Wednesday, March 23, 2011

5 Myths About the Guy on the 5 Dollar Bill

Abe Lincoln, one of my favorite Presidents, is famous for numerous things.  He came from the back of the pack through "hard work, self-education and honesty."  He saved the Union and ended slavery.  He died soon after accomplishing the impossible at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.  It is expected that people will rewrite Lincoln's biography.  A man of this magnitude of greatness should be given a dignified biography.  Myths surround Abraham Lincoln, no doubt a direct result of his notoriety.  Here are some myths that have been debunked.  Hope you enjoy.
1.   Lincoln was a simple country lawyer.
This durable legend, personified by laconic Henry Fonda in John Ford's film "Young Mr. Lincoln," dies hard. Lincoln's law partner William H. Herndon, looking to boost his own reputation, introduced the canard that Lincoln cared little about his legal practice, did scant research, joked around with juries and judges, and sometimes failed to collect fees. Lincoln himself may have compromised his legal reputation with his oft-quoted admonition "Discourage litigation."
True, politics became lawyer Lincoln's chief ambition. Still, in the 1850s he ably (and profitably) represented the Illinois Central Railroad and the Rock Island Bridge Co. - the company that built the first railroad bridge over the Mississippi River - and earned a solid reputation as one of his home state's top appeals lawyers.
Lincoln's legal papers testify to a diverse and profitable practice. Had he not been "aroused," as he put it, to speak out in 1854 against the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act before seeking a Senate seat, he likely would have remained a full-time lawyer and earned fame and fortune at the bar.

2.  Lincoln was gay.
Gay rights activist Larry Kramer has long speculated that Lincoln was gay, claiming in 1999 that he'd discovered Lincoln's love letters to onetime roommate Joshua Speed. The claim is reportedly featured in Kramer's forthcoming history of homosexuality, "The American People," but historian Gabor Boritt called Kramer's assertion "almost certainly . . . a hoax."
Still, the idea persists. In 2005, "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," written by queer theory professor C. A. Tripp - a colleague of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey - purported to prove that Lincoln was an active homosexual who married only to conform to 19th-century convention and continued flirting and sleeping with young men throughout his presidency. Tripp went so far as to suggest that Lincoln's sexual indifference is what contributed to his wife's mental illness.
Is it true? And if it is, does it matter? According to Herndon, Lincoln exhibited a "powerful" attraction to women and was a regular customer in prairie brothels before his marriage at age 33. His first son was born just nine months after his marriage, which suggests enthusiasm if not experience. Then again, proving that a man loves women isn't the same as proving that he doesn't love men. Maybe it's best to throw up our hands - and remember that Lincoln's sexual orientation is but a small part of his historical legacy.

3.  Lincoln was depressed.
Four generations of biographers attest that Lincoln was often morose, but Washington College's Joshua Wolf Shenk made the case in his recent book, "Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness," that the 16th president was clinically depressed. Lincoln certainly had moments of what he called the "hypo," most notably when his first serious crush, Ann Rutledge, died in 1835, and again when he broke up with fiancée Mary Todd on the eve of their nuptials in 1841. (They reconciled the next year.)
Though I co-edited a collection of Lincoln papers with Shenk, we disagree on this point. Genuine depression was untreatable in the 19th century, and its victims often descended into madness or took their own lives. It is impossible to reconcile this debilitating disease with the Lincoln who labored tirelessly and effectively during his demanding presidency. Clinically depressed people often can't get out of bed, let alone command an army.
Was Lincoln sad? Sure - his son Willie died of fever in the White House in 1862, while the president himself led a war that would take the lives of 600,000 other young men. It would be far more remarkable had Lincoln remained perennially jolly.

4.  Lincoln was too compassionate.
Much has been made by poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg and other historians over the notion that Lincoln was a serial pardoner. This is untrue - Lincoln not only approved the execution of deserters, but 38 alleged Indian raiders were hanged by his order in Mankato, Minn. on Dec. 26, 1862, still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil.
Meanwhile, Lincoln conducted the bloodiest war in American history to preserve the Union, authorized the deployment of deadly new weaponry such as mines, ironclad warships and niter (a 19th-century version of napalm), and accepted unprecedented casualties for his chosen cause.
The recent scandal over an altered National Archives pardon - a document allegedly changed by historian Thomas P. Lowry in 1998 to make it appear that Lincoln spent his final hours pardoning a soldier for desertion - gives us the opportunity to reconsider the chronic oversimplification of Lincoln's soft touch. In light of the Archives melee, historians should re-examine the thousands of pardons Lincoln issued to weigh their authenticity and balance them against the death sentences he did allow.

5.  Lincoln was mortally ill.
No shortage of armchair physicians are ready to diagnose Lincoln 150 years after his death. He had cardiovascular disease, some say. Or he had the rare genetic disorder Marfan's Syndrome. Or he had the fatal cancer MEN2B. Had Lincoln not been assassinated on April 14, 1865, medical historians like John Sotos imply, he would have died soon enough without John Wilkes Booth's help.
If any of these illnesses wracked Lincoln's body during his presidency, how do we explain his inexhaustible physical constitution? Or the rarity of his wartime illnesses, limited to a mild bout of smallpox which killed his valet? How do we explain the ease with which the 56-year-old demonstrated his favorite frontier feat of strength - holding a heavy ax at arm's length between his fingers - just a few days before his death?
Like many presidents, Lincoln grew visibly haggard during his presidency. He also lost weight. But the physicians who attended him on his deathbed marveled at his muscular arms and chest. A weaker man, they concluded, would have died the minute he was shot. Lincoln fought off death for nine hours - hardly within the ability of a man with a pre-existing condition.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Exercise Too Much of a Good Thing?

Photo courtesy of; Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Researchers in Britain have recently began studying the heart health of older athletes.  The scientists included only men who had been part of a British national or Olympic team in distance running or rowing, as well as members of the 100 Marathon club, which admits runners who have completed at least a hundred marathons.  All the men have been athletic, training and competing, for most of their lives.  Twelve were age 50 or older, with the oldest age 67; another 17 were relative striplings, ages 26 to 40.  The scientists also gathered a group of 20 healthy men over 50, none of them endurance athletes, for comparison.

The scientists subjected the participants to a new kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their hearts that "identifies very early signs of fibrosis, or scarring, within the heart muscle,"  according to the New York Times.  Fibrosis can lead to siffening or thickening of the heart and eventually heart failure.

The results of the study, which were released only a few weeks ago in The Journal of Applied Physiology, showed that none of the younger atheletes and older non athletic athletes had fibrosis in their hearts.  On the other hand, about half of the older lifelong athletes showed some sign of heart muscle scarring.  "The affected men were, in each case, those who’d trained the longest and hardest. Spending more years exercising strenuously or completing more marathon or ultramarathon races was, in this study, associated with a greater likelihood of heart damage."

There have been other studies like this one in Germany and with lab rats.  The bottom line is, the question of whether intense, lifelong endurance exercise is harmful to the heart has been around for ages.  As the Times points out, it most often arises whenever a lifelong athglete who is supposedly healthy suffers a major heart attack.

After reading the article, it appears to me there is some small, but significant, link between lifelong endurance training and damage to the heart.  That does not mean that everyone should just quit exercising.  This study targeted people who exercised vigorously every day and ran/cycled/swam countless marathons, triathalons, etc...

Because the study has been done before (with some loopholes that were covered in this most recent study) and the results have been mildly consistent, I believe that there is a connection between endurance training and heart damage, and that lifelong athletes should be aware of these risks.  For now, however, until the science of excessive exercise is better perfected, we should all keep exercising regularly, but with a little more caution.  Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and see a doctor if your heart starts acting up during or after exercise.  Otherwise, just keep swimming! (Or running, or bicycling... you get the gist.)


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Read, Read, Read... And Read Some More.

As you probably know (or don't know, but will remember as soon as you read this), Dr. Suess week was the a few weeks ago.  Dr. Suess week gives teachers and educators all around the world the chance to teach children about the importance of reading and how it can enrich their lives.  Suess week is usually celebrated by giving the children different ways to dress up on every day of the week.  Monday is usually Hat Day.  Wednesday is usually Crazy Hair Day, etc...  So I'm going to take this opportunity to present you with a general question about reading.

Here goes.  Is a book worth reading more than once?  Should you spend your time rereading a book if you already know what's going to happen?

Well, my answer is yes.  And I say that because, to me, it does not matter if I already know the story or the plot line before I start reading it again, the words on the page still capture my mind for that period of time.  The book still provides a means of escape.  I've always used reading as a means of escape; it's just a time to relax and delve into the world of other people.  I have friends that say "No, rereading a book is stupid.  You already know what's going to happen."  Well, yeah, obviously.  But the point of reading is not just to find out what happens.  It's more about the journey that gets you to and through what happens; the feelings along the way, the personal interactions that you feel like you're a part of because you're reading about it.  So, all in all, I'm a proponent of rereading.  And rereading again. And again and again and again and again. 

P.S.- I've read one book almost 15 times so far!  Needless to say, it's in pretty bad shape.

So quit exercising your thumbs on that Xbox 360 of yours and start exercising your mind.  By reading!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sort-of Kind-of a Follow-Up to the Cell Phone Radiation Study Post

People are losing sleep because of gadget use, a study shows.  Only five percent of the people surveyed in the National Sleep Foundation poll said they do not play videogames, watch television, or use smartphones or laptop computers in the hour before going to bed.  This means that light-emitting screens are being used heavily in the "pivotal" hour before sleep, which may contribute to the high number of people who reported that they regularly get less sleep than they need.  According to Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School, the light emitting from gadgets such as smartphones and laptops interferes with the body's ability to release the natural sleep-promoting hormone and increases alertness, which makes it more difficult to sleep. Lauren Hale of Stony Brook University Medical Center says, "The higher use of these potentially more sleep-disruptive technologies among younger generations may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and other measures of well being." Because activities done on videogame consoles and laptop computers are generally more stimulating than passively watching TV, researchers conclude that such activities before bed are making it even harder to sleep versus watching an hour of TV before bed.  Sleep-deprived gadget users polled that they use caffeine and naps to cope with their fatigue.
So, it sounds like we all need to turn off the laptop an hour or so before bedtime instead of falling asleep with it in our laps.  And that cell phone that you sleep with?  You should probably turn that off, too.  Technology is a great thing, in some aspects of life, but sleep is extremely important.  It is important not only to our health and well-being, but to our cognizant abilities that involve education, work, etc... as well.  I feel that sleep should be a main priority in everyone's life, and although I know that is not the case sometimes, I hate to see that it's because of something as silly as technology.  Sleep deprivation can cause car accidents, major mishaps at work, and that 43% you got on your Chem test yesterday.  So go to sleep!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Royals: Prince William and Kate Middleton

If you have any form of social intelligence, you've probably heard or seen at least one scrap of news about Prince William (the elder son of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana, Princess of Wales, and grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) and his engagement to Kate Middleton, a commoner.  William is second in the line of succession, behind his father, to the thrones of 16 independent states, although he is resident in and more directly involved with the United Kingdom.

In November of last year, Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement.  Consequently, the world went nutso.  The world wide web exploded with jealous girls raging about how boring Kate Middleton is and how Prince William can do so much better and that "Well, golly gee! I just can't BELIEVE he's going to marry HER!!!???"  Then there are the total creepers who practically stalk Kate Middleton just to see what brand of underwear she's wearing that day.  Cause, you know, they wanna get the same pair.  Duh! And of course, we have the swooners who are just oh so pleased that "he's found such a great person to marry and I'm just so thankful to see a happy ending and it's ohhhhhhhhhhhh... so romantic..."  even though they probably know nothing about William other than he is the son of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

Given that the world is full of super creeps, it should come as no surprise that there is now a "royal" tour bus of Kate Middleton's life.  The bus tour,organized by bus tour operator Morton Travel around the sights of Royal Berkshire, provides a glimpse of Middleton's not-so-ordinary upbringing.  The journey takes in Middleton's childhood homes, former schools, the church where she was baptized, and even the "The Old Boot Inn" where she has taken Prince William for a "tipple."

TALK ABOUT RIDICULOUS.  Now, I am no basher of the royals, however, I do feel that this is just a smidge on the stalker, creepy side.  Yes, Kate's popularity has blown through the roof in a matter of three months.  That does not mean that people should create a tour bus of her life!  The woman hasn't even done anything productive or honorary yet! 

My oh my.  I'm blown away by the ridiculousness of the situation here.  Maybe when she does something impressive we can consider making a tour bus ride of her life.  But not now.  Definitely not now.  I am looking forward to seeing pictures of the April wedding, however, because I have never seen a royal wedding and expect it to be spectacular in it's own over-indulgent way.

Smart People, Smart Jobs

We're all smart, right?  So what happens when you know that you're intelligent, you have the credentials to prove it, and no idea what to do with your life after high school?  Or after college?  Or whenever!  I'm no expert but I would surmise that there is a large number of intelligent people out there that cannot find a job that keeps their over-active (and I say that lightly, meaning 'intelligent') brain occupied.  Basically, intelligent people- and you know who you are- are better suited to certain career choices.  Ones that will keep your mind sharp.

These six careers, according to, are smart options for smart people:

#1 - Accountant

Accountants need to have more than just a knack for numbers. They should also have sound reasoning skills, since the simplest answer is often the right one when dealing with even the most complex calculations.

Education: A quick mind isn't enough to become an accountant. Formal training matters too. Fortunately, there are plenty of accounting and finance programs that can prepare you for a career as an accountant. A bachelor's degree is the most common entry-point into the profession.

Average Pay: $67,430

#2- Medical Manager
Health care isn't just big business; it's also incredibly complex. As a result, medical managers need a sharp mind and keen business sense to keep up in this ever-evolving industry.

Education: Some medical managers have technical backgrounds, while others are experts in areas like finance or team-building. To qualify for most management roles, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in an area like health care administration, followed by an MBA.

Average Pay: $90,970

#3- FBI Agent

While it probably comes as no surprise that the FBI is looking for smart recruits, it may startle you to learn that it's not only bright law enforcement types who are in demand. Computer specialists, language experts, accountants, and lawyers are just a few who regularly become FBI agents.

Education: While work experience is highly valued, a bachelor's degree is required. Common majors include information technology and accounting. Majoring in a foreign language is also a plus.

Average Pay: $73,170

#4- Registered Nurse

Registered nurses are among the most educated in the health care industry. Knowing what to do and when to do it is crucial, as is the ability to communicate effectively with patients and their families, not to mention the doctors you are assisting.

Education: Most registered nurses have a bachelor's of science in nursing. Accelerated programs are available to those who already have a degree. Additional training options include an associate's degree in nursing and a nursing diploma.

Average Pay: $66,530

#5- Computer Systems Administrator

Getting called a geek in the computer industry isn't an insult; it's a compliment. The good news: figuring out the most efficient way to share and store information may not be as complicated as rocket science, but it's still highly prized in today's digital world.

Education: An associate's or bachelor's degree can help you get your computer skills up to speed. Employers look for brainy applicants well-versed in areas like computer science, network administration, , and IT & information systems.

Average Pay: $70,930

#6- Teacher

The best teachers are gifted communicators and motivators who enjoy healthy discussions and debate. If you want to be a teacher, you'll need to be able to take complex subjects and present them in a straightforward way.

Education: While the temperament of a teacher may be a natural gift, formal training can provide you with the necessary academic background and teaching certification. It's best to begin with a bachelor's degree. From there public school teachers need to get certified. And keep in mind that a master's degree can help increase your pay and employment opportunities.

Average Pay: $55,150

So, during your next mid-life crisis or when you finally decide to declare a major, remember these career choices (and ones like them!).  You'll be smarter for it. ;)