2007 Notebook: Weak XXV
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18 June 2007
No. 8,354 (cartoon)
You can’t be young forever.

I can be immature ad nauseam.

19 June 2007
Dead Man Smile
One hundred and ninety-two years ago last night, Napoleon Bonaparte had sort of a bad evening. I say “sort of,” since he survived the Battle of Waterloo. That’s more than the twenty-five thousand French, English, Dutch, and Prussian soldiers who died in vicious combat could say.

The dead soldiers covering the fields proved to be a cash crop for the shadowy men who quickly relieved the corpses of their valuables, including teeth.

In 1815, no one had come up with a good way of making artificial dentures. (Well, the Etruscans had two and a half millennia previously, but that knowledge hadn’t made it to Europe by then.) As a result, the best dentures were made from human teeth.

Most dentists got their teeth from “resurrectionists,” or grave robbers. Moral and ethical considerations aside, the problem with these teeth was their poor quality. On the other hand, a young man who died from a cannon ball passing through his chest left behind some pretty good teeth. So good, in fact, that the premium dentures of the time were proudly referred to by the London elite as “Waterloo teeth.” (Vanity took precedence over the fact that the teeth may have been yanked from the mouth of a fellow Englishman.)

Completely artificial dentures became both practical and affordable a few decades later, but London dentists preferred human teeth. And so, the battlefield plunderers during the American Civil War found a good market in England.

There’s something about a cold, English smile.

20 June 2007
A Surgery Story
I saw a curious headline, “Surgeon Removes Gall Bladder From Mouth.” I read the article to find out why a routine procedure merited a news report.

It turns out that Dr. Lee Swanstrom performed an unusual operation at the Oregon Clinic that involved sliding tiny instruments down the patient’s throat. Swanstrom cut through the patient’s stomach, then pulled the gall bladder out through her mouth. I agreed with the editors; such a clever and complex procedure was indeed newsworthy.

The reason I initially questioned the article’s merit was that I was unaware that the gall bladder wasn’t in the mouth. Once again, my profound ignorance—combined with my extremely low entertainment threshold—made for an enjoyable morning.

21 June 2007
Another Surgery Story

Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Orange County made a mistake while operating on a small child; they performed surgery on the wrong ear. Last year, physicians at the same California hospital cut a hole in the wrong side of a boy’s skull when they went fishing for a brain tumor.

Some people might snigger at such mistakes, but not me. It’s easy for me to envision standing over an unconscious body with a saw, trying to figure out how to decipher my instructions, “cut off left foot.” My left or the patient’s left? That sounds like one of those Zen questions that no one can answer with certainty.

Surgery isn’t as easy as it looks; that’s one of the many reasons I chose to be an artist. I bury my mistakes unnoticed, with impunity.

22 June 2007
Millennia of Utensil Progress Ignored
I met Derek at Szechuan Scorcher for lunch; it’s one of the few Chinese restaurants in San Francisco that will serve people of noncolor ridiculously spicy meals.

“Chopsticks or fork?” the waiter asked Derek.

“Chopsticks, please,” Derek replied, “that way I can’t eat too fast.”

“I agree with my friend’s reasoning,” I answered, “so please bring me a fork.”

Why a billion people still eat their food with twigs in this day and age, this I do not know.

23 June 2007
O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He
As noted previously, Cliff Arnall concluded with alleged scientific precision that 22 January 2007 was the saddest day of the year. The health psychologist at Cardiff University also determined that today is the happiest day of the year by using this formula: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He.

    O: Being outdoors and outdoor activity.

    N: Nature.

    S: Social interaction.

    Cpm: Childhood summers and positive memories.

    T: Temperature.

    He: Holidays and looking forward to time off.

As usual, I’m skeptical. How did he measure, “nature?” I don’t give much credence to Arnall’s dodgy rationale, either.

    “Happiness is associated with many things in life and can be triggered by a variety of events. Whether it’s a sunny day, a childhood memory, or something as effortless as eating a delicious ice cream, I wanted my formula to prove the key to happiness can really be that simple.”

It turns out that Arnall’s “research” was sponsored by the huge English ice cream conglomerate, Wall’s. And Arnall’s saddest day investigation was commissioned by Sky Travel, which may or may not by why the academic suggested in January, “A holiday could be just the solution to cheer everyone up.”

24 June 2007
Another Comedian to Die in Front of Tough Audience
Most of us will never know when or how we’ll die. That knowledge is readily available to Patrick Knight, a prisoner sentenced to death in Texas. He decided to make the best of his imminent demise, so he’s soliciting jokes in order to die laughing.

At least that’s what he claims. I suspect his real motive is to annoy the civic servants assigned to kill him.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first time anybody has told a joke as their last words,” noted Texas Department of Criminal Justice flack Michelle Lyons. “Everybody who is there takes it very seriously and will not be participating in the joke, so knock-knock jokes are out.”

I wonder if the executioners will keep a straight face? I think figuratively dying in front of a tough audience before literally dying would be a really terrible way to go. On the other hand, at least he won’t remember anything the next morning.

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25 June 2007
Isabella’s Mnemonic Lobster
Most people I know write their password on a small, yellow piece of paper stuck on their computer monitor. Isabella, however, uses a garishly-colored, plastic lobster as a mnemonic device to remember her password, “lobster.”

I told Isabella that it wasn’t a good idea to have such a simple password, let alone tell everyone what it is. And, not unlike almost all of my other learned friends, she wasn’t interested in my advice. She explained that being impersonated or having her identity stolen were remote possibilities, whereas forgetting her password was a familiar problem with known consequences.

Isabella’s lobster logic is peccable but practical.

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©2007 David Glenn Rinehart