Archive for March, 2005

Is It Wednesday Yet?

March 31, 2005

Dear Readers,

You may have noticed that there was no Wednesday entry yesterday. (At least, there was no Wednesday entry from me.) This is because I am disorganized and, believe it or not, kind of busy on three different fronts.

The somewhat humorous column that typically arrives at your doorstep on Wednesday will arrive on Friday this week, as our Book Editor has graciously granted permission for me to post on the same day he does. To that end, please make this note in your PDAs, your Day-Timers, your Franklin-Coveys and the like:

Beginning next week, the books column will make its weekly appearance on Wednesdays. The humor column will run on Fridays.

My apologies for the inconsistency. Please tune in tomorrow for an explosive monologue about flatulence… and whatever I decide to write about.

— Wednesday Housefly

P.S. — Apologies to Coolhand for interloping on his Thursday turf.

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When April with Its Showers Sweet. . .

March 31, 2005

That’s a paraphrase of Chaucer, who opens his Canterbury Tales with a celebration of the wonderful month of April. And he didn’t even know about April’s most delightful treasure, the opening of the baseball season! Holy smokes, I can hardly stand it. Despite all the ‘roid rage surrounding the game, for me there’s gonna be nothing better than when the Yanks and Sawks kick off the ’05 season by renewing their blood feud on Sunday night. So, without further ado, here are my picks for how the ’05 NL campaign will wind up.

NL EAST

1. Atlanta

Last I checked the sun was still rising in the east, so I’ll assume Atlanta will win its 83rd straight division title or whatever it is. I’ve tried to get ahead of the game by picking them to falter the last couple of years, but now I’ll just ride the horse ’til it dies. Schuerholtz did a good job of restocking the rotation and lineup again, and the bullpen should be pretty solid assuming Danny Kolb can repeat last year’s magic. Keep an eye on Chipper Jones as he moves back to third base. Expect a big year from Larry, as he feels more comfortable and involved at the hot corner.

2. Florida

A very solid team with no obvious weaknesses. My wildcard pick. Al Leiter brings stability to a talented rotation featuring purveyors of filthiness Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. Delgado’s big bat turns a good offensive club into a frightening one, when placed between Pujols-clone Miguel Cabrera and Jim Rome lookalike Mike Lowell in the lineup. LoDuca’s leadership will prove valuable, and the defense should be solid with Castillo, Alex Gonzales and Juan Pierre. Keep your eye on Guillermo Mota. Clearly has the stuff to be a closer; how will he handle the mental aspect of the role.

3. New York

The top four teams in this division are real close. All have a playoff shot. Mets could easily sneak into the wildcard spot, though they may be relying too much on young players. I like Randolph as a manager; he knows how to handle New York and should keep thinks on an even keel. Pedro should pitch well in New York, unless the Braves are his daddies and will anchor a deep rotation. Carlos Beltran will instantly become the greatest center-fielder in Mets history (sorry, Mookie), and will anchor a pretty terrific outfield defense, Cliff Floyd notwithstanding. Piazza should have a solid year now that he won’t be asked to play first. Keep your eye on Jose Reyes. If this kid can stay healthy, he’ll wreak havoc on the basepaths and give Beltan, Piazza and Floyd someone to drive home.

4. Philadelphia

Should have a pretty good lineup. Will presumably play looser now that Bowa’s gone. Thome should have another monster year hitting in that ballpark, as should Abreu. Chase Utley is drawing raves from manager Charlie Manuel and may be ready to have an impact. The Marlon Byrd experiment seems to be off as 56-year old Kenny Lofton will man centerfield. The real problem for the Phils is the rotation, which is anchored by (yikes!) Jon Lieber. Unless the Phils score like the Yankees did last year, they could end up closer to Washington than New York. (In the standings, not geographically). Keep your eye on Pat Burrell. What happened to this guy? Can he regain the form that earned him the nickname “the bat,” or will he repeat last year’s enigmatic performance, perhaps leading the kind-hearted Phillie fans to give him another nickname?

5. Washington

They’ll be better than last year, but that won’t help much in this division. Jose Guillen’s and Vinny Castilla’s offense and Cristian Guzman’s defense are an upgrade, but too many holes remain in the lineup and rotation. After Livan Hernandez the rotation gets really thin, and, while the lineup has several good hitters (Nick Johnson, Brad Wilkerson), there are no great hitters to build around. The bullpen is also a major question mark. Keep your eye on Jose Vidro. Struggled last year without Vlad Guerrero’s protection in the lineup. Can he rebound hitting in front of Guillen and Castilla?

NL CENTRAL

1. St. Louis

Should be head and shoulders above anyone in the division, and with Bonds out indefinitely, probably the best team in the NL. Lineup is an absolute nightmare. Eckstein’s a solid leadoff hitter and should score a ton of runs hitting in front of Pujols, Rolen, et. al.. Grudzielanek’s a solid bat, and Yadier Molina should be an upgrade over Matheny offensively. Rotation may be the best in the NL one through five, though the health of Carpenter and Morris may be an issue. Defense won’t be as spectacular as recent years, but should still be solid. Pujols should probably be striving for his 3rd MVP award; as it is, he’ll pick up his first. Keep your eye on Yady Molina. By all accounts the most talented of the Amazing Catching Molinas, he has big shoes to fill replacing gold glover Matheny, especially in handling the pitching staff.

2. Chicago

Dominating rotation one through four, though health is an issue again this year. Offense lost a lot of production, but still has more pop than people give it credit for, with Garciaparra, Ramirez and Lee through the heart of the lineup. Defense is questionable outside of Derrek Lee. That’s always a fun question. The biggest concern is the bullpen, which opens with (are you kidding?) Ryan Dempster as the closer. Could make a wildcard run if the chips fall right, but these are the Cubs, so you feel pretty confident they’ll find a way to underachieve. Keep your eye on Corey Patterson. Have the Cubs and/or Patterson decided whether this guys a top of the lineup or middle of the lineup guy? Has all the talent in the world, but never seems committed to batting first or second. The Cubs may be best served to drop him in the six hole and let him swing for the fences.

3. Houston

Rotation should still be good, especially if Pettitte is healthy and Brandon Backe pitches like he did in the playoffs last year. Too many question marks in the lineup — can they get run production from Ensberg and Jason Lane? What kind of year will Biggio and Bagwell have? Will Berkman recover from his injury to have a usual Lance Berkman year? The bullpen is shaky before Brad Lidge, who may challenge Gagne as the best closer in baseball this year. Roy Oswalt is my pick to make it back-to-back Astros Cy Youngs. Keep your eye on Zeek Astacio. Pretty much stole the 5th starter’s spot in spring training. Has very good stuff and is very competitive. ROY candidate.

4. Cincinnati

Prediction: the Reds will find themselves in first place around June 1st, like they do every year, but, like Peter walking on the water, it won’t last. Griffey and/or Kearnes will get hurt, and they’ll realize that their pitching is pretty terrible. Reality will set in and they’ll tumble into fourth place where they belong. Lineup looks devastating on paper, particularly if Wily Mo Pena (shouldn’t it be pronounced “why-lee” as in the coyote?) maintains last year’s form. However, the pitching looks just as devastatingly bad, and with gopher-machines Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz pitching in the Great American Ballpark, they could set a record for home runs allowed. Keep your eye on Adam Dunn. The Big Donkey annually puts up some of the strangest stats in baseball history. The race is on to see if he gets to 200 K’s or 60 home runs first.

5. Pittsburgh

The Pirates have some pretty decent players, and one outstanding talent in lefthander Oliver Perez. They have some other nice pitchers in Kip Wells and Josh Fogg, who could win some games if they get some run support. Jason Bay and Craig Wilson, who’s playing without his Lynrd Skynrd hairdo this year, swing pretty decent sticks. Benito Santiago seems to be trying to outlast Julio Franco; he’ll start behind the plate. This isn’t an awful team, they just aren’t very good, either. Keep your eye on Jack Wilson. Had a breakout year last year and works hard enough that it shouldn’t be a fluke. With Renteria in the AL, should battle Adam Everett and Khalil Greene for a gold glove. Not a brown-eyed handsome man.

6. Milwaukee

What can you say? It should be another long year for the Milwaukee Seligs, but, hey, at least they’ve got a nice park. Ben Sheets is an ace pitcher and would probably be a Cy Young candidate on another team. Their offense doesn’t really have any great hitters; certainly not anyone you’d want to build around. Newly acquired Carlos Lee may be their best one. Overbay’s also nice and Geoff Jenkins has had some pretty good years. Back end of the rotation and bullpen could be really scary. Keep your eye on Rickey Weeks. May not start the year with the big club, but should certainly finish it as the Brewer’s second baseman. Along with Prince Fielder, he gives them something to build around in the future.

NL WEST

1. San Diego

Caveat: these predictions are based on an assumption Barry Bonds misses half the year. The Padres have a real solid team. They lost Fatty Wells off their pitching staff, but replaced him with Woody Williams so that’s all right. It looks like their actually going to try and put Tim Redding in the rotation; good luck with that. The lineup is solid, with Giles, Nevin and Loretta. Sean Burroughs remains an enigma; how can a guy that big be a singles hitter? Bullpen should be filthy with Hoffman and Otsuka. Keep your eye on Ryan Klesko. Can he learn to hit in Petco Park? The Pads will need him to drive in runs if they want to win the division.

2. Los Angeles

Offensively, the Dodgers seem to have taken a step backward, losing Beltre and Green and replacing them with an injury-prone J.D. Drew and an aging Jeff Kent. I also think they’ll feel the loss of Paul LoDuca more this year. The rotation is very good, featuring Odalis Perez and Derek Lowe. Of course, you know about the bullpen. This is still a very good team with a real shot at either the division or the wildcard. Keep your eye on Jayson Werth. He hit very well last year and should thrive with a full season in the starting lineup. If the Dodgers do make a playoff push, he’ll play a big role.

3. San Francisco

This is probably the hardest team to pick, just because you don’t know when Bonds will return or what he’ll be like when he does. I’m guessing they’ll be pretty bad without him, though with Alou, their lineup won’t be totally dreadful. I think their real problem will be pitching, though. After Schmidt, there’s a lot of question marks. Noah Lowry and Jerome Williams have talent, but they are also young so you hate to count on them. The bullpen cost them the wildcard last year, but it should be upgraded with Armando Benitez closing the door. Keep your eye on Pedro Feliz, who has the unenviable task of replacing Bonds in the field and, possibly, the lineup. I actually think he’ll do pretty well; he’s a good hitter and doesn’t seem the type to be fazed by the attention.

4. Arizona

May have had the most senseless offseason in baseball. They should clearly be in a rebuilding mode, figuring out if their kids can play, but they seem to have delusions of contending. Glaus may hit some for them, but their pitching is dreadful outside of Brandon Webb and Russ Ortiz. Even harder to understand is why they would bring in Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell to play middle infield and sit Alex Cintron who seems to be their most promising prospect. Maybe Wally Backman lucked out. Keep your eye on Russ Ortiz. He always wins a lot of games, but he’s always played on very good teams, first in San Fran then in Atlanta. He walks a ton of guys, and may put up some ugly numbers pitching for a supbar D-Backs squad.

5. Colorado

Wait, there is a worse team than Milwaukee in the NL. For years, the Rockies have struggled to find a way to build a winning team in Coors field, alternating between emphasing power to emphasizing speed to trying to sign every free agent pitcher on the market. This year, it seems they’ve settled on unconditional surrender. The offense doesn’t look good enough to score outside of Coors Field, and the pitching doesn’t look good enough to win at Coors. Poor Todd Helton. Keep your eye on Shawn Chacon, who, after being an All Star as a starter two years ago, was inexplicably moved to the closer’s role last year. He’s back in the rotation this year and could give the Rockies a needed boost if he returns to his 2003 form.

MVP — Albert Pujols
Cy Young — Roy Oswalt
Rookie of the Year — no clue, really. Luke Scott, Astros (I’m such a homer)

Playoffs: Marlins upset the Cards in the first round, then beat the Padres to reach the Series.

AL picks next week.

Tourney notes

Greatest weekend in basketball history? I can’t think of a better one, offhand. It was like having three Duke-Kentucky/Christian Laetner games. Just after I thought Louisville had pulled off the greatest comeback in tourney history, here come the Illini to match it. Then, UK gets an impossible miracle shot to send it to OT, only to fall in the end. Again, that’s why March Madness is the greatest single thing in sports.

Wally Sczerbiak award, given to the guy who played his way into the first round of the draft, goes to Kevin Pittsnoggle of WVU. If nothing else, there’s always a spot on an NBA roster for a 6’ll” white dude who can shoot threes.

Pittsnoggle’s also on my all name team, along with Pops Mensa-Bansu, Taylor Coppenrath, Taquan Dean, and Rajon Rondo. Alternates: pretty much anyone on Arizona’s squad (Salim Stoudamire, Hassan Adams, Channing Frye, Mustafa Shakur).

Tourney questions if you wish to respond. Lets focus on the last 25 years or so:

Best team to win the tourney? not win the tourney?
Best moment in the tourney? game? upset?
All tourney team (over the last 25 years)?

God Save This Honorable Court

March 29, 2005

My local PBS affiliate produces every Friday evening a pair of programs on state politics. One features members of the state legislature, sort of Charlie Rose-style; the other features various journalists who cover state politics, sort of Washington Week in Review-style. I’ve gotten rather addicted to them despite myself. Partly, that’s because I’m watching PBS every Friday at that time, anyway, to catch The NewsHour and WWIR. Partly, though, it’s because I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality of the discussion on them.

Don’t get me wrong. Nobody is going to confuse my state legislature with, oh, say, the Virginia state legislature of the 1770s and 1780s. We’ve got no Madisons or Jeffersons or George Masons. We don’t even have a Patrick Henry (who, let’s face it, was a much better talker than he was a thinker). Some of these people couldn’t form a complete, grammatical sentence if you put a noun in their left hand and an intransitive verb in their right. Honestly, if you took the entire House and Senate together, I’m not even sure how many college degrees you’d find. This is a state, after all, with an astronomical school/college dropout rate, and where the number one reason students give for dropping out is “truck payment.” Schools, in fact, are THE hot topic of conversation on the two local PBS shows, and in state political circles in general, these days.

A while back, you see, the state supreme court informed the legislature that the way they were funding the state’s school system was in violation of the state constitution. The school system is one of the largest budgetary items in the state, and it is just about the hottest of all hot button issues in every little town and rural school district throughout the state. So what would you expect when the legislature is forced to completely rewrite the rules on school funding? Rancor. Pissing matches. Unadulterated partisanship. Interminable bickering. Blood in the streets.

Oddly enough, we’ve really had very little of that. Why? Mostly it’s because there just isn’t time for it. The legislature HAS to get this job accomplished, and they HAVE to have it done by a certain date. Why? Because the state supreme court said so, that’s why. Given more time to deal with the issue, every third member of the legislature would offer a separate plan, each of those plans would just happen to favor schools that just happened to look like the schools in that legislator’s district, everyone would assume rigid, ideological positions, go into siege mode, accuse everyone else of sculduggery, and the whole debate would break up into partisan squabbling and, well, pissing matches. Nothing would get done, and the school funding system would be a shambles. (Which, by the way, is pretty much how we ended up in our current predicament.)

Sound familiar? Maybe like a certain national legislative body? And why is it, again, that my state legislature isn’t acting like that right now? Because the state supreme court didn’t give them that option.

Ain’t courts grand?

You wouldn’t know it if you listened to the rhetoric of the right, though. The courts are taking a hellatious beating from the right these days. It seems they can’t get anything right — er, correct. If they rule on an issue, they’re circumventing the democratic process (pick a social issue, any social issue). If they decline to rule on an issue, they’re abdicating their duty to provide due process (think Terri Schiavo). If they decide a civil suit, the monetary punishment is too severe. If they decide a criminal case, the punishment is not severe enough.

It seems like a large chunk of the American population has forgotten what our courts are for. Yes, they’re there to process civil and criminal lawsuits. But they’re also there to be a bulwark against democracy. That’s right: the courts are supposed to circumvent the democratic process sometimes. That seems counterintuitive because democracy is so central to all things American. But the fact is, America is not and has never been a pure democracy. Ours is a constitutional democracy.

That means there are some things in America that majorities cannot do. Period. (Unless they’re large enough and committed enough to amend the Constitution, which 99% of the time they aren’t.) They cannot change the basic rules by which we’ve all agreed to govern ourselves, the things we’ve written into our Constitution. There’s no referendum, for instance, by which a simple majority can obliterate the Senate. That just isn’t something the majority gets to do. Similarly, the government can’t deny the right to assemble to a certain group of Americans just because a majority of the country favors it. That just isn’t something the majority gets to do. It’s unconstitutional. Another word for “unconstitutional” is “illegal.”

One of the roles of the courts is to whack the rest of us upside the head when we (the simple majority, or what the Framers tended to accurately call “the overbearing majority”) do something that violates the basic rules — that is, when we try to decide something that just isn’t up to us to decide. We don’t always like it. In fact, we pretty much never like it. “Hey,” we shout, “what that group over there is doing is wrong, we don’t like it, and we’re the majority, so we don’t have to put up with it!” And the courts reply to us, “Well, we’re sorry that what those folks are doing offends and frightens you so, but they’ve got the same rights you’ve got and you don’t get to revoke those rights whenever you want to just because those folks are a small group and you’re a large one. If you want to revoke their rights, you’ve got to change the Constitution. Them’s the rules. Learn to love ’em.” No bullying allowed.

Another useful thing the courts do is provide a forum for strongly held, ideologically opposed views to be heard and — here’s the neat part — actually decided on. My state legislators don’t have the luxury of partisanship or ideological fervor on the school funding issue, because the ideological fervor was hashed out and settled in the courts before the legislature ever got started on the issue. So the legislators are working together remarkably well, compromising (gasp), and, it appears, actually getting the job done. Meanwhile, in the U.S. Congress, ideologues and demagogues abound, nobody’s willing to compromise, and very little is really accomplished.

To hear the right tell it, the courts are deciding too much these days. I wonder if maybe they’re deciding too little.

Dave Fain and Al Sturgeon

March 28, 2005


Dave Fain and Al Sturgeon Posted by Hello

Discovering the World Through People

March 28, 2005

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Monday in Desperate Houseflies)

DAVE FAIN: PEDIATRICIAN

Dave Fain began practicing medicine in 1976 and has been in private practice as a pediatrician since 1987. Dr. Fain is a legendary knowledge hound. In addition to an M.D., he also holds a Ph.D in Marine Physiology. Most amazing to many, he is also a self-taught Bible scholar who for decades now has impressed those sitting in his Bible classes with a knowledge level that surpasses seminary professors. Recently, Dr. Fain sat down with Desperate Houseflies to share a few things he has learned over a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.

DH: Legend has it that you think sleep is a waste of time, get on average three hours of it a night, and spend your free time learning. How much of that is true?
DF: Sleep is a waste of time. If you live to sixty and get eight hours a night, you slept twenty years. What a waste of one-third of your life. However, as I get older I find time is a far stronger opponent than sleep. Since Laura [interview note: Dr. Fain’s daughter] became ill, I hit the sheets at midnight now and get up at six. So I’m averaging six instead of four. However, the learning part is true. This whole house shuts down by 9:30 (buncha weenies!) and I have until midnight to play and read.

DH: When was the first time it crossed your mind to become a doctor? How did that transpire?
DF: This story is absolutely true. Kathy [interview note: Dr. Fain’s wife] and her friend Gail (who should have fleas infest her arm pits) were working the night shift as medical technologists while I was working on my dissertation with saving the world from itself in mind. I had taken everything Southern [Miss] had to offer in my graduate courses ( I was even making up classes at that point) and was writing my final drafts of my dissertation. Kathy flounced into my office and said, “Gail (whose idea it was and hence the above statement) and I are going to take the MCAT (medical entrance exam) next time. With no forethought I said, “Get me an application. I just want to see how I do.” No more forethought than that.

We took the test and did okay. About that time it became apparent to me that the world didn’t want saving and I was going to have trouble finding a job. I had applied for a teaching post in South Carolina offered at a junior college, but no other prospects. We decided to apply to one medical school only, but I told Kathy we would apply early decision when they take 10% of the class. I figured that the high burners would be our competition. They took us one and two. Okay, now we were accepted. I had no money left after my dissertation (Would you believe they want MONEY to publish those things?) so I said “Let’s apply for a full scholarship to the Air Force” They took us that year one and two in the program. After that I began to realize that God didn’t want me to slog around in swamps, but wanted me to be in medicine. So we went.

DH: Why did you choose pediatrics as your specialty field?
DF: From my perspective, I wanted to be a radiologist. When I was taking Internal Medicine at School, I was given a diabetic woman to take care of. She was a drunk who would not take her insulin and drank herself into Ketoacidotic coma. On her sixth admission to me over twelve weeks, she died. As I was going to the morgue, I found myself thinking, “Good. Now she won’t bother me any more.” I suddenly realized that I did not need to be in internal medicine if I was that cynical already. However when we graduated, Keesler AFB had only four residencies: Internal medicine (I was way to cynical for that), OBGYN (I hated sticky screaming bleeding women), Surgery (I was married and wanted to stay that way), and Pediatrics. God’s little joke again. It was the specialty that allowed me to interact with someone who did not cause the affliction they had.

DH: What are the most heart-wrenching things you encounter in your work?
DF: I get very attached to my kids. I don’t handle death well. I have lost one child in twenty years to disease that I could not positively affect. I just went to a stat c-section two Fridays ago for a little girl that died from a abruption of the placenta. The OB had her out inside of five minutes. I attempted CPR for over half an hour before the OB came up and pulled me off. I’m still reeling over that. The hard part was facing that mom the next day. The other part that is so hard is when parents don’t appreciate what they have been loaned by God and mistreat their kids. Poverty does not offend me. Abuse and neglect do.

DH: What’s the best part of your job?
DF: When I’m at the mall shopping and I feel two tiny arms grab my leg and I see two little eyes that want to give me a sticky kiss. That’s the best part (It’s also why I don’t do geriatrics). On the fourth of July 1980, I was given a four-month-old girl who was 20% dehydrated and was nearly in shock from diarrhea. I had to do a cut down on her leg to find a vein to start an IV just to save her life. She brings her two-year-old son to me now. Still has a scar on her leg. I think God knew I wasn’t cut out for a swamp.

DH: If there were one thing you could magically teach all parents at the same time, what would it be?
DF: Listen to your kids. I wish I had listened better to mine. I think my greatest failing was on coming home I was too tired to hear my own children. I remember that when Chris was three, I was oh so serious about pediatrics. Chris came to me one night and said, “Daddy, let’s play toys.” That was his way of telling me to get down and dirty in the floor with him. Not missing a beat, I said, “Not now Christopher, I’m busy” and turned away. That hit me like a lead pipe. I closed my books and we played toys. I told my chairman the next day that a hundred years from now how good a doctor I was wouldn’t mean anything. How good a daddy I was would mean EVERYTHING. I still had problems with them, of course, but I have been at every play, recital, program they have ever been in. And we played toys.

Oh and paying your bills would be nice too.

DH: What are some of the most common misconceptions about life as a doctor?
DF: The biggest one is that we are all fabulously rich and burn piles of money just to be warm. We are over-worked, stressed out, and live from paycheck to paycheck like everyone else. The attitude about the monthly statement is that the doctor had lots of money and he can wait. Unfortunately, the electric company, gas company, and phone company DO want their money every month. I have more month than money like everyone else.

Another is that we are arrogant and aloof. I hope I’m out of this business before that happens. When I was at the VA Hospital taking Psychiatry, I was a real know-it-all (I know you’d never believe it). I had a patient who was an air conditioning repairman (loaded and unloaded window units without help — big guy) who was a Vietnam Vet and hooked on painkillers. I worked with him for six weeks tapering his meds. One night about 8 PM he came up to me and said that his head was killing him and he just needed some of his drugs. Well, in my most formal arrogant voice I said, “You know that WE have worked so hard on OUR addiction that WE do not want to have a set back now do WE?” He turned and walked away. Suddenly he grabbed a cane from an old man walking down the hall way and turned around waving it over his head screaming, “I’ll kill you, you son of a …” Well, you know what he said. I jumped into a steel-doored closet and while he pounded the cane to splinters and bent the door, I found a phone and called security who came up and rescued me, but too late for my shorts. I learned compassion that night in one lesson.

DH: What does the future look like for physicians? What advice would you give a young doctor just starting his career, or someone considering your occupation as a career path?
DF: Medicine does not seem to be the mission field that it was for me. I see young doctors more concerned with money and time off rather than little runny noses and bright eyes. The ART of medicine has suffered. I see student nurses who refer to their patients as room two or the gall bladder. I remind them that this is a person not a thing. To answer your question, remember that this is a person not a lab animal. I was trained to talk to the patient, even little kids. My chief resident taught me that if you’ll just shut up and listen, the patient and his mom will tell you what is wrong. Good advice, I think.

DH: (I know this is a tired question, but…) If you literally had it all to do over again, what things would you do differently?
DF: I would not waste time with the swamp. I’d have gone straight to Med School. I would also become friends and a backer of Bill Gates.

DH: How has being a pediatrician changed you personally?
DF: I try not to take myself too seriously now. From the above stories (and others) you should be able to see that I’m a lot more introspective and respectful of air conditioner repairmen. I have always had a wacky sense of humor and I still like to enter a room and not be seen, but I have a deep appreciation for lives that cannot speak for themselves and am willing to speak for them if needed. I am still a Trekkie though.

(Note: Comments, questions, ideas, and suggestions are welcomed.)

Sunday Thoughts

March 27, 2005

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Sunday in Desperate Houseflies)

LET US PRAY

For those enamored with “feeling spiritual” in an elitist sort of way, I suppose my prayer life stinks. And since even I find the concept seductive all dressed up, I often share the same sentiment. But on a deeper level, I’m not completely convinced it is true.

John Wright Follett was a popular Pentecostal preacher in the thirties and forties. Late in life while visiting the Petersons, young Eugene bravely approached this religious star resting in a hammock to ask how he prayed. Follett exclaimed, “I haven’t prayed in forty years!” It bewildered the boy, but it made an impression. Eventually, he began to wonder if there were more to prayer than the typical religious picture.

I learned to pray as a child, and I learned well. I never caught on to morning prayers (or morning anything), but I made a point to pray a lengthy prayer each evening at bedtime. Of course, I also learned prayer to be a proper appetizer for meals as well as for anything that involved “church.” (Oddly, I would pray for safe travel for church trips, but going to school [or any non-church trips] seemed safe without an accompanying prayer.) All in all, the picture of prayer formed as a spiritual event confined to a certain time and place – something church-y.

This is something I don’t necessarily believe anymore.

Fast forward. A much older Eugene Peterson reflected on a life learning to pray and wrote, “Prayer is a life that you are immersed in… Prayer cannot be confined to a certain period of time. It is only nurtured in those disciplines, and we realize certain aspects of it during those times. At one point I realized that when I’m spending time in the external act of prayer – where someone could see through a knothole and say I was praying – I’m not really praying then; I’m just getting ready to pray. When I get up off my knees or out of my chair at eight o’clock, that’s when I start praying. That other time of saying my prayers is just the time I spend getting ready to pray. It’s getting rid of the distractions and making pre-decided things about the day that give me room so that I’m not swallowed up by everybody else’s agenda.”

In an impossible attempt at definition, I now see prayer at its core as a properly focused life. And when it gels in my mind, I see for the first time ever Jesus’s instructions on how to pray as more than a mystical mantra to repeat (like it seems many do), and more than a not-so-useful set of words (which is implied by my environment where the words are rarely mentioned).

A focused life:

I am not the ruler of the world. (Your name, not my name, is holy.)

There’s something more than what I see now. (May God’s will fully come to be.)

But today is what I have before me. (Give me bread for just today.)

I can’t forget my purpose in life today. (I’m to hand out the grace I’ve been given.)

There will be opposition. (Protect my focus.)

I repeat: I am not the ruler of the world. (You are the glorious, powerful King.)

Now, from time to time, I do my best to go through this in my mind. Then, I set out to live it. All of which is prayer to me.

Let us pray…

Analysis on a revolution

March 27, 2005

I apologize up front for a lengthy post. I’m faced with the task of summing my week at the center of a coup d’etat. I landed at the international airport servicing Bishkek, Kyrgzstan Dec. 29, and had three months to become friends with my host-nation colleagues. Now I hurt for them as their country disintegrated in to lawlessness and looting this week. And though the circumstances are bleak, the future is not offering much hope in the short-term.

How did it get to this? How did my friends have a functioning government and relative safety on Tuesday, and no government and rampant pillaging on Thursday? What do you say to a friend that has lost their faith in their country and countrymen? How do you help them when their town, population of 1.5 million, is left with hardly a functioning grocery stores or gas stations?

The following is a timeline of major developments in Kyrgyzstan, beginning with the disputed 27 February parliamentary elections and ending with the mass protests that toppled the government and the ensuing looting in the capital, Bishkek, that continues through 26 March.

27 February 2005

Kyrgyzstan holds elections to its 75-seat unicameral parliament. Turnout is around 60 percent, somewhat lower than in the 2000 elections. The highest turnout is in Talas, Jalal-Abad, and Bakten oblasts, which all top 65 percent, and the lowest in the capital, Bishkek, which registers 46 percent turnout.

As he casts his vote, President Akaev announces he will not change the constitution to extend his term in office.

Prominent Kyrgyz opposition figures, including Roza Otunbaeva, Muratbek Imanaliev, Ishengul Boljurova, and Topchubek Turgunaliev, say numerous violations place the legitimacy of the elections in doubt.

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry says it has delivered an official note to the U.S. Embassy criticizing comments by U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young as “impermissible.” Young had said “significant problems in the conduct of elections will harm the image and reputation of Kyrgyzstan as a country that is a leader in conducting democratic reforms.” A statement describes Young’s comments as “an attempt to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.”

28 February 2005

Sulaiman Imanbaev, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission, says 31 candidates scored first-round victories in the 27 February elections. Second-round races, in which 86 candidates will compete for 44 seats, will be held in two weeks. Among the candidates vying in second-round races are opposition figures Adakham Madumarov, Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, Kurmanbek Bakiev, Omurbek Tekebaev, Iskhak Masaliev, Marat Sultanov, and Ishenbai Kadyrbekov.

A majority of voters in Kochkor District, which witnessed large-scale protests in the lead-up to the elections, vote against all candidates, triggering a second round of voting.

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition holds a rally in Bishkek with at least 300 people to protest the conduct of the 27 February elections. They denounce violations of the election law and government attempts to muzzle the independent media.

Between 1,000 to 3,000 protesters gather in the Aravan District of Osh Province to voice support for Tursunbai Alimov, the current administrative head of the Aravan District, who is trailing his opponent, Makhammadjan Mamasaidov, by a thin margin.

International observers from the CIS and OSCE offer differing assessments of the 27 February elections. Asan Kozhakov, head of the CIS observer mission, notes some irregularities but deems the elections “transparent, open, and legitimate.” Kimmo Kiljunen, who heads the OSCE observer mission, says the elections, “while more competitive than previous elections, fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards in a number of important areas.”

1 March 2005

Approximately 3,000 election protesters unblock the Osh-Aravan highway after a court in Aravan district agrees to hear a local candidate’s complaint. Six hundred other protesters block the Osh-Karasuu highway over a similar complaint.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov says the ministry does not accept the OSCE’s preliminary report on the 27 February elections. The OSCE says the vote “fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards in a number of important areas.”

2 March 2005

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev says the first round of parliamentary elections on 27 February was marred by numerous violations.

Bolot Januzakov, first deputy head of the Kyrgyz presidential administration and Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov propose an investigation into the shutoff of power to an independent printing house in Bishkek in the run-up to the 27 February parliamentary elections. They deny the incident was linked to political concerns.

3 March 2005

An explosion occurs at the Bishkek apartment of Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the opposition Ata-Jurt bloc. No one is injured. Police find shrapnel at the scene, suggesting it was a grenade. Otunbaeva says the incident “bears the imprint, the attitude, of the Kyrgyz government toward the opposition.” Her comments are dismissed by a presidential spokesman.

4 March 2005

In Jalal-Abad, some 1,000 protesters gather to support parliamentary candidate Jusupbek Bakiev, brother of People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan leader Kurmanbek Bakiev, and condemn election fraud and pressure by the authorities.

Demonstrators occupy the provincial administration center in Jalal-Abad and demand the resignation of President Akaev.

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev calls for an emergency session of parliament to review the tense political situation in the country and examine the possibility of holding presidential elections before the currently scheduled date of October.

5 March 2005

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev says the government is playing a “waiting game” with protesters, but warned the instigators will be punished.

Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, says the protests are a pre-planned power grab by the opposition and claims demonstrators are being paid.

Demonstrators continue to occupy the provincial administration center in Jalal-Abad.

6 March 2005

Up to 3,000 antigovernment demonstrators protest in Jalal-Abad. Demonstrations also take place in Naryn Province. Naryn Governor Shamshybek Medetbekov, who is briefly detained by protesters, promises a timely review of one candidate’s disqualification.

7 March 2005

Roza Otunbaeva, co-chair of the Ata-Jurt bloc, and Ishengul Boljurova, one of the leaders of the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, say the opposition wants to call an emergency session of parliament to address the political crisis. In light of fraud allegations, they say the current parliament’s powers should be extended, presidential elections held within the next three months, and new parliamentary elections held after that. Otunbaeva says the Forum of Political Forces, an umbrella group that brings together five opposition blocs, is capable of ruling the country, but that any transfer of power should take place within the framework of the constitution.

Protests continue in Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Naryn provinces. In Jalal-Abad, a crowd of 1,500-2,000 demonstrates in front of the provincial administration and calls for the resignation of President Akaev. A counterdemonstration with 1,000 supporters of President Akaev also takes place in Jalal-Abad. A group of approximately 150 demonstrators continues to occupy the administration. In the Uzgen district of Osh Province, 1,000 protesters take over the district administration in the course of a protest against election fraud.

A presidential spokesman says there are no grounds for declaring a state of emergency. He says the opposition’s attempt to provoke a crisis will prove unsuccessful.

8 March 2005

Protests related to the first round of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections continue in Osh, Uzgen, and Jalal-Abad.

Bektur Asanov, a member of the outgoing parliament, says 40 legislators now support the opposition’s initiative to hold an emergency session of parliament on 10 March.

9 March 2005

The OSCE says Kyrgyzstan’s opposition should observe the country’s laws in its election-related protests. It says “flaws in the election process cannot give cause to occupy government buildings and block roads.” The OSCE also praises Kyrgyz authorities for their “patience and competence” in responding to demonstrations.

Two-hundred protesters from the Karakulja District arrive in Osh, where they call for the resignation of President Akaev, urge pre-term presidential elections, and condemned election fraud. Mayor Satybaldy Chyrmashev says the authorities will do what is necessary to prevent tensions from rising. Demonstrations also continue for a fifth day in Jalal-Abad.

Parliamentary committees meet to discuss the possibility of an emergency joint session of the legislature to review the tense political situation.

10 March 2005

Twenty opposition parliamentary deputies issue an appeal after failing to gain a quorum for an emergency joint session of the legislature. The appeal expresses a lack of confidence in the Central Election Commission and calls on President Akaev to set presidential elections, scheduled for October, for July and to extend the current parliament’s powers until November. Deputies are forced to meet on the street after police encircle the parliament building. The deputies describe police actions as “a coup that has halted one of the branches of government.”

Police in Naryn use force to disperse demonstrators protesting election fraud. Police arrest 40 protesters but later release them.

In his first public comment on the protests, President Akaev praises the 27 February vote. The president blames the protests on “irresponsible political operators who are ready to sacrifice innocent people for their ambitions and craving for power.”

11 March 2005
Approximately 4,000 protesters gather in Jalal-Abad to demand the resignation of President Akaev and a pre-term presidential election.

A presidential spokesman says illegal protests demanding the resignation of President Akaev and pre-term elections could force the president to confirm his power through a referendum.

12 March 2005

Rights activists say up to 30 people are arrested during election protests in Naryn.

13 March 2005

Runoff elections to Kyrgyzstan’s parliament take place in 39 districts. With most ballots counted, winners include Bermet Akaeva, daughter of President Akaev, and opposition figures Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, Omurbek Tekebaev, and Bolotbek Sherniyazov. In the Tong District, where first-round elections had been postponed until 13 March after protests, elections results are pronounced invalid after a majority cast ballots “against all.”

Protests in Osh, Jalal-Abad, and other regions continue. Some 2,000 protesters in Jalal-Abad and 500 protesters in Osh demand the resignation of President Akaev and a pre-term presidential election.

14 March 2005

According to results available for 71 of the 75 seats in Kyrgyzstan’s new unicameral parliament, the opposition will control about 10 percent of the legislature. Preliminary results of the 13 March runoffs also indicate that one of the opposition leaders, Kurmanbek Bakiev, failed to win a seat. Opposition leaders point to numerous violations and question the legitimacy of the vote. A presidential spokesman says the results reflect a lack of popular support for the opposition.

The OSCE says that while the “right to assembly was more fully respected in the period between the two rounds of elections,” numerous flaws noted in the first round were repeated, including bias in the media, continued de-registration of candidates on minor grounds, and poorly maintained voter lists.

Preliminary results from the 13 March runoffs spark protests in Uzgen, Osh Oblast, and elsewhere. In Uzgen, more than 1,000 protesters take over local government offices. In the Alay district of Osh Oblast, demonstrators block roads. In Talas Oblast, up to 5,000 opposition supporters block roads and protest in front of local government offices. Protests are also reported in Jalal-Abad, Batken, and Talas.

Central Election Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev criticizes protesters for “backtracking on democratic and legal principles,” but says commission members have been sent to Uzgen and Alay district to review complaints.

15 March 2005

Protests over the parliamentary elections spread. Demonstrators seize a government building in northern Talas Oblast and hold oblast Governor Iskender Aidaraliev and another local official captive. Opposition leaders in Bishkek deny any link to the Talas protesters and warn the situation there could slip out of control.

President Akaev accuses the opposition of trying to drag the country into civil war. He says, “Those guilty of organizing disorder and destabilizing the situation in certain regions will without fail be punished.”

The U.S. State Department criticizes the elections and calls on the Kyrgyz government to use peaceful means to quell protests. It says the United States shares the assessment of the OSCE that the poll did not meet international standards.

16 March 2005

Kyrgyz Interior Ministry officers free an administration official in Jalal-Abad Oblast who was being held hostage in a state office building by antigovernment protesters. A group of more than 600 demonstrators also seizes a local government building in Kochkor, in eastern Naryn Oblast. Opposition demonstrators seize another local government office in Uzgen.

Two officials being held captive in Talas are released by demonstrators.

U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young criticizes the Kyrgz government for failing to ensure free parliamentary elections. Young says the 13 March runoff and the 27 February first round were marred by media harassment, government interference in the campaign process, media bias in favor of pro-government candidates, and the disqualification of opposition candidates.

17 March 2005

Protests continue in a number of regions. In the Kochkor District of Naryn Oblast, up to 3,000 people demand the resignation of Governor Shamshybek Medetbekov and President Akaev as 200 protesters occupy local government offices. In the Toktogul District of Jalal-Abad Oblast, activists seize local government offices and demand the annulment of second-round election results. In Talas, opposition leaders are unable to hold a rally after authorities close a road leading to the city. In Osh, several thousand people take part in a pro-government demonstration.

Imprisoned opposition figure Feliks Kulov says President Akaev can restore stability by resigning. Kulov also says he does not rule out a run for the presidency in the October elections.

Deputy Prime Minister Toktosh Aitikeeva says political “extremism” could cause delays in the payment of salaries and pensions. The Foreign Ministry criticizes the opposition for encouraging “civil disobedience.” Boris Poluektov, first deputy chairman of the National Security Service, says “there is every sign of [an attempt at] unlawful seizure of power in the actions of the opposition.” But Poluektov stresses “the situation is under control.”

Krgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry disputes critical comments made the day before by U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young about the parliamentary elections. The ministry notes the judicial system is “entirely independent” and stresses that decisions to remove candidates from races affected both opposition and pro-government candidates.

18 March 2005

Antigovernment demonstrators seize the provincial administrative offices in Osh.

20 March 2005

Riot police storm provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh to evict protesters who have been occupying the buildings. After police regain control, a crowd of more than 10,000 protesters gathers in Jalal-Abad. They seize and burn local police offices and later take control of the mayor’s office and the airport. Police fire warning shots, but do not fire on demonstrators. By the end of the day, Jalal-Abad is reported to be largely under the control of protesters. Unconfirmed reports say four to 10 people are killed in the day’s violence. Government spokesmen deny any fatalities.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Tanaev announces he has spoken with Bektur Asanov, an opposition leader in Jalal-Abad, and that the government and opposition will hold talks. But opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev says the opposition will only agree to talks on the condition that President Akaev take part in them.

The OSCE and U.S. State Department express concern over developments and call for restraint.

21 March 2005

Opposition forces control the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh and demand the resignation of President Akaev. Thousands-strong opposition rallies take place in both cities. Reports quote local police as saying they will obey the pro-opposition “people’s power.”

President Akaev asks the heads of the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court to review parliamentary election results in certain districts. Russia’s “Vremya novostei” suggests Akaev softened his position after a secret visit to Moscow. Kyrgyz officials deny Akaev traveled to Moscow.

Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, says Akaev and Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev are ready to hold talks with the opposition, but only if protest actions stop.

22 March 2005

President Akaev affirms his desire to “achieve normalization through negotiations,” but says the opposition is too fragmented for talks. He also says there are no grounds for annulling the results of the parliamentary elections and that demonstrations cannot cause his resignation. He condemns “homegrown revolutionaries,” but says he will not declare a state of emergency or use force to quell protests. He calls the situation a “temporary, passing phenomenon.”

Kyrgyzstan’s newly elected unicameral parliament holds its first session. Opposition lawmakers do not attend.

Opposition forces continue to control the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh. Protesters are also reportedly in control of the regional administration buildings in Batken and Kadamzhay. Protestors also continue to occupy government offices in Kochkor.

23 March 2005

No substantive talks take place between the government and opposition.

President Akaev fires Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and Prosecutor-General Myktybek Abdyldaev. New Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebaev says police can use “any legal means” to establish “constitutional order.”

Newly appointed Prosecutor-General Murat Sutalinov says he has begun a criminal case against Bakiev. Sutalinov says Bakiev is suspected of serious crimes, including attempted seizure of power.

24 March 2005

Several thousand opposition supporters storm and ransack the government building in Bishkek. Ousted President Askar Akaev’s whereabouts are unknown, although reports say he has left the country. Looting is reported in Bishkek at shops and buildings, some of them known to be owned by Akaev and his relatives. Kyrgyz national television reports three people died during the turmoil. More than 170 were reported hospitalized.

Kyrgyz ambassador to the U.S. Baktybek Abdrissaev says Akaev is in “a safe place” and has not resigned.

The outgoing parliament appoints the head of the opposition People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiev, as acting prime minister and Ishenbai Kadyrbekov as interim president. Bakiev, a former Kyrgyz prime minister, pledges to hold new elections.

Protesters release former Bishkek mayor and opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov from prison. Parliament appoints Kulov to post of National Security director.

25 March 2005

A relatively quiet day becomes another night of looting. The opposition leadership declares there will be no curfew enforced on the streets of Bishkek. The fledgling government urges the citizens of Bishkek refrain from theft and vandalism, but admitted these actions should “be expected in such circumstances.”

An E-mail allegedly from Askar Akaev is sent to the Russian news agency Kabar. In the message Akeav states, ““My current stay outside the country is temporary. Rumours of my resignation are deliberate, malicious lies.”

26 March 2005

Kyrgyzstan’s opposition leaders set June 26 for presidential elections for a new president to replace President Akaev. Meanwhile Kyrgyzstan’s ousted interior minister, Keneshbek Dushebayev, led thousands of demonstrators toward the capital on Saturday to protest against the coup that overthrew President Askar Akayev, warning there was a risk of civil war.

And now snippets of this week’s news provided …

SPRING FEVER

Explosion Shakes British School in Qatar

In Korea, Rice Sends Forceful Reminder to North

EU 3, Russia Agree on Iran, Put Pressure on Syria
I Am Virgin Don’t Believe that Statement
Teen Pledges Barely Cut STD Rates, Study Says

Communities across country are bracing for major round of military base closings…
Bush defends war order on anniversary of Iraq invasion
Downtown Beirut pays price of political turmoil

IMF chief: High oil prices to continue

Up on the Hill, Baseball Finds a Mountain of Trouble

Shark hunt underway after Australian diver killed

Kyrgyzstan: ‘No emergency powers’Interesting AP protest photos

Behind the Why of a Rampage, Loner With a Taste for Nazism

Putin to Visit Israel – a First for Russia

Judge Rejects Attempt to Reconnect Schiavo’s Feeding Tube

Have You Seen Me Lately?

March 25, 2005

I thought someone would notice, I thought someone would say something if I was missing. Can’t you see me? — Adam Duritz

A few years ago, my friend Joel dragged me and my friend Sean (a 6’6″ Australian–and that has nothing to do with this story–just providing detail) to a high school football game–guys night out and whatnot. We had no real affiliation with either school, other than knowing the defensive coordinator for one of the teams. I hadn’t been to any high school sport in several years (and I’ve not been to one since). As much as I like sports, I didn’t end up paying much attention to the game because the stories the men standing around the field were telling were so much more interesting. Rather than a play-by-play of the game actually being played, these men were talking about what play their coach would have called in the exact scenario taking place on the field at that self-same moment back in 1977 (or ’67 or ’57) when they were playing. These men were having the time of their lives, it seemed–doubling over laughing, leaning on each other to not completely fall into the mud because they were so incredibly hilarious (despite myself, I thought they were as funny as they did, maybe more so). A couple of them had been quarterbacks, a couple had been defensive players who loved to demonstrate to passersby the proper way to perform a tackle. I don’t know if these men had been popular in high school, if they married the homecoming queen (I’m hoping not, but assuming so). I don’t know how they were employed or if they were enjoying their life as much now as they did way back when. What I do know is that they loved high school. They were the ones Brian Adams sang about when, speaking of the teenage years, said: “those were the best days of my life.” (I would be unspeakably embarrassed to have just quoted Adams except that if you stay with me, in just a little bit I’ll use him to make a negative point.)

I think for a lot of us, the teenage years are something we’d rather forget. For some of us, we were awkward and shy and didn’t know why in hell the homecoming queen was going out with someone who was obviously going to carry a spit cup around with him for the majority of his life. Probably even sport a mustache at some point (and not the Tom Sellek-type mustache, mind you, which is oh-so dreamy). And then for some of us, the teenage years were miserable. We were the jokes. We were the ones who spent our nights wishing we were someone else, somewhere else, anywhere and anyone but where and who we were. Helpless and hopeless.

Amanda Davis’s Wonder When You’ll Miss Me is an indictment for those who made the jokes and a fantasy for those who were the jokes. Now, I know not all quarterbacks are jerks and just because you happened to enjoy being a teenager doesn’t make one evil, just because you hated being a teenager doesn’t make you a saint later in life. Those are stereotypes, and they are stereotypes that Davis begins with and eventually dispenses with in her novel.

We meet Faith Duckle as a skinny, quiet girl. She’s a young teenager. She talks to herself. She has no real friends at school. She is miserable. She has attempted suicide and spent several months in a psychiatric hospital. She has an eating disorder. She had been the fat girl just the year before. The running joke. She was such a good joke that ten (or was it eleven?) football players decided to rape her, to make the joke even funnier. One of them held her down while the others took turns. That’s when she tried to kill herself. That’s when she developed an eating disorder. That’s when she went away to the hospital.

She returns to school a year later thinking, hoping that her newly thin body would propel her into a different social group. It doesn’t. She tries going, uninvited even (what you might call crashing), to parties at the cool kids houses, but even with an unrecognizably different look, she is still not welcome. But Faith, bless her heart, wants so badly to be popular (which in her mind equals happy). She’s in absolute-baby-giraffe-legs love with one of the boys who raped her. She only knows who one of them was. She’d had a crush on him before the rape and maintained it after.

Faith eventually decides to enact revenge for the rape. It’s violent. It’s bloody. It hurts to read.

Then Faith leaves home and heads in search of a friend she met while working at a restaurant who is now traveling with a circus. Is there a better form of escapism than the circus, is what I’m itching to know. Faith, who had spent her high school years as either invisible or as a joke runs off and joins a group of people who intentionally disguise themselves, intentionally make themselves the joke, intentionally become invisible every week by disappearing from town.

I’m not sure if I was popular or not in high school. I went to a small school. Eight of the sixteen people in my graduating class had gone to school together since pre-school. Don’t get me wrong, there were “in” groups, and I played sports, and I hung out with the “in” crowd sometimes. I don’t know if I was popular simply because I don’t remember much at all about high school (other than the whole homecoming queen part–I mean, seriously, and ouch). I do know that I don’t want a do-over. If I ever relate to the Brian Adams song that some previous time was the best time of my life, well, (I’ve got nothing clever to finish this sentence, so) then I’ll probably like his music more. I’m not someone who loves every moment of life. We all have times and things and people we want to escape from, whether we’re part of the “in” crowd or not.

Maybe that’s why Davis’s novel is so appealing to me. It is set in the teenage years, but it is applicable for any stage of life. Davis gives Faith the power to change things. She doesn’t necessarily change things for the better, but she is no longer a joke. Faith takes control of her life, even if it is in the wrong direction. Faith isn’t a saint because she was unpopular, and there are some popular and beautiful people in this novel that are sweet and kind to Faith. So Faith has power. So what? Don’t we all? (Answer: No, in my opinion.) Regardless of the power Faith has and what she does with it, more intriguingly to me, Faith escapes. Becomes someone alto-friekin-gether different. What Faith discovers, however, is that there are social hierarchies everywhere. That doesn’t surprise you or me, but for a teenager, this is quite the discovery. The trapeze artists don’t associate with the animal caretakers, don’t even eat at the same time with them in the mess hall. The clowns don’t talk to the vendors, don’t even eat at the same time with them in the mess hall. Etc. Faith begins as an animal keeper. Scoops elephant poop up and puts it in a wheel barrel and finds a place to dispose of it. But despite her past, Faith still wants to be part of the “in” crowd. She wants to be a trapeze artist, an acrobat. She wants to be something other than what she is. The trapeze artists, though, don’t want her. Same as when she was in high school.

Nothing wrong with wanting to be something you are not, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be a novelist or a surfer or the person who comes up with a way to make people stop using cliches (For the love of Pete, people, stop saying you are as full as a tick after every single Thanksgiving dinner, or that your niece is growing like a weed.). Wishing you were someone else is only one aspect of the novel. A random list of questions the novel raised for me: Does a person gain some sort of moral superiority just because they are the outcast, as we (I) sometimes like to believe (or are they justified if they decide to get revenge?)? Is a person evil just because he is Donald Trump? Is Donald Trump good because he is rich and popular? When we try escape, what are we escaping from, the world or ourselves?

Wonder When You’ll Miss Me is dark and funny and includes details of rapes and violence that most people’d rather not read but probably should. It holds us all responsible–the joke tellers and the jokes. It reminds us that we probably aren’t on the minds of others nearly as much as we think we are–Faith is gone for a year and keeps expecting to be caught for her crimes or, at least, you know, her mom would come a-looking. No matter how good a joke Faith was, or thought she was, she was forgetable, it would seem. That can be either a relief or very depressing, I guess, depending on if you want to be missed or how you want to be remembered. Faith is torn between wanting people to miss her and not wanting to be caught. She is torn between the guilt she feels for her violence and the pain she feels from being raped, being friendless, being a joke. There are no easy resolutions for Faith, and there is no easy resolution for this novel.

This is one of those books I’d wake up a little earlier in the mornings just to get to read a few extra pages before I had to go to the library and do the reading I’m supposed to do as a grad student. It’s that good. You get to meet a lot of fun circus people and travel around the country in a caravan and, through Faith, get to escape for just a little while–forget the bad things that have happened to you–and that you have done–and just play with elephants and watch acrobats.

Next week I’ll discuss Helen Dewitt’s novel The Last Samurai. It has nothing at all to do with the Tom Cruise movie, or Samurais since we’re on the subject of what it’s not about, so don’t get your hopes up about any of that.

Things I am currently reading: Perdido Street Station, by China Mielville (yes, I’m still reading it). A Good Man is Hard to Find, And Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor (does it get better than O’Connor, please tell me). Theodore Rex, by Edmund Morris. The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Tweeners and Roundball

March 24, 2005

If you need me, I’ll be hanging out at the Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch with Hootie.

I thought this week I’d grace you with two mid-size articles instead of one long one.

TweenersAs a sports fan, it’s easy to point to the time when my teams were doing the best, 1994-1995. That year, the Rockets won back-to-back championships (no asterisk talk, please), and my baseball team (at least back then), the Braves, avoided being baseball’s uber-Bills by actually winning a world series. My football team (the Raiders) pretty much stank, but that was okay. Sweetest of all, however, was the bliss brought by my favoritest favorite team, the Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball team, which won the title in 1994 and were only prevented from repeating by Toby Bailey having the game of his life.The centerpiece of that team was, of course Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson, who pretty much dominated the college game in that era the way Shaq has dominated the pro game the last ten years. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but not too severe of one. The Nasty routinely imposed his will on opposing power forwards and centers, forcing teams to double- and triple- team him so he could pass it out to one of many deadly three-point shooters. This often resulted in the Hogs beating good teams by about thirty. I still vividly remember him abusing Rasheed Wallace in the final four in 1995 and thinking how much greater a pro he would be than his Tarheel counterpart.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Rasheed Wallace has made a few All-Star teams, and Corliss has won a sixth man of the year award. In fact, in a fitting sort of irony, Corliss backed up Rasheed on the Pistons last year as they both picked up their first NBA rings.

So, what happened? Well, nothing really, except Corliss was about 6’7″ and not terribly athletic nor a great outside shooter, and so, when he stepped up to the pro game he sort of fell through the cracks. His physique, which let him maul people on the college level, could no longer compensate for his shortcomings, and he turned into a role player.

The reason this interests me is that since then I’ve seen the same thing happen year after year; dominant college post players get to the pros and find they’re too small to play power forward, and too slow to guard an NBA small forward. Danny Fortson comes to mind, as does Rodney Rodgers, Lonny Baxter, Marcus Fizer. Rember Dmitri Hill? How about Samaki Walker?

There are exceptions. Carlos Boozer seems to fit this mold, but maybe he’ll break out of it; he’s already made an Olympic team. Of course, Charles Barkley is the most obvious example of an undersized power forward, but he was really more athletic than all these guys. Maybe Larry Johnson, too. How tall was he?

The college game is crawling with these guys this year. Ike Diogu from Arizona State seems to fit this mold the best; he pretty much scores at will now, but I’d be worried if your team takes him as a lottery pick. Chuck Hayes is another; I absolutely love him as a college player, but I don’t think he has a position at the next level. There’s Ryan Gomes at Providence; Jason Maxiell at Cincinnati; Chevon Troutman at Pittsburgh; maybe Lawrence Roberts at Mississippi State (though he may be taller than I’m thinking). What about Wayne Simien at Kansas? I think he’s a tweener. Sean May goes about 6’9″ and is pretty athletic; I think he’ll be okay. I can’t really make up my mind about Ronnie Turiaf at Gonzaga; we’ll have to wait and see.

I guess this happens in every sport — there’s always that minor league batting champion that can’t ever catch up to the big league fastball — but I think it’s a pretty fascinating phenomenon. The trick is telling who falls into the mold and who, like Barkley, has that extra whatever to break out of it. Maybe Simien or Hayes does and I can’t see it; maybe Mays doesn’t. It’s fun to think about, though.

Roundball

Everyone remembers the “Tiger Slam,” right? When Tiger Woods won four straight majors, just not in the same calendar year. How could you not, unless you were trapped in a cave or something? I think ESPN voted that the greatest sporting accomplishment of the last 25 years or something, placing it over Jordan’s winning six titles. People wonder’d if anyone would ever win another major; if Tiger would end up with three times as many as Jack; whether Tiger was an extra-terrestrial superbeing with telekinetic powers to control the flight of a golf ball.

What’s interesting about this is that another athlete accomplished something that’s probably just as impossible last year, and most of you are probably wondering what I’m talking about. In case you missed it, Roger Federer had possibly the greatest year in the history of men’s tennis last year. He won three grand slams on three different surfaces, only missing out on the clay at the French Open. He went 11-0 in tournament finals, and didn’t lose a match against an opponent ranked in the top ten. He won 92.5% of his matches. Many observers think he has the most complete game of any man since Rod Laver and possibly of any man ever. This year he’s only lost once, but he had the bad taste to do it in the Autralian Open, so there’ s no chance for a Slam. Maybe next year.

So, why aren’t we bombarded with Wilbon and Kornheiser yelling at each other over whether Federer’s already surpassed McEnroe and Connors among all-time tennis greats rather than yelling at each other about whether Tiger needs to divorce his wife and make up with Butch Harmon? Well, pretty simple. America likes golf a whole heaping lot more than it does Tennis.

This fact intrigues me, since Tennis and Golf are really similar in a lot of ways. Both are games you can play your whole life. Both are generally played with friends in small groups, 2 or 4. Both have international appeal. Both are basically individual, rather than team sports. Both have historically been played by middle-to-upper class types. Both require a great deal of discipline and training to master. Both have grand slams at the professional level. Both became popular around the turn of the century.

Why is golf more popular, then? Here’s some guesses.

While only one of tennis’ grand slam events is on American soil, golf has three that take place in the U.S. of A. That means that we get to watch nearly all of them without getting up at some riduculous hour. A die-hard tennis fan would have to be up at 3 AM on Sunday morning or thereabouts to catch the Australian Open final; It’s much more convenient to spend a Sunday afternoon watching the final round of the Masters.

The tennis people also seem to choose generally poor times to schedule their big events. The Australian Open always seems to be in the middle of the NFL playoffs, so even if you do want to watch, you tend to be distracted. The French and Wimbledon are in the middle of summer, but the U.S. Open comes just as baseball pennant races are concluding and their playoffs are cranking up, so many fans are completely absorbed in that. On the other hand, golf schedules all its majors during the dog days of summer, providing a nice complement to the grinding marathon that is the meat of the baseball season.

It also doesn’t hurt golf that most of its stars are either American or from the old British Commonwealth, while tennis’ stars tend to come from more diverse corners of the world. Perhaps if Andy Roddick had the year Federer did last year, we would have heard more about it. Americans love to root for their own, and it’s probably true that Tiger and Phil will always be more popular here than Roger and Marat Safin.

Another reason is that more of us play golf, so we can identify at least somewhat with what the players are going through. We’ve all flown one into the cart path or got the yips on a putt, so we feel for the pros when the same thing happens to them. Some of us could probably even identify with Jean Vandevelde when he had his cataclysmic meltdown at the British Open a few years back. Likewise, since we know how hard golf is, we can appreciate a birdie putt from 20 yards or a chip-in to save par.

But, how many of us have that same appreciation for a great shot in tennis? We can ooh and ahh when Roddick pours in a 140-mph serve, but few of us understand the subteties enough to distinguish an impossible passing shot from a routine one. Few of us appreciate how difficult it is to keep trading backhands with a great player until he makes an unforced error. Why? We don’t play tennis; we haven’t been there, and we don’t realize as fully the magnitude of what we’re seeing.

Finally, I think golf owes part of its popularity to the legacy of baseball. Many of us in America were weened on the national pasttime, and for us it will always be the measure by which all other sports must be judged. Thus, part of what a great sport is involves the discrete moments of drama and tension that bring a fan to the edge of his seat. In baseball, this occurs repeatedly when the pitcher confronts the batter, and the tension dial is raised or lowered by such other factors as the score or having runners on base. Golf also presents us with these moments; when a big hitter pulls out the driver on a par four and takes aim at the green, or, more often, when he lines up a critical putt for birdie. Likewise, the tension rises throughout the weekend and as the player moves from the 1st hole to the 18th and up and down the leaderboard.

Tennis, on the other hand, is a more fluid sport; more in the mold of basketball. It doesn’t have as many discrete moments of tension. Only a tiebreak or late-in-the-set break point has the same feel of impending drama that tends to occur throughout a baseball game or a round of golf. They’re there, but not on as regular a basis as you find in golf.

That being said, I think both of these are great games, and if you haven’t watched a tennis match in a while, you might give it a chance. Do something with all that time you’re saving not watching hockey.

Did I say mid-sized articles? Whoops. I’ll skip the quick takes this week.

You So Funny

March 23, 2005

Since everybody else is taking spring break from blogging, I think I will as well. Actually, I’m just too busy with unimportant things — work, church, family — to concentrate on my high-priority to-dos like blogging.

Let’s use the comments area (below) for the following game: List the movie/TV quote (or quotes) that really speak to you. You may laugh every time you hear them. You may find excuses to subtly work them into conversations. (I recently — and quite accidentally — used “R-U-N-N-O-F-T” while making a church announcement. It got a few giggles. I also worked “Festivus” into the bulletin last Christmas season.)

So, comment away. And tune in next week to hear Wednesday say, “Meeting adjourned.”

“No, you say that.”

“Say what?”

“Meeting adjourned.”

“It is?”

“No. You say that.”

“Say what?”