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That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis

When Martin Cohn passed through airport security at Ronald Reagan Airport, he figured that he d probably get some questions about the 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis in his bag. The model is 15 centimeters long, made of clear translucent plastic, and indisputably phallic like the dismembered member of some monstrous, transparent, 11-foot rodent. One of Cohn s colleagues had already been questioned about it when she carried it on an outward flight from Gainesville to Washington D.C. She put it through the security scanner, and the bag got pulled. A TSA official looked inside, winked at her, and let her go. She was amused but embarrassed, so Cohn offered to take the model home on the return flight. Once again, the bag was pulled[1]. A TSA officer asked if Cohn had anything sharp or fragile inside. Yes, he said, some 3-D-printed anatomical models. They re pretty fragile. The officer pulled out two models of mouse embryos, nodded to herself, and moved on. And then, Cohn recalls, she pulled out this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.

What is this?

Do you need to know or do you want to know? said Cohn. I m curious, she replied.

It s a 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis. A what?

A 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis.

Oh no it isn t.

It is. The officer called over three of her colleagues and asked them to guess what it is. No one said anything, so Cohn told them. They fell apart laughing. Cohn, who s based at the University of Florida, studies genitals and urinary tracts, and how they develop in embryos. Around 1 in 250 people are born with birth defects affecting these organs, and although such changes are becoming more common, their causes are largely unclear. By studying how genitals normally develop, Cohn s hoping to understand what happens when they take a different path. And like many scientists, he is working with mice. He recently analysed a mouse s genitals with a high-resolution medical scanner. To show his colleagues how incredibly detailed the scans can be, he used them to print a scaled-up model, which he took with him to the conference in DC. And because the conference was just a two-day affair, Cohn didn t bring any checked luggage. Hence: the penis in his carry-on.

Scientists, as it happens, are full of tales like this[2] because as a group, they re likely to (a) travel frequently, and (b) carry really weird shit in their bags. In previous years, Cohn has flown with the shin bone of a giant ground sloth and a cooler full of turtle embryos. Just last month, Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts, who studies the evolution of animal genitals, was stopped by the TSA because she was carrying what is roughly the opposite of Cohn s item: a 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina[3]. Technically it s not even my dolphin vagina mold, she says. I was carrying it for someone. Other scientists who responded to a call for stories[4] on Twitter have flown with bottles of monkey pee[5], chameleon and skate embryos[6], 5,000 year old human bones[7], remotely operated vehicles, and, well, a bunch of rocks[8]. ( I’m a geologist. I study rocks.”) Astrophysicist Brian Schimdt was once stopped by airport officials on his way to North Dakota because he was carrying his Nobel Prize[9] a half-pound gold disk that showed up as completely black on the security scanners. Uhhhh. Who gave this to you? they said. The King of Sweden, he replied. Why did he give this to you?, they probed. Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.

Anthropologist Donald Johanson has flown with probably the most precious and the most famous of these cargos: the bones of the Lucy[10] the Australopithecus, who Johanson himself discovered. In a memoir[11], he recalls having to show her bones to a customs official in Paris. The man was an anthropology buff, and when Johanson told him that the fossils were from Ethiopia, he said, You mean Lucy? A large crowd gathered and watched as Lucy s bones were displayed, one by one, on the Customs counter. I got my first inkling of the enormous pull that Lucy would generate from then on, everywhere she went. Several people have stories about more animate luggage. Jonathan Klassen from the University of Connecticut[12] studies leafcutter ants, and the permits that allow him to collect wild colonies stipulate that he must hand-carry them onto planes. Inevitably, some poor security officer gets a duffle bag full of 10,000 ants and gets really confused, he says. Indeed, many animals have to be hand-carried onto planes because they don t fare well in the cold of cargo holds, (and often can t be shipped for similar reasons). That s certainly the case for the amblypygids docile relatives of spiders with utterly nightmarish appearances that Alexander Vaughan once tried to carry onto a domestic flight. My strategy was to pretend that everything I was doing was perfectly normal, he tells me. Others were more upfront about their unorthodox cargo. Ondine Cleaver from UT Southwestern Medical Center once tried carrying tupperware containers full of frogs from New York to Austin. At security, she realized that she couldn t possibly subject the animals to harmful doses of X-rays, so she explained the contents of her bag to a TSA agent. She totally freaked out, but had to peek in the container, says Cleaver. We opened it just a slit, and there were 12-14 eyes staring at her. She screamed. She did this 3 times. A few other agents came by to see, and none could deal with the container being opened more than a bit. But they had to make sure there was nothing nefarious inside, so we went through cycles of opening the container, screaming, closing it laughing, and again. They eventually let her through.

Many scientists have had tougher experiences because their equipment looks suspicious[13]. The bio-logging collars that[14] Luca Borger uses to track cattle in the Alps look a lot like explosive belts. And the Petterson D500x bat detector[15], which Daniella Rabaiotti uses to record bat calls, is a big, black box with blinking lights on the front. She had one in her backpack on a flight going into Houston. The security people said, Take your laptop out, and I did that. But they don t really say, Take your bat detector out, and I forgot about it. When the scanner went off, she had to explain her research to a suspicious and stand-offish TSA official, who wasn t clear how anyone could manage to record bat calls, let alone why anyone would want to do that. So Rabaiotti showed him some sonograms, pulled out her laptop, and played him some calls all while other passengers were going about their more mundane checks. By the end of it, he said: Oh, I never knew bats were so interesting, she says. Many of the stories I heard had similar endings. The TSA once stopped Michael Polito, an Antarctic researcher from Louisiana State University, because his bag contained 50 vials of white powder. When he explained that the powder was freeze-dried Antarctic fur seal milk, he got a mixed reaction. Some officers just wanted to just wave me on, he says. Others wanted me to stay and answer their questions, like: How do you milk a fur seal? I was almost late for my flight.

Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach. Various scientists are said to have claimed that you don t really understand something if you can t explain it to your grandmother, a barmaid, a six-year-old, and other such sexist or ageist variants. But how about this: can you successfully explain it to an TSA official someone who not only might have no background in science, but also strongly suspects that you might be a national security threat? Can you justify your research in the face of questions like What are you doing? or Why are you doing it? or Why are you taking that onto a plane? Cohn did pretty well to the four assembled TSA agents who started quizzing him about his mouse penis. They noticed that the translucent object had a white tube inside it, and asked if it was a bone. It was indeed the baculum. I explained to them that most other mammals have a bone in the penis and humans have lost them, says Cohn. I do outreach at the drop of a hat, and I m ready to teach a bit of evolution to the TSA if they re interested. And they were freaking out. Eventually, Cohn asked if he was free to go.

You are, said the agent who first looked inside his bag. And then: I gotta go on break, my mind is blown.

References

  1. ^ the bag was pulled (twitter.com)
  2. ^ full of tales like this (www.forbes.com)
  3. ^ 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina (gizmodo.com)
  4. ^ a call for stories (twitter.com)
  5. ^ monkey pee (twitter.com)
  6. ^ chameleon and skate embryos (twitter.com)
  7. ^ 5,000 year old human bones (twitter.com)
  8. ^ bunch of rocks (twitter.com)
  9. ^ because he was carrying his Nobel Prize (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
  10. ^ Lucy (www.theatlantic.com)
  11. ^ In a memoir (books.google.com)
  12. ^ University of Connecticut (uconn.edu)
  13. ^ suspicious (twitter.com)
  14. ^ The bio-logging collars that (twitter.com)
  15. ^ D500x bat detector (www.batmanagement.com)

Is ‘White Trash’ finally taboo?

Is white trash finally taboo?

Last week, a dean at Yale University was placed on leave for using the term in a Yelp review. Critiquing a Japanese restaurant, June Chu wrote[1], If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you! This establishment is definitely not authentic and perfect for those low class folks who believe this is a real night out. Chu, who identified herself as Chinese-American, has apologized for being insensitive.

A phrase uttered by the rich and poor, liberal and conservative, white trash is the last racist thing you can say and get away with, film maker John Waters once said. Maybe not anymore. Chu s punishment may be proof that, while not as toxic as the n-word, white trash is potent enough to wound.

I ve heard people call me ‘white trash’ since I was young always other white people, and it s so hurtful, said Nancy Horton, 63, a retired security guard who lives on $300 a week in a trailer park on Route 322 in Honey Brook, Chester County. My family grew up in mobile homes, and people just associate it as being where all the drug people with bad clothes are.

‘Oh, you re just white trash, they say. You don t live up to my expectations.

Expectations are at the core of the denigration.

People who are called white trash are poor folks who seek the benefit of whiteness but don t have the means to live it in a substantive way, said Eddie Glaude, chairman of the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton University. In other words, if you re white, you re supposed to make it in this world.

We understand barriers to black advancement in America, said Matt Wray, Temple University sociologist and author of Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness. We don t understand barriers to white advancement. That s why even liberals feel like they can use the term with impunity: Poor whites have only themselves to blame for not making it.

‘White trash, Wray said, gets dropped into polite conversation all the time by highly educated people as if it were not a term of abuse.

The phrase conveys a sense of superiority in evidence during the election, when Trump voters were dismissed by elites as white trash, said Temple sociologist Judith Levine. A famously leaked memo from Sen. Marco Rubio s campaign staff referred to Trump followers by that very term. Unlike slurs about Irish or Jewish people, white trash seems to be saying more about class than ethnicity.

That s why people don t rally to oppose the phrase, said Wray: There is no hillbilly anti-defamation league. To be sure, some embrace the pejorative, proudly calling themselves white trash or the more popular redneck thus owning the term and defusing its sting. That s happened with the n-word, as well as the word queer, Glaude said.

I wore it like a badge of honor when someone called me ‘white trash,’ said Chris Terilla, 43, a recovering heroin addict from Kensington who works for a snack food manufacturer. I ve been white trash in my life [the] emotionally and financially hurting people. Up in Kensington, you can hear people call others white trash all the time, said Karen Pushaw, a staff member of St. Francis Inn Soup Kitchen under the El. Kensington residents, she said, refer to the neighborhood as a kind of Appalachia in the city.

While whites throw around the term often enough, usually up here, I hear it used more by black people, Pushaw said. There s precedent for that, Wray said. The term white trash originates from the 1820s in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, where it was uttered by free blacks as an aspersion against poor whites, he said.

By the 1930s, he added, white trash was a useful phrase for American eugenicists, who promulgated an ideology of white supremacy. The thinking was, blacks and Asians are inferior, so why are there stupid, lazy, alcoholic white people? Wray said. These imbeciles, as they were called, were defective and needed to be eliminated. American doctors sterilized as many as 100,000 people considered white trash in the early 20th Century, Wray said. A leading proponent of sterilization was H.H. Goddard, a Haverford College graduate who taught in West Chester, then moved to Vineland where he ran the New Jersey Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys. He coined the term moron.

During the Nuremburg trials to hold the Nazis accountable for World War II atrocities, defenders of the Germans said their ideas for creating a master race derived from the U.S. sterilization programs, and American aversion to so-called white trash, Wray said.

The term carries with it a disgust, said Yitzhak Nates, a Narberth rabbi. It s so ripe with a raw and unjustified judgment that it makes me want to cry. Bill Rumig, 64, who lives at Valley View Trailer Park in Honey Brook, said he s too old to weep over harmful words. But that doesn t mean he s immune to their sting.

After falling on hard times six years ago, Rumig moved to a mobile home. It shocked a long-time friend who d only known Rumig as a homeowner in town. The friend stopped speaking to him.

He had old money and couldn t be associated with a trailer-park person, said Rumig, a widower three times over who held 38 jobs in his life. He thought I must be white trash.

Rumig paused to re-consider the term.

Everybody has a right to be a person, he said. Not trash.

More Coverage

Is 'White Trash' Finally Taboo? Published: May 22, 2017 3:01 AM EDT | Updated: May 22, 2017 12:25 PM EDT
The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Is 'White Trash' Finally Taboo?

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References

  1. ^ June Chu wrote (ydn.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com)
  2. ^ comments powered by Disqus. (disqus.com)

LeBron struggles, exchanges words with fan after Game 3 loss

LeBron James’ frustrating night kept going after one of the worst playoff games of his splendid career. James exchanged words with a fan late Sunday night after the Boston Celtics stormed back from a 21-point deficit in the third quarter and shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. As he walked down a hallway inside Quicken Loans Arena to the postgame news conference, James, who scored just 11 points and only one in the final 18 minutes, was heckled by the fan for his sub-par outing. James spun around and asked the man to repeat himself.

Security ushered the fan away from James, who then went to the podium and was blunt in assessing a very uncharacteristic game for the NBA’s best all-around player.

“I had a tough game, period,” he said. “Not just in the second half. Me, personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me, personally, I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”

There wasn’t much to gush about, that’s for sure. James didn’t score in the fourth quarter and went only 1 for 8 from the field with one rebound and one assist in the second half. It was James’ lowest point total in the playoffs since he scored seven for Miami in the 2014 conference finals against Indiana, and before Boston’s comeback, James was 49-0 in playoff games his team led by at last 20 points.

Making it more staggering is that James has been so brilliant in this postseason, taking his exquisite game to an even higher level. He had scored at least 30 points in eight consecutive playoff games, the first player to do that since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970, and there didn’t seem to be anything the Celtics could do to stop him. But James went just 4 of 13 from the field, missing all four 3-pointers. He had six rebounds and six assists, but also committed six turnovers, including a costly miscue down the stretch when his pass was stolen by Jae Crowder.

“He’s human, so he’s going to have a night like this,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He didn’t shoot the ball well, and we still had a 20-point lead. A game we should have won, but they played hard. They scrapped. They have a scrappy team. We knew that coming into tonight. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we got some things we can correct and come back ready to go on Tuesday (in Game 4).”

The Celtics, who were blown out by 44 points at home in Game 2, won despite being without star guard Isaiah Thomas. His season is over because of a hip injury, and although he’s not around, his presence was felt by his teammates who rallied to keep their season alive. James was eager to break down film of the game on Monday, but he was able to recall much of what Boston did right.

“They moved the ball, and they kept us at bay,” he said. “We couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t get out in transition a lot. Those guys made plays. They made a lot of plays. They got some second-chance points. We only had two fast-break points, so they neutralized what we wanted to do.”

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 10-game winning streak in this postseason and a 13-game run dating to Game 4 of last year’s Finals. James, who is trying to win his seventh consecutive conference title, tried to find a silver lining on an otherwise forgettable night.

“Some adversity is all part of the postseason,” he said. “I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful. If it was going to happen, let it happen now; let us regroup. Let us regroup and all the narrative and everything that was going on, let’s regroup and let’s get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight. So we’ve got to be a lot better, for sure.”