Saturday, January 29, 2005

Baby music over the last couple of nights:

The baby seems to love (or, potentially, hate) the baritone sax and tuba sounds on Black Saint. During the second section (or is it the third?) where the tempo keeps picking up and slowing down, Mrs. Obscurity reported that the baby would start kicking every time the music picked up. We're officially within three weeks of the due date. That baby could come any time in the next five weeks. With any luck, all this prenatal music will lead to more harmonious cries.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Let me start with a huge word of congratulations to our friends Katherine and James for the birth of their son, Seamus Patrick Harte. He was born yesterday at 2:00 pm, weighing 7lbs 5 oz, and was 19 inches long. Katherine and James found the Bradley method class we took, and we're looking forward to raising our kids concurrently (especially for what that means as far as babysitting duties and socialization of the critter). This news leads right into...

Book #3: Ina May's Guide To Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

This one's going to be preachy, folks. Let me first say that I wouldn't have included this in a normal year because it's more self-help book than, say, a novel or book of essays. However, three reasons compel me to include it: 1) I have strong feelings on the subject, as I'll explain below; 2) although the first half of the book consists primarily of birth stories, the second half is a clear and concise screed about the wrongheadedness of modern obstetrics disguised as a guide to midwifery; and 3) considering that I probably won't have time to finish many books in the first few months of my baby's life, I will take all of the books I finish.

I'm a policy wonk in real life, so let me start with bias. Ina May Gaskin is the head midwife at the hippy-dippy TN recluse The Farm. Most of the hippy types I knew in Alabama eventually took a pilgrimage to The Farm (those that weren't brought up there, that is), and a few moved there and may still be there for all I know. I don't see how Gaskin's choice to live and work on the Farm makes her any less of an expert in childbirth, especially given her vast experience in the subject. Gaskin and the other Farm midwives have delivered over 2000 babies and have lower incidence of complications than the national average, primarily because, as Gaskin asserts, modern obstetrics is built around a cost-obsessed concept of convenience rather than common sense and health.

Gaskin doesn't have all of the statistics she needs. In fact, no one is collecting statistics on the entire population of U.S. childbirths. Most hospitals won't allow information on problem births to be released. Very few HMOs have a financial incentive to investigate hospital birth methodology because hospitals lean towards birth methods that are cheaper in the short-term. Let me repeat this: no one is looking at the long-term implications of current birth procedures, and no one is tracking the incidence or cause of problem births.

Most women talk about the pain of childbirth and the necessary recovery time. Many of our friends have told us to listen to the hospital staff because they are professionals and know what they are doing. Then we hear the horror stories about the difficulties they experienced after administration of the Pitocin or the epidural. Somehow, people have gotten it into their heads that childbirth is something that should be regulated with drugs as intrusive as chemotherapeutical drugs. Childbirth. An experience that, unlike cancer or most other life-threatening diseases, has happened to every single person (indeed, every single animal) who is alive and who has ever been alive. Why do obstetricians treat this process, the largest and most profound experience in the life of the parents and child, like a life-threatening medical procedure?

Take the Caesarian. Sure, there are some women who need major abdominal surgery to birth their child due to unforeseen complications. Out of mothers choosing natural, normal childbirth, the rate is less than 5 percent. In the world at large, the rate is closer to 8 to 10 percent. However, in the U.S. population, the rate is over 20 percent. Why is this? As with any odd behavior, there's a variety of reasons, but the policy wonk in me is swayed that cost is the primary factor. It is expensive to allow a women to have a long labor because the hospital (and HMO) must pay for the use of the room, the time of the staff, and there is a risk - albeit a small one - that the mother is having a long labor because of a complication that could lead to a lawsuit against the hospital. In the face of cost risks, hospitals and hospital staff prefer to go with the easier and cheaper option of major abdominal surgery, the Caesarian. After all, with the C-section, the doctor makes a small incision, rips the stomach and uterus open (ripped skin tends to heal faster than sliced), and removes the baby that way. A few stitches (and -- another digression -- it has become common practice in very short time [i.e. without any sort of long-term testing period] for U.S. hospitals to use a single-stitch repair for C-section birth because it takes only 5 minutes, compared to the safer 10- to 15-minute layer-stitch) and a prescription to a regimen of drugs later (and, oh yeah, don't nurse that baby for the next few months), and everything is finished. Medical schools institutionalize these rationales, and voila! high Caesarian rate.

There's more. Ultrasound has only been in use since the early 70s. No one knows the long-term effects of exposing a fetus to ultrasound. There have been very few studies on the effect to cellular development. It's ubiquitous because it's incredibly convenient. However, it would be convenient to simply kill subnormal children, too, but no one is recommending that. My point: convenience is not an acceptable rationale to propagate a process that has the potential for vast negative implications in the real world, but this method has spread like wildfire across the medical community. Say, why don't we just siphon nuclear waste into nearby water sources? After all, there would be no short-term effects!

Hospitals often use fetal monitoring machines that attach to the baby's head and monitor the heartbeat via electronic pulses. Yes, hospital attach a machine that transmits an electric pulse to the unformed and unprotected skin over the brain of a fetus in utero. Think about that. These machines are notoriously unreliable, too, often leading hospital staff to push for quicker delivery than necessary.

Episiotomies (that's the cut to enlarge the vaginal area, men) are commonly used in hospital deliveries, despite billions of years of evidence that the episiotomy is a mostly unnecessary procedure. With a little preparation and exercise, a women should easily be able to give birth without a cut.

Vaginal Birth After Caesarian (VBAC) is currently strongly discouraged in modern obstetrics because there is a small risk that the abdominal walls will tear (especially given the incidence of single-stitch repairs) and C-sections, as I pointed out above, are shorter and more convenient procedures for hospital staff.

Finally (although there's a lot more to talk about here, I would need to consult this book and the others we've read on normal childbirth beyond this point), epidurals cause the mother to feel more pain because she can't react to her body, lead to long back labor (and Gaskin's history of back labor -- which is a bad idea, as anyone with a conception of physics and gravity could immediately grasp -- is fascinating, too, now that I think about it, similarly built around convenience for hospital staff with a side dose of prudishness for good measure), and suppress both the infant's natural breastfeeding reflex and the mother's ability to produce milk.

Gaskin's book demonstrates how topsy-turvy childbirth in the U.S. has become. Modern obstetrics treats the mother like a patient with a life-threatening disease and treats childbirth itself like a routine medical procedure to shuffle through. What sort of brave new world is this? Doctors and HMOs would doubtlessly attempt to medicate crises of conscience away. Actually, that was supposed to be a joke, but what is the prevalence of purple pills if not just that? Maybe a better way of putting it is that doctors would give Buddhist monks happy pills. Science should never alienate people from their most profound experiences (and, honestly, I can't think of experiences more life-altering than childbirth or positive action [we could also call it satori] based on real, hard, sometimes depressing soul-searching), but we have come to the point that we treat these experiences as if they were problems, not solutions.

I want to encourage any expecting couples to look into normal childbirth options. Childbirth is one of the few definitive times in your life that you can embrace the sweet mystery of life. Don't give up that experience out of fear, especially when that fear is fostered by someone's desire for profit. If Ina May's book is too hippy-dippy for you (and, unlike her book Spiritual Midwifery, I seriously doubt that anyone would find the second part of this book hippy-dippy; it greatly pleased the meat-and-potatoes policy-wonk side of my brain), look into Bradley classes, talk to the La Leche League, meet with the midwives at your local birthing center. Childbirth tops the list of experiences too precious to let fear obscure your need for wisdom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Today's been post-a-riffic. To keep my timeless words from being lost, here's some of my contributions to the ongoing music geek smart-ass-a-thon at Peoplesforum.

Worst Possible Band Names:
Death Cab for Marie Curie
Sun Ramen and his Porkestra
The Mask of Napalm Death
Tiggaz With Attitude
Ghostface Phyllis Dillah
The Cardigans of Girthly Delights
Too Much Bjork For Just One Fork
Axl of Evel
I Love You But I’ve Chosen A Horribly Pretentious Band Name
Southern Culture on the Skid Marks

Worst Album Titles:
Kind of Blue Corpse
Pastor of Muppets
Schticky Fingers
It Takes A Nation of Millions to Qualify For Penile Enhancement Surgery Now *** aksjdhuirognekjdlskajhJ!!!

Shortest Books About Music:
Prolegomena to All Future Metaphysics by Ozzy Osbourne
A Charge To Keep by Jakob Dylan
Punk: The Comprehensive History by Avril Lavigne

Worst Possible Movie Titles:
La Dolce Vito Corleone
Dementia 13 Going on 30
McCabe and Mr. Chicken
The Lady Evita
Mutiny on the Booty Call
Bring Me A Tub of Cherry Garcia
Bob & Carol & Tango & Cash
2112: A Rush Odyssey
I Know Why The Caged Heat Sings
They Shoot Horse Whisperers, Don’t They?
White Hunter, Black Gall Bladder
The Good, The Bad, and Their Lawyers
Miss Congenital Herpes
Splendor In the Grass II: Nobody Rides For Free
The Year of Living Pleasantly
I Was A Teenage Wereduck
Girls Gone Wild Bunch!
Bring Me a Head of Arugula, Garcia
Babe III: Pig in the Vichyssoise
Heck is for Heroes
The Magnificent Se7en
They Call Me MISTER Mom
A Grape In the Sun: The Prequel
They Were Extendable: The Stretch Armstrong Story
Hell’s Half Acre and 1/60th of a Mule
Kiss Me, Katie Couric
The Last Rocky Horror Picture Show
I Am Curious (George)
2 Tales 2 Cities
Eat Drink 12 Angry Men 12 Angry Women
Michael Crichton’s Comma
The Hand That Rocks the Hammock
Legal Drama With A Twist
Pretty Wombat
Ernest Kicks It Old-School!
The Scary Bad Guy Who Is Either Omniscient Or Can Move At The Speed Of Light, Or, Possibly, Both
Flat, Unfunny 90 Minutes of Hell Based On Saturday Night Live Skit That Was Too Long At Five Minutes
I Am Curious (Soylent Green)
The Man Who Would Be Queen
Gimme Shelties
I Was A Teenage Henry Kissinger
Remains of the Dizzay
Stop Making Lunch
Four Weddings And a Big-Ass Alimony Payment
Twin Peaks: Moon Walk With Me

Hell, I forgot to mention the only major outing Mrs. Obscurity and I have undertaken in the last few weeks: Andy Goldsworthy's exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art on Sunday.

We pushed Rivers and Tides up on our Netflix queue and saw it on Friday. One of my friends has been gushing about how incredible this guy's work is for well over a year, and I'm happy to say that he's absolutely correct. I love this. Goldsworthy works with found natural materials to create artwork that is ephemeral by design. One of my favorite things about the movie is the tendency to focus on Goldsworthy's hands, which are absolutely trashed by his work. My least favorite thing is the repeated interviews in which Goldsworthy tries to explain his art by saying, "It's my way of understanding X." Blah, art-talk bullshit. His wife quietly deflates him in a nice scene, and he completely lets loose with his real personality, which is nice.

Anyway, here's some Goldsworthy pictures. This is a whirlpool made of driftwood that's about to be carried off by the tide:


This is a piece made of straw and thorns that falls apart during filming:


One of his eggs, this one of ice. Amazing:


He photographs his sculptures and gives the photos long, Zen-like poetry names. I kept expecting one to be called:

crushed foot under heavy stone
fucking thing fell apart fifteen times
goddamn shit

'cause profanity is funny.

The baby room's just about ready, the bags are almost packed, and that baby's big, y'all. We're just over three weeks out from the due date. What's new? Well, I'm nervous and excited, but I think it's safe to say that's what I was feeling months ago, just less intensely. I spent a few hours last night re-reading some of the Bradley method (that's our natural childbirth method) books. Are we really ready? Of course not. But we're working on it.

One of the factoids from the Bradley workbook is that the baby's brain develops more rapidly during this month (the 8th month of pregnancy) than any other time in life. Babymama was too tired last night for me to read to the critter, so I hooked up the baby-bellyphones and listened to music to make the brain work. The albums last night were:

(just "He Loved Him Madly")


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Book 2/50 is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Christ, blogger ate my huge post about how much I like this book. Anyway, in short (because that's all I have the patience for now), Clarke's novel is impeccably plotted, her characters are fascinatingly flawed, and the naturalism is deeply organic, which is saying a lot about a book about two mid-19th century sorcerors attempting to revive the half-forgotten history of English magic. It ain't Moby Dick, but it's heads or tails above most novels out there, with brilliant observations about people's relationships with their inner selves, their friends and loved ones, and the past. The foreshadowed time bombs were laid with gentle care and many surprised me when they went off. The climax itself was some 100 pages of fever pitch battle with my desire to get to the conclusion and my enjoyment of each and every word. Anyone who dismisses this as mere genre fiction needs to get that jerking knee examined. It's all I ask for in a modern novel, especially a modern novel about a made-up history. It's very close in spirit to Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (which I also loved), but Clarke is a better writer than Stephenson, more readily able to seamlessly integrate her craft into the story. Highly recommended.

On a side note, apologies to a certain author friend whose book I haven't finished yet. I have a handful of books due back to the library soon, and this one in particular seemed likely to be unfinished if I didn't prioritize it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

In Search of Excellence (or, at least, Outstanding Achievement in that particular field).

I think I read at least 50 books a year. So, inspired by master scribe Scott Von Doviak, I'm prepared to undertake the 50 book challenge.

With no further ado, here's book no. 1:

"If They Move... Kill 'Em!": The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah - David Weddle.

If They Move... Kill 'Em%21: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah

Weddle's biography of Peckinpah is not vastly different from Marshall Fine's Bloody Sam, but it is remarkably better-written and -conceived in parts. Weddle's worst when he falls back on crap historical generalities (e.g. when he talks about the genre of Westerns and the music of the 50s and 60s as indicators of American political and cultural change -- er, no, Weddle, there's an issue of agency to consider first). Weddle's best when he breaths life into the craziness of Peckinpah's life (putting Fine's dull, repetitious prose to shame). Even taking Weddle's book on its own terms, though, I feel ambiguous about recommending it.

Peckinpah's life, like his movies, was full of struggle between instinct and self-image (or between what he was and what he wanted to be, if you will). Reading about the man adds a personal dimension to my understanding of his movies, but I don't think that the personal dimension adds much understanding. Fine's biography (in my memory) seemed like endless repetitions of "Sam got drunk and pissed off this or that person" (actual book may vary from memory). Weddle's biography indulges in a more psych 101 reading, and thus follows the narrative "Sam was trying to kill himself because of his psychological trauma and self-hatred." Like any biography, both are probably equally true and false. The more I know about him personally, I want to judge the guy harshly for how he treated his loved ones, but, really, what does it matter what I think of the man? The guy was one of the most brilliant filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, and his capacity to create great art was unparalleled (N.B. Weddle would agree with this sentiment). I think four of Peckinpah's films - TWB, Ride The High Country, Junior Bonner, and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia - would be in my Top 50 at any given time, and one - The Wild Bunch - shares the top slot of "my favorite film ever" with The Seven Samurai, no questions asked.

Someone like Peckinpah, I don't want to dwell on his pain and the shitty state of his life. I just want to see him enter his house justified.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Just saw that the House is ending the prohibition on mentioning the Senate or Senators by name, which dates back to Jefferson's term as Vice President. Between this, the removal of ethics laws pertaining to remaining in the leadership while under indictment, the threatened end of the august filibuster, the deliberate choice to use torture as a method of coercion to political prisoners (and what can those people at Guatanamo possibly know at this point? They've been in freakin' jail for 3 years!), these fuckers are demonstrating their contempt for not just the Laws of the Land but the careful system of checks and balances as laid out by our Founding Fathers. HOW CAN PEOPLE VOTE FOR THESE HYPOCRITES? Why do I have to wonder whether someone from the opposition party is even going to comment on this? How is it that no one slouching towards the side of the angels has grown some goddamn stones? Why is it even a possibility that they will capitulate to the most morally corrupt group of yahoos and know-nothings to infiltrate our government in the last century? And again, why do I even have to say this? It should be a goddamn given that the Democrats will make an issue of this. I'd tell you to watch for the response, but the silence would only break your heart.

Monday, January 03, 2005

More on my Top Ten list for 2004:

1. Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat. This is the wildest album of the last ten years, full of mini-operas that tell Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead part-stories over the most inventive music composed by ADHD indie rockers ever. Hyperbole? I'll tell you next year.

2. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born. This is Tweedy's Sister Lovers album, as raw a view into his soul as conceivably possible. Somewhere between the direct lyrics of his first three albums and the abstract lyrics on YHF, this one is a fur coat full of hidden razor blades. Those who call it boring probably hated The Wild Bunch, too. And might kick kittens, I'm not sure.

3. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs. P-sychedelic, DAMN! What do these guys sound like? Honestly, they sound like what went on in my head when I used to do drugs. References? Lessee: a bit o' the Godz, some SMiLE-era Beach Boys, Faust, Simon & Garfunkel, Os Mutantes (also a big influence on the Fiery Furnaces, whowoulddathunkit?), Holy Modal Rounders, Flaming Lips, Spacemen 3, I give up. They wack.

4. Mike Watt – The Secondman’s Middle Stand. Post-punk's standard-bearer goes prog. Watt cuts the guitar from his trio and adds a Hammond B-3 organ, then tells the story of his illness and near-death from a burst perineum with constant allusions to the Divine Comedy. Did I mention that it's funny as hell? This guy should be on the dollar bill.

5. Liars – They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. That's right, two concept albums in a row. If you count Blueberry Boat, Milk Man, and A Grand Don't Come For Free (not to mention the extra-special category for SMiLE), 2004 was The Year Of The Prog for me. This one is a creepy, electronica-heavy concept album about Walpurgisnacht as told by both villagers and witches. And it's good! Again, bucking the odds here.

6. Mission of Burma – ONoffON. Why, yes, I do like rock music for its own sake, too. MoB deliver the goods, despite their brief (23 year) hiatus.

7. Deerhoof - Milk Man. A concept album (again!) about a dream monster, as delivered in Deerhoof's traditional avant-rock meets Japanese pop stylings. This is the catchiest Deerhoof album ever. I hated it at first, but found myself unable to sleep at night without getting a small fix. It's a gateway album.

8. Will Johnson – Vultures Await. With too much piano for a proper Centro-Matic release, this sleepy, pointed album had to come out under Will Johnson's own name. Beautiful stuff.

9. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free. Q: Why is this here and not Madvillainy? A: I am a goober and like the same. Awkward delivery and stiff beats can't keep the narrative force of this album down. Nice stuff and thanks to Jim for the tip.

10. TV on the Radio - Desperate Youths, Bloodthirsty Babes. Freakin' great. TVOTR sing about existential crises as if they were at a Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting with passionate, insistent musical backing.

Best album of 1967 that I never expected to hear in my lifetime: Brian Wilson - SMiLE. What an amazing time to be alive, when this can see the light of day. Yeah, it's stiffer than the fragments from the original sessions, but good lord. It's like Bach deciding that he couldn't finish his Brandenburg Concertos, so he just sat on them for 40 years. If I were ranking this as a 2004 album, it would be #2 on that list above. But I'm not; this is a special case.

Other albums I considered: Mekons - Punk Rock, Iron & Wine - Endless Numbered Days, Madvillain - Madvillainy, Shearwater – Winged Life. I recently got copies of albums by Oneida, Comets on Fire, Panda Bear, and Cul de Sac/Damo Suzuki that I need to digest before really considering them for the purposes of this list. Panda Bear's album is abstract folk (which makes sense 'cause he's a member of Animal Collective) centered around wordless vocals, acoustic guitar, and analog ambient noise. I understand that it's a mournful song cycle about the death of his father. I'm sure there are other interpretations, because it's basically Abstract Expressionist indie-folk. Oneida is krautrock-influenced drone-and-groove music with a sense of humor. I'd first heard them on a split EP they did with the Liars a few years ago, but this is the first full album of theirs I've heard. They have a great melodic sense, which plays well with the noisy krautrock-ish rhythms. Comets on Fire play swollen guitar-heavy psychedelia, as if the 13th Floor Elevators hooked up White Light/White Heat-era VU for an echo chamber orgy. Finally, the Cul de Sac & Damo Suzuki album sounds, very simply, like slightly more out-there live Can (with a bit of Court of the Crimson King thrown in for good measure).

More news: we purchased a new 2004 Honda Element last week. Yummy!

Fetal music last night:
Schubert, Quintet for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major with Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma
Animal Collective - Sung Tongs

Finally: Eppy at Clap Clap Blog quoted my entire e-mail to him on the Fiery Furnaces' "Mason City" in his typically brilliant analysis. He has also rearranged the narrative parts of the album in chronological order. Check it out!

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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