Thursday, October 11, 2007

Worried About Global Warming?

Changing your lifestyle to save the planet? Here's a new one for you. Greenpeace says, "Eat more kangaroo!!" It's your low-gas nutrition alternative. Apparently, kangaroos don't have the flatulence problem that cows and sheep do. Flatulence is, as we know, a major greenhouse gas producer, and, short of giving Beano to all our hamburger-on-the-hoof, there's not much we can do about it--if we want to remain carnivores, that is. Greenpeace's solution is to suggest we stop raising cattle and start harvesting the hoppers. Of course, if you don't live down under, there's all that fuel oil it'll take to get this methane-efficient meal to your dinner plate, but hey, anything for the cause, right? Then again, maybe Beano for livestock isn't such a bad idea after all...

Hat tip: Best of the Web

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

From The Kitchen To The Supreme Court

This "How'd she get there from here?" moment, brought to you by ramblers anonymous.

Hello from flaky blogger central. Apologies and self-abasement to anyone who requires them for my random approach to posting since I returned from my summer hiatus. To be honest, I'm not particularly inspired to write much right now. I don't really have anything to say or share that isn't available from a plethora of other sources far more erudite and articulate than I, and it seems rather a waste of your time for me to spout off uninspired, when a Google search will lead you to a treasure trove of information, news and opinions on your topic of choice. My two cents seem overwhelmingly redundant these days, and not very shiny.


Further inhibiting my spouter's itch, I'm getting all domestic with the onset of fall. I've got sewing projects going, and autumn is cooking season here in Meowville (the only time of year that I actually have some personal inclination to camp out in the kitchen.) This foray into the wonderful world of cookery never lasts long--usually about as long as spring fever keeps me interested in gardening--a couple months, max. I'm not interested enough in food to keep up the culinary enthusiasm much past the first weeks of morning chill and changing leaves, but it's fun for a little while to fill the kitchen with warm, homey smells after the long heats of summer have ceased, and the very thought of turning on the oven doesn't oppress me. For the moment, the thought of homemade mac and cheese, with ham and sauteed onions, a side of green beans, and fresh-baked bread is all sorts of appealing. The big fall bonus is that I know I'll make Ked happy while the cooking bug lasts. I know, though, that it's only a matter of time (a very brief time at that) until nanobots win out over warm, buttery biscuits, and the opinion-spouter in me wins out over the dread of redundancy.


Another time-consumer in the land of Meow is some committee work Ked and I are doing at church. Our pastor is being called on to a different ministry, and now comes the task of finding someone to fill his sizable shoes. As part of the search committee, we have lots of papers and procedures to review and revise, so we've all got our editorial pens out as the committee wrestles with the job of searching for the right replacement. To be honest, I'm really not fond of committee work in general, and my personal motto is "I want no power of any kind," so I didn't sign up for this gig on a volunteer basis. My husband and I were asked to participate, and we prayerfully considered the choice before committing. So far, I'm glad we said yes. We will miss our current pastor dreadfully, but, despite myself, I'm finding it interesting work. The committee is formulating advertisements, questionnaires and interview questions, and discussing ways to determine who will be the right fit. The English major and blogger in me enjoys the writing tasks, and I'm fascinated by the group discussions of who we are as a church, what we want our church to be in future, and how to convey those ideas to prospective pastoral candidates.

Okay, that wraps up the State of the Meow Address for October 9, 2007. I had an awful lot to say for someone who said that they didn't have anything to say right now, didn't I? Apparently, my two cents are shinier than I thought, at least to myself anyway. Having rendered my long-winded, and possibly unnecessary excuses for bloggish flakery, I'm going to toss out another quick link for anyone who might be interested. I read an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that was quite informative and interesting. (I warned you that I was somehow going to get from the kitchen to the Supreme Court.) The recent release of Justice Thomas' memoirs has set tongues awagging throughout pundit-dom, and John Yoo, "a professor at the Law School of the University of California at Berkeley, and a former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Thomas," examines some of Thomas' opinions and history. If SCOTUS is your bag, have a look. It's worth your time.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Health Decision Nightmares

...in the making. Oh, and while we've got the medicine cabinet open, let's talk about doctors grilling kids for dirt on their parents, shall we? ("Spy Kids" link via Instapundit)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shades Of Gattaca

Remember the movie Gattaca? Ethan Hawke played a non-genetically modified human in the midst of an entire society of genetically enhanced over-achievers. His parents made the dire mistake of letting God decide who their child would be, rather than laboratory eugenics, and Vincent (Hawke's character) payed the price for that indiscretion. His genetically tweaked younger brother was taller, smarter, healthier and much more socially acceptable in a world where a DNA sequencing served as a job interview, and human potential was just a line on a bar graph. Vincent, limited by his poor vision and weak heart, as well as his otherwise unacceptable DNA, became the dregs of society, an "invalid," a man whose only value to the people around him was as a janitor, allowed by their benevolence to earn his keep by picking up their trash, as was fitting a "God-child" in their world of scientific perfection.

The movie's plot centers around Vincent's attempts to buck the system and overcome his genetic limitations, fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut and travelling to another world--all the while pretending to be someone with the right genetic profile for the job. The challenge for Vincent is not only overcoming his physical limitations, but fooling all the perfected humanity around him into thinking he is one of their own. Of course, in the end, the movie is about the triumph of the human spirit and Vincent's victory over the cold, hard world around him--an offering of comfort to all of us living here on the edge of our own scientific hurdle into this "brave new world."

This is just a movie, though, right? We aren't really all that close to choosing how smart, or how tall our kids will be, are we? Well, let's see how far off the mark this particular piece of science fiction is, shall we? We all know that genetic tests for Down Syndrome are routine in pregnancies where the mother is over thirty-five, and fetuses are regularly aborted for that genetic abnormality. There are also many people in countries such as India and China who are already pre-selecting for gender, aborting their girl babies in favor of boys, leading to an imbalance in gender ratios, and an increase in social aberrations like wife-sharing (via Futurismic.) So, we can see that we already select, in some cases, for intelligence, health and gender. Alarmingly, James D. Miller writes at TCS Daily that we are just not all that far from moving on to selecting for these and other traits on a much larger scale. Want to raise a baby Einstein? Science may soon give you much better odds than God and nature ever did:

By some predictions, within five years the cost of sequencing DNA will be "affordable enough that personal genomics will be integrated into routine clinical care." Once millions of people have their DNA sequenced researchers may quickly determine which combination of genes gives people the best chance of having a high IQ. Parents using embryo selection could, therefore, screen their embryos and pick the one with the greatest intellectual potential.

A recent advance in gathering eggs from women will make it much easier for choosey moms to give birth to geniuses. Two British fertility clinics have found a way of safely obtaining thousands of eggs from a woman. Fertility clinics, therefore, will soon be able to give a couple thousands of embryos to pick from. So let's say that a certain couple's genes mean that normally they have only a 1% chance of conceiving a child with the genetic potential to reach a genius IQ. With the ability to select among thousands of embryos, however, this couple could now almost guarantee that their offspring has the genetic potential of a genius.

Some people might look at this as a wonderful breakthrough, a boon to the future of humanity. Who wouldn't benefit from having a world full of Smart People? However, I am not nearly so sanguine about the prospects. Setting aside for now the embryos that will be created simply so someone can pick their favorite, putting babies on the level of shoes in a department store (except that the unwanted shoes, unlike the embryos, don't get destroyed when a particular shopper decides they aren't the right style), what happens when an ambitious nation decides that part of their future military and expansionist plans include raising swarms of state-controlled super-smarties, capable of shifting the balance of power in the world, simply by virtue of their superior intellects and numbers? Miller presents a China scenario that doesn't give me much comfort:

Embryo selection gets even more interesting when we consider how a nation such as China might use it. Imagine that in ten years China forces all its college students to get genetic tests. Students with intelligence genes in the top 1% of the top 1% of humankind are then forced to donate sperm or eggs. China then uses the sperm and eggs to create a billion embryos each year. The genetic intellectual potential of all these embryos is checked. Those in the top 10,000 are implanted into women. Each of these embryos has the intellectual potential to be in the top one-billionth of humankind. Now because of environmental factors many of these embryos won't turn into intellectual titans. But let's say that one in ten does. This means that each year 1,000 people with the scientific ability of Einstein will be born. By 2035 they will become adults and start doing scientific research. I imagine these Einsteins will be rather helpful to China's economy and military.

I'd love to cling to the message of Gattaca, the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, physical and mental limitations and all that--Stephen Hawking is a shimmering, glowing star in the mental firmament, after all--but the whole notion of mankind genetically manipulating our potential sends up red flags all over the place for me. I acknowledge that every parent on the planet would want to give birth to healthy babies, and that, even if I would not do the same, many of them would think that genetic profiling was a reasonable way to achieve that end for their child, but in a non-personal, non-specific-individual way, many of our potential problems in the world are held in check by the fact that lots of people who have evil plans simply can't carry them out yet. I do not like the notion of an entire generation of enhanced nuclear scientists growing up in Iran, for example, or a crop of bio-weapons experts-in-the-making springing up in Pakistan. Equally repugnant is the notion of a whole generation of Islamic women bred to be subservient by nature (or in this case design), or a slave-class enhanced for their endurance. Don't tell me that there aren't societies in the world that would pursue these goals. Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, Nazi Germany, and even today's China, among others, put the lie to such thinking.

These are not desirable outcomes to scientific "advancement" if you ask me, and yet, is there really any way to prevent the undesirable in the quest for the arguably desirable--healthier, smarter children? As seemingly heartless as it is to want to limit parents' abilities to produce the best children possible, this is one area of "progress" I would rather see slowed, hindered, and even halted altogether than continue on to an unavoidably negative end. However, is there anything that will prevent this science from its inexorable march into the future, with both the good and bad it holds in its hands? I can't see a way to separate them, nor can I see the scientific community having the wisdom to refrain from following this particular yellow brick road. The technology will continue to advance, unless God himself chooses to halt the momentum.

I love science. I really do, and I'm thrilled as can be with the giant leaps that science has made in medicine, agriculture, bio-pharming, environmental protection, tech toys, space travel--you name it, but I really don't like to see the world presented in Gattaca coming to pass. Give me a whole world full of God-children. He is a designer who is not out to fulfill some selfish need, or evil scheme of His own, and the beauty of a Stephen Hawking comes not from any form of perfection, but from the understanding we gain from his example that our struggles define us just as much as our giftings. Our character comes, in part, from the effort we have to put into overcoming life's challenges. A person is not made more precious by virtue of more "perfect" DNA. I have no profound thoughts to offer here, and no answers to help mankind pursue its own improvement while avoiding the pitfalls that are inherent to high-tech eugenics, just a warning that, unless a way can be found to separate the good from the bad, this is an area best left alone. Designer people won't make the world a better place. They'll only fill the world with more potential for human abuses.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Friday, September 28, 2007

Talking The Talk

But not walking the walk (and making it harder for other people to trudge the path, too.) The not-in-my-backyard brigade continues to put up obstacles to energy alternatives. Question--Do we want renewable energy, or not? Yes? Then stop making it so goll-darned difficult to implement!!

(via Instapundit)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

News Of The Weird And Freaky

Read in your best Rod Serling impersonation (or get someone else to read it for you):

Imagine this--you're sitting at your computer reading James Taranto's Best of the Web, blithely perusing the elegant and edgy editorial offerings and choice sampling of significant stories from across America and beyond, when you come across this headline: "Amputated leg found in second-hand smoker." At first you are taken aback, thinking that Joe Camel's wife has gone Hannibal Lecter, consuming the appendage in the appropriately moody tobacco haze of her husband's forty-second cigarette of the day--a grisly thought which is disturbing, but remote, since no such atrocity has ever entered your reality. Then you discover that the second-hand smoker in question is the kind used to cure meat, the tender ham you ate last Easter, or the delectable salmon you sampled last Saturday. Your stomach heaves as this horror hits closer to home. Could it be that you have entered The Twilight Zone?

Okay, that's about as far as I can take this without rather more caffeine than I am willing to consume. Here's the story in a nutshell: This guy goes to an auction where he bids on, and wins, a smoker which was left in a storage locker and sold along with other abandoned items. When the lucky new owner later looks inside, he discovers a human leg, chopped off just above the knee. Turns out somebody had to have his leg amputated and was saving it "for religious reasons." The smoker just happened to be the storage place of choice for his own personal religious relic. Don't ask me what religious reason anyone could have for keeping his amputated leg. I have no idea. I don't even think I want to know. I also haven't a clue why a leg that was important enough to keep wasn't important enough to keep track of (and yes, I do know that I ended that sentence with a preposition.) The real question that I would like to have answered is, "Does the guy who bought the smoker plan on actually using the thing now that he's found the Cracker Jack toy surprise inside?" Would you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Health Insurance

Here's one for you to ponder. John Stossel has some interesting thoughts about health insurance, at Townhall.com. What he has to say runs contrary to currently popular political speech on both sides of the aisle, which bemoans the under-insured state of many Americans. Stossel suggests instead that Americans have way too much insurance, rather than too little. That's something of a counter-intuitive statement, given the discussion that's going on in political circles these days about how to get more coverage for more people, but I tend to agree with him, based upon my own experience and that of my family.

I'll give you a few examples. Several of my close relatives have to provide their own insurance, for various reasons. Being farmers. my in-laws have no employer to provide it as a perk, so they have opted for the most cost-effective option available to them. They have very high deductible insurance. They pay for routine medical out-of-pocket, and save the insurance for the big-ticket medicine, saving them money on premiums, but still ensuring that they don't lose the farm (literally) over catastrophic illness or accident. They decide for themselves what doctor to see, and how often, and whether a given medical procedure is worth their hard-earned money. They may have to plan a bit to make sure they have the money available when it comes time to go to the eye doctor, but the big stuff is covered and they're not paying through the nose for the monthly premium.

My sister's family, on the other hand, pays for HMO-type insurance (Kaiser), which supposedly covers every scratch. When they can get in, that is. This costs them a staggering amount of money monthly, and also has the disadvantage of putting their medical choices in the hands of a very inefficient bureaucracy. Not only does the HMO chose for them which medical treatment is covered, but because the system is in many ways unaccountable, important decisions get lost in the system. My sister was once diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and didn't receive proper treatment for eight years. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. I grant you that this is anecdotal, but it still influences my opinion of insurer-makes-the-decisions healthcare. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if that insurer was the federal government. Can anyone say DMV?

My husband and I have a different, and much better, situation than my sister. Our insurance, although employer-provided, shares some of the better aspects of his parent's self-insurance arrangement. Ked's office went the HSA (health savings account) route a couple of years ago, and we love how the whole thing works. Instead of low-deductible, high-cost insurance, we now have high-deductible, low-cost insurance. You may be asking, "What's to love about a high deductible? Doesn't that mean you have to pay for more of your medical expenses yourself?" Well, that's where the HSA comes in. Because the insurance company doesn't have to pay for the minor and routine medical stuff, Ked's boss saves money on insurance premiums. He passes those savings on to his employees. He deposits enough money to cover that high deductible into the HSAs, which are under employee control. We pay for routine medical out of that account, and--here's the good part--we get to keep what we don't spend, like it's in a retirement account. This gives us incentive not to run to the doctor for every sniffle, while still covering us for major health issues. We and our doctor decide what to spend the money on medically, and we get a retirement savings bump if we're frugal.

Stossel's article is quite interesting. He has some convincing things to say about how much is added to the cost of medicine in America simply because the insurance industry is so intimately involved with it. He also discusses how it came about that insurance got so interconnected with routine medical care in the first place, and whether the push for government intervention is a good idea. (Interestingly enough, he makes the case that government is responsible for the current state of affairs in the first place.) You may agree with his conclusions; you may not, but have a look.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arrr, I Almost Fergot, Matey!

Avast!! A dear lass called me today to remind me that it's International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Well, blow me down--I feel like such a lubber that I almost let the day pass unheralded. Perhaps I should make meself walk the plank, or deny meself me ration o' grog. Maybe, though, I'll just let meself off with a few Hail Mateys, and a promise to be a smarter wench next TLAP Day. Aye, that sounds more likely.

While We're Talking Economics, Let's Throw Some Climate Science Into The Mix ...

A comment on my last little toss-out post, which listed a couple of articles on economics that I found interesting, pointed the way to this post by John Tierney, pitting economists against ecologists as predictors of climate change. Not a fair fight? Well, the match-up may surprise you. By Tierney's reckoning, economists have the shinier resume when it comes to examining potential global crises. He gives some track record comparisons that certainly lend credence to his point of view. The really good news there is that the economist crowd also seems to be a lot more optimistic:

The classic example is the “population crisis” of the 1960s and 1970s, when biologists like Paul Ehrlich were convinced humanity was about to suffer massive famines and devastating shortages of energy and other resources because the growing population would exceed the planet’s “carrying capacity.” This concept seemed obvious to biologists who study ecosystems, but economists realized there’s a big difference between animals and humans: Humans are remarkably adaptable and creative. When confronted with shortages and environmental problems, they have a long history of coming up with solutions — new methods of farming, new and cheaper sources of energy, cleaner technologies — that leave them better off in an environment that’s less polluted.

Of course, population sustainability and climate are clearly different animals, but the point remains the same. Humans adjust, and even manage to think about the rest of the ecosystem occasionally. Now, if you read the Meow at all, you probably know that while a thermometer (and common sense) can tell you that the climate has changed over time, and will continue to change, I'm a pretty big skeptic of the idea that human beings can be pegged as the source of that change. (Click on the climate science label below to get a Kat-centric view of the topic.) Nonetheless, since there are plenty of folks out there determined to blame humanity, and determined to find a solution to the weather, I'm glad to see some other disciplines chiming in on this debate. They may not have the scientific background of the "experts," but just might have a valuable word or two to contribute as the global powers mull our future. Have a look.

Note: Thanks for the link, Rich.

Update: Thought I'd throw this one out there for fun...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

X-citing

We're heading to the coast now, so I shouldn't be blogging, but this is just cool. The X Prize Foundation is at it again, with $30 million in the kitty for whoever can put a robot on the moon. Note for the day: Incentives work, and they're especially positive things when there's no hint of government involvement about them.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gutter Rants

Rant to follow, but first a look at this week in Meowville. I'm working up the energy to start another day of manual labor. Ked and I have been hard at it for days, doing much needed home repairs in preparation for the rains to come. Last year, some of you will remember, we jumped through the hoops demanded by the City of Portland to pass inspection on our new garage. Well, now we're trying to catch up on all the work we neglected while doing the City's bidding. Ked's taken the week off, and we have been going like gangbusters. Sunday we jacked up both our front and side porches and replaced the rotting pillars. Monday and Tuesday we replaced the gutters.

You may be saying to yourself, "Wow, gutters aren't that hard. Why'd it take them two whole days to get them done? Ked and Kat must be incompetent!" Without arguing the finer points of the incompetence question, allow me to offer a small bit of self defense. Although we live in quite a small house--only about thirty feet square--it has a hip roof, which means that the gutters go all the way around, with twists and turns for the porches to boot. We have almost one hundred and sixty feet of gutters, and a dozen corners to turn!! We are quite thrilled that the project went so smoothly and that we will no longer have to put out buckets to catch the water pouring from the leaking gutters to prevent it from soaking our basement bedroom. (NEVER install plastic gutters. They are nearly worthless.) Anyway, today we're heading out to paint the chimney and trim that didn't get finished last year in the height of City appeasement season. The happy thing for us is that after all the work is done, once we can face the coming winter weather with equanimity, we're going to head to the coast for a couple of days of camping and resting. That thought will keep us going for today. That and caffeine. Praise God for caffeine.

Anyway, I'm sure you didn't check in here for an update on Meow home improvement, so I'll toss you a little something from the "Good Grief, Save Me From The Nanny State" files. Looks like Los Angeles lawmakers are looking for ways to keep other people from packing on the pounds. No, they're not sponsoring fitness walks and heart-health awareness lectures. They're not giving tax breaks to fitness centers, or even signing "good example" pledges, where they promise that they will forgo dessert in favor of an after-dinner walk in hopes that where they lead Los Angelenos will follow. No, they have a much more "we know better than you" approach, compounded with a little "do as I say, not as I do" for good measure. According to The Center for Consumer Freedom:

Yesterday, with that unique blend of condescension and stupidity all too common among nanny staters, Los Angeles lawmakers unveiled plans to “fight” obesity by prohibiting fast food restaurants from building new outlets in one of the city’s poorest districts. The bill’s sponsors claim that fast food restaurants are crowding out “healthier” outfits in low-income communities, leaving poor Los Angelenos with exclusively high-fat, high-calorie food options.

Wow, they're only planning to stop the building of fast food places in poor neighborhoods, so that "healthier" restaurants will stop being "crowded out." Like there's simply not room for them with all those fast food restaurants forcing people to patronize their establishments. Do these people not realize that stopping the installation of a McDonald's is not going to drive the poor hapless ignorant masses to Tofu Heaven? Do they think that, just by virtue of having less money, poor people somehow have less of an understanding than the well-to-do that a Whopper is going to have more calories than a side salad with fat-free dressing? People eat what they want to eat! McDonald's and Wendy's and Burger King all offer salads and fruit and milk and other "healthy" choices. If people don't order them, it's because they don't want to. Some of them want triple burger combo meals with fries and a milkshake, and no amount of salad options is going to distract them from their culinary goal. They don't want salad! Is the solution to make the choice for them, and deny them them options they do want? Maybe in "we know better than you do" world, but not in anyplace that I want to live, and not in anyplace realistic either.

Hint to legislators: People find ways to get what they want--even poor people. Some of them might even hop on the bus to head to the restaurant in your area that offers the food they actually want to eat. Worse, some of them might get in their cars to do it, burning fossil fuels and cash to get to the thing that is okay for you, but not for them! Take away the burger joints in their neighborhoods, and you're still going to have poor fat people running around offending your sensibilities, but they'll be doing it in your neighborhood. Now, who's going to legislate a solution for that one?

Okay, rant over. Have a lovely day!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is Organic Healthier For Us And The Planet?

Here in Oregon, as in much of the rest of the affluent world, where many of us can afford to spend a little extra money on what goes in our cooking pots and on our dinner tables, lots of folks are keeping stores like Wild Oats hopping with the demand for organic edibles. Many people believe that organic is healthier, both for us and the environment. Cosmos (a magazine which examines "the science of everything") has a long, but very interesting article, by Elizabeth Finkel, on organic versus more conventional farming methods (which employ chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers), comparing their effects on both people and the planet. You might be surprised at how the two stack up against one another, and how many chemicals occur naturally in "natural" foods.

I don't have anything of significance to say about the topic myself, since I lack both knowledge and firm opinions, and haven't even indulged in much idle speculation about this particular subject matter, but I found this article very informative, and thought Finkel's analysis was worth your perusal. Here's my one-and-a-half cents before I send you on your way. Sounds to me like pressures from environmental groups and organic advocates have pushed and changed all farming for the better over the course of previous decades, but that their philosophies shouldn’t be allowed to limit future improvements from other philosophical and scientific ways of thinking. It's king of a "can't we all just get along?" reaction. That may be too bland and middle-of-the-road for some, especially here in "green" Oregon, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em. Anybody else have an opinion?

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Oregon State Fair--In All Its Glory

Okay, the title is enormously deceiving, since to represent the fair in all its glory would require a hundred photographs and a thousand descriptions, and I have no desire to strain your patience by wading through all of Ked's and my State Fair memories in laborious detail. I'll just skim the surface, and assure you that there was much, much more to see and experience than will be logged here. You really should experience it for yourself some year. It'll be worth the trip to Oregon, wherever you call home, and while you're here, maybe we can go for a hike or two!!

The reason we head back to the fair every year is that it never gets boring. Sometimes for us the focus is on photography exhibits and stage performances. Other years see us drawn to the show jumping and farm machinery, or maybe the demolition derby (which, as we went with friends who had kids, was last year's highlight.) If your penchant is for wine tasting and household gadgetry, the Oregon State Fair has you covered. If you're all about quilting, crocheting, or growing giant Anaheim peppers, you'll find plenty to keep you entertained. This year, even scuba divers and beach volleyball players could find their niche, since a new feature at the fair was a place for folks to try some popular Oregon activities. There was a tank for scuba wannabes to take a dip, a sand pit for volleyball, a rock wall for climbers, and even a "rink" set up for aspiring curlers to try their hand at "throwing" one of those forty pound stones that had us all so fascinated during the last winter Olympics. (They set the stones on wheels to approximate the ice effect.)

There's way too much to do and see to take it all in at once, so every time we go we have to pick and choose. This time around had us hanging out with the animals, and exploring the gardens and handcrafts. We learned a lot this year, talking to farmers and bee keepers and various and sundry other possessors of knowledge. For example, did you know that those notches in a pig's ears tell it's lineage and what number piglet it was in its litter? That's how they keep track of who's who for breeding purposes. Now, isn't that interesting? But wait, there's more. According to the friendly local farmers who gave us some pig lessons, when you're choosing a porker, you look for one that's long in the body, for lots of pork loin chops and yummy bacon. You want a pig with a nice round rump, because that's where the hams are stored, and you don't want to feed a pig rotten food, because "garbage in, garbage out." Our professors of farmology told us that inside a pig it's very much like it is inside a human, same heart, digestive system, and so on. (This explains why the scientific types are working on genetically engineering pigs for organ donation to humans.) The same things that will make us sick will make them sick, and rotten food will make for mushy, rotten meat. Eeeewww.

We didn't just stick to the farmyard. When we headed indoors there were lots of learning opportunities. We spent a really long time talking with a beekeeper who was an encyclopedia of fascinating bee knowledge. We talked a fair bit about Colony Collapse Disorder, and the social order of a hive. What really rocked my world, though, was when we got to talking about bee reproduction. Did you know that bee eggs that are not fertilized still become bees? Creating drones is a one woman show. Let me explain: The queen lays lots of eggs. Some of these are fertilized. These go on to become females, and are the worker bees of the colony. They gather all the nectar and make all the honey, and they live to be, say, six months old before they die. The unfertilized eggs go on to become the drones. These are the males. They don't do much of anything, except sit around and eat, and wait for their turn to mate with the Queen. (No smart remarks, now. I'm not making this up; I'm just passing along information from a higher source. If you want to make connections between these drones and males in general, I'm afraid you're on your own.) Drones have it cushy for a while, but they are short-lived little lay-abouts. Once they've had their "audience" with the queen they die. Their reproductive organs pull out, just like with a bee's stinger, and they are left bereft of all that's important to them, including their very lives. Most of them only live a few short weeks.

One of the most interesting little nuggets of bee lore we learned was that if the colony doesn't think the queen is doing enough to keep the colony going, they can boot her out and "grow" a new queen. Any female egg that's caught in the early stages of development can be turned into a queen candidate. The other bees feed her "royal jelly"--a kind of honey that has special nutrients--and that egg will develop into a different kind of critter, with totally different behavior and thought patterns. While the common bees all have a "the more the merrier" approach to life in the hive, if several of these queen candidates are grown at once, the one who hatches first will go around playing a deadly version of the game Marco Polo. The new queen will call out to the other queens, and the others will call back, trying to locate the competition. The one that's mobile will go catch the others while they're still in their sacks and see to it that they never emerge. This queen business ain't for the faint of heart. Of course, the survivor better start laying those eggs right quick, because if her loyal subjects don't think she's a producer, then, "Off with her head!" Amazing, huh? What do you think of this whole fair outing now? Isn't that news you can use? Aren't you just dying to go to the yourself fair next year so that you can find out new and exciting facts about the world around us? Come on, we'll plan a trip together. It'll be fun.

Well I'm sure you'd love it if I went on all day about bees and pigs and curling, but let's move on to the pictures now, okay? By the way, Blogger may be having spacing issues again, but this time around it'll let you click on each photo for a bigger image if you want to see more details. Weirdly, I reduced all of the image files in size before uploading them to the blog, but some of the photos are back up to being huge files, so the images are too big to fit the whole thing on the screen when they are opened individually. (I have no idea why sometimes Blogger allows the photos to be enlarged, and other times it doesn't, nor why some of these photos went huge on me. However, I don't want to make the program mad by questioning its methods, so I'll just be happy that it's in semi-cooperative mode, and leave it at that.)

We know that Sioux Lady has a special place in her heart for the Geico Gecko, so we took the opportunity to pester him for a photo.


Talk about a face that only a mother could love!! There were several kinds of guinea fowl, some "pearl," some "lavender." I think this one should be called "acid washed."


The farmer shaving this cow's udder said they shave them to show off their "positive attributes." For example, he said that the veins on her stomach made her look "feminine." Okaaay....


This horse cracked us up. He kept sticking his tongue out and slurping. We finally figured out that there was a fan just on the other side of the stall wall, and he was waving his tongue in the breeze to cool off. The picture can't do it justice.


Ked made a friend.

So did I, but mine required a little coaxing.


Once we broke the ice, though, we got along fine.


When we left the livestock pavilions, we headed over to where things smelled a little sweeter.


In the Artisans Village, various creations came into being before our eyes. There were jewelry makers and glass blowers, spinners and weavers. These two men are showing what you can do if you have a hunk of wood, a chain saw and a blowtorch.


Every year there are lovely garden displays.


Inside the Jackman-Long building are a plethora of handcrafts. Every needlecraft imaginable is on display, from embroidery to one-of-a-kind designer fashions. I liked the design of this one enough that I may have to copy it for my own wardrobe.


Here's what got Ked really excited, though!! His eyes lit up with all kinds of visions of sugarplums...and pears...and salsa...and...


This lovely floral piece was the best thing going at the cake decorating display. It's beautiful all on its own, but when you stop to realize that every leaf, bud and flower is made from sugar, it's truly amazing. I'm sure you can't see the detail well enough here on the blog, but those roses are just incredible. Every petal is wafer thin. I could have sworn they were real. (This is one of those times when clicking on the picture to enlarge it might be worth your time.)


We ended our day as the sun said goodnight and the fair was just starting its nighttime glow. We never actually ride the rides, but they sure are pretty when they're all lit up.

Well, there you have it--our annual trek complete, we came home for some leftover lasagna and a good night's sleep, satisfied with the things we'd seen and the knowledge we gained. Fair people are so friendly and so willing to share what they know. I wonder what we'll learn next year...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fair Photos Coming Soon!

This is just a lick and a promise in advance of the event. Ked and I went to the Oregon State Fair today--something we do every year--and had a ball. We always see cool and interesting things and critters, talk to informative and friendly people, and wear ourselves out, which is why the official Fair post will be another day in coming. This is the first year we've taken a camera on our annual jaunt, and it was very fun seeing the Fair through the eye of the lens, capturing the moments and memories, a few of which I'll be passing on to you. I'm pretty tired now, so I'll just leave you with this foreshadowing thought: Goats and llamas can be totally adorable when they are in friendly mode.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Day In The Columbia Gorge

Note to get us started: Blogger is being a PAIN, and has all the spacing for this post and its pictures completely whacked out. It is after one in the morning right now, and I do not have the patience, nor the mental capacity to argue with Blogger about its deficiencies, so whacked out is how this post will stay, at least for the time being. I apologize if it makes any of you persnickety types crazy--normally I would be among you--but it's been a long and tiring day (as this post will demonstrate) and I just can't bring myself to care enough to try to massage it into a presentable form. We must all cope the best we can.
Today was fun. Ked took it off work, and we spent the day running hither and yon, preparing for a backpacking trip we have planned, and getting in a little preparatory fitness training by tackling one of our favorite hikes in the Columbia Gorge. The Multnomah to Wahkeena Falls loop is 5.4 miles of waterfall heaven. The two main falls are just the tip of the iceberg, and trudging up the steep 1,700 foot climb is made infinitely more bearable by the numerous and irresistible calls to stop a while and wonder at the beauty of it all, as another switchback brings another tumultuous cascade, or a panoramic view of the Columbia River far, far below. Hikes like this one make me just about as happy as a Kat can get. There are several waterfalls at each stage of the loop. You get them coming and going, and one tumbles after another in such rapid succession that by the end of the hike we found ourselves just casually passing by scenes of surpassing beauty--that at the beginning of our trek would have stopped us cold--merely because we'd seen so many lovely sights they had become almost commonplace. Then we had to laugh at ourselves, because it was a good reminder of how jaded human beings can become when we get too much of a good thing.
Needless to say, all those pauses to soak in the spectacle, and take as many pictures as our Canon EOS 30D would hold, had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that parts of the climb had us puffing like a freight train. (We've not gotten to hike as much this year as we would have liked, and we're just the tiniest bit out of shape.) If I did occasionally pause just a tad longer than the view really warranted, I'll never admit it. However, it did make me vow to put in more time on the treadmill when we can't make it out on proper trails. I'm going to be taking some hikes soon that will involve having a heavy pack on my back, and I do not want to be reduced to turtle status when that happens. I suspect if I was wise I'd strap that pack on when treadmilling (and start filling it up with canned goods to build up my endurance), but then I do have the excuse that there's not that much camping time left here in the land of rain, and this year it would be perfectly reasonable to keep the goals limited and simple. A trip to the coast to start, maybe another back out to Mirror Lake for an overnight, and then we'll see what we're up for from there.
We came back from today's outing with a few more pictures to send your way. It's hard to capture the total effect on a computer screen, or in photographic images at all, but we gave it out best shot, so here goes...


This is the view that everyone comes to see. Multnomah Falls is probably Oregon's biggest tourist attraction. According to the sign proudly proclaiming Multnomah's glories, at 542 feet, it is the second tallest year-round waterfall in the country. I've seen it before when the falls were a cascade of ice in winter. It's very impressive no matter what time of year you manage to make it out here.


As you climb, other falls follow hard on Multnomah's heels.



By now we've done a fair amount of climbing. That smile on my face is sheer joy at having something on which to lean my tired frame. Plus, having another lovely waterfall right there behind me, its gentle roar cheerfully trumpeting its presence, is making it hard for me not to smile.



The trail is full of switchbacks like this one, that follow one another in a seemingly endless procession, and I suppose, since this is a loop we are talking about, the succession of switchbacks really could be endless for someone with the sanity deficiency necessary to make them circle it in perpetuity.




Sometimes the trail leads toward the cliff edge, and the Columbia River spreads out below. I'm not sure how well the picture conveys the height here, but we're quite a ways above where we started.


All that climbing gets a person pretty hungry, and it's amazing how much sustenance you can find hidden among the trees. (Note to the gullible: eeeww)



We love these deep woodsy places, with the sound of the water and the cool of the shade. When we're not listening to the life of the forest, or chattering away like magpies (well, that would be me, not so much my husband), we have a weakness for turning on the iPod and listening to Sarah Brightman serenade us along the path. We love how light opera soars with the terrain, and makes everything around us a little more inspiring, helping us forget weary feet in the transcendence of it all.

The sun will sometimes burst through the forest shadows, reminding us insistently that light conquers darkness.
And the water tumbles ever downward.
The mist from these fairy falls offers cooling relief to the tired trekker.
We got the chance to survey Washington from the heights one last time before the trail descended.
As the hike comes to a close, the trail offers one (or I should say two) more magnificent cascades before the weary traveller comes to rest.
We got a final look at the Mighty Columbia as we drove home for a well earned dinner and some much needed rest. Our hike would serve as a pretty good metaphor for life--lots of hard work and climbing, but many rewards and beauties to make the journey worthwhile. May your travels be as pleasant as ours were today.

Monday, August 13, 2007

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

Hello again, World (she says pretentiously, since The World in general is quite unaware of her existence.) I thought it was time I checked in to tell you how the Meow hiatus is going, and share some pictures from Ked's and my latest adventure. I'll get to the pictures soon, since they're the good part, and just give you a brief summary of the summer thus far.

Ked and I have been getting a lot of project work done, although not as much as we would like, of course. (I'm not sure that "as much as we'd like" is even remotely possible, since I can construct some pretty long and detailed project lists.) Our master closet is almost finished. The flagstone patio is just a few stones short of a barbeque, and the gutters are still hanging over our heads, as is fitting for gutters to do. We've got several things that have to get done before the weather shifts toward the perpetually rainy here in Oregon, including finishing the outdoor painting we started last year, but we're making good progress in general, so I have high hopes that we'll get the crucial stuff done before the Oregon soggies render such outdoor accomplishments obsolete.

After the summer projects get put to bed, I think I'll be coming back to the Meow with some fresh zeal. We won't be taking on many home improvement projects for a while after the ones on our current list get done, because we have a project of an entirely different kind to tackle. The exciting news-of-the-moment, is that the musical version of The Screwtape Letters that Su, Ked and I, with the help of a couple of friends, wrote has been approved by C.S. Lewis' estate, so we can begin working on that production soon. That's a GIANT project, that will involve lots and lots of to-do list-making, but for now lets just leave ourselves at the joyous "Hurray, we've been approved" stage, and I'll fill you in on the production progress once things get rolling. No use letting the cheerful glow wear off before the work can actually begin. I won't be able to rope Ked into remodelling my sewing room, putting in a new bathroom, building a gazebo, or probably even changing a light bulb for quite some time, since he will be busily composing accompaniment tracks for the many songs with which we have crammed our musical. I'm sure I've mentioned before that Su is a complete genius, and the songs she's written deserve lavish attention from my wonderfully gifted husband. He'll be happy to give them such attention since he loves that kind of work--much more than building closets and adding bathrooms.

Okay, now on to the pretty portion of our post. Ked and I took a brief break from our labors yesterday to head up to Mirror Lake, on Mount Hood, about 50 miles from Portland. Hiking in about 1 1/2 miles from the highway, through a lovely forest, you come to the lake, and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. If there's one thing we love here in the Pacific Northwest, it's our mountain and ocean views, and the scenery at Mirror Lake is one of our local treasures. On calm days, when the lake is at peace, the mountain is perfectly reflected in the still waters (thus the name), and the sight is so worth the drive and the climb to get to it that you ask yourself why it's been so long since the last time you were here--even if the last time you were here was last week.


Even before you get to the lake, the views start to lure you onward.



Of course, you do have to work a bit to earn the reward. (Not really that hard. This was just a photo op kind of scene.)




The reward is ample, though, wouldn't you agree?



You also have that whole self-satisfied "I did it" thing to go along with the view.



Not being satisfied with "I did it," Ked and I had to tackle Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain, which adds about 3 miles round trip and 1,500 feet higher in the air to the hike. We knew that more wonderful views awaited us up top, and so we started on our way up the ridge.




We had to stop along the way to take lots of pictures. It had nothing to do with needing to breathe. Really, I just love the way the clouds dapple the forested foothills.




Getting to the top, we had to pause for a He-Man, Masters of the Universe moment.





Kedley being Kedley, he also stopped to put on a jacket. Global warming, indeed. (If you look closely, you can see Mirror Lake, looking like a little puddle there to Ked's left.)




By contrast, I'm still perfectly comfortable in my tank top and shorts. Alas, temperature is the only topic upon which my Kedley and I cannot come to a near complete agreement. It is the tragedy of our life. Don't you feel terribly sorry for us? Nah, me neither.


Mount Hood isn't the only beauty up there. Besides wildflowers in abundance, there are plenty of other mountain views, and forests rolling on forever. We saw what we assumed were Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Adams, and if it had been a clearer day, we suspected we'd be able to see what's left of Saint Helens as well.




Behind Ked is the ridge we climbed. Aren't you impressed?



I mentioned beach views, so I thought I'd toss you this bonus photo from a trip we took on a Sunday jaunt a few months ago. That's Boiler Bay behind me. The Oregon coast is just chock full of the picturesque and charming. I highly recommend a visit.

Well, there you have it. How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation: Work and play. I'm getting in plenty of reading (I don't think I'll ever take a vacation from reading--such is the life of an information addict), sewing, movies, long walks and a few good hikes. I hope your summer is going well, and I'll see you again sometime soon. Head on up to Mirror Lake if you're in the neighborhood. It really is lovely this time of year.

Note: I'm very frustrated with the spacing of the photos and captions, but Blogger is being maddeningly uncooperative and won't let me fix them. Maybe it will let me later, but for now this'll have to do. BAD Blogger!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Taking A Break

Probably every blogger on the planet knows that there are ebbs and flows to the whole blogging thing, and most of us go through different levels of enthusiasm for this particular medium of communication. Sometimes you just can't wait to write down all the things that are running through your brain, and sometimes you just have nothing. Right now is an "I've got nothing" time for me. Usually this means that I just haven't found the right inspiration to get me going, and a little time (and the right nanotech innovation) will get me all enthusiastic to share it with the folks who make this little blog a part of their travels online, but "usually" isn't now.

Truth is I've been going through a bit of a personal funk in my "real life" that is affecting the way I interact with the world, and it's been going on for long enough that I know I need to make some adjustments. I'm generally a very positive person; God has wired me to see the positive and hopeful more than the negative in things, but I'm finding that I'm having to work at that awfully hard these days, and it's making me tired. I need to change my routine and refocus my attention to other things, and see where God leads me from there. So, I'm going to be taking a break from blogging. I don't know for how long. It could be a week or two--more likely it's at least for the summer. I know the feeling I get when a favorite blog gets very sporadic, or nonexistent even, and it is disappointing to check repeatedly for signs of life without finding any, so I wanted to let those of you who do come here regularly know what is going on. I'll give you an update in a month or two to let you know whether this is looking like a long hiatus or just a brief stretch to regain my enthusiasm.

Just as a parting offering to send you on your way with more cheer than you've gotten from this post so far, here are a few interesting links I've gathered over the last few days:

Someone has invented a giant microwave that turns plastic and rubber back into oil and gas. All those broken toys and tires could be filling the gas tank instead of the landfill soon.

Scientists at Columbia University have a design for skyscrapers that could make farming in the city a new reality. Year-round produce that needs no pesticides or transport could be way cool.

But wait! There's more!! As a final parting gift, I've got one more scientific goody. Dieting could become a thing of the past as more scientists are discovering ways to melt fat right off you (but don't make that an excuse to go buy a box of Twinkies. All that sugar still isn't good for you.)

Take care of yourselves. I'll still be reading any comments, so if you see anything fun or interesting to read, drop me a line. I'm taking a break from blogging, but that doesn't mean I'm not still interested in what's going on out there, and God willing, I'll be back.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Health Care Debate

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed today, by Kimberly A. Strassel, about a potential GOP approach to health care reform. It was interesting. The ultimate debate between Democrats and Republicans pits government-run health care against private insurance, and the big question for Republicans is how to cover more people--the main concern of many Democrats--without government taking over and creating an expensive and wasteful bureaucracy. Their current focus is on possibly taking the tax break that goes to employers, and giving that tax break instead to individuals, either by a tax deduction or a refundable tax credit. The thought is that insurance would not then be tied to employment, more people could afford it as a private purchase, and people could still retain individual choice and the benefits of market competition. It's still is not a fix for those who won't settle for anything less than universal coverage, and isn't likely to bring about any kumbaya moments between Republicans and Democrats, but it's an intriguing approach nonetheless.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Bill Is Dead--May It Rest In Peace

I just read at Instapundit that the "immigration bill" is dead, having failed to gain enough votes to limit debate and move on. I for one am glad. They need to deal with sealing the border. It's hard to approach the "undocumented worker" issue with compassion, when any action taken toward legal status for people who've already come across illegally, without closing the border to further illegal entry, is a clear invitation to folks still on the other side to trek on over without going through the proper channels, because our government has no intention of doing anything to stop them. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for immigration. (Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who wants to control the borders is racist and anti-immigration. Most of us just want people to come here through official channels and out in the open, rather than flouting our laws at the very first opportunity, and then slinking around under the radar.) By all means, the political types should up the quota of people who can come here legally if we need more workers--that's a mutually beneficial arrangement--but the key word there is legally.

As far as the people who are already here, if the politicians still want to legalize the people that came in unsanctioned--while I would argue that a $1,000 fine won't cut it when the people who come here legally pay far more than that for the privilege, in money, time and trouble--I'm guessing that the American people would be a whole lot more amenable to Senatorial amnesty suggestions if they knew the illegal well had run dry. Once the borders are secured, it will be a whole lot easier for Washington to sell the notion of amnesty (let's be honest here), because people won't assume that this is just the first batch with more to come, as the amnesty of the 80s has turned out to be.

What they will never be able to sell me, however, is the notion of the illegals as the victims in this scenario. I almost choked at AP reporter Charles Babington's quote from Ted Kennedy, as Senator Kennedy lamented the failure of the much-protested immigration bill to move forward. Senator Dole gets it here, but Kennedy is somewhere in la-la land:

Sen. Elizabeth H. Dole, R-N.C., said many Americans "don't have confidence" that borders, especially with Mexico, will be significantly tightened. "It's not just promises but proof that the American people want," Dole said.

But the bill's backers said border security and accommodations to illegal immigrants must go hand in hand.

"Year after year, we've had the broken borders," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "Year after year, we've seen the exploitation of workers."

Good grief. Kennedy makes it sound as if the broken borders were somehow a trap that snared poor unsuspecting Mexicans here into unwilling indentured servitude. I'm sorry, Senator, but those "workers" have been scuttling across our borders in droves to take advantage of jobs and wages they can't get at home, and "free" health care, and education and American citizenship for their children. That raises the question of exactly who is being exploited, don't you think? It wouldn't take a big leap to conclude that the real exploitation that Kennedy is contemplating is the electoral exploitation of all those registered, unionized Democrats he hopes to gain by legalizing these "undocumented immigrants."

Anyway, the bill is seemingly dead, and I hope it stays dead, until it can be considered from the American side of a nice tall fence.

Update: Rich Lowry has a look at the blogosphere and the power of the people that turned this bad bill off.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Second Skin

Medical research seems to be the Meow focus of the week. In keeping with that theme (which I may or may not abandon with the next post--I like to keep you guessing), I found this article by Pallab Ghosh, a science correspondent with BBC News, which I thought rather interesting. It's about a new form of artificial skin, from UK-based company Intercytex, made with human cells and proteins, which has the potential to reduce scarring significantly in burn victims and people with chronic wounds. This could be a nice step up from the traditional method of robbing Peter to pay Paul, a.k.a. skin grafts. Wouldn't it be great to see researchers come up with a way to help burn victims that doesn't require cutting the skin from one part of their body in order to graft it into another, damaged location? Wouldn't it be even better if that way meant that the patient would end up less scarred as a result? Limited tests so far are promising:

In tests researchers cut an oval section of skin from the arms of six healthy volunteers and replaced it with their lab-grown skin.

After 28 days the artificial skin had remained stable and the wounds had healed with relatively little scarring.

Dr Paul Kemp, Intercytex's chief scientist, said: "I was very surprised at how quickly the wounds healed.

"If this continues in larger trials then it could revolutionise the way in which wounds and burns are treated in the future."

Dr Kemp has been working with Ken Dunn, a consultant surgeon at the burns unit at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester.

Mr Dunn said: "This particular product behaves like the patients' own skin.

"It seems to excite much less reaction than the other materials we are using at the moment.

"If this is borne out in larger clinical trials then we would be very interested in using it with our patient group."

This new form of artificial skin seems to be more promising than previous attempts to create a skin substitute. From what Ghosh says, the key seems to be the human elements from which the artificial skin is composed:

The skin is created from a matrix made up of fibrin, a protein found in healing wounds.

To this is added human fibroblasts - cells used by the body to synthesise new tissue.

In a process that effectively replicates the way the body makes new skin, the cells produce and release another protein, collagen, which makes the matrix more stable.

It is in this form that the "skin" is implanted into a wound.

The researchers say that because the matrix is in a stable form, it is more able to withstand changes that take place during the healing process.

The fact that the collagen is synthesised directly by the cells themselves also more closely mirrors the natural healing process.

This was just a small test, on healthy patients, but the results are good enough to warrant further research. I find myself wondering whether a product like this, if it really was a stable addition to the patient's own skin, and if it was tolerated well by most patients' immune systems, couldn't make a big difference in expanding the number of victims who could be saved after terrible burns. I don't really know anything substantial here, and I certainly couldn't tell you all the reasons that people die after being burned, but I do know that there is a certain point of no return, a percentage of the body's skin burned to a certain degree, that means they simply can't be saved. I wonder if having a ready-made supply of replacement skin on hand, just waiting to be grafted onto the victim's body, could up the survival rate for people who previously would have been considered impossible to save. Would a patient with a higher percentage of surface area damage be able to recover if the damaged skin were removed promptly and the new "skin" allowed to start healing right away? I have no clue, but I'm excited by the notion. Even if that is not the case, the rewards of finding a stable artificial skin are awfully high for the people who would get to go through life with much less scarring than with traditional methods, but I can't help hoping the rewards are even greater still, and that patients who would have been lost might one day be saved through the blessings of scientific advancement. It's all speculation on my part, but it's cheerful speculation, so I'm going to give myself permission to dream big.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Obesity Gene

You know those annoying people who can eat anything they want without gaining a pound? They never have to think about whether they should have an extra piece of lasagna; for them it's all about whether they want another piece. They don't even have to go out and run a marathon after dinner, either. Skinny is just wired into them. My husband is one of these fortunate souls. People started telling him when he was twenty-five, "Just wait until you're thirty. Then you'll start padding up." Then it was, "Wait until you're thirty-five." "No really, wait until you're forty." We're now hearing the same rhetoric about forty-five, but I suspect that that age will also pass without the weight cascade that others portend. I'm not sure why people feel the need to promise that the pounds are just around the corner, but my guess is that it's just too annoying to watch his slender frame reaching for another cookie, knowing it won't settle anywhere on his body. It's just not fair, and they have to comfort themselves with the notion that someday he'll have the same struggles as everyone else.

Then there are the people at the other end of the spectrum. It seems they could live on a diet of celery and water, and still have to squeeze into their Levis at the end of the day. No amount of dieting really pays off. As soon as they eat anything with the least bit of flavor, they puff right back up, like a human air bag in a head-on collision with the refrigerator. These are the people who find my husband and others like him the most annoying. (Can you blame them?) Something does seem to be really off in this equation. How can some people be so naturally thin, and others so naturally padded? Most of us try to keep our weight in balance by some combination of reasonable caloric intake and exercise, but there are people at both ends of the weight chart who just don't fit the mold, and nothing seems to make them. Why is that?

I found an article at Eureka Alert! that might just explain why, and more to the point, also suggests what can be done about it. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic are learning that maybe the problem of obesity might just be the result of a specific gene--a gene that can, in effect, be turned off. Dr. Eduardo Chini says that genes play a role in obesity about 50 percent of the time. He and a group of researchers at the Clinic have been conducting studies on mice that indicate that a deficiency in CD38, a gene which helps regulate energy metabolism, protected the mice from becoming obese, despite high-calorie, high-fat diets. Let me restate that--not having this gene meant that the mice ate high-calorie, high-fat foods, and didn't gain weight:

Researchers studied two groups of mice: one with the gene CD38 and the other without. Each group was fed a high-calorie diet with 60 percent of calories from fat. In a second test, each group was fed a standard diet in which 4 percent of calories came from fat.

As a result, the body fat of mice that carried CD38 and were on a high-fat diet nearly quadrupled and their body weight almost doubled. After eight weeks on a high-fat diet, mice with CD38 began to show signs of glucose intolerance, one of the first indicators of diabetes onset. In addition, this group of mice lived for only four-to-six months compared to the second group of mice that lived for 12 months.

For the group of mice that did not carry CD38, their body fat and weight did not change even though they were on a high fat diet. These mice burned more energy, were leaner and otherwise healthy.

“These changes contributed to the ability of these mice to fend off weight gain despite a high-fat diet and lack of exercise. Together these results suggest that a CD38 deficiency has a protective effect against high-fat, diet-induced obesity,” Dr. Chini says.

Okay, it looks like those people (or at least mice) who are lucky enough to be deficient in this little obesity gene (I'm betting my husband is a member of that club) have a natural "immunity" to gaining weight, which is why lasagna doesn't last very long here at Chez Meow. Note, too, that the mice without the gene lived longer and were healthier--nice bonus winnings in the gene lottery, wouldn't you say? What about the people who are just bursting with CD38, though, the ones who hear the word lasagna and put on five pounds? What's the hope for them? Here's the part that could get some people excited. Apparently, CD38 can be suppressed, or its effects can, anyway:

Dr. Chini and colleagues also examined the effects of resveratrol in mice. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring substance found in some plants such as mulberries, peanuts and red grapes used to make wine. It has been marketed as a drug that mimics the effects of moderate exercise without the physical act of exercising and also as a longevity drug, despite the lack of evidence that resveratrol is safe and effective in humans.

From the evidence the mice provided, the marketing might not be entirely misleading, because, "Researchers found that mice with CD38 that were treated with resveratrol for two weeks were protected from high-fat, diet-induced obesity." Time to add peanuts and red wine to the grocery list, eh? It will be interesting to see where this goes. I've seen the ads for those "miracle" pills, the ones that promise that you can eat all you want, lay around on the couch, and end up with the body of a supermodel in just three months, and always assumed they were just another scam. Now, I still think they're probably a scam, but who knows, maybe scientists are on the trail of something that might give some hope to those folks who can't seem to win the battle of the bulge, no matter how hard they try. Hey, if suppressing the effects of the gene works in mice, why not see where it could lead for people? As long as they don't discover that CD38 also regulates breathing, or something. Suppressing breathing would be bad, and probably not helpful for that life-extension they were mentioning earlier.

Border Opinions

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, has an interesting analysis of the immigration bill which may find its way back into Senate debate this week. I agreed with a lot of what he had to say. How about you?

Monday, June 25, 2007

And You Thought Hubble Was Impressive...

Over the years, we have seen some amazing, incredible, astounding, superlative-laden images coming from our valuable space friend, the Hubble Telescope. Hubble's had a few struggles, and has needed the occasional repair job, but it's also shown us things in space that have made us "ooh" and "aah" with childlike delight. One of the last missions of the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle will be to go out and give Hubble another much-needed tune-up. Thank you NASA, and keep the pictures coming. NASA, however, isn't resting on Hubble's laurels, and has bigger and better things in mind. The James Webb Space Telescope will someday be sending us pretty pictures from farther out in space than Hubble can peer, because NASA has figured out how to send up a mirror in folding segments, segments that will unfold once they get to their new home and outshine Hubble in the process. This, however, is just the beginning.

NASA has some even bigger plans, due to the development of a new rocket, the Ares V, which will be able to take payloads of 284,000 pounds off this pretty blue ball we call home. With the Ares V, NASA could send mirrors (the main part that makes all that telescoping possible) of over 8 meters into space--no folding required. The mere mention of 8-meter-mirrors may not convey much information to us non-scientist types, but all those jaw-dropping pictures from Hubble come courtesy of a mirror that's only 2.4 meters wide. According to NASA, we're looking at the possibility of telescopes with three times the resolution of Hubble, and the ability to see things that are eleven times fainter than what Hubble can detect right now, because the mirror's surface area will be eleven times greater. I'm not sure how that works mathematically, or scientifically, or any other kind of "ically," but since that won't stop me from enjoying the pictures and the knowledge we gain from the new super space-viewing toy, I'm prepared to forgo any concern I might have at being so dependant upon Smart People for all the really cool space stuff, and simply to be grateful that Smart People exist.

Follow the link to the NASA article to read all about their plans. If you want to expand your brain a bit, click on this "Lagrange point" link for an explanation of 18th-century mathematician Josef Lagrange's discovery of "parking" spots in space, spots where the pull of the Sun and the pull of the Earth conspire together to keep satellites firmly in place. NASA intends to use these spots to the fullest, and fill up the parking lot with various and sundry telescopes, all searching the heavens for new and vital spacey information, and more jaw-dropping pictures. The information is cool and all, and I'm glad that the Smart People have ways to collect and use it, but if you ask me, the best part is the pictures.

Sanity Wins!!

Remember the recent "bad ideas" post about judge who was suing a dry cleaner over the supposed loss of his pants--to the tune of $54 million? This judge had a pretty high notion of what a sign saying "Satisfaction Guaranteed" meant for him as a customer. Well, sanity has prevailed, and not only did the loony lawsuit go down in flames, but the presiding judge has ordered the plaintiff to pay the dry cleaners' court costs, about $1,000, covering photocopying and filing and the like. Whether the litigation-happy jurist will also have to pay the "tens of thousands of dollars" in lawyer's fees for the shop owners is still a pending decision, but, obviously, the newly-unburdened proprietors are happy with the way things have gone so far--as am I, quite frankly. I'd rather the ridiculous case had never wasted the tax-payers' dollars necessary to send this thing to trial in the first place, but at least the decision is one in which sane people everywhere can rejoice. The cleaners didn't get taken to the cleaners. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the world has not gone completely mad.

Hat tip: Tasina (of Mobius Stripped)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Politics And The Media

I'm not going spend a bunch of time explaining that I'm still really busy and lacking time to blog right now. The lack of posts is really self-explanatory. However, I did get an email from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Page, in which an op-ed by Tony Blair caught my eye, so I took the chance to read it, and definitely thought it was worth passing on to you. The Prime Minister (you know, of England) gave a speech on June 12 at Reuters headquarters in London, which the WSJ printed today (so, okay, I guess that's not really an op-ed by Tony Blair, but close enough for government work), in which he discusses the relationship between media and government in the changing communication environment in which we find ourselves, where news is instant and 24 hours a day, more up-to-date online than on the newspaper rack, and there are 70 million blogs and counting. Here's a key point:

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st-century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not actually the masters of this change, they're in many ways the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact." Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is often secondary to impact.

It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unraveling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Mr. Blair goes on from there to explain the consequences in terms of how the news is reported, and how news ends up taking a back seat to "views." He is speaking to a British audience about British media, but other than a few cricket references, different government institutions, and different "size of audience" numbers for the media, he might as well be speaking to Americans. It's a fascinating and solid analysis of the state of the media/political world. By the way, he doesn't give politicians a pass here; he makes it clear that politicians have courted the sympathetic media spotlight, and they are living with the consequences. He also stresses the enormous importance of a free media for the flourishing of free societies, but he also believes that some things need to change. He himself will soon be leaving office, so this is less about personal frustration than a concern for the future of his country (which translates well to civilization as a whole):

I do believe this relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair. The damage saps the country's confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.

He's got a lot more to say. Have a look.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now I've Heard Everything

I've been out most of the day, so I haven't had any time to write anything of substance, but I had to pass on a link I got from IMAO, to an article in The Seattle Times. Religion can be confusing at times for most people, and usually if someone hasn't come up against hard questions that challenge their faith, they are either very sheltered or not thinking very deeply. Generally , however, people either resolve their issues to some degree, or move on to something that they can believe with more clarity. It's difficult to imagine someone doing both, but there is an Episcopalian priest--a woman who has been an Episcopalian priest for twenty years--who has recently converted to Islam, while still retaining her position as a Christian priest. Personally, I don't think it's possible to really be either if you claim to be both, at least not from a Christian perspective, but this woman claims to be okay with the conflicts inherent to the situation, although I'm surprised her denomination isn't less okay with it. Actually, now that I think about it, I'd be more surprised if the denomination involved wasn't on the front lines of redefining Christianity and Christian standards in America today. A Muslim Episcopalian. Now I've heard everything... maybe. (No, I take that back--when I've heard of a Hindu Baptist I will have heard everything.)