Saturday, September 6, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
While attending George Mason University I made a living as a lab tech at Genetics & IVF Institute (the McDonald’s of Genetics). It’s the place to go if you want to get artificially pregnant, check to see if your baby’s gonna be Downs or find out “who’s your daddy?” While I was there we lost a few techs to the Human Genome rivalry. The Celera lab paid more and you got your own Perkin-Elmer Applied Biosystems 3700. Science geek heaven. But I prefer to analyze the DNA of the promiscuous. So I stuck with Paternity testing.
At the center of the Human Genome mapping race are Francis Collins and Craig Venter. Both were working on the Human Genome project at NIH. But since NIH was taking so long to map out the genome, Craig Venter left NIH to form Celera and use his controversial “shotgun” technique in order to speed up the process and profit off of the Human Genome. The term “shotgun” may bring to mind southern accents and neon orange hunting vests but it’s just another example of scientists trying to make themselves sound sexy. Like Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism. I don’t have to tell you what Fragment Length is alluding to.
But seriously, folks, the shotgun technique allows you to skip “junk DNA” in order to get to the DNA that we know the function of. It is more profitable to supply the sequence of a location that we know to cause cancer than one we don’t know the use of. And in February 2001, when Venter announced that the Human Genome was complete, it was NOT complete. The “junk DNA” had not been mapped. But the papers carried the headline “Human Genome Complete.” If a scientist tells you it’s so, it must be true. It was not actually completed until over two years later in April of 2003. Francis Collins and his team at NIH finished the job and the headlines said the same thing and the general public still didn’t notice.
Prior to this James Watson left NIH. Yes, that’s the double helix Watson of Watson and Crick fame. I know we all remember where we were when we read “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA.” It’s a landmark event in every child’s young life. But Watson’s reason for leaving was the opposite of Venter's. Watson objected to the director of NIH, Bernadine Healy, attempting to do the same thing as Venter – sell genes by granting patents and ownership rights on gene sequences.
Bernadine Healy was appointed to the position by George H.W. Bush “after a long search in which Bush insisted that the N.I.H. director be opposed to abortion.” Incidentally, she previously served under Reagan and now advises George W. Bush.
Bernadine Healy has a selective anti-science stance in opposition to stem cell research and evolution. From a recent article by Healy: “The United States is in the midst of a gold rush over human-embryo research.” But she and the Republicans supported the one scientific venture that they could really profit off of, selling genetic sequences to the researchers of cancer and other medical disorders. They would have thus delayed the finding of cures as the scientists would have had to do more fund raising in order to afford the sequences.
Gene patents stop innovation and quite frankly, they kill. It’s like having a monopoly. It’s like owning land because you drew a map of it first. You should own the map not the land. And therein lies the complication. Genes on paper are like maps. But if you use the same techniques, obviously techniques should be patented, you will come up with the same map. But the cost of a map should be negligible. Like the cost of the magazine it’s published in. And discovering heart disease shouldn’t allow you to have a patent on coronaries. If I have a heart attack do I have to pay residuals? You should just get credit for the work and a patent if you developed a technique. So here is the complication that logic brings us.
In March 2000, President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair announced that they were opposed to patenting genome sequences and that they should be swiftly published so that they would be available to all researchers. Celera's stock immediately took a dive as did the biotech reliant NASDAQ. An estimated $50 billion in biotech market capitalization was lost in two days.
This has happened in other areas of biotech. Such as the journey of Taq Polymerase or Thermus Aquaticus. You might remember it from its reign as Molecule of the year in 1989. It is the enzyme used in PCR which is a form of DNA analysis. This enzyme is necessary as it can survive in extremely high temperatures which allows for amplification. This basically means it allows us to get results from smaller amounts of blood or semen or whatever sample you’ve brought in to test. And, no, you can’t identify someone’s ashes. Please stop asking. The temperature that Taq Polymerase naturally resides in is so high that it was found in the geysers of Yellowstone National Park. The discoverer has profited off of it but it was found on public park land. So can someone own all of something because they found one of something? No. The courts decided that you cannot own all of something because you found one of something, thus making DNA extraction that much cheaper. The 818 is out – besides being the area code to Burbank it is the number of the Taq Patent. Either way Taq Polymerase is my favorite enzyme/porn name.
In conjunction with Healy’s “gold rush” quote and the NYTimes use of the term “bio-prospecting” I consider genetics labs across the country to be the Deadwood of our time. So let’s all set up camp and get us some whores. “If that’s what you fuckin’ do.” - Calamity Jane
P.S. Healy retired from the American Red Cross on December 31, 2001, amidst controversy over the handling of funds for victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
P.P.S. As of 2004 “Junk DNA” is no longer junk. "Ironically, what was damned as junk might turn out to be the secret of human complexity." Like you didn’t see that coming.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
McCain’s wanderings around the lower 9th ward of New Orleans during his campaign travels are just as clumsy as his wanderings around non-Green zone Baghdad during his campaign travels. Except he has more hope for Baghdad than he does for New Orleans. Let’s see if you can figure out which city he’s talking about in the quotes below:
1. "Things are better and there are encouraging signs."
2. “What we don't read about and what is new is a lot of the good news -- the drop in the murders.”
3. “What we need is to have a conversation about what to do – rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is.”
When you’re watching McCain tour “indigenous” neighborhoods with a trail of staff and press and National Guards, as if he were touring Baghdad without the flak jacket, it comes off as the most obvious pre-prepped photo-op imaginable.
Especially the people set out on their New Orleans porches to “visit” with him. At the end of this video he approaches a woman sitting on her porch and attempts to follow her into her home. You know, the one they should just “tear down” or “whatever.” She’s seen all the tours come through her neighborhood before so, as this presidential candidate confidently walks up to her front door with all the momentum of someone expecting to enter without interruption, she puts her hand up. And he stops abruptly, waiting on the porch like a door-to-door salesman. A door-to-door salesman who happens to be leading a mass of media and politicians into her front yard. She knew exactly what he was there for. What any good salesman needs: a prop.
So he stood out on the porch until she rolled out a woman in a wheelchair. And all you could hear was a PR lady off camera: “Okay, one shot and then let’s move. Let’s just get one shot.” You know that that is the PR lady job but you don’t need to hear it.
CNN has been doing this a lot lately. You go to look at a prepackaged link and you end up with B-roll with no audio or just continual footage with no newscaster commentary. Why do they give raw footage to the public? I mean, usually it’s a high speed chase or a six-legged cat frolicking about the yard. But when it’s McCain’s press secretary shuffling him along like he’s on an award show red carpet, it’s not humane.
Pay attention, McCain, you’re not giving Mary Hart from Entertainment Tonight “just one shot.”
Pay attention, McCain, New Orleans IS being rebuilt.
Pay attention, McCain.
3. New Orleans – Yes, “tear it down” as he walks through areas being rebuilt by residents and volunteers.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
James Frey “A Million Little Pieces” wasn’t as addicted to drugs as he claimed. Thomas Kohnstamm “Lonely Planet: Colombia” never actually went to Colombia. Margaret B. Jones “Love and Consequences” was never a Native American gang member. Kaavya Viswanathan “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life” never got kissed, never got wild and never got a life. At least not in her own words. And Jayson Blair of the “New York Times” plagiarized and outright made things up.
A lying journalist, of course, is far worse than a lying novelist. You’re not getting your news from a novel but it is oh so very similar. Is the one lie of the department in which the novel should sit, as bad as the lies covering 600 newspaper articles? Certainly plagiarizing for one’s own profit we know is wrong but is an incorrect category a big deal? Just as big of a deal as “reality” TV. That’s a nice lie that we are all aware of. It took us less time to realize this than it did for us to figure out the prior to the fact choreography of professional wrestling, the lip syncing of Milli Vanilli and the Karl Roving of George Bush.
At least we can all pad our resumes with an “unauthorized” sex tape. Do we still believe the words “unauthorized”? It’s part of the craigslist job description of requirements for getting your own reality show.
REALITY SHOW STAR NEEDED:
No experience preferred.
Must have a famous relative.
An unauthorized sex tape is not absolutely necessary but it is helpful.
Please include a photo along with links to your most recent tabloid appearances.
Anyone with an actual reason for being famous need not apply.
And no one has a problem with it… outside of Rob Lowe who can’t catch a break for some reason. He did the underage sex tape before anyone else, causing him to take a few years to recover his career. And now he’s in trouble for sexual advances towards the nanny. If you’d just marry her or impregnate her you wouldn’t be in this situation. She’d have received her money through one of those two means and you’d be done with it.
Maybe it’s the lack of morals that matters. I don’t mean Puritanical religious “morals,” like you’ll go to heaven if you wear long sleeves and a bouffant hairstyle. But just the idea of: why not just say that a book is fiction? I know, there’s more cache to “based on a true story” but now this will be the way to sell books. Tell them that it’s non-fiction then tell them that it’s fiction. So really, people are mad for being lied to about the section within which a book should be housed. We’re angry that the book is less than based on a true story. What percentage of “based on” is okay?
So is St. Paul the same as the Plagiarizing Travel Writer?
Seems more like a time honored tradition than a modern ailment. So not having morals is really the most admirable or at least most entertaining way to live your life. The Bible is an all time best seller. Therefore, I say that St. Paul is the same as the Plagiarizing Travel Writer but on a much larger scale.
Were past writers who wrote down ancient tales like: "Well, when you go to press if you're gonna put down an author, then you may as well put my name since I did put the quill to paper."
No, morals don't matter. They get in the way of the pursuit of happiness. Have a Merry Girls Gone Wild Day. Did you get me anything?
My sacrilegious stop animation can be seen here:
Friday, January 11, 2008
In season two of “Battlestar Galactica” they drew parallels to the war in Iraq. But in the last season, season three, they hit you over the head with it. Humans are Iraqis and Cylons are the
I feel like this show does an amazing job of explaining the Iraqi's perspective. In order to make certain white people understand the Iraqi or Afghani or Palestinian situation you have to get certain white people to identify with white characters. People are so horrified by suicide bombers when a great many teenagers are suicidal in the US and they don't live with constant invasion or occupation or the presumption that they are terrorists. They're just sad. These same people don't understand how a person in the US, who based on their race, is constantly thought to be a criminal: commits crimes. I'm not saying it's smart to just believe what people tell you to believe about yourself but I understand that unless I had to live that way I couldn't say how I would react. Yeah, I've been watching "Do The Right Thing." Did you ever notice that Spike Lee lifted an entire speech from "The Night of the Hunter"?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
I was cleaning out my bathroom cabinet. Hold on, this isn't your usual cleaning out the bathroom cabinet story. Let me throw down some description and we'll get to the crux of the matter.
I was cleaning out my bathroom cabinet. Not the one with the mirror. And not the one under the sink. My bathroom doesn’t have the cabinet under the sink. It has a pipe that leads to the wall to drain the water from the sink, under the sink.
What I do have is a a smokey-beveled- glass-two-sliding-door-with-indentations-for-fingers- cabinet two feet above the toilet. Which means that I have to stand on the toilet in order to see what’s on the second shelf or, God forbid, what’s on top of the dust encrusted cabinet. My motivation for cleaning the cabinet was that I couldn’t put anything in the cabinet without it falling back out at me where I jauntily caught the item with alarm because of the perpetually open toilet beneath it. I often think that there will be an earthquake and since we can hardly close the cabinet and we’re unlikely to put the toilet seat down, everything’s going into the toilet. I’m not worried about dying or losing property in an earthquake. Just, will the Q-tips get wet?
So I’m cleaning this mug out (by mug I mean cabinet) and one after another... thirty six pieces of soap. What the fuck? I had no idea that they were in there. I don’t really have much when it comes to beauty supplies, so it was a mystery to me as as to why it was so crowded in the cabinet. So I pull out scented soap after scented soap.
Now, whenever my Grandmother would receive such things her comment would be, “Do you think I stink?” Grandma was a wise ass.
So I wonder if this is a problem other people have? I would rather receive nothing than the constant of Bath & Body Works gift sets. No more peach scented lotions, lobster shaped deformities and no more general rectangular boxes to remain unopened. If I had kids and they bought me soap. I’d say, look bitches, don’t buy me anything if it’s gonna be another god damned bar of soap.
I venture to say that the bath product has replaced the blender, the mixer, the kitchen appliance gift that was once acceptable for women. Women's gifts are now appearance based rather than duty based which is really the same thing. The necessity, the duty, keep up appearances. Decorative appearances.
You wouldn’t believe the collection of hotel shampoos and soaps my mom has. I was visiting and I didn’t bring any shampoo with me. I asked if I could take one of her mini hotel shampoo bottles numbering in the hundreds. I’m not kidding, and she said, with great offense. "No." As if she were an alcoholic protecting the hotel mini bar. "No." This is my mother. No, you may not use one of my one hundred tiny little bottles of shampoo. Because instead of collecting state spoons, she has collected mini hotel shampoo bottles. So I was allowed to use the big bottle of shampoo that she uses everyday because it’s not special. It’s the rejected old pet of shampoo bottles. To be thrown out once it’s no longer needed.
It’s 2008 and what did I get in my Christmas stocking this year? A reindeer Pezz dispenser, a rotten banana and… a decorative bar of soap. Now, in the usual joke world that would have gone: a reindeer Pezz dispenser, a decorative bar of soap, and a rotten banana. But as the story was about decorative bars of soap I thought I should end on it for good measure. However predictable that might be.
Decorative Bar of Soap