Throat In A Jar?


The same methodology used to produce
The remarkable “heart in a jar
Has created a trachea, almost from scratch,
And it looks like it’s working, so far!
The organ was made from the stem cells extracted
From marrow they drew from her hip,
And a collagen shell from a donor cadaver
Whose windpipe was one they could snip.
The trachea, treated with antibiotics
And stripped of its cellular coat
Was a scaffold to seed with her stem cells, to grow
A replacement for part of her throat!
So far it appears her recovery’s perfect,
The part’s recognized as her own;
What remarkable news! No concern of rejection—
It matches… because it’s home-grown!

Wow! This is just so incredibly cool! NPR’s “All Things Considered” reports on a trachea transplant success story with a twist–the new trachea was constructed using the recipient’s own stem cells!

Doctors in Spain have implanted a new windpipe into a woman whose airway was badly damaged by tuberculosis.

The pioneering operation used a section of windpipe engineered in a laboratory with adult human stem cells, according to Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, of the Barcelona’s University Hospital Clinic.

The stem cells were extracted from her bone marrow, cultured, and treated with chemicals to induce them to develop into cartilage, fat, and other tissues.

As the cells were growing in England, scientists began work on an even more crucial step — fashioning a kind of scaffolding out of tissue on which the new cells could grow.

They started with a trachea — a portion of the windpipe — taken from a 51-year-old man who had recently died.

The donor’s trachea was rinsed with antibiotics and most of the cells were removed with various detergents and enzymes, a process that took several weeks.

What was left was the shell of the trachea, essentially made up of fibrous collagen.

Yup, pretty much the same process as the heart-in-a-jar.

Over a period of four days, they applied nutrients and chemicals to promote the growth of new layers of tissues, which were composed of the same kinds of cells normally found in the trachea.

The airway was kept in a special container and rotated continuously to ensure even growth.

On June 18, Castillo underwent surgery in Barcelona to have a portion of her airway removed — specifically, the left bronchus.

Surgeons took the newly created windpipe and trimmed it to the proper size and fit it into place near the point where the trachea divides to supply both lungs.

The operation was in June, the report is out in today’s issue of The Lancet. So far, all is going well, without the need for anti-rejection drugs, because the body is recognizing that these are her own cells! That’s her picture at the top of the post–I bet it wasn’t hard coaxing a smile!

Oh, yeah… Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!

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Limerick Contest!!!! (not mine….)

First, the contest (not mine), then the limericks, then a silly story.

The contest is here–and here, I suppose, if you want to see the competition. A limerick contest! Better than that–a Darwin Limerick Contest! With prizes and everything! (see links for details, but it is pretty simple–Darwin-themed limericks.)

I have seen what my readers can do; I will be sorely disappointed if we do not capture 1st, 2nd, and 3rd! Well, not disappointed, but frankly, surprised. And that’s not saying anything about the competition–I just know you folks are that good.

Anyway, here are the ones I am about to submit, just to prime the pump:

While still a young man, Darwin went
On a trip—and the curious gent,
From the fractions of inches
Twixt beaks of his finches
Inferred there was common descent!

It’s a fact that I cannot escape;
I share habits, genetics, and shape
Though the fact makes me blush
Darwin showed it’s not mush—
I’m convinced that my cousin’s an ape!

The gorillas are angry with me
And the chimps are as steamed as can be
No ifs, ands or buts,
The apes don’t want nuts
On their branch of the family tree

My lackeys, my staff and my minions
Are all of them proudly Darwinians
You see, they compete
For their pay (and to eat!),
Sharing only their fittest opinions!

Yes, I know that the key’s reproduction
And I know of the body’s construction
But as Darwin’s my witness
I’ll give up some fitness
Because I so dearly love suction!

The object of all my affection
Just told me I failed her inspection!
So I guess that this means
It’s the end for my genes—
There’s a downside to natural selection!

Oh, yes, the story… the last two limerick contests I entered. Second to last, I won’t tell you what it was, but I will admit, shamefacedly, that it was my goal to win the top three places. So I entered a bunch of limericks, under three different names. Yes, I was first, second, and third. My prize (a mug), though, when it arrived, had a sticker on it warning me that the glaze contained heavy metals, and that it was recognized as toxic by the State of California. Most recently, though, I entered Greta Christina’s contest, just under one identity. I won that, too, but just (just!) first place. But the prize…. !!! Much better than a toxic mug–Greta Christina’s wonderful erotic comic anthology (I’d give it a fabulous review here, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to write that sort of thing in verse!–just go buy one!)! So, I could be all superstitious and say it works better not to enter as several people… or I could just be lazy and say it is easier to be one… or I could just say it is much more fun to have all of my readers join in!

I am Charles Darwin

I am Charles Darwin—ninety-nine point nine percent
There’s a little variation that I don’t share with the gent
But we share a common blueprint, which is kinda what he meant
When he came to the conclusion that we’re all of shared descent

I am Charles Darwin—what I mean is, I am Man
I’m a billion trillion accidents instead of One Big Plan
Just a step or two from chimpanzee or from orangutan
Maybe more than distant cousins, but you recognize the clan

I am Charles Darwin—I can’t help it; it’s my genes
We’re mutation and selection, see, when no one intervenes
Like a god with claimed omnipotence, or alien machines
None better and none worse than us, is really what it means

I am Charles Darwin—I was never Eden-cursed
I am just another animal, I’m neither best nor worst
From primordial beginnings, look how widely I’ve dispersed
Such a beautiful idea…Charles Darwin saw it first.

cuttlecap tip to PZ




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The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol. 1 (book) has arrived!


It’s the latest in technology, delivered to your door
Like the internet, but portable—why, who could ask for more?
All that Cuttlefishy goodness, but in one convenient book
What a marvelous invention; don’t you want to take a look?

You can take it to the mountains; you can take it to the park;
With a flashlight or a candle, you can read it in the dark!
It’s much lighter than a laptop, so transporting it’s a breeze
There’s no silicon or plastic—nope, it’s all recycled trees!

You could buy one for your Mother; you could buy one for your Pop
You could buy one for your Pastor just to hear him holler “stop!”
You could buy a bunch, and swap out all the hymnals in a church
So they never find “Amazing Grace” no matter where they search!

You could pull one on the Gideons, and place them in hotels
You could slip one to a Wiccan while she’s murmuring her spells
It’s the perfect gift for enemies—the perfect gift for friends!
It’s the gift that keeps on giving—oh, the messages it sends!

Be the first one on your block to place your order—click today,
And the elf and fairy printers will get on it right away!

That’s right; with heart in throat, I am announcing the dead-trees version of The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol. 1, available for purchase at Lulu.com. Over a hundred verses, representing (more or less) the first year of… whatever it is that I do. Just in time for Cephalopodmas, Squidmas, Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwaanza, or maybe somebody’s birthday.


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A little help? Please?

EDIT–I think my question is answered–my problem solved–my goose cooked, my pie baked, my stuffing stuffed, my cliche cliched.  I think (*THINK*) all is ok.

But if you want to have fun with it, please feel free; it is entirely possible that I am still speaking out of ignorance, and that I am not done at all, and that I need your help more than ever.  But I hope not.  Nothing personal, you understand.
Ok, this is kind of embarrassing.
Is there anyone reading who is reasonably well-versed in the ways of digital images, and willing to help me?

I am in the final death throes of putting together the dead-trees version of “the digital cuttlefish–vol. 1”, and I am out of my depth. All I want is to put a book cover together, using my beautiful cuttlefish picture (Michael McRae, artiste) and the words “The Digital Cuttlefish” in a fairly mundane font (currently, Times CE). And everything I try gets rejected, because I don’t have a clue about what I am doing.

In the words of lulu:

Images should be in PNG, JPG, or GIF format
Back Cover image should be a minimum of 300 dpi
Your picture should be about 1838 pixels wide and 2775 pixels tall
To allow for cropping, folding, and variance keep important details 3/8th inch from the edge of the image

I am open to any number of different looks, as long as it loads.  If you need me to send you the full-sized jpeg of my cuttlefish pic, let me know in the comments.

This may be the last step–the one thing between me and publication.  (Full disclosure–it may be that I am an idiot about other things as well.)
As soon as I get one that works and looks good, I’ll announce it here so that there is minimal wasting of time.  But…  HELP!!!

A Few Thoughts On Archaeology And Religion

Long, long ago, before “god” was invented
We’d gather together, for friendship and strength
We’d sit singing songs, telling stories and fables
In the gaze of the children, we’d go on at length

The stories might sometimes have heroes or villains,
The tale of a hunt, or a great person’s death,
Practical, sometimes, or just entertainment,
With listeners gathered, all holding their breath

In weaving their stories, creating their legends,
These tellers of tales brought a culture to life
As much as the clothing, or tools, or utensils,
The crudely made bowl, the obsidian knife.

When field archeologists, sifting through artifacts
Pick out some pottery, arrowheads, beads,
Or anything else—it’s a piece of a puzzle—
The job is to see where, exactly, it leads.

If only we could, as we search for the answers,
Uncover the echoes of stories of old
The dusty remains of a song or a story
The remnants of legends so long ago told.

I guess, in a way, we have done this already
But often we don’t know that that’s what we’ve done;
We do see the remnants, the fossils, the echoes
Of tales when our culture was only begun

See, just as the bowls and the knives in your kitchen
Descended from those used so long, long ago
So too, our mythology, current religion
Evolved to the state that we currently know.

The truth is that “gods” were at first just a story
That people repeated like so many more
The heroes and villains are long since forgotten
As well as the purpose the story was for.

A story to tell to the people who gathered;
A tale to enlighten, to lift, to enthrall,
A legend, an epic, a myth, an adventure
But… what is religion? A story. That’s all.

The Digital Pack-Rat, Volume 6

From a Friday Cephalopod post (sepiateuthis australis):

Off the coast of Australia, and not the Bahamas,
Swims a squid in a pair of striped pajamas.
This may seem odd to folks like you
But he thinks your shirt looks funny, too.

From “Purple America”, where I thought this image:

… looks like a Rorschach ink blot. Reading the comments, I was right–people saw all sorts of things in that picture, including contradictory analyses of the election. Pretty much what we expect from Rorschach.

Is one explanation the best?
Can we tell it from all of the rest?
We project all our thoughts
On these maps, just like blots–
A political Rorschach test!

From “What is an ‘atheist community’?”, in which it was reported that Paul Bloom looks to the advantage that religion gives in building communities. Atheists, lacking communities, do not get to benefit from this. Apparently, he looks only at the good coming from community. When we do that, it really does look like atheists miss out.

It’s true that the atheist birds of a feather
Don’t gather in churches–the more is their loss;
The warmth of community, gathered together
For singing, and praying, and burning a cross.

(oops. wrong example.)

The monks in their abbeys, preserving the writing
Of ancients, when everyone’s future was black;
They strove for salvation, while kindly inviting
The godless among them to stretch on the rack.

(dang. wrong example again.)

The New World and Africa, ignorant, dismal,
Called for new Missions, converting each brother;
Heathens were called–they could choose their baptismal–
Christ’s blood or their own; it’s one or the other.

(crap. I suck at this.)

When people are gathered, they still remain people,
They’re good and they’re bad, both alone and in unity
You can meet in a bar, just as under a steeple
Good and bad don’t depend on religious community.

Lastly… Pat Buchanan uses more decibels to deliver less content than perhaps anybody out there.

My Buchanan doll (I couldn’t be prouder!)
Has two voice settings: Loud! and LOUDER!!!
Just wind him up and pull his string;
He’ll shout and shout just anything–
When Caribou Barbie invites him for tea
He’s happy as a doll can be
They sit and talk and say dumb stuff
Until I think they’ve had enough.
They really are a funny pair;
When you open their heads, there’s nothing there!
As dolls, these two have some appeal–
They’d be scary as hell if they were real.

Friday Limericks–The Week That Was, 7 Nov. 2008

As announced a couple of weeks ago, the Friday Limerick Post is now a Week-In-Review limerick post. Get used to it.

Now, what happened this week? Seems to me something must have been newsworthy…

This week saw us vote for Obama,
And an end to the months of high drama;
Thus I say: About time
I can finish this rhyme
With a full stop, and not just a comma.

I may come back and add some more, but for now I need to do seventeen dozen things I put aside while I had the cable tv political news IV drip in my arm the last few weeks.

13 Years Old…

In one of the more horrific stories recently in the news (and frankly, that is never an easy competition),

A young woman recently stoned to death in Somalia first pleaded for her life, a witness has told the BBC.

“Don’t kill me, don’t kill me,” she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.

Human rights group Amnesty International says the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had been raped.

There is much more at the link, but frankly, this time my worst imagination and the story as reported were virtually identical.

One of the burdens of knowing a bit about the experimental study of human social behavior is that I can no longer adequately distance myself from stories like this. Why didn’t people intervene? Darley and Latane explored that question decades ago after the murder of Kitty Genovese. Diffusion of responsibility, the effects of deindividuation, and other well-researched phenomena tell us that we cannot rely on human nature to do the right thing. The men stoning this poor girl to death? Milgram’s research shows us that perfectly normal people can be led by authority to inflict pain, injury, or (potentially) death on an innocent other, with far less coercion than these religious zealots had experienced. (See this review of Milgram’s experiment for an example of both the denial that this is our potential–in the opening post–and many corrections in the commentsl)

Yes, people can be killed in soccer riots–sometimes deliberately. Kent State did not need religion as a motivation to get four students killed. But damn… again and again, religion just seems so good at it.

Those who do not recognize the humanity in monsters are perhaps at risk for not recognizing the potential for monstrosity in themselves. This is us–the batshit-insane human race.

It should, one hopes, be very easy
To look on this and to condemn,
But look at Kitty Genovese–
In some ways, we are much like them.

When crowds make people nearly faceless
It is a certain kind of Hell,
Promoting hate, however baseless–
Religions do this awfully well.

To recognize that this potential
Is human, is my fervent wish;
It can be fought–it’s not essential
(You need not be a cuttlefish)

These people show the worst of us
But us they are, we need to learn;
We share one planet-home, and thus
It’s to ourselves we have to turn:

Belief can spread, just like a cancer
Harmful ones have got to go;
While some believe that God’s the answer
For these beliefs… the answer’s NO.

Hat-tip, of course, to PZ.

Yes, We Can

Wow. Just … wow.

Interestingly, the people I have spoken to today who have been most enthused about the election results are foreigners. A young Turkish woman was ecstatic: “you don’t understand-the American president is so much more than the leader of one country; this is wonderful news for the whole world!”

There is an optimism here that I have not seen for decades. Even the Man from Hope did not bring this feeling.

Of course there will be an inevitable letdown; it would be impossible to keep up this level of enthusiasm for too long. But for right now, it feels really good.

So I looked back a few decades, and today’s verse is an homage to civil rights songs of a past generation (a generation, incidentally, who until a mere handful of months ago, did not dare to dream of this moment). As a folk song, of course it is designed to be added to–I know there are some very talented wordsmiths reading this blog: have at it! I was working on a couple more verses myself, but I thought I’d post this first.

The Fourth of November, Two Thousand and Eight
It was time now to vote, we’re all done with debate
And the turnouts recorded in every state
Were the most since this nation began
Tens of millions of voters all said “yes we can”.

They were gathered by thousands in New York’s Times Square
There were millions who wished that they, too, could be there
The results from the West Coast, they made us aware
That because of the race that he ran
We could all stand together and say “yes we can”.

To the thousands who gathered as one in Grant Park
As election returns tumbled in after dark
And to millions of others, he aimed his remarks
This humble, remarkable man
Brought tears to their eyes when he said “yes we can”.

After days, weeks, and months spent on needles and pins
There’s relief and elation when somebody wins
The truth is that now’s when the hard part begins
It’s time to put life to our plans
It’s a lot of hard work, but we can, yes we can.