Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Planktonic Whales

Sometimes, even when you're doing something you really enjoy, it can get to be a bit monotonous when you're doing the same thing, again, and again, and again. I like doing the touch tanks when I'm volunteering at the aquarium- I like working with the little kids, and seeing their joy, and sharing gross stuff about the animals, and spending lots of quality time with the Echinoderms- but it's a small area of the aquarium that needs the most attention, and after awhile you want a little variety.

So I was happy today to move around a bit more. I started off learning more about the Puget Sound fish in The Dome. (Not at all related to Mad Max, but rather a giant underwater glass dome with fish and the occasional diver cleaning the windows. When the new exhibit opens up in two months, with a tank the size of a movie screen, some of those fish will be moved there.) Puget Sound fishes are probably my weakest area at the aquarium, so it was good to learn a little bit more. I find the most interesting fish there to be the 4' sturgeon, of great age, individually and as a species. They positively breath age, with their armored body and heterocercal tail providing greater lift with a larger upper lobe.

In one of the smaller tanks near the dome I saw a sea cucumber, on the glass. I've seen seastars there before, but never a sea cucumber. It was my first opportunity to see it's tube feet from below, as you often see seastars. And, even better, to watch it feeding, as it scraped off microscopic particles with the it's tentacles, slowly moving them in to it's mouth.

Next was off to the Orca station. We don't have live Orcas, though sometimes I'll tell the public that the Orcas swimming in the TV screen are Pygmy Orcas...It was my first time at this station, where we provide cards for kids to trade with, focusing on different individuals of J Pod, the one off the coast here. We also have a number of small plastic whales and cartilagenous fish for kids to play with, and reading books, a full-size Orca skull replica, and a selection of videos to play- it's all very relaxing. I enjoyed the calmer atmosphere here, and getting to explain to interested Girl Scouts about barnacle parasites, and how whale lice aren't a parasite but are helpful, and showing them how baleen works with a sample. My favorite video that I returned to again and again was of Orca echolocation. There's just something calming and at the same time eerily intimidating and primeval listening to the pops and staccato of Orcas on the prowl. I am washed over with the sonic booms, and at the same time feel as if I, too, am about to be prey to an Orca.

Then I came in for the last hour, for a "plankton tow". It's not a real one, from a ship, but rather simply a dip of a net into the harbor. We did the phytoplankton net, and so got a lot of biomass in the codend. Since I've done plankton tows before, I got to give my first talk, ironically on plankton, one of the areas of the ocean I am least intimately familiar with. There are some aspects I know, but there's just so much there in the top layers of the water, it's difficult to be able to cover it all.

But it was beautiful. We project our samples on an overhead microscope, and see what we swim in and drink when we take that extra gulp of seawater. There were some salps (like tunicates, our closest relatives among the invertebrates- "ugly bags of mostly water"); arrow worms and fish eggs; copepods, where I talked about the no-slip boundary layer and the one-eyed pirate of Sponge Bob; nauplius larvae of seastars and very similar looking megalops and zoea crab larvae; and a giant (relatively speaking) barnacle exoskelton. But the best of all, the most beautiful of all, was definitely the diatoms. In chains or individually, I have never before seen such exquisite biological geometry. Sure, you read about it, but there's nothing like actually getting to see it right there in front of you. Here was the big CO2 sink of the planet; the place where most of our oxygen comes from. There was even an intricately formed snowflake of an individual diatom, rounded to perfection.

This was truly a day of serenity.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

How to Negotiate

Since the previous job opportunity didn't quite work out (some weird ethical conflict or something), I accepted another today, as an Executive Admin at United Way. I'm excited about this, as one of my desires is to work on an issue that I care about, to be part of something that is working to care for the poor and make the world better. I'll be working for a VP and two directors. After prayer and discussion, I felt like this was the right direction- it will also give me some stability over the next year and a better base to formulate plans and future from. My workspace is rather large- about the same size as where I live.

I went into the salary negotiations feeling pretty confident. I'm Moroccan, after all. I know how to bargain. When he asked me how much I made last year, I told him, "174,331 dirhams." That didn't help much, so he asked me how much I thought I should get for salary. I told him an amount 6% higher than what I wanted, and 13% higher than I was willing to accept. He told me he wanted to be fair with me, and so offered me an amount 4% higher than my initial figure! So much for my bargaining skills. And very impressive with the honesty and integrity of United Way.

I of course told him that was too much, so he offered me 17% lower than my initial offer, and I found this infinitely more acceptable.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

What is terrorism?

A couple days ago there was a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, where I used to live. American institutions targeted, but very few people hurt- and warnings went out to American friends of mine to be very afraid and vigilent. Then this happens in Virginia- Americans targeted, by a guy who grew up in America. (For all the talk of him being South Korean, nearly his whole life was spent here.) Oklahoma City was terrorism, and it was done by an American. What happened in Morocco was also clearly terrorism. Why isn't what happened in Virginia? All were intended to instill terror. Does it need to be political? Cho Seung-hui was protesting against the materialism of our society. So were the 9/11 bombers. Is it because Cho was clearly rambling and incoherent? So are many of the manifestos of al Qa'ida. Why are there no warnings going out for us to be hyper-vigilent here, to beware of college students with guns?

Because we have grown complacent. We are used to death in our streets, and for all the violence that might occur against Americans overseas, it's far more likely for an American to be killed in the streets of his own country, by another American. But had Cho Seung-hui's name been Abdul Sanah bin Mohammed, there would have been no other talk on the news today but of terrorism. And no one would have believed he wasn't linked to many others in a large cell.

Monday, 16 April 2007

My dad nominated for an Emmy!

Okay, not exactly. But nearly as exciting. That film made into a TV special which I mentioned earlier, on the life of Lonnie Frisbee, which my dad narrated, has now been nominated for the Northern California News and Program Specialty Emmy! It's up against four other locally produced specials (How Men are Made, something about a bridge, something about soundmen, and The Story of America's Seafaring Women), and there's a good chance for Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher to win. Award night is May 12th.

I wonder if this means my dad gets to dress up in a suit and go to a big hall to watch the awards given out.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

On the First Day, God Created Invertebrates

Today was my first day in full volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium. It was less structured than I had expected, but still fun- fun to be among the sea creatures, and fun to share with people and kids about everything. Highlights included:
  1. Getting to see the seastars fed. Bits of frozen mussels were thrown in. It was very exciting. In a matter of about five minutes some of their tube feet moved, and three of them had some arms move a couple inches. In sea star life, that's just speed causing reckless endangerment.
  2. Spending time at PCR, the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, where tropical Pacific fish are brought in. It's the only exhibit at the aquarium not using local water, and contains a number of species I'm familiar with from Hawaii, where I started this marine road. So it's a bit like coming home. Got to share with people coming up a little about the creatures there, like Black-tipped Reef Sharks, and how much more likely it is to die from an attack from a vending machine than it is from a shark.
  3. Watching Andromeda and Kracken, the 25 lb. female and male Giant Pacific Octopi, get fed. Kracken is very shy, and always hides in his cave. (You would too if you were a major predator and were that close to the female of your species. Females of large species that eat meat can never be trusted.) But he came out for the intellectual stimulation. Because octopi are so intelligent, they need to have their minds stimulated too, so a jar was thrown in with food inside it. Kracken slowly stretched his arms out, and grabbed the jar- and the net and pole holding the jar. After some effort the net was pulled away, and Kracken surrounded the jar with his webbing, so we couldn't see what was happening. Underneath, his beak was slowly working at the jar, along with his suction cups and arms, until suddenly we saw his arm writhing into the jar. Andromeda on the other hand is a show-off, and loves the attention, spreading her arms and webbing for all to see (no shame). She grabbed the bait- and then grabbed the stick and wouldn't let go. It took a few minutes before the human with the stick finally won the battle, but Andromeda then didn't get to play with opening the jar- she'd played enough on the human.
  4. The best part was just near the end of my shift, when I noticed a woman in hijab next to me. I greeted her husband with the Islamic greeting, and asked if he spoke Arabic. When he said he did, I asked where from and...we had a wonderful ten minutes talking in Moroccan Arabic! I got to share some with him and his extended family, including the kids, about nijma d'libhar, the seastar, describing different animals in Arabic, as well as learn new words I hadn't known. (I believe sea urchin was something like coucoud al bahara- porcupine of the sea.) I described to the kids about the urchin jaw, how it was the most complicated jaw and strongest jaw in the animal kingdom, and let them see one, telling them to treat it with great respect. Then we traded digits, and I got invited over to tajine sometime. So looking forward to that!

Saturday, 14 April 2007


It's strange to think that, for the first time in my life, there have been bombings at the exact location that I've been to. Stranger still that when it occurs, I'm 5,000 miles away, and can do nothing about it.

There have been a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca- a couple today, some a few days ago, and one last month. Thankfully lives lost have been minimal- it looks like only one person killed besides the bombers themselves. Today's were in front of the consulate, where I renewed my passport, and the American Language Center, where I often bought book gifts, as it was the only English language bookstore in the city.

Dear God, please stop the bombings now. Heal anyone injured; keep anyone else from losing their lives. Protect those I know over there, that they might not be harmed simply because of their nationality or the actions of their government. Bon Courage to them, and let them be a witness in this. Guide the police, and let the bombers know justice. Let this happen without any more violence, on both sides. I know that they will do whatever your power and will has decided beforehand should happen. Comfort the families of the dead bombers and the families of those they killed. Let those involved in the conspiracy know glory, and joy, and love. Whatever their grievances that sparked this, for those that are based in reality, let them also know justice, and let the Powers change when they are not acting in accord with your higher will. Let the nations that have power seek after justice and morality in their dealings with all other Peoples. Help the would-be bombers know the beauty of peace, and see their errors, and be filled with the knowledge of your great care for each of them. Let them be filled right now with love for those they sought to harm. May your Name be glorified, even through this.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

A New Direction

I know this may come as a surprise to some, but I've found it difficult to find regular work in this area, and I know that this will provide me with a steady paying job. I've therefore gone ahead and enlisted.

The local Navy recruiter informed me of a few items. Firstly, with my extra education, I will go in as an officer. This means a higher pay scale as well as more responsibility. It will be nice to use some of what I've learned. There may even be a possibility of interacting regularly with dolphins! I'm excited about this as I've long wanted to work with them. The recruiter also assured me that I definitely wouldn't be sent to Iraq, so I need to have no qualms about that. I was initially a little trepidatious about this as it wasn't in writing, but after talking with him for a long time, I feel confident in his honesty, and his commitment in getting the assurance in the mail to me in the next few weeks.

However, though it wouldn't be in Iraq, I will be also able to use my talents in Arabic language and culture. This is just amazing- a place where I will be paid to express my interests in the ocean and Arabs, both at the same time! I'm not sure how all that will work, but I'll be informed of this when I show up for training in a month.

I know this might seem a bit divergent from past beliefs, but I've really been feeling God's blessing on this country of late, and the need to support and defend it as God's land. There are few places on Earth as obviously endowed as America, in natural resources and the goodness of it's people. I know we are taught in the Bible to love our enemies, but I think there are ways we can do so even in the midst of war. One primary way is trying to reduce the amount of violence directed at them to the lowest levels possible, by encouraging them to not be violent. In this way we can love the enemy, whoever it is, by reducing the number of causalities on both sides. I want to be part of that, in whatever way I can.

I am impressed at how God works together our gifts and desires in ways we totally don't expect. I have now about a month to get my affairs in order, say my goodbyes, and get some health check-ups before I report.