October 31, 2005

What happened to frost on the pumpkin?

It's a balmy 61 degrees this Halloween night, and three packs of what some (frog) might refer to as Small Friends but I can only call mannerless brats came calling this evening. You would have thought they were underprivileged kids, dumpster diving for food, or drivers in the midst of a hit-and-run from which they planned to flee.

Hardly even a "trick or treat" spared, as these offspring from New York's finest private schools (and most conspicuously consuming parents) rampaged through the hallway for the masses of candy everyone on my apartment floor had laid out for their consumption. I thought perhaps a child or two might ring my doorbell, not just scream in the hall, waiting for me to open the door.

And thank-yous? Only when seriously prompted. By me. If this is 21st century Halloween for the well-to-do, I don't wonder why their older siblings have as limited a grasp of the niceties of communication as the little ones show. It makes me cringe that these are children of parents of my generation.

My parents drilled manners into me from the time I was old enough to talk. Is there something in today's child-rearing manuals that suggests there is no need for politesse? Are these the children who are going to be paying into Social Security when it's time for me to collect? No wonder there won't be any money forthcoming.

The pack rituals are evident before any of the candy has been consumed. These kids are amped on something, but it isn't the sugar. Has Ritalin reached the under-5 set? These were poster children for hyperactivity.

The only child I liked was the one who wandered into my apartment in search of the off-white Rabbit, whom he had met last year. His father was quite apologetic, but to me, his son got points for the most sincere gesture demonstrated by a child all evening.

Next year, should I repeat this charade, the kids are getting raisins. And if no one rings the bell, no one's getting anything. They'll have more than enough sugar without my contribution.

October 17, 2005

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...

While I usually use my own words to describe how I am feeling, what is going on in my life, or my rant du jour, I have recently become unable to get this poem out of my head, as it covers so much of my life and the world as I see it.

The Second Coming
-- W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

October 08, 2005

"Attack Planned to Happen Tomorrow"

True story: NYC is under another "terrorist alert," which may or may not have some coincidence with a)Bloomberg declining to debate at a mayoral candidate forum in Harlem and/or b)Bush wanting to draw attention away from the debacle that is visible as his inability to function as an HR department head.

The headline is what the 24-hour local news is reporting. I'm wondering how you can call "news" what hasn't happened yet. Planned for tomorrow, indeed.

Bloomberg may also have wanted to avoid calling attention to the fact that NYC homeowners got a $400 tax rebate check within 5 weeks of election day. Hey, we may all have a price, but this check falls on the contempt side of the ledger. If he really wants to buy my vote, he would have tacked a few more zeros onto the amount received.

Considering Bloomberg is supposed to be a business whiz, how is it that he failed so totally in his projections that he felt compelled to raise real estate taxes 18% overnight, thus collecting far more money than the city budget needed.

We've gotten 2 annual rebates thus far, but it's hard to get excited about getting money back when the only reason for it is that someone taxed us too highly to start with.

Back to Bush junior (where you lead, I won't follow). When I started working, HR was known as "personnel." Somewhere in there it got rechristened "human resources," after some expensive consultants decided it made people in that field have more dignity, if not more cash.

It did not, from my perspective, improve their grasp of the field, their intellectual capacities, or their ability to perceive troubled corporate souls (oxymoron?), and act on that before the rent-a-cop department known as "security" needed to call in reinforcements.

As an outsider, it seems these are the people in charge of screwing over the most employees in the area of benefits -- decent health insurance, some chance at having decent options in a retirement plan, denying full coverage to pregnant women who might need more than four weeks off after giving birth.

Well, if the job description is "screwing people over," then I have underestimated Bush junior. It is, perhaps, his strongest skill (see Gulf Coast hurricanes and federal response to; or nominations to the Supreme Court, lack of need for experience), among his more recent faux pas.

I'm surprised the man's foot isn't coming out of his pants, considering the number of times he has ingested it in his mouth. Surely he has swallowed it on more than one occasion?

October 02, 2005

Mother's little helper rests at 97

If you plan to drive within the hour, you cannot toast Leo Sternbach, but for his best-known work I am grateful: he is the chemist who invented Valium, precursor of the little blue pill (and I don't mean Viagra) that helps keep me calm and functioning today.

Why no toast? Read the contraindications on the label: something to do with the possibility of drowsiness, or, even without alcohol, the operating dangerous machinery clause. I, however, have finished renting automobiles for the year, and stand in no danger of getting behind the wheel. But I will be cautious: one drink will do me.

According to the AP:

"[Valium] gave you a feeling of well-being," Sternbach told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview on the 40th anniversary of Valium. "Only when the sales figures came in, then I realized how important it was."

Sternbach was born in 1908 in Abbazia, part of the Austrian Empire that today is Croatia, and earned a doctoral degree in organic chemistry at the University of Krakow in Poland. He began working at Roche's Basel headquarters in 1940 and in June 1941 fled to the United States with his new bride and the rest of Roche's Jewish scientists.

He and his wife, Herta, settled in Montclair, near Roche's U.S. operations, called Hoffman-La Roche, raised two sons and lived there until 2003, when they moved to North Carolina, where son Daniel works as a chemist for GlaxoSmithKline.

Named one of the 25 most influential Americans of the 20th century by U.S. News & World Report, Sternbach's credits include 241 patents, 122 publications, honorary degrees and other awards.

Valium was to the 1960s what Miltown was to the 1950s what Luminol was to the 1940s (see psychopharmaceutical history 101, one of alice's hobbies). In the 1970s and 1980s, more subtle variations on the benzodiazapine theme were cultivated. These days the PSAs scream that all drugs are evil; without pharmaceuticals, alice would not be here today.

Here's to you, Leo Sternbach.