A Surgeon’s Life

Fascinating review by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker of 18 May 2015 (Self is sooo behind in her reading!) of a memoir by London neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. It’s an unflinching look by Marsh at his medical career and the failures that haunt him (“It’s not the successes I remember, but the failures.”) Incredibly, so much of his success or failure depends on, not training, not intelligence, not skill, but luck.

Rothman compares a neurosurgeon’s life to a soldier’s. Both are “deeply shaped by” something called “moral luck.” To perform under the burden of this awareness is impossible unless Marsh can successfully control “his own emotions. If he can’t control how a surgery turns out, he will control how he feels. He tries not to let his feelings add to his patients’ fear and unhappiness; at the same time, he tries never to lie. He yearns for feelings that are strong but realistic, fully voiced but even-keeled.”

In writing his book, “Marsh has seemingly violated his code; he expresses many of the feelings that he’s worked very hard to keep hidden.”

Fascinating.

Marsh’s book is called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery.

Subsequent research on Goodreads shows that it’s garnered a number of nominations and one prize: the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.

Stay tuned.

The Syrian Refugee

The New Yorker, 26 October 2015:

Syria, 2014: Assad wins re-election with eighty-eight percent of the vote. His victory, he declared, was “a bullet directed toward the chests of the terrorists.”

The going price to smuggle a refugee out of Turkey: $5,000.

In late May 2015, a smuggler named Jamil announces on WhatsApp that a boat is available to take 154 refugees to Italy (Self multiplies $5,000 by 154 and comes up with $770,000. And that’s just one boatload)

The boat is “a white trawler, thirty-eight feet long, with a knee-high railing around the bow.”

The refugees are shocked. One, a pregnant woman named Reem, says “It was a very small boat for a trip to Italy.”

The overloaded boat can’t manage the trip and heads back to Turkey, where the smugglers abandon ship before the Turkish police get there. The refugees return to Mersin, pool their money and “rent a cheap apartment . . .  Once again they were stuck, and the boredom was excruciating.”

The smuggler Jamil re-surfaces and dangles another trip but refuses to return anyone’s money.

A Syrian refugee named Ghaith makes another attempt. This time the smugglers use hand pumps “to inflate a twenty-five-foot black raft” to which an outboard motor is attached. A smuggler asked “if anyone knew how to steer.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Anne Hidalgo

In the Talk of the Town of the 7 November 2016 issue of The New Yorker:

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris:

“Paris will not stand by and do nothing while the Mediterranean becomes a graveyard.”

Kelly Stout in “Shouts and Murmurs,” The New Yorker, 22 February 2016

Self knows it is really lame that she’s just now getting to her New Yorkers of February 2016. Nearly a year ago. But she’s so anal about it. She refuses to throw away a single issue she hasn’t read. That’s a very big pile she’s staring at, right now.

On to “Shouts & Murmurs.” It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it feels like whoever’s doing it is trying too hard to be satirical. Because that is the whole point of “Shouts & Murmurs”– to be satirical. Some people have satire in their blood, and some people can’t be satirical to save their lives. Some people can point to a stick of butter and make the gesture itself seem satirical. Others can say Moo Moo and ape a cow and pretend to be giving birth to a stick of butter and everyone would just look at them and say, Wut?

But, as usual, self digresses.

Here’s one that works: Kelly Stout conjures a judge giving jury instructions.

Jurors, I remind you that part of your duty today is to avoid discussing the details of this case with anyone outside this jury. Do not, for example, Gchat with your best friend from college, because she lives in Philly and doesn’t know any of the restaurants around here, and always says dumb, unhelpful stuff like, “Falafel isn’t as healthy as you think.”

Information from the news or from social media must not influence your finding in this case. For example, do not use Instagram to try to figure out whether Rob’s friend Warren got a Skrillex haircut or if it just looks like that because of the light. Also, Warren may not even be able to come, because his stepmom is in town.

You are allowed to make reasonable inferences, as long as they are based on the evidence. It is OK to speculate that Rob’s roommate may get on your case for being pro-Hillary and have literally zero sense of humor about it when you call him a Bernie Bro, because that is what happened when you guys met up for dim sum.

(How nostalgic self gets when she reads of pre-election chatter like the above!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Spin, Spin, Spin

Kellyanne Conway, speaking to reporters following the first Presidential debate, on 26 September 2016:

“I love the fact that he restrained himself tonight and he was a gentleman toward her. He definitely could’ve gone where a lot of America was thinking he should or could go, which is to talk about her husband and women, and he did not. He restrained himself, and you know what? Restraint is a virtue, and it is certainly a Presidential virtue, and I think many voters today, particularly women, probably saw that and respected that a great deal.” — from the article “Taming Trump,” by Ryan Lizza

Woman, what planet are you on?

Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Kellyanne Conway: the new triumvirate of ridiculous

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: His Familiar

Kellyanne Conway, aka Trump’s Attack Dog, from an article by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker, 17 October 2016:

“Did you see the people asking me to sign their posters and hats?”

“Don’t be fooled, because I am a man by day.”


  • When Conway took over as Trump’s third campaign manager, “the campaign was foundering, owing to Trump’s repeated insults to the parents of Humayun Khan, a soldier killed in action in Iraq. Polls showed that Trump was losing to Hillary Clinton by up to 10 points. By the time of the Chester (Pennsylvania) speech, four days before the candidates’ first debate, Conway and her team had brought the race to a near tie.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Classic: Mike O’Brien, Shouts & Murmurs, The New Yorker

From Shouts & Murmurs, The New Yorker: 7 December 2015

“How to Live an Alternative-Comedy Lifestyle” by Mike O’Brien:

After you stop volunteering at the senior citizens’ home, get the most normal job ever. The more normal, the more hilarious. On most days, stroll in a little late, with your hair parted down the middle, and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was just livin’ on the edge. Are y’all Aerosmith fans?”


Mess with everyone by putting a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth in the break-room fridge (Before you do this, become a great cook so you can prepare the pig yourself and carve it for everyone.)


Memorize your co-workers’ favorite conversation topics. Discuss these with them, and let their knowledge genuinely impress you. This may sound difficult, but once you’re in the alternative-comedy groove your questions will flow naturally. If you become invested in your co-workers themselves, and therefore in their answers, they will never figure out that your presence at the office is a gag.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Jill Lepore on the State of Debate: The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly.

— Jill Lepore, “The State of Debate,” in The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

Self begs to differ. She actually doesn’t think people can improve their debating skills by watching other people.

She also thinks that the rules of debate are rendered bizarrely unimportant when the debate is being televised. Because, whether consciously or subconsciously, the debaters will start to “perform.” Of course they are not their true selves. Hello! It’s like Judge Lance Ito in the OJ trial — he was a judge but he was sort of being a certain kind of judge. You cannot tell self that television did not influence his behavior: it could have gone two ways: Ito could have been a little more spontaneous, perhaps to get more of an emotional rise out of the crowd. Or he could have become more “judge-y” — projected more of what television viewers might expect to see from a judge. Self thinks Ito took the second route, and the one who paid was Marcia Clark.

The ones who get better at debate are the ones who see some sort of advantage accruing to themselves as a result of being better (more argumentative) people. The people who see absolutely no point to debate will continue to do their own thing in their peaceful little corners of the world.

When a committed debater meets another committed debater, the debate ceases being about words. It becomes a power grab.

It’s such an empty enterprise, really. All bells and whistles and see-who’s-paying-attention. Especially when it’s conducted for television.

Just self’s two cents.

(Self, when did you get so cynical? Dunno. Mebbe from watching/observing from the sidelines for so long?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Rumble Over “Passengers” (Due Out Christmas)

“They photo-shopped her eyes,” someone wailed on tumblr, and showed the un-photoshopped and photoshopped versions of J-Law for the new movie, Passengers (in which her name not only appears over Chris Pratt’s, but BIGGER. Oh no oh no oh no what are they doing to the girl, she doesn’t seem like the type to go for that kind of star treatment).

Years ago, self was reading a review in The New Yorker about a J-Law movie, it might have been one of the X-Men movies, or maybe something even earlier, but in a passing comment the reviewer gave a nod to “Jennifer Lawrence and her formidable powers of concentration . . . ” And she wasn’t even famous then.

It’s her eyes.

And this is what Hollywood does to her: photoshop her until she’s no longer recognizable as herself but looks like some blonde Barbie doll.

No. Hollywood: stop attempting to glamorize this girl. It doesn’t — won’t — work. What are they so afraid of, anyway?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Snippet for Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, RIP.

So shocked, self can’t even.

Who can forget Alan (She has seen very few articles about him that refer to him as “Rickman.” A lot of them do just call him Alan) in Die Hard, or as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies?

She wonders what London was like, after his passing was announced?

Last week, she found this from something she posted in February, 2012: a quote from John Lahr, The New Yorker theatre critic:

Alan Rickman is the go-to actor for supercilious.

Self knows that is not much of a quote. Nevertheless, it is true.

Oh, how self wishes she were in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at this very moment; her unit had a hardbound copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. From the first day of her residency to the last, self kept the dictionary on her writing desk, open to the page with the word “circumnavigation.”

If she were in her unit in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, she would be able to look up supercilious in a couple of seconds.

Instead, she has to settle for Merriam-Webster:

  • Supercilious: having or showing the proud and unpleasant attitude of people who think that they are better or more important than other people.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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