New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for November/December 2004

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


by Anne Osteen Stringer

This will be my last issue as editor. Editing La Plume has been a lot of fun and a creative challenge, but pressures of job and family have caused me to ask to be relieved. Fortunately we have an excellent replacement waiting in the wings. Susan Hill has agreed to serve as editor for 2005. You can read more about Susan on page five of this issue. I will pass the torch (and the templates) to her confident that she will be a great editor.

Patti Armatis gives us the inside dope on stem cells and why they have become controversial. Patti works in basic research and has put this issue in layman's terms for us. Neville reports on a great ship and Joe Hopkins has some medical advice for NOMs.

I can't close my final issue without thanking all the people who help with this publication. Special thanks to Patti Armatis who labels and mails the newsletter and handles all the negotiations with the post office. Thanks to everyone who contributed articles, jokes, and opinions. Thanks to H. and Pat for sharing their talent so generously. And thanks to Richard for serving tirelessly as photographer, calendar coordinator, contributor, gofer, cheerleader, consultant, and psychiatric counselor to the editor.

NOM News

Officers Elected

Officers for 2005 were elected at the September NOM Night at Neville Mayfield’s house. Nominated unopposed were Loc Sec: Rene Petersen; Assistant Loc Sec: Sharon Kirkpatrick; Secretary: Anne Barr; Treasurer: Phil Wilking. Congratulations to all.

Appointive Positions

Loc Sec Petersen announced that all appointive positions are now open. If you are interested in one of the positions listed on the roster on page 2 of this issue, contact Rene Petersen.

Mensa Testing

New Orleans participated in National Testing Day on October 16. Four prospective Mensans took the test at the Metairie Library. Rene Petersen announced that there will be another test given in January. If you know someone who is interested in membership, contact Rene for more details.

Mensa Bylaws

Phil Wilking has rewritten the New Orleans Mensa Bylaws to bring them into line with standards established by National Mensa. The original bylaws were written 40 years ago, and were outdated. The new bylaws were approved by the Excom at the November NOM Night and have been sent to the national office. After the national committee determines that the bylaws meet standards, they will be presented to the membership for final approval.

New Editor Appointed

Susan Hill has been provisionally appointed editor of La Plume de NOM subject to Excom approval. Susan has been a member of Mensa for 20 years. She recently moved to New Orleans from Washington D.C. where she served two terms as editor of the Capitol M, the newsletter of Metro Washington Mensa. She is a real estate agent.

Remembering Marta

NOMs will be sad to learn of the death of Marta Margarita Smith, beloved wife of our own Smitty. We have fond memories of Marta. She was a frequent visitor to NOM events-- always dressed to the nines, bejeweled, and immaculately coiffed. She usually was surrounded by an adoring group listening to her always humorous, sometimes insightful, take on the events of the day. She had a big heart and she did love to have a good time!

Marta was born in Cuba. Smitty told me the story of a lonely sailor, waiting for a carnival parade one night in Havana, who met the girl of his dreams. They fell in love on a romantic night in Cuba and they remained sweethearts for fifty-five years. Our hearts go out to him.

Hello Region 6

by Dan Wilterding

Thanksgiving is close upon us -- the aromas and tastes of turkey & cornbread dressing, glazed ham with pineapple, sweet 'taters and cranberries are in our not-too-distant future. Complementing these delightful experiences is the RG in Dallas -- The Feast of Pleasures and Delights XXV. That's right, it's #25. Maybe there'll be prizes for whoever has been to the most, or who's had to travel the furthest to get to them. Most likely the prize will be in being there, enjoying the companionship and the programs, the hospitality and the chance to be a part of this Region6 tradition. One thing is certain: only by attending will you know for sure.

Life is good.

Sea Cruise

by Neville Mayfield

As a member of the 2005 AG Planning Committee, I recently had the opportunity to tour the Carnival Conquest, upon which our AG cruise will take place.

WOW Folks!!! What a ship!

Ric Rogers, the AG Travel Arrangements Chairman, showed Loretta Levine and me around this gargantuan pleasure palace. If you can't find a good time on this boat, you aren't breathing.

It has thirteen decks (skipping the # 13, of course), and is over 100 feet wide, almost 1000 feet long, weighs 110,000 tons, and its crew of more than 1100 can cater to every whim of almost 3000 passengers.

There are so many restaurants, lounges, and entertainment venues all over the ship that we couldn't see them all during our several-hour visit and lunch. The entire ship is elegantly decorated and spotlessly maintained, and couldn't be a more inviting way to samplethe delights of the Caribbean.

There's almost continuous live music in many locations, a Las Vegas-style revue, a casino, evening dances, activities for younger family members, several swimming pools, a fitness center for the calorically challenged, an internet café, spacious & comfortable cabins, and, and, and, and,...

Cruise ships have a well-deserved reputation for fabulous food, and our lunch was no exception. From the smoked salmon appetizer to the grilled perch and beef tips main courses, it was delicious. The staff was courteous, quick, and efficient. None of this long wait process while a large group is being served. Did I mention the flourless hot chocolate cake with ice cream that we had for desert? I was seriously thinking of stowing away so I could get some more! Definitely a Mensan ship!

I didn't have any time at all to inspect the inside of the oil sump. Maybe next time.

If you've ever been tempted to take a Caribbean cruise, definitely take an AG ride on this boat!

Stem Cell Research

by Patti Armatis

Stem cell reasarch is being done because of its potential. Juvenile diabetes results when the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas no longer produce insulin; spinal cord injury is devastating because nerve tissues do not repair easily and Parkinson's affects a specialized subset of brain cells. Theoretically, each of these problems can be elegantly solved using stem cell research.

Definitions : All stem cells are unspecialized cells which can multiply without change [expand] for extended periods and can give rise to specialized cell types [differentiate]. There are two types of stem cells - adult and embryonic.

Adult stem cells have been harvested from bone marrow, cord blood (taken from the umbilical cord at birth), and, recently from fat cells and ‘baby teeth’ as well as from other sources. Bone marrow derived cells are difficult to harvest, cord blood, fat cells and “tooth cells’ are relatively easy.

Embryonic stem cells are controversial, principally because this type of stem cell is derived from embryos produced, but not used, for in vitro fertilization. These have been donated for research purposes by informed consent of the principals.

Methods: Growing cells in the laboratory is called cell culture; other, roughly equivalent terms, include in vitro [although today’s standard vessel is not glass but plastic] or tissue culture. With both stem cell types, culture conditions must be adjusted carefully to produce an expansion of cell number and differentation into the specific cell type desired.

Differences : Embryonic stem cells can theoretically be stimulated to mature into any type of cell (totipotent) while adult stem cells are pluripotent (several cell types). Both cell types can be maintained in cell culture for 3-12 months without undergoing changes or spontaneous differentation. Adult stem cells typically generate the cell types of the tissue in which they reside and usually ‘specialize’ more rapidly when maintained in tissue culture. Adult stem cells from the bone marrow can normally produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platlets as well as other blood - related cell types. The problem is to make sure that the "end product" is the cell type desired.

Another interesting possibility is that adult stem cells may, under the correct conditions, exhibit a degree of plasticity. There is some evidence that bone-marrow-derived stem cells could possibly be stimulated to become bone or heart cells. This is also a very active research area.

Research problems and directions:
NOTE: Many people are under the mistaken impression that stem cell research has been banned. Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research [except for cell lines established before a certain date] has been embargoed. However, private or state-sponsored entities can and do fund embryonic stem cell projects; in addition there are many federally funded research grants targeted to adult stem cells and the non-embargoed embryonic lines.

The usual role of stem cells is in the production of tissue (embryonic) or the repair and maintenance of tissue (adult). When a specific cell is needed, the appropriate stem cell is stimulated to multiply and differentiate into the required cell type. The exact mechanism of this phenomenon is being actively investigated. A cautionary note: recent animal experiments using in vitro expanded and differentiated stem cells injected into mice resulted in 20% of the animals developing tumors (cancer).

There are very few adult stem cells in tissue, their identification is problematic, they are also rather difficult to work with in vitro, and the conditions for transformation into the desired cell type are unclear. If these difficulties can be overcome, we may be able to regenerate healthy tissue from an individual’s own stem cells, thus removing the need for powerful immunosuppressive drugs which have many dangerous side effects. Bone marrow transplants are one such form of adult stem cell transplant done presently.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a disease caused by the overproduction of scar tissue (collagen) in the lung. It was thought that cells already resident in the lung were somehow overstimulated, causing the buildup of the scar tissue. In one fairly recent report, it has been confirmed in an animal model that adult stem cells travel via the bloodstream to the lung, where they produce the scar tissue. In the same model, this migration can be blocked. This opens up a number of possibilities, because rheumatoid arthritis and cirrhosis of the liver involve excessive scar tissue formation. [Strieter et al, Journal of Clinical Investigation Aug.2, 2004]

There is also active research into the development of standard cultures to be used for in vitro investigations into the determination of signals that turn specific genes on and off, drug testing, disease prevention and cell-based therapies [transplants].

Most of the above examples involve adult stem cells, because research with this cell type has been ongoing since the 1960's. Twenty years after researchers learned how to culture mouse stem cells, there now exists a somewhat stable culture system for human embryonic stem cells. Fairly large numbers of this cell type can be produced, but researchers disagree on the tests necessary to determine whether an in vitro culture retains stem cell characteristics.

NOTE: This article is an extremely compressed version of information on the NIH website. I have added a few snippets from other technical articles. If you want more and more complete information, please access this article.

Writing a science article for the general {MENSA} public.
Most of the writing I’ve done lately is in ‘scientific article’ style. IE. A convoluted, polysyllabic, stylized, factually dense format characterized by run-on sentences and multiple qualifiers. Please forgive any reversion to type. In general, I enjoy producing these – but only after I have finished. The final version of this type of article is always the result of ruthless pruning of information. One hopes– no, prays– that the proper facts have been presented, resulting in a more complete and accurate understanding of the subject by the reader.

My Annual Physical

by Joe Hopkins

I just got back from my annual physical exam. Everything checked out OK. When it was all done the Doctor asked if I had any questions. “Yes I do.”, I replied. “You told me not to eat eggs because they were high in cholesterol, but I just read that it’s not the cholesterol you eat that ends up in your arteries, so it’s OK to eat eggs. And you said I should only drink decaf but I just read a new study that shows drinking decaf actually lowers the good HDL cholesterol. So what should I do?” With a perfectly straight face, he said: “Stop reading!”


One evening Rene Descartes went to relax at a local tavern. The bartender approached and said, "Ah, good evening Monsieur Descartes! Shall I serve you the usual drink?". Descartes replied, "I think not.", and promptly vanished.
Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry, monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?"

Farewell Rodney Dangerfield (Nov. 11, 1921-Oct. 6. 2004)

I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous - everyone hasn't met me yet.
When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.
I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.

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