Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! -

It's off to work we go. My pen has been hired again for a quick turn-around assignment and as usual I hope to spend part of my weekend with The Viking, so I'm posting now instead of on Friday. My son-in-law has also been hired. He has a contract position that will require a lot of travel and he leaves for the U.S. today. I'm happy for him. I'm also glad that I have a paying gig. A little extra cash is always good especially when I'll be spending a big chunk from a small pile. (see next para).

I need to finish my assignment early because on Tuesday a new furnace and air conditioning unit will be installed at my place. It's likely I'll have no electricity, which means no heat and no computer access, and no water for most of the day. Then it will definitely be time for the oft-postponed major spring cleaning that will include sorting through my paper piles. A task that will likely take longer than any of the other cleaning chores.

In other news, Peter Milliken, (Speaker of the House of Commons) has ruled that the will of parliament trumps the Prime Minister's desire to prevent documents re the treatment of Afghan detainees from being examined. The Speaker's decision is correct but what action will be taken? I guess we will find out in two weeks, or perhaps sooner if an agreement can be reached. I hae me doots - but should the true spirit of parliamentary cooperation arise, I'll be happily surprised.

I wish you all a productive week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Eternity Soup

That's the intriguing title of a book by Greg Critser. The full title is Eternity Soup, Inside the Quest to End Aging, published by Harmony Books,New York, 2010. Critser is also the author of Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World and, Generation RX: How Prescription Drugs are Altering American Lives, Minds and Bodies.

First of all, I have to tell you, in case you're not 200 percent sure, that there is no way to escape The End. Everybody dies. It's a natural event. However, there is a huge anti-aging industry, particularly in the U.S., that wants to deny, or at least delay, the inevitable and Critser presents information about the latest theories and treatments.

Because I studied gerontology, because I spent a lot of my career working with seniors, and because my joints refuse to obey me in the morning; I wanted to know if there was anything new and beneficial out there.

Possibly there is, but there are also a lot of weird and not-so-attractive ideas. For example, there's a group called the Caloric Restriction society. They believe in eating as little as possible to sustain life and they talk a lot about beneficial changes to their biochemistry. They also say that the always-hungry feeling goes away after a while and they live longer. I don't know but I tend to agree with the author who says:
"Do you want your extended life to be a life, or not? There had to be a better way than the cold way. The hungry way. The flat-ass, no-sex way."

So, what about hormone supplements like testosterone, estrogen, and even human growth hormones and other types of supplements? The uses of testosterone and estrogen are well known, but human growth hormones? Some research shows that HGH may improve bone and tissue mass and slow some affects of aging, but other research doesn't support it. There is a big new medical supplement industry and American doctors mostly get paid in cash to compound these supplements because they aren't often funded by HMO's. Lots of doctors attend seminars to find out how to jump on this cash cow/er bandwagon.

Did you know there is an American Association of Anti-Aging Medicine? Many of the members are corporations with products to sell of course. Including Earthing Solutions, a company that sells "Barefoot Connections" a device which "helps the earth's electric field transfer easily to the body", and another company that sells colon hydrotherapy stations. Egad! Then there are the doctor purveyors of hormones , lots and lots of hormones.

Can we replace and rejuvenate worn out parts of ourselves? We already can do some things. Maybe someday we can make new kidneys using cells from our own body. That would be tissue engineering. Critser provides a lot of detailed information on what researchers are doing in this area. Stem cells, which can become any kind of tissue are key, because the number of stem cells decreases with age. What if we could age more slowly at the cellular level. Could that extend our healthy time and our life span?

Some scientists note that "when single genes are changed, animals that should be old stay young. In humans, these mutants would be analogous to a ninety-year-old who looks and feels forty-five. On this basis we begin to think of aging as a disease that can be cured, or at least postponed." Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge cell biologist got a lot of press for his view that aging is a disease that - "kills fucking 1000,000 people world wide and I want to stop it." Frankly, I think that's nonsense.

The book gets technically more and more complicated as it examines engineering approaches to fixing aging and playing with regenerating neural connections and using liquid peptides for repairs.

Perhaps the life-span of people in the most developed and richest countries of the world will increase, but one of the most important issues of aging that is scarcely mentioned in the book, until the end, is loss.

Maybe it's my non-scientific, interest in all the extremely important psycho-social issues that leads me to believe an essential part of what makes us live longer and happier lives has been left out of the book until close to the end. We have a primal need to be connected to other people.

In conclusion, I have no desire to live forever, but if some of my words survive me, I will be content.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Think About Ice Cream

We have had beautiful spring weather here in the Kitchener area. It was so warm that the magnolia trees opened. They are showing off their pink and white blossoms, and blushing like the virginal maids of yore. It was 26 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday afternoon. Male teenagers on skateboards cruised down the main drag and so did old guys in BMW convertibles. Very young women in pedal pushers (oops! cropped pants) and navel-baring tops sauntered along and pretended not to notice their admirers.

I was accosted by an ice cream parlour. Usually, I walk on the other side of the street, but due to road construction I was trapped on the sidewalk in front of the store. The sign winked at me salaciously and I was tempted. I tried to resist, but I my feet had a will of their own. They wanted me to sit down. Did I tell you that the store sells all-natural hand-made ice cream? And, did I tell you that my daughter works for local veterinary firm? What could I do? I had to support the dairy farmers. I ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips and cherries in it. I savoured every spoonful and scraped the dish. I would have licked it too, but I was sitting in the front of the store and there were other people around.

Maybe there's a lesson for me. If I do my best not to think about writing, I may end up writing something new.

What's on your - don't think about it - list?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Face it - How Tolerant Are We?

I'm prompted to ask myself how tolerant I am, how tolerant the average Canadian is , and when and if we should not tolerate differences. Over the last few days I've thought about this a lot. Why? Because the province of Quebec is introducing Bill 94. This legislation will require that people uncover their faces for purposes of "security, communication and identification," when they want to receive government services (schools and universities included). The bill does not mention the niqab or the burka; however, Muslims who wear them are the group who would be affected and, I suppose, anyone wearing a balaclava. From what I have read, there are not a lot of Muslim women in Quebec who would have to adjust to the proposed changes. I don't think the number matters, although it has been argued that since the legislation would impact only a few women, they should be accommodated instead of changing the law.

I understand the reason for wearing a head scarf/hijab and the reason some Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs. And, I can understand being made to wear a head covering when singing in a Catholic church as a sign of respect for another religion (yes, it was a long time ago). But concealing one's face with a niqab is not a religious requirement, nor is wearing a burka.

The burka with an eye screen completely effaces a person and frankly, I find that spooky. I don't know who is in there. And, I don't understand why any woman would voluntarily make such a choice. Modesty is one thing - complete abdication of individuality is another. The nijab is only marginally less self-negating. Also, maybe because I lived in a big city for so long, I am more conscious of security matters. A garment that conceals everything is the perfect place to hide things and, it should be noted, the perfect way to blame Muslims for an attack. I'm sure there are many ways to obtain a burka. Paranoia, too much imagination? - perhaps.

It's interesting that The Canadian Muslim Congress supports the proposed legislation. The Quebec government argues that the law would not contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights, but some lawyers say that it will.

It seems to me that makes sense to know who the government is giving services to and most of us rely on our vision to help us make decisions. Does this mean there are limits to multicultural tolerance? It may. I wonder if David Lepofsky, a well-known lawyer who often comments on rights issues and who happens to be blind, will comment on this issue.

What do you think?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Wondrously Made

This afternoon, The Viking and I went to see Bodies, The Exhibition, which is currently on at The Museum (formerly The Children's Museum) in downtown Kitchener. We were amazed. If the exhibition ever travels to your city, then make sure to see it. I know a reasonable amount about what is inside of us, but when I saw the bodies and parts of bodies, I was almost dumbstruck by their beauty. So many many intricate parts and somehow, when they are all working, we never think about them.

And when things go wrong, as they did for my brother, what we have learned about the body helps us to repair it. The fix can be complicated and isn't always permanent, but there are so many more options now. My brother, who had massive surgery and other fixes applied to him, is fairly stable at the moment and has even gained a bit of weight. Of course his strong will, and his steadfast faith also help him and healing thoughts and prayers from his family and friends play their part too.

We are indeed wondrously made.