27 July, 2007


I about freaked out majorly this morning as I was getting dressed and wasn't able to find my lab T-shirt. I was standing there pawing desperately through my closet, getting frustrated, because I had to go through a lot to get that T-shirt, and because it actually says "M.S., Jr." on the front of it, which is (obviously), so awesome I went and named my blog after it. But then I remembered that I accidentally left a load of laundry with some relatives (way too far away to conveniently drop by to pick it up, unfortunately [oh, why do I have such a hard time remembering how to spell unforetuneately?), about a month ago. And now I am hoping quietly that, when that laundry arrives, it shall also contain my lab T-shirt. Not the least because it'd be really awkward if there were to be some kind of laboratory activity (sunlight!) and I didn't have my shirt...

25 July, 2007

Practical Oddness

It seemed entirely practical to me.

Today I was in the lab, doing a crapload of serial dilutions of bits of murine gastric epithelia to culture the stuff growing on them and, as such, I was suited up in a big sweaty rubber lab coat and double gloved. In doing this, I had to maintain sterile technique at all times.

Problem: My glasses started slipping down my nose.

Dilemma: Neither my gloved hands nor my glasses could be assumed to be sterile. My hands might have been contaminated with pathogens, and my glasses might have been carrying crud in the first place. As such, I could not use my hands to push my glasses back up my nose. Nor could I use my shoulder as I do when I'm only wearing gloves because of the big lab coat.

Solution: Take off gloves, go find a piece of tape. Attach tape to bridge of nose and run it upwards to attach to the nose-piece of my glasses and then to my forehead. Then go back to work with glasses firmly in place.

However, my fellow lab workers found this immensely amusing. Maybe it was that the tape was neon teal. Or perhaps it was that I did it without any fan-fare and quietly returned to the procedure, such that they didn't notice it but through a double-take.

23 July, 2007

Statistics / Politicalish Rant

Mark Twain once wrote something about statistics being worse than lies. I guess that makes sense, given that statistics are like Play-doh, easily manipulatable, colorful, and not very tasty. Statistics have their uses, especially in science, for how else am I to determine whether or not the differences observed in optical density for different stuffs is significantly different or not, were it not for the Student's t-Test?

But statistics also have a dark side. A very, very dark side. Especially in the hands of those gifted with more loud words than brains to use them. Lately here in America, a bunch of Republican morons have been yammering on about how the solution to the so-called "immigration crisis" is to overturn Roe v. Wade, because those darned immigrants are taking the jobs that all those aborted fetuses would otherwise have taken.

1) The "Immigration Crisis"

Point blank, this is a bunch of bullshit. Furthermore, it's a bunch of racist, xenophobic bullshit. Those who spew this bullshit are inevitably assholes (pun intended), usually conservative. All of them claim that they are not racist, yet they continue to rail against how the "tide of immigration" is "ruining this great country".

Do these people forget every morning when they look in the mirror that they're pasty? More importantly, do they forget that pasty people come from Europe? Their ancestors were an "immigration crisis" for the Native Americans. Also, their ancestors participated in the wholesale slaughter (read: genocide) and disenfranchisement of Native Americans, all while oppressing an "inferior" race of people (who only counted as 3/5 of a person anyway).

Umm...last time I checked, Latin immigrants aren't rounding up pasty people and shooting them for being white and in their way. White people even catechized their weak moral justification for the genocide they perpetuated for their own narrow economic interests by calling what they were doing "Manifest Destiny" and "Westward Expansion". Well, Latin Americans aren't coming up here spouting out crap about "Northward Expansion" and how claiming "our" land as theirs is their destiny. So, either anti-immigration white people are suffering from a severe case of whitewashed historical amnesia or are participating in wholesale hypocrisy...

Frankly, I believe that the root of the anti-immigration rhetoric is a very basic fear of white people being numerically forced to assume minority status in this country. I posit that the gross majority of white Americans are fully aware of the extent to which minorities are marginalized, disenfranchised, and stigmatized in this country. As such, white Americans fear being forced into the very conditions that they helped create and perpetuate.

Disclosure: I am one of the pasty people.

2) Jobs

I find it safe to posit that the predominant stereotype of a white American in the workforce is of a white-collar worker in the information industries who sits in a cubicle and commutes to work from a suburban home every day. Now, I have gathered that the typical stereotype for a Latin American in this country is to be either bound by linguistic narrow-mindedness into low-wage manual labor, or as being lazy and welfare-dependent. How does one reconcile these two stereotypes with the oft-repeated claim that "Mexicans are coming here to take our jobs"?

Let's be honest here, this is scape-goating, and that's all it is. The economy, for average people, blows horse chunks, so average people find solace in blaming their economic problems on a subset of the population without a strong voice of their own: immigrant laborers. By all normal measurements, the economy is booming (didn't the Dow Jones just set some kind of new record the other day or something?), but the predominantly white middle class of America is finding itself increasingly squeezed by shifty financial circumstances. I guess it is far easier to blame the "lowly" immigrant than the government that allows the companies in this country to relocate labor as they please, hide their finances, and benefit from tax break upon tax break. After all, the immigrants are automatically assigned outsider status, whereas we don't entirely want to face the possibility that our own kindred elected are cheating us hand over fist.

3) Roe v. Wade

I feel like there's a certain odd moral arrogance to this part of the argument. But who's making this argument?

a. Promulgator of Anti-Immigration Rhetoric
- white
- upper-middle class
- well-educated (often by their parent's money), but this point may have been lost upon them
- suburban
- white collar
- conservative
- religious

Such a type of person often argues that the type of person to have an abortion is 1) immoral, 2) poor, and 3) likely to remain poor. Therefore, it seems that there is a tacit assumption in this argument that we wouldn't have immigration if we didn't have legal abortion and that those fetuses who were aborted would have been born into low-class families and subsequently forced into low-wage, manual labor, which it seems are the jobs that are currently primarily filled by seasonal immigrants. But who is to say that all of those aborted fetuses, born to families that didn't necessarily want them, wouldn't turn out to be criminals that would, in turn, prey upon the suburbs? Or, even worse, aspire towards higher education and the liberal ideals that it often fosters?

As a closing aside, doesn't it make a lot more sense to try to reduce the need for abortion, by increasing the availability of contraception and comprehensive sex education, than to ban it outright?

17 July, 2007

Lunch with Microbiologists

The general populance needs to grow up.

Organisms get sick. Sometimes they die. And most are filled with mushy networks of organs and other various liquids and goos.

But the general, non-biologically-inclined, public seems hellbent on ignoring the most basic aspects of their own constitutions. In general, people wait until something is wrong and then go to a doctor and treat them like a plumber for a quick fix, like some lug nuts and a prescription can cure anything. It seems to me that it would be much wiser to go ahead and learn about the workings of one's own body in the first place so that the states of health, disease, and the various shades between can be better recognized and dealt with.

But maybe that's unreasonable, that'd require comprehensive and well-funded science education, as well as curiosity and a willingness to learn.

Or at least to be less squeamish. I've found that people in general really hate it when they're reminded that the meat on their plate came from a living animal, as if it reminds them on their own animal-ness somehow, or their responsibility in the death of another living organism despite their vaunted culture and whatnot.

So basically, I was at a joint lab lunch today with a bunch of animal researchers and microbiologists. Didn't happen today, because the restaurant was kind of empty and our table was kind of isolated. But to hear these more experienced scientists recount the disgust with which non-scientist people greet their work-related discussions kind of bothers me. I could understand a table of non-scientists getting up and walking away if we were gleefully debating the best ways to exsanguinate a mouse or to homogenize a tissue as though they were activities we look forward to as if they were cookies. However, in general, scientists discuss their research in respectful tones, and obfuscate their topics with jargon. But as soon as some soccer mom hears about taking fecal samples or sections of the anthrum for histology, she suddenly loses her appetite. Is it really so disgusting to be reminded that living things poop?

I guess that is one of the "greatest" talents of the human animal:

Collectively, we dupe ourselves into believing that we are beyond biology simply by grace of being human. Somehow, being human means trying really hard to ignore poop, pee, sweat, smegma, snot, puke, spit, and any of the various fluids produced by our genitalia. And we take it even further with our obsessions over clothing and shaving and hair styles.

A dog simply doesn't care if its hair is fashionably stylized so long as its not uncomfortable. Most bodily secretions provide very useful information to most animals. But we hide all of ours away to the point where we have deluded ourselves to the point where we think we are completely separate and above nature. How convenient it is to forget that the food on our plate, be it flesh or vegetable, was grown out in a field somewhere, nourished by the sun and soil! I guess that doesn't much matter though, when >50% of our body mass came from high fructose corn syrup...

14 July, 2007

Sprachliche Herrschaft (Lingual Dominance)

Manchmal muss ich bedenken, die Herrschaft von der englischen Sprache ueber Wissenschaft. Und nicht nur Wissenschaft, sondern ueber die Weltwirtschaft und Weltpolitik auch. Warum ist die herrschenden Sprache Englisch anstatt einer anderen Sprache? Ja, stimmt, dass Grossbritannien fast die ganzen Welt erorberte, und sie sprachen ja Englisch.

Aber ich will nicht die Geschichte der Herrschaft nicht untersuchen, sondern die Erfolgen. Gibt es eine eigenen Beschraenkung, wenn eine Sprache alle andere Sprachen uebernimmt? In Wissenschaft? Waeren wir alle besser mitteilen, wenn es eine Sprache fuer Wissenschaft gaebe? Wie Esperanto? Waere das eigentlich besser, oder haben wir solche Umstaende schon mit die Herrschaft der englischen Sprache?

Und ich koennte noch weitere Fragen nach diesem Problem werfen, aber ich kann keine davon antworten, nur retten...

Sometimes I have to ponder the dominance of the English language over science. And not only science, but all of the world-wide economy and world-politics as well. Why is it that the ruling language is English instead of another language? Yes, it is true, though, that Great Britain conquered almost the whole world and that they spoke English.

But I don't want to examine the history of this dominance, but the consequences. Is there an inherent limitation when one language overtakes all other languages? In science? Would we all communicate better if there was a single language for science? Such as Esperanto? Would it be actually better, or do we already have such a situation already with the dominance of the English langauge?

And I could throw further questions at this problem, but I can't answer any of them, only guess...

Und ja, ich weiss schon gut, dass meines Deutsch sehr schlecht ist, aber ich will mich nicht nur zu einer Sprache einschraenken. Und hier muss ich mich wundern, ob es eines wirklichen Ziel dazu gibt. Fast die ganzen Welt spricht Englisch schon, so warum soll ich mich besorgen, um eine anderen Sprache zu lernen? Aber ich glaube mir, dass solch einen Blickwinkel nichtwissentlich ist und die Welt gar nicht und wird nie helfen. Und das, dort, kehrt mich sehr oft. Wie koennen wir, als Menschheit, zur Frieden arbeiten, wenn wir auf allen Linien und Massstaben verteilt sind, und dort sturr bleiben wollen?

And yes, I know very well, that my German is very bad, but I don't want to limit myself to one language. And here I have to wonder, whether or not there is a real goal in doing so. Almost the entire world already speaks English, so why should I go to the trouble to learn another language? But I believe that such a viewpoint is ignorant and does not and will not help the world. And that, there, bothers me very often. How can we, as humanity, work towards peace when we are divided on all lines and measurements and want to stay as such stubbornly?

Und dort steht es, klar und dunkel, eine die haupten philosophischen Problemen, mit denen ich strafen:
Wie kann ich, persoenlich, Wissenschaft nuetzen, die Welt zu verbessern? Wie kann ich anderen beeinfluessen, ihre Wissenschaft fuer Weltverbesserung zu nuetzen?

And there is stands, clear and dark, one of the primary philosophical problems with which I fight:
How can I, personally, use science to better the world? How can I influence others to use their science for world-improvement?

Es ist wahrscheinlich nicht viel, aber ich glaube mir, dass es, am wenigstens, ein bisschen helfen kann. Jeder soll eine anderen Sprache lernen, sprechen, und nuetzen. Dadurch koennen wir als Menschheit vielleicht sich einanderen besser verstehen, und durch diese Verstehung kann eine groessere Zufriedenheit entstehen...

It probably isn't much, but I believe that it could at least help a little bit. Everyone should learn, speak, and use another language. Through this it is possible that we as mankind could understand each other better, and through this understanding a greater happiness could come into existence...

(note: this post was written piecemeal extemporaneously in German and translated freestyle, but accurately)

07 July, 2007


While driving through northern Chicago the other day, there was a traffic jam. We made literally 2.5 miles in 2 hours. The reason behind this traffic jam was that a truck laden with pig offal had spilled, and they were trying to clean up the mess while diverting traffic around it. So the highway was strewn with pig grease, pig snouts, tails, and hooves. And if only lightning had struck in the right way, there'd have been an undead army of reanimated pig conglomerates shuffling around Chicago right now. Or it would have caught on fire, and that would have been even more nasty...