Department FYI In Case you Didn’t Already Know/Suspect,
I Am A Naughty Person
Dateline: last week, out to lunch at a favorite restaurant of mine. After two large glasses of liquid (water and iced tea)…well, when nature calls, who am I not to answer? When I enter the women’s restroom I have the place to moiself; a mere thirty seconds later there is a small line – just three women – waiting for the accommodations. I hold the stall door open for the lucky gal at the front of the line, a woman with friendly, brightly shining eyes peeking above a medical mask she is wearing. She thanks me, and as I head for the sink she calls out, “Have a good one.”
It was all I could do to stop myself from blurting out, “Thanks – I just did!” 
* * *
Department Of Would Everybody Please Stop Saying This?
Dateline: Tuesday, circa 6:50 am. Listening to the most recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, actor and science communication advocate Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid. This episode features guest Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, an Austrian Astronomer, professor, and head of Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute.
In Clear and Vivid: Lisa Kaltenegger: Looking for Life on Other Earths, host Alda interviews Dr. Kaltenegger about her professional and personal interests, how she got to be doing what she is doing, and her passion for communicating science to others. Here are some snippets from Kaltenegger’s Cornell website bio:
Lisa Kaltenegger is the Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and Associate Professor in Astronomy. Her research focuses on exploring new worlds orbiting other stars…. She is a world-leading expert in modeling potential habitable worlds and their detectable spectral fingerprint…. Kaltenegger serves among others on the National Science Foundation’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC)….
(snip snip) It goes on to list many more committees, awards and prizes, even an asteroid named after Kaltenegger. Then, this, which caught my attention. Her book title echoed what seems to be the common question or even meme when it comes to searching for life, whether sentient or merely existent, beyond our planet:
Her book “Are we alone in the universe?” has been published in…..
Moiself loved the interview. However, I hate (the phrasing of) that damn question, and was disappointed that Kaltenegger chose it for her book title…and also that she used the phrase at least once more – as did Alda, if I remember correctly – during her interview.
Are We Alone In The Universe? ® is used by people, from professional astronomers to sci fi geeks aficionados, as some kind of guidepost disguised as a question – as if answering that question is a prime directive or reason for why we (humans) might be interested in searching for life beyond our planet.
Are we alone in the universe?
No no no no no no.
The question might be relevant – or accurate – if it were posed by a single person, stranded on the proverbial desert island or mountain top after a full-scale nuclear war, multiple asteroid strike, or other catastrophe which could justifiably cause a person to think that they might be the sole survivor on the planet.
But, other than that, the *we* question answers (well, it refutes) itself.
No: by definition, *we* are not alone. There are seven billion plus Earthlings – I hardly consider that *alone* on any scale. But, forget for a moment Earth’s astronomically boggling number of human infestation residents. All y’all need is one other person to make a me into a *we* (or a y’all).
I know, I know; the question is meant to summon the idea of whether or not we Terrans are the only sentient species in the galaxy/nearby planetary systems), along with the proposition that if we know there is another *we* (“them”?), we will…no, there it goes again – *we* will not feel so lonely?
Just who, I’d like to know, is feeling lonely in the cosmos? There is plenty of loneliness to go around on Earth – some mental health professionals talk about a loneliness epidemic despite (or because of) our social media/”connected” age. However, I truly doubt that anyone’s personal or existential loneliness crisis is caused by thinking that they are not, in their lifetime, going to know if the galaxy is populated with not just earthlings but also Martians or Enceladusians  or Proxima Centaurians….
There are Are. So. Many. Reasons. to be interested in whether or not there are biological life forms outside of our planet – the same reasons for wondering about any natural phenomenon. These reasons – our primal, driving curiosity to learn more about the natural world – are why we have science. What is this? How does it “work” and how did it come to be the way it is, and is there more, and…?
Yo, all, you Persons Doing Science ®, whom I admire more than I can say – keep up the good work! And maybe please kinda wouldya consider dropping the Are We Alone? claptrap? The search for knowledge needs no hyperbolic, quasi-query justification.
Speaking of important and/or existential questions about the universe, maybe I should take a poll. Am I the only person bothered by this?
If so, maybe I’ll shut up about it.
* * *
Department Of And One More Thing…
At the end of his Clear and Vivid podcasts, Alda asks his guests seven questions that are directly or tangentially related to the topic of communication. The content of the questions has varied over the years of the podcast, and has included queries such as
* What do you wish you really understood?
* What do you wish other people understood about you?
* How do you stop a compulsive talker?
* How do you tell someone they have their facts wrong?
* What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?
* How do you start a conversation with a stranger sitting next to you at a dinner party?
There is a new batch of questions this year, but one “old” question made the cut:
* What is the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Dr. Kaltenegger said that one of the strangest questions she ever got was,
“So, *really,* YOU are a scientist?
I always expected them to look very differently.”
Kaltenegger and Alda both laughed when she shared that anecdote, then Alda told Kaltenegger “…I hear that too often from women scientists – the stereotype precedes them.” Kaltenegger she found the incident funny; she had been giving a lunchtime talk in a church in Germany, and the question came from a priest who approached her afterward,:
“…he meant it completely non-offensive; he was just like super-excited to see somebody who didn’t look like the textbook version,
but he was like, “Are you *suuuure*?’
And I was like, ‘Yup, I’m pretty sure I’m a scientist….’ ”
What a truly odd question: “Are you sure you REALLY are ___ (whomever/ whatever you are)? “
I keep thinking of someone going to work one day, then suddenly looking around and thinking, “Hey, what am I doing here, in this laboratory, wearing this lab coat?” Or, “Why am I looking through this telescope – where am I? Oh, I must be A Scientist ®.”
* * *
Department Of Life Is Tough But It’s Even Tougher If You’re Stupid
Chapter 2.789 in a series
This rumination is related to last week’s blog post on Chanel Miller, the writer who was raped by the Stanford student/athlete.  Specifically, moiself finds my brain coming back to Miller’s profound query/accusation about social mores and attitudes about men and woman and rape and “consent” –
“When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is, ‘Did you say no?’ This question assumes the answer was always yes, and that it is her job to revoke the agreement. To defuse the bomb she was given.
But why are they allowed to touch us until we physically fight them off?
Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?”
Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?” – the poster child phrase for the view that women have to be in charge of the “gatekeeping” of both (heterosexual) male and female sexuality.
The “bomb” Miller speaks of is the mere existence of women’s sexuality. Until recently, both boys and girls have grown up with centuries of implications or downright declarations that boys and men are easily swept away by desire when in the presence of attractive females, and are ultimately “unable to control themselves” when it comes to sex. Thus, the burden of guarding and maintaining safe, respectable sexual relationships and conduct falls upon girls and women.
I remember hearing that festering-turd-of-a-social-norm from a boy, during one of the sex education classes my family’s Lutheran Church held for junior high students.  During a class discussion he championed the when-it-comes-to-sex-guys-just-can’t-control-themselves line.
This immediately frosted my bony 7th grade ass,  especially when I considered a similar statement made by another boy, which I’d heard earlier in the week, in my social studies class. The class had somehow got into a discussion re the dearth of women in politics, and Stupid Too-Much-Yardage-Between-His-Goal-Posts Boy #2 began to blather on about how, well yeah, maybe a Third World country like India can allow Indira Ghandi to be prime minister, but that will never happen in the USA, due to the “fact” that “everybody knows” women cannot or should not be in positions of political control, because “…they aren’t as emotionally strong as men – women can’t control themselves.”
Ah – patriarchal rationality to the rescue! Menfolk are in control of themselves…except when they are not.
And self-control, as “everybody knows,” is or should be one of the hallmarks of leadership. If you can’t trust a person not to play grab-ass with the nearest person he finds attractive, you obviously shouldn’t trust him with his finger on the nation’s nuclear button. Clearly, the logical position should be that men are unfit for any positions of power and should be closely monitored for the sake of civilized society.
* * *
Department of Epicurean Excursion 
Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:
V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking,
by Rich Landau & Katy Jacoby
* Scallion Pancakes with Citrus Ponzu
* Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Black Vinegar
For Scallion Pancakes with Citrus Ponzu
For Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Black Vinegar
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
Recipe Rating Refresher 
* * *
May you hold the door open (and keep your smartasss mouth shut) for kind strangers
in public restrooms;
May you be in charge of controlling yourself, and no one else;
May you be sure that you REALLY ARE…whatever it is you are;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Even though I actually didn’t. Poop, that is, which is what was being implied…is this TMI?
 A moon of Saturn, which is included by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak on his 6 Most Likely Places for Alien Life in the Solar System due to the presence of frozen water geyers on Enceladus’s surface
 Y’all remember him – the Stanford student who raped an unconscious – practically comatose – woman by a dumpster… but he swims really fast, so, give him a break, folks!
 As part of their confirmation curricula, one entire quarter devoted to the subject! Pretty progressive for 1972 or whenever it was.
 And, how shall I say it, an “interesting conversational exchange” ensued.
 A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) once recipe from one book.
* Two Thumbs up: Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up : Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who’d eat anything, would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.