smokin' stimpy

Letters to Lilith From London II

Dearest Lilith:

I hope you are having a wonderful time with Grandma and Papa! I love you so, so much!

On Thursday, your dad and I went to the Tower of London, an incredibly historically significant castle that sits on the Thames. It was founded a thousand years ago, long before television, cars, or iPads existed. I have read so much about English history throughout my life that seeing it for the first time felt like meeting an old friend. I felt my heart catch in my chest the moment I laid eyes on it.

One of the Yeoman Warders gave us a tour of different parts of the castle. It was very, very interesting, and he was quite funny. He made a good joke about Americans: “If you lot had just paid your taxes, all this could have been yours.” The Yeoman Warders are also called Beefeaters, but no one is really sure why.

There are many interesting things about the Tower of London, but I think the ravens are what you would like most. At least seven ravens live at the Tower at any given time. The Tower ravens are very special: it is believed that the Tower will fall and England will collapse if the ravens ever leave. It’s a good thing that the ravens seem very happy there!

The ravens are friendly, and a few of them came very close to us to say hello. There was one raven singing a croaky song for a group of schoolchildren. I took some photos for you!

There is a Beefeater that is in charge of taking care of the ravens. He is called the Raven Master. He makes sure that the ravens are all well-fed, heathy, happy, and loved.

Actually, now that I think about it, I think you’d like the Crown Jewels even more than you’d like the ravens. Most of what was on display were the objects associated with the coronations of England’s kings and queens. All together, it is referred to as the Regalia. There were many beautiful crowns, swords and scepters, orbs, bracelets, and robes. You would love the crowns; almost all of them are made of purple velvet and gold, and they are covered in rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and other precious stones. The Imperial Crown of India was covered in so many brilliant diamonds that it almost hurt my eyes to look at it! One of the royal scepters - the Scepter With the Cross - has the largest diamond in the world, the Cullinan Diamond, mounted in it. It is huge and so beautiful. The diamond is about as big as your fist, and glitters like it has all the stars in the sky inside its heart.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures of any of the Crown Jewels, but your grandma and papa can maybe google photos for you if you’re interested in seeing them. Someday I will take you to see them in person!

Lots and lots of ghosts live at the Tower. I didn’t see any while I was there, but that’s probably because the hordes of tourists made them feel shy! Maybe they’ll come out and say hello to you!

After we left the Tower, your dad and I came back to our flat and took a nap. We were at the Tower for around five hours, and were super tired. After our nap, we got dressed and went out to Camden Town to get dinner. It was raining! We had dinner at an Indian restaurant that had lovely dolls all over the ceiling, and then took a little walk so we could look at some of the theaters. I love going to the theater, and I hope you will someday, too. Television and movies are wonderful, but there is something really special about seeing a play or a musical live, and there is something absolutely magical about performing on a stage in front of an audience. I don’t think there’s any feeling in the world like it.

Today, we went to Westminster Abbey and the British Museum, but I’ll save that all for my next email. Your mom and dad love you more than life itself, more than the sun and moon and stars. You are our heart.

I will email soon! I think I’ve figured out how to move photos to my computer, so I should be able to send you photos next time. We love you!

smokin' stimpy

Letters to Lilith From London

Dearest Lilith:

I’m writing to you from a loft in London. Mom and dad are staying in an area called Shoreditch. William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage lived her many years ago, and now it’s a lot like Echo Park - the area where Rhodes lives. It has lots of nice restaurants, pubs, and little stores, but it isn’t posh. We are staying in a loft that we rented from a nice man named Rafa. I’ll send you pictures of the place later today. He has lots of interesting decorations.

We took a red eye flight from Los Angeles, which means we flew through the night and arrived the next day. It was interesting waking up in a new country! When I was dozing off, I started thinking about what a miracle of engineering and ingenuity it is that we are able to sleep while flying in the air. I mean, think about it… science has made it possible for us to sleep in mid-air!

A trip this distance took only 11 hours by airplane. Without planes, we would have to have traveled by ship, and that would have taken weeks. Science is wonderful!

After your dad and I freshened up last night, we went walking around the neighborhood. We found a nice Italian restaurant; you’ll be happy to know that there’s lots of spaghetti in London! After that, we went to a little neighborhood market that had more different kinds of tea and different kinds of honey than I could have imagined. I will bring you home some English honey!

When we came back to the apartment, there was a black and white cat on the stairs. He was very nice, and very insistent that we let him into our flat! I heard him meowing and playing with his friends outside all night. He is a very musical kitty cat, and I fully expect that he will visit again tonight!

The loudest raven I’ve ever heard woke me up this morning. It was like having a birdy alarm clock! The crows and ravens we have at home are loud, but this guy sounded like he had a bullhorn. When I opened my eyes, I was convinced that it was 7am. There was something about the color of the sunlight that seemed very 7am’ish. The sun rises and sets at a different time in London than it does for us in LA: right now, the sun comes up at 4:45, and it’s still a bit light outside at almost 10pm.

Your daddy and I are off to the Tower of London this morning, and might go to the British Museum if we have any energy after that. Your daddy and I love you with all of our hearts! I will write again soon! Please send me lots of pictures! I don't know if I can get texts - we can try! - so email them to us if you can.

I love you more than love! You are my sun and moon and stars. I will catch some British sunbeams for you, and make you a sunbeam pie when I get home!

smokin' stimpy

I do love you, Los Angeles. Truly.

I love Los Angeles. I have lived in LA for most of my life, and it wasn’t until I left for a few years that I realized how much civic pride I possess. There’s so much that’s wonderful about Los Angeles, and at its core, it really is a place where dreams are made manifest. Nightmares, too, as Kenneth Anger would point out, but that’s par for the course when one of your city’s primary exports is fantasy. The Los Angeles that I live in is a multicultural Elysium filled with amazing art, good food, decent theater, and lovely weather, and most importantly, some of the kindest, smartest, sweetest, and most talented people in the whole goddamn world.

I realize, though, that the LA I live in is just a tiny microcosm of a gargantuan metropolis, and once in a while, I’m reminded of why everyone else in the country thinks we’re assholes.

Last night, I attended a press screening for a film. We’re in talks to develop a scent line dedicated to the film, and the director was kind enough to get me into an early screening so I could take notes for the project. The screening room was small – fifty seats, I think? – and I was the first person to arrive. (Half an hour early. What a kook. Model pupil, that’s me.) I was handed a press kit when I checked in, and I made my way to a nice center seat whereupon I made myself comfortable and started reading through the press info. Other people filtered in slowly. The first two were journalists, and I listened to them make small talk with each other for a bit. It was odd: they were asking each other small talky questions, and it was evident that neither of them actually cared about the answers that the other one offered. Surreal.

People trickled in over the next half hour, but the theater never really filled up. A man comes in, and chats up a woman that was a seat away from me. I guess she had been holding a place for him. He was a little obnoxious from the start; there’s a peculiar affectation that I’m pretty sure is indigenous to both Los Angeles and NYC that just screams I Might Be Someone, But Even if I’m Not, I Want You to Know I Think I Am Very Important and Connected. It’s an odd sort of swagger. He turns to me, and, in a way that could have been taken as either smarmy or friendly, “Hi, I’m [redacted]. I’m your new movie buddy.”

I generally default to believing that people are being friendly, so I say, “Nice to meet you. I’m Beth.”

Then he laughs, looks at his ladyfriend, then looks back at me and says, “I’m just joking. I don’t even know who you are.”

So I say, “That’s ok. I’ve forgotten your name already.”

He announces to ladyfriend that he’s going to go off and “look for a nosh” before the film starts, and after he leaves, she awkwardly compliments me on my pedicure, presumably by way of apology. Once he gets back, I endure ten minutes of listening to name dropping, braggity bragging, and bloviating about parties he’s attended recently. As the lights dim, he says to no one in particular – with no self-awareness or irony whatsoever – “Dazzle me.”

I completely understand why the world thinks we’re assholes.
smokin' stimpy

How You Can Help the Newtown Community

If you need help, or would like to help --

Newtown Memorial Fund

Newtown Parent Connection

Newtown Youth and Family Services

The Red Cross Sandy Hook School Support Fund

The United Way Sandy Hook School Support Fund

Lutheran Church Charities is providing comfort dogs to the community.

If you are a local and would like to volunteer, call 211 or (800) 203-1234 (Per the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection)

smokin' stimpy

(no subject)

tl;dr to follow:

It’s rare that I actually change my mind about something. I’m a stubborn old hag, and in my peculiar way, I can be very set in my worldview. Last night, I changed my mind about gun control. I’ve been on the fence for some time, and my friends that are anti-gun control proponents have made some very good points in the past that have made me wibble on my stance in this issue. Prompted by yesterday’s unspeakable tragedy, I started reading and rereading a metric shit ton of articles related to gun violence. I’ve changed my mind: I have scooted firmly into the pro-gun control camp. I don’t think that America needs to be disarmed, nor do I think that’s even possible. This country’s love of guns is too deeply entrenched in its culture. I think that common sense laws need to be enacted, and assault rifles need to be banned.

Here’s the crux of what changed my mind:

Yesterday morning, a man walked into an American elementary school with a Glock and a Sig Sauer. 28 people are dead, 20 of whom were children.

Yesterday morning, a man walked into a Chinese elementary school and stabbed 22 children and one adult. None of the victims died.

It’s the contrast that solidified my feelings once and for all. Yes, knives, mallets, rose shears, brass knuckles, broken beer bottles, and sharpened sticks can all be utilized by violent people to commit violent crimes, but you just can’t beat guns – especially automatic weapons – when it comes to the efficient slaughter of human beings.

So, here’s some links. I’m not sharing these because I’m trying to sway anyone’s opinion – honestly, I am soulsick, tired, and (hoping no one takes offense) I honestly don’t give two shits whether anyone agrees with me. I simply want to share a few of the links I pulled up in the last few days just in case some of you want to give them a look over. It’s just food for thought. Discuss, or don't, as you please.

Extremely interesting list of studies of gun use compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health
(This is a tremendously valuable resource.)

Global Murder Rates

Gun Homicides and Gun Ownership Listed by Country

Children and Gun Deaths

It’s Easier For Americans To Access Guns Than Mental Health Services

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths
(Thank you, Spencer.)

Twelve Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the US

Why School Shootings Don’t Lead to Tighter Gun Control in the US

More Guns, More Mass Shootings -- Coincidence?

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

Twelve Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States

The Geography of Gun Deaths

Cross-Border Spillover

The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America

Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland Are Not Gun-Toting Utopias

Look, the idea that armed bystanders would have been able to stop any of these mass shootings is absurd cowboy nonsense. Here’s the thing: if someone goes into a classroom (or a movie theatre, or a church, or a mall, WHEREVER) with a semi or fully automatic gun with a high-capacity magazine and he or she starts shooting, /a lot of people will die/, period. Even if there are armed good-guy cowboys present, people will die, and these well-intentioned cowboys, having likely never received formal training, will only add to the body count. Arming MORE people isn’t the answer; the only rational way to minimize the frequency of mass shootings is to increase access to mental health services, work towards removing the stigmas attached to asking for emotional and psychological help, and implement policies that would make automatic and semi-automatic weapons as well as high-capacity magazines illegal (at best) or (at the very least) much harder to acquire. Two-thirds of the guns used in mass shootings in recent years were purchased legally. There is something grievously wrong with our gun policy.

Here are some measures that even the NRA supports:
1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.

2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.

3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.

4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.

5. Concealed carry permits shouldn’t be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.


I’m not saying that we should hack apart the 2nd amendment; what I’m saying is that we need to take a long, hard look at what our priorities are as a nation, and make some efforts to keep congressmen from getting shot in the face and keep children from being massacred in their classrooms.

- - -

Harvard Firearms Research: Homicide

1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide (literature review).
Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Hepburn, Lisa; Hemenway, David. Firearm availability and homicide: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. 2004; 9:417-40.

2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.

3. Across states, more guns = more homicide
Using a validated proxy for firearm ownership, we analyzed the relationship between firearm availability and homicide across 50 states over a ten year period (1988-1997).
After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. Household firearm ownership levels and homicide rates across U.S. regions and states, 1988-1997. American Journal of Public Health. 2002: 92:1988-1993.

4. Across states, more guns = more homicide (2)
Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, we examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. State-level homicide victimization rates in the U.S. in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003. Social Science and Medicine. 2007; 64:656-64.

Harvard Firearms Research: Gun-Threats and Self-Defense Gun Use

1-3 Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense
We use epidemiological theory to explain why the "false positive" problem for rare events can lead to large overestimates of the incidence of rare diseases or rare phenomena such as self-defense gun use. We then try to validate the claims of many millions of annual self-defense uses against available evidence. We find that the claim of many millions of annual self-defense gun uses by American citizens is invalid.

Hemenway, David. Survey research and self-defense gun use: An explanation of extreme overestimates. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 1997; 87:1430-1445.

Hemenway, David. The myth of millions of annual self-defense gun uses: A case study of survey overestimates of rare events. Chance (American Statistical Association). 1997; 10:6-10.

Cook, Philip J; Ludwig, Jens; Hemenway, David. The gun debate's new mythical number: How many defensive uses per year? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 1997; 16:463-469.

4. Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal

We analyzed data from two national random-digit-dial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah. Gun use in the United States: Results from two national surveys. Injury Prevention. 2000; 6:263-267.

5. Firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense.

Using data from a national random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted under the direction of the Harvard Injury Control Center, we examined the extent and nature of offensive gun use. We found that firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense. All reported cases of criminal gun use, as well as many of the so-called self-defense gun uses, appear to be socially undesirable.

Hemenway, David; Azrael, Deborah. The relative frequency of offensive and defensive gun use: Results of a national survey. Violence and Victims. 2000; 15:257-272.

6. Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime.

Using data from a national random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted under the direction of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, we investigated how and when guns are used in the home. We found that guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime; other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns.

Publication: Azrael, Deborah R; Hemenway, David. In the safety of your own home: Results from a national survey of gun use at home. Social Science and Medicine. 2000; 50:285-91.

7. Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use one in self-defense.

We analyzed data from a telephone survey of 5,800 California adolescents aged 12-17, which asked questions about gun threats against, and self-defense gun use by these young people. We found that these young people were far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense, and most of the reported self-defense gun uses were hostile interactions between armed adolescents. Males, smokers, binge drinkers, those who threatened others and whose parents were less likely to know their whereabouts were more likely both to be threatened with a gun and to use a gun in self-defense.
Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Gun threats against and self-defense gun use by California adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2004; 158:395-400.

8. Criminals who are shot are typically the victims of crime

Using data from a survey of detainees in a Washington D.C. jail, we worked with a prison physician to investigate the circumstances of gunshot wounds to these criminals.

We found that one in four of these detainees had been wounded, in events that appear unrelated to their incarceration. Most were shot when they were victims of robberies, assaults and crossfires. Virtually none report being wounded by a "law-abiding citizen."

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Oen, Roger; Pitts, Khalid R. When criminals are shot: A survey of Washington DC jail detainees. Medscape General Medicine. 2000; June 28.

9-10. Few criminals are shot by decent law abiding citizens

Using data from surveys of detainees in six jails from around the nation, we worked with a prison physician to determine whether criminals seek hospital medical care when they are shot. Criminals almost always go to the hospital when they are shot. To believe fully the claims of millions of self-defense gun uses each year would mean believing that decent law-abiding citizens shot hundreds of thousands of criminals. But the data from emergency departments belie this claim, unless hundreds of thousands of wounded criminals are afraid to seek medical care. But virtually all criminals who have been shot went to the hospital, and can describe in detail what happened there.

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Oen, Roger; Pitts, Khalid R. Medical Care Solicitation by Criminals with Gunshot Wound Injuries: A Survey of Washington DC Jail Detainees. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 48:130-132.

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Do Criminals Go to the Hospital When They are Shot? Injury Prevention 2002: 8:236-238.

31 Days of Halloween: the Willows by Algernon Blackwood

AFTER leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Budapesth, the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation, where its waters spread away on all sides regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles, covered by a vast sea of low willow-bushes. On the big maps this deserted area is painted in a fluffy blue, growing fainter in colour as it leaves the banks, and across it may be seen in large straggling letters the word Sumpfe, meaning marshes.

In high flood this great acreage of sand, shingle-beds, and willow-grown islands is almost topped by the water, but in normal seasons the bushes bend and rustle in the free winds, showing their silver leaves to the sunshine in an ever-moving plain of bewildering beauty. These willows never attain to the dignity of trees; they have no rigid trunks; they remain humble bushes, with rounded tops and soft outline, swaying on slender stems that answer to the least pressure of the wind; supple as grasses, and so continually shifting that they somehow give the impression that the entire plain is moving and alive. For the wind sends waves rising and falling over the whole surface, waves of leaves instead of waves of water, green swells like the sea, too, until the branches turn and lift, and then silvery white as their under-side turns to the sun.

Happy to slip beyond the control of the stern banks, the Danube here wanders about at will among the intricate network of channels intersecting the islands everywhere with broad avenues down which the waters pour with a shouting sound; making whirlpools, eddies, and foaming rapids; tearing at the sandy banks; carrying away masses of shore and willow-clumps; and forming new islands innumerably which shift daily in size and shape and possess at best an impermanent life, since the flood-time obliterates their very existence.

Properly speaking, this fascinating part of the river's life begins soon after leaving Pressburg, and we, in our Canadian canoe, with gipsy tent and frying-pan on board, reached it on the crest of a rising flood about mid-July. That very same morning, when the sky was reddening before sunrise, we had slipped swiftly through still-sleeping Vienna, leaving it a couple of hours later a mere patch of smoke against the blue hills of the Wienerwald on the horizon; we had breakfasted below Fischeramend under a grove of birch trees roaring in the wind; and had then swept on the tearing current past Orth, Hainburg, Petronell (the old Roman Carnuntum of Marcus Aurelius), and so under the frowning heights of Thelsen on a spur of the Carpathians, where the March steals in quietly from the left and the frontier is crossed between Austria and Hungary.

Racing along at twelve kilometres an hour soon took us well into Hungary, and the muddy waters -- sure sign of flood -- sent us aground on many a shingle-bed, and twisted us like a cork in many a sudden belching whirlpool before the towers of Pressburg (Hungarian, Poszony) showed against the sky; and then the canoe, leaping like a spirited horse, flew at top speed under the grey walls, negotiated safely the sunken chain of the Fliegende Brucke ferry, turned the corner sharply to the left, and plunged on yellow foam into the wilderness of islands, sand-banks, and swamp-land beyond -- the land of the willows.

[ read on at project gutenberg / audio available on librivox ]