Anxiety Prescription

August 19, 2009 at 10:50 am (By Randy)

Whether or not one agrees with its point,  this subtle send-up of modern pharmaceutical advertising is well-done.

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At Ground Zero, Coffee and Jokes. [UPDATED AGAIN]

August 19, 2009 at 8:46 am (By Amba) (, , )

I wake up from vague political nightmares and turn on Twitter and find everyone cheerful, as if nothing happened.

Actually, I guess the Obama admin’s reversal and threat to ram through public-option health care with 51 votes (by the tactic called “reconciliation”) makes a lot of people happy.  It merely confirms alarmism on the right about O’s and dems’ “tyrant” instincts — that inflammatory argument will no longer have to be rammed through, it’ll slide right in — while it has immensely cheered up the moping warriors of the left, who’ve wanted him to seize this opportunity to do just that all along.

Here I was stupid enough to think things were actually working as they should and that the minority had managed to slow the majority juggernaut almost to a standstill, forcing everyone to think and talk and work out a compromise that incorporated the best of a range of views.  It looks to me as if the administration is reacting with wounded pride — urged on by its “base” — rather than trusting its own second thoughts or its flimsy (as it turns out) reconciler fantasies.

Didn’t they learn anything from the Hillarycare fiasco?  They have handled this SO badly.  Inconsistent, incoherent, chaotic, driven, it seems, by vanity and petulance rather than chastened sobriety and eagerness to learn.  Nothing new will be allowed to emerge.

The Democrats may have a political majority, but that can’t paper over the deep crack almost right down the middle of the body politic.  To force a solution on the country that close to half of it doesn’t want will give a fatal blow to the splitting wedge.  We’re going to be a crippled country.  When it’s all over we’ll be remembered for being so spoiled by success that we squandered our strength on the luxury of fighting each other, turning our birthright into the spoils of a political Super Bowl.

I’ll admit my own myopia.  When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and when you’re a centrist partisanship, not “socialism” or “wingnuts,” looks like the force destroying the country.  It goes back to the Republicans trying to destroy Bill Clinton (who, after the stumbles of his first year, is looking better and better, though rogue’s luck played a part) for no better reason than that he was a successful Democrat who’d “stolen” some of their ideas about fiscal prudence and welfare reform.  (Granted that Bill put the weapon in their hands — and it was in his own pants — but it was wanton and self-indulgent of the Republicans to grab it.)  It goes back before that to Democrats, including myself at the time, despising Ronald Reagan because he was a hawk and not an environmentalist, failing to appreciate how much the freedom we ourselves enjoyed depended on living in a strong country.

I think we’re in terrible trouble, and I’m really scared for the first time.  I must have been naïve:  hardly anyone seems concerned or even surprised this morning.  It’s just another day for you and me in paradise.

UPDATE: From the other side, Philip A. Klein agrees with Maxwell that using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform is an empty threat — and little more than a bluff.

UPDATE II: Randy finds the best links!  If I’d seen this by Clive Crook in the Atlantic sooner, I’d have just quoted it instead of trying to write about the issue myself.

This struck me as a non-story if I ever saw one.

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s co-operation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Oh please. It isn’t Republican support they lack, it’s public support. And this is not the way to go about getting it. Democrats are technically right that they can get a bill through the senate even with one or two defections on their own side, using a special procedure to prevent a Republican filibuster. But with public opinion, previously well-disposed to reform, now leaning against the Democrats’ proposals–a result of the White House’s dismal failure of leadership on the issue–it would be political recklessness of a high order to pass reform by means of a ruse. Not least because the purpose would be to disempower dissenting Democratic senators, not just Republicans. What would centrist voters make of that? The go-it-alone threat surfaces every few weeks. Though complaints about Republican obstructionism are justified, the idea looks less credible now than before.

It goes on.  Key passage, in my view:

The administration should drop the public option. Politically, the disappointment of the Democrats’ hard-liners would be a plus for the administration, not a minus: their protests would reassure moderate opinion. Substantively, it would subtract little or nothing from the considerable virtues of the other aspects of the reform proposals, around which a broad popular consensus can still be built.

And from the Financial Times editorial Crook links to:

The sooner he ditches [the public option], the better. …  In signalling that he might be ready to do so, Mr Obama has said that comprehensive reform is still possible without it. He is right. A broad consensus supports new rules that would stop insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, cap out-of-pocket expenses (so that illness would no longer mean bankruptcy), and make affordable insurance (with public subsidy where necessary) available to all. Those changes are transformative in themselves. Dropping the public option in order to get that done would be a triumph by any sensible standard, not a defeat.

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August 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm (By Amba)

In the middle stages of dementia, J plays with his food in unpleasant and poignant ways.  He mixes things together that don’t belong together:  pours my wine in his milk, tries to put his ice cream in my salad, his fried rice into his drink.  The categories and containers are breached just as they are in his thoughts, and it occurred to me a while ago that he’s trying wordlessly to show me what his mind is like.

Today I saw that I had left a good but inconsistently sharpened knife in the sink, unwashed, with a pan on top of the blade — a crime, I’m well aware, because a good knife is a thing of beauty.  It then occurred to me that I treat myself like that knife.

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In the future, everyone will be the target of populist rage for 15 minutes

August 17, 2009 at 2:10 pm (By Maxwell James)

Which is about how long I give this nonsense.

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Why the Professional Political Class are Parasites on Us All

August 17, 2009 at 10:39 am (By Amba)

From Politico:

[S]trategist James Carville became the first leading Democrat to suggest publically that there might be political advantage in letting Republicans “kill” health care.

“Put a bill out there, make them filibuster it, make them be what they are, the party of no,” Carville said. “Let them kill it. Let them kill it with the interest group money, then run against them. That’s what we ought to do.”

(Read the comments:  ambivalence kicks in.)

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Govern These Ventages with thy Fingers and Thumb, Give it Breath and it will Discourse Most Elequoent Music.

August 16, 2009 at 1:37 pm (By Theo Boehm) ()

I’ve been very busy the last few weeks preparing for and attending the National Flute Association’s annual convention, this year held in New York.

This is a not-to-be-missed event for serious American flute players and makers. It also attracts a large international following. It may seem strange to have a convention for devotees of a musical instrument, but every year 3,000-odd flutists and flute makers cram themselves into a hotel in some sweltering city in August to hear concerts, go to lectures and workshops, and attend a trade show with every conceivable type of flute and flute-like instrument on display.

I realize this may sound to many, especially to musicians who don’t play the flute, like a particular circle of hell. But flute players have always been highly social creatures, seeking, I think, more than other instrumentalists, both to compete with and to be approved by their peers. It’s been this way for a long time. The first periodical journals devoted to a musical instrument were early 19th century British flute magazines. The flute has been a popular amateur instrument for a long time, so it isn’t surprising that music magazines aimed at this particular audience sprang up in the era of the rise of the middle classes, many members of which now had the leisure to devote to doing things like learning to play the flute or the new piano in the parlour.

The flute makes players insecure because it is, of all the woodwind instruments, the one with the greatest tension built into its very concept. Other woodwinds use mouthpieces and/or reeds that the player interacts with to produce the basic sound. These are ephemeral things that constantly need renewal, and over which players can exert considerable control and personalization. There is also an intimacy to making a sound with something vibrating in your mouth that is different than that experienced with any other musical instrument.

But the flute is oddly extrinsic. The sound is to a very real degree built into the instrument, and the job of the player is to discover it, shape it, and bring it out. Although this is extremely personal, it resembles the interaction of the player with practically every other musical instrument, and not the intensely internal kind of relationship other woodwind players can have with their instruments. The slightest physical problem, especially with the lips or mouth, can make it almost impossible to play the flute, but at the same time, there’s always something out there, just beyond the player’s grasp, that needs the best posible physical control. The tensions inherent in this situation tend to make players insecure. So it’s very common for flutists constantly to be seeking new headjoints (the top part of the flute, where the pedal hits the metal, so to speak), or to be on the lookout for a new instrument.

This is a very good situation for flute makers, but highlights another tension in flute playing: The instruments are expensive.

I’ll get into this in more detail another time with one of my usual musical instrument posts, but the basics of the situation are that the modern, metal flute was invented in 1845 to be made, not of just any metal, but of silver. The techniques used in making it are variants of silversmithing methods, and those alone, combined with the price of the precious metal, tend to produce instruments that are costly. The best flutes are also made to a very high standard of craftsmanship, which has been the tradition of flutemaking since the days of boxwood and ivory flutes in the 17th century. Related is the problem that the post-1845 Boehm flute (named after its inventor, Theobald Boehm) has a very difficult-to-make mechanism, whose complexity and subtlety of interaction with the player are found nowhere else among woodwind instruments.

Here’s a picture of old Theobald, looking very determined, and holding the wooden version of his new toy (developed AFTER the metal one):

A good, professional modern flute will start at about $10,000. There are usually a number of options of precious metals and variants of mechanism that most makers offer, so it is not uncommon for a player to spend $15,000 or more for a fine instrument. The reasons are, of course, the high cost of silver, gold, and platinum (the metals used to make flutes and/or various bits on them), and the fact that a truly well-made instrument can take hundreds of hours of skilled craftsmanship to produce.

There are perfectly good cheaper instruments, but the reality is that it’s necessary to spend at least $3,000 to get a flute made of silver that approaches professional standards. You can get $149.95 flute-shaped objects at Target, usually made in a sweatshop in China out of some dubious nickel alloy, which may or may not be radioactive because of the medical waste in it. But you can depend on these excuses for shipping toxic waste from China to ultimately end up at the bottom of a pile of junk in the basement or forgotten in some closet, long after poor Buffy has given up playing the damned thing. It just was a lot harder to play and so much more out-of-tune than anyone expected, especially the unsuspecting kid on whom it was foisted.

That is not to say that decent instruments are not made in China. But, while they may be cheaper than similar instruments produced elsewhere, for reasons that Chinese goods are always cheaper these days, the fact remains that you get what you pay for, and you are going to have to spend upwards of a minimum of $1,000 to get something functional and which resembles a musical instrument.

So there you have some nice reasons for insecurity: The nature of the instrument, the player’s interaction with it, and the expense.

If those don’t make you want to seek help, I don’t know what would. And what better place to find it than among 3,000 of your best flute-playing friends?

(Cross-posted from A Quiet Evening)

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LOL, Cats!

August 16, 2009 at 11:04 am (By Amba)


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A Visitation [Updated]

August 14, 2009 at 2:46 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

In one of my involuntary micro-naps during sleep-deprived work (during which I can type a long one-letter string or paragraph into a footnote — I call them “sleepos” — and am in some danger of falling face first into, or drooling on, the keyboard), I saw Max, plump, shiny, groomed to youthful perfection, leap in a light arc under the dining room table and pounce on something.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Max’s earthly part was buried by friends today on their land.  You see him here with Dusky, whose body has actually been in my freezer ever since he died in March 2008.  (Notice that I handled it — or not — almost exactly the same way.  How comically consistent we are.)


This sounds grotesque and ridiculous till you get that it’s an arrested vestige of our former life (and maybe even then).  Jacques, having been a prisoner in a very cold place, and buried corpses of his friends stacked in the snow till springtime when the permafrost melted (even as I write that I know I can’t begin to imagine it), could not bear the thought of his “kittens” (as he calls them lifelong) being buried in cold ground.  He knew perfectly well that when they were dead they wouldn’t feel it, but he would.  So I had to take them down to our family’s house in Florida and bury them there, three feet deep in the sand.  Ironically, in order to preserve their bodies until I could get down there, I had to freeze them.  I guess that was okay because it was necessary and only temporary:  the end justified the means, or something.  We had many cats over the years (my first e-mail address ever was, and I dug many deep holes and buried many cats around that house in Florida where my parents now live.  Someday a hurricane may exhume a mysterious trove of feline skeletons, scoured to a polish by Florida’s busy subterranean life.

When Dusky died, I reflexively put his body in the freezer, even though I knew that Jacques would soon mostly forget and would not be able to sustain a wish or plan about Dusky’s body.  I knew I could bury the body near here, or have it cremated, or whatever I saw fit, but I froze, unable to quite let go of my end of our bargain, even though the other end was slack and it was no longer practical for me to do things the old way even in J’s honor.  This paralysis was probably a typical expression of ambiguous loss.

So today I asked our friends to bury the two cats together, and explained that we weren’t going to be there because I didn’t want to break the news to J that Dusky had spent a year and a half in the freezer, even though his comprehension would probably have been slow and incomplete and his upset fleeting.

They looked like yang and yin.  They looked way too touchable and vulnerable until our friends threw flowers on them.


The family in happier times

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Letter From A Dairy Farmer

August 14, 2009 at 11:45 am (By Maxwell James)

I have no idea what (if anything) should be done about this, but it’s hard not to be concerned. Thoughts?

Addendum: Here’s some background.

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Thoughts on Euthanasia — In a Cat.

August 14, 2009 at 2:15 am (By Amba) (, , , )

(an essay in thirteen tweets — first to last for easy reading)

  1. Thoughts on euthanasia–in a cat: more I think abt, more I don’t like this “sedate first” protocol. It’s not for the animal, it’s CYA 4 vet.
  2. Vet is worried abt havg trouble shaving/finding a vein on a sick, dehydrated animal, causing the animal & thus the owner visible distress.
  3. Understandable, but a lack of skill & confidence. I’ve seen good vets w/good touch simply inject euthanasia solution. Instantaneous painless
  4. Sedation shot defeats its own purpose: 1) it’s ketamine or another “dissociative” maybe plus valium. We don’t kno what animal experiences.
  5. Vet sd to me “he won’t experience anything.” oh yeah? then why some vets trip on ketamine?? cd be MORE scary exp., but OK ’cause paralyzed!
  6. In other words, if the owner can’t SEE the distress it doesn’t exist. Bullshit! 2) Sed.shot hurts like hell! Has “salts” in it that sting.
  7. Max’d been calm; at “sedative” shot he growled, tried to bite. Giving fluids under skin w/needle never hurt like that-kinda defeats purpose!
  8. Bottom line: really skilled & confident vet wd just DO it & animal wd respond to some vets’ trust-inspiring touch & phlebotomist-like skill.
  9. I’ve seen it! I had vet friends that good. One is dead & one is semiretired in SC They’d even shoot euthanasia sol. directly into heart-best
  10. I did that once myself, on a cat so emaciated I could feel her heart between her ribs & couldn’t miss.
  11. Discussion w/young vet: “We gotta go through it all the way to the end. They don’t.” We can understand & maybe must learn, right up to death
  12. Animals often die with a beautiful stoicism & appearance of understanding. But I’ve seen 2 struggle to run away as if death were a predator.
  13. Death just seems wrong. Very puzzling: how can something that always wins be wrong?? Are we wrong?

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