Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from December 2007

Lit up like no ordinary Christmas tree

December 29th, 2007 · Comments Off on Lit up like no ordinary Christmas tree

The Infamous House of Lights

Originally uploaded by stomptokyo

Picture this picture half an acre wide.

One of the most amazing Christmas displays in the USA — I think that’s what NBC said, or maybe it was People Magazine.

  • Half a million lights…
  • 118 electric trains running round in meshed circles…
  • Reindeer(s) and wise men and big glowing plastic Virgin Mary statues set off, in a warm-hearted way, by Biblical texts about the importance of Jesus.

All on half an acre of St. Petersburg, Florida, lit up like…see title above for (I think) the right metaphor.

Florida? Yes, for a few days…

Part of the mesh and mismatch of a year of travel is that even when “home” there are places we have to go, family we can’t miss seeing. So, somehow more travel breaks into our Christmas break, three weeks long, between home-from-Stockholm and headed-out-to-New-Zealand, quickly to be followed by four-months-in-Oxford.

I’m on my annual and always delightful visit to my little sister in Florida. And last night after dinner she and Bill asked if I would enjoy “some Christmas lights.” Maybe I should have guessed from their smiles as we headed off that they were planning to surprise the houseguest from understated New England.

And they sure did!

But sadly, I can’t surprise you with my own many photos of St. Pete’s famous or infamous House of Lights–which has its own website at My camera-to-computer cable got left at home. Thanks to StompTokyo (and to Flickr’s “Blog This” button) for this panorama to give at least some sense of scope.

Tags: religion · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Christmas melancholy and relief

December 25th, 2007 · Comments Off on Christmas melancholy and relief

Christmas melancholy and relief

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

The presents have been unwrapped–the wonderful, wonderful presents you see in this picture from my childhood, two huge dolls and a dollhouse we’re going to share. As you can see also, the Devine kids are exhausted, having been up with our stockings and anticipation since long before dawn.

It’s interesting that my father decided to save forever this moment of Christmas melancholy from the late 1950s.

If you look closely, our ninety-something year-old Aunt Harriet wears a quite different expression – maybe satisfaction? The shopping and cooking and organizing are over at last and perhaps very soon even grownups can have a nap.

In more recent news, sorry about the light blogging. Frank and I were both laid low by a completely miserable post-travel cold. But like Aunt Harriet, we feel relieved and happy that we still managed to spend one more family Christmas with our wonderful family.

Tags: My Back Pages · Wide wonderful world

Home for Christmas

December 21st, 2007 · 3 Comments

Home for Christmas

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Oh how beautiful it was to be home in Boston, as we stood in the cold waiting for a late taxi, under big flakes of snow slowly falling down through the night air.

We got home late December 20, after many delays caused by the third day of Boston snowfall this week.

And today is the shortest day of the year. I plan to enjoy some of these long winter nights sleeping off my jetlag.

Tags: Boston · Cambridge · Wide wonderful world

Phone-jamming rats crawl into this morning’s news

December 20th, 2007 · 2 Comments

Chinatown exterminator

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Yes, yes, yes! And this morning on Daily Kos the top-recommended story is my expose of the latest phone-jamming news!

First, McClatchy Newspapers found an insider source to confirm that the US Department of Justice protected Republican bigwigs from their slow-walked “investigation” of the 2002 Election Day phone-jamming scandal.

Second, two advance reviews of phone-jamming tell-all How To Rig An Election are full of dark seedy details of GOP dirty tricks.

Bring on Boston’s Red Dragon Exterminating Company!

Tags: Editorial · New Hampshire! · Wide wonderful world

Post-port postlude to the very early universe

December 20th, 2007 · Comments Off on Post-port postlude to the very early universe

James Clerk Maxwell and Alan Guth

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Who is that non-physicist craving a photo-op in between James Clerk Maxwell and Alan Guth?

Readers of this blog may recognize the scarf.

This moment of post-banquet serendipity took place inside the great dining hall of Trinity College, Cambridge. Frank and I arrived a bit late, missing the polite request that people not take photographs–quite understandable considering all the amazing things there that you’d need to photograph just to remember one half of them.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Science · Wide wonderful world

Dragoyle and phrenology…science?

December 19th, 2007 · 3 Comments


Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Here, from a collection of scientific instruments, is the lovely dragoyle.

Elsewhere In the he fascinating Whipple Museum of the History of Science, you can find “scientific” apparatus for phrenology (diagnosing head bumps and lumps to measure such human traits as “combativeness.”)

Phrenologywas once a time-honored way to do scientific study. Melvil Dewey gave "Phrenology" an entire integer (139) in his library decimal catalog system. For comparison, "modern Western philosophy" also got one entire integer (190).

The history of science is full of fascinating discoveries and proud achievements, but it is also full of cautionary examples and multiple proofs that calling something “scientific” doesn’t make it so.

Tags: Science · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Good-bye to Stockholm, hello to Cambridge, then Cambridge

December 18th, 2007 · Comments Off on Good-bye to Stockholm, hello to Cambridge, then Cambridge

Beautiful cold English December day

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

I walked several miles yesterday through the lovely cold green of an English December, under its pale sunlit sky.

Frank is here to discuss early-universe cosmology with a lot of the same friends who were gathered here by Stephen Hawking 25 years ago, back when the idea of inflation was just a tiny pre-nugget of its present, er, expanded state.

That was in summertime, a lovely English summer, with our whole family housed by Robin and Polly Hill out in Rupert Brooke’s own Grantchester. I did feel some misgiving when we jet-lagged four on the doorstep were greeted with a dismayed “My god, they’ve got a baby!”

(The form I’d filled out for our housing requirement had a space asking for “number of children.” Foolishly, I filled that space in “1*”, adding by * footnote that (in December, and planning a six-months-later visit) I was eight 1/2 months pregnant.)

Anyway, things got much better quite soon after that.

There is no better cure for the mental whiplash of packing and moving and shlepping your worldly goods onto one more long plane ride than taking a long walk through peaceful cool sunlit weather.

In fact, I think that I need another walk now.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Science · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Over the edge appearance on Swedish TV

December 15th, 2007 · Comments Off on Over the edge appearance on Swedish TV

Waiting to be on TV

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

I should not neglect to mention (although I am tempted) that Frank and I both made multiple appearances on December 10 on Swedish TV 4.

Late in the evening, Anna Björn re-interviewed us about what had been the best and worst Nobel bits of 2004. In case you missed it, the worst for me was worrying about walking down multiple marble staircases. The best was how charming everybody Swedish is (including HRH Prince Carl Philip) and going to the Green Frog Lucia Ball on December 13.

When the interviewers thanked us, and our car was waiting, and had been waiting for fifteen minutes, I took a step backward and stepped off the fairly high platform, almost but not quite falling on my black ball-gowned behind. On live TV.

Everybody that I know in Sweden seems to have seen this.

And to judge from their reminiscent smiles when I ask if they saw this, my almost-fall was a high point of Nobel late night TV.

Anyone who wants to give near-universal satisfaction on TV should really consider this quite simple method.

Actually falling might have given even more pleasure…

Tags: Nobel · Sweden · Wide wonderful world

Good time being had by all

December 14th, 2007 · Comments Off on Good time being had by all

Good time being had by all

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Maybe this photo is a little blurry, but it was late night and near the end of a wonderful party, the Stockholm University Student Union’s Luciabal for their “Order of the Ever Smiling and Jumping Green Frog.”

Many thanks to the students who invited us (again), especially to Per Marcus and also to his brother Mårten.

Not that either of them is at all visible in this photo.

Good night.

Tags: Nobel · Sweden · Wide wonderful world

Vikings with chests full of big medals and golden chains

December 13th, 2007 · Comments Off on Vikings with chests full of big medals and golden chains

In Second Life we both look even more glamorous

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

They call it “white tie” but many also wear their honors, ribbons or brooches or long chains with giant gold medals.

The most festooned among male guests look like ancestral Vikings with trophies of plunder.

Meanwhile, back at Stockholm’s huge palace, I was just getting up to the border between France and Norway when first Al Gore (in my blog) and last night’s Nordita Nobel dinner party (in real life) broke off my narrative.

Nobel events come with extra one-ups of high protocol, strict and careful ordering of where everyone sits or stands and with whom one parades.

Once you get to the palace, the protocol deepens and thickens, as if layers of old marble had been wrapped up in more layers of tapestry.

Just to mention the most intimidating example: the end of your evening is signaled by loud, loud crashes from ceremonial walking sticks banged on the floor by elegant men in fine uniforms. It’s the signal for honored but non-royal guests to flee quickly back to the non-royal side of the room so their Majesties can bow solitary farewell.

There are few things more comforting, in such an atmosphere of does-the-whole-world-except-me-know-these-rules, than being escorted to dinner by the hugely and handsomely ribboned-and-medaled Norwegian Ambassador Odd L. Fosseidbråten, someone who really does probably know all the rules.

And sitting between two ambassadors feels even safer, most especially between the contrasting but both very charming ambassadors of Norway and France. (This handsome Viking is neither of those two ambassadors.)

Both Odd Fosseidbråten and French counterpart His Excellency Monsieur Denis Delbourg are near the end of their terms as ambassador. (“Past my sell-by date” was the smiling description from one of them.) It was fascinating to hear each one’s warm perspective on Sweden intertwined with historical ties to his own country. But diplomatic careers don’t keep you too long in the one lovely place. The fresh ambitions when one arrives somewhere new are a precious resource to both host and source country. Over time, it becomes hard not to settle down on your laurels. Meanwhile, young diplomats need their own chance to shine.

So now I do think I know what is the diplomat’s “job.” It is to gather up knowledge, will, and empathy so that you can act strongly for your own country while recognizing and valuing what will be important to somebody’s different country. Of course nobody I met said anything like this (and if they had would have framed it in less-flowered language.)

I am just trying to interpret the metadata.

Now it’s time to get ready for tonight’s Green Frog ball.

Tags: Nobel · Sweden · Wide wonderful world