Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Critical Game Analysis

In this, the first and last edition of Graduate Students Who Have Too Much Time on Their Hands, I thought I'd apply skills I've acquired graduate school--like critical race theory, post-colonial studies, and feminist theory--to some of the games Dear Husband and I like to play when we can scrounge up a free hour and some friends. I call it Critical Game Analysis (CGA).

Editor's note: Don't take this (too) seriously--I'm mostly poking fun at how graduate education can warp the minds of the young and impressionable. (Have I ever told you about my spontaneous analysis of artificial Christmas trees and "nature" during my first winter break in grad school--no? Phew!)

We're playing here after a cookout to celebrate AC and JW's
wedding. It was the first time JW had played, and she
whooped us all!

First up is "Mexican Train" dominoes, a favorite after-dinner past time in my family with a racist name. To play the game, each person tries to get rid of their dominoes on their own personal train; if someone can't play (even after drawing from the bone pile), then his/her train is "open" for other players to add to. The "wild card" in this game is a train that's always open...it's a free ride...it's the "Mexican train"--get it?

DH and MK^2 kindly model my second, crushing victory
that night. I only had the single 2x2 green tile left in my hand.

Next up, Blokus, a present from Dear Husband's parents: It's kind of like a two-dimensional game of Tetris for up to four players and with more complicated spatial rules. Each player tries to use his or her set of tiles to take up as much space on the board as possible, preferably while blocking the other players' progress. It's like the Race for Africa for your dinner table: suitable for teaching the basics of settler colonialism to kids ages 8 and up! Once you've put your pieces down, defend encroachments on "your land"; after all, it was just a blank gray board when you got there...

Finally, there's Jenga, a perfect model of patriarchy. I mean come on, have you ever seen a more phallic game design? It just keeps getting taller/longer and--as radical feminist theory would suggest--more riddled with holes and structural weakness until, at last, the whole edifice comes crashing down on itself.

To what other games shall we apply Critical Game Analysis? Imagine the Critical Game Analysis possibilities of the game Othello--or a queer theory approach to Chutes and Ladders! I am thinking of starting a quarterly journal, or at the very least an annual conference for the "study" of this vibrant and vital field...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dissertation 1.0

Today I delivered the first version of Dissertation 1.0! At 307 pages, it is the longest piece of writing I have created myself. My undergraduate honors thesis clocked in at 5 chapters and 125 pages, while our book, Individual and Collective Memory Consolidation, is as long as the diss, but there were four of us. This model of The Politics of the Table: Nutrition and the Telescopic Body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935 comes with an introduction, five chapters, and two introductory essays. Front matter (abstract, acknowledgements, preface, and table of contents) included free of charge. It ships without Chapter 6. If you would like to have Chapter 6, please order Dissertation 2.0, due out next March. Conclusion still in Beta.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer Tastes Like Citrus

Despite being in the final push to finish the first draft of my dissertation, I took a night off this week to play hostess for two friends, both graduate students. BB, TT, and Dear Husband hit it off smashingly while I was busy in the kitchen whipping up two fancy courses with a fruity, citrus theme.

The entree was a recipe from a college suitie, Treasure Island Chicken. She wrote it for 4 chicken breasts, but I wanted to use the whole chicken I had. You will also need one can of pineapple slices. For the sauce: 1 1/2 cup pineapple/orange juice, 1/4 cup butter, 3 tbsp flour, 3 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 dry mustard, 1/8 tsp ginger. I just use bottled spicy mustard. The cinnamon is what makes it smell delicious while it's cooking!
The bottom of the pan is yellow from the pineapple
and lightly concealed sauce. So good!
Preheat oven to 375F (or 400F for a whole bird--from this one's blackened knees, you can see that 425F was evidently too high). Line a baking dish with pineapple slices, distorting them slightly to get as many in as possible. Place chicken on top, skin side up. Butter and salt the skin if you like. Bake (uncovered) about 30 minutes, or until juices are nearly dried.

Meanwhile, combine all the sauce ingredients in a pot over low heat, stirring assiduously to prevent clumping. When sauce is thick and smooth, smother the chicken with it, then lick your fingers. Wash your hands! Now decorate the chicken with any remaining pineapple slices and put back in oven for at least 30 minutes. Check carefully that the meat is cooked through before serving it.

Just add green salad. Pic from BB.
Treasure Island Chicken is good with ribbon noodles, but I served it with brown rice boiled with a little saffron and some frozen peas (add those near the end). This was the second time we tried this very colorful side dish, which I will claim to have invented until someone proves me wrong. Just try to time it so that the rice finishes while the chicken is resting, or else the peas will discolor.

For dessert we had watermelon cucumber slushies made with coconut water and lime juice and garnished with fresh mint. YUM! These would be good with a liquor of your choice; Thug Kitchen suggests substituting part of the water for vodka "if you want to take tomorrow off too." Wink, wink.

General hilarity courtesy photographer BB.

Frau Doktor Doctor wants to know what you're whipping up in the kitchen to extend the summer just a little longer?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki

This summer, the creative worship committee I chair at our church decided we wanted to observe the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the two cities in Japan. We built the service around a liturgy available online from the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), which the congregation read in halves as the Prayer of Confession, because "Human voices speaking together are a powerful force in this world." I appended this thought for meditation:

Even while recognizing that the decision to drop the bombs was not made lightly, we would do well to meditate on the suffering they wrought on Japanese civilians. The bombings set a precedent that has never—yet—been repeated.

One committee member folded all these cranes--from very little ones to large ones--and another arranged them around the altar. After the Children's Message, the kids could come up and choose a colorful crane to take home with them to remember the lesson. It was on Elizabeth Coerr's children's book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (1977). Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the Enola Gay dropped "Little Boy" on her hometown of Hiroshima. Like so many other local children, she was later diagnosed with leukemia. Sadako died within the year. By then she had managed to fold 644 origami cranes, but not the 1,000 that legend said were necessary for her wish of healing to be granted. Her classmates finished the task and buried them all with her.

We sang a number of beautiful hymns:
  • "This Is My Song" ~ a very familiar tune (Finlandia) that accrued renewed meaning for me in this service: "This is my songoh God of all the nations, / a song of peace for lands afar and mine."
  • "When Our Song Says Peace" ~ a short piece we recently learned at a worship arts convention that encourages social justice: "When our song says peace and the world says war, we will sing despite the world."
  • "Goodness is Stronger Than Evil" ~ an even shorter melody that began as a prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "Goodness is stronger than evil, Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death."
  • "We Cannot Measure How You Heal" ~ I thought this was a brilliant pick by the choir director as a way to close the service: "Lord, let your Spirit meet us here / to mend the body, mind and soul, / to disentangle peace from pain / and make your broken people whole." 
The anthem was a beautiful setting of "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace."

For the prelude Dear Husband played a solo-organ version of Flor Peeters' "Aria" (1945), which was originally the second movement of a sonata for trumpet and piano (1943). It always amazes me the kind of art and music that came out of World War II. For the offertory DH chose jazz pianist Bill Evans' "Peace Piece" (1958), a lilting improvisation.

The sermon was quite interesting, as the pastor chose to meld the theme with the lectionary reading from Isaiah 1. He focused on the apocalyptic nature of an event like those on August 6 and 9, 1945, and on the best way to approach controversial social and political issues: "in house" and listening to both/all perspectives. Verse 18 reads: "Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." It is much better "to argue" (and maybe to get something done) than to go through the rituals of religion only; through this process the church's sin of silence in the face of injustice is forgiven.

An image of the Genbaku (A-Bomb) Dome graced the front cover of the bulletin. It reminded me of another verse from the First Testament reading: "Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners." ~ Isaiah 1:7

Hiroshima A-Bomb-Dome

There is a simple inscription under the Sadako statue in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and with this I close: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in the world."

Friday, August 9, 2013


Editor's note: While going through some old Notes on facebook, I discovered this...odd piece. Apparently, at the end of my second year of medical school, while I should have been studying for Step 1, I took up my husband's dare to create a scientific-sounding explanation for the disease "supercalifragilisticexpialidociuos," as described in the SNL sketch below. (You already know the joke about Gandhi, right?) Well, here is my report, with a minimum of editing. Don't forget: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

Ann Hathaway as Mary Poppins and Bill Hader as Bert on SNL

Dear Husband asked whether I could derive the pathophysiology of this disease, most commonly associated in the popular imagination with the English governess Mary Poppins, from the word itself. I have. But first, please watch the following documentary film for some background. (It will open in a new window--then come back here to read about it!)

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (supercali-fragilis-tic-expiali-docious) is a very and painful infectious hepatic disease in which bile production fails. This reduces the ability of the hepatoduodenal pathway to excrete hydrophobic waste products and to digest lipids. Eventually non-alcoholic steatosis of the liver commences, which manifests as hepatomegaly and right upper quadrant pain often mistaken for "a stomach ache." While the responsible microorganism has yet to be identified, existing studies suggest the involvement of a prion. There is no treatment at this current time, and the condition is inevitably fatal in 3-6 months. It's really quite atrocious.

The pathophysiology of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is contained in its portmanteau moniker: supercali-fragilis-tic-expiali-docious.

  • Super (Latin) — prefix : over, above, in addition, from super over, above, on top of
  • Cali, from Calcium (New Latin from calc-, calx lime; 1808) — adjective : of or referring to the element calcium (Ca2+, atomic number 20). 

Liver failure not only disrupts the production of bile salts, bile acids, and bilirubinous salty acids, it also decreases albumin production. Albumin is the major transport protein in the blood plasma serum, such that hypoalbuminemia reduces the number of binding sites for calcium. "Supercali" therefore refers to the resulting elevated levels of free calcium, which contribute to urolithiasis, osteitis fibrosa cystica, tetany, perioral numbness, hypercoagulopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, and seizures (i.e. "stones, bones, groans, moans"). Due to the decreased albumin binding sites for warfarin, digoxin, and diazepam, the use of these pharmacological agents to treat preexisting conditions like hypercoagulopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, and status epilepticus obviously will have to be modified to take into account the drugs' increased volume of distribution and decreased clearance by phase I and II modification.

  • Fragilis (Latin) — adjective : 1) easily broken or destroyed; 2) constitutionally delicate

The hepatobiliary system's malfunction results in acholic stool and fat-soluble vitamin malabsorption. Depletion of Vitamin D does not help the supercali state, while loss of Vitamin C impairs cross-linking of hydroxylated lysine and proline residues on collagen triple helices. This produces a scurvacious state of easy bleeding and bruising. Hence the "fragilis" of the extracellular matrix, ground substance, and capillary basement membranes.

  • Tic (French; circa 1834) — noun : local and habitual spasmodic motion of particular muscles especially of the wrists when the hands are extended on straight arms in the "stop traffic" position

Liver failure disrupts the urea cycle, producing hyperammonemia, asterixis (the "tic" in the title), altered mental status, and eventually coma. Although asterixis is a clinic sign commonly taught to second-year medical students, its presence, absence, or severity does not actually correlate with the levels of ammonia in the plasma blood serum or with disease severity, so an actual laboratory test is needed.

  • Expiali, from Expectorate (Latin expectoratus, past participle of expectorare — to banish from the mind — taken to mean literally “to expel from the chest,” from ex- + pector-, pectus breast, soul; 1601) — transitive verb : to eject from the throat or lungs by coughing or hawking and spitting

A cough productive of red- and/or green-tinged sputum is seen in many cases of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Its etiology is uncertain, but autodigestion of the liver by dammed up caustic waste products may perforate the diaphragm, leading to spillage of blood and bile into the lungs. An AP chest x-ray is recommended for all patients.

  • Docious, from Dioecious (ultimately from Greek di- + oikos; 1752) — adjective : 1) having male reproductive organs in one individual and female in another; 2) having staminate and pistillate flowers borne on different individuals

Finally, the root of this neologism reveals the method of transmission: "among grown ups." The first known communicable disease solely of heterosexuals, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is transmitted from one sexual partner to the other only when the reproductive organs of the individuals involved are "opposite." All sexually active heterosexual adults should be counseled about their risk of contracting this dread disease.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

8 Years and Counting

Today Dear Husband and I celebrate eight years of (mostly) wedded bliss. In honor of the occasion, I have dredged up our wedding vows, which we wrote as a mash-up of traditional and contemporary vows. Despite cautions not to do so lest we forget on the big day, we memorized them. (We're both performers, after all; the recitation sounds better; and the idea is sort of to know them and keep them for the rest of your life!) Actually, neither of us had remembered to learn the ring vows, too, so I'm a little foggier on that one. Anyway, here they are, illustrated with photographs from our wedding and our first anniversary. Aw, what kids!

Credit: Regina Lansinger

"I, Frau Doktor Doctor, take you, Dear Fiance, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part. In the presence of God, our family and friends, I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to journey with you wherever life’s adventures may take us, for as long as we both shall live."

"Dear Fiance, I give you this ring as a symbol of our vows. With all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. With this ring, I marry you."

1st anniversary at Second City in Chicago