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April 3, 2009

Iowa makes me smile

I try to reserve playing Beethoven's ninth symphony, the "Ode to Joy", for special occasions.

Congratulations, Iowa. You've earned it.

February 5, 2009

letter to the editor

Dear Masters of the Universe, we have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you were right: capitalism works, and the market eventually self-corrects, reaching a price that more accurately assesses the intrinsic "value" of goods and services. The bad news is that executive compensation has been increasingly overpriced in all industries for decades, and it has only been through the concerted and collective efforts of upper management to fight back the natural tide of normal market forces that it has been preserved.

Is the intrinsic value of an executive at the head of a large corporation truly greater than the engineers, who design new products, or the accountants who manage the flow of capital, or the lawyers who help to protect that corporation's interests? Is the heart more valuable to the body than the brain? Of course not. An executive merely directs the collective action of the teams of talented people beneath them, and allows communication between many disparate parts.

Historically, they have been unduly rewarded because they sit atop the flows of capital, and have been able to divert them in directions that were not necessarily in the best interests of shareholders or the corporation. They filled boards of directors with folks who placed a higher premium on executive compensation than on rewarding shareholders or increasing the competitive ability of the corporation.

Now their performance and utility to the corporation has been revealed as egregiously out of line with their pay. The value that they add to the company relative to their compensation is minor. Their salaries could be better used to enhance corporate productivity for shareholders by investing in other capital. Another half million paid to a single executive will hardly change corporate performance, but hiring five additional top chemists might develop a novel product for your corporation. That capital might be better used to purchase new infrastructure that improves your quality control, preventing future lawsuits.

Perhaps executives are finally learning that just as many employees’ positions were outsourced to other talented people willing to work for less, so too can management.

January 20, 2009

prescience

Sometimes the Onion is frighteningly accurate, and no longer a humor magazine. For example, this piece was written in January of 2001.

we have a new president

There is so much that I want to say at this, but I think that he is his own best advocate, and so I will let the man speak for himself.

these days

"We are young despite the years, we are concern.
We are hope despite the times.
All of a sudden, these days
Happy throngs: take this joy wherever, wherever you go..."

R.E.M., These Days

January 19, 2009

in the name of love

"Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride."

- U2, Pride (in the name of love)

January 15, 2009

Bang. You're a smoking gun.

"But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries."
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Sometimes shedding a little light into the darkness reveals terrible things.

Let me make something perfectly clear: we are the United States of America, and we are supposed to be the good guys. As Ronald Reagan once suggested, we are the folks wearing the White Hats, and we should be held to a higher moral standard. If this means that we sometimes must fight with one hand tied behind our back, then so be it. We can not use the tools and techniques of our enemies to fight them, because to do so is to become them. We need to seize the high moral ground precisely because we are more capable than our foes. We need to take the hard road, if only to demonstrate that we are a people of honor.

Part of that path will involve some painful self-examination. Mistakes were made. Sometimes the truth hurts, but we have to face it in order to begin redressing those wrongs against ourselves and others.

Let the sun shine in.

January 7, 2009

missing the headsman

My old company just axed another quarter of their staff during the weekly meeting this afternoon. It was an unpleasant surprise to most of the assembled staff, and apparently the CEO was too craven a coward to make the announcement himself this time. I am rapidly running out of people that I met there who still work there. This is their third round of layoffs, and each one has cut staff by at least twenty percent. This does not bode well for the future of the company, but I suppose that they are slimming the workforce in order to concentrate all of their diminishing resources on one of their three drug candidates currently in clinical trials.

Once again, I must reflect and recognize that I am lucky to have left when I did. I almost certainly would have been fired in the first round; I was in a superfluous and overstaffed department, and was a malcontent and rabble-rouser. I do wish that it hadn't unemployed so many of my friends quite so suddenly.

I wish them all the best on their roads ahead, and I even hope that the company does survive this latest downturn. Whatever reservations I have about the conduct of certain scientists employed there or the management team, the biochemistry recorded was amazing in its breadth and depth. Many of their drug targets show incredible promise as treatments for debilitating and terrible diseases, and I suspect that given sufficient time and resources, Lexicon will eventually produce a product of note and value.

December 10, 2008

dreaming of a red christmas

Why not help someone else have a red Christmas this year? Donate blood for the holidays! Cheesy as it sounds, you can give the best gift of all this holiday season: life.

December 8, 2008

Proposition 8: the musical

I'm starting to feel like a clearinghouse for other media, but hey - this is for a good cause.

November 5, 2008

and their reactions

I suppose I'll just let the candidates say it for themselves in their own words.

We'll begin with John McCain's honorable and eloquent concession speech:

And we will conclude with Mr. Obama's embracing acceptance:

Huzzah for America.

November 4, 2008

and history is made

Well, they just called the election. While I am still waiting for the final numbers to roll in, this is inarguably an historic occasion in the American experience.

VOTE!

Whatever else you do today, I would hope that all American citizens exercise their right to vote. A democracy is only representative of the participating population, and I'd like to hope that our government can reflect the best part of all of us.

No matter who you are voting for, good luck!

October 7, 2008

semper ex patria

Tomorrow morning I leave for France and a good friend's wedding at an excruciatingly early hour. I have been preparing for this voyage by immersing myself in the culture of France. Given my limited circumstances, my explorations have mostly been through the medium of film.

I began my journey with the historic Battle of Algiers, which showcases France's difficult imperialist past, and then followed it with Caché, suggesting that their present is still complicated by such matters. These somber tones were chased away by the far more surreal fantasy offered by the City of Lost Children. I'm not quite sure what this film says about French culture as a whole, except to note that Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a certifiable genius. I suppose that I will finish off with Brotherhood of the Wolf, which can only serve to convince me that the current French aristocracy is ruled by a secret cabal of werewolves.

September 1, 2008

one born every minute


This rather extraordinary piece of advertising comes from the Ringling Museum of the Circus in Sarasota, Florida. It makes the exotic claim that the:

Ringling Bros' $20,000.00 Animal Feature: Last of his kind, human eyes will never behold another. Last chance to see the last specimen - when he is gone, the giraffe will be extinct. [The] only giraffe known to exist in the entire world. Secured at the cost of a fortune, shown at each exhibition of the largest menagerie on Earth.

Aside from an interesting display of poor font-spacing and selection that will probably never be seen again in modern advertising, this poster made a preposterous assertion - even for the days of PT Barnum. Needless to say, it followed through another very American tradition, and ended up in litigation instigated by the Ringling Brothers' competitors. Rather unsurprisingly, it lost on the grounds of false advertising, and the judge ordered all copies of the poster destroyed. Miraculously, three copies managed to survive the purge, and this print remains on display - an exciting memento of the ridiculous excess of a bygone era.

After all - snake-oil like this would never sell today.

And if you believe that, I've got a rare investment opportunity in the Brooklyn Bridge that I'd like to sell you...

March 20, 2008

in his own words:

Until a few minutes ago, I had only heard excerpts and soundbites from Mr. Obama's speech on race. The chattering classes had provided summaries and commentaries on the event, all of which completely failed to capture the power and intelligence behind the text of his announcement:

Whoever wrote this piece was brilliant, placing Mr. Obama's words within a compelling historical context. One way or another, I would like to believe that this man will change America - and for the better.

March 13, 2008

righteous indignation


compromise:

käm-prə-mīz, n. Middle English, mutual promise to abide by an arbiter's decision, from Anglo-French compromisse, from Latin compromissum, from neuter of compromissus, past participle of compromittere to promise mutually, from com- + promittere.
    • A settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.
    • Something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things.
  1. A concession to something derogatory or prejudicial; a compromise of principles.
- from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

I am going to be charitable and assume that this billboard refers to the second definition of "compromise", but I suspect that they think that they are being clever by implying that the former is essentially the latter. If this is so, then I must admit that I find an inability to see alternative viewpoints dangerous in a world otherwise free of absolutes. The unwillingness to make some concessions to an opponent changes one from an individual who holds a contrary opinion that can be discussed or debated to an implacable foe.

If you wish such an enemy, then so be it - but I'd like to think that there is always room for an exchange of views, and to find common ground between disparate worlds so that everyone might live together in tolerance, if not acceptance.

February 13, 2008

a good day for mail

Well.

Hunh.

I guess it turns out that I am not totally incompetent after all, and that my thesis research has the potential to be interesting to somebody outside of the academic community. It seems that I have recently been awarded the "Dennis Carpenter Memorial Fellowship", sponsored by the Dade County AgriCouncil.

This is kind of odd, and kind of flattering.

I've never really received money for writing up an idea before.

It kind of feels good.

February 6, 2008

kicking ass for science

Ah, Henry Rollins, a man of many talents. Former Black Flag frontman, sometime actor, motivational speaker, and apparently activist in favor of reality based education:

December 10, 2007

sound and fury

There is a world of difference between fighting for a flag, and fighting under it.

October 9, 2007

an inconclusive phylogeny for family Thripidae

Inoue and Sakurai's 2007 paper represents some excellent work, but as the figure simplifying some of their results demonstrates, it also shows how little effort has been placed on sequencing the genus Scirtothrips when compared to other genera of thrips. One of the obvious conclusions that the authors reach from their results is that sampling more sequences from broader populations and different species of genus Scirtothrips (which inspired the figure above, having "an ambiguous phylogenetic position in this study") would help to better establish the position of the clade in relation to other groups. Curiously enough, a much larger sampling of genus Scirtothrips already exists (Rugman-Jones et al, 2006), but it focused on sequencing samples for ITS1 and 2, and not COI or EF-1a. Furthermore, the Rugman-Jones et al laboratory were using RFLP to establish a standardized amplification protocol, and had not yet attempted to construct the inevitable phylogeny that is sure to follow for the group. I am uncertain as to whether species of genus Thrips or Frankliniella have already been sequenced at these alleles, but given their economic importance, it would not surprise me and those observations should be compared to the work that is sure to come from the Rugman-Jones lab.

Moreover, these experiments show precisely why taxonomy and phylogenetics remain critical tools relevant to modern management programs. As both teams of authors clearly demonstrate, phylogenetics can be turned to tasks beyond what some critics have derided as "merely academic interest in the evolutionary history of a group". The primary aim of Inoue and Sakurai's research was to compare the evolutionary phylogeny of the pests to their competence as a vector for several different strains of Tospovirus (Bunyaviridae). Determining the evolutionary relationships between the groups should allow one to predict the suitability of other species within that group as potential vectors for various strains, and perhaps provide a better explanation as to how the Tospovirus made its evolutionary leap from a virus that infected insect-tissue to one that could also invade a plant. The primary goal of the Rugman-Jones project was to provide a quick and dirty molecular solution to the occasionally painful task of taxonomic identification and its reliance on a few trained specialists sometimes using highly variable morphological characters.

The USDA has already launched a similar project, using phylogenetic information to document family relationships and the associated pesticide resistance profiles for several reproductively incompatible demes of whitefly. They are alleged to be in the nascent stages of a thrips-based project which hopes to resolve and establish the missing characters for these groups so that a true phylogenetic comparison can be established...

REFERENCES

August 15, 2007

globalization

"For me, a symbol of that state is a Bedouin mounted on a camel and clad in traditional robes under which he is wearing jeans, with a transistor radio in his hands and an ad for Coca-cola on the camel's back. I am not ridiculing this, nor am I shedding an intellectual tear... I see it rather as... proof that SOMETHING is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when anything is possible."
- Václav Havel, The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World

July 4, 2007

Happy Birthday, America

Happy Birthday, America. Two hundred and thirty-one isn't a bad age to be, and it is still fairly young for a nation-state. You may remain a dynamic nation for many years to come before you finally grow old and stodgy like Europe. Feel free to remain a superpower, but promise us you will keep striving to avoid the pitfalls of empire and obsolescence.

March 10, 2007

speaking truth to power

"The girls were punished not because of what they said but because they disobeyed orders not to say it."
- Associated Press

Ah, irony - blissful is thine ignorance.

Speaking to power is always difficult, but it is an essential part of defending the freedoms that we all should be so fortunate to enjoy. When authority presumes to legislate the ridiculous and relies upon absurdity to justify their actions, you can tell that you have already won.

"It just doesn't make sense for an administration to expect me not to talk about my body - it's mine."
- New York Journal

You have taken a stand for what you believe in, and it is always a difficult thing to screw up the courage to resist power - and to then prepare yourself for the inevitable consequences of your civil disobedience. You are part of a long history of struggle, and are in excellent company.

"We came up with 'option C,' which was to read the entire monologue," Elan Stahl said. "It upheld the message of the monologue, the moral integrity of the piece of literature, and it better represented women across the world."
- Rob Ryser, New York Journal

Ladies, in the face of this absurdity, I salute you.

February 12, 2007

know your roots

"My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known."
- attributed to the wife of the Bishop of Worcester, in reaction to the infamous debate between TH Huxley and the Bishop Wilberforce

While I do not subscribe to the "great man" theory of history, there is no question that Charles Darwin happened to be the right scientist in the right place at the right time. Spurred on to publication by Alfred Russel Wallace, the "father of biogeography", his observations from years of collected research led him to conclusions that shook the foundations of biology and the society built atop that platform. His work brought forth a mechanism by which the whole of diversity might be explained within the context of geological history. When linked to the evidence of heredity first explored by Mendel, and then confirmed at the molecular level by Watson and Crick (and Franklin!), it provided the unifying synthesis of modern biology.

As I am dedicating my life to following the science that he helped to establish, it is with some interest that I note that my own life has from time to time, accidentally fallen into Darwin's footsteps. I have touched the same armoured glyptodontids that he helped to unearth in Southern Argentina at the Museo de la Plata. I have stood in the home he kept, and looked through the study to the desk at which he wrote much of his work. Lately, I have seen the villainous vinchuca that was to bring him low in his later years with Chagas disease in a new light, and finally, I have stood atop his grave at Westminster Abbey in London.

Everyone has their heroes.

Happy Darwin Day, everybody.

February 6, 2007

respect for the man

Wow, Steve Jobs essentially agrees with me about the nature of DRM. The difference being that with control over nearly seventy percent of the market for digital music and being in possession of the biggest winner in the personal electronics that will play the music for the foreseeable future... what he says may actually change things.

Keep thinking different.

January 29, 2007

corrupting young minds

As part of my duties as a graduate student, I am required to give the occasional tour of the facility to interested folks from the general public. These range in age and experience from elementary school children to concerned growers from agricultural communities, and it is my responsibility to shed a little more light into the science of entomology - as well as to underline the research that the department here at the University of Florida is responsible for. I personally enjoy these tours, and get an extra-special kick out of the kids because I get to stand up on a podium and have fun talking about the weird diversity of everyone's favorite creepie-crawlies for an hour. It gets even better when the kids know how to ask good and pertinent questions, like "how did you arrive at [that impressively large number] describing the number of different species of insects there are?" - or "how did you figure out approximately how many insects might live in a common acre of farmland without actually counting them all?" I love the little skeptics among them best, and I suspect that they are going to have a very bright future. Anyone who refuses to simply accept facts as they are spoon-fed to them is an awesome and attentive human being - and seeing a fourth grader question methodologies, results, and conclusions is even better. An informed mind can follow a pattern and find their way out of a particular situation - but a critical mind can eventually work its way around overcome any obstacle in the path to truth.

Of course, working and touring around the entomology department has its own unique risks. Little things, like stopping off to let the kids (and their chaperones!) take a bathroom break next to a classroom with a lecture in medical entomology. At which point the professor might stick his head out, and wave you over for a little discussion...

"Oh - sorry, Dr. Kaufman - are they being too loud? I'll move 'em out of here real fast, and get their parents to shush them a bit if they are distracting..."
"No, no - not that at all. I'm just about to show a few slides of sarcophagids."
"Flesh flies?"
"Yes. On hosts. From a... (whispered) crime scene."
"Oh."
"Right."

Disaster averted, we take them into the other room, and instead introduce them to "Sally" and a box full of her friends, giant cave roaches from central america.

For some reason, this always seems to go over well.

January 22, 2007

shout it, sister

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too."
- Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler

Reproductive rights are women's rights, and you'd better believe that they are just as ready to defend them today as they were thirty-four years ago. Gunpowder and grace, ladies - I'm proud to stand at your side.

November 7, 2006

democracy in/action

My fellow Americans?

Go VOTE!

'Nuff said.

June 20, 2006

science and policy

The abuse and misuse of science in the media by policymakers in order to manipulate the electorate has been a problem nearly as long as there have been elected officials. These distortions inevitably begin almost as soon as the government grants funding to public institutions of science, and the refrain of "don't trouble me with the facts!" has long echoed in the halls of power. In America, the distortion or suppression of science in order to legitimize or justify one's particular ideology has had a long and flavored history. One need look no farther than John Wesley Powell and the United States Geological Survey's scientifically sound settlement plan for the West just after the Civil War.

Continue reading "science and policy" »

June 8, 2006

on marriage

Time for a little outrage.

Kids are dying in Iraq, the economy is slowly circling the global toilet bowl, gasoline in Texas is almost three dollars to the gallon, hurricane season is brewing again, and all the President can find to worry about is a way to write discrimination into the Constitution? A tiny minority of persons wish to share in the same legal protections and recognitions granted to their heterosexual neighbors, and to make de jure what is already de facto: their social commitment to union and family - and the President opposes this? Perhaps it should not amaze me that such would arise in a nation where a proposed 1972 amendment stating that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" would fail to be ratified by sufficient state legislatures...

That said, I am thrilled to see that even with a Republican majority, the Senate failed to achieve even a simple majority to continue debate on this nonsense. One can only hope that the House will follow suit and sensibly reject this atrocity later this week. Does the President really want to expend any more of his already catastrophically low political capital on this fight?

September 22, 2005

grey pilgrims heading north

I feel that I have become a tourist in my own town. There are so many people on the road, I barely recognize Conroe. I wander like a voyeur, peering into the sullen windows of a tragedy in the making. The traffic and my amazement only grew as the day passed away into evening. I wish I'd brought the camera out for my second tour near nightfall, as the Interstate and all of the access roads had been clogged with thousands of cars, their white headlamps stretched as far as the eye could see to the South, and their ruby taillights shone like a sparkling velvet carpet into the North.

Of greater concern are those who for whatever reason have been forced to abandon their cars or the road. The Kroger grocery store they had pulled up to was closed, but the parking lot was full of transients. They were mostly poor, and mostly black and hispanic. It was as if the third world had driven up for the weekend and decided to host an enormous tailgate party. Their children ran and played with soccer balls and skateboards in the parking lot, and the men smoked cigarettes and looked serious. The women appeared weary, and searched for water and gasoline with empty gallon jars. The better prepared families brought small camp-stoves and portable grills from within their crowded vehicles, and began to share a generous and impromptu barbeque with their spontaneous new neighbors. Festive Mexican ballads and the steady thump of gangsta rap echoed across the parking lot.

Yet for all this momentary joy, something sinister lurked beneath. This adventure has stopped being exciting, and started to taste more of simple human desperation. Being poor puts a lot of strikes against you. You're less likely to be informed of the evacuation orders, and you are far less likely to have a vehicle in good repair with which to depart in. You are less likely to have the spare cash available to fuel or repair that vehicle as you need it, or to provide additional food or lodging to you and your family. Worse still, your job may have required you to work right past the ideal hour for evacuation, serving others more fortunate as they leave the city. When you finally do get off of work, you may find additional institutional barriers impeding your access to cash even if you do have a paycheck, as none of the banks or pawn shops upon which you usually rely to cash your check are now open.

These folks are just struggling to survive, and more importantly, struggling to help their families survive. If and when the storm starts, and if they are still trapped in the open of that parking lot - I hope that they kick in the windows of the grocery store and seek shelter. I won't blame them. They're just trying to survive.

February 7, 2003

protected from myself

Today I went out and purchased the score to the "Two Towers" film in order to amuse myself while driving, and because I think Howard Shore is a fine composer. This was good, and the score is wonderful, emotive - full of epic heroism and stark treachery - the kind of thing that you expect to hear and see when you go to the movies.

What was not wonderful, and what was not expected was what appears to be some form of copy protection imposed by Reprise Records and Warner Music Group.

While the disc plays perfectly in my car's disc player, and just fine in my home stereo system - all sounds will cease should I attempt to listen to it in my computer's disc player and then read or write any sort of data from the hard drive at the same time. Writing this article and attempting to absorb Mr. Shore's work has become a tortuous exercise in sado-masochism.

God forbid that I try and play it on my XBox.

Continue reading "protected from myself" »