Sunday, November 30, 2003

A Thanksgiving Funeral for Grandpa

I've been out of town for the funeral of my grandfather. He passed away on Saturday after his health started to fail about 3 months ago.

Despite the somber occasion, I enjoyed myself. Marriages and funerals are the only times when most of the family gathers together. I got to see aunts, uncles, and cousins that I hadn't seen in years. I also met an aunt and her son, my cousin, that I had never met before. One of my uncles flew all the way from Shanghai, China to attend the funeral. We also enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner together.

LDS or Mormon funerals are quite unique. The life of the deceased individual is remembered, but also life after death and the Plan of Salvation are greatly emphasized. Mormons believe that death is just a progression to another stage of being. The spirit is temporarily separated from the body until they are reunited in the resurrection which will occur when Christ comes a second time. Also, family relationships will continue in the afterlife if one is obedient to the commandments of God.

So the body is dressed and buried in a traditional manner except that the burial plot is consecrated. This means it is blessed by a member of the Church that holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it is set aside for the temporary resting place of the deceased for the later resurrection of that person at the second coming of Christ.

My grandfather was a WWII vet so he got a veteran's funeral complete with a 21 gun salute, a flag-draped coffin, and "Taps." I played a piano arrangement of the hymn "O My Father" (click to listen to midi version played on page) since my mother had laryngitis and was unable to sing. My grandfather had requested that she sing at his funeral, so I hope he wasn't too disappointed. The lyrics of the hymn are below:

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood,
Was I nutured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou has placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet oft-times a secret something
Whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I've completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

Lyrics: Eliza R. Snow, 1804 - 1887.
Music: James McGranahan, 1840 - 1907.

This hymn reflects the basic beliefs of Mormons regarding the afterlife and I think it's very apropos for a funeral.

My grandfather's death also made me realize that we should make the most of the time we have with our friends and family. I would give anything to have been able to visit with him one last time to let him know how much I love him.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Science Journals Roundup

Note: A subscription is probably required to view these articles. You can get a free 6 month subscription for the journal Nature here.

Science & Politics (I just can't get enough):

Medical journal under attack as dissenters seize AIDS platform
Nature vol. 426, pg. 215 (20 November 2003)-
Apparently, some AIDS researchers are upset that the British Journal of Medicine (BJM)has been regularly publishing the letters of a very small minority of scholars that deny HIV causes AIDS. They feel that the BJM may be assisting in the "dissemination of disinformation," but the editors of BJM assert that the letters are free speech.

I'm all for free speech, but sometimes it gets irritating trying to reason with the unreasonable. For example, I once corresponded with an"AIDS revisionist" that was not a trained scientist. I was able to tear his arguments to shreds with the overwhelming evidence found in thousands of research papers supporting the HIV/AIDS theory. However, this individual was very dogmatic and resistant to logic, even if the data was published in respected peer-reviewed journals. So it was a waste of my time to even address his arguments since he ignored the scientific evidence. So I can understand why AIDS researchers would get tired of having to refute the same half-truths and outright lies over and over again. Maybe the BJM should just restrict the number of letters from the AIDS revisionists (there's only a handful of actual scientists in the group) they print to one or two a year. That way the real AIDS experts don't have to waste valuable research time responding to these yahoos.

Cool Research:

Plant development: Leaves by number
Nature vol. 426, pg. 237 (20 November 2003)-
The regular arrangement of leaves around a plant's stem, known as phyllotaxis, occur in a pattern known as the Fibonacci series as shown below.
In this study, the authors discover that proteins involved in the transport of the plant hormone, auxin, are involved in phyllotaxis. Leaves bud where the auxin concentration is the highest and formed leaf buds acts as auxin sinks. Thus, new leaf buds form higher up on the stalk where they are spaced away from the existing leaf buds.

Nature vol. 426, pg. 237(20 November 2003)

Whale of a catch blows hole in family tree
Nature vol. 426, pg. 219 (20 November 2003)-
A new species of baleen whale was discovered by marine biologist Tadasu Yamada. Eden's whale (B. edeniis related to Bryde's whale, but when Shiro Wada, a molecular biologist at Japan's National Research Institute of Fisheries Science in Yokohama, analysed enzymes in the liver and muscle of those specimens, he found dramatic differences.

Developmental biology: Gender benders
Nature vol. 426, p. 241 (20 November 2003)-
Insulin receptors were shown to be required for development of male sexual organs in mice. When all three insulin receptors were knocked out, the male mice developed ovaries instead of testes. Triple-mutants are very difficult to make and analyze since knocking out single genes is often lethal. So, hats off to these researchers, but I sure wouldn't want this as a thesis project.

Design of a Novel Globular Protein Fold with Atomic-Level Accuracy Kuhlman et al. design a new protein fold with a unique sequence and topology. They then solved the structure of this novel protein using x-ray crystallography and NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) and showed that it was nearly identical to their predictions. Why did they do this? Because they could.

Central Lynch Pin in Psychosis
Science vol. 302(5649), 21 Nov 2003, pp. 1412-1415.
Amphetamines, PCP, and LSD all cause pychosis similar to that seen in schizophrenia, but they act by different mechanisms. Svenningsson et al. show that these three signaling pathways converge on a single protein, DARPP, which is involved in regulation of downstream pathways. DARPP is phosphorylated at different sites. In mice, if DARPP is knocked out or its phosphrylation sites are mutated, then the psychotic effects of amphetamines, PCP, and LSD are reduced.

Lileks puts Dateline and Salam Pax in their place

In case you haven't noticed, I do support the War on Terror and President Bush. You might call me a conservative, but I don't consider myself a Republican. For me, most elections are a choice between the lesser of two evils. I think there are many people in the center like me that feel no affinity for either party. But the events of 9-11 have caused many centrists and right- or left-of-centrists to support those who we feel will be most aggressive in defending the U.S. from further attacks no matter what their party affiliation. And we find ourselves increasingly impatient with the popular media that distracts us from the importance of the War on Terror with either stories about pedophilic pop stars or whining about quagmire this, quagmire that. James Lileks, a writer for the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, pretty much sums up my feelings towards the popular media in his latest column on his blog, The Daily Bleat. Check it out.

LILEKS (James) The Bleat

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Vegan Marshmellows Roasting Over an Open Fire

Sure, some days I get down about graduate school and I think, "Does anyone really care about fruit fly vision? What is the point of my thesis project? Does it have any practical application (actually, yes it does, but I'll discuss that later)? Will it make the world a better place?" Um, scratch that last one. But then I read about an enviroterrorist trying to invent a vegan marshmellow and I feel much better about myself.

President Bush is Da Man!

Read President Bush's speech at Whitehall Palace. Here's an excerpt that I really like:

"It's been said that those who live near a police station find it hard to believe in the triumph of violence, in the same way free peoples might be tempted to take for granted the orderly societies we have come to know. Europe's peaceful unity is one of the great achievements of the last half-century. And because European countries now resolve differences through negotiation and consensus, there's sometimes an assumption that the entire world functions in the same way. But let us never forget how Europe's unity was achieved -- by allied armies of liberation and NATO armies of defense. And let us never forget, beyond Europe's borders, in a world where oppression and violence are very real, liberation is still a moral goal, and freedom and security still need defenders."

Read the whole thing.
President Bush Discusses Iraq Policy at Whitehall Palace in London


I used to be a member of amnesty internation in high school, back when I was a wide-eyed, idealistic tree-hugger. I thought that my letters to the despotic regimes of the world would help free their political prisoners and black-list me so that I could never visit those countries again for fear of being thrown in a dark, rat-infested dungeon for 20 years. Ha!

Anyway, I grew out of that difficult phase and now I'm wondering how anyone could take AI seriously. I mean they'd rather rip on Bush and America then address the thousands enslaved in Sudan. Go figure.

So anyway, this is my first attempt at fisking (which should be a new Olympic sport because it really gets the blood going). - WHY WE HAVE TO MARCH AGAINST DUBYA


First of all, Dubya? Not even President Dubya? Where are your manners Missy?

By Kate Allen Uk Director Amnesty International

THOUSANDS of people will take to the streets in Britain next week to voice their anger, frustration and political opposition to President George W Bush's policies.

Oooh, thousands. How many millions of people aren't protesting, but are gainfully employed? Ever had a job besides running some lame-o "human rights" group and flipping burgers?

Some will criticise these protestors, writing off their views as knee-jerk anti-Americanism. But the critics should think before condemning them.

Yes, I'll think. Ok, done. I still think you guys are morons with too much time on your hands and you should get proper jobs.

Why? Because after almost three years of President Bush's "war on terror" many would argue that the world is now a more dangerous and divided place than it was immediately after 9/11.

The many being who, exactly? The leftist, anti-American groups like ANSWER, and NOT IN OUR NAME? I definitely think the world's more dangerous-- dangerous for cockroaches like Osama and Hussein.

Countries don't protect freedom by attacking hard-won civil liberties, locking up thousands of people without charge or trial, and rushing through ever-more draconian laws.

You don't win the hearts and minds of the doubters and the disaffected by riding roughshod over human rights.

Thousands of people you say? This wouldn't be the same people from Al Qaida and the Taliban, groups that have massacred thousands of civilians all over the world in terrorist attacks? Screw 'em I say! They were caught red-handed in Iraq, they are unlawful combatants, and by the Geneva Convention, we can lock them up and throw away the key. Okay, okay, we can't throw away the key, but we can try them in military tribunals.

But you DO provide terrorists and extremists with the kind of propaganda they could only have dreamt of a few years ago.

All right, so in addition to "kill the Great Satan because they are controlled by the evil Zionists pigs and monkeys" they've got "kill the Great Satan because they violated the constitutional rights of our brethren in Gitmo as well as section blah-blah-blah of the Geneva Convention." Right...I think the former argument plays a lot better in the mosques and madrassas. But that's just me.

Take Guantanamo Bay. What is the impact of the image of the orange boiler-suited detainees crouching in submission behind Camp Delta's chain-link fences?
Most people in this country seem to be revolted that nearly 700 people are held without charge or trial and without access to lawyers or family for almost two years. They question our own government's weakness in failing to properly stand up for the rights of the nine British men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

Most people eh? According to what poll? Well, my informal poll of friends and family couldn't care less what happens to these terrorists.

RIGHTLY, they wonder whether our government would have been more robust had these men been held by a country like Iran or Syria or almost any other country besides the US.

Hate to break it to you, lady, but there's a big difference between the governments of Iran, Syria, and the U.S. We have this little thing called the Constitution. So yes, likely Blair would have been more robust if these guys were held in some hell-hole in Iran or Syria. But how likely is that? We don't get along with those countries so why would we house unlawful combatants there? Sheesh here we go again with accusing the U.S. of human rights violations while ignoring the horrible abuses by other countries.

But, take the understandable outrage in this country and apply it to a Middle-Eastern country. When the manacled men from Guantanamo Bay flash up on Al-Jazeera television, for example, we can easily guess that outrage reaches new levels.

I'm sure Al-Jaqueera viewers are regularly outraged, what with all the anti-American propaganda streaming out.

No Americans are being held at Camp Delta. Only non-US citizens.

John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban", was given a defence attorney and brought before an independent civilian court. Camp Delta's "enemy combatants", on the other hand, have to endure indefinite detention without charge or trial and no access to legal counsel or any court.

Perhaps this is because Lindh is an AMERICAN CITIZEN and he was not ruled an UNLAWFUL COMBATANT. He does have rights afforded to him as a citizen. Non-citizens, however, being held as unlawful combatants on a base that is not technically property of the U.S., do not have the same rights.

Hanging over them is the possibility of unfair trials, military tribunals with restricted rights of defence, no independent appeals and the threat of the death penalty.

Oh brother. I'm supposed to feel sorry for the poor wittle tewowists? Please.

It stinks. And that's why Amnesty International plans to make its point - on the streets of London dressed in orange boiler suits.

Here's to seeing you guys wearing the same outfits when you're tossed in the slammer for disorderly conduct.

The journey from the Twin Towers to Guantanamo Bay has been a disastrous one - from an international atrocity to an international disgrace. It is a massive own goal in the war on terror and its sinister consequences are likely to haunt the world for years.

I'll tell you what haunts me, missy. Seeing those towers fall. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about our fight against terrorism. You seem not to understand what is at stake--our whole way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The terrorists we are fighting want to destroy all of it and remake the world in their own image. One global nation of Islam under Allah is what they want.

Instead, you and the other lefty groups are distracting the world from that real issue and demand that we wring our hands over a few hundred thugs locked up in Gitmo. The lives of millions, perhaps billions are at stake and you're crying because the Gitmo gang has to wear an unflattering color?!

But it is not just Guantanamo Bay that is so worrying. Since September 11 the USA has used its over-arching "war on terror" as an alibi to create a parallel justice system to detain, interrogate, charge or try suspects under the "laws of war".

In mainland USA people have already been held under military procedures as "enemy combatants'. For example, Jose Padilla - the so-called Dirty Bomber - has been held for more than a year in solitary confinement at a naval prison in South Carolina. He is imprisoned without charge, trial or access to his lawyer or family.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, was arrested after flying back into the US from the Middle East where he had, according to officials, been plotting to use a bomb packed with radioactive waste on the US.

This is a virtually unprecedented suspension of the fundamental rights of a US citizen in US custody - not to mention a violation of international law.

Uh, no it's not. Actually, U.S. courts have ruled that the President has the power to detain American citizens as unlawful combatants without a trial under circumstances. Also this authority it not limited to only wartime conditions. This precedent was set during the Civil War in The Prize Cases, 67 U.S. 635 (1862) where it was decided a formal declaration of war was not necessary. My guess as to why Padilla was ruled an unlawful combatant while Lindh was not is because the former was a member of Al Qaeda, while Lindh was a low-level foot soldier in the Taliban. Sheesh, read some case law, will ya.

In other countries people in the hands of US forces are seemingly classified as "enemy combatants" simply if Donald Rumsfeld's Defense `Department says they are. In Iraq as many as 10,000 people are being held, most without any legal process.

Beyond the high media visibility of Guantanamo Bay there also appears to be a shadowy network of "war on terror" detention sites.

At the US air base at Bagram in Afghanistan, for example, former inmates have spoken of a regime of forced stripping, hooding, blindfolding with blacked-out goggles, 24-hour lighting, sleep deprivation and prolonged restraint in painful positions.

As with Guantanamo Bay, Amnesty International is not allowed into Bagram and not even the Red Cross has had access to all prisoners there.

Meanwhile, there are rumours of other prisons - on island military bases or in embassy buildings. These are unconfirmed, but the US already admits to holding people at "undisclosed locations".

Frighteningly, what we are seeing is the almost day-by-day erosion of the USA's commitment to human rights. Where once the world might have looked to America for inspiration, Bush's America is now actively undermining the international system for human rights protection.

Waahhh!!! And where is the famed international system for human rights with regards to the suffering of North Koreans, Iranians, Zimbabwians, Sudanese Christians etc. These are the real people that are suffering and yet AI spends all its energy on Bush=Hitler mantras.

On other issues the trend is the same - America ripping up the rulebook. The US is now by far the most active opponent of the new International Criminal Court, a court that the US should be celebrating as a historic attempt to deter and punish genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

INSTEAD it has embarked on a campaign of bullying weaker countries into agreeing exemptions for US personnel.

Could the reason that the U.S. is not a fan of the ICC is that any two-bit lawyer with an axe to grind could try to arrest American leaders and military members whenever they felt like it? I don't think so. The U.S. will not give up its sovereignty to the likes of Belgium and France. Many Americans view the U.N. and the I.C.C. with skepticism because of the rampant corruption and cronyism. Until the U.N. is reformed, forget about any cooperation from the U.S. with regards to the I.C.C.

Next week the slogans of the protestors will be mixed - anything from anti-war messages on Iraq, opposition to "Star Wars" defence projects, environmental objections to America's gas-guzzling economy and protests at its trade policies.


But one thing unites these voices. A belief that the United States has strayed way off course and forgotten its own traditions of supporting human rights and fundamental liberties.

Excuse us if we no longer want to be a doormat for those that would take advantage of the rights and priviledges we enjoy as U.S. citizens. Excuse Pres. Bush for not leaving the question of U.S. security to a bunch of dithering, corrupt U.N. bureaucrats.

Crucially, Bush protests will also test our own government's commitment to freedom of speech and legitimate dissent in Britain.

Yes, the U.K.'s commitment to freedom has been tested and under the leadership of Blair, it commitment to freedom is stronger than ever.

This month a court controversially ruled that police use of terrorism powers to arrest peaceful protestors at an arms fair in Docklands, East London was reasonable. Why are ordinary people with a point of view on the arms industry considered a threat to the nation?

I don't know anything about these "peaceful" protestors, but my guess is that they got arrested because they were doing things that were naughty and illegal.

Mr Bush's three-day trip to Britain is a high-level visit with all of the pomp and ceremony of any such occasion.

However, the right to have your say is a proud British tradition and the government should see to it that policing during President Bush's visit is done with a light touch.

Yes, please feel free to make fools of yourselves in front of the world. Just don't assault others and vandalize property.

There should be no "exclusion zones" and Mr Bush should not be protected from protests.

I definitely want my president protected from those "peace" protesters. And since when is harassment a right?

Four years ago protestors during the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin had flags and banners ripped from their hands. Then the Metropolitan Police behaved in a way more reminiscent of the Chinese secret police than the friendly British bobby.

If they were acting like the Chinese secret police then the protestors would have been shot in the back of the head and their organs sold to the highest bidder. Give me a break.

This time let's hear it for peaceful, good-humoured free expression. Taking to the streets to protest during George Bush's visit will be pro-American and pro-human rights.

Exercising your legitimate right to protest is a core American - and British - value. It's what makes me proud to protest.

Here, here. Please don't hurt anybody and just try to control your Hate-Bush glee. It's very unbecoming. Almost as unbecoming as a pink tank (via LGF):

Update: There's a great commentary on the ICC from Right Wing News.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Only Sadomasochists Go to Graduate School

What was I thinking when I decided to get a Ph.D. in Biophysics? Apparently, I had nothing better to do with my spare time. The really frustrating thing is that my graduating depends on whether or not I can stick a microscopic piece of glass onto the surface of a fly eye cell and measure current going through the cell. This involves sitting in a cramped, dark room all day long and much cursing (or pseudocursing in my case). First you rip the head off of unsuspecting young flies, then you rip the eyes off, and rip the cells apart. Yes, lots of violent ripping and/or tearing. Fun.

Of course my two favorite questions about grad school are: so when are you graduating (argh!) and so how is your work relevant to anything. ? Look, I'm getting out this year with or without my mentor's approval, and it's not relevant to anything, ok?! It might be relevant if you are a fruit fly geek but other than that, it definitely won't cure cancer or AIDS or depression or get me a drug patent and make me rich. Sorry.

But some days I do enjoy school. Usually these are the days that my experiments actually work and get cool data. Like this:

So what the heck is that thing? It's a cluster of fruit fly photoreceptors (eye cells) magnified 400 times. Each cell has two main sections: the cell body, where the nucleus is located and the rhabdomere where all the visual proteins are located. The bright stripes are rhabdomeres from two photoreceptor cells. They're fluorescent because I inserted a gene encoding a fluorescent protein into the fly's genome. The fluorescent protein is calcium sensitive, so it's brighter when there's calcium around. In this picture, the cell cluster is sitting in a high calcium solution and when light excites the cell, calcium rushes into the cell. Thus, the calcium increase inside the cell causes the fluorescent protein to glow. But that's enough nerdy stuff for now.

If you're really interested in how fruit flies (and other insects ) see then try this link to an article written by yours truly at wikipedia. And if you are interested, then you might be a geek.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Is the U.N. getting a clue?

And one last tidbit on the War on Terror: U.N.: Al Qaeda Trying to Use WMDs

Yah think?

Now, what if anything is the U.N. going to do about this? Maybe they'll decide to go out for a "working" lunch at some swanky NYC restaurant, double park their limos, and block traffic for 3 hours again.

Update: Apparently, the U.N. is acting like its usual self (via Instapundit).

File this under "I told you so!" - Intelligence Report Links Saddam, Usama

I was going to whine and moan about the hellhole known as graduate school, but this topic is much more important. It seems that the Weekly Standard is reporting the contents of a DOD memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee that inextricably links Al Qaida and Saddam's regime. - Top Stories - Intelligence Report Links Saddam, Usama

A copy of the full article from the The Weekly Standard is here via LGF.

Now, this comes as little surprise to many Americans. Although there were a few reports earlier regarding the Iraqi/Al Qaida links such as the discovery of the Salman Pak training site, the names of specific individuals and terrorist acts committed against Americans by these individuals was not widely known. But it just takes a little common sense to figure out that Al Qaida and Saddam's gang were sides of the same coin. Many of the international terrorists groups are connected in some fashion. Who cheered after 9/11? Why, all the Islamic terrorist groups (including the Palestinians) did! Their goals are the same--to eliminate the Great Satan (the U.S.), the Lil' Satan (Israel), and establish a world-wide caliphate under sharia law.

I think the majority of Americans made this connection themselves as shown by this poll, where 70% of Americans polled believed that Saddam was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Now perhaps Saddam himself didn't directly help plan 9-11, but according to the article he and his people certainly did all they could to help out Al Qaida. And there is additional evidence that Mohammed Atta met not once, but three times with the former (tee-hee) chief of Iraqi intelligence.

Remember all those journalists and celebrities calling the American public stupid and uninformed because of that poll? Well, it's time for them to open wide and eat some crow. Fair-minded individuals may still think that ousting Saddam was the wrong strategy, but they can no longer say that Saddam has nothing to do with Al Qaida.

So enough of the "Bush is a nazi/liar/idiot/failure" and "no blood for oil" crap. As soon as the American public is aware of this report, the anti-war left (and right) will be finished.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I'm technologically challenged part deux

I'm getting a crash course in html and the site's starting to shape up. I'll have a ranty mc-rant up soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Welcome! I'm getting this blog up and running. More later.