Monday, June 21, 2010

Good girls

A little later this summer, a hundred or so alumni from my high school will gather in the bar of the restaurant where many of us drank dinner before the prom, and marvel at how old and fat everyone else has gotten. I was discussing the event a few days ago with an old classmate who won't be able to attend.

I mentioned our senior banquet, which was one of the only times our class was together as a group, without dates from other classes or schools. The theme was the Roaring Twenties, so all the boys dressed as gangsters, and the girls mostly went as flappers. My steady girl was a year younger*, so I went to the banquet with my friend Sharon. I was half hoping that she might throw me some "we're never going to see each other again, anyway" action, but Sharon had other plans. She had hatched some sort of Lucy and Ethel scheme with our mutual friend Vi. I was apparently on Vi's high school bucket list or something, and after a short string of shenanigans, Sharon informed me that I would be taking Vi home after the banquet.

Good wholesome fun, pretending to be bootleggers and whores.

It turned out that I wasn't taking her straight home. We went skinny dipping in the Arkansas River with about a dozen other people, and I forget what happened after that. I walked in the door at 7:00 am, wearing different clothes than the night before and carrying the newspaper. My mother was walking into the kitchen and assumed I had just gotten out of bed and gone outside to fetch the paper. This was another of the incredible strokes of luck that I enjoyed during those years.

It was the mention of the skinny dipping that apparently blew my friend's mind, and led to a flurry of e-mail messages that continue still. She has always believed herself to be a borderline bad girl in high school, mostly because she drank a couple of beers and may have given up some over the sweater action to a long time boyfriend. The fact that her friends and classmates were carousing naked in groups seems to have turned her world upside down, and I think she may have felt like the only virgin in the class.

The truth is that probably half of the girls in my class graduated with their virtues intact, or only slightly dinged. That figure went down quickly during freshman year of college.** We grew up in the middle of the sexual revolution, and our generation was trying to reconcile the Puritan morals we were taught with the obviously changing reality. Girls who did it usually kept it quiet, often not even telling their closest friends. Boys were boys, but the ones who were smart knew to keep their mouths shut if they wanted to do it again.

The decisions were as individual as the people making them, but the narrative was much less diverse.  Girls who weren't sexual enough were fish.  Girls who gave it up were sluts. There was an exemption for long-term relationships, but only if no one spilled details or got pregnant. I still remember listening to one douche canoe telling the entire football team how his girlfriend of over a year had come across with a bj, and the whole group spent several minutes talking about how gross it was, and what a ho-bag she must be.  I resolved never to hang out with any of them, and made a mental note to call her if they ever broke up.

Apparently, this inhibition is hard to shake. My friend spent the weekend with some of her sorority sisters, and since she is now obsessed with this topic, she apparently interrogated each of them. Only about half were willing to talk about their high school experiences even now, all these years later. My impression is that girls today are much more open with their friends, and that perhaps there is a little more freedom to make your own decisions. But I could be wrong. I get all of my information on modern culture from watching Glee.***

So how about it, girls? Any stories you care to share?

* Steady was a fluid concept for me in those days. Hey, don't judge. It was the 70's. I was up front about it. And I was a seventeen year old boy.

** Like your mom.

*** Just kidding. I would rather stick a needle in my eye than watch Glee.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hey baby, how about a little dependency injection?

I think my science computer goober credentials have been pretty well established by now, but occasionally I run across something that reminds me that I am really not like most other people. Today's example is this comic strip, which I thought was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time.

It's only a matter of time before I start showing up at work in my pajamas.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bury my heart at Port Fourchon

I didn't want to write about the oil leak. I really didn't. After all, I think anyone who wants it can find plenty of writing, and talking, and blamestorming, and conjecturing about the Gulf. But after trying to write on several other topics, I realize that this is all I've got. It won't let me go. And vice-versa.

I am obsessed with the underwater robot cam. I read everything I see about the blowout, and each successive attempt to control it. Every conversational lull finds my mind drifting back to the 500 gallons or so of oil and gas spewing every minute into the icy darkness from the hole in the bottom of the sea. I am cursed by my just-enough-to-be-dangerous knowledge of the sciences involved, and my recently nonexistent but growing knowledge of deep water drilling. Mostly, I am increasingly depressed and concerned.

I'm not personally, no-reason-to-go-on depressed. I am just sad for the people of the Gulf, and the people who don't even know how much they depend on the people of the Gulf, and a beautiful place, and a lifestyle, and a wonderful set of communities that may very well be lost. More than that, I would be hard pressed to imagine a more poignant example of the conflict between our current global culture and the planet on which we all depend.

I don't believe the chickenest of the Chicken (of the Sea) Littles who say the floor of the Gulf will collapse into the rapidly emptying cavity. I doubt that the Gulf will suffer the fate of the Dead Sea, or that the Atlantic Seaboard will be fouled with tarballs and oiled terns all the way to the Jersey Shore, or the Cape of Cod*. But the Gulf of Mexico is home to a complex and little understood food chain, on which any number of fish, and birds, and creatures of the land depend. It depends on marshes, and estuaries, and open ocean, and the deep waters of the Gulf, and damage to any one of these environments can break the chain.

And guess who is at the top of that food chain? Exactly. And it's about more than fresh seafood. This ecosystem feeds a lot of people, and many more animals, in a world already running low on food and ways to make it.

In other news, a new virus is devastating casava plants halfway around the world. Why do we care? Casava is the third largest source of calories for humans in the world after wheat and rice, even before corn. A blight will create upward pressure on food and fuel prices, as well as exacerbating civil and humanitarian crises in the third world. Also, starving people make bad consumers. It's going to become ever harder to justify turning food into fuel.

And we can't stop drilling, or even slow down. As many as half of the people in the world literally cannot survive without at least as much petroleum-fueled food as we produce today. The United States -- feeder of the world -- puts about five calories of oil energy (including oil-based fertilizers) into every calorie of food we put in someone's mouth. And the pressure is increasing. Even with their draconian measures, the Chinese have only managed to slow the growth of their population over the last fifty years, not reduce it.

Speaking of the Gulf, Mexico, which is one of the United States' largest oil suppliers, is predicted to become a net importer of oil within three years, following the path taken by the U.S about forty years ago.

So what will happen? Who knows? My guess is that the food chain in the Northern Gulf that supports commercial and sports fishing will suffer significant damage, and may well collapse. The already diminishing wetlands will accelerate their retreat, further damaging both freshwater and saltwater fish populations, and the animals that depend on them. Agricultural chemicals will continue to expand the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, since our country needs corn more than Gulf culture. And the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival will never be the same.

Right now, the hard part is the waiting, and the abstractness of the whole thing. There aren't any people to rescue from rooftops, no felled trees to cut up, no power to restore. There really isn't much to clean up or rescue. Whatever damage is being done is mostly far away, and too diffuse or small to be seen. The real effects can only be inferred in months and years to come, if ever.

So we wait, and we watch. Sometimes we cry. And we try to hope.

* On the other hand, I guess we had better see how long this goes on.