Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Summary

Some facts are just words I can't really get my mind around. Recent pictures from the repaired Hubble Space Telescope [above is one but not the one I'm writing about] have detected a galaxy at the farthest edge of the visible distance. The bit of light they see is calculated to be 13.2 Billion light years away! This pushes the age of the beginning of the whole shebang [Big Bang?] of known existence way, way back.

So up to modern day reality: The new US Congress is 17% women. The new parliament in Iraq is 25% women. Something to ponder, isn't it?

We see a lot of hype about the foods that are great for us and going to make us the picture of health and will do away with those baddie free radicals, etc. What about all that pomegranate stuff we've been buying? It's main healthful ingredient is polyphenol. We're already getting plenty polyphenol if we've been drinking regular tea. Compare the price of a tea bag with a bottle of pomegranate juice. To my taste, I prefer the tea anyway. And what about the supposedly miraculous acai berry [which I have not figured out how to pronounce yet]? Their active ingredient is anthocyanin. You can get it in you apple-a-day, in cherries, blueberries, radishes and nearly every red fruit.

Here's the tiniest mind boggler of the week: A flea can jump 350 times it's body length. That's how they get from one dog to the next. If a person could jump that far he would seem to be flying from one football goal post to it's opposite across the field.

Finally while we are having an unusual number of snow storms across North America, up in the arctic tundra area, they are having a milder than usual winter -- which is not to say it's balmier than here. It's partly to do with what's called La Nina -- the sister of El Nino [both of which words need a tilda over the n but I don't now how to do that]. The northern hemisphere wind patterns are different than they've been in a very long time. If the 19th century explorers looking for the Northwest Passage were adventuring today, they actually would find it possible to sail, at least for a few short weeks in the summer, from the Atlantic to the Pacific across the top of North America.

Below is a photo out my sewing room window when the sun was sparkling the ice on that little forsythia bush.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Baby Makes All the Difference

The snow fell last night -- not so much, maybe 3 or 4 inches. But it was a snow day for Rachel's school. So I called in the morning and asked if it might be a Scrabble day. Sure, said she, when other chores and errands were out of the way. Later on she called she called to ask if it was okay if Cory and the baby came along. What kind of a great-grandmother would I be if I wasn't happy to see them? So little Finn had his afternoon nap and there they were. He was bright eyed and bushy tailed, he's recently learned not only to crawl but to pull himself up on anything handy.

As a threesome, we have a history of competitive Scrabble playing. In fact, Cory is competitive about all games and inspires others with her spirit. [Never mind interesting words, it's the score that matters!] There was plenty of recently vacuumed crawling space and a choice of toys but Finn, like most babies, loves attention. As I learned in my days writing for the theatre, an animal or a baby gets all the attention no matter what else is going on. Finn needed constant attention and Scrabble got divided attention.

No complaints. I didn't win, Rachel won really by default because Cory got caught with the Q and no place to play it. The game is truly secondary to the four generational scene and the center of the scene, of course is 8 month old Finn, master of physical accomplishment, red hair finally covering his formerly bald pate, face making all those adorable baby expressions. How better to spend an afternoon with snow sparkling on the ground and dinner planned and easy to prepare when we all say goodbye after a couple of hours together?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Anecdote

About six years ago the family genes for congestive heart disease kicked in. My internist looked at my routine EKG and sent me to a cardiologist. I had had symptoms that suggested something was changing. The cardiologist wasn't sure what the echo stress test showed so sent me to the angiography center of one of NYC's big hospitals. 60% occlusion of the left ventricular artery, said they -- to me and to the cardiologist via phone. Within half an hour they placed a stent in the artery. I stayed flat on my back in the hospital overnight and went home early the next day. I've had no symptoms since.

The cardiologist stopped in to see me. He gave me two prescriptions, one for Plavix, the latest and greatest blood thinner which was recommended to be taken for two years after the placement of a stent. I don't know how that recommendation came about -- what tests were done, etc. I do know that the stent put in my artery was the latest and greatest, one with enough drug adhering to it to keep the artery clear [or so they said] for many months. I wasn't happy about the Plavix but my drug plan covered it as it was a AMA recommendation.

The cardiologist also wrote a prescription for Lipitor. "You'll be taking this the rest of your life," said he. As it happened I knew a great deal about Lipitor, in fact, had heard about it before he did. I did work in a second hand fashion for Pfizer, [sort of like a cousin twice removed] as I transcribed many meetings for Pfizer's PR company which often included informational meetings about up and coming drugs. By that time Lipitor had been on the market for 10 or 12 years and was bringing in billions of dollars to Pfizer. I had heard of their methods of teaching their reps how to market it and the perks that those reps got for a good job. As it happened, two or three months before my stent placement I had transcribed a talk at an AHA meeting by one of the two MD researches who had discovered statins [the cholesterol fighting drug that Lipitor -- and many me-too drugs -- are]. The MD was one of two who won a Nobel prize for their discovery of the compound and its effects.

During his keynote speech the immanent doc said that in the years since he had made the discovery he had continued working on the cholesterol problem. He could not understand why, when the data had been gathered for some 15 years now, it showed that only 17% of the people on the drug benefited from it. 17%!!! This is a drug that the AHA recommends EVERY heart disease patient and every patient with a RISK of heart disease [even if he doesn't have it] should be on FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Is it any wonder Pfizer was making billions! I told my cardiologist about the speech; he listened with that look experts give the lowly cranks who come in with odd bits of information and said, "Whatever the odds, you should be on statins the rest of your life."

By the way, when the two years on Plavix ended I said to the cardiologist, "I guess I can finally stop taking this." He said, "They've change the recommendation to three years." Honest to god! Who was massaging whose bottom line in that little change?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Summary

Just a few items today.
Don't know if I believe this: A Chinese driver managed to accumulate $55,000 in toll fees in 9 months time. [How? One wonders.] He's been sentenced to life in prison and $300,000 fine. China is very rough on scofflaws, apparently.

With North America shivering under one blizzard after another, the West coast dealing with mud slides and almost all of the province of Queensland in Australia under flood conditions, it's time those few doubters realize we're in a period of severe climate change. 2010 was the wettest year in recorded history -- or at least since Noah's time. It was the hottest since 1805 when temperatures began beingt recorded.

It may not seem so in Queensland, but actually 90% of the world's fresh water is trapped in ice in Antarctica. In that least hospitable continent, temperatures can drop as low as 97 degrees below freezing and winds can reach 200 miles per hour.

The most disturbing thing I came across this week was from an article in the January Vanity Fair about the testing of new drugs to prove their effectiveness is done abroad, often in poor countries and usually handled by private companies, not by the American drug manufacturers. Control of methods is not only lax but easily faked and likely to be not applicable to conditions in the US. This is only a hint of the extent of the problem. Anyone interested should read the article by clicking here. Why should we know about this? Well two of the world's biggest drug companies, Pfizer and Glaxo have both recently set aside literally billions of dollars in anticipation of paying legal fees to defend against suits stemming from the deaths many people who've died from drug side effects that were KNOWN to the drug companies who continued to sell their very expensive drugs despite knowing that they were doing as much harm as good. It's a very scary situation and being educated about it is your best protection.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Seeing an early screening of a film or documentary is always an exciting event, like watching a bird hatch. This afternoon I saw the third ever screening of a documentary called Troopers about actors in their 80s, even 90s, who just keep working. The film makers are two young women, Sarah Ballantine and Dea Lawrence. Sarah Ballentine if the daughter [granddaugh†er?] of one of the actors featured in the film. They had shown it twice to the Screen Actors Guild and now were showing it in the delightful Cape Cinema in Dennis [a landmark theatre with an arched ceiling splendid with Rockwell Kent "sky" full of mythological constellations as the Greek heros they represent. The film was shown here at least in part because of Pat Carroll, a wonderful actress who was one of 7 or 8 actors interviewed in considerable depth in the film. She is possibly the next best known after Kay Ballard who is known because of recordings maybe more than her acting credits. But all the faces are well known to television and movies watches because they are the character actors who have supported the stars since the 1940s in most cases.

The film is a celebration of lives lived doing the thing these people loved doing -- acting, singing, dancing, being funny. It touches on beginnings, on successes, on hard times [both blacklisting of some and periods of no jobs that most suffered, especially, it seems during their 60s]. None became household words, none make a lot of money. But always they loved their work, they loved their coworkers, they had and continue to have a zest for life that comes across strongly. They are all people you'd love to sit down and talk to. The film makers didn't want it to be merely talking heads so they've add in a lot of clips. Especially for a woman the contrast between the slender, polished, lovely young faces and the women they've become with faces that show their years, sometimes with lipstick that's too red, is a lesson ponder. Very little is said about appearance, that's not the point of the film -- guts, dedication, resllience and zest for life is the point.

Pat Carroll lives here on Cape Cod and was at the filming. She is a wonderful, down to earth person with a very big talent. I had the great delight of having had her read an important role in a play I wrote that was chosen for inclusion at the New Harmony Conference [in Indiana] several years ago.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When does old age begin?

Ronni Barrett on her blog Time Goes By -- see sidebar and click to read her thoughts -- asks this question: when does old age begin? She is 69 and and facing the Big 7-0 apparently with some of the trepidation I felt a couple of years ago. She always inspires a lively number of comments so they are worth reading also.

Parenthetically, let me say the delightful cartoon here is from another blog, click here to see it

I have nothing insightful to add to Ronni but a small anecdote: yesterday was clear, very calm, about 30 degrees. So Rachel and I and Molly the dog walked a couple of miles on the beach. Only a few people were about and those were also accompanied by dogs. We all trotted along at a good pace -- good enough that I felt pleasantly warm except for my exposed earlobes. Molly was very happy to be out [her walks this time of year are usually quite short] and she trotted on ahead of us with obvious animal joy. Molly is a largish dog of mutt heritage that includes some heavy coated herder and she is 16 years old, which puts her not so far from 100 if converted to people years. And, as one person we met said, "you don't usually see big dogs that live that long."

Her hind legs are not as strong as they used to be so she had some difficulty jumping up into the car and climbing the three front porch steps, but she can still do it although the car may take a couple of tries. If I live to 100 and have the spirit and energy she has I will be a very, very lucky person. She is, to me, a picture of successful aging.

Everything about yesterday's walk was lovely, the winter-gold marsh grasses, the very thin layer of ice on the little kettle ponds in the marsh, the broad beach where the tide was way, way out, the seagulls gathered like randomly tossed stones in the parking lot, and the magnificent, late afternoon glow of light in the sky. Rachel and I chatted randomly as we do and chatted very briefly with other dog owners as the dogs did their circle and sniff routines. I didn't feel older than 40 or 50 or 60, nor did Molly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Complex Division

That America is a country greatly divided is being discussed in the papers since yet another madman has show us that we have more to fear from homegrown crazies than we do from foreign terrorists in our airplanes. In today's NYTimes Paul Krugman quotes part of Pres. Obama's eloquent speech about what Americans need to do: "expand our moral imaginations, listen to each other more carefully ... remind ourselves of all the ways or hopes and dreams are bound together." Krugman feels this is whistling in the wind for Americans are hopelessly divided in their moral imaginations and understanding of hopes and dreams. It seems to me that the majority of people do not want to listen more carefully to others ro expand their moral imaginations. Nothing is scarier to most people than giving up the moral imagination that guides their lives. What others are saying is terrifying as it implies we may have to give up some of the shaky certainties of our lives. Others are so different that we can demonize them and contemplate violence against them as the only way to allay our disatisfactions. It's a scary world out there.

The Atlantic
by Christia Freeland that not only quotes Fitzgerald but goes to considerable length showing just how different the super rich are becoming from all the rest of us. They so rich that one wife says $20 million a year is not enough [for the four houses, the jet and their life style]. Freeland points out that it is not only American super rich but those worldwide from Russia to Singapore to Abu Dhabi to Park Avenue. These people are unlike any super rich in the past. Most are self-made, not benficiaries of past wealth. Some are in fact, relatively young, in their 40s, even 30s. They relate to one another, not to the populace of their own countries. They DO practice philanthropy -- or at least many of them do. The gap between those super rich and the normal working person grows wider all the time. Most of the working people do not really know about the super rich; they think sports and movie stars with their income in the one digit millions a year are super rich. I invite you to click that link in the side bar and read the article.

Which is finally to say that we are not only a divided country, we are an increasingly divided world. Is there any point in reading widely as I do? Does knowing these things add anything positive to my life? Or is it all negative? I think knowledge is always positive, but that it's important to keep in mind all knowledge is partial and multifaceted. I don't have answers but I always have questions. And often astonishment at the pieces of answers I find.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Druids

No, the Druids did not build Stonehenge and we don't know if they performed rites there -- but I wonder how could they resist? I had the good luck to see it way back in the early '60s before it was fenced in, to walk around inside the circle of standing stones. That was awesome long before the word degenerated to teen slang. Mysteries remain but I have just learned that much is known about the Druids, who apparently came to England some time after Stonehenge was erected.

Some books remain in my to-read bookcase a long time. Finally I read Peter Berresford Ellis' studious The Druids. And I'm awed again. Ellis begins by discussing the Celts as a vast group who seem to have their origin the same place as the Indian people who became the Hindus. They spread from Asia Minor all across Europe to Ireland and perhaps even went to Iceland before the Vikings did. Their society was remarkably sophisticated for people living during 1000 years before the Roman era. Says Ellis, they elected their leaders, women were treated very nearly as equals of men, they had a code of law that emphasized truth as the supreme ideal, they had myths, bards, judges, a warrior class that conquered Rome in 450BC, and they had the upper class, the intelligentsia which was analogous to the Brahman class in India -- the Druids.

Apparently Ellis's understanding of the Druids is not the only view, but he makes a well researched case [the book gets downright overloaded with references frequently] and I buy his point of view. When one understands the ideas, philosophy, social structures of what we think of as primitive peoples, humility is the only reasonable response. We've come light years in terms of technology and understanding of the physical sciences but our societies have not advanced very much and for very long periods regressed ... given many things in current politics we seem not to have advanced at all. We're very busy trying to understand robotics and much else that is expected to make us more enlightened but history is very little studied, both recent and ancient history. Those who do not understand history are bound to repeat past mistakes, as those who are wiser than I observed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Summary [finally]

In 2009 Elinor Ostrum won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Unlike the many men who've won in economic Ms. Ostrum did not study the competitive nature of economics; she studied economic cooperation. It takes a woman.

In fertility clinics where couples are able to choose the sex of their children, 75% choose girls.

For every two men who graduate from college these days, three women graduate from college. Let's have three cheers for women!!!

For a real change of subject: Three new books: Washington's Rules: America's path to Permanent War by A. Bucavich, Reasons to Kill: America Chooses War, R. Rubenstein, and The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris by P. Blimart all chronical why the U. S. has been at war almost uninterruptedly for 30 years. Shortly after I read this list I saw a cartoon which showed three generals sitting around a table. One was saying, "The good news is I think peace can be avoided."

The giant Tata Motor Company of India introduced an affordable automobile hoping to put less fortunate Indians behind a wheel. The Tata Nano only cost $2900; but it has been a flop, with only 509 sold. A rival small car called the Alto, priced at $6200 sold over 30,000 in the same period of time.

More finances: the Malibu, CA house that Bing Crosby bought for $2500 in 1920 was bought by Robert Redford in 1982 for $2 million. It's probably worth twice that today.

Finally in medicine: between January 2006 and January 2009 the high tech inplantible defibrilator heart device which costs $35,000 each was been implanted in 111,707 people at 1227 hospitals in America. A recent study showed that 25,000 of the people who had the device implanted did not need it.

Sorry to have so few pieces of good news to pass on the first of this year.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dumb and dumber

Stories of the dumbing down of ordinary people were flying thick and fast last night as I was chatting with a couple of women who work in a local travel agency. They had run into multiple incidences of people who thought Cape Cod is a small town, not a geographic place, a peninsula that is 70 miles long. My favorite of their stories was the man who was disappointed about not being able to take a whale watching boat trip because of bad weather who asked, "Where do the whales go when it's raining?"

The women cited instances of simple ignorance, someone driving from Canada heading for Texas who somehow ended up at a mid-Cape travel info center and wanted directions for driving to Dallas. As if maps had never been invented or they didn't know how to read one. And then there was a tourist who wanted to know if the ocean out there was the Atlantic or the Pacific. Another tourist wanted a room in "the hotel" [as if there is only one] and wanted to be sure to have a view of "the mountains."

Then a couple of non-tourist, just young and ignorant instances: the young Dunkin Donuts clerk who was asked for "a half dozen assorted donuts" who neither knew what a "half dozen" is or what "assorted" meant. And another young person who asked the time and was told "a quarter after one." She then turned to a friend and said, "What's that mean?" The friend had to say "one fifteen." The first person could only read digital clocks. Making change is a major problem, too, for many young people unless they can enter totals into a cash register that tells them how much change to give the customer. I've seen instances of people who do not know what a paragraph is and have no grasp of punctuation at all and I run into the use of texting abbreviations in email all the time.

Our public schools are graduating these people without basic literacy. I do not know what they DO understand, although I think they can follow the words of rap music which I cannot do. It was a "to hell in a handbasket" kind of discussion. I laughed a lot but it was only superficially funny. These young people are going to be the voters in the next election -- if they are made aware that this is something they actually are expected to do. What will they know about making choices? What will we get for for leaders?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Perchance to dream ...

I have known writers enchanted with their dreams, so much so that they keep dream journals beside their beds to write down the whole dream before it fades and then they spend, sometimes, hours analyzing their dreams. Dream gazing seems to me a lot like naval gazing. At a certain time in life, when we aren't certain why we seem to be on the adult, or nearly adult, path dreams may seem like answers to Who Am I? Yes, I've done my share of dream notating and analyzing although over the whole middle of my life it was sporadic and did not fill two steno pads. They're somewhere. I didn't throw them away.

Since about the middle of November, when I discovered the site 750 Words I've finally tried the experiment one of the new age gurus calls "morning words." I can write between 750 and 800 words in less than 20 minutes -- that's free flowing thoughts, but it's also correcting misspelling when need be. I don't feel a need to inspire myself but I've been a little ashamed of myself for poo-poohing "morning words" as a useless activity. I like to prove to myself something works or doesn't. I'm not finding anything about the exercise [I think this was the 70th day in a row] helpful to either my writing or my every day life. I'm a little bit hooked by the site's game-playing aspect which awards badges for records. When I've written for 100 days without break I reach one of the higher echelons and get a phoenix badge! Whoopy-doo! And I may then stop.

But dreams -- I'm a little freaked because I very rarely awake remembering I dreamed and when I do the dream fades quickly. However, the last three days dreams have been vivid and memorable so I've written about them in the morning words -- a description and then some thoughts about their metaphoric meaning and relation to frequent dream motifs over my life. I really don't want to get into "dream work". I'm not feeling a need to look at my subconscious, I'm feeling settled and relatively serene, generally happy. The dreams have not been upsetting or frightening ones.

One had a snake in it but it was not a scary snake, in fact, more like a stuffed draft stopper thingy than a snake [go figure!]. I'm frankly a bit irritated because I think the habit of writing early in the morning in a free flow way, really saying nothing of any importance or depth, has somehow triggered these dreams. "There's the rub." Except they give me nothing to complain about, possibly writing about them is more interesting than the drivel I wrote for over 60 days. It's bugging me. The site doesn't give badges for dreams recorded, maybe I should suggest they do. They do have subject tracking ability.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I don't make a list of resolutions. In my head are a few. I'm going a bit against my natural impulse by noting here what they are. However I'm feeling very positive today. It was a very quiet day and nothing unusual happened but we do have a new year and can a person whose last name is "Calender" ignore important yearly landmarks? Of course not.

The one resolution that has been ongoing since 1960 is to try to read 100 books this year. I just wrote about reading books a couple of posts ago so no more need be said.

An abiding resolution, which usually get broken, just as the same resolution is broken by hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of other people every year, is to lose and keep off ten pounds. I have, upon quite a few occasions, lost them, but they reappear. Losing isn't easy, but "keeping off" is a real bitch.

Going along with that, as it also does for many of those millions I just spoke of, is maintaining an exercise routine. I often smile when I see people in their 30s and 40s diligently running, going to gyms, swimming, biking, whatever. It's wonderful that they do it. Many more should join them. Exercising truly does become more difficult as one ages. I do not have any movement limiting problems except a familial congestive heart condition that means I cannot run -- but I don't want to run anyway. I can walk and do and will and wish I could every day as I do nearly every day in the summer. I could have done so today -- but it was gray and uninviting and I was doing other things and lazy. I NEED to stop being lazy. And my resolution is to stop being lazy. Some days the weather will make it impossible to get outdoors, that's okay. I just want to go out and walk somewhere when I can -- at least a mile and if it's going to be anything less, then walk as fast as I can. Big resolution, big caveats.

The important to my ambition and ego resolution is that this will be the year I write the biography of a man whose life I've been researching since 1995. Fifteen years of research and I know all I need to know and a great deal more than I can cram into a readable book. I've started many times. I had a very good first chapter last October and was moving into the second chapter when my computer disappeared it. It was gone, truly gone. When the Apple Store genius was unable to find it in any corner of my data, I said, "Damnit, I've got to write it all over again." [My internal reaction was more colorful.] He said, "It'll be better the next time." Easy to say. I didn't believe it. I've rewritten the first chapter and I think it IS better. It's far from perfect but I've found, at last, that I don't have to make it perfect -- and can't -- but can make it satisfying and then can move on. So, this year, I will write the whole book. I WILL. That is a firm resolution.

So there are four resolutions, one has the usual "I'll try" in it, two are knee-jerk resolutions and the final one is firm. I will not be giving updates on any of them. I am not a parolee checking in with the police officer regularly because I am my own officer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Ching, Book of Changes

Many things come into our lives. We react to the ones that resonate with us. Long ago, perhaps 40 years ago, the I Ching came into my hands. Someone who did not resonate with it gave it my husband and I. He did not resonate with it either and at first I barely paid attention to it. Then I began to read and understand how it has been used, to understand it's ancient origins and the Confucian explications [one of a many]. I found Richard Wilhelm's translation graceful and full of common sense metaphors that indeed resonated profoundly. I did not feel a need for a predictive vehicle, but I wanted a wisdom book that was free of gods and worship. A book about how to live in harmony with the seasons and with society. The I Ching is such a book. I have often disliked the paternalistic references to "marrying maidens" and "concubines." But 7th century China was a very different society.

For many years I threw coins once a week and kept notes about what hexagrams I received and whether or not they had any synchronicity with what was going on in my life, in a specific way. I was convinced within ten years that, although often I felt a resonance with specific advice on a specific day, the coins fall in a truly random way -- although, to tell the truth, at times I felt I had a psychokinetic ability to throw hexagrams I especially liked. Interesting as this was, I felt, above all else, that the I Ching's {Confucius' philosophy specifically] is the wisdom that I wished to internalize and use as a guide for how to live. Only in the last few years have I stopped my weekly readings. Today, as always, I threw the coins to ask about the attitude with which to approach the coming year. In a few words the advice was to persevere. That is not earth shaking or life changing; it is the good sense with which I live.

Confucius is said to have worn out the book boards seven times in studying the I Ching. For a long time Chinese books were not pages bound together but pages kept between boards, and all wrapped in silk. I have worn the cover of my Wilhelm edition nearly separate at the spine. Of all the compendiums of advice for how to live, I would recommend the I Ching, not as a book to read through, but as a book to return to again and again, at random via coins or any other method, imbibing the philosophy of right action. Whenever I feel centered it is because I have learned a view of human life and society from the I Ching.