Monday, March 30, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The Big Picture in Boston has some amazing photos of the scene, and there is a map at the U.S.A. article. But for the up-close, personal stories and pictures as well as the eye-witness coverage of the preparations, Bob Collins has been blogging at News Cut on MPR, as well as stacking sand bags.
If you wonder why this area is prone to flooding, this site from North Dakota State University has lots of information on the geology of the area. From Geology Professor Donald P. Schwert of the Department of Geosciences, North Dakota State University, I learned that this area is "the youngest landscape in the contiguous United States" because the glacial lake Agassiz, left behind when the last glacier retreated 12,000 years ago, did not drain until about 9,300 years ago. The rich soil left behind makes it great farmland, but also means that buildings must be built on deep pilings sunk far down into the clay. Tom Cran of MPR interviewed him, and you can listen to the podcast here. The Red River is unique in its situation; it is so young that it has not had time to carve a flood-plain that can store the waters in times of flood, and when the flood comes the waters essentially fill in what was once the bed of the glacial lake Agassiz. John Hockenberry's show The Takeaway on NPR also has a podcast of a conversation with a reporter and Schwert. Here, Schwert sheds more light on why the Red River's flooding is unique.
If you are interested in this geologist's perspective on the issues of planning and mitigation in the area, there is a link on that site to a .pdf document you can download and read. Here are some of my notes on this fascinating document (which you should really read for yourself).
As is the case for New Orleans (floods), San Francisco (earthquakes), and other areas of human habitation in the path of inevitable natural disaster (Pompeii) there are higher risks associated with settlement here than elsewhere. That doesn't mean they can't be anticipated. Erosion, slump, creep and earthflow (technical terms!) are all things that happen in certain areas along the river; experts have written reports on these issues since at least the 70s, and definitely after the big flood of 1997, yet flood management planning is too often trumped by commercial interests.
For example, the river needs to flood, it will flood, so some areas were supposed to be left as parks or parking lots to be floodable "storage areas." But people forgot or ignored this and built dikes to "protect" these areas. Residential development has been allowed in areas that were floodplain storage as recently as 1997. Two recently built low-level bridges act as obstructions for ice-jams. The public is told that all the floods in the Red River Valley are "500 year floods" yet there are no statistics going back more than 100 years, so how would we know that? (Although the author doesn't put it in these words, because there hasn't been public education on the geology of the area, residents and planners have ignored the evidence of their history and of science in their management of the land).
The author's conclusion (which follows specific suggestions for how to plan and mitigate these realities) is
"Cities like Wahpeton-Breckenridge, Fargo-Moorhead, and Grand Forks-East Grand Forks are geologic mistakes – but geographic facts. Given that these cities will never be moved in their entireties, there are still ways of accommodating to the geology and mitigating
the damages induced by flooding and slope failure. However, these require a basic understanding and acceptance of the inevitability of these geologic processes.
In planning, we should not be working toward conserving the past of these cities –instead, through wise planning and land use, we should work toward conserving their futures."
I feel terrible about the people who are working so hard to save their homes. Now isn't really the time for pointing fingers. But after what happened in 1997, why did the states, the regions and local governments not put their heads together with the scientists to come up with a plan? Maybe they did and it was ignored. Scientists do not issue building permits, but they do warn the builders. Too often their warnings are only heard after the flood.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, live version of "Ooh, Baby, Baby" a hit in 1965, one of my favorite Motown songs. I like Linda Ronstadt's cover of it, too. She also had a hit with "Tracks of My Tears."
I didn't watch AI, but I did look at some of the performances: Adam Lambert's cover of "The Tracks of My Tears" did justice to the original. Lovely.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Ada Lovelace Day: Professor Jane Davidson, Director of Solar Energy Laboratory at the University of Minnesota
"Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements." I signed the pledge, and here is my post.
Here is the mash-up list of all the Ada Lovelace Day posts so far.
It is also, coincidentally, the day that the University of Minnesota is holding its annual Ada Comstock lecture honoring an outstanding woman academic. Today's speaker is Professor Jane Davidson, of Mechanical Engineering.
I found an article about her by Pauline Oo. She attended an all-girls high school and was encouraged to go into engineering by her high school chemistry teacher; she was the only girl in her class in college in 1968. I had a roommate at UC Berkeley who was one of only four women in mechanical engineering in 1978; the Dean of the College told her she didn't belong there and was taking the place of a man. Although the article about Jane Davidson's accomplishments doesn't talk about how she dealt with that kind of attitude, I think it's safe to say that she was a pioneer in her field at the time simply by showing up and finishing her degree. But she has gone on to become a pioneer in her field, the study of solar energy.
"Davidson will speak about how to use solar energy to make fuels in "Solar After Dark: Going Green at Night" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, in Cowles Auditorium in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute.
"The idea is that you can make the fuels during the day when the sun is shining, and then you can use them whenever you want, including at night," says Davidson, whose current research focuses on solar systems for buildings and solar thermo-chemical cycles to produce fuels. "[Solar power is] the most abundant source of energy that we have on earth. It's clean, and it doesn't produce CO2 and greenhouse gases."
She began to work with one of the pioneers in solar energy early in her career, and is now the Director of the Solar Energy Laboratory at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology. She has received numerous awards for her research, but she is also recognized as a teacher and a mentor for women in the field:
"Over the years, though, Davidson has been involved in a number of outreach programs at multiple universities across the United States. Closer to home, she and U colleague Sue Mantell codirect a National Science Foundation-funded research experience for undergraduates in mechanical engineering. Each summer, they bring about 15 outstanding students from all over to the Twin Cities campus.(excerpts from the article by Pauline Oo).
"They work here for 10 weeks with faculty mentors," says Davidson. "We've had a 50-50 mix of men and women every year, and it's very exciting to see how that works. It's unique to engineering to have that mix. In fact, almost all of the women have gone on to graduate school."
The future of energy independence will be alternative energy technologies, including solar energy. I look forward to learning from her talk this afternoon!
In searching for information about women scientists at the U of MN, I also came across the story of botanist Josephine Tilden, the first woman scientist to work at the U of MN. Her story is both fascinating and frustrating; she did brilliant work, but faced indifference and opposition at her home institution at every stage. I'm glad to see that some things have changed for the better, but my own experience as an academic (not in the tech fields) shows that we still have a long way to go before the university world is completely open, supportive and equitable in its treatment of women faculty.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Last day of Spring break. I slept in until 11! Well, I got up to feed the cat at 5:30, then went back to bed and slept until 11.
Last night, Krista and Fresca came for dinner and we celebrated Krista's new job, Captian Kirk's birthday, and the coming of Spring! Fresca brought spaghetti and a delicious vegetable-laden sauce, Krista made a ricotta-cake with lemon and currants, and I put out a salad and some cheeses. We took lots of pictures, of course!
Now Garrison Keillor is on, and Rory Block, one of my very favorite musicians of all time, just played two songs. I think I missed her show at the Cedar, but that's OK, I'll put on her music this morning to accompany my Sunday morning coffee.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Yesterday a brand new person entered the world. I was lucky enough to see her and hold her in her first few hours of life. She is healthy and was ready to nurse and snuggle. Watching her tiny toes curl, her little hand clutch her mother's finger, seeing her eyes already seeking out her mother's face and voice: a flood of memories came back of my own experience with my new person at her birth. My friends are the most wonderful parents to their two-year old son. This baby will be cherished.
"Welcome to the spinning world," the people sang,
"Welcome to the green Earth," the people sang,
And as they held you close
words and art by -Debra Frasier from On The Day You Were Born
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes Seeks Close Ties with US from New America Media on Vimeo.
El Salvador's President-elect is Mauricio Funes. He was elected with 51% of the vote, representing the FMLN and ending twenty years of dominance by the right-wing ARENA party, associated with vicious political repression. For the FMLN to win a peaceful democratic election in El Salvador is a enormous change. From the interview:
Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?
We're going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who in his prophetic message said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor.
Paraphrasing Mons. Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.
This government implies a break from traditional policymaking. Now, what we're going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people––the totality of the Salvadoran people – but, fundamentally, to that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country's social and economic development. Not just the last 20 years, but for the last 200 years or more, have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies.
To read the English transcript of the interview, and find more news about this important election, go here to the post on the New American Media site. You can also read more on Roberto Lovato's blog Of América.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Both of my parents fled their East Coast ethnic enclaves when they left New York and moved to San Francisco. As a result, I didn't grow up in contact with any relatives or a community--we moved often. But certain Irish and Italian gestures, ways of thinking and acting, were handed on as an invisible legacy. One element that was most openly Irish was the music. Songs that told stories fascinated me, as did Tommy Makem's thrilling vibrato.
The Irish republican songs (no, not like U.S. Republican, more like Up the IRA="freedom fighters" throw-out-the-British) influenced my later studies of colonialism as the case of AngloNorman/English/British colonization of Ireland (800 years) and the "troubles" in Northern Ireland stood out as a particularly painful and intractable situation.
Irish independence is still new. The oral history of Robert Emmet's 1803 speech from the dock is still a living memory. In this press conference on the Ken Loach film The Wind That Shakes The Barley the actors tell how they grew up with the echoes and the presence of the struggle for independence earlier in the century; the Black and Tans burned Cork City in December 1920. This conflict continues to be played out in our days in the six counties in the North that are still part of the U.K. Since the 1997 Good Friday agreements, a difficult but growing consensus for peaceful negotiations and co-government has emerged. The most recent act of violence has been roundly condemned by Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein, both in Northern Ireland and in the U.S. havens formerly nostalgic for a romantic nationalism (such as Boston), maintaining the policy of renouncing violence as a means to political ends. The 1997 film The Boxer by Jim Sheridan shows how hard it is for and embattled people to give up the myths and structures that have enabled their very survival and resistance and yet how necessary it is that they do so. Part of me hates to see this complex and compelling history reduced to an excuse to get as drunk as possible. But I also want to steer clear of what the Irish call being a "Plastic Paddy" so if we must celebrate inebriation, here are some great Irish drinking songs! My very favorite is Johnny McEldoo because it is also about food.
Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers "Whiskey You're the Devil"
The Pogues, "Streams of Whiskey"
Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners talks with the Clancy Brothers and
singing one of those grimly funny songs that fascinated me when I was a kid.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer
, the jazz group Irakere, which has been through several incarnations; I saw their 1994 tour:
But after 2003, with the clampdown on issuing visas to Cubans, the tours dried up. We could enjoy the music of Cuban musicians now living in the Twin Cities area, such as Nachito Herrera, former musical director of Cubanissimo, who plays often at The Dakota.
I'm thrilled that producer Juan de Marco invited him to tour with the a "supergroup" of Cuban musicians called the Afro Cuban All Stars, uniting musicians who live abroad but are part of the Cuban musical world.
Tonight they'll be at Orchestra Hall, and I have a ticket! Here's the line up:
Juan de Marcos Gonzáles, band leader, tres • Evelio Galan, lead singer*José Gil Pinera, lead singer • Emilio Suárez, lead singer • Igort Rivas, trumpet *Yaure Muniz, trumpet, flugelhorn • Miguelito Valdes de la Hoz, trumpet, flugelhorn *Jorge Reiner Ardiles, trombone • Alberto “Molote” Martinez, trombone
Alberto Pantaleon Hernandez, bass • Jose “Pepito” Espinosa, bongos, cowbell*Miguelito Valdés Aballi, congas • Calixto Oviedo, drum, timbale*Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, piano
It's likely that the ushers will not allow dancing in the aisles, so we may have to chair dance instead, but I plan to groove.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
"Author, activist and think tank fellow Van Jones will be joining the Obama administration next week as a special adviser on green jobs, reported the White House Council on Environmental Quality today. Jones will work with agencies and departments to advance the administration's climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities, according to a White House statement. Jones is the founder of "Green For All," an environmental group dedicated to bringing green jobs to the disadvantaged, and the author of "The Green Collar Economy." Environmental groups are, of course, thrilled with the decision - in their opinion, no one knows green jobs like Van Jones." (rest of U.S. News article here)
Listen to Jones break it down in the video made a little while back. He has been working to make sure that the green movement is not just a movement for those who can afford it, but is connected to jobs, health, and real change for poor people. Another activist like him is Majora Carter, who was just in the Twin Cities talking about the necessary links between greening the inner city (responding to environmental racism) and economic turnaround.
Who are the local Twin Cities allies who can connect with this vision? One of them is the Women's Environmental Insitute (W.E.I.). Another is the IATP. Will our cities be able to overcome the hostility of the Pawlenty administration and go forward on their green ideas? That's our challenge coming up.
Monday, March 09, 2009
I just read about a new drug that has been approved for the management of fibromyalgia symptoms by the FDA; Savella (milnacipran) like Cymbalta, has an effect on both serotonin and norepinephrin reuptake (two neurotransmittors), and has been shown in clinical trial to provide significant relief for some people with fibromyalgia symptoms.
Like Cymbalta, milnacipran was first approved for treating depression and has already been marketed in Europe for that, but was seen to have beneficial effects in relieving fibro symptoms. Clinical trials now demonstrate that fibro symptom relief (pain, fatigue, quality of life) is significant for a large enough number of patients that the FDA has approved it specifically for treatment for fibromyalgia. Because the two drugs function in more or less the same manner, it's likely that they will not (should not) be taken together, but rather will function as alternatives to each other. It's important to remember that while a number of medications have been helpful for treating fibromyalgia symptoms to some degree, they are notoriously NOT helpful for all, and many have intolerable side effects. I first was prescribed a very low dose of amitryptalin (Elavil) many years ago. It led to some immediate improvement in my sleep disorder and pain levels. The down side was that it gave me hideous dry mouth and left me feeling stupid until noon every day. This clearly was not compatible with functioning at work, so I had to stop taking it. Cymbalta and Savella seem to be "cleaner" drugs in that they do not cause as many debilitating side effects, at least for some.
No drug is a magic bullet for fibromyalgia; both patient anecdotes and newer research show that an approach that combines attention to nutrition, gentle aerobic exercise, stress reduction and cognitive therapy give the best results long term. What medications can do is provide enough relief so that these behavioral strategies can even be started. They can be the difference for some people between living on disability and managing the symptoms well enough to continue to work. It turns out that there seems to be some delay in Savella's availability due to a complaint about the integrity of the trials. Knowing what I know about how clinical trails are conducted and managed in this country, I want to take a wait-and-see approach before getting all excited about this news. Unfortunately, the money the drug companies are spending on promoting and marketing these potentially very lucrative drugs is not just questionable because the drugs may not be as effective as claimed; the backlash to their shady tactics is actually causing some people to question the very existence of fibromyalgia as a syndrome. This pisses me off no end because even as more medical evidence is documenting the physiological abnormalities present with fibromyalgia, there is still a segment of the medical community and the press that talk about it as a "murky" condition, a "garbage can diagnosis" that is suspect precisely because it primarily affects women. Here is an article that breaks down these doubts point by point.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
There is so much information to manage: what's the best way to do it? as usual, the answer is a question of individual needs and style. I found that Facebook overloaded me with information updates I didn't want, so I deleted my account, but other friends are delighted with how it helps them keep in touch with people.
For following blogs or news outlets, I have experimented with using RSS feeds in a number of ways: as part of the My Blogs Lists over on the right of this sight, on my iGoogle page, through Bloglines, on my browser toolbar. But I often feel as if I'm drowning in numbers if I look at a feed agregator; it triggers the somewhat obsessive-compulsive reader in me in a way that feels unpleasant.
I am finding that Twitter is working well for me as a kind of feed + filter, and so has enhanced my ability to pick up on stories that interest me. I'm following some really funny and generous people, who post tweets with links to stories, songs, images, or websites that entertain or teach me something new. I'm also trying to limit the number of tweeters I'm following so I'm not overdoing it. A tweet can be an end in itself, but also a door opening up on a blog post or a news story that leads me in unexpected and rewarding directions.
Here's a sampling of what I found today through tweets from people I'm following. I'm leaving out the personal greetings, jokes and academic musings, which deserve a separate post. I could have found some of these through an RSS feed to each of the relevant blogs, but the Twitter feed allows me to respond directly as well as leave comments on the news stories (which I do) or the posts.
via @VisitLakeStreet, a neighborhood news feed, I discovered the brand new "Living Green Twin Cities" website went live this week-looks great, and connects me to local events and writers about sustainability.
via @blogdiva and @nezalicious (aka Liza Sabater of Culture Kitchen and Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican) Nancy Pelosi decides to use her powers for good, as reported in the SF Chronicle: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined hundreds of families Saturday evening at a church in San Francisco's Mission District demanding an end to the immigration raids and deportations that separate parents from children across the United States." As usual, I'll be following the extended stories on immigration politics at Nezua's site The Unapologetic Mexican. boohoo, blogdiva's server is down, but I'll keep looking for her tweets.
via @kottkedotorg and @sashafrerejones, my favorite mashup of the week: kutiman has taken tracks from YouTube videos and created some Thru-You jukebox that is awesome, whether you watch it or just listen to it in the backround, as I'm doing now.
by way of @torresburiel in Zaragoza, I found a post on International Women's day, which is today, March 8, on a blog called marilink: "ninguna lista de chicas geek". Although he highlighted the part of her post that seemed to suggest that we don't need special days (she says she reads people for the quality of what they say, not because of gender), she also points out why we still need to think about women's place in the world and why we still need an International Women's Day. A link at her post (to an article posted at the Women's Media Center) pointed out that women are now half of all bloggers, but that the media still doesn't make this visible.
@UMN News links to a profile of a colleague in Anthropology whose book on the ethnography of Wall Street trades has just been published. I've heard her talk about her research, and I'm going to buy her book, because it's the inside scoop on the culture of the traders that has been a major contributing factor to this iteration of the boom/bust cycle. I have noticed that I get much more news about the U through my Twitter account than through other sources, and I work there. I went to the U's Media pages and discovered that they do not have a link or widget allowing readers to know they are using Twitter, so I wrote and suggested that they add that feature. Let's see if they respond.
@jojeda --Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a reporter for the Pioneer Press who covers all kinds of tech stuff at YourTechWeblog. He has a round-up of the PiPress coverage of Amazon's new ebook reader Kindle. I was interested in checking out this new device, an he does an excellent pro/con story. Then I started following his links to other bloggers and got pleasantly distracted. I love serendipity!
Update: edited for spelling because I'm sloppy.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Classical Spanish guitar quartet plays the theme song from The Simpsons.
A cappella group Canvas does their own version.
Oberlin Bassoon quartet plays the Super Mario music.
Spidercerdo (translation for Spain)
Puerco Araña (translation for Latin American audiences)
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Last night, Fresca and I had a fun conversation about our respective degrees of geekiness, nerdosity, and dorkitude as adolescents. The meanings of these words have changed since we were in high school and are not always as perjorative as they once were, although they still get slung around as insults.
I think any academic is someone who is being paid to be a nerd. This video shows a man who is happy happy happy that his professional life as a physics professor has met up with his younger, comic-book reading, science-fiction fan self by writing a book The Physics of Superheroes. He was asked to be the science consultant for the (warning! spoilers)film version of the graphic novel The Watchmen. Ignore the nerds and geeks flaming each other in the comments to the video; they're just jealous that he got to be on the set and they didn't!
The ugly underside of geek culture (which has its charms sometimes) is the relentless misogyny. Junot Diaz's book The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is, among other things, an exploration of the intersections of successful and unsuccessful performances of masculinities that can be manifested in some geek subcultures, especially some of the comic/graphic novel versions. I just read the book last month, and I need to read it again.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Rachel Maddow interviews Left Behind authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, about their enormously successful books, socialism, the rapture, and how best-selling novels (tens of millions sold!) influence the worldview of millions of Americans. Notice how rationally and respectfully they speak to each other. And listen to her break it down for us.