Saturday, April 30, 2011

Overheard on the playground

10 year old: "Hey, lets watch 'The Barber of Seville'! "
8 year old: "YEAH! That's soooo funny!"

Must be children of professors of some branch of the liberal arts. Is this the moral equivalent of my (MDPhD) friend's 5 year old talking coherently about gravity? Or is there some pop culture reference I'm missing here?

Friday, April 29, 2011


This is a brilliant pro-scientific method/ anti-hippy woo rant I encountered a while ago. I just found out that it has been set to an animated movie. The lyrics are listed separately below the embedded movie.

Tim Minchin

Inner North London, top floor flat
All white walls, white carpet, white cat,
Rice Paper partitions
Modern art and ambition
The host’s a physician,
Lovely bloke, has his own practice
His girlfriend’s an actress
An old mate from home
And they’re always great fun.
So to dinner we’ve come.

The 5th guest is an unknown,
The hosts have just thrown
Us together for a favour
because this girl’s just arrived from Australia
And has moved to North London
And she’s the sister of someone
Or has some connection.

As we make introductions
I’m struck by her beauty
She’s irrefutably fair
With dark eyes and dark hair
But as she sits
I admit I’m a little bit wary
because I notice the tip of the wing of a fairy
Tattooed on that popular area
Just above the derrière
And when she says “I’m Sagittarien”
I confess a pigeonhole starts to form
And is immediately filled with pigeon
When she says her name is Storm.

Chatter is initially bright and light hearted
But it’s not long before Storm gets started:
“You can’t know anything,
Knowledge is merely opinion”
She opines, over her Cabernet Sauvignon
Vis a vis
Some unhippily
Empirical comment by me

“Not a good start” I think
We’re only on pre-dinner drinks
And across the room, my wife
Widens her eyes
Silently begs me, Be Nice
A matrimonial warning
Not worth ignoring
So I resist the urge to ask Storm
Whether knowledge is so loose-weave
Of a morning
When deciding whether to leave
Her apartment by the front door
Or a window on the second floor.

The food is delicious and Storm,
Whilst avoiding all meat
Happily sits and eats
While the good doctor, slightly pissedly
Holds court on some anachronistic aspect of medical history
When Storm suddenly she insists
“But the human body is a mystery!
Science just falls in a hole
When it tries to explain the the nature of the soul.”

My hostess throws me a glance
She, like my wife, knows there’s a chance
That I’ll be off on one of my rants
But my lips are sealed.
I just want to enjoy my meal
And although Storm is starting to get my goat
I have no intention of rocking the boat,
Although it’s becoming a bit of a wrestle
Because -- like her meteorological namesake -
Storm has no such concerns for our vessel:

“Pharmaceutical companies are the enemy
They promote drug dependency
At the cost of the natural remedies
That are all our bodies need
They are immoral and driven by greed.
Why take drugs
When herbs can solve it?
Why use chemicals
When homeopathic solvents
Can resolve it?
It’s time we all return-to-live
With natural medical alternatives.”

And try as hard as I like,
A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That’s been proved to work?

“So you don’t believe
In ANY Natural remedies?”

“On the contrary actually:
Before we came to tea,
I took a natural remedy
Derived from the bark of a willow tree
A painkiller that’s virtually side-effect free
It’s got a weird name,
Darling, what was it again?
Which I paid about a buck for
Down at my local drugstore.

The debate briefly abates
As our hosts collects plates
but as they return with desserts
Storm pertly asserts,

“Shakespeare said it first:
There are more things in heaven and earth
Than exist in your philosophy…
Science is just how we’re trained to look at reality,
It can’t explain love or spirituality.
How does science explain psychics?
Auras; the afterlife; the power of prayer?”

I’m becoming aware
That I’m staring,
I’m like a rabbit suddenly trapped
In the blinding headlights of vacuous crap.
Maybe it’s the Hamlet she just misquothed
Or the eighth glass of wine I just quaffed
But my diplomacy dike groans
And the arsehole held back by its stones
Can be held back no more:

“Look , Storm, I don’t mean to bore you
But there’s no such thing as an aura!
Reading Auras is like reading minds
Or star-signs or tea-leaves or meridian lines
These people aren’t plying a skill,
They are either lying or mentally ill.
Same goes for those who claim to hear God’s demands
And Spiritual healers who think they have magic hands.

By the way,
Why is it OK
For people to pretend they can talk to the dead?
Is it not totally fucked in the head
Lying to some crying woman whose child has died
And telling her you’re in touch with the other side?
That’s just fundamentally sick
Do we need to clarify that there’s no such thing as a psychic?
What, are we fucking 2?
Do we actually think that Horton Heard a Who?
Do we still think that Santa brings us gifts?
That Michael Jackson hasn’t had facelifts?
Are we still so stunned by circus tricks
That we think that the dead would
Wanna talk to pricks
Like John Edwards?

Storm to her credit despite my derision
Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision
Like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition

“You’re so sure of your position
But you’re just closed-minded
I think you’ll find
Your faith in Science and Tests
Is just as blind
As the faith of any fundamentalist”

“Hm that’s a good point, let me think for a bit
Oh wait, my mistake, it’s absolute bullshit.
Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

You show me that it works and how it works
And when I’ve recovered from the shock
I will take a compass and carve Fancy That on the side of my cock.”

Everyones just staring at me now,
But I’m pretty pissed and I’ve dug this far down,
So I figure, in for penny, in for a pound:

“Life is full of mysteries, yeah
But there are answers out there
And they won’t be found
By people sitting around
Looking serious
And saying isn’t life mysterious?
Let’s sit here and hope
Let’s call up the fucking Pope
Let’s go watch Oprah
Interview Deepak Chopra

If you’re going to watch tele, you should watch Scooby Doo.
That show was so cool
because every time there’s a church with a ghoul
Or a ghost in a school
They looked beneath the mask and what was inside?
The fucking janitor or the dude who runs the waterslide.
Throughout history
Every mystery
EVER solved has turned out to be
Not Magic.

Does the idea that there might be truth
Frighten you?
Does the idea that one afternoon
On Wiki-fucking-pedia might enlighten you
Frighten you?
Does the notion that there may not be a supernatural
So blow your hippy noodle
That you would rather just stand in the fog
Of your inability to Google?

Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.
Or what about Satchmo?!
I see trees of Green,
Red roses too,
And fine, if you wish to
Glorify Krishna and Vishnu
In a post-colonial, condescending
Bottled-up and labeled kind of way
That’s ok.
But here’s what gives me a hard-on:
I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant lump of carbon.
I have one life, and it is short
And unimportant…
But thanks to recent scientific advances
I get to live twice as long as my great great great great uncles and auntses.
Twice as long to live this life of mine
Twice as long to love this wife of mine
Twice as many years of friends and wine
Of sharing curries and getting shitty
With good-looking hippies
With fairies on their spines
And butterflies on their titties.

And if perchance I have offended
Think but this and all is mended:
We’d as well be 10 minutes back in time,
For all the chance you’ll change your mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Instead of just ranting about the US budget

Okay, I've written my lecture notes for the day, and I have some time before class. Instead of being depressed about the news, here are a few useful links, both US budget related, I guess.

An online petition to tax oil companies.

A resolution at for the US conference of Mayors to curb war spending, and a link to contact your own mayor.

On the scarcity of basements in Louisiana

I grew up on the outskirts of tornado country, so for me, basements mean safety, especially in summer time. For a long time after I moved away from home, visiting someplace without a basement put me on edge. For instance, one summer I was visiting a girlfriend's parent's had a ranch house in Louisiana, without a basement. I expressed my discomfort, she'd heard my stories of practice and real tornado alarms in school. She then pointed out that I wasn't in tornado country, and could rest easy.

178 dead in Alabama. It's not tornado country. Please, I just want to hear someone say that this isn't climate change, and that this is God's punishment for gays in America.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The academic rythm

On the first calendar day that I wear a summer dress,
I can taste the pleasure.
Tulips, daffodils, the rains letting up,
the light green leaves finally in a full canopy,
birdsong replaces my radio.
Its all about freedom:
the end of finals
(oh wait, I'm done with that).
The memories of heat and beaches and hiking trips.
The early early mornings,
the sunsets that seem an eternity away.
Shorts and lemonade.
As a friend said
"Spring is when the beautiful people come out."

Actually, it took me a long time to come to terms with the reality that the fact that I don't have classes doesn't actually mean that I have as much time as I'd like to do all the things I love doing during the warm weather... If I have come to terms with it fully. But now I have a window in my office that OPENS. And damn is it a gorgeous day outside.

Monday, April 25, 2011


There's a lot of interesting stuff being posted on #scimom recently, a lot inspired by Jade's recent post. I'm a mother and a scientist, and I find the tensions very frustrating. And I may write more on that later. Right now, I want to focus on some pleasant fantasies about the future, most aptly drawn by Randall Munroe.

Friday, April 22, 2011

American renga and race

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about a new poetry book Crossing State Lines: An American Renga. A renga is a collaborative style of oral poetry from the ancient far east. Think poetry duals during Renaissance Europe. Or, and this is my point, rap duals in modern day America.

My problem is partially with the book title "American Renga," but I see a point in that... A lot of the poets in this book are poet laureats from different states from across the country। My larger problem is with the spin given on this story, the lack of discussion of other collaborative poetry that occurs on a regular basis in this country. Linked poetry that circulates in the daily lives of people who may not be the target audience of NPR's listenership.

If this story was done because April is poetry month, as it claims, then does there not need to be a discussion of the context of the poetic form, or for the modern evolution of the form that has brought this project about? (The story was more than 7 minutes long, after all.)

Maybe I should stop listening to NPR.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

To anonymous @4/15/2011 10:41:00 AM

I'm not getting work done today anyway. Something I read in the comments late last night has been bothering me all day today. I wish I could reach out to the poster and tell him that there is a time and a place, and that his complaints (or what I think is _actually_ underlying his complaints) is legitimate, but that it belonged in a different forum. Just because he faces discrimination doesn't mean that other groups that also face discrimination are to blame. That there are other places that will support him through his pain. But I chose not to post on the stream last night because the angry comment stream had slowed down by the time I noticed it, and I didn't want to accidentally restart anything. So here's my response.

Easy yar,
There's hate enough everywhere
To start bashing and thrashing and calling the shots
Cause you didn't get the job even though your hot.
You call discrimination
Demand an explanation
from the feminazis that keep you down
because you KNOW we rule the town
in academia

We have our equal rights bill,
We're on the committees to kill
the aspirations of brilliant PHD's like you.
Too true. It must be true.
What else could there be as an explanation
For the difficulties you, and my father
and so many other immigrants find on these shores
of opportunity and luxury and big box stores?
Have I watched my father,
a partition refugee falter?
Be passed by for promotion and honor and raise
by younger, whiter more aggressive men more eager to claim praise
for not only their own work but his?
Truly, at a university? What is this?

The halls of academe are not a meritocracy,
as the halls of DC aren't strictly a democracy,
But it's close. No it's not.
But it's better than a lot
of other options. Otherwise, why are we all here?
I don't mean to appear
to be making fun of your anger
But if we replaced
words gender with those race, or religion
You'd be in the cross-hairs of a schism
that is tearing this country or yours apart.
Maybe that doesn't matter to you, that in your heart
you believe that any attempt at equal opportunity
deserves an eternity
of criticism.

I hope that you don't.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Job Panic

I just got two papers into draft form for circulation in the last 5 weeks. I should be elated. I thought I would be... and I was for 48 hours, I think.

Now I'm just sitting around panicking about the fact that my partner has a TT offer in the UK starting next year, which means that I need to get something together so that I can get a similar offer near by. This isn't imposter syndrome attacking me, making me worry that I'm not good enough to get a job in a large metro area. This is the constant grind of evaluations and searches for letter writers, and the reality of having a barely-doable-if-I-only-have-commuting-and-research-in-my-life two + epsilon body problem wearing on me.

But this is not a place where I'm allowed to mope. I chose this job because I love it enough to put up with this. And when I no longer do, I certainly am not unemployable with a PhD.

There's a song by Ralph Mitchell that we had to sing in my junior high choir. Nachiketa has adopted the spirit of its lyrics, and if I could find a link that didn't involve a pirated download, I'd link it. I've been listening to the latter a bit recently. The former's lyrics are a bit heavy handed for my purposes, but they are the only ones in English, so I include the first few verses below.

Streets of London

Have you seen the old man
In the closed down market
Kicking up the papers,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news

Chorus: So how can you tell me you're lonely,
and say for you that the sun don't shine,
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind.

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags
She's no time for talking
she just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Campus Queer Training

The center for diversity at my current university had a training for building safe zone's for the queer community on campus. It was open to all faculty and staff. I must say, it was one of the least diverse events I have ever gone to.

Since I am not in a lab science, I am considered a faculty at this university, even though I am a post doc. However, actually being a post doc, I am spared the endless boredom of faculty meetings and committees. I went to this out of my (possibly naive) desire to be the type of professor I wish I had (and in some cases, did have) as an undergrad.

I was the only "faculty" present. All but one of the rest were staff. The exception was a graduate student. I don't know how he got onto the list. As a corollary to "the rest were staff," (at least at this university) there were 2 males in the entire room. And since I'm tallying diversity, let me also add that there were only 2 non-white faces in the room. LGBT being a relatively invisible minority, I don't actually know how many were present at the training, at least one other.

The target audience for the training, I think, said a lot about the actual level of awareness about LGBT issues on campus. Lots of discussion about what LGBT is, and the difference between alternate sexuality, and alternate gender identity. And lots of discussion of labeling, and what different labels mean.

Maybe this is an indication that I spend too much time in my isolated slice of society, but I would have thought, that since I'm not in a small town in the middle of nowhere, that much of this discussion would be unnecessary. That with several states having same sex marriage, and more having civil unions, this need to explain the definition of lesbian is a relic of past decades. On the other hand, given my university's record on other issues of diversity, maybe it is, and maybe its still necessary here.

I'm not saying that the training was bad. It forced me to think about my coming out process, and the others that I have observed, and what the different needs of students may be. It also gave me a list (pitifully small) of places and resources for students, if ever the need arose. (This was one of the main goals of attending).

I guess my question is, how common is it for faculty to not attend voluntary diversity trainings such as this one. And is this a glimpse into my future for when I have a more permanent academic home, and become the token member of diversity committees?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Found this the other day

I thought I'd leave it for a day when I didn't have much to say. I think that's today. Spending half my week near where I grew up makes this all the more potent for me. Enjoy!

Trifid Nebula


(I dream, sir, of the routes of my childhood
of braiding my hair,
taking off my shoes
and returning
to the old neighborhood
we grew up in

I dream of a handful
of our lost childish dreams
and childish frights
when we’d sneak into
abandoned houses,
hide from the old
tooth-less man
and hold our breath
as he shouts
endless threats
of how he’d tell our parents
and how the house was alive
and hungry

Oh, how do I long
to walk the soils of childhood again
with you.)

We’ve lost some of our innocence
we’ve changed;

Neither will you return
to compare my eyes to
Trifid Nebula

nor will we once again believe
in miracles till illusion,
in love till rebellion
and in dreams
till foolishness

The future
we once measured
in lights years
has outlived us

As we sat
in our separate balconies
you, painting a sky without a sun
and me, a sun without light

Do you still go back to
these ancient houses?
walk among the ruins alone?
visit the old man’s grave
and curse as you trip over
the uneven broken roads
you once knew so well?

you told me once that
all roads lead to Rome
and all rivers pour into
the same ocean

yet we grew to understand

for, after all, it was
lovers that roads swallow
not paths

(I dream, sir, of the routes to you
and my childhood
for reality has destroyed the virtuous cities
in me and you)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Raci, Sexi Wisconsin Recall

Since I'm spending so much time in Chicago now, I decided to go up to Wisconsin to help collect some votes for the recall effort against Mary Lazich.

I don't think I've been part of something so sincerely grass-roots in a very long time. The women who were there, were by and large housewives who were honestly fed up. They had never been involved in politics before, but they couldn't stand by and and see their state go the direction it was going. Also, this is one of the more strongly republican districts, and therefore the powers that be that are helping out in organizing and signature collecting, in other recall efforts are not spending as many resources on this one.

There were women there who have been out every single day, collecting signatures at village halls and street corners, and any way they can, often alone. This is courage I have not found in myself, no matter how mad I've been about something. I am truly impressed.

The part I found the most, shall we say, entertaining, about this all, is the response I elicited from the people we were trying to get signatures from. Comments included "white power", which I attribute to layer of fuzz on my head in place of hair, and a ramble about whether Lazich was some sort of Pakistani name (well, at least this person knows that I am South Asian?!?), various attempts at being lewd, and being followed in a car while canvasing.

Its been a long time since I've spent time in a public setting in a very conservative part of this country. And this is why. The women I was with were surprised by my reaction (rather lack thereof) to these comments. I'm not sure where that comes from. Partially, I suppose, from the fact that it is much easier to take things on the chin when something like this happens in a place one does not have an emotional investment in. Partially, ironically, I suppose this comes from 7 years of training in academia (I won't name names).

I've talked about how I feel much more comfortable (at least when I had hair) to go to a conservative village in India than to a conservative part of this country. There is a huge level of perceived safety in being able to blend into a crowd, even though the former situation is probably, in actuality more dangerous.

One has to write a load of crap before anything good appears


The desert below me is white, cold, white.
Tiered and rippled be the whimsies of the wind.

I cannot see the contrails of the other caravans that have passed before,
Their memories carried off to distant climes.
I would like to imagine that this terrain is a new frontier I traverse.
That the earth, in its infinity has no end of new frontiers.
But the desert is common,
and white, cold white.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Search for Community

I've spent the last few days reading through various blog posts of other female academics, wondering, why haven't I done this before?

In the same way that I wonder, why didn't I sit down and do these calculations while I was in grad school so I could write this paper more easily now....

This bog isn't public yet, since I don't know where I want to go with it... But I can't believe I've left this resource untapped for so long.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eight years
(has it really been that long)
of this silence,
of this petty bourgeois slump?

Who is it that said:
"The problems of the well off
arise out of boredom and a lack of problems"

On the other hand, physicists reduce everything
to frictionless vacuums....
Which, I suppose, hurts just as much to move around in.