Gates Arrest

The big news in Cambridge these days is that the police arrested a
Harvard professor for having trouble with the key to his
apartment building. Here’s a Boston Globe story about what the
professor, William Gates, was up to in 2004.
If you want the raw data about the arrest, here’s the

If I were having trouble getting into my building, I would
expect more sympathy from both the neighbors and the police than
it looks like Gates got. Some people who commented on the news
reports said that it looked to them like Gates played the race
card awfully soon, but I think his judgement was correct that
the difference between what I’d expect and what he was getting
was because he’s a large black man and I’m a small white woman.

I would also expect that people would cut me some slack if
under the circumstances I were a little upset or angry. I think
there’s a lot of reason to suspect that the Cambridge police
don’t all have enough experience doing this.

In any case, as a Cambridge taxpayer and homeowner, I expect
that if someone sees what they think is a breakin, the police
will ask for ID. No matter how rude the “suspect” is, if the ID
reveals that the “breakin” is to the person’s actual residence,
I would expect the police to either go away or be helpful.

I certainly hope the people running the city figure out a way
to make this go away without wasting lots of taxpayer money on lawyers.

La Marseillaise

Since I recommended reading the Declaration of Independance on
July 4, I decided to recommend reading (or, better, singing) La Marseillaise on July 14, Bastille Day.

It isn’t as strong of a recommendation; the writing really
isn’t as good, nor are the sentiments as elevating.

But you really have to understand 19th century European
nationalism to have any shot at understanding the way the world
is still organized in the 21st century. So you should read this
as well as the patriotic songs of other countries. And for
understanding why you should oppose war on almost all occasions,
there still isn’t any text better than Psalm

has several versions of translations into English. The
one done by a French committee is interesting — I’d love to see a
summary of the discussion that led to “patrie” being translated “Motherland”.

If you’re in this area, we’ll sing all or most of the verses
tonight at the Cantabile Band
rehearsal tonight.

The Amazing Mrs. Palin

I didn’t think until this morning to connect Sarah Palin to the
tv show The
Amazing Mrs. Pritchard
, which describes a supermarket manager
who becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain.

The New York Times has an article
this morning
about the ways the Republican establishment attempted to advise
her on how to become one of them. The quote that struck me was:

Mr. Malek [described earlier in the article as “a longtime Republican
kingmaker”] said he told Ms. Palin that “You have got to set up a mechanism so you can return calls.”

“You are getting a bad rap,” he recalled saying. “Important people are
trying to talk to you. And she said, ‘What number are they
calling?’ She did not know what had been happening.”

I am someone who frequently tries to organize people whose desire
to be in touch with the world isn’t ardent enough to have forced
them to organize the possible ways of getting in touch with them
so that there’s a reliable way to make contact. That “What number
are they calling?” sounds really familiar. You have work phones
and home phones and cell phones and email addresses and fax
numbers, and nobody could possibly check all of those all the
time, so if you hear that someone has tried the wrong one, you
tell your informant what the right one this week is. And I can
see where kingmakers aren’t used to dealing with
people like this. In my part of the world, even successful
organizers on a much lower level than the ones who run campaigns
for Governor are better organized about how to tell people how to
get in touch with them than this.

As I remember the TV show, Mrs. Pritchard does have some
trouble adjusting to living in the middle of the mechanisms set
up so that a Prime Minister’s phone calls get returned and
commitments get recorded. It’s part of the unreality of the
format that it’s a temporary adjustment difficulty that gets
wrapped up in a 50-minute show. But it’s also part of the
portrayal of Mrs. Pritchard as an unusually intelligent woman that
she does realize the necessity of the mechanisms.

Last Chance Harvey

This movie was a disappointment. Obviously
anyone who’s a huge fan of either Dustin Hoffman or Emma
Thompson is going to want to watch it. I won’t say we’re
wrong to want that, but really, there are better ways to spend
an evening. It’s slow-moving and in spite of a lot of really
good acting, not really a very convincing plot. You do believe
that they’re attracted to each other, but not that they really
convince themselves to give up their whole lives for each other
in less than a week.

I have a subjective reason for disliking movies where Dustin
Hoffman looks old — I graduated from high school the summer The Graduate came out, so I basically think of
him as my age. This is an oversimplification — the character
in The Graduate has just graduated from college,
not high school, and of course Dustin Hoffman was quite
a bit older than the character he was playing. So he’s actually fourteen years older than I am, but I still think of him as
a contemporary.

I no longer have the problem I had for quite a while after
reading Heartburn by Norah Ephron. Because he
played Carl Bernstein (Ephron’s ex-husband) in All the Presidents’
, I kept thinking of him as the person who was so mean
to Norah Ephron. But since the movie of
Heartburn came out, I now know it was Jack
Nicholson who was so mean to Norah Ephron, and that’s really an
easier fiction to sustain.

Wendy and Lucy

This was the most upsetting movie I’ve seen in a while. I
remember hearing a story on the radio about the R rating it got
seeming inappropriately “adult”. The story’s point of view was that if kids can
handle sex and violence, they should be able to handle a story
about a car breaking down.

I’ll avoid spoilers, as had the reviews I had read before I saw
the movie, because it would be a different movie if the viewer
knew the ending in advance.

But I think the reviewer who complained about the R rating
may have missed how violent (including a rape scene) the movie really
was. The rape scene is actually quite tame compared with the
scene where Wendy’s taken away to the police station, leaving her
dog (Lucy) in a clearly inappropriate place. This is what leads
to her having to sleep in the woods without the protection of the
dog, and hence to the rape.

So not only did I spend a good deal of time explaining to Sunny that what
happens in the movie isn’t going to happen to us, but I’ve also
been thinking about all the white-collar violence that’s been done
to me that really did hurt more than the couple of minor assaults
I’ve been victim of.

The most recent one was the crabby neighbor who lived next door
to Bonnie, who decided (without having seen the inside of the
house) that the way we were approching cleaning it up for sale was
the wrong thing to do. She interfered several times with the way
we left trash out, and probably reported our “violations” (putting
trash cans out at 6PM instead of waiting until 10) to the town.

I can understand a town needing to have limits on how much
trash can be left on the sidewalk for how long. But in this case,
the reason we had so much trash to leave was that Bonnie had been
too sick to be taking it out every week for quite a long time, so
in my opinion, they could have cut us a little slack.

Luckily, Bonnie turned out to also have some nice neighbors,
who asked what they could do to help, so I asked them if they’d
take the trash out after 10. They were surprised that that was
necessary, since apparently it isn’t a rule that’s enforced unless
someone complains (hence my theory about the crabby neighbor), but
they were very helpful when I assured them it was a real

Anyway, none of this is anything like as bad as losing your dog
because of an encounter with the police, but it really does make
you shake with rage and frustration for at least as long as some
actual violence.

To get back to the movie, it’s very well done, but watch it
when you’re prepared to be upset.

Little Dorrit

I watched the last episode of the television adaptation on
Sunday, and finished rereading the book yesterday.

It’s a good adaptation, and the plot of the book is convoluted
enough that seeing the adaptation helps in reading the book, even
if you’re used to the
the convoluted plots of nineteenth century novels and soap

Of course, an eight hour TV show has to leave out a lot of
stuff from a 900 page book. I was especially sorry to lose the
impoverished music publisher. (He’s Mrs. Plornish’s father, who
at the beginning of the book is living in the Workhouse so as
not to take food out of the mouths of the Plornish

I think even the experienced adaptors who did this one chafed
at the restrictions, because the end seemed unusually
compressed, leaving us with no idea of what happens to several
characters who have been fairly carefully described (most
notably Minnie Meagles and her husband).

Of course, Dickens’ treatment of the business tycoon who steals
from one fund to pay off the investors in other funds and finally
loses money for all the main characters seems especially

The subplot where Miss Wade convinces Tattycorum (Harriet) to
leave her employment with the Meagles and live with her is a
little harder to translate to the twentyfirst century. One
reviewer suggested this was because of the hint of a lesbian
affair, but actually Dickens does hint at that. Mr. Meagles says
to Miss Wade:

‘If it should
happen that you are a woman, who, from whatever cause, has a perverted
delight in making a sister-woman as wretched as she is (I am old enough
to have heard of such), I warn her against you, and I warn you against

The problem is
that we are initially inclined to sympathize with Harriet for
feeling oppressed and ignored, where Dickens really believes she
should be grateful and submissive to such excellent people who are
being so kind to her.

Here are a few notes on things I picked up on on this reading
that you might not have noticed.

White Sand and Grey Sand
This is mentioned when Mr. Panks is hanging around the
Marshalsea while he’s researching Mr. Dorrit’s inheritance. He
explains to Amy and Mr. Clennam,

‘I am spending the evening with the rest of ’em,’ said Pancks. ‘I’ve
been singing. I’ve been taking a part in White sand and grey sand.
I don’t know anything about it. Never mind. I’ll take any part in
anything. It’s all the same, if you’re loud enough.’

It’s actually a round — the person who taught it to me thought
it was Ravenscroft, but I don’t find it there.

Prunes and Prisms
I first ran into this phrase in Little Women, where Jo says
to Laurie:

“Hold your tongue!” cried Jo, covering her ears. “‘Prunes
and prisms’ are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to
it. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me
skip to think of.”

If I’d thought of it, I would have known it was a quotation, and would
have probably guessed it was Dickens, but I wouldn’t have
guessed anything as good as what Mrs. General tells Amy Dorrit
when explaining why it’s more genteel and feminine to say “Papa”
than “Father”.

‘Papa is a preferable mode of address,’ observed Mrs General. ‘Father is
rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to
the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very
good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it
serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to
yourself in company–on entering a room, for instance–Papa, potatoes,
poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.’

I also learned a new word. It means having a florid, ruddy
face. It occurs describing the customers at the inn in the
Swiss alps:

The third party, which had ascended from the valley
on the Italian side of the Pass, and had arrived first, were four in
number: a plethoric, hungry, and silent German tutor in spectacles, on
a tour with three young men, his pupils, all plethoric, hungry, and
silent, and all in spectacles.

The derivation is from plethora, implying that the face is red because
of a plethora of blood.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The book by Margaret Attwood is
one of my favorites. In fact, it’s the first Margaret Attwood I read — the
New York Times ran a review by Mary McCarthy
which as I remember it was a bit snarky, but it convinced me I’d
be interested in the book, so I went to Harvard Square (probably
the late, lamented Wordsworth) and bought it. Then I read and
mostly bought all her other books.

I wasn’t getting to the movies much in 1990 when this one came
out, so it wasn’t until looking at Natasha Richardson‘s filmography after she died that I remembered
that I wanted to see it and put it on my netflix list.

It’s a good movie — visually quite beautiful, with two stellar
performances by Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall, and good
acting and writing all around.

It’s mostly pretty faithful to the book, with the amount left
out that you have to leave out to keep a movie under two hours,
and things made explicit that are implicit in the book to make
it easier to comprehend in two hours.

The big disappointment, though, was that they changed the
setting. The book is actually one of the great Cambridge novels
— as a long-time Cambridge resident, I can almost tell you
where the Red Center and the Commander’s house are, and the
Savaging takes place in Harvard Yard. I also know exactly what
store is currently on the corner in Harvard Square where the “Prayer
Store” is, which Ofglen can’t remember what used to be there.

My theory while I was watching was that Harvard had decided it
didn’t want to have a state-sponsored lynching filmed on its
precincts. IMDB says that filming in Harvard
Square would be too difficult, and Harvard has a “no filming”
policy in general. This is probably not quite true — weren’t
both Paper Chase and Love story filmed there?

In any case, read the book, if you want both Cambridge local
color and a chilling reminder that it can happen here.
If you want a beautifully filmed experience that
causes you to be able to really feel what it would be like to
plunge a knife into a powerful man’s neck, watch the movie.

If you haven’t read any Margaret Attwood, they’re all pretty
good. I would start with either this one or Cat’s
if you can stand remembering elementary school that
well. Her essays and poems are also worth reading.

Primary Care Providers and the death of Bonnie Rogers

This is part of my series of posts about the death of my
friend Bonnie

As I reported in the post Timeline of
Bonnie’s death
, she was having unusual problems with lack
of energy for a couple of months, and serious problems breathing
for a couple of weeks before she managed to call her doctor and
make an appointment.

I had urged her to talk to the doctor as soon as she told me
about the breathing problems. I didn’t feel vindicated by her
doctor’s response, which was in fact a complete misdiagnosis,
and not at all what they do on doctor shows on TV (except occasionally

She wrote me:

The doctor says I have mild anemia and should take an iron supplement,
but she has ordered some kind of test for pulmonary hypertension as
well as a colonoscopy some time in the near future. Pulmonary
hypertension is relatively rare, but from the descriptions on the
internet it makes sense that it might be the underlying problem. I
don’t remember what the name of the test is.

Please avoid mentioning pulmonary hypertension [to the group]. … I’d like to avoid it at least until I
really know what’s going on. I’m going to try to just speak
nonchalantly about anemia if the subject of my health comes up.

I was quite sure that Bonnie’s breathing problems weren’t “mild
anemia”, and in any case even mild anemia in a post-menopausal
woman usually points to something else wrong. (That doctors accept it in
menstruating women is a problem, but that’s another post.)

But the doctor had never seen Bonnie before, and she was obese
enough that it wouldn’t surprise someone who didn’t know her that
she should get out of breath easily. Those of us who knew how
seldom she complained about anything, and how active she managed
to be even with major disabilities, knew that her complaining
about being out of breath meant that something serious was wrong.

I like to think that my own doctor, whom I’ve been seeing since
1995, knows how seriously to take my complaints, but she might
well do only the minimum testing on someone she didn’t know with
an obvious diagnosis of obesity compounded with anemia, too.

But to continue Bonnie’s story, when she went to the emergency
room the next day, she was admitted to the hospital with a
diagnosis of blood clots in the lungs. The testing in the
hospital lead to a diagnosis of cancer in the abdominal cavity.
When they released her, they made appointments with both the
primary care physician (PCP) and an oncologist, neither of which was she
able to keep because she needed to go back into the hospital.

After I got the power of attorney and started getting Bonnie’s
mail forwarded to me, I got several notices of appointments, and
postcards saying to call for checkups, even after she had died.
So the record system leaves something to be desired.

This is a clear case of a managed care system not managing a
serious illness very well. I personally have always used managed
care when it was available to me, and I think it works very well
if you do some of the managing yourself. As I said, I’ve kept the
same doctor (actually a nurse practitioner) for well over a
decade, and when something serious happens that she isn’t involved
in, she seems to get records and ask me questions about what she
wants to know that isn’t in the record.

Bonnie had had to switch
plans in the year previous to this story because of going on
medicare, and had not been especially aggressive about getting an
introductory appointment with her new doctor. I’d say one of the
morals of Bonnie’s story is that this was a mistake, and she
should have tried to establish an ongoing relationship with a
primary care provider. Then she would have felt better about
making the appointment when she first noticed problems, and maybe
the doctor would have known to take her complaints more

I should add that the obesity probably contributed to this part
of the problem, too. When Bonnie saw a new doctor, she was
usually given some fairly routine advice about weight loss, which
she had of course heard and thought about many times before, and
usually didn’t find she could communicate her disagreement with
its application to
her own case very well in that context. So she didn’t look
forward to the initial encounter with a PCP.

MBT Shoes

I bought these
a couple of weeks ago, and thought I’d tell you about

The hype for MBT
is pretty aggressive, but at least some of it is
true. I haven’t lost thirty pounds in two weeks, or gotten to
really like standing in one place for hours at a time, but I
do feel there’s less strain on my joints when I walk and I
have better posture and I can
stand for a few minutes more easily.

Before buying them, I worried whether the rocking back and
forth would make me feel unbalanced. This is in general not
the case, but it is a little harder to walk on really uneven

I also worried about whether the oddly shaped sole would be a
problem for driving. It isn’t, but the first time I went to
stop at a red light, the extra height at the middle of the
sole did make the stop more sudden than I wanted. It’s easy
to get used to, though.

Some people have reported aching all over after their first
long walk in their first pair of MBT’s. I haven’t taken a
really long walk, but 2 and 3 miles doesn’t seem to do this to

I also thought they might look wierder than they do — the
oddly shaped sole isn’t really obvious from above, which is
how most people see your shoes. I never wear high-fashion
shoes with heels anyway, and there seems to be a fairly wide
range of styles and colors if you don’t need women’s high fashion.

It’s probably a good idea to find a place to try them on before
buying them cheaper by mail order. I didn’t do that, and I’m
not absolutely sure that a 38 wouldn’t have been better than a
37. In US sizes, I take a 6 1/2 women’s. This seems to be
much better standardized than most sizing — some 6 1/2’s fit
me better than others, but a 6 1/2 always seems to fit better
than a 6 or a 7.

However, if you convert to European sizes, I take a 37 in a
Birkenstock, which many sizing charts claim corresponds to a
US women’s 7. So I ordered a 37 for the MBT. It fits really
well through the heel, but is a little bit tighter than I
really like in the toes. So before I order another pair, I’ll
go somewhere and try a 38.

On Not Programming

I didn’t realize until after I posted yesterday that it was Ada Lovelace Day, for
appreciating the contributions of women programmers.

So this morning I started thinking about what I should have
posted. My first idea was that there’s a program I’ve been planning
to write for some time, so maybe the right thing was to write it
and then to post appreciating my own accomplishment.

So I started thinking about how to write the program, and the
next thing that happened was that I figured out a way to not write
it at all, but to use already written software. This means I not
only don’t have to write it, but I don’t have to test and debug
it, and potentially miss a bug and publish a bad

To the extent that I was a successful programmer, I think a lot
of my accomplishments were of that ilk — rather than churning out
tons of code, I could sometimes solve a problem by creative use of
code that was already there. I learned some of what I knew about
how and why to do this from a woman I worked for in the late
seventies, Jacqui Horwitz, who had done a successful
implementation of a computerized medical records system by
adapting an existing system rather than writing one from

In that job, there were 4 programmers, 2 men and 2 women, and I
eventually found out what all our starting salaries had been.
Both men had significantly less previous experience than both
women, and less idea how to go about solving a problem, and larger starting salaries.

One thing I consistently refused to do in my career as a
programmer was to write lines-of-code counting programs. (Someone
else always wrote them; there wasn’t much solidarity in the
software world.) The
reason management wanted them was that they had the idea that you
could measure productivity by counting lines of code. This was
clearly wrong.

I don’t want to make grandiose claims for these anecdotes as
illustrating why women’s contributions are undervalued, but if
they illuminate that subject, or any subject, for you, I’m glad.