Talking Across Time

shutterstock_116233960On a journey into the Kenai Mountains of South Central Alaska between snow-swollen peaks and cornices curling above glaciers, we carried a satellite phone. I usually don’t take any form of outside communication into the wilderness, so this device was nagging on me.

For whatever reason I was fine with headlamps and ropes, various pieces of technology, but the phone felt like an intrusion. Ostensibly, it was for emergencies. John, one of the trip members, had a mother who’d been in a deteriorating state of dementia and was on the edge of death when he left for this trip. John said that her dementia had been in place for years and that he’d lost his mother long ago, but he needed to stay in touch.

I wondered what the analog of a satellite phone could possibly have been before we ever had technology like this, the last hollers though a mountain pass, a stack of rocks left for someone else to find hundreds or thousands of years later. What has the satellite phone done but lengthen our goodbyes? Continue reading

Guest Post: How to Stop a Tsunami in Three Easy Steps

Heather beachRight now, parents newly versed in the vocabulary of doom are discussing the Cascadia subduction in Seattle backyards, in Portland parks. They’ve read the recent New Yorker article about the devastating earthquake overdue in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe they’ve also read the stories in Outside and Discover. They know that three thousand schools around the region could collapse in the quake and that kids on the coast will be trapped in their elementary schools by the tsunami that follows.

Right now, their kids, playing among the rhododendron, are overhearing this conversation. Some will ignore it; by silent consensus, they’ll move their wild games farther away. But some kids will creep closer, hoping to remain unnoticed so the grown-ups will keep talking. These are the ones prone to catastrophizing, who are always attuned to a hint of apocalypse, who have been freaking out about climate change perhaps too much. These are the magical thinkers, the worriers. I know these kids; I once was one of them. Continue reading

The Last Word

943795894_77f8336d2c_zAugust 10–14, 2015

It was redux week here at LWON, in which some People of LWON chose posts that Other People of LWON and our guests wrote.

Ann on Michelle’s post about using bourbon as mouthwash: “This post is one of LWON’s public services unto humankind. . . By re-running it here and now, we can assure that you won’t have to do this dangerous, costly, and intellectually draining experiment yourself.”  

Jessa is reading “a memoir of the amazing discovery of split-brain phenomena in patients whose left and right brains have been separated.” So inspired, she picked a post on left-right preferences in art by guest Sam Kean, which might be one of her favorite guest posts so far.

Helen says, “It’s hot and it’s always a good time to think about dogs,” so she chose a post I wrote about my dog and his troubles. (Thanks, Helen!)

Craig picked a post by Christie: “It regards the nature of bending and straightening the truth in journalism. The question of what to write in, what to leave out, and when to apply gentle literary pressure is crucial.”

With all the attention on the recent death of Cecil the lion, Jennifer says, “I thought it was appropriate to revisit a piece on a related topic: Killing animals for conservation (in this case, because they’re invasive).” She reduxed former LWONer Virginia Hughes’s post about goat extermination in the Galápagos.

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Maybe you are reading this post from a hammock like the one in this photo (by slack12 via Flickr/Creative Commons license)

 

 

Redux: Galápagos Monday: When Conservation Means Killing

Well, folks, it’s the last day of REDUX WEEK here at LWON, and with all the hubbub of late over the death of Cecil the Lion, I thought it was appropriate to revisit a piece on a related topic: Killing animals for conservation (in this case, because they’re invasive). I’ve chosen an essay by Virginia Hughes about goat extermination in the Galápagos that ran July 16, 2012. Be sure also to see the follow-up conversation between LWON’s Michelle Nijhuis and Scientific American writer Jason G. Goldman. We hope you’ve enjoyed our peek at some favorites from the past. We’ll drag ourselves back to the present next week, we promise.  –Jennifer

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 Judas knew what he was doing when he double-crossed his friend Jesus. “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” he asked the conspiring priests in the famous Bible story.

The story of the Judas Goat is more tragic. She had no idea that she was leading her friends to their deaths.

Her captors sterilized her first, then coated her with hormones so she reeked of fertility. Then they collared her with a radio-tracking device and cut her loose. Nearby male goats smelled her and sought her out. As soon as they found her, people swooped in and shot them. The hunters saved Judas, though, so they could repeat the set-up again and again.

It was all part of a six-year, $6 million project in which conservationists killed nearly 80,000 feral goats on Santiago Island in the Galápagos. Similar goat genocides had happened on 128 other islands, including nearby Pinta, but never on any as large as Santiago, which spans 144,470 acres. The goats, introduced by sailers hundreds of years earlier, were decimating all flavors of vegetation there, putting ground birds, giant tortoises and other endemic species in danger. So officials — conservationists from the Galápagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation — decided the goats had to go.
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Redux: Journalists Should Act More Like Scientists

It’s REDUX WEEK! Taking a break from writing, we’re choosing our favorite LWON posts from days of yore. My pick is from Christie and it regards the nature of bending and straightening the truth in journalism. The question of what to write in, what to leave out, and when to apply gentle literary pressure is crucial. How important is the true feel of a story versus the 1:1 veracity of a moment? Every writer has to navigate these perilous waters and after reading Christie’s piece I found myself hoping that we as readers could enjoy subtlety as much as grandstanding, which is after all the scientific way of doing things. As she writes, “Not every story is unforgettable or infuriating. That doesn’t mean they’re not important.” It first ran April 7, 2015.
— Craig

UVAshutterstock

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” — Some wise person who wasn’t Einstein.

“I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” [Rolling Stone managing editor, Will] Dana, said. “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.”

I’ve never liked that (fake) Einstein quote, because it conflates stupidity with insanity. But I couldn’t help thinking of it when I read the Dana quote in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report on what went wrong on the now-discredited Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus.” The story recounted a harrowing tale of a University of Virginia student’s alleged gang rape at a campus fraternity house.

I’m not going to rehash all the problems with the Rolling Stone story (you can read all about it in the report). Let’s just say that something went very wrong, and the magazine’s tone deaf response to the report gives journalism another black eye. By insisting that,”Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting,” Rolling Stone editors essential threw the alleged victim, “Jackie,” under the bus.

The problem wasn’t that the magazine gave too much weight to Jackie’s story, it’s that they had settled on the story they wanted to tell before they’d ever gathered the facts. As Jay Rosen notes in his blog, “[This narrative] didn’t start with Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was sent on a search for where to set it.” Continue reading

Redux: Dog Days by Cameron Walker

It’s a Redux week here at LWON as we take a short summer break. It’s hot and it’s always a good time to think about dogs, as in this sweet post from last summer by Cameron Walker.

 

374px-Close-up_of_SiriusThese are the dog days. Hot as a dog, lazy as a dog, wanting to curl up and take naps like a dog. Please, let us lie, sleeping like them, on these summer afternoons.

But the phrase didn’t originate from the habits of our earthly canine companions. Instead, it came from Sirius, the dog star. In July and early August, Sirius rises and sets with the sun. People once thought that the combined power of our daytime star and the brightest one in our night sky brought the full heat of summer.

Here below, our own dog star’s light has started to dim. We got him from a rescue group nearly six years ago. He’s a strange brew of Labrador and possibly Great Dane—100 pounds with an enormous head—and somewhere between eight and ten years old. We might be seeing the shine from Sirius, 8.7 light years away, from around the time he was born.

He was not born under a lucky star, it seems. Continue reading

Redux: The Art (& Science) of Lefty Portraits

It’s a Redux week here at LWON as we take a short summer break. My holiday reading is Tales From Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, by Michael S. Gazzaniga. It’s a memoir of the amazing discovery of split-brain phenomena in patients whose left and right brains have been separated. It put me in mind of this guest post by Sam Kean that ran on May 5, 2014. I think it might be my favorite guest post so far. Enjoy!

504179143_1b6093ad22_bIf neuroscientists could pick one idea to pack into a wormhole and expel to the outer reaches of the galaxy, there would be several worthy candidates. Some would probably pick the notion that you can “read” people’s tastes and preferences and even political ideologies on brain scans. Others might banish all talk of “neuroplasticity” and “mirror neurons.” Still others would rejoice to never hear another person ramble on about the “logical” left brain versus the “artistic” right brain, and how you can fulfill your creative potential only by thinking with both halves of your brain at once. Who knew!

All that said, backlashes can go too far sometimes. And in the last case especially, it’s a shame that hippie-dippy pseudopsychology has turned a lot of people off to the fascinating world of left brain/right brain differences. The two hemispheres really do have distinct talents, and while it’s easy to make too much of those differences, they do offer a fascinating peek at how the brain evolved and how it works in certain situations. Take the ability to read emotions on other people’s faces. Continue reading

Redux: Dr. Jim Beam, DDS

REDUX WEEK!  This week, some LWONers choose their favorite posts that some other LWONers wrote. My choice-post is by Michelle.  This post is one of LWON”s public services unto humankind.  It first ran on October 7, 2011.  By re-running it here and now, we can assure that you won’t have to do this dangerous, costly, and intellectually draining experiment yourself.  
— Ann

One of the advantages of working at home is that I have more opportunities to talk to my neighbors, who often stop by with interesting news. The other day, a bear got into someone’s chicken coop; not long before that, a stray bull was wandering around in the adjoining field. But the most intriguing recent tidbit came from a neighbor who told me that he gargles with bourbon instead of mouthwash.

“You what?” I said.

“Well,” he said, “I was looking at the mouthwash in the store a while ago, and I thought, ‘Hey, this stuff is basically expensive alcohol with a bunch of weird additives. Why not just buy a bottle of whiskey and be done with it?’”

Now here was an appealing proposition. First of all, how often does one get to combine the pleasures of hard liquor with virtuous feelings about personal hygiene? Secondly, as the overcommitted parent of a toddler, the prospect of drinking while accomplishing something else sounded like the highest form of efficiency.

I should say that my neighbor has a Ph.D. in biology and is, as far as I can tell, eminently sane. He’s also a teetotaler, so he spits out the bourbon. (Seeing my disappointment, he added, “But I don’t see why you’d have to.”) And he doesn’t rinse in the morning, especially if he has to talk to other people. (“Wouldn’t make a good impression.”) He figures his nightly swishes beat mouthwash on several counts: cheaper, no weird additives, and as good or better at killing bacteria.

Sounds too good to be true. Is it? In our efforts to serve you better, the Last Word On Nothing Consumer Affairs Division decided to investigate.

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