27 February 2007

Getting ready for Oregon Shakespeare Festival

This has been gradually composed over a period of several months starting in November 06: It turns out that when you donate a certain amount of money to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival they invite you to special events, like opening nights in late February in the mountains of southern Oregon. Hmm. Not the wisest thing to be doing, at least for us but I suppose a pretty good deal for them.

A guy from rural Wisconsin can't be put off by a winter storm, right?

I enjoy poring over the play brochure sometime in early November, imagining what would be a nice pairing or perhaps a sequence of three plays to see on a weekend, trying to avoid the weekends that our Symphony performs or the Rimrock Opera is singing, or one of our grandchildren has something important going on.

Our habits have changed over the years: we used to go for a week and saw a play every evening and sometimes a matinee on the same day; then we switched over to long weekends but still took in 3 or 4 plays. This doesn't work out very well these days: perhaps we process more slowly or less surely with too much input. Instead of plays on Thur, Fri, Sat and Sun evening we usually have a nice dinner and early bed on Thur, and then maybe a matinee on Fri and an evening performance on Sat or Sun but not both if we can help it. Lately just two plays on a weekend seem to be even better. Sic transit middle age. We are scheduled for two matinees on this Opening Weekend. Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard on Saturday afternoon, and then a new play by David Lindsay-Abaire called Rabbit Hole on Sunday afternoon.

We are taking the afternoon Horizon flight to Portland on Thursday, 22 Feb 07, and then driving to Ashland, we hope on Friday, though it still is winter in the northwest and weather is changeable. Which is why we try to keep some hours or a day in hand when we have to be somewhere at a particular time. For us, this is a lecture on Saturday morning in Ashland and a play that afternoon. I wonder if the desire for matinees increases as we age because we tire more easily in the evening, or is it because we look forward to some good food and drink after the theatre? It is very embarrassing to fall asleep during a play.

We are still undecided about staying in Portland or somewhere nearby Thursday evening. There usually is something going on in Portland worth seeing or hearing. Arriving early in Ashland is not a problem as there are several worthwhile places to while away any excess time we may have.

We have never been to Ashland this early in the season. The drive down the I5 was as expected: the road was crowded and it rained most of the way. I am ready to declare I5 full and no more vehicles should be allowed on it, especially when I am driving up or down it. The visibility was hampered more by big trucks throwing up their spray all around them than by the verticaly falling rain.

We did manage to find a decent restaurant in Salem for a late lunch though we thought that after we passed the usual cluster of fast food places near the Big Highway we would easily find a decent place to eat. Not so easy as we thought: we had to look fairly hard to find the Best Little RoadHouse on one of the main streets that run through Salem. Good food, especially some nice fish and chips with a very light and flaky covering on the fish. Didn't need to use any sauces which usually means pretty good stuff.

We arrived in Ashland just as it was getting dark: we saw a surprising amount of snow on the ground. Apparently the snow was fairly fresh and had caused power shortages in the valley. A light supper at the Oak Tree was not that good. Windsor Inn was quiet and fairly cheap, a long way from downtown, and once again revealing the wisdom of the old adage about getting what you pay for.

Saturday I went to a lecture in the New Theatre by Lou Douthit, one of the main dramaturgs at the OSF. Funny and sensitive and insightful, both the woman and her talk, mostly about how she has worked with Libby Appel for a long time and the complexity of putting on regional theatre in Ashland OR. She gave it on the set of Rabbit Hole. Then in the afternoon, we went to the Bowmer to see the magic of Libby Appel and the OSF as she directed Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. All good people and done extremely well, even on the opening performance. The director had a seat just down the row from us. A nice contrast with the more recent play to come the next day.


Stone Street Brewery put on a pretty good spread for dinner. Some very good soup. Very quiet there as it was all over town, at least compared to most days in spring and fall and certainly all of the summer.

Sunday afternoon we saw Rabbit Hole, a modern story of loss that compared and contrasted nicely with The Cherry Orchard's losses. We eventually find out that Howie and Becca had lost a 4 year old son to a traffic accident 8 months before the play started. Becca's sister, their mother and a high school boy who was driving the car that struck the boy are the rest of the characters. We get to look at 5 different ways of grieving and their interactions. Very nicely done by some of my favorites. Tyler Layton is really an all around actress.

A few new things noted in Ashland, like a totem pole near the Square, next to a new building that looks like it has been there for a long time. And some old things were nice too like Paddington Station for the shopper in all of us. The space between Medford and Ashland seems to be gradually filling up. They now have a Home Depot and a WalMart out in Phoenix, or is it Talent?

I trust all my readers will have noted that this post marks a certain technical accomplishment of mine, which is to figure out how to link things in the above text to other pages. It feels good.

So Monday morning we find a snow storm in the mountains of southern Oregon such that all the trucks had to put on their chains, and it took us over an hour to get to Grant's Pass, and then another hour to Roseburg where the snow finally turned to a light rain. I doubt that we will be back this way in February again if we can help it.

20 February 2007

SUD—Sudden Unexpected Death—Strikes Again

A physician acquaintance of my age did not wake up yesterday morning. His coronary arteries looked surprisingly normal. Not much else to see except some minor evidence of good living. These things are difficult to explain to those who have watched Quincy and his contemporary derivatives.

My motto is nil nisi veritas. Sometimes that leads to disappointment in those who sit on the other side of my desk.

I can, however, with a straight face, opine that suffering was minimal and maybe absent, which sometimes helps.

19 February 2007

this ain't your father's A&F

This morning as I buttoned up one of my favorite shirts, The Big Shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch, which I probably have had for 20 years, I noticed that the cuffs were more than a little worn. Thank Heavens I could still button it. (I would have a picture here if I hadn't lost my little digital camera.) So I thought I would check out the A&F store at the mall, you know, the one that shows those large pictures of skinny teenagers just about to fall out of their jeans. Click the hyperlink above if you have forgotten what they look like. I must confess that these pictures caught my attention though I suspect it was because I probably would not be able to resist walking up behind this guy and giving a slight tug to his trousers, up or down I'm not sure, it would probably depend on how big he was.

I guess the pictures should have warned me that big plaid shirts that sold well to middle-aged men some 20 or more years ago in what was then a vaguely upscale outdoorsy kind of place for the well-off male middle classes were nowhere to be seen. In fact, hardly anyone was to be seen and those shopgirls I did see managed to ignore me, which was probably their nice way of dealing with an out of place old man. Had I enquired I am almost certain they would have asked if I was looking for my granddaughter.

The walls seemed plastered with buffed—I believe that is the current term—young boys, doing slightly lewd things with obviously underage and underfed girls. Clearly, the preferred customers in the A&F of today are the good looking anorexic girls they picture on the walls and perhaps the scantily clad boys who they have draped around themselves. Maybe they should change the name to Abercrombie and Crotch.

Sic transit gloria.

16 February 2007

Tunku does it again

Last week Tunku Vararadajan (I checked the spelling this time) wrote in the Wall Street Journal a short essay on the death of Anna Nicole Smith which was the most sensible of the few that I read or listened to. This week, in the same place he writes an even better column on culling the herd of books one collects over the years.

I recommend this little essay because I am in a similar fix, not because we are moving, but because the size of our house is finite. In the past whenever I was moved to make some room on the bookshelves I think I just took the purpose to be that I would never look at the ones I was hauling to Rocky Mountain College Library again anyway, and if I changed my mind, I could always hike over to the library, only about a 10 minute walk from my front door. I was a little miffed when I discovered a downtown used book store had shelves of my stuff soon after I donated it.

After giving it some thought, other purposes come to mind: What would be useful books to have close at hand for the rest of my declining years? The problem with this approach is that I might wind up buying a whole lot more when I realized the large number of books around that I should have read many years ago. What about some nicely bound classics or some first printings to impress one's book-knowing friends? I do have a few friends in this category. How about the 100 or maybe 1000 Best/Necessary/Useful Books to have in your personal library? There are problems with that approach as well.

Anyway, go read Mr Vararadajan, this week in the Wall Street Journal, and probably in the future too. The only thing I can add is a reply if someone foolishly asks you "Have you read all these books?" You quickly say that "if a man has read all the books in his library, then his library is too small."

14 February 2007

Minnesota Economist takes Trip around the World

A nice contribution to the conversation about globalization can be found at this site: word freaks might enjoy the new word "glocalization." Sorry, one day I will get these references to be clickable. [Later I found that my browser, Safari, was handicapped. When I switched to another I found I could do the linking and other things.]


Professor Mendis is a friend that I met in 2004 while circling the earth with the Semester at Sea group. Although Sri Lankan by birth he considers himself a true Minnesotan (ice fishing and all; probably a Vikings fan too) temporarily living and working in the DC area. That is him on the left. We are posing just before taking a little post-breakfast walk in one of the national parks of Tanzania. Our walk was shortened when we came across one of these big fellows having his or her breakfast. We looked at each other for a few seconds, long enough for me to take a picture or two, then all three of us quickly went our separate ways, trying not to make eye contact. Prof. Mendis borrowed a few of my pictures. Not sure he put these in.

The flora and fauna in Tanzania were incredible. These large baobab trees, see below left, are amazing. And the starlings are fairly startling with their bright colors too. See below right.

Check out Dr Mendis's book on Globalization. He does short informative essays on various parts of the world.







The royalties go into a fund for helping poor Sri Lankans recover from the devastating tsunami of Christmas 2005.

12 February 2007

Naps are Good for you!

Taking 40 winks in the middle of the day may reduce the risk of death from heart disease, particularly in young healthy men, say researchers.

A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death.

By the way, this photo that accompanied the BBC summary doesn't look much like the usual nap that I am familiar with, though I suppose some sort of post-coital nap might be suggested here.

I hope they didn't spend too much money to prove this. We all know this I suppose instinctively from little on, though our certainty varies over the years. As an infant there is no argument, we just know it. Then we have to be persuaded a little in later childhood because we are fairly certain that something interesting will happen just as soon as we fall asleep.


My brother Gerald and I used to spend a fair amount of time on my grandfather's dairy farm, especially in the summer. Because the day started around 5 am on the farm, and the main meal, fairly sizeable, was taken at mid-day, my grandparents would always take an hour-long nap right after dinner, that is what it was called. Gerald and I did not have to sleep but we did have to be very quiet so as not to disturb Grandpa and Grandma. We could hear them snoring and we took no breaths at all if the snoring stopped for whatever reason. Sometimes we couldn't resist the urge to trick the other into making an identifiable sound, though I don't know why as Grandpa was unhappy with both of us for any noise that was made.

I think it was in college that the notion of the goodness of late afternoon naps again came to mind. This idea persisted throughout all that period of time when one could be expected to be wakened at any hour of the night, as in residency training, say through age 30 for me as it took that long to finish my post-graduate medical training.

Then I remember having to put down at least a pint every lunch when I was serving with Her Majesty's Royal Air Force, which naturally encouraged a little snooze soon after.

In my 40s I thought I was indispensable at work so I got out of the habit of a nap, and only sometime in my 50s did I finally come to my senses again, probably when I first started seriously reflecting on turning perhaps the penultimate corner, all the time getting closer to the homestretch.

Now, in my 60s it's a no-brainer: Naps, about an hour, either early or late afternoon, are a good and necessary thing. I have no idea whether it is good for your heart. Using the argument favored by the environmental wackos, if there is any chance that it might do you some good, then we ought to certainly go out of our way to take advantage of one of nature's really good ideas. This is a form of Mr Pascal's famous wager in favor of Christianity. You can't really lose, can you.

10 February 2007

Up and Down with The Queen

Helen Mirren in The Queen was magnificent. The rest of the players were just average. The writers did like Tony Blair but not Mrs. Blair. The story was fairly stilted but a few things stood out fairly strong:

1) the new royalty as anointed by our masters of the media will only allow what few degenerate scraps of monarchy are left in the world to remain standing if they will pay homage to the new;

2) the machine that makes modern representative government run is made to run by our masters of the media;

3) Stalking of magnificent wild beasts is similar to the paparazzi pursuing magnificent beasts like Diana;

4) Magnificent wild and domestic beasts will come to a bad end if they wander off their reservations.

OK, has everybody got that perfectly clear? Good, because you will be tested on this material.

There may have been a few other bits that I overlooked. The Wikipedia entry is very good.

09 February 2007

Sudden unexpected death

Contra The Writer and Rider Nicole: this is to let my readers know that I will not be commenting on the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Except to say that sudden unexpected deaths are surprisingly common in my experience.

Of course, the forensic nature of my practice for some years now has probably skewed my statistics. There are a surprising number of people who die suddenly and unexpectedly, probably from some unexplained cardiac mechanism, even under the age of 40. If the truth can be told, not always a prudent thing to do these days, a lot of older folks also die suddenly and not quite so unexpectedly from the same causes. They often have accompanying coronary artery disease which, because it is visible, makes it easy to assign it as a causative mechanism.

In the younger age group, whether suicide seems unlikely or not, there are a fair number of deaths associated with drug use. The mechanism isn't always clear as a simple overdose is often not the answer. I suspect that a lot of drug users become habituated to large doses, then for various reasons, cut the dose, or stop taking the drug for awhile, long enough for their tolerance to drop, or maybe they just have some interfering illness. When they resume their usual drug habits at a relatively high level their tolerance does not have a chance to build up slowly: perhaps they develop a sudden cardiac arrhythmia from which they do not recover and the coroner gets called because they "woke up dead."

The long time interval for the toxicology studies to be done is probably due to the lab's deliberate policy to encourage their political masters to give them more money. The website below leads one to standard forensic pathology texts.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/084930072X

though I would not advise going there unless you have a morbid curiousity.

06 February 2007

Chinglish signs in China


An article in today's Wall Street Journal reminded me of how much fun it is to read signs in China. The article did not give any explanation for the strange English usage on most signs, just that in view of the tons of people coming for the 2008 Olympics they have formed a committee to try to correct the worst of these (or the best depending on your point of view).



At Badaling this sign, above, was fairly understandable even if banal. It was near the Great Wall.

Whereas this sign, right, on entrance to the Longmen Buddhist Caves, was a little strange.

[I don't know why some pictures disappear and others don't. Of course, Blogger does not care.]




















Perhaps even curiouser was this sign at a cable car entrance along the Yangzte. See above left.

I talked to a fair number of young people who knew that many of the public signs used very strange and sometimes even meaningless English, but none of them were willing to offer reasons for these peculiar phenomena. I suppose they thought it would be dangerous to point this out to either older or superior people.

They did say that the Chinese part of the sign made sense and that is the only thing that most Chinese looked at. My guess is that most English sign translations might have been created by somebody of importance, and of course, not many would want to take a chance on offending someone important, say a CCP member, which could and very likely would be very awkward.

Those big grayish-white buildings with the circle of stars as a logo in the center of every city are not there just for the fun of it apparently. I noticed that only a few people approached these buildings, and they did not seem eager to be there. Their documents were always carefully checked before entrance.

Of course, some signs were self-explanatory and often welcome to the weary traveler.

It will be interesting to read the history of market Leninism, if that is what is going on in China, sometime in the future.

Downtown Billings in the SummerTime

Downtown Billings in the SummerTime
At The BrewPub on Broadway

Downtown Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix
Downtown Phoenix in the Winter Time

Good Cheese Here

Good Cheese Here
Vermont Cheddar & Minnesota Blue

TAKE TIME FOR PARADISE

TAKE TIME FOR PARADISE
Dehler Park, Billings MT, July 2008 This is what Bart Giamatti recommends for good mental health.

Me and Joan

Me and Joan
Early elderly and middle middle age: We May Know Something You Don't

Mrs America

Mrs America
Fortunately these girls had a good-looking mother

Rimrocks @ Billings MT

Rimrocks @ Billings MT
“In beholding old stones we may feel our anxieties about our achievements–and lack of them–slacken . . . Vast landscapes [and seascapes] can have an anxiety–reducing effect similar to ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time, against which our weak, short-lived bodies seem no less inconsequential than those of moths or spiders.”—Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety

Easter Sunday at St Patrick's Co-Cathedral

Easter Sunday at St Patrick's Co-Cathedral
12 April 2009

Pleasant Hillside at Hustisford, AKA The Grassy Knoll for you conspiracy buffs

Pleasant Hillside at Hustisford, AKA The Grassy Knoll for you conspiracy buffs
A Lot of Muellers Are Buried Here