Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I lost a friend today

His name was Zeus, and he was a black lab.  He turned 15 on Valentine’s Day.  In his last year, he suffered a degenerative hip, atrophied muscles of his hindquarters, a tumor on his left flank the size of a softball, and probably cancer.  He was deaf and nearly blind.  If he laid down on a hardwood or linoleum floor, we had to lift him so he could regain his footing.  My heart broke every time I watched the old guy hobble to his food or water bowls, and I winced each time he moaned or cried.  So it was time to end it, and today was that day.

With help from my son, we lifted him into the back of the car, and I drove to the vets alone.  My wife offered to come, but I knew she really couldn’t bear it, and it would be better for me if I didn’t have to watch her suffer on the trip home.  I learned long ago that I prefer to grieve alone, although when I returned home, my wife and I had our sorrowful moments over Zeus.

Soon after Zeus and I entered the patient room, a tech came in with paper work and said cheerily: “So, this is Stormy?”  I told her no, this is Zeus.  “Oh.  Sorry”.  Geesh lady, let’s not put Stormy down and then return to clip Zeus’s nails.  After the vet administered the drug, he was gone in 10 seconds.  He was lying on the floor and he put his head slowly down as the drug coursed through his body, and he then looked exactly like he did when he was sleeping on the floor at home.  Quiet, peaceful, uneventful.  They left me alone with him for a few minutes while I said my feeble goodbye to a dog who couldn’t even hear me when he was alive.  But I had to say something.  I guess we all do.

I have thought a lot about dogs over the past few years.  To be honest, most of the time I secretly object to the entire phenomenon of dogs and cats as pets (see my earlier blog about cats as killers of wildlife).  The way most people pamper their pets actually disgusts me.  In decades past, when I was a child, dogs were rarely kept in their owners’ houses; they were considered too dirty.  We kept them in dog houses outside.  Remember those?  For better or worse, we have come a long way.  And then there is this.  In 2016, Americans spent $62 billion on these family pets!  $62 billion to purchase them, and for food, toys, collars, leashes, grooming, flea and tick medicine, occasional kenneling and, of course, the never-ending vet bills.  As I write this, teachers in West Virginia are on strike for higher pay and better benefits, but they are meeting voluntarily every day to pack lunches for their poor, hungry students who are now missing that essential meal because their school is closed.  What a pathetic state of affairs.  No civilized country should be able to report such a fact.  So I think of what $62 billion could do to address both of those problems, and I lament.  But, of course, money is never fungible in that way.

We all love our pets, and I loved Zeus.  On the other hand, I was often impatient with him and angry when he relieved himself in the house, or woke us up in the middle of the night, or had to be let out AGAIN, or wouldn’t come when I called to him, or when I tripped over him lying on the floor when I made that important first cup of morning Joe, or when my wife and I decided not to travel because of “the dog”.  And the hair.  Blackish hair—everywhere, all the time. 

But now, I already miss hearing his toe nails clicking down the hallway, the feel of his velvet ears, and the look of those eyes, which were huge for a lab, when he tried to make sense of my human gibberish.  One minute I loved him, and the next minute his existence irritated me. What a confounded and complicated set of emotions come with pet territory.  I have concluded that I love dogs, but dislike being a dog owner.

Will I ever get another dog?  No.  I’ve had dogs since I was about five years old, probably eight or nine.  I’ve done my time.  I don’t want another dog for all the reasons of inconvenience and financial costs that I’ve mentioned already.  But the main reason I will never have another dog is that I can not bear to lose a friend after they have gotten into your heart and become a part of your soul.  Why invite that kind of sadness voluntarily into our lives when there is sadness in abundance already?  I simply can’t do it again.   

Friday, December 30, 2016

Academic editing for those whose first language is NOT English (or, for that matter, for anyone else)

Dear International Students, Faculty, and Scholars:

I edit documents for students, faculty, and scholars whose first language is not English. My goal is to make your document read like it was written by a native English speaker. Most of my clients have been from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, and Latin America, but I will work on documents for clients of any nationality. I edit statements you write to apply for grad school and for faculty positions, papers you intend to submit for publication to an English journal, business reports, letters, white papers, dissertation chapters, job applications, statements of purpose, and research proposals. 

I edit documents in all fields. I have edited papers in engineering, nanofabrication, statistics, plant pathology, city and regional planning, food science, history, plant genetics, biotechnology, plant breeding, wildlife biology, biomedicine, near eastern studies, theatre arts, psychology, and more. Clients simply send me their document ( as an email attachment, I edit it in MS Word using Track Changes, and I return the document, usually within 48 hours.

Most documents take less than three hours of editing to complete, unless they are unusually long. My clients pay me by sending me a check or depositing money in my PayPal account, which is very simple to do. Also, if you want to send me your document, I can provide an estimate of how much it will cost and how long it should take me to complete the job. As I edit, I also suggest ways to improve your writing in English generally. If desired, I can provide references from recent clients.

I am currently Professor Emeritus from Cornell University.  I have published dozens of papers in refereed journals over the past 40 years, and I served as Associate Editor for the journal Ecological Applications for three years. I taught university courses for 30 years, and I conducted ecological research throughout the U.S. and in Costa Rica. I lived in Korea and Costa Rica for one year each and, recently, I have been visiting Taiwan to teach short courses on conservation biology at National Taiwan University.

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My charges for this service: individuals-$50 per hour; institutions-$75 per hour.  When I return your document, I inform you how much the bill is and I can provide an invoice if desirable.  I also have an express service.  For $75 per hour, I will guarantee that I return your document within 24 hours of receiving it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Occasional Holiday Letter #6 from DrTom and Robin for 2017!

Friends, enemies, even Republicans:

You will have to excuse this group letter, but it is the only way to go. If I were to send each of my FB friends a letter in the mail, it would cost about $650 in postage, and no holiday letter is worth that much. And I hate licking stamps, and I don’t have most of your addresses, and my postman would start spitting in our mailbox. Actually, I think he does that already, because the mailbox door is difficult to open and I refuse to replace it. I can’t think of any other way that the inside of that box could get so moist and putrid.

Most of us are utterly bored when we get one of those family-oriented letters. So let’s dispense with that part. Our kids are fine, our grandkids are even finer, we are fine, the chickens are fine, but our black lab, Zeus, is old and ailing. There, you are all caught up.

So, what a year, huh? You just knew that I wouldn’t be able to refrain from mentioning THAT man. But one interesting thing has evolved from the existence of this bizarre person. I now have a new item on my “bucket list”. I hope, somehow, to be included in one of the Donalds’ middle-of-the-night tweets about how much he hates me, and how I am going down, and how old and decrepit I look, and how my wife will never want to have sex with me again. I’m not yet sure how to arouse enough ire in him for me to make his tweet list, but I’m working on it. One idea is this: he can’t seem to get any musician to perform at his inauguration ball; they all refuse. So, eventually, my name will come up as one who plays a mean conga drum. And when he asks me to perform on that important day (and you know where this is going), I will haughtily refuse, which will piss him off to no end, and he will tweet about it at 3am that night while sitting on the toilet. Bucket list—check!

But the good news this week was the annual letter that Robin and I received from the Social Security Administration that tells us how much of a raise we will receive beginning in January. Raises for American recipients will be 0.3% in 2017. That’s right----3/10%, or about 1/3 of a percent raise. In my case, that amounts to an increase of $4.50 per month, about the cost of a LARGE bottle of ketchup. So look out homemade french fries in 2017, cause I am going to slather you in that red stuff like you have never been slathered before. And every time I do that, I will remember to thank the SS system for this dietary enhancement. Robin and I have been paying happily into the social security system for 53 years, and we are still paying into it. This raise is more than we deserve, and I sincerely hope that the fiscal conservatives in Congress will keep a tight rein on these increases; we must not let these raises get out of hand. A raise of 0.2% would have been sufficient, more than enough for a SMALL bottle of ketchup.

And what about this coming year? I’m told that we should all be full of hope, and good cheer, and optimism. After all, that is what humans do. We always hope for something more, for a better future, a brighter tomorrow. Maybe that brighter tomorrow is not going to happen in the location where we reside now. So these past few weeks, I have been researching what life would be like as a retiree living, at least part of the year, in Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Chile (look out Silvas of Valparaiso). Costa Rica is always on the table, but we have been there, done that. It all sounds doable and encouraging. Good wine, good food, Cuban cigars, the music we like, mountains (except Uruguay), coasts, culture, interesting history, and that latino zest for life. Let’s at least stick a toe in the water. The worst that could happen is that the toe gets bitten off, but that leaves nine (see how this optimism thing works?). And with the recent social security increase, finances shouldn’t be a problem at all.

By the way, a couple of months ago I eliminated about 500 FB friends. These were people who I didn’t know at all, or they seemed to have no presence on FB any longer, or they were too right-wing for me to bear. Most of these were people I befriended years ago when I was truly a Facebook slut. Therefore, those of you who remain can consider yourselves the cream of the crop. Congratulations. Not sure how many deleted me for being obnoxious, too opinionated, or too far left, but it all works out.

Anyhow, Happy Holidays and have a great 2017. No need to send gifts to Robin and me this year (unless you really, really want to). Your clever comments on FB are all we need. And you old people, enjoy that extra ketchup!

Tom, Robin, and Zeus
December 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities and of two places in time

I had three excellent English teachers in high school in the early 1960s, but Mr. Robinson, during my senior year, was my favorite.  He was a middle-aged man with whitish hair, bespectacled, soft-spoken, and the kind of guy who exuded mild manners with every word.  He had a gentle smile that he sported often, never a belly laugh, and an acceptable sense of humor.  He always wore a sport jacket; I remember it as gray or brown tweed.  He was the personification of what we all envision when we think of a college English professor at an Ivy League school.

That year in English, we mostly read great books and practiced our writing skills.  Unlike his usual outward demeanor, Mr. Robinson was a ruthless editor, which we thought was somewhat unfair at the time.  But he knew that freshman English in college was not a cake walk in those days, and that most of us would be facing that trial in only a few months.  For example, I was bound for Ohio State that fall, and a high percentage of entering students got Ds or Fs in freshmen English on a regular basis; about a third of OSU frosh flunked out of school during their first year.  So we wrote, and Mr. Robinson edited, and we rewrote, and he re-edited, and slowly but surely most of us got better and better at composing a readable, logical piece. 

That fall semester in college, I found out exactly what Mr. Robinson had been trying to get us to understand.  No matter how hard I tried, it was nearly impossible to get higher than a C on an English composition.  Those who had not had Mr. Robinson seemed to do even worse. But eventually, my scores, and presumably my writing skills, improved and I survived that academic year more or less unscathed, in no small way due to my mentor’s efforts the year before.

Perhaps the most vivid academic memory of that class was reading and discussing Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities.  How can anyone who has ever read that book not recall at least parts of the first and last sentences of that wonderful story.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times……..” and “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…..”  Oh, to be able to write a book, or an essay, or even a paragraph of prose with elements that have resounded through the ages like that.  Those words are certainly famous and timeless in their own right, and millions of people around the world are familiar with them.  But would they have left their indelible imprint on my soul if it had not been for Mr. Robinson’s ability to bring out the richness of their import?  That is what a great teacher can do, and it is a wonderful thing.

I have not reread that classic since I studied it in high school all those years ago.  But from time to time I think about that story, its characters and the beautiful expression of their powerful emotions through Dicken’s talented hand.  And then today, while I was a substitute teacher in a high school class, I realized that a copy of that gem was sitting on the desk at which I was sitting.  I stared at it for a long moment, not quite sure what I should do.  But I picked it up, and I read that incredible first sentence (which was much longer than I remembered).  And then I turned to the final page with all its sadness and I read Dickens’ last sentence. The memories of sitting in my high school English class only a few seats from Mr. Robinson’s desk, and waiting with anticipation for his clever way of getting us to dig for the depth of meaning that cemented that book forever in my mind, poured over me.

And I sat there, looking out over this class of 20 or so students, and I felt just like I remember Mr. Robinson looking.  We have all experienced something like that.  I have white hair, I’m sitting at a desk staring pensively at all those young minds with a curious smile on my face, and I’m feeling how important it is to open the minds of those teenagers, to make them feel something, to make them remember something beautiful about the great literature of the past.  For that fleeting moment, I WAS Mr. Robinson.

I have often wondered whatever happened to Mr. Robinson, but I’m sure he passed a long time ago.  After all, he was my teacher more than 50 years ago.  A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859 (the same year that Darwin published Origin of Species), and it was about 100 hundred years old when I first read it.  Another half century has passed, and students are still asked to read it.  How incredible!  Another half century, and I’m hoping there are still Mr. Robinsons out there.  Thousands of them, tens of thousands of them, because the world needs them—every last one.