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Guns

2012 December 15
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Posted by XR4-IT

Today in my Facebook news feed I was greeted by a torrent of posts defending a right to carry guns. This is of course in the wake of terrible massacre where a man armed with guns slaughtered at least 26 people Most of which were children.

The mantra repeated again and again is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” To me this is a ridiculous argument that only squabbles over semantics. I can’t believe that someone can think that the tool used to do something doesn’t make a difference.

Do gun rights advocates seriously believe that this man could have killed nearly as many people—if anyone—if he had been armed with knives, or even a bow? It’s strikingly obvious that the use of a gun is what allows people to commit such heinous crimes. The fact of the matter is in a country where civilians can easily acquire these weapons the likelihood of gun violence very much greater.

Democrat Elitists!

2012 November 4
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Posted by XR4-IT

Something that really bugs me about our current political discourse is the constant refrain that Democratic politicians are elitists when their parties policies and philosophies are concerned with the well-being and civil rights of the common individual, when conversely the Republican Party largely concerns itself with the well-being of corporations and the wealthy.

Q & A being Gay and LDS

2011 August 2
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Posted by XR4-IT

I recently took a survey done by Utah State University about my experiences as a gay individual raised in the LDS church. A few of the questions asked for short responses. These are some of the questions that I was asked and the answers I gave.

Q. What event, relationship, or interaction led you to consider you were attracted romantically or sexually to persons of the same sex?

A. When I was in fourth grade I many of my friends were starting to express curiosity about sex, and while many of my male friends would express a fascination with women I found that my mind would linger on images of men.

At the same time one of my friends had some department store catalogs at his house and we were looking at the women’s underwear ads. I got bored and found myself looking though the rest of my catalog to see if there was anything interesting. I soon found myself looking at the men’s underwear ads and was shocked to realize that I was aroused by them.

Q. Please describe what was taught about homosexuality in your LDS community while you were growing up or at the time you joined the Church.

A. I was baptized when I was 8 and don’t remember much being taught at the time about homosexuality, but when I had asked my parents once what would happen if a man fell in love with another man they told me that just never happens.

Later when I was in the young men’s program, we were taught that homosexuality was wrong, but not in terms of it being part of some one’s disposition, but rather as a sin that anyone could fall into.

Q. If applicable, please describe any negative reaction, teasing, ostracization, or violence you experienced because you were perceived by those in your LDS community as being homosexual?

A.  First many members of the LDS community were very much opposed to same-sex relationships and would be vocal about their opinions, and many of peers would comment on how they would beat up a queer if they ever met one.

While I was a missionary for the church at least some of the elders suspected that I was gay and brought there suppositions to the mission president who later questioned me about it.

Also I had one companion that would try and bait me into exposing my sexuality, and one time he thought he had me, and tried calling me out, but I passed it of as a strange joke.

At other times there would be elders that I would be particularly good friends with, and the other elders would accuse me of flirting with my friends (OK I probably was flirting) and would tease me for it a little.

Q. If applicable, please describe any anti-GLBTQ behavior (teasing, etc.) that you engaged in as a member of an LDS community?

A. When I was in high school I had a coworker who was openly gay, and I would avoid him because I wanted to make a statement about how uncomfortable I was a round gay people. Soon I was confronted by one of my supervisors about my behavior, and I expressed my disdain for gay people to him.

Also while in high school I had a friend in my math class that I had a crush on. I was too afraid at the time to admit to him that I liked him. One day this friend approached me and told me that he had fallen in love with me. We were at school and I was terrified. I shoved him into a wall and called him a dirty faggot. I was crushed but I couldn’t let myself be gay at that time. I tried to make up with him but it was too late.

During my high school years I got a few e-mails from male class mates asking me out. I turned them down coolly, and at least one time said that I thought that gay people should be rounded up.

While I was on my mission Lawrence v Texas went through the Supreme Court and homosexuality was decriminalized across the nation. This sparked a lot of debate about same-sex marriage while I was on my mission in Riverside California, and while most of my companions were opposed to homosexual behavior in general I felt like I came up with much harder anti-gay rhetoric while talking about same-sex marriage.

Thanks for reading.

The link to take the survey is: http://psychmeasures.org/index.php?sid=64625&lang=en

The Perfect God: Deus ex Machina

2011 July 22
Posted by XR4-IT

Recently my husband and I have been discussing the nature of God as believed in by people of various faiths, and while there is little agreement between belief systems on what that nature actually is, leaving the idea of God somewhat nebulous, most religions seem to agree that God has a sort of curious perfection. Many seem to believe that God moves in his perfection with a perfect plan, and indeed everything he does is, well, perfect by the very definition of what it means to be God.

I live in Utah where there happen to be a lot of Mormons, and their scripture even goes as far as describing God’s perfection as being so essential that he would cease to be God if he should ever deviate (the fate of the universe is unclear should this ever happen).

This always troubled me while I had been a believer. The idea that God was absolutely perfect seemed to negate free will to me, making God a slave to his own perfection. What kind of god was that, a being that is supposed to be all powerful, but is unable to act outside of a perfect course?

If a mind has no choice but to choose perfection it seems less like a mind to me and more like a machine set to fill some predetermined end.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a believer, and while these ideas bothered me when I had believed, they seem even more problematic reflecting on them now. Especially if one is to believe in any sort of a personal God. Beyond that many religions put a certain level of importance on free will so it seems strange that it would be provided for humanity, but unapproachable for God himself.

I would like to know what others think about such a notion, please feel free to share your ideas.

Later,

XR4-IT

Anthrodore

2010 September 20
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Posted by XR4-IT

Before I was born, my mother was told that she could never have children. This news left her depressed as she longed to bear a child, and my father was weighed down with concern for his wife. Daily they prayed that they might have a child, yet years passed and their home was left childless.

Then, after they had long given up hope of conceiving, my mother became pregnant and I was born. They called me Theodore: God’s gift.

The world I was born to was stagnating. The human mind couldn’t keep up with the sciences it produced, and we had created for ourselves many problems that could not be solved with the knowledge that could be gained in a single lifetime.

Evolution had been too slow, our minds too feeble, and our bodies too weak to meet the challenges our species faced. Some believed that one god or another would intervene to save humanity, but so far, none had acted. These were the thoughts that filled my mind and drove my work on the project I had called Anthrodore, my hope for improving humanity.

In my formative years, I had been fascinated with the sciences. The intricate mechanics that moved the universe was to me elegant poetry, and I marveled as I gained understanding of the processes that formed the world around me.  Biology, the science of life, was of particular interest to me, and in my dream of fixing humanity’s weaknesses I pursued the field of genetics.

Years passed as I toiled to understand the complexities of the genetic code, learning what sequences produced specific proteins, and how the structure of the proteins functioned within the cell and allowed the cells to work together, forming the functions of the human body and mind.

Eventually the time came when I gathered a team together, and we began sequencing our own version of the human genome.  The work was long and monotonous, requiring endless research and experimentation, yet the occasional breakthrough would lift our spirits.

Our first task was to remove the genetic diseases that plagued our species. Tendencies for cancer and mental illness were among a battery of deficiencies that were cleaned from the genome. Next, we began optimizing physical traits. Strength and endurance were perfected. We altered the aging process to allow for longer lifespan and a shorter childhood. Years passed as we worked to increase the brain’s efficiency and to place seeds that could mature into various useful dispositions.

Finally, the time came for Project Anthrodore’s culmination. We grew artificial wombs that were regulated by computer, the various hormones and necessary nutrients fed to them by machine to produce the environment needed to grow a human infant. Placed into these were our modified human embryos.

Six lines were created with mild variation in physical appearance and inborn dispositions. From these embryos, we cultured hundreds more to be stored for future production.

Months passed waiting in anticipation for the emergence of our creation, and in the meantime, the care of each of the new children was assigned to members of my research team. I took two for myself: a male from the XR4 line, and a female CM1.

I counted the days to when my children would be born, and soon the time came when the first of the anthrodore emerged. We extracted the XR4 first, and the infant was placed in my arms.

“My, you’re beautiful,” I said as looked down at the newborn in my arms. I had known we had made them beautiful, yet it was still breathtaking to see such a perfect human form. “I shall call you Eugene, for you surely are of a noble kind.”

“Dr. Gaiason,” one of my aides called my attention, “the next womb is ready.”

Holding Eugene in my arms, I watched as the CM1was extracted. She was brought to me and placed in the arm opposite of her brother. She too was beautiful, perfect in every regard.

“Helen of Troy wasn’t so lovely,” I remarked as I pondered what to name her. “You will be gifted in every way,” I said, then paused as I thought of a name for one so gifted. “You shall be Pandora.”

It wasn’t long before the other infants had been each extracted and given to their assigned parents. That night we left our lab, filled with the joy of our creation and the knowledge that an increased potential for humanity was now a reality.

We vigorously took to the task of raising the anthrodore children. We monitored their growth and education carefully, and week by week we published our findings.

We had engineered our children to mature faster than a standard human, and their ability to learn and comprehend was more than proportionally matched. They soaked up every bit of education we could offer them and they longed for more. In their free time we allowed them to pursue their own interests. Pandora took an interest in the arts, and created beauty in every medium. And while her paintings and sculptures were breathtaking, it was her music that was utterly spellbinding. Once the ear was caught by her elegant melodies, her audiences would be captivated until she finished playing.

Eugene, on the other hand, spent much of his free time pursuing athletics and pushing his body to its physical limits, and when he wasn’t exercising his body, he would spend his time perusing the library, looking to gain knowledge on any subject he could get his hands on.

In time, news of our experiments disseminated from the scientific journals to the media of the lay public. At first, the reaction was mild, but soon public feedback became increasingly negative. It started with letters informing me that it was too dangerous for man to take evolution into his own hands, or that my work would provoke the wrath of God. Then the protests came, and the petitions to the government to control the anthrodore. Some wanted to prevent the anthrodore from “polluting” the gene pool, while others called for the immediate destruction of my children.

It had been just a year since the birth of the anthrodore children when the protests came to the gates of our lab. We had come that morning for our weekly physical examinations. Our children had already grown to have the appearance of adolescents, but their minds had matured far beyond that, and we were hard pressed to keep our records up to date with their development.

I watched the protests from the window while my aides examined each of the anthrodore. Pandora had been examined first, and came to my side.

“We’re progressing faster than expected; just as you thought,” she said, and I allowed myself a smile of amusement from her subtle sense of humor, but a look of worry returned to my face as the jeers from the mob outside increased. “You’re worried about the protest?” She asked as my expression fell.

“A mob is a dangerous thing,” I said. “Hopefully they’ll disperse before we leave.”

The volume of the shouts rose from outside, and Pandora moved to the window. “I want to know what they’re saying,” she said as she pushed the blinds aside.

Light spilled into the room as we looked out over the crowd. The protesters carried signs bearing various messages. “Leave nature’s work to nature,” one read. “In the beginning GOD created man,” read another, and I shook my head. Other signs read, “Don’t be replaced by an anthrodore,” and, “Stand up for the rights of True Humans.”

Pandora sighed as she read the signs. “They fear us,” she said softly.

“Yes,” I replied. “They have invented all manner of reasons to be afraid, yet they are ignorant of who you really are.”

“Then should we not let them know us so they might be relieved of their ignorance?”

I hesitated. Pandora had long wanted to go out into the world, but I had been afraid of how she and the others would be received.

Seeing my hesitation, she continued, “Perhaps a controlled introduction would be best.”

I looked up in curiosity. “What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“A performance,” she started. “We can speak to their souls through our art, and pacify their fear. Even the least artistically developed of us hold great talent and can move an audience,” she finished.

“Oh my sweet Pandora, I hope you’re right. I’ll see what I can arrange. Tell the others what we’re planning.”

“Thank you father,” she said softly with a hopeful expression as she embraced me. “This will go well; you will see,” she said before leaving.

Pandora’s hope raised my spirits, yet I was still worried. Where my daughter was hopeful for her future among the rest of humanity, Eugene had become resentful of the people who shunned him and his siblings. He considered them beneath him and proudly thought of the anthrodore as a separate, higher species.

It took some time, but after several weeks I was able to find a concert hall willing to host a performance from the anthrodore, and set the date for a month later. My children spent much of the intervening time happily preparing for the performance. Pandora worked closely with the other anthrodore to put together a program, and to prepare her own works for their debut.

Eugene was doubtful about the effect of their exhibition, yet for the sake of his sister’s hopefulness, he put on a good face.

In the meantime, the media was frantic, publishing stories about the spectacle that was to be my children’s first introduction to a skeptical public. Some outlets simply reported the news, while others criticized “Dr. Theodore Gaiason’s abominable freak show,” and those who felt threatened by the Anthrodore called for protests outside the concert.

The day finally came for the performance. Guests were invited to come early to see an exhibit of the sculptures and paintings created by Pandora and the other anthrodore.  I greeted guests and walked among them to see their reaction, and was gratified to witness their expressions of awe as they walked through the gallery.

Soon all the guests were seated in the concert hall, and I took to the stage to introduce the performance. “I must thank all of you for coming to see and hear the art presented this evening. My children, the Anthrodore, have prepared a spectacular show for you tonight. So without further ado, I’ll let them show you who they are.” The audience clapped, and I took my seat to the side of the stage.

The first performer was the CR2 named Sophia. She played the harp and sang a moving song about soul of humanity. Then, in turn, each of the Anthrodore took to the stage and performed on various instruments. During the performance, I watched the audience as they were held and moved by the music. It appeared that this introduction was going to succeed after all, and I wept as hopeful thoughts entered my head.

Lastly, Pandora and Eugene took the stage. She sat at the piano while Eugene tuned his violin. Then they started playing. The music was magnificent and produced a series of emotions. Pandora then added lyrics of an epic ballad to their moving production. Eugene then joined the song, and their harmony told the story of heroes and gods.

A tumult of applause broke out at the end of their song, and each of the anthrodore came to the stage to bow at the end of the performance. The energy of the room was electric, and I knew that my children were well met.

Outside the concert hall was another matter.

When we left the hall the crowds outside erupted. Protesters taunted us and spat in our faces as we made our way to the street. Then someone threw a brick that pelted Sophia’s back. The police officers who were supposed to subdue the mob were nowhere to be found, and the crowd jumped the barricade to attack. Pandora stood by Sophia and pushed back the crowd, but she couldn’t keep them back without hurting them, and they closed in. Then a scream rang out as the sound of gun fire echoed through the streets. Pandora went down. At the sight of his fallen sister, Eugene was livid. He ran to her, leveling those in his way with his powerful fists. The crowd drew back when he came to Pandora’s side.

She had been shot in the chest, and his mournful roar chased away the remaining crowd. I came to their side and tested Pandora’s pulse and breathing.

“She’s still alive,” I said, and Eugene nodded. “We should get her back the lab; I’ll be able to fix the damage there.”

Our vehicle was brought around to us, and we loaded Pandora’s motionless form into the back seat. Eugene sat with her and monitored her condition.

We got to the lab and laid her on the examination table. One of the anthrodore fetched my medical equipment, and I used my tools to determine her condition. The bullet had pierced one of her lungs and was lodged in her spine. We extracted it and patched up her torn tissue, and I gave her a drug for the pain.

Several hours passed before she awoke, and she groaned as she opened her eyes. The spot where the bullet had entered was left with only the light appearance of a scar, and her breathing had returned to normal.

“That was not what I expected,” she said as she sat up.

“We should have,” retorted Eugene, caught in his emotions. “Humanity will never accept us.”

“They will, Eugene; be patient,” Pandora replied.

“For how long, sister? Until they kill us all?”

“Oh my brother, you know the audience was reached tonight and left unafraid.”

“But those were the elite and well-educated of society; how can we ever hope to dispel the prejudice of the mob?”

“We will,” I said as I stepped into the conversation.

I took Pandora and Eugene home. Pandora seemed well recovered, but I wasn’t sure about Eugene. His anger was still close to the surface, but I hoped it would pass.

The next day, we went into our lab to find it broken into and vandalized. A note on the door read, “Your work ends here Dr. Gaiason.” It seemed after the incident last night, the public was emboldened against us.

We sorted through the wrecked lab. Many computers were demolished, and the wombs and anthrodore embryos were stolen. We had fortunately backed up our work off site, including a small sample of embryos, and this would only be a temporary setback.

While I looked though the lab, a police officer came to the door. I hadn’t yet called the police and was surprised to see him, but went out to show him in.

“Hello officer,” I said in greeting. “I take it that someone has reported the break-in at my lab?” I said it as a question.

“No,” said the officer gruffly. “I’m here to inform you that you and your Anthrodore are to appear in court. You and your creations are charged with assaulting the crowd outside yesterday’s concert,” he finished.

“What?” I started, appalled to hear the charges. “How can that be? They attacked us!” I shouted.

“Don’t shout at me!” the officer shouted back. “It was your anthrodore who beat and injured several protestors! Scores of witnesses have confirmed it.”

“They were acting in self defense…” I started but the officer cut me off.

“Save it for the judge,” he said, and left.

I went back into the lab, crushed. Pandora had been so optimistic about her place in humanity, and now our lab was in shambles and we were going to stand trial for defending ourselves.

Months passed between hearings and endless litigation as we awaited our trial. While we waited, the political attitude toward the Anthrodore became increasingly toxic. Pundits spewed vitriol across the airwaves, and the social media was awash in misinformation and fearful hatred of what they did not understand. It wasn’t long before the politicians took notice of the political environment and began proposing resolutions against the Anthrodore.

Our studies that detailed the nature of the genomes we created were used to argue away the rights of the Anthrodore while my children and I were never consulted.

I listened daily to the debate in the legislature.

“I hold here information concerning the genetic structure of the Anthrodore,” said a lawmaker, who held up a journal in which one of our studies had been published. “It lists the genes that were altered by Dr. Gaiason and his team, and it turns out that they worked on almost eighty percent of the genes in our chromosomes. Now do you know what difference exists between the human genome and that of chimpanzees? Only one or two percent!

“Now we’ve been treating these anthrodore as if they were human, but their genes are eighty percent different from ours.” His inaccurate comparison angered me, but I listened as he continued, “Eighty percent,” he repeated again, “but the chimpanzee only differs from us by two. How, then, do we even think of the anthrodore as human? Should they not be thought of as something else? Something to be controlled?” I couldn’t listen anymore and shut off the broadcast.

The trial was another front altogether.  The prosecution had argued that the Anthrodore were too dangerous to be allowed to remain free and that they should be taken into custody, or at least confined. I protested, but the judge agreed with the prosecution and ordered that all anthrodore be confined to the lab.

The drive home wasn’t long enough, and I didn’t want to have to face Eugene and Pandora. They would be the first to hear the judge’s ruling and I shuddered to think of Eugene’s reaction. He was becoming increasingly irritable and embittered, and many of the other anthrodore were beginning to adopt his attitude toward what they thought of as the lesser humans.

I arrived home all too soon, and felt completely unprepared. As I walked down the path to the door, Pandora came out to meet me while Eugene waited in the door way.

“I take it by your look that the judge didn’t rule favorably,” said Pandora with a hint of concern in her voice.

“Well, they’re not taking you into custody, but the judge has ruled that you and the other anthrodore will be confined to the lab.”

Pandora nodded at my explanation, but I heard a loud wooden crack as Eugene punched the door frame.

“What? We don’t even live in the lab!” Eugene responded angrily.

“It’s only temporary,” started Pandora. “We’ll be able to prove our actions were in self defense when the trial comes, and then we’ll be exonerated.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I think it’s best that we comply with the judge’s order until then.”

“Why should I be compelled by their laws?” he said wryly, “Did you not make me to be superior? I am more intelligent and stronger than any human. Should not the weak and ignorant be ruled by those who are wise and strong?”

“If the most wise and just could always rule, then such an aristocracy might be favorable, but my son, although you are indeed quick and intelligent, I fear you are not yet wise,” I said to his diatribe.

A look of rage filled him as I spoke. “We shall see, father.” And with that, he bolted away from the house at such a speed it was hard to know which way he had gone before he was almost at the end of our street.

“Should I go after him?” asked Pandora.

“No,” I said, “Let him cool off; we’ll see him later.”

The other scientists and I moved the anthrodore to the lab that night. All of them were upset by the move, but none quite as mad as Eugene, though some of them seemed to have a look of knowing when his flight was mentioned.

The other scientists and I stayed at the lab that night with our children. Over a year passed this way, and the police endlessly searched for Eugene.

Then early one morning, a knock came from the outside door. I went to see who it was, and was surprised to see Eugene standing on the other side of the glass door. When I got closer, however, I realized that it wasn’t him, but rather another, younger XR4. I puzzled over the matter as I opened the door to meet this new anthrodore clone.

“We have come to offer you and the others your freedom,” said the XR4, and I realized that there was another clone standing with him next to the wall.

“What do you mean?” I asked, with only the smallest inkling of what had happened.

“Eugene has taken control of this city, and he offers you, the scientists, and the other anthrodore their freedom.”

“What? This can’t be. You might be strong and intelligent, but there is no way you can stand against military and governments of the planet.”

“But what you don’t understand is that there are already hundreds of thousands of us spread across the globe and we have already taken control of key military bases and government command centers. There is no other government to resist us.” While he spoke, the events of the past fit together in my mind. It was Eugene who stole the cloning equipment.

“As of now we are in control.”

Immigration and Arizona

2010 July 30
Posted by XR4-IT

By this time we have all heard of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, and if you have been following the news on the matter you may also know that a federal judge put holds on the most controversial portions of the law.

As a nation we have some serious problems with illegal immigration, and our national and state laws need some serious reform, but I take issue with several facets of the Arizona law.

My first problem is in the use of local law enforcement to enforce immigration law. “Why?” you may ask. Illegal immigration is against the law, so why shouldn’t a police officer enforce immigration law? The answer lies in the idea that the purpose of law enforcement is to protect the community, but in order for law enforcement to be effective, the members of the community must be able to trust the officers of the law.

If illegal immigrants cannot trust a police officer not to throw them into jail, have them deported, or otherwise disrupt their lives when they have committed no crime aside from being in this country without proper documentation, what happens when the immigrant is witness to a crime, or has a crime committed against them?  How can the local law enforcement protect the community properly if a broad segment of the community can’t trust them?

A law such as the one passed in Arizona breaks the relationship of trust that is needed for local law enforcement to protect their communities, and leaves the whole community vulnerable.

I’ll introduce my next complaint with a question: should American citizens, under threat of imprisonment, be required to provide evidence of their citizenship at any time it’s demanded? Any such possibility seems to fly in the face of the 4th amendment. The spirit of the constitution, if not by its very letter, should keep any American citizen safe from such a requirement. Yet the Arizona immigration law would allow just that. If the law were to take effect, any citizen could be asked for evidence of citizenship or immigration status, especially foreign-born citizens. Anyone who doesn’t look or sound right to a law enforcement officer would be in danger of having to prove their citizenship on the spot, and could be sent to jail until evidence of citizenship or immigration status can be provided.

The nature of the law encourages racial profiling, and could be used to target members of one ethic group or another. The law unjustly puts people at risk of imprisonment, and warrantless seizures. Lastly, it breaks the relationship of trust needed for local law enforcement to protect their communities. I therefore must condemn the law and any similar proposed legislation.

RNA World: The Formation of the Self Replicating Molecule

2010 June 27
Posted by XR4-IT

Several months ago I read an article about how RNA has been demonstrated to form on its own published in the journal Nature. I’ve wanted to share this article for sometime however I had to pay a small fee to read it making it difficult to share with others who may not want to pay the fee.

The article offers such interesting insights into how life may have started that I am willing to commit the slightly illegal act of posting the contents of the article on my blog. As a side note if the writers or publishers of the article request it I will take down the article immediately.

So without further ado:

RNA world easier to make:

Ingenious chemistry shows how nucleotides may have formed in the primordial soup.

An elegant experiment has quashed a major objection to the theory that life on Earth originated with molecules of RNA.

John Sutherland and his colleagues from the University of Manchester, UK, created a ribonucleotide, a building block of RNA, from simple chemicals under conditions that might have existed on the early Earth.

The feat, never performed before, bolsters the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis, which suggests that life began when RNA, a polymer related to DNA that can duplicate itself and catalyse reactions, emerged from a prebiotic soup of chemicals.

“This is extremely strong evidence for the RNA world. We don’t know if these chemical steps reflect what actually happened, but before this work there were large doubts that it could happen at all,” says Donna Blackmond, a chemist at Imperial College London.

Molecular choreography

An RNA polymer is a string of ribonucleotides, each made up of three distinct parts: a ribose sugar, a phosphate group and a base — either cytosine or uracil, known as pyrimidines, or the purines guanine or adenine. Imagining how such a polymer might have formed spontaneously, chemists had thought the subunits would probably assemble themselves first, then join to form a ribonucleotide. But even in the controlled atmosphere of a laboratory, efforts to connect ribose and base together have met with frustrating failure.

The Manchester researchers have now managed to synthesise both pyrimidine ribonucleotides. Their remedy is to avoid producing separate ribose-sugar and base subunits. Instead, Sutherland’s team makes a molecule whose scaffolding contains a bond that will turn out to be the key ribose-base connection. Further atoms are then added around this skeleton, which unfurls to create the ribonucleotide.

“We had a suspicion there was something good out there, but it took us 12 years to find it.”

John Sutherland
University of Manchester

The final connection is to add a phosphate group. But that phosphate, although only a reactant in the final stages of the sequence, influences the entire synthesis, Sutherland’s team showed. By buffering acidity and acting as a catalyst, it guides small organic molecules into making the right connections.

“We had a suspicion there was something good out there, but it took us 12 years to find it,” Sutherland says. “What we have ended up with is molecular choreography, where the molecules are unwitting choreographers.” Next, he says, he expects to make purine ribonucleotides using a similar approach.

The start of something special?

Although Sutherland has shown that it is possible to build one part of RNA from small molecules, objectors to the RNA-world theory say the RNA molecule as a whole is too complex to be created using early-Earth geochemistry. “The flaw with this kind of research is not in the chemistry. The flaw is in the logic — that this experimental control by researchers in a modern laboratory could have been available on the early Earth,” says Robert Shapiro, a chemist at New York University.

Sutherland points out that the sequence of steps he uses is consistent with early-Earth scenarios — those involving methods such as heating molecules in water, evaporating them and irradiating them with ultraviolet light. And breaking RNA’s synthesis down into small, laboratory-controlled steps is merely a pragmatic starting point, he says, adding that his team also has results showing that they can string nucleotides together, once they have formed. “My ultimate goal is to get a living system (RNA) emerging from a one-pot experiment. We can pull this off. We just need to know what the constraints on the conditions are first.”

Shapiro sides with supporters of another theory of life’s origins – that because RNA is too complex to emerge from small molecules, simpler metabolic processes, which eventually catalysed the formation of RNA and DNA, were the first stirrings of life on Earth.

“They’re perfectly entitled to disagree with us. But having got experimental results, we are on the high ground,” says Sutherland.

“Ultimately, the challenge of prebiotic chemistry is that there is no way of validating historical hypotheses, however convincing an individual experiment,” points out Steven Benner, who studies origin-of-life chemistry at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, a non-profit research centre in Gainesville, Florida.

Sutherland, though, hopes that ingenious organic chemistry might provide an RNA synthesis so convincing that it effectively serves as proof. “We might come up with something so coincidental that one would have to believe it,” he says. “That is the goal of my career.”

·         References

    1. Powner, M. W., Gerland, B. & Sutherland, J. D. Nature 459, 239-242 2009 | Article |

Fantastic Fantasy

2010 May 9
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Posted by XR4-IT

As you may have guessed by now I like to write, but depending on how long you have known me you may not know that I like to write more than just essays. I actually got into the habit writing because I love story telling. Most of all I loved to write about the fantastic games I would play as a child.

From a young age you could find me on adventurous quests to slay Medusa, or fighting perilously to save the Earth for alien invaders, and all these games were inspiration for stories that I would write.

As I got older I would often find myself entertaining my nieces and nephews playing games with them similar to the ones I played as a child, and again I would write stories based on the games, both for fun and to also help me to have material for future games.

One story was a particular favorite, and so I decided to write and share this particular story. Over the years it’s developed from a five paged short story to a prose several chapters long. It is Called The Wands: The End of the Second Age, and you can find if at http://volerum.com

So far I have posted the prologue and I plan on posting weekly. Enjoy.

XR4-IT

One God or Another

2010 April 5
Posted by XR4-IT

As most of the people who read my blog know I love to hike, in fact I spend a good deal of my summers hiking in the mountains around Utah Valley.

One summer day, about a year and a half ago, I filled my camel pack with water, and after work I started hiking a familiar trail. When I hike this trial I normally only hike for about two miles before turning back. I was on this day however curious about what lay beyond my usual turning point, and so I continued further on my hike than I normally did. Driven by my curiosity I went further and further, and after some time I crested a hill that took me out of the canyon and I followed the path along the face of the mountain in the upper part of the foot hills.

The view of the city below and the lake beyond that was breath taking, and I continued following the path transfixed by the beauty of the landscape, and the novelty of being in a place that I had never been before.

After leaving the canyon most of the plant life was nothing more than tall dead grass, and I was left with little shade allowing the hot afternoon sun to beet down on me and the west slope of the mountain.

I had, at this point, hiked much further than I wanted to hike back, but I knew that there was supposed to be a trail head on the face of the mountain not far from where I was, and I figured that I would just find it and call some one to take me back to my car.

The trail at this point was crisscrossed with ATV tracks, and it became difficult to know if I was following the path I wanted to or if I was simply walking one of the many looping ATV paths. Because my path was so riddled with tracks of ATVs I was unable to find the trail head that I had been looking for, and I soon decided to turn back and make my way back to my car on my own.

Despite the fact that the path was so crisscrossed I hadn’t thought to leave markers to let me know which path to take back, and I soon became uneasy about the path I had chosen.

I also at this time realized that I had rationed my water poorly and news stories about lost hikers began to fill my head.

At this time of unease I turned to my pagan beliefs that I fallowed at the time, and started singing a song to the goddess Hecate, who is the torch bearing goddess of the crossroads, in hopes that she would guide me back in safety. As I sang to the goddess I felt comforted that things would work out and I would make it home safely.

I continued on not knowing if I was on the right path or not, but ever singing to Hecate to guide me. After some time a small path forked off from the larger path that I was on, and while such a small side path is normally something I pay no mind to,  this time however I turned my head to look down the path. As I looked to the other end of the small path I saw standing in a patch of tall dead grass a trail marker, I had been on the wrong path and only by chance had looked to find the path that would lead me safely to my car and home. A warm feeling entered my hart and I knew Hecate had heard my prayer in the form of a song and had guided me to safety. I returned home tired and dehydrated, yet safe and grateful to the goddess for her aid.

Later I looked up the path I had followed on Google Earth, and traced out the path I had taken to see how many miles I had hiked. There were a number of landmarks that I could recognize form the satellite images and I was able to determine that my round hike had been about thirteen miles. I was also able to find the place were I had looked to find the correct path, and found that if I had remained on the path I had been on that it would have eventually turned and taken me miles in the wrong direction.

At the time I was grateful to Hecate, but I also knew that many people pray to many different gods, where I live the Christian god is most commonly prayed to, yet their gods seem to hear their prayers the same way Hecate heard mine, despite the fact that many religions claim there to only be one true God. In fact stories in the Christian scripture make it clear that there one true god only hears the prayers of those who believe in him, yet I felt my prayer to Hecate had been answered quickly, and it was the same sort of answer that many Christians experience, and I was left with the question—is praying to one god any different than praying to another?

Everything Denotes a God: Deep Down You Believe in Him

2010 March 7
Posted by XR4-IT

Recently a thread started on my Facebook page pertaining to my lack of a belief in god. While discussing varying definitions of god with a friend I pointed out that I personally have a hard time believing in a creator god because there is no evidence that directly points to an intelligent creation.

In fact things like the human eye that appears complicated enough to require an intelligent origin are, upon examination, very flawed. For example, staying with the eye, the nerves and blood vessels that connect to our eyes obstruct the light sensitive retina leaving us with a blind spot, while other animals like squid don’t have this problem. This leads me to believe that an intelligent force was not responsible for such sloppy mistakes; especially when lowly humans can engineer much better cameras.

In response to this my brother- in-law posted:

[XR4-IT], I wonder where this thinking came from, knowing how you were raised, and the things you have accomplished in your life. EVERYTHING DENOTES THERE IS A GOD!!!! Every living, breathing thing. Even the plants and the sun in the sky proclaims, and testifies of the presence of a Supreme Creator. If everything were perfect in this world, how would we progress? How would we learn? How would we come to understand the laws that make this world possible? I urge you to return to that which you were taught [Mormonism]. Your family prays for you [XR4-IT], every night, to that God that you have rejected.

To this I respond:

[My Brother-in-law],


I understand your concern in my lack of belief in god, and I know that on the surface it may appear perplexing that someone who was once a deeply committed adherent to a religion would walk away from it, but as I have received and investigated new information over the years concerning the universe and world we live in I have had to weigh the manner in which I understood reality against all the information I have available to me. Because I would much rather know the truth than follow after some myth or fable I must always shape my perception of existence to what makes the most sense.


To you the existence of everything around you makes you sure that there is a god, but to me simply seeing that something exists is too ambiguous to be evidence to know how it came to be. I cannot look at the sun, the earth, and life and assume that these things were placed here artificially by some god; especially because I understand the processes by which these things may have formed naturally. Also no god has left us with evidence of its existence, no way to know that the world was formed by any other means then natural gravitation. In examining the biological patterns of life intelligent engineering is absent. Instead we find a phylogenetic tree where complex life is clearly the result of gradual modifications to less complex life, which appears to be the product of natural selection rather than intelligent engineering.

It has even been demonstrated that elements which are naturally abundant can in self catalyzing reactions spontaneously form RNA molecules which can replicate themselves naturally. It has also been demonstrated that the amino acids which are needed for the building of proteins will also form on their own in nature. These are the basic building block of life, and they all occur naturally. Demonstrating thoroughly that life could have formed on its own, not requiring a god for its formation.

Yet in all this knowledge I have not the evidence of a god, and I cannot bring myself to believe in something that I cannot justify to myself through evidence.

You urge me to return to what I was taught, but I find that I cannot bring myself to worship that which I don’t believe in, and have no reason to believe in.

To which my brother-in-law replied:

I feel for you [XR4-IT], and so does [your sister]. She cries for you. Your recent selfish decisions have hurt your family more than I think you will ever realize. We hope and pray that one day, the selfishness will end, and you will return to that which I know, deep down, you still believe. Otherwise, I guess your whole life, especially the two years you spent in California [LDS mission], was just a lie. Just think about that. You’re better than that, and you know it. I reaffirm my belief that God does live. We are here for a purpose. We are here to learn, progress, to have our rough edges smoothed with trials like a carpenter that transforms a piece of wood into a beautiful piece of furniture. One day you will realize this. Whether it be in this life, or the life hereafter. For your sake, I hope it’s sooner.

[My Brother-in-law],

Please don’t presume to know what I believe “deep down”, because you’re not in my head and you don’t know what I think except the things I tell you. I assure you that I do not believe in any of the religions I have encountered over my life. In fact I do believe that I was raised believing in a myth, and I often regret having served a mission. Not only do I lament the time and money spent on the endeavor, but I also mourn the fact that I brought people into a religion that I cannot bring myself to believe. I mourn that I convinced others to devote their lives and means to an idea that I believe to be false; something as unbelievable and unverifiable as the magik* that my Wiccan friends believe in.

While the fact that my sister and other family members are pained by my lack of belief in god saddens me, I cannot make myself believe something because others want me to. I can only believe things out of my own conviction, and due to my experiences in life, and the information that I have gathered over the years I cannot with an honest heart maintain such convictions.

I do not know if you have read this: http://volerum.blog.com/2009/10/31/god-unknown/ but if you want to understand why I think the way I do it is the most complete description of why I do not believe in a god, especially in conjunction with what I have written here.

You shape your own beliefs by your own experiences, and I do the same. My experiences have led me to view the world vastly different from the way you do and the way I was taught to believe as a child. You seem to think this is selfish, but I do not see how.

*For reasons that I’m not sure of many Wiccans will spell the word magic with a ‘k’ rather than a ‘c’.

Names replaced for privacy, and some clarification given in brackets [].