Emeritus Faculty Association news January - February 2011

Next Meeting:
Friday February 4th, usual time and place 10.30am Javits Room, 2nd floor library. Dr Benjamin Luft of the Department of Medicine plans to discuss with us the WTC Project and, in particular, the oral history project for 9/11 sufferers that he has initiated. This talk is timely because the President just signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. Also last month Dr. Luft was named a Village Times Herald man of the year for this work and his treatment of patients here.
Bio: Dr. Luft was part of the teams that devised the treatment of lyme disease and developed the genome sequence of species related to B. burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes the disease in the U.S. More recently, he established the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, which is affiliated with that of New York City, see: http://www.wtcexams.org/.

Last Meeting:
Christopher Gobler, Associate Professor of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, spoke on "The impacts of climate change on ocean plankton communities: Looking beyond global warming".
Chris began his talk by pointing out that oceanic phytoplankton not only form the base of the ocean food chain but also supply half of the globe's oxygen through photosynthesis. He reviewed the well understood effects of atmospheric CO2 on global warming via the greenhouse effect. We have passed the level of 350ppm believed to be the level at which we can stabilize the present climate and are now at 391ppm and rising. Global temperatures are expected to increase 2 to 5ºC this century while atmospheric CO2 concentrations will increase 3% per year and may reach 800ppm by its end. As the top layer of the ocean warms it reduces vertical mixing leaving the upper layers low in nutrients that exist in the lower levels. Being less dense than sea water, fresh water from arctic ice melting, accentuates this effect. That reduces the concentration of plankton only to the upper layers that remain cooler as shown from satellite observations. Global warming of the oceans already has had great ecological effects. The Northwest Passage is now opening causing the spread of Pacific Ocean organisms to the Atlantic Ocean. Global warming is causing toxic organisms such as those that cause Red Tide, which can only survive at temperatures above 13ºC and causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. This now occurs in the bays of the north shore of Long Island such a Northport and Huntington Bays and had never been never seen before 2006. (The current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has an article by Chris on the way that these algal blooms may be promoted by vitamins B-1 and B-12.)
The second major point was that the oceans are a large CO2 sink (absorbing large quantities of atmospheric CO2) which is good. The absorbed CO2, however, is converted into carbonic acid and this lowering of the pH of water inhibits the calcification of shelled organisms, including echinoderms, and coral reefs. The larval stage of these organisms are also susceptible of acidification of the ocean particularly once they settle out to become adults. This effect has been demonstrated to reduce shellfish resistance to predation because they can no longer form thick shells or even survive to reproduce. We now have evidence that we already impacting shellfish larvae down to levels 50% below preindustrial levels.

In Memoriam:
David Burner, prof emeritus of history, passed away last Fall.
William C. Fox: died on January 4th. He joined the mathematics department at Stony Brook in 1961 after earlier appointments at MIT and Northwestern. He served as Assoc. Director of the Graduate Program and Director of the Secondary Teacher Option Masters Program, as well as acting chair 1966-67. Since his retirement in 1998 he remained in touch with emeritus affairs at his home in Centereach.

Continuing hardships of independent theater
After our speaker Nicholas Rzshevsky described to us in November the afflictions of Soviet independent theater in Stalin's time, there was this sad coda: In December the leaders of the Belarus Free Theater were arrested, and now the highly successful director of the Budapest national Theater has had his contract terminated two years early in favor of a loyalist from the party of Prime Minister Orban.

Peter and Alice in Cyberland
Look around during an emeritus meeting you find few electronic distractions and most members endeavoring to hear what the speaker has to say. Things are much different in today's average high school class, as being reported in the ongoing NY Times series on cyber-bullying, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/us/05bully.htm?_r=1&scp=5&sq=Cyberbullying&st=cse=. Some high school students are receiving more than 300 text messages per day, (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/technology/21email.html?scp=1&sq=In%20Youthful%20World%20of%20Messaging,%20EMail%20gets%20Instant%20Makeover&st=cse). For this purpose social networking sites like Facebook are preferred over email("so lame") because you can fire off your ill-considered, intemperate, and offensive remarks to a wide group at the touch of an ENTER key instead of requiring a deliberate addressed SENDMAIL.
According to the Statesman, by the time these students reach Stony Brook they have already forsaken Facebook for more sex oriented and locally popular platforms (likely providing even less privacy protection), that I could not even find in the Wikipedia list of 250 social networking sites. Consequently lecturers now need increased use of interaction, augmented with occasional explosions set off from behind the lectern, plus increased smartphone security. When class ends and the smartphone zombies are let loose outside, it is often effective to make a loud noise just before they crash into you. However this is not recommended when they are driving while intexticated(sic) because this can lead to road rage and worse. For a diverting commentary on all of this, see: http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/wireless/day-of-the-living-dead.
For my part, although I didn't think so in the days when I worked on some of the earliest computers, I see now that I am hopelessly old-fashioned. I shun personal electronics stuffing ears and eyes, TV with its talking heads, and the talk radio continually blasted my way from the neighbor's truck. I try to get just the real facts if I can, or better a good book - and not even on an e-reader! Easy to see why I am humored, too late now to change my behavior to something more suited to these times. If you are the same way then please keep alert, protect yourself as best you can, and try to survive until the next emeritus meeting.