03 December 2008


1. Stand up.
2. Close the door.
3. Turn the music up.
4. Strap on your fanny pack.
5. Lace and pump up your pumps.

6. Get down, mon frere.

(thnx Meredith)

18 November 2008

How to record a pop song

Recipe: Gold Record Soup
Serves: Millions

Cook up a beet.
Add in some fresh bass.
Add texture with some major and minor gourds (stay away from diminished gourds).
Mix in a sweet mellow tea.
Layer some hominy over the top.

Mix until it reaches the desired consistency. Remember that it's all a matter of taste.

Do this over and over again until you master it.

Now it is ready for public consumption!

13 November 2008


Timp in the Fall.

While living in Utah, I used to climb Mount Timpanogos on a regular basis. My life came close to ending more than once on the slopes of Timp (e.g. falling into a cravasse, almost sliding off a frozen waterfall, getting caught in a violent electrical storm near the peak). This only made me want to go back more and more; I wanted to conquer every inch of the mountain. I lost count after the 30th time. After a while that mountain started to feel like my friend, and I would miss it like I missed a friend. I'd miss the heavy, wet air in the Aspen Grove valley; I'd miss the refreshing break of First Falls, and how the paved trail would gradually submit to stone and root; I'd miss the dizzying cliffs looming on every side, just far enough away that smoke from the latest forest fire would collect and give the slabs and clinging pine trees a hazy sheen; I'd miss the smell of fresh peppermint and sage, the crunch of pine-needle or the clack of shale under foot; I'd miss the comfort of sitting for lunch at the old shack overlooking Emerald Lake; and I'd miss the consistent burst of freedom as I perched on the peak looking down on the flat, busy valley filled with miniature people with miniature destinations. Everything just felt bigger and more substantial up there.

During this John Muir-ish phase of my life (I hope I hope it's not dead yet; just give me a mountain), I was a bit more prone to poetry. Recent events brought to mind one of the poems that I wrote in a fit of frustration over the fact that I always had to come back from the mountain, back to what I was trying to escape in the first place. It's a poem about trying to straddle a line. I hope it brings a needed change of tone to this blog. I don't consider myself a poet, so judge charitably if you must judge.

sometimes I drive until there’s no more road,
toss the world into my briefcase, seal it up,
and step out of life into life where things are
where pines bow to sprouts in their might
and waterfalls don't boast to dewdrops of strength
and streams don't care to compare their length
but wind and wash and splash bubble run
and giggling trickle when water-time’s done

so when I ascend in the lines laced on stone
to cloudrings and spires and being alone
on the peak in the hall of the mountain king
and with him behold vibrant, prolific spring,
I often extend with my finger and touch
the lip of a petal, a blossom or such,
when then from my finger fade flesh, blood, and bone
so I see as I’m seen and I know as I’m known
and this wildflower withdraws her disguise
to welcome my newly elysian eyes.
Blushing, she curtseys in windbending grace
then fades back into her floral-mask face
I look at my hand, I look at the tree
and notice that he has been studying me
he knows I have pierced it, the thickness of flesh,
if but for a moment, my self-speak is fresh
like something I babbled a day after birth
or eighty-one eons before there was earth.
I speak to the king who is there at my side
we walk in the glory of reverent earth
and witness her ceaseless demise and rebirth.

I stare at my mask of the world
asleep in my briefcase where I left it curled
so foreign, so alien, dirty and cold;
I suppose I’ll wear it until I'm sufficiently wise
to live with the king in his natural land
while walking and touching the world with my hand.

June 16, 2002

11 November 2008

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

If you are someone who believes the LDS Church acted out of hate and discrimination during the Prop 8 campaign, please set aside your emotions for a moment and consider this explanation of the LDS beliefs about marriage. It may or may not help you to see that hate or discrimination had nothing to do with it. I ask you not to read it with your own eyes, but with the eyes of someone who believes that these words were inspired by a loving Heavenly Father. You may be convinced that this small act of empathy is not one that was extended to you in the past few days, and this may be part of the source of your anger. But that is no reason for you to become the wrong that you protest. I'm not asking you to agree. I'm just asking you to see.
* I would be happy to have a guest post something of a similar nature that gives the LDS a chance to see the world from a different perspective.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God's eternal plan.

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. "Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

09 November 2008

Proposition 8 and Same-Sex Marriage

Why are people so anxious to go to war?

So much harm has been done on both sides because of a failure to understand what Prop 8 is really about. I am so deeply saddened by the events of the last few days. In my honest opinion, Prop 8 never should have been proposed – and the CA Supreme Court’s In Re Marriage Cases decision shouldn’t have been what it was. Both were rash and reactionary. I don’t blame anybody for being angry about the passing of Prop 8, but I am sad that the LDS church has been targeted as a scapegoat toward which all the fury of the last days has been launched.

There are two intertwining pictures (moral and legal) of the situation that we need to see separately before we can see the whole scene clearly.

The moral picture:

The unfortunate truth is that, on a moral level, the LDS worldview is an affront to the queer worldview, and vice versa. There doesn’t seem to be any getting around this. We would all like to downplay this and instead emphasize the love that we have for all people regardless of their sexuality, but when you get down to brass tacks, the LDS doctrine of eternal marriage is so foundational, so central that there is no chance of changing it without entirely distorting the entire LDS worldview. This doctrine is that marriage is a covenant between God, man, and woman. All three elements must be there for it to work. This covenant, if the couple is faithful to it, will extend their relationship past death and into the next life, for eternity. And just as we are the spiritual children of God, this couple will spend the rest of eternity creating spiritual offspring and working to lift them and bring them joy. But creating offspring requires a man and a woman. Where do gay people fit into this picture? They have been given a particularly difficult test, and must fight against their natural attractions, hope and work for change, and trust in God. It isn’t a sin to be attracted to the same sex—but it is a sin to act upon this attraction. According to the LDS worldview, what doesn’t sound fair in this life will always be weighed in the balance by God.

The queer worldview obviously doesn’t recognize any reason to not pursue romantic relationships with those of the same sex. There is no reason to think that gay attraction is different than straight attraction, speaking in terms of intensity, richness, and power to motivate. The love two gay people have for each other is equally life-defining, and their commitments are just as meaningful. These are plain facts, and most thoughtful LDS folks recognize this. But to ask the LDS church (or any other church) to accept these facts as an argument that they should allow gays to be married within their temples and chapels would be nothing less than asking them to render their entire belief system meaningless.

I’ve focused on the LDS as an example (since the LDS church seems to be the primary target of demonstrations lately), but much of what has been said about the LDS can be said about many other Christian religions, even if they don’t share the doctrine of eternal marriage. There are many worldviews, most of them religious, that are simply incommensurable with the queer worldview.

These are the foundations of the so-called “culture war” in its present incarnation. Above all, it is a battle for a certain moral status. Nobody wants to have their most precious beliefs and practices labeled as immoral. If a gay lifestyle is moral, then it is immoral for religions to exclude them on the basis of what makes their lifestyle qualify as gay. On the other hand, if such exclusion is moral, it is because a gay lifestyle is immoral.

This leads to embarrassing and inflammatory exchanges. A common one that I see goes as follows: A Christian strikes a simile between homosexuality and, say, pedophilia. This is the worst possible thing to say to someone who is gay. The Christian is clumsily trying to make the point that, according to the Christian view, a gay lifestyle is a kind of sexual sin. Meanwhile, the gay person has just been compared to a pedophile, and can’t help but perceive the Christian as immorally intolerant.

On the other hand, here is another common exchange: A gay person mocks the Christian for the outdated, unenlightened, and dangerous belief that correct standards of moral conduct come from a God. The assumption—sometimes explicitly stated--is that the Christian cannot think independently. Meanwhile, the Christian can’t help but find confirmation that the moral pathway the gay person has chosen is a result of self-absorption; a result of being distanced from God. As these sorts of exchanges become more common (and they are, thanks to the ubiquity and the anonymity of the internet), the framing of the issue becomes solidified and the opposing views become mutually reinforcing.

Now, some gay people will be fine with the Christian position. They will see their orientation as just one more effect of mortality; as something that can and must be resisted; as something that can change through the power of God. On the other hand, some Christians (gay and straight) will be fine with the queer position. They will see no reason for gays to change, and no reason for the church to exclude gays from religious ceremonies and practices. I feel like we need to listen closely to these people who are managing to live in both worlds. They may have something to teach us about how to defang a discourse that is becoming increasingly militant.

The legal picture:

I’m no legal expert, but I’ve tried to study and understand the layout of the legal issues surrounding Prop 8. This is my limited understanding of it. Skip to the end if you just want my analysis of it.

· 1999. CA State Legislature enacts legislation that creates a statewide domestic partnership registry. Domestic partners are defined as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring” (Family Code 297). There are numerous requirements for registration: age, living situation and expenses, must be same-sex or over 62 yrs old, unrelated by blood, not married or part of a domestic partnership, etc. This legislation grants to same-sex domestic partnerships most of the legal rights and protections enjoyed by civil marriages. Some substantive rights (state health benefits for partners and hospital visitation rights, for example) remain only the rights of civil marriages.

· March 7, 2000. The electorate passes Prop 22, which adds a bit of language to the California Constitution’s Family Code (section 308.5): “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Since 1992, Family Code section 300 (and prior to that, the Civil Code section 4100) has stated: “Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary. Consent alone does not constitute marriage. Consent must be followed by the issuance of a license and solemnization as authorized by this division, except as provided by Section 425 and Part 4 (commencing with Section 500).”

· 2001, 2002. Legislature slightly expands the rights of domestic partnerships.

· 2003. Comprehensive domestic partnership legislation with the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, the provisions of which “shall be construed liberally in order to secure to eligible couples who register as domestic partners the full range of legal rights, protections and benefits, as well as all of the responsibilities, obligations, and duties to each other, to their children, to third parties and to the state, as the laws of California extend to and impose upon spouses.” (Italics added.) (Stats. 2003, ch. 421, § 15.) . In short, the only difference between a marriage and a domestic partnership is the name by which it is called. (There was a lingering discrepancy in the way taxes were filed, but legislation eradicated this with an amendment in 2006. Later, nine other legal differences—not necessarily in terms of imbalanced rights—were enumerated by the CA Supreme Court in In Re Marriage Cases (2008, pp. 42-43). These were largely seen as technicalities by both sides of the debate.)

· 2004. In Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco, the CA Supreme Court decides that SF public officials acted unlawfully by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision. This decision was challenged, bringing the case to the CA Supreme Court.

· 2008. In In Re Marriage Cases, the CA Supreme Court (in a 4-3 decision) rules that marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens by the privacy, free speech, and due process clauses of the California Constitution. To justify sidestepping the current definition of marriage (as defined in the Family Code), two steps were necessary: (1) they established precedent with Perez v. Sharp, in which the CA SC ruled that the failure to recognize interracial marriages was a breach of the constitutional right “to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice” (at the time, the CA Constitution stated that marriages of a white person “with negroes or mulattoes are declared to be illegal and void”), and (2) homosexuals seeking same-sex marriage were found to meet the requirements for quasi-suspect classification, which allowed the court to apply the strict scrutiny standard. This standard is applied when a category of people are deemed to be discriminated against by existing legislation. Dissenting opinions questioned not the moral trajectory of the decision, but the judiciary propriety of it.

· 2008. Proposition 8 is passed by a 52% to 48% majority. It amends the state constitution with the following language: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

The most basic summary of the situation I can muster is this: the California Supreme Court entered the fray of the culture war by granting same-sex couples the right to marry because of the validation and sense of approval that it would bring to the union of same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is largely (but not entirely) a response by the other side of the culture war to deny that affirmation. It is also a response to what many perceive as judicial activism on the part of the CA Supreme Court.

Now, my personal view: In light of the fact that the most recent research has shown that children raised by same-sex couples show no deficits in any of the relevant categories by which society measures the success, value, and contribution of one of its members (http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/parents.html); in light of my opinion that, in the vast majority of cases, sexual orientation is not something that is consciously chosen; in light of my expectation that, while scientific research isn’t presently conclusive with regards to the hormonal or neuro-anatomical foundations of homosexuality, it will be in the near future; in light of my conviction that the moral and religious beliefs of one group—even if it is the majority—should not dictate the rights and freedoms of another group (so long as those rights and freedoms do not impinge upon the rights and freedoms of anybody else, and I don’t see why they need to in this case); and in light of my conviction that the historical and cultural values associated with marriage can only make spouses better people, I support the right of same-sex couples to be married.

Many members of the church will disagree with me, and may even think that I’m displaying a lack of trust in the direction of the Prophet. I certainly don’t see it that way. The reasons for which the Prophet and Apostles urged Californians to vote ‘yes’ on Prop 8 have not, in my view, been articulated as having originated from a desire to exclude gays and lesbians from any sort of state-offered right or validation. The doctrine of the church is clear on this point: we should not seek to impose our moral or religious views on other groups by legislative means. Since this is largely what Prop 8 is about, I can only assume that the motivation to vote ‘yes’ rather originates from an effort to protect the interests of the Church.

At any rate, I can envision a situation where secular society affirms the value and validity of same-sex marriages, while the rights and privileges of religious institutions are untouched—most importantly in this case, the privilege of making moral distinctions based on sexual conduct.

This is why I voted “Yes” on Proposition 8. Let me explain. I sincerely want marriage to be extended to same-sex couples, but not like this. There are plausible arguments that if Prop 8 hadn’t passed, a number of churches and religious institutions would have been forced to drop any distinction between a same-sex marriage and a heterosexual marriage. There is no fear that this would, say, force churches to marry same-sex couples. However, there is a fear that, for example, the adoption agency run by LDS Family Services would lose its state licensing and would be forced to shut down (something like this happened to a Catholic agency in Massachusetts). Many religious schools may have lost tax-exemption. There are other fears, but it this category of side-effects that seems most likely and most unacceptable to me. And then there is the original In Re Marriage Cases decision. Much of the reasoning was sound, but I tend to agree with the dissenting opinions: the court overextended its reach and engaged in judicial activism.

I fully expect same-sex marriage to happen in the next 10 years. It will happen. I hope it can be done with an eye towards protecting religious freedoms. I hope it can be done through the legislative branch, not the judicial branch. The culture war has boiled over and become a legal battle. These differences in moral judgment won’t go away soon, and we need to be expertly careful in how we go about securing the rights of all people to hold and express these moral judgments. In the meantime, I hope we can all agree that this is just a sad situation, and that we should all work to understand each other a little more, and be angry with each other a little less.

05 November 2008

PBS, budding patriotism, and russian spies

Because PBS (pork-barrel spending) is such a crucial issue, a few lab buddies and I have committed our time and efforts to the cause of PorkBusters -- a political action committee devoted to the eradication of earmarks and PBS. We also happen to find the imagery of the term "PORK BARREL" quite hilarious. Try whispering it into an unexpecting colleague's ear, and you'll get a glimpse of the joy that we feel on a daily basis here at the lab. We guarantee that your colleague will also find it comical, and will only respect you more.
We had a pork-barrel party on election night. Only pork products were consumed, and we made sure that all of the funds used to purchase the goods for the party were earmarked from our stipends and scholarships.

While watching the election results roll in, the conversation turned to the topic of the American flag. As Canadians, they were curious about why so many Americans are anxious to display their flag. I did my best to explain the special brand of patriotism that belongs to Americans. It got me thinking.

When Kris and I went to Europe a few years ago, I attached a Canadian flag patch to my backpack. A number of folks had suggested doing this to avoid catching any of the fabled anti-American sentiment that is so rampant in places like Paris. I don't know if it helped, but I did it -- I tried to hide the fact that I was American.

I'll be honest. I still find politics repugnant. As I listened to McCain's beautiful concession and Obama's inspiring acceptance, I wondered why that tone couldn't have been the tone of the campaign. Why not? Are so few American's swayed by generosity, honesty, and love, and so many Americans swayed by hate, suspicion, and fear that those who would lead our country are now counseled that the most effective campaign strategy is to drag an opponent's name through the mud? Why does this work so well? Forget the promises that are impossible to keep. Forget the irritating slogans and catch-phrases. Forget the emotional fortress that candidates, of necessity, build up in order to survive the pervasive, invasive scrutiny of the press -- but which simultaneously leads to a detached (and detaching) calculus that weighs the political ramifications of every . . . single . . . word. No wonder George Bush's ability to articulate his thoughts has steadily deteriorated over the last eight years. Forget all of this. The one thing that aggravates me the most about politics is the meaninglessness of the discourse -- on both sides of the podium. It's gotten bad: I've caught myself trying to deconstruct what a candidate means when he says he is a "straight-shooter." Call me old-fashioned; I just don't think semantic flexibility is a skill we should seek in the person who makes some of the most important promises on earth. I don't put all of the blame on the politicians themselves. After all, it works. Maybe that's what frustrates me most.

Now I'll be even more honest. Living outside of the US for this past year has given me time enough to reflect upon the past eight years, and to do it from a pseudo-outsider's perspective. There have been times when pictures of that American flag conjured up feelings of embarrasment, doubt, and cynicism. I'm not the type to demonize George Bush and his staff, but some heart-breaking mistakes were made. Who is America? Do we break international agreements and torture our prisoners? Do we fight (bravely) in a war that was started under false pretenses? Are we reviving imperialism? Are we going to define ourselves through a war on a group of terrorists? Do we really care about the poor in our country? Do we try our best to give immigrants the same freedoms we all enjoy? Do we care about this beautiful earth and the animals that share it with us? Do we do our best to both understand and teach our children about that beautiful earth, the history of mankind's works upon it, and the cultural skills and arts that help us see aspects of that beauty and history that are difficult for us to see? Do we care about the world outside of our borders? Are we really so vain and greedy that we're willing to live a lifestyle that we can't possibly afford? Is this America?

I suspect there are many good and honest people that haven't had this dilemma. But there are enough good and honest people -- Americans and non-Americans -- that have had this dilemma, so much so that an immense pressure has been building up, and we just heard a deafening cathartic sigh last night. I've been honest about my distaste for politics and the bleakness of my recent views of the US. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy listening to a politician tell me why I should make him my leader, but I do know that the American flag has taken on a new significance for me over the past few weeks. Last night I watched the American people solidify a sense of America's identity that has been fuzzy for some time now. I'm glad Obama won. He'll do a great job. But the reason that the American flag makes me warm inside isn't because of Obama. It's because of the Americans who gathered in the streets, lined up at the booths, and put a black man at the head of a country whose history needed this. I love my country.

I'm gonna go out and buy an American flag as soon as I can find one here in Canada.

* Side note 1: My sincerest apologies if you started singing Neil Diamond while reading this.

* Side note 2: Ever since I've started getting more vocal about my love for the states, I've been getting more and more emails from a Russian dating agency telling me that there are lots of Russian women who want to date me. Most of them are named TatianaG, apparently. I have little doubt that these women are, in fact, spies. One hundred points to Russia for creativity. MEMO TO OBAMA: If you're anxious to protect America, forget about Al Qaeda. Focus instead on the TatianaG cell.
* Addendum to side note 2: I must make it clear that these emails are unsolicited spam. I have the best wife in the world, and I hate borscht. And I hated Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And Putin sounds like a euphemism for passing gas. And Sputnik is a stupid name for a satellite. All points awarded to Russia are hereby rescinded. Sorry for any confusion.

04 November 2008

Today is one for the history books. Don't just watch.

24 October 2008

Yes, but is it just like a mini-mall?

"Don't stop. Let's make this . . . a dance!"

Commence transmission of horrible, internet-borne brain-worm. Now uploading to host . . .

16 October 2008

I'm a hallucinating wimp.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's journal entry:

I have a terrible headache right now and it’s all because of an fMRI scanning session this evening. It was supposed to last an hour and a half, but I was in there for close to two and a half hours. I’m not the best fMRI subject, I’ve decided. My butt invariably goes numb, I get this pathological swallowing reflex going (it feels like I’m going to choke if I don’t swallow—the same thing always happens at the dentist), the small of my back starts to throb, and I get a migraine. So, naturally, my mind is a bit preoccupied while I’m trying to maintain my attention on the task at hand. Also, something new happened tonight. When we were closing in on the two-hour mark, my headache started morphing into a freaky kinesthetic illusion. Every time I closed my eyes it felt like my head was being shoved down and toward my right shoulder, and the rest of my body felt like it was being bent sideways at my waist. The sensation went away somewhat when I opened my eyes and saw that my body was perfectly straight, but there were times when I would be looking at my body—knowing that I was looking at a perfectly straight body—and yet my body still felt like it was bending in half, and that an immense pressure was pushing on my head. This is the condition I’m in when the experimenter tells me that the scanner is giving him a warning message, and that I’ll have to wait in the scanner—without moving—while he talks to a technician on the phone. I’ve already been in the scanner for about two hours.
“Want to listen to some music?” he asks me.
“Got any Ryan Adams?”
“Sure,” he says. Ten seconds later, the Bryan Adams song “Summer of 69” comes blaring through the headphones. I try to be still while I laugh—I thought it was a joke. It repeats 5 or 6 times before it is stopped, an apology is given, forgiveness is extended, and an actual Ryan Adams song (“Oh My Sweet Carolina”) starts playing. I must be in a pretty delicate emotional state because the song is so beautiful that it puts me on the verge of tears.
The wages for this existential roller-coaster: $50

05 October 2008

Genetic engineering projects

Before I forget, I'm making a list of all the genetic engineering projects I want to complete. I'm a bit busy lately, so these are on the back burner for the time being.

* Monkeys that naturally grow mullets.

* A skunk that sprays Febreeze out of its . . . you know. These would sell like hotcakes at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

* A blowfish that could be trained to blow up your air-mattress, car tires, or party balloons without popping them. (This one was Kristen's idea.)

* Peacocks that display custom-designed images when their tail-feathers fan out. For example: "Kristen, will you marry me?" Or maybe a portrait of your favorite Backstreet Boy.

* A huge praying mantis the size of a woolly mammoth. Just to humble the human race. Plus, it would put world events into a nice perspective. We'd be like, "Terrorists? Economic woes? Who cares? I've got this huge insect the size of a bus that stalks me in my back yard."

* Remote controlled cheetahs!

* A breed of gorilla that innately knows how to give a great massage.

* A spitting cobra that sprays Visine (instead of poison) into your eyes.

* Mosquitoes that eat only sugar and honey, and then instinctively fly into your mouth. Like flying candy.

* Miniature elephants. Less shedding than dogs, and if your shower head breaks, you're covered.

* A hybrid animal that has the strength of a bear, ears of a wolf, eyes of a hawk, and speed of a puma. Hold it . . . nevermind. That's Bravestarr.

Please share any ideas you have. I'll give you credit (and a small percentage of the sales) if I use it.

02 October 2008

Do not call

I'm working from home today, and I've already received 3 phone calls from telemarketers. I'm tempted to put my name on Canada's new Do Not Call List.

I have a dream of staging an elaborate drama the next time a telemarketer calls. Something like the following:

Them: "Hello, is Mr. Daniel Wood there?"
Me: "Mr. Wood is here, but do you really want to speak with him?"
T: "Yes, if that's okay."
M: "Alright, but I think this is a bad idea."
T: "Uhh, what . . ."
M: "Mr. Wood! The phone's for you! (under my breath) This is gonna get ugly."
(This is where I stomp my feet, bang around, and make other angry noises.)
M: "Uh oh."
Mr. Wood (it's really me pretending to be Mr. Wood): "Come here you little . . ."
(I fumble with the phone while pretending to run.)
Me: "Let me go!"
(More scuffle noises.)
Me: "The pho . . . (grunt) . . . It's the phone! Just calm down. The phone's for you!"
(The sound of a drawer opening and rattling metal.)
Me: "Sweet meats he's got a knife."
(More running. The door opening and slamming. Heavy breathing for a few seconds.)
Me: "You still there?"
Them: "Yeah, are you okay?"
Me: "I don't think you should call back here ever again."

Kristen just read this and said it wasn't funny. :(

She's probably right, but I'm posting it anyways. I think it's a good use of "sweet meats" -- my new favorite exclamation.

18 September 2008

Move over Cordon-Bleu! I mean Corbin Bleu!

Oh, don't mess with Predator's baby. He'll make you look like a fool with a behind-the-back pass. Or he'll shoot a hole through you with his triangle laser beam. One of the two. Game on!

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

10 September 2008

Obey the pug.

For more awesome dog propaganda, click here.

Just a test.

About a year and a half ago, I initiated the infamous Bulldog or Bust campaign. To bolster support and rally the troops, I included some pictures of bulldogs that I had found on the internet. There was one photo in particular, FinneganFrenchBulldog.jpg, that magically shot to the top of the google image search rankings for the search term 'french bulldog'. This brought in between 300 and 500 hits a day.
Recently, I noticed a significant dip in the traffic to my site. So I went to google and searched 'french bulldog'. There was the photo, FinneganFrenchBulldog.jpg, but somebody else's blog was next to it. To get a glimpse of what this felt like for me, I ask you to imagine your only child becoming famous, and then when he does, that ungrateful child who received a constant shower of love and care and personal sacrifice from you, that unfaithful ingrate who you taught and groomed for greatness -- imagine that this child proclaims on the bright morning of his fame that he is the son of someone else. That is the dagger I felt in my heart today.

I'm performing a little experiment. I'm taking the top four photos from the google image results for 'french bulldog', and I'm posting them here. I'm gonna get my child back. Bring it.

This one also happens to be #1 on the 'french bulldog puppy' google image search results. More bang for my buck.

And here's the infamous Finnegan. Come back to me, Finny. The doggy door is always open.

Note: the original FinneganFrenchBulldog image comes from the owner of a political blog. I guess I forgot to mention that Finnegan was adopted. But I'm the one who got him to the top. I'm nobody's stepping stone.

31 July 2008

the McGurk effect

Did you enjoy the "Ricola" video? Check out my other blog for a scientific description of it.

Link to Brain and Sky.

23 July 2008


While Kristen and I were in Paris, we ate a lot of food at the Latin Quarter (I think that's what they called it, at least). The food was cheap (for Paris) and there was always something interesting to see. One night I was wandering around and I saw this guy with 10 or so cigarettes (all lit) in his mouth. In one gulp, he swallowed them all. People started gathering, and I started filming. He has a speech impediment that makes his words hard to understand, so I took the liberty of putting subtitles on the footage. Enjoy!

18 July 2008


There is a fine line between mocking someone and rejoicing in their unrepentant weirdness. I'd like to think I'm involved in the latter. The latent journalist in me has been begging me to publish this ever since I took the video in a Paris subway platform. Now you, too, can rejoice with me.

If you pay attention, I put a few euros in his bucket at the beginning. I feel like that buys me the rights to this video.

26 June 2008

Snowball's got soul

Found this on a neuroscience blog. I like how he loses it a bit when the bass drops out, and when it comes back in, he's right back on the beat. He mixes in a few different moves here and there. I wonder if Snowball can do the MC Hammer slide. Or the Ninja Rap dance that Vanilla Ice does on TMNT. Or the boot scoot boogie. I wonder if Snowball has an agent.

24 June 2008

Home sweet home

We were out on a drive the other day, and we saw a nice little home that was for sale. We had some extra cash, so we bought it. (Thanks to our parents for the "training wheels").

Here are some pictures of it.

Front view

Nice tree

The backyard deck

View from the backyard deck

Main floor, view of dining room from living room

Main floor, living room

Main floor, kitchen

Main floor, office

Top floor, guest bedroom

Top floor, master bedroom

Basement, family room

We are seriously excited for moving day, August 16th. I've already started looking at options for a canine friend. I'm sad to announce to all those who supported me through thick and thin during the Bulldog or Bust campaign: I won't be laying down $2500 for a bulldog. I've never been a quitter, so let's just call this a rain-check.

Also exciting for me: I get to find out if I'm just a poser handyman or if I have what it takes.

27 May 2008

a morning at the opera

Here's a clip from Sunday's journal entry:
I just remembered a funny incident that happened during conference today. A man walked by and Kristen nudged me and said, “Hey, doesn’t that guy look like he could be a broadway performer?” Honestly, the man was short, pudgy, had thin red hair, and wasn’t the type I’d peg as a broadway star. “I don’t see it, honey.”
“I’ve always thought that he looks like he could play the Phantom of the Opera,” she said. I strained my imagination, but I still couldn’t detect anything that would make him a good candidate to play the Phantom. After a few seconds, I think Kristen had an epiphany: “Maybe it helps that his name is Michael Crawford.”
For the Broadway-challenged, Michael Crawford is the name of the original Phantom of the Opera, and he looks nothing like this man. I love that Kristen keeps me laughing.

Speaking of opera, I had a pretty brilliant idea this morning:

O-perah: an opera about the life of Oprah.

Maybe Beyonce could play the role of Oprah. I guess Beyonce isn't really an opera singer, but can you imagine the millions of dollars I'd make if I managed to merge the fan bases of Oprah and Beyonce? I might even make more than Oprah herself. I'm starting the script today. Oprah and Beyonce, if you read this, have your people call my people.

05 May 2008

Goose Gossage + Thundercats = Kids Incorporated

There's a cool post at Kristen's blog that highlights some of the radical things loved by children who grew up in the 80s. This prompted me to dig into the musty pockets of memories that constitute my own 80s experience. Here's what I found:

What 8-year old boy didn't want his own luck dragon to help him get sweet revenge on the local bully? I wouldn't know, because I was the bully, beating up on the little dweebs whose crying eyes looked up to the sky in hopes of finding Falkor flying down to rescue them, but all they found was clouds and my imposing silhouette. Actually, I was a puny little dork. But this clip is the opposite of a puny little dork.

And here's an awesome caption from the site that started the caption craze.

Below is my tribute to the Disney Channel. Kids Incorporated should have done far more damage to my psyche than it actually did. I dodged a real culture bullet there.

And here's my tribute to Saturday morning cartoons. 'Thundercats' is, in my opinion, the greatest cartoon series ever. How it didn't hijack the brain of every breathing organism alive in the 80s is still a mystery to me. Lion-O was pretty fresh, but Panthera, with his screaming nun-chuks, was my favorite. Notice the nice use of dissonance to create tension when Lion-O is summoning the thundercats at 5 minutes 30 seconds. I totally recognized that sound.

And here's a snork.

Sports were a big part of my 80s experience. Only now, however, do I realize that all of my victories were either accidental or confabulated. I swam on a team for 5 or 6 years. The only event I really excelled at was the one I hated most -- backstroke. I did 3 or 4 different kinds of martial arts, too. I have a trophy somewhere that says, "First Place, National Championship". Don't tell anyone, but the only thing I had to do to deserve this trophy was beat up an overweight girl. What can I say? A national championship is a national championship. And then there was baseball. I think it is telling that my fondest memory of baseball was laughing whenever my coach would say, "Good eye, Mike!" every time my teammate Mike would let a bad pitch go by without swinging. It just sounded so Australian. The only home run I ever hit was off a bunt and a bunch of fielding errors, but I still claim it. My coach signaled for me to bunt every time after that. He said I was the best bunter he'd ever seen, and now that I'm older I can grasp the true, cruel meaning of his words.

I collected comics and baseball cards during the 80s. I rearranged my baseball card collection in every way imaginable: alphabetical order, order of value, by team, by rookie year, by how much I wanted to be that person, etc. Thanks to Topps, Donruss, and Upper Deck, I was far too fluent with names like Steve Sax, Floyd Bannister, and Goose Gossage. I developed an irrational obsession with a player who wasn't even that great. His name was Greg Jeffries. He had a few decent, promising rookie years on the Mets, but the greatest thing about him was that he trained by swinging a bat under water. At the time, it seemed to me the absolute apex of coolness.

This last picture technically isn't from the 80s, but I just couldn't resist -- here's one more caption for everyone. This has made me laugh a sum total of over 2 hours, I'm sure. Downloading it was a great investment.

29 April 2008

Maieutica has a brother!

I've given birth to a newer, nerdier blog.

Check out its awkward stages of development at www.brainandsky.blogspot.com

Having this new outlet for my geekier impulses will allow me to unleash the destructive power of this fully operational battlestation . . . whoops, I lapsed into Star Wars. It will allow me to give free reign to my creative (and somewhat geeky) impulses on this blog.

The new blog is to keep me honest in my scientific pursuits. This old blog is to keep me sane.

In the words of Bib Fortuna (Jabba the Hut's acolyte), "Dae Wanno Wunga," which means, "Word up."

13 April 2008

"My name is John Daker."

I give you the classic medley of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" with "That's Amore".

I think he goes through every possible vowel on the last Hallelujah.

14 March 2008

Here's to you, Frito Balducci

Daniel (immediately after waking up): "Frito Balducci."
Kristen: "What?"
Daniel: "I said Frito Balducci."
Kristen: "Who is Frito Balducci?"
Daniel: "I don't know. I just woke up and I can't get his name out of my head."

We googled old Frito, but all we got were a bunch of links for chips. That's disappointing, so I'll do my best to describe what Frito Balducci must look like. Black hair, wispy on top, with a slight comb-over. Rail-thin with narrow, hunched shoulders. Probably 5'11" tall. Mid-40's. Always wears fluorescent Nike warm-ups and his Gucci sunglasses. Bobs his head back and forth for emphasis when he speaks. Has a gold tooth and a pet mini-Doberman. Owns a vinyl of every Maria Callas recording ever made.

Now, a few questions about my brain:
* Why can't I remember what I was dreaming about, but I can remember a name that was probably part of that dream? And why so Italian? I guess we did have pasta last night.
* Why did it decide to use the word "Frito" as a first name? I've only ever heard "Frito" used with reference to snack foods.
* How did it retrieve the last name "Balducci"? I can guarantee that I've heard this last name no more than twice in my life, if I've ever heard it at all.

If you've ever had a dream where your brain fabricated a name, and you remember that name, please respond and tell us all about it.

12 March 2008

perfunctory update

Due to my lack of updating, I'm suffering from little, bloggish pricks of conscience.
So here you go:

click here

And on to other matters: doesn't this monkey remind you of Ted Danson (the guy from Cheers)?

Hmm. Interesting.

25 February 2008

A trio of buttons

Here is a list of the pin-on buttons that sit on my desk at school:

1. "Be in Command." A reminder for myself when students come in and try to argue about a mark I gave them.

2. "I have True Grit." A reminder meant to inform those same students that my will can crush their will.

3. "Happiness is . . . CLEAN, STRAIGHT TEETH" (included is a rather chilling depiction of a donkey wearing braces on its razor-sharp fangs). A reminder to brush my teeth.

18 February 2008

Revised wedding speech


Kristen and I have been married for two years today.

I don’t remember much about my wedding speech. I faintly recall reciting to the attendees a structured argument against getting married (an artifact from my bachelor days). I also think I awkwardly presented Kristen with a book of poems that I had written for her—and I have no idea why I chose to do this during my speech, given that the attendees had no possible way of knowing if it was something they should or shouldn’t applaud (it could have been really bad poetry). In retrospect, I don’t see why anybody should be forced to get up and say something intelligible on their wedding day. Some people pull it off. I’ve seen it happen. To make myself feel better, I’ve concluded that the people who pull it off don’t actually love their spouses.

Now that I’ve had two years to think about it, here’s the wedding speech I should’ve given (I’ve designed it for both the Toronto and Folsom receptions):

First of all, a million thanks to the wonderful friends and family who flew across the continent to stand in the -20 degree weather on our wedding day. And thanks to everyone who worked so hard to decorate, cook food, take pictures, and generally make the receptions run smoothly. Both moms deserve a billion more thanks than we could ever give. Dads, thanks for being patient with moms. We love you guys.

Gabby, Grammy, and Grandpa: thank you for making it to Toronto to support us. The day wouldn’t have been complete without you.

Nate and Ivy, thanks for flying out on your birthday. Happy Birthday! A special shout-out to Nate, who wins the award in the friend category for the longest distance traveled to make it (Elisabeth takes that honor in the overall category, having flown from Berlin!).

And speaking of birthdays, Happy Birthday to my little brother Sean. And thanks to Sean and Elisabeth for their wonderful musical presentation. My favorite piece was “When I’m 64.”

Ammon, thanks for the wonderful film you made and for flying out in the midst of your final preparations for the bar exam!

Tammy and Noel, thanks for flying out to the Folsom reception to represent the Wood girls!

Russ and Betsy, thanks for crashing your car, leaving it and hitching a ride just to make it to the reception before it ended! And thanks for telling the Packards about the wedding.

Grandpa Pallin, thank you for the tender way in which you conducted the ceremony. And thanks for showing my folks on the Wood side all of the places connected to my Grandpa Wood.

We want to thank everyone for the generous gifts and wishes.

Most of all, thanks to Kristen for settling for me.

21 January 2008

Lesions learned

A quick update:

  • Today I gave a presentation on a topic about which I knew practically nothing, and I gave it to a group of neuroscientists, some of whom happened to be experts on the topic. I saw one of them roll his eyes and snicker while I was speaking. That felt fantastic.
    And here is where I apply the life lesson I recently learned from rapper Kanye West: "N-n-now th-that that don't kill me/Can only make me stronger." This is wisdom, elegantly framed.
    (It's a sign that I'm reading too much neuroscience literature that whenever I try to write "lesson" it ends up coming out as "lesion".)
  • I am officially a permanent resident in Canada. Perhaps I should rename this website www.maeuti.ca (?) As with all other dealings with the Canadian government so far, this process was mind-numbingly drawn out and brimming with arbitrary hoops. No matter. Free health-care and exorbitant taxes, here I come.
  • I had the blessing of baptizing our friend Yves and his daughter, Elaine. There is always such a good, clean feeling at these baptisms, and I felt privileged to be part of it. Of course, I didn't feel privileged that the water heater was broken, there was a leak in the font (it was only up to our mid-thigh when we stepped in, making "baptism by immersion" quite the task), and I made the mistake of refusing offers of help with lifting Yves out of the water -- he weighs 400 pounds and has bad knees. He and Elaine were such good sports about it, and everything turned out just fine.
  • Our friends the Reeves came over for dinner. They brought Frank, their bulldog. He was a mighty foe, and he would have defeated me in our wrestling match (he goes for the feet) if little Jack Reeve (10 months) hadn't hit his head on yet another piece of our furniture, distracting Frank.

Frank is photogenic.

Frank diligently attempting to give a "high five".

I still don't know how, but I managed to get Kris to pose with Frank. I think Frank can sense the silent animosity.

01 January 2008

About faces

Here is the second wave, as promised.

"Shhhhhhhaaaaaaa!" said Frederick, for no apparent reason.

Frederick posing as a rather debonair Easter Island head-sculpture.

A pair of portraits in which our young Frederick is first dazzled, then delighted and giddy at your presence, and at the prospect of sitting down and tucking into a bowl of figgy pudding. So bring some right here.

Kip, the dolphin-boy, is also delighted at your presence. Kip, in his own little dolphin way, nods and says, "Sup."

These next 3 really bother me the most because they are so realistic. I get a little self-conscious and think, "Do I ever look like that?" Do yourself a favor and don't look at the enlarged version of the last one. Unless, of course, you feel prompted to get acquainted with my palatine uvula.

I wish a happy New Year to anyone who reads this.