We did our Friday Roundtable today about the perils, costs and benefits of living longer. The conversation was inspired by Ezekiel Emanuel’s recent article in The Atlantic provocatively titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”
As a counterpoint, read Roger Angell’s lovely article from The New Yorker about being a 93 year-old widower in New York City. He misses his wife. He misses friends. He lists his many ailments — pain from shingles, creaky knees, sore back — but also paints a portrait of a life that sounds lovely and worth living.
I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s, from Robinson Cano between pitches, from the first pages once again of “Appointment in Samarra” or the last lines of the Elizabeth Bishop poem called “Poem.” From the briefest strains of Handel or Roy Orbison, or Dennis Brain playing the early bars of his stunning Mozart horn concertos. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things (my wife) Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun. Chloë Sevigny in “Trees Lounge.” Gail Collins on a good day. Family ice-skating up near Harlem in the nineteen-eighties, with the Park employees, high on youth or weed, looping past us backward to show their smiles.
And if you want more to read about getting old, here’s a list of 10 novels and stories assembled by writer Paul Bailey. It includes Muriel Spark’s funny and dark “Momento Mori.”
And here are the books mentioned by our Roundtable guests:
Michael O’Keefe: “Wonderful Life” by Stephen Jay Gould.
Lou Bellamy: James Baldwin’s “Another Country” and “The Fire Next Time.”
I had sushi for lunch today. Why?
Maybe simply because I like sushi.
Or maybe I am being controlled by bacteria.
This isn’t paranoia on my part. A new article in BioEssays argues that the 100 trillion bacteria living on your body may be manipulating you. Here’s an excerpt from RealClearScience Journal Club:
Scientists Joe Alcock, Carlo C. Maley, and C. Athena Aktipis reviewed the research on how microbiota affect the brain, and believe there’s a strong case that bacteria influence overall eating behavior. It seems that the bacteria in our guts don’t simply wait for whatever leftovers we have to offer. They actively seek out their preferred meals through tricky deception.
“Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good,” Aktipis says.
So the next time you decide to eat a grilled cheese instead of a salad, ask who wants it. You? Or these guys?
In the New York Times, Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, lays out his two biggest worries about the Ebola outbreak. First, that the virus could reach a large urban area where it will spread more quickly than it has in isolated villages. Second, and far more worrisome, that Ebola could mutate and be transmissable through the air:
You can now get Ebola only through direct contact with bodily fluids. But viruses like Ebola are notoriously sloppy in replicating, meaning the virus entering one person may be genetically different from the virus entering the next. The current Ebola virus’s hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years. Each new infection represents trillions of throws of the genetic dice.
If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola. Infections could spread quickly to every part of the globe, as the H1N1 influenza virus did in 2009, after its birth in Mexico.
Osterhom goes on to lay out how the world should be planning. You can read his recommendations here.
4 easy reads for the weekend
Humorous academic novels, a thriller and a memoir of the Midwest. Read more →
The great seat reclining debate of 2014
“In effect, to increase the number of cabin seats, the space allotted to each passenger must be reduced. However, this reduced comfort remains tolerable for the passengers in as much as the flight lasts only one or a few hours.” Read more →
5 books to read this weekend
Head to the library or bookstore to pick up one of these titles. Read more →
Op-ed pick: We don’t need any more Millennial trend pieces
“I think we’ve reached peak Millennial trend piece output. I hope. I pray.” Read more →
I reached out to several people, looking for an array of opinions on what it means to be a man in America today. Read more →
What our Roundtable guests this week are reading. Read more →
The best songs for summer 2014 in the Twin Cities
In anticipation for the Friday Roundtable, we asked a few prominent voices in the Twin Cities music scene what they’ve been listening to. Read more →