Archive for March, 2010

Dah-link, it’s been ages!

March 31, 2010

I want a computer in my brain.  Sign me up – I’ll be an early adopter for that one. 

I’ve been housesitting since last Thursday, and I haven’t had access to my desktop computer, so my online activity has taken a dive.  I do have my iPod Touch, and the house in which I’m staying has wireless, but everything was so slow…and the keys are so small…and everything’s in mobile content mode…ugh.  Very little Facebook, no checking my favorite blogs, and no additions to my personal blog.  It’s all very sad.  So, I’m writing a quick update via the ol’ office ‘puter just to let you all know that everything’s fine…life is good. 

I unexpectedly earned a little bit of money – just enough that I’ll be able to visit Mom in Europe this summer!  She’s taking a month-long class in Italy, and on either side of that she’ll have some vacation time.  I wanted to join her, but wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to manage it financially, so this was very exciting.

Housesitting is going well.  I’m living in Burnsville this week with my friend’s daughter, and four cats and a dog.  The daughter has her driver’s license and access to a car, so I don’t see her much.  Also, my second job at the bookstore is minimizing our face-to-face time, so we’re doing a lot of note-leaving and texting.  Last night was cool though: We both had the night at home so we had Taco Tuesday and vegged all night long.  Seriously, I haven’t watched that much TV…well, probably since the one time I was fired, and totally depressed, and I watched all 24 hours of 24…in 24 hours (well…22-23 hours with commercials, probably).   

One of the shows we watched was CSI: Special Victims Unit.  Last night’s episode presented some of the same topics that I just finished reading about in Half the Sky.  This is an incredible book  about the injustices and inequities suffered by women throught southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.  The book focused on forced prostitution in SE Asia, rape as a weapon of war in Africa, repression of women in the Middle East, female circumcision, maternal mortality, and how lack of education is probably the number one issue contributing to subjugation, abuse and death of women the world over.  The book also focuses on how each and every person in this world can take a stand against these injustices.  It is a brutal and inspiring book.

So, in this episode of CSI: SVU, a woman was raped and another woman walked in on the attack.  The witness grabbed the man off of the victim and punched him in the face.  Turns out that the witness was an illegal immigrant from Congo (i.e., Democratic Republic of Congo) who was a victim of rape by a rebel army.  Her and her five year old daughter were raped in front of her husband, who fled while the rebels were attacking his family.  The daughter died as a result of the attack.  The man returned home afterwards and cast his wife out because of the shame she brought to the family by being raped.  The woman escaped to a refuge camp, which was later attacked by a (US-defined) terrorist group.  All of the women were raped and forced to marry soldiers and leaders of the terrorist group.


But very, very good to see.  The more we hear, and the more we learn about these unbelievable  (to us in industrialized countries) circumstances in which our fellow human beings are existing, the more able and likely we’ll be to put our heads, hearts and hands together to end this barbarism. 

I’m currently researching a microfinancing website called Kiva (  Microfinancing is so simple a solution to poverty and inequity as to be mind-boggling (so simple, that there’s an app for that, literally). 

The College of Wikipedia textbook says this about microfinance:

Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients, including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services.

More broadly, it is a movement whose object is “a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers.” Those who promote microfinance generally believe that such access will help poor people out of poverty.

There was an entire section about microfinance in Half the Sky, and I’ve just picked up a copy of Banker to the Poor, by Muhammed Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts in microfinance.  Kiva is a microfinance organization that lets anyone provide lending to projects or groups in any area of the world.  Check it out – it will blow your mind.

Ada Lovelace Day: Dr. Patricia Bath

March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

From the Ada Lovelace website, Finding Ada:

Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

I heard about Ada Lovelace Day from Skepchick, and I went to the website to register.  I pledged to write a blog about a woman in either science or technology.  My coworker suggested I research Linda Clickclocken, who was once quite the hottie of the plant world.  Yeah…I wasn’t a fan of the TV Show Friends, so I had to google it to realize that it was a joke.

At the bookstore last nightI started asking my friends and coworkers to name female scientists that came to mind.  Here are the depressing results:

Marie Curie (16 mentions)
Jane Goodall (3 mentions)
Rachel Carson (2 mentions, one of which was “that lady who wrote Silent Spring”)
That Watson and Crick lady (so wrong on several levels…but I count that as “1” mention for Rosalind Franklin)
Dian Fossey (1 mention)
Mary Leaky (1 mention)
Dr. Ruth (1 mention)
That Israeli woman who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1 mention for Ada Yoneth)
That woman who invented the bulletproof vest (Casimir Zeglen – a man –
is given credit for inventing the first commercial bulletproof vest, but Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, so this is a sort-of mention?)
I can’t think
of anyone (8 mentions)

Most people could only name Marie Curie, i.e., when prompted to think of any other women in science, technology, medicine, physics, aeroscience, computer technology, etc….could still only come up with Madame Curie.

Then I had an epiphany…maybe this wasn’t a problem with recognizing women in science, but a wash of general science ignorance.  So I started asking my customers and coworkers to name any scientist (not specifying sex) they could think of.  Most of them rattled off 3-5 male scientists in under five seconds. Here are all of the names I received:

Stephen Hawking
Carl Sagan
Neils Bohr
Dr. Offit (It was pretty awesome that someone named Dr. Offit!)
Louis Pasteur

Alfred Nobel
Charles Darwin


My sample size was insufficient, and this in no way could be used to draw any stat-based conclusions, but…suck.

In between customers I ran over to the science section and started looking for female authors or editors.  I only made it through one bay (containing General Science writing and Astronomy), but here’s how it broke down:

152 authors
16 females (11%)
136 males (89%)


There appeared to be a larger proportion of female authors in the medicine bay, but the women were clumped in the personal stories section (my life as a neurosurgeon, heart surgeon, psychology ER doc, etc), and fewer women were seen in the history of medicine and health insurance sections.  Again, this is only the briefest hint of observational study and not statistically significant in any way, but it might support the idea that there is a need for more focus and support of women in the sciences.

Dr. Patricia Bath

I found so many inspirational women scientists, but in the end I decided to concentrate on Dr. Patricia Bath.

Patricia Era Bath is known for being the first black female doctor to receive a patent for an invention.  The reason why I chose Dr. Bath is because she not only achieved amazing success as a doctor and inventor, but she is also social activist for the poor.  Among her accomplishments:

In 1981 Dr. Bath conceived the the Laserphaco Probe, a surgical tool that uses a laser to vaporize cataracts via a tiny, 1-millimeter insertion into a patient’s eye. The Laserphaco Probe allowed the surgeon to remove the cataract, after which a new lens could be inserted into the eye.  In 1988 she received a patent for the device.  Before the Laserphaco Probe, invasive surgery was needed to remove cataracts.

As a young student, she derived a mathematical equation for predicting cancer cell growth.

She conducted a population study that supported the fact that blindness among blacks was nearly double the rate of blindness among whites. She concluded that this was largely due to many African Americans’ lack of access to ophthalmic care.  As a result of this research she helped develop the discipline of Community Ophthalmology, defined by as

…a conceptual shift to improve the eye health status through preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative approaches thereby giving a holistic view of eye health. It can be envisaged as a health management approach of preventive eye diseases, to reduce the rates of eye morbidity and promote eye health by active community participation at the grassroots.

She was the first African American resident at New York University.

She was the first African-American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman faculty member at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.

In 1977, she and three other colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

She was elected to the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1988 and named Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine in 1993.

Black Inventor Online Museum
Inventor of the Week – MIT

Underwater Adventures

March 23, 2010

Ashley and I went to Underwater Adventures at the Mall of America last Friday.   She had never been to UA, and neither of us had done the behind the scenes tour.

We arrived at UA at about 5:40pm.  We had 20 minutes before the behind the scenes tour, and so we wandered around in the first part of the exhibit, which is set up like a forest.  We saw turtles, freshwater fish and snakes.  We walked under a tunnel that was designed to look like the inside of a beaver dam.

At 6pm we headed back for the behind the scenes tour, which included a tour of the kitchen in which the UA staff prepares the fish for all of the different animals (cleanest kitchen at MOA according to the tour guide!), and a tour of the lab where the scientists do water testing and where they raise a few of the newborn hatchlings.  Then there was the area above the tanks!  We saw a few of the isolation tanks where a sick turtle was being nursed to health, and where some of the “overflow” fish were being stored (I’m not sure if they were being held until they could be traded to another aquarium or what…), and one of the tanks was where the huge octopus was being held.  She was really active – undulating her tentacles for us and displaying her 200 suction cups per arm.

Then we were on the catwalks over the main exhibint tanks!  We had the chance to feed the rays, puffer fish and other animals from one habitat, and then we looked down into the shark tank.  They were lazily gliding through the water, or sleeping on the sandy bottom, and one shark was kind enough to show off its Jaws “dorsal fin cresting the surface of the water” impression.

After the tour we went back to the public exhibit and walked through the underwater viewing tube.


The coolest part of the exhibit for me was the jellyfish display.  The rooms that housed the jellyfish were dark – virtually the only lighting in the place came from the tanks themselves, the majority of which were floor-to-ceiling tubes spaced throughout the room.    The effect was ghostly and I felt as if I was in a technologically advanced society…perhaps one in which I was under observation, rather than the other way around.  My favorite picture from the whole outing came from the entry to the jellyfish room.  This is Ashley silhouetted in front of one of the flat wall tanks:

It was a good time, a great exhibit, and I highly recommend this experience for any child or adult who finds themselves in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and has a place in their heart for the fishies.

Tree Lobsters!

March 22, 2010

Okay, I may be the last one ever to discover Tree Lobsters!  You can’t prove that they don’t exist, but I just found it today through the magic of the blogosphere and its interconnectivishness.  It’s irreverent and skeptical, and very, very geeky.  This comic was the clincher; the one that made me want to share it’s magic crustaceaness with you.  Apparently this post is all about the made up wordiness as well.

Affordable Health Care for America

March 22, 2010

All day yesterday I kept tags on the liveblogging of the House Health Care Vote.  And then at 9 or 10pm-ish (I’m getting the EST-CST zones mixed up),  I watched the House vote on Live.  It was incredibly terrifying to watch the numbers come in, but finally we achieved the 216 votes needed to pass.  The numbers on the screen were about 5 seconds behind the actual tallies, so at 215 we started to hear clapping, and by 216 the chanting of “Yes We Can!” was being taken up by the Democratic majority.  The final vote was 219-212 for the Senate health care bill, and 220-211 for the revisions package (Do you wonder what was going on in the head of the lone democrat who came on board for the revision package after voting against the health care bill?)

All in all, being the geek I am, I would say that was at least as exciting as the final minutes of some silly superbowl!  Of course, at the end of the superbowl, the winner is the winner and you move on with your life.  You don’t have to follow up with a  bunch of people who challenge the win, and there’s no messy paperwork – except maybe with the bookies.  Although, maybe there are some parallels between the total amount of money spent because of the superbowl and the cost of providing health care for 32 million Americans?

Finally, the following is an exclusive interview conducted by yours truly with the Senate Health care bill last evening:

Me: You just won the majority vote in the US House of Representatives.  What are you going to do now?

HR3590: I’m going to the White House!

Me:  You mean, after the Senate approves the revision package.  Then on to the White House, right?

HR3590: Biodork, quit harshin’ my buzz.  The Senate’s just a quick stop before I get to go see the Prez.

Me: Of course, Health Care, you’re quite right.  Congratulations on your win.  And ours.

Update 3/22/10 12:17pm CST:

Cafe Witteveen has a cool post from Reuters that lists the year-by-year health insurance reform events that will rollout starting this year through 2018.

And the Scariest Book Award goes to:

March 19, 2010

The Bible Cure for Candida and Yeast Infections

Dr. Colbert is an Oral Roberts U alumnus and board-certified MD who peddles faith-based AND alternative medicine kookiness – it’s a two-fer!

First, he’s addressing the controversial issue of candidiasis.  Science-based medical doctors know from the evidence that there are genital and oral (thrush) yeast infections, and that there is also a systemic form of chronic candidiasis that can occur in immunocompromised patients, such as those suffering from AIDS, mono and cancer.

Then there are alternative health proponents who believe that candida overgrowth is common, even among apparently healthy people.  These practitioners believe that candidiasis might be at the root of many vague symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, mood swings, depression, anxiety, dizziness, unexpected weight gain, difficulty in concentrating, muscle and joint pain, cravings for sugar or alcoholic beverages, psoriasis, hives, respiratory and ear problems, menstrual problems, infertility, impotence, bladder infections, prostatitis, and “feeling bad all over.” (Quackwatch).

But I digress…the candidiasis issue has been torn into by people much smarter and more informed on the issue than I.  Along with the Quackwatch link above, Wikipedia appears to have  a decent write-up, including a list of references for anyone who has an interest in learning more about candidiasis.

Now back to the damned book, and to the heart of my ire (no, it’s not candida overgrowth).  I flipped through the thing, and do you know what I found inside?  Very common-sense diet and exercise advice that I imagine any doctor would give to almost anyone.  Yea for eating well and exercising!  It’s the miracle cure of the millennia (literally, according to Dr. Colbert).

But aside from the facepalm-worthy medical “cure”, the book caters to people who believe in God, and this is the religious message that it promotes: If you succeed in losing weight and feeling better it was God’s will, and you only succeeded in completely revising your shopping, eating and exercise habits because you relied on God.  And actually, God was the one who led you to The Bible Cure for Candida and Yeast Infections, which wasn’t really written by Dr. Colbert, but by God.

I know that there are people who would agree wholeheartedly with the paragraph above, and not find a single thing wrong with the idea that God controls all aspects of our lives.  But in that case, why bother with any kind of recognition of our fellow human beings?  Why don’t we all put on matching uniforms and call ourselves God Robot #1, God Robot #2, etc?  By this reasoning Dr. Colbert didn’t do anything remarkable by writing this book, he just happened to be a convenient vessel when God wanted to upload a new program to his Robot Army.  So no accolades for Dr. Colbert…I mean, God Robot #358454980.  He was just the equivalent of a plugged-in human battery from the Matrix who was transformed into an agent for that brief period of time it took to get the book written.

Humans rock!  Individuality rocks!  The choices that human beings make are precious!  If you’re feeling out of sorts and you make the decision to help yourself by buying a diet book, and then by busting your butt to avoid tempting, yummy foods, and to set your alarm clock an hour earlier so you can get to the gym before work…that’s all YOU!  You did that, and you should get to take pride in your efforts.  None of this damned “Yea, I feel better, God must have helped me!” and the dangerous flip side of that coin “Oh, man, I ate thirteen White Castles this weekend…God must have decided that I wasn’t worthy enough to succeed.  I guess I’ll go watch some TV until God makes me go to the gym”

We have control over our lives, we live and die, wither or thrive, because of the decisions we make.  I am my own personal demon and hero, and you are yours.  When you do something wonderful, I have nothing but awe and respect for your accomplishments, because even if you believe that you need your faith to succeed, I have faith that you don’t.

I can haz health care?

March 18, 2010

I am very lucky: I have health insurance through my job.  The Hubby has insurance through his job.  We don’t have children about whose health coverage we need to worry, and my immediate family is all covered.  We haven’t had any major accidents or sicknesses that are forcing us to make hard money vs. health decisions. 

But there are a lot of people in the United States who, through any number of consequences and situations, do find themselves without health insurance in the United States, and when they are faced with the high cost of health care in this country, they can suffer bankruptcy, loss of employement, permanant physical and mental harm, and even death.  That’s a fact that has been highlighted with everything from international studies to local small-town reporting. 

When these people live in other countries  – countries that have universal health care – along with universal police, firefighters, schooling, roads and parks, and other “socialist” constructs – they have options and opportunities to receive emergency, preventative and diagnostic care.  In the US almost anyone can access free emergency care for acute problems.  But things get a little trickier if you need to receive a free annual wellness checkup, or if you want to find out why you’ve been having persistant, nagging abdominal discomfort for the last month.   

Our health is at the root of our ability to strive for happiness.  If we have health, we can more easily concentrate on learning, working, and building and supporting ourselves, our families and our communities.  If we’re sick, all we want to do is feel better so that we can go back to these other pursuits.  Being sick trumps all – legitimate businesses give a pass from work (for a brief time) if we’re sick.  If a friend or family member is sick we’re excused from other duties.  Our refrain is feel better first, then get back to the daily routine.

Health care is as important as education – both contribute to the future success of our national and international success, and our continued survival and evolution on this planet.  We have “universal” education, now let’s get on with passing “universal” health insurance and financing reform, or as it’s being called currently, health care reform.  Let’s extend our helping hands to hand out health care.  We can’t do it for free, obviously, but we can do it as not-for-profit.  We need to discontinue this policy of profitting from making our fellow citizens healthy.  I believe that the economy will not collapse, and that there will still be careers available in health care at all levels, that we will still develop drugs and diagnostics and new surgical and health care procedures.  I believe that these ventures will all still be needed and profitable, and as such that they will continue to employee workers and sell products and services.

The Obama administration and our elected officials are so close to passing national health care reform.  Soooo close.  In little more than one year President Obama and the Democrats have maneuvered the Republican and special interests roadblocks that have stumped other administrations for decades, and they have done so with an amount of class, diplomacy and intelligence that is refreshingly different from the past eight years of GWB rule. 

But what’s next for this fledgling health care reform?  After uniting at the federal level (at least to a degree that will pass legislation) , we already have a new form of pushback: State-rule challenges.  Idaho can now be proud to be recognized as the first state to give their elected officials and Commander in Chief the finger.  Idaho is the first state to sign legislature that will force them to sue the government if an individual mandate makes its way into the final health care reform bill. 

This is absurd.  And potentially costly for Idaho and the federal government.  What is even more absurd is that, according to the article cited above, there’s similar legislation pending in 37 other states.  Republicans have been saying that this health care bill is too expensive…we’ll never be able to pay for it…it costs too much money…individual costs are going to explode…it’s too costly…and on and on.  Well guess what?

THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE IS KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE!  Quit fighting the individual mandate – it’s what’s going to make health care affordable for all of us!    In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein explains in wonderful detail why we can’t do without the individual mandate:

From the insurer’s perspective, it’s a better deal to insure people who won’t need to use their insurance. From the customer’s perspective, it’s precisely the reverse.

Right now, the insurer sets the rules. It collects background information on applicants and then varies the price and availability of insurance to discriminate against those who are likely to use it. Health-care reform is going to render those practices illegal. An insurer will have to offer insurance at the same price to a diabetic and a triathlete.

But if you remove the individual mandate, you’re caught in the reverse of our current problem: The triathlete doesn’t buy insurance. Fine, you might say. Let the insurer get gamed. They deserve it.

The insurers, however, are not the ones who will be gamed. The sick are. Imagine the triathlete’s expected medical cost for a year is $200 and the diabetic’s cost is $20,000. And imagine we have three more people who are normal risks, and their expected cost in $6,000. If they all purchase coverage, the cost of insurance is $7,640. Let the triathlete walk away and the cost is $9,500. Now, one of the younger folks at normal cost just can’t afford that. He drops out. Now the average cost is $10,600. This prices out the diabetic, so now she’s uninsured. Or maybe it prices out the next normal-cost person, so costs jump to $13,000.

This is called an insurance death spiral. If the people who think they’re healthy now decide to wait until they need insurance to purchase it, the cost increases, which means the next healthiest group leaves, which jacks up costs again, and so forth.

Kill the individual mandate and you’re probably killing the bill, too. The mandate is what keeps average premium costs low, because it keeps healthy people in the insurance pool. It’s why costs have dropped in Massachusetts, not jumped. It’s why every other country with a universal health-care system — be it public or private — uses either a mandate or the tax code.

We all pay for education through taxes, and everyone gets to go to school.  We all pay for health care, and _______________________.  I bet you can fill in the rest.

Crap – the anti-vaxers were right.

March 17, 2010

funny pictures of dogs with captions

Source: I Haz a Hot Dog

It’s National Women’s History Month.

March 17, 2010

Ladies – It’s time to do something good for yourself and your sisters!  I mean, aside from the general love, respect and acknowledgement that we always remember to give each other (right, right?). 

March 2010 is the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project.

On March 6th, a One Million Women March was held in London.

And March 8th was International Women’s Day!

In celebration, I picked up two books that I have had on my list for quite a while: Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.  Here are some excerpts from write-ups on


Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, she escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, tried to help her tragically depressed sister adjust to the West, and fought for the rights of Muslim immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Even though she is under constant threat — demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from her family and clan — she refuses to be silenced.

Half The Sky:

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake a journey through Africa and Asia to meet an extraordinary array of women struggling under profoundly dire circumstances—and an equally extraordinary group that have triumphed. Through their stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to progress in our world lies in unleashing women’s potential—and they make clear how each of us can help make that happen.

I keep hearing very good things about these books, and they are both still flying off the bookshelves (even Half the Sky, which is still only available in hardcover).   I’ll let you know how they go. 

Oh, and I almost forgot – I’m going to Skepchicon (part of the larger CONvergence) this July in Bloomington, MN!  Skepchick is a (from the website) “a group of women (and one deserving guy) who write about science, skepticism, and pseudoscience.”  Yeah, women and science!

Have you heard of any other Womens’/Feminist events coming up soon?

Symphony of Science

March 16, 2010

I really like this project.  I first heard about Symphony of Science at Pharyngula a couple of months ago.  Yesterday I had “Poetry of Reality” stuck in my head, but I think that “Our Place in the Cosmos” may be my favorite so far.