Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Angry Birds

"And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
---Revelation 18:2

I had to fix the tsukubai this morning because some nighttime visitor had knocked over the return pipe so the water poured into the ground instead of back into the sone basin that sits above an uderground reservoir with a pump. 

The entire time I was repairing the problem, the hummingbirds, those small annoying hyper nasty “yappy dogs” of the bird kingdom, nagged me to get out of their day spa. It took me longer to fix because I was yelling at them to get out of my yard. I sounded like that archetypical angry old man yelling at a cloud. Hummingbirds aren’t hateful, they’re just noisy neighbors.

In other news, I’ve had this recent e-mail conversation with my doc about drug side effects. In the course of this conversation, he asked how often do I take Vicoden? Here’s my draft reply: 

Subject: Vicoden Vs. Warfarin

Dear Doc,

How often I take a Vicoden depends entirely on my decision about how often I’d like to sleep through the night without waking in pain. Hypothetically, I prefer to sleep enough hours nightly to avoid having to suffer daily from sleep deprivation hallucinations. Notwithstanding the foregoing however, I also don’t want to take Vicoden more often than 3 nights a week because the more I take, the less it works. And I need it to work.

And now that we’re on the subject of how much you care about potential drug side effects, it may interest you to know that the warfarin I take to thin my blood (Fun fact: warfarin is rat poison. I shit you not.) is problematic wrt/ side effects.
  • For instance, I bruise so easily that if someone speaks sharply to me they leave a bruise.
  • For instance, large bruises - say =>3” in diameter - are painful. Who knew?
  • For instance, increasingly, my bruised fingers and hands swell up and turn purple in a tight and painful generalized bruise that lasts two weeks, and that keeps me up nights looking at the dark side of the moon while my hands look like two balloons.
  • For instance, if I get the least little scratch, I bleed so much that if CSI used one of those backlights in my house they’d think it was a Manson Family time-share.
  • For instance, if I had invested in Band-Aid stock when I started on warfarin, I’d be rich enough to have a doctor who first did no harm.

Let’s call it a working draft reply and leave it at that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sheep Vs. Roses

"For millions of years flowers have been producing thorns. For millions of years sheep have been eating them all the same. And it's not serious, trying to understand why flowers go to such trouble produce thorns that are good for nothing? It's not important, the war between the sheep and the flowers?... Suppose I happen to know a unique flower, one that exists nowhere in the world except on my planet, one that a little sheep can wipe out in a single bite one morning, just like that, even without realizing what he's doing - that isn't important? If someone loves a flower of which just one example exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars. He tells himself, 'My flower's up there somewhere...' But if the sheep eats the flower, then for him it's as if, suddenly, all the stars went out. And that isn't important?'"
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

The war between the sheep and the flowers has been going on a while, and there is no clear winner so far. So far, nobody has eaten the last rose. Meanwhile, I’m slow roasting a rack of lamb today, but it’s not the last lamb.

Today, there is a rose in the backyard, and the house smells like rosemary. So for today, the roses are winning, and the stars are still shining. Life is good.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remembering and Forgetting

“One of the saddest things in life, is the things one remembers.”

"Learn to forget, learn to forget
Learn to forget, learn to forget"
― The Doors, Soul Kitchen

Ever wonder if you have a tapeworm in your brain? Me neither. But we should, apparently. At some point in every life, one has to start cleaning out the top hard-to-reach shelves of the old memory bank. Otherwise, all we’re likely to remember is the danger of tapeworms, the needless mnemonic for how to spell Arithmetic, and simple gardening information, like say, distinguishing a rose from a daisy. I probably won't remember the hard gardening stuff like whether it’s aloe or agave that dies after it blooms. Look it up, you’re more likely to remember it that way.

Apart from potential worms in my brain, I worry that if I don’t clean cobwebs from my memory store (like the names of the brothers on Bonanza, and don’t say Little Joe because everybody remembers him. And Hoss. It’s that other guy, what's his name...) that I won’t have room to store new knowledge like the names of the current Idol finalists (not!) or the difference between a daisy and a rose. 

When a loved one dies, I grieve about the one-of-a-kind memories they took with them. Sometime it may be merely delightful and within living memory: like a particular game of hide and seek on a childhood summer evening like this. Sometimes it is generations old: like that the tiny enamel pin in my jewelry box that says “AHS ’03” that is my maternal grandmother’s pin from her 1903 Ayersville (Ohio) High School graduation class that Mom gave me. Sometimes it’s more than recent or fond; it’s ancient and essential. To give you an idea, think about what would happen if the last guy that knows how to brew good beer dies. Ok, then think of something that actually might happen.

I’d like to remember happy things, and not sad ones. I know life includes both, but see no reason why this should require that the shelves in my personal memory must be stacked that way. But, not withstanding Jim Morrison, learning to forget is the easy part. The hard part is learning what to forget, because it turns out that the mere act of revisiting a particular memory tends to strengthen it. It’s, like, counterintuitive. And it's hard: like counting to ten without thinking of elephants. (Which reminds me of my all-time favorite riddle: why do elephants drink?)

So, here’s my trick for learning to forget. The first step is to identify the memory you want to forget - say tape worms, or that if you are a gardener who likes to eat what you grow you may be a murderer

Then spend twice as much time thinking of something good to remember.  And if you can’t tap into happy memories to wipe out bad memories like bleach on bloodstains, then you should create some. Happy memories, not bloodstains. Like today’s NASA Astronomy Picture of The Day. Today, it’s the Annular Solar Eclipse I will see tomorrow night from here in SoCal, even though I won’t be in the path for the full eclipse pictured, but will see a small bite out of one side (i.e. a partial annular solar eclipse.

Don't forget that last step for heaven’s sake. Learn how to remember it. The happy memory, not the brain worms.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Apple A Day?

"And then I thought, 'Wouldn't breakfast be healthier if my waffle were made of salad?'"
-Scott, on morning meal alternatives 

This article, “Gross Intredients in Processed Foods” in today’s Huffpo breathlessly breaks the “news” that some of the stuff in processed foods would gross us all out, if only we knew. So they tell us,  and the answers are "gross", which is a precise scientific term of art meaning Eight on a 1-10 scale from cringeworthy, to vomit inducing scrotum punch. Ok, I made that last part up. But in fairness to the author, she's an idiot.

Here’s what’s in an international orange bottle of Cheeze Whiz Squeeze: Whey, milk, milkfat, dried corn syrup, water, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2 percent of: Food starch-modified, salt, maltodextrin, lactic acid, mustard flour, Worcestershire sauce (vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor), sorbic acid as a preservative, oleoresin paprika (color), cheese culture, annatto (color), enzymes. Yikes, right?

But not only is the science in this story rather squishy, they bury the lead. Turns out foodie bloggers are right: not only does real slow food taste better than fast food; it’s better for you! This scientific fact was cleverly deduced by Dr. David Katz, who knows what's best. “An overhaul of food labeling is most likely still a while off. In the meantime, consumers' increased curiosity into food production could result in a return to cleaner eating. 'What I know best is that the foods best for health are generally not prone to any such adulterations,' writes Katz, who suggests eating foods made from ingredients you have heard of, recognize as either a plant or animal and can pronounce.”

Seriously? Whether I can pronounce ingredients? Then again... Digest pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, phytosterols, alanine. Consider the lowly monosaccharide and it’s greasy cousin oligosaccharide. To me, these sound like pretty gross and unpronounceable ingredients. Hence, I conclude they are clearly not better for my health.  I mean, Dr. Katz might point out that monosaccharides totally sounds like a social disease; or it might if I could pronounce it. In case your curiosity has been aroused, these are the ingredients in apples. Moreover, even if consumers’ curiosity into apple production remains unaroused, these are still the ingredients in apples. 

The Huffpo article is to science as Cheese Whiz Squeeze (“Now with more Trademarks!”) is to cheese. But thanks, Sara Klein, Associate Editor, Healthy Living, for this amazing factoid stuffed taste of the science of healthy living.

In the event that you’re interested in an important issue to all who prefer their apples from trees and not GMO test tubes, check this out: GM Food: Don't Ask, Don't Tell? in the Utne Reader. There will be an initiative on labeling GMO foods on the upcoming CA ballot and this article gives a good, if biased*, background on the topic, along with a number of references. 

* Of course the GMO article and all of it's references have a bias. That is, if you want to consider facts capable of being biased. To paraphrase Respectful Insolence, facts can neither be biased, nor insolent. OBTW, evolution is true.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fools and Liars

“As blushing will sometimes make a whore pass for a virtuous woman, so modesty may make a fool seem a man of sense.”

If modesty makes a fool seem like a man of sense, does immodesty make a fool seem even more foolish? Or does he merely remain a shameless whore who also seems a fool?

I'lll take a lot of credit for giving Swift the inspiration for the above quote. I spun him over in his grave a few times by playing Mitt Romney’s recent radio interview taking credit for the bailout that insured General Motors’ survival.