Five Things That Fascinated Me This Week

  • The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk hit a record high temperature of 100 degrees this June!!
  • I’d heard of flying fish, but not flying snakes. Actually, Paradise tree snakes glide rather than fly. By spreading their rib cages and undulating they can soar from treetops to the ground. I used to think that I might be able to fly for a few seconds by running across the top of a reservoir on our farm and flapping my arms as I jumped three or four feet to the ground. I should have undulated.
  • People with a gene mutation have lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Now researchers have studied them to both develop a new cholesterol medication and have been able to with a single shot genetically change monkeys for an apparent lifetime free of heart disease. All is too early to ask your doctor for treatment.
  • We all know that the Mediterranean diet is heart healthy, but now there’s scientific evidence people on the diet of fruits, vegetables, and nuts are more verbally fluent. Lack of verbal fluency is a measure of cognition decline. People who consume six servings a day fare best in the studies.
  • Water pollution is not a new phenomenon. Archeologists now believe they abandoned the beautiful 1000-year-old, pre-Columbian Mayan city of Tikal city due to toxins in their water supply. Analysis including DNA discovered traces of a variety of substances that would have turned the water undrinkable.

 

And here’s something interesting  that I’ve known for some time.  Thomas Edison may have invented the first light bulb, but a black inventor, Lewis Howard Latimer invented the filament that made it practical for everyday use. The original filament only lasted 12 hours.  He sold his patent to GE. I learned that in a charming children’s book: What if there were no black people in the world? by Tamara Shiloh. There are many other inventions mentioned such as the elevator, but you won’t find them in science education texts.

Stay safe on this strange 4th of July!

Racism Has Inhabited Our Institutional DNA

A few things I didn’t learn in History class about social justice

  • Compromise of 1877: A controversial  election was resolved by an agreement that Union soldiers protecting blacks and their rights in the South would be removed and resulted in ending Reconstruction. 
  • The above resulted in the Jim Crow Laws including laws jailing the unemployed, which provided slave-like labor to former slave owners.
  • President Wilson purged the Federal government of black workers upon taking office.
  • The Chinese who built our railroads were barred from citizenship between 1882 and 1943.
  • Japanese families in internment camps during WWII were separated from each other.
  • In 1939, Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. She wasn’t allowed to sit with the white cast at the Awards.
  • In the 1950s, the neighborhood around McClaren Park in San Francisco was built with federal loans, which didn’t allow Black owners nor new owners to sell to Blacks. (Think about how many people have been able to build equity  in a home that they can pass on to their children and in turn the grandchildren. No such ability for blacks with the same income. These same people think they’ve pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but the system gave them boots denied to others.)

I understand I have white privilege, but OTOH I take for granted when I walk into a store I won’t be followed by a security guard, that when I go into a bank to cash an outside check its authenticity won’t be questioned, that when my husband and I apply for a mortgage, I don’t worry about whether the loan officer wears a pointy white head cover outside of work, when I encounter a jerk I don’t have to worry whether my treatment is because of my skin color, if I’m stopped for going over the speed limit I don’t fear the police officer, when I apply for a driver’s license, college, job, grant, whatever, I assume the decision depends on my merit.

Read more here about institutional racism.

And here’s the Science: The DNA within a given race varies more than averages between races. Further, the number of genes that determine our external features is .01 % of our total number of genes. That’s one out of ten thousand, a miniscule amount on which to base judgment.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Let Our Tools Become Our Enemies

Any tool can be used for good or harm. I claim fingernails are great tools for getting at an itch, or removing gunk from a surface but of course they can also be weapons.

Scientific discoveries have made our lives easier, but have caused damage to our planet’s ability to maintain our health and very survival.

Technology has enabled us to answer questions by tapping into a search engine.  The price for this convenience is that companies, charities, and political campaigns pester us — a mere nuisance compared to the harm  hackers do, namely hijack computers for ransoms, steal your financial information, and even your identity.

Even worse, imagine the shutdown of our energy sources and ability to communicate, both of which are dependent on computers and software.  It is unclear we are doing enough to prepare for preventing a strike that could destroy our quality of life.

One potential disaster threatens our very democracy via hacking our elections.  Evidence exists that touchscreen voting technology have allowed the votes of an entire county to be dumped in Tennessee.  Rumors about Ohio’s election results being hacked have existed for years. The expert, Jennifer Cohn (@jennycohn1), has convincing evidence we need hand-marked paper ballots for secure elections. Given the Corona virus, Americans need to be able to vote by mail, and not be standing in line nor touching screens others have touched. John Oliver argues  how  difficult it is to turn in a wrong vote by mail.

An excellent eye-opening book, Red Notice, which through the life of an American investor in Russia, portrays life in Russia, a country where ordinary citizens have no power. If our elections are not determined by ordinary citizens, we couldl become such a country. Mail-in ballots take time to prepare. If you agree, please advocate for secure elections to save your ability to have a say-so.

Don’t Spray Away the Human Race

No one wants ants in their kitchens, their underwear drawer or any place else in the house, but we don’t need to keep our yards as pristine as our homes. More and more people are spraying or murdering by hiring  sprayers to do the dirty job outside: around their house and their yards.

 

Unfortunately, the killer spray doesn’t distinguish between insects. Earthworms, bees, butterflies, and other insects are being killed in the process. These are vital allies for us humans. Earthworms build soil, enrich it with nutrients, make it more porous, better suited to drainage, and overall improves our soil for growing food. They directly if not willingly provide food for songbirds. Everyone knows that bees pollinate flowering plants including those that supply one-third of our food supply.

According to Margaret Renkl’s articlein the NYTimes, which inspired this blog, homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do. If we continue to deplete the insect population, in 100 years they will be gone. Humans are then unlikely to survive.

Unfortunately, poisoned insects go on to poison the songbirds and other species whose diets include bugs and worms. Further, herbicides make plants poisonous to insects, further contributing to the problem.

I hope this article inspires you to think twice about spraying outside of your homes.

OTOH, I have an inside spraying tip for those, who like me can never swat fast enough or stealthily enough to kill a fly on the inside of my window. Spray it generously with a window cleaner. It will be stunned enough for you to easily whap it and wipe the window afterward.

Stay safe!

 

Don’t Take Our Water Supply for Granted

PBS’s three part series on the water molecule is a call for a long-term plan to preserve and protect water, making it abundantly clear how human life depends in so many ways on H2O. A major flaw of democracy is that it seems to invest in cleaning up preventable negative consequences rather than investing in our future even when small investments reap large rewards. Costly prisons and homeless programs but too little for growing and educating healthy adults who will pay taxes. Costly fires in terms of human lives and homes but too little for adequate maintenance of power lines. Costly emergency care but too little for preventive care. Our shortsightedness on water is even worse. We can’t make more water if we consume it all.

In only three episodes, the series covers the history of water’s role on Earth from how life developed and Earth became  the only known fertile planet, how dependent humans are on water for life, and how it is begin consumed faster than it is being replenished. Even I, as an avid environmentalist worried about draining aquifers and taking seriously the idea that WWIII will be about water, was aghast that the global battle has already begun. Land with water beneath is being purchased by countries and corporations outside of their own countries. Dams are interfering with access to water.

While matter cannot be created out of nothing nor be destroyed, the distribution of water has become highly uneven. We suffer both droughts and floods.

Many of the facts in the series, which inspired me to dig up even more were surprising.

* 92% of the water humans consume goes into the food we eat. Makes the enormous of food waste even more concerning.

* It takes 26 gallons of water to produce a tomato

* Water is used in the manufacture of many, many products

 

Car 13,737 – 21,926 gallons
Leather Shoes 3,626 gallons
Smart phone (mobile) 3,190 gallons
Bed Sheet (cotton) 2,839 gallons
Jeans (cotton) 2,108 gallons
T-shirt (cotton) 659 gallons

The series raises the interesting question about who owns the water in the deep underground. Is it like the air above the ground, which everyone has the right to breathe or is it like a pig trough that whoever dips in a straw and drinks the fastest gets the most. Currently in this country, it is like the latter where anyone who can reach it on land they own can send down pipes and pump away.

There are populated parts of the world such as the Gaza Strip that are becoming unlivable because of lack of water. The series suggests water shortages have contributed to migration and political unrest. I know that farmers are leaving South America because drought has destroyed their income.

I liked to listen to the Dr. Dean Edell radio program and not just because my daughter, Heather produced it. I loved his idea that all candidates for a major public office ought to pass a science test. We are going to have to consider desalinating our oceans.

Stay safe, everyone, and cherish and save water.

 

 

Scientific Rays of Light Shining Through the COVID-19 Cloud

 

Rays of Light # 1: While hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, has proved disappointing and potentially harmful, UCSF and a Canadian company are discovering promising results from two drugs: colchicine, which is an inexpensive treatment used against gout and leronlimab, a newer experimental treatment originally developed for HIV patients. Clinical trials are being conducted and a measure of success give doctors reason to be hopeful. It would be exciting if the gout medication were effective because it is of low cost and widely available. Leronlimab is a monoclonal antibody manufactured by CytoDyn in Vancouver, WA, with chief science officer based in San Francisco.

Both drugs—as hydroxychloroquine intended to—work by preventing or lessening a cytokine storm, a term for a patient’s immune system becoming overactive and attacking healthy cells along with the virus. Cytokine storms are most likely guilty of contributing to deaths from COVID-19.

Ray of Light #2: An emergency doctor,  Dr. Richard Levitan, reports two colleagues noticed a drop in their blood oxygen saturation levels but no other symptoms. When tested they found they were positive and early treatment apparently saved their lives. Boris Johnson evidently survived for the same reason. Unfortunately the lead in Dr. Levitan’s NY Times article was buried. It sounded as if an account of what he learned in his ten days in a hospital ward treating  COVID-19 patients. I’ve read some such articles where the main thing learned is that the disease is hell on Earth. Fortunately, CBS News picked up on the message, which should have been  Front Page Main Headline news, and Dr. Levitan was interviewed on April 23rd, 2020.

A pulse oximeter, a simple device, in every doctor’s office can be purchased for home use at pharmacies and online, which tests your blood oxygen levels at home. Put in a forefinger, press a button, and wait a few seconds to see the results. At sea level, your reading should be between 94 and 100 percent. As with any disease, early detection is critical to survival. This test could well serve as an early warning signal.

I am vastly impressed with the response of medical scientists, engineers, relevant manufacturing re ventilators  to say nothing of the medical personnel who are on the front lines. They are working day and night to get this crisis under control. It will be America, which saves America.

In the meantime, stay safe!

 

 

 

 

Unexpected lining to the COvid-19 Cloud

    We all know the horrendous loss of life and income consequences of COvid-19. Here are some curious results:
    • At a Hong Kong shuttered zoo, a pair of pandas mated for the first time. They had been together for 13 years. Well, don’t we all want privacy for such activity?
    • In general, animals are reclaiming space. Yosemite has seen a number of animal species in places where humans used to congregate. Coyotes even roam San Francisco city streets. I see them on my street near a natural area, but I can’t imagine them where there are stoplights. I doubt they respect them.
    • Recently LA not only had unusually clean air, it had the cleanest day of all the cities in the U.S. In fact, the skies are cleaner  all over the world with fewer cars on the road.  I noticed I can see windmills in the distance more clearly than ever before, and at night I can also see lights farther into the distance.
    • Most peculiar to me is that fewer cars means fewer ground vibrations and thereby movement of the Earth’s crust. Seismologists are excited because they are able to detect smaller vibrations deep in the ground.
    • I’m interacting with friends more often via the internet to check on them, and others seem to be doing the same.
    • I’ve received the same quick & easy recipe chain mail exchange twice.
    • People are trading rare resources. I scored a 500 piece puzzle for canola oil.
    • While some people are stepping up to help with sewing circles making masks, others grocery shopping for the elderly, there are the usual criminals trying to make money from the crisis with fake claims of tests and cures.
  • Hats Off and Masks On to those working around the clock to care for the afflicted and keep our shelves supplied. Many medical personnel are working long hours without proper protection  Many folks are involved in bringing food & essentials to the public. They are all heroes!

 

 

*Original title: Panda Hug, Photographer:

Todorov.petar.p

Attribution:

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

 

Keep Calm,Take Care, and Sing a Little Ditty There

Check out these tips on handling groceries. 

 

 

If you don’t have time to watch the video, here are the main points:

Leave groceries outside or in the garage if not perishable. The virus remains on cardboard for 1 day, plastic 3 days. Note: In the freezer, up to two years!

Otherwise wipe off groceries with a kitchen disinfectant on a wiped off counter. You can dump contents into a clean container and dump the packaging. Wash fruit as you’d wash your hands. If you get takeout, hot food is better, and again dump the packaging after putting the food on a plate and microwave. Microwaving and heating kills a Corona virus. Thanks to my friend, Sue Shattuck, for sharing.

Now, have fun singing or chanting the following to the rhythm of the song: Modern Major General from Gilbert & Sullivans The Pirates of Penzance

I am the very model of effective social distancing!
I listen to the experts on the topic of resistance-ing;
I know that brunch and yoga class aren’t nearly as imperative
As doing what I can to change the nation’s viral narrative.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with living solitarily
And confident that everyone can do it temporarily:
Go take a walk, ride a bike, or dig into an unread book;
Avoid the bars and restaurants and carry out, or learn how to cook.

There’s lots of stuff to watch online while keeping safe from sinus ills
(In this case, it’s far better to enjoy your Netflix MINUS chills!)
Adopt a pet, compose a ballad, write some earnest doggerel,
And hope we become more safe by the next inaugural.

Pandemics are alarming, but they aren’t insurmountable.
In short, please do your part to practice prudent co-existencing
And be the very model of effective social distanciing!

Thanks to my friend, John Avila, who passed this on. It’s slightly tweaked.

Original by Eliza Rubinstein.

 

 

Somewhere Under the Rainbow.

Somewhere under the rainbow, birds fly.

 

At my age, it’s always a surprise to learn of something new. The news that there are upside down rainbows blew me away.

 

 

 

 

Fogbow

 

 

Several years ago, I witnessed a fogbow on a hike. I was with a gang of friends and no one had seen or heard of such. We were all amazed.

 

 

I suppose it is not that amazing given that light is made up of a spectrum of colors and that there are many conditions under which we can see the different colors. Still, after a lifetime of ordinary rainbows, seeing the first upside down was like seeing someone casually walking on the ceiling.

According to Wikipedia, rainbows can be full circles, which I’ve never seen because one needs to be at the top of a skyscraper or in a plane near sunrise or sunset, but I’ve seen the rare double rainbow. The one above is smaller and the colors are in reversed order according to Wikipedia. I found the article quite fascinating and recommend it.

There are also sunbows and spray bows, which can appear under waterfalls and in wakes from boats.

This article was fun to write. Happy Pi Day!

 

 

Coronavirus Facts Distilled

 

Pretty, but nasty

 

The number of cases, deaths, and locations have dominated the news—often misleading as  cases from the Princess cruise ship have been moved from Travis Airforce base, but I had to dig for the information I was most interested in.

 

 

Coronavirus is a term for a family of viruses, which are shaped liked a corona—Latin for crown. The latest one is named COVID-19.

The average incubation period is 4 to 6 days, but can be as long as 14 days with one known case of 27 days. Incubation period refers to the time from exposure to symptoms although some test positive without symptoms.

No age group is immune, but children are less likely to be infected or suffer severe symptoms while the elderly or those suffering from other maladies are more likely to die.  Men and women have been infected in roughly equal numbers, but the death rate  to date among men was 2.8 percent, compared with 1.7 percent among women as of February 20th. This is also the case with past coronaviruses and the flu.

I tried hard to get information on how long a survivor has symptoms or is contagious, but the best I could do is find that a hospital in Hong Kong released one patient after two days and another at 27 days.

Scientists believe that recovering from COVID-19 provides some immunity from reinfection, but that it is not permanent.

The means of preventing infection and spreading is the same as for the flu: getting the flu shot—the flu makes you more susceptible—frequent thorough hand washing, avoiding touching the face, coughing and sneezing into your elbow, etc.

COVID-19 is a super flu regarding symptoms and death rate. It is too early to get a definitive death rate, but using recent statistics, it is 2.2%. This year’s flu numbers indicate a death rate of .05%. Some years have been twice that or .1%

Curiosity for Leap Day: Turtle fossils the size of cars have been discovered. They must have looked like walking tanks.