Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ugly Ducklings, Beautiful Swans

It just so happens that I saw The Devil Wears Prada for the first time last night, and today watched a few episodes of Ugly Betty. The Devil Wears Prada is the story of ugly duckling Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) made (exernally) beautiful through the hellfire experience of working for Miranda Priestly (no less than Meryl Streep). Ugly Betty, on the other hand, is the story of an ugly duckling making those around her, already externally beautiful, lovely, or at least, lovable, on the inside. Both, as everyone knows, are set in Vogue-like high-style New York fashion magazine businesses, where those with less than stellar fashion sense, or more than size 2 bodies, are viewed like visitors from another planet.

Especially the Ugly Betty character (performed so ably by America Ferrara) made me stop to think about co-workers through the years who have similarly influenced me. Looking back, particularly those who took negative events and personalities with equanimity had a lot to teach me. I won't name names here, but thanks to all of you who help me learn to put things in perspective. Your lessons have stood me in very good stead all these years.

"That's all."

No, it's not. Happy new year to all my role models, young and old!

Thursday, December 28, 2006


For the first winter season in more than I can count, we do not have one or more peregrine falcons "hanging around" the University of Chicago campus. I think about them a lot, but the December 19 memorial for Malachi Ritscher (beautifully organized by our mutual employer, the University of Chicago) has brought them more acutely to mind of late. Malachi had been involved with the Chicago Peregrine Release and Restoration project for more than 10 years, a little longer than I myself have. I think my friend Mary Hennen, director of the project, won't mind if I reprint her comments here:

"I regret that I will be unable to attend [the memorial] as I would have been happy to remark on Malachi's passion for the peregrines. I knew Malachi back in 1994 when he lived on the north side near the Broadway [falcon nest] site. He dedicated an extraordinary amount of time to observing and documenting that pair of falcons throughout their nesting season. Malachi's
enthusiasm for the peregrines showed in his beautiful photographs of the birds which he generously shared. It was very nice to see him again at the University in 2005 as it had been a number of years and I'm very sorry for everyone's loss of a good friend."

Malachi's self-inflicted death was meant to draw attention to the evils of the war in Iraq, but was ignored by mainstream news media locally and nationally, which makes it all the sadder that this advocate for the restoration of the species and for other culturally, humanistically, and humanely important causes, is gone.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas in Yellowstone. Christmas in Chicago.

My friends Wendy, Chloe and Becky are in Yellowstone National Park today, as they were one year ago when the wonderful video, Christmas in Yellowstone, was made for the PBS series Nature. As shown in that spectacular tape, they are most likely in Lamar Valley observing members of one of the major wolf packs - the Druid Peak pack is said to be on a kill as of this morning - going about their business as they did before humans, and in particular, before Europeans, showed up on the scene.
So today I am suffering from"nature envy" and also "property envy" as Wendy, who lives and works in Manhattan, stopped off in Bozeman before she went to the park. She has a modest condo in Bozeman, waiting for her eventual permanent relocation from New York. I'm cheered that 43 days from today I will be there myself.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Intelligent comment on intelligent design

Taken from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Magazine & Journal Reader column, which reprinted it from the May/June issue of Skeptical Inquirer, common sense and intelligent design:

"Scientists should not be so shocked by the popularity of the notion of intelligent design, says Scott O. Lilienfield, an associate professor of psychology at Emory University. After all, he says, when it comes to common sense, intelligent design is a much more believable concept that Darwin's theory of evolution--and scientists have done little to counter the popular preference for easy explanations.
"Indeed, from the vantage point of commonplace intuition, it is far more plausible to believe that complex biological structures like the peacock's tail and elephant's trunk were shaped by a teleological force than by purposeless processes of mutation and natural selection operating over millions of years," he writes. The issue this presents is not a dearth of common sense, writes Mr. Lilienfeld, but "the public's erroneous belief that common sense is a dependable guide to evaluating the natural world." He notes how natural science alone is replete with hundreds of examples demonstrating the unreliability of commons sense--such as how "the world seems flat rather than round," or how "the sun seems to revolve around the Earth rather than vice-versa." Mr. Lilienfeld says scientists "have forgotten that the popularity of intelligent design is merely one example of a far broader problem, namely the American public's embrace of pseudoscience in its myriad incarnations." But rather than confront the problem of pseudoscience as a whole, he says, scientists have opted to fight one claim at a time. This approach helps explain why scientists are losing the broader battle against pseudoscience, he adds.