Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Insurance Companies Save You Money

The patient had a chronic problem that would continue to cause their health to deteriorate, eventually killing them. Perhaps in just a year or two, or maybe sooner if a nasty infectious process should take hold of them.

The doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff at The Great Muffin Factory are rather good at helping to fix problems like the one this patient has, but it requires specialty surgery. The patient's insurance company would even pay for said surgery...

But not at Muffin Central. We are not one of their preferred providers. So the plan now is to "stabilize" the patient, then ship them off to California.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Plath: the Plathiest of Them All


For Ruth Fainlight

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:
It is what you fear.
I do not fear it: I have been there.

Is it the sea you hear in me,
Its dissatisfactions?
Or the voice of nothing, that was your madness?

Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it
Listen: these are its hooves: it has gone off, like a horse.

All night I shall gallop thus, impetuously,
Till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf,
Echoing, echoing.

Or shall I bring you the sound of poisons?
This is rain now, this big hush.
And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.
Scorched to the root
My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.

Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.
A wind of such violence
Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek.

The moon, also, is merciless: she would drag me
Cruelly, being barren.
Her radiance scathes me. Or perhaps I have caught her.

I let her go. I let her go
Diminished and flat, as after radical surgery.
How your bad dreams possess and endow me.

I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

Clouds pass and disperse.
Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables?
Is it for such I agitate my heart?

I am incapable of more knowledge.
What is this, this face
So murderous in its strangle of branches? -

Its snaky acids hiss.
It petrifies the will. These are the isolate, slow faults
That kill, that kill, that kill.

Sylvia Plath

19 April 1962

Like Plath, Ruth Fainlight was an American poet living in England and married to a successful writer; Allan Sillitoe, who wrote one of my favorite short stories: "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner."

Fainlight got to hear Plath read this poem to her personally at their last meeting, when they also compared and contrasted their new-born baby boys.

Fainlight wrote in an essay:

And there was the one long weekend (how could we know it would be our last meeting?), about a month after David was born and a few weeks before leaving for Tangier, when we made the eight-hour drive—those pre-motorway days—down the old coach road west to Devon, to inspect the new house and each other's babies. The house had all the necessary etceteras of the ideal poetic country retreat, and Sylvia had already begun painting hearts and flowers on the backs of wooden chairs and cupboard doors, which gave it a slightly more New rather than an Old England feel. There is a two and a half month difference in age between the boys, and to my inexperienced eyes, Nicky appeared alarmingly advanced. Sylvia and I sat in her workroom one afternoon, nursing them while she read me her latest poems—one of which was "Elm."

Plath did not include this poem in her original Ariel manuscript. It was added along with some other late poems by Ted, and it had already been magazine published in The New Yorker.

This is my favorite Plath poem.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Everything You Need to Know

I was passing by the nursing station on my way to do another five things when one of the respiratory therapists stepped out of the elevator. They were carrying a white cylindrical object under their arm; something like a portable oxygen tank and about the same size.

I caught their eye and asked "Hey, what's that?" nodding towards it.

"A tank," they replied.

The thought-bubble over my head flashed the words "what the fuck?!" in big letters. But outwardly, I maintained. Undaunted and chirpy, I sallied forth with naive curiosity.

"What's in it?" I asked, as they took a step ahead of me to go down the hallway.

"A mixture of gases," they said.

That was it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rice Bins

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gone Before They're Even Here


These are so incredibly delicious when sauteed in butter with a little salt and pepper. In the Northeast these pop up for a week or two about this time of year. We had a big batch that grew at the end of the driveway where the snowplows piled up sand all winter long.

Monday, April 21, 2008

High Tech

I worked for some years as a nursing assistant on one of the nursing home wards of a community hospital. We had permanent assignments, meaning that I cared for the same six or seven patients every day. So I got to know them.

Jane was a retired nurse; immobile and slightly demented but most of her cognitive faculties were more-or-less intact. She forgot names, for example, but could recollect stories from long ago. We used to talk about "how things were back then," social and technological changes, and such.

I remember one time I brought in the first compact disc that I'd ever bought. My, that was back in the day! Early 1980's. No cellphones, no laptop computers, no IPods.

I bought one of the second-generation players for about $200 back then. I replaced it two decades later when it was damaged in a move.

I brought the shiny little disc to work and showed it to Jane. "This is what music is recorded on now, Jane. It isn't played by a needle in a groove, like on records. It's read by a tiny laser," I explained.

She held it in her rheumatoid fingers and noted the rainbow reflection, as well as her own. Then she handed it back to me, smiled a little, and skeptically said "Go to hell!"

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Plath 1956

Conversation Among the Ruins

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?

Sylvia Plath

This is the first poem in "The Collected Poems; Sylvia Plath," posthumously published by her estranged husband Ted Hughes in 1981, almost two decades after Plath's death in 1963. It is dated from 1956, so it was likely written around the time that Hughes and Plath met and married.

In the summer of 1956 they honeymooned in Paris and Benidorm, Spain, which Plath described in her journals as a sunny and colorful. They returned to visit Ted's family in Yorkshire, a place hardly known for sunny weather.

In the sonnet two characters meet; perhaps Ted and Sylvia. Inner and outer weather. Transitional forms. From color to black-and-white, then unmended chaos.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pet Entrance

Thursday, April 17, 2008

You Are Here

They think they're doing excellent work. But they're not. In fact, they suck. And the more they suck, the more they overestimate their performance.

We all know people who do this. They may be leaders of countries, heads of large religious denominations, or prominent business people. But despite their protestations of glorious self-confidence, they are incompetent boobs.

He's been eating paint chips again.

This phenomenon now called the Dunning-Kruger effect. (Another way of putting it would be to simply refer to it as "neoconservatism.")

The tendency that people have to overrate their abilities fascinates Cornell University social psychologist David Dunning, PhD. "People overestimate themselves," he says, "but more than that, they really seem to believe it. I've been trying to figure out where that certainty of belief comes from."

Dunning is doing that through a series of manipulated studies, mostly with students at Cornell. He's finding that the least competent performers inflate their abilities the most; that the reason for the overinflation seems to be ignorance, not arrogance; and that chronic self-beliefs, however inaccurate, underlie both people's over and underestimations of how well they're doing.

Here we are. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thing to Waste

When the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations published its list of the top 101 sayings of 2002, it included a remark that George W. Bush was supposed to have made to Tony Blair: "The problem with the French is that they have no word for 'entrepreneur.'"

It's said that "entrepreneur" is one of Bush's favorite words and that he often sprinkles it into his highly motivational rhetorical confections.

But, according to Snopes, he never uttered to famous quote cited above.

Here is in fact what he actually said and it concerned Italy, not France:

"The problem with Italian food is that they have no word for 'lasagna.'"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Plath: Before 1956

April 18

the slime of all my yesterdays
rots in the hollow of my skull

and if my stomach would contract
because of some explicable phenomenon
such as pregnancy or constipation

I would not remember you

or that because of sleep
infrequent as a moon of greencheese
that because of food
nourishing as violet leaves
that because of these

and in a few fatal yards of grass
in a few spaces of sky and treetops

a future was lost yesterday
as easily and irretrievably
as a tennis ball at twilight

Sylvia Plath

This poem is placed just after the sonnet Female Author in Plath's Collected Poems, which of course was compiled posthumously by her husband Ted Hughes.

Written before 1956 and therefore listed in the "juvenilia" section, it's nonetheless quintessential Plath. Loose but collar-grabbing rhythms, use of lower-case, and alliteration contrast interestingly with the stodgy iambics of the preceding poem noted above. But it's in the imagery that Plath lets loose her voice.

It seems obvious to me that she was somehow compelled by events to write this. Perhaps, like her Ariel poems presumably, it puts voice to some bizarre revenge.

Friday, April 11, 2008

End Tables

Monday, April 07, 2008

What Hey

More good news if you're a Republican:

[Snip] the economy lost 80,000 jobs last month and nearly a quarter-million over the last three months is the starkest signal yet that the country has probably fallen into a recession, with things on the job front expected to get worse.


In an environment of a sluggish economy and rising unemployment, analysts said there will be some safe harbors where job demand will keep growing. First and foremost in this group will be health care, where the demographics of an aging population mean the demands for medical care will keep rising.

Also a bright spot in a generally bleak jobs picture will be education, again driven by the demographics of a rising population of school-age children and students attending colleges, community colleges and trade schools.

Healthcare and education, areas where Republicans traditionally hold sway.

That's a joke.

But really now, though I am relatively secure in my job as a nurse, due to the shortage of of people who do that sort of thing and a demographic scenario which indicates that market demand for healthcare is in ascension, I remain a worrier. That's what I do. I worry. My spouse says I "should be on something" for that.

We used to think that the markets for technology would continue a natural expansion. Then we used to think that real estate and home values would continue to rise.

Those things didn't happen.

Interesting Answer

The conversation turned to the topic of religious conversion.

She said that she had been born into a Southern Baptist family, dabbled in atheism, but finally assumed the mantle of Judaism. That caused some consternation among her traditional family members, for example at their recent Easter get-together. She did, she said, eat ham, because "god isn't going to bust me for what I eat," or something like that.

Another woman asked her, rather forthrightly, why she had "become a Jew," which elicited some laughter.

The first woman paused and tilted her head momentarily in thought, then replied "Because I have a Jewish soul."


The nurse in me wondered if they didn't simply just have a shellfish allergy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Plath; Another of the Last


Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new
Whose name you meditate --
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

Sylvia Plath

This poem dates from January 28th 1963. She wrote other poems that same day: Totem, The Munich Mannequins, and she finished the wonderful Sheep in Fog which she'd started in December.

That's an astonishing creative burst for just a single day's work.

She died the following 11th of February. Her suicide did not become known publically until 1965, when reviewer George Steiner brought it to the world's attention in an article he wrote about Plath's Ariel collection.

Friday, April 04, 2008