Thursday, April 27, 2006

We Are All Monkeys

Or more accurately, apes.

One of the most brilliant media commentaries on just who we really are: The Monkeys
..... are us.

"Attention! There are monkey boys in the facility!!"
(anyone know this movie reference? )

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In the Age of Politically Correct

I watched with trepidation this Age blossom and pollinate over the last twenty-plus years. Now its seeds are growing all over the world. In several places, it has become a noxious weed.

Even the term ‘Politically Correct’ has been deemed politically incorrect. It’s “offensive’. I still haven’t quite determined who is offended by it and why. But I am astute enough to note the furrowed eyebrows and tight lips when it is mentioned.

Mick Hume, an editor of spiked online of the UK, aptly coined it “The Age of Intolerant Tolerance”.

“The pattern goes like this. Tony Blair says that we have to meet the extremist threat by 'championing our values of freedom, tolerance and respect for others'. Then his ministers announce new plans to criminalise 'indirect incitement' of terrorism, along with tougher proposals to outlaw 'incitement to religious hatred'.

The government must have a different dictionary than I do. Mine defines tolerance as 'broad-mindedness' or 'permitting free expression of views one does not share'. In the Whitehall Newspeak edition, however, tolerance appears to mean the opposite. In order to defend our tolerant society we apparently have to ban views that most people do not share. Welcome to the age of intolerant tolerance.”

Hume’s new label is apposite for this growing weed. The UK is not the only fertile soil for its growth. Pervasive here in the US, it permeates through every faction of our society, even in science. And our government condones or secretively encourages it, as long as it is to their advantage.

How do we turn the tide? Start with yourself, your neighbors, coworkers, friends, newspapers, local societies and committees. Start with the grass roots. Prolific, strong and healthy grass eventually chokes weeds which dwindle down to form a balanced ecology. And the pasture thrives.

“We need to tolerate the 'free expression of views one does not share', in order that we can sort out the truth in the open, instead of trying to bury difficult issues beneath a pile of bans. Let everybody freely express their views - and let us all have the freedom ruthlessly to question, criticise and interrogate everything that is said, about everything from religion to race, from suicide bombings to British values. Now more than ever we need freedom of speech for a frank and 'broad-minded' debate about the sort of society we live in and where it is heading.”

Reiterating a quote from Voltaire:

“'Think for yourselves, and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too.”

Too bad we have forgotten how to think for ourselves.

If I were Head of State.......

  1. Everyone would be permitted to voice their opinions. That’s what they are: opinions. If they offend you, debate them intelligently, learn to filter them, or pull your head into your shell.
  2. Everyone will have the right to make wrong decisions. Learn from the consequences. Or be eliminated from the gene pool.
  3. Everyone is not created equal. We are not clones. Deal with it.
  4. There will be more than two political parties. There are more than two ideologies; let’s have better representation.
  5. All science funding will be deposited into a central fund and disseminated based upon merit, not on sexy biotechnology. The Good Ole’ Boy’s Club will be replaced by representatives from qualifying committees and societies.
  6. Science journal impact factors will be negative numbers only.
  7. Birth control will be distributed free and without discrimination.
  8. A Stupidity Test will be a mandatory component of marriage licenses. Applicants that fail will be required to complete a high school diploma and classes in “How to Be a Functioning and Responsible Human Being” before reapplying.
  9. A requirement of living with a potential spouse for two years must be satisfactorily fulfilled before applying for a marriage license. Applicants must also prove an established household income.
  10. Separation between religion and state will be strictly enforced. There is no debate.
  11. I reserve the right to add more to this list.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Ending yesterday's ride, I rode up the ramp on Red into the shop, turned off the engine and sat in the saddle for a long moment.

Removing my helmet, I told my friend Chris that I find more and more as I ride that I don't want to get off. His smiling eyes and face reflected a knowing understanding.

While reading* on the train this morning, I came across a passage that explains it all:

"Being on the machine seems more natural than being off it."

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,
by Robert Persig.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Nothing is as impressive and electrifying as, well, a Texas electrical storm. Lightening between the clouds on the horizon teases with a hint of impending powerful elements or titillates the visual senses with a tame lightshow. Close observation of the swiftly moving clouds may reveal the direction of the storm, but they can deceive as well as promise. Winds can suddenly shift, temperatures plummet, and barometric pressure swing wildly as a storm passes near or approaches.

I awoke in the middle of the night to a strong palpable smell of moisture and earth in the air. Arising from bed I watched lightening dance between the blue-black clouds in the northwest horizon. The still air and the haunting contrast of darkness blanketing the ground with the subtle flickering of light in the clouds presented a surreal world around me. Silence betrayed the distance of the storm and I returned to my slumber.

I was awoken again later in the night by a furtive wind, sneaking through the open windows and rustling the curtains. Lying in bed I pondered if my guest was an edge of the storm passing by or a harbinger of elemental fury. As if deliberately answering my questions, sudden gusts of wind shook the house and whipped through the windows. Anything light enough in the house and in the wind’s path scattered the floor like fallen soldiers beset by an army of omnipotent invisible beings.

Jumping from my warm bed, I was greeted by relentless and imbricating lightening and thunder, the light flashing all around me like strobe lights. Streaks of lightening seared through my vision, superimposed on the ground and the sky as if they were umbilical cords. I struggled against the wind to close the windows in the direct line of assault, leaving the opposite windows open to delight in the elemental fury upon me.

Standing in the middle of the house with the onslaught and fury of wind, rain, thunder and lightening surrounding me, electricity crept up my body, my skin tingled, my heart pounded harder with every close clap of thunder. Lightening strikes were close enough to deliver a luminance brighter than daylight albeit in a fraction of time and space. I felt like an immortal in a vortex of Nature’s chaos as the elements engulfed my senses.

As quickly as it descended, the storm passed me by. A gentle cleansing rain was left behind to clear the air and quiet the senses and heart. With a rhythmic and soft pattering on the windows and roof, I returned to a deep sleep and dreams.

Sure enough, Nature’s wild horses left me a reminder of their presence in the morning. I suspected during the night several strikes of lightening were close. Sure enough, the circuit board in my truck was blown.

Ah well. Horses leave behind roadside apples. Wild horses riding on the storm can leave behind mementos, too. Shit happens.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


First Scatology, now Buttology.
What's next? Penisology? Hmm......

Rear Admirable
David Holmes, a psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, insists that a good bum is key to attractiveness, and he's devised a formula that describes the ideal female buttocks. According to Holmes, maximizing (S + C) x (B + F)/T - V makes for gluteal greatness. S is overall shape of the bottom, C is circularity (how spherical the butt is), B is resilience to bouncing and wobbling, F is touch firmness, T is skin texture and V is the vertical ratio or "pertness." Holmes added that a hip to waist ratio—waist size divided by hip size—of 0.7 is ideal for framing a woman's posterior.

Holmes found the formula by getting 2,000 British women to rate their own bottoms. In the shape category, those with a "trodden doughnut" got only one point, whereas those with a "small peach" scored the maximum five points. After compiling all the factors, a total of 80 points was labeled "perfection," whereas booties earning fewer than zero points were told to "stay indoors." But don't fear, saggy bottom girls, Holmes writes, "Failing all else, confidence and good conversation can sometimes distract attention, if not compensate for a 'bum deal' in the buttock lottery."

"Borrowed" from online Seed Magazine, New and Notable

The Honesty Meme

I came across a passage in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig that was an echo from my own past.

A brief converstaion between Pirsig's son, Chris, and he:


"What should I be when I grow up?"

I don't know what to say. "Honest," I finally say.

I recall asking my father the same question. I clearly remember his response:
"Whatever you want to do, whatever you want to be. But always be honest to yourself and to others."

I've tried hard to do just that, Dad. I've changed my mind a few times, but at least I'm honest about that.

If my daughter reads this, I want to tell her the same: always be honest with yourself and with others. And follow the path that has heart.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Paranoia strikes deep.......

.....into your heart it will creep. Starts when you're always afraid. Step out of line, the Man comes and takes you away."

A flashback from the '60's. Yet history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

The event of 911 evoked a rekindling of community, cooperation, altruism and cohesiveness amongst not only a city but a nation. It even expanded globally.

For a short time.

Then we 'reacted'. Since then, our country has degenerated into a nation of paranoia and fear in the guise of 'patriotism' and 'right'. Without an honest definition of each. In essence, the terrorists were successful. Look around you; read the papers, watch television, watch and talk to people. We are all afraid of ghosts. Mostly our own.

I mourn what we have lost, what we have become and what we could be.

The following is a small example that trickles down like acid rain on marble:
As a researcher in the medical field, disposable sterile scalpels are used in our labs for grossing tissues. I called to order a box of disposable scalpels from one of the largest scientific vendors in the country that has supplied most of the medical research and hospital labs here for years. Their reputation is impeccable.

I was informed that they were suddenly prohibited from shipping disposable scalpels by the federal government. They were waiting for 'approval' and I was encouraged to call back in 7-10 days. Two weeks later when I called to place the order, I was informed that the responsible federal bureau still had not released an 'approval' to ship disposable scalpels. With detectable frustration and apologies, they could offer no prediction of when that approval would be forthcoming.

I called another vendor that sells and ships medical supplies and was greeted with the same scenario.

We have become a nation of fear. We are afraid of ourselves.
We see ghosts and they don't even know they are ghosts.

Mad Scientists and Coffee

Early (very early) morning coffee with a few colleagues in the departmental office can be enlightening. We pondered several hypotheses of the origins and transmission of prion diseases (also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) for you pathologists) and how we can use that to control the deer overpopulation. We hypothesized that if deer cannibalize themselves a form of deer 'kuru' and chronic wasting disease (also associated with prions) would restore a population balance.

Tangenting into predictions of what life form will exist the longest on this planet, I posited that microbes will sit in their little habitats giggling at the extinction of the Big Two-appendaged Macrobes. Face it: humans are built 'wrong'. We don't excel at anything, but we are good, albeit slow, adaptionists. Regardless, we can't mutate fast enough to our own self-induced evolving habitat. Nor do we seem capable of seeing that we are destroying everything that gives us life on this planet. Perhaps our species will succumb to the same basic premise of habitat overpopulation dynamics and we will eat each other and die from kuru like the deer (anyone remember the movie Soylent Green?)

Contemplating the ultimate cure for all pathogenic illnesses, we narrowed it down to mucus membranes. Most pathogens gain passive entry into our body via our mucus membranes: our gut, mouth and nose. It provides moisture, nutrients, and an ideal cradle to multiply. Thus, we posited, if we don't eat, drink or breathe, we won't have to worry about getting sick! It is logical.

However, like good scientists, we need to test the hypothesis. We need more data. Our methodology is simple and falls within a NIH budget: duct tape. Now getting it beyond the ethics committee may be a problem.

Ah, the challenges of being a scientist......

Saturday, April 15, 2006

My Zen of Motorcycle Riding

I have a motorcycle. I like to ride it. It takes me places in a way nothing else can, except for my horse. But my horse is getting old (like me), we can’t ride on public roads and he can’t travel as fast as a motorcycle. Similar to riding a horse, riding a bike is all about the journey; the destination is only one part of the whole. I often find that once I’m ‘there’, I want to get back on again and go.

Horses have names, so does my bike: Red (Red Sonja). Just as every horse has the same basic anatomy, and motorcycles share similar mechanical concepts (power system, function, etc), they all express an individual personality. Red and I are becoming well acquainted; I learn something new about it and myself every time I ride. We both have personalities and I am still learning to mesh mine with Red’s. Every time I add or change something on Red, we go through another meshing.

After the first few times I rode Red, I realized this is not just a machine. Well, rationally, it is a machine, in that it has moving parts, burns combustible fuel and expels waste; it gets hot and cold, and something occasionally breaks that needs repair or replacing. But to really ‘know’ my bike, to truly become ‘one’ together, I have to learn how all the parts of the bike work in synchrony just like my own body. I realized at some point in time I would need to learn how to maintain and fix things myself. Moreso, I want to fix things myself. I have to learn how, what and why. Like knowing anything else, it’s a process.

I posed a question to an online motorcycle group on which I participate and it generated slight confusion. I received answers that created more questions, and even more answers. But that’s the process of learning about anything. Rather than knowing only the effect, I want to learn the cause(s) as well. Invariably, peeling away one component reveals another, and on and on until a system is pieced together. In reality, there is usually more than just one answer, more than one way to go from point A to B.

Now, I approach this endeavor the same way I do working with biological questions. Identify the components and their functions. Examine all the small parts at the molecular level. Sort them according to function and location, and ask how they interact with each other, either top down or bottom up. Then ask how that system and its components, interact with other components outside that system. This is the “system” comprised of sub-systems. How they all work together is like a symphony. When all the instruments are tuned and their sounds mesh, you hear and feel beautiful music: it’s ‘right’.

My question to the group was: how does wind affect gas mileage? Realizing that it was a complex question and there would be several answers, sure enough many factors affect gas mileage. The style in which one rides, the intrinsic components of the bike (engine, transmission, power, fairings, etc), and environmental elements. I targeted one element: how does altitude affect engine performance? Of course, what I was asking was a physics-based question (ultimately everything is reduced to physics). So I learned about air density, humidity, temperature, fuel ratios and altitude.

Regardless, all of these factors influence gas mileage: Wind, altitude, gas octane, engine components, bike design, road surface, temperature, style of driving (e.g. commuting versus long-distance open road). And experience. I explained to my fellow riders that as a novice and a scientist, I want, no, need to know the concepts, the fundamental theories of parts, how they work alone and in synchrony, and why. Then I can add my empirical data, experience on the bike under different conditions, to the basic fundamental knowledge and concepts, and ultimately I am able to alter the behaviour of the bike and my riding.

Being aware of all of these components when you ride allows you to feel all of it in synchrony: the wind, temperature, altitude, fuel combustion, speed, road surface, and so much more. But rather than be overwhelming, it all becomes a part of you and your bike together. Does it detract from the beauty and enjoyment of riding a bike? Only if you let it. On the contrary, it can enhance the sensation and pleasure of riding. Your bike becomes more a part of you and you a part of your bike.

It is my ‘zen’ of riding.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. – Robert Pirsig*

Time for a Walkabout

Every so often we need a change. We become so caught up in our own small box of existence, hurrying most of our time away, losing grasp of what is important to each and all of us. We repeat the same day-to-day routine, a monotony that becomes shallow yet comfortable for most. It’s as if we become robots on automatic pilot. Then at some point in our lives we wonder where all that time went and sorry that it is all gone. We can’t go back to regain it.

Familiarity is comfort to most; it is ‘safe’, reassuring and relatively risk-free. We tend to shy away from risk and strangeness. Yet the world is full of wonderful strangeness. And what makes this world so hard to see is its usualness. Familiarity can blind you, too.

We accumulate new information and experiences every day, sometimes it is overwhelming. Our perspective tends to become more narrow and smaller housed inside our little box of comfort. We become the center of the cosmos and familiarity shrink wraps us inside the nucleus of our own ego. Our ‘I’ is a small parasitic microbe that only moves to provide for our immediate physiological and psychological needs. In time we become bored with our own little box and find ways to fill the empty spaces as we implode inside ourselves. We become disconnected with others and our environment until the robot is nudged out of autopilot. And malfunctions. We become dehumanized.

Robert Pirsig wrote*:

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame…… On a cycle the frame is gone. You are completely in contact with it all. You are ‘in’ the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

Metaphorically our lives become like the compartment of a car: the passive observer, too busy to talk to each other, passing life by outside without really touching it, experiencing it. By the time we stop to look back and wonder where it went, it’s too late. This is a dead end.

The Australian adolescent aborigines (and many other indigenous peoples) go walkabout for weeks or months as a rite of passage. I often refer to go walkabout when I travel without a planned itinerary or even destination. It is all about the journey, not the destination.

When the spirit falters, when we find ourselves questioning, confused, or need to break the cycle of familiarity, go on a walkabout. At times I use a walkabout to break the distractions of my ‘box’ of life, or when life throws me a curve ball that hits me square in the heart. Sometimes the surroundings of silence and space allow me to hold and direct the construction of my thoughts. Other times it is the strangeness of the environment and the people that break down the walls of my box and allow me to expand outside again, refreshing my perspective.

Invariably, walkabouts give me the clearness and fortitude to open the door when Truth comes knocking.

* Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. By Robert Pirsig.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mounting Evidence for the Noodly Appendage of Flying Spaghetti Monster

Debate continues on the validity of God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Intelligent Design, and non-belief.

Evidence for the existence of Flying Spaghetti Monster, or beings created in his image, were discovered last year. Long noodles were found under ten feet of sediment during an archeological dig in NW China. The noodles are believed to be 4,000 years old.

Are these ancient noodles the ancestors of our modern noodles? The biological composition of the 4,000-year-old noodles suggests that modern noodles evolved over time and perhaps China was the epicenter of their origin. Was the creation of these noodles spontaneous or do they also have a predecessor? Perhaps they were created in the image of the divine Noodly Appendage or serve as an example of spontaneous creation.

Additional evidence is needed to prove that the noodles found at Lajia are the ancestor of either Asian noodles or Italian pasta. "But in any case, the latter is only documented two millennia later," Lu said.

Combined with this discovery, additional research presents empirical evidence in support of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. Researchers report spontaneous generation of a new species of pasta: Noodleus doubleaous. In lieu of an acceptable explanation, the authors conclude that observed results were guided by the hand of an intelligent designer.

Doubters may refer to their popular Belief-o-matic for consultation on their Belief du Jour in this matter.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Miss Information

If we reduce life, and nearly everything in existence, to the most common denominator, what do we have?

DNA information is transmitted through RNA, transferred to ..........proteins......cell signaling.....adaptation..... on and on. Read a paper, watch TV, bombardment by your fellow Infomation Perpetuators; we are all information carriers and transmitters. Some should be eliminated from the Information Pool.

There are many genres and species of Information. Even genders.

In today's world of modern technology and its ability to rapidly propagate, we have a skewed gender population of Infomation: Miss Information.

When Miss Information rolls down hill, she balloons, sprays everywhere and the repercussions extend exponentially.

Here is a critique of Miss Information dressed innocently as 'education.'

"How stuff doesn't work"

Pharyngula, the mind of PZ Myers.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April's Fool Day

I woke up this morning with a warm naked body next.....

Oh wait, that was a dream.

Got out of bed greeted by humid warm air blowing through all the window curtains, chirping birds outside the windows, the smell of moist Texas air. The sun hiding above the laden fog and clouds with a hint of later sunshine and heat. Wear a tank top under the jacket today; it's going to be a humid toaster.

The smell of freshly made coffee mixes with the moist breeze in the house and I see my horse outside grazing, stark black against the blended green and brown terrain. The barn roof drips condensation which the ground absorbs quickly. The cows next door meander contentedly.

After throwing water on my face and donning top and pants, I gather a change of clothes, shampoo and toothpaste, top my thermal mug with coffee, and pack the laptop accessories into the padded backpack. We've got miles and miles and days away ahead of us.

Grab the keys on the way out the door and greet the silver FJR waiting outside under cover like a trusty steed waiting for its master. Checking it over, stuffing the hardbags, and strapping the backpack onto the back rack, my leg swings over to straddle the seat. Sitting down in that comfortable sheepkin-cushioned saddle, shift into neutral, turn the key and push the start button. The sound that makes you go hummmmm.....

Sit for a while enjoying the peace and quiet while the Silverado between my legs warms to a purring idle. Smiling, the jacket is zipped up, the helmet is on and strapped, gloves envelope my hands and we ready to roll. Right the bike, push up the kickstand, shift down and roll the throttle. We're off.

Taking the country road curves slowly this morning, making our way to the highway heading south. Got a long day with ribbons of road ahead. No need to push it until the urge arises to crank the throttle open for a gazelle-like sprint. No cars in sight, no lights, no horns. Only the open road ahead and behind, going somewhere through space and time. Right now, there's only me and my steed. And right now, that's all that I need.

April Fool's Day and wishful thinking.

For those who can, have a good safe ride today.