Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall Back

It's still a week away in the U.S., but here in Germany we set our clocks back an hour this weekend. I was in Goettingen, visiting Ko. Actually, neither of us realized it until almost time to get my train on Sunday. Fortunately, Ko discovered the time change, and we decided to go for a walk around the fields north of Goettingen.

I think we made the right choice about what to do with our extra hour. The weather was sunny (!), and not too cold, the leaves are changing colors, and the light had that specific quality that sunlight has in the fall - warm and sort of golden. Sadly, I didn't bring my camera with me, so you'll just have to believe me.

That's sort of what this post is about. What are you going to do with your extra hour? Sleep? Read? Get some extra work done? People always want more time, and once a year we get a little bit of it. Enjoy!


Here's Charles suggestion about what to do with the extra hour:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I heart Lorrie Moore

I finished Lorrie Moore's new novel, "A Gate at the Stairs" this morning. I usually don't write book reviews, because I can hardly ever think of anything to say except "it was good." Sometimes I just recount sections of the book, like "remember that part where she goes through the stones and back in time? That was awesome."

But this book is in my head, and the other option is blogging about the cats (who, by the way, managed to get the drawer so far out that it fell onto the floor while I was talking to Ko last night. Is this normal for cats?). Anyway, this isn't so much a book review as it is a love letter to Lorrie Moore (if you find this blog somehow, Ms. Moore - I love you).

Here's the thing about reading something Moore writes: It makes me want to write fiction at the same time it makes me dispair that I'll never be able to write fiction like her. I've been working on job applications this weekend, writing sentances like "The opportunity to teach at your institution would be a great opportunity," so I think I'm probably right to dispair. When I was a senior in college, Katy had a book of short stories that included "You're Ugly, Too." She was reading it and laughing, so eventually she had to read it out loud so that I could be in on the joke too. It was the first thing I'd ever read of Moore, and Katy and I spent the rest of the year making obscure references to that story (e.g., "Heidi wouldn't complain") that no one else understood.

Since that time I've been reading everything that she's written. I suppose it doesn't hurt that she writes a lot about isolated women in academic settings. But because her writing is so funny I find it a delight rather than being a depressing reminder of my own life. And, oh, the wordplay. I bet she can work a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle with no trouble.

The main character in this novel is who I like to think I was in college, except that I doubt I was either as self-aware or as funny as Tassie. I'm going to miss her - I can literally say that when I read this book I both laughed and cried. Outloud. Even though I was alone in my apartment. Well, I guess the cats were there too, but they're not people. I haven't lived the spinster life long enough to get confused on that point.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

La Casa de los Gatos

While Jenny is hanging around in Florida, I'm keeping her cats. Due to my sister's allergies (and my mother's belief that animals are supposed to live outside), I've never lived with cats before. There are two of them, and yet it seems like there are so many more. At first they would disappear behind the bed for long stretches of time, causing me to believe that they'd jumped off the balcony, but now they're more comfortable with me and they rarely hide anymore. Here's a picture of Ebony in a drawer.

She likes it there. Also, at first I tied the doors to my wardrobe closed so that she couldn't get in, but she spent all night tugging at the door, so now I've given up and she sleeps on my sweaters. Also, I found cat hair on my orange this morning (sort of alarming, because I had just peeled the orange - either it was contaminated really quickly or somehow they managed to get hair inside the orange peel).

I have a picture of the other cat, Mattie, which I'll post soon. She's harder to catch, since she doesn't often hold still for a picture.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

Okay, I suck. It's been more than a week since I've posted a blog. But really, my constant confusion over what I should do with my life has prevented me from coming up with hilarious stories about the zany things that Germans do. Martin is in the U.S. now, so those of you in New York (so, no one) or Florida (Jenny) have recently seen some wacky German antics.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for more, but in the meantime, enjoy this year's igNobel prizes. Drumroll please....

VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.

PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don't tip over.

LITERATURE PRIZE: Ireland's police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means "Driving License".

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.

MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What I think: Roman Polanski

I think that everyone else might be sort of over this story, but I've been thinking a lot this week about Roman Polanski. Mr. Polanski is a famous and talented filmmaker. He has a tragic personal story - his parents were killed in the Holocaust and his pregnant wife was murdered.

Everyone knows by now that he was arrested this week in Switzerland for "having sex" with a 13 year old girl 30 years ago. After pleading guilty he fled the country and has lived in France ever since.

Many people, including a lot of famous Hollywood ones think that this is a politically motivated arrest - ridiculous after so many years. CNN keeps playing a clip of a French guy claiming that by asking Switzerland to arrest Polanski we're seeing the "scary America."

I managed to work myself up into an outrage about this case earlier. People: He. Raped. A. Child. He brought a 13 year old girl to his house, took naked pictures of her, gave her alcohol and drugs, and even after she repeatedly said no and asked if she could go home, raped her. What made me much, much angrier was reading this child's testimony before the grand jury. I'll spare you the sordid details, but if you're interested, you can find it here. The fact that he's famous, the fact that his life hasn't been easy, and even the fact that it took place a long time ago shouldn't matter here.

Where does France get off criticizing the U.S. (and Switzerland) for trying to bring this man to justice? Do they have a "oh, you Americans and your prudish sexual hang-ups" perspective on the situation? Is raping children okay in France? Maybe it's just okay for famous people? Rape is a crime. A very serious crime. And if you plead guilty to a crime, you should be punished for it. The fact that it happened 30 plus years ago is irrelevant. In fact, it's only because the man ran away from his punishment (a fact that shouldn't get him off any easier) that the situation hasn't been dealt with by now.

So, my official opinion then: Raping children is wrong. So is running away after you're caught. Hollywood, France, and anyone else who thinks that the U.S. is overreacting to case must disagree with me, because it's hard for me to figure out why you'd support Polanski otherwise.