Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

Really, Lego?

Sadly, this is not the first (or second) time I've read about Millennials' egregiously clueless interview behavior.

Really, Japan? Girlfriend coats?

I saw an add for Big Ass Fans in the New Yorker (my last issue!) and thought it a poster ad for hyphens: I read it at Big Ass-Fans, not the intended Big-Ass Fans.

Okay, I agree that no one else cares about your arms, but if you do care, for f*'s sake, lift some weights! It's good for you. Skip the lipo. I do not understand this cosmetic surgery thing. It is simply beyond me. Then again, I don't get non-essential prescription drug use, so I'm clearly out of touch with a lot of people. And I feel the need to express how nonplussed I am in writing: I am nonplussed. Accept your f*ing self, and/or deal with yourself in a way that makes you healthier, not sicker/more vulnerable to infection, etc.

I want to share (and perhaps comment on) some of Mark Bittman's VB6 tweets:
Sigh. Tofu is not that processed; tempeh is even less processed. Don't confound processed soy products (TVP)--which are still good for occasional use--with pretty basic soy products. And yes, soy milk is pretty processed but it's also okay (especially occasionally) and it does come unsweetened, and there are other vegan milks.
Nothing wrong with carbs, people. Particularly whole-food carbs.

My take on the whole VB6 idea: it's great if you want to do the less-meat thing, but it would drive me crazy. I appreciate the concept of flexibility, which is why I would advocate picking your battles, or eating what's available. But if you're anything like me (maybe you are, maybe you're not), if you just quit dairy, period (and mind you, I was already a vegetarian, so for some people that's meat and dairy), you won't crave it; you can drop the "before six" part more easily and just be vegan. Reintroducing animal products in the evening just cuts off that great feeling you get by not wanting them at all. And when you need or want to "cheat," just do it. I've been a pretty bad vegan over the last few weeks (work travel, etc.) and it doesn't make me want to eat dairy again; it just makes me want to go back to having more control over my food options.

Tuesday morning roundup

Boycotting clothing made in Bangladesh is counterproductive.

Mexico's Twitter-take-down of an overreaching heiress is awesome but can that outrage be leveraged for greater change?

McDonald's reaches out to sad people.

What not to do when there's a new baby in the extended family.

Check out Saturn's north pole from two angles. Those would make a hot print dress.

Um, I had blinged-out flats long before WSJ apparently made them cool. I also gave them away because they hurt my feet and I fundamentally do not believe in uncomfortable shoes. As I said the other day--consider this my motto--"I'll suffer for beauty; just not my own."

@HuffPoSpoilers (I give in to @HuffingtonPost click-bait so you don't have to) has changed my life.

I have chickpea flour; I should do something with it... like, maybe, make spicy Egyptian dukkah.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday evening roundup

Speaking of marketing misfires, look what showed up in my Twitter feed this morning:
Newt males attract females by smell.

Check out this hole in the International Space Station's solar array.

These voice samples are hilarious, though I think they have two male samples (unless they've fixed it).

Everyone should experience struggling with math. I love this quote:
Mathematical failure—much like romantic failure—leaves us raw and vulnerable. It demands excuses.
I love most of this quote, from Michael Pollan:
The meal is a really important institution of civilization and of democracy. I really do think that the family meal is nursery of democracy. It's where children learn how to share, take turns, and argue without offending, and they learn the news of the day from adult conversation. Humans are a complicated species. Food is not just fuel. It's communion and a medium of social life. I guess the more I've cooked, the more I've become aware of and sensitive to the social meanings of food and how important it is to so much more than health.
But I would like to point out that meals are a really big deal in a lot of places that are not democracies. I'm all over the social meanings of food, but you know that. My family is also from a country that always loved itself some meals even when it wasn't even pretending to be a democracy. Speaking of which... of these Buzzfeed-type lists that explain the world, the awesomest by far is 14 Hairless Cats That Look Like Vladimir Putin.

Humans have always judged by appearance--specifically, by style. Remind me to blog about my recurring first world problem (actually, it's a variation) with regard to dressing my big butt. My butt is not big in a bad way, but it is, nonetheless, big, and I don't want to dress to draw attention to it. But if I go baggy, it does look big in a bad way. What to do?

Stop harassing me, Wells Fargo

A week or so ago, I thought about refinancing, so I filled out an online form with my current mortgage provider: Wells Fargo. The form asked whether I'd prefer to be contacted by phone or e-mail; I checked "e-mail." Ever since, I've been getting twice-daily recorded phone calls from Wells Fargo asking me to call a number. Leaving aside how inane and disrespectful this is--talk about ridiculous customer service: I mean, (1) I said e-mail me and (2) if you're going to call me, have a human call me; don't waste my time with a recording that gives me a number to call. If I wanted to call you, I would have just called you. I filled out an online form because I. did. not. want. to. call. you. And now, I will never call you.

Also, I have now twice called the opt-out number so that they would stop calling me twice a day and leaving me recorded messages. But I still keep getting these calls.

Does that sound like a smart marketing strategy to you? Does this give you faith in Wells Fargo's marketing people or their marketing algorithms? Annoying the customers who are already coming to you doesn't strike me as a winning strategy.

Monday morning roundup

What exploded in Prague?

It behooves us to make our trial-and-error riddled pasts less searchable.

It may behoove the Dutch to choose art over monarchy.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The parents

I mentioned that I considered going to Boston, if only to take some bullets for dad. I chat with him every few days; he and mom are, unsurprisingly, driving each other crazy. She's used to having the run of the house without anyone telling her to what to do (i.e., get rest or eat), and he's used to being productive and not being picked at until the evening. It's funny how in my absence, mom says to him what she'd say to me (in my presence, she'll still say it to him, only much less so; I become the primary verbal punching bag): that he's gained weight, and, especially lately, that she doesn't care for his hairstyle. Dad has substantially less hair than I do, and so, fewer options (if any) regarding hairstyle; nonetheless, mom likes to point out that whatever he's doing is not working for him. Criticizing my hairstyle over video chat was a constant when mom was still talking to me, but she hasn't talked to me in months. Maybe I'll wish her a happy mother's day. At the very least, I'll ask dad to wish her a happy mother's day on my behalf. We'll see.

Sunday afternoon roundup

Russia's new restrictions echo the Soviet era. A St. Petersburg museum challenges it.

Hating on the Jews: a history. Also: meet the Holocaust Museum's guide who is also a poet.

Why divest from medical care that works?

Why, oh why, won't the Post make it easy for me to share Toles' brilliant cartoon? (I will have to update that link tomorrow.)

The electric car is anything but dead.

You're never too old to learn to ride a bike.

Response to comment and why no roundup

Why no roundup, first: because there wasn't much in the Times (there was one thing: the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons notwithstanding, supporting the various insurgent contingents is not a simple decision). And I wanted to go on a bike ride before reading anything else. I'll get you all that shortly.

In case you were wondering, it was the perfect morning for a bike ride, in terms of weather and lighting. Less so in terms of other timing: yesterday was National Rebuilding Day, so I'd spent the morning doing someone else's yardwork before coming home to do my own. So my back was strained, and I felt it almost immediately on the bike. But it was worth it. I'll suffer for beauty (just not my own).

Now, then, Ernessa's comment(s):

(1) My apologies, I figured you were too busy mothering these days, what with the tripling of your brood, to read the blog. My apologies to the rest of you, too (the handful of you, I should say) who do read the blog. I meant 'nobody' in the context of there being so few of you that I can address controversial topics (for example, disruptive kids in restaurants who happen to be autistic) without attracting a torrent of trolls or other indignant commenters. (Note: I welcome reasonable, reasoned discussion on such issues).

(2) I guess I can see why the vegetarian issue slipped the guy's mind, but you said it yourself: why wouldn't you entertain the possibility, anyway, that the person you're asking out doesn't eat meat (or doesn't want to eat meat)? I don't live in California; I live in the DC metro area, and work in the District (there are at least three places that serve vegan pizza within a ten-minute walk of my office).

Dating is hard enough without food issues. I wrote a whole short play about this issue (or at least alluding to this).

Also, thank you for the "other than salads" caveat: I'm sooooooo sick (and I have been, since I became a vegetarian at age 13) of people talking about how "there should be salads." This is in the context of, "let's go to ___" or even "you should try ___" and I say, "there aren't good vegetarian options there" and they say, "I'm sure there are salads." Look, people: salads are nice, but (1) they are not meals and (2) if I wanted a salad, I'd make one myself. Salads can be substantive, if you throw in fats and proteins, and those fats and proteins may be nuts and tofu or beans, but more likely, they're chicken or tuna or shrimp. As we've established, I eat a lot. I'm not going to have a salad for a meal unless there are calories in there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday evening roundup

OMG did I miss my calling? At the very least, I definitely missed Princess Week.

I've never had a migraine, but I have touched my face (including my eyes) after handling hot peppers, and I don't recommend it.

Spiritual belief may facilitate mental health care. And science does not preclude spirituality.

I found Bloomberg Views' takedown of the Dove experiment resonant with this piece on intellectual humility: there's a difference between assessment/awareness and perspective. How we assess our abilities and features is a different metric from what we do with that assessment.

Saturday morning roundup

Syria's conflict has stifled Aleppo's musical spirit.

Mexico's borders with Central America are dangerous ones for migrants.

Are we giving bigots too much credit by calling them trolls?

If this white-dwarf/general-relativity stuff means anything to you, you're a better person than I.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday evening roundup

China is not inspiring fear among its neighbors.

Did you think Venezuela couldn't get worse? That level of repression, though, can only be a sign of desperation.

Let's be thankful for terrorist incompetence.

More and more women are speaking out.

Metro, that's pathetic:
Can scientists save conventional supermarket tomatoes?

The onus is on industry, not consumers, to ensure worker safety. I'm glad someone has come out and said that. It's the same with food (see this morning's and/or yesterday's posts). Again, I take issue with (1) slamming people who like food and (2) creating a dichotomy between food worker welfare and other aspects of the food system (such as animal welfare and environmental impact). Caring about animals and the environment does not come at the expense of people; it opens the door to better treatment of the people who grow, pick, and handle our food.

Ag gag backfires because people start to think about where their food comes from.

I myself have come across this patronizing "everything is a chemical" attitude among some scientists, and it's not cool:
Arrogance and paternalism are still all too common across the sciences, and it’s entirely understandable that sections of the public treat us as villains.
I’m not chemophobic, but I think there’s good reason for presumptive distrust of corporations that see consumers as walking wallets rather than as folks deserving information to make their own sensible choices.
The earth's core is hotter than previously thought.

Don't pin your climate change prevention hopes on black carbon.

People generally love blue.

Friday morning roundup

The latest tragedy is just the most recent symptom Bangladesh's worker safety debacle. By the way, the Times has a Room-for-Debate (that I haven't bothered to read) about the human cost of cheap clothes. Have they ever asked the same question about cheap food?

Boston's wounded are starting to adjust but there are more operations for some.

Electric cars can give back to the grid, too.

Some people wouldn't be caught dead with a movie cover copy of "The Great Gatsby." I would also take issue with the "best American novel ever" assertion--less emphatically with the designation and more so with the concept, but really with both, if that's logically possible.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday evening roundup

Chemicals in chicken plants kill people. And new inspection policies will not help.

What's in your mummified (or mummifiable) burger?

Asra Nomani on collective (ethnic) responsibility.

What shortage of American STEM graduates? Isn't it time to rethink the "unemployed history major" meme? And what'd I tell you about physicists and their cutesy names for things. But engineers must be good for something: this deflector shield concept is really cool. Still, most people use very little math at work. (Ironically, I use math at work... but it's pretty basic).

Also: don't use your feet as brakes.

This column really is neither-here-nor-there. There is no epidemic of women behaving badly.

Alexandria is the most well-read city in the country.

Aspirational bike rides.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday evening roundup

Venezuela retaliates against voters.

Military commissions win you nothing.

Get your mind out of the gutter, everyone: nobody drew a phallus on Mars on purpose.

Politico takes down Jill Abramson. Donald Trump takes down himself in an attempt to take down Jon Stewart. Tracy McMillan turns her women-hating rants to advice for men.

What's a flexitarian? Am I not a real vegan because I bend when I travel? Who the f* cares?

Wednesday morning roundup

A mining operation threatens Afghanistan's archeological heritage.

Friedman mourns the departure of Salam Fayyad (and compellingly explains why).

Vietnam's transition pains.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My relationship with spiders: a history

After I saw the massive spider on my ceiling this morning (I don't know where it is now), I texted Jay and asked if he would come deal with it. He said, "only if you scream bloody murder first."

See, there's a story or two here. Some of you know it, but I've probably picked up a reader or two since then (I've also probably lost four or five, but whatever). First, the pre-story:

When I was very little (four or five), mom read me "The Hobbit" because she really liked it. She didn't bother with the whole "is this appropriate for small children" analysis. So she read me "The Hobbit," which, if you'll recall, has a nasty spider scene. So I got nightmares. Every night. I would wake up screaming every night. So mom took me to a psychiatrist, who administered an IQ test, on the basis of which he or she and his or her crack team determined that I was mentally disabled and would not mentally progress past the age of four. Mom did not neglect to hold this against me when I decided to major in psychology, but I digress.

Sooner or later, for whatever reason, I stopped screaming every night. But I continued to scream at night occasionally, into adulthood, when I thought there might be spiders around (like every time I went camping). I would go to bed on guard, and the slightest stimulus--light, maybe--would prompt a blood-curdling scream. When Jay and I were in Panama, after a day out on the water and some alcohol, I took a nap, only to wake up screaming as I "hallucinated a hole in the wall." (His words). I probably hallucinated spiders. I eventually realized what was happening and trained myself not to wake up screaming, by actively calming myself down before going to sleep in situations where I would otherwise fear the spiders. Also, looking out for spiders became very, very unpractical when I spent a couple of months in Nicaragua; there were spiders and grosser creatures everywhere. I would wake up every morning and think, "hmm, what insect or arachnid will greet me in the shower this morning?"

But a year or so before those months in Nicaragua, Jay and I spent the better part of a week in Panama. We were in Boquete, and we'd just returned from a ten-mile hike on Volcan Baru when the
hotel owner, thinking we were a couple, asked if he could move us to a room with a single bed (and, it turned out, no door on the bathroom--very romantic!). We were so exhausted that we didn't care. We were still exhausted the following morning, but we went for a quick walk by the river (it was beautiful), and then returned to the room to pack. I quickly packed, then collapsed on the bed and closed my eyes. Jay put his suitcase on the bed and opened it.

Jay: A., get off the bed!
A.: Huh?
A.: I'm tired.
Jay: A.
A.: What's happening?

I sit up, open my eyes.

There's a GINORMOUS spider inside Jay's suitcase. Which was on the bed, as was I. There was no escaping. I screamed bloody murder.

The spider ran away. We took everything out of the room--my stuff was already packed, and Jay proceeded to pack outside. The hotel guy (by hotel, we mean a bunch of rooms in a garden) told us that there weren't really spiders around, so he didn't know what we were talking about. But I'm telling you guys, this spider was massive.

Tuesday evening roundup

Holy $hit, is it only Tuesday?

Civil liberties hit their limits when they infringe on other people's rights.

This wringing-a-washcloth-in-space thing is awesome. I'll embed the video, but click on the link for the explanation.

But it does raise additional questions that I do not want to think about with regard to sex in space.

IceCube detectors and intergalactic neutrinos and petaelectronvolts, oh my!

Bilingualism is good for you. Negativity may beget creativity.

Silliest study ever. First of all, 30% chocolate is essentially sugar (and maybe milk), so unless you have a control group that's consuming equal quantities of either of those two foods, the study is just horseshit.

ShowBiz Tonight's hilarious spoof of the Dove real beauty campaign. BTW, did I tell you guys that I went out with a guy who looked like Jon Hamm, only more attractive, and f*ed it up? It was tragic. It's not that I haven't dated beautiful men before; a few years ago I went out with a guy who was just ridiculously pretty. But I wasn't otherwise interested in him, so it wasn't a tragedy (actually, I'm the one who didn't call him back; he was too young for me, too). The Jon-Hamm lookalike, though, really had a personality. Sigh.

Tuesday morning roundup

Bombing survivors face high ongoing costs. Massachusetts and its health care system are well-suited to the challenge.

Beijing can't breathe; there are costs to ignoring the environmental impact of growth at all costs (and of coal).

Okay, while you're not hating on the Czechs out of confusion, it would also behoove you to not hate on the Chechens as a whole, out of perspective.

Oh, shut up, Nate Silver.

I still don't think I'd eat wild boar but I guess I'm glad other people are. I'd grill up these guys for sure.

For its birthday, Hubble takes a picture of a horsehead nebula. See also this cluster of blue stars from the European Southern Observatory.

Dave Brooks makes some good points about confidence, or asks some good questions. There is value in self-criticism, but confidence doesn't preclude self-criticism (in fact, I think confidence smooths the process). I'm not sure how individual women can speak to averages (i.e., on average, are women less confident than men) but yes, my personal impression is that dudes tend to think they're god's gift to women, while a lot of women are the opposite of Samantha Brick: we focus on what's not right about our appearance. We're less likely to consider ourselves attractive.

Sorry, I (in my infinite wisdom on such matters) have to disagree with Carolyn. Let the dude ask you out; if he doesn't, he's just not that into you. 

Make this artichoke-orzo dish with tahini in lieu of bechamel and nutritional yeast in lieu of parmesan. Or replace the milk in the olive-oil bechamel with soy milk.

Who are the 20 most irritating celebrities? I have to ask, again, what Anne Hathaway ever did to anyone, but that topic is well covered.

OMG there is a massive spider on my ceiling and I don't want to kill it but I can't get rid of it. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Choosing love: how is it going?

It's rough going, is the short answer. The negative associations creep in before I notice them.

This morning, I thought about how maybe I should visit my parents--at the very least, I could take some bullets for dad. He hasn't asked me to; in fact, he's acknowledged that when I'm around, all the crap, or at least most of it, is diverted to me. But I digress (see how easy it is!); I thought about visiting, which got me thinking about looking for tickets, which got me thinking about (1) mom's accusing me of not caring about her enough to spend $30 to see her and (2) mom's accusing me of not "even" giving her my frequent-flier miles. [Specifically, (1) mom suggested that I take the Chinatown bus, and I balked, which she took as a reason to not talk to me for days; and (2) many years ago, we had something like this conversation:

Mom: How much is it going to cost you to fly there?
A.: I'm using miles.
Mom: You know, you can also give us your miles.
A.: Um, okay... but I'm using them.

Mom wasn't asking for miles for specific purpose; she was merely informing me that I could theoretically give her my miles. Okay, but why would I, because I just told her that I was about to use them. Right? So she later threw this in my face as, "we gave you so much and you wouldn't even give us your miles."

See! See how easy it was--how natural it was--the day after I said I'd actively quit focusing on all the crap mom has said so that I would instead focus on the good in mom? Not only do I fall into the pattern of justifying my comment by contextualizing it, but I also fall into judgment: what the f* is going on in mom's mind that she even goes there? what must be going on in her mind that she has to twist those kinds of conversations into weapons, against her daughter? WTF??

I am practicing non-judgment; I mean, literally practicing, i.e., actively choosing to do it, even if I don't quite have it yet. The first step is catching myself in these judgmental/justifying thoughts and running a different script. And that script is, good memories of mom. But the search for those memories set me back to judgment: I couldn't think of anything recently. To come up with happy mom memories, I pretty much have to go back to my early childhood.

That's not a coincidence: when I was little, mom didn't have to act out for control, because she had the control. When I was little, I wasn't yet a f*-up: I hadn't taken college classes she'd disapproved of, much less jobs she'd disapproved of; I had no career yet, so she could not agonize over what she perceived as my career failures; when I was too little to date, she couldn't see me as a failure for being single. She certainly could see my as a failure at all the extracurricular activities she'd enrolled me in, and she did. Which overwhelms any potential there is for thinking, "I'm so grateful to mom for exposing me to all those activities."

As always, it's not that I can't find things to be grateful to mom for; I just struggle for happy memories, especially recent ones. If I go far enough back, I remember her reading to me every night, no matter how tired she was--in part, as she later reminded me with pride, because I'd have a meltdown if she didn't. I also remember her taking me to the same movies, over and over and over again.

But the older I got--the more I came into my own, and the more daylight that opened up between my own and her image--the more she rebelled against the person I was becoming. And the more I rebelled against her rebellion, and the more fit hit the shan on both sides. Soon, just about every occasion was marked by acrimony. And it's only gotten worse with age, and it's only gotten worse with sickness. And yet--the age and sickness make me want to rip the Darth Vader mask off my mother, almost as much for her as for me--it's an imperfect analogy, since getting rid of the mask will only help her live--but also for me. I am trying, even though I didn't succeed on the first day. The only thing to do is keep trying, to keep practicing.

Monday evening roundup

When conservative areas come to terms with the fact that they benefit from federal spending.

Don't f* up your kids by micromanaging their eating.

First of all, Mrs. Merz was an amazing human being. Second, this is awesome:
To Mrs. Merz, rhinos — far from being the stupid, aggressive, ill-tempered sorts many suppose — were, in her words, beautiful and elegant. She blamed their bellicosity on their poor eyesight, leading them to charge first and ask questions later. She found that rhinos have a sense of humor and that they communicate by altering their breathing rhythms. She read them Shakespeare to soothe them.
Samia, an orphan rhino whom she raised from babyhood, even crawled into bed with Mrs. Merz — not entirely to her delight. Samia would follow her around like a dog, even after leaving Mrs. Merz’s immediate care and returning to the reserve, where she mated and had her own calf. If Mrs. Merz fell, Samia would extend her tail to help her up.
Did you catch that? She read Shakespeare, to rhinos.

In other large animal news, check out Lily Tomlin's work with elephants. And then feast your eyes on some spring baby animal pictures.

Monday morning roundup

Will India and Egypt make efforts toward police reform?

Europe's carbon market hasn't quite collapsed, but it's a near-miss.

Bilger on Mars.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Choosing love

I saw "33 Variations" tonight--the rehearsal, that is, which is a good thing, because it was triggering, so I was glad to have the space to leave if I needed to. Which I didn't.

The degenerative disease at the center of the play, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is not the same that ails mom, but there are commonalities nonetheless. There are also commonalities among the mom characters--the fictional and the mine--that further depressed the trigger. But I'm going to try to stick with the medical aspects. I guess what surprised me the most (about my own emotional reaction) was how painful it was to see the fictional character in physical pain. Because it hurts me that mom is in physical pain. It upsets me, a lot. It upsets me even more because she's so stupid about it, but maybe being smarter about it (i.e., eating well or at least regularly, and making a point to sleep) wouldn't make much of a difference. Still, I wish she would try it.

Recently, but before I saw the play, I set an intention of trying to think as well as possible of mom, in spite of the constant fodder she provides for the opposite. She's given us plenty of material over the years; she's given me plenty of reasons to resent her, but she's failed, because I don't resent her. I don't even resent her for resenting me, but I'd prefer for her to stop, because it's only hurting her. The point is, even though I've filled these pages with stories largely unflattering to mom--and I have no regrets; writing about mom was the best way to cope with her unrelenting overbearingness--my intention is to hone in on the lovable human being buried under all that overbearingness. It pains me that when I think of mom these days, the first thing that comes to mind is 'the woman who tells me I'm fat," etc. So I'm reprogramming my associations with mom; I'm choosing to focus on all the things that make mom unique (in a good way). I'm choosing to remember the being full of love whom I know is there, concealed behind the resentment and negativity. I'm going to do my best to drown out the resentment and negativity, and I know it won't be easy because she wants it there. But all I know is that I have a choice in how I think of my mother, and, particularly with the bullshit well-documented, I choose to think on the good stuff.

Dudes (sigh)

Wait, she married this moron?
“She had this one shirt, and it was a picture of a pig and it said, ‘Please don’t eat me. I love you,’ ” recalls Scott, now 31. “The way that shirt was kind of adorable was also the way that she was adorable and cute. She was really sweet and nice to everyone.”
Somehow the pig shirt failed to tip him off to the fact that she was a vegetarian, and he chose a local watering hole that served mostly fried meats.

Now in double the man-repellent strength!

Guys, guess what: I'm double man-repellent! We've all heard how man-repellent it is to be vegan, so I won't waste your time rehashing that one, but Susan Patton's back with another factor that doubles my man-repelling powers.

As for her assertion that men have nothing to lose as they age, I bring you science:
Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age, scientists reported on Wednesday, in the first study to quantify the effect as it builds each year. The age of mothers had no bearing on the risk for these disorders, the study found.
Just sayin'.

Sunday morning roundup

London's show of solidarity.

Desmond Tutu on Myanmar.

Judicial reform in China?

The world's top industries are mooching off of you, the tax payer, by sticking you with the environmental costs of their business activities.

Alan Alda teaches scientists to better communicate with mere mortals.

This is a no-brainer, since everyone hates screaming children on planes, and dirty diapers will make a kid scream: make it easier to change babies on planes.

Glutton for punishment that I am, I'm actually considering refinancing again, for the fourth(!) time since I bought my house. Rates are so low that I have to think about it.

Sigh... I guess this is part of that same Grist series on going vegan for a month. Not that anyone asked me, but I'd recommend against freaking out over an Andes mint that you didn't specifically order, anyway. Being orthodox about veganism is a sure way to crash and burn. It's much more effective, if you actually want to be vegan--and if you don't, don't--to pick your battles. That means lowering your standards when you travel. The no-pun-intended guinea pigs did write the following, to their credit:
Among the top benefits for all four of us: the expansion of our cooking and dining horizons. Who knew cheeseless pizza could be so satisfying? It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to try it without being compelled to, but yum. Laura and Matt found vegan enlightenment in a pine-nut spread. “Thinking of it as a cheese replacement is no good,” Laura warned us. “But as a pine-nut spread that’s delicious on everything, très wonderful.” Other surprises: portobello burgers with guacamole, non-dairy chocolate shakes, and vegan carrot cake that was pronounced “the best I’ve ever had” by four out of four samplers.
Again, if you are interested in trying to be vegan, do focus on new foods you'd never thought to try before (rather than focus on what's off-limits) and don't think of perfectly good foods in terms of meat- or cheese-replacement value.

A guide to first-world problems

It's because the "first-world problems" meme is so a propos when applied correctly that it's so frustrating when people don't get it. If you check out the hashtag, you'll find a lot of super-lame entries that just miss the point, not even in the offensive way discussed in the link, but in a dull, "why are you even wasting Twitter space with this crap?" way. So let's address the more offensive ones... but before we do, let's talk about what constitutes a decent example of a first-world problem, as acknowledged as such by yours truly and some friends who shall remain anonymous:
I'm going to miss the season finale of Mad Men because I'm being sent to Vienna for work.
I can't keep up with all these beautiful men who keep falling in love with me! (can you figure out that that one's not mine?)
This iPad I won doesn't play well with my Android-based phone. I can't share apps!
I've lost so much weight that it's a pain to find clothes that fit me.
There's too much to do in this city--so much art and culture to take in, and most of it's free or at least affordable; I can't keep up.
Do you see what first-world problems are not? They're not anything that is a step above what would be a problem in the poorest parts of the developing world. It's not like nothing in the developed world is a problem because in the rest of the world many people lack access to clean water and don't know where their next meal is coming from. Just because I have a roof over my head, doesn't mean I have no right to be upset about, say, problems at work. Hell, just because I'm employed, doesn't mean I have no right to be upset about problems at work. [I'm making this up to make a point; I'm not having problems at work.] As Kate Fridkis points out, "first-world problems!" should not be an all-purpose gag against first-world women.

Here's a related issue close to my heart: the argument that plant-based eating by choice is a first-world privilege. Well, of course it is, but that's immaterial. The subtext--that it's haughty to be a vegetarian when you know there are people starving in developing countries--is horseshit. My master's degree is essentially in people-starving-in-developing-countries, and yet, I somehow find it in myself to be a vegan. How does that work? Well, maybe you could explain to me how eating animal products--particularly those produced by industrial agriculture--does anything for starving people in developing countries? How it increases food security? Having trouble coming up with data to back up the concept? Then shut the f* up. (The vast majority of you never pushed that concept, so please disregard that instruction.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday afternoon roundup

Have you hugged a dog? Because they've brought them to Boston just to comfort you.

See an image of Hillary Clinton, speak more confidently.

Let us count the ways in which DC real estate is ridiculous. And, um, I challenge you to find a two-bedroom in DC for $1,400, but I guess they're there because it's the median price.

Saturday morning roundup

There's no value in breaking news.

Don't read too much into occasions (or excuses) to celebrate. Actually, I have to excerpt, because Carolyn's response is brilliant:
Society looks for all kinds of ways to say, “Yippee, yay us.” Valentine’s Day sends the message that coupled is better than single; Fourth of July says Americans are better den all youse udder guys; Thanksgiving says people with close families and fat turkeys are better than those without; Christmas says solstice celebrations matter more when they’re all about Jesus; and New Year’s even tries to make the argument that Dec. 31 is more fun or significant than, I dunno, April 20.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday evening roundup

India's keeps topping itself in the most unconscionable rape case category. Seriously, f* this week.

I do feel Boston's events more closely because I grew up there--these ghost-town pictures probably look eerier to me than to someone who's never been there--and I still know a lot of people in the area. All that aside, I have a great deal of compassion for those who have lost people and/or limbs, but I agree that there's no need to appropriate the tragedy and engage in vicarious victimhood. There is a need to revel in the competence of Boston's hospital workers.

Really? I guess dad wasn't too far off base in trying to tell me about Chechnya this morning.

Do read up on the Twitter responses to Nate Bell.

Wow, lots of Russians and Belorussians are easily duped. Is the bigger question, however, where physicists get silly-ass names for their particles? 

Were you curious about ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer?

Readers are more dismissive of female-led research.

I have to admit that I have never seen a Tyler Perry movie, so I am in no position to judge, but I appreciate the hazards of critiquing a work (or body of work) targeted at a different demographic. I would have felt a hesitance similar to that described in the link when I shrugged at "The Mountaintop," but since nobody reads my blog, it's not really an issue.

Moms evolved, so babies did, too.

I respect the conclusions of this experiment in veganism.

Maybe I need to get Gracie a sloth.


You may be wondering whether I called my parents. I did. And you'd think I'd be more patient in times like these, but it's almost like the stress of the situation has the opposite effect. It's like, "dad! focus!"

A.: What the f* is going on over there? You know not to leave the house, right?
Dad: Yeah, we got a phone call. So, they killed the older brother...
A.: I saw the news. Just want to make sure you're alright.
Dad: They're from Chechnya...
A.: Saw the names, figured.
Dad: Chechnya is a former Soviet Republic...
A.: I know what Chechnya is. I just wanted to...
Dad: Chechnya was in conflict...
A.: I. Know. All. About. Chechnya. I have to go to work. Are you okay and are you and mom good to not leave the house?
Dad: Yes.
A.: Good.
Dad: Thanks for calling.
A.: Stay safe.

Friday morning roundup

Okay, my hometown is under lock-down. Like, where my parents and a lot of other people I know live. Where I go running when I'm there. WTF.

The Onion on this week.

Is it finally okay to be Jewish in Poland? Also, here's a less coherent op-ed in timing of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On a brighter note: congrats to the RHIC for second place in the Global Particle Physics Photowalk.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thursday evening roundup and somewhat self-absorbed ramble

The Keystone Pipeline is bringing out the fighter spirit in Nebraskans.

Ooh, has MIT found a way to trick the "quantum realities" thus far limiting the efficiency of solar panels?

The cupcake market is cooling. I'm not the only one not complaining.

I really don't understand why some people think Miss Manners is going to take their side.

If you have money to burn, shop in Old Town.

Were you curious about crocodile sex? What about turtle-shoe sex?

Okay, first of all, among the things I would not do even for science is sniff dudes' smelly shirts. That said, I'd like to take this opportunity to ramble about how I have decided that it's okay to admit that I'm definitely attracted to manly guys. Now, everyone has a different definition of manliness, and what mine does emphatically not comprise is carnivorousness. But I was thinking about how, this time last year, the now-ex and I started to unravel, and one of the triggers was a fight over camping. Actually, it wasn't about camping; it was about staying at a less-than-five-star hotel. I knew better than to even ask him if he'd go camping. I don't want to get into details, because honestly, it wasn't even about the camping, or the hotel; it came down to his being a passive-aggressive douche bag about the whole thing, and his not being willing to meet me half-way (even after I started at half-way). His douchiness, more than the camping, infuriated me, and I told him that I was less than thrilled with his princess tendencies. Then I apologized. His response was measured; that was apparently not the first (or second) time in his life someone had called him a princess. Nonetheless, I felt kind of bad about it. I felt bad about a lot of things. But I no longer feel bad; I feel like I would have been justified in giving him a tiara.

But this is not about my ex, who is pretty much dead to me. This is about my god-given right to not be attracted to men with princess tendencies. Look, dudes have requirements, too; I'm entitled to mine. If my last relationship taught me anything, it was that it was valid to not want to date a guy who didn't want to go camping, ever. I actually had this epiphany over Columbus Day weekend, in the ocean, on a pretty cold day: I'm in the water. Any dude I date should be able to get in the water. If we extrapolate: I've camped for almost a week, consecutively; many people have camped for a lot longer, and not just comfy car camping, but my point is, I have a right to be attracted to dudes who are willing to spend at least as many consecutive days camping.

Let me step back and roll it all together: for some people, manliness is about red meat (or just meat). For me, it's (partly) about activeness and a willingness to explore and get uncomfortable in pursuit of nature and beauty. I'll only date a guy who has bigger balls than I do. It follows that I'll only date a guy who's willing to go camping. Just sayin'.

I was talking to a friend today--the same friend with whom I'd gone to see "Trojan Barbie"--and caught myself saying, not for the first time, "...and this is why I can't get a date." Which is not fair, to me or to the guys that I should be dating. Let me step back.

I had been thinking about what this friend said about "Trojan Barbie"--she also really liked it, but she had said something about how Helen was over the top, almost to the point of being a parody of herself. So I thought, overnight, about why they made her so, and thought she'd better be over the top. If she was going to be the Helen of that play--devoid of compassion or remorse, etc.--she had to be ridiculous. If this play about women was going to play Helen as evil seductress, indifferent to the destruction in her wake, she had to be inhumanly, unrealistically so.

Which got me thinking about a paper I wrote in college, which also roped in the minotaur (see my post about Ariadne and Bacchus from last week), by virtue of Jorge Luis Borges's brilliant short story. Which I compared, in my paper, to two other short stories (it was a Latin American lit class) that take the other's perspective--the perspective of the foil, or the secondary character, or the symbol who's not supposed to have a perspective, because she's just a symbol. One of them was a woman too beautiful for her own good.

So my friend and I were having this conversation, about Helen and characters and alternate perspectives, and I had a pang of "...this is why I can't get a date." After all, as you know, well-meaning people keep telling me about how men don't want to hear that $hit. They don't want to date women who give thought to that $hit. And I know, and you've told me, to stop listening to those people, and I have. That's why I catch myself now when I think it. And even if it's true, I don't care: it is my nature to give thought to that $hit.

In other acts of genuine self-acceptance, by which I mean, I've known intellectually that I should think one way, but I didn't actually feel it until now, I have come to embrace my mid-30s face. A month ago, it had saddened me that I could no longer pass for 25. I could blame my mother, who didn't believe in sunblock, but entertaining that possibility only made me think about how I own my face. I earned my pores and my laugh lines by having fun outside and smiling. A couple of years ago, a woman we met in India was telling us about women in Saudi Arabia, who have perfect skin by virtue of always keeping it covered. At the time, I thought, "I guess that's one advantage," but more recently, I thought, f* that! I'd rather soak in the sun, even if I have to show it. Years ago, a friend was talking about how being more active--walking and biking--had worsened her skin, because more stuff flew into her pores. That could have been true, or she could have conflated the worsened skin that came with age, with her changed behavior, but either way, same response: bring on the activity. I own every experience that has made my face look its age. I own my face.

Thursday morning roundup

Greece's starving children problem.

The repackaging of Bolivar's legacy.

Check out the conspiracy theories and other kooky comments.

Religion's case against religion in public schools.

Fruit flies do better on organics, but more importantly, how awesome is that young scientist?

Borowitz on CNN.

A couple of guys got kicked out of Saudi Arabia for being too handsome.

"Trojan Barbie" was very, very good. It was the first play I've seen in a while that tried to pull off a great deal, and succeeded: it was ambitious and layered, and I believed it. Their Hecuba was the best way to do Hecuba: phenomenally acted and unladen by excess emotionality.

It was eerie to be on campus. Brought back memories.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday evening roundup

It can't be easy to "look like a suspect" in times like these.

Dennis Lehane explains our city.

Not only is meat full of antibiotics, but the antibiotics are not making that meat safer.

Anonymous takes on Westboro Baptist. It's hard to see the best meme at this point but it is awesome.

Wow, some dudes really don't get the name thing.

Paris gets organic lawn care.

OMG, Louis CK gets it:
His previous special, Live at the Beacon Theater, ended with a bit that excoriated men not just for being terrible at sex, but for blaming women for that typical male inadequacy. Men think women are weird because they don’t want to have sex all the time, he says. “We think it’s because they don’t have as much desire as we do. That’s how stupid men are.” (That inclusive we also pops up in the aforementioned Oh My God routine.) The real reason, C.K. says, is that women have to have sex with men, who are lousy at it. (He’s just talking about straight people here, obviously; C.K. and homosexuality is a subject for another day.) Men think women are “needy” because they want to cuddle after sex. “She’s not needy, you idiot, she’s horny, because you did nothing for her.”
Oh, and McDonald's is not adequate compensation for sex.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

Asia is coming up on a water problem.

An early take on industrial ag (including the antibiotics). Also, there's something about injecting oneself with guinea-pig testicles.

China loves The Daily Show.

How ridiculous-looking is my cat? She's a... ball of cat.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday evening roundup

What the hell is wrong with people?? I'm struggling to resist the urge to keep checking for information. It helps no one; it would only make me neurotic. Hope everyone affected recovers as well as possible.

What the hell is wrong with Justin Bieber? Richard Cohen says, nothing.

We're constantly bombarded by WIMPs. For real this time.

Monday morning roundup

Eastern European home remedies are good for a lot, including fighting bed bugs.

Criminals tend to choose targets based on how they walk and on their posture.

Parents have had it with the obsessive standardized testing under NCLB.

Carolyn's advice for managing intrusive mothers-in law.

So many mixed feelings about the post-Thatcher resurgence of "Ding Dong! the Witch is Dead."

You can thank the ancient Romans for your potty mouth.

Wait, I get why Mexican Barbie has a chihuahua but how'd they settle on a monkey for Indian barbie? 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday evening roundup and ramble

News is bad for you.

Jezebel validates women's struggles with looking older as we age.

These meditation tips are actually helpful.

Critics continue to love plays that make me shrug. Both plays were based on interesting ideas, but IMHO neither delivered.

"Spamalot" was thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable, even from the cheap seats and in spite of unfortunate judgment and manners of some audience members. Yes, people brought very small children to the show. One of them kicked my seat until I turned around and asked her not to. If you do go, go for the slightly less-cheap seats. You can see quite well from the fourth floor of the National Theater, but you're also more distracted by the lighting, especially when they spotlight. And there are more likely to be kids up there, I suppose. I was, naughtily, particularly tickled by the show in light of having seen the very serious "Wallenstein" the day before. There's more than one way to dramatize conquest.

I grabbed a used copy of (Tim) "Gunn's Golden Rules," and I've found it lacking in particular insight, tacky at times, and rambling. I mean, I have air travel stories, too, that involve taking the high road, including one from just a week ago, when I attempted to shove my carry-on into a very small overhead compartment. I travel light, and I know I can get my stuff into any overhead, because the last thing I want to do is have to check luggage. Checking luggage opens me to the possibility of lost luggage, and lost luggage on a business trip means late-night suit shopping. Anyway, this "helpful" lady in the row behind mine said, "maybe you could give your bag to the flight crew to check." And I did not say, "why didn't I think of that?" or "maybe you could mind your own business;" I simply moved to a less full bin and successfully squished my bag in. Having taken the high road a minute before, I was free to take the low road in reveling in how dumb she might have felt. Hey, I'm human.

Sunday morning roundup

The military embarks on 360 feedback for top officers. I wonder how RM would fare.

How do you maintain any credibility upon suggesting that North Korea will go after Austin because of its music scene?

Just how unrealistic is Barbie, and, more importantly, how do we stop the epidemic of body hatred.

This mom is really confused about the nature of kids.

Temple Grandin suggests that parents of autistic kids over-coddle them.

Yes, bitches, social science is science. You people think you never make mistakes? Protons have been measured as smaller than previously thought. To quote the author (at the first link), Amy Freitag, "So perhaps it is all scientists who should think about making their claims with humility." Jonah Lehrer wrote a big article a couple of years ago about how all kinds of research is wrong. The original blog post is so offensive--especially coming from Scientific American that I'm not even going to link to it. Suffice to say that the suggestion that "social scientists should eschew the quest for truths about human behavior" is tremendously dickish.

Also, over the years, I've called out bad journalism (or at least headline-ism) for reporting on studies (of all disciplines) in ways that distort the findings--and that distortion largely enables the discrediting of social science by physical-science chauvinists. If I were petty, I would be reveling in physicists' righteous indignation over media coverage of the (not really) "signs" of dark matter, not to mention that thing they hate to hear you call the god particle. It would be too easy to say, welcome to our (social science) world, but we should all be banding together in support of integrity in science and science journalism, rather than undermining one another's disciplines.

I may be an anomaly, but I like the very consistent pricing that brought down JC Penney's last CEO. Trader Joe's makes it work.

What is the subtext of swearing and insulting? Either way, that essay is hilarious.

How did the Isabel Allende event sell out before I even saw it? I'd love to hear her speak.

Friday, April 12, 2013


At the National Gallery, I admired "Bacchus and Ariadna" and thought,
Here's Antoine-Jean Gros's painting. Isn't it thought-provoking? While you're there, check out the other collections. There's some really good stuff.

I brought "Kiss My Tiara" (Susan Jane Gilman) on the trip and it mostly hit the spot. Some of it annoyed me--it was wordy, sometimes preachy, and unnecessarily dismissive (she almost lost me with her slam on vegans... apparently, feminism needs less of them, because...?). But there was a lot of good stuff. She asks women to quit slamming each other for their body shape (and that should go both ways) and family members to quit slamming each other, period. And she offers some advice for dealing with dudes. My favorite:
...women have been taught that beauty is essential for attracting a mate. Men are aroused by what they see, we're told.
 And yet, when it comes to men, we've also been told something else with equal fervency: Men will fuck anything.
So which one is it? Do we have to be beautiful, or will they fuck us anyway?
An informal survey conducted by yours truly reveals that, Goddess bless  'em, men are far more likely to fuck us anyway.
Women are more discerning, as well we should be. I can't speak for other women, but one thing that won't win me over is bacon condoms. Another: this shit.

Oh, and Dave Brooks, to be marriageable, it's not about higher wages; men need to clean up their acts.

Sexual behavior by sect.

Right now, the only Eden product I buy is ume vinegar. I guess I'll have to find another source for that, too. 

I'm back, with pictures

I woke up this morning (and I mean morning) about 500 miles and two seasons away. We preemptively (and wisely) changed our mid-morning flight to one scheduled to leave at the crack of dawn in anticipation of inclement weather, so we felt only relief when the latter left the tarmac three hours late (and five hours after we'd left the hotel). It was almost "Argo"-like tension in terms of whether we'd get out of there before more flights were cancelled. They had to defrost the plane before takeoff. Just over an hour later, we were in the tropics, i.e., DC, which I guess decided to skip spring this year and go straight to summer?

The trip was super-productive in terms of work and generally interesting. I got to see a few things that I missed last time in Ottawa, including the National Gallery of Canada. I also got to take some real pictures, since last time around I didn't have my camera. Here they are:
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

Inside the Canadian Museum of Civilization

The Parliament, at night, from a bridge

Louise Bourgeois' Maman

Outside the National Gallery
Spirit of Haida Gwaii

Totem poles inside the Canadian Museum of Civilization

The Hill
What a cute hat! Too bad I left it at dinner last night.