Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"I'm ba-ack!" and other statements to that effect...

I figured it was time I started posting again.  Y'know, it's time...  So now, some updates:

I found a bunch of Wiccans in town.  They're pretty cool... for Wiccans...  No, but really, I have a soul family now and it's wonderful!  I feel accepted and loved, and that's something of a new-ish feeling.  So: Huzzah!  I have been taking classes (Wicca 101) for a few months, because really a lot of what they study is similar, at least, to what I need to study.  But actually, last night after class my teacher (M) and I had a discussion, and we decided that while the classes were good for me initially, now they're not helping.  I actually feel bound when I'm sitting in the class, maybe partially because our book is by Silver Ravenwolf and she's awfully preachy sometimes, but also because there's just too much ceremony, just to many steps that are just so, in Wicca.  So I move on.

When she said I could gracefully bow out of classes, I felt the lead slip off my shoulders.  The room was suddenly brighter, my friends' faces clearer, the lights not so glaring and critical.  Thank you, M.
In light of recent developments, combined with a long-held wish to find my own, I am seeking out a Grove.  For those of you who have- oh, screw it, most of y'all don't know too much about Druids.  Well, a Grove is like a coven of Druids.  *When I stop capitalizing those words, just envision them with the power of the capital, and don't begrudge me my laziness.*  Anyway, finding the local grove *see there I go* is easier said than done.  Wiccans are somewhat scarce, but druids are a little bit like needles in haystacks.  Really big friggin' haystacks.  But we're really shiny needles.  Anyway, I started at the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) site.  I like the message they send, and I am planning to study with them.  Eventually.  So I looked up their various groves around the country, and lo and behold!  Nothing really near me.  Drat.  So I went to the Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) site.  They don't really have any groves close to me, either.  However, the closest one is... a day trip away, I suppose.  And I'm going to join them for Mabon!  I'm so excited!

I mentioned this to my Wiccan friends (who I'll call "my coven") and they were very supportive and excited for me.  This does mean that I will not be spending Mabon with my coven, but my closest sisters agree with me that I need to find a grove and other druids, and I need to see how they do stuff, rituals and the like.

But M said to me, "This does not mean you are not part of our family anymore.  You still have a place here."

That means more than she knows.

So that's a quick update.  Other stuff is going ok: I have an off-campus apartment and I'm learning to live [actually] on my own, because a dorm isn't really on your own; I have a job at the campus bookstore, and of course it's not what I want to do for the rest of my life it's a pretty good job, with good hours, convenient location, nice management, and awesome coworkers.  I'm going to be posting (/trying to post) more regularly again, because stuff is happening!

As the last, I want to share with you my new personal motto: "When they laugh at you, laugh with them."  And that, mi amici, is all for now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Daily Silver: A little bit of paganism for you today

I'm sorry I haven't written lately; my life just got complicated for a while.  Anyway, Cyanide and Happiness today.  Enjoy!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Daily Silver: Remember when the weekend was actually a time to relax?

Not anymore...  Well, maybe it's just a college thing.

My beef with weekends:
  • The next week looms: many of my friends actually use the weekends as time to work all day long.  Sometimes straight from Friday night into Saturday and on til Sunday night.  That way they can do other stuff (like human/living stuff) during the week.  Not that they do necessarily.
  • They inspire laziness: all I want to do all weekend is sit around in my pj's and watch movies on my computer.
  • Guilt: the logical conclusion from the two preceding bullets is that I end up doing a whole lotta nothin' on my weekends (I do work, just somehow not as much as some of my friends (I swear, she's gotta make stuff up to do)) while other people spend their waking hours nose-deep in a textbook.  I'm the kind of person who feels incredibly (inCREDibly) guilty in a situation like this, even if someone is literally making shit up to study.  So I spend the whole weekend feeling like worthless crap.  Woohoo.
  • Mondays: enough said.
So that's my little weekend rant.  This weekend?  Well I have two essays due next week, so you know what I'll be doing.  Right now, though, I'm thinking of going to sleep.  Buonanotte...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Daily Silver: Aaaargh, jelly beans! (I always knew there was something fishy about 'em...)

Today's Daily Silver is located @ xkcd.  (click if you want to check out more)  Otherwise, here 'tis:


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The nature of the Beast (the Beast being Beauty, of course).

No, I'm not writing for Disney now.

Today A said to me (paraphrased), "I'm creating beauty."  Something to that effect.  And I (being me) thought, what is beauty?  Because I can never let these things go... sorry, A...

I immediately thought of some possibilties (which have the added bonus of framing my question): Is beauty sort of like energy, something that is imbued upon an object? Keeping in mind "the eye of the beholder," is it something that only exists in the beholder's mind[/perception/reality]?  Is beauty intrinsic in the object (ie a quality belonging to the object)?  And in all of these situations, is finite or infinite or something else (eg spanning space and time and able to exist in multiplicity)?

When I voiced these questions, A (quite understandably) was a bit confused.  I have to admit that I didn't present these questions quite so eloquently then, not that they necessarily make sense now.  But here goes...

I think beauty intrinsic in the object.  But that sort of absolute makes me squirm, so I will quickly clarify that I think beauty is not a quality or a characteristic set in stone (measurable) but a potential.  Of course I'm tempted to go with "beauty is an adjective only, belonging to the viewer," because at first glance that seems to fit best with the whole perception-is-reality-and-truth-does-not-exist theory, but I'm feeling slightly rebellious today.  What's the point of thinking if we don't sometimes challenge our own ideas?

Really, beauty as a potential and inherent in the object makes the most sense, after all.  This is a pared-down version of my idea of beauty: think of beauty as a scale.  Several scales, actually.  Every object, every thing has its own scale; that scale measures its beauty as percieved and assigned by a viewer (a percieved-beauty scale, PBS).  Also, every object with the ability to assign beauty (namely humans) has another scale that ranks all percieved objects by beauty (a ranking scale, RS).  Okay, so I'm back to the perception-reality model; so sue me.  Let's think of three objects: a flower, a tree, and a stone.  Each has a PBS from 1 to 100; however, their 100's may not be the same on an individual's RS (ie the flower has more ability to be beautiful, and therefore a higher max than the stone).  A human (called Bob) percieves the three objects. Bob has a RS in his head.  Let's say that Bob thinks the flower is really pretty, and he gives it a 74 [on the flower's PBS].  He thinks the tree is pretty, too, so he gives it an 80 [on the tree's PBS].  The stone is ugly to Bob (it's green and slimy with pond muck) so he gives it 26 [on the stone's PBS].  Now for Bob's RS; the flower's PBS is lower than the tree's, but on Bob's RS the flower is higher than the tree, say 63 vs 48.  This means that he thinks the flower is fairly pretty for a flower and the tree is pretty for a tree, but as far as beautiful goes they're not as beautiful as other things (for instance he ranks his wife as a 92).  Does that make sense?  A PBS is comparing one object to other like objects, and an individual RS is comparing one object percieved by a person to all the other objects the person has ever percieved.

I'm using "object" fairly loosely, because by "object" I mean "pretty much anything" including humans, other animals, plants, inanimate objects, ideas, paintings, relationships, love, situations, anything you might ever refer to as beautiful.

Ask me questions!  I know I've probably confused a lot of you (truthfully I haven't chewed out all the details yet), but if you are willing to read to this very sentence at the end of the post, you probably would like to understand (I hope).  So ask away!  Ciao!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oh, April Fools' Day...

Have you ever heard that "the truth is stranger than fiction?"  Okay; close your eyes right now and think of (I know it's painful, but bear with me) Sarah Palin.  I wish that on April Fools' Day, at least for 24 hours, these things could be a joke.  You know, like for 24 hours they weren't real, and the world made a little more sense and stuff.  But no, crazy people have to come out with this.  I'm afraid this is real.  Yes, I'm very, very afraid.

If you are interested in more interesting links (ie where I got this one) go to The House of Vines (btw when he says he's a year-round joker, it's because he worships Dionysus).  Have a joyful April Fools' and don't let anyone try to convince you that the Earth is flat or that life was created by some supreme being, because that's just silly!  Ciao!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Leaving" implies both something being left and something else being reached.

Death.  The soul leaves the body.  The body is a shell, nothing more than a vessel for the soul, the fifth, transient element.  For example, we call your body "yours."  Like a possession.  Not yourself.  Do you see what I mean?  "Self" is personality and thought and memories (not memory).  And what is personality and thought and memory?  Chemicals in your brain.  But not even that.  The way those chemicals come together, with the physical tissue of your brain and its orientation in space and time.  But these things, personality and thought and memory, self, are not physical, nor would we ever presume to describe them as such.  Really, how would we describe them?  Abstractions.  Not matter, but abstractions.  It's a small step from abstractions to energy.  After all, how would you describe energy?  Try; it's really damn hard.  Okay, you can say "I don't know" now.  Self is so amorphous, indescribable, intangible, abstract… you get the picture.

Death.  I keep wandering away from it (intentionally, perhaps..?).  Body is a possession, a vessel, a shell.  Even when you're alive.  But it's a possession like a home.  A house or an apartment.  It's very personal, very you. Still, when the soul leaves, it's just a fallen log, a discarded muffin in a muddy parking lot (don't ask), a footprint in wet sand.  It's the physical manifestation of memory, a dead body is.  I want to be cremated.  I want my body to go to the fire.  Well, actually it's between cremation or just being left out for the animals and the plants and the elements.  Air (the great oxidizer) and water (the great eroder) and earth (the great consumer) and fire (the great equalizer) and life.  Other life: dogs and raccoons and birds and worms and beetles and trees and fungi and soil bacteria.  Either way I am returned; even if I was embalmed and locked in a metal box and buried (*shudder shudder*) I would eventually return to the universe as organic molecules and even atoms.  It would just take longer.  Much longer.

One thing about my faith is that it's not particularly comforting.  But that's the thing: that's because it's realistic.  The world is not "made" for us.  We are not "supposed" to be able to survive, thrive in it.

The "meaning" of life is that it works.  There is no great reason.

The soul is recyclable, but not always recycled.  Yes, reincarnation is in here somewhere, but I've got my own bent on it.

But I do know what happens when you die by a hand or a force other than your own.  Sort of.  Obviously I don't know, really.  I mean, no one does.  If only we could remember…  Think of the first law of thermodynamics; conservation of energy and matter.   Add up all the energy and mass on both sides of the chemical equation and they'll match.  Mostly.  I'm not going there, at least in this paragraph.  Besides, I forget what the principle or whatever is called.  Well, what is a soul but… something.  I mean, there aren't specifics, but souls are like the gods; they have to be made of something.  And there's only two things in the universe (don't you even think about it): matter and energy.  Personally I'm leaning toward energy, and it makes sense/sounds good: heat energy, light energy, life energy.  You know?  But the point of this whole idea is that souls can neither be created nor destroyed (perhaps they can be converted, but not going there right now).  Anyway, this means they have to be re-used, and I think they come out the other side looking pretty much the way they did.  It's, like, hard to change energy, man…

Whoa, I just started making sense!  Like, trippy, right?  Betcha didn't see that one coming, huh?

So, souls survive the journey from one body (the deceased) to another (the newly born) pretty much unchanged.  I have no thoughts on the actual method of the journey at this moment; I will just say that Death is neutral among divines (I'm not even sure he qualifies as a divine) and men, and there are Angels [of Death] and Reapers involved.  What; you thought I didn't have a theory?  Silly, silly; you don't know me yet, do ye?  Actually, have you been, like, paying attention?

BTW: I've been writing this to myself.  Because I talk to myself.  I know, circular, but I get hold of an idea and I'm like a terrier with a bone.  Never let it go.  Just sayin'.

So, I don't really know the mechanism, and the importance of that statement is that I don't know why we don't know who/what we were.  I think that now would be the time to point out that souls are present in all living things, so species, even kingdom, is sort of a nonissue.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good and bad and everything in between.

I've started watching Dexter again.  I don't know why I ever stopped; it's such a fascinating study in human nature.  Or... something else... I guess Dexter would describe himself as other-than-human, but what is it that makes us human?  If it is the physical condition of being human (born human, of humans, in humanity, with the same genetic makeup as humans and the same material needs) then Dexter is most certainly human.  And he's not a sociopath, as I've heard suggested.  He displays some sociapathic characteristics, but he wouldn't care about all these people, even Harry, if he was.  And he does care, and that's why the show's interesting.

I've watched all the usual crime/forensics/police dramas: CSI (in its many incarnations), Law & Order (in its ever-more-numerous masques), Bones, Inspector Lynley, and such, and I feel this has made me better able to appreciate Dexter.  I do not mean to suggest that any of these are realistic (I have come to realize over the years that many are far from accurate, most notably CSI (in which techs are given guns and the lab rats go into the field).  I think maybe this innacuracy allows me to juxtapose CSI (which, I must admit, is probably the worst perpetrator) with Dexter.  But knowing these shows allows me to ignore all the forensics and police procedural part.  I imagine Dexter's as accurate perhaps as L & O, but the point is not accuracy, precisely.  The other route a show like this usually goes is invariably the drama route, which I suppose they are, deep down inside, but Dexter doesn't even really land there.  Sure there's the family drama, with his sister and his father and his girlfriend and her kids.  But it's not really about these people; it's all about him.

At the core, every story is very specific; it's about one or a few people and the world's relationship with them.  That's what a main character is: a focus, a thumbtack on a map with strings radiating.  It seems simple, even simplistic when I say it like that.  Oh, well.

On the surface Dexter looks like another fascinatingly twisted string of executions that draw us in a mob to the gallows (everybody likes a good beheading).  But I think underneath it's a more subtle weaving pushing common ideals--such as the morals we're taught when we're three and too young to think--and challenging our senses of ourselves.  Actually, I think that most people who watch it tend to ignore that bit, and that's why it's survived so long.  People feel gratified to watch Dex fulfill their needs for justice (even though justice resides in a different realm and looks not at all like what we think justice should), but they don't examine why.  I've long given up trying to be disgusted at the revenge-fantasy this heroic vigilante-ism brings to the surface in me.  I'm comfortable with my amygdala; are you?

I like Dexter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Daily Silver: Here I am writing about peptidoglycan for my roommate.

So, every time I ask my roommates what I should write a blog post on, my one roommate L says "peptidoglycan."  Since it was her birthday this week, I'm going to write about peptidoglycan (not too much I promise, as she is the only person I've ever met that thinks it's interesting).

I know there are some of you who are staring at the computer screen right now, eyes slowly glazing over, saying to yourself "what the heck is peptidoglycan?"  Peptidoglycan is a carbohydrate-protein scaffolding (called a polymer) that is a major component of some bacterial cell wallsAll living things are made up of cells, and animal cells are different from plant cells are different from bacterial cells, and so on.  One [of the many] major differences between animal cells and bacterial cells is that bacteria have what is called a cell wall, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: it's a stiff boundary that surrounds the cell and helps it keep its shape.  That's why we animals are so squishy, our cells don't have walls, they only have membranes which are fluid (bacteria also have cell membranes, in addition to the wall).

Peptidoglycan isn't very exciting on the whole, except for one thing: penicillin.  You may know parts of this already, but a quick refresher: penicillin is an antibiotic, meaning it kills bacteria.  Actually, it's kind of THE antibiotic, because it was the first substance used therapeutically (medically, to treat disease) as an antibiotic, and the story is a study in serendipity.  In 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming was culturing some bacteria.  When you culture bacteria, you coat the bottom of Petri dish with a medium like agar (something with sugars and other nutrients in it that growing bacteria need) and then you spread bacteria from somewhere--another culture, some lake water, your mouth--over the medium with a Qtip or a plastic rod or something.  Then you stick it in an incubator (many bacteria require temperatures similar to body temperature to grow) and wait a while.  But when Fleming came back and took his plates out of the incubator, he noticed far less bacteria growing than he'd expected.  He also noticed that there were spots of fungus growing on the plates, and there was a circle around the fungus where no bacteria were growing.  Voila; penicillin!  The fungus was Penicillium notatum, and he found that when it was grown under the right conditions it secreted a substance that acts as an antibiotic; he called it penicillin.

Nowadays, the term is used to describe a group of naturally derived antibiotics, so when the doctor asks if you're allergic to penicillin she's actually asking if you are allergic to the fungus P. notatum and/or substances derived from it.  What does this have to do with peptidoglycan? you ask (and if you weren't asking it just pretend you were).  Glad you asked.

Penicillin is antibiotic because it inhibits the formation of the peptidoglycan wall.  It stops links from forming between individual peptidoglycan subunits and results in an overall weakening of the wall and even holes in places.  Because bacteria are constantly remodeling and repairing their cell walls, penicillin acts pretty quickly, stopping the individual parts from linking up.

Remember how I said that the wall helps the cell retain its shape?  Cells are basically bags of fluid and protein and sugars, and they're surrounded by more fluid and protein and sugar.  At all times, the weights of the water inside and outside the cell are fighting.  Think of when you swim all the way to the bottom of the pool and you can feel the water squeezing you harder the deeper you go.  It's a complicated and dynamic process, keeping enough water pressure inside the cell to keep it from collapsing, and at the same time having little enough pressure that the cell doesn't burst, and the cell wall makes it a little bit easier, itself pushing both in and out.  But when the wall is weak, the cell is not equipped to handle all those conflicting pressures by itself, so it bursts.  Peptidoglycan has, however indirectly, killed the cell.

So that's the main reason for focusing on peptidoglycan.  We're always looking for faster, better, easier ways to rid people of disease.  Not all bacteria contain peptidoglycan cell walls, but knowing about the penicillin mechanism offers new ways to go about looking at other potential systems for killing bacteria in our water, our waste, and in our bodies.

There's peptidoglycan in a nutshell.  Happy birthday, L!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Something important to talk about: the fraudulent link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and a mini-lesson on vaccines..

Okay, here's something for me to talk about: measles.
Graph from WHO showing the estimated childhood death toll worldwide.  (Measles is red.)
The WHO (World Health Organization) factsheet on measles starts out with the key points.  The first key point is:
"Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available."
Another point is:
"Measles vaccination resulted in a 78% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2008 worldwide."
Here's the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) page on possible complications of measles.  Okay, pneumonia (what else is new), ear infections, diarrhea... whoa, wait.  SSPE (Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis)? "Rare, but fatal" encephalitis?  

Yeah, you heard it: encephalitis.

Here's an article from Medical News Today about how much of a stir the disease causes even in "developed" countries like the US.

Good news!  It's covered under the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine, usually given to young kids, which confers lifelong immunity!

You may have been hearing about this lately, because it's rumored to "cause" autism.  Okay, that's unfair; mostly people who are proponents of this theory are saying MMR and autism are "linked."  Only slightly better, since word choice doesn't change that it's a load of crap.  Okay, I guess that's unfair, too, because [as a reasonable, thinking scientific person] I would approach it as a possibility.  Pertinent: a possibility and no more.  There's literally no scientific evidence that even remotely suggests such a connection.

Finally, here's the CDC page addressing this precise topic.  Guess what?
"To date, the studies continue to show that vaccines are not associated with [Autism Spectrum Disorders]."
(That emphasis on "not" is theirs.)  In the meantime panicked parents and fear-mongers (who we sometimes refer to as "the media" when we're feeling charitable) are using falsified information from a 30-year-old study by some British physician.  Oh yeah, and the study was found to be fraudulent.  Made-up.  Hogwash.  This physician, Andrew Wakefield, was subsequently found guilty of several conflicts of interest and professional misconduct by the General Medical Council of the UK and they basically kicked him out, disallowing him from ever practicing medicine again in the UK (not that anyone else would have him, either).  The article was originally published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal in 1998, but when they found out he screwed with the data they retracted it, even going so far as publishing a statement (you can get a free Lancet account to see the whole thing, but it basically lists the allegations against Wakefield) distancing themselves from Wakefield and his bunk study (NB couldn't even find the study on TheLancet.com, though I did find Wakefield's response to the retraction).  Even after all this the MMR vaccine controversy goes on (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  *sigh*

The worst part is that lives were worsened because of Wakefield's irresponsible idiocy.  This is an article by the parent of an autistic child who suffered under the false claims of a connection between autism and MMR.

Oh wait, maybe the worst part is that lives are in danger because of Wakefield's irresponsible idiocy.  Like most vaccines, the MMR depends heavily on "herd immunity," which is the idea that if the majority of the members of a population are vaccinated and are therefore immune to the disease, the few members of the population that can't be vaccinated for whatever reason (immunocompromised, allergies, etc) are protected.  Maybe there isn't a 100% guarantee that they won't contract the disease they can't be vaccinated against, but the un-vaccinated members of a population are normally few enough that a disease can't just leapfrog between populations.

I feel the need to explain herd immunity farther (here begins the mini-lesson on vaccines and epidemiology).  Think about a hypothetical situation in which there are three populations of about a hundred members, and there's a communicable pathogen--for simplicity, we'll just stick with measles.  If you plotted the locations of the populations on a map, they would roughly form a line; let's call them A (western-most), B (middle), and C (eastern-most).
Excuse my handwriting, but I thought I could explain it better with a figure.
Okay, in this figure the measles virus is not present in any of the populations (A, B, and C).  Now imagine that red means the virus is present (most/all members of the population are infected/infective), blue means that most/all of the members of the population has been vaccinated (immune, or resistant) and green means most/all members of a population have not been vaccinated but don't have the disease (susceptible).  (For those of you keeping track, I'm simplifying the terms "infected," "resistant," and "susceptible."  You can decide for yourself if you want [I'm using the SIR model].)
Pop A is infected (either partially or wholly), B has been vaccinated (either partially or wholly), and C has been protected from the spread of the virus (red arrow) by the vaccine (blue X) even though they haven't been vaccinated.
I've simplified transmission a bit using geographic location (putting B between A and C) but you get the idea, right?  The virus could not physically get to C to infect it because it can't even get a foothold in the B population because they're immune.  Now consider this: C might not have been vaccinated for some random reason, like they just never got around to it, or it could be because C couldn't be vaccinated.

What if C is allergic to something in the vaccine?  There are lots of things in vaccines that aren't the actual "active ingredient," things like antibiotics to prevent bacterial contamination, that people can be allergic to.  Here's an info sheet (PDF) about what's in a vaccine from the American Association of Pediatricians.

Another possibility: C could have a weakened immune system.  Maybe C has cancer and is undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, or has an autoimmune disorder (eg rheumatoid arthritis) and takes immunosuppressant drugs to keep their symptoms in check.  C could also take immunosuppressants because they recieved an organ transplant and need to keep their body from rejecting the foreign cells of the organ.  C could have HIV or AIDS.  It's extremely dangerous to give many vaccines to people with compromised immune systems, because many vaccines are what's known as attenuated vaccines (they contain only weakened viruses, not completely killed).  Why would we do this, purposely expose someone to a potentially infective organism?  Because sometimes that's the only way to get the body to react enough to make the vaccine work (look for the blue highlighting).  It also has the added benefit of triggering a longer-lasting (in some cases, lifelong) immunity.  But if someone has a weakened immune system, even the extremely weakened virus in the vaccine could produce disease symptoms.  So we can't vaccinate them.  (Actually, I know I already linked to this ("react... work") but it's a really good primer on vaccines.)

Back to my story: for some reason (which isn't important here) C cannot be vaccinated.  Well, guess what happens if B isn't vaccinated because his parents didn't know about herd immunity (among other reasons)...
Look'a that: everyone's infected.
 The virus has unfettered access to population C, and so everyone's infected.  Whoop-dee-doo.  Now, this would be bad enough if C had a regular, healthy immune system to begin with, but remember how we said earlier that C had a lowered immune system?  The upshoot is that not only could C not be vaccinated and protected, but now C is going to suffer more from the disease than either A or B.  Kinda blows, huh?

These diagrams and explanations can also be applied to a three-person system (as in A, B, and C are just people).  So let's look at another system.
The colors mean the same thing; red is infected, blue is resistant, and green is susceptible.
In this seven-person model, A is infected/infective, B is vaccinated = immune, and C is not vaccinated = susceptible.  Statistically, C can only get the virus from six people (A and 5 B's); C has one-in-six chance of contacting an infective person.  Now if B isn't vaccinated...
C has a six-in-six (aka 100%) chance of contacting an infective person, ie a much greater probability of being infected and developing symptoms.  And C is immunocompromised, so the disease will be worse for C than for either A or the B's.  Sucks to be C.

In short: not vaccinating your children because of lies spun by a morally-bankrupt "scientist" is irresponsible and potentially injurious to: a) your children, because it is far more likely that no vaccination will lead to potentially life-threatening (and preventable) illness than vaccination will lead to autism, and b) to the your community, both local and larger, because you risk upsetting the balance and benefit of herd immunity.

Please: vaccinate your kids.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Playing god and other human pursuits.

Today I'm thinking about euthanasia.  Alternately, murder.  I don't know.

Up until a few years ago I was set on a career in veterinary medicine.  I wanted, needed to be a veterinarian.  I... honestly, I don't really know why it was so important to me.  At first I suppose it was just like, "Oh I love animals, and I want to work in the sciences, and I want to help the animals that live with us."  I have always liked animals more than humans to some extent; as I've aged it's shifted from disgust with the human race and reverence of non-human animals to, well, I'm still pretty disgusted with humans, but it's less of a generalization and more on a case-by-case basis.  So when I was little I deemed non-human animals more deserving of medical care.  I counter any protests of "But you're human, and our pets need humans to provide that care," with "I was, like, six years old."  Six-year-olds aren't known for their expansive considerations of reality (ie how the world works).

As I got older I developed more concrete reasons for becoming a vet.  I started feeling that pulling at my heart when I thought of animals suffering illness or mistreatment.  I realized that I felt personally obligated to do whatever I could to help them, for they could not help themselves.  I still feel that obligation, but I realize now that your life's work should also be something that is fascinating to me, and my fascination is not in veterinary medicine.

My career plans are not the point.  So what is? you ask.  The point: one disparity between medicine for humans and non-humans is at the end of medicine.  By that I mean, of course, how and when death comes.

The very simple fact is: humans often choose when an animal will die.  Another simple fact: it is illegal and usually considered amoral for humans to choose when a human will die (with exceptions and/or loopholes).  Why?  If you ask someone that question, chances are they will have a hard time with a solid answer.  I've thought about this question a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that the law is as it is because there is an inherent assumption that humans are more important than non-humans.   I wouldn't expect an easy answer out of anyone to this question, either, even though it's basically a yes/no question.

My take is that it's something that people believe deeply--perhaps subconsciously--but are uncomfortable voicing aloud.  But shouldn't a person be able to say what she thinks?  Also, this belief in human superiority is probably widely-held, so speaking it aloud would place one squarely within the clear--albeit close-mouthed--majority.

I will speak: I do not agree with the statement that humans are more important than non-humans.  I strongly believe that humans are of equal importance with non-humans.  Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind in a few years; I did start out believing that non-humans were of more importance than humans.

The most trouble I have with that statement is the use of "important."  Calling something important implies that there is a purpose for it, and we've already said there is no purpose for living things, nor even for living.  Actually, Oxford English Dictionary defines important as "of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being."  You could argue that because of the inclusion of "profound effect on... survival" it might have bearing on the relationship between these two things (humans and non-humans); actually there is no relevance to this comparison because the it is not comparing to methods of finding food or shelter or anything like that, so there is no element of survival.  It is not calling into question the survival skills of either being, but comparing them as if they were instrumental to some sort of universal scheme, which smacks of monotheism (and actually most religions with divinity/-ies). 

So the natural next question is "Why then do we decide when animals die and not when humans die?"  When we can't easily answer that one, we might go to "Why is it socially acceptable to decide for animals and not humans?" or even "Is it right?"  And then we get to right vs wrong, my least favorite dichotomy of all time (and I can even say with confidence that I will never meet another dichotomy that I loathe more).

It's been a hard week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More thoughts on morality, along the lines of "Why?"

The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer : NPR
I felt as though, in Farmer, I'd been offered another way of thinking about a place like Haiti. But his way would be hard to share, because it implied such an extreme definition of a term like "doing one's best."
This is an excerpt from a piece on the NPR site (which is actually an excerpt from Mountains Beyond Mountains) about Paul Farmer, the guy I was talking about in my last post.

In a way it articulates what I have been trying to say: "charity" as such is beyond the scope of what [I would suggest] most of us concieve of as charity.  Charity is self-sacrifice but not in the sense that there is sacrifice.  I look at Farmer because he is an example near-at-hand, and I see that he sacrificed time and money to help the poor of Haiti.  More significantly, perhaps, is that he sacrificed that staple of American life: comfort.  In the excerpt from Mountains, Kidder tells of how he met Farmer and came to learn about his life.  He writes:
He worked in Boston four months of the year, living in a church rectory in a slum. The rest of the year he worked without pay in Haiti, mainly doctoring peasants who had lost their land to a hydroelectric dam.
Yet Kidder noted as they had dinner in Miami:
He clearly liked the fancy restaurant, the heavy cloth napkins, the good bottle of wine. What struck me that evening was how happy he seemed with his life.
While we can't get into Farmer's mind, it seems to me that he would have to view his work in Haiti as anything but a sacrifice in order to keep up this hectic lifestyle.

But is charity such ignorant sacrifice?  ("Sacrifice" here meaning something that takes from the one who gives it.)  And is sacrifice charity?  I guess the question is not if we should redefine something but what we should redefine?  I think we've pretty clearly got the meaning of "sacrifice" down here, but I think we've got a bit more difficulty in "charity."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where is Spring?

It’s March, but the sun is still weak.  March is the gateway, when all things begin to grow again.  At least that’s what ought to happen.  The trees should leaf out, and buds should poke up from the rich black soil, now uncovered by the snow.  But the snow is still here.  There are still piles of it around, resisting the lukewarm rays of the still-weak sun.

The birds chirp in the morning, at least.  It is getting warmer, but in infinitesimally small increments.  It seems that the days warm by one or two degrees, and then the world is hit with another brutally cold one.  Senseless violence, committed by mad air currents and a vengeful planet.  So, perhaps not senseless.

Inner-city gangs have nothing on the weather.

Clouds cover this pallid sun, making light merely light, and not the conveyance of warmth.  But these clouds, these amalgamations of water vapor and dust, cannot block out the sun completely.  Without even this watery sunlight, the world would be unlivably cold and dark, so even when betrayal presents itself as the only explanation for the sun’s capriciousness, the sun yet makes the world a place to live and die.

It seems that all is not lost.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Evolution of a Sort of Moral Code; A Belief in Ethics, If You Will.

Ethics and morality are slippery and always-controversial subjects.  I often avoid them for that very reason, but I find that I cannot always stand quietly by in the shadows.  I need for my voice to be heard.

I'm reading Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer, a fairly well-known medical anthropologist.  You may have heard of Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is about Farmer's quest for global health.  I don't mean the sort of global health that is tracking who gets sick and where so disease can be controlled and contained, I mean global health in the sense that the whole world, everyone in the world has access to such resources that might keep or make them healthy.

I just have a quick note (because I've only just started the book) about my thoughts on charity and morality, actually.

"The ends justify the means."  When Machiavelli wrote that, he was thinking and writing of governments and rulers, not the rights and freedoms of the ruled; in fact, I've heard it argued that he was thinking the opposite, and many commonly define his "ends" as a total subjugation of the people.  I believe that, whatever the original ideas behind the statement, it can be applied to my concept of charity and morality.  The end in this case is the improvement of living conditions and quality of life for a people, and the means are all the charities that funnel money and labor into this project, and all the donations by the well-off to those charities.

The first part (of two) of Farmer's book is titled "Bearing Witness;" the first part of the first part--a sort of prologue to the part--is an elaboration on that title.  Farmer says he is anxious about the title and a reason he gives is that he is apprehensive of misrepresenting the poor.
"Some of my anxiety has legitimate sources: the boundary between bearing witness and disrespectful (or self-interested) rooting is not always evident, even to those seeking to be discerning." 
This is his way of saying "morality" for its own sake is not morality.  I use "morality" here to represent many of the good-samaritan acts or charity projects that the well-off do for the worse-off.

I want to emphasize that I don't think that charity and such is "bad," I just think it's maybe not as truthful as we'd like it to be.

I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences, so I think I'm going to go to sleep now.  But as I read the book, I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say.  Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Silver (theoretically "Daily"): Maybe I should rename it "Periodic Silver?"

But that sounds like it's the physical element Ag (silver)...  Nonetheless, my posts display a sort of periodicity, do they not?

Anyway: the news.  The new is... it's almost spring break!  The other day one of my profs asked the class if anyone was going anywhere nice over break.  There were the usual "Florida"s and stuff, so I said "the dentist."  Don't think that qualifies as "nice," though.

In other news, I'm applying for a paid internship studying parasites and energy cycling in the ecosystem in Indiana, and I am so excited.  I just sent in my application today; wish me luck!

In still other news, I haven't been doing much of anything lately, except working on my application.  I guess that isn't really news, but it's happening, soooo...

That's really all I have for now.  I'm in total hunched-over-waiting-for-break/nice-weather-mode.  It's possible that I'm actually comatose, like, right now, as I'm writing this...  Next week I'll have all the time in the world to read and blog and spend exorbitant amounts of time playing computer solitaire!  Ciao!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Daily Silver: New directions for earth-based faiths.

Today's Silver is brief; I just want to share this article I read at The Juggler (the Pagan Newswire Collective culture blog).  It's called "Toward a Pagan Critical Theory: Introduction."

Also, I apologize for being elusive this week.  I have two big tests tomorrow, and I honestly haven't been that much fun this week as of yet.  I will attempt to emerge and write more this weekend and next week.  Ciao!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Daily Silver: A recap of stuff I haven't told you yet. And "the weather isn't evil, it just wants a hug."

Can I write Friday's Daily Silver even though it's technically Saturday?  Of course I can!  I'm running the show. (bwahahahahahahahaha!!!)

What can I tell you about Friday.  Other than "TGIF" or rather, TGIWF (Thank Gods It Was Friday).  Oh, well it snowed a bit up here in the wild wild North (better known as Western NY).  Lessee... oh, we have an accumulation of about 8 or 9 inches, and it was all melted two days ago.  So not overnight, but pretty good.  Actually, snow on the ground is okay.  It's when it's blowing in your face that's not so cool.  Hot.  Whatever.  Today I got up and (mistake #1) did not look out the window.  I had no idea what it was like outside, but I assumed that it would be much like yesterday: sunny and clear with snow on the ground but none in the sky.  As I was preparing to leave for class, still not looking out the window, I (almost mistake #2) debated putting on my winter hat or my baseball cap.  I luckily chose the winter hat and opened the door (surprise!).  The snow was coming down at about a 45deg slant, and they were fat, slushy flakes, the kind that can sting in a sudden [sadistic] gust of wind but then will accumulate on your hat and coat and any exposed skin and make you shed water when you walk inside like molting snakeskin.  Except cold and wet.

Now make it 50-80degF colder and dump some ice water on him.
In other news, I'm taking a practice GRE tomorrow.  I'm excited about the future (Ooooh, the future...) but I'm not excited about getting up on a Saturday.  Ah, the sleep I sacrifice...

Speaking of sleep: I think I'll pretend to go to sleep now.  I say pretend because I'll end up laying in bed staring at the ceiling.  Or the wall.  I've become sort of attached to staring at the wall lately.  Buonanotte!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I have to say I'm kind of sad that I won't see 2100...

Ever since I was little, I've thought about mortality.  Yes, in a morbid-fearful-squeamish sense, but also in a more... limiting sense.  Well, I don't know if "limiting" is the word I'm looking for; I'm trying to describe the sadness--disappointment, really--in the knowledge that I will not live to see the future.  I'm not talking flying cars and androids and living on other planets necessarily (although probably within our grasp now or in the near future) but more about the progression of life and the world and all that.

When I was little I did think more along those lines; I envisioned a future that I now recognize as some variation on steampunk, full of Wells-ian time machines
time machine

Oooh, flying cars!
Now, I'd like to imagine I'm more realistic, and my conjured images include cures for African sleeping sickness (alternatively, effective treatments [read section "treatment"] that aren't as deadly as the disease) and music players that read your mind and time machines.

gotta love time machines
All these fantasies and imaginings and ideas are a source of woe for me.  Because I probably won't live to see them.

Granted, the things I just described that I dream of now (in my 20s) may be close enough that they'll happen in the next decade or so, but of course I've no way of knowing.  No one knows.  It just makes me sad that I won't be around for new things.  I'm not planning on checking out anytime soon (at least for the next 80 or so years), but even if I make it to 100 I won't see the year 2100.

I think all this stuff about chronological milestones (the decade, the century, the millenium) hits people alive now with more oomph.  We all lived through the turn of the millenium (unless you're under 10, then you're SOL).  That's friggin' huge.  That's only happened 3 times in recorded history (I start counting with the Romans, maybe the Greeks and Egyptians so 4).  It makes me feel like I have a place in history sort of.  'Course everything's history when you get right down to it, but we as humans feel the need to ascribe particular significance to certain events, and the turn of the millenium was one of them.

The prospect of a human living to see 2 century-changes is fairly slim, and that occurs to me more clearly than I suppose it would to someone born in 1918 who lived to 77.  We're so damn close to surviving two century-turns!  Ah, pointless frustration!  Perhaps at some point humans will be able to live that long; I seriously doubt it, as aging seems to be in the framework of our cells and scientists are having little success with "anti-aging" treatments.

I seriously doubt that I will see another millenium.  Though you never know...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daily Silver: Oh darn, zombies ate my roommates.

No, not really (well maybe in the few hours I've been working alone in my room...) but I went out to dinner tonight and when I came back no one was in the living room, but I saw their shoes and coats.  Logical conclusion: zombies ate my roommates.

You can imagine how relieved I was when I crept downstairs (ready to kick some zombie butt if it came to that) and found them quietly studying in their rooms.  No, I was not relieved that they were quietly studying in their rooms; in fact that was somewhat distressing in itself.  Ours is a house of proud procrastination! (*dons viking helmet and shakes hammer at sky*)
Yeah, kinda like that.  And yes, my hammer glows, too.  Duh.
So today's Silver is just more a trick to get me to write, and in the true spirit of writing, I am... going to bed.

Wait, that didn't make sense.

Well, if I'm to the point of not making sense anymore it really is time for me to go to bed.

And in the spirit of perpetual curiosity (meo--) I will share with you a new blog I've discovered and a good article.  It's interesting; it's a science blog, but the issue discussed here is sort of philosophical.  I like it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Daily Silver: The future looms, but I think I'm seeing tropical medicine through the fog.

Today's thoughts are on graduate school.  I know that I want to get my master's degree, and I'm thinking public health.  I have to do a little looking around...  Then I want to get my Ph.D.  But that's farther in the future than I'm willing to consider at the moment.

The career path I'm looking at right now is getting my Ph.D in parasitology or tropical medicine and working in a hospital as a specialist.  Maybe public health, though, and I could work with a Health Dept. and do some more epidemiological things...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Daily Silver: In fact, I do still exist, I merely spent yesterday in the real world.

What a tedious place the real world is.  I was writing the essay that I told you about not writing on Saturday in a rush of inspiration!  Yeah, if having it due the next morning can be termed "inspiration."  Anyway, it's done and I'm pretty happy with it, and now I can blog again!  For a while, at least...

So today was un-extraordinary.  Neurobiology this morning was pretty cool, because it's always cool when you understand the material.  Also, His Vexing-ness (you know, that kid in class that has to show off everything he knows and it turns out he just read the text but didn't understand the concepts?) was relatively quiet today.  Also, my friends and I asked a bunch of relevant, well-considered questions which is always a plus.  All in all, a good day in the field of Molecular Neurobiology.

Abnormal Psych was pretty ho-hum.  Not that it's a bad thing; certain classes, you just pray they're ho-hum.  Not that I don't like psychology (although see here and here) but this class is... I don't really know why, but I didn't expect it to be a study in suffering.  That's all it is, really; I'm not saying that's bad, necessarily, because my area of interest, parasitology and tropical medicine, is also full of such reflection.  The only way we can change our world is if we can understand it; the only way to help people suffering from blood flukes or from bipolar disorder is if we understand these afflictions.  I just... didn't realize it would be so depressing.  I really don't know why; I'm intimately familiar with many of the faces of mental disorders, but I guess I thought learning clinically about them could distance me or something?  Hmmm...  Anyway, today we watched a video, actually two videos featuring a woman with bipolar disorder, and pretty severe at that.  In the first she was in a depressive episode, and she had been hospitalized because she'd assaulted a little girl (we didn't hear the details) because the voices had told her to.  (NB I'm sure schizophrenia presents a very different clinical picture, but at this point I couldn't tell them apart except that our professor told us she had bipolar disorder.)  She was suffering from psychomotor retardation, which is when someone thinks, moves, and talks slowly, and she looked like she was going to fall asleep and go right off her chair.  But the combination of this movie and the next one was what was really disturbing.  In the next one, the same woman in the throes of a manic episode(a week later or so) was chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles, all while she was a spy for Jesus Christ and could call up wind, rain, or sunshine at will.  She reminded me of a happy-go-lucky thirteen-year-old girl, and she had that look on her face, the one of blank, almost fake happiness, just utterly pleased with herself.  It was disturbing on such a visceral level... you could just tell that something was wrong, could almost tell that this mania wasn't going to last and she was going to plummet deep, deep into the hellish vice of depression.

Sorry for the flowery language; it's late and you know what that means..!  (It means I start writing like a Renaissance poet.)  Mi apologia.

So that's it for today.  I do have to admit that somedays (usually concordant with large academic projects and looming due dates) I might not write.  I'll try, but it just might not happen.  In the meantime, I plan to be writing every day this week, because I don't have any papers due for a while!  (Huzzah!)  Buonanotte!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Daily Silver: "The weather did a complete 180" and other greatest hits.

As you have probably gathered from the title, the weather is no longer gorgeous.  In fact, I believe this phenomenon is known in certain scientific circles as "anti-gorgeous."  Like other "anti-" things, no one can actually come to a conclusion about whether it exists or not, but I'd venture today is a pretty convincing "for."  The kind of convincing that blasts you in the face with flying slush and sends it running down your back under your shirt in rivulets because it can.  The "convincing" also happens when pushes up under the hems of your pant legs and sloshes down your bare ankles and into your unwisely-chosen low-top sneakers.  Rawr.

Anyway, this glorious proof of... well, weather only touched me once today (actually more like thrice), when I went out to do laundry (blast you, laundry! *shakes fist at menacing sky*) because someone thought it would be a grand old idea to put the laundry for the campus townhouses in an entirely separate building.  In Geneseo.  ie 50ish miles south of Lake Ontario.  Ah, but life goes on and the laundry is never done...

I would like to point out that I am still in my pajamas.  Granted, I re-donned them after coming back from my latest laundry trek, but before I changed into more suitable winterwear I had been in my pj's all day.  Hear that: all frickin' day!  (eat it, slushy snowfall!)  It's one of those days, y'know?  So yeah, I woke up at a reasonable time (10:30) and proceeded to twitter (I know it's bad for me, Mommy, but it's just so good!) and Google Reader and all the goodness of internet procrastination (remember I was going to write an essay today?).  I watched some streaming Netflix (Mythbusters!) and spent hours playing with Chrome extensions... oh, and I did some laundry.  Actually, am in the process of doing some laundry--it's almost time for me to slog out for the last time to bring home my clothes all clean & dry!

Before I sign off, I'd like to say that my day was pretty ok.  I'm not a fan of staying in my pj's all day, but you gotta do what you gotta do.  Arrivederci! *looks out window, sighs, and puts on outdoor-clothes*

PS For your viewing pleasure... MYTHBUSTERS!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Daily Silver: Friday!!!

Today's silver is brief: it's Friday!  And it's nice out!  I am excited at the prospect of sleeping in tomorrow, but I am not excited about writing my humanities essay (due Monday morning).  My assignment is to write about how I think two authors (out of five or so choices) would react to people flying planes into IRS buildings.  Specifically Andrew Joseph Stack.  It won't necessarily be a hard write, it's just tedious and not what I want to be doing/writing about.

But about the weather: it's gorgeous!  If you're not from upstate NY or similar climes you may not understand my amazement at 50degF, but it's 50 freaking degrees in February.  This is a big thing, like jump-and-shout-and walk-around-in-shorts-and-a-tshirt-because-you-don't-have-to-worry-about-frostbite big.  The fields outside my window are green.  It's crazy.

So I leave you now to walk in the balmy spring breezes and cavort in the sun, because it's been a long winter (actually it's been a winter of average length, but you get the idea).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Filial piety is such an antiquated term. I just like it because it sounds funky.

I apologize for throwing more Frankenstein in your face, but we are discussing it in my humanities class, so it's at the forefront of my mind.  So our discussion today was on the second volume of the book, and especially the sort of climax of the book, when Frankenstein and the creature actually meet and converse.  The creature tells his [surprisingly long] story, basically the story of his life.  This started me thinking on duty, especially of children to parents (this has no connections to recent events and relationships in my own life, of course).  Some sort of duty of the children to the parents is a common theme in many cultures, the idea that a child is beholden to her parents because of all they did for her when she could not do for herself.  I do not believe that such a duty exists.

I love my mother, and I like to hang out with her and give her little presents and call her and make her happy.  But I don't do it because I feel like I owe her for bringing me up.  Sure, I owe her for a great many other things, but bringing me up is not one on my list.  I suppose the defining factor for me lies in choice, namely mine.

If I ask for a book and someone gets it for me, I fee I owe that person a debt.  Depending on many factors (circumstances, relationship, and the values and ideas of the giver) I may owe them a gift of my own or just gratitude.  But if I don't ask for a book and someone gets it for me, I feel I do not owe that person anything.  This does not mean that I will not be grateful, it just means that my reciprocation, be it gratitude or a gift of my own, will be given freely and on my own terms.  

It doesn't have to be specific, either.  Take for example a birthday present.  If I ask for that book for my birthday and my brother gets it for me, then I owe him; since it's my birthday (and he's my brother) my debt will not be more than gratitude and a call to thank him (as in, no more will be expected by him or anyone else).  Similarly if I ask for a book for my birthday and my brother gets me that book or any other book, then the same debt is owed (though in some circumstances, perhaps less).  However, if I don't ask for a book or that book and my brother gets me a book for my birthday I don't owe him anything.  Because I love and respect him and want to let him know that I appreciate his gift, I will call him to thank him, but not because of anything owed to him.

This is a generalized example, but I feel the principle applies to child/parent relationships as well.  Children don't--indeed, can't--ask to be conceived/born, yet they are.  Infants can't ask to be cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, yet they are.  And children don't ask to be brought up, but they are.  The beauty of the thing is that they are not required to ask.  As much as I believe children do not have a duty to their parents, I believe parents do have a duty to their children (this is my tie-in to Frankenstein).  Inherent in the word "duty" is the expectation that there is no expectation of reciprocation; then duty is not a task of honor and responsibility but a manipulative perversion.  Parents do choose to conceive and bring their children into the world.  Once they are in the world, parents have a duty take care of their children and bring them up. And since children don't ask for this, whether because of inability or ignorance, they owe nothing to their parents for this.

I think a healthier relationship springs from this understanding.  Because there is no duty to the parents, all children do for their parents is pure, unencumbered by responsibility and perhaps guilt.  Children do things for their parents because they love them.  Or if the children don't do anything for their parents, that is their prerogative.  This I think applies especially to grown children and their aged parents.  So your mother can't use the line "you owe me because I raised you" to justify her moving into your house.

No, I haven't forgotten what I said earlier about receiving gifts you've asked for.  If you ask for something, like a birthday present or tuition for college, you do owe your parents for what they give.  The way I look at college is: it's not yet a right (although it's close to one).  Until it becomes a right (that is, necessary for survival), college tuition is a gift from your parents that you have asked for, and you owe them.

That said, you can't collect on debts later, except in certain situations.  For example, if your friend asks for a cake for her birthday and you make it for her, she owes you a debt of gratitude.  If you give it to her and don't say anything, just expect gratitude in return because it's her birthday then it's all good.  If it comes to be a few days or a week or so later after you gave her the cake in exchange for gratitude, you cannot then expect something in return, like a cake for your birthday.  Not that it wouldn't be right for her to make one for you, since she's your friend and it's your birthday and, hey, you made her a birthday cake so she'd like to make you one, too.

So, going back to the parent/child examples, if you ask for and your dad gives you a bike for your twelfth birthday and doesn't ask for anything in return, he can't then turn around ten years later and expect his gift of a bike on your twelfth birthday means you owe him anything, like spending time with him.  You might spend time with him because you want to, but if you don't want to then you don't have to.

Is that it?  Yeah, I think that's pretty much it.  If I think of anything else, I'll post it later.

I'm not too hot on some of their conclusions, but it's funny and it kinda illustrates my point: Cracked.com - 7 Life Altering Decisions Made For You (Before Your Birth) 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Launch of the "Daily Silver," Frankenstein, and Psychology

So I'm going to try something new, in an attempt to write more often (read: every day).  I'm going to do a daily post.  Don't worry, I'm not going to write some deep, meaningful novella every day; I seriously doubt that I could pull it off.  Actually, I'm positive I couldn't.  Anyway, these daily posts will be short, just a list, really, of my (wait for it...) thoughts throughout the day.  Yeah, I said it.  Bite me.  I'm calling it the "Daily Silver" because, well, it's daily, and argent (as in argentwolfwing) is loosely derived from the Latin/Italian for silver.  Think of the chemical symbol for silver, Ag, which stands for its Latin name, argentum.  So: that's that.
My next topic is Frankenstein.  I'm reading the book for humanities, and it's not all that bad.  I mean, I hate Victor with a passion, because he's such a little bitch, but I gather from my friends (who've already read it) that this is a common reaction.  He just leaves the poor creature--runs away, in fact (sorry if I just gave it away for you)--to fend for himself, like running away screaming your bloody head off and leaving a giant, hideous, and potentially dangerous two-year-old to the cruel whims of a vicious world.  Victor Frankenstein is more repulsive than his creature, especially with his obsession with physical beauty to the point of ignoring personality traits.  Which is, of course, his motivation to abandon the creature.  His sole motivation.
And psychology.  I took my first abnormal psych test today, and I am desperately trying to cling to any shred of faith I had in psychology in general, and specifically in my professor.  I mean, he's a nice guy and I don't want to think of him as a dirty lying hypocrite, but sometimes it's hard.  I described my feelings on psychology in another post, and I now have some evidence.  At least, my roommates and I see it as evidence.

On the test today was a question about different types of studies conducted by psychologists.  It read (paraphrasing, of course) "A researcher wants to learn about treatment and anorexia.  She takes a group of women suffering anorexia and divides them arbitrarily into two groups.  One group receives psychotherapy and an FDA-approved drug as a pill, and the other group is given no psychotherapy and a sugar pill (a placebo)."  I couldn't believe it; my professor, a self-professed (ha, a pun!) scientist had written this question, but he had somehow put in two independent variables.  Two freaking independent variables.  Undoubtedly most of you my readers will not feel the same incredulity that I do at this [possible] typo.  This is like trying to tell me that the earth is flat and 6,000 years old or something (which people, btw, do try).  It's like, for lack of a better example, deliberately misquoting my bible.  Okay, better example: it's like saying that the earth is the center of the universe.  Again, people try.  I just shake my head and sigh.
Not all "Daily Silver"s will be this long.  I anticipate many bulleted lists in our future.  But at least I'll be writing!  That's all for today... Ciao!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tomorrow is my birthday, so I'd like to wish you all a wonderful day.

Sorry that I haven't written in a while; last week was busy.  I had an essay due today, and I was working on it a bit obsessively.  But what is truly rare about this essay is that I not only want to do well on it because I want to do well in the class, but I genuinely love the subject matter and I had to stop myself from writing through the night sometimes.  I would skip other homework because I wanted to write the essay.  The class is parasitology, and the essay was an examination of parasitism.  It was sort of trying to define it, which is harder than you may think.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say I really enjoyed writing it and I am quite pleased with it.

Now on to other topics!

On my birthday three years ago I went to school with a grocery bag full of little plastic party favors; you know, just little monsters and finger puppets and the like.  I spent the whole day giving them out to my friends.  At one point I handed one to my friend N and he looked at me a bit strangely and asked me why he was getting something if it was my birthday?  I didn't really have a good answer for him, and I still don't.

I suppose maybe it's that I like all the people around me to be happy, because it makes the air hum.  That's a possible explanation.  But I also like to give people gifts.  I like to see their faces light up, I guess.  I don't know; yeah, it's stupid.  Sorry.

But it's the truth...

So anyway, in lieu of my birthday (which is tomorrow, btw), I'd like to wish you all a wonderful day.  And I'd like to thank you all for reading my blog.  It brightens my day whenever I have comments (which hasn't happened now in a while, aHem) and I love to know that I'm reaching someone.  So: have a wonderful day, do something fun, and come back and tell me what your day was like!  Thanks, y'all!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Musings during the Super Bowl on the Glory of Sports

Sports are about humanity.  Sports are about what it means ("means") to be human.  As overplayed as it is, Queen's song "We Will Rock You" is the epitome of sport.  It's all about fighting and dreaming and reaching.  It's all about violence and peace.  It's all about looking out for number one and raising your brothers and sisters to great heights.

Can you tell I'm watching the Super Bowl?  I apologize, my writing gets really spastic when I'm simultaneously watching tv.

I had someone try to tell me that sports weren't all about violence.  But competition is all violence, or rather the re-routing of it.  It is long recognized that humans have the ability to mask primal urges and emotions.  Some insist this is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, especially other mammals such as dogs, cats, and other primates.  I agree, but I think such controlling tendencies fall somewhere on a continuum... but that discussion is for another day.

Returning to the violence, I would argue it's a part of human nature.  Again, for another day, but if for a moment we assume that this is true then we, as [presumably] civilized creatures need an outlet that doesn't result in World Wars every other day.  That outlet?  We wear pads instead of plate armor and throw pigskin instead of grenades.  Yes, we still certainly throw each other to the ground and ram our shoulders into stomachs and sternums, but after everyone's lying in a heap we all help each other up and pat each other on the back.

My examples are all specific to football (American football, that is) but that's because I'm sitting in front of the tv watching the game right now.  I can certainly apply this repurposing of violence to other sports.  For instance, my friend asked, what about golf?  To which I replied, it's still competition, and some way to test your physical prowess.  Perhaps you aren't physically confronting someone but the object of the sport is still to best someone else in a test of evolutionary fitness.  And after all, you are hitting something.

I feel like I just made sports a bad thing for some people.  I didn't intend it as such, and I hope my readers will understand that what I wanted to convey was the majesty of human ingenuity.  We found a way to funnel our need for war into productive activity.  We better ourselves through the act of playing sports, in body, in mind, and in spirit.

By the way, I just like football.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What you see when you aren't really looking

Seen from the corner of your eye…  Perhaps something's real-er when you see it out of the corner of your eye.  Because when you look head-on at something, you don't see everything.  Take stars; have you ever been told to look sideways at stars?  More importantly, have you ever done it?  More stars are visible when you're looking just to the left/to the right/below/above the stars.  It has to do with the cornea wearing out or becoming opaque or the photoreceptors at the center of the retina wearing out or something like that.  Well, close enough.

Maybe that's why children can see ghosts and monsters and the like.  Maybe when you see something out of the corner of your eye, it's real and what you see when you look is not.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pondering the soul, and what it means to have one. Also, assuming I do.

All I can see is land and sky.  That seems like a lot, even everything, I suppose, but when it's just the land and the sky, a horizon way off as far as I can see, and nothing else, now that's something.  Yeah, that's something.  No houses, not any buildings to block the skyline, make it irregular.  Not even any plants.  No trees, or shrubs, or even grasses.  I can see forever.

But obviously I can't; if I could see forever I'd see all the buildings and trees on the other side of that horizon.  And I can't, because I'm gloriously alone.  I can see the sun in the sky; it's big and yellow, hanging there like it's got nowhere else to go.  Well, it doesn't really.  It's stuck in place, because what's going to move the sun?  Objects in motion tend to stay in motion; objects at rest tend to stay at rest, or some such thing.  It's sitting in space, a big, fat, lazy ball of simmering plasma, and it's not going to move, dammit.
New Smiley for the sMirC-series. dead
Like this guy.
But me, I move.  I move all the time.  I can't stay still, and this is not just me.  Animals have to move all the time.  Stop moving, and you're dead.  Not just that you'll die, but a state of immobility is the definition of death.  I guess.  Yeah, that works; death is just you being still.  Your heart doesn't beat, your diaphragm doesn't contract or relax, your blood doesn't circulate, your neurons don't fire and the ions don't dance around the synapses.  You're still.  Your soul doesn't move you, because it's not there anymore.

Every living thing has a… soul… for lack of a better term.  The fifth element.  Life.  We are all made up of the five elements: water is in our blood and our breath and our cells; earth is in our tissues, muscle and bone, tendon and ligament; air is the stuff we breathe, and it fills our bodies, allows them shape; fire is in the chemical processes that keep us alive, in thought and movement.  The fifth element, I'll call it the soul, is in everything.  Those reactions, that fire, that moves us and keeps us, don't have to work.  They do work, but nothing except some force means they have to do so.

If I was so inclined, this is where I'd find God. Or gods. It isn't though; they come in elsewhere. Because they have to be made of something, too, right? Even if they're just some pseudo-corporeal manifestation of energy, like particles of light. Sure, two hydrogens and an oxygen are attracted to each other, and they form this molecule called water, but nothing really says they have to. I mean, why? Why is the question of the hour, isn't it? Sure, glucose goes through the chemical process of respiration, and it involves oxygen, and the atoms and electrons dance and we get ATP, which holds energy in the bonds in its phosphate tail. But why? Ask a biologist, she'll start talking about metabolic pathways and evolution, if she is so incline. Ask a chemist; he'll just go back to electron transfers and oxidation numbers and electronegativity. Ask a physicist; he'll talk about the laws of thermodynamics, and matter and energy. Ask a philosopher; he'll probably spout some nonsense about JCGod or a greater power, or if he's a Marxist he'll probably just say something about the good of the whole (note to self: find a Nihilist and ask about why chemical reactions work). But none of them get to the root of it, and this is where human finds religion.

Model of the atom by Ernest Rutherford.
Nope, not here.
Or faith; I have faithReligion (see definition #2) is such a deplorable word.  Burdened with the pain and hatred and guilt and sorrow and zealotry and filth of ages of men and women.  I choose to believe (and I know this is right, but I recognize that my knowledge is reached and accepted in the same way as a priest thumps his JCBible (but he's wrong, I know, for isn't that the basis of faith)) that this fifth element is natural in origin, as the other four.  But what is natural?  JCGod (the god of Christians and Jews and Muslims, and many others I suppose) is a manmade thing; a creation of short-sighted minds fumbling in the dark abyss of space (where they oughtn't be).  They seek an answer where there is not one that is solid, that men can cling to like the slick board tossed in a feral sea.

My fifth element, life, soul, is not concrete in the sense that the JCBible is.  Well, to point out the obvious, the JCBible is an actual book, that I can go to Barnes & Noble and purchase and hold in my hands.  And, may I point out, write in.  But even more than that, there is an intelligence, a design behind those words, those ideas, that I just cannot find in the world.  I reach my faith from observation and long hours of introspection, not from the fantastic (albeit entertaining) ramblings of some random dude(s).

It's not kool aid; whatever are you talking about?
I entertained the idea of a "cult" of sorts, mostly to screw with the norm, though.  I do think it would be fun, certainly interesting, to tell other people what I know.  I mean, I'll tell people what I know, and if they then know it too, that's cool.  But I think there should observation and introspection involved in formulating your own faith.  Faith is very much an individual thing.  That is not saying that there are not aspects for sharing.  Feasts and celebrations are great times for sharing, and in this way I understand the attraction of a church.  In a church, or a temple, or any other sort of religious community, people can find just that: community.  There is a comfort to being with people who believe in the world the same way as do you.  I understand that completely; I wish there was just such a community that I could be part of.  However, there is one basic difference in the formation of community and shared celebration, and in a church-like community: faith is not at all a group endeavour.  Religion is a group endeavor, and, as we have already discussed, I view "religion" as a word not to be spoken without full comprehension of the weight and meaning behind it.

And that's where religion goes wrong; people believe these things that they do not know (and in this statement, I hope you've been paying attention, because in the context of these ramblings of mine, "know," as well as other key words, mean something other than they normally mean in everyday conversation).  It's kind of ludicrous.  There is no truth but one's own; what may be true for you may not be true for me.  This is hard for many to grasp; I myself have struggled a lot with this one.  But I have finally come to the conclusion that truth, like time and perception (and because of perception), is relative.