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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lynn Margulis: Scientist, Teacher, Friend

   Distinguished University (of Massachusetts) Professor and my long time advisor - of more than eight years since taking her course 'Environmental Evolution' as an undergraduate - Lynn Margulis passed away yesterday after suffering a severe stroke five days earlier. This was indeed sudden, as Lynn was full of energy, as usual, right up until the hour of her stroke. After initially being treated at Worcester Medical, it was decided by her family, based on Lynn's explicit living will, that she be taken home to die in peace. It was just that: peaceful. Surrounded by family and her favorite classical music, the sun beat through Lynn's bedroom window onto her beautiful face as she lay in a deep sleep. I was lucky enough to have seen her the day before she passed, and was able to thank her for myself and those of her students who didn't have the chance to say it themselves. It was a difficult moment, but one that I'll cherish forever. Her body will be cremated and scattered along one of her favorite research areas, close to her home.
   To say Lynn affected thousands and contributed significantly to science is a gross understatement. Countless graduate students of hers have gone on to tenured professorships where her ideas and teaching style have been - and continue to be - perpetuated through them. Her lasting legacy will assuredly be her contributions to evolutionary biology and to the Gaia Theory. She was a unique, inspirational polymath who may never be equaled again. She took a scientific approach to everything - from symbiogenesis to environmental evolution to whether HIV caused AIDS to the events of 9/11 - and always quoted David Bohm telling us that "science was the search for the truth, whether we liked it or not". 
   Lynn's two greatest scientific contributions, endosymbioses leading to the evolution of eukaryotes and the Gaia Theory, changed the way in which we understood the natural world and the ways in which we taught our students. Lynn resurrected the early 20th century ideas of Merezhkovsky and Wallin and developed the modern theory of endosymbiosis, essentially the process by which nucleated cells evolved from prokaryotic, or bacterial cells. Considering four out the five kingdoms of life are comprised of one or more eukaryotic cells, including us animals, her ideas are fundamental to understanding the evolution of all non-bacterial life. And Lynn had plenty of ideas regarding bacterial life as well, as her theories involved species of bacteria forming consortia that led to the evolution of the first nucleated cells (eukaryotes). She developed the Gaia Hypothesis, now called the Gaia Theory, with James Lovelock. The Gaia Theory, in part, states that the Earth is a "cybernetic system with homeorhetic tendencies" due to the origin of life and the co-evolution of life and the Earth. 
   Lynn was a decorated scientist: The Presidential Medal of Science; The William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement; The National Academy of Sciences; The Russian Academy of Sciences; The Darwin-Wallace Medal; and too many honorary doctorates, life achievement awards, and distinguished teaching awards to list. She has made many "top something" lists regarding the most influential scientists, and even people, of the 20th century. Her papers, and even personal notes, are archived in the Library of Congress. She was an evolutionist, a biologist, a geologist, a microbiologist, a swimmer, an eager astrology student, a mother, a grandmother,  a biker, a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, and a friend. She was the single most influential person in my life besides my parents and my wife. In fact, it was my wife who said, as my recently "appointed" girlfriend at the time, "let's take her sounds really interesting." It was. So were the eight years I spent with her following that semester. Interesting. Life-changing.
   I will miss my dear friend and mentor, as will thousands of people whose life she influenced. She will never be replaced. I will dedicate my career to perpetuating her ideas and teaching style, as I'm sure the aforementioned thousands will as well; that's what she would have wanted. The scientific community and indeed the world at large lost one of its great inspirations and wells of knowledge, but she has been returned to the Earth that she cared so deeply about.

"That it will never come again is what makes life sweet." - Emily Dickson (Lynn's favorite poet and next door neighbor)

Lynn Margulis (March 5, 1938 – November 22, 2011)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Quick Note About Scalping...

   I always found that empty paragraph provided by the Phish Brass pretty funny because despite their "attempts" to warn against it, scalping still runs rampant at many shows; this has never been more clear with current MSG NYE'12 shows, which have online tickets ranging from $200-4000. Sure, the obvious question is what is Phish supposed to do about it? Well, without bursting your man(or woman)-crushes too quickly, there are several steps Phish could take to avoid the current situation, most obvious of which would be reviving the Doniac Shvice, the real Doniac Shvice, which provided phans with the ability to purchase mail-order tickets before the public sale. This has been pathetically replaced with a "lottery" in which Phish makes it seem like you're lucky just to get one of these tickets. Oh, it's Red Light you say? How naive are you?
   So once again it's up to the phans to make a difference and I'm proud to say they seem to be doing just that through the miserable world of social media, although this seems to be a rare case in which social media has nothing but positive ramifications. The outrage over 90% of phans being essentially locked out of these shows has spilled over into the social media world with phans racing to Twitter and Facebook to not only express their displeasure over the situation, but to also form pages protesting TicketMaster and StubHub, which if I'm not mistaken, is owned and run by TM. As a professional cynic my moments of "wow, Phish fans really make me proud" are waning. They've basically been reduced to post-festival or post-multiple-day-runs when phans and the Green Crew make the places look as if Phish were never there. Sorry, but getting the paramedics when some wook collapses isn't something to be proud of, that should be human nature. But this is a proud moment. There is still plenty of time for our trustapharians to cave and spend tons of their parent's money on tickets, but for now the quantity on StubHub rises by the day. Keep it up phans, FUCK STUBHUB AND FUCK SCALPERS!!! And fuck Phish if this shit happens again or they start doing these old men 3-4 night runs sporadically throughout the year in places few people can afford the tickets or the accommodations (Hampton, Vegas, stand-along NYC runs, etc.). Keep the scalper hate coming people, we're making a difference.

- Trigger Treinta Uno