Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Are you sure he's not Jesus?

Obama's speech was so right on last night. I am still shocked to hear the term "President Obama". Did that really happen? Oh yeah, we elected THAT guy! Awesome! I really hope he can get most of his legislation to pass. I mean, a President who doesn't deny global warming? Who emphasizes the importance of education? Who tells you that dropping out of school is not an option? Woah! His intelligent yet understandable rhetoric on everything from diplamacy to the economy just rang so true to me. I know it will be a struggle, but I think he has some really great ideas. And I think YES WE CAN.
I also think that the Republican response sucked. I felt like Bobby Jindal was addressing the American people as if we were all 4 years old and stupid.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weighing Heavy

We found out a couple weeks ago that my 21 year old cousin has melanoma in her eye. When she was born, she had a half blue/half brown eye. I always thought it was cool and cute, but apparently can be an indicator of cancer. So, she's had her eye checked about every 6 months or so to make sure it's all OK. As you can imagine, her last visit to the doctor didn't go so well. There was a shadow in her eye, indicating melanoma, and the tumor had been vascularized (meaning, it had directed blood vessels toward it to feed it). The doctor recommended removing the entire eye. Could you imagine? Having a glass eye at 21? Don't get me wrong, melanoma is really f-ing BAD. Melanoma originates from pigmented cells. These pigmented cells originated from a region of tissue in the embryo called the neural crest. Neural crest migrates throughout your body during development and is important in forming parts of the skin, the heart, the inner ears and the eyes (as well as many other things). The problem with these cells is that they already know how to move. And cancer is really bad when things start to move around (i.e. spread). Thankfully, her tests have come back negative for malignancy. She has been accepted into a clinic at UCSF that specializes in this particular type of cancer. And they have said they can perhaps save her eye. She will likely lose some of her vision, but not all of it. And she won't need a glass eye.
What's the moral here? Take care of what you've got. Because you have no idea how long you've got here. And it's worth it.
PS: also, quit tanning. seriously. it's stupid to expose yourself to UV rays. Yeah, the same UV rays us scientists use to mess up organisms. Duh!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Darwin!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the writer of On the Origin of Species and the "Father of Evolutionary Theory". Very few scientists of modern day have changed the face of science like Darwin did. Although a reading of On the Origin of Species is quite dry, it lays the foundation for entire regions of modern day science practiced today. Darwin, in hismost famous voyage, travelled upon the ship the Beagle to such places as the Galapagos Islands, where he came up with ideas as to how species form and how particular traits can be selected for (called natural selection). For example, finches live on many of the Galapagos Islands, and some have thick beaks and some have thinner beaks. Where the thick beaked birds live, there are only nuts and hard shelled seeds to eat. Where the thin beaked birds live, the food is more diverse, with bugs and flowers serving as a source of food. One can imagine that as birds settled these islands, those with thicker beaks did fine on the islands with only nuts to eat, while the thinner beaked ones died off, as they were unable to eat the nuts (and thus, unable to survive and reproduce). These types of things happen daily, as certain areas see more or less precipitation, as invading species eat particular foods, as humans encroach more and more on habitat. Species adapt to their environments, a central idea in Darwin's theory (and one of very many). As you can probably tell, I am fervent defender of science education and I truly believe our education system needs to be improved in a multitude of ways. One of the most important battles we as scientist (and logical thinkers) have been fighting of late is the ridiculous idea of "Intelligent Design" - a thinly veiled attempt at teaching Creationism (and thus, religion) in our public schools. Don't get me wrong, I value religion and I find it definitely has it's place in society. I also value the study of religion and feel that children should be allowed to study different types of religions and their dogmas in school. I do not, however, condone the teaching of a fake idea like Intelligent Design alongside tried and tested scientific theories like Evolution. And, so, on this anniversary of Darwin's birth (apparently now referred to as "Darwin Day"), I would just like to remind you that we are fighting on in this battle that's been going on for 150 years now. We are fighting for the integrity of science, for the separation of church and state (as afforded in our Constitution), and for the intelligence of our children and our future. It's a battle that's been going on for centuries. And we're not about to quit now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Defense of Octuplets Mother?

I watched part of the Dateline special last night on the new Octuplet mother, Nadya Suleman. I think this story is quite interesting because it touches on so many aspects of life that people are not comfortable with. Outright, I should admit that it IS irresposible for someone to have 14 children when they don't have a job and are living at home with their parents. However, I am curious what the reaction would be if she WAS married. Would there be such an uproar? I mean, there is a TV show on following the lives of a family (married man and woman) with 8 kids - how different is that? Look, I am not condoning what Suleman has done. I think it's practically immoral to bring 14 kids into this world without being able to provide for them. But, let's face it: as a society, we are uncomfortable with women reproducing on their own. This is such a big story because she used a spem donor, did not get pregnant the "old fashioned way", is single and making decisions to have children without a husband, and her decisions have resulted in her giving birth to a litter of kids instead of just one or two. Granted, I can't figure out the logistics of the whole thing. She's had 6 children, including 2 sets of twins. Which means that she has either been super-ovulated a lot (meaning, the give you BIG doses of hormones to make you ovulate multiple eggs at once) or something just isn't right here. Normally, once you've been superovulated, they collect the eggs and fertilize them with sperm, allow them to develop (meaning, the cells divide a few times). Any embryos that do not divide or that look abnormal are discarded, and only healthy embryos are frozen down or implanted in the mother. This means that she's been superovulated at least 4 times, implanting multiple embryos and that twice it resulted in a multiple birth. More that likely, she has undergone many more than 4 superovulations and has been implanted more than 4 times (to get her previous 6 kids). I mean, the chances of 6 embryos being implanted and all of them taking to the uterus and two of them dividing into monozygotic twins is remarkable. Either the doctor really knew what they were doing or some sort of freak occurrence happened. Anyways, the whole situation just kinda makes me sad. It's sad for the kids, since they'll be ridiculed for being her children. It's sad for the octuplets because they were born WAY too early and will likely have development problems and disablilites. And it's sad for the mom because I am pretty sure she has some sort of a mental illness. I just hope those kids can get the best care they deserve. Because, truthfully, we can't do anything about Suleman now, all we can do is hope she raises her kids well and that she turns out to be a good mom in the long run. And God know, we hope she's done with having kids and this leads to legislation regarding implantation of embryos. Only a maximun of 2-3 should be implanted at one time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Philly Auto Show

Yesterday, Alex and I partook in the Philly Auto Show, a yearly tradition at the Convention Center. We had a good time walking around displays, checking out new cars. I was disappointed they didn't have the new Chevy Volt - apparently it had to make a visit to Washington, D.C. but there were tons of hybrids and "low emissions cars" and a few fun designs. Some of the more interesting things? Well, hybrid does not necessarily mean lower emissions. The Chevy Malibu hybrid comes off the lot with a higher "Smog number" than most other new vehicles. Strange, you might say? Well, it appears that, with all the room you have to make for both an electric engine and a gasoline engine, in the same size car, you have to make some cuts on the gas engine's clean and efficiency factors. Weird, right? And they're coming out with some new hybrid trucks. Alex and I were under the impression that hybrids in trucks were just not a good idea yet since the electric engine doesn't produce enough force (torque?) to carry/pull loads like trucks are expected to do. But there they were on their little rotating pedestals, claiming hybrid efficiency and better gas mileage. Yeah, you know what your big gain in gas mileage is? From 19mpg to 21mpg I shit you not. WTF, right?
I think a lot of the show was just kinda sad. It's sad to see American industries that had been at the top of their game in the golden years slowly and surely die away as European and Asian car companies have obviously prepared for the inevitable end of the gasoline era much better. To see Chevy and Chrysler asking for bailout money, desperate to keep factories open while producing arguably sub-standard cars is really kinda sad. My Dad's an old car enthusiast. He loves any and all old cars, even rust buckets and falling apart chassis. I think a lot of it is nostalgia. A bygone era, before WWII, when the country was a little bit more innocent. When people could start their own car companies and produce cars in their own backyards (you'd be surprised how often this happened). When American innovation and technology was coveted around the world. Now, we're just stuck in some black hole of horrible labor relations, pensions that have been mismanaged or are nonexistent, CEOs flying in private jets around the country while the regular workers are struggling to put food on the table. I am pretty sure the unemployment rate in Michigan is close to 50% (ghastly, isn't it?). All of these things were flying through my head as we checked out the displays.
And then we stumbled upon a display from some local museums, showing off some cherry looking beautiful old brass era cars as well as some old T-birds, a great old Maxwell and a beautiful Packard. Man, were those cars amazing! Some took me back, picturing Al Capone and his gangsters rum running around Chicago. Others made me think of elegant women, wrapped in furs, climbing into these cars and riding around in the dead of winter (remember, no windows and often no roofs!). Some just cracked me up, like the long nosed Jaguar with only one seat or the Dodge Charger with the giant wing on back (made for racing). These cars spanned lifetimes and eras, and I was so grateful to the owners for preserving this (mostly American) valuable history. There was even a '77 Lincoln Continental, the car my Dad threatened to purchase for me upon my turning 16 so I could not possibly hurt myself while driving thru the 'Nard. Thankfully I ended up with the fancy Mitsubishi Expo so it wasn't quite as cool as the Lincoln.
I'm not quite sure how this turned into a commentary on all things auto, but it did. The auto show is a good afternoon, if you enjoy cars. And it may be one of the last given by some of our Detroit hangers on.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tough Week Haiku Friday

Man! What a tough week
committee meeting and and an
hour long talk Whew!


Worked so hard on both
feeling exhausted and beat
Brain totally fried.


Everyone said I
did a great job. How I love
positive feedback!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dear PETA,

I must admit I am an animal lover. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not out to needlessly harm any animal or creature. I believe they all have the right to live a peaceful, dignified life. I was, at one point in my life, a vegetarian. I am no longer, but I try to eat vegetarian at least once a week and generally succeed in several times a week veg. I am a scientist and I work with animals. I can guarantee that we take the best possible care of the animals we have in captivity. Granted, we do need to sacrifice animals. Sacrifice is carried out in the most humane manner. Several independent agencies oversee our work on animals to ensure we are operating under the most stringent and ethical of conditions. I own pets and have taken the best care of them, giving them routine health care, surgeries and proper medication. When my animals feel bad, I feel horrible. When I went to India and saw bears and monkeys chained up and forced to perform for money and entertainment, I cried. I don't believe in zoos or circuses or canned hunts or any of these cruel acts. What I don't understand, PETA, is why you torment me with the most horrible of ads on several websites I regularly read (like the New York Times). These ads depict a dog attacking a bear in a ruthless manner and ask me to donate to your cause. For one, I refuse to donate to a cause that supports the Animal Liberation Front. I don't believe that research animals should be released into the wild. I do not believe research should be thrown away or professors' houses fire-bombed or researcher's lives destroyed. I do not believe most research animals could live outside of captivity. And I would love to meet one person, just ONE person who would be willing to volunteer their life and well-being to test treatments or drugs for effectiveness or efficacy (terminal patients notwithstanding). Are you willing to give untested drugs or treatments to your family, your children? Are you willing to live without medical treatments, without vaccines, without preventative medicine? I doubt that. And by the way, PETA, I eat meat. I think I likely always will. I dislike slaughterhouses and I support work by Temple Grandin and others who try to make the worst possible situation better for animals facing the end of their lives. I think the best case scenario is to make life for these animals as good as it can be for the short time they're here. Realistically, you are not going to convince to entire US to become veg, even with your "too racy for the super bowl, masturbating with vegetables" advertisement. Your agenda is too extreme, your ads are too offensive to ever convince people of the "ethical treatment of animals". I refuse to support your agenda and I am surprised that websites like the New York Times would allow such ridiculous violent animal ads on their website. For most of us, we are doing the best we can with what we can. Get over yourselves PETA, and try to make realistic changes to our society that will have long term benefits. I support the Humane Society and they passed Prop2 in CA! What legislature have you passed lately?