Sunday, April 29, 2007

Disappearing Bees--today's WTF
If Apis Mellifera is disappearing, I ask myself, how good are the odds for a certain other highly social animal species?

I've been taking a class called "State of the Planet" in which I've learned a lot of freaky things about the way humans are screwing the environment: the rising sea levels we have to look forward to, the increases in asthma and other lung disorders as a result of pullution, the coming extinction of hundreds (or more) animal and plant species...and yet, when my friend Amy told me about this a few days ago, it seemed like the most sinister and horrifying thing I'd ever heard. Bees just up and disappearing, leaving their hives and setting off for Goddess-knows-where, or potentially dying off somewhere en route (because those bees have to be going SOMEWHERE):

A mysterious illness is devastating honeybee populations across the US from California to Florida, claiming up to 80% of colonies in some areas. The losses of honeybees could disrupt the pollination of food crops, researchers warn.
Beekeepers are finding once-healthy colonies abandoned just a few days later, says Jerry Bromenshank, at the University of Montana at Missoula and Bee Alert Technology, a company monitoring the problem: “In most cases the only one left is the queen, along with a few young bees.”
The absence of dead bees makes it difficult to know what ails them and where they have gone. Furthermore, experts cannot track the spread of the mysterious illness. “The problem is that it strikes out of the blue,” says Bromenshank.
At a loss for an explanation, researchers have referred to the honeybee decline as “colony collapse disorder”. Reports of the problem have intensified in recent weeks and spanned 22 states, but some beekeepers say that they began seeing their colonies decline almost two years ago.
Researchers say colony collapse disorder might be a re-emergence of a similarly mysterious illness that struck US honeybees in the 1960s. Experts never pinpointed the cause behind that previous bee crisis, according to Bromenshank. He notes that in light of this some people have jokingly termed the problem the “disappearing-disappearing illness”.
But beekeepers and farmers see no humour in the potential economic costs of drastic honeybee decline. Almond crops are immediately vulnerable because they rely on honeybee pollination at this time of year. And the insect decline could potentially affect other crops later in the year, such as apples and blueberries.
Bromenshank speculates that dry conditions in the autumn reduced the natural food supply of the honeybees, making them more vulnerable to some sort of virus – such as deformed wing virus – or fungal infection. He notes that the abandoned colonies are not repopulated by other honeybees or insects for at least a few weeks. This, he says, is consistent with the presence of toxic fungal residues from the dying bees that repel other insects from re-inhabiting the colony.
Other scientists have tentatively blamed the problem on pesticides or chemicals specifically designed to control mites in bee colonies.

--Cheerfully lifted from (a British science magazine that is muy muy better than Discover or Scientific American...and probably even better than Science News...of course, it can't touch Nature or Science, because what can, but it's a very appealing, reader-friendly but still kinda-technical mag).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

So, I'm about to graduate, and I should really be working on papers, but I just can't get up the enthusiasm. So here's a list of things I've learned during college--that weren't on any of the syllabi.

If the class has more than 50 people, you don't need to go every day. Unless it's Organic Chemistry. Then you should bite, kick and scratch to get a good seat. Come early.

As long as you get there before the prof does, you're not actually late.

You don't really need to separate lights from darks. Also, the size of a load of laundry is solely dependent on how much you can stuff into the machine.

Open relatioships are like...the Manhattan project for a drama bomb.

One beer is good. Two beers are better. But three beers? Definitely worse. It's a parabola sort of situation.

If the professor asks, "Who actually did the reading?" Always raise your hand. ALWAYS.

If you want to ask someone out, do. Otherwise, when they finally sidle up to you six months later, you may not be able to restrain yourself from making sarcastic remarks.

Hitting on profs and TAs is only wrong if a) they say no or b) you get caught by the administration.

Your 'slender' friend suddenly becomes a whale when you have to drag her, as drunken dead weight, the 16 blocks back to the house.

Nothing you have yet experienced will compare to the mortification of explaining your ingrown bikini-hair abcess symptoms to the nurse at the campus health center's front desk. In front of God and everyone.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Interesting. Recent cuts in the Department of Justice's budget have hit hard--the inmates have apparently been reduced to wearing clothing generously donated by the Petite Dominatrix Bargain Barn. And yet the money was there last year, when breast implants were made an obligatory part of the prisoner uniform...notice how the woman in the front is not actually holding onto the bars with her left hand. Her breathing is restricted, and she's a little dizzy on account of the oxygen deprivation. The woman in the back appears to be sucking in as much air as she can, too...oh, wait. Sorry, that's a Marlboro Red she's working on. Last time she got a day pass, she snuck an entire carton back in her cleavage.

For a novel about libidinous artists, the cover art is appalling. Perhaps the folks at Spartan Publishing blew the money they were supposed to pay the cover artist on vodka martinis and coke. Or perhaps they gave the Stoli and blow to the artist, and the resultant perversion (pun gratuitously intended) of all sense of proportion and perspective is what we see before us now. Also: I hope the redhead (who has the most highly arched brows I've ever seen outside a John Waters movie) didn't spend too much time on her bouffant, 'cause it's going to get TOTALLY WRECKED by her friend with the oddly receding hairline. IT'S LESBIAN PULP FICTION MONDAY!!! If you hadn't already guessed.

Women's barracks, eh? Maybe I should joing the Army...although I have to say, those pink bras don't look strictly regulation to me. And to the woman on the upper right: perhaps it's not the best idea to have a lit cigarette dangling from your lips as you lounge lustfully in your lingerie. It's all fun and games until someone has to have skin grafts, or loses a nipple.
Disclaimer and obligatory liberal guilt: I am reclaiming these images, not condoning them. I am not intending to objectify anyone; on the contrary, but pointing out the rank absurdity of such images, I hope to get people thinking about the stupidity of the modern equivalents: everything from Motorola ads featuring gratuitously naked sylphs to Maxim to the hard-core objectification of women in publications like Playboy et al.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My "Between the Sheets" Mix

was created the night before last fall's formal dinner (a Telluride House tradition), in anticipation of having a certain lovely lady up to my room for further festivities. It's a strange mix of folk, electronica and "unclassified." For your future makeout benefit (and as an opportunity for me to air my vinyl-jockey side and get some cred for my indie tastes), here it is:
"All the Trees of The Field Will Clap their Hands" and "The Dress looks Nice on You" by Sufjan Stevens--soft and sad; sometimes a few tears make an already transporting experience even better.
"Ain't No Sunshine" and "I Shall Not Walk Alone" by Ben Harper (see above)

"Breathe Me" by Sia

"Sweetest Decline" by Beth Orton

"Joga" and "Bachelorette" by Bjork--a little transference; my first girlfriend gave me a copy of Homogenic for my sixteenth birthday, and I still can't listen to those songs without thinking of the taste of her lips.

"Shaking Paper" by Cat Power--I don't know what the hell these lyrics are about, but the music is great, and somehow "Good Woman" didn't seem appropriate.

"Breathe In" and "Let Go" by Frou Frou (Let go, just give in...'cause there's beauty in the there any better description of orgasm that you can think of?) and "In the Waiting Line" by Zero 7 (whose lead singer, by the way, is the same Sia of track number five on the list). Because Garden State was a good movie--oh, the days when Natalie Portman had long hair.

"At this point in my life" by Tracy Chapman: "Done so many things wrong...don't know if I can do right...Put your trust in me, swear I won't let you down..." It was this or Fast Car, and Fast Car doesn't convey quite the right message.

"Sodom South Georgia," "Evening on the Ground" and "My Lady's House" all by Iron and Wine.
So the next time you and your significant other are eyeing one another, skip the Barry Manilow and Beethoven. Put on something new and exciting. Really, anything goes--I know people who get off listening to the Ramones and Dead Kennedys, and other people who need to hear Sarah McLachlan's dulcet tones to get in the mood (yes, most of the latter are lesbians or gay of the few things that seems to bind us unlikely brothers and sisters).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Trying to maintain my delicate personal balance...

The more I read the newpapers the more I want to use them to start fires.
Bush is still pushing his "God's on our side" B.S., Hillary is in bed with Sam Brownback, the uber-conservative crazy from Kansas (he's like one of the children of the corn), the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan keeps rising, and meanwhile, at home, there are still Katrina "refugees" scattered all over the country. Kids are still uninsured, literally dying for lack of adequate, affordable health care. IN AMERICA.
So, yo, religious folk: Jesus did not start any wars. He didn't give tax cuts to the rich. He was a victim of the death penalty (so I'm guessing he's not in favor of that, either). He instructed his disciples to go into their rooms and shut the door when they were ready to pray, not hold forth on theology from the Oval Office. What did he do?
He fed the hungry (an Aid for Needy Families supporter), healed the sick (Medicare and Medicaid, too, it seems), kicked the money changers out of the temple ( there any corruption in our government? Halliburton, much?), ate with tax collectors and sinners (not big on sanctimony) and spoke to the Samaritan woman (maybe he wouldn't be virulently anti-immigrant). Go back and read your Bible. I swear it's all there.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Basketball players, Grey's Anatomy, and Don Imus

Apparently it's become de rigeur of late for celebrities to air their racist/ sexist/ homophobic tendencies in public. And it has become equally common for absolution to be offered almost immediately.
Sure, there are firings (Don Imus finally got canned for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed hoes") and public censure, but then someone apologizes, checks into rehab, and all is forgiven. Isaiah Washington gets to call someone a 'faggot' and continue to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars; a well-known basketball player runs off at the mouth rather than running on court (which is what he's paid millions of dollars to do) and after a few self-satisfied harrumphs everyone moves on.
But as anyone who has ever been tagged with one of these epithets can tell you, the negative effects of those words stick around much longer than the issues of "People" that catalogue the celebrities' mea culpas. The wounds last much longer than the New York Times op-ed columns which are thrown in the recycling bin at the end of the week.
I have had "dyke" and "fag" spit at me with equal ferocity--both in high school and in college--and while my eventual reaction is a desire to correct the rube (if you're going to call me something, at least make sure you're calling me the RIGHT slur) at the moment that the word is hurled from a passing car, my only desire is to run--which, funnily enough, is usually what I'm doing at the time. I have heard of enough queer-bashing incidents to know that there are many places in the world where I am at risk of having my ribs broken, my nose smashed, my hair pulled out. This is one of the reasons that I thank God that I can pass easily--slim build, long hair, stereotypical straight-girl bone structure (whatever that means). But when someone sees my leg hair, my musculature, my unshaven underarms--I am immediately outed, and immediately at risk.
I'm not saying that people who use such slurs should be punished indefinitely, cast into the outer darkness. But I am saying that we should require more than a hastily cobbled-together apology, and that prehaps forgiveness should be withheld for a little while--long enough for the perpetrator to make amends and prove that they can in fact behave themselves. It would be ideal if they could change their prejudices, but such things are deeply ingrained, and we may have to take what we can get...but never settle for less than we deserve.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's that time again...the hate list.

1. When I tell people that I'm vegetarian, and they still assume I eat fish. Since when are fish not animals? Since never. Put the flounder down and back away slowly.

2. People who put "live green" or "go organic" bumper stickers on their SUVs. I want so intensely to ding their cars.

3. High heels on Saturday night. Yes, it's your choice, ladies. If you want to wear high heels as you walk the miles from frat house to bar, go ahead. But be aware 1) that high heels were NOT MADE FOR WALKING, and 2) that you make all the sensibly-shod women look bad. And we hate you for it.

4. When 2 or more people are sitting in a room and could be talking to each other, but instead are talking on their cell phones. My cell-phone hate is well documented.

5. Peeps (the candy) that are not yellow chicks. JustBorn, the candy company, has been trying to increase its market share with pink, purple and even Christmas and Valentine's Day Peeps! Just say no to this blasphemy.

6. That it's the middle of April, and Ithaca is forecasted to get several inches of snow over the weekend.

7. That I'm taking next year off...a "gap year" they call it...and while I have options lined up for employment and amusement, I'll most likely be pursuing them in Kansas City, which feels like turning tail and running home.

8. Transitional periods. Graduations, moves, births, marriages. Exciting? Yes. Terrifying? Also yes. Opportunities for unparalleled personal growth and increased self-knowledge? Yes. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
"What the hell is a neti pot?"

You ask. Well, I'm glad you's a little pot as the name implies, shaped more or less like a teapot, that holds about 8 oz. of water. Why would you want such a thing? Well, the spout--rather than dispensing tea--goes in your nostril. You lean forward over the sink (or whatever--if you want to collect your water and nasal secretions in a Mason jar, I suppose that's your prerogative), insert the spount in one nostril, and start pouring the water into your sinuses. Then--and this is the effing coolest thing ever--the water runs through your sinuses and streams out your OTHER NOSTRIL.

Cool bonus--I bought one three days ago at Greenstar (the health food store here in Ithaca) and have been using it once a breathing was almost immediately freer, my allergy symptoms have improved many times over, and it's a damn cool thing to do. Not to mention that clinical studies (of the Western medical breed) have found that nasal irrigation can reduce sinus infections and improve overall quality of life for chronic sinus sufferers.
The images on the package were hilarious--there's a picture of the pot itself, which isn't so hilarity-inducing, but then there's a portrait of a woman actually using the neti pot. She's smiling like she just found out Oreos are vegan, and pouring this steady stream of water out her left nostril. Dadaists, eat your heart out: "Ancient Secrets" beat you to this one.

Fair warning, however--when you prepare the saline solution, DO NOT put in more salt than recommended (about 1/4 tsp. per 8 oz water). You will feel as though you have stuffed your sinuses full of wasabi. You will sputter and you will cry. The same is true for using water that is either too hot or too cold--it should be lukewarm, tepid if you will, lest the sputtering and crying commence. It still sort of hurts when I do it--like it did when I was a little kid and got water up my nose at the pool--but I'm hoping I'll get used to it, because the benefits are so profound. And each time, the wasabi factor diminishes somewhat. Maybe I just have sensitive sinuses--I'm a sensitive girl, after all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's Easter, and it's snowing here. I just got out of 3 hours' worth of services...the telling of the history of salvation, with stories running the gamut from creation (Jamie, one of the women from the congregation, read James Weldon Johnson's poem on the subject--which I remember from my high school literature textbook, illustrated with a picture of a big black man stretching his arms wide before a backdrop of rainbows and celestial spheres) to my story, that of the Annunciation. In between came the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, rivers running red with blood, swarms of locusts and gnats, and at last the death of the Egyptian firstborn, for which I daubed my Seder plate with wine on Monday. We heard the story of Balaam and his magnificent talking ass (doesn't that sound like the name of a slightly profane children's book?) and pondered the horrors of Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Ba'al (though I suppose that's how things were done in those days--we also listened to an account from Exodus in which Moses ordered the Levites to slay three thousand of the other prodigal, calf-worshipping, orgy-having Israelites). After meeting with Jezebel, of course, Elijah made a break for the desert and slept under a broom tree, muttering the words I muttered so often in my own youthful melodramas: "Leave me alone. I want to die!" Blasphemy it may be, but I can see Elijah slamming the door and flopping down on his bed like a teenage girl, yelling these words through his tears. We also acted out the crossing of the Red Sea, and remembered the Canticle of Miriam (after whom I like to think I'm named--my middle name is Marie, after all, though I know that in fact I am only named after my mother's best friend from childhood). The awesome signs and wonders, the mighty acts of redemption and salvation. Biblical history really is a love story, the story of God's love for a prodigal people--the Israelites, certainly, but also all of us. Looking back through the Old Testament (to say nothing of the New) you have to admit that even the saints are a motley lot, the kind of people you might expect to see in pre-cleanup Times Square, or maybe Chelsea. Moses and David, patriarchs though they were, were both murderers; Rahab, who assured the capture of Caanan, was a prostitute. Jacob was a con-artist extraordinaire. The list of adulterers is too voluminous to tackle, but suffice it to say that there are many Bible stories that don't get taught in Sunday school, and for good reason. And yet they were the ones who did God's work on earth, and though they were chastised (sometimes beyond bearing) they were also deeply loved. So are we all, fairly or unfairly. Even those of us who don't know God, or choose not to--those who can resist the call to a terrible and tender intimacy with the Author of the Universe. Those who do harm to themselves, or others, and in so doing ultimately do harm to Divinity; who harm a God who loves creation with such intensity that some theologians say it is that very love and that alone that holds the world in existence. Perhaps that is the energy that keeps the quarks dancing and the photons rushing through space-time. Perhaps that is the pressure that produces the grand curvatures of space, that holds stars in their ever-widening orbits.
It's at once paralyzing and celebratory to think of such a love. I know that I, to this point in my life, have been capable of unconditional love for periods averaging about five minutes at a stretch, and even then it is a love for a specific person or group of people. There are exclusions in my love; I have not yet been able (though at some times I think--I hope--I have been willing, mostly in the sated aftermath of mystical experience) to include people like wife-beaters, child abusers, the people who practice acts of terrorism great and small, international and domestic. And yet I believe that God loves them too, and holds them in existence. And--'log-in-my-own-eye alert!'--if what I have been told in church and have discovered in my own research is true, Christ died as much for them as for Mother Teresa, or Nelson Mandela, or my priest...or me. Because I am not pure either. My life, like any life, has been a mixed bag of absolute tenderness and altruism tempered by petty crimes--some frankly illegal and some 'merely' immoral. When I am awakened by my suitemate's blowdryer at eight a.m., I will confess that I have decidedly unholy thoughts.
That, however, is the wonder of Good Friday, and beyond that the wonder of Easter (yes, I know you thought it was Peeps, but let's be solemn for a moment...this is a High Feast of the Church, after all). "Surely He has borne our griefs, for He was crushed for our iniquities and by His stripes we are healed." Move into the world emboldened by the knowledge that God considered you worthy of such sacrifice, and rise into your new life like a crocus pushing against the snow, or a green blade lifting its head to the sky.