Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

toilet paper public domain image


By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Anne Hull

An article I read some time ago in The Week (my favorite print replacement for the now online-only World Press Review) reassures me that “No, paper isn’t dead.”

As I’m buried in paper in various forms — greeting cards (ones received as well as those not yet sent), photographs, wills, old and new contracts, spanking new passport, officially notarized documents, old correspondence, even junk mail, and yes, books and magazines and newspapers — I looked at the facts mentioned in the longish essay with more than a little interest. A theory says that we learn more thoroughly by reading print than we do from electronic media. I’d like to believe that, but don’t know if I do. More research, please.

Coming at the question of paper’s obsolescence from another angle: Most retail stores no longer offer much choice of how to protect our food and other purchases on the way home. Upscale department stores seem to favor paper bags with handles, tony boutiques sometimes use a light-weight cotton bag, discount department stores use mostly plastic; Costco provides optional repurposed cardboard boxes with the tops razored off; outside California, most grocery stores offer only flimsy plastic, while Trader Joe provide paper for those who don’t bring their own bags.

But we give very little thought to the real costs of old sources of carbon (oil, coal, natural gas and fracked gas) versus new, renewable carbon (trees, plants, animal furs and hides, etc.), and the unintended consequences of our choices. We have yet to make a good realistic assessment of the overall cost of producing energy and plastics by consuming fossil fuels that took many millennia to form.

I don’t doubt the potential and immediate benefits to the planet from preserving the dwindling forests of the globe, but there also may be sustainable ways to farm trees and other raw materials, like cotton and hemp, etc. that make pretty good paper. The earth is certainly making new oil; the problem is, it takes such a long lead time in human perspectives.

Another consideration in sustainability might be the petrochemical products involved in creating electronic devices. I know I prefer writing on a computer to writing on paper. Much easier to revise. But nothing does as well for me as paper for jotting down a daily to-do list. Easier to triage and prioritize and let my daughter add to as she thinks of suitable stuff. And of course, we still need women’s sanitary supplies and American toilet paper!

So I’m quite convinced that paper is not dead — yet.

Pig-roast-by-Leah A. Zeldes

Cook pork well to avoid disease. (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes.)

Apparently largely because farmers feed regular doses of antibiotic to pigs to make them grow to salable weights faster, many pigs harbor the food-poisoning bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica. One study found that some some 69 percent of supermarket pork was tainted with Yersinia.

How to protect against infection? Always cook pork to at least 145 degrees F. That’s not so high as the 170 degrees that used to be recommended for cooking pork to when Trichinosis was a serious threat.

Hypodermic Needle


By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Anne Hull

Remember the recent outbreak of measles? It brought a rush response from the CDC to immunize recent immigrants and visitors with long-term visas, who sometimes come from areas of the world where measles hasn’t been vanquished to the extent it has been in the West. But it wasn’t just noncitizens who suffered; American children also have been catching this sometimes life-threatening disease.

We’re also seeing a resurgence of whooping cough, and not just among the poor or uninsured. We hear early warnings that polio may soon reappear as well. Can smallpox be far behind?

Either because of complacency or ignorance, children aren’t getting their shots. For fear that vaccinations will produce autism (debunked) or other unanticipated side effects, or for religious reasons, or whatever, it has become a deadly trend not to get all children protected. Their parents rely on the fact that most families do comply with recommended and required immunizations, when they enroll their children in public schools across our nation, if not before.

Recently, nurse in central Pennsylvania was fired from a healthcare facility, per company policy, because she refused to get a flu shot; she was pregnant and groundlessly feared miscarriage. I personally would prefer that my health-care workers be immunized. We’re told by the CDC that people can get the flu even though they have taken the shots, but if they do, they’ll likely get a less severe case.

Word is that the majority of cases this flu season are H1N1. This is the strain that Fred and I probably had in 2009 that knocked us flat on our backs in the middle of the South Pacific. About 10 percent of our cruise’s passengers were stricken. It’s terrible to be sick with a flu virus in tropical areas. My sister, traveling with Fred and me, left the ship at Tahiti to spend several days in a hospital there, and flew home to be hospitalized for four more days.

I might have had rheumatoid arthritis prior to the flu; but it was coincidentally diagnosed after I returned home. I can’t help wondering if that could have been triggered by H1N1. (I also realize that this speculation may easily be as misguided as that of those who fear inoculations and so, unintentionally, become part of the problem of spreading contagious diseases.)

Where do individual rights end? Who are the proper people to make this decision? Would you support this nurse’s right to keep her job without getting a flu shot? Have you gotten all the vaccinations you should have?

Mother Earth by Matthaeus Merian

Mother Earth, who nourishes all things, an engraving by Matthaeus Merian from alchemist Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1617).

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Anne Hull

Consider the substantial reality of an abstraction like love. We see the sacrifices people make for one another every day in the name of love as evidence of love’s existence. But what we mean by love varies a lot by context.

We all know that loving pizza and loving power are quite different, both in quality and magnitude; likewise, brotherly love and sexual love are quite different (unless your brother is your lover). Love doesn’t even have to be reciprocal, at least not to the same extent. I love my dog and cat, but not equally; they both love me, but not equally. Ain’t Love Grand?

Mother love is the sort of love we as a culture get most mushy and sentimental about, especially unconditional mother love. If you were lucky enough to experience this, you certainly miss it when it’s gone. My mother loved me unconditionally (my father, not so much). I consider myself very lucky. She’s been gone more than 13 years, but I still think of my mother every day.

We gush about mother love even though not all mothers seem to love their offspring instinctually. But we’ve made up our minds; don’t confuse us with the facts!

The love of a mother for her child and the love of a child for a mother are among the most powerful motivators we know, far stronger than even money, power, or prestige. Research has shown that when babies are not kissed, patted, and talked to as their diapers are changed and bottles of milk supplied, the lack of “mothering” can result in mental disorders, lowered intelligence and even death for the unfortunate child. Failure to thrive, in medical terms.

It works both ways. How many elderly mothers molder away in nursing homes neglected by their offspring? Such social isolation leads to death. Old people with regular interaction with their children and loved ones live longer and stay healthier in both mind and body.

To paraphrase Robert Frost, neglect and apathy can be as powerful as either fire or ice, and will suffice — to end the world. Ignoring what’s going on around us in the natural world as well as the political world won’t make it any less potentially deadly.

Why isn’t our love for Mother Earth strong enough?

nuts - public domain image

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Anne Hull

Two headlines in recent news seem at odds:

1) Eating nuts tied to lower risk of death, and
2) Doctors see increase in those allergic to sesame seeds.

The first story touted not only “true” nuts like pistachios, almonds and walnuts, but also said the results of a 30-year study analyzed at Harvard University included peanuts, a legume. Eating nuts seven times a week reduced by 20 percent a person’s risk of dying of any cause.

Since I love nuts, including of all those mentioned, plus filberts, brazils, pecans and others, I rejoiced. Nuts are also reputed to help with weight loss and contain no transfats. Good tidings of great joy!

But not so fast. The second article reported that, since America’s rise in popularity of Middle-Eastern cuisine, especially hummus (which is usually seasoned with tahini, sesame paste) and the general infusion of Asian dishes that also use a lot of sesame, allergists have discovered that any individual sensitive to peanuts is also somewhat likely to react to sesame. Why remains a mystery, since sesame isn’t a nut, it’s a seed, while peanuts are not really nuts, but a legume.

Researchers have been puzzling over the rise in allergies and asthma as well, often blamed on the pollution in densely populated areas. Another theory is that children who have been blocked from infection by cleanliness have not had a chance to build anti-bodies and develop their own immune system defenses.

Since my mind is such that it searches for unified theories, I can’t help wondering if one problem in medical research is that we are supposed to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people by statistical analysis. Applying a set of diagnostic criteria to any individual’s ailment may cure more patients, but it doesn’t help the individual who deviates from the norm.

For now, I intend to continue eating nuts; they are delicious, if high fat — fat is where the flavor is. I’ll also try to find ways to cope with my asthma while enjoying homemade hummus, unless I develop hives or go into shock. I already have noticed that eliminating stress is a bigger factor in controlling my asthma than whether or not I’ve forgotten to take my inhaler today.



Mountains are getting higher. Way down at the tip of South America, Patagonia’s tall mountains are each getting about an inch and a half taller every year.

This isn’t from tectonic activity. It’s because of the rate at which their glaciers are melting. As the weight of all that ice flows away the mountains bounce back up in compensation.