Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Yearly New Year's Survey

I used to do this every year (since mid-high school) on my online diary. I don't use it anymore, so ... it'll be here. There is no #22, so no, I didn't skip it.

2010 was a really great year, and I'm sad to see it go.  If 2011 is at least as good, I'll be pretty happy.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Among other things, booked a hotel room. Got a pedicure.
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Do I ever keep them? For this coming year: as usual, try to keep my room clean.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Also no.
5. What countries did you visit?
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Probably February 13th. Third date with Bill; we made out.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Got a grad school interview, and first author on a poster for a conference in May.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Letting my room turn into the fourth circle of hell.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Colitis came back with a vengeance.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
FCUK dress.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Can I say me? How about Sady Doyle et al for #Mooreandme!
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Obama's. Come on, dude, why did we elect you?
14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, dating.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Grad schools + the gym.
16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
Bad Romance (RA RA AH AH AAAH)
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Way happier
ii. thinner or fatter? Fitter.
iii. richer or poorer? Poorer?
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Running and cleaning.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Staying up late. (I doubt this will ever change.)
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Christmas already happened. Spent it at my aunt and uncle's.
21. Did you fall in love in 2010?
23. How many one-night stands?
365, baby.
24. What was your favourite TV program?
Bones, Castle.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
26. What was the best book you read?
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
28. What did you want and get?
A winter jacket :) Published. A grad interview. Job satisfaction.
29. What did you want and not get?
Laser eye surgery! Geez!
30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Didn't hit up the theaters much. True Grit was great.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 24. Went to work, went out in my gorgeous dress with Bill. Had dinner at Teatro, saw Wicked. That weekend, went to the Cape with friends.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably satisfying?
RUNNING, how I MISSED YOU (and more interviews).
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Comfortable but less frumpy than usual.
34. What kept you sane?
Loks. Kyle. Michelle and Scott. (Loki also has the honor of also driving me insane.)
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Finally, not Jensen Ackles (as much). Dan Radcliffe, just so you know, I'm ALWAYS available if you're interested.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Is there one that doesn't? Tax cuts, immigration law, DADT, DOMA, Prop 8 decision, healthcare. Stupak, I still hate you.
37. Who did you miss?
38. Who was the best new person you met?
Getting to meet the BoShakers in person was fantastic.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
Not having laundry in your building is a terrible, terrible idea.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
A whole new lab
That’s where we’ll be
Across the hall
If you want, just call
We have cookies

Friday, December 24, 2010

And a merry fucking Christmas to you, too!

My good friends all know that come November and December, I am an unhappy camper.  I have an intense dislike for Christmas, one that surpasses the normal level of annoyance.  And it's not for the actual holiday itself.  It's for people, and how society has taken a religious holiday and turned it into one of the most alienating times of the year for me.

I was raised in a Jewish household.  It wasn't the most religious household; my siblings and I went to Hebrew school until we became Bar and Bat Mitzvot.  We celebrated the four major holidays (went to services in the mornings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, went to both seder nights for Pesach, celebrated the eight nights of Chanukah).  At one point, we would also have Shabbat dinner on Friday nights, sometime before we moved.  My siblings and I could all read what I consider Jewish Hebrew (block with vowels, as opposed to the actual Hebrew language used in Israel, which is often in script and almost always without vowels; I can't read it).

Both of my parents are Jewish and come from 100% Jewish families and backgrounds.  I used to get that question a lot: "Are you half-Jewish or full-Jewish?"*  As if it really matters.

I'm also an atheist.  While I'm not going to deploy the full, complete argument for why Jewish atheism is not a contradiction, and why it's not just a bunch of people fooling themselves, I'll give a brief explanation.  Being Jewish is often a cultural, ethnic, and ritual thing (come from a Jewish family, have traditionally Jewish physical features, eat Jewish food, practice some Jewish rituals, such as kashrut or lighting candles on holidays).  Additionally, believing in god is not a central tenet in Judaism.  There were two pillars that I came to identify:  Mitzvot/tzedakah and torah.  The first involves doing good deeds and giving to charity.  Being a good person, doing the right thing, and helping those less fortunate, that is an essential aspect of Judaism.  The second involves learning.  We must always study, ask questions, strive to learn as much as we can.  This can manifest itself in academic learning, but it also involves questioning what we're told, including the existence of god, or whether or not we want to remain in the Jewish faith.  There's a reason why so many Jewish people are involved in charity work, dedicated to progressive ideals, and extremely studious.**

Believing in god is not a requirement of the Jewish faith.  Often, and traditionally, it's expected, but those of us who do not believe in god are not imposters, and have nothing to hide in the community.

As a Jewish atheist, Christmas really, really sucks.  I mean, seriously.  Let's think about it.

In October, often before Halloween swings around, Christmas begins to pop up.  Red and green begin to appear, reminding us all of what's coming up soon.  More and more of the calendar year is being taken up by a holiday that lasts for one day.  Next, we get the shopping and the decorations.  People begin to spend a significant amount of time and even more money getting ready for this one day holiday.  Lights go up.  Trees are picked out.  Little trinkets are purchased and strewn about the house.  People have cards made with pictures of their kids to send to everyone they know (will someone please explain that tradition to me!).  Sales abound: come get the presents for your family and friends so they know that you love them!  We're opening at 10pm on Thanksgiving!  Have you seen the people getting trampled, all for a sale?

In November, we get the holiday versions of TV shows, often with nice happy endings that result in everyone knowing that we love each other, and we get to spend time with our families on this, most important of holidays.  No one has to work, everyone is together.  Radio stations that have been playing Christmas songs up the wazoo for a month then decide to go all out and do non-stop Christmas songs until December 26th.

Meanwhile, we have the people who are livid about the supposed war on this holiday.  You wished me happy holidays?  Terrorist!  You don't mention Christmas in your advertising?  Unpatriotic!

And what we're left with is this:

Americans celebrate Christmas.  And they celebrate it by going all out with decorations, getting a tree, paying whatever it costs to get the right and best presents and to get a flight to see their families.  They celebrate by playing and singing Christmas songs, and wearing red and green, and wishing all their friends and neighbors a merry Christmas, through phone calls or cards, or just passing people on the street.

It's bullshit and it's bogus.  Here's what Christmas is like for me.

In November, I begin to avoid certain radio stations, which are already playing Christmas songs.  I've already gotten my gifts for people, sometimes before Halloween, but usually in the first week of November.  I buy non-holiday wrapping paper.  I send a complaint to an internet radio website because their "Top Hits" station plays about 40% Christmas songs, and not only are these songs NOT actually top hits, but I also use up all my skips really quickly.

I deal with watching non-stop Christmas commercials, telling me about all this shit I have to buy.  Many of them are extremely gendered.  I can't go shopping for new jeans, or to get my gym back replaced because I know that Old Navy is going to be an absolute hot mess until maybe the 28th.  People wish me a merry Christmas, defaulting to assuming that everyone celebrates the holiday, instead of risking offending all of the people who actually do.

People insist that I *could* celebrate the holiday if I wanted to, that it's really for everyone.***  On facebook, people continue wishing "Merry Christmas and happy holidays," or "Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!" or "Merry Christmas to those celebrating and happy holidays otherwise!"  Meanwhile, Chanukah ended weeks ago.  They're still selling Chanukah crap alongside the Christmas stuff.  People assume that the colors of the Israeli flag are "Chanukah colors."  After so many years, people still think of it as the Jewish version of Christmas, when in reality it's an extremely unimportant holiday that was only made popular because of all the Jewish kids feeling left out in December.

People wish for a white Christmas, even though the snow makes it really hard to drive places.  Places close even though I need to buy things or use facilities.  Meanwhile, like many other Americans, I'm working on Christmas; cells don't wait for the weekend to be over.  I have to ignore the protests from Christians that if Christmas weren't a federal holiday, most Americans would have to miss work.  Not only does this ignore the fact that like many other non-Christians who practice another religion, I often miss work for extremely important holidays.  I've had a presentation scheduled by non-Jewish professors on Rosh Hashanah, when I should have been in services.  People constantly whine about how they can't possibly be held responsible for such scheduling mishaps, because of the lunar nature of the Jewish calendar.  But we all have to stop for Christmas.

Never mind that kids could open their presents in the morning before school, like many Jewish kids do, or like many kids do on their birthdays.  Never mind that kids could open their presents in the evening, again, like many Jewish kids or birthday kids.  Never mind that many people who celebrate Christmas DON'T go to church on Christmas, or go on Christmas Eve.  Never mind that by making Christmas a federal holiday, the United States is privileging one religion over others.

This holiday is a blatant insistence that I am not really an American.  That I am unpatriotic or trying to spoil everyone's fun.  They don't see it from the perspective of a person who is uninvolved in this hugely commercial holiday, one that barely has any meaning for most people anymore.

If this viewpoint ruins your Christmas, I'm not really sorry.  Consider it a way for you to begin questioning your own traditions.  Jews do it all the time.

* I resent the idea that a person can be "half-Jewish," although enthically, it does make some sense.  But either you're Jewish or you're not, for the most part.  One parent is Jewish, but you barely celebrate the holidays, don't engage in the culture, and really don't care?  You're not Jewish.  That's okay, I won't tell your Jewish grandparents.

** Or, for those paying attention, studentious.

*** I do have Christmas Eve and Day plans, but only in recent years.  I used to be bored to death on Christmas Eve (it's school vacation and you're ALL busy?!).  My uncle married a non-Jew, and they have the Jewish family over for dinner on Christmas Day.  I am currently late for the Christmas Eve festivities: Chinese food and a movie.  I have nothing better to do, it's free food, and I like seeing my family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mmmm, grad school

People who know me personally know that I've spent the last two and a half months working on grad school applications.  Some of the application process has been rocky.  I learned that one of the programs I was applying to wasn't the "right" program (it makes sense in context; I should have applied through the medical school, not the liberal arts school), and several programs have been all, "Interesting, we don't HAVE your GRE scores!"  But some of it's gone pretty smoothly.  Many programs have been helpful, replying to me personally to let me know that yes, they've received my transcript, and some of them have made it easy to see if recommendations have been submitted and by whom.

Monday evening, I got my first interview invitation, from a program I was not expecting to hear back from in a positive way.  It's one of the most rigorous programs, at a university that's one of the best and most prestigious in the nation.  It's one of my two "Wouldn't it be funny?" programs, programs so elite that I figured, with my credentials, I would never hear back from.  I don't sell myself short; I'm an excellent candidate with some of the best post-undergrad experience I could have gotten.  In fact, the only problem with my applications is my GPA, which is decent, but less decent when you look at my transcript and realize, "Oh, she had a solid B- in biology classes.  It's her women's studies classes that bolstered her GPA."  I know from experience that both kinds of classes were difficult in different ways, and it just so happens that the way to test learning and knowledge in women's studies is better suited to my learning style than the way to test biology is.  I don't like to read from a textbook and memorize things.  I'm bad at that.  Plus, in the sciences, with the exception of medicine, you don't NEED to memorize things.  You don't need to know what steps to take on the fly.  You plan and read and double-check and use Wikipedia--I MEAN PubMed.

So I wasn't expecting to hear back from this school, and I did.  I'm shocked and excited.  When I got the email, I assumed it was just them telling me that they FINALLY were going to acknowledge that they had received my transcript.  I like the actual reason a little better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Annoying things people do

MBTA version!

We all hate taking the T to work.  Even if you're not vocal about it, or you like to be a calming force For Good! and say things like, "I appreciate having decent public transit, and I don't mind not having a seat," you hate it, too.  It's just a fact of life.

There are ways that we can try to make life easier for our fellow people on the T. But there are more ways that we don't.  And today, I got a good reminder of one of those things.

I have never in my life seen a single person get stuck on the T and miss their stop because there were too many people in the car and the person couldn't get out of the train in time.  I've really never seen it.  The only things I've seen to come close are when T drivers and bus drivers forget to open the back doors.  And I'm sure that plenty of people have just forgotten to get off at their stop.  But I just haven't seen anyone trapped on the T, unable to escape because there's a whole crowd of people ignoring their PLEAS of ANGUISH.

And yet, almost every day, there are people who seem convinced that they're going to be trapped if they don't get to the door a solid minute before their stop.  This isn't a problem on trains that aren't very full, but on a crowded train, it's obnoxious.  You're making other people get up, move around, or both while the train is moving.  You expect people to risk falling over (and it's not a made-up risk) so you can push your way to the door right now.  It's rude, and it's annoying.  Like I said, no one gets trapped on the T and misses their stop.  There's no reason for this.

This rant brought to you by the MBTA: They have no money, so they're trying to expand the commuter rail.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Veronica Mars

Spoiler alert: I've watched all three seasons and know everything.  Scott, you can't read this yet! :-p

Trigger warning: Murder and rape

So, after a few people recommended the TV show Veronica Mars, which ran from 2004-2007, I figured I'd give it a shot.  I was all caught up in my other shows and had just finished watching season 5 of Bones.*  I was bored.  But this show came highly recommended, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The show stars Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, daughter of PI Keith Mars.  She's a high school student who is using her PI smarts to try to solve the murder of her best friend.  The first season involves a new mystery in every episode, along with a clue related to the larger season-long mystery, which is solved in the final episode.  The second season has a similar format, but it's much messier, not as engaging.  And the third season, taking place at college, dispenses with this format completely, instead relying on two shorter arcs, both ending before the end of the season.  It's not surprising that the show was canceled after that season, although it's disappointing that the show didn't get another chance to prove it could rebound from that last, less awesome season.

There are some things about this show that really stick out for me.  In the first episode, which gives viewers a background on Veronica's life and the mystery she's trying to solve, we get some pretty shocking information.  When the show begins, it's been almost a year since the murder of Veronica's best friend, Lilly.  Flashbacks show us that before Lilly's death, her younger brother Duncan was dating Veronica, but very suddenly dumped her with no explanation.  After Lilly's murder, Veronica's father loses his job as sheriff for accusing Lilly and Duncan's father of the murder.  For refusing to side against her father, Veronica is ostracized by her wealthy, popular friends.  To prove she's not going to be cowed, she shows up at a huge end of the year party, where she is drugged with GHB and raped.

The way her rape is treated throughout the series is sometimes good, sometimes not.

The good:

Veronica recognizes that what happened to her was rape.  She tries to report it, and when the new sheriff, Don Lamb, just laughs her off, viewers are made to understand that this is a Bad Thing.  Viewers believe that the rape is real even though, as Lamb points out, there's no evidence.  The show essentially forces viewers to accept and acknowledge Veronica's rape as a FACT, not to be questioned, and to acknowledge that the way Veronica was treated when she reported is not really unusual.

Veronica doesn't suffer from an extreme amount of PTSD, which is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just simply who she is and how she's processed her rape.  She keeps it a secret from most characters during the course of the show, telling Duncan, Logan (Lilly's boyfriend and Duncan's friend), her best friend Wallace, and a handful of other people.  We end up with a main character who's a bona fide rape survivor, who copes with what happened to her, but doesn't forget about it or rationalize it into something else.

Veronica is an excellent representation of the sexual assault survivor seen from the outside.  She's labeled a slut for being assaulted, something that many other survivors, myself included, can comiserate with (since many people don't understand the difference between consensual and non-consensual activity).  But other than that, her assault stays under wraps until important events and conversations draw it out.  She's an excellent reminder that many people we know are survivors; they just don't tell us.

She also ends up with an STD, which doesn't get diagnosed for about two years (which ain't good!).  While it did feel as if the STD was thrown in as a clue in the second season (which it was) and not really something entirely realistic (plus shouldn't she try to get in touch with Duncan and let him know?), part of me thought it was awesome.  Veronica Mars is another show where unintentional pregnancy ends in a baby (secondary character Meg), but it's one of the only shows I can think of that shows another consequence of sexual activity: STDs.  Not that it was Veronica behaving irresponsibly (mega-spoiler--she got it from her rapist), but simply that it's something we all know can happen, and yet television rarely goes there.

In the third season, the major first story is a serial rapist on campus.  While much of this story is crappy and will be dealt with later, it gets a few things right.  When Parker, Mac's new roommate, is raped, and it turns out that Veronica unknowingly walked in on the rape, Parker tears Veronica a new one.  After Parker insists that Veronica doesn't know how she feels, Veronica insists that she does and even gives the date of her rape.  Parker apologizes, saying she had no idea, and Veronica says that it's okay, since it's not something she goes around broadcasting.  It's a very, very serious reminder that many people we know are survivors; we just don't know because it's not something they broadcast.

Finally, the serial rapist is caught as he's trying to assault another victim.  While there are things about the serial rapist that are highly unusual, and will be discussed later, what's accurate is that the rapist, Mercer, is a very popular, clean-cut, well-liked guy.  It's clear that he could easily go out and get laid, and he even admits that to Veronica, who he thinks is his latest drugged victim.  He has the trust and friendship of Logan, and he's handsome and charming.  But when the facade comes down, he snickers about how he could go out and date, and that it would be really effective, but that then he'd have to listen to all these women talk.  He's a sociopath.  He's not some creepy dude with no friends who can't seem to get laid.

And now--the bad:

Near the end of season one, Veronica discovers that there's another classmate who was drugged on the same night, at the same party.  She begins to track down classmates one by one to piece together what happened to her that night.  What she learns is as follows:

- Logan brought GHB and gave it to people to use.
- Dick received some GHB and put it in a drink for his girlfriend Madison, "to loosen her up."
- Madison spat in the drink and gave it to Veronica as a cruel joke, not knowing it was drugged.
- As people were doing body shots on Veronica, Duncan tried to take her away.  Logan was annoyed with that, and he put GHB into Duncan's drink to loosen him up.
- Sean, Dick, and Cassidy found Veronica in the guest room, passed out.  Sean and Dick encouraged Cassidy to rape Veronica, and left him with her.
- Carrie Bishop saw Cassidy leave, but then Duncan went into the room.
- Duncan admits to having what he believed was consensual sex with Veronica, and he didn't say anything because he thought they weren't talking about it.  He believed her to be his sister, which is why he had dumped her and was avoiding her, but he was still in love with her and the GHB essentially led him to give in and have sex with her.

So basically Logan supplied drugs to people at the party and drugged his best friend.  EXTREMELY uncool and illegal.  Dick tried to drug his girlfriend to "loosen her up," but it's obvious that had she kept her drink, Dick would have raped her.  Madison unknowingly passed along a drugged drink.  Sean and Dick encouraged Cassidy to rape Veronica.  We learn at the end of season 2 that Cassidy DID rape her, and left her with an STD.  Then Duncan came in and also raped Veronica.

The end result?

Logan: is immediately forgiven by Veronica, who begins an on-again-off-again relationship with him.  The relationship only ends for the rest of the series because Veronica finds out that Logan slept with Madison while he and Veronica were broken up.  He didn't cheat, but Veronica can't forgive him because he slept with Madison, whom Veronica blames for drugging her.

Dick:  Veronica never much likes him, but she tolerates him, even though his actions, at least as much as Madison's, resulted in Veronica being drugged and raped.

Madison: Veronica hates her so much that she dumps Logan for good because he slept with Madison.

Cassidy: He's revealed at the end of season 2 to be the murderer of everyone on the bus, as well as an accomplice and a plane-ful of people.  He admits to raping Veronica and then tries to kill her.  Obviously, she doesn't like him much.

Duncan: Veronica is heartbroken after he tells her what happened, but by season 2, once they're aware that they're not related, they begin dating again, and they stay together until Duncan flees to Australia with his daughter (whose mother was another classmate).  Veronica doesn't seem to consider what happened between them to be rape; Wikipedia explains that Cassidy raped her, but that Duncan had consensual sex with her, which is erroneous based on, well, what actually happened.

So it looks like the only person appropriately hated for his involvement is Cassidy, while everyone except Madison gets off the hook.

Then, we get to the serial rapist storyline.  First off, it is highly, highly unusual to get such a strange MO: the rapist drugs women (thought to be with GHB, not clear), shaves their hair off, and rapes them.  I'm not going to imply that this is an impossible MO, but it is a weird one.  A number of serial rapists get away without drugs and a weird calling card (shaved head), but on charm and isolation and a well-placed chokehold.  All of the rapes in this show happen with GHB, which is extremely skewed.

Mercer, the rapist, also doesn't even act alone.  The show explains subtly that his accomplice, the RA named Moe, was involved in a prisoner-guard experiment with Mercer, and that somehow the power dynamic that was created in that experiment still persists.  Moe is eager to help Mercer, to the point of driving home drugged girls and giving Mercer access to their rooms.  He calls Mercer "Sir" and panics ridiculously when the shit hits the fan.  If rapists have help, it's not really ever LIKE this!  Eesh.

And then we get the show's treatment of Lilith House, a house full o' feminists, who are painted as humorless feminazis who actually fake a rape.  Yes, that's right.  Feminists who think faking a rape is a good idea.  Do you know how many feminists I know who think that's a good idea?  Zero.  The feminists I know are chill, cool folks, men and women and boths and neithers, who care enough about rape to know better than to blame it all on the Greek system or to fake a rape.  Seriously.

All in all, I liked this show a lot, and I'm looking forward to rewatching the first season.  It's fascinating to see how back and forth the writers go when it comes to treatment of sexual assault, that's for sure!

* And by that, I mean that I finished Bones, and I am thoroughly bored of Murder, She Wrote.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Me and my colon

Warning: Large intestine!!

I've got ulcerative colitis, and it's pretty horrible.  Not just because people get super uncomfortable talking about illnesses that involve pooping, because they really do(do).  But also because it's a PRETTY HORRIBLE illness, in a bunch of ways.

First off, I can't really eat salad anymore and be happy.  My body can't break up raw foods very well, which tears up my colon pretty badly.  My nutrition has been off the wall for the past six months.  It's incredibly destructive, health-wise.  You know something's wrong when you're craving salad.

Second, you don't know how much going to the bathroom interferes with your day until you spend 2.5 hours at work just going back and forth between your desk and the bathroom.  It's embarrassing; you wonder if coworkers are going to notice how often you get up, or how often you go into the restroom.  It's hard to get work done, too.

Tuesday, I'm having my second ever colonoscopy.  I'm twenty-four years old and had my first colonoscopy three years and two months ago.  Tomorrow, I have to cut raw foods, nuts, seeds, etc. out of my diet.  Monday, I hope no one wants to get lunch with me because, well, I can't have any solid food all day.  And then Tuesday, I get to go to the doctor and have a camera up my pooper.

I'm getting used to having such a long flare-up (the only other one I had lasted from the end of August until mid-November; this one began at the beginning of July, and it's currently mid-December).  But I'd like to be able to cut back my meds.  I'd like to not worry about whether or not there's a bathroom around.  And I'd like to stop being late for work because I have to spend an extra 10 minutes in the bathroom.

What's the best thing you can do if you don't have colitis, but want to support someone who has it?  Just be cool.  Don't get all, "EW, gross, blood?  Diarrhea?  Gas?"  It's not helpful!

Besides, everybody poops!  Just some of us more than others :-p

People can be more than one thing

Trigger warning: Rape is BAD

Thanks to people like Roman Polanski and now Julian Assange, we're getting a really fascinating glimpse of how many people are unable to wrap their heads multifaceted identity and behavior.  Or that's my fancy way of saying, "Some people don't get that you can make really good movies AND be a rapist at the SAME TIME."

It's convenient to be able to put quick little labels on people, especially celebrities and well-known politicians, etc.  For example, many people, especially in the acting community, insisted that we shouldn't ruin Roman Polanski's life.  What makes him different from some other rapist who was ridiculously and obviously guilty of drugging and brutally raping a child who vehemently denied him consent?  He survived the Holocaust AND he makes movies we like!

And that's where the disconnect comes in for so many people.  They do not understand that a person can survive the Holocaust AND make good movies AND rape someone.

Now we're dealing with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks dude, shedding light on government secrets for the sake of transparency.  I do not have much of an opinion on WikiLeaks, mostly because it's really hard to gauge the effect of it on diplomacy and government.  And by that, I mean can you tell that I'm really not all that interested?  But I guess it's nice to be able to not really see Assange as a bad guy (destroying American diplomacy!  Compromising national security or something!) or as a good guy (We deserve to know everything!  Information is power!  You wouldn't be upset about it if you weren't doing anything illegal!).

And that's where the rape accusations come in.

As far as I can tell, two women have come forward.  One woman has accused Assange of engaging in non-consensual sex with her while she slept, and the other has accused him of agreeing to use a condom while having sex, and then not doing so.

If you don't believe either thing is rape, this isn't an agree/disagree situation.  A sleeping person cannot give consent (because being asleep removes their ability to say yes or no).  And when a person says, "Yes, but we have to use a condom," that means, "Yes, ONLY if you use a condom, and NO if you do not."  Rapity rape rape RAPE.

Rape doesn't have to be brutally violent.  A victim/survivor might not realize what happened right away, and it doesn't magically make things consensual.  As someone who's HAD regretted sex, I can assure you, rape isn't regretted sex.

And then liberal people, who love WikiLeaks, are having a Polanski moment.  They cannot label him a rapist WITHOUT removing the "SAVIOR!!" label.  You can have both.  People are more than one thing.  You can be charming AND valedictorian AND married AND a rapist.

I do not know whether or not these women are telling the truth, but I see no reason to ASSUME, like so many people are, that they are lying.  I engage in the radical activity of BELIEVING rape victims first.  I'm an assault survivor; I know how it feels to not be believed.

Assange was arrested quite quickly for these rapes, and that's where shit gets even more interesting.  So many liberal people are crying foul, insisting that Assange wouldn't have been arrested for rape had he NOT been the WikiLeaks founder.

I agree.  I do not think he would have been arrested had he not being stirring shit politically.

So many conservative people think he SHOULD have been arrested, that political shit stirrer.

I half-agree.  I believe he should have been arrested, but just for the rape parts, not the shit stirring.

If Assange weren't famous, he probably wouldn't even have been arrested.  It's true.  But that's another problem.   People are not complaining by saying, "He was only arrested because of his fame.  It's pathetic that more possible rapists are never even charged with anything."  They are saying, "Plenty of other dudes don't get arrested because of allegations, SO Assange shouldn't have been either."

NOPE, people.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clean ALL the things?

For those of you who are not familiar with the excellence that is Hyperbole and a Half, at the very least, check out this comic.  Basically, it's a comic that speaks to a lot of people of all ages.  Being an adult is HARD WORK, people.

A lot of my problems are well described in this comic.  I go to the grocery store and shop like I'm going to learn how to cook (I can't) and like I'm going to eat super healthy (I don't).  A week later and I have some rotting vegetables in the kitchen, in contrast to the empty candy wrappers and chip bags in my room.  MMHMM.  Cleaning all the things?  Nuh-uh.  My room is never clean.  Bank?  I'm down about $500 in my account because I haven't found an envelope to MAIL my checks to my bank.


Some problems will always be problems.  I will just have to get off my ass and clean my room, like it or not.  But one problem that's always given me issues: budgeting.

I automatically have money taken out of my paycheck every month that goes into a high(er)-interest savings account.*  That's how I've saved up enough to not have grad app fees affect me too much.  But when it comes down to the question, "Am I saving as much as I could?" the answer is the longest, loudest, "NO" that you've ever heard.  Old Navy, ThinkGeek, etsy, Whole Foods, Walgreens/CVS.  Really, it's not good.  Little purchases add up, too.

I've tried strategies before.  I've attempted to use to budget, but the end result is that I get emails from them telling me I've exceeded my budget for "Stuff."**  I've tried telling myself, "Only $25 at Trader Joe's!"  I've tried to ban myself from online shopping (something more effective when it's not the holiday season).

So I have a new strategy today!

Starting on Wednesday (I'm starting with a half-month so I can start saving NOW instead of waiting two weeks), I'm going to change how I pay for things, now what things I pay for.

Checks: Rent, some utilities (i.e. paying back my roommates)
Credit card: Grad school fees, Comcast, general necessities such as medication and doctor's appointments

And everything else will be in cash.

Cash is a very easy way to know how much money you can spend on something.  Before I had a credit card (before I was 22), I couldn't buy something if I didn't have the cash for it.***  Now, I'm going back to that method.  Not because I was a big saver before I turned 22, but because that's the only way I can really see myself achieving my goal of cutting back spending.  It'll be much easier to avoid online shopping if I know that I have to deduct $30-40 from next month's cash.  It'll be easier to decide if I'm going to buy those chips if I only have $20 left and I want to go out tomorrow night.

So that's my goal!  We'll see how well it works, of course.  I have hope.

* ING Direct used to have great interest, somewhere near 3%.  It's down to about 1%, but it's much better than letting your money rot in a checking account.

** I used to try to budget everything.  $X for groceries, $X for gas, $X for gifts, $X for work lunch, $X for dates with exbf, etc.  It did NOT work.  Now, I just budget $250-300 for "Stuff," but like I said, that doesn't work either.

*** Not that I started bleeding money once I got a credit card.  I actually was fine until recently!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ridiculous outfit

It's still cold in my room, although I've turned on the heat and covered the AC window with a towel (I am not sure if the heat is working).  But to keep warm:

Tank top, leggings, sweatpants, sweatshirt, socks, slippers, bathrobe.  Brrrrrr!

My room is cold!

It's late fall in New England, although if you're going by New England standards and not actual equinox/solstice dates, it's winter for sure.  It's been consistently freezing (30°F highs) for the past week.  And I have issues.

Many people who know me well know that I have problems with being organized and clean.  I'm working very hard right now to keep my work life organized in every way possible, and I'm making some headway (been helping organize common areas that have been messy since I got here a year and a half ago, cataloging protocols, making master lists of freezers, etc.).  Now it feels like all of that energy directed at work is sapping my energy to be responsible at home.  My room got pathetically disgusting for an entire month.  Horrendously, embarrassingly gross.  Coming home was upsetting for me because of how terrible my room was.

Gathering up the energy to clean my room became more and more difficult.  Halfway through the month, I was thinking about starting to clean when I was struck down with illness.  As I've detailed earlier, I got sick with a weird mild virus on Saturday after Thanksgiving, which turned into a sinus infection, which turned into a pretty decently bad chest cold.  I'm still recovering; I've got congestion still and my voice is still what I call my man-voice.  It's going to be difficult to sing karaoke on Monday!

While sick, getting to the grocery store for essential food items was my only priority besides sleeping.  I ended up with plates, bowls, and mugs (formerly containing either soup or tea) in my room, along with clothes strewn about, trash, Loki's mess (he took a bath in his seeds, and now that he has wings, he likes to fly everywhere, pooping and molting), and everything else.  I had done some major laundry back in November, including my comforter cover.  I still hadn't made my bed (like, sheets, not making things look nice).  Oh, it was bad.  Very bad.

So I was sick, and then it got freezing.  Because of the mess, I hadn't yet put shrink wrap on my windows (it's effective, by the way).  I also hadn't taken out my AC unit from the window right next to my bed.  There were reasons, all related to the mess.  With the mess, it was difficult to get to the AC.  And there was nowhere to put the AC once it was out.  And I couldn't invite even a roommate in the room to help me remove the unit because of how embarrassing the mess was!

The other night, I was so cold that I allowed Loki to nap on my warm computer.  I also made the mistake of warming my hands by sticking them under my laptop.

Do not warm your hands by sticking them under a hot laptop.  At the time, it felt nice and it helped.  Now, I've discovered first degree burns on the backs of my fingers and hands.  Not joking.  WHOOPS.

Last night, I had a field day cleaning my room.  It's not finished.  In terms of general presentation, I need to put away my clean clothes, put my dirty clothes in my hamper, throw out 3 bags of trash, get rid of a bunch of boxes and other trash, donate a bag of clothes, put some items away, clean Loki's cage, and vacuum.* Tonight, I got home too late, but when I have time this weekend, I'll finish up, and weatherize those stupid windows!  And then maybe my room won't be so darn cold.**

* In terms of real cleaning?  I need to throw out a ton of shit that's in my closet and storage unit.

** Yes, I've thought about the heat.  But it'll drive up our utilities, it's stupid to turn on the heat when I literally have a WINDOW OPEN, and I'm also reasonably sure the heat in my room doesn't work.  I don't know for sure, and it would be stupid to call the landlord to complain if I have a WINDOW OPEN.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sickness roadmap

A week after I first got sick, I'm still sick!  Chronology:

Friday night: Fine, just a slight headache
Saturday: Congestion, fatigue, low fever (99.2)
Sunday: Slight congestion, fine by the end of the day
Monday: Feeling fine, congestion is fading
Tuesday: Congestion is a little worse, but generally, feeling okay
Wednesday: Wake up feeling horrible, heavy face, congestion, serious fatigue, fever (99.6-100.2)
Thursday: Feeling a bit congestion, mild fever later in the day (99.1)
Friday: More congestion, no fever, scratchy throat
Saturday: More congestion, no fever, scratchy throat, cough

So here's what I think happened:

I stayed out late on Thanksgiving and the following night, leaving me with a mild virus on Saturday.  Since I thought I was better by Sunday, I stopped taking steps to treat the cold, and it turned into a sinus infection, sidelining me on Wednesday and Thursday.  By Friday, the sinus infection was gone, but I was pretty much draining all of the fluids, which landed in my lungs and throat.  I also stayed out late again and didn't dress very well for the cold.

So: Mild viral infection turns into sinus infection turns into cold.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New meaning

I'm watching some Castle right now (decent show, quite goofy), and in one particular episode, the suspects are animal rights activists.  It's said that the worst thing they've done is break into a lab and free a bunch of mice.  It's said as if it's really not a terrible thing.

Weirdly enough, I haven't heard any references to breaking into labs and freeing animals in a while, maybe since I started working in the lab last year.  And now, all I can think of is that if some asshole were to free the mice in our animal facility, it would be an institute-wide crisis.  We'd lose months of work, in addition to a loooot of money.  I mean, you'd have to pay for new mice, and for the facility to be cleaned (we've got rules to keep the rooms very clean, rules that activists would probably break).  And then there's the fact that some of the mice are very, very special knock-outs or isoform mice that are rare and pricey.

So next time you hear about activists freeing animals from labs, whether the references are fictional or real, FEEL BAD for the researchers!  Seriously.

Tales of sick in bed

Usually, when I take a sick day, I wake up feeling crappy and call in sick.  By the afternoon, I'm feeling better, especially if I take a nap.  Sometimes, I'm ridiculously sick, like when my UC flares up, or the time I had the Hamthrax.*

A couple of times, though, I've come to work even when I don't feel well.  Recently, especially, I've started loving my job, and so I actually want to come in to work, get things done, and see people.  So when I woke up this morning with my cold returning full-force, and with stuffy, painful sinuses, I got up, and brought in the food for lab meeting.

And I got sent home as soon as I got in.  The only annoying thing was that there aren't a lot of outbound trains from Boston around 10am.  And by the time I finished walking back to my apartment, I felt SO lousy.

Now I have a fever, and my symptoms aren't very much better post-nap.  Awesome.

So what happens when I'm home during the day?  I check OKCupid to see if I've got a message from this guy I'm seeing, since he's going to pick a restaurant for us to go to tomorrow night.  And then I get an IM.  Crap.

I check and see that this dude has visited my profile.  Okay, that's good, because he'll know that I'm picky and generally don't date guys who can't make an effort to type properly.  Except not.

Dude types badly in his IMs and on his profile (or what little of it I could see when I searched; I'm not interested in checking it out).  He then asks me what I do, something that's at the top of my profile.  Now he's asked me if I swing, and if I want to fuck (I answered no, and he asked me why not).

I don't want to be with my ex, and I'm okay with being single.  But man, I'd forgotten how obnoxious online dating is.

EDIT: Oh, even better.  He messaged me because he saw that I was Jewish and thinks that it means I put out easily.

* H1N1--swine flu.  I usually call it Hamthrax or The Swine.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random updates


Thursday, felt great.  Friday, felt great till about midnight, when I had a headache.  Saturday, woke up feeling OMG HORRIBLE.  I could barely get out of bed all day, took three naps, kept having to reheat my tea.  I only had one can of soup, which I ate.  Ended up with a fever, in addition to headache and congestion and OMGKILLME feeling.  I figured I'd be out of commission for a few days.

Sunday, woke up feeling a bit gross.  I was able to hack up a huge glob of gross, and then felt better.  Managed to go to work and then the grocery store for more soup and juice.  By about 5/6pm, I felt all right.  By the time I went to bed, I felt almost fine.  Woke up this morning on very little sleep feeling great!

Importance: I NEVER recover from illnesses, especially colds, so quickly.  It seems that at age 24, my body has finally started to take advantage of all of the lessons it's learned from the colds of winters past!  Yay!


On Wednesday, I arrived home and discovered that my transcript had FINALLY arrived.  But that I had forgotten the cover page and my CV I had printed at work.  I dug my printer out of the pile of books I'd left on it, and I easily downloaded the software, but then I realized that after not printing anything for a year and a half, I had mysteriously lost all my printer paper.  Ran to Walgreens, bought some paper, ran home.*  Printed everything, called the post office to confirm that they were on normal hours.  Dashed up to Beacon Street, struggled mightily to fill out a mailing label (three carbon copies!  I wrote as hard as I could, and you could barely read anything!).  Then I went up to the counter and, kid you not, asked, "How much do I have to pay to make sure this gets to Chicago by Friday?"  Delivery guaranteed.

Today is Monday.  My UChicago app tells me that they're still waiting on my CV and transcript, and they're due Wednesday.  WTF.  Am calling in an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, BU says it doesn't have any recommendations, but they replied to my email confirming that they have my transcript and GRE scores.  Johns Hopkins and I had some emails over the weekend because I DID send GRE scores, so I'm supposed to check again tomorrow, and call if my app still claims they're missing.

The lesson learned here is ... nothing.  I did everything right.  So the lesson learned is just not to apply to graduate school.

* I guess it's misleading to imply that Walgreens is even a little bit of a trip.  I live directly next to Walgreens.  I almost live IN Walgreens.  We are surrounded on two sides by the building, and on a third by the parking lot.  A trip to Walgreens is the easiest thing on the planet.  I have to stagger my trips so the employees don't notice how much junk food I buy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grad apps

Applying to graduate school should involve receiving a degree all on its own.

I vaguely remember applying to college several years ago.  I know that many of my applications were online, and most of them took the common app.  It was helpful; I applied to seven schools and five of them took the common app.  So I had to fill out my information about 3 times total, and the supplemental applications for individual schools involved a few extra essay questions.  I did have to mail in some things, specifically my flute CD,* but I know my mom took care of that, as well as my SAT scores.  My guidance counselor took care of sending off my high school transcript.

It wasn't easy or pleasant, by any means, but the college admissions process is at least somewhat streamlined.

The easiest part of graduate applications has been sending my GRE scores.  ETS lets you select all your schools and departments, and then you just enter your billing info, hit send, and weep openly as you look at the bill afterwards ($345!).

Transcripts?  No guidance counselor this time.  I have to send them, one at a time, using the Tufts system.  I have to enter my billing info for each one and pay one at a time.  There's a character limit in the address boxes, so I've been sending lots of applications to "The Office of Grad. Aff."  Awkwards.  I just had to call Tufts because the system didn't register my billing info for a couple transcripts.  I would have just canceled and re-entered my info, but one of the transcripts needs to be sent TODAY, so I was panicking a little.

My CV?  It's sort of important, especially for schools that either don't give me space to write much about my jobs, or for ones that assume that I'm applying right out of undergrad.  In some cases, I have to mail my CV because the online app won't let me upload it, just copy/paste.  But what about my gorgeous formatting?!

So I've got transcripts I have to send, and not only is it hard, but some of the schools haven't told me where to sent the damn things.  Half of the schools don't seem to want my CV.  What else?

Oh, there's no common app.  I've got some apps on Embark, and some on ApplyYourself, but neither system saves your information for auto-fill.  And the rest use school-specific application sites.  So I end up having to write out my address six hundred times, and my recommendation letter writers are probably so confused, I'll have to send them emails letting them know when to send letters to which schools.

Finally, certain schools want information mailed, in addition to completion of an online application.  The biggest culprit is the University of Iowa, which has just been killing me in terms of all of these problems.  I had to fill out an application on the biology department's site, THEN the general application.  I now have to mail them my personal statement (yes, they require it mailed), my CV, a waiver request, and an application for graduate funds.  I also had to mail two transcripts, and they have a form for letter writers to fill out instead of writing a letter.  They're also the school that assumes I'm just graduating from college; everything they ask either implicitly or explicitly assumes I'm in college.  The recommendation form refers to my letter writers as if they've had me in a class, etc.

So, where's my special degree for sorting through this mess?  Yikes.

First application is going out very soon (University of Chicago).  I'm waiting on one last once-through from my mom on the personal statement so I can send the electronic application, and as soon as I get my transcript in the mail, I'm sending it with my CV straight to the biology department.  I'm cutting through the chaos, and I'm finally embarking on the next stage of my life: PhD.

* I spent years playing flute and piccolo, and at one point, I was considering going to conservatory and going professional.  Not because I was that good; I would have been if I had practiced more often.  That was actually a factor in my decision not to become a musician.  Not only would my profession not be immediately helpful to anyone, but I'd have to actually practice.  Not gonna happen!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Oh, FDA ...

The FDA.  I don't know quite what to think of them sometimes.  I mean, I'm sure they do some good work.  But at the same time, it's hard to look away from the fact that a lot of their decisions come down to politics, not science.

For a Community Health class I took a few years ago, I read a book by Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.  She discussed the controversy surrounding silicone breast implants, and the FDA ban on.  While Dr. Angell is not the most feminist woman on the planet (her book suggests that she buys into some stereotypes about feminism), her book does raise a lot of questions about whether or not the FDA ban is actually based on anything real.
The FDA banned silicone gel breast implants in 1992.  The reasons why are suspect.  No scientific study supported the claim that silicone gel breast implants caused a variety of unnamed connective tissue diseases.  After years of more studies debunking the myth, silicone is finally back on the market.  But there were countless women (cis and trans) who were unable to get silicone implants during those years, and had to get saline instead.

Why is this even important?  As a feminist, I don't see a need for breast implants beyond helping transwomen and women who have lost breasts to disease or injury (and specifically, only those women in those catagories who want implants).  But as long as we live in a patriarchy, I can't judge women for feeling pressured to have larger breasts, and since that's the case, I support a woman's right to decide what kind of implant to get.  Saline implants have downsides, especially in terms of the look and feel of an augmented breast, so there are reasons to prefer silicone gel.  And again, there was no scientific evidence to suggest that silicone gel was more dangerous than saline ...

Another example of the FDA going by politics and not science are the current age restrictions on emergency contraception.  In 2006, emergency contraception known as "Plan B" was made available over the counter for women ages 18 and older.  That was a great improvement; previously, it was prescription only.  And when you really think about it for a moment, that's really stupid.  If I have sex on Friday night and the condom tears, I would have to wait until Monday morning to call my doctor and get a prescription.  Plan B is effective when you take it up to 72 hours after failed contraception, and the earlier it's taken, the more effective it is.  Having to wait because you need your doctor to give you the go ahead can mean the difference between Plan B and Planned Parenthood.

However, 18 or older doesn't cut it.  Women under the age of 18 who are sexually active have the same issues facing them as the older women, but they also have to deal with parental disapproval; they may be less informed about sex, and they may have even more trouble getting in touch with a doctor to get a prescription.  So the FDA said, "Fine, we'll make it 17."  But the issue here is that any age restriction means that there's a population of young women who need Plan B and can't get it.

A judge has determined that the age restrictions are unnecessary, and based solely on politics and not science.  The FDA has been ordered to drop the age restrictions.

They haven't.

And now, for something slightly different: Four Loko.

Four Loko is an alcoholic beverage that apparently doesn't taste very good, but has a ton of caffeine in it.  It's been dubbed "blackout in a can" by college students, and it's landed several of them in the hospital.  Drinking it seems like a pretty bad idea.  Thanks to a ton of outcry from concerned parents and citizens, the FDA has delcared caffeine an unsafe additive to alcohol, and Four Loko will be banned.

I think the ban is politically motivated.  I don't think it's a terrible idea, but that's in the vein of me not thinking it's a terrible idea to ban cigarettes or Christianity.  That is, sure, it wouldn't affect me and I don't think it's good for people anyway, but I can't control other people's decisions, even if I think they're making the wrong one.

What's more, banning Four Loko is not going to stop people from mixing caffeine and alcohol.  From something as basic as a rum and Coke to something like Red Bull and vodka, people mix caffeine and alcohol.  Banning Four Loko will not change that.

What would have been a smarter decision?  Maybe regulating how much caffeine and alcohol can be mixed without people blacking out ridiculously quickly.  But just declaring caffeine an unsafe additive and using that to ban one class of drinks is sort of ... stupid.

Besides, have you met college students?  Do you know how many of them can black out and land in the hospital without the help of this particular drink?  They'll find a way!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More precious than gold

This is a post about science.

I am a scientist.  It's really cool for me to say this, because I suffered from imposter syndrome* until about a month ago.  Part of being a scientist at an academic research institute is getting grant money, money from the government that we use to do our jobs.  Only some of this money pays for salaries; some of my salary is from one grant, but most is from the institute where I work.  Most of the money goes towards equipment, reagents, and other supplies necessary to do the research.

I am a scientist, and I am not rich.

My boss got a huge grant last year in September, and it's enabled us to work on this supercool project.  We hired a graduate student, K., who is working on the project with us.  We tend to work on different aspects of the project; I do most of the cell culture and optimizing of the conditions, as well as collections, and he's learning how to work with RNA and protein.  Recently, he began to prepare for some Western blots, which are used to determine what proteins are present (you pick a target protein, stain for it, and see if it's there and how much there is).  You use antibodies to perform Western blots, so K. put a bunch of antibodies into the ordering book, and I put in a requisition for them.  The grant for the project is huge, so it can accomodate expensive items like antibodies.

That's right, antibodies.  The little Y-shaped molecules your body produces to take care of foreign particles, cells, or tissue that invade your body.  You make them for free.  Biotech/pharma companies make them for lots of money.**

Today, K. was aliquoting his nice new antibodies, from abcam,*** when he realized that he was getting a tiny volume of antibody (as low as 50µl) with a tiny amount of antibody (like 100µg).****  So we wondered: how much does an entire gram of antibody cost, based on abcam's pricing?  And how much is it compared to the cost of one gram of gold?

We set out to find the answer.

Micrograms (µg) are teensy.  100µg is 0.0001g.  Small.  And these vials of antibody with 100µg cost $319 each.

Gold, according to the internet, costs $42.90 for 1 gram.

To compare the costs, we first calculated how much 1 gram of antibody costs, and then divided by the cost of gold to figure out how much more expensive it was.

Well, that's not too hard.  To get from 0.0001g to 1g, you multiply by 10,000.  And you multiply the price by 10,000: $319 * 10,000 = $3,190,000

$3.2 million for 1 gram of antibody.  Divided by $42.90?  3,190,000/42.90 = approx. 74,359.

Antibody costs 74,359 times gold.  And that's why you get tiny amounts and are told, "For Western blot, dilute 1 to 10,000 in blocking buffer."

* Imposter syndrome, more common among but not limited to professional women, is the term for the overwhelming feeling that you are not qualified for your position, and that you have somehow managed to fool everyone around you into thinking you don't suck.  Yes, that means I used to stand at the bench, doing science--and doing it pretty well--thinking that I was so bad at science, I shouldn't be allowed in the building.  I no longer feel that way, and it's a relief.

** I have friends who have left industry (what we call biotech/pharma companies) for academia or vice versa, and the general idea is that you're still not making millions in industry.  A lot of money that companies make goes towards making up for all the money they've spent trying to develop their drugs and reagents.  When you see the final product, you don't see all of the failed experiments and failed trials that came before it.

*** I'm picking on abcam here, but their antibodies are not excessively expensive compared to other companies' antibodies.  They actually have some of the best antibodies out there; I always get great staining with them on immunohistochemistry, and my boss prefers them for Western blotting.  I'm picking on them because they're the ones we were aliquoting today.  We usually pick on Santa Cruz because their antibodies frequently don't work, especially if they're the only company that manufactures antibody for a particular site of interest.

**** For a lot of people who don't work in scientific fields (and some who do), µg or µl, or µanything might be meaningless.  The Greek letter mu (µ) is the symbol for "micro," which is one 1000 times smaller than milli (milligram, millimeter, milliliter), which is 1000 times smaller than your every day measurements (gram, meter, liter).  So if you're not very sciency, go find a ruler.  Take a look at the length of one millimeter (mm).  That's 1000 times shorter than one meter.  Small compared to a meter, right?  Now, imagine a length that's 1000 times shorter than one millimeter.  There's your micron (we don't say "micrometer.").  Same for liters.  Grab one liter o' cola and try to take 1000th of it: that's 1 milliliter (ml, also known as a cc, squared centimeter).  It's small.  1000th of that is one microliter, a measure of volume we use in the lab constantly.  Just the other day, I put 1 µl (microliter) of RNA solution into a machine called a NanoDrop, which measured the RNA concentration (0.2µg/µl!).  So when a company sends us 100µg of antibody, that's tiny.  Really tiny.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Street harassment: I'm not stupid, you know!

Today, I was on the receiving end of some street harassment.  It's happened before, and even though this time was pretty unusual, it was no less upsetting.

I was walking to get my hair cut.  It's warm out today, so I didn't wear a winter coat.  As I was walking up the street, there was a line of cars driving slowly down the street in the opposite direction.  Some guy had his window down, and he very clearly, and quite creepily called out.  "Argyle's good, nice choice."  I happened to be wearing a cardigan that has an argyle print on the front.

This harassment was unprovoked and completely creepy.  My sweater is from Old Navy, and while I think it's cute, it's certainly not revealing, nor is it very unique.  The comment was unusually creepy.  Add that to the fact that some guy in a car had made the comment from across the street, and I was upset enough that I actually worried that maybe this guy was going to eventually hunt me down or something, since I was wearing something apparently so distinctive.

Street harassment is unsettling and upsetting.  And most importantly, something that so many people do not understand, it is not at all a compliment.

A compliment is something nice.  It's when someone thinks something nice about you and tells you so.  "Wow, I like your shoes!" said to a friend is a compliment.  "Your performance was really, really moving," said to an actor after a performance is also a compliment.  "Hey, sexy baby!" shouted by a stranger from a car is NOT a compliment.

So, don't assume I'm stupid.  Don't decide that I, along with countless other women, are so stupid that we can't tell the difference between a compliment and harassment.  What happened to me today was harassment.  The man who commented on my appearance was not doing so to make me feel good, and if he thought that's what he was doing, he's an idiot.  The only thing to be gained by harassing someone is the feeling of power that comes with it, while the victim, the woman who's just trying to get to an appointment, who put on that sweater because her room is a mess and she couldn't find the black sweater she wanted, feels helpless, confused, angry, and afraid.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why the new TSA security measures will maybe impact me for the rest of my life

Trigger warning: I talk about sexual assault.
In many airports across the country, the TSA has implemented new security measures to prevent those darn terrorists from trying to kill us using planes.  Instead of having us take off our shoes, throw all of our belongings into an X-ray, and walk through a metal detector/have a standard pat down, the TSA now wants us to take off our shoes, throw our belongings into an X-ray, and walk through a machine that will show them our genitalia/have a pat down that will involve TSA folk touching our genitalia.

And I'm beginning to realize that this might actually change my future.

I hate traveling.  I don't hate driving, but I always prefer to be in the passenger's seat because I can nap and I won't Masshole-roadrage at other drivers (as much).  But I hate when the T is crowded, I worry if the bus will be late, I hate having to book tickets, and more than anything in the world, I hate the airport and flying.

Weirdly enough, I like the flying part.  Taking off, landing, and turbulence are my favorite things because it feels like flying instead of just sitting in a room with a lot of other people and lots of noise.  But everything else is stressful.  I worry about getting to the airport in time, remembering all of my stuff, whether or not my luggage will be lost or stolen, what if TSA confiscates something that I want/need, what if my flight is late and it screws up my plans, what if they detain me for some weird reason, etc. etc.  On the plane, I'm claustrophobic, cramped, and bored.  I debate whether or not to get an in flight beverage because over the past few years, the flight attendants never seem to notice when I want to throw away the empty cup afterwards.  And when I get off the plane, I worry about finding my ride/public transit/my destination/my luggage/the exit.

In general, I'm not a fun travel companion, especially during the act of traveling.  My last boyfriend can tell you whether or not I was any fun starting from a few hours before leaving for a trip to the Cape until a few hours after we arrived.

Add that to the cost of flying, and you can see why I only fly when it's absolutely necessary.

I am not okay with the backscatter X-ray scanners.  I do not believe that adding them will improve security or prevent terrorist attacks.  And as a fat woman living in a culture where I'm treated like I'm stupid, sick, unhygienic, asexual, unacceptable, unhealthy animal, I don't feel comfortable going through a machine that will give strangers access to images of my body.  That's the privilege of a very small number of people: my doctors and my sexual partners.  I don't feel comfortable or safe going through those imaging machines.

And I'm not okay with the enhanced pat down procedures.  When I was 14, I was sexually assaulted; my assault very specifically involved my perpetrator (a friend of mine) shoving his fingers into my crotch through my pants, and groping my breasts.  And while I certainly have felt safe and secure with boyfriends and certain doctors having access to these areas of my body, I am absolutely not comfortable giving TSA access.  I believe it is too similar to my assault, and too unnecessary, for me to go through it.

I'm applying to PhD programs across the country.  While many of the schools are within driving, or even walking distance, several are not.  When I submit my applications, the programs that are interested in accepting me will ask me to come to the campus for an interview.  If this happens at Harvard or BU, or even UVM, I can walk or drive.  But if I hear from the University of Iowa?  Or any of the schools I've applied to in Chicago?  How will I get there without subjecting myself to a harrowing experience?  It doesn't matter where I fly to; Logan Airport in Boston is one of the airports with the new security measures.

There is a chance that I will have to decide between going to an interview or feeling safe.  Additionally, I have to keep in mind whether or not I'd be flying home for holidays and events, depending on the program.  So there is a chance that I might have to pick a program based on how close to home it is.  And if that's the case, then TSA will have had a significant impact on my PhD, and therefore the course of my career and life.

Finally, while I was reading up on the new security measures, it was unclear whether or not individuals who already have had to have pat downs will have to go through the enhanced version now.  My sister, for example, has a pacemaker; she has always had to have a pat down since she is medically unable to go through metal detectors.  Do the backscatter machines impact medical devices in the same way?  If yes, do people like my sister have to have the enhanced pat down (which, it has been suggested by many angry people, is almost a punishment for people who are able to go through the imaging machines, but choose not to)?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You know what sucks?

Last night's election results?  BP?  Cold weather?  Unpaid overtime?

Sure.  But I'm talking about something so much worse ...

Writing personal statements.

Writing the essay was always the worst part of college applications.  I remember, not so fondly, staring at my screen and hating that colleges gave us such vague prompts.  Sometimes, they'd give you specific ones, and you'd scroll down and see which one was the best.  But there was always the obnoxious, "Another topic" option at the bottom that would frustrate you with false promises.  Won't it be soooo eaaaasy to write about whatever you want?  HELL NO, I don't know what to write about!  When I wrote my college essays, I wrote two of them, both answering specific questions:

1) Discuss something that was really disappointing.  How did you handle it?
2) Discuss how the place you grew up (family, town, area, state, country) affected your growth as a person.

Or something like that.  The first one was a prompt from MIT, and I wrote about how I was disappointed with the diagnosis of "idiopathic urticaria" I'd gotten from my allergist.  I wrote about how the illness made my life much more difficult, and that I was never going to find out the exact cause of it, nor would I ever have a cure.  The second one was an "optional" essay from Tufts.  I wrote about how growing up in Red Sox Nation had challenged me to believe that anything was possible, even if I had to just wait one more year (I wrote the essay a few months after the 2004 World Series win).  Awesome essays, got me into some great schools.  I wrote the second one in a day.

So, personal statements?  SO NOT COOL.  First of all, they're incredible vague.  You are essentially trying to sell yourself to the school, but it's difficult to know exactly what to write about.  Graduate schools seem less amused by creative essays than colleges did.  "But they're not vague prompts!" you say?  "They ask you about your research interests, your experience, and your career goals!  That's not vague at all!"

Yes, it is!  What about my research interests?  Do I just describe them?  Do I talk about how I thought immunology was a cool class?  Or do I discuss my trip to the hospital when my throat swelled shut because of an autoimmune disease?  And career goals?  My goal is to get my PhD and see what happens; I don't know what I want to do after that, and anyone who is absolutely sure of what they want to do with their PhD is a lying liar.  You don't know!!

So I have to write 1000 words of unorganized drivel while praying to not-god that the admissions office will not discriminate against me because of my history of autoimmunity flaring up.  And because this personal statement's contents are much more like a cover letter than an actual essay, it's very difficult to have an introduction and conclusion, so the whole thing sort of starts and ends abruptly.

That is what sucks!

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is why no one likes you, Comcast

8/31/10: First attempt (online)

Me: Hi, Comcast, I'd like some cable and internet please.
Comcast: Great!  But you already have an active account at your address.  Sorry.  I would have LOVED to get you set up.
Me: But that account was cancelled earlier this month.  It shouldn't be active anymore.
Comcast: Nope, it's totally active.  Sorry, please try again later.

9/1/10: Second attempt (online)

Me: Hi, okay, it's been cancelled for sure.  All of the cable boxes and our modem are all gone.  Internet, please!
Comcast: That's very nice.  Please give me your social security number so I can verify your identity.
Me: Uh, no.
Comcast: It's a secure server.
Me: Really, no.
Comcast: Then you will have to go to a Comcast Service Center in order to start service.  Is there anything else I can help you with?
Me: *asplode*

Me: I have to go to a service center in Allston.
Friend: It just took me an hour to get home from Kenmore on the 57.  You do know that it's BU move in day, right?
Me: Crap!

Me: Hi, okay, was just joking about not giving you my social.
Comcast: Hi, how can we help you?
Me: Internet please!!
Comcast: Unfortunately, there is an account at your address that is not completely disconnected.  You will need to wait until it's fully disconnected to start service.  Is there anything else I can help you with?
Me: But the person earlier didn't say anything about that!

Me: Hi.  I need cable and internet service.  Previous service here HAS been disconnected, as evidenced by the lack of internet.  We need internet, and we need it now.  Why won't you jerks give us an account?
Dude: I can give you a discount on the installation*, and if you'll hold for a few minutes, I'll see if there have been any cancellations so we can push up your installation date.
Me: Thanks.
Dude: Enjoy your service!

* There is no discount.  Online, the installation fee is listed as $50.  On the phone, the fees were $30ish and $99, but they were both "discounted" and equalled about $50 total.  That's not a discount, dude.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jesus Camp

Without a doubt, scariest movie I've ever seen.  The Globe was right to list it as one of their top 50 scariest movies.

One of the most important parts of the movie, to me at least, was near the end when the radio jockey had the psycho* Jesus-camp lady on the air.  He pointed out the difference between learning and indoctrination, namely that learning involves choice.  And he's absolutely right.  And to me, it's one of the key differences between evangelical and fundamentalist faiths and faiths like (not quite Orthodox) Judaism.**

Growing up in a mostly-non-religious Jewish household was the best situation I think I could have been in.  While a lot of the traditions we engaged in were for tradition's sake, looking back, I don't feel indoctrinated.  Going to Hebrew school, I learned to read a different language, and I learned various songs and prayers.  And I was presented with stories and situations, in which we discussed the right thing to do.  We were never told that Adam and Eve were real.  I was actually told by my rabbi, when I asked at age 12ish, that they weren't.  I learned history as well, specifically about the Holocaust and the history of Israel.  If I did experience indoctrination, it was that I was led to believe that certain Middle Eastern countries were jackasses, something that I no longer believe.

I wasn't just allowed to question traditions or god or the Torah.  I was supposed to.  Ask questions, dig deeper, do research, don't just happily believe whatever we're told by authority figures.

Today, I'm an atheist Jew.  I say that without humor, and it's not a contradiction.  Being Jewish is still a major part of my identity (I met my boyfriend through JDate, a Jewish dating site, I still observe major holidays, and if I do eventually decide that I want to have kids, they're going to grow up with Judaism), and one that has led me to be an atheist.  I've never felt as if believing in god is essential to being Jewish.  I do, however, believe that questioning god is essential to being Jewish.  And I can still study/ask questions and give to charity/do good deeds without believing that there's someone up there, watching me and judging me.

Also, threat of hell has never been a factor, even when I did believe in god.  That is, the afterlife is a non-issue in Judaism.  You do your best in this life, and this life only.  There's no heavenly reward for brown-nosers.  There's no punishment for thinking differently.

So watching these children discussing sin and satan and god and Jesus ... scary.  I hope that these children are challenged appropriately so that they can escape all the brainwashing.

* I chose this word carefully.  I'm trying to cut back on calling things "crazy," since I have a lot of friends with varying mental illnesses, and I myself have suffered from clinical depression in the past.  So when I say "psycho" here, I mean that these people are absolutely out of touch with reality without being mentally ill.

** This is all based on my experience as a Jew.  I figure that a lot of Orthodox Jews do NOT question traditions and Jewish law as much as they would if they weren't indoctrinated.  For example, I find the practice of not touching members of the opposite sex highly offensive and unnecessary.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mulan: As close to feminist as Disney gets

Mulan isn't a perfect Disney film, that's for sure.  It's got loads of issues.  But that's not what I want to talk about here ...

Dear M. Night Shyamalan, here's how you do it:

M. Night Shyamalan, director of the recently critically panned "The Last Airbender" likes to make excuses for his mostly-Caucasian cast.  Never mind that "Avatar: The Last Airbender" obviously took place in an Asia-inspired land, or that the show was built on respect for various Asian-Inuit cultures.
Disney decided to create one of their classic fairy tale movies, this time surrounding the tale of Mulan, a hero in Chinese folklore.  Two of the three main characters (Mulan and Shang) are voiced by Ming-Na, born in China, and B.D. Wong, of Chinese descent.  Plenty of others are of Korean or Japanese descent as well.

Additionally, the characters themselves, as they appear on screen, are obviously Chinese without being caricatures.  As Lea Salonga, who provides Mulan's singing voice, mentioned in a live show, she was expecially pleased that unlike just about every other Disney heroine, Mulan is not busty beyond belief (she's not flat, but her breasts aren't so obvious that you can't stop looking, as is the case with Jasmine, Ariel, and others).

Gender is a performance--gotta make these men into men!

This is the biggest gold star of the whole movie, and just about most of the Disney franchise.  This film is about gender as a performance, not as an inherent set of traits.  That's the take-home message.

In the beginning of the film, Mulan's family is extremely concerned.  Their daughter is not any of the things she's supposed to be--that is, that a woman is supposed to be.  Instead of dutifully learning what is expected of her, Mulan cheats by writing notes on her forearm.  She's late for the matchmaker (unbecoming!), and while she technically does her chore (feeding the chickens), she really finds a way to get around it.  Plus, she's clumsy!!  How will she ever attract a dude?!

She heads into town to get all dressed up for the matchmaker, and she's even worse than before when she arrives.  Now she's dirty as well as late, lazy, and dishonest (cheater!).  Clearly, this woman doesn't have her family's honor at the top of her priorities.  And so her mother and some other ladies sing to her about how she'll bring honor to the family because they're going to clean her up and make her all womanly.  Mulan is more than visibily uncomfortable in this situation; she does nothing to help speed along the process, and she's obviously nervous and unhappy.  Upon arriving at the matchmaker, she procedes to, as many outstanding young woman in this country and century would say, fuck everything the hell up.  She's not being malicious; she just sucks at being a lady, and also, did no one explain to the cricket what was going on?

So now we have a depressed Mulan, who begins to sing a pop song about how she doesn't recognize the person in her reflection.  As she wipes off her make-up, it's clear: Mulan cannot pull off this gender performance.  It makes her sick and unhappy.  And at dinner, things are made worse when it's clear that her family will no longer support her lack of performance.

Mulan decides to join the army in her father's place (he's a disabled veteran; it's a bit assholey to even ask him to serve), and now she must perform a gender on the other end of the perspective, one she's gotten just about no practice with.  Mushu tries to help her by explaining how to walk, how to talk, how men greet each other (punching each other in the face), and so on.  Mulan is clearly not on either end of this spectrum, and yet there's no in between for her.  Boo!  She can't handle exaggerated femininity, and she clearly sucks at exaggerated masculinity.

And then we get to THE BEST DISNEY SONG EVER.  Okay, so many other movies have great music ("Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Kiss de Girl," "Be Our Guest," "Beauty and the Beast," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," etc.), but really, this is the best song to ever find its way into a Disney movie, and it's at its best in two contexts.  The first?  When you're drunk with your friends and you keep repeating the first verse and the chorus.  The second?  Within the movie itself, with everything that's happening on screen.

Let's see ...

The song, in any other context, would seem sexist.  But in this one, it's hilarious.  Shang is singing about how he's gotta make men outta his recruits.  But ... Mulan is a gurl!  HAHA.

But it's more than that.  Mulan isn't the only person struggling.  Her three eventual friends, who represent the other soldiers, are similarly incompetent at doing all those important man things, like grabbing fish out of rivers and being as mysterious as the dark side of the moon.  Mulan isn't NOT a man because she's a woman.  She and the others are all not men until they learn how to be men.  Hmmm, performativity maybe?

Anyway, now they all know how to be all manly, and now they're going to go show off.  On the way, we have a song that makes Mulan super uncomfortable about the kind of woman these guys all want to fuck: someone quiet, who cooks, who fawns over her man, who's goddamn HOT, etc.  As a hetero woman, for Mulan, this is like eavesdropping on someone saying horrible things about you.  Nice.

So there's a battle, and Mulan saves everyone, and Shang's all, OMG HERO, but then she's a woman, so that's bad.  Shang seems to feel betrayed, which, to me, carries implications that the movie in no way addresses.*  Anyway, he doesn't kill her, which is good because it really affects the outcome of the movie.

Mulan doesn't go home, though.  She knows the Huns are still alive, and although she obviously has a crush on Shang, who now hates her, she's not going to do as he asks.  She goes to China, gets pissed that people are treating her like a woman and stuff, and gets in Shang's face about the Huns.  He ignores her and is stupidly wrong.  Everyone screams and freaks when Shan Yu appears, but Mulan just gets this look on her face like, "Oh hell no, fucker, now I gotta kill you."

And how does she help Shang and the boys get into the palace?  By acting like women (and crossdressing), to the reprise of "I'll Make a Man Outta You."  It's meant to be hilarious, and the reason it's funny is because men are dressing like women.  But it goes deeper than that.  It's funny because they're using gender performativity (just like they used it when they were trying to be masculine, in combat) to achieve their goal.  It's a performance, not an inherent set of traits.

Meanwhile, unlike some Disney movies (coughcoughTHE LITTLE MERMAIDcoughcough), while Mulan does have help from her friends (namely, Mushu has the rocket), she defeats Shan Yu through combat and quick thinking.  She also uses a fan, which is a real move in martial arts, therefore using another piece of gender performance to her advantage, and seriously mixing up genders.

And in the end, all of these things that would be considered dishonorable (DESTROYED MY PALACE!) are deemed to be beyond heroic.  Badass.

And in the end, there's no kiss.  Just Shang joining Mulan's family for dinner.   And parents very proud of their daughter, whose own gender, somewhere between the extremes, resulted in badassness.

Real women come in all shapes and sizes

So, I've already pointed out what Lea Salonga mentioned, that Mulan is not Boobsaplenty.   But consider something else:

Mulan wears her hair up in a bun and is mistaken for a man (Shan Yu doesn't recognize her in her dress until she pulls up her hair again).  I've worn my hair like that before, and I don't think I've looked that masculine (maybe if I were wearing men's clothes?).  She doesn't keep up her macho masculine voice throughout her deception.  At one point, she is naked in the water with men who do not notice that she's a she.

What's the point?  Mulan is not so classically, obviously femininely beautiful that she has difficulty passing as a man.  That's not a problem, obviously.  She looks femininely beautiful when she's all dolled up for the matchmaker, especially compared to the other young women.  To the viewer, she looks beautiful.  But it's obvious that she has no trouble passing as male.  Again, this isn't a problem.  Just as Mulan's gender is a mix of masculine and feminine, mostly something in between, her appearance is pleasant without being excessively feminine or masculine.  She is quite normal.

Romance ... or gawking, whatever

The love story between Mulan and Shang is really what goes on in the shitty sequel, Mulan II: More Money for Disney.   In this movie, there's no wedding at the end.  There isn't even a kiss.

And Mulan isn't obviously made the object of Shang's gaze.  He never stares at her body, even after he finds out she's female.  It's not even her appearance that leads to his feelings for her.  It's the whole package: here's a woman who not only is at least JUST as good a soldier as he is (and has a knack for strategy), but she has no problem doing whatever she thinks is the right thing, regardless of her ladyparts.  You don't find a girl like that every dynasty.

And Mulan is not Shang's reward for being valiant in battle.  He does not win the love of a beautiful young woman by being badass.

Mulan doesn't go head over heels for Shang when she first sees him.  He's just the guy who's all, "YOU'RE GOING TO BE MY BITCHES TRANQUIL AS A FOREST BUT ON FIRE WITHIN."  But when he takes off his shirt, didn't you smirk at Mulan's reaction?  She's checking him out!  Who cares if he's handsome--she didn't seem bowled over by his face.  Nope, when he takes off that shirt, even I'm drooling over his animated hot bod.  And it's clear that Mulan isn't simply shocked because she's seeing a semi-nude man (nah, we get to see her reaction to naked-dude later on, and it's pretty funny).  She's impressed.  She thinks he's hot.  None of this lovey-dovey, oh-he's-so-handsome, I-want-to-be-your-wife crap Disney usually dishes out.  It's a moment where she's just a person finding another person attractive--sexually.

And in the end, this not-feminine, not-gorgeously-feminine-looking-in-the-context-of-the-film woman has this amazingly hot guy coming over to awkwardly, "Derrrr," over her until she smoothly invites him to dinner.

And Shang's affections aren't Mulan's goal.  That's not the resolution of the film.  The resolution is that Mulan has brought honor to her family by defeating Shan Yu, and she did so without playing either gender.  THAT'S the message.  Having Shang follow her home like a lovesick puppy is just icing on the cake.  Delicious icing.  All over his chiseled abs--

Compare this movie to Sleeping Beauty.  Feminism isn't done, obviously, but this is a pretty decent success.

* I really get the impression that Shang finds himself attracted to Mulan-as-Ping.  I've got little to base this on, but it makes more sense than him just developing feelings due to her heroics at the end of the movie.  I think that if he just felt gratitude towards Ping-Mulan for saving his live, and respected Ping-Mulan as a soldier, he might not have been as livid to find that Mulan was a girl.  But instead, he's very obviously angry, and it's very difficult for him to make the decision to spare her life; he almost goes through with her execution.  I believe that he had been developing feelings for Ping-Mulan, felt uncomfortable with those feelings, and then was angry because of how her deception led him to feel.**

** I'm not saying that it's a good thing if he was that homophobic, especially considering that Shang is portrayed by a gay man.  I'm just analyzing D: