Monday, July 31, 2006

Bigger (and better?)

Men living in the Civil War era had an average height of 5-foot-7 and weighed an average of 147 pounds. Today, men average 5-foot-9 ½ and weigh an average of 191 pounds. No surprise to most that we're growing bigger. Not only that, however, but we're also living much healthier and longer lives than then. In 1900, 13 percent of people who were 65 could expect to see 85. Now, nearly half of 65-year-olds can expect to live that long. Today's life expectancy has moved past 77 years. Life expectancy in the United States in 1901 was 49 years.

We have become accustomed to imagining life as an almost 100-year journey. Five for Fighting recently based a hit song that I liked on that concept. What most of us don't realize, however, is what a recent phenomenon that mark of longevity is. Throughout almost all of recorded history, humans did not live long lives. Living long enough to procreate was a success. Life expectancy in ancient Greece was 28 years. In classical Rome, also 28. In medieval England, it was 33 years.

The NYT had an interesting article running these concepts down in Sunday's paper. They note,
New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled.
Humans have exhibited multiple changes, most only occurring in the last 100 years. As aforementioned, not only are humans getting bigger and taller and smarter (literally), but,
The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to.
Recent research shows that, often beginning in people's 20's,
...almost everyone of the Civil War generation was plagued by life-sapping illnesses, suffering for decades.
The real intriguing part of the article begins to look at what has caused this remarkable change in human development. As it turns out, some scientists now suspect that your longevity and health are largely determined by what occurs while you're in the womb and before age two. Dr. David J. P. Barker, who formulated the theory, says that he and others have been gathering have convinced him that health in middle age can be determined in fetal life and in the first two years after birth.
Truly interesting, I think.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dirty and Healthy

I have previously mentioned what has become known as the hygiene hypothesis. Basically, it's
a 17-year-old theory that the sanitized Western world may be partly to blame for soaring rates of human allergy and asthma cases and some autoimmune diseases... The theory figures that people's immune systems aren't being challenged by disease and dirt early in life, so the body's natural defenses overreact to small irritants such as pollen.
It's one of two main theories as to the the growth of allergies in our modern world; the other being the prevalence of everyday chemicals.

Recent research has, however, bolstered the case for the validity of the hygiene hypothesis. The study showed that certain rats have better, more effective immune systems. Which would you think it is: dirty sewer rats or clean raised-in-a-pristine-lab rats? Yep, you guessed it, the sewer rats.
...the wild mice and rats had as much as four times higher levels of immunoglobulins, yet weren't sick, showing an immune system tuned to fight crucial germs, but not minor irritants.
Human studies have also long given credence to the hygiene theory, showing that allergy and asthma rates are higher in cleaner industrialized areas. So the lesson is, make sure you let kids play in the mud and eat dirt, play with animals, and most of all, don't overuse antibacterial soap on them. Strategically expose your kids to that which will make them dirty in order that they end up healthy.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

#3 - Don't Try This At Home

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not too terribly embarrassed by the stories on my personal list of worst baseball blunders. After all, if I were, I wouldn’t be posting them on the World Wide Web. Indeed, these events happened in my youth and so much time has passed that now I can just laugh them off.

Except for this one.

Yes, it’s true. This one isn’t all that funny, and I’d like to avoid it. In fact, I’ve racked my brain trying to think of a replacement, but I can’t. If my list of top five baseball blunders is going to have any integrity, this one has to be on it.

I was older--probably 14, maybe even 15 years old. My own baseball career was winding down at that point and I had started to watch a lot of my younger sister’s softball games. I actually quite enjoyed them.

Anyway, at one point in the season the team’s manager asked me to be the third base coach. At first I was a little surprised (and wondered how the dad coaching first base felt about a teenager getting to coach the "important" base), but I gladly accepted. At that point in my life, it was the highest ranking position with the most responsibility that I had held.

As it turned out, I was a natural for the position. As a lifelong baseball player and astute observer of my sister’s softball team, I already had the strategic nuances of a third base coach down pat. And I must have done all right that first game because the manager kept calling me back game after game. Pretty soon it was obvious to me that I was first string third base coach. Nobody would head for third or home without my consent. Now that’s power.

Keep in mind, this softball team was mainly a bunch of 11-year old girls. At that age, they’re looking for guidance, someone to look up to and trust. My sister was fairly popular on the team too, so that made my job even easier. These girls weren’t just going to listen to me, they were going to gladly listen to me.

And this team was good. We won most of our games and definitely had hopes of contending for the championship. Toward the end of the regular season, though, we found ourselves in a tight game. Down by a run in the last inning. I forget how many outs, probably one or zero. Our best player was on first base, representing the tying run. I had butterflies.


A line shot went into right field, and my gut told me that our best player would be able to score from first on the hit. My job was to make sure that when she started rounding second she saw and heard a wild man waving her home to make sure that she would sprint the whole way.

However, after she was about halfway to third, I noticed that the outfielder had picked up the ball and the throw looked “not half bad.” In fact, it looked like the outfielder was indeed going to hit the cutoff. My brain immediately told me to abort the mission and have my runner hold at third.

And if it had been my first day as third base coach, I would have done exactly that. But now I not only considered myself an expert, I was part of the team. This was personal, and I was actively going to make a difference. Besides, I had already been screaming and signaling that she could take home, so for me to now tell her to hold at third would be to admit a mistake.

In my moment of indecision, I glanced at her eyes; they were intent on third base and dreaming of home. She was our best player and wanted to win, hungry to score the tying run. Her eyes were determined. Of course, she had no idea where the ball was at—she was trusting me.

Not missing a beat, I kept waving and hollering. She rounded third...

When I looked back up for the ball, I saw the second basemen wheeling to make the throw from the edge of the grass. In my mind, there was no way that there could be two quality throws in a row. Besides, the second basemen tends to be the worst of the infielders. It just seemed the odds were on our side…

Then the throw came… straight to the catcher’s mitt. It beat my runner by at least 20 feet. She definitely had time to turn around and at least force a pickle, but I think she was too stunned. She should have felt betrayed by me, but more likely her young, impressionable mind somehow thought it was her own fault. Perhaps she blamed herself for not obeying my command to magically score the tying run. This is the only thing I can come up with as to why she didn’t turn around and create a pickle or just stop dead in her tracks and point back at me saying, “You set me up!” Instead, she just kept going.

Well, there was a play at the plate all right. The catcher extended her glove to make the tag, and our best player made her best effort to hurdle the glove. In the process she managed to smack into just about every piece of hard plastic equipment the catcher was wearing.

The catcher hung onto the ball, and not only was our runner called out, she didn’t get up right away. Her dad and our manager both went out to see her as the tears flowed and the dust settled at home plate, but I stayed at third base looking for a very deep hole to crawl into.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Big Dig

For 15 years, beginning in 1991, Boston and Massachusetts spent an average of almost $1 billion per year in the largest highway project ever.

Known as the Big Dig, the project buried Boston’s central highway underground. However, it has been plagued by reports of multiple leaks and problems with slurry walls, cost overruns to reach its final cost of $14.6 billion, and other problems.

Now trouble has struck again. In horrifying news,

...concrete ceiling panels in the tunnel crashed down late Monday night, crushing a car and killing a 38-year-old woman inside. Her husband barely escaped by crawling through a window.

The question is, was it worth it?



Sunday, July 09, 2006


We all say it, but exactly when did this four-letter word gain a strong foothold in American slang? The four-letter word I'm talking about, of course, is "cool."

It might seem like an absurd question at first, but think about it. If you type "cool" into, these are the top five definitions that pop up:
  1. Neither warm nor very cold; moderately cold: fresh, cool water; a cool autumn evening.
  2. Giving or suggesting relief from heat: a cool breeze; a cool blouse.
  3. Marked by calm self-control: a cool negotiator.
  4. Marked by indifference, disdain, or dislike; unfriendly or unresponsive: a cool greeting; was cool to the idea of higher taxes.
  5. Of, relating to, or characteristic of colors, such as blue and green, that produce the impression of coolness.
But in everyday usage, don't we use the word "cool" for a whole lot more? And if this usage is slang which tends to be faddish, why has "cool" remained so hip? (And whatever happened to "hip" by the way? I guess that'll make for a blog another day...)

An article references the 1997 book "America In So Many Words," which traces the modern slang usage of "cool" all the way back to 1947 when the Charlie Parker Quartet recorded “Cool Blues.”

A year later, Life magazine titled an article “Bebop: New Jazz School Is Led by Trumpeter Who Is Hot, Cool and Gone.” And in 1948, The New Yorker said “the bebop people have a language of their own. ... Their expressions of approval include ‘cool.”’

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, says the word should have faded away at the end of the ’50s. Instead, it was adopted and redefined by hippies, followed by surfers, rappers and techno-geeks. “Click here for cool stuff,” Web sites say.

And "cool" doesn't seem to be losing steam, either. It's still the bee's knees, and if anything, the word is as hot as ever.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4

Why do we celebrate today? You might be saying, "Because it's our Independence Day, silly!" Well then, smarty, what does that mean? What happened on this day in 1776 that makes it our Independence Day?

If you think that’s the day the Continental Congress declared independence from Britain, sorry.
Nope, that was voted on and passed on July 2, 1776. In fact, shortly after that vote, John Adams predicted in a letter to his wife Abigail that,

“the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Boy was he wrong. But hey, what did he know, he was only there.

Perhaps you think July 4 was the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
Wrong again! That didn't occur until a month later on August 2, 1776. The final clean copy of the actual Declaration of Independence had to be prepared for the signees to sign.

So what did happen on July 4 then?

Well, it was the date the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was accepted. And of course, since it was that day, that's the date written on the Declaration itself.

So now you know, the rest of the story.
Oh, by the way, and if you want to know the answer to last year's trivia, go look.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

We Are Family

New mathematical and genealogical research suggests we all have a common ancestor in the last five to ten thousand years.
Yet this was the ancestor of every person now living on Earth -- the last person in history whose family tree branches out to touch all 6.5 billion people on the planet today.

That means everybody on Earth descends from somebody who was around...recently.
Interesting. Science is beginning to show answers that match another account we've heard before.

Other research into our common genetic heritage has also gathered steam as science tries to show a more clear picture of our human history based on our our genetic origins. As I have mentioned before, the National Geographic's Genographic Project is seeking to further research our DNA to determine some of these historical answers. While they date our common ancestor longer ago than this other research does, it's actually also much more recent than most scientists had previously thought. Anyone can participate in the Genographic Project, and I'd encourage you to if you are curious as to your deep ancestral lineage.