Thursday, April 29, 2010

- The winds today are so annoying. I can taste the dust.

- My root canal and crown ordeal is over. It only took nearly $500 and five visits to the dentist and endodontist. It's strange that one of my teeth isn't real.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great article in Time, even if the subject makes me blush. I was embarrassed to take a magazine with an article about "The Pill" on the cover to work with me. Should I be?

Here's an interesting quote from the article:
"When I was growing up, Rob and Laura Petrie didn't sleep in the same bed, but we were taught about birth control in health class," recalls Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. "And I grew up in Texas! Not exactly the cutting edge. My kids grow up with sex everywhere, but birth control is not talked about in school."
Accompanying video is good, too:

Monday, April 26, 2010

This story from NPR is disturbing (to me) but not exactly surprising: eating a lot of chocolate is linked to depression.
So three researchers from the University of California, San Diego asked 931 people who'd come in for an unrelated study about cholesterol how many times a week they ate chocolate. The people also filled out a depression questionnaire.
People in the group with screening scores suggesting that they might have major depression ate 12 or more servings a month.
It could be that people are self-medicating. The researchers can't say that on the basis of this study. Other possibilities: depression may somehow initiate chocolate cravings, or chocolate may trigger depression (though they note this isn't likely).
My pet theory: women are more prone to depression, and they are more likely than men to go for chocolate versus the salty stuff. But apparently using chocolate as an anti-depressant doesn't work, at least not in the long term.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Here's the next in the stream of nonfiction books about women that I have read: "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. Quick plot summary: In the 1950s, doctors take cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Virginia, without her permission. Scientists are looking for cells that can grow in culture and won't die quickly. Lacks' cells don't die, they keep on growing, a breakthrough for biological research. Lacks dies, leaving five children behind, and her family doesn't find out her cells are being used extensively in research until 20 years later. They think about suing but ultimately don't see a penny of the money that has been made off Lacks' cells.

It's a great premise: the author takes a footnote in a biology textbook and literally writes a book on it. The book is about science, yes, but it's also about history, ethics, racism, and poverty. In the first part of the book the author jumps between two very different worlds: Henrietta Lacks' life of hardship and deprivation, culminating with her death from an acute case of cervical cancer, then to the 1950s Johns Hopkins research lab where scientist George Gey is looking for a breakthrough.

Skloot then goes into painstaking detail on the decisions regarding Lacks' cells and the handling of her medical records. In the process she brings up a slew of ethical questions. The scientists who took Lacks' cells were not acting improperly, according to the standards of the time. But as a massive industry developed around these "HeLa" cells, shouldn't the family have benefited from it in some way or, at the very least, been informed on what was taking place? The author also talks about the development of informed consent procedures, which weren't put in place until the 1970s, something I found shocking.

One thing I particularly liked was how Skloot doesn't shrink from describing the poverty of Lacks' relatives. She writes about visiting Lacks' elderly cousin in a two-room wood cabin in rural Clover, Virginia, and how she befriended Lacks' daughter, a woman with many psychological and health issues. It seems like poverty is really a key ingredient in this story: poverty means not having the resources to hire a lawyer, and it means not understanding enough of what's being done with your relative's cells to be able to protest.

"Quietly passionate" is how one reviewer describes this book. The details build up and at the end you are finally just enraged at how unfair this situation is for Henrietta Lacks' family.

UPDATE: Worth a look -- Rebecca Skloot's blog

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lately it's not the love of God I ponder; I fixate on His omniscience. God isn't just for the ignorant, God knows science, as witnessed by the intricacy of the creation. I picture Him as the joyful inventor creating all the wonders of the universe, and I smile a little.

But it also frustrates me to think of a supreme intelligence, one that won't readily share in a way I can understand. I turn my mind to the mysteries of this existence and I feel like God is laughing at me and putting me in my place -- far, far below Him. Is that the way it's supposed to be? Well, too bad then. It's me and my books and newspapers, my 21 years of schooling, trying not to be ignorant. Like my own Tower of Babel where I'm trying to reach some sort of enlightenment but it all gets scattered at various intervals and I'm back to nothing.

Sometimes I feel like if I want to be religious I have to pretend not to know about Buddhism or postmodernism or existentialism, but um, if God is truly omniscient, doesn't he already know about all that? Didn't He create a world that could be looked at from those perspectives? Why do I have to hide it?

Should I just accept my ignorance and stop trying to figure things out? Is that the proper response?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heard this on NPR driving home. Love the extra-long title of this "must-read" book: "George, Being George: George Plimpton's Life as Told, Admired, Deplored and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals -- and a Few Unappreciative Observers."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This weekend: Marble Slab Creamery ice cream, homemade fish tacos, the poetry of Dolores Dorantes, church at a coffee shop, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's been a long while since I've given a presentation to a room full of people. I wasn't expecting *that* many people to be there. I can't say it wasn't intimidating, but I actually liked doing it...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I remember why I loved the movie "Once" after watching it again this weekend. "I don't know you, but I want to..."

Friday, April 09, 2010

Los Angeles


I really didn't expect LA to be beautiful. The parts on LA not on the beach I pictured as a smog-filled concrete jungle. I didn't expect the sunny skies and flowers and palm trees, the green hills, and the vines and grass growing naturally on the sides of the roads. I heard birds chirping outside my room in the mornings, something you wouldn't hear in New York or London.

As for the beach, well, it didn't disappoint. I've seen big bodies of water in my travels the past few years, and I'm very familiar with sand living in the desert, but the last time I saw a real beach was 11 years ago. I wanted to stand at the Santa Monica pier and just stare at the water for hours, even with the cool sea breeze blowing back my hair.


I came back from LA with a new idea of wealth, based on the shopping excursions my friend C. took me on. We walked around a place called The Grove, where we passed Zara, the Apple store, the American Girl store, etc. We finally stepped into a store called Anthropologie. I would pick up things and be so shocked at how much they cost I would put them back down immediately. A soap. I will get myself a soap as a souvenir -- $14?! On second thought, I won't get a soap as a souvenir. There's something immoral to me about spending that much on a bar of soap.

I experienced some sticker shock, but these places stay in business, so there must be people out there who will spend $14 on soap. I don't personally know any of these people, but I did see a lot of BMWs on the freeways and houses high up in the hills.

LA is home to the stars. The names of many of these important people are literally written into the sidewalk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, lest you forget.

I oohed and aahed over the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars were held, and of course there was an adjoining shopping center, which seemed a monument to the power of the entertainment industry with its big elephant statues.

I enjoyed being glamour-struck, but I also found displays like this excessive, because my friend certainly isn't rich, and she said she knows a lot of aspiring actors and actresses and filmmakers trying to make it in LA. To me a lot of it just seems like a tease, like this could all be yours...but it most likely won't be, and that is sad to think about.


The traffic in Los Angeles is as bad as its reputation, which is awful. The roads were confusing as hell to me, and the congestion made my El Paso morning and afternoon commutes seem like child's play. It seemed any outing required an elaborate plan: A) How do you get there? Look it up on Google Maps, write it down on a piece of paper. 101, 110, 10, 60, 5, which one do you take? Even with directions it's easy to get lost. B) Get in the car, get to the highway...and wait in traffic. I don't think there was any place we went that took less than 30 minutes to get to. The traffic is bumper-to-bumper, often, depending on the time. Avoid rush hour at all costs. C) Get off the freeway, get near your destination...then drive around for another half hour looking for parking. Which you have to pay for. D) Go to your destination (the beach, the tar pits, the museum), have a great time but be sure to get your parking validated, then E) Do the whole process in reverse.


Besides the traffic and congestion, California has a reputation for liberalism, or what some might call nuttiness. When I first arrived C. showed me around her beautiful house, which she shares with two roommates. On the bookshelves were a mixture of New Age-y and Buddhist-influenced self-help books. "You can eat any of my cereals, and the turkey, since my two roommates are vegetarians," she said. Two vegetarians? She said her roommates would be in and out of the house, and the woman she sublets her room from might be stopping by, too. "See the picture of the nude woman on the living room wall? That's her." It was a tasteful, artistic picture, but still, posting nude photos of yourself on the wall, is this a California thing? (I actually did end up meeting the woman in the picture and she was very nice.)

I turned on the TV one morning and the screen was black. Turns out only the DVD setting worked. How can you not watch regular TV? No "American Idol," no "Daily Show," no TV news? Hmm...

We went to not one, but two, farmer's markets.

My friend got her handwriting analyzed in Santa Monica.

The Scientology center on Hollywood Blvd. has a sign that lights up at night.

I think there's some truth behind the "nuttiness" stereotype.


C. and a couple of her friends and I went to a club one night, and we were hanging out on the back porch talking while one of them smoked. "How do you like LA?" C.'s friend asked. I said I liked it, it was just a lot of driving. "You thinking about moving here soon?" I laughed really hard. "NO." You'd think with all the sunshine and free-thinking vibe, it would be an easier place to live, but on the contrary, LA seems like a city that grinds people down and sends them driving back to their hometowns in tears. Los Angeles is an awesome place, a place much more amazing than I expected. But for all its impressiveness, I'm sure it's not the place for me to be.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

- Today I broke the knob that switches between heat and A/C in my car. I was trying to figure out why the heat wasn't coming out as hot and thought the knob might be to blame. But I ended up popping the whole knob off and now it is stuck on A/C forever (or until my dad can rig up some solution possibly involving duct tape). Genius.

- Feeling tired. Is it weird that a vacation can make you even more tired going back to work?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Home from LA

I'm back home tonight after four days in LA. Funny how I'm still in awe of big cities, even though I've visited a lot of them in the past few years -- Chicago, New York, London. Los Angeles was every bit as amazing. I'll have much more to say and pictures to post in the next few days...