Science is a Journey

All scientific inquiry begins with a question. How is this possible? Why is that planet behaving that way? How old is that thing? What is that made of? How do we catch the flu? Once you have a question, you can set about determining an answer. That’s science, and in my opinion, it’s a thing of beauty.

What frustrates me most about people who disparage science is that they tend to say, “Well, science used to believe this. But now we know that’s wrong.”

Uh… YEAH. That’s the whole point. You add to science as you increase knowledge and extend your inquiries. Surprise! Blood letting isn’t the best idea for the feverish! The earth isn’t flat after all!

Science, by its very nature, is not rigid and set in stone. It’s a journey, not a destination. It grows. It (dare I say it?) evolves.

The reason science and religion seem at odds with each other, in my opinion, is that religion doesn’t want you to question. It wants you to believe without question. It doesn’t want you to change, other than to get with the program. It says, “These are the rules. Stick to them.” It believes that the way we thought 2,000 years ago is the way we should think now.

Science is messy. It says, “Hold on… what about this?” It’s ever-changing. It’s fluid. That’s a scary concept for some, but I firmly believe that learning and growth make us better people.

This may surprise you, but I genuinely believe that science and religion don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are questions that will never be answered in our lifetime. If religion helps you with the great unanswered, then more power to you. And if you believe in God, surely you must believe that he or she gave us curious brains so that we could use them.

I am so grateful for both the gifts of intelligence and morality. I will never squander those gifts. (Not that morality is exclusive to religion, mind you. But sometimes it is nice to have a guidebook, even if we don’t always consult it.)

I am very excited by the prospect of knowing more tomorrow than I do today. I look forward to applying that knowledge in a way that benefits mankind. Life is good!

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Trees Know More Than You Think

I just read a fascinating article, entitled, “Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees” by Brandon Keim. It was both gripping and educational from beginning to end. I strongly urge you to read it.

Here are but a few of the things I learned from this article:

  • There is a fungal/root connection that allows nutrients to flow, but it also connects trees to each other.
  • They form networks with mother trees at the center of communities, exchanging nutrients and water.
  • Plants communicate. They perceive and receive messages, and will change their behaviors based on those messages.
  • They remember. They learn.
  • When a forest is under attack, it actually emits a defense chemistry that you can smell.
  • Trees can recognize seedlings that are related to them, and give advantages to those seedlings over those of a “stranger”. They are capable of making that choice.
  • When a plant is stressed out, it releases serotonin, just like we do.
  • If you clip a plant’s leaves or put a bunch of bugs on them, their neurochemistry changes. They send warning messages to their neighbors.

Mind officially blown. I think I’ll be seeing my next hike in the woods entirely differently. Hopefully this new mindset will give me comfort, rather than the creeps. Like I’m being watched. Like their talking about me. Hmm…

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Intelligence in Eyes

Musings during a really bad commute: I can usually tell if someone is intelligent just by looking in their eyes. Why is that? How is that possible?

Am I profiling? Am I being judgmental? Maybe. But it works for me.

I respond to people who have curiosity in their eyes. Inquisitiveness. I like it when people are alert and participating in life. People who appear interested in learning are usually the very ones who actually learn. Go figure.

I can connect with some animals through their eyes, too. I’ve seen enough intelligence in the eyes of dolphins and elephants and whales to make me gasp. It amazes me that anyone could want to harm them. There’s just so much there there.

Dilation of the eyes can indicate interest. Eye contact can, too. (Although I must say that a prolonged, unblinking stare gives me the willies.)

There’s a reason that people say that the eyes are the window to the soul. We’ve learned to read people by gazing into their eyes. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Most of us (including me) couldn’t tell you how it works, exactly. But most of us know that it does.

So, if your eyes glaze over as if you’ve lost interest, then don’t be surprised if I lose interest, too.

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Why You Have to Sell Out to Be a Politician

A successful politician cannot be honest. Honesty, you see, alienates as much as it includes. To get elected, you have to avoid alienating people as much as possible.

I could never get elected. Not in a million years. I am an extremely polarizing individual. People either love me or hate me. Mostly, it’s because I can’t keep my mouth shut. If I think something, I tend to say it.

For almost 6 years, I’ve put my opinions out there, every single day, on this blog. Anyone can read these posts and know exactly where I stand. The hate ads against me would be full of direct quotes from my blog, most likely taken out of context. I am the political third rail personified.

And that’s a shame, too, because I’d make a great public servant. I’ve got loads of integrity, I’m intelligent, and I’d be extremely committed to improving things whenever I detected a problem. I’d stick up for the underdogs, and I’d speak up for those who don’t have a voice. That’s the type of politicians we need, now more than ever. But people like me couldn’t serve if our lives depended upon it. We would never be invited into the clubhouse. We’d never be given the secret handshake.

I wish there was some way to separate the politics from the public service. I wish there was a way to make changes without selling your soul. I wish all our voices could somehow be equally heard and taken seriously. I wish there were a way to navigate the cesspool that is Washington DC without having to boil oneself in bleach every single day as a result.

I’m glad there are people out there who are willing to try. I just wish their motives were pure and their moral compasses were pointing them in the right direction. It takes a certain someone to navigate a flawed system. Honesty, unfortunately, is not the best policy under the current circumstances.

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True Genius

I just finished reading this delightful little article that discuses one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists from 1490. I’ve always been fascinated by Leonardo, because he had both an analytical, scientific mind and an artistic flair. That’s a rare combination indeed. It’s rather unusual for a genius to also be well-rounded.

What intrigued me most about his list was that the vast majority of the items thereon had something to do with asking someone else to teach him something. Whether it’s having a friar show him a medieval text, or a professor explain proportion, or an expert on hydraulics teaching him how to repair a lock, canal and mill, Leonardo, it seems, didn’t simply rely on his own mind. He asked questions. He opened himself up to learning something new. He realized that some people had pieces of the puzzle that he lacked.

Da Vinci’s obvious curiosity, coupled with an apparent humility, means that he seems to have mastered networking centuries before Facebook. Don’t know something? Find an expert and ask him or her. Drink from the font of human knowledge. Brilliant.

I’ve always believed that a true sign of genius is being able to make yourself understood by a variety of audiences. And I still believe that. But after reading this article, I think I’ll add to my philosophy by saying that it’s also a matter of knowing what you don’t know, and having the courage to consult with those who have other areas of expertise.

So, thanks, Leonardo, for once again expanding my horizons!

Leonardo Da Vinci

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A Few Thoughts on International Women’s Day

First of all, happy International Women’s Day! It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated. I’m glad that organizations throughout the world will be using this as an opportunity to speak out about equal rights. I’m thrilled that this will open up dialogues that many people wouldn’t otherwise have thought to have.

But at the same time, it frustrates me that we still need a day like this. Aren’t we women every day of the year? Don’t we deserve basic human rights all year round?

Recently I was sitting at a table with 15 other women, so I took an informal survey.

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been touched inappropriately without your permission.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been cat called.
  • Raise your hand if anyone has ever discussed your breasts, behind, or legs without your initiating that conversation.
  • Raise your hand if your opinion has been dismissed as trivial.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve heard a man singing the words “bitch” “slut” or “ho” along with the radio.
  • Raise your hand if you yourself have been called a bitch, slut, or ho.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve seen nude women calendars in public places.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been interrupted by a man who insists on explaining something to you that you already know.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been treated like an idiot by a mechanic.
  • Raise your hand if men have assumed that you’re not intelligent.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been rejected based on your weight, age, or shape.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized because of something you were wearing.
  • Raise your hand if people have assumed you need to ask a man’s permission to do something or go somewhere.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of not being feminine enough.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being too girly.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told you do something good, “for a girl.”
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to drive behind a truck with naked women mud flaps.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been paid less than a male counterpart.
  • Raise your hand if men that you’ve trained have been promoted above you.
  • Raise your hand if a man assumed you needed his protection when you didn’t.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told something was women’s work.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being emotional or hysterical.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Try giving this survey the next time you’re with female friends. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that in the vast majority of cases, every woman at the table raised her hand. And that’s probably the most outrageous part of all – that it comes as no surprise.

The only reason that this happens is that we are not in the exclusive group of humans who sports a penis. That simple fact makes “us” not “them”. As far as I can tell, that appendage does not endow people with superior abilities of any kind. It just means we get to be easily identified as being on the other team. And society has arbitrarily decided that our team gets to be the losing team. It’s not rational. It’s not just. And it’s not acceptable.

I for one am sick and tired of being treated to micro-aggressions every single day. Case in point, I looked at my supply of Graphicstock pictures to see which one to use for this blog entry. This, below, is their idea of a good image for Women’s Day. Because we all should be depicted as naked, sexy, thin, with long flowing hair and luscious lips, arching our backs while floating with our heads in a flowery cloud.

Happy Women’s Day, indeed.

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

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I’m Not Buying It

When I was a little girl, some well-meaning adult, who clearly didn’t know me at all, bought me a doll. I hope she didn’t spend too much money on it, because as soon as she left the house it got stuffed in the back of my closet, never to be seen again.

I didn’t play with dolls. I played with Tonka Trucks. (They went better with my overalls.) I built things with Legos. I did have a Barbie, but mostly because I liked the things that came with her—the convertible, the house. But I would tolerate no other doll in my world. I particularly hated all things that could be described as “frilly”. That word still makes me shudder to this day. No ribbons or lace for this girl!

So imagine my horror when, at the beginning of this holiday season, I started seeing the commercials for Wellie Wishers, a set of dolls put out by a company called American Girl. According to the website, these 5 dolls are “a sweet and silly group of girls who each have the same big, bright wish: to be a good friend.”

Cough.

To their credit, this is a racially diverse group of dolls. But despite that, they’re named Camille, Emerson, Willa, Kendall and Ashlyn. How much more white and middle class can you possibly get? And one of them, Willa, wears bunny ears. I swear to God.

They aren’t cheap, either. Starting at 60 bucks, this price tag is sure to give the average parent pause. But of course you’re encouraged to collect all five! And they also offer a boatload of accessories.

And here’s where it gets really scary. There’s also a line of clothing for little girls so they can dress just like their dolls. And these dresses, in my opinion, are truly, truly, TRULY horrible.

I don’t have kids. If I had a daughter, I probably would be cursed with a girly girl. Such is my karma. She’d probably want to wear a dress like the one in the picture below. (This one isn’t put out by American Girl. Theirs are even worse.) Seeing my kid wanting to be dressed up like a Christmas turkey would make me want to curl up and die on the inside.

I wouldn’t want my child’s biggest goals to be being silly and a good friend. I’d want her to value her own intelligence and leadership qualities and independence. I’d want her to take pride in her own agency, and not be taught to put everyone else first. (And by the way, why is it not important to teach boys to be good friends? Hmmm?)

One of the current American Girl commercials assures us that any girl who has one of these dolls as “her new best friend” will “learn friendship and kindness and confidence, too,” as well as “how to be an American girl.” It does not say how these inanimate objects will achieve this goal, though. I guess to find that out you have to watch their “all-new animated series!” Or maybe instructions come with the Giggles & Grins Play Set. But that, of course, costs extra.

It makes me kind of queasy to think that people are out there spending 60 bucks to reinforce this appalling stereotype. What will it truly wind up costing them? Heaven help us as a society.

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Gaps in Knowledge

It always throws me for a loop when I discover something that I should have known all along. For example, I’m mortified to admit that I’ve been spelling President Obama’s first name incorrectly during the entire course of his administration. Someone finally pointed that out to me the other day. I really have no excuse.

I try to comfort myself with the fact that I’ve encountered much worse examples of swiss cheese knowledge. I once met a woman my age who had never heard of the Beatles. Had she been living under a rock? Even people in outer Mongolia have heard of the Beatles. And I crossed paths with a full grown man who thought the sun revolved around the earth. How is that even possible in this day and age? I bet he’ll vote for Donald Trump.

And the older I get, the more I lose touch with pop culture. That’s to be expected, I suppose. But there is a basic font of information that everyone should be able to access. For example, the earth isn’t flat. Fruit will eventually rot. The sky is usually blue (unless you live in Seattle, where it’s usually grey).

The thing is (yes, my favorite missing commenter, there’s always a thing), when you don’t know something you should know, you aren’t aware of it. That makes me worry about what I’m missing. What basic knowledge am I somehow functioning without?

All I can say is that it’s a huge relief that my heart and lungs know how to do their thing without any input from me. Oh, and sorry, Barack.

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“Lucky” You

I have this amazing friend who lights up a room whenever she enters it. Strangers are drawn to her. Joy just seems to ooze out of every one of her pores. I’d love to be like that.

But when I pointed that out to her recently, she got a serious look on her face. She told me that she does get sad and worried and anxious just like everyone else. Well, of course that’s true. As a matter of fact, she’s been through quite a lot in her life. I’m sure her joyful outlook isn’t always as effortless as it looks.

I guess it’s just simpler to imagine her as Little Mary Sunshine than to scratch the surface and actually have to deal with her humanity. That’s my fault entirely. And I’m sure she gets it a lot.

I can kind of, sort of, relate. All through school I was a straight A student. Because of that, no one considered it to be a particularly great achievement when I brought home that perfect report card. It was almost like a physical feature. Barb has brown hair and blue eyes and she gets straight A’s.

This, to put it mildly, frustrated the hell out of me. I mean, thank you for acknowledging its existence at least, but just because I got straight A’s doesn’t mean that I hadn’t put considerable effort into it. Even if you have a high IQ, getting good grades takes organization and planning and memorization and, well, work.

Just because someone consistently demonstrates an outstanding quality or ability doesn’t make it less remarkable. Try to recognize the effort behind those wonderful things in your loved ones that you’ve come to take for granted. Even if they seem to come naturally, they’re quite often hard-won. No one should be discounted, even, and perhaps especially, if it’s for something wonderful.

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[Image credit: smilerescuefund.org]