Thursday, September 30, 2004

Greetings from my parents' house, where despite a thin veneer of calm, everyone appears to be just this side of hysterical. I'm pretty sure this is normal pre-wedding behavior, and that I'll get my reasonably-sane family back in a few days.

I can't link to the article, because I read it on the plane in some random magazine, but according to something I read, there's a backlash against the anti-breast cancer "pink ribbon" campaign. The backlash is spearheaded by Barbara Ehrenreich, who is herself a breast cancer survivor. They're uncomfortable with the pink ribbons on two grounds. First of all, all sorts of mainstream companies are now peddling pink ribbon merchandise, ranging from Jimmy Choos to lip gloss. While a portion of the profits generally goes to breast cancer research, it's often a pretty small portion, meaning that some company is making a lot of money off of these "breast cancer awareness" products. It's a little galling to think someone is using women's misery to shill merchandise.

But the more significant criticism is that the pink ribbons and attendant media give the wrong idea about the status of breast cancer research and treatment. The message of the pink ribbons is relentlessly cheerful and uplifting: it's all about success and empowerment. It's about surviving breast cancer and looking great while you're doing it and then running a 5K. And while it's true that great strides have been made in the treatment of breast cancer, it's also true that an awful lot of women still die of it. Pink ribbons, according to this critique, are a little too nice and happy and feminine. What we need is a movement based on political activism that demands more research, rather than one based on consumerism that urges you to look pretty while sending a tiny bit of money to breast cancer charities. We need a little less Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and a little more March on Washington. We need a little less uplift and a lot more outrage.

I'm not sure that I totally agree that the pink ribbon stuff ignores the breast-cancer death rate. But I do think that sometimes in the urge to be uplifting and empowering, people who discuss disease and disability ignore or downplay the stories that aren't as happy or pleasant. I've been thinking about this a bit with regards to cognitive disabilities, because it relates to my family.

When you see media depictions of cognitively disabled people (which is to say people who in the past would be called mentally retarded), you usually see pretty high-functioning people. Often, they have Downs Syndrome, and they're usually high-functioning enough that they can go to school, hold down a job, have a family, and otherwise live a pretty normal life in the community. This is absolutely an accurate depiction of very many cognitively disabled people, and it's wonderful that the general public is now more aware of their disabled neighbors' potential. It's terrific that more resources are devoted to helping these high-functioning folks succeed and live independently.

But there are still cognitively disabled people who will never be able to have that kind of life. My uncle is one of them. He's not a high-functioning person with Downs: he was profoundly brain damaged at birth, and he functions roughly on the level of a three-year-old. He is incapable of understanding basic concepts like money or planning, which are pretty crucial to independent living. He has significant medical problems, and he's incapable of monitoring his own health. With a lot of help, he can take care of his own hygiene, but he needs to be supervised when using things like razors. He is able to work in a sheltered workshop, but he needs to be constantly supervised.

He currently lives in a pretty wonderful group home with three other adults who function on a similar level. It's a terrific arrangement for him and for my family, but it's very expensive, and the cost is entirely covered by the state. Not surprisingly, the state would like to be relieved of this financial burden, and every few years they approach my grandmother about "coming up with a plan to integrate" my uncle "back into the community." Such plans work great for high-functioning cognitively-disabled people, for whom I think they're designed, but for my uncle, they're a sick joke. He can't live alone. He can't cook for himself, since he can't read a recipe or handle knives, and I'm not sure he understands the concept of burning down the house. He understands the telephone in the sense that he knows he's talking to someone who is not there, but he can't dial for himself, so he wouldn't be able to contact anyone if he had a problem. He needs to be supervised around the clock, and if the state stops paying for the group home, that means that my family will have to figure out a way to make that happen. "Integrating him back into the community", in his case, is a euphemism for throwing him and my family to the wolves.

I really understand why advocates for disease and disability focus on success stories. I understand that in the past, cancer was seen as an automatic death sentence and disabled people were all seen as being caught in a state of permanent dependence. It's empowering to show the best-case scenario, and we all need to know that the success stories are possible. But from a public-policy standpoint, I think it's worrisome to focus exclusively on the best cases. We need simultaneously to celebrate increases in breast cancer survival and realize that far too many women still die from the disease. (And we certainly don't need to pressure women with breast cancer to be the upbeat, fashionable happy campers who feature in a lot of pink ribbon campaigns.) We need simultaneously to give disabled people the tools they need to live independently and to provide for people for whom independent living is not possible.

Whew. That was a long post. Must go now before the family returns and the chaos begins anew.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I started master's swimming today, and I'm going to stick with it. It was fun and hard, and I wasn't even the worst swimmer there. I'm pretty sure that I will be the worst swimmer from here on out, because I don't think the one person worse than me is going to come back. But that's ok. I was apparently doing freestyle totally wrong, and by the end of the hour and a half, I was swimming much faster than at the beginning. I enjoy making progress.

However, we have been told that we might choose to buy equipment, and I don't think I can afford equipment. I'm having a hard time figuring out whether there's any reason to buy fins, otherlf, I was swimming much faster than at the beginning. I enjoy making progress.

However, we have been told that we might choose to buy equipment, and I don't think I can afford equipment. I'm having a hard time figuring out whether there's any reason to buy fins, other` cool and make you go fast. I of course want to go fast, but maybe not for $35.

So anyway, I have swim practice four times a week. And I'm going to have to figure out something else to call it, because I'm too old to go to swim practice.

This just in: Norman Mailer is going to appear on The Gilmore Girls, in an episode entitled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" What the fuck? And more importantly, who's pregnant?!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Warning: The following post is scatalogical in nature. In fact, it is almost entirely about shit. If you do not enjoy reading about fecal matter, please skip it.

Phew. Got that out of the way.

So today I had a meeting with my internist to discuss my ongoing nausea issues. Every time I meet with a doctor, I expect him or her (it's usually a her) to dismiss my health concerns, suggest I'm a hypochondriac, and recommend counseling. The internist didn't do that. She said that we need to figure out what's causing my nausea, and the first thing to rule out is an intestinal parasite. This seems like a pretty good possibility, what with all the raw meat I consumed and rural areas I travelled through in Japan. I'm going to do the parasite tests now, before I leave for my brother's wedding on Wednesday, and if they come back negative we'll procede to what sounds like it's going to be a whole bunch of other tests when I come back.

Sadly, the test for parasites involves stool samples. (Stool is the nice medical euphamism for shit. As I said, this post is all about feces.) I told my friend M. that I thought "stool sample" was the most dreaded word in the medical testing universe, and she very sensibly pointed out that there are several more dreaded words, such as "colonoscopy." She is without a doubt right, but trust me, stool samples are really nasty.

So I have to gather samples of my shit on three separate days, at home. The procedure goes something like this. I was given a plastic device called a "commode specimen gathering system." I'm very amused by the use of the word "commode". Apparently, I'm supposed to be perfectly comfortable digging around in my own shit with a spoon, but my delicate sensibilities might be offended by the word "toilet". Anyway, my commode specimen gathering system looks a bit like a margarine tub with wings which allow me to balance it over the toilet (I mean commode) bowl. After I have produced a specimen, I am supposed to scoop it into special sterile tubes, using a special tiny spoon. One of the tubes has some sort of liquid in it, and that one is supposed to be kept at room temperature. And here's the real kicker. The other tube has nothing in it, other than my feces, and it needs to be kept in the refrigerator.

I repeat: they want me to scoop my shit into a tube and then put it in my refrigerator, where I keep my food. Can you think of anything more revolting than that?

So I gathered up every plastic bag in the house, and my shit sample is now sitting, encased in layers of plastic bags, in my refrigerator. If I hadn't been nauseous at the start of this entire procedure, I sure as hell would be now.

Anyway, after all that, I certainly hope it turns out to be a parasite. Parasites are easily treatable, and I'm going to be seriously annoyed if I have gone through all of this for nothing.

You know those "I Had an Abortion" t-shirts? Well, they got me thinking about the t-shirts that I want to make. They'd say something along the lines of "I Have a Disease that Could Be Cured by Embryonic Stem Cell Research." We could have variants that would say "My Mother Has a Disease...", "My Brother Has a Disease...", "My Sister Died of a Disease...", and what have you. Because it pisses me off that people who oppose stem cell research wear the "pro-life" mantle, without confronting the lives that are shattered or lost because of diseases that stem cell research is meant to combat.

And yeah, embryonic stem cell research could come up with a cure for the Very Rare Condition, although it would probably only be as an offshoot of treatment for a more common and serious autoimmune condition, such as lupus. But my own worries aside, curing lupus seems to me like a good thing.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

So I asked my friend the rabbi's daughter/ theology student about why Jews fast on Yom Kippur, and she says it has nothing to do with keeping your mind on G-d and repentence and whatnot. She says that it's a relic of an earlier era, when Jews fasted to purify themselves in preparation for a High Priest doing an animal sacrifice.

So I said "but we don't sacrifice animals anymore."

And she said, "right. But you're still supposed to fast."

And I said "why?"

And she said "because the Torah says so."

And as I said, that's not good enough for me. I will have to find another mitzvah to take the place of fasting.


Saturday, September 25, 2004

This is probably a seriously blasphemous statement to make in the immediate aftermath of my religion's holiest day, but unless I have been given the dumbed-down, Reform explanation, which is always possible, I think the whole fasting for Yom Kippur thing is really stupid. The idea, at least according to the possibly-dumbed-down, Reform version, is that you're not supposed to eat because you're supposed to be fully focused on spiritual matters, rather than your body and its earthly needs. The problem with that is that nothing makes you think about your body more than discomfort. I'm fairly certain that everyone at Yom Kippur services spends a lot more time contemplating how long it is until sundown and dinner than repenting for her sins. If the idea is to make you pay attention to the holiday, rather than your body, it's totally counterproductive.

So I'm not going to do it anymore. I can see the point of eating matzoh at Passover: it's a small sacrifice that makes us feel connected to our ancestors' much greater privation. And I could see the point of saying that you can't eat anything particularly wonderful on Yom Kippur, just like you're not supposed to dress up in flashy clothes, because the holiday isn't about how great you look. But fasting, it seems to me, makes the day about hunger, not about repentance. If that's the idea, because there's some virtue in bodily discomfort, then that's fine. Tell me what that virtue is, and I'll decide whether I'm on board for it. But I'm not going to fast just because the religion dictates it. I'm not the kind of Jew for whom "because I said so" is good enough.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Just in time for Yom Kippur, here's Walmart's catalogue copy for anti-semitic hate tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

"If ... The Protocols are genuine (which can never be proven conclusively), it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs. We neither support nor deny its message. We simply make it available for those who wish a copy."


It's good to know that Walmart doesn't support the idea that I'm part of a nefarious Jewish conspiracy for world domination. Of course, it's a bit of a bummer that they don't deny it, either. And honestly, I'm a little shocked that they sold this thoroughly discredited crap, until someone called them on it and they made a "business decision" not to carry it any more.

Here's the full article.

I'm sure this isn't the best reason to boycott Walmart, what with the institutionalized sexism, destroying local economies, and exploiting Third World workers. But it's good enough for me.

I should make it clear that I don't support banning anti-semitic hate literature. I have an academic interest in anti-Catholicism, and I've read all sorts of anti-Catholic conspiracy garbage, some of it in modern editions. I just think it's important to make it clear that you're offering that stuff so people can understand it and not because you think it might be valid.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I'm thinking about joining my university's new master's swim team. "Master's", for those not in the know, is sports-speak for "old people". My university has an ordinary swim team for undergrads and a master's swim program for grad students, faculty and staff. I really enjoy swimming, and since I'm a terrible swimmer, I'd like to get some help improving the many, many things that are wrong with my form. And the brochure I picked up swears that it's open to everyone, "regardless of ability level." But it also specifically mentions triathletes and "former competitive swimmers." I'm not a former competitive anything, and I don't think I ever progressed above the "Advanced Beginner" stage in the Red Cross thingie that we did in summer camp. Also, the workouts are an hour and a half, which is about three times as long as I usually swim. Does this sound like a good idea?

Oh, and if you want to make your workout seem really easy, watch Lost while you're on the elliptical machine. Fastest hour of my life.

Friday, September 17, 2004

After a respite, I'm puking again. I really wish I knew what was causing this. I don't enjoy throwing up, but it's also making me nervous. It just feels somehow fundamentally not right. I've never had spontaneous vomiting episodes, and it's weirding me out that I'm not getting hungry. I know that I'm in a weird, hypochondriachal place and that I'm still freaked out because of the Very Rare Condition, and maybe I'm making mountains out of molehills. But this doesn't feel right. I just don't feel like I can call up my rheumatologist and say "I know that you ran every blood test in the book and they were fine, but dammit, this doesn't feel right."

Also, I'm getting a new, temporary roommate on Monday, and that's going to complicate things. There's only one bathroom in my apartment, and I can't exactly kick the roommie out every time I have to puke.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Did anyone else catch that crappy Medical Investigation show? Well, it was crappy, and as a lot of reviews have pointed out, it doesn't have anything to do with what the National Institutes of Health actually does. Here's a webpage about one of NIH's actual accomplishments. In this case, that's inventing the home pregnency test. They're looking for people's personal stories about using home pregnency tests, if you're inclined to share.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is a reasonably fun Jewish holiday: it's not quite as fun as Purim, which is kind of like the Jewish Halloween but with alcohol, but it's considerably more fun than Yom Kippur, which involves fasting and contemplating all your sins. Anyway, if you do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah but would like to partake in a small way, the thing to do is slice up an apple and dip it in honey. This is supposed to ensure a sweet new year. It's also surprisingly yummy.

I think the following cookies would go well with apples and honey, and as an added bonus, you could bring them to a Rosh Hashanah celebration, because they're made with vegetable shortening, not butter, and therefore are kosher no matter what's for dinner. (I'm not going to get into the rules of kashrut here. Suffice it to say that butter complicates things.) They're from the Once Upon a Tart cookbook, which I like a lot.

Ginger Cookies

2 cups sugar, plus more to sprinkle on the cookies
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups crisco or other vegetable shortening, melted and cooled
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1. preheat the oven to 350 and make sure one oven rack is in the middle of the oven.
2. useing the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until they're light yellow. Turn the mixer to low, and add the mololasses and shortening.
3. In another bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients. Add this to the wet ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon.
4. drop cookies by a teaspoon 1 1/2 inches apart. Sprinkle with sugar.
5. Bake the cookies until deep brown, 10-12 minutes.
6. Let 'em cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I wrote a very long post, and my computer ate it. I will try again, hopefully with more success.

My very long post was about how annoyed I was with the teen drama Jack and Bobby and how to me it represents much of what's wrong with the teen drama genre. Jack and Bobby, if you missed it, is a standard-issue WB high-school soap with a twist. Most of the drama takes place in the present day and concerns two brothers growing up in a college town with their single mother, but the main story is framed by a faux-documentary from the year 2049 that reveals that one of the brothers will die young and the other will grow up to be president. This conceit gives the whole proceedings a kind of cheap gravitas: there's an air of tragedy about the good-looking, broody, doomed one, and we're supposed to care about the struggles of the nerdy, asthmatic one, because we're witnessing the making of a Great Man.

Emphasis on man there. There are, so far, two important female characters on the show. The first is Jack and Bobby's mother, Grace McAllister, and she's a monster. She's both a single mother and a college professor, and since neither unwed mothers nor smart women fare very well on T.V., she has a double dose of awfulness. She's selfish, self-pitying, controling and manipulative. She's pathologically overprotective, but when one of her sons is in actual danger, she's reduced to hysterically screaming that the other one should fix it. When the boys get in trouble, it's for bringing her pot to school. She insists that she's entitled to do drugs because her life is so difficult, but she's totally insensitive to her outcast son's pain at losing his only friend. She's so ashamed of her sons' father, a Mexican busboy, that she concocts an elaborate lie about him being a Chilean anthropologist who died tragically while doing research. By the end of the pilot, the boys know the truth, but we are told that Bobby will keep on telling the lie to protect his mother and that it will come close to bringing down his presidency. The implication is that Grace is such a bitch that she'll continue to ruin her son's life for years to come.

(Given that Jack and Bobby's father is Mexican, this might have been an opportunity to cast people of color in lead roles on a teen soap, but no dice. The boys are as white as white can be. In this show, as in pretty much every show in the genre, people of color are relegated to being best friends and trusted advisors.)

The other female character is the cute, feisty girl across the street, whom we are told will one day be the First Lady. The important people are boys and men; women are the important people's wives and mothers. Women are prizes to be won or impediments to be overcome.

I'm a big fan of the The O.C., but it has exactly the same problem. It's a particularly good teen soap: the dialogue is sharp and witty, the show doesn't take itself too seriously, and the (male) characters are appealing and well-developed. But the female characters, and especially the teenaged girls, are totally flat. There's the quirky one, the ditzy one, the screwed-up, beautiful one, and the one from the ghetto. They exist only to serve the boys' storylines. Smart, quirky Anna isn't a character: she's a temporary impediment to Seth's budding relationship with sexy, ditzy Summer. Summer isn't really a character, either: she's a step in Seth's maturation process. She's the girl who will sleep with him and make him a man. Marissa isn't so much a character as a manifestation of Ryan's pathology: he doesn't trust people, he gets in fights, he falls for an alluring trainwreck of a girlfriend. It's impossible to feel any empathy for Marissa, but it doesn't matter, because she's not so much a person as a problem for Ryan, the one who counts on this show. Similarly, Theresa is a plot device, rather than a character. She's the ghetto siren who will lure Ryan away from his cushy new life, because that made for a good season finale cliffhanger. The girls on the O.C. are totally objectified. They're players in someone else's story.

And the thing is, most of the people who watch these shows are young women and girls. It's like our expectations are so low that we don't even think we're entitled to T.V. shows in which people like us are represented as fully developed characters.

Monday, September 13, 2004

You know, I don't really want to read a book called Popped Culture: the Social History of Popcorn in America. But it makes me happy that it exists.

So yesterday I spent $106 on a bra. That's not a typo: a bra, singular. It's a very fancy strapless bra, and the fact that it works is an engineering feat worthy of NASA, but I am still rather bitter about it. I really did try to explain to my sister-in-law that spaghetti strap dresses don't work on my body. She's a scrawny New York fashionista who thinks she knows about big boobs because she wears a C cup. I wear a 32DD. It's hard enough to find any bra in a 32DD, let alone a strapless bra that actually does all the things that a bra is supposed to do.

Here are some things that I learned while trying to buy a 32DD strapless bra. First of all, I learned that in my city, it is much, much easier to find fetish wear in 36 C than a strapless bra in my size. I spent a lot of time googling lingerie stores, and I know this for sure. There are also a ton of chic boutiques that carry sexy little unmentionables for normal-sized women. When you call them to ask about bras in my size, they either laugh or say something that is supposed to sound sympathetic but actually makes you feel like a pathetic freak of nature.

Second of all, I learned that rich-people malls make me nervous. I had to drive across town to the rich-person mall, because the malls near my house do not carry $106 bras, which means that they don't carry strapless bras in my size. The kids at the rich-person mall all dress up to go shopping. Or maybe they wear tiny little tiered miniskirts every day: I don't know. At any rate, they don't look like the kids in my neighborhood, most of whom can't afford Juicy miniskirts, self-tanning, or $100+ haircuts and highlights. And since I am not a kid and still don't have expensive clothes, a fake-bake, or a haircut that costs a quarter of my monthly rent, I felt like a very obvious interloper.

Having said that, the lady at the Nordstrom's underwear department was very nice and helpful. I found a bra, it works, and I am trying not to think about the fact that it has obliterated my entertainment budget for the month. Next challenge is shoes, which must be very pointy and dyed to match the dress.

The thing is, I love my brother and sister-in-law. I'm pleased as punch to be in their wedding. I just wish they could've picked a dress with sleeves. Is that really so much to ask?



Friday, September 10, 2004

Ok, whatever was wrong with me has clearly passed, because right now I would kill for a cheeseburger. Well, not literally: I would be ok murdering a cow, but I would probably draw the line at actual humans. But I am seriously considering going out in the middle of the night and finding someplace that will make me a burger and some fries. Per my doctor's orders, I have spent the past week on a special anti-nausea diet that is basically Atkins in reverse: it's all carbs. Yesterday, I ate the following things. For breakfast, I had a plain bagel and some diluted cran-raspberry juice. For lunch, I had another plain bagel and cranberry juice cocktail. When dinnertime rolled around, I couldn't stand the idea of another bagel, so I had plain rice and more diluted cran-raspberry juice. And that's pretty much been it. For a week. My body is screaming for protein. Hell, I think my body is probably screaming for calories, although I'm not feeling hungry yet.

But I don't feel nauseous, headachy, feverish, or otherwise miserable, so I am going to count my blessings. Did I mention the headachy and feverish thing? That started the day before yesterday. But it's gone now, so everything is good in the world.

I have no other news, because I am spending my life reading newspapers from 1916. There's something very comforting about immersing yourself in the past, because there's not a lot of suspense about what's going to happen. Actually, that's not entirely true, because while I know what's going to happen on the world historical stage, I don't necessarily know what's going to happen to the individual people with whom I'm dealing. And I am quite personally invested in some of them. I like some of them. I want them to live long, happy, healthy lives. One of the guys I'm dealing with ends up dying young in the 1918 flu epidemic, and I was bummed for a week when I learned about it. But I know how the election is going to turn out, and I know who is going to win the war, and I don't have to worry or angst about it. Which is more than I can say about the world I confront when I leave the library.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

So I woke up this morning, still nauseous, but now with a bad headache and a low-grade fever. I called the internist yesterday, and the nurse said that I hadn't given the acid reflux pills enough time to work, and I should call back if I'm still nauseous in a week. Now I feel like I'll seem like a hypochondriac if I call again. But what if I do have some sort of food poisoning? Should acid reflux cause a fever? Even a low one?

I'm getting tired of this.

Oh, and after seeing The Amazing Race last night, I am desperate to go to New Zealand and participate in goofy and unnecessary extreme sports. I wanna go zorbing. I wanna go white water sledging. I wanna travel to pretty places and do exciting, slightly stupid, possibly life-threatening activities. Is that so much to ask?

Monday, September 06, 2004

I'm still feeling nauseous, although I'm puking less, due perhaps to the fact that I haven't been eating much . Does dry-heaving count? (Sorry. That really was too much information.) Therefore, I plan to spend my Labor Day watching the What Not to Wear marathon, staying within range of a bathroom. I have to go to a departmental dinner tonight, and I'd really rather not call in sick, because I RSVPed, and I think they're sort of counting on me to come. It's a party for some visiting grad students, and there are supposed to be students from the department to welcome them. There are only three or four of us coming, and I think I'd be missed if I bailed. So I need to pull myself together so I can leave the apartment tonight.

To be honest, I'm getting mildly concerned about the puking. It occurs to me that it may not be autoimmune at all. Maybe I picked something up in Japan. It seems unlikely, because everyone says that the food there is really safe, but I was eating an awful lot of raw fish. And on one memorable occasion, I ate raw chicken. (I told myself I'd try everything, and I don't back down from a dare. We went to a chicken restaurant with a set menu, and it included chicken sashimi. So I ate some. And now I probably have salmonella.) If I'm still puking tomorrow, I may ditch the rheumatologist and call my internist.

I'm sure everyone finds this terribly exciting. Sorry.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Oh, and I do plan to blog more about Japan. I can just hear the collective groan about that. But first, I'm going to blog about what I read on my summer vacation. Keep in mind that I didn't choose most of these books: I had to read what was on hand.

There's a recent trend of historical mysteries featuring real historical personages. I blame The Alienist. Anyway, I read two of these on my summer vacation. One was pretty good. The other was crap.

The pretty good one was The Dante Club, by Matthew Peal. It's set in Boston immediately after the Civil War, and it involves a bunch of Dante enthusiasts who have to save Dante's reputation by solving a bunch of murders that seem inspired by The Inferno. Good things about it include that it captures the period pretty well, with one reservation, which I will get into below. The historical personages, who include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, are well-developed characters who come across as actual people. There's real suspense.

But there were some problems. I didn't find the resolution very satisfying, which is a bad thing in a mystery. (This is a mystery with pretentions, but it is still a mystery.) The book is a little gratuitously disgusting, especially if you have issues with maggots. And really, who doesn't? And while Pearl seems to have a pretty good grasp on mid-19th-century New England culture and on the issues that led to the Civil War, he doesn't do a great job conveying the particular historical moment in which his book is set. His characters care a lot about politics, but all of their divisions seem to be holdovers from the pre-Civil War period. I'm thinking that Pearl must have taken a "U.S. history to 1865" class, because he seems to think that the most important political issue to post-Civil War Bostonians was whether reading Dante would corrupt Harvard undergrads. If he's ever heard of Reconstruction or the heated debates about it, there's no evidence of it here.

But that's nothing compared to the crimes against history perpetrated by The Manhattan Island Clubs by Brent Monahan. This one is set in New York elite society in 1906, with Joseph Pulitzer, J.P. Morgan, and Stanford White making guest appearances as famous historical personages. There's a lot wrong with this mystery, but the thing that bugged me most was the absolutely pathetic depiction of the time and place. Monahan was clearly too lazy to do substantial research: in his acknowledgements, the only book on social (as opposed to architectural or institutional) history he mentions is a Time Life book about the gilded age and progressive era. A Time Life book! This thing doesn't even have an author, other than Time and Life. And his characters behave in ways that don't make any sense for the period. Could he not at least have read a couple of Edith Wharton novels to get some sense of New York high society? Hell, he might have benefited from renting the damn movies of Age of Innocence or House of Mirth. His characters act like late-20th century folks who happen not to have cars or microwaves. It's annoying.

Coincidentally, I read two other things that sort of take the form of mysteries, but are clearly more than that. The first is The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe. It's set in Birmingham in the 1970s, and since someone disappears and is possibly murdered, it could be a mystery if the mystery were ever solved. But it's never explained, and instead this book is really a sort of politicized coming-of-age story about pre-Thatcher England. It has some problems: some of the characters come alive more than others, I found the ending stylistically annoying, and there's a very long interlude in the middle where someone tells a story that is, I think, somehow supposed to relate to the rest of the book but that just seems tacked on and weird. But I liked the book, I cared about the characters, and I think I'm going to avoid reading the sequel that's just come out, because I don't want to see them turn into pathetic, compromised grown-ups.

The other sort-of mystery was Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. I liked this one, too, although the depiction of Tourette's Syndrome made me a little nervous. It's probably not a great idea to turn a real disability into a metaphor, I don't think. But by giving his detective Tourette's, Lethem creates an opportunity for a lot of verbal hijinks, which are fun. I really liked the narrator. I liked that the book takes the form of a mystery, with a conventional resolution, but leaves some bigger unstated mysteries unresolved.

Next up is The Time Traveller's Wife

So the good news is that I do not have hepatitis. The bad news, which is not nearly as bad as the good news is good, is that I seem to be puking on a semi-regular basis. That's unpleasant, but it can't hold a candle to having autoimmune hepatitis, because guess what the treatment for that is? You got it: prednisone. Often for the rest of your life. And that's assuming that your liver isn't already too damaged, in which case it's a liver transplant, followed by prednisone. I'm really very glad that I don't have hepatitis.

It's not clear why I'm nauseous all the time, but the rheumatologist doesn't seem overly concerned. (I think she was overly concerned about hepatitis, because she must have ordered a rush test. I got the results the next day.) She gave me a bunch of pills for acid reflux, and I'm supposed to get back to her in three weeks if that doesn't work.

Is that way too much information?

Did anyone else catch this New York Times article, in which a business reporter goes to the San Francisco Apple store to do man-on-the-street interviews about the new iMacs, and the man on the street turns out to be former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana? Montana's family owns at least five Macs, according to the article, and he uses Mac's videoconferencing system to keep in touch with his daughter in college. Apparently Apple doesn't even have to pay for its celebrity endorsments!

You need a password to access the article. It's really not that exciting, but if you want to read it, you can use the password that bugmenot gave me. It's
username: xxgeo
password: 1234


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Back from the rheumatologist. The good news is that she thinks the nausea is probably not a big deal. The bad news is that the only bad thing it could be is hepatitis. I've had a test, and the results should be back by the begining of next week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a big absence of hepatitis.

So there was a copy of Marie Claire at the doctor's office, and in it they have a little celebrity political faceoff in which Bill Maher talks about why you should vote forKerry and Dennis Miller talks about why you should vote for Bush. And the moral of this story is that Dennis Miller thinks Marie Claire readers are really, really stupid. I mean, phenominally dumb. It was the most idiotic, condescening, insulting piece of crap I've ever read. I'm honestly tempted to go back and get quotes, because I can't even convey how awful it was. It's like he was talking to rather dim, boy-crazy 12-year-olds.

Now, I'm not going to argue that Marie Claire is a smart magazine. It's basically a step up from Cosmo: it's all about lipgloss and how to please your man and what office-appropriate clothes are most flattering for your body type. But it doesn't talk down to its readers, and it doesn't address them as if they're morons. And Bill Maher's piece at least discussed some issues and avoided talking about how good-looking his candidate was. Miller's article reminded me a bit of the whole Dan Quayle thing: Republicans think women are so shallow that we vote for candidates because they're cute, or sort of cute, or what passes for cute in politics. And I choose to vote for candidates who don't insult my intelligence.



I've decided that the Republican National Convention is not good for my mental health. I'm trying to avoid it completely, but it's not working very well. I'm just too much of a media junkie to impose a complete news blackout. And I realize that I'm really, really angry. I'm angry at the GOP for exploiting September 11 while ignoring the many ways in which New York City represents everything they despise in the world. (You know: religious diversity, cosmopolitanism, intellectualism, multi-lingualism, gay people. That kind of thing.) I'm angry at "Republican moderates" who talk about the GOP welcomes people with differing opinions on social issues, while conveniently forgetting to mention that it doesn't matter what you believe: if you vote for Republican candidates, you are furthering the Republicans' homophobic, anti-woman agenda. I cannot believe they had the gall to play up Democratic resistance to civil rights in the 40s and 50s without getting into the bit where segregationist Democrats bolted to the Republicans after the national Democratic party rejected segregation. Do they think we just failed to notice that Strom Thurmond, Dixie-crat extraordinaire, found a warm embrace in the Republican party? They're hypocrites and liars, and they are bad for my blood pressure.

Speaking of which, I'm getting a bunch of doctor's appointments out of the way this week. As long as I'm symptom-free, I only have to see the doctors every three months or so, which is a big relief. Today I have the last one of this cycle, with the rheumatologist. And I'm a little nervous about it. I feel pretty good, but my hair still seems to be falling out, and I'm nauseous all the time. I'm hoping that it's nothing: I could just be imagining that I'm losing more hair than normal, and I've been eating a lot more meat than I usually do, which could account for the nausea. But I'm kind of worried that some blood test is going to come back funny, and then I'll be back in the whole miserable medical thing.

The good news, though, is that my hearing is still normal. And now that I'm doing better, my ear doctor, who used to be an obnoxious, patronizing jerk, has suddenly become as nice as could be. He smiled; he asked me about my work; he talked to me like I had a functioning brain. I can't figure out what happened. Was he rude to me because he thought I blamed him for not making me better? Does he not like patients whom he can't cure? Was I unintentionally rude to him before because I was pretty miserable? Was he put off by my prednisone ugliness? I don't get it.

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