Saturday, August 30, 2014


Between ice-bucket challenges and BeLoud!Sophie and my brother-in-law Walter's raising more than $11k riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge for breast cancer research and Jack Pringle's solo efforts in Rowing to Gainesville for Tyler's Hope to raise money for and consciousness around Dystonia, I've seen a lot of noble and valiant efforts going into fund-raising for various medical causes.  Which is all very tremendous.

But it is also rather lossy and tends to direct funding to the squeakiest wheel.  Research $ tends to get attention to the extent that it impacts people with time, energy, and wherewithal to mount campaigns.

And thus, we have another example of the withering of the state, as Republicans would have it.  Allocating dollars for medical research is very much a public interest thing, and while bottom-up strategies and frameworks definitely have a place in determining how cash flows, there is also a need for top-down views that can take into account asymmetric risks.  Like, say, developing vaccines and treatment protocols for something like an Ebola virus.  It's good that some pharma and biotech companies are out there trying to look at that kind of stuff and other "orphan" diseases (which are within the pharma world are regarded as profitable niches), but a strong central strategic vision for medical research is important.

Net net, I think this is an important government function that should be funded.  And yet, the budgets of the NIH and other allied government organs are under considerable attack.  Which is no surprise within the Republicans' highly orchestrated War on Government.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being in the Park

So now I am working in Research Triangle Park.  This is not something I was ever particularly excited about, it was, frankly, not my dream.  In fact, I don't think it's anybody's dream. What it is is convenient to people commuting from multiple directions. It's practical.

It is also, for me at this stage in the game, a little dangerous around lunchtime.  I'm poking around there trying to figure out how the roads connect to one another, what with all the buildings looking exactly the same and everything, and if I'm not 100% committed to a lane well, some other jackass in khakis and an Accord right behind me sure is.  I have nearly gotten myself in trouble a couple of times now.

Ah well.

But I tend to believe that there's a little bit of just about any kind of lunch food hiding out here or there, I've just got to find it.  Certainly there is Jamaica Jamaica, my personal fave.  And then there's that Vietnamese place.  And the Chinese-owned soul food place.

Anyhoo, in due time I will liberate myself from all of this.  Just gotta get there.  Certainly, it gives me strong motivation to set up meetings of various sorts with people.  Just to get the hell out of the building.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bee Pollen rules!

So on the drive back from New Jersey today, Graham needed to stop one more time to pee, so we got off at a truck stop, I think it was at exit 215 on I-85, not too far into North Carolina.  As I said, it was totally a truck stop, so I went in with him.  Plus, I can alway pee.

Off to the left of the door we went in was another, none-too-prepossessing one.  Above it was a sign that said "Showers."  We didn't need that.

So we went in, past a couple of dry-looking burgers in saran wrap and a single, forlorn corn dog under a heat lamp.  Through a diner section with kinda retro booths and a steam table full of southern favorites (but not mine).

Into the men's room.  And there, on the wall above the urinal, was a sign for something like (though a visit to this URL is less entertaining than the ad on the wall).  Naturally, it extolled the many virtues of bee pollen, including longevity, virility, etc.  There was, honestly, too much to read for anyone but Austin Powers.  But there were some notes that stood out.

Who takes bee pollen?

  • The Olympic team of the USSR (Ummmmm, no longer exists)
  • The people in the Caucasian mountains of Russia who live to be 150 years old (Errrrr, no such people)
  • The US Olympic gold medalist in 1976 Olympics (this is, as close as possible, to the actual wording.  I believe that, in fact, we may have one more than one gold medal in '76)
It was pretty classic.  I was rueing that fact that I didn't bring my phone in to take a picture.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grand Central Terminal, 9:10 pm

I was trying to make the 9:07 Stamford local.  I knew it was gonna be close.  There was a 4 minute wait for the 2/3 at 14th St, so I had to soldier on on the local, past 18th, 23rd, 28th, 34th, to 42nd, and then the S.  I found myself sprinting through the main hall of Grand Central, only to discover that, according to Metro North, it was 9:08.

And so, there I was.  Sweaty and unshaven after a day of standing in line for ferries to and from Governor's Island, and then of drinking in its legitimate charms with the family.  The highlight was chilling in the breezy shade with an iced coffee while Graham had a lemonade while Mary, Natalie, Sadie and Beth rode around on some 4-person bike contraption.

But, as I said, there I was.  Half an hour to wait, standing in one of the coolest rooms in all of North America, the main hall of Grand Central.  Well air-conditioned it was.  Not so hustly and bustly as it usually is when I go through there.

At one point in time a group of 3 girls and a couple of guys came out of Track 21 or 22, meeting a couple more guys.  Fist bumps, hugs, complicated handshakes all around.  A couple of black guys, a couple of Hispanic or maybe Italian-American guys, and girls of similar provenance, all in their early 20s.  Kids from the boroughs.  Bridge and tunnel, you might say, if you were an asshole.  Who knows where they were headed.  Maybe some club I would never have even heard of when I was in grad school, or maybe a TGI Fridays, who knows.  It was cool, though.  Kids getting together on a Saturday.  With chaos raging in Ferguson, it was good to see America working the way it's supposed to here in New York.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


And here I am, back in the Larchmont Public Library, my traditional August haunt, working away.  Glorious weather here in the Northeast.  This morning I could hardly get out of bed, despite two blankets, because it was so chilly.  Not typical for this time of year, but I'll take it.

Yesterday was fabulous in the city.  Got time in with 4 people, several of whom I hadn't seen in years, one I hadn't seen since maybe '95.  Got some excellent eating in as well, including a nice seafood salad in Tribeca and a killer pork banh mi in the East Village.

Honestly, didn't really see anything of particular note on the streets. Just people going about the business of being New Yorkers and/or tourists.  I pretended to be the former, but I don't know if I fooled anyone, save for the fact that I can still navigate Gotham right good.

OK.  Time to head home.  Natalie and Sadie wanted to play some board game which requires at least 3 players, and Graham was not excited about it.  Really, I should exercise before dinner.  We'll see about that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Limbering up

As is so often the case, I was reading something someone else had written, in this case a Haven Kimmel book, and I realized that I hadn't written anything for a while.

Let me just say that this weekend's Be Loud! Sophie concerts were wildly successful, it was an honor to play a part in them, however modest.  To wit, I MC'd portions of the shows.

Now, I am not a big self horn tooter.  I generally don't like that stuff.  In this case, however, I am proud of what I did, so I will tell you.  After the 65 Roses shows organized by John Plymale a few years back to benefit Cystic Fibrosis research, I had a vision of a punk rock kind of fundraising technique:  go up on stage, tell the crowd there's a box of some sort where donations are being collected in the back of the room, and then hand cash to somebody in the front row, and direct them to hand it back through the crowd.  Then exhort the crowd to do the same.  Take money out and hand it to the person behind them,  so that all the money goes to the bucket.

This weekend, I did it.  Before the Pressure Boys, the headline act came on.  Both nights.  And it raised good money.  At least a couple of grand, maybe three.  Cool when something like that works.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Be Loud!

Having a slight hiatus in posting due to this weekends Be Loud! Sophie event at Cat's Cradle.  If you're not there, you're wrong.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


I snapped up this serialized Iranian graphic novel, which was made into a movie in 2007 and nominated for an Oscar.  It's well worth reading, offered considerable insight into "normal" people living through the Iranian revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, and afterwards.

I bracket "normal" because of course we like our first-person narrator and her parents, they are just like us, or rather, like self-respecting intelligentsia of a European capital.  Smart, left-leaning, decent, hard-working folks.  They are the people we are supposed to like. The heroine goes through some ups and downs, away from her parents in Vienna for a few years, does some drugs, scandalized her Catholic school, lives on the streets for a few months.  She doesn't have an easy time of it.

But she can go home to her parents and her feisty grandma and find some comfort in the repressive landscape of fundamentalist Iran, but they're always running away from the revolutionary guard in one way or another, and eventually her parents and grandmother put her on a plane again back to the West.  She is a grown young woman.  The End.

And so, the West and our values win, of course they do.

My question is this, why is it that nobody tries to make the movie or write the book from the perspective of Islam or some other traditionalist culture, under threat from the cosmopolitan West?  Probably there are more than I know of, they just don't bubble up through the Western culture industry because nobody would want to read or watch them.  Or is the form of the first-person or single-character focused third-person novel or novelistic film somehow inherently western and aligned with individualism per se.  Without going back and reading Ian Watt's Rise of the Novel and some of the other stuff that grows out of it (Raymond Williams, etc.), I think this logic is embedded there.  The novel is the very form of the individual.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The White Ribbon

I finished up this Michael Haneke movie last night.  It's the kind of film I haven't been watching much of lately.  Will Farrell did not make an appearance.  Black and white, starkly beautiful, the story of a small German town in the lead-up to WWI and the elemental violence simmering constantly just below the surface, breaking out with surprising frequency.

Makes a nice contrast with Downton Abbey, the early seasons of which chronicle much the same era. Downton is still a favorite, to be sure, but it's a lot of wish-fulfillment about how we would like to believe things were back in the day.  Yes, there's some violence there, a pretty nasty rape, a little murder, perhaps, but not so much.  Mostly lush greens, nice diction, and human kindness.

All in all, The White Ribbon is a strong film, well worth watching.  Haneke has the courage to hold fast to the mysteries, to not cave in to the temptation to wrap everything up nicely at the end with, well, a white ribbon.  There's lots of violence going on, none of it onscreen. (anti-spoiler alert) None of the films major mysteries is resolved.  WWI comes, and it is all washed away. Haneke could not dispense with the comfort of a moral center.  Our narrator, the village teacher, marries his rosy-cheeked sweetheart at the end, they move away and live happily ever after.  Which is fine.  I'm glad they moved away.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Conversation in a small town

Mom and I were up in her hometown a couple of days ago talking to a guy we'll call Jimmy, who's a local contractor, about maybe selling him some land of ours that abuts his.  Good guy.

He told us a long story about how his nonagenarian father had starved himself to death, somewhere in the middle of his mother's 7-year descent into Alzheimer's.  She passed away somewhere north of 100.  Starving yourself to death sounds bad, but when he went back and told the story it became clear that it was in fact the tale of a guy who had been around for a long time, saw that there was nothing stretching forth on the road before him, and decided to determine his own fate.  At some point in time the staff of the rest home where the dad and his wife resided informed Jimmy that they were going to put in an IV drip because his dad was getting dehydrated, and he informed them that if they did that he would go up there and give them a proper asswhuppin, because his dad had made his call, and they needed to respect it.

Somewhere later in the conversation, we started talking about Jimmy's brother who lived in one of the more urban parts of the state.  He told us that his brother had, after raising several kids with his wife, gotten a divorce, come out, and had a succession of live-in boyfriends.  And he sounded at peace with this.

And this from a small-town guy who, a few years back, had clearly signaled his distaste for the Obama administration.  So, it seems, that even as a court decision has begun to drive a nail into the heart of NC's noxious Amendment One to allow gay couples to marry, the more important war is being slowly one on the most important battlefield, the hearts and minds of people.  Because, as we know all too well, the South in particular has ways of subverting the Rule of Law when it doesn't like it.