Writing and reading

Not all readers are writers, but all writers are readers.

I don’t manage my reading time very well. I spend too much time scrolling thru my twitter feed, the epitome of ADD-style reading. It’s like reading a newpaper by just scanning all the headlines. (Guilty as charged.) I save my deep, slow reading for books – the ones made of real paper pages that I turn by hand, but I’m not always diligent about setting aside blocks of time for book reading. There is an in-between side of reading, though. Before the internet, it was magazines, but now that reading side of my life is fulfilled with reading blogs.

I currently am following 37 blogs with my WordPress reader.  A few are written by IRL friends, a few are fairly mainstream with lots of followers, but most are personal blogs similar to mine that I have just stumbled across. Many of them are inactive, actually. I do occasionally go thru and cull the list, but sometimes I don’t want to delete a blog that has gone inactive. I don’t actually know these people, but I am still curious about what happened to them. Why did they suddenly stop blogging? Maybe they will start again and open this weird, electronic window into their life.

But, as is often the case, I have digressed. What I really wanted to write about tonight is The Last Word on Nothing. I’m pretty sure that I have mentioned this blog before, but it is has remained my favorite internet read every since I discovered it. It is science-y, yet personal. It covers any and every scientific field. It is interesting, well-written, and (this is important) each post is just the right length to satisfy my in-between style reading brain.

Why should you read it?

First, maybe its tagline will grab you like it grabbed me:

“Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing” – Victor Hugo

Not enough to hook you? Ok, how about this paragraph where they describe themselves:

Our writers live in London, Yellowknife, White Salmon, New York, Mexico City, Portland, Baltimore, Madison, the central California coast, Washington, D.C., and Cedaredge.  In their day jobs, they write books, teach science writing, and roam widely over the earth to meet deadlines for ScienceNatureNew ScientistScientific American, High Country News, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and many other magazines. By night, they write for you.

“By night, they write for you.” That line got me. Still not enough to make you check it out? Then hear my plea.

I am a science person and I fervently believe that everyone should be a science person. Actually, I believe that everyone IS a science person, you just have to be exposed to the truth and beauty and facts and process and history and research and passion that is science. What you’ll get from reading The LWON is a glimpse into all kinds of different science, posted by great writers who just want to share their passion. It’s not targeted at PhDs or experts, it’s written for you and me and all of us.

They post M-F with a weekly recap on Saturdays. You can also follow them on twitter @TheLWON and on facebook if one of those social media platforms is your preferred method for finding out when and what they are posting. Check them out. Keep reading, keep learning and enjoy yourself while you’re at it.

How did we get here?

When I’m not worried about future generations having a planet to live on, I worry about current generations having access to healthcare. The daily prompt today from WordPress is “carousel” which is oddly fitting to a post on the US health insurance system. How did the US’s current healthcare carousel get built in the first place? And why are so many people yelling, “stop this carousel, I want to get off?”

I generally knew that the current employee-based system started, like so many of our social safety net programs, with FDR. I ran across these posts which very quickly and simply explain how it started, and how quickly it became entrenched. Read part 1 here and part 2 here. Basically it began as a tax-break to help control wage and price inflation, but it was so popular that, politically, there was no going back.

Before the employee-based system, people could buy individual or family insurance plans that covered major items like hospitalization, but all routine costs were paid out-of-pocket. So let’s see, has anything changed since the 1930’s (individual insurance plans) or 1940’s (the beginning of employee-based care)? Is it any wonder that either of those models won’t work today?

Life expectancy in the US has risen by approximately 17 years since 1930. This is not because we have engineered a better human (yet), but mostly because of advances in medicine. Amazing, remarkable, expensive advances in medicine. Sometimes I think the public and our elected officials forget this.

Although I didn’t bother to research hard numbers on this, the employment picture has changed, too. People change jobs more often. The giant manufacturing industries of the rust belt have given way to more entrepreneurial, smaller businesses. And why should the ability to even have access to insurance be governed by your employer, or your employment status, or your marital status? Or by the whims and financial bottom line of insurance companies?

I get that medical care isn’t a constitutional right. But does anyone really think that it is less important than the right to carry a gun around? Ok, let me rephrase that, SHOULD anyone really think that the ability to carry a gun around should be more guaranteed by the government than the ability to get medical care?

I didn’t use to think America was ready to make the leap to the single-payer system. I honestly thought that our politicians would be able to build on the progress started with Obamacare and slowly move to improving the access to healthcare and healthcare insurance for all Americans. And then an election happened. I now believe that there is no sustainable political reality that will support taking a series of small steps to anywhere. Our politicians are taking us for a ride, not on a carousel of progress, but on the same old carousel that just goes round and round and round. Fortunately for me, I may be getting dizzy, but I’m still on the ride. Too many Americans can’t even get a ticket to get on.


Hot and Cold

Summer has a vise grip on Houston. The heat and humidity are relentless, oppressive, and will not abate until sometime in October. Any rain that falls will be graciously welcomed by the plants, but will only add to human misery with mosquitos and heavy “air you can wear.”

So what better time to follow the news from Antarctica about the imminent collapse of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. I was only vaguely aware of this phenomenon, I remember hearing the odd news tidbit, but I’ve doing a little internet research.

Ice shelves are thick sheets of ice that float on the water but are connected to land. They form when a glacier reaches the sea, but the water is cold enough that the flow just continues out into the ocean. We’ve all seen videos of icebergs forming or calving off from a glacier. This is where the water isn’t cold enough to keep an ice flow from melting, so the glacial ice falls and breaks off instead of continuing to flow. Ice sheets will naturally vary in size year to year. Small pieces at the sea edge regularly calve off, and the thickness will vary with temperature and the amount of glacial flow. The largest ice sheets are around the continent of Antarctica.

Photo from the National Snow & Ice Data Center nsidc.org

The Larsen Ice Shelf used to be much bigger, but Larsen A disintegrated in 1995 and a section of Larsen B roughly the size of Rhode Island broke off in 2002. Last November, scientists photographed a rapidly growing rift, or crack, on Larsen C. This crack has grown at an unprecedented rate and scientists are expecting a section the size of Scotland to break off soon. (“Soon” being a very subjective term.)

By NASA photographs by John Sonntag – http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=89257, Public Domain, From wikipedia

So then what happens? Well, no one is sure since this will be the largest ice shelf collapse ever observed. Since the ice is already floating on the water, there won’t be an immediate effect on sea level. Again, ice shelves do grow and shrink, but the Larsen Ice Shelf is unlikely to recover from a collapse of this size. It’s a huge compounding of effects. The rift was at least accelerated by climate change. Warmer air and water temperatures directly contribute to this type of calving. Sea ice floating near the shelf, which helps protect the shelf, continues to diminish. Once the shelf collapses, the flow of the glacier into the water will likely accelerate. All this melting ice will cause sea levels to rise. Which will further damage and reduce the size of ice shelves. Less snow and ice cover in and around Antarctica will contribute to rising air temperatures. Which cause….need I go on…and on and on and on…?

Don’t let trump’s twitter feed distract you from following the news from Antarctica. It’s interesting. It’s important. And maybe it’ll help take your mind off the temperature outside.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larsen_Ice_Shelf   Love me some wikipedia.

https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/iceshelves.html  Quick facts on ice shelves from the NSIDC.

http://www.dw.com/en/antarctica-larsen-c-breakoff-could-have-dire-consequences/a-39489181 A rather dismal (tho I believe valid) take on the situation.

http://www.projectmidas.org/  The latest news from MIDAS, a scientific group keeping a close eye on the rift.



Don’t knock it

Are you familiar with those Nyquil ads where a woman a woman earnestly says, “I’m sorry, I need to call in sick today,” and then the shot pans to the child in the crib? Followed by the tagline, “Moms don’t take sick days, moms take Nyquil.” (There’s a dad version, too, I’m happy to report.) I realized that’s one of the great things about being retired from working and an empty nester – I totally called in sick from life yesterday. It was just a nasty cold, but I had chills and fever all day and basically never left the couch. Happy to report that I am on the mend today, but still taking it easy.

The upside for you, oh loyal Thoughts From the Back readers, is that I don’t have the energy to pull together the full ranting post that I had planned for this week. So I’ll just summarize:

It’s not that I don’t like big corporations. I’m totally a capitalist kid. BUT don’t ever, ever think that a corporation has any soul, heart, or social conscience.

Here is a rather long tale about the scientist who discovered the connection between leaded gasoline and lead in the environment. Mental Floss headlined the story, “The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of.” I found it absolutely fascinating. As often happens in science, this wasn’t the issue that Clare Patterson started investigating, he was actually trying to determine the age of the earth. As often happens in our country, it became a political battle between corporations and a government agency, the EPA, to decide what to believe and who should be protected. Eventually, the EPA banned lead in gasoline and no one denies that it has directly resulted in a dramatic decrease in the amount of lead in the bloodstream of the average American.

Not only is the story of Clare Patterson a tale about corporations protecting themselves, it is also a tale about how important federal oversight can be. The Trump administration’s efforts to cripple agencies like the EPA is dangerous.

Clare Patterson might be the most important scientist I’ve never heard of, but I feel like he might just be one on a very long list. I feel optimistic about the future knowing that there are other scientists working today to find other truths.