The sun’s magnetic field is expected to reverse its polarity in the next few months, flipping the north pole to the south and vice versa. It is said to occur every 11 years. Researchers have assured that “we have nothing to fear.” Solar physicist Phil Scherrer told SPACE.com that “the world will not end tomorrow.” Continue reading Sun to Undergo Total Magnetic Flip
The mayor of London, England, Boris Johnson, wrote a widely referenced column the other day on the possibility that a “mini ice age” is upon us, due to a diminution in the activity of that yellow thing you see sometimes in the sky, known as the sun. He cited the theories of an astrophysicist named Piers Corbyn. And he cited his own personal experience of the last five winters in his locale. Reading his colorful descriptions of the unusual snowiness these past few years, I was reminded (naturally) of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by the great Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas.
Near the beginning of that classic and wonderful work of modern literature, the older narrator is speaking of how it used to snow in Wales, and a small boy interjects with a comment about a recent snowfall he had experienced. The narrator is quick to correct the boy’s idea that there is any valid comparison to be made.
“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”
(If you’ve never read the whole thing, you really should treat yourself and pick up a copy someplace.)
What Dylan Thomas is doing is perfectly evoking the magical powers of human memory; in particular, he is illustrating its wondrous power to distort the “truth” by magnifying that which we remember fondly. If you grew up anywhere where it snowed at all, the odds are that you recall the snowstorms of your childhood in some similar manner, as great and overwhelming blizzards, every day a perfectly frozen Christmas card image of a winter wonderland. Winters these days just don’t compare. (Must be something up with the climate.)
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is deliberately doing the precise opposite, of-course, in his column. He is perceiving the recent winters in England as being much more severe and snowier than those that are traditional. Somewhere there are numbers to be compared and verified, naturally, but that’s not what I’m about here today.
There is another kind of distortion of memory, typical of humans, whereby we attach greater weight to recent perceptions, and discount knowledge of the past. So it is that we might experience a few hot summers and think: “It’s never been this bad —the world must be about to boil over.” Likewise we might imagine there have never been so many hurricanes as there have been in recent years, without checking the actual stats. Some will argue that Boris Johnson is overreacting to a few recent cold winters in the same way. Continue reading The Mini Ice Age Cometh
Although a resident of Manhattan, I rarely have cause to go down to the Financial District near the lower tip of the island. As a general rule, there are only two reasons to go to that part of town: (1) just to look at things, i.e. as a tourist and (2) to go to work, if you should happen to work there. These days there’s a third reason, of-course: to protest the stinking capitalists (which many are currently doing by camping out in a public plaza nearby and stinking back at them).
Today (a Sunday) I thought I’d go down there for reason #1: tourism. Mainly, it’s been so long since I’ve been there that I wanted to see in person how far construction on the “Freedom Tower” had come. However, we’re not supposed to call it the “Freedom Tower” anymore, since that apparently scared people—and isn’t freedom a scary thing?— so it’s just “One World Trade Center” now. In any case, the last time I had been down there there was virtually nothing above ground. It has pained many of us for the past decade to have a big hole in the ground down at Ground Zero, and I wanted to replace that mental image. Continue reading A Visit to Wall Street and Environs
Why does vitamin D interest me so? I swear, I’m not one of those supplement-popping freaks. I’ve never been a vitamin C zealot, nor a loud advocate of ginseng, royal jelly or even wheat germ. Yet, the continuing story of how vitamin D levels have been massively overlooked by the scientific and medical communities as a vital factor in human health fascinates and compels me because it is a singular example which illuminates a much bigger picture.
Science is wonderful. Medical science has saved so many lives and every day works what would have been considered miracles not very long ago. It is to be greatly valued and scientists and doctors are to be admired and encouraged to continue in the same vein. All of that is true, and yet, it is even more important not to forget one underlying fact: Everything that scientists and doctors think they know could actually be wrong. Everything. Continue reading Study: Vitamin D Crucial to Fighting All Kinds of Infection
It used to be that mothers would tell their children, “Go out and play in the sunshine, it’s good for you.” In more recent years, saying something like that too loudly might have gotten a poor mom arrested and her children taken away from her. “The sun, good for you? Are you crazy? Are you trying to kill your kids with skin cancer?” At least, make sure the urchins are slathered all over in 45 SPF sunscreen, and preferably wearing hats and long sleeves. You might call this the Gospel of St. John the Dermatologist, and it has now been extremely well learned and internalized by a couple of generations of people in the United States and to varying degrees across what we call the developed world. And this much is now clear: it has been killing people. Continue reading Sun, Vitamin D, Cancer, and the Vindication of Common Sense