Saturday, June 30, 2007

You've been warned!

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

Rain and Phlox

It has been raining here which has been great for the garden. Bad for getting any yard work done. The Phlox are very intense so I got this shot in a break in the rain.

This view includes a small willow (upper right), with some spear mint. In the lower right foreground is a little miniature garden my wife has started. She wants to put a little village and I just don't understand why she won't let me put my dinosaurs in it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Over at Gay Species...

Check out this wonderful autobiographical post on Darwinism and Gays by D. Stephen Heersink. I don't think I am spilling anything by giving his conclusion because there is so much great stuff in his post.

"Darwin is every Gay and Lesbian individual's HOPE for the future, for every individual "queer's" HOPE for diversity and pluralism, because Darwin's theories insist upon it. Can Queers not correlate the denunciation of GLBT and the denunciation of Darwin as having a related "associated basis?" Are you that dense? Are you "excluding the middle" of inferential reason? Reasons, invalid though they be, exist for the shared denunciation."

More on Stem Cell Ethics...

I think it is pretty much agreed that gametes-namely egg and sperm do not have the same moral worth as a human being. So consider this. Wired Science reports that scientists have get unfertilized egg cells to divide and produce stem cells. The scientists, writing in the Journal Cloning and Stem Cells, report they were able to coax haploid unfertilized eggs into parthenogenically producing diploid blastocysts from which stem cells could be harvested.

Wired Science reports some ethicists think that what the scientists have done will be seen as merely some sort of activation of egg cells. But consider this interesting comment by Rev. Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia:

"My view is that if these grow as organized embryos for the first few days and then arrest, they may just be very short-lived human beings ... One is very possibly dealing with a defective human being. And at a minimum, the benefit of the doubt should be given here, and these embryos should not be created for the purposes of destroying them."

It sounds to me he is arguing that it is the organization of the cells into a unit that is somehow what gives cells extra moral worth over say, a tumor. Without knowing more about the technique, we can ask when did this extra moral worth come about? Was it when the haploid egg first became diploid? If so, then that in itself means that any old diploid cell would do. Is there some particular sort of biochemical cascade that when triggered, sets the cell on to the path of embryological development and greater moral worth? If so it seems that would be a mighty uncomfortable conclusion for some-that moral worth depends on biochemistry. It also implies that life (meaning human life) does not "begin with conception" as the anti abortion sloganeering claims. In fact conception is not required if I am following the Reverend's logic!

Ooops! I wonder if the Reverend really wants to follow those possible implications of his logic.

By the way there is a follow up in the Wired Science Blog which considers whether or not these embryos have souls. The post by Brandon Keim argues that perhaps they do. And Keim makes the following metaphysical speculation:

"... As for the continuing life of the stem cells, it's clear that their soul is not equivalent to that of a mature person, or even a baby within the womb. This doesn't necessarily mean that's it's worth less -- merely that it's at a different stage, with different characteristics. Might it be said that, in a hypothetical stem cell therapy, as stem cells mature and replace damaged tissue, the soul of the cells fuses with the soul of their recipient? And that the soul of those cells, their life potential, isn't lost, but instead is preserved?"

Oh dearie cells can have souls? Souls can fuse? Sounds to me like a throw back to the vitalism of the early 20th century.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Clones, Chimeras and Cybrids Oh My!

This morning a really strange article caught my attention. The article alleges that the Catholic bishops of England have stated that Chimeric embryos created using human cells have a right to life and could be implanted in the genetic mother who supplied the human cells. The article quotes the Bishop's comments on draft legislation in England regulating stem cell research as saying:

“At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly. ... In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. ... Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

What's going on here? First of all a chimera is essentially a genetic mosaic with cells from two different organisms. One might for instance take a mouse fetus and implant stem cells from a human in order to study the early development of cells in the nervous system. Chimeras seem odd but they may not be all that unusual. It is known for instance that some children are effectively chimeras, containing small numbers of cells from their mother. See this article from discover.

So a chimera is quite different from a clone, since a clone is genetically identical to its parent. Of course in nature, clones are produced via asexual reproduction. Now that may not be exciting to humans since we reproduces sexually but asexual reproduction is a normal part of the natural history of many organisms, plants as well as animals. "Identical" twins, more properly called monozygotic twins, in humans are clones.

Now there is a new new term- "cybrid." Cybrid, as used in biology, appears to be a contraction of cytoplasm + hybrid. Cybrids are often made by using the nucleus of one cell, say a human cell and injecting that nucleus into an enucleated cell from another individual-perhaps from another species. As pointed out here, the technique used to "clone" Dolly the Sheep Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, SCNT, results in a cybrid.

Isn't a cybrid a clone? Well, not really. That's largely because the cytoplasm contains mitochondria that have their own DNA. So Dolly had the nuclear genes from one the sheep that provided her nuclear DNA, but the mitochondrial DNA of the sheep that donated the egg cell's cytoplasm. A cybrid, by the way, is not a hybrid as biologists understand the term, since the term hybrid refers to an organism produced by breeding two genetically dissimilar organism.

Getting back to the Catholic Bishops, I was not able to find the original of the letter. They have not apparently soften their opposition to human producing animal chimeras, but believe that allowing the implantation of a chimera with a preponderance of human cells is the lesser of two evils-the other evil in their mind being the destruction of the embryo. This position is surprising to me because it goes way beyond the proposal in the Parliament. That proposal currently states that such embryos be destroyed by what would be the 14th day of development when implantation would be feasible.

To me the Bishop's position is not well thought out. First of all, how do they know that allowing a Chimera, even one supposedly mainly of human origin, is the lesser of two evils? Will society treat them as being fully human? Based on comments made on some sites, I suspect that many people might treat such chimeras as less than human.

For instance, consider this unedited comment from the Telegraph's web site:

"The Bischops of England, nor any other bischops have been granted such an authority to go beyond the current Church's teachings that, so far as I know are strictly forbidding in-vitro fertilizations. That's staggering: These innocent bischops are speaking about the mother's rights. OK fine. And what about those of the "father"? These Chimeras are an abomination: One day such monsters will be developped by mad scientists with the aim to overcome the human race created by God according to His plans, and destroy us either by their muscular strength or by their higher intelligence. The one question to ask the Church (not silly bischops) is: Have such human creatures a Soul? That I doubt since they have been created by men against God's laws."
If you subscribe to this sort of logic (and I don't dear reader), the conclusion is no soul-no rights. How can the Church Fathers seriously believe that allowing a chimera to be born is the lesser of two evils given that sort of reaction?

The Bishops may also have opened themselves up to a reconsideration of that basic Catholic doctrine: the soul.

"The unity of the soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single creature." Catechism (365)

If chimeras that are mainly human have a soul then where is the cut off point when a chimera does not have a soul? How about a chimera produced from cells contributed by a human male? Would the Bishops allow that chimera to be carried by a surrogate mother to full term? Or is that one reproductive intervention too many for them? How about a chimera primarily originating from another mammal but with a relatively small number of human cells, say in the cerebral cortex, does that chimera have a soul? the soul concept even useful?

To me, the Bishop's stance is not ethically defensible at this time. It leap frogs any sane proposal put forth by ethicists to handle the chimera situation. But flawed as it is, if the Bishop's proposal exposes the essentialist and typological thinking of the Church as indefensible, then maybe it has some value.

Other Links:

Could animal-human chimeras be on the way?

Chimeras on the Horizon

Embryos injected with human cells should be given human status. From Catholics online.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

At the Milkweed...

On Friday I had a yellow tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus ) pass through the garden. These butterflies are quite active fliers and I have not had much luck getting good shots in the past. This one is almost too good; the butterfly looks flat to me. (click on the image for a larger view) It is on my swamp milkweed.

These butterflies are quite interesting. There are two adult color phases in the females, the light phase shown here and a dark phase-the black tiger swallowtail -which is apparently involved in a mimicry system with the pipevine swallowtail. See this site for more pictures of larvae and adults.

The genetics of this color system is quite interesting. First, realize that unlike mammals, the females are "XY" , usually denoted "ZW", and the males are ZZ. So the females in butterflies are called heterogametic, since they produce gametes which can have either of the thew two different sex chromosomes. In contrast in mammals the males are the heterogametic sex, with the females being homogametic.

According to Scriber et al (1996), the genetic system related to which form the butterfly becomes (yellow or black tiger swallowtails) involves two loci. The first locus is a W linked locus, that has an allele b that when present leads to the production of the black, or melanistic, black swallowtail. Here I am following the notation given here.

Since the females are ZW, black tiger swallowtail females only produce black tiger female offspring while the yellow swallow tail females only produce yellow female offspring. The males always have yellow wings.

The second locus, which is Z linked that has an allele scan which can "suppress" the expression of the W linked allele b . So presumably a female that has the b allele on her W chromosome would be the black tiger form if she has scan at the second locus.

So to give an idea about how this works, suppose a female black swallowtail butterfly has genotype b s (where s by itself represents the non suppressor allele mates with a male who is heterozygous scan/s. All the male offspring will, of course be yellow, since the males do not have the W chromosome with its b allele. Half the female offspring will have genotype b s and hence be black. The other half will have genotype b scan and will be yellow.

On occasion, a butterfly is found with a one black swallowtail wing and one yellow swallowtail wing. For instance, to the left is a picture taken by Jay Joslin on a cell phone camera. These appear to be gynandromorphs, animals which are mosaics with a mixture of male and female characteristics. The term is not used for humans. In insects, gynandromorphs typically are genetic mosaics, some cells being "XX", other cells being "XY". Here is a good discussion of gynandromorphs showing different types of gynandromorphs in tiger swallowtails.

Funny that this concept arises now, since I am currently reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The protagonist in this book is a chromosomal male who is pseudohermaphrodite, with ambiguous genitalia. But this is due to a recessive allele on chromosome 5 of a gene for a an enzyme called 5-Alpha Reductase. This enzyme catalyzes the conversion of testosterone to another sterol called DHT. This is the molecule associated with certain types of baldness but more importantly DHT is required for normal development of the external male genitalia. Here is a good discussion of the genetics of 5-Alpha Reductase deficiency. So Cal, Eugenides' protagonist is not a genetic mosaic as are the gynandromorphs in the insect world. There is more to the genetics of Middlesex...but that will have to wait.

But situations analogous to insect gynandromorphs, in that individuals are genetic mosaics with respect to the sex chromosomes, do happen in people. For instance, persons with Klinefelter's syndrome, are sometimes mosaics. This happens when the sex chromosomes fail to segregate early in development leading to some lines of cells in the embryo that are XXY and others which are XY. See this reference. We do not find the sort of symmetric situations found in butterflies-male external characteristics on one side and female on the other- in mammals because mammalian development is indeterminate as opposed to determinate meaning that the fate of cells in insects is set very early on. So which cells end up on the left vs right side of the insect is set at the first division of the zygote.

Also sex germination in butterflies is not exactly the same as in people since what is critical is the number of Z chromosomes relative to the number of W chromosomes. So Butterflies that are ZW are female but butterflies with a W chromosome but more than one Z chromosome may be male depending on the species. So if a non disjunction event happens in the first division leading to the 2 cell embryo in a black swallowtail female , one side of the insect will end up having ZW cells and be the black swallowtail phenotype. The other side will presumably end up ZZW, which in butterflies is (at least often) male. This side will have the yellow tiger swallowtail coloration.

Other links:

J. Mark Scriber, Robert H. Hagen, Robert C. Lederhouse Evolution, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 222-236

Reed, Robert D. and Sperling, Felix A. H. 2002. Papilionidae. The Swallowtail Butterflies. Version 21 February 2002 (complete). in The Tree of Life Web Project,

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay Children?

One of the things I am always impressed with is how early many of my gay friends report knowing they were different. This feeling of difference jibes with my own feelings growing up male but not feeling that that was right-that I too was very different inside. So why am I disturbed by this article in the Village Voice titled "Queer in the Crib?",reischel,76971,15.html

What's disturbing about this article is we have yet another way to use kids to project adult beliefs and desires. The article for instance, has a five or six year old dressed in leather with handcuffs-quite the old guard looking s/m practitioner. Young kids certainly develop a sense of their gender and sexual identities and do a lot of experimenting. I react the same way when I see little boys forced into sports because daddy is a frustrated ball player or little girls forced into ballet because mommy is a frustrated dancer.

One of the specialists quoted in the article says:
"We needed a category that would be descriptive of children that were not old
enough to declare gender or sexuality in the adult sense," he says. 'Because,
obviously, a five-year-old is not going to know what they are in terms of
sexuality or gender.' "
And it looks like people are setting on "gender variance" as a way of describing kids who don't seem to fit the normal pattern of gender related behavior. I am just not sure this is a good idea. Labels can be valuable but labels develop a life on their own and that is not always a good thing and could lead to an unnecessary intrusion of "services" into kid's lives. There is a principle in quantum mechanics which says that the observer affects the experiment. Kids aren't experiments, but the idea is the same.

Parents ought to be there for kids and help kids develop and influence that development in positive ways...but not turn them into little poster children. Kids do develop a sense of who and what they are early and need to be able to turn to parents for advice. Lord knows my parents couldn't give me any help with my struggles prepuberty let alone puberty, but this article is a sort of pandering which I don't see as being good for kids. Kids need space and time to develop on their own, not to become pawns the the culture wars or become little sexualized robotized consumers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And the Winner Is...

Computer retailers across the land can rest easy. They won't have me bugging them for a while. The great computer hunt is over. I have decided to go with a Velocity Micro system. Here are the basic specs:

CaseLX Black - Velocity Micro Signature Case - Pure Aluminum for maximum cooling, with easily removable front door
LX Wheel KitLX Aluminum Wheel Kit (LX case only) - Pure aluminum wheels make your case easy to move, with wheel lock
Power Supply500 Watt Velocity Micro® Power Supply with Dual Blue Lighted Fans
MotherboardIntel® P35 ATX Motherboard with DDR2, PCI Express, 1333MHz FSB, RAID DP35DP
ProcessorIntel® Core™ 2 Duo processor E6600, dual 2.4GHz cores, 4MB L2 Cache
CPU CoolingArctic Cooling® Freezer 7 Pro Heatsink, Ultra Quiet Fan, Copper Heat Pipes, plus Arctic Silver™ 5 Thermal Compound
DDR2 Memory2048MB Corsair™ DDR2 PC6400 DDR2-800 (2x1024)
AudioIntel® High Definition 8-channel Audio
Hard Drive 1320GB Hitachi 7200rpm 16MB Cache SATA 300 w/NCQ
Hard Drive 2None
Optical Drive 120x Lite On® DVD+/-RW/CD-RW Dual Layer, Black Bezel
Optical Drive 216x DVD/48x CD-RW Lite On® Combo Drive, Black Bezel
Floppy Drive & Media Reader8-in-1 Floppy Drive & Media Reader Combo, Black Bezel
Network AdapterIntegrated 10/100/1000MBps Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter
Network Adapter 2 or WiFi AdapterLinksys WMP54G 802.11b/g PCI Wireless Adapter
FireWire2 Integrated IEEE 1394 FireWire Ports, 1 front & 1 rear
USB 2.0 Ports6 USB 2.0 Ports, 2 front & 4 rear
KeyboardVelocity Micro™ Keyboard with Lighted Palm Rest - Black, USB
MouseVelocity Micro™ Mouse with 800 dpi Resolution, USB
Operating SystemGenuine Microsoft® Windows® Vista Home Premium 32-bit

Notice I sacrificed memory for a better video card...and went with a system using pretty standard parts with some hope of an upgrade path. Cost is just a speck over $1800. Software I can get elsewhere and there is plenty of room to expand. So far the support people have been very helpful-so we shall see. I spent a bit more than I had hoped, about $2200 with the monitor but it isn't that much more than I spent on my last computer five years ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Late Spring in the Garden

Tomorrow is the beginning of summer. So I thought it time to post the obligatory late spring garden post. Lots of stuff going on in the yard along with driving every computer store in a 50 mile radius crazy on the hunt for a new system. So welcome to the Garden!

In the front I have Heliopsis along with Lavender and Siberian Iris. Supposedly, it's best to remove the spent blossoms but I love the pods. They are visible to the right of the lamp. I also have bearded iris but they did not bloom this Spring. We had a severe frost in April and I assume it killed the buds.

Among new plants is this yellow cone flower, planted in last fall. The plants are about 1.2 M tall and a bit spindly. Probably they would do better mixed with other plants closer to their height.

Of course I have my Butterfly "weed" and this milkweed again has at least one monarch larva feeding on it

Here is this year's monarch. The Butterfly weed isn't as healthy as last year. I think it is getting overwhelmed by the tall Lavender plants.

Around back, my bench is crowded with refugees from the deck. My step sons have been volunteered by my wife to screen in our patio so all the plants that normally reside on the porch railing have had to rough it for a few days.

My garden is pretty informal-organic is the polite term thank you. This is another shot of the bench area. The tall shrubs are viburnums.

Being informal, sometimes what other people consider weeds get left alone such as this wonderful daisy flea bane, growing among my phlox.

This striped grass makes a surprisingly good combination with yellow Heliopsis along the back edge of my pond area. I almost moved the Heliopsis last year and I am glad I left it.

No this is not butterfly weed, but an annual milkweed I am trying for the first time. Very attractive plant.

This is swamp milkweed- I think. It is growing in a small area of grasses along the west side of the yard.

Here is another new plant-Passion flower. This plant or a related species grows wild down South. I have always wanted one since I first saw the flower in 9th grade biology class so the other week I indulged myself. It is a container plant so will have to come in for the winter.

Finally the water lilies are in full bloom. Last summer, I just had a couple of blooms but the plant is doing very well. I have a chorus frog that lives on the lily pads and it croaks up a storm whenever I use the hose.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Buying a New Computer

As many of you know, I play Second Life. But playing Second Life on my five year old computer gets a bit trying since SL is pretty graphics intensive. So I've decided, rather than try to upgrade my graphics again...I should get a machine better suited for SL. At work I can play SL on my new iMac, and since my school is considering buying an island on SL and having a virtual campus or at least 'presence' on SL, I can justify using my iMAC for academic SL playing. But what are my options for home?

My first impulse is to buy a Mac. I love Macs and their operating system is still better than Windows. You know those new Windows Vista commercials where users first viewing Vista go "oh wow", like they are having a mystical experience? Well on first seeing Vista, my reaction is "oh ok, this is it?" But buying a Mac presents a problem. Apple does not have a good range of desktops. There is the Mac mini-cool little machine but it has an integrated video chipset. Not good for SL. Some SL Mac users claim it runs...barely. Next up the desktop chain are the iMAC's and I love my 20" iMAC. It's fast and bright-SL plays like a dream now. But it is an all in one machine. Difficult to upgrade. At the top of the Mac desktop chain are the Mac Pros...wonderfully juicy machines but they start at about $2,499 and that is without the monitor! Apple really needs a mid level desk top, say in the $1400 range. Apple does make reliable machines. We had a Quadra 650 for over 10 years and did several upgrades on that machine myself.

OK I want a regular desktop, something with lots of slots. Good graphics. I'm thinking a dedicated Nvidia video card with at least 250mb, so that means a Windows machine since Apple is out. The complication here is there are almost too many choices. So first stop is Best Buy and the usual round of suspects-Gateway, E-machines, HP. The problem is I don't like the machines. Most have integrated graphics-little upgrade potential and are bundled with things I don't need or want. Oh and there is another issue..which processor? Both AMD and Intel have these dual core processors and which is better seems to me like a crap shoot. The reviews seem to go back and forth depending on what iteration of the technology is being sampled and the sorts of benchmarks run. My current machine has an AMD Athlon xp 1800 and I have never had a problem with it, so I am not wedded to Intel.

I have never bought a machine online but since I don't like most of what I see at Best Buy, I decide to look at the main manufacturer's web sites. Most of them allow you to select a base model and configure your own machine, selecting from a range of options-processors, video cards, drives and operating systems...that is versions of Vista. After lots of trial and error on Dell, Gateway's and HP's site, the mainstream machine that most interests me is the Pavilion d4890y series which when tricked out with the most useful stuff for what I want and can afford comes to just under $1800 including the monitor after rebates.

In case your curious here the main specs:

Operating System Windows Vista(TM) Home Premium (32-bit)
Processor Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Duo processor E6700 (2.66GHz)
Memory 2GB DDR2-667MHz dual channel SDRAM (2x1024)
Graphics Card 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7500LE, TV-out, DVI, VGA
Networking 802.11 b/g Wireless LAN PCI Card
Hard Drive 320GB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive
Primary CD/DVD Drive LightScribe 16X DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti drive
Secondary CD/DVD Drive 16x max. DVD-ROM
Front Productivity Ports 15-in-1 memory card reader, 3 USB, 1394, audio
TV & Entertainment Experience No TV Tuner w/remote control
Sound Card Integrated 7.1 channel sound w/front audio ports
Security Software Norton Internet Security(TM) 2007 - 24 Months
Productivity Software Microsoft(R) Works 8.0
Premium Photography Software Combo: Paint Shop Pro XI Photo / Photo Album 6
Keyboard and Mouse HP wireless keyboard and HP wireless optical mouse

Oh yes and a 19 wide screen monitor HP w1907. I have a pretty nice 17" CRT that is five years old and it still works great so I am thinking of keeping it as a second monitor. Maybe I am being like those tube stereo amp purists who insist that tubes give a warm sound that modern electronics can't match, but I don't think an LCD can match my monitor. Maybe I'll change my mind when I see them side by side.

One thing that I have been seriously considering is a lower level game machine. Second Life is a game right? Or is it? After reading scads of reviews and quite frankly seeing two of the machines from this company at Best Buy, I am looking at Velocity Micro's Gamer's Edge 1500-1500 seems to refer to the base price of $1475. This is an Intel Dual core machine and has the Nvidia graphics card I want. Another option is their Gamer's Edge 1000 which as a base price guessed it. Actually it is $999. It uses the AMD Athlon 64x2 processor set. Aside from that, both machines seem to be the same.

The Lawrence Best Buy has two Velocity Micro machines which appear to be sold exclusively through Best Buy. They are Intel duo core machines and similar to the Gamer's Edge machines. So I am watching and hoping to snap one up on sale since both machines are on the floor. The one I am eyeing is the Promagix E6600.

The last option I am currently considering is a local custom builder. Fortunately we have one in Lawrence, Uni computers and I have had them put together a proposal based on VelocityMicro's specs for the E6600. Surprisingly, the local builder comes in at about the same price at the Promagix machine, and just a little less then than the Gamer's Edge 1500. The advantage here is that if something goes wrong I don't have to ship the machine to Timbuktu or Virginia.

What will I decide...who knows. But all the machines in my price range have very similar capabilities. The iMac by the way is really no more expensive than the closest Windows machine, I just don't want an all in one machine. So on that mid range desktop. It looks like I have a number of pretty good options.

As for my current desktop. My son needs a computer, so it may end up there or since I just replaced the hard drive I might keep it around as a file back up machine-it is RAID capable so maybe I will set it up that way and network it to my other machines assuming I can still use XP on it. Or maybe I can find someone that won't treat it as a, well, commodity.

Stay tuned...

And the Winner Is...

The KGB-Tiger Beetle Edition

My yard is full of these wonderful green tiger beetles. These beetles get their name because they are active visual predators and can give a little nip if picked up, a bit like some Kansans I suppose. So on to the carnival.

First up is a new blogger to me, Diane Silver. Writing in her blog Kansas Voices, she observes that in contrast to the popular mythology about Kansas, GLBT people are becoming integrated into Kansas society, even in rural areas. She also contributes to another blog, In This Moment.

Yet another new blogger to me is Diana who writes on the entanglement between doctors and drug companies in her post, The Appearance of Impropriety, in her health related blog, Somebody Heal Me. By the way, both these bloggers are in Lawrence. She also has a post on the upcoming Michael Moore documentary called Sicko. Diana learned about the KGB from Josh's blog, Thoughts from Kansas. Josh, by the way, notes an anniversary for one of the longest running Kansas Blogs,Peg at Kansas Peg writes:

"Recent studies suggest about 60-70 million blogs exist on line and nearly 175,000 new ones crop up daily. The vast majority of blogs that are started are either abandoned or isolated. Most people on the internet have a blog or two they read and follow. I try to keep my blog list updated. If the blogger isn’t contributing regularly, I drop them…the exception being my good friend, Jesse, who writes excellent material when he has time."

From new faces to new geography, emawkc writes about Lebanon Kansas which is just about the geographic center of the lower 48 states in his post, The More You Know About Lebanon Kansas. He goes to Lebanon to buy custom grown beef and he gives links about the advantages of this beef, free from hormones and antibiotics.

This probably is a good time to note that this is the centennial year of Rachel Carson's birth. The modern environmental movement is often dated from the publication of her book Silent Spring. In my submission, Rachel Carson: At the Commons, I report on a recent event at the University of Kansas on Carson's legacy.

John at Blogmeridian discusses his reaction to the recent book burning in Kansas City by a frustrated book store owner and contrasts that with his experience at the Bookaholic in Wichita. I grew up to respect the written word, and I can't imagine burning books. It seems to me that books have become just another commodity to be bought at the lowest price and discarded after a reading. Too bad. Maybe this is another symptom of the information overload discussed by Joel Mathis at Cup O' Joel. He asks us how we cope with information overload. So you might go on over and give him some suggestions. Joel observes:

"There are days when the knowledge feels wide but shallow. The RSS feed? I haven’t bothered to count, but I’m calculating that it brings me upward of 1,000 postings a day. Most of them, I just scan the headlines. I plunge into only a few."

I know exactly what he means. Personally I don't worry about information overload since in spite of the oft repeated claim that the amount of information doubles every several years, most of information is at best redundant and, at worst dead wrong. Of course, none of this applies to our Kansas bloggers!

Next week, the KGB heads on over to Blogmeridian. So submit something via the KGB's carnival page, or contact John through his blog.

Technorati tags:

Friday, June 08, 2007

KGB- call for submissions

The Kansas Guild of Bloggers will be here on Monday evening with the Tiger Beetle edition. So if you have some jewels for our edification you may submit them via the carnival submission form here, or even easier for me, e-mail them to me at pdecell 'at' You don't have to be from Kansas to submit and it doesn't matter whether you are a Jayhawk or Wildcat or any other sort of animal. Articles will be accepted up to 8:00 pm on Monday.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rachel Carson: At the Commons

The Commons at the University of Kansas held a program about the legacy of Rachel Carson tonight (June 7) at the Spencer Museum of Art on the KU campus. Rachel Carson was a major influence on my development, so I naturally went to this program. The program consisted of a talk on art related to environmental issues followed by a showing of a 1993 documentary, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and a discussion about Carson.

I missed the art discussion , but did catch both the documentary and the final discussion. These were facilitated by Maril Hazlett (pictured), a local environmental historian and researcher at The Land Institute. Hazlett made several important points about Carson. She called Carson a "rare creature" in that she was a completely integrated person, one who combined science with a deeply spiritual reverence for life. Carson told people that they are ecological creatures and that if you put toxins in the environment they will come back to you. She discussed a famous quote from Silent Spring:

"It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used," she wrote. "I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge. If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem."

Hazlett noted that Carson was not, contrary to what some of her detractors think, against all use of insecticides and other pesticides, but very concerned about their abuse. Carson talked about "prudent concern" and cautioned against extremes and indeed was a moderate voice with respect to the environment and the use of chemicals, a fact that Hazlett noted, is largely forgotten.

I had seen the documentary before, and if you get the chance it is worth seeing. Younger viewers of the documentary might not believe some of the scenes of DDT and other pesticides being sprayed and kids playing in the spray, but in the 1950's that was common. I can remember eagerly awaiting the mosquito truck so I could play in the wonderful blue fog. We were never told it was potentially dangerous.

The documentary was not completely anti DDT and noted the pivotal role DDT played in World Was II in controlling typhus which is spread by lice. The documentary also re-enforced Carson's concern about the abuse of pesticides in the hands of untrained individuals.

After the discussion Hazlett took questions and comments from the audience. One questioner asked for Hazlett to comment on an essay in a recent NY Times essay by John Tierney who argues that Carson's legacy is one of chemophobia and that:

"The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they’ve had to fight against Ms. Carson’s disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome “dirty dozen.” "

This echoes some of the claims made about Carson in websites such as Junk Science that I have blogged about elsewhere, and Hazlett correctly points out that DDT is still used in other parts of the world and that Tierney's tying of the failure to control Malaria to Carson is not accurate. As an aside, I believe Tierney also plays fast and loose with chemistry, not understanding that Malaria and other chlorinated hydrocarbons really are different from other more naturally occurring chemicals that we encounter. DDT and many of the newer pesticides is not part of the chemical background in which we evolved.

I asked Hazlett, why there seems to be a spike in criticism of Carson today. Hazlett attributes part of the spike to the fact that this year is the centenary of Carson's birth. But she notes that the ultimate reason maybe that we as a society still have not developed a consensus as to the best way to evaluate and deal with new technology.

The upshot seems to be that Carson really was a moderate and should not be blamed for people's misunderstanding of her position.

Other Links suggested by Hazlett:

Environmental Working Group

The Rachel Carson Homestead

Also see the Rachel Carson Centennial Blog

Technorati Tags:

Along the Levee

O how the water sings on down
Past the levee, past the bridge
Her little meanders, cow licks
Catching the sun and her skin
Brown with silt suspended
By the A of her voice.

O how the sand and branches
Have collected against the levee
But in places the rocks are scoured
Exposing shells from another age
A long day ago in another song
Dropt in time by her voice.

O how the cottonwood waves
Along the bank to the sky,
Water pulled up the voiced columns
Pipes sounding deep then up
To the twittering piccolos
And dispersed by the hot breath of her voice.

The real river is the flow of energy from the sun that is interrupted by the chemistry of the Earth and used to do work. We are the products of that work as is all life. Ultimately all that energy is dissipated as heat, random motion. As far as we can tell at some point there will be no flow of energy for what ever remains to grab on to and do work. So all we can really do is enjoy our privileged float along the river of entropy.

We can hope for more. Hope that when we die we will sleep in Christ until the end of time. Or hope that we will be reincarnated even into a snail. Or hope, as Paul Davies seems to, that some quantum entanglement will lead us to the Omega Point where we will become part of some sort of big eye looking back at itself, the self aware Universe.

Yes hope. But don't forget to enjoy the float.

Technorati Tags: