the truth is ugly

I would like to say that whoever thought to get Michael J. Fox to do a pro-stem cell candidate ad while off his meds deserves a freakin' medal.

I know some folks in the sanctity of life crowd think it's a cheap shot...but since we've endured the odd bloody fetus from their camp over the past few decades my thoughts run somewhere along the lines of "fuck them". Fair's fair.

I think it should go beyond that. Someone should show what Reagan looked like in the final stages of Alzheimer's. I assure you there was nothing quiet or dignified about it. Before his personality completely disintegrated, he probably became very belligerent and erratic in his behavior, because his frontal lobes were gone. He probably said horrible things to people he had loved for years. Then it got worse. And by the end, he was almost certainly intubated, because he no longer remembered how to swallow his own spit.

Make you squirm? Good. Death is ugly enough, but the long slow slide into it from neurodegeneration is something that I would personally kill myself to avoid.

There's a time to respect the ideological differences you might have with others. There's a time for compromise, and meeting halfway. But frankly, I'm tired of seeing people and their families suffer through especially nasty exits from this world. And more than that, I'm tired of seeing the research that could help them being held up by an insane devotion to a particular interpretation of the will of some 4000-year old desert nomad's imaginary friend.

I'm glad to see the gloves coming off in this debate. May it ever be so.


1001 949 reasons to hurry up and retire

If there are two things that tickle my OCD-like tendencies, those would be books and lists. And especially lists of books.

Here are "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die". (via)

There are plenty of authors I would count among my favorites (Murakami, Saramago, Garcia-Marquez, McEwan, Dick, and even Heinlein and Palahniuk), some I've only read a bit of but thouroughly enjoyed (Roth, Eco, Atwood), some I've never read but always meant to (Greene, Wolfe, Rushdie) and many, many more that I've never considered or heard of.

Which is good, because I sure would hate to run out...

I do find it heartening to know that I've covered a respectable 9.5 (I'm in the middle of The Cloud Atlas) of the 69 listed in this century so far, but I'm way behind the curve on the 20th.

Before that...I just can't be bothered. My theory is that film and then especially TV forced people to write much better novels in order to make a living at it.

Oh, and the fact that Alan Moore's The Watchmen is on the list kind of makes it for me. I would have also included Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, mainly because it's the first thing I remember reading where the idea of writing with a particular style really clicked for me (I think I was 11 or 12).

Addendum--I finally had a moment during a lull in the lab to go through the entire list...it appears that I have read 52 books on the list in all (not counting the one I'm currently reading) and only 7 of those are from earlier than 1900 (and I'm pretty sure I read all of those in school).


why they hate us: our poor linguistic skills

There's an old joke about the Pope dying and being met by God himself in Heaven. God tells the Pope that he was most pleased with his work on earth, and would like to offer him whatever he would like in Heaven as his reward. The Pope, ever the pious and scholarly man, asks for a chance to read all of the scriptures and church documents in their original forms. Because, he figures, he finally has the time.

God is more than happy to oblige, and ushers the Pope into a comfortable reading room in Heaven's library, and has all the requested documents delivered.

The Pope reads for days, weeks, months...until one day, an awful wailing sound is heard coming from the library. The angels rush to the Pope, and find him seated on the floor, a book open on his lap, tears streaming down his face.

"What's wrong?" they ask.

The Pope points to a line of text, and says, "it says celebrate!"


No point to that joke except this: isn't it kind of funny (in that awful way things tend to be funny these days) that the best possible way this can reflect on the administration is that the State Department's "director of the office of press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs" goes on the biggest Arabic news channel, gives an interview in Arabic, and inadvertently says "stupid and arrogant" instead of...well, what did he mean to say, anyway? Competent and well-planned?

Maybe Mr. Fernandez should hire a good translator. Wouldn't want there to be any cultural misunderstandings here, after all.


in vino veritas

RW asks: what's the deal with non-drinkers?

At the risk of posting merely to point out that I completely agree with him, I must say that I completely agree with him.

I am not an advocate of frequent drunkenness. I am, however, a firm believer in frequent visits to the warm, happy, gregarious state utterly radiating self-assurance that anyone with a healthy state of mind can easily achieve with a couple of drinks and the right company. (And occasional drunkenness.)

Alcohol, after all, is the great social lubricant. Just this evening I had occasion to share a few pints of the black stuff at my local pub with an Irish fellow, also named Brian. He claimed to be part of an Irish noble family (among other things) which as far as I can tell was "bollocks" as they say (there really is no such thing as nobility in Ireland anymore, and even those that lay claim to title have no role in the government, ceremonial or otherwise, and this is important because among his many tales was one of going back to Ireland to vote his grandfather's proxy in the House of Lords), but really, it doesn't matter because the conversation passed the time and was entertaining. (The Irish are good storytellers). More to the point, there is absolutely no way this conversation would have occurred over coffee.


Not to mention the fact that good beer and good wine (and I'm told good liquor as well, though that really isn't my thing) are the perfect compliment to food and fellowship. Cultures around the world incorporate communal drinking into the most intimate and important rituals of social bonding: the new year, holidays, college football, courtship, weddings, and wakes (except for the Muslims, of course, and look how that's working out.) One of the greatest atrocities visited upon Christianity by modern Evangelicals is the substitution of Welch's for a proper wine at communion.

To be sure, there are few people more destructive and less trustworthy than a bona fide alcoholic, and for them, there is every reason not to touch the stuff. But I truly believe that they are a tiny proportion of the population--for the rest, alcoholism is just a convenient excuse for being an irresponsible jackass. What do you expect when you tell people the first step is to admit they have no control over their own behavior? But that's another rant entirely...


the perks of being back east

(And yes, NC is "back east" if your reference point is Arizona. Smartass.)

In travelling to the SFN meeting this weekend, I get to drive. Time was I would have jumped at the opportunity to take a 1-hr flight over a 7-hr drive, but the fact of the matter is that:

1) Under ideal circumstances, it would take me 30 minutes to drive and park at RDU plus an hour to check in and get through security relatively stress-free. This assumes no traffic problems and an on-time departure. Plus an hour for the flight. Plus 30 minutes absolute minimum to collect my bag at ATL. Plus another 30 to get where I'm going (assuming 'normal' traffic). So already we're at 3.5 hours if *nothing goes wrong*, and 4-5 is probably more realistic.

2) I don't have to sweat the amount or packaging of basic hygenic needs.

3) I get to bring my dog (admitedly, this wouldn't be the case if my parents didn't live in Atlanta)

4) Most importantly, I get to stop here for lunch.


today in cognitive dissonance

On the way to the gym this evening, I heard a promo on NPR for today's Fresh Air, on which the topic would be the "Christian X-Games" movement. Which I thought was funny, because King of the Hill was all over that like, 3 years ago. Score one for pop culture!

It turns out today's show was actually about the "Christian Ex-gay" movement, which is much more serious, I suppose, and yet...no less silly...

Multiple media consumption does strange things to your brain. Also, riding around in a Jeep probably isn't very good for your hearing.

Speaking of the gym...setting up on a treadmill in front of the Fox News TV covering "THE NORTH KOREAN MENACE" while rockin' some Arch Enemy and Sepultura on the MP3 creates a total two minutes hate vibe. I felt like I should be cursing at the screen every time Kim Jong Il's face popped up.

This is doubly trippy at the Y, where there's Bible verses on the wall.


random notes from the new digs

--The road signs in the Triangle are kind of funny...highways often don't give you much warning about what's coming up (it took me about half a dozen tries to master the Durham Freeway dead-ending just south of I-40) but yet, gigantic shopping malls visible from space often have small green and white road signs that say "SHOPPING CENTER -->" on the road in front of them.

--Speaking of malls, has anyone ever thought to call Raleigh "Malleigh"? If not, I would like to take credit for starting it. It's not as funny as "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees", but still, I think it's rather apt. (Yes, two weeks is all it took for me to immerse myself in intercity rivalries. Nothing makes you feel instantly invested like a mortgage.)

--I am still overwhelmed at the fact that we moved to an area that is notorious for being "suburban without an urb", that is filled with "subdivisions" and "developments", and yet we managed to land in a genuine "neighborhood". It's true--Durham kicks ass.