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