"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Friday, March 31, 2006

Psycho-cat story sweeps nation

Welcome Carnival of the Cats readers! No doubt most of you have heard about the incident featured in today's CatBlogging Friday post, but here's the scoop for anyone who may have missed it. The time: last week. The place: Fairfield, Connecticut. The story: cat wreaks havoc in neighborhood: The perp: "Lewis" (above).

The media furor began when the 5-year old black-and-white cat was placed under "house arrest" by local animal control officials after allegedly attacking several neighbors. Owner Ruth Cisero was charged with reckless endangerment after letting Lewis outdoors in violation of orders from the state attorney's office. It is believed to be the first time a restraining order has been issued against a domestic housecat.

"It was on CNN this morning. It's ridiculous," said Elizabeth Oberhand, who lives next door to the tiny tiger. "The Associated Press probably got it on the wire and everybody ate it up."

Lewis's fame (or infamy, if you will) has spread far and wide, with hundreds of TV and radio stations, web sites, and newspapers covering the story. The paper that broke the news, the Connecticut Post, received thousands of hits and e-mails from across the country. Cisero said she was deluged with 120 phone calls from media outlets last week after the story first appeared; another 80 called Wednesday, including the BBC. "Inside Edition" dispatched a crew to Cisero's home and plans to air a segment on Lewis. "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" also wants the cat to appear.

Two years ago, Donna Greenstein said she was attacked by Lewis while delivering an Avon catalog. According to her husband, "She was going to a customer's house, dropping off a catalog, and out of nowhere the cat jumped her leg and wouldn't let go. He bit right through her coat, right through her stocking. She is scarred for life." The couple have sued Cisero in Superior Court, seeking more than $5,000 in damages.

Another neighbor and alleged victim, Maureen Bachtig, recently wrote a letter to the state attorney's office complaining about the cat. "Although at odds with common perception, this cat is dangerous," she states. "Unfortunately, the owner of this cat continues to be in denial of this threat to the children and adults in the neighborhood. Cats do not attack humans. There is something extremely wrong with a cat that does attack a human." Bachtig wants the cat destroyed or declawed.

Lewis does have some formidable weapons: he is polydactyl, with six toes on each foot, and his claws are long and sharp. But on Wednesday, Lewis lay quietly on a carpet by Cisero's living room window, staring at the forbidden outdoors while a photographer snapped pictures of him. He did not appear to be anything like a psychotic feline terrorist, and in fact seemed to be calmly enjoying the attention.

For her part, Cisero claims the alleged "attacks" have been exaggerated, and said she opened her house to reporters because she worried her silence might lead people to think she is "a crazy cat person."

Cisero is scheduled to appear in Bridgeport Superior Court on April 25. You can bet I'll post a followup.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Chicks are back, and they're still pissed

They were just ahead of their time.

Now that George Bush's approval ratings are in the low 30's, primarily as a result of his bungled handling of the Iraq war, it doesn't seem quite so shocking to hear someone say that they're ashamed of the President. But three years ago, when America was much more gung-ho about Iraq, lead singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks nearly cost the group their career when she got on a London stage and proclaimed that she was ashamed to be from Bush's home state of Texas. The resultant furor over her remarks, including death threats, boycotts, and a ban by many radio stations on the Chick's music, was unprecedented. It probably didn't help that most of their mainstream country audience tends to be more conservative than the average person.

But now the Chicks are back with a brand-new fourth album entitled "Taking The Long Way", and are refreshingly unrepentant. Check out these sample lyrics from the first single "Not Ready to Make Nice":
I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should
As Emily Robison says on the band's web site, "The stakes were definitely higher on that song. We knew it was special because it was so autobiographical, and we had to get it right. And once we had that song done, it freed us up to do the rest of the album without that burden."

The single is slowly climbing the charts in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas, but other stations have refused to play the song due to negative reaction from listeners who still have a grudge against the Chicks. In St. Louis, for example, WIL-FM hasn't had the Chicks in rotation since 2003. The station gave "Not Ready to Make Nice" a trial run and decided against adding it to the playlist after listeners complained with calls and e-mails.

The new album was produced by Rick Rubin, widely known as a rock producer; Rubin crafted Johnny Cash's last albums. "Long Way" has a sweeping Southern California vibe to it, and is inspired by such classic rock artists as the Eagles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and the Mamas and the Papas.

The Chicks still are firm in their anti-war stance, and in their defiance of "fans" who criticized them three years ago. In January, Maines told Entertainment Weekly magazine that she was disappointed with country music and that she's "pretty much done" with the genre. You might say she's as mad as, er, a wet hen.

Their prior country-bluegrass sound hasn't been my favorite, but I'm going to buy the new album to show my support. You go, girls!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A writer, not a survivor

Forward: As someone with an illness that may yet prematurely cut short my life, I was very moved by the following "My Turn" article by Donna Trussell of Kansas City MO, which appeared in the February 20, 2006 issue of Newsweek magazine. Ms. Trussell suffers from ovarian cancer, and the knowledge that the disease could take her at any time has reignited the passion of writing that had previously been a large part of her life. Although I don't really consider myself a "writer" -- my meager ramblings are much too insignificant to deserve this title of honor -- I can nevertheless relate to her desire to find meaning in her life. The urge to leave some kind of legacy, some tangible proof of the fact that you were "here" and made a difference in the world (even if only slightly), is a basic human need no matter what one's situation in life. One of the reasons I started this blog six months ago was my desire to create a semi-permanent "body of work" expressing my thoughts and emotions as I progressed through this journey into the medical wilderness. I wrote then that my disease did not define me as a person, that it was only one part of what I wanted to write about, and since then I have indeed received much enjoyment and satisfaction in pecking out these posts. (I hope, as a side benefit, that at least some of you have occasionally found them entertaining as well.) So, this is why I feel a special kinship with Donna when she says:

"Remember Me as a Writer, Not a Survivor"

by Donna Trussell

My Oncologist's nurse found out I was a writer. "You must keep a journal!" she said. "I have nothing to say on this subject. I have no comment."

"But it could help other women."

"I don't care about them," I said.

That was true enough in the first few months after I discovered I had ovarian cancer, but what I didn't say was that writing had long ago lost its glow. I often found myself remem­bering Marcel Duchamp's last painting, "Tu m'" ("You Bore Me"). Even my work as a film critic for the local alternative paper suffered. I was often tempted to write, "Go see it and decide for yourself."

If typing, revising and mailing literary manuscripts was tedious before, it seemed absurd now. Statistics gave me a 30 percent chance of liv­ing five years.

Breast cancer's five-year survival rate is more than 80 percent, so it should not have surprised me when I thumbed through a list of local support groups and found plenty for breast and none for ovarian. Then it occurred to me: of course, they're all dead!

Not that death was a stranger. My poems tended toward death, death, death, pet death, death, sex, love, death.

Still, I was unprepared for just how unprepared I was to face my diagnosis. I would say it hit me like a train except that would describe the violence and not the despair, which was more like the embrace of a frozen corpse.

Ovarian cancer recurs frequently, and I could not shake the belief that no matter how well I'd done so far, I would not live long. Hoping for an edge, I asked the doctor about my cell type.

"Clear cell," she said.

"How does that affect my prognosis?"

"It doesn't," she said.

I soon learned she was a voice in the wilderness. Every researcher on the plan­et, it seemed, thought clear cell the worst ovarian malignancy.

Panicked, I found an online group of "ovca sisters" and asked if they'd heard any good news about clear cell. In a word: nope. But they were glad I'd found them. Every day I read messages from women who shared my limbo existence. Those of us in remission could imagine our futures in the grim posts of the ill.

Some members gave up good-paying jobs to become activists. Ah, civic duty. I just couldn't hear the call. However, I did have a standing invitation from the local paper to write on any subject. I suggested a personal essay in time for Ovarian Can­cer Awareness Month.

The next day an editor phoned. "I hear you're writing a piece for us." "I already wrote it," I said.

My productivity surprised even me. On Sept. 2, 2002, almost one year after my surgery, "Everything Changed" ran in The Kansas City Star. I got calls and letters. I helped form a local support group, but I warned the members I was not a "group person." I might have only months to live, so I had to be choosy. Only one project real­ly appealed to me. On the Internet I found cancer poems and asked friends to read them at an event, "Women, Interrupted: An Evening of Music and Poetry Dedicated to Cancer Survivors and Loved Ones Lost." The event was a success but I wouldn't remain an activist long. Contrarian that I am, I started an argument.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Wit," about an English professor dying of ovarian cancer, was, in my opinion, one long I-admire-your-bravery speech. So what if it put ovarian cancer on the map?

My ovca sisters were appalled. I was a traitor. But I was thinking like a writer again. I even wrote a new poem, ti­tled "The Oncologist and Her Ghosts." On the anniversary of my diagnosis, I followed the lead of another group member: —I sent my oncolo­gist a gift with a card that read, "Do you remember what you were doing three years ago today? I do. You were saving my life."

It was beginning to look like I would have to learn how to live again instead of how to die. I decided to apply to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont, where I had won a scholarship in 1989. Bread Loaf required 10 poems, and I couldn't just trot out my sleek, muscular, published warhorses. I had to write new poems and quickly whip them into shape. It was a humbling experience, but I got the application in the mail.

My ovca sisters don't hear from me much anymore. They probably think I'm in denial, that I believe I'm cured. They couldn't be more wrong.

Cancer may take me yet -- next month, next year or in 10 years. Whenever death comes, my obituary will not call me a cancer survivor. I will die, simply, a writer.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

This is controversial?

Check out this TV commercial from The United Church of Christ that has been rejected for broadcast by the major networks. At a time when so much vitriol is being spewed by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their ilk, why is the mainstream media so unwilling to air a message of inclusion and tolerance? ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox deemed the ad "too controversial", claiming that references to race and homosexuality amounted to "advocacy". A dozen other networks including CNN, A&E, and the Discovery Channel accepted the spot.

On a related subject, have you ever wondered just exactly where your own personal beliefs regarding such fundamental spiritual concepts as God, sin, heaven/hell and the afterlife (as well as others) puts you in the religious spectrum? Then check out this interactive quiz called the "Belief-O-Matic"; your answers to it's 20 questions will claim to tell you what religion, if any, you practice...or should consider practicing. Surprisingly, my own score puts me in the company of Liberal Quakers and Unitarians -- which I never would have expected. Other quizzes on the Beliefnet site delve into topics such as "What's your spiritual type?", "What's your path to peace?", and "Did you have a past life?". There are also trivia challenges about Buddhist enlightenment, religion in pop culture, and the spirituality of The Beatles, among many others. Quite interesting.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Going down

I can now add another "first" to my list of life experiences: I got stuck in an elevator yesterday. I had been visiting a sick friend at the local hospital, and stepped into the elevator for what should have been a short trip from the second to the ground floor. After pressing the "1" button, the doors closed and .... nothing happened. No perceptible movement. I pressed a few other buttons, still nothing. I waited a few minutes, thinking maybe the mechanism was just being slow to respond, but soon came to the conclusion that it was time to summon assistance ... so I pressed the "emergency call" button, expecting a reassuring voice on the speaker to ask what the problem is.

Nada. Zip.

Well this is just great, they're going to find my shriveled corpse in here years from now when someone finally realizes "hey, this elevator hasn't moved since 2006".

Seriously, I wasn't too worried. I'm not claustrophobic, and if I had to choose a location to be stuck in an elevator, a 3-story hospital building would be the second on the list (#1 would be a cookie factory; they could drop cookies through the hole in the ceiling to keep me from starving to death).

Having exhausted the other options, I hit the "alarm" button which at last resulted in a satisfyingly loud bell ringing above my head. A few minutes later, I heard someone outside say "hello?", who then offered to call the maintenance department after I yelled through the door that I was stuck. Ten more minutes elapsed before the doors were pried open to reveal the elevator suspended halfway between the first and second floors. For a brief moment I recalled the opening scene in "Speed" where Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels extract frantic passengers from an elevator trapped between floors just before the car crashes to the ground. (Again, I suppose a hospital is as good a place as any for this to happen.) Fortunately, no such drama ensued. The maintenance guy closed the door and went to the second floor, where he was able to step onto the roof of the elevator and "take manual control", as he put it, to lower the elevator slowly to the ground.

Stepping into daylight again after my 20-minute adventure none the worse for the wear, I still had a sense of humor about the whole thing. When they asked me if everything was OK, I got all mock-serious and replied, "I only have one complaint." Pause. Maintenance guys look worried, like I'm about to tell them I want to file a lawsuit or something.

"Why couldn't you arrange for a beautiful blonde nurse to be stuck in there with me?" Looking relieved, the maintenance men laugh and say, "Maybe next time."

And don't forget the cookies either, dammit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friends for life

It's Catblogging Friday again, so here's wishing everyone a great day and a pleasant weekend to come. Today's photo features Callie & Tiger in a sweet display of sibling closeness. There's a special life-long bond between litter mates, as you can see below:

Sure, they may piss each other off now and then -- much like even human brothers and sisters do -- but they still love each other. Callie in particular has a very affectionate nature about her, even when she's giving me the ol' hairy eyeball like this:

If you like cute cat pictures, you'll enjoy the Carnival of the Cats, hosted this week by Scribblings. Surf on over for some warm fuzzies starting Sunday evening.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hug a librarian today

Why would anyone want to be a librarian? Forget the old stereotypes; librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos, and bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. They are action heros. Librarians rule, and they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.

Yes, it takes a special person to be a librarian, and not everyone can measure up. Do you have what it takes? Take the quiz; here's my results:

Bookstore Employee
You scored 27% on knowledge of librarianship.
You know more than most about library stuff, maybe a lot more, and maybe there's a library job in your future... You might look the part of a librarian, but you're not one. Consider joining your local "Friends of the Library" group.
(Link: The Are You a Librarian Test on OK Cupid)

Conan the Librarian

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Warning: cute puppy pictures ahead

(Click to enlarge)

I know some of you out there are dog lovers (Hi, Moose!) and will be certain to enjoy these photos taken last week of my niece and nephew's unbelievably cute new puppy. Sadie is a "Blue Heeler", originally from Australia and bred to herd cattle. I've always been a "cat person", but Sadie is such an intelligent and sociable little pooch, she might very well get me to consider adopting a dog. (I'm glad the cats can't read this blog, or else they might attack me while I'm sleeping tonight for speaking such blasphemy.) I mean, look at that happy little face in the pictures below:

Yep, and the dog is cute too! :^) They're beginning to train Sadie to "herd" a ball by nipping at it and chasing it along, much like a soccer player. It was amazing and quite entertaining to watch her work the ball. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera out while she was doing this, but if you're curious click here for a short QuickTime video clip of an adult Blue Heeler by the name of Lucy performing a similar trick.

Not only did we have cute puppies last week, but we also had...

Cookies and Brownies and Cake, oh my!

What a great week!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Silly name time

Let's take a break from the serious stuff -- the high literature, political intrigue, and medical drama of recent blog posts -- and plunge into some good old-fashioned foolishness. Think of this as a 10-minute mental recess.

Dav Pilkey -- yes, that's "Dave" with no "e" -- is an author of children's books. He also has a web site called When Hamsters Attack ("America's #1 Website For Hamster Attack Prevention"). He is a strange but funny man who probably has a case of arrested development, although this is not necessarily a bad thing when you're writing books for kids. His self-proclaimed "fourth epic novel" is entitled "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants". Even though it may sound scatological, it's the story of one Professor Pippy P. Poopypants, who "may be the greatest scientific genius the world has ever known. Unfortunately, he has such a silly name that nobody takes him seriously." For some reason, there's something about the word "poopypants" that makes young children go berserk with laughter whenever they hear it. I tried it on my 3-year old niece last week, and it worked every time. Anyway, The Professor has been laughed out of every major university in the world, and if just one more person makes fun of his name it might just drive him OFF THE DEEP END! Of course, this looks like a job for Captain Underpants! (If you want to find out what happens, you'll just have to read the book.) Little-Known Fact: Professor Poopypants is loosely modeled after Albert Einstein, who was the inspiration for the character; Einstein’s middle name was “Pippy”.

The not-so-subtle "message" of the book is that it's not nice to poke fun at other people who have unusual names (kids can be ruthless at this sometimes); if everyone had a silly name, there'd be no one to tease. So, the Professor uses a formula which forces everyone to assume silly new names based on their given names:
Before Dav even wrote the book, he sat down and compiled the most silly, disgusting, embarrassing, and idiotic names he could think of. He created the Name-Change-O-Chart, designed so that everybody in the whole world would have a ridiculous name when they entered their given names into the equation. Once he was satisfied, he began to write the story.
Always on the lookout so that readers of this blog don't miss out on any of the cheap thrills that life has to offer, I've spared no effort to insure that you too -- yes, I'm talkin' to you, Doombah Farkletush and Snickle Gizzardbutt -- can join in the fun! Okay, I just copied and pasted it from an e-mail I received, but I was thinking of you when I did it! Here's how it works:

1. Use the third letter of your first name to determine your new first name:

a = snickle
b = doombah
c = goober
d = cheesey
e = crusty
f = greasy
g = dumbo
h = farcus
i = dorky
j = doofus
k = funky
l = boobie
m = sleezy
n = sloopy
o = fluffy
p = stinky
q = slimy
r = dorfus
s = snooty
t = tootsie
u = dipsy
v = sneezy
w = liver
x = skippy
y = dinky
z = zippy

2. Use the second letter of your last name to determine the first half of your new last name:

a = dippin
b = feather
c = batty
d = burger
e = chicken
f = barffy
g = lizard
h = waffle
i = farkle
j = monkey
k = flippin
l = fricken
m = bubble
n = rhino
o = potty
p = hamster
q = buckle
r = gizzard
s = lickin
t = snickle
u = chuckle
v = pickle
w = hubble
x = dingle
y = gorilla
z = girdle

3. Use the third letter of your last name to determine the second half of your new last name:

a = butt
b = boob
c = face
d = nose
e = hump
f = breath
g = pants
h = shorts
i = lips
j = honker
k = head
l = tush
m = chunks
n = dunkin
o = brains
p = biscuits
q = toes
r = doodle
s = fanny
t = sniffer
u = sprinkles
v = frack
w = squirt
x = humperdinck
y = hiney
z = juice

Thus, for example, George W. Bush's new name is Fluffy Chucklefanny. (Kinda has a nice ring to it, don't you think?) Tom Cruise becomes Sleezy Gizzardsprinkles, Katie Holmes' name is Tootsie Pottytush; you get the idea. What's yours?

Recess over. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog program.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Words of wisdom

We're back from Spring Break, and I'll have some cute photos to post as soon as I can get myself organized enough to download them from the camera and sort them out. In the meantime, here's a quote from one of the 20th century's great under-appreciated poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, that has been particularly inspirational to me lately:

"I beg you... to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer..."

Rilke was an interesting person. Born in Prague in 1875, he spent a number of years in Paris during the early 1900's, during which time he composed his most significant works. He became involved with the sculpture of Rodin, and was profoundly influenced by this encounter with Modernism. In "The Life of A Poet", Ralph Freedman wrote of him:
It is not difficult to imagine a setting for these remarks: the dingy room on the Left Bank of Paris by the flickering kerosene lamp, the poet's pen scratching on paper pulled out of stacks heaped on table and chairs; or perhaps, as so often in the Bibliotheque Nationale, amid silence, clearing throats, and shuffling feet; or a few years later in a cottage near Rome, or later still in the dying Swedish summer, under a beech tree. Until the end, the poet knew that real life finally exists only within, waiting to become something other than itself.
Check out more of Rilke's writing here.

How low can he go?

We've seen the same headline repeated over and over again for months now: Bush Popularity Reaches All-Time Low. The Financial Times of London reports it anew on this, the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war:

"A poll for Newsweek magazine at the end of last week showed that just 29 per cent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the war, down from 69 per cent in the months after the conflict began in March 2003. Almost 60 per cent of Americans now feel less confident that the war will come to a successful conclusion. The simmering concerns over the conflict have been taking a heavy toll on support for George W. Bush, dragging the president’s approval ratings close to the levels of support for President Richard Nixon in the wake of Watergate."

Also in the UK, The Observer notes that Bush is becoming an outcast even within his own party as his poll ratings plummet in free-fall: "Tarnished by the war and a never-ending flow of domestic scandals, Bush is increasingly being seen as a liability to Republicans facing November's mid-term elections. Many of the party's senior members are distancing themselves from their President with a new willingness to disobey orders from the White House."

You know things are really getting bad when even Jessica Simpson snubs Bush. "It just feels wrong," said a spokesman for the actress, responding to an invitation from the White House for her to meet the President during a party fund-raiser last Thursday night. Replied a Republican staffer: "It's never been a problem for Bono". You suspect, however, that Bono may have more on his mind than how badly "The Dukes of Hazzard" bombed at the box office. (Sample reviews: "As dumb as a bag of hammers." -Gene Seymour, NEWSDAY; "Who can forget Jessica Simpson? You will, if you’re lucky." -Pete Vonder Haar, FILM THREAT Magazine)

What's next? Will even Anna Nicole Smith decline an offer to meet with Bush, claiming Dubya is "too dumb" to carry on a conversation with the blonde bimbo? It wouldn't surprise me.

But honestly, we don't need to make up stuff like this. Remember the words of Napolean: "Never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself." The one solitary bright spot for the administration is that most Americans appear to have heard enough about Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I've been approved! (gulp)

Major news: I've received word from my coordinator at Methodist Hospital that I've been officially approved for a double-lung transplant. Now all I have to do is actually get one - no big deal there. :^)

This is the culmination of a process that started in February 2005 when I first applied to the hospital for the procedure. Since then, there have been many rounds of medical tests and waiting as they put me through the various stages of evaluation. Think of any diagnostic test known to medical science, and chances are I've had it in the last year: x-rays, CT scans, heart stress test and catheterization, barium swallow and GI scan, nuclear imaging, kidney and liver function tests, a brain scan, not to mention being stuck with more needles than a pincushion.

I am very fortunate to have made it to the approval stage. For various reasons, most people who might medically benefit from major organ transplant (including heart, lung, liver, kidney) never get one. In some cases it's because their insurance won't cover it. Other times there may be some disqualifying factor, such as a secondary medical problem that could compromise the outcome of the surgery. Or, the potential recipient could simply be too sick or too old. But in my case, the odds are in my favor: not only do I have excellent insurance, but more importantly, I'm relatively young and in fairly good shape other than for my pulmonary fibrosis.

I am also not unaware of the role of politics in the selection of transplant candidates. Transplantation is very high-profile surgery for hospitals, and their reputation (and more significantly, funding) is highly dependant on their success ratio. Because the organ donor pool is so much smaller than that of those who need the surgery, hospital Boards of Directors can afford to be very picky when it comes to qualifying potential candidates. Thankfully, I fit the profile of someone who has a good chance to live for at least five to ten (or possibly more) years following surgery, and therefore likely to increase the hospital's average survival statistic.

The next thing that happens is ... I wait. At this moment in time, I am considered "too healthy" for immediate surgery. Let me explain: within the last year, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), who oversees the allocation of donated organs nationwide, has implemented a new system for determining potential lung recipients. A variety of factors are weighed in a confidential formula that results in a numerical value representing, in essence, how sick someone is and therefore how urgent is the need for transplant. Before this scoring system, transplants were conducted on more or less of a "first-come-first-served" basis, where individuals who had been on the waiting list the longest were the first to be offered an available organ. Unfortunately, two major drawbacks -- those who needed the organ most were not always the first to get one, and a waiting time of up to two years or more -- resulted in an alarming number of people who died while on the waiting list. The new scoring system has significantly improved the chance that those in greatest need will get the surgery first, as well as cut the waiting time to a matter of months or sometimes even weeks. While I don't know exactly what my "score" is (and UNOS guidelines won't allow them to tell me), my doctors have said that because I've stayed relatively stable since my initial IPF diagnosis, the number is low enough that were I to be actively listed now, I would probably not get an offer for an organ; there would always be someone else on the list who would need one more.

The chart to the right shows the survival rate for IPF patients. It is not good; my eventual decline is inevitable, and at three years since my diagnosis, I am just now about to enter the critical 50% mean of the curve. But I've now passed all the hurdles for financial and medical qualification, and once my condition does start to deteriorate (I'm being re-evaluated every 90 days), my status on the waiting list will be changed to "active". In this case, even if I were to receive an offer of an organ the very next day, all the paperwork would be in place to actually admit me and begin surgery right away.

And that opens up the door to a new "adventure" all of its own; I haven't even begun to touch upon the surgery itself, the follow-up, the therapy, the drugs, the potential rejection issues, and so much more. It's not something I find especially pleasant to think about, but I'll write more about that later. One step at a time, and this step was more like a giant leap.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

All along the Watchtower

Having been up late Friday night, I was fast asleep when the doorbell rang Saturday morning at about 9 AM. Throwing on my robe, I staggered to the door and opened it to find two well-dressed, middle-age black ladies standing on my doorstep. Upon seeing me in my tatty robe, oxygen hose, and general state of disheveledness, the women's faces had a look that I can only describe as a combination of shock and horror. We stared at each other for several uncomfortable seconds; I was too groggy to think to ask what they wanted, and they were too stunned by my appearance to say anything. Finally one of them spoke.

"We came unannounced, and I see that you're not dressed," she said, quite deliberately and v-e-r-y slowly. Before I could comment on what a brilliantly astute observation this was, she dug into the bag she was carrying and handed me a pamphlet. "Let me just leave this for you to read." The other woman said nothing, but continued to look horrified.

As I glanced at the tract she had given me (right), the reason for their visit became immediately clear: they were Jehovah's Witnesses. "All Suffering SOON TO END!", it said. After another awkward pause, I looked her in the eye, shook the pamphlet for dramatic effect, and replied in a grave tone, "Lady, I can definitely use this". I am not sure if it was my oxygen hose, my half-tied robe and hairy legs, or my general demeanor of a bear aroused from hibernation, but they looked like they were about to faint. I thought I heard the second woman whisper "Sweet Jesus!" under her breath as they quickly turned and left.

The pamphlet contained the usual Biblical gloom-and-doom: "All the evidence shows that Jehovah's toleration of wickedness and suffering is nearing its end. Soon God will intervene in human affairs by destroying this entire unsatisfactory system of things." Hmmmm. Apparently they've been consulting with that well-known religious prophet, Alice Cooper.

But before tossing it, I had to chuckle at the uncanny similarity to this recent post describing my fantasy of winning the Moose cookie sweepstakes (only without the dancing girls and check for ten million dollars). Even stranger: look closely at the pamphlet, and notice that it prominently features a picture of a large moose. I'm not sure what this has to do with the "end of suffering", but you must admit it's an odd parallel.

Coincidence? Fate? Or did I miss seeing the face of Jesus one of Moose's chocolate chip cookies? You be the judge:

Friday, March 10, 2006

Information Overload

In Which The Internet’s Advanced Search Capabilities Help Me To Waste Inordinately Large Amounts Of Time

Psychologists would have a field day with the way my mind works. Here is but the most recent example, which started with the search for a simple fact.

Mrs. Toast and I had been discussing going to Houston next week, which led to the statement that neither one of us especially enjoyed living in large cities anymore, but that Houston wasn’t that big compared to, say L.A. or New York, and just how big was New York in terms of “the biggest cities in the world”, anyway? I was pretty sure that Tokyo was considered the world’s largest city, but what was #2: New York or Mexico City?

Easy enough to find out; the Internet excels at providing resources to ferret out just this sort of informational nugget. It didn’t used to always be this way, of course. Back in the “early” days of the Internet, when there was no World Wide Web to browse as we know it today, one used tools such as “Telnet”, “Archie”, and “Veronica” to find data on other computers connected to the network. Also back then, cameras used something called “film” (a recording medium consisting of a thin strip of acetate coated with a light-sensitive emulsion); these devices took “pictures” but had no buttons on them to call all your friends. (I know this sounds like some kind of crazy science fiction, but I swear I am not making this up.)1 I also had to write programs in Basic and Fortran on the back of a shovel with a sharpened stick by the light of an oil lamp, and trudge for miles through the snow to feed punch cards into a computer the size of a Greyhound bus.

Anyway, around this time I was having a philosophical discussion with a friend about the usefulness of this new medium; I was all hot about its potential, but he thought it was worthless. He challenged me to use The Internet to answer one simple question: how many million years ago did the last of the dinosaurs die off?2 Alas, I was unable to do so, was forced to forfeit an adult beverage of his choice, and had to hang my head in shame for weeks afterwards.

But I digress.

Today I set off on a similar quest, to find a simple piece of what surely must be readily-available information. Using a Popular Search Engine, I type in “world’s largest cities” and am immediately presented with a challenge: how do you define “largest”? Are we talking about the actual population of the city proper, or do we include the surrounding regions that make up the greater metropolitan area? This consideration affects the results drastically. Using city-only criteria, both New York and Tokyo are far down the list, topped by places like Bombay, Karachi, and Shanghai. I decide to use the more generally-accepted “metropolitan area” definition, which leads to a Wikipedia page listing the world’s 100 largest metros; on this list, Tokyo is #1 at 35.2 million, Mexico City is #2 at 19 million, and NYC a close third at 18.5 million.3 I also learn that ranking the world’s cities in this manner is a controversial subject, as there are a number of disputes over exact population numbers and what parts of each area should or should not be included in the total figure.

Elapsed time so far: less than five minutes. I should have stopped there.

But not content to leave well enough alone, I click on a link called “megacity” and learn this is a generic term for any city with a population exceeding 10 million. This is also referred to synonymously as a “metroplex” (such as Dallas-Fort Worth) or a “megalopolis”. Click. Hey, this is interesting: the word “megalopolis” comes from the ancient Greek city of Megalópoli, and is also used to describe an area where adjoining cities overlap and create a continuous urban zone, such as BosWash – the strip along the eastern seaboard composing Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Another click: here’s something called a “ecumenopolis” which is a planetary city – every square foot of an entire planet’s surface area is covered with cities and skyscrapers. This is strictly the realm of science fiction (for now, at least), with the most well-known ecumenopolis being the fictional world Coruscant, home of the Jedi Temple and Imperial Palace in the Star Wars universe. Click. Complete overview and 25,000-year history of Coruscant, including its place in the plots of the various Star Wars episodes and the role of major characters there.

I use The Force and realize that I’m getting a little off-track now, so I back up and click on a link entitled “world class cities”. This leads me to a page by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group, which seeks to define exactly what makes a city “world class” – with population being only one of many criteria. GaWC divides cities into three groups (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma), with four cities at the top of the alpha list: London, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. Click. Interesting, here’s the city data presented in the form of an interactive map. Clicking each city on the map takes you to a page containing official information for that area. (Hang on, we’re about to go downhill fast here, folks.) One of the Gamma cities with a link happens to be Berlin, which I visited a few years ago. I wonder what sort of information they have? Click. Oh, look: it’s the Offizielle Seite der Hauptstadt Deutschlands. Do they have an English version? Click. Ah, pictures of the Brandenburg Gate and the Tiergarden. I’ve been there! Cool! Here’s a link that says “Hotels and Apartments”. Click. Click. It’s a list of apartments, with pictures, dates of availability, prices, and map locations. I wonder if I were to spend a hypothetical month in Berlin, how much would it cost me?4 I pick some dates and start clicking. I discover that tourist season begins on the 9th of June, and prices rise accordingly. I adjust my dates to depart on June 8th. I actually start comparing pictures of kitchens and bathrooms, and plot the location of several apartments on the Berlin Stadtplan (city map) web site, relating them to other locations in the city of which I am familiar, such as the Zoologischer Garten train station, and noting each apartment’s proximity to the closest U-Bahn or S-Bahn stop. By the time I am done I look at the clock and realize that I have spent the better part of an hour assembling a thorough and comprehensive list of timely, accurate information that I will never, ever, actually have occasion to use.

But hey, at least I got a decent blog post out of it.

1I think this commercial is freakin' hilarious.
2Answer: 65 million years ago, found just now in under 10 seconds.
3Update 3/07: rankings have changed since the original date of this post. Currently, Tokyo is still #1 at 31.7 million, but Seoul South Korea has leaped into the #2 spot at 22.7 million. #3 is Mexico City at 19.4 million, with New York City falling to fourth-place with a paltry 18.7 million.
4About €1400 for a decent place, to about €600 for, you know, a Scheißebohrung

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Toasts gone wild!

One of the advantages of working for an educational institution is that Spring Break once again has meaning in our lives. Mrs. Toast gets all next week off, so the two of us plan to head on down to South Padre Island to join in the drunken revelry. We'll suck jello shots out of each other's navels, dance all night, go bungee jumping, get nekkid on the beach, engage in wild unprotected sex with multiple partners, and party 'til we puke.

Yeah, right. In my dreams.

Not that this sort of thing won't be going on, mind you; it's just that we're not likely to be among the ones doing it. Spring Break has been a celebration of youthful debauchery for decades, and things are only heating up this year. Several newspapers, including the Boston Herald and the Baltimore Sun, have picked up on a recent survey conducted by the American Medical Association of 644 college women between the ages of 17 and 35. The poll revealed that 83 percent of them equate spring break with heavy drinking, and 74 percent agreed it results in more sex and outrageous behavior. The study went on to say that this "outrageous behavior" included "public nudity and dancing on tables". This will no doubt be a busy time of year for the producers of GGW.

Yes, lots of folks are going to be raising all sorts of hell next week. But regardless if you're shocked by this or it sounds like an awesome party, it's going to be a tough time for those who are not college students nor employed in academia. The weather is starting to turn nice, and you really can't stand the thought of going into work. Yeah, you can call in with some lame excuse about feeling sick, but you know that your boss isn't really going to buy it. Plus, the "sick" excuse is a short-term solution that won't win you any fans at the office, as someone else is going to have to pick up the slack, you'll miss deadlines, and it won't help your career any. But if you're desperate for some 'break time off, here are 10 excuses (five smart and five not-so-smart) courtesy of Monster.com to help you save face and your sanity.

Smart Excuses

1. I've Earned It: No one can argue with performance. Come in two or three hours early -- or stay late -- for a week or two. Then negotiate a day off in advance. "Really work when you're there, so you'll be able to feel good about taking time off," says Andrea Nierenberg, president of The Nierenberg Group, a management consulting and personal marketing practice.

2. I'm Playing Golf with a Client: For this one to work, you've got to have a job that requires you to meet and court current and prospective clients. Neil Simpkins, an account executive at Oxford Communications, has used this one successfully. One note of caution: Meet the client; don't just say you did.

3. I Have a Doctor's Appointment: This excuse will get you out of work for a half-day or so. Make the appointment first thing in the morning or late in the day, say around 3 p.m. You can leave the office by 2:30 p.m. and get home (hopefully) by 4 p.m. The shortened day will help you recharge, especially if you schedule it on a Friday afternoon.

4. I Have Cramps: Before you dismiss this one, think about it: Who can argue? "It's such an embarrassing topic that nobody will ever challenge it," says Jennifer Newman, vice president of Lippe Taylor Public Relations. She has used this excuse -- and had it used on her -- successfully. "It's one of those things that men honestly have no clue about, and women can sympathize with." One important point: Don't use this one if you're a man. It'll never work.

5. I'm Working from Home: This is an excellent way to give yourself a break if your company allows it. Although you'll need to do some work, you can generally get away with a shortened day. And you'll eliminate your commuting time.

Not-So-Smart Excuses

1. There's a Death in the Family: Don't ever use this excuse if it's not true. Your employer will lose all trust in you. "I had an employee whose mother died -- twice," says David Wear, a Virginia PR executive. "He also had the misfortune of losing all his grandparents -- 12 of them -- during a two-year period."

2. I'm Too Sleepy: When she was a manager at IBM, Marilynn Mobley heard it all. This one still makes her laugh: The employee apparently took Tylenol 3 with codeine instead of a vitamin, because the bottles looked alike.

3. I Can't Get My Car Out of the Garage: This is another one that Mobley didn't buy. An employee said that a power failure was preventing him from opening his power-operated garage door. "I reminded him that there's a pull chain on it for just such cases," she says.

4. I Can't Find My Polling Place: Mary Dale Walters, a communications specialist at CCH Inc., couldn't believe this one. A former employee needed an entire day to figure out where she had to go to vote in the 1996 presidential election.

5. I Have a Personal Emergency: This one is so vague that it rarely works. It could mean anything from fatigue to an appointment with your hairdresser, and your boss knows it.


As for us, we (seriously) plan to get away and visit family for a few days. Not exactly a Festival of Bacchus, but it will still be nice to get out of the house and relax.

However you spend it, have a good spring break!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Texas voters must be smoking crack

How else to explain this?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ripped from the headlines!

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories. (blink BLINK!)

Yes friends, it's time for the TRUE CRIME DRAMA of Law and Disorder in the House!

Like most small-town newspapers, our local rag publishes a daily police blotter. Wars, corporate scandal, political intrigue, and other big-time news may be happening elsewhere in the world, but these are the events that occupy the attention of law enforcement personnel and other concerned citizens here at home. Keep in mind that this is not a tiny village I live in, but a medium-size city of approximately 40,000 people. Therefore, it's often truly mind-boggling to read what prompts someone to call the authorities -- as the following items culled verbatim from several days worth of actual police logs will attest. Note: names and addresses have been removed to protect the "innocent" (ha!), and my snarky comments (because, after all, what would this blog be without them?) are in red italics.

• Public intoxication. Officers observed a staggering man enter a local convenience store and attempt to buy beer. The man performed a field sobriety test for officers and was found to be intoxicated. (Note to self: don't stagger into store to buy beer while stupid-ass drunk.)

• Credit card abuse. A woman reported that someone charged items to her credit card without her permission.

• Theft, XXXX Funeral Home. Someone cut the ropes to both flag poles and stole the American and Texas flags.

• Theft of a firearm. A known person removed a firearm from the complainant's home and sold it.

• Public intoxication, criminal trespass. A woman reported that a known person was seen on her property after previously receiving a criminal trespass warning. (Huh?)

• Assault/family violence. A woman reported that her common-law husband pushed her in an offensive manner. (Is there an "inoffensive" manner to be pushed?)

• Assault. Officers were dispatched in reference to an assault, but the woman did not wish to file charges.

• Theft, XXXX's Store. Someone drove off without paying for gas.

• Breach of computer security. A man reported that someone was trying to gain access to his computer via the Internet. (The Internet! Shocking!)

• Telephone harassment warning. A woman reported that her former mother-in-law was calling and harassing her. Officers issued a warning to the mother-in-law, but she contacted the victim 15 minutes later. A warrant was requested. (Damn those pesky mothers-in-law!)

• Criminal mischief. Unknown persons smashed two mailboxes Thursday night.

• Criminal mischief. Unknown persons keyed the complainant's car while she was in the mall.

• Possession of marijuana. Officers contacted a couple in a parking lot who were arguing and the male had outstanding warrants. Upon arrest he was also found to have marijuana in his pocket. (Reminder to self: don't argue in public with someone while carrying a pocket full of dope.)

• Identity theft. Unknown persons used the victim's drivers license, on several occasions, to cash personal checks that were also the victim's.

• Assault. A man forcibly removed his sister from his apartment and she alleged that he threw her out. An arrest was made. (Say wha?)

• Public intoxication, XXXX Club. Officers were dispatched in reference to a disturbance at the club. Upon arrival, officers arrested four intoxicated individuals in the parking lot.

• Identity theft. A woman's bank account had been used to access pornography on the Internet. (Damn that Internet ... again!)

• Theft of service. The complainant offered personal credit card information to a company claiming to be based in Arizona, which promised that the complainant could "make money fast." The complainant has not received any money. (The e-mail no doubt came from Nigeria.)

• Harassment by phone. A woman received several unwanted calls from an unknown person. (Yes ma'am. We should have no trouble nailing that one down.)

• Recovered property. A man found a safe in a wooded area off of the road.

• Theft, Public Library. The complainant said he left his cell phone unattended near the library, and when he returned his phone was missing. There are no suspects.

• Telephone harassment. An unknown person called the complainant from a pay phone and made obscene remarks. There are no suspects. (How did they know it was a pay phone?)

• Dog bite. A woman reported that she had been bitten by her friend's dog.

• Dog bite. A man was bit in the face by a dog at his friend's house. (Same dog, maybe?)

• Assault (threat). A woman said that her boyfriend was intoxicated and he threatened to knock her teeth out. (Awwww...a lover's quarrel - how sweet.)

• Public intoxication, Club XXXX. An intoxicated male was seen attempting to leave in his vehicle.

• Disturbance, (same club). A patron and a bartender had a physical altercation. (Note to self: DON'T GO TO THAT CLUB!)

• Found property, McDonald's Restaurant. A homeless man found a checkbook with a signed blank check in the parking lot.

• Criminal trespass and interfering with an emergency call. A man forced his way into his girlfriend's house after being warned that he was not allowed. He then prevented her from calling 911, according to the report.

• Theft, XXXX Grocery Store. The suspect took items from the store and ate them in the bathroom, according to the report. (Sheesh. How hungry and broke have you gotta be to...oh, wait, it must have been a college student.)

• Criminal mischief, XXXX University. Vehicles in the parking lot were shot with paintballs. There are no suspects.

• Theft, XXXX University. An All Permit Parking sign was found in a dorm room. (Campus criminals run amok!)

• Harassment, XXXX University. A woman had received unwanted e-mails. (Damn that cursed spam!)

and finally, my favorite:

• Driving while intoxicated, Jack-in-the-Box Restaurant. The suspect was found asleep in his vehicle with engine running at the drive-through. The suspect was intoxicated, according to the report. ("You want fries with that? Sir? Hello?")

Gah! It should be clear by now that I am doomed to live in a dangerous, crime-infested cesspool. Quick, someone call Jack McCoy! (blink BLINK!)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cookies come ... and go

I am very happy to report that Ms. Moose has delivered on her promise, and my chocolate-chippy prize cookies arrived in the mail late Friday afternoon. Actual elapsed time between the opening of the package and their complete and utter devourment: 17 minutes, which included time to get to the refrigerator to pour a glass of milk. Two days have since passed, and no trippy hallucinations (they did come from San Francisco, after all), gastrointestinal distress and/or stomach pumping have occurred, which is even better. Not that I expected any problems, mind you, but I mention this just in case any of the more paranoid readers of this blog (I see you out there!) may be wondering.

Herewith then, as a public service so that any of Moose's future contest winners will know exactly what to expect, is the profusely-illustrated Tale of the Cookies:

1. Cookies arrive in a plain brown wrapper, intended to fool any postal workers who would have surely eaten them had the contents of the package been divulged by a label reading "CAUTION - COOKIES ENCLOSED, HANDLE WITH CARE", for example. Also note the address label on the package. What a kidder, that Moose! Fortunately, thanks to the government's warrantless domestic surveillance program, the Feds -- who have been monitoring our blog sites for months -- were expecting this package in the mail from the get-go and knew to deliver it to "Mr. Toast". Hah! And you thought the Patriot Act was a bad thing!

2. Internal cookie wrapping. We'll be right back after this brief message: this portion of our program is brought to you by Ziploc Storage Containers! Sold five to a package with lids, they're dishwasher, microwave and freezer safe! Each container has measurement markings on the side and holds 24-fluid ounces! Pick some up today at your favorite store! Wowie Zowie!

3. Okay, we're back again, thanks. We peel back the packing to reveal, at last, The Sacred Foodstuff. This is better than Al Capone's vault! The above is a good representative picture, but it does not show me on my knees in worship as it was taken. All Hail Cookies!! I am not worthy! I am not worthy!

4. Cookies removed from package and laid out ceremoniously. On close inspection, it appears that at least two of the cookies already have bites taken out of them. Hmmmm. Maybe the postman got to them after all. More likely, Moose was just unable to control herself as she was packing them. Tsk, tsk, Moose. You simply must work on your willpower!

5. Interestingly, while I was fixated on the contents of the package, the cats seemed profoundly curious about the packaging material itself. I suspect this is because Moose lives in a doggy household, and their scent was somehow on the paper. As best as I can tell, however, the package did not contain any fleas, so all is well.

6. Finally ... the moment you've all been waiting for: The Ritual Eating of the Cookie. I have to say that they were truly wonderful. In fact, just looking at these pictures again brings tears to my eyes. First note the shape - uniformly round, large, and thick. Loaded with chocolate chips. You can almost see caloric fumes rising from the cookie as I hold it reverently in my hand. Then the first bite .... ahhhhh, so this is what Heaven tastes like; chocolate, butter, and sugar. Then another bite, then the next, and finally it's gone. (Note: actual Elapsed Time between the first picture and the last: 2.7 seconds.)

Well there you have it. Let me again thank Moose for the honor, and assure any future cookie winners that without a doubt, you will be getting some Grade-A baked goods. It's just as well that Moose is conducting this contest and not me, because had this been the case I would have to award as a prize the food item that I am best at preparing ... which would be a burnt slice of toast. Yum! Hey, where did you think the name came from? :^)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Waiter, there's fur in my meatloaf sandwich

Happy CatBlogging Friday, everyone. Today we present:

Now, using this Advanced Knowledge you have obtained from B. Kliban, see if you can identify which of the three pictures below is that of an actual meatloaf:

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

The correct answer, of course, is "Figure 2".

If you'd like to see more meat loaf photos (or other cute felines), be sure and check out this week's Carnival of the Cats, which will be hosted by Catcall, starting Sunday evening.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Quote of the day

"She has stepped into the only place in America where her breasts have no power."

-Dahlia Lethwick, writing in Slate about Anna Nicole Smith's appearance in the halls of the Supreme Court, which is to decide her landmark litigation seeking millions of dollars from her late husband's estate. Read article here.