Friday, December 23, 2016

Tan Jeer

I had 2 international flights today, 2 days before Christmas. The second, from Madrid to Tangier, was scheduled for 80 minutes. I disembarked 12 minutes early. I cleared passport and customs, got my luggage, and was in the shuttle to my hotel by the scheduled arrival time. I don't think this will ever happen again.

I got tasty tajine. That will happen again.

The beaches are like those in La Jolla, except the camel-toes are on real camels.

Recent experience, compounding one with my brother in Marrakesh, reminds me to update the categories of the BUM Index. Brendan's Urban Mendicant Index refers to the number of city blocks you walk divided by the number of beggars. San Francisco and Atlanta score the worst among American cities, and even rival Tijuana. However, three categories are relevant:

1) Passive: Beggars do not interrupt or accost you, but just sit there, often with a cup or hat. They may try to look pathetic. I ran in to such a guy 2 weeks ago begging in Sporgasse in Graz, who has been there for years. He has a magnificently pathetic beggar face, which he probably doesn't use while cackling home in his Mercedes.

2) Active: The beggars do interrupt you. This may be as simple as asking for change. It may also include a tale that scores far higher on pity-elicitation than honesty. I use the same strategy in grant proposals, although I do say this is a hypothetical case scenario. Atlanta stands out for the tactic of offering you directions, ignoring your reply (such as the then-truthful "I live here"), and then asking for money on Good Samaritan grounds. This often devolves into the next category.

3) Pursuing: The beggars follow you, relentlessly yammering away. Physical contact is much more likely, which (especially in Barcelona) means guard your pockets. The fucker in Marrakesh followed my brother and me for over ten minutes. The guy who accosted me just now limped after me, pleading in several languages that his leg was hurt and he was hungry. Having learned from my Marrakesh experience, I simply accelerated, and that guy sure did keep up well for someone with an injured leg. Nothing like a brisk jog, emerging into a full sprint, after tajine and couscous.

I thus introduce the weighted BUMI. Actives are multiplied by 3, and Pursuings by 10 per minute. Further research is needed. Why, here's a hypothetical case scenario for the grant proposal:

Nigel is a professional mendicant in Graz seeking to expand his revenue generation portfolio. He has relied primarily on casual active begging, but feels that his tax-free income of only about 300 euros per day could be improved. But how? Fortunately, he learns of the Tourist Annoy and Sway Characterization Heuristics for Extended Nuisancing to Derive Improved Euros for Beggars (TASCHEN-DIEB) proposal through a local "Lange Nacht Der Forschung" event. This FFG-funded project teaches him that Pursuing is ultimately more profitable than other categories, especially if you don't quit after being given money. Nigel convenes with other Harvard MBAs, revamps his approach, and reaps even further profits from tourists who are generally much poorer than him.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Austrian painter

Schwarzenegger Hall
J. Paul Getty Center
Los Angeles, California
Modern Day

Adolf Disney Hitler was getting annoyed at some of the questions. He was told he was invited here for a gala lecture to present the loan of several paintings from his grandfather’s Third Period. Most of the packed audience seemed to be art students and experts, with intelligent questions and appropriate respect. The last question had a subversive element, asked far too casually. Perhaps southern Californians were just less formal than Germans? He wondered how his grandfather, the great Minister of Propaganda, would respond, and crafted a plan to retaliate. “Thank you for your question, sir. Did everyone hear that?”
He knew they wouldn’t, in a room with over 500 people, and a sea of shaking heads confirmed it. “Very well, I will repeat the question. The – ahem, distinguished gentleman in the tie-dye shirt has asked -” he put on his deadpan face, then repeated the question verbatim, with his best impersonation of the accent – “Dude, wasn’t Adolf Hitler like totally pissed off at the whole world before even the Second Period?” The titters from the audience were worth almost as much as his victim’s glare. “This is not a new question. Many of you Americans resent losing the war and they try to present Adolf Hitler as a man of hate, from the beginning. But my grandfather’s life and work has been studied by many historians and psychoanalysts. There is strong agreement that, although work from his First Period shows angst over German security and anger toward the Treaty of Versailles, it is generally dominated by love for Germany and his new British wife. Evelyn Brown was his friend, lover, art teacher, mother of his two children and a devoted wife until the – incident with the rabbi. Two paintings show this best. May I see slide 24, please?” He kept speaking while an invisible kid in the back scrambled for the slide.
“Remember the man was a newlywed also[1] at this time, in 1910 – why would he be angry? Evelyn loved and inspired him. He had been rejected from the Vienna Art Academy twice, in 1907 and 1908[2], then met her and showed such remarkable improvement that he was accepted in 1909. Ah, here is the slide. The Beauty of Bavaria is a classic painting from his First Period. The foreground of this painting shows a young couple, in love, enjoying a dinner of Bubenspitzle. Note the relaxed outdoor setting and pleasant weather, rife with bursting flowers, that captured the spring perfectly. The colorful empty beer steins and rosy cheeks further support the warm colors that match the deeper reds of the blooming roses behind them. The lighting, soft perspectives, gentle tones, light composition and happy expressions in the foreground clearly show – yes?” He paused to answer a young woman waving her hand.
“Professor, doesn’t the name of that dish translate as baby penis?”
“Yes. It is a traditional dish in southwest Germany. Bavaria, Schwabia, Baden – very popular[3]. Please, let me finish. Yes, it is true that the background has some elements that may be foreboding, even angry. We see a man in a high castle overlooking the lovers. Frankly, Frankish resentment toward France is obvious, as the man faces west. This shows the need for security to protect love and traditional German ways, forcing worry on a happy and peaceful society. Note that the waiter to the left wears a yarmulke, and is portrayed like other waiters, without the artistic characterizations of Jews that my grandfather began to develop in his Second Period. This is typical of work throughout his first period, all the way through 1914, when he volunteered to serve in the Bavarian Army. May I see slide 38, please?” He paused again, not bothering to scan the audience this time.
“And here is, of course, one of his most dramatic and dynamic works, Betrayal. This is his most direct depiction of the fateful day that changed him forever. Can you imagine? To return home, from a war, after four years, to find your wife in your bed with the local rabbi? Filthy whore!” He spat on the ground, and viciously stared away a young American staffer who moved in with a towel. “Everyone agrees that his portrayal of his British wife and the rabbi shows great distress. That was the source of his newfound inspiration and emotion. It was nothing earlier.” He paused. “Betrayal is one of over 60 paintings he made during his time in Landsberg prison for manslaughter[4] from 1918-1920, which he collectively called Mein Kampf. It was the anti-Semitic and pro-German themes in this Second Period - not earlier - that first drew attention from his future colleagues like Hess, Ludendorff and Goering.” He paused again. “The influence of these men, and the experience of working with the National Socialist Workers Party, inspired new artistic direction that truly captured our peoples’ oppression and abuse and helped the party win election in 1933. It was only after the - incident with the rabbi that Hitler began portraying Jews more figuratively, with claws, fangs, bulging eyes, and artistic abstractions also where the phallus should be, like a bar of gold, mushroom or Churchill’s face. Yes?”
“But he was in Spain a lot during the 20s, right? I mean, the Spanish influences are clear by the middle of the Second Period.”
“Right. He met Franco while presenting his work at El Prado. His resulting years in Spain not only improved his painting in many ways, but showed also his power to reach the masses in other countries. His artistic influence through Manuel Azana Schweinehund[5] and Llop Catalunya[6] inspired the Madrid riots of 1935 and helped the fascists win quickly. Of course, by then he was Minister of Propaganda, and his 1936 painting Victory at Guernica was his first work as the Fuehrer. You can see the influence of Spanish artists like Picasso there, with - yes?”
“And Spanish art and dance also influenced his granddaughter, right? Your cousin? And her husband?”
“Yes. Her art shows also strong Spanish influences, as does her husband’s. But not until later. Her mother, Adolf Hitler’s daughter, was estranged from the family after the – incident with the rabbi and fled beyond our homeland near Bavaria, to the southeasternmost part of Austria, called Styria. She befriended a local Nazi police chief, Gustav Schwarzenegger, and her daughter later married his son Arnold. Of course Arnold’s initial efforts with nature painting did not go well, and he only attained fame after training as a flamenco dancer. After his Broadway debut in the musical Hercules the Aryan Hero, he-” Dammit, another hand was waving. Would these Americans let him finish anything? “Yes?”
“And this is what brought your grandfather to America?”
“Yes. He came to see the musical, which he strongly disliked, but met many influential filmmakers. I heard that it is now well known that my grandfather’s painting career ended with Parkinson’s Disease. So he turned to film. He knew already many American filmmakers, and found Walt Disney sympathetic. My grandfather and later my father, who married one of Disney’s daughters[7], produced numerous films like Mary Poppins the Flying British Witch, Snow White and the Seven Jews, Commies in Congress, Jewtopia, The Lady and the Jew, Der Fuehrer’s Face[8], Victory through Aryan Power[9], Triumph of the Shill, Greedy Jew Pirates of the Caribbean, The Darkies in the Jungle Book, and the most controversial: Hansel, Gretel, the Warty-Faced Jew and Her Deserved Fate. And of course he contributed to many Johannes Blondi[10] movies like Dr. Stein, Live and Let Commies Die, Phooey on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Jew with the Golden Gun, the Goldfingered Jew, The World is not Enough for Deutschland and License to Kill Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I see another question. The gentleman in the back, with the – uhm – torn short trousers and T-shirt and – excuse me – beach shoes?”
“What if Hitler had been a worse painter?”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, dude, you know, it’s a common alternate history question. I mean-“
Hitler waved him off. “Yes, yes. This is absurd, of course. How else could an unknown man, with no money or talent or education or connections, gain the fame to become Fuehrer? Who would listen to a man with only anger, without his gift for expression? There are many such questions from alternate history. What if Spain never joined the Axis powers? What if my grandfather never met the traitor Evelyn Brown, and had less anger toward England? Maybe he would not have demolished the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk to the last man, or moved almost all of the Luftwaffe from Africa and the Mediterranean Sea to win the Battle of Britain in 1940. Maybe we wouldn’t have won that war, or maybe we would have won the next one. Or maybe even you Americans.” He smiled, then shook his head. “Fine speculation for old men, but I see no point in it. If you change one thing in history, other things change too. Perhaps, as they say, we’d all be speaking English today.” Hitler saw the captain of the Chinese Loong[11]-troopers motion to his rifle and knew painfully well what that meant. His last comment went too far. He was hoping to spend his long flight home to Landsberg prison right side up, at least a millimeter from any bamboo, but he’d have to accept the usual. “I see my visit here is ending. I thank the Imperial Chinese Dictatorship and Cultural Ministry for allowing me this brief respite from confinement. Please direct any further questions to the Imperial Administrator of Landsberg prison. Shia Shia[12].” 

[1] Advice to Germans: never put “already” or “also” wherever you think they belong in an English sentence.
[2] This is true. He was never accepted, but continued painting his whole life, even while Fuehrer.
[3] Also true. They serve it with fried onions, cheese, brown onion sauce, and/or other stuff. Delicious.
[4] Hitler was sentenced to that prison for five years in 1924 for the Beer Hall Putsch. He was released later in 1924.
[5] Azana was the leader of the democratically elected Republicans, who lost the Spanish Civil War, from 1936-1939.
[6] I think this means Catalan Wolf. Hitler liked wolves.
[7] Disney’s racism against blacks and Jews is not my creation, nor his involvement with the Red Scare in the 50s. Disney had 2 daughters; Hitler had no known children.
[8] This is a real Disney film in 1943. It is in fact anti-Hitler propaganda.
[9] Mocks “Victory through Air Power,” another 1943 Disney film.
[10] Hitler owned a German shepherd named Blondi. Hitler used Blondi to test cyanide capsules in 1945.
[11] This means dragon, in poor Mandarin
[12] Thank you, in Mandarin

The Emperor's Newer Clothes

The bearded man suddenly sat up with remarkable vigor for his age. “Sirrah!! Wherefore art-“ He stopped as he gagged on his own moldy yellow moustache, and then began brushing long grey hair from his face. After clearing his eyebrows, his fiery blue eyes fixated on the older of the two men kneeling on the hard dirt next to him. “You. You are a learned Physik?”
“Sir, I’m an EMT, I’m not-“
“Blasphemy!” The old man reached for the EMT’s throat, trying to stand, then collapsed heavily, grabbing his left hip. “Address me as Sire, Majesty, or Emperor!”
The EMT jumped back and eyed the old man, then his young driver. “I so deeply apologize, majesty. I most humbly beg your apology.”
The old man’s blue eyes twinkled, then softened. “Thee hath practised thy art well, young Physik. I am awake. Thy tongue is odd; might thee hail from France?”
“No, majesty. I’m a local. Virigina native. My name is, um, Robert, majesty.”
“Ah! ‘Tis my middle name. Very well. Hast thee followed the instructions of my learned Master Physik, who brought me to this fine rest? His broth leaves me groggy.”
“I am sorry, your Majesty, I do not understand. A couple hikers found you, and they called the ranger station, and they called us. Um… can you tell me the name of this Master Physik?
“Of course. None would dare lay hands on his Majesty but the esteemed van Winkle himself!”
“Majesty, you – asked a Physik named van Winkle to give you something to make you sleep for a very long time?”
“I did, sirrah. And his mastery is evidently yet unmatched. Is van Winkle still alive?”
“No, majesty. He’s RIP.”
“And yet thee hath revived me, and brought me to health. And I have awakened in a new era, in a new land, when all have forgotten my shame!” He smiled, then looked curiously at the syringe in Robert’s hand. “I have not seen such a staff. Is it of glass?”
“Majesty, I am only preparing something to help you relax. Majesty, we must bring you to a place with more learned Physiks. My master has a new way to heal your other maladies. If I may just approach-”
“Get away! Poke me not with thy cursed staff!” He flailed viciously and both other men backed away. “I too was a Master Physik, and Tinkerer, and Mystic. My inventions were used far and wide! The wisest men sought my counsel! I was welcome at the finest universities! I served the king himself…. And then…. Those weavers! Scalawags! And suddenly I was the laughingstock, far and wide, my name and tale tied with trusting foolishness and… arrogance….” His voice trailed off and he slowly relaxed. The driver whispered something into the EMT’s ear, and the old man perked up. “Indeed, young sirrah! I did not hear all of that, but the word ‘fruitcake’ did catch mine ear. I am most famished.”
“Majesty,” the EMT replied, taking a slow step forward, “My Master Physik has the finest repast! Sweetmeats, fresh bread and Italian pasta, butter, exotic cheeses, with a glorious blend of ice, cream, and fruits for dessert! If I may please-”
The old man waved him off. “Stop thy prattle, young Physik, and tell me but one thing. Art thou also learned in legend, literature, lore?”
“Well, yes.”
The old man suddenly leaned forward, grabbed the Robert’s shirt, and stared through him with piercing, pleading eyes. “Hast thou ever heard of any legend, any tale, story, called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes?’ Please, I prithee, tell me true.”
“No. I have never heard any such tale, most glorious Majesty.” The old man sighed deeply as the EMT moved his right arm and injected him with something. The EMT and the driver jumped back as the old man tried again to stand, then collapsed. “Executioner!! Guards!” He looked around wildly, then settled back and smiled.
“Majesty, please just try to relax, we-“
“Fear not, young Physik, thy concoction is most palliative.” His head fell lazily to the left and a fishing line of drool graced the whiskered mud around his noble cheek.

Five hours later

The EMT entered the conference room and addressed Doctor Rossen-Williams, who was seated at the head of a mahogany conference table. “May I sit down, doctor?”
The doctor motioned to a chair. The EMT sat down, placed his backpack on the floor, and nodded to the two others in the room, the Head Nurse and one of the lab techs. “Good, we’re all here,” the doctor said. “Sheila, can you please repeat what you just told me?”
“Yes, doctor. John Doe was brought to room 19 at 1440 hours. We placed him in bed and applied arm and leg restraints, based on the report from Bob.” She motioned to the EMT, who nodded in agreement. “He awakened briefly and we spoke for about a minute before he lost consciousness again. He – well, doctor, he believes that he is an emperor, has a weird accent like some high school Shakespeare play, and made violent threats if I did not remove the restraints. I obtained bloodwork, which I sent on to Jing here, then examined him further.”
“And you recommend immediate remand to the ward?”
“Definitely, doc-“ began Robert, but he was waved off by the doctor.
The Head Nurse spoke up. She said, “Leave this one alone.”
“She can tell right away that he’s mad for the throne,” agreed Robert, but he was waved off again.
“And when you examined him, then….”
“Doctor, I first checked his teeth. I’ve never seen anything that bad.”
“You did say he was British.”
“Of course, doctor, but… he’s never had any dental care except his wisdom teeth look like they were yanked out by pliers. Scarring is horrible. Just simple braces would have helped what’s left of his incisors. He needs major surgery and dentures. He has gum infections that probably just need penicillin. I also checked, he seems to have survived a burst appendix, don’t know why nobody noticed it. He’s lucky he survived. He has some other pustules that could be some bacterial infection-“
Jing spoke for the first time. “Gonorrhea. He has gonorrhea. And mumps.”
Doctor Rossen-Williams looked at the lab tech. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, ma’am. Had to go online to confirm it. Also, no vaccinations for anything. Ever.”
“What else?”
“He has Type I diabetes, no trace of any insulin injections. I’ve never seen such high LDL. Guy must eat like a king every day. He has odd levels of uric and ketonic acid in his bloodstream. The only explanation is that he drinks urine. I did a swab around his tongue, traces of goat urine. Lots of lactic acid, seems to have been sedentary for a long time. Also some weird plant-based alkaline barbiturate, never seen it before, but seems to be a strong sedative.”
“Keep working on that.”
“Will do, doctor. I also checked neurotransmitters and byproducts, as you requested. Weird levels of 5-HIAA, choline, COMT, typical of extended sleep. Otherwise seems to have a balanced diet. No hint of any aluminum plaques, or actually any trace of aluminum. Something odd with his monoamine levels, may be consistent with agitation or mental disorder.”
“I’m sorry, doctor?”
“Porphyria. Was called the king’s madness. It was a disease that affected many British noblemen. That could account for the erratic behavior.”
“Doctor, are you joking?” asked the Head Nurse.
“You reported a bluish color on the urine sample?” the doctor replied quietly, looking at the table.
“Yes, I sent it off for testing.”
“And in your 34 years as a Head Nurse, have you ever seen that?”
There was a long pause until the Head Nurse spoke again. “But, doctor-“
The doctor turned to glare at her, and she fell silent. “I also swabbed his cheek and sent it to the lab. Still working on it, but it confirms porphyria, which hasn’t been seen in over 100 years.” She looked around the room for any comments, then addressed Robert. “Did you bring the papers you found with him?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He unzipped his backpack, pulled out several crackling scrolls, carefully walked over to the doctor and placed them in front of her, then sat down. She examined one, scratched at the red wax seal for several seconds until it broke, then slowly unscrolled the long parchment.
After ten seconds of unbearable tension, the Head Nurse finally spoke. “Doctor, this is completely ab-”
“Thank you, Nurse,” the doctor replied, emphasizing the last word. “Return to your duties immediately.”
The room was silent as the Head Nurse stood up and left, then the doctor quietly spoke. “Robert and Jing, please lock the door, then each open one of these documents, very carefully, and read it.” She then continued unscrolling and reading while the two followed her instructions. After about a minute, she turned to Jing. “Well?”
“The paper looks like a contract. It’s very beautiful. Great calligraphy. He agrees to pay two Master Weavers a lot of amethysts, tea, spices, and indigo for some clothing that only wise people can see. It’s supposed to be invisible to anyone else.”
“Right!” said Robert, and then looked at the doctor, who nodded. “He was saying that he traveled to a new land, I guess here, and slept for a long time, cause he was so embarrassed about that. People were making fun of him, and he couldn’t handle it, so he wanted to get away from people associating his name with, he said, trusting foolishness and arrogance.”
“And you lied and told him you never heard of the Emperor’s New Clothes?”
“Right, doctor. It was just a judgment call, I was trying not to agitate him-“
“It’s OK. Good decision. Never mention that around him. Let me tell you about this one. Also looks like an old legal document. He is also supposed to pay a bunch of arcane stuff to a Master Physik named Rip Van Winkle. It’s to administer a potion to make him sleep for as long as possible. Also, Doc Winkle is supposed to then transport him and his so-called carriage to America and arrange for him to be buried. Well, no surprises there. Robert, how about yours?”
“Ma’am, it has his name, title, and his appointment as personal physician to King Geroge IV. It seems to be signed by King George. His name is Mark Robert Patsy. It says-“
“What was the name again?”
“Mark Robert Patsy.”
“He went through all this trouble because he didn’t want his name associated with people who were fools? And he’s named mark, and patsy?”
“That’s what it says, ma’am.”
“OK. Well, at least there’s nothing wrong with his middle name. Sure you can agree there.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Go on.”
He read further for a few seconds. “Hm. Seems that they had to include his nickname for legal reasons. Was a contraction of his middle name. He was called Rube.”
“Jesus Christ!” Both of the others were startled, and Robert continued after a pause.
“Ma’am, it-“ Robert paused. “Ma’am, his appointment is as the First Earl of Condom.”
“This poor man!”
“Yes, ma’am. It says he is supposed to develop ‘overcoats’ made of linen to prevent the transmission of gonorrhea.”
She frowned. “Linen condoms wouldn’t prevent STDs.”
Jing chimed in, “He does have gonorrhea, ma’am.”
“Yes, thank you, Jing.” The doctor stood. “And that’s one opportunity to do our jobs and help this poor man. Jing, you get back to the lab, do what you can to help. Robert, want some overtime?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Get him a splint for his left hip, and the following list of medications.” She pulled out a pen and began writing across several pads while she continued speaking. “Bring all that to his room. Arrange meal service for him, and yourself if you want. I’ll meet you there in half an hour and revive him. He’s been asleep too long for an old malnourished man with an unknown barbiturate. If he wakes up earlier, don’t take his restraints off, no matter what. I’m calling some colleagues in Dentistry and Endocrinology, so don’t be surprised if other people show up. And-” she paused, and smiled, “I’m going to learn how to treat porphyria. Let’s go, people.”

55 minutes later

Robert startled awake when the door opened, mildly surprised that the first doctor who arrived within a half hour of the scheduled time. The doctor first looked at the sleeping patient, then turned to the recently-roused EMT. “You’re Robert, right? The EMT who’s helping us?” Robert nodded. “Good. I’m Dr. Toericht from Neurology. Think we met before. What is that device on his head?”
“Sir, I didn’t put it there.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Sir, I didn’t examine it. I assumed it was placed there by one of the doctors.”
“Good guess, cause putting shit on patients’ heads is my job. Find out how he got this item and –”
“Twas a gift, kind Physik.” Both men turned to the old man, whose Newmanesque blue eyes were as intense as ever. “One of the fair wenches was here when I awakened briefly. She did provide me with this marvelous viewing device as well, on my request.”
“Good to see you are awake,” said Dr. Toericht. “What viewing device?”
“I think he means-” Robert began, but was shushed by the doctor.
“The color-curtain.” He gestured to a monitor. “I have learned so much of this new world, Master Physik. I learned of the mystic, Jon Edwards, who can speak with the dead. I learned of new medicines to help men lose weight and grow the phallus. I learned of ways to become wealthy through the postal services. I saw …” his voice trailed off. “Good Physiks, one of the few joys of being an old fool is that I am most familiar with the expression that now clouds thy countenances. Mayhaps chicanery is afoot again?” He smiled, but failed to conceal deep concern.
The other two men looked at each other, and then Robert spoke. “Majesty, I am sorry. All of these are false. I am afraid that scalawags are still pretty common today.”
Dr. Toericht added, “What about that thing on your head?”
“’Tis a Brain-Computer Interface!!” The old man beamed at his mastery of a new term. “The Necopupi cat ears. The ears bristle, like a cat’s ears, when I become alert. Pray, observe, for I have been practicing.” The old man strained forward as much as possible with his restraints, yet the cat ears didn’t move for several seconds.
“Majesty, those ears haven’t moved since we arrived, when you were unconscious.”
“I beg thy pardon, sirrah?”
“Majesty, you went from unconscious to quite alert. If that thing senses alertness, why didn’t the ears move?”
“Mayhaps I was not wise enough.”
Robert began to speak again, but was again shushed by the doctor. “It could also mean it’s all bullshit. Looks like a one channel system, with a low-quality electrode over the forehead, that supposedly relies only on brain activity? I don’t buy it. It’s gotta be using EMG, EOG, no way they can filter out ambient noise like-” Dr. Toericht paused, finally noticing the confusion he’d created. “I mean, it’s a scam. The whole thing relies on nobody having the balls to risk looking stupid by calling them on it. It’s the same basic premise as ‘The Emperor’s New-‘”
“Excuse me, doctor, may I speak to you outside for a moment?”
“No. Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to a patient.”
“Doctor, I-“
“OK, you get half of what you want. Go outside, and talk to yourself all you like.”
“Doctor, this-“
“Leave the room. Now.”
Robert hesitated, then left. He watched through the door as Dr. Toericht spoke to the patient for another minute before the patient began shouting. “Lies!! Thy Physik hath lied to me!!! My shame is not unknown here!” Dr. Toericht jabbed him with a needle, but the patient continued raving. “Avast ye, arrogant whoreson! One mistake! One, in a career of insight and genius, and I am forever cast as….” He collapsed again. Dr. Toericht checked his pulse, then left.
“Don’t say it, Robert. Just follow me.”
Robert obediently followed the doctor down the hall, where they bumped in to Dr. Rossen-Williams. “Was just on my way-“
Dr. Toericht interrupted her. “Why didn’t you remand this guy to Psych?”
“He needs treatment first. Pretty sure they don’t know how to treat porphyria.”
“Fuck him. He’s a quack.”
“And we’re doctors.”
“Whatever. I’m signing off on this guy. He’s out cold now, I just administered 10 ccs of chloral hydrate after he became hysterical.”
Dr. Rossen-Williams frowned. “You sedated an elderly patient, in poor health, with an unidentified barbiturate in his system?”
“I told you, he became hysterical.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Well, he was all excited about some headband that he thought could read his mind. You know, one of those bullshit systems that people sell to kids and morons, and every goddamn news clip I see has some wide-eyed journalist fawning over how well it works.”
“Yeah, I know.” Dr. Rossen-Williams sighed. “I got friends helped an ALS patient with a real brain-computer interface. Believe me, the cheap scam systems annoy them more than us. And I’m guessing Robert here tried to stop you, and you blew him off?”
“He’s just an EMT.”
“He was following my explicit instruction not to mention that to him.”
“How was I supposed to know?”
“Doesn’t matter. You said you would sign off on him?”
“Gladly. He’s all yours.”
“Let’s keep it that way.” The two doctors glared at each other before Dr. Toericht walked away. Robert finally spoke up.
“I’m sorry, doctor, I tried-“
“I’m sure you did. My fault for assigning him. Shoulda known. Follow me, please.” They walked in silence to the room. “Robert, I’m going to write a name on a piece of paper.” She did so, folded it in half, and handed it to Robert. She then went inside and examined him, then administered several injections. “Stay with this poor man until he wakes up and ask him if he ever met anyone by that name. Hard to say when.”
“Speakest thou of mine eminence, good Nubian Physik?” Robert and Dr. Rossen-Williams both looked at him. “I fear my faculties hath escaped me. I was speaking to another Physik – an arrogant fool, as I once was, and then- I regret that I forgot what we said.”
Dr. Rossen-Williams sat on the bed and patted his shoulder. “Your Majesty, thine apologies are unwarranted. Please, let’s focus on what you remember. My friend tells me that you were a learned Physik?”
“Indeed, I was headmaster of the Imperial Academy of Science. The title of ‘Emperor’ is some exaggeration, I admit, but I was most taken by titular pride.”
“And you mentioned a scandal of some kind?”
“Aye. Two scalawags convinced me that they could make the finest raiment, clothing that only the wisest men could see. They fitted me with gowns of air and I trotted about the palace, my manhood flapping about like my jaws, and none of my councilors dared admit they were unwise, so each plied me with tales of the magnificence of my new attire. A humbler man might have noticed that they all described a different garment, but I was not such a man. I organized a parade before the entire town, and it was only a child who had the courage to note that I was quite nude. What could I do but continue the parade, with thousands of peasants laughing at me?”
“I’m so sorry to hear it, Your Majesty.”
He nodded. “I ordered the child whipped. Yet, before the sentence was executed, I realized the failure was all mine. I instead met with him and told him my tale.”
“And I’m guessing this was sometime in the late 1820s, in the year of our Lord?”
“Thou art a most wise, learned, and charming Physik. Twas.”
“And might you recall his name?”
Dr. Rossen-Williams glanced briefly at Robert, who opened the piece of paper with the name. His eyes widened as the patient replied. “Indeed, he was a most clever lad. Hans Christian Andersen.”
“Uh-huh. And then you decided to sleep for almost 200 years until everyone forgot?”
“Majesty, I- um. Hm. Perhaps another topic would be in order. Have you been treated well here?”
“Very much. I have been well fed, and greatly enjoy this contraption from the master haberdasher.” He pointed to the headset that he still wore. “I am told that it can read thoughts like a scholar can read ancient tongues.”
“Majesty, we do have the knowledge to do that in a very general sense, not like you think. It requires much more expensive equipment. You may have noticed-“
“Aye, it doesn’t work. I realize that now. The toy changed many times as we spoke, though I have done nothing different. Yet its appearance is pleasing, and I am grateful for newer clothes of any sort.”
“You’re not – upset?”
“Learned Physik, I have lost too much of my life in regret. One can only learn and move forward. Mayhaps I shall laugh about it someday. I was also taken by an expert crier on that contraption.” He gestured to the TV.
“I’m sorry, Majesty, what is a crier?”
“A newsreader. One who reports on events. One who is responsible for exposing scalawags. Somewhat like I am. Or was.”
“My apologies, Majesty. Criers are called ‘journalists’ today.”
He nodded. “She had the same silly haberdashery on her head. She said it had a chip from BlueSky, though I saw no potato products of any kind. And a man in a most exotic suit told her that it could tell when she relaxed. I watched her contort her face most comically, close her eyes, glare, yet nothing happened. I could see myself in her eyes. She dared not suggest that her mind was weak. And so, when it did finally move – quite at random, while she did nothing new – she said ‘There it goes’ and left an audience of trusting fools convinced of its efficacy.” He laughed again. “With all the learning since my era, nobody thought to question it. They need merely put the system on ten of their colleagues – fellow journalists, as you say – and it would be obvious. Yet none dare play the fool.”
“Perhaps that’s long overdue.”
“Learning from books comes easier than learning from the heart. I have much to ponder.”
Dr. Rossen-Williams looked at him for a long time. “Majesty, if I remove your restraints, do you promise to cause no harm?”
“Learned Nubian, thou art as kind as thou art wise and beautiful. I give my word.” Dr. Rossen-Williams removed the restraints and then silently left the room, motioning Robert to follow.

“You WHAT?!” The Head Nurse looked around the conference room for support, but got none. “Lemme get this straight, you unstrapped him 2 days ago, based only on his word that he would cause no harm.”
“Right. And he didn’t.”
“Then you treated his – whatever – and got him free dental surgery, even though he has no insurance.”
“And instead of remanding him to Psych, you- you…”
“Discharged him.”
“He’s free?”
“Your command of the obvious is dazzling one of us.”
“But-“ The Head Nurse sputtered. “Where will he stay? What will he do?”
“Not your problem any more.”
“What if he’s wandering around the street, freaking out at-“
“He’s not. He’s fine.”
“And you know this because….”
“Not your problem either. Finding a new job is. I’ve had enough of your insolence.”
“Fuck you, doctor.”
“I’m already leaving.”


Three months later

The journalist beamed. “Doctor Rossen-Williams, I think this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! I mean, I’ve heard of this kind of thing, but a mood ring that really works?”
“Yes. See, most mood rings are just scams. They sense temperature, which can change with all kinds of things. But I invented a new chip that can actually read brain activity from the ring finger. See, I’ll prove it.” She put a ring on the journalist’s finger. “It can even sense subtle changes in your subconscious mind. Even emotional changes you might not even sense. See, it just changed color. Now, what were you thinking?”
“I- I’m not sure, doctor.”
“Let me guess. You were experiencing the emotion of awe, with some suspicion. And you didn’t want to look foolish because you didn’t know what to say.”
“That’s- yes, that’s exactly it!” The audience applauded.
“You can even try it on a random volunteer. How about we let the audience prove it? You choose someone there, someone who seems wise and trustworthy.” The audience chattered excitedly for several seconds as the camera panned over them, then a tall man emerged from the crowd.
The journalist stood and put her microphone under his carefully trimmed beard. “You, sir, what’s your name?”
“I am Sir Harold, good lady.”
“Ah, an Englishman! Well, everyone knows your reputation. And you’re nobility?”
“I am.”
“So I’ll put this ring on him, and we’ll see how it works.” She put the ring on his finger, and the audience was silent while it changed color a few times. “What were you thinking?”
“I am- awestruck, good lady. I thought of my homeland, then my wife, then an old foe of mine in primary school. Every time, it changed color. Amazing!” The applause reverberated throughout the large room as the journalist nodded.
“You saw it here first, everyone! On my program! Hard to believe it’s only 229 bucks!! I know what I’m asking my hubby for Christmas! Thank you so much for being on my show, doctor. And you, sir, thanks for volunteering. That concludes our best show ever. We’ll see you all next week!” The applause eventually died, as did the camera and stage lighting. Dr. Rossen-Williams walked out the stage exit, went to her car, and beamed at the man in the passenger seat. “Never too late to learn, eh?”
He laughed as he looked at his cell phone. “We just sold over 2000. Never thought a ring could have so much power.” His wife just looked at her new wedding ring, then kissed him.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tsipras, Varoufakis claim agreement with St. Peter imminent

Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varofakis, both recently deceased, insist they are "very close" to an agreement with St. Peter regarding their eternal souls. "The other side seems to expect that we will give in on our 'red lines' about following commandments, such as honoring the Lord our God. Of course we are sovereign and we don't need outside input on these decisions. We also expect reparations for their extensive history of genocide. We will rally the people of Europe against the injustices of the other side."

St. Peter was not available for comment.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Greece sues Russia for war reparations, demands free pipeline

Greece filed a lawsuit against Russia today, claiming that Russia should provide a free pipeline through Greece and five billion euros as reparations for the Cold War. "This was one of the longest wars in modern history. The Greek economy was shattered for decades by diminished trade opportunities, increased border patrols with the Balkans, and being forced to contribute to NATO, just as we are currently being forced to contribute to the austerity measures. These reparations will finally bring healing and closure, although we do not necessarily rule out further reparation requests. We must take all measures to keep the euro together."

This announcement was accompanied by numerous other reparation demands. As of press time, Athens has issued orders demanding reparations from the Trojans, Cypriots, Olympians, Persians, Egyptians, Afghans, Indians, Spartans, Jerusalemites, Gauls, Sicilians, Macedonians, Carthaginians, Goths, Byzantines, Moors, and overlapping cases against Turkey.

Replies to these demands have been mixed. The Gauls (France) surrendered. Sparta, located in modern Greece, stated that payment would be available after an upcoming bailout, and that the euro can't survive without Greece. The Egyptian government replied that they would pay no reparations, and that "Alexandria" had been renamed "FuckAlexandertheHeathen" in English.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Urine Atlanta!

Actually, I just flew out of Atlanta, and you very probably aren’t there. (I’m guessing you are in Albany, Ouray, or Graz, beloved reader.) I had a great time visiting old and new friends at the GT BrainLab and FIDO team. A special shout-out to Sky the border collie, one of the coolest dogs ever. Sky is the beginning of a new generation of assistance dogs for disabled people, more helpful and flexible than ever before.

 But I’ll write aplenty about the work related stuff elsewhere (already have, in fact) and so my blog allows an escape to silliness. Here we have an ad for a culinary school that was on the MARTA car. Now, I’m not a culinary expert. I’ve never been to cooking school. My little brother is a far better cook than I ever could be. But, I do have a lot of experience eating. And I’m not sure I’d be dazzled by a gourmet feast centered on potatoes, topped with potato chips, with some sauce. Oh! I see! The potatoes have little green things. And the potato chips are nicely placed on top, with classy-looking squirts of sauce and even a sleeve with a white coat. Wait! Is that a wedge of some yellow fruit, and some twin green veggie blobs? Wow!!! That pittance wouldn’t stuff an anorexic midget baby gnat with a stapled stomach.

American kids sometimes tell each other about a chemical placed in pools that changes color when you pee. Good trick to get them to behave, except that it’s very easy to disprove and then the kid gets the wild notion that adults sometimes lie. Atlanta has taken this to a new level. For the first time in my life, I saw a sign on warning of urine detection devices, or UDDs:

These signs were in and around the N3 MARTA elevator in Midtown Atlanta. Upon entering the elevator, two of my five senses immediately informed me that the UDD system was not discouraging elevator peeers at all. Hoo-wee! Either the sensors don’t work, or (more likely) do not lead to any arrests. How could they? There’s a camera in there. Great; you get a guy’s back and then he leaves. Unless he *really* had to go bad, the cops have maybe 20 seconds to respond before the doors open and the peeer (but not his golden gift) is long gone. So, just like the threat that the pool will turn red if you pee in it, this is meaningless. What we need is not just a UDD, but a system that takes action accordingly. 
I propose the Public Indecency Sensor and System for Offenders (PISSOFF). PISSOFF does rank somewhere on my list of clever inventions that I have freely given to an unresponsive and ungrateful society through this blog, like the Urban Hop Maneuver, my extended German grammar, Sound of Music lyrics for hunters, and cat helicopter. Wait, the cat helicopter is private. Anyway.
I hereby offer these novel suggestions to the Atlanta City Council. Politicians should recognize that there probably will not be many voters who enthusiastically defend peeers, or encourage peeers to rally with their peeing peers. It’s a safe way to be tough on crime without offending anyone important. Even the ACLU wouldn’t take this case. Editorials that begin with “I peed in a public elevator, and was mistreated” wouldn’t elicit much sympathy. I doubt meetings for a new group called “Mothers Of Public peeERS” would ever run out of chairs. If they tried a civil disobedience campaign, getting peacefully arrested for violating an unjust law, most Atlantans would *not* think them on par with Martin Luther King. The Facebook group “Peeers in Elevators and Escalators” would not have escalating membership. So crack down on 'em!
If the UDD detects urine….

  1. Automatic door locks: Lock the doors until cops arrive.
  2. Automatic community service: Also drop wet towels from an overhead bin. The violator may not leave until thoroughly cleaning the elevator.
  3. Camsharing: The peeer’s face is immediately displayed on video screens all over town, including monitors all over the M3 midtown MARTA station. Buy billboard space too. Add text reading: “This man is now urinating in the M3 Midtown MARTA elevator!!” Expert’s tip: if you put the system in other elevators, then adapt the text so it’s easier to catch them. 
  4. Shock grid: The UDD electrifies the bottom of the elevator. For my non-engineer readers, electricity will travel along a stream of salty water far better than shoes, socks, plastic elevator walls, etc. This means that any innocent people in the elevator would be safe, and probably terribly amused. For my non-male readers, you probably guessed that shocking the source of urine would really hurt. Yes. I’m wincing at the thought. Actually, at very low voltage, fence-tinkling leads to a pleasant tingling sensation. I think the statute of limitations is over so I can talk about this now, although I’m still banned from Fred’s Low-Voltage Electric Fence shop.
  5. Urine recycling: The UDD activates a small pump leading to an overhead cistern, which sprays the violator with the preceding violator’s urine. Cruel or unusual? Not much different from what he’s doing to hundreds of future elevator riders. Just a difference in height.     
  6. Yellow badge of shame: The elevator also sprays the violator with a fluorescent yellow stinky sulfur compound that lingers for weeks. If the cops don’t bust him, his crack dealer will.
  7. Flies: release the urinal flies that have been collected from German airports. (See prior posts.) I have scientifically proven that these flies can cling to the insides of urinals despite great pressure, almost like they’re painted there. So they’d just stick on the violator forever. I’ll be in a German airport soon, so I’ll keep an eye (and something else) out for them sticky urinal flies.

I’m also intrigued by the sensor engineering. The UDD is probably not urine specific, just a cheap system to detect liquids. So you might get false positives from hemophiliacs, snails, wet surfers, janitors, or NFL head coaches dripping Gatorade after winning a Superbowl. Or people who vomit, spill drinks, spit, melt, have ebola, drop a full fishtank, enjoy walking in the rain, happen to be moving a leaky waterbed or broken air conditioner, are sweating profusely on a hot and humid Atlanta day, or are crying really really a lot. Or have pets who urinate. Hm. The last one kills it. I don’t think public urination is illegal for dogs, because they have great lawyers. Damn. It would have been a good idea otherwise. I’ll move on.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Hobbbbbbit

In a hole in a ground there is Professor Jonathan Ronald Reuel Tolkein. 'Tis a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell: it is a grave-hole, and that means comfort is of little concern.

In the dawn of the third millenium of the Second Age of Only Men, many wizened scholars decried the differences between the movie adaptation of "The Hobbit" and Tolkein's original vision. Amidst other extensions, some sages noted that the role of the Necromancer seems expanded well beyond the original tomes. Indeed, a letter in Tolkein's own hand explained that the Necromancer was "hardly more than to provide a reason for Gandalf going away and leaving Bilbo and the dwarves to fend for themselves, which was necessary for the tale" (source: J.R.R. Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Christopher Tolkien and Humphrey Carpenter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, pg. 346).

Why have no Men seen fit to simply ask Professor Tolkein what he intended, or his views of the movie adaptations? Well, I'm a Professor and a professional researcher, just like he was. And, just like his kid, Chris Tolkein, I devoted my life to studying my father's writings. Since Dad was the Necromancer, I dug up some of his musty old books, learned a few basic necromancer spells, and got ol' Johnny Ronnie talking again. In this interview, he fleshed out his decaying vision with great rigour.

"Professor, what did you think of the films based on your work?"
Edith? Edith, is that you? How I miss you, my love-

"No, this is Morgul Winyamo, son of Morgul Tinuviel, son of Bob."

"So you remember my dad?"
Regrettably. Terribly pompous man, an amateur writer lacking discretion, taste, or audience. He was most petulant in his insistence that his skill was comparable to mine, much like CS Lewis. 

"Was it true that you intended the Necromancer to play quite a minor role?"
Indeed not. My original vision actually featured an entire trilogy with him and Radagast, with more rabbit sleighs and bird droppings. You see, the Hobbit was intended as a tale for my children, and hence adaptations alluring to that age group are most fitting. Thorin's rejection of Bilbo, leading to the subsequent reconciliation and hug, was deemed trite and highly uncharacteristic of dwarf and hobbit alike, but only by viewers over twelve. 

"This leads to another common criticism. How did you feel about the use of CGI in The Hobbit?"
Most regrettably, my access to IMAX theaters is decidedly limited down here. Indeed, might you be so kind as to help me find my way out of here?

"If you answer more questions."
Very well. I must say the CGI is splendid, very close to what I had hoped. When I wrote my books, my primary concern was that the pixellation technology at the time would render any adaptation rather weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable. 

"Ah, you're quoting the great bard!"
No, that was Hamlet. Bard was a grim and ineloquent man. Anyway, I particularly enjoyed the CGI in the end of the second Hobbit film. Most prescient of Peter Jackson to recognize that, although the half-hour of special effects was not quite so thoroughly detailed in my book, it is indeed what I hoped would ensue. 

"And the adaptation of the party meeting Beorn?"
Well, the original scene in my book, like so many others that were modified, was meant largely to develop characters and background. As mentioned, I always considered these ends far less important than visual effects, extended action scenes, and dialogue that children would consider original. And hence I shall again praise this adaptation. Say, my good man, would you at least send down some pipe-weed?

"Sorry, but since you're breathing again, you only have so much oxygen."
Then, mayhaps, you could ask the eagles to rescue me? They provided a fine escape in my books.

"They're endangered now."
Might you contact the cemetery owner, then? I should have ample funds after the films.

"You didn't get any money from them."
Bloody hell. Those greedy chaps are worse than the Sackville-Bagginses. Might we enter into a literary collaboration? A new Tolkein book might fill both our coffers.

"That would be plagiarism. You don't control your own work any more." 
Perhaps I might ghostwrite, if you'd pardon the pun? I could finish my unfinished tales and extend the Silllllllmarillllllllllion with more CGI. Were Disney to purchase my new works, we would most surely have wondrously profitable films, blending my genre with Star Wars. Imagine the visual effects of a lightsaber battle between Luke and Azog, or Smaug vs. X-Wings. Might you speculate as to whether George Lucas would be willing to claim that added CGI constitutes a meaningful retelling of his original vision?