Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mini-geek gets bullied, goes viral

When I was a little kid, I was a nerd.

Those of you who know me in real life know that not much has changed, but let's ignore that for the time being.

In fifth grade, I had glasses and crooked teeth. I laughed too loud, and I spilled my milk almost every day when we had our class snack break. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my sister and cousins. I was into books that were ahead of my reading level and I got along better with boys than with girls.

So, like any kid who deserves it, I had a bully.

Most of the time, my bully said things that I didn't even understand: she made pop-culture references that I didn't get, and then she would laugh derisively at me. Sometimes she insulted me in ways that I figured just didn't apply to me. Occasionally, I could shrug her off. But her jabs and her soul-crushing laugh worked enough times that I can still remember the sting of it. I can remember her face when she laughed at me.

I had had another bully a couple of years before that - she was much older than me, probably 11 or 12. She constantly called me alternately fat or stupid. I was seven and I believed her.

No matter what I accomplish in my life, the voices and "advice" of those bullies can be conjured up in an instant. More often than I'd care to admit, I remember what they said and wonder if they were right.

It's cold comfort - OK, not even comfort, really - that both of them are fairly miserable people now. That doesn't make things any better.

So my reaction at a nerdy, be-spectacled 7-year-old girl being bullied by boys at her school for carrying a Star Wars water bottle was manifold: I logged on and left a comment of support for the kid, like almost 2,000 other people have already done, but I also found myself wondering if it's even possible to keep something like this from happening.

Kids are such jerks, man. And they're the worst to each other.

Aside from sequestering kids from each other, I don't know how to keep that sort of thing from happening. In the case of my experiences with bullies, there was never an adult within earshot - bullies know what they're doing is wrong, so they do it on the sly. And it's not like more supervision is the solution - kids need some space to learn and develop as social creatures. Katie's mom was savvy enough (and Katie is enough of a Star Wars fan) to pick up on something being off, but that's seriously a lot to ask of most parents. I was the third child and was already weird enough: how could my mom have picked up on some subtle change in behavior due to bullying? Did my behavior even change?

All's I know is, may the force be with Katie. And may I never get a hold of the kids who bullied her.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abraham Day-Lewis

The "team of rivals".

I have lived for the past ten years in Illinois, called the "Land of Lincoln" because it's where Abraham Lincoln got his start in politics. Before I moved here, I lived with my Civil War re-enactor parents in Ohio - my dad regularly portrays a member of Ulysses Grant's staff - and I've worn a hoop skirt several times for Civil-War commemoration events in my home town. There are bookshelves in my childhood home that are heavy with books of Civil War history, biographies and battle analysis. When the Ken Burns 10-hour documentary came out on PBS, it was an enormous deal: my parents taped every hour and have watched and re-watched it many times.

I share my parents' interest in - though perhaps not their devotion to - what happened during those bloody years in our country. The scale of the thing is impossible to comprehend, and of course the Civil War and its aftermath are still affecting our country.

Which is why I'm pretty geeked about this: according to various sources on the series of tubes, Daniel Day-Lewis is going to play the part of Abraham Lincoln in a biopic directed by Stephen Spielberg. In my opinion, Day-Lewis has the perfect face to be Honest Abe, even if he isn't an Amurrican.

I won't be surprised if my parents are already camped out at the movie theater.

Monday, November 15, 2010

There, I fixed it!

The New York Times has a fun interactive game in which one can fix US Federal budget. The game even tells you when you've "won" by erasing the $1,345 billion deficit anticipated for the year 2030.

How many of these makes a thousand billion?

I was ruthless the first time through, because I thought it was an impossible task. Now that I know that it's doable, in more than one way, I think I'll go through the process a second time and be more thoughtful. But it's encouraging to note that this is not only possible, there are multiple ways to fix the growing deficit. It's just that none of the alternatives will be painless.

Check out how much would be saved by bumping the Social Security age up to 70, for instance. You bet your bottom I checked that box. People my age don't even expect Social Security to exist when we're 70, dutiful as we may be about paying into it. I presume that someone twice my age would be less excited about those savings, however.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guess that's how they fit all those elephants there

So it turns out that the continent of Africa is frickin' enormous:

A cartographer by the name of Kai Krause created this infographic to illustrate just how enormous Africa is, and to stave off "immapancy", which is apparently an affliction of making up made-up words.

Shortly after this was posted, the Economist decided to pick nits and claim that, though that was a nice mental exercise, it wasn't completely accurate.

I'm still busy having my mind blown at how, in both projections, all of China, the USA, India and Western Europe fit within the area of Africa, with room to spare.

What's possibly even more mind-blowing is that one of the commenters on the Economist article noted that the economy of that gigantic continent is roughly the same as the economy of the cities of Chicago and Atlanta combined. Tough to wrap the mind around that kind of disparity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Edmund Fitzgerald

Until only fairly recently, I presumed that the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald happened back in the Days of Big Shipwrecks - like, the 20s or something. I had thought the Edmund Fitzgerald was a contemporary of the Titanic or something.

The doomed freighter in happier times.

Or it sank in 1975. Hey, I live by a Great Lake now, but I didn't when I was growing up. This is local history, isn't it?

Anyhow, the lake freighter sank thirty-five years ago today, tragically drowning its 29-member crew in a storm that sported hurricane-strength winds.

Recently, the Detroit Free Press posted some pictures from the ship and its wreck that hadn't been published before, along with coverage of dives that have checked out the wreck, analysis of that famous Gordon Lightfoot song, and a look at the drama surrounding the victims' families. It makes for a pretty interesting glance at not-so-ancient history... and a reminder that storms on the Great Lakes are no joke.

Monday, November 8, 2010


It's Monday and I had a nice weekend which felt long because it involved "falling back" from daylight savings time. But now it's back to whatever I do during the week.

So I'll just put up this link to pictures of alcoholic beverages under a microscope.

Have a good week!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Inception Button

Not everyone loved it the way I loved it, but I LOVED the movie Inception. DH and I saw it twice in quick succession. I had already loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt after his appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he actually performed "Make 'Em Laugh" on live TV, proving that he is the kind of guy who should populate the dreams of dweebs everywhere. Watching that man fly around in a snappy vest and tie, beating up bad guys and timing important explosions, only deepened the love.

Even better than the acrobatics, however, was the foreboding, bassy score. For weeks, whenever something Important happened, DH and I would make a "bwwwwoooooh... bwwaaaaaah" noise. It was never quite right, but we'd gather it well enough that we could envision ourselves duking it out with bad guys in a spinning, zero-gravity hallway.

Thankfully, we don't have to do that anymore. All we have to do is hit the Inception button.

Some days, I love the interwebs for these little gems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today in paleolithic news

The title is incorrect. It's really late Jurassic, mostly.

Anyhow, the folks who maintain both that Catholics aren't real Christians and that dinosaur bones were planted by the devil to confuse creationists can celebrate as much as all the Discovery-channel paleontology geeks about this piece of news: A dinosaur skull was "discovered" in the marble of a church near Milan.

The second picture in that story blew my mind.

Even cooler than that, though, is that the non-fossilized remains of a mammoth were recently unearthed from a peat bog in Colorado. This means that soft tissue is still intact... and scientists are even figuring out how to extract DNA from the skeleton.

This is all making me want to re-watch my favorite cautionary tale: Jurassic Park.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Well, shoot.

I'm wearing a sweater and I just updated all my calendars: it's November. Election Day is tomorrow and I'm going to vote because it's my duty as a citizen and especially as a woman - I think anyone who isn't a white, land-owning male in this country who "forgets" to vote needs to bone up on his or her history. Gotta exercise our rights, people.

Speaking of exercising rights as an American, I saw a billboard on the way home from Michigan yesterday that was advertising skeet shooting, and I thought, "I would really enjoy learning how to shoot a rifle at a moving target".

Then I spent a moment wondering why I had that thought.

Now, I grew up in a rural area, and I knew plenty of people who owned guns. Hunting season was a big deal back home - some high-school kids skipped school with their parents' blessing to go shoot deer. I recall entering a friend's garage in late fall and being faced with the sight of a fresh deer carcass hanging from the ceiling. My friend's older brother had shot the deer, and his parents were thrilled: for low-income families, deer hunting isn't just a hobby, it's a very affordable source of lean protein.

Guns, in the right hands, are tools that can be used to feed a family and cull overpopulation of deer herds. As long as people are educated about their guns and keep them unloaded and locked up around their kids, I have no problem at all with responsible gun use and ownership.

However, I can't say I've had much of an interest in using a gun before now.

A friend of mine here in Chicago had a similar impulse in her late twenties, and eventually she and her father spent a day out at a rifle range and learned all about shooting. She had a great time. Her husband was appalled by the trip, as they are both urban, liberal, crunchy-granola peacenicks. I thought it was a neat idea at the time - though not something I was interested in. Plus, a little outdoor father-daughter bonding is a good thing: I like to go camping with my dad. Heading to the firing range has its similarities.

As I was mulling through my new, more real interest in learning to shoot a gun, however, I remembered this: my friend who spent that day at a rifle range did so a few months before she became pregnant with her first child.

This morning I found myself wondering: as a woman of childbearing age, is wanting to shoot a gun a harbinger of other desires? Does interest in learning how to shoot imply a no-longer-latent yearning both to provide meat and to protect home and hearth... and, eventually, children? Perhaps craving firearm control is the first step toward craving midnight ice cream?

I want to ask my friend if she was thinking in those terms when she was shooting targets or clay pigeons. Because if shooting a gun is an early step to motherhood, maybe I should wait a little while on that trip to the firing range.