Sunday, September 30, 2007

Quote of the day

Beach cautioned that people shouldn't panic about the dangers of the brain-eating bug.

I think, if you really don't want people to panic about the *brain eating bugs,* you should find a euphemism for *brain-eating bugs.*

But seriously, only 6 (6!) people have died of it this year, and that's considered a "spike." I'm assuming that I have a better chance of being killed by a wayward para glider.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Global Gag Rule

I got this email from NARAL:

Legislation repealing Bush's global gag rule has been added to the FY '08 Foreign Operations spending bill. Your support right now could help pass the important bill and reinstate healthcare to millions of women

I remember first hearing about the global gag rule, but it was probably in those early days of the Bush presidency (in between his vacations and not paying attention to 9/11 warning memos) when I was a tender high school senior trying to get out of Oregon. And from what I've read since, I could say that it has something to do with family planning and not mentioning/ providing abortion overseas, and that it probably made no sense to me (being pro-women making their own choices). Since I don't know much about the policy, I especially wanted to link to this over at Pandagon. I love Amanda. She cuts through all the bullsh*t.

There are a number of things wrong with this argument, which is why I think more blogging would be helpful, just to get the truth out there.

1. C’mon! If it was true that we should ban every government program every nutjob has a moral issue with, we’d have no government programs. Plus, reasonable people have much more reasonable moral issues with things like war, and we’re not banning that any time soon. Why should be pander to crazies when reasonable people don’t even have a say in moral funding issues?

2. Withholding or opposing abortion is the immoral stance, taken out of a hostility to women’s health and women’s rights. Anti-choicers shouldn’t have the moral high ground, because they are wicked, petty assholes who want to increase the amount of suffering in the world to satisfy their misogyny. To be a truly moral person, you can’t exclude half the human race from your consideration.

3. The global gag rule isn’t just about abortion. That’s basically, in any realistic sense, a lie. It’s about withholding medical care and contraception. Even without it, the U.S. simply doesn’t fund abortions (though I think they should). It’s a backdoor way to deprive women worldwide of contraception and basic health care, since the people who provide those things pretty much by definition are good-hearted non-misogynists, and thus mostly believe as the logical and good-hearted generally do that abortion is a moral good.* The global gag rule is about giving the U.S. power to root through clinics worldwide looking for evidence of appalling levels of human feeling towards women and depriving them of funding if they find that someone’s committed the thought crime of believing that women should have full rights and options.

The last is the killer point: The global gag rule is about depriving peope of contraception, STD prevention, well baby care, after-abortion care, post-partum care, prenatal care, and gynecological care, all by pretending it’s about abortion... NARAL sent me a list of ways the global gag rule has been used to deprive people of basic health care.

* In Nepal, the government threw a 13-year-old rape victim in jail for having an illegal abortion. The Family Planning Association of Nepal used her case and others to advocate for the release of women in jail for having abortions. For this, they were deemed thought criminals in violation of the global gag rule and funding was terminated.
* In Kenya, funding is lean and mean, so having entirely separate facilities for abortion is pretty much impossible. Under the global gag rule, though, you can’t even have abortions under your roof, even if not a U.S. dollar goes for them. This rule has meant that the Family Planning Association of Kenya has cut its staff in half and closed down 3 clinics, one that had a huge well baby program and post-partum care. Depriving babies of medical care is another sign that pro-lifers don’t actually love babies. They just hate women.
* Planned Parenthood of Zambia was deprived of enough funding under this that they shut down 3 of 9 rural clinics, depriving all the people in that area of one of their few, in any, sources for affordable condoms.
* The Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia can’t refer women to abortion services or perform abortions, since abortion is illegal in Ethiopia. Still, they have lost half a million dollars that went pretty much strictly to providing condoms and contraceptives, because they have participated in educating the government in how illegal abortions contribute significantly to their high maternal mortality rate.

I hope this bill passes. I don't think the world really needs someone like Bush trying to push his brand of "morality" on those seeking basic reproductive services. Considering the world population and current AIDs rates, who the hell is against education and condoms, anyways?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back in the USA

It's a rainy day in the valley, and they come so rarely, that I'm marking the occasion by taking a nap, reading, and marking things off my to do list. One of which was, update the blog.

I was home in Oregon for two days to recover from being abroad. I divvied out massive amounts of chocolate for the family, visited with everyone, and went on a hike up Chinidere Mt. with Mom. It was a lovely hike -- and luckily we ran into a friendly park ranger who could direct us on the right trails. From the summit (which is covered in small flat rocks) we could see all the surrounding mountains (from Jefferson to Rainier), which revived again my appreciation of our local scenes. And we found the seal of the Menlo Park Geological Survey up there -- strange. I ate many a wild blueberry/huckleberry. Waded a bit back at the lake. At home, I walked the ditch. Picked blackberries. Climbed the little hill above Aubert's bridge. Ate venison roast. Ate out of the garden.

Mom and I spent a day (unintentionally) in Portland, at the Olive Garden for lunch, along the scenic highway for views and coffee, to Ikea for wandering and dinner (chocolate cake...). I missed Merrie's arrival from Namibia by, literally, minutes. My flight took off at 7:25, hers landed at 7:26. I don't want to talk about it. Delta can go to the devil.

I had an *interesting* trip back from SFO. I got in the Super Shuttle, and noticed a couple of dachshunds up on the front seat floor. The driver assured us that he'd gone to a leash free park earlier, so they were good to go. And then I listened to him talk for *twenty minutes* about the whole food diet he feeds the damn dogs. I felt like mentioning that many Americans, and their children, can't afford grain-fed meat from Whole Foods for themselves, let alone for their pets. He punctuated every sentence with "you know?" "Dogs can tell the difference between grain fed, you know?" "Dogs need vitamin D, you know?" Etc. etc. When he let me off in Escondido Village, he told me that I should eat vegetables with vitamin K, some fat, butter, olive oil. And that he was telling me this because I'm a student. I thanked him, was thankful to be in my quiet studio. Only in California.

The next morning I had CA training. Then I had to repack for our weekend beach retreat at Pajaro Dunes. Which was awesome -- the training gets so much better when we escape the Stanford-enforced training (fire lady, party rules, etc.) and spend more time with the CA program, planning events. Our neighborhood committee is perfect. During free time, I walked with Dinah along the beach... and we discovered that we were both reading Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, and were within 50 pages of each other. It was incredibly creepy. We read on the beach a while, then retreated to the main beach house's turret room. Then I hung out in my own house for a bit. Dinner, then a bonfire on the beach (yay for getting to stick around for tons of s'mores and beer and wine this year). Then I slept in the living room of this basically beach front house, listening to the ocean. We had a beautiful view from the living room windows, from which I saw two dolphins the first morning, rolling down the coastline. On the way home, we got a tad bit lost and took the scenic route. Stopped at a random gas station for Mexican food, and I had some of their fresh squeezed carrot juice. Again, only in California.

Finally went grocery shopping. Always makes me feel like I'm back home.

Monday & Tuesday I helped with practice exams for the (newly!) second years. Spent Monday evening with my committee, going to Costco, stuffing welcome bags for our residents, and eating tons of lasagna.

Weds. I brought sunflowers to the TA lounge for the quals survivors. Celebrated with Meredith at 11 am. Went for lunch & shopping with M. & Whitney. Went to the grad student bbq with the studio crew. So windy! Then back home to greet Sarah, hang out with her, Jill, and Sara over tea and peanut butter cups.

Thurs. we had a dept. memorial service, followed (strangely) by my neighborhood's Psycho movie night.

Friday was errand day on campus, followed by a lovely lunch at Brioche with Sarah & Jill. Then BevMo shopping for the Garden Party on Sunday.

Then unexpected evening plans (the best kind) with Meredith -- we saw LCD Soundsystem & Arcade Fire at the Shoreline Amp., then hung out till midnight at In & Out.

But here's the thing about concerts, that I re-realize at *every* concert. If they lowered the volume a tad (I'm not arguing for anything revolutionary, just take it down a couple notches), we might actually be able to hear the different instruments, distinguish between different elements, decipher the lyrics, and, in general, hear something more complex than Noise. Or at *least* venues should offer ear plugs to those of us who haven't ruined our hearing yet to the extent of needing the volume up that high. At least. At one point during LCD Soundsystem, I swear I could feel my cheeks vibrate with the base.

Enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Nurture wins again

I've always hated it when people, pretending to be relying upon "evolutionary science," start hypothesizing that the "differences" they've supposedly noticed (or made up, looked for, etc.) between men and women are innate. Hunters and gatherers (or gatherers and hunters, if you're into feminist revisions) seem to be the reason for *everything*, from how women and men carry books, to spatial/mathematical reasoning, to dating trends. Whenever I hear someone start with "caveman days" stories, I translate it into "I like to tell myself this story about human history for entirely personal and arbitrary reasons." It's nice to see my own take reinforced by a study... I just stumbled across this article (via Feministe) at Group News from

Writing in Psychological Science, a team led by Ian Spence of the University of Toronto describes a test performed on people's ability to spot unusual objects that appear in their field of vision. Success at spatial tasks like this often differs between the sexes (men are better at remembering and locating general landmarks; women are better at remembering and locating food), so the researchers were not surprised to discover a discrepancy between the two. The test asked people to identify an “odd man out” object in a briefly displayed field of two dozen otherwise identical objects. Men had a 68% success rate. Women had a 55% success rate.

Had they left it at that, Dr Spence and his colleagues might have concluded that they had uncovered yet another evolved difference between the sexes, come up with a “Just So” story to explain it in terms of division of labour on the African savannah, and moved on. However, they did not leave it at that. Instead, they asked some of their volunteers to spend ten hours playing an action-packed, shoot-'em-up video game, called “Medal of Honour: Pacific Assault”. As a control, other volunteers were asked to play a decidedly non-action-packed puzzle game, called “Ballance”, for a similar time. Both sets were then asked to do the odd-man-out test again.

Among the Ballancers, there was no change in the ability to pick out the unusual. Among those who had played “Medal of Honour”, both sexes improved their performances.

That is not surprising, given the different natures of the games. However, the improvement in the women was greater than the improvement in the men—so much so that there was no longer a significant difference between the two. Moreover, that absence of difference was long-lived. When the volunteers were tested again after five months, both the improvement and the lack of difference between the sexes remained. Though it is too early to be sure, it looks likely that the change in spatial acuity—and the abolition of any sex difference in that acuity—induced by playing “Medal of Honour” is permanent.

Guess I should take up playing Doom again.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Switzerland, week 2

The second week...

After my first update, I had a dramatic night -- my host madame (who is 77 years old) had a fall, dropping left over plum tart and water all over the floor. Luckily she wasn't hurt badly -- I had a panicked moment in which I realized I didn't actually know the Swiss equivalent to calling 911. So from Monday onwards, I was sure to be more helpful with carrying things to and from the kitchen, and with walking the dog.

Tuesday, after class, I had lunch on my own lakeside -- and then met up with Leslie for an extended walk in the other direction (toward Clarens). We tried to make our way up to this beautiful castle like building, but it didn't seem to be open to the public. Instead, we sat and talked by the lake until my "curfew." For a particularly lackluster dinner of pasta with leftover mushroom sauce, tomatoes, and the everlasting pudding.

Weds. I hurried out after class to get on the Rochers de Naye mountain top train. Which was (of course) beautiful... the train wasn't crowded on the way up, and we climbed above the lake, the hills, through tunnels, past pastures...Ate my lunch of bread, cheese, tomato, and chocolate on the train. We went up past where Leslie and I had walked, so past Caux it was all new territory. Very cold at the top though! And I was wearing shorts and sandals! I explored the top of the hill -- I had a 180 degree view of snowy peaked mountains, with hills and lakes in the foreground. I took a brief walk through the alpine garden, visited the "marmot paradise," soaked in the view (and the bit of sun between fantastic airy clouds), and then hopped on the next train down.

At the peak.

Marmot at lunch.

Back in Montreux, I serendipitously ran into Leslie -- we headed into the mall, and she helped me make the very time consuming decision to buy a blue scarf.

Dinner -- cheese and tomatoes heated (strange?), potatoes, and plums for dessert.

Thursday Leslie and I had our usual lunch on the dock, after I made another incredibly time consuming decision to buy shoes (they were only 20 francs). Then we took the bus to Vevey -- which had a far cuter, quainter downtown than Montreux. We went to the lake, got pictures of the fork sculpture in the water, and then headed into the Alimentarium museum. Best museum ever. Displays on seasonal, cultural foods... food trends from the past to present... the old Nestle boardroom... an interactive area with chocolate and cookie samples... kitchen cooking lesson on making baklava... ate mine out on the picnic table (we made a mess).

Dinner -- risotto and salad, followed by the strangest dessert... it looked like a bowl of spaghetti with whipped cream on top. In actuality, it was a layer of meringue, followed by a layer of what seemed to be cinnamony dough shaped into noodles, and topped with whipped cream. It wasn't particularly tempting. Especially after my baklava and the chocolate samples.

Friday: Final day of school! Thank God. Although it was the most fun activity we'd done so far... "mystery interview guest" game. Leslie and I had our final lakeside lunch... I had my last walk to the chateau... then I bought a ton of chocolate to give to family upon my return... just in time for dinner (fish bake, salad, potatoes, almond cream bread).

Saturday: Chamonix adventure day! I got on the 9:05 to Martigny and then took the Mont Blanc Express. Fantastic ride up... villages, deep gorges, waterfalls, mountains, snow capped ranges. And a crazy Scottish fellow going by the name of Twig livened up the journey -- he was tipsy, and just opening his next bottle of wine. Headed to Annecy to (and I quote) "score some heroin." I had to turn him down on going with and catching dinner together. In Chamonix I wandered through the town, got advice at the tourist office, walked to the Pierre de Ruskin for my picnic lunch, and then took the Petite Balcon Sud trail for views of the mountain. I enjoyed just taking whatever paths looked interesting, turning back when I felt like it, watching the para gliders...

The view from Ruskin's rock.

The prospect from further up the trail.

Then I proceeded to get lost in the process of buying dinner, returning to the train station, and using up my euros. Made it in plenty of time to the train though, which was just as fantastic on the return trip (and quieter). I watched the sunset on the lake back in Montreux, ate some Movepick ice cream...

Sunday: Final day! I had a pastry on the train (after being so delighted to understand the lady at the bakery: c'est tres dificil choisir), and caught the 7:45 train to Interlaken... it was the Goldenpass tour through Gstaad and Zeissimen (sp?), and it was a lovely morning ride up the hillside past Montreux, vineyards, forests, a misty lake (hazy with the sun coming up), and cows. Interlaken reminded me of the Columbia River Gorge. Also: very cold and cloudy. I hopped on the next train toward Bern, on which I met this delightful couple from Atlanta, who gave me some tips. In Bern I visited the tourism office, went to the fine arts museum (yay for a free, clean bathroom, and a cafe). Then I walked through the old town to the bear pit, had my picnic lunch, and turned back... visited an internet cafe, and still had plenty of time to make the next train back to Montreux in time for dinner. Had my last walk by the lake after packing... and was so looking forward to returning home! I had had enough adventures for two weeks.

The return trip meant about 26 hours of travel... the train to Geneva, the flight to London, the 9.5 hour flight to Seattle (watched Becoming Jane, The Hoax, bits of Walk the Line again, most of Waitress...), the series of lines that is customs, the flight to PDX (yay for making an earlier flight! and free wine (again)! and the sunset over Mt. Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, and Hood!), the trip home with Mom and Tim. One thing I'll say for international flights: despite being stuck in the middle seat (damn you, British Airways, and your bizarre seating policies), the in flight entertainment was pretty good, and the food, not bad at all. Cherry tomato and asparagus risotto, and some *good* strawberry cheesecake.

Unfortunately, I think I'm paying for all the traveling with a small cold.

And I *so appreciate* everything that I missed while I was gone. Like my shower. And choosing what to eat. And being able to talk in English and understand signs. And find water fountains. And use cash without worrying about ATM fees.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Things I've noticed

- Every toilet has a different flushing mechanism. Whether you press a lever on the upper side, lift a rod out of the top, or push a button mounted on the wall above. And the train bathrooms kick it up a notch: do you push a button mounted over the sink, press a button on the floor with your foot, or use a lever?

- The juice & bread I've bought *actually tell you how long it's safe to eat after opening.* Let's get with that program.

- Chocolate is a meal in and of itself.

- Payphones do not exist as I know them. Swisscom rules all, and will require your credit card.

Bonjour, from Montreux

It's a day of recuperating after a busy weekend, so I thought I'd update after my first week in Switzerland.

My flights over were tolerable -- from PDX to Chicago, where I had to switch into the international terminal (which felt like another world in and of itself). I pestered the British Airways attendant at the gate with tons of questions (he was entertained by it) -- what would happen at customs, would I make my flight connection in London despite our delay, could I have a window seat, etc. My seat, unfortunately, was toward the back of the plane, and in the aisle. But on the bright side, my seat mate was a cool young woman from I think Italy, and she had all sorts of advice about how to get a window seat (apparently, check in online, or get there really early). And we were tres excited when no one sat in the middle seat! And both being small people, we had plenty of space to move around in during the overnight flight. I did get some sleep, but I can't say it was very comfortable. As the attendant had promised, there was plenty of food onboard. Some sort of cheese pasta for me (the veg. option), with a microscopic iceberg salad (why bother?), bread, chocolate cheesecake, etc. Also, thankfully, a light breakfast... because I had to book it once we reached London. As soon as we hit the gate, I followed some guy who definitely knew how to make his way through a crowd, all the way up to the front. There seemed to be some disagreement between the attendants as to whether or not I'd make my flight -- I decided that with 40 mins - an hour, I could do it. I had to quickly get down a never ending hallway, reenter through security, and then make my way to the departure terminal. Heathrow is like a mall. Anyways, I made it, and then we were freaking *bussed* to the plane. Short flight into Geneva, and definitely prettier than the parts of England we flew over earlier -- rolling green hills, farmland, etc. Arrivals moving walkway had a series of stills from Gone With the Wind, of Rhett Butler kissing the widowed Scarlet O'Hara (you know, the you should be kissed well, and often, scene). Then to baggage claim, where I knew I wouldn't be seeing my bags -- if I had to run to make my connection, you know that my bag is still in London. Thank God I packed extra clothes in my backpack. So I wandered around in the stores outside the airport, to get essential items that were in my checked luggage (soap, deoderant), and just in time caught the train through Lausanne to Montreux. Got some tea in Lausanne with my newly changed Swiss francs, and then got off in Clarens... where my host Madame literally lives like a two minute walk away from. We quickly realized that we have no languages in common--- she was frustrated. And in my tired, jet lagged, sleep and food deprived state, we ended up checking at the train station about my luggage, meeting with her upstairs neighbor who knows a touch of English, etc., before *finally* I could eat. Oh, and the First Step World program conveniently forgot to mention that I said I was a vegetarian (I didn't get into the more complicated ins and outs of my food processes -- easier to use the label), so my madame gave me a pork sausage, some sort of mushy mustard-potato mixture, and dry bread. I was having second thoughts at that point. I could taste that sausage the rest of the night, which I choked down some of just to avoid trouble. Oh, and THEN I didn't get sleep -- I couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours, despite being exhausted.

Luckily, the first day went well. We got the food thing straightened out. During class, I met Leslie, who's also from the bay area. And during our first exercise, I mentioned that I like to hike, so we immediately started planning trips!

My first lunch in Montreux was a sad affair. I couldn't figure out where to go, and I refused to enter the McDonald's (speaking of which, they're *everywhere*, even in the car-less town of Zermatt, at the Matterhorn). So I ended up with trail mix and dried apples from the pharmacie. I walked around quite a bit, and was thankful for the pasta and salad for dinner. Another sleepless night.

The second day was awesome -- Leslie and I got lunch after class at the mall, and then changed into hiking clothes at her host d'acceuil's place. We hiked up this old staircase and trail into the hills of Glion and Caux, passing gorgeous hotels and schools and churches along the way. So exhausted afterwards! Dinner: yummy artichoke bake with potatoes, and a strawberry cream tart for dessert.

Third day: Rainy! After a sleepy class, I hung around using the internet with Leslie. To the mall: ate in the 'boat' restaurant... salad, bread, hot chocolate... yum. Clouds were rolling over the lake, making it seem like we were moving at sea. We explored the pharmacy, trying to read labels... Then I had a walk home in the rain. Pizza, salad, pudding for dinner. Oh, and I finally finished Persuasion. Speaking of which, I think I liked Mansfield Park better...

Thursday: More rain! School, C. distracted everyone from the lesson. After: market and lunch on the dock with Leslie and Christine. Then back to school with Leslie to plan our weekend adventures. After, we took a walk thru downtown Montreux and past Clarens. Dinner good: quiche and tomato salad and caramel pudding.

Friday: After school, another lunch on the dock. Passed through street vendors, visited the train station for my Swiss Flexi Pass, and then we took a *long* walk to the Chateau de Chillon (13th century, made famous by Lord Byron), which was gorgeous. I wandered through the prison, the beautiful lakeside rooms with window seats, the courtyards... Then we continued on to the tiny village of Villanueve (little cobblestone streets, with adorable buildings all matching with wooden shutters). Then the long walk home. Fish sticks, salad, potatoes, and some sort of cream-wafer cake for dinner.

I love me some castles.

Saturday: Up before 7 am, walked to the train station in Montreux. Leslie and I took the train to Domodossola, and then switched into a scenic panoramic car for the ride to the Italian lake district (Locarno). Beautiful! Stone houses with slate roofs. Valleys, sheer cliffs, tiny villages, churches, rivers. Once we arrived, we had a light lunch at the lakeside cfe... salad, fries, amazing macchiatos. We wandered around the lake, through some sort of cycling meet and a busy beach. Luckily we stumbled upon a quieter spot, where I went swimming in Lake Maggiore (swans, the hills around, perfect).

Back in Domodossola, we saw deer in a field (closest: two does and a buck), & we had gelato while waiting for the train. I slept most of the way home.

Swimmin' with the swans.

Sunday: Up at 7 again to catch the same train with Leslie. This time we transfered at Visp for the scenic Zermatt train. Lovely ride up through the mountains, with waterfalls and gorges. Zermatt was fascinating -- they don't allow cars, so there were little electric buses and horse-drawn carriages in the narrow streets. We wandered through, and came upon a trail... the map we got was tres insupportable, so we just headed up the trail. We walked past more little stone houses, cows with huge bells around their necks, a hilltop restaurant, and then onto a less frequented trail up through the hills, letting us out into a better area for viewing the Matterhorn. So many pictures. We stopped on a rock in the sun for a chocolate-eating and mountain-viewing break. We tried to identify all the highest peaks, and think we located Mt. Rosa. The way back downhill was much quicker! We stopped at a cafe with a view of the Matterhorn for beer, me for goulash and a salad, Leslie for apple streudel (yum!). And I couldn't resist the dark chocolate mousse from the bakery on the way to the train station. Only here once, may as well! On the train home, we seemed in the middle of a party... a group of kids came on with wine glasses and promptly uncorked what must have been the latest in a very long series of bottles. Leslie and I moved soon after.

The Matterhorn.

Beautiful trip home though -- we caught the tail end of the sunset over the lake... blue hills, clouds lit up pinkish.

And that brings us up to today! I'm in a different class now, where I'm learning much more. Lunch on the dock again, and catching up on emails, planning with Leslie what we should do this week, etc. Some rest after a very busy weekend!

Oh, and with lunch I had chocolate milk: the brand? Heidi's.