Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love, Marry

I actually enjoyed "the sequel" to "Eat, Pray, Love" more than the original. Once again, fraught with emotional turmoil Gilbert writes her way through her crises. However, in this book, she has aged and become more mature--if not, still terrified of marriage. The book is called "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage."

Her comments on love and desire are interesting. "The Buddha taught that all suffering is rooted in desire. Don't we all know this to be true? Any of us who have ever desired something and then didn't get it (or worse, got it and subsequently lost it) know full well the suffering of which the Buddha spoke.....As soon as you want somebody-really want him-it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of the other person...." (Gilbert, 96)

As she pursued the history of marriage in an attempt to make peace with it, she mentioned the "Dads and Cads theory." Women prefer to settle down and marry monogamous, dependable men men who are likely to be good fathers. When women are looking for an affair, they seek the "cad" the sinfully good looking but morally inept types. Either way, evolutionary biology wins. If the "cad" fathers her child she produces good looking children, who /have an increased likelihood of wooing mating partners and passing down their genes. If the "dad" fathers her child she has a dependable help mate to raise the child. And if the cad fathers the child, and the dad raises it, life still goes on.

I had read of the "Dads and Cads" theory, but had not known the catchy slogan. Apparently when women are ovulating (most fertile) they seek the bad boys (ie, the cad) but when women are not ovulating the "dad"-making men are more appealing. There is even an adjacent theory that extends to women on oral contraception. Their bodies think they are pregnant, so their hormones tell them to seek a "dad" style mate. I even read one article once, that advised women contemplating marriage to avoid hormonal manipulation (ie. oral contraceptives) to see if they were still attracted to him without modern pharmacology. Cynical, but interesting views on marriage in these studies and in the book (which I found more interesting than the book that launched the movie).

For more reading on "Dads and Cads" see below:
photo from

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where We Belong: Adoption and the Meaning of Family

I like non-fiction. I love fiction, and Emily Griffin's reads are great chic-lit! "Where We Belong" is about a NYC woman who opens her apartment door to find the daughter that she gave up for adoption.  The yuppie woman and her estranged biological daughters journey to and through each other is an entertaining yet provocative read.

At one point the daughter says she grew up with all the cliche, such as:: "Never forget for a single minute, you didn't grow under my heart but in it." She pays attention to the media: the celebrities who adopt, and the ones who were adopted. Here she notes celebrities who were adopted themselves" "Steve Jobs, two presidents, including Bill Clinton..two first ladies, Faith Hill AND Tim McGraw (who happened to also be married- how cool is that?), Darryl McDaniels from Run-DMC and as my mother sometimes pointed out, Moses and Jesus." (Griffin, p. 44)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Can Botox make you Happy?

A fascinating study on depressed people who had their frowning muscles paralyzed with botulinum toxin (botox) showed that it made them happier. Physically unable to use their frowning muscles, they lived the adage: which came first the chicken or the egg? Does sadness come from the frown or does the frown come from sadness?

We have all heard that people with a positive attitude fare better in life, health, and love. Now, there may be cosmetic assistance available to those who need help maintaining that positive attitude. The findings were originally published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research and reported in Scientific American Mind (Sep/Oct 2012). The placebo group had a 9 percent decrease in depressive symptoms, the Botox injected group had a 47 percent decrease in depressive symptoms.

If you physically couldn't frown you might be a happier person. Imagine what would happen if you actually smiled. Kenny Rogers may have something after all. Smile, be happy, and have a great day!

Making the Periodic Table Interesting?

Can the Periodic Table, that we studied in high school chemistry class be made interesting? Maybe if the author of "The Disappearing Spoon" was your high school teacher! Unfortunately, Sam Kean was not my high school teacher, as he is closer to my own age.

The element with the most colorful history on the periodic table, quite literally according to the author, was antimony. "Nebuchadnezzar, the king who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the sixth century BC, used a noxious antimony-lead paint to paint his walls yellow. Not coinicidentally, he soon went mad, sleeping outdoors in the fields and eating grass like an ox.....Antimony pills also won fame as laxatives. Unlike modern pills, these hard antimony pills didn't dissolve in the intestines, and the pills were considered so valuable that people rooted through fecal matter to retrieve them. Some lucky families even passed down laxatives from father to son. Perhaps fro this reason, antimony found heavy work as a medicine, although it's actually toxic. Mozart probably died from taking too much to combat a severe fever. " (Kean, p. 22)

The woman who discovered that nuclei have shells and that electrons behave in a manner to reach a "stable" number was a scientist who was permitted to hang around science only because of her chemistry professor husband. It wasn't until after her Nobel prize that a university finally offered her a paying job. Even then a San Diego newspaper greeted her big day with the headline "S.D. Mother Wins Nobel Prize." (Kean, p. 31)

Fighting the virus carried by Man's best friend

Man's best friend the dog, is the most common carrier of history's most dreaded virus: rabies. Although very few deaths occur from rabies in the US thanks to post-exposure vaccination, fifty thousand people die worldwide from this horrid disease. A raging and innovative virus, it does not travel through the bloodstream (where it might be detected by our immune systems) but travels slowly but surely through the nervous system to drive us quite literally crazy before death.

The preventative vaccination of our dog population has not prevented rabies in the US but given us the proverbial buffer between this disease and the human population. In the US raccoons and bats are still common culprits that serve as a vector between the virus and our vulnerable nervous systems. Humans are considered an accidental exposure in this disease as we, personally, rarely spread it to others before our demise if we are infected. A rabid, sharp toothed creature on the other hand does a much better job at keeping the virus alive--infecting many before it dies a grisly death.

Many of the most lethal diseases are zoonotic, they originate in animals and then cross from species to species. Measles came from a disease in cattle, influenza from pigs, smallpox from rodents, the plague and typhus from the rat. "With most zoonotic leaps in disease, animal contact is the spark, but urbanization is the bone-dry tinder" (Wasik and Murphy, 71)

As an emergency nurse, I gave many doses of post-exposure rabies vaccine. Yes, I knew that the disease was brutal and always fatal. (Since I last administered the vaccine, some rare people have survived with the help of modern medicine) I did not fully appreciate the bravery that Louis Pasteur (he, of the pasteurization fame) and his assistants as they risked their lives, literally, to obtain serum from the jaws of salivating rabid dogs to make the vaccine. It is said they kept a gun handy, so that if one of the three was bit, his friend/assistant could shoot him quickly before the disease ravaged him mad. A virus too small for the scientist to see under the microscope--yet he was convinced he could make a vaccine for this unseen killer. The lives that Frenchman has saved!

After the news release of the news (at the turn of the 20th century) that there was a vaccine for this dreaded disease, three American boys in New Jersey were bit by a rabid dog. The news of their plight was in the newspapers, to be facing certain death when a vaccine was across the ocean. Many readers sent in money that enabled the boys to journey to Monsieur Pasteur's lab to be cured. Am I jaded in wondering if the public would be able to mount such a campaign to effect a cure for three such American youth today?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You've Come a Long Way Baby! Or Have You?

Tantalizing bits from this book on human DNA include:

1) "...humans have ten times more microorganisms feasting inside us than we do cells" (Kean, p. 301)
2) "The name HUMAN Genome Project even became something of a misnomer, because it turned out that 8 percent of our genome isn't human at all: a quarter billion of our base pairs are old virus genes. Human genes actually make up less that 2 percent of our total DNA, so by this measure we're four times more virus than human." (Kean, p. 302)
3)  Zipf's law: "It says that the most common word in a language appears roughly twice as often as the second most common word, roughly three times as often as the third most common, a hundred times more common than the hudrendth most common, and so on. In English, THE accounts for 7 percent of words, OF about half that, AND a third of that, all way down to obscurities like grawlix...These distributions hold just as true for modern Hindi, Spanish, or Russian." Zipf's law can be applied to music, city population ranks, income distributions, mass extinctions, earthquake magnitudes, the ratios of colors in painting...." (Kean 163)
4)  Creationism vs. Evolution? A lot of the greatest work in genetics has been done by those in religious orders. Mendel of biological fame (the Mendelian laws of inheritance) was a monk and the Dominican
nun, Sister Miriam M. Stimson was a pioneer in DNA research in the 1940s and 1950s. "Women
at the time usually had to relinquish their careers upon marrying, while unmarried women (like Franklin) provoked suspicion....Catholic sisters, meanwhile, respectably unmarried and living in church run     convents, had the financial support and independence to   pursue science." (Kean, pp. 201-3)