Preparing for Harry

… and by the way, I don’t know about you but I’m preparing for the release of Harry Potter VII by re-reading the rest of the series. I hope that it will arrive in the mail right about the time I’m ready for it.


The Logic of the President

I’m posting the following without other comment.  It’s written by Richard Schmitt of the LA Times.  He is quoting U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who heard the Scooter Libbey case and sentenced him.

“In light of these considerations … it is fair to say that the court is somewhat perplexed as to how its sentence could accurately be characterized as ‘excessive,’ ” Walton wrote.

“Although it is certainly the president’s prerogative to justify the exercise of his constitutional commutation power in whatever manner he chooses, the court notes that the term of incarceration imposed in this case was determined after a careful consideration of each of the requisite statutory factors.”

The 30-month sentence for Libby, Walton observed, was at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines. The Bush administration and the Justice Department, he pointed out, have been strong proponents of those guidelines for judges, which are supposed to ensure that defendants in federal cases receive similar sentences for the same crimes.

“Indeed, only recently the president’s attorney general called for the passage of legislation to ‘restore the binding nature of the sentencing guidelines so that the bottom of the recommended sentencing range would be a minimum for judges, not merely a suggestion,'” Walton wrote.

The Meltdown

For the second time I’ve had a major computer malfunction.  The first time required a new motherboard (I think) but I didn’t lose any documents, settings, programs, etc.  It did, however, require me to send the computer out for repairs.

This time I got to keep the computer at home, but I had to re-install the operating system and wipe the hard drive.  OUCH!  I spent all yesterday getting patches installed and getting necessary software (e.g. the firewall), but I still haven’t gotten all my files and software fixed up.  That will require getting my CD-ROM drive from work and turning the computer into the IT guys at work.

But at least I can blog again!  Coming soon: a look at the Avandia paper in last week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Gout in Humans and Animals

Here’s an interesting post by a relatively new rheumatologist-blogger. Apparently diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) also known as Voltaren – of the same class as ibuprofen, A.K.A. Motrin and Advil – is toxic in birds. How do birds ingest it? Well obviously they feed on dead cows!

Vulture populations crashed in the nineties and pathologists were able to show that they died of renal failure with secondary visceral gout. Surprisingly, the usual suspects, disease and human encroachment on habitat, were not involved directly. It turns out that the vultures were being poisoned by voltaren, which they ingested while feasting on deceased, voltaren-treated cattle. After their initial investigations, biologists undertook carefully contolled studies and were able to confirm the toxicity of voltaren to these birds, the high prevalence of voltaren in cattle, and that birds feeding on such cattle can easily ingest a lethal dose.

Why are cows fed diclofenac? I have no idea and 3+Speckled (nice one Doc!) doesn’t mention why either. We’ll have to look into it sometime.

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A Perspective on Blockbusters

One of my (many) pet peeves is how every summer, the hot new block buster movie breaks all the old records for how much money they earn. And yet, these aren’t inflation-adjusted dollars, so what does this really tell us? Did Spider Man really bring in more money than The Wizard Oz after you’ve adjusted for inflation?

Today I found this article in the New York Times. It’s as I suspected. When you adjust the dollars for inflation, Shrek or some other recent movie is not the big winner it’s made out to be. The winner? Gone with the Wind.

The Worlds of Connie Willis

I find myself, on this Memorial Day weekend, thinking about how I’m going to spend my upcoming vacation. I mean, I know where I’ll be, but I’m wondering what I’ll do with my time. Mrs. C and I and her family will be doing some stuff, but we’ll have lots of time to just sit around too, so I’m really trying to decide what I’m going to bring along to read.

I’m now old enough that I frequently return to authors and books that I know well. The nice thing about re-reading a book is that you already know that it’s worth it. And so my thoughts return to the books of Connie Willis.

She is one of my favorite authors. She has a very simple but very compelling style. She writes with wit. She constructs remarkable plots based on simple ideas.

One of her early stories, ‘Fire Watch’, is an example. The simple idea is that of returning to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in the middle of the Blitz. With that as a starting point she creates a story that is part suspense, part mystery. It ends poignantly and with a simple message, yet the way she gets there is a great yarn.

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How about a book review?

I’ve just decided that I have to put in a plug for Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. It’s a combination of writing styles that I just love and it works really well.

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionFirst, it’s science fiction, of the alternative universe variety. I won’t tell you exactly how because I think it would spoil the fun. Just suffice it to say that there are a lot of Jews in Alaska.

Second, it’s a hard boiled detective thriller. If you’ve looked through this site at all you’ll know how much I love Raymond Chandler and Dashielle Hammett. Well Chabon creates Meyer Landsman, a police detective in Sitka who can stand right up there with the best of them in the hot water he gets into. He’s a hard drinking, lonely, pathetic guy who also happens to be a great detective – most of the time. He’s very appealing.

It’s also comedy. The writing is truly funny. I mean, just the thought of a bunch of Jews in Alaska is enough to make you start chuckling, but what he does with it is hilarious. Meyer is not only hard drinking, lonely, and pathetic, he’s also a first class smart ass. So is his partner. And his ex-wife. And most of the people he hangs around with. And meets. And he gets into funny situations: Have you heard the one about the jew who jumps into a car with the wife of a mafioso rabbi? How about the one about the jew who breaks out of jail in his underwear in the middle of winter? It’s a blast.

Finally, it’s just a plain good story. Chabon writes characters who are appealing and likeable. By the time you finish the book you care about these people and what happens to them. You respect them. And that’s nice.

Anyway, I will be visiting my local library in the near future to pick up more of his books, like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I can’t wait.