Monday, December 31, 2012

My Predictions for 2013, Part 3

“The Doctor's latest incarnation is played in by 27-year-old Matt Smith who sports a retro academic-style look. His choice of clothing has prompted sales of bow ties to double, according to a leading fashion retailer. In his first episode on April 3, Smith declared "bow ties are cool" and it looks as though young shoppers have taken his comments to heart.”

Not all my predictions for next year amount to quarrelsome rants. To reassure you that it’s not all bad news I foresee in 2013 here are a few (mostly) happy fun time predictions. Not only are bowties cool in the New Year, tattoos aren’t.

Who are we to question The Doctor.

#4. Tattoos will cease to have any cool cachet among suburban kids with too much disposable income.
In my crystal ball, I see tattoos fading in 2013. New tattoos will be inked mostly by/on job creating small business owners running meth labs, convicts using homemade (non-radioactive) tattoo ink derived from Bic pens, and carnival sideshow freaks. And I’ll tell you why.

#5. The Fastest Will Survive 
As implausible at this may seem, I foresee that the event precipitating this decline in middle-class tattooing will come from an unexpected if tragic quarter. Through the early spring into summer 2013 the epidermis of thousands of formerly hip white kids will reach a critical mass of radioactive commercial tattoo ink and they will spontaneously combust in dirty bomb of bad taste, tragically injuring innocent bystanders, seniors driving Hoverounds with low batteries, obese people in mall food courts who are not able to run beyond the blast zone fast enough, and sadly, innocent people of good taste with a rudimentary grasp of what the skin aging process does to tattoos. Young women with pastel butterfly tramp stamps will, understandably, be the cause of the greatest devastation. But the good news is that the tattoo martyrs will not have died in vain. And I'll tell you why.

#5. Tattoos will be regulated, thus ensuring only criminals have tattoos.
I predict something good will come of this. Compassionate Americans will come together at candlelight vigils and speak out against the tragically preventable violence of what will become known as the Tattoo Spring. Conservative media will endorse growing public sentiment opposing senseless violence against innocent victims. Responding to the voices that elected them, government officials will pass laws limiting the cumulative amount of tattoo ink that can safely be applied to a human without turning them into the equivalent of inadvertent radioactive suicide bombers. Incidentally, All Laser Erasing Corporations will draft such model laws. Ok, I’m still messing with you. 

May 2013 be less than you fear, more than you hope, and may J return home safely.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Predictions for 2013, Part 2

“Bill Nye says ‘Yo science ain’t to paint a pretty picture’
Sculpt a brain, yo talk insane, inform your little sister
One last breath of fresh air till I dive into its game
I call it pseudo science, and it's all I'll ever need…

Well maybe he was right
No maybe he was wrong
Well maybe he was right
No maybe he was wrong
Well maybe he was right
No maybe he was wrong
I knew this all along
I knew this all along…

Bill Nye aint right babe, yeah he's fresh outta site babe
Like my sick minor chords, it's all just pseudo pseudo pseudo science
Bill Nye aint right babe, yeah he's fresh outta site babe
Like my sick minor chords, it's all just pseudo pseudo pseudo science"

 - Lexi Sayok, Pseudo Science

My rain gauge birdie says 3 inches of rain have fallen in my backyard this month. This might be an example of how Real Science works. Here are a few more of my unscientific predictions for the coming year.

#3. The truth will not set us free.
This coming year, I predict that Pseudoscience will continue to kick Real Science’s ass the way an aging school bully with an expired concealed carry permit schools his womenfolk by punching their faces and raping them. 

Left unresolved I predict that such misbehavior will, increasingly, escalate into the discharge of loaded weapons at anybody else presuming to judge Pseudoscience’s teaching methods.

By Real Science I mean provable, repeatable, conclusive facts - a system of reason that questions evidence, refutes it where possible, and repeats the results predictably.

And by Pseudoscience I mean a teaching (sic) method (sic) employed mainly in homeschools based on a syllabus that includes ancient myths, biblical wizardry, divinely inspired prophecy, belief in the improvable existence of gods devils garden fairies traditional marriage, and other spurious conclusions derived from these provably false premises.  By Pseudoscience, I mean a system of knowledge (sic) that prefers to equate the validity of facts revealed through real evidence with factoids revealed in Old Testament scenarios. By Pseudoscience I mean a system where meanings of scientific facts are as open to differing but equally valid interpretations as lessons taught by great literary works of fiction and/or the Bible.   

The definitions above are loosely paraphrased from the more lucid but less funny definitions here

#16. Conventional marriage will remain strong despite marriage of The Gays.
The threat to traditional marriage posed by gay marriage will take an unexpected turn when people notice that marriage is not a zero sum game. It will be conclusively proven this year that when the numbers of people who marry others of the same sex increases, the number of people who marry persons of the opposite sex will not decline. (This sequiter ™ brought to you by Real Science and enlightened viewers like you).

Either that, or defenders of marriage will pass draconian laws against The Gays with penalties that will make the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah seem like a casual barbeque among a small group of friends; penalties that will seem more like a grease fire in a tenement as it smolders into a smoking hole in the ground.

Just remember this prediction: whatever direction the pendulum swings, it will swing on this issue in 2013 like a drunken sailor on a stripper’s pole. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Predictions for 2013, Part 1

"You call us with your silent seas
You call us in our tiny boats
Gather us up with the storm
And cast us out upon the shore

All things beautiful, all things beautiful
I want everything, I want everything
I want everything, I want everything

You’re deep inside this fecund swamp
Or let it be your beating heart
You’re deep inside this fecund swamp
You call us in our tiny boats"

 - Cracker, I want Everything

If I can remember my newest password to this blog, I hope to chronicle my predictions for 2013 while there’s still time. Let’s start with the low hanging forecasts. 

#42. Everyone will continue to want everything. 
That was easy. What else?

#1. The War on Women will end in tears. Specifically, men’s tears.  
In 2013, the collective realization will begin to dawn on many men that it is too late to try to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear when American women had a status akin to Afghan women. Amongst themselves in private dining rooms, digesting $1,000 a plate dinners, these men will listen to speakers at podiums admit that such attempts to reverse evolution are not only antiscientific and futile – because evolution is, you know, real science – and because, surprisingly, most American women can read Greek Comedy and extrapolate.

#18 For the first time in a while, actions will have consequences.
I predict that consensus among men will gradually spread beyond their exclusive secret tea parties. They will cease attempts to subjugate women. They will be struck by the blinding insight that leaving women and their bodies alone is the lesser evil when compared to being cut off from women’s caregiving child raising cooking laundry housekeeping income sharing services not to mention conjugal favors. Ok, now I'm just messing with you.

#28  The suburban streets of America will run with blood
I don’t know if that is one of the signs of the coming apocalypse, but it should be in every oracle's predictive tool box. Because unbeknownst to more primitive males easily seduced by the illusion that might makes right, women are already beginning to synchronize their menstrual cycles. Once this process - mysterious because it’s, you know, about fecund female swamps - is completed, women will rise up and open a big can of shut the fuck up on the boys.

#11. Past will be prologue.
Sadly, too many men will be caught in this changing tide, realizing too late, and they will be left standing in echoing legislative chambers attempting to create jobs by banning abortions. These men will be mocked by female legislators whose collective laughter drowns out the sound of their quivering voice as they read their proposed mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound laws to a room otherwise empty of grown men and other adults who can say "vagina".

Bonus Pediction
This is for men who continue to wage war upon women. Remember that women are generally stronger than men. Women will metaphorically smack you upside the head like tiny boats cast upon the shore. Like your mammas should have.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks The Hard Way

Wile E Coyote: Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wile E. Coyote, genius. I am not selling anything nor am I working my way through college. 
Bugs Bunny: I... 

WEC: So let's get down to cases: you are a rabbit, and I am going to eat you for supper. 
Now, don't try to get away! I am more muscular, more cunning, faster, and larger than you are, and I am a genius. Why you could hardly pass the entrance examinations to kindergarten. 
[Bugs yawns] 
So I'll give you the customary two minutes to say your prayers. 

BB: I'm sorry, Mac, the lady of the house ain't home. And besides, we mailed you people a check last week. 
[shuts the door then descends into his home as Wile E. folds up the door and leaves] 

WEC: Why do they always want to do it the hard way? 


I wish they made scented candles that smelled like roasting turkey and sage stuffing because I’m not bothering with a turkey this year. I find the smell so evocative that I can remember details of thanksgiving dinners over 50 years ago with greater clarity than I can remember what I did yesterday. It's almost too hard to be thankful about stuff without the smell of turkey.

Today is one of those annual holidays that are as likely to invite depression as joy. You can’t help thinking about past thanksgivings and missing the people that made them memorable. For that matter, you (or at least I) may find yourself thinking dismal thought about what another turn of the entropic wheel will bring by next thanksgiving. The whole going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for routine can become a celebration of passive aggression. Or, possibly, introduce humor so burdened with bitter irony that the thoughts expressed hit the table like the inevitable anvil falling from the mountain to land on Wile E's head.

So I’m thankful to have my long-suffering Tech Support Guy. I'm thankful that I can touch type using all my fingers and not just my thumbs, that I can feed myself (mostly) without drooling, can still make it to the toilet before I pee, that I still take pleasure from working in the yard even though I can’t work as hard or efficiently as I used to. I’m also thankful for my large, rowdy, teasing and loving family; and finally, I'm grateful that I’m still around to remember those who aren’t here today.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hoc in lacrimis ad finem veniet. (This will come to an end in tears)

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” - Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Pictured above is my century plant, aka agave parryi, on October 11 when I first noticed the flower stalk. I continued to take pictures of the plant a couple of times each week to document the speed of its bloom. I intended eventually to post a sort of time-lapse story of its glorious final days. 

The large agave pictured above on October 17 had grown all of its life beneath the canopy of a pine tree. We removed the pine this summer because it succumbed to prolonged drought and insects,  and finally a branch collapsed blocking the driveway. The round light shape at the base of the agave is the stump of the pine tree. I had dropped a baby agave there about 20 ago when we removed these sharp pointy succulents from our front sidewalk in an effort to make a trip to the front door more welcoming and less life-threatening. Once subjected to the full sun, the green leaves of the agave became a bit yellow with sunburn. Perhaps encouraged by the sunshine, the plant, decided it was time to bloom and die – in that order.

Here (above) it is on October 22. The electrical wires in the background are perfectly located to measure the breakneck rate of growth. This was about as far as we got before nature intervened. The weather turned cold. A century plant is said to bloom in late spring or early summer. This summer, San Diego had seriously messed up weather and it didn’t get really summer-hot until late September. (And by messed up weather, I mean we had mild spring temperatures from March through September, so you can see we had some rough days in paradise. In the Veggie Garden for example, our eggplants are just now producing fruit, and many of our indeterminate tomatoes are just now ripening on their scruffy vines.)
The agave couldn’t take the cold. Here it is on November 1, where it has lost several feet of growth. The plant is at the bottom of a long steep slope from the tip of our roof down through the yard into the street - that slope is perfect for directing the coldest nighttime air into the young shoot. It was just one night of just barely freezing temperatures locally: our thermometer said it was 35F.  But the growth was stopped in its tracks and then the tip simply fell off before I could get a picture of its young frost-blackened corpse.

I know the whole cycle of life thing gardeners are supposed to meditate on watching seasonal changes in your garden. I know that nature is often red in tooth and claw, and now I know nature is sometimes also black in stem and bud.

But I was really looking forward to enjoying the “once in a century” flowering. Century plants bloom once in their lives. The size and energy of the bloom exhausts and kills the parent plant. When in full bloom, these are impressive plants. The flower stem is often taller than a tree, and its shape reminds me of a carefully manicured Japanese black pine pruned into a giant bonsai. Then the flowers dry and turn brown and the stalk eventually dries out and falls over, and the flowers germinate into dutiful baby century plants surrounding the grave of their parent. 

That will never happen in my front yard, at least not for another century. So young, so fresh, so much promise. So dead.  I didn’t expect to be this sad this fall.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where Are We Going with GMO Food Labeling?

“The ‘Frankenfoods’ debate is coming to your dinner table. Just last month, a mini-war developed in Europe, when the European Union’s chief scientist, renowned biologist Anne Glover, said that foods made through genetic engineering, such as soy beans—about 80 percent of US grown soybeans have been genetically engineered —are as safe as organic or conventional foods. It’s a wholly uncontroversial comment—at least among scientists. But it set off the usual scare mongering from Friends of the Earth, and other like-minded advocacy groups that finds all genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops to be, in their words ‘stomach turning’.”Pamela Ronald, Rachel Carson’s dream of a science-based agriculture may come as a surprise to those who believe that sustainability and technology are incompatible.  

Humans have been breeding and propagating edible foods for a while, beginning with selecting seed from the plants with desired traits to plant subsequent crops. Traditional hybridization and breeding techniques have likewise long been used to modify plants and animals at a molecular level, resulting in plants and animals that have been genetically modified.

These days however, when people refer to GMOs they typically are referring to the use of relatively recent developments in biotechnology more properly defined as genetic engineering that have been employed to alter a plant or animal organism at a molecular level. According to the National Academy of Science “Genetic engineering is one type of genetic modification that involves the intention to introduce a targeted change in a plant, animal or microbial gene sequence to effect a specific result” (page IX)

Next month, Californians will be voting on a ballot measure requiring the labeling of all GMO foods. Notwithstanding what you might read in hysterical foodie blogs or other vaguely sourced material, other experts agree, and this should not be news. Before you vote on this measure, please do your homework. Here is mine.

In 2004, the National Academy of Science publication office, aka the prestigious National Academies Press, published a report entitled Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects authored by the Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, Board on Life Sciences Food and Nutrition Board, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies of Science.  

The NAS report concluded, “All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population” (page 8). I should note that the report also identified the need “for a broad research and technology development agenda to improve methods for predicting, identifying, and assessing unintended health effects from the genetic modification of food. An additional benefit is that the tools and techniques developed can also be applied to safety assessment and monitoring of foods produced by all methods of genetic modification” (page 13).

In 2004 the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published the proceedings of a OECD Cooperative research program workshop on the challenges and Risks of GMOs in Maastricht, The Netherlands.  Biological Resource Management in Agriculture: Challenges and Risks of Genetically Engineered Organisms which included a presentation by a UK biotech expert Katherine Williams entitled “Challenges for the Media: Disseminating Information by Avoiding Hysteria” in which she observed that such challenges include “the audience that is targeted, selection of appropriate language, and finding a balance between points of view. Other challenges that face the media include identifying the stories that genuinely require attention and recognizing those based on hype or false claims” (page 203). She warned journalists reporting on the GMO food debates about the use of inflammatory and unscientific terminolology like “Frankenfoods” and “mutant”. Alas.

In 2003, the International Council for Science published New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries – Societal Dilemmas, which concluded: “Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Food safety assessments by national regulatory agencies in several countries have deemed currently available GM foods to be as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts and suitable for human consumption. This view is shared by several intergovernmental agencies, including the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission on food safety, which has 162 member countries, the European Commission (EC), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Further, there is no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.”

So, how about we heed the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations and follow their 2012 recommendation to support “a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO”. And while we wait the results of ongoing scientific research to assess safety of GMO foods on a case-by-case basis, I have concluded that I am more likely to be harmed by a crocodile in my backyard pond that I am by eating GMO foods currently available.

I recommend that you refer to established reputable scientific sources for your information on this controversial issue before you reach your own conclusions. Even if you are what you eat, you can still decide what you think.