Archive for June, 2011

The Sage of Bahia Mar

June 29th, 2011

John D. MacDonald

I have been revisiting Travis McGee, one of the great serial novel characters of the last century (the others are Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin).  John D. MacDonald wrote 21 books about Mcgee, and I have been reading them seriatim, following not only the character’s development and maturation but also that of the author.  McGee was a self-described “boat bum”, living aboard a fifty-two foot houseboat named The Busted Flush at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  He fought in the Korean War, so by now, if he lived this long, he would be in his eighties, although it’s hard to imagine him doddering around a retirement community, plaid pants pulled up to his navel.  He’d be one of those trim, energetic octogenarians doomed to outlive everyone he loves.  He made his living as a “salvage consultant.”  If someone had something taken from them – money; reputation; valuable artifacts – in such a way that the law couldn’t recover it, McGee would try to get it back.  If he was successful, he would take his expenses off the top, then split the recovery down the middle, on the theory that half of something is better than nothing. 

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Crying over fulfillment

June 20th, 2011

We all know about spam, but those of you who do not have the good fortune to be bloggers may not be familiar with comment spam.  Comment spam is an interesting, highly specialized part of the ecology of the internet, like the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in a particular type of grub, or the orchids that smell like lobster and grow only on one species of decaying tree.

Or perhaps a more apt metaphor would be the barnacles that grow on whales, because comment spam derives its existence from that leviathan among search engines, Google.  When you search for something on Google, the list of results it presents you is ranked according to a multi-factorial formula which gives heavy weight to the number of times each site is cited on other sites.  The idea is that if a site receives more links, it is probably more authoritative.  The number one search result has the most links, and so on.  Comment spam seeks to take advantage of this mechanism by surreptitiously placing links to the spammer’s web site on as many bloggers’ sites as possible, in the form of comments to blog postings.  The spammer’s site address is embedded in some text purporting to be a comment.  If the comment is posted, it enhances the positioning of the spammer’s site among search results.  The higher you are on the list of search results, the more likely a searcher will be to click on you.

There’s a lot of comment spam.  According to the spam filter that my web host thoughtfully provides for me, in a little over a year of writing this blog I have received 4,327 spam comments.  I remember the day I turned on my computer and found that 35 had appeared overnight.  I thought I had Arrived at the Big Time!

Some of it is gibberish:

pdooflyga,.. dmikkksnsns

Some of it appeals to the blogger’s vanity:

Hello!  Interesting post!  Check my video!

or,  more typically:

It’s always good to obtain some hints like you share for blog posting.  Thank you for your top quality work and continue writing articles in such a high quality manner.

Some of it is amusingly inappropriate, like this comment that came to my web site’s biography page:

I have been searching all over the web for hours literally man thank you for this great info that I could get nowhere else.

And some of it is simply magnificent:

I precisely had to appreciate you again. I am not sure what I could possibly have sorted out without the concepts revealed by you over this topic.  It became an absolute traumatic condition for me personally, but witnessing a new specialized tactic you dealt with that made me to cry over fulfillment.  Now I’m happier for this guidance as well as sincerely hope you know what an amazing job you happen to be carrying out instructing men and women by way of your blog.  I am certain you’ve never met any of us.

Mother’s Little Helper

June 12th, 2011

There’s a gobsmacker of an article in the current New York Review of Books about the epidemic of mental illness that America is presently experiencing, or, to put it another way, the epidemic of pharmaceutical treatments for diagnosed mental disorders that America is presently financing.  It seems that the psychotropic medications we have been using in vast and ever-increasing quantities over the past fifty years, the antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antianxiety nostrums that have become the mainstay of psychiatric therapy, are no more effective than placebos.  In sum, we have been – surprise, surprise! – the victims of a massive fraud.  Moreover, the whole edifice of medical research, which rests on a foundational distinction between placebos and therapeutic agents, shows signs of crumbling.

Placebos are used when testing drugs for safety and effectiveness.  The drug is given to one group of people, and the placebo, a (supposedly) therapeutically inert substance, is given to a comparable group.  In standard “double blind” controlled tests, neither group of experimental subjects knows whether they are getting the drug or the placebo, nor do the persons administering the substances to them.  The idea is to promote

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The Ice Storm

June 3rd, 2011

I don’t have any poems about flooding to comemmorate our recent miseries, but twelve years ago I wrote the following about a much more characteristically Vermontish natural disaster.  Its subtitle was “the day they impeached the President and bombs fell on Baghdad”:

A white accretion outlining their upsides
now defines grey tree limbs, which had stood
indistinct against a grey sky.  The bark
seems darkest at the snow line, shading in lighter
away from it, and where this morning they blended
into softly smudged horizons now they cut
each other with a charcoal stripe and blank
stutter where they cross, a bewildering
etched jumble replacing December’s
former monotonous wash.

I am cast back to January last.  Then,
something awful happened, a difference of a
few degrees from today’s gentle refinement
of tiny crystals layered like feathers, like
cotton ribbons on the branches, made
instead clear, ever thickening sheaths
from drizzle falling constantly day on day,
glazing the woods and glazing the glaze,
gloving twigs in inch thick thumbs, a
heavy colorless skin laid over everything
and nothing within it could be seen.

Crack!  A maple cleaved down the middle.
Branches began snapping.  Trunks split.
Ice fell through the laden crowns, knocking
other ice loose, as if a tray of glass smashed
to the ground, and then, thud, the body that had
carried it.  Throughout the nights the thicket
back of our house shook as if from gunshots,

and in the dim and watery mornings, more
boles stood stripped and lopped, stark, unfringed,
or bowed, too weak to resist, their elasticity
almost exhausted, poplars bent double,
birches that would remain humped as the
backs of old men for the rest of their
curtailed lives.  Saplings sprang straight,
tinkling upright, suddenly tall among elders
reduced as if by an artillery barrage.

Several times daily, amid that great sadness
like friends passing, we ventured out to
clear a passage through the street’s debris.
Emergency vehicles might need it.  Ankle deep
shards of ice the size and shape of packing peanuts
crisply crunched at each step, and at each
step we looked up over our shoulders, and
meeting in the middle of the road to haul
bits of branchy tangle grown unwieldy, weighty
as if under some other, more giant gravity,
we warned each other of widow makers.

Within the drizzle’s unceasing sibilance,
we labored and chatted in hushed, excited tones.
Then, nothing left to clear, we retreated
almost reluctantly to our separate, slowly
chilling, powerless dwellings, to the day’s
grey, even light seeping even indoors.