Sunday, April 30, 2006

How common in scientists?

"Studying Tiny Fruit Flies, and Reaping Big Rewards"

Published: April 29, 2006, New York Times

"ALBANY, April 28 — A California neuroscientist and biologist whose research of fruit flies found genetic links to human behavior was awarded the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the country's largest award in the field."

"Some of Dr. Benzer's most widely known research came when he used fruit flies to explore the way genes affect sleep patterns. He found that some fruit flies were genetically programmed to sleep at abnormal times, but that injecting them with normal genes would change that.

Similarly, Dr. Benzer said, he is coded to sleep at different times than his wife, who wakes up at 6 a.m. and typically falls asleep by 10 p.m. Dr. Benzer, on the other hand, stays awake until 4 a.m. and sleeps until noon. He routinely works in his research laboratory into the early-morning hours, he said.

"We make it a point to have dinner together," he said."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Neighbors and Star Trek Memories

When I was little, 4? 5? my family had a TV for about a year. I watched a variety of kids programs, and other things. I remember Mighty Mouse, and The Mickey Mouse Club, and Gumby, and The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. My parents, on observation, decided that the TV was bad for us, my brother’s grades were falling and he had become belligerent about being allowed to watch his favorite shows. So they gave it away.

As a result I grew up without a TV. This had a number of effects. I read voraciously, it was my main entertainment, which helped me stay way ahead of my peers intellectually. I played outside a lot, and developed a great attraction to our world and all the living things in nature. I also lacked the basic social common ground of favorite TV shows. I was often confused or shocked by terms and phrases my peers used, not knowing the popular shows they came from. It perhaps made me even more of an outsider than I would have been anyhow. I like the fact that I am well read and well rounded, so I can’t say I regret it. I do wonder how my brother felt, having something he wanted and adored given away like that, when it could have been kept.

I did see a bit of TV here and there, while babysitting as a teenager or when over at friend’s houses. At some point I discovered the reruns of Star Trek. I loved it. I adored Spock. It was amusing actually, as in 5th grade I had been called Spock by some classmates, and I had no idea to what they were referring. In any case, I ended up trotting across the street to a neighbors house to watch Star Trek every day. They had seven boys and one girl, and one of the younger boys was my age. We were all friendly and their house was pleasantly chaotic and no one minded me being rapt in front of the TV every day for an hour. So I watched the series through, and through again, and again.

Just tonight I wondered, what if they had minded? What if they had wanted to watch something else on TV in that time slot?

What if the addition of yet another child to the house was a burden? Not that I think any of those things are likely to have been true, but how would I have felt, relying on something someone else had, for something I desperately wanted? Would it have burned me not to have it? Would envy and longing have eaten at me? Knowing myself, I don’t think so, but can I be sure? What if I could watch it only on occasional days, and never know in advance which days those were. I do recall that I missed days, for one reason and another, which was a great excuse for watching the series over and over.

At the root, my question is about covetousness, and wanting that which is not yours. It is not something I am generally prone to. But on occasion there is something that someone else has easy access to that I never will have, something I WANT. It is a great unpleasantness, yes? I can understand why one of the Ten Commandments has to do with envy or covetousness, for things (specifically your neighbor’s house, or donkey) or people (specifically your neighbors husband, maid, slave). Of course the Ten commandments are truly followed by few people now. For example, how many people do no work on the Sabbath (whether you consider it Saturday or Sunday) and/or do not take advantage of those who do? But in truth coveting can be a powerful destructive force in a community or a society.

What about withholding? If one could freely give what another desires, is it not a bad thing to fail to do so? Of course one can send one self down a long road of guilt for all one has not done that one could have.

In any case, my neighbors were kind to me, and I am sad that all the children are long gone to the various corners of the country, and that June, the family matriarch, has had health problems and has been moved to Washington D.C., in with her youngest son. This all happened at Christmas time, and I was visiting my parents and I was told what day Paul was arriving to pick her up from the hospital pack her up and take her back east. And I, dawdling for no good reason, missed them. I should drive out to D.C. from here to go visit. If I do not, I may never see her again. She and her family were the only neighbors who were really close to my parents and my brother and I. My parents are now more alone then they were....

Well, enough late night meanderings.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Babies and Baseball

When you meet a stranger what do you speak of? There are topics of conversation that can serve as common ground for strangers in a social setting. For the young it is relatively easy, pop culture, music, school. This is complicated by the addition of physical appearance and gender of course, is one attractive? cool? of the same “tribe” as a friend of mine put it? If you are female and wearing silver rings on multiple fingers and so am I than we may be of the same “tribe”. Goths proclaim themselves with their black clothes, the popular kids by their physiques and current fashion. The process is easy, if fraught with snobbery and cliquishness. The young are more cruel than adults.

For adults it can be trickier though. People become set in their ways and expectations. Location becomes important, common experience very important. As a college professor, if I am dumped into a group of other college professors, or scientists, or even academics in general, I am fine, but such groups are not that common.

In New York City, where I lived for ten years, strangers speak of their jobs, what part of the metropolis they live in, politics, culture, travel. These are common ground for New Yorkers in general. Once you get out into more typical American cities, suburbs, and towns these topics become uncommon. Instead, men speak of sports, cars, and to a lesser extent, their jobs. Women speak of husbands and children, sometimes shopping.

If you are man who has no interest in sports or cars, or if you are a woman past youth who has never been married or had babies, it is exceedingly hard to participate in these initial ice-breaking conversations. What do you do when the common ground is not in fact in common? I can talk about the weather of course. I like weather. But too often I slip and talk about my job or politics too quickly to strangers. Soon I am the strange one in the room. I long to be back in the company of academics, or simply my own company.

I am just not interested in talking about babies or baseball.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Moral War?

An interview with the Rev. Richard Land from March 23,2006

“A Christian Defense of the War in Iraq"
"Removing a dictator, introducing democracy, staying the course in difficult times--it's right, noble, and it's just.

As president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Richard Land is one of the most influential moral voices on the conservative Christian scene. He spoke to Beliefnet's Holly Lebowitz Rossi about why, as a Christian, he supports the war in Iraq as much today as he did when it began 3 years ago.”

It continually amazes me that there are many Americans have no problem with deceptions and manipulations aimed at facilitating the start of a war that has now killed 2347 Americans in the military and wounded another 17, 469 - let alone the 34,000 or so Iraqis killed. These fellow countrymen are willing to believe that Iraq posed a direct threat to the U.S. in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and have no issue that we have left many more directly threatening and/or genocidal regimes in other countries untouched. Yet, these same people, willing to accept our leaders’ pursuit of this war, by whatever means, were disgusted and appalled by the previous President allowing an eager adult intern to perform a sexual act on him, and then being deceptive and manipulative about it.

Which deception is more detrimental to the lives of our fellow Americans, our position in the world, and out future? Which actually causes the most harm? What kind of “morality” is this?

Many of the people that think Clinton should have been impeached and think that GW Bush is a hero consider themselves strong Christians. What kind of Christianity is this? How often did Jesus preach against violence, preach for peace? How often did he preach against sex?

Of course there are many Americans who do not agree with the war, and undoubtedly the majority of Christians world-wide do not agree with it. There are too many who do think like the author of the quote at the top. Or perhaps, too many people like that in positions of power.

Why do religious extremists of so many stripes promote killing? Why is deception about adultry so much worse than deception to engage in a war that will kill thousands and thousands of people? Why is death so much less abhorrant than sex?