Friday, April 28, 2006

Georgetown Day

I lay on my back on the low brick retaining wall, enjoying the play of soft sunlight and leaf shadows across my closed eyelids. My head was cushioned by my backpack, my jeans the perfect springtime wear for public lounging. I'd eaten two hamburgers (with mustard, ketchup and relish), slurped two strawberry slurpies, mouthed a misshapen mass of cotton candy, and drunk a diet coke. It was all very satisfying.

Today was Georgetown Day, an event that I had missed, somehow, my previous two years at the university. Comes of being a TA, I suppose, that I would have to be on campus on this Friday morning and see the front lawns crowded with tables, tents, giant inflatable rides/games (a battered mechanical bull in the middle of a big air-filled cushion looked for all the world like an unhappy mutt being washed in an enormous brown kiddie pool), and hundreds and hundreds of students celebrating their penultimate day of classes. The best news: the food was all free. There was pizza, and the burgers, and a couple of trays of Chick-fil-a sandwiches (that disappeared in a twinkling), vast quantities of watermelon, fruit drinks, soft drinks, bottled water, cake, and the cotton candy machine.

The cotton candy machine, as with all the other tables of goodies and games, were manned by undergraduate volunteers--in this case, two blond-in-body-and-soul giggling girls who alternated between terror and audaciousness in their assigned task. They kept switching the machine on and off, not sure of how to produce their eagerly-awaited product, hesitantly sprinkling in sugar-preparation from the supply-carton, then panicking when the odor of warm caramel rolled back at them. Little wisps of spun sugar floated up and over their bemused customers, and when a more experienced volunteer arrived and instructed them to pour the stuff into the beater, they dumped the carton with such abandon that sugar-pellets exploded all over his face and chest. Soon, though, they got the hang of candy-twirling, and I got the first serving. It was oddly shaped and kept trying to blow off the paper cone, but it was good.

The day was glorious, the sort of weather I dream of spending in a small green private garden, sitting in a comfortable chair with a good book, while little breezes tease the down on the back of my neck. It was an Impressionist day--a day Monet would have been in his garden, Degas at the races, and Manet painting some lissome beauty surrounded by flowers and flowing pastel draperies.

I took the shuttle to the Law Center, and strolled thence by the Capitol Building to the Library of Congress. The granite fountain on the plaza below the grander of the Senate offices was playing in the sunshine and wind, sparkling water gushing over the stone into a huge blue basin. The pink tea-rose bushes around the water were blooming, the trees were bursting with cheerful green foliage, and in the distance the white marble arches of Union Station were the perfect backdrop for the multicolored flags rippling at the top of their poles beside still another fountain.

At the LOC, I read part of a book about global AIDS. It is such a blessing to be healthy--I don't think I realize that, nor am properly grateful for it, except on days like today where it is such a delight to be sensitively alive.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Birthday (Happy) and Write-Offs

Happy first birthday to my dear honorary nephew, the apple-cheeked lad known to my blog-readers as Micah Baker, son of Leah and Aaron. I missed giving him my congratulations in person today, but look forward to seeing him at his official party on Sunday!

The Georgetown Muslim Student Association papered the campus yesterday with cheerful "fact posters." One that caught my eye in particular was a picture of a happy hijab-wearing girl that had the caption "Even a smile is a charity--Muhammed." I couldn't help thinking, "Yeah, but claim that on your taxes and the IRS will audit yo' ass before you can say insha'allah." Sometimes I'm mentally very rude!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The End of Women's Education

I am torqued, frankly, on reading well-written bloglinks of bloglinks that a common question asked of Christian classical educators is based on the supposition that these girls will become "only" wives and mothers. The response to this query on why must needs girls be classically educated at all is clearly formulated and entirely persuasive in the aforementioned link, but I am decidedly upset by the catalytic contention that all good Christian girls will necessarily become wives, and that they will be mothers. I am certainly not saying that these roles, and the preparation to undertake them, are not wholly laudable, worthwhile, and thoroughly noble (though I am sure it does not always seem so, given the advent of dirty diapers, dishes and laundry that is usually a part of such work), but that to think that they are the ultimate end of ends for all believing members of the female sex is to be complacent and moreover, presumptuous.

I thought this had been understood. I thought that the experience of two millennia of Christian experience had driven the concept like Jael's tentstake through the insensible skulls of the senseless married masses: that some women (even those--GASP!--who want to) don't get married. Some, even married, don't have children. So, what then? Are these women to be uneducated? What is the purpose of the education they do receive? Are they to eschew further intellectual advancement because of their having encountered this non-matrimonial "career ceiling"?

It's not that there aren't lots of rotten things that can be legitimately associated with the culture's presumption of female employment (moms of babies being forced to return to work in stale computerized offices when they'd rather devote their energies to nursing and cuddling their newborns at home, besides the other extra pressures involved in juggling family and employed life), it's just that there doesn't seem to be an acknowledgement, particularly in the Protestant community, that there has to be another option for women between the "Christian" wife/mother and the "godless feminist" education/career models. Otherwise, you have little girls asking thirty-something people like me, "Why aren't you married?" and growing up to be devastated, their entire religious and social identity undermined, when they find they aren't married themselves, despite their best intentions thereto. Single women aren't anomalies in today's church, and the subtle understanding that no one knows quite what to do with us from what has unfortunately been developed as the common "biblical" point of view is unsettling to people who already are feeling pretty unsettled.

I have already linked, a month or so ago, to this article recommended by The Vulnerable Church, but I think that its theme holds true both in regard to the purpose for which we women are to be educated as well as to why we some of us remain single: so that the glory of God might be displayed in our lives. That bloglink I mentioned earlier in this post made excellent points about the value of classical learning to a woman who would become a wife and mother, but I say it was incomplete. This, to me, is the fundamental purpose of all education for every believer: so that the glory of God might be displayed in our lives. We work, we learn, we love, we live--all that we might Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever.

There are no marrieds in heaven. Isn't it about time that in its attitude towards women the Church directed its energies toward that ultimate goal, rather than merely focusing on the short-term conditions that may indeed add so much to life, but which will ultimately pass away?


My father showed me how to go back in time this afternoon. Well, at least as far as computers are concerned. My laptop was convinced that it lacked the DVD decoder that it has used effectively again and again ever since it was bought for me. Hours of probing its software last night and this morning did nothing to set this misapprehension to rights.

Daddy recommended I restore older settings--one of those handy things one can do without erasing files. A "completely reversible process" in fact. I returned to February 8. And my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban worked perfectly! I'd forgotten that a central plot device in the film was the time-turner, which allowed the heroes to go back in the day to re-trace their steps and rectify their errors...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Special Grace

I have been the happy recipient of special grace this week! The Book and Candy Sale on Alyosha's behalf yesterday could have turned into a fiasco--we had major, unexpected competition just a few feet away on the quad in the form of an enormous book sale on behalf of underprivileged children, and nobody I'd asked showed up to help me set up or run the show...except for one faithful girl who appeared for 45 minutes at the end of the day. So, it was essentially a one-woman effort. But, one after the other, people from my department (several of them bare acquaintances whose names I didn't even know!), spontaneously appeared to help me. God indeed blessed me--logistically and psychologically, I couldn't have done it without them.

At the outset, there were some dozen large boxes filled with donated books, and my tables and tent to set up, not to mention the candy to unpack. Seeing my plight, the senior department secretary (who'd I'd thought a bit of a pill when I first arrived at Georgetown...only to find out that her husband was dying painfully of lung cancer, which naturally affected her--she's actually very nice!) sweetly helped me trolley everything out onto the quad. Then, a Chinese student with whom I'd exchanged maybe 12 words our entire graduate careers took the hundreds of volumes out of the boxes and neatly arranged all of them on the tables. Then, a Spanish student (I kept wanting to call him "Juan Carlos," but that's not his name--that's the king!) materialized in his stead to keep me company (and watch over things while I ran errands). I'd set up a wicker laundry hamper (abandoned by Alissa in our basement with 4 perfectly decent suits in it--maybe I can consign these and get back a little of the $300 she owes me) for the money people donated or paid, and the bottom was soon covered with crumpled green paper.

When the Spanish guy had to go to class, my friend the chainsmoking Canadian Mormon came to help out, and after a midafternoon hiatus, he returned unexpectedly (Providentially!) when I was just about panicked because my class in the Medical School had been started for ten minutes (the one where I was supposed to be giving the oral report on the Russian special forces' mass use of fentanyl), and I was alone in the booth with no relief in sight.

When I came back after class, my fellow Phi Alpha Theta officer (that girl, who'd had class all day, and was squeezing in a few minutes of volunteering before another commitment that evening) was smiling at the customers, and as the sun was starting to set and the other book sale people were boxing their wares, a girl named Helen-- who'd I'd met when we both attended that academic conference in Maryland two weeks ago--came up and not only bought books, she volunteered to stay and help me pack up everything (We had a lot left over). Finally, after an hour's worth of labor, she noticed that I was exhausted, and said she would take the bus home, get her car, and take me to Arlington.

[Did I mention that I was operating on 4 hours of sleep? I'd goofed off so long after I got back from dinner Tuesday evening that I was up until 4:15 getting the notes together for my oral report, and then I had to be at school by 8:30 to start the setup for the sale. I was wiped out by the end of the day, what with standing up the entire time.]

We made over $500 for Alyosha. And because we had so much left, we plan to have another sale at the beginning of this coming year to raise even more for him. Every little bit helps!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Birthday and Social Frolic

Happy first birthday to my sweet little niece, who colored her first picture today (even though she had some trouble holding the crayon). She's also learned (yesterday) that you put dishes into the dishwasher as well as taking them out, and immediately preceded to load in lids from "her" kitchen cabinet, only to be much chagrined (tears) when her mother removed them. What a bright little penny!

Dinner tonight with a comrade from the "ReThinking Singleness" meeting of earlier this month--good food, great fellowship, fascinating conversation. Weather was lovely all day today, and as comfortable as it was pretty--we met at a downtown Metro station and walked past the White House to the restaurant and later went down on the Mall near the Smithsonian...nothing like a pre- and post-prandial stroll to aid in digestion. I had to nap this afternoon as I was nauseated from lunch (re-transitioning from my sister's delicious Rhode Island cooking to my own DC-area foraging sent my insides into a tailspin) and tired from travel from Providence to Dulles and home Monday afternoon. Admittedly, the return trip was very smooth, even though our little Middle Eastern male flight attendant impressed everyone on the plane as being a bit of a space cadet, what with his forgetting the standard English phrases for basic safety procedures and all.

Tomorrow is the Phi Alpha Theta fundraiser for Alyosha--a book and candy sale I am managing in the campus' main square--and my oral presentation (in the Medical School's Med/Dent Building) on the 2002 Moscow theater siege (which ended with some 150 people dying from the gas Russian special forces pumped into the building to anesthetize the occupants). How I am going to be in two places at once I have not yet figured out, but presumably I will manage it. I have decided not to dress up in antebellum costume, though--I don't think I could stand wearing a period corset all day, not to mention the necessary hoopskirt.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Karaoke, Grand Theft and Family

White smoke shot from a valve above the dance floor, drifting down onto the handful of people gyrating in the black light. A young man lost in an ecstasy of country music lifted a round and cheerful face to embrace the cloud, and disappeared as the moistureless mist curled outward into the crowd.

The Karaoke bar was not packed, but it was remarkably full for a Tuesday night, and Leslie was called up by the DJ-ess about every 45 minutes to belt out her chosen selection. The other prominent singers were a slightly paunchy man in boots who brooded in his off-moments at a table near ours and a black-clad girl from the group of Downs Syndrome youth who smiled and giggled on the other side of the room.

As I was leaving Leah’s after our regular tasty Tuesday dinner, on the way to my Bible study, Leslie had called me and invited me to meet her at the bar at 9:30. I decided to be spontaneous, and went, even though I knew it would put me late to bed. Leslie is the friend of a friend, a person I’d liked from the first—when we met at a Halloween party last fall, we quickly fell to talking about our respective eHarmony experiences and then burst spontaneously into choruses from VeggieTales videos—but I hadn’t had many subsequent occasions to hang out with her.

At the bar, she waved me over to meet two of her church friends—a dark happy brass-voiced woman named Lulu and a merry fair matron named Marianna. While Leslie line-danced, we three sat around a table accented with empty Corona bottles and sang along robustly (yes, we knew all the lyrics) to the music.

It being country night, there were a good number of people in full cowboy regalia (boots, Stetsons, giant belt buckles and jeans), including some acquaintances of Leslie’s—a good-looking black guy who went by the sobriquet “Storm,” and his model-like Russian girlfriend Svetlana. They were regulars, and Storm was one of the most popular dancers, expertly twirling an assortment of partners around the confines of the dance floor.

And then there were the “players” as Lulu and Marianna put it. “When you’ve been married as long as we have,” Lulu announced, “You can pick them out.”

I asked for a sample. Marianna inclined and yelled confidentially into my ear, “You see that guy over there? He was hugging her friend five minutes ago, and now he’s all over her. And that couple dancing? You can tell they didn’t come in together.” Apparently there’s a science to these things.

I did get up and dance once—it was a pretty straightforward pattern, and Leslie counted me through the steps and kicks. She said she hadn’t missed a night since the bar instituted the Tuesday and Wednesday country sessions way back in February. They have free line-dance lessons starting at 7:30, but since she already knows how, she doesn’t arrive until later; she usually comes alone. She suggested I come for the lessons, but I’m a little nervous to go by myself, and said as much. It’s a long haul for a lonesome lesson, a solitary (albeit half-priced) steak and—if and when she does eventually arrive—hours of bellowing cordially at a friend over the din of other patrons and the music.

Our companions left before I did—both said they had babysitters at home, so I asked how many children they had. Lulu—three. Marianna—seven: “Ages nineteen to two,” she smiled. Holy moly.

I headed out after listening to Leslie sing one more number—it was a dark drive from near Dulles to Arlington, and when I got home, Nate was sitting on the couch downstairs, engrossed in Grand Theft Auto—San Andreas. “Is it ten?” he asked.

[I had told him I would be home by ten, not realizing that he would be gauging his video-gaming by my return.]

“It’s actually almost midnight,” I admitted. “I got invited to go out with some friends.”

I HATE Grand Theft Auto. Nate’s not a Christian, so one can’t expect him to have moral sensibilities about it, but it’s meaningless violence taken to a whole new level—you get points for carjacking, assaulting random pedestrians on the street, shooting cops, etc. There’s not even the vague excuse that the on-screen enemy is Nazis (Castle Wolfenstein) or monsters (Doom). And Nate’s language gets even worse than usual when he’s been playing it—he’ll start cursing at the screen, saying the F-word like he would get points for use (well, given the number of times the characters in the game itself say it, maybe he does). And occasionally he gets riled, and he’s not a good angry person.

We still haven’t found a new roommate. I added up the amount Alissa owed me when she left: over $300.

For Easter, I’m in Rhode Island, “hanging with the fam’” as my brother would say. My little niece is truly adorable—she toddles around bow-legged, grinning up at me, and likes to play peek-a-boo. Her favorite toys are a little wooden mallet, and a plastic pig and cow that she carries around, and when she’s not chewing on the farm animals she’s hammering on something, or shyly reaching out a small hand and touching my braid and hairclip. She said “’oose!” today, when I showed her a picture of a goose, and “’at!” when one of her toys meowed. She likes to say, “es, es, es, es!” affirmatively, and clap. She’s a sweet and cuddly little thing with a dark baby-mullet, huge olive eyes, and a deep chuckle, and she hums and kicks her feet when she’s riding in a pack on her mommy’s back. She does get her feelings hurt pretty easily, though—if two adults start laughing, she assumes she’s being ridiculed and bursts into tears. It doesn’t help that this is itself hilarious (Being a mom—or even an aunt—takes a lot of self-control). Her first birthday is Tuesday (her parents are taking her to an aquarium—she loves fish), but we’re celebrating tomorrow. My sister made her a tiny dairy-free vanilla cake with pink and white icing. The rest of us have chocolate and ice cream.

Oh, did I mention the water in Rhode Island smells like cream of mushroom soup? It’s nauseating, especially when you: 1) don’t care for that particular flavor of soup, 2) are so stuffed to the gills from eating good food that the mere thought of some other edible makes you want to barf. I came out of the shower last night smelling like an undercooked pot roast. But at least I was a clean undercooked pot roast.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Exam Tomorrow

Flat tire yesterday. No time to write today. I've got to review the BMBL (the handbook on Biosafety for Microbiology and Biomedical Laboratories) and other resources in preparation for a test tomorrow afternoon, and so can't spend time blogging. But I'm sure, barring incident or accident, that I will return in full compositional force in the short term. Thanks to all who commented on recent posts!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Oh, For Karl's* Sake!

"Your friends are idiots," the professor told me, condescendingly.

"They are not!" I responded, frankly affronted.

"Well, perhaps I used the term too loosely," he said, insincerely.

"No, sir, YOU are the idiot!" I thought. "You are an upper-middle-aged, graduate-level-educated stuffed shirt sitting indoors in a classroom on a Saturday afternoon, pontificating ponderously and at painful length about the socio-political significance of the Brad Pitt movie Fight Club, the Kevin Spacey vehicle American Beauty, and the countercultural nuances of Office Space. At least the friends I told you about were inspired to go out and do something when they saw those movies, something other than blathering about them for hours in high-falutin' terms. Give me a break!"

But then my cell phone rang and I was given the perfect excuse to leave the room without speaking to him.

The entire day today I spent at the Phi Alpha Theta (history honor society) regional conference up in Maryland, surrounded by professional academics who talked on and on about things of little moment but of apparently endless potential (that is, alleged, previously-unstudied, "we need more data," "the evidence thus far suggests" sort of potential) significance.

All day I have sported a huge red pimple on my throat that makes me look like the victim of a botched tracheotomy. Either that or I am developing an adams apple.

This morning, I formally presented a paper for the first time (and perhaps the last). Somewhere between my seat and the podium, I lost 2 pages of my manuscript, and had to ad-lib when I was supposed to be reading. I felt curiously unembarassed about this, and not at all disappointed later on that my work (the paper itself, not my presentation thereof) didn't receive any awards (it wasn't my best, and, frankly, didn't deserve to be applauded). The panel commentator was kind, bless her.

The whole event, though, was maddeningly stultifying. I felt like standing up on one of the tables at lunch--after the fifth person in a row welcomed us to the conference's host campus--and shrieking "The British are coming! The British are coming!" just to shake things up.

I'm still exhausted from Thursday night's barely 2 hours of sleep, and last night's paltry six. This may have had something to do with my general impatience, or vice versa. But maybe my fatigue just opened my eyes to the pointlessness and drab silliness practiced by many historians. I want my intellect to be doing something useful, not wasting time wandering around in philosophical circles, chattering meaninglessly about irrelevancies--particularly in public. I waste enough time and energy by myself as it is.

*Marx--after all, we can't have an scholarly discussion about selected "texts"--even Hollywood blockbusters--without bringing up the socialist meanings underlying the anti-consumerist themes therein and how this reflects the ennui of the American middle class, now, can we?

Friday, April 07, 2006


I emailed in my Emerging Infectious Diseases paper half an hour ago. I hope it was adequate. There were enough footnotes (we were directed to have at least 25 sources, which I think is a middle-schoolesque exercise, especially when I heard that the professor actually counts to make sure we haven't fudged on our quota), but as to whether I went on at sufficient length (shockingly for me, I didn't have all that much to say) is another question. Oh, well. Got to get two hours of shut-eye before the day begins--I'm supposed to work 9-5, since all the other department secretaries will be gone. And then comes the last IV dessert for this academic year. I don't know whether I'm going to be conscious by that point...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Substance of 'Rethinking Singleness'

Half-inch hailstones were battering down as I eased myself out of the house Monday evening, attempting to remain as dry as long as possible while locking the front door, before the cold, muddy dash--my coat over my head--to my car. It wasn't the sort of weather to go out in voluntarily, but I was on my way over to Capitol Hill for the long-planned "Rethinking Singleness" discussion. But what could have been a draining, dispiriting evening, both by virtue of the precipitation and the topic of conversation, turned into a friendly, warm meeting of kindred spirits.

The event, which was hosted by Patricia, a delightful, pretty blond lady I hadn't met before, was held at the home of Alan (the Intervarsity staffer who oversees us Washington-area graduate students) and his wife Gloria. Alan had been single until he was forty (he is now fifty), and Patricia had asked him to share some principles gleaned from his experience--both personal and theological--which he considered vital to a contemporary understanding of love relationships between Christian men and women.

Alan's six points:

1) Marriage and celibacy ought to be recognized by Christians as the only two possible intersexual relationships: some are called to singleness, but marriage should be seen as the "default position" rather than singleness (as it is widely seen today). We should take steps, insofar as it is within our power, to progress towards one or the other (I think he was speaking mainly to the men in the group here).

2) All singles need to be actively and purposefully involved in their church community; relationships (romantic or otherwise) are not best attempted in artificial environments, but within the context of broader relationships, of getting to know other believers more thoroughly.

3) We need to re-think what it means to find the "right" marriage partner. Americans in particular are obsessed with choice, with the percentage of "fit" we have with another person. We are paralyzed by the abundance of options, and in many cases focused on how "Mr./Ms. Right" can meet our needs, rather than how we can best meet someone else's. Compatibility comes over time as both partners change and grow. We often do not know what our needs really are. Fundamentally, we should be looking for a person who is a committed Christian, has strong character, possesses a high view of marriage (divorce is not an option), relies on God's providence. Only then should we test for that illusive quality known as "chemistry." Ultimately, we have to make a decision and "go for it."

4) We should unashamedly enlist the help of 3rd parties in finding someone to marry, plumb older Christians' objectivity and wisdom. This gives others the opportunity to show their love for us and to pray for our good.

5) In the dating/courtship process itself, men should take the initiative.

6) We live in a fallen world and some of our dearest desires may not be fulfilled.

We had a good discussion afterwards. Deep-thinking people (all singles--some life-long, like me, others newly-rendered) with varied church backgrounds and personalities. It was a comforting, comfortable place to be. I hope I get invited again.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Warring in Scrubs

The "Slammer" (so named because of the crack of doom sound of the thick steel door on the chemical shower room crashing shut) is not the spacious, ultra-modern patient care suite that I had imagined. Instead, this unique Biosafety Level Four (BSL-4: the highest level of security and safety protocols) isolation and treatment ward--the only one in the United States--consists of a few pokey little rooms with claustrophobically sealed doors and windows, two hospital beds with hideous 1970s brown faux woodgrain headboards, and an aura of rancid orange that makes the high-tech medical equipment stuffed into the corners behind the supplied-air "space suits" for the attending physicians look like it was dug up at Pompeii, rather than the best, most up-to-date mechanisms American medicine has to offer the critically ill.

Actually, I was chagrined at the small scale of the whole operation. Somehow I had transfered my experiences in the open, light-filled halls of ordinary modern hospitals in Georgia to my conception of the spcialized high-security environment of research facilities like Fort Detrick, Maryland's US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which I toured along with the others in my BTAEID program yesterday afternoon. This is the place where they work with nasty bugs like Ebola and Marburg (which, contrary to depictions in popular fiction, do not USUALLY cause you to bleed profusely from every orifice before you die...although scientists do admit this has happened in isolated cases) for which there are no vaccines and an almost 100% fatality rate, and which are spread by aerosol transmission, which, thank God, HIV/AIDS has not mutated to do.

The building was constructed in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and obviously has not seen the touch of an interior decorator since. Ghastly. Of course, I understand that they are concerned about Much Weightier Matters than the fact they have yellow-brown carpet on all the walls in the non-laboratory Phase II wing (Phase I, which is all cinderblocks and testtubes, labcoats and animal cages, room pressure-gauges and chemical disinfectant, is painted an impervious mint green), but it does emphasize the narrow kneesocks-wearing masculinity of the place, which is nonetheless half-staffed by short, brisk-looking women.

A colonel on the base showed us around. My classmates were giddy about seeing the BSL-4 lab (apparently there are only 4 places in the country that have them). Not being a biologist, I was not so estatic. The idea of working in those cramped little flourescent-lit corridors, sealed off from the outside, unable to communicate with even my lab-partners except by hand-signals and lip-reading (the air-hoses that connect to the "space-suits" make an 80+ decibel racket), doing necropsies on animals who died miserably doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me. I'm glad there are people who do it, certainly. [Incidentally, most of my fellow students in my BTAEID program are political liberal, but none oppose animal research. Mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs and non-human primates of various species all can be used to fulfill the "animal rule" which the FDA recently instituted for prophylactics and treatments of germs that are lethal to people, which cannot be ethically tested in human clinical trials--these must be tested in equivalent animal models.]

One interesting (and little-known) bit of the history of Fort Detrick (which used to be the site of the US chemical and biological offensive weapons program, disbanded by order of President Nixon in 1969) was that the defensive research in which USAMRIID exclusively specializes was built on the management of experiments using human volunteers--the Seventh Day Adventists of Project WhiteCoat. While the draft was in place during the middle of the 20th century, there was a need for a military role for the religiously non-militant. Seventh Day Adventists in particular served out their 2-4 year terms in the military by attending briefings about proposed experiments for which they could volunteer. They didn't have to volunteer--they were only required to attend the briefings. Of the hundreds who did agree to be guinea pigs--signing informed consent forms for various tests, in accord with the post-Holocaust Nuremburg Protocols--none died and none suffered permanent impairment, proudly-cited proof that human trials could be conducted safely and ethically. As a result of these men's service, the US had a workable vaccine for Rift Valley Fever, of which Egypt suffered an enormous outbreak in 1979. Sadat and his government wanted to keep this epidemic under wraps (the burgeoning tourist industry was at stake), and so quietly supplying the vaccine (well over 100,000 doses) was one of the main bits of leverage President Carter used to get the Egyptians to show up at Camp David for negotiations with the Israelis. Who says studying history and biology isn't complementary?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Prayer Answered

Almost since the day she began camping out in the nude on the couch downstairs in July/August 2004, I have been praying that Alissa would leave.

Yesterday, God said "YES!!!" to that earnest request.

Folks, she's gone.

I am thrilled to report that "I don't think Alissa will ever move out" was the untruth in the post on "Four Truths and a Lie."

The exodus started Friday afternoon. She filled the entire outside trashcan to overflowing, plus three trashbags full next to it. I emailed my landlord this extraordinary news (I thought she was merely cleaning up in preparation for his visit this week, of which she'd somehow gotten wind). Saturday, I went to the market, and returned at 1PM (gale-force winds shut us down early) to an even more remarkable sight: Besides the garbage of Friday, the curb in front of the house was piled with another twelve full trash bags (I mean the enormous black outdoor refuse-style, not itty bitty kitchen-size ones) stuffed to bursting with trash from her room. She'd discarded tons of plastic wrappers from the drycleaners, old newspapers, a ratty comforter and rug--two pickup-truck loads at least, which tells you how much was in her room (which isn't more than 8x10) to begin with.

I went into my room, all amazed, and an hour later, her mom showed up along with a man who could have been her father and a girl who may have been her sister, to help her carry her clothes to a brand-new SUV and complete the move out. For twenty minutes after the vehicle pulled away from the curb, I sat on my bed, in total shocked delight. The house was quiet. There was no TV blasting, no doors being slammed, just absolutely blissful peace. No Alissa.

Then I went into her room and found my destroyed vacuum cleaner. But that's a small price to pay for her being gone.

Oh, as to the other guesses on the truth/untruth post: I do love frogs and little green lizards, and a year or two ago I totally shocked our yardman by picking up a black garden snake he found curled under a stepping-stone and carrying it into the back yard for re-release. Reptiles and amphibians I like. About bugs I'm somewhat less gung-ho. And yes, I did almost drown in the Mediterranean. I was trying to swim out to a dive platform and got tired. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

52 Self-Revelations

1. FIRST NAME? Most of you know it!
2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Well, I’ve always appreciated that it means “follower of Christ.” My middle name is the same as my mother’s.
3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? Two nights ago. But then I got a lot of productive stuff done.
5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT? It’s been a long time…I think turkey. Or maybe ham. Or well-cooked roast beef. Heck, just so long as it’s sliced thinly and has mustard on it…
6. KIDS? Someday, Lord Willing!
8. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? I have a diary on my computer, in which I write things too personal to include on my blog, which has replaced the paper journal I kept infrequently heretofore.
9. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Sometimes, but I’m not that good at it.
10. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yes. I'm rather fond of them.
11. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Probably not, since I would be afraid I would hurt my back or neck—these sorts of things have happened to too many people I know!
12. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s like dessert.
14. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Mentally, physically or intellectually?
15. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? I love green-tinted mint chocolate chip. And cookies and cream. And caramel swirl. And coffee. In fact, I don’t scorn any ice cream flavor except peach (yuck!).
16. SHOE SIZE? 7 1/2.
17. RED OR PINK? In what context? I like both, plus all the other colors of the rainbow. My uchikake is flame red.
18. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? I am pretty sure I bore some people.
19. WHOM DO YOU MISS THE MOST? I don’t really miss people who are within phone/internet range--I don't feel separated from them--but I do miss a friend of twenty years from whom I drifted apart, and with whom I am no longer in contact.
20. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? I'd love anyone who wants to do this to put it up and/or mention it in the comments.
21. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES YOU ARE WEARING? Blue jeans. Socks, no shoes.
22. LAST THING YOU ATE? Apple juice and a chocolate Powerbar—come to think of it, it’s almost 5 PM, and that’s all I’ve had all day! I got busy and forgot to eat.
23. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? The whirr of my computer fan and the tick-tack-tick of my fingers typing.
25. FAVORITE SMELL? Good food.
27. FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Kneecaps. J/K. Not to say that it wouldn’t be kneecaps on a given day—it depends, really, on the circumstances of the meeting. Sometimes I see a physical characteristic, other times it’s a behavioral one, or a voice.
28. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? I was forced to steal it from Kim of Upward Call and from Tulipgirl. I figured they were examples worth imitating!
29. FAVORITE DRINK? Skim milk. I drink between three and four gallons a week. It is NOT just colored water.
30. FAVORITE SPORT? Napping (yes, I’m part cat).
31. HAIR COLOR? Blondish-brownish-reddish.
32. EYE COLOR? Greenish blue.
33. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Usually I’m too lazy to put them in!
34. FAVORITE FOOD? Lately, a plain matzo topped with melted cheese and bacon bits.
36. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? "Goodbye, Lenin"
39. HUGS OR KISSES? Hugs—I’ve not been kissed enough to know to opt for “both.”
40. FAVORITE DESSERT? Something affiliated with sugar.
41. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Probably Paxifist and Cathy Plus One.
42. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? The elder kinswoman.
43. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? Bible (of course!), All things Bright and Beautiful (James Herriot), the 9/11 Commission Report. Have been too busy to read anything else except periodical articles lately.
44. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Don't have one. I love my laptop touch-pad!
46. FAVORITE SOUNDS? Purring from a nice kitty. Quiet. Classical music.
47. ROLLING STONE OR BEATLES? Beatles. Mick Jagger looks like a leather-clad mummy.
49. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can curl my tongue and make fishy-faces.
50. WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Thanksgiving Day; San Antonio, Texas.
52. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR? Check out my “about me” blog page for a list of favorites.

Four Truths and a Lie

I have met Lawrence Eagleburger, Benjamin Chavis Muhammed (former head of the NAACP), Oliver North, Sister Helen Prejean (Author of Dead Man Walking), Pat Buchanan, and P.J. O’Rourke (author of Parliament of Whores and Holidays in Hell, etc.) and have their autographs.

I once almost drowned while swimming just off the Italian Riviera (the Speedo-clad lifeguard was busy flirting with someone on shore and had his back to me during the whole episode).

I used to catch lizards and frogs on a regular basis, and have been bitten by the former on numerous occasions, which hasn't stopped me, or deterred me from picking up snakes, either.

I once attempted to chase Mikhail Gorbachev and his entourage down a hall after he gave a speech at the institute in St. Petersburg where I was studying in the mid-1990s.

I think my evil roommate may never move out of this house.

[Guess which is the untruth, and I'll fess up...]