Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mercury: Couch Potatoes, Beware!

This very morning, MESSENGER, which is the first space craft we Earthlings have ever put into orbit around Mercury, sent back 364 images of the planet.

Think about it, people.  There is a man-made vehicle out there that managed to fly through space and arrive at a tiny planet, settle into an orbit around said planet, and beam back photos, all without being sucked into the sun or just floating off into the universe. Next time your GPS sends you in the wrong direction or your iPhone doesn’t receive your buddy’s text message from the other side of the office and you think about excusing the manufacturer (we’re only human after all, right?), keep that in mind.

Actual photo of Mercury, sent by MESSENGER just this morning!

So anyway, this whole thing started me wondering exactly how hot Mercury is.  It’s pretty much right next to the sun, right?  And the sun is a bit toasty.

I found a great site called that listed some details on this subject, including temperature readings in Fahrenheit. This was crucial for me because as a lazy, ignorant American I refuse to really learn Celsius. Or Kelvin. Hence, my love of this site. Anyway, it turns out that because Mercury has no atmosphere, the temps vary wildly between day and night, more so even than they do here in metro Atlanta (if you can believe it). According to Thomas Watters:  Just before sunrise on a typical day on Mercury the temperature is -300 °F (-180 °C). By midmorning the temperature rises to 80 °F (27 °C). At noontime, 22 Earth days since the sun rise, it has climbed to 765 °F (407 °C).

What really caught my attention was that midmorning balmy temperature of 80 degrees (F). I mean, that’s a fabulous temperature, am I right?  Let's think this through as to how this is relevant to people.  On Mercury a day lasts 58.6 Earth days, and Mercury is 9525 miles around at its equator.  Therefore, if you are on Mercury and you just move in the opposite direction of Mercury’s spin at a mere 6.7 miles per hour, you can remain in that comfy, 80 degree zone, feeling pleasantly warm and working on your tan while getting in some good aerobic activity, all the time!  Of course, if you stop moving… well, that song “Here Comes The Sun” takes on a whole new ominous tone.

Talk about incentive to get up and move!  Sitting around on the couch watching DWTS reruns or playing Wii would not seem as appealing as here on Earth.  You could totally choose your method of movement: running, biking, roller-blading, skateboarding (not sure the surface is conducive for small-wheeled vehicles, though).  Mercury people would be, like, the fittest people in the solar system!  Couldn’t you picture Richard Simmons doing a whole Mercury Movement series?

This is how my mind works on rainy Wednesdays when I’m supposed to be doing schoolwork.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Go Ahead. Call Me Normal. I Dare You.

Today I tweeted a question (that always sounds weird to me) asking why some folks think it’s an insult to call someone “weird.” It started me thinking about this whole weirdness thing, and I figured I’d share my thoughts. I’m a giver.

This whole topic came to mind because of a recent reconnection with an old friend. Said old friend – let’s just call him the Pilot – and I have known each other long enough to have birthed a theoretical love child who would, in theoretical world, be of drinking age. However, our friendship is like a donut, in that there's this big hole in the middle (long, odd story to that).

Anyway, the Pilot and I have spent some quality beer time catching up on life and all that happened during our 12-year hiatus, and I’ve noticed that after several of my stories, the Pilot will respond with, “You’re such a dork” or “You are really odd.”  He’s not saying that in an endearing way, either. It has a sneery, cliquey, Mean Girls quality to it. I can almost picture him in a plaid mini-skirt, knee-high socks and flats ala "Glee" when he says it; even if he's not a bad looking guy, that's not a mental photo anyone wants.

Fortunately, I am quite agéd, “seasoned” if you will, and such comments don’t really bug me. Instead, they just surprise me, in that I have this Pollyanna belief in my head that people of my age should be beyond such petty high schoolishness. You know?  I mean, seriously, who at my age cares about being a dork anymore? We have bigger things to think about, like wrinkles, white hairs, spider veins, odd aches and pains or trying to sort out if we can pretend that any of the latest clothing trends are appropriate for our age. In other words, we’re all dorks, just because that’s what our age makes us.

Hat = Didn't want to "do" my hair. Sunglasses = Way to avoid make-up.
Embracing my inner geek has freed me up to enjoy life immensely. Some of the most fun and memorable experiences of my life came about because I disregarded doing what others considered appropriate or cool or safe. I moved to L.A. after college, with almost no support system to speak of, because I’d never been there. I hiked across a lava flow in Hawaii. I started running marathons at the age of 27… in fact, I started running at the age of 27. I participated in a flash mob. I worked on a TV show just because. I introduced myself to Brendan Frasier, twice! I lost a bet at trivia and had to (got to?) sing karaoke to a bar of strangers. I can boast an amazingly diverse set of friends – diverse in more ways than you can imagine – who make life interesting every day.

And I quit a lucrative career to pursue this teaching degree thing, after which, if I’m lucky, I’ll make close to one third of my most recent pre-grad-school salary. Let me repeat that… One. Third. Why the heck am I doing this then, you ask? Because it’s a passion and a dream, and I want to make a difference. That decision, with that rationale, is the definition of dorky and odd.

So bring it on. Try to call me normal. I dare you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Get It Now. We’re Just Hazing Them.

I’ve been confused lately by all the Muslim-bashing going on in this country.  I mean, aren’t we supposed to welcome all races, colors and creeds here?  Isn’t the United States proud to be the “melting pot” of the world, promising freedom of speech, religion and poor clothing choices (hello again, jeggings)?

Being immersed once more in the college environment has given me a new perspective on the situation, and it hit me this morning what’s really going on here: hazing. The United States is a gigantic fraternity making sure every group – essentially every pledge – takes a turn being harassed and cowed into submission to prove its worthiness.

Let’s take a look at some of the former pledges who have gone through the hazing process, sometimes brutally, before being accepted into our great fraternity:
  • Catholics
  • The Irish
  • Germans 
  • Italians
  • Quakers
  • The Chinese
  • African Americans (freedmen… slaves do not qualify as having been “hazed”)
  • Mexicans
  • Jews
  • The Japanese
  • Germans (again)
  • Cubans
  • Canadians
  • Puerto Ricans
  • Homosexuals (still treated as pledges by some)

And this list isn’t even exhaustive.  Okay, so the Canadians aren’t pledges, but we sure like to treat them like they are sometimes, don’t we?

What I’m getting at here is that the U.S. has a long history of what appears to the uninitiated to be outrageous cruelty and prejudice toward one cultural group after another.  However, that simply cannot be the truth of the matter, considering what our country is supposed to stand for.  Right?  I mean aren’t we supposed to be proud of our wide ranging heritage?  Don’t we actively and aggressively support every fathomable kind of “diversity and inclusion” in our schools, communities and workplaces? 

Don’t we talk of Ellis Island with awe, and didn’t everyone who emigrated through Ellis Island since 1886 pass by the iconic Statue of Liberty?  The last lines of the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty read as follows:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send them, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
~ Emma Lazarus

We placed this promise on the base of a statue that was and still should be emblematic of the nature of our country – a shining light of acceptance and welcome; a safe haven for the strong and the downtrodden; a place of asylum, opportunity and freedom.

Therefore, all the rhetoric about and hateful commentary directed toward Muslims can’t be actual, ignorant prejudice. Because that would mean we’re not who we say we are. Instead, I have to hold to the idea that the rest of us (our various culture groups) have had to go through it, and now according to the fraternity code (one, frankly, which I find ludicrous) it’s their turn.  I guess?

Don’t worry, Muslim-Americans. We’ll teach you the secret handshake soon, I’m sure. And then we’ll likely focus our attention on a new pledge.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Japan: Surreal 30,000-Foot Perspective

Since March 11, we all have been bombarded with scenes and stories highlighting the unspeakably tragic events unfolding in Japan. Image after image reinforces the almost unfathomable physical devastation.
A friend of mine flew over Japan on business a few days ago, and from thousands of feet in the air he took this photo of the coastline.

What do you notice?  I’ll tell you what I noticed… beauty and nature in stunning simplicity.  Looking at this image through the lens of the last several days is painful and surreal and poignant.  I find it almost cruel how lovely, serene and normal this image is.  I mean, shouldn’t the scars of the earthquake and tsunami and the very aching grief itself of the Japanese people be somehow reflected on the landscape?  
Perhaps this picture ought to remind me to appreciate the resilience of the earth, its hardiness and its very constancy in the face of dramatic upheaval. But I can’t. I can’t celebrate that today. Today I grieve down in my soul for everyone in Japan who is simply trying to endure… trying to remember just to breathe.
Today, this image as much as the others breaks my heart.

My Kids and Big Love

My daughter’s latest career aspirations came to light over the weekend when my husband, kids and I attended my close friend’s birthday dinner at a semi-traditional Turkish restaurant; I say “semi-traditional” because their kids’ menu included pizza and chicken fingers, which I do not believe qualify as Turkish fare. You do, however, sit on comfy cushions at low tables to eat, and they serve delicious Middle Eastern food, like kebobs (hello! yum!) for us grown-ups. 
They also have a belly dancer. My Ballerina was entranced from the first twitch of this woman’s hips. By the end of the evening, Ballerina was serenely mirroring the “dance belly’s” moves.  She refused to leave the restaurant before the dance belly finished her set, and Ballerina has since shown off the sways, swishes and gyrations (toddler-version) of her chosen future profession to any who will observe. We do not allow tipping, thank you very much.
While this development challenges my husband’s sensibilities, it doesn’t compare, in my mind, to the conversation to which I was privy on the way home tonight from preschool. Things to know – Bear is 4, Ballerina is 3, Gabbie is a new girl in Bear’s classroom and Tyler is a little girl in Ballerina’s classroom. On with the replay:
Bear: Mom! I played with Gabbie today all day! She is my friend already, and I’m going to marry her.
Ballerina: What about me?
Bear: I can’t marry you. Brothers in a family can’t marry sisters.
Ballerina: But I want to marry you.
Bear: I’m marrying Gabbie. What boys at school do you want to marry?
Ballerina: You.
(Thus commenced a thorough discussion of the relative merits of every boy in each of their classrooms. Finally…)
Bear: Okay, I’ll let you marry Evan.
Ballerina: Okay. I’ll marry Evan. And I’ll marry Tyler, too.
Bear: You can’t marry Tyler. She’s a girl. You can’t marry a girl.
Ballerina: I’m going to marry both Evan and Tyler.
Bear: That’s so cool! You’ll be two mommies and a daddy! I’ll let you do that.
Let’s recap. Based on this past weekend and tonight, my children’s future includes belly dancing, misogyny, patriarchy, dangerous proximity to incest and polygamy.
Winning!  (Off to get a glass of wine…)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

If you are even just an occasional visitor to my little bloggy thing, you know by now that I occasionally diverge from theme to address a random top-of-mind topic. Today’s random topic is Dancing. More specifically, I’m curious about the state of dancing in this country.
Why, you may ask, is this even a blip in your tiny mind? 
First and foremost, I love to dance.  I cannot imagine how music doesn’t affect some people.  I hear music (most music, let’s be fair) and it just goes through my whole being. The rhythm gets my heart pounding and my shoulders twitching and my feet moving.  I find myself swaying to the beat almost without realizing it.
What brought this to mind, though, was my Bear.  Simply put, the boy loves to dance.  Seriously, he is, as my uncle would have said, “a dancing fool.”  He will watch the same Bubble Guppies ditty on our DVR over and over while committing the song to memory and simultaneously creating his own little dance routine, which he then will demonstrate to me with the pride of a Broadway choreographer. 
Bear’s joy of movement and dedication to his craft are impressive (and not just a little hilarious, I admit).  It made me wonder whether boys these days – older boys, primarily – retain the same reticence to dance that was prevalent in boys of my age when I was growing up. Back in junior high school, boys attended our periodic dances for the sole reason that girls would be present.  By high school… let’s just say that prom seemed to be a reluctant afterthought. Between those events, boys I knew tended to express their love of music by playing air guitar or sitting and nodding their noggins to the beat rather than putting on their boogie shoes.
These days, from my extremely muddy viewpoint, this dance-a-phobia appears to still haunt the teenage male, aside from a fortunate few. Why is this the case? Why are boys discouraged from letting music seep into their bones? Why do adults let their sons believe dancing shouldn’t be seen as a fun or “cool” thing to do?
Ladies, come on, don’t you agree that a man who can move well on the dance floor is fantastically attractive?  I mean, truly, think about male music stars… think of Usher.  Take a moment.  Okay, now focus; eyes (and mind) back here, please.  His voice is smooth and his smile is sexy, but it’s those moves that really seal the deal on how appealing the man is.  Am I right?  It doesn’t have to be a “sexy” thing, by any means, and often it’s fun, even barrier-destroying, just to see a person – male or female – who’s able to express the joy of movement and music through dance.  If we acknowledge the appeal of a man who can dance, why don’t we encourage or even teach our boys to dance these days?  Why is dancing seen as an embarrassment rather than an edge over the competition that we should hone and refine?
I, for one, will continue to praise my Bear as he spins and emotes and bops around the family room.  His adult years are a long way away, but I’m all about giving my son an edge for when that time comes.  Young ladies of 2028, look out!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Was it You, Chris Hanson?

I take the MARTA rail to school to save time, money and sanity. As of this past Tuesday, I will also be on the lookout for the free live entertainment.
Tuesday morning, my fellow rail riders and I had just settled into our commute, when 2 or 3 stops down the line, a very angry man boarded the train. From the moment the doors closed, he stomped up and down the entire train care, yelling things like, “How dare you tell me I’m going to hell?! How dare you say that because I am a gay man, I am going to hell?!”  See?  Angry.
Now, let me just say for the record that if someone said such a thing to this man, I fully support his outrage. To my fellow riders’ credit, from their expressions, many felt the same way.
That being said, after a few parades up and down the train, it was clear that he hadn’t actually identified the snot who had insulted him. He started to appear angry at the air, frankly.
Two minutes of pissiness flew around the train, when a man behind me said to Angry Man, “I’m sure you are justified in your anger. However, the idiot who said this to you either isn’t on the train or doesn’t really care. I’m sorry it happened, but you’re yelling at the wrong people.”
Angry Man now turned his fury on Master of Reason, accusing him of being just another horrible white man trying to oppress and subdue a Black man. What proceeded from there can only be described as a fascinating dialogue that truly, if it had been incorporated into a film script, would have been decried as overly dramatic and “this would never happen in real life.” Seriously.
First, Master of Reason very genially – and loudly – tried to sway the topic from his race by announcing that he “didn’t get a multiple choice card to choose [his] color when [he] slid out of [his] mama.” Topics from there ranged from the perceived racism of all white people to the idea that HIV was genetically manufactured by white people to oppress minorities to the idea that Angry Man “won’t touch a white man to scratch him” because “all you people have diseases” to Master of Reason’s relapse into drug addiction and recent return to sobriety. How do I know all this? Because they were speaking loudly, in stage voices meant to resonate throughout the train car. Why, I ask you? Why?
At one point, Angry Man sat next to Master of Reason to continue their discussion, with a very grand: “Don’t touch me, now.”  They then introduced themselves to one another; thus Angry Man became Jack and Master of Reason became Todd.
About every 3 minutes throughout this entire dialogue, which, as I mentioned, was conducted in loud stage voices, Jack or Todd would suddenly burst out with, “But just know that I love you, brother!” To which the other would reply, “Oh, I love you, too, brother!” Thus, their conversation would resume. It was like the chorus of a song, interjected at key points throughout their little script.
As the train neared my stop, I couldn’t help looking around for cameras. I kept thinking, “This has to be one of those Chris Hanson ‘What Would You Do’ scenarios.” Right? Am I right? Did the show air yet?
You can’t make this stuff up!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mr. BMW & the Trunk of Mystery

Right in the heat of evening rush hour tonight, I was driving down my town’s major 4-lane thoroughfare toward the kids’ preschool. Traffic was thick but moving along at a decent clip.

Near the crest of a hill, I came to a stop behind about 20 cars that were waiting through a red light.  The left lane started moving before mine did, but I didn’t think anything of it until, as I crept forward, I realized that a newer model, black BMW 6 or 7 cars ahead of me in the right lane was stopped with the driver’s side door ajar and the trunk open. Yes, the trunk, not the hood. No hazard lights, but I figured that if the car had just broken down, the driver might not have gotten around to that yet.

As I inched closer to the BMW, the driver – a very put-together-looking guy with a not-icky ponytail – emerged from the car and walked to the very full trunk where he rummaged around a little. Then he got back in the car. I assumed his next step would be either (1) to close the driver side door or (2) to turn on the hazards. Nope! Mr. BMW got back out and rummaged around in the trunk again.

By this time, traffic in the left lane had slowed, so I managed to move over and continue forward. As I passed the BMW, the driver closed his trunk, glanced at me, and got back into his car. I looked in my rearview mirror a moment later only to see Mr. BMW close his driver’s side door… whereupon he turned on the car, lit up the headlights and drove away. Seriously.

To summarize, Mr. BMW determined that, in the middle of rush hour traffic, in the right lane of a major 4-lane road, he needed to adjust something  in his trunk so desperately he couldn’t wait to pull into a parking lot or side street. This got me wondering… what could have been that important?

I believe I’ve figured it out. The way I see it, Mr. BMW had a Mogwai in the trunk. Not only that, it was a Mogwai from New Zealand. It totally makes sense!  Think about it. When I headed out to get my kids, it was approaching 6:00pm Eastern Time, at which time it was approaching midnight in New Zealand. As we all know, Mogwais have to be prevented from eating after midnight. IF this Mogwai had just arrived in the U.S. today and therefore was still technically on New Zealand time, and IF Mr. BMW realized he had food in his trunk, it would have been imperative to get that food away from the Mogwai post-haste!  Otherwise, he would have had Gremlins afoot, and we all know how that would have turned out.

I think we all owe Mr. BMW a huge thank-you for his quick thinking and selfless act. Next time you see someone stalled in traffic, take a moment and think before you get frustrated and make snap judgments. The driver could be saving you, too, from the perils of a hungry, jet-lagged Mogwai.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do You Like Piña Coladas?

I’m on Spring Break right now, and let me tell you, the piña coladas are flowing! Dig my fabulous tan!  Woo-hoo! Par-Tay! Right? Right?

Hate to disappoint with the boring-ocity that is I, but seriously, one of the big changes from my undergrad to my (second) graduate studies is the overwhelming desire to take advantage of this “free” time in order to get ahead in my class reading and project preparations.  Sad sad sad state of affairs.  I have become a responsiblesque, adult-ish person.

The thing that is most disturbing is my need – not desire, but actual physical requirement to remain sane – to see my grade for my most recent assignment in one of my classes.  I will not share which class, but it’s one that I’m taking online.  My professor for one of the two online classes I’m taking is incredibly responsive and gives feedback almost constantly, which is very helpful.  Grades for each assignment are typically posted within a couple of days so we can sort out if we’re doing alright or should quit, just quit, give up and cry and admit defeat.  Or just study harder.  For my other class, however, I will be surprised if by the end of the semester I have even the foggiest notion of how I’m performing. 

I find myself checking our online learning system 4 or 5 times a day in the hope that maybe, just maybe, today I will discover if I did alright on my most recent assignment (turned in almost 2 weeks ago) or if I flubbed it.  Seriously, people, 4 or 5 times a day. Every day.  What could this man possibly be doing to prevent him from posting grades for so long?  These assignments are not extensive. What, does he think he’s allowed to have a life of any kind until he reveals our grades to us?  Does he?

Or maybe he’s on Spring Break. Drinking my piña coladas and getting a tan. Or getting caught in the rain.

Time to get back to studying.
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