Last Week’s Links

Can Classics Survive?

I did my B.A. and my M.A. in classics, although I never taught classics at any level and eventually turned to English and, later, psychology. After four years of Latin in high school, I decided to study what I most loved in college, and that was Latin. But I never wanted to teach at any level below college, which is why I changed fields.

I tell you this to explain why these two recent articles drew my attention.

He Wants to Save Classics from Whiteness. Can the Field Survive?

“Dan-el Padilla Peralta thinks classicists should knock ancient Greece and Rome off their pedestal — even if that means destroying their discipline.”

As much as I love Latin literature, I’m not surprised to learn that the study of classics, like the study of the humanities in general, has declined in favor of majors that offer better job opportunities after graduation. But I did not know this:

Long revered as the foundation of “Western civilization,” the field was trying to shed its self-imposed reputation as an elitist subject overwhelmingly taught and studied by white men. Recently the effort had gained a new sense of urgency: Classics had been embraced by the far right, whose members held up the ancient Greeks and Romans as the originators of so-called white culture. Marchers in Charlottesville, Va., carried flags bearing a symbol of the Roman state; online reactionaries adopted classical pseudonyms; the white-supremacist website Stormfront displayed an image of the Parthenon alongside the tagline “Every month is white history month.”

This article focuses on Dan-el Padilla Peralta, “a leading historian of Rome who teaches at Princeton and was born in the Dominican Republic,” who believes “that classics has been instrumental to the invention of ‘whiteness’ and its continued domination.”

If Classics Doesn’t Change, Let It Burn

“The field as is doesn’t deserve to persist. But scholars are hard at work improving it.

This article by Johanna Hanink, associate professor of classics at Brown University, emerged as a result of the New York Times profile above. She writes, “The field of classics should evolve to keep up with the world outside the library doors . . . Today, as the United States comes to grips with its own painful history and diminished status in a globalized world, our approach to antiquity should radically shift once again.” She feels “invigorated, and not threatened, at the prospect of change for my discipline.”

Can Historians Be Traumatized by History?

There’s been a lot written about how experiencing violence and atrocities first-hand can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here James Robins go one step further, to ask people if people, such as therapists or historians conducting research, can “be traumatized by something experienced only secondhand.”

Daily tai chi, exercise help older adults with insomnia, study finds

UPI reports on research recently published by JAMA Network Open about older adults with insomnia: “Adults in their 60s and 70s diagnosed with insomnia who practiced tai chi daily woke up, on average, two fewer times during the night than those who didn’t use the ancient Chinese approach, the data showed.”

Why we’re obsessed with music from our youth

Here’s some interesting research about the “reminiscence bump”: “people tend to disproportionately recall memories from when they were 10 to 30 years old.” The research findings suggest that “we aren’t primarily so interested in the music of our youth because we think it’s better than music from other eras, but because it is closely linked to our personal memories.”

The Library of Possible Futures

“Since the release of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock 50 years ago, the allure of speculative nonfiction has remained the same: We all want to know what’s coming next.”

Samantha Culp looks at speculative nonfiction about the future, which she defines as “the constantly evolving genre we might call ‘pop futurism.’” She explains the telltale signs of a pop futurist book: “it sketches out possible tomorrows, highlights emergent trends to watch, and promises ways for even nonspecialists to apply these insights to their own life and work.” 

The seminal work of this genre, she writes, is Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s book that recently marked its 50th anniversary. Here she looks at subsequent examples of this type of book and concludes that “we need an entirely new way of talking about the future if we are to shape it into something equitable and sustainable for all.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Vaccinated!

My husband and I both got our second dose of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. I’ve waited to post in case either of us experienced any of the reactions to the second shot that I’ve been reading about.

Last night we each had a very slight bit of soreness in our arm, but that had disappeared by this morning and neither of us has had any further reaction. A few friends who also got their second shot yesterday reported a slight fever and low energy today, but nothing serious.

This article reports that there are still questions about the results of getting the full dose of vaccine, but both my husband and I, being over 70, were happy to get vaccinated.

And here’s the short-sleeve shirt I wore to vaccinated:

T-shirt that says "Yes, I do have a retirement plan. I will be reading more and more books."

I hope that all of you are staying healthy and warm.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Alzheimer’s Prediction May Be Found in Writing Tests

Gina Kolata reports on a study by IBM researchers suggesting that writing patterns may help to predict Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders years before other symptoms appear.

‘Just Cruel’: Digital Race For COVID-19 Vaccines Leaves Many Seniors Behind

I keep seeing stories from several news sources about older adults eligible for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine who are having trouble making an appointment. 

This article does not contain a link to a central information page. But the CDC offers a page where you can find your state health department. Click here.

It’s not just the pandemic. The moon may be messing with your sleep, too, UW researchers find.

Recent research from the University of Washington suggests that “people tend to have a harder time sleeping in the days leading up to a full moon.”

50 Things Turning 50 In 2021

Among things turning 50 this year: Disney World, McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, Janis Joplin’s album Pearl, the pocket calculator, and Dirty Harry. Now doesn’t that just make your day?

Decades later, infamous Tuskegee syphilis study stirs wariness in Black community over COVID-19 vaccine

Some time back when I was in my late 40s I had a freelance project that led me to the Tuskegee syphilis study. Chalk this up as one of the things we didn’t learn about in history class. 

I sobbed out loud sitting at my computer reading about this research, which studied the effects of the disease in poor Black men. Here’s the worst part: even after drugs were discovered that cured syphilis, the treatment was withheld from study participants so researchers could document the natural progression of the disease.

Today, the repercussions of this ghastly history affect attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination in the Black community. 

Please read this article.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Snow Day!

We don’t get much snow, except for occasional flurries, here near sea level on the coast of Washington. So when a storm hits, we make the most of it. Yesterday afternoon through this afternoon we got about 10 inches, which is quite a lot for this area.

The Seattle Weather Blog noted that 8.9 inches that fell at Seattle Tacoma International Airport on Saturday was the fifth-snowiest single day at that location, and the most snow on one day since 1969, when nearly 15 inches fell there.

The Seattle Times

The last time this area got a significant amount of snow was February 9, 2019, when about 5 inches fell. We were traveling in the southern hemisphere then and missed it, so we took full advantage of this storm.

Weather Service tweet about snowfall in Seattle area

My husband went out to get the mail while snow was still falling.

man standing in snow, waving, while snow continues to fall

houses, bushes, and trees already covered as snow continues to fall

Once the snow stopped, we got all bundled up and went outside to take some photos.

We have several lion statues like this one around campus, but they were all camouflaged today:

lion statue nearly covered by snow

One of the reasons we moved into Franke Tobey Jones Retirement Community was to avoid having to do chores like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. We are very lucky that we have such a dedicated staff here. They got to work immediately:

snow plow on driveway

Because we had plenty of warning that this storm was on the way, we were able to lay in enough supplies to last us for several days. Our outdoor photography trip reminded us of our childhood in New England and was a welcome break from the seemingly endless routine of the past 10 months.

Wherever you are, we hope you are safe, healthy, warm, and well supplied.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship

It’s easy to focus on the people we’ve most missed seeing during our extended period of lockdown: our families and closest friend. But here Amanda Mull thinks of all the more amorphous groups of people she’s been isolated from: fellow patrons of the local sports bar where she used to watch the big games, co-workers with whom she chatted in the communal kitchen, workers at the local coffee or sandwich shop.

Lately she has realized “I missed all of those people I only sort of know.”

Brain scans, surveys help scientists paint neural portrait of loneliness

Loneliness has always been a potential problem for people whose friends begin to die as they age, but the social isolation of the pandemic has increased its effects. This article reports on research results that researchers hope may increase their understanding of how loneliness affects the brain. “Understanding the ways loneliness influences brain structure and neural patterns could help researchers develop remedies for these problems.”

They met in high school. Fifty years later, the pandemic helped them realize they belonged together.

I always love finding stories like this one. My husband and I met in high school and will celebrate our 50th anniversary in June. Betty and Peter’s story, told here, is a bit different from ours but still heartwarming. And it’s good to hear of positive results brought about by COVID-19.

6 Groundbreaking Facts About Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s First Woman Physician

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. A few years later her younger sister, Emily, also became a physician. Together, the Blackwell sisters forged the path for women to become doctors.

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography is one of the works I wrote about in my dissertation on life stories. Last month saw the publication of a new book about Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women—and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura.

‘Tapestry’ at 50: How Carole King ‘bet on herself’ to record a singer-songwriter classic

album cover: Tapestry by Carole King

I haven’t had a turntable for about a thousand years, but I still have my original record of Carole King’s album Tapestry, which turns 50 this year. Here’s the story of its making and historical significance.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

‘People in their 80s and 90s are bloody brilliant!’ Kate Mosse on writing – and being a carer

“The bestselling historical novelist has had a productive lockdown – reading 250 books and writing two, all while caring for her elderly mother-in-law.”

Historical novelist Kate Mosse was “one of a number of novelists commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to write about issues of social or medical care.” The result is An Extra Pair of Hands, to be published later this year. Mosse based the book on her experiences caring for, first, her mother during widowhood and, second, her mother-in-law during the current lockdown. 

Can You Treat Loneliness By Creating an Imaginary Friend?

I began reading this article thinking that it would discuss how many people, even adults, may have felt the need to create imaginary friends for company during this time of social isolation. But I was wrong. 

Here Jim Davies, professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, discusses tulpamancy:

Over the last several years, a community of people, interacting mostly in online forums, like Reddit, have discovered a way to create something like imaginary companions as adults. This process is known as tulpamancy, and the people who engage in it call themselves “tulpamancers.”

The process involves the creation of a tulpa, an imaginary companion who is thought to have achieved full sentience. “In other words, this is a benign hallucination.”

Davies writes, “What is interesting to me about this phenomenon, which is only now beginning to be studied scientifically, is the reason that people decide to create a tulpa in the first place: Most often they do it to relieve loneliness.” He imagines several situations in which this practice might serve a useful function.

James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86

“A philosopher who moved into psychology and studied I.Q., he showed that as society grows more technical, human intellectual abilities expand to meet the challenge.”

I offer this piece not specifically for the obituary, but rather for the history and significance of Dr. Flynn’s work in isolating and understanding the field of intelligence testing. His work has continuing importance.

Remote learning isn’t new: Radio instruction in the 1937 polio epidemic

We all know about the use of remote learning during the current pandemic shutdown. Here Katherine A. Foss, professor of Media Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, tell us “This is not the first time education has been disrupted in the U.S. – nor the first time that educators have harnessed remote learning. In 1937, the Chicago school system used radio to teach children during a polio outbreak, demonstrating how technology can be used in a time of crisis.”

Hall of Fame voters pitch a shutout as character questions muddle Cooperstown debate

I’m a big baseball fan, and I’ve been interested over the past several years how the media and fans have reacted to the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in all sports. I was not surprised to hear of the recent vote that kept former MLB players Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling out of the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. In this article for the Washington Post Dave Sheinin examines how the voting works, including an explanation of how “the so-called character clause” in the voting instructions works.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Mary Catherine Bateson Dies at 81; Anthropologist on Lives of Women

When I wrote my dissertation on the life stories of five 19th century women physicians in the U.S., one of the reference books I used was Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life, “an examination of the stop-and-start nature of women’s lives and their adaptive responses — ‘life as an improvisatory art,’ as she wrote.”

Mary Catherine Bateson was the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. “They treated their daughter’s arrival almost as more field work, documenting her birth on film — not a typical practice in 1939 — and continuing to record her early childhood with the intention of using the footage not just as home movies but also as educational material.”

I frequently wish that I had studied more languages. Mary Catherine Bateson earned a Ph.D. in linguistics and Middle Eastern languages, for which she learned Hebrew, classical Arabic, Armenian, Turkish, Tagalog, Farsi and Georgian.

4 Ways to Do More With Your Smartphone Camera

I remember how stupid I felt the first time I realized that I didn’t have to write down the license plate number of a rental car because I could simply snap a photo of it. 

Here New York Times tech guru J.D. Biersdorfer explains a few more great things you can do with your phone and an additional app or two.

Electric Cars Are Better for the Planet – and Often Your Budget, Too

Some day, when we can travel again, my husband and I hope to go on some scenic road trips. We considered getting an electric car but decided that the recharging options currently out there aren’t adequate for where we intend to go. Nonetheless, electric cars are the future of family transportation, according to newly published data that suggest “electric cars may actually save drivers money in the long-run.”

Let us appreciate the grace and uncommon decency of Henry Aaron

In the last few months we’ve lost several baseball legends. Here ESPN senior writer and biographer Howard Bryant remembers Henry Aaron.

Larry King, legendary talk show host, dies at 87

And here’s CNN’s remembrance of another legend who died recently, interviewer Larry King.

At the Inauguration, Amanda Gorman Wove History and the Future Into a Stirring Melody

To end on a positive note, here’s a feature focusing on the other end of the age spectrum, Amanda Gorman, who enthralled everyone who watched her recitation of the poem she wrote for the U.S. Presidential Inauguration.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Parkinson’s Disease Needs an Operation Warp Speed

“It’s the world’s fastest growing neurological disorder. In the past decade, the number of Americans with Parkinson’s disease increased by 35 percent.”

Michael S. Okun is Executive Director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at University of Florida Health, and the Medical Director of the Parkinson’s Foundation. Here he argues that science must accelerate research into treatment for Parkinson’s disease. “In the past decade alone, the number of Americans with Parkinson’s disease increased by 35 percent and the growth was 20 percent faster than what was observed in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Is It Really Too Late to Learn New Skills?

“You missed your chance to be a prodigy, but there’s still growth left for grownups.”

“If learning like a child sounds a little airy-fairy, whatever the neuroscience research says, try recalling what it felt like to learn how to do something new when you didn’t really care what your performance of it said about your place in the world,” writes Margaret Talbot. 

How Murder, She Wrote Captured Our Hearts

My father-in-law grew up in coastal Rockland, Maine, and he faithfully watched Murder, She Wrote every week. Murder, She Wrote “was an hour-long mystery show that aired on CBS from 1984-1996. It starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher, a widow living in Cabot Cove, Maine, who became a bestselling author after her husband died. She wrote popular mystery novels, and she was also handy at solving murders,” writes Liberty Hardy. Here she explains the program’s three features that enthralled audiences: it made us feel smart, we loved the guest stars, and it was silly.

The key to creativity? Be a better listener, says ‘The Artist’s Way’ author Julia Cameron

Last week’s links included the article You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why.

In the article linked here, Seattle Times reporter Nicole Brodeur interviews creativity guru Julia Cameron, best known for her book The Artist’s Way, about her latest book, The Listening Path. Brodeur writes that the book is about “personal transformation through better listening to not just others, but the silence around you.”

Our Favorite Golden Girl Turns 99! See 48 Rare Photos of Betty White Through the Years

Because you can never get too much Betty White.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

I’m signing off as TV critic, but here are six shows I’d happily watch again

Hank Stuever wrote this piece when stepping down as TV critic for the Washington Post. I like it for its description of how television changed during his tenure as critic:

TV, which once seemed a manageable part of the cultural diet, became all-consuming. Netflix released its first big streaming hit, “House of Cards,” in 2013, and the steady supply of TV programs that I once jokingly thought of as an open fire hydrant instead began to resemble a tsunami. The customs of TV were upended: where to watch it, how to watch it, how much of it to binge-watch at a time. Also, new manners: how to talk about it, how not to spoil it for others.

Stuever ends with his list of “shows I reviewed that I would totally watch again.” I thoroughly disagree with the first on his list, “’Twin Peaks: The Return’ (Showtime, 2017).” My husband and I loved the original show but thought that this reboot was a thorough waste of time. However, three of the others he lists were total winners with us: The Americans, Lost, and Mad Men.

Turning the Page on the Year

“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”

Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)

But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.

You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why.

“There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.”

Kate Murphy, author of You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, says that while researching her book, she “earned something incredibly ironic about interpersonal communication: The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them. It’s called the closeness-communication bias and, over time, it can strain, and even end, relationships.”

There’s some good stuff here, including a possible explanation for “why people in close relationships sometimes withhold information or keep secrets from one another.”

No, it’s not weird to talk to yourself. Mental health experts point to pandemic, unrest as possible reasons

“Experts say [self-talk is] common and that, with the added stressors of a pandemic alongside protests over police brutality and race relations in America, self-talk can be a way to feel control in a world that offers individuals very little.”

Why Do Dwarves Sound Scottish and Elves Sound Like Royalty?

My husband and I had just finished three evenings of watching the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy of Lord of the Rings when the photo of Gimli the Dwarf popped up in my email. I had thought about the language of dwarves and elves during the films (the extended versions are LONG movies) and was therefore interested in reading how these fantasy dialects had originated. 

We have J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for the way these characters of fantasy speak. Tolkien, who has a philologist, “would create languages first, then write cultures and histories to speak them, often taking inspiration from the sound of an existing language.” 

Undecided On Getting A Covid-19 Vaccine? Beware Of These Two Cognitive Biases

Dr. Joshua Liao explains how availability bias and confirmation bias may influence our decisions about getting a coronavirus vaccine.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Feeling Socially Awkward? Even Extroverts Are a Little Rusty

“Months of limited mingling have made even extremely outgoing people uncomfortable socializing, ‘like awkward eighth graders attending a school dance for the first time.’”

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results

This article takes a look at “one of the largest growing demographics among the U.S. electorate, one that has increased from around 5% of Americans to over 23% in the last 50 years: ‘Nones’ – that is, the nonreligious.”

Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?

Aimee Nezhukumatathil reviews Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book METAZOA: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves.

Talking out loud to yourself is a technology for thinking

If, like me, you occasionally realize that you’re talking out loud to yourself, this article will comfort you with its explanation. “Speech is not merely a conduit for the transmission of ideas, a replaceable medium for direct communication, but a generative activity that enhances thinking.”

Lesley Ann Warren Reflects On 35 Years Of ‘Clue’ And A Life-Long Journey In Hollywood

Although this article focuses on Lesley Ann Warren’s more recent career, I remember her best for her role in the old TV show Mission: Impossible.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown