Glaucoma and marijuana

glaucoma pic

I’ve told you recently that I have been getting loads of genetic information from Among other things, I have learned that I have a significantly enhanced chance of developing something called “exfoliative glaucoma.”



I have read several descriptions of this interesting condition. As I understand it, little particles of dead tissues (often described as “dandruff-like”) begin to accumulate within the eyeball. (Actually they accumulate within the “trabecular network,” but let’s not get too technical.) At any rate, your eyeballs turn into miniature snowflake paperweights, full of inert whitish material. This increases the fluid pressure within your eyeballs, and – presto! – glaucoma.



The average chance for developing this charming disease is 0.7 percent. Mine is 2.2 percent. Not huge, but more than triple the average.



This is interesting. There’s no glaucoma in my family that I know of, but we seem to be capable of generating nasty little mutations of our own, so I’m sure the folks at are not making this stuff up.



So what’s to be done?



Glaucoma is treatable. There are eyedrops, and laser surgery, and other things.



Also there is always medical marijuana.



One of the first uses of medical marijuana was to reduce the fluid pressure in the eyeballs of glaucoma patients. It’s not the most highly-recommended treatment – damn medical research! – but it’s still used in many cases.



And medical marijuana gives you the nicest giggly feeling, and the most tremendous appetite.



Ah well. There are much worse things than glaucoma.




Everyone has treasures put away. I still have some of my early-childhood books, and a big box of (mostly Canadian) pennies. Total worth: not much, really.



But I have a little box in which I keep my real treasures.



One is a stone I found when I was maybe six years old. It’s a perfect spiral made of quartz, and I knew even then that it was extraordinary. I know now that it’s a real fossil: some casting from a long-dead creature that burrowed in the mud. All of my uncles collected rocks, and I accused them (at the age of six!) of planting it so that I could find it, and they all denied it. I think, after all these years, I believe them, because in the rain and mud of Washington state, how could they have planted it and been sure that I’d find it?



Another is a cheap plastic coin I got in a bag of Fritos sometime in the early 1960s. They were doing a space-exploration series; I think I had John Glenn and Alan Shepard too. But I really only liked Laika the Russian space dog. Poor little thing: shot into space, and never seen again. I still have her coin, and I still remember her.



Also a little plastic Bible, about the size of a raisin. If you look into the little lens on the bottom, you can read the Lord’s Prayer. Miraculous!



Also a plastic cigarette, actual size. The filter comes off, and it’s a pen.



All these stupid little things were precious to me in my childhood. I’ve managed to hang onto them for fifty years!



And, at least once a year, I get out the box and check to make sure they’re all still there.



Because they are still precious to me.


For Sunday: the Three Stooges swing the alphabet

stooges alphabet

I have been a Stoogeophile since childhood. I like nothing better than watching Moe poke Curly in the eye and yank Larry’s hair.



Here’s their only real musical number: the very wonderful alphabet song from “Violent is the Word for Curly.”



All together now:



B – A – bay –

B – E – bee –

B – I – bicky-bye, B – O – bo,

Bicky-bye bo bicky-by boo, bicky bye bo boo!




Floating kidney

floating kidney

Gather round, children! Mama has another self-diagnosed illness!



So you know all about my kidney stones, blah blah blah. I was told a month or two ago that little can be done for them; they’re small, and they dissolve quickly, and there’s no medication to prevent them. The pain and discomfort I suffer is mild, and usually ibuprofen is enough to make me feel better.



But hm.



I took some very interesting Human Biology courses in college. My instructor was a remarkable woman who was a church organist, and city councilperson, and chief anesthesiologist at a local hospital, as well as teaching courses at Gonzaga. She was funny and energetic, and an excellent instructor. I remember a lot of what she taught me.



And suddenly, from back the mid-1970s, I remembered her saying something like this: “The kidneys are cushioned on layers of tissue. In some people – often when there’s weight loss – the kidney can move around. This can cause discomfort. It’s called floating kidney.”



No kidding.



I checked. Kidney stones normally don’t feel worse when you move around, but a floating kidney certainly does. Kidney stones aren’t normally relieved by lying down; my pain goes away when I lie down.



A lot of the other symptoms are the same: colic, upset stomach, etc.



So wait’ll I see my timid little doctor.



Do I have a few things to tell him.




When we were in Caen in October, I saw a little place across from our hotel window: Pizzeria la Neustrie.

Neustria? It rang a faint bell.

I looked it up. Neustria was an area in northern France, back in the late Dark Ages. It was, in fact, most of the northwest of France.

I like thinking of this, even though it’s the memory of a pretty barbaric time. I’ve read Gregory of Tours, and I know that modern France and Germany were a patchwork of principalities and kingdoms in those days, full of petty tyrants and evil queens and benevolent squires. If you didn’t like the area, or the local king or queen, you just put your things in a cart, and rode down the lane a few miles, and you were in someone else’s kingdom.

Of course, this assumes that you were able to leave your home. Most people weren’t. Most people were desperately poor, and unable to leave their homes, even if the local queen was drinking out of a human skull (as I seem to recall Gregory of Tours recounting).

But what’s all this? It’s fifteen hundred years later, and everything seemed quiet and charming when we were there, in Caen and Bayeux and Honfleur and Paris.

And, too, has identified that part of my ancestry comes from Doggerland, which is the land around the English Channel. Which is to say: Neustria.

I am a Neustrian (partly). And proud of it.

Bring me a drink in a human skull.

Is everything all right?

is everything all right

So much has gone wrong over the past few weeks: the Boston Marathon bombings, the ensuing manhunt, the Texas factory explosion, the terrible floods in the American Midwest.

It makes you think.

Natural disasters – floods, tsunamis, storms, earthquakes – are awful, and take a terrible toll. But they’re not intentional. They just happen. The universe doesn’t care very much about human beings (sadly enough), and sometimes we get in the way.

Human disasters, like the Boston bombings, are another thing. They make us think about human folly, and insanity, and how easily our lives can be overturned by a backpack full of black powder and shrapnel.

They make us realize that, though we might feel comfortable in our lives, there’s always an unknown element. An asteroid might hit. A fire might break out. A madman might open fire.

Back in my freshman year of college, I was assigned to read a book by Michael Novak. In it was the following passage (I paraphrase):



“Your child wakes up in the middle of the night, crying from a bad dream. You come into his bedroom and cradle him, and say: Everything is all right.



“Are you lying?”

Yes, of course. We’re all lying to ourselves. We’re in peril every moment, and death is just around the corner.

But maybe that’s the silver lining in tragic events like the Boston bombing: they remind us not to be too secure in our daily lives, and to live fully.

Here’s the last line of a classic Latin poem, “Copa,” written maybe by Propertius, maybe by Virgil, maybe by someone else:

Mors aurum vellens, “vivite,” ait, “venio.”



Death tugs you by the ear. “Live it up,” he says. “Here I come.”



Last week was pretty horrible here in southern New England, but things have calmed at last: one of the marathon bombers is dead, the other is in custody and charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.



I’m thankful that one of them is alive; maybe he can explain to us, in some way, what this was all about.



When horrible things happen, we try to make them conform to a narrative: good guys and bad guys, mysterious conspiracies. We want to understand why people do the horrible things they do.



Here’s some of what we know: the brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were ethnic Chechens. They came to the USA when they were young, and went to good schools. They are described as being mostly happy and well-adjusted by those who knew them.



So what happened to them?



It appears that Tamerlan became radicalized over the past few years. He was under scrutiny by both American and Russian intelligence, but neither discovered anything of interest.



All of the clues were subtle:



–         He visited his family in Russia last year, who noted that he seemed to be much more devout in his religious practice than before.

–         He posted a radical Islamist video on YouTube, and then removed it.

–         He told a friend that the Bible was a poor imitation of the Koran (showing an interesting misconception of the history of both books), and said that the United States used the Bible as an excuse to be a world aggressor.



We won’t know much more. He’s dead.



But his brother is alive.



His brother is a deeper mystery. He seems to have been universally liked, and is still described warmly by those who know him.



Here’s a narrative. Tell me what you think of this:



Once upon a time, in Chicago in 1924, there were two young men named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. They both came from well-to-do families, and were both very intelligent. They decided, for whatever reason, that they were Supermen a la Nietzsche, and were far smarter than anyone else. They decided to demonstrate this by kidnapping, abusing, and killing a little boy named Bobby Franks.



They didn’t get away with it. A pair of Leopold’s glasses were found at the crime scene, and the whole scheme fell apart.



Loeb is portrayed as a persuasive seducer, who conned the more suggestible Leopold into coming along with him. (Leopold was a little older, but much shyer by all accounts.) And how about those glasses that Leopold dropped? Do you wonder if he dropped them on purpose?



It makes for a nice neat narrative.



But what do we really know?


The F-bomb

f bomb jpeg

Boston was in celebration mode over the weekend, after the capture of marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There’s been an outpouring of relief. At Saturday’s Red Sox game, there was this memorable moment:





In short: David Ortiz, “Big Papi,” spoke before the game, saying: “This is our f***ing city, and nobody gonna dictate us!”



Naturally the usual silliness broke out:



a)     Think of the children!

b)    Think of the television audience!

c)     Think of the FCC!



The head of the FCC almost immediately tweeted that he was fine with this. (He had nothing to lose; the FCC doesn’t regulate cable broadcasts.)



As for the children: if they haven’t already heard the word, they will hear it (and much worse) in due course.



Seriously: it’s so silly that people respond so violently to profanity, especially bathroom / anatomical / sexual profanity. I know it’s largely cultural, but the whole idea that the common name of a body part or a sexual function isn’t a “nice” word is just – amazing. I mean, look at me! I can’t even write “f***ing”!



Because I’m afraid I might shock or offend my readers.



I know enough about languages, however, to know that this is the way language works. Some languages (such as Tibetan) have a whole different range of vocabulary items which are used in higher-class situations.



Religious profanity is altogether a different thing. Casual swearing in Jesus’ name is common in most Catholic countries, but is often considered blasphemous in Protestant countries.



Arabic, of all the languages with which I’m familiar, is the best for swearing. Arabic-speakers combine bathroom words, sexuality, family insults, and religion in the most refreshingly creative ways.  Here’s one of the most creative (please note that I will try to translate in the least offensive way):



“May God condemn the religion of thy mother’s private parts.”



Compared to that, Big Papi seems tame, doesn’t he?




A childhood friend of Partner’s passed away recently. We went to the wake.



I’d met a lot of the people before, as a brother of the deceased had passed away some years ago, and we’d gone to that wake too. But I was amazed that everyone seemed to remember me. “Are you kidding?” Partner said later. “Of course they remembered you. We were the talk of the place the first time. We were the only gay couple there.”



The deceased was in his coffin, looking as if he’d just drowsed off. His daughter told us: “We made sure he was wearing his casual clothes. We wanted him to be comfortable.” Partner touched his arm as we knelt by the coffin, to say goodbye. A few weeks before, when we’d visited him, the deceased told Partner: “You were my first friend.” I thought that was an extraordinarily wonderful thing to say to someone.



The family (there were five living siblings, and some spouses, and children, and cousins) were all very warm, and glad to see Partner, and very nice to me. The funeral home was full of laughter: people reminiscing, people telling stories (about the deceased and about all kinds of other things), people reconnecting with one another.



“We never see each other except at funerals!” people say.



Ain’t it the truth.



Wakes and funerals always make me realize how important my friends are.



Have you said hello to your friends lately? Email, snail mail, Facebook, telephone?



Get on it.



Life is shorter than you think.


For Sunday: “St. James Infirmary,” sung by Cab Calloway

cab calloway

Cab Calloway was a great performer in the 1920s and 1930s. This is an animation of his performance of the great song “St. James Infirmary,” sung by Koko the Clown in a Betty Boop version of Snow White.



It’s terrific.







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