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Thursday, January 25, 2007


Involuntary Intermission.

Our DSL was down for several days. It turned out that our modem was failing, though there was no way to tell: the lights still flashed, and the connection came and went. Eventually, we swapped it out for an older modem, and now all is well.

Or, all is well aside from the fact that a modem with no moving parts fails just 4 years after manufacture. It's somewhat toxic waste, not recyclable, nearly disposable. Yet a camera from 1930 that I recently came into, which does have moving parts, works well. Manufacturing isn't very impressive nowadays...

When I recover from the outage, I will post again.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Animals as biofactories.

I've lost several dear relatives to cancer, but I still have concerns about some of the research currently moving forward to treat the disease. Anti-cancer chicken eggs produced (, 1/14/07) describes the us of chickens as "biofactories" - the animals are re-engineered to produce drugs for humans.
Some of the birds have been engineered to lay eggs that contain miR24, a type of antibody with potential for treating malignant melanoma, or skin cancer. Others produce human interferon b-1a, which can be used to stop viruses replicating in cells.

The proteins are secreted into the whites of the eggs. It is a fairly straightforward process then to extract and purify them.
I happen to live in a culture that (a) does not believe in preventive medical care, and (b) has a very wealthy for-profit medical system, in which the drug industry takes in amazing profits from those who have the luck of being insured, but often at an enormous social and financial cost. Genetically re-engineering chickens to treat a largely preventable disease seems like a huge technological project designed not just to treat skin cancer, but also to be the most profitable means of dealing with a problem which might otherwise be prevented by making cheap sunscreen universally available.

In my culture, insanely expensive cures are better than cheap preventive measures. Yaay capitalism.

I also have my doubts about extracting products from animals, since we already have trouble not making our problems with by extracting substances from other people.

This article links to Go ahead for pharmed goat (also BBC) discusses this:
Currently, anti-thrombin is extracted from human blood plasma; but fears about the possible transmission of disease, such as vCJD, make doctors unwilling to expose their patients to plasma products unless they have no choice.
(vCJD (World Health Organization at is a disease humans can get by being infected by eating Mad Cow. More on that momentarily.)

The way around this problem with contaminated human blood: to genetically engineer goats to produce the needed protein in their milk.

The idea of drug-containing eggs and drug-containing milk is much less creepy than most of the other gm-animal announcements that came out in the recent past, which mostly involve taking blood and organs directly from engineered animals. All of these extractions seem harmless to people who have no ethical problems with killing animals to take things that we want or need (a group that I am not a member of), but they raise further concerns because we know so little about what we're doing.

The AIDS crisis hit during my lifetime, which revealed that we had little comprehension of viruses, prions, genetics, and the basic characteristics of blood beyond simple typology. The same folks who thought that you could basically transfer blood from just about anyone to anyone else of a similar type without problems haven't necessarily convinced me that I should receive drugs sucked out of goat milk without consequence. I'm enormously relieved that they're just talking about sucking proteins out of eggs and milk - since they're still mastering the blood concept, - but a greater mastery of understanding both genetics, what we and animals store in our flesh, and bodily fluids would make this super-new series of experiments more convincing.

We still don't really accept the existence of Mad Cow disease in the U.S., and in fact the beef industry is so afraid of it that it is illegal to TEST for it. (I've written on this before: here's another example (, with a massive index of mad cow-related articles at That's something that you get from eating what most folks consider normal "food," which is how it spreads. So, we haven't even figured out how not to get a terrible brain-wasting disease from the standard American dinner, yet it's probably fine to inject us with something they've just invented from the milk and eggs of animals that have never been modified this way before?

Presumably, we learned something about the spread of primate viruses caused by extracting polio vaccines from primate kidneys, which may be connected with several human cancers, which you can read about at the website of the US Centers for Disease Control ( Thirteen or so years of spreading SV40 through immunization ended when a connection was made: the virus now turns up in certain kinds of cancer, and we're not sure why. The CDC also has a page on theories connecting AIDS with polio vaccines, which reveal that an experimental polio vaccine was tested on chimpanzees in an area what chimpanzees happen to carry a version of HIV, and where an experimental vaccine was tested on people in an area where HIV infections later appeared. While the theory is hotly disputed (in part because the scientists involved are alive and defensive), since no means of having the disease jump species has been conclusively established, it's worth examining all possible, plausible avenues, and ensuring that we understand how things work.

Just like with so many genetically modified organism (GMO) ideas, this seems like something that should stay in the universe of research for a while longer. The pressures of money-making drag new ideas out into the public with great haste, however, and so the pressure to accept every new invention is very high.

I'd like to think we (collectively) have learned from past mistakes, but I'd prefer not to be injected with goat milk proteins just yet.

I'm still willing to eat organic chevre cheese now and then from non-genetically modified animals. Just so you know, in case you happen to have a fresh ball of chevre, perhaps rolled in crushed peppercorns, and some fresh bread handy. And perhaps a bottle of sangiovese. But if goat milk stops being JUST goat milk, that may change. (Come to think of it, I don't know so much about goat milk right now...)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NaNoWriMo as lifestyle project! I'm always happy to receive e-mail from Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo (, but this was an unexpected and fun message. In addition to producing a screenplay in a month through ScriptFrenzy (, Chris is hatching a project to make you LIVE DIFFERENTLY. He wants us to commit to doing "the nonessential creative activities that get us in over our heads, bring new people into our lives, and help make life more magical."

At the moment, the project is basically resolution based, but you have to post those resolutions. Most of the people who have signed on so far are children who are putting things they need to do on (take the SAT, for example), rather than creative things that they might not have a justification for doing (naked performance art). But it still has potential. National Novel Writing Month - Forums - The Year of Doing Big, Fun, Scary Things Together - Adventure log, 2007!
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:48 PM

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Sacramento, California

water intake on the Sacramento River at duskI spent much of yesterday in Sacramento, to go to an evening reception for a gallery show I'm in. To make the most of the long train trip up there, Steven and I went to the California State Railway Museum (, which is about two blocks away from the Amtrak station.

[My advice to you on riding Amtrak out of SF: even though you are instructed to get a ticket before boarding the Amtrak bus to connect to the train in Emeryville, you don't really need one until Emeryville, so don't risk missing the bus to get one. I was in line with just one client at the counter before the bus arrived, I was in line with that same client still being waited on after the bus left, and I never managed to even get my reserved ticket because the ticket agent was engaging in an eternal transaction with the same customer the entire time - if Steven hadn't asked if we were missing our bus, we wouldn't have even known it was gone, and might not have been able to race the train by taking BART to Richmond before it arrived. The wonderful conductor VERY KINDLY arranged to have our tickets printed in Martinez, and delivered to him during our stop there.]

The Railway Museum is impressive. It is an enormous, custom-built facility containing actual trains (locomotives (engines), passenger cars, dining cars, sleeping cars, etc.), complete with an enormous train trestle with more trains upstairs (which they must have lifted by crane, and which will never be able to be removed while the roof is on). The trains are all beautifully painted, and docents explain how they are operated. (There's something especially great about the fonts used in the text on the trains. It is the past's version of futuristic design, I think, and it holds a cool retro-charm.) There's a small case devoted to telegraph equipment (with a pretty collection of glass insulators), a variety of large dioramas (which initially concerned me), and lots of details, like sets of china in dining cars which were specifically designed to be used on those particular rail lines, fully furnished sleeping cars, menus for food service, etc.

There were also brief discussions about the impact of the technology on the development of the west, and overviews of how the robber barons came to power in California. Vast funds and land grants from the public were required to allow a few individuals to build a monopoly system that ripped off the train riding public with non-competitive pricing. To perpetuate that system, the governor/railroad owner passed laws that benefited his own holdings... It's remarkable how many times slight variations on that scenario play out (in this case, in little side window displays with portraits of the San Francisco mansions of each of the Big Four who ruled the RR). Ultimately, the same robber-baron technique was used to secure vast public subsidies of the automobile industry and the related road building projects, and the rail system the public paid for (and has never received the full benefits of) has been suffering ever since.

My only complaint about the museum is that it was too dark to take non-flash images of the trains. :-)


Old Town Sacramento is kind of like Pier 39, but that comparison was confused by the presence of older male, matching-leather-jacket-wearing motorcyclists overflowing the area for the weekend.


We also got to see the slightly surreal, very futuristic building that houses the city's water intake. (There's a nice image of it at Balfour Beatty's website.) Looking at it from a distance, rising so high above the winter surface of the river 4+ stories below, it looks like something put there by fashionable aliens.


The exhibit at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center ( was excellent: the quality of the work was very strong, and the range of styles, subjects, and techniques was quite diverse. It was great to see modern work done in these fabulous alternative photographic processes, and to meet other artists whose names are familiar, but whose faces I have never seen.

The main things I learned were: I price my work too low (my price was half the average), and that people who have access to specialty equipment (like printers capable of outputting transparencies more than two feet wide) are doing some fabulous, large-scale work. I couldn't tell from the thumbnails, but some of the work is quite enormous. One of the artists has access to all the large-scale equipment she needs at school, and I was reminded that institutional facilities like that really DO have their advantages, which may be why so many prolific alt-process practitioners are instructors.


We ate two meals in Sacramento during the trip, and neither was remarkable.

It was extremely cold (to a coastal dweller like me) during the trip, and we spent more than 8 hours on our feet, so I spent much of today lounging around and recovering. Which doesn't feel very productive, but is pleasant in its own way.
posted by Arlene (Beth)6:36 PM

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

When you work full time, and it's hard to feed yourself. The battle is raging over whether or not to raise the federal minimum wage, a rate which the states may use as a minimum. Many states do not bother to exceed it.

There are many oddball reasons given by the business community for not paying what would be considered a 'living' wage: for example, minimum wage workers are often characterized as not having any essential needs (!), since they are new in the job market, or have families supporting them, or are only working part time to supplement their income. Figures are rarely used to support these statements, which don't really justify maintaining low pay anyway. But the BBC has a brief article on the subject which makes some interesting points, which I'd encourage you to read. BBC NEWS | Americas | Struggling by on minimum wage (, 1/10/2007):
"Mrs Walters is typical of minimum-wage workers in many respects, according to figures from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Six in 10 are female, and just over half work full time. Eight in 10 are adults, rather than teenagers.
The article goes on to note that the minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, and has not risen in a decade.

You can't live on that here.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:29 PM

Monday, January 08, 2007

People complain about how there's no good pinhole photography work out there, and instantly, they are proven wrong. Katie Cooke's Morocco pinhole image gallery at f295 ( is quite lovely.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:20 PM

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The extraordinarily bogus leadership we have, doing extraordinarily bogus things. I believe in the rule of law, and it's very awkward when the U.S. leadership literally rewrites the rules about what is and isn't legal on a regular basis. The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Bush says feds can open mail without warrant:
Bush asserted the new authority Dec. 20 after signing legislation that overhauls some postal regulations. He then issued a 'signing statement' that declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to experts who have reviewed it.
We have a judicial system to provide access to things such as mail in a legal fashion when there is a good reason: the current administration isn't interested in having good reasons to do anything.

This has nothing to do with food, though it might upset your stomach.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:33 PM

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Make your new year's resolution to avoid eating foods that increase your cancer risks. Cancer Project / Factors Contributing to Cancer / Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk (
The World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries. When cancer researchers started to search for links between diet and cancer, one of the most noticeable findings was that people who avoided meat were much less likely to develop the disease. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.
Here in the U.S., cancer is something that is strangely taboo in many ways: beyond lung cancer, you're really not supposed to ask why you have cancer, why there are 'cancer clusters' in which there are unusually high numbers of people with the same kind of cancer, why children's cancer rates are rising... Anyway, this proposes something you can do to decrease your risk, so you can be healthy enough to spend more time trying to get answers to all the other questions unusual rates of cancer raise.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, January 01, 2007


Happy New Year!

May 2007 be much, much better for you and the rest of the planet than 2006 was!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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