Archive for December, 2007

A witness to the mysteries of death

The Washington Post profiles Virginia’s chief medical examiner, retiring after 30 years of autopsies.

She won’t tell you, until you ask, about the literal skeleton closet she keeps of all the bones of all the people she could never identify and that haunt her to this day.

“I just don’t remember cases unless someone jogs my mind,” said Fierro, sitting in her Richmond office one day recently. “I guess it’s just part of being able to compartmentalize. You couldn’t survive this work if you weren’t able to do that.”

For more than 30 years, Fierro has survived the business of investigating suspicious, sudden and violent deaths across Virginia, which has the second-largest state medical examiner system in the nation. During that time, she has witnessed more women breaking into her field, served as the intellectual inspiration for the lead character, Kay Scarpetta, in some of Patricia Cornwell’s best-selling crime novels and most notably, perhaps, handled thousands of cases, chronicling Virginians’ lives through their deaths.

When Fierro, 66, retires today, leaving behind her roughly $200,000 salary and a staff of about 70 spread out in four regional offices across the state, she will depart with memories crowded with the types of images most people will never encounter.

I hope she has a joyful and peaceful retirement. She’s earned it.

Happy New Year’s!

Any big plans for the evening? Ms. Carnacki and I will be hosting a little party for the young Carnackis. Hopefully we’ll be able to get away with moving the clocks up so that midnight hits at 10 p.m. for them so we can get them to bed at a decent hour. The girls have been big into the old computer game Baldur’s Gate II of late, which they insist on playing with me next to them to assist. So we’ll probably be playing a lot of D&D tonight. They don’t care so much about the battles or advancing along with the plot, but will spend hours equipping and unequipping the paperdoll character sheet with different armor and weapons. I downloaded a game editor so they can make the armor in prettier colors. They also will explore every inch of a map for loose gold pieces and will pick up every weapon to sell. Except for the part about accumulating loot, my munchkin players aren’t munchkins. So basically my New Year’s Eve will be not too different from my New Year’s Eve in 1980 except with less beer and with D&D played by a 6 and 4 year old instead of teenage boys and girls.

Ancient Egyptians traveled deep into Sahara

The Malta Independent has news of an amazing archaeological discovery that probably will be widely reported two months from now:

Explorers just returning from the Sahara desert have claimed they found a remarkable relic from Pharaonic times.

Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marai, from Malta and Egypt respectively, were surveying a field of boulders on the flanks of a hill deep in the Libyan desert some 700 kilometres west of the Nile Valley when engravings on a large rock consisting of hieroglyphic writing, Pharaonic cartouche, an image of the king and other Pharaonic iconography came into view.

Mr Borda would not reveal the precise location in order to protect the site.

He explained the far-reaching implications of the find for Egyptology. “Although very active in the Eastern Desert, as attested to by the innumerable inscriptions they left behind, there is very little evidence for the presence of the ancient Egyptians in the much larger and harsher Western Desert.

“The consensus among Egyptologists is that the Egyptians did not penetrate this desert any further than the area around Djedefre’s Water Mountain. This is a sandstone hill about 80 kilometres south west of the Dakhla Oasis that contains hieroglyphic inscriptions. Its discovery in 2003 by the German explorer Carlo Bergmann caused a sensation as it extended the activities of the Pharaonic administrations an unprecedented 80 kilometres further out into the unknown and waterless Western Desert. The find we just made is some 650 kilometres further on!! Egyptologists will be dumbstruck by this news.”

Antarctic base brawl prompts evacuation

From The Guardian:

Two men, one with a suspected broken jaw, have been airlifted from the Antarctic’s most remote research facility after an incident described as a “drunken Christmas punch-up”.

The brawl happened at the US-operated Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, located at the heart of the frozen continent. The station, where staff carry out a range of scientific investigations from astrophysics to seismology, is currently being rebuilt in a £76m project.

After reports of the fight reached staff at McMurdo station, the headquarters of the US Antarctic Programme, which is located on Ross Island, a US Air Force Hercules was sent to pick up the injured man and the other worker.

Coincidence? At the Mountains of Madness, indeed.

Werewolf boy escapes Russian police

The Daily Mail of London:

Russian police are hunting a “werewolf boy” – who snarls and bites – after he escaped from a Moscow clinic just a day after being rescued from the wild.

Doctors expressed shock saying he was found living with a pack of wolves in a remote forest in the Kaluga region of central Russia.


They are puzzled because he appears intelligent but does not seem to speak Russian or any other language. It is suspected he has been running wild for many years.

Such cases are not uncommon in Russia where there have been regular reports of ‘Mowgli’ children abandoned by their parents who are cared for by animals.

The boy moves around with his legs half bent, said Tvoi Den newspaper. “He was running with wolves and searching for food with them.”

Villagers found this “wild creature” in a lair made of leaves and sticks in freezing temperatures and told the police who named him Lyokha, though his real identity is not known.

Dan O’Bannon interviewed

Den of Geek has a good interview with horror/sci-fi script writer Dan O’Bannon that’s worth a read.

Hooks and wires

I’ve told this story before. If you’ve heard it, I apologize for repeating myself. This is one of my favorite holiday stories and it’s become something of a tradition to repost it this time of year.

When my oldest daughter was almost 3, we read Dr. Seuss’s “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” nightly in the days leading up to Christmas.

It’s a lovely tale and in a weird way I identify a lot with The Grinch. (Long story and you can’t just open the book of my life and jump in the middle as someone once said.)

She’d curl up beside me and I’d read: “Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot….”

And I’d do different intonations for the different voices. I’m particularly proud of the way I read “And they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer. “Tomorrow is Christmas it’s practically here!”

She’d follow as The Grinch unveils his plans to ruin the Christmas of the Whos (sort of like Bill O’Reilly and his ilk today).

He disguises himself as Santa and his dog as a reindeer.
And he steals into the Whos homes and takes everything leaving only the hooks and wires on the bare walls.

But to his surprise the Whos remain happy despite the loss of the presents and trees and trimmings and trappings.

As he says, he hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came just the same.

So on Christmas morning when my oldest was almost three, we woke just ahead of her.

She first ran to the kitchen table and looked at the evidence of Santa’s visitation: the cookie crumbs on the plate and the empty milk glass and the missing carrots.

Then she ran down the hall into the living room. Ms. Carnacki, pregnant with our second child, and I beamed because our daughter had been so wide eyed and excited at the thought that Santa himself had been in our home. She ran into the living room and saw the presents under the tree and we expected her to dive into them.

But she didn’t. She held up her little hand and she said: “Stop. Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend The Grinch has been here and took everything and left just hooks and wires and we’d still be happy.”

So we stopped. And like The Grinch my heart grew three sizes that day.

Marine dog retired to spend life with fallen Marine’s family

I’m a big softie when it comes to dog stories:

A U.S. military dog whose handler and best friend was killed in Iraq gets a new assignment on Friday — retirement with the late Marine’s family.

Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee, slain in Iraq in March, with his dog, Lex, who is going to live with Lee’s family.

It took months of lobbying by the family to get the adoption approved by the military.

Lex was beside Cpl. Dustin Lee when Lee was killed in a mortar attack in Falluja.

In spite of his injuries, the dog didn’t want to leave Lee’s side after the attack, according to the Marine’s father. Other Marines reportedly had to pull the dog away from the young man’s body so medics could reach him.


Lex had been stationed in Falluja for nearly five months before the fatal attack. When the Marine’s body was returned to Quitman in March, hundreds lined the streets waving American flags to say a tearful goodbye. And Lex was there.

In Albany on Thursday, kennel master Mike Reynolds led Lex through his paces for the last time in his military career. But it’s time for the old pro to learn some new tricks in civilian life. In a ceremony Friday, Lex will join the Lee family.

Jerome Lee said he hopes Lex’s presence will make his other two children feel closer to their missing older brother.

“There’s always going to be that missing link with Dusty gone,” he said. “But part of Dusty is here with Lex.”

Mr. Brownlow

Sadly, No! has done an excellent job with the debunking and de mocking of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism.”

But I really liked this by commenter Flying Fox:

I wish I wish I wish one of my High School history teachers was still alive. I had the luck to take a class senior year with a WWII veteran who (I swear, I am not making this up) looted HItler’s Munich residence. The teacher, Mr. Brownlow, focused on setting the stage for WWII. He taught about everything he considered relevant to WWII, and went back deep. Frederick the Great, Marx, Clausewitz, WWI etc. There were a few things he had very little patience for (but patience he had, he never lost composure) and they mostly involved things he went through. He used to tell us not to say “hate” is in his presence b/c he had blundered into a death camp. He used to chew out people for bandying about the tersm Nazi and Fascist. He kept saying “Don’t you tell me what hate is. I’ve seen hate. Pure hate. I’ve never seen anything else like it with my own eyes and I don’t have to. I remember it too vividly. Don’t tell me you hate something unless you’ve seen that.” Mr. Brownlow wanted us, above all, to understand why WWII happened the way it did with one exception, the one thing he could not understand. The Holocaust. I keep reading these posts hoping Mr. Brownlow’s memory will fill me, and my judgement will tell me exactly how to respond. BUt so far, nothing yet. The bloggers and commenters are doing well enough without Mr. Brownlow I think. I don’t want to attack Jonah phycisally. It isn’t worth it and it makes us all look bad when someone types it. I feel like we shouldn’t even call him names. Tripe like this, dealing with shit like this is why I went to school. It’s why I study history.

Jonah, I want to take you to Mr. Bronlow’s grave in Arlington Cemetary. If I could, I’d show you what his classroom looked like. He had models and portraits made by students of things and people he covered, he had trophies and memorabilia from the war. With this book Jonah, this disgusting act of cynicism, you disrespect everything Mr. Brownlow stood for and everything he believed in. He taught at a private school by the way Jonah. You have disrespected a man who taught for fifty-seven years because he believed that was the only way to make good on the victory he fought for, that his officers and his men fought and died for. But maybe Jonah, you would be glad to disrespect a man who once joked he would vote Communist because only they admitted they wanted to take his money. Wouldn’t you, Jonah, you cynical heartless man?

Harajuku girls

The Washington Post tries (I don’t think successfully) to describe the megatropolis of Tokyo with vignettes on three different groups, including the harajuku girls.

When they got off the train in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, they were no longer shy girls with braces from the distant suburbs.

They were Goth-Lolita girls — part of a teenage tribe that on Sunday morning dips its collective toe in the bracing waters of urban voyeurism.

These girls wear jet-black bangs, cut straight at eyebrow level across their (sometimes pimply) foreheads. They work hard at looking bored as scrums of American tourists snap their photographs.

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