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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, Hunter

Today, I found Hunter sleeping in smears of her own blood. Rushed her to the UPenn Emergency Clinic. Renal failure. Bloodwork results were grim. I had to make the decision to have her put down.

I sobbed like a crazy person. I'm still weepy. I've never cried like this for a pet before. Then again, I've never had to make the euthanasia decision before, and this is the first death I've had to deal with since my dad's in 2006 from prostate cancer.

Added to list of careers for which I am unsuitable: (1) Death panelist. (2) Quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles (especially if involves shooting animals on the side).

Hunter: a retrospective.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Are you in the Philly area? A good person? Can you keep a cat?

Our next-door neighbors moved house and abandoned their cat. Another neighbor got in touch with them about it, and their response was "We don't want her. We have dogs now."

Yeah, I know. Don't get me started.

So, instead of leaving this incredibly sweet and friendly cat to freeze to death over the winter, we've taken her in temporarily as of last night. I have no idea what her name is, so I'm calling her Ginger. We can't keep her permanently, though, because we already have two cats, and she doesn't get along with them (it's hard to get adult females to play nice with each other). Can anyone out there keep a cat?

She is so beautiful, and is very social around people. She loves being petted, even by complete strangers, and I'm sure she'd be wonderful with children too. She's well toilet trained (was quite happy going in one of my other cat's litter boxes) and not at all fussy about the food she eats. She's been living on the streets for a couple of weeks now, and is so grateful for shelter, sustenance and affection -- anyone who has taken in a stray cat will tell you that they're twice as loyal as cats that haven't seen the hard life.

Please give her a good home! We really don't want to take her to the SPCA because it's a kill shelter, and the only no-kill shelter in the area isn't taking surrenders because they are full.

I'd estimate she's a year or two old. Obviously, I don't have vet records for her, but she seems really healthy. I'm assuming she's neutered, but only because she goes outdoors all the time, and I've never seen her with kittens.

If you can take her in, please contact me. And if you can't take her, please spread the word!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In cat news, Tripoli and Moonlight are now getting along very well, though Hunter still causes a fair few problems. In case you hadn't figured, that ginger-and-white cat who belonged to our negligent bastard neighbors grew on us (we found out her name is Hunter), so now we have three cats -- one for every year we've been married, which is a worrying trend.

Friday, June 29, 2007

As you can see, Hunter has taken to hanging around outside now that the weather is decent, so I took her to the vet to have her shots. Apparently, she is eight or nine years old! I had no idea. This explains why she seems to prefer climbing to jumping - her hip joints are middle aged. She sure has a lot of pep for an old lady, though, as demonstrated by her willingness to stalk a groundhog about twice her size (she didn't have the nerve to pounce, which is probably one reason she has lived so long).

Friday, July 20, 2007

I'm busy! In the next couple of days, I will try to blog about all the things I've been meaning to blog about. Meantime, here is a video of Hunter being a total spazz.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hunter has lately had blood in her stools. I finally had enough of a break in my schedule to take her to the vet this morning, and discovered that she has lost a bunch of weight since the last time she was in the clinic, and the vet suspects hyperthyroidism. She is having some bloodwork done (poor thing, she has tough veins, and the vet had to stick her so many times to get a sample), and I should know for sure what's wrong in a couple of days.

I am sad.

Friday, March 28, 2008

In cat news, it turns out Hunter does not have hyperthyroidism or any kind of wacky disease that would show up in her blood work. I am relieved that she won't have to take pills for the rest of her life! But in the meantime, I have to keep shoving diarrhoea pills down her throat twice a day, so she hates me, and there's the prospect of paying more money for more diagnostics down the road if it doesn't clear up.

Flickr slideshow with some more recent pictures

Cyber-stalking San Antonio and my fellow finalists

I was complaining to Matt last night that we haven't traveled recently, and he looked at me strangely and rattled off:

  • April: SEAMUS conference St Paul/St Cloud, Minnesota
  • May: Simon Carrington Chamber Singers in Kansas City, Missouri
  • June: O'Neill Puppet Conference in Waterford, Connecticut

  • Oh yeah. Huh. Apparently, if I don't travel for six months, I get kind of antsy.

    So, even though we'll be there for less than two days, and I'd never thought of Texas as particularly high on my list of must-see states, I'm excited for San Antonio. The Alamo appears to be practically downtown, so I guess we'll be stopping in there. (I wonder if Alberto Gonzales recalls the Alamo.) We also might be at the symphony concert on Friday night - my pitch to Matt was that the first, second, and fourth movements of the New World Symphony all appear in Ren and Stimpy. Truth. Click the links if you don't believe me.

    The other two finalist compositions in the NOA Chamber Opera Composition Competition are Review by Jeremy Beck and Patricia Marx and Confession by Raphael Lucas and Margaret Vignola. I looked them up, and I'm honored to have been selected alongside. The results of my cyber-stalking:

  • Jeremy Beck's website: he has a DMA from Yale, a very impressive resume/bio (I would kill for that Gramophone quote!), and is an attorney in his spare time.
  • His librettist Patricia Marx is a former writer for Saturday Night Live, and Review is based on a short story she wrote for the New Yorker! Here's an interview regarding her work on the opera.
  • Review was premiered at an Opera America convention, and also performed at a CCO gala.

  • Raphael Lucas is French and a recent graduate of Purchase College.
  • Confession was developed at Purchase and premiered by the Purchase Opera in 2009.
  • You can see clips of that premiere on the opera's YouTube channel. Holy crap, look at that production!

  • I feel pretty outclassed. But honestly, it's not the competition that matters, it's the camaraderie and networking that this opportunity presents. I'm hoping I get to meet the other composers/librettists at the contest, and very much looking forward to seeing what the UTSA students have done with Gonzales.

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    National Opera Convention - hello, Texas!

    The Gonzales Cantata was recently selected as one of three finalists in the National Opera Association Chamber Opera competition. I think that's pretty neat, because it means that a 20-minute excerpt will be performed at the NOA's annual convention by UTSA students conducted by William McCrary in front of what I assume will be a captive audience of opera directors.

    Also, this year's convention is in San Antonio, Texas. Guess who was born in San Antonio. Destiny!!!

    I believe the public might be able to attend the competition finals, so if you're that way inclined and located, come see! I'm flying in from Philly just to soak up some of that balmy Texas weather. Yes, after being trapped in my house by a foot of snow today, this former Brisbanite now believes 15deg Celsius is balmy.

    So, full details:

    Gonzales Cantata excerpts performed!
    Where: Hilton Palacio del Rio, 200 South Alamo Street, San Antonio, TX 78205
    When: 8PM on January 6th, 2011
    Cost: I'm not sure, but I saw $25 somewhere. Keep in mind that you'll be previewing three operas for that price, not just the Cantata.

    Also, we may have a free day on the 7th, so if you're in the area and interested in hanging out, drop me a line.

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Ruining a Christmas carol for 40% of Americans.

    About a week ago, just in time for the holidays, Gallup released a poll which shows that a staggering 40% of Americans believe in young-earth creationism. 37% of college graduates. 22% of postgrads. And while many media outlets are trying to spin this positively by focusing on the slight increase in the number of people who accept evolution, the incredible fact remains that in the richest country in the world, education is so poor and stupidity so rife that four in ten people think that the world was formed over the course of a week sometime in the last 10,000 years, and the all-magical God is just trying to troll us with all those fossils and geological records.

    Every time I hear about the results of this poll, which Gallup conducts every one or two years, I lose a little faith in America.

    This year, though, I had a brainwave after staying up until 5:10AM to finish the last assignment of the semester (a set of miniature piano etudes framed as a pseudo-scientific experiment, if you must know).

    "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is ALL about evolution.

    I have come to kill your God.

    That's right, creationists, if you insist upon sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting lalalalala every time someone tries to apply scientific logic to observations of life on this planet, you should stop singing this carol or watching the film and get rid of all your Rudolph merchandise immediately.
    Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
    had a very shiny nose
    and if you ever saw it
    you would even say it glows.
    Essentially, Rudolph had a (we assume spontaneous) genetic mutation which gave him a different trait to the rest of the reindeer population.
    All of the other reindeer
    used to laugh and call him names
    they never let poor Rudolph
    join in any reindeer games.
    At first, his shiny nose appears to have been a harmful mutation. He was shunned socially (devastating to a herd animal such as a reindeer) and, we presume, sexually ("reindeer games").
    Then one foggy Christmas eve
    Santa came to say:
    "Rudolph with your nose so bright
    won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
    OH SNAP. As sometimes happens, conditions changed, and suddenly Rudolph's scarlet incandescent mutation turned out to be beneficial after all. Rudolph had a clear advantage over the wild-type reindeer in dealing with the new environmental stresses.
    Then how the reindeer loved him
    as they shouted out with glee (yippee)
    "Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
    you'll go down in history."
    The reindeer "loved" him. Yeah, I don't need to spell that out.

    Awwwwww, yeeeeeah.

    We can assume that as a result, the red-nose mutation was able to spread rapidly through the reindeer population, and if future Christmases were equally foggy, the offspring of Rudolph would continue to be naturally selected for their advantageous trait. It is possible that, at some point in the future, all of Santa's reindeer will have glowing red noses.

    "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was practically written by Charles Darwin. We're in ur children's minds, killin your faith-based beliefs. Bitches.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Cynicism on a Saturday morning

    I was doing my usual pointless clicking around on the internet after I woke up, waiting for my eyes to blink away all the make-up remover I used before collapsing into bed last night. One of the links I clicked was this: WWII: Women in the Fight.

    This will probably sound horrible, but as I started going through the gallery, I wondered if they were going to show any women from Axis countries. And just as I suspected, they didn't. Because it would be weird to show German/Italian/Japanese women helping out in the war effort, since they lost.

    I guess I feel sorry for those women, who were doing exactly the same things for their countries, but who will probably never be recognized in an unambiguously positive way. When we do hear about women in the Axis war effort, it's usually awful contexts like comfort women for the Japanese military. (Of course, Allied troops would never use rape in a war effort, right? We don't really need to discuss it.)

    Then I wondered whether they would mention all the prostitutes who served troops on the front on both sides. Nope.

    Aaaand now I'm depressed. Bottom line: war is hell. Yay for all these smiling women using the opportunity to break out of traditional gender roles, but spare a thought for the end result.

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    The problem with composing

    If I'm blogging November, the busiest month of my life (I sincerely hope it doesn't get any busier than this, because I'm not getting any younger), I'm probably going to be whining a lot, so apologies in advance. To compensate, I'm going to try to find at least one good(ish) thing to say about every situation, as in my election post.

    I often suffer from that crippling self-doubt which I understand is almost universal amongst creative artists. I assume it's the root of writers' block. The force that stands in opposition to my self-doubt is pressure, but the interplay between the two is a delicate balancing act governed by some kind of chaotic equation I have yet to solve.

    Self-doubt, a giant obese and belching monster of a thing, sits on one end of a see-saw. As pressure builds (deadlines loom, performers ask for music, professors look disapprovingly at my output, I look disapprovingly at my output), it adds weight to the other side of the see-saw. The see saw needs to be at a slight angle, with the pressure outweighing the self-doubt just so, for me to compose successfully. If the pressure builds too high, however, the see-saw suddenly tips in that direction (the fulcrum is a bit faulty) and the flabby self-doubt is catapulted off its perch and lands on my head, crushing me with its FUPA.

    Unfortunately, lately this relationship has operated in such a way that I feel the perfect amount of pressure to write something immediately before I'm scheduled to have a composition lesson. Then, of course, as soon as I get started, I have to stop in order to attend said lesson.

    This is a really stupid way of doing business, Brain. I see you defeating yourself, and I'd like it to stop, please.

    The silver lining is that I think I like the thing I'm writing this particular morning-before-lesson.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    My schedule is hell

    My schedule is hell. That is all. This could have been a tweet.

    Everything is so complicated that I want to stab myself in the face.

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    Silver linings

    So, the election. Depressing result, right? The gloomy rain today was a decent reflection of my feelings toward my fellow Americans.

    In 2004, Matt and I were given the infamous Green Card interview the day after the election in which George W. Bush was elected for a second term. Driving from Harrisburg to the INS office in Philadelphia while listening to the post-election analysis on NPR, I felt an intense and bitter disappointment, and it was hard to muster up much enthusiasm when the humorless G-Man from the Department of Homeland Security grilled us on our relationship so that I could live permanently in a country that had just voted to continue in a direction which left me, an alien spouse, feeling utterly alienated.

    The 2008 election, despite all the misogyny, was a little better. I do remember predicting, however, when Obama won the primary, that he would be a less successful candidate than Hillary precisely because his campaign was less moderate - he would promise too much and not be able to deliver it, angering the base, or deliver on too many promises too quickly and anger opponents. It seems in some ways he's managed to do both. I wonder if the drubbing the Democratic party took on Tuesday would have been as bad if Hillary had been president - and I say this as someone whose political views are much further to the left than Obama's, but who believes in pragmatic change over change (or the appearance of change) which causes a backlash.

    But, anyway, a depressing election. I can find two upsides, though one is selfish and the other hardly qualifies:
    1. I haven't written nearly as much music (especially good music) since Obama won. This may be a coincidental correlation -- orrrr maybe I compose better music when Republicans win elections because I have something awful to rail against and a motivation to create art that has something to say. I don't think I would be alone if I fell into that boat.

    2. America has a pathological fear of socialism, engendered by corporate interests which have been systematically and methodically working to demonize it since at least the 1950's because socialism is bad for their bottom line (and better for everyone else's). The only period in the last century when America has embraced many socialist ideas was during and immediately after the Great Depression. So maybe we need an economic disaster to remind us what life was like for the average Joe during the Industrial Revolution before we stop being idiots about policies which improve the quality of life in other first world nations.

      I'm just sorry I have to live through it.

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    Welcome to November

    This past week was perhaps one of the busiest of my life. I say this as someone who has battled a lifelong pathological addiction to busy and knows what busy is: the variety and breadth of activities in the past few days has taken the cake.

    The Krang costume which I blogged about last time turned out to be the most viral thing I've done since Epstein-Barr in 1999. I'm over 173,155 views (and counting) on YouTube and around 100,000 views on Flickr. It's been featured on a bunch of other sites, including: If you want more information on how exactly I made the costume, check out the Gawker link, where I posted my process.

    As someone whose career is dependent upon people noticing the things that I do, it was thrilling to the point of mania to watch all the attention this costume garnered over the past few days, and realizing with some amused chagrin that this fun little thing which I put together over four nights received something in the order of 10 times as much attention in a few days than the Gonzales Cantata, even though the latter took months - nay, years - of conception, gestation, and rearing, and was plugged by Rachel Maddow. I guess that reinforces my conviction that TV is close to becoming dead tech. And I think it will probably pay to keep in touch with my geek roots in my art.

    Speaking of hundreds of thousands of people, on Saturday I attended the Rally for Fear and/or Sanity in Washington DC. There's so much press about it that I don't feel like I have to say too much, except to point you to some pictures that Matt took while we were there. Also, I hope you voted today. And if you voted for Pat Toomey, I hope you'll be prepared for my delicious schadenfreude when he is eventually caught with his gay lover, because my gaydar goes completely nuts every time i see his picture or hear him speak, and this instinct is only confirmed when I see his gay rights voting record.

    The downside to all this excitement is that I define myself as a student and a composer, and this past week I feel I have done very little studying or composing, which makes me feel very stressed and anxious. WHO AM I!?

    Incidentally, for the rest of the month, I am participating in the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences "The Month of November: Blogged" project, so expect more frequent blogging for the next few weeks. In theory.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    I made my husband a Krang costume for Halloween

    So, yeah, I'm pretty proud of this. Krang moves and speaks.

    I have some wicked hot glue burn blisters on my fingers.

    Matt did the bulk of the wiring.

    (If you can't see the vid or pix because this was imported to Facebook, click here: I made my husband a Krang costume for Halloween.)

    My hope is that he wins the costume contest at his work this year. Last year I made him a giant squid costume, but it didn't take home the prize. I think I've topped that effort, so we'll see.

    Partial list of ingredients:
    • Really cheap sumo outfit from eBay
    • Stupid amounts of polyester filler to restuff the sumo outfit and Krang
    • Oven tray lid
    • Sculpey
    • Yoga mat
    • Red tshirt
    • Three different kinds of foam
    • Spray paint
    • Hot glue
    • Cellophane
    • Various small repurposed electronics
    • Pink fleece, and of course ...
    • Duct tape.

    UPDATE: HE WON! W0000000t!

    Also, this kind of went a little bit viral after I posted it to Reddit, where it eventually hit the front page. Notable mentions include io9, The Daily What, and Joshua Topolsky (editor-in-chief of Engadget). Nearly 50,000 hits on the first Flickr photo as of this update.

    UPDATE 2: As of Monday at noon, the YouTube video currently has 117,000 hits. Flickr photo is hovering just under 100,000. On Saturday, my channel cracked the YouTube top 100 at #79. I was invited to apply for revenue sharing OMG!

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Obligatory Marketing Post, or What the Hell Am I Doing, I'm Too Old for This

    It may be an effect of the Wellbutrin that, although my schedule is utterly wack, I didn't realize until a few moments ago that I am currently preparing for four shows. I mentioned a couple of these in passing the last time I blogged, but four shows at once is a new record for me and deserves its own post.

    I'm inexplicably doing this in addition to my college classes and private teaching schedule and studying for comps (haha, yeah, right) and and and I need to never sleep again.

    As much as I hate marketing, it's sometimes necessary to tell people about shows so they'll know to buy tickets and show up. Here they are, in chronological order.

    iNtuitons experimental theatre presents
    Far Away

    By Caryl Churchill
    Directed by William Steinberger
    Produced by Michael Silverstein
    I composed the music.
    Far Away is the story of a woman named Joan living in a world consumed by paranoia and fear. Over the course of this relatively short play, the audience sees Joan growing up and searching for human connection - through family or love - as a way to escape an all-consuming war raging throughout the world. The play begs the question* of whether we can really trust those we love most, and what this means for humanity.
    Harold Prince Theatre, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
    Thursday, October 28 @ 8 PM
    Friday, October 29 @ 7 PM
    Saturday, October 30 @ 7 PM

    Villanova Theater presents
    The Beaux' Stratagem

    By George Farquhar
    Adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
    Directed by Shawn Kairschner
    I am selecting/arranging the music and playing it live on the harpsichord and violin.
    This seldom-seen comedic gem sparkles in an effervescent adaptation by Ken Ludwig, author of the madcap Lend Me A Tenor. Aimwell and Archer, two young gallants who are short on cash and long on schemes, roam the English countryside in search of wealth and women. When they happen upon the beautiful Dorinda and equally charming Mrs. Kate Sullen, they hatch a ploy to woo and win them, but plenty of hurdles stand in their way: a feisty barmaid with her eye on Archer, Kate’s drunken slacker of a husband, Dorinda’s eccentric mother, and a band of thugs that threaten to ruin even the best-laid plans.
    Villanova Theater
    November 9-21

    Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater presents
    Shakespeare Cabaret Series

    Premiere of my song cycle about Nikola Tesla and his pigeon, sung from the pigeon's perspective.
    Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater
    December 2

    Plays & Players presents
    A New Brain

    By William Finn
    Directed by Daniel Student
    I am the musical director.
    From the writer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Bee comes a personally inspired musical about a songwriter's fight for his life against AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation), which attacks the brain. Gordon Schwinn's greatest fear is dying with his greatest songs still inside of him; and so from his hospital bed, and even while in a coma, he begins writing his music. With his life reduced to sponge baths, MRIs, daytime visitors and lonely nights he utilizes his imagination to transport himself into a stunning musical journey. "I won't beat around the bush: A New Brain is the most exciting new musical to reach New York in quite a while... it is hypnotic and soulful and transporting" NY Theatre, June 1998
    Plays & Players
    January 6-23

    Hopefully all this won't kill me, but if it does, at least go to the shows so I won't have died in vain.

    * I know. Sigh.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!

    Wow, it has been MONTHS since I last posted a blog entry. What's happened since then?

    • My a cappella choir piece "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" won the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers Composition Contest and was given a double premiere by the (utterly amazing) group under the direction of Simon Carrington in Kansas City. The next day, they had a recording session, and Matt filmed one of the early takes on his Canon T2i:

      The video was posted to a bunch of blogs, including Towleroad, ChoralNet Blog, David Griggs-Janower in the Albany Times Union, Joe. My. God., Good As You, KCMetropolis (plus additional interview), and My Big Gay Ears. I also got a kick out of it being Instinct Magazine online's "Video of the Day" on June 2.

      Much love to Daphne, siblings Tony and Amy and John in KC for coming out to the performance! Here we are being all goofy.

    • The Gonzales Cantata is being staged by the American Opera Theater and Handel Choir of Baltimore in February. It's also been selected as a finalist in the 2010-2012 National Opera Association Chamber Opera Competition, and selections will be performed at the NOA convention in San Antonio on January 8. Texas!

    • After months of delays, mainly due to me procrastinating like mad, Matt and I launched my publishing site Mormolyke Press. It's pretty whizz bang for a self-publishing site, which I guess is to be expected when you've made a bunch of websites and you're married to a web developer. I don't know if any composer has a self publishing site that's quite as slick (if I do say so myself). If there is one, let me know so I can learn!

    In June, I ventured to Tick Ground Zero, aka Waterford, Connecticut, for the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference -- not as a puppeteer, but as a composer. It was a whirlwind week of writing music for several terrific short puppet plays, and meeting the puppeteers behind, under or inside of some of the characters that defined my childhood. So much fun, but I can't wait to do it again next year with more energy (see health update below).

    Later in the summer, I performed in Titus Andronicus at Plays & Players, and in a few weeks I'll start rehearsals there as the musical director of their production of A New Brain. I also did the music for another Fringe show, Zacherle, which was created through a very interesting improv process. In December, I'll be premiering a new piece at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre Cabaret Series.

    I blather on about my health so much on this blog, I may as well make it a heading. The malaise that I blogged about early this year wouldn't clear up on its own; I was hoping it would fade away over the summer. Hence, my summer was perhaps my most unproductive on record. Seriously, I had a list of things to do, and not a single thing was crossed off the list by the time college classes began again. So! I did some research, took myself to the Penn Health Service, suggested I was depressed and asked to be put on Wellbutrin. When the doctor took my family history, she prudently insisted I go to a Penn psychiatrist on the off chance that I develop the Shong clan hereditary crazies, so for the first time in my life, I'm seeing one of those. She's actually quite nice, unlike most of the psychs my mother saw.

    I had a terrible experience the first month on generic bupropion: awful migraines, nausea, dizziness, tired eyes, etc. Again, I researched, and now for what may be the first time in my life, I am willingly on a name brand drug. The pills are extended release, and apparently the generic dissolves at a much more erratic rate than Wellbutrin™. I switched, and the side effects lessened dramatically, with the result that I am actually, you know, doing stuff and accomplishing things again.

    All right, enough! Here's the real reason I'm blogging again: I've been reading Moby Dick for months. It was the first book on my list of things to read over the summer, but every time I'd finish a page or two, I'd fall asleep, so it's taken rather longer than expected. I blame the depression, although Herman Melville can also be incredibly slow.

    Now that I'm on Wellbutrin, I'm getting through it much faster. I just came across a passage that had me in hysterics, because although I am a 30-year-old woman, at heart I am a boy in his early teens. Here it is, completely out of context, for your reading pleasure:
    Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, - Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness. Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!

    Matt: "No wonder they don't read this in high school any more."

    Sunday, May 09, 2010


    There have been developments in the naked pictures scam! It's probably best to just post the primary documents so you can see for yourself (sorry, no nudity involved).

    From: Melissa Dunphy
    Sent: Friday, May 07, 2010 10:37 AM
    To: 'Jennifer Baumstadt'
    Subject: RE: PAFA

    Hi Jen,

    Are you coordinating for PAFA in an official capacity? I just called Allison Syvertsen at PAFA, and she said she hadn’t heard of you. You tried to Cc your first e-mail to her, but I see you spelled her e-mail address incorrectly.


    "Her" utterly AMAZING reply:

    From: Jennifer Baumstadt []
    Sent: Sunday, May 09, 2010 4:11 PM
    Subject: RE: PAFA

    Hi Melissa,

    There is no Allison Syvertsen here at the Portland A of FA. There is an Allen Syvertson, who is our (acting) Project Coordinator. He should know me well, since he hired me and is my manager.

    I have been working here for 11 years, the last three part-time since the birth of my child. I don't know if you would call it an "official" capacity, but it is a paid staff position and I serve on the Advisory Board and was its co-chairwoman in 2007-2008.

    Hope that answers your questions.


    I know. I know. I suppose I could have strung this out for a few more e-mails, but I have a busy X-Files viewing schedule to keep up this week.

    From: Melissa Dunphy
    Sent: Sunday, May 09, 2010 11:13 PM
    To: 'Jennifer Baumstadt'
    Subject: RE: PAFA

    Hi Jen,

    Have you heard of the website Google? It’s really neat. You can search for all kinds of things on the Internet and use it to verify information. For example, I searched for the Portland Academy of Fine Arts, but came up with nothing. Nothing! It seems really strange – nay, impossible – that an educational institution would have absolutely zero web presence. Also, the e-mail address you tried to forward your first e-mail to was at the domain That’s the domain of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which, according to Google, is the only relevant PAFA in the country.

    I looked up your IP address from the e-mails you have sent. They indicate that you sent them from a Verizon FiOS static address in NYC ( , and an Optimum Online account in New Jersey ( I have contacted the ISPs and told them about your activity, which I am sure goes against their terms of service. I also forwarded all our e-mails to PAFA (the real and only PAFA) in Philadelphia, as they were curious about someone conducting fraudulent activity in their name.

    I also blogged about all your e-mails on my website

    Thanks for providing some good laughs amongst me and my friends.


    Hello, creeptastic person! If you're reading this, I am genuinely curious about the following questions. You can answer by commenting.

    1. Do you make money from this scam, or is it a sexual fetish thing? Or is there some other reason you try to scam naked pictures from random models? In a word: Why?

    2. Did you know that there are lots of pictures of naked girls on the internet that you can find without starting deceptive e-mail dialogues?

    3. Ignore that last question; I was being facetious. How many models did you fool with this scam?

    4. How long have you been conducting scams like this?

    5. Is this an original idea, or are you following in someone else's footsteps?

    6. How old are you? Are you actually male?

    7. What is your living situation? Are you in any kind of relationship?

    8. Have you ever been in any kind of trouble with the law?

    9. What's the kinkiest thing you've ever done?

    10. What is your favorite kind of cheese?

    Friday, May 07, 2010


    A couple of days ago, I got this weird e-mail totally out of the blue:
    From: Jennifer Baumstadt []
    Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 5:02 PM
    Subject: PAFA

    Hi Melissa
    I do coordination work for PAFA and we wanted to inquire as to your potential availability for live modeling for advanced drawing classes later this semester or perhaps early next.
    Kindly let us know if this something you have done or do, and if the latter, whether you have any pertinent visuals you can e-mail us prior.
    Thank you.
    Jen Baumsuadt

    I've never done art modeling before, but it's not something I'd be averse to - especially at the institute where, in 1886, Thomas Eakins was expelled for removing a (male) model's loincloth in a mixed drawing class. But that Lycos address made me scrunch my nose a little, even if the e-mail was copied to someone at PAFA. I replied, asking for clarification on "pertinent visuals" and the type of modeling involved.
    From: Jennifer Baumstadt []
    Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 12:23 PM
    To: Melissa Dunphy
    Subject: Re: PAFA

    sorry i did not get back to you sooner, as i am traveling in W. PA. We are glad of your interest. Don't worry about holding poses for extended periods, we have learnt from experience that for the models to do so can be straining and uncomfortable, so the instructors will definitely "move you around." But expressive poses would be great. You may want to look at as we use that extensively for ideas. If you click on the differing viewing angles you can get a good idea. We try and keep our models comfortable, especially as to studio temperatures, for obvious reasons. Our current hourly rate is $20-25.00, but sometimes I can get that adjusted upward a little.
    Definitely send on some photographs/visuals that you may feel are pertinent to what we do. I will share them with our studio mgr. (if you don't mind) and she &/or myself will be back in touch with you certainly. thanks.

    The plot thickens.

    I have some revealing self portraits I shot for a photography course several years ago (Pro-tip: if you want to do well in a college photography course, get naked. Guaranteed instant A+. No questions.) but I've never digitized them, and I'd certainly never put them inside one of the interwebs tubes. To consider doing that required some rigorous investigation of legitimacy.

    Recall that the first e-mail was cc'ed to A quick Google search revealed that must be Allison Syvertsen, the coordinator of educational programs at PAFA. Oh, wait. That's Syvertsen, with an E, not with an O. Alarm bells! I got on the phone to her, and whaddayaknow? She has never heard of this Jen person.

    Someone was trying to scam naked pictures of me!

    And in a fairly sophisticated manner!

    I don't know whether to be outraged, amused, or flattered. Oh, my Internet, you are full of surprises even after all these years. How far you've come since "Tits or GTFO."

    Click for Part 2!

    Saturday, May 01, 2010

    The online piracy debate in 1791

    James Lackington was a London bookseller. The following excerpt is taken from his Memoirs: of the forty-five first years of the life of James Lackington:
    I have been informed, that when circulating libraries were first opened, the booksellers were much alarmed, and their rapid increase added to their fears, and led them to think that the sale of books would be much diminished by such libraries. But experience has proved that the sale of 'books, so far from being diminished by them, has been greatly promoted, as from those repositories, many thousand families have been cheaply supplied with books, by which the taste for reading has become much more general, and thousands of books are purchased every year, by such as have first borrowed them at those libraries, and after reading, approving of them, become purchasers.

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Socialized Medicine: The Real Cost

    I would like to point something out to Americans. In Australia, we have KICK ARSE health coverage. It's far more efficient than the American system (I could get appointments in Australia much faster than in the USA under private health insurance), and the level of care is just as good, if not better, because our doctors aren't salesmen for pharmaceuticals.

    How much do we pay for this system, which, compared with the American clusterfuck I have experienced for the last six and a half years, seems like Utopia? Surely the government rapes us on tax day? The Medicare Levy which covers our healthcare is 1.5% of our income over $6,000. If you earn $40,000 p.a., say, the total cost of your health coverage is $510 FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR. Think about that for a minute. In addition, doctor's visits and hospital stays are free, and medications are much, MUCH cheaper than they are in the US.

    Why? Because we have single payer. We're evil socialists, and the government actively invests in our health, so that it negotiates with pharmaceuticals and other players in the health care system to get better prices for its citizens.

    I am so sick of people saying socialized medicine is bad. It's AWESOME. People who are against it are IDIOTS.

    (Reposted from my Facebook Notes.)

    My friend Jason from Australia (a health policy analyst) also offers the following illustrative graphs:

    (Source: National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Final Report 2009)

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    What is this?

    This winter has been a tough one. I'm susceptible to changes in the weather and usually feel something of a seasonal slump, especially since moving to the northern hemisphere, but it's never been quite as bad as it's been this year. I realized this week that this has been going on for about five months. I've had terrible trouble motivating myself to write music, I'm tired all the time, I can sleep at any moment and could easily sleep for more than 12 hours a day (haven't felt this way since I recovered from mono ten years ago), I'm negative about and/or indifferent to things I used to love, and I find hours of my day disappearing with nothing whatsoever accomplished. I feel like I'm losing my mind as well as my brain. It's frightening.

    In the past couple of days, I've finally decided to really look at what the hell is going on with me, physically and mentally, rather than just ignoring my odd symptoms and hoping I'll snap out of it. What's happening is not normal for me at all. There's no particular "trigger" I can point to and blame - life is good, except that I feel like crap. The few times I've tried to discuss it with people, they assure me I'm just going through a slump or perhaps aging ("You're nearly 30; you're supposed to have less energy."), and that it's perfectly normal or natural, but it feels endless and extremely out of character. The physical symptoms are similarly very new to me. In the past year or so, my skin has become uncharacteristically dry and parts of my scalp have been taken over by psoriasis. My hair has become brittle and dull, even though I haven't done anything damaging to it and have tried several shampoos and conditioners -- to compare, I bleached my hair white blonde and dyed it blue for two years in my early twenties, and it was in better condition than it's in now. I often wake up with one or both of my eyes feeling puffy and my vision slightly blurred. I get headaches frequently, especially when I do any kind of physical activity. Sometimes I've had deep pain in my thighs which feels like it's coming from my bones. I've always been a bit of a fish, but now I'm constantly cold and always have a heater on in my room, a few inches from my feet, even though Matt complains that my room is stiflingly hot. The only time I'm not cold is when I first wake up in the morning, when for about a minute my heart seems to race and I sweat like crazy.

    Anyway, I've picked up a book on depression and I've been reading around online, and all signs seem to point to a possible problem with my thyroid, more specifically, some kind of hypothyroidism. I remember my mother being diagnosed with thyroid problems of some kind years and years ago (at one point, she was convinced she had a thyroid disorder and not bipolar, though I think that's a stretch), but I don't know what ever came of that. I suppose I should try to find a doctor who can test for it effectively, but the literature also seems to suggest that it can be difficult to diagnose, and that normal levels of thyroid hormones can still be present when there is a problem. Still, I'll try.

    I just hope that this is actually the problem and that the treatments actually have a noticeable effect, because it's driving me kind of nuts.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    I doubt I'll see the destigmatization of mental illness in my lifetime

    I just saw Shutter Island. Not a bad movie - I'll try not to spoil it here - but when the end credits started to roll, I found my heart breaking. Partly, I'm sure, this was due to my seasonal depression. Partly, the subject matter hit close to home (here's a blog I wrote about my mother's bipolar disorder a couple of years ago). But mostly, what I felt was despair at the reactions of many of the other audience members in the cinema.

    It was a movie about a mental asylum, so of course, the symptoms of mental illness were depicted, and people laughed at them all too often. Not the kind of nervous laughter you make when you're uncomfortable - that I can understand and appreciate. This was open, look-at-how-funny-these-broken-people-are amusement. Most people have been educated not to laugh at, for example, the spastic walk of someone with cerebral palsy, or the tremors and jerks of someone with Parkinson's disease. It's still, however, apparently pretty acceptable to crack up at the hilarious behavior of crazy people.

    I don't know how much of this was due to the movie, and how much was the audience. I think the movie toed the line. Certainly there were some moments when the antics were supposed to be amusing and ironic, and I can forgive the audience for laughing then. Hell, mental patients often have a decent sense of humor, and sometimes even they can laugh at the things they do. But there were other honestly quite tragic moments when I thought, how on earth is it acceptable to laugh at what just happened? Maybe it's because I saw the movie in Philadelphia (I honestly believe Philly moviegoers are among the worst in the world - if they're not talking constantly, they're being shot for talking constantly). Maybe I'm just overly sensitive. It's just a movie, and it was marketed as a thriller-horror. But I walked out of that cinema close to tears. I just don't see the stigma surrounding mental illness going away any time soon.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Linguistic song cycle texts

    "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

    "That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is. That that that is that that is not is not that that is that that is is not true is not true."

    "James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher."

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Annual V-day reminder in honor of my dad - please have your prostate checked

    On February 14, 2006, my dad died from prostate cancer after a battle that lasted only a year from diagnosis. He was fifty-six years old. His death was even more difficult for me to understand because it could have been prevented if he had had his prostate checked regularly and the cancer had been found sooner.

    Experts recommend that men receive annual screening for prostate cancer after age 40. I say, heck, start when you're 35. According to the American Cancer Society:
    About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime ... Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer. About 1 man in 35 will die of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer accounts for about 10% of cancer-related deaths in men.

    If you catch it early enough, your chances of being cured are excellent. If you don't catch it early ... well, that's why I write these reminders.

    Please. If you're over 35, get checked. Please.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    Egypt photos in one convenient blog post, and Female Genital Mutilation

    From December 22 to January 7, Matt and I went to Egypt. Please insert all the adjectives you'd normally associate with fulfilling lifelong-dream nerd-vacations.

    Pictures = a couple hundred thousand words:

    Travelling to Egypt and shots of around Cairo, where we spent most of our time.

    We stayed at the Museum View Hotel and made good friends with the awesome guys who run the place.

    Pyramids etc in Memphis, Giza and Saqqara.

    While exploring Saqqara, I found some rather creepy bones in a shallow grave in the sand dunes.

    Luxor, including the Valley of the Kings and Karnak.

    The White Desert, which I believe to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

    Cairo is full of cats, and being a terrible catfag, I took a whole set of pictures of them.

    Matt's pictures, taken with a better eye and a better camera.


    (If you know what the song is here, please tell me.)

    Terrible Cairo traffic:

    Simultaneic call to prayer:

    Before I move onto a more serious subject, let me insist that I loved our time in Egypt. We spent three days at the Egyptian Museum (each "day" was really only a few hours - my brain kept overloading), and I finally put to rest the rage I described in this blog entry, written after visiting the King Tut exhibition at the Franklin Institute (here I am putting the rage to rest). I could have stayed in the country for weeks longer and still not seen everything I wanted to see. I honestly believe the world would be a better place if everyone had an Egyptian sense of humor.

    However. On my first night in Cairo, while reading a guide book, I discovered a fact that reverberated inside my skull for the rest of the trip, and even now, when I talk about our time in Egypt, I try to find a way to worm it into conversation, because everyone I've spoken to has found this equally shocking.
    Over 90% of women in Egypt have undergone female genital mutilation.
    Over 90% of women in Egypt have undergone female genital mutilation.
    Over 90% of women in Egypt have undergone female genital mutilation.
    Over 90% of women in Egypt have undergone female genital mutilation.
    Over 90% of women in Egypt have undergone female genital mutilation.

    Let me put this another way. Around 97% of Egyptian women have their clitorises cut off at some point between birth and marriage.

    Clitoris. Cut. Off.

    In fact, according to the female genital mutilation wiki, FGM is more prevalent in Egypt than anywhere else in the world. We all assume that FGM is a problem further south in Africa, or only among very conservative/backward societies, but this isn't the case at all.

    Why is this done? Apparently it stops women from being too sexual. Your wife will be less likely to stray if she gets less pleasure from sex. It's also considered a cosmetic improvement, and there's a widespread belief that men find uncircumcised genitalia revolting. There are also (of course, incorrect) beliefs that there are some kind of health benefits in the practice, and that the clitoris causes pain if left unchecked.

    Maybe this makes me an awful western tourist with a disgusting lack of cultural relativism, but sometimes when we were walking around the city, I would suddenly focus on all the women around me and realize that the likelihood of any of them ever having an orgasm in their entire lives was close to zero. It made me sad and sick to my stomach.

    Around 80% of women in Egypt approve of the practice. FGM is technically outlawed in Egypt, but it hasn't seemed to help. Here's the UNICEF page on Egyptian FGM.

    Thursday, February 04, 2010


    I'm finally recovering my near-vision after visiting the optometrist. It's been nearly ten years since I last visited, shortly after getting LASIK in 2000, to check that, indeed, I had been given perfect vision by the power of Grayskull lasers and a tiny circular saw. More than perfect; I'd been living with such amazing eyesight for the last decade, I'd forgotten what it's like to be a flawed mere human, and the onset of a very slight myopia drove me to book an appointment.

    During my visit, I was administered those annoying pupil dilation drops. It's been so long since I last had them; when I stumbled blindly out into the painful sunlight, I was suddenly shot backwards through time to 1997. I had volunteered to be a patient at the UNSW optometry school clinic. The student who examined my retinae was either incompetent or had a crush on me, because he took an incomprehensibly long time shining bright lights in my eyes. My cheeks were streaming with tears. I remember thinking he was cute, and wishing he would just ask me out and get it over with. Afterward, I walked across campus with one eye shut and the other squinted to a slit, and attempted a three-hour histology prac.

    PRO TIP: do not attempt a three-hour histology prac when your chemically dilated pupils make you sensitive to bright light and unable to focus near-distance.

    During the halftime break, I went outside and bummed a cigarette off some guy, Jason, who looked about as fed up with the class as I did. We chatted for a while. I think that was the first time I'd ever spoken to him properly.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Help us bring the Gonzales Cantata to New York

    For those of you who weren't aware, or haven't scrolled down yet, last year, my composition the Gonzales Cantata was giving an incredibly successful staging in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The performances received some wonderful media attention, including a spot on The Rachel Maddow Show:

    (After this segment aired, "Gonzales cantata" was the most searched term for three hours according Google Trends.)

    The Cantata's second public performance is slated to take place at the prestigious Bard Conservatory in New York this April. As you know, the economy isn't in a particularly great place at the moment, and it was not possible to get as much grant funding as we would have liked for this performance, so we're turning to you for help.

    We've started a campaign on the Kickstarter website - CLICK HERE! - and we're looking to raise $3,500. Kickstarter campaigns work on an all-or-nothing basis ' if we don't raise $3,500, none of the pledges will go through, and you'll be charged nothing. If we do reach our goal, you'll be charged for whatever you'd like to pledge on March 25th.

    Please help support this project by contributing as little as $5 to our campaign. Every little bit helps! If you donate more, there are some great gifts available to you, such as CDs, tshirts, and a signed copy of the score. The payments are securely and instantly processed through Amazon. If all goes well, we're hoping to bring this production south to Manhattan, and your contribution will really help!

    If you can't spare anything, I absolutely understand - but please consider taking a couple of seconds to spread the word by spreading the word to others you think might be interested.

    In unrelated news, I hear Google is turning off FTP support for Blogger. Dammit. I'll probably have to do some awful tweaking to get the same functionality out of Custom Domains. But maybe it will inspire me to pay more attention to my poor neglected blog.