June 21, 2013

Closeup of the pistil and stamen in the interior of a rose.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There is a lot of news of late about the federal government and the degree to which personal data is being collected and evaluated.  I am not going to include links to any particular article or articles regarding this issue as it is an important topic for which one would do well to explore all sides and the many and varied views and potential ramifications.

It is also worth considering that in the age of the internet and the degree to which info is already gathered and scrutinized by private companies (just do any amount of internet shopping and watch as the products viewed tend to follow as you move from site to site), not to mention the degree to which photographs displaying all manner of human behaviour are posted on various social media sites, privacy standards have already undergone a massive re-alignment.  Therefore, there a few questions worthy of consideration:

Just how close is too close with regard to personal information?  In other words, is just the metadata an issue?

To whom and for what purpose(s) should personal data be available? Does it make a difference whether it is the NSA or Facebook, as examples, mining data?

In ten or fifteen years will you feel differently about your internet profile and what has already been posted by and about you than you do today?

This last one is tough because the developmental and maturation processes often change one’s outlook on a variety of issues, and it can be difficult to predict just what that change might be.  Children are raised in a world where the minute-by-minute activities of daily living can be captured via photo and/or video, and then texted, tweeted, or otherwise broadcast almost instantaneously.  As a result, such behaviour has become a norm, if not an expectation, which has an impact on the value one places on such activities.  The ability to share so much so quickly is positively reinforced socially by the number of “likes” one receives and the number of “followers” one has and, as evidence suggests, biochemically by the release of certain neurotransmitters (re: dopamine) in the brain.  All of this is compounded by the research indicating that the part of the brain mainly responsible for critical thinking, decision-making, and the delaying of gratification, the frontal lobe, is not fully developed until the early 20s.  What feels “right” in the moment, may not be given a second thought;  however, once data enters the ether, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve and/or change.  These are powerful social, psychological, and technological forces at work and the definition of privacy is one area in which they coalesce.

This is heady stuff.

Take care.

The Tree of Life

June 19, 2013


Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The “tree of life” is a concept that traces back to the Garden of Eden and is used to symbolize immortality, among other things.  Cultures around the world have a similar concept (immortality) although the symbols involved may be different.  

Immortality is an interesting concept on its own-Ponce de Leon is credited with a mythical search for a fountain of youth, whose restorative powers were to have been highly valued.  As the link above describes, the significance of a search for a fountain of youth and Ponce de Leon’s travels is disputed-it appears he was more interested in the acquisition of gold and indigenous peoples to be enslaved.  Their immortality would not have been a concern. In modern times, a fountain is not needed as medical technology allows for the creation of an illusion of youth, if not immortality, through the use of cosmetic surgery and Botox.   Physical appearances aside, it is useful to note that Led Zeppelin sang “…all that lives is born to die…” and so it is for all biological creatures, with at least one notable exception: turritopsis nutricula, which is an immortal jellyfish.  Diane Rehm had a panel of experts who discussed this-the link is here.  Scroll down to the 11:55:41 mark.  Since Homo sapiens lack this self-regenerating capability, it is important to think about the factors involved in prolonging life and diet is one of the first considerations.

A still life of fresh lettuces, radishes, and garlic.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I have been a vegetarian for over fifteen years, so it is important to state that in terms of what will follow here-I am certainly biased in my opinions about diet.  I made that decision based on research into the meat, poultry, and increasingly, the fishing industry as they apply to the growth and slaughter of meat, chicken, and fish for human consumption.  I simply did not want to ingest the growth hormones and antibiotics that are used in those industries.  When someone consumes animals that have been treated with growth hormones and antibiotics, those chemicals enter the human body as well.  The term for this is bioaccumulation, and there is ample research regarding the impact on human health from such practices.  Fast Food Nation is a popular read that addresses these points and a bit more about American culture with regard to diet.  However, I did happily continue to munch on a variety of chips and that circular bit of heaven, pizza, during that time period.

I began to change my thinking about my consumption of processed foods after hearing Michael Pollen’s basic recommendation “Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  I was already doing the mostly plants part as that is, after all, what a vegetarian does.  However, having now read Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat:  How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the rest of my diet has also undergone a radical modification.  The notion of engineering food to interact with the nervous system in such a way as to encourage continued consumption meshed well with my years of accumulated knowledge of drug addiction and the brain.  For example, Mr. Moss presents the research indicating that sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain as does cocaine:  the nucleus accumbens, or what is commonly known as the “pleasure center”.  Fat works in a similar fashion.  I already did not particularly like salt, but was still somewhat unaware of just how much salt I was consuming in the amount of processed foods that I ate.  While I do read the labels and knew about “serving size”, I really did not pay too much attention to the total amount of sodium I as eating.  Hint:  Pay close attention to the “serving size”-it does not say the amount for eating the entire bag-you have to do the math for that.  And those numbers scared me. 

Vegetarians do have another concern however, and that is the degree to which foods have been genetically modified or genetically engineered (GE).  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) proliferate-corn, soy beans, tomatoes, etc. have been altered so as to survive transportation without spoiling or to resist certain infestations, one example is addressed in the book Tomatoland, which describes the interventions made to “improve” the tomato.  Several countries in the European Union have refused to import American crops due to the degree of  modification and concern over the biological impact on humans from eating such foods.  The Food and Drug Administration currently supports, but does not mandate, the labelling of foods as being genetically engineered (GE), as described here.  The “FDA’s Biotechnology Policy” is linked here. The onus is most definitely on the consumer to investigate that which is consumed if genetic engineering is a concern.

And that brings me back to the tree of life concept.  The photograph that opens this post is chard-the stem and veins reminded me of the tree of life and that put me on the path of this post.  Immortality is most definitely not my goal-living healthy for as long as reasonably possible is.  As a result, locally sourced, fresh, non-processed foods are the mainstay in this household.  If I had the patience and discipline, I would grow my own.  Alas, such is not the case.  Therefore I meet and talk directly with the farmers whenever possible and have greatly reduced my reliance on processed foods.   Pretzels, however, are another story…

Take care.

On Flying and Surgery

June 15, 2013

Plane at airport

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

It strikes me that there are a lot of similarities between flying and surgery.

Ace wrap on knee after recent surgery.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The most obvious is that it may be best to avoid flying and surgery unless absolutely necessary as both can be painful-and for surprisingly similar reasons.  Traveling light and avoiding the check-in lines and baggage fees alleviates two of the multitude of  problems with flying.  One must first have a ticket, though, and knowing when and where to book a flight makes a big difference.  These are just a few of the many and varied problems with air travel that has led to the publication of a couple of books addressing the unpleasantness of flying:  Attention All Passengers came out last year and Full Upright and Locked Position  was released this year.  With surgery, the close encounter with health care is an omnipresent issue.  Not surprisingly, the issue of the cost for service applies here just as it does with airline travel.  From a financial standpoint it really does matter where one goes and when the procedure is performed, as this report indicates.  Having comprehensive insurance is extremely helpful.

In all fairness, however, both can make life much easier-it certainly is faster and ultimately more cost-effective to fly to California than it is to drive.  Surgery literally can make the difference between life and death.  Being a bit less dramatic, surgery certainly can make life much easier and one with less pain.

The genesis of this blog, though, is the comparison between flying and surgery with regard to time.  It is still an amazing experience to climb into a metal tube and in several hours or so be physically in a completely different place in a different time zone.  This is quite disorienting at first, and yet one adapts.  However, this experience leaves an existential question:  to where does that time really go?  Going into, and then awakening from, anesthesia creates a similar experience-there is a sense of lost time.  Something has happened, on as intimate a level as is possible, and one often (fortunately) has no recollection of what just occurred.  A couple of days ago I had knee surgery.  I remember laying down on the surgical table and having various electrodes attached and then the next bit of conscious awareness I had was of talking to the nurse in the recovery room.  Forty-five minutes to an hour were gone, as was some of my meniscus. Neither are coming back.  Initially, I was not quite sure where I was, but as the anesthesia cleared, time returned.  The procedure was over and I could go home.

Take care.

Waiting for Andrea

June 7, 2013

Foggy, rainy day prior to the arrival of Tropical Storm Andrea.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The Mid-West has already been hammered by violent weather this spring and now it is the East Coast’s turn.  (Not to mention the Southwest and West Coast, which have been setting records for high heat.  California has already had at least one large fire.)  Tropical Storm Andrea is the first named storm of the 2013 hurricane season that officially opened just six days ago, and she battered Florida yesterday and is now making her way up through the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic states.  Andrea has already flooded parts of the South and created several tornadoes.  Forecasts predict flooding in the Mid-Atlantic and on through New York and into New England.  Right now, in the Mid-Atlantic, it is rainy, foggy, and the winds are calm.  That is to change a bit later today.

Weather, and climate change, is not often far from our awareness now.  Outside magazine’s July 2013 cover screams “Weather Gone Wild” as the issue contains several articles related to the changing weather patterns and what folks can do to protect themselves. (NOTE:  That link is to Outside Online, their web presence.  The magazine is on the rack in brick-and-mortar stores.)  One of the articles is how Norfolk, Virginia is planning to deal with sea level rise.  National Public Radio (NPR) has aired several broadcasts regarding the discussions of how to protect New York from another SuperStorm Sandy-one is linked here.  This particular story was chosen because it contains in the title the words “New Normal”.  That is a phrase used more and more often as a result of the continued degradation of the environment, as evidenced by the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere reaching 400 ppm. Our appetite for the burning of fossil fuels to drive (literally and figuratively) our lifestyle is the main culprit here.  (Another issue is our diet and the methane levels produced in support of what we eat, but that is a story for another day.)

Buckle up, we are in for nasty weather.

Take care.

UPDATE:  Not too long after having posted this, I remembered John McPee’s The Control of Nature.  I enjoy Mr. McPee’s writing and have read many of his books and articles and highly recommend his work.  The relevance here is the title and content of this particular book-he uses three specific examples to illustrate the folly of attempting to harness a force that is so much more powerful than us.  This is a major issue as the levee system in New Orleans has had its problems and there is no reason to think the sea walls around Manhattan will be the singular answer.  While the link between climate change and big weather continues to be debated in some sectors,  it is pretty clear that storms are getting bigger and occurring much more frequently, not only here in the United States, but worldwide as well.  Storms are just part of the equation, though.

For example, consider the Maldives.  Mohamed Nasheed, the former President, was the subject of a documentary entitled The Island President, which is linked here.  Mr. Nasheed’s concerns were the impact of CO2 levels reaching 350 ppm and the resulting consequences for the Maldives, therefore he was advocating for efforts to reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.   An important aside is that Mr. Nasheed addresses the point about building sea walls to protect his country several times in the movie.  Please watch the documentary and/or read more about this situation.  As stated above, the CO2 level has reached 400 ppm.

Climate change truly is a world-wide issue and it would certainly seem that at some point our culture-driven lifestyles will need to be addressed and modified-we most likely cannot build our way out of the impact of climate change.  The building-solution is fraught with problems, chief of which is the economic scale needed.  Besides, what are countries with fewer economic resources, such as the Maldives, to do?  Without a change in lifestyle we may all be spending more time underwater, being smacked about by cataclysmic winds, baked by sweltering heat, or any combination of those three.

Take care.