Norwegian Bovines Side with Beauvoir

by Karen Topakian

Last week, the online writing site Red Room asked its members and authors to submit a blog. Addressing whether we agreed with Simone de Beauvoir when she wrote: “I wish that every human life might be pure, transparent freedom,” or with her lifelong partner Jean Paul-Sartre’s assessment that we’re “condemned to be free”?

I wrestled with the topic for a few moments.

Immediately, coming up with bad song lyrics about freedom. As in the Tom Petty song Refugee. “Everybody’s had to fight to be free.” Or Kris Kristofferson’s famous line sung by Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin left to lose.”

Then my mind wandered to the Monty Python sketch where two British housewives Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion sit in a laundromat arguing about Jean Paul Sartre’s master work. They paddle to Paris on a block of wood in search of Sartre and find Simone at home sweeping up a messy apartment. Complaining about the profusion of propaganda pamphlets, which a goat chews on noisily.

None of this seemed worthy of the Red Room’s request.

I forgot about the contest until I saw this week’s headline in e! Science News, “Cows. More freedom may mean less milk.”

Cows, those blocky bovines that spend 20 hours out of the day chewing, behave differently when free of the shackles of tie-stall barns. So says a Norwegian study reported in Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica.

As of 2004, the government of Norway forbid the building of new tie-stall barns. A study of their performance and health shows that in small herds (fewer than 27 cows), they produced less milk but in herds of 45 cows or more, free stall cows produced more milk.

“In free-stalls fertility was better, calving interval shorter, and the incidence rate of teat injuries, ketosis, indigestions, anoestrus and cystic ovaries was lower than in tie-stalls. All of these factors were more favorable in estimated 50-cow herds as compared to 20-cow herds. In the larger herd category, bulk milk somatic cell counts were higher, and the incidence rate of mastitis (all cases) and all diseases was lower,” says Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica.

Imagine. When you untie these herds their lives improve. Their sexual activity increases, they are sick less often and they produce more milk.

The Red Room should have asked these Norwegian cows to write the blog. I know they would agree with their fellow female Simone.

Wash and Fold

images-1by Karen Topakian

This week’s Science section of the New York Times features a conversation with Carol W. Greider, a recent winner of a science Nobel. She stands tall in a small class of eight women who have ever won in physiology or medicine in the history of the Nobels in science.

What struck me about the conversation with her was what she was doing when she received the early morning call from Stockholm. Laundry. “…I was already up and it was staring at me.”

How many other Nobel winners had ever been doing that same task when they received the call? Would a male winner have been sorting the darks from the lights?

According to a 2008 Gallup poll about housework, 68% of married adults say the wife does the laundry.  The only activity that a man would more likely be doing is “keeping the car in good condition,” (69% of all married respondents said the husband was most likely to do this chore.)

I would bet that most men who heard from the Nobel Committee were doing exactly what President Obama was doing at 6:30 a.m. Lying between the sheets not tossing them into the washer.

I’m All Ears


by Karen Topakian

Two Italian scientists conducted three studies in noisy nightclubs proving their theory that “…humans prefer to be addressed in our right ear and are more likely to perform a task when we receive the request in our right ear rather than our left….”

This information confirms my father’s behavior.

He suffered from hearing loss for much of his adult life. The cause was unknown but may have resulted from the noisy working environment of his electro-plating shop.

We often had to repeat news, stories and information because he said he hadn’t heard us. Or at least that was his excuse when he was miss-informed or ill informed about a particular matter.

This frequently exasperated my mother. Because she knew he could hear but just wasn’t listening.

His most common refrain was uttered while lying on the couch in the den watching television.  My mother would enter the room to ask him something. He wouldn’t answer. She would repeat the question. He would look up at her and say, “You know I can’t hear you when I’m lying on my good ear.” His right one.

Nobody Expects the Inquisition

By Karen Topakian

Three hundred seventy six years ago, on June 22, 1633, the Holy Office in Rome forced Galileo Galilei to recant his view that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe.

Galileo’s adherence to heliocentrism, the theory that the earth revolved around the sun discovered by Copernicus, directly contradicted the literalist interpretation of the scriptures. His refusal to treat this scientific theory as a “merely hypothetical phenomenon and not a physically real one,” kept him in religious hot water for several years.

The Church made allowances for him to discuss this theory in the scientific community but the faith of the ordinary people had to be safeguarded.

In 1615, the Catholic Church, through Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, told Galileo that he did not want to treat his telescopic observations as real because “…it would harm the Holy Faith by rendering Holy Scripture false.” (Scriptures most frequently cited are 1 Chronicles 16:30 – “Tremble before him, all the earth! 
The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved;” and Ecclesiastes 1:5 –“The sun rises and the sun sets, 
and hurries back to where it rises” which both allude to geocentrism, that the earth was the center of the universe.)

The Cardinal did not want to be in the business of having to explain the contradictions in the Scriptures.

Galileo accepted the orders to abandon the Copernican opinions. The Church went a step farther declaring it an idea that could not be proven for lack of evidence and therefore named heretical because it contradicted the literal meaning of the Scriptures.

Seven years later, Galileo, with authorization from the Inquisition, published his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. This attempt to present a balanced view of the church’s theories and Copernican’s resulted in an order to appear before the Inquisition for trial because the latter received more favorable treatment.

In Rome in 1633, Galileo was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy. And on this day, June 22, he was condemned to the formal prison of the Holy office

Thankfully the Catholic Church corrected their mistake. In 2000, Pope John Paul II apologized for all mistakes committed by the Catholic Church in the last 2,000 years of history, including the trial of Galileo.

Sadly, two months ago, Pope Benedict continued to deny scientific truths when he told the people of Cameroon that “HIV/AIDs was a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”.

His solution: “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer”.

I wonder if we’ll have to wait another 2,000 years for this apology.