Friday, August 31, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Why can't it be better?

H and I just watched the BSG Season 3 Finale after buying blackmarket DVDs from China.

We can now tally up who are the 12 cylons.

The original 7 (3 female)

3 LucyLawless (Dana?) ( her line was boxed)
6 Goldie (often can side with humans)
Sharon/Athena (her model was always weak)
Lebhoen (Starbuck's captor)
The psychologist who was outed and who was a badie on New Caprica and liked fracking Tigh's wife Ellen
The black doctor on The Farm
The weasily guy who appears in the opening

The mysterious 5 (2 female)

Starbuck (not completely revealed yet)
Tory (Laura Roslyn's assistant)
The Chief
Colonel Saul Tigh
Sam from the Caprica resistence

Notes: 5 cylon models are females. All the females are of child-bearing age

Of the 7 males, 2 are middle-aged (60 years old).

The distribution of genders and ages among the Cylon models approximates OUR society's cultural values. Older men have more play time in the show than older women, and they are more numerous among the cylon models than are older women. In fact, no women over age 55 has any role in the show at all (Laura Rosslyn is probably supposed to be around 50-55), while Colonel Tigh has to be at least 60 and Adama at least 55.

While the show is commendable for portraying interesting and strong female characters, only young women are allowed these roles. Laura Rosslyn is an exception and I certainly appreciate her, but she is still younger than the 2 male leads.

Now we learn that the cylons also prefer women who are young. They apparently did not think it useful to create any older women models, while they created 2 older male models.

The cylon also like their white meat and like gentlemen, they prefer blonds. Sure, I think "Six" is hot shit eye candy, but why not find a gorgeous black or hispanic actress?

Its kind of disgusting and much as I like the show, these casting choices make my skin crawl.

I'm waiting for a 65 year old women to get a major role like Adama or Saul Tigh.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Let's start a life together

Women…We’re either crying because we’re pregnant … or because we’re not.

For years, the threat of pregnancy is there, ignored sometimes, rising to threatening levels at others. In our teens, our twenties, we are caught up in our complicated lives, navigating crises of friends, romantic relationships, school and work. Just living our own life is all-consuming, how could we be ready to create another? Children, yes—later, in the future. For now, we’re relieved to get our period, month after month.

I recall a specific memory, seated on the toilet in the campus apartment I had during my graduate school years, when I made a vow to the Universe: Just let me not be pregnant, and I promise, I swear, I will donate $100 a year to Planned Parenthood for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, my period arrived. Round-the-clock laboratory work, data analysis, paper-writing, and my future career as an academic were not interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy.

A teen-ager in the 1970s, graduating from high school in 1980, I was part of the first generation of women to plan for a career. My parents were feminists and told me that the world had changed. Intellectually precocious and aware of historical injustices against my gender, I was determined that I would be different from the women of prior generations: I would pursue a life of professional work and achievement as aggressively as any male.

It feels poignant, painful and ironic, that as a teenager I so strongly felt my uniqueness, when now, these decades later, I learn I am a cliché: yet another mid-40s female, successful in her career, ready to be a mother, but childless, and “too old” to become pregnant.

Sudden onset of reproductive panic

At age 37 I split with my boyfriend of five years because he was adamant that we have no children. Like other women of my generation, I had to read in Time and Newsweek cover stories and books like Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children that doctors were being urged to tell women that their fertility would decline precipitously after age 38.

Could I be a single mother? How to do it? Anonymous sperm donor, ask a friend? Did I have time to do the normal thing, and just try to meet a man who wanted to have children? Parents and siblings begged me not be a single mother. “Don’t try to have a child, just concentrate on having a good life and be happy” my sister admonished (married with 1 child). “It's really hard” was all my brother could say, his hands full with three children under 5. After many conversations, my mother gave me her emotional support to try to get pregnant on my own.

But had I really been trying to convince my generous, caring, supportive family, or trying to convince myself that single parenthood was for me? I delayed taking steps to get pregnant on my own, even as a close friend did it successfully with the help of an old boyfriend.

At 42 I met the man who would become my future husband (H). He shared my dreams and goals and within a month of meeting we ceased contraceptive use. Statistics on the age-related decline in fertility indicated that my chances of conceiving were low. Perhaps we should have moved immediately to invitro fertilization (IVF). But neither H nor I were ready. It seemed strange to immediately start a medical procedure a few months after meeting. We wanted a chance to try on our own.

Part of being human may be the feeling that we are special. The statistics won’t hold for us. Forty-two year-olds do get pregnant on their own, without medical intervention. Why couldn’t I?

H and I married the month I turned 43. I felt my life as a mother was right around the corner.

TTC (“Trying to conceive”)

I had so many pregnancy “hopes” during the next 2 years. If I hadn’t gotten my period by day 27 of my menstrual cycle, I’d be light-headed with fantasies. I’d imagine announcing the joyful news, calculate the expected due date and start mentally organizing my research projects to accommodate my maternity leave.

But “Aunt Flow” arrived each month without fail. “Well, there’s next month” I’d tell myself. My fertility doctor was encouraging about my prospects because my FSH was still low (indicating good ovarian reserve). “Just keep trying” he said. But after turning 43, a routine test showed an elevated FSH. The good doctor saw a different woman sitting in front of him, a woman with bad numbers. I knew the statistics too, but couldn’t I at least try IVF? No. His recommendation was donor egg.
Dialogue with friends and family continued. Some asked, Why not adopt?

Adopting is a wonderful act. But I actually want to be pregnant. I’ve taught developmental psychology for 16 years. Twice a year I review prenatal development for my students. Can’t I experience it too—feel the fetus kick, pet my belly obsessively, make sure I eat right, give up coffee?

It's rare that adoptive families take home a newborn. Children adopted from abroad may be 1 or 2 years old. It would be ideal to be present for the whole first year of my child’s life. I want to see tiny fingers reflexively curl around everything they touch, and want to see the reflexes disappear as the cortex matures and grasping and orienting come under voluntary control. I’d like to listen to my infant practice babbling, and hear “ba” and “da” syllables turn into first words. It's fine with me not to rear my genetic offspring, but what a joy to know that this little creature shared half of my beloved husband’s genes.

Adoption is often more expensive than donor egg, and carries a lot of uncertainty. Will adoption agencies be able to find a child at all? What trauma and neglect was suffered by the child in the year or two before joining our home? Although pregnancy with donor egg is not certain, it does seem that the egg-donor route is the best for me. With that decision, the next chapter began. To paraphrase the title of the Dr. Seuss book, “Are you my egg donor?”

Who are you, dear girl?

In an older era of human history, I’d be the childless older woman, pitied by others. Or a women whose children had died or been stolen from her to be servants for others. You’d be a young woman or even teen girl, with a newborn but no husband or financial support, desperate for a solution. An infant would exchange hands. Depending on the circumstances of our lives, we perhaps would never see each other again, or perhaps we would remain known to each other. On your side, you’d be filled with pain or just relief, on mine, perhaps uncertainty and caution but also joy, gratitude, excitement.

In the developed world, immense cultural and technological changes separate us from this older era. Birth control and other medical advances have created a situation different from that of prior centuries, and a different type of exchange will take place. Birth control means you won’t conceive and deliver an infant you’re not ready to care for. IVF with donor egg means I could, in principle, bring to life the DNA in the eggs that fail to implant inside your womb each month and are flushed out with “Aunt Flow.” Its strange, scary, science-fictiony, fantastic. Shall we do it?

Who are you? I have some awe to think that I don’t know you now, yet you are out there, living your complicated life. Children yes, but later. I may be old enough to be your mother, and thinking about you living your life—crying, laughing, pensive—I embrace you in my motherly concern. Yet you will have an astonishing, evolutionarily-unanticipated, deep relationship to me. You, young woman, may be the biological mother of my child. Where are you, dear girl? It's time to start a life together.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hugo Chavez interviewed by Barbara Walters March 17, 2007

Oh dear. My husband (H) gritted his teeth at the announcement that Hugo Chavez, the innovative, popular leader of Venezuela, would be interviewed by Barbara Walters. He could see too well the spin and misinformation that would dominate the screen.

I watch too little TV and browse too few online political sites. I'd never seen Chavez on TV and insisted we watch. I wanted to learn, and of course I had H to talk me through any inaccuracies.

20/20: Chavez seldom grants interviews, but Barbara Walters got one..

H, snorting: He grants interviews all the time!

20/20: Chavez is making headlines by calling Bush a devil and a donkey.

H, more snorting into the TV: "That's the headline *you* want to make out of him!

Walters: President Chavez, if you could say one thing to the American people, what would it be?

Chavez: Like you, I admire Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream." I have a dream also. It is a dream we share together...

20/20 hosts: Well, broken English it was...

Me, snorting into the TV: "Broken English" my ass. Heavy accent, yes -- grammatical errors, didn't spot a single one. And like, what kind of Spanish does Bush speak?

H, too disgusted to speak.

Me, prodding: That was good, didn't you think? Could have been worse?

H: It was typical journalist spin. "Both sides" were interviewed; the wealthy upper-class and some poor people.

[H point: Journalism uses the "both sides interviewed" device to provoke the illusion of balanced coverage; imagine interviewing Hitler on the benefits of slave labor, and then interviewing the incarcerated.]

Me: But the interview with the wealthy did nothing to support "their" side! The upper class said they would basically have to leave soon! If they need to leave the country, it means Chavez is succeeding in making Venezuela a place where it is no longer comfortable to be wealthy!

H: Capital flight.... [Discussion of capital flight from Cuba]

Me: And the 'other side' -- poverty stricken -- certainly those interviews made the point that Chavez' administration is actually alleviating poverty.

H: But they've nationalized almost nothing. They're using the oil revenues to fund reforms. Eventually, they'll need to nationalize. The class war will have to come. But Chavez is going slow, implementing reforms slowly, taking time to build up neighbor councils.

Me: Isn't that good? Building infrastructure so that the working class will have the knowledge, skills and tools for self-governance?

But H was too annoyed with the interview to engage more with me. And then I wanted to see the rest of the Land of the Blind... (ouch -- movie review forthcoming)

Why I married a communist

Some 3 or 4 hours into our first date, my husband-to-be raised his mug of hot chocolate and looked me in the eye. "Actually, I'm a communist".

Later we'd laugh to remember the steps towards this declaration. Early in the evening he discussed why he didn't vote (it was November 2004), then mentioned his leftist activism, then socialism, then Marxism, and then finally that word that would "elicit large skin conductance responses" on my laboratory equipment.

As it did on my own nervous system.

The evening had been going well. I'd dragged him to a book reading at the First Parish Church in Cambridge where we listened to Steve Pinker and other authors discuss a new collection of science writing. To prolong the evening and to finally have a chance to talk, we walked a block to Tealux in Harvard Square.

He was an English literature professor. He explained that narrative was the route to understanding -- stories were the way to grasp any system's internal logic. I approved, recalling autism researcher Simon Baron Cohen's distinction between empathizing and systematizing. Intellectual conversation. I was stimulated. Later he told me he was scared shitless.

But why did the "C" word provoke in me that happy combination of relief and excitement?

If he was really a Communist -- really a believer in something that this country we live in vilified for decades -- then, in his mind, all my attributes which had been threatening to other blind dates -- feminist, skeptic, career woman, leftist, atheist, rule-breaker, nonconformist -- would have to be okay.

And they were.

Monday, February 26, 2007

And now grading from the Prof's view...

Dear Judy ,

Hi. I sympathize with what you are feeling.  Grading can be very arbitrary; if the assignment is too straight forward there is no room for students to think about the question.  Yet by not spelling out every expectation, some students are going to guess or infer or go off on their own unique brain storm, which then makes their answer look "wrong".

Students seem to want class assignments to be a contract:  If the student does precisely what the teacher requested, then  the full points are given.  If the teacher did not precisely specify, then the contract is a poor one and the teacher is responsible for lack of clarity and must compensate the student for mental suffering.

To what extent is college suppose to be a protected bubble where you will never misunderstand an assignment or get a bad grade or have to do something which hasn't been fully specified?  I am not asking you to answer this question, I just genuinely wonder what my obligation in this regard is suppose to be.  The answer from students seems to be: the instructor must explain everything that is desired, and anything less is a failure on the teacher's part. 

Out in the real world, people submit brilliant grants which don't get funded because they are not what the funders were "looking for".  Writers write screen players for TV shows that are barely look at. Do you think actors who audiion for a a part can get angry because the directors didn't really explain what they were looking for?  You might say, "No" because no one forced the actor to audition, while I, Judy, and being forced to do the assignment.   Therefore it is unfair to force me (Judy) to do something without telling me exactly what to do.

The teaching fellow and I discussed a number of resolutions.  We decided to let people drop their lowest grade.  Under some circumstances, we will simply ask students to rewrite an assignment or let students complete an alternative assignment.   This means that you won't necessarily be penalized with a 0.  I am happy to let you write an alternative assignment.  Why don't you think about it and communicate with me later on.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Last, will the test also include information from the power points that was not included on the study guide? Or will the test be ONLY the study guide?

Its Saturday. I answered:

In creating the study guide, I looked at each question on the test and I tried to make sure that the topic of the question was on the study guide.

However, reasonable people might disagree. You might claim that the item on the study guide was only partly related to something on the test. You might claim that the study guide question was very specific and the test question was general or vice versa. Indeed, I am bracing myself for post-test accusations that the study guide was not fair. I imagine students claiming, "You said all we needed to know was on the study guide! But look here.... we needed to know this and it wasn't on the study guide! You've got to discount that item because its not fair because it wasn't on the study guide!!!!"

So all I can say is what I wrote above. I tried to make sure that the topic of the question was on the study guide.

I did not do the following: I did not imagine that someone off the street who had never been to the class could take the study guide and all the reading, hunt for material about the study guide item and then study that material, and then do well on the test.

And then I reread. I deleted the material about bracing myself....

But I brace myself.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Favorite Book of 2007

Anna is forced to become the mistress of the Nazi warden after her friend in the resistance is killed.

In the days afer finishing "Those who save us", I wanted to talk about it. Edmond humored me, but he wanted to make his own points about the book. One of these was: "Don't you think the Obersturmfuhrer was the most compelling character?"

Except I didn't. Anna was the most compelling for me.

I lost myself in the book -- read it, wanted to return to it when I wasn't reading it, didn't want it to end -- because I could believe that what was happening to Anna was happening to me. I could imagine that I was her.

I wanted it to be 1944 again. I wanted to be back in the bakery. I wanted Jenna Blum to write a sequel (crazy because the book already alternates between 1940 and 1997 and thus we "know" the following decades of the story). But why? The characters were starving. Anna was so hungry at one point that she got dizzy when she saw a mustard stain on the Obersturmfuher's jacket. She wanted to lick the stain.

I wonder what if would like to be hungry beyond being so buzy I skipped lunch.

Was that time (or Jenn'a book) so compelling because we crave to live in a time that is more laden with meaning than our own?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Biking and my ice-block thighs

Biking the last week in Boston when the roads were clear and dry and the temperatures in the low 20s, I learned some things about the different terrains that are my body.

When people see the bike propped against bookshelves in my office, they are either curious or incredulous. "You bike -- in the winter?" They may ask, "Isn't it cold?" I am annoyed at this answer. People ski, and its cold. So being cold doesn't stop us from our sports, does it?

But still.... During some winters I've been so cold while biking that I moaned out-loud as I rode.

Winter 07 hasn't been that bad so far. But what is interesting to me is how differently from each other the parts of my body feel. One's body usually feels coherent. Your limbs register a unitary comfort signal. You are cold in an overly air-conditioned room, you're hot out in the blazing sun.

But as soon as I'm flying down the alley on Emerald Eye's high seat with gloves, leather jacket and two layers on my legs, neck warmer up to my nose, my body parts are a clamoring medley of different complaints.

As you start your ride, the wind has stabbed under your helmet, and cold licks your head on either side of your head band. On your wrists you wear bracelets of pain. But unless you're not wearing a warm enough jacket, your trunk is always warm. As you bike, the exercise heats up your chest and it glows toasty warm.

The pain spots rapidly evolve during a 20 minute ride. By 10 minutes the early complainers are silent, indeed, doing just fine. I tried to analyze these according to blood flow patterns generated by high motoric activity. No more cold bracelets because even though wind can get in the opening between jacket-arms and gloves, my trunk and arms are generating enough heat and blood flow, after 10 minutes, to keep the wrists warm enough. Head no longer cold? Well, like the neurophysiologists say, your brain consumes up to 30% of your body's oxygen and your head radiates more heat per surface area than any other body part. So the heard warms up. Your ears would be vulnerable, but your helmet protects them from beginning to end of your ride.

After 10-15 minutes a major new complainer has arrived. Ice-packs have been strapped to my thighs and buttocks. But why? Aren't the thighs generating body heat? Yes, but the ice-packs line the inner thighs. The pain is precise enough, on a 23 degrees, windy night, that I feel as if some sculptor had outlined in pen exactly the area of my fleshy inner-thigh fat, had excised the fat, and replaced it with an equivalently shaped a block of ice.

So the map of my body has some new countries on it. I can feel my inner thighs as a distinct voting block in a way I never have before. I feel just its pain, clearly demarcated from frontal and dorsal thigh.

As I ride, I meditate on my inner thighs, bereft of blood-enriching muscle. They are inert lard, the food stores my body has cleverly laid in to get me and my nursing offspring through the famine. My teen-age girl-children laid in their fat also. "Sorry," I tell my husband," but you and the boys won't make it.

Not all my fat is cold. Breasts remain a moderate temperature. They don't have muscle, but they benefit from proximity to the pumping heart. And then there's that heat radiator that is a belly. Because I have her, I've been able to dismount, undo a button, and plunge naked fingers into her fat reservoir, panting in gratitude with my fingers warmed by the fire.

Arriving home, I strip. "Feel my cold spots" I urge my husband. He runs his hand across my body, feeling the familiar warm flesh and then the sudden shifts to cold terrain. He marvels, "You're coldest where you're most female!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

I wouldn't want to be in the lifeboat with you...

"The bed covers slide more on to my side because of physical dynamics of the our positions, the down filling getting squished on this side, and who rolls over more!"

My husband snorted,"Yeah... but I'm not gettin in the life boat with you, baby".

"Well, the evolutionary psychologists say that that for women, its 'Staying Alive' that really matters -- there's an entire target article in Behavior and Brain Sciences defending this idea." (Readers: just google three words, Staying alive evolution)


"Men can do acts of heroism that have some probability of ending in death. If they die, their heroism will cause the community to heap rewards on their family members. Or they may need to attempt heroic acts to get a mate in the first place. But in life-or-death situations, women have to focus on staying alive, because mothers' direct caregiving is usually essential for ensuring their children reach reproductive maturity."

"Ha ha. That was then. Now, no way. Get out of that lifeboat bitch, I've got books to write!"

This made sense to me and I mentally entered a "score 1" for my husband. "I see. You're focused on an entirely different type of posterity -- the success of your memes, not your genes!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Beginning my science blog

There's a lot of wonderful science writing out there. Is there a need for another science blog? Aren't we drowning in information? Are there science papers that aren't getting talked about or exposed to the public?

What can I do that is unique?

I've decided to respond to a plea by Dr Vaughan Bell posted on MindHacks,, for scientists to discuss their own work.

In working with graduate students and far-flung collaborators, there's plenty of room to write down notes that could be of interests to other science lovers. My method wil be a short paragraph about a paper, a link to the published version, ideas for future research, and possibly comments such as what I had hoped would happen when I conceived the project.

But I'll also write about 'anything'...