Archive for December, 2004

The New Year is upon us

Friday, December 31st, 2004

I’m painfully aware that my many friends here have been posting merrily during the holiday season while I’ve remained officially mute. Some of this is due to the ennui that Christmas in England produces in many of the sons and daughters of St. George. The rest of it is due to my own indolence and mine and HWMBO’s desire to spend lots of time with each other this week as we are both off work. So, here we go with a megaupdate.

The run up to Christmas and the day itself were relatively quiet. We had ham, potatoes, turnip, and Brussels sprouts for Christmas lunch, with homemade squash pie for dessert (topped with a spoonful of Haagen Dasz). I am particularly proud of the squash pie: this delicacy is unknown here, where squash is invariable either mashed or roasted and served as a side dish. I used James Beard’s recipe and am happy to report that not only did the pie (and the pastry, praised be the goddess of pies!) come out well but we did not tire of it and consumed all of it, in contradistinction to the mince pie I baked last year, which although tasty was a bit too much for us and had to be discarded after a week or so. Another homage to my mother, who was a consummate baker of pies. Another speciality of hers was fudge, which I have not attempted as it would probably mean instant diabetic coma in my delicate condition.

We didn’t get each other any presents, formally, but have accompanied each other on shopping expeditions and have, at times, shopped alone. I am preparing for my Masonic initiation in February by today purchasing a white shirt, a black tie, and black socks. I shall have to purchase a black suit, good black shoes (I need shoes anyway.) and white gloves. I am led to expect that it will be a good experience but sartorially I shall be looking somewhat like a funeral director. No top hat, as far as I know. HWMBO has purchased shirts, shoes, and various other sundries. I’ve bought shirts, some computer equipment, and the like. Toys for boys, I guess. I think our shopping expeditions are probably over for now.

Boxing Day (December 26) brought the terrible news of the earthquake and tsunami in South and Southeast Asia. We considered going to Phuket last October but settled for Bintan Island in Indonesia instead. The waves did not reach Singapore or Bintan because of the Straits of Malacca and the island of Sumatra shielding them from the water. The news reports have been terrible. I cannot but think of the picture of eight smiling staff of a gay hotel in Phuket that I found on my hard disk a few nights ago. I wonder how many of them are still alive, and unhurt. Various people have been trying to extract meaning (invariably a religious one) from this event. The people of gothatesfags seem to think that it’s God’s revenge on the area. Others speak of the Godly activities of those caught up in the tragedy, both people who died, people who rescued and were rescued by others, and those who are digging deep into their pockets now. I resist attaching any religious meaning to it whatsoever. God didn’t direct the tectonic plate shift that caused the earthquake, S/He wasn’t punishing the inhabitants of the area and the tourists for Godless living, nor was S/He trying to make any point at all. Any meaning to it will be injected by people and extracted by them. The interdependence of the world’s areas comes to mind as one lesson to be learned. This is not on the order of a “butterfly beating its wings in England causing a tornado in India six months later” lesson in interdependence. This is interdependence in a real sense. The people of the region depend on us to visit their areas and spend money, to buy their products, to take in their migrants, and to ensure that our waste and pollution do not contribute to the flooding of their islands and coastlines. We depend on them to provide safe and comfortable places to stay in a generally felicitous climate, to produce things like oil, rubber, coconut meat and palm oil, and the natural beauty of the land and the people who live there. We are all responsible for each other.

HWMBO and I want to donate to the Disaster Emergency Committee here in the UK. I have been trying to donate through their website for four days. They have made it impossible so to do. The first try ended in failure after I had filled out the form: their servers were overloaded and couldn’t process the donation. At least, I hope they couldn’t: I’ve been checking to ensure that the message which I received to that effect was genuine and that the money hasn’t left our account. Evidently they realised that their servers were overloaded and switched to another collection service provider, as the form has now changed. However, the ineptness hasn’t left. The second and third time I filled out the form properly, with the correct Visa card number, and was told that my Visa card number was invalid. I tried it with and without spaces, and still it was said to be invalid. I’ve given up and will call in our donation later. But wouldn’t it be nice if for a change some software testing was done on such sites BEFORE a major event left them high and dry?

An interesting sidelight on the tragedy is that one of my pet peeves about the US is no longer unique to it. I have always noticed that, when there is a disaster of some sort in foreign climes, the US media are interested only to the extent of the loss of life suffered by US citizens. QUAKE IN EAST BUMLAND: 4 AMERICANS DIE! is the headline: only later in the story (sometimes cut by the editors) do you find that 100,000 East Bumlanders have also lost their lives. The British press is now going down the same road: while the total death toll is still high up in the story, the 27 British confirmed dead is a major part of the story, while it’s only 0.02126% or so of the current death total. I am presuming now that every country is for itself in this: the Scandinavians, according to the Grauniad, are going through major grief and trauma as many of the tourists were Scandinavians and their respective governments were slow to respond to the need for information to get to relatives and friends of the holidaymakers. The few celebrities (the grandson of the King of Thailand and a granddaughter and daughter of the broadcaster Lord Attenborough are the only ones that come to mind at the moment) are of intense interest. Our Prime Minister didn’t cut his holiday in Egypt short. This is another reason why Labour, who have left their roots and become the party of the nouveaux riches, should be defeated and returned into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately, so should the Tories.

Even the least casualty of the quake is worthy of remembrance.

I have finished two books during the holidays, Cosmo Gordon Lang, by Lockhart, and Winnington-Ingram, by Carpenter. Lang was successively Vicar of Great St. Mary’s, Cambridge, Vicar of Portsea, Bishop of Stepney, Archbishop of York, and Archbishop of Canterbury from the end of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth centuries. He is generally only known for his odd name and for the fact that he had a part in the Abdication of Edward VIII, and made a broadcast after the event that sounded like he was kicking the man while he was down. He was much loved during his lifetime, and died on the pavement near Kew Gardens while rushing to the train to attend the House of Lords. Arthur Winnington-Ingram was Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939, and was also much loved and venerated. He had a “Catholic” feel about him, while being resolutely an Evangelical of the Old Skool: loving all his neighbours unconditionally and trusting all to be virtuous, even if they were scamps and scallywags and let him down in the end. Both these biographies had the feel of hagiography or panegyric. They were written soon after the deaths of their subjects, and many of those who were mentioned were still alive and kicking, so some references had to be quite guarded. Lang has been assumed to have been gay, and Winnington-Ingram was unmarried and very much a promoter of young men: he ordained more than 2200 men to the priesthood in his long career. However, neither biographer would have dreamed in the 1940’s that anyone would have thought that either prelate were homosexual. Reading them makes me wonder whether there’s a market for research into the first half of the twentieth century in the Church of England as regards her prelates and history. Perhaps I’ll get motivated to do something about this. Lang in particular is quite an interesting subject when placed in historical perspective.

We have seen two movies in three days: Before Sunrise, and The Incredibles. I enjoyed both: the animation in The Incredibles was excellent, and perhaps foretells a time when actors (except for their voices) are supernumeraries in the film world. Before Sunrise is an older movie (1995 or so) that was shown by our local art house, The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. We are both Life Members and saw the film for a grand total of

I finally get my masseur’s computer working

Monday, December 20th, 2004

I believe I posted a bit of a rant a few weeks ago about people who discard CDs and manuals for their computer without realising that they might need them later. Here’s the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.

Not having the CD for the Alcatel ADSL modem handy, we had to put Daz’s computer back on his old failing hard drive. After a few weeks, I decided that I’d look around for a better modem, and found an ADSL router for

Australian drinker ends up in hospital

Friday, December 17th, 2004

after using a homemade device powered by a hand drill to pump beer into his stomach.. Thanks to Ron’s Log for pointing me to this one.

Back from the doctor’s

Monday, December 13th, 2004

Depressed again after a visit to the doctor for diabetic blood test results. My blood sugar was elevated enough so that we’ve decided that the medication I’ve been on (metformin) is not totally up to the job. I’ve started on a new drug (not glybenclamide, but rosiglitazone) today that will hopefully bring my blood sugar down to a reasonable level.

Diabetes (type II) is a progressive disease–as you get older, your pancreas produces less insulin and as this happens your blood sugar level goes up and your system needs more help in getting the insulin you are producing to be effective. Ultimately it’s likely that I’ll have to inject insulin morning and evening. This would be a timed-release variety according to the doctor and thus I wouldn’t have to inject before every meal (which is a good thing). (Type I is juvenile diabetes and stems from an immune reaction to pancreatic cells that leaves the diabetic with no insulin to speaik of.)

This is of course quite depressing. On the one hand, I should be glad that medicine has advanced as much as it has in the treatment of diabetes. It is still a serious chronic disease that only gets worse over the course of your life. However, the days when you automatically went blind and lost your feet and legs, one toe and limb at a time, are mostly gone nowadays. There are now three families of pills to take for Type II that are only slightly liver-toxic, and I’ve tolerated the metformin (which my doctor surprised me about today by telling me that there are lots of stomach side effects that people report with it–I’ve had none of these) very well. But, time is creeping up behind me now.

I’ve also never been a really good patient. The pediatrician I was taken to when young was a beast, really. He was of the “treat the boys rough” school and didn’t tolerate his patients’ reacting to pain or anticipating it. He was also one of those people who, when something slight was wrong with you, but you were also fat, said, “Right, you’ve got an ingrown toenail. Lose some weight.” As a child you don’t have a lot of choice in what you eat (or didn’t in the 1950’s) and my mother did, I think overfeed me when I was a young child. Finally, inoculations back then were done with reusable needles. These were quite thick and caused a lot of pain. The needles used today are mere pipettes compared to those sewer pipes they used to use. He was very severe with children who didn’t care to be inoculated with those huge needles.

This all adds up to a huge case of white coat syndrome. When I lived in the Bronx, I only visited the doctor when I had an infection (my cat bit and scratched my arm once and I got quite a nasty one) or when my bronchitis got too difficult to live with. I then went to a doctor in Manhattan later on who misdiagnosed my erection problem as low testosterone and said that I could have a testosterone level blood test if I wanted. I said no and thus both he and I ignored what I believe was the first troublesome symptom of the diabetes. Now of course Viagra is my friend. I have had diabetic retinopathy which was treated in one eye by laser surgery and this necessitates an annual visit to the retinal clinic at St. Thomas’s Hospital. The feeling in my feet isn’t so good and I must be careful how I walk and examine them for cuts and blisters. When the doctor tries to take my blood pressure now we have to chat for a while before she puts the cuff on me as the blood pressure is always high when I visit until I’ve started to chat and become comfortable.

When my diabetes was finally diagnosed, in 1992 in Chicago, it came from the optometrist noticing that I had the diabetic retinopathy). When I went to the GP, he put me on glybenclamide for the diabetes and hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure. When I moved to San Francisco in 1993, the GP there took one look at the list of pills I was taking and said, “You shouldn’t be taking the hydrochlorothiazide–that’s very bad for diabetics!” and I had to switch to various medications and patches, none of which helped the blood pressure.

Finally, losing weight helped me to get my blood pressure down. But I was put on another diuretic (Lasix) and had been taking ACE-inhibitors since 1993. These continue. So I now take:

  • metformin (x 2)
  • rosiglitazone (sounds like a drag name, doesn’t it? Preeeeesenting: Miss Rosie Glitterzone!)
  • Ramipril
  • frusemide (Lasix)
  • simvastatin
  • and, occasionally, sildenafil citrate (a.k.a. Viagra)

For those of you who are young, do yourselves a favour. Make sure that your diets are appropriate–low in fat, low in simple carbohydrates like sugar–and that you exercise regularly. While I still might have become diabetic eventually, such a diet would have helped me stave it off for longer. I believe I’ve had it for at least 16 years (judging from the impotence onset). I’d be joyful if I could last until 70 or 75. But had I exercised and been careful with what I was eating, I might not now have it at all.

But for me all that’s past now. I am determined to enjoy the time left to be and be as careful and cautious with my weight as possible. But, ultimately, we’ll all die and I know I’m not immortal. So all I can do is try to ensure that I take as good care of myself as I can.

Oh, and the packaging of all these pills is very wasteful, too. The new pills come in lots of 28 tablets, but the box is quite chunky. I managed to get 5 out of the 6 blister packs that came in the three boxes into one box. I realise they’re a bit safer than pillbottles, where the pharmacist has to count them out, but how wasteful is it when you have three boses and throw away two.

The Beckhams in Bethlehem

Monday, December 13th, 2004

Note that this post is religious in tone. Do pass it by if you aren’t interested.

There’s been a lot of media attention directed toward Madame Tussaud’s Nativity scene with the effigies of various famous figures making up the tableau. Of course, as one would expect, some major and many minor ecclesiastical spokespersons have been spluttering about how disrespectful the scene is to Christianity. A patron yesterday punched the effigies of the Beckhams so hard that the scene has had to be closed. I don’t know whether they’ll repair them and reopen it or withdraw it, covered and dripping with the adoration of PR flacks everywhere. It was definitely tasteless, but that’s to be assumed for anything from Madame T’s.

Yesterday I preached at St. John the Evangelist, Larcom Street, the neighbouring parish to mine. They are relatively high up the candle as far as churchmanship is concerned, but the vicar is a good priest and the parish flourishes under his leadership. He occasionally invites me to preach (invariably in Advent or Lent) and then he invites WL and me to lunch at the Vicarage. While writing the sermon, the Nativity story surfaced and I thought of an angle I wanted to cover in the sermon. So, here is the first half of the sermon for your delectation.

“I’d first like to say a few words on Nativity scenes. We have, I’m sure, all seen the news reports and the pictures of the curious Nativity waxwork scene in Madame Tussaud’s this week. Church figures (mostly unnamed except for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, and no C of E bishops or archbishops among them) have condemned the museum for using the waxen bodies of some famous (or infamous) people to portray those whom the Scripture says were present at or around the birth of Christ. I’m sure you know who they all are-the Beckhams as Joseph and Mary, the three Wise Men as two politicians and an aristocrat, the shepherds as show business figures, all watched over by a singer as an angel.

“The publicist for the museum certainly earned a bonus with this stunt. Newspapers and webpages all over the world showed David and Victoria Beckham together watching over the manger. I don’t know whether you noticed, but David Beckham depicting Joseph was wearing two crosses around his neck-certainly putting Joseph in a bit of a time warp.

“While it may have been somewhat premature to put up a Nativity scene in Advent, society nowadays tolerates Christmas food and gifts on the shelves of supermarkets in October so what’s a little Nativity scene among friends?

“Why are some Church authorities denouncing all this as wrong? They seem to believe that depicting saints and Our Lord using famous characters from our own times, some of whom have had apparent morality lapses, somehow tarnishes the love and affection we have for those saints, and the worship that we owe and deliver to Our Saviour.

“I’d like to suggest to you that, far from diminishing our love and respect for those saints, Our Lady, and Jesus, it should actually give us hope. Goodness within all of us shines forth in our worship and in our lives, however much we may fall short of God’s expectations for us. This scene reminds us of that, and gives me hope that in my own small way, I too might be worthy to creep into this Nativity scene to adore the Christ child-not as a Wise Man and certainly not as Joseph, but maybe one of the shepherds. Not only did the museum’s public relations person earn a bonus that day-but people have been reminded of God’s call to holiness, repentance, and the hope of glory. That’s the kind of message that God and the Church have a hard time bringing to our sinful world today on their own, so it is very lucky that the wax museum has done it for them.”

I went on to talk about John the Baptist, but I’ll spare you that. The vicar said that the sermon was the best he’d heard in a long time. But, so that it didn’t go to my head, WL told me that he thought it was too long (at about 8 minutes? Some preachers are only finishing their introductory remarks at 8 minutes.) But of course WL is a free-thinker so just comes on these occasions to support me. I’m grateful for that.

Watson buys a clock radio and finds it hard to use

Friday, December 3rd, 2004

I had to buy a clock radio yesterday, and decided to buy a DAB digital clock radio instead of the tried-and-true regular clock radio we all know and love (or hate, depending on how much of a morning person you are). I didn’t think that usability would be a problem, as clock radios have been around for a long time. The more fool I.

I had a brainstorm last night and wondered how Holmes and Watson would regard such a radio, and got up and wrote three pages on it. In order to spare people’s friends pages, I’ve quoted the first few paragraphs here and then included the link so that, if you think it worthwhile, you can go and read the rest.

“The following story is real, only the fictional names have been changed to protect the guilty. I apologise to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for making the (not entirely unknown assumption) that Holmes and Watson were closer than he let on and lived to be somewhere in the region of 160 years old. On the other hand, I don’t apologise to the maker of the radio in question, as obviously they have a lot to learn about how people actually use their products.”

“The clock radio went off at 5:57 am precisely. Watson, always the military man in bearing and habit, stared at the ceiling until 6 am, when the Today program came on. Holmes, as was his wont, did not acknowledge that anything had happened at all. The news was the usual mix of scandals involving Cabinet ministers, wars, famine, natural disasters, and complaints. The welcome relief of the weather report washed over Watson has he prepared to arise and face another day. He sat up and reached over to switch off the radio. He pressed the switch. Nothing happened: John Humphrys continued to blithely interview a journalist. Watson was surprised and stabbed repeatedly at the switch. Nothing still.”

“Resignedly, Watson switched off the alarm itself and said, ‘Time to buy a new clock radio.’ Holmes grunted and turned over.” …

For the rest of this story, you may proceed to my web page here. I’m also glad I did, as I discovered a reference to my Demon email address that was unencrypted on one of my webpages and corrected that as well. In every cloud there is a silver lining.