Monthly Archives: July 2009

Latarian doin hoodrat stuff

i dunno if you have seen this video or not but i thought it was hilarious last year and i just re-discovered it today

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Do the Right Thing

this post has been brewing in me the last few weeks.

now the last thing i would call myself is a righteous man, but i do make it my mission to always act in the name of whats ‘right’.  as a kid, i was obsessed with the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. i guess what i really loved about that book was that each time i read it, i saw it in a different way.  as a 5th grader, i read about the adventures and excitement of summertime and childhood in small town america in some older and simpler times.  i didnt understand mrs. dubose, the opium addict, who struggled on her death bed to free herself from addiction. i didnt understand the struggle between right and wrong taking place on every page – why it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.

mockingbirds dont do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  they dont eat up peoples gardens, dont nest in corncribs, they dont do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  thats why its a sin to kill a mockingbird

"mockingbirds dont do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. they dont eat up peoples gardens, dont nest in corncribs, they dont do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. thats why its a sin to kill a mockingbird"

atticus finch teaches jem and scout about the courage to do whats right through the example of mrs. dubose.  naturally, atticus is the moral compass permanently set towards the moral magnetic north, and through trials and tribulations the young kids learn about why other people do what they do and how they themselves can do right.  the most important sequence in this theme involves atticus shooting an old rabid dog dead in the middle of the street; although the whole town knew atticus to be an expert shot with a rifle, he never fired a weapon unless it was necessary and never bragged of his gifts.  jem and scout were amazed at the authority with which their father commanded the rifle, yet he never told them he was an expert shot, knowing that doing so would unfairly bias his children into believing this authority over life and death somehow was worthy of respect.  instead, atticus makes example out of mrs. dubose:

i wanted you to see something about her – i wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  its when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  you rarely win, but sometimes you do.  mrs. dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her.  she died beholden to nothing and nobody.  she was the bravest person i ever knew.

anyways, what im getting at here is how to do the right thing.  i see it every day – people who choose not to do the right thing.  you may ask how one defines ‘the right thing’.  there are many resources that tell you how to act morally correct: the bible, the qur’an, sesame street.  but i really believe doing the ‘the right thing’ means acting in love, not hate (see spike lee’s Do the Right Thing clip – which is an awesome movie if you havent seen it).  thats the only real way to do the right thing… just love, not hate.  say thank you to the bus driver, dont pee on the toilet seat, dont use derogatory words in reference to people different than yourself and this world will be a better place.  every day we get a thousand opportunities to choose between love and hate, and far too often we choose hate. who knows, but someday each one of us may have the choice between whats right and difficult or whats wrong and easy.  if you want to hate, you will always find a reason to hate… theres a million things to hate in this world and each one is a tool to be used against an idea, a person etc.  you can hate yourself, you can hate religions or those who choose not to be religious, you can hate politics, you will always find a way to hate, and each time it will be a tragedy of failed love.  but true strength is finding a reason to love, and to do the right thing even when its hard.  thats real courage.

atticus and tom robinson

atticus and tom robinson

Cant Tell Me Nothin

i know ive had some shitty posts recently but this is one of my favorite videos of all time.  zach galifianakis.  north carolina.  kanye west.

summer

this week, (500) days of summer comes out.  I am REAL pumped for this movie, for a few reasons:

zooey deschanel

los angeles

sweet dream-like animations

ikea

this awesome song (sweet disposition by the temper trap … see trailer below)

i cant wait.  now if only i could convince hot chicks to go see this movie with me!

the shoulders of giants

today in lab i took this immunofluorescent picture of rat intestinal smooth muscle cells.

Rat Intestinal Smooth Muscle/Glial Cells (FITC stain for Smooth Muscle Actin, RITC stain for S-100, DAPI stain for Nuclei)

Rat Intestinal Smooth Muscle/Glial Cells (FITC stain for Smooth Muscle Actin, RITC stain for S-100, DAPI stain for Nuclei)

to any cell biologist, this picture is nothing.  literally hundreds of thousands of them exist and it tells us nothing new about anything worthwhile about smooth muscle cells.  but this was an exciting moment for me.  i got laughed at by everyone else in my lab, but how cool is this picture!  how many hours, careers, were put into the elements of this picture?  first of all, living cells were removed from a rat and lived for days outside the body, not only that but they flourished!  a few hundred years ago we had no idea that cells existed!!  beyond that, each one of those flourescent dyes is attached to an antibody of a mouse or rabbit.  each one represents years of research from biologists, chemists, physicists together.  the process of fluorescence is not easy physics either, but many people spent their careers learning how electrons are emitted, mimicked chemical structures so that scientists could use these fluorescent probes, then built cameras to read the images!  today i used the camera to take three different pictures and digitally overlap them to show cell structures, nuclei etc.  then i enhanced these pictures with some software, saved them and put them on a little flash stick i bought for $25 and can hold literally hundreds of thousands of these pictures.  hundreds of thousands of pictures on old fashioned film would take years to develop, would take up shelves upon shelves of space and would be a pain in the ass to index.  instead, today i put as many pictures as i wanted on to a tiny little silicon wafer along with a few gigs of other crap, put that in my pocket and now i take it with me wherever i want.  if i need to see the pictures, they are indexed by picture type, antibody type, cell type, date etc.   i can send these pictures to all of you who are reading this from thousands of miles away instantly, even though it used to take weeks to send things across the country.

i guess the reason im all worked up about this is that these pictures represent the constructions of men.  all my predecessors sat at their desk thinking about problems, things they wanted to know and understand but couldnt.  these thoughts took decades of learning to form, both their individual education but also the collective learning and sharing of knowledge through their peers.  probably these folks tried and failed many times to learn some technique, perform some chemistry, discover some physics but always failed.  finally by some stroke of genius they made a breakthrough – it was their masterpiece, their magnus opus.  their life, and all the lives of previous thinkers led up to that pinnacle, and for that moment noone stood taller in their field than that person.  these pictures i took represent MANY of these eureka moments, dozens of little masterpieces smooshed together into a little frame.  today i climbed to these individual pinnacles but instead of toiling for years, i took a little kid hop and crushed the mountain under my feet.  it was childs play.  my labmates laughed at my excitement.  but their ascent has softened the climb for the rest of us.  today i literally looked at some shit cut out of an animal that should have died a week ago but instead it grew like crazy, so i mixed some very small chemicals taken out of some other animals and bound to some other shit that spits electrons out in a certain wavelength that corresponds to a color when you shine some other light on it, allowing me to view tiny ass strings and levers that make cells work with my own eye even though they are way way smaller than anything my eye can actually see, then i used a device which captures these electrons by shining them on some metal which makes other electrons do some stuff in a certain pattern, which i can then recognize and reconstruct the color pattern of the cells anywhere and anytime i want, all by storing this conglomeration of technology in a tiny little flash drive in my pocket.  how crazy does that sound when you think about it!    it brings to mind a quote by Isaac Newton

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants


only thing im worried about is, gettin a boner

everyone knows sexual harassment is wrong, but what defines sexual, and when does it become harassment?  this video may help clarify… i know it starts out slow, but wait until right around 1:09… and it gets better after that.

Call and Answer

if you are not in to politics, you may want to skip the rest of this as it will likely seem dull and drone.

My friend and I have been having conversation regarding abortion through his blog and I decided that instead of being a pest I will put my newest response on my own blog.  The original article is here, with my first response here (or you can just scroll down to the comments part), and his second post here.  The following is my reply to his second post.

because this is one of my favorite songs… and because i am the king of wishful thinking

Sir,
Regarding point one… a fact claim is not a good idea for any type of reasonable argument because it deflects conversation away from what we are actually trying to discuss.  For example, your claim that “abortion constitutes murder” and leaving the burden of proof on anyone who believes otherwise.  Just as easily someone could say “well, abortion does not constitute murder” and the other party would have to prove this is false etc. To wax poetic for a second, a man at the north pole would look out at a sunny, 50 degree day and say “boy it sure toasty today!” while the same weather in Los Angeles would draw winter coats.  If you asked a person in each place what the weather was like, one would say warm and one would say cold, but the only thing they would agree on is 50 degrees. There is no current consensus on when human life begins, thus there are an infinite number of fact claims one could justly make on when human life begins (and therefore when abortion is murder, morally wrong etc).  We can say things like “the heart beat begins at this week” or “the fetus could survive in a hospital outside the mother at this month” or even “the zygote has intact DNA at conception” but even this has holes in it… if a heart beat grants life, does someone with an artificial heart not live? if a zygote has DNA mutations, are they not human?  what im trying to say is defining life is hard; we cannot weigh an objects soul on a scale.  it is no man’s right to declare as universal when a human life begins unless all other reasonable men can look at the same set of facts and agree, yes that is when life begins.  further, claiming abortion is murder simply because it takes a human life is wrong, namely because knowingly taking a human life is not always murder, and even if it is murder it may not always be morally wrong (i.e. killing a maniac on a killing spree is murder but it saves many more lives and thus is not wrong).  many bioethicists have spent entire careers (see: peter singer) debating these same topics and we still have no consensus on the matters.  further more, staking arbitrary things firmly into the ground as the gold standard by calling them “fact claim” and putting the burden on others to refute them is poor practice because, like i said, there are many points which are just as acceptable.  i would venture to guess that since most people in the US do not believe abortion is murder, it is not fair to label it as such knowing that noone can really prove when life begins.

regarding point 2:  the last line of your paragraph on this point hit my argument on the head.  like i said before, since we cannot really establish when life begins, i dont agree that we can always call a zygote a human.  i obviously agree that killing a fly is different than killing a human, the point of that metaphor was to show how exaggeration or non-factual arguments are unfair for argument and can vary from person to person.  destroying the viability (aka killing) human cells – for example removing cancer cells in a tumor – is not fundamentally wrong.  while some people look at a zygote and see a tiny, but nonetheless full-fledged human, others see a clump of cells hardly distinguishable from any other expendable tissues in the human body. the question many scholars/theologians/normal folk ponder is “when do these cells become something more than just cells, and what is the power that bestows them with this grace?” again, the timeline of this sacred transformation is negotiable, and as a cell biologist i can tell you just how fragile and widely varied the process of human development is (and how impossible it is to medically define life).  while i think that this nature of a human zygote is the reason that abortion is not morally wrong, i want to stress that i still believe abortion is a last resort and i will get to that later.

regarding point 3: faith most certainly should play a role in decisions, especially of this nature.  but what is often forgotten is that faith is a wild horse unique to every individual.  whose faith should have the absolute word on this matter?  while i say “your faith is immeasurable to me, and i believe in science, numbers and other things that i can see and feel with my hands” you can just as easily reply “well your science cannot even measure the things i believe are important, and i believe what i think and trust the wisdom of my faith more than these numbers which may deceive”.  an unbiased party may say either one of us is right, neither of us is right or even both of us are right!  how can we resolve this issue?  who gets the final say on this matter – whom owns the moral measuring stick with which all matters must be stretched or squished to fit?  i believe the system we have right now, which allows an individual to make a decision about what they believe is right, is most appropriate.  and we are truly lucky to live in a society where no one is FORCED to have an abortion, but naturally anyone may elect NOT to have an abortion.  In this way, no individual is held to the moral standards of another.  Remember, defining whether abortion is murder or takes the life of a human is not universally set in stone like the morality of shooting a 40 year old man walking down the street.

which brings me to my final point, and the point which i believe is most important in this dialogue.  in discussing abortion, we are fighting a straw man… neither side wants abortions to happen, likewise both sides would like to see abortions reduced and ideally there would be no abortions.  instead of fighting over whether abortion is right or wrong we should look for ways that we can change society to reduce the number of abortions sought – both sides can agree that abortions are not fun.  lets make the topic of abortion moot.  the brass tacks of this argument is that one group would like to see it reduced because families (or as the case may be, just mothers) no longer have a desire to seek an abortion.  the other group would like to stop abortions all together, and hope that like trickle down theory partners would then have more conscientiously steer their sexual practices.  any economist will tell you that when you force a ban on something, black markets rise up, and noone wants to see the safety of mother and baby reliant on back alley medicine.  it is not a fact, but i think few would try to refute the claim that even if it were made illegal, abortions would happen.  that does not then by backwards math mean that abortion is not murder, or even that it should be legal, but it may be the case that if we put the collective safety of mother and child in our best interests, legal abortion may be the safest situation.  But there is something we can do about that – namely if we focus on providing safe and reliable birth control to sexually active folks and teach them how to use it properly, we may be able to reduce abortions by 10% or more depending on various cultural differences in populations (see “The Potential Role of Contraception in Reducing Abortion” by Princeton Senior Research Demographer Charles F. Westoff).  This is where i think some religions may do bad while trying to do good.  lots of people think contraception is morally objectionable, but if it is a lesser evil than abortion… I really believe that people who have abortions are not evil. I do not wish to demonize pro-lifers, but I think there is a lack of compassion in labeling pro-choicers as “murderers” – as if everyones standard must be that life begins at conception and if they disagree they are a murderer.  One side could call the other Murderer and the other a Nazi forever but this would get us nowhere.  We need to turn down the volume of our argument and turn up the volume on our listening.  There is one thing I believe, that no two people will agree completely on everything.  There will never be a consensus on whether abortion is murder or a fundamental right.  There will never be a consensus.  Never.  No agreement will ever be met on this, barring some holy intervention or unimaginable scientific breakthrough. I believe Obama’s point (with which I agree) is that we need to stop YELLING about our irreconcilable differences on this matter and start TALKING about how we can fix this situation and LISTENING to why people believe in certain things; i will claim it is fact that all sides want to see more happy families and fewer abortions.
-walth