Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stinking red blood cells

Starting to write is always the hardest part. I'm well-versed in writer's block at that lovely moment of, "Okay, I've got the outline, I know where's I'm going, I just have to get there." Right now, I'm enjoying the feeling of having sent my nearly-scooped paper off to the co-authors for (hopeful) approval by Monday (hah!), which means I'm supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal. (Which, if you're keeping track, I meant to write last fall. Again, hah!)

So, I've got my outline, kind of, and I've even got little phrases scattered throughout my text file for what I want to say in my introduction. All I have to do now is outline (in sentences. whole sentences.) a basic understanding of genetics. For math people.

So, my first bit is just to introduce the concept of humans as diploid organisms. I can't do it. I can't start my first sentence, because those damn red blood cells with no nuclei and no DNA keep messing up my sentence structure. I feel like I shouldn't start my proposal with the phrase, "Except for red blood cells..." and I really don't want a parenthetical in my first couple of sentences (although regular readers will know I adore them generally) and as a result, I'm stuck. I have no less than five alternate sentences written right now, they all suck, and therefore, I'm never going to write this proposal and I'll never graduate and I'll probably quit this program and start some other marginally-related grad program when I'm 43 in yet another pursuit of a PhD and everyone will say, "Wow! You've really done well to get this far with two preteens and a broken hip!" and I'll say, "Fucking red blood cells."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Apparently the wrong one is running

I'm too busy to write -- my paper, my visiting in-laws, DT and my kids, and the wine in my fridge are all in line for my attention ahead of the blog right now.

That said, I had to stop in to say, again, that I think Elizabeth Edwards rocks. Why isn't she running, instead of her vaguely-slimy Tarheel fan of a husband? Say what you think, Elizabeth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

When they were good, they were very, very good

It's been a hit-all-the-green-lights few days, and I'm trying to appreciate it instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop. In that spirit, a recounting:

I waited too late to make Father's Day brunch reservations and we couldn't go to DT's first choice, a close-by restaurant. Instead, I got a table at a place we like quite a bit for dates, but didn't think would be kid-friendly. The drive there was shorter than we thought it would be, the staff was beyond-friendly to Rocco and WonderGirl, and we had a wonderful meal outside, but in the shade. Even though it was late, Rocco didn't fall asleep in the car on the way back, but waited until he was home in his crib, where he slept soundly for two hours. (That does not happen.)

We watched Pan's Labyrinth and it was even better than we'd hoped, instead of falling prey to the curse of high expectations.

While I was peeing, I saw a mosquito in the bathroom, too far away to reach. It patiently flew around in a small area until I could get to it and kill it easily. (I feel awful writing this one, but mosquitoes are truly the only animal I kill on purpose.)

There was a train spill which shut down a road that we drive on frequently; today, my route took me other directions and I wasn't even affected by the huge amounts of detouring traffic.

WonderGirl started a new camp today and was feeling apprehensive. When we got there, she not only had a school friend in her group who eagerly greeted her, but her (saintly) teacher from school is working at the camp and is her group leader. WonderGirl has a kid crush on her teacher's two daughters, who are 9 and 12. They're also at the camp and both gave her huge welcoming hugs. WonderGirl barely waved goodbye to me before she was off to play.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I heart

Because somebody changed the timing of the light going into Rocco's daycare this week, and my commute officially grew by 10 minutes:

Friday, June 08, 2007

Moms against mercury, or moms against autism?

[cross-posted at Begging To Differ]

Apparently, June is the season for gooseberries, the first wave of West African monsoons, and Moms Against Mercury protests at the CDC. Last year, I wrote about their "Scene of the Crime" protest; this year, the theme was "Simpsonwood Remembered." Simpsonwood being, of course, hmmm... well, the Moms Against Mercury website doesn't really explain that on the page about the rally. Apparently, there were "infamous secret ... meetings" there. Wikipedia helps a little with this page, which is basically a summary of Robert F. Kennedy's controversial article claiming to summarize the events. (As I write this post, there are essentially no references given in the Wikipedia article, and there's even a warning that the neutrality might be compromised by "weasel words." I don't know what they are, but I think I like them!)

I'm so torn by events like this. On the one hand, my heart really does hurt for the families who believe that the best way they can help their autistic children is to stand on sidewalks and scream at public health employees as they drive to work. Clearly, this is a group that is passionate about their ideas and feels like they have very few avenues for being heard. I'm a liberal in Georgia. I can relate.

At the same time, though, I'm a public-health scientist myself and I am completely offended by the idea that people think that anyone in public health would intentionally supress good data that showed a link between autism and certain vaccines. People just don't go into public health or biology for the glamour and cash -- they're, as a rule, motivated by an intense desire to, you know, help people. I'm also a little stymied by what they're trying to accomplish by harrassing CDC employees (or those of us just lucky enough to need to drive through their protest site). Are they expecting that some poor statistician will get yelled at, then go to his office and say, "Hmmm, maybe those people have a point. If I used a score test instead of a likelihood ratio test... by Jove! There is a clear link between the flu vaccine and autism after all!"

My main reaction, though, is the same this year as it was last year. It might not be easy, and it might take more than a sheet of posterboard and a willingness to plaster your child's picture all over the street, but the best way for these families to make changes is for them to become part of a constructive solution. Read all of the research, not just the stuff that supports your hypothesis. Educate yourselves on the science and the methods so you can discuss them intelligently and neutrally. Acknowledge that everyone wants the right answer and that no one is just looking for sneaky ways to increase the number of children on the autism spectrum. Expand your boundaries to include the idea that there might be other factors at play, and wrestle with the difficulty of assigning limited resources to different avenues. Understand that science is a human endeavor and is imperfect, but the current system of working with testable hypotheses is the best we have. Suggest alternatives that make sense.

And please, don't yell at me. I'm trying to help.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Is it a full moon?

Like many of you, I'm sure, I opened up my trusty browser this morning curious to read whether Dubya has managed to surpass the cheery good times he instigated at last year's G-8 summit with his impromptu backrub of ANOTHER WORLD LEADER. Alas, apparently he's decided to leave poor Merkel alone, but instead I found a trio of stories that amused me greatly:

A local family came home to find someone robbing their house; the intruder pointed a gun at them and demanded money. The family disarmed the robber and beat him with a broomstick until the police had to rescue him and help him to the patrol car. Not that I'm pro-violence, but that seems fair.

A woman in Vermont was arrested for making faces at a police dog; the charges have been dropped because the dog can't testify as to how it felt to be harassed. (Not kidding here.)

A man in Michigan had his wheelchair accidentally lodged into the grille of a truck and was taken for a ride at 50 mph for 4 miles before the truck stopped. Money quote from the police:

"The man spilled his soda pop, but he wasn't upset," said Sgt. Kathy Morton.
I'm afraid to click any more online news links. Guess it's time to get some work done instead.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A way in which I prefer not to start the morning:

With an email from my advisor, who just gave a seminar about my current project at another university, saying roughly this: "Turns out someone else is doing almost the exact same thing we're doing. I don't know how far along their work is, but we need to get the paper out NOW."

I've been down this road before, and it was -- what's that word? -- un-fun.

Some days I hate academia.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What I've learned during summer vacation (so far)

I spent most of last week at home with Rocco, as his daycare center closes every year for the week of Memorial Day. After last week, I have new musings on parenthood, on priorities, on compromises, and on IKEA. Our week was made busier by the end of WonderGirl's school year, her ballet recital, the books I accidentally volunteered to make for her teachers, and the graduation ceremony (during Rocco's would-be naptime) to which I accidentally volunteered to chauffeur one of WonderGirl's grumpier classmates. Somehow, I even managed to get substantial parts of my next paper drafted. I'm trying on new habits (not like this, though), some of which appear to be making me happier, and my kids are both in the middle of relatively big periods of adjustment in their lives. DT and I are dealing with a constant undercurrent of "What are we going to be doing next year? Where is all of this going?" Right now, I feel like we have a lot going on, to the point of almost not being sustainable.


All of that feels dwarfed right now by the discovery of something that may very well change our lives: spray on, no rub sunscreen. Yes, I know I sound pathetic, but I truly don't care. Everything in life seems a little easier when you don't have to rub sunscreen into a moving, slippery child. It's all relative.