At one time scientists thought that only humans could respond to music. Animals, including cats, dogs and even monkeys, could hear music, but any response they might seem to have was not in rhythm with the music. Music might soothe the savage beast, but he wasn’t able to boogie to it.
But then a scientist, Aniruddh Patel, saw a Youtube video of a cockatoo called Snowball. And it looked like Snowball was reacting to a BackStreet Boys song. The bird changed his pace, his kicks and beak dipping, in response to the music.
It was a fascinating observation that led to the understanding that vocal learners, like dolphins and song birds, changed their body’s response based on the speed of the music. It also helped understanding how our brain coordinates movement in response to music.
You know what I’m taking about don’t you. That’s right. Dancing.
Dancing is more complex than you’d think. The motor cortex of the frontal lobe plans and executes voluntary movements. The basal ganglia, deeper in the brain, helps coordinate movements and the cerebellum allows us to keep a beat, maintain a rhythm.
That’s the part we understand, there’s a lot we don’t understand.
Like why patients with Parkinson’s may show some improvement with dance. In a study in Northwestern University, individuals who attended a dance class for 10 weeks reported a reduction in their disability. The study was small but it was thought that dance activated areas of the brain that helped them improve.
Other studies have shown benefits in stress, anxiety and even dementia. Dancing releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our body.
Peter Lovatt is known as Doctor Dance. He studies psychology as it is applied in dance. He believes that how we move our body can have an impact on how we learn and think. He was a professional dancer, but in 2008 he combined his love of dance with the study of psychology. He’s a pretty interesting guy and you can hear his TED talks on his website.
How did I discover these interesting facts?
I often visit my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. We call her the Dancing Queen. I’d never seen my mother dance until she was diagnosed with dementia. I don’t know if the disease removed her inhibitions or if music appeals to her in a different way now. What I know is that she LOVES to dance. So I researched why that might be true and I think it's because it makes her feel better.
Here’s the cool thing.
I can’t help her. I can’t make her sleep better or understand what is happening. I can’t always be there to encourage her to drink more or comfort her when she’s scared. There’s so much that I can’t do that it makes me feel helpless and frustrated. But there is something I can do with her…
I can dance.
I am not Mahatma Gandhi.
Most people recognize his name. He was an Indian lawyer who became world famous for his non-violent resistance during India’s campaign to free themselves from British Rule. At a time of increasing riots, Gandhi proposed fasting and boycotts. He went as far as spinning the yarn to make fabric for his own clothes instead of buying foreign made goods. In one episode of disobedience, Gandhi started a walk to the Arabian Sea coast, a distance of 240 miles. The goal was to retrieve salt from the ocean. According to British law, starting in 1882, Indians were forced to buy their salt from the British and they were taxed heavily during the process. He started with a few dozen people and ended his walk with tens of thousands.
On arrival, Gandhi was arrested immediately and then taken away. His followers had a different fate, they were viciously executed, clubbed by police until some of them fell unconscious or dead.
So what does that have to do with me?
I recently read an article by a doctor that proposed that we need to up our game to combat the rise in vaccine refusals. He suggested following Gandhi’s footsteps and he had a plan. He outlined the steps we’ve taken thus far (explaining and educating) and what we should consider doing (boycotting businesses of non-vaccinators and even hunger strikes).
I am not Mahatma Gandhi and truthfully, I don’t think a hunger strike will turn this around.
Let me hit pause for a moment and tell you about something unrelated, but important.
The MASK movement. Established in 2015, the MASK movement stands for Mothers Against Senseless Killings. They don’t have a complex agenda. Their goal is to keep “eyes on the street, interrupt violence and crime, and teach children to grow up as friends.”
Tamar Manasseh is the leader of the “army of moms”. On the first day of the MASK gathering, five moms served hot dogs and chips on a street corner. They still sit on the same street corner in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods of Chicago and they just talk. But there’s a lot more of them talking now.
In articles, Manasseh says she doesn’t want to be considered an anti-gun activist. What she wants is to create a safe spot, to stop the senseless killings. So they eat, chat, dance and talk on the street corner. They make friends, teach their children to be friends and they’ve lowered the rate of violence in their neighborhood. It’s simple right?
Tamar says on her website:
I used to think my greatest accomplishment was raising two happy, healthy children in Chicago, where so many other mothers are denied that right. Then I sat in a lawn chair on a street corner and extended the love I have for my kids to someone else’s. I have been enriched and deeply fulfilled by all of my children. I hope that one day you get to experience the same level of purpose that I have. See you on the block.
Tamar Manasseh is not Mahatma Gandhi either. Instead of hunger strikes, she’s feeding the kids in her neighborhood for free. Instead of long treks to retrieve salt and promote civic disobedience, Tamar is hanging around a corner in her own neighborhood engaging other mothers to help her change the environment they all live in.
But there are two ways that Tamar is like Gandhi.
She uses love to fight hate and her followers have been viciously executed.
Chantell Grant and Andrea Stoudemire , moms in MASK, lost their lives on July 26, 2019. They were shot down on the very corner where the group of mothers routinely meet. It was painful to read about and they haven't caught the shooter yet. But the moms are still going back to that corner. Because, no matter what happens, love must win.
You can read about Tamar and her mission here: On the Block.
The “King of Random” is dead and I’m sad about it—even though I’d never heard his name until yesterday.
Grant Thompson was the creator of the Youtube channel titled The King of Random and he made “videos dedicated to exploring life through all kinds of hacks, experiments and random weekend projects.”
A look at his offerings shows that he lived up to the ‘random' claim. He has a variety of videos including how to: make thunder claps, turn coal into diamonds using peanut butter, and light a fire with a water bottle (this last one is filed under survival techniques if you’re interested)
“There is excitement found in discovering the unknown, so join us and let’s build something great together,” says the description of the channel.
I’m not sure that building was always the goal but discovering the unknown was. In 2017, in an interview on Mediakix, he said that “I just started tinkering and learning how the world works…” Over time he built up a following and he said he realized he was meeting a need.
But what need, exactly, was he meeting?
Primarily, the appeal of just tinkering…. Do you know the definition of tinkering?
To attempt to repair or improve something in a casual way, often to no useful effect.
Tinkering is, at its heart, playtime. It involves puttering around with everyday objects and and exploring what can be done with them. For some, if it involves fire or explosions (as some of Thompson’s did) but for others its just fooling around with a piece of wood and some wire. Doing something with your hands, building, tinkering… can be therapeutic.
But I think the attraction to his channel went beyond tinkering.
His ideas had a sense of ridiculousness, and his Youtube channel provided a droll comedy for his watchers. It reminded me of something similar.
The Ig Nobel Prize.
The Ig honors achievements that make people LAUGH and then THINK. According to the website, “The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”
They have an annual ceremony (Sept 12 if you’re interested) and the awards are presented at a Harvard auditorium by, you guessed it, genuine Nobel Laureates.
To help you understand what I'm talking about, the 2018 awards went to scientists who explored:
-whether roller coasters could hasten the passage of kidney stones.
-whether a wine expert could reliably identify, by smell, the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine.
-the degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent.
I’ve signed up to watch the awards online.
As a bonus, during my research I discovered that I may be a candidate for the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. My hair has gotten longer out of pure laziness but now I discover, it may open new doors for me. The LFHCfS is for scientists that have, or believe they have, luxuriant flowing hair. Stay tuned.
“You can't deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.” Stephen King
Aside from life saving transfusions, I had no idea how powerful blood can be. Not just any blood...menstrual blood. (Warning: this blog has some taboo words in it and is about a subject a lot of people don’t like to talk about)
Let’s just look at some interesting facts about a woman’s cycle as we go through the ages.
The ancient Greeks believed that problems with menstruation could cause blood to accumulate around the heart and the uterus to wander around the body. The term hysteria came from the Greek word for ‘uterus’.
The Bible says: “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15.19) Along those lines, the church used to refuse communion to menstruating women.
We had some kooky notions in the past, but listen to this story.
Béla Schick was an American pediatrician who became famous for discovering a test for susceptibility to diphtheria. He headed several pediatric departments in New York City and was a professor at Columbia.
According to various stories on the internet (you trust those don’t you?) Dr Schick asked his receptionist/nurse or housekeeper to arrange a bouquet that he’d received from a patient in a vase of water. She refused. In some stories she eventually gives in and does as he requests. By morning the flowers are dead. She explained that when she is menstruating, flowers wilt when she touches them.
This was not only interesting…it was almost Biblical.
A theory was published stating that women secrete a toxin, the ‘menotoxin’, when they menstruate. Alarmingly, this toxin could prevent dough from rising and beer from fermenting. He did some studies with the help of his housekeepers, but more scientists took up the cause.
A article titled, A PHYTO-PHARMACOLOGICAL STUDY OF MENSTRUAL TOXIN by Macht and Lubin was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 1923. The Abstract said:
1. The blood serum, blood corpuscles, saliva, sweat, milk and other secretions of menstruating women contain a toxic substance characterized by specific pharmacological and chemical reactions.
2. This menstrual toxin or menotoxin is very much more powerful in its effects on plant protoplasm than on animal tissues, so that its nature and properties can be best studied by phyto-pharmacological methods.
Here’s my favorite part:
The experimental data obtained by the authors in the study of menotoxin confirm in a striking degree the empirical observations concerning a menstrual poison prevalent in folklore and handed down in classical literature.
Another study in 1944 published in JAMA ( a big name in medical journals) showed that menstrual blood was toxic to rats and caused death in 48 hours. One article implied that the menotoxin might be similar to that produced by poisonous toads. (Experimental studies, old and new, on menstrual toxin 1934)
It wasn’t until 1953 that Dr Bernard Zondek announced that menstrual blood had no more toxicity than any other tissue and that it was bacterial infections, not toxins, that caused rats to die in prior studies.
Thank goodness that nonsense is cleared up…or is it?
Vegan health bloggers are claiming that menstruation is the body’s attempt to get rid of toxins and that a heavy period is the result of a toxic diet. The reverse, an absent period-- which can be achieved by dramatic calorie deprivation, indicates a clean diet.
Good grief. Here we go again.
As Dr Jen Gunter says, “Menstrual blood is the lining of the uterus (endometrium) that leaves the body when an embryo fails to implant.” and “If menstrual blood were toxic that means human embryos are deposited in a toxic wasteland.” There is no menotoxin. That’s it.
We were enjoying a family game night when my sister brought the subject up.
“Let’s get together and paint rocks,” she said.
“Why in the world would we want to do that?” I asked, taking furtive glances at her alcoholic beverage.
“It inspires people,” she explained.
“Hmm,” I answered. “I think it’s your turn now.”
There are stories behind some stones.
For instance, have you heard about the Jewish tradition of laying a pebble or stone on a gravestone? According to some sources, it started when stones were used to cover up the departed. They were supposed to keep predators from getting to the body, but they also served to keep evil spirits from escaping.
Rabbi Andrew Straus, in a blog titled Rocks, Rocks and more Rocks, relates that it is a sign of respect to participate in the burial of a loved one. The Mitzvah of mitzevah (setting a stone) is when a mourner symbolically takes part in the ceremony by adding a pebble or stone to the grave. In addition to showing respect, it’s a sign to others that the departed has been remembered, that they’ve made an impression on those left behind. Next time you visit a cemetery, look around…I bet you find a few pebbles lining one of the markers.
You’ve probably seen stacked stones on beaches. Recently, it’s become popular to layer stones, or balance stones, into unusual formations. How did this come about? Stacked stones were originally used as trail makers. It’s obvious from the appearance of the stack that the tower is man-made and not natural, so it was a hiker’s way of reassuring another that they were on the right trail.
Now, it’s popularity has increased and there are beaches that are covered with countless stone structures.
What’s the harm of a little tower that can symbolize thankfulness, grace, a wish or even a tribute? It turns out…it can be quite a problem. It’s disturbing the natural order, scaring away insects, crabs and small animals that seek shelter in between rocks. Starre Vartan says “It’s not harmless when everyone does it.”
Painting rocks is a new trend. The goal is to write something cheerful or inspirational on the rock for someone to find. It sounded silly...until it happened to me.
I was running along a path and came upon a painted rock. I stopped in my tracks.
I’d been trying to sort out some problems in my head. I was sweaty, hot and tired.
And that’s when I saw it.
It didn’t solve any of my problems…but it did make me smile. So, mission accomplished for the rock painter! I thought about buying some paint and doing my best to make someone else smile, but I remembered those stacked stones. One local rock painter is enough.
According to New York Times Columnist David Brooks there are “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. He wrote a book called The Road to Character and he described the two. Basically “resume virtues” are those we associate with a career. He was named Chairman of the Board and he increased sales by 50%. “Eulogy virtues” are what would be said at your funeral. He was a kind and he loved dogs.
Let me introduce you to someone… I’ll get back to the virtues later.
Andrzej Tadeusz Banawentura Kościuszko (also known as Andrew Thaddeus) was born in 1746 in Lithuania. I saw his name on a statue near the White House in Washington D.C.
He graduated as a captain of the Corp of Cadets and went to Paris to continue his military education. Once there, he discovered that it was forbidden for foreigners to be accepted into the military academy.
So he settled for studying art instead. Or did he?
There’s no doubt that he was interested in painting and drawing, but he actually spent the next five years auditing military lectures and taking advantage of the resources in the military academy library.
When he returned home, he discovered that his brother had burned through the family’s finances and he was forced to get a job as a tutor. He fell in love with his pupil, Ludwika, but was discouraged from continuing the relationship with her. Her father told him “Turtle doves are not for sparrows…” and then he had his hired thugs thrash Kościuszko.
Kościuszko had heard about the American Revolution and he decided to go to North America. He was so impressed with the Declaration of Independence that he set out to meet one of the authors, Thomas Jefferson. They corresponded with each other for the next twenty years. Of Kościuszko, Jefferson said “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”
There was a flurry of military activity after that. (You can read the details on Wikipedia here) He signed up for the Continental army to help defend against the British. I always imagine military leaders with raised swords charging into the fray, but he wasn’t that kind of guy.
Kościuszko was a strategist. There are multiple accounts of how he surveyed fortresses and found weak spots, how he destroyed bridges and dammed streams to allow exhausted soldiers to escape, how he developed intelligence contacts to spy on the British. His fortifications to West Point were considered innovative for his time.
For his service and contributions, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
When he returned to Europe he went into debt after freeing most of his indentured servants (did I mention that the United States hadn’t paid him for seven years?). He argued that peasants and Jews be allowed to become Polish citizens and he took part in an uprising against Russian rule in Poland.
For his service, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and considered one of Poland’s most brilliant commanders.
At age 71, Thaddeus Kosciuszko died after falling off a horse.
His will designated his estate should go toward the education and freedom of African American slaves…including Jefferson’s. Despite making it to the Supreme Court three times, none of his money was ever used for that purpose.
According to New York Times Columnist David Brooks there are “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. One could describe Kosciuszko as a Brigadier General or Lieutenant General, but that’s not what I saw on the stature in Washington.
It was more in the line of a “eulogy virtue” and it gave me the chills…
What are we going to be remembered for when we die?
The titles that we’ve earned on a stepwise progression in our workplace?
Or should our ambitions rise higher than that?
In 2017, there was an interesting story published about the “windshield phenomenon”. Motorist were noting that, despite long summertime traveling vacations, they weren’t having to stop to clean their windshields as often. When I thought about it, I remembered having to clean not only my windshield, but the grill of my car and my headlights too. Yuck.
I could call this phenomenon the Canary in the coal mine but I’ll save that idiom for later.
The declining bug population has been recognized and studied for some time. In 2004, a ‘splatometer’ was applied to the front of cars to measure the bug population. One splat was recorded for roughly every 5 miles. This study has not been replicated so I’m afraid I can’t tell you the current splat ratio. Any splat testers out there?
Why in the world would you care about the decline in the bug population?
Less mosquitoes? That’s ok with me.
Less flies? Won’t miss them either.
Less bees? Wait a minute. I like bees.
And you should too. Insects are facing the most massive extinction of species since the dinosaurs...and it could have an impact on our food chain. Bees are the pollinators for 75% of our crops and much of the food we eat depends on bees. So what’s happening to the bees? (I should point out that I’m talking about bumble bees, not honey bees. If you’re interested, you can see the difference here.)
The short answer is : Us
Let me explain. Diseases and parasites are killing the bees. A parasitic mite, the Varroa destructor, is hurting the bee population in the US. While it sounds like the name of a video game villain, you can see the real parasite here. The Nosema Ceranae , this one a fungus, is hurting the European population.
Infections aren’t our fault, right?
Actually, experts believe that toxic chemicals are affecting the bee’s ability to resist these diseases and parasites.
Toxic chemicals like insecticides. Even at sublethal doses, like those found when the plant absorbs the chemicals, insecticides affect the navigation system and learning behaviors of insects that feed on the plants. Did you know that pollen, the main form of protein for a bee, has an average of 7 pesticides in it?
Lastly, climate change is causing increased temperature extremes and changing rainfall patterns and that’s having effects on every species of insects and animals. That’s our fault too.
Back to that Canary in the coal mine reference.
We’re not the only species at risk.
Hans de Kroon, a German scientist, noted that a specific bird population is at risk due to the declining insect population. But how did they prove it?
They compared museum specimens of Whip-poor-wills from many years ago to birds living now and discovered a difference in the chemical make up of their claws and feathers. Based on their research, living birds are not eating the same bug content and it’s having an impact.
The Whip-poor-wills won’t be the only bird affected. The same problem is likely to affect other insect eaters like nighthawks, swifts and swallows. Beautiful, graceful birds.
What can anyone do?
If you live in a home, add plants to your landscape that are friendly to bees. Plants like:
Lavender, sunflower Heather, Sage, Asters, Rosemary, Oregano and mint. You might want to also add plants that repel mosquitoes. Plants like: Lavender, basil, lemon balm, marigolds and lemon grass (Did you know that the oils from the the lemon grass plant are used to make citronella?)
Stop using insecticides and buy more organic foods.
If the idea of saving bees doesn’t motivate you…
What about fireflies?
After all, they’re half-magic and we all need a bit of enchantment in our lives.
Our lives are ruled by clocks. I wake to an alarm clock, wander into the kitchen with my cell phone clutched in my sluggish hand, and pour tea in a room surrounded with digital time keepers. On the microwave, oven and coffeemaker are more time keepers. My laptop has the time and date on the right upper corner. My car has not one, but two clocks. One digital and the other a round clock below the radio. I usually forget about that one. A clock greets me at the office. And then…
My electronic medical charting displaying my schedule has several different time notations. I can see when a patient checked in, when my visit started and when they were discharged from the office. My office phone also reminds me of the date and time.
I no longer wear a watch. For me, it’s beyond redundant.
Tempus vitam Regit. Time Rules Life.
We all regulate our lives with these timekeeping instruments. But is that a good thing?
And if not…can we make it stop?
You can read an interesting article on the ludicrous idea of stopping time here.
I didn’t actually mean to bring time to a halt. What I meant was...how can we stop our relentless obsession with time. Those measured periods during which something is supposed to happen. A fixed moment. A division of chronology.
What would it feel like to ignore the movement of the clock hands?
To wake when your body has reached its fill of slumber, to eat when you’re hungry, to pause what you’re doing when the sky is shot with the taffy colored light of a glorious sunset. To chat with a co-worker when they’re feeling down…for as long as it took.
It’s possible, you know. All you’d have to do is move to a small Norwegian town where they’re working to eliminate time. Really. You can read about it here.
In a land where the sun doesn’t set in the summer and doesn’t rise in the winter, they’ve determined that clocks and watches just don’t have the same meaning that we give them here.
They’ve already started disposing of time…symbolically anyway.
Like the Pont Des Arts bridge in Paris where ‘love locks’ used to be placed, the Norwegians attach their discarded watches to a bridge leading to the mainland. They’ve become more flexible with their work hours, school days, and get-togethers.
It’s fascinating to think of being freed from the confines of a time marker. To become a master, instead of slave, to a digital device.
According to Albert Einstein: “Time is an Illusion”.
It sure doesn’t feel that way to me Albert E., but maybe someday, I’ll make some time to try a different way of living.
I went to see Sherlock Holmes and it dawned on me just how popular that guy is. Movies. Plays. Netflix...it never ends. But what do you know about the author of the original books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? I bet, like me, you don’t know too much about the guy. It turns out that he was pretty interesting.
Doyle was a doctor. (big surprise to me!) He went to medical school and later studied ophthalmology. It is said that one of his teachers, Dr Joseph Bell, inspired his Sherlock Holmes character and it was during medical school that Arthur Conan Doyle started writing short stories and introduced Holmes as a detective. His dual careers continued--one career flourished and he became world famous as an author. And the other career? Doyle decided to stop practicing medicine after a serious bout of influenza helped him clarify his future path. But--if I was a psychoanalyst…I would say that he put his medicine career on the back burner when Sherlock came into existence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the good Doctor Watson was the side-kick and not the primary investigator.
Despite how successful the Sherlock Holmes series was, Doyle grew tired of the detective. He wanted to write more important, impressive work but his fans (and his own mother) did not agree with his decision. Shortly after killing the famous detective at Reichenbach Falls, readers of his works starting wearing black bands on their sleeves in mourning for the imaginary character. A distressed fan attacked Doyle with her purse. On the whole, it was an unpopular decision which he remedied by producing a new series, also staring Holmes, that was supposed to have occurred earlier in the detective’s career.
Did you know that Doyle used his detective skills to help solve real mysteries? His investigation led to the release to two men who were accused of different crimes. You can google: George Edalji for an interesting story of one of his cases.
Lastly, the part for which he’s become my personal hero.
He was vocal against the anti-vaxxers, who he called anti-vaccinationists. I thought that the opposition to vaccines was a new problem, but that is clearly not the case. Harriet Hall MD, in her blog, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Vaccination, came across letters that Doyle wrote for a newspaper in 1887. At that time the only vaccine available was for small pox—for which the risk of death from infection was 30%! Multitudes of survivors were left permanently scarred or blinded. Thank God that's gone!
Here are my favorite sections of her blog:
In the letters, he is responding to a Colonel Wintle, who objects to vaccination “upon two points: its immorality and its inefficiency or positive harmfulness.” Conan Doyle says “an enormous responsibility rests with the men whose notion of progress is to revert to the condition of things which existed in the dark ages before the dawn of medical science.”
If you practice medicine, maybe you’ve seen this too:
He says, “As to the serious effects of vaccination which Colonel Wintle describes as indescribable, they are to a very large extent imaginary … Some parents have an amusing habit of ascribing anything which happens to their children, from the whooping-cough to a broken leg, to the effects of their vaccination.”
I almost forgot to tell you about Holmes and Watson. It was great! Fabulous acting, lots of melodrama, several surprises at the end! It’s playing at the Stage West theater in Ft Worth. You should see it!
Here’s the link.