May 05, 2023

We have been staying with my brother and sister-in-law this week while we have been in Kansas.  The last time in Wichita we stayed in a motel in the city rather than at my brother’s and I saw very few birds.  This visit I was amazed by the number and variety of species of birds that were living around the small pond and wooded green space that was behind their house.  I was aware of the Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) but had no idea of the of the other species.  The trees across the pond roosted a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) and an occasional Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).  The pond was frequented by a Great Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) and a blue heron (Ardea herodias) who both provided daily lessons on how to fish the small minnows and crappie (Pomoxis annularis) that remained after the onslaught by a group of cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) earlier in the spring.  On my last two visits to Kansas, I have come expecting to see a meadowlark which I could add to my birding list. 

When I looked online, I found the Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) are a chunky, medium-sized songbird with short tails and long, spear-shaped bills.  The adult meadowlark measures about 8.5 inches (22 cm) in length.  It nests on the ground in open grasslands across western and central North America.  Meadowlarks feed mostly on bugs but will also feed on seeds and berries.  Females are smaller in all physical dimensions.  Adults have yellow underparts with a black “v” on the breast and white flanks with black streaks.  They have a long, pointed bill and the head is stripped with light brown and black.  The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.  What differentiates the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna) from its western cousin is the song.  The Eastern’s song is pure melancholy whistles and is simpler than the jumbled and flute-like song of the western meadowlark.  This variation in song is the easiest way to tell the two species apart, and the reason for their separation as different species.  The songs are used to attract a mate and the difference means the two do not interbreed. 

I found two interesting facts I did not know about the western meadowlark while I was online.  The first is the male meadowlark usually has two mates at the same time.  The females do the incubating and brooding, along with most of the feeding of the young.  This polygamous behavior has helped ensure the species thrive.  One of the main dangers to nesting birds are mowing activity as humans harvest the prairie grass for cattle forage used during the winter.  The second fact learned was the species is classified as part of the blackbird family (Turdus spp.).  While the species does have black markings, it could hardly be mistaken for a blackbird.  I am still waiting to see a western (or eastern) meadowlark.

Thoughts:  Western Kansas is known nationally as a bird hunting destination.  This includes ringneck pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwater), and wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), as well as a variety of waterfowl.  One of the favorite hunted species is northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus).  When I was young the story was told of the eastern hunter who had come to Kansas to hunt quail.  After a day of hunting, he was confronted by the game warden and proudly laid his catch on the hood of his car.  Apparently, he also had a problem with bird identification as the quail he procured turned out to be 40 meadowlarks.  The meadowlark is the state bird of Kansas and shooting the bird carries a fine of US$250 per bird.  Quite often we misidentify what we see, and this can cause us to wrongly accept or reject things or others.   It is only when we take time to identify others and understand their differences that we can accept them.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


May 03, 2023

My mom has been living in a care facility over the last year and I decided I would bring her a little basket of flowers to recognize the first day of May.  This is a tradition mom instilled in our family when we were children.  The idea was to make a small basket out of construction paper and then collect wildflowers to put in the basket.  We had a lilac bush in our yard, and I recall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) played a prominent role in the presentation.  If the tulips (Tulipa spp.) or daffodils (Narcissus spp.) were still up, one of these would also make their way into the basket.  Once the two or three baskets were made, we would take the baskets (with construction paper handles) and put them on the doorknobs of several elderly women in the neighborhood.  The baskets were unidentified, and we would ring the doorbell and then run away before the women answered the door.  The May baskets were meant to be a nice way of saying they were remembered and that we were thinking of them. 

When I looked online, I found May Baskets are used to mark the turning of the chilly and rainy months of spring into the warmer months of summer.  The tradition dates to Germany during the 12th and 13th centuries.  Some records even place it as far back as the revelry around Flora, the goddess of flowers in ancient Rome.  The popularity of giving the baskets grew during the 19th and 20th centuries.  The baskets are often homemade and contain a few treats or flowers which are (sneakily) hung on the front door handle.  For a time, it was common for boys to leave a May basket on the door of the girl they were smitten with, and then run away.  If the recipient opened the door to see her admirer running away, she could chase him down and give him a kiss.  The site suggested if someone tried this tradition today they would be caught on the ring doorbell and would likely be charged with trespassing.        

While I had good intentions of delivering a May basket to mom, things were hectic, and I did not get the basket made or the flowers collected.  I figured mom was not expecting the basket, so it would not be missed.  I was surprised when I showed up at mom’s apartment and found a May basket had already been delivered.  Apparently, the staff had gotten together the day before and made small cone-shaped baskets (complete with handles), filled them with flowers, and put them on the door handle or ledge next to the door for every resident.  I heard many of the younger aides had never heard of this tradition and the older workers (my age) had passed the tradition along.  Perhaps the giving of May baskets to recognize the older members of our neighborhoods will survive.

Thoughts:  While the hanging of May baskets may not be among your family traditions, they did help form my early years.  Family traditions are more than just habits; they are ideas and practices that create your family culture.  These traditions shape our individual identities and keep us connected with our families.  The same is true for societies traditions.  Traditions are the fabric that form the backbone of our lives and cultures.  These traditions not only need to be respected, but also understood.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 29, 2023

Last Thursday I came across an article in the back of the National & Local News section of my newspaper that reported on the variety of life forms taking over in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   Marine animals that are normally only found in the coastal areas of the Pacific are growing and reproducing on the plastic debris found on the high seas.  Documentation of creatures living on this floating habitat was published in the British journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.  There were 484 separate marine organisms found on the debris, and 80% of those were species usually only found in coastal habitats.  The giant patch of floating trash is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

When I looked online, I found The Great Pacific garbage patch (also Pacific trash vortex and North Pacific Garbage Patch) is a whorl of marine debris particles located in the central North Pacific Ocean.  It is located roughly from 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N.  The collection of plastic and floating trash originates from the Pacific Rim, including countries in Asia, North America, and South America.  Despite the common public perception of the patch existing as giant islands of floating garbage, its low density of 3.1 cubic yards (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area.  The patch is a widely dispersed area of suspended “fingernail-sized or smaller” particles in the upper water column known as microplastics.  Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup project claim the patch covers 620 thousand square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) and consists of 50–142 thousand short tons (45–129 thousand metric tons) of plastic as of 2018.  The same study found while microplastic dominate the area by count, 92% of the mass of the patch consists of larger objects which have not yet fragmented into microplastics.  Some of the plastic in the patch is over 50 years old and includes items (and fragments) like plastic lighters, toothbrushes, water bottles, pens, baby bottles, cell phones, plastic bags, and small plastic pellets (nurdles), along with fishing nets.  The garbage patch is believed to have increased 10-fold each decade since 1945.

Unknown to researchers until this latest study, the garbage patch is not the only thing growing.  Animals discovered in the patch include crustaceans, sea anemones, mollusks, and worms.  Species known to thrive in the open ocean were thriving on plastic garbage.  While these were not unexpected, the prominent diversity of coastal species was.  These species are living long enough to take hold and reproduce.  Sexual reproduction was evident in both the open water and coastal species.  Coastal species diversity was highest on the ropes and fishing nets that are often lost at sea and end up in the garbage patch.   

Thoughts:  There are at least five garbage patches in the world, with the other four located in the Southern Pacific, Indian, Northern Atlantic, and Southern Atlantic (i.e., the major oceans except the polar regions), but the Great Pacific patch holds the most plastic.  Research indicates the patch contains approximately six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton.  These growing patches contribute to other environmental damage to marine ecosystems and species.  While the first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, and the first fully synthetic plastic was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907, plastic production in the US increased by 300% during World War II.  Plastic is now critical to our modern way of life.  This is like the rise of fossil fuels in the 20th century and the devastating effect it has had on the environment.  Alternatives exist for both that should be produced in non-destructive ways, and utilized as replacements.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 25, 2023

The business section of last Sunday’s paper had a full page article about Spain’s attempt to dominate the European Union’s (EU) clean hydrogen race.  Spain is betting it can rapidly build a new supply chain for sectors of the economy that require hydrogen for their industrial processes that have been harder to wean off fossil fuels.  The potential for green hydrogen is shown in the town of Puertollano.  The energy company Iberdrola and the fertilizer manufacturer Fertiberia have partnered to potentially create the first zero-carbon plant nutrients in the world.  The green hydrogen plant is Europe’s largest functioning facility and Iberdrola owns 100 megawatts’ worth of solar panels to power the electrolyzes to separate hydrogen from water.  Storage tanks pipe the gas directly to Fertiberia where they make ammonia, the chemical foundation in nitrogen fertilizers.  The fertilizer will be scattered onto malt barley used to make Heineken’s first “green malt” beverage.  This is perfect as Heineken is often served in green bottles.

When I looked online, I found that while hydrogen is a colorless gas, scientists have assigned colors to distinguish the way it is produced.  Grey hydrogen is the most common and is generated from natural gas, or methane, through a process called “steam reforming”.  This process generates less emissions than black (bituminous coal) or brown (lignite coal) hydrogen where the CO2 and carbon monoxide generated during the process are not recaptured.  Blue hydrogen is when the carbon is captured and stored underground.  Blue hydrogen is referred to as carbon neutral as the emissions are not dispersed in the atmosphere, but some argue “low carbon” would be a more accurate as 10-20% of the generated carbon cannot be captured.  Green hydrogen, or “clean hydrogen”, is produced by using clean energy from renewable energy sources like solar or wind power to split water into two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom through a process called electrolysis.  Green hydrogen currently makes up 0.1% of overall hydrogen production, but this is expected to rise as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall.

Synthetic fertilizers are a highly polluting process.  A recent study found the fertilizers emit the equivalent of 2.6 gigatons of carbon per year, or more than global aviation and shipping combined.  One third of those emissions come from the production of fertilizers in plants like Fertiberia.  Most of the firm’s hydrogen is still drawn from natural gas (gray hydrogen), but the company plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2035.  Spanish firms are pushing for EU subsidies to match the US$750 million for research and development announced by the US.  The second problem is where the demand for green hydrogen exists.  Spain and Portugal could produce a lot of green hydrogen and a demand may materialize in central Europe, but the supply and demand do not currently exist.  Neither does the infrastructure to transport the gas from Iberia to central Europe.  Hydrogen is difficult to store and highly flammable.  That is why the two plants in Puertollano are located close to each other. 

Thoughts:  While the most abundant element on earth, hydrogen rarely exists as a gas.  That means it needs to be separated from other elements.  When hydrogen is generated using renewables can be a clean alternative to burning fossil fuels.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) says hydrogen could play an important role in our clean energy future, but it notes that to make a real contribution to the energy transition, hydrogen will need to be used in sectors where it is almost absent, like transport, buildings, and power generation.  Producing hydrogen through electrolysis requires large amounts of land for solar panels and water, something that is hard to relinquish in the current European drought.  Quick and easy solutions powered by fossil fuels are what got the world into our climate crisis.  It will take hard long term solutions to bring us out.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 24, 2023

My sister knows I love to work the crossword puzzle in my newspaper, but she had to laugh when she noticed I was doing the Easter crossword while we were in Wichita.  I technically take the paper for the news it provides, and no matter how busy I think I am; I try to take time to read the paper.  The problem comes when I get caught up in other activities.  When Melissa and I went overseas I dutifully stopped the paper so they would not pile up.  When we got home, I found our neighbor had been collecting the papers that were still delivered daily.  It took several weeks to catch up on the news (read, crossword).  The print issues of my paper have also been cut back over the last two years, even while the price rose.  They have also stopped printing on Saturdays and major holidays.  I chalked this up to covid (this is the excuse for everything, right?).  The paper has informed me I can go online and get the paper, but I like the feel of holding the paper in my hands.  I have also been skeptical of how I could accomplish filling out the crossword, the real purpose of taking my paper.

When I looked online, I found the print newspaper industry is struggling to stay in business, causing the small town papers to cease publication or be taken over by large conglomerates.  Even those that have survived have suffered huge staff cuts.  The question raised by the website concerned the pros and cons of print verses online publication.  The pro for a print newspaper was it is physical (al la, me).  You can hold the warm newspaper in your hands (avoiding the fresh ink) and can save it to look back on at any time.  The con of a print newspaper is the cost.  Although this is comparatively small, it is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for decline.  The decline in circulation can lead to a decline in advertising, which supports the main cost of printing.  The pro for an online newspaper is it is immediately accessible and convenient.  You do not have to worry about a missed delivery or make a trip to the store and can look at the online edition immediately.  The con is the online version tends to not include everything in the print addition, and especially with the special editions released as a special print publication outside of the regular edition.  The article suggested you must experience both newspaper formats and determine for yourself which one is right for you.  This still did not address my crossword issue.

I had created an online account for my print subscription over a year ago but had not taken the time to look at the content offered.   I revisited the online subscription to see what was included as content (and if there was a crossword).  Once I found my login requirements (Melissa stores them), I was able to scroll through the various sections (news, sports, obituaries, etc.).  I did not see “crossword” listed, so I typed it in at the search field.  This brought up a new set of daily puzzles that could be filled out online.  There were several different puzzles offered, along with the advertisements that allowed them to open.   There was also a PDF version with all the content laid out by the print newspaper.  The PDF crossword was available, but I would need to print it to work the puzzle.  Since the daily crossword was different on the two formats (online and print), I may start doing both.  

Thoughts:  The online version of the paper was confusing at first.  While the regular format was offered, there were other articles at the bottom of the scroll.  I recognized these as the “news” offered when I open one of my browsers.  These are social and entertainment sites added as teasers to get me to follow rabbit holes that provide pop up ads, and little content.  While I am generally an old school historian and like the feel of papers and books I my hands, I recognize the advantage of being able to access these items digitally.  The greater issue is not how you access your news, but the source.  Fact checking and reputable media sources are crucial.  Every source has bias, but I trust those that state the bias upfront rather than hiding it in the content.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 22, 2023

One night when I was in Wichita, I decided to go out to eat at one of the many haunts I had frequented during the 12 years I lived there.  We stayed in the Delano District near where I worked and lived while in the city, so I knew several possible eateries.  I had a dual mission as I also needed to pick up some items from the pharmacy.  I started west because I knew there were several favorites nearby.  I drove up and down and they were all burgers (lunch) or Mexican (last night) and I was unmoved.  That lead me to drive past several places in Delano, but by then I had decided on a great German restaurant in Old Town.   I arrived to find the restaurant was no longer in business (5 years and covid).  I took the scenic route back so I could go along the river.  As I passed, I noticed the bridge and Keeper statute were lit up in the park, so I stopped for a closer look at this impressive monument.

When I looked online, I found The Keeper of the Plains is one of the best-known sculptures in Kansas and stands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers in Wichita.  The Keeper of the Plains is a dramatic 44-foot-tall (13.4 m) steel sculpture of an American Indian which was donated to the city by its creator, Francis (Blackbear) Bosin.  Bosin was born of Kiowa-Comanche heritage in Anadarko, Oklahoma in 1921, and came to his adopted city of Wichita in 1940.  He began his career as a color separator and plate maker for Western Lithograph and as an illustrator for Boeing Aircraft.  Although the “Keeper of the Plains”is undoubtedly his most widely recognized work, Bosin primarily expressed himself through his paintings.  Bosin was almost entirely self-taught, and his early paintings were depictions of Indian life.  Over the years his work became increasingly complex, with a spirit of Indian mysticism deeply influencing his work.  At his death at 59 years (1980), the inventiveness and imagination reflected in his paintings had earned Blackbear Bosin a prominent place among American artists.

After I left the Keeper, I continued my food journey.  Driving along I passed a drug store and pulled in.  They had a variety of hand cream, but not the one I had been recommended to buy.  I left and continued my journey, only to realize I had forgotten to buy the other item, deodorant.  Rather than go back I pulled into a dollar store and bought the stick.  I drove back through Delano and the restaurants were all closing.  I became frustrated.  I had been driving aimlessly for the last hour and had not accomplished anything I had intended.  I pulled into yet another dollar store and bought a bag of ice (none at our rental) and a bag of chips for later.   My big “night on the town” ended up with a taco left over from last night and the chips I had purchased.  I got home just as the Kansas wind started to howl.

Thoughts:  My night out difficulties were the result of two struggles.  One, I did not know what I wanted and two, my time away had made just enough changes to make the familiar different.  I also realized that most of my “go to” eateries had been burgers or Mexican.  My other favorite restaurants were scattered on the outskirts of town, and I did not feel like driving.  When I lived in the area, I had been part of a coalition that helped influence a national ice cream chain to rebuild their store to include a small grocery section.   This is still the only market in the food desert created by the neighborhood’s big market closing five years earlier.  I was glad this source was there and used it several times during my stay.  My night and stay reinforced how important it is to have accessible food resources.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 19, 2023

I had a vacation week after the crush of Easter and decided to use it to go see family in Wichita.  My sister was also coming out from Maine, so Melissa checked several options where we could stay.  The room at mom’s place was booked most of the time and my brother was just returning from an extended trip and we thought it might be good to give them some down time before crashing at their house.   I have stayed in local inns not far from mom.  These are nice but staying in a motel means cramped quarters and usually increased travel.  Melissa checked online and found a nice bungalow in a historic neighborhood close to mom.  It had two bedrooms with queen beds, a modern kitchen with laundry, and Wi-Fi.  While it did not come with breakfast, it was half the price of the motels we had previously used.  My sister and I both pulled into mom’s about the same time and visited before taking the short drive to the rental.  We arrived at the house at night, and I was amused to see the clumps of flowers that had taken over the lawn.  When I used my Google identification app the next morning, I found the flowers were called Star of Bethlehem.      

When I looked online, I found Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a flowering perennial bulb that grows in clumps with narrow, grass-like leaves about 1 foot (30 cm) long.  Star of Bethlehem is native to Europe but escaped from cultivation and is now naturalized in North America, including the eastern third of Kansas where it is identified as a wildflower.  Flower stems emerge from the plant’s foliage in the late spring, each bearing around 10 to 20 star-shaped blooms that are less than an inch across.  The flowers open in the late morning and close once the sun goes down or during cloudy weather.  Star of Bethlehem has a fast growth rate and will quickly spread.  When used by gardeners, the bulbs should be planted in the fall for spring flowers.  The plant is considered invasive in some regions due to rapid growth and expansion.  Perhaps this may also be because the plant is toxic to humans and animals and is known to kill the cattle that graze the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas.

After the Star of Bethlehem flowers finish blooming, the plant looks like a mass of tangled foliage and is not particularly attractive.  However, as long as the clump stays green it continues to feed the bulbs through photosynthesis.  Eventually the leaves turn brown, and the plant goes dormant during the summer.  This leaves gaps in the flower bed and people often remove the dead foliage.  Many gardeners plug these gaps with annual plants, while others grow perennials next to the Star of Bethlehem plants that fill in the space as summer progresses.  Deadheading the spent flowers does not prompt additional blooming, but it does limit the spread of the plant by eliminating the seeds that quickly volunteer new plants wherever they fall.  The bulbs also multiply prolifically, producing what are referred to as offsets or bulbils.  In many states, this plant earns a severe “Do Not Plant” warning against invasiveness, and you are advised to check with local experts before planting Star of Bethlehem in your garden.  I do not know if the species was planted by someone in this historic neighborhood, but it has taken hold of this and every front yard on the block.  They are no doubt removed by the residents with the first mowing.

Thoughts:  A folktale tells the species got its start as fragments of the biblical Star of Bethlehem fell from the sky and took root as Ornithogalum plants.  The random pattern of growth reminded me of the grape hyacinth that arrive in my own yard every spring until I finally mow them down.  They are also invasive and plentiful.  Even being invasive, I do not mind the color added by the flowers.  At least the hyacinth will not kill myself or my dogs.  Humans tend to justify and tolerate most anything, until they do not.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


April 04, 2023

When Zena and I were walking in the park last month we saw a crew putting a large telephone-type pole along the road at one of the highest spots.  As they worked on setting the pole in, they seemed to be having difficulty straightening the 50 foot (15.25 m) long piece of wood.  When we came up the hill to the park the next day, they were attaching a large metal object to the top to the pole.  At first, I thought it was a cell tower, but those usually mount on metal towers.  Then I realized this was the newest siren for our town’s tornado alert system.  When we walked the next week I noticed the pole was beginning to lean, and like the tower of Pisa, the lean gradually got worse.  The next week the pole had been taken down (since it was not smashed) and was lying on the ground.  They removed the alert siren and have yet to reinstall another siren at that location. 

When I looked online, I found a civil defense siren, or tornado siren, is a siren used to provide an emergency alert to the general population of approaching danger.  It is sometimes sounded again to indicate the danger has passed.  Sirens in small municipalities can also be used to alert the fire department when they are needed.   These sirens were originally designed to warn city dwellers of air raids during World War II, were later used to warn of a nuclear attack, and are now primarily used for natural disasters, like a tornado.  Modern sirens can develop sound levels up to 135 decibels at 100 feet (30 m) and by varying tones or binary patterns of sound, different alert conditions can be called.  The generalized nature of sirens led to many of them being replaced with more specific warnings, such as the TV and radio broadcast-based Emergency Alert System and the Cell broadcast-based Wireless Emergency Alerts and EU-Alert mobile technologies. 

Where we live in Sebastian County, they have long used traditional tornado sirens as their primary source to alert residents of severe weather, but their time may be limited.  Sebastian recently purchased a mass messaging system, and the alert sirens may soon become a thing of the past.  As technology advances and cell phone use continues to rise the alert sirens are gradually being phased out.  That may be a good thing, as Melissa received an alert on her cell phone saying the alert sirens are down all across the county and to use alternative forms of alert (TV, cell phone, weather channel) to stay alert for a tornado.  I did not receive an alert.

THOUGHTS:  When I was growing up the small town where I lived would test their alert siren during the spring on every Monday at noon.  This served as a good way to make sure the alert still worked, and it helped me track the time on a lazy Monday morning.  I always wondered what would happen if we had a tornado at the time of the test.  I later found out the alert siren was not set to go off if the weather looked like there may be a tornado.  Apparently, this was “need to know info” that all the adults were aware of, and it was only the children who were kept in the dark.  This was also a time when we had a practice alert for “duck and cover”.  When the alert sounded we would all duck under our school desk to prepare for a nuclear attack.  While this may have been “need to know”, even as a child I knew my desk was no match for a nuclear attack.  Staying alert and practicing facing possible danger is just as important now as it has been in the past.  Sadly, that is true for schools, homes, and municipalities.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


March 28, 2023

Credit: Susanna Sabin

My NY Times feed directed me to a report published last Wednesday in the journal Current Biology on an analysis of locks of hair from Ludwig van Beethoven.  When Beethoven died (March 27, 1827) at the age of 56 it was his wish that his ailments be studied and shared so “as far as possible at least the world will be reconciled to me after my death.”  Beethoven had chronic health issues, including progressive hearing loss that began in his mid- to late-20s and left him functionally deaf by his mid-40s, recurring gastrointestinal complaints, and severe liver disease.  Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers in 1802, the Heiligenstadt Testament, asking that his doctor, Johann Adam Schmidt, be allowed to determine and share the nature of his “illness” once Beethoven died.  Beethoven outlived the doctor by 18 years and the testament was discovered in a hidden compartment in his writing desk after he died.  Hair samples helped scientists discover insights about family history, chronic health problems, and what may have contributed to his death.  The wish has been partially honored by the sequencing of his genome. 

When I looked online, I found whole genome sequencing (WGS) is the process of determining the entirety, or near entirety, of the DNA sequence of an organism’s genome.  This entails sequencing an organism’s chromosomal DNA as well as DNA contained in the mitochondria.  Genome sequencing has largely been used as a research tool but was introduced to clinics in 2014.  Personalized medicine in the future may use this data as an important tool to guide possible treatments and may lay the foundation for predicting disease susceptibility and drug response.  WGS is different than DNA profiling, which only determines the likelihood that genetic material came from a specific individual or group, and does not contain information on genetic relationships, origin, or whether the person is susceptible to specific diseases.  Research on Beethoven’s hair samples used WGS.

There have been questions concerning what ailed Beethoven in life and cause d his death.  During the last seven years Beethoven experienced at least two attacks of jaundice from the liver disease that led to a general belief that he died from cirrhosis.  Medical biographers have combed Beethoven’s letters and diaries, his autopsy, notes from his physicians, and even notes taken by examiners when his body was twice exhumed (1863 and 1888), with hopes of piecing together his complicated medical history.  This new research took the study further by using eight samples of hair cut from his head in the seven years prior to his death.  While a definitive cause was not determined, there were several significant genetic risk factors for liver disease along with evidence of a hepatitis B infection in the last months before his final illness.  Letters written by Beethoven, and those of his friends, show that he regularly consumed alcohol, and at least a liter of wine with lunch each day.  Alcohol combined with genetic risk factors for liver disease and his hepatitis B infection might have created the perfect storm for his failing health.  The report ended with the disclaimer that additional research is needed.

THOUGHTS:  When genetic profile for Beethoven was determined the researchers compared it with the DNA of his living relatives in Belgium but did not find a complete match.  Some relatives shared a paternal ancestor in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, but there was no Y-chromosome match.  This suggests an extramarital affair on Beethoven’s father’s side that resulted in a child sometime between the 1572 conception of Hendrik van Beethoven and the conception of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1770.  It is doubtful this is the finding Beethoven wanted to share with the world.  While inquiring minds may want to know, the findings are rarely what we expect.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


March 27, 2023

I filled out my brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament again this year.  In fact, I filled out the hard copy I received in my local newspaper along with eight online versions.  I always fill out the hard copy first.  This bracket represents who I think will win the various games and ultimately the championship.  This allows me to play with the online brackets by picking different scenarios and winners.  One of those brackets is always dedicated to who I would like to win, without much care for whether they have any hope of doing so.  When I checked the brackets today, I found that all 20,056,273 brackets have fallen, and no perfect brackets remain.  I heard from my brother last week the reality is bleaker.  After the Thursday games on opening weekend only 70 brackets were intact.  These remaining perfect brackets fell with the loss by Perdue on Friday.  I guess there is a reason they call it March Madness.

When I looked online, I found March Madness is the trademark of the annual men’s college basketball tournament held by the NCAA from mid-March to early April.  The tournament began with eight teams playing against one another in 1939, with Oregon beating Ohio State to take the first title.  The tournament expanded from 8 to 16 teams in 1951, doubled to 32 teams in 1975, and doubled again to 64 in 1985.  There are now 68 teams who make the tournament, with eight participating in play-in games to make the official first-round field of 64.  March Madness was first used in 1939 when Illinois high school official Henry V. Porter referenced the state tournament in the magazine, Illinois High School Athlete.  The term did not become associated with the NCAA Tournament until 1982, when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger used it during his coverage of the tournament.  Musburger claims that he got the term from car dealership commercials he saw while broadcasting the Illinois state high school basketball tournament.  He started using it during those High School games and eventually brought it over to CBS referring to the men’s tournament.

The NCAA’s March Madness strictly referred to the men’s basketball tournament through the 2021 tournament.  The NCAA expanded the brand’s use to the 2022 women’s tournament as part of an initiative to bring equity between the men’s and women’s tournaments.  During the 2021 NCAA basketball tournaments, women’s basketball coaches were among the leading voices criticizing the NCAA for gender inequality in its basketball championships.  The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association created a campaign that year called OurFairShot to publicize the NCAA’s favoritism toward the men’s tournament and to pressure the NCAA to make changes.  The OurFairShot website pointed out that the NCAA did not use the March Madness brand for the women’s tournament or on social media.  Although the NCAA’s trademark on March Madness has never had any limitations on its use for women’s basketball, it was never used.  In September 2021, the NCAA announced it would use March Madness branding for the women’s championship in 2022.

THOUGHTS:  While my brackets reflect the madness of this year’s men’s tournament, the three teams I root for all won the first round and two made the Sweet 16 (Arkansas and Kansas State).  Arkansas lost that game (Connecticut) while State pulled off an over-time win (Michigan State), before losing in the Elite Eight (Florida Atlantic University).  While all the top men’s seeds were eliminated, two of the women’s top seeds also fell the first weekend.   Part of the madness comes from the inevitable upsets and Cinderella teams that emerge.  Research shows we root for the underdog because of a phenomenon known as “schadenfreude”, or unconsciously experiencing pleasure at the misfortune of others.  It is thought this comes as we are unconsciously envious that they are doing well.  Now that is madness.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.