March 26, 2005

"James Brown"

This is the moniker of a certain town drunk in Lexington, KY the town from which I hail. He goes around introducing himself as James Brown or asking for "bus fare" and the police tell you to steer clear because they think he's the sketchiest mo'fo around. They can't figure out why he's still alive because he's destroyed his liver and has a bunch of other communicable diseases that don't seem to bother him too. He's been arrested for public intoxication over 900 times since 1992. Whoa. But the strangest thing is that my friend who lives in CANADA emailed me about him ("maybe you have heard about this guy, he's from your area"). What the hell?!!! Apparantly Mr. Henry Earl (his real name) has quite a following, and this is......sad.

Another coupla great animal lists

I've already expressed my excitement at learning random lists of animals with certain features (ie. inability to endogenously make vitamin C). Here are a couple more.
Animals with relatively large stomachs:
Marsupiala (kangaroos and wombat), Artiodactyla (peccary, hippopotamus, chevrotain, camelids, Pecora and true ruminants), Rodentia (vole, lemming, hamster, muskrat), Sirenia (dugong, manatee), Edentata (sloth), and Primates (Colobus and Semnopithecus monkeys).
Animals with no gallbladder:
Horse, deer, elk, moose, giraffe, camel, elephant, pigeon, dove, lab rat, pocket gopher, whale, porpoise, dophin, llama.
Animals prone to Chediak-Higashi syndrome:
Children, mink, cats, beige mice, killer whales.

The sweet sounds...

...of spring include woodpeckers, scurrying leaves from squirrels rustling in them, and as I realized today: the chainsaw. Yes, I heard a chainsaw running today and thought for a second that I was on the farm, getting ready to go help my dad clear some horse trails or start on our first kudzu bashing day of the year. Sigh... I really miss home.

March 24, 2005


Dr. B lectured only twice, but I can't wait til next year when we'll have him for an entire course. He stodders around, stutters some too, and has that crazy professor grey hair that's never exactly clean and sticks out at strange angles. Here are some of my favorite quotes from just a single lecture...
"Those costimulators, B7-1 and B7-2, are like pigs having sex. Long, good sex. Takes a while. They just stay hooked together"
"And these are some of the bacterial diseases: tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis...who here's got syphilis?"
"You know syphilis was the 'wages of sin' back in the day. Yeah, now AIDS has taken the place of that and we got all these religious crazy fanatics, 'oh, what is all this science shit,' people going around telling us that AIDS is the damnation for illicit sex that comes to get you before you even get to hell. Yes, God showed us not only that sex is bad, but also that delayed type hypersensitivity is good."
"It's so stupid to have this hypersensitivity. You get a splinter and your body just gets all worked up about it. And poison ivy! I mean, hell, every time you rub against some o' that--who cares?! what's the point of all this dumb hypersensitivity??!!! But then along comes AIDS that targets our CD4+ cells that are responsible for hypersensitive reactions, and it's all of a sudden it's gone. Sonuvabitch! Son of a bitch, it gets every last one of 'em, and then AIDS patients die of weird ass funny diseases that no one's ever heard of. Son of a bitch."
"I mean, you don't know jack shit about Fido and Fido's going to croak anyway, but don't tell the owner that or they won't come back".

March 16, 2005

Dream, 3

I had this huge yellow peice of string that I spent a really really long time knotting up in this very elaborate way. It became a huge loop with bumps. Maybe like webbing, but I had made it that thick by knotting it. I found a tall tree out by the barn at my farm with a limb 20 feet up that was thick enough to hang from. I threw the yellow loop up and around the limb and climbed it. Which meant that I climbed up the yellow string, climbed over the limb, and climbed down the other side, upside down. It was very technical. My friend, Oz, gave me a call and flew down from New York to join me on my string loop climbing fun. He was very impressed, and had a lot of fun climbing on it too. There were lots of colors in this dream, and the overall feeling was integral, intertwined, embedded.

March 15, 2005

Nighttime Thought

You blow stars out your ass
and I twirl my fingers in your hair as I fall asleep.

March 8, 2005

Genetically Modified Organisms: A Consumer's Guide to Issues

We are bombarded these days with media telling us “Eat this!”, “Never eat that!”, “Buy this because it’s better for you!”, “Never purchase anything like that—it might cause cancer!”. With so much conflicting information, it can be difficult to know the truth. There is a growing population of health and environmentally conscious consumers in this nation. This might mean that we use organically derived soaps and deodorants, or that we buy recycled and biodegradable products. It can mean a variety of things, and when it comes to consuming food, we know that we want to eat in a way that will be healthy for ourselves and yet not encumber our precious earth. Very well, you say, eat “free-range” chicken eggs, and get your produce from local organic farmers. Certainly, this may serve some of the purpose, but it gets trickier when we are faced in the supermarket with genetically modified foods. Studies have shown that the public is in dire need of education as to all the various aspects of this phenomenon1, therefore I aim to break it down into a digestible few points, so that you can make your own decisions.

To begin, what are genetically modified (GM) foods? Simply put, they can be any kind of agriculturally produced organism, plant or animal, whose genes have been tinkered with in order to produce a supposedly superior product. In the good old days, farmers spent a great deal of energy selecting, breeding, and cross breeding plants and animals to yield hybrids that grew well under certain circumstances, had high production rates, and so on. These days, it is possible to eliminate the extended time frame that breeding entails, and to directly modify, by adding or removing genes, the end product. It is very like science fiction in that it is possible mix and match genes not only from within a species but even across kingdom lines to obtain a desirable quality. For instance, to create a frost-resistant tomato plant, genes from an arctic fish were inserted into the tomato plant’s DNA.

It seems unlikely that the fertility barrier that is inherent within a species should be crossed to allow this to happen. Therefore, I would like to outline the method by which this sort of thing is done, so that you have a better idea of what exactly GM entails2. First, a system is derived for delivering the new DNA into the host cell—this is called the vector. Oftentimes the vector is a bacteria that is known to readily infect the host, but the vector can also be something like microscopic particles of metal that are fired into the host tissue. Secondly, a suitable tissue must be chosen for the vector to attack such that the vector easily inserts the new DNA into the existing DNA, and also such that this tissue will either grow into an entire organism (such as an embryo), or readily be regenerated in the entire animal or plant to which it will be grafted. When this has been successfully done, the resulting tissue is considered transformed. Finally, there must be appropriate marker genes in the new DNA. These marker genes basically allow scientists to check their work, to identify and select the successfully transformed tissues for production. As you can see, these requirements for transgenic modification completely circumvent breeding.

This point is one of the main attractions to GM food production—it is much swifter a way to change the end product to something more productive, adapted better to particular climes, resistant to pests, and so on. The counter argument is that such tampering with genetics is effectively “playing God” and therefore distasteful to ethical reasoning3. In addition, the actual end product does not always live up to expectations. USDA data shows that between 1996-1998, some harvests using GM seeds show elevated yield, while other harvests show a decline in yield4.

The second major reason given for using GM technologies in food production is to aid third world nations by producing more nutritious foods or by creating more prolific organisms to combat starvation5. However, opponents counter that GM foods do not adequately address either problem. They say that education is a better, and cheaper, method to improve nutrition. Furthermore, the problem is not that the world is short of food—in fact we have surplus food—but that the difficulty is in distributing that food to our starving multitudes, especially in areas of the world that have poor ground transport systems in place6.

Many third world nations including Zambia, Tanzania, Brazil, and India are not willing to use GM foods or GM crops, because they feel that to do so is not in their best interest, both health-wise, and financially. These nations are wary that the countries producing such technological advances are offering these sorts of crops as a means by which to capture more consumer prey. That is, the thought is that once these countries start using these products, they will be indentured to them, and will always have to buy them in the future. For instance, there are GM crops that are “roundup ready” meaning that they are resistant to herbicides that will kill any other weed. Using these seeds means that the farmer must also buy the company’s Roundup herbicide7.

There are potential hazards involved in transgenic modification, too. First, human health ought to be considered. Allergies may arise from foods that the consumer normally does not have allergic reactions to (for instance, soybeans with nut genes). This could be combated with proper warning labels, but no labels of this or any other sort are mandatory in the United States today8. It is also possible that GM could increase natural toxins or decrease nutrients in some foods. Some people worry that antibiotic-resistant GM foods might proffer their genes to us somehow, and that this could cause horrible outbreaks of disease9. Secondly, the livelihoods of organic farmers ought to be reflected upon. These farmers have raised complaints that nearby GM crops are commingling and cross pollinating with their crops to produce hybrids that cannot supply their niche customers with what they demand—pure organic products. Similarly, crop contamination has been demonstrated by StarLink, a GM corn that contained pesticide not approved for human consumption by the FDA, showing up in corn products for human consumption, and resulting in enormous lawsuits10. Finally, the environment should be taken into consideration. It has been shown by John Obrycki and Laura Hansen that GM corn with the genes of bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt) has been increasing the mortality rate of monarch butterflies in addition to the moths that the genes are intended to kill7. This sort of thing could have lasting, horrible effects for the biodiversity of our planet. We also don’t know what would happen if things like salmon five times the size of normal salmon were to escape into the wild. While companies like Monsanto strive to create GM products that are environmentally friendly, we simply do not have adequate research to show that their efforts are indeed working, or that this is even conceivable given the exponential jump in food production technology that GM represents.

Generally, it is accepted that these are all valid risks, but that more research is needed in order to determine whether these issues are fairly benign, safety wise. Unfortunately, the corporations that create GM foods are not very interested in curbing their productivity until such risks have been explored more satisfactorily10. While there have been repeated explorations that conclude that more research is needed, labeling products would be beneficial, and that better communication with the general public is needed11, these sort of things do not seem to be happening. However, there is quite a bit of journalistic fury trying to drum up consumers’ alarm reflexes to get us involved and active in making these things happen. The ban on genetic agriculture in the United States occurred just a year ago in California, which was quite a shock to the biotech industry but a triumph for local organic farmers12. Still, the general consensus is that those who speak out against GM foods are Luddites and that the biotechnological revolution will win out due to consumer apathy13.

Now that you know the issues, you can help determine the future of GM foods by deciding what role you want to play in their development. Will you buy them? Chances are, you already have since most aren’t labeled. No matter where you stand on the subject, it is important that you contact your local legislator to discuss your opinions and concerns to ensure that the large corporations that create GM foods do it with our input, and not autonomously, as they have been doing.

1.Ellahi B. Genetic modification for the production of food: the food industry’s response. British Food Journal 1996; 98: 53-70.
2.Shewry PR, Lazzeri Paul. Genetic manipulation of crops. British Food Journal 1996; 98: 5-11.
3.Banner M. Ethics, society and policy: a way forward. In: Holland A, Johnson A, eds. Animal Biotechnology and Ethics. London: Chapman & Hall, 1998; 325-339.
4.Anonymous. Seeds of change. Consumer reports 1999; 64: 41-47.
5.Gates B. Will frankenfood feed the world? Time 2000; 155: 78-80.
6.Sperling V, Sharma M. GM foods: Gift or Curse? Hinduism Today 2000; Aug 31; 66-70.
7.Padmanabhan A. Beware of biological war, warn environmentalists. India Abroad 2000; 30; 28-29.
8.Schaal BA. Genomics and Biotechnology in Agriculture. In: Yudell M, DeSalle R, eds. The Genomic Revolution: unveiling the unity of life. Washington DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2002; 109-126.
9.Hanly K. Genetically modified foods and seeds. Canadian Dimension 2000; 34: 12-14.
10.Carroll J. Gene-altered canola can spread to nearby fields, risking lawsuits. Wall Street Journal 2002; Jun 28: B6-7.
11.Frewer LJ, Howard C, Shepherd R. Effective communication about genetic engineering and food. British food journal 1996; 98: 48-54.
12.AP. County Votes to Ban Genetic Agriculture. The Wall Street Journal 2004; Mar 4: 1.
13.Anonymous. Britain: Frankenfoods v Luddites; GM crops. The Economist 2003; 367: 29-30.

what you'd expect with KY plates.

My poor car. It's a nice little white 1991 Honda Accord, but it's beat all to hell at this point. Here's a list of things wrong with it:
*dent in back fender
*driver side door fender ripped off
*driver side head light smashed in
*rust spots on each door
*brake light warning light won't turn off on dash
*check engine warning light won't turn off on dash
*dash lights don't turn on at night
*rear lights flicker
*radio fucked (doesn't turn on, won't eject my tape either)
*antenna stuck at half-way
*left turn blinker blinks at a million blinks/second
*leaks oil, but just a little
*clutch pedal is slick metal (rubber has all worn away) which makes for sketchy driving when your shoes are snowy/wet/icey.
*sun visors are bent in half from getting caught in the automatic seat belts
*my key is also bent and only works if you ease it in with masseuse smoothness
*changing gears does't always work even with the clutch pushed in all the way.
BUT, HEY, IT STILL RUNS, and luckily my KY plates give me an excuse not to fix them in this militaristic state of MA where people are expected to get yearly car checkups, and are fined for each of any of the above mentioned faults. Save me some moola.

March 1, 2005

The REAL Bigshots

Something I realized here recently. Here I am in a big city (well, on the outskirts of one). And it occurred to me that lots of times creative people in little towns or little cities want to GET THE FUCK OUT and move to a place where there are more like-minded people, more creative people to surround yourself with. But I find that there are so many wannabees that end up in the big cities, and really you just have greater volumes of mediocrity to chose from. And so it ends up (with the exceptions of a few amazingly talented people who actually become famous) that people in little towns who are creative are honestly so. If they remain there in their little city and make as much of it as they can, they probably end up more fulfilled (able to accomplish more because they're not competing with others in a big city), and also more down to earth because they have humility ("what, li'l ol' me? I just come from xxxxx, ky" or whatever), and if they really do well they become famous DESPITE the fact that they remain where they are, because people recognize their talents and appreciate them for who they ARE and not for what they're trying to become or what they would by trying to show off if they were in a big city. There's not so much ego in the way. Sure there are people stay put simply because they are unambitious or lack the confidence that they could do better for themselves elsewhere, and unfortunately, there's always better funding for creative endeavors in most big cities. But for the people who are ambitious and make what they love to do work in small places, that makes me appreciate them all the more. What dedication! What surprising amaziac qualities! Good job, people like that!

Thinking ahead to July.

*I'm sitting here looking at a picture of the beach and a bucket with a shovel in it, and somehow because the bucket says "Banfield" [a franchise pet hospital] on the side, I immediately think it's kitty litter in the bucket and not sand as the beach would suggest. Hmmmm....

*I went outside to my car yesterday at 2pm and winced at the bright light. I live inside, mostly in dark lecturehalls from 7 or 8 am to after dark, so the sun reflecting off the snow was too much for my cave eyes!

*When I wear my hair in a ponytail and go swimming in a pond or lake, my hair curls like crazy. Looking forward to summer.