Thursday, December 10, 2009

Polio explained

I ran across this great comic book today that explains the rise and fall of polio. I'd like to share it with all my friends who are against vaccines, and also those friends who don't have an opinion either way.

I've been getting into lots of arguments about vaccination lately on Facebook. I know a lot of people who are wary of most or all vaccines, and many of these people are my friends. Alas, I have read the arguments against vaccination and I'm just not convinced. Most of them seem to be based on hypotheses that are unproven or, more often, proven false.

There are some vaccinations that I don't think people should get. Small pox vaccines carry a small risk of causing serious illness, and smallpox isn't found in the natural environment anymore, so I wouldn't recommend someone get a smallpox vaccine unless some asshole rereleases it into the human population.

The benefit-risk ratio is unfavorable for some other vaccines, as well, unless a person has a high risk of exposure. So I wouldn't get the anthrax vaccine unless I was in the military, or was a veterinarian treating anthrax-infected sheep.

Nonetheless, my anti-vaccination friends tell me it is very sad that I believe anything big pharma says (some put it more politely). If that's true, though, I can't figure out why I've concluded that a significant portion of prescription drugs on the market today are useless or harmful for most of the people who receive them. (See Worried Sick by Nortin Hadler for an introduction to this topic.)

Oh, well. Maybe the comic book will help to explain my crazy views. In any case, I am looking forward to reading more great stuff from The Science Creative Quarterly.

P.S. Thanks to the Science-Based Medicine blog for pointing me to the comic!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now I'm waiting for Obama to come up with a really cool hairstyle

After seeing this picture of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenk, I've decided that Ukraine is a really cool country. Dude, the prime minister gets to wrap braids over the top of her head! I haven't worn my hair that way since I was a kid; I have a feeling that, even in a business casual environment, most American bosses would not tolerate this hairstyle. If I were allowed to, I just might grow my hair out again ...

(Apparently, I'm way behind the times. The New York Times wrote about her braids two years ago.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

More carnivorous plants!

A few minutes ago, while washing my dishes, I caught the very end of a radio interview on As It Happens*, the daily news magazine from CBC. I didn't catch the species or genus they were talking about until after the interview, when one of the hosts commented that she was going to go have some fries and ketchup to reassert her dominant position on the food chain.

Nightshades! The discovery must be about nightshades!

Dishes be damned. I pulled off my rubber gloves and rushed over to my computer to do a Google news search on "nightshade carnivorous." The search brought up only one result, which was a bit of a disappointment -- hello, global media, this is world-changing news! Yes, yes, I know Copenhagen is interesting, but those bigwigs aren't actually planning to agree to any changes in their policies just yet, so can't you free up at least one reporter per venue to report on breakthroughs in botany?

Well, maybe there will be more news results tomorrow.

To be fair, a search of "potato carnivorous" brought up seven results, but don't get too excited yet. Three of these were just blog rehashes of a story in the Independent, which also showed up in the results. The remaining three were:
Note that all the newspaper coverage is from the United Kingdom. If this story makes it to the States, how much do you want to bet that newspapers will simply rehash those three articles (with an exception, perhaps, for The New York Times, which - bastion of secular liberalism that it is** - actually devotes an entire weekly section to science)?

*Spoiler Warning: If you listen to this show and have always imagined the hosts to look like an older version of Nurse Hathaway, as I have, linking to this Web site will present a challenge to the theater in your mind. A photo of Carol Ott and Barbara Budd is fetured prominently on the intro page.
**Yes, insert snicker here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who would be against compassion? Me, I guess.

A friend of mine invited me to the Charter for Compassion - Madison inaugural event tonight. I thought: "Is that the Karen Armstrong thing? I'm not a big fan of Karen Armstrong." A month or so ago, she was on Here on Earth with Jean Ferraca - not a big fan of hers, either, you'll soon see why on both accounts - and they were going on about how true religion is peaceful and loving and non-dogmatic and doesn't make absolute claims about the character of God.

I am a linguist. Linguists describe language as it is, not as we want it to be. And in the English I know, religion refers to systems based on a belief in the supernatural and its relationship with the natural world. Some religion is peaceful. Some religion is loving. And some religion inspires people to fly planes into buildings, beat women for the sin of having been raped, jail and kill homosexuals, molest children, and murder relatives.

Not according to the Carter for Compassion Web site. It says
"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions" (emphasis mine)
As I said to my friend via Facebook,
"That's ... rose-colored thinking. Compassion is important, and it may lie at the heart of most religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, but there are also those that reject compassion, and I don't want to blind myself or others to that tragic fact. If I don't acknowledge it, I can't help change it."

Sorry, we think you built that cave illegally

I was surprised to see an article on the eviction of a Palestinian from his childhood home - a cave in the hills between Jerusalem and Bethlehem - prominently listed on the Yahoo! News homepage today. I don't think I've ever seen an article on this issue in the American press. And, technically, it's still not in the American press - Reuters is the article's distributor - but it's about as close as it can get without being technically American.

The man is being evicted to make room for Givat Yael, another Israeli settlement* in the West Bank - settlements that the U.S. government (along with Israeli groups like Peace Now, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and Rabbis for Human Rights) says are an obstacle to peace and in violation of international law and common courtesy. (Although the U.S. government says it, the Israeli groups actually mean it.)

When I was in the West Bank a few years ago, I visited quite a few families who lived in such homes, all of which were either under threat of demolition or, just as often, had already been filled by the Israeli military with rocks, rubble and the trashed property of the homeowners. It goes like this: The occupying authorities say the people who live in the caves built the caves without permits, never mind that the caves are hundreds of years old. The homeowners go to the courts with papers showing that they own the land. The courts either tell them that the papers are worthless (perhaps because they predate the Israeli government), or they agree with the homeowners and issue an injunction to prevent the demolition of the home. Whatever the courts rule doesn't really matter, though; the military is still pretty likely to destroy the caves, because once you've created facts on the ground - a destroyed home, an eviction, and a nice new Jerusalem suburb with orange-tiled roofs - it really doesn't matter what the courts say.

It may sound like an oversimplification, but it really is a lot like Joseph Heller's Catch 22.

*Whether or not Givat Yael is a settlement is disputed by Israelis. Some say the land on which Givat Yael will be built - and I have no doubt that it will be, barring some miraculous new consensus within the Israeli government - is within the municipal borders of Jerusalem and therefore part of Israel. Others say that if that land were part of Jerusalem, the Palestinians who live there would have been given Jerusalem I.D. cards and be Israeli citizens. They have not and they are not, which of course makes it much harder to fight a case in Israeli court, since they are given no inherent legal right to travel inside Israel.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aggregation vs. plagiarism

Interesting New York Times article about Germany's attempts to protect and enforce the copyright of journalism that appears online. Unfortunately, it's a little skimpy on the details. As someone whose work has been plagiarized, I support the idea of clamping down on plagiarism, especially when people are making money through this unethical and illegal behavior. But I'm a little foggy on why publishers want the term "plagiarist" to apply to news feeds.

News feeds generally provide the title of an article and the first few sentences, then direct the reader to the Web site that originally published the article. What's the problem here? How is this substantially different from a library's book index?

If an aggregator reproduces the article in its entirety, that's a problem. But I have a hard time calling such a service an aggregator. It's really a publication of its own that uses aggregation technology to provide its content. You know, a "plagiarggregator." Don't you love how that flows off the tongue?

Repeat that word without attributing it to me, and I'll sue you!*

*Unless, of course, your use is in line with Fair Use laws, in which case I'll be proud of how my difficult-to-pronounce coinage is invading the English language.

Calling me unconventional

You call me unconventional, and say it like I made a conscious choice to reject your conventions. No, I didn't. I don't even understand what your conventions are. If you took the time to explain them to me, then I could make the conscious decision to reject them. But you haven't, so I haven't.

Really, if you knew the conventions I've chosen to live by, and by which I wish others would live, you would see that I am utterly conventional.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When there's no more room in Hell ...

Thanks to Fake AP Stylebook, which instigated my laugh of the day with this Oct. 30th addition to its e-edition: "When there's no more room in Hell, omit the final paragraphs to save space."

Manners

I think good manners are very important. But I think my notion of what is polite separates me from most of the U.S. population.

For example, there is the class of people who think it is the height of rudeness to touch someone else's stuff without asking, unless that someone is a close friend with whom you have an agreement that doing so is okay.

Then there is the class of people who think that someone who doesn't want others to touch their things without asking is a selfish bitch or bastard.

I fall into the former category, but when I am at work, I feel myself to be in the distinct minority.

One of my co-workers is a particularly egregious toucher. Today he was in my office when my microwave popcorn popper caught his eye. But he couldn't simply ask me about it. No. He had to reach up to the shelf where I keep it, take it down, and gesture with it in his hand as he asked me about it. (Did I mention that this thing is made of glass?)

We have had this discussion before, so I cut to the chase. "I don't remember you asking me if you could touch that," I said. (In my camp, sarcasm isn't as rude as touching other people's things, but I know not everyone agrees with me.)

"No, I didn't," he said, and continued to manhandle it.

Back when I worked with a bunch of hippie types, the way we were supposed to bring up how we wanted to be treated was by saying, "I feel ___ when ____ happens. It reminds me of ____. In the future, I would feel more comfortable if we handled the situation this way: ________."

Maybe I should try it with this co-worker, but I'm not sure it would be any more effective than sarcasm. "I feel violated when people touch my things without asking. It reminds me of all the selfish prigs who have touched my things without asking - for example, that guy who ruined my cycling gloves by trying them on even though his hands are twice as big as mine, or the boss who picked up my pen while holding a used Kleenex in the same hand. But more important than reminding me of anything, such behavior is inimical to my understanding of how people ought to interact with one another. Individuals ought to have some degree of autonomy, and they ought to be free to decide whom to allow into their personal realm. When you touch what belongs to someone else, you are entering the personal realm. In the future, I would feel more comfortable if we handled the situation this way: please ask if you want to touch my things, and respect 'no' for an answer. I work with you; I am not obligated to be your buddy. And the more you impose buddiness on our relationship, the more I will think you are rude and the less likely I am to become your friend."

I guess that sounds meaner than what I actually said, since in our culture people tend to get offended if you state the obvious fact that you are not their friend. It's okay to know it, just not to say it.

Just like it's okay to know that there's something discordant about people who believe they're destined for heaven still fighting like hell to defeat a terminal illness, but it's not considered polite to point this out to them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Country says goodbye to McDonald's

Alas, it's not my country.

Iceland's McDonald's franchisee could no longer afford to import all the ingredients for products sold at the country's three outlets. So he's converting the restaurants to his own brand and sourcing local ingredients for the food he'll sell there. I don't know if that means more lamb burgers and fewer hamburgers, but if it does, cool -- I'll try them the next time I'm in Iceland.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The fires of hell

Spanish farmers have succeeded in transforming a wetland into a place so dry that a fire has started underground. Didn't think fires could burn underground? Yeah, talk to Lucifer.

(Oh, and on a completely different note, I recently learned that Mormon/Latter Day Saints cosmology-theology teaches that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers. Then I realized I should have figured this out long ago since the Church teaches that all humans, angels and fallen angels spent their first life as the spirit children of God the Father. I am so disappointed in my powers of deduction!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thanks for your concern

I've had a migraine on and off since Wednesday morning, so did not go to work on Wednesday or Thursday. By the time this morning rolled around, I had decided to go to work, migraine or no. I mean, who's going to believe that you can have incapacitating head pain with no apparent cause for three days in a row? (Unless they, too, get those kinds of migraines.)

So I went to work and have been keeping the pain at bay with coffee and Tylenol. I was walking by a co-worker's* desk when she asked how I was doing and I told her, "Better than I felt yesterday, but I still have a bit of a headache."

Since this woman also gets migraines, one would expect her to have more sense than to do what she then did, which was to launch on a ten-minute excited monologue about the latest migraine miracle cure she read about on the internet. Being forced to stay standing while being exposed to agitated people is not the typical migraneur's idea of fun.

My co-worker kept waving her arms about and stepping closer and closer to me as she spoke to emphasize the break-through-iness of this news; for every step she took toward me, I took one back, but she didn't seem able to read the signal and just stepped forward again. I finally accepted the fact that I was cornered.

"Thanks for your concern," I said, "but the thing that would be most helpful for my current migraine is if you SHUT THE HELL UP."

Okay, I didn't actually say that.

*This is the same co-worker who hardly lets a day go by in winter without asking me, "Do you feel okay? You don't look so good."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My people make the news

The Anglo-Saxons weren't just uncultured beasts who spent all day pillaging and all night reciting poems about tearing off the arms of monsters. They made jewelry, too - okay, yes, they did apparently then pillage it from each other.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh, the irony

These articles about anti-nanny-state protesters complaining that the government didn't take good enough care of them last weekend during the 912 March in Washington, D.C., practically make me pee myself from hearty laughter:

Goodbye, Mary

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary died yesterday in Connecticut. Thanks for bringing a bit more brightness to my childhood and beyond, and for showing the world that alto voices really are sexier.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tell it like it is, Jimmy

Just can't express my gratitude enough for what Jimmy Carter said about the racism that underlies the extreme disrespect being shown toward President Obama. Joe Wilson et al can argue that they, as individuals, aren't racist. Maybe so.

But if it's not societal racism, it's hard figure out where the most extreme of this crap is coming from: the unusual number of threats against President Obama, the questions about his citizenship (who was challenging Bill Clinton's citizenship - you sure he ain't Ukrainian?), the unprecedented interruption of his address to Congress, and the vociferousness of the rhetoric compared to what was said about our previous Democratic president (who was white and also tried to get universal health coverage). Maybe Wilson isn't personally racist, but if there weren't an existing racist milieu that foments distrust of black politicians and results in black people in public positions being put under unusual scrutiny, would he be as angry as he is about the proposed healthcare policy?

Pink grasshoppers

This article about the discovery of a bright pink grasshopper in England was much too short. More pictures, I say!

Or maybe the article was too long, given that the unsubstantiated claim "Most people find insects annoying" should have been excised from the text, as it implies that most people find all insects as a class. The author cites no surveys. Yes, there is a vocal group of people who dislike all insects, but whether they are in the majority is questionable. Lots of people eat insects and would be dietarily deprived without them; lots of people love to watch butterflies and moths; and lots of people depend upon pollinating insects for their livelihoods. I find gnats and mosquitos annoying, but it would be misleading to say that I find insects annoying. And I love collecting dead insects and putting them in shadow boxes so I can admire them whenever I like. But I don't kill them for such purpose. They're too important.

A more even-handed article can be found here on the BBC.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sometimes it takes a while ...

So, after more than two years working at this place, I notice that everyone seems to bring treats in on their birthday. You know -- cake, brownies, muffins and other things that we probably don't need to eat. If people aren't in on their birthday, they bring it in their last day of work before the birthday or the first day after.

Well, everyone brings them in but me.

The last time I was in an environment like this was in elementary school. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me -- the place is like elementary school in other ways, too. But maybe it's a Wisconsin thing, and I was heretofore sheltered from it because I'd never worked in an office in Madison, unless you count my internship at that lefty rag, and I wasn't there for a full year, so how would I have noticed?

Now I'm wondering if this means that I should consider bringing in junk food on my looming birthday. I'd really rather not, because it smacks of drawing attention to oneself, and I really don't like to draw attention to myself at the office. My boss is already prying enough; she's always wanting to get to know me "on a personal level" and my natural response to that is suspicion and secretiveness.

And, on the mean side, I figure there are plenty of people in my office who really don't need the temptation.

Of course, if I don't bring anything in, there are some Nosy Nancys here who would be sure to note that and keep it in their files of reasons I am a horrible person. But I don't really care if they think I'm horrible; they've already told lies about me to my boss in an attempt to get me in trouble, if not fired, and so I know they can be quite horrid themselves, and thus I deem them not very good judges of such things.

If, however, they were more specific and accused me of being miserly, I would have to acknowledge they were right on that account, and perhaps gain new respect for them.

Moving glaciers

When I was around 7 years old, we took a trip to the Swiss alps and my parents thought it would be a great treat to take the kids to tour a glacier. Unfortunately, my understanding of physics and chemistry, in particular thermodynamics, was just about nil. I decided I'd rather not go into the glacier for fear that it would undergo a catastrophic melting during the span of the tour. So my memory of the trip involves sitting in the car reading a book, although at some point my mom probably convinced me that the area was sufficiently safe to go for a short walk. Until I saw my siblings and dad exit the mouth of the glacier, though, I accepted the possibility that they could be crushed to death and/or drown at any moment.

So you can imagine how horror-stricken I was by the opening of this AP article: "Suddenly and without warning, the gigantic river of ice sped up, causing it to spit icebergs ever faster into the ocean off southeastern Greenland." Even though later text indicates that the glaciers' maximum speed (about four feet an hour) is one that most humans could probably outrun or outcrawl, it turns out they could cause a disaster much worse than an isolated, sudden collapse might.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More faunal news from the British media

From The Guardian, news of 40 species never identified before in modern science, including a rat that's the size of a large housecat. It's supercute and it doesn't eat babies, just tubers -- or so the scientists say.

The animals and plants reside in a volcanic crater in Papua Guinea that's difficult to get to no matter what form of transportation you use. The crater is also home to animals heretofore known to science but heretofore unknown to me, including the silky cuscus and the beautiful fruit dove. That "beautiful," by the way, is not just the opinion of The Guardian; it's part of the dove Ptilinopus pulchellus' common name.

Like a dachsund takes to water ...

Dekalb sent me this article from The Daily Mail about a dachshund with back problems who recovered from surgery by swimming. It reminded me of our old family dachshund Duke, who loved to go down to Lake Anne with us and ride in the raft peering over at the water. He probably would have swum all day if we let him, but we didn't let him. We'd only let him go for a little bit in the shallow area for fear he would drown himself. Too bad they wouldn't let him in the baby pool at the local pool complex; he wouldn't have peed in the water nearly as much as the kids did.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Overheard in the office

Featuring the woman who thinks she's the boss of everyone (henceforth TWWTSTBOE, or "twitsbow") and the woman who allows everyone to be her boss (we'll call her "pawn")
Twitsbow: "We have an unwelcome visitor."
Pawn: "Huh?"
Twitsbow: "A spider. It's up there. I don't like the looks of it. Kill it."

I felt like I was getting a privileged inside look into how our country makes its foreign policy decisions.

Baptist pastors

I'm no big fan of Baptist pastors (except of course Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus and ...) But please. Agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation fatally shot John Paul Ayres for driving away from them after they tried to shoot his passenger outside of a gas station.

Dude, I think anyone's first thought if a bullet comes through their car window from the gun of someone in street clothes who has just jumped out of an unmarked SUV is not, "Oh, the police must be trying to peacefully apprehend me," but rather, "What the fuck, some psycho is trying to kill me. Must flee fast."

And the reason they shot at the passenger? Because she was suspected of possessing cocaine. SUSPECTED. And there's no indication that she threatened them with a weapon. I realize that cars are weapons, but neither passenger nor driver appear to be using theirs as such. (There was one point where an officer jumped behind the car as it moved in reverse -- apparently in an effort to stop it -- and it didn't stop, so the officers could argue for assault with a deadly weapon, but it's by no means improbable that the driver did not see the officer in question. And people who know me know that it takes a lot for me to give a driver the benefit of the doubt.) You can watch the video (caught on the gas station's security cam) here.


Meanwhile, I'm staying the hell out of Georgia.

Looking for something new

I ran out of cherries to pick on Wednesday -- at least, the sweeter ones. The tree with the more bitter cherries still had plenty, but I decided that it might be best not to pick them, as I then would feel obliged to juice them, and that could very well mean a most unpleasant drink.

With no cherries to pick, I spent yesterday's lunch break looking for a special woodworking fastener (failed mission) and buying batteries (most of which I will return, because they're way cheaper on Amazon than at Walgreens).

Today, I decided to head out to the elderbush behind the west side St. Vinny's and start the season's harvest of elderberries. But I got there only to discover that someone had mowed it down. Dude, what were they thinking? They didn't even plant anything in its place, and it's not like turf is going to plant itself there.

So I coasted up and down the path in search of something else. I found quite a few wild grape plants, but these too taunted me. The most prolific vine, full of fat, ripe fruit clusters, was located right behind an auto body shop where a chemical that smells like banana-flavored toffee was in use. A similarly scented chemical is a compound in one of my bike chain lubes, and it's not healthy stuff, I hear tell. So I was left to pick the punier vines while this nice healthy one sat basking in the sun, untouched.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Black cherry heaven

Last week, I noticed a couple huge cherry trees on the edge of a park that on my route to work. The fruit hung down in racemes like chokecherries, and the ripe ones were very black. I had never seen a chokecherry tree that big (25 feet or so), plus the tree had rough and shaggy bark (chokecherry usually has smooth silvery bark), so there was a little room for doubt. I picked one and squished it and, indeed, there was a big pit in the middle. Then I tasted it, and it tasted right -- like a cherry, but a bit better and astringent. But I decided not to eat anymore until I could confirm the identity. I pulled a leaf off and got to a computer, where the beloved internet revealed to me that the tree fit the description of black cherry.

So Dekalb and I went back to pick some yesterday. We decided to go before church, since the tree is near church, and he could drop me off when we were done.

But I didn't look at my watch and we hit a really juicy patch and when I finally thought to ask the time ... well, church had started 45 minutes before. Given that we was borrowing the ladders of people I know from church, this might have been a tad embarrassing, if it weren't for the fact that one of the parents is an atheist and never goes to church, either.

People would walk by and ask what we were picking, and we told them, and they asked if they tasted good, and I would answer, "Well, some people like them." From my chokecherry experience, I added, "The are a bit bitter and astringent, but that goes away when you cook them." One woman who tasted them was convinced, because of the bitterness and astringency, that we had misidentified them and that they were indeed chokecherries, but I stand by my research.

I steam-juiced them last night and discovered I had been lying about the bitterness going away with cooking. The beautiful, deep purple gallon of juice I got was so bitter I wondered if any amount of sugar would rescue it for normal human consumption. It was a bit like cherry juice with 40 bags of oversteeped black tea in it. But then I threw in 2 loosely packed cups of brown sugar and about half a cup of honey and that raised it to the level of grapefruit juice - and I love grapefruit. I'll probably mix in some sweet yellow cherry juice that I canned last year so their flavors can balance each other out. The yellow cherry juice has a sweet and slightly musky flavor. I think they will be perfect together.

Dekalb and I left the low-hanging cherries in place so I can go back and pick more on my lunch breaks. What a good week this will be!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hedgehogs!

Dekalb sent me this article about orphaned wild hedgehogs who have taken to a cleaning brush as a surrogate mother. I don't know if I should weep because they are so cute or because it is a bit sad. Well, at least they found something that's comforting.

I had a roommate who bought an African hedgehog as a pet. The hedgehog was very cute, but the whole seem just seemed an exercise in cruelty. It clearly would have preferred not to be around humans and to stay in a nice nest in whatever part of Africa it hailed from.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just to update

My mom says I have been a slacker with blog updating. She is right. So here is a gift to her. I am not the producer. A friend posted it to Facebook.*

I think they should have included Peanut Butter JoJos in the "favorite products they don't have anymore" video medley, but the producer probably was as blindsided as all of us were by its removal and never thought to save his last box, because he didn't know it would be his last.

*By the way, if you are reading this on Facebook, you need to click on the note title to get to my blog so you can see the video embedded herein. Always a good idea to click on the note title when the note doesn't make sense; it probably means it's a blog entry with embedded links and/or photos that Facebook strips out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beware of Delta Post Haste rack

So this is what happened to my bike rack when I went over a train track on the way to work Tuesday. No, the end is not supposed to look like an automobile exhaust pipe. That's just where the bulk of the rack broke off from the mechanism that attaches the rack to the seat post. You can see a before picture (not of my particular rack, but of a doppelganger for what it looked like pre-disaster) here.

I've had this rack for less than three years and would like to note that the track I went over yesterday is not a particularly heinous one. The engineers did a good job of keeping it at grade with the surrounding asphalt, so I go over it twice in a typical day, usually not even noticing it is there. I have been on paved roads that are much bumpier.

Aluminum is weaker than steel and more prone to cracking, but this is ridiculous.

Couldn't find any evidence that this model had been recalled. I e-mailed Delta about the problem, but have yet to hear back. I guess I could also contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Had there been a cyclist or ped behind me at the time that this thing flew off my bike, or had this thing come off in the middle of the road, the consequences could have been more complicated. I doubt I would have been hurt, but I can't say as much for the person standing in the wrong place.

As it was, the immediate consequence was having to unclip my bag from the rack, strap said bag over my shoulder, and attach the rack to the bag with the bungee cord that I had coincidentally brought along that morning.

Still, one feels a bit of a fool carrying a bike rack on one's back while riding a bike.

I didn't even bother to explain to my boss why I was ten minutes late to work. I thought too much would be lost in the translation. But I did walk around the office for a while waving the rack at my bike-riding coworkers. They understood.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jesus: Mistreat your elders

Apparently it's a Christian value to discriminate against people based on age. At least, that's what Coulee Catholic Schools and the Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, seemed to be teaching by example when they sued the state for holding them accountable to age discrimination laws. The schools had fired a teacher who was 53; she sued for age discrimination and won--until recently.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the schools, being part of a religious institution, was not bound by anti-discrimination laws in the hiring, firing or treatment of staff whose jobs are somehow related to religion--because holding religious institutions to non-discrimination laws would violate their freedom of religion.

Somehow I must have misplaced the papal encyclical that older people are less qualified to teach. But it must be there. Age-based discrimination is now, by legal precedent, an essential tenet of the Catholic faith.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Actual conversation at work today - sort of

Part 1: Actual conversation

H.U.: One place in the world I have never wanted to travel is Africa.

Kiapita: Really? I would think you'd love the Great Lakes region. There's so many kinds of flowers around there, and one of the highest concentrations of bird species in the world.

H.U.: Australia, New Zealand - not Africa.

Kiapita: Huh. That surprises me. I guess you have to get more vaccines.

H.U.: No, it's not that. I'm just not the safari type.

Part 2: Conversation as it continued in my head

Kiapita: Right, because the entire continent of Africa is one big savannah for safari-ing. I mean, there aren't even different countries in it with different topographies and climates. It's just - argh - one huge undistinguishable, tediously monotonous mass.

H.U.: Yeah. I'm not fond of lions and giraffes and half-dressed, dark-skinned savages.

Kiapita: Thank God there aren't many black people left in Australia.

Alternative Part 2: Conversation as it continued in my head, following a different stream

Kiapita: You do know that "safari" just means "journey," right?

H.U.: Oh, of course. I just meant that I don't like grasslands and native guides.

Kiapita: You do know that Africa has more than grasslands, right? I'll ignore the comment about native guides, because I've heard you swoon about your French guides every time you go to Paris.

H.U.: And I'll ignore your comment about native guides, too. But, no, I can't think of anything other than grasslands that Africa might have. Other than dengue fever.

Kiapita: Funny you mention dengue fever. Did you know it has epidemic status in northeastern Australia?

H.U.: Is that where all the black natives live?

Kiapita: They make up about 3.6% of the population in that area of the country. Less than a third of all Australian Aborigines live in the northeast.

H.U.: Huh.

Kiapita: Huh.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested for entering his own home through a jammed door

Technically, they said it was for "disorderly conduct," but I'm pretty sure Dr. Gates wouldn't have been arrested for getting upset with officers if they hadn't broken into his home to arrest him for no good reason and had apologized when they realized they were wrong:

Black scholar's arrest raises profiling questions

Post-racial America, my ass.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fruity

If you are attentive (as I am sometimes told I am not), you have noticed that I have not written much lately. I have tons of good reasons, including being too distracted; having only enough energy left after biking to do actual, productive work; and it being berry-picking season.

I was very excited a couple weeks ago when the black raspberries (aka black caps) began to ripen. They sell frozen black raspberries at Trader Joe's for filthily cheap, but I generally like picking the local ones and, in any case, the local ones seem to have a slightly different and more complex flavor. So, the day after picking a few on my way to work, I decided to take the long route home, which rolls through prairie, fields and woods. The plants really love those wood edges.

So do the mosquitoes, I discovered. Okay, I already knew that this was true in general, but I hadn't expected it to be true that particular day, as I hadn't seen any mosquitoes of consequence yet in the season. At my first berry stop, the mosquitoes were annoying, but I could pick a few and then run up the hill away from the trees to enjoy the raspberries without much bother.

The second stop, I was not so lucky. Those ladies were vicious, nipping at the rate of approximately 40 bites per minute. They were so relentless that I decided I needed to get out of there immediately, without pausing to reattach my bag and bungee net to my bike rack.

This was stupid. As I walked the bike toward the prairie, the bungee snapped down into the rear wheel cassette and got tangled in the derailleur. This meant my bike could no longer move forward. I couldn't stop to fix it, because the mosquitos were still biting. So I lifted the bike to carry it out of the woods and put it down when I was in open air. (By the way, this was my not-so-light commuter bike, with the added weight of a half attached and pretty full bag hanging on the rear rack.) The mosquitos caught up with me. I lifted the bike again and walked another dozen yards, stopped, and was attacked again. I lifted the bike again. A cyclist going in the opposite direction hollered, "Do you need help?" as he approached, to which I replied, "I'm just trying to get away from the mosquitos," by which I meant, "I don't know yet because I can't pause long enough to look at my bike because of these mosquitos." He did not understand the meaning behind my response and kept going, probably thinking that I was a little crazy for walking, not biking, away from the mosquitoes.

I repeated the walk-with-bike-on-shoulder-for-a-bit-then-stop process three times, but the swarm had still only decreased half bymy last stop. I decided that was as good as it would get, given that it was a cloudy and humid day, and proceeded to unwind the bungee from the cassette, chain and derailleur with one hand and slap myself (at points of attack) with the other hand.

The mother and daughter who biked by didn't seem to think my behavior unusual.

After that, I gave up on black caps. Mulberries have been much friendlier. We have an hour lunchbreak at work and not much to do with it, so lately I've been using the opportunity to pick mulberries. I'm told it would be more efficient if I put a sheet on the ground, shook the trunk, and let loose berries fall on the sheet, but efficacy is not so much what I'm going for. I just need a good way to kill the time. Anyway, walking into my office after lunch with a big bundled sheet might not get me the best reaction. Currently, I just come back with hands that are stained purple, and my coworkers think I had a misbehaving pen explode in my hands.

This weekend, Dekalb and I picked 10 gallons of sour cherries from a local public tree. It takes a long time to pit that many cherries. Listening to Harry Potter books on tape is a good way to pass the time, while listening to NPR talk shows and Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe are acceptable, but less satisfying. We picked the first five gallons on Thursday evening and the second five yesterday. I stopped after two gallons, but Dekalb was unable to stop himself. I hinted that four gallons, which we had together collected, was enough, but he was having too much fun and picked another. He doesn't even eat them because he's allergic; he just likes picking them because they're free and it's like finding treasure. So he doesn't do pitting and he didn't quite understand why I would want to stop before all of our buckets and bags were full.

I'm freezing most of for now and will decide what to do with them later. Keep them frozen for making yogurt and ice cream or adding to oatmeal, or can them for pie filling or jam, or a little of all?

When N came over this weekend, I wouldn't let him look in the refrigerator. There were two bowls of pitted cherries in there, two gallons of unpitted cherries, 2 pounds of shard and four pounds of kale. It makes him panic to see that much food in the fridge, even if you tell him that most of it will be gone in a few days.

The collards and kale did not come from my own garden. There's a farmer at the Sunday market who sells his greens for ridiculously cheap, I guess because they need a little cleaning. I'll be steaming and freezing most of it tonight (and pitting the last two pounds of cherries), although I may set aside a pound of the kale for dinner. Sauteed onions and kale is my favorite.

-------------

On a completely different subject, my dad asked me when I was going to write about the manual transmission car I am learning to drive; I'll try to remember to go into that later. But I will mention for his sake that I'm apparently a quick study and that the car has not blown up.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Um, yeah ... whoops.

So my boss comes into my office today to tell me that I don't have enough hours logged in for the week of May 25 and she wants to know why. We go to the computer time sheet and gaze at it and, indeed, it doesn't have any hours logged in for May 25.

I think about this. And then, in the most diplomatic way I know how, I say, "Um, yeah, May 25 was Memorial Day."

She straightens up and says perkily, "Oh, yes, a holiday!"

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"I'm sorry I was late to work ...

... but the black raspberries along the bike path have finally begun to ripen and it would have been a sin not to stop and eat them."

Friday, May 8, 2009

I still think someone's playing a joke on me

Accuse me of being late to the party, but I just read this morning from more than one source that Bristol Palin is going to be promoting sexual abstinence on behalf of Candie's, the juniors shoe and clothing line. I kept checking the date stamps to make sure they didn't say April 1. And looking at the URLs to verify that I wasn't on The Onion Web site.

Whose phenomenally stupid idea was this? Wouldn't you want a spokesperson who had actually managed to remain sexually abstinent throughout her adolescence? There are a lot of such people, actually. I know I'm a little old for Candie's, but they could have called me, for one.

Maybe they did approach a bunch of sexually abstinent teens first, but the kids all gave the same answer I would have at that age, "I am totally into telling kids the benefits of not having sex, but they're not all going to listen, so I'd also want to tell them about preventing STDs and pregnancy if they are going to have sex. Go condoms!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Job frustration

I enjoyed this article I read today about another writer/editor's experience with job rejections. And I was impressed that she got 16 interviews. Clearly, she does not live in Madison.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Latest quilt



I finished this quilt at the beginning of the month for my friend Tanya's baby. It's the first quilt I've completed since moving back to Wisconsin. I guess I was doing too much remodeling.

Slavery in the U.S.

I was surprised and pleased to see Gourmet take a turn away from its usual food porn to talk about the enslavement of farm workers in the United States. Thanks, Gourmet, for explaining one of the real and worst costs of sinfully cheap tomatoes - or, rather, a sinfully profitable produce distribution system.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Unrequited high school crush

If I read People, I may have discovered this earlier, but it turns out that my unrequited high school crush on Sara Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie's Melissa Gilbert's sister and the rebellious daughter on Roseanne) had the potential to be requited had we ever met. Just as well it didn't work out, though; she seems to be into the having babies thing. (Warning: The link takes forever to load; I'd suggest opening it in a new window while you continue your other Web browsing.)

I love Charlie

My kindred spirit is Charlie the Unicorn. If you haven't met him, you should.





Monday, April 13, 2009

A liveable Tyson's Corner?

One of my favorite things to during my high school years in Northern Virginia was to visit the wasteland known as Tyson's Corner. With two shopping malls and every big box store known to humankind except, perhaps, Walmart, it was a teenage paradise.

It's hard for me to imagine adults finding anything of interest there, since there were no residences, grocery stores or repair shops. Plenty of restaurants, though. And office buildings - although it seems to me that these were the kinds of workplaces where people ended up to their chagrin, not because they had landed their ideal jobs.

Now urban planners are trying to reincarnate Tyson's Corner as a livable, walkable city. (It feels strange to call Tyson's Corner a city or town; it was always just a place.)

Apparently, it is indeed changing. I just read in a Washington Post article that people actually walk to the new Harris Teeter grocery store in Tyson's Corner using sidewalks. This is very hard to imagine. In the Tyson's Corner of my youth, the only place you could walk was inside a store or mall or, if you were careful, from a store or mall to your car. But, apparently, some people now walk from one building to another in Tyson's Corner and live to tell the tale.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ich möchte ein ErockIT

Okay, at €30,000, it's a bit above my budget. And I suppose I could always worry about my feet flipping off the pedals, but ...





Isn't his accent sexy? I love the way he says "Kraft."

Auf Englisch:

Friday, March 20, 2009

White House greenhouse

Michelle Obama puts a vegetable garden in the White House lawn. At 1,100 square feet, it's a lot bigger than anything I could handle, but apparently she'll have help.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sorry, I can't shut up about Seattle P-I

I guess it's a delayed reaction to the transition at the Cap Times. But I'm in good company.

Seattle P-I lists its own death

Thanks to Seattle's The Stranger for posting a picture of the print version of the listing on its blog.

I guess whoever puts together the death listings for the newspaper - I'm sorry, news product - wasn't buying this stuff about Seattle P-I continuing its life, just in another format. It is a little difficult to keep living when you suddenly lose 87 percent of your body.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yup, there go the journalists

At The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Managers said the site will have an editorial staff of 20, down from more than 150." Also,
The site won't have specific reporters, editors or producers -- all staff are expected to write, edit, take photos, shoot video and produce multimedia, according to a statement from Michelle Nicolosi, who will lead the site as executive producer.
Wait a minute, sounds like my job. Hired as a writer and copyeditor, but generally not allowed to write or copyedit. Stuck doing video production all day, which I've never had much desire to do and for which I never received training. As a result, videos really not that good, but boy I've gotten fast at producing them. Want to hire me, Michelle Nicolosi?

Goodbye, Seattle P-I

The Seattle Post Intelligencer ceases print publication tomorrow. The blame for its demise, I think, can be found in the last word of the third paragraph:
The company, however, said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. [emphasis added]

If the fourth estate is to be maintained, we need to stop thinking of the newspaper as a "product." ("Product," for those who haven't heard, is capitalist shorthand for any means to the end of making money.) As long as we view the conveyance of news as a "product" that the investor can interchange with any other "product" to make money – preferably bigger and bigger stacks of money – we run the risk of having no news at all.

People don't expect public broadcasting, Boys & Girls Clubs, or schools to make money. (Wait, forget I said schools. Let's recast that to to "Sane people don't expect ...") Can we build news organizations along similar lines?

As the article continues, it gets worse:

[Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers] continued: "The Web is first and foremost a community platform, so we'll be featuring new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community databases and photo galleries. We'll also be linking to the great work of other Web sites and blogs in the community."

In other words, the Web site will be chock-full of content for which Hearst Newspapers pays absolutely no money.

The article doesn't talk about layoffs, but we can infer that they're planned, despite the printing costs that Hearst will be saving when it ceases print publication. Seattle P-I editor and publisher Roger Oglesby told staff this morning:
This is a hard day for all of us. We were fortunate to be part of a great newspaper with a great tradition, and we've been blessed to be part of a wonderful group of talented people. We all hate to see that end. [emphasis added]

Guess it's just as well I didn't go to J school for that master's.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sadness, anger, rage, despair (it's much better than you think)

Thanks to the time change and a migraine that had necessitated afternoon caffeine consumption, I had trouble falling asleep on Sunday night. I was also fretting about work, and how dreadful my job is, and wondering the likelihood of finding something that would both help me live and contribute to my reasons for living. I thought about how I used to try to start my day with a positive thought, but it didn’t really work for me in the long run, instead leading to dissatisfaction and frustration. Someone wiser than me may, one day, reveal to me that I was going about it the wrong way; certainly, fools will try to convince me of the same.

I have found that a certain level of discontent is more likely to lead to my happiness than a concerted effort at acceptance of life on life’s terms. I think this is one of those ironies that Zen teachers love. Allowing myself to be reasonably discontent is more accepting of reality than trying to become accepting of reality and, thus, content with it.

I wouldn’t feel right without a little discontent. The world is full of unfair things, like lupus, character assassination, war and genocide. I feel more balanced when I don’t only focus on the things that make me happy.

I was thinking about this Sunday night and I began to brainstorm about starting a blog called … Well, I won’t tell you the name now, since I still might start it, and I don’t want some Web crawler to snatch the name. But the basic gist was a sort of anger-positive daily meditation for those who find more fulfillment in discontent than in contentedness.

This idea gave me a good amount of hope and I fell asleep. The next morning, I told myself that I needed to finish another Web site I’m working on before I’m allowed to start the new project, and this would have proven great inspiration for me to finish that other Web site, had not life – or death, more precisely – intervened.

As I was walking out of the office today, it occurred to me that I haven’t experienced a moment of anger since Tuesday morning, when it hit me what might be happening with Elizabeth.

There was a time when I would have thought that this was a lesson from God to stop being angry, ever, and I would have pledged myself to become a different person, one who focused only on gifts like sunshine and crocuses and ignored gifts like poison ivy and news about financial embezzlement.

I used to think anger was a problem, because I seemed to be angry all the time and it interfered with my life. I talked with a therapist about this – the only therapist I have ever liked because he never once evinced a nurse-like sympathy for my pain or pressured me to discuss sadness – and two things became obvious. First, that my problem wasn’t anger; it was rage. Second, that I preferred rage to despair, which seemed to be my only other option at the time, and I was hoping that rage would displace despair. But what I said to him was, “If I stay angry enough, I won’t fall into sadness.”

It appears that the opposite is true, too – that if I’m sad enough, I’ll forget to get angry. If ever there was a sure sign of mourning, it’s when a career malcontent goes an entire day without making a snarky remark about her perceived political opponents, religious detractors, intellectual inferiors, or her less-preferred economic and social systems.

So I won’t be starting my malcontent’s daily meditation blog today.

This is not one of those ill-considered resolutions that one makes upon the death of a loved one to view life in a whole new way, to be positive and to love on everyone for the loved one’s sake. I am making no resolutions to try to love life like her or to become a Trappist monk, even though we’ve both admired the lifestyle. I am just, for right now, too sad to be dissatisfied.

Elizabeth was far more patient than me and, while people often boggled her as much as they did me, she was better at reserving judgment. As my first and long-time spiritual companion, she introduced me to the idea of “that of God in everyone,” and I think she was better at seeing it than I am – though I have gotten better at it over the years.

Patient or not, she definitely enjoyed my cynicism (as long as it was reasonable) and got laughs out of my snarkiness (as long as it wasn’t demeaning). I guess that’s part of seeing that of God in everyone: accepting that some of us express our love for life and humanity in contrary ways.

So I won’t feel any guilt when my vitriol begins its daily exercise again. Instead I will think of it as a little and paramount gift, one that Elizabeth’s companionship on my spiritual journey helped me to appreciate.

More thanks to Elizabeth

Elizabeth posted this story to Facebook a few months ago. I share it because it says what I always mean to say; but I say it with anger, and this does not.

Sufi Tale: The Baby Elephant

Once upon a time there was a baby elephant who heard someone say: "Look, there is a mouse." The person who said it was looking at a mouse-- but the elephant thought that he was referring to him.

Now, there were very few mice in that country, and in any case they tended to stay in their holes, and their voices were not very loud. But the baby elephant thundered around, ecstatic at his discovery, "I am a mouse!"

He said it so loudly and so often, and to so many people that-- believe it or not-- there is now an entire country where almost everyone believes that elephants, and particularly baby elephants, are mice.

It is true that from time to time mice have tried to remonstrate with those who hold the majority belief: but they have always been put to flight.

And if anyone ever wants to reopen the question of mice and elephants in those parts, he had better have a good reason, strong nerves and an effective means of putting his case.

From "Wisdom of the Idiots" by Idries Shah

"From whom is any cyclist in his right mind going to accept a lift?"

A fellow cyclist pointed me to this 1955 film by British Railways about London cyclists railroading to Rugby to continue their Sunday cycling tour. I love it. A hundred miles on those behemoths and they don't even look like they break a sweat. Equally endearing is the horror expressed at the thought of putting a bicycle in a car. If only the same horror were so pervasive today.



My new motto: "A cycling tour without a map is like new potatoes without mint."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In memorium: Elizabeth Lyzenga Waterman August 7, 1974 - March 10, 2009

My friend and freshwomyn-year roommate Elizabeth died last night after a long and wretched illness. Here is an insufficient tribute to her.

Because I was a wannabe polyglot with a voracious appetite for learning how to say stupid and useless things in many languages, she taught me this song one evening when we were walking back to our dorm:



(Today is the first time I saw the video, and ain't it weird.)

Here's the words, if you'd like to learn it. I only ever clinched the first verse, but I sing it to this day when I want to annoy myself, annoy others, or entertain myself when I am experiencing the temperament of a 5-year-old child, which is often.
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne
De nous laisser dans la vie
Que les dimanches, les jeudis
De nous laisser dans la vie
Que les dimanches, les jeudis
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Ce fils de Pépin le Bref
Nous donne beaucoup d'ennuis
Et nous avons cent griefs
Contre, contre, contre lui

Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Participe passé
4 et 4 font 8
Leçon de français
De mathématiques
Que de, que de, travail, travail
Sacré sacré sacré sacré sacré Charlemagne

Il aurait dû caresser
Longtemps sa barbe fleurie
Il aurait dû caresser
Longtemps sa barbe fleurie
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne
Au lieu de nous ennuyer
Avec la géographie
Au lieu de nous ennuyer
Avec la géographie
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Il n'avait qu'à s'occuper
De batailles et de chasse
Nous n'serions pas obligés
D'aller chaque jour en classe
Il faut apprendre à compter
Et faire des tas de dictées
Il faut apprendre à compter
Et faire des tas de dictées
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Participe passé
Participe passé
4 et 4 font 8
4 et 4 font 8
Leçon de français
Leçon de français
De mathématiques
De mathématiques
Que de, que de, travail, travail
Sacré sacré sacré sacré sacré Charlemagne

Car sans lui dans notre vie
Il n'y aurait que des jeudis
Car sans lui dans notre vie
Il n'y aurait que des jeudis
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne…

The first verse means:
Who had this stupid idea one day to invent school?
Who had this stupid idea one day to invent school?
It was bloody Charlemagne.
Bloody Charlemagne!

"Sacré" literally means "sacred," but can be used as a mild expletive, the way that "holy" is sometimes used in English. But although one might say "Holy crap!" or "Holy donuts!," I've never heard anyone say anything that would lead me to believe that "Holy Charlemagne" would be a fair translation.

"Bloody" may not be quite right, either, since no one says it in the United States and, in the United Kingdom, I understand that it's too foul to include in a children's song. But that's what Eliz and I settled upon, so that's what I'll stick with.

Monday, March 9, 2009

That's so kiapita

I realize I'm not in the target demographic for these public service announcements, but they're freakin' hilarious.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cool, improperly named rats

I guess my mind has become an interesting place to dwell again, because I can't seem to stop blogging today. I ran across this article in the archives of The New York Times today. It's about Gambian pouched rats being trained to detect landmines. Although they are huge by rodent standards (up to 9 pounds, the size of a miniature dachsund), they are small enough that they don't set off the landmines. And they're more focused than dogs, so they do a better job than landmine-detecting dachsunds, which would get bored and start digging up the landmines, which would be an altogether bad scene.

They are supercute, but should not be used to detect landmines in Florida, where they're an invasive species. You can go here to learn more about the hero rats.

I got to the Gambian rats while looking up info about banana rats, which are also not really rats, but a variety of rodent that lives in Cuba. They are also pretty cute.

Bryn Mawr alumna in the news

Somehow I don't think this notable Mawrter will make it into the newsletter for prospective students.

The Condition

I recently finished reading The Condition by Jennifer Haigh, which I had picked up off the community bookshelf in the Amtrak station in Denver just after Christmas. I don't know if the book itself was pretentious, or just the picture of Ms. Haigh on the back jacket flap. That could have colored the whole reading.

Perhaps the problem lies with me, who doesn't have a lot of innate sympathy for the struggles of people who own vacation homes on New England beaches and can afford to spend their entire summers there. Not that I can't develop sympathy for them; I just don't naturally think, "Wow, those people must have a hard life."

It doesn't help that Haigh made the central character of the book -- the one around whom the entire plot twists -- the least sympathetic. One wonders if this was a natural aspect of the character's personality, as Haigh suggested, or whether it was Haigh's inability to fully sympathize with someone who is a statistical anomaly.

Just so you're not completely in the dark and wondering, you can read a preview of the book here, or I can explain to you that the central character has a genetic aberration known as Turner's syndrome, in which a woman has only one complete X chromosome. (She may have a second, incomplete X chromosome, but this isn't necessarily the case.) Everyone in her family treats her as if she's from another planet, and Haigh does, too.

I cared so little about the character Haigh painted that the only real reason I got through the book was that the train I was on between Denver and Chicago had an ice-storm-induced eight-hour delay. By the time I got off the train, I was far enough into it that I thought I should finish it. A completionist, I suppose.

I read most of the rest during a night of insomnia. But I found myself skipping chapters to find out whether her brother would get back with his boyfriend, and then I stopped a few chapters short of the end when I knew the answer. Once that was known, I felt no concern for the fate of the other characters. Their stories had stopped being compelling -- well, those that ever had been.

I went back and read the skipped parts and the last chapter last week when I had to stay up late drinking a gallon of horrible-tasting liquid in preparation for a colonoscopy. Everything that happened in those chapters is exactly what one would have expected, which is either to Haigh's credit for creating consistent characters, or to her detriment for creating a story that lacks dramatic tension. Book groups: Discuss!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jaguar spotted in the U.S.

Well, I suppose they're spotted wherever they are.

It's pretty cool, but I'm glad it only weighs 118 pounds and that I'm not in the wilds of Arizona.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Delightful religious commentary

This blog entry by the Internet Monk made my otherwise grumpiness-filled (with cause!) day.

(You've got to follow the link within iMonk's post in order to get why this is so pleasing unto me. Otherwise, it makes no sense.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bike lanes are not snow storage areas

But the municipalities to whom we pay our taxes are unaware of that. According to them, Fish Hatchery Road is apparently not a major vehicle route and the city of Madison is unable to communicate with Dane County. The primary reason that the bike lane on Fish Hatch is now clear-ish is because of the Great Melt of 2009.

So glad to be back on my road bike today. The melt has made it safe for this afternoon and possibly tomorrow. Must get studded tires -- maybe on my way home today. Otherwise, it's just the bus and the very heavy one-speed townie with two-inch-wide tires. Call me a wimp, but I'm just not up to riding 8.5 miles to work on that thing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just in case the fact that it's Monday morning wasn't enough to piss you off

The Food and Drug Administration has found that Peanut Corp. of America knew in at least a few instances that its products were tainted with salmonella, but shipped them anyway.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Plight of the North American Bipeds

My friend B.C. made this video. Isn't she smart?

Monday, January 26, 2009

slow bicycling, yay!

Speaking of non-sport-cyclists, a fellow bikie just brought The Slow Bicycle Movement to my attention.

When I lived in the Philadelphia suburbs, slow cyclists were few and far between. The area is not designed with transportational cyclists in mind, so the bike shop in my town mainly catered to aspiring Lance Armstrongs. I remember asking them about their weekly group rides, and they told me that the "casual" (i.e. "slow rider") rides averaged 15-18 mph. In a place with many hills of 20-degree grade. I remember wanting to laugh at them. The feeling went both ways, because when I said, "You call that slow?" the guy smirked at me and looked at my 20-year-old, 25-pound Schwinn. then back at me with a "Unless you buy something lighter from us, you are definitely not welcome" look.

Against my better judgment, I later went for a 15-mile spin with this guy and another bike shop employee. They kept chugging Gu. For a 15-mile bike ride. A bit excessive, really.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Olympic bicycling in Madison

In it's bid for the 2016 summer Olympics, Chicago is proposing that Dane County serve as the cycling epicenter.

On the one hand, that would be cool.

On the other hand, does Madison really need any more sports cyclists with holier-than-thou-lowly-bike-commuter attitudes?

Well, some sports cyclists aren't a**holes, I suppose. (Don't get offended, sports cyclists, that I say only some and not many. If I said "Many sports cyclists are not a**holes," then I'd be implying that there's a lower proportion of a**holes in the sport cycling community than in the general population, in which, too, only some people are not a**holes. And I really have no basis on which to claim that sports cyclists are less a**holic than people at large. For what it's worth, I'm a sometime sport cyclist and I really don't think I'm all that nice.)

Despite my misgivings, it is possible that, by some amazing fluke, all the Olympian cyclists who showed up would be truly kind people. And maybe all the people who took up sports cycling in imitation of the Olympians would also adopt their unusual level of beneficence.

And I do like the idea of more people taking up cycling, even if not for transportation purposes. As a hobby, it sure beats other out-of-the-house pastimes like pleasure driving, ATVs, power lawnmowing, snowmobiling and motorboating.

(An aside to people who may find the lengthiness and comma-speckled state of some of my sentences: I've been reading lots of Dickens lately, and it just makes me feel so justified in letting my written sentences go on as long and in such a winding manner as my spoken ones.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oops

It's going to be really difficult to make this look good.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Jew's prayer for the children of Gaza

Bradley Burston writes a blog called "A Special Place in Hell" for Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily. I love the name of the blog and have tried listing him in my Blog Roll (see right), but it doesn't work because he -- inscrutably -- lacks an RSS feed. Here's his unusually religious column from Jan. 7.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Those hilarious copyeditors

After spending the entire weekend copyediting, I shall now relax to the dulcet tones of Old-Time Radio Drama.

One of my cohorts sent me this:

funny pictures of cats with captions

Monday, January 5, 2009

Would be funny, if it weren't so pathetic

I read* Rickard Dawkins' God Delusion last week, and it was much better than I expected. Especially thought-provoking were the chapters on the religious indoctrination of children and the ways in which even non-fundamentalist religion discourages reason. I'm sure I'll have more to say about both subjects later.

Here's a link to a cartoon illustrating a non-reasoned approach to the disappearance of dinosaurs.

*For me, "reading" often means "listening to on CD."