Category Archives: Interesting Stories

Are Books Superior to TV? How they affect our brains differently, according to science – Melissa Chu. 

Reading books is good for you. It increases your knowledge and makes you think. Watching television on the other hand kills off brain cells.

In 2013, a study was performed at Tohoku University in Japan. A team led by Hiraku Takeuchi examined the effects of television on the brains of 276 children, along with amount of time spent watching TV and its long-term effects.

Researcher Takeuchi found that the more TV the kids watched, parts of their brain associated with higher arousal and aggression levels became thicker. The frontal lobe also thickened, which is known to lower verbal reasoning ability.

The more hours of television the kids watched, the lower their verbal test results became. These negative effects in the brain happened regardless of the child’s age, gender, and economic background.

In the same year, a study was done on how reading a novel affected the brain. Gregory Burns and his colleagues at Emory University wanted to see the before and after effects of reading based on fMRI readings.

College students were asked to read Pompeii by Robert Harriss, a thriller based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy. The book was chosen due to its strong narration and a dramatic plot based on true events.

After reading the novel, the students had increased connectivity in parts of the brain that were related to language. There was also increased activity in the sensory motor region of the brain, suggesting that readers experienced similar sensations to the characters in the book.

There are also long-term effects from reading books. Reading keeps your mind alert and delays cognitive decline in elders. Research even found that Alzheimer’s is 2.5 times less likely to appear in elderly people who read regularly, while TV was presented as a risk factor.

Six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to researchers at the University of Sussex. Reading beat out other relaxing activities, including listening to music (61 percent), drinking tea or coffee (54 percent), and taking a walk (42 percent).

Reading’s looking pretty good compared to television. We can see that it calms the nerves, increases language and reasoning, and can even keep you mentally alert as you age. TV, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.

But we still haven’t gotten to why that’s the case.

It’s not just an issue of the quality of the TV program or the book. It seems that the nature of the activities themselves is what’s causing the differences.

Television is designed to be passive. After switching to the show you like, you can just sit back and watch everything unfold without effort on your part. You’re less likely to pause to reflect on what’s happening.

TV also presents ideas and characters on a surface level. Shows don’t have the luxury of describing or explaining situations in great detail, since they need to keep viewers visually entertained. TV programs are fast-paced in order to keep people from switching.

Books, on the other hand, are a more proactive form of entertainment and learning. The reader has to concentrate on what’s being said and to think through concepts in the book. When we read, we’re forced to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps.

Books also have the advantage of being able to describe everything in greater depth. While television is mostly composed of dialogue between characters, books can walk readers through scenes, characters’ thoughts, and provide lengthier commentary.


After 54 Years, We Fell in Love. After Five Months, I Got Leukemia. – Delia Ephron. 

I thought I’d fallen into my own romantic comedy.

I write them for a living. My sister Nora and I wrote “You’ve Got Mail,” among others. How people fall in love is my specialty.

Here is where it begins.

Last August I wrote an essay for this newspaper about trying to disconnect my late husband’s phone and ending up in Verizon hell. In October, I got an email from a man who read the piece. A man Nora had fixed me up with when I was 18 years old, a summer intern she’d met at Newsweek. We’d had three dates, he wrote.

Now we were 72 years old. We are talking 54 years ago. “We went to a Columbia football game. There were snow flurries,” Peter told me when I confessed in my return email to having absolutely no memory of our dates.

He was now a psychiatrist, a Jungian analyst, living in the Bay Area.

There were confluences. He’d had similar problems — with AT&T — trying to disconnect his wife’s line after she died. The last trip they took together had been to Syracuse, Sicily. My most recent novel, “Siracusa,” was set there. Peter loved it, he told me. He knew the way to a writer’s heart.

“Do you want to talk further?” he wrote. “Clearly I do.”

I’d have sworn that I had no interest in meeting a man or, frankly, taking off my clothes in front of one. I was content. I had great friends. I’d had a wonderful marriage.

And yet when Peter opened his arms, I leapt into them.

Of course, first I Googled.

After mistaking several other men for him, I learned that he had written two books on sexual exploitation. He had testified on behalf of abused women in court. An activist on behalf of women? Is this a feminist prank? He’d recently hiked the Grand Canyon. He sent a photo of himself in a canoe. He was great looking.

After consulting my friend Jessie, who has excellent judgment and who approved of his email, I wrote back. Something charming, I hoped. Yet I was careful to mention that I never hike except across Greenwich Village for a pastry. Peter did sound seriously interesting, but there was no way I was going near the Grand Canyon.

Within days we were emailing several times a day. I remember thinking, there is no point in being anything other than who I am, so I was honest about my life, my loss, the complications of survival, and he responded in kind.

There we were, like Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail,” emailing our hearts. Or was it like “Sleepless in Seattle,” since we were on opposite coasts?

After about two weeks, he wrote the inevitable: “Delia, I think we should talk on the phone.”

Soon we were logging hours late at night. Not FaceTime or Skype, simply phone calls — voices connecting the way I did when I was young. He drove to Nevada to canvass for Hillary Clinton, and we talked the four hours there and the four hours it took him to drive back. I couldn’t think or write or sleep. I realized, I’m falling in love. I am 72 years old, how is this possible? All this before Peter said, “Delia, I think we should meet.”

The next weekend he flew to New York.

The day of our date, I had an excellent blow-dry. I spent way too much time considering what to wear. I was tongue-tied at dinner. I believe I asked him his favorite color. My brain was jumbled by his presence, by the ghost of my husband who would only want me to be happy, but still.

When we left the restaurant, Peter kissed me. On the corner of Bowery and Houston, let it be marked forever.

The next morning I freaked out. We were supposed to meet in Washington Square Park. I couldn’t go. I called Jessie. “He has a backpack,” I told her.

“Every man in Northern California has a backpack,” she said, “get over to the park.”

Peter and I sat on a bench and talked for hours. I was scared. At our age death is sitting there, right in front of you. You can reach out and touch it. And I remember saying, the way people say things they mean but don’t: “No one should have to go through twice what we both went through. If I get sick, I give you total permission to leave me.”

And Peter said, “I could never do that.”

This is not a romantic comedy. It’s not a comedy at all.

In the full disclosure necessary at our age, I told Peter that I had abnormal cells in my bone marrow, discovered in a biopsy seven years earlier. But every six months I would visit Dr. Gail Roboz, director of the leukemia program at Weill Cornell Medicine, and she would give me a blood test and tell me I was fine. Peter was not put off.

Within weeks of our first date, we were taking long trips together, including one to the edge of the Grand Canyon. And then I went in for my next blood test, on March 9, and found out that I had leukemia.

It was A.M.L., acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form. I would start chemotherapy in the hospital the next week, Dr. Roboz said, on CPX-351, a drug in clinical trials, not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Leukemia. A.M.L. My sister had died of this disease.

But it wasn’t the same disease, Dr. Roboz told me. Abnormal chromosomes and mutations make A.M.L. behave very differently in different patients. My version was not like my sister’s, and was, Dr. Roboz believed, a good candidate for CPX-351. This is why I could get the drug, through Weill Cornell’s compassionate-access program.

I felt grateful for that, but I wished so much that this drug or something suited to Nora had existed when she was sick. I was lonely for her, more than ever.

Like my sister, I started lying. I told lots of lies to people I love. To people I work with. About why the screenplay wasn’t in, why I had to miss appointments. I’m a terrible liar. I said whatever came into my head. I even borrowed a friend’s eye disease. All I could think was, if I tell one person and they tell another, my news would be public, published as: “Her sister died, she’s dying, too.”

I had to protect my hope.

Peter flew in the day after I found out. He was sitting at the breakfast table, I was making us French toast, and he said, “We should get married.” He stood up. “Will you marry me?”


This wasn’t a practical decision. We both understood that the illness had given us an even clearer recognition of our love. On Monday we got a marriage license and bought a ring. On Tuesday I checked into the hospital.

We want to marry, we told Dr. Roboz, who turned out to be able to arrange that, too. We read our vows that Peter wrote all about miracles, and the Rev. Cheryl Fox, the hospital chaplain, pronounced us husband and wife in the dining room on the hospital’s 14th floor. I was one CPX-351 treatment in, two more to go.

Peter took a leave from his practice and slept in my hospital room. There was not one moment when he wasn’t positive. Not one. A long hospital stay is like being in a tunnel, a blur of people taking your vitals, meals arriving that you don’t want to eat, forcing yourself to walk the corridors to keep up your strength. Fear and hope battling for your heart and mind. Every night, when I fell asleep in my hospital bed, I saw Peter across the way on a cot, reading, waiting for me to fall asleep before he did.

Twenty-five days later I was out of the hospital. I had a final bone marrow biopsy and the official news: I was in remission.

Remission. A remarkable word to hear.

Within a week I was writing again. Peter and I went to the opera. But I continued to avoid friends and family. When I saw people dear to me, I presented a version of my life that didn’t exist (even omitting a marriage — how to explain that!).

All this secrecy became too great a burden; it isolated me. It simply didn’t suit.

And I hope very much that the F.D.A. approves this drug. It should be available to everyone who could benefit from it. I have an obligation to tell.

I look at Peter and wonder how this miracle happened to us. My sister, of course. She had the foresight to suspect 54 years ago that we were made for each other (“M.F.E.O.,” as a character says in “Sleepless”). Thank goodness he reads The New York Times. Thank goodness he has the most generous heart. Did I mention that CPX-351 doesn’t make you lose your hair? I suppose I could say that’s not important when it’s life and death, but losing your hair is huge. A heartbreak. It matters. Everything mattered. Especially love.

Delia Ephron

New York Times

History Nearly Forgot Kansas City’s Sarah Rector – Ingrid Keizer

Few Kansas Citians know the story of the 10 year old girl who became the one of the first black, female millionaires in the US. Though her story began in Oklahoma, it was in Kansas City that she spent her entire adulthood.

Before the the African slave trade began in the Americas, European settlers enslaved indigenous people. Later, some native tribes also adopted the use of African slaves and some even fought with the confederacy to retain that right. In 1866 a treaty was signed between the US and the Creek Nation to emancipate those slaves and allow them full citizenship in the Creek Nation. Those freed slaves came to be known as “Creek Freedman”.

The Dawes Act 0f 1887 authorized the US government to divide tribal lands into allotments. In 1907, 10 year old Sarah Rector’s parents who were Creek Freedmen, accepted an allotment of land with the condition that they live separate from the tribe and be granted US citizenship. In most cases the land was not prime farmland or desirable for any use. Each of the three Rector children and both parents were allotted land in eastern Oklahoma.

Sarah’s 160 acre land allotment was leased to an oil company to help pay the $30.00 tax bill. In 1913 the land proved highly valuable, producing 2500 barrels a day and providing Sarah a income of $300.00 a day. The law indicated that a white guardian must be assigned to any full blooded Indian, black adult or child with significant wealth. In many situations people were bilked out of their fortunes and left with nothing, children’s fortunes were taken and abandoned penniless to orphanages. Sarah’s guardianship was given to T.J. Porter a community member known to her family. More oil wells on her land became productive and became part of the Cushing-Drumright Oil Field which provided 20% of the oil in the US between 1915 and 1916.

Sarah’s wealth became well-known and the 13 year old began to receive marriage proposals from around the world. False rumors of neglect and abuse also began to circulate and eventually her guardian T.J Porter was accused of taking more than his share of her fortune and “stepped down” as her guardian. He was later found, “not guilty”. His attorney, however, was found guilty of taking kickbacks and lost his license to practice law.

By the time Sarah was 18 she was a millionaire. The Rector Family moved to Kansas City and bought a home on 2000 East 12th St. which came to be known as the “Rector Mansion”. The large home was priced at $20,000 in 1921. The “Rector Mansion” has experienced several incarnations including a funeral home. It currently stands empty.

In 1922, Sarah met Kenneth Campbell, a Lincoln High School Graduate who was playing football at the University of Kansas. The couple married in Lawrence, Kansas. The marriage produced three sons, Kenneth Jr. , Leonard and Clarence. Sarah and Kenneth socialized in the Jazz district and enjoyed the company of Kansas City musicians. Their wealth also afforded Sarah the ability to rise above some the constraints that a very segregated and often racist Kansas City presented. Sarah, who was frequently detained by law enforcement for speeding, was known to ask, “Do you know who I am?”.  In many cases, she was not ticketed.

In 1929 Kenneth partnered with Homer Roberts, the first black car dealer in the US. Roberts opened his first dealership in the 18th and Vine District in 1921. Black customers were not allowed to test drive cars at white dealerships rendering Roberts’ dealership highly profitable in the community. Sarah Rector loved cars and was likely one of Roberts’ first customers.

Sarah and Kenneth divorced and Kenneth moved to Chicago. The Campbell-Roberts duo opened a successful dealership in Chicago which closed during the depression.

The stock market crash of 1929 nearly depleted Sarah’s fortune. It is said that she sold the house on 2000 12th and downsized to a house on 2440 Brooklyn Avenue. The house on 2440 Brooklyn still stands and is considerable in size. She later moved to 2418 Campbell. The Campbell home no longer stands.

Sarah eventually sold her land in Oklahoma for a meager sum. It is suggested that her real-estate holdings in Kansas City also dwindled. Sarah married William Crawford, a baker and restaurant owner in 1934. In the 40’s Sarah was awarded a settlement of an undisclosed amount on the grounds of misuse and fraud of tribal lands by the government. She later bought a small farm a very short distance south of Kansas City, Missouri. She retained a small stable of cars.

Sarah continued to live in the Kansas City area until her death in 1967. She was buried in Oklahoma.

Black humour is sign of high intelligence, study suggests | Science | The Guardian.  

I’ve always known that 🙂

Who needs Mensa? If you want to find out if someone has a high IQ, just tell them a string of sick jokes and then gauge their reaction.

A new study in the journal Cognitive Processing has found that intelligence plays a key role in the appreciation of black humour – as well as several other factors, notably a person’s aggression levels.

A team of researchers, led by Ulrike Willinger at the Medical University of Vienna, asked 156 people, who had an average age of 33 and included 76 women, to rate their comprehension and enjoyment of 12 darkly humorous cartoons taken from The Black Book by the renowned German cartoonist Uli Stein.

Examples include a cartoon depicting a morgue where a physician lifts a cover sheet off a body. A woman confirms: “Sure, that’s my husband – anyway, which washing powder did you use to get that so white?”

Participants were also tested for verbal and non-verbal IQ and asked about their mood, aggression and educational background.

The group with the highest sick humour appreciation and comprehension scored the highest in verbal and non-verbal IQ tests, were better educated, and scored lower for aggression and bad mood.

The Guardian

Killer whales explain the mystery of the menopause – Robin McKie. 

Killer whales and humans would seem to have little in common. We inhabit very different ecosystems, after all. Yet the two species share one unexpected biological attribute. Females of Orcinus orca and Homo sapiens both go through the menopause.

It an extraordinary aspect of our development. In contrast to the vast majority of animals on our planet, women and female killer whales stop reproducing halfway through their lives. Only one other species – the short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) – behaves this way.

The question is: why? For what reason do females of these three different species give up the critically important process of reproduction in middle age? According to Darren Croft of Exeter University, whose team has been studying killer whales for several years, there are many different theories. “Some have argued that it is an artefact that has appeared during our recent evolution and has simply persisted in our lineage,” he said. In other words, there is no specific reason for the menopause in humans. It is simply an evolutionary accident. However, Croft believes there is overwhelming evidence that the menopause is an evolved trait deep rooted in our past.

One idea to account for the deep-rooted evolution of this trait uses the concept of the “granny effect”: older females are programmed to close down their reproduction so they can devote themselves exclusively to the rearing of grandchildren. In doing so, they lose the ability to pass on their genes directly to one generation but gain because they can help the following generation to reach adulthood, thus promoting their genotype for the future, it is argued.

The Guardian

“Corn and Oak”. A Final Toast to Legendary Bourbon Master Distiller Parker Beam – Noah Rothbaum. 

For a long time it was said you couldn’t have a bourbon distillery without a member of the Beam family. In fact, when the five Shapira brothers started Heaven Hill, back in 1934, right after the repeal of Prohibition, it wasn’t long before a Beam was making the bourbon. Parker’s father, Earl (who was Jim Beam’s nephew), was hired in 1946 and it only made sense that his son and grandson, Craig, would follow suit. The family trees of the Shapira and Beam families have grown ever more entwined over the ensuing decades as the two clans produced and sold millions upon millions of barrels of American whiskey.

He taught all of us something about grit during the last few years. Most of all, though, he made great bourbon, at a fair price. Can’t ask for more than that. God bless, Parker Beam, God bless.

Daily Beast

Titantic II Is Almost Ready to Set Sail. 

You’ll Be Able to Vacation on a Replica of the Titanic in 2018

106 years after the original vessel sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a new version of the RMS Titanic is set to launch in 2018.

Australian billionaire Clive Palmer—who has apparently never seen the movie—came up with the idea for the Titanic II, along with his shipping company, Blue Star Line, Palmer announced the project in 2012 in hopes of launching in time for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s fateful voyage, but the sail date was pushed back due to a series of delays.

The boat promises to be fully functioning replica, looking virtually identical to the 1912 counterpart—save for the fact that it promises to stock enough lifeboats for all its passengers, along with modern marine evacuation systems.

Travel and Leisure