Tag Archives: news stories

Back to blogging

It’s been a good (and long) social media break! And an interesting one… as you may know I decided to take a break from FaceBook, which just naturally turned into a “no social media” break. Online, I only used email, and I only read BBC news, The Guardian (being careful to access the UK edition), and some of The Washington Post. It was sort of glorious – there was an instant feeling of superiority (oh come in, there is… don’t believe me? Check out this simultaneously hilarious and too-close-to-the-bone video:

)

… which soon faded, a lot of extra free-time …which I soon filled with online shopping, US Weekly and ALL the episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and a strange feeling of loneliness at times… which soon passed.

The superiority, free-time and loneliness passed soon enough, and I was left with just a little bit more a rounded view of world knowledge and a much heavier text messaging bill. Weirdly, I missed Instagram,  and my blog, and Buzzfeed – but never FaceBook. Like, I thought FaceBook would be the thing I missed most, and I would be chomping to get back to… but as 2017 rolled around and I felt my self-imposed social media hiatus should come to end I just had no particular impetus to rejoin. Despite some “did she have the baby yet?” style curiosity (and yes, there are emails and texts for that), I just never felt the urge to reactive my profile.

So, I didn’t. I started to post on Instagram again (hey, I am way too obsessed by food, my cats and my kids not to, alright?), and I started to read Buzzfeed (while trying to continue to read more reputable news sites, with admittedly limited success), but through general inertia just never got around to really joining FaceBook again in a meaningful way (secret confession: I have a profile solely so I can buy LulaRoe clothes. Don’t know what LulaRoe is? DON’T TRY TO FIND OUT OR YOU WILL GO BROKE!). And although I missed my little blog it was hard to find the time to post, and hard to be motivated when I didn’t have a social media platform on which to share my posts. But, even so, some 4 months later I am sad, because I have this chunk of my family’s life that there is no record of now (Memory? What is this memory if which you speak? If it isn’t recorded on social media, it didn’t happen… mmmmkay?). And, especially, the kids’ development is no longer chronically in any meaningful way what with them having grown out of their baby books and all (and my ‘phone breaking and losing moths of pictures too – sob). I miss seeing pics of them and watching the grow up. And I miss being able to stay in touch with my friends through the comments sections.

So, I hope to start blogging again, and I super hope that some of y’all will join me back on this journey 🙂

Thinking about a social media break

I am a big fan of Facebook. Recently I was challenged to write 3 things I was grateful for, for 7 days. On day 4 I wrote that I was grateful for Facebook as it helped me keep in touch with so many friends near and far. It helps distant family feel close to Sam, and it helps me reconnect with friends when I see them as if we had never been apart. I am not ignorant to the fact that several amazing presents have come my way on the back of Facebook comments.

So, while I do miss actual snail mail, with the tendency to include photos and cool things (and I love my friend Frances’ idea to reinstate the writing of actual proper letter, [and she even goes so far as to get them in the mail]) I am aware of all the benefits of social media. That being said, I am also aware of a growing downside to social media for me. It’s not the classic ‘comparing my outtakes to every else’s highlights real’ (which I managed to work through and overcome that a while ago) but more, the time sink. I have realized that given 20 or so minutes to myself  (which actually is all I seem to find to myself of late) I will choose to zone out in Facebook, even if it several times a day. I wonder if I could be doing something more productive during that time – relaxing, and a hobby, but more productive? Sewing, blogging, baking, walking all jump to mind. Anything other than scrolling through my newsfeed. I have lamented the neglected state of this blog and have missed writing it, but wondered when I would find the time – then I realized all together I probably spend a couple of hours a day on Facebook, or facebook-originated click bait.

When I started to think about taking a break, I realized a second down side of social media to me – it’s kind of an information overload for me. I am a member of enough groups and media websites and that I get offered about 200 articles a day on Science, parenting, politics etc; but the thing is: most of them are terribly written. Even ifl Science has been winding me up with the inability to write accurately about a very simple Scientific concept: heritability. If ifl Science describes an 80% heritability as “80% of cases are due to genes” when actually it means that 80% of the population under study’s liability is due to genes, and thus potentially no single case could entirely due to genes, let alone 80% of cases…. I digress, if I can stop smile errors in areas of Science I know, what else is it describing inaccurately to me? Would I not be better off reading articles on PubMed? Along the same lines, do I need to read endless anti-vax articles which make me depressed or enraged depending on the time of day and amount of coffee I have had? Or more stupid, uniformed and inaccurate  comments from The Food Babe? Even more damaging for me: do I need to read parenting articles from pseudo scientists that make me defensive and insecure about a process I am actually entirely comfortable and and at ease with?

When I had a friend who left Facebook because she got depressed about other people’s lives looking so much ‘better’ than hers, I understood, but took the view that I don’t use social media in that way. I don’t use it to compare my life. I used it sensibly. But now, 2 hours + day of mindless scrolling later I wonder if I actually do? It is a great way to stay in touch with people, but perhaps I should confine it to that?

I have two stores that stick in my mind… One is of a friend who describes her birth as “my water broke at night… I went into hospital… after a couple of hours I found I didn’t have to wait for an epidural! I got mine immediately… slept through the night… woke up… waited for my OB and had a baby”. The other is of a friend who casually mentioned she was grateful for doing sleep training with their 8 week old. These stories interested me because both of these decisions: epidural and sleep training I arrived at after WEEKS of agonizing and hundreds of internet articles telling me that both would ruin my child and indicated that I was somehow less of a devoted parent. My two friends had reached these two decisions easily, and seemed oblivious to “the great debates” surrounding them. Ultimately they made the same decisions as me, but without the heartache. And ultimately, if they had made those decisions or the opposite, I am pretty sure they, their children and their families would have been just grand. It occurred to me that both these friends barely use facebook. They post the odd update, stay in touch… but are not the (dare I say) addict I am.

It really got me thinking that perhaps I needed to step away not just from the information overload, but from the uniformed information overload.

I am resolved not to break from Facebook, but to limit my time with it. Maybe a morning scroll in bed, a quick look in my lunch break. Maybe I don’t even need to be on every day?  I have toyed with taking a clean break for a while, but I would feel bad that my family would not see so many of Sam’s pictures. I am hoping that a break will still help stop me sharing everything via Facebook and gets me back to writing a few more blog posts . I am also hoping my stress from silly click bait is reduced.

What about you? Do you find social media positive or negative? Do you think it hold you back and uses up too much of your time, or have you got it where you like it?

What I miss most about Britain

or… how America turned me into an activist.


I am often asked what I miss most about Britain, and have been since I first landed in the good old US of A. I knew I missed something big, but I could not put my finger on it. So, I often answered very flippantly: ‘Marmite‘,

or ‘Ribena

or, perhaps if I was talking to someone older and wiser: ‘my friends and family’.

I do of course miss those. Especially my friends and family, but that never quite summed up the ache in my heart. I wondered if it was bigger: public transport?

Again, I do miss that, but the answer isn’t satisfactory. Again, while I applaud and support the development of a wider public transport system I can be happy without it. There is something I find it difficult to be happy and content without, and that I have yet to find here in America:

Being trusted, protected and respected. And because of that, we are to some extent: humble.

Hmmm… let me elaborate with some examples:

In the UK, believe it or not, people do have a fairly strong personal moral codes, that encompass all the current political ‘hot topics’ from abortion, to homosexuality, to healthcare, to contraception. But that is the key: they are personal moral codes. That is: yes, contraception is as easy to get as candy – for everyone. The young, straight, gay, unmarried, old, married, male, female, rich, poor and all alike. That isn’t to say that everyone is encouraged to be ‘at it’ all the time: some people are indeed so, and some people are not. We are trusted to make my own decisions about our sexual relationships, and protected as much as possible from any consequences.

My personal story is that I decided sex before marriage was not the course for me. Then I decided to have sex before marriage, then I later changed my mind and stopped, after deciding through personal conversations with God, that it hadn’t been the best choice for me, and as my husband put it, He had ‘kicked my tail’ for it :). In England was respected for all these decisions (even though at very step of the way someone didn’t agree with them), and I was protected from any consequences. By the law, and by society (including by my parents). People are humble enough to accept that they do not know the right answer for individuals, or for society, or certainly for God, and so individuals are given all the tools they can be provided with make their own decisions, with minimal negative consequences.

I findthe moralizing and judging that goes on in America very difficult. When I expressed the view that contraception should be freely available to all, one outraged response was “Why should *I* pay for *you* to have sex??” – the implication being that sex before marriage (or sex at all – who knows) was not this person’s choice, so why should they financially support my choice if it was different? Because, here is the thing: we all make choices, and we all make choices that others disagree with and have to pay for. Whether it is the food we eat, the dangerous sports we play, the people we sleep with, the lack of exercise we undertake, the lack of sleep we get, the speed of our car, the stress of our job, our plans to travel, our decision to be married (or not): all of these are decisions that likely will affect our health and in the UK there is no moral judgement about which choices you make. Again, you are trusted to make your own decisions, and protected from them. I was so saddened today to read of doctors in America turning away patients over 200lbs: how can that be acceptable? How can you judge that you won’t help these people, but those with stressful jobs you will? Were any ‘decisions’ really made?? And if they were, who made the worse decisions? And can’t we be humble in recognizing our own mistakes and helping protect people from theirs?

This is how I arrived at my stance on abortion. Yes, personally I think it is wrong. I am: anti-abortion. But, I would never take away someone’s right to make that decision themselves: I am pro-choice. And I would never judge someone who had suffered through an abortion. Were you a friend who came t me in need, I would support, and respect you and care for you. I am anti-abortion for me. I am pro-choice for everyone. When does life ‘start’ – how should I know? How should anyone, except God, know? If you don’t believe in God then look to Scientists, or feelings, or some other deities. Either way: there is no answer. Be humble enough to know that you do not know, and trust yourself to follow your own moral / personal code, and respect other people enough to decide theirs.

I guess I miss this trust, respect, protection and humility and how it reflects on my faith as well. To me: faith is very personal decision. The cornerstone of my Christianity is a deeply personal relationship with God. I don’t think I have got it ‘right’ (other than that I love Him above all others, and am forever grateful He sent His only Son to die for my sins), but I don’t like (1) being told how to live my faith and life and (2) being judged and punished by anyone but God when it doesn’t conform to their perceptions of what my faith / life should be. My reading of the Bible is that it is outside the law: so the law should extend complete equality and a basic code of rights to all law abiding citizens, and one’s relationship to God is what decides how you choose live within that. Isn’t that ultimate freedom?

You know – I don’t agree that God asks for no contraception and no masturbation. But, I respect that some Christians do, and I will protect their right to execute these choices. I am humble enough to think: maybe they are right, but I trust myself to be guided in my own moral code (it of course, doesn’t have to be a religious code). I also *do* personally think that God asks us not to look at pornographic images, but I acknowledge I could be wrong, and respect people who do such, and certainly am humble enough NOT to judge them. Hence, much as I don’t really like the porn industry, I would not seek to punish people for accessing it. I might seek to educate and protect but as maybe I am wrong, and pornography is the healthiest thing for mankind: I would not deny others access.

I guess a good exemplary of this, is how the UK taught me about the whole creationism / evolution debate. We learned about evolution in Science. We learned about the support for evolution, and we learned about the phenomena evolution perhaps could not explain, and the criticisms leveled at evolution science. We were told that evolution was studied in Science because it was a Scientifically testable theory, but the completing theory was not, and so the alternative was mentioned in Science, but we would learn about that in Religion. Almost simultaneously, in Religious Studies, we were were taught about creationism and the arguments for / against, including again, the criticisms  leveled at evolution. (We were also taught some non-Christian but religious creation arguments). We were supplied with the facts, told that no one knows the answer, and trusted to make up our own mind. My ‘mind’ and opinion evolved (pardon the pun) over time, but it never caused me much distress. When we covered this topic in Bible group we listened to people defend and criticize the Biblical view of creation, and to people try to synthesize the two. All views were respected as potentially correct.

And through all this, I have friends who have made utterly different decisions to me: health wise, sex wise, religion wise. I love and respect them all: I don’t think either one of us is ‘better’ than the other. I do think those who do not believe that Jesus died for our sins are not going to heaven – and while this is sad, this does make me think I am better person, or that I have any right to tell them how to live their life (incidentally, much as they love me, many of them think I am gullible at best and a crazy ‘magical thinker’ at worst 🙂 ). We just all live our lives, respecting each other’s choices, and trying to protect our loved ones from any potential consequences of their decisions.

The upshot of this is that Christians are not really hated in England. I was shocked when people in America seemed to get angry or passionately against Christians. How can you be so against peaceful (now… history is a bit different, tiz true) people, who are told to – above all else – love each other. Then I totally saw why: some Christians are trying to force a life on people, based on a belief system these people don’t have! Good grief! I would hate Catholics if they took my contraception away! I would equally have hated atheists if they had insisted I had sex before marriage (returned to. Ahem.). And, I think some Christians are trying to impinge on my personal relationship to God, by telling me how to live out that relationship, when the only voice I want to hear about that comes from God Himself. Not saying I will get it right… but I have no reason to think you will do a better job, either.

A more succinct summary of my views.

So, that is what I miss in the UK. I miss freedom to practice my faith in my way. I miss respect for my religious choices. I miss respect for my non religious choices. I miss a law system in which I am afforded equality and power and protection from the consequences of choices – be they mistakes or not – and a society that trusts me to make my own decisions within that.

I think my most passionate wish at the moment is that my child be bought up to respect and trust other people’s decisions, and to never judge law-abiding others as ‘wrong’, or deny them equality for these decisions. And to feel free to make his own decisions about his life, and his body and his views as he feels is right for him.

Image credits:

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb.html

http://nannyknowsbest.blogspot.com/2011/05/dangers-of-marmite.html

http://offriendsfoodandfun.blogspot.com/2010/08/homemade-snake-bite-d.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-decker_bus

Less food… more life…?

Very interesting talk on caloric restriction in rhesus monkeys at the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center yesterday from Dr. Rozalyn Anderson, Ph.D. an Assistant Professor, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I am super busy at the moment, I am not going to whinge, but I’m in those very exciting last 2 weeks of a grant submission, while trying to get at least one faculty job application off my desk per week, and maintain my papers submission (i.e. not piss off the co-workers whom will write my letters of reference). I refer you to Stella for a nicely scholarly and full discussion of the lecture. I’ll just give you a precis of my take home messages, focusing on the more surprising findings:

When rhesus monkeys were on 25% caloric restriction (without malnutriton) from their ad libitum weight maintenance diet:

*Death from all cause mortality was signficiantly reduced, after a period of ~10 years

*Death from age-related mortality was even more significantly reduced across the whole lifespan

*Almost all forms of senescence were significantly delayed. Interestingly Dr. Anderson really delved into depth here, showing for example how muscle fibres did not show age-related changes

*Fat mass was significantly reduced

*Despite caloric restriction: lean body mass did not decline

*Organ size did decline, but only as expected for a smaller animal

*Despite caloric restriction: basal metabolic rate did not drop. The CR monkeys only saw a drop in the amount of energy used to perform activities, i.e. they became more efficient

*The CR monkeys looked amazing to the naked eye. Their fur remained thick, and so luscious – I was amazed. They made the non-CR monkeys look like they had been rescued from a situation of neglect.

I was very interested in the discussion afterwards. Two points, specifically:

*Dr Anderson was asked whether the macronutrient that was restricted (fat / carb / protein) made a difference. She said that in the absence of malnutrition, and excluding some disease-specific effects, no. Her informal observations was if you were either ~25% under, or 25% over your caloric needs, it didn’t matter much what you ate. If you were under: your body would adapt and use everything. If you were over: you were going to cause yourself trouble whatever you were overeating. My personal experience with the latter backs this up (overeating protein as a ‘free’ food). It is just if you are somewhere in the middle; eating around your caloric needs, that macronutrient balance might make a difference.

I wonder if this could partially explain why some people can eat fast food endlessly, and remain metabolically well? These tend to be slimmer people, so I could guess they were eating less than their caloric needs: at this point, it doesn’t matter what they are eating. Then take individuals who eat around their caloric needs from junk food, and are suffering metabolic dysfunction: is it because they are in the ‘somewhere in between’ zone where what you eat matters? If you are going to always eat poorer quality food or fast food, do you need to calorically restrict to remain healthy? I don’t know – pure anecdotal speculation (it’s my blog. I’m allowed 🙂 )

*She didn’t recommend this for humans. Stella touches on this: she says the psychological harm from restricting herself outweighs any physical benefit. This was Dr. Anderson’s point: do you want to take away a glass of wine after a hard day? Something yummy to eat to look forward to? I don’t agree with these views. I think we have come so far from what is good for us, in terms of exercise and eating, that drastic measures are needed. My example: I need ~19000 calories to ‘maintain’ , given my lean body mass (I lift), and general activity level (possibly slightly more since I have been regularly practising HIIT, but let us be conservative). Throw in my daily activity, and I burn, on average, 2,200 calories a day. I currently eat 1,300 a day. It sounds  small, but I eat a large breakfast (oatmeal), a filling snack (Banana and PB or Larabar, sometimes apple and nutella.. mmmmm….), lunch (carbs, protein, veg, sometimes fruit), snack (fruit + nuts or veg and hummus) and dinner (protein, lots of veg, salad and a good whollop of MUFA e.g. 1/2 an avocado). I have energy for all my workouts (when I am not suffering allergies, but that doesn’t count 😉 ).  I am clearly building muscle. I am rarely hungry. It’s easy. I only exercise 20 mins – 1 hour 5 times a week. And I am on a 40% restriction. I can add in some wine, or a beer (I don’t like beer), or I can ‘eat out’ (with appropriate portion sizes), or I could have some cake or chocolate ontop of all this… and still be on 25% restriction or less. It is not that hard for me. I am not sure when we started touting that this sort of behaviour was so wildly out of the norm, or so crazy, or so hard to follow. And I am not sure that helps people who feel they want to follow a different dietary lifestyle, but find it daunting.

Just a thought. Just a thought from someone who recently put on 25 lbs 🙂 Take it with a pinch of salt and do respond honestly, but please don’t flame me 🙂

The seminar is likely to be posted here soon.

Misinterpretations and mass media hysteria

Need a laugh? This article writes a very amusing and light hearted article satirizing how the media misrepresent Science findings. It nicely combines an easy readability and laugh out aloud moments, with a serious point. Its a timely reminder to all of us to be wary of believing what we read. And a nice example of cutting British humour.

US friends: The Daily Mail is our National Enquirer – but it actually tries to report ‘news’ not just celeb stuff.

Kudos Martin Robbins

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/aug/01/1

For anyone interested in following the pre-story behind this, i.e Susan Greenfield’s horrendous article in New Scienist, the wonderful (and Intellectual Crush worthy) Dorothy Bishop provides an intelligent and reasoned, yet passionate summary and the responses to said summary.

Timely reminders to us all about minding what we say and applying critical reason to what we read. Indeed, as my mentor David Allison has been saying recently: one of the best things Scientists can do is remind themselves, regularly, why they got into Science. That should set you straight 🙂

A few of my thoughts on gay marriage

The issue of legalizing gay marriage has made me realise a few things about myself. I assumed that it was a simple equality issue, and so it was right to legalize gay marriage. But, I have realized that it is not a black-and-white right-and-wrong issue to me. To me there is no clear cut right answer, and only opinions on what is best / fair / the right thing to do.

So, NY has legalized gay marriage. Hoorah! I am very happy for this news. Here are some of my thoughts as to why I personally would like Alabama to follow suit and legalize gay marriage.

To me, it is not clear about whether the Bible is against homosexuality or not.

One of the main oppositions I encounter in AL to legalizing gay marriage is that the Bible is anti-gay relations. Well, my problem here is that I don’t know the Bible well enough (and would welcome any thoughts on this). I used to think the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ story was where the Bible explicitly stated the Christian stance against homosexuality. Until I actually read it (now there is an idea). When I read it, my own personal interpretation (which is shared by others) that it was the general debauchery that was problematic, and the main criticism levied against the inhabitants of Sodom was their unwillingness to welcome an outsider. Let us not forget that they wanted to rape the visitor – and that this presumably was a great sin. It’s just not clear to me that the homosexuality was a sin. It is also not clear to me why, if it was, this part of the old testament is still relevant, when we abandon so many other parts under the new covenant.

I am similarly unclear on other parts of the Bible and the stance on homosexuality. The Bible is hugely complex and I don’t think gives us lift off the page answers on many things.

I honestly don’t know what God asks of us on this front. But let us assume, for a minute, that the Bible is anti homosexual relationships. That it is an affront to God. I still think Alabama should legalize gay marriage.

My personal belief is that the value of marriage is less about gender relations, and more about respecting individuals who commit to another, in a loving and faithful fashion.

Even if there are things in a relationship we don’t personally agree are good life choices, I think you can still respect and honour two individuals who commit to a loving relationship, and recognize this as something you promote and support, in its own right. I respect family bonds, and people who work hard to maintain a family. I believe this is a tough thing to do, and I could only commit to marrying someone, and in my heart believe it was a lifelong commitment, if I knew God would help me maintain that commitment. I personally don’t think that I am strong enough to do it without His love and support. I happily respect any union that is aimed at the same goal: of making a stable and lifelong family, which I believe is a Godly endeavor (although you can execute it without God and I still support that), and accepting and negotiating all the personal sacrifices one has to make in that quest.

Thus, I don’t believe that legalizing gay marriage is the start of some slippery slope, and we ‘just don’t know where it will end’.

I understand some people feel this: legalizing gay marriage is just another step in the decline of the sanctity of marriage. And a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step. However, I believe that legalizing gay marriage is the exact opposite: it is to me, respecting the sanctity of marriage for what it is supposed to be, and what so many heterosexual couples fail to make it: a lifelong loving commitment. Heterosexuals have made a mess of the institution of marriage – it is always a union between a man and a woman, but only 50% of the time is it a lifelong commitment as promised (a lot of the time it isn’t even loving). I honestly think this a way of redeeming it.

Maybe these views reflect another view of mine: I don’t believe marriage is for everybody. And it makes me cross that some sectors of society still hold it up as a goal to be strived for at all costs. My personal opinion is that if it is not for you – for whatever reason – then you should never, ever feel pressured into doing it for legal / societal norm reasons. I think a lot of heartache could be saved if people didn’t assume that marriage was inevitable, and if people didn’t treat news of engagements / weddings as the attainment of some lofty goal (I famously was PISSED that I got more congratulations for getting married than I did for passing my PhD).To me, it is not a goal, or an achievement, but a reflection of a commitment and lifestyle choice that is made with good loving intentions, and hard to maintain. I respect people who are brave enough not make that commitment, just I respect ALL who are brave enough to make it.

I am a practicing Christian, and I am not 100% sure on where God stands on homosexuality. However, I do know I sin every day – sometimes accidentally, sometimes as an active decision. I don’t think it is my right or my place to grade sins, and decide some are better or worse than others, but I do think it is my Christian duty to be as graceful as possible, as loving as possible, and to support Christian values, such as loving faithful relationships wherever they occur.

Plus of course, marriage can be an entirely legal, and non Christian endeavour.

I found it was, more often than not, in AL  than the UK. Many people have an a-religious ceremony. So if a man and woman can do that, and make a commitment without God, why can’t two men or two women? So: go NY, I think you did an awesome thing.

I don’t know when my blog got so political. I entirely blame my new officemate and intend to return to writing about cats and dieting shortly 🙂