sweet deception, rumsfeld and nutrasweet

December 29, 2006

I’m reading Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Drs. Joseph Mercola and Kendra Degan Pearsall. Anyone who consumes artificial sweeteners, anyone interested in the politics and economics of food, and anyone interested in health at all should read this book. I love that Mercola documents how artificial sweeteners tend to get discovered by accident by scientists in labs developing things like insecticides. Ugh. Feb. 1879, Dr. Ira Remsen (chemist) and research fellow Constantine Fahlberg work in a Johns Hopkins University lab researching toluene derivatives (used to make paint thinners, fingernail polish, rubber — toluene is classified hazardous and toxic) and a spill of chemicals leads to the discovery of saccharin.

1977 and aspartame or NutraSweet is having a hard time getting FDA approval (pesky things like neurotoxicity keep getting in the way) and G. D. Searle hires Donald Rumsfeld as the new CEO. Rumsfeld says his political connections with President Reagan ensure aspartame’s FDA approval within a year.

Not such a sweet story, eh?



December 28, 2006

The day after Christmas we had to euthanize Jumper, who wasn’t quite four years old. He’d been suffering from a bladder infection for two weeks and wasn’t getting better. The last checkup showed he had a ruptured urethra and needed either an emergency surgery called a perineal urethrostomy or needed to be euthanized. My son and I got to be with him when he was put to sleep. The vet did surgery after and found that a 2 1/2 millimeter bladder stone had embedded itself into the side of Jumper’s urethra. So this blog posting is for Jumper who made us laugh by tunneling through warm laundry as soon as we brought it up from the laundry room, who fetched cloth balls as if he were a dog, and who had the loudest purr of our pride of four cats. He ate wet cat food like a vacuum cleaner, sometimes drank out of the toilet (definitely part dog), and manicured his own claws with a very loud biting and pulling routine. I miss most how he climbed up on the bed and prowled back and forth, purring at the top of his lungs, until he finally flopped against one of my sides and fell asleep getting his ribs scratched and petted. I miss this kitty with the big personality.

the dark night of the soul

December 25, 2006

Maybe it’s the first chapter of Richard Miller’s book Writing at the End of the World or maybe it’s my own end-of-the-year soul cleaning, but this phrase — dark night of the soul — bounces in my head like a catchy tune I can’t evict. So I googled it…and came up with St. John of the Cross’s poem of the same name…but St. John’s writing seems to be self-authored glossing of his own poem. Not quite clear how one writes a poem and then puts a treatise around it. Definitely an early multigenre work, eh? Turns out “The Dark Night of the Soul” is a Christian classic. Wikipedia tells me that St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite priest who lived in the 16th century. The original poem is titled “En una noche oscura,” and I like the way the second stanza begins: “a escuras y segura” (“in darkness and secure”) because the Spanish contains an internal rhyme the English cannot capture, and because I like the notion of secure darkness. San Juan de la Cruz meditates on two dark nights of the soul: the first is sensual, the second is spiritual. I’ve read bits and pieces and wish I could transport myself into a 16th-century sensibility. The poem itself expresses a kind of ecstasy, and the prose seems to detail the journeys through those two dark nights.

I’m thinking a lot about people who care for other people, family members and caregivers who pay attention to those who are at the end of life or dealing with terminal or chronic illness. More and more, I believe the spiritual warriors among us are those who show up day after day, dark night after dark night, to pour the water, smooth the brow, hum a tune, teach the troubled, and speak to those who may no longer care to hear. This kind of courage, tenacity, and faith inspires me.

ultimate chippers

December 13, 2006

Tonight was the final for ENG102 at Calhoun Community College. The final was a self-reflective essay. Here’s the assignment:

Begin preparation for this essay NOW by going over ALL your writing from this semester. By “ALL your writing,” I mean everything: emails, blog postings and comments, class notes (from all your classes), grocery lists, doodles, bills, papers and exams from all your classes. Choose pieces of writing that mean something to you and think about their relationship to each other. Bring these pieces of writing to class for the final. Your essay will give you the opportunity to reflect on yourself and your journey this semester: 1) How does your writing illustrate your growth, challenges, frustrations, joys? 2) What do you learn from reviewing your own writing? Be sure to quote from your own writing as support for your points.

I learned about the self-reflective essay from Julie Jung, who has a discussion of it in her book Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts.

So David #1’s wife gave me a jar of cookie makings because, as David reported her saying, anyone who can get him to like Shakespeare deserves cookies. Here’s what the jar of Ultimate Chippers looks like. I love this idea of cookie fixins as art.

And here you see the finished product, next to some coffee. I’m about to sit down and read the essays that writers handed in this evening. I already almost teared up in class when I read bits of some, so I expect to tear up more as I accompany my reading by coffee and these sinful cookies.

caryl phillips’ the nature of blood

December 13, 2006

I’ve finally read Caryl Phillips’ The Nature of Blood, a novel at least two friends have urged me to read for some time now. This urging usually comes after I mention Tayeb Salih’s (Al-Tayyib Salih) Season of Migration to the North, which riffs off of Shakespeare’s Othello. So I knew Othello would figure in Phillips’ novel. I didn’t know that the main narration was by a character named Eva Stern, a holocaust death camp survivor. I was frustrated with the seeming lack of connection between the narrative strands, and this frustration did not abate until the end of the novel and the introduction of the character of Malka. Eva Stern’s telling of survival is powerful; but I also kept thinking of Ilona Karmel’s Estate of Memory, which I think is more effective. I was frustrated, too, by the Othello character. I still think Salih’s novel is magnificent; it offers a thick and transformative reading of the Othello narrative. Season of Migration to the North is still my pick for one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read.

the art of teaching

December 13, 2006

In the 12 Dec. Inbox, NCTE‘s online newsletter, I found a link to a lesson plan on multigenre texts: Using Snowflake Bentley as a Framing Text for Multigenre Writing. The author is Lisa Storm Fink, a third- and fourth-grade teacher in Urbana IL. When I clicked on her name, I traveled to a page filled with creative and challenging teaching ideas. I want to try out so many of the ideas, modify them to fit the college curriculum. Lisa Storm Fink’s page of pedagogy exemplifies the art of teaching — such a thing of beauty.