Thursday, July 31, 2008

German Poetry

I considered trying to write a limerick in German, but I realized that the rhyming would be really, really hard. I can't actually think of any rhyming works of the top of my head. Although I'm told that the verb "to knit" rhymes with another verb that isn't family approved. So I'll leave that one out. Anyway, instead I decided to go with Haiku - and that was difficult enough to get the syllables to work out correctly. I think that the nice thing about Haiku in general (besides how short they are) is that they're sort of sparse. You don't have many words to get in an idea.

Anyway, here are my Haiku. They're very simple and sort of depressing. I didn't mean for them to turn out that way, but my vocabulary is very limited. The syllables do work out, though (remember to pronounce the "e" at the end of the word as a separate syllable).
Ich kann nicht sprechen
Ich habe keine Worte
Ich verstehe nicht
Okay, so in English, that's "I cannot speak. I have no words. I do not understand." You're moved by it's beauty, right?
Das ist mein Haus hier
Das ist mein Tisch und mein Bett
Ich wohne allein
And the translation is "That is my house here. That is my table and my bed. I live alone." It's sort of interesting to try to write poetry in another language. The pressure's off, because I don't feel like it needs to be good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My fascinating life

It's time for another "update of my life" blog. And do you know what that means? That's right. I'll be writing in list format. So, the things that have happened (in no particular order) are:

1) My paper is accepted to Proceedings of the Royal Society! Yay! It's been a frustrating process. But look for it soon. If I haven't given up on blogging by then I'll post a link when it comes out.

2) I went to an American Football game this weekend. Jena (the team is called the Hanfrieds - who knows why) lost. I watched it like I watch football games in the U.S. - which is to say that I set on the grass and made chains from flowers. Jenny took a picture. I'll see if I can round it up. One of the nice things about the game was that the band of the American waiter at the American bar played. Cowboy Bob and the Trailer Trash. It's really fun - should they do a U.S. tour I recommend it.

3) Jenny and I started an American style journal club. The lab journal clubs involve one person reading the paper and presenting it to everyone else. I think this is partly because it takes a long time to critically read a paper in English. But still, I think you get more out of a paper if you read it ahead of time and discuss. Maybe it's hard because there aren't clear rules about how Journal club should know how Germans like rules ;)

4) Charles, Astrid, and I cleaned out some of the culturing chambers. It made me nostalgic for Julia. We actually divided up the space for each person using the chambers. It's a beautiful thing, especially when compared the the chaos before. Good job, Charles.

5) I discovered that Charles put pictures of lab activities on the server, so I can share them with you! Here are some from the 4th of July party:

Me with a rocket. Don't I look dangerous?

This is the lab, with the exception of Alex, Georg, and Svetlana (who couldn't come) and Charles (who was taking the pictures). I chose my favorite of everyone based on 1) pictures that were easy to see and 2) pictures that capture the essence of people. So, starting at the top right we have Martin, the Carsten, then Jenny, then Matt, then Jan, Kristina, Jerrit and child, Christian, and Astrid (with Jerrit's child).

Also, here's a group picture with Kelly in it.The people not previously mentioned are Dirk (Kristina's significant other) and Mary Francis (Jenny's grandmother).

And perhaps most importantly, here's Jenny's lovely cake.

Stay tuned for pictures of Martin's diploma defense (sort of like a master's defense). There will be pictures of cake in that one too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Deutschland SuperStar

Has anyone heard that Obama was in Berlin yesterday? Katy asked me how Obamamania is here.

I was in a cafe the other day, and there was a copy of Der Spiegel left on the table. This was the cover.

I have to confess that I don't get all that much of the German news (did you realize that it's written/spoken in German?) so I can't claim that I have my finger on the pulse of Deutschland. But I do watch a lot of CNN (the international version), and this morning it was all about Obama. Scenes of his speech, Germans waving American flags - then cuts to Kennedy giving his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

The poll in Der Spiegel claimed that 76% of Germans support Obama. In our lab I think that it's 100% (although I haven't actually asked everyone). Christina asked me what I thought about it the speech - I said it sounded pretty much like one of his U.S. campaign speeches. She said the was disappointed because "he didn't really say anything." And she was frustrated that the speech seemed targeted towards Americans rather than the Germans who were listening to it.

I think that for the most part people like Obama because he's not Bush. Der Spiegel puts it like this (turns out they have an English version):
Obama is far closer to the Germans. In fact, he seems almost European: not some Texas cowboy, but a Harvard graduate from an urban environment, and not a "straight shooter" but a man who emphasizes dialogue and mutual understanding.
I'd say that's a good thing. But I'm worried that it may not play well at home. Who wants to have a beer with someone who "emphasizes dialogue and mutual understanding"? I saw that back in the U.S. that McCain and Obama are very close - I think it was something like 41% and 44% respectively.

Oh well. I'll leave you with this image of Obama's speech in Berlin.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here

Guess what! I figured out how to put a poll on my blog! So because we're watching "The Princess Bride" at movie night tonight, I've put up a relevant poll. It turns out that this film is not really a cult classic outside of the U.S. Jenny and I (okay, mostly me, but I included her so I don't seem like such a total dork) have been quoting it to prepare the other members of the group. The idea with the poll in general is that those of you who read this blog without posting comments (Aunt Diane - this means you) can participate without having to think of something to say.

Also, Jenny put up some pictures of our trip to Berlin, so if you're interested you should head over there and check it out. There are lots of other pictures, and a video of the madness following Germany's victory in the football semifinals.

Also, last night I went to glaze the pottery that I made a couple of months ago. I'll post pictures when it's finished. You'll be, um, appreciative of the effort, but perhaps not overwhelmed by my talent.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to look like a German

As promised, I'm going to take some time to point out some of the common differences dress and style between Germans and Americans. And remember, this blog entry could not have been possible without Mom's fabulous photography skills.

Okay, first: Shoes

In general I find that Germans have superior shoes to Americans. Shoes are primarily casual and designed for walking (because heels will get caught in the cobblestones) - but not giant white sneakers. I have a limited selection of shoe pictures, but let me give you a general idea of what I mean.

These are some typical German shoes. The other thing that's common (and I assume that it's limited to summer) is Teva-style sandals. This isn't a great picture, but you get the idea.

It's also important to note that all sandals can be worn with socks (possible explaining the lack of Chaco-style sandals).

Second: Hair

In the U.S.A., when people dye their hair it's often to disguise gray or to add some highlights. Either way, people dye hair to other colors that hair might have. In contrast, when Germans dye their hair, it's to colors not found in nature.

You'll notice that it's rare that the whole head is dyed. Mostly it's just patches of hair.

The other thing about hair here is prevalence of men with ponytails. Again, not a bad thing, just much more common.

And let's be honest, in Jena people are at a disadvantage, since this is one of the salons.

Moving on to the point that you've all been waiting for.

Third: The Length of Men's Pants

Probably you all know that European men wear capri pants. It's true, and let's be honest - it's a perfectly reasonable piece of attire in the summer. Here are some pictures.

And the capris seem like an excellent choice when compared to the alternative. Men in really short shorts. And, alarmingly it's mostly older men.

I'm afraid that these pictures don't fully convey the horror of this situation, but trust me. It's pretty amazing. Old men in short shorts. That's reason enough to come to Germany.

Okay, I hope that you've enjoyed your introduction to German fashion. There are a few other things that I could document, like the high frequency of scarves and the prevalence of those damn skinny jeans. but we'll leave it here for today.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Finally, a Political Blog

So I've been sitting here debating about whether to write about the coming elections in the U.S. or to write another blog about funny things that Germans do. I'm sure you're disappointed - the election won out. But don't worry. My photojournalist mother took pains to document German fashion while she was here, so for those of you who haven't seen them, I'm planning on posting them with commentary later.

In the meantime, here's my confession: I voted for Clinton in the primary. I can feel anaeromyxo's disapproval. There were several reasons for it. First was that, while she and Obama were virtually indistinguishable in their platforms, I did prefer her health care plan. Secondly, I have a hard time with abstractions and emotion, and Obama was big on both. What is "hope" or, for that matter "change?" I think it's a personal failing on my part that I can't get swept along by the emotion of a thing. And the final thing that really pushed me to Clinton's side was the intense, irrational hate that people seemed to feel for her. I mean, Citizens United Not Timid? This is not okay. It's not logical to vote for someone because she's a polarizing figure, but I was pissed.

But I like Obama, and I'm excited to get behind him now, and I'm going to take a moment to consider some recent news stories about Obama and McCain. Specifically - their take on reproductive issues. Now the problem with these issues in general is that they relate to the indecipherable world of women's anatomy - which is fine when it's displayed in "Playboy" but just discomforting when considered in the context of a woman's life. John McCain seems baffled and disgusted by these issues. Here, Bitch Ph.D. provides the YouTube clip - when asked about whether it was unfair that health insurance companies would cover Viagra but not birth contol, McCain sort of freezes. "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue" he says. In fact, he voted against legislation to require that insurance companies require contraceptives to be covered. Judith Warner (does anyone else read her columns? I've been enjoying them) has an essay in the NYT about the differences between supporting women's rights in theory and in practice.

Obama, though generally better, doesn't consider the mental health of a woman to be an adequate reason for an abortion. Because he clearly knows better than the woman in question whether she could have the child. Bitch Ph.D. has a nice essay
on the subject.

As for the current administration - obviously Bush has never been a big fan of treating women like intelligent adults who can make their own decisions about their bodies. This adminstration would like to define abortion in a way that includes many types of birth control - and prevent women's clinics from firing or refusing to hire nurses who refuse to talk about birth control. Here's the NYT article, and here's a commentary from

I'm not sure Clinton would have been better on reproductive issues (anybody have any links?), but it would perhaps be slightly less galling to be told by a woman that she doesn't think I'm capable of making a moral, intelligent decision. Then again, maybe not.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Here's to you America!

Many of you have heard this already, but the quintessential American beer (and you can interpret that however you like) is going to be sold to the Belgians. That's right, Budweiser will no longer be strictly an American operation. Here's the NPR story about it.

Anheuser-Busch is being sold to InBev, which also owns
Stella Artois and Beck's. I doubt that it will make much of a difference - I read somewhere that InBev promised to make St. Louis it's North American headquarters, but it's still sad. Have you forgotten about this, Anheuser-Busch? We don't know who you are anymore - but I guess you held out as long as you could. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way, since the NPR story links to this site. And the people of St. Louis are pissed.

Still, I think of Beck's as a German beer (and drink it frequently here, I might add), so maybe I'll be able to overlook this betrayal. Especially since I didn't drink Budweiser all that often anyway.

There were a whole bunch of stories about it on NPR. Apparently Americans are developing a more sophisticated palate - which is why Bud is in trouble. Not so flavorful. I'm sorry, Amisha. Here's the report. But, according to this particular story, Americans are making a wider variety of microbrews that Europeans. And if you're confused about all the different beer choices, here's a story about the different beers and different tastes - it's long, so only listen if you're committed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Meet Twisty

Because nothing exciting is going on in my life right now (except that I think I've caught Carsten's cold), I thought I'd point you in the direction of some of the blogs I've linked to on the side of the page. It's tricky, because some of them actually are funny ways to waste time, but others are hard-core feminist blogs. It's the latter category that I'm going to focus on this lovely Sunday morning.

Today I'd like to draw your attention to the "I Blame the Patriarchy" website. Twisty is my new favorite blogger, but her blog is sometimes hard for me to read (amazing, given the bra-burning, man-hating, fetus-eating feminist bitch that I am) because it forces me to accept aspects of the patriarchy that I've internalized. And I'd rather not face the fact that I'm willing to let myself be defined in these terms. Let's focus on two examples. One of my favorite posts is entitled "The New Virgin Menace" and in it Twisty points out that, in terms of sex "no matter what a woman does in this world, it’s the wrong fucking thing." Because no matter what, women are defined in terms of sex. Here, Twisty says it better.

That’s the thing about patriarchy. It does the defining, not you. That’s what makes it the dominant paradigm. You can abstain from sex, you can fuck your way across the universe, you can be a stone butch dyke with a utility belt, you can get your boobs amputated and your uterus ripped out, you can be sex-neutral in your own crackpot mind, you can be ugly or hawt, you can be the Democrats’ presidential nominee, you can even age out of desirability, but you will always be defined in terms of, and used according to, that which the dominant culture describes as your essence: sex.
Directly related is the concept of "femininity." This particular link relates to the marketing of a pink vodka bottle (wearing a skirt) in Russia. It's hard to choose a particular quote from this blog (so if you're interested, I recommend reading the whole thing), but I particularly enjoy this paragraph:

Behold the neat trick. First, you make women act like simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves before you grant them social approval. You call this behavior “femininity” and explain that it is their essential nature, and that any deviation from the program will be punished. Then you infantilize and ridicule the ones who get it right, and vilify and abuse the ones who get it wrong.

She goes on to discuss how marketing femininity to women has the "effect of diverting women’s income back to the male-dominated megatheocorporatocracy, while simultaneously reinforcing women’s investment in the bogus feminine identity.... Femininity — selling it, doing it, approving of it, pinking it, drinking it — is antifeminist, fool"

Initially, I read this, and was like "Yeah! Take that patriarchy!" and then I realized that I was talking to myself. I've bought the idea of femininity like everyone else. And I guess I've decided that I don't want to be vilified and abused for refusing to play I try to walk the treacherous middle ground. Just feminine enough so that I don't threaten the patriarchal powers-that-be, but not too feminine that I'm no longer taken seriously.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why the dishes are still in my sink

There are a few things that have been preventing me from posting a blog (and cleaning my apartment) over the past few days. First - fixing stuff. Second - the last few days of teaching. Third - miscellaneous things like German lessons and going to see a Rockabilly band (Al and the Black Cats - they're from Michigan, so go see them if they happen to go through Atlanta).

The speed-vac lives in my lab, and unlike the lovely electric pumps that I used to maintain, this one has a nasty oil pump. No one except Melissa is interested in this, but oil pumps are a pain in the ass. While they are powerful they are also finicky. They complain about the least little thing. For example, should someone one of the connections leak so that air is sucked into the pump all night, the pump might release smoke, which might set off alarms, which might result in the fire brigade being called into the lab in the middle of the night. Hypothetically speaking.

To prevent such an event from happening again... um, I mean, to prevent it from ever happening, Matt and I changed the system. The speed-vac also functions as a freeze-dryer, so various parts can be bypassed by turning certain valves. It looks very complicated and sciencey now - but better than that, tubes no longer have to be disconnected and plugged in somewhere else.

See! Look at all the tubes. Pretty exciting, isn't it. I don't have pictures of the oil change, but it was as messy as expected.

The other thing that was fixed was my bike. Through a series of events, I had a flat tire. Matt and Carsten were nice enough to fix it for me. The problem is that it makes me die a little inside to conform to gender stereotypes like that. I was the damsel in distress, they were the big strong men who came to my rescue. I should have taken it to the bike shop, but that means that I have to speak in German. I remind myself that it's because they're my friends not because they're men. Anyway, thanks again Matt and Carsten.

As for the class, I taught the last one today. Tomorrow is the exam. I wrote the questions for the seminar, Georg decided they were too hard, and we revised them. We'll see how the class does. I'll write more about it later (and possibly post a version of the test), but this can't be done until after the exam. I think it's extremely unlikely that anyone in the class is aware of this blog, but they're clearly very crafty.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

European Women Aren't Fulfilling Their Natural Role

I'm supposed to be writing exam questions for my class so that Georg and I can assemble it tomorrow. We had a class Friday where we practiced working problems. If I ruled the world, I'd move the desks together so that the students could work in groups. But because this is Germany, the desks are bolted to the floor and facing forward. It does not facilitate group work, or discussions, or anything other than lectures. But it still went well - they're smart and motivated and some are a little panicky about the exam. Plus, the exam period is only an hour and a half. I can't give them anything too difficult.

Anyway, I thought I'd post some links on a topic I've been thinking about recently - babies. I think it's impossible for a woman of childbearing age to acknowledge that she has ever thought of children with anything other than a shiver of horror without raising questions. So let me go ahead and answer that. I'm aware that I'm 28, and this would be a good time to consider freezing my eggs. But I don't want children. Not now, and maybe not ever. Which is an increasingly common opinion, at least among Europeans. The NY Times printed this article last weekend, and I've sort of been mulling it over ever since.

Apparently the decline population in Europe is related both to economic factors (it's too expensive to have children) and to a change in attitudes about the "natural" role of women (dear God, don't get me started). The birth rate in the U.S. is still around the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, and the authors suggest that it's mostly due to greater economic flexibility. Although perhaps it's also related to a more traditional view of the "natural" role of women. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Newsweek recently published this article. The basic premise is that people who have children are generally less happy that people who don't have children. Apparently evolutionary fitness does not equal happiness. I felt sort of vindicated by this, but people with children do report a greater sense of purpose in their lives. So, you know, that's something - especially if you care about western values.

The NY Times article points out that Europeans make up an increasingly small percentage of global population (increasingly small? does that make sense?), and suggests that the U.S. will be alone in representing western values throughout the world. The author of the article asks:
"Will ethnic Greeks and Spaniards become extinct, taking their baklava and paella to the grave with them, to be replaced by waves of Muslim immigrants who couldn’t care less about the Acropolis as a majestic representation of Western culture?"
That "waves of Muslim immigrants" thing sound suspiciously racist to me. Actually, I generally find talk about "maintaining the integrity" of a culture to be more that a little racist/xenophobic, but perhaps it's because of the melting pot (or salad bowl, either way) ideal of American society (I said ideal. I realize that in practice it doesn't happen quite that way). Although I like baklava and paella, so I'd be sad if they became extinct. But I digress.

There's some debate as well over whether decline populations are a bad thing. From an ecological perspective, having fewer people is good, right? Fewer people means less strain on the planets resources. But it's difficult to imagine economic growth in societies where a decreasing number of workers are supporting an increasing number of elderly people.

Which brings me to the next link I'd like to share with you. This is from Radiolab's program on mortality. Check on the section entitled "Fountain of Youth." The second part of this clip is a report on caring for the aging in Japan. Currently the population of elderly in Japan is 21%, and should double in 40 years. The story goes on to report about the difficulty of caring for the elderly, now that throwing them off cliffs is no longer popular. The whole thing is very sad (until you get to the part about the seal robot, where it becomes creepy).

There are clearly no simple answers to the whole declining birthrate/aging population problems. And for an individual person (especially a woman of childbearing age) it's a lot of pressure. It's a good thing that I'm an American and don't have to worry that my offspring may be the only thing standing between the great civilizations of the past and the invading Muslim hordes. But you Europeans better get busy. Unless you want to be cared for by Paro.

Friday, July 4, 2008

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters....

In honor of the 4th of July, I'm wearing red, white, and blue today. Which I find a little funny, since I would never be so overtly patriotic in the US. But I figured that only a few people would pick up on in here, and even if they do, they won't know which kind of people dress up for the 4th in the US (you know, Republicans). Besides, Martin is totally (and I think unintentionally) wearing red and blue today.

Jenny is also holding a 4th of July party tonight. The Germans keep asking what this holiday is about. I said, incorrectly, that it was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. In fact, according to wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, it is the day that the Continental Congress approved the declaration and sent it to the printer. It may have been signed that day, but the fancy one that we see in the National Archives was signed on August 2. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed about that mistake. Katy?

One of the interesting things about the 4th of July wikipedia article is that they mention that Americans celebrate the holiday by singing patriotic songs (I don't usually, but I guess some people do) and they specifically mention "This Land is Your Land." This song brought back a really vivid memory of learning the words in my 5th grade chorus class - with Ms. Randall. We learned a lot of patriotic songs there... for example "Fifty Nifty United States," and the one about the Eagle. Sarah - you know the words "he was free-e-e, when we let him be-e." I'd link to it if I had any idea what the title was. I know that we also sang "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" and "From a Distance" which had something to do with a program that the students of East Newton Elementary were putting on to honor the troops in the first Gulf War. I remember specifically that I had a Girl Scout activity that evening and couldn't participate. I also remember that Ida Beth S. gave me a hard time about it. I think she called into question my patriotism. Which, in retrospect, is probably fair given how I've turned out. honor our sometimes great and sometimes not-so-great country, let's all join together singing the chorus of Woody Guthrie's famous song:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
Good. I hope that song is stuck in your head all day too.

I've been assigned the task of putting together an All American Mix Tape for the party tonight. I'm not sure I'm qualified for this job. I need suggestions people. It can either be songs about the US, or songs that inspire an American kind of feeling. No Toby Keith, please.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Recap of the past few days

Sadly, I went with Mom to the train station this morning to see her off. I'm alone again. Well, sort of. I've got friends and stuff, but I'll be sleeping by myself. Which, as always, is both a plus and a minus. Anyway, I'm a bit sleepy, since we got up at 4 to make it to the station. Hey! You guys were probably still awake, since it was only 10 pm.

Has anyone noticed the Blog archive thingy over there to the left? I posted 17 times in April, 13 times in May, and 1o times in June. There's a trend here, but with only 3 data points I'm not sure if it's statistically significant. Okay, I'm a huge geek - with a p-value of 0.052 it just misses the threshold, but I'm sure it's because of the lack of data. Here's the graph:

I don't have enough data to determine if non-linear regression would be a better fit, but perhaps in the coming months.

Okay, we'll since Friday several things have happened. First, Germany lost. It's very sad, but even worse is that Carsten came in second place - ahead of every girl. To his credit, he didn't gloat. Even so, I felt the need to point out that the reason he beat me is that I wasn't willing to betray the German people and vote for Spain in the final game. Like, ahem, some people. So here's a picture of the group watching the game on Sunday.

It's a little blurry, but from right to left it's Matt, Francois (not sure how to do the curly thing on the c), me, Jenny, Sebastian, and Jenny's Aunt Meg. Mom was taking the picture.

The other thing I thought I'd share with you are the pictures of my freshly painted apartment. This is the original blog about it. Make sure you notice the wall color. Mom and I decided that the best choice was the light blue in the bedspread (although the green color was seriously considered). We walked up to OBI (a Home Depoesque store) and bought paint. To get it home we put it in a rolling suitcase - a technique I had developed for transporting my microwave.

Here's a picture of the test splotches:

And here are some "painting in progress" pictures:

Clearly Mom was taking the pictures. She's good at that. I keep forgetting. And now (drum roll, please) the finished apartment:

What do you think? Clearly I need to put some stuff on the wall. But in general, I think it's cheerful. Oh, and the walls that you can't see in the pictures are white. It makes it a little less overwhelming.

Now, to bring this (rather lengthy) post full circle, let me announce that I just talked to Mom and that she's made it safely to Frankfurt and is sitting at the gate, waiting to board the plane. Goodbye Mom! I miss you already. Here's a picture of us together that she likes. I obviously love her to post it, since it's much better of her than it is of me.

This is in the park in Potsdam.