Archive for April, 2008

Serotonin is my friend. As is acetylcholine (which, if I remember right from The Introvert Advantage is the neurotransmitter that introverts use a lot more of). All those neurotransmitters that let me feel so deeply and variably, alternatively fascinate and frustrate me.

I enjoy learning about the neurotransmitters, how our brains regulate them, how the things we do (as well as things done to us) affect them.

If you want more dopamine, all you have to do is play a computer game for several hours. You’ll feel great the whole time (though, often, pretty miserable afterwards when you come down off that dopamine high.)

If you want more endorphins, some of your options are to (a) get hurt, (b) go running, which to me feels like only a slight variation of option “a” or (c) I just learned last night, keep a lot of change happening in your life. Apparently, the brain processes change in the exact same place and way as it does pain. For some people, change would be a relatively pain-free way to get the same endorphin rush without the pain. For others, like the ISFJ that I am, change is, well, extremely difficult and I’d be hard pressed to think it’s worth it for the endorphin rush in exchange. (This new information I heard makes sense in connection with Lingamish’s post on the new nomads and how nomadism can increase productivity and also become a type of addiction).

And serotonin, we all know, can be helped along by various types of anti-depressants, most commonly these days, by Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (or SSRIs). But those come with their own set of side effects and complications, which may or may not seem worth it to any given person.

However, I was happily surprised this past weekend to discover a rather nonconventional and quite charming (literally) source of neurotransmitters:


While I was in research mode, I was also happy (ha, I think research gets some of my happy neurotransmitters going) to discover the contribution theobromine, a molecule, which is found in chocolate, makes towards feeling good.


Here’s the explanation from Think Geek, the website which sells the above theobromide-in-chocolate t-shirt:

Caffeine is our favorite stimulant. It is easy to get and comes in many forms. But did you know that Caffeine has a sexy younger cousin. Her name is Theobromine, and she’s the tasty little number who puts your mind in a happy place while you are eating chocolate. Molecularly similar to caffeine, but with just enough differences to make her a much smoother date, Theobromine is slower to burn out of your system and induces gentle, sensual stimulation to your muscular and cardiovascular systems.

Although I don’t understand all the technicalities, the Wikipedia (reliable resource that it is ๐Ÿ™‚ )article on theobromine, filled in a few more gaps in my knowledge as they explained that this molecule does something to stimulate serotonin.

Something else I learned is that:

theobromine has an antitussive (cough-reducing) effect superior to codeine by suppressing vagus nerve activity. In the study, theobromine significantly increased the capsaicin concentration required to induce coughs when compared with a placebo. Additionally, theobromine is helpful in treating asthma since it relaxes the smooth muscles, including the ones found in the bronchi.

Chocolate just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

And it sure is a lot cheaper than the above jewelry. Still, if I had enough money and felt comfortable spending it on indulgences like jewelry, my Made With Molecules design of choice would be the endorphin necklace:


That is incredibly and amazingly beautiful. Chocolate might make me feel good, but I look at that endorphin necklace and think two things (besides how beautiful it is, but I experience that as more of a feeling than a thought):

(1) how unbelievably creative the designer of the jewelry (a molecular biophysicist turned artist named Raven Hanna) is, and

(2) how amazing the Designer of the real-thing-endorphins is. I mean, that’s just one of the neurotransmitters, and it is so incredibly complex and beautiful and fascinating AND, wow, does it come in handy when I’m hurting.

Since $640 is hard for me to come by, however, I’m thinking I’ll just have to stick with one of these next time I’m feeling the need for a neurotransmitter boost:


(Perhaps I could set up a “contribute” button like Lingamish has on his site, only mine could be for chocolate instead of cash! )

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One of the more bizarre things about how people perceive me is that I can look both (1) like a pushover and (2) obstinately stubborn.

The first observation is explained, I think, by the fact that I have a very wide tolerance for things and so there are many times I just don’t care either way. When it looks like I’m giving in, I’m really not. The question or issue at hand just doesn’t matter enough to me to exert the energy to come up with an opinion or preference.

The second observation about me is explained, I think, by the fact that I am…

…actually stubborn when something does matter to me or when I believe something strongly.

In a profound and thought-provoking post, Codepoke discusses how physics and the science of light gives him permission to be theologically stubborn in his viewpoints concerning Calvinism and Arminianism.

As a person who seems determined (or is it predestined?) to live most of my life holding opposite tensions in each of my hands (perhaps on each side of my brain), this post put into words why I am not able to resolve such tensions by compromise or camping out in the middle ground.

It articulates why I like theology and listening to people at the extremes, even while I feel myself pulled between the extremes, neither really in either extreme nor hanging out somewhere between them. Perhaps I’ve made my home in the No-Man’s Land of cognitive dissonance. It’s not always fun. It sometimes feels insane. But reading this post, I’m reminded again of why I don’t feel like I can maintain my internal integrity and “pick a side” on a lot of theological issues.

Even when I speak with conviction from the perspective of one side, I don’t find myself able to actually argue against “the other side” in a way that seeks to dismantle it as pure error, through and through.

I’m not waffling on there being truth or not. There are teachings which I believe are erroneous, and which stand in contrast to The Truth. I’m not talking about that in this post, but rather the kinds of things that theologians have argued about, fought about and excommunicated opponents over for centuries, without ever being able to satisfactorily resolve once and for all what is The Truth of The Matter. The kinds of things that both sides use the same verses to prove their points with.

Funny enough, reading Codepoke’s post I realized how much I actually like being able to say “we’re both right.” That’s why I’d never be a very good debater. I really want to be able to hold firmly to what I see as true and right, while being able to make space to hear and understand things just as strongly from your perspective. Somehow, what sounds like the opposite view doesn’t so much water down my own, but holds it in a realistic tension that I think is important (perhaps even essential) in the context of my limited understanding.

Well, I’m rambling and struggling to find words for the very thing that I think Codepoke has already articulated so well. I hope you’ll go read his thoughts.

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Because if I had to reject everyone whose brain thinks and communicates in ways that are different than mine and which are hard for me to understand, I’d miss out on gems like this post from Ancient Hebrew Poetry, “Why I am Not an Atheist”. The whole post is brilliant, and I hope you’ll go there to read it. But, since I find through blog stats that few links are consistently clicked onto, let me highlight this one small selection:

I see a rising tide of evil, and hope against hope in Godโ€™s superabounding grace. I see baseless fears everywhere: they just have new names. I see an abundance of racism, and especially classism, wherever I look. It is simply put to more โ€˜refinedโ€™ uses. I see no more wisdom in the current arrangement of roles and time management as it is distributed along gender lines, than was true in the past.

Oh, yes, it is wonderful to hear someone presenting reality as reality, side by side with the hope of God’s superabounding grace, without trying to reconcile things by diluting or denying either how bad things still are in spite of all of our progress or how superabounding the grace of God is. The reality John points out here makes me think and puts words to things I see and feel.

My point, though, is not primarily how much I liked this particular post, as much as it is what I’d be missing out on if I wrote John off as a “hopeless intellectual” just because he often writes about things my brain can’t begin to comprehend in ways that are quite complex.

I subscribe, via Bloglines, to Ancient Hebrew Poetry. Perhaps 80 percent of what I read there goes over my head. I can imagine some of my friends looking at me and asking, “Why bother?” Well, partly it is because the part I do get enriches my life so much. But, another part of it is that I enjoy getting to know and hear about life through John’s eyes and mind. I enjoy having friends, even blogging friends, who make life so interesting because they are so different from me.

If I see a brilliant intellectual, and let that aspect of the person’s personality be all I see, and if I write off that person because of what I don’t understand when they speak, I will have missed that person as a whole person, who is intellectual, but not only “An Intellectual”. I also will have missed the opportunity for my life to be enriched, for my faith to be challenged, for my heart to understand things from perspectives I’d never have arrived at myself.

Aristotle’s Feminist Subject is another blog I follow, but do not often understand. I’m glad I stumbled on the blog and hung around, because I’ve met another nice and interesting (and I mean both of those words as compliments, in spite of how they are often twisted, semantically, to mean other things) person in J.K. Gayle and gleaned so much of value from the small percentage that I do understand of what he writes. It was on that blog that I was introduced to a biography, Same Kind of Different As Me, which has impacted my life and thinking profoundly. It’s the only book I can think of that I found myself weeping after I finished reading. It shook up many of my presuppositions about life, about class, about change, about how God works.

Sometimes I’m intimidated by highly intellectual people. Okay, I usually and almost always am. But I don’t want that intimidation to get in the way of connection with people. The conversations I’ve had with both John and J.K., while only a small part of my whole life, are ones that I am so glad I didn’t miss out on. I treasure these connections and online friendships. And I find that once I get to know the person behind the intellect, the intimidation either goes away or at least becomes not so big of a deal.

And while I say that my life has been enriched by the things I do understand that John and J. K. write, it’s not nearly as utilitarian as it sounds. Mainly I’ve really enjoyed getting to know, however remotely, two interesting people whose amazing intellects happen to be just one part of what makes them interesting and nice people.

Connection in the body of Christ is supposed to cross over barriers. If you can run intellectual and academic circles around me, and I use that as a reason to disdain you, then I’m telling you I can only connect to you if you stop thinking and talking the way God made your brain to work. To me, that is sad and would be a great loss all around.

What do you think? Is there a difference in disdaining people because the way they think is complicated as opposed to any other reason that we disdain people who are different from us? Is it okay to disdain an intellectual, but terrible to disdain someone who is mentally retarded? I see that as highly inconsistent. I would daresay we deceive ourselves if we think it’s acceptable to disdain someone who has more of something than we do–whether it be money, intellect, popularity, etc.–but appalling to disdain someone who has less of the same thing than we do.

If I think I can disdain or write off someone who has “more,” then I have to wonder if my “acceptance” of someone with “less” is really acceptance or merely patronizing? Lately I’ve been thinking that “patronizing” is just the dolled up, socially acceptable version of disdain.

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TV Deprived

[If you find my rambling on and on about my kids dreadfully uninteresting, I hope you’ll just skip to the end and watch the video, because I’d hate to think you missed out on this delightful and very eclectic video because of all my words!]

When my children are with me, we never watch TV and only very occasionally watch a movie. They seem okay with that. Our life is pretty full, anyway, as my children are only at my house during the week and school and related things like homework fill up a lot of the time.

We have a big yard with a tire swing (thanks to my Mom and Dad). We live on a brick road with a mansion at the end, and my kids think it is great fun to race to the mansion. (Incidentally, living on a paved brick road with lots of old houses, some of them quite rundown, and a mansion at the end gives warm fuzzies to my eclectic heart.) My girls have Littlest Pet Shop toys that they can play with for hours. My boys have trees to climb (I know that sounds sexist, but, honestly, I promise you, I haven’t forbidden my boys to play with Littlest Pet Shop or my girls to climb trees and sometimes they do do those things together.) We have fabulously black oily dirt that my youngest two children love to wallow and dig in.

In general, then, my kids don’t seem to miss TV or computer. My youngest will occasionally come and beg me to let her play Typing Tutor (there’s a grocery store data entry game, and every time you type in the wrong price, the food falls splat on the floor, so it doesn’t really matter that she can’t type, and, to be honest, she doesn’t even try, because she’s having too much fun making the food fall on the ground!) or “the Map Game” (Click on All States for her favorite animated version). But, for the most part TV and computers are not a big part of our life.

One of the implications of that is that when I find a YouTube video to share with them, they love it and will usually ask to watch it several times. This past week, I found a shareable video at Ray Fowler’s blog. My kids love it so much, they have probably asked me to play it 18 times over the past few days. Right before they go to bed, they’ll say, “Can we see that video again?” I like it too and don’t mind at all. It’s pretty funny to do the math and realize that, since it is just over one minute long, that if we’ve watched it 18 times, we’ve still watched under 20 minutes of TV this week ๐Ÿ™‚

We’ve had a lot of fun figuring out what our favorite parts are and why we like them so much–this part is cool, I like that person’s voice, the other part makes me feel good. For me, the whole thing is such a wide and wild variety of novel and interesting thing that it gives me more of those eclectic warm fuzzies every time I watch it. Bottom line, it makes us feel good when we watch it. Which is maybe scary in what it says about us, or maybe wonderful to have a feel good fix that makes all of us smile so big, is free,ย  nontoxic, and conversation-inducing. (I’ll take the last option ๐Ÿ™‚ )

So here’s the Hit of the Year for our TV Deprived family:

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nets-are-nicea FREE downloadable book for children about malaria and the role of mosquito nets in prevention.

This book by Gary Edson, with a forward by First Lady Laura Bush, is published by Malaria No More, in conjunction with Scholastic.

The Malaria No More campaign also has an informative ten minute video about malaria, its history and current initiatives to do something about malaria. (And here is my usual disclaimer that I am not promoting or endorsing any specific program or campaign. My hope, today is to bring attention to this disease and make space for a moment of preoccupation on others and this specific, prevalent and preventable disease which impacts so many people in the world.)

Whatever your opinion on the Malaria No More campaign (and I hope you’ll visit the website and think about the subject enough to form an opinion) I think this free book is a beautiful way to help American children think outside their little world to the bigger world. The photos are stunning, and the text is simple. There is a malaria fact sheet at the back of the book.

There is also a malaria knowledge quiz at the Malaria No More website.

If World Malaria Day seems irrelevant to you, or just one more world problem to think about when you are bombarded every day with world problems, I understand. I’m not into asking you to do something specific or predetermined about malaria. (Heaven forbid that I, who am so skeptical of campaigns, would start one of my own ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

On this, my third post of the day (that’s got to be some kind of record for me!), focusing on malaria, I’d like to leave you only with the suggestion of printing and reading this lovely little book and taking a few minutes to stop and recognize–to make space for thinking about–one particular type of suffering that affects a great many people in our world today, every day.

(Follow these links for Part One and Part Two of this three post focus for World Malaria day)

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The second of three posts in consideration of today being World Malaria Day. Follow this link to post one (with a vivid photo of malaria in action).

~The malaria parasite goes through several different stages in its life cycle. Inside the human body, it divides (multiplies?) in nonsexual ways. It reproduces, sexually, though, inside the body of the mosquito. Quinine, a bark that has been used to treat malaria for many years, works by destroying the stage of malaria that causes problems in the human body. It does not, however, destroy the stage of malaria that can reproduce in the mosquito’s body. So, a person could get better with treatment, but still facilitate the transmission of malaria to others through the reproducing part of the malaria being picked up by another mosquito. (Again, that is not the most technical explanation and certain aspects may not be exactly “the way it is,” but it is the best I can do to explain one of the fascinating and complicated aspects of malaria.)

~Malaria used to be a major problem in the U.S. during the Civil War. From a random website I discovered today, here is the number of deaths from various illnesses in the Union Army:

tuberculosis: 6497
smallpox: 7058
malaria: 14,379

Although the exact number of Confederate Army deaths from malaria is not known, there were 41,539 cases in an 18 month period (January, 1862-July, 1863) in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The cause of the disease was not known and soldiers often slept without the protection of mosquito nets.

~Malaria was a very real problem for the Ingalls family in their Little House on the Prairie.

~Malaria struck the fledging settlement of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1798. One young boy, Seth Doan, “kept everyone in Cleveland fed during the epidemic. Thanks to his efforts, no one in the settlement died.” A fictionalized account of that summer of malaria and Seth’s role in saving the lives of the people in the settlement is recounted in The Boy Who Saved Cleveland, by James Cross Giblin. This historical fiction novel for children is only 64 pages long.

~There is only one species, out of the 3000 or so species total of mosquitoes, that carries malaria, and even then, it is only the female (I haven’t substantiated this information, but, from what I understand, the females live on human blood, the males on fruit.) You can tell the differences in species of mosquitos by the presence or absence of stripes and also by whether or not the back legs are resting on you when she is biting versus lifted up. I could never remember which signs indicated a malaria carrying mosquito, and, personally, I prefer to kill them all.

~Here are some interesting books your library may have, on mosquitoes in general, or malaria, in specific:

Mosquitoes, by Jonathan Kravetz (a fascinating book for children)

Mosquito: A Natural History of our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe, by Andrew Spielman Sc.D. and Michael D’Antonio (I read this one about five years ago, but I seem to remember it being interesting and not too technically complex)

The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria, by Mark Honigsbaum (This one was a bit more technical, but still doable. Fascinating stories about science “back in the days”, politics, the mixing of the two. There was a lot of bravery that went into the search for a malaria cure as well as some craziness that would seem to have bordered on insanity. Again, even though I didn’t understand all of the technical explanations, the history and stories of the people involved were fascinating to me.)

~And a few well known people who have taken up malaria prevention and treatment as their cause:

Bill and Melinda Gates

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated and his “Nothing but Nets” campaign (Well I had never heard of him before, but maybe if you read Sports Illustrated. His passion and emotion in this article are pretty impressive.)

Laura Bush and her support of the Inter-faith Malaria Project in Mozambique (and her husband, too, but I was impressed that it is one of the causes the First Lady has given her support to.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to be a bit skeptical of the efficacy of campaigns and causes. I must say if money is going to be thrown somewhere, I’m at least a little bit happy that some of it is being directed towards research for a disease that doesn’t primarily affect the Western World. Still, while I commend these well known people for taking malaria seriously and bringing its devastating impact onto our radar screen, I’m not exactly recommending their approaches.

In general, I tend to think that for every well intentioned Super Solution, a few more problems (some of them Super Problems) tend to be created. G. M. Prabhu left an insightful and thought-provoking comment on Lingamish recently, which addresses some of my concerns and hesitancy. I hope you will read the whole comment, but if not, at least read paragraph #8, which has some highly relevant thoughts for today’s focus on malaria prevention and treatment in ways which do not undermine, demean or generally disregard the actual people help is being offered to.

(And even though I’m not actually promoting the Nothing but Nets campaign, I still think you should go read that article by Rick Reilly. It is by far the most profound column I have ever read from a Sports magazine (well, even if I had actually read other articles in Sports magazines to compare this one too, I still think this article would be a winner.)

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Those are a couple of your poor red blood cells exploding (or are they deflating rather limply?) from malaria. The oxygen that the blood cell carries has been paralyzed (maybe disabled? destroyed?). And it’s not getting where it needs to go. A body not getting the oxygen it needs in the liver and brain is not a happy body.

Admittedly, my technical understanding and explanation of how malaria does its thing is lacking. But, having experienced the effects of this parasite, I will say that this visual of the red blood cells losing the battle to malaria was a pretty accurate representation of how miserable one feels when suffering from malaria.

When I had malaria, I had it with the benefits of already being on prophylaxis, which although it doesn’t prevent the disease, usually gives you a bit more time before the disease (at least the cerebral form) becomes a life or death crisis. Plus, I had money for treatment, and the ability to call a doctor in the middle of the night, who called the pharmacist in the middle of the night, who for an extra fee, opened up the pharmacy and sold me the treatment.

Malaria is preventable (mainly by avoiding getting bitten by mosquitos), and it is treatable. Still, many people die from it every year and many more get it and suffer from it over and over, in a cyclically debilitating fashion. I don’t really know how one can estimate the big picture effects of malaria, in terms of life, functionality, performance, overall miserableness and quality of life, etc. But it’s effect IS big.

Eradicating malaria, like just about any campaign (for example, eradicating poverty), is fraught with overly simplistic solutions and overly complex complications to those solutions. Still, for all of my cynicism about campaigns and causes, this is one cause I do care deeply about. You can learn more about malaria and some of the big names working to fight it at the Malaria Consortium website.

Malaria (and the mosquitos that carry it) is a fascinating and interesting topic to me. If I have time later in the day, I might ramble on about it some more. But, for now, at least, on this end of the day, I wanted to draw your attention to this preventable, but devastating disease, which continues to affect and kill many people around the world each day.

(Thanks to Lingamish for pointing out that today is World Malaria Day. The photo above comes from the Ivory Coast Medical Relief Team’s website)

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