Welcome to my site! I hope you will enjoy reading the personal articles as I journey and navigate this life. I welcome suggestions for topics that you think are important, relevant, and valuable.

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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Asbestos: Repeat call for a universal ban is issued

Read my article on the repeat call for a universal ban on asbestos. Click here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When Some People Are Difficult

I have encountered difficult people in life many times. There are those who can seem to think only of themselves without regard of others. There are those who are afraid to stand on their own, perhaps feeling they are powerless. There are also those who are dishonest, cruel, and have mental problems. There are also the bullies who are insecure and will try to hurt those who are better than themselves. Some of these people can be toxic and it might be best to stay away from them.
I have always wanted to understand why people are the way they are. Why they make life miserable for those around them. I may not have all the answers but one possible reason for their toxicity is their early childhood upbringing. It has been proven by researchers that children who grew up with uncaring primary caregivers will find it hard to be loving and caring as adults. A mother who is overwhelmed by having to care for eleven children will probably be unable to care for each individual child in a nurturing manner. There are just so many children to care for and she is only one person! How she could cope and still be sane is beyond me. Research indicate that children who are not given sufficient quality time and love in their growing years will probably grow up as insecure adults, always looking for love and attention, even if the process in obtaining them is hurtful to others.
In a book by neuroscientist Norman Doidge, entitled “The Brain That Changes Itself” (2007), he argues that many scientific research suggest that the brain is “wired” by the kind of “nurture” one receives from caregivers. And so the experiences we received (positive or negative) as children, is what we also bring with us as adults and into our relationships. If we received love, care and sufficient intellectual stimulation during childhood, we become “robust” individuals who are secure, capable of loving and caring for others. If we did not receive sufficient love and care when we were children, then we grow up as distrustful and uncaring children with little or no empathy for others.
However, Doidge also discusses “plasticity”, the ability of the brain to “rewire” itself through the conditions in our environment and therefore allowing the brain to change. This implies that the brain is not “fixed” but rather has the ability to be flexible and to be open to new sources of learning and meaning. This re-wiring ability of the brain happens to immigrants all the time who have to experience new ways of living in the host country, ranging from weather adaptation to learning a new language. Therefore, although we have been wired to behave in a fashion based from how we were nurtured as children, we can still rewire our brain circuitry and change ourselves as adults based from our present and future environment. There is that possibility that we can change ourselves from worst to best because of our positively changing environment. Or it could be vice-versa: we can start out as best persons and, because of our difficult environment, change to being worst persons!
So, what do we do with difficult people, especially if they are family members? First, maybe we can understand them by knowing what life was like for them when they were growing up, the kind of parents they had, the crises they have encountered. Second, maybe we can indirectly help them become better persons through our kindness. This might sound simplistic and naive but kindness can create positive ripple effects. However, if these difficult persons continue to be difficult despite our good intentions, and in the process may hurt us, then we may want to steer away from them, otherwise we can get some of their negativity. Worse, we might become like them! We can just hope that they change for the better. The choice is theirs, not ours.

Suggested Reading:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Researchers at McMaster University Turned Skin Into Blood

In what is considered as a mind-bending breakthrough in cell biology, a group of McMaster University researchers in Hamilton, Canada, has been able to create real blood directly from human skin. Dr. Mick Bhatia's team was working on adult skin cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic cell-like state when the discovery was made. Dr. Bhatia is the director of Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University.

It all began when scientists in Dr. Bhatia's lab discovered distinctive, round blood cells in a petri dish that contained human skin tissue. They then devised a process that transformed these skin cells directly into blood. This discovery is considered an important, if not, seminal contribution in stem cell research by other stem cell researchers in the world. 

This finding eliminates the middle stage of creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which means that the transformed cells did not have to pass through a primordial, stem-like state or embryonic stage. They went directly to become blood, which produced the normal three blood components -- white, red, and platelets. This could mean safer and simpler treatments compared to stem cells. 

Stem cells have the ability to be transformed into other types of human cell, making it possible to treat or fix damaged parts of the body, ranging from spinal cord injuries to diabetic pancreases. They also offer the possibility of renewable replacement cells to treat diseases including Alzheimer's diseases, heart disease, burns, stroke, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Originally, stem cells were believed to be of two types. The first one is the embryonic stem cells which are pluripotent. This means they can be potentially converted into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, such as muscle cells, bone cells, blood cells, brain cells, and other cells. However, they can only be obtained from embryos in a process that cause their destruction. This has raised serious ethical questions for those who believe that there is already a human person at the time of conception.

The second type of stem cells is the adult stem cells, which can be harvested from newborns or from adults. There is little or no ethical issues associated with this cell type. However, these cells have started to be specialized and therefore lack the flexibility found in embryonic stem cells. Hence, they have limited usefulness.

The third type of stem cells was discovered in 2006, when a Japanese scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, at Kyoto University, developed a technique to create induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This method transforms adult cells into one which exhibits many properties of the embryonic stem cells. This was the type of cells that Dr. Bhatia's team was working on when the chance discovery was made. 

The discovery in Dr. Bathia's lab opens the possibility of creating healthy blood from just a patch of skin, which may be life saving for leukemia sufferers who are unable to find bone-marrow donor and cancer patients who need blood transfusions.

There are some questions that still need to be addressed from this finding. First, are these converted cells (human skin to blood) easily produced in large quantities? Second, will this blood cells be as good as real blood when inside a person? It might take some years and a lot of work before these questions can be answered, according to Dr. Bhatia.

This study was published in the November issue of the journal, Nature, with postdoctoral fellow Eva Szabo as the paper's first author.


Blackwell, T. (7 November 2010). Canadian Researchers transforms skin into blood. National Post. Retrieved from

Callaway, E. (10 November 2010). There will be blood. Nature, 468. doi:10.1038/468149a News

Szabo, E., Rampalli, S., Risueno, R. M., Schnerch, A.,... Bhatia, M. (2010). Direct conversion of human fibroblasts to multilineage blood progenitors. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature09591 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Letting Go

The ability to let go is a very good indicator of wisdom, positive attitude, as well as sound mental health. To some, letting go is a means of coping with the complexities of life. To others, letting go is their last resort when they feel that they have been  beaten by the irreversible hand of fate.
Our natural propensity is to want to have control over a big chunk of our life. Although we are aware that there are circumstances beyond our control, we nonetheless attempt to construct an order or system to make us feel we are in control. To get hold of ourselves, we meticulously schedule our activities and we plan our life ahead in terms of years--when to get married, when to have children, when to have a car, or when to have a vacation. We cannot afford to slip. Life is precious. Time is running out. We are reluctant to effect major changes in our life because changes are risky and offer no certainty.
We cling to some persons as though our very life depends upon them. We become bewildered and lost if they leave and we feel ourselves losing grip of what was once a secure relationship. We hold on dearly to the way "things have always been" without realizing that we're no longer living in the present but are caught up in the past. The more we cling, the more our world becomes smaller until we find that we are living a crustacean existence, unmindful of the vast ocean, aware only of our own tiny space in which to coil complacently.
What does it mean to genuinely let go? Letting go means letting people be, no matter how unreasonable, crazy or wrong they appear to us. We cannot and should not mold people according to what we want them to be. If we do, we steal from them their preciousness, their uniqueness, as well as their freedom of self-determination. It is one thing to guide or assist. It is another thing to control or dominate. If our advice falls on deaf ears, then let it be. If they become stupid or downright ignoble, it is their choice. And although we might not understand, at least we respect them despite of themselves.
Letting go releases us from the encapsulation of our negative emotions--hate, resentments, jealousy, bitterness and a host of non-contributive feelings. When we learn to let go, we begin to look at those cumbersome negative emotions in a new light: we don't have to be enslaved by them. By letting go, we learn that when we hate, get jealous or become bitter, it is not because some people made us feel that way but rather because we allow them to make us feel that way. Letting go means confronting these feelings and realizing that by continually nursing our wounds and pains we don't become better persons but rather we become our own enemies. When we let go of these ill feelings, we free ourselves and we can then recognize our worth as persons. At the same time, we can see the pettiness of it all. Then and only then can we become bigger than our heartaches and problems.
Letting go means surrendering to and accepting the inevitable--the what is and the what can never be. It took me quite a time to accept that my father was dead.  I was then nine years old and for a child's mind death was a puzzle. I kept consoling myself for days that my father would come back, would bring me a lot of goodies the way he used to, and would again hold me in his arms. Slowly, almost imperceptibly,I became aware of my own solitariness until it dawned on me that my father would never come back. When I was able to let go, I began to play again and to smile. I had to surrender my father so I could live again.
Letting go also means forgiving ourselves and others. We all make mistakes, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. We all have stories to tell. The wrongs that we commit at times, no matter how simple or grievous, can be a source of uninvited guilt or a refreshing awakening. "If only I could turn back the clock, I would have chosen differently."  But there's no turning back anymore. There is only a moving on. We just have to let go of the sorrow that comes from sinning and forgive ourselves, to hope that there have been lessons learned along the way, to pray that we become better persons, and that we can right the wrongs we have done. Letting go is allowing ourselves, unafraid, to confront that which cannot be undone anymore and to take heart that we can still do otherwise.
At most, letting go is really a matter of being more loving and kinder to ourselves and others, within the horizon of what we can be and cannot be, of what we can do and cannot do--to the best of what we are and who we are.  Letting go is best expressed in the oft-quoted prayer: "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not Blaming the Lettuce

Happy Birthday, my sweetheart Deane. Here's a song for you: You're Still The One!

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the following quote to my family and friends:
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” This quote was written by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Master and Spiritual Leader.
I have read one book by Thich Nhat Hanh some months ago. He is a peace activist and believes that we can be truly in harmony with one another based on our “inter-beingness” or, in simple words, inherent connectedness.
Going back to the quotation above, I would agree that we cannot blame the lettuce if it does not grow well. However, to make the analogy that a human person is like the lettuce, and therefore we cannot blame an individual person if he/she creates problems for us, is utterly illogical and false. The lettuce has no choice upon which soil it grows. The human person can choose to stay in the same environment or find a better one. It is true that like the lettuce, an individual has certain “given-ness” — a given family, a given race, a given country, even a given body. But unlike the lettuce, a person can rise above these given conditions and choose to “transplant” himself/herself to a more liberating environment, conducive for growth and positive flourishing.
Following the logic of the author, I agree that to a certain extent we can take care of our families and friends so they become better persons through us. However, there is only so much we can do for them. We cannot be totally responsible for them and their growth. They also have to take care of themselves and promote their own self-growth.
Do we blame some people who create problems in our society? It’s not really about blame but rather about accountability. One must be held accountable, for example, for hurting, maiming, or abusing others. We cannot exonerate them by using the analogy of the lettuce. We cannot excuse people for their wrong-doing by saying that they were not given the chance to grow in a good environment. The challenge of being human is to face up to one’s decisions and actions. No blaming involved. We are judged by others just as we judge others on what they do or don’t do. That is accountability. We are accountable for our actions while the lettuce is not.
To a certain extent, we can try to understand others. However, we cannot have a comprehensive understanding of others to allow us to love them completely. If we can only understand others fully, then we can love everybody. Sad to say, we do not have that capability because of our human limitations–we cannot know everything about others nor can we know everything about ourselves.
To conclude, I should say that we are not like the lettuce and never will be. Thank God we can choose the soil upon which to develop our humanity.