"A word in earnest is as good as a speech"
~Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wordless Wednesday ..... kind of

Normally Wordless Wednesday consists of a single photo that speaks to me. Usually it is one that I have taken and it means something. But today I wanted to share voices .... thousands of them. Voices that speak of pride and strength and passion!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Too close for comfort .... another sad day

As each horrific event in American history unfolds I think to myself .... this has to be the worst. This has to be the one that will harden me, this has to be the one to desensitize me. But here I am again. Shocked and silenced and not knowing what I should be feeling or how I should be reacting.
It was just a normal day .... again the weather was beautiful (that was what I remember most about 9/11 - it was a beautiful day).

Patriots' Day in Boston is kind of a big deal. It commemorates the beginning of our battle toward democracy - toward freedom from tyranny- toward both independence and camaraderie. It is the day of the Boston Marathon where people climb Heartbreak Hill and come to end of a grueling day to the smiles and embraces of those who love and support them.

For me it was a much needed break from the Monday morning commute. An extra day to spend with my son and my husband (today is my wedding anniversary). School vacation had started, I was home from work, the six-year-old had friends over, and we were just all hanging out in the yard playing, and planting and working on the house.

We all came in when it started getting a little chilly and I got a robo-call from the university I work at in Boston saying that there was very little information about the two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I was once again stunned and silenced. Once again I went to the TV to watch the footage and wait for some news that would somehow make it ok. I went to Facebook to check on friends who live and work in the city. And waited for some news that would make it ok.

The rumors started running wild .... from the number of people injured or dead to the suspects they may or may not have in custody ... to the families of the Newtown victims at the finish line (they are apparently safe thank goodness) to the third explosion at the JFK Library. Then the visuals ..... SWAT teams driving through the streets ..... to ATF agents holding a suspect at Brigham & Women's Hospital ..... to the arrest on the Boston Common .... to the stains on the street. And don't even get me started on the photos of the people being rushed to the hospital.

At some level all of these stories make you feel heartache as in "this is my country and I don't understand why someone would do this." But this time it is my home. The streets I walk on a beautiful afternoon on my lunch break. The places I take my kids to learn about history. The places my grandmother took me. And for me it will be a long time before I think of these streets as mine again.

There were two things in particular about this event that really made me pause, unable to know how to feel.

The first thing were these two photos - one taken at the time of the first explosion and one was taken at the time of the second explosion:

These people were finishing their race. These were not the star athletes of the day. I heard several times that the explosion was set at such a time as to have the most people finishing the race. The middle of the pack sort of speak - the average Joe - the everyday person.

These people were still running the marathon. They had not gotten to the location of the first explosion and probably had no idea what was going on. They were just making it through their race .... proud, sore, tired, exalted .... not knowing that their lives (even if they were not injured) would be changed forever.
It was just a normal day.

The other thing was the realization that one of the spectators who died was an 8-year-old boy. Sitting in the bleachers on a street I have walked down holding the hand of my own child. The senseless death of a child just doesn't ever get any easier and just doesn't ever make any sense to me.

But again .... as we look for a way to accept what we are watching, as we look for some sign that will make it less awful we find it. The heroes. The people who rush in when others rush out. The bystanders who ripped off their shirts to save the leg or the life of a complete stranger. The police and fire personnel and hospital workers who dropped whatever else they were doing this afternoon to go into a city people were fleeing to get the job done. Again for that briefest of moments we are aware of the worst horror that human nature can offer and at the same time the greatest sacrifice and compassion and unity that human nature has to offer. It is this thought .... of unwavering caring and sacrifice that I will bring to bed with me.

I wonder what kind of point was the person who placed these bombs at this location on this day trying to make? What could these people possibly have done to become victims of this kind of rage? The purpose of terrorism (foreign or domestic) is to instill terror. Did these people suffer just for that? Because someone thinks that this kind of event will stop people from living their lives? Do people not learn from history ..... none of the other terrorist events on American soil have ever stopped us from living our lives (at least not for long).
So tomorrow I am planning to make my commute to work. To be there for my students who need a shoulder or someone to yell at. As part of school vacation I still plan to bring my son into the city that I love to experience the beauty and the history and the energy .... because Boston is beautiful and vibrant and it always will be. If the patriots could survive to build a country .... we will survive this.

But I have to admit .... this one was a little too close to home!

"On days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats—we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens." —President Obama

Update: above I mentioned that in tragedy we find heros. this is amazing to me .... people opening their homes to complete strangers .... offering rides or showers or just a place to catch their breath. The best that humanity has to offer right here! Boston Marathon Room Listing: http://mashable.com/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-room-offers/

Monday, April 1, 2013

Medical Monday: Zombie Cells ..... Hmmmmm


ZOMBIE CELL, first stage -- only moderately heated, the cell is now pure silica and needed a gold coating for a scanning electron microscope to image it.

I am not at all going to pretend I know what any of this means. I have read the article several times and all I can come up with is that scientists have figured out how to take a cell - kill it and heat to get rid of all the protein and they get a shell that can survive almost anything. They can then use this shell as a base for other nanotechnologies (but don't take my word for it, I could be completely wrong).
So why am I writing a blog about something I am not even sure I understand .... because it is creepy and kind of scary. And of course the word "zombie" piqued my interest (have I told you I am obsessed with The Walking Dead).
But it led me to ask the question, what is it for and when does it stop? The article in the Huffington Post indicated that these cells can be used for things like fuel cells or sensors that we now build from metal and "old-fashioned" technologies. It also stated that these dead cells can perform in a lot of the tests better than the cells did when they were alive. Great you think, ok let me put out some other observations.
My curiosity led me to start thinking about stem cell research. According to the National Institute of Health stem cells are unspecific cells that can be used as repair cells because they can become specific and in many cases reproduce without limit - even after extensive periods of inactivity.
Stem cells can be helpful for patients that deal with some very debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. At first you want to say fabulous let's get more of that kind of research - let's save lives. It is really hard for me as someone with a chronic disease to say what a lot of people don't want to hear, maybe these diseases are just part of the natural selection process - should we be playing God? Or is it part of the natural selection process that we as a species are smart enough to be able to come up with the technologies to cure anything that ails us?
Then I started thinking about cloning - I was stuck by the fact that the first cloned animal was a tadpole in 1952. I was also kind of horrified that the information stated that hundreds of cloned animals are in existence today, and that 2001 they successfully used harvested eggs to clone skin cells (using the eggs as one would a stem cell - they removed the eggs DNA and then added the skin cell DNA - it was only minimally successful).
The other thing that troubled me about cloning was the statement "cloned animals tend to have more compromised immune function and higher rates of infection, tumor growth, and other disorders."
So all of this information overloaded my brain ... but I decided to keep looking and I came across the issue of Genetically Modified Foods. This began as a political query after information on a bill President Obama signed into law last week: the so-called Monsanto Protection Act came to my attention. But what is genetically modified food and genetically engineered seed? These are organisms whose DNA has been altered to carry certain characteristics or traits - being insect resistant or having certain nutrients or being resistant to viruses that can wipe out a crop or genetically engineered salmon that grow faster. According to one article they are making bananas that can carry vaccines for things like hepatitis B.
I took all this information in and then went back to the word that started all this medical overwhelmingness .... zombie. I would like to state for the record I do not really think that the zombie apocalypse is in our foreseeable future. Having said that .... after my reading for this blog I may start hoarding water and putting together the items suggested by the Zombie Research Society (yes you read that correctly).
So my questions remain ... should we be doing all these things and what are the consequences of our actions? Will we create a race of humans resistant to death? Will we create food that we eat from a petri dish? And what are the ethical implications - do we begin cloning people based on only the traits we think are "fashionable" at the time? And what impact does this ability to stave off death as long as possible have on the concept of natural evolution? This is no longer the stuff of science fiction - it is the stuff of science. When will we know when enough is enough - or do we need a natural reset to let us know?
I will end as I started (and as I have stated before) - I do not pretend to completely understand all the things mentioned in this blog. I do not claim to be educated enough about the subject to know all the pros and cons or even enough to be able to make a logical argument about whether or not I am for or against some of these technologies. But I just wanted to pose the questions ... and hope that there is someone out there that can answer them before it is too late.