Sunday, August 31, 2008

Boltzmann Constant

Inspired by my dinner table conversation. I'm going to enjoy Stanford if everyone is like this. Cheerful! Is shooting oneself an engineer's death, a poet's, or a mathematician's?

Someone joked that all physicists killed themselves the same way: hanging.

Biologists, the joke went, had many more options for creative and daring suicide.

And medical doctors, well…

When Joseph James Johnson heard this, he was offended. After all, there were a hundred thousand ways he could kill himself using the materials in lab, most of them more imaginative and gruesome than anything a biologist could ever come up with.

When he finally decided to end it all, and activated his black hole generator, he knew critics would wish he’d been a biologist.

That is, if they could wish anything.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Glittering Technicolor Nonsense

Inspired by the word "fop".

James looked at the mirror and winced. He couldn’t actually look like that. He wanted to tear off the gaudy, vibrant, fashionable, rich clothing and replace it with his customary slightly-worn un-finery. His comfortable clothes. The clothes that made him look like himself: a bit worn at the elbows, and perhaps faded, but honest. Humble. Real.

He wondered if he could borrow a suit from a friend that would, well, would suit him better.

Something simple, modest. With perhaps a small splash of color, but nothing ridiculous. None of this glittering technicolor finery.

After all, he wasn’t a fop. Right?

Friday, August 29, 2008

If I don't squee about circus events,

who will?

This looks amazing. I hope I hope I hope it comes to San Francisco. I will be checking. You can expect another gleeful yelp if it does. It's in Chicago now. By which I mean, if you want to see it, go to Aloft tonight (August 30) at 8pm. Tickets at the door.

You know you want to. Just don't go home by way of Damen + Lake.

I miss silks. Having them hung up is a constant reminder, which is awesome in some ways and bittersweet in others (as in, every night I am reminded that I haven't climbed anything recently enough, or hung upside down). I just have to wait until I get back from Galapagos, though. Not long. Also, possibly, climb a tree tomorrow. I have a long list of things to do tomorrow. Oh well.

The Greatest Storyteller in the World

An idea that, well, just struck me of a sudden.

The greatest storyteller in the world could tell only one story. He was cursed from birth to the endless retelling of a single narrative.

He tried with all his skills and talents to break his curse. He told of different protagonists with different provenances. He spoke in different languages, different tones, cadences, rhythms. But still, at the end of the ecstasy that was one of his stories, as his audience slowly returned from world-of-story into world-of-reality, they would be faced with the unfortunate fact, and someone would always say “Why, but that’s the same story! Tell us a new one!”

I can't decide if this idea needs/deserves a longer piece. Oh well.

I'm already a third of the way through another book (and have begun to revise something like three stories to submit to various interesting-looking anthologies, because I'm bored and school doesn't start for another month and why not) and conveniently forgot about breakfast, lunch, and dinner today. Oops. (apparently, when left to myself with little to do, I live on words: drinking in chapters and swallowing up whole novels instead of sustenance. But I already knew that with a novel and a journal and a comfortable chair/bench/perch I would be happy until I became so hungry I fainted. And then I would be in trouble). I'll need to go to Borders again before Galapagos, or to the library. Maybe that will be my tomorrow's-task (along with having at least two square meals and clearing a way through the cardboard to my bicycle): the local library is (wonderfully) closer than the train-station, so some 3 blocks away (being generous). I can ask for recommendations for a Rushdie-Borges-Stoppard-Halprin-Calvino loving reader.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Texas School, Teachers Carry Books and Tranquilizer Darts

Inspired by this article, and (of course), Mango (who else gives me such bad ideas?).

PODONK, Texas – Students in this town spend most of the first two days of school trying to steal tranquilizer darts to shoot their buddies.

“It’s a small town,” John Doe, a junior said. “We’ll get them eventually.”

The school board in this rural hamlet has drawn national attention with its decision to force teachers to carry blow-guns and tranquilizer darts.

The darts are certified by the FDA as non-lethal weapons, but some parents are still worried.

Mr. Johnson said the board discussed the proposal and considered several options —paintball guns, security guards, and baseball bats — but each was found lacking.

Today I wandered in to Palo Alto, finished Midnight's Children, and saw the following notable things:

Muddy water in the creek (usually it's dry as dust), a toddler girl with my haircut and bright blue eyes who was referred to by her mother as "short, wobbly one", a man with a single pink and white rose, waiting waiting waiting for someone who never came (I hope she or he or they came eventually!), a dangling, thorny vine that I believe belonged to blackberries, a jungle-gym turned into disney palace with turrets, a rock-climbing wall, and everything, and a key abandoned on the side of the street.

Midnight's Children had a transformative effect on me. I guess... when I finished reading it, I looked up and was surprised that I was still in California, sitting outside a Borders, and that it was still day out, and that I was still undeniably me. Almost like that last disintegrating scene is something that happens on a visceral level, and I fully expected to be caught in the last image of crushing crowds and splintering person forever, as if I was the one who was splintering under the weight of my past my culture my family. But I looked up, and everything was still basically as it was, and it surprised me.

I need to read more books like that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This Won't Hurt a Bit

Inspired by the word "naif" which is really just an alternate spelling of "naive", but will always conjure the image of an innocent waif-like child to me.

As opposed to naive, because grownups can be naive too, sometimes.
She should have known better than to get near that dog; the muzzle was there to protect kids like her, but she was “good with animals” and she never thought anything like this could happen.

As the doctor examined the wound, she looked up at him with doe-eyes. “First we’ll disinfect it, with iodine soap” he said clinically. “Then stitches.”

“Will it hurt?” she asked, voice high with pain and innocence.

“It might sting, but only a little.”

He soaked a rag in brown liquid, and rinsed the wound.

She screamed with the burning. She should not have believed him.
I found this in my aimless surfing today: . I now have to decide which of my novels I want to submit the first 7,500 words of. Or if I want to write something new. An interesting quandary.

Also; my story is up for critters this week! (Woo!)

I have a sort of open question. I've always tried to be nice about criticism. I was lucky enough/am lucky enough that I've never really gotten flamed for my writing. I've gotten basically positive comments with some pointers (the worst was "this is good but needs to be completely rewritten" which, I believe, was meant as a compliment), as far back as I can remember. Which is what I try to do for others. But I recently (only just) read a story for which I honestly cannot find something good to point out. What's worse is, going by what the author says about himself in bios and the like, he's has a very inflated view of his writing abilities. I want to critique it, because I received it to be critiqued, and don't want to just lay into this guy because then he'll just lash out at me and won't become a better writer.

But it got me to thinking; if someone reads my story this week, and can't find a single good thing to write about it, can't find anything that they like, what would I want them to do? Send me an e-mailed critique with feigned politeness telling me condescendingly that it's a good first try but I should rewrite the whole thing? Or just say nothing? Or really lay into me and tell me what they honestly think -- that my ideas are boring, my plot is redundant, and that I can't string two words together without creating an abomination against the English Language? And if I did get the last e-mail, and it wasn't vindictive or angry but simply told me, you need a lot of work, here are some suggestions of places to start, how would I react? Would I get defensive and lash out or would I clam up or what?

I'm used to writing communities that are full of twelve-year-olds writing in netspeak; in that community I know that I am one of the better writers. But am I really ready for a grown-up writing community? Am I ready to be compared to people who have been published, who actually know what they're doing? And how will I react if I don't measure up? I hope that I'm enough of an adult about all of it that I'll take it well; I can take rejection, the form-letter saying we're sorry but you didn't make the cut, but point-by-point criticism is harder to deal with.

We'll see. If I start whining like a high-schooler here about mean critics, well, feel free to knock some sense into me. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What free love is free of is love, what?

A Stoppard reference to start balancing out all of the Peter Pan references, hah!

Inspired by the word "Palindrome", not the word of the day, but I like it anyway.

Why did everything always move in circles?

Susan was alone. Life was full of bars with too much beer and wondering where to find someone.

And then he appeared, and there were unending conversations and dates and long walks and nights spent doing anything, anything except sleeping and it was miraculous and it peaked somewhere around… here.

It faded; the conversations got terser and the dates sparser. His feet started to hurt and they stopped staying up all night.

And there was drinking too much and wondering where he was.

And she was alone.

Everything always moved in circles. Why?

Part of me desperately, now, wants to write a story that is a palindrome. I've done mobius strip stories, but those are pretty simple. But palindromic? It's the old mirror-story rearing it's ugly (and frustratingly difficult to write) head. One day I'll write it. It will be awesome.

Inside Jokes

Inspired by the word "peregrination", an entirely true story.

Later I would blame the hypnotist, but the truth was that the idea of laughing at the letter “Q” was so funny that I ended up laughing whenever I heard it. It presented problems in geometry class, of course, and a glance at a friend whenever a quadrilateral was drawn on the board – P, giggle, R, S – but the laughter was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There had always been words like that: when I was ten, it was “salami”, which I insist is a funny word.

I didn’t realize “peregrination” had that power until it was the word of the day.

I have only heard one person (at least one of you knows who that is, a few of you might be able to guess) use the word "peregrination" colloquially in my life (and I grew up with a lawyer father, so ten-dollar-words were not uncommon). It is not in a context that I will share. But let me just say that, apparently, whenever I see that word now, I laugh. Which is better than the alternatives, all told. Because now I am giggling myself to sleep.

Also, some of you have seen me spontaneously burst into giggles for no apparent reason, and when you ask me what is so very funny, I have not been able to answer. Well, the reason I can rarely answer is because it very well might be "Q", or "Salami", or "Peregrination", or one of a myriad of other words that are hilariously amusing and I might not even know about yet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Inspired by either "Foment" or "Comity", or both of them, because who wouldn't want to write something about both of those words? Also taken out of the Nerissa universe, which just goes to show that I have been thinking about a sequel. Perhaps it will be my November's project.

Tension lay thick on the table, poisoning the wine, clouding the air. It caught in someone’s lungs and a cough echoed through the hall. The only other sound was the scrape of the General’s knife on his plate. Shhhk-shhhk. Nerissa sighed; bad table manners would go a long way towards inciting an argument. She wanted to sneak over, whisper instructions into his ear, but he would likely take offense. Shhhk-shhhk. “I thought you Fairies were a bunch of child-stealing monsters,” the general boomed, full of poisoned wine, “but you’re not that threatening.”

The Fairy prince flinched, and the ground rumbled.

The Fairy prince being of course Adlai Corundum, who has grown on me rather significantly, now that I've changed his character enough to allow for things like "motivation" and "not just being stuck-up and vaguely evil". The whole plot is still very much in the planning stages, but I know what I want the conflict to be, and I have a vague idea (emphasis on vague) of where I would want it to end.

Kevin was out this weekend, and I have a couch! (Yay!) Pictures will be up, probably, next time I post. Saw Radiohead (sort of) and Cake and Regina Spektor and Andrew Bird at OutsideLands, which was fun but made me realize that I don't really like big music festivals because crowds are not so much my thing. Climbed a tree to listen to Spektor and Cake, which was pretty damn awesome, because there wasn't a crowd in the tree and everything is pretty much better when you're climbing a tree. Or climbing just about anything else, for that matter.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Do or Die

Inspired by "Hobson's Choice" -- and no, the title doesn't fit the story. But it does fit the prompt!

Emily’s siblings would smile if they got coal for Christmas: in the cold Kansas winter coal was eminently useful, and could warm both soul and sole. Instead, they dreaded Saint Nicolas bringing something much drearier; something that spurted from the ground in great quantities; something that was more of a pest than a present; in a word: corn cobs.

But even corn cobs could be turned into toys, children everywhere reasoned, revealing just how much of a sap dear old Saint Nick was: he couldn’t truly punish any children, naughty or nice, so long as they were optimistic and resourceful.

P.S. Today was a big day: I now have internets, a copy of the Complete, Compact, New Oxford English Dictionary (complete with magnifying paperweight -- no adult's apartment is complete without it, so I can finally say that I have moved in! Hooray!), and have seen Radiohead perform live. Although I had to leave the concert early in order to catch the train home. Tomorrow is a big day: Cake is playing! And fortunately they end at eight, so I have a hope of getting home before midnight-ish. But if all goes according to plan (hah) that should be more like 10:00 and less like 11:00. Boo to long bus-rides with homeless people and their (too-friendly) pet rats through San Francisco. (I quote: "I've never met a rat that doesn't like people. They're so friendly, but so many people don't like them!" To which I snarkily add to the person next to me: "I mean, they're only disease carriers!" I'm not proud, but I did get a laugh, and really? a pet street rat? on a bus?! I like my rattus norvegicus where I can control everything that goes into and out of it: namely, either dead or in a laboratory setting. Or both.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do the BIM!

Or, Silver Shoes, inspired by the word "Juju":

Her mother said the shoes only gave her confidence (and reduced friction) but she knew better. She could tell from their shine, their silver color, and the way they supported her weight securely despite a stiletto heel, that they were magic. They moved of their own volition; stepping and skipping and spinning and swerving, transmogrifying clumsiness into grace. Take them off and she slipped, tripped. Slip them on and she floated, flew.

And then, disaster. Gliding over a grate, her heel stuck in a hole and she tumbled over. Her left shoe lay, in two pieces. She never danced again.

Clearly I am posting a surfeit of posts now to make up for the fact that I will likely not be able to post at all this weekend. Also, apparently, today I am in an alliterative mood (aspect?). Go figure.

Why AT&T and I have a hate-hate relationship

So, the first time I called AT&T to get phone and internet services in my new (new!) apartment, they directed me to small business services for Ohio. This was not very useful, since I was looking for residential service in California. The second time I called AT&T to get phone and internet service in my new (new!!) apartment, they hung up on me before I could talk to anyone about purchasing new service.

The third time, I got through, after a not-so-long wait on hold, and they said that they could start service on August 19, the day I really moved in, and I thought the worst was over.


When the technician came in at 2 pm on August 19, shocking me out of a nap (I had been up since 5 am Maryland time: 2 am California time) he announced that everything was working just fine (or, as characters in "Midnight's Children" say, tickety-boo) and although my DSL line was still flashing ominously red lights in my face, I should wait a couple hours and it would all resolve itself.

In the morning of August 20, when my DSL was still clogged up, I called AT&T again. After talking to a friendly and helpful DSL tech support person, call her 'J' ("For some reason, your account is still pending. I'm going to transfer you to account services") and waiting on hold for something like half an hour (it felt like an eternity, and I got another chapter of "Midnight's Children" read) J picks up the phone again and apologizes for the wait, saying there's a queue, I'm in the queue, and someone will pick up soon. I say "Okay."

And mystery (and angry) account services lady answers "Okay what?"

Surprised, I answer that I have just been transfered from tech support, that I spent quite a while on hold, and that the person from tech support had just finished explaining the wait. Hence, "Okay."

"Who were you talking to?" she snaps.

"I'm sorry, I've forgotten her name."

At which point, she begins to berate me for something or another. J steps in and tries to bring her attention back to the account -- "her account is pending, we were wondering why", and she starts berating J, finally saying "Let me speak to your supervisor!"

J apologizes, although none of this is her fault as I see it, and I'm put on hold again.

After another ten minutes, I, frustrated, hang up.

An hour or so later, I work up the courage to call back. This time I ask to be sent directly to account services, since nothing seems to be wrong on the technical end. I start to explain my problem -- DSL is flashing red at me, no signal -- and the person on the other end responds immediately that I can't be promised service until after eight pm. Never mind that the technician came on the 19th, when my service was supposed to start, and it's now the 20th. Sighing, I resolve to wait until 8 pm, at which point I can only call tech support in the morning anyway.

At 9 pm, the "DSL" light on my router is still flashing red, and it's beginning to be all I can see.

At 6 am today, two days after my service was supposed to start, I receive an automated phone call telling me that my service request "has been completed".

At 10:30 am, the router is still flashing red. I have now plugged in my phone, and cannot get a dial tone either. I call AT&T back (my seventh interaction with them -- seventh time is the charm?) and they finally admit that, yes, my service should have already started, and yes, there is something wrong -- they can't call me! -- and they say they could send out a technician to check out the line, but if it's a problem on my end, I have to pay, and that could be "very expensive". I sigh and tell them to send the technician, remarking that the technician who came two days ago said everything was, well, tickety-boo (I love that idiom), so that if everything was not, actually, in working order, perhaps he could have told me on Tuesday instead of waiting until Friday?

So the second technician visit (eighth time's the charm!) is scheduled for tomorrow morning. And some time in the next century, maybe I'll have home phone and internet service! Until that eventuality, I am blogging from coffee-shops, and thus updates will probably be sparse.

The good news, of course, being that everything else about the apartment (gas, electric, water, two shipments from Ikea and one from UPS, new appliances &c &c &c, even getting the deposit back from Mr. Quinn) is moving along just spiffingly. The hanging-silks-from-a-four-poster-bed looks, well, like something out of a (n animated) movie or a storybook novel and not real life (which is more of what I wanted than I could even say I wanted, more fantastical than the leaf, and more adult at the same time, and absolutely amazing) My current "needs": A grill for the outside, spoons and spatulas and tongs, my CD player (comes tomorrow), my paintings (come sometime? a framing store is on the way to the grocery store) and help putting together the sofa that is currently in three big boxes in my living room. Pictures as soon as (1) sofa is put together, and (2) camera cord is retrieved.

Also, I learned that I moved some two or three blocks from two of my friends in the area; in a fit of coincidence (or fate!) I am some 120 house numbers away from James and Michelle, a five-minutes' walk. And within shouting distance from a swimming pool (the sound of diving boards bouncing wakes me up in the morning, thunk-thunk-thunkity-thunk). As James said, "I have this whole social circle in the neighborhood, which I am not taking advantage of!" There are promises of get-togethers and barbecues on the horizon.

Hopefully I will take advantage of it. Hopefully I will.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cheap Drunk

Inspired by the word "philter" and the fact that I am a rather cheap drunk. And yes, part of me does (almost) now want someone to call me at three in the morning and say "I slept with him," so I can respond "Apparently not for very long." If I could rehearse all my conversations, I would be very witty.

“I slept with him,” Amy said as a greeting when I answered her three AM call.

“Apparently not for very long,” I answered.


“Sleep. You didn’t do it for very long. It’s three am.” There was shocked silence. I rubbed my eyes. “I thought you didn’t much like him. Why did you sleep with him?”

“I don’t know! I wasn’t going to, but then we had a few drinks and, well, I just… did.”

It figured. “You’re drunk.”

“I am not! I can walk in a straight line and everything.”

“You were drunk.”

“Maybe.” She paused, considering. “Well. Yes.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Inspired by a sudden storm that prevented me from getting to Houston on time; meant to be in the same universe as Finding Nerissa (and hinting at something longer? I dunno; something has been marinating in my brain for a while, and I'm coming up with names. But Nerissa spent something like three years at this stage, so who knows).

It began.

And the rain poured down, turning the solid ground into a sea of mud, falling in streams and rivers and torrents, until there was more water than air; drenching, soaking, drowning.

And the lightning flashed, lighting the ominous black sky, and although it should have been impossible it lit fires – the crackle of electricity burning through the water, the flash of light blinding and scorching.

And the thunder roared, rumbled, the ground shook with the force of the sound, knocking trees over and reducing houses to piles of rubble.

And the wind, the wind…

There was no wind.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Emerald City

Just because.

There had been no tornado, I told myself, just the sound of the jet engine thundering across the desert. But as we wound our way towards the city, following the smooth yellow line down the center of the road, I wondered if our destination glittered like a jewel, if it was home to wizards, talking animals; the things of stories.

The things of movies.

We were greeted by a man like a bear, growling welcome. The city was tinged green in the distance. I linked arms with my three companions, and clacked down the road in my bright red shoes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Even Though They Look Tasteful

Inspired by the word of the day; "Chichi". Written at the Baltimore Airport while I waited for my plane to leave Hartford. Fun times! But I got to Houston eventually, which is what counts.

At Peters, Piper and Peterson LLC, everyone dreaded the office Christmas party. Who enjoyed spending an evening in uncomfortable clothing, showing their success to superiors? If they were already that successful, they wouldn’t have superiors. Had some clever organizer found the insight to distribute an anonymous poll asking the partners “Do you want an office Christmas party?” the answer would have universally been “No”. But because there had been one last year, there was one this year, and because there was one this year, everyone had to attend.

And because everyone had to attend, everyone had to attend in style.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Give us this day our daily sin

I don't know who has or hasn't heard about it, but this bothers me quite a bit. Enough of quite a bit that although I honestly do try not to talk about touchy issues such as these, I'm going to rant here about this one. Because, in my mind, it's so absurd.

The story is that Leavitt, at the Department of Health and Human Services, wants to pass a resolution clarifying old legislation. The old legislation basically says that, if you receive federal funds, you cannot discriminate on the basis of opinion -- i.e. doctors who refused to perform abortions and doctors who performed abortions had to be considered on even turf. In addition to calling to attention this legislation, the HHS wanted to clarify the term "abortion":
the Department proposes to define abortion as “any of the various procedures—including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action—that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”
So the notable part here is how an IUD, the pill, and similar hormone-based therapies work most of the time. Occasionally, the pill will stop women from ovulating, thus preventing conception. This is not abortion according to any definition. However, most of the time such therapies work by thickening the secretions on the lining of the uterus, preventing implantation. This would be classified as "abortion" under this definition.

So, for all of you women who have had sex while taking the pill, well, you may have had an abortion.

Another thing to note is that, in nature and unprotected sex, it happens all the time that an egg will be fertilized by a sperm, and for whatever reason will not implant. In this case, my female friends, you will not even notice that you were, supposedly, "pregnant". You will have your period exactly as normal, and it is impossible to tell, if you are having unprotected sex, whether you have had one of these "miscarriages" or not. According to your body, pregnancy starts when the egg implants, not when the sperm hits the egg.

All of which, perhaps, argues that starting pregnancy at implantation rather than fertilization is a more reasonable and valid definition. But really, we can argue about that until the cows come home and it won't matter -- you have your views, I have mine, and no one will change their mind.

What I would argue, however, is that for a medical practitioner to refuse to undertake a known, safe, and useful medical procedure which could save a life and is in no way illegal comes in the way of them being a good medical practitioner, no matter their reasons for refusal. I'm going to use a few other examples, because I think they're clearer and more illustrative.

Take a geometry teacher who is a LaRouchian. LaRouche does not believe in Cartesian geometry; according to his followers, the whole thing is a hoax that allows the Jews to run the world (or some such). Such a teacher would be going against his or her firmly held moral belief if he allowed his students to learn Cartesian geometry. He would, in fact, be giving in to the brainwashing and social fascism of our day. I can understand why such a teacher would have a moral compunction to only teach Euclidean geometry. I can understand why such a teacher would not want students to transfer into a class that taught Cartesian geometry. However, allowing such a teacher to teach children in this country would be a grave disservice to said children. Cartesian geometry is not all of geometry; perhaps the LaRouchian particularly likes Euclidean or Affine geometries and wants to share his joy in these subjects with kids. But without Cartesian geometry, students will fail tests and be incapable of continuing in math and science. Their math education will be flawed, and the service provided by the LaRouchian geometry teacher is by definition, perhaps, not as good as the service provided by a geometry teacher willing to teach Cartesian, as well as other, geometries. In this case, would the government say that telling a geometry teacher he had to either teach the entire cirriculum or not teach at all, despite moral compunctions, be discrimination? Or would it be warranted?

Now, one of the arguments that I will be facing is that being anti-abortion, or even anti-birth control, is a much more mainstream belief than being anti-cartesian geometry. However, freedom from discrimination cannot apply only to mainstream beliefs; it must be universal or else it is not really any sort of freedom at all.

The point of this argument is that all else being equal, a doctor who knows, or talks about, or offers, a wider variety of treatment options is usually better than one who knows, talks about, or offers a smaller variety thereof. Because he or she can deal with a wider variety of patients in a wider variety of situations, and better tailor treatments to meet individual needs. And thus, it seems perfectly legitimate to say "if you want to be an ob-gyn, you have to be familiar with, understand, and talk to your patients about all of their reproductive health options, not just abstinence, condoms, and babies."

That doesn't mean that every ob-gyn has to give abortions, or even prescribe birth control. But requiring that someone discuss the procedures (and maybe even say "personally, I think it's morally wrong") and offer a referral if their patient decides that that is what they want to do with their own body is, I think, eminently reasonable.

Take another example, this suggested by Mango, EMT (and SCUBA diver, and pilot, and researcher) extraordinaire, who will revolutionize the world of medicine as soon as he gets his MD and PhD. An elderly patient comes into the emergency room, having fallen and stopped breathing. The doctor recognizes the patient as someone who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has a maximum of three months left to live. The family demands that everything possible be done to revive the patient, possibly costing quite a bit of money that could be used to treat other patients with, admittedly, better prognoses. Arguably, the "moral" thing to do, to save more lives, and the "medically" proper thing to do, is to triage the patient as one who will die no matter what you do, and move on to cases where you can be of help. But most emergency rooms would follow the family's orders, and treat the patient. Which illustrates the following point: it is not the doctor's wishes, morals, or beliefs, which decide therapy. It is the wishes, morals, and beliefs of the patient which decide therapy.

Another example I thought of, along similar lines, is a case where someone is diagnosed with bladder cancer; a certain form of cancer which can be treated in two distinct ways. One uses traditional cancer therapy; surgery followed by radiation and chemo. The other, more experimental therapy, uses a less virulent form of the tuberculosis bacteria, which will kill cancer cells and then be killed by the immune system. The former is much better studied, but has serious ramifications for quality of life afterwards (you know, missing a bladder and all that), as well as very serious side effects during treatment. The latter is a significantly less invasive procedure, but is not as well understood and, in elderly patients or patients with compromised immune systems especially, can occasionally lead to tuberculosis infection. A doctor could have a serious concern about performing the latter treatment option, thinking that the risk of infecting his patients with tuberculosis is too severe for him to take the chance on the treatment (first, do no harm). However, if instead of saying "This treatment is experimental and I do not recommend it because I abhor the chance of an infection" he simply does not tell his patient about the possible therapy, he is not doing his job as a doctor. It should be the patient's choice whether the risk of infection is worth trying the less invasive therapy.

Now, the one argument I can see arising at this point is the argument that in the cases described above, only one life is at stake, while in an abortion, there are two lives involved. Admittedly, this muddies the waters for abortion treatment in general, but I think it's tangential to the point here. The HHS would have us believe that a doctor who refuses to handle birth control or abortion cases due to moral reasons is as good a doctor as one who will. But refusal to discuss or provide a referral for treatment does have an impact on how good or bad a doctor you are, and in just about every case it should be the patient's choice, and not the doctor's choice, what treatment is given. The doctor's job is to diagnose, and discuss with the patient every possible course of action -- regardless of his own personal views or beliefs. As I said above, if you refuse to do something that is in the job description of an ob-gyn, then you should perhaps not become an ob-gyn. After all, if a fireman said he would save cats from trees, but not put out fires, or that he would rescue people from burning buildings but not man the hose, he would not be considered a good fireman. Why should an ob-gyn who refuses to do some of his or her duties be considered as good an ob-gyn as one who will follow-through on the full extent of his or her job description?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Man of Science

Vaguely inspired by the word "enervate", which I always take to mean its polar opposite, or at least "innervate", along with quite a few other people. Also vaguely inspired by the experiments Galvani did on frogs' legs and the nervous system.

He didn’t know exactly why people thought he was a witch. He didn’t commune with spirits, or curse his enemies. He hadn’t sold his soul to the devil, and he’d never even seen a succubus, much less… well.

But there they were, at his door with torches and pitchforks. He sighed and climbed into his cellar, taking with him a jar of frogs, a scalpel, and copper wire. He could work while he was hiding, even if it would be boring without his generator.

The mob would break things and leave, as always. And he’d be safe for another year.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Not from 'round here

Inspired by the word "Provenance", and my recent trip to Mississippi.

“You ain’t from ‘round here, are you?”

The words were running through my head constantly, drawling in a nasal voice, although no one had come close to speaking them in my presence. Everyone was sweet tea and warm butter, smiles and handshakes and even a few hugs. If anything, they did more to make me feel welcome than my parents on the few occasions when I went home. I wasn’t expecting it, and I clenched the handle of my bag like a talisman. No, I didn’t need help carrying it. They took it anyway.

“You’re in Mississippi now,” they smiled.

For serious, though, the wedding was beautiful and the reception was a blast, and I loved hanging out and chatting with everyone I hung out and chatted with. It was wonderful; hardly a dull moment and certainly never a bad one! Congratulations, Duff and Anja!

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Inspired by the word of the day, "Asperity".

Amy knew going to the hardware store in her sundress was a mistake. But she needed sandpaper, and the rest of her clothes were dirty. She would have to take care of that, too, sometime.

To make matters worse, the store was more of a labyrinth than a market. She found a clerk and asked him for directions.

The young man leered at her, and looked down her dress. “Why do you need sandpaper?” he asked.

She was not stupid. “So I can scrape that look off your face.” To his shock, she continued, “Just show me where it is.”


This was true (when I wrote it yesterday) and so I had to write about it.

It rained in Palo Alto last night; for the first time since the winter. But before the drops fell from the sky, the sunset illuminated a rainbow of the sort that you usually only see in children’s books – from horizon to horizon, every bright color represented, with a ghost as strong as most rainbows I’ve ever seen. The sky was twelve kinds of beautiful – bright blue, orange clouds at sunset, two (or four, depending on how you counted) rainbows…

And then it rained; just a few drops but nonetheless signifying the benevolence of the heavens.

It was a good omen.
But seriously; it's the dry season and according to the leasing agent it hasn't rained in "forever". So I was very happy when, the day I signed my lease, it rained in the evening. Also, I have three additional drabbles I wrote; whoop!

Inspired by "Obeisance", the word of the day a few days ago:

“It is amazing,” Madame Montmercy condescended, “how much one can convey with a simple gesture.” She cleared her throat, bringing her students to attention.

“By bowing one’s head and giving a quick low bob, one conveys humility.” As she sunk to the ground, Madame indeed looked shy. “Making a show of it shows boastfulness or vanity,” and as she waved her arms in an elaborate obeisance, Madame looked even more confident than usual. Rising from her curtsy, she surveyed the mostly impressed students. “Any questions?”

Sophie spoke up. “How does one show that one thinks this whole thing is idiotic?”

And another!

Matthew’s parents were bears. Or perhaps not bears as such, but were-bears; they turned to bears as they slept. He could hear them growling in their bedroom every night, roaring huskily like bears on television. At first he was afraid, but they always turned back in the morning so he accustomed himself to it. Some people’s parents stayed up all night, some snored. His turned into bears.

He wondered if he turned into an animal at night; but if he did he never noticed.

And he learned to deal with nightmares himself very young. It was that or be eaten.

And another, inspired by the book I just finished (The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie), which has several rather Pygmalion-like twists.

The problem other people had, Henry reasoned, was a sort of foolish sentimentality that at once attached them to their fantasies and allowed them to envision a better world than this one.

Henry Wallace had never had that much imagination, so he announced bravely that he wouldn’t fall into any such “Pygmalion Paradox”.

Words like that have a way of catching up with one, and Henry soon found that even his mundane mind fell prey to the sort of melancholy he so readily dismissed.

After all, once you have created the perfect companion, how can you live happily without her?

I would have posted these when I wrote them (read: earlier), but I do not have internet in my apartment yet. I'm working on that.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Little Black Birds

Inspired by the oil-fields we drove past on the way to San Luis Obispo to visit Kevin.

Plink-plink. Plink-plink. The little black and white plastic bird had a top-hat and a painted-on bow tie, so it was hoity-toity. That was why Mr. Rupert Stevens liked it. Mr. Stevens himself usually wore a thin leather strap of a tie, or no tie at all. It suited his personality better. He was a pioneer; rough around the edges. But his little wooden bird sipped at his very own glass of scotch, and he provided life-giving liquids to every high class businessman in every big city.

He looked out over his fields, at the little black metal birds.

Plink-plink. Plink-plink.

SLO was nice; very scenic. I climbed half a mountain (although used to long long walks on the flat terrain of Chicago, neither my shoes nor myself were prepared for climbing an actual mountain; I twisted my ankle and almost fainted. Fun times!) and we went to dinner at a pier that had a seal infestation (no, seriously, the seals covered the bottom layer of the pier. You couldn't see the wood slats for the seals. It was kind of like a Koala infestation only smellier and louder and more maritime. Kevin decided that if he lived in a boat he would want a pet seal. Mom and Dad thought it was rather odd). It was awesome^max seeing Kevin, we watched Across the Universe in his old-new apartment (not his, sublet for the summer, he moves vaguely soon into another one; also, I love that movie and now one of the songs is stuck in my head) and I now have more Andrew Bird and some Vampire Weekend to listen to. Hooray! Tomorrow is the big day. Half of me is excited and half of me is worried. I will listen to the excited half and not the other one.