Friday, December 15, 2006

The Church on the Hill, Lenox, MA

To my friend Natalie, I hope you find this blog.

Pendragon Theatre and Carmelite Monastery

Photo from Historic Saranac Lake

Last night we attended a nice little reception at the above house located on Franklin Ave. in Saranac Lake. It's the former Carmelite Monastery, before that a private cure cottage owned by the Hudsons and now a vacation home. With the advent of anti-TB drugs it was no longer of use as a cure cottage. The house was given to the Carmelite Order of nuns. The nuns left Saranac Lake in 1998 and the house was sold to a private individual. Eighteen bedrooms, seven bathrooms, numerous fireplaces, a couple of kitchens and at least three staircases leading to the upper floors. The giant front living room was the previous chapel where Catholic Masses were held. One room for the public and another screened room for the nuns.

The reception was for friends of Pendragon Theatre. The owner of the house wrote a radio play called "A Franklin Manor Christmas" that was performed prior to the reception. The play was based on the new owners experiences in restoring the house.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Body Worlds 2

Body Worlds 2 is in Boston until Jan. 7th. I am definitely going to go see it. This display has been a big hit in Europe and the people I know that have seen it have raved about it.

Not the "freepers" though. They see the exhibit as an abomination and a celebration of the "culture of death."
Nothing shocking about this, you say, it's just what passes for modern art these days? Ah, but there's an important difference. Von Hagens' "Bodyworks" exhibit is not representational art -- the usual paintings or sculptures or even photographs -- but actual human bodies or body parts from 200 dead men, women and children preserved, dissected, mutilated and put on display to entertain. [My emphasis]
Ok, I'm pretty sure I will be entertained. But I'll be educated while I'm being entertained as well. The "freepers" are concerned whether consent was obtained from the persons whose bodies are used in the exhibit.

You would think the "freepers" would visit the Body Worlds website to obtain some information. Maybe they could even download the information concerning body donation (pdf file).
Von Hagens' purpose is simple: He wants to reduce the human body to a mere object. How better to do it than to take real bodies and defile, manipulate and pervert them from flesh and blood into plastic for the purpose of amusing those with a particularly ghoulish appetite? In the process, he goes way beyond objectification. He denigrates not only the human body but life itself.
I guess I'll never understand the "freeper" mindset. The human body is something to be hidden, kept secret, not talked about. I really don't see how the "freepers" are any different than those that prevented human dissection in the dark ages. We certainly don't want anyone to learn the anatomy, physiology or health conditions of their bodies! "Freepers" must believe that there is no need for a person to understand their body. And the children! Think about the children! The exhibit is appropriate for 5th graders on up.

The River City Project

Teachers at Stafford Middle School in Plattsburgh, NY are requiring their students to go online to play a computer game. The game is part of the River City Curriculum Project out of Harvard University and supported by the National Science Foundation. Normally this wouldn't interest me all that much because I surely hope that computers are being used in school for more than keyboarding and wordprocessing. But it interests me for a few reasons.

First, the game takes place in the late 19th century in River City, USA. There's trouble in River City and it begins with a 'D' and ends with ease. It's the students job to find out what the heck is going on and how to solve the problems. Remember, this game takes place in an era where the germ theory of disease is just becoming an excepted theory.
As visitors to River City, students travel back in time, bringing their 21st century skills and technology to address 19th century problems. River City is a town besieged with health problems. Students work together in small research teams to help the town understand why so many residents are becoming ill. Students use technology to keep track of clues that hint at causes of illnesses, form and test hypotheses, develop controlled experiments to test their hypotheses, and make recommendations based on the data they collect, all in an online environment.
The objectives of this learning environment are 1) to learn the principles and concepts of science; 2) acquire the reasoning and procedural skills of a scientist; 3) devise and carry out investigations that test their ideas; 4) understand why such investigations are uniquely powerful.

The students interact with a reporter in River City named Kent Brock. Kent tells the students some things and asks them lots of questions that tests the students ability to explain, interpret, apply, give perspective, empathize and be self-aware. Students are allowed to review and critique Kent's articles before they go to press.

This sounds like it's far more than a game. It's almost like traveling back in time to obtain a real-life educational experience. It's a powerful tool because it uses "active learning" rather than passive learning. No one is lecturing you. You have to find out things on your own (with the help of other students in the multi-user environment). You can learn more about the active learning practices here at the Harvard active learning website.

BTW, there are 3 diseases attacking the good people of River City in 1890. Any guesses as to what these 3 diseases might be?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


This is the "Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care" or AAALAC. They are a non-profit, private organization that promotes the humane treatment of laboratory animals. This is all fine and good. It's an organization you can pay to insure that you are in compliance with state and federal regulations concerning the use of laboratory animals.

It's expensive to be a member of AAALAC. The fees are based on the square footage of your research facility. It's not clear if that means the area of the animal facility or the entire facility. The initial application fee is $3,200 - >$11,200. The annual fee is $2,100 - >$7,400. But the costs of complying with AAALAC recommendations can be much, much greater.

A copy of the "streamlined" program description can be found here (pdf). Basically, they want to know what you are doing with the animals and how you are doing it. How the animals are being housed, food or water restrictions etc. Fine, no problem. Who is your veterinarian (more costs)? What is your research funding? Next they want to know about health and hazard risks to personnel. How this relates to the humane treatment of animals is beyond me, but ok, let's hire a safety officer (more expense). BTW, the safety officer will ALWAYS ultimately tell you that the safety of personnel is up to the principal investigator.

Why do AAALAC inspectors need to come into your research lab? Syringe and needle inventory? Why should they care what chemicals you have on your shelves? What does that have to do with the humane treatment of lab animals?

AAALAC has a "Council of Accreditation" made up of "highly accomplished animal care and use professionals." Notice anything about their qualifications?

AAALAC does take the time to justify itself to researchers:
If you're a researcher, you know that there are many regulations and requirements surrounding the use of animals in research. So at first glance, it may seem that participating in AAALAC's voluntary accreditation program is perhaps unnecessary—or just one more hurdle standing between you and your work.
AAALAC benefits us, we are told, by eliminating variables, encouraging "performance-based" oversite and enhancing funding opportunities.

The real purpose of AAALAC is (1) to cover the butts of institute administrators; (2) to provide jobs for veterinarians that don't like working with animals and want to be administrators; (3) to give some sort of "cover" to investigators such that they can justify their humane use of experimental animals; (4) make it somewhat easier to apply for grants and publish research papers; (5) to find more and more ways they can insinuate themselves into the research process in order to insure continued existence of their organization.

Very little of what AAALAC does actually affects the health and humane treatment of laboratory animals. Unless file cabinet after file cabinet full of paper work somehow protects the animals.