Sunday, December 30, 2012

The New Year's Kiss... or any kiss

A kiss to build a year on - if your brain's chemistry agrees
By Sheril Kirshenbaum
Thursday, December 23, 2010

A kiss at midnight to ring in the new year. That's what Friday night should bring, right?

It's tradition, compulsion, festive duty. An excuse to make a bold move with someone new, a reason to be anxious about finding a date or a chance to celebrate with a longtime love. And there's pressure to get it right.

There ia a scientific basis for those high stakes. Whom you kiss can set the course for a good year. Really. It's not magic - it's chemistry and neuroscience. And no matter how painstakingly you set the scene, in the end chemistry trumps mood music. From a scientific perspective, a kiss is a natural litmus test to help us identify a good partner. Start the first moments of 2011 with the right one, and you're beginning the year on a natural high.

Just what is it that makes kissing such a powerful and significant part of the human experience?

A kiss influences important chemicals in our brains and bodies responsible for promoting social bonding. According to the work of Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, kissing evolved to facilitate three essential needs: sex drive, romantic love and attachment. Each is involved in promoting reproduction, and kissing bolsters all three. In that view, locking lips helps us find partners, commit to one person and keep couples together long enough to have a child.

Humans have evolved to use a number of signals - including taste, smell and possibly silent chemical messengers called pheromones - to help us figure out whether someone is a suitable partner and a good person to reproduce with. A kiss means getting close to someone - close enough to suss out important clues about chemistry and genetics. At this range, our noses can detect valuable information about another person's health and perhaps even his or her DNA. Biologist Claus Wedekind has found, for instance, that women are most attracted to the scents of men with a different set of genetic coding for immunity than their own. This is probably because when there is greater genetic diversity between parents in this area, their children will have more versatile immune systems. The assessment occurs at a subconscious level, yet a bad initial kiss may be a result of a genetically star-crossed pair. (Which is something else to worry about during a new encounter: "What if the girl of my dreams rejects my genes?")

During a passionate kiss, our blood vessels dilate and our brains receive more oxygen than normal. Our breathing can become irregular and deepen. Our cheeks flush, our pulse quickens, and our pupils dilate (which may be one reason that so many of us close our eyes). A long, open-mouthed exchange allows us to sample another person's taste, which can reveal clues about his or her health and fertility. Our tongues - covered with little bumps called papillae that feature our 9,000 to 10,000 taste buds - are ideally designed to gather such information.

When we kiss, all five of our senses are busy transmitting messages to our brain. Billions of nerve connections are firing away and distributing signals around our bodies. Eventually, these signals reach the somatosenory cortex, the region of the brain that processes feelings of touch, temperature, pain and more.

Our brains respond by producing chemicals that help us decide our next move. A good kiss can work like a drug, influencing the hormones and neurotransmitters coursing through our bodies. It can send two people on a natural high by stimulating pleasure centers in the brain. The feeling has much to do with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for craving and desire and associated with "falling in love." When it's really pumping, dopamine spurs us to take things further.

Kissing also promotes the "love hormone," oxytocin, which works to maintain a special connection between two people; kissing can keep love alive when a relationship has survived decades, long after novelty has waned. In other words, kissing influences the uptake of hormones and neurotransmitters beyond our conscious control, and these signals play a huge part in how we feel about each other.

A bad kiss, alternatively, can lead to chemical chaos. An uncomfortable environment or a poor match can stimulate the "stress hormone" cortisol, discouraging both partners from continuing. Evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup of the University at Albany reports that 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women say they have ended a budding relationship because of a kiss that did not go well.

Whether it's magic or a disaster, there is one thing that a first kiss is very likely to be: unforgettable. Psychologist John Bohannon of Butler University and his research team surveyed 500 people to compare their recollections of a variety of significant life experiences - such as a first kiss and the loss of virginity - to find out what made the most dramatic impression. A first kiss trumped everything: It was the most vivid memory in the minds of those being surveyed.

In fact, when asked about specifics, Bohannon reported that most people could recall up to 90 percent of the details of the moment - where they were, who made the first move - no matter how long ago the exchange took place.

Which is not to say that sharing a New Year's Eve kiss with someone new will necessarily be a memory worth savoring for a lifetime. If midnight's buss is a bust, remember that you can't control everything about the situation and that your body (or your partner's) may be saying something very important: Look elsewhere. If the chemistry is wrong, there's not much you can do. But take heart. Valentine's Day is less than two months away.

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist at the University of Texas and the author of the new book "The Science of Kissing."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Where is the House of the Rising Sun?

Thanks to Blake Ponchartrain of New Orleans Gambit Magazine. Blake is one of the best history researchers on the planet.  He answers questions sent into him from readers wondering about their history and their environment.  And what's not to like about that?

Where is the House of the Rising Sun?
Blake Pontchartrain

Hey Blake,
I have some questions about a song written about New Orleans, "House of the Rising Sun." Was there a real House of the Rising Sun in New Orleans, and where was it? Who wrote the song?

Dear Cynthia,

There probably were several buildings in New Orleans called House of the Rising Sun over the years, but it's likely most would have been named after the song, not served as the inspiration for it.

Back in the 1980s, Record Ron, whose Record Ron's Good & Plenty Records regularly won "best used record store" honors in reader polls, said he was told his record shop at 1129 Decatur St. occupied the original House of the Rising Sun. Ron, who died in 1996, never could authenticate that claim.

A Jan. 29, 1821, issue of the Louisiana Gazette ran an advertisement announcing L.S. Hotchkiss and Co. had bought John Hull and Co.'s interests in the Rising Sun Hotel at 535 Conti St. That hotel opened in 1801 and was destroyed by fire in 1822.

Another story proffers the famed house was at 826-830 St. Louis St. and was a brothel originally run by Madam Marianne LeSoleil Levant, whose surname is French for "rising sun."

Today, the three-story white building on St. Louis Street is owned by attorney Darlene Jacobs Levy and houses her Home Finders International real estate company. She inherited the building when her husband died in the late 1980s, and she began renovating the front apartment of the derelict building as a place for her father to live. Workmen at the site discovered risque postcards of half-dressed women from the 1800s behind a wall and uncovered fancy fluted columns and a ceiling mural of a golden rising sun surrounded by three cherubs. Levy says the house was a bordello operated by a succession of different madams for many years before her husband bought the building.

blake-1 House of the Rising Sun

Eric Burdon, the vocalist for The Animals, which scored a huge hit with "House of the Rising Sun" in 1964, wrote in his book Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood about meeting Levy and touring the St. Louis Street house.

"It was all I'd dreamt it would be," Burdon wrote. "A palace in the New Orleans heat. It was a wondrous feeling learning that the place I'd fantasized about for thirty years wasn't some run-down shack but was in fact a place of beauty."

Levy says she has no legal documents to prove the building's history. "It has been passed down in history and folklore as being the House of the Rising Sun," she says. "It doesn't really matter to me whether it is or not. It's not open to the public."

Levy restored the house out of a duty to conserve historic structures, she says. "What you see now is what we feel is the original house as it was in the 1800s."

As for the author of "House of the Rising Sun," that is unknown. Musicologists have traced the song's origins back as far as the 18th century to a traditional English ballad. Like many ballads and folk songs, the lyrics have changed over the years to suit the singer and the audience. No one can claim rights to the song, so anyone can alter it, record it or sell it royalty-free.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Solar Power

Pagans generally want to weave their value system into how we live our lives and we generally see things as more interconnected than non-Pagans. This combined with the recent presidential election and the state of our economy has caused me to chase worldly, but oh so connected, things..... like Solar Panels

By the end of the month of October 2012 (instead of September as orginally planned due to delays related to Hurricane Isaac) my house was generating its our own Solar Power.  The Federal tax credits for this expire in 2016.  If you own your own home, don't wait.  Do it now.  Yes it does take investment dollars from you. BUT you can get ALL of the dollars that will be reimbursed from the Feds (and your state) can be financed for 0% interest for 12 months.  The company I used Solar Universe does all the hard work. They connect you to the lender, complete all the paperwork; all you have to do is file the forms with your taxes.   With the Federal and State rebates we  had to come up with less than 20% of the cost.  With "netmetering" this will annually ZERO out our power bill.  My carbon footprint goes WAY down and I am living more lightly on the earth, woven into the web of life, even if this weave is using technology and involves plugging into our city grid.

Ok so how do you come up with 20%?  Assuming that you have a job/provable income, find a local bank and refinance your house.  That's what I did.  And along with the refinance we got what was needed to put Solar Panels on the house. 
I know. I know.
Not everyone can do this. The economy sucks and some people are upside down on their mortgages. BUT if you can, it perfectly aligns with pagan value system.

Another thing to think about. Our mortgage was with one of the large, national corporations that provide mortgages to most Americans.  And I figured that it would be easy to re-finance. After all they had watched me pay the bills (even through the chaotic aftermath of Katrina) for years. All they did was waste my time. So in July 2012 I ended up working with a local bank and the refi (at not quite 2% less interest than the mortgage I had) went through in a month.  A month! It took almost that long for the big corporation to tell me what they needed from me. And here is the ultimate irony. These days, even if you do the refi work with a local bank, they are going to "sell your mortgage" (Yep!) to one of the large corporations that provide the bulk of mortgage lending in this country.  Weird.  But true.   Yet at the local bank I spoke to a person, who walked me through the paperwork and made sure the timing (I was leaving town for 2 weeks) worked out.

This is only one of the physical, practical, grounded things that I kept me busy in 2012.
But I'm glad I did it because Solar Power fits my Value System.