I actually enjoy airplane food, perhaps because I don't eat it all that often.  It's part of the adventure of flying, and something to break up the monotony of a long flight.  But maybe next time I should wave away the attendent with the tempting tray.  Recent research has shown that fasting for about 16 hours can reset the circadian rhythms and speed adjustment to a new time zone.

At least if you're a mouse.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 6:36 am | Edit
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I don't enjoy reporting bad news, really.  It makes me sound old and curmudgeonly.  Okay, so I am old and curmudgeonly, but that's beside the point.  So today I feature an exciting story from the Philadelphia Inquirer:  Midwife Diane Goslin has emerged victorious from a court case in which the State of Pennsylvania accused her of practicing medicine without a license by assisting at home births.  (See my previous post.)  The author of the article, Angela Couloumbis, and the headline writer who created the title, Birthing Women Win Legal Decision understand that this victory is not about one person's profession, but about one of our most basic freedoms:  choosing where and with whom we will give birth to our children.

I could point out that some of the rejoicing may be premature: the State is considering appealing the decision, and the court only dealt with the charge of practicing medicine, not with the problem that Pennsylvania is not among the 22 states in this country that recognize the Certified Professional Midwife license.  There is cause for joy, to be sure, but not for letting down our guard.  But we'll take our victories one at a time, and be thankful for daily bread even if we're not certain of next week's provision.

Anything less would be curmudgeonly.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 10:00 am | Edit
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It's easy to dismiss the Yearning for Zion Ranch as a collection of kooks, but even kooks have rights in this country, or should. Innocent chidlren, especially, should have their rights firmly protected, including the right not to be torn from their homes without clear and compelling evidence of immediate danger.  Yet the State of Texas has abused the children of the Yearning for Zion families in just that way, on the strength of one anonymous phone call accusing one man of abusing his 16-year-old wife.  Over 400 children were turned over to strangers, subjected to medical examinations, and even though there was no evidence of abuse have still not been allowed to return home.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not to be confused with the "mainline" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormons) certainly is bizarre, and if they are forcing people to marry against their wills (underage or not), if they are breaking the laws of Texas, they are in the wrong.  But living in an isolated community, wearing old-fashioned clothing, and teaching one's children that obedience is a godly virtue are not crimes, no matter how odd they might seem to mainstream America.  If the laws against underage marriage have been broken, let them be investigated and prosecuted with due process, not with hysteria and actions that will forever scar young lives.

"Laws against underage marriage."  Hmmm, I wonder where the activists are?  The ones who think it's so natural for children to have sex that they're pushing for condom distribution in middle schools?  The ones who insist 13-year-olds need access to abortions—without parental consent or even notification?  It's okay for young teens to be sexually active and have abortions, but not okay for them to marry and have children?  Now that's what I call a bizarre belief system!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Edit
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The other day we were told, by one whose buisness it is to predict these things, that no matter who wins the upcoming presidential election, our taxes are going up.  He may be right.  If they're serious about stimulating the American economy, raising American taxes seems a foolish approach, but the public keeps demanding more services, and there's always a bill for services rendered.

So I got to thinking, at lunchtime, as I munched on my barbecue potato chips, about Switzerland.  They have some wonderful potato chips there, somewhat like our barbecue variety, but better—though that impression may have been due to Favorable Emotional Circumstances.  One day I made a hasty stop at the grocery store and grabbed some food for a train trip, only to discover, too late, that I had paid over $5 for a medium-sized bag of chips!

The bag I was munching from was more than half again as large, and priced at $2.50.  I actually paid half that; I generally don't by chips unless they're on sale.  It occured to me that a price tag of $7.50 would be a significant deterrent; I would probably still buy them for very special occasions, but casual purchasing would defintely be out.  Thus it would be in my best interest, health-wise, if the potato chip manufacturers decided to triple their prices.  But they wouldn't do it.  Without illegal collusion in the industry, competition would force the price back down immediately.

Unless the government stepped in.  Imagine a $5/bag tax on potato chips; applied to all, no one manufacturer could undercut the market, and suddenly Americans just might start reducing their consumption.  I only pick on potato chips because they are my own weakness, but let's not stop there:  corn chips, soda, candy, cookies, Happy Meals—all those top of the food pyramid, artificial ingredient, and preservative heavy "foods" that make up so much of our modern diet and have nutritionists and health professionals wringing their hands.

Sin taxes have their problems, I know.  The last thing I want to do is create yet another opportunity for organized crime to fluorish.  (Pssst!  Wanna buy an Oreo?) But it would be my favorite kind of tax:  likely to provide significant income for the government, yet completely avoidable simply by eating as we know we should. 
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Edit
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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.

and

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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