One of the strangest and most difficult aspects of interacting with other people is discovering those areas which you consider to be so basic, so foundational, so obvious that you don't even think about them—until you run up against someone for whom they are not basic, and maybe not even important.

For me one of those givens is that you don't take food from a common dish and then put it back, and if your hands touch something on a common plate you take it, even if you didn't mean to.  Thus I find it particularly unnerving to watch at church potlucks, or <shudder> restaurant buffet bars, as folks violate those maxims repeatedly and egregiously, with no consideration for those behind them in line.  I'm not speaking particularly of children here; the adults are just as likely, sometimes more so, to be the offenders.

This raises two questions:  Is this really a matter of fundamental hygiene and common courtesy, or merely a particular, culture-specific custom?  I do hope not the latter, or I may have to stop eating away from home.


What are the habits that seem perfectly normal and natural to me, yet cause in others the stomach-turning reaction I experienced this morning?
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Edit
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I mentioned the advantages of my customized Google News page yesterday, and here today is another example of its serendipity. One of my categories is "Basel Switzerland," which I'll admit is not usually very interesting as it usually contains only stories about banks, drug companies, and the occasional Paris Hilton slip-up.  This morning, however, I was greeted by the headline, More Dairies Go Raw.  That sounded interesting, given my interest in foods natural and unpasteurized, and my observation that, while Switzerland does cheese very, very well, the milk—at least that available in the grocery stores—is less than stellar.  Just like here, everything is pasteurized and homogenized, and if you want skim milk (as I do), you are reduced to buying that which has been so denatured as to be able to sit, unrefrigerated, on the shelf for an indeterminant time.  No thanks; I got my dairy from yoghurt and cheese while we were there.

So what was a story from the Boston Globe doing in my Basel news feed? Because of these sentences:

Researchers at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Basel in Switzerland followed nearly 15,000 children ages 5 to 15 in Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany from 2001 to 2004. The study, sponsored by the European Union and published in 2007, found that children who drank raw milk had a lower incidence of asthma and allergies.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 8:51 am | Edit
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Lemon and honey as a cold remedy?  I don't know about the lemon, but a new study showed plain honey to be more effective (and safer, and less expensive) than over-the-counter cough-suppressant drugs, at least for children.  Sounds good to me!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Edit
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So states an Orlando Sentinel article with the bizarre and ominous headline, "Hong Kong Tests Toys for Date Rape Drug."  It appears that the Chinese manufacturers of a children's arts and craft item called Spin Dots (also known as Bindeez), instead of using the non-toxic compound 1,5-pentanediol, substituted 1,4-butanediol, which metabolizes into the "date-rape" drug gamma hydroxy butyrate when swallowed.

Surely the article's author was being facetious, for it is abundantly clear why the substitution was made; as the article states, the non-toxic compound is between three and seven times more expensive than the dangerous one.  It is the Chinese-made toothpaste scandal all over again, in which toxic diethylene glycol was substitued for harmless, but more expensive, glycerin.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 7:42 pm | Edit
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I came upon this Sheep Dash game in an article on sleep cycles.  Supposedly it provides a measure of how sleep-deprived one is, though they admit reaction time is slowed by aging as well.  I've found I score "Bobbing Bobcat" pretty consistently, and it tells me to go get a cup of coffee.  I only score worse when a head-bobbing sheep tricks me into jumping the gun.  Once I achieved "Rocketing Rabbit" but have not yet repeated the feat.  Maybe after a nap....

I'd be interested in seeing how you video game players score.  I expect you'll do much better, though it won't be a fair contest since none of the video gamers I know are as old as I am.  :)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 9:22 am | Edit
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Heard in passing:  Money you pay in taxes doesn't come out of your pocket.

There's a chance I missed something critical here, since I just walked by the radio and didn't hear the whole story.  But what I heard was the results of a survey of people in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and some other countries, about which the reporter stated, with a serious and worried tone, that people in the United States pay about $1000 more per year in out-of-pocket health care expenses than those in most of the countries surveyed.

Most of the countries have socialized medical care and their people pay heavily in taxes for their services.  I should hope they'd be paying less out-of-pocket!

But somehow, if you pay money to the government, rather than to a doctor, it doesn't count.  As an economist I know keeps reminding me, "A dollar is a dollar is a dollar."  And so is a pound, a euro, or a franc.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 2, 2007 at 6:05 am | Edit
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It's been a while since I've posted anything in the RETHINK category, but I was inspired by this article on the differences in chilbirth between the United Kingdom and the United States. As much as I have come to appreciate midwives and the option of home birth, the point of this post is not to tout the British socialized health care system, which I know has significant problems. Nor do I wish to make the all-too-common mistake of assuming that an idea is better just because it's not American—or because it is European—an error which is just as dangerous as its opposite.

What strikes me as so vitally important, especially for Americans who, thanks to the size and historical self-sufficiency of our country, tend to have less contact with other cultures than most educated people, is the great benefit of listening to and exploring other people's views on topics that are so well-ingrained in our own lives we never question them. Ideas that are so much a part of us we imagine anyone who would think otherwise as uncultured, uncivilized, and ignorant: "They do such-and-such because they don't know any better. When they see our way they will know it is best." Most of us wouldn't actually say that, but it's a strong gut reaction. It's a good thing, then for all of us to encounter people who have equally deep-seated feelings that their ways, very different from ours, are superior. Whether we come away from the comparison with our minds changed, or more convinced than ever that we are right, we benefit from the encounter.

Not many people can learn this lesson by living in another culture, as Janet has. But the Internet can be a great eye-opener, and most of us probably have neighbors, co-workers, and church or school friends who would be happy to share a different cultural view.  Not to mention that getting married, even to someone from one's own culture, can be a surprising introduction to the thought that ideas, habits, and customs we take for granted are not necessarily universal. :)

Far be it from me to champion the inane and dangerous idea that all cultures and customs are equally valuable.  But I think most of us are much more likely to make the opposite error.  I preach to myself most of all.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 7:54 am | Edit
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Heather recently reviewed a book called Organizing for Your Brain Type.  According to this article, it might well have been called Organizing for Your Brain.  It seems that "consciencious" people—orderly, dependable, hard-working, goal-oriented, self-disciplined, organized folks—are at significanly less risk of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia as they age.

Autopsies revealed that these people did, in fact, have the kind of brain damage associated with Alzheimer's.  What made the difference, apparently, was their ability to cope despite the damage.

In old age, conscientiousness seems to have to do a lot with the risk of dementia. It’s not that it directly affects the underlying pathology. It seems to affect your ability to tolerate the pathology and maintain normal cognitive function.

So there you have it.  Get organized, keep your promises, do good work.  It's not only good for your soul, it's good for your brain.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 1, 2007 at 6:16 pm | Edit
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Although I find highly objectionable the way most laboring mothers and their newborns are treated in America today, I'm still in favor of most newborn screening.  It did hurt to hear my grandchildren's cries as they received the heel stick required to get blood for the testing, but it was over quickly and their mommy was able to soothe them immediately.  The advantage of discovering or ruling out certain devastating, but treatable, conditions is worth the small trauma.  I'm not happy about the idea that such screening is often mandatory, but the idea itself is a good one.

So I was naturally interested in reading this article on the March of Dimes' call for still more newborn testing.  I'm not sure how I feel about that, not knowing anything about many of the conditions they want to include.  What inspired me to write was another example of the futility of trying to get more than general information out of a news report, even one with hyperlinks. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 7:33 am | Edit
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Television has long been called the "idiot box," but here is more evidence that being a couch potato harms the brain as well as the body.  Unfortunately, in this case reading is just as bad as watching TV.

The Swedish experiment was actually about depression.  Previous studies have shown that the hippocamus region of the human brain shrinks in depressed people.  In this study, exercise was shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect in rats, and promoted dramatic neuron growth in the hippocampus.  (If you, like me, wonder how on earth they can tell if a rat is depressed, read the article.) (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 8:39 am | Edit
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I can rarely resist passing on good news like this.  Most reports of the benefits of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, come with all sorts of caveats that the harm done by the fat and sugar might negate the benefits of the polyphenols.  This German study, however, showed that a mere 6.3 gram daily dose of dark chocolate (another article said it was 50% cacao) had no negative effects yet resulted in a clinically significant drop in blood pressure among patients with blood pressures in the range of 130/85 to 160/100.

It's good to know my daughter is looking after my health, having given me for my birthday a 100 gram bar of 72% cacao "extra dunkle Schokolade" Swiss chocolate.  Let's see, at that dosage it should last me about 15 days....   Right!
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at 7:14 am | Edit
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A new study indicates that a combination of high fat, high sugar, and high stress is what piles on dangerous abdominal fat.  A high-stress life with a good diet is not a problem, as far as belly fat goes, and a a bad diet is not as much of a problem if stress levels are low.  At least if you're a mouse.

This should be good news, since both diet and our response to stress can be controlled.  However, the tone of the article bothers me, as it focuses on the medical and pharmaceutical possibilities the study raises.  Not that these are necessarily wrong, but it misses the big picture.

I've also noticed a fad among dentists lately:  selling mouth guards to protect the teeth of those whose stress response includes grinding their teeth at night.  Again, there's nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes you have to treat the symptoms.

However, treating symptoms while ignoring the disease itself can be irresponsible.  It's true there's been a lot of hot air spilled on the subject of our bad diets, but a high level of stress still seems to be considered inevitable, even a badge of courage and a mark of success.  Why aren't we paying more attention to preventing unnecessary stress in the first place, and to ways of controlling and moderating our response to unavoidable stress?
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 2, 2007 at 7:43 am | Edit
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I find it amusing that President Bush gets blamed for anything that goes wrong, including hurricanes.  But even I am incensed about this one.  Whatever his personal opinion might be—if he's aware of the situation at all—he surely bears part of the blame for the following insanity, because the president is ultimately responsible for the actions of his administration. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 7:21 am | Edit
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Remember the story of the guy who got in trouble for (correctly) using the word "niggardly"?

Porter's boss once called him on the carpet for "using words I don't understand."

Now Missouri legislators are up in arms because their vocabularies failed them.  They passed a bill legalizing lay midwifery because they didn't realize what "tocology" means. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 28, 2007 at 6:51 am | Edit
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Among the more bizarre stories of the day, here's a study that claims to be able to predict your child's future SAT performance based on the relative lengths of his fingers.  Those whose ring fingers are longer compared with their index fingers are statistically likely to do better on the math portion, and those with the reverse situation to do better on the verbal.  This supposedly reflects prenatal testosterone/estrogen exposure.

It's a lot harder to measure finger length than I thought.  I finally settled on measuring from the knuckle, and it seems my ring finger is a bit longer than my index.  It's true, I did very well on the math portion of the SAT.  But I did even better on the verbal, so I must have measured wrong.  :)

The researchers plan to expand their studies into "other cognitive and behavioral issues, such as technophobia, career paths and possibly dyslexia."

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:46 am | Edit
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