Art & Media

Why Doesn’t Anyone on the Enterprise Wear Gloves? and other Star Trek conundrums

I’m currently watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time (just started season 6). I know, I know – how did a nerd like me miss the boat? Part of it was the fact that I was born the same year the series started, so you’ll have to excuse my past baby self for not tuning in. I’m also the only person in my family who likes sci-fi, so I wasn’t exposed to it there. But frankly, I avoided Star Trek for a long time because I thought it was the world of asocial uber-nerds who liked to blow up stuff with phasers and fabricate technobabble to pretend to be scientific.

Boy, was I wrong. First of all, the science on the show is fantastic overall. There are so many moments where I find myself thinking as a biologist, “Hey, yeah, that’s completely plausible!” You can imagine my glee when it was revealed that a Klingon spy was managing to sneak messages past the transporter’s filters by encoding them as amino acid sequences.

I also can’t stop thinking how damn progressive the show is, especially when I remember it was made over two decades ago. I had no idea that an integral part of every episode is discussing ethics, humanism, and social justice. Or that half the scenes would be in meetings, trials, or diplomacy. To me, one of the most striking example of the show’s progressive values is the relationship between Will Riker and Deanna Troi. I swear they have the most supportive, healthy fuckbuddy relationship that I’ve ever seen on television.

But of course, there are some things in the show that bug me. I think this is inevitable when dealing with speculative sci-fi, since there are always some consequences of technology that writers don’t immediately thing about. Thankfully nitpicking these conundrums seems to be an essential part of being a Star Trek fan, so I have to get these off my chest:

  • Why doesn’t anyone on the Enterprise wear gloves? If this has a simple explanation like “the ship generates an invisible glove force field when required,” please tell me. Because right now, every time Dr. Crusher touches a patient with some horrible alien disease, or Geordi handles some hazardous substance in the cargo bay, or someone touches a piece of evidence with bare hands, the scientist in me dies a little.
  • Why does everyone conveniently ignore the curative power of the transporter? When Dr. Pulaski is rapidly aged by an antibody that alters her DNA, the crew uses her old genome sequence as a filter in the transporter to transport her back in her previous state. No one mentions that they’ve come up with a cure to all cancer, but perhaps that’s because by the 24th century, cancer has already been cured in a different way. But they’ve also cured aging – just use an old transporter scan and you’ll keep being loaded as your 25 year old self.
  • How is Lt. Broccoli – sorry, Barclay – able to see and grab creatures in the energy stream during transport? If every molecule in your body is being turned into energy…how is sight or movement possible?
  • Why doesn’t anyone on the Enterprise seem to have any sense of urgency? I swear it took a couple of seasons to see anyone break into a light jog, let alone a run. I don’t know how many scenes I’ve watched where Worf and his security team casually walk to part of a ship to apprehend a dangerous alien/crew member/what have you. You think they’d be liberally using the transporter. You think you’re going to get away? BAM, Worf just teleported right in front of you! Or better yet, we teleported you to a holding cell.
  • When Geordi and Ensign Ro are believed to be dead but they’re actually on the Enterprise out of phase, at the end of the episode Geordi is ravenous because they haven’t eaten in two days. So we know even though they’re out of phase, they’re still having normal bodily functions. …So where did they poop during these two days? I know it’s not the most important question in the Star Trek universe, but knowing there’s phased poop hidden on the Enterprise fills me with endless mirth.
  • But the most baffling thing of all…why the hell does Synthehol exist? Why would you keep the awful taste of alcohol and get rid of the main point of drinking it, the intoxicating effects? If there’s anything in Star Trek that makes it hard for me to suspend disbelief, it’s this.

Don’t mind me, just walking my Dalek

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Seen on Capitol Hill Saturday night. My shoddy night time phone photography doesn’t do it justice – this looked like something off the set. It was enhanced by a number of onlookers yelling “EXTERMINATE!” for extra ambiance.

I love how nerdy this city is.

Honoring my mom through art

Honoring my mom through art

Since my mom passed away in April, I’ve been constantly reminded by how many lives she touched as an art teacher. So many students considered her a major influence on their life, even if they didn’t end up going to art school. I wanted to share an example of one of my mom’s favorite students, Surbhi Agarwal, who recently honored my mom in a wonderful way.

In addition to being a wonderful artist, Surbhi is applying to medical school to be a cancer researcher. She founded All Things Pink, “an organization founded by young women, for young women, to empower them with the knowledge and resources to reduce the risk of breast cancer by implementing prevention, early detection, and awareness into all aspects of their life.” Even when my mom was bedridden and barely had the energy to use the computer, she made sure to personally go online and make a donation to Surbhi’s organization.

Surbhi used that donation to honor my mom in the most appropriate way – through art. She hosted an event where in addition to some information about breast cancer prevention, yoga, and some good wine, everyone painted. It was a mother-daughter event, so a number of families attended.

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I want to close with this beautiful statement Surbhi wrote about my mom:

“Mrs. McCreight was not only my art teacher, but an amazing mentor and friend. Her contagious spirt, love for art, and creativity rubbed off on me and all of her other students. She taught me not only art, but the importance of passion and creativity in every aspect of my life.  Even after spending two periods a day with her (one in regular art and one in honors art) I would make sure to visit her after school because those two hours were never enough time with her. She always put up with me with a big smile, and I never wanted to miss school because I couldn’t bear the thought of missing her class. The few months she was gone from school when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer were so dull and empty, and the day she came back everything seemed right again.  She was so lively and happy, and she never once let us get even a glimpse of the hardship I knew she went through. Her strength and courage inspired me, and those values she instilled in me have gotten me through every difficulty that has come my way. Words can’t describe how much I miss her and the enormous impact she has had on my life.”

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The derpiest fish in the Seattle Aquarium

I’m about to fail you as a biologist because I have no idea what the name of this fish is or anything about it as a species. But I do know that I’ve spent way too much time laughing at this photo:

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The Homo sapiens boyfriendii in the background agrees that this is indeed a silly looking fish.

First US case of deadly MERS-CoV arrives in…my hometown in Indiana

My hometown of Munster, Indiana isn’t exactly the most exciting place in the world. As high schoolers we referred to it as Funster, precisely because it wasn’t. There don’t tend to be a lot of news stories coming out of that suburban sprawl, so I was a little surprised when I saw in the news that the first US case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus has appeared in Munster, of all places: 

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“The infected patient, a health care worker, flew April 24 from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Chicago.

The person rode a bus from Chicago to Indiana, health officials said.

On Tuesday, the patient experienced shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person went to the Emergency Department at Community Hospital Wednesday and was admitted that day.

Because of the patient’s symptoms and recent travel, doctors tested for MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.”

It’s a little bizarre reading this, especially since I spent a ton of time in Community Hospital over the last year because of my mom’s cancer treatment. I think I’ve also ridden the same bus from the airport in Chicago to Munster.

What’s especially eerie is that while I was most recently visiting my dad, we watched the movie Contagion, which is about a pandemic of an unknown deadly virus spreading in the US. Whenever we watch sciencey movies, my dad always asks me, “Okay, tell me if this could really happen.” Most of the time I’m rolling my eyes at scientists harvesting unobtanium or sequencing genomes  instantaneously in our current era. But this whole movie I was going “Nope, THIS COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.”

Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing. Though if my hometown turns out to be ground zero for the zombie apocalypse, at least something interesting will have finally happened there.

Butts Wearing Glasses

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What? I warned you!

The Chef Delusion

After watching hundreds of Food Network shows that have the message of “Being a chef and owning a restaurant is grueling, time consuming, poor paying, thankless work and is an especially terrible career path if you have absolutely no restaurant experience,” my subconscious still fantasizes about quitting everything, becoming a chef, and opening my own restaurant.

Three Ninja's new album, Alcohol & Isolation

Three Ninja’s new album, Alcohol & Isolation

With artwork by yours truly. I’ve always been one of those people who hated country, but damn do I like this. You can get the album here.

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Juneau

Juneau

Oil on canvas by Jennifer McCreight, December 2013. This was done as a Christmas gift to my boyfriend’s family, who lost their dog Juneau that summer. They said I definitely captured his spirit, which is one of the best compliments an artist can get.

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Feminism and Sansa Stark

Warning: This post contains Game of Thrones spoilers, especially for the first book/season. There are vague spoilers for books 2 and 3, but I haven’t read past that yet.

I recently read an interesting piece titled “In Defense of Sansa Stark” that viewed the character from a feminist perspective. The author argued that Sansa is so widely hated as a character because she’s a feminine pre-teen girl:

“As a massive fan of Sansa, even I must admit that she is difficult to like at first. She’s spoilt and a bit bratty. She fights with her fan-favorite sister and trusts characters who the reader knows are completely untrustworthy. She is hopelessly naive and lost in dreams of pretty princes and dashing knights. She acts, for all intents and purposes, like the eleven year old girl that she is. Most of us were pretty darn unbearable to older people at that age (and that’s fine, because they were also pretty unbearable to us). Robb and Jon, although older than Sansa, are similarly misguided and bratty, with Jon’s constant “poor me, I deserve so much more” attitude at the Wall, and Robb’s clumsy attempts at being the Lord of Winterfell. But these mistakes are only reprehensible to readers when they come from a girl, interested in girly things and making girly mistakes. Because viewers have been taught that “girly“ is automatically bad.”

You should read the whole post if you’re interested in the series. I think it could apply to some fans who hate Sansa – I haven’t exactly chatted with every A Song of Ice and Fire fan. But as someone who initially hated Sansa nearly as much as Joffrey, I have to say that’s not why I hated Sansa.

Sansa originally contains every quality I loathe. She’s incredibly spoiled and a giant brat. She’s gullible and demonstrates absolutely no ability to think for herself – she just parrots whatever she’s told and never applies any critical thinking. She’s naive to the point of delusion, where she refuses to admit that the world around her isn’t a perfect fairy tale, even when provided with ample evidence. And worst of all, she has no moral compass. Instead of standing by her sister Arya, she lies because marrying a prince is more important and leads to the death of an innocent child and her pet wolf. Instead of standing by her father Ned, she tattles on him and ultimately leads to his death. She has no loyalty or honor.

And frankly, I’m miffed that the author thinks this is all okay because that’s “the eleven year old girl that she is.” The assumption that all eleven year old girls are vain, gullible, boy-crazy brats with no shred of ethics is just as sexist as someone hating Sansa because she likes dresses and is good at needlework. I certainly wasn’t that way when I was an eleven year old girl!

I don’t hate Sansa anymore. She’s grown a lot as a character through books 2 and 3. She’s become kinder and stronger, and it’s impressive that she deals with the daily torture she receives. If I were in her shoes, I would have jumped off a high castle wall long ago, or tried to stab Joffrey with fork knowing I’d die trying. I still don’t like her, though. She’s still gullible and not the brightest tool in the shed. And she’s so passive – instead of actively trying to improve her situation, she basically sits around waiting to be rescued. Cersei, Daenerys, Margaery and Catelyn  are all feminine characters, but they’re proactive about their situations.

But while I no longer hate Sansa, I still dread reading her chapters. Is there a single Sansa chapter where something goes her way? It’s depressing to read about her getting screwed over for the umpteenth time. I feel like her only role in the story is to be a victim, which just depresses me.

This is post 39 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Microbiology haikus

Commenter VeritasKnight requested a post full of haikus; Joe McKen asked for them to be microbiology themed.

Peptidoglycan
damn you, I am positive
You blue my cover

It was chilling there
Before genomes went mainstream
The retrovirus

S. cerevisiae
The brewer, not the screwer
Fuck C. albicans

Ten percent human
The rest, essential strangers
Am I really me?

And for those who are curious, the themes (in order) are gram staining, endogenous retroviruses, baker’s yeast versus the species that causes vaginal yeast infections, and the human microbiome.

This is post 34 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Bloom

In my dermatillomania post, a commenter linked to this art installation that I just had to share:

In 2003 a building housing the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC) was slated for demolition to make way for updated facilities. The closure was a time for reflection and remembrance as the MMHC had been in operation for over 9 decades and had touched countless thousands of patients and employees alike, and the pending demolition presented a unique problem. How does one memorialize a building impossibly rich with a history of both hope and sadness, and do it in a way that reflects not only the past but also the future? And could this memorial be open to the public, not as a speech, or series of informational plaques, but as an experience worthy of they building’s unique story?

To answer that question artist Anna Schuleit was commissioned to do the impossible. After an initial tour of the facility she was struck not with what she saw but with what she didn’t see: the presence of life and color. While historically a place of healing, the drab interior, worn hallways, and dull paint needed a respectful infusion of hope. With a limited budget and only three months of planning Schuleit and an enormous team of volunteers executed a massive public art installation called Bloom. The concept was simple but absolutely immense in scale. Nearly 28,000 potted flowers would fill almost every square foot of the MMHC including corridors, stairwells, offices and even a swimming pool, all of it brought to life with a sea of blooms. The public was then invited for a limited 4-day viewing as a time for needed reflection and rebirth.

Make sure to check out the rest of the photos and the interview with the artist here. I’m absolutely in love with it. Mental health problems have so much stigma attached to them. It’s wonderful to reframe the issue as being about rebirth, growth, and brightness instead of something bleak, deranged, and evil. I think this reaction from someone who visited the exhibit summarizes it perfectly:

“I walked through Bloom with a close friend of mine who has spent a great deal of time inside similar hospitals. He was close to tears and repeated said he felt the desire to jump into the flowers, sum bold for the freedom and the celebration of his own growth and healing. We recognized that Bloom brought beauty and wonder to what has always been an inherently taboo subject matter.”

This is post 33 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.