Sunday, July 29, 2012

Shame on You, Wolf Blitzer

I've always known that the media is not completely accurate in their reporting, but I had no idea how bad it really is until this week in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings.

This is the first time in my life - and hopefully the last - that I am in a situation where I have personal knowledge of the actual facts in a huge media story.  I'm sad to realize that journalism - a profession I used to respect and admire - is at a very low point. Some in the media do not care at all if what they say is true - it's all about sensationalism.  What happened to the days of checking sources?  What happened to the days of checking facts before putting information out to the public that doesn't even make sense if anyone stopped to think about it?

The public's right to know is important, but it's not the only thing that counts in a tragedy of the magnitude of the Aurora shootings.  And certainly the public has a right to know only accurate facts, not any old thing that any anonymous source wants to put out there.  

PhD students in science work long hours in the lab and, in most institutions, are supplied a modest living stipend so they do not have to find other employment that would detract from their dissertation studies.  When my husband was a graduate student in the Paleolithic Era, he received $300 per month on the same type of NIH training grant that supports many graduate students today.  This was enough to pay our rent and buy food back then. Currently, the science graduate students here receive a living stipend of $26,000 per year, which probably covers normal living expenses such as rent, food, utilities, gas and car insurance, but leaves little left over.  I'm guessing that today's graduate students are able to live like we did on our $300 per month - very frugally.

Consequently, I was shocked to see Wolf Blitzer do a story titled "Paying for the Weapons."  Scrolled across the screen was "Thousands in Taxpayer-Funded Money." The story went on to say that the shooter got "thousands of dollars" from taxpayers like you and me, the implication being that he bought his instruments of destruction with taxpayer money.  It is true that the shooter was on an NIH training grant that pays a little more than $2,000 per month.  But it seems irresponsible to me to link this very worthwhile science training program with one obviously disturbed individual who spent between $10,000 and $15,000 on guns, ammunition, etc.  He obviously had credit cards because he ordered a lot of his materials online.  How can CNN (and all of the other news organizations who followed their lead) know where this money came from or if in fact the shooter just ran up big credit card debt?  Why would they even try to make this connection between federal dollars and his destructive spending spree?

I've always felt like Fox News doesn't really care if they make stuff up, but I expected better from others.  I have now sworn off CNN too.  If the result of this horrible event is that NIH training grants are banned as dangerous and gun sales continue to rise, I'm just going to give up.

Shame on you, Wolf Blitzer, and all the others just like you.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Too Close to Home

The horrific movie massacre is too close to home for all of us.  We've all been in packed movie theaters and can only imagine what it would be like to experience the terror and chaos of this week's event.  We start to think - what would I do?  Would I duck?  Would I run?  What's the best reaction depends on the circumstances and nobody's mind really wants to go there.  We all just hope that we're never faced with a scenario like the one that occurred in Aurora.

This particular event was even closer to home for us.  Not only are we geographically close to Aurora, but the shooter was a PhD student in a neuroscience program in the graduate school that my husband oversees.  He just finished his first year but was in the process of withdrawing from the program.  Barry didn't know him, but people who did describe him just as you've seen in the media - as a loner.  Over the years, we've known many scientists and that description would apply to a good number of them. Certainly nothing that would set off alarms.  Scientists often work long hours at the bench by themselves, and many are just like that.

The shooter's booby-trapped apartment is directly across the street from the medical campus at an intersection that we pass every time we go to that campus.  So this whole experience is a bit more personal to us than it would be if we lived somewhere else. Barry's office was barraged with media calls from all over the world.  There is great interest in figuring out what would cause this young man to do such a thing.  

I personally keep coming back to the fact that he spent months getting ready and buying firearms and ammunition totally legally.  What is wrong with our society that someone can collect an arsenal like this without any alarms going off?  I would hope that this might make our elected officials say that no one outside of the military and law enforcement needs automatic weapons that can fire 100 rounds, but I am extremely doubtful that any gun restrictions will occur as a result.  I always want to believe that out of something bad, something good comes.  In this case, the "good" would be gun control.  But Colorado is a cowboy state and has a cowboy mentality, so I expect that others like the shooter will be able to buy whatever weapons of death and destruction they want.

It's all so sad. 

Monday, July 16, 2012


Yes, that is a photo of me way high up - at the top of Mount Evans, elevation 14,264 feet.  Is the Colorado lifestyle finally getting to me?  Did I hike or bike up all that way up?

Nope.  There's a paved road that goes to the summit parking area (elevation: 14,130 feet), and then we walked about a quarter mile to get up the last 130 feet.

It's really pretty way up above the tree line and about 50 degrees cooler than downtown Denver.  Yes, it was in the 40's atop Mt. Evans.

Not exactly solitude up here

Besides plenty of people, many of whom did use their own muscle power to get up there, we saw lots of mountain goats.  Real Coloradans keep track of how many Fourteeners (there are 53 mountains in Colorado that are more than 14,000 feet) they have climbed.  Mountain bikers are proud of doing the "triple bypass" where they bike up and down three mountains in a day.

But, for me, I loved getting up there in my lazy, no strain way - moderate pressure on the gas and brake pedals.  Delightful.

Back below the tree line

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Boston Getaway

Boston Common

There are times when I feel quite lucky to go to nice places as a tagalong.  Barry had a meeting to attend in Boston, and I was able to go as well.  I haven't been to Boston in a long time - I can't actually remember the last time I was there but it's probably been at least 25 years.

It was fun to reacquaint and to be a tourist there.  A great big plus of the trip was staying at the beautiful Fairmont Copley Plaza in the Back Bay area, a very elegant hotel celebrating its 100th anniversary with a major renovation.  

While Boston was a nice change from Denver, the trip made me realize that almost any change in scenery is a great refresher for the spirit.  I think we sometimes underestimate how invigorating it is to go to a different locale, look at new things with a new eye, be a real tourist and try to wring as much out of each day as possible.  When I'm home, it's so easy to fall into the same ruts, the same patterns without really meaning to do so.  

Here are some photos to enjoy my Boston tourist experience vicariously. 

The Beautiful Boston Public Library
More Boston Public Library
Great Shopping on Newbury Street
Charles River
Chihuly Glass Sculpture at Museum of Fine Arts
Boston Public Library
Fairmont Copley Plaza
Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

50 Shades of Boring

It's hot and when that happens, staying inside and reading a good book sounds like a great thing to do.  If your July 4th holiday finds you in this mood, I recommend you stay clear of the #1 paperback best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey.  This book has been so widely popular that the media can't seem to let it alone, so I succumbed and read it to see what all the fuss is about.

It is the first of a trilogy about a young, inexperienced twenty-something woman and a slightly older, highly successful and handsome man who needs to be dominant in all things.  He likes to tie her up and spank her as well as other degrading things, some of them sexual and some not.  For example, she's told that she's not allowed to look him in the eyes but must look down instead.

I would just say it's a junky book and leave it at that, but it troubles me that the book is so popular as "mommy porn."  I'm not sure what these women who love this book so much are thinking.  It's troubling if they actually find this story intriguing.  I found it depressing and boring.  Honestly, I only finished the book because I kept thinking that it would improve, but alas it did not.  The one point of interest for me was to find out what in his past made Mr. Grey the sadist that he became.  Of course, this is not covered in Book 1, and I don't want to know enough to read the next two books.  I can definitely exist without this information.

On a more cheery note, Happy July 4th to all and stay cool, if that's possible.