Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

On Science … Some Fake, Some Real

Sunday, November 22nd, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

The Arecibo Observatory in Puertu Rico is being decommissioned.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puertu Rico is being decommissioned.

        While states were counting and recounting votes to keep proving that Joe Biden convincingly won the 2020 presidential election, there were three significant scientific events the past week. This is a brief look at all three. It is offered as a kind of public service, since, if there’s one thing the last four years have demonstrated, it’s that many Americans have a tenuous, at best, relationship with science.

  1. Atlas shrugged. Dr. Scott Atlas, the quack White House coronavirus adviser, told Fox News viewers to ignore the advice of public health experts who warned Americans to avoid indoor family gatherings this Thanksgiving because the virus was spiking again in America. Atlas is a professor of neuroradiology with no background in public health. Not only did he tell American families to gather together for the holidays, he said it was for the good of their elderly relatives, those most susceptible to being seriously impacted by the virus. He said: “This kind of isolation advice is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told don’t see your family at Thanksgiving. For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not. What are we doing here?” In other words, hey, they’re probably gonna die soon anyway, let them eat turkey on the way out. Never mind that gramps might be planning on a few more Thanksgivings. Callous doesn’t even cover this attitude. Atlas also says masks don’t protect against the virus and is a fan of so-called “herd immunity” — let the youngest and strongest prevail. The doc’s Stanford colleagues disagreed with his prescription, as did many members of the White House task force and pretty much every public health expert, all of whom were shocked at his casual disregard for older Americans. Of course, this anti-science attitude is what got him named to the Trump task force in the first place. Only the best.
  2. The CDC spoke up. Basically, it said do the opposite of what Atlas said. This is significant because, for much of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, which should have been leading the effort to control the spread of the virus, has been muzzled by the Trump Administration. Here’s what the agency said: “As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” This is not necessarily what you want to hear, but it’s short and to-the-point science with Covid-related deaths approaching 250,000 in this country. 
  3. Arecibo went silent. Oh no, what will Jodie Foster do? The famed radio observatory in Puerto Rico, which was featured in the movie, Contact, has suffered damage to two major cables that suspend the platform over the dish. Engineers for the National Science Foundation say it is not reparable because of the danger to the people who work there. Scientist said they should be able to preserve the visitors center and a couple of other scientific programs at the site, but the telescope, which has produced many scientific discoveries over nearly six decades, will be decommissioned. This is a major loss not only to NASA, but to the promotion and appreciation of science in general. That’s because Arecibo, which was vital to research in radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy, also was involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programs. This is one area of science in which Americans actually demonstrates an interest, even if it is often based on science fiction. Its role in the search for ET gained Arecibo prominence and popularity with the general public through movies and TV shows. The observatory was featured in the James Bond thriller, GoldenEye, the sci-fi horror flick, Species, and the afore-mentioned Contact. The popular film was based on Carl Sagan’s wonderful novel of the same name. The observatory was also featured on TV in the X-Files episode “Little Green Men.” In the movie, Contact, Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, gives up a teaching position at Harvard University to take a seat at Arecibo’s radio telescope. Why? From the movie: Her supervisor says, “Dr. Arroway will be spending her precious telescope time listening for … uh … listening for …”  Ellie Arroway replies: “Little green men.” Precisely. We get it. They’re out there. Basically, Arecibo is a movie star and we miss movie stars when they leave us. The difference here is that this star shone even brighter in real life. Maybe we can scrap Trump’s Space Farce for a new set of space ears.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at

A Tofurkey Thanksgiving? Excellent

Thursday, December 5th, 2013
Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner

By Bob Gaydos

The decision to celebrate a Tofurkey Thanksgiving was driven in large part by the price of salmon. With the traditional turkey-and-all-the-trimmings (and calories) extravaganza already off the table in my more health-conscious life style, fresh salmon sounded like a tempting alternative — and one that was probably more in keeping with the original get-togethers. But at $9.99 a pound, fresh salmon quickly lost its appeal.

Hence, Tofurkey. Knock off the smirking out there. I see you. This is the real deal.

The no-meat Thanksgiving-with-all-the-trimmings turned out to be delicious, more than filling, and incredibly healthful. And it was nothing like the “Everybody Loves Raymond” TV episode that grabbed laughs at the expense of a mother trying to improve her family’s health by serving a bunch of tofu shaped like a turkey.

For one thing, the Tofurkey roast is not shaped like a turkey. It’s shaped like a roast. It’s also stuffed with wild rice and bread crumbs and the recipe tells you to add apple slices to it. It comes with its own soy-based gravy. No animal fat. The whole roast cost just a buck more than a pound of salmon.

Of course, the secret to serving a successfully scrumptious Thanksgiving meal is what surrounds the “main” dish. Ours had lots of vegetables, all roasted in special sauces garnished with rosemary, sage and thyme and and topped with gravy. Two large baking potatoes, two large sweet potatoes and a butternut squash, all cut into big chunks, went in the pan with the roast. A second roasting pan accommodated a bunch of carrots, a bunch of broccoli and a red cabbage. We also had traditional cranberry sauce and cranberry/apple cider to finish it all off. You can check with Google to find out how nourishing all that was.

Everything came out of the oven looking and smelling great. So far, so good. On to the next step.

Trust me, it was with trepidation that I assumed the role of carver. I’ve done this plenty of times in the past, with electric and regular carving knives, and usually managed to slice up a lot of turkey relatively neatly. But would the tofu let me carve it, or would it crumble under the influence of a large, serrated knife?

Success! Following directions to make quarter-inch slices, the roast carved easily and neatly. The stuffing held up, too. The rest was easy. Spoon a bunch of vegetables — that were mouth-wateringly good — on the plate, top everything with meatless gravy (enhanced with some maple syrup and honey) and enjoy.

There was easily enough to serve four people, which means, in keeping with Thanksgiving tradition, there were plenty of leftovers. Indeed, the feast provided two more satisfying meals, one enhanced with plenty of brown rice.

I write about this not to toot my own horn. Rather, because I think there is still an attitude of condescension in this country about people who want to do something as foolish as to eat food that is not only good tasting, but good for them. As if it is somehow elitist to want to not fill one’s body with known killers such as salt, sugar and fat or dumb to want to live as long as possible in the best health possible.

I’m no food snob and I don’t think I’m dumb. I haven’t sworn off red meat for life and I haven’t said I’ll never eat another potato chip. Right now, though, I’ve found plenty of tasty alternatives that, along with a workout regimen, have helped me to lower my blood pressure, reduce my sugar and cholesterol numbers as well as my weight, all while enabling me to improve my energy, strength and endurance. I am becoming fit, not fat. Smirk all you want, but that sounds pretty good to a guy collecting Social Security.

Actually, I know that I’m not alone in this renewed interest in eating more healthful foods. Social media is awash in groups dedicated to more healthful eating. And supermarkets suddenly are offering dozens of varieties of chips and and other snack foods that are not just potatoes laced with salt. There are growing sections of organic, gluten-free and low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar products. Change is happening.

Of course, price remains a problem for some, which is not an accident. The chemical companies that control the world’s food supply are not interested in having consumers switch from the addictive, salt, sugar, fat and chemical-filled products they advertise widely and sell cheaply in large quantities. In fact, they don’t even want consumers to know what’s in their products, or else why would they spend so much money fighting efforts to make them honestly label their goods, including whether they contain genetically modified ingredients? Healthy consumers are not good for the companies’ bottom lines.

Yes, it can be a challenge reading labels these days to make sure what’s being promised on the package is what’s really inside. But like anything else regarding a significant change in how we live, a little bit of effort can bring big rewards.

I do not claim to be anything special with regard to this change in life style. If anything, this is a selfish decision on my part. I don’t deny myself the joys of eating good food. I love pizza (just not as often as before and without pepperoni). I am a huge fan of frozen yogurt. Salsa and chips (no salt or low-salt) is still one of my favorites. Guacamole is a new one. Chicken, turkey (yes, I’ll still accept a drumstick), seafood, sushi, beans, rice, yogurt and lots of greens, fruits and vegetables keep the menu from getting boring and keep me looking forward to many more years of healthy living.

So that’s where I am today. And yes, Tofurkey will be on the menu again.





ALS: Speaking in Tongues

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Advances in neuroimaging technology may offer hope for ALS patients. (Photo: European Neurological Review, 2010)

It was my mother’s voice that I could no longer remember, even weeks after her death at the age of 67 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — my mother, who had taught me language.

After New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig bid farewell to his fans on July 4, 1939, he retired from baseball. Two years later, Gehrig died of ALS.

I don’t know why that should have surprised me, because her voice, with its distinctive Carolinian lilt, was the first thing to go. During the fall of 1989, 15 months earlier, she had been diagnosed with the disorder — also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball titan who was struck down by it at the age of 36 in 1939 and died two years later.

My mother was one of the unlucky 10 percent of ALS patients whose symptoms first appear in the bulbar muscles of the throat. For some time, she’d had a persistent scratch in her throat, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. When she drank liquids, she sometimes partially inhaled them. The doctors called this phenomenon “aspiration.”

To what? she used to wonder in the family’s lighter moments. To her credit and in the face of unremitting misery, my mother managed to retain her wry sense of humor long beyond the point when she had lost forever the ability to speak or drink or swallow.

ALS is a progressive, terminal disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. As the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate, they stop sending messages to the muscles, which begin to weaken. Unable to function, the muscles develop “fasciculations” (twitches) and eventually atrophy.

If they are cursed to live long enough, some ALS patients ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movement, with one pitiless exception: They can still move their eyes. This barbarous affliction often suffocates its victims when their lungs are crushed by the weight of their own wasted muscles.


ALS leaves the mental capacities of its victims cruelly intact

My mother, Jean Murray Morrison, in 1947

Mama’s disease advanced relentlessly after an initial period of hopeful remission. By the early spring of 1990, her arm and leg muscles had begun to weaken and her speech deteriorated over the summer into an unintelligible croak. By late August, Mama was communicating with us by writing shaky, brief notes on little pads she carried in her lap, pocket, or purse when out of the house. She could still walk, but not far without becoming exhausted, so she had to use a wheelchair in public.

It made her furious that, because she couldn’t talk, some people assumed she was mentally disabled and addressed whoever was pushing her chair. My mother’s mind — by a ruthless cosmic joke, in her reckoning — remained keen and observant until the end, locked in the prison of her failing body.

We talked, after a fashion. I called her long-distance and she listened, answering in inflected grunts. I visited her home in western New York as often as I could from 300 miles away, and we laughed, read books, and played cards — a feat she could still manage because my stepfather, Jim, had made her a little wooden stand in which to arrange her hand, since she could no longer hold the cards. We played Uno, a game that my young son, Gabriel, loved, too.

One time when we visited her, she wrote me a note asking me to help her by straightening up the sewing room that Jim had built for her in the previously unfinished basement of their house. My mother had loved sewing and knitting her entire adult life, and now she could no longer do either one.


The day of Mama’s final Thanksgiving, she could no longer eat

The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mother was marred by a particularly cruel circumstance: She could no longer eat. Within 10 months of my mother’s diagnosis, the doctors had to implant her with a stomach tube. While my stepfather, my sisters, my son, and I ate Thanksgiving dinner, Mama sat alone in the living room. By then completely detached from eating and its rituals, she stared listlessly out the sliding glass door at the remnants of her vegetable garden and the withering lawn.

During my last visit, two weeks after Christmas, 1990, she was noticeably worse. Her strength was ebbing, and the formula she consumed through the feeding tube made her chronically nauseated. The quality of life, she wrote to me, made it scarcely worth prolonging, though she had hoped to live to see my sisters finish graduate school, to see my son, then 11, reach his teens.

Would she have wanted her life prolonged on a ventilator, if a crisis should occur and she could no longer speak to protest? No, she could still insist with an emphatic shake of her head. Her premature silence, though harder to listen to than any audible thing in my life, spoke volumes.

I was going through a crisis of my own, slated for surgery that spring. The morning I had to leave her house to drive back home to the Hudson Valley, I helped her put on her socks. “I’m sad, Mama,” I told her — and wrote later in a poem for her memorial service:

I’m at the end of a long tether, a ribbon
of disconsolate days, a ceaseless
slumber. Unable to speak,
she scrawls a note, a loose leaf
from the heartless trunk of grief.

“Wear a bright color,” she wrote on the notepad. It was her panacea for all of life’s insoluble dilemmas.

Two weeks later, on January 25, 1991, my stepfather called to say my mother had died quietly in bed that morning during a gentle snowfall, just after he had come in from shoveling the driveway. She was fully conscious, he said; she had squeezed his hand. There was no final message for me, my brother, or my two sisters, but Jim insisted Mama was smiling.

I still don’t know whether Jim’s implausible version of her passing was merely a merciful invention, related for the benefit of her children. I could never bring myself to ask him.


Silence sometimes can speak louder than words

What has memory taught us,
mother of the stilled tongue
who broke up the harshest lessons
with the curved face of a spoon,
the first syllables of a lullaby
our hearts will surely break in?

Only, I suppose, that silence sometimes can speak louder than words. In the years since my mother’s death, I’ve read with a combination of hope and chagrin the announcements of new studies and possible treatments for ALS. In 2010, researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health used a new sequencing method to discover a gene that appears to cause the familial form of the disease, which affects 5-10 percent of ALS patients.

“If you look at the spectrum of diseases caused by dysfunctional genes, our knowledge of almost all of them has grown out of the familial form of those diseases,” said Brian J. Traynor, who led the study. “By finding the genes associated with those diseases, researchers can insert the causative genes in animals, creating models that can help them decipher what takes place to cause pathologies and develop ways to stop them,” he explained.

In addition, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has funded several research projects investigating the causes of ALS and developing stem cell-based therapies for the disease.

Two different nights in late 1995, I watched Nightline programs in which Ted Koppel interviewed Morrie Schwartz, an ALS patient and retired Brandeis sociology professor who gave his last interview on October 13, 1995. “I’m going to find a way to take advantage of silence,” Morrie said in May 1995, “because maybe that’s the way to really hear yourself.”

Swallowing hard, I listen still for my mother’s wordless counsel.

* * *

Note: The preceding essay first appeared in the March, 1996, edition of Inside Health magazine, published monthly at the time by The Times Herald-Record. It accompanied an article written by our medical writer at the time, Beth Mullally (later, Beth Quinn), titled “Battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease: A New Season of Hope.”

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Happy Thanksgiving

Wanted D.O.L.

Be on the lookout for a Thanksgiving Day turkey that has escaped authorities and is on the run. The large white bird is considered armed and dangerous.

Thanking the Hands that Feed Us

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Thanksgiving is a holiday built around food. We gather, we gorge, and sometimes acknowledging the hands of the cook, perhaps thanking the divine, but rarely do we honor the hands that feed us.

Growing the food that feeds our country is one of the most thankless and low paying jobs a person could have. In 2002, the median net income for a U.S. farmer was $15,848, while hired hands and migrant workers averaged around $10,000 per year. Farming has become so unpopular that the category was recently removed from the U.S. Census, and federal prison inmates now outnumber farmers.

Migrant pickers often put in long hours, up to12 hour days, earning about 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes. This amount hasn’t risen in over 30 years. At that rate, workers have to pick two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage. Most farm workers don’t get sick days, overtime, or health care. Some farmers often don’t fare much better.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we stopped putting such an emphasis on “cheap” and instead put an emphasis on “fair” maybe those hands that grow our food could afford to eat as well. Raising farm wages would have little effect on supermarket prices, mainly because farmers and farm workers are paid only about six to nine cents out of every retail dollar spent.

If we raised farm wages by 35 percent and passed that cost to consumers, it would raise the retail price by only a few pennies according to the Center for Immigrant Studies. The total cost to consumers for all fresh produce would add up to less than $34 per year, per family. If we raised wages by 70 percent, that cost would be about $67. Divide this over 52 weekly trips to the supermarket and you’re looking at spending barely a dollar more each week. Wouldn’t you spend that much to know that people didn’t suffer to feed you?

In January 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor informed Congress that farm workers were “a labor force in significant economic distress.” The report cited farm workers’ “low wages, sub-poverty annual earnings, (and) significant periods of un- and underemployment” adding that “agricultural worker earnings and working conditions are either stagnant or in decline.”

For agriculture to be sustainable, it must provide a living for those who work our land. Let’s honor the hands that feed us by restoring the dignity of a fair wage to farmers and farm workers.

Buy your produce from local farms where you can meet the farm workers and see for yourself if they are treated fairly. The smaller the farm, the more likely they are to treat workers well, and often have only family members working the farm.