Sunday, December 6, 2009

Final chapters

I must say that I was excited to read the chapter about Burlington, Vermont. I live in Alburgh, Vermont, less than an hour from Burlington, and I have heard about different things the city has been doing to reduce emissions. I had heard about a “no idling” ordinance in which cars would be ticketed if they were parked but running. I really enjoyed reading about simple things the city has been doing, on a local level, to combat global warming. I think it’s very important for people to see what a small city can do on their own to make an impact. Honestly, this was probably one of the most influential chapters of the book. If there isn’t anything else in the book that would move people into action, this chapter, I believe, would provide the motivation to do so.

The way Kolbert ended the final chapter left me a bit disappointed. Not because I felt there could have been a better ending, but it just left me a bit hopeless. She says, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” I suppose she is right; we have been ignoring the signs and the mountains of data thrown in our faces, awaiting something “conclusive.” By the time we, as a society, ban together and finally make the decision to do something, it will be too late. It may already be too late. As I have expressed before, I am very passionate about global warming. I wish I knew what I could do to make a difference. Kolbert has written this book, a valiant effort to inform people of the threat of global warming. I hope this book can instill in people the passion burning inside of me. If I knew what I could do to let my voice be heard, to evoke change in policy, I would do it. This issue is honestly a key factor that motivates me to be a journalist. I know my words are not the most eloquent, captivating, or fluent, but I try because I know I want things to change. This is the only way I know how to do it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chapters 7/8

Kolbert did a great job with these two chapters. I enjoyed reading them, and most of my questions were answered. I even learned a few things.

I didn’t know about “wedges.” They sound like really good ideas, and I wonder why many aren’t implemented today. I would think that any measures to reduce CO2 emissions would be difficult to pass up.

One thing that left me wanting more information was BAU, or “business as usual.” From what I understand, well, I really don’t understand. Why is a continual rise CO2 levels considered a normality? Kolbert discusses how scientists are more worried about global warming, saying “Wake up! This is not a good thing to be doing.” I don’t see what’s normal about that.

What I liked about chapter seven is that it incorporated everyday “business,” in all different aspects. She looked not only at the science of how CO2 is climbing each day, but also how people wake up and start contributing their own personal CO2.

Chapter 8, I thought, was very well written. The title, “The day after Kyoto,” struck me as a bit comical. I was also amused at the interview with Paula Dobriansky. We’ve all interviewed a Paula Dobriansky, someone who keeps repeating key phrases and refusing to say anything useful. It made me think of my own interviews like that and how frustrating they can be. I liked how this chapter discussed the underlying political factors that influence climate change policies. It lets readers know that there is more than science that goes into saving the planet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chapters 5/6

I liked chapter six in the reading this week, and while chapter five was hot and steamy, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Personally, I prefer a nice, hot chai tea, but this was more of a lukewarm green tea. I feel like chapter five was more of a placeholder than a chapter. Like green tea, it serves its purpose. It is served to a reader who drinks up every word, on the pretense that they will learn about global warming. While it accomplished this goal, it left this reader dissatisfied.

Every other chapter in the book (possibly excluding chapter four) has had a little bite to it, like a good cup of chai tea should. Sure, it may burn the tongues of a few, but it ultimately leaves a reader with an air of satisfaction; chapter five did not. Here is my point: as quaint as my tea analogies may be, they unnecessarily delay my message to readers.

The only thing I would criticize is that Kolbert seems to progressively add more and more fluff to her chapters. The story about Akkad was interesting, but it could have been said in one page and we would have gotten the point. Also, she mentions at one point that she was with someone in a big office with lots of pottery when his secretary brings in finger sandwiches and something to drink. I thought the climatologist would go on to make some kind of reference to global warming being like finger sandwiches, but the reference never came and I was confused as to why it was ever mentioned.

I learned about climate models, and that they break the earth’s atmosphere into hundreds of little boxes. This part interested me because I interviewed several professors and scientists about global warming, and most mentioned climate models and how there are so many variables to account for. It was neat to actually see how they work. I also liked how she mentioned some people were preparing for the climate crisis by settling down in “amphibious homes.” I guess I’ve never really heard of them before, and it was an interesting thing to add.

For the most part, I liked her style. I like how she tells a story, and then ties it in with global warming. I believe she is losing her touch, though, and should keep her introductions and playful analogies to a minimum. After all, the book is about global warming, not finger sandwiches.

At the end of the day, Kolbert’s message is still the same: we’re in hot water. Some have prepared for the future with their amphibious homes. I think I’ll grab some tea bags.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chapter 4

I’m not sure how effective this chapter was. I have enjoyed reading this book so far, but this reading really didn’t strike me as something I should pay attention to. I guess I didn’t care about the mosquitoes, perhaps?

Kolbert started out with the scientific name of the comma butterfly, which is something you told us not to do because it makes a dry lead. You were absolutely right, because the beginning of this chapter was not exactly riveting.

I understood the point of the chapter being that different species tend to migrate as climate changes, and that many species are moving now is an indication of said change. I’m not sure the examples were the greatest, and I think it could have been more exciting. However, I believe she wanted to include the butterflies, toads, and mosquitoes in the reading to show that climate change affects even the smallest creatures, not just the iconic ones.

The most memorable part of the chapter was when Kolbert mentioned a sign on a lab door saying something about mosquitoes sucking blood out of your eyes. It made me wonder if that was even possible. And then it made me wonder what kind of person would not blink long enough for a mosquito to get away with such a thing. And then I googled it, but I couldn’t find anything about mosquitoes sucking anyone’s eye blood. In any case, I’m finally happy to wear contacts.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chapters 2/3

Kolbert presents several new pieces of evidence to support the sentiment that the earth’s climate is changing. One of her strongest examples, I believe, is presented in the form of a retreating glacier. She mentions how glaciers melt a little bit each year, but then expounds upon that by saying in recent years, the glacier has shrunk by hundreds of feet.

In the last few sentences of the third chapter, Kolbert reiterates how drastically the climate is changing when she notes how far the glacier stood from the rock that used to mark its place. When she said, “So I climbed back up to take a second look,” she insinuates that global warming is real, it’s a big deal, and things as we know them now are not going to remain that way for long. Not that she tells us to take a "second look," but she indirectly tells us her opinion and that she isn't going to waste the opportunity.

Another piece of evidence Kolbert presents is the “Keeling Curve.” The graph shows a jagged line, steadily increasing as the years progress. Numbers sometimes go over my head, but actually seeing the statistics in a way my mind can easily interpret them, it became more clear how serious the issue has become.

I am a pretty firm believer when it comes to global warming, but putting that aside, there is perhaps one area where Kolbert could improve her argument. She does a great job at showing effects of global warming in certain areas, but so far, I believe, only within the Arctic Circle. She wants everyone to read this book, and I’m sure she wants everyone to know how global warming is going to affect them personally. Obviously, I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t say if she does or does not go on to do this, but I think her case would be improved if she included how global warming is and will change the environments in which everyone lives. She even said in the last chapter that there aren’t a ton of people living in Greenland. Well, the people in Greenland know how global warming is affecting them. How are the rest of us affected? Her arguments may be in the right neighborhood, but they aren’t hitting close enough to home yet.

I like Kolbert’s writing style. I think it’s clear and easy to understand. The way she adds random information and humor (sometimes morbid humor) really adds to the story. The book reads more like a story than a text book, which is why it is easier to read and take in the information she is presenting us with. She definitely makes thinks clear, giving examples and analogies even to explain graphs that you can see.

I believe her writing is fairly objective. She obviously is trying to convince all of her readers that global warming is a real problem we need to start addressing, but when there are two ideas or viewpoints, she states them both. She asked Steffen what he thought the ice shelf would look like in 10 years (pg 57) and he said the “signals should be much more distinct.” Then she adds Zwally’s opinion afterward. It’s hard to give both sides of the story when you’re only with scientists who believe in global warming and study its effects. So for what the story is, she is as objective as she can be.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Field notes


The language in this book is easy to follow. It is written without a great deal of scientfic jargon, which is where many get lost.

The author uses many analogies to reinforce the effects of global warming. In the preface, she mentions how she wants "everyone" to read this book. I think she writes it in a manner that is appealing to "everyone," even those who are not scientifically inclined.

The author began the book with an anecdote about an Alaskan village. The fact that she brings global warming down to a local level, showing local effects, with perspectives of people who see the changes to their own community, really drives the issue of global warming. Like she mentioned, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies and books written on global warming. After years of listening to global warming this, global warming that, people might not pay close attention, thinking 'I've heard this before.' But by bringing attention to certain areas, and mentioning how many other areas could be used to study the effects of global warming, I think she really adds to her points.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Burly Tree

By Jenna Burleigh

While on assignment for Cardinal Points, I came across an interesting story regarding the uncertain futures of two of the oldest trees on campus. Not nearly as impressive as they may have once been, the trunks of both trees wore scars from pervious battles with chain saws. But damaged and scarred as they were, the trees still held a certain character about them. They are bur oaks.

The bur oak is found extensively across The United States, stretching from Maine to Montana, and south to Texas. The spread of the oak is representative of its ability to survive in different environments.

Resistant to drought, the bur oak is a deciduous tree can live in arid as well as moist regions. It is also tolerant of different soil types, and is an efficient user of water, according to this article. Within its first growing season, a bur oak’s roots can penetrate the soil up to more than four feet. Fast root development and good water use could explain why this tree can be found in many different soil-types and climates.

The bur oak is aptly named for the shape of its acorns. They are about the size of a golf ball, growing up to two inches long, with bristly whisker-looking “burs” that wrap around the top and sides of the acorn. The bur oak can grow to be over 100 feet high or wide (the crown, not the trunk), according to this article. The acorns of this oak are the largest of all native oaks in North America.

The bur oak, or Quercus macrocarpa, begins to produce seed after 35 years, and can seed up to 400 years or older (Quercus, meaning oaks, and macrocarpa, the “macro” referring to the size of its unusually large acorns). The acorns fall, either on their own or with a little help from hungry squirrels, and can immediately begin germination or remain dormant until the next spring.

After discovering how hardy this species of tree is and how much they can survive, I was a little disheartened to learn that these trees may need to be destroyed in order to make room for more construction projects on campus. Humans appear to be one factor this natural wonder cannot endure.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Early steps to stop late blight

By Jenna Burleigh

Q: What is late blight?

A: Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like oomycete pathogen, called late blight, is an infection that kills tomato and potato plants. An oomycete is "a simple organism similar to a fungus that feeds on rotting material or living plants by absorbing nutrients through fine threads," according to MSN Encatra. This is the same infection responsible for the severe potato famine in Ireland in the 1850s, forcing many to starve or emigrate.

Late blight can affect a plant at any time in the growing season, and if detected, should be promptly destroyed. The disease can infect the leaves, stems, fruits and tubers of tomato and potato plants, which are susceptible only when wet, according to this article. However, this includes if the plants are moist from dew, irrigation, sprinklers, and even fog.

Q: How do spores infect plants?

A: The disease can only survive on living tissues. It usually survives through the winter on potato tubers, which spread the infection when replanted as seed. Infected plants grow and develop noticeable signs of the disease. Some signs include dark-colored abrasions on the stem of the plant or on the fruit or tuber. Leaves will turn brown and decay, or fuzzy, white spots can appear on the leaves, containing spores. Spores spread by wind or splash onto new hosts with rainfall. It was once thought that late blight wouldn’t spread after harvest, but it can, according to this site.

Q: What will stop the spread of late blight?

A: There are several actions you can take to protect your crops from late blight. The best measures are preventative steps. When purchasing your seed for the new growing season, make sure it is certified healthy seed, and be sure to ask if there were any signs of late blight during the harvest of these seeds.

Inspect all of your seed carefully. If you see black or purple-colored abrasions on tubers, dispose of them properly. This does not just mean throwing the infected seed away, but either burry it two feet below the surface, feed it to livestock, freeze it, or completely till it into the soil if your previous crop was ruined by late blight.

One simple method to help reduce the risk of late blight to tomato and potato plants is to make hills around the roots of the plants. Placing as much soil as possible around the plants will help protect tubers and roots from spores that filter through the soil.

If you have discarded tubers from a previous harvest, without properly disposing of it, make sure to kill the plants if they start to grow. Late blight may have infected it, and if spores are allowed to grow, this could eventually infect your new crop, as well as surrounding plots.

Fungicides are available that will help prevent late blight. Once the disease has infected a crop, it is difficult to save it unless it is treated with a fungicide with systemic activity (meaning they penetrate the plant tissue), within 24 hours of infection. Even then, it may be too late to save the plant. Warm, dry weather, both day and night, would naturally stop the infection, at least temporarily. However, the plant should be destroyed before the infection spreads to other plants. Fungicides are most effective when applied regularly.When storing potatoes, growers should keep them in a cool, dry place. Keeping them put of moist areas ensures that late blight cannot infect the tubers, because it needs moisture.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cosmos Conundrum

What is in a black hole? Some could say everything, since it apparently sucks in everything that gets too close. However, others could argue there’s nothing in it, as scientists speculate that they eventually disappear, turning into nothing.

Steven Hawking has devoted his career to questions like this. He has come up with some theories that would undermine the very principles of quantum mechanics, upon which rests much of our understanding of the cosmos, matter, and, well, pretty much everything.

But regardless of how “out there” his theories may be, it might be worth mentioning that they are just that: theories.

Even Hawking mentions that there is probably a one percent chance any of his theories about black holes could be tested, let alone proven true. On this note, one almost has to ask “what’s the point?”

It seems a bit senseless to squabble over theories of things we obviously don’t understand, considering we may never be able to prove what is, or is not, true. I’ll be the first to admit I know absolutely nothing about black holes or quantum mechanics, but I also have never devoted my life to trying to understand something I will probably never be able to understand, hypothesizing things I can never test.

This, however, is the nature of science, the challenge to understand the unknown. Not to say that science is a waste of time, do not misunderstand my intentions. I believe science is a very admirable field of study, and much of the information we learn from science has helped to improve nearly every aspect of our lives.

But it almost seems that humans, as a species, need to know everything, even about things that will never affect us. We want to know what Pluto is made of, what a black hole is all about, if there is life out there somewhere… is it impossible to accept that we are here and let that be enough?

I have a feeling someday science will disprove the theories behind every religion and probably show that everything we feel, think, and act upon is part of some grand scheme that can be calculated. I’m afraid something like that would take away all the color in life, the mystery, the romance. We can’t just appreciate something simple like the changing of the leaves in the fall, or the way the waves of the ocean leap at our feet. Everything has to be defined, even things we can’t see.

Personally, I prefer my world to be colorful and mysterious. I like to ponder things great and small. I give all the power in the world to people like Hawking, I hope he proves once and for all what is and is not inside a black hole. Just don’t expect me to be the first one to read that article.

As for the Discover article, I believe I would give it a solid 87. I liked the lede, though the first sentence could have been more intriguing. The content was very informative, written coherently. The transitions were clear and affective. I believe there were a few things that could have been explained better, but all and all I think it was good.

Grade breakdown:
Lede: 17
Content: 18
Organization: 17
Quality: 18
Clarity: 17

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Is Pluto a planet?

Photo by Mathias Pedersen

Jenna Burleigh

I remember my science teacher once telling us an acronym to remember the names of the planets in the solar system: my very energetic mother just served us nine pizzas. The first letter of each word was meant to signify Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. However, she may end up serving us “nothing” because the fate of the “pizzas” doesn’t look so good.
Q: Is Pluto a planet?

A: Discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh, Pluto became the 9th planet in our solar system. However, a later discovery in 2005 came in the form of an object in the Kuiper belt, and it was even larger than Pluto. Discovery of this object and several others that rivaled the size of Pluto caused the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to determine what exactly a “planet” is.

Prior to these discoveries, no official definition for “planet” existed. In order to be considered a “planet,” the object in question must meet three criteria, as set by the IAU.

One: it must orbit the sun.
Two: it must have the gravity to be able to pull itself into a spherical shape
Three: it must be able to consume or clear other objects in its orbit

The third criterion is where Pluto falls short, since it is smaller than Eris (another object in what is called the Kuiper belt), and not massive enough to clear other objects in its orbit. According to this article, Pluto has been demoted to a “dwarf planet,” as if it were some kind of consolation prize.

It might take some time for those used to “Planet Pluto” to adjust to the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet, but at least there’s finally a clear definition of what a “planet” actually is. As for children, they are going to have to get used to the fact that their very energetic mothers are going to serve them nothing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Discovery lede of the week

A Modest Proposal: How to Stop Aging Entirely
By Aubrey de Grey and Michael Rae

Lede: “In my view, we can probably eliminate aging as a cause of death this century—and possibly within just a few decades, soon enough to benefit most people currently alive.”

Originally, the title popped out at me because it began with “A modest proposal.” I had read an essay by Jonathan Swift with this title a few years ago; it was a satire that suggested eating babies to control population and feed the starving masses. But this article, obviously, was not the same thing. The lede grabbed my attention at once because of its insinuation toward the so called fountain of youth. I assumed this article would go on to describe new technologies or medical advances and how they could be used to prolong life even more. However, I was sorely disappointed when I discovered this article had nothing to do with finding any “fountain of youth”; it wasn’t even about any fountain!

The article did NOT live up to my expectations. It began with a rant about people becoming immortal, yet it never gave any kind of scientific information at all. It then proposes several ideas of how wonderful things would be if people just never died. It never mentions anything about all the negative aspects of this feat. What about over-population? We are drastically sliding closer to our carrying capacity each day, and they are proposing that no one should ever die? What is going to happen to the masses of starving people out there now when we add more and more mouths to feed and never take any away? It would be ironic if the authors had mentioned eating the babies, just because they share the title with Swift’s essay. There is no way this is a feasible or sustainable approach. Are we supposed to never have any more children? I bet that will happen.
The article goes on to a rant about cancer. I thought we were talking about never dying? The rapid subject shift was odd and I was just confused as to why there would be so much of a rant about nothing to introduce the idea that we should find the cure to cancer. This is not an article on how to stop aging entirely. It doesn't even determine how to eliminate cancer. This article left me wanting more: more substance, more information, and more logic. This article was a modest proposal, indeed.

The fungus is among us!

The sunshine today afforded me a wonderful opportunity to gallivant and admire the fall foliage, something I have been unable to accomplish between work and rainy days. As I moseyed along, I noticed a strange leaf on the ground, so I was compelled to pick it up and admire it properly. It had the “black spot.” I chuckled to myself for a moment in reverie of a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean” where Captain Jack Sparrow was marked with the ‘black spot.’ When I came back from the little world I had floated off to, I began to ponder what the little spot was. I had decided it must be some kind of fungus, and proceeded to tote my little leaf along with me for the rest of the day.

Upon returning to my room, curiosity got the best of me as I searched to answer my conundrum. I discovered this black spot of mine is a fungus, as I had suspected, called “tar spot.”

An indication of early stages of tar spot includes the appearance of small yellow spots on leaves. The yellow spots grow in size and intensify in color, black spots finally appearing in the center. The black spots grow and form large dark circles on the leaves.

The fungus gets its name from these black splotches, which resemble drops of black tar. Tar spot, or Rhytisma acerinum, is a fungus that affects maple trees (among others), usually causing early leaf drop. Tar spot is a kind of fungi called an endophyte ("endo-" meaning "within", "-phyte" meaning "plant"). Since the area of the tree affected is the leaves, which are deciduous, tar spot does not cause long-term damage to its hosts.

Moist, cool conditions, around 60 degrees F, compliment the fungus and cause rapid spread of tar spot. Tar spot typically infects trees in the spring, when tiny, needle-like spores are released into the atmosphere, carried by the wind. The spores, landing on vulnerable leaves, infect the tree and begin a new cycle of tar spot.

Since tar spot does not cause long-term damage to trees, many choose not to use fungicide against it. Fungicides are often ineffective, expensive, and are generally harmful to the environment. One environmentally-friendly way to manage the spread of tar spot is to efficiently rake the leaves that have fallen from infected trees, and those of trees in the surrounding area. Mulching the leaves has proven to be effective, but covering and containing the leaves will also help reduce the infected area.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Get out of my garden!

Something’s wrong.

It took a moment to realize what the matter was. Facing the steps I slowly descended loomed the 18-foot evergreen that greeted me each morning. But something was amiss. The needles had turned from their deep emerald hue to a sickly brown that reminded me of mud.

Stepping closer to investigate, I caught my first glimpse of them: they were beetles, chomping down on the once-perfect needles of my evergreen. They desiccated the tree: it was a living skeleton, hanging on by a mere twig.

The Japanese beetle, whose origins lie in Japan, is sometimes called the Japanese rose beetle for its inclination toward roses. It was first sighted in the US in 1916, according to the USDA. The beetle is about the size of a penny, with a copper colored body and metallic green head. It can fly, but clumsily. It usually sits upon a leaf, lazily chewing away at the greenery. The beetle is slow and easy to catch.

The Japanese beetle, or Popillia japonica Newman, has spread as far north as Ontario, and as far south and west as Georgia and Missouri (Popillia meaning scarab beetle, and japonica meaning "of Japan").

This pest devours all kinds of vegetation. They eat the leaves (or needles!), fruits and flowers of a wide variety of trees and plants. In the larval stage, the insect feeds on grassroots, causing obvious damage to lawns.

It flourishes in the US because of a favorable climate and ineffective natural predators. In Japan, the beetle is hardly an issue because of the natural predators that keep its population in check. Some species that attempt to reduce the beetle’s population in the US include starlings, Assassin bugs, and Tiphia wasps.

Because the effect of these predators is futile, several methods to eradicate the pest have been devised, including chemicals, traps, biological controls, and simple hand removal.

Several chemicals are available that would kill off either the adult Japanese beetle (Acephate), or the larvae (Imidacloprid). Though these insecticides produce rapid results, there is the chance the chemicals will be washed away as runoff, contaminating water sources.

Traps have been created for the beetle, with two intersecting panels of plastic, vertically crossing to form the shape of an ‘X’ if viewed from above. Below these pieces is a bag filled with pheromones. Beetles are attracted to the scent and fly into the plastic. Because they are clumsy fliers, they hit the plastic and fall into the trap, unable to escape. Though this is an effective method, it usually attracts more beetles in the area than were originally there, so place the trap far from your vegetables!

According to APHIS, a branch of the USDA, biological controls such as Nematodes, “microscopic parasitic roundworms,” can be used to control the beetle. This method takes longer to produce results, but is effective and environmentally friendly.

Arguably, the most effective tools to do away with the Japanese beetle are a thumb and forefinger. That’s right, go ahead and squish them! The bugs are slow, clumsy, and they don’t scurry away when approached. A homeowner can protect their valued crops with this inexpensive method of pick and squish, or, if looking for a more delicate technique, they can flick the beetle into a bucket filled with soapy water. Cover the bucket once filled with beetles, cover, and dispose of it once the insects have drowned.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lede of the week

In a Shark’s Tooth, a New Family Tree
By Sean B. Carroll

“'Like a locomotive with a mouth full of butcher knives.'

"That is how a shark expert, Matt Hooper, described Carcharodon megalodon to the police chief in Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws.” He was referring to the 50-foot-long, 50-ton body and enormous six- to seven-inch-long teeth that made the extinct megalodon shark perhaps the most awesome predator that has ever roamed the seas."

The title of this piece is intriguing already. When it opened with the lede “Like a locomotive with a mouth full of butcher knives,” I had to smile. Not only is the imagery spot on, but I recognized the quote. Because the lede is catchy and a well-known quote from “Jaws,” either a book or a movie everyone has read/watched at some point in their life, it makes the story relatable. I started reading the story through, and it continued with references to “Jaws” to introduce the information it wished to present. The article began telling a story that catches a reader’s attention, keeps their attention while continuing with a familiar story as it gradually introduces what it is they really want to talk about. This was my "lede of the week."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wrongfully Squished


Everyone has seen a crane fly in their lifetime; they probably just don’t know it. Many people shriek at the sight of them and continue to squish the insects as soon as possible, which, honestly, is exactly how I came to find the specimen in the first place.

I was sitting at my desk, attempting to find the empirical formula of glucose (CH2O, for ye fellow chemists out there), when I heard a not-quite-but-close-to-blood-curdling-scream. Out of curiosity, and, of course, my compelling, sometimes heroic nature that is obligated to save the day, I practically flew through the door of my dorm room into the hall from whence the commotion came. Immediately, I recognized the damsel in distress (because she was the one flailing her arms and still screaming). She appeared to be in the middle of the most epic battle imaginable: she was karate chopping the air, throwing fists at what looked like nothing, and finally stomping around like she was the world record holder for Dance Dance Revolution. As I got closer to disturbance number nine (as I labeled it, according to other similar instances I won’t delve into for the sake of this assignment), I realized that she had “taken care of” the situation. There, crumpled on the tile like a broken slinky, wiry legs sprawling to and fro, was the source of my floor mate’s freight.

Most commonly referred to as a “giant mosquito,” the adult crane fly (Diptera: Tipulidae) looks like just that: a really big mosquito. It has six legs, wings, and a large, elongated body. But the crane fly is not nearly as harmful as people might imagine. Don’t scream and throw pillows at it. Don’t run away, because it won’t suck all your blood like your imagination serves you to believe. The adult crane fly is harmless. Really, it’s the larvae you should worry about. These grubs are nuisances to lawns because they feed on the roots. That’s right; the wee, little grubs are the things to be afraid of. But it’s difficult even to be afraid of them since you never see them. They are buried beneath wet leaves in ditches, or burrowed beneath your lawns. So these little lawn devils really are only a threat to dandelions. So next time you see a really big “mosquito” flying your way, don’t scream and kill it. My request is two-fold: one, it really is unfair to the little bug. It just wants to fly, find a mate, and live out the rest of its life in peace, not pieces. Two, compelling, sometimes heroic people, not unlike myself, really need to do their chemistry homework. Don’t get me wrong, we will always come to the rescue, but these little shenanigans are comparable to pulling the fire alarm over burnt popcorn. So, do us all a favor and let the bug live, step away from the fire alarm, and help me with my chemistry homework! Please?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Outliving your body

Jenna Burleigh
Blog 3

Splits Form Over How to Address Bone Loss
By Katie Murphy

If you think your bones are deteriorating, but not enough to be called osteoporosis, then you probably have a case of osteopenia. In that case, you can start buying a prescription for the miracle drugs that will do very little to correct your deteriorating bones. And now you can do this all online and diagnose yourself because of FRAX, a new tool to help you determine when is a good time to start treating yourself for bone loss. The most wonderful thing is that it’s a machine that doesn’t take all your health information into account, so it could tell you that you have osteopenia, but not how bad the case is. I take that back. The most wonderful thing about it is that the medicine you get out of this ordeal really won’t help you much at all unless you have osteoporosis.

A flawed online tool designed to suck money out of pockets of paranoid patients is precisely what this country needs. We need another thing for people to freak out and worry about. People that get diagnosed and take the medication, which, of course, comes complete with a slew of side-effects, are doing more harm to themselves than good.

Personally, I’ve never liked going to see a doctor, but that is my own personal objection to hearing someone tell me there is something wrong with me. However, I think I would rather talk to a doctor about my problems than a machine. The machine doesn’t know me. And if the problem I have isn’t pressing enough for me to call, make an appointment, sit in the waiting room perusing old copies of Reader’s Digest, and finally go see my doctor and get a diagnosis, then I probably don’t need to know what is wrong. Of course, anyone could look at this argument and tell me that people feel fine one night and are dead by morning. My response to that is I’m fine with dying young and I don’t need to live 100 years to feel like I’ve accomplished something. People in this day and age are living too long, in my opinion. I can’t stand the thought of waking up every morning, my ancient bones aching and crackling with every movement I make along the way to the medicine cabinet, where I slowly make my rounds and swallow buckets of pills to keep my archaic ass alive, not kicking, just alive. It wasn’t long ago that 50 was a ripe old age. With all these modern advances, it seems like we’re doing our best to reproduce our own fountain of youth. We aren’t machines like FRAX; we aren’t made to last forever.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Queen of Hearts

Jenna Burleigh
Blog 2

A New Heart, Tangled in Red Tape
By Tara Parker-Pope

Health care is ridiculous. First, you’re going to need insurance. Even though you get it, they aren’t going to cover your heart transplant because you’re over 20 years old. So now it just comes down to how much money you have in your pocket. Do you have $150,000 lying around? It’s okay if you don’t, because you can use donated money raised by Tony Hawk and a band member of Nine Inch Nails. But that will only cover the cost of being evaluated and put on a waiting list. For the actual operation, you are going to need about $1 million. After raising all that money, you make it on the donor’s list, but the doctor won’t operate on you until you have “a secondary insurance policy.” By the time you get to a hospital that will take care of you, your body is far too weak to handle the surgery.

Eric De La Cruz was 31 when he died. He didn’t have to. He had a disorder called “severe dilated cardiomyopathy,” which makes the heart weak due to enlarged muscles. Mr. De La Cruz needed a heart transplant and he had known that since his early twenties. But the health insurance system has so many loop-holes and rules that he could not get covered by anyone. Had the system not been so complicated and difficult for someone with a pre-existing condition to obtain, he would have been alive today.

Everyone knows that health insurance is a bit ridiculous, but the real story starts with Eric’s sister, Veronica De La Cruz, who began a crusade to save her brother’s life. She waged a two-front battle: she fought to win disability benefits so that her brother would qualify for Medicare, and she sent out daily “tweets” on Twitter to raise awareness and funds for her brother’s operation.

It’s is so inspiring to see a person fight for someone they care about. Many in this day and age have succumbed to things like greed and selfishness. So many, in fact, that there is probably a bit of both of those in all of us. The De La Cruz family went through a tremendous ordeal and a lot of pain, but their story is reaching lawmakers, Ms. De La Cruz is sure of that.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my brother, let alone fight to save his life. Ms. De La Cruz began her crusade and fought until the end. And she is still fighting. She is an inspiration, the epitome of what it really means to be family. Even though she couldn’t save her brother’s life, she honestly loved him with all her heart.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bad Eggs

Jenna Burleigh
Blog 1

"Guilt and Atonement on the Path to Adulthood"
By John Tierney

What separates the bad eggs from the good? It is a mystery why some people grow up to be the way they are. Why do some kids grow up to be bullies, while others are perfectly polite and considerate? This is exactly what Dr. Grazyna Kochanska of the University of Iowa has been studying. She has been experimenting with young children and their reactions to certain situations, like if they break a toy that was very special to someone. Basically, the more guilt a child feels for breaking that toy, the more likely they will grow up to be considerate and courteous to those around them.

I find it very interesting all the elements that determine how a child feels or reacts to certain things. I’m not an expert in psychology or anything of the sort, but I’ve always felt a certain amount of disgust when a parent tells their child that no matter what they do, “it’s alright.” Granted you can’t very well ground a toddler for dropping the remote in the fish tank, but I believe that it is necessary to make them aware that they were wrong and it’s not “okay.” The studies that were performed at the University of Iowa focused on exactly this point. When the child broke that toy, after letting them feel remorseful for a minute, the observer would show them that it was very easy to repair it and make amends for what happened. So the child felt bad about what they had done, but they were also able to make up for it and honestly make things “alright” again.

I can believe the results of this study, because if you see a kid on the playground and he or she hits another kid and steals their toy, you could probably imagine that they won’t be the most polite person when they grow up. However, I would like to see the study of how to change or modify these behaviors, to see if by placing a child in a different environment they would not be inclined to hurt others or bully them. I have a feeling that results from this study and others like it will help form a parenting handbook of sorts.