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Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.To buy on-line use links here (the Penner site: click on icon for selected site to purchase) and here

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here.

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? Buy here:

 Amazon US

Kobo

Indiebound

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Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Click here for Wolves and Deer 

or here for the paperback.

Click here for Nook.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

It’s also available at the Spirit Shoppe in Pella. Thank you for your interest!

1919: Life in the US–Health, hygiene, and a rural-urban divide

The influenza epidemic was raging in the winter of 1918-1919. Most of the death came from bacterial pneumonia following the influenza. Maternal mortality rates which had fallen to about 6 per thousand for white women and 14 per thousand for black women doubled during the flu epidemic. (Phylon (1960-)Vol. 38, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1977), pp. 259-266). If you are up for reading more about the pandemic, here’s a book about it. 

Infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and enteritis  (frequently associated with food poisoning) were the leading causes of death. Diphtheria was also common, Forty percent of deaths from infectious disease were those under age 5. Antibiotics weren’t widely used until the 1940s. My Granny Grace lost her baby brother during this time and my Grandma Gladys regaled me with horror stories such as puss dripping from people’s ears because there weren’t effective treatments for ear infections.

Nearly all women gave birth at home. Doctors made house calls and most doctors were trained as general practitioners. Sometimes, Mom was given a sniff of a pain killer such as ether or chloroform. A few women demanded a combination of morphine and scopolamine known as Twilight Sleep. These painkillers were later abandoned as being too dangerous. With the pain and dangers of childbirth being impossible to avoid, at long last, birth control (mostly condoms) was legal when prescribed by a doctor.

Cigarette smoking was gaining popularity because cigarettes had been distributed free to soldiers during WW1. (They’d also been given books and literacy also increased.)

Bacteria had been identified as causing disease and public health officials worked to teach proper hygiene. During WW1, many recruits were unhealthy and had terrible teeth. This resulted in a new emphasis in dental hygiene in 1919. Around this time, dental schools became affiliated with medical schools and universities instead of being independent and inconsistent in their teachings. A few years earlier, around 1900, only 7% of all people in the US brushed their teeth.  

In 1919, your toothbrush, if you had one, would look like this and be made of rubber.  (thanks to Wikipedia. for the image)

Thankfully, they chewed gum,

By 1930, about 65% of the population brushed regularly.

Public health officials worked tirelessly to et people to be more sanitary and to brush their teeth.

x-rays were newly discovered and blood banks were established. The whole notion of how babies were made on a cellular level gained scrutiny. With few regulations, plenty of quackery abounded. Radium was seen as a cure-all, although it was dangerously radioactive.

Most homes didn’t have a refrigerator until the 1940s. The most common refrigerant was ammonia, which, although still one of the best refrigerants out there, can kill you and stinks if there is a pipe leak. Ice boxes were used instead. Stoves of 1919 were flat glass gas heated ranges and smaller than the old types that used wood or coal. Click here to see stove photos. Coal still heated homes by heating steam for radiators. Rumor has it that Pella was blanketed in an unpleasant coal haze that could be seen for miles around. Having an easy to clean kitchen became important and tiles surrounding food preparation areas was an important part of a modern kitchen. Scrutable white tiles were de rigor in kitchens as well as bathrooms, where an elegant clawfoot tub under a window allowed homeowners to relax in luxury. 

Candlestick phones, telegrams, and letters were common forms of communication. Around 30% of homes had a telephone. Due to the high cost of wordiness with these devices and an appreciation for efficiency begun with the development of thermodynamics, brevity of speech was valued. I’ve written about this effect on literature here. This push for efficiency brought us assembly lines.

With the war over, Americans were restless for change. Women wanted equality. The Suffragette movement was in full force. 1919 would be the last year where women weren’t allowed to vote.  Labor strikes were a common occurrence. Women and laborers had held the nation together during the war. They wanted their share of the coming prosperity. Black Southerners moved to the North for work and to flee persecution. This was not always welcome. They burst into the North with music and art. Officially, this is called the Great Migration and you can listen to the music here. City folk were entertained with dance halls and movie palaces. Henry Ford flexed his muscle with the production of efficiently assembled, affordable automobiles, and decent wages. A better life seemed possible. For city folks,  1919 was bursting with promise.

Left out of much of the excitement were the rural folks–who made up about half of the population. Most still lacked electricity and running water. They hauled water, lit kerosene lamps, and used out houses. Despite hardships, those who had 40 acres or more had a sense of self sufficiency.

In 1919, there were many Black farmers. By the end of the next decade, they were driven from their land by lynching and other forms of discrimination, and would migrate to the cities, leaving rural America nearly 80% white. Today, only about 20% of US residents are rural.

1919: a hated ethnic group

 My house was built in 1919. I’d like to look at some events from that era. What was shaping the world when my house was built? What progress has been made, and not made?

Much has changed since 1919. Science has marched on, clothes have gotten more comfortable, lifestyles have evolved. In politics, not much has changed, unfortunately. Let’s begin with the grim and take a look at world events from 1919.

1919 marked the end of The Great War, known now as WW1, a war that saw tanks, trench warfare, submarine warfare, and poison gas. The war was viewed by most as “senseless slaughter” that set up many problems we still have today. There was no clear winner on Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 1918)

Some lessons were learned, at least for a while: don’t go to war when diplomacy might work and don’t start a war thinking it will be over quickly.  No, we didn’t retain the lessons but in 1919, there was all hope we would.

The adversaries in WW1 were Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States) and  Central Powers which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. With the end of the war, 1919 saw the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire (sometimes called the Turkish Empire, based around the Mediterranean).  These folks had helped defeat the Roman Empire. They had a large slaved-based army lead by sultans and a monarch ruling ruthlessly for hundreds of years. The Empire fell into a state of relative peace for a time and became anti-science, favoring religion instead. This area had been the cradle of chemistry, but science gradually slipped out of vogue as being worldly and not focused on god. Thus, the Ottoman Empire lost its edge. Napoleon took a good swipe at the Empire and when the Ottomans attacked Russia in 1914, other countries piled on to defeat them. Lesson learned here: don’t let religion rule over your scientists. 

The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. It was hard on Germany, put all of the blame on them,  and ignored the suffering and starving its citizens had endured.  In the United States, German-Americans were the most hated ethnic group. They were accused of being ruthless and cruel and called Huns, although they were primarily beer brewers. President Woodrow Wilson, in perhaps one of the only punctuation prejudices known to history, attacked their German-American self-identification, calling the hyphen a dagger and a weapon. The result was a loss of German-speaking communities, German presses, and even a loss of German last names as people changed the spelling to hide their their nationality: Huber became Hoover, Joder became Yoder, Muller changed to Miller, and even Haustein turned into Hausten. This pressure was pronounced in cities like Milwaukee. Less so in San Diego, where my family lived, thus no change in spelling, although a Navy captain changed his name to Hausten. Did you ever wonder why the element tungsten has the symbol W? It’s because the German term for the element was Wolfram, and Germans who discovered/isolated the element named it thus. In a fit of pettiness, the name was changed but the symbol was used far too much to meet the same fate.

Ethnic prejudices serve political advantage. They can unite people against an Other. Long term, they do nothing positive. This is one lesson we as a nation have not completely learned. At least we still send kids to Kindergarten, but the confusion on the periodic table of elements remains.

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The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. It was hard on Germany, put all of the blame on them,  and ignored the suffering and starving its citizens had endured.  In the United States, German-Americans were the most hated ethnic group. They were accused of being ruthless and cruel and called Huns, although they were primarily beer brewers. President Woodrow Wilson, in perhaps one of the only punctuation prejudices known to history, attacked their german-American status, calling the hyphen a dagger and a weapon. The result was a loss of German-speaking communities, German presses, and even a loss of German last names as people changed the spelling to hide their their nationality, Huber becoming Hoover and Joder becoming Yoder, Muller changing to Miller, and even Haustein becoming Hausten. 

 

 

 

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The Haustein’s of my last name didn’t feel the pressure to change. They were living in San Diego and didn’t feel the pressure that those in Milwaukee and St. Louis did. One family member who changed was in the Navy and lived in Hawaii. 

Rural poverty–reality and fiction

In my forthcoming novel, there’s a palipitable divide between rich and poor; it’s a dystopia, after all. And who are the poor in this fictional society? Although people in the city of Cochtonville struggle, the true poverty is in the rural areas. This is realistic. Although not all sources agree, most of the poor in the United States are rural.  How does a rural area become poor?

Once a society depends on agriculture, the rich are those who can grab the land. The poor have no land, or have it taken from them. Here in the US, high poverty groups have had their land taken through violent tactics, as spoils of war, through foreclosure, or have been forced off their land through fear and intimidation.

Rural poverty is a world-wide problem. A study in China found these complicating factors to rural poverty: an abundance of children, low education and skill levels in rural workers, and poor health in rural communities. (Zhang, Jinping, et al. “Analyzing Influencing Factors of Rural Poverty in Typical Poverty Areas of Hainan Province: A Case Study of Lingao County.” Chinese Geographical Science, vol. 28, no. 6, 2018, p. 1061+. Academic OneFile, )

Things in the United States are not much different. Besides land grabs, factors promoting rural poverty in the United States include lack of education and birth control for rural women, environmental factors such as poor land and bad weather/climate change limiting rural growth, and the lack of population in rural communities due to fewer of social, cultural, and employment opportunities. As previously mentioned, not owning your own land is a contributing factor to rural poverty across the globe.

Solutions to rural poverty include a guaranteed minimum income and more economic opportunities in rural areas. A living wage, not just a job, and affordable housing are key needs of all people in poverty, including the rural poor.

Rural poverty was once much greater in the United States. The Great Society War on poverty made great strides in diminishing poverty and rural poverty. However, it fell victim to tax cuts and the cost of war.It’s estimated that 25% of rural children are impoverished. Although this is better than it was 60 years ago, the social safety net in the United States lags behind that of developed nations. 

In a recent study, rural high poverty communities were found to have “food insecurity,” limited access to health care, chronic disease, and a lack of transportation. Believe it or not, rural people have trouble accessing and affording fruits and vegetables. They often rely on food pantries and this is associated with being over-weight. Why? Food pantry diets are mainly shelf stable, low cost foods which are less nutritious. When poor people have food, they binge due to insecurity. They need help making healthier choices and they need access to healthier choices. (Stlika et al. BMC Public Health, 2018. 18:1055.) Canned foods can be nutritious and even fresh food, if stored extensively, may lose nutrients. The key is to make sure enough of this food is available.


One thing poor do not need is being shamed. The notion that the poor are culpable for their fate goes back a long way and is most often used by those who don’t want people to vote to help the poor. It leads to poor people hiding their poverty in shame. Most people in this country are not poor. When the poor are segregated from others, it is easier to foist the notion of undeserving poor on an naive public.Public spaces are one arena where poor can share in society. When these places are privatized or segregated due to fees, we as a nation lose the ability to understand poverty. Then, we believe fictions about them.

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Unstable States and angry politics

 

Scapegoat blame background concept glowingI come from a family of teachers who liked to discuss politics and even argue about it. I have been watching the rise of angry politics. In my own home state, I saw one of the most balanced, fair politicians defeated by someone angry who made accusations against voters that cost the state lots of money. Why and who gravitates to this kind of unsubstantiated rhetoric? It’s a good thing to review as I move forward with my series, Unstable States, which begins with Mixed In.

There has been a good analysis of who supports angry politicians in the Netherlands.

What causes people to vote for the angry blowhards is insecurity. The most insecure people in a society are not at its top or bottom but in the middle. In a group, the people who most want to conform are those in the middle of the pack. People at the top are too secure to conform and those at the bottom don’t like the group enough to adhere to its norms. Thus, angry politicians knowingly play to the middle.

Scapegoating a group of people who can’t easily fight back and blaming them for the middle’s troubles has been a successful tactic of angry politicians practically since time began. Where does the word come from? In ancient days, a goat was selected to represent sins and cast out of the town to remove all evils. Groups of people have also been identified by politicians to be rejected by society. This is always a group without the means to effectively fight back. Thus, the people in the middle will fall for rhetoric that things would be better for them if only some authority figure did something about the lowly scapegoats.

Who likes authoritarians and who resists? This was studied extensively following the Holocaust. The Milgram study created a series of experiments in which volunteers were asked to deliver electric shocks to others who screamed in pain. Shockingly, most button pushers complied, especially if the study took place in an authoritative setting such as Yale.

People who follow authority are not much different than those who don’t. Those attracted to authoritarians tend to think harshly of those lesser than themselves and have less empathy for others. Most of all, cultural factors play a role in the love or distrust of authority figures. People with high insecurity are most likely to be conformists. Thus, creating an unstable society is highly beneficial to those who want conformist followers. Another factor that creates conformity is scrutiny. People tend to conform when others are watching.

Fortunately, egalitarian societies, ones that are best for all, have existed since before scapegoats began. However, they are harder to maintain as populations get larger and there is more competition for food and resources. People tend to share and cooperate with their kin. When it is too hard to identify kin, leaders emerge to make decisions for the group. The best leaders are those others can trust. However, competition gives rise to self aggrandizers who come up with reasons why they deserve more trust and others deserve less. These people are great at claiming the spotlight, motivating others,  and solving problems in the short run. Sadly, mean authoritarians will probably always be with us for these reasons.

A societal factor that plays into the selection of kinder leaders who are more egalitarian is low fertility.  Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, low fertility allows women to take prominent roles in society and become educated. If this happens to the women of a group, it gives a group more social visibility and acceptance.

Egalitarian leaders tend to get less done. Motivating people to share and creating a sense of family is more time consuming than fear based politics. Cooperation takes more work. It is, however, the basis of society. Ironically, egalitarian societies have a lot of social cohesion that could be viewed as conformity.  Yes, even egalitarian societies have conformity although they do not coalesce around anger.

In the case of the Netherlands, educated people rejected angry politics. Why?  “Highly educated people …are socially mobile.. provid(ed) with opportunities rather than threats….Feelings of insecurity, whether justified or not, led people to vote for the PVV (angry party).” Education lessens the likelihood of viewing a politician who is angry as a valid authority figure. This is why, historically, educated people and those who are disenfranchised work together to stand up to any authoritarians who use scapegoating to motivated the “middle.”

What is the best way to reject angry authority and its use of scapegoating? Besides promoting education, the simple act of standing up to it and doing this consistently and repeatedly created heroes in the Milgram experiment. This tactic has been illustrated historically as with the development of the birth control pill and worker safety regulations. Scientists tend to be secure in their knowledge and challenge authority as well. In fact, science can’t move forward without some challenging of the status quo. Science provides a unique problem to authoritarian leaders who both need it and squash it.

In summary, creating a political dystopia involves several factors: insecurity, authoritarianism, scapegoating, scrutiny, conformity, social stratification, anger, encouraging fertility, and anti-intellectualism. Most angry politicians embrace some or all of these policies. If you don’t like these tactics, you must do more than vote against them. Sadly, you must speak out against them as well because when people are silent, these tactics are effective.

Climate Change–no, we are not debating when there are only 12 years left

global warming and extreme weather concept. man drowning in the

Each year since I’ve been a chemist, I’ve measured a higher level of background carbon dioxide in my lab. Every year more, like an invasion of ants marching. Like a steady diet of candy. Like one more blanket when you are in front of a fire. Carbon dioxide is natural but too much of it warms the Earth and causes changes in weather and ocean current patterns! What will happen if this continues and our climate is irreversibly changed?

Here in the Midwest, we face temperature extremes, flooding and droughts alternating with deluges. Tornados could become more damaging. Some crops will not grow as well with elevated carbon dioxide. Corn is one of those crops. Other plants will grow but have fewer nutrients. 

Climate change promises disease-spreading insects, more bacterial infections, mental health issues, air pollution, and other health problems… a new report says we have twelve years to stop this horror.

Do scientists believe that human activity, mostly burning fossils fuels, is changing the planet? Yes they do.

97% of climate scientists say it is undoubtedly happening and a whole host of scientific organizations agree.

Chemists have been warning about this since the 1890s.  The American Chemical Society, of which I am a member, has this to say:

“Comprehensive scientific assessments of our current and potential future climates clearly indicate that climate change is real, largely attributable to emissions from human activities, and potentially a very serious problem.” (2004)4

The American Physical Society (physics folks) released this statement “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” (2007)8

Click here for more, many more organizations who agree.

There is not a debate. There is more carbon dioxide in the air and it is changing our climate.  Here is the evidence.

Sometimes denier die-hards say “What about global cooling? Didn’t scientists predict that? A couple of scientists did. The idea was that pollution in the atmosphere would reflect the sun. This does cause cooling; there is cooling after volcanic eruptions for example.  However, these few guys vastly underestimated the extent of global warming from human sources and used outdated computer models to make their prediction. You would not use a computer from the 70s to do any research today. Why would anyone think scientists would find information, pushed by a few scientists, and disputed by others, was worth anything today? The real question is, why are people still repeating this erroneous claim? Who is spreading this misinformation?

The misinformation is spread by many “institutes” and foundations.” (Click to see who is lying.)

Here is information about lying asses in the United States.

Who funds them? Most of them in the U.S. claim to be “Libertarian” and have ties to the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers are known to educators because they send out books about why scientists don’t believe climate change. I got one myself. It was BS.

Why would they care? They mostly make toilet paper. Well, not really. They own pipelines and some energy companies, too.  They own oil refineries. They own tar sands. Some cite their ties with China and Russia–two of the biggest polluters. Oh, and when they make toilet paper, they are huge polluters. They also pollute the air around the refineries with particulates.

Other deniers, such as the science writer for the Wall Street Journal, are connected with the petroleum industry.

There are 100 companies, and their investors, who are responsible for much of the climate problems we face, everything from extreme weather to physical symptoms.

The people making big bucks from this impending disaster think they have enough money to save them from the consequences. They probably are banking on making money from the natural disasters. They will be happier with fewer riff-raff in their neighborhoods. Do you have billions of dollars to save yourself or do you want to do something meaningful with your life over he next 12 years?

What can you as a private citizen do when there are so many greedy people in the world?  Some of the top evil doers are not even in the same country–companies from China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia top our own as polluters. Here are a few suggestions of what you can do to help: (click link )

But mostly it is not you–it’s the companies making money from coal, oil, and gas who are to blame for suppressing information and casting doubt.

The best thing you can do is  Do not vote for climate change deniers. They lie and block any solutions. They are propped up with money and lies supplied by those who are causing the havoc. Here are the well established deniers in Iowa.

DO Vote for Dave Loebsack!

Inform others about climate change. Thanks to the Koch brothers, most people in the US don’t know that there is scientific agreement about climate change.

Scientists know carbon dioxide is increasing and is adding another layer of blankets to the Earth.

Don’t let it slide. Every part of the world will suffer from climate change. Now is not the time for silence. Your average denier needs to hear from you. “I believe the many scientists and the 97% of experts who say that we must stop climate change before it is too late.”

Climate Change is real. No, scientists are not debating, unsure, or getting rich talking about it. If the later was true, climate scientists would be the billionaires and could buy their own politicians. Scientists make money telling the truth and coming up with solutions to problems. Help them.

 

 

 

 

Violence Against Women

Did you know that the Violence Against Women Act is up for renewal and that many in Congress, including Chuck Grassley, have voted against it in the past?

“If Congress fails to reauthorize VAWA (Violence Against Women Act)  this year, the impact will be hard felt. Not only could it mean a loss of essential services that enable survivors to heal and seek justice, but it will inhibit states’ ability to fully prosecute sex crimes.”

 

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From: http://www.konbini.com/us/inspiration/aria-watson-trump-quotes-photo-project/

Violence, and especially violence against women, is a horror we can do something about.

About 10 % of all relationships are abusive. The question is, who abuses their partner and why?

Abusive People often can’t express themselves and are unable to communicate effectively with others. Furthermore, they are “fearfully attached” to their partners.  Some studies have identified these traits in abusers: highly sensitive to criticism, blame the victim and or circumstances, do not take responsibility for their actions, do not fit in well with society, have low levels of empathy. They do not like themselves–they have a lot of shame about what they are doing to their partners. They become frustrated easily, can be irresponsible and find it hard to have fun. Click here for more.

Fortunately, this behavior can be modified through therapy and by society.

What about rapists? They are a more complicated bunch, and society cheers them on in subtle ways. Around 600 women in the United States are raped by men each day. Most often, these are women under the age of 24. Rape is a crime that is reflective of society.

“Young people who gang up on and violate a semi-conscious woman and post pictures on Facebook are not acting on some individually dreamed up sexual fantasy but rather following group norms. We know from psychological research that once a group is established, the immediate pressure to adhere to the in-group code will often override the desire and ability to reach across to a member of the out-group.”

Men are most likely to rape and coerce women when they have peers who express hostility towards women. However, rapists may also be anti-social people. who express hostility on-line or to themselves. We can’t so quickly write off rape as a crime done by a person outside of social norms as is more often seen with domestic abusers. Sometimes, people learn from movies and other aspects of our culture that rape is okay if the woman is drunk or you are a cool. Click here for a very good link.

Most men who violate women see it as a part of being masculine. Some see it as an entitlement, such as they bought the woman something or they are rich and famous. These rapists, unlike many perpetrators of other forms of violence, are self assured and entitled.

Often, these people objectify women. “Sexual objectification changes the way people view women by reducing them to sexual objects—denied humanity and an internal mental life, as well as deemed unworthy of moral concern.”

In other words, people who see women as sexual objects do not care about their feelings when the women are wronged.

Women can be complacent in violence against other women. A person can be a women or have daughters and still be a part of society’s acceptance of Violence Against Women. Laws against violence help prevent violence but even more, social shunning of violence is important in halting it. Unfortunately, we have a whole cast of ugly characters in office who normalize it at this time.

All is not lost but everyone, everyone must speak up, now more than ever. Urge your congressional representative to renew VAWA. Grassley has voted against the Violence Against Women Act twice. He has also voted against MLK Day.  Vote him out in 2020. There is no place for perpetrators and supporters of violence in our society and certainly not in the senate!

(PDF) Sexual Objectification Increases Rape Victim Blame and Decreases Perceived Suffering. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249136582_Sexual_Objectification_Increases_Rape_Victim_Blame_and_Decreases_Perceived_Suffering[accessed Oct 09 2018].

 

Mercurial Madness

I didn’t read much about it in the local or state news but  last December, a Mercury jug containing 5 kg (11 pounds) of the toxic metal was spilled in an Iowa bar.

If that isn’t bad enough, the mercury was gathered up and  put in the basement of a rental house where kids found it and played with it in the sandbox. 

Where does mercury come from?  Why is it toxic and how bad is it? 

Here are some facts about mercury:

  1. Depositphotos_140325262_l-2015Mercury is an element, meaning it can’t be broken into anything smaller. You can’t get rid of it by burning it up, for example.
  2. In fact, you do not want to burn mercury. It is a metal but with very weak bonds between atoms. It has a low vapor pressure and heating it makes it into a gas. This gas is very toxic. It is easily absorbed into the lungs. It moves to the brain where it causes central nervous system poisoning. Mercury is toxic via all routes: ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact.
  3. Mercury poisons by sticking to the sulfur in enzymes, causing them to unravel. What does this do? It harms many different enzymes–it interferes with ones that build your skeleton, it inhibits food digestion, it ruins nerve connections, and it causes hydrogen peroxide to build up in your blood.
  4. Mercury can get into the air from burning coal and oil. Forty two percent of mercury in our air comes from coal burning. Since mercury is heavy and doesn’t change into anything else, this can be breathed in, and get into our water and soil.
  5. Another source of mercury is gold mining and processing, especially in small scale operations.Peru is known for a high number of these. They rely on using a mercury amalgam to extract the gold.
  6. Mercury is a dense metallic liquid. It was once known as quicksilver. The word mercurial means flighty or fast.
    mercurial-superfly-360-elite-firm-ground-soccer-cleat-WOv7pN
    Can there be a much better name for a shoe than Mercurial Superfly? https://store.nike.com/
  7. It’s about 14 x more dense than water, meaning that a gallon of mercury would weigh 113 pounds.
  8. It has the symbol Hg meaning “liquid silver” or “hydroargyrum”.
  9. Mercury is found as the ore cinnabar, chemical name mercury (II) sulfide, HgS. Most of mercury used today comes from mines in Spain or Italy.
  10. It is commonly used in electrical switches and was once frequently used in thermometers and in dental fillings known as amalgams. An amalgam is a combination of mercury and other metals. It’s tough and easy to squeeze into small places. These are thought to be safe in adults and mercury not detected in breast milk of mothers who have mercury fillings. 
  11. Dental crowns do not contain mercury.
  12. Mercury pollution has caused Minamata disease, a birth defect harming the skeleton and a pollution related disease. Click here for more about the people who were affected.
  13. Many people think of the Mad Hatter when they think of mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in felt processing and hat-making from the 17th century up until 1941.
  14. Mercury was used to treat syphilis up through the early 1900s.
  15. A mercury salt with fluorescein, mercurochrome, is still used as an antiseptic in some places.
  16. Mercury can exist in several forms: elemental (as found in the Iowa bar) , inorganic (cinnabar), and organic (the most toxic).
  17. Mercury is water soluble. It builds up in fish and seafood–the larger the animal, the more mercury. This diagram shows that the elemental mercury becomes organic mercury and bioaccumulates in the food chain.

    MercuryFoodChain.svg
    Imagine of mercury accumulation from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_in_fish#/media/File:MercuryFoodChain.svg
  18. Fish contains more mercury than vaccines.
  19. Mercury is in some vaccines in a small amount. Consider the alternative which is getting the flu.
  20. Mercury is heavy and exists in the depths of the Earth. Besides mining and coal burning, volcanos release tons of vaporized mercury into the air, especially Pacific volcanos.
  21. Mercury poisoning continues today. “Analysis of hair samples from 1044 women of reproductive age in 37 locations across 25 countries on 6 continents revealed that 42% of women sampled had mercury levels over the US EPA limit level of 1 ppm, above which brain damage, IQ loss, and kidney damage may occur. Additionally, 53% of the global sample exceeded the level 0.58 ppm of mercury, a level now associated with the onset of fetal neurological damage. Exposures were higher and more pervasive in communities near mercury gold mining, in the Pacific Islands, and in communities near industrial contamination.”
  22. New laws will weaken our restrictions on mercury emissions. We will be dooming people to nervous system, skeletal, and blood disorders and putting poison in our oceans. Thes laws are a “major weakening’ of mercury rules. Folks, that’s madness!

Porch Talk

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My house when it was new, around 1919.

 

When my house was build 100 years ago, it had a porch.  Historically, porches in the United States have a cultural significance. Porches were places to cool off in the days prior to air conditioning, to commune with nature, and talk with neighbors and passersby. They were designed to be something unique to the US, taking cues from Dutch, Western Caribbean and Italian homes.  According to freelance writer Lynn Freehill-Maye “In the young U.S., the porch became a signature of the proud new federal architectural style. It developed a folk-mythic history from Mount Vernon and Monticello onward. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set the trend with grand-entrance platforms to their estate houses. James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley were all elected president after successful front-porch campaigns, a tactic popular in the late 1800s in which candidates stayed home and asked voters to come to their homes if they wanted to hear a campaign speech. For everyone else, the porch worked as a spot to do homely chores like shuck beans,” (link)

As air conditioning became widespread, the need for porches lessened. By the 1960s, porches had disappeared from new homes as ranch and split levels became popular. and later, a large garage in the front of the home. During this time, my house had its porch torn off and an attached garage added

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By the late 50s, early 60s, my house had its porch torn off and a prominent garage added.

In the 90s, porches began their revival with about 40% of new homes built having a front porch. My house, on the other hand, had no porch. It looked okay but as if it had no time period and was missing something. And oh, the front door took a beating.

 

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It looks like it’s missing something.

 

The porch is making a comeback.  In 2004 half of all new homes came with a porch and in 2016, 65% of homes were built with a front porch–particularly in the east- south central region of the US. The preferred porch is an open porch with no screens. There are even concerts held on porches these days, Porchfests they are called.

I decided that for the house’s 100th birthday, I’d put a porch back on the house.

To start things off, I found a porch I liked on line. I didn’t want to go for the wrap around of the original because the house has been modified to not accommodate this style.

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I contacted a builder and he made a sketch that fit the house and he gave a reasonable quote.

 

sketch

We replaced the door and decided to reopen a transom window to let in more light.The carpenter said that the house is still as square as the day it was built.

Here’s the inside view of that.IMG_5578

We picked the fixtures to match one inside.

Here’s the finished porch.IMG_5590

Psychologically, the entryway feels more cozy and approachable now. The house fits with the neighborhood.

We need to re-stucco the cement–I’ll update you with a post on how to do that–and add appropriate plantings and furniture.

And yes, we painted the ceiling blue to scare away evil spirits and welcome the sky inside. Next summer, the whole house will get a new coat of paint. Not bad for 100 years!

Is your purse big enough and other bookish concerns

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My great grandfather’s copy of The Last Puritan with a green cover. Keep or throw? Read below.

My first published novel will soon be out of print! The publisher, a small one, decided to close because of declining e-book profits. Ebooks have been good money makers for small and independently published books. They offer a better percentage payback for authors. They are low risk and low-cost alternatives to print books. At one time, a third of all readers bought them. But sales continue to drop. And I understand it. I haven’t read from my Kindle in months. Reading from a screen is not relaxing for me.

It’s not visual fatigue that is making ebooks less popular. Ebooks do not cause more eyestrain, especially if they are not read for over twenty minutes at a time and if you do not wear corrective lenses (although this is still being debated.) They may cause head and neck problems and most people find that glasses made for general use do not work with computers. This is because electronic print is not as crisp or clear as those created with ink and paper. E-reading many cause dry eyes as people do not blink as much when reading from an electronic page.

There’s a reason that people don’t enjoy e-books. Reading from “plasma” is different neurologically from reading on print. Screen reading is superficial and less deep. Your eyes jerk more. Your brain reads less completely. It’s skimming. It affects you. You become “cognitively impatient.” When you search for answers, you will tend to grab onto the simplest one, not the one that fits the data or information the best. You don’t dig in.

People don’t relish the page as they used to due to cognitive impatience. Novelists have adapted by writing “quick reads”–page turners– that are easy to follow and understand. Sometimes, this writing is formulaic. Critics say it is not “internal” enough and moves too quickly.  Supporters of the new, fast style say that these books are fun and exciting and less about the boring psychological struggles of rich, white people. I aspire to write in the middle in a niche form known as upmarket. You can see from my critics that I at times get blasted from both sides. However, it seems that “real” readers are rebelling not against the form but in the way it is presented. They demand print books. And yet, when an author submits a book for consideration, it’s understandably electronic, creating a gap between writing for print and getting your book in print.

This I find that cognitive impatience gets in the way when I grade on-line.  I’m okay for the first few papers and then, suddenly, I can’t take it all in. This is why when I grade a short story or research paper, I always print off a copy and write on it. Yes, I know that I can use many programs to allow me to comment on student papers electronically. It isn’t as deep. I write comments on their papers. Sometimes my students say that reading handwriting reminds them of their grandparents. I see this as a good thing.

The same thing is true when I write novels. I compose electronically but I must read paper, and over and over, as I polish the manuscript. Does this create a disconnect with readers? Who should I write for–print lovers or e-book fans? My latest book has sold more ebooks than print.

The situation is even murkier for professors. Print books are expensive and students use them for a limited time. They must be shipped and if students don’t order them promptly or if the books are backordered, they can miss many assignments. E-books are cheaper, easier to get,  and create less waste. However, I once had my students purchase an electronic lab manual, the only manual that came with our text, and they had a terrible time following the instructions. Now, I write and self-publish my own print manual and stress writing, on paper, a solid conclusion based on data for their lab reports.

There is also a mild debate about e-books in grade school. These can engage students, although some studies say that students have lower comprehension with e-books. Things such as flipping the pages of a book help with a tactile sensation that promotes understanding. My students tell me that unless they travel by air, they prefer print books. They agree that even the feel and smell of books is  part of the experience. One says, “A sign of a good purse is how many books you can fit into it.”

Another concern is that although blue light from computer screens is safe for adults, it may damage the eyes of children. Blue light creates alertness which is probably why we love screens. Blue light before  bed can mess up our sleep cycles and cause daytime sleepiness and poor performance in school.

There’s a downside to print books. Paper books carry a danger–they can house mold, mildew, dust, bacteria,  and particulates–these are associated with health problems in librarians! Some library books have been found to contain bed bugs and traces of cocaine.  You can remove mold and mildew from old books. You can prevent bed bug transfer by heating book bags in your clothes dryer. And bacteria can only live in a book for a few days.

There is one old book you must avoid. Green books older than the 1850s–those with covers and green print in pages–can contain arsenic.  Do not buy or keep these books. 

It’s a good idea to periodically cull old books from your shelves for the health reasons outlined above. You can always store your favorite classics on your e-reader. My great-grandfather’s book ( shown above) is worth about $15 at most. It made me cough when I opened it. I’m not sure I can part with it just yet because it’s one of the only things I have of him.

As for brains maxed out on high tech reading, neuroscientists recommend a two week respite from-e-reading to help your brain recover. So if you need a break, go ahead, get that big purse or backpack–large enough for two weeks of print reading and take it along on your next vacation.

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Magic or mildew? An old book could carry both. Replace those old copies!

 

Here’s a link to the print version of Wolves and Deer.

Prefer e-book? Here’s an excerpt and link for that.

Would you rather read a futuristic novel? Click here for Mixed In.

Laughing Gas–a history

Laughing gas

Laughing Gas, nitrous oxide, was first created by Cornish chemist Humphry Davy in 1799…although some credit the reclusive Joeseph Priestly with this. In any case, it was Davy who brought laughing gas to the world and with it, won prestige.

Humphry Davy was born the son of a farmer and wood-worker. The athletic and garrulous Davy was not the best of students. He was, however, good at preparing remedies for a local doctor and even better at making explosions and gases intended to affect people’s health. Gases were created chemically and collected in silk or later, rubber bags and people took sucks of the bag while holding their nose to receive treatments. One use of gases Davy explored was as anesthetics.  The only anesthetics in those days were alcohol and opium. Surgeons had to operate quickly–amputating limbs in a minute or two–three at most.  The use of laughing gas as an anesthetic was slow to catch on– it wasn’t until 1844 that it became used by a dentist and not until the 1870s that use became routine. (The man who pioneered its use in dentistry later became deranged.)

Shunned as an anesthetic, the euphoric properties of nitrous oxide made it a popular party drug, sometimes administered in traveling entertainment tents bearing Davy’s picture. Davy called nitrous oxide inhalation “pleasurably thrilling.”Others have described it as “you’re all rubbery and relaxed and silly laughing usually. The rooms can seem to be collapsing and spinning but in a fun way with sort of swooshing wavy sounds.”  The nitrous oxide promotion propelled Davy into fame–it was a fad that won him a prestigious appointment to the Royal Institution in 1801 at the young age of 22. In this capacity, he lectured and popularized science to the point that he was knighted at the age of 34 and later made a baronet.Davy also discovered ether and chloroform. Although he did help his assistant Michael Faraday achieve fame, Davy clung to his superiority as if he had been born into it.

In retrospect, nitrous oxide has some harsh side effects. It can suppress vitamin B12 uptake, destroy your body’s Vitamin B12,  and cause brain damage if over-used. There have even been cases of paralysis and spinal degradation in frequent users. However, as anesthetics go, it is one of the safest. Perhaps this brain damage created his snobbish treatment of Michael Faraday later in life. Faraday attributed some of this to his high class wife, Lady Jane. (My Mom used the term”Lady Jane” to refer to a snotty attitude but it has taken new meaning these days).Lady Jane and her money can be thanked for numerous portraits of the handsome Davy in those pre-photography days. In any case, I digress.

Davy
This photo was taken from A History of Chemistry by F.J. Moore third edition 1939

 

Laughing gas is used today in dental offices where it eases the pain and anxiety that come with dental work. It’s used to aid the torment of childbirth and can create “giggly, happy women during birth.” It’s used as a whipped cream propellent and also as a recreational drug known as “whippet” and “Hippie Crack.” It can also be found in fumes from burning coal and is a greenhouse gas.

We now know that nitrous oxide keeps nerve impulses from reaching their target. It blocks the gap between the nerve endings. Ketamine acts in the same way.  It also causes the release of opioid-like hormones and increases blood flow to the brain. It should be used infrequently. It hampers both male and female fertility. Indeed, neither Davy or his pupil Faraday had children.