
All of which puts me in mind of the Archive of Misheard Lyrics.
Yeah, I know you’ve been there before…but how long ago?
August 27, 2007 — 5:58 pm
In the 1860s, trenches were dug that would be roofed over to become the first line of the London Underground, the oldest subway in the world. Into those first trenches snuck specimens of Culex pipiens — mosquitos to you and me.
This seemed like a bit of hard luck at first. To the mosquitos, I mean. C. pipiens lives on birds. Not that many pigeons sneak into the Underground. But the subway hosts many puddles, large and small, and the air is a constant temperature year-round. So, unlike their friends and relations above ground, subway mosquitos could be active (and breed) 24/7/365. All they had to do was learn to live off something else.
Like, you know, the millions of human beings who pass through the Underground every day. They took to this idea with so much enthusiasm, the subway variety was give the name Culex molestus. They bit the living shit out of people sheltering from the Blitz.
Turns out, all that breeding and biting, they really have evolved into a separate species. At least three separate species, in fact. The mosquitos collected at the Victoria, Bakerloo and Central stops are each genetically distinct (and, very likely, each station — and the sewer system — hosts a unique variant). The below-ground varieties are more closely related to each other than the mosquitos above and probably all derive from a single colony, with no movement of bugs from below and above. DNA tells us this.
It’s very difficult to get C. pipiens and C. molestus to breed — please not to be telling me how one forces unwilling mosquitos to screw — and any resulting offspring are sterile: which means they really and truly have parted ways genetically.
And here I thought the creepiest thing about the Underground was the way the tracks jog sideways occasionally to avoid a plague pit.
— 10:09 am
Ugh. It’s hot and sticky and I had a crap day. I’m going to sit here and DRINK until it FEELS BETTER.
August 24, 2007 — 5:47 pm
Note: please pretend this item was topped by a photograph of a squirrel skeleton; a priceless and unique work of the photographer’s art.
Not sure what, not sure where. Best guess: squirrel, walls. Never mind. Nothing says “buy this house!” like the pervasive stench of death.
Changing the subject, I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday (fine, thanks. Blood pressure check) and I read a really interesting article in Discover magazine about spontaneous remission of advanced cancers. Bad news: it’s extremely rare and they still can’t figure out why it happens. They think it’s an immune system thing.
In fact, they theorize that many of us host small cancers throughout our lives that we successfully put down. Only when a cancer reaches a certain potency are our immune systems overwhelmed. They liken it to a fire in the wastebasket: reasonably easy to put out unless the drapes catch.
They make the case that extremely early detection of cancers is, therefore, not such a boon after all. Especially for people at both ends of life. Relatively mild and slow-growing specimens of breast, prostate or skin cancer might smolder for many years with little impact; if you’re old, the cancer may be less life-threatening than the treatment.
When science developed a urine test for the common childhood cancer neuroblastoma, Japan began a routine screening program for infants. Ninety percent were screened, and those with the cancer were treated with the usual combination of surgery, radiation and/or chemo. Not only did survival rates for neuroblastoma not improve, but a percentage of infants died of the treatment. So some percentage of neuroblastomas clearly are either not life-threatening or spontaneously remit. The program was halted.
(I dug around to try and find how many cases turned up before and after they instituted the screen. Interestingly, many hits were to old articles praising the policy and claiming an overall reduction of mortality. Later reports, not so much. Sadly, it takes time for data to catch up with practice. Number of cases caught by screening in one prefecture were ten times the prior number).
This reminds me of something Theodore Dalrymple wrote (in An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Medicine, I think): there is no hard evidence that preventive medicine is a good idea. The whole Health Maintenance Organization structure is built on the proposition that catching disease before people feel sick saves money and lives in the long run. Sure, it makes sense. But lots of things that make sense simply aren’t true. Medication problems, mis-diagnosis and aggressive and dangerous treatments make over-doctoring a risky proposition.
Modern Western medicine is a great achievement. The moment I feel sick, you can be sure I’ll run to the man in the white coat and commence throwing Franklins at him.
But there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you feel sick.
August 23, 2007 — 1:11 pm
For some reason, the old WordPress sites gets a ton more comment spam. Maybe the spamming software just walks down the list of “wordpress” domains, trying all the doors. This is especially useless as the founder of WordPress is also the guy who wrote Akismet, which has proved to be an extraordinarily accurate spam filter. Except, it hates Lokki. That’s just the way it is.
Very pleased at the comment-to-post ratio, incidentally. Thank you. Entrapping good commenters is the hardest part. Many otherwise excellent blogs never manage it.
I put it down to 1957 Plymouth Belvedere, booger haiku and the
sweet, sweet smell of weasel.
August 22, 2007 — 2:02 pm