Friday, November 13, 2009

Miscarriage of Justice in Mississippi - The Scott Sisters

All Eyes Are Still On Mississippi: Free The Scott Sisters!!!

The Scott Sisters (l-r): Jamie & Gladys
In a trial fraught with legal malpractice and witness coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon oversaw one of the most blatantly corrupt trials in history, culminating in the staggering over-sentencing of sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to double-life each in an armed robbery where no one was murdered or harmed and the amount alleged to have been taken was a whopping $11.00.
On December 24, 1993, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department arrested the Scott sisters for armed robbery even though three young males, ranging from ages 14 to 18, confessed to committing the crime. Despite this, the corrupt Mississippi sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to compel them to turn state’s evidence against the Scott sisters due to a long-standing vendetta against a family member. The 14-year-old male would later testify that he did not read the statement and was pressured to sign a written statement prepared by the sheriff without an attorney being present.
As if that weren't bad enough, these young women received incompetent legal representation at the lower court trial. Their attorneys, Firnist J. Alexander, Jr. and Gail Shaw-Pierson failed to interview and subpoena witnesses, only calling one witness when there were several. Incredibly, the jury never even heard any testimony from the alleged victims. The sisters were advised to not testify on their own behalf by their attorneys, Alexander and Shaw-Pierson, denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves.
To learn more about this case, contact:
Mrs. Evelyn Rasco (their mother who is raising their children)
P.O. Box 7100
Pensacola, Florida 32534

Monday, September 28, 2009

Countdown to Blog Action Day

Get ready! Hundreds, nay thousands of blogs united to educate and raise awareness on our earth's most pressing issue - Climate Change.

Sign up here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Women Professors

How many female math, science or engineering teachers (high school) or professors (college) did you have in school. Well, I'd wager not many. That's because womean still earn a smaller percentage of the new PhDs in these fields than do men. More women are joining the academic ranks, but the rate of growth is still rather slow. Check out the Scientific American article Why Aren't More Women Tenured Science Professors? to read more about it and wiegh in on the topic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Head this sign

Take action: Sign this petition and begin a frank conversation about HIV/AIDS!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Science Vocab: Despotism

Today's science vocabulary word is DESPOTISM.
It is defined as absolute authority. A DESPOT ( noun) means one who oppressively rules others, as in an tyrannical or autocratic leader.
But in ecology, despotism is used to describe organisms (either individuals or populations) who consume important resources without regard to others or the future need for those resources. These organisms consume, consume, consume and leave little, if anything for others.
It's a word used in social studies that ecologists and evolutionary biologists have adopted to explain the evolution and maintenance of social behavior, cooperation, selfishness, and altruism in many animal species, including humans.
I like this word because it is a great way to name call people - greedy people, or rude people you encounter - who use up public resources without regard to others. For example, the person who eats up all of the shrimp cocktail at the happy hour or the person in your office who monopolizes the copy or fax machine and prevents others from getting work done.

image courtesy of Bluebuddies Gallery.

Greedy Smurf, a classic despot.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bearded Lady Genes Identified

Many African-American women complain of unwanted facial hair. The problem seems to become especially problemsome as they age and hormone fluctations change. Women spend an amazing amount of time tweezing, plucking, waxing, and shaving, plus the cost associated with the activity. It's a serious beauty concern. Very recently scientists of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have identified the gene responsible for congenital generalized hypertrichosis terminalis (CGHT) or the Bearded Lady Syndrome (something more extreme than those irritating hairs most women complain about).

Read more about the discover at Live Science: Genes of 'Bearded Lady' Revealed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Natural Oil Seeps into the Ocean documented

Repost of NSF Press Release 09-097
Scientists Document Fate of Oil Slicks from Natural Seeps

Twenty years ago, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez was exiting Alaska's Prince William Sound when it struck a reef in the middle of the night.
What happened next is considered one of the nation's worst environmental disasters: 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the pristine Alaskan waters, eventually covering 11,000 square miles of ocean.
Now, imagine 8 to 80 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez accident.
According to new findings by scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), that's how much oil has made its way into sediments offshore from petroleum seeps near Coal Oil Point off Goleta, Calif., in the Santa Barbara Channel.
These natural seeps release some 20 to 25 tons of oil daily, "providing an ideal laboratory to investigate the fate of oil in the coastal ocean," says oceanographer David Valentine of UCSB.
The team's research, reported in a paper published in the May 15 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, documents how the oil is released by the seeps, carried to the surface along a meandering plume, then deposited on the ocean floor in sediments that stretch for miles northwest of Coal Oil Point.
The findings also reveal that the oil is so degraded by the time it gets buried in the sea bed that it's a mere shell of the petroleum that initially bubbles up from the seeps.
"These were spectacular findings," said Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI and, along with Valentine, one of the co-authors of the paper.
Other co-authors include UCSB's Libe Washburn; and Emily Peacock and Robert Nelson, both of WHOI.
"Whether it comes from a natural seep or from human industry, oil entering the ocean has a 'life story,'" says Don Rice, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Ocean Sciences, "one with many chapters after the early ones we all see--the surface slicks, tar balls on the beach and affected marine animals. This team of scientists set about constructing the rest of the story--and succeeded.
"In an energy-hungry world, it's a tale we're going to need to know a lot about."
The lead author is Christopher Farwell, who at the time of the research was an undergraduate studying chemistry at UCSB. Inspired by this project, Farwell has changed his career path and is now a graduate student at UCSB studying marine science and earth science.
"It was a great opportunity," Farwell said. "I was able to cross over into a different discipline that allowed me to make a contribution and understand the process of science as a whole."
Valentine, who supervised Farwell's research, said, "It's unusual to have an undergraduate take the lead in such a significant study, and its success is a testament to Chris's perseverance."
In an earlier paper published in 2008, Valentine and Reddy documented how microbes devour many of the compounds in the oil emanating from the seeps.
The new study examines the final step in the life cycle of the oil.
"One of the natural questions is: What happens to all this oil?" Valentine said. "So much oil seeps up and floats on the sea surface. It's something we've long wondered.
"We know some of it will come ashore as tar balls, but it doesn't stick around. And then there are massive slicks. You can see them, sometimes extending 20 miles from the seeps. But what is really their ultimate fate?"
Based on previous research, Valentine and Reddy surmised that the oil was sinking "because the oil is heavy to begin with," Valentine said.
"It's a good bet that it ends up in the sediments because it's not ending up on land. It's not dissolving in ocean water."
An all-night sampling marathon on the research vessel (R/V) Atlantis, funded by NSF, provided the means to test the hypothesis. With Farwell and Reddy leading the way, the team took 16 sediment samples from the ocean floor, following a carefully calculated path mapped out by Farwell.
The researchers were hoping that their route, described by Farwell as a "rectangle along the coast from Santa Barbara to Point Conception," would match the trail of the plume.
Farwell's calculations were perfect, Valentine said. The 16-point route yielded an unmistakable pattern of oil-saturated sediment all along the ship's path.
The scientists then painstakingly analyzed the samples using Reddy's comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatograph. "What we saw is that we can link the seep oils to the oils in the sediment," Valentine said.
"We can do that through the composition of molecules that are specific to the oils from the seeps. So, being able to link them, and being able to quantify how much is there, we can see the pattern of the oil. It's coming from the seeps."
Washburn, who has been using radio waves to map ocean currents off Santa Barbara, provided additional evidence. "Libe took a seven-year average of surface current flow in the region, and plotted that out," Valentine said. "It matched perfectly with our plume."
This research proved to be an extension of the 2008 study by Valentine and Reddy: that the oil has indeed been degraded, largely eaten away by microbes, before it settles back to the ocean floor and becomes buried.
"For all these samples, the bacteria seem to hit a common 'wall' where they don't eat anymore," Valentine said. "In the previous study, we were looking at subsurface biodegradation where there is no oxygen.
"You still have thousands of compounds in that oil, but now we're seeing the evaporation and dissolution that happens to the slick, and then the biodegradation that happens in the slick with oxygen present.
"When it finally falls to the sea floor, it continues to be biodegraded. It seems to be biodegraded to the same point--and then it just stops."
"It's dramatic how much the oil loses in this life cycle," Reddy said. "It's almost like someone who has lost 400 pounds."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Why I Don't Smoke Pot

I grew up around pot, marijuana. My older relatives, including my parents were very unashamed about smoking refer in front of me. In fact, by the age of six I could separate out sticks and seeds from the bag and roll a joint as well as any adult. As I think back, I probably had contact high most of my life. At adolescence, I tried smoking it. I thought it was cool. I got high, got the munchies and giggles. My interest in it faded quickly. I tried it and and was done the same summer I took my first toke.

The war on drugs is an interesting one. Drugs are bad and marijuana, too; but not as bad as cocaine or heroine. Is is a gateway drug? I don't know. Most of the people I know who smoke weed are perfectly happy just smoking weed. So I don't think it's bad for that. Plus, I know alot of hippie-type scientists, so weed is like an academic muse. So it seems not-so-bad.

However, weed is not so good. It's subtle and subversive. I think of it as the "F it drug" because that's how you feel about life or circumstances when you smoke it.

Lost your job. Take a toke. Blow that ish out!

Got arrested. Take a toke. Blow that ish out!

Kids going crazing. Take a toke. Blow that ish out!

When I was working at the infamous job house, the employees would wander off and get high. Or come to work high. WTH? The drug I had known as a kid as a 'party drug' was now being used more as a coping drug. I need this to get by. ** I Get High, High, High**

I don't smoke weed because it robs you of your innate desire and will to be successful. So many of our kinfolks get high all day, everyday. They laze around complaining about a horrible life and pitfalls and get high to pacify the blues away. That pitiful attitude about self-sufficiency, hard-work, and effort is the bane of Black folk, especially poor Black folk. And I blame this drug for aiding and abetting that poor attitude. That's something I can't use.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Poor, Black, & Undereducated. So what's new?

Nothing, but this is an intriguing book review article I've come across in the New York Times - Why the Poor Stay Poor. Richard Thompson Ford is a professor of law at Stanford University, whose book The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse is being published in paperback this month.

An excerpt from the article:

"Today many ghetto residents have almost no contact with mainstream American society or the normal job market. As a result, they have developed distinctive and often dysfunctional social norms."

I encountered this very phenomenon at the job I had and quit last year. The review discusses both sides of the issue - the conservatives and liberals explanation of 'the problem' with/of poor [black people]. But Wilson makes no friends on either side. He sees the problem as complex and an accumulation of both historical institutional racist and classist policies and changes in economic policy which many poor blacks have not been able to keep pace with.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekly Science Update - Your Health and the Health of Your Environment

Your Health

Why Does Hair Go Gray? I wonder that sometimes as I notice newer gray hairs - at my browline - everyday. Some attribute it to stress or age or an indicator of wisdom. It's is actually a tell-tale sign of biochemical process slowing down. Read more here.

At Christmas time, all of the young children I know received at least one present in common - a video game system or related accesories. Though a fan of Sega Genesis and Atari, I was curious how (and why) some parents would spend so much money on this type of plaything in such a precarious economic environment? However, I'm also concerned about the children themselves. For many children, well-off and poor alike, video entertainment (systems and internet) have become their sole entertainment. They seem less interested in going outside to play, reading a book (maybe a graphic that mimics a game), and definitely less interested in homework and interacting with others. Coming across this article that Video games linked to poor relationships with friends, family really seemed to hit the nail on the head for me.

Your Environment

Again this economic crisis has caused me to think more heavily about how I (and we as a society) spend my/our time and resources. Now, more than ever, I think Going Green! has many, many benefits - saving money, stretching a dollar, getting more exercise, stimulating creativity, enjoying the simple things, helping the environment. Plus, I've always been a proponent of green advocacy as a means to improved the lives of our more financially vulnerable citizens. Now, a new study from Scotland provides some empirical evidence to why Going Green! benefits the poor - 'Green' Neighborhoods Reduce Mortality for the Poor.

There may be a new Indicator Species on the block- Wall Lizards. Environmental science researchers from Italy have found that wall lizards may be reliable early detectors for toxins and other pollutants from onshore oil drilling activity. Lizards from towns downwind from the processing plants bloods had very high levels of toxins that negatively affect the lizards and humans. Read more here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Celebrate Black History, Share your Inspiration Story and earn a Scholarship

Alltel Wireless is sponsoring the

Black History Month Words of Wisdom Essay Contest.

Write an essay based on the previous topic.
The Prize:
Ten winners will be chosen from all essays submitted to the contest. Each winning essayist will receive a $10,000 scholarship to a participating black college or university.
All 10 winners will be honored at an awards luncheon to be held Thursday, March 12th, 2009 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Words of Wisdom spokesperson and esteemed poet and author, Dr. Maya Angelou, will personally present each winner with their scholarship. In addition, there will be a student reception March 11, 2009 featuring R&B sensation Musiq Soulchild..

The Words of Wisdom essay contest is open to current and prospective students* of America's participating black colleges and universities. Click here for a list of participating black colleges and universities.* Fall 2009 full-time enrollment will be verified by Alltel prior to the awarding of scholarship prizes.
Contest Rules:
Essays must be 750-1000 words and must be the original work of the submitting author.
Contest begins January 12th and ends February 14th, 2009.
DEADLINE: Contestants have until midnight on February 14th to submit their essays.
Complete contest rules
Best of luck!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Weekly Science Updates - It's All in the Genes

I've been scanning the annals of other science blogs and came across some interesting stuff that I am now sharing with you. In this edition of Link Love is All About Genetics.

You know how public health providers are always saying that your risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS increases if you have had another STD? Well, this post - STDs disrupt genetic bottleneck that usually constrains HIV infection - explains how. Basically, when your body is fighting off a STD, via an inflammatory response, the chemistry of your genital mucous lining changes - becomes thin - and the HIV virus can penetrate the normally protective barrier and infect your cells.

Now, some good news about STDs. A joint study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Harvard Medical School seems to have made a breakthrough in Herpes Prevention. A topical vaginal microbicide has been found to successfully silence two genes of the Herpes Simplex Virus-2 (the one that causes genital herpes) in mice. The microbicide can also safely protect against genital herpes infection for as long as one week. Read more about the study in the blog post: Topical Microbicide Offers Long-Lasting Protection Against Genital Herpes.

Genetic Tricks of Parasites is a quick read all about the small genomes of parasites. But one parasite species has an usually large genome ~ 23,500 genes, many more than other parasite species. Read the article to learn more.

And my favorite -Rethinking the genetic theory of inheritance. Scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada have made some breakthroughs in the research of addiction and mental health as it relates to Epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of inheritance of traits beyond DNA. DNA is important and its discovery has lead to some very important discoveries, but I've always thought we have been rather pre-occupied with every thing being genetic. I'm looking forward to what more we can learn about Epigenetic research.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Commentary - What really makes Conservatives & Liberals Different?

Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.  As the primary general election campaigns waged, I realized the pre-occupation we have with this nation’s political topography.  This notion of red and blue states and counties and liberal, moderate, and conservative citizens is interesting to me.  Entire regions, communities and families are labeled as red or blue; and we can trace these party affiliations back for generations.  This idea of political views as a heritable trait has piqued the interest of many, particularly bloggers who comment about the intersection of science and society, like me and Bora Zivkovic.

In a past post of his he writes…“that political affiliations are indeed a trait passed along from parent to offspring, but it is not because of genes. It is inherited via a developmental process.  Conservatives raise their children in such a way that their emotional development results in them becoming conservatives when they grow up, thus perpetuating the trait across generations - that is the definition of inheritance. And it is not teaching conservatism directly - it is providing an environment in which a child will develop conservative traits.”  I think no one exemplifies this more than Political Blogger, Cobb.  He is a conservative, his family had conservative views and he has a host of conservative friends. But what if our political leanings were more than indicators of our upbringing and social environment?  Could there be a biological explanation? Perhaps, according to a recent research article in SciencePolitical Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits.

Could your political philosophies be tied to your physiology?

The 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) showed a tribute video of the 9/11 Tragedy.  A compelling narration along with images the World Trade Center in flames, Americans dying, buildings collapsing and gun-toting-happy-terrorist enemies celebrating the carnage were on the big screen.  It ends with a declaration of “We will never let it happen again”.  The video evoked emotional responses from both sides of the political aisle; however, responses seemed to correspond according to the political leanings of the commenter.   For many conservatives, the video reminded them as to why a leader strong on national security was necessary for the safety of our nation.  Yet, many liberal correspondents – notably Keith Olbermann of MSNBC - found the video disturbing and accused the conservative political party of fear-mongering in order to promote their agenda.  

Was the RNC trying to connect to people through shock and fear?  Are political attitudes and reactions to devastating events tied?  Like political beliefs, behavioral and physiological reactions to unexpected events vary by individual.  Our body’s emergency response system, called the sympathetic nervous system, kicks in high gear when are frightened, startled or perceive a threat.  We reflexively react by blinking our eye lids or ducking for cover. Our heart rate increases, skin becomes clammy and we release nervous hormones like epinephrine and acetylcholine.   However, some people respond more strongly to startling events than others.  Would a variation in fear response correlate to a variation in political attitudes about national safety?  Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln set out to find the answer.  

Residents of Lincoln, Nebraska, were randomly selected from the telephone directory and interviewed to determine if they held strong political attitudes.  Subjects with strong political views, very conservative or very liberal, were then asked to participate in a second evaluation.   During this evaluation, subjects’ specific political attitudes were categorized according to their degree of support for protective policies.   Protective policies were defined as a generic suite of political concepts that dealt with enforcing strong security measures in order to protect the members of this society from tragedies.  Eighteen of the 28 political concepts on the survey were those that dealt with security issues such support for increased military spending, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, as well as opposition to foreign aid, immigration, and gun control.   Individuals who indicated concern for protection and security in the 18 key political concepts were categorized as high supporters of protective policies.  The opposite was true of the subjects categorized as low supporters of protective policies.

Two months later, subjects completed two physiological response tests that measured their reflexive reactions to startling images and sounds.  In the first test, subjects were presented a slide show of 36 images, including three disturbing images of 1) a spider on a frightened person’s face, 2) a dazed individual with a bloody face, and 3) an open wound with maggots.  Researchers measured the average level of skin conductance or degree of subtle sweating and activation of the sympathetic nervous system in response to viewing all of the images.  In a second test, subjects’ eye blink response was measured when a loud, unexpected noise was heard.

The team found very clear differences in physiological responses to threatening stimuli between the two groups of subjects.  High supporters of protective policies demonstrated a marked increase skin conductance when they viewed disturbing images but no increased response when they viewed non-disturbing images.   Among low supporters, there was no difference in skin conductance response to viewing disturbing or non-disturbing images.  In fact, these subjects were mostly unaffected by either sets of images.  A similar pattern of response was measured in the startle sound-eye blink test.  Blink responses habituate over time for all subjects, however high supporters tended to blink harder than low supporters, though the differences were not as pronounced as those from the skin conductance test.  

Overall, the study demonstrated a relationship between physiological responses to threatening stimuli and political attitudes of subjects.  However, the biological basis of this relationship is not at all clear.  The research team suggests that the link between a person’s sensitivity to emergency situations and prevailing political attitudes may result in some people having a greater affinity to political policies that seem to offer the best solution to the perceived threat.  However, it does provide some credence to the RNC’s use of startling messages to rally the support of their political base in exercising stricter national security measures.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Web Award Season: Time to Make Nominations

Web Awards are interesting things. In most cases you do not win anything substantial but the link love you get is most definitely awesome. These online pageants introduce blogs to newer readers and larger audiences. It’s also a major technorati tag boost. I’ll be posting on my page soon. Wanted to let everyone know what’s going on.

A while ago, I was pleasantly surprised that this blog made the finalist cut for the 2008 Black Weblog Awards. More recently, Villager has awarded me two honors - The Thoughtful Blogger Award and the Helping Hand Award. Marenda also pinned this blog and 49 other fabulous blogs you ought to read for her own the Top 50 Best Blogs of 2008. The Africana Diaspora’s presence in the Blogosphere is here to stay. But I’ve yet to see any of us make waves in the ‘other’ Web Awards. I think we could really leverage some of this weight and love.

There are two Web Award contests beginning now: The Ninth Annual Weblogs Awards and The Blogger’s Choice Awards.

Nikolai Nolan created the Annual Weblogs Awards in 2001, and seems to have been going strong ever since. The Ninth Annual Weblogs Awards nominations open January 1, 2009. The 2009 website for The Bloggies becomes operational Jan 1. Here is the link to the 2008 is up now.
The Blogger’s Choice Awards Nominations are now open. The Blogger’s Choice Award requires registering in order to nominate. I think the winners and nominees of the 2008 Black Weblog Awards would be great nominees for comparable categories in these two Blog Award Competitions, as well as all the reciepients of these other Blog Love Awards to give to each other. I’m writing up my nominations list for both awards, now.

I’m putting together my nominations for each award. If you feel so inclined, give this blog a nod. I always appreciate the link love.