29 December 2010

(Additional) Good News of Great joy

For those of you who haven't heard through other channels (or haven't heard the story), I'm writing to let you know that I am now engaged! Kristin and I decided sometime in November that we were ready to take the plunge, and we ordered a ring at Savitt Jewelers in New Haven when I was there for Thanksgiving.

The plan was for me to propose sometime over our Christmas visits home. Now, Kristin is from Whitefish Bay, and my parents now live in Waukesha. This, combined with the constraint of not involving her parents in the planning (so as not to spoil the surprise), had me feeling particularly anxious. Have you heard people talk about both successful and (especially) unsuccessful proposal scenarios?! We're looking at a lot of pressure here. How do you make it a surprise? How do you make it memorable? Wisconsin, much as we both love it and miss it, seemed fraught with peril.

In case you don't know, my lovely fiancée loves New York, and especially loves the West Village's Church of St. Luke in the Fields. So it was only natural that she plan to be in the city for her birthday on December 18 and for church the following morning. With final exams upon me during that weekend but only one major test to take (and an online one at that), I saw my opportunity for a genuine surprise proposal. I planned to moan and groan about marathon study sessions for a liturgics class that I'd legitimately neglected ("It's only a lot of reading if you do it," is a sad VTS mantra but also sometimes an important survival strategy), while in reality making my way to the big proposal in the Big Apple.

My best friend, Carl, suggested a subway proposal (did I mention she also loves the subway), and our mutual friend and my co-conspirator, Julia, helped me refine the plan--Q train proposal to take advantage of the outdoor East River crossing, rendezvous point at James in Brooklyn if we failed to make the connection.

Of course, the only thing that could possibly go wrong did: as the week before the big day progressed, Kristin got so sick that it became increasingly clear she would not be going to New York for her birthday. With my tail between my legs, I got on the Megabus on Saturday morning planning to hop the Metro North to New Haven for a subdued and less-life-changing birthday visit. I almost left the ring in Virginia to avoid the temptation to propose in a decidedly sub-ideal city and circumstance.

But just before we went into the Lincoln Tunnel, I got a text to the effect of "Antibiotics doing their job! Feeling much better today and might be able to at least make it church tomorrow, yay!" I got off the bus, called Julia, and proceeded to plot a new plan. Julia called Kristin to confirm her improved state of health and insist that they meet at St. Luke's early and grab a quick belated birthday breakfast before the service. I scouted out the beautiful St. Luke's garden (though less beautiful in winter, of course) for a spot where she'd not see me immediately upon entering. And then I had to figure out a place to spend the night, since I'd planned on sleeping on the floor next to whatever friend's couch she'd booked for herself that night. Thankfully, my summer roommates were around and had a couch with my name on it.

The morning arrived, as did the soon-to-be-fiancée, and everything worked out better than I could have hoped. She was indeed surprised, and we had a wonderful morning of sharing our good news with our St. Luke's friends at coffee hour before and after the main liturgy. After that and a quick lunch with friends, I was off to Virginia on the 3 p.m. Bolt Bus. An exhausting weekend, but a wonderful one. To top it off, I was greeted by my classmates back at VTS by a surprise gathering and champaign toast.

It has been lovely being together in Wisconsin for more than a couple of hours, and it has been lovely sharing the news with family and friends. Thank you so much for all your warm wishes and prayers! We'll let you know when we have a date, but our lives are full of uncertainty right now, and it's liable to be a long engagement!

Sermon Catch-Up

It's been a busy couple of weeks (see forthcoming post), so I'm just now getting around to posting my sermons from the second and third weeks of Advent. They were each shortened a bit on the cutting-room floor, but this ought to give you the gist. Indeed, the Advent 2 sermon was given from the aisle with no notes (a new experience for me, and a surprisingly positive one), so the manuscript is really just what I handed in in homiletics class and was the starting point for my oral prep.

Advent 2
Advent 3

02 December 2010

A Tale of Botched Science Reporting -and/or- A Plea to Headline Writers

If I'm understanding it correctly, then I'm massively disappointed with how someone (Gizmodo? headline writers?) is shaping reports of NASA's new findings on Gammaproteobacteria GFAJ-1. The first release I read, by Gizmodo at Wired Science via an excerpt on Episcopal Café (I love my church), made it sound like a life form had been discovered in Mono Lake whose biochemical makeup included arsenic in the places we expect phosphorus to be.

Not so, explains a second post on Wired Science by Rachel Ehrenberg of Science News. Researchers believe they have coaxed the bacteria to replace phosphorus with arsenic. The actual situation is still pretty mind-blowing but much more modest than we'd been originally led to believe (apparently Tom Faber commenting on Episcopal Café's Facebbok page has since also caught the error). Here's the NYT's take:

The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

I'm usually not concerned with "Who's to blame?!" in these situations, but I just spent ten minutes thinking the universe was vastly different from what we thought it was. And now I find out that, well, some people working in a lab think that maybe it might be that way and have compiled some evidence based on a clever experiment. Again, this is still a mind-blowing piece of science news, but the ball has definitely been dropped, journalistically.

So who is to blame? Well, it may be that Gizmodo just didn't write a very good article. But if you go over to the NASA press release, I think you may find that the culprit could be who the culprit almost always is in these situations: the damn headline writer. Sure, the release itself starts with the outsized claim, "NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth." But then it immediately makes clear that the new life form is "able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic." That, in my opinion, is a far cry from the reality touted in the headline: "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical." At the very least, it should be "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Capable of Rebuilding Itself With Toxic Chemical."

To go back to Gizmodo: Yes, "This changes everything." But not quite so massively as it would have if they actually "discovered" (instead of, more accurately, "built") "
a completely new life form" that, when the experiment started, was a completely ordinary life form with an intriguing habitat and a possibly novel biochemical ability.

My guess is that it started with the misleading NASA headline. How many times do we have to make that mistake? Editors: please, please, please, let your writers suggest the headline. Doing otherwise is just asking to embarrass yourself...and to dash the hopes of excited science geeks.