Thursday, February 27, 2003

GM corn

From yesterday's WSJ by Scott Kilman (paid subscription required):
Monsanto Co. was cleared by regulators to begin selling the first corn plant genetically modified to resist the rootworm insect, which could be a big product for the ailing biotechnology company as well as a headache for the U.S. food industry.

Wall Street analysts figure Monsanto, based in St. Louis, will be able to command a steep premium for seed that produces a corn plant capable of repelling the rootworm, the biggest pest faced by growers of the nation's largest crop....

The genetically modified plant isn't approved for consumption in the European Union , an important market for U.S. corn byproducts. The European Union's de facto four-year-long moratorium on new genetically modified crops has significantly restrained sales of Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant corn plant and helped deflate the crop-biotechnology boom that lifted the company in the mid-1990s.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003


Anyone who's read this weblog for any length of time knows one of the recurring topics is my angst over being stuck in the middle of a Ph.D. program. I've finished all the coursework. For the past two (!!) years I've been (not) working on finishing the next stage of the program: three papers (40 pages each) that are required to be completed before taking comprehensive exams and then writing a dissertation.

I've done many other things during the past two years—worked part-time at a corporate job, as a substitute musician for the past seven months, and as a research assistant; TA'd a class; traveled; wrote a few book notes and a book review (though I need to finish the one that's currently overdue); maintained this weblog and spent (quite a bit of) time online; did some knitting; took care of household stuff; etc.

I've often thought about quitting the program. While I've invested a lot of time into it and forfeited a lot of income by working only part-time, I don't feel the time devoted to studying has been wasted at all. However, I feel I have wasted much time NOT studying and obsessing about not studying.

So I am trying to listen to what's going on and decide what to do. Do I just finish it and not worry how I might or might not "use" the degree when I'm done? Do I quit now and be content with what I've learned, both academically and personally, and move onto something else? Do I quit now and accept certain limitations of having only an M.A. and not a Ph.D.?

I'm still trying to figure out how to go about making a decision. I've been asking advice from trusted people and need to talk to a few more (like my advisor, to whom I owe an overdue book review...). I've been reading what other people have written about the choices they've made. Susie has written eloquently and perceptively about her choice to leave Ph.D. studies. John O. Andersen chose not to embark on a Ph.D. program but rather to take up "blue collar" work, which gives him time and mental space to pursue a variety of intellectual interests.

Monday, February 24, 2003

To knit is to pray

As I was reading through The Lutheran magazine that arrived in today's mail, I was struck by this beautiful picture of a cross drapped in knitted prayer shawls. Members from a few midwestern churches knit shawls for people going through difficult times, praying for them as they knit and enclosing a prayer with the shawl when it is finished.
Um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa

The is the second post in a row I've inadvertently deleted after I finished writing it but before I posted it—and, therefore, saved it. So you are going to get the abbreviated version of my accordion purchase story: I found a used Bell accordion on sale for 50% off at the Salvation Army store. It was in quite good condition, so I bought it. Then I located an old man who works out of his garage in Hacienda Heights restoring accordions. He put on new straps for me and cleaned the reeds inside. He confirmed the accordion is in good condition. He also said it is a good size for me; it has the full keyboard (41 keys) and bass (120 buttons) but it is not as big (or heavy) as some accordions are.

Now my project is to learn to play it better. I taught myself the basics when I was younger by sitting in front of the full-length mirror in my parents' bedroom with my mother's accordion and figuring out how the buttons worked.

P.S. I just got back from the Path to Freedom home, where I bought salad mix and broccoli. I've already made a salad for lunch and can't wait to eat it!

Saturday, February 22, 2003

The spirit is willing, but....

So much for my resolution not to spend so much time online. This morning I popped over to Rebecca's Pocket, one of the first sites to which I linked here. She recommended a metasite, dangerousmeta!, which links to environmental stories, among many other topics.

An interesting story via dangerousmeta! is: "Cooking in Danger of Becoming a Lost Art Among Generation Y".
'What my students call cooking, I call reheating,' says Miriam Chaikin, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 'They think heating up a frozen pizza is cooking.'

They are kitchen illiterates.

While Chaikin had been more inclined to study the food habits of faraway peoples, she turned her attention to young Americans after inviting some students to a potluck supper. 'One or two brought cooked food,' she says, 'but the rest just showed up with a bag of chips.'

Could it be that kids had no idea how to cook? To find out, Chaikin sent her assistant to the local grocery to photograph the contents of students' shopping carts. The results were very encouraging - for Swanson's shareholders.

'Only 12 percent of the things they were buying gave clear evidence of cooking - things like oil or fresh vegetables or baking supplies,' says Chaikin. The rest were convenience items like frozen dinners and deli sandwiches or plain old junk food and soda.
However, I don't know how representative college students would be of a generation's cooking habits. Perhaps a study of people in their first jobs beyond school would be more telling.

Another site via Rebecca, Miss Vickie, is all about pressure cooking.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Airline travel and global warming

Here's a link to an article in yesterday's New York Times on "Offsetting Environmental Damage by Planes" by Harry Rijnen.
On a round trip from New York to London, according to the calculations of the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management in Scotland, a Boeing 747 spews out about 440 tons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. That is about the same amount that 80 S.U.V.'s emit in a full year of hard driving.
However, airline travel contributes only a small, though rising, percentage of total carbon dioxide emissions:
There may be cause for more concern in the years ahead. Despite the current lull in air travel and according to figures provided by the Edinburgh Center, an independent consulting group, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from civil aviation will double from 1999 to 2015, to 900 million tons a year, despite a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency by the airline industry over the period. By 2015, airplanes' share of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions will rise to 3 percent from 2 percent in 1999.
A small aside: the article mentions Barrow-in-Furness, a seaside town in NW England. I visited there in the mid-1980s; it's where Trident submarines were built.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Yummy muffins

Last night I made a muffin recipe from the packet of Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal I bought at Trader Joe's. My mother recommended eating flaxseeds for their many health benefits. The muffins are very tasty—and moist—even though they don't have any oil. (I just read the package—flaxseeds are a substitute for shortening or oil.)
Bob's Red Mill Bran Flax Muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 3/4 cup oat bran
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, shredded
  • 2 apples, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together flour, flaxseed meal, oat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in carrots, apples, raisins (if desired), and nuts. Combine milk, beaten eggs, and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Yield: 15 medium muffins. (Warning: I ended up with 23 muffins.)

Monday, February 17, 2003

Clippings for my files

First, a story in the NY Times by William L. Hamilton about a couple, Arthur and Nan Kellam, who moved to an island off the coast of Maine:
[T]he Kellams lived without running water or electricity, chopping their wood, growing their vegetables, and rowing miles over open ocean to buy supplies like kerosene, careful to return at day's end, devoted to their island.

Arthur read to Nan in the evening while the bread baked — Dickens, Lady Murasaki's "Tale of Genji."

The Kellams' small, remarkable story has recently started to ripple, like the trace of a stone descending in water. A book, "Alone Together" (Pond Press; $17.95), by David Graham, a photographer in Philadelphia, and Nicols Fox, a writer in Maine, was published in December.
They left California and Mr Kellam's job at Lockheed at age 38.
In their new life, "spending the days would become a spontaneous, not a socially controlled affair. We hoped to build a simple house and a simple life, to learn to appreciate fundamental things."

...Existence on the island in the winter, though, could be as rough as the sea. "You look at their notes, noting temperature," Mr. Graham said. "My wife and I lived in a house that we heated with wood for 14 years. Anyone who hasn't done it doesn't understand."
Second, a story about the controversy over salmon farms off the coast of British Columbia by John C. Ryan in The Christian Science Monitor:
The global fish-farming industry continues to grow, providing one-third of the fish people consume. But as production rises, so do questions about environmental impact and the conditions under which fish are raised. British Columbia, with its tradition of commercial fishing, tribal fishing rights, and environmental activism, sits at the center of the controversy....

Farmed salmon is the province's most valuable legal export crop. (Only marijuana is believed to bring in more cash.) Most of the farms grow Atlantic salmon, which are more docile and faster-growing than Pacific salmon. "It's like raising any kind of livestock, you don't want them fighting each other, you want them eating," says Mary Ellen Walling, director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association.

The isolated fjords and straits of the central coast are ideal for raising salmon: their strong, clean tides flush wastes away from the floating net-pens where fish are raised in dense concentrations. Clusters of farms closer to the US border have been hard-hit in recent years by diseases that can spread from farm to farm. When viruses occur, farm operators are often forced to kill all their fish, compost them on land, and sterilize all nets, boats, and equipment....

The promise of aquaculture is that it can provide nutritious seafood while reducing demands on the world's oceans. Fish farms are careful not to waste the fish meal they feed to salmon....Even so, raising carnivores like salmon and shrimp may actually reduce the amount of fish in the sea. It takes 2-1/2 pounds of ground-up fish to make a pound of farmed salmon.

Thursday, February 13, 2003


Please excuse the rather long pauses here recently.

The rains finally arrived, a welcome relief. However, with the rain comes unaccustomed gloom that matches too closely much of the news.

There is an interesting column by David Wessel in today's WSJ: "Americans Are Getting Fatter, And Technology Is to Blame" (paid subscription required). He cites a study by Harvard economists David Cutler and Edward Glaeser and graduate student Jesse Shapiro that shows we eat more because food takes less time to prepare, thanks to technological developments such as the microwave and manufacturing processes that allow food to be pre-prepared. For example:
Consider the potato. "Before World War II," the Harvard trio write in a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper, "Americans ate massive amounts of potatoes, largely baked, boiled or mashed. French fries were rare, both at home and in restaurants, because the preparation ... requires a significant amount of peeling, cutting and cooking." Today, french fries are peeled, cut and cooked in factories, then shipped frozen to be reheated in a fast-food fryer or a kitchen microwave. The french fry is now the dominant form of potato in the U.S. Between 1977 and 1995, Americans ate 30% more potatoes, almost all of that in fattening fries or chips.

Friday, February 07, 2003

End of the week

It's unbelievable that the weekend already has arrived. Work was really busy—I finally got a desk and computer. The commute takes too much time, whether I drive or take the bus, especially right now during Chinese New Year's celebrations. Today's bus adventure was that the first bus didn't come. So the next one was packed to overflowing with high school students late for school. I barely squeezed on—I was standing in the stairwell. I missed the connecting bus by a few minutes, so had an hour to wait for the next one. There's a 7-11 right there, so I bought a paper to read. Then it just so happened that my former neighbor, who has a job cleaning local bus stops, pulled up while I was waiting, so we had a good conversation.

Tomorrow I'm leading the women's Bible study at church. The study is on John 11, about the resurrection of Lazarus. So I need to work on that more tonight and early tomorrow.

This weekend: the Bible study; housework; groceries; book review; music on Sunday; reunion stuff.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Today today

A keyed up brain, again. The list format and sentence fragments of this entry are to get stuff out of my brain so I can wind down.

The shuttle. In my small church there are three retired JPL employees. This morning, one of them brought pictures of the various space craft and space shuttles he's worked on or seen launched.

Music. Played the organ for the English service and piano for the Spanish service. I really like the Lutheran Spanish hymnbook, Libro de Liturgia y Cantico. At $13 for the pew edition, it's a great deal for anyone wanting to learn some new music. The melody line with chords is printed. (The chords are written in the do-re-mi system, which I hadn't learned when I started playing for the Spanish service. But it didn't take long to pick it up.) And some of the songs have English translations, too.

News. (At boarding school, on Thursday afternoons we had "news and music." We pupils weren't allowed to have radios, and television was available only in the cities and then only from about 6 to 10 pm. Time magazine arrived a few weeks late, and by the time all the teachers had read it, it was really outdated. So once a week, the headmaster gave us a précis of current events. I still remember sitting on the green-polished floor of the library—if you were wearing white socks, the green floor polish would rub off on your socks—in 1975 hearing about the start of the civil war in Beruit.)

In today's paper, another reminder that the energy we use to heat our homes and cook our food comes from somewhere and at a cost, in this case, methane gas from Wyoming: "Prosperity's Brutal Price," by Jim Robbins.
"Whiskey's for drinking and water's for fighting," they say out here. But [Ed] Swartz and many other ranchers around Wyoming and throughout the West are now engaged in a fight that has turned that adage on its head. It's not about too little water but too much--too much of the wrong kind. Water is being pumped out of the ground at a neighbor's ranch upstream because the water contains methane gas. After the gas is stripped out, the water, with high levels of sodium, is considered waste and is dumped into the creek that runs through Swartz's property. "I want things back like they were," says Swartz. "The state is so greedy for money they will let anything happen. They will ignore their own rules, laws and regulations to kiss [up to] the methane industry. And it really, really bothers me."

....There's a for-us or against-us mentality here. People who question the way gas producers do business or advocate more regulation may feel [small gas company president] Kennedy's wrath. People such as Swartz, who lives 20 miles out of town, are in the minority. The term "wackoenvironmentalists" is all one word in Gillette, and comes from deep within the people who use the term. Those in the methane industry are living large, and nobody is getting in the way if Kennedy can help it.

[Edit 2/10/03: Just came across a Mother Jones article about this story, published in their Nov/Dec 2002 issue.]

Saturday, February 01, 2003


I first heard about the shuttle when I got in my car to go to the Farmer's Market this morning. When I got back home, like many others, I had the television on much of the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. In fact, while I was writing the earlier post today, I was watching the shuttle news. Joseph Duemer at reading & writing captures some of what I was thinking/feeling.

Right now: watching the Jackson Five on The Ed Sullivan Show being (re)broadcast on PBS.

Just turned on the news again. New images of shuttle pieces that have been found. A recording of the last contact with the crew.

From tomorrow's LA Times, a story on the use of DDT to combat malaria-carrying mosquitos in S. Africa. Malaria is a huge problem in Zambia, too.

At home we took Daraprim as a prophylaxis for malaria once a week on Sunday nights. At school we were given Paludrine every night at supper. The teacher at the head of each table counted out the tablets into the metal cap of the bottle and passed it around the table for each of us to take one. When we were sick, sometimes we were given chloroquine just in case we had malaria.

Since I've lived in Zambia, chloroquine-resistant malaria has become more of a problem. As the article states, in Africa, including Zambia, "malaria is the leading cause of death for children under 5." According to the article, Zambia, too, uses DDT to fight malaria. The danger of using such extreme measures is noted by Dr. Avertino Barreto, deputy director of Mozambique's Health Ministry: "Malaria is a terrible problem, but you can save one life today and kill 10 lives in the future."

[Edit: 6:45 pm. To anyone who might have read the earlier version of this post, I conflated tsetse fly control methods I remembered seeing as a child with mosquito control. "One of the methods used to (try to) control mosquitos tsetse flies was to cut down swathes of trees along roads, presumably destroying the mosquitos' tsetse flies' habitat. However, it was discovered that mosquitos tsetse flies didn't live in the tops of trees; rather, they preferred the small bushes that quickly grew up around the stumps. There were also mosquito tsetse fly check points along the roads. In the middle of nowhere, suddenly there would be a rickety wooden barrier across the road. A mosquito tsetse fly control officer would walk around the car banging underneath it with a mosquito net and then spray the car with insecticide from a dented pump can."]