Friday, February 27, 2009

It's official: We live in Texas!

Today I journeyed to a faraway place called South Houston for a special education meeting. It is an area best described as desolate and inhospitable. I was happily driving to the highway to return to Rice Village, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a man riding a horse down the median! I couldn't believe it. He appeared to be a Mexican cowboy of sorts, with a cowboy hat and an unbuttoned shirt fluttering in the breeze created by passing automobiles. I'm sorry I didn't take a photo.

A few minutes later, as I exited the highway, I drove by Reliant Stadium, which is hosting, for the next month, the Houston Rodeo. (We already have tickets to attend this extravaganza, so expect a post about it soon!) Today, the rodeo kicks off with the World's Championship Bar-B-Que contest. There were pick-up trucks, cowboy boots, and watering mouths aplenty, as seen from my car window! Even a ferris wheel! The website says that in addition to BBQ awards, there are also "recycling awards" given. I shudder to think what this might mean!

Is it good things, bad things, or weird things that come in threes? When I arrived home and checked my e-mail, there was a message from the City of Houston imploring me to participate in the "Great Texas Warrant Round Up" on March 7th. Starting that day, "HPD officers will aggressively target those people on the warrant list and arrests can take place at any location, including the person's home, school or workplace." Where can I get a lasso and form my own posse?!

Oh, and I can't forget to mention that tomorrow is "Go Texan Day" throughout the Houston Independent School District. In preschool, we are have a school-wide parade, wherein the students (and teachers) can dress up in their finest Western wear. This week as a fundraiser we have been selling cowboy hats and bandanas in anticipation of this event. Yeehaw!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Rather than trek to New Orleans, a stalwart krewe of ten graduate students and signficant others drove down to Galveston yesterday to partake in their famous version of the Mardi Gras celebration.

We were very interested to see what Galveston looks like, 5 months after Hurricane Ike. The brief answer: Not much. Most businesses appeared run-down or deserted, but it was hard to say whether it looked the same before the storm.
We arrived as the sun was setting.

The Strand was filling up with people begging for beads beneath the balconies.

There were some reminders of Ike. What a water line!

As the evening wore on, the throng of bodies grew denser. Walking through the crowds was a challenge, but some people were motivated by things other than debauchery. (I particularly like the contrast between the yellow sign and the Budweiser sign.)

The night's parade finally made it to the Strand. We enjoyed many a high school marching band, and tons of creative floats. (Sorry, no photos -- it was too dark!) At first I was perplexed and a little bit scared of people's zealous thirst for beads, but then I quickly got swept up in the excitement and was jumping and screaming for beads to be thrown at me. Fun times!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This morning while listening to NPR I heard a "medical breakthrough" clip, brought to me courtesy of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Scientists are studying the affect of inhaled anesthetics on people with post-traumatic stress disorder. In one study, patients were shown a series of images, some of which were disturbing (i.e., a severed hand). One group was then given inhaled anesthetics, while the other was given a placebo. A week later, the patients given the inhaled anesthetics remembered fewer of the images (and the less disturbing ones at that, I think). Scientists believe this is a breakthrough in treating people with PTSD, particularly soldiers who have been through the trauma of war. I would cite more medical research here, but my attempt at a Google search on this topic didn't turn up any satisfying results.

The doctors in the NPR clip hinted at the ethical questions these studies raise. All I could think of was the movie (one of my favorites), "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," in which Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet go to a doctor to have the memories of their failed relationship erased from their minds. Will "regular" people, not just soldiers, be able to have their bad memories erased? Will we be able to isolate specific memories to delete? Would we have to take a test to determine the "seriousness" of memories to delete? If I can wipe from my mind the death of a loved one, can I also wipe out that really horrible movie I saw at the theater? Could we keep teacher attrition to a low if teachers were inhaling every Friday afternoon? Isn't there something valuable to be gained by going through a painful experience? Where is Michael Crichton to write a socially relevant science fiction novel when I need him? or did I already have the memory of his death erased from my brain?

Here is the exerpt from the poem by Alexander Pope:
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Do do dee do

Garrett recently compared his life as a PhD student to a game of Tetris. He works so hard to stay on top of all of his reading and problem sets. If he lets down his guard for even a second, the books/blocks start to pile up quickly, and he has to redouble his efforts to get things in order. I overheard him humming the Tetris theme song at his desk the other day. Maybe I should buy him some Tetris shelving for Valentine's Day...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rainforest, schmainforest

The New York Times reported this week that some scientists believe we no longer need to be concerned with "saving the rainforest." Apparently old farmlands and cleared lands are reverting back to forests in some parts of Central and South America. These "secondary" forests are regrowing at such a rapid rate that they are, some argue, balancing out the destruction of older forests.

For those people who would like to lead an easier life, here are some other things I think we can stop worrying about conserving:
  • Manatees and other large aquatic mammals. Because Americans have become so overweight in recent years it's like we're creating new whales to replace the old ones!

  • The polar ice caps. I mean, really, doesn't everyone have a freezer full of ice cubes anyway? We could always Fed Ex Santa and his friends a ton of popsicles.

  • Energy. Surely we can power our homes, businesses, and cars on Red Bull and Rockstar?