Wednesday, December 5, 2012

And with that, I'm done.

As soon as I finish writing this, I will walk out the door of the Science building's room 3027 and probably never enter this specific room again.  For over a year now it's been a place of joy, comraderie, and growth. It's also been a place of frustration, stress, and hard work.  It's been a safe haven for me and an obligation, and I can comfortably say there's never been a single moment where I didn't want to be here.  It's the research lab that I've trained in, and I've built memories here that will last me a lifetime.

It wasn't until I signed the last page of my notebook and slid it into my drawer that it hit me just how much I will miss this room.  I'll miss the ancient computer that sometimes has trouble running the nanodrop 2000.  I'll miss the whiteboard from the other lab, constantly filled with hilarious comments and drawings (currently there's a drawing of the moon with a person and a beaver on it, with the words "Beavers ARE Like Humans Because beavers DID Land on THE MOON :).  Also a duck asking a kid if he wants some Quack.)  I'll miss the gorgeous view overlooking the campus and parts of Denver, that on more than one occasion distracted me from my work.  Most of all, though, I'll miss the people.  It's trite, but I really will.  I'll remember them all fondly, and while a couple are facebook friends now, I know it won't be the same as seeing them 3-4 times a week.

Most of all, however, I'm going to miss my mentor in this project.  She's been a huge asset to me and helped me to grow from the ignorant, inexperienced student hoping to learn how to run a gel to the slightly-less ignorant, bit more experienced student who's leaving today.  She welcomed my mistakes, and never once was irritated when I screwed up a gel or eluted a plasmid in 500 microliters of buffer instead of 50 (though for that one I think she laughed a little, and rightly so).  She's the first college instructor that I really felt I could speak plainly with about things outside of academia, and she helped me grow in confidence as a student and as a researcher.  I wouldn't have applied to Harvard if it wasn't for her, not because she encouraged me to directly, but because her confidence and support allowed me to feel confident enough to reach for the unlikely.  She showed me that you can be brilliant and be human without having to sacrifice either, and I will miss working for her more than the view or the whiteboard.

I'm looking forward to the future, but it's sad to leave the present.  Graduation is less than two weeks away, and is at once glorious and somber.  Leaving this lab today is a microcosm of the bigger issue: soon I will be leaving everything that's been familiar to me for the last five plus years.  It's hard, but it's time.  I'm a different person than I was when I entered Metro.  I'm more mild-mannered, less idealistic, more confident, more knowledgable, yet more aware of how precious little I actually do know, and most impotantly, more pleased with who I am.  I entered this university seeking to change my life because I was no longer content with a career in a field that didn't hold my interest, because I wanted to make up for the foolishness of my early 20s.  Even if I don't get into any of the graduate programs at any of the universities I applied to, I've met that goal.  I look at myself in the mirror and I genuinely like who I am.  I have great friends, a wonderful girlfriend who likes me even more than I like myself, and most importantly a future to truly be excited for.  It's time to move on.

That doesn't make it any easier, though.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why I voted for Obama

I don't have the time to give all the facts, so I'm afraid this will be more of a gut-reaction post than any kind of well-reasoned argument.  Frankly, I've done the research but I don't save it.  The conclusions I've made are for my own benefit alone and no one else's.

Everyone who regularly reads my ramblings knows that I'm a liberal.  Since money has never been a huge motivator for me, the notion of losing some of my earnings to the government has never been a major source of objection, especially when that money goes to things like caring for those who are far needier and in a more desperate situation than my own.  With that said, I also realize there needs to be a pragmatic balance.  Adding more and more debt to our nation is not a viable solution, and we do need to tighten our belts and cut spending while we try to pay back this horrible deficit.  I can appreciate this kind of fiscal conservatism, and while I generally don't have any kind of affiliation that would drive me to vote for it, I feel it is a necessary part of our government, and one that the democrats are ignoring.  The problem is that the republicans seem to be playing this notion a good deal of lip service, but the policies they've proposed and enacted do not serve this goal.  For me, part of this "belt tightening" means that those who can afford to give more should give more, to help us fund programs like education, science, and public services while we're cutting what we can afford to in order to get our budget balanced.  Tax cuts for the wealthy do not work, and Romney has not given me an alternative to this Republican ideal.

The bottom line on economic issues is this: I do not have faith in Romney's ability to do any better than Obama has done.  Has Obama done an amazing job?  I wouldn't go that far.  I would say he's done a reasonable job with what he was given, and that recovery from recessions and depressions takes time.  The great depression lasted a decade or more (depending on the region).  This recession has been around for a little over four years.  I understand that this isn't the kind of PR political slogan to go for, but it's true.  I personally believe that Obama prevented this recession from being far worse than it ultimately was, but as we cannot see alternate timelines, there's no way for us to really know.  In either case, the economy is not entirely reliant upon one man, and whether Romney or Obama holds the office, the economy will eventually recover.  That or the world economy will collapse and we'll live in a post-apocalyptic society where cheese becomes the new universal currency...but I'm placing my bets on the recovery of our economy.

So this means I will safely ignore our economy as an issue.  Romney had six months to convince me he could fix our economy, and he failed (for me).

That leaves other issues that do matter for me.  While I am neither gay nor a woman, the rights of both these groups are important to me because I do not want to live in a society where people are treated as second class citizens by their own government because of who they are.  Even though I'm leaving college, there are rumblings among the administration of significant tuition hikes for students in the coming years if Romney were elected vs Obama's plans.  Science funding is threatening to be cut in a world where already only 1 out of 10 grants is funded, meaning a significant amount of valuable research simply cannot be done.  As a budding scientist, this is a major threat to my livelihood.  And finally, as an atheist, I find it difficult to even considering voting for a man who does not view this country as a secular nation, which keeps religion and government separate.  Obama may not be perfect in this field either, but he's reasonable.

I'm not voting for the lesser of two evils.  I'm voting for the better of two choices.  It would be great to have a magic idealistic candidate who would be able to do and stand for all the things I would want, but that kind of candidate doesn't exist.  Obama's not perfect, but he's reasonable, and my stance on issues closely mirrors his.  He's done a reasonable-but-not-perfect job over the last four years and I don't see any reason not to give him another four.

So I voted for Obama.  Clearly it's a bit late to argue me out of that choice, but if you'd like to discuss the matter, as always do it with civility.  Understand also that I know I did not offer any statistics or data, nor do I plan to.  This was for me, to get the rubbish of this election and it's horrible mudslinging by both parties off my chest.  It matters to me that Obama wins, but it matters more to me that you vote for the candidate that you truly feel will do the best for this country.  Don't let anyone bully your vote.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

[Men's Bathroom Ads] There's something very wrong about this ad

....I just can't quite put my finger on it.

Found in the bathroom at a Three Margaritas. I know that sex sells, but come on, seriously?

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A man's opinion on a woman's issue

This isn’t a fun post to write.  I hate being in disagreement with many of my friends, especially on such a heated and personal issue for many.

The following image has been going around my facebook lately:

Though I hate to disagree, this argument has been bothering me long before this post came around, and it bothers me still.  For those who may have randomly found my little corner of the internet, I by and large agree with my feminist friends.  I fully support legal abortion, I think that rape should carry far stricter penalties than it does, and overall I see the treatment of women by their government as nothing short of abhorrent.  Even as I write this, I hate these words.  I feel like I’m saying, “I’m not a misogynist pig, really!  I have lots of female friends!”

Still I write.  I must hate myself.

I have a very real problem with this argument, primarily on the grounds that it is an argument from emotion and not a particularly logical or reasonable one.  I understand how, for such a powerful issue, it should be an emotional issue in many ways for the people so affected.  I understand that the argument stems from many years of old white idiots making bad argument after bad argument for why women shouldn’t get abortions, or why the pill shouldn’t be covered by insurance (“I don’t want to pay for your recreation,” one overly belligerent acquaintance of mine said recently).  I wholeheartedly support your driving need to tell these buffoons to shut the fuck up, as they don’t know what they’re talking about.  There are better ways to do that, though, for this statement implies that their argument is invalid because of what they have in their pants, not what they lack in their brains.

From this argument we could further suggest that we shouldn’t have a strong opinion about illegal immigration unless we ourselves are immigrants, or that the only people who should have an opinion on science funding are actual researchers (wait...I kinda like that one...).   It says that our opinions matter only if the politics directly influence our lives.  Certainly the opinions of those most affected should be strongly considered when coming to a conclusion on any issue thanks to their personal account of the situation, but it is not the person but the argument that should have the final say.  

The worst part of this argument for me is that this argument seems to only apply if the Y-chromosome bearer disagrees with aspects of women’s rights.  My opinions are and have been welcome for some time, and I suspect they will continue to be welcome as long as I continue to support women's rights.   Though I doubt it, should I come to a conclusion that abortion should be illegal, or that women are made of sand and should be treated as such, I'd hate for my thoughts to be disregarded simply because I'm no longer playing for the home team.  I'd much rather they be disregarded because I had a massive head injury so I'm clearly not thinking straight, or because one of my assumptions was invalid.

 These arguments against women’s rights are bad arguments.  This treatment dismisses a contrary argument based on the source, when instead it should be dismissed because it’s a bad argument. We shouldn't cry foul because the arguments are coming from men, as it’s an easy claim for the opposition to ignore. I've met anti-abortion women, and their arguments are no better than those of the anti-abortion men. All they need is to bring forth a Sarah Palin or similar and the argument is invalid.  Instead of making our own logical fallacies that are as persuasive as a wet dog, I'd rather we stick to the solid, hard-to-refute arguments that women are people and deserve fair and just treatment.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong

First it was Todd Akin, who desperately needs some fundamental lessons in biology.

Now it's Senator Stacey Campfield, another republican, who decided to leave us with this nugget of wisdom:

“Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community,” he told Michelangelo Signorile, who hosts a radio program on SiriusXM OutQ. “It was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men. It was an airline pilot, if I recall.”
“My understanding is that it is virtually — not completely, but virtually — impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex.” 
Oh my, where to begin?

Let's start with where he's correct.  There's not a lot of correctness, so it shouldn't take time.  To say that AIDS, or more specifically the virus HIV which causes AIDS, comes from the homosexual community is almost accurate.  The first officially documented case of AIDS in the united states (or at least the most recognized) came in the early 80s, when five homosexual men were treated for pneumonia caused  by Pneumocystis carinii, an opportunistic pathogen (which is to say it only causes disease in certain circumstances, such as if the host were immunocompromised).  Most of the time, HIV was identified in homosexuals and drug users, leading many to initially believe that it was a disease that only affected gays.  That assumption lasted all of two years in the scientific community, when it became obvious that AIDS was not exclusive to homosexuals.

That's not to say this was the first case of HIV in the United States, but it's the first series of cases directly attributed to the virus.  There are theories about the original "patient zero" to bring HIV from Africa to the united states, but nothing conclusive.  The best hypothesis I've seen is that there were a series of well traveled gay men who happened to bring the disease back with them, which explains why it hit the gay community the hardest at first.  So yes, Senator Campfield, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to believe that AIDS originally came to the US from the homosexual community, but the assumption is flawed, as it implies that homosexuals are to blame for the disease.  As many of your ilk are prone, you are blaming the victims.  Strike One.

And there's the entirety of his factual understandings.  Oh, wait, there's one small additional tidbit.  The airline pilot in question refers to Gaetan Dugas, a man formerly considered "patient zero" to the US.  He probably wasn't, and again, there's absolutely no evidence that he had sex with a monkey.

The truth is that we don't have a definitive theory on how HIV originated.  We know fairly well that HIV originated from a strain of SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), but there are a lot of strands of SIV, each infecting a different primate.  Thanks to a lot of genomic data and analysis, researchers have been able to identify SIVcpz, the strain that specifically infects Pan troglodytes (The chimpanzee), as the culprit.  Of SIVcpz, the closest related viruses are found in Cameroon.  The specific jungle region identified is fairly far from the suspected origin of HIV-1, but there's a river that flows from the region of the SIV chimps to where HIV originated in Kinshasa.  While we don't have solid data on this, there's a lot of strong evidence to suggest that this was the origin of HIV, and it probably came from contact with infected chimp blood (possibly in feces or elsewhere in the river).

Either way, I doubt we'll know for certain exactly where it originated, but it's highly unlikely that it started with some man going all the way into the deep wilderness to have sex with a chimpanzee.  Bestiality may happen, but the likelihood here seems so insignificant as to be considered implausible if not impossible.  So there's strike two.

We know a lot about how HIV spreads.  While it is true that evidence suggests the person doing the penetrating has a lower chance of getting infected than the person being penetrated, infection can and does still occur in significant numbers for either party involved.  One of the biggest concerns in treating HIV in Africa is the threat of a child born to an infected mother.  Another is the common belief that Sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, which potentially has led to a significant increase in women infected with HIV by men.  It is not just stupid, but dangerously foolish to think that heterosexual sex cannot transmit the virus.  Strike Three.  You're out.  Or at least I seriously hope you will be.  Comments like this aren't just wrong.  They breed fear and distrust of others (homosexuals in this case) and promote unsafe behavior (not using protection for sex).  It's worse than the AIDS deniers, especially because this comes from a semi-powerful political voice.


Monday, June 25, 2012

I do this

4 months have come and gone, and I haven't made so much as a peep.  The last semester is in part to blame.  Between Organic Chemistry, Microbial Ecology, Analytical Chemistry, and my independent study, I was fairly swamped and didn't have enough brainpower to really think about any of the significant issues.  Of course, the last semester ended a month and a half ago, so I can't entirely blame that.  I know that the four or so people who actually read my blog on a regular basis are just crushed by my silence.

In any case, things have been busy here.  I took the GRE three weeks back, and that turned out very well.  With 90th percentile in verbal, 93rd in quantitative, and 87th in writing, I can feel comfortable knowing that my GRE scores will only serve to help me get into graduate school.  Also, over the last three weeks I've been doing a summer internship at UC Denver's Anschutz medical campus.  I have to say, the thing I'm most surprised about is the raw amount of reading I've had to do.  There are days where there just isn't a lot I can do on my particular project, so instead I read up about the basic principles surrounding it.  I now know more about miRNAs and gammaherpesvirus 68 (a mouse model for the virus that causes mono) than I ever thought I'd know.

Beyond that, though, it's fantastic.  I've gotten to learn how to do RT-PCR, and my first experiences working with RNA have gone surprisingly well, considering how easily it likes to degrade on researchers.  I've done my first cell cultures, and even got to set up a viral plaque assay.  While I walked into this program feeling overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge, I feel like I'm developing new skills every day.  I may not be stellar yet, and there's more than a few techniques I still haven't done and don't quite grasp, but I'm becoming more confident that research is really the career for me.  (Even if the amount of reading dense material is a bit insane).

Life outside of science is still good.  The girlfriend is still awesome.  The house (lacking air conditioning) is still unbearably hot.  My friends are still supportive and all I could ask for in friends.

Until next time, my friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The case of heroes.

A friend of mine shared this on her facebook wall today:

I'll be the first to come out as anti-war.  In my younger days, I identified as a pacifist, and while I no longer think such a concept is feasible or sustainable, I still vouch for peace and hate the glorification of war.  Violence can be necessary, and makes for excellent stories, but in reality it should never be celebrated.  I also am not much of a supporter of troops.  I don't hate them, but I don't feel that they need to be celebrated for serving in wars and conflicts that I believe to be unjust.  These are minor points, however, and I'm more interested in addressing a meme that this particular post exemplifies.  For the sake of this argument, I'm going to speak from a standpoint that supports our troops wholeheartedly.  I can't find an exact term for the meme, so I'll call it the "celebrity over soldier" meme.

The "Celebrity over soldier" meme is this idea that springs up every time a celebrity dies.  Someone decides to point out the great tragedy that this person is mourned while soldiers die and are ignored.  I understand the sense of outrage, especially if you know someone who serves or has served in the military, even more so if that person has suffered in the line of duty.  They served valiantly and protected us, doing something truly great for our country, yet they are forgotten over some random actor, singer, or politician.  Yet if we detach ourselves from the situation and observe the phenominon of mourning from an objective distance, it may be more clear.

Our mourning has no bearing on the objective importance of the death.  When my pet cat died over a year ago, I cried deeply for hours.  When a student in my high school, two years my junior, committed suicide, I felt panic over the notion of death but no tears.  The magnitude of my grief over this mere feline, an animal I would weigh as less important than that of a young human life, was far greater.  We do not mourn because tragedy has befallen someone else.  We mourn because tragedy has befallen us.  Is my cat, whose ashes still rest on my mantle, in any pain or suffering now?  Does he need my sympathy or sadness?  No, my sorrow was for myself, to live without him.

For a celebrity it is much the same.  Some may take it to extremes, but for most the grief is simple.  Celebrities are famous because they have made themselves a part of our lives in some small way.  Whitney Houston's version of "I will always love you" is a classic, and many have been moved by her music.  For me, the death of George Carlin in 2008 was a sad event, as I adored both his standup routine as well as his work in Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, among others.  We mourn them because they contributed something directly to our lives.  We may have their old material, but there will never be anything new.  They were a known quantity, and now they are gone.  We mourn for ourselves.

A dead soldier, heroic though his death may be, is a relative unknown.  There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers serving actively in the US and abroad, and we do not know them individually.  While we have holidays to celebrate their service, we do not know the names of every single soldier.  From a purely objective standpoint, we have not personally lost anything in their death.  If we did not at the very least know of them in life, mourning them in death is disingenuous.

Their service is not to be discounted, of course, but their death does not detract from our way of life; if anything, it promotes our way of life.  They fight to protect us and our interests, and it is that sacrifice that allows us to mourn for celebrities whose deaths mean they will no longer entertain us.  It is not sad, or wrong, or stupid for us to mourn the loss of Whitney (although honestly I think anyone who spends more than a few minutes thinking, "oh how sad" about any celebrity may need to rethink their priorities of what's important in their lives).  Those soldiers died to give us security, a security that means we can worry more about entertainment than whether we'll see the sun tomorrow.  That should be honored, certainly, but not mourned.  Mourning dead soldiers we never knew cheapens their sacrifice and makes their lives important only in their death.