Day: December 23, 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

09:21 – In bizarre local front-page news a 23-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with having consensual sex with a 19-year-old man. The problem is that she’s a public school teacher and he is a student at her school, although the sex took place off-campus. North Carolina has a very strange and probably unconstitutional law that says a teacher who has sex with a student who attends his or her school is committing a crime, unless the two of them are married. Eh?

It seems to me that if two people, regardless of their sexes, decide to have sex it is not a matter for the law unless one of them is under the age of consent, which should be 14 years old at most. Now, it’s probably reasonable for schools, public or private, to have a no-fucking-the-students rule. But if a teacher violates that rule, he or she should be fired, not arrested. I don’t buy the argument that the teacher being in a position of authority automatically means the student can’t consent. Anyone who believes that has no experience with teenagers. And a 19-year-old man is obviously perfectly capable of consenting, or not. (Not that any heterosexual 19-year-old man in all of the history of our species has ever refused to have sex with a pretty 23-year-old woman, obviously.)

And, in related news, a local teacher was cleared yesterday of charges that he’d had sex with a female student. Apparently, the investigation turned up no evidence that he had done so, so it appears the girl was lying. Of course, the assumption should always be that the person who claims to have been raped is lying. That’s a fundamental principle in law, presumption of innocence. But for some reason, when it comes to “sex crimes”, there is instead always a presumption of guilt. This guy was very lucky indeed.

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with Catherine Conant of Triarch, a family-owned Wisconsin company that produces prepared microscope slides. She’s the granddaughter of the founder, who started the company in 1927. I asked her if she’d be willing to put together sets of microscope slides customized for the biology book.

Originally, I intended to put together these prepared slide sets myself, using slides purchased in bulk from an Indian manufacturer, but after looking into what would be required I decided it was simply more than I wanted to take on, not just in terms of work but in terms of storage space and carrying costs for inventory. This way, all I have to do is come up with lists of the slides to be included in the sets. Triarch will produce and package the sets and sell them direct to anyone who wants to buy one.

The only downside is cost. Chinese-made slides in sets of 25 typically sell for $25 to $40, depending on the particular slides in the set. The same slide set from India might sell for $45 to $75. The same set from Triarch might sell for $85 to $120.

The upside to US-made is quality and specificity. Chinese slides simply can’t be trusted. There’s zero quality control, to the extent that sometimes the specimen is actually not present on the slide. Even worse, the specimen may not be what it’s supposed to be. For example, yesterday I looked at a Chinese slide whose description was “Hydra, l.s.”. What was on the slide was indeed a longitudinal section, but it sure didn’t look like a Hydra to me.

So I emailed the vendor, saying that this sure didn’t look like a Hydra to me, and I suspected it was some kind of Planarian (flatworm). I got email back thanking me for reporting the problem. The customer service rep said her boss, the owner of the company, had looked at the rest of their stock of that slide and pulled it from inventory because the quality was unacceptable. He maintained that it was in fact a Hydra ls, however, but that the sectioning was poor and didn’t show any “polyps”. Okay, whatever. But Hydras are vase-shaped, with a thinner portion on the posterior, where the basal disk is located, then swelling to larger diameter for most of the body, and again narrowing toward the mouth and tentacles on the anterior end.

Of course, the real problem is that the average student is going to assume, reasonably enough, that the slide label is accurate, so that student may look at what he assumes is one type of specimen when in fact it’s quite another. That can get confusing fast.

That’s one of the major reasons–along with typically poor sectioning and staining–that led me to rule out Chinese slides when I was considering assembling my own slide sets. Indian slides are generally much better than Chinese slides, with decent specimen selection and sectioning as well as useful staining. The problem with Indian slides, unless you import them directly in large volume, is that US resellers are generally clueless about what specifically they have available. Also, if a particular slide is out of stock, it’s often literally several months before it’s back in stock.

So that’s why I decided to punt the slide sets to Triarch. They carry about 4,500 different slides, nearly all of which are always in stock. If they do run out, they make another batch quickly. And anyone who buys Triarch slides knows exactly what they’re getting and can be confident that what they’ve ordered is what they received. Triarch slide sets won’t be cheap in any sense of that word, but they also maintain their value. People who pay $90 for a set of Triarch slides for a school year should be able to turn around after that year and resell that slide set for very nearly what they paid for them.

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