Later On

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The Loire River now dry

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I wonder how climate-change deniers (such as the Republican Party) will greet this news. The problem with denying reality is that reality endures and will ultimately prevail. The photo is from a Facebook post, which notes:

This is the current state of the Loire, the longest river in France. This has not happened before in at least the 2000 years since literate people inhabited France. The Romans would have written about this. The medieval Franks would have written about this. To the best of our historical knowledge, nowhere in the past 2000 years has the Loire run dry, and likely never long before that. The drought that now grips southwestern Europe may well be unprecedented in recorded human history.

This is in the heart of wine country where grapes grow in abundance and wheat waves like golden seas- but not now. Now the wheat burns and the grapes whither to raisins on the vine. This is the end of days. And on Monday morning I’ll return to work and pretend this isn’t happening. It’s complete madness.

More information on the Loire River situation (including many more photos in “Images”).

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 9:08 am

How Was Abortion Understood Historically?

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Nautilus‘s newsletter today had a one-question interview by Brandon Keim:

One question for Claudia Ford, an herbalist and midwife turned environmental historian at SUNY Potsdam whose Ph.D. dissertation examines the use of plants for reproductive health by women in 18th and 19th century America.

This idea of a fetus as a person is only as recent as this incredible book that came out in the 1960s, A Child Is Born, which was the first time that somebody made high-quality pictures of live fetuses in utero. When that book came out, it really changed things. Until we could actually visualize that, we understood pregnancy and periods and cycles, but not to the extent of naming a fetus as a person.

Going back time, there was no moral restriction against abortion, even in the Catholic church. For many millennia the fetus was not considered an entity until quickening, which is when the mother can feel the fetus move. In the first baby, that’s usually around 16 weeks, and it can be a little earlier in subsequent babies because you know what to feel. But until such time as that movement started to happen, it was not a thing. Even if a woman realized she wasn’t having her menses, and she might know she was pregnant, still there was no association with a fetus.

So terminating a pregnancy was seen more as part of the menstrual cycle, not part of pregnancy. Pregnancy is something that led to labor and childbirth; terminating a pregnancy was part of your menstrual cycle.

At that time, somebody with a uterus is bleeding every month unless something else is going on. And that “unless something else is going on” was pretty big because we didn’t have as much knowledge. If you had a late period, the first thing people would think would not necessarily be pregnancy. They might know that, but they would be thinking “OK, how do I bring on this period?” Not, “How do I not have a baby?”

I know that is semantics. But Dobbs is all about semantics, right? And that’s a really important thing. I think somebody else has said that abortion is not an alternative to having a baby; let’s separate those things. Historically the termination of pregnancy was seen as part of the menstrual cycle. Some women were having periods that were too little; some, too much; some were too painful, too frequently, not frequently enough. There was always a desire: What can I do? Are there some plants that can help me to regulate these cycles so that I can feel healthy? And sometimes that absolutely included, “I’m late. I want my period to come. How can I bring it on?”

There was knowledge that if the period didn’t come, it would lead to a pregnancy. But in those first three months, it wasn’t thought of as, “I’m pregnant, I’m going to stop this.” It was thought of as more, “I haven’t had my period. Do I want my period? Or do I want to see where this is going to go?” I know it sounds like it’s splitting hairs, but it’s a very different perspective.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 8:00 pm

What happened in 1926?

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In an earlier post — What is the optimal diet? — I included a chart that I captured from the video of the mortality rate in England and Wales from coronary disease:

I could not think of what might have caused that inflection point and subsequent rapid and steady rise of heart disease, and I asked if anyone had any ideas. Arne, in a comment, pointed to this interesting chart from the video ‘Diseases of Civilization: Are Seed Oil Excesses the Unifying Mechanism?‘ by Dr. Chris Knobbe.

Three obvious caveats:

  1. The USA is not England and Wales — however, seed-oil consumption might well have increased in both countries as the technology of industrial refinement of crop by-products was established.
  2. The dates don’t quite line up, but of course the effects (if any) of increased consumption of seed oils would not show up immediately but after some time. 
  3. Correlation is not causation — however, causation does create a correlation, and it seems worth considering whether the correlation in this case might indeed indicate a cause, especially given that diet in general and fats in particular have been demonstrated to have causative effects on coronary disease. 

I have not eaten seed oils for a long time, but recently started eating canola (rapeseed) oil in Hollyhock salad dress. I think I’ll discontinue that dressing, tasty as it is, and resume my usual olive oil vinaigrette, but perhaps with some nutritional yeast added for flavor (though of course I could just sprinkle the yeast on the salad). This is the dressing I have in mind:

• 1 lemon, peeled
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (perhaps flavored: tarragon, blue cheese, etc.)
• pinch of salt
• pinch of MSG

Put that into a blender or into the beaker that comes with an immersion blender and blend well for a minute or so. Then gradually add, while still blending:

• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

That makes enough for multiple salads. An Asian variation: 

• add to the initial list of ingredients 2 tablespoons tamari
• include with the olive oil 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 

That is, put 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil in a measuring cup and add enough olive oil to make a total of 1/2 cup

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 8:44 pm

Amazing Bicycle Cars – Human Powered Vehicles

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Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 2:24 pm

7 charts that show the effects of overturning Roe v. Wade

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Saima May Sidik has a very interesting article in Nature, which begins:

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. Now, 13 states have greatly restricted access to the procedure, and about a dozen more are expected to follow suit.

For a high-income country to take such a giant leap towards prohibiting what many people consider a basic human right is nearly unprecedented. Health researchers are scrambling to predict the effects of such changes. Most experts expect that abortions will continue to happen, but will be harder to obtain legally — sometimes requiring extensive travel — and could become less safe. Less certain are the long-term effects on abortion rates, public health and pregnant people’s economic prospects. “If people want me to extrapolate from prior evidence to what’s going on now, I don’t think there’s any comparable evidence,” says sociologist Jonathan Bearak at the Guttmacher Institute, a policy group in New York City focused on sexual and reproductive health rights.

As the United States hurtles into the unknown (see ‘Changing landscape’), evidence suggests that enacting abortion restrictions will create substantial burdens, both for people seeking abortions and for the clinics that continue to offer these procedures. . .

There’s more, including the seven charts. I’ll show two, with the introductory info.

Abortions won’t stop

Evidence from around the world suggests that restricting abortion doesn’t put an end to it. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. Bearak and Bela Ganatra, a behavioural scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and their colleagues compiled 2,415 data points, including survey results and health records, to estimate the number of unwanted pregnancies and the rate of abortions in 195 countries and territories around the world1. The analysis found that high-income countries where abortion is broadly legal have the lowest rates of abortion (see ‘Legality and reality’).

And one more of the seven charts:

Maternal deaths are likely to rise

When carried out safely, an abortion poses less risk to a person’s health than does carrying a baby to term. As a result of reduced access, the number of pregnancy-associated deaths is expected to rise.

In a preprint study8, Amanda Stevenson, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues modelled what would have happened in 2020 if no one had had access to abortions in 26 states that have imposed bans or are reasonably likely to do so in the future. The authors of the study made some assumptions: for example, that people who request abortions have the same age distribution as do those who have babies, and that the risk of maternal death is the same in people who have abortions as in those who don’t. With those and other limitations in mind, they estimated that if there had been no abortions in 2020, an additional 64 pregnant people would have died — an increase of 14% (see ‘Death rates rising’).

It’s worth reading the entire article to get an idea of how much damage Republicans have done in this area.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 11:53 am

Climate change and drought

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Update: Loire River runs dry.

This morning I read an article in the Boston Globe on the effects on Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, from the drought there: people no water in their homes and businesses for a few days each week, with some not having had water for a month — and when the water does flow, the pressure can be too low to fill a tank to save water for future use. (The article might be behind a paywall. However, I was able to read it because the Globe just had a subscription offer of $1 for six months. It’s a very good paper, so I jumped at the opportunity to have it for six months, though I doubt I’ll renew at the full rate.)

From that article:

Faced with this situation, the government of Nuevo León announced that there would be water restrictions: Once a week we would not have water for a day. However, the cuts began to be more frequent.

Sometimes there is water only in the mornings, other times there is water all day, but sometimes two, three, four days can pass without water. This has been my experience, but there are people who have had to go up to a month without water in their homes. This has caused demonstrations where people have blocked avenues demanding water for their neighborhoods.

Most of the houses were not equipped with water tanks. People have purchased them, but sometimes it is hard to fill the tanks because there is not enough pressure or enough water on the days they have running water. So they have to buy water from water tankers to fill them because the government does not bring water to all the neighborhoods.

On days when there is water at home, we store it in buckets so we are prepared when there isn’t. We also buy bottles of water at the supermarket (in some stores you cannot buy more than a certain number of bottles).

When there is water, we take advantage of it to take a shower, wash dishes and clothes because we don’t know if there will be water in the following hours or days. We have to do everything we need to do with water because there is always the question of whether there will be any tomorrow. It is also important to mention that women are the ones who have carried out the most work during this situation because in most households in Mexico, women are in charge of the majority of the domestic labor and care activities. They have been forced to adjust their schedules and drop everything the minute they notice that water is available in order to perform those activities and collect water to store it for the rest of the day or the week.

One day, I posted on Facebook: “Has anyone around here had to call a water tanker? Do you have any situation in your home, neighborhood, or business that you consider to be more serious than the rest? Send me a message, please.”

I was surprised by the number of friends who answered. That afternoon I spent taking calls and messages. “I’ve been without water for a week”; “I had to move in with my parents who do have water”; “We have to pee in a single toilet, and wait until the end of the day to flush it because we can’t waste the little water we have”; “Everyone in my house had COVID-19, we had no water in the house, it was the worst week of our lives. I was sick, sweating and couldn’t wash my sheets.”

It is difficult to listen to these experiences and know that there are people who are having a worse time. I think of the houses where older adults or sick people live. It is also important to consider that not everybody has the means to buy water bottles, install a water tank system, or buy water from a water tanker.

The drought in Mexico is a bad sign for the American Southwest, already struggling with the drying up of the Colorado River, which affects agriculture and the lives of millions who dwell in cities in that region. Seven states are now working out what they will do when that water is no longer available.

And The Eldest point out an article in Sky News on how Europe is suffering the worst drought in 500 years. From the article:

The latest data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) shows some 47% of the bloc’s territory under “warning” conditions, the second of three drought categories, during the 10 days leading to 30 July.

More worrying is the 17% of land that has moved into the most severe “alert” state, meaning not only is the soil drying out after low rain, but plants and crops are suffering too.

When water becomes scarce, not only are there food shortages (from crop failures and loss of livestock), but also people also must move away, so I expect there will be mass migrations from regions that lack water. That seems likely to lead to conflict.

The Great Famine in China under Mao resulted in millions dying (see this earlier post). The impact of climate change will almost certainly be worse.

It’s a great tragedy that humanity seems incapable of facing this on-coming crisis with constructive actions. (And “on-coming” is a bit of a misnomer: from the CO2 already added to the atmosphere, even if we discontinued today the use of all fossil fuels so that humans add no more CO2, conditions would still worsen for decades. The crisis has already happened; the effects will unfold over the coming decades.)

The best hope is a technology that would enable direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere, and certainly people are working on that.

However, there are still a great many who deny that climate change is caused by human activity and who strongly resist any efforts to address climate change (because such efforts would be an admission that climate change is real)— the Republican party is a prime example. (I think in the case of Republicans, a stumbling block is that effectively addressing climate change requires large-scale group effort and almost certainly government leadership. That’s hard for Republicans to accept, since their philosophical outlook is that problems are solved through individual effort, heroic loners who require no help. In this view, help is for sissies. Republicans believe that problems should be addressed through competition, not cooperation. Libertarians take this attitude to an extreme, so that its failure is more immediately evident.)

Some states in the Southeast whose Atlantic coasts face ocean-level rise have passed laws to forbid the use of the words “climate change,” which seems a lot like magical thinking: “If we don’t say it aloud, it will not happen.” Examples: North Carolina and Miami (which already routinely sees sunny-day flooding). While such laws do show an effort to confront climate change, I do not see that that approach will be effective in addressing the problem, even in the relatively short term. It does, however, illustrate the first and most primitive psychological defense mechanism: denial.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 9:02 am

The Universe According to Frank Wilczek

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An interesting long read profiling an interesting person. Garbriel Popkin writes for the John Templeton Foundation:

When Frank Wilczek was a teenager in New York in the 1960s, he sometimes went shopping with his mother. In the store he noticed a brand of laundry detergent called “Axion.” Countless people had probably seen and used the product, but the precocious Wilczek was almost certainly the first to think it might offer a good name for an elementary particle. Wilczek seized the chance in 1978, when he realized that a potential solution to an unsolved problem in physics implied the existence of a never-before-seen particle. His proposed name: the “axion,” because it “cleaned up” the problem.

Wilczek had formidable competition. The venerable physicist Steven Weinberg, on the cusp of winning a Nobel Prize for other work, had postulated the new particle independently and suggested naming it the “Higglet.”

Wilczek won the friendly contest. But he didn’t yet know how much of a celebrity his particle would become. The axion soon became a leading candidate for dark matter, a mysterious substance that appears to pervade the universe in nearly six times the abundance of normal matter, yet is invisible, nearly undetectable, and now one of the greatest enigmas in modern physics. Physicists around the world, including Wilczek himself, are hunting it.

The anecdote also contains the elements of a singular career that has made Wilczek one of the most successful and influential physicists and physics communicators of the last 50 years: a hyperproductive creativity born of relentless curiosity and intellectual rigor, a nose for important problems that expand the horizons of human knowledge, a flare for communication and a lightness and humor that pervade everything he does.

It’s a formula Wilczek has used again and again to craft a career that has not only touched just about every major area of theoretical physics and launched a small armada of new specialties, but also reached and inspired millions of non-scientists through books, newspaper columns, collaborations with artists and public talks.

Wilczek, says Paul Davies, a physicist and director of Arizona State University’s Beyond Center, “is something of a legend in his own lifetime.”

An early triumph

Frank Wilczek is a curious, inventive and restless scientist. The curiosity and inventiveness have earned him a Nobel Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and now, the Templeton Prize. The restlessness has garnered, among other things, a bevy of far-flung positions and affiliations: MIT, Arizona State, Stockholm University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Only the pandemic managed—for a time, at least—to curb his ocean-hopping; he’s spent much of the past two years at home in Concord, Massachusetts, where, among other things, he’s taken up juggling.

Wilczek was born in 1951 in Mineola, New York and went to high school in Queens. He has described his upbringing as “lower middle class,” with parents who valued education and encouraged his interest in math and science, giving him plenty of toys and puzzles to play with. Early confirmation of intellectual gifts through standardized tests gave him confidence, he says. “Confidence is a very, very powerful tool for a scientist.”

He headed to the University of Chicago at 15 for undergrad, then arrived at Princeton in 1970 to study math. But he soon found his way to the research group of David Gross, a young, already well-known theoretical physicist. It was a heady time: Experiments had recently shown that the proton and neutron—long held to be fundamental building blocks of atoms—weren’t fundamental at all, but rather made of even smaller units called quarks. But physicists were baffled by why electrically charged quarks, which should powerfully repel each other at short distances, seemed to interact only weakly with each other at close range and remain bound together inside tiny sub-atomic particles.

Wilczek and Gross decided to attack the problem head on. Through what he calls “an arduous calculation” that brought in  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2022 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Walkies today

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I walked yesterday, starting again after the pacemaker. (I did take one short walk as soon as the six weeks’ wait was up, but did not persist.) Yesterday’s walk was 1.48 miles, but today I started not at the front of the building but beside the building at the back of the lot, after I tossed the trash into the dumpster. And yesterday’s walk was slower — 3.35 mph instead of 3.50 mph.

Despite a brisk pack and the uphill start, my heart rate stayed almost completely in the aerobic zone. I didn’t even get close to VO2 Max range. BP (Before Pcemaker) I routinely did most of my walk in that range (and I was, of course, using Nordic walking poles).

I don’t know whether the pacemaker caps my heart rate, or whether having the pacemaker makes my heart more efficient so that it doesn’t have to pump so much. In any event, I think the VO2 Max days are over, and with them the 35 or so PAI days. Yesterday I got 5 PAI, today 6. I don’t really see getting to a cumulative 100 in a week anytime soon.

OTOH, I got 27 minutes of exercise, almost all of it at an aerobic heart rate, and according to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the training effect kicks in after 15 minutes of aerobic exercise — increasing lung capacity, strengthening the heart to pump more blood on demand, expanding the capillary network to deliver more oxygen to muscles, increasing the volume of blood in the body, strengthening muscles in the legs and back and (for Nordic walkers) arms and shoulders, etc. That’s good enough for me.

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2022 at 2:32 pm

Is Happiness Really a Choice?

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Phillip Chard writes in Shepherd Express, a Milwaukee alternative paper:

Happiness—what it is and how to achieve it—has been a hot topic in the mental health field for some time now. That’s good. When so-called positive psychology emerged a few decades ago, for every study focused on happiness, there were over a hundred examining psychopathology. My profession did a far better job of describing what makes us distressed and out of whack than how we can increase life satisfaction. What followed was a self-help industry bringing in $13 billion a year that pushes a plethora of methods for growing happiness. However, overall well-being in our population has declined precipitously rather than increased. What gives? Are we just too distracted or lazy to apply these methods, or do they simply not work?

Well, as usual, it’s complicated. Evidence from sociological studies suggests there is an unrecognized flaw in positive psychology’s recommended approach, one that leans too heavily on individual effort. The underlying premise is that happiness is a choice. If we embrace life in particular ways, practice good self-care and manage our attitude, then we can intentionally enhance our well-being and sense of personal fulfilment. To be sure, there is an element of truth here. There is research showing these kinds of efforts have the potential to move the happiness needle in the right direction, but not nearly as far as some positivity gurus claim.

What’s more, the data shows most of are heading in the wrong direction in this regard. Since 2004 and as measured pre-pandemic, the number of Americans who identify as optimistic (an attitude correlated with happiness) is down from 79% to under 50%. Meanwhile, the incidence of mental maladies has increased, with depression, anxiety and addictions topping the list. The pandemic has been no friend in this regard, as rates of these disorders across the population have soared by over a third.

Nature, Nurture, Both?

So, what determines how happy one is? Well, positive psychology often claims it’s about 50% genetics, 40% life choices (individual control) and only 10% circumstances. However, social psychologists assert otherwise, maintaining that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 5:31 pm

100 Ways to Live to 100: A Definitive Guide to Longevity Fitness

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I have the food part pretty well in hand. Interesting list to browse. Tanner Garrity writes at Inside Hook:

At this point, we’re all familiar with the trope. A local news station visits a retirement home to celebrate Muriel’s 106th birthday. She’s deaf or blind or both or neither, sitting in a wheelchair in the “good spot” next to the TV set, and a reporter asks her her secret. You’ve lived through both World Wars?! How’d you do it? Then Muriel gets to flash a mischievous grin and tells us she smoked a pack a day for 50 years.

Interacting with centenarians in this way has long made them seem like circus oddities. It trivializes the concept of lifespan and longevity, reducing the science to a throw-your-hands-in-the-hair “Who the hell knows!” It reinforces the idea that our time on this planet isn’t necessarily under our control. If my dad had a stroke and his dad had a stroke then one’s probably coming for me too, right? If I make it to 80, or — god forbid — 90, I’ve just beaten the odds. Right?

Not exactly. Since the mid-1990s, in fact, following the infamous Danish twins study, researchers have understood longevity to be “only moderately heritable.” For a while, this spawned estimates that genetics accounted for somewhere between 20 and 30% of one’s longevity. More recently, scientists have concluded that the true heritability of human longevity at birth is closer to just 7%.

Where does that other 93% come from? Your lifestyle. Your decisions. Your everyday habits, big and small. It’s possible to put years on your life, to surge past both average life expectancy and your own expectations, by resolving to live a certain way. The crazy part? This doesn’t involve some complex Ponce de Leónian quest. You don’t even have to search far and wide for the answers.

Thanks to the efforts of vanguard sociologists, geneticists and historians, we know where the world’s largest concentration of centenarians live and how they spend their days. (They’re called Blue Zones, and the way people cook, move and even happy hour in them is truly revelatory.) We also know, courtesy of a renowned doctor with whom we spoke last year, that certain behaviors can decelerate cellular aging and push the human lifespan into hitherto uncharted territories, and also that we should probably stop eating hot dogs.

You might wonder: Why would I want to live longer? Doesn’t the end of life look drawn out, expensive and horrible? Why would I sign up for decades of suffering? Well, the latest wave of longevity research isn’t focused on living years for the sake of years. It’s concerned with quality years.

Think about it. More years to travel, to exercise, to spend time with your family and whatever new family comes along. An entire life of creativity and challenges to enjoy after retirement. And consider this: those who make it to 100 are no more likely to die at 108 years old than 103. Genetics do start to factor in a bit more once you get way up there in age (hence how the Muriels of the world make it to 106), but overall, your risk of dying from any of the usual diseases plateaus. Longevity wizards only really suffer in the last couple years of their lives.

Take note — this movement is going to happen, with or without you. With an assist from modern medical care, scientists project there will be 25 million centenarians scattered across the world by 2100. (There are currently just 573,000.) But you don’t need to wait for Benjamin Button patents from the big pharmaceuticals. You can start living in the name of longevity today.

Below, 100 ways to live to 100, broken down by how you optimize your lifespan through diet, fitness, good choices and some truly wild wild cards. Before diving in, understand that you can’t do all of them; some of them are likely even incompatible. But the idea is to cherrypick those that work for your life. Ultimately, if nothing else, know this: making the call right now to act in the name of longevity — whether your “right now” is 35 or 65 — won’t just add life to your ledger. It’ll enrich and lighten every year along the way.

DIETARY DECISIONS

1. Eat fresh ingredients grown nearby

The planet’s longest-living communities all have access to food from farms and orchards down the road — that’s to say, within a 10-mile radius of their homes. These ingredients aren’t treated with pesticides or pumped with preservatives; they’re their original nutrient-dense, fiber-rich selves. Sound expensive? So are late-life medical bills.

2. Eat a wide variety of vegetables

So you’ll eat carrots, beets and cucumbers and that’s it. Okay. But if you want to unlock your true longevity potential — and lower your risk of everything from cardiovascular disease to macular degeneration — you need to regularly cycle through the whole menu: cruciferous veggies, dark leafy greens, edible plant stems, roots and marrows.

3. Eat until 80% full

Hara hachi bu is a Japanese saying that translates to “Eat until you’re 80% full.” It’s an alien concept in America, where portion sizes are the biggest in the world and somehow getting larger. But finding your “slightly full” will directly reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease or stroke while giving your body more energy and less bloating in the short term.

4. Eat home-cooked family dinners

As the godfather of nouvelle cuisine, Chef Fernard Point, once famously said: “Butter! Give me butter! Always butter!” Restaurants want customers to leave happy, so they use lots of flavor — salt, sugar and fat. It all adds up. According to one study, eating out twice a day increases your chance of an early death by 95%. Cooking is your best bet.

5. Embrace complex carbohydrates

The bread aisle is a starting point for understanding the difference between foods rich in simple carbohydrates (Wonder Bread) and those rich in complex carbohydrates (100% whole-wheat breads). The latter, for instance, rocks a ton of fiber and fuels the body in a sustainable way. Seek out more complex carbs like brown rice, oats and barley.

6. Consider a plant-based diet

You don’t have to give up meat. But you should know that societies full of centenarians don’t eat very much of it. While meat dominates most American meals, it only appears in Blue Zone diets at a rate of five times a month, two ounces per serving. And when it does, it comes sourced from free-range animals that weren’t treated with hormones or antibiotics. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the list:

80. Pick up “forest bathing”

In Japan, shinrin-yoku refers to “forest bathing,” or the act of taking in nature using all of your senses. Recent studies show adults spend 93% of their time indoors, which takes a toll on mental health (“stir crazy” is scientific). But the exact opposite is true for spending time outdoors. A single forest “bath” decreases scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety.

81. Settle down near a body of water

Take a look at a map of the world’s Blue Zones. Each is concentrated along a coastline. Settling down by the sea — in a so-called “blue space” — has been linked to a 17% reduction in mortality rate. One study suggested that living within 250 meters of a seaside environment helps reduce stress levels, with the smell and sounds offering a “wonderful tonic.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 7:15 pm

Popper was right about the link between certainty and extremism

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Thomas Costello, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management,  studies the psychology of politics, focusing on ideology, authoritarianism, and radicalism. He writes in Psyche:

Political views are, fundamentally, opinions about the best ordering of society. To paint with the broadest of brushes, progressives are optimists, seeking to plant trees whose shade they may never stand under. Conservatives, by contrast, believe that moving too quickly risks breaking the fragile machinery of society – perhaps irrevocably so. In our view, both of these philosophical positions are logically coherent and, depending on one’s core values, defensible. We hope that this statement registers to most readers as uncontroversial. After all, most progressives can see that some risk accompanies any new, ambitious societal venture, while most conservatives can see that stagnation looms close behind excessive caution.

Regrettably, it is now apparent that reasonable, intellectually charitable discussions between progressives and conservatives are quite scarce in many places – leaving little room for compromise or legislative success. Many people hate those who disagree with them, perhaps seeing no possible route to the other side’s political conclusions other than moral aberrance or callous self-interest. Accompanying this vitriol and anomie, it would seem, is a widespread lack of scepticism toward one’s own political beliefs. Some people are not just confident, but absolutely, 100 per cent certain that their views about how to order society are optimal. For these people, extremism and animosity might seem to be the only logical route. The philosopher of science Karl Popper went so far as to argue that absolute certainty is the foundational component of totalitarianism: if one is sure that one’s political philosophy will lead to the best possible future for humankind, all manner of terrible acts become justifiable in service of the greater good.

We took inspiration from this line of thinking in a recent study of nearly 3,000 people across the United States. As political psychologists, our interests lie in mapping the ‘political mind’ – understanding the ways in which people think and feel about politics, what they want from politics, and how these cognitive, affective and motivational processes shape their behaviour. To get at the nexus between certainty and politics, we asked people a simple question: ‘On a scale of 0 per cent to 100 per cent, how certain are you that your political beliefs are correct?’

We found that 12 per cent of our sample reported being absolutely (100 per cent) certain about their political beliefs on this zero-to-100 scale. Who are these people who say they are absolutely certain? There were not substantial differences in certainty between liberals and conservatives overall, but there was a notable difference between people at the fringes of the political spectrum and everyone else. Absolute certainty was endorsed by 91 of 290 (or 31.4 per cent of) individuals who self-identified as ‘extremely Left-wing’ and by 54 of 133 (40.6 per cent of) individuals who self-identified as ‘extremely Right-wing’. By contrast, only 6.8 per cent of all the other participants reported being absolutely certain – which included participants with only slightly less polarised views (ie, self-identifying as ‘very Left-wing’ or ‘very Right-wing’).

People who identified as politically extreme here are not necessarily members of radical groups that regularly engage in political violence. They are extreme in a relative sense, as compared with norms in the US. Still, these respondents were about five times more likely than others to claim to be absolutely certain about their political views. Extremism and absolute certainty seem to resonate.

Technically speaking, one cannot (rationally) be absolutely certain that the Sun will rise tomorrow – just more than 99.9 per cent certain. Indeed, from a mathematical perspective, being absolutely certain implies that one will not update one’s beliefs whatsoever, even when shown evidence that challenges those beliefs. We can’t be sure that our participants had thought through the rational implications of their absolutism. But the possibility that these people would refuse to change their beliefs under any circumstances generally aligns with a suite of evidence linking ideological extremism to the degree to which people view their political attitudes as superior to others’ attitudes. This belief superiority can lead politically extreme people (on both the Right and Left) to be more intolerant, prejudiced and inflexible towards those who disagree with them.

One popular theory suggests that extremist ideologies – whether on the Left or Right end of the political spectrum – appeal to thinkers who tend to conceptualise the world in unambiguous, black-and-white terms. Indeed, growing evidence shows that ideological extremism is associated with low cognitive flexibility, meaning the ability to adapt to new, shifting or unexpected events and perspectives. What this suggests is that political extremism is related to the cognitive architecture of our brains.

Yet, another popular theory, known as the rigidity-of-the-Right hypothesis, argues that individuals who think of the world as uncontrollable and difficult to understand have a motivational need to adopt political ideologies that foster a sense of order and predictability. Because conservatism offers a sense of certainty by way of its support for current social norms and hierarchies, the theory suggests, Rightists are disproportionately more likely to be cognitively, ideologically and motivationally rigid.

We tested both of these possibilities with our data. The fact that both the ‘extremely Left-wing’ and ‘extremely Right-wing’ expressed absolute certainty about their political views at similar rates supports a link between extreme ideology in general and a black-and-white view of the world. But some of what we found was consistent with the rigidity-of-the-Right hypothesis. For one, when we assessed a characteristic known as dogmatism via a . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 6:53 pm

The Most Successful Scientific Theory Ever: The Standard Model

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Science, Video

The Big Red One: A ferment

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The Big Red One here refers not to the famous 1st Infantry Division (aka “The Fighting First”) but to my new ferment:

red cabbage
• red kale
red beet
red onion
red apple
red cayenne peppers
red Russian garlic
• fresh ginger root
• Medjool dates
• chipotle and ancho chiles

I was aiming for 3 liters (two 1.5-liter jars), but on looking at the gathered ingredients, I thought I would exceed that by about a liter, and I was right:

The two large jars are 1.5 liter each, the small jar is 1 liter. The whole batch, once prepared in my biggest bowl, weighed 2,735g (6 pounds), not counting the weight of the bowl, so I used 55g Himalayan pink salt (a salt to veggie ratio of 2% by weight).

Below is what I did with each ingredient. (The links below are not affiliate links; they’re just meant to be specific and helpful.) It occurs to me that preparing the vegetables would be much easier and faster if I still had my big Cuisinart food processor: slicing and grating the vegetables would be a snap. However, doing it by hand wasn’t all that onerous.

  • red cabbage – quartered and cored it, then I sliced the wedges 1mm thick using my Oxo handheld mandoline (Oxo makes several; link is to the one that I use.)
  • red kale – chopped stems very small, then sliced leaves thin
  • red beet – coarsely grated using my Rösle coarse grater
  • red onion – quartered vertically, then quarters sliced thin with my chef’s knife. (Now that I think about it, I could have used the mandoline, and that may have worked better.)
  • red apple – grated using the Rösle coarse grater
  • red cayenne peppers – sliced in thin cross-sections, using the knife
  • red Russian garlic – peeled (very easy — this garlic’s skin is like a shell and it pops off readily) and then sliced thin using my Oxo garlic mandoline.
  • fresh ginger root – I used about 1/3 of the piece shown, and sliced it thin with my knife; I did not peel it.
  • Medjool dates – pitted and chopped
  • chipotle and ancho chiles – I ground these in my Cuisinart spice & nut grinder

After all the veggies were prepped (sliced or grated or chopped or ground) and in my big bowl, I poured 1/2 cup spring water into my 1-cup measure and stirred in a packet of starter culture. This must hydrate for 10 minutes before use, so I let it hydrate while I mixed and massaged the vegetables.

I added the 55g Himalayan coarse salt to the veggies, and then I massaged and mixed everything by hand, with some vigor and firmness. I made sure the ingredients were well mixed, which required some effort since when I started they were more or less layered in the bowl in the order I had prepared them.

Lesson learned: Mix as I go: add a vegetable or two, then mix that well with everything so far in the bowl. As a result, the mixing at the end will be easy, since I must mix only that last vegetable (in this case, the cabbage) into a well-mixed pile of the earlier ingredients. 

One advantage of using my hands to mix is that I occasionally came across a largish lump of cabbage or onion. When I did, I removed it, sliced it thin with the chef’s knife, and returned the slivers to the bowl.

After 15-20 minutes of mixing and massaging, the vegetables were softened and liquid had pooled in the bottom of the bowl.

At that point I added the culture water and continued to mix and massage for another five minutes to make sure the culture was well distributed throughout the vegetables.

I then packed the two 1.5 liter jars, put the leftover veggies into the 1-liter jar, split the liquid in the bowl among the three jars, and put a fermentation weight into each jar. Then I poured in enough spring water just to cover the weights, and put fermentation airlocks on two of the jars. For the Weck jar, I just rest the lid on top of its gasket.

This should be ready August 25. Lesson learned: start next batch before this is completely gone so I don’t have to go without for two weeks.

See also my general reference post on fermenting vegetables.

Update: I really like the Weck 1.5L jar — easy to pack and to unpack — and I’m thinking I’ll get two more, which for me is ideal. Having three of these jars means that I can make a 3-liter batch (using two of the three jars), and then after I’ve consumed the contents of one of the jars, I can wash it and use it and the third jar to make another 3-liter batch, which can ferment while I finish the earlier batch.

That way, I will never run out of fermented vegetables, and I can always make a 3-liter batch using Weck 1.5L cylindrical jars and let it ferment while I finish off the already-fermented vegetables in the third Weck jar.

 

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 12:54 pm

The Weight Loss Program That Got Better with Time

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 10:19 am

When you don’t hear what your body is telling you

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Ijeoma Oluo has a very interesting post on her experience in being body-deaf (the way some people are tone-deaf). And the comments to the article are also interesting. For example, I had not known that body-deafness is common among those who suffer from ADHD. Olumo writes:

It starts with the world’s most boring mystery.

Last week, in the middle of the night, I found myself doubled over in unbearable pain. Again. It was radiating up my back and wrapping around my ribcage. I had fallen asleep feeling fine and then woke up in agony. The pain didn’t subside for hours. After the pain meds didn’t work, pacing the floor didn’t work, sedatives didn’t work – I started to panic. Then I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

This was the second time in about a week or so that I’d experienced this sort of attack. And it was a pain I had remembered cropping up every few weeks for many years. I try to avoid googling body ailments because I always come out of such internet sessions hyperventilating, convinced I’m dying of cancer (find me a google search for a body ailment that doesn’t end in cancer and I’ll name my next pet after you). But I was desperate, and I knew that if this was happening to me with such frequency then it must be happening to other people as well and surely at least one of these people has found a solution.

I remembered that I had eaten the same meal from the same restaurant that I had eaten at the last time this attack of back pain happened. So I wondered if maybe it was some sort of allergic reaction that somehow caused back pain. Starting with that premise was a smart move because a search for “can certain foods cause back pain” quickly turned up an option for back pain associated with stomach upset. My searches said that sometimes stomach pain is felt through the back, and often is associated with IBS.

I knew almost nothing about IBS but further searches had my symptoms line up quite neatly with IBS (type C). I’ve had at least 20 years of digestive issues that I’ve regularly either written off as just having a “weird body” or decided that people who poop more than once a week are the weird ones. That’s sort of beside the point though, because I still need to see a doctor for a more firm diagnosis.

So why am I writing this?

I’m writing this because as I finished eating breakfast this morning, my back started hurting again. My immediate thoughts were, “Oh did I sleep weird?” “Was my posture that bad last night when I was watching tv in bed?” But the ache in my back wasn’t a sharp pain, it was the radiating, throbbing pain I’d had just last week. I looked down at the remains of my breakfast: Coffee with oat milk creamer, a bagel with butter, cantaloupe with yogurt – the really good full fat with added cream kind.

I’m lactose intolerant. My mom, sister, and brother are as well. My two sons are. With the addition of a partner who is also lactose intolerant I have often marveled at how in this household I’m the only one who can seem to indulge in dairy (within reason) without paying much of a price outside of some gas. I’ve had to pick my kids up from school early because the milkshake they begged for the night before had kept them in the bathroom the first two periods of school the next day. When I was their age I too used to have horrible stomachaches after eating dairy that left me pretty incapacitated for hours. But over the years that had faded to an extent that really surprised me.

As I stared at my breakfast and felt the pain radiating up my back I realized that I was likely experiencing stomach pain. I closed my eyes and tried hard to concentrate on my body. The feeling of unease that was filling me. Was that anxiety, my old friend? Yes. But behind that it was….nausea? Yes, that might be what nausea is to me today.

It might seem weird to have to sit and concentrate to figure out if you feel nauseous or not but as I realized that I was probably experiencing nausea it all clicked into a long, familiar pattern in my relationship with my body, especially with my digestive system. It doesn’t exist.

The relationship, that is. Pretty sure my digestive system hasn’t gotten up and walked away (although if it did, I likely wouldn’t have noticed).

The first time I passed out due to low blood sugar was in the first grade. It was certainly not the last. Years of iron supplements, vitamins, doctor recommendations, nothing helped. By the time I hit high school I was swooning like I was a white maiden in a Jane Austen novel who had just been told that we could only afford 5 household servants due to our now “reduced circumstances”.

There was about a 10 year period of time between  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2022 at 10:13 am

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

What is the optimal diet?

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Something happened in 1926, and I have no idea what it was. Look at the two charts in the video at 00:44 to 00:51. Note the sharp change in rate of increase that happened in 1926. Any ideas about that year?

— Update: Just received a phone call from The Eldest, who works at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She told me that it was around 1926 — in fact, slightly before — that scientists began to discover the chemistry of food: what things in food made it nutritious. She sent me a PDF of a timeline of nutrition research. 

Still, that leaves open the question of what happened in 1926 to bend upward the rate of deaths from heart disease — e.g., 

Chart from the video below, which includes also a chart for Females (showing the same upward bend at 1926)
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Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 11:47 am

Burn, baby, burn: The new science of metabolism

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In October of 2021, David Cox reported in the Guardian:

Losing weight may be tough, but keeping it off, research tells us, is tougher – just not for the reasons you might think.

As the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA Nutrition Center Tufts University, Massachusetts, Susan Roberts has spent much of the past two decades studying ways to fight the obesity epidemic that continues to plague much of the western world.

But time and again, Roberts and other obesity experts around the globe have found themselves faced with a recurring problem. While getting overweight individuals to commit to shedding pounds is often relatively straightforward in the short term, preventing them from regaining the lost weight is much more challenging.

According to the University of Michigan, about 90% of people who lose significant amounts of weight, whether through diets, structured programmes or even drastic steps such as gastric surgery, ultimately regain just about all of it.

Why is this? Scientists believe that the answer lies in the workings of our metabolism, the complex set of chemical reactions in our cells, which convert the calories we eat into the energy our body requires for breathing, maintaining organ functions, and generally keeping us alive.

When someone begins a new diet, we know that metabolism initially drops – because we are suddenly consuming fewer calories, the body responds by burning them at a slower pace, perhaps an evolutionary response to prevent starvation – but what then happens over the following weeks, months, and years, is less clear.

“Does metabolism continue to go down, more than it should,” asks Roberts, “or does it initially go down, and then bounce back? This is an enormously controversial topic, and one that we’re looking to address.”

Over the next three to four years, we may get some answers. Roberts is co-leading a new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health in the US, which will follow 100 individuals over the course of many months as they first lose and then regain weight, measuring everything from energy expenditure to changes in the blood, brain and muscle physiology, to try to see what happens.

The implications for how we tackle obesity could be enormous. If metabolism drops and continues to stay low during weight loss, it could imply that dieting triggers innate biological changes that eventually compel us to eat more. If it rebounds to normal levels, this suggests that weight regain is due to the recurrence of past bad habits, with social and cultural factors tempting us to go back to overeating.

“If someone’s metabolism really drops during weight loss and doesn’t recover, it shows we have to put all of our money on preventing weight gain in the first place,” says Roberts. “Because once it’s happened, you’re doomed. If metabolism rebounds, it means that the lessons about eating less because you’ve now got a smaller body haven’t been learned effectively. So we might need to encourage people who have lost weight to see psychologists to work on habit formation. These are such different conclusions that we really need to get it right.”

This is just one of many ways in which our understanding of metabolism is evolving. In recent years, many of the traditional assumptions, which had long been accepted as truth – that exercise can ramp up metabolism, that metabolism follows a steady decline from your 20s onwards – have been challenged. For scientists at the forefront of this field, these answers could go on to change many aspects of public health.

The age myth

In mid-August, a paper emerged in the journal Science that appeared to challenge one of metabolism’s universal truths. For decades, scientists have accepted that metabolism begins to slow down in early adulthood, initiating a steady descent that continues through middle age and later life, inevitably resulting in the phenomenon known as “middle-aged spread”.

But this may not actually be true. Over the past few years, Herman Pontzer, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, North Carolina, and more than 80 other scientists have compiled data from more than 6,400 individuals – from eight days to 95 years old – that shows something very different.

It appears that between the ages of 20 and 60 our metabolism stays almost completely stable, even during major hormonal shifts such as pregnancy and menopause. Based on the new data, a woman of 50 will burn calories just as effectively as a woman of 20.

Instead, there are just two major life shifts in our metabolism, with the first occurring  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 12:39 pm

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making

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Mark Olalde and Maya Miller report in ProPublica:

The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres. Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.

Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die. Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.

“We were sacrificed a long time ago,” said Candace Head-Dylla, who created the death map with her mother after Head-Dylla had her thyroid removed and her mother developed breast cancer. Research has linked both types of illnesses to uranium exposure.

Beginning in 1958, a uranium mill owned by Homestake Mining Company of California processed and refined ore mined nearby. The waste it left behind leaked uranium and selenium into groundwater and released the cancer-causing gas radon into the air. State and federal regulators knew the mill was polluting groundwater almost immediately after it started operating, but years passed before they informed residents and demanded fixes.

The contamination continued to spread even after the mill closed in 1990.

The failures at Homestake are emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry, one that has been well-documented from its boom during the Cold War until falling uranium prices and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power decimated the industry in the 1980s. Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history.

But for four decades, the management of more than 250 million tons of radioactive uranium mill waste has been largely overlooked, continuing to pose a public health threat.

ProPublica found that regulators have failed to hold companies to account when they missed cleanup targets and accepted incorrect forecasts that pollution wouldn’t spread. The federal government will eventually assume responsibility for the more than 50 defunct mills that generated this waste.

At Homestake, which was among the largest mills, the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away. Interviews with dozens of residents, along with radon testing and thousands of pages of company and government records, reveal a community sacrificed to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal and atomic energy industry.

Time and again, Homestake and government agencies promised to clean up the area. Time and again, they missed their deadlines while further spreading pollution in the communities. In the 1980s, Homestake promised residents groundwater would be cleaned within a decade, locals told the Environmental Protection Agency and ProPublica. After missing that target, the company told regulators it would complete the job around 2006, then by 2013.

In 2014, an EPA report confirmed the site posed an unacceptable cancer risk and identified radon as the greatest threat to residents’ health. Still, the cleanup target date continued shifting, to 2017, then 2022.

Rather than finish the cleanup, Homestake’s current owner . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

Choosing foods that cultivate a healthy gut microbiome — and how that enhances your health in general

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The research findings discussed in the video below are extremely interesting — with clear implications for what one should eat to optimize health. More information.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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