Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
Strokes and Scott Pilgrim
January 06, 2011
Of all the strokes I've read about, I have to rate the one I just had (on New Year's Day) as dull and second-rate on the danger-and-debilitation meter precisely the kind of stroke you want to have, if you have to have one at all.
The small blockage deep in my right-brain caused numbness in the left side of my lips and tongue and in my left hand and foot. The numbness left my limbs on the first day, but remains in my now-much-bitten lower lip.
As I write this, nearly three days later, I can report that my speech is unimpaired, I can walk (though I have a tendency for my left leg to buckle and I bump into walls and doorframes, and keep knocking my toothpaste tube off the left side of the sink.
I can even type, though at about a quarter of my former speed, because the fingers of my left hand don't quite land where I expect them to, leading to lots of G, Z and R when I mean to type B, A or E. It's the corrections that slow me down.
I've only fallen down once, because I was stupid enough to try to balance on my shaky left leg while putting on my pants.
All I have to do now is play a lot of videogames with left-hand controls so I can get my brain to wire new pathways for my eye-hand coordination, and practice walking and make sure I hold onto things when I walk (I have a nice collection of canes and finally a use for them!)
But just so you know, I'm not going to be out on the road driving for a long time. I think people as wobbly as me have no business driving.
And the fact that much of my sense of taste has turned up missing will only help my efforts at weight loss.
My wonderful hospitalist at Moses Cone, who never once talked down to me or pretended to know more than he did, has me taking Plavix and a mild blood-pressure-reducer.
My wife is helping me take my weight-loss seriously yes to the brilliant tabouli from Mediterraneo, no (temporarily) to the equally brilliant barbecued-pork sandwich from Cook-Out.
Loco for Coco, I'll miss you! Unless you get more dark chocolate nonpareils in.
I compare my stroke with the others I've known. My grandfather's first stroke paralyzed him (except for speech), and he lived that way for the last year of his life. My uncle's first stroke wasn't completely debilitating, but his second one made him noncommunicative for the last years of his life.
Mine was definitely kinder to me than theirs were.
My friend Chris' stroke hit him out of nowhere at least I had heredity to warn me, and atrial fibrillation and high blood pressure to set off alarm bells, so I knew exactly what was happening when the left side of my tongue went numb while I was brushing my teeth.
Chris' stroke made him blind in one eye. The vision slowly came back, which is the good part. Loss of vision terrifies me, though at least with all my typing clumsiness I can see the errors and fix them.
So look, if you're as stupid as I was and you haven't lost weight and gotten your blood pressure down after ample warnings, I highly recommend my stroke over all the others I've seen or heard of.
I don't mean to brag, but the blood vessels in my brain picked their blockage carefully enough to get my attention, enough to keep me from doing book signings or teaching college for a while, which cleared out my schedule, but not enough to keep me from writing books or talking to people.
I hate it that I've disappointed and/or annoyed so many people, especially my would-have-been students this semester at Southern Virginia. But at least I can concentrate on fulfilling all my book contracts without distraction. (Does one of my publishers have a voodoo doll with a strand of my hair in it and a pin going right to the center of the head?)
I solemnly promise not to croak with any of my book series unfinished. Though I may miss a column or two or six in the next few months.
And bumping into walls can be kind of funny to the people around me, so I'm adding to the entertainment of my family.
Over the holidays, we all settled down to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on DVD. The promos for this movie last summer made the movie seem like it might be mildly entertaining but missable. It looked like dumb comedy.
In fact, it's sharp satire, a weird-and-wonderful treatment of a semi-slacker's life as if he were in a comic book or a videogame. It's not that he has superpowers, but some of his new girlfriend's ex-boyfriends do, and, just as in a videogame, when he fights them he suddenly has completely inexplicable martial-arts skills.
Michael Cera, who plays the title role, is completely wonderful a lively personality even when he's dead-panning and a likeability that persists even when he acts like a jerk. Think of him as the geek version of Romeo and you'll be right on.
The movie has a strong moral center Pilgrim is held to account for his jerky choices (e.g., taking on a new girlfriend before breaking up with the old one). But the movie also has a sharp eye for satire, though I don't know how much of this comes from the original graphic novels (by Bryan Lee O'Malley).
I loved the vegan ex-boyfriend whose devastating superpowers come from the purity of his veganness, so he can only be defeated by tricking him into eating dairy.
By the end of the movie you're glad that real life isn't like this and also kind of wishing that it were.
Look, I can see why the studio did such a lousy job of promoting this movie that it flopped at the box office there's no way to communicate how clever and funny and surprising and smart is it. You just have to see it.
If your sense of humor begins and ends with Will Ferrell or Jack Black, this movie would be wasted on you. Likewise, if you only like movies that make you feel smarter than your friends, forget it Scott Pilgrim is accessible to just about anybody under the age of 70 who still has a sense of contemporary culture.
This movie is not in contention for any Oscars this year. It doesn't even try to be a "great film." But it's a good movie the plows new and fertile ground, and I hope that people like me who missed it in the theaters will now make it a hit on DVD, so that the people who made this movie can get the funding to make more.
Every Day's So Special
Thursday, Jan. 6 Epiphany
Epiphany or "Twelfth Day" was known also as "Old Christmas Day" and "Twelfthtide." On the 12th day after Christmas, Christians traditionally celebrate the visit of the magi, the first gentile recognition of Christ though there is no indication in the New Testament that the "wise men" were not Jewish scholars from the huge Jewish community inside Parthia.
And the fact that Herod went after boys under 2 suggests the wise men did not arrive till Jesus was a toddler: "Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared." (Matt. 2:7)
At any rate, just as Boxing Day is the traditional day for going to the store to exchange unwanted or illfitting gifts, so Epiphany is the day when recipients of the 12 days of Christmas are expected to tell the leaping lords, dancing ladies, milkmaids, drummers and pipers to hit the road. The supper menu traditionally includes three hens in bearnaise sauce.
Joan of Arc was born on this day in 1412 at the French village of Domremy in the Meuse River valley. After inspiring the French military and leading them to repeated victories on behalf of King Charles VII of France, she was captured by the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court for her heresy in claiming to have been spoken to by three saints, and burned to death at the stake on May 30, 1431 at 19 years of age.
The court that convicted her was as Catholic as those who declared her to be a saint years later. Her fame is undying, and her victories ultimately led to French unity and England's loss of nearly all her possessions on the mainland of Europe. Whereupon the English sailed out and created the world's largest and most farflung empire, on which the sun never set. So in the long run St. Jeanne d'Arc was good for both England and France.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Sumner in 1811. Born in Boston, Sumner served as senator from Massachusetts from 1851 to 1874. Leader of the Radical Republicans, he opposed any compromise with the South on slavery.
In 1856, he was attacked with a walking stick in the Senate chamber by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, who resorted to the usual tactics of those who know they have neither reason nor rectitude on their side. The attack was so savage Sumner needed three years to recuperate.
Many Southerners reacted to the beating the way many Palestinians and other Muslims reacted to 9/11 with rejoicing. Brooks was sent new canes to replace the one he had broken over Sumner's head, and other people wanted pieces of the broken cane, so they could display them as "holy relics." Northerners regarded the beating as an act of barbarism, and the approval of Southerners as proof that reason and debate were useless with such people, which proved to be true.
Until Sumner returned to the Senate, his chair sat empty as a silent rebuke to the South for the violence. When Sumner returned, he gave a fiery speech entitled "The Barbarism of Slavery." This time no one beat him.
If this had all happened today, no doubt Sumner would have formed an outreach initiative to try to achieve understanding of a culture that maintained ownership of other human beings by force. After all, it would be considered outrageous for Sumner and those other Radical Republicans to presume to judge that their own moral values were somehow superior to those of people whose culture happened to encourage slavery.
Of course, if that had been the attitude in those days, there would have been no Civil War, and who knows how long it would have taken for American blacks to be set free.
Or perhaps we should learn the opposite lesson: that when someone resorts to violence in order to defend or advance a vile anti-freedom moral code (like, for instance, Sharia law as interpreted by the Taliban and al Qaeda and the Iranian theocrats) decent people will speak up and demand resistance on the basis that there is a real difference between good and evil, and we are responsible for identifying the difference and acting on it.
Friday, Jan. 7 Transatlantic Telephone Day
Commercial transatlantic phoning began today in 1927 between New York and London. There were 31 calls made the first day. Reception was faint enough that Brits repeatedly said, "Eh, what?" for the first time in history.
Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States, was born on this day in 1800. He succeeded to the presidency upon the death of Zachary Taylor, but his own party did not nominate him in 1952. He ran for president in 1856 as the candidate of the "Know-Nothing Party," whose platform demanded, among other things, that every government employee should be a native-born citizen.
Fillmore lost that election and ever since then, anti-immigrant candidates have lost in most elections to federal office. Apparently, most Americans remember, in the voting booth, that they descend from people who came to America as foreigners hoping to improve the lives of their children and grandchildren.
One of the most evil and murderous governments in all of human history, the Communist government led by Pol Pot, was overthrown on this day in 1979 by the combined forces of Cambodian rebels and invading Communist Vietnamese soldiers.
Pol Pot, a convert to the atheistic religion of Marxism, had sought to advance Communism by slaughtering a quarter of the population of his own country, on the grounds that that was the only way to get rid of the "class enemy" the upper and middle classes. The "laboring class" that survived was essentially enslaved as well. All this was done, of course, for their own good.
Pol Pot's government forced Cambodian Muslims to eat pork, and those who refused were murdered.
And somehow, with these facts in evidence, radical atheists blame religions that believe in God for all the evil and intolerance in the world. The fact is that this is the kind of thing that fanatical, hate-filled human beings do, regardless of whether their belief system includes any kind of god.
Pol Pot died of an apparent heart attack in 1998, just after his arrest and before he could be tried for his crimes against humanity. Or you might think of it as God asserting jurisdiction over the case.
Saturday, Jan. 8 Monopoly Break-up Day
On this day in 1982, AT&T was forced to spin off 22 local Bell System companies that provided local telephone service around the country. At the time, I was skeptical it made sense to me for phone service to be a regulated monopoly, because the public service of vocal communication was so important.
Since then, as phone companies have proliferated, rates have fallen and phone use has greatly expanded. Meanwhile, the US Postal Service's monopoly on mail delivery was broken by competition from UPS, FedEx and other services.
But it's worth remembering that part of the reason the breakup had such generally good results is that government regulations required local phone companies to make their wiring equally accessible to all competing long-distance carriers. So the free market was able to work its magic within the high fence of rational regulation in the public interest.
The Battle of New Orleans was fought on this day in 1815. British forces suffered crushing losses (more than 2,000 casualties) in an attack on New Orleans, Louisiana. Defending US troops were led by General Andrew Jackson, who became even more of a popular hero as a result of the victory than he already was because of his success in killing Indians.
Neither side knew that the War of 1812 had ended two weeks previously with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Dec. 24, 1814. But you can be reasonably sure that if the Brits had carried the day in New Orleans, the war would have been resumed or a new peace negotiated on more favorable terms for the British.
Earth's rotation was officially proved on this day in 1851. In his Paris home, using a device now known as Foucault's pendulum, physicist Jean Foucault demonstrated that Earth rotates on its axis. Reasonable people already knew this, however, and few people had the mathematical understanding to grasp just why the movement of Foucault's pendulum proved anything.
Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. A geeky misfit in high school, his style of "singing black" became even more of a bridge to allow African-American music to reach the American public than Bing Crosby's promotion of black musicians and bandleaders had been.
Sunday, Jan. 9 Rawhide Day
The television show Rawhide premiered today in 1959. Clint Eastwood was introduced to American audiences in the role of Rowdy Yates. Millions of Americans can still sing the rollicking theme song. In those days it seemed we couldn't get enough Westerns; now it's rare to see a Western at all; but some of the best of them came after the genre seemed to have died: Unforgiven, Silverado, Open Range and the remake of True Grit are among the best ever made. And Clint Eastwood still plays the hero-cowboy, whatever costume he happens to be wearing.
This is the anniversary of aviation in America. Today in 1793, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Francois Blanchard made the first manned free-balloon flight in American history, taking off from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The event was watched by President George Washington and many other high government officials. The hydrogen-filled balloon rose to a height of about 5,800 feet, traveled some 15 miles and landed 46 minutes later in New Jersey. Reportedly Blanchard had one passenger on the flight a little black dog.
Monday, Jan. 10 Common Sense Day
On this day in 1776, the pamphlet Common Sense, from the mighty pen of idealist, visionary and/or obnoxious fanatic and traitor Thomas Paine, was published. More than any other publication, Common Sense influenced the authors of the Declaration of Independence. The 50-page pamphlet sold 150,000 copies within a few months of its first printing.
No, Mr. Beck, you are not the modern-day Thomas Paine. Neither are you, Mr. Limbaugh. Nor you, Mr. Friedman. And Sen. Franken, you are not even on the same planet. Paine was not just an entertaining writer or a sincere believer. He was also a profound thinker and piercing analyst, and he had the courage to speak up for what he believed when it was dangerous and potentially fatal to do so.
The world's longest-running clown convention met for the first time on this day in 1946, under the rubric of "the United Nations General Assembly." Delegates from 51 nations met in London. As with most clowns, they aren't actually funny, but you earnestly wish you could bring yourself to laugh at them.
Somebody decided that today is National Clean-Off-Your-Desk Day. Their stated goal is "to provide one day early each year for desk workers to see the tops of their desks and prepare for the onslaught of the following year's paperwork."
To them I say: Under peril of your life, touch nothing on my desk or on the floor near it. Those piles are the natural habitat of spiders, silverfish and other forms of animal, vegetable and fungal life, and if you disturb them, their denizens will follow you home.
Women's Suffrage Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878. Sen. A.A. Sargent of California, a close friend of Susan B. Anthony, introduced into the US Senate a proposal to adopt what was called "the Susan B. Anthony Amendment." It wasn't until August 26, 1820, 42 years later, that the amendment was signed into law.
I always thought this amendment was long overdue when it was finally adopted. Then I realized that without the votes of women, neither Clinton nor Obama would have been elected president, and I had to think long and hard about the matter before deciding that, on the whole, I still approve of it.
Mom, that was a joke. Honest.
Tuesday, Jan. 11 Hamilton Day
The single most productive man among the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was (probably) born on this day in 1755 on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies, the natural son of an unmarried couple Scotsman James Hamilton and Rachel Fawcett Lavien, daughter of a French physician and rumored, but never proven, to be part African. True or not, Hamilton was a constant advocate of freedom for American blacks.
Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which urged the adoption of the US Constitution and are still important in its interpretation. He was also Washington's most valuable and trusted aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War, showing his personal courage on many occasions. Later, as secretary of the treasury, he created the American financial and economic system, making it possible to pay off our debts.
Thomas Jefferson detested Hamilton and everything he believed in, and while pretending to be above politics, Jefferson encouraged every kind of lie and vicious rumor about Hamilton. Hamilton, a much more forthright, honest, trusting and intelligent man than Jefferson ever was, railed helplessly against these endless attacks, finally dueling with Aaron Burr to defend his honor. Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr then shot him in cold blood.
Fortunately, Hamilton's ideas ultimately prevailed. Instead of living in the feudal slave society that Jefferson enjoyed and promoted, we live in the America Hamilton worked to create a largely free-market economy with a mostly-sound currency, where slavery is prohibited.
For an understanding of this least-known of the three greatest americans (Lincoln and Washington are the others), read Ron Chernow's brilliant and honest biography of Hamilton. The book is thick but at the end of it, you'll understand America a lot better and I, at least, came from the book filled with admiration for Hamilton.
US Surgeon General Luther Terry declared cigarettes hazardous in an official report on this day in 1964, stating that cigarettes "may be" dangerous to one's health. Meanwhile, tobacco-company-sponsored researchers kept claiming that nothing had actually been proven.
Now, 47 years later, it is possible to eat out, buy groceries, fly in an airplane or stand in line at the post office in most of America without having someone blow smoke into your face. The war on smoking that began with that report has saved far more lives than Obama's health care law even wants to save.
Wednesday, Jan. 12 Silicon Valley Day
On this day in 1777, in the Spanish territory of California, the Mission Santa Clara de Asis was founded. Two centuries later, having given its name to the valley, county and city of Santa Clara, it would be at the center of the home-computer and personal computer revolution, mostly because it was where the two Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, built the first Apple computers. Soon the valley was half-jokingly dubbed "Silicon Valley," by alliteration with the element that forms the basis of computer chips.
After being eclipsed by IBM's second-rate but safe-for-businesses-to-buy PC ("No one ever got fired for buying IBM") and then by perpetual patent-infringer and monopolist Bill Gates of Microsoft, Apple and Silicon Valley came back to market dominance with the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad, meanwhile rocking the music and telecommunications industries.
On this day one year ago, Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7 earthquake, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving more than 1 million homeless in what was already one of the poorest and worst-governed nations in the world.