Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Intentionally misleading title?

I stumbled on the following internet news link headline/title at

Darwin's 150-year-old theory jellyfish
("Darwin's 150-year-old theory jellyfish,", 7/29/09").

Based on that title my suspicion was that the article would explain how Darwin's theory of evolution, which is 150 years old this year, is supported, or even "proved" by jellyfish.

It turns out, however, that the article is about the 50-some year old theory of Charles Darwin's grandson, also named Charles Darwin, about role wildlife plays in creating ocean currents. Here's the heart of the article:

PARIS (AFP) – Creatures large and small may play an unsuspectedly important role in the stirring of ocean waters, according to a study released Wednesday.

So-called ocean mixing entails the transfer of cold and warm waters between the equator and poles, as well as between the icy, nutrient-rich depths and the sun-soaked top layer.

It plays a crucial part in marine biodiversity and, scientists now suspect, in maintaining Earth's climate.

The notion that fish and other sea swimmers might somehow contribute significantly to currents as they moved forward was first proposed in the mid-1950s by Charles Darwin, grandson of the the legendary evolutionary biologist of the same name.

But this was dismissed by modern scientists as a fishy story.

In 1960s, experiments compared the wake turbulence created by sea creatures with overall ocean turbulence. They showed that the whirls kicked up by microscopic plankton or even fish quickly dissipated in dense, viscous water.

On this evidence, sea creatures seemed to contribute nothing to ocean mixing. The clear conclusion was that the only drivers of note were shifting winds and tides, tied to the gravitational tug-of-war within our Solar System.

But the new study, published in the British science journal Nature, goes a long way toward rehabilitating the 20th century Darwin, and uses the quiet pulse of the jellyfish to prove the case.

The scientific findings in this article have nothing to do with Darwin's 150 year old theory. I recognize that article title is different at the source, but the link title is what the reader first sees and clicks to reach the article.

My first, somewhat paranoid, reaction was to think that the article was purposefully misleading to draw readers. My second and even more paranoid reaction was that the title was intended to suggest to those that didn't read the article that new research on jellyfish has somehow strengthened the theory of evolution. Does Yahoo and/or the AFP hope to subtly prop up a controversial theory like evolution because of some socio-political or religious agenda?

Perhaps I'm overthinking this.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thank you, Frank

When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years
So opens Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Angela's Ashes, Sadly, Frank passed away yesterday at 78 of skin cancer-related complications.

Angela's Ashes, if not the best (non-fiction) book I've ever read, is certainly my favorite. It moved me in a way that no other book has. Mr. McCourt's ability to express sorrow in vivid but often humorous ways is unmatched. Though I'm hardly a literature expert, I'm somewhat well read. His lyrical style is as good as any I've seen.

Something about his writing, including his subsequent books, 'Tis and Teacher Man, reached all the way to my core. I found Angela's Ashes at a time in my life when I was trying to find myself. As a spoiled American I certainly could not relate to the depths of the poverty and misery experienced by McCourt familyand their confederates in Limerick, Ireland during the Great Depression. But there was a familiarity to it all.

At that time in my life, in the process of trying to find my own identity, I latched on pretty heavily to my Irish ancestry. Looking back, I think that was my way of connecting to my father who gave me most of my Irish blood. Perhaps, though, there was more to it. Maybe, just maybe, our DNA has a "memory" of its own. Those ancestors of mine that left Limerick, Ireland for America in the late 1880's likely experienced their own "miserable Irish Catholic childhoods." In a symbolic sense, Angela's Ashes, for me, was akin to finding one's great-grandfather's diary in the trunk in the attic. It wasn't my great-great-grandfather's story, but it certainly could have been.

Whatever the case may be, Frank's writing helped patch some holes in my existent. More accurately, Angela's Ashes caused me to look at myself and those who came before me with more depth of clarity, with more of an eye toward the long strands that connect our history (or family history) to us today.

Reading 'Tis and Teacher Man were less heady than all that. All stories that have beginnings need endings and these two books rounded out the story that we all wanted to see end happily. By those books I was reminded that no matter where you come from, you can make something of yourself with a lot determination and a little dumb luck. It never hurts to be reminded of that.

All that aside, Mr. McCourt's books are fantastic reads. They are highly entertaining. For the hours of reading pleasure I had, if nothing else, Frank deserves a big thank you.

God bless you, Frank. Thank you for sharing your incredible life with me/us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Support Your Local EVERYTHING!"

So read a bumper sticker on a vehicle I was behind yesterday. Next to that sticker was one for the local university-affiliated public radio station. The car, not surprisingly, was headed toward that university, which is Ypsilanti, Michigan.

What immediately jumped out at me was that the car was a Honda Accord. Anyone familiar with Ypsilanti knows that in it or around it, GM and Ford both manufacture vehicles (or major parts of vehicles, like transmissions and such.) Ypsilanti is a short drive from the Motor City.

I'm not one to get to preachy. I don't admonish others to "buy American"; it's not my place to make that decision for people. Lots of true patriots buy cars with foreign name plates.

What I does get me, though, is that people that do not practice what they preach. In this case, this person's "local EVERYTHING" includes American manufactured domestic vehicles. Literally, there are vehicles that are "local," but she chose a car made in Tennessee or perhaps even Japan. Perhaps the bumper sticker should've said "Support Your Local (Almost) EVERYTHING" or "Support Your Local EVERYTHING (Except Major Purchase Items Like Vehicles").

I'm not sure what's more inconsistent, that bumper sticker on that car or the one I saw last year with a drawing of a cell phone that said "Hang Up and Drive." When I passed the driver of that car he was, you guessed it, talking on his cell phone.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Balancing friendships with work, family life and just the day-to-day responsibilities of adulthood is very difficult.

It's easier, actually, just to let something go. Marriage and family obviously is the most important, so it's the friendships have to get the ax. But that does not happen without consequence.

The solution: build walls. Stay nestled safe behind them.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lake Huron

Before I get to the point, here's a little bit of background. We're blessed here in Michigan to be surrounded by the incredible (indescribable) Great Lakes. There's nothing better, in my opinion, than beautiful freshwater shoreline.

Unfortunately, the closest bit of Great Lake to us is the strip of Lake Erie that touches the southeastern corner of the state. Although much cleaner than in the past, Lake Erie seems too dirty. The water is dark and mirky. The surface in the swimming areas is silty, slimy and squishy. The state and metro parks along that stretch aren't particularly scenic. Park users litter and leave cigarette butts all over the beach. In a word: ugly.

To get enjoy clean Great Lake water but not have to drive over three hours, last summer we decided to see what Lake Huron was like in the Port Huron area. My fear was that it would be too industrial there and, thus, dirty. I was wrong. We enjoyed a great day at Conger Lighthouse Beach. The water and beach areas were clean, the crowds were nice. The drawback was that the current was a little too strong near the mouth of Lake Huron (it ends there and flows into the St. Clair River.)

Yesterday we trekked up to that area but went a few miles farther north/up the shore. There we went to Lakeport State Park. If you're looking for a nice park in that area, I'd recommend. It's not big on amenities, but the beach is nice, the water is clean and there is plenty of picnicing areas. The beach is pebbly/stony, but about 100 feet out from shore there is a nice sand bar. Outside the designated "swim area," there is another nice sandbar.

Along the beach is a marshy area where the kids found frogs, turtles and other little critters. We also saw a family of snakes on the support beam of the park's pedestrian bridge/overpass.

All in all it was a very nice day. More than that, I'm starting to realize that Lake Huron seems to be a rather unappreciated body of water. Everyone in our state knows of the beauty of Lakes Michigan and Superior, but there's never much mention one way or another about Huron. If we were considering buying lakefront property, I'd be happy to be there. I also think it's worth the 1.5 hour drive to make semi-regular day visits.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Farce of July

I love my country and I love July 4. Maybe that's why I get dispirited every year in the run-up to the big day. It's great that people get together with family and friends, BBQ, go to the beach, watch fireworks, etc. It's a holiday. It's also a badly need day off for some who work too hard and too much.

All those things should be secondary byproducts of the holiday. The 4th is not about picnics and being out in the sun. It's about remembering the sacrifices that were made to make this country our own, to govern ourselves, to be free of the arbitrary decisions of a crazy (literally) king halfway on the other side of the Atlantic.

Just stop to consider what guts it took for the Founding Fathers to declare independence. Many of them were landed gentry. They were set. British practices, no doubt, were in some cases taking money out of their pockets. But I've not seen evidence that any of them were turned to paupers because of English taxation or the like.

The decision to split from mother England was largely made on principle. The risk: their lives. Back then, treason was punishable by death. It was certainly treasonous to attempt to oust the Kingdom of Great Britain from America. After all, this was a British colony. The reminder of the risks taken by the signators to the Declaration of Independence is stated plainly in the last sentence of that great document:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
It's not my place to tell you how to celebrate this great holiday. This certainly should not be understood as condemning or judging folks who try to make the holiday a celebration of family or friends or just a fun day off work. I just hope that the "true meaning" of the celebration does not get lost in all the fun.