How will you remember 2011?
The year 2011 was a dismal time in American public life. The nation came close to defaulting and lost its AAA credit rating for the first time ever. The do-nothing Congress did—well, nothing. The GOP seriously offered up the likes of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain as its best and brightest for the country’s future. Policemen in riot gear pepper-sprayed peaceful protestors. And public discourse sank to an all-time low in coarseness and partisanship. So how will we recall 2011 when we look back on it? Most likely with warmth and good cheer. Say what? That’s right. We will most likely remember the end of 2011—the next couple weeks—positively, simply because it is the end of the year.
Hand Washing: A Deadly Dilemma
New Yorker essayist Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a prestigious teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School. A couple years ago, he wrote a profile of his hospital’s infection-control team, whose full-time job it is to control the spread of infectious disease in the hospital. The focus of the piece was hand washing—or more accurately, the team’s failed efforts to get doctors, nurses and others in patient care to adequately disinfect their hands. They tried everything. They repositioned sinks, and had new, automated ones installed. They bought $5000 “precaution carts” to make washing, gloving and gowning easy and efficient.
The Psychology of Health Screening
Imagine it’s time for your annual physical. You visit your family doctor, and along with all the usual probes and tests and queries, your doctor tells you about a disease you’ve never heard of before. Called thioamine acetlyase, or TAA, deficiency, it affects the body’s normal ability to process nutrients, and can lead to severe medical complications—exhaustion, physical deterioration, even early death. Although studies indicate that one in five adults suffers from TAA deficiency, most are unaware that they even have the disease. But there is a test that screens for TAA deficiency, your physician tells you.
How Social Is Social Networking?
I like Facebook. I’ve been signing into the site fairly regularly for a couple years now, and it has become my large extended family’s primary form of communication. It also keeps me connected with friends and former colleagues—people I like a lot but would never stay in touch with otherwise. We share photos, update personal news, comment on politics and pop culture—nothing serious, but it’s still more connection than I would have in a previous era. In that sense, Facebook is certainly a social lubricant for many of its 500 million users, facilitating fast and effortless and widespread connection. But does this innovative technology actually change the quality and texture of relationships?
The Physical Act of Creativity
When Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg was working on his 1977 hit movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he spent long hours puzzling over the artistic texture of the film, trying to get just the right feel. Late one night, he decided to put his work aside and take a drive to clear his head. He headed up Hollywood Hill to one of the vistas overlooking Los Angeles and—impulsively, for no reason at all—he did a hand-stand on the roof of his car. With his perspective on the illuminated LA cityscape turned topsy-turvy, he “saw” what would become the alien visitors’ spacecraft. This Hollywood legend may be apocryphal, but creativity gurus love it anyway.
The Meditating Brain: Express Version
I have been experimenting with mindfulness meditation recently. Originally a Buddhist practice, mindfulness meditation focuses on moment-to-moment awareness, of one’s body and its sensations and one’s immediate surroundings. When thoughts intrude on this aware state—as they always do—you gently let them go as you return to the moment. It’s very calming—and really hard. It’s hard because the mind does not want to stop churning out thoughts. I’m told that with time and practice, meditation becomes easier, and what’s more that it brings a variety of emotional and health benefits. Those testimonials are why I’m doing this, but I confess the prospect is daunting.