Sunday, July 22, 2007

Body World

My husband and I went to Body World this week-end at OMSI.

I had put it off, the way I put of watching a 'heavy' video until I'm in the right mood. Sometimes I end up sending them back to netflix because I've had the damn thing for three weeks and life hasn't reached the right philosophical balance and never will.

But here I was at Body World, not feeling especially good anyway. My stomach had been rebelling against some aspect of my recent life. It didn't feel any better at Body World where I could look at an actual stomach, either alone, or in the company of its fellow organs.

My husband was in heaven. Scary stuff revealed! Here is a man who loves science fiction, science, horror movies.

I suffered. The big questions were coming at me. Is this ethical? Would this be ethical if they didn't display the bodies doing skateboard tricks? Are we just meat? How big a wuss am I? (that last question was easy to answer -- a pretty big wuss)

But never mind the big questions how about the big exclamations. He is holding his own skin! The circulation system! That's where the heart is! Liver! Spleen! Oh my god look at the size of those male sex organs. Her butt is in the air showing everything! You name it, I had no idea where it was.

I really wonder what everyone else trooping through the exhibit was thinking. My mind was following two tracks. On the first track I was horrified at the whole jolly show. Everything was merrily transgressive. Here you have a dead person and they are chopped up in artful ways and doing some sporting maneuver. The showmanship, which is integral to the whole show was the opposite of respectful. I guess I think a little dullness is in order when dealing with the human body.

I had to admit though, and this is track two, that it was amazing. Could it be that the people who donated really don't care that their bodies are used in this way -- might even think its a good thing? The crowd wasn't solemn but they were respectful. Lots of parents were there with well behaved children. The children didn't look traumatized like I did.

My one take away that I wasn't expecting was an empathy for social conservatives. They are always going crazy about a movie, a fashion. They think its terrible; it doesn't show respect. The rest of society goes, 'huh! What's the big deal! if you don't like it don't wear it or see it." I'm usually the no big deal person. Now I know how it feels.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hope Global Warming isn't a Step Function

I don't have a lot I remember from my engineering degree. What I have are some graphs that stick in my mind with metaphorical weight. One of those graphs is a step function.

An example of a step function is an on-off switch. When you flip the lights on the current goes from 0 to full instantly. A graph of someone flipping the lights on and off is a series of boxes like you are stepping up on a step and then down from a step.

Most change is linear or exponential. Sea level rises in increments of inches, or feet over years. If the rate of change is constant its easy to deal with. Not so easy to deal with is exponential change. That's when the rate of change starts increasing and suddenly a population of rabbits goes from 10 rabbits to 100 and then the next time you measure its 1000. Hmm. That's the worry when we talk about temperature and sea levels. How can we keep it linear and stop the move to exponential change.

We worry and fuss and start slowly to action.

But what if it's step! We think of linear change as natural change, but step functions are common in nature. A Tsunami hitting the shore is a step function. Every year in Northern lakes there is a day where the warm water at the bottom flips up to the top when the seasons change. All the fish in the lake wobble around for a week or so trying to figure out what just happened. Its drastic but its natural. Its a great day to go fishing!

There is one more perfectly natural step function that we are all familiar with. Its the step we all have to face one day. Death is a step function. One day we are alive, the next we are dead and nothing is more natural then that.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lady Bird

She has been out of the public eye so long its a rediscovery to hear her name. In the paper I see a clear-eyed woman of evident sense. She's an attractive brunette who looks engaged with life. My, who knew that Lady Bird Johnson was a beauty.

I was young in the sixties and didn't bother being fair to a president who could send my brothers to fight in Vietnam. My disdain extended to his family. Add on to that, Lady Bird followed Jackie Kennedy who was in some other category of cool. What an act to follow. The picture of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in says it all. They are on the plane back to Washington. Jackie is standing next to Lyndon in the place that Lady Bird should be. Lady Bird stands to one side, an onlooker, giving first place to the shocked and suffering widow.

We made fun of her. We made fun of all the Bird girls also, as if their Texas background was the most ludicrous thing on earth. Lady Bird wasn't as young, thin or photogenic as Jackie was, end of story. I realize I do the same thing to Laura Bush and to those little Bush girls. I think I need to knock it off. They don't deserve it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The New Standard for Renewable Energy

I stopped at the brow of a hill in my car,where I could see the freeway right at eye level. The road I was on continues down the hill and through an underpass. I probably stop there every day or so without thinking about it. if anything I look past the freeway at the Columbia River and the mountains on the skyline.

An enormous white blade like a huge feather or a gigantic whale bone went by on the freeway. It was strapped on to the back of trailer rig taking up the whole trailer. So much natural grace went by, it took my breath away. It must of been the blade for a wind turbine heading out to the Columbia Gorge. It looked like it wanted the air; it looked like it grew into its form rather than being engineered. It was, at one fast glance, some organic thing that needed to be strapped down so it wouldn't fly away.

Perhaps that is how we should judge the new renewable energy sources we need to reduce carbon emissions. Does it look like it belongs in the natural world? Does it make your heart stop with it's beauty? Yes? Then it is both useful and beautiful. What more can we want in this world.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

When did we become the bad guys

It seems right on the Fourth of July to speak out about torture done by the United States or condoned by the United States.

It isn't often that I feel unambiguously in the right. Even on issues like the war, gay marriage and stem cell research, part of me understands the red state point of view. Torture though is different. I don't even want to understand the other sides reasoning.

It isn't just the pain, fear and injustice to torture victims that gets me angry. It's the damage to ourselves. Taking part in something so debased, corrupts everyone that touches it: our allies, our armed forces, the CIA, the state department. There should be a special place in hell for people in power who direct others to use unlawful torture.

Torture works hand in hand with secrecy and lack of habeas corpus.

In a democracy when you allow your leaders to break the law, you are breaking the law.