28 May 2007
On this Memorial Day

Last respects

(American soldiers burying their dead, Bois de Consenvoye, France, 8 November 1918. Via Susanna Cornett.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
22 August 2007
Glucose célèbre

Life among the Type 2s has in no way altered my endorsement of this viewpoint:

If you want to eschew smoking and fast food, exercise, and otherwise lead the disciplined life that will allow you that extra six years of geriatry, so that you may live as long as the average Andorran, that's your prerogative. Some of the rest of us may choose to live it up a little, even if that means we spend six fewer months in the nursing home before kicking off. Of course, you could also get struck and killed by the organic food truck in the parking lot of Whole Foods.

Not likely. We don't have a Whole Foods. Yet.

There are plenty of folks who will tell you that engaging in activity A, on average, will reduce your lifespan (call it B) by some number C. What they don't mention is that neither you nor they can balance the equation without foreknowledge of the value of B.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

I have "risk factors." So does everyone else. I can take — indeed, I have taken — some steps to mitigate them. But they're never going to go away completely, and as I get older, inevitably I will develop more of them. I wrote this ten years ago:

Popular psychology insists that men of A Certain Age are driven to go forth and seek out, in Tom T. Hall's words, "faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money." I can't see myself doing any of these things, but then I can't be sure if my life is half over, or two-thirds, or ninety-five percent. Somewhere out there is a bullet or a bacterium or a Buick with my name on it, and its scheduling is unclear, to say the least.

But I'm not going to hide in my room and hope it goes away — because it won't.

Why, yes, I think I will have fries with that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
11 September 2007
Six years on

From my single entry for 11 September 2001:

Blessed are the doubters; though they be thought indecisive and wishy, washy even, it would never occur to them to settle a petty grudge by mass murder.

Donald Rumsfeld was saying that the Pentagon bureaucracy needed to be shaken up, but this isn't what he meant at all. So far, I've remained just as calm as can be — going through the Oklahoma City bombing perhaps has taken some of the fright out of me, and gallows humor will take care of some of the rest. But somehow I can still see myself tumbling from bed at the stroke of midnight, sweating to beat the band and screaming my fear into the night sky.

I haven't had much occasion to scream since then, and whether I should credit this comparative placidity to the (perhaps inadvertent) efficiency of the government or to the fecklessness of the jihadis is a question on which I plan to spend no time. What matters is that faith has been kept; memories have been preserved; resolve, where it counts, has been maintained.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:11 AM)
29 October 2007
Saddest story of the week

And yet the ending is happy — maybe.

Read it and decide for yourself.

(Thank you, Tam.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
6 November 2007
Pavane pour une infante défunte

Not Maurice Ravel's, though he has a small role to play in this tale of someone whose time ran out far too soon, by the inimitable Akaky Bashmachkin.

If Blogspot is acting up, you can read it here. One way or another, though, you must read it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:30 PM)
13 December 2007
The wheat/rye guy

A regular commenter around here for quite some time, and a blogger in his own right — and, sad to say, he may be leaving us:

During Drinking Right last night we got a call from Triticale's wife.

She told us he is not doing very well. His Doctors only give him a few more days.

We offer our respect, best wishes and prayers.

No more can I add, except to do the same.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
19 December 2007
Think fast

It should surprise no one that I still remember this scary little incident:

In 1985, a petroleum tanker making a left turn around a narrow corner didn't see me and attempted, quite involuntarily, to prove the law of physics that says that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time; not only did I survive, but I was able to drive away from the carnage with less than a deductible's worth of damage.

Not the easiest thing in the world to forget. Obviously this didn't happen in slow motion; just the same, I remember it unfolding slowly, deliberately, as I perceived the threat, estimated the time of arrival, and planned my response, which, I decided, would not be to throw up my hands in despair and prepare myself for a world with less traffic.

Instead, I tried to point the car, to the extent possible, at the tanker's spare-tire carrier, midway along its underside, with the ridiculous idea that if I hit the big rubber tire, I'd be bounced back just enough to save my miserable hide. Of course, if I sheared off the tire carrier and ripped open the belly of the beast, I wouldn't have to spend any time wondering how I'd failed; I'd be roasted to a crackly crunch.

Now I didn't tell you this to try to impress you with my resourcefulness. For one thing, I don't have as much of it as I'd like. What's more important, at least for the purpose of this narrative, is that while all this happened in a split second, it didn't seem to happen in a split second: time, at least from my point of view, seemed to slow down.

Which supports this premise here, I suppose:

U.S. scientists leapt off a 150-foot (45-meter) high platform in a hair-raising bid to test if time really does slow down in a crisis as film-makers like to show.

The experiment was divided into two parts. First the researchers asked volunteers to show on a stopwatch how long someone else's fall had taken, then how long their own fall took. All the participants believed their own fall had taken some 36 percent longer.

The phenomenon is explained this way:

Researchers believe that during terrifying events a part of the brain called amygdala becomes more active, adding extra memories that accompany those normally dealt with by other parts of the brain.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took. It can seem as though an event has taken an unusually long time, but it doesn't mean your immediate experience of time actually expands. It simply means that when you look back on it you believe it to have taken longer."

Which adds a certain resonance to the way I read Donald Sensing's harrowing story of spinning out on a rainy Tennessee highway. As he says:

Samuel Johnson, one of the leading literary figures of 18th-century England, wrote, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

So does spinning out at high speed in the rain on the interstate. It gives your mind a certain focus.

And his report, like mine, ends with a word of thanks pointed toward the heavens, and the knowledge that we would be forever changed by what had happened. The difference is this: he realized it a lot faster than I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
6 April 2008
Blogging ourselves to death

Twelve years into this little technological exercise, and maybe I'm not getting enough exercise:

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

If I get to the point where this seems too much like work, I am out of here faster than [fill in name of distasteful waste product] through a [conduit for same].


I'm pretty sure you could take a random sample of most white-, blue-, and no-collar occupations and find three middle-aged men who had heart attacks since December, not to mention members who have gained weight. I say most because there's not a lot of 50-y-o men teaching preschool.

And if not, so what? If you work in the mines, you know you're going to get black lung. If you flip burgers, you know you're going to get acne. If you build skyscrapers, you know you could plummet 30 stories to your death. If you blog, you might not get enough exercise. Whoop.

Hey, I had acne before I ever flipped burgers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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