Archive for August, 2009

Now, I’ll admit that this title might have some of you thinking I’m going to regale the world with witty banter from the tenured faculty on the University LGBTQ committee, but no — I have come not to sing a Song of Themselves, instead make fun of an air freshener.

For what comes to mind when someone creates a glowing air freshener that isn’t a candle or an item that gets plugged into the wall? Umm… well, imagine being at the branding meeting:

‘Okay, Kyle: the guys in R&D have been really trying to figure out how to increase market penetration in the ‘young family’ demographic.  We know that Yankee has really cornered the overpowering scented candle market, and we really want to be more upscale than those — those — you know what I’m talking about, Kyle: the little canister things that fart florals every 15 minutes.  We need an angle. Whatdya got for us?’

‘..and I suppose we aren’t allowed to use fire, still?’

‘No, Kyle — that whole family thing.  Ix-ne on the ig-nis, if you please?’


‘Never mind.  What do we call this?” [Places a tinted LED device on the conference table, rips open a foil envelope, removes what appears to be a scented piece of origami and places the now- unfolded shade atop the LED]

[The room begins to smell of peaches and creme bruleé]

‘Oh, I have curtains like those — Tammy got them at IKEA.  They, ah….don’t light up, though.  Unless there’s sun.’

‘Great, Kyle, but what do we call it?’

I’m not sure how long it took for someone to decide that since there seemed to be a paper product with light coming out of it, maybe a “luminaria” might be a good descriptor, at which the Brand Manager has to explain again that the whole point of the product is that there ARE NO FLAMES involved, and therefore you can leave them all over the house unattended.

What I’m getting at is that I suspect the term “flameless luminaries” was a Hail Mary monicker from a puzzled team, or perhaps a cynical suggestion from someone who left academics for the marketing world because the life of the mind doesn’t do terribly much for the health of the bank account [although these days, hardly anything does].

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Old infestation draped on killed trees in July - James H. Miller USDA, Forest Service: Invasive.org.

Old infestation draped on killed trees in July - James H. Miller USDA, Forest Service: Invasive.org.

I once listened to a group of pharma marketers plan how best to frame a rangy collection of symptoms into “metabolic syndrome”, so I tend to look at the literature on the subject with a jaundiced eye [no, I am not taking Xenical!].  While Type II diabetes is a serious problem, worthy of research and interventions, “metabolic syndrome” is still a little weasely as a medical concept, and some of the interventions being advocated are flakier than others [and some are probably terrific, and some others are really just an attempt to keep patent protection for blockbuster products used for many other conditions….]

But my curmudgeonly heart leapt when I read that kudzu, the vine that ate the South, might become a ‘treatment’ for the condition.  See the press release below, posted today on Eurekalert.org:

Nuisance or nutrient? Kudzu shows promise as a dietary supplement

IMAGE: Kudzu, a nuisance vine, shows promise as a dietary supplement that fights an unhealthy condition called metabolic syndrome.

Click here for more information.

Kudzu, the nuisance vine that has overgrown almost 10 million acres in the southeastern United States, may sprout into a dietary supplement. Scientists in Alabama and Iowa are reporting the first evidence that root extracts from kudzu show promise as a dietary supplement for a high-risk condition — the metabolic syndrome — that affects almost 50 million people in the United States alone. Their study appears in the current issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

J. Michael Wyss and colleagues note in the new study that people with metabolic syndrome have obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and problems with their body’s ability to use insulin. Those disorders mean a high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases. Scientists have been seeking natural substances that can treat the metabolic syndrome. The new study evaluated kudzu root extracts, which contain healthful substances called isoflavones. People in China and Japan long have used kudzu supplements as a health food.

The study found that a kudzu root extract had beneficial effects lab rats used as a model for research on the metabolic syndrome. After two months of taking the extract, the rats had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels that a control group not given the extract. Kudzu root “may provide a dietary supplement that significantly decreases the risk and severity of stroke and cardiovascular disease in at-risk individuals,” the article notes.


“Chronic Dietary Kudzu Isoflavones Improve Components of Metabolic Syndrome in Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats”


Honestly, now: wouldn’t we get much the same effect if every person with metabolic syndrome was told to clear an acre or two of kudzu using manual gardening equipment?  Or we could split the difference and have people graze their way through the stuff….

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The weather has been too wet and mosquitoful for me to spend a lot of time in the garden these last few weeks, but I did stumble on this site today, and I think it’s worth a look:  Restoration of Mellon Park Gardens in Pittsburgh.

I love a good garden restoration story… [example of another good one: Lost Gardens of Heligan]

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It is appalling and a source of glee every time…

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I know there are people besides me who remember Glenn Close best for her singing, rather than her way with pointy objects and family pets:

The colors of my life
Are softer than a breeze.
The silver gray of eiderdown,
The dappled green of trees.
The amber of a wheat field,
The hazel of a seed,
The crystal of a raindrop,
Are all I'll ever need....
       -- Charity Barnum, "The Colors of My Life", Act I, Barnum! Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart, 1979.

Um, no.  I’m more attracted to a blaze of color, a flash of lightning, a combination of pigments that pop off the page.  But, much like my Myers-Briggs scores, that’s subject to mood changes, what happens to be around me at the time, and other sensory input:  when traveling in the New England mountains I’m just as likely to take a picture of wild grasses next to a barn as I am to snap a shot of a decaying turquoise Ambassador car next to an aging red tractor.

So taking a color workshop this weekend was a nice tonic — there were moments when I’d genuinely not understand what was being asked, and that  in itself was a delight, because it meant there was something just beyond my grasp, waiting to be learned.  That sort of edge-of-knowing experience is a great preparation for going back into the classroom; although I know it’s optimistic to think that my undergrads will be as eager to learn new things as I am.

When you teach required classes, there’s going to be a certain % of people just there to get the requirements out of the way, and the 20% of people who would have been in the classroom 40 years ago are not always aware of the fact the curriculum was designed with them in mind…at least not at first. Then there’s the majority, reasonably open-minded and relieved that this required class, unlike the other options, does not involve cutting anything open, anything that smells strange, or anything that involves mud. [I do wish I could work the mud part in, though. Would probably do all of them some good, providing everyone really did have their shots…]

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Banner day

When you have three cats and two of them have yakked over the course of the day, you reach 10pm and you’re waiting for the third one to produce something awful. It’s worse when that third one is prone to yakking on the bed.

But no — Malkin does not yak.  Instead he leaps from the litterbox in my office, mid-turd, drops one just on the other side of my desk, and then leaves a longer deposit as he races in and out of the bedroom.

I tell Word.  “I hate my cat,” she tells me. I know that isn’t entirely true, but there are other things I’d rather be thinking about on a summer’s evening than where the paper towels and sanitizers are.

Then again, the cats have never attempted to download naughty things, and they do seem to enjoy eating moths and mosquitos.  On the whole, good company.  But sometimes….

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It’s pretty clear that I am the property of the Himalayan cat.  I am spoken to, I am climbed on, and she’s even starting to come sniff at my hand before I pet her [generally speaking, she is very head-shy, and you can only pet her from the middle of her back on, until she decides you need to start scritching her ears].  When I’m away on business, as I was for part of last week, she deals with it, but it does not fit her model of how the Universe should be meeting her needs [of course, having two neutered male cats doesn’t fit her model of what should meet her needs, either.  One can’t have everything, even if one makes demands.]

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EclecticOilKittyBecause where else would I learn about special code words in early telegraphy?

Now I want to have little stamps that say “Englued Foretold”, if only more people would recognize this 1891 equivalent of “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball“…

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I’ve been doing some road travel, along roads never taken before, to see old friends and new.  One of the pleasant bonuses has been a chance to pay close attention [well, as close as one can safely do at 70 mph]Queen-o-prairie at the local flora, to see what’s blooming and what might make a nice addition to the garden here.  So far my prime “WANT” candidate has been the beauty here, which I thought was Queen of the Prairie, but this is too purple and the flowers are more aster-like [although the leaves are bigger than the New England asters that I grow….Hmmn…. I have an aster book around here somewhere…pause, do some more searching. Ah.  Got it: Ironweed.  Veronia].

I started noticing this plant in bud along the road in eastern Ohio, mixed in among milkweeds and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Sometimes near cattails, in the ditches on the median strips. The plants there had a vaguely purple tinge to the stems, almost looking black in the rain.

Now that I know it’s Ironweed, here’s a link to other gardeners being enthusiastic about it.  I did notice a variety of happy butterflies around it, like the skipper seen here.  Wish there’d been some seed set; definitely would have come home with me!

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