When Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps steps onto a starting block a few days from now, a Stanford scientist named Krishna Shenoy will be asking himself a question: "What's going on in Michael Phelps' brain?"
Specifically, Shenoy would like to know what's happening in an area called the premotor cortex. This area doesn't directly tell muscles what to do. But it's the place where the brain gears up for something the body is about to do, like swimming.
Here's your vocabulary word for the week: zoonosis. It describes an infection that is transmitted between species. For example, the disease that the husband and wife team of Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy have written about in their new book, Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus.
Pam Houston directs the Creative Writing Program at U.C. Davis. Her most recent novel is Contents May Have Shifted.
Luang Prabang, Laos, is so close to the equator that daybreak happens at the same time each day. Also each day, a few dozen women set up rice cookers on small collapsible tables on street corners next to the more than 30 monasteries that grace this riverside town. If you get up with them and walk the silent streets in the misty Mekong predawn, you smell, under the sweetness of the frangipani blossoms, the thick odor of cooked starch.
China and Russia this morning vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that could permit sanctions against Syria unless the government of President Bashar Assad stops using weapons against civilians. This is the third time China and Russia have rebuffed measures pushed by the United States and its allies to try to bring a halt to Syria's violent civil conflict.
As the guessing game continues about Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman invariably comes up as a top contender. And with a wealth of experience in Washington and beyond, Portman would be considered a safe pick to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.