7/31/2007

Back at Square One

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:24 pm

Well, it looks like everything is not all wine, roses and toned, properly aligned synovial sacs for me after all.

I was all set to go on a river rafting trip (okay, so that’s tarting it up a bit; floating down the Yakima River in an innertube or other quasi-buoyant means of conveyance while slurking beer, hard lemonade or Margaritas from your Camelbak is more like it) with Margaret and her cronies from her old clinic last weekend when my back decided to go gink! again. At first it was just a muscular thing, and I brushed it off; I had somehow managed to forget that these little adventures always start out feeling like “just a muscular thing”. It’s as though my back muscles are aware of what’s happened deeper down in the infrastructure long before my brain gets clued in, and they’re caught in a perpetual wince for a few days, just anticipating what’s to come.

By Friday it was clear that the river adventure was out of the question, and by Sunday there was no doubt about it: my disc(s) were doing their discy dance again. Dicks.  😡

It has been just over a month since I underwent my cortisone injection. Even before I went under the needle things had been improving. Certainly by the time we left on vacation some three days later, I was quite comfortable and more than ready to board a plane for a five-hour trip….well, at least my back was more than ready.

But once again I seem to be at, if not Square One, then at least Square One and Three Quarters. I’m having trouble sleeping again, I can’t stand up straight and my right leg zings with little electrical pains pretty much all the time. So it’s–ahem–“back” to the doctor for me.

I suppose there may be more cortisone injections in my future. Plays hell with my blood sugar, but they really do reduce the inflammation of the nerves and help the disc to, um, reseat itself, find its karmic center, whatever. Honestly, if I could get away with undergoing two or three of those a year and have that mask the symptoms, I’d seriously consider it. But no responsible doctor would let a patient get a steroid injection once every month-and-a-half if there were any other options available. I’m afraid that this will most likely end in surgery. I am comforted by the fact that the procedures have improved dramatically since I first went under the knife. The process of removing impacted material from around sensitive spinal nerves is now an outpatient procedure, with only tiny holes poked in your dermis through which the surgeon feeds the battering ram or shop vac or whatever they use to get the job done. I have faith in Doctor Roh. Certainly much more faith than I had in my last surgeon, may his yacht capsize and his hair plugs necrotize.

As much as I fear the concept of surgery (hardly surprising given the shit I’ve gone through as a result of the first one), I think I’m ready for it. I’ve said before that I could live the way I feel right at this moment for pretty much the rest of my life if I had to, but boy howdy, I’d rather not if it can be avoided. Right now I can’t do much of anything that involves moving anything other than my own fat ass around. Getting the mail is tolerable, going shopping less so. Mowing the lawn is right fucking out. I mean, I always dreamed of finding some way to get out of mowing the lawn, but not like this. My fantasy usually involved a lot of concrete and some nice patio furniture, maybe a barbecue pit.

Tomorrow I call my doctor to see what he suggests. Time to nip this problem in the bud, one way or another. It’s either this, or it’s back to my brain-in-a-jar plan.

7/27/2007

Irony Supplement, Part 15

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:26 am

Irony Supplement Part 15

Snapped this one at my local Subaru service department while I was waiting for them to finish with my car. The picture’s not fantastic because I took it with my phone, but this particular Legacy is what Subaru is calling a PZEV, or Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.

Partial what? Zero what?

Okay, so this particular vehicle produces significantly fewer emissions than the average, according to Subaru’s propaganda, and I’m willing to accept that with maybe a grain—or cup—of salt. Good for them. And heck, I love their cars.

But what genius in Marketing came up with the term “Partial Zero Emissions?” What exactly is part of zero? Presumably by Subaru’s reckoning, part of zero is….well, some. I guess.

Not by the reckoning of most folks, but I guess that’s the magic of advertising in action.

7/26/2007

In Case You Missed It Yet Somehow Still Care….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:48 am

….Unlikely in the extreme though such a scenario may be….

George Lucas admits that Han shot first!

7/25/2007

Dear Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald and King County Executive Ron Sims….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:03 pm

Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Sims,

I am writing to you with a suggestion that may help alleviate the growing problem of motorists running red lights in our state.

I am sure that the two of you, like most Washington residents, have noticed the strange proliferation of this irresponsible and antisocial behavior among Washington drivers. Short of placing a motorcycle cop at every major intersection, the red-light camera would seem to be the only viable deterrent to these people. I applaud King County’s recent pilot program to install these units at a growing number of intersections throughout the area. However, this program would not seem to apply to my neighborhood.

I live in Normandy Park, a suburb just south of Burien and north of Des Moines. It is a small but well-funded community with, among other amenities, its own police department. I recently contacted the Normandy Park PD to ask about the possibility of installing a camera at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Normandy Road, an intersection where this dangerous transgression has become increasingly common. I have witnessed dozens of this sort of violation at this intersection over the last year or so, but I finally reached the breaking point when I witnessed a King County Metro Access Transportation Service vans—the vans that carry elderly, disabled and otherwise physically compromised citizens—accelerate to run a stoplight that had been red for at least one full second. I followed the driver and got the license and vehicle number of the van and reported the incident to King County Metro. I hope to hear back from them soon.

When I spoke to our local police about the best path to pursue in trying to arrange for a camera at this intersection, I was told that, because 1st Avenue South is considered to be State Route 509 at that particular geographic point, it was a State road and therefore under State jurisdiction. This is why I included you in this communication, Mr. MacDonald.

I imagine that many concerned citizens are probably contacting many State, County and Local offices to find out how they might arrange to install such devices at troublesome locations all over the region. I realize that these devices must cost a fair amount of money, and I think I might have come up with an innovative solution for partial or even full funding for their installation: Adopt-A-Camera.

If citizens were to be given the opportunity to directly sponsor the installation of cameras at troublesome stoplights in their area, I can well imagine that you would get more than a few takers. In fact, I will be happy to cast the opening bid: my wife and I will pledge 500 dollars towards the installation of a red-light camera at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Normandy Road. We will increase our bid to a thousand dollars if we are given sole rights to the wording on a sign or placard placed at the intersection. We were thinking of emblazoning it with the phrase

ADOPT-A-CAMERA
SPONSORED BY THE CONCERNED CITIZENS OF NORMANDY PARK:
NOW WE’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES WATCHING YOU BREAK THE LAW.

With the help of a modest public-awareness campaign, I think you would find that many people in a number of communities would be willing to contribute the funds for the extra security of a red-light camera or two in their neighborhood. This is the kind of self-empowerment that resonates well with citizens of both liberal and conservative leanings. And if the initial outlay of funds for the installation can be covered by members of the community, the funds for ongoing maintenance may well be provided courtesy of the violators caught by the system itself. According to a July 19, 2007 article in the Seattle Times, red-light cameras installed at four intersections in town have generated over $900,000 in citations, at $101 per. To be sure, some intersections would result in higher “returns” than others, but if the revenues available for ongoing operating costs were spread out over the entire Adopt-A-Camera system, I imagine that it could break even, perhaps even run a small surplus.

I think that Adopt-A-Camera might be a small but significant part of the solution to this growing problem, and I hope that you will give my suggestion some consideration.

Thanks for your time,

Andrew Lenzer

7/23/2007

Normally I’m All For The “Nanny State”….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:00 am

Usually, I am a big fan of Big Government. I’m one of those folks who believe that government is in fact a good thing, and that citizens very often can use a little helping hand figuring out (or at least remembering) what is best for both themselves and their community. This country is still very young, and like all young’uns we need—dare I say, crave—boundaries. As such, I am most often a big booster for regulation and legislation in the public interest.

But only if I think it will actually do any good. Such is not the case, I fear, for King County’s newest edict upon its business community, an ordinance requiring restaurants to include calorie and nutritional information by every item on their menu. The rule will only affect “chain” restaurants; restaurants that have at least 10 stores.

While the idea of providing information to consumers whenever possible is generally a good one, I don’t believe that this legislation will result in a single lost ounce of fat among patrons of Northwest restaurants.

I tend to break food consumers down into two major groups: Don’t Know and Don’t Care. Don’t Knows have no idea what a calorie is, how many calories are too many, how calories from fat differ from calories from proteins differ from calories from complex carbohydrates, or what happens to all those extra calories in your Bloomin’ Onion when you don’t jump on the treadmill for four hours immediately after dinner. Don’t Knows have no framework of reference in which to put this information, and will most likely ignore it because they can’t fit the data into their own experience, and behave accordingly.

By contrast, Don’t Cares are at least vaguely aware of the actual definition of a calorie. (Or, as they are known to the rest of the world, kilocalories. What we generally think of as a “calorie”, the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a cubic centimeter of water 1 degree Centigrade, is actually 1,000 calories. I was fascinated with the nutritional information shields on packaged foods in the UK during our recent trip because they actually listed the caloric content in kcal rather than calories. Makes sense, seeing as how this is the same country that is fond enough of science to put a double-helix of DNA on the back of their two-pound coin. But here in the States we call kilocalories “calories”, probably to distinguish ourselves from all that snotty Eurotrash with their Smart Cars and their metric system and their “re”s instead of “er”s.) Don’t Cares probably know that they should restrict their (kilo)caloric intake to a maximum of 2,200 per day. They have at least a basic grasp of the Food Pyramid (or rhombus, or dodecahedron or whatever they’re changed it to), and they know that in order to avoid gaining weight they have to burn off more calories than they take in, through a combination of diet and exercise. They just—you guessed it—don’t care, and behave accordingly.

One should not make any other assumptions about these two classes of consumers from the names I have assigned them. A Don’t Know is not necessarily a less intelligent person than others; (s)he simply does not have all of the tools at their disposal that they should. And even given the proper education, a Don’t Know may very well simply graduate into a Don’t Care. Just because one attains knowledge doesn’t mean that one will automatically use it to the best advantage.

Similarly, a Don’t Care is not necessarily less mature or far-sighted than others; (s)he has simply decided that this part of their life is not as important as other parts. Such a person might soberly and determinedly seek financial security, protection and prosperity for their loved ones, peace and order in the world, and still be digging their grave with their fork. It’s a matter of personal priorities.

I myself fit into the Don’t Care niche, with a codicil: Because of draconian measures I have taken to protect myself from the effects of diabetes, gout and spinal problems, my daily caloric intake is somewhere around 1600–1800 calories per day, so on those rare occasions where I eat out, I don’t put any restrictions on myself. I Don’t Care when I’m eating out because I care entirely too much the rest of the time….and behave accordingly.

(There is a third category of diner, of course: the Know and Cares. These are the people who meticulously choose the fuels that they let past the temple doors of their bodies. They are the vegan joggers, the breathitarian yoga devotees, the raw-food speed-walkers. In short, they are generally insufferable, and in any case are not likely to enter a chain restaurant such as Black Angus or The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company under any condition short of gunpoint. So they are not particularly germane to this discussion.)

If King County wants to affect the choices that people make in restaurants, then they should attack the very root of the problem and greatly expand nutrition education in our public schools. Our school system may be better than many at this, offering a relatively healthy menu for the kids and including a fair curriculum of nutritional information in the class. And our school districts have in recent years eliminated the sale of soda through vending machines in the K through 12 schools. (Replacing the Coke and Mountain Dew with juices and bottled waters has resulted in a serious dropoff in revenue from these machines, but in my opinion, the last thing a school district should have to worry about is making enough money off of vending machines to keep school programs alive.)

The next layer of the strategy has already begun, with a number of manufacturers of kid-oriented, yumtastic food-esque substances voluntarily withdrawing their advertising during prime children’s television hours. How effective any voluntary efforts by the sugary crap industry to hamstring itself will be—by definition—is another question entirely, but at least it’s something. Market forces would probably be the most effective form of influence, but as long as the Don’t Cares maintain their majority status this will probably not be in the cards, and government needs to step in on some level to help stem the tide of obesity-related health problems among children.

But the idea that putting a long, dizzying, comprehensive-yet-incomprehebsible list of ingredients and caloric data next to every item on the Applebee’s menu will result in any change in the average diner’s menu choices seems to fly in the face of both common sense and experience. How much did adding a warning label to cigarettes help to curb smoking? Not much. Though the graphic cigarette labels used in Canada seem to have a more intense effect than their text-only American counterparts. So I suppose the next step will be to place giant autopsy photos of clogged arteries, withered pancreases and impacted colons next each burger on the Red Robin menu, in order to make sure that people really understand what they are getting into.

I guess my feeling about this new policy is similar to my feelings about the recent smoking ban enacted in our state. Namely, if you are going to try to totally prohibit a particular substance or behavior, then at least have the sack to admit to what you’re doing, and not try to slip it under everyone’s radar by camouflaging your desired objective in a bunch of irrelevant and/or tangential didact. You might actually take steps toward achieving your goal as did the smoking ban; you might—as I suspect in this case—do nothing but generate an extra layer of operating expenses for local business for no good reason. Either way, you are addressing the problem from the wrong end. People don’t make their lifetime dietary decisions as they squeeze their oversized asses into the diner booth. They make them at home, at the dining room table or breakfast nook, perhaps while still in the high chair. That’s where the primary focus on nutrition education should lie.

7/20/2007

It’s Not a Real Post

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:59 am

But it’ll have to do for the moment. My brother sent me this little animated GIF. I’m sure some of you have already run across it, but it’s funny enough to post whilst I think of something relevant to say:

Keyboard Bang

Anyone know from whence it originates? I Googled it for a bit but found nothing useful….

7/18/2007

Wuh-HOAH

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:01 pm

While I was trawling the Intarwebs on a completely unrelated errand, I came across the most amazing set of photos:

Praying Mantis Catches a Hummingbird

Thought you had to work hard for your meals, did you?

7/15/2007

My Review of Harry Potter and the Order of Fries–er, the Phoenix

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:34 pm

This joke shamelessly appropriated from Alison Bechdel and her delightful comic Dykes to Watch Out For.

Margaret and Shawn were all set to go see the ten o’clock showing of the aforementioned at the Majestic Bay Theater yesterday and, what the hey, I decided to go with them. It was that or order take-away sushi and play Prey all night, and this way I at least got to eat some very nice Indian food and some frozen Junior Mints. The theater was packed, but given that this was a ten p.m. showing, the vast majority of the audience was over the age of twenty and everyone was very solicitous of their neighbor. We had a nice pre-movie conversation with a German citizen on our left who has been living in the Seattle area for about 8 years….apropos of nothing save the overall cordiality of the audience. Good thing, as I almost never attend the cinema, given the less-than-stellar quality of moviegoer they’re letting into theaters these days. I was more than prepared to bail out and spend the evening at Cupcake Royale next door if things had started to sour. Even brought my laptop. 🙂

Anywhoodle, about the movie itself….

It should be noted for those who may not be aware of it—say, someone who does not know me, has never visited my site before and only managed to stumble upon this entry whilst scouring the Web for nude pictures of Erin Esurance—that I am in no way a Potterhead. (My ever-so-clever term for the slavering throngs of Harry Potter fans, of all ages. I happen to like how the term combines the epistemological lacuna embodied in the term “pothead” with the hideously upbeat, loopy idiocy of the term “Parrothead” {the self-administered label for fans of Jimmy Buffett}. Do not, however let this lead you to believe that I feel that people who enjoy the wizard-oriented fiction of JK Rowling are in fact themselves devoid of personality, hapless yahoos, intellectual or sociocultural chamber pots, etc. No such thing. I just get so sick of hearing about the whole goddamn thing that I feel the need to strike out against it in any way possible, the more base or puerile the better. I seriously considered celebrating my wife and housemate’s trek to the Majestic by staying home and watching some Harry-Potter-themed pornography….sort of the Potterhead equivalent of performing a Black Mass. Sadly–or really, perhaps not–I did not get my act sufficiently together to find any in time.) I have not read the books, bought the video games, or eaten the hideous jellybeans, nor do I intend to. Any slight impulse to read the books has been quashed through repeated exhortations from the ranks of the Pottered….not to mention my own less-than-pleasant tangential brushes with the culture. For God’s sake, just today I heard a news teaser on a local AM radio station about a psychologist offering tips on how to help your kids deal with Harry Potter’s purportedly imminent death in the final book of the series. I have an idea: how about you put your hands on little Timmy or Susie’s shoulders, look him/her straight in the eye and say, “HE WAS A CHARACTER IN A BOOK. HE CAN’T DIE BECAUSE HE WAS NEVER ALIVE. GO PLAY A VIDEO GAME OR SOMETHING.”

What? Oh, yeah, the movie. Right, sorry….

Despite having never read the books, eaten the cereal, used the Dumbledore Brand Home Enema Kit, etc., I have seen all of the movies. This strikes me as a fair compromise, because it allows me to get a glimpse of the plot, characters and setting while not getting totally immersed in all the Potterage. Sticky.

The first flick, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a big ol’ brimming mugful of “Meh”. I mean, yes, the magic elements were quite clever, and little what-his-face with the glasses made an adorable Harry, and wow isn’t a fully-animate chocolate frog kind of a neat idea for a candy. But it was obvious even to someone who had never read the book that the powers-that-be had cutsied up the whole thing to an almost unbearable extent, and I found myself hoping in vain for something to come along to darken the atmosphere up a bit. I mean, it was like I was watching something made for children, you know?

Much like the books—so I’m told—each successive film did exactly that, and by the time you get to the current theatrical release, things have gotten quite dark indeed….sinister, really. As is only fit for a story about a being of pure evil attempting to rally an army of talented, unstable misfits and blackly scheming power-mongers for a battle against the powers of good. Harry’s nightmares involving the return and ascendancy of Voldemort are at times quite disturbing, and the whole film carries a—ahem—timely message about the politics of fear and the consequences of rash acts in the name of doing something.

And—joy of joys!—no fucking Quidditch.

Shawn brought up a really fascinating point about the style of the film; that all of the villains in Phoenix are exceedingly well-dressed, very nattily and expensively attired, while the heroes are all dressed in street clothes or other modest wear….sometimes in outright rags. This proletarian message is brought into sharp relief during one of Harry’s nightmares, where he comes across Voldemort in a rail station, dressed to the absolute nines in a perfectly tailored black suit with almost invisible black pin-striping. He looked like James Bond after some super-villain torched his nose off with a laser.

The acting is good all around, with the usual cast of “kids” (what, eighteen these people gotta be by now?) putting out the good-to-quite-good performances that hopefully make George Lucas even more suicidally ashamed for casting that horrid little no-talent bowl-headed imp as the starring role in The Phantom Menace. The choice of Imelda Staunton for the role of the Inquisitor for the Ministry of Magic was inspired. She transforms effortlessly from bumptious biddy to sociopathic control freak before your eyes, and it’s both fun and a little creepy to witness. I recognized a couple of actors, George Harris and David Thewlis, from their stints on the amazing BBC crime drama Prime Suspect. Helena Bonham Carter had a minor role as Bellatrix Lestrange—whoever the fuck that is—and seemed to be reprising her wardrobe and makeup from her stellar performance in Fight Club, with eyeballs courtesy of her role as Ophelia in the 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet. Ralph Fiennes makes a supreme Voldemort, at least as far as I can tell having never seen the dude in print.

I agree with both Margaret and Shawn the climactic standoff between Voldemort and Dumbledore was one of the best treatments of a battle between magic-users that has ever been presented on screen. It took a slightly different direction than, say, the battle between Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring. While I appreciated the lack of “fireworks” in that particular battle (i.e., no massive light show to indicate the forces at play), the quasi-martial-art moves with their staffs was a little goofy. What, you can’t shake the spell out of the staff without whirling it around a few times? Need a little centrifugal force to wankle that sucker loose?). The director of Phoenix decided to do the light show thing, with the two wizards straining back and forth against the tidal forces of, well, a bunch of pretty lights. But it went further than that, and held (once again, I am told) to the elemental/metaphorical nature of the battle in the book, with each combatant conjuring what basically amount to thoughtforms to wield as weapons against the other. Very spectacular. the film ends shortly thereafter, with a real sense of anticipation and foreboding for the struggle to come.

I’m surprised but not at all embarrassed to admit that I really liked this movie. This will be the first of the Potter films that I would actually be interested in owning and watching on DVD. I’d recommend it to just about anyone, Potter-besotted nor not. :mrgreen:

7/13/2007

Amateurs….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:49 am

This just in from my buddy Mike:

Just goes to show: if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. It applies to firearms, it applies to motor vehicles, it applies to drugs. Leave it to the professionals. 😆

7/10/2007

Hee, heedle hee!

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 8:00 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, it is Tuesday, July 10th, 2007.
And I just picked my first ripe tomato.

The First Tomato of 2007

For any of you who are keeping track, that’s two weeks earlier than last year. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Heedle Hee Hee….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:23 am

Fresh to my Inbox from my buddy Mike:

“For those of you feeling overwhelmed by the iPhone, here’s some wallpaper to help make the transition easier. Just import it via iPhoto or email it to yourself.”

iPhone Newton Screen

7/9/2007

“Dear US Airways….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:17 am

Hello,

My wife and I traveled on US Airways Flight 672 from Philadelphia to Seattle on July 2 of this year. We were traveling First Class. Some twenty minutes before the first boarding call, it was announced that there would be no food available for purchase on the flight and that customers should purchase their meals in the airport. I assumed that this applied to Coach Class only, but went to the counter to confirm it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that First Class passengers would not, in fact, be fed on the flight either. We would, like everyone else, need to avail ourselves of the anemic variety of overpriced insta-food being sold in the airport.

This was a very egalitarian gesture on US Airways’ part, but seemingly out of keeping with the hundreds of additional dollars we spent on our tickets compared to Coach Class passengers.

The flight attendants on board seemed aware of this inequity, and attempted to make up for it with stellar service; kudos to them. However, this is simply not sufficient recompense for your oversight. The opportunity to get completely smashed on unlimited free booze—an opportunity I graciously declined—doth neither a proper meal nor a proper First Class air travel experience make.

My parents, who took a United flight out of Philadelphia at roughly the same time, were fed in First Class on both legs of their journey, and fed quite well, from the sound of it. So you apparently do not have the excuse, for instance, that travel-ready food was simply nowhere to be found in the Philadelphia airport. If there existed some other, possibly equally relevant condition or situation that kept you from feeding those of us who paid quite handsomely for a higher level of service on this flight, it was not made apparent to us the passengers. You would think that, had there been a good reason for the absence—a fire in the warehouse that holds the airline meals, a food preparer’s strike, some sort of ancient mummy’s curse—we would have been made aware of it, in an effort to placate us. Even if this were to be true, I think the very least we could have expected from US Airways would have been hefty meal vouchers with which to purchase our in-flight meals on the ground.

This leads me to suspect that there was no particular reason for this omission, that it was most likely a case of “100% full flight – any complimentary food = more money for US Airways”.

I have to say that this experience has left me uninspired by your customer service. This is particularly ironic because I had actually been defending US Airways during my stay in Pennsylvania, countering the horror stories told by some of my relatives with our own quite favorable experience on the outbound trip. I would be interested to know if your company might wish to make some sort of amends for this less-than-First-Class service. I look forward to your reply.

Regards,

Andrew Lenzer

7/7/2007

I’m Not As Moral As My Fellow Man

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:01 am

This will come as a surprise to few. 😉

Today’s This American Life had an amazing story, actually excerpted from a longer piece on the amazing NPR program Radio Lab. The article dealt with an old thought experiment about morality generally known as the “Trolley Problem”. Basically it goes like this:

You are standing by a railroad track where you can see a group of five men working. A trolley is rapidly approaching, but the workers are facing the wrong way and do not notice the trolley. You cannot warn or contact the men in any way, but you could pull a lever that will divert the trolley to another track where a single man is working. The five will be saved if you use the lever to kill the one. Do you do it?

Almost universally the answer to this question is “yes”. But then another factor is added:

You are standing on a bridge above a railroad track where you can see a group of five men working. A trolley is rapidly approaching, but the workers are facing the wrong way and do not notice the trolley. You cannot warn or contact the men in any way, but there is another man standing beside you on the bridge. By pushing him off the bridge into the path of the trolley, you would save the five workers below by killing the man standing beside you. Do you do it?

Almost universally the answer is “no”.

The gist of the story was that the part of the brain that decides it’s okay to kill a man by pulling a lever in order to save five more is entirely different from the part of the brain that decides that it’s not okay to kill a man by pushing him off a bridge to achieve the same end. It’s fascinating, really, but the thing that really stuck with me was this: unlike the vast majority of respondents, I do not see any moral difference between these two acts. This does not mean that I would actually be able to do either; I simply wouldn’t know until I was in the situation. There are other factors involved as well. Would I go to jail for murder? Would I have to face a grieving widow or anguished family and friends? In the world of the experiment, am I absolutely, unshakably certain that committing the act would save the five men in question? But assuming that my act would be anonymous and 100% effective, my answer would be yes; I would push the man to his death. My concerns about the act have to do with the consequences to myself, not the basic moral question regarding the taking of a human life.

I am curious how this jibes with the moral tendencies of my friends and family, those people whose opinions I tend to value most and whose behavior I am most likely to want to try to emulate. Am I really the aberration, the moral cipher that my answer would suggest? Or do others in my circle feel as I do?

So speak up, folks: how about you? Would push the man off the bridge?

7/6/2007

For The Last Goddamn Time, NO!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:23 pm

Got a letter from my medical insurance carrier today. They “need my help”.

See, they couldn’t help but noticing all of the doctor’s visits, medical imaging and other sorts of tests I’ve been having recently, on account of my back. They see the words “back injury” (not to mention disturbing phrases like “$618.00”, “$1,209.00” and “paid in full”) and it just set their little wheels a-turning. “Hmm,” they say to themselves. “This simply must be some sort of work-related injury. Even though he works as a graphic designer and not a bricklayer or high-steel worker. Even though he described the events surrounding the injury in detail and never once mentioned that he was on the job. Even though he was asked on no less than five separate client checkin forms whether this condition occurred as a result of either a work-related mishap or the actions of any third party, and he wrote ‘NO’ every time.”

So now, in order to help clear up any potential misunderstanding, my insurance provider would like me to fill out yet ANOTHER form confirming whether or not my back problems occurred on the job or as the result of an as-yet-unnamed third party, someone they can force to pay for these medical procedures in their place. Essentially, they are giving me one last chance to help them pin this expense on someone else.

What the fuck are they expecting to happen here? “Why yes, now that you mention it—again—I do recall a fellow employee running me over with a forklift while I was sitting in my office some seventy-five miles from our facility, just moments before I felt the first jabbing pains radiate out from my spine. How could I have overlooked that? Boy, is my face red. Thanks for helping to give my memory a little jog there!”

You know, if they really want me to falsify insurance documents in the name of saving them from paying a claim, the least they could do would be to make it worth my while. Slip a fifty into the envelope. Offer to enter customers in a drawing for a brand-new Toyota Prius for every insurance claim they recant. Shit, the subsidiary of a company with 3.1 billion dollars in profits last year should be able to at least offer me a ten-dollar Starbucks card or something.

Gosh, I wish the government would get off the backs of honest companies and just let them do their business without all this onerous oversight and regulation. 🙄

7/1/2007

Winterthur and Morimoto

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 3:13 pm

Wednesday night after dinner (and the irritating aquarium) a group of us were sitting out on the porch. Hot, muggy weather, but it was charming out there with the birds and the trees and all. It was getting a wee bit dark and the breeze was picking up a little bit when Sara pipes up with “I think I just saw lightning!”
I hadn’t seen anything so I wasn’t in the pooh pooh crowd, but the idea was soundly rejected until Sara was proven correct. Lovely jagged lightning bolts with an occasional rumble. No rain, but enough of a storm feel that we decided to adjourn for the evening and wander our way back to the hotel.
Libby, Vinny, and the neices headed back for the hotel in their rental car, not without some chaos from the girls. Caitlin, who is 11, was wandering around saying things like “It’s too dangerous, we’re gonna die!” I think mostly just to twit her sister. Lucy, who is 8, was protesting that driving in a thunderstorm was too dangerous in a mostly serious fashion.
Enter a brief interlude for Auntie Margaret to explain about electrical conductivity and how the tires on the car would keep them safe, but since Lucy is fairly shy around me and tends to take most everything I say with a heavy dose of suspicion, I don’t think that helped.

Andrew, Sara, Danny, Joan, Tony and I were headed for the same hotel in Uncle Jeff’s mini-van. A vehicle with which Andrew is not particularly familiar.
It hadn’t started to rain when Libby ‘dem left, by the time we were leaving it had started to rain in a serious fashion. Oh, and had I mentioned the thunderstorms? Yeah, for those who haven’t experienced an east coast thunderstorm, it’s an experience. And not one that is best introduced while driving an unfamiliar vehicle on poorly lit roads in a direction of which you are not entirely certain.
Now for the record we did not get lost. We did miss one turn but that was easily remedied. I do not, however, think that taking that drive was very good for Andrew’s blood pressure. And really, thunderstorms are best enjoyed when you don’t have to worry about where you’re going and whether or not you’re going to drive off the road into some flooded cow pasture, so the storms were a lot more entertaining once we got back to the hotel. Andrew and I shut the lights off in our 4th floor room and just sat for about a hour watching the storms blow through. It was quite impressive. I saw one lightning bolt flash close to the ground then a bright green flash and the lights in the parking lot went out just as the thunder was cracking. There goes one electrical transformer. The power at the hotel flickered, but never actually went out and it was raining something impressive.

Thursday morning the weather was something awful. The rain overnight had cleared the air a little bit, but the weather reports were still predicting temperatures in the 90’s with 80-90% humidity.
We had planned to take a trip down to Cape May which is apparently somewhere along the New Jersey coast, but that trip was something that Meg and Rad had really wanted to do. They were supposed to pull in to Philadelphia on Wednesday evening, but their flight from Albuquerque the day before had been cancelled so they had to take a roundabout flight from Albuquerque to Houston to Baltimore Wednesday night and then were scheduled for a very early morning hop from Baltimore to Philadelphia Thursday morning. They finally pulled in about 0930 Thursday both looking like they’d been run over by something heavy, at which point a 2 hour drive to a Victorian village in New Jersey became about the least desirable thing they could think of. Besides the weather sucked for wandering around.
So we split up. One group went with Rad in their rented van to the Brandywine River Museum (an American art museum) and a winery close by. The rest of us went with Aunt Joan in their van to Winterthur which is one of the (many) DuPont (DuPont chemical) family estates that is currently a museum of Americana with extensive gardens.
Since most of what I was interested in at Winterthur was outdoors and the weather was absolutely oppressive, we compromised and took the garden tram tour down to the main house where the museum is and then gratefully worked our way into the museum which was air conditioned.
The gardens were lovely and I want to go back sometime when I can explore, but yesterday was absolutely not it. Yesterday was huddling inside looking at some really remarkable collections of antiques and drinking lots and lots and lots of water. At some point I’ll see if Andrew can post the photos for me because especially the photos of the soup toureen collection have to be publicized. Technically the soup toureens are part of the Campbell’s Soup collection (no kidding), but since the museum at the Campbell’s plant recently closed the toureens have been donated to the Winterthur museum. Most of the toureens are something that I would not be comfortable drinking soup from. My mother with her passion for having a cake plate in the shape of Baba Yaga’s hut, will love these toureen photos.
Andrew actually didn’t go to either museum, having neither any interest in colonial Americana nor in the paintings of the Wyeth family which are displayed at Brandywine. He stayed at Jeff and Joan’s for a quiet afternoon of futzing with the computer. I’ll leave describing the rest of Andrew’s Thursday to him.

So home after the museum for hamburgers etc. Sitting out on the porch after dinner and the frogs in the greenbelt behind the house are singing. The frog that has taken up residence in Aunt Joan’s porch planters was chiming in and all of a sudden things got real quiet. Then the breeze picked up again and the clouds started rolling in and Sara said “I think I just saw some lightning!” Which was the signal for all of us to pack up and hit the road before the storm hit again, but it didn’t work that way.
What yesterday’s storm lacked in thunder and lightning it made up in rain. We’re used to driving in the rain, but there is NOTHING like this at home. Zowie.

We had reservations for fourteen for lunch at Morimoto this afternoon. Due to a sad confluence with Caitlin’s knee, the pool deck at the hotel, and an ugly Thursday for Libby, Vinny, and Caitlin at the hospital (and an ugly Thursday for good tempered David who spent several hours at the hotel watching Cartoon Network with Lucy while Caitlin had her luxated patella reset) our fourteen was scratched to twelve since Caitlin wasn’t interested in going to the restaurant with her leg in a splint and Tony volunteered to stay at Jeff and Joan’s with Caitlin, Lucy, Katie (Jeff and Joan’s granddaughter), taking care of the girls with Jeff and Joan.
We had good directions, good maps and two vans. No one got lost, the traffic wasn’t as horrid as we expected, we managed to find parking RIGHT next to the restaurant, and we actually got there early.

Morimoto
After a painfully prolonged episode of being the typical tacky tourists taking photos outside the Morimoto sign (“Okay, now just the girls…..Okay, now the boys…..now the couples….”) we wandered in to the restaurant to find that they weren’t quite open yet. Because we were a large group and obnoxious forbye they asked us if we would like to wait in the lounge util they were ready for us. Up the stairs into a teeny, bamboo lined lounge where we could at least be loud in semi-privacy.

Morimoto View 

Morimoto View 2

Allow me to emphasize that I love this side of my family dearly, but I am REALLY glad that Morimoto has a private banquet room on the lower level (I told everyone that they were preparing a “special” room for us in the basement). Fourteen Lenzer and Lenzer affiliates would have thoroughly overwhelmed the rest of the restaurant. As it was, we had a lovely time and pretty much the only time that the room was quiet was when we were all stuffing our faces.

Banquet Room  

The Restroom The restrooms. Kind of hard to tell where to pee and where to wash, at first glimpse.

Hand Dryer The art-Deco hand dryer in the restrooms.

Andrew got the Omakase again. You tell them an amount that you’re willing to spend and they’ll feed you as much food as that will purchase, the exact nature thereof to be determined by the chef. Since a lot of it would involve fish and/or sashimi I wasn’t willing to be that adventurous so I had a lovely meal of (no kidding) Morimoto ramen and Kobe beef carpaccio. I also cabbaged shamelessly from the enormous calamari salad that Sara, who was seated next to me, was offering around (the fried calamari were TENDER).

 Kobe Carpaccio

Andrew also insisted that I try some of the more exotic bits of what he was being served which allowed me to discover that I enjoy seared fatty tuna tartare, I don’t love Morimoto’s version of steamed whitefish, and I still love lamb but I don’t love sunchoke puree. I not only ate raw beef, okay technically the Kobe was ‘cooked’ in the acid of the vinegar dressing, but I ate raw fish as well. A little more of this and I’ll have all of my food taboos overrun (no one tell Andrew, I’ve not spent all this time convincing him that I don’t eat fish only to have him continue to offer me fish).

Oysters

Sashimi

Chilean Sea Bass

Lamb Chops

Sushi 

I also had a lot of fun watching everyone try to use their chopsticks with their non-dominant hand. I told Meg about the assignment I got for my surgical prep course in 1991 where we had to learn to use chopsticks with our non-dominant hands. I also told her that I completely skipped out on the part of the assignment where we were supposed to eat our Christmas dinner that year with chopsticks in our non-dominant hand. In my defense, Christmas 1991 we were in Chama and I was meeting most of the siblings for the first time as well as spending my first long period of time with Joan and Tony. There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to attempt prime rib with chopsticks and my left hand. Sixteen years later with most of a Morimoto Hazelnut Ale inside me and I still managed to put on a good show with the beef carpaccio (I did not, however, attempt the ramen with my left hand).

Saimin�
Oh, and the ramen…… Ye gods! How many gallons, buckets, hogsheads of commercial ramen did I slurp down as an undergraduate and a broke vet student?! This wasn’t even on the same PLANET as that salty, styrofoam noodled travesty. I’m telling you, if you’re ever even anywhere CLOSE to this coast, you have GOT to get out to Philladelphia and eat at Morimoto (here Margaret collapses in a puddle of gastronomic ecstacy).

Morimoto Brownies

My Dessert

So Andrew promised to post the photos that go with this gastronomic travelogue I’ll have to go and find him before this can be posted [Done. –Andrew]. At some point I’ll have to tell everyone about Saturday, antique-ing, and going to Delaware for lunch.


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