An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

8 January 2006

To wake each morning with eyes open to possibilities that we have not known previously; to recognize that which is new and unprecedented when it appears before us; to construct a unique response for each separate circumstance that presents itself – this is to be fully human.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

7 January 2006

Frequency of meteor impacts on Mars that are violent enough to eject rocks into space:
1 million years.

Amount of Martian rock that falls to Earth in a typical year: 
1 ton.

Scientific American article
Martian meteorites

6 January 2006

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"hurry, you will be dead before -----"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!

5 January 2006

Much of the progress in molecular biology (and corresponding medical applications) during recent years has come from asking the question, ‘what function does this particular gene serve?’  A few years ago, laboratory geneticists happened on a powerful new tool to ask this question.  It’s called RNA interference, or RNAi for short.  Here’s how it works:

A gene is a segment of DNA.  In the normal operation of a gene, it acts as a template on which the components of RNA come together, and form a strand that is a corresponding RNA copy of the DNA gene.  The RNA strand then breaks loose, and becomes ‘messenger RNA’, or mRNA.  That is, it leaves the nucleus of the cell, and makes its way to a part of the cell called a ribosome. The function of the ribosome is to translate the mRNA into a protein.  Proteins are the workhorses of the body’s chemistry: they can be inter-cellular signals (hormones) or serve structural functions, or they can perform any of the myriad metabolic functions that keep an organism humming.

In RNAi, researchers can silence a particular gene, to see what effect that has on a particular tissue or an entire organism.  They do this by injecting locally (or globally through an entire organism) a double-stranded copy of the particular messenger RNA that corresponds to this gene.  Normally, messenger RNA is a single strand of RNA made from the gene template.  But it turns out that this double-stranded RNA signals the cell to break up the mRNA before it can deliver its message (to the ribosome).  How this happens is complicated, but apparently it is an ancient, evolved mechanism which all higher organisms share.  Even though the DNA gene is transcribed into mRNA, the mRNA degrades before it can do its job.  This gives geneticists the chance to study what happens to the tissue without this one gene.

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4 January 2006

"If there is liberty, if there is democracy, in this country, it will stand or fall with the right of the minority to express to the full force of language its opposition in public to the policies of the government. And it will stand or fall with the courage of the minority so to express itself. And so I ask you that, whatever your own judgment of the truth or wisdom of our faith may be, you will respect it as one of the heroic ideas of humanitys history. It is either the most beautiful and courageous mistake that hundreds of millions of mankind ever made, or else it is really the truth that will lead us out of our misery, and poverty, and war into a free and happy world. In either case, it deserves your respect."

~ Max Eastman, born this day in 1883

In his time, Eastman shifted seamlessly from poet to journalist, philosopher to agitator, lover to fighter, radical to conservative. Historically, he stands out merely for his survival of government persecution during WWI and his revealing to the world the document now commonly called Lenin's Testament. His editorship of The Masses and The Liberator, two of the most remarkable journals ever produced, is enough to ensure his place in literature. And a list of his friends [Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, H.G. Wells, e.e. cummings, William F. Buckley, James Joyce…] reads like a Who's Who of the Century. However, all of this is, if not the tip of the iceberg, certainly only part of the Max Eastman story. That he went from being a major celebrity during his lifetime to a relative unknown afterward is something for which I don't have all the answers.
- Richard Sautter (who wrote and performed a one-man play on Eastman’s life)

3 January 2006

Salamanders, zebrafish, and other organisms are capable of regenerating new body parts after injury. Planaria are flatworms a few millimeters long that have the ability to regenerate an entire new worm from a piece that has been cut off. Alejandro Alvarado of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has been studying the genetics of this phenomenon, and has seen already that much of the basis for regeneration exists in higher mammals, including man. The ability seems to be dependent on the presence of stem cells, and activation of a gene he has dubbed piwi. Meanwhile, Tenneille Ludwig of the University of Wisconsin reports progress in stimulating human stem cells to grow in the lab. This research has the potential for sweeping medical applications, for recovery of tissues lost with age or accident. Perhaps with the tweaking of a few genes...

2 January 2006

If I could live again
I would walk barefoot from the beginning of spring
and I would continue barefoot until autumn ends.
I would take more cart rides,
contemplate more dawns,
and play with more children,
If I had another life ahead of me.

~ from Instantes, written and translated from the Spanish, perhaps by Nadine Stair

"The original is not faithful to the translation."
- Jorge Luis Borges

I have the fullness of life ahead of me.
- Josh Mitteldorf