Thursday, December 30, 2004

An Early Christmas Gift

Well, gentle readers, a lot has happened since last I posted. Christmas is over, all of my family has departed, and I finally have some time to update my blog. The big news is that I gave birth to our son Preston Roy Hahn on December 14th, 2004. He weighed in at 8 lbs. 8.6 oz and measured 22 inches in length. He’s a tall and lanky child, just like his parents.

The delivery was no picnic, I tell you. My due date was Saturday, December 11th, but it came and went with nary a labor pain. My OB didn’t want me going more than a week past my due date, so she scheduled me for an induction on Tuesday, December 14th. In retrospect, I’m thankful for that, because Preston would have been even larger a week later! My mom had flown down from Utah for the birth, so she went with us to the hospital that morning. We got there at 6:30 a.m. and about an hour later, I started having labor contractions on my own, but I was still given a small dose of pitocin to speed things along. The early labor contractions were surprising mild. I didn’t feel much unless I laid on my back. I thought, “No problem. This isn’t going to be so bad.” WRONG!

I had planned with my OB to have an epidural, but it turned out that the anesthesiologist on duty that day wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole because I had had a spinal fusion five years earlier at the L4/5 level (which is where the epidural is typically inserted). I had been assured by my OB and the nurse in my childbirth class that it wouldn’t be a problem to insert the epidural at one level higher, L3/4. I was a little nervous about getting an epidural because I don’t like needles being stuck into my back. My spine had been poked and prodded with needles for several years while the docs tried to treat my back problems with little success. Anyway, the anesthesiologist heard the phrase “back surgery” and decided he didn’t want to be sued if my back started acting up after the procedure. So I was forced to give birth without any pain relief and I had not prepared at all for a natural birth. What fun!

The OB broke my water at 1 p.m. and about two hours later at 3:08 p.m., Preston emerged into the blinding lights of this world. It was the most painful experience of my life, but mercifully the labor was very short. My OB didn’t expect me to progress so quickly and had gone back to her clinic in a neighboring building. She literally had to run from her clinic to my delivery room to be there in time for the delivery. While we were waiting for her, the nurse kept saying, “Don’t push!” and I was yelling, “I can’t help it!” It was beyond my control at that point as my involuntary uterus muscles just took over. My husband said he and the nurse were getting awfully nervous waiting for the OB, and thought that they might be the ones delivering Preston.

Anyway, Preston was delivered very quickly and I got to hold him briefly before he was whisked away by the nurses for tests. We didn’t get to see him again for several hours, and then I got to breastfeed him for the first time. Breastfeeding seemed alien to me at first—my own body providing food for another human being--but once I got the hang of it, it seemed totally natural.

My husband was a real help to me throughout the delivery. He comforted me and appeared calm and cool the whole time, even though I know inside he was thinking “Oh my heck! What do I do now?!” He was very angry at the anesthesiologist, and kept muttering something about punching his lights out if he ever ran into him. It’s so cute when your significant other is so protective of you.

Preston is the most adorable baby boy ever (isn’t that what every parent thinks?), and he’s a relatively calm baby. It’s been exhausting learning how to care for him, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it and I’ve never felt happier. I think graduate school has helped prepare me for motherhood in several ways. It helped my organizational and multi-tasking skills considerably. A daily “To Do” list is indispensable, and I set up a regular feeding schedule so I feed him every 3 hours during the day and 4 hours at night. I feel pretty tired most days, but I’m having a blast finally being able to be “domestic” instead of analytical all day long. I must admit, though, that sometimes I read articles from Science magazine to Preston at bedtime. They put him right to sleep every time, and I get to keep up on the latest scientific discoveries. Now this is the life!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Human Developmental Biology In Action

Well, I saw my OB today, and it seems things are progressing rather rapidly. I won't bore you with the details, but basically Jr. could come at any time so I probably won't be posting for a while. But when I return, I'm sure I'll have some amusing delivery anecdotes to share, like ripping my husband's shirt off in the delievery room or something. In the meantime, I'm just going to freak out. I'M HAVING A BABY!!!! NO WAY!!!!

Freak-out afterthought: Bloggers are always blogging live events. Has anyone blogged a birth yet? That would be beyond super-geeky. And if my husband did it while I was giving birth, I would probably hurt him.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Of Christmas and the Sublime

Christmas always seems to sneak up on me. Between school and church activities, it always seemed like I've never had enough time to really prepare for it. This year will be quite different from past Christmases since I'll be a new mother before it, and for the first time since high school I'll be unemployed and not in school. Last weekend, my husband and I put up a tree and all our Christmas decorations. I'm going to complete all my Christmas shopping this weekend so I won't have to worry about it after our son, Preston, is born.

I've had more time lately to reflect on the "real" meaning of Christmas. As a Christian, more particularly a Latter-day Saint (or Mormon), Christmas has a special meaning for us. Although we don't believe Jesus Christ was born on December 25th per say, we do revere Christmas as a celebration of his birth, and his life's mission. My favorite part of Christmas is the traditional Christmas carols and hymns. Musically, I'd fit perfectly in the mid-1800's because I just love Christmas (and other) music from that period and earlier. There are few modern Christmas pieces that I really enjoy. There just seems to be something missing from songs like "White Christmas" compared to "Silent Night."

Music has a interesting way of touching the human heart, for good or ill. When I think of the word sublime as a descriptor, the first thing I think of is music. I guess really good chocolate or other type of tasty food could be described as sublime, but I've never been moved to tears by anything that I've eaten. A woman in my church sang "O Divine Redeemer" by Charles Gounod a few weeks ago, and I was in tears throughout the whole song. It wasn't just the words or the melody that moved me, but I felt some uplifting of my heart, a look beyond the often depressing here and now of the world. I can't explain the feeling, but it's similar to the joy I've felt on the best days of my life, my wedding day for example. I'm sure that I will feel similar feelings when I meet Preston for the first time. Music composers of the past (and maybe a couple modern ones) seem to be able to capture that feeling of sublimety. I don't know if this is because of their belief in God or due to their unique talents that perhaps aren't as prevalent now (do we have a modern-day Mozart, Bach or Beethoven?).

Bach is one of my favorite composers, and he seemed particularly able to capture the sublime in his music. He wrote a lot of religious music, but even his non-religious music seems to have the same quality. For instance, his piece "Air on G String" touches me as much as "Jesu, Joy of His Desiring" although the former does not have any lyrics or any outright references to religious topics.

Of course, as the nerdy biologist I am, I'm extremely curious about the biological processes involved in emotion and spirituality. Why does some music touch some individuals and not others? Which centers of the brain produce feelings of sublimety or spirituality, and how do they vary from person to person? I'm sure that similar topics have been studied by behavioral neuroscientists, so I'll have to do a little research and report my findings. In the meantime, if you're having a bad day, might I suggest popping in your favorite CD and reflecting on the blessings of great music?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Day of Reckoning

The day of reckoning has come and gone, gentle readers (if there are any of you left). On Friday I successfully defended my thesis dissertation, and I'm now (almost) a Ph.D. All I have left to do is finish revisions on my written dissertation and turn it in. As of Dec. 10th, I'll be Ady Hahn, Ph.D. However, I'd prefer to go by Dr. Mommy.

It seems almost too good to be true that I'm done with graduate school after 6 1/2 years. With all the problems I had with my thesis project, I never thought I'd finish. But I did, and I'll probably get two publications out of it. Whether I ever use my Ph.D. again is another question. I'm moving into another phase of life--motherhood. At the very least, I will be able to teach my son the intricacies of fruit fly vision.

My pregnancy has gone surprisingly well. I would never have been able to finish school if I had been put on bedrest for the last few months, so I feel truly blessed. My husband and I are frantically getting ready for our son's arrival in about two weeks. Immediately after my defense, we went shopping for a crib. We spent Saturday putting the nursery together.

Well, I'll have time now to blog in between frantic attacks of the nesting response. I wish I could have blogged the election. With a candidate like John Kerry, there were so many comedic possibilities. Sigh! I didn't even get to gloat in front of my liberal co-workers since I was stuck in the dark recording from fly eyes all that week.

I'm looking forward to catching up with all of you, so feel free to drop me a comment or email. I have to stop typing now because my co-dependent cat Omni is sleeping on my arm....

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Visions of fly heads...

Yesterday the Fishheads tune kept running though my head as I was doing a lab experiment (involving fly heads), except it went more like this:

Fly heads, fly heads, rolly polly fly heads.
Fly heads, fly heads, eat them up, YUM!
I took a fly head out to see a movie,
It didn't like it, thought it was dum!

It must have been F 9-11, then. Aack!

Yes, I'm still alive, but barely sane as I struggle to finish up my thesis dissertation.
I will be defending Nov. 19th, giving me a 3 week cushion before Hahn Jr. is supposed to arrive. It will close, but I feel confident I'll be ready by then.

I'm planning on resuming regular blogging at the end of December or beginning of January. I wish I had time to blog the election, but I'm having a hard enough time restraining myself from reading every article on the subject. Wish me luck and I'll be back soon, with lots of cute baby pics.

Friday, August 06, 2004

It's a Boy!!!!

I had another sonogram a week or two ago and Hahn Jr. is definitely a boy. I'd post pics, but I want to preserve his modesty since he seemed rather shy during the analysis.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Catblogging - The Arrival of Omni

My husband and I decided to get another cat to be a companion for our kitty Asia since our hands will be full after Hahn Jr. arrives. We thought she needed a pal to keep her company and give her plenty of exercise since she's starting to fill out. We went to the DFW Humane Society in Irving and found the perfect kitten. His name is Omni and he's a 3 month-old silver tabby. He's has the sweetest disposition, but he also loves to play. He didn't seem to be too intimidated by Asia because he kept trying to pounce on her from around a corner. She didn't appreciate that, but she didn't clobber him either. Hopefully, he and Asia will get along.

My brother took some pics of Omni this weekend. Amazingly, Omni sat still long enough to get his picture taken. So without further ado, here's Omni.


Look into my eyes.... Yes, you're getting sleepy. Now fetch me some tuna Whisker Lickins, human.


Something's wiggling over there. I'd better go pounce on it before it gets away.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Wonders of Medical Technology - Hahn Jr. Revealed

There's a series of tests that's administered to pregnant women in the 15th-16th week of pregnancy termed the triple test. The tests measure the levels of 3 hormones in the blood that are indicators of increased risk of cystic fibrosis, neural tube defects, and Down's syndrome in the developing baby. So I had the triple test done last week at my appointment and this week my doctor called to tell me that my results were abnormal, specifically that my risks of having a Down's baby were increased from 1/700 (average for someone my age) to 1/193.

Well, needless to say I was pretty alarmed by that news. However, the doctor said that if the test was given too early, then the results would be wrong. She had estimated my due date of Nov. 29th based on the standard pregnancy wheel which assumes that a woman ovulates on day 14-15 of her menstrual cycle. However, I knew that my cycles had been very long for the past 9 months and that I probably ovulated a week or two later. So it was highly likely that the triple test had been given too early. But she scheduled me for a sonogram so that the baby's developmental age could be more precisely calculated.

So I went in yesterday for the sonogram and it turns out that I was correct. The doctor measured the circumference of the head and abdomen, and the length of the femur to calculate the age of the baby. Turns out that Hahn Jr. is only 14 weeks old, instead of the estimated 16 weeks. Thus, I was only at 13 weeks when the triple test was given and the abnormal results are most likely false positive. So I'll have the tests redone probably in a week or two and my new due date is Dec. 11th.

But the coolest part of the whole experience was getting to actually see Hahn Jr. The first thing I could make out was the beating of his/her little heart. Jr. was wiggling around a lot, too. No wonder, because the doc was totally squishing my tummy. Below is a shot of Jr.'s foot as (s)he kicked in our direction. You can see the individual toes and the bones in the feet. Hmmm...I wonder if Jr. will have my long 2nd toe or Randy's BIG big toe.


Now here's a profile that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. The details are amazing. You can see the tiny nose and lips of Hahn Jr. Jr. is only about 9 cm (~3.5 in.) long at 14 weeks old right now. Teeny tiny, but he/she definitely looks like a little human. There was a second or two where Hahn Jr. looked like a boy, but I don't have the prints unfortunately. Hopefully, in a couple months we'll be able to tell. I'm not one of those people that want to be surprised after delivery. I'd like to be able to get as much shopping done beforehand without having to buy nothing but green and yellow.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Hahn Jr. Update

So I thought I'd give a little baby update, although I doubt I have many readers right now. As soon as I'm done with school, I'm planning to get back in the blogging groove. I promise! Anyway, I had my 2nd OB appointment yesterday. Nothing really happened at my first one except for a bunch of yucky tests, the details of which are not necessary to relate. But yesterday I actually got to hear the heartbeat of Hahn Jr.! It was a kind of rapid swooshing: 150 beats per minute. I haven't gained any weight yet, so after hearing the heartbeat I felt officially "pregnant." In a month, maybe sooner, I'll have to reoutfit my wardrobe.

My husband has been hoping for twins, actually praying for them, but I think that is not a possibility at this point. The doc said my uterus was too small at 14 weeks for twins and she only heard one heartbeat. I was kind of relieved because although it would have been fun (and stressful) to have two children to raise at the same time, the thought of carrying the extra weight and probably having a c-section did not appeal to me. So far my back has not been acting up and I hope it stays that way. Everything seems to be going well and I'm looking forward to starting to prepare the nursery.

I've read that the hearing of babies in utero is quite well developed by week 16. So yesterday while I was busy tending my flies, I began reflecting on the how the music I listen to might affect Hahn Jr. Would he/she enjoy the rollicking beats of "Rock the Casbah" or the Gipsy Kings, and dance along? Would the sounds of Beethovan or Mozart lull him/her into a peaceful sleep? How would he/she respond to the sound of my own voice singing? Will he/she be a music lover and perhaps develop a talent for dancing, singing, or playing a musical instrument? It's just interesting to think about how the external environment and the internal biochemical environment effect a developing fetus. But I also believe that each of us is born with distinct personalities and talents, and that our environment before and after birth can augment or attenuate these qualities. I guess this can best be summed up by "nature in addition to nuture."

Anyhoo, in 4 weeks I'll be having my first ulrasound and I'll definitely post pictures.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Rest in Peace, Mr. President, and Thank You

Although I was born in the mid 70's, Ronald Reagan was the first president that I clearly remember. I was too young to understand the ramifications of most of his speeches, but I remember being impressed with his radiant smile and gentle, but firm tone of voice. My grandfather, a lifelong Republican, donated some money to his presidential campaign in my name, and I was thrilled when I received a certificate of appreciation signed by the President himself. I was in junior high when he gave his famous speech at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, and I was in awe at his moral courage. He said what everyone was thinking, but was too afraid to say. I will never forget his example of moral clarity.

My great-uncle recently died of Alzheimer's disease, and I remember how my aunt suffered at seeing his humorous and out-going personality diminish and disappear. I am sad at President Reagan's passing, but I'm cheered by the thought that he and his family are no longer suffering through what can only be described as a "living death." I imagine that on the other side, his personality has been restored and he might even be joking with his fellow residents of that other world.

Thank you for your service to our country, Mr. President, and may God bless you and your family.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Announcing Fly Killa, Jr.

Wow, I didn't think I'd be able to stay away from blogging for so long. I'm making progress on my thesis project and I'm on schedule for my defense in late summer or early fall. I intend to get back into blogging regularly once my thesis is completed.

But in other news, Mr. Fly Killa and I are expecting our first child in December! We're both really excited. My husband couldn't help telling everyone he knows about it. I've been a little more cautious since this is our first and miscarriages are common in the first month. But it's been hard to keep the good news to myself and I want to share it with all my friends in the blogosphere. Expect some updates on jr.'s progress and meditations on motherhood and the meaning of life in the future when I have some spare time.

My spoiled cat, Asia, seems to sense something is up. Why is Mommy always falling asleep on the couch when she gets back from that mysterious place she goes to every day in the scary metal monster? And what's with her eating all those boxes of Cheez-Its? Well, we might have to get Asia a little friend to keep her company and out of trouble.

Thanks again to all my friends in the blogosphere, especially Denita from Who Tends the Fires who's dying to share this news.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Blogging Hiatus - Graduation Beckons

After some thought, I've decided to go on a hiatus so I can focus on graduating this summer. I've been spending way too much time and having way too much fun blogging. I might post a few quick and fun things, but no more long essays for a while. I'll be eating, sleeping, and drinking fruit fly vision for the next few months. I'll still be lurking around the blogosphere, and I'll respond to any email I receive. Thanks to all my blog buddies and readers. Hopefully when I return in full force in August, I'll be Dr. Fly Killa.

Carnival of the Bush Bloggers

Check out this week's Carnival of the Bush Bloggers hosted by Blogs for Bush. I submitted my post on North Korea so it's up there with some other great commentary related to the Presidential election.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

George Bush Called It Like It Is: North Korea is Evil

Remember when President Bush labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the axis of evil in the 2002 State of the Union address? Remember how shocked the members of the media were?

Well, read this article by William C. Triplett at NRO and then try telling me that the communist regime of North Korea is not evil.

William C. Triplett on North Korea on National Review Online
Here's a few excerpts:

[German pediatrician] Vollersten writes of what he found in most hospitals, "In each one, I found unbelievable deprivation. Crude rubber drips were hooked to patients from old beer bottles. There were no bandages, scalpels, antibiotics, or operation facilities, only broken beds on which children lay waiting to die. The children were emaciated, stunted, mute, and emotionally depleted." Vollersten compared this to what he found in military hospitals, "Unlike any other hospital I visited, this one looked as modern as any in Germany. It was equipped with the latest medical apparatus, such as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, electrocardiograms, and X-ray machines."

The doctor's conclusion? "There are two worlds in North Korea, one for the senior military and the elite; and a living hell for the rest." What applies in the case of public health is true for all aspects of life in North Korea. On one side, there are strict restrictions on ordinary people — whether it is food, clothing, housing, or transportation. On the other, as Vollertsen describes it, "The system's beneficiaries are members of the Communist Party and high-ranking military personnel. In Pyongyang, these people enjoy a comfortable lifestyle — obscene in the context with fancy restaurants and nightclubs."

Kim Jong Il maintains his luxurious lifestyle by trafficking in drugs and weapons, and receiving payoffs from other nations in exchange for "pledging" not to develop weapons of mass destruction. Of course, he's broken every treaty he's ever signed and threatens to attack South Korea and Japan whenever he doesn't get his payoffs. Only George W. Bush refuses to appease this monster. President Bush says no deal until North Korea gets rid of its nuke programs entirely.

The camps [gulags] are designed to exploit the prisoners' labor until they die. Prisoners are given difficult and dangerous labor such as mining under unsafe conditions. Children are assigned heavy work as well, such as logging. Even before the famine of the mid-1990s, prisoners, including children, were on rations that would not sustain life in the long run, much less allow for any sort of normal growth. Since the political prisoners are never released, there is no danger of them divulging military secrets; they are assigned to work on missiles and other special weapons. One camp, Camp #14, is notorious for its use of prisoners "as guinea pigs for developing chemical warfare technology," according to information obtained by the Seoul Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

The Dear Leader's concentration camps are very efficient both for removing any real threat to the regime and in reinforcing the system of state terror. By some estimates, the North Korean gulag currently holds 200,000 men, women, and children. An estimated 400,000 people have perished in the camps over the past several decades. Rumors of the camps-of-no-return circulate in the general population and fear of denunciation prevents an organized opposition from forming.

Besides the disparity in healthcare services and the gulag system, North Korea has also been suffering from a drought. An estimated 2 million North Koreans have also perished in the famine caused by poor management of resources and corruption. The U.N. and many NGOs insist that food aid is the only way to help the people of North Korea. But most of the money and food donated to North Korea will go right into the pocket of Kim Jong Il and his cronies and will continue to help prop up his government. Where is the outrage in the international community? Where are the calls for change?

I actually think North Korea was a greater threat to the U.S. and the rest of the world than Iraq under Saddam was, but the international community had a better opportunity to do something about Saddam. The U.S. and the U.N. were technically still at war with Iraq since the end of the first Gulf War. No-fly zones were established in the north and south of Iraq to keep Saddam from slaughtering the Kurds and Shiites as he was wont to do. His troops were constantly firing on American and British planes, acts of war in themselves.

And of course Saddam had illegal WMD and conventional programs going on. The extent of these programs when Operation Iraqi Freedom began is not fully known yet, but it's clear that Saddam was in violation of U.N. resolutions. Banned missiles were being destroyed as the war began and Saddam was threatening to use WMDs on our troops if they invaded. Saddam's forces had previously used chemical and biological weapons on the Kurds in 1988, killing thousands. For that act alone, I felt he should have been deposed long ago and indicted for war crimes. There is no statute of limitations on murder in most countries, let alone genocide.

The point is, Saddam is an evil man, a tyrant, and a criminal that had been massacring his own citizens and threatening other countries. The U.N. food for oil program was a joke, and the sanctions were only hurting the Iraqi people, not punishing Saddam. Getting rid of him was the best solution for Iraqis and for the rest of the world. There were relatively low civilians and coalition casualties, and in return the Iraqis already have an interim constitution. I only wish that a similar solution could be found for the people of North Korea.

However, an attempt to remove Kim Jong Il at this point would be very risky. North Korea has a huge, well-equipped army of about 1 million and probably already has nukes thanks to Dr. Khan. There would be heavy civilian and military casualties on both sides. The people of North Korea are so weakened and brainwashed that it's doubtful that they could help overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Il. So until a better solution can be discovered, containment will have to be the policy right now. But how long until lil' Kimmy gives a nuke or two to some bloodthirsty terrorists?

Anyway, I agree with most of George W. Bush's foreign policy decisions. I'm not happy about the lack of security at our borders and enforcement of immigration laws, but I expect that will improve if the President gets more support after his re-election. Kerry is simply too wishy-washy on his foreign policy, and kissing up to the U.N., the French and the Germans is not what I call foreign policy. IMO, there is no choice for president other than Bush if one is serious about the global War on Terror.

It's Wictory Wednesday at Blogs4Bush. If you agree with the above and want to support President Bush's re-election volunteer or donate to his campaign. It doesn't have to be a lot. I'm a starving student and I do my part by speaking out on my blog and debating my colleagues when I get the chance.

Update: Mr. Triplett continues his essay on North Korea with Aiding Kim:
International food help props up a vulnerable regime.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Watching Westerns for Science

A group of neuroscientists from Israel wanted to know if the brains of human subjects work in similar ways under natural conditions of processing visual and auditory data. They tested this by having 5 subjects watch "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (FMRIB). Basically, in FMRIB increased blood flow to regions of the brain that are activated by a task increases the signal (or light up) in those areas and these changes can be viewed real time by researchers.

Intersubject Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision

They found a significant level of synchronization of various brain centers between individuals, including primary and secondary visual and auditory areas and also in association cortices. It's also interesting that viewing a scene where a hand was focused on caused the hand-associated part of the motor cortex to light up in the subjects. While they didn't move their hand, they thought about it.

But there were some areas of the brain that showed more variation between individuals, such as the supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and prefrontal areas. These areas are involved in sensory association, language, and reasoning.

These results are not unexpected given that the human brain collects external stimuli in the same way in most individuals e.g. auditory signals go the the auditory cortex. But processing of the data is expected to vary from person because of the subtle differences in neuronal wiring and memory. For instance, while watching the same movie, two people will see and hear the same things, but may draw different conclusions or form different associations based on their prior experiences.

What do you think of when you see this picture of Clint Eastwood? I think, "Gee what a handsome fellow. Too bad you can't see his eyes though and he smokes. Yuck!" Others may think, "Do you feel lucky today, punk? Huh, well do yah?"


John F. Kerry, International Man of Mystery

I'm going to limit my posting on politics to only things that really bug me or things that are just too hilarious to pass up because there's tons of great commentary out there already (see links under Fresh Fruit). The latter reason fits this post. Last night on Fox News, Shepard Smith said that the White House was now referring to John Kerry as the "International Man of Mystery," a clear reference to one of President Bush's favorite movies, "Austin Powers." In honor of that appellation and in the style of Allah Pundit, I present to you, John "Austin Powers" Kerry, International Man of Mystery.


Oh, behave!

Cats Rule the World!

Sorry for the light posting. I was actually getting some work done until my patch clamp rig broke down, again. So for the next few days, I'll have time to post some silly pictures and ramblings.

Today, I'm exhibiting the picture I submitted to a hilarious website called My Cat Hates You. It's basically a collection of silly pictures of cats from all over the world. As I'm convinced that my cat, Asia Lin, just tolerates me because of the free chow, I had to submit a picture of her as well.


Asia Lin, mistress of all she surveys says, "Don't just stand there! Fetch me some tuna, you puny human!"

Special thanks to blog buddy, Denita of Who Tends the Fires, for inspiring me to keep on blogging.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Why the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague is a Joke

People that insist on tyrants and terrorists being tried at the Hague for war crimes evidently aren't interested in justice for the victims. Why look, one can commit 10 murders and get only 18 years in a cushy European prison!

Yahoo! News - Bosnian Serb Gets 18 Years Jail for Camp Murders

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Judges sentenced a Bosnian Serb to 18 years jail at The Hague (news - web sites) tribunal on Thursday for murdering and sexually assaulting Muslim men held in a notorious Serb-run detention camp during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Ranko Cesic confessed last year to shooting and beating 10 prisoners to death and forcing two Muslim brothers to perform sexual acts on each other at gunpoint in the Luka camp near Brcko in May 1992.

Gee, that's 1.8 years for each person murdered by this scumbag. Under Texas law, Cesic probably would have been convicted of 10 counts of first degree murder or possibly capital murder. He would have received life in prison or the death penalty. The families of Cesic's victims should be outraged that this monster got a slap on the wrist. If this is an example of European sophistication and justice, I'll take the cowboy justice of Texas anyday.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Cool Science - Freeze-dried Blood

I've recovered from my little rhinovirus and I'm back for blogging. I just can't bring myself to mention the E word and my least favorite Democratic candidate. There's plenty of mocking of J Freakin' K going on around in the blogosphere, and I just don't care enough to try to be clever. Sigh! Only 8 months to go.

Anyway, I saw this story in Nature about scientists developing methods to freeze-dry cells, including red blood cells.

Cell Biology: Just add water

Thanks to a sugar found in yeast, it may be possible to provide 'freeze-dried' blood cells to treat injured soldiers. The technique could also find applications in the cell-biology lab. Geoff Brumfiel reports.

The US military is one of the most bloodthirsty organizations on Earth. The troops hold regular blood drives to keep a required 70,000 units on hand at all times; and a veritable small army is needed to transport this blood to remote battle zones in Iraq or Afghanistan. It can take more than a week for refrigerated supplies to reach the field. That's a critical delay, explains Joe Bielitzki, a programme manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which oversees speculative research for the Pentagon. "Typically, by that point nobody's bleeding," he says.

Bloodthirsty? Ha, ha. I suppose Brumfiel is trying to be clever. What better adjective to apply to a group of men and women that are spilling their blood over in Iraq and Afganistan for the freedom of others? Gimme a break and please get to the point of the article ASAP.

Ideally, the military needs blood supplies that can be stored and moved easily. So DARPA has assembled a team of US researchers to develop technology that will allow blood to be freeze-dried, rather like instant coffee, and stored at room temperature for years rather than days or weeks. It might seem an impossible task, but in just three years the group has achieved an impressive result — it has extended the shelf-life of human blood platelets, cells critical to wound healing, from a week to almost two years.

Medical applications aside, members of the DARPA team claim that their work could have wider uses in the laboratory. For example, it may be possible to store experimental cell lines for years at a time on a shelf, rather than in expensive liquid-nitrogen freezers. And it could become easier to ship cells of all types, including precious embryonic stem cells, to and from labs around the world.

This would be quite a breakthrough for medicine and medical research. Remember all the people that lined up to give blood on 9-11? Since all that blood couldn't be used before it went bad, a lot of it was thrown out. Now if that blood could have been freeze-dried, some of it might still be available for use. And the cost of storing other types of cells for research would be greatly reduced. We have 2 or 3 -80 C freezers just in my lab for storing cells and other reagents. Some cells have to be stored in liquid nitrogen freezers. If the power goes out and the cells warm up even a little bit, you are SOL. With freeze-dried cells, you could store them at room temperature.

Imagine if you could have packets of freeze-dried blood for each member of your family in your home first-aid kit. And the blood could be donated by each member of your family for future use. The blood would be perfectly typed also, reducing the possible adverse side effects. Your doctor or local hospital could also keep some on hand for you in the case of an emergency. This could reduce the need for blood because people could donate in advance for themselves and also donate less often for others because of the extended shelf-life.

So what exactly does freeze-drying a bunch of cells entail? Why haven't we been able to freeze cells before?

Putting cells into a freezer exposes them to all sorts of danger. As water inside and outside the cells cools, ice crystals form and their jagged edges can rip the cells apart. Partial dehydration is a side effect of cooling, and if it is not controlled it causes the cells' membranes to shrivel and stick together. Rapidly cooling cells to liquid-nitrogen temperatures can prevent lethal ice crystals from forming by transforming the watery cytoplasm into an amorphous glass. But even if the cells survive freezing, the deathblow often occurs during thawing and rehydration, when they are subjected to new stresses.

This is why, if you're dying of an incurable disease, you can't just get yourself frozen and then have someone thaw you out in the future when a cure has been found. A chemical called a cryoprotectant has to be used to protect the cells from damage.

Enter trehalose, a simple sugar found in organisms such as baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and brine shrimps (Artemia species) that allows them to survive severe dehydration. Its properties are almost miraculous, says John Crowe, co-director of the Center for Biostabilization at the University of California, Davis, who has devoted most of his career to its study. "We've spent a lot of time looking at how it works," he says. It also has the virtue of being naturally non-toxic.

After two decades of probing the structure of trehalose and how it interacts with cellular components, Crowe's team has worked out the main ways in which the sugar protects cells during drying and freezing. First, it replaces some of the water in the cell so that, as the temperature drops, trehalose prevents uncontrolled dehydration. Second, the sugar stabilizes the cell's membrane and stops it from disintegrating. Then, as the temperature falls below water's freezing point, trehalose forms an amorphous glass inside the cell, which prevents ice crystals from forming. If the cell is subsequently fully dehydrated, the glass becomes stable, and the cell can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time.

So far, Crowe's group has been able to freeze-dry platelets (cells essential for blood clotting), store them for 2 years at room temp, and reconstitute 90% of the cell. They've have not yet achieved this success for red blood cells, stem cells, or human egg cells. But I expect within the next 10 years they'll be able to freeze dry various cells, tissues, and organs for medical or research use. Maybe some day you'll be able freeze Grandap until scientists can reverse the aging process.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Nothing to Do on a Thursday Except Take Silly Quizilla Tests

I've been sick with a cold and just haven't had to energy to come up with anything pithy or interesting. So I just took a Quizilla test.

Look Raist, squeeing fangirls!
You are Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance.
You smirk, torment and look dashing in black
velvet. Ultimate evil magic powers are an
additional bonus.

Which Cool Evil Guy Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Review of "The Passion of the Christ"

I saw Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” on Friday night. Normally, I don’t see R-rated movies because usually I feel I have nothing to gain by seeing them. They usually contain too much violence, nudity, and profanity, which irritates me rather than entertains me. I have made a few exceptions when I felt that the movie would be inspiring and enlightening in spite of the R rating. I saw Schindler’s List and Saving Private because I wanted to better understand the experiences of Jews during the Holocaust and American soldiers during D-day. In seeing “The Passion of the Christ,” I desired to better understand the Catholic view of the Passion and also to be uplifted by the reminder of Christ’s atonement for mankind.

This movie was an outstanding work of art in my opinion. It was spiritually very moving, beautifully filmed, and the actors’ performances were remarkable. I found myself thinking about what I had seen all day yesterday and today, pondering its message and analyzing its symbolism.

As far as anti-Semitism, I could detect none, but I am not Jewish and I therefore can’t say what a Jewish person might have thought. There were examples of both Jewish villains and Jewish heroes, and not all were followers of Christ, e.g. Simon of Cyrene. In my opinion, anyone that finds the central doctrines of Christianity and the Gospels offensive would be offended by this movie. I don’t think this is a movie that everyone should see, especially children under the age of 18. I would only recommend it to those interested in Christianity from a theological and philosophical standpoint. It’s not a movie that one would see in order to have a good time at the movies. It is a “thinking” movie, full of Christian doctrines, allusions to religious art, and symbols. It also helps to have a good understanding of the New Testament. Afterwards, I found I didn’t want to talk about it, but wanted to quietly ponder the meaning of what I had just seen. After digesting it for 48 hours, I now am excited about discussing it with my friends that also saw the movie this weekend.

As far as the historicity of the film, it is not really a historical film. Most of the comments from historians that I have read or heard complain about various non-historical aspects of the film. The movie follows the Gospels pretty closely, yet also adds in some Catholic traditions, such as St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he carries his cross to Golgotha. Many Biblical scholars claim the gospels aren’t historical for various reasons, but usually I tend to take their pet theories with a grain of salt since history and archaeology are inexact sciences where theories are constantly being revised based on new evidence. Several historians said that they felt Pilate was portrayed too sympathetically, since he was a harsh ruler that executed thousands of Samaritans and Jews during his rule, and thus would not have balked at condemning Christ to death. However, I disagree. As procurator, Pilate’s primary roles were to maintain order in the province, collect taxes, and issue judgments. Just because his punishment of criminals was harsh, does not mean he was unjust. The individuals he executed were primarily criminals or those involved in acts of treason. Jesus had not broken any Roman law, and Pilate, probably not realizing how serious an offense blasphemy was to the Jewish leaders, did not think he merited the death penalty.

The penalty Jesus received, scourging, was brutal. From the account of the Gospels, it appears Pilate wanted him to be beaten and then released. I’m not sure the scourging would have been as severe as it was depicted in the film. If Jesus had already been condemned to death by crucifixion, then I think such a severe beating would have been more expected. But I think that Gibson wanted to show that Jesus was pushed to the limits of human endurance and beyond. I think most people, after been tortured like that would have lain down and died, but Jesus was not like most people. The scourging scene was too gory for my taste, but I don’t think it was as outrageous as a lot of critics made it seem in their reviews. Of course, we’ll never know how severe the actual scourging was.

I really liked the fact that the characters spoke in Aramaic and Latin. It gave an authentic feel to the movie, like I was right in the crowd along with Jesus’ mother and his disciples. It was also fun to recognize a few of the words that Jesus would have heard and spoke such as his Aramaic name, Jeshua, Adonai (Lord), and Abba (Father). I also enjoyed hearing some of the familiar Latin words spoken by the Romans, although a lot of the Latin spoken by the Roman soldiers was untitled and probably consisted of crude jokes and epithets.

Gibson used symbols quite effectively in my opinion. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan appears in the form of a woman, a corrupt counterfeit of his mother, Mary. A serpent slithers from under his robes and Jesus crushes it under his feet, symbolic of the triumph of the atonement over Original Sin. Jesus’ blood is also used symbolically throughout the movie. In a flashback scene while Jesus is on the cross, John recalls the Last Supper where Christ tells his apostles to partake of the bread and wine that symbolize his body and his blood. As John watches Jesus’ blood drip down his body, he finally begins to understand what Christ was referring to the night before. Mary also kisses the feet of her son as he suffers on the cross and some of his blood stains her lips, symbolic of partaking of the Eucharist or sacrament.

After Jesus dies, there’s also a great earthquake which splits the temple in half. Although in the Gospels, only the veil is said to be torn, the destruction of the temple is a metaphor of the death of Jesus’ body, his temple that he said he would destroy and rebuild in three days. It could also foreshadow the complete destruction of the temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D.

The imagery of the movie was also like viewing many classical Christian works of art. The demons that tormented Judas after he betrayed Jesus reminded me of paintings that depict the torment of souls in hell. A bleeding Jesus standing before the crowd in a red robe at Pilate’s palace is reminiscent of many different renaissance paints on the subject. The scene where Mary is cradling Jesus on her lap after removing him from the cross evokes Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Apart from an appreciation of the artistic beauty of the film, I was also deeply moved emotionally by several scenes. The scenes that affected me the most included Peter’s denial of Jesus and several flashback scenes that depict the close relationship between Mary and Jesus.
At times I felt helpless, probably like his mother Mary felt and wished that Christ could die quickly (as morbid as that sounds) so he could be free of his pain and suffering. And the resurrection was a powerful scene, although too short for my taste. I felt intense joy at seeing Jesus’ face whole and peaceful once again. He did not linger in the tomb, but upon rising immediately strode out into the sunlight almost as if marching off to fight his next battle.

The only criticism I have is that beating and scourging of Christ was excessive. I was disappointed that one of Jesus’ eyes was swollen shut for most of the movie because I thought that Jim Cavaziel’s eyes have so much power, especially as he gazes on Judas and Peter in rebuke, and his mother and John in love. That power was diminished by only one eye being visible. But I think Gibson was probably “keeping to the script” as found in Isaiah 52:14.

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:

As a believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ, this movie was an important reminder to me of how imperfect I am and how much harder I need to strive to be a better follower of Jesus. The doctrines of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Mormonism differ somewhat, but this movie emphasized how much we have in common. We all believe that Jesus Christ suffered and died for the sins of all mankind because He loves us. Mormons do not wear crosses or crucifixes because we prefer to focus on the atonement as a whole to include his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, rather than one aspect, the crucifixion. Mormons are also often classified as non-Christians, which is silly because the proper name of our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What people really mean when they accuse Mormons of not being Christian is that we’re not their kind of Christians. But the key doctrine of Christianity, that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, is what unites us and “The Passion of the Christ” bears this out.

Update: Here's an article discussing the portrayal of Pilate in "The Passion of the Christ" by NRO's John O' Sullivan. Basically, he says that Pilate, as portrayed in the film, is worse than Caiphas because he believes Jesus to be innocent, yet does nothing to save him. Caiphas believes Jesus to be guilty of the sin of blasphemy, which was an offense punishable by death. Pilate, in essence, is a coward and does what he thinks is politically expedient.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Our Right to Remain Mentally Ill

I received weekly news updates from the Treatment Advocacy Center. Most of the time, they contain editorials regarding the challenges of getting treatment for loved ones or articles about individuals with mental illness killing someone or being killed by cops. Sometimes I just skip the whole issue because it's too depressing. But this week there's a great article that discusses the challenges of treating the mentally ill in Florida. Several groups, including law enforcement, have been trying to change the laws in Florida to make it easier to involuntarily commit, and thus get treatment for, the mentally ill. This article spells out the key problems with the mental health system in Florida.

TAMPA TRIBUNE, February 21, 2004

[Editor’s Note: This starkly compelling piece by psychiatrist Nestor Milian reads like a hypothetical in a graduate school exam; it just lays out the facts. One difference from a test question: in the last line Dr. Milian gives the answer, an answer now moving through the Florida legislature.]


By Nestor E. Milian

Nestor E. Milian, M.D., is a Tampa-based general psychiatrist.

The mentally ill have gained much in the way of their rights and personal liberties in the last 25 years. What they have lost on the way is the possibility of reasonable treatment when they become so ill that they do not realize they are in danger.

Consider a hypothetical patient, Frank. Frank, who is chronically and severely mentally ill, has been violent and has difficulty caring for himself. The few members of his family who were willing to help him have given up because of his violence, repeated hospitalizations, repeated incarcerations or self-negligence.

Today, Florida Statutes do not provide for adequate involuntary outpatient treatment of patients such as Frank. Our societal pendulum has swung too far to the patients' rights side. For instance, Frank has the right to not take his medications as soon as he is discharged from the hospital. He has the right to be discharged if he is able to demonstrate the capacity to remain calm and cooperate with hospital staff. Indeed, Frank can do this for short periods when taking his medications in a controlled environment. If the attending psychiatrist and hospital do not discharge him, Frank has the right to sue the physician and hospital for illegally holding him against his will. So Frank is discharged when he is "safe enough" to leave, and within days, he has stopped his medications. Sooner or later, his paranoid thoughts will overwhelm him, and he will begin to act on them. His violent or bizarre behavior will be reported to authorities and he will be back in jail or, more appropr!
iately, back in the hospital.

Patients Are "Too Sick'

When Frank is admitted to an acute care facility awaiting state hospitalization, then, and only then, will he be considered for involuntary treatment in local residential treatment centers. These centers are funded by the state of Florida and Hillsborough County to "divert" the severely mentally ill from state hospitalization. Frank must be "assessed" by local residential treatment centers while he is still in hospital. In the majority, patients like Frank are turned down because they are "too sick" for these diversion programs. Since space in these programs is severely limited, they can choose the patients who will participate most cooperatively. Once turned down, Frank must be treated in the acute care setting until stable enough to be discharged to an outpatient program, unless transfer to the state hospital can be arranged. People like Frank are very sick and need not only medications and safe environments, but also months, possibly years, of closely monitored psychiatri!
c care in order to even begin to see a change.

The Florida Assertive Community Treatment teams are an example of outpatient programs for the mentally ill. FACT teams are state-funded groups that include psychiatrists, social workers and mental health counselors, geared toward the close outpatient monitoring of severely mentally ill Florida residents. These teams will send representatives to the patient's place of residence and attempt to help these patients take their medication and get appropriate education and counseling. However, even these teams are powerless to help patients who refuse to open their doors or simply refuse to take their prescribed medications. Once one of the clients refuses medications, the FACT team must wait until there is an "imminent risk" to the patient or others before it can invoke Florida laws to take the patient into protective custody and then to an acute care hospital for involuntary examination.

If Frank seems to improve enough to be discharged to an outpatient setting, he will not be able to see a psychiatrist in the community mental health system for months after discharge. Even with a two-month prescription from a hospital psychiatrist, Frank may not have enough to last until his appointment. No wonder Frank soon is off his medications and on the street again, looking fearful and hearing voices.

Need Involuntary Treatment

Frank has the right under Florida Statutes to continue to be psychotic. He has a right not to be given reasonable outpatient treatment against his will. This is true even if he has broken the law or violated another person's safety in the past as a consequence of his illness. Next time you read about a tragedy perpetrated on an innocent by Frank, do not wonder why "these people aren't given treatment." Frank has rights.

A message to the Florida Legislature: We need involuntary outpatient treatment laws in the state of Florida before the rights of the mentally ill render them hopelessly mentally ill.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Nature Magazine Bias Watch

A sentence in a news feature about developing more environmentally friendly munitions caught my eye as I was thumbing though the Feb. 12, 2004 issue of Nature.

Collateral Damage by John Giles.

Even munitions that are never used in anger can have a long-term impact on the environment, and the military is anxious to minimize the risks.

Now, I'm all for reducing the environmental impact of military munitions, but what exactly does the intent of the person using the munition have to do with anything? And plus, wars nowadays are not fought because Joe Schmoe is ticked off at some rude neighbor down the street. I mean, what is up with that? Are the coalition forces in Iraq shooting at Al-Qaeda and Fedayeen operatives because they are mad at them? Or could it be because they don't want to be killed, they don't want their buddies to be killed, they don't want nearby Iraqi civilians to be killed, and they don't want Iraq to be destabilized and thus cause a whole lot of civilian deaths in a civil war?

I'm not saying that soldiers never get personal because they have feelings too, and I'm sure I'd be angry if someone had shot my buddy. However, our soldiers (and I'm sure other coalition soldiers) are well trained and disciplined so that they do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The author, a writer from London, just effectively insulted his own military and the militaries of the British allies. A simple word change would have solved this issue and would not have made Nature's anti-war bias show through so clearly. All Mr. Giles has to do was substitute "combat" for "anger" and the sentence would have made perfect sense.

Even munitions that are never used in combat can have a long-term impact on the environment....

Gee whiz, show a little professionalism. Please!

Monday, February 23, 2004

And Now For Your Blue Monday Amusement - A Satirical Political Beliefs Assessment Test

Here's an entertaining political test by Don Hagen to see if you are an leftwind wacko, antigovernment libertine, archconservative, or commie sympathizer, or a bit of them all.

Here's some choice excerpts:

The most egregious example of government waste is...

CONS: the Department of the Interior's $600,000 outhouse.

LIBL: the Department of Defense's $600 toilet seat.

LBRT: the $100,000,000 in emergency funds to buy air conditioners for poor people during the blistering heat wave of 1998. Although, I'm sure there are people who honestly believe that if all those air conditioners saved just one life, then it was indeed a small price to pay.

COMM: the Department of Commerce's entire budget.

The Center for Public-Health Dietary Self Control releases a study that says eating just one jelly donut is as harmful to human health as smoking 10,000,000 cartons of cigarettes. Do you...

CONS: keep eating jelly donuts.

LIBL: demand that jelly donuts be removed from vending machines, and public school cafeterias.

LBRT: hoard jelly donuts before they are regulated off grocer's shelves.

COMM: hoard jelly donuts so you can sell them on the black market.

The proper response for jelly donut manufactures regarding the public's concerns over jelly donut's deleterious health effects is to...

CONS: hold a televised press conference, wherein the manufacturers eat jelly donuts, and feed them to their children.

LIBL: institute a nationwide jelly donut recall.

LBRT: let any consumers worried about eating jelly donuts simply stop eating them.

COMM: give total control of jelly donut manufacturing to the government.

Well, according to these questions, I'm part anti-government libertine and part archconservative. There's no way I'll give up donuts.

BTW, Don hasn't finished his web site yet, but once it's up, I'll add him to my sidebar. Also, blogging this week will be light because I have 2 presentations to do and I got a wicked case of food poisoning or something last night. Bleck!

Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Hollywood Love Affair With Paris

Last night I saw "Something's Gotta Give." I'm not a big fan of either Jack Nicholson, or Diane Keaton (although I hope my teeth look as good as hers when I'm that age), but overall I enjoyed the movie. I couldn't help laughing whenever Keanu Reeves, who played an ER doctor, was on screen because he's just so stiff and Theodore (Ted) Loganesque.

The most interesting thing about this movie was that I thought it was a perfect advertisement for vacationing in Paris. Hollywood seems to have a thing for Paris, exhibited by its use in romantic comedies and the stars that live there (e.g. Johnny Depp?). After the whole Freedom Fries and boycott France uproar last year, I though this was a more subtle and therefore effective vehicle for trying to convince people to go to Paris than Woody Allen's condescending and creepy ("I want to French Kiss my step-daughter/wife") ads. I actually caught myself wanting to visit Paris. On screen, it seemed romantic and sophisticated. The waiters and doormen were charming and polite (the "smile campaign" must have been on then), the food was delicious, and the streets were snow-covered and magical.

I took 4 1/2 years of French in school and always dreamed of going to Paris and visiting the Louvre, the Arc de Triumphe, and the palace of Versailles. But lately, reading the French press, I don't think I'd feel comfortable there. Parisians seem to hate Americans. I was especially hurt by a poll taken during Operation Iraqi Freedom where the majority of French did not want the U.S. to win. To lose means U.S. soldiers are slaughtered and until recently, I thought the French and the U.S. were on the same side. It was somewhat of a shock to me to realize that the French government is actually an adversary of the U.S. Well, I reacted the way someone does whose best friend has stabbed them in the back: snarky French jokes, and boycotting French yogurt ( can't boycott wine since I don't drink.

I think a lot of Americans felt and still feel the same way. Perhaps we Americans were naive to think that the French would think well of us since we were on the same side in two World Wars (three if you include the Cold War). But to me and others it was a genuine shock to have our European "friends" protesting the "imperialistic" USA and our President "Bush-Hitler" after 3000 of our citizens had been slaughtered in one day on our own soil. I mean I expected Russia to oppose anything we proposed in the UN and also sell anything to anybody for a quick buck because Russia has always been like that, even after the Cold War. But coming from the French and Germany, it was the ultimate betrayal. I don't know if the relations between our countries can ever be repaired.

So, I briefly considered visiting Paris under the influence of the "magic" of Hollywood, but on second thought I'd much rather visit Italy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

That's My Rummy

As an admirer of both Donald Rumsfeld, the John Wayne of the DOD, and martial arts, I bring you 1000 Fighting techniques of Rumsfeld (hat tip Instapundit). My favorite? Hidden Monkey Hands, of course.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Beautiful Minds Part 2: Legal Issues Regarding the Mentally Ill

Over the weekend, a news event perfectly illustrated the major legal issues faced by those that suffer from mental illnesses and by their families.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A suspected gunman who told a reporter he was battling "alien clones" during a 6-hour standoff at his home was charged Saturday in the deaths of his wife and a female firefighter.

Patrick Hutchinson, 45, surrendered Friday night, hours after fire and police crews converged on his house in southeast Lexington following a report that a woman had been shot.

At one point during the standoff, a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader accidentally called Hutchinson while trying to reach his neighbors, officials said. An editor alerted police, who asked the reporter to end the call.
The reporter said Hutchinson made doomsday proclamations, calling the standoff "Armageddon" and rambling about the CIA and a conspiracy.

"We're going against the evil alien clones," the Herald-Leader reported Hutchinson as saying in its Saturday editions. "I started with my wife."

His wife, Elizabeth Fontaine Hutchinson, 60, died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Fayette County coroner's office.

Hutchinson also faces attempted murder and assault charges, and was being held at the Fayette County jail. Police have not commented on his mental status.

Clearly, unless this man is feigning insanity, he suffers from, paranoid schizophrenia or psychosis associated with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. The questions I have about this case are these:

1. How long had Mr. Huchinson exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia and how long ago was he diagnosed?

2. Had he been receiving treatment for his condition before this incident and if so, for how long and what was the treatment?

3. Had his wife attempted to get treatment for her husband’s condition before this incident and what was the result?

4. Was there any indication that Mr. Huchinson might act violently before this incident, and if so, what steps were taken by Mrs. Huchinson?

I tried to find more information about this case, including Mr. Hutchinson’s previous mental health history, but nothing has been released yet. Since the typical age of onset of schizophrenia for males is late teens or early 20’s, I’m guessing Mr. Hutchinson had a previous history of mental illness. Unless this was his first psychotic episode, most likely his wife knew about his condition.

To see what actions Mrs. Hutchinson could have taken to help her husband, let’s take a look at the Statutory Assisted Treatment Standards for the State of Kentucky.

For both inpatient and outpatient:

KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 202A.026. No person shall be involuntarily hospitalized unless such person is a mentally ill person:
(1) Who presents a danger or threat of danger to self, family or others as a result of the mental illness;
(2) Who can reasonably benefit from treatment; and
(3) For whom hospitalization is the least restrictive alternative mode of treatment presently available.

KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 202A.011(2). "Danger" or "threat of danger to self, family or others" means substantial physical harm or threat of substantial physical harm upon self, family, or others, including actions which deprive self, family, or others of the basic means of survival including provision for reasonable shelter, food or clothing;

It’s not clear what “substantial physical harm or threat of substantial physical harm” means. Does this include verbal threats or only attempts at physical violence? In the state of Utah, until the law was recently amended, the wording was “imminent danger” to self or others which pretty much meant that the person had to have the gun to their own head or someone else’s or have threatened violence in the presence of a police officer. Now the wording is “substantial physical harm” and takes into account past mental health history, and also whether that person will experience deterioration of his ability to function without treatment.

Also, what is meant by “basic means of survival?” Does that mean that the person must be employable or that they are at least able to walk over to their local homeless shelter and grab a meal?

According to Kentucky law any interested party, including family can petition the court for a 60 or 360 day involuntary hospitalization. So what evidentiary standard is used to determine whether a person present a danger or threat of danger to self or others? The statute says:
For preliminary hearing: § 202A.051(6). “probable cause”
For final hearing: §202A.076(2). “beyond a reasonable doubt”

So for the preliminary hearing which occurs within 6 days after a person is involuntarily committed, the standard is “probable cause.” This would include testimony of family, and friends regarding the behavior of the person in question and possibly his mental health history. The person may or may not be held in the hospital during this time, and if there is probable cause, then the person would be examined by 2 mental health professionals. The findings of this examination would then be used to establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” if involuntary hospitalization is necessary.

So the process for involuntarily committing someone seems pretty straightforward, but what happens at the end of the 60 or 360 days after the person is released? In Kentucky (and most states) there doesn’t seem to be an outpatient program that requires a patient to keep taking their antipsychotic medication without going through the whole petition process again and again. It can take weeks to days for the effects of antipsychotic medications to wear off. The newer ones can wear off faster because they have a higher off-rate (pharmacological term meaning they fall off their target receptors faster).

So Joe Schmoe could be released from the hospital after 60 days of treatment and then decide to stop taking his meds and suffer a full blown psychotic episode in days or weeks. I would guess that this might have happened in this case in Kentucky. And then before Mrs. Hutchinson can get him some help and get him back on his meds, he’s killed her and a firewoman. I’d be interested to know if Mrs. Hutchinson had filed a petition for involuntary commitment of her husband or if she had previously called the police or his doctor asking for help in dealing with her husband. I hope the papers in Kentucky will keep tabs on this case, so it can be determined if this tragedy could have been prevented by pre-emptive action.

This is going to sound harsh, but people with schizophrenia or similar disorders must take their medication for the rest of their lives, unless they have a lengthy remissive period and their medication has been tapered off. It’s too dangerous to them and to the public to allow individuals with schizophrenia to go unmonitored. About 1000 homicides a year are committed by people with severe mental illnesses and this is a tragedy because these illnesses are treatable. Antipsychotic medications work, and when someone with a severe mental illness commits murder or suicide, it is almost always because they stopped taking their medication. Severe mentally ill individuals that are taking their medication are NOT more dangerous than the general population, but those that go untreated are MORE dangerous.

Civil rights advocates are always protesting that no one should be forced to take medication involuntarily and propose that more education and outpatient services will help . The problem is, people suffering a psychotic also exhibit impaired awareness of illness or anosognosia. They do not know they are sick and thus cannot make proper decision regarding their own medical care. They can’t choose to not be sick! About 40-50% of all people with severe mental illness go untreated. And the number one reason for this is anosognosia.

The irony is our society lets people with severe mental illnesses wander around homeless or severely impaired where they can commit petty crimes or become victims of crimes themselves, while Alzheimer’s patients are cared for so they can at least die with some dignity. But both groups suffer from diseases that affect the same organ, the brain, where our memories, reasoning, and personality are housed. The city of San Francisco hands out $300 every month to their homeless and calls that compassionate. For those of the homeless that are mentally ill, it would be more compassionate to help them get treatment so they could find a job, draw a salary, and live in their own home with their families.

Another big problem is that our prison system has become the dumping ground for the severely mentally ill. One group estimates that 16-20% of the inmate population are severely mentally ill. Most do not receive adequate treatment and are repeat offenders. It’s also 2-3 time more expensive to treat the mentally ill in prison than in a mental health facility.

One answer to this problem is a new system being tested by various states, mental health courts. When a mentally ill person commits a petty crime, instead of being incarcerated, the individual is brought before a judge and a treatment plan is worked out. The individual is then released on bond with the stipulation that the treatment plan must be followed. Figures in Atlanta, where this program was introduced showed a 60% drop in recidivism. A similar program known as “drug court” also works well for non-violent drug offenders.

Timely intervention and increased funding for outpatient mental health treatment are needed to prevent tragedies like the murder of Mrs. Hutchinson. If you are interested in helping make treatment more available to the mentally ill, contact the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Next: Beautiful Minds Part 3 - Religion and Mental Illness

Update: Thanks to my husband Randy for clarification of some of the legal terms contained in this article.

Evidentiary standards (or standards of proof) from weakast to highest are:
-reasonable suspicion;
-probable cause;
-preponderance of the evidence;
-clear and convincing evidence; and
-beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some lawyers will quantify the standards to give an idea of how strong the evidence must be to meet the standard. One quantification of each of the five standards might arguably be: 10%, 30% >50%, 80% and 90% respectively.

For a principal to check a student's locker, he must have reasonable suspicion. For police officers to get a warrant or arrest someone they must have probable cause. In a civil trial if the evidence supports the plaintiff's case (a preponderance of the evidence) over the defendant, the plaintiff wins and vice versa. In most states, a petitioner must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a person is incapable (e.g. schizophrenia or alzeheimers) in order to take over their personal and financial affairs and involuntary commit them to a hospital. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty in order to convict the defendant of a crime. The standard for convicting some one of a crime used to be clear and convincing evidence but that changed over time.

For whatever reason, the standard of proof is harder to commit a mental ill person in Kentucky than in other states. Its preliminary standard (probable cause) to bring some one in, however, is the norm.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Beautiful Minds Part 1: An Introduction to Schizophrenia

I’ve thought about blogging on this subject for some time now, as it is close to my heart for personal reasons. But I’ve been unsure how to approach the topic. I want to inform and uplift, but also I don't want to share too much personal information and sound like "poor me." Anyhoo, I thought I’d dive right in tonight since I’m an X-box widow (Halo, anyone?) on a Friday night.

You may have noticed the links to several mental illness advocacy groups I’ve listed on my sidebar under “Pet Flies.” The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Treatment Advocacy Center both focus on legal issues concerning those afflicted with serious mental illnesses and their families. is a great resource for information on schizophrenia if you don’t know anything about it and would like to know more. One of my goals in life, after I graduate, is to become more involved in these groups so that I can help effect positive change as far as awareness of and public policy regarding mental illness.

One of the reasons why I decided to study biology, particularly neuroscience, is that I wanted to understand the causes behind serious mental illnesses. And I also wanted to educate others on schizophrenia and help work towards a cure or prevention of it. Schizophrenia is a disease that has drastically affected my life. I am the person I am because of my experiences with schizophrenia, and I want nothing more than to help ease the pain of individuals and families that suffer because of it.

My mother, a kind and religious woman, has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for most of her adult life. I was about 6 years old when I noticed her symptoms. Of course, at the time I did not know what was wrong with her. I just knew that something wasn’t right. I was also afraid a lot because she would tell me about scary things that she had seen or somehow knew about. I didn’t know what schizophrenia was until I was in high school and then I read everything I could about it. I currently give lectures on antipsychotics to the physician assistant students at my school and take every opportunity I can to educate others.

Schizophrenia is a biological brain disorder that results in a disconnect between sensory input and the brain’s interpretation of that input. I like to say that in schizophrenia, the brain is “short-circuited.” For instance, the auditory centers of the brain malfunction and cause a person with schizophrenia to hear someone talking to them in their head when no one in their actual environment is speaking to them. There are several types of schizophrenia, but the paranoid type is the most common. Symptoms include delusions of grandeur, auditory or visual hallucinations, feelings of persecution, and disorganized thinking. Schizophrenia affects both sexes equally, although the age of onset is earlier for men, usually late teens or early twenties.

Not much is known about what causes schizophrenia. Although it clearly has a genetic component, it has been weakly linked to genes on almost every chromosome rather than a single gene. Environmental factors also play a key role as shown in studies of identical twins where only 50% of twins have schizophrenia when the other twin is affected. My chances of getting schizophrenia are about 10-15%, but I’d say my chances are even lower since I’m pretty much past the age of onset (over the hill).

Many of you have probably seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe. Some critics panned it as being overly sentimental and unfaithful to the true story of John Nash, thus undeserving of an Oscar. But Oscar or not, this movie was incredibly important to me because finally someone was bringing the skeleton of schizophrenia out of the closet. This is the family secret that no one talks about, that everyone is ashamed about. When most people think of schizophrenia, they think of their local bag lady that mutters to herself while pushing a cart of junk or a psychotic murderer that gets gunned down by the police on the evening news. But “A Beautiful Mind” showed that schizophrenics are human beings: a son, a friend, a colleague, a father, and a spouse. Schizophrenics can be average Joes or brilliant like John Nash.

The point of “A Beautiful Mind” was not so much to document every single event of John Nash’s life, as it was to get inside his head and let you feel what it is like to be schizophrenic and what it’s like to love someone that is schizophrenic. I think the movie succeeded in that respect. The only problem I had with the movie is that it oversimplified his “cure” of his illness. In the movie, he decides to just ignore his delusions and hallucinations. In reality, it wasn’t so easy. He was in and out of treatment centers for years and years until he finally stabilized. He was lucky in that he was able to eventually conquer schizophrenia. Many aren’t so lucky. About a third recover almost completely, a third improve moderately, and a third never recover. There is no cure at this time for schizophrenia and many must take medication to prevent “episodes” of psychosis for the rest of their lives.

Beautiful Minds Part 2: Legal Issues Regarding the Mentally Ill

John Kerry, Who's that?

Yes, I'm ignoring the whole flap about Kerry and his adventures in intern land. Ignore, ignore, ignore, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, I can't hear you! If you must have yet more commentary and speculation about this, visit instapundit. I couldn't care less about this. I wasn't planning on voting for a Democrat anyway. May the best dwarf win!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Social Darwinism at Its Finest - Teachers Use Boy's Deformity As Class Lesson

When I heard about this story on the radio here in Dallas, I was furious. Two 4th grade teachers pulled a 5th grade boy out of his class so they could display him in front of their 4th grade classes as a genetics "lesson." The full story is here: Teachers Use Boy's Deformity As Class Lesson.

Robert Will (Willy) Harris has Stahl's ear, which causes points to form on the ears. He and family say two fourth-grade teachers at his school in Rice, Texas, used his deformity to teach a lesson in genetics.

The boy says the teachers pulled him from his class twice in one day and took him to their classrooms to show his ears. Officials with the Rice Independent School District acknowledge the incidents happened, but say the teachers meant no harm. They say the teachers were simply trying to teach genetics and family traits.

The teachers meant no harm, eh? They pulled a kid out of class and paraded him in front of younger students like a circus freakshow without the consent of his parents. Did they even stop to think how this 11-year-old boy felt as a result of this treatment? His mother said on the radio that her son now wants plastic surgery to correct the problem and she will do anything to make that possible, including flip burgers. Willy's mom, by the way, is a reservist that just returned from Kuwait after an 8 month tour.

And secondly, AP didn't get the story completely right. According to his mother, who I heard speak on the radio, the teachers claimed that he had "Darwin's Points," i.e. vestigial organs. They couldn't correctly state that his ears were a family trait because no one else in his family has Stahl's ear. His family also said that Willy's ear deformity has nothing to do with genetics. Most likely it was a developmental defect. It might have been good for the teachers to do a bit of research first, for example, speaking with his parents. And here's a shocker:

His parents say they no longer want their son used for show and tell.

In every medical textbook or genetics textbook I have read, the privacy of the patients is carefully guarded. Their faces are never shown, or they are masked. These teachers had no concern for Willy's privacy at all.

I don't think that the teachers should be fired, but they should definitely be reprimanded. Perhaps they should take some "sensitivity training" or be assigned to work with disabled kids after school so they can learn that kids with handicaps or deformities have feelings too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

So MOVE ON Already! Bush Served Honorably in the Air National Guard, OK?

I'm so sick of that tired liberal meme that Bush was AWOL during his stint in the Air National Guard. The short answer to these spurious charges is HONORABLE DISCHARGE. The long answer is this letter to the Washington Post from a 33 year Air National Guard veteran, Col. William Campenni, who served with Bush. Some excerpts:

It is quite frustrating to hear the daily cacophony from the left and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, et al., about Lt. Bush escaping his military responsibilities by hiding in the Texas ANG. In the Air Guard during the Vietnam War, you were always subject to call-up, as many Air National Guardsmen are finding out today. If the 111th FIS and Lt. Bush did not go to Vietnam, blame President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, not lowly Lt. Bush. They deliberately avoided use of the Guard and Reserves for domestic political calculations, knowing that a draftee only stirred up the concerns of one family, while a call-up got a whole community's attention.

The mission of the 147th Fighter Group and its subordinate 111th FIS, Texas ANG, and the airplane it possessed, the F-102, was air defense. It was focused on defending the continental United States from Soviet nuclear bombers. The F-102 could not drop bombs and would have been useless in Vietnam. A pilot program using ANG volunteer pilots in F-102s (called Palace Alert) was scrapped quickly after the airplane proved to be unsuitable to the war effort. Ironically, Lt. Bush did inquire about this program but was advised by an ANG supervisor (Maj. Maurice Udell, retired) that he did not have the desired experience (500 hours) at the time and that the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers.

So no points for LLLs sarcastically saying that Pres. Bush defended Texas from the VC. His squadron was involved in defending the entire U.S. from the Soviets. It also might be hard for some folks to understand that one can rapidly travel across the country (i.e. leave Texas) when flying at Mach 2 in a fighter jet.

Sadly, few of today's partisan pundits know anything about the environment of service in the Reserves in the 1970s. The image of a reservist at that time is of one who joined, went off for six months' basic training, then came back and drilled weekly or monthly at home, with two weeks of "summer camp." With the knowledge that Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNamara were not going to call out the Reserves, it did become a place of refuge for many wanting to avoid Vietnam.

There was one big exception to this abusive use of the Guard to avoid the draft, and that was for those who wanted to fly, as pilots or crew members. Because of the training required, signing up for this duty meant up to 2½ years of active duty for training alone, plus a high probability of mobilization. A fighter-pilot candidate selected by the Guard (such as Lt. Bush and me) would be spending the next two years on active duty going through basic training (six weeks), flight training (one year), survival training (two weeks) and combat crew training for his aircraft (six to nine months), followed by local checkout (up to three more months) before he was even deemed combat-ready. Because the draft was just two years, you sure weren't getting out of duty being an Air Guard pilot. If the unit to which you were going back was an F-100, you were mobilized for Vietnam. Avoiding service? Yeah, tell that to those guys.

The Bush critics do not comprehend the dangers of fighter aviation at any time or place, in Vietnam or at home, when they say other such pilots were risking their lives or even dying while Lt. Bush was in Texas. Our Texas ANG unit lost several planes right there in Houston during Lt. Bush's tenure, with fatalities. Just strapping on one of those obsolescing F-102s was risking one's life.

I used to live a few miles away from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. There were many Air Force and Air Force Reserve pilots in my church. Most of them got called up to go to Iraq during Desert Storm. I remember one pilot, after returning from Iraq, recalling the flak hitting his F-16 as he flew one of his missions. And every year there were at least 1-2 pilots killed while doing standard drills at home. I could see Kerry et al. mocking Bush's military service if he had been a desk jockey, but a fighter pilot? Come on guys! Is that all you got?

Critics such as Mr. Kerry (who served in Vietnam, you know), Terry McAuliffe and Michael Moore (neither of whom served anywhere) say Lt. Bush abandoned his assignment as a jet fighter pilot without explanation or authorization and was AWOL from the Alabama Air Guard.

Well, as for abandoning his assignment, this is untrue. Lt. Bush was excused for a period to take employment in Florida for a congressman and later in Alabama for a Senate campaign.

Excusals for employment were common then and are now in the Air Guard, as pilots frequently are in career transitions, and most commanders (as I later was) are flexible in letting their charges take care of career affairs until they return or transfer to another unit near their new employment. Sometimes they will transfer temporarily to another unit to keep them on the active list until they can return home. The receiving unit often has little use for a transitory member, especially in a high-skills category like a pilot, because those slots usually are filled and, if not filled, would require extensive conversion training of up to six months, an unlikely option for a temporary hire.

My father, who was in the Army Reserve until he retired recently, had a full-time job in addition to his part-time service in the reserves. His schedule was fairly flexible and he could make up drills that he missed for family or employment reasons.
Finally, the Kerrys, Moores and McAuliffes are casting a terrible slander on those who served in the Guard, then and now. My Guard career parallels Lt. Bush's, except that I stayed on for 33 years. As a guardsman, I even got to serve in two campaigns. In the Cold War, the air defense of the United States was borne primarily by the Air National Guard, by such people as Lt. Bush and me and a lot of others. Six of those with whom I served in those years never made their 30th birthdays because they died in crashes flying air-defense missions.

While most of America was sleeping and Mr. Kerry was playing antiwar games with Hanoi Jane Fonda, we were answering 3 a.m. scrambles for who knows what inbound threat over the Canadian subarctic, the cold North Atlantic and the shark-filled Gulf of Mexico. We were the pathfinders in showing that the Guard and Reserves could become reliable members of the first team in the total force, so proudly evidenced today in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It didn't happen by accident. It happened because back at the nadir of Guard fortunes in the early '70s, a lot of volunteer guardsman showed they were ready and able to accept the responsibilities of soldier and citizen — then and now. Lt. Bush was a kid whose congressman father encouraged him to serve in the Air National Guard. We served proudly in the Guard. Would that Mr. Kerry encourage his children and the children of his colleague senators and congressmen to serve now in the Guard.

In the fighter-pilot world, we have a phrase we use when things are starting to get out of hand and it's time to stop and reset before disaster strikes. We say, "Knock it off." So, Mr. Kerry and your friends who want to slander the Guard: Knock it off.

U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard
Herndon, Va.5

Amen to that! My father, while in the Army Reserves, served in the first Gulf War. Many reservists served in Vietnam and are serving in Iraq and Afganistan today. Kerry and the Dems would do well to stop denigrating those who served in the ANG and other reserve forces. It won't win them any points with independents. Seriously, no matter how Pres. Bush served, the Dems would still criticize him for it (unless he got the Congressional Medal of Honor). Now it's time for them to cease and desist, and start addressing real issues, like the WAR ON TERROR.

Update: Here's yet more evidence that Bush did in fact show up for duty in Alabama. But I don't expect that an apology from Michael Moore et al. will be forthcoming.

Update: Many in the blogosphere has addressed this topic. I like this article by NRO contributing editor Mackubin Thomas Owens. The most important point, I think, is this:
One cannot be AWOL while a reserve or Guardsman in a drill status. One is meeting the required number of drills (one weekend per month and two weeks active duty training some time during the year) or he is not. If one is in an unsatisfactory drilling status, the commanding officer of the drilling reservist or Guardsman can notify the individual that he will be separated from the service after 12 unexcused drills. Once notified, the individual can make up the unexcused drills and return to a satisfactory drilling status.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Global Warming Advocates - Let Them Confess Their Faith

I found a great opinion piece at Tech Central Station regarding the "religion" of global warming. It's written by Dr. Roy Spencer, a meteorologist at the University of Alabama, and addresses many of the same problems I have with the whole global warming debate.

TCS: Tech Central Station - Let Them Confess Their Faith

It wasn't long after I became a research scientist that I learned that scientists aren't the unbiased, impartial seekers of truth I always thought they were. Scientists have their own agendas, philosophies, pre-conceived notions, and pet theories. These views end up influencing their science. Nowhere does this have a greater impact on the science than in global warming theory.
Exactly! Scientists are humans after all and it's impossible to be perfectly objective. I wish scientists would acknowledge this instead of acting like the Sophists that Socrates debated.
When confronted with a new, policy-relevant science problem, there are always scientists that will immediately rush to judgment about a "possible" environmental catastrophe. In the 1970's it was an impending ice age. In the late 1980's it was inflated global warming predictions. Most recently both extremes have morphed into the possibility that global warming will actually cause an ice age for Europe. In an age when popular culture helps to blur the line between science fiction and reality, our imaginations are fired by the thought of an ice sheet advancing on a city, or unexplained increases in severe weather.
Yep. When I saw the previews for the "The Day After Tomorrow," I rolled my eyes and thought, "Great. More global warming propaganda from those global science 'experts' in Hollywood."
On February 4 I testified in a congressional hearing that was held to explore the role that science plays in public policy formulation. I tried to explain that science always involves assumptions, and so scientific conclusions are only valid if the assumptions hold up. And there are always additional, unstated assumptions that the scientist isn't even aware of!

For a complex problem like climate change, assumptions abound. Early in the climate modeling days, confidence was high as physicists used to working on well-defined problems with a limited number of variables thought they had the answer. We meteorologists (by training) were always more skeptical because we understood how complex weather is. Enter the scientist "heavy hitters" that are savvy public speakers, maybe a Nobel laureate in some unrelated field of science, all having strong opinions about what the government should be doing to help "save the Earth" and you have a recipe for bad policy. Now, the climate modelers are learning how complex the climate system really is (surprise!). The tendency for scientists to rush to judgment isn't the fault of science -- it's just human nature.

Yes, it never fails for proponents of controversial theories to round up a bunch of Nobel Laureates or members of the National Academy of Sciences that support their cause. Never mind that molecular biologists (I include myself here) don't know diddly squat about climate modeling. But some of them may be very persuasive speakers (I include my mentor here) and could sell snowshoes to a tourist in Hawaii.
Even though I love details, I also am constantly striving to understand the "big picture." We have pretty high confidence that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations have a warming tendency. The Earth's natural greenhouse effect, mostly due to water vapor, keeps the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere warmer that it would otherwise be, and the extra carbon dioxide adds to this effect. But about 75% of that surface warming is never realized. All that water vapor represents huge amounts of heat that have been removed from the surface of the Earth, in a very real sense "air-conditioning" it, keeping the surface over 100 deg. F cooler than if weather systems did not exist. All weather systems act to redistribute heat, carrying it from where there is more to where there is less…the energy contrast is what drives them. So, the real question is, how will weather systems adjust to the warming tendency? Will they change their cloudiness or precipitation processes in such a way to amplify (positive feedback) the warming or suppress it (negative feedback)?

Our knowledge in this area of precipitation and cloud microphysics (which control the equilibrium amount of water vapor in the atmosphere) is so meager, that I would argue that it is a matter of faith to believe that the Earth will respond by amplifying the warming tendency. If the response is simply benign, then about 2 deg. F warming is about all we'll have to contend with in the next 100 years or so. But in the meantime, I wish all those global warming extremists would simply confess their faith -- and stop giving science a bad name.
Amen to that. Before bodies like the U.N. start drafting drastic proposals like the Kyoto Treaty, which could do severe damage to the international economy, they should make sure the science behind global warming is sound. I don't think we're there yet.

Update: Curse Google ads! So I write a post on how the dangers of global warming are exaggerated and Google ads displays ads for environmental newsletters and "one solution to stop global warming." YEEEARGH!