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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Do you remember your 8th Graders trip to the Nation’s Capital? We lived just three miles away from the ocean, our kids went to Rumson’s middle school where they pretty much lived in shorts and surf tee shorts. But we parents were advised to send our young teens to DC with shirts and ties for the boys, dresses for the girls, because as Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man (or woman).” The Principal told us that over the years she had found that when students dressed well, their behavior improved…and an overnight trip like this could get a little dicey with all those hormones charging around.

This morning I was reading a list of “Ten Books to read for June” from the BBC website http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170602-ten-books-to-read-in-june – not that I will be able to read ten books in one month, but I found this title fascinating, “Strange Contagion,” by Lee Daniel Kravitz. “Kravetz gathers research on social contagions – the ways in which others influence our lives by catchable thoughts, emotions and behaviours.” 

Kravitz looked into the Palo Alto suicide clusters of teens throwing themselves onto train tracks in 2009 and again in 2014. I wrote about this and the term “affluenza” in a study published in the Atlantic here: https://mountainmornings.net/2016/01/03/a-study-in-money/

And I’ve had occasion to think about it recently. Not suicide, but social stress, the whole keeping up with somebody syndrome. One friend hires a company to update her closet, and before you know it the whole subdivision is installing custom closets. Men were comparing notes on woodstoves in the Berkshires, in the Blue Ridge they talk about tractors. You’ve heard of the study about how hanging with overweight friends will make you fat, right?

“…the study’s conclusion that if you have heavier friends, family members, and colleagues, it is more likely that you will be heavier, too. The stronger the relationship between the two people, the stronger the link between their weights. But only one of the pathways—number three—explained why people of the same size clustered together. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-your-friends-make-you-fat—the-social-network-of-weight-201105242666

The three pathways the Harvard study referenced were: 1) Collaboration; 2) Peer Pressure; and 3) Monkey See Monkey Do! So that curious little monkey is responsible for our widening waistlines? How many of us have gone out to dinner with friends and heard, “Well if you’re ordering an appetizer…” or, on the other hand, maybe everyone says “No thanks” to the dessert menu and you refuse it too, even though you’ve been dying for a piece of their famous apple pie!

The need to belong, to fit into a certain cultural place is universal. Whenever we would show family and neighbors the mechanical room in our basement’s “Not so Big” house and its tankless water heater, they would marvel. To think you never run out of hot water, and you save money by not heating up gallons of water that just sits there waiting for you to get into the shower.

I’m hoping beyond hope that social contagion will keep our country on the road to fewer carbon emissions and a sustainable future despite Mr T’s backtracking on the Paris Agreement. I’ve already heard that California and New York are committed to moving forward with green energy, oh and Pittsburgh didn’t like being lumped into Mr T’s speech yesterday either. The NYTimes reports a coalition is forming to proceed anyway, defying Mr T!

The unnamed group — which, so far, includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations. “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, said in an interview.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/american-cities-climate-standards.html?_r=0

So catch this thought Mr T, we Americans can dilute your damaging policy and defend Mother Earth. We will not all follow you off that negative/denial cliff, some of us would like to protect our world for future generations. It’s the least and the most we can do. Now if I could just get Bob to buy a Tesla!      IMG_0538

 

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Bob and I are camping out in our tiny Nashville house. We’ve got the fastest internet speed in our whole 38 year old pre-computer history – which is to say Cable…not yet fiber, but at least not a poor DSL country connection. The amount of cussing from my hubby’s mouth has decreased exponentially! This is just a week’s visit, getting some things ready and furniture delivered before our trip abroad and the big move. 

The Bride was sweet to meet us with coffee and wine. She had already unpacked and expanded our Zinus memory foam mattresses for the day bed in the study. The day bed is supposed to come today, hence the “camping out” phrase. I brought just enough linens to survive, and a new sofa from Article should arrive shortly. We can walk to the farmer’s market for lunch, and to a number of great restaurants for dinner. In fact, walkability was a major factor in this move. 

Well that, and two precious grandbabies.

We sent the Bride to camp in the Berkshires after our move to NJ. It was a disaster. The plan was for Bob to be the Camp Doctor for two weeks of the full season, and that part was fine. But no amount of cajoling could placate our ten year old daughter. Her “Take me Home” refrain never stopped and sleepaway camp became a one and done summer activity. The Rocker never stood a chance. 

For my part, I had loved my Camp St Joseph for Girls experience. I became a counselor-in-training there, later a waterfront counselor, and excelled in sports before Title IX. My first platonic boy crush happened one night at a dance across the lake at CSJ for Boys. For many years, well into my 30s, I would dream of camp and they were always dreams that left me happy and fulfilled. Summer camp was a time to build self confidence and strength in an era when young girls had fewer options. 

So even though I’m feeling a little unsettled, somewhere between the mountains and city life, unsteady on my feet, feeling out the neighborhood, I know this will pass. I’m “Heading into the Heart of the Dragon,” as Sally Field once said. Change doesn’t happen without a fight from your former self. This is a first step to finding our beach house; I want to be a waterfront Nana finally. We heard lots of birds singing our first morning in Nashville, and we’ve had plenty of April showers. But the sun is up and…

the universe is expanding as it should. Just look at this super computer simulation of billions of years http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/watch-universe-evolve-over-13-billion-years-180951366/

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April showers are nourishing all the perennials we just planted, but if you are a migratory bird looking to nest in Florida, you’d be plain out of luck. Wading birds like egrets and herons depend on fresh, clean water from rivers meeting the sea in estuaries on our coasts for their food supply, and scientists have been putting on waders to count their nests this time of year. Considering Mr T’s deep cuts to the EPA, this Audubon report is troubling:

The latest South Florida Wading Bird Report, which was published last week, offers signs of trouble for the birds and the places they live. During this nesting season, which ran from December 2015 to July 2016, surveyors were disappointed to find 26,676 nests total. That’s just one-third the number of nests tallied during 2009, one of the best nesting years in decades, and the lowest nest census since the 2007-2008 season. Of the indicator species, only two (Great Egrets and White Ibises) met their nest recovery goals. The only bird to show an above-average nesting season last year was the Roseate Spoonbill. http://www.audubon.org/news/floridas-wading-birds-had-terrible-breeding-season-last-year

We had a Great Blue Heron swoop over our Rumson garage every morning to fish in the Shrewsbury River. When you live so close to the ocean, you begin to notice the rise and fall of tidewater by the line of black silt on your Corgis’ short legs, which would sometimes cover their bellies. “Swamp Dogs” was our affectionate term for Toots and Blaze. My sister Kay was kind enough to immortalize that mother/son duo in a 1993 watercolor.

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But it’s the long, stilt-like legs of Great Egrets that are helping them navigate the rising seawater levels due to Climate Change.

And now we have a circus/barker/climate/denier as the Leader of the Free World who would like to dismantle and disrupt the federal government, and return power to “the states.” I’ve always wondered why Republicans even pursue public service when they hate it so much! If any of you are still wondering about the loss of Arctic ice or if keeping that house your aunt left you on the Jersey Shore is a good idea, take a look at Leonardo diCaprio’s interactive global temperature map. It looks like there may be a quarter of Rumson left after the flood. Seriously.

“Every fraction of a degree of global warming sets in motion sea level rise that will profoundly threaten coastal cities across the world,” explains Dr. Benjamin Strauss from Climate Central. “[Our map] shows the incredible stakes and urgency of our climate choices.”

https://www.beforetheflood.com/explore/the-crisis/sea-level-rise/

Now that you’ve put in your city, and the visual has sunk in and maybe you’ve “woke up” think about these cuts to the federal budget. Keep calling your legislators people, dig out your Wellies (English for waders or rain boots), and start looking for higher ground while planning your retirement

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Months ago, a friend’s daughter mentioned that she had stopped taking Adderal, a drug that was prescribed years earlier for Attention Deficit (ADD). She was proud of weaning herself off this stimulant and started looking at the world, and her career differently. I was happy for her, since as y’all know I am NOT a pill person – well except for vitamins – and I recommended she read this book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for Economics, even though he is a psychologist.

A therapist friend recommended this book to me, and Bob just finished reading it on our Kindle App, so now it’s my turn. It’s easy enough to say that men are from Mars, but this non-fiction book doesn’t try to explain male vs female minds. In fact, gender has nothing to with it. Instead we find out that our instinctual, fast assessment of any situation is the hero of our cognitive world, and the slower, analytical mind is rather lazy!

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase “bread and. . . . ” It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person’s System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html

When we speak about the “tone” of a conversation, as we have been doing about Mr T’s recent attempts at a Press Conference, we are engaging System 1. It is the nuanced way we communicate with others, the reason we may meet someone and feel an immediate kinship. I was actually thinking that System 1 may be a higher evolutionary adaptation to an increasingly complex and interconnected technological world. Making a diagnosis of ADD more of a plus, than a minus.

Now Bob’s opinion of an ADD diagnosis is that your environment isn’t sufficiently stimulating. As the student who sat in front of him in French class in the 60s, I know this to be true – his legs were always moving behind my desk, so much so that I felt as if I was on a Disney ride. I am positive he would have been medicated as a child. And our son had a similar level of energy in high school, similar to a race horse in the gate, one very hard to contain in a “normal” classroom. I can already see this fast level of relating to the world in the Love Bug. I can almost see her mind racing to keep up with us; at the age of two she was asking us to teach her how to read!

So the inner-linguist-in-me was delighted to read this morning that in fact, our thoughts may have been shaped by the kind of crops our ancestors grew! http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways

 

Growing rice requires far greater cooperation: it is labour-intensive and requires complex irrigation systems spanning many different farms. Wheat farming, by contrast, takes about half the amount of work and depends on rainfall rather than irrigation, meaning that farmers don’t need to collaborate with their neighbours and can focus on tending their own crops.

This BBC article explains how so many social science experiments are biased toward the Western world, more specifically American graduate students who participate in these studies. The idea of Western thought being more frontier in nature, valuing the individual, John Wayne, self-directed approach, as differentiated from Eastern thought which values the whole, group achievement, socialist model over the individual is a narrative based in reality, and not alternative facts.  “…our social environment moulds our minds. From the broad differences between East and West, to subtle variation between US states, it is becoming increasingly clear that history, geography and culture can change how we all think in subtle and surprising ways – right down to our visual perception.”

And I would add Red and Blue states to this mix. I once asked a group of women knitting together in a room if in fact every US citizen didn’t deserve to have health care. This was early on, when President Obama was being blocked by every single Republican legislator from passing health insurance reform. And the one Republican knitter in the room said very defiantly “Absolutely not!” She was thinking like a pioneer, and not like someone on the Titanic.

The Flapper loved everything Eastern, including Buddhism, and believed in mindfulness before it was ever trending. Since I received the results of my Ancestry DNA, I realize that my cells are all Irish, with unfortunately no Asian influence. But ever since I was a girl, wearing my Catholic school uniform, my environment taught me to share and think collectively…and maybe now we need to think faster than ever. We need to be the first Jedi.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

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Please. With a newborn in the family everyone loses a little sleep. But the Bride carries the heaviest burden of nursing every two to three hours. And since today is going to be a glorious life-affirming, celebratory day, I’ll make this post brief.

TN in its infinite wisdom has voted “YES on 1” which was an anti-choice, anti-women ballot initiative. The question was deliberately confusing, and ads by religious PACs made it seem like a reasonable option.

However, in the future elected officials now have more power to legislate what we women can do, or not do with our bodies. We may be made to wait longer for an abortion, make multiple visits to a doctor, and even watch an ultrasound or succumb to an invasive pelvic sonogram. TN cannot overturn our right to seek reproductive care, but the GOP can now chip away at our ability to access it with more TRAP laws.

So thanks TN, for thinking that old white men and a few women know best.
http://m.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/11/what-tennessees-new-abortion-amendment-means-for-america/382401/#

With more and more women in medicine and politics, this state just may be first for music but last in recruiting young people in science and technology fields. Just another result of apathetic young voters, or is this a sign of the times?

Let me sleep on it baby.

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It’s almost summertime and the living isn’t so easy. Today, the third Climate Assessment has been released by the White House, and our general prognosis isn’t so good. We’re heating up the planet, severe storms are increasing and seas are rising. It’s like a set-up for a sci-fi horror movie with Tom Cruise, only it’s real. But we all know that. I have a friend who lives in town and sold her car. She’s happy walking most places and discovered Charlottesville’s excellent transit system. She gets an “A” in my book! For the rest of us, I’m afraid we’re failing miserably.

Living a green life isn’t so hard and it’s not so new. Back in the late 60s when I was in college, we learned about chemical dyes that didn’t degrade in sewers. We knew how to compost, and in fact we did back in the Berkshires. In Windsor in the 70s I had a solar clothes dryer – I hung my babies’ diapers on a clothesline.

My old fashioned diapers

My old fashioned diapers

We were all children at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, and we felt an affinity for the land. The three Rs were real and we lived by them. I rescued my baby’s crib from the curbside, along with her rocking chair; we recycled all our friends’ baby clothes and toys. We planted a Victory Garden!

So what happened? The 80s happened. Right about the time we left the Berkshires, when the Rocker was just 2 and the Bride was 7, I noticed some distinct cultural differences. Maybe not as obvious as moving to the South, but strange just the same.

Moving back to suburban NJ from New England left me in super culture shock. Women thought I was odd because I mowed our lawn, with a push mower – was it because Bob didn’t do it or because we didn’t have a landscaping service? And I ground our coffee, with a coffee grinder… and I actually played with the kids on a field trip, instead of standing under a tree comparing nail polish. Reaganomics was the law of the land. If we didn’t eventually move closer to the beach, I might not have survived that transplant.

Ostentatious, obsequious wealth was flaunted by our neighbors with their MacMansions sitting nearly empty of furniture and their big SUVs in 3-car garages. I put up a clothesline even though one mom told me she didn’t think the town allowed them. We always believed in asking for forgiveness instead of permission. Then I got back to the business of reporting on town meetings and school budgets; interviewing interesting people and writing biographies.

And it didn’t much concern me when the town’s Annual Meeting on January 1st started with an Anglican minister and a prayer. He was a hospice preacher and an EMT who rode on the ambulance. His yearly prayer (they didn’t do this before every meeting) was pretty interfaith and profoundly peaceful.

But praying for this planet won’t stop our reliance on fossil fuels and the corrupt lobbying by corporations to keep the status quo.

The assessment warns that current efforts to implement emissions cuts and to adapt to changes are “insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences”. According to the White House, climate and weather disasters cost the US more than $100bn in 2012, the country’s warmest year on record.http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27296417

I’ve started following a Canadian climate scientist on Twitter, Katherine Hayoe @KHayhoe, along with Michael Mann the “hockey stick” scientist. She is sort of an anomaly since Hayoe is an Evangelical Christian, with a compelling world view. It would seem that religion and science CAN co-exist! Chris Mooney at Slate just wrote an excellent essay, “Why Should Evangelical Christians Care About Climate Change?”

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/2014/05/conservative_christians_and_climate_change_five_arguments_for_why_one_should.html

Why indeed. Here’s one reason – our grandchildren.

Visiting with Great Grandmamas

Visiting with Great Grandmamas

The Bug's new-fasioned diapers

The Bug’s new-fasioned diapers

 

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It’s that time of year again. No, not carving pumpkins time and trying to find or create a family-friendly Halloween costume. It’s the Nobel Prize announcement time; time to try and figure out just what the Higgs boson particle really is and how it’s responsible for the secrets of life and our universe, and I am not speaking biblically.

But try to find the 2013 recipient of the prize in physics, Peter Higgs, and you’d be out of luck. The elderly Edinburgh scientist left his cell phone behind and like Garbo, would like to be left alone.  Of course, once that Large Hadron Collider at Cern proved that his theory about the “god particle” was correct, Higgs was considered a shoe-in for the Nobel in Physics.

So maybe we’re closer to knowing “how” we got here, two other winners this year help us understand the “why.” A man whose mission is to heal won the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology. Since I have a few healers in the family, I was interested in this article I found courtesy of my musical great niece: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/10/nobel-medicine-winner-says-i-owe-is-all-to-my-bassoon-teacher.html  Dr Thomas Sudhof credits his music teacher with imparting a sense of discipline that helped to forge his “…powers of analysis and concentration.”

I always try to understand everything I encounter—not only in science, but also historical and political events and music and movies—get to grips with the content, meaning, and process. This is immense fun, as strange as that may sound.
Who was your most influential teacher, and why?
My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.
Science and art, the interconnections are endless. Next is a woman whose elegantly sparse prose helps us to understand the human condition, along with the roles we all play; an artist who is also part of the faculty here at UVA. Congratulations to Alice Munro, recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature! This 82 year old Canadian writer had her first book of short stories published when she was 37…take heed all you late bloomers! She has only taught the occasional writing class in Mr Jefferson’s Academical Village, and was unavailable when I was studying fiction as a community scholar, unfortunately for me.  She is Queen of the Short Story, and has recently published Dear Life.   
Rumor is she will stop writing now, but I find that hard to believe. Here is what Munro, America’s Chekhov, had to say about her attempt at writing a novel, and I feel her pain:“It didn’t feel right to me, and I thought I would have to abandon it,” she said. “I was very depressed. Then it came to me that what I had to do was pull it apart and put it in story form. Then I could handle it. That’s when I learned I was never going to write a real novel because I could not think that way.”imagesSo that’s my problem. Too many years writing 300-500 word newspaper columns. Thank you Ms Munro, for sharing your knowledge and sense of possibility with us.

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