Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fruit Flies and Popular Girls

I've been pretty consistent in keeping this site focused on the arts and education, and keeping it out of politics -- there are too many other good sites covering that area. But Sarah Palin's attack on fruit flies pushes over into education, so I can't resist.

Research money on fruit flies a waste? Here are some of things it can but:

Huntington's disease

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on Monday that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have cured fruit flies of the genetic disorder Huntington's disease.

Birth Defects

A Queen's University study of fruit flies may revolutionize the way birth defects are studied.

Fundamental secrets about the development of human embryos

Fruit flies ... are essential workhorses in thousands of biomedical research laboratories around the world. Decades of study have revealed that the tiny insects, which bear little resemblance to people, nevertheless share much of our genetic heritage. Fruit flies possess strikingly similar versions of the genes that promote normal human development and, when altered, contribute to disease.

"Nobody would have predicted that an arcane fruit fly that had a leg sticking out of its head would have revealed fundamental secrets about the development of human embryos," said Charles Zuker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

On Sept. 6 at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus in Chevy Chase, Zuker and a distinguished group of researchers joined forces to extol the virtues of the fruit fly as a model system in biomedical research.

The metamorphosis of biology into a science offering numerically precise descriptions of nature

The metamorphosis of biology into a science offering numerically precise descriptions of nature has taken a leap forward with a Princeton team's elucidation of a key step in the development of fruit fly embryos -- discoveries that could change how scientists think not just about flies, but about life in general.

Use of fruit flies in the International Space Station to learn what space travel does to the genes of astronauts.

Fruit flies, genetic malfunction and human disease.

But what really tickled my curiosity is why Sarah decided to pick on fruit flies, of all things. Fruit flies have been a lynchpin of biomedical and genetic research going all the way back to Mendel.

Then it hit me...that's precisely why. She vaguely remembers hearing about them in high school science, and she hated high school science -- all the popular kids hated it. Besides, she and her popular friends probably used "fruit fly," like "fruit bat," as a gay-bashing insult, so she thinks this is just something to snicker at.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Handicapping poetry

I've been asked to speak to a group of students this Wednesday as part of a symposium on "Writing for Publishing." They want me to talk specifically on poetry, so I have to figure out what to tell them. Well, I pretty much know. You can't write poetry with an eye toward getting published. If you try to, you might get published, but you'll never write anything any good. You write for the poem -- to fulfill your obligation to that poem, to find why it matters and bring that out, So the real question is -- what do you do with the poems you've written? Writing poetry is inspiration and work, technique and passion, and that's all that should matter. What comes after is strategy and marketing, and at that point, these are virtues. You're not betraying your art in the slightest by being good at selling yourself, or your work.

If you're a slam poet or a performance poet, the path is basically the same as that of a musician. Start in small clubs, build up a reputation, go on to bigger venues.

If you're a printed word poet, you can submit work to magazines, you can enter contests, you can network whenever you have the chance, and if you have the temperament, you can make more chances. If you go where poets are -- writers conferences, summer workshops, elite graduate progams -- you'll meet more poets than if you don't, and people will start to know who you are. You can start a poetry-related blog, and try to get links to other blogs -- you'll be more successful here if you have something to say than if you're just making an online place to self-publish.

Submitting work to journals that publish poetry -- you need to know what the field is. There are a couple of good annual directories of poetry markets -- Poet's Market and Dustbooks Guide to Poetry Publishers. There are also a lot of good web sources, but these two books are the best and most complete. I read Poet's Market like the racing form, looking for clues to help me in picking winners. First, bloodlines. Many magazines list a few of the poets they've published. Are these poets you like? Poets you'd be pleased to get between the covers (of a publication) with?

Second, stamina. If the magazine has been around for ten years or more, it's likely to have a more substantial reputation, and less likely to fold between the time you send work to them and the time you get it back.

Third, class. In the racing form, this means the size of the purse the horse is racing for. In poetry, there's no purse. It's a strange profession in which you give away your primary product in the hope of ancillary revenues -- teaching jobs, fellowships, reading circuits. So class here means circulation. How many people might actually read your poem? Pick a magazine that has a circulation of 1000 over one with a circulation of 200.

Contests are very popular these days, and they can be a good way to go, although I haven't done it myself. You'll have to pay a small entry fee to most contests, so think about whether you want to make that investment. If a contest is sponsored by a legitimate magazine or organization, and if it has judges with decent credentials, you can assume it's probably on the up and up. A few years ago, there was a scandal about contest prizes all being won by friends or former students of the judges, but most places have now been shamed out of that. Many of the contests are chapbook contests, and if you have a body of work you're pleased with, look into them.

A book of poems? That's for later. Start with the first steps.

Wow...well, I guess that's what I'm going to say.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Battle of the Decades

THE '40S
Peggy Lee

THE '50S
Fats Domino
It's You I Love

THE '60S
Tom Jones
What's New Pussycat?

THE '70S
Earth, Wind & Fire/The Emotions
Boogie Wonderland

THE '80S
Queen of the Broken Hearts

THE '90S
Billy Idol
Cradle of Love

An overwhelming -- and gratifying for me -- vote for Margaret, for warmth, intelligence and musicianship. REM second with three votes, although Fred Koller suggested "REM are the Monkees for gen x slackers." Which is a putdown of sorts, but where does it leave me, given that I'm on record as liking the Monkees? One for Lee Michaels, One for Madonna, coming up surprisingly short in the intergenerational battle of the divas.

Another great pop diva of the 40s up this time around, but I don't that she'll get the same type of support.

And since I'm not sure who I'm supporting this time, instead of my usual elimination stratagem, ending with my winner, I'll just go through them at more or less random.

Well, I'll probably eliminate Loverboy first off. They aren't so much worse than the others in the "Well, Dick, I'd give it a 76 -- it's got a good beat, you can dance to it" sweepstakes. But I couldn't really listen to it all the way through.

Billy Idol's got a good beat, and you can dance to him, and he has a girl in his video who takes her shirt off, and he takes his shirt off, and he snarls a lot, and he's entertaining enough.

Earth Wind and Fire have a great beat, and you can really get down to them. Plus they have all those great 70s outfits, and some nice playing, and some great grooves.

Manana is a dumb cutesy song, and more than a little racist, but it does have Peggy Lee, and Lordy lord, she was pretty back then.

Can I really even be considering voting for Tom Jones? Come on, admit it, some of the rest of you are tempted, too. This is a guilty pleasure, and while you can get a YouTube of Tom performing it in concert (really awful), the recording plus Japanese anime is the best way of experiencing it.

No YouTube for Fats -- I have a link to the song on It's not Fats at his absolute best, but it's plenty good.

So I'm between -- God help me -- What's New Pussycat, and Earth Wind and Fire, and Fats. Stay tuned while my good taste angel and my bad taste angel battle this one out.

And...since this was sent out...bad taste has triumphed, and I went with the Pussycat, in spite of this from my daughter Wendy:

I am sorry, but you have all lost your minds. This is a crappy choice and there is nothing I want to vote for - and certainly not What's New, Pussycat? Alexandra had the best out of all - she is thousands of miles away. She could have pretended her email was down, thus saving herself from her humiliation. I guess I will go with Billy Idol, if no abstentions are permitted - but I would prefer to abstain. If it is good enough for Sarah Palin's family, it should be good enough for us - oh wait, it wasn't good enough for them either.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Saxophone Colossus

The blog 17 Green Buicks has a list of important jazz albums, including G-Man, the album recorded live by Sonny Rollins at Opus 40 in 1986, and acclaimed by critics as one of the best jazz albums of the 80s -- one of the rare albums to capture the strength of a live Sonny Rollins performance.

This was also the concert where Sonny fell and broke his foot, got up and finished the gig. You can see it on YouTube -- the Green Buick guy links to it. I added my reminiscences to the third of the YouTube segments.