Sunday, December 31, 2006

For Emano (again)

Alpacas from our county fair back in September. These one had been fairly recently shorn, except the tops of their heads.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More Christmas Music

I have been listening to WYSU playing jazz as they do every Friday and Saturday evening (and yes they stream). Tonight they have been playing Christmas music non-stop, all cool jazz. This I could listen to for a very long time too. I actually got more done in my living room then I thought I would.... out of sheer unwillingness to leave the room with the wonderful stereo playing jazz. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" etc. ... mostly just jazz instrumental. The tree is finally up and decorated. Also today I finally got cherry tree outside lit, and this year I did the Paw-Paw on the other side of the driveway. The icicle lights have been up for over a week. I wish there was snow, but there is only rain. My poor neighbor was driven to tears today by something, probably her husband. Holidays can be hard on families. Christmas is amazingly easy and pleasant on one's own, though I am sad not to be traveling to see my parents and others this year. I am getting things done and all is lovely.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Creativity Embodied

In todays New York Times, by Penelope Green:

"Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands."

I think I will be smiling all day.

And my house is significantly cleaner than it was a few days ago. I DO need to finish cleaning the liiving room and get my Christmas decorations up, however......

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Music

I found myself carrying in bags of presents and humming “Lully, Lullay” tonight. I immediately went to my computer and CDs looking for Christmas music. I discovered that I had left “December Stillness” by the Dale Warland Singers at work. I was pretty sure I had a Cambridge Singer’s Christmas music CD, but haven’t unearthed it yet. I went to iTunes and the internet looking for more Christmas music. I was thwarted in my desires as usual.

When I was growing up my parents had an absolutely loved two record set of Christmas music by a madrigal octet. It is old and scratchy now. I need to ask them the name of the singers. My parents live in Eugene Oregon and have neighbors who love to sing go from door to door caroling in pretty harmony. I sang alto in the church choir (or sometimes tenor or soprano if there was a need, my voice is not fabulous, but it has a range). Our choir was small, a dozen voices well used to each other. Our congregation, like most Lutherans, loved to sing in general. The service is sung, the pastor sings, the old book had all the harmony parts written in for those of use who can read music and like to sing in harmony. The newer book only has the melody. I have always wondered why they took out the harmony.

This Christmas eve, here, thousands of miles away from that little church, I will wander down to the big ELCA Lutheran church a mile or so from here on Christmas eve for the candlelight service. I hope to sing many carols with the congregation, remembering the harmony part for most, and will undoubtedly find myself nearly in tears at the beauty of singing “Silent Night” softly at the end in a sanctuary lit only by candles.

Last year, while I was shopping at a mall in Cleveland, a quartet of professional singers strolled about singing carols in gorgeous 4 part harmony, each voice distinct, each one blending warmly with the others. I stopped my rushing about to listen to the perfect music with absolute delight.

So, hunting for Christmas music.... Christmas to me is about giving and peace, and wonder. I always hope for glittering snow on Christmas, though I have never managed to be in a white Christmas in my life, this year looks to be no exception. Nonetheless, the Christian religious meaning of the birth of Christ, blends neatly in my head with the pagan celebration of winter solstice, and the knowledge of the earth's turning and tilting as it orbits the sun, the longest night and the sun’s return. Here in the advent of winter in this northern place the earth takes a breath, takes a break, and awaits the new year coming. We celebrate birth and wonders, angels, a new star bold in the sky. Was it a comet, standing on it's tail like a sword? Was it a supernova, a star exploding in a last blaze and lighting the way?

I do not like pop Christmas, or crazed consumer frenzy Christmas, or plastic Christmas, nor cutesy Christmas. This is a Holy time.

So, once again, hunting for Christmas music. I do not like much pop music at Christmas, nor country. I do not mind hearing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” or “Blue Christmas” or even “Grandma got Run Over By a Reindeer” once or twice in the season, but it is not what I look for. I do not mind huge chorales singing “Angels we Have Heard on High” with pomp and bombast. I do rather mind opera singers belting out songs like “What Child is This” with excessive drama and vibratos wide enough to drive tractor trailers through. What I really WANT is the pure harmonies of a small group of singers, a quartet or an octet, blending beautifully, singing old and new hymns.

I like some of the Anonymous 4, but they are all women, and though their voices are pure and clear as icicles they wear on me when uninterrupted by deeper tones. I love the Cambridge Singers for their boy sopranos and the grounding of mature voices. I have sat in the chill stone expanse of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge with my parents, watching a tear run down my father’s face while the boys sang Taverner’s “The Lamb” with unearthly clarity and beauty. But that choir too can slip into indulgent bombast on occasion. The Dale Warland Singers are also quite close to what I want. But why can’t I find a small group singing the classic carols? Perhaps a group of eight voices, or four, men and women, singing “Lully Lullay”, “What Child is This”, “O Little Town of Bethleham”, “We Three Kings”, all the standards, and some more early songs, and some recent ones that blend, uncommon ones.... there is one by Charles Ive’s (A Christmas Carol) that can make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck... Quink! I must look up Quink! They sang it .... and then, at the end, sing “Silent Night" while I think of snowfalls and candlelight.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"..them seemed to make no sense..."

I am finishing my various class grades for Fall semester. The grades are due by tomorrow at 10. I had about 300 students enrolled in 6 different classes to finish grades for. Some of those classes were entirely mine, others were in classes that I taught half of, or a third of. Nonetheless, there were a lot of items to grade, and numbers to enter. I am not a very good bureaucrat. I long for the days when professors had secretaries, or the systems in which professors do little grading.

One of the classes I teach is a modular “Explorations in the Sciences” class that is required for non-majors. The class has no pre-requisite, is taken mainly by freshmen, and we are an open admission University. One quarter of the student’s five week module grade is based on a written report. I have slogged through about 60 of the 70 I need to evaluate. This is the one I am stuck on at the moment:

“The Experiment was all about cats. There color and their types. There was a wide variety of colors that involved the cats. Some of the colors were black, blue, white, lilac, cream, and red. My Group, liking the colors black and blue, chose them to analyze. At first these colors did not make much sense. There was so much data to take in it was hard. There was a lot of different factors them seemed to make no sense at all. The whites and the color lilac were really throwing me off. Them seemed to pop up all over the place.”

This is not an English class. There are no prerequisites.

This is not an English class. There are no prerequisites.

This is not an English class. There are no prerequisites.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Who am I sleeping with now?

Hint: there is more than one....

They are Creaky's kittens, Julius's grandchildren, now 11 weeks old

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


This is the end of my fall term, It is a time of writing tests, and grading. Snow falls in bits, freezes come and go. The sky is mainly gray though a lovely patch of cool moonlight lit me as I arrived home from work a few days ago. This is always a time of year for thought, analysis, and a shortage of sleep. I have a serious post about grading “rubrics” partially written. But that is not what I am going to write about now.

A number of my friends are having hard times. Some money troubles, some ill parents, some unusually hard work stress, one’s alcoholic husband fell off the wagon and she finds she does not much care whether she kicks him out or not. He can try to get himself together, but she is tired of betrayals, be they small or large. Another friend turns 50 shortly and I have not spoken to him in a while. Both his parents are dead and I am afraid he will take it hard. My life is the same as my life always is, steady, expected hard work for the moment, a good break soon. I have had unexpected expenses, but I am tenured, there will be more money to replace the money gone. My parents are currently in good health though they are far away and I will not get to see them at Christmas.

There seems little I can do for my friends though. I cannot remove their stressors, and I am afraid that I am not very good at being comforting. I am not even always successful at simply being here for them. Rian calls me a stone and although rocks may be solid and strong they are not much comfort either. I am pretty sure she does not think of it that way, but I see myself that way at times. I analyze, ponder, approach a problem as scientifically as I can. Then I may write a poem about it, yes, or feel slighted myself, so I am not entirely stony, but closer than most. Alas, I cannot pass on my stonyness to others.

My kittens have just knocked a bouquet of this past summer’s lavender onto the floor. I picked them up and put them back in their container, but leaves have fallen on the carpet, an appropriately purple carpet. The leaves are green and a bit spiky under my bare feet, but they smell lovely. I will leave them there for now.

Lavender. I am reminded of Narrisch’s beautiful picture of the last lavender emerging from a drift of snow.

I finger lovely blue stone beads with a stonewear pendant attached, and crush a lavender leaf in my hand. Breathe in the scent.

May everything go well for you. All of you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

half full?

I was talking to a friend on the phone tonight about various people and their half-full or half-empty approaches to life. After she also described her view I paused and thought for a couple of seconds.

I think I would pour the contents of the glass into a graduated cylinder and measure it. Then I would fill the glass with water, to the brim, and pour that into a second cylinder and measure that. Then I could express as a fairly accurate fraction what the volume had been in the glass compared to capacity. I would also add that it is relative. If the glass only held the original amount, then it would have been full, if the glass held ten times as much then the glass would be mostly empty. Then question those around, “would you choose to have an entirely full glass? One that has an equal amount of free space? or one that is mostly empty, but all three with the same volume?

My answer? If there is a good red wine involved, best if the glass is large and mostly empty, so the wine can breathe.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

So Cool!

A new genome project is in the works. Technology has advanced to the point that DNA can be recovered from samples that are tens of thousands of years old. Specifically the genome of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis is being analyzed. How closely are they related to us? Do we have any descent from them or not?

As reported by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times

"The archaic human species that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago is about to emerge from the shadows. With the help of a new DNA sequencing machine that operates with firefly light, the bones of the Neanderthals have begun to tell their story to geneticists.

One million units of Neanderthal DNA have already been analyzed, and a draft version of the entire genome, 3.2 billion units in length, should be ready in two years, said Dr. Svante Paabo, the leader of the research project at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Biologists expect knowledge of the Neanderthal genome to reveal, by its differences with the human genome, many distinctive qualities of what it means to be human. Researchers also hope to resolve such questions as whether the Neanderthals spoke, what their hair and skin color were, and whether they interbred at all with the modern humans who first arrived on their doorstep 45,000 years ago, or were driven to extinction without leaving any genetic legacy.

Dr. Paabo has shared some of his precious sample of Neanderthal DNA with Edward M. Rubin of the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., whose team has identified 62,250 units of Neanderthal DNA by a different method. The two teams report their results in the journals Nature and Science respectively, saying they have independently demonstrated that recovery of the Neanderthal genome is now possible."

About a million of the estimated 3 billion base pairs have been sequenced, as reported in the Journal Nature

The estimate is that we diverged from them about 500,000 years ago. For many thousands of years both species of man were around.

I was telling everyone who walked into my office.

"It is SOOOO cool!" I said

My students looked at me with a profound lack of interest. Sad.

Imagine what it was like when there were two intelligent species of people at the same time.

Monday, November 13, 2006


We all have different ideas of what exactly is moral and what isn’t. Even within that, who among us measure up to our internal standards? None of us are perfect.

Recently I have found myself thinking frequently of morality, and hypocrisy, and what are the best choices and whether certain belief systems make one more or less prone to deviating from a moral code.


1) Tom Haggard, the pastor of a Christian conservative mega church, who appears to have lied and cheated on his wife with a man who used to be a prostitute. If he hadn’t been so convinced that homosexuality was terribly evil, or that people are weak and tempted by the devil, would this have happened? I was raised a Christian. I remember reading repeatedly in the bible how Jesus valued peace and love, and values poverty and was basically not favorable towards material wealth. I do not remember Jesus saying anything about homosexuals. In spite of this, Christian conservative have no problem with war or wealth, yet hold huge hatred of homosexuality. Many Americans apparently do. Witness the passage of so many state constitutional amendments defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Why? In my view, whether a gay couple can or cannot get married should only matter to gay couples. And as a biologist I think that monogamy should be encouraged. It reduces the spread of disease, and marriage vows hopefully help encourage monogamy.

I think we need to take responsibility for our own actions. Saying you were tempted is a bad excuse.

2) Speaking of marriage vows and monogamy, I mentioned that Bill Clinton might be an interesting person to have dinner with. He is someone I have always wanted to meet. The person I said that to shuddered in response. I was surprised. President Clinton is a smart man, and charismatic, and concerned about the welfare of the world and the poor and education. I imagine he would be a very very interesting person to talk to over dinner. No, I was told, he is morally reprehensible, and that was that. I was dumbfounded. Yeah, he let an eager woman give him blowjobs, and he shouldn’t have, and he tried to weasel out of admitting it. But I wasn’t talking about DATING him. And yet somehow this tawdry little bit of info, which we would never know about in other people, completely over whelmed any interest in all of the global concerns and projects that Clinton is involved in. Why? Am I some kind of moral idiot to think well of the man for all he has done and said on fronts that are morally important to me because he did something wrong that would cause me to break up with him if I was dating him, or drag him off to a marriage councilor if he was my husband? He did something he shouldn’t have. So did Monica. In my eye they are equally to blame. But among the terrible things one could do, it is not at the top of my list.

The person I had this conversation with is someone I think very highly of. So, now I feel somehow dirtied. Am I wrong? Does one failure taint everything that one does? Even if the failure causes only personal hurt in the family, while good works save lives of thousands? Does my friend screen her dinner companions this way generally? Would she shun artists and musician and philosophers because they had been unfaithful? Have none of her personal friends ever slipped? Are all things equal? Or are they not?

3) A kitten that I sold as a pet last April, a very very sweet and beautiful Blue eyed white Oriental, contracted FIP and was put to sleep a week ago. She lived as an only cat. The virus that killed her likely came from my house, and the genes that made her susceptible to the disease came from one or both of her parents, I own both. As a bit of background, this virus is ubiquitous in places where there are a number of cats, shelters, cat shows, and breeders. Anyone with more than one cat may have a situation with cats passing it back and forth.

The virus is usually harmless. Once in a while, estimated overall at 5% of the time, a cat develops a fatal immune system reaction to the virus and dies. This misfiring of the immune system in response to a mutation in the virus appears to be genetic. A genetic susceptibility. It is the reaction that is FIP, not the virus. Over the decades that I have had cats, I have not had a lot of cases of FIP, and until recently I had sent only 1 kitten out that had contracted FIP and died. In the past 2 years 4 kittens, out of 21 have left my house, only to get FIP some months later. Three of those four went to multi-cat households, but sweet Tink was an only cat.

I have 12 very young kittens in my house. Seven of them are half-siblings of one of the cats that died (10 full sibs are fine and healthy), 5 are nieces and nephews of the same cat. Someone who’s opinion is important to me asked if I was going to keep all the kittens, not sell them or place them, as they stand a chance of getting the disease. I was astonished. One of eleven died. That is one too many, but it is less than 10%. Now I have half sibs and nieces and nephews. Am I worried that they could be susceptible? You bet. Do I think it likely that any individual kitten of this group will get FIP? No. Do I think I should keep these 12 kittens for the rest of their lives in my house because I worry that one or another might be susceptible, or might not be? No. I think it is more fair to the kittens to let them go out and be people’s pets. But because I have been questioned about it I am fretting about it.

I cannot guarantee the life span of any cat that I place. I have had people have cats from me live into their late teens. Others have not made ten. The longest-lived cat on record was a pedigreed cat, but in general I suspect pedigreed cats live somewhat less long on average than moggies. If I had a crystal ball and the right skills, perhaps I could tell someone, THIS cat will live only 8 years, and THAT one will live 18, and you can’t have the pretty one in your lap because she will get FIP and die before she is a year old. But I can’t do that. So I have a guarantee in my sales contract. If the cat dies due to a developmental or hereditary problem, I will replace. That, I can do. My cats are special, they bring joy. They love attention. Should they stay here with only the attention they can get from me? Should I not breed them at all? I try to be careful. I am a geneticist. I do not inbreed, I try to use and produce healthy cats. It is my hobby, and they are a great joy to me.

Am I not moral enough? Most of the time I find myself thinking, “I wouldn’t do that” when some friend or another is telling me what they are doing in some gray area. I try to do the right thing. What should I be doing? What are better choices?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Father's 80th

I flew to California for my father and his twin's 80th birthday party. My parents drove down from Oregon, my brother and family flew out from Colorado, and my unts and uncles and cousins drove in from their various locales in the Bay Area. The party was at my youngest cousin Eileen's house in Walnut Creek. Her father Bill is my father's twin brother.

It was a lovely afternoon party, the weather was perfect, clear and warm. After breakfast we went to a street art festival in the town I lived in for three years, Danville. The art festival was huge and had a wide range from lovely to tacky stuff. I picked up a present for my weekend cat sitter there.

Then we went to the party. It was a lovely afternoon party, the weather was perfect, clear and warm. My father and his brother and their two older sisters were all there. The eldest, Peggy, remaried at 80 almost 9 years ago. She is lively and spry. Virgina, the middle child, is in an assisted living/retirement home, but she spends all her time with her current boyfriend there. She needs canes to walk now, and her grandson Howard said she has on and off days. I immediately went over and talked to her, she asked me who all the people were who she didn't recognize, my brother's new wife and ihs step-kids. She seemed fairly on the ball to me.

The big surprise was her eldest son, Howards father, Rick. He had had a bypass surgury gone wrong, and strokes and I had heard that he was bedridden and barely functional. He was there, looking physically fit, a little halting in his conversation, hunting for words and names, but often coming up with snappy remarks, and pleased, pleased, pleased to be there and see everyone. Big hugs for cousins not seen in a long time.

His son Howard is an angel. He has two kids of his own, and takes care of his father, and his grandmother Virginia, and manages to be cheerful, sensible, and strong. He's a real Mensch.

This picture is of the four siblings in order of age, my father, his brother Bill, sister Virginia, then Peggy. We are talking of getting together again next year for Peggy's 90th.

Afterwords we came back to the hotel and my parents and brother and wife and I sat talking for a long time, then I went to my room and got some grading done. I am way behind on grading already. Today, San Fransicso!

Saturday, September 30, 2006


About the self:

“The big self is mondo stable. But the small self — we’re blowing about like dry leaves in the wind.”

About Time:

“It’s going backward and forward, and it’s slippery.”

-David Lynch to the New York Times

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New York New York with Hobblings

Left to right: Fedwren, Emma, Someone Else, Q (front), Lars (back), Rian, Skits, Daisy, Me (back), Keppet (front), Dana, Biped

First a disclaimer: Although I lived in New York city for 10 years I lived way uptown and knew the west side quite well, but rarely ventured to the east side, and rarely went all the way downtown. Plus I lived there 14 years ago, and it was very overcast so my sense of North/South etc way downtown was not good. On top of that my sense of time is... well, impossible.

I intended to leave Ohio as soon as I finished teaching at noon, but I had forgotten that had to give a seminar to the grad students and senior capstone students . After this and that, I was not able to leave work until 4, so instead of hitting the highway at 3:00, I did not get on the road until 7:00, with a seven hour drive to New York City in front of me. It was 2 in the morning when I crossed the Hudson River on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge (aka “Martha”). I saw the Port Authority bus terminal Rising up on the Manhattan side, and remembered it’s white interior, the candy counter with chocolate covered marshmallow bars (“blech “ says Rian) and the perpetual cluster of middle aged Hispanic men around the OTB counter. The memory was so strong, chocolate breaking softly, bright light, careworn faces......

I passed under the station and curled down onto the Harlem River Drive, the road as rutted and narrow as ever, the black water of the east river reflecting city lights. A physical longing for the City grabbed me, twisting in my chest. On some level I was and always will be a New Yorker though I did not move there until I was in my 20’s and do not plan to ever live there again.

Needless to say it was very very late by the time I went to sleep..... in an apartment with no alarm clock. I am a light sleeper, I assumed I would wake up in time to make the meeting place at 11:00 on Saturday morning.

Well, I woke up when I meant to. I had time to get ready and my estimated half an hour to walk from 81st between 2nd and 3rd avenue, through central park and up to 106th, with a stop at Starbucks for coffee of course. (“Of course” says Rian). And, of course, I miss-judged the time it would take. In spite of walking with some speed through the occasional rain it took me 45 minutes. As I passed by the lovely rocks and trees of the North-west side of Central Park I saw a familiar figure in the distance in front of me. Keppet, who I had never met, but who was entirely familiar. She had convinced an old friend to come along, poor friend.

Due to the rain, and the fact that our recent “Accomplice” information required us to be at the South street seaport at 2:00, plans to picnic in Central Park had been scrapped. The new plan was to meet somewhere n Chinatown for lunch. Others of the group had gone rouse Rian and Co. and were somewhere in the middle of Manhattan. Only one member of the group actually currently lives in NYC, although not in Manhattan and she is not a longtime NY resident, so it turned out that I might have the best working knowledge of the island.

I suggested we meet at Canal and Mott in the heart of Chinatown. We took the subway down to Canal street and pressed though the crowd to Mott. I restrained myself from looking at the 10$ knockoff Rolexes and assorted shiny attractive things. I also restrained from stopping for a roast pork bun, a bean cake, or a curried vegetable roll from my favorite Chinese bakeries.

We finally joined up with the group. I had never met Fedwren or Q or Lars or Daisy or Keppet before. The others were familiar from Paris (ah! Paris). Fedwren had scoped out a Chinese (Pan Asian actually) restaurant with plenty of room for us all for lunch. We were crowded around a huge round table with a big Lazy Susan in the middle on which our food was placed. We could spin around to what we wanted to try.

In the restaurant

Outside the restaurant

Thus fortified we headed out to the Southstreet Seaport for our Accomplice event.

I glanced at a map and headed us south, and the streets turned and After a brief glance at a map and a few words with Fedwren, the only current New Yorker of the lot of us, I turned us onto another street and sent us walking in absolutely the wrong direction, through a part of China town I had never been in before.

By the time I figured out our mistake we had quite a ways to backtrack. We were late to the South Street Seaport, and then took a bit to find our meeting place. When we got there a narrow man in a suit slid up to us, said we were LATE and had to go away for a half an hour. So, we did, had a drink and watched a man with dreadlocks and an island accent perform amazing yoga type contortions in black and yellow patterned spandex.

Rian said “I can do that.” and “I can do that too” Then he did something else and she fell silent.

Keppet and Dana

Accomplice was fun, sending us here and there through increasingly inventive means, to a Bra Bar using photographs, to a fountain with a message rolled into a cigarette, to Chinatown (back to Mott and Canal) with a fortune cookie. We found out that handsome live frogs can be purchased in Chinatown, and that drunks aren’t always drunks, and that in spite of the crowds and the San Gennaro festival in little Italy a table with bottles of wine was held for Accomplice participants, complete with drunk (perhaps) Russian, who waved over a plate of appetizers and good crusty bread. Some of the actors were a real surprise. I surprised myself by having fun playing along with the story with the loony red-head outside the church. Thankfully we had the sense not to try to give the frog to the parishoners.....

Keppet and Skit do not appear to take the mobster seriously

The Bra Bar (no that wasn't it's name) with Lars' head oddly sticking horizontally into the frame

Rian tackling Someone Else

The Frog

Skittledog prepares to bike up the Brooklyn Bridge

The Blind Beggar delivers his clues

The Russian offers wine and advice on dating

By the time it was over we just had time to subway uptown to Carmine’s on the upper west side. They still serve their after dinner expresso with a bottle of galliano and a twist of lemon peel. Yum!

Rian's Hidden Talent and Narrisch's lovely hair

I ended my night with Dana and Lars at a nice bar, where I discovered pomegranite martinis.... Mmmmmm. The rest of the Hobblings had faded and gone to bed.

And that was just Saturday.


Watch this site

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Orange Julius's Grandchildren

Here is Julius's daughter Creaky with her five 3 day old kittens. Creaky is a Torbie shaded silver Oriental Shorthair. The daughter with the mark like a flame or a flower on her forhead may be too. If so she with lighten up like her mother did. The little light brown one is also a girl. The other three (two black silver tabbies and a pointed kitten-not old enough for color yet) are boys. Creaky is a good mother. She does NOT like me looking at her kittens though. She hisses and creaks at me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Birthday of the World

I have been watching a discussion of varied cultures and religions, the advantages and disadvantages of preserving them, and the tendencies of some individual groups to try to change, absorb or convert others.

I think everything changes, but that there is value to be found in all. I guess I am something of a cultural sampler.

In any case, the Jewish high holy days are coming. This Friday is Rosh Hashana. There are some interesting recipes in the New York Times and a quote I quite liked.

"“Rosh Hashana celebrates the birthday of the world. A garden well tended is a small example of perpetual reunion.”

-Rabbi Gendler

I will step outside, take a breath of the air, look at the sky, think of beginnings. I will look at my garden and celebrate it as an example of the world's beauty, renewal, and fruitfulness.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I have many things to catch up on, posts started, not finished. Hopefully I will finish. In the meantime, a personal gripe.


I have earned one, through many years of hard work. It is Dr. It is the only title I use. In real life people call me Dr. or use my first name. I am fine with both, though I emphasize the Dr. with freshman, and try to get grad students to call me by my given name.

Now, on occasion a website or a form REQUIRES a title. A good proportion of the time when this is the case, the choices are Mr. Miss, Mrs., and Ms. Now, each of these titles means something.

Mr. - I am a man

Miss - I am an unmarried woman or a girl who is fine with conventional double standards for women as compared to men and/or I want to make sure you know I'm single.

Mrs. - I am a married woman who is fine with conventional double standards for women as compared to men and/or I want to make sure you know I'm married.

Ms. - I am a woman who thinks it is none of your business to categorize me in an old-fashioned patriarchal way, gender should be sufficient as it is for men.

Now, if you are female your title therefore says something about your opinions and your politics. Men have no such issues. Truly, I wish women generally used Ms. and dealt with their status the way men do, and that there were not other messages about politics or personal lives attached. Married women who want to express that could say so, and talk fondly of their husbands. Unmarried women could mention being single. Women who wish to discuss feminism could and come down on one side or the other but they would not have to. Ms. almost caught on for universal usage but we went backwards, and have returned more to past double standards. At least in the red states, Ms. causes raised eyebrows. A friend assures me that in her town in her blue state, Ms. is still the prefered title for women. That was reassuring.

In the meantime, I have a title I EARNED and that is the only title I want to use. I will not use another, so some things are barred to me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Garden in the End of August 2006

My garden is in its prime. The tomatoes are coming on, I have heirlooms and cherries, and salad reds and Lemon Boy yellows. It is the time for fresh tomato salad with either red wine or balsamic vinegar, fresh squeezed lemon, extra virgin olive oil, basil, garlic and celery. Sweet amd Hot peppers are ripening, zucchini get huge overnight. The winter squash, Butternut and Spaghetti squash hang from the fence. Purple black eggplants are fat and ready to roast for babaganouj or slice into steaks for grilling. I have tender tasty Kentucky Wonder pole beans to boil briefly and then dress with a light coating of soysauce, crushed garlic, fresh grated ginger, a little rice wine vinegar and a smidge of sugar and sesame oil. My ten foot sunflowers hang heavy heads full of seeds. I will try to prepare their seeds this year.

It is a time of plenty, of succulent fresh food and zesty flavors. The winter squash will linger, but the fresh basil and tomatoes are for NOW and will not be available after cold sets in. Store bought tomatoes have so little flavor that they just cannot be used for fresh salsa, and tomatoe salad, or tomatoes with fresh mozerella and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and leaves of fresh basil. These flavors are only for now, and September, and into October. Then they will be gone again. I savor them. Abundance and richness in it's season.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I made dinner for Narrisch and others a week ago Wednesday, we sat out on the patio, ate well, and had wonderful conversation. The yard was full of flowers, giant jade trees, and whole shrubs of rosemary. We went to visit N’s uncle, went to the beach where we watched a sea otter close to shore (Narrisch took a wonderful movie of him), out to sushi and a pastry shop that made me think of Paris. Most of the time was spent at the house of course, packing, unpacking, cleaning, talking of this and that. On Monday, the last day, we went to the aquarium where I took about 50 blurry pictures of jellyfish. They are so graceful and otherworldly and so hard to photograph. I have one or two that were in focus, and they are not interesting. It was a beautiful sunny day. Then I flew away.

The patio where we ate dinner

Narrisch on the beach

A sea otter near shore

A nice way to spend a sunny afternoon...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Detroit Airport

I am back in humid August Ohio after a week of lovely, often gloriously cool weather in Carmel, California. I went there to help Narrisch with the hard job of sorting through things at her mother’s house.

A week ago Tuesday I spent much of the day in airports. One of Northwest’s major hubs is the Detroit airport, and I rather like it. Terminal A is a huge, airy, and unbelievably long hall. A tram runs high on one side transporting people from one end to the other. Moving walks can speed you if you choose to do it by foot. There are many shops and restaurants if you have the time to stroll.

I arrived in terminal B which connects to terminal A through an underground tunnel with a light and music installation that always mesmerizes me. This time it played jazz and the colors mainly shifted through reds and blues, with beats of yellow and green.

Coming up from the tunnel into the center of terminal A, you come to a fountain where water rises in coherent tubular arcs to fall into the center of a smooth round black table. The sheath of water on the table reflects the sky and the heads of great planes. The arcs stop and start, sending hunks of water through the air in an assortment of patterns. Children often cluster around it, fascinated by the forms of the water coming and going

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The biggest sunflower plant, closeup.

7 August 2006 Garden

My sunflowers this year are the tallest sunflowers I have ever seen. The tallest one hasn't even opened it's flower yet. It amazes me that this represents about 2 months of growth, perhaps a bit more, but still! Photsynthesis works very well indeed. I wonder... are Sunflowers a C4 plant? Or an ordinary C3? Hmmm a casual Googling did not answer that question. That growth rate smacks of C4, but it is native to North America, which most commonly produces C3 plants...

I am off to see Narrisch. My garden will mostly have to fend for itself, and tomatoes are ripening, and the basil is huge and bushy and starting to flower. It should be cut back. The first bean flowers are turning white, and the plants are finally climbing fast. I may come back to my first beans of the year.

I am pleased with it, one of the few joys of summer. (I am not a summer person)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Garden August 1, 2006

It has been hot and humid. The heat index is 105 (41 C). However, the sun and rain have helped the plants recover from the hailstorm a few weeks ago. My tomatoes are growing tall and the first few tomatoes are ripe. My sunflowers are huge. The zucchini are producing nicely and the winter squash are starting to flower. I have hot peppers and more hot peppers, some ready to pick already. The lettuce wants to bolt, it is time to plant the next batch. My beans are clambering up their poles, and my basil is lush. It has rained so much that I have only had to set up the sprinkler once or twice all summer.

Of course the weeds grow at as fast of a pace. I spent a good chunk of yesterday pulling thistles, then edging the veggie beds with my weed whacker, then mowing that area, back of the back. I came in periodically to cool down a bit, then stopped when it started to pour. Of course much work needs to be done in the front. In a great growing summer I could be a full time gardener, and barely keep up.

So, here it is, “Growth”

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Last night as I sat on my patio with a glass of Malbec from Argentina, watching the fireflies sparkle green-gold in the twilight I heard a strange noise.

It sounded like someone snoring with a whistling hissing snore, rather loudly. Finally I got up and slowly tried to locate the source. It was around my house, in the front. Was it from the streetlight? A moment of horror of some imminant and terrible electrical explosion.... No there was something large and feathery sitting on the wires by the street light. An owl! I quietly and rapidly went and got my camera, came out and photographed the owl,

Then I heard an answering whistle hiss behind me. Another one closer up on a tree branch!

They were Barred Owls. A deep woodlands species. I live in a little enlave in a large natural wooded park. I had heard them hoot before (described as "Who Cooks For You? Who Cooks for You Now Ahhh!") but never heard of this noise, perhaps they were hissing at each other like angry cats, or perhaps they were saying harsh endearments.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

After the Hailstorm

We have had good strong thunderstorms on and off for the last couple of weeks. On monday some came through while I was at work. There were no tornado warning with them. They seemed to be ordinary thunderstorms. A few hours later I drove home, less than a 15 minute drive. As I approached my house I noticed that things looked... odd. As I pulled into my driveway it was clear some strange event has happened. The ends of banches and leaves from trees littered the ground. Leaves were plastered up the side of my house, up all my windows stuck as if glued there.

Had there been som kind of mini-tornado?

When I stepped out of the car I saw a container that I had been mixing potting soil in now had water 4 inches deep in it. It had been dry and empty in the morning. I have two pots of begonias by my breezeway door. The one on the east side was pulverized, the one on the west side, sheltered from west approaching weather by the side of the house, was fine.

Suddenly it hit me. Hail.

I ran around an checked all my plants. My hostas were shredded, branches were broken off my tomatoes, huge holes punched in my squash leaves, lettuce pounded into the ground.

The plants are slowly recovering, though I am stuck with this summer's hostas being shredded. I am still cleaning up

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fool on the Beach

Rian had a dream of the Fool on the beach with face painted blue.

I was up late with a sick cat and whiled away time playing with photoshop and pictures until I had cobbled together the Fool with face painted blue and placed him by the ocean. Rian disapproved of the Fool's face so I modified it some more. Although Rian liked that last version best, I didn't. So, here is my favorite. Long Live Photoshop!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

After a Summer Rain

A few days ago, in the evening after a summer rain.

Crocosmia "Lucifer" leaves with water drops.

Red leaf lettuce surrounded by fresh young weeds... see the Junior thistle?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Orange Lily

One of nature's many fireworks, under my Spruce.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Astronauts' Quote

Disappointed astronauts had their shuttle launch scrubbed today due to thunderclouds in the area. A fellow astronaut was philosophical. They would be disappointed. Some have been waiting 10 years to get into space for the first time. On the other hand he quoted an old aeronautics saying:

"It is better to be on the ground wishing you were flying, then to be flying, wishing you were on the ground"

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Joys of Being an Adult

...include having a dinner of my own grilled chicken caesar salad, champagne, fresh fruit, and good chocolate.


Thursday, June 22, 2006


I enjoy gardening. I grow flowers, herbs, vegetables............... and also weeds. When I moved into my house there was lawn, areas of weeds, a couple of lilacs, a number of maples and spruce trees along the edges, a line of peonies, and one lovely heavily scented pink rose. I have steadily whittled away at the lawn, and replaced weedy areas with beds. In the front I have a number of perrenials in a border along the driveway and in shady beds in front of the house. They get augmented with some annuals every year, and every year their care gets easier.

The vegetable garden is another story. Every couple of years I expand it too. But the garden is an annual garden of course and I have enriched the soil greatly, adding much compost and tilling it with a monster of a tiller, named "The Beast".

Ohio has a great climate for growing vegetables, abundant summer rain and heat.

There is a problem though. Weeds grow very well and to giant size extremely quickly.

Winter is long and cold and you are not generally safe from frost until Memorial Day. May is unpredictable. We had hard frosts this May on the 6th and 7th, and on the 22nd, and 23rd. Aside from that this May was often warm and wet, often in the 70s and 80s.

I was busy. My spring term ends in early May. So the first two weekends in May were tied up in grading and finishing classes, and I left on the second weekend as soon as I turned my grades in to go out of town for the week between spring and summer terms. I was home on that Sunday while I hurried to prepare my syllabus and lectures for the first day of my intensive summer term course. The next weekend was Memorial Day weekend and I had a speaking engagement in New Mexico. I returned from that on Monday. The next weekend I had other commitments. So, there was a whole warm wet month without me preparing my vegetable garden beds. I did clear a corner and get some lettuce in.

The weekend before last I attacked the weeds, yanking them out of the rich loose soil in the beds, and cutting the tall grass in the heavy clay between the beds. Weeds there had to be dug out. Part way along I took pictures as proof. Some of the thistles were 6 feet tall!

I worked hard all weekend clearing the beds. Then I carted in 14 wheelbarrow loads of compost from my compost pile, and finally hauled out The Beast and and wrestled it into tilling it all. Finishing putting in plants and whacking down weeds around the compost area and along the edges had to wait until this past weekend. My back muscles are still sore, but it is done!

After a dry week thunderstorms have pounded us with rain. The weather has been ranging from warm to hot. I need to get mulch down and pull new weeds. I have put before and after pictures here. In a few weeks I will add in "growth" pictures. The pictures are looking up from the back of the garden towards my house. I already have lettuce ready to eat and soon there will be much more.... which reminds me, I need to get my bean trellis up.

And I have been working on my herb garden, but more about that later. I'm not done yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


We Americans typically do not get enough sleep. When you don't your IQ drops temporarily (that may explain a few things) and your stress levels go up. I like to sleep. But, I am a procrastinator and have a demanding job. So I stay up late grading, or test writing, or doing essential chores such as changing cat boxes. And then I get up early to teach. I end up running short of sleep for days. Then one day it catches up with me. I become uncooperative - No I WON'T stay to help you through this experiment, you can do it yourself - and I go home, and I crash. Today I slept almost 4 hours, unexpectedly. I got home at 6:00, skipped my pilates class, watered my newly planted vegies and flowers, came inside around 8 p.m., and BAM. I slept until almost midnight. My circadian clock, for whatever reason, is set to always be awake at midnight. I have to be sick or extremely, extremely tired to sleep through midnight. So, the result? It is 4:30 a.m. and I am still awake *sigh*. I hate seeing it get light before I sleep.

This is the kind of thing one is supposed to do as a teenager or in your early 20's. Can I outgrow it now? Please? I do not suffer from insomnia at all. I suffer from night-personess, and naps disordering my internal clocks... if I have any. My time sense is terrible. I have no ability to gauge how long anything is taking. All is relative and in flux. Chaos. It is the way the world is to me, wonderous and beautiful and uncertain.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A June Night's Musings

Tonight was my first grilling of the season, grilled steaks and then chicken. I ate as much steak as I wanted, and perhaps too much red wine, and sit outside on my tiny patio in this June... approaching the solstice. I watch for the stars to appear as the nearly full moon rises, and I think about life.

I marinated my steaks in red wine, garlic, fresh ground pepper, sugar and some liquid smoke. The chicken in a horrible undrinkable cranberry wine from Vermont, on it’s way to vinegar, with garlic and Chinese 5-spice and ginger. All came out fabulous. I will have cold grilled meat for salads for days and days. I may even need to freeze some.

I have had a productive day, and productive days are always a pleasure. Many things need to be done. I was gone much of May. First I was finishing my term, long spring term, long school year, a huge Genetics class, and also one of the worst I have taught. If I am in the mood for some flagellation I will look and see what they said about me on Fortunately my Advanced Eukaryotic Genetics class was good. But even teaching only two classes this spring and dealing with my research students I was always up to my ears in work.

*goes inside briefly for an overshirt, is a chill evening*

The weekend before finals I was busy grading, the next two weekends I was on the west coast visiting Rian and Narrisch and my parents, and the weekend after that I was in Albuquerque speaking about Genetics. Four weekends lost while the weeds took over my yard. So today I cleared my vegetable garden beds and much of the area around my mulch. Hard work and with visible results. The thistles were 6 feet high. All gone now. Hurray! I will post pictures later.

So my thoughts on this now chilly evening (it is 49 degrees F now), are about my life. I have what I aimed for, tenure as a Genetics Professor, a house, a garden, a car. It is all mine, and I earned it myself. It was hard work, and in the world as a whole, I am both fortunate and have accomplished much. All my goals completed. Yet I always assumed I would be married with children. It is what people do, yes? Fall in love, marry, start a family. I had it all planned out when I was a teenager. I would get married after college, have my kids in my mid 20’s, then go back to grad school. It didn't happen, I did plenty of falling in love, but it was never mutual, and for whatever reason I was not pursued.

I pause to look up at the stars....

I have great benefits. Most women my age, all my colleagues certainly, have not only their careers but also their families to worry about, and none of my female colleagues have as little as half of the responsibility for the kids and the household chores. Most women do the lion’s share. As one of my colleagues said, she loves her husband, and her two sons, she wanted a family and could not stand being alone. Her husband, though he requires as much care and maintenance as her sons, was willing to move for her career, and he adores her. Another man she dated, who she thought was “the one” left her because she did not “need” him. The world is not yet gender neutral. It is still not common for men to be attracted to, and want to support strong, intelligent woman, wanting to make her life easier as she pursues a demanding occupation. Sometimes, yes of course, but still women are more likely to be attracted to a man consumed by his carreer, and to take joy in taking care of the mundane details of their lives.

A recent study... did I mention it in another blog entry?... found that men who were married while they pursued their doctorates and carreers in science were substantially more likely to succeed and stay in science. Presumably due to the support from their spouse. Women, on the other hand, were significantly less likely to finish and succeed if they were married. Their single colleagues fared much better. One sees this in academia in the Biological Sciences. More women graduate with degrees in Biology, women are in the majority even in grad school classes in biology and have been for some time. But when I have looked at job applicants for tenure track position here, women have been in the minority. On top of that, women may be more likely to give up on their carreer even after being successful. The other woman who was hired ten years ago, when I was, left her tenured Associate Professor job last year, to follow her husband when his career took him elsewhere. She wanted to. She was excited about the move, and had said that even with an au pair to help with their kids, she felt overwhelmed with her job and kids and household chores. She went up for tenure the year after I did, so I was part of the deliberations. A male colleague wondered out loud whether her decision to have 3 kids and the resulting juggling with her classes, indicated someone who was not committed to the job enough to be granted tenure. I am sure he voted against her. I was apalled. She was an active and productive faculty member. Now she is gone.

Well I gave up and came inside, just too cold out. The Sixth Sense is going to be on the TV, and I have lit scented candles all across my hearth. Wonderful.

So, on occasion as I eat a fabulous steak, grilled to perfection, and sip good wine and watch the stars come out, it seems a pity I have no one to share it with. And I could use another strong back to help get the garden going, and to do the variety of household projects. And perhaps after a hard day it would be nice to have dinner ready and a strong shoulder to lean my head on, a little human comfort and support.

On the other hand I relish my freedom and cannot imagine having to take care of any more than I do. I pretty much do what I want when I want, within the parameters of my classes and office hours and research students. Trade-offs, trade-offs. In a perfect world perhaps there would be someone who would want to share my life and would be a partner and an equal, someone I would support and who would equally support me. Such is not the case. And looking around, I see few who have such an equal relationship. I do not want to be someone’s inferior or superior. In truth it is hard for me to imagine someone in my life as there never has been. I'm sure I would adpat fine, but this is the life I have had, the life I know. I love my freedom. I do adore my cats and my friends and my parents, all those I love.

And tonight I sat out as the few clouds flared pink and coral and the sky turned to teal then indigo, and the moon rose and the stars came out. A lovely evening, my lovely evening.

The Sixth Sense is on, always a good movie. Last night I watched Ghost In the Shell Two, gorgeous. Why can’t American film makers make inventive intelligent fantasy like that....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

For Emano

A few more pictures for Emano since she enjoyed the others.

This is the headland near Devil's Churn. There is a common piece of advice for the Oregon coast. Do not turn your back on the ocean. There is a very good reason for this. To get some idea... see the sticklike object on the rocks above the surf? and above the spouting horn on the previous pictures? Those are logs. Full sized tree logs. Logs are often floated down rivers for easy transport after being cut. At specific places they then can be loaded onto trains or trucks. Some escape. The power of the Pacific is such that it can snap those logs into the air and fling them fairly high onto the land. All you need is the right condition and the right wave. Even though the Oregon coast is not crowded with people, the occasional person gets taken out by a flying log. The lower picture is a wave crashing in a narrow chute, not technically a spouting horn, but close.

Who would win? President Bush or gay marriage?

Poll results May/June 2006

58% - the percent of Americans that think gay marriage should be illegal
48% - the percent of Americans that think cilvil unions should not be allowed
45% - the percent of Americans that think civil unions should be allowed
42% - the percent of Americans that support a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage
36% - The percent of Americans that think gay marriage should be legal
29% - George Bush’s overall approval rating

ABC story and gay marriage poll info

Wall Street Journal artical on Bush approval rating and Harris poll

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Oregon Coast

After Rian and Narrisch and I had fun in Seattle, Washington and had lunch with Robin Hobb, Narrisch and I took a train down to Eugene, Oregon. There we spent a few days with my parents, went to the coast, and visited Narrish's Alma Mater. Here are a few pictures from the coast trip.

This is at the Darlingtonia wayside, named for the carniverous pitcher plants that grow in the acid bogs there. Their common name is Cobra Lilly. The are large, often rising 2 to 3 feet from the water, curled and flared with a network of veins and transparent windows to confuse the unfortunate insects that wander in. They were in bloom with thin straight chartreuse stalks dangling dark blood-colored flowers here and there. Tall native rhododendrons displayed pink flowers in the surrounding forest.

This is a spouting horn, produces by holes are worn in the black volcanic rock. The tide was high and there was a strong wind flinging hard waves against the rock. At times like that water shoots through the fissures and holes, spouting briney plumes high into the air. The air was filled with mist from the crashing ocean. This was near Devil's Churn, north of Florence.

The wind is almost constant on the Oregon coast. It bends trees into sculptures, peeling off bark and bleaching the underlying wood silvery. Yet the trees hang on, putting out new leaves and branches on the sides away from the wind.

It was a beautiful day with a cloudless blue sky. Rare on the Oregon coast.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Views en Route

These pictures are for Rian, who will not look to see such wonders. Maybe someday. Thunderstorms over Ohio.

Flying into Phoenix near sunset.

So beautiful.

What a wonderous world we live in.

Robin Hobb

Two weeks ago Rian and Narrisch and I had lunch with Robin Hobb, who suggested we call her Robin. We ate at an interesting eclectic sandwhich shop called the Antique Sandwhich in Tacoma. Fortunately the food was not in fact antique sandwhiches. It was a lovely afternoon. And here is a picture to prove it!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More About Price

I am thinking once again about some of the issues I mentioned in "Fakes", but this time just about pricetags.

The cost of an item in money affects how I think about it. I suppose this is true for everybody. HOW it affects our opinion varies from one to another though. I am someone who increasing monetary cost results in an often decreasing desirability and/or opinion of it. If a thing costs twice as much it better be AT LEAST twice as good or pleasing. So the dinner at a fancy restaurant with wonderful ambience and fabulous food may indeed be worth twice as much as the lower key café down the block. But if the food is at all off, or the music somewhat annoying, or the margarita less good and twice as much, I feel ripped off and annoyed.

The little black dress at J. C. Penney’s may (or may not) be made of slightly lower quality material, but look and feel as good as the one at Macy’s and the Penney’s one being 39.99, and the Macy’s one being 129.99 make the Penney’s one so very much more desirable and exciting to me. If my mother insisted on buying me the Macy’s one I would feel icky about it.

Others of course, feel exactly the opposite. In fact, finding out that an item came from a low-priced place like Penney’s would make them feel that the item was ugly or inferior in some way, and they would feel icky about someone buying them a gift from such a place.

Some of that is the "tribe" issue that my freind Noelle talks about. What identifies you with those you associate with, what you wear and where you got it fom, and the underlying knowledge of price, is important in many social groupings. On the other hand being too fixated on money can imply other things. I remember that one of the characteristics that truly marked Moll Flanders as a whore by nature was that she thought about every personal transaction, every transaction in general in terms of money......

A NYT article on money and freinds and "pods" .

So, How does price affect your views?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

How common in scientists?

"Studying Tiny Fruit Flies, and Reaping Big Rewards"

Published: April 29, 2006, New York Times

"ALBANY, April 28 — A California neuroscientist and biologist whose research of fruit flies found genetic links to human behavior was awarded the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the country's largest award in the field."

"Some of Dr. Benzer's most widely known research came when he used fruit flies to explore the way genes affect sleep patterns. He found that some fruit flies were genetically programmed to sleep at abnormal times, but that injecting them with normal genes would change that.

Similarly, Dr. Benzer said, he is coded to sleep at different times than his wife, who wakes up at 6 a.m. and typically falls asleep by 10 p.m. Dr. Benzer, on the other hand, stays awake until 4 a.m. and sleeps until noon. He routinely works in his research laboratory into the early-morning hours, he said.

"We make it a point to have dinner together," he said."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Neighbors and Star Trek Memories

When I was little, 4? 5? my family had a TV for about a year. I watched a variety of kids programs, and other things. I remember Mighty Mouse, and The Mickey Mouse Club, and Gumby, and The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. My parents, on observation, decided that the TV was bad for us, my brother’s grades were falling and he had become belligerent about being allowed to watch his favorite shows. So they gave it away.

As a result I grew up without a TV. This had a number of effects. I read voraciously, it was my main entertainment, which helped me stay way ahead of my peers intellectually. I played outside a lot, and developed a great attraction to our world and all the living things in nature. I also lacked the basic social common ground of favorite TV shows. I was often confused or shocked by terms and phrases my peers used, not knowing the popular shows they came from. It perhaps made me even more of an outsider than I would have been anyhow. I like the fact that I am well read and well rounded, so I can’t say I regret it. I do wonder how my brother felt, having something he wanted and adored given away like that, when it could have been kept.

I did see a bit of TV here and there, while babysitting as a teenager or when over at friend’s houses. At some point I discovered the reruns of Star Trek. I loved it. I adored Spock. It was amusing actually, as in 5th grade I had been called Spock by some classmates, and I had no idea to what they were referring. In any case, I ended up trotting across the street to a neighbors house to watch Star Trek every day. They had seven boys and one girl, and one of the younger boys was my age. We were all friendly and their house was pleasantly chaotic and no one minded me being rapt in front of the TV every day for an hour. So I watched the series through, and through again, and again.

Just tonight I wondered, what if they had minded? What if they had wanted to watch something else on TV in that time slot?

What if the addition of yet another child to the house was a burden? Not that I think any of those things are likely to have been true, but how would I have felt, relying on something someone else had, for something I desperately wanted? Would it have burned me not to have it? Would envy and longing have eaten at me? Knowing myself, I don’t think so, but can I be sure? What if I could watch it only on occasional days, and never know in advance which days those were. I do recall that I missed days, for one reason and another, which was a great excuse for watching the series over and over.

At the root, my question is about covetousness, and wanting that which is not yours. It is not something I am generally prone to. But on occasion there is something that someone else has easy access to that I never will have, something I WANT. It is a great unpleasantness, yes? I can understand why one of the Ten Commandments has to do with envy or covetousness, for things (specifically your neighbor’s house, or donkey) or people (specifically your neighbors husband, maid, slave). Of course the Ten commandments are truly followed by few people now. For example, how many people do no work on the Sabbath (whether you consider it Saturday or Sunday) and/or do not take advantage of those who do? But in truth coveting can be a powerful destructive force in a community or a society.

What about withholding? If one could freely give what another desires, is it not a bad thing to fail to do so? Of course one can send one self down a long road of guilt for all one has not done that one could have.

In any case, my neighbors were kind to me, and I am sad that all the children are long gone to the various corners of the country, and that June, the family matriarch, has had health problems and has been moved to Washington D.C., in with her youngest son. This all happened at Christmas time, and I was visiting my parents and I was told what day Paul was arriving to pick her up from the hospital pack her up and take her back east. And I, dawdling for no good reason, missed them. I should drive out to D.C. from here to go visit. If I do not, I may never see her again. She and her family were the only neighbors who were really close to my parents and my brother and I. My parents are now more alone then they were....

Well, enough late night meanderings.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Babies and Baseball

When you meet a stranger what do you speak of? There are topics of conversation that can serve as common ground for strangers in a social setting. For the young it is relatively easy, pop culture, music, school. This is complicated by the addition of physical appearance and gender of course, is one attractive? cool? of the same “tribe” as a friend of mine put it? If you are female and wearing silver rings on multiple fingers and so am I than we may be of the same “tribe”. Goths proclaim themselves with their black clothes, the popular kids by their physiques and current fashion. The process is easy, if fraught with snobbery and cliquishness. The young are more cruel than adults.

For adults it can be trickier though. People become set in their ways and expectations. Location becomes important, common experience very important. As a college professor, if I am dumped into a group of other college professors, or scientists, or even academics in general, I am fine, but such groups are not that common.

In New York City, where I lived for ten years, strangers speak of their jobs, what part of the metropolis they live in, politics, culture, travel. These are common ground for New Yorkers in general. Once you get out into more typical American cities, suburbs, and towns these topics become uncommon. Instead, men speak of sports, cars, and to a lesser extent, their jobs. Women speak of husbands and children, sometimes shopping.

If you are man who has no interest in sports or cars, or if you are a woman past youth who has never been married or had babies, it is exceedingly hard to participate in these initial ice-breaking conversations. What do you do when the common ground is not in fact in common? I can talk about the weather of course. I like weather. But too often I slip and talk about my job or politics too quickly to strangers. Soon I am the strange one in the room. I long to be back in the company of academics, or simply my own company.

I am just not interested in talking about babies or baseball.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Moral War?

An interview with the Rev. Richard Land from March 23,2006

“A Christian Defense of the War in Iraq"
"Removing a dictator, introducing democracy, staying the course in difficult times--it's right, noble, and it's just.

As president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Richard Land is one of the most influential moral voices on the conservative Christian scene. He spoke to Beliefnet's Holly Lebowitz Rossi about why, as a Christian, he supports the war in Iraq as much today as he did when it began 3 years ago.”

It continually amazes me that there are many Americans have no problem with deceptions and manipulations aimed at facilitating the start of a war that has now killed 2347 Americans in the military and wounded another 17, 469 - let alone the 34,000 or so Iraqis killed. These fellow countrymen are willing to believe that Iraq posed a direct threat to the U.S. in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and have no issue that we have left many more directly threatening and/or genocidal regimes in other countries untouched. Yet, these same people, willing to accept our leaders’ pursuit of this war, by whatever means, were disgusted and appalled by the previous President allowing an eager adult intern to perform a sexual act on him, and then being deceptive and manipulative about it.

Which deception is more detrimental to the lives of our fellow Americans, our position in the world, and out future? Which actually causes the most harm? What kind of “morality” is this?

Many of the people that think Clinton should have been impeached and think that GW Bush is a hero consider themselves strong Christians. What kind of Christianity is this? How often did Jesus preach against violence, preach for peace? How often did he preach against sex?

Of course there are many Americans who do not agree with the war, and undoubtedly the majority of Christians world-wide do not agree with it. There are too many who do think like the author of the quote at the top. Or perhaps, too many people like that in positions of power.

Why do religious extremists of so many stripes promote killing? Why is deception about adultry so much worse than deception to engage in a war that will kill thousands and thousands of people? Why is death so much less abhorrant than sex?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How lucky we are!

How lucky we are,
To have hot, hot, water for a bath or shower on a cold winter day.
To have electricity to light our way in the small hours
To have ripe mangos in March in the north.
To be able to walk into a metal ship that flies through the air to visit ones we love, thousands of miles away
To have music, magnificent music, at the touch of a button
To have soft beds and full stomachs
To be able to pick up the phone and hear a friends voice
To have information on multitudes of subjects available at our fingertips
To be able to know what is happening, at this moment, all over the world
To be able to meet those of like minds, wherever they may be on this planet, not having to make do with those you run into in you local community, as our parents did.
To have conversations with those people, singly or in groups in simulaneous print in Austarlia, France, Sweden, wherever, whenever.
To have the luxury of learning
To be able to do so much more than just survive

How lucky we are!

We live in a world full of magic and marvels, the likes of which our ancestors could not conceive of. And I, and I understand things which were inconceivable not long ago. It is a fabulous age we live in.

Do not forget it.
Do not forget it
Do not forget it.

How lucky we are!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Morning People and Night People

Why is there a virtue associated with being a morning person and a suspicion of vice associated with being a night person?

In my first full time job as a technician in a science lab, people came in at all hours. More of the technicians were 8:30 to 4:30 varieties, except one who came in at 7:00 and left at three, and I who came in at 10:00 and left at 8:00 or 9:00, sometimes much later. The grad students started wandering in around 1:00, mostly didn’t get to work until after most of the techs were gone and often worked until midnight.

I have always liked working late. The place gets quite, one has peace to really work, one can play whatever music one likes, and if you have no commitments one can spend as much time as needed to do something right. I have also liked the company of night people. Night people seem to be more philosophical and contemplative, perhaps in keeping with dark and quiet. In my experience morning people seem to often be more impatient and unwilling to work out the picky details of trouble-shooting and pick their way through complicated processes.

If one IS a night person, forcing oneself to be in early is often very counterpropductive. Getting up early means being short of sleep, groggy and slow, thinking poorly, coordination off. An extra hour or two of sleep can make an enormous difference. Too often we humans short ourselves on sleep and function poorly as a result as it is.

In this first lab job of mine the early morning arriver got chosen to be the tech supervisor. I have always wondered if her early arrival was taken as dedication by the lab head. Soon after her promotion she expressed disapproval about my hours. She admitted that it was ok with the lab head, but she disliked having 3 hours when I wasn’t there, and she wanted to see me getting more work done. As she did not know the projects I was working on I tried to explain all the work I was doing. She shut me up, and told me to write out a log of everything I did, and when I did it, for the next two weeks.

That was a pain, having to stop all the time to write everything down. I did complain a bit. At the end of the two weeks, the supervisor read through my log, and checked up on my experiments. Then she said she was glad she’d made me write everything down, as it clearly forced me to work. I was furious. I had worked no differently than before, she simply had not ever checked to see what I was doing before.

I have seen this happen to many a night person. Morning people seem to suspect that the night people are playing around, not working. They rarely ask, instead the worst is assumed. A friend is currently getting this from her boss.

Interestingly, night people rarely assume that morning people fool around and don’t work when they come in early. We too buy into the idea that being early is a virtue in and of itself. We suspect that we have an almost moral defect in not being able to sleep early nor rise early. Yet it seems that there is no correlation between how hard people work and their prefered hours. The only exception being that if you force a person to work short of sleep they do not perform well.

Night people do their work, and also rarely mind finishing up things for morning people.

Why is the reverse not true?

Ideally there are all types working together early people to get things started then regular hours folks to carry through the middle of the day, then night people to pick up loose ends and work through problems. No one is better than the other.

I like to wander in late, sip at my coffee, come up to speed in the afternoon, and work into the quiet night. I play good music and serve as unofficial advisor for any late working students in the department. It is nice to have the equipment to myself. At the end I leave to a starry sky and empty roads - a lovely peaceful close to a long day.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Related to Fakes

This is a wonderful site. Read and learn.

"Note that any advertisement claiming that a product is chemical-free is essentially claiming that the product consists of a perfect vacuum."

Sunday, January 29, 2006


It has been over a month since I've written here, many blogs started none finished. I’ve been busy.

I’m busy today too, but an article in the New York Times caught my eye. It is about something that has always eluded me, the value of a thing aside from the thing itself.

The article is about fake costume jewelry.

OK. Costume jewelry is not made of precious stones or precious metals. The point is for it to look nice. There are bits of glass and brass etc. made to be shiny and pretty or flashy.

So. There are people who collect name costume jewelry, antiques. And now there are people making fake costume jewelry with the appropriate rhinestones and metal using modern glues, stamping the name of old, known, costume jewelry makers and selling them on e-bay. This drives down the price of the “real” costume jewelry.

OK. Now, I can see having a personal fondness for a shiny attractive piece because your great aunt owned it and wore it, and there is a picture of her as a glamorous young woman with the brooch pinning a lovely scarf. I can see valuing a piece for it’s appearance. I can even comprehend the idea of a piece being valued for the hands that made it. Perhaps a famous or interesting person held it in their hands and glued the rhinestones into their settings. But how can one so value apiece stamped out by a machine with glass glued in by low wage workers more than the counterfeit made now to be just as attractive? Why should the original hold any value simply because it is old?

Similarly why should a simple cotton knit T-shirt be more valuable if it has a name designer on it’s tag or printed across it’s front, or if it was bought from say, Saks Fifth, then the same design and cotton sold at JC Pennys? Again, I understand if one is cotton of a quality knit and the other a cheesy polyester blend. Or perhaps one made by workers earning a real living vs nearly enslaved sweatshop workers in a third world country. I certainly understand copywrite and patents. Without that how would an artist or inventor make a living?

But, what is the deal with valuing the company name and age on an item, paticularly when that maker is long gone or just a high profit corporation?

To me, that added price is… somewhat offensive, wasting resources that could be so much better spent elsewhere, I shudder a little when I see such names. I don’t like walking into such stores.

It might make a real impact if all who pay more for an item due to a name, instead just bought items for appearance and/or material quality, and paid attention to the source of an item, how eco-friendly? How well are the workers treated? Higher labor costs, and care to environmental impact would make items cost more, but wouldn’t that added cost be so much better than that added simply because of the name or age of the item?

Adding value based only on age and name “authenticity” in mass produced items is what seems fake to me.