Archive for June, 2008

The pet family just grew one bigger

We got our second dachshund this weekend. Her name is Isobel. Not really after the Bjork/Deodato song, but the spelling was inspired by it. She’s adorable and small. Her puppy breath is horrific, think coffee grounds in the garbage. She’s very into playtime which I think is new for us because Brody was always kind of scared and lap-dog-ish. She’s been good about peeing so far. I’ve been a psychotic overlord watching her every move and any time she starts to circle, out she goes. She only peed on the floor once on Saturday and I’ve been able to regulate since then. She’s starting to get the hang of the pooping outside thing. Last night I spent an hour with her outside around 3:15. When she finally pooped I might have cried – I was so delirious I wouldn’t remember clearly. Then she was in crazy play mode until 6:00 when she finally fell asleep in her little dog bed on my lap on the couch. When I then woke up at 8:30 she had at some point made her way out of the dog bed and onto my chest so her little sleepy face was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Of course all was forgiven in that moment.

We were originally going to wait until we moved into our new place to get the new dog, but this one was so cute and just the right age to adopt and we also thought it might be easier to deal with all the puppy stuff in this house rather than in our nice shiny new place. If I can get her fully potty-trained in two weeks, then we were right. We’ll see. Here’s a couple pics, sorry if you read Jason’s blog, they are duplicates of ones he already posted, but I’ll put up more later on in the week.


Gay Science News

I don’t know if you occupy yourself with the scientific press, but there’s been big news in the last couple weeks in homosexuality research. There was a new “gay brain” study in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that looked at differences in primitive brain structures that are fixed after birth showing that these structures in gay men resembled the same structures in straight women. Similarly, these structures in gay women resembled straight men. For those of you who love neuroanatomy, Hetero Male cerebral hemispheres tend to be lateralized or larger on the right side, mostly due to increased frontal and temporal lobes. Women’s cerebral hemispheres tend to be more similar on both sides. The Homo Male cerebral hemispheres tend to be the same size on each side, more like straight women’s. The opposite is true for gay women. More striking were changes in connectivity between the amygdala (reactions to external stimuli) and subcallosum and anterior cingulate (regulation of mood and anxiety-linked processes). The authors make a supposition that this could explain the increased prevalence in mood disorders amongst women and the increased depression and suicide rate among gay men. I think both statements are questionable because frankly there are a lot of external factors for both women and gay men that profoundly influence mental health. The authors also show that connections between the sensorimotor cortex and striatum are more robust in Hetero men and Homo women. These connections are more involved with attending to the external environment via fight or flight responses. All interesting stuff indeed.

This week, a paper in PLoS One (Public Library of Sciences) did some crazy genetics studies that I can’t even begin to fully understand, but their conclusions were pretty interesting. The authors were puzzled by the notion of a genetic source of homosexuality because in the simplest sense, if homosexuality is genetic and most homosexuals don’t reproduce, homosexuality should become extinct in the population. They show that homosexuality is equally present in cultures throughout the world and stable in incidence through recent history, indicating that a downslide in homosexuality prevalence or homosexual extinction is probably not happening. Then they use the theory of sexually antagonistic selection (the genes of one sex favor the other sex somehow) to come up with the hypothesis that homosexual men would have female relatives who are more fecund, or reproductively active. The theory being that some of the same genes involved in reproductive potential in women are somehow linked to homosexuality in men within the same maternal blood line.  They relate this then to their empirical studies which showed asymmetries in the pedigrees of families with gay men showing that the maternal female relatives (maternal aunts and cousins for example) of gay men do in fact have statistically more children. Interesting stuff as well. So now it’s a matter of doing the genetic linkage studies to identify the genes involved.

All of this research is interesting to me as a gay scientist. I always try to read the introductions and discussions of these papers carefully because the meaning and intent behind this research is perhaps more important than the research data itself. Most of the time, these studies are interpreted to say, “See I told you, being gay is not a lifestyle choice.” However, there are a lot of powerful people out there who would love to see these biological explanations for homosexuality turn into medical solutions to cure homosexuality. Check this quote from Rev. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use.” It’s interesting and scary how the position of an anti-gay individual can shift so smoothly from “homosexuality is a choice” to “if it’s not a choice, then let’s fix it with medicine.” And believe you me, if these movers and shakers find ways to fund this sort of gay cure medicine (however far-off and ridiculous it may seem right now), people will want it and use it. Millions of people in China already selectively abort female fetuses to make sure they have a male baby.

All of this comes full circle for me every semester when I teach the pelvis in anatomy. The main message of the pelvis in my class is “having babies is magic, let’s see how much we can learn about how to make, grow and deliver a baby just by studying the anatomy.” It’s really fun, the students seem to absolutely love it, and we are able to talk through all of the anatomy of the male and female by linking it into one cohesive story . I’ve given a lot of thought to whether my approach is too hetero-centric, but you know, the story just isn’t that different for me or any other gay person. The parts all work the same, you just put them in different places. I could talk about gay sexual health issues, but that just goes so far outside the realm of anatomy. Maybe it would be more appropriate for an undergraduate anatomy/physiology class. I feel that my role in doing service to the gay community through my teaching is just being my big bad gay self in the classroom, so my students can see that gay people can be scientists and teachers (and really good ones at that) because they might not get the chance to meet many out role models in their medical education.

Best Week Ever – not VH1 style

As you may have heard or already be aware, the University was closed for all non-essential activities last week due to the flooding. Most of the truly essential activities are related to patient care, so our little summer anatomy class was on hiatus for a week. Faculty and staff were also asked not to come to work unless absolutely necessary to reduce power and water usage during the crisis period. I was happy to oblige.

So I had an unexpected mandatory 5 day “vacation.” I quote it because I still worked everyday from home and actually got quite a bit done, but I didn’t have to come into the office, and that is liberating in a very big way. I managed to get some major garbage removal done from the house. I also did some yard work and took Brody for an afternoon walk every day. He normally gets walked once a week at best, so this was pretty major for him. Finally, with my spare time I beat Rockband on drums once and for all and got to about 40% completion on Grand Theft Auto IV. I would say that this was a week well-spent.

Brody made huge leaps and bounds in his neighborhood walking skills. I have to qualify that as “neighborhood” walking because for him it is very different than if we drive to a park somewhere and walk. He’s always been really good at park walking when he has no spatial reference for home. Getting him to voluntarily walk away from home though has been quite difficult. I made it one of my goals for the week to see if walking every day would make him more comfortable on the trail locally. I’m so glad to say that it did. Yesterday Jason came with for the big test, and I didn’t have to drag him or hold him back from running once. That tiny little dog makes me so happy sometimes that it’s actually kind of embarrassing.

Last week I also officially turned the corner on being emotionally prepared to move. Over the week I went from, “I think I might miss coming home to this place a little” to “I would rather live anywhere than this dump.” How we got used to some of the less pleasant things about this house is unknowable. If you live somewhere for five years, you just stop caring about the things you can’t change (mold, bugs, energy inefficiency, etc). I would do great in AA because I have no problem accepting the things I cannot change. In fact that is one skill that saves me much stress at work. I call it the “not my problem” principle.

Returning to work today was actually a joy. I was so happy to be reminded of the 42 students who need my help on a daily basis. It’s nice be needed in a way that I can be of use. I was also happy to look at my weekly to-do list and see that I actually did get a lot of miscellaneous things out the door last week, so this week is much simpler. I was also happy to learn that instead of compressing our course to accommodate for the missed week, which would require me to turn 3 really good lectures into 2 questionable ones, we are adding some saturday sessions and rearranging the schedule so we can proceed on the same pace. Thank god. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rework those pelvis lectures for different logistic demands. I think it just feels good to be back at work, reminded of who I am and what I do well. When you’re on your ass at home for a week, you get out of your routine of effort-reward, effort-reward…

Finally, I should also mention that we grilled twice this weekend, which is about as much as we usually grill in a year. We don’t have a fancy grill like David and Sam’s, so it’s less fun. Don’t get me wrong I love the act of grilling, it’s the coaxing the earwig colony out of the grill, dumping the ash mountain, and cleaning the horrific grill bars that I’m not so crazy about. A nice gas grill is high on the priority list for new stuff at the new house. Anyway, we grilled chicken kabobs and served it with a greek salad. It was really pretty amazing. Simple ingredients (literally less than 10 ingredients for both the salad and the kabobs) plus simple cooking techniques (kabobs- 9 minutes on the grill, salad- no cooking at all) equals culinary success in my world.

So I’m back on the prowl in Bowen Science Building, badder and better than ever. Expect to see more blog action now that I’m back on my routine. Until next time, just to let you know, there’s only 22 days left until moving day!

This Bulging River

Well, for those of you who haven’t heard, much of eastern Iowa is experiencing major flooding. It’s pretty much national news at this point. The levees protecting Cedar Rapids have given way releasing the river into the downtown area. It’s pretty unreal to see that much water in the business sector of the city.

Iowa City, where we live, is gearing up for the worst which should happen sometime in the next week. Many neighborhoods are flooded, roads and bridges closed, etc. We’ve been fortunate because we live very high in town, so it would take a major disaster like the dam breaking for our house to be affected.

Of course that’s not to say that we haven’t been affected at all. Jason has to take increasingly circuitous routes to get to work as more and more roads close. Some of my walking routes are now in the river. And the whole town is just wet and generally unpleasant to be in. The university will most likely take big losses as the river creeps up on major landmark buildings like the performing arts complex and the union. All the sandbagging in town really takes me back to the floods in Fargo/Grand Forks in 1997. I remember being stunned by the power of nature to do whatever it wants with regard for the wants or best efforts of homeowners. I had that same feeling this week every time I crossed the bridge on my walk to work. The water levels have continually risen to the point where the river water runs right beneath the bridge. The river water is certainly moving faster and faster, but being so close to it is kind of frightening. The water looks violent and unyielding.

When I thought about the angry rising waters, I couldn’t help but remember this hilarious outtake from Waiting for Guffman. It’s a song from “Red, White and Blaine” that didn’t make the final cut of the film. I’m not surprised it was cut because it gets long after the first couple minutes, but my god the first minutes are hilarious. Catherine O’Hara and her ridiculous bangs have some great moments here. The video and audio get uncoupled after the first couple minutes, which is truly one of my greatest pet peeves, but the best parts at the beginning (“hush child, hush”) are unaffected. I hope you enjoy revisiting This Bulging River as much as I did.

By the way, I hesitated to even post this because I don’t want anyone to think I’m being disrespectful of their situations with the floodwaters and their homes, but you know what this is really funny and sometimes a laugh can be good medicine.

Also, an FYI, I fixed the link to the Holophonic illusions website from a couple posts ago if you couldn’t get there the other day.

I Heart Rockband

I rediscovered Rockband again this weekend.

For many months, the little drumkit, microphone and baby guitars have been gathering dust since Jason and I went on our fickle way and forgot about Rockband. When we first got the game, we played it quite a bit and I really enjoyed the cooperative aspect of it. We played in multiplayer career mode mostly, him on guitar, me on bass, only because singing and drumming was exhausting and a little embarrassing initially. We cranked through a bunch of songs and then came to “Enter Sandman” which literally ruined the game. In the team career mode, you have to do songs of elevating difficulty and continue to do well, or you start losing fans and money, and over time, you actually start losing the right to play certain songs. Does that seem crazy to anyone else? Anyway, we tried to just hack our way through that great Metallica classic and we ended up trying and failing about 20 times. I don’t know if you have ever tried and failed at something that many times in a row, but let me tell you it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. In addition to that sour taste, we lost all of our fans, all of our money and when it was all said and done, we could only play the easy songs. Boo.

So we put the game away only to bring it out with quiet bitterness when guests came over. A month or so later, I decided to get the guitar out and try to beat the game on Hard on the solo career mode. I really had to work for this. There’s about 60 songs on the game including the bonus tour, so I pretty much devoted a week to it. About 30 songs in, I had to breakdown and start using the practice mode, where you can take the songs apart and run drills on each riff and lick. This appealed to me in a big way because of my own background with music and doing that kind of mind-numbing work. Anyway, I managed to beat every song on hard except the very last one, which is so insane I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do it. It’s called “Green Grass and High Tides” by The Outlaws. Like most songs on Rockband, I’ve never heard it before, but I worked hard on that thing, putting in the time in the practice mode, working the speed up on the solos until I could almost get through at 100% speed. Anyway, the last solo is about 5 minutes long and it ultimately claimed my soul. I had to give up or risk permanent damage to my ego. Incidentally, with a little work, “Enter Sandman” wasn’t that bad at all by comparison.

So I put it away again and a month later decided to beat the game on vocals on Hard. This took me two nights of solid work, with Jason not at home of course. There’s no way I’d be rocking out by myself with him dying in the other room. The vocals were easier in one way, because the instrument is one that I’m already familar with, but also more difficult because in order to sing a song well, you actually kind of have to know it, which as I mentioned is generally not the case with the Rockband portfolio. In any case, I beat the game and got to see the big pyrotechnic display that is your “reward” for finishing it. Yay.

Then this weekend our friends Matt and Hilary came to visit and we played a good bit of Rockband. I reluctantly agreed to play drums on some songs even though it is my weakest instrument, and I kind of started to like it. So last night when Jason worked late, I cranked through the first 10 songs in the solo drum career playlist. It’s harder work physically and I can’t really play laying down, which is upsetting for me, but I think I’ll see if I can beat it. Right now the difficulty setting is on Medium, because I’m a pussy, but I’m also a realist. I want to finish it, not languish when I reach the 30th song.

I thought a lot about why I like the game so much. I don’t play most games all the way through, as I’ve mentioned before I’m kind of a quitter. On one hand, I’m trying to stop being a quitter, so I think that explains why I started the solo guitar career. However, the reason I finished it, and the reason I went back to the vocals and the drums is that this game appealed to me as a musician and when I took the instruments seriously, I actually got good at them. I would have never thought I would get as good at the guitar parts as I did, but I developed my own language of the technique so I could train myself in an organized way. I probably could have mumbled my way through most of the songs, but instead I thought about each song carefully and decided which octave and voice to sing in for each one, and I started totally rocking out. The jury is still out on the drums. They’re crazy, but you never know. The most exciting part of this game is that it has made me feel better about my abilities to try really hard to do something I don’t think is possible and just stick it out until it works. If that’s not a thinly-veiled life lesson I don’t know what is. I’ve also been pretty vocal about how cool it is that there is a game that kids can play with adults and everyone enjoys it equally. That is amazing and we’ve had some pretty great times with family and friends because of it.

I’ll keep you posted when I beat the drum career. Although there’s a Rush song on there with a crazy mixed meter, so that one just might claim me. And who knows, maybe one day the guitar part of “Green Grass and High Tides” will also be mine. I can only dare to dream…

Can you really get old in one day?

Guess what, I just turned 30. I really don’t think much about the significance of birthdays, but with the number of times I heard things like “wow, you freaked out about turning 30?” or “Yeah, that’s a big moment. I can remember my 30th like it was yesterday,” I really had no choice but to ruminate a bit on the transitional moments of life.

I definitely don’t think being 30 makes me feel like I have to be a grown-up. I think I already turned that corner when I finished grad school and started doing real work. In the last year or so, I’ve definitely made major changes in how I address and deal with my financial life, so much so that I would no longer consider myself fundamentally bad with money. In the last month or so, I’ve dealt with more stress at work than I’ve ever had, even during the dissertation-writing period, so I’ve learned how to just ignore my feelings and keep working. So I think many of the big “growing up” things have definitely happened lately, but by no means the minute I turned 30.

After much consideration, I think that turning 30 for me symbolized a celebration of having started a new phase of my life. Obviously this is perspective is hugely influenced by our upcoming move-in to our new house. All the skills I’ve belatedly acquired in the last year or so – working hard, managing money, staying positive even on a negative day – have a completely new significance as a homeowner, ‘husband’ (one day those quotes are going away. I can’t help how I was raised, but I can help how I end up) and pet dad.

If I asked most of my friends if they think me at 30 is any different than me at 25, I bet most of them would say not really. They’d probably say I drink less and somehow, inconceivably I have less hair, but fundamentally I’m the same person only better. That’s a total cliche these days with Stacy and Clinton, Carson Kressley, et al making women into ‘themselves, only better’ on basic cable every day. But it’s true really. I am better now as a total package than I was at 25. There’s no room for debate on that topic. Hopefully the upward trend continues for quite a while because I don’t want to go backwards and end up at the 19 year old version of me again. Worse yet, the 17 year old version of me. Am I the only person in the world who when thinking about their former selves feels predominantly embarrassment? Not regret, but definitely embarrassment.

I included a picture here of the 17 year old version of me. This is me and my brother after getting first place in a Knowledge Bowl “meet.” Yes, they make competitive trivia for nerdy high school kids to compete in. You can even letter in it (for your letter jacket, duh). And we both did. This is also one of very few photos where the resemblance between me and Mike is pretty recognizable. I was such a dork in high school, and I think that’s plain to see. What you can’t see through those giant Angela Bower-style glasses is a kid who had no clue what he really thought about anything, and just about the smallest conception of what his life could be. The guy in that photo could have never connected the dots to the guy sitting behind this keyboard now. NO WAY. Fortunately I can still connect the dots back to him. If I ever can’t connect it back to him, I might just lose track of my childhood altogether. I think it’s important to maintain some kind of internal timeline of your own life. I don’t have a lot of linear or emotional memory much earlier than when that photo was taken, and I kind of wish I did.

Anyway, I think I’m truly happy with the current version of me. That’s something the guy in that photo couldn’t have said honestly. Of course I know I’m not perfect, and I still have bugs to work out. I don’t really have a significant savings. I don’t answer the phone enough. I procrastinate invariably. My mind wanders in the middle of conversations sometimes. My wardrobe kind of sucks. And many other personal things that I would never write about on the internet. Hopefully 30 more years is enough time to figure all of those things out. Then when I’m 60 I can write a blog about finally reaching self-actualization.

By the way, the celebrities that share my birthday are pretty lame. The most famous ones are (in no particular order of famousness): Sandra Bernhardt, Paul Giamatti and Robert Englund (aka Freddy Krueger). My friend Margie has truly awesome celeb birthday mates including Camilla Parker-Bowles, Phyllis Diller AND David Hasselhoff. I gotta tell ya, I’m jealous.

She’s Got the TVLand

Hey has anyone else out there fallen completely in love with TVLand’s new reality show “She’s Got the Look?” It’s basically America’s Next Top Model for women over 35. These ladies are all total foxes and even as old as 63. Tivo this shit because you will love all of these women. They are such a breath of fresh air after years and years of watching young girls on ANTM who don’t even know who they are. These women know exactly who they are so the show is less about backstage fighting and just more about older beautiful women and awesome photography. I don’t need to explain why as a gay man this show seems to have been assembled just for me. You can expect me to watch this one all the way to the end. Also, Kim Alexis is the hostess and I’m pretty sure she discovered the fountain of youth. The ponies I will be watching in this race most closely are the french lady, the swede, the belly-dancing Wisteria Lane explant, and the oldest black lady. Although truthfully I can almost say I love them all.

An interesting thought though- I’m sure this show got shopped around to all kinds of networks before TVLand (a.k.a. the channel that time forgot) finally picked it up. How terrible is it that TVLand was the one channel that would air something this interesting and “outside the box?” The Oxygen network is higher on the food chain than TVLand and this seems tailor-made for Oprah’s followers. Oh wait, that’s right they have “The Bad Girls Club” on Oxygen. Next time Oprah takes a moral stand against a rapper or a James Frey, I’ll remember that thought.