Last Week's Links

On this, the last week’s links before the new year, please indulge my first two choices. When we retired from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest, I undertook the project of acquainting myself with literature specific to this region. The first two entries here provide suggestions for doing just that.

The 2010s in books: 10 titles from Washington-state authors that defined the decade 

I’ve read three books on this list, have heard of a couple of other writers, and found out there are a lot more Pacific Northwest authors I need to acquaint myself with.

25 Books to Read Before You Die: Pacific Northwest Edition

I landed on this article through a link in the previous one. This list, prepared by the famous bookstore Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, has a wider focus than the first one and features “what we consider a consummate selection of books written by Pacific Northwest authors.” Boy, do I have a lot of catching up to do! 

The Hidden Upsides of Growing Older

Well, some good news!

We often take for granted the advantages that coincide with years of experience when handling complex information or rebounding from setbacks. We’d like to focus here on the aspects of mental function that stay strong or even become better with age. We refer to these enhanced mental functions as “hidden upsides,” because we often don’t notice the many ways that our years of life have led to improved mental abilities.

This article apparently is a general introduction to an upcoming series from Psychology Today that promises to look at specific upsides and to explore “the types of situations in which the older adult mind surpasses its younger adult counterpart.” I’ll be looking for those future columns.

Baba Ram Dass, spiritual guru and LSD proponent, dies at 88

Many of us of a certain age remember Ram Dass—born Richard Alpert—who in the 1960s experimented with LSD and traveled to India in search of spiritual enlightenment. He “was best known for the 1971 book “Be Here Now,” written after his trip to India.” Later he wrote, “the baby boomers are getting old — and I’m learning how to get old for them. That’s my role.”

What you’re unwrapping when you get a DNA test for Christmas

“To what extent is giving a DNA test also a present for law enforcement?”

Many DNA databases were started to help people interested in genealogy connect with their extended family. DNA kits to help people find relatives are often touted as great gifts. “But is using one of these kits also opening the door to letting the police use your DNA to arrest your cousin?”

This article discusses several DNA testing companies and databases and explains how the results may be used.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Jihyun Lee, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Australia, reports on her research into students’ attitudes toward school:

My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.

Lee continues: “research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.” She sees this as a problem because, she says, “Formal institutions [such as schools] shape the lives of a citizenry. They need to be upheld, bettered and strengthened.”

Her solution to this problem? “Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. . . . Whether students are able to see the link between their present and future may have critical consequences for society.”

‘After His Death, I Didn’t Cook Anymore’: Widows on the Pain of Dining Alone

“Readers share poignant stories of the pain and comfort that food can bring after a loved one dies.”

After The Times published a Food article about how mealtimes can be difficult for widows (a gender-neutral term that bereavement counselors now use), hundreds of readers described the heartbreak and joy that food and cooking can bring after losing a partner.

Childhood trauma may do lifelong harm to physical, mental health

Here’s news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC):

Traumatic experiences in childhood can do lifelong harm to physical and mental health, education and work, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Preventing traumatic childhood experiences — such as abuse, seeing violence or substance abuse in the home, or having a parent in jail — could reduce many problems later on, according to the CDC.

These later problems include suicide; chronic illnesses such as heart and respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes; and risky health behaviors such as substance abuse. “The CDC has several efforts to prevent childhood trauma and reduce the harmful effects of such experiences.”

Women of a Certain Age, Gail Collins Has Your Back

Lesley Stahl praises Gail Collins’s new book No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History:

So imagine a book about “non-young” women, written by Collins with her signature droll sensibility. “No Stopping Us Now” is a chronicle of the herky-jerky nature of older women’s journey to progress in the United States over the years. It’s eye-opening, brimming with new information and, as you’d expect from Collins, a lot of fun.

Grandparents Are Heroes, and Also Totally Normal People

Maria Russo reports on “the excellent new grandparent-centric picture books surging into bookstores and libraries [that] come from creators who grew up in other cultures.” The reason for this “may be because Americans are still catching up to Europeans — and to children — when it comes to realizing that older bodies can still be vital and attractive. And we can only hope the reverence and tenderness toward elderly people found in Asian cultures takes root here, too.”

Russo offers specific examples of the books she’s talking about here, in case you want some suggestions for upcoming holiday gifts.

Confirmation that the art of proofreading is dead

I include this one because we sometimes need a bit of levity.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Keeping Your Blood Sugar In Check Could Lower Your Alzheimer’s Risk

Here’s a report on recent research suggesting that controlling blood sugar levels “might help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Can Personality Affect Dementia Risk?

And here’s another report on research. The results of personality tests given to 82,232 teenagers in 1960 were compared with Medicare diagnoses of dementia from 2011 to 2013. Researchers “found that high extroversion, an energetic disposition, calmness and maturity were associated with a lower risk of dementia an average of 54 years later, though the association did not hold for students with low socioeconomic status.”

But the lead researcher emphasizes, “‘our findings are suggestive, and we don’t want to draw strong conclusions about causation.’”

Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One: A Robot and a Team of Irish Scientists Walk Into a Senior Living Home

Meet Stevie, a robot from the Robotics and Innovation Lab at Trinity College, Dublin, who lives with the residents of a retirement home for military officers and their spouses just outside of Washington, DC. The purpose of the collaboration is to see if AI (artificial intelligence) can help support human care workers in caring for people 65 and older, “the fastest-growing age demographic in the US.”

VICTIM OF AGEISM? TIME TO CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE

Here’s something to think about:

One can be outraged by the seemingly unfair treatment older workers receive. But are we each without ageist bias? The fact is we can be our own worst enemy when we adopt these assumptions as our truth. While we can’t change how others think, we can certainly tackle our own deeply held beliefs about aging that sabotage our financial future and well-being.

Happy Birthday to the Internet!

Born on October 29, 1969, the Internet is now 50 years old. Here are two articles about that milestone.

50 years ago today, the internet was born in Room 3420

The Internet came into existence in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957. Chagrined that the USSR had beaten the U.S. in the space race, President Eisenhower formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense to promote study of science, technology, engineering, and math in U.S. universities and research labs. The need for separate terminals in each place of study led researchers to conceptualize ARPANET, a system that would allow each research lab to communicate with any or all others. 

Welcome to Year 50 of the Information Age

Adam Rogers, reporting for Wired, a publication that came into existence to cover the digital world, remembers (and links to) the article he wrote 25 years ago marking the Internet’s 25th birthday. 

And he laments that the Internet’s 50th birthday “marks not only the internet’s decrepitude but also my own.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Older Americans Are Increasingly Unwilling — Or Unable — To Retire

“About 1 in 4 adults age 65 and older is now in the workforce. That number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country.”

This article from National Public Radio (NPR) looks at why so many older adults continue to work after age 65.

Lifestyle changes, not a magic pill, can reverse Alzheimer’s

Clayton Dalton, a medical resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reports on results of study out of UCLA that suggest lifestyle changes may be more important than medication in treating Alzheimer’s disease. 

the researchers used a protocol consisting of a variety of different lifestyle modifications to optimise metabolic parameters – such as inflammation and insulin resistance – that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were counselled to change their diet (a lot of veggies), exercise, develop techniques for stress management, and improve their sleep, among other interventions. The most common ‘side effect’ was weight loss.

Dalton points out that the study was small. As with all medical research, further study is necessary to replicate and strengthen findings. Still, he concludes, “it’s time to start taking these approaches much more seriously. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next three decades, to nearly 14 million in the United States alone.”

For Sale: Jane Austen’s Wince-Inducing Descriptions of 19th-Century Dentistry

Check out this interesting article from Atlas Obscura for photos and discussion of the state of dentistry when Jane Austen wrote this letter to her sister in 1813. “At the time Austen penned the letter, dentistry was still painfully unstandardized. Treatments varied widely, and troublesome teeth were often yanked out by people from all sorts of professions.”

The search for one woman’s family led a reporter to find her own roots using oral history, archives and DNA tests. It also led to stunning results

Deborah Barfield Berry explains “My search was sparked by an assignment from USA TODAY to write about a family in Hampton, Virginia, who believes its members are descended from the first Africans brought to the English colonies in 1619. If their claim is true, they are connected to a founding American family, heirs of a legacy history has ignored.” The family name is Tucker, and Berry knew that her grandmother’s last name was Tucker and that she was from a place near Hampton, Virginia. So Berry thought, “What if, in this world of six degrees of separation, I was related to the family I was writing about?”

‘I’M A NEUROLOGIST, AND THESE ARE THE 5 THINGS I DO TO KEEP MY BRAIN HEALTHY’

“Ajeet Sodhi, MD, a neurologist and the director of neurocritical care at the California Institute of Neuroscience, shares the habits and activities he does to promote and improve brain function every single day.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

THE RISE OF THE ‘GRANNY STATE’ IN AMERICA’S NURSING HOMES

The growing number of older people entering assisted living facilities is spawning an accompanying fear of elder abuse:

More and more states are passing laws and introducing regulations requiring nursing homes to let relatives set up webcams in the private rooms of elderly family members. Until 2014, only three states — Texas, New Mexico and Washington — had laws on such cameras in assisted living facilities. But over the past five years, five more states — Illinois, Louisiana, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia — have introduced statutes.

But the use of such cameras raise a whole menu of privacy concerns:

  • Who has the right to request such a camera, the patient or the patient’s family?
  • Is the patient mentally competent to either request or refuse placement of a camera?
  • Do caregivers in rooms with cameras have their own right to privacy?
  • Do roommates or significant others who live in the same space also have to consent?

These are significant questions that will have to be addressed in efforts to balance safety concerns with privacy issues.

The Decline and Evolution of the School Librarian

School budget cuts inevitably lead to reductions in support staff such as school librarians:

Between 2009 and 2016, more than 9,000 full-time equivalent school library positions were eliminated in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s about a 15 percent reduction in the country’s total number of school librarian positions. What’s at risk, advocates say, is not just children’s access to books, but also the development of their research skills, digital literacy, and critical thinking.

DASH HAPPY: 6 DASHING EM DASH EXAMPLES IN LITERATURE

This article about the em dash—“possibly the most adaptable and intuitive punctuation mark there is”—just warms this former college composition teacher’s heart.

Engineers Sprint Ahead, but Don’t Underestimate the Poets

David Deming, director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, argues in The New York Times that, over time, liberal arts majors earn salaries comparable to their peers with scientific degrees.

Most of the Mind Can’t Tell Fact from Fiction

Most humans find intense pleasure in stories about universal themes of love, death, adventure, family conflict, justice, and triumph over adversity.

That may help explain why, when stories are done well, we love them so much. Just as artificial sweeteners fool our minds into thinking we’re eating sugar, stories—even weird ones like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—take advantage of our natural tendency to want to learn about real people, and how to treat them.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Cheating, Inc.: How Writing Papers for American College Students Has Become a Lucrative Profession Overseas

In my earlier years I did freelance writing and editing. Scrambling for freelance gigs was a frustrating, humbling, and often thankless task. But one type of writing gig was always on the job boards: writing papers and admission essays for students. The evergreen presence of these jobs meant that, periodically, the question would arise about whether writers could or should accept them. There were always passionate answers on both sides: (1) morality be damned, I’m trying to earn a living, and (2) I may be starving, but my conscience is clear.

Just to be clear, I never took any of these jobs. But one thing I learned from this article surprised me: Many of the people taking paper-writing jobs live abroad, not in the U.S. And many of these college-educated writers make a better living at this job than they’d earn in the profession they had trained for in their country.

People Who Read Before Bed Not Only Sleep Better, But Eat More Healthily and Make More Money

This article is concerned mainly with people who read in bed at night. I have sleep disturbance problems, and people like me are always told not to eat, read, watch TV, knit, or do anything else in bed at night. The idea is to train your brain that when you go to bed, you’re ready to fall asleep. I feel deprived of the great luxury of reading in bed, but, for me, reading in my recliner before getting under the covers will have to suffice. 

But it is good to know that people who read before bed are healthy and wealthy as well as wise.

Is Dying at Home Overrated?

“A palliative care physician struggles with the complex realities of dying at home, and the unintended consequences of making it a societal priority.” 

Unless a family has the significant resources necessary to hire aides or nurses, informal caregivers become responsible for nearly everything — from feeding to bathing to toileting. These tasks often get harder as the dying person weakens. In my experience, most family members want to care for their loved ones at home, but many are unaware of caregiving’s physical and emotional toll.

Dr. Richard Leiter compassionately looks at the multiple aspects of end-of-life care and, on the basis of his own experience, concludes “we need to focus not only on where, but also on how they die.”

Nursing Homes Are a Breeding Ground for a Fatal Fungus

This article examines the potential problems involving “Candida auris, a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus that has infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the United States four years ago.” 

Daydreams Shape Your Sense of Self

Psychologist Eve Blouin-Hudon addresses the question “Why is daydreaming so prevalent?” She observes that we often daydream about ourselves, about how we may feel and react in certain situations. Such daydreams contribute to building our life story: “These self-related stories allow people to make sense of who they are and to build their narrative identity—their sense of continuity through time. People need to connect who they believe they are to ongoing experiences.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The best books on Critical Thinking

I’ve been concerned that schools are not adequately teaching critical thinking skills since I first started teaching writing to college students back in 1971. Since then my concern has turned into alarm as I’ve seen the results of the lack of these skills pervade modern culture. 

Here philosopher and writer Nigel Warburton lists five books to help us learn about topics like straw man arguments and weasel words.

What Role Should Work Play in Retirement?

Behavioral scientist Utpal Dholakia, Ph.D., explains that “the idea of retiring as not working may need to be reconfigured for our times.”

Can Bullet Journaling Save You?

I keep reading about the benefits of bullet journaling, a process touted as not only the best productivity tool but also as many people’s favorite creative outlet (just search Instagram to see all the fancy bullet journal layouts pictured). “Bullet journaling has taken off as a kind of mindfulness-meets-productivity trend that equates organized journaling with an ordered interior life.”

Here Anna Russell writes about her discussion with Ryder Carroll, the thirty-nine-year-old digital designer who invented the Bullet Journal. Carroll offered Russell this parting advice: “You’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it wrong, you’re just figuring it out as you go along.”

On planes, adults have tantrums too. Here’s how to handle bad behavior at 38,000 feet

Writing for The Seattle Times, travel writer Christopher Elliott declares, “The worst behavior on a plane? It’s often adults.” And doesn’t it seem that we’ve heard and read of lot of examples that prove him right on news broadcasts and Facebook lately? Elliott has some concrete suggestions on how to deal with bad adult bahavior if it should happen near you on your next flight.

And as you’re crammed into your ever-shrinking coach-class seat, console yourself with this fact: “The worst behavior on a plane often happens in the first-class section. It’s the super-elite frequent flyers who behave as if the plane belongs to them.”

Tina Turner Is Having the Time of Her Life

I was lucky enough to watch Tina Turner perform at Harvard Stadium in the summer of 1970.

Here Amanda Hess reports on the retirement life of Tina Turner, “the symbol of rock ’n’ roll stamina for 50 years.” Now 79 years old, she has been retired for 10 years in now lives in Switzerland in a home she calls the Chateau Algonquin, with an unobstructed view of Lake Zurich. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown