Saturday, February 28, 2004

Just for fun, here's an alphabetical bestiary of bugs. For the benefit of the squeamish, I've avoided images of what many people consider to be scary creepy-crawlers (no arachnids, centipedes, cockroaches, etc.). Everything in here is a bona fide hexapod; one (the japygid dipluran) is sometimes considered a "pseudo-insect" rather than the real deal, but we won't be picky here. Most are identified at the family level, but I've had to go to subfamilies or genera for a few, in cases where the alphabetic and/or visual pickings were slim.

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert insect taxonomist, and will happily take suggestions from those who are better-informed than I.


A is for Arctiidae
B is for Bibionidae
C is for Coccinellidae
D is for Drosophilidae
E is for Evaniidae
F is for Formicidae
G is for Gryllidae
H is for Heteronemiidae
I is for Issidae
J is for Japygidae
K is for Kalotermitidae
L is for Libellulidae
M is for Mantidae
N is for Nymphalidae
O is for Oedipodinae
P is for Pentatomidae
Q is for Quadraspidiotus
R is for Reduviidae
S is for Scarabaeidae
T is for Tettigoniidae
U is for Uraniidae
V is for Vespidae
W is for Wasmannia
X is for Xylomyidae
Y is for Yponomeutidae
Z is for Zorotypidae

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I don't know whether this problem will have resolved itself by the time anyone else reads this, but when I scrolled down to the "visited countries map" that I posted last week, the United Kingdom seemed to have morphed into Poland. I've visited the former, but not the latter. Hell, I must be the only Slavic American who not only has never tasted paczki, but never even saw or heard of the things until crowding 40 and living 800+ miles from her birthplace. And I grew up with lots of Polish neighbors, including two aunts and a close family friend who loved to cook Polish food. I don't know anyone who ever made, bought, served, or ate paczki back home.

I probably should have been British anyway. The U.K. is the nation that gave us the butterfly house, Rosalind Franklin, Andy Summers, Douglas Adams, Joe Orton, and Richard Dawkins. I don't mind Marmite (although I much prefer Vegemite, which is another story). I enjoy drinking mildly fizzy dark beers and ales served just below room temperature. The best dessert I've ever tasted in my life was a steamed ginger pudding with lemon-curd sauce. I refuse to drink tea that hasn't been made with briskly boiling water. I don't think there's an American comedian who can hold a candle to the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, or Chris Barrie. And I want to be Stephanie Cole when I grow up.

'Course, they probably wouldn't totally welcome me there because I harbor one dark secret: I think Camilla Parker-Bowles is living proof that Prince Charles actually has both brains and good taste in life partners.

Oh, and one more thing about the map: Where the hell did New Zealand go?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Sometimes, just to remind myself that it's possible, I run neighborhood errands on foot. I don't have any illusions that this is sufficient exercise to get me into shape. As a person who drives nearly 400 miles each week, I also don't have any illusions that this makes me earth-friendly. I just do it to remind myself that not every little errand requires a car.

When I was a kid, my aunt, who lived next door to us, used to go "down street" every day. She was usually out the door well before 8 AM, after getting my uncle off to work and the kids fed and dressed before school. When she had kids in the house who were too little to go to school, or when it was a weekend or school break, she'd take the kids with her. Later in her life, when her oldest, married daughter moved back into the neighborhood, my aunt often had a grandchild or two in tow on each morning trip. She did most of her shopping that way, picking up fresh bread, meat, and vegetables from local businesses. Despite giving birth to five children, cooking elaborate meals for her family, and having a taste for TV soap operas, she was always slim as a pin.

It's important to understand that this isn't one of those "we hauled water from the well and scrubbed clothes on the washboard" stories. Maybe my parents, aunts, and uncles had to do some of those things during their own childhoods, but I didn't become sentient until the early 1960s. Our neighborhood was distinctly working-class -- no one there was even remotely wealthy -- but just about every family had a car, and used it for major shopping trips to supermarkets. Most families owned a washing machine and some electric kitchen appliances. Everyone had a television set, and despite the availability of only four or five channels, everyone watched TV every day. But neighborhood moms still went "down street", usually on foot, to pick out the freshest foods and the best bargains, and just to get out of the house and meet up with the neighbors.

You can't do that much now. There happens to be a strip mall at the end of my street, and some of the businesses there are local. So, it's easy enough for me to pick up a bottle of vitamins and a loaf of my favorite struan bread on foot, packing away my purchases in a cloth tote bag. But, to get to the bank across the next street, I have to cross an intersection that probably processes 100 cars each minute. The crossing button at the most convenient leg of the intersection doesn't work. The rare pedestrian must wait on a sidewalk-free mud mound while teenage boys honk and hoot from trucks and SUVs. Today I gave up and jaywalked a few hundred feet past the intersection. At least I could see, from that vantage point, whether any cars were coming.

Not too many people go down street any more. The traffic is too thick, the exhaust fumes too varied, and the stores too far away. I can buy some of the things that we need at the nearby strip mall, but a trip to the supermarket that would require only fifteen or twenty minutes of walking would also require ten or fifteen of waiting at lights. Truck emissions gas you at every turn. And, morning, noon, or night, the cars just don't stop.

My aunt? She'll be 94 in May. Did it have anything to do with the walking? I dunno. I'll keep trying to increase my own walking habit -- maybe you can ask me in another 47 years.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

(Warning. Self-absorption ahead. I don't do this on the blog all that often; this is just to make sure that readers have given informed consent, especially given how hard I bashed poor navel-gazing Jewel in Jukebox From Hell just now.)

When you drive 90 miles to work, you can find yourself becoming reflective on the way. Usually I ward this sort of thing off with either Schubert or Primus, depending on my mood, but sometimes a genuine insight drowns out the music.

Okay, got this? Forty-plus woman with extremely convoluted and conflicted attitudes towards the whole institution of the biological family. Grew up watching some really strange interactions among relatives; never wanted kids; got married relatively late; tends to build her own family, dynamically, from a pool of biologically unrelated friends. Tries not to get too attached to her own dwelling place. Highly extroverted at work and in social situations, but recharges her batteries most efficiently by seeking solitude.

When she goes into zoological research, what does she decide to study? Yup: Kinship, relatedness, mating and reproductive behavior, and population/community structure. Oh, and lately she's been (at least intellectually) most turned on by social insects.

Bugs teach you the damnedest things. Especially about yourself.