Field of Science

Midwestern USA and food

When TPP first moved to the midwest in the fall of 1970, nobody knew what a bagel was. To a kid even one from upstate NY, no bagels was an indication of a lack of civilization, and even if they had been around, no one would have eaten them with lox. Bagels are now fairly common although they still do not seem as good as the ones from NYC bagel shops. So grad school, then a post-doc, and then a job all within an adjacent 4 state area of the midwest means TPP has spent 2/3s of his life in this area. Things have gotten a lot more sophisticated in terms of food even in small college cities such as ours, but a couple of general trends persist. People in this area are generally not big fans of seafood, or even fresh-water fish, and they don't like their food spicy. So when you put the two together, well, you can sort the "natives" from the "fureners" real easy. The graduate students are in charge of a fall grad student & faculty picnic, and they decided that having a crayfish (crawdad) boil would be a good idea. So they got them some Cajun spices and borrowed TPP's cooker and they went to town: potatoes, chicken, sausage, sweet corn, and crawfish, not necessarily in that order, but boiled to a nice spicy perfection! There was even some shrimp butter for the corn, an authentic southern LA recipe. Plenty of other food existed, and let me say, some of the Indian grad students bring the best items to pot-lucks like this, so you could easily see who had a pile of shells and who didn't ("natives"). Of course this just meant there were more for the more adventurous eaters. TPP used to bring a load (50-60) pounds of crawfish back from Baton Rouge each spring break having used collaborative research as an excuse to travel south. But it has been awhile since having had crawfish aplenty. So it was sort of fun. You could also tell the adventurous but inexperienced eaters who needed some technique lessons. The students only made one mistake, they waited too late to make their hush puppies and everone was filled up by the time those goodies made their appearance. The lesson is this: embrace new experiences, especially food.

Guns, safety, and the OK confedreracy

Here's another update from an OK science missionary. And what Stan says about guns and safety is sadly true enough for almost anybody in this country today. Like TPP said before, best to leave rednecks alone.  

Darth Cheney & Iran

The surfacing of Darth Cheney to 'splain the problems with negotiating with Iran was so very predictable. First, all of the knee-jerk GnOPers who exclaimed that they were against the anti-nuclear agreement before they even read it tells you everything you need to know. Obama = bad, oppose at all costs. Our local representative is part of that crowd, and not the brightest bulb at that. And their alternatives?  Nothing other than belligerent saber rattling, the limits of their idea of diplomacy. And just see how well Cheney's approach worked in Iraq. Already Europe's corporations are rushing to do business with Iran, and maybe with the exception of Halliburton, an accord with Iran would benefit many investors, and a curious thing happens when fiscal interests get involved, the political rhetoric gets toned down because both parties have butter on the same side of the bread. In this case it would seem that the GnOPe is so eager to thwart Obama that they would throw their corporate babies out with the bathwater. At this point in time anyone who trusts Darth Cheney to tell the truth about anything is so gullible that they have no business in government or foreign policy. Trying to stablize the middle east region appears to be an anathma to Darth. Oo, Iran isn't a real democracy like our friends and allies the Saudis. Sure. So what does the USA have to lose by trying diplomacy rather than belligerence? Nothing. Except Halliburton gets to sell less because their butter is on the conflict side of the bread, and Cheney is their mouth-piece. Go back to your death star, far, far away!

Botany 2015 by the numbers and some plant identification

TPP has been struggling with a few plant identifications these past couple of hours; a sunflower (just checking the id - Helianthus laetiflorus var. rigidus), a rosinweed, a couple of species (maybe?) of Solidago, and an unknown Aster with tiny little rayless heads. Does everyone know what SYC stands for? At any rate if you have ever waded through identification keys for any of these, especially the aster and goldenrod, you'll understand why TPP is allowing some email distraction followed by a bit of blogging.
The final report on the North American botany meetings that TPP just attended in Edmonton, Alberta, provided some encouraging numbers and demonstrated that this was one of the most diverse and best attended botany meetings in any ones' memory. Over 1600 students and faculty, and at least one dean, were in attendance, and while largely from the USA and Canada, over 50 countries were in represented. Over 900 talks and lectures were presented and there were acres of posters (almost 500 posters) and not enough time to see any thing close to all of them. This meeting was a collaboration among 14 scientific societies. It was just great. If you want to get a flavor of all this botanical science here's a link to some youtube videos of people presenting their posters. There are a couple of TPP's favorite colleagues in there, but they won't be identified so as to not sully their reputations.
Back to plant IDs. Ah, TPP guessed rightly about the aster being an Aster; it was tricky because it's a species that lacks ray flowers. Surprisingly, only one herbarium specimen exists of Aster brachyactis for positive comparison probably because of this plants drab, ho-hum floral display and weedy demeanor. However, that was an old field guide (but familiar) and the Flora of North America indicates that this species has been moved to another genus and reduced to synonymy with Symphyotrichum ciliatum. Here's a link to this beauty. 


Infantizing college students

TPP taught biology to freshman non-majors and majors for a long, long time, for over 20 years total. So just about every intellectual student-faculty interaction you can think of has happened along at one time or another. Over the years, especially among non-majors, you run into students who have been taught a lot of nonsense about evolution, and some have frankly said that they don't believe in evolution. Now to a point TPP was OK with this; he did not allow any student to imply or out and out state that he was being dishonest. Changing their beliefs was never an educational objective, however the students were obligated to show that they understood why science said what science said. And when some clearly could not demonstrate such understanding, a few cried "religious discrimination" and asked to be let off the hook. This particular attitude has become way more prevalent and unfortunately the most common administrative response has been to tell faculty to be more accomodating, to be more concerned about students' feelings, and to just feed them with a bigger spoon. TPP's basic philosophy was that while you are entitled to your beliefs you are not entitled to avoid discomforting or contradictory ideas, you are not entitled to a free-pass when it comes to a critical analysis of beliefs like yours (individuals were never picked on). After all this is about education. These days parents and students still want the higher education passport, a degree, to jobs and careers, but the current attitude is that when parents present you with a narrow-minded, anti-science, parochial, self-satisified, entitled little twerp, the twerp is to be returned in the same condition, which seems totally antithetic to higher education. Apparently though business schools are pretty good at doing this; the sciences and humanities not so much. Our administrators, protectors of quality higher education all, give faculty advice about providing trigger warnings and the rules to follow if students want to "opt-out" of discomforting parts of your courses, so religious students can avoid learning about evolution. The only way to do this in TPP's opinion is to not take biology at all and yes, medical schools may object, at least so far. This is all the more troubling because one of the few things where the old USA was really number one was in the size and affordability of our public education system, and the way basic research and scholarship was encouraged. This system is being dismantled as fast as anti-education people can go; under fund it, restrict research areas and support, destroy shared governance, take away academic freedom, and weaken tenure. Apparently many in our country no longer value the ability to think, the ability to understand that bumper sticker slogans are not thoughtful foreign policy nor good education. Never mind that higher education has long been directly and indirectly connected to this country's productivity and prosperity. So let's not challenge students with new ideas or make them think, certainly don't encourage them critically examine anything. The minor non-protest at Duke about freshmen who don't want to read a particular book that might make them uncomfortable, a book they may disagree with, which is OK, but these are the very students who need this type of education the most. TPP isn't even slightly sympathetic to their cause. Twerps.

Nighty night nightshades

This hasn't been the best growing season for nightshades: tomatoes, eggplant, chili peppers, petunias, etc. Both the combination and the sequence of weather seems to be not to their liking. Firstly it was too wet and not warm enough early on, and tomatoes being grown by some of the best gardeners TPP knows got no further. TPP had  his nightshades in containers, so the extra drainage kept them from completely crashing. Nightshades are also susceptable to quite a number of diseases particularly wilts and blights. Those along with mildews got off to a great start during the wet weather of early summer, and now the plants look terrible, their vigor is waning, and they won't last much longer although usually gardening is fine through the end of September around here. In particular it was a bad year for petunias, and the wave type seem to have done particularly poorly. In contrast verbenas that sometimes struggle are doing quite well. Remember that these nightshades are not tough plants, but cultivated softies. Now that the weather is cooler and drier, which requires some watering, plants should be doing well, but they are already too far gone. So for about 5 weeks tomatoes were abundant. There were plenty of eggplant for a month; the plants do show some signs of rebounding. Chili peppers produced well for about 6 weeks and now some varieties are almost leafless, others are recovering and will probably provide a few fruit. The petunias are just shot; wave goodbye. Glad our survival doesn't rely on potatoes this year, although strangely, perhaps because they are harvested earlier, some decent crops are being reported.

A science missionary in dangerous country (state)

Teaching if done well is a difficult task, although it does get easier with practice. Teaching is also easiest when the students are interested, eager, and willing. When they aren't one or more of those, it can be very difficult especially when they view some of your subjects as wrong or even evil, as in evilution. However, for TPP it has never even been slightly dangerous even in those large, non-majors lectures where you almost failed the star basket ball center. Not all of us are so fortunate to live in an area as enlightened (??) as the upper midwest.  Here's a link to a blog of one of my colleagues living in a "different country". Best if you read his story in his own words. He's a brave fellow; personally rednecks are best left alone.

Not just in time

Having been brought up to never throw away anything that might be useful, TPP has accumulated quite a bit of stuff over the years: screws, wire, rope, wood, flotsum, and so on. But it's only useful if you have a good inventory and know where things are. Our telephone quit working, the land line that's still in use, was telling us the line was in use and the problem was not the service. A bit of sleuthing and it was discovered that the problem was a couple of corroded connector terminals, the result of too much communing with house plants, although a telephone on a sunporch is a very pleasant location. Memory suggested that spare telephone cable and even a spare DSL filter were on hand, but the search of the premises found plenty of stuffs, but not the right ones. You can guess the rest. After purchasing a new line, a new terminal, and a new filter, and rewiring the terminal, Everything worked just fine. Later while seeking a bag of grass seed, the missing telepone line spare parts were found exactly as remembered just not the location.  Dang. Doesn't do us any good to save bits and pieces if they can't be retrieved when needed. However both an inventory and a storage system just isn't going to happen. Sigh.

TGIF Seminar

A strange, eclectic group gathers every Friday sometimes at commercial establishments if they don't remember the group from the last time and sometimes at the houses of "members". In this particular group the Phactors anchor the young end of the member spectrum. Now since the gardens were still fairly neat, and the patios and lawn furniture were still fairly clean, the group was invited to have their TGIF Seminar in our garden yesterday. An inordinate number of mathematicians belong, which is a bit funny, funnier than they are, but the Phactors have been socializing with some of these people for close to 40 years. A lot of wine has flowed in that period of time. A few people had never seen the estate and gardens before and the weather was just perfect, a lovely early evening. As this group is dominated by university faculty and Unitarians, the diverse political discussions were kind to Jimmy Carter and unkind to Donny Trump, concerned about investments, and trading summer travel stories. Athough the semester had just started, this largely retired group was not at all concerned.  The TGIF group numbered about 1/10th the wedding group, so the aftermath was much less to deal with, and the empties didn't begin to fill the recycling dumpster that the wedding had easily topped up. This affair was not catered but 5 pounds of meatballs went somewhere, as did a lot of salty, crunchy snacks, which make you thirsty, thus starting a vicious cycle that everyone enjoys. Wonder where the next seminar will be?  And will the person who brought the bottle of pink zin please stop by and retrieve their wine.

GOP outreach to women voters

Once again Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World explains GOP voter outreach. How this gonna work?