Thursday, March 31, 2011

Demographic Transitions

A 2005 report by the World Watch Institute, what Bill Maher has called, a "Hippy ThinkTank", said, that in countries where there is what they call a "youth bulge" like in Saudi Arabia, 75% of the people there are under thirty years old.

They say this is what causes civil unrest. They call this a "demographic transition", to go from large families with a short life span, to small families with a long lifespan. The thought is that this is a precursor to what typically leads to calls for Democracy.

One suggestion could be not to attack these countries, when they turn instead from what our kids would do, to play hard, instead to terrorism, blowing things up, or flying planes into buildings, to see this happening, and the CIA reports on this frequently, for every country in the entire world (C.I.A.: Central Intelligence Agency, part of their charter, IS to collect "intelligence", that is to say, information, but then to apply commentary upon that, so that then you have, "intelligence" reports; clever how that works isn't it?). Key to this situation, is the lack of jobs for this "bulge" of young people, how can that NOT lead to unrest?

The smart thing to do with countries like this, would be to help along that decrease in population and help to increase the longevity of that countries citizenry. Because then they have a bottom heavy citizenship with no jobs and that leads to civil unrest. As that time approaches, help them to find new industry, found corporations, businesses, ways to manage their country.

How do you do this? One comedian suggested dropping condoms, rather than bombs (yes, Bill said that).

The Tea Party, according to Journalist David Brooks, is a group that uses "Abby Hoffman means to achieve Norman Rockwell ends".

That has no bearing on this.

I just wanted to share that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writer's Block? Feeling... clogged?

Are you a writer? Or do you just think you're a writer?
Writer, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

So if you're a writer, do you get "Writer's Block"?

I don't myself.

I never have times when I lose my writing capability, though sometimes my creativity is less than others, but I can always still write. If ever I have what people call, "writer's block", perhaps my writing isn't as great as other times, but I can always write. If you can think of a word, if you can spell it, you can write. So then, how, can you have "writer's block"?

I always felt people that said they had "writer's block" were either not real writers, or just didn't want to write, either not knowing what to write, or fearing the repercussions of writing; being that they would be judged either by themselves or others. It's always far easier to not write, than to deal with rewriting (writing is rewriting, after all, an old adage). Many people try to write, then never do, so they can say they ARE a writer. But, writer's write.

If ever I have trouble moving forward on a piece of writing, I might switch to another form (screen, short story, novel, nonfiction, blog, etc.), then return to my original troubled piece, later. But, I will switch gears, go for a walk, visit another town for a nice afternoon and lunch, generally, change my lifestyle for a short time (and hour, hours, or day).

Go climb a cliff, do something a little scary, jump out of a plane, maybe jump out of a plane that is even in the air, you can scare the hell out of yourself, experience near death even (BUT try hard not to actually die, otherwise, it really really cramps your writing).

My brother used to say, when things go wrong (of course, he was talking about LSD at the time in the 70s), to change channels; at times all it takes is literally, changing the channel on the TV (experienced THAT once myself).

On the other side of this, is the "I just don't want to write" syndrome. Which, is different. In that case, it's also simple. You have to want to write again. If that's the issue, some of the above works, but so does therapy, or group therapy (could just be drinking at a bar with friends), or personal therapy (could just be meditating).

I've had some experts say that you need to visit the extremes of what you are capable of, on a daily basis, otherwise your body / mind (chakras?) become clogged. So, meditate, later in the day, exercise (hard, sweat), or vice versa; though there are other ways to accomplish this (stare into the distance (hard) for a while, then examine something extremely close up; do the same for all your senses, THEN sit and write. Just some suggestions.

Another thing that works very well, is research or reading. Most authors worth their salt say that if you want to be a writer you have to read. It's more important to read when you are writing, than when you are not writing. It stimulates. You may have to gauge what you read however. If you read a writer that you admire, it may intimidate you to the point that you cannot write. If that happens, merely switch and read some of a writer that you like, but who really isn't that great of a writer. 

I've said for most of my life that in order to get myself to do things, I sometimes have to trick myself into doing it. Or, reward myself. Example: I had rented a house one time, I was in that house for three years. It was perfect when I moved in, the owner lived directly across the street. One of the things in the contract was that I maintained it as it was when I moved in. That meant, among other things, I had to keep the lawn mowed and the yard trimmed.

So, what I did was to get on the ground with an edge trimming too (an old butcher knife actually, I didn't have one of those fancy wheeled trimmers like I have now). I put a bottle of beer about five feet away, and I worked in the hot sun, not getting a drink until I worked my way up to that bottle, which I would then move another five feet away. I rewarded myself. For me, at that time in my life, it worked.

And that works now. You just have to find what that motivator is. You don't get to eat or see a movie, or watch TV, listen to the radio, or go see a friend until you finish ten pages. Or you set a goal of so many pages a day. Then you don't have to work for a day. Or, whatever works for you. For myself, I write a lot daily.

I have my day job which can be mentally demanding, then I work on my personal writing goals in my off hours. Sometimes, I'm so burned out at night, that I just take the night off from writing. Sometimes, I have such a bad week, I have to wait until the weekend. So, I adjust my goals to work with my reality and those things that crop up, unforeseen from time to time.

The point is, I really never got writer's block. If anything like that could be considered to be happening, I switch to another form of writer that is less intimidating, or more pleasurable to do. The key is, don't stop writing and you can never get writer's block.

You have to remember to work with yourself. You also have to consider a balanced life. Writing 16 hours a day, every day, is just not sustainable. You need people time, pleasure times, relaxation, exercise, variety. Treat yourself like a person and don't expect more than you can do on a sustained basis. Then when you do need to really push through a time when you have to work day and night to finish a project, you should be able to. It's like working out so that when you need to exercise hard and fast for a sustained period of time, you may in the end be exhausted, but you can do it.

I also see this in a way how I  use a musical instrument. If you want to learn to play the guitar, say, be sure you play it daily. I have a guitar in the dinning room. Every time I go into the kitchen, I see it. Sometimes, especially when I'm cooking, I have down time from the cooking and pick up the guitar. If I know I will have no time for playing that day, I will pick it up, run the scale up and down at least once, put it done and know I played it for the day. Seems like its not much, but it is.

The same goes for writing. Sometimes, its all in your definition.

Think positive, work reasonably but frequently, and don't stop.

For more on Writer's Block, see Mark David Gerrson's blog on it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Bees die, We Die?

Are the bees tired of Humankind's nonsense?

Maybe. They seem to be going away.

Einstein is alleged to have said: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination... no more men!"

Sounds scary. Except, Einstein never said that. So it's not so scary. But, if bees are disappearing, then isn't THAT scary? Oh, yeah. That would be frightening. Why? Bees pollinate 70 of the top crops we use to eat. Not to mention, a lot of pretty flowers would have some serious trouble too and we need as much aesthetic organisms as we can get.

But if bees die, many plants do not get pollinated, many animals starve, we have less crops and animals to eat, and therefore, do we have a really good reason now for preparing for vegetarianism? For growing plants in our house, hand pollinating them? Even if we lose the animals to eat, we can still artificially produce, well, produce.

But, what about the bees?

What about Einstein's famous quote? Be careful about people claiming someone said this or that. I heard this on the Bill Maher show. Ellen Page was on, she was Juno in the very cool movie, "Juno" a while back. She is narrating a documentary about Bees and she said Einstein said that, she said Bill used that quote in his show a few years ago. And? They were both wrong. When I heard them talking about it, I was fascinated. So I looked it up. Here is what I found.

Check out the article on This is a great site. Whenever I get one of those chain emails, I immediately go to snopes, and 95% of the time, they explain it's total nonsense. They said: "...even though Einstein died in 1955, assiduous searching of a variety of databases of historical printed material (e.g., books, newspapers, magazines) has so far failed to turn up any mention of this quote (attributed to Einstein or anyone else) antedating 1994, when it suddenly started popping up in newspaper articles reporting on a protest in Brussels staged by beekeepers."

Okay, so Einstein never said it.

Now, what about the bees disappearing? A brief search of the internet comes up initially with news agencies, ABC, NBC, etc. But these are not the people you want to examine, unless it is for sources, so you can then go to the authorities and see what the true data is directly from the horse's mouth, as it were.

I tried the New Scientist site, but I don't usually like to pay for information if I don't have to (Hey, I'm not rich either and I don't get paid for doing this blog, believe it or not; I TRY to get paid, but so far, no joy). I see Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader, USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory is mentioned a lot (and on but couldn't find any direct information on him or his research.

A posting on BioBees,  indicates possible causes to bee decline world wide to be:

"* New kinds of virulent fungal pathogens, which can be deadly to bees and other key pollinating insects, are being detected worldwide, migrating from one region to another as a result of shipments linked to globalization and rapidly growing international trade.

"* An estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the coming decades unless conservation efforts are stepped up

"* Increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including systemic insecticides and those used to coat seeds, is being found to be damaging or toxic to bees. Some can, in combination, be even more potent to pollinators, a phenomenon known as the 'cocktail effect.

"* Climate change, left unaddressed, may aggravate the situation, in various ways including by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns. This may in turn affect the quality and quantity of nectar supplies."

I checked out the site for the Bee Research Lab, whose site claims that: "Throughout the world the "Beltsville Bee Lab," as it is often referred to, is recognized for its research on bee diseases and pests and for providing a bee disease diagnostic service for 100+ years".

Their site lead to the International Bee Research Association, in Great Britain. They had a link to a pamphlet, "What's happening to our Bees?"

Their pamphlet, sounding very professional and rational, says:

"Whether any single factor is the cause or whether collapse is brought about by a combination of causes is not clear. Certainly there is a paramount need to beware of any interpretation or spin put on one cause or another by those with some foible or an axe to grind. In this respect the popular press seems to delight in acting irresponsibly and will try to tie bee losses into whatever is doing the news rounds on a particular day, the more bizarre the better as far as they are concerned.

"At this stage, few researchers offer any firm conclusions. Some tentatively note, that from preliminary surveys, nearly all beekeepers experiencing CCD in the USA, noticed a period of “extraordinary stress” affecting the colonies prior to their demise. In most cases this stress was a result of poor nutrition or drought brought about by a number of different causes."

So something is going on, in 2010, the State of Washington requested an emergency exemption to use a pesticide hop beta acids (HopGuard) to control the Varroa Mites in Honey Bee populations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Scientific American site has an article (free) that asks: "Plan Bee: As Honeybees Die Out, Will Other Species Take Their Place? In a race against time, researchers propagate native solitary bees as an alternative to our most important pollinators."

Summing up, do we have something to be worried about? I would say that is a qualified , yes. Is there any thing we can do about it? Well, perhaps not directly as with the Scientists and Beekeepers directly involved, but indirectly, we can talk about it, bring it to people's attention, and push for safer use and understanding of how we do things in production of honey and farming.

So, I don't have any answers either. I just find it interesting. But remember that forewarned can be forearmed and ignorance, is the most powerful force for destruction there is. We can at very least, try not to add to it. And that includes not propagating disinformation and hype by the media.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Some Iconic Music History

I'm shooting for an iconic blog posting for an iconic topic....

Have you ever had an iconic song that affected you, that you have known most your life, and wondered what it meant, who was it about, why was it written, all because it affected you so much? You might think by some of the songs I'm about to mention, that I'm showing either my age or my orientation by way of music genres.

But if I kept talking about music on this topic, you would see me delving into blues back to the turn of the century; swing and I don't mean the light type; classical; experimental; industrial; various kinds of metal (obvious from this blog posting); electronic (again, various types going all the way back to the beginnings); classical guitar; calypso; ska; reggae; world music; on and on. But just for this blog I'm pulling out some obvious ones and some well known ones.

There was a Carley Simon song like that, "You're So Vain" that caused conjecture for many years, even decades after it came out. Simon has never publicly acknowledged in full the subject of "You're So Vain". Before the song became a hit single, she told an interviewer that the song was about "men," not a specific "man." Since its release, many have speculated about the identity of its subject (or subjects). In a 1989 interview, Simon acknowledged that the song is a little bit about Warren Beatty but said the subject of the song is a composite of three men from her L.A. days. In a 2007 interview, Beatty said, "Let's be honest. That song was about me." Simon has said that Beatty had called and thanked her for the song. Mick Jagger was also alleged to be the subject and who contributed uncredited backing vocals to the song. (from Wikipedia)

First, its hard to find originals on some of these songs, so I've substituted with later renditions by the artists in question, where necessary.

I have one like that, it was Roberta Flack's 1973, "Killing Me Softly With His Song". This video on youtube sounded pretty good, but it would appear the person who posted it was incorrect in it being about Elvis. According to Wikipedia, it was about another favorite singer of mine from back then, Don McClean, of "American Pie" song fame.

From Wikipedia:

"Norman Gimbel explains the genesis of the writing of the song "Killing Me Softly With His Song" as follows:
I came to California in the mid-sixties. I was introduced to the Argentinean born composer named Lalo Shifrin (then of Mission Impossible fame). I ended up writing songs to a number of his motion pictures. I suggested we write a Broadway Musical together. He gave me an Argentinean novel translated into English from the Spanish to read as a possible idea. Suffice it to say, we never made a musical from the book -- but in one of the chapters, the principal character describes himself as sitting alone in a bar drinking and listening to an American pianist "Killing me softly with his blues". I put it in my "idea" book for use at a future time with a parenthesis around the word "blues" and substituted the word "song" instead. Many years later, Lori Lieberman saw Don McLean in concert. I then wrote the lyric and gave it to Charles Fox to set to music."
"According to Lori Lieberman, the artist who performed the original recording, the song was born of a poem she wrote after experiencing a strong reaction to a Don McLean concert. She related this to Gimbel, who took her feelings and put them into words. Then, Gimbel passed the words on to Fox, who set them to music."

It would also seem that the Fugees came out with their own version that hit pretty well when it came out too. It's good, but pales in comparison to Roberta's if you ask me. Others have tried it but no others really made it as big.

Don McClean's 1971 "American Pie" song (on the album of the same name) about "the day the music died", is another great example of a song that we didn't understand right away, what it meant. This video explains it pretty well although when asked what the song meant, McClean said, "It means I never have to work again." Then stating he believed a singer/songwriter should make their statement and move on. It's generally understood to mean the day a plane crashed in a field back in 1959, ending the career of several famous musicians who were on tour. I heard recently on a documentary of rock stars, a British musician said he remembered when it happened, that day in 1959 and he felt that it was a day that music died, too. It was great fun eventually learning what such an iconic song meant.

But I thought there were other great songs on that album, as I did with Roberta's album. On Don's album there was the flip sides Babylon round robin with his own overdub. There was the other iconic song that also has lasted down through the years, "Vincent" about Vincent Van Gogh (one of my favorite painters) which affected me strongly for year after year and had lyrics that spoke to me deeply all those years ago, and still does to this very day.

There are many great "B" side songs on the albums of hits. Nazareth, famous for their Love Hurts hit, I liked much more their great Hair of the Dog song, equally, Whiskey Drinking Woman on the flip side, but mostly, Please Don't Judas Me, which I've always thought was quite excellent.

Roberta's album was one of covering other writer/singer's works. Jesse by Janis Ian (Janis was more famous for At Seventeen, I had her great "Between the Lines" album with these songs on it, that was great on rainy days with coffee or teas while writing; and the infamous Leonard Cohen's Suzanne, which had already made one career for "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." (a spin off from the famous "Man From U.N.C.L.E.") TV show's Noel Harrison (son of famous British actor, Rex Harrison).
There are many of these kinds of song in the great song book of history. It's amazing how they are so tied to so many other things. So, if you have a song you have always wondered about and never knew the history of, and if you don't mind, finding out what it's really about, I suggest you go look it up. Check Wikipedia. Do a search on the song and artist. Many times, you will find that the information is not only freely available, you can hook up with the artist's newer music and find that, yes indeed, they are still out there alive and kicking.

Al Stewart is one of those. I always thought of him as some artist in the past. He was perhaps most famous for his "Year of the Cat" and "Past, Present and Future" albums (the latter with the popular "Nostradamus" song on it), but I then got to know him from his "Bedsitter Images" album and others. Then my (now ex) Vietnamese girlfriend, asked if I'd like to go see a guy that currently plays bass for him, and lives locally. I couldn't believe she meant, THE Al Stewart. Well, she did and he is indeed, still alive and kicking out the concerts.

Go on, look into your icons from the past, whomever they are. Because regardless of what people may tell you, or think of them, if they are an icon to you, they are important and just may deserve another look. Let's support our old artists after all, who enriched our younger selves and gave us a way to look at life, a way to make it through another day, and in some cases, may have saved your life.

At one point in my life, I don't know what I would have done if it weren't for Donovan (Leitch), "Sunshine Superman", "Mellow Yellow", "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting" (an anti Vietnam song)), "Atlantis", 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven" (which was the theme song for a very popular women's fragrance that was nearly iconic for the 70s, that being Eau De Love (by Menley and James) and the associated fragrance commercials that featured Ali MacGraw.), and many others.  He's music kept me calm and focused. In 1965 he played on "Ready, Steady, Go!" and became known as "Britain's answer to Bob Dylan". He was for me, a more understandable answer.

Official web site. More recent interview with Donovan on BBC.

I was very happy to find a documentary, "A boy called Donovan", made on Donovan before he became famous and found on a Russian youtube site of all places; showing him busking, eating on the beach, living with friends, doing their "thing", smoking pot which lead to the police watching him and finally raiding his home in London, which he told us about at a concert at the Paramount. It was great fun, after forty years or more since I first heard Donovan tunes, to see who Gypsy Dave was, and others, who he sang about. I always wondered if he was real, or someone Donovan made up. He's real.

I saw Donovan, alone on a pillow on stage with his acoustic guitar at Seattle's Paramount Theater in the 70s. Incredible night where it was Sunday, all the music stores were closed and he broke a first string, with no available replacement, leaving him a bit peeved at his roadie, but a second string saved the evening (after one also broke, but the second attempt worked through the rest of the evening). Without his music, I would never have made it out of tech school in the Air Force by his music keeping me from going crazy, maintaining and even strain and being able to sleep at night.

A lot of people thought Donovan was lame. But consider this:

"Donovan developed a strong interest in eastern mysticism and claims to have played a significant role in awakening the interest of The Beatles in transcendental meditation. In early 1968 he was part of the group that traveled to India to spend several weeks at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh. The visit gained worldwide attention thanks to the presence of (for a time) all four Beatles as well as Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love and actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence (who inspired John Lennon to write "Dear Prudence"). See also: The Beatles at Rishikesh.

"According to a 1968 Paul McCartney interview with Radio Luxembourg, it was during this time that Donovan taught Lennon and McCartney various finger-picking guitar styles including the clawhammer style, which he had learned from his St Albans friend, Mac MacLeod. Lennon went on to use the technique on songs including "Dear Prudence" and "Julia" and McCartney with "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son". - Wikipedia.

 The unsurpassable Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East

I should mention, it was about that time that my new friends in the service who were from the south east (Atlanta, Georgia, mostly), introduced me to Southern Rock (Lynyrd Skinnard, Charlie Daniel's Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special, Little Feat, the most awesome Allman Brother's Band, and on and on).
Roxy Music - 1974 Country Life album cover

I should also mention that as a side note, there were many icon album covers. The above album art notable since their were various versions, one with only the foliage and no girls on it (more in the supplied link). So many more that could be mentioned, but perhaps that for another article, another time.

There was a show on VH1 a while back called "Bands Reunited" from 2004-2006, bringing previously broken up bands back together to please their fans, if they were willing. I didn't like that tactics they used to get to these people sometimes. Someone called it, guerrilla tactics, I wanted to feel we weren't invading these people, because to be sure, we were just in format for what was being done. Anyway, some were interested, some weren't, but it was a blast seeing, learning about what happened to them. I'm sorry it didn't last longer. Because there were bands who meant, at one time, a lot to many people, who turned out what were, iconic songs or music to a lot of people. And it was interesting, filling voids in my mind that felt great to be filled with missing information that lasted years; and therein lay an industry unto itself.

My point being, several times in my life, music, saved my life, or so it seemed back then. Music does that sometimes.

So, perhaps take the time to explore some of your old favorites and fill in the gaps from back then, see what these artists are doing now if you've not heard from them for some time. You might be glad you did.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekend Wise Words

Be Smart. Try to be, Brilliant.

Quotes from our old friend, Dr. Samuel Johnson:

I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.

He who praises everybody praises nobody.

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.

Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.
[one caveat to note here, is that self-confidence must be not only inherent in one's being, but also must be of accurate indication. False self-confidence, or self-confidence that has no basis in existence, is dangerous and self, or at least, in general, destructive]

Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to everything.

The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest. 

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.

Pleasure of itself is not a vice.

Samuel Johnson

To hear complaints with patience, even when complaints are vain, is one of the duties of friendship.
- Samuel Johnson

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Being... Cool

Be Smart! Be Cool!
Think outside the box. Be Brilliant. Be Cool.

If you must, be bully, capital, hot, groovy, hep, crazy, nervous, far-out, rad, or for the surf elite among you, be tubular, baby.

But never, ever, TRY to BE Cool. That simply never works and frequently ends in a crash and burn, scenario.

But if you Think, be as Brilliant as you can, seek unusual and original ways to view the world, you will inevitably end up having someone, sooner or later, say, "That's cool!"
Which is second only to, "You're Cool!"

If you can then Keep your Cool, then you may eventually be elevated to that esteemed status of Being Cool.
The Loopita chair, by designer Victor Aleman

Is it important to Be Cool? No, not really.

But it is desirable in some ways for some things and it can lead, if properly handled, to things of elevated delight.

Being cool, has really gotten a bad rap and bad rep, because people have as usual, gone over the edge in trying to make it the end all, be all, of what one would want to achieve. Much like they have done in acquiring money, or enjoying sex, or drugs for that matter (a little of something good is great, a lot of what is great is not good).

Nothing wrong with being rich, but there is something wrong with making that the priority above all others, above family, above friends, above quality of life, etc.

Sometimes being cool leads to questions, to some being completely turned off to your possible, "coolness". But that's okay. You can never please everyone, can you?

Just be yourself, whoever you are. Be the best, the most, the brightest, you can be. Think different. Seek new ways of seeing things. Stay calm. Be patient. But sometimes, don't be patient. Don't talk too much. The quieter you are, the smarter you will seem. But when you have something to say, say it, loud and with as much class as possible

Now, consider this....

Cool usually implies merely a high degree of self-control, but it may also indicate aloofness. So, to be cool, is also to be detached from things to some degree, to remain calm when others are not. To seem to have a worldliness over that of others in your immediate vicinity.

Unless you hit the media and go world wide, then you have a new consideration, that of International review and consideration. Then you need Universal Cool. If that happens then let's hope you are ready for it, because that takes an entirely other kind of Coolness.

TheFreeDictionary makes these interesting comments about "cool", that is really, very enlightening:

"Our Living Language The usage of cool as a general positive epithet or interjection has been part and parcel of English slang since World War II, and has even been borrowed into other languages, such as French and German.

"Originally this sense is a development from a Black English usage meaning "excellent, superlative," first recorded in written English in the early 1930s. Jazz musicians who used the term are responsible for its popularization during the 1940s. As a slang word expressing generally positive sentiment, it has stayed current (and cool) far longer than most such words.

"One of the main characteristics of slang is the continual renewal of its vocabulary and storehouse of expressions: in order for slang to stay slangy, it has to have a feeling of novelty. Slang expressions meaning the same thing as cool, like bully, capital, hot, groovy, hep, crazy, nervous, far-out, rad, and tubular have for the most part not had the staying power or continued universal appeal of cool.

"In general there is no intrinsic reason why one word stays alive and others get consigned to the scrapheap of linguistic history; slang terms are like fashion designs, constantly changing and never "in" for long. The jury is still out on how long newer expressions of approval such as def and phat will survive."

So, stay Cool, baby, stay Coooool....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The 'Immortal' Cells Of Henrietta Lacks

NPR did an article recently that I found fascinating.
Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) was the 31-year-old leading contributor to the sciences of aging and cancer, but she never knew it.

From NPR:

"In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor named George Gey snipped cells from her cervix without telling her. Gey discovered that Lacks' cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely.

"For the past 60 years Lacks' cells have been cultured and used in experiments ranging from determining the long-term effects of radiation to testing the live polio vaccine. Her cells were commercialized and have generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue."

The article was an interview with author Rebecca Skloot who wrote a book about Henrietta that took her ten years to write. It is an interesting interview and I highly recommend listening to the full program. In the end, Rebecca started a foundation over this experience. This is now an established non-profit foundation and has  given out educational grants to eight of Henrietta's descendants, and also grants for the medical care of some of her descendants.

Dr. Gey cultured the cells and gave them out. Over time they have lead to the start of multi million dollar corporations, her human tissues have been bought and sold and have lead to advances in medicine. At one point they sent some of these cells along on the Moon Mission.

That, was what I found interesting. The family had no idea about this until doctors called them twenty-five years later asking if they could test the family members for gene research. For the most part the family had no clue about any of this, and they did not fully understand what it was all about. That side of this story I find sad and somewhat questionable. It seems the family is owed no comment nor reward from this situation.
"The day she died, Oct. 4, 1951, George Gey appeared on national television with a vial of Henrietta’s cells. He called them HeLa cells, held them up to the camera, and said, “It is possible that, from a fundamental study such as this, we will be able to learn a way by which cancer can be completely wiped out.” Gey introduced the nation to his hopes for curing cancer while Henrietta’s body lay in the Hopkins morgue, and her family knew nothing of any cells."

"HeLa cells were used in Jonas Salk’s development of the polio vaccine. According to Roland Pattillo, a former fellow of Gey’s and director of gynecologic oncology at Morehouse School of Medicine:
“It was Henrietta Lacks’ cells that embraced the polio virus. She made it possible to grow the virus so the vaccine could be developed.”
"Mrs. Henrietta Lacks was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Lackstown, in the city of Clover in Halifax County, Va., where she was raised. Lackstown is the name of the land that has been held by the Lacks’ family since they received it from the family whom they were slaves and also descendants of." - from Black History Spotlight

I do think she deserves a tombstone.

But on the brighter side of this kind of story and in considering, were these my cells, how would I think? How cool! My cells had made it to the moon, even after I had died. To me that sounds pretty awesome. I would have lead to medical advances. My cells helped start corporations, giving people jobs, feeding and clothing them, moving technology along. From my perspective, I find that unbelievably to be a great thing.

I've had a very good education, excellent chances in life, many of which I forced to happen with the sweat of my own brow and they efforts I've put into many hours during work times and in my off times. But even more so, had I been disadvantaged, uneducated, even unrewarded, to have had this opportunity to have my place in history, I would be pretty proud of it. This woman has achieved something in her ignorance and death that I may never be able to achieve with any efforts of my own even looking forward through the rest of my life and beyond.

The article goes on to say that many many people have their cells stored somewhere. And so, we too may join Henrietta Lacks in posterity and support and advance the betterment of people everywhere.

We owe her a debt of thanks, if nothing else. And we too may have that chance, with no effort on our parts, to move Humankind forward to better health, longevity and one day the stars.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring is here!

Well. Spring, has finally arrived! It got here last Sunday, in case you haven't noticed. Hey, no judgement here. Recently, I completely missed the start of daylight savings time.

Anyway, I've really been waiting to say those words: SPRING is HERE!

Okay, maybe if you live down South, you have a different orientation. All I know is up and over here, in the Pacific NorthWest, we're happy to finally see it again. Of course, it's bringing with it some degree of non admitted nuclear radiation from Japan, but hey, they have their own troubles right now too. No blame.

Well, no blame other than to the people who decided (and I just have to say this) to put a NUCLEAR RADIATION STATION by the ocean in an earthquake prone country, that is an island and knows all about Tsunami. I mean really? Are we really THAT surprised about a nuclear incident in it being next to the shoreline? Oh, and nice try with the puny and all too ineffective wave breaker.
Japan's Nuclear Power Station, Iwaki, Japan

So the cooling system of nuclear reactor No. 1 at the facility malfunctioned after the 8.9-magnitude quake knocked the power out, and was thereby unable to cool the nuclear fuel rods, causing a buildup of heat and pressure at the facility. But still... okay, okay, where was I? Now, moving right along....


Because of this, Sunday was reason to rejoice around here. It was a long, monsoon of a Winter. And of course, Friday, my furnace had to go out. We've been surviving around here on a few space heaters that have been doing commendable work.
Soon....(my old deck, now rebuilt)
I saw the sun this weekend. Amazing.
The Rock (back of our property before my son dug it up)

There has always been one nice thing about living in the Pacific NorthWest. We have four Seasons, and they typically have been moderate in extremes. I've lived in Mesa, Arizona. The first time I got off a jet there (coming from New Jersey and dressed for cooler weather) it was 120 degrees. I've lived in Rantoul, Illinois, where it got down to 30 below with wind chill. I have tried Southern California and loved it, but, too damn many people, and everything is just too far from everything else.

And so, I was born in and still live in the PNW. Yes, there isn't enough sun throughout the year ("The bluest skies you've every seen, are in Seattle" - so said Perry Como's theme song from a popular 1960's period piece (late 1800's) sitcom, "Here Come The Brides").

But regardless of all this, Spring is here!

I will get to see the sun more often now (grey clouds goodbye, okay, well, constant and continuous and contiguous clouds, goodbye) and break out my bike, maybe go on a roadtrip, break out the non-Winter clothing (but not yet the non-rain clothing), rejoice in natural vitamin D from the sun, and all those other things that go along with the arrival of Spring and the impending arrival of Summer.

With all the terrible things going on around the world (Japan, Libya, other places, all going through very difficult, life changing times and events), I have to say, its pretty nice to have something so banal and seasonal to rejoice (or complain) about.

And I can now look forward to my next happy moment when I can say that my favorite season of the year is here: Summer!

Actually, I do love Spring because it's such a blossoming of life coming back. Fall, everything dies and it turns cool. Fall does have the colors though, all bright and varied but it's because their all dying. Winter, everything around here (except the evergreen trees, of course) turn gray, brown, and dead looking; it's just depressing.

So, now I get to think about outdoor things in the sun. What can I possibly do now, that I felt reticent to do only a few days ago? Or, even still, for that matter.

Five Things to do in the Spring:

1) No longer having to wish Winter were long, long gone.
2) No longer wishing Spring were long here, because, it IS!
3) Enjoy experiencing the sun's marvelous light once again.
4) Go for less damp walks in less frigid conditions.
5) Actually experience going out of the house, once again. And not just to run into the car and back out again.

Have a great non-Winter Season!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Solaris and Stanislaw Lem

One of my all time and for many years now favorite authors is Polish Science Fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem. Originally made famous to me when I first heard in High School he had coined the term, "Robot". Many believe it was Isaac Asimov. I owe Isaac a lot from my young readings of his works, but sadly, it was not him.
Stanislaw Lem

However, I later found out it also wasn't Lem, Actually it was Karel Čapek, a Czech writer who coined the term "robot", or rather made it popular.  "He introduced and made popular the frequently used international word robot, which first appeared in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in 1920. HOWEVER, the true inventor of the term robot was actually Karel's brother Josef Čapek"

"The word robot comes from the word robota meaning "drudgery", "work of a villein" in literary Czech and "work", "labor" in literary Slovak. While Karel Čapek is frequently acknowledged as the originator of the word, he wrote a short letter in reference to the Oxford English Dictionary etymology in which he named his brother, painter and writer Josef Čapek as its true inventor."

Still, once I heard that that Lem had coined the term, I originally had to look him up and from time to time revisit his writings. It was only shortly after I started looking into Lem that I found the mistake and corrected it in my mind. But that then lead to my finding the 1972 Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky called, Solaris, from the Lem novel of the same name. That lead me to finding Tarkovsky's other films which I came to appreciate.
Russian Film Director, Tarkovsky

Solaris was a fascinating novel that the two films, both Tarkovsky's and the newer 2002, Steven Soderbergh , American remake with George Clooney, has yet to fully explore. They always seem to focus on the primary Human interactions, rather than the planet's (Solaris being the name of the planet, though the story in the films takes place on the orbital space station).

Russian Solaris film version poster

Wikipedia describes the differences between literary and cinematic like this: "In the literary Solaris, Stanisław Lem describes human science’s inability to handle an alien life form, because extra-terrestrial life is beyond human understanding; in the cinematic Solaris, Tarkovsky concentrates upon Kelvin's feelings for his wife, Hari, and the impact of outer space exploration upon the human condition. Dr. Gibarian’s monologue [from the novel’s sixth chapter] is the highlight of the final library scene, wherein Snaut says, “We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors”."

A symmetriad, one of the structures produced by Solaris
What I would like to see is an interpretation of the planet research, rather than those researching the planet extrapolating their experiences so much. It's a fascinating story either way, but we've done the Human elements to death and it would be interesting to see the alien elements explored a bit more.

"What appears to be waves on its surface is later revealed to be the equivalent of muscle contractions. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe and record the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin's arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation give unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans." - Wikipedia

An apt description. Thus the story goes into how Humans begin to degenerate into complacency when they do not understand something within their short time frames of interest. Everyone wants to keep their jobs, but don't know what to do. Rather than explore the actual planet, to use Phenomenology, or other forms unused to this point, they more or less give up and start trying to irritate the planet, causing them much grief and confusion.

The book is a great indictment of our natural inclinations and a warning for us to beware and look beyond when we become lost. To not remain lost, but find another way to understand the universe around us. Although Lem's construct is that we cannot understand a very alien lifeform, which may be extremely relevant, it also points out our need to understand what we cannot understand.

There is a great scene in the book, where they land a helicopter like craft on one of the creations of the Solaris mind. It is like an island of white, made from something chalk like, buildings, structures, as if you walked into a Mediterranean village, with no people, no color. These things last only a few hours and so, at some point, it began to dissolve, and they had to leave, to watch from above is it was assimilated into the vast liquid planet. It is a fascinating scene that never finds its way to the silver screen.

There is much to be explored in this novel, the films to come based upon it, Lem and Karel Čapek's stories (though I prefer Lem). Also, check out Tarkovsky's films. Though slow by modern and American standards, have a bottle of wine and some snacks and settle in for an interesting intellectual journey.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Core Corp - the real U.S. Revolutionary Heroes

Who, won the war? The Revolutionary War, the War for Independence. There is a real opportunity here for a movie and I'm sure, it will get done.

For the masses, there was a turnstile on entry into this war. Soldiers came and went through the entire war. But there was a core group of soldiers who started in it, fought through it, and were there at the end of it. 

Before I go on further, in talking about this core element's leader, I want to mention, that Washington, in the end, was as John Quincy Adams was and had indicated in his inaugural speech, in that of being a Federalist. At the end of his four years, Adams was ejected from the white house as quickly as could be done for holding this view. As for Washington, had he and his cohorts been in action during the Civil War, it's likely that Thomas Jefferson would have gone with the Confederacy, and Washington with the North. Washington believed in a strong Federalist state, Jefferson with independent states. I have to say that, in seeing how things have gone in recent decades, I would have had to side with Jefferson.

The states have given us some craziness over time (see southern Arizona lately), but have also been a counterweight to the excessive capability of abuses from our nation's capital. "The Patriot Act" has overstepped the bounds of decency and what this nation was built upon. "The War on Drugs", a "war" against our nation's own citizenry; has been a concern that should be moderated by our medical profession, yet the ignorant and judicial sides of our government have seen fit to abscond with a concern that is obviously, a situation proven repeatedly to be true, in stepping into a realm beyond their control or understanding.

I believe we need that counteractive mentality allowing our states to have independent minds so there are those time that we have a difference of opinion and we need that for a strong, national dialogue of plans and intentions. The Federal laws are there as a catchall, protecting our states from the most obvious infractions of morality and ethics. When the Federal level is lead astray from what is rational, it pays to have the parts of the whole, the states themselves, to be there to say "wait", "stop", what the hell are you doing?

Okay, getting back to the concerns of the core soldiers in the Revolutionary War....

There are 3-4,000 young men who fought in the Continental Army for the duration. They signed up for the duration. They were the core. The other members of the Continental Army came and went. It was like a turnstile. There was this core of people. They were not the typical Americans. They are not yeomen farmers. Or artisans, even. They are indentured servants, recent emigrants from Ireland, or Scotland and they freed slaves.

"Twelve percent of the Continental Army is Black. They are fighting by the way, in integrated units. Which, the only other time, it doesn't happen again until the Korean War. Those, are the guys that won the war. And they've never, ever been recognized. They didn't get pensions, they didn't get paid, they didn't get fed.... The reason they did it is because they didn't have any other prospects. And in the end, once they got into the war, it was a kind of "band of brothers" thing." - from a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Ellis who wrote the excellent book, "His Excellency: George Washington"

There are other people a plenty, who through various wars throughout American history, have not gotten the attention they deserve. OSS, CIA and other special agencies come to mind in this arena. When these individuals get our nation's highest medals and honors, they are kept secret; in the case of the CIA, hard copy of these awards are never to leave the building. They may never be heard of, but we know they are there, they know they are there and have been rewarded for their efforts, albeit sometimes, after their demise in the field.

Outside of these clandestine operators, there are also plenty of special and normal forces who have not and will not receive recognition. So when it comes to mind who these are or those who deserve and have not been given even passing recognition for their sacrifices, it makes sense to bring their story to light and perhaps, give them if only postmortem commendations, if not by individual, then by unit. The Fighting Irish come to mind.

I believe this core group of soldiers deserves this kind of recognition, even if at such a temporal distance from their actions, because we need to know who those are who have given so much, that has gone on to serve so much for so many; across our nation and across the world.

Cheers! To those core soldiers of the first American Continental Army.

See also:
Black soldiers in the Revolutionary War
The Fighting 69th