9/8/2011 9:37:17 AM
If your writing is sprinkled liberally with first-person pronouns (I, me, myself), you’re probably a pretty honest person. If, on the other hand, you eschew what The Secret Life of Pronouns author James W. Pennebaker calls “I-words” and use lots of articles (the, a, an) and prepositions (up, with), you might be hiding something. That is Pennebaker’s conclusion after 20 years of language research from a psychosocial perspective, he reports in New Scientist:
Hidden inside language are small, stealthy words that can reveal a great deal about your personality, thinking style, emotional state and connections with others. These words account for less than 0.1 per cent of your vocabulary but make up more than half of the words commonly used. Your brain is not wired to notice them but if you pay close attention, you will start to see their subtle power.
Pennebaker began his pronoun studies in the 1980s after discovering that people who had kept secret a traumatic event in their life experienced more health problems than those who experienced similar trauma but didn’t cover it up. When he prompted patients to write about their secrets, he found that their health improved—and their pronoun use changed remarkably:
[O]ur most striking discovery was not about the content of [traumatized] people's writing but the style. In particular, we found that the use of pronouns—I, me, we, she, they—mattered enormously. The more people changed from using first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my) to using other pronouns (we, you, she, they) from one piece of writing to the next, the better their health became. Their word use reflected their psychological state.
To read more about Pennebaker’s findings—and get a sense of where you stack up on the scales of honesty, health, and other personal characteristics—read his article in New Scientist.
Source: New Scientist
Image by wheat_in_your_hair,
licensed under Creative Commons.
9/1/2011 1:43:55 PM
It’s always disconcerting, in hospital shows, to see the cooler containing a human heart being unloaded from the helicopter. The cooler is the same brightly colored, insulated style we cram with ice and Miller Lite for family camping weekend. But, hey, it works. Pack that kind organ donor’s heart on ice and head for the hospital to save a life.
It’s disconcerting in a wholly different way to see the new organ-transfer method, profiled by The Inquisitr (Aug 30, 2011) and devised by a company called TransMedics—a method that keeps the heart beating. Yes. A live beating heart in a box. Check out the video below.
Right now, matching donor organs with recipients is a game of speed and geography. The short lifespan of an organ on ice is “the biggest problem facing heart transplants,” explains The Inquisitr. The beating-heart transfer method will allow the harvested organ to travel long distances, still warm, in a “near-normal physiologic state,” says transplant surgeon Abbas Ardehali.
The beating-in-a-box method is currently under clinical trial for FDA approval at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “I feel like I am in the first Apollo mission to the moon,” says UCLA heart transplant medical director Ann Hickey. “This is really the start of something that’s going to be an incredible revolution.”
Source: The Inquisitr
Image by MT Silverstar
, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/25/2011 10:08:37 AM
For most, death is followed by one of two options: burial or cremation. But both of those options pose serious environmental risks to the living. Burial is preceded by embalming, and the main chemical used to embalm a body is the known-carcinogen formaldehyde. Cremation is energy intensive and releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases and heavy metals into the atmosphere. Visual artist and human-environment researcher Jae Rhim Lee imagines a third way to rest in peace that is more in harmony with our planet: donning a fungi-laced death shroud that consumes corpses.
Lee calls her outré idea The Infinity Burial Project. (Or, “A Modest Proposal for the Postmortem Body.”) Here’s how it works. Lee has been cultivating shiitake and oyster mushrooms on her own fingernail clippings and strands of hair, hoping to find a strain of fungi that is quick to grow on decaying human tissue. When she finds a suitable strain, she plans to embroider a “Mushroom Death Suit” with spore-infused threads. The spores may be added to a “decompiculture kit” that can be used in funeral make-up and non-toxic embalming fluids—speeding the process along. Next, when Lee (or whoever) is buried, the fungi get to work—Lee also chose mushrooms for their innate ability to break down industrial toxins in bodies and the surrounding soil. Not only does the Infinity Mushroom prevent further damage to the environment from burial practices, it also helps clean up existing pollution.
Environmental stewardship isn’t Lee’s only motivation. Learning to accept death is psychologically and socially healthy, and modern people can use a little help in that department, she argues. “I am interested in cultural death denial,” Lee told New Scientist’s CultureLab blog after a recent talk at TED Global,
and why we are so distanced from our bodies, and especially how death denial leads to funeral practices that harm the environment—using formaldehyde and pink make-up and all that to make your loved one look vibrant and alive, so that you can imagine they’re just sleeping rather than actually dead . . . So I was thinking, what is the antidote to that? For me the answer was this mushroom.
Source: New Scientist
Images courtesy of
Jae Rhim Lee
6/29/2011 12:52:42 PM
Unless you are a very conscientious consumer or a vegetarian, you’re implicit in the industrialized slaughter of animals. Many of us are (myself included). It’s easy to forget that the Sunday morning bacon was once on the hoof, and easy to imagine that the animals are treated humanely until their deaths. Recent journalism, like Robert Kenner’s documentary Food, Inc., and the ongoing activism of PETA, PCRA, and ASPCA has cast light on many of the otherwise hush-hushed commercial practices of meat-processing plants.
Ted Genoways, reporting for Mother Jones, covers the history of the modern meat industry in his profile of the Quality Pork Processors, Inc. plant in Austin, Minn. But what really stands out in his writing is the description of how the bloody work of slaughter is done in the post-butcher economy. (Warning: The following quotes are exceptionally graphic.)
On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease.
Tasks at the head table are literally numbing. The steady hum of the automatic Whizard knives gives many workers carpal tunnel syndrome. And all you have to do is wait in the parking lot at shift change to see the shambling gait that comes from standing in one spot all day on the line. For eight hours, Garcia stood, slipping heads onto the brain machine’s nozzle, pouring the glop into the drain, then dropping the empty skulls down a chute.
Genoways describes how the “fine rosy mist” at QPP has caused a viral outbreak that attacks the workers’ brains—leading to, in some cases, paralysis—after it is inhaled during work.
Taking a more literary angle to the abattoir, Bookslut’s JC Hallman writes about his obsession with dead chickens and unheeded predictions about their treatment in “The Chicken Vault.” Here’s his second-hand description of an industrial chicken farm in New Jersey that left 50 tons of meat unrefrigerated for most of a summer. (Again: graphic description.)
They made for the main cooler, where the bulk of the 100,000 lbs. of processed meat had been stored. The cooler was like a huge vault: its hydraulic door stood eight feet high. Jim and Frank [two Environmental Protection Agency officials] set up a battery of floods to illuminate the chamber, and then cracked the door. Something like steam puffed out from the vacuum suck of the room and rose up heavy and thick, like a plague from God. It fogged the lens on the camera until Jim figured a way to clear it. The vault stretched back forty feet and stood half as high. Racks for boxed meat rose on opposing walls. Most of the product had come down by then, rotting through the cardboard containers, an opaque matter the consistency of jelly that had flooded the floor of the room and hardened there. The meat and the fat of the chicken didn’t mix; there were marbled streaks of color. The racks continued to drip even as the men watched, like trees after a heavy rain. After a moment, Jim moved in for a close-up: maggots digging into the muck to escape the light, and a collection of chicken bones like the skeleton of a dinosaur caught in a tar pit.
Sorry for ruining your delicious lunch.
Sources: Bookslut, Mother Jones
Image by Ordered Chaos, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/27/2011 1:01:09 PM
Necessary ingredients: lighter fluid, painkillers, industrial cleaning oil, and iodine. Equipment: syringes, vials, and cooking implements. Boil, distill, mix, boil, distill, mix. Next take the hypodermic needle and plunge up some of the amber-colored liquid. Inject it into a prominent vein, if you have any left. You’re now tripping on krokodil, a heroin substitute popular in Russia that is as deadly as it is cheap. Using over-the-counter codeine and iodine, reports The Independent’s Shaun Walker, Russian junkies hard-up for heroin have turned a basement chemistry experiment into a country-wide epidemic in just four years.
“It is a drug for the poor, and its effects are horrific,” writes Walker,
It was given its reptilian name because its poisonous ingredients quickly turn the skin scaly. Worse follows. Oleg and Sasha [two krokodil users] have not been using for long, but Oleg has rotting sores on the back of his neck. . . . Flesh goes grey and peels away to leave bones exposed. People literally rot to death.
People who start cooking krokodil, technically called desomorphine, don’t have long to live—Walker reports that regular users have an estimated life-expectancy of just one year. Nearly 30,000 people die from heroin use in Russia each year, and now the country’s heroin-treatment facilities are seeing as many as half of their patients addicted to krokodil. Not everyone succumbs to the addiction, but those that manage to escape its clutch pay a high price. Walker spoke to a former krokodil user named Zhenya: “He managed to kick the habit, after spending weeks at a detox clinic, experiencing horrendous withdrawal symptoms that included seizures, a 40-degree temperature and vomiting. He lost 14 teeth after his gums rotted away, and contracted hepatitis C.”
Source: The Independent
Image by CrashTestAddict, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/21/2011 5:33:59 PM
Where does the story begin? Perhaps in the delivery room, when the doctor hands the newborn baby, still slick with blood and mucus, to the ecstatic parents but isn’t able to say definitively, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” Or it could start earlier, in the womb, when the cells are dividing like mad to create the many complicated and wondrous parts of a new human being. Perhaps the story really gets going later, when the surgeon slices into the baby’s phallus—considered either a micro-penis or an overlarge clitoris—in the first of many treatments to cosmetically assign a crystal-clear gender. Or maybe the heart of the story is the slow cultivation of shame that comes from the years of secrecy and misinformation that follow infant gender reassignment.
By far the happiest place to dive in, for this particular rendition of the story, is when Jim met Alice Dreger a few months ago and told her: “You saved my life.”
Jim is a 50-year-old man who was born with a disorder of sex development (DSD), formerly known as intersex, formerly known as pseudo-hermaphrodism. Alice is a bioethics professor and advocate of the basic human rights of DSD patients: the right to grow up without devastating cosmetic surgeries that take away sexual sensation or, in some instances, the ability to experience orgasm; the right to know one’s own medical history; the right to make one’s own medical choices.
Alice tells Jim’s story in Bioethics Forum (02/14/2011):
[Jim] was born with ambiguous genitalia—with hypospadias (where the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis), with a smaller-than-average penis, and a herniated testicle. Against doctors’ advice, his parents raised him as a boy. The docs of course had recommended sex reassignment, as was standard. His parents did not resist because they were radical; they resisted because they were terrified and young and I’ll bet they didn’t understand why you would take a baby with testicles and make him a girl.
Of the 2,600-some babies born with ambiguous genitals each year in the United States, Jim is among the rare few from his generation who escaped having his sex organs resculpted to look like a vagina. And because of social activists such as Alice and others with Accord Alliance (previously the Intersex Society of North America), he eventually learned that he was not alone—a priceless gift.
Today Jim has some really beautiful things in his life: A wife. A daughter. A doctor who listens to his concerns and helps him make the right choices for his body. And he had the honor of meeting Alice and telling her his story:
He said that he knew, from my Web site, that some people had objected to the move from talking about “intersex” to talking about “disorders of sex development.” But, he said, “I love the new term, DSD.” He said it captured his experience—that what he has is a medical condition. He doesn’t have double sex, or double gender, as people seem to think when they hear the term “intersex.” He has a DSD.
Source: Bioethics Forum
Image by clevercupcakes,
licensed under Creative Commons.
6/14/2011 11:06:53 AM
How many Oreo cookies have you eaten in your lifetime? If you are anything like me, you probably don’t want to know that question’s answer. More than 491 million bags have been sold to date—a generous fraction were probably purchased by me. But for all the gustatory pleasure given by the cookies, have you ever slowed down and appreciated the intricately “embossed” design on the cookie biscuit? I hadn’t either. Apparently there’s quite a back story.
Edible Geography blogger Nicola Twilley published an interesting history of cookie-embossing through the lens of Nabisco’s ubiquitous, twisty, chocolate-and-crème cookie. “[W]hen the Oreo was first introduced by Nabisco in 1912,” begins the cookie’s biography, “it used a much more organic wreath for its emboss, later augmented with two pairs of turtledoves in a 1924 redesign. The contemporary Oreo stamp was introduced in 1952, and it has remained unchanged.”
As with every cornerstone of American culture, the Oreo’s design is subject to criticism—and even conspiracy theories. Twilley summarizes:
[T]he Oreo’s geometric pattern of a dot with four triangles radiating outward is either a schematic drawing of a four-leaf clover or—cue the cliffhanger music from Jaws—the cross pattée, also associated with the Knights Templar, as well as with the German military and today’s Freemasons.
Twilley also explores some of the industrial, cultural, legal, and spiritual dimensions of cookie-embossing. Sweet!
Source: Edible Geography
, licensed under
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