Friday, June 29, 2007

In Which We Plan Our Wedding

If the girlfriend and I ever decide to take the plunge, this is how I want to do it:

Placeholder Post

Amazing how the last month left me feeling I had been away from Tucson forever, but somehow in Chicago for a little less than a week. We left the Midwest just in time to escape heat and high humidity, arriving in Arizona just in time for blistering heat and the building moisture leading up to monsoon season.

I spent the first day fighting a pounding headache and accompanying queasiness. Time to start mainlining Gatorade.

The piles of artifacts and jumbled thoughts about them not yet committed to paper are consuming my days. Two to three nights per week for the next month will be given over to working enough games to pay off the train tickets. In the abbreviated time left for reading the news, it seems the Supremes may have nixed the foundation of Brown v. Board of Education, but decided that the Guantanamo detainees have standing to challenge at least some aspects of their detentions. As always, Top!Secret G-woman has my back when I run out of interesting recommendations; the Washington Post's series on Darth Cheney is absolutely required scary reading.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stem Cells, Progenitor Cells, Ah, What's the Difference Anyway

Sick of me waxing wistful about Chicago? Very well--back to the usual grumbling this morning. What have we from two days ago? It's in here somewhere. Ah, yes:

Bush Vetoes Embryonic Stem Cell Bill.

Homer already pointed out the rattling cognitive dissonance created when W proclaims "Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical," as the carnage in Mesopotamia rolls on unabated. That on its own would be annoying enough. But the entire paragraph in the Washington Post story says this:
"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us," said Bush, who appeared on stage with Kaitlyne McNamara of Middletown, Conn., who was born with spina bifida, and is benefiting from what he called "ethical stem cell research."

Except that she's not. Unless "ethical stem cell research" means "not based on stem cells."

The 18-year-old in question was born with spina bifida and is indeed benefiting from research that has led to the quite amazing breakthrough of regenerating a small range of organs--in this case, the bladder--from existing cells in the patient's own defective organs. But they aren't stem cells:

Over the past decade, researchers began fashioning better scaffold-like platforms that hold growing cells and dissolve inside the body. The study of stem cells, which can mature into all the body's other tissues, has also supercharged progress in regenerative medicine.

The researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston used a more mature cell type known as a progenitor. They first operated on the patients to remove bad tissue that made up more than half their bladders. They fished out muscle and bladder wall cells, seeded them on cup-like bladder-shaped scaffolds of collagen, then let the cells reproduce in the lab for seven weeks. Starting with tens of thousands, they ended up with about 1.5 billion cells. The cell-bearing molds were then surgically sewn back to the remnants of the patients' original and partly working bladders, where the lab-nurtured cells kept maturing.

Supporting effective regenerative therapy research is a very good thing. Making the public aware of the possibilities created by such research and throwing tax money at it is a good thing. Hauling a person who was helped by the narrow range of applications in which the research is successful up onto the stage as a poster child is fine. But misrepresenting that work as "stem cell research" and using the person as a visual aid to prove that fetal stem cell research is unnecessary? That's deliberately deceptive and dishonest and the very definition of "unethical," Mr. President.

And what can rely on the alleged left-wing-biased-liberal media to do? Why, we can rely on them to repeat Bush's assertion uncritically. What caption went out on Yahoo with the Reuters photo below?

President Bush hugs stem cell patient Kaitlyne McNamara after speaking about embryonic stem cell research from the East Room of the White House, June 20, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Maybe I'm splitting hairs. But, to me, this is akin to saying because I managed to fix up this cut on my arm with a butterfly bandage, no sutures are allowed for a cut on anyone else, no matter how deep it is, and I'm going to call band-aids "stitches" from now on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Which We Do Not Want To Come Home

Upside to visiting Chicago: love it. Downside: never want to leave.

Wednesday was exactly the sort of perfect June day that blots out memories of the CTA breakdowns, interminable expressway construction, and perpetual March slush that tend to make people decide to move someplace else. Today the cool breezes under a warm sun drew us downtown for unapologetic tourism.

The Bean!

The formal name of this wonderful hunk of steel is "Cloud Gate," but everyone calls it the Bean. We love the Bean. Essentially a giant parabolic mirror, it squats in the middle of Millennium Park, happily reflecting both the skyline and its adoring fans in all sorts of interesting ways. People can't keep their hands off it. Everyone pats it. Small children hug it. It inspires big goofy grins.

Boltgirl and family wave parabolically from the awesome curvy surface of the Bean.

Walk underneath and look up to see yourself there and there and there and there...

More stunning architecture is on display in the Pritzker Pavilion, an amazing outdoor music venue with a lawn the size of a few football fields covered by an open lattice of curving poles. The Grant Park orchestra was rehearsing when we walked through, and the acoustics were thoroughly good.

Full orchestra nestled in the cavernous maw of Pritzker Pavilion.

View of Michigan Avenue through the latticework of the Pritzker lawn.

From Millennium Park, it's a quick hop, skip, and bus to Navy Pier. We walked the thousand yards out to the end to watch the boats go by and listen to the seagulls shriek. Then it was back to the train that pulled out of downtown faster than I would have liked, into the last few days of being in Illinois for a while.

Grand Ballroom at the end of Navy Pier, at the end of a perfect day.

Monday, June 18, 2007

NatureVideoBlogging With Boltgirl: Cicada Cinematography!

Production values are grievously lacking, but here are the little monsters in action. Turn up your volume all the way to get the vaguest idea of what it really sounds like.

Magicicada sp.

They are... everywhere.

Sunday morning I decided it was time to seek out the 17-year-olds of Cicada Brood XIII in person. I have a long and complicated relationship with these bugs, although most of it revolves around the hideously large, plump, and green annual version. As a wee child in southern Illinois I would be out on a fine summer afternoon, minding my own business, climbing a tree, when crunch, my hand would come down on a shed exoskeleton stuck on a branch. Or I would be skipping barefoot down the sidewalk and crunchsquish, would tromp on top of a dead or dying bug.

It's a history filled mostly with intense heebie-jeebies.

I know cicadas are utterly harmless. I appreciate their interesting life cycle. I chuckle at the consternation hordes of them are able to produce in rational human beings, myself included. None of that stopped me from even beginning to resent the catalpa trees in my hometown since they seemed to be a particular favorite congregating place for the little bastards.

Anyway. Sunday afternoon we were off to the Morton Arboretum in the western suburbs, since we heard the cicadas were there in pretty impressive numbers. "Pretty impressive" may be accurate if it can be construed to mean "holy fucking shit" times about a million. Cicadas flying through the air. Cicadas buzzing around trees like bees around the snowcone booth at the county fair.

The visuals were nice. But the audio portion of the presentation was mind-blowing. We could hear them through closed car windows driving the city streets on our way to the arboretum, at least when the car slowed down. Actually on the grounds, the sound was much louder. And then we parked to hike into the woods a bit, where it was louder still, growing louder and louder the deeper into the trees we walked. Maybe a quarter of a mile in the sound was absolutely punishing on the ears, a steady pulsing background sound topped with a second song that rose and fell as hundreds of thousands of bugs vibrated their abdominal membranes in unison. I have never experienced anything like it.

Back at the arboretum visitor center, I grabbed a "Cicada 2007" t-shirt and took it to the nice older lady at the cash register. As I reached down into my bag to get my wallet, I noticed a cicada on my shirt, crawling on my right boob, and took great pride in not yelling or flapping around. I calmly flicked the bug off, not viciously, I didn't think, just, uh, forcefully enough for it to land about ten feet away. The old lady sighed sadly, "Ohhh..." I thought about apologizing, but did I mention it was on my boob? So I just shrugged and handed her my debit card, you know, the one with my undeniably female first and middle names printed on it, and she recovered and finished the transaction, smiled, handed me my stuff, and said, "Have a nice day, sir."


Despite the gender confusion, Morton Arboretum is highly recommended, with 1,700 acres of trees and plants from different parts of the world, lovely loop roads to drive, and maybe three times that amount of trails to walk through the woods and around lakes. There is a children's garden and a nifty hedge/evergreen maze to get lost in, and the details of all of it are very nicely done.

Friday, June 15, 2007

40 Years of Loving v. Virginia

This is a few days late; the actual Loving anniversary is June 12. It boggles my mind that interracial marriage was illegal in many states right up to two months before I was born. And that still, a couple of days ago, Massachusetts had to fend off a seventeenth attempt at a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage there. Mildred Loving's powerful statement in its entirety is here.

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to
marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

Wednesday marked the great pilgrimage to beloved landmarks--both of my former life in Chicago and the boy's fond mental images of the place. First, a stop for sustenance at Buffalo Joe's in Evanston.

Spicy wings.

The wings are perfection. Wash 'em down with waffle-cut fries and forget about the drink since it's impossible to pick up your cup due to the sauce slopped all over your fingers--the boy used his forearms--and spend the rest of the day catching sweet whiffs of hot, buttery, vinegary, peppery heaven wafting up from your hands, no matter how much soap you use afterwards.

Then I dragged the boy on a brief detour down memory lane, that being the two blocks down Sherman Avenue to Willard Residential College at Northwestern University, where I spent four beer-and-cards-soaked years. The hall was named after Frances Willard, dour founder of the Christian Women's Temperance Union.

Boltgirl and the stern, sober, disappointed glare of Frances Willard.

Thence to Wrigleyville and the color and pageantry of interleague play. Cubs flags, fans, paraphernalia, and tourists everywhere. How strange to be on the tourist side of things after so many years of being one of the knuckleheads who lined up three hours before gametime to get into the bleachers. Of course, at that time the bleachers were five bucks a pop; face value now for premium dates is $35, and the scalpers working the Clark and Addison intersection were getting $60 per bleacher ticket. Whatever. I parked my pride and pulled out my camera like the rest of the yahoos from Iowa and other suburbs.

Cubs-Sox lucha libre masks in a tourist-free comics shop.

Packed rooftops overlooking the right field bleachers.

If you click on the photo to see the large version, you'll notice two cryptic signs on the rooftop to the left of the Miller Lite billboard: Eamus Catulii and ACO036198. The numbers are a reference to the number of years since the last division title (03), last NL championship (61), and last World Series title (98). Given that, I expected "eamus catulii" to be Latin for "we're out of patience" or "how can any team suck so bad for so long," but it actually means "let's go Cubs."

We met up with my two best friends from high school (thanks for the tickets!) and settled into the best seats I've had at Wrigley in a long while, terrace box on the third base line. The six-dollar beers went down smoothly, the dogs had just the right snap, and we had a nice little reunion on Ernie Banks Day at the ballpark. In the end, the Cubs managed to pull out a one-run victory (winning a one-run game is a major miracle this season), with a strong performance from starting pitcher Sean Marshall and a closeout by Ryan Dempster, who actually looked like a major-league closer rather than somebody's drunk brother-in-law, and we happily shuffled out of the park with 40,000 other relieved people singing "Go Cubs Go" in full throat.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


View from the Quincy Street El station.

Trains are wonderful things when they run on time. Despite being strapped for cash and perpetually on the edge of service cutbacks and fare hikes, the Regional Transportation Authority-Chicago Transit Authority tag team delivered me where I wanted to go this morning with cumulative delays totaling maybe 45 seconds. I could set my watch by the Metra train into the city, as always, and even though the Brown and Red Line tracks are under construction, the longest wait I had on a platform was about seven minutes. And if I had gone up the stairs a little faster, I would have caught the first train and not had to wait at all.

I am torn about the automated system on the CTA trains, which removed conductors from their jobs and put everything on the shoulders of the motormen. Job loss bad. Timely audible announcements good.

The object of today's solo quest was Women and Children First, a stalwart among the dwindling number of woman-owned independent bookstores in the country. Linda, one of the owners, happily showed me around and recommended several books (her list here). I ended up buying Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (autographed copy!), set in a traveling circus in the 1930s, which Linda gushed about. The book, not the circus.

Women and Children First, on Clark Street north of Foster.

Andersonville was a nice neighborhood for walking, its side streets full of big leafy trees and nice to jaw-dropping brownstones.

Brownstone, jaw-dropping variety.

And by 12:30 the neighborhood was fairly swarming with dyke couples shuttling among the Swedish bakeries, Turkish restaurants, dog delis, and sidewalk cafes. I was accosted by a well-meaning young HRC rep clutching a binder. I declined to give her any money, but thanked her for her work.

Apparently even the Baptists like us in Andersonville.

The last side trip before the return El hop back downtown and Metra out to sunny DuPage was Early to Bed, a renowned woman-owned sex toy shop. It was much smaller than I expected, far more boutique than superstore (or even Walgreen's). "I Touch Myself" was playing on the stereo when I walked in--a nice, if inadvertent touch--and the single girl behind the counter was friendly without being pushy. I guess a sex toy shop is about the last place I want a hovering sales clerk, so it worked out well for both of us. I got to see (and heft, waggle, and cautiously poke) many things I had never before seen in the flesh. It was an impressive selection. I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Celebrating the Return to Pentium M Capabilities

And to think all it took was 20 minutes on the phone with Dell tech support. The pleasant and very patient fellow sitting somewhere in India walked me through a few different attempts to get a workable wireless network key, and at the end asked me to stay on the line to take a survey telling his corporate masters how well he performed for me. "Thank you for taking the survey," he said, "and when they ask, my name is Earl." *blink blink* Okay. Thank you, Earl.

Forthwith, photos.

Old Motel Du Beau sign catching the rising sun above the Flagstaff station.

British tourists conferring in the Amtrak lounge car.

We spent most of the train ride here in the lounge car, which is graced with comfortable seats, tables, and windows that wrap up onto the ceiling. Just down the stairs is a snack bar staffed by Shirley, who cheerfully dishes out the coffee and doesn't skip a beat when you order a Heineken at six in the morning, asking only if you'd like a little bucket of ice for your bottle.

Surprisingly good photo opportunity from the lounge car, near the New Mexico-Colorado border.

Our fellow passengers were good-natured and friendly until the last few hours of the trip, when we ran into a couple that was still very friendly despite being in the process of ripping each others' throats out.

Bill: Wake up.
Rose: (sprawled in an apparent drunken stupor)
Bill: Wake up. I bought you a hot dog.
Rose: (silently re-wrapping hot dog and slamming it onto Bill's fold-out tray table)
Bill: That's ten dollars worth of food there.
Bill: There you go. You dishonor me by not eating this hot dog and Pepsi. It cost me ten dollars.
Bill: I told you if you raise your voice to me we're through. Now you're raising your voice to me on a train. You are not coming home with me.
Bill: I am not drunk. I only had four shots this morning. You're the one who's drunk.
Bill: ( deeply wounded, sniffling). You wake up mean, Rose. You wake up mean and then have to let everyone on this train know it. I only bought you a hot dog and now you raise your voice.

Yeah, round about this point we went back to the lounge car. When we returned to our seats a couple of hours later, Rose and Bill were giggling and affectionate, surrounded by hot dog wrappers.

Bill: Hey, you see those big wind turbines out there? Isn't that cool?
My son: Uh, yeah.

Why Soccer Players Kick Ass

I ran across this story a couple of weeks ago, I think on Feministing, about three players on the de Anza College women's soccer team rescuing a 17-year-old girl who was being gang-raped by baseball players at an off-campus party. I had read that the boys claimed it was consensual (despite the girl being intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness) and that the DA didn't think she had enough evidence to get a conviction, so she declined to prosecute. It all sucked, but that was all I heard until the girlfriend sent me more from

The three broke in, grabbed the girl and carried her out. They took her to the hospital, notified authorities and volunteered to testify in any court proceedings. What more could you ask?

To keep their mouths shut. To butt out. To mind their own business.

That's the message the soccer players got from the men accused in the case.

"People I didn't even know were coming up to me and saying, 'Stop your lying. Shut your f -- mouth,' " Chief Elk said in an interview last week. "We'd be walking around, and people would actually come up and get in our face."

Maybe the DA is skittish after the Duke lacrosse fiasco, or maybe--since she is a woman with a record of aggressively prosecuting sexual assaults--it's just phenomenally bad luck that in the course of focusing on getting the comatose girl out of the room, the soccer players failed to get a clear look at the face of the guy they pulled off her. But the usual denials and claims by the boys in the room and their attorney (she wanted it, she consented, no crime here) twist in the wind of the facts.

"She had vomit dribbling down her face," Chief Elk has said. "We had to scoop vomit out of her mouth and lift her up."

(Cahners says tests proved that the vomit was not the victim's. But Grolle says "that's even worse,'' meaning that someone else's vomit was in the girl's mouth.)

"She was literally lifeless," Grolle says. "Her eyes were completely shut. On the ride to the hospital, I had to keep my hand under her nose to make sure she was breathing."

This, remember, is the girl who is supposed to have "consented" to sex.

An underage girl is so drunk she's comatose. And somebody pukes in her mouth. And a bunch of guys stand around and watch another one fuck her while she's in this condition. And the subjects of derision and threats are the women who put a stop to it?

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Procedure for riding in the truck with my uncle:

1. Get in.
2. Hang on.
3. Re-establish a close personal relationship with the protective deity of your choice.

Because uncle's truck apparently has two modes of operation:

1. Floor it.
2. Slam on brakes.

I like to think I'm a reasonably cautious driver. I mean, whatever the equivalent of "prude" is for driving, well, I'm not that, far from it. Maybe I've just been in Tucson too long, but I find myself thinking that, well, 35 mph in the Costco parking lot is just a bit excessive.

In other news, if there is a significant gay population in DuPage County, it hides itself well. In six days I have seen exactly one gay guy (working at Costco) and exactly zero lesbians. I didn't realize how diverse Tucson is, or at least the parts of the city I frequent, and after a week of not being in the comfortable company of people like me, I guess I'm getting a little twitchy. I go into the city a few days next week, so the ratio should change a little. And me totally out of shape. What can I say?

Morning Dialogue

Hey, my stomach said, poking me from inside the abdominal wall. Shhh, I whispered. Hey, it said more forcefully, somehow managing to wiggle its fingers through a layer of fat to grab my ribs and shake them like a bad women-in-prison movie, I'm hungry. Shush, I said. Snack on the re-emergent fat roll if you're peckish. And I continued on my walk.

This morning was hideously humid, the harbinger of a severe storm system winging in across the northern plains and currently dumping on the Quad Cities on the Iowa-Illinois border. I was attempting some sort of cardio activity to jump-start the morning since the kid was still snoring and showing no signs of wanting to get up to play basketball, so I traipsed along the side of roads that were busier than I'd hoped and dodged cars.

There were a few intriguing finds, including four CDs (two mix CDs, one Nickelback, one band I'd never heard of) and two wireless phones, home handset versions. Not sure what they were doing languishing in the grass alongside Klein Road. Trudging through the dew-damp grass, I remembered how we always knew when someone had new shoes when I was in elementary school, back in the days when it seemed everyone wore blue canvas sneakers with white rubber toe caps. Within a couple of days' use, the toe caps were irrevocably grass stained. It felt funny to be worrying about my new Pumas in this alien (for them) environment.

Stomach lost in the end. I came home and had toast. Hah! Take that, stomach!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In Which We Are Stymied By Ancient Technology

In this case, it's my aunt's ten-year-old laptop that's holding me back. I did manage to find the USB port hidden on the back, but it needs drivers to make my nifty little Mimobot work, and lord knows I've crashed this poor machine more times in the past four days than I care to remember, so downloading drivers probably isn't an option.

So no pictures for now. What are those other things I use here from time to time... oh, yes, words.

Yesterday morning as I sat praying that the laptop would decide to come back to life before anyone noticed I'd killed it, I watched a male cardinal and his fledgling get harrassed to distraction by a cowbird fledgling. Initially it was just the pair of cardinals, the parent on the feeder and the fledgling on the ground in full feed me squawk and flutter. The parent flew down and back up several times, filling its offspring's gaping mouth, until the cowbird showed up and started its own food demands. Overwhelmed by the show, the cardinal ignored its own fledgling, making a couple of trips to feed the cowbird until the young cardinal rushed it and momentarily drove it off. 'Ray for cardinal Jr.

Cowbirds are a parasitic species that lay their eggs in other birds' nests. They typically have a shorter brood time than other birds, gaining their chicks an extra few days to build up strength to either kick the other eggs/hatchlings out of the nest or out-compete them for food. The cowbird food-demanding display is loud and aggressive. Couple this with the tendency of adult birds to respond to an open squawking beak rather than the specific type of bird it's attached to, and you get cowbirds eliminating their competition in the nest and generally wreaking havoc on local songbird populations. Watching the young cardinal drive the cowbird off before its befuddled parent could feed the damn thing even more was gratifying.

The rain that relented for most of the day has returned, bringing with it a cool breeze sweeping a steel sky that looks and feels more like October than June. The redbud tree's flat planes of leaves dip momentarily with each raindrop while the ferns shudder beneath them. The oaks remain unperturbed. Birds and chipmunks and squirrels are hidden away now as the rain sends ring after ring expanding on the pond. The desert is very far away now as I am nestled in the green.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago, Day One

Well, it' s more like My Uncle's Sweet Home DuPage County 36 Miles From The Loop, but you get the idea. After a 32-hour train ride (only an hour late! yay Amtrak!) that entailed only a smidgen of drama, I'm happily wrapped up in the tiny woods surrounding my uncle's house, listening to the rain, watching the clouds, drinking in the complete green of the place. The 200-year-old oak trees shade a thick understory of trillium, False Solomon's Seal, True Solomon's seal, nightshade, phlox, wild ginger, Joe Pye weed, jewelweed, and poison ivy. Chipmunks and squirrels hop across the yard and marvel at the single intrepid squirrel who's managed to foil the multiple barriers on the pole to hang onto the birdfeeder and pilfer all the sunflower seeds he can stuff into his cheeks. Of course, it takes him two or three tries to flip up over the barrier, so most of the time he's spiked back to the ground with a galvanized aluminum clang. The other squirrels don't laugh too loud, though, because this guy at least gets to eat, and he ain't sharing.

Pictures and hot squirrel action video may be posted later if I figure out how to transfer them to my aunt's ancient laptop. Does this thing have a USB port? I'm not sure. Life is good.