Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Personal Note

I thought about what you said today after Nathan finished his talk in Sacrament Meeting—incidentally, why not just conclude the meeting with the final speaker even if it is a couple of minutes early? Then other teachers would have more time to give their lessons in the succeeding block session; the lesson manuals always contain more material than can be presented. Would that be such a bad thing? You seem to have no qualms about concluding considerably past the time, as, for example, was the case last week. Incidentally, each second that passes after an hour and ten minutes is up is mostly lost as to any message given by a speaker. The vast majority quit listening. They begin packing up, tapping their feet, and moving on in their mind and imagination. Also, those assigned to speak ought to be counseled and held acccountable, accordingly.

Relative to the inactive and disaffected, who you characterize as "lagging behind," I encourage you and others to see things from a different perspective, a more positive one—even from their viewpoint, if possible. Characterizing people who have distanced themselves from the church or gospel as laggards (as in lagging behind the wagon train) is counterproductive. Many are not lagging at all anyway. They have quit. Those you characterize as laggards, who actually feel like they do lag behind, already know it. In my opinion they don't need broad, pejorative characterizations of them as such in public forums before whole, "active" congregations. It's bad enough to do that in PEC, Ward Correlation Council, etc. Instead, members need personal help and encouragement, intimacy (as in closeness) and friendship, not expansive negative categorization. There are, however, also significant numbers of members who don't come or participate because they have or are exploring a different trail or believe that they have found a better path for themselves. It is not just enough to lift somebody up and put them in the cart. Their wounds have to be addressed, nursed, and healed.

Perhaps, for example, someone has been told by a person in authority that they should not talk about their concerns about histories, policies, revelations, passages, or differences at church. Or they should only address their friends and acquaintances there formally, with some sort of title, even if it is a simple "sister" or "brother" so-and-so. Anyway, negative characterization of them as laggards who have fallen behind only makes for defensiveness and hostility.

As in this that I read just today:

Leaving Mormonism is like leaving the circus and getting followed by clowns, bellowing ring masters, and elephant plops for the rest of your life. I stopped giving that money-making institution any religious or moral credence decades ago. It's the same damn show with same damn peanuts and bad popcorn and cotton candy, recycled like it's new.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life

Recently --- last Tuesday to be precise --- a friend recommended that I read a book by Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. So I picked it up from Amazon for under ten bucks for my Kindle and started reading it. I've read about twenty-five percent of it so far. The novel is set in New Jersey with many allusions to the Dominican Republic.

The protagonist is a Dominican boy, Oscar Wao, who is overweight and has various obsessions, including reading science fiction and fantasy novels and comic books, playing games that feature role-playing, and finding a girl to love him. Oscar is also somewhat consumed with the curse of the fuku, a curse on his family and the Caribbean since colonization and slavery.

Because first lines are so important, I quote from the book. This is the way it begins:


GhettoNerd at the End of the World



Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about --- he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.

Since I'm not as immersed in the growing-up world of the things that interest and attract Oscar, in reading this book, perhaps, I am at some disadvantage. For example, I didn't know what "fly bachatero" meant or alluded to. I didn't know that bachata is a genre of music originating in the countryside and rural neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic featuring tales of heartbreak and sadness. I have to look up words unfamiliar to me. Some of them are not in the dictionary or in Wikipedia. In the very first paragraph, for example, it referred to merengue, a Caribbean style of dance music. And perrito, which I assume is also some sort of dance from the Caribbean, but didn't find a definition. Who is Porfirio Rubirosa? Oh, he's a Dominican diplomat and polo player and racecar driver. Well, sometimes in the text, a person can decipher from context and what's said the meaning. But that's not always the case.

Anyway, I'm reading the book and the author is very talented. Talent isn't always enough though.

More on Stem Cells

So, what happened to what I had been saying about stem cells and all that? It's like my life is too encumbered to continue telling about it, but it isn't. I am just my distracted, lazy self. I go every which way, here and there and all over without any specific focus. Without any commitment to finishing what I start. Anyway, I was going to learn a bit more about stem cells and what's going on there by writing a little bit about it. I guess I still can. A lot of money is being spent on it. I'm sure it's nothing like what they --- the government and nonprofit organizations and the like --- spend on weapons and the military, but nonetheless there is a lot of money out there for it because it pertains to healthcare and man's dream to live forever. And there are more and more people approaching old age but still looking for eternal life. Not only are they looking for eternal life, but they don't want to die to get there.

In any event, in 2009 more will be spent relative to the subject than in years past. Claudia Castillo benefited in 2008 from advancements in stem cell science. She had a problem with her windpipe. She needed it fixed. Her story goes something like this: in 2004 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. As can be imagined, it caused her a lot of problems. She describes how at night she had to keep coughing and coughing and it was always getting worse and worse. Not too good on getting sleep. She felt incapacitated and had to be quarantined. Her bronchial tubes narrowed and she had difficulty breathing. Doctors had a difficult time fixing it because they couldn't just remove one section of her bronchus and leave the other sections unconnected. Therefore, they decided to do a transplantation of a trachea from somebody else into her bronchus. Yikes!

She describes her fear going into the operation, saying when you're the first person ever to have a procedure no one knows what will happen. She wondered if she would even survive. Anyway, they removed the trachea from the donor and put it in her after installing her, I assume, bronchial stem cells on the donated trachea. It succeeded, and she feels considerably better. She says how she can now walk upstairs without having to stop every two steps.

One of the big areas where stem cells are seen as important is the spinal cord. Injuries and disease can cause paralysis by wiping out nerves or axons in the spinal cord. This wipes out a person's ability to signal the brain from the extremities. It causes the protective insulation around the axons to erode. The insulation is called myelin. Scientists are trying to inject myelin-precursor cells from embryonic stem cells into patients with new spinal injuries. They hope these new cells create myelin and restore the normal nerve impulses along the axons.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Human Stain, Say What?

I read The Human Stain by Philip Roth last month. The story is set in the nineteen-nineties in America. The backdrop, of course, is the era of the Clinton and Lewinsky scandal. The narrator is Nathan Zuckerman, a reclusive writer and neighbor to Coleman Silk. Silk is a seventy-one-year-old classics professor and dean of faculty at Athena College in the Berkshires. Radicals charge Silk with racism when two of his black students are slackers who never show up to class. He calls them" spooks" because they never come, not because of their race. He asks his class, rhetorically, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" This line --- no, the word spooks --- leads to all hell breaking loose for Zuckerman.

This particular setup for the novel --- radicals being able to portray Silk as a racist leading to his resignation from the college on such a slim basis --- seems quite implausible to me. I don't believe anybody is as daft as the individuals portrayed as radicals out to get Silk fired.

While I didn't like the set-up that much, I did love the writing and storytelling. I would read the book again simply to enjoy the way Roth puts a sentence together and the way he is able to interweave a story line. I particularly liked the symbolism of the ravens in the book.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Some years ago, my daughter, Amy, and her family gave me a Leatherman for Christmas or my birthday. A Leatherman is a leather container that hooks to your belt and contains a multi-functioning tool, something like a Swiss Army knife. We went on vacation this past week and the bag I take my computer and the attendant electronic gadgets in contains my Leatherman. I often have an occasion to use it and, while I didn't use it specifically, I did use the small screwdriver that I keep in the same leather pouch.

Embryonic stem cells have been compared to a Swiss Army knife. Medical personnel harvest such cells early in the fetal stage. These particular cells have a unique characteristic known as pluripotency: they can turn into any one of more than 200 tissue types. So medical personnel hope to be able to use them to replace or regenerate bad heart tissue, spinal cords, brain cells, or whatever needs something to help it out. Some people, however, believe that human life begins at conception and argued that harvesting the cells is the same thing as killing a baby.

Apparently, if you insert these cells into adult skin it rewinds their developmental clock and gives them embryonic-like powers to morph into whatever is needed to fix a human being. Scientists have lauded stem cells as the most promising advancements in the medical field since they discovered the use of antibiotics. President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research that had been imposed by George W. Bush. Now researchers are excited about advancements that could come, bringing cures for conditions like heart failure, Alzheimer's disease, and spinal cord injuries.

The manipulation of stem cells involves something known as a somatic-cell nuclear transfer. The cloned sheep, Dolly, was a result of this process. In it, you take an egg cell and supplant its nucleus with genetic material from an adult cell from the organism to be cloned. This will yield an embryo with the same DNA as the donor. So they took genetic material from an adult sheep and placed it in an egg cell after removing its nucleus.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are also known as iPS cells. There are also what is known as cord-blood stem cells. These come from babies' umbilical cords. Such cells are generally destined to become blood or immune cells, and aren't as versatile as embryonic or induced pluripotent adult cells. However, now cord-blood stem-cell transplants have become viable as an alternative to bone marrow transplants in treating blood disorders like leukemia when a bone-marrow match can't be found.

Most Americans favor embryonic-stem-cell research. The poll indicates that seventy-three percent favor the research.

Scientists in California using such methodologies as have been developed, have made previously crippled mice walk if they received injections soon enough after their initial injury. Now the California scientists have authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to do a clinical trial on human beings. They plan to see if they can make them walk after they have been crippled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Few Movies I Appreciate

Most of the movies I like the best represent characters I think the most of in a positive and romantic sense. Now I guess I should give some examples.

A Man for All Seasons. I saw this movie while I was in Germany, in German, as a nineteen-year-old. The movie is based upon the true story of St. Thomas More, who refused to endorse King Henry VIII's wish to divorce his aging wife, Catherine, who couldn't bear him a son. He wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, hoping she could bear him a son.

Gandhi. Gandhi was one of my favorite movies. The character, Mohandas Gandhi, sacrificed everything for what he believed was correct. He was portrayed in the movie as sacrificing himself for the dignity and civil rights of his people over against the wealthy ruling classes from Great Britain.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch stood up for the rights of a black man when it was unwise, unpopular, and unproductive to do so. He also set a perfect example for his young kids as a widower father.

Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye wished he was a rich man only to realize by the end of the narrative that, through hard work, love, devotion to family, and compromise, he was already a rich man.

Dances with Wolves. John J. Dunbar is delivered by miracle from certain death and then utilizes his new-found life to make friends and find love among a tribe of Native Americans. There he finds romantic and brotherly love and commits himself to the betterment of the tribe and to their delivery from the wretchedness of the greedy white man.

Holland's Opus. Mr. Holland is a teacher with a thirty year career. He raises a deaf boy, has to deal with cuts in the arts programs at his school, and is tempted to stray from fidelity to his wife in his marriage. However, he remains faithful and true to his wife, his family, his students, and his career. And to his craft. By doing so, he is, over his entire lifetime, able to produce a beautiful symphony, which is a symbol for anyone who stays true to their ideals throughout their lifetime.