Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Weak in Science

In the spirit of self-improvement, I subscribed a few months ago to Science Magazine's weekly roundup of scientific developments. Having jousted with several of those emails now, I can safely assert that they are not to be trifled with. Not only is "This Week in Science" responsible for some of the strangest verbiage to cross my screen, its seemingly random collections of words generally do, unlike the spam-borne gibberish they resemble, reveal meaning after sufficient examination. Just not always to me.

Until lately, those emails had started off gently, with a text block touting a resume enhancement service. Today, that accessible little ad gave way to something a touch more challenging:
Are you leaving money in your Western blot gel?
Drastically enhance your performance in protein recovery
up to 90% and get all your proteins back.
Elchrom Scientific's Blot-EX offers you
500% transfer efficiency in less time compared to leading competitors
Blot-EX is NON acrylamide and non-toxic!
Let me just say that if I am leaving money in my Western blot gel, I want it back. All of it. And make sure someone dries it off first. Wait, there's more. Here's a URL:
For more information visit:
If that's not challenging enough, check out this abstract on a study of Greenland's ... um, of Greenland's ... uh, ice? Mind you, I read the New Yorker's terrifying "The Climate of Man" series (all three parts!), so this stuff isn't wholly alien to me, but, uh ....
The Value of Excess
The surface air temperature record of Greenland has been reconstructed mostly from analyses of the isotopic composition of H and O of the water in ice cores. A number of other factors besides average temperature can influence those proxies, however, such as the seasonality and origin of precipitation. (p. 118) measured the deuterium excess of ice from Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) samples in order to constrain the source and seasonality of the precipitation for the last full glacial cycle. Earth's orbital obliquity is an important control on the latitudinal temperature gradient between the source and site of precipitation, and moisture sources shifted to the south during cold periods.
My own orbital obliquity is better now, thanks. I think it's because I'm going to the gym more often.

And just as I start to dwell on the notion that there are people painfully, infinitely smarter and way, way more educated than I, as suggested by this particularly dense nugget ....
Phosphorylation Rheostat

The modulation of the activity of proteins by phosphorylation has often been described as a binary switch, but (p. 142) show that finer rheostat-like control can also be achieved. The transcription factor Ets-1 exhibits a graded DNA binding affinity that depends on the number of sites that are phosphorylated. Ets-1 exists in conformational equilibrium between a dynamic conformation that binds DNA and a well-folded inhibited state. Increasing phosphorylation progressively shifts the equilibrium toward the inhibited state and thus fine-tunes the level of activity. The phosphorylated region, which serves as the allosteric effector, is predominantly unstructured and flexible, and probably acts through transient interactions.
(hello? is this mike on?) ... something entirely comprehensible and interesting pops up, reminding me why I subscribed to this crazy email in the first place. May I present the lovely, the talented ...
Habitat Corridors Promote Conservation

As wildlife habitats become more fragmented by human land use, wild plants and animals encounter increasing difficulties in dispersal between patches of suitable habitat. If the patches are small, then local extinctions may ensue. To mitigate this problem, conservationists favor networks of corridors to provide links between patches, but how effective is this approach? In a replicated, landscape-scale study of the role of habitat corridors in the southern United States, (p. 146; see the news story by) followed Eastern Bluebirds as they carried native wax myrtle seeds from bushes in a central source patch to one of four surrounding receiver patches in a matrix of mature pine forest. The birds carried substantially more seeds to the corridor-connected patches than they did to the others. The authors were able to build a predictive seed-dispersal model at the landscape scale from individual-based observations on the movements of birds.

I'd be lying if I said I read the entire email every week. One of the reasons I don't is that these paragraph-long abstracts are all you get without paying a hefty monthly sum for full access to the Science website. (Like full access would do me much good.) So on the rare occasion that I do slog through the jargon to arrive at some thin understanding, that's where it stops. Nanocomprehension.

But that's OK, because part of me thinks all this talk of nanoscience and computer chips is pure hokum, that we're laboring under an all-pervasive cloud of disinformation, that everything we call silicon is actually powered by well-trained fleas. But whenever I try to talk about this theory, broaching, say, the notion that quarks and space travel are fictions, people look at me like I'm even more of an imbecile than they had suspected. So I keep it to myself. I'll trust you to do the same. Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be Liberal Arts majors.

In any case, every once in a while the newsletter shows me something interesting that even This Old Brain can grasp, like that stuff about wildlife corridors. Yet another reason not to mow the lawn or trim the hedges. Proof positive: It may appear a little stand-offish in its emails, but Science really does exist for the betterment of men.


P.S. "Soil-dwelling myxobacteria move by a process termed gliding motility, which requires the surface expression of cellular protrusions, the type IV pili. More than 25 years ago, Myxococcus xanthus motility mutants lacking pili were shown to be phenotypically complemented by direct contact with motile neighbors. (p. 125) now identify the mechanism of the contact-mediated, nongenetic complementation of this type of motility. Complementation appears to be effected by the transfer from one cell membrane to another of the TGL protein, which is required for the construction of secretin pores, which in turn allow for the synthesis and retraction of the pili required for motility."


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Stick Shift

Dear Reader,

How are you? I am fine. Los Angeles is beautiful this time of year, and I wish you were here.

I'm just writing to suggest you visit my highly focused new blog, PaCarazzi! See it over there on the left, topping the list of links?

PaCarazzi! is a summery sort of fun blog, just the thing when you're looking for a light read of little consequence. So unlike LordZim. PaCarazzi! is all about that weird L.A. confluence of stars and cars -- overpaid showoffs and their expensive toys and the precious moments we too can share when they parade around in public. Don't take my word for it -- go take it for a test drive.

See you soon, and don't forget to write!

Lord Zim

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Hubbard MBA

Now that Scientology is in the news again thanks to that impending celeb nuptial you read about in other blogs, K writes that a friend of hers has
been trying to do some sub-contracting laser etching work for a Portland-based company for months now. They've been playing phone tag and canceling meetings etc. They finally connected on the phone yesterday and the guy said that if Scott wanted to work with them, he needed to take a course at the L. Ron Hubbard school of management! Scott apparently stifled a laugh and asked if that was really a requirement. The guy sounded offended and ended the call. Hmmm, no $5 mil either!
Wow. The illustrated Cruise vs. Lauer. It's just too good not to share with the LordZim regulars.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Vest-Pocket Movie Review: 'Penguins'

Just saw a screening of "March of the Penguins," thanks to film buff extraordinaire Karie Bible and her Filmradar free passes.

It's moving and predictably adorable (awww -- baby penguins!) and impressive in many ways. A seal gets to stretch his instrument and play against type. They make great noises, those birds. Speaking of noises, the music and Morgan Freeman's narration are a little mawkish and manipulative, but the cinematography and pacing are spectacular. And the costumes, of course, are impeccable.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Welcome to the New Weekly Format

All the brevity of a daily post, none of the challenges of a weekly roundup. It's LordZim Lite!

Well, that famous West Coast toy company finally paid me -- four months after the first time I invoiced them. Finally saw "Gattaca" this week. I see why it got mediocre reviews but has become a near-cult movie. Speaking of mediocre reviews, I tried to watch "Lemony Snicket" last night but just couldn't stand more than about 20 minutes (and I used to like the books). The art direction was all that kept me hanging on, but even that was unequal to the star's powers of repellency.

Uh, allergies? Yes. And how. *sniffle* *honk*

Reading New Yorker doyenne Lillian Ross's "Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism." The art of letting interviewees hang themselves without any narrative assistance.

In the drinks dept., Willie Nelson's small-batch bourbon, Old Whiskey River, seems to be winding down. It's a closeout item at Studio City's Flask Liquors. Across town, Jorge, formerly the best bartender in L.A., is no longer tending bar. He has left the Edendale Grill and is now managing Taix, that antique French restaurant on Sunset in Echo Park. When I voiced consternation at the loss of his mixological powers, he referred me to Luis, the white-haired, steel-eyed fixture behind the bar, who assembled a perfect perfect Manhattan. While the restaurant is a taxidermied relic, replete with silk flowers and dozens of eerie oil paintings, the bar room itself is in the cave-like vein of the Dresden, though less spacious. Part of Jorge's mission is to attract more of those free-spending 20-somethings, which shouldn't be too hard, given that the Echo (Spaceland's little sister) is just across the street.

See? This is why I've stopped blogging. Ho-fucking-hum. To blog, perchance to scream.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Substantial Dinner

O frabjous day! I just came back from a dinner where seven of us talked about ideas all night. No gossip, no sports, not even music. The word "blog" never came up.

The term "blowjob" came up a lot though. We spent a long time on the extent to which mass media affects kids and their attitudes toward sex, and the political climates that first fostered and then resulted from the oversexing of the juvenile population. C. posited that TV is our collective Id. If that's the case, then the FCC is a poorly matched superego, considering what that Id is up to. We get what we pay for, and we get what we came for. Here's a little-known fact: NBC's Dateline is no longer doing any stories on sex in any shape or form. Like all the networks, NBC is just too scared of FCC fines to risk anything in that sphere.

And I'm still trying to find the current percentage of the US population that identifies itself as "born-again." The current political climate is much more easily explained when you consider the enormous base the Right has to work with. OK, a 2003 Gallup poll puts that number at 43%, but it fluctuates every year. I'm not saying all born-again Christians or Evangelicals vote Republican -- no, let the gloriously frank Gov. Howard Dean taste that foot -- but they do generally support anti-choice candidates.

And leaving the off-limits topic of politics aside again, I'll just note that Johnny Tutorseed here had to wax rhapsodic on the joys of tutoring, in the vain hope that one of the intelligent beings in the room would leap to the bait and show up at St. Agatha's (Adams and Mansfield, 2-4pm) this afternoon. I'm very disappointed in all of you who profess an interest in the future yet eschew an opportunity to affect it. It's just two stinkin' hours on Saturday! Crikey! I'll buy you an exotic beverage down the street if you show up. I'll draw stripes on my face again. I will stand upon my head to beat all deals. Don't make me beg. It's so unseemly.

It's also unseemly to be up this late. I'm typing all kinds of nonsense I'll regret in the morning.


Friday, June 10, 2005


Sabbatical. Seven days of no LordZim updates. Has the world suffered or changed? Well, of course, but not because I haven't been writing here.

A word of clarification on the last post: When I went to Ben's house in Topanga for sleepovers, my mom was under the impression that his parents would be as watchful as she with regard to transgressions of a drug and alcohol nature. Of course, who really thought about eight-year-olds getting drunk or high (apart from eight-year-olds)? So my sainted mother, who first learned of my pre-teen escapades here in the pixels of Lordzim, was just as surprised as all you strangers out there may have been, though she was substantially more disturbed by the revelation.

On the bright side, this shows I can keep a secret.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

I Smoked Pot When I Was Eight

Brace yourself -- it's yet another violation of the Lordzim rules! Yes, you've stumbled upon a new collection of exceptionally sordid personal details.

I smoked pot when I was eight.

All I got was a ferocious hangover and a shocking anecdote. And this lousy t-shirt.

How does an eight-year-old find a joint? Through his cool best friend who lives in Topanga, the most hippiest of all hippy places. Ben, my cool best friend, had moved to Topanga with his cool hippy parents. Lucky him! Their neighbors were hippies, and everybody they knew were hippies -- which seemed to me like the very best thing on Earth, because I so desperately wanted to be a long-haired, bellbottom-wearing, pot-smoking, draft-card-burning, authority-questioning hippy too.

But I was only eight. So when Ben said he'd found a joint and we were going next door to his neighbor's house to smoke it after dinner, I was overjoyed -- excited beyond belief. The key to the kingdom. Sophistication. What it's like to be groovy and grown-up, I thought. I will be groovy when I have smoked pot, went my impeccable pre-teen logic. After a long dinner with Ben's pot-smoking parents and his mean older sister, he and I sauntered across the dusty sideyard to the low shack where Harry lived. Harry was 40.

Why would a 40-year-old smoke pot with two eight-year-olds? Ask Michael Jackson. But it wasn't like that. Yes, he brought out a beer, and we all shared a joint and that single can of Budweiser, but apart from the gross lapse -- vaccuum? -- of judgment that led him to get high with little kids, the guy didn't do anything else I'd like to have him locked up for. Or killed for. Besides, when we sat down on the mismatched furniture in his dim filthy living room, he did his due diligence. He looked at me and said, "You've done this before, right?"

I nodded, and Ben vouched for me. Of course I had. You could tell from my long hippy hair. On the other hand, I had an almost perfectly circular face and wore clothes my mom and I found in the "Husky" section. (Oh, the shame of the Husky section.) But sure, I had smoked pot and drunk beer. I was an old hand at smoking and drinking. I bore all the marks of a hardened druggie. I was eight, but a sophisticated eight! Yep. Crafty, too -- look how easily I'd just fooled a wise old grown-up.

I have no idea what we talked about as we slowly smoked and drank. I don't think I even got high. Bad weed, not enough weed, nerves, the beer -- who knows. What I do know is that I woke up early the next morning with the worst hangover of my young life. Well, it was the only hangover I'd ever had, which just made it worse. I was face-down on a dirty sheetless waterbed outside by a swimming pool filled with thick green water. And no, my ass didn't hurt, but my head did. A cat in heat was pacing and meowing right next to it. Over and over and over. I tried meowing back to quiet him, to no avail. To this day I can reproduce that sound, a plaintive, pained eruption full of sexual frustration. He'd dropped the "me" part of "meow" and was just saying "Owwwww" over and over again. Twice a minute or more. It was relentless, and it struck like a dagger deep into my own throbbing skull. I tried putting a pillow over my head, I tried shooing him away, I tried falling back asleep, but the cat, who was probably my conscience in a fuzzy corporeal form, would not shut up.

Years later -- decades later -- after Ben died rock-climbing and his dad became a crackhead and his parents split up and moved out of Topanga, I ran into his older sister at a party. I asked her how, why, what kind of adult would smoke pot with eight-year-olds? She looked pained and patient and far away, and then she said, "It was a different time. People saw the world very differently then."

So it's all a matter of perspective. Harry, that 40-year-old stoner loser, saw the world differently. Those were the years when "art photographer" David Hamilton was selling soft-focus images of naked little girls. Back when being a priest had its benefits. Before Just Say No and MADD and Amber Alerts and the Internet and our modern awareness of how easily children can be seduced into doing adult things.

So I lost my marijuana cherry at age eight. Ben assured me that the first time is always weird. As bad as the experience was, I wanted to smoke it again. But a whole year would pass before pot would cross my lips again, and I didn't get high that time either. A few more years passed. My hair was still long and my face was still round, but my complexion was going to hell and I had started wearing little round John Lennon glasses. I was 12. And somehow I lucked into a pot-smoking crowd at my junior high. Lucky, lucky me. I bought my first "lid" of Mexican for $40. It was lousy, but it was mine.

Hijinks ensued.