BJ Pet Calendar 2014: First Call for Photos

twinkles pack Pups_Wallpaper_Size2

On the “news that doesn’t suck” front, I am very pleased to announce that Beth S. has once again graciously volunteered to assemble this year’s Balloon Juice Pet Calendar. These were her specifications last year:

I’m looking for the highest resolution images possible. The photos themselves won’t be that large, but the largest and highest resolution images people can send the better. I have photoshop and can do some remediation on images as necessary.

Until Beth has a chance to set up a dedicated account, you can send your pics to me at (or click on my name under ‘Contact’ in the right-hand column). Don’t be shy, you know we don’t measure love by the ‘professionalism’ of your pics, or the ‘show quality’ of your companion animals!

Questions, comments, suggestions — leave a comment below.

Photo at the top by commentor Tony S.; link here for Twinkles’ story, if you missed it over the weekend.

For A Good Time On the ‘Tubes: David Dobbs, Sociable Genes edition

Dear all,

A little late — but it’s that time of the month again.  I’ll be doing my regular gig as one of the hosts of Virtually Speaking Science this evening at 6 EDT — just a little more than two hours from now.

My guest this time is David Dobbs, a wonderful science writer and (full disclosure) a good friend.  David has been focusing on neuroscience, genes and behavior for some time now.  Some of you may recall his big Atlantic feature on “the orchid hypothesis.”  There, David wrote about a fascinating line of scientific research that, among much else, showed how subtle and powerful the interactions of genes and environment can be.  Nature or nurture, that old debate, turns out (in this and in many other good works) to be a much richer, and much less dichotomized point of inquiry.


Flash forward to now.  David has been working on a book, The Orchid and the Dandelion, to be published by Crown in 2015, that extends the ideas and arguments of that magazine feature into a nuanced (and very tricky to write) account of how scientists are now trying to piece together the gene-to-behavior chain.  Some of that work led to the essay he just published at one of the delightful new web-based venues for serious, long-form public intellection, The Pacific Standard.  In that piece, “The Social Life Of Genes,” David writes about fascinating work on the way experience affects gene expression — which both takes the nature-nurture interaction to new, much more ephemeral time scales (itself a delightful shocker, at least to me) and points to the way the extraordinary advances in genetic and genomic research have reached a peculiar moment.  We know vastly more than we ever have before about the informational content of life.  We have tools that allow us to observe intimate moments in the daily life of genes and attendant molecules.  But that knowledge has gone just far enough to demonstrate how much more complex, intricate and so far ill-deciphered the genetic view of life remains.  We know more — and yet that knowledge leaves us much less certain about how a lot of biology works than we thought we understood a decade ago.

Which, of course, is just great.  (Physicists would kill for such wide open spaces!)  We live in interesting times — which, as I hope this conversation will demonstrate, is not always an accursed thing.

Tune in:  audio and later podcast here.

Also — do check out David’s website. Lots of good stuff there, but I’d draw the attention of any writers (or devoted readers) to David’s links to good work, and to his own  and others’ fine analyses of writing craft.

Image:  Jacopo Bassano, Earthly Paradisec. 1573

Belated (But Not Completely Outdated) Happy New Year

I know Anne Laurie handled the start-of-holiday greetings, so I’m tagging on behind, with a few hours (and roughly 100 shofar blasts) to go in Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year.

Really, I’m doing so just to give me an excuse to post this image:



I know of vanishingly few fine-art images of Jewish ritual life — even fewer of views of religious practice out in the world.  So when my art-historically sophisticated wife sent this on, it was a surprise.

Anyway, I find this holiday one of those that works on me, atheist-Jew that I am.  The two stories read on the two days of services come from the Abraham cycle.  Day one, we read of the expulsion of Ishmael and Hagar from the camp.  Day two, the binding of Isaac.*  Terrifying stuff, terribly sad, much grist for thought.

And then, after the chanting is done, apples and honey all round!  As we say in my family, so to you:  may the coming year be as sweet as this apple and this honey.

Open thread, y’all.

*If you want to read a brilliant, horrific account of the path the Akedah — the Isaac sacrifice story — took in Jewish history, look no further than Shalom Spiegel’s classic, The Last Trial.  For an equally brilliant dissection of the literary technique in the story, the first chapter of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. is so good I believe every writer should read it.  Here’s the essay on its own. (In it, Auerbach compares the story of the sacrifice of Isaac to the scene in the Oddyssey, book 19, when Odysseus’ housekeeper recognizes the long-lost hero by the old scar on his leg.  Just a brilliant bit of literary analysis, and a great introduction to thinking about one’s own writing from the point of view of technique and desired ends.)

Image:  Alexander Gierymski, The Feast of Trumpets, 1884.

More on the March

The Washington Post, not surprisingly, has a lot of coverage of this week’s anniversary, including tons of photos and video clips. (And an admission that the paper wasn’t so prescient at the time.)

As a lead-in, here’s Dan Balz on “The March on Washington’s unfinished agenda”:

In the way history can be conflated, the March on Washington has been reduced to a few vivid images. One is the size of the gathering, with photos showing a crowd flowing from the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and stretching the length of the Reflecting Pool and beyond. The other and most iconic by far is the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, which continues to echo powerfully 50 years on.

But history plays tricks, for there was much more to the march than those sharply etched memories. For the Life magazine issue published right after the event, the editors chose neither King nor the crowd for the cover. That distinction went to two of the march’s principal organizers, labor leader A. Philip Randolph and civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin.

The peaceful march drew more than 200,000 people to Washington on a sweltering summer day. It is rightly remembered as one of the most uplifting moments of the civil rights movement, and as others have said, it is the most famous mass rally in U.S. history.

But as the nation prepares to commemorate the event, it is useful to recall its origins, ambitions and legacy and to remember which of the organizers’ objectives have been fulfilled and which have not…

Many of those who will be in Washington this week say the commemoration of the march should not be a celebration. “It’s very important not just to commemorate the march but to have us recognize that we’re 50 years away from that event and if we examine progress, it’s clearly a mixed blessing,” said Margaret Simms of the Urban Institute.

Robert Dallek, who has written histories of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies, quoted one of his mentors, the late historian Richard Hofstadter, as saying that “America is the only country that believes it was born perfect and strives for improvement.” As far as the country has come in the 50 years since the March on Washington, much remains to be done — as it always has.

Also, from the Root, a fascinating interview with March participant Gloria Richardson, co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (plus a slide show on women Marchers).

Minnesota Meetup

commenter gbear says:

Best kept secret on Balloon Juice is that there’s a Twin Cities meetup at Shamrocks Grille at 995 West 7th Street in St. Paul tomorrow at 5:00pm. So far there are two of us confirmed to be there, and I’m not telling you who the other person is. It’s been popping up in various threads for the last few days but it appears to be a sleeper. Be part of a select few and have one of the best burgers in town.

That comment was last night, so it’s today.

Minnesota meetups are fun-I’ve been to one-so be part of the “select few”