We’re Number Two!

From the International Herald Tribune, “U.S. high court accepts gun rights”, Friday, June 27, 2008, p. 1:

The United States has a higher rate of gun-related deaths than any other country but Albania, according to World Health Organization data.

Good to know.

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We’re back from Croatia. I’ll blog more about both parental visits when I get the photos back.

Simon, Paula, Randy – meet Abby.

Last Wednesday, Abby (and I) were on Albanian television, for the semi-finals of Albania’s answer to American Idol, “Academy of Stars”. In this program, 24 students are selected and divided into two teams, and they go head to head in a variety of dance performances or songs, depending on each student’s discipline. At the end of each program, viewers text in their favorites for each match-up, and the loser is eliminated. The quality of the performances varies – some of the kids actually could give David Archuleta a run for his money, while others will probably never get further than a karaoke bar.

The theme of last week’s show was “American night” – songs sung by Aretha Franklin, Anastacia, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner, and Evanescence (as it happened). The show’s producers asked the Embassy’s Public Affairs Office to provide someone for the judges’ panel – the judges are generally instructors or professional critics, with one guest brought in each week – and the office director in turn suggested Abby.

We had enough time to watch the show the week before, so we had a vague idea of how it worked. Even despite it being a low-budget and somewhat silly show (during our night, for example, they performed a 10-minute version of “High School Musical”, complete with canned musical and video backup), we enjoyed it, and we came in with our favorites already in mind. After the singing part of the competition, Abby gave her comments – in Albanian, which impressed everyone – and then after the show, she gave some very diplomatic interviews about how the show compares to the American version. We’re even going to the finals tonight, to see how “our” contestants fare.

Dental drama

I’ve been having sensitivity in my teeth for about six weeks: the root is exposed on tooth #30 (lower right) from overeager brushing, a filling in tooth #3 (upper right) had gone bad after 24 years, and a cavity was forming where teeth #2 and 3 met. Four weeks ago I started going to a dentist who was recommended by a friend from the British embassy.* The office was very clean, the equipment very high-tech, etc., but after four visits the dentist still hadn’t been able to resolve the problems, and in some respects had made them worse; so I got a dentist recommendation from our own medical unit and visited there today. The new dentist poked at the lower tooth and found a spot where nothing had been treated – the torture scene from Marathon Man obviously came to mind – so he undid the work the first dentist had done on my lower tooth to remove an amalgam that had been placed at the root, in order to put down a coating of some kind, and he then restored the amalgam. There’s still some work that needs to be done on it, so it actually feels a bit worse than it had, but he’ll finish up on Wednesday and then work on the top teeth.

The worst of it, however, was that he injected me with a lot of novocaine, and it made my lip swell a bit after I left the dentist’s office even as the numbing effect grew stronger. I sat down for lunch with a swollen inner lip and no sensation in the right side of my jaw, and thus began consuming the inside of my lower lip along with my doner sandwich. It has not been a good day.

*My friend actually has nice teeth, but the irony is not lost on me.

More on the dog project

Our group had its second meeting last night. We discussed some strategy and next steps, and – based on a conversation that I and my Albanian counterpart, Mimi, had had with a local attorney – I explained how to incorporate: that we needed to name a board of directors and an executive director, and draft and file the necessary papers (and pay the attorney for her services). I was the only one to volunteer then and there to serve either as one of the directors or as the executive. This was strange, considering that I’m not even the most ardent of the advocates for stray dogs. (The German woman, Edith, who’d had the same idea to start a movement that I did is kind of nuts about the cause, but not even she raised her hand.)

Granted, this is not a light undertaking; and some people have concern about possible unintended legal obligations; and we have to make sure we find the right people for the various jobs, and not just find people who are more enthusiastic than capable; still, I’d expected a fight for leadership positions, not a backing-away. I remember going to a swimming pool when I was around 12 years old and being very excited to jump off the 10-foot board, until I climbed up the ladder and stood on the suddenly very narrow, very flimsy plank. I ended up climbing back down the ladder; but that was then, and I didn’t expect a tableful of committed adults to do the same thing now.

Edith also told us that the city had culled dogs in the Park. Abby and I had noticed that one of the dozen or so dogs that we “know” had what looked like a bullet wound in her leg, and Edith, who regularly feeds the dogs, said that many of them no longer came around for food. She and I talked about the different dogs that we both know, and I realized that half of Cooper’s “friends” could have been shot, since I hadn’t seen them for a few days either. It was a very painful night, but fortunately, four of them turned up this morning, and the other two may be around somewhere. Yet even if it was a false alarm after all, it’s clear we have a lot of work to do, so anyone who can help us fund-raise is more than welcome to do so.