19 March 2009

Fancy Suit

It's been a while since I've paid any attention to OneNewsNow, the online "news" presence for the conservative Christian fundamentalist American Family Association. Part of it was their garish web design with ads that kept crashing my web browser. As juicy as the ignorance in the headlines might be, it's hard to comment on an article that you can't read. Another part was simple fundie fatigue. It didn't help any when they signed on Michelle Malkin as an editorialist.

So what ends the drought? A startling admission does. ONN (not to be confused with the Onion News Network, a far superior outlet to which I have no qualms about linking) posted an article yesterday about a lesbian high school senior in a "small farming community" in Indiana who wanted to wear a tuxedo to her prom. The school initially insisted that girls wear dresses, but relented when the ACLU filed a lawsuit on the girl's behalf, much to the chagrin of local Denizens of an Idyllic Paradise of Strict Heteronormity from a more Innocent Time. Hooray!

Now, I mentioned that the girl was a lesbian, which I'm sure was very important to the AFA, but it should be irrelevant. A tuxedo is legitimate formal attire, and should be an option available to either gender regardless of their motives for choosing it. You know who looks good in the right tuxedo? Just about everybody. Seriously, I'd take a straight girl in a tuxedo over half the monstrosities that pass for prom dresses.

What's notable about the ONN article, though, apart from the standard homophobia and knee-jerk ACLU bashing, is the uniquely candid perspective of AFA Indiana executive director Micah Clark:
Clark points out parents need to be aware that there are very few standards that schools can take a stand for and win in court. He adds that it is a sign of the times when even small, rural schools in conservative areas are not immune to the onslaught of the gay agenda.
Why, yes, Mr. Clark. It is a sign of the times when bigotry can no longer hide, even in the backwaters. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.

18 March 2009

Some Kinda Druid Dudes Lifting the Veil

St. Patrick's Day has never been one of my favorite of holidays, to be honest. Not that I have anything really against the holiday itself... any excuse for a party, right? But for the longest time, I wasn't even sure what it was supposed to be celebrating, apart from cheesy decorations and drinking to excess, neither of which particularly appealed to me. One might think to take refuge from the modern debauch by focusing more on what the holiday is ostensibly supposed to be celebrating, but the truth is, there's nary a bit in the St. Patrick story worth celebrating. St. Patrick was a missionary, well-known in legend for having driven the snakes out of Ireland.

And by snakes, I mean the native Druids.

The effects of missionary creep can be tragic enough, but it was doubly so in the case of the Druids, because they left nothing behind. The Druids remain an intractable mystery, and that's a goddamned shame. That culture is gone. A whole culture, gone, and with hardly a trace remaining apart from a few peat bog mummies and a handful of Roman writings (a source of limited value, to be sure).

Which is not to say that the Druids were a bunch of saints (so to speak); that's not the point, though I'll note that the human sacrifice business is heavily disputed. That's the tragedy, that we don't know. We just don't know. Too often, when an oral tradition died, so did the memory of it. They survive as figures of legend, especially in Irish literature, but we don't know anything about them.

But I suppose it was worth it in the end. After all, Christianity in Ireland has worked out so well for everyone involved. And Patrick got to return to the island that kidnapped him with the ultimate revenge.

Therefore, this St. Patrick's Day, I wore green and black, to mark the holiday in solidarity with the Druids. And I didn't touch a drop of alcohol all day. Though that was more due to the fact that we're out of whiskey in the house...

I mean, solidarity.

11 March 2009

Hand Jive

A reminder that good hygiene isn't restricted to laboratory practices:

Once again, via yeah-it's-high-time-I-dropped-this-from-my-feed-reader FailBlog.

10 March 2009

Once Burned, Twice Shy

I am surrounded by things that will kill me. I'm not even talking about any of the deadly pathogens we study (this time). The spot of trouble I had was with a fairly mundane experiment.

The other week, I had to perform roughly two hundred gel purifications in preparation for a cloning experiment. First, you load a mixed DNA sample (in my case, the products of a PCR) onto an agarose gel and apply electric current to separate the DNA into bands based on size (a process called gel electrophoresis). Then, if there's a specific piece of DNA that you're interested in manipulating further (for instance, the pieces of DNA I wanted to clone), you can just cut the band of corresponding size out of the gel and extract the DNA from it using a special filter.

It's a straightforward and common practice, but you do have to be a little careful when running an agarose gel. To visualize the DNA, you stain the gel with ethidium bromide (EtBr), a chemical that becomes fluorescent when it binds to DNA. Its proclivity for binding DNA is all well and good for the sake of running the gel, but you don't want it coming in contact with your skin. It can induce DNA mutations, and is therefore suspected to be a carcinogen.

I take care not to get EtBr on my skin. I don't want cancer.

I guess I should have been more careful about the radiation burns, then.

Okay, so that sounds melodramatic, but that's technically what happened. You see, EtBr fluoresces under ultraviolet light. In order to cut all the bands out of my gels, I had to spend a fair deal of time standing over gels lit from below by a UV light box. Before you scold me, I was actually wearing a UV shield and safety glasses over my face. It wasn't until I was washing my face that night, however, that I realized the face shield hadn't given my neck much coverage. So yeah, I wound up with a mild sunburn on my neck (and a bit of color in my face... the shield doesn't give perfect protection). It was a little sore for a few days (I actually got a cold around the same time, so my throat was sore inside and out!), but otherwise no serious harm done. Good for a chuckle at my own expense, and a reminder that I'm a trained professional who deals with some dangerous stuff.

So now I know better than to lounge in front of the UV box without a scarf and/or a turtleneck. Hey, at least I wasn't performing protein electrophoresis. Proteins are run on a polyacrylamide gel instead of agarose. Polyacrylamide is mostly harmless, but non-polymerized acrylamide is a pretty serious neurotoxin.

I love science. Excitement around every corner.