Archive for November, 2008

So here is what it looked like: old and new together.


Gilt-edged plates bought by my great grandmother on installments during the Depression [I think], the Dansk cutlery from when I finished graduate school, a Formica table from my parents [it once was our kitchen table, and I did my grade school homework on it] but perhaps originally from my mom’s family when they lived in Indiana in the 50s], wine from Rioja [not everyone likes, but I grew up drinking Siglo], a bouquet of mums from WholeFoods [Word took pity on me when I pointed out if we were going to have a ‘normal’ Thanksgiving dinner, we needed to start cooking before evening]…

Chicken roasted on top of stuffing [cranberry walnut bread, garden herbs, butter], sweet potatos with a little balsamic and maple syrup on top, roasted Brussel sprouts with chestnuts, home-made cranberry sauce.

Elsewhere, my parents, brother, and cousin were feasting; further north, another branch of the family had their dinners. And on Saturday, Word and I traveled to her family gathering, where a great deal of food was quickly demolished, and followed up by home movies from 40+ years ago [let us say that there was a lot of adorable on those little Super 8s!].

It was a lovely weekend. And yes, yes, we did order the washing machine, so we even contributed to The Economy…

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phillyfromair08Apparently, TV producers in the UK think Philly is intriguing, terribly dangerous, and worthy of documentary study. May I say that the use of “in the hood” in a BBC news article just sounds wrong?

Link to BBC article

It’s a cool, sunny, post-Thanksgiving morning here in Elsinore. I’m thinking wandering down to the market to see what blandishments the local merchants want to ply me with.

Wondering where the photo is from?  I was flying back from Minneapolis earlier this fall, and while I didn’t get the camera out in time to show an arial view of my old woods, the angle was just right as we flew back over from Jersey to catch the Philly skyline.

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Courtesy of David Pogue and the NY Times:

BlackBerry Storm Downgraded to a Depression

The first sign of trouble for the new BlackBerry Storm was the concept: a touchscreen BlackBerry.

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phillydoorA woman is praying in Newcastle, England,  expressing concern for ‘people working in danger zones’ which include soldiers, police officers, women in domestic strife and, I think I heard “prostitutes’ in the list as well.

“Wait for the Lord, and His day is near”

I don’t dispute that all those people are in difficult situations, although perhaps they might not all like being in the same sentence together. On the other hand, I fully expect the Choir Invisible to include a wide variety of surprised folk marveling at the guest list…

In the meantime, some things need doing ’round here:

  • Prepare for conference call at 4:30 to arrange webinar
  • Order books for next semester’s classes
  • Recruit students for next semester’s classes
  • Comment on student papers
  • Grade student homeworks
  • Decide on dinner for tomorrow
  • Consider whether any Black Friday sales might result in a new clothes washer, as we truly need one, and heck, why not give the economy a thrill?  Oooh! Lesbians are back in the stores buying housewares!  Woot!

That list went downhill a bit there, didn’t it?  Here — look at some seed stalks from the yummy Thai basil I planted early this summer.

thaibasilseedsBasil doesn’t like 20 degree weather, so these stalks are all that’s left [other than memories of good meals, and a sudden wish for real Pad Thai, sans octopi].

Two years ago at Thanksgiving, we were in Vermont and New Hampshire, visiting my side of the family. Here are some of Arthur-the-beekeeper’s sheep:

vtarthurssheepAnd last year, I was with Word’s family, an hour or so south from fair Elsinore, so even in late November, there were still leaves on the trees, and the grass was bright:

colonialbarnnovemberIt should be noted, however, that the sheep at this farm were no more approving than Arthur’s were


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Back before my Beloved and I were courting, I was house-sitting at a place where there were some fairly traumatized animals. Their people had gone away, and the first house-sitter turned out to be a bit [!] more flighty than had originally been anticipated….so the animals were lonely, neglected, having accidents, getting into fights with neighborhood bullies, and generally not coping well.

The first night I was taking over the task, I came to the house, and Word came along to share a meal — one that we’d prepare in the kitchen and eat in the dining room. It was a fairly mundane meal; I can’t exactly recall what we had. [There was certainly garlic involved!]

But the animals were very interested. People had not been using the kitchen for months. People had not come in at this time of day for a long time. So we were sniffed and strictly supervised. No begging, but lots of tail wagging, purring, and scampering from one room to the next, following us around.

People were in the kitchen, chopping and stirring, and moving through the rooms. People were stopping to praise and pet the animals. People were making sure there was water and food for the animals before serving themselves food.

I started a fire in the firebox and the animals soon curled up in their accustomed sleeping spots near the fireplace or on the couches. The message I got was: “You aren’t our people, but you are normal people!”

It was a rather restful evening for everyone, I think.

Tonight, I don’t think I’ll fire up the pellet stove [it needs to be cleaned out first, and checked by a sweep], but I might open the Beaujolais, and my Beloved and I can enjoy our meal [then I have to go grade papers…]

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spilled-pillsOh, well we haven’t had one of these posts in a while. One of the side effects of cleaning is that I sometimes find stashes of terrible sentences. These have to be at least ten years old, so the people involved are perhaps already doing things like filling your prescriptions, providing occupational therapy, or helping out with our financial system.

“These changes, though huge in their ability to drive the revolving world, have in time, averted our attention towards the smaller components of society.”

“Today’s teachers are hard to come by.”

“This is why home schooling produces such a developed mind due, to the application of the teacher towards developing one mind. But that is another topic.”

“There has been a noticing decline….”

“The teacher must be firm and hard yet understanding.”

“The parent and child switch roles, only to see that the child realizes parenthood is not what it’s to be and radically changes into the ‘knowledged’ child.”

“Sometimes for this to happen it involves misbehaving during class.”

“Anger overthrows the lonely Mrs. Johnson and her hair stands on end.”

I leave it to each of you to decide what you’re most grateful for at this point….

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There are things that are easier to do without a spouse at home. In my case, these things include cleaning snits and home maintenance. So yesterday, two windows got sheathed in shrinkwrap, and several radiators got Reflectixed. The living room is more comfortable already.

Of course, it would be nice if she was here to share it, but the space will be nicer yet after I get the detritus of my activities cleaned up. By then, the cats will perhaps have forgiven me for running the ShopVac all over the first floor [not a great job, but cathartic]. And maybe I’ll get her Ring Day gift done by then, too.snowheartstone

If not, well, I do have a card. It reminded me of the snowflurries we got to see on our days apart, and also of a poem she wrote me when we were starting our romance…

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“This joy I have

The world didn’t give it to merhodybloomsnow

The world didn’t give it

The world can’t take it away.”

— The Steele Sisters, singing on A Prairie Home Companion

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malkindisapprovesI’m posting this here so I remember to think about it later [it’s being that kind of morning]. I knew that some parasites could affect the behaviors of their hosts, , and idly wondered if “cat hoarding” an example of that effect in humans. But I think the researcher in the article below may be leaping from a micro to a macro explanation without adequately considering the other possible variables:

 The Culture-Shaping Parasite

The prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite,
accounts for some cultural differences.

by Maggie Wittlin • Posted August 16, 2006 12:41 AM

You are not the only one controlling your mind.

Approximately one-quarter of Americans host a parasite that has been
shown to affect personality in both rodents and humans. According to a
recent study, this single-celled organism may be able to shape entire

In a paper published in the online edition of Proceedings of the Royal
Society, United States Geological Survey researcher Kevin Lafferty
argues that a significant factor in why some countries exhibit higher
levels of neuroticism than others may be the prevalence of the
parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The study also indicates that it may
influence a society's preference for strict laws, an expression of
uncertainty avoidance, and its valuation of 'masculine' priorities
such as competitiveness and financial success over 'feminine' values
like relationship-building.

"Toxoplasma appears to explain 30% of the variation in neuroticism
among countries, 15% of the uncertainty avoidance among Western
nations and 30% of the sex role differences among Western nations,"
Lafferty said via e-mail.

Lafferty analyzed preexisting data on Toxoplasma prevalence and mean
trait levels in 39 countries. He found a significant linear
correlation between latent Toxoplasma prevalence and neuroticism with
a few outliers, including the unusually neurotic nations of Hungary
and China and the notably easygoing Turkey.

Links between Toxoplasma, uncertainty avoidance and concerns about
masculinity initially appeared to be insignificant but later emerged
when Lafferty focused on Western nations.

Lafferty based his analysis on earlier research by Jaroslav Flegr, a
parasitologist at Prague's Charles University, which showed that in
humans, Toxoplasma infection correlates highly with certain
personality traits: Infected men tended to have lower levels of
intelligence, superego strength and novelty-seeking, while infected
women exhibited higher levels of intelligence, superego strength and
warmth. Infected people of both sexes tend to be susceptible to
feelings of guilt.

Lafferty chose to analyze cultural neuroticism because Toxoplasma
appears to influence neuroticism-related traits equally in both sexes,
he said, unlike, say superego strength.

"Given the previous results from the rodent models and Flegr's human
studies, I'm not sure I would have chosen 'neurotism"/'neurotic'
elements of human cultures as the measure here, particularly across
genders, but that is a matter for debate," said Imperial College
London epidemiologist Joanne Webster in an email.

She noted that uncertainties remain as to why the link between
Toxoplasma and cultural dimensions known to be associated with
neuroticism are so evident in Western nations.

In 2000, Webster reported that rats infected with Toxoplasma are less
fearful of and, in some cases, can even be attracted to their feline
predators. She surmised that the parasite subtly manipulates a rat's
behavior to increase the rodent's chances of being eaten by a cat—the
only animal in which it can reproduce—thereby upping the odds of the
parasite reproducing.

Lafferty acknowledges that his data set alone does not necessarily
imply that latent Toxoplasmosis creates cultural neuroticism.

"For any correlation, it is possible that you have cause and effect
mixed up," he said. "However, for this study, I can only think of a
logical mechanism for the possibility that Toxoplasma affects
culture—not the reverse."

Flegr, who advised Lafferty on his analysis, said in an e-mail that
the new study jives with some of his own lab's unpublished results,
especially with respect to masculinity.

"We have the data showing that Toxoplasma-infected men are scored as
more dominant and more masculine than Toxoplasma-free men by female


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That’s one of my all-time favorite lab report conclusions. Yes, this was during the time I was coaching biology students and this was the lab of students who allowed so many of the banana-gunk bottles to overpopulate with Drosophila to the point adult flies were escaping [overflowing, actually] the bottles and contaminating other people’s experiments.

We finally just started pouring ether down the funnels, and then realized we should have done that under a flow hood, but then we were laughing too hard…..and eventually we managed to get the windows open and get some clean air moving through.

Ahem. An analogous sentence from an art history analysis:

“The thickness of the paint, exhibits that there are some area of under drawing which he didn’t commit too.”

[Yes, I’ve taught all kinds of things over the years…]

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