27 September 2011

Green Porno with Isabella Rossellini: Might just be the best thing EVER

Apparently Isabella Rossellini (yes, THAT Isabella Rosselini) has decided that the internet is the perfect place to bring back the lost art of the short film format. So she has made and starred in a few dozen very short films about animals having sex for the Sundance Channel. And they might just be the best things I have ever seen. EVER. Season 1 is all about insects, and are my FAVORITES (of course). Here are some highlights. I recommend you go to YouTube or the Sundance Channel website and watch EVERY SINGLE ONE.

22 September 2011

Ants eat a gecko in no time flat

This is an amazing video.  They even carry off the skull and backbone!  Ants are amazing.  And let me emphasize that nobody "ordered" these ants to eat the gecko, each ant reacted to local stimuli and made predictable decisions based on those stimuli, resulting in large scale patterns - emergence!  I'm boggling my mind right now thinking about how each thought i am having, including this one, is being produced in a similar way.  But instead of ants reacting to pheremonal stimuli to eat a whole gecko, my neurons are reacting to chemical stimuli to develop ideas for a blog post!  You're BLOWING MY MIND RIGHT NOW science, blowing my MIND.

20 September 2011

On the joys of not cooking "cooking greens"

Our garden gets too much sun for lettuce, but we have a LOT of cooking greens (mostly a variety of kale and chard).  Accordingly, we have gotten very creative at incorporating greens into just about anything - omelettes, casseroles, pasta dishes, stir frys, you name it.  And of course they are delicious wilted with olive oil and garlic, and drizzled with a little lemon from a friend's tree.  But I've gotten a lot of incredulous looks recently when I extol the virtues of eating our greens raw.  We don't buy lettuce anymore, we use the greens on sandwiches and in salads, something that I guess makes the kale-haters uncomfortable.

Everyone seems to have this idea that raw kale and chard are "bitter" and "hard to chew."  I stand here today (well sit here) to tell you that these are LIES and FALSEHOODS.  Raw greens are delicious (and super nutritious, but that's besides the point).  There are a couple of tricks that we have found that make kale and chard a delicious thing to eat raw.

1) Use an acidic salad dressing.  Most dressings have vinegar or lemon juice in them, but I know some people prefer a little drizzle of olive oil and nothing else.  But acid balances the bitterness of the greens.  If anything, we err on the side of ALL acid, and little to no oil.  In my opinion, lemon is kale's perfect compliment, and raw kale salad with a lot of lemon and a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper is just perfect.

2)  Put something sweet in there.  When I was in college, there was a little health food store (I know, health food in New Jersey?) down the street from campus that made this AMAZING raw kale salad that I have never quite been able to recreate.  It has lemon juice and olive oil (duh), pine nuts, and rice (yeah rice, it was awesome).  But the most important thing was it has dried cherries, or cranberries or something like that.  Those little pops of sweet were what made the salad and transformed the bitter kale into yumminess. I try to have Trader Joe's amazing dried cherries on hand or even better, fresh fruit, to make the greens salad more colorful and well balanced.

3) Chop the greens.  My dad is the king of the chopped salad, requesting almost every salad he orders to be chopped, even if it doesn't come that way on the menu.  Waiters hate him.  But I must say, I see his point of view.  When you chop everything up you get a little bit of everything in one bite.  And when you chop greens, the issue of them being "hard to chew" is moot.  They are small and crunchy and yummy.

So stop hating, raw-cooking-greens haters!  In fact, I think "cooking greens" is an unfair stereotype and should be abandoned.  Okay, that's a little much, I know, but I just wanted to share my love for raw greens.  Who needs lettuce?

18 September 2011

King Harvest Has Surely Come

Play this as you read this post:

Last week was the harvest moon (the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox, when farmers could stay up late to pick their crops by the light of the moon), and it was particularly spectacular.  Our own harvest has been delicious, and I'm excited to have tomato and squash well into the fall.  Fall!  Yay!  My favorite season, filled with pumpkins, and festivals, and swirling leaves and crisp temperatures and amazing food.  I just got super excited thinking about it. And Halloween!  The best holiday EVER.

Anyhow I tried to take pictures of it with my cell phone, and they all turned out terribly.  So instead, I collected other people's awesome pictures of previous harvest moons to share.

16 September 2011

Sex, hormones, STEM, and the chronic abuse of correlation

Get ready for a small tirade on gender, science and the abuse of statistics.

This month, a scientific study was released to the press about how overexposure to a certain hormone while in the womb is correlated with more interest in "thing" related careers (farmer, scientist), and less interest in "people" related careers  (social worker, teacher).  In other words, yet another study was released claiming to have found evidence for what Harvard ex-president Lawrence Summers called women's "different availability of aptitude" in STEM fields.  The Penn State researchers gave surveys about job preferences to young women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), an endocrine disorder caused by too much male sex hormone in the womb.  Indeed, the women with CAH were more likely to choose the "thing" jobs than women without CAH, implying a biological reason why women are underrepresented in science.  Suggested a graduate student on the project: "[m]aybe we could show females ways in which an interest in people is compatible with STEM careers."

What first got my hackles up was the lack of any discussion about how else CAH could have affected the lives of these women.  CAH is the most common cause of sexual ambiguity, or people who identify as intersex. In people without a Y chromosome (biology refresher: biologically born women are typically XX, and biologically born men are typically XY), this means anything from "partial masculinisation that produces a large clitoris, to virilisation and male appearance. The latter applies in particular to Congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency, which is the most common form of CAH" (Wikipedia - yeah, I'll cite Wikipedia; I have nothing to be ashamed of).  In other words, the women in this study most likely have their bodies marked by CAH in a way that probably impacted their sociocultural experience, especially in the formative years of puberty.  According to the website intersexualite.org, "some CAH individuals have been identified as males at birth and are reared as boys despite the presence of XX chromosomes and ovaries. In other cases, the masculinization of prenatal life is interrupted at birth, and the child is surgically and hormonally treated and reared as a girl. These girls often have characteristics that are popularly stereotyped as masculine. In addition, many CAH individuals identify themselves as lesbians."  While all the participants in the subject had female genitalia and were raised as female (whatever that means), there is no mention of other CAH-related variables that may have marked their experiences in society.   I'm not saying its not an interesting result, but clearly there may have been additional post-natal variables impacting the choices of these women.  I would love to interview the participants and find out more about their lives, their communities, their educational experiences, and what they believe shaped their career decisions.
While clearly biology has an impact on who we are, researchers who study identity have shown that who we are is a more complicated mix of biological and sociocultural factors than these kinds of studies can possibly sort out.  Just to be clear here, my problem is not with the science: it's interesting, and I'm sure the researchers were thorough.  My problem is with the way in which the results have been presented, both by the researchers, and the science reporters, and the conclusions that have been drawn from them, without reference to other variables.

How many times do I have to say this?  CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSALITY PEOPLE!  Haven't these journalists ever taken statistics?  It's this kind of reckless conclusion "suggesting" that fuels the continuing debates on scientific realities like climate change and evolution.  I know, I know, I worked for a newspaper, I know what it's like to have the A1 editor breathing down your neck about having a compelling lede, and getting people to think this is something totally new, and its all good if you get one (preferably two) dissenting quotes down near the bottom.  But stories like this can be hurtful to our collective idea of what a scientist is, and what a woman is, and what a woman scientist is.  My advisor always says that being a woman scientist is paradox in our society, and when an article opens by suggesting that "[i]f you are a woman who wanted to be a physicist, you may have been fighting your own sex hormones to do it," I know she's got a point.

To me this study makes a strong case for the feminist notion of corporeality, of our identities being marked on our bodies, especially the bodies of women.  Traditionally science, rationality, reason and masculinity have been associated with a mind-body distinction unique to the biological male, while shallowness, sensuality, irrationality and femininity have been associated with a preoccupation with the physical self that makes rational, scientific work unsuitable for ladies.  This is the same classic duality that shows up explicitly in the study, as an interest in "careers related to things" (heady, male careers) as opposed to "careers related to people" (natural, female careers).  (As a side note, just by the choice of those categories we already see evidence of science being socially constructed, even as it is constructing and reconstructing social reality.)   Feminist theory confronts this duality of male and female, rationality and corporeality, by making explicit the importance of the body in our construction of gender and identity.  "The body prompts memory and language, builds community and coalition. The body is a pedagogical devise, a location of recentering and recontextualizing the self and the stories that emanate from that self" (Cindy Cruz,  "Toward an Epistemology of a Brown Body").  I would love to know how the women in this study have experienced CAH, and how it has affected their corporeality, and sociocultural reality.

Here are several links to articles based on this study:

1. Science 2.0 story
2. Time Healthland story
3. Science Daily story

And the original citation:

Beltz, A.M., Swanson, J.L., and Berenbaum, S.A (2011).Gendered occupational interests: Prenatal androgen effects on psychological orientation to Things versus PeopleHormones and Behavior, 60(4).

And the citation for Cindy Cruz's brilliant article, Toward an Epistemology of a Brown Body, which explores the importance of the body and the queer Chicana identity:

Cruz, C. (2001). Toward an epistemology of a brown body. Qualitative Studies in Education,14(5), 657–669.

As a final treat if you didn't get riled up enough by my tirade, here's a cartoon that was a popular email forward for a while, a modern reification of the traditional male-female duality.

04 September 2011

Another valiant attempt to stay organized in a terribly designed rental kitchen

Our rental kitchen is tiny, about 6' by 10'.  But I know from obsessively reading Apartment Therapy that small kitchens can be awesome when used wisely.  For two young people living on a tight budget, six by ten should be plenty.

Somebody else's well-designed tiny kitchen.  Our kitchen was not so lucky.  I want one of those magnetic knife thingies, btw.
Our kitchen, unfortunately, was not used wisely.  It's basically just a box, with our front door at one of the narrow ends, and a door into the living area in the middle of one of the long walls.  Plenty of room to build cabinets and a counter along the long wall, perhaps even a little wrap around counter with a range and oven built in.  An under-counter fridge would maximize the space, but I know I'm dreaming there.  The ceilings are very high, so there is plenty of room to build big cabinets just about everywhere.

Another well designed tiny kitchen that is not mine, from Apartment Therapy.  We have enough room for cheap-o cabinets like these!  Why didn't you put them in!!??
But instead, the "designer" of this kitchen chose a less traveled route, choosing to install one counter-top along the narrow wall of the kitchen.  Beneath this counter-top are the three most awkward cabinet spaces ever, each awkwardly fitted with shelves that don't fit the space.  That's right, some of them don't even hit the back wall of the cabinet, leaving a convenient six inch gap at the back of the cabinet for pots and pans to fall through.
The Bermuda cabinet gap.  Pot lids have no defenses.

And then instead of building in cabinets above the tiny counter, as in the picture above, this mysterious "designer" chose to install a single large cabinet on the wall to the LEFT of the counter-top, making EVERYTHING difficult to get to, even stuff on the bottom shelf.  Then over the sink he or she chose two  narrow open shelves of different sizes.
Why would anyone build a cabinet here????

And I know that an under-counter fridge is dreaming, but was this GIANT of a creature really necessary?

I could go on about the stupidity of our kitchen, but needless to say we've been up against some organization challenges.  I've tried to fill the open shelving with our prettiest, most colorful dishes.  And because we only have two tiny drawers in the entire kitchen, I hang as many things as possible, and keep silverware out on the counter-top in some ceramic holders we got at Ross.

I like that they have a little picture of the utensil on them, so it looks like I'm keeping utensils on the counter on purpose because I'm so proud of them.
Before I hung this spice rack, I used to keep all the spices in a pile on the counter.  Craziness,!
In the past few days we have further improved the kitchen. In order to stop things from falling through the crazy gap, I bought a giant drawer from the clearance area of the Container Store to "contain" everything on the shelf.

Try getting to my pot lids now, evil gap!
Since we recently got a free coffee maker from a hotel that closed in town, and a gigantic toaster that takes up half the counter, I got rid of the tea and picnic supplies I used to keep on the counter, and relocated them to one of the cabinets.  We also hung a wine glass rack to hang the glasses we got for free after a wine tasting with my family a few weeks ago.  I think it's about time I stop drinking wine out of jars.

Sometimes I think the toaster and the fridge intimidate the tiny little coffee maker and the tiny little stove .  Appliance bullies.

We also built a pot rack from some cut redwood saplings.  I have yet to find the right solution to hang our pots and pans from it (no S hooks big enough at the hardware store, and these tie hangers are too big to fit through the loops of all but this saucepan).  Building the pot rack was a post all of its own, so I'll save that for another time.

Anyhow, it was another valiant attempt to tame the worst designed kitchen in the West (they should give out a prize for that) with zero budget.

Garden Part IV: The Weeding and the Growing and the Waiting

Green peppers.  Waiting for them to turn red because I like 'em that way.
So far, four honeydew melons. Waiting for them to become fragrant so we can pick them.

Eggplants!  They are delicious.  But APPARENTLY they have super intense spikes that hurt really badly when they impale your finger.  You learn something every day...

The garden about two weeks ago (I'm very behind when it comes to posting pictures I take).

Corn.  Waiting for one that's big enough to pick.

We waited a little too long to weed.  This is one day's weed harvest.

Our new outdoor furniture setup (thank you Craigslist).