My hearing is very good, probably better than that of many my age because I didn't ruin it in my teens with headphones and loud music.  But I still find that I can understand what people say better if I can see their faces.  Now I know why.

A Canadian study indicates that there is a signficant visual component of language understanding even amongst hearing people.  The four-month-old babies in the study were able to distinguish when adults in a silent video were speaking English and when they were speaking French.

The eight-month-old babies could do the same, but only if they were being raised in a bilingual French/English environment.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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Just what parents didn't want to hear.  Apparently high-action video games can improve your eyesight.  (Rochester Review, May/June 2007)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 21, 2007 at 2:31 pm | Edit
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Or hospitals in general, if you can help it.  I realize they perform a vital service, and I really am thankful for doctors and hospitals.  But sometimes I think they've completely lost touch with reality.

Check out this article about an Ontario woman who gave birth.  In her First Nation (Native American) culture, burying the placenta is an important ritual.  But the hospital wouldn't let her take her placenta home.  In the end, she finally received it, but only after it had been sterilized and passed through the hands of a funeral home!

This woman's complaint has a chance of making some change in the Canadian hospital policies, because of her Native status.  But Native Americans, and Canadians, are not the only ones who want to bury or otherwise use the placenta.  Why does the hospital think it has the right to keep the placenta?  Apparently because we gave them that right.  But if they don't want to drive even more parents to the friendlier options of midwives and home birth, pehaps they should rethink the issue.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 12, 2007 at 9:28 am | Edit
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Well, no, not really.  Sunscreen has an important role in preventing sunburn and skin problems.  But I've long thought that we are now going overboard to avoid the sun, and this article on vitamin D deficiency encourages that belief.  It turns out that vitamin D is valuable for far more than preventing rickets, and the recommended daily dose is probably much too low.  A few interesting quotes from the article (since I know it will become inaccessible after a while):

A series of recent studies has found that vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin—once thought to be critical only to bone health—is useful throughout the body to strengthen the immune system and control cell growth. Yet researchers estimate that as many as half of all Americans are likely deficient in the nutrient.


Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 23, 2007 at 7:09 am | Edit
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It was the title that struck me:

Study spotlights prenatal beef consumption

I found the image of tiny babies-in-utero chowing down on hamburgers quite amusing.

But the results of a study by researchers at my former employer, the University of Rochester Medical Center, are not funny at all.  Men whose mothers ate a lot of beef during their pregnancy were found to have a risk of fertility problems three times greater than normal, with 25% below normal sperm counts.  If this is due, as many suspect, to the hormones fed to beef cattle, there is good reason to believe that girl babies are adversely affected as well.

I'm no vegetarian, but organic meat is looking more and more to be worth the exorbitant cost.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 9:07 pm | Edit
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I remember the response, too.

I've written about the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine campaign before.  Now I want to share this excellent article by Gina R. Dalfonzo from Christianity Today, (22 March 07) which begins,

You've probably seen the commercials. Over the last few months, it's been almost impossible not to see them. They parade endlessly across our screens—a multitude of women of all ages, from all backgrounds—and they all have the same urgent message to share: "Tell someone that human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer. Tell someone. Tell someone. Tell someone."

To which I can only respond, "We tried."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 1:08 pm | Edit
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Now it's Chinese food that's bad for you!  I'm especially sad that they singled out my family's favorite, General Tso's Chicken.  And how about this:

[E]ating an order of lemon chicken, which is battered and then deep-fried, is like eating three fried McDonald's McChicken sandwiches then washing them down with a 32-oz. Coke.

This report slams Chinese food for both high sodium and high calorie content.  What's critically missing is any mention of portion size.  I don't know anyone who thinks that the plates they serve you at Chinese restaurants were meant to be consumed by one person, and I'm sure both the calorie and the sodium numbers would look much better if analyzed for reasonably-sized portions.  Eating less makes a lot more sense than following this advice:  "[Stay] away from duck sauce, hot mustard, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce."  Could you then still call it Chinese food???
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 8:03 am | Edit
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This article on making moral judgments is a good example of the kind of false dilemma that drives me crazy.  It reminds me of those soul-tearing questions sometimes inflicted on schoolchildren—by each other, and even by teachers—such as "If your house were burning and you could only save one parent, which would you choose, your mom or your dad?" I remember teaching my own kids that "I don't answer ridiculous questions" is a perfectly acceptable response.

The dilemma posed in the experiment is this:  "Someone you know has AIDS and plans to infect others, some of whom will die. Your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person. Do you pull the trigger?"  The premise, "your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person" is spurious, since there are always other options.  They could at least have set up a more plausible scenario, such as a sniper shooting steadily into a crowded schoolyard and you having a gun trained on the sniper—do you shoot him?  But even in that case one can shoot to disable, even though there's a chance your shot will end up fatal.

What they discovered about the responses of people with a particular type of brain damage may be important in helping those people and their families, but it's hard to see any general application that can come from false premises. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 7:21 am | Edit
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I suppose I should throw out my Peter Pan peanut butter.

Having read about the recall, I quietly scoffed at the paranoia of those who recommended getting rid of all peanut butter, as if the net of the "2111" product code weren't wide enough.  And all this fuss when no actual contamination has (yet) been found in the product—just a statistical link.

But just for fun, I looked at the product code on my jar, and lo and behold, it begins with the Number of the Peanut Butter Beast.

The fact that I've already consumed more than half the contents of the jar ought to count for something, though.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 9:53 am | Edit
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I wonder how much of the harm in the world has been done to people "for their own good."  I think of the Crusades, forced conversions, overzealous social workers who have ripped children from their families without cause (and, when proven wrong, without apology), the punishment of Native American and Deaf children who dared speak their mother tongues in school, and court-ordered therapy against the will of the patient.  One might argue that there were mixed motives on the parts of the do-gooders in these cases, but always the benefit of the victim was used as an excuse, and I believe in most cases the confidence of doing a good thing was truly a major motivating factor. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 10:59 am | Edit
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A Candian study indicates that knowledge of two or more languages can play a significant role in staving off dementia.  Multilingual people in the study began showing dementia symptoms an average of 4.1 years later than their unilingual counterparts.  "How you learn the language probably doesn't make much difference; how good your grammar is probably doesn't matter." said principle investigator Ellen Bialystok. "What matters is that you have to manage two complete language systems at once."

Since previous research has found other mental workouts, like crossword puzzles, to be helpful as well, I'm now looking for a multi-lingual version of my World of Puzzles magazine....
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 12, 2007 at 9:30 am | Edit
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Last night we heard the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra play Pierre Jalbert's deeply moving In Aeternum, which he wrote as a memorial to his niece who died at birth. Naturally, my thoughts were about Isaac as I listened, running a gamut of emotions, including anger during an intense part of the work with a heartbeat motif running through it—that brought back memories of the doctor who interrupted the family's last moments together to tell them Isaac's heart rate was slowing down.

I had the privilege of speaking briefly with Jalbert afterwards and was able to tell him (though not fully express) how much the music meant to me. You can hear an exerpt of In Aeternum here.

(Some readers of this blog will be interested to know that Jalbert is a native son of Manchester, New Hampshire!)

Having been set up by last night's experience, I was not prepared to handle this morning's news from the United Kingdom: The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is recommending active euthanasia for severely disabled newborns(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 7:07 am | Edit
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Economists are accustomed to drawing conclusions from statistical studies and aggregations of data. It's hard to reduce economic behavior to controlled, double-blind studies, and laboratory rats aren't necessarily a good model for corporate rats. So it came as no surprise to me that some Cornell University economists thought they might get a handle on the elusive cause of childhood autism by studying rainfall and the availablity of cable television. Working from the assumption that children spend more hours watching television in households that have cable TV, and in locations where high rainfall keeps them indoors, and observing significantly higher rates of autism in communities with a confluence of those conditions, the researchers suggested early television viewing as a possible trigger for autism spectrum disorders.

When I first read about the study, I was reminded of a story Peter Drucker tells, in his marvelous, autobiographical, historical commentary, Adventures of a Bystander, about an outstanding statistics teacher at the University of Minnesota. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 at 8:45 am | Edit
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Many years ago the folks who were then our medical practicioners strongly urged me to go on hormone replacement therapy drugs, stressing that it was the best thing I could do for my heart, even more effective than losing weight and getting in shape. I declined, having no wish to take any drugs that were not absolutely necessary. Now that HRT has been linked with serious problems—especially for the heart!—I feel justified in my reluctance.

No one has yet suggested I take Fosamax or any other drug that targets osteoporosis, but I foresee it coming, given my age and sex, and find myself skeptical once again. So I was not surprised last week during a visit to the dentist, when I was handed a paper with the impressive title, Bisphosphonate Medications and Your Oral Health, which I was able to find online as well. The article begins with the following warning:

If you use a bisphosphonate medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis (a thinning of the bones) or as part of cancer treatment, you should advise your dentist.

It seems that in rare instances these drugs can cause osteonecrosis of the jaw, severe loss or destruction of the jawbone. No doubt these drugs do much good in many cases, but it's important to understand the risk that something we take to strengthen our bones just might have the opposite effect.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 7, 2006 at 9:47 pm | Edit
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There's nothing like good news in the morning! Stop a moment, go fix yourself a nice cup of tea, then come back and read yet another news story about the benefits of drinking tea.

The results of a double-blind experiment conducted by researchers at the University College of London indicate that drinking black tea helps people recover more quickly from the stresses of life. Volunteers were given either a tea-laced concoction or one that was identical but without the tea ingredients, and subjected to stressful situations. Stress levels, both subjective and measured, rose for all participants, but the tea drinkers recovered significantly faster. For example, their blood cortisol (stress hormone) levels had dropped an average of 47% after 50 minutes, compared with 27% for the non-tea drinkers.

Next step: researching my own favorite form of relaxation: a cup of tea, a comfortable chair, and a good book.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 8:05 am | Edit
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