Amy Bishop, Harvard Phd, U. Of Alabama Professor — Shooter. Really, So Unlikely?

List of Christian thinkers in science
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If there’s anything to remember about who owns guns in the U.S., it’s often the people who would most surprise you: the beauty queen, the  schoolteacher, the nurse, the little old lady down the street.

As the weirdly twisted tale of Amy Bishop continues to unfold, part of the narrative some clearly find perplexing is her age, gender, professional status and education. Women like her don’t kill, don’t own or carry handguns.

Do they?

Reports today’s New York Times:

On Friday, this city of rocket scientists and brainy inventors was stunned when a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D. was arrested in the shooting deaths of three of her colleagues after she was denied tenure.


But that was only the first surprise in the tale of the neuroscientist, Amy Bishop, who was regarded as fiercely intelligent and had seemed to have a promising career in biotechnology. Every day since has produced a new revelation from Dr. Bishop’s past, each more bizarre than the last.

On Saturday, the police in Braintree, Mass., said that she had fatally shot her brother in 1986 and questioned whether the decision to dismiss the case as an accident had been the right one.

On Sunday, a law enforcement official in Boston said she and her husband, James Anderson, had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Dr. Bishop’s at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The bomb did not go off, no one was ever charged in the case, and no proof ever emerged connecting the couple to the bomb plot.

You can feel the crimson robes shuddering — a Harvard woman? Another Harvard-educated woman, lawyer Sandra Froman, served as the National Rifle Association’s president — an unpaid position — for two terms, the maximum allowed.

It’s often assumed that anyone with the smarts and skills to crack the Ivy League has no interest in the workings of a rifle, pistol or shotgun. Not true. Guns, often linked only and exclusively with murder and mayhem, are found in 30 percent of American homes. Thousands are fired every day in the U.S. by recreational shooters, hunters, target shooters, even kids and teens in 4-H programs, without incident or malice.

Yet the fantasy persists that only Bubbas want to use or own one. An Ivy-educated woman, a professor, a mother of four, shoots and kills? It’s rare. It’s scary. It’s especially confusing if you still believe that smart, highly educated professional women don’t handle firearms, some of them with skill.

As more details emerge about Bishop and her past, I’ll be curious to hear when, how and where a handgun started to look like her best and only option.

Tree-Climbing For Fun And Profit: Training The Next Generation Of Arborists

Looking west from West 8th Street, north of Av...
They all need trimming...Image via Wikipedia

Loved this New York Times story about arborists — the official term for the men and women whose job it is to trim and care for trees. A group of young adults has been earning $11 an hour while learning how to scale the variety of trees that fill New York City’s many parks:

For the past four months, Mr. Okoro and 10 other New Yorkers from some of the toughest neighborhoods have spent time in patches of urban forest to learn how to care for, prune and — yes, — climb trees as part of an intensive seven-month job training program.

There are jobs for professional tree-climbers (a k a arborists), and although New Yorkers raised amid concrete and brick might not make the likeliest candidates, Mr. Okoro, 25, and his group are learning how to walk on branches and shin up trunks.

The program is part of an unusual outreach effort by the city and a collection of private tree-care companies and nonprofit groups to train urban young people for “green-collar” jobs.

The program, now in its second year, has already had success, parks officials say. Graduates from last year’s class now work as apprentice arborists with the parks department and the New York City Housing Authority, horticulturists with the Prospect Park Alliance, and grounds custodians at Wave Hill and the Central Park Conservancy….

“Too many kids growing up in the city are disconnected not just from employment and education, but also nature, and this combines all three,” said Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner.

I spent a day following the city’s only female arborist for a story for the Daily News and came away with a profound respect for her skills. We spent the day 100 feet in the air in a very small, very narrow white plastic bucket. It was sheeting rain that day; I got back into my car so wet I had to put a garbage bag on the seats to protect them. She’s a small woman who wields a full array of heavy chain saws of varying sizes, leaning way out of the bucket to get the job done.

Sebastian Junger, the author of “A Perfect Storm” and other best-sellers, used to work as an arborist and his early author photos showed him with his chain saw. When I called him up to interview him about it, he waxed nostalgic about how much he loved the work.

Talk about reaching for the sky.

This Week's Plagiarist?

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 14:  The New York Times he...
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Another possible plagiarist?

Today’s New York Times has a mea culpa in its corrections box about business reporter Zachery Kouwe. He came to the Times in 2008 from the New York Post.

Let’s focus on one set of numbers: 24,000 print reporters lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009. The streets are filled with smart, reliable, experienced reporters who don’t use others’ copy without attribution. They know a great job is an increasingly rare prize. If you’re lucky enough to have one, why exactly would you screw it up?

Who’s next?

V-Day Love Tips: The NYT 'Modern Love' Editor Offers His

Happy Valentine's Day
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What does it take to find and keep true love?

For Valentine’s Day, the editor of The New York Times‘ ‘Modern Love’ column, which runs each week in the Styles section, Daniel Jones weighs in:

You’d think by now we would have an iHeart app that takes our quivering insecurities and converts them into kilowatts that can be sold back to the power company. We don’t. I’ve been sitting in this editor’s chair for five years. Tens of thousands of strangers have told me their love stories in letters, essays, phone calls and dinner conversations. It’s not a pretty picture….

If I were Spock from “Star Trek,” I would explain that human love is a combination of three emotions or impulses: desire, vulnerability and bravery. Desire makes one feel vulnerable, which then requires one to be brave.

It’s been ten years next month since I met my sweetie. He found me on-line, after I posted a profile (Catch Me If You Can, I titled it, honestly) and a photo that had been taken professionally for a story I wrote for Family Circle in which I wore silk, pearl earrings, a blazer — not exactly my normal attire. I was writing about on-line dating for Mademoiselle, a now-defunct Conde Nast women’s magazine.

He referred to himself, in one of his initial emails, as a “Mexican/Navajo/Buddhist/Republican/golfer.”

Republican?” said my Dad.

We had our first fight before our first date when he told me he planned to wear jewelry (pinky ring? bling? gold chains?) to that date and I freaked out. Luckily, he stayed the course, encouraged that he made me laugh so hard on the phone that I (so sexy) snorted.

He was, and remains, a very different sort of person than I — super-organized to my spontaneous free-spiritedness; a hovering, nurturing Jewish mom to my frostier, hyper-independent WASP tendences; a devout Buddhist who still comes to church with me, happily walking beside me up the aisle when we are asked to bring the wine and wafers to the altar for Communion. He’s seen me through two orthopedic surgeries (so far), a brain scan (there is something in there, we have proof), family dramas that included my mom’s enormous (now safely gone) brain tumor.

I doubt he signed up for any of this –who does? It’s all romance and roses and hopes and fantasies. Then reality hits. Then, in my mind, love becomes a deliberate decision, an active verb.

It is rarely dull. I can’t stand dull. Yet, for all our unchanging volatility and tedious workaholism, we’re still addicted to French bistros, the weekend FT and one another. We still make one another laugh, usually daily, so hard I think my head will explode.

I’ve never spent a decade with anyone. Never thought it possible.

Here’s to the next one.

Seeking Love On-Line? Men, Don't Smile; Women, Do Something Cool

„Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower“
Image by Михал Орела via Flickr

Happy Valentine’s Day! Looking for love on-line?

A free New York dating site OKCupid, suggests skipping posting sexy pics in favor of just being interesting. Reports The New York Times:

“If you want worthwhile messages in your in-box, the value of being conversation-worthy, as opposed to merely sexy, cannot be overstated,” wrote Christian Rudder, another OkCupid founder, in the post.

Last fall Mr. Rudder looked at the first messages sent by users to would-be mates on the site, and which ones were most likely to get a response. His analysis found that messages with words like “fascinating” and “cool” had a better success rate than those with “beautiful” or “cutie.”

“As we all know, people normally like compliments, but when they’re used as pick-up lines, before you’ve even met in person, they inevitably feel… ew,” he wrote.

My partner and I met on-line, back when the earth was cooling, in 2000. He liked my photo and figured, from the cocky tone and content of my profile I was a journalist, and sent me a message. I liked his unsmiling photo, but it seemed a little too grim and in no way reflected what a hoot he is, without which it would never have worked.

One of the site’s quizzes asks which “Lost” character you’d be. I’m picking Kate (runner-up, the black smoke) and my sweetie picks Locke (runner-up Sayid.)

As long as no one is Ben, you’ll be fine.

Protesting Iranian Women's Image Wins Top Award

Tochal mountains, Tehran, Iran.
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One of the world’s most prestigious annual news photo contests has chosen an image of Iranian women protestors as its winning image for 2009. From the association’s website:

Pietro Masturzo wins premier award The international jury of the 53rd annual World Press Photo Contest has selected a photo by the Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo as the World Press Photo of the Year 2009. The picture depicts women shouting in protest from a rooftop in Tehran on 24 June. The winning photograph is part of a story depicting the nights following the contested presidential elections in Iran, when people shouted their dissent from roofs and balconies, after daytime protests in the streets. The story as a whole was awarded first prize in the category People in the News. View all winning images here. World Press Photo called Pietro Masturzo to tell him the news that his photo won the top prize. You can listen to a recording of his reaction here. The conclusion of the jury

Jury chair Ayperi Karabuda Ecer said: “The photo shows the beginning of something, the beginning of a huge story. It adds perspectives to news. It touches you both visually and emotionally, and my heart went out to it immediately.”

Here’s his website.

Yes, Canadians Are Nice. We Also, At The Olympics Or Not, Compete Hard. Get Over It!

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Canadians are nice. Yes, we are. We also want to win.

The two, to the intense confusion of every (yawn) American commentator (OMG, why aren’t they just like us?) are not in total opposition as cherished values.

Anyone who’s had a Canadian punch to the face during a hockey fight knows that Canada isn’t wholly against sporting aggression. It’s simply a nation with other sensibilities.

Its murder rate is around one-fourth of the United States’ (2007 homicides: America, 14,831; Canada, 594). And while homicides per capita isn’t generally considered a harbinger of Olympic success, there’s no arguing that offing someone is about the most aggressive of human behaviors. When you’re from a culture where it’s somewhat common, elbowing a competitor for position on a short-track speedskating race can seem like second nature.

Even in their most popular sport, rough-and-tumble hockey, their greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, was known as smooth and sportsmanlike, not a cutthroat competitor.

Still, the Canadian government is trying to usher in a new mentality. The signs of “Go Canada!” are everywhere, from the sides of 7-Eleven coffee cups to signage hanging around British Columbia.

“This phrase, ‘Own the Podium’, isn’t this a little arrogant for Canada? No it’s not,” Canadian Olympic Committee chief Chris Rudge told the Associated Press. “Being self-confident and being the nice people we’ve always been at Games, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be both. You can be aggressive and win with grace and humility the way Canadians always have. But let’s do it more often. Let’s win more often.”

To most of the world, this seems second nature.

Why is this idea that winning doesn’t automatically come with a middle-finger salute to the vanquished — instead of a pumped fist, a smile and a gracious handshake to your competitors, whatever your podium position, so alien?

Maybe it’s having 10 percent of the U.S. population. Or offering everyone free universal healthcare, or having the best colleges (all of them public) costing $5,000 a year, not $50,000. You compete hard in Canada for good housing, jobs, promotions. But, getting to the starting gate of life has fewer obstacles, and maybe that’s part of why Canadians are more mellow. There’s more room at the table so shoving hard to get at it all seems…tacky and weird.

I know a Canadian middle school teacher, who taught on Long Island and in Canada. The differences between how kids are raised, socialized and praised for their behaviors in the two countries was profoundly different, she told me. Canadian kids want to win, but not at the expense of making others feel like crap. American kids, certainly those in suburban New York, didn’t give a rip if the losers ended up in tears of humiliation. They were losers, weren’t they?

If that’s the only lesson these bewildered-by-niceness Yanks finally take away from these Olympics, terrific.

Swollen With Pride By The Olympics' Opening Ceremony? Not So Much

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Leave it to NBC commentators Bob Costas And Matt Lauer to pump up the volume, asserting that Canadians would surely “swell with pride” at having the Olympics in Vancouver.

We  — my Dad, visiting from Toronto — watched the opening ceremonies last night, quite prepared to be awed and moved and a little weepy. Instead, we all went to bed early, an hour before they ended.

Sad enough was the death of the young Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, and the somber faces and black armbands of his fellow athletes made a stark contrast to the joy of the other delegations. But the performances, dancing, music and lighting — $40 million worth (10 percent of what was spent for the stunning Beijing opening ceremonies) — were a definite disappointment, at least to us two cynical Canadians. My Dad and I were both born in Vancouver, and he grew up there, so we’ve certainly got some emotional ties to the place.

The emphasis on the First Nations, while adding plenty of sparkle and feathers and drums, was as politically correct as it could possibly get. It also neatly sidestepped the larger, ongoing Canadian issue — what the hell is a Canadian? It’s a nation of immigrants, like the U.S., but 100 years younger, a nation that only got its very own flag in 1965 and one in which the “cultural mosaic” (keep your own traditions and language) trumps the American ideal of the “melting pot.” If not the First Nations, who, then, would represent Canada and all it stands for? Free health care? Great beer?

I did tear up, briefly, as the snowboarder shot down a mountain through a red maple leaf composed of flare-holding by-standers. The aurora borealis projected on the enormous fabric centerpiece was magical. But having hundreds of dancers was lost in the enormous scale of the stadium. Sarah Mclachlan was hidden (why?) behind a glossy white piano and even Nikki Yanofsky, whose singing I’ve blogged about here, didn’t do much with her rendition of “Oh, Canada.”

The guy in the canoe, playing a fiddle, was meant to represent Quebec. Not for me. The tattooed guy tap-dancing, his Mohawk swinging with effort? Meh.

Maybe it really is impossible to represent an entire country, even if it’s got the population — 30 million — of New York State.

I wanted to swell, really. Truth is, Canadians aren’t big on pomp and ceremony. We’d rather just go out and — as Costas did get right — kick some butt. Let the Games begin.

Frisbee Inventor Fred Morrison Dead At 90 — 200 Million Sold (So Far)

A Frisbee player catches the frisbee.
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Fred Morrison, inventor of the Frisbee died this week:

Morrison started experimenting with flying disc designs in 1937 after his girlfriend’s uncle invited him outside to toss the lid from a popcorn tin, according to Wham-O.

Later, Morrison borrowed a cake pan from his mother’s kitchen to throw with his girlfriend, who later became his wife. He was soon hawking “Flyin’ Cake Pans” for 25 cents on beaches and parks around Los Angeles, California.

A fighter pilot during World War II, Morrison was shot down and held as a prisoner of war for 48 days, according to Wham-O.

After the war, Morrison became a carpenter, drawing up plans for aerodynamic discs in his free time. His plastic Flyin-Saucer was a commercial flop, but the better-designed Pluto Platter sold well enough to attract the attention of the Southern California-based Wham-O, which soon would begin selling the Hula Hoop.

“The Pluto Platter was more aerodynamic, with more weight in the rim,” Kennedy said. “It was sleeker — without ribs sticking up — and a little bigger, so it flew better.”

Wham-O took the name Frisbee from New England college students who’d been throwing empty tins from the local Frisbie Pie Co. The company quickly trademarked the term.

From 501 To 170 Pounds: A Man, A Bike, The Builder Who Believed In Him

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Here is an amazing story — of grit, courage and determination. The man, Scott Cutshall, is not an Olympic athlete, but a regular guy, a Dad, who used to weigh 501 pounds and now, thanks to a newfound passion for bicycling and a custom-built bike that allowed him to get started even while he was gargantuan — weighs 170.

This piece is by Frank Bures who has written for Mother Jones, Outside, Esquire and Harper’s, among others. I found this today in a doctor’s waiting room in Bicycling magazine and it’s a great read:

The news was not good. The doctor gave him six months to live without bariatric surgery. With it, the doctor said, Cutshall had a 50 percent chance of making it out of the operating room.

“I’m a dead man,” said Cutshall, sobbing softly.

Over the next few years, even as he defied that dire prediction, every doctor, every authority he consulted would give him equally urgent warnings. Everyone told him the same thing: Lose weight or die. At the doctor’s office that day in 2002, Cutshall had voiced the foremost question in his mind.

“Do you think I can lose the weight on my own?”

“No,” the doctor had said. “At your weight, I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.”

One day, he sees a cyclist whizzing past his window, since all he could do at that point is stay home, and finds a bike-builder in whom he confides his unlikely dream, to start riding again:

Bob Brown, a part-time bike builder from Minnesota, happened to be at a low point in his queue. “Honestly, I didn’t take it real seriously,” Brown says. “I’ve had plenty of people claim to want to get back in shape and change their lives, but they didn’t follow through on it. So I responded and said I’d be willing to talk to him about it, but I really never thought I’d hear back from him.”

Five days later, the two settled on a frame and a price. Brown, who would be traveling to New York for his other job as a design engineer, agreed to stop by and take some measurements.

“Scott made dinner for me the first night,” Brown recalls. “He couldn’t stand up for more than a minute before his legs were exhausted. He cooked dinner, but he sat at the stove and asked me to get ingredients for him. I remember thinking: Wow, I can’t imagine living this guy’s life.”

Three months after Brown’s visit, in early 2005, he flew back into town with Cutshall’s new ride, a mono-grammed blue-and-white, steel-framed cycle with tandem-strength wheels and a fork that took Brown as long to build as the entire rest of the bike. It was, he says, at least five times stronger than it needed to be.

Read this story, put down that cupcake/beer/pizza — and get to the gym! It certainly inspired me.