Ice bucket activism

I’ve read a lot of complaints about the ice bucket challenge, but I think too many of them are hoping for a better world where people simply give money to charities without viral campaigns to inspire them to do so.  I thus, very much enjoyed this rebuttal to the skepticism from a young ALS sufferer:

Yes, people are spending money on ice to dump over their heads, but that’s an element of fundraising, like making team T-shirts for a charity or bringing cookies to a bake sale. All the cynics who want people to donate in humility and not post it on our social media feeds completely overlook the fundamental reality that humans are social animals. In the hierarchy of needs, we search for community and fulfill the urge to belong, so donating without dumping buckets of water on our heads disconnects us from a cause. It’s about being a part of something.

The hashtag activists actually create that community. Since when did fighting for something—whether a cure for a disease or gay rights—mean that you needed permission to sit with the cool kids at lunch? What’s the harm of having them there, even the ones who ended up there by accident, the people dumping buckets of iced water on their heads with zero connection to the cause? They are the people who end up at a bar where the proceeds go to charity, and they’re only drinking for fun, but who the fuck are you to kick them out of the party? They’re pumping up the crowds, having a fabulous time, and building momentum. Or are you that desperate for your Facebook feed to go back to engagement announcements and mediocre attempts at food photography?

Keep dumping buckets of iced water over your head and I’ll keep “liking” it. The Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the few things that’s given me hope since I got diagnosed with early ALS six weeks ago, at age 29.


If this link works [cool, wordpress handles FB video embeds], here’s my version.  The screaming has been a big hit.

Photo of the day

On the rare occassion my wife was nearby while I was looking at photos, she commented, “I would not drive on that road!”  From the National Geographic Found tumblr:

Motorists pass people on a scenic road atop a cliff overlooking a bay near Trieste, Italy, 1956.Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart, National Geographic Creative

Motorists pass people on a scenic road atop a cliff overlooking a bay near Trieste, Italy, 1956.PHOTOGRAPH BY B. ANTHONY STEWART, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Homeschooling and the common good

I’ve always been someone suspect of homeschooling.  I know a number of parents with special needs kids who have resorted to it because they felt their children’s very unique needs could not be met by the school system.  Personally, I’ve been very pleased with how the school system has done by Alex, but I certainly understand this choice.  A lot of other people, though, I’ll admit to being skeptical.

My first encounter on the issue happened not long after moving to NC I took David to a nearby park and we ended up playing with some other young kids.  I asked the sweet little girl where she went to school.  Her literal response… “Do you know God?”  Umm, okay.  “Sure, I know God,” I responded.  Turns out the public schools don’t and that’s why her parents were homeschooling her.  I don’t need to expound on the idea that it’s a damn good thing that the public schools are not for learning about God, but it seems to me that this is quite different from algebra and grammar anyway, so what exactly is the problem?  Can’t your children learn math, writing, etc., at school and learn about God at home and church?

Anyway, really enjoyed this recent Op Ed in the N&O about homeschooling in NC:

In 2011, 91 percent of homeschooling parents said that one reason they homeschooled was concern about the public school environment. Seventy-seven percent cited “a desire to provide moral instruction,” and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

That homeschooling is increasing is clear. Less clear is what these trends mean for public education in North Carolina and in the United States…

Another way to look at it is that higher-than-ever numbers of parents are removing themselves and their children from the public education system that is such an important part of the culture of the United States – a public education system that needs constant and continuous maintenance to improve. The contract of our public education system includes that such maintenance, at least in part, comes from the families of students in the system.

When families leave in higher and higher numbers, what does that mean for the public education system? And what does it mean for our sense of community?

In her 2012 book “Homeward Bound,” Emily Matchar puts the increasing number of homeschooled students in a historical context. During the social and political reform of the Progressive Era, from 1890 to 1920, Matchar writes, “Parents with high socioeconomic status – the ones with the greatest social and political clout – advocated for policy changes that ultimately benefited everybody,” including a number of school-reform bills, such as a more widely available high school education.

Today, though, Matchar notes, “Historian Janet Golden observes that we’ve abandoned the idea of communal good in favor of individual, family-focused solutions.” That means “there are fewer people … volunteering to improve the public schools.” She describes it as “opting out” of the social contract.

When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects the education of other children, those whose parents don’t have the time or inclination to fight for improved school conditions, those whose parents must work long hours and can’t devote evenings to school projects and PTA meetings. When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects communities for whom schools have long been a source of unity. What does that do to education in North Carolina, education in the United States?

Now, I do understand that many people have a variety of reasons for wanting to homeschool, but when the parents most committed to their children’s education pull out of the school systems that undoubtedly hurts the school systems.  Yes, families have a right to do what’s best for their child, but if some of that effort went into working to improve public schools, than everybody’s child would benefit.

My third son attends an elementary school that is majority-minority (it’s about 30% white).  A lot of the more committed white parents have pulled their kids out for a whiter magnet school further away.  I know it’s not about race for most, but it has left our school with a much higher percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch.  The truth is, my son is still getting a very good education at our neighborhood school.  Would it be even better at the magnet?  Probably.  But the difference is not going to mean the difference between Evan going to Duke versus community college.  Meanwhile, our school benefits from still having committed, higher SES families involved.

Diet Coke diet

Naturally, I cannot let the latest research on diet soda go uncommented upon.  There is some research that correlates diet soda with overweight, but I think it is a great example of correlation does not equal causation.  The other day at lunch when I got my Diet Coke, a friend mentioned that I was about the only thin person they know that drinks diet soda (I can think of many others, prominently JP who is surely the biggest Diet Coke addict I know and reading this post).

I think a lot of overweight people drink diet soda because they are overweight.  But if that’s the only change you make to an unhealthy diet, it surely will not be enough.  As I think about it, most of my healthier friends don’t drink soda at all, diet or otherwise.  That is probably the healthiest course.  But it has always seemed pretty clear to me that if the diet soda is replacing regular soda, that’s very likely got to be a good thing.

Anyway, onto the latest research via James Hamblin (who makes the most wonderful oddball videos on health, by the way) in the Atlantic:

The September issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just published a meta-analysis of the existing research on artificial sweeteners and weight gain. The conclusion lands in support of artificial sweeteners in the right context, specifically when they are substituted for sugar. People tend to see “modest weight loss,” suggesting that low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) indeed “may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight-loss or weight-maintenance plans.”

That might seem obvious, but several studies have suggested that eating/drinking these nutritive sweeteners actually leads to weight gain. That has to do with satiety signals, effects on insulin levels, changes in the body’s fluid balances, and other not-immediately-apparent downstream factors…

Those are all just correlations, but consuming artificial sweeteners in isolation has also been shown to make people hungrier later on. Dr. Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a recent literature review that since most artificial sweeteners aren’t consumed in isolation, that’s not really an issue. So the key distinction in studying and using these sweeteners is the idea of replacement as opposed to addition…

“It would not be expected for a single dietary change, i.e., replacement of sugar with low-calorie sweeteners, to cause clinically meaningful weight loss,” the current study reads. Weight management is really about overall dietary and lifestyle patterns. But it’s worth considering if you think of an afternoon Diet Coke as a bonus, as opposed to replacing a regularly scheduled Coke heavy.

In my case, the strategic replacement is exactly what I’m doing.  Since I often track my food intake weight watchers style (and stick with weight watchers principles even when not tracking), I’m quite confident that my lunch time binge of 4-5 Diet Coke (or Diet Dr Pepper at the places fortunate enough to have it) are simply replacing regular soda (or water) and not leading me to consume any extra calories.  And now I can say the science is backing me up.

Photo of the day

From a recent Telegraph photos of the week gallery:

This jaw-dropping shot shows a shadow 15 miles long.  The distinctive dark triangular shape has been cast by Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain at 3,776 metres high.  Kent photographer Kris J Boorman captured the amazing image from the mountain's summit on a visit there two years ago.  The 28-year-old's photograph, which he took at sunrise around 5am, has now garnered international praise after he posted it online on Reddit last week. This was actually Kris' second attempt at capturing the spectacle. After being left unsatisfied with a picture he took the year before, he had arranged to scale the peak the following year especially to try again.  Kris' photograph is notable as the view is often obscured by fog or low-hanging clouds. 'When the time came to shoot the shadow I had an absolutely crystal clear sky - near unheard of for Fuji outside of winter,' he says.

The distinctive dark triangular shape of Japan’s highest mountain, Mt Fuji, casts a 15 mile shadow. Kent photographer Kris J Boorman captured the image from the mountain’s summit (3,776 metres) on a visit there two years ago. The 28-year-old’s photograph, which he took at sunrise around 5am, has now garnered international praise after he posted it online on Reddit last week. This was actually Kris’s second attempt at capturing the spectacle. After being left unsatisfied with a picture he took the year before, he had arranged to scale the peak the following year especially to try again. Kris’s photograph is notable as the view is often obscured by fog or low-hanging clouds. ‘When the time came to shoot the shadow I had an absolutely crystal clear sky – near unheard of for Fuji outside of winter,’ he says.Picture: Kris J Boorman/Rex Features

Quick hits (part II)

1) The complex historical factors behind poverty in NC.

2) A journalist volunteered to go to prison (you can do that!) in Arizona.  It wasn’t pretty.

3) Love Michael Pollan’s takedown of the Paleo diet.

4) Can you really say you are sure there’s no such thing as Bigfoot?

5) Very nice essay on the dumbing down of America.

6) On the parallels between Voter ID laws and leash laws for unicorns.  Love this.

7) Love this from a former Marine on the bad combination of military weapons given to police officers without proper training in how to use military weapons.

8) Did you hear about Facebook’s plan to tag satirical posts (e.g., Onion, etc.) because too many people are fooled by them.  Sad.  Love this website that has actual reactions to Onion posts where people did not get the satire.  Good, good stuff.

9) There was an absolutely horrible Op-Ed from a cop in the Washington Post about how citizens need to meekly obey all police authority and we’d have no problems.  I wanted to write a post and didn’t.  Big Steve wrote a better one than I would have anyway.

10) Great piece from Jon Lee Anderson on ISIS and James Foley.  A big part of the problem is that Europeans pay ransoms (not that this would have helped Foley).  They shouldn’t.  And a nice Vox piece on what Obama should do about ISIS.

11) I love cave art.  I’m still waiting for my wife to figure out that I want her to surprise me with some sometime (a reproduction, obviously– though I sure wish I could see the real thing some day).  Some scientists are now suggesting that art is part of the feminization of the human species which proved crucial for the development of human cooperation and society:

A new scientific-minded guess at this riddle is both intriguing and politically appealing, not to say politically correct: it suggests that ape-men made art and culture only when ape-men finally became more like ape-women. A group of five scientists just last week proposed that the great symbolic transformation happened at around the time the human face, and the hormones that shape its growth, became—and this is the scientists’ word—feminized. Indeed, that’s the title of a paper in this month’s issue of Current Anthropology: “Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity.”

The argument is tight enough. “Social tolerance” seems, from long anthropological observation, not to mention common sense, to be necessary for symbolic communication: if you can’t stay put in the circle around the fire long enough to listen, there’s no point in sharing good stories. As human groups got bigger, more social tolerance is what they had to have. Very early man, alas, of the kind who appears on the fossil record for some four hundred thousand years, shows every sign of social impatience; his big, testosterone-fuelled brows seem made merely to intimidate his fellow early man—to scare him (or her) away before the talking and symbol-sharing can even start. As testosterone ebbed and the aggressively masculine stare-downs faded, Paleolithic life had to become less a scene red in tooth and claw and more like an afternoon program on NPR, with thoughtful-voiced disputants sharing the day’s news and seeking its moral points.

12) Nut allergies are quite the growing problem these days.  Immunotherapy can be quite effective, but it’s long and hard.  Here’s an idea… change the nuts themselves to be less allergenic.  It’s the early stages, but seems to hold some promise.

13) North and South Carolina are working together to clarify their border– which will apparently be modified.  Pretty amazing to think that state borders could have been wrong all this time.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a blue heron at Great Falls, Maryland

Sun Salutation

Photograph by Kevin H., National Geographic Your Shot

A blue heron catches the last rays of a setting sun at Great Falls National Park in Maryland.

“I go there often because the herons make great subjects for long exposures against the falls,” writes Your Shot member Kevin H. “After shooting for about a minute or two, I finally noticed one standing on the rocks. I loved how the glowing mist was drifting behind it and that the rocks were illuminated by the sunset.”

%d bloggers like this: