Friday, June 29, 2012

Nyah Nyah

I went to Maastricht today, at the request of the Scientific Integrity Committee (capitalized for Importance).  The professsor who headed it had some questions he wanted to ask, and he wanted to hear from both sides.  I saw this as a chance to meet up with a prof I've been doing some work for, maybe see how my old lab was doing, get some shopping done (it is Maastricht, after all), and have dinner with Random Walks Dave.

It was quite a pleasant day, actually.  Even after the professor told me that he'd invited An Moens later that day to hear her side (should I have warned him what he'd be in for?).  Even after hearing that An has been spreading rumors and lies to besmirch my reputation.  Even after I realized that for me to keep above this plagiarism fiasco (and there is no other way to describe this) is to ask that the paper be retracted.

I considered, on the way home, responding in kind:  pasting all of the eye-popping rumors which I'd garnered today, expounding on the outrage of the one student who had the guts to tell An "no" (I, on the other hand, simply left), and generally expanding on the theme of what a terrible person she is.

But I won't.

Instead, I'm going to fling the biggest insult I can think of all over the Internet.  I'm going to detail the ways in which my life has been happier and better since I left her lab:

  • I am surrounded by love.  I have a boyfriend who loves and respects me, and cats who...well, they adore the food I give them, at least.  And I love them in return.
  • I am doing the work that I love, with people who respect what I do and whom I, in turn, also respect. And I'm frickin' paid to do it.  How awesome is that?  
  • I go to sleep at night thinking either about how awesome the day was, or how much better tomorrow will be.  I wake up glad that it's a new day.
  • I have the luxury of being able to screw political expedience in favor of what's right.
  • I am never confused by which lie I told to what person, because I don't have to lie to get what's mine.
  • I get to spend my days grumbling at misplaced subjects, writing about things that I care about (that I think you'd be interested in reading), making good food, whinging over Dutch homework--living, instead of being consumed by petty rumors and hates.
  • This year, I am going to be married and have my first child.  How much more wonderful does life get?  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Defense of Rote

If Americans love doing one thing, it's scaring themselves as to how dumb their kids are.  Now, I'll grant you that 50% of the people actually do need the government to tell them such things as "Nutella is not a healthy breakfast food", or not to stick a fork in a plugged-in-toaster to retrieve that last bit of PopTart.  But that's the case everywhere.  The reason why US students routinely test somewhere between "rock" and "bottom" in reading and math skills, compared to their international First-World counterparts, is because the US mandates that everybody, regardless of aptitude or inclination, goes to high school (college, in the Netherlands, gymnasium if you're smart). But this fact doesn't quell the niggling fear that my generation and the one following is dangerously undereducated.  This article is a case in point--you can practically hear the tears of lamentation as Kaekes argues that technology is replacing thinking when it comes to teaching math.

To an extent, I can agree.  My parents, besides not letting me use a calculator until middle school, also forced my brother and I to do page after page of math over summer vacation until I was 10 or thereabouts.  It seemed to constitute only the worst form of torture--ever.  And it wasn't as if they were clever math problems, either--adding and subtracting 3, 4, 5-digit numbers, multiplying them, dividing them, for page after page.  I seem to recall fractions--double-digit numerators and denominators--though that might be the horror of retrospect superimposing a bad dream on a nightmare. 

You might be thinking, "But that's rote learning, not thinking!"  To which I would agree--rote learning and memorizing the multiplication tables is painfully dull and boring and probably the best way to get your kid to hate you.  But what it enabled later on--factoring, algebra, trigonometry, calculus--was so complicated that you simply couldn't afford to get bogged down in something so mundane as arithmetic. I never was a math person--I survived calculus and then promptly forgot it all--but to this day I would rather take a moment to run some numbers through my head than bother hunting down my calculator to see if coffee really is a good deal that week.  I think about other things, rather than fret over the math.

But when you come down to it, though, a lot of things are like this:   you have to get really good at the most boring of the basic things before you can start having fun.  There is nothing exciting about chopping onions, but a carmelized-onion-and-mustard quiche is nothing short of divine.  Playing scales is dull--playing Chopin is not, but you cannot master Chopin without understanding things like rhythm and tempo and how to slide your thumb under you hand so that you can play scales without a break. In aikido, you need to master the kamites before you get around to kicking ass.  You can't learn to think if you don't have anything to think about.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012


It seems as if my brain is taking a vacation, even though just about everything is pointing the other way:  I've got a few jobs lined up, baby preparations are still underway (I've got several huge sewing projects underway), and Karel's birthday party is coming up, as well as the NT2.  I have several drafts for blog posts started, but none are finished, and I'm getting the urge to write something twisted and weird again.

I'm choosing to take this mental lassitude as an indicator that summer really is here, despite the underwhelming evidence:  it's been downright cold some days, rainy for most.  The curtains in our bedroom do too good a job in blocking out the morning sun (on days when it's there)--they were made with that purpose, to help Karel sleep better after his night shifts, but the thick fabric also means I don't get my morning cue to wake up.

The last thing:  Rodney King is dead.  The LA riots were 20 years ago.  I remember seeing the footage of him getting whaled on by the cops.  This is probably the earliest social/political event I can remember clearly.  It doesn't feel like 20 years has gone by.  When you write out "20 years" you feel like you should be referring to another life, not your own.  Relativity?  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bumps in the Night

You'd think that, having gone through the rigamarole of medical school, that I would know what to expect with being pregnant.  And on some level, I do:  I know that I'm supposed to be gaining weight. I know that hormones wreak havoc on many things, including moods.  I know that strange cravings and random hunger pangs are par for the course.

But it's one thing to know, and another to experience.  And nothing has prepared me for the emotional ambiguity--and, to a certain level, the loathing--that comes with gaining weight.

Like many women, I've never truly felt happy with the way I look.  Even at my skinniest, I was still vaguely dissatisfied with the shape of my body.  That dissatisfaction has never gone away entirely, even as I've become resigned to the fact that my body seems to like being somewhere between 130-140 lbs, and not like a ballet dancer's.  It's resignation that makes me accept that being healthy and happy necessitates some compromise--I don't want to be thinking about food and counting calories all the frickin' time, the way I did when I was running 7 miles a day (I never developed an eating disorder, but there was a time when I literally would not eat anything until I looked up the calorie count on the USDA website).  Had I not plucked Shadow off the streets, there's a good chance that I would still be obssessing over food and calories and all that stuff now.

So letting things like pregnancy "happen" is a bit strange and antithetical to the mild neurosis under which I've lived for most of my life.  I simply can't be excited that I've gained 10 lbs so far, nor about any of the other bodily changes that accompany a pregnancy--the mood swings, the occasional twinges, the tiredness, the constant threat of dehydration.  I "should" feel, according to most resources, like a million bucks.  Screw that.

The strangest thing of all?  Is that I'm actually pretty excited for when the baby comes.  It's the "bearing" part of "childbearing" that will probably have me somewhat bummed for the next few months.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Trashy eats

As far as frugality goes, a lot of what circles the English-language Internet is based on life in the US.  So when you move to a country that only intermittently believes in the existence of coupons, where the stores aren't the size of entire city blocks, where your closets are slightly biggger than a litter box, scenes like the clip below become more than merely grotesque, they're horrifying.  


It's not so much that they've saved 90% off their bill that's horrifying--actually, I'm kind of envious of that bit--but the fact that they could buy almost $900 worth of...well, stuff. I'm sure most of it is non-perishable and most of it is useful--hell, I hoard cat supplies and personal hygiene things--and will be used in the end.  But there are other "extreme couponers" who build stockpiles of hundreds of bottles of shampoo and thousands of sticks of deodorant, and all you can think to ask when you see it is, "Why?"

However, if saving money is equivalent to not wasting money, then food waste is a good way for all of us to begin pinching pennies.  The average American wastes 25% of the food that he buys; if you include the bits that get tossed in industrial processing, it goes up to 40% of edible food going literally out the window.  There's no reason to think that Europeans do much better, either:  a study in the UK indicates that Brits and Europeans in general also end up tossing about a quarter of their edibles, and if industry gets factored into the equation, waste goes up to 50%.  So that means, of the about €350 I spend every month on groceries, a full €88 of it gets trashed as waste, and that there could, in theory, be almost twice as much food on the supermarket shelves.  Survivalist pundits have it a bit wrong:  we don't need more food, we need not to waste the food we have.

I don't waste 1/4 of all of our food, that's for sure.  But I'm not entirely innocent, either.  By my estimation, about €20-30 of food gets tossed every month. But even so, that's a lot of money that gets wasted--enough for an extra winter of heating bills, two or three vet visits for all three cats, a hospital delivery and the kraamzorg that follows, or an extra month's worth of groceries at the end of the year. And the scary thing is, it used to be a lot worse.  

I use a white board with a permanent grid (similar to that one) to plan out our meals and keep up with Karel's peripatetic schedule of shifts--not only does he work a variety of shifts, his schedule frequently differs from the roster he receives every month, so I also need to consider what he needs to bring for his brown-bag lunches-that-aren't-always-lunch. I do try to plan meals around the grocery flyers--if wraps are on sale, then it's burritos and quesadillas that week.  Right now, tomatoes are a bargain, so it means lots of salsa, gazpacho, and salads.  

To be quite honest this whole endeavor isn't so much about saving money as it is about not wasting any.  It's a major pet peeve of mine that I inherited from my mother, but my mother would also cook the same dish, literally, over and over again, until the food was used up--which, I can assure you, would lead to a culinary mutiny on Karel's part if I tried that.  Waste isn't just lost money, though.  There's an inherent "goodness" to good food that gets lost every time we let something rot, a bit of potential that gets lost in the garbage.  To arrive at your house, food has had to be grown, to pass through hundreds of hands, exchanged for money--letting that all go to waste, as easily as we do, is the real scandal.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On and on

One last quick note about what's been going on with Maastricht and Dr. Moens, and only because this is so outrageously wrong that I was seriously considering filing a libel suit:

Apparently, when Dr. Moens discussed the article in question with people (I have no way of telling who she's discussed this with), she would send the draft of the review before I'd started, and present that as "proof" of my non-contribution, rather than sending them the draft that I had left behind. You, astute reader, probably realize the audacity and sheer--well, "idiocy" comes to mind, but "logical inconsistency" is more in line with the break in terms of sussing out who contributed what. To whit:  how could I have worked on it if I hadn't started at the lab yet?

In other words, she's chosen to flat-out lie about what I've contributed to the article to at least two people that I'm aware of, and probably more.  And the co-authors of the paper wonder why I won't "be reasonable" and settle for fourth author.  I am, I think, quite reasonable--tit for tat, that kind of thing.  Screwing me over first by leaving my name off of the review, and then trying to screw me over by offering me an authorship which may as well suggest that I didn't actually write any of it, and then screwing me over yet again by lying to people to convince them that I didn't do shit on this review, doesn't exactly leave me inclined to see things from her point of view.  I dunno, being bitchy about this seems like the only "reasonable" response one could have.

I wasn't planning on writing more about this--like I said, happier things exist to blog about--but if there's one thing worse than being plagarized, it's being lied about. And this is apparently what she's been doing the whole time (I emphasize "apparently" because I can only glean her activities from the emails she's sent out regarding the matter).  You can have many opinions about me--I'm a terrible blogger, and this is too public a forum to discuss sensitive issues like this--but you can only skew the facts so far.   And one fact that cannot be skewed is:  she copied my draft, and published it without my name on it as an author.

I've dropped the idea of the libel suit--I doubt it'd get very far, and lawyers are expensive and there's not really much to show for it in the end.  And the ethics committee is probably debating this (or reading this) right now.  Still, though, it does put a dent in one's faith:  that science is objective, thoughtful, and fair.

Monday, June 4, 2012

To Die For

Cheese is one of those areas of life that doesn't necessarily translate well across borders, and often for completely arbitrary reasons.  For instance, there's no reason why the Netherlands should experience a dearth of cheddar while swimming in Gouda, which is the exact reverse of the cheese availability in the UK.  There is, undoubtedly, some kind of trade regulation that prevents cheese that's not made in Switzerland from being sold as Emmentaler, although for some reason the same standards don't seem to apply to brie.  Regardless of the reason why each country has a particular kind of cheese, though, the main difficulty the cheese issue presents to the home cook is that sometimes you just can't find it.  And "it", in this case, is cheddar.

Now, to be fair, cheddar does exist in the Netherlands, but it's classed alongside Manchego and Gruyere and those fancy hard cheeses--"exotic", and costing something like €15/kg.  Way too much, in other words, for everyday use.  And the World's Best Grilled Cheese, created by Julie at Willow Bird Baking, is one of those recipes that is simple enough for everyday use but decadent enough to make the day feel like something holy. Yet, despite my many substitutions and cheats, the "last-meal-worthiness" of the World's Best Grilled Cheese remains intact, largely because sweet caramelized onions combines so well with salty cheese.  And the butter you use to fry the sandwich takes the thing one more step closer to heaven.  If you're in some part of the world where cheddar is available, I would encourage you to make the entire thing as per Julie's recipe at Willow Bird Baking.  But if you're stuck in the Netherlands with nothing but Dutch stuff and no budget for cheddar, then the following subsitutions can be used for to-die-for goodness:

Substituion number one is the use of an aged Gouda in lieu of cheddar:  A "belegd kaas", at the very least, and "oud kaas" if your wallet doesn't mind.  The first is aged up to 8 months; the second anywhere from 1-3 years.  A good brand, such as Old Amsterdam, will have a peculiar sharpness of flavor that the generic supermarket stuff doesn't have, but generic supermarket stuff is good enough for this sandwich.  A young cheese is really too mild to hold its own against the onions, and will disintegrate into an oozy mess before the sandwich gets properly crisped.

 Substitution number two is really because I'm lazy:  there's no reason why I couldn't make beer bread, especially since a can of Warsteiner's or Palm or Brand or anything German or Belgian is easily available for less than two euros.  But it's not every day I feel like firing up the oven and washing out a bowl, so using store bread is, in my mind, an acceptable cheat, especially if your boyfriend asks for this 'wich every other week.  Furthermore, I don't have to wonder what to do with the other 3/4 of the loaf that's left over, given that we're not big bread eaters in general and barely manage to finish even a half loaf before it goes stale.  The only stipulation is that it not be white bread.  I'm not a nutrition-freak who prophesizes cancer just for thinking about white bread--to the contrary, I buy it regularly but infrequently, under the excuse of "variety".  But wheat bread, be it dark or light, has a bit of extra flavor to it that makes it especially wonderful.

One last note about caramelizing onions:  it takes a while.  30 minutes to an hour, with frequent but not constant stirring.  It's not difficult, but you must resist the temptation to turn the heat up to HELLFIRE, lest you end up with crispy burned bits instead of sweetly limp strands.  Good food does take time, but I promise that this sandwich is worth every minute.