Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: The Failure of Math

"A problem which reveals the failure of Math: there are 28 seats, all side-by-side in a row, along one wall of a bus depot. How many people do they seat?

"14, if no one is a dick, because generous people only take up three seats, one for the butt, and two as a barrier on either side so no one will sit near them. More likely, 12 or 13 people fit, though more if some arrive in couples without so much entitlement about baggage. You might squeeze 18 people onto 28 seats if you have some genuine humanitarians in the depot.

"Some may crunch the numbers and determine this is a failure of people. 28 human-sized seats ought to equal 28 sitting humans. It’s not math’s fault that it fails here. It is a doomed invention, doomed to the service of its inventors. Evolution has never been kind to inventions. It’s a grand tool for analyzing the universe, which is utterly broken by a simple bus depot."

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Only Thing Worse is the Cure, Part 3

This is the third installment in "The Only Thing Worse is the Cure."
To read Part 1, click here.
To read Part 2, click here.

I don’t care how many people followed him here. Let them alone. Gregor, are you listening? They both survived!

Here, here. The old man – yes, one of the followers, I don’t care – came from where you’re standing and sat right here, with the child in his arms like any proud father. The way he always kept an elbow up at us, you could tell how protective he was, how much he loved the boy. He wanted after some tome we printed when the press first opened. He practically threw money at me, like we have use for crowns out here. All I’ve got is a rusty press, a malformed heart, and rags I wash for Juniper.

I was trying to explain to him, trying to explain that we did that half on dictation and the Arab who ordered it only ever wanted five copies. At first, at first I thought Juniper was getting up from the rear to support me like she shouldn’t, but the sounds got so awful. A third labor on that same stone cold baby, and everyone in the shack knew from the sound this was the last one. I nearly bled for her in sympathy.

Now the old man had assisted with births back on the mainland, and most in the shack were so feeble from plague they couldn’t help, so I led him in with me. He… and you know, Saul got the same expression you’ve got now. Listen, I love my daughter more than anyone on the island, so why do you all question me so? But when Saul heard a stranger was in the rear, he came in with an axe handle and threatened to scatter the old man’s brains. With my heart, I couldn’t fight Saul, not then. So he picked up his boy and ran from the cabin, and no sooner was he through the threshold, then Juniper started bleeding in earnest. Like she was birthing to a razor. Everyone had to rise and hold her down, even the old man that you and Saul distrusted on principle.

The old man set his son on the floor, and didn’t even have hands on Juniper before it stopped. Like nothing you ever seen, turned to nothing, and I thought our girl was gone to Heaven. And Gregor, she didn’t give birth to a stone. We’ve got a daughter and granddaughter – but keep quiet, because they need rest. I never even thought I’d live to have a daughter, and now… come look at her. And keep quiet.

I know it’s funny, he’s so much bigger than her. Sleeps all the time, the old man says. Begged me to let his boy sleep in the same room as the mother and child. Some mainland paganism, I guess. But there’s no harm in them sharing the basket. He’s like her luck charm. Watching them fools me almost enough that my heart feels normal again. Haven’t wanted to sit all afternoon.

So you let those followers stay, no matter what they’re chanting. There’ll be more in time. For now you tell me – do you remember anything about that Arab who had us press five copies of a book?

No? Well we’ve got to fix that. The old man deserves to know whatever he wants, and he wants to find this Arab, or at least another copy of his book. If his mistress burned one, there ought to be four more out there, oughtn’t there?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

#NaNoReMo Ends

Today ends February, and so goes 2013's National Novel Reading Month. I've seen several people knocking off their classics in the last few days, and I've got particular pride in Tony Noland for finally conquering Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. I really ought to get to that, especially after how much I enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49.

Middlemarch's 1,000 pages too me twenty days, including the two I spent stuck in trains and depots. Having an enormous classic is a great way to pass long waits and, it turns out, to keep strangers from talking to you. It's easily one of the most ambitious novels I've read and has made me question many of the conventions of satire and social criticism. There's an essential empathy, a mandatory understanding behind any unkind action, that makes most conflict-writing feel... well, "lazy" is a nice way of putting it. You can read my full review right here.

I'll pitch that we run it in January next year, 2014, for a few reasons. January would let everyone start the year off with conquering a classic, and there's a little New Years power to such things. January also has three more days than most Februaries, and there would be no unintentional slight against Black History Month, one of the few "official months" I hold in serious reverence.

If you have a National Novel Reading Month wrap-up post, please link to it in the comments. I'll create a junction post here for fellow readers to blog hop across.

1. Cindy Vaskova's tremendous closing on Frankenstein.
2. Eric Krause finishes Princess of Mars.
3. Tony Noland finishes Gravity's Rainbow.

So, who's finished? And what are you reading next? I'm deciding between Brandon Sanderson's The Final Empire and Joe Abercrombie's Red Country.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

23 Things I Won’t Miss After the Apocalypse

1. Driving in Manhattan.

2. Aggressive avoidance of eye contact by millions of neighbors in any given metropolis.

3. Tailgaters (traffic violation, not sports party).

4. Ties. I can't wait for the world to end so I won't have to wear a noose to job interviews anymore.

5. The overwhelming American film bias among Oscar nominations.

6. When you and two parties, or three parties, or four or maybe five parties, are involved in a vital deal, and every last one of them is benefitting while apologizing to you that there’s nothing they can do, and you wind up losing your shirt over it, and yet the only time you’ll ever see any of those parties again is if you’re on the sidewalk as they step out of a town car.

7. Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their internet cousins, New Atheists.

8. “Gave Up Anything for Lent” jokes.

9. The birthplaces of martyrs as destinations of tourists.

10. Any sense of need for martyrs.

11. An information economy that has led me to physiological stress any time I only have two bars .

12. Applause at the State of the Union.

13. When someone is headed to the same grocery aisle as I am, and they speed up so they enter first, and as soon as they do, they slow down to a damned crawl. I don’t care that they’re looking for something, because every time it happens, I know I’d find what I want in an instant and be out, but the old lady just had to go first. And so I’m stuck crawling along behind her, looking for the model of cereal I let myself eat, and glaring at her even though she’s not paying attention to me, and unable to get around her, and always she parks her stupid cart exactly in front of where I want to go, so I have to wait an eternity as she figures out which brand of wheat grass she wants. When she finally moves on, I pick up my cereal and find I don’t even want it, and the wait wasn’t really that long, and I’m in an impatient and horrible mood for no good reason. My inability to not suck as a person in a grocery store is something I will not miss.

14. Anonymous attacks on people’s character.

15. Soccer/football arguments.

16. Bombing foreign countries for ethical reasons.

17. Bombing foreign countries for unethical reasons.

18. Creationist dog breeders.

19. The DOW Industrial Average being even close to record highs in an economy with this level of unemployment and wealth disparity.

20. Gritty reboots.

21. Funsize candy (never fun).

22. The 18-month baseball season.

23. Inspirational movies. Actually, hipster commentary on them, like Freedom Writers, or Rudy, blow-by-blow dismissals, as though noticing the tropes of a kind of story that touches people somehow invalidates it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Foot Stopped Working: Neurology Wants to See You

I’m getting better at going to the hospital. I’d rather get better-period, but I’m taking pride in handling how these investigations work. On Friday I saw the Nurse Practitioner at my hospital’s Neurology department. You’d think waiting a month and a half would yield a doctor, but she was very friendly and thorough. She jabbed my feet with pointy sticks, banged on my knees with metal rods and tried to knock me over several times to figure out how much proprioception I still have.

Good news: I have some. Proprioception is the wonderful sense of balance and spatial reasoning. The notion that we only have five senses is a crock.

I need to be electrocuted again?
The sign of my improvement at managing healthcaregivers (perhaps the second-ever three-word portmanteau, after “plainclothesman”) came as she tried to dust me off to blood work. After we got the results, we could schedule a follow-up.

I opened a portfolio and produced the bloodwork from January, when the neuropathy was already going on, complete with disease tests and liver function. She found nothing suspicious in the data and said she’d have to sign me up for a Nerve Conduction Study, where they run electrical current through your nerves to see which are active. Shock tests. They usually took a while to get, but we really needed to know…

I opened my portfolio and handed over the results of the Nerve Conduction Study from January. Ba’am.

Bringing print-outs of records saved me at least two months of waiting between tests, but I still needed an EMG, because for all the data doctors have taken on me, the Nurse Practitioner couldn’t figure out a proper cause. In her experience neuropathy usually results from alcoholism, diabetes or age, none of which apply to me. The “age” one made us both laugh. I believe the only time I’m ever called young anymore is when someone is talking about the health problems I’ve already developed.

Because of two particular nerve groups that appear damaged, her best hypothesis was Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s like Carpal Tunnel, except focusing on the tibial nerve in your foot. Well, not your foot. Both of my feet.

That it’s in both feet is what baffled her, because such neuropathy and motor control loss is seldom symmetrical without a spinal issue. This sort of malfunction typically hits one foot and might hint at something. It’s something we’ll review after my EMG. She spent a proper half hour fielding my questions, getting down to some crazy theories about non-manifested diabetes and shoe sizes. At the worst, I couldn’t have asked for someone to be more indulgent of my curiosity.

This was also the first hospital visit on the case where someone said it might be all in my head. It was a joke, but it was said.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bathroom Monologues Movie Awards, 2012

It's almost March 2013, so of course we're all talking about the best movies of 2012. If all the complaining on Twitter is any indication, I'm once again happy to have skipped the Academy Awards. Naturally I disagree with some of the winners. More naturally, I don't understand what some of the categories mean. But nothing shall dissuade me from telling a sizable democratic body of people who devote swaths of their lives to film that their mass conclusions were wrong. So here we go.

The Too Little/Too Late Award
Going to the movie I missed by several years,
but have now seen and wish I'd been on the bandwagon for at the time
Big Trouble in Little China

The Raddest Scene Award
Going to the raddest scene in a motion picture
Raid: The Redemption, the brothers face Mad Dog

For the Shorties, OR, The Terminus/Validation Award
Going to the short film I wouldn’t shut up about all year

The Best Soundtrack Award
John's already used the "going to the obvious thing-award" joke,
so this is embarrassing

Raid: The Redemption

The Dark Horse Award
Going to the movie that was way better than you all led me to believe it would be

You're Actually All Great At This
Going to the best ensemble in a motion picture,
since a great cast is way more impressive than a single great performance
Silver Linings Playbook

The Frank/Nixon Memorial Award
Going to all actors who performed as well or better
than Frank Langella did in Frost/Nixon
For the fifth year in a row, No One

The "There's No Such Thing As The Best Movie of the Year" Award
Seeing as there is no such thing as a best movie amidst a field of
comedies, dramas, musicals, period pieces, speculative fiction, animation,
blockbusters and an international film market we're both not watching enough of as it is,
the award that simply goes to whatever movie brought me
the closest to both crying and laughing last year 
The Secret World or Arrietty


Other great movies I was too unambitious to invent awards for:
Robot & Frank, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Delhi Belly, Safety Not Guaranteed

Movies of 2011 Awards
Movies of 2010 Awards
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