Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fatal Familial Insomnia

Imagine not being able to sleep. I’m sure some of you have experienced a few sleepless nights; maybe it was after the death of a loved one, or the night before a huge exam. But have you ever gone an entire year without a decent night’s sleep? For a small number of families around the world, this is their reality.

Fatal Familial Insomnia, better known as FFI, is a genetic disorder. If a single parent has the gene, the child has a 50% chance of receiving the gene, because it is dominant. There is a very simple blood test that can be done to determine if a child has inherited the disease although some people opt out of knowing. But why wouldn’t these people want to know if they inherited the gene which will inevitably bring them sleepless nights? This is because FFI not only brings a guarantee of sleepless nights, but a guaranteed death sentence within a year after the symptoms begin. Some people don’t want to live, knowing that they will die a tragic death in their 50’s. Others want to know, so they can prepare not only themselves but their families as well.

There are several different stages of FFI, each stage bringing the patient closer to death. A patient will usually begin the first stage anywhere between the ages of 30 to 60. Although the patient usually survives less than a year after they begin to notice their symptoms, it can last anywhere from 7 to 18 months. During the first stage a patient will begin to experience insomnia leading to panic attacks and new phobias. This stage lasts about 4 months. During the 2nd stage, the patient experiences hallucinations and increased panic attacks. This lasts about 5 months. During the 3rd stage, the patient loses all ability to sleep resulting in weight loss. This lasts about 3 months. During stage for, the last stage of the disease, the patient develops dementia and eventually becomes unresponsive. This usually lasts for 6 months. At this point, the patient dies, literally, from no sleep. What makes this different than other diseases is that, while the patient is dying, they are fully aware of what is happening to them, even if they are for the most part unresponsive. It seems like a terrible way to die and part of me understands why a person would not want to know whether they had the gene or not.

There are no known cures or even treatments for the disease. Gene therapy has been unsuccessful and sleeping pills seem to only speed up the process of insomnia. Out of all the diseases I have come across throughout my life, I definitely think this is the worst one. If you have cancer, it is tough no doubt, but at least there is hope for survival. With just about any other disease, there is always the hope for survival. With FFI, patients have no hope, once the symptoms begin, death is inevitable. If I found out I had a parent with the disease, I would definitely want the blood test to find out if I had it. It would have a huge effect on how I lived the rest of my life. For one thing, I would never have children because that would not be something I would want to give to them. I wouldn’t save for retirement either because chances are I would never reach that point in my life. Overall, studying this disease has made me realize how lucky I am to be healthy.

This is a little irrelevant to my post, but I just wanted to point out that in cases like these, designer babies, as they are called, might be appropriate. If a FFI patient was young and wanted to have her/his own child, but they didn’t want to pass the gene on, they could make sure the baby didn’t have the gene before it is taken to a long term pregnancy.

Here is a link to a family I researched to help me better understand the disease. This Italian family has had FFI as far back as they can remember. Unlike most diseases, it hasn't been eradicated from the family because women with the disease don't die until later on in life. Leaving plenty of time for them to reproduce and pass it on.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

University of Iowa

This week, I did research on the University of Iowa. This is one of the colleges that I am seriously perusing for a number of reasons, not all of them I am willing to disclose to my parents. For most of my life I have wanted to go to the University of Iowa because I have grown up going to the Iowa football games on the weekends. Going to the games is one of my favorite things to do during football season and I know that if I went to the college I would be able to go every weekend there was a home game. Another reason I really want to go to the school is because one of my best friends is going there next year and I really want to be able to go to college with some of my high school friends.

Of course, it’s not just football that has attracted me to the University of Iowa. First of all, I like that it is a bigger school because not only can you meet a lot of people, but you can basically major in whatever you want. This is unlike small schools where sometimes there is a limited selection of what you can major in. It also won’t be an everybody knows everyone type of thing and I like that. The school also has a lot of academic opportunities as well. Growing up here, I have always thought of medicine when I thought of the University because that’s what it is known for. Upon going on their official website, I discovered that they are known for their research programs in genetics, hydraulics, speech and hearing, agricultural medicine, biocatalysis, biomedical engineering, biomedical sciences, and pharmacology education. I am considering pursing pharmacy and I have heard they have a really good pharmaceutical program, as my aunt went through it. They are known for their graduate programs in audiology, printmaking, creative writing, speech-language pathology, and nursing service administration. The University also operates one of the nation’s most advanced university owned teaching hospitals and has developed the most technically advanced driving stimulator in the world.

So basically, Iowa is a really good school because it is limitless academically, has an amazing football team, and was also named one of the top 10 party schools in 2009 by Playboy (I didn’t know they made these?). If you’re looking for a school where you can have academic excellence and at the same time have fun, the University of Iowa is definitely the place to go.

Here is a link to the official University of Iowa website!

All- City and State Contest

Last weekend for me was very stressful because I had the State Music Contest. The weekend before that was the All-City Music Contest. At both of these contests I played a solo, a flute ensemble, and in a woodwind choir. All of them were very challenging and it took me a long time to learn the music. All-City didn’t end up going that well because I didn’t do very good on my solo, which was what I was most concerned about. I thought my performance was pretty good but me and my pianist weren’t really in sync and that brought down my score. At All-City, my woodwind choir received a division one rating, which is the highest score a group can receive so I was very pleased with that performance. Our flute ensemble got a 2 which wasn’t too bad for our first performance.

At City Contest, the grading goes like this (best to worst scores): 1+, this is a perfect score, reserved for solos only; 1, this is basically a perfect score for ensembles and groups; 2, this is an okay score, but means your music still needs works and more preparations; 3, this is the lowest score at City and is usually reserved for unrehearsed performances. For middle school students, the All-City Contest is a big deal, as it is the only one they will play in for the year. For high school students, All-City is just a rehearsal for the next weekend, which is State.

At State Contest, I did a lot better on my solo and I was very proud of my performance, as was my teacher. The grading at State is similar but it has a larger scale. Performers can’t receive a 1+, but they can get anywhere between a 1 and a 5; 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Grading at State is also less forgiving. At All-City, judges write down comments and at the end of the performance decided what score they feel the student deserves. At State Contest, points are awarded in the following categories: tone quality, intonation, rhythm, balance and blend, technique, interpretation and musicianship, articulation, and other performance factors such as posture and attire. At the end, the judge totals up the points and gives you a score. The score then determines what division rating you will receive.

I have been playing at the All-City Contest since 7th grade, which makes it my 5th solo. I have decided not to play a solo next year and I’m glad that I ended my last solo performance on a positive note. I will still perform with ensembles and large groups though, which I really enjoy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nuclear Weapons

Recently in my U.S. History class we learned about World War Two and the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. These atomic bombs completely ended World War Two since the Germans had already surrendered after Hitler committed suicide. It was the simplest solution in ending the war most would say, and it was the only way that made it possible for no more American lives to be lost. Looking from our point of view, I would say we made the right decision. Why send hundreds of thousands of more soldiers over to be killed, when dropping one or two bombs ends it? The problem is, dropping nuclear bombs doesn't just kill soldiers, and the majority of its victims are civilians; most of whom didn't even want a war. Not only were innocent lives lost, but the economy of the country was in ruins, as most of their structures in the cities had been knocked down and the air was filled with radiation. Looking from the point of view of the Japanese, the atomic bomb seems like maybe it wasn't a good idea.

Today, many people think the story is very different. People don't realize that atomic bombs are still a very big threat to us. With most Middle Eastern and communist countries hating us, it's a wonder that we don't still have bomb shelters to protect us from radioactive fallout if a nuclear bomb was dropped. Obama recognizes this threat though, and is taking steps to help ensure our safety. The plan requires every nation to keep their stocks of weapons out of the hands of terrorists. This is not the first action he has taken though; Russia and the United States also signed an agreement to dispose of 68 tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. Each of the two countries disposed of 34 tons; the two added together are enough to make 17,000 nuclear warheads. The disposal of this was not cheap though; Russia estimated their cost to be 2.5 billion and the United States has agreed to give them 400 million dollars in assistance.

I personally think that all nuclear weapons should be destroyed. The only reason countries would need them would be for destruction and/or to threaten other countries. Removing all nuclear weapons from the planet would move us closer to peace on Earth. Pointing missiles at each other and threatening the lives of innocent civilians is not a good way to solve any political or religious problem.

Here is a link to the article about Obama's nuclear plan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Oberlin College

This week, I did a little research on Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio. I’m not really considering this college but I wanted to learn about it because my cousin Alex goes there. My cousin attends mostly the conservatory of music portion of the college and is very immersed in the performing arts of the school as well. He has had the lead role many plays and hopes to get a degree in music. I look to my cousin as sort of a role model because he is one of only a very few cousins I have that is older than me. He has also been very successful in college. Oberlin is a very famous college known around the nation for its performing arts and music conservatory.

I went to the official Oberlin website and it was really unique because it had profiles of about 10 different students attending the college. I noticed that every time I refreshed the page it would bring up the profiles of different students. Some of them were current students while others were alumni. I thought it was interesting because I have never seen a college do something like this on their website before. This is possible because Oberlin is a smaller school with about 2,774 students. It is also a very selective college as it accepts only 33% of its applicants. This is compared to the 76% that Wartburg selects. Here is a link to more detailed information on the degrees you can obtain at Oberlin and here is the link to the official Oberlin website.


Just today, I came across a very sad article on AOL News. A single mother had adopted a son from Russia. After raising the boy for a while, she decided to send him back to Russia, saying that he was a dangerous and violent child. The boy’s grandmother supported the mother saying that he had even given the family death threats, even though he is only 7 years old. The mother sent the boy back to Russia with only his Spiderman backpack and a note that read, “The child is mentally unstable.” When the boy arrived in Russia by himself, he met up with a man who took him the Russian Education and Science Ministry. The man was paid 200 dollars by the little boy’s family in the United States to do this. It seems so sad to me that the mother didn’t try harder to raise the boy and it seems that she never even loved the child to begin with. If she loved him, I don’t think she would have been able to send him back. The mother’s story though, is being questioned by authorities because so far, no one else has seen the so called dangerous and psychopathic behavior this child supposedly exhibits. The adults around him on the plane said he played like a normal 7 year old boy and even listened to them when they would ask him to sit down. The doctors in Russia who examined him found nothing out of the ordinary with him after doing extensive tests with him to determine his mental state. It is difficult to tell if the mother is telling the truth or not because neighbors claim they never saw the family. One neighbor in a video I watched said that she had only seen the boy a few times and that the mother kept him isolated in the house. The boy didn’t even attend a school.

Unfortunately, over the years this is not the first case of this I have seen. Last year, I saw an episode on Dr. Phil about a woman who wanted to send her child back to his home country, claiming that the child was unable to be loved. This sounds absurd, but Dr. Phil explained that this is an actual disorder but he was unsure whether this was what was actually wrong with the child. This brings up a debate, should adoptive parents be allowed to send their children back to their home country if the adoption doesn’t turn out to be successful? My opinion is that they should not be allowed to. When you adopt a child, you go into it knowing fully that it will not be an easy road. This is true especially if the child is no longer an infant. The child may have been abused, malnourished, denied education, grown up in poverty, or not have had any parents to guide him or her. If you adopt a child, you are agreeing that you won’t give up on them and that you will continue to take care of them and love them as if they are biologically your own.

Here is a link to the article that originally attracted me to the story.


On Friday I didn’t have to come to school because my Spanish class was taking a field trip. I was really excited because not only were we going to Chicago but I also got to miss an entire day of school. We managed to fit the trip all into one day by leaving at about 6 o’clock in the morning and arriving back home at about 9 o’clock. When we first arrived in Chicago we went to a Spanish tapas restaurant and had tapas. After that, we went to an art museum to view Spanish art. Right before we left, we went to the nearby park and walked around the city a little bit.

When we first arrived in Chicago we went to a spot by the lake and took pictures of the beautiful city. Living in Iowa, it’s always pretty cool when you get to see all the skyscrapers packed into such a small area. Then we went to the tapas restaurant. In case you don’t know, having tapas is when the waiter brings out many different plates of food, one after the other. Every person has a plate in front of them and just serves themselves off of the large plates. It is kind of like having a Thanksgiving dinner. The food was traditional Spanish food and it was okay. It tasted like most of the food that I ate when I had traveled to Spain which I didn’t really like then either. Nevertheless, I forced myself to try at least a bite of everything that came to our table. I can’t remember everything that I ate, but the octopus and bloody ham (at least I think it was ham) stick out the most. The octopus, was fried I believe, and the meat was in circles. Due to this, I’m pretty sure it was the little suction cups that are found on an octopus. The bloody ham was ham that was cooked in the pig’s blood. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to eat all of this. The food wasn’t all gross though, we also had shrimp, garlic potatoes, spicy potatoes, bread with goat cheese and salsa and chicken. For desert, I ordered chocolate flan. Flan is a mix between ice cream and pudding.

After eating at the tapas restaurant we went to the art museum. There we were able to see famous art work by all the painters we have been studying in our class including Velazquez, Goya, El Greco and Picasso. It was really cool to see some of the paintings that we have been studying up close and in person, since usually we are studying them from a book. After the art museum we went to the nearby park to walk around. When we got there, we realized they were filming a movie. There was even a sign that said if we walked in the area they had the right to use us in their filming. Chances of actually getting in the film though are pretty slim. We were even more surprised when we found out that Jake Gyllenhaal was in the movie and that he would be there Chicago in less than 20 minutes on the set. In case you don’t know, Jake Gyllenhaal is an extremely hot actor who most recently starred in the movie Brothers. Unfortunately, our teacher did not feel same way as we did about this opportunity, and forced us to get back on the bus to head home before he came.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Wartburg, located in Waverly Iowa, is a private college with about 1, 810 students. The college was established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1852. Wartburg also has a satellite college located in Denver, Colorado known as Wartburg West. Their athletic teams are known as the Knights and the college offers competitive football, basketball, baseball, cross country, tennis, soccer, wrestling, volleyball and softball and cheerleading.

Wartburg offers many different academic programs and allows students to obtain up to a bachelors degree. Degrees range from accounting to biochemistry to religious studies. There are about 70 degrees offered at Wartburg in the science field, which is more than at any other college. Here is a link of all the degrees you can obtain at Wartburg. About 95% of students at Wartburg submitted their ACT exams to the college during their application process. Only about 6% of the students submitted their SAT scores, or even took the SAT test for that matter. The average ACT composite score for students attending Wartburg is between 21 and 27. The acceptance rate for Wartburg is pretty high with about 72% of all males getting accepted and 76% of all females.

The Wartburg website is very helpful and shows lots of information on events going on at Wartburg right now that may be of interest. For example, you can take a virtual tour of Wartburg and all of its new editions. I was amazed to find out that the school recently spent 75 million dollars on adding on and renovating. The tour shows the large swimming pool, the huge rock climbing wall, and the state of the art theatre among other things.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mississippi Prom

Recently in the news there was a story about a girl who wanted to attend her prom with her date. Nothing wrong with this, right? Except for that her date was also a girl. Her school, in the state of Mississippi, decided to cancel the school’s prom because of it. The girl, Constance McMillen, sued the school district with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and partially won her case. The judge decided that the school did violate her civil rights but they did not force the school to reinstate the prom. The students were of course very mad at McMillen for being part of a problem that caused their prom to be cancelled. McMillen said she still held her head high though and continued to attend school every day. Unfortunately though, parents decided to schedule their own prom for the students of the school, outraged that the schools prom had been cancelled. McMillen though, was not invited to this prom. McMillen was invited to a separate prom at a Country Club in the area. Only 7 students including herself and her date attended the prom. All this was happening while a bigger prom was going on that the majority of the students at the school attended. McMillen felt very offended by this when she found out, as I am sure any teen would.

The larger topic at hand though is if gay marriage should be legal. I can see the opinion coming from both sides of the debate but I tend to side with gay marriage being okay. The first side is that gay marriage is okay. I mean, why wouldn’t it be okay? The couple isn’t hurting anyone or causing any direct problems. If they are happy, then the world should let them live how they want. It may go against the Bible, but every day I see people go against the Bible. Anyway, last I checked we had this thing called freedom of religion in America, meaning you don’t even have to believe in the Bible. Another thing is, lots of people argue that gay couples shouldn’t be able to have children. Their argument is that the child would grow up without a father or in some cases a mother. Although this is true, I don’t think it is a good enough reason for them to not be allowed to adopt children. Children in the foster care system just need stability in their lives. Most of them will turn 18 and age out of the system and end up on the streets. Not to mention the thousands of children in the United States who grow up in single family households as it is. Yes, children with gay parents will have obstacles to overcome but I’ve never met a person in my life that doesn’t have obstacles in their lives. Basically, I would say that being adopted by a same sex couple would be a far more nurturing and fulfilling childhood compared traveling from one foster care family after another. The side I tend to take is that same sex marriage should be legal in America. Doesn’t America stand for freedom?

Here is the article about McMillen and the most recent incident.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Today was Easter Sunday and it was pretty uneventful for me. When I was a kid, Easter used to be my favorite holiday because I loved searching for Easter eggs in my backyard. I never really knew what Easter meant, other than it was the day that Christ had risen, and it was also the day that the Easter bunny came to our house. Obviously, since then a lot has changed. I now know that the Easter bunny isn’t real and coincidently, when I stopped believing he stopped coming to my house. Easter is a different type of holiday in that aspect because once you stop believing in the Easter bunny he usually stops coming. This is unlike Christmas where, Santa continues to come throughout your teenage years even though you stopped believing in him long ago.

Usually on Easter we all go to my grandmother’s house and have Easter dinner. I couldn’t go this year though because I had to work. I was okay with it though, because my family saved me a plate of food. I was a little bummed out though, because I always enjoy running around the yard with my younger cousins trying to help them find the Easter eggs.

The real point of Easter though, is to celebrate the day that Christ rose and ascended into heaven. If he wouldn’t have ascended into heaven, everything that he had preached up until that point would have meant nothing. Since he did ascend into heaven, Christians knew that they would be granted eternal life if they believed in him and what he stood for. This I would say is pretty common knowledge for any Christian, but what some Christians don’t know is how Easter was celebrated even before the word of God and Christianity had spread throughout the world. This story, takes a completely different path.

Originally, Easter was celebrated by Pagans who saw the day of feast as renewal and rebirth. The day honored the Pagan Saxon goddess Eastre. This holiday took a different turn though, when Christian missionaries traveled to England and converted the Saxons to Christianity. The day that newly converted Christians saw as renewal and rebirth happened to be around the same time as the day Jesus ascended into heaven. Due to this, they merged the two different occasions together and called it Easter. Easter was still a time of renewal and rebirth, but was no longer associated with any Pagan Gods, but rather with Jesus.

Coe College

The college I decided to research this week was Coe College. My parents really want me to go this school because they, as well as a few of my aunts and uncles and grandma graduated from there. It’s another small private school, but a smaller than Drake. I found out that of the 1,300 students at Coe, they represent 33 states and 15 foreign countries. The average class sizes are very small, averaging at about 16 students with a student to teacher ratio of 11:1. Coe offers 40 different majors and four different degrees including: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and the Master of Arts in Teaching.

The education at Coe is superb and they have numbers to prove it. Within 6 months of graduation, 98% of students have a job or are attending graduate school. More than 50% of its graduates go on to complete higher education after they graduate which is usually law school, medical school, or by taking classes to earn a masters or doctorate degree. Coe is also only one of 5 private colleges in Iowa that have the Phi Beta Kappa Chapter honor. This is an honors program and only the most distinguished colleges with academic excellence are selected for it.

If you have ever been on the Coe campus, you know it is very nice. The sorority houses are always kept nice and the grass is always kept short. This adds to the overall appeal of Coe. Throughout elementary and middle school I would go to Coe for athletic programs, many of which are run by the athletic directors at Coe. I always had a really good experience when I would attend these camps and now that I’m considering colleges, it has made me seriously consider Coe. They have a newly renovated football field, a big swimming pool and nice wide open tennis courts. The campus is small though, and that can give a student a good feeling, as some students feel they can’t get lost in the crowd as easily because essentially, there is no crowd. In fact, upon researching it I was surprised to find out that there are fewer students at the college than there are at Kennedy. Another benefit to small private colleges like this one is that you are taught by actual professors, not students studying to get their doctorate degrees, which is often who you are taught by at the University of Iowa and other big colleges.

Here is a link to the official Coe College Website where I got my factual information.