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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Going for Gold in Men's Insomnia

I stayed up until nearly 5 AM New Zealand time last night (today!) to catch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing. I nearly ignored the alarm that went off at 11 PM in order to stay in bed as sleep, once it takes hold, is hard to give up.

But I'm so glad I didn't!

Like many of you I was blown away by the entire spectacle. They made the fireworks look so great and so easy to do but I guess it should come more naturally to the culture that invented gunpowder. My favourite touch regarding the fireworks was the set of 28 footprints leading up to the Bird's Nest Stadium, representing all of the Games to come before this one. It's only too bad the people in the stadium could not get the full effect of that, although they sure got an overload of other amazing things.

The final torch-bearer's run (Li Ning) across the inner rim of the roof was spectacular and I just couldn't get over how BIG the freakin' torch was! For a brief moment, I thought the flames were going to engulf the poor guy as well, it went up in such a roar. The continuing theme of the unraveling scroll throughout was a nice touch, especially how they carried off that special effect. The painters who laid down the initial sketch of a mountainous skyline, coupled with all of the athletes' footprints finishing the work, was an exceptionally nice touch. England have their hands full trying to top this opening ceremony, especially the torch. Wow.

It was a thrill to finally see the American contingent emerge once all of the nations' athletes began to take center stage. It was nice to hear them get such a warm reception from the Chinese crowd, too. I thought the American uniforms were interesting, as everyone seems to have just left the yacht club in order to come to the Games. I half expected to see Spalding from Caddyshack walk in front of the camera, bitching about how he wants a hamburger, no a hot dog, and a milkshake...

Anyways, I always love it when the Olympics are on, even more than when the soccer World Cup is going. China (Beijing, anyways) is only four hours behind us, which is good because most stuff won't be on time-delay for us here in New Zealand. The bad thing is, event coverage will go until 4 AM most nights, so I am going to be sleep-deprived for the next fortnight! But I don't mind in the least, the Olympics for me are always something to savour. I especially enjoy these Games more than the Winter Olympics, although they are great fun as well.

Say what you will about China, they got the spirit of the Olympics right last night. Maybe I've been reading the newspaper too much lately, which is usually full of mostly bad news, but the world needs this shot in the arm every once in a while of goodwill and humanity.

Citius, Altius, Fortius.

Friday, August 08, 2008

HBO moots Brooksie as Casting Director for new series!*

Everyone has their favourites in life, in categories like movies, food, music, celebrities, and destinations, among others. Sure, you might have your 'Top Ten' favourites and, depending on the category, sometimes it's hard to flesh out the list whilst at other times it's very hard to whittle it down to just ten, let alone set the order straight.

But sometimes, not necessarily in every category, there is one thing that goes beyond being merely a 'favourite'. It so completely blows away the rest of your list that it is in a class all by itself. I'm not sure what to call this exalted level of favouritism, except perhaps 'Unhealthy Obsession' or maybe 'To Die For'. Not to get too carried away with this, but sometimes you just experience something that has such a profound influence on you that you forever make it a part of your life, however small.

It could be a song that really clicks with you, either on some philosophical level or more likely for sentimental reasons. Maybe it's a movie that just had everything right that you look for in a film. Or maybe you actually have a life and are right now feeling a little sorry for me and perhaps a little amused that I could be so esoteric about elements of pop culture.

But that's OK! You see, I am so excited about what I am about to tell you that I am beyond caring how much of a 'fanboy' I look at the moment.

The category in question here is books; specifically, a series of novels currently being written by George R. R. Martin. Collectively, they are known as A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF) and at present there are four published books in the series. The fifth is on its way (hopefully by mid-2009) and Martin presumes there will be about seven total books when the series is completed.

This is a series of books that are the best I've ever read, bar none. They are written from several different characters' points of view as the story is advanced, and without giving too much away the cast of characters telling the story changes somewhat in each novel. There is much intrigue amidst a vastly developed history. This world is filled with polarizing, fascinatingly complex characters that are downright addictive. Martin has some experience writing horror so this is not your typical fantasy series. It is tinged with a dark and ominous feeling as the ever-present threat that 'Winter is coming' serves to heighten the sense of dread and doom as the books progress.

Still, there is enough of a positive thread going here that it is not entirely without hope. While I am at pains to remain patient while waiting for the fifth instalment in this brilliant series, this post is not about the next eagerly awaited novel in the ASoIaF series. No, I have much more of a jones for this:

HBO turns 'Fire' into fantasy series

I know, it's very old news judging from the date of that posting, and of course the prolonged writers' strike earlier in the year put everything on hold including this project. But I was so thrilled to read about this! You see, I feel we fantasy aficionados were really fortunate to be treated to the fine work Peter Jackson et. al. did on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The films did justice to a series of books that are highly difficult to treat right on the big screen, and they were a major success in everything from casting, writing, costumes, setting to all the little touches.

If you're like me, when you read a really good book, you often wonder how it would translate to the big screen. Who would they cast as the main character? How are they going to film this scene? What the hell kind of budget are they going to need to do this right? Things like that. Well I certainly thought about that a lot with the ASoIaF novels, but these thoughts were always laced with the certain knowledge that these books could never be made into movies. They are simply too long and involved (kind of like this post, you have my apologies) to be practically shown on the big screen. The LOTR films were a stretch even with just three books 'condensed' into just over three hours each, with the extended editions on DVD clocking in at four hours apiece. Even with that, they had to eliminate certain parts of the story and even merge two characters into one, in some cases.

While I have no problem with that, most of the movie-going public, even fans of Martin's books, would not have the stomach for a six-hour film for just one book. Especially since just to get all the material from one book into six hours, you'd have to edit a lot. I'd rather not see them butcher these novels just for the sake of getting them on the big screen.

Enter HBO. In all their awesomeness, they decided to greenlight production of the ASoIaF novels in the only format they ever could have: televised serial episodes. This is brilliant because in my opinion HBO is the only network that could have done this. They have an obviously lavish budget for their series, almost all of which have been exceptionally well done on every level. You may not like all of their shows (I know I don't like them all), but you have to admit they all are expertly crafted shows.

It looks like Martin is going to get about 23 one-hour episodes per book/season, which is perfect as it will allow them to explore all the nuances of the complicated plot as well as the many unique and blemished characters that tell the story. Martin himself may write 1-2 episodes per season, something which will be easy for him as he cut his teeth as a writer working on "The Twilight Zone" and "Beauty and the Beast" television shows.

Now if you enjoy a good book as much as I do, you will know that if they ever decide to put it on the big (or small!) screen, they simply must get the casting and plot right! There is much truth to the axiom that, 'The book is always better than the movie,' in my opinion, but this does not mean that they cannot keep the faith with the gist of all the major plotlines.

Equally important to me is who they decide to cast in the film, for a poor or tragic casting choice can really make or break the whole project. Just as much as deciding to shitcan a significant part of the plot can make a dog's breakfast of it all, so too can casting somebody completely wrong.

I am confident that HBO will do a great job on both counts, and am hoping that more than a few of the major parts cast will go to new and mostly unfamiliar actors. This will serve to keep everything fresh and new and allow me to enjoy these books all over again in this format without being too biased towards who is playing what role.

That being said, I hereby offer my humble suggestions for just a few of the parts, with a few other notes as well.

Sandor Clegane, "The Hound": I'd love to see Adam Baldwin in this role. He's got the physique for it and is familiar with playing brutish, anti-social characters. The Hound, like everyone else in ASoIaF, is complex and quite compelling and is one of my favourite characters in the series. I am encouraged by how well the special effects/makeup departments did with the Harvey "Two-Face" Dent's look in The Dark Knight, so they should be able to make Sandor look scary and threatening with ease as one side of his face and skull are horribly burnt from a childhood incident.

Arya Stark: My favourite character in the series, which is a hard choice since so many of them are great. But only until recently I had nobody in mind for her role until I saw Juno, and I realized Ellen Page would be great in this role, even though she's not 'horse-faced' like Arya is described in the books.

Robert Baratheon: It was hard not to picture Brian Blessed in this role, but he may be getting a bit on in years for this, especially since this whole project seems to still be in the 'concept' phase.

Jaime Lannister: I have always pictured William Katt here, but as my friend Pete put it, 'he's a bit long in the tooth for it' now. I just can't think of any other blonde curly-haired actors who would fit this role!

Tyrion Lannister: Peter Dinklage seems to be a pretty universal choice for this excellent role, one of the best characters I've ever encountered in a book. Mr. Dinklage would certainly be great as this character, I do hope he gets the nod when this goes to production. By the way, I've always thought that Tyrion must be quite similar to the author. I just get the feeling that there is far more of Martin in this character than any other of his that he's created. Wouldn't it be awesome if he cast himself in this role?

Eddard Stark: Michael Biehn would fit this brooding, dour persona best, but really this role could be easily cast.

Catelyn Stark: Julianne Moore would certainly be great for this role. She could carry off the noble haughtiness and tough inner resolve, which are two of Lady Cat's more defining qualities.

Qyburn: I am jumping all over the place with these suggestions but I only pictured a few established actors as these characters when reading the books. Given that this dark soul has necromantic tendencies, I feel that none other than Jeffrey Combs of Re-Animator fame (infamy) should or could play this role. Of course it's a smaller role but it'd be so cool if they managed to cast this guy here.

Margaery Tyrell: While Martin's description of this princess as 'doe-eyed' and 'beautiful' with her long tresses of dark brown hair makes her an obvious fit, I hope you don't think I'm gratuitously including Jennifer Love Hewitt here just because I think she is one of the hottest actresses! Call me crazy, you wouldn't be the first, but I stand by this choice.

And a final poignant mention of the late Heath Ledger. All through the books I pictured him as Ser Loras Tyrell, Margaery's valiant and arrogant older brother. He would have made a great Knight of Flowers but, like so many other great roles we will never enjoy seeing Mr. Ledger play, this is one that will have to go to someone else.

I realize this post is probably long-winded and about something to which you cannot relate, but I've been wanting to post about this HBO project for some time since I'm so excited about it. My friend Chris got me hooked on these books about ten years ago, and since then I've gotten two other friends madly hooked on them, and have discovered quite a few fellow fans along the way.

I can wholeheartedly recommend these books to you, whether you read fantasy or not. They are gritty and dark at times but I have not found a more wonderfully, completely crafted fantasy series than A Song of Ice and Fire. Though George R. R. Martin makes all of us wait for years in between novels, our one consolation is that at least there are several more novels still to come.

And now maybe a kick-ass TV series on HBO to boot!
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*Yeah, right. I wish!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A truly technicolour yawn

"Brandon, these people are here with a puppy they think ate some lead pencils," Liz said as I was finishing up with another client.

"Oh, okay," I said. "I'll see them next, just a second."

Normally we are appointment-only, however for things that obviously cannot wait to be seen, such as potential toxin ingestions or other emergencies, we will of course clear the decks.

I'm still pretty new to New Zealand, but I couldn't remember the last time I used any lead-containing pencils in the States. Well, okay, I could remember using them way back in like second grade but we're talking the mid-1970's here. Lead had long since been banished from most commercial things like paints and petrol, and certainly things that little kids might handle such as pencils.

But I knew it would not be smart to assume (is it ever smart to assume?) that there is no possible way this puppy could have gotten hold of a pencil with lead in it. To wait until she showed symptoms would be foolish as lead certainly can be life-threatening in more than one way. Also, if given the opportunity to prevent further absorption of a toxin - and the timing does not always work out like this - then by all means you have to take it.

In most cases, this usually involves making your patient vomit.

Yes, normally I'm trying to stop my patients from vomiting any way I can, but in these cases it can help them out tremendously. Just as long as you can, you know, stop them from vomiting once they've gotten everything out they need to.

So I head out into the waiting area and there, surrounded by about eight girls ranging in age from five to, oh, fourteen, is an adult woman looking a little discombobulated. One of the girls is holding onto a little mixed-breed terrier with long spiky light brown and black hair. Somewhere under all that poofed-out hair was a dog, I assumed, so I asked them all to follow me into the exam room.

The ten of us now in the little exam room, all of the girls watched me intently as I took the puppy from the little girl who was carrying it. "Kaylee" was the pup's name, and sure enough under all of that fur was a pair of shiny black eyes and a smiling face. There were several suspicious pink smudges along the puppy's upper lip and jaw, and she gave a little wag of her tail as I picked her up.

The woman whose job it was to shepherd all of these girls and their sick puppy placed the chewed-up remnants of three coloured pencils on the exam table. They were all various shades of pink. "Here. That's what we found with her when we got home. Actually I'm not the owner; this girl's mother is still at work so they called me."

"Ah," I said. "Well that is just fine, you did good getting her in here quickly like you did." I knew the girl from whom I took the pup was the dog's owner, but as far as her relationship to the other girls I never knew for sure, or even if the woman there was the mother to any of the other girls.

It was no matter, and I asked them if they saw her actually chewing on the pencils. They said that they did, they caught her doing it soon after they got in from school that afternoon. I asked if there were any other things they saw her chewing or that looked as if they may have been chewed by her, and they said there weren't. Apparently most of the coloured pencils in the collection survived desolation in this puppy's jaws, but given enough time I'm sure she would have moved on from pink to some other tasty colour.

I examined the pencil fragments more closely, looking for anything emblazoned down the side that might indicate that these contained lead. There was nothing of the sort (it's never that easy), so I still didn't know for sure. Also, I remember most pencils used for writing used to contain lead but I was never sure of the coloured pencils. Did they ever contain lead? If they did, did they somehow escape the moratorium on lead in all 'normal' black pencils?

Kaylee seemed in perfectly good nick, aside from the pink smudges on her face giving her up as a pencil-chewer, but lead takes a while to work its damage. Among other things it causes the destruction of the body's red blood cells and also can have neurological effects, such as seizures. Not wanting to wait for any of these things as proof, I told my assembled crowd that it was now time to make Kaylee vomit.

There were a variety of reactions but mostly they seemed actually pretty keen to see this happen! One girl I remember held her ears as I said this, and I'm not exactly sure what she was expecting because vomiting isn't usually a deafening occurrence, but she seemed a little bit distressed. Nonetheless they all followed me to the courtyard, where I told them I'd return with Kaylee once I'd given her something to make her vomit.

There are several options for inducing vomiting in a dog or a cat (dunno about you human types, but too much alcohol has always worked for me). My favourite over the years for getting a dog to yak has been good old hydrogen peroxide. One or two tablespoons of this, combined with a brisk walk around the yard, has given me the most successful results. There is a drug called apomorphine that most other vets swear by, but it has let me down more often than I have found it to work.

With one of the nurses holding on to Kaylee, I gave the pup a couple of teaspoons of peroxide and she took it like a champ. It also helped to scrub away the pink smudges on her fur, which made her look as if she had tried to apply some lipstick during an earthquake.

We returned outside where the girls eagerly awaited some results and the nurse walked Kaylee in brisk little circles around the yard. Kaylee was having the time of her life, getting all this attention and exercise. After five minutes with no results, I decided to give the peroxide one last go. After that, I'd move on to the apomorphine or perhaps some washing soda, as I really did want to make her vomit since she'd just ingested these bits of pencil.

After too much longer, it'd be too late to try vomiting as a treatment and I'd have to make a decision about treating her with an expensive antidote. A heavy metal chelator, succimer is quite good at what it does, but at a couple hundred dollars a pop, it was an expensive insurance policy compared to the cheap wonders of hydrogen peroxide.

So Kaylee bravely downed ten more milliliters of hydrogen peroxide (bravely, hell - she had no choice!) and we returned to the outside. Within a minute of her touching the ground, she started to make those initial motions involved in upchucking. Her tiny belly contracting, her neck extending, she finally managed to disgorge a slimy pile of mucus, kibble... and pink smudges of chewed up pencil!

Several of the girls let out a collective "Yay!" and I was pleased to see that Kaylee finally vomited. She horked up about another seven or eight progressively smaller piles of pink-coloured goo until finally she stopped bringing anything up and then stopped retching altogether, all in the span of about ten minutes. Perfect!

Poison control didn't seem to be too worried about these coloured pencils containing any lead, unless they were several decades old. The woman had no clue but the little girl who owned Kaylee said they bought them this year, so I felt relieved that they were probably free of harmful toxins. Still, I educated the girl and her chaperon about signs of lead toxicity and to keep a close eye on Kaylee.

And to pick up all remaining pencils, coloured or otherwise! For that matter, to try and puppy-proof in general as best they could, for as any dog owners know, anything that's not bolted down (and even then ...) is fair game for a dog to chew on, doubly so for a puppy who's curious and teething.

After cleaning the slobber off of Kaylee's face and noting that the vomitus had served to re-colour her whiskers with a tinge of pink, we handed her back over to the girl and they all left happily.

The next day, the girl's mother stopped by to settle the account and let us all know that Kaylee was fine. The woman was quite happy we worked them in at a moment's notice, especially while she was away at work and unable to attend or pay straight away. I told her the pleasure was all ours and Kaylee was a very sweet puppy.

After all, it's not that often that you can make a little girl happy to see her puppy vomit! Except when it's pink and potentially toxic, I guess.