Zhaba Zhournal
Monday, September 29, 2003 
Forest for the Trees Department 
From a Space.com article about the current favorable planet-viewing conditions:
Here is a trivia question: How many planets are visible without a telescope? Most people will answer "five" (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). But if you answered "six," congratulations, you can go to the head of the class!

That sixth world that can be spied without optical aid is the planet Uranus.
[Clears throat.] Um, seven. Look down, buddy.

[ at 12:01 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Ever seen German text in Comic Sans MS? It's a bit of a mind-fuck, especially on this page about Kant. I'm not saying it's all gotta be that unreadable Fraktur font, but Comic Sans just doesn't seem to fit...

[ at 10:45 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, September 26, 2003 
Thought of the day 
There are people who enjoy pain, but I bet nobody enjoys itching.

(grumble grumble frickin' mosquitos...)

[ at 4:58 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Test testiness 
Okay, I know Web sites need to make money, especially the ones with popular free features. But sneaking the commercial stuff into the popular free features? That's like sneaking shredded prunes into a kid's hamburger and hoping he doesn't notice.

To wit: Emode.com's "What's Your Cat's Type?" test. Looks like a regular Emode test, a fun way to kill time...although question 4, "I buy different types of food to give my cat lots of variety," seems uncharacteristically dull...and on the next page, question 7, is definitely getting at something: "I purchase brands that provide nutrition to build my cat's system to protect it from illness and injury." And question 12 gets right to it: "It's important to feed my cat the best food I can even if it's more expensive." Ahem. This ain't much of a cat personality test, is it? It's more of a cat-owning consumer personality test.

As you might suspect, when you click the button to finish, you get this:
While Emode calculates Your Cat's Type, take this opportunity to enroll with Friskies and receive special offers designed specifically for your cat.
With a whole heap of questions about how many cats/dogs you have, what you feed them, how often you buy food...yeah, okay, I get it, you're the masterminds behind this test. And the most annoying thing is, it's not even a particularly fun or interesting test. There's four, count 'em, four cat "types," which are so generic as to apply to pretty much nothing. I'm not expecting deep, insightful answers from Emode; still, I expect at least the entertainment level and variety of, say, "What Breed of Dog Are You?"

Look, I know they've got to make money. And I don't mind them have sponsors. But I don't like having the sponsors worked right into the test. Or having a test that's just a thinly-veiled advertising and data-collecting tool.

Okay, I'm probably creating a tempest in a Lenox Swedish LodgeTM Teapot, available at Bed Bath & Beyond for only $89.99 plus $9.95 for standard shipping. And if I'm doing something as silly as taking online tests I guess I can't take too high of a moral high ground. Still: It's annoying. And sneaky. Go hire a focus group or something, willya? And you'd better not be putting any shredded prunes in that cat food, you hear?

[ at 10:55 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Thursday, September 25, 2003 
Hey, they're good for something! 
At last, our elected officials have done something useful: House Votes to Reinstate "Do Not Call" List. When was the last time the government acted this fast to do, well, anything that we little people wanted?

[ at 2:45 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, September 24, 2003 
"Hi-yo Silver, awaaaayyyyyyyy...." [splat] 
Snapple fact of the day:
In 1985, the fastest bicyclist was clocked at 154 mph.
Yikes. What was he doing, being dropped out of a plane?

Update: First of all, it was 152.2 mph. Second, he was on the Bonneville Salt Flat, cycling behind a pace car designed to keep all the wind off him so there'd be almost no aerodynamic drag. (Which you can read about, and see pictures of, at 152 MPH Pedal Bicycle.)

Y'know, I think that's more impressive as a feat of engineering than one of actual bicycling speed...

Incidentally, the fastest bicyclist without a pace car got up to 63 mph, according to this Physics of Sports page. Now that I'm actually impressed by.

[ at 12:36 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, September 23, 2003 
J. Ho-hum, or, "Is that a pistol in your pocket?" 
Raise your hand if you give three shakes of a flying rat's ass about J. Lo and Ben.

Yeah, me neither.

I do, however, like this paragraph from the latest "Oh My God It's More Stuff About Those People!" story, in which the ersatz übercouple set off marriage rumors by going to a courthouse in Georgia:
"They were also asking where Mr. Affleck could get a pistol toter's permit," [court clerk Barry] Wilkes said, adding the couple were directed to the probate judge's office. Since that is the same office that issues marriage licenses, rumors of nuptials flared.
Um...what's he want a gun permit for? I don't know about you, but it seems to me to be more of an indication that the relationship is going to be very, very over soon...

[ at 3:05 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

It speaks! 
So Bush just addressed the U.N.—so recently I can't even find a transcript—but my New York Times news alert includes this sentence:
He also proposed making the spread of weapons of mass destruction a crime under international law.
[Raises hand] Mr. President, does that include our weapons of mass destruction? Or just the ones belonging to people we don't like at the moment?

[ at 11:41 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Saturday, September 20, 2003 
Hm. Apparently I'm sexist.

A while ago the Swedish foreign minister was stabbed, and now an Iraqi council member has been shot.

Disturbing thing #1: I automatically assumed they were both men. Disturbing thing #2: Not because they were in positions of political power, but because they were, or were almost, assassinated. Disturbing thing #3: And I'm much more disturbed at the idea of women being assassinated than men. It just hits me at a much more visceral level. Is the "protect the women and children" idea so deeply ingrained in my conscience, our conscience, our culture, most cultures? Heck, even hunters shoot stags rather than does. (It's also disturbing that I'm not surprised to hear about women being murdered by their boyfriends/husbands/abductors/assaulters; that "domestic" killings of women are, while still appalling, not contrary to expectation.)

I dunno. It just ain't right, okay?

Disclaimer: Don't you go assassinating anybody now, you hear? And by the way, CIA, how's Castro?

[ at 1:31 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, September 19, 2003 
In the movies 
The New York Times review of the new Woody Allen movie (that would be "Anything Else") has come right out and said what I imagine we've all been thinking:
It helps that Mr. Allen, whom I am alarmed to find looking more like my late grandfather every time I see him, has declined to cast himself as the romantic lead.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I realize that Allen's wife is young enough to be his...oh, wait, she is his daughter. (Adopted, I know. It's still creepy.) But just because he still gets the babes in his personal life doesn't mean anyone wants to see him getting the babes on screen. Especially since he doesn't have the dubious qualification of being a particularly attractive aging actor. (I can see how babes would dig, say, Harrison Ford. But Woody Allen? Yeesh.)

I also like the line at the end of the review, where they sum up the reasons for the R rating:
It has many sexual references and a few sex scenes—none of them, thank goodness, featuring the director.
Again I say, a big ol' "yes" to that...

[ at 9:01 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, September 17, 2003 
Quote of the day 
In Latin, even. I found this while browsing the Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, as I am wont to do:
Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (When they create a desolation, they call it peace.)

—Calcagus, leader of the Caledonians,
before a battle with the Romans in A.D. 84.

(I don't suppose he was actually speaking Latin; but that's how Tacitus recorded it.)

Just kinda stuck in my mind, with all those bomb-'em-and-leave-'em wars we've been having...

(The Caledonians lost, by the way.)

[ at 9:06 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, September 12, 2003 
Here we go again? 
Well, darn. I hope this isn't the start of another celebrity death week, like we had back in June. Johnny Cash has died at 71, and John Ritter at 54. Now, Johnny Cash was not looking any too healthy, and 71 is a respectable age at which to die; but yikes, 54? Without any previous outward signs of ill-health?

It turns out that Ritter died of an aortic dissection, a nearly-always-fatal heart condition that my aunt suffered from, but survived, earlier this year. If anyone wants to read about it, here are the links:

Wednesday, May 21: "Not good." My first post after it happened, when she was still unconscious and her chances of survival seemed slim.

Friday, May 23: "Less not-good." She was beginning to recover; I also posted about how small my family is, and how much anyone's major illness affects us.

Tuesday, May 27: "Good!" She was up and about and going home; the doctors were calling her the "miracle patient." Amen to that...

[ at 9:29 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Thursday, September 11, 2003 
As for today... 
  • Looks like the newscasters have gotten around the "can't wear patriotic stuff because it's not journalistically neutral" by wearing black today.

    (I don't know what they're wearing on the Fox "News" Channel, though. And no, I'm not going to go check.)

  • Just about everyone else I saw was wearing some degree or combination of red, white, or blue; of course, I'm in South Philly, where patriotism is right up there with Catholicism. I tried to count the patriotic insignia on the houses on one block and lost track halfway down. The ne plus ultra (on that block, at least) was definitely the house with the picture of Jesus casting rays of red, white, and blue light.

  • Fortunately for the entertainment industry, a quirk of the calendar means that September 11th will move from Thursday this year to Saturday next year; it won't fall on a Friday until 2009. So it'll be a while before anyone has to promote a movie by saying "Get ready for a fun-filled, laugh-a-minute ride when [whatever] opens on September 11th!" (I'm not sure that would dissuade the entertainment industry in any case...)

[ at 9:40 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

9/11, on paper 
I don't have any "on this day in 2001" blog or journal entries to link to; I was in paper-journal-only–mode then. I've been feeling like I should type up some of my paper-journal entries, and I guess 9/11 is as good a place as any to start. Herewith, exactly what I wrote...

I don't think I've ever seen a sky without planes.

Popol i Diamant aside, lighting vodka doesn't seem to work.

Oddly enough, my spoken-aloud salute/toast/whatever was almost entirely not in English. Egyptian, Ukrainian, Arabic, Hebrew, yes; in English, only "Peace" and "Amen." Which sums it up, I guess.

Oh, and Latin.

Requiem aeternam dona eis domine.

You know you're in trouble when they evacuate the Speaker of the House...

On the bright side, as J. pointed out, we're a hell of a lot more secure right now than anyone in Afghanistan.

I seem to be somewhat of a wimp. Just as the reaction I imagine myself having on the Titanic is inhaling a lot of water right away, the reaction I imagine having to a current disaster is swallowing every pill I have on me and hoping it knocks me out.

Well, not much I can do about being an inherent wimp, I guess. And drug-induced unconsciousness strikes me as being a better way out than jumping from a 100th-floor window.

It takes a surprisingly long time for a very tall building to collapse. And all you really see is the dust cloud going lower, as if it were climbing down the tower.

This is why it's a good thing we don't have earthquakes and tornadoes along the Eastern Seaboard. Our cities aren't built for disasters.


This is all very good for Gary Condit...

I suspect I'm going to get very sick of the phrase "war on terrorism." Can you even have a war that's not against a state? And you can have a war against Osama bin Laden and not even touch the Basques or the IRA or the Michigan Militia.

I think the most disturbing thing I've heard since Tuesday is a 14-year-old Muslim girl saying "I thought they were going to beat me with my own flag."

Must remind people that you can no more blame all Muslims/Arabs for this than you can blame all white people for Oklahoma City...

You know, it's almost kinda too bad that McVeigh isn't around to see himself get totally eclipsed. After he died congratulating himself for the deadliest terror attack on US soil. Well, maybe they have TV in hell. (In fact, I'm pretty sure they have TV in hell.)

Dad: Well, your brother's got the career of the future.

Me: So he still wants to be a New York City cop?

Dad: Openings, I guess.

Me: Aaahhhh...horrible but true.


You can tell it's getting back to normal when there are commercials on TV again.


"Operation Infinite Justice"? Who names these things?

(J.'s suggestion: Operation Smoke a Camel.) (And also: Operation Hot Date.) (And: Sand Blast and Rock the Casbah.) (Me: Operation Whack-a-Mullah, but don't tell anyone I said that.)


J.'s reaction to Bush's speech: "So to sum up, we're the world's policeman and God is on our side."

My reaction: getting "Deutschland über Alles" stuck in my head. Doubtless not the patriotic response I was supposed to have.

That's about all I wrote back then...for one thing, I lost the journal under a table for a while, and on 9/25/01, J. and I got engaged, which provided other things to write about.

One of these days I'll type up my Iraq War journal entries. (I actually started blogging with the intention of writing a war blog; but by the time I got started, the war, apparently, was over. Or at any rate it was out of the headlines and they were showing other stuff on MSNBC...)

[ at 9:05 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Well, it's that time again.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.

[ at 11:36 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Wednesday, September 10, 2003 
Department of "no kidding," again 
Shocked, I tell you, shocked! First Richard Chamberlain made his big confession, and now Tab Hunter, his career behind him, admits he's gay. Gosh, I never would have guessed, would you?

(I didn't know he had a relationship with Anthony Perkins, though. Well, good for them.)

[ at 9:21 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Tuesday, September 09, 2003 
Quote of the day 
"If Americans are so repulsed by gay sex, perhaps the solution is to just allow gays to marry and have kids. After all, everyone knows that parents of young children have no time for sex."—Gersh Kuntzman, Newsweek, Aug. 11.

[ at 9:07 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Monday, September 08, 2003 
"Abby-someone. Abby Normal." 
Well, I could've told you this: Harvard faces shortage of "normal" brains. (In their brain bank, not in their faculty and student body; or at least, the article only addresses the brain bank.) Apparently people who donate brains (post-mortem, of course) usually send them the "diseased" ones (and I'm quoting from the article, so don't yell at me for being politically incorrect): the ones with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and the like. But they (Harvard, not the brains) also need so-called "normal" ones—both to compare and contrast, and also to see if the brains of people who, in life, didn't exhibit abnormal brain symptoms, have the potential for abnormalities, which would indicate things like the age of onset of various diseases and possible ways to screen for them.

I'm not saying it's not a problem for the researchers; I just find the headline very amusing. "Harvard faces a shortage of 'normal' brains. Of course! No normal person wants to go there..."

(Me? Yale '97, Trumbull College. And Harvard, in the immortal words of the Yale Precision Marching Band, sucks dead goats.)

[ at 10:47 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Sunday, September 07, 2003 
Alarming art history fact of the day 
The Venus de Milo was discovered in Florence in 1820 in a pile of marbles destined for a lime kiln. J.: "So basically some worker happened to look down and said 'Hey, this one looks nice, let's keep it'?" Me: "Apparently." J.: "So they could've burned her arms the week before."

Yikes. Never mind the burning of the Library of Alexandria...how much Greek and Roman marble statuary was incinerated without a thought, without malice, as just another heap of raw material for a furnace?

[ at 12:19 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Friday, September 05, 2003 
I grow old, I grow old...* 
Today a teenage girl called me "ma'am." Oh, man, do I feel old.

*I do have the bottoms of my trousers rolled, but that's only because my pants are too long.

[ at 3:16 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Weighty matters 
J. and I have both lost quite a bit of weight in the past few months—he through exercise and a diet of non-processed foods (which leaves out just about everything with fat and salt), and I mainly through being uninterested in eating. But we've recently both reached the dreaded Diet Plateau, and this morning, he said, "I've figured it out":
I've figured out why it's so hard to lose weight after a certain point. This is your body's life savings. You've scrounged up all the change that was in the couch, you've gone through all the old pants to find the dollar bills that went through the wash, you've taken all the jars of pennies to the bank, and now you're looking at the 401K. And your body's saying, "You want me to give it up? Yeah, buddy. Make me."

[ at 9:17 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Thursday, September 04, 2003 
In case anyone was wondering 
Still here.

"Life. Don't talk to me about life."—Marvin the Paranoid Android, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

[ at 3:16 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Monday, September 01, 2003 
The Zhaba story 
A message from a Russian reader about "zhaba" being "toad" in Russian reminded me that I'd a) taken out the blurb in my sidebar about the literal meaning of "zhaba," and b) never posted the longer "what it means to me" story. So here goes.

First, the literal meaning: "zhaba" is "frog" or "toad" in various Eastern European languages; when I encounted it in Ukrainian, the translation in my dictionary was "frog."

Second, my meaning: For my senior project in college, I translated a film scenario by a Ukrainian director. (Ukrainian is the non-English language I know best, although I haven't used it for a while.) There was a line in which one of the characters was having an attack of angina, and it used the word "zhaba." I came up with what I thought was a pretty nice translation, although I don't specifically remember what it was, about how he felt "like he was choking on a frog." Then I took it to my advisor, and she told me that "zhaba" can also just mean "an attack of angina." Humph. So much for my metaphor. Okay, I thought, but I'm going to get frogs into this translation somehow!

Months went by; days before the project was due, as I was racing through the translation of the climactic battle scene, I came across the line "The bombs going off sounded like huge frogs croaking in a marsh." In the margin of my notebook I wrote "FROGS!" in great big letters, and underlined it a few times; I was ridiculously happy about it. I finished the project in three solid days of no sleep—typed up the translation, wrote the introduction, added the footnotes, annotated the bibliography—and just before I took it to the printer, exhausted and bordering on hallucinatory, I added the title page, concluding it with the Cyrillic character for "zh" and the words "Copyright 1997 Zhaba Productions."

When I woke up the next day, I was able to think more clearly about why I'd had that urge to put "zhaba" on the title page. It had come to symbolize all the things that go on in the background of creating a work of art—the notes for a novel, the sketches for a painting, the preproduction of a film, the rehearsals and the near-chaotic backstage activities of a play—that the audience or viewer or reader never notices, maybe never even knows about, but that are important, meaningful, even vital to the artist.

I don't know if I'm much of an artist; I'm not making any claims for how good my work is; but good or not, it's always been there. All my life I've written stories and novels, performed and composed and conducted music, acted and written and directed theater, even made a few forays into filmmaking and graphic design. And the things that linger aren't the performances or the finished works, but everything that went into them: the research, the "I can't do this" panics, the "good God this will work!" triumphs, clashing with some personalities and unexpectedly finding friendships with others. They've become a part of me; they've shaped me. And I've been fortunate enough to find a symbol, or at least a signifier, to enfold it and hold it in my mind: Zhaba.

Or if you prefer Cyrillic:

[ at 6:31 PM • by Abby • permalink  ]

Yes, that's me.


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