Archive for the 'Science' Category

30
Aug
20

so tell me, did you, did you do, did you do all you could?

Nothing changes because we want it to, but only when we act.

But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you’re not a scientist, what actions are available to you? I can wear my mask and avoid gatherings (oh how I miss people!) and take my temperature and check my pulse oxygen and take my D3 and my kelp supplements and paint my house and water my tomatoes. But those all just seem like waiting “things,” not doing “things.”

And what can I possibly add to everything that’s been said already? We have more time to notice things, we spend less money on gas and restaurants, less time driving around to this place or that. I actually was thinking it might be a good time to get and train a puppy for when our older dog is gone to keep our younger dog company, but how do you socialize a puppy when you can’t get within 6 feet of anyone? And while I’m grateful I don’t have young or school age children at home that I have to try to educate, entertain, and appease, what happens to all of those young and school age children out there who are missing out on these important socializations of school and play dates and learning how to share a sandbox or take turns on a swing at the playground?

Only Daughter lost almost half of her freshman year in college and will lose at least half of her sophomore year (still “going,” but it’s all remote/online) – the best time of your life in some really important ways. Every new class filled with new people to meet from a myriad of cultures and backgrounds, friendships to be made over textbooks and index cards and endless cups of coffee in the cafeteria. If I drive onto campus for something, it’s like a dystopian novel – abandoned, eerie.

I’ve heard it said that it’s like we’re living through the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, the race riots of the 1960s, and the Depression simultaneously. It’s not wrong. I would add the landscapes of Divergent, the disconnect between government and the people in The Hunger Games,and I Am Legend, without the zombies.

may-you-live-in-interesting-times

And while I know how lucky I am – I had MORE work this summer because of Covid, Husband’s job is secure unless one of the largest universities in our state closes down (not an impossibility I guess given the CANCELLATION OF FALL FOOTBALL [don’t get me started on the ludicrous dependence of a university budget on football ticket sales]), we have enough tomatoes in our garden to feed an army for at least a month, our children so far are healthy and housed and fed – I can’t help but instinctively pair that with grief for all the people who aren’t so lucky.

Now I recognize that a sign of mental health and stability is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in your head at the same time. And I find myself consistently split 50/50 between gratitude and grief.

Why does this have to be so horrible? Why are so many people so angry? Why can’t we come together and recognize that, for what will hopefully be the only time in our history or future, we are all

In. this. together.

The divisiveness with which we in the U.S. are facing this is no surprise, really, given the baby man/menace who is in office and all of the spineless twits who care more about their hold on power than their duty to the Constitution and people they swore to protect. (And if you ask me, I’ll tell you what I really think.) But are we really so hopeless as a species that we need one leader to tell us what to do? (I’m asking this rhetorically, since the answer is Obviously Yes.)

We used to learn about our responsibilities as members of a society; I remember even in my children’s school days posters in hallways about civility and decency and sympathy and gratitude. And I’m old, but not THAT old, so it wasn’t THAT long ago. What’s happened to that? The end of everyone basically watching and reading the same news sources

the internet ruined everything

The availability of niche information markets that allows us to seek out and believe only whatever fringe theories–and I facetiously include mine in that distinction, as many others might, since I get my news from such liberal “dishrags” as the New York Times and the Washington Post–we are predisposed to believe? But it seems like so much more than that; willful ignorance, so precious to so many, so cultivated.

fox news

We’ve all been taught not to talk about money, religion, or politics. Is that maybe not such a good idea? I mean, we are told it’s vulgar to talk about money, which just allows our colleagues to be paid less, or more, for equal work; we don’t talk about religion because it’s “sacred” somehow (pun 100% intended), but the result of that is just that we don’t understand other’s beliefs or lack thereof, and just become even more firmly entrenched in whatever brainwashing we were subject to as children.

And politics. Ah, politics. I don’t bring it up right now because if I have a friend or family member who might still, for some completely incomprehensible reason, support our “President” Chump, I will lose all love and respect for them, so it’s better off if I just stick my fingers in my ears and sing really loudly.

wise-monkey-hear-no-evil

But what about in normal times? (Since these are decidedly not normal) Why not then? Because I do actually believe that most of us want the same things: healthy food, air, water; good schools; un-potholed roads; access to health care. Is it really so impossible to talk about our different theories about how we might have those things? And how we might make sure that everyone else does as well?

And while we’re on the topic of “everyone else,” It never ceases to amaze me that there are people out in the world, people who are clean and well dressed and even polite in grocery store lines, who aren’t wearing a mask. What’s so difficult about this? We all wear shoes, and if you have AIDS and don’t tell your sexual partners and give it to them I’m pretty sure you can be charged with attempted manslaughter, or at least reckless endangerment. Hopefully you stop at stop signs and drive on your side of the road and don’t drink and drive – all things that could be argued inconvenience you in one way or the other, but are good for society, and we all recognize that, so we comply, or are ticketed or even arrested. You don’t go out with the flu or typhoid and cough on people; at least I hope you don’t. (Although I’ve had my share of parents bringing their sick children to my house for their piano lessons; one of the reasons I’m barely teaching anymore.) Wearing a mask means you recognize that you MIGHT be sick and that it would actually be infringing on everyone else’s rights to expose them, even unwittingly. Seems like a no-brainer to me. And if it’s the law, and a local sheriff declares he won’t enforce it, how does he or she still have a job? Are we that much cowards? (And while I’m speaking of cowards, how is it possible that it’s legal to carry a semi-automatic weapon into a state capitol? That just makes no sense.)

People argue that they “can’t breathe” while wearing a mask. I imagine that a mask is a lot less uncomfortable than a ventilator. I actually had someone on facebook arguing with me that it was his right to do whatever he wanted, and if he got sick, it was the medical worker’s jobs to take care of him. Zero concern about their health, their families; It. Was. Their. Job. People. Die. Every. Day. End of story. Such a lack of empathy is pathological, and not uncommon.

Alas.

People argue that at first they were told they didn’t need to wear one, and now that they do. So therefore no one knows what they’re talking about, so they won’t. That means they’re listening to the first thing, and not the second, which is ridiculous in and of itself. And this is how science works. We learn new things, and change our behaviors accordingly. People also used to think you got malaria from eating watermelons, that lightning meant that god was angry. Doctors also didn’t wash their hands before performing surgery, and when some doctors started arguing for it they were ignored, belittled, challenged.

The long-term consequences of this virus for many are certainly an argument for persistent care and consideration. Young, healthy athletes are debilitated with lung damage or myocarditis; people on ventilators for a long time suffer from all kinds of long-term physical effects of the ventilator and the drug-induced paralysis needed to have them on it. Is this really worth risking? For yourself? Your loved ones? ANYBODY ELSE ANYWHERE YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER? If you have it and don’t know it, and someone behind you in line at the hardware store contracts it, are you going to pay their medical bills? Support their families if they die? Because if you’re not, and you’re not wearing a mask, How Dare You?

And while we’re talking about healthcare (I was, really), let’s talk about healthcare. Here’s an argument I wish someone would make: what would it save employers if we had universal healthcare? From tens of thousands to millions of dollars a year, amiright? This would free up money for better salaries, to hire more people and give them full time work. This in and of itself would seem ro make up whatever extra we would have to pay in taxes to have it. And wouldn’t it be a nice thing to know that if you or a loved one needed long-term care during a long illness, or at the end of their lives, that you wouldn’t have to choose between not providing it and bankruptcy? I realize that people have a real aversion to “give” anything away

bootstraps

part of the same argument against free college tuition [“I had to pay for it, so do you”] or food stamps, but if it’s universal, and everyone’s helping pay for it, according to their own resources, it’s not actually a giveaway. Just think how much less of your income you’d have to save for your child’s education, along with the insurance costs? It seems to me like a win-win.

Now I recognize the benefits of capitalism, and that the motivation for money often drives ingenuity and many of the things for which we are grateful. Nobody’s saying we shouldn’t make sure that this ingenuity isn’t to be rewarded. But do CEOs of health insurance companies fall into that category? Do they really need to be paid millions and millions of dollars? “Insurance” as a profit-making enterprise is, in fact, an endeavor rife with inherent conflict of interest. The point is we pay into a pool so that when people need it it’s there. If part of that pool is going towards crazy salaries and big fancy buildings THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE POOLING IT FOR.

And while we’re here, let’s talk about racism. In this case I’m probably not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but I’ll say it anyway. Slavery aside, which is obviously a horrible injustice, alongside Russian serfdom, sexual trafficking and exploitation, what we as a nation did to the American Indian and what the Canadian government did to their First Nations people , the continued misogyny to varying degrees in almost every culture against women, the confiscation of passports of immigrant workers in Saudi Arabia, all belong to the same category. (The fact that black slaves were considered 3/5 of a person for census purposes, and then black MEN were granted the right to vote* long before WOMEN were [so what does that make us, 2/5? 1/5?] never ceases to get my goat, so to speak, but I digress. Again.) The treatment of people, humans, as anything less than human, is abhorrent, should be recognized as such, and every step necessary to alleviate it should be taken at once and in perpetuity.

People argue that crimes are committed by a higher percentage of blacks than whites, so therefore things like racial profiling and discrimination in sentencing and the inherent fear that drives much of police brutality is warranted. But discrimination and brutality are never warranted, never okay, and isn’t racial profiling just a form of discrimination?

Post 9/11 I was traveling with First Husband and our Three Children and we were flagged to have all of our luggage inspected, by hand, at every gate in the airport. While I thought it was ludicrous that a family a five would be considered viable candidates to possibly perpetrate terrorism on airplanes, I also recognized that I couldn’t argue that only people who looked Arabic were. And if we want to get to the root of the problem, and talk about what it would COST to alleviate racism – social support for drug addicts and single mothers, truly equal schools, proper training for police officers – wouldn’t all of this cost less than what it costs to imprison tens of thousands of people a year? I guess the problem is at this point we would have to pay for both. But what about releasing people who were non-violent? Imprisoned for selling marijuana, since it’s mostly legal now anyway? And spending the money that would cost to imprison them on job training and education instead?

bleeding heart

So many of these problems predate Chump. And I can’t really be angry at him – he’s one man, and only ever been exactly who he is. There have been no surprises here; he has behaved exactly as any thinking person would have expected him to. What really concerns me is all the people who voted for him, and continue to think he’s doing a great job so will vote for him again. What is he providing that might be found comforting? Reassurance that your own racism and misogyny are okay? That greed is good? That we should all just take what we can get and the devil can take the rest?

I guess I could take some comfort in the fact that only 19% of eligible voters voted for him in the last election. How many this time? As far as I’m concerned, 5 votes is too many, although I imagine he and his equally narcissistic spawn

trump and his spawn

could be counted on for at least that many. I would be very curious as to who Melania voted for.

I felt sorry for her at the inauguration,

I don’t any more. I think she’s not any better than the rest of them

I really don't care

So all of these thoughts are going through my mind as I go about my business – listening to piano exams, teaching my small handful of students, writing my book, painting my house, watering my tomatoes. Grief and gratitude, gratitude and grief. My Sangha holds me together on weeks I can face two more hours on Zoom; I miss my pottery class, some new friendships that were forming there. I miss the world. I’m healthy, my recent mammogram was normal, my broken ankle has healed, I have enough to eat. So many don’t. So many things to hope for, so many to mourn. All we can do is our best.

 

Wear your mask. Be kind to your neighbors. Share your tomatoes.

And Vote.

Blue.

 

No Matter Who.

 

 

* I do wish more people took their right to vote more seriously. Not just the actual voting, which would be great, but only if they’ve also taken the time to educate themselves about the issues and the relative stances thereon. The fact that Chump LOST the popular vote (a topic for another time I guess), and won with ~ 19% of Eligible Votes, is shame on us big time.

 

08
Mar
16

while we were “sleeping”

These things are happening:

First, we preach the moral high ground, but only apply our civil rights to ourselves. Isn’t part of the argument that civil rights are human rights, and should be applied to everyone?

And then we have a lot of people making a lot of money running our military “business” — and actually contributing to the people who are trying (and often succeeding) to kill our members of the military.

Meanwhile, politicians candidates the children representing the Republican party debate the relative sizes of their peni (?) while the world melts.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing.

Wake up!

05
Oct
10

Stem-Cell Research and Flawed Logic

Apparently the decision not to allow federal money to be spent on the destruction of embryonic stem cells has been upheld. While the author of the above quoted article is happy about this because it shows “proper judicial restraint,” I find the news troubling and disappointing.

Valuable research has been thwarted, research that could possibly lead to cures for many debilitating, if not fatal, diseases, all in the name of not spending federal money in the course of the destruction of embryos. If you want to throw them in the trash, that’s fine. Just don’t spend any federal money on them.

That makes sense.

Then there are the people who believe that the embryos can’t be destroyed because they are life.

If that’s the case, every single embryo that is created needs to be implanted into the mother and brought to term. It’s not going to happen. That means you need to ban in-vitro fertilization; which probably means you should ban birth control. I mean, isn’t every egg and sperm potentially life? What right do I have to prevent God’s work from being done in my life? Does this mean that God’s plan is for us to continue overpopulating this planet until we bleed it dry sooner rather than later?

I seem to hear a Monty Python clip playing in the background:

Or is it Cher singing “If I Could Turn Back Time?”

23
Sep
10

Mind Over . . . Body?

Just read a very interesting article in the New Yorker about Dr. Kataria and the laughter yoga movement.

Depending on how you look at it, there is now belief in or evidence on the healing power of laughter. Not only that it can lift your spirits, but alleviate pain, exercise your internal organs, boost your immune system, and help you sleep; it may even alter the progress of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons.

What’s really shocking to me is a study cited, performed by Robert Ader in 1975 at the University of Rochester. The purpose of his experiment was to see if rats could be conditioned to associate nausea with saccharin. The drug administered along with saccharin caused nausea. When the rats started to die, Ader stopped administering the drug alongside the sweetener; the rats still died. It was discovered that not only did the rats learn to associate saccharine with the drug, a drug which was discovered to suppress the immune system, but the rat’s memory of this immune suppression continued whenever they tasted the sweetener. “In other words, their minds were killing them.”

This led to the realization that positive physical, mental, and emotional “feelings” have the power to rehabilitate the body’s chemistry.

You can watch the video of Dr. Kataria and some of his laugh-yoga sessions here.

To contribute, I just spent half an hour trying to find the clip from the first 5 minutes of a West Wing episode which discusses a sex-education report and a regrettable use of the term “sticky wicket.” No luck. Please post if you can find it. THAT will make you laugh.

02
Apr
10

Another Reason to Read

Studies are being conducted which demonstrate that people who read advanced, complicated works of fiction are doing good things for their brains.

Being able to keep track of several lines of narrative and the various levels of mental and emotional states of the characters in the book develop our social skills, can satisfy our desire for poetic justice, and is believed to have played a part in our evolution into the altruistic species we supposedly are.

Now if I could just figure out how being able to read all of these books on an iPad increased this beneficent effect, I could justify paying $500 for it.

13
Mar
10

I, Robot

So I’m reading a back issue of the New Yorker (I’m a busy girl, I get behind), and am in the middle of an article about the dramatic steps being taken in biotechnology. This article begins by discussing the manufacture, in a laboratory, of a microbial mechanism that is capable of producing a compound useful against malaria. This compound can be grown in nature, and is being produced by subsistence farmers in Africa and Asia, but is needed in much greater quantities than can be acquired through natural means.

All well and good as malaria grows more resistant to the other drugs, except perhaps for the farmers.

But in the process of this “discovery” it has been realized that, even better than introducing the genes of cold-water fish into strawberries to make them more resistant to cold weather (ew!), the component parts of any living thing can be produced on a cellular level, and then reassembled.

Obviously these scientists don’t read Mary Shelley. It’s been done. It didn’t turn out well.

Another one of the pursuits is a microbe that can digest the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While this sounds like a good idea for many reasons, I can’t help but wonder about the waste product.

We “humans” seem to differentiate ourselves best from the rest of the planet’s animals in our quests to manipulate the world to our benefit. The belief is that, if done successfully, we can continue to live the self-centered lives we’ve grown to know and love. The results of our attempts to use biology to improve our surroundings  can be seen everywhere, from the introduction of broom to Vancouver Island by the Scots or the release of Asian ladybugs in the south to control other pests to the collapse of bee colonies. Seems like we’d learn.

The problem that I see with these manipulations is that we are all part of a larger ecosystem, one that is constantly seeking balance. No species has impacted this planet as we have, (humanity has been referred to as “weeds” — invasive, not particularly beneficial, hard to eradicate; not that far off, really) and the results can be seen everywhere. Rather than devising yet another artificial alteration of the world around us, one which we can 1. congratulate ourselves for, for the intellectual ingenuity it demonstrates and 2. use to justify continuing on the path we’ve been on for the last 100 years, why don’t we try to live harmoniously in the world we find ourselves in?

Too much to ask?




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