Drilling Time

It’s really fucking hard to install a shade into stubborn plaster walls without a drill.  


A Desperate Plea to the Fans of Nurture vs. Nature: Get out of the Ring! It’s a Draw.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and wellllllllcome to the Futile Philosophy Arena! This evening’s competition is sure to fascinate and entertain the billions out there in our global audience, as the outcome will undoubtedly influence the entire future of our species! In one corner, we have our hard-hitting rookie—the modern, the trendy, the politically-correct heavyweight adored by cultural anthropologists, ecologists, and coddling mothers everywhere: Nuurture!!! And facing Nurture, feast your pre-programmed eyes, ears, sperm and chromosomes on the molecular backbone of each and every one of our cells, the prized baby of The Human Genome Project, defeatists, racists, and clones alike: Naaaaature!!! Now let’s bring on the main event!

The truth about the nurture-vs.-nature debate is no secret. I first learned about it in 10-grade biology class. The textbook read something like:

“An organism’s physical appearance, called its phenotype, depends on environment as well as genes. A single tree, locked into its inherited genes, has leaves that vary in size, shape, and greenness, depending on exposure to wind and sun…”

Indeed, over the next six years of studying biology, neuroscience and animal behavior, every science or social science or humanities teacher I met touted this same tenet again and again. And no student ever raised his hand to dispute the shared roles of nurture and nature, the shared credit for clever behaviors and the shared blame for diseases and societal ills. Outside of the academic sphere, too, any rational Joe Shmoe will readily admit to this fact of life. Because it just makes sense.

Which is why, when I oh-so-frequently come across published material that perpetuates this non-existent “debate”—in respected newspapers, television documentaries, flashy science magazines, and even scientific journals—I am confused, frustrated, and just plain angry. Why does the myth continue, when we can read its long history of folly and futility? When we can look to modern examples to refute the argument from both sides? The time and efforts devoted to fueling the debate, from both sides, are wasted, in that they contribute nothing to a society fraught with so many other, pressing scientific needs.

Please, you writers and scientists whom I detest (and you know who you are): slay the beast. Clear the way for more focused and effective research. Take off the boxing gloves and get back in the lab coats.  


I live with a poet.

Check out what the new roomie—the resident poet laurete!—wrote:

Science Writers—Ginny & Meg

There's a pulse and it's live and it's different,
And I sense that it beats in us both.
We know what intrigues us: cold science-
And warmly we write of its growth...
Its growth and its place in this vast world!
This earth of a spin science-spun,
Where daily technology marches
Under watch of the moon and the sun.
This moon and that sun, they are beauteous.
Their rays bring new light to dark times
Just as our vibrant words will embrace this-
This science that unites mankind.


The "Thrifty Gene" (It's not what you think)

I’ve spent the last couple of days reading about obese rats. There are several inbred species with funny names, like the Zucker Diabetic Fatty Rat or the Otsuka Long-Evans Tokushima Fatty Rat. But most interesting of all is a real species (as opposed to one engineered by the white coats): the Israeli Sand Rat, Psammomys Obesus. When observed in its natural, arid habitat—the deserts of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean—P. Obesus eats low-calorie salt bush, if it manages to find any food at all. But if caged in a laboratory and given an abundant food supply, the rats become obese within four days. After just four weeks of the new-found gluttony, they require insulin shots to stay alive.

So why study all these fat rats? Well, many researchers speculate that the lil’ critters store fat and acquire diabetes in the same way as the large percentage of obese humans who live in the Pacific Islands.

On the Micronesian island of Kosrae, for example, more than 80% of its 7,600 residents are overweight or obese, and one in eight adults have diabetes. But this wasn’t always the case. Until about fifty years ago, Kosraeans were a lean bunch who ate what they had—fish, bananas, and coconuts. Then, after World War II, the U.S. gained control and what do you know? Alluva sudden these thin, healthy folks were subjected to the evils of canned and processed foods—a new-found gluttony. And, just like the rats, they blew up.

Most smart people who study these things attribute the sudden weight changes to something called a “thrifty gene.” Some thousands of years ago, in the days of hunter-gathering, the ancestors of the obese Kosraeans had a “thrifty gene” that allowed them to store fat well. In those days famine was frequent, and the people with the gene could better survive the food shortages and pass the gene on to the next generation. Sort of like a hibernating bear who lives on his fat reserves in the winter. But today, when the islanders are faced with an abundant, high-fat food supply, the gene does more harm than good.

Here’s what I don’t get: why didn’t the Anglo-Saxon ancestors have this thrifty gene, too? Weren’t all of the hunter-gatherers exposed to devastating famine? Stay tuned…


Hey! What ever happened to all of those romantic Brown legends?

For you Brown kids: Imagine Soldiers' Arch, at exactly midnight on a warm, clear night of senior year. You are standing in the most serene evening spot on campus, where the dim sidewalk lights of Lincoln Field flood the old brick walls of Metcalf, and the surrounding bushes muffle the ruckus of Thayer Street. You gaze into the blue-blue eyes of your sweetheart, the shy Texan with rosy cheeks who you met just three days into freshman year (ah, unit love). The entire green is yours to enjoy, with only Marcus Aurelius watching from a distance. You kiss. And with that, your future is secure. You are destined to marry the Texan, support him through the stresses of law/business/med school, and have beautiful babies who will one day walk the very campus where their parents fell in love.

Or so the story goes. As fondly as I now recall it, I can not seem to remember the first time I heard this beloved Brown legend. It could have been the day I first set foot on College Hill, during the requisite campus tour, when I was also told to rub the nose of John Hay and avoid the Pembroke Seal. Or maybe one of the freshmen told me at ADOCH, sometime between the talent show and the awkward ice cream social. In any case, the story made a lasting impression, so that now I can’t help but blush when the idyllic image comes to mind.

The legend continues in the Brown Alumni Magazine. Every month, I resentfully peruse BAM for the quaint stories of those happy couples of the past who managed to find love on campus. There will be a grandchild update from Susie Smiles (’56), who had a crush on husband Tommy Touchdown (‘53) even before she joined the cheerleading squad; or an announcement of vow-renewal from Zoe Zero and Simon Sulk (’88 and ’88.5), who fell in love while reciting each other’s angst-ridden poems across the tables of the Ivy Room.

Sadly, those days exist no longer. The problem with the Soldiers Arch legend is that it is a complete fallacy. A cruel joke. A sham. Truth be told, long-term or even casual dating barely exists at Brown today, let alone marriage proposals and happily-ever-afters. At Wheaton College in Illinois, there’s a giant bell for girls to ring when they get engaged. For Sorority sisters at UVA, it’s a candle-lighting ceremony. Granted, most of us new alums shudder to think of where we'd be if we had run off to get hitched the day after graduation. Still, it tooik about four years of frat party dance floors, dorm room "dvd nights," shady late-night rendezvous, and awkward late-night rendezvous before finally finding that sole meaningful relationship at the end of senior year. I guess I wish I had more warm and fuzzy Brown memories--as opposed to embarrassing, make-you-wince-to-think-about memories--to take with me into the real world.

Thus, I propose a challenge to my fellow graduates: forget that I’m-too-intellectual-for-romance smugness. We're supposed to be adults now, so try, just once, to go on a date date. Just because we're not on campus doesn't mean we have to leave behind the Soldiers' Arch, ivy-league magic.


If you can't take the heat, get out of Camden Yards

I've always liked baseball. No, seriously. Thanks to my father and grandfather--who could very well be ranked in the top 5% of all of the baseball trivia aficionados in the world--I grew up on the stuff. Do I know the rules? Yes. Did I ever play? Yes. Do I know the strategies, the ins-and-outs? Pretty much. Do I know the names of the players? Naw. Do I watch it on television? No (but I don't watch other sports, either, in my attempts to avoid ESPN at all costs). Do I know the years and plays of famous world series games? No. However, I do appreciate the fun of America's pastime, you see. Who wouldn't be up for a three-hour excursion in a beautiful ball park, tummy content with a hot dog and overpriced draft, reveling in the camaraderie of the overweight, obnoxious-yet-friendly fans sitting next to you?

Or so I thought on Saturday afternoon, just before arriving at the Orioles game with the infamous Michael Laws. Admittedly, Camden Yards is gorgeous. With red brick facades over gleaming steel trusses, right in the heart of downtown Baltimore, I can see why my father described this one-time railroad station as one of the most stunning parks in the country. I liked the feel of the covered arcade, too, surrouding the park and bristling with happy fans and good-natured food vendors.

So just what happened to change this happy picture in my mind's eye? What so tainted my memories of baseball that I'm not sure I'll ever set foot in a part again? H-E-A-T. Or, more so, HUMIDITY. According to the meterological experts at weather.com, Saturday was Baltimore's hottest day of the summer--at 100 degrees with a dewpoint of 107. Suddenly, the sight of a wilting hot dog made me want to boot. And my overpriced draft was equally disappointing after just ten minutes of sitting under that unbearable sunshine. I should have been all smiles and giggles, leaning back to relax in those hard plastic seats; instead, I was hopelessly attached to them by the buckets of sweat dripping through my once-crisp, once-clean sundress. How the hell do the players keep from passing out?

Yeah, they did win. Beat Toronto 1-0. Whoopdie fucking doo.