Monday, November 30, 2009

End of the Road I

A part of my job is to destroy people's life-long dreams, to break hearts. The question of how to approach such a serious, but necessary task, is a difficult one for those in my field. I can certainly tell you that this is not a task that we enjoy or relish or from which we receive one iota of pleasure. However, at some point it is essential that this deed be carried out, and carried out with both compassion and brutal honesty.

In the field of science, one of our essential roles is to train and teach the next generation. Those who would take up our mantel and continue the mission. I can tell you that this work is not for just anyone. You might think that anyone with enough dedication and pluck could ultimately become successful, but my experience says no. Everyone eventually reaches a level where they are limited by their ability to grasp complex ideas, process them, and build on them, sometimes under enormous deadlines and pressures. This level is different for different people. To be sure, scientists come in all shapes and sizes, with a broad spectrum of abilities, interests, backgrounds, and strengths. Some work night and day, some put in their 40 hours and go home, and some are known to be somewhat lazy. Some are Type-A and some Type-B. But the level where we run out of cranial steam, as it were, just depends. Sometimes, though, this point is insufficient to continue on the path.

So, how do you tell someone that they are not cut out to do what they have dedicated their lives to? Long hours of studying and sacrifice and labor. Entire lives and identities directed toward one goal, one future. 4 years of undergraduate work, 6 years of graduate school, 3 years as a postdoc. However, for some, the deficiencies are just too great to be employable, to be useful, to be overlooked. They need to leave the field and there is no other alternative.

(Part 1 of 2)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creepy New Trend

I know the world would be a less enlightened place without my pithy observations. I get that, I really do. I also realize that my faithful readers expect me to keep them up to date with the latest annoying trends associated with the bizzaro times in which we habitate. How else would you really know when to furrow your brow or point and laugh at a complete stranger in public? Well, if I do say so myself, I have done it again. I have spotted a new and rising trend that I can only describe as kinda creepy. What's the deal with older people wearing braces? In the past week I have encountered three folks with at least 50 years behind them who had braces on their teeth. Why should this bother me, and more importantly, why should this bother you? Well, braces are legally and morally allowed only for pimply faced teenagers. I believe in the U.S. that anyone over the age of 18 who is wearing braces is actually committing a felony. Now before you start to grow concerned that Americans are running around in flagrant violation of the law, let me assure you that the three people to which I just alluded were actually all "Europeans". But, I bet that you could have guessed this without me even telling you. Need I bring up the topic of a previous post (Manly Men) focussing on European "men" sporting Capri pants and Alice bands?

Friday, November 27, 2009

T.V. News

When I was growing up in the 1970s, there were essentially only 3 T.V. channels from which to choose. You had CBS, NBC, and ABC. At a certain hour, they all stopped showing programs and delivered only a test pattern. It was a whole different world than the hundreds of non-stop channels that most folks have access to today. In many houses, including mine, the familiar family hum and clatter came to a stop so that the grown-ups could watch the evening news. This was one of those non-negotiable deals where the world of color and volume was put on hold at 6:00 p.m. for the areal black and white realm.

In those days, the three trusted icons that looked into our world from sets in New York City were Walter Cronkite - CBS, John Chancellor - NBC, and Harry Reasoner - ABC. These serious men wore serious-looking suits and were positioned in sets that were stark and no nonsense. The news shows were somber programs, reporting on important issues, in difficult times.

Today, the world is still facing serious issues, but the tradition of gathering around the T.V. to watch the evening news is eroding and dissipating. Part of it has to do with the change in the family unit dynamics, the availability of more interesting programming, reduced attention spans, and perhaps to some extent, the invention of the DVR. However, I also feel that the change in our news viewing habits is directly related to the fact that the news shows predominantly focus on the negative. The networks follow in lock step a formulaic and cloying approach to digging up sensational and titillating dirt on everyone they can. It also has to do, I suspect, with the dubious merging of news and political agendas to purposefully distort the broadcasts and mislead.

I have not watched the evening news in years. I keep my finger on the world's pulse from my computer. I check my favorite web sites each morning and evening to keep up. Our computers are interfaces that protect us and buffer us. They allow us to pick and choose what stories we read, which we follow in detail, and which we only skim over. We can tackle each item at our own pace, and if we don't have any interest in what we are reading, the next headline is just a click away.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Hope your day is filled with peace, good conversation, wonderful food, and happiness.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Me Box

The other day my daughter brought home an assignment from school called the "Me Box", and I could tell it was one that she would enjoy. Each student was asked to decorate a shoe box with images that defined or described who they were and some of their favorite activities. They could use markers or photographs or pictures from magazines. My little one had found some pictures of horses and puppies, a delicious high-calorie looking cake, and girls playing lacrosse. Of course, the puppies were chosen because they were just so darned cute, after all, who could look at those faces and not fall head over heels. The horses were chosen because my daughter has a fondness for horses. She has gone riding a couple of times and once attended a week-long horse school. The cake was selected because she loves baking with her grandma. Finally, lacrosse is her favorite sport, and she has been playing for several years and loves the exercise, the competition, and the camaraderie of it all.

The other aspect of the assignment was to put a few odds and ends inside the box, so they could do a little show-n'-tell for their classmates. I found it amusing that the teacher's written instructions said that the box could not contain liquids or, curiously, alive or dead animals of any kind. Clearly there is a story somewhere about the inclusions in Me Boxes from previous years. Inside her box, my little one placed a bag of beads, a string of ribbon, a lacrosse ball, and some odds and ends. The beads were selected because she likes to make jewelry with her momma and the string of ribbon was included because she likes to sew with her grandma and has already made herself a jacket and several shirts. The odds and ends were shiny and interesting objects that she found while out and about. We have always referred to these as her treasures, and I have been collecting them in her dresser. They include metal washers, colorful paperclips, springs, plastic bits and pieces, and the tops of pens. She has always been fascinated by her discoveries and likes to store up her goodies. So, there you have it, the images and items that my daughter believes define her.

If I were to prepare a box for my daughter, it would include images of our dinners together, our trips to play with her stuffed animals at the lab where I work, our times playing board games on lazy afternoons, our movie nights with fruit juice and goodies, and snuggling together while I read her favorite books. I would have to design the box so that the pictures and items could be swapped out as our favorite and defining images change and morph from season to season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tree Hugger

I once had a boss who referred to certain folks as "tree huggers". He made it quite clear by his sniggering and mannerisms that these people were just annoying kooks and nuts. Subversives or anarchists, whose sole purpose was to act as an impediment to progress and all things sensible and rational. His tone was condescending, his remarks defamatory and slanderous. It seemed to him that anyone who tried to defend and perserve nature at the expense of raising a new building or parking lot or public convenience, was just acting as a contrarian. These whack-jobs had nothing better to do with their insipid and empty lives, so they joined some silly cause without full understanding of what they were defending or what was really at stake. These people were laughable, fools who were nothing more than the chaff of life.

It is possible that I once felt this way too. It seems like an attitude that I might have had at one point in time, many years ago. However, my present approach is more aligned with trying to honor nature. Over the years I have come to better appreciate the beauty and wonder and majesty of the fields of wildflowers, the ranging forests and undeveloped areas, and also the creatures and critters that make these expanses their homes. This all kind of hit home recently when I arrived at work and was surprised to find a contingent of heavy machinery clearing out sizeable tracts of trees from our surrounding forest. Our trees have long created a buffer zone that isolates us from the harsh urban sprawl that is everywhere in the area that I live. I drove up to see a flatbed truck fully loaded with freshly cut tree trunks. Each tree was several feet in diameter with more growth rings than I could count. I thought about how long these gifts of nature had been around, how much they had lived through and witnessed, and how quickly and unceremoniously they were torn from the ground and reduced to something else. Something unnatural. Further adding to the scene, I could hear the crew of workmen off in the distance continuing their work of decimation. Those sounds of ripping and tearing, of pure destruction still echo in my mind.

I know that soon my eyes and my mind will adjust to the new surroundings. Soon the new building will be present, with its plantings and landscaping, and its symbolism of progress. However, I will not forget what was there before. In fact, you can count me in the category of unashamed tree hugger. I see nothing wrong, nothing weak, nothing insipid about preserving nature where we can and making this a priority as we move ahead.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grind My Gears 10

I can hold my tongue no longer. Actually, who would want to hold anyone's tongue? My doctor tried to do this thing once where she moved my tongue around whilst holding the end with a piece of gauze. I remember it made me throw up a little. Anyway, I digress. What is really chapping my chaps today, as it were, is the pinheadedness of all retailers and shop owners everywhere. In my younger days, Christmas signage and decorations did not go up until the first part of December. Then some Einstein had the brilliant money-making stratagem to push the envelope to right after Thanksgiving. Soon all of the other sheep on the pasture followed right along in perfect step. Baaaaaaa. But was this good enough? No, not even close. The sales and merchandise and decorations then quickly started leaking across the Thanksgiving break, a time period once thought impenetrable. Store displays then popped up in the middle and then the beginning of November. Then October. Then September. Hooray, it's freakin' Christmas in July! These people all really grind my gears. I believe they should all be locked in a small room while the Muzak version of Jingle Bell Rock plays on an endless loop until their brains seep out of their ears. Many would agree with me on this issue. Justice served. Oh, and Merry Chris, ..., errrr, Happy Holidays.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Oracle

Many of us are searching for answers in our lives. Answers to questions that eat at our flesh, that hold us back, that have defined who we are today and have shaped our existence. These questions have formed lines on our faces and across our hearts. What if you had an opportunity to finally be given the answers to some of these questions? The who, what, when, where, and, most importantly, why of it all. Would you reach out and take that chance? Certainly, one should expect that the answers would come far too late to change anything or to recover anything. Perhaps the answers might serve only to uncover wounds that remain raw and sensitive to this very day, though, perhaps, they are lurking just below the surface.

Questions such as why a loved one committed suicide or felt such hurt as to let drugs and alcohol take over their lives and lead to their demise. What about the hurt of relationships ending or betrayals from once trusted friends? What about the questions related to why many of us feel so screwed up today? Are the answers worth bringing up the past and re-exposing the hurt and pain? Exposing old scars and sensitivities from the past? Perhaps the answers would convict you more than you could imagine, more than you could bear. Adding more weight to an already overwhelming burden. Is it possible that the answers to such questions could bring some degree of healing? Somehow finally closing the chapter on old haunting episodes?

My natural inclination has always been to avoid seeking the answers in these situations. This is a form of self-protection, and maybe, even a form of denial. But, what if I told you that a penny invested today could perhaps lead to a windfall tomorrow? Would you unhesitantly take this opportunity, understanding what could come your way with wisdom, patience, and time? I suspect that the answers to many of life's deepest and most personal questions could fit into this scenario, this great "What if?". Answers could allow you to finally understand why you and others made the choices that you did. Winston Churchill once said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.".

The table has been prepared. The chairs have been pulled out. So, why am I such a coward, such a fool at times, not to sit down and listen to the answers when they are available?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh Nuts!

One of the great joys of getting older, at least for most folks, is that they begin to increase in circumference at an alarming rate. In this regard, I am no different. Although my eating and exercise habits have been reasonably constant over the years, my body decided that it did not particularly care for the status quo, the equilibrium that we had tacitly decided upon, and abruptly changed the rules. Of course, carrying around extra weight does wonders for one's overall health and quality of life. It leads to heart problems, hypertension, arthritis, aches and pains, and fatigue, among others.

As a result of increased girth syndrome, I have been forced to do something that I never thought that I would have to do. I am compelled now to actually read the nutrition labels on the food-type products that I am considering for purchase. Man is this depressing. In my younger, pre-Geritol days, I used to be able to wheel my shopping buggy about the market in a carefree and gleeful manner, tossing in whatever I wanted to eat. Cakes and pies and goodies of every shape and size. Now, I am forced to prowl around the healthy food section of the store, keeping company with the granola-munching hippies and other subversives, with their tie-dyed t-shirts and Birkenstocks.

One complaint that I have with tracking quantities like grams of fat or total calories of Hecubus per serving, is that the food companies make their products seem healthier than they really are by defining a serving size to such a mirthful extent that a mouse would walk away from a meal saying, "You know, I still feel a bit peckish". Consistent with this line of hilarity, I recently bought a canister of assorted nuts and actually made audible grunting noises after reading their definition of "serving size". Look closely at the above photograph. ... You're welcome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My body is an antenna, a receiver of emotions transmitted, broadcast, and directed. Unavoidably, I become an outward reflection of these internal feelings. The expression commonly tossed around is that folks like me wear their heart on their sleeve. Strangely, though, my response seems only sensitive to negativity waves. I am affected so deeply. I have trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating, ..., being. There are folks I know who seem immune to any salvos of this sort directed their way. They have the uncanny ability to successfully ward off any such attacks. Their inner peace, emotional state, and self worth, remain completely unaffected. Ahh, the unaffected. How I can, at times, envy them.

Hard, hateful, thoughtless, accusatory, or maligning words, attitudes, or thoughts directed my way seem impossible for me to skirt or avoid or redirect. My body picks them up and I quickly become affected, or I think more accurately, infected. I have never learned the ability to remain strong under attacks of any sort. I can carry the effects of such encounters with me for hours and days, and sadly too, weeks and years. The crazy thing is that this happens to me regardless of whether I am in the "right" or I am in the "wrong" in the conflict. I guess part of the issue is that I despise personal conflicts at any level. I despise them so much that I have become hyper-sensitive.

Several years ago I was wading through an especially troublesome season in my life, and my doctor recommended medication to help even out my emotions. I remember that it worked quite well, ..., too well. One of the side effects of the medication is that it took away something from me that, at times, can be such an emotional and healing release. The ability to cry. It was an especially odd situation where you wanted to cry, but were completely unable. Ahh, the unaffected.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A heartsong is a person's special gift to be shared with others, a person's reason for being.

I have a song, deep in my heart,
And only I can hear it.
If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song.
When my eyes are open and
I am so busy and moving and busy,
If I take time and listen very hard,
I can still hear my Heartsong.
It makes me feel happy.
Happier than ever.
Happier than everywhere
And everything and everyone
In the whole wide world.

Mattie Stepanek (1990 - 2004)

I rediscovered this one recently and it touched me all over again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Untouchables

The Untouchables were a group of federal lawmen who worked to bring down the notorious gangster Al Capone in Chicago in the early 1930s. This group earned the name of The Untouchables because they were legendary for being fearless and incorruptible. In my life, however, I have come to associate an "Untouchable" with someone who consistently seems to come out on top, even though they are wholly undeserving. They make it through episodes of personal betrayal, destruction of the lives of others, and just plain sinful behavior better off financially, emotionally, and socially. What makes being around people like this so difficult is when they continue in smiles and peace, while you carry the hurt and scars from their path of destruction. They seem untouchable.

I want to scream out "IT ISN'T FAIR!" and "WHEN WILL THEY GET WHAT THEY DESERVE?". Attitudes of frustration and resentment are easily ushered into much darker tones. It becomes so hard for me not to let hate establish its rule over me. The sinful seed that someone else has sown comes to uproot my heart and my mind. I am left in pieces while they continue on in seeming happiness and contentment. Where is their penalty? Where is my justice? They seem untouchable.

Romans 2:1 teaches us, "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." Basically, it is not up to me to worry about such people or to attempt to judge them. This behavior is self-destructive and, in the end, utterly futile. You must actively work to keep your mind clear and uncluttered from feelings and thoughts that can poison the body. I think about the truth in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Context, Again?

Back in August, I posted a blog entitled Context Baby all about taking things out of context. Funny how our imaginations can run amok at sprinter's speed when they latch hold of something. You overhear a snippet of a conversation, you see a glancing touch or a curious expression, you find that someone is not where you expected them to be, and your mind's flood gates open up to flesh out the details. You can easy become convinced that your crazy stories or scenarios must be true as there is no other possible logical explanation for what you witnessed.

Back in August, I played a game of running through a dozen T.V. stations, pausing only briefly, and recording what I heard. It was fun and silly, but it provided a good illustration of how our minds try to paint a picture given just the smallest slice of the pie. Well, if it was fun once, then it must be something worth repeating? Right?

My random T.V. snippets for today. Let them wash over your mind and see where they go.
  • When did you find time to eat a diaper you found on the beach?
  • The owner of the dog must present a 90 second routine.
  • He is the skin guru!
  • Who high fives after tonguing a urinal?
  • Monkeys will grab your daquiris.
  • We trapped Kim in a dust-filled box.
  • There is no oral rinse in the world that can rinse out the shame.
  • What's that smell? Oh, ..., burnt face.
  • You, my friend, have executive vision.
  • Back and forth and up and down. Why not a circle?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Comb-Over's Revenge

Have you ever seen a man, or for that matter, a woman, with a really bad comb-over and chuckled to yourself? Do they think that they are fooling anyone on any level? "My hair arrangement is so natural I am quite certain that everyone thinks I am Rico Suave." The balder these folks are, the more ridiculous and, yes, pathetic, their efforts become. It is a fact that young people are the cruelest when it comes to pointing these people out in very public situations. Be that as it may, I have a suspicion that shortly after Joe Q. Neanderthal invented the first comb-over, all of the other people in his village immediately began copying him so that the latest trend sweeping o'er the land did not pass them by. Ever since then, young and impressionable kids, who are vapid and thus cannot think of anything original, have copied whatever the latest fad happens to be.

In this day and age, we can all look directly to Zac Efron. If you don't know who he is, then I will explain. He is a teenager that has been pushed as an icon and dreamboat by the fine folks at Disney (motto: we do not have our founders head in cold storage in the basement, honest). His one notable feature is an odd hair style where he has attempted to wrap his hair around his head in a wacky and crazy sweeping motion (and yes his hair goes the other way around whenever he goes to the southern hemisphere - it is referred to as the hairiolis effect). Ever since Zac appeared on the scene, everyone between the ages of 2 and 16 has been trying to imitate his obviously comical hair-do. If you get a chance to stare intently at a poster of this teenage heart-throb, doesn't his hair remind you of a really bad comb-over? Maybe the old geezer set can now finally get in some justified payback.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mighty Warrior

Clinically speaking, I can say that I am one part anti-social, one part self-conscious, and one part agoraphobic. When you take each of these ingredients, which individually can render a person noticeably odd, and stir them all into a single pot, it's amazing that I can even leave my house at all. Most folks who know me in my work role, would not believe that I am thusly afflicted. In fact, I have noted this strange juxtaposition as well between who I am professionally and who I am in any other situation. If you have seen actors who come across in interviews as shy and quiet and curious, and then see them light up a movie screen with bold and brash and brilliant performances, then you can begin to see that my behavioral traits are not unique to me. My condition is more than a little bit frustrating. I was even recently asked by a man I like and respect why I didn't like him. I tried to explain myself, but I don't think that he even had an inkling of understanding until he got to know me a little bit better. It takes me so long to be able to adjust to people and fight through my issues, that I appreciate my friends more, I think, than most people. It also makes goodbyes for me a tortuous ordeal.

Given this background, I wanted to share (and claim) a recent victory. Pastor Mark Batterson would say that I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day and Pastor Erwin McManus would say that I seized a divine moment. What I did might be viewed as minor to some, but it represented an important step toward "normalcy" for me. Earlier this week I hosted my church community group in my home. I was a bit edgy leading up to the meeting, but I felt totally "at home" during our group's time together. Small steps, small steps. Rock on mighty warrior.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Special Angel

My evening ritual before I head off to bed is to go into my daughter's room and check on her one last time. I straighten her covers, I turn off her lava lamp, and I tidy the floor near her bed in case she has to get up during the night. The final thing that I do is to give her a kiss on her forehead and tell her I love her. Sometimes, though, I linger just a bit and watch her sleep. I really love these moments. She looks so peaceful and content. Usually she is hugging one of her favorite stuffed animals. Sometimes it is Puppy, sometimes Sniff, sometimes Spots. She has many buddies, but she holds just a small few in a special place of honor. As I linger, I think back over our day together and the adventures that we shared. The important things we said, the giggles and silliness we threw around, the mountains we climbed. If we had some conflict over chores or homework or attitudes, this brief time together allows it all to melt away, to fall into proper perspective. There is a unique and special and deep love that we have for our little ones - a love that the ancient Greeks referred to as agape. I will always cherish my times with my own special little buddy. Good night angel face, sweet dreams. Daddy loves you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


O.K. folks, it's trivia time. How many of you have heard of Mackey Sasser? .... Anyone? ..... He was a catcher for the professional baseball team known formally as the Metropolitans from New York (aka the New York Mets). What made this gentleman notable to baseball fans is that he developed some weird and wacky psychological disability where he could not throw the ball back to the pitcher. It was sad and painful watching him try to release the ball. What is really interesting, from a detached and clinical point of view, is that if he saw a base runner breaking from first or second, he had a cannon of an arm and could make quick and accurate throws to his fielders. Something that he once had mastered at the highest of levels, he lost and could not find again.

I had a blog entry from a couple months ago entitled Routine Routine; there I spoke of a similar issue where things that you do again and again, can sometimes go completely awry (like biting your cheek while chewing food). As for me, I have recently lost the ability to do something that I used to be able to do like a professional. Folks who know me may know that I am a pretty good chef with years of training and an advanced degree from the Cordon Bleu in Paris. O.K., that last part is completely fictional, but I am a pretty reasonable cook. For years I have used eggs in recipes and never had the slightest issue with cracking them open. Now, for the life of me, I cannot crack open an egg without getting eggshell everywhere. What is going on? Is this some old age thing?

Before we go down that road, I wanted to come back to our friend Mackey Sasser. When I was in graduate school, I used to hang out at a bar with my friends at the end of a long day and throw some darts. Cricket was my game of choice. I was actually pretty good at one point. However, at some moment, I lost the ability to release the dart. I would start the throwing motion, but my mind would not allow me to release the dart. It was exactly the same condition that inflicted Mackey. It eventually lead me to give up darts.

The failure to release the dart, or crack the egg, or throw the baseball, or whatever the affliction might be, is not a problem with lack of effort or lack of passion or level of intelligence. I recently read that Mackey eventually got over his Sasser-itis after he retired by working with a psychologist. Recovery from problems like this can be instantaneous if one is lucky, for others, help may never come. It can be more than a little scary. For now, omelets are off my repertoire.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oldest Possession

What is your oldest possession? Perhaps it is a trophy you collected as a kid from little league. Maybe your parents saved a favorite toy or stuffed animal from your toddler days. Others have collectibles like snow globes or ticket stubs from a long forgotten trip to see the Ice Capades. For me, it is an old AM/FM radio that I received as either a birthday or Christmas present. I used to listen to this radio for hours every day when I was a kid. Of course this was back in the days before cable television or even more than 3 or 4 channels. I guess that I would say at one time, this radio was one of my most prized possessions, one of the things that I would never want to give up. It was so important to me.

Now, more than 30 years later, the radio sits on a shelf in my office at work. It waits patiently. I'm sure that I have not even plugged it in for more than 20 or 25 years. Still it waits. One of the cool things about the unit was that besides just picking up frequencies associated with AM and FM stations, this one could pick up bits and pieces of airplane communications, and on occasion, if the atmospheric conditions were right, you might even hear broken and crackly snippets from citizen's band radio transmissions.

The fact that I still have this radio is a testament to the fact that I am a bit of a packrat. Once I have something, I don't like to let it go. I'm continually facscinated by how our mindset toward our stuff changes over time. One day my radio is the most special and important thing I have, then it is set aside for something else. Destined to be pushed into the back of the closet. To be forgotten and discarded. Sometimes, if we are fortunate enough to stumble upon them again down the road of our lives, we can relive those special times of listening to the Red Sox ballgames or the captivating top 40 countdowns from Casey Kasem, and we can reconnect, if only briefly, with those comforting pursuits of childhood.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Men are Pigs

It was time for me as a certified man, a man's man, a manly man, armed with actual chest hair, to step up and defend my gender against the female onslaught. I'll admit that we have been taking a beating of late, and are holding up as well as cheap dime store toilet paper on chili night. Now that's a chilling picture, but a little bathroom humor is fully appropriate given what I experienced today. I thought that I had found a men only get out of jail free card, but, alas, I found this new panacea to be fleeting.

What am I prattling on about? Well, let me tell you what I saw, saw with mine own two eyes. I have heard ceaseless criticism from the "fairer sex" that men have all the grace and tact of a drunken bull elephant on quarter beer night at a western saloon. We have been told, among other things, that we have no idea how to pee. They cite as their evidence the tide pools commonly seen at the base of most of the world's toilets. Well, I finally had some new evidence to come to our defense! My finding might have been the biggest news story of the year that did not involve Sarah Palin. After I flushed the urinal today at work, I started to walk over to the sink to wash my hands, even though I was quite sure that I did not pee on them. Anyhow, somehow I was compelled to look back at the urinal in mid flush. What I saw was a vigorous steam of water rushing about the bowl, and to my delight, I saw several drops spill out on the floor. You see, the river of moisture is not our fault! This new finding seemed to vindicate men everywhere for everything and anything they had ever done wrong or might do wrong. Men as pigs? I think not.

Well, my man-type victory dance was short lived. It was as short lived as a plump cricket in a bat convention. One moment I fully expected to be carried up and down the hallways on the shoulders of my bretheren. The next, I was as low as the belly on a possum with a gland disorder. For at that moment, I went into the bathroom stall to gather a dignified amount of toilet paper to blow my nose. There, on the wall of the stall, was an unmistakeable smear of number two. I was so deflated that I shed a single tear. Man, we really are pigs.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Gift of Joy

Autumn is taking hold in my neck of the woods. The trees are flashing vibrant in reds and golds and browns. Subtly, the nip in the air has become noticeable and moved me to turn on the heat for the evening in my home. It is the time of the season where a wonderful evening can be had curling up on the couch in a blanket with a nice cup of hot chocolate and diving into a book. I have recently started reading the latest from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Swindoll. The book is entitled "The Owner's Manual for Christians". I have come to value his perspective and advice, both for teaching and encouragement, as well as for reminding and rebuking. Chuck's writing is the equivalent to me of lasanga in my list of comfort foods.

I was reading about essentials that need to be developed in the life of Christian. The specific essential that I was focussing on was joy. Joy is something that should be a descriptor of who we are. A marking of our spirit and attitude. However, what those of us plagued with depression and overall negativity, and who long for a joy-filled life must realize is, that joy is a gift that we need to accept. One paragraph especially resonanted with me regarding acceptance of this most wonderful gift:

"One of the ringleaders you'll need to do battle with sooner rather than later is that sneaky thief who slides into your thoughts and reminds you of something from the past that demoralizes you (even though it is over and done with and fully forgiven) or conjures up fears regarding something in the future (even though that frightening something may never happen). Joyful people stay riveted to the present -- the here and now, not the then and never."

Amen to that crucial sentiment. Joy cannot be expected to fall into your lap and cover you like a water balloon thrown down from above. It is something that we must reach out and grab, take ownership of and embrace.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Duck Panic

My daughter has been participating in some magazine subscription thing at her school. As near as I can tell, for every so many subscriptions that they sell, they are given a small rubber duck (and don't ask me what any of this has to do with education). I understand that there are dozens of different styles of ducks with different logos and themes. Anyhoo, my little one has received three ducks of her own. On her way out of school the other day, she found one laying on the ground and picked it up. I guess that she adopted it right there on the spot. Flash forward ahead several hours. Picture a daughter just finishing her homework after an already long day at school. She is starting to lose her focus, her scholastic seriousness. For some reason she decided that her adopted duck should be attached to the top of my head with lots and lots of scotch tape. I play along as any card-carrying daddy would do. We then go about some much needed relaxing. We have a light snack, we watch some T.V., we play on the computer, we go outside and get the mail, we chase each other around the house. Several hours pass.

It is starting to get late and I decide that I need to get supper started as there is only about an hour left until my youngling has to start getting ready for bed. I go into the kitchen and start the preparations. About 15 minutes into my task I suddenly sense that there is something on top of my head. I start screaming and dancing around, my eyes wild in panic. I start slapping at the top of my head like a madman. Well, what do you think I found up there? ... That's right, a small rubber duck. My daughter, who was no more than 10 feet away from me and witnessed the whole pathetic scene, looked at me and calmly said "But daddy, it was there all along".

Funny how we can be afflicted with something for a long period of time and only when we realize that a duck is on top of our head do we jump into action and try to nip it, nip it in the bud. Of course, those around us knew of our affliction all along.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


In a standard textbook introduction between two people, they normally shake hands (a strange social custom in itself when you think about it) and exchange names. This type of interaction has gone on pretty much in this same fashion for hundreds of years. For me and most others, we do our best to remember the other person's name and its proper pronunciation in later interactions. This is a form of respect and caring. I would certainly correct someone if they mispronounced my name, or even worse, called me by the wrong name. I would expect that others would tell me if I did the same.

Being in the field of academics for so long, I have come across many different races and cultures. It is part of the melting pot of this environment. Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Spanish. It is curious to me how quickly people throw their names away when they come to the U.S.. They feel their names are too difficult for us to pronounce, so they adopt a common name like "Bob" or "Susan" immediately upon deplaning at one of our major international airports. For me, I would not do this. My name is part of who I am and represents my identity. It is clear though that others do not put as much importance as I do into what others call them.

The impetus for this posting came about from two very funny observances of this sort that I came across recently at work. One was with an Indian student named Biplab and the other was with a French woman named Fatiha. Both of these folks were visiting my laboratory to give talks on their research. At the end of such talks, it is standard for the speakers to answer questions for 10 or 15 minutes. At the end of Biplab's presentation, everyone kept referring to him as "BeeBop" (and in one case I even heard "Skee-Boop"). Similarly, at the end of Fatiha's talk, everyone kept referring to her as "Fahita" (well, it was just before lunch time). In all of this, neither Biplab nor Fatiha's demeanor or expression changed. Perhaps they have gotten used to their names being butchered on a regular basis. After all, we American's all look and sound the same anyway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Confusing Signage

Have you ever watched a commercial on T.V. or listened to an ad on the radio, and after all was said and done, you had no idea what product or service they were trying to sell? Perhaps the ad distracted you with a good-looking spokesperson (like the voluptuous woman perched on top of the sports car). I have viewed commercials that purposefully did not mention what they were trying to hawk. It could be that they were being coy based on some artistic sensibility, aiming at once to be both jejune and condescending. Sometimes the people behind the scenes are trying to be funny or clever. I have found that sometimes they can be too funny or too clever for their own good. I even remember one ad where they completely avoided saying what they were trying to sell and instead told us all to visit their web site. That, it seems to me, takes a bit of cheek. I never visited their site. I'm quite sure very few others did either.

The other day I was driving along the highway and came across a sign that also confused me (see the above "photograph"). The sign was an ad in the form of an arrow nailed to a stake that was stuck into the ground on the middle island of a very busy roadway. On the arrow in bright red letters were the words "for sale". The confusing aspect of this was that the arrow was pointing to a road sign. Actually the arrow pointed to the metal pole holding the road sign. The whole scene gave me pause. Someone had gone to some degree of trouble to make up the fancy sign and probably risked life and limb to put it into position. The road sign itself wasn't even something all that exciting like a stop sign, a yield sign, or even a "slow children at play" sign. While I'm sure that folks have a clear image in their own minds what they are trying to tell others in their advertisements, perhaps they should get a second opinion every once in a while.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Eyes of the Young

Several weeks ago, I went to a conference held in Hawaii and I made the decision to take my young daughter along with me. For many reasons, this trip was a very big deal for me. When I asked my daughter if she wanted to go, it was not a question that I asked lightly or on the spur of the moment. Successfully balancing work time and quality time with my little one is not something that has ever come naturally to me. This trip marked the first time that she and I would undertake something of this magnitude alone together. I only asked her after I searched my heart and soul to be sure that I was mentally capable of really giving myself to her without my past definition of family overwhelming me.

Several weeks ago I talked about my thought process and my associated struggles on this issue (see Life's Journey + and Life's Journey -). The key notion that made me go for it is that I was kind of sensing that this might be the last great adventure that we get to go on together as a daddy and his little girl, before she got too old to embrace the adventure and I was too old to enjoy it. Adventures of this kind are the stuff that make memories. Now that three weeks have passed since our journey began and two weeks have passed since our return, I sat down with my daughter to find out what she thinks she will remember the most about our trip. Below is her list top 10 list (with some minor embellishments from her old man).
  • Plane ride: The 3 hr delay 20 ft from the gate at Ohare on the way out coupled with the anticipation of the fun week ahead. The "quick" plane ride home and sleeping on daddy's shoulder.
  • POG: the local juice consisting of passion fruit, orange, and guava juices. Maddie measured the quality of her day by how many glasses of POG that she got to drink.
  • Swimming pools: She loved the different swimming pools at the hotel. One had awesome waterfalls and a long water slide.
  • Hotel: Nothing like staying at a 5-star hotel.
  • Wacky advice: The Japanese lady at the hotel office recommending for us to tour Walmart and K-Mart (see Crack Tourism Office).
  • Special food: Funny that she added this when her diet consisted mostly of Subway sandwiches, pancakes, bagels, and snacks.
  • Lava fields: Harsh and barren fields of lava rocks that were everywhere and stretched for miles.
  • Turtles: Taking a walk along the beach on our last night in town, we passed a grouping of five sea turtles sunning themselves.
  • Pictures: Maddie took over 300 pictures with her very own camera and created a special album for herself.
  • Dolphins: The hotel has a program where she got to swim and play with dolphins. Just don't ask her to give one a kiss!
So there you have it folks, mission accomplished. This sure beats letting life pass by watching yet another rerun of Spongebob Squarepants. Get up, get out and live (when you can).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hare of the Dog

One look and I knew instantly that I would need some inspiration just to go on. The only thing that might possibly get me through this tragic sight is singing a bunny-themed sea-shanty. If you have any feeling remaining somewhere down deep in your soul, then please, please, join in. Do it for the hares.

Oh, buccaneer bunnies roam o'er the salt seas
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
Our booty be cabbage and carrots and peas
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

Our lives short and merry, our ears long and soft
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
We jump to the ratlines at "All hands aloft!"
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

Come cheer up, me bunnies, to glory we sail
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
With cutlass and pistols and white fluffy tails
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!

So now I ups anchor & bids ye ‘adieu'
Yo-ho, nibble yer greens!
I’ll drink your sweet health with a flagon or two
Wiggle yer ears and nibble yer greens!