Sep 2, 2019

Growing Milkweed in Bethesda

When you plant a butterfly garden, you feel good.  You know you are helping pollinators of all kinds even as you focus on butterflies for their beauty and incredible natural history.  If you are careful in selecting nectar and host plants, a butterfly garden can be easy to maintain.  But, to have a Monarch Rescue Garden, you need to plant milkweeds. 

Once you figure out what milkweed to plant and where and how to plant them, you think the hard part is done, and watering may be your only concern.  It never occurred to me that a plant with the word "weed" in its name would need any special care.

THEN, the pests arrive.  Nobody told me about the milkweed's pests before I planted.  These pests are disgusting!  It's as if the milkweed has said to the world.  "Yes, I will feed the babies of the beautiful monarch, but I won't stop there.  I will feed some of the world's ugliest critters, too..  And some of those ugly critters will threaten the monarch's eggs.  I won't decide between them.  I'll let them figure it out for themselves."

So, last year I discovered the Milkweed Bug.  This is a bug that needs the milkweed to survive just as much as the Monarch does. It doesn't look so bad until you see its babies oozing out of the milkweed's seed pod. (see the picture).
They eat the seeds, and as they grow they suck the leaves.  In large numbers they can take nutrients away from monarch caterpillars, and they are just plain ugly in huge numbers. 

Then come the aphids.  These orange critters crowd the stems of milkweed plants.  They are bad for monarchs because they eat monarch eggs laid on the plant's leaves, and monarchs will avoid any milkweed that contains them.  They also look disgusting and slimy.  And the plant just wither under their influence..
Now, you are monarch rescue gardeners.  You must grow milkweeds.  If I were you, I would be thinking about how to engage my students or volunteers in a project to examine and "study" the pests of the milkweed, by searching your milkweed plants each day.  You could even reward the first student who finds an aphid or milkweed bug with a candy bar.  Maybe the teacher-leader has to think of her/himself as a bit of a Tom Sawyer.  Get those students to beg to clean the milkweed plants of pests.   (Now, how can I get my grandchildren to become milkweed cleaners? Snickers or M&Ms? )

Feb 11, 2014

Vitamin D deficiency in early pregnancy and preeclampsia later on.

This report on the relationship between Vitamin D status in early pregnancy and later development of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition in pregnancy certainly suggests that all women considering pregnancy should be tested for vitamin D levels, and despite the careful tone of the NIH editorial comment, should probably take some Vitamin D supplements while pregnancy is being considered.

Jan 28, 2014

Food-specific nutrition content from the Department of Agriculture

This little app from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is fun to use.  You can pick your nutrient, or nutrients, types of foods (or all), and get a ranked listing of the nutrient's content among foods.  Surprise!  Salmon has the most Vitamin D.  But, suppose I wanted to know about Vitamin B-12, an important nutrient for aging?  Right now, before going there, I have no idea what foods contain high levels of B-12 (that's cause I'm still young!).

Try it.  You'll like it.  You'll forget it.  But then you'll remember that you saw it here on my view from Bethesda and you will find it again under (you guessed it) the label Vitamin D.

Dec 10, 2013

Review of studies: Except for bone health, low Vitamin D doesn't cause disease

The National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE PLUS news line summarizes a large study reviewing the evidence on the link between Vitamin D status and disease.  The reviewers' conclusions:  the association between low vitamin D and all diseases EXCEPT BONE HEALTH means that low Vitamin D is a marker, not the cause of diseases.
Bone health is not nothing, as I found in my own experience.  The question I would ask is this:  If a disease (such as MS) lowers Vitamin D in some fashion (rather than the other way around), does the resulting low level of Vitamin D make for weak bones?  That is, shouldn't we be tested for our vitamin D status and treated for low D on the basis of bone health alone?  
One thing is clear:  all the Vitamin D hype in the past 10 years has brought forth a good deal of research on its value.  Because D supplements are not profitable to drug companies, such research must be sponsored by government or non-profit entities.  There is nothing like controversy to stimulate such research.

Sep 17, 2013

All the sins of Larry Summers that justified his comeuppance

Since yesterday, when Larry Summers announced that he is taking his name out of consideration for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, I have received two emails from old friends.  Hey, Judy, what do you think of that?  (As if they didn't know!)
Let us not cry for Larry and his lost dream.  He will have to satisfy himself in his comfy office at Harvard, and at whatever hedge fund he's hanging out at these days.  The man will not starve, though a little bit of fasting might not hurt him.
Still, it is time for me to lay out ALL of his sins, and to wonder why President Obama would ever have thought he would be acceptable to his (Obama's) base.  Most of these you will know about.  One, however, was embedded deep in one of Summers' op-ed pieces in the Washington Post over the past year.  It's the most cardinal sin of all.

Recap:  The frequently mentioned sins:  

1.  Responsible for the Financial Crisis:  He and his mentor (Bob Rubin) disparaged Brooksley Born, of CPSC, back in the 1990's, when she tried to get the Clinton Administration to do something about  the danger of unregulated derivative markets.  Those two, along with Alan Greenspan, snickered at little Brooksley who, as female, could not possibly understand the workings of big finance.  Eventually, to ensure their point of view, the four horsemen (Rubin, Greenspan, Summers and Gramm)  shepherded the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000 through Congress near Christmas 2000.  Did Clinton even know what he had signed?  Well, not his greatest hour, but he listened to his advisors.  His advisor, our boy Summers, was not only wrong on the issue, he was arrogant about opposing views.   Unlike Alan Greenspan, he has never apologized for his role in the fiasco.

2.  Harvard Remarks on Women:  After alienating the faculty (let's forgive that), he made some remarks about women and math, which were probably inadvertent but which reflected an unscientific mindset and a clear bias against women.  He was pointing out the achievement gap in higher math between men and women. That's simple fact.  He argued for more research on the causes of same.  That's good.  But, then, he couldn't stop.  He said his "hunch" was that the cause of the gender gap is genetic and not environmental.  Ah, Larry. There it is.  No evidence, but your null hypothesis (needing to be disproven) was genetic male superiority!  Done as President of Harvard.  Yea!

3.  Performance in the White House during the Obama years.  Divisive, dithering, turf-conscious.  Ron Susskind's book, "Confidence Men" laid it all out.  I needn't say more.  Here is the New York Times article that describes Summers and what everyone (except the President, apparently) thought about him.  I will say no more as this item makes me wonder about my own crush on President Obama.  I don't want to go there.

The Mortal Sin:  (not mentioned in any of the news articles)

1.   The man supports the building of the Keystone Pipeline.  Why, he's such a genius that he knows about energy policy and global warming even better than the vast majority of climate scientists,   When I read his Washington Post Column (on economic growth) in which he put forth his argument, I felt obliged to write an angry letter to the Post editor asking why they print this man's drivel after his performance in numbers 1, 2, and 3 above. (I thought I was being clever, but my screed was not published.)  I have just spent a half hour looking for that opinion piece in the Post and could not find it.  But here it is, reprinted in a Reuters-India paper.

RIP, Public Servant Summers!  Enjoy retirement advising the hedge fund managers.

May 9, 2013

Charts on Long-Term Trends in Foreign-Born US Population

CBO has some great charts from the US Census that show how the immigrant population has changed over the last 100 years and, even better, how the educational attainment of said foreign-born individuals compares to native-born US citizens.  The big surprise to me is how well people from South America and the Caribbean do education-wise compared with those born here.  Why is that?  Haven't a clue.   But, perhaps it has something to do with another CBO chart that shows the comparatively high number of people from Mexico and Central America who are in the USA in an "unauthorized" status.

Apr 16, 2013

Vitamin D3 supplements alter gene expression in white blood cells - in a good way?

Here is a report of a paper in the public domain, on NIH website, which showed what Vitamin D3 supplementation did to the genes that govern immune response (and other responses).  This gives underlying scientific rationale for the importance of Vitamin D in auto-immune diseases.  PLOS Paper on Vitamin D.