The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Although I usually refrain from discussing my health problems on this forum, I’m gonna break that rule a bit and tell you about my recent colonoscopy. Yea, I finally had one. I’m 53, and my doctor was lobbying pretty hard for me to get my entrails checked out. What pushed it over the top for me was the fact that a friend (an older guy, admittedly) recently went in for his first one, and they found colon cancer. (So far he’s holding up well, determined to beat it; I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.)

Actually, there’s not much for me to tell about the colonoscopy itself, other than it went well. Nothing bad was found (thank goodness!); and more interestingly, my gastro guy’s last name starts with a Z. So yes, I had Doctor Z driving an endoscope up my butt.

Still, most of the story here is about the preparation phase. That’s the part that everyone hates.

While “getting up my courage” to finally have the procedure done, I read a number of people’s experiences posted on various web sites. And that all helped me to take the plunge. So I’m gonna say a few things about my own preparation experience, in hope that it might help someone else who is nervous about getting a colonoscopy. Everyone’s experience of a colonoscopy is different, but the bottom line is that you CAN get thru it and that it IS worth the trouble.

Doctor Z’s preparation rules were fairly simple, compared to some others that I’ve read about on the web: you finish breakfast the day before by 9AM, then eat nothing after that. You continue to drink water, clear juices, broth, tea and clear soda until midnight. From midnight until after you’ve had the thing done, no food OR liquid. For the clean-out, Dr. Z prescribed two (relatively) heavy doses of phospho-soda laxative mixed with ginger ale, four hours apart.

Well, I got thru the first phospho-soda batch pretty well. I kept my nose closed while drinking it, but it really didn’t seem so bad. After an hour or so, a lot of colon cleaning got done. Around 5 PM, I downed the second laxative cocktail. By 5:30, the waterfalls had started, but I was disheartened by it. There were still a lot of food particles mixed in, including some black shapes from the skin of a piece of baked squash that I ate the day before (which was probably baked a little too much).

Oh no, I thought. Dr. Z would see the black particles that didn’t come out and get mad, and would make me do it all over again. So I decided to chug down as much water as possible, and thus maximize the final clean-out. At one point I was literally gulping water into me while it was shooting out the other end. I was doing a real power-wash of my intestines. My final sitting occurred just after 6PM, and I was a bit confused. There weren’t any more black pieces in the liquid, but there were still a few very small food bits, and they were rather translucent. Was that good enough?

I didn’t quite realize just then that my body was headed for a crash. I may have had a sip of juice at that point, but it wasn’t enough. I soon became disoriented and fearful. With 20/20 hindsight, I should have made a cup of tea as to have bought time, when I could have drank enough sweet stuff to have stayed out of la-la land. But by 8:30, I couldn’t figure out what to do. I got scared. Then my stomach got upset and I tried to heave; only bile and acid came up. Yuck. I slept on and off throughout the night, waking up quite sure that I couldn’t go thru with the whole thing. I was tempted to pick up the phone and call Dr. Z’s line as to tell him that I was canceling. Somehow I decided to hold off until morning, but I was sure that I would die if I tried to have a colonoscopy in this condition.

Well, morning arrived, and the daylight made me feel a little bit better. Not great, but just enough to get on with the show. Still, it was only about 30 minutes before my brother was to pick me up when I finally decided not to cancel. I was unwashed and unshaven, but what the heck. They’d have to take me as I was.

When I got to Dr. Z’s den of endoscopy, I was just coherent enough to get thru the check-in and preparation rituals. Everyone there was very nice (despite my unkempt condition), and that helped immensely. My brother didn’t say anything brilliant to me on the drive over, but I got the sense that he knew that I could get thru it. So yea, I needed that last minute human encouragement to finally do the deed.

And, as I said before, the whole thing came to a happy ending. Dr. Z said to me afterwards that I did a very good prep job. I later found out why that was important. There have been studies indicating that colonoscopies aren’t 100% perfect. There is a small chance (as in any medical procedure, really) that something bad will not be picked up. I recently read one of those studies on a web site, and it speculated that if the preparation job wasn’t really clean and some food particles still lined parts of the colon, a “bad thing” (polyp, neoplasma, whatever) could be covered up and passed over. And you don’t want that.

Well, I’m not a doctor and I’m not trying to give out any medical advice here. I’m just telling you about my own experience. Still, I would suggest that if and when you have a colonoscopy, you should discuss the importance of doing a clean and thorough preparation with your doctor beforehand. Doing a “power wash” at the end like I did may not be right for you (although when I have to do it again I’ll try to be ready for the ensuing “crash”). Maybe it’s better to change your diet in the last few days before the procedure as to help make the clean-out go better. Or doing a follow-up butt enema? Again, it’s all something to talk about with your doctor; let her or him give you the best advice for your specific situation.

But do have it done if you are getting near 50 (or earlier if you have a family history or other relevant problems). As my friend tells me, colon cancer really does happen, and colonoscopies are the front-line of defense against it — if they are done in time. No matter how unpleasant, you can forget about a rough colonoscopy in a few days (as I’m already starting to do). But colon cancer is a drag that goes on and on (although a lot of people do eventually beat it, or at least learn to live with it). As much as I hate to say it — LISTEN TO YOUR DOCTOR!

(And then actually consider following his or her orders.)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:33 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 24, 2006
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THERE’S KITSCH AROUND THE CORNER: I didn’t become aware of the Thomas Kinkade phenomenon until lately, when I noticed that a small Kinkade litho print that my brother bought for my mother’s house. Right after that, I finally noticed the Thomas Kinkade Gallery not far from my humble abode here in Northern New Jersey. So I took a walk over to it and looked in the window at the displayed artwork. It seemed a bit . . . . formulistic, shall we say. Cloyingly sentimental, perhaps. Trying a bit too hard to evoke some longing for the good old days. Just the kind of stuff that my mother likes! (Smile)

I’ve seen this kind of art before. Growing up and dwelling much of my life in the working class suburbs, I’ve come to know the cheap stuff pretty well; the sentimental Norman Rockwell knock-offs, portraits of the sea and rustic villages, the black-velvet craze of the late 70s and early 80s, etc. I once saw two big black velvets side-by-side at an outdoor market along Route 46 in Little Ferry; one was Elvis, the other was Jesus. I’m really sorry that I didn’t get a picture of that.

The interesting thing is how Kinkade, “the painter of light”, is using cutting-edge American marketing techniques to stay above the K-Mart gallery scene (and thus keep his prices up). His stuff is as mass-produced as anything I saw in the home furnishing section of Two Guys (a classic proletariat-oriented department store chain that went under in the late 70s) back when I was a kid. And yet, the Kinkade organization is convincing a whole lot of people that these things are unique, collector’ items, heirlooms, an investment. Having an exclusive gallery in “Upper Montclair”, a rather tony suburban neighborhood noted for its artistic sensibilities, certainly doesn’t hurt.

Hey, I certainly won’t begrudge people for their tastes. I’m not exactly on the cutting-edge of artistic sensibilities. I’m a sucker for sentimentality too. It just amazes me how effectively Kinkade is making a good buck on stuff that really isn’t all that different from what you can get in the Wal Mart home furnishings section. You can find lots of “light” there too!

Anyway, here are pics of the Kinkade Gallery of Upper Montclair, with an autumn display theme. Note for the legal beagles, these shots were taken from a public sidewalk, where the US Constitution says that everything (other than perhaps a top-secret stealth bomber at an air base somehow visible from a highway) is fair game for “artistic expression” such as photography. Hey, my own “works of art” are hardly any less worthy than Kinkade’s, even if I haven’t found a way to make a buck off of them! Enjoy.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:07 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Public Policy ... Science ... Society ...

Most scientists have come around to the global warming hypothesis. Yes, there are still some cynics; and of course there are still the industry prostitutes who do their best to sow seeds of confusion amidst the public, so as to buy more time for the coal, oil, auto and power industries. But for the most part, experts now agree that humankind, through its release of gasses created by industrial processes, heating and transportation activities, has changed the Earth’s climate. Mother nature has incredible powers to adjust to changes, but we’ve pushed her just a bit out of her range. So, things are changing.

But exactly how much they are going to change in the future, and exactly what the consequences are going to be, are still quite uncertain. I’ve done some surface level research lately on the different scenarios for the future that various people and groups have developed, based on what is known thus far. There are a few well-respected experts who foresee major calamity by the year 2100. Perhaps the gloomiest doomsday voice right now is that of James Lovelock, the guy who came up with the Gaia theory, i.e. the Earth as a large-scale living being in and of itself.

Lovelock, in his recent book (Gaia’s Revenge), sez that we’re gonna be soggy toast; both temperatures and sea levels are going to rise so as to make most of our planet uninhabitable. Humankind will enter the 22nd Century with about half as many people as we have now, concentrated as close to the North and South Poles as possible (hmmm, then the whole world will be “Pole-ish”; sorry, bad Polish joke). Civilization will have to go by the wayside, for the most part; life will be quite Hobbsian, i.e. nasty, brutish and short. Perhaps by the 23rd Century things will cool down a bit and humankind will experience a new renaissance and a new enlightenment. Lovelock holds out hope for that.

And next we have Al Gore. He isn’t quite as gloomy as Lovelock, but he’s still plenty gloomy: 300,000 deaths a year by 2030, a million species extinct by 2050, a sea rise of 20 feet by 2100. Then there’s Jim Hansen, a climate specialist working for NASA. He thinks that if the world doesn’t drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions in ten years, bad stuff will happen. Again, he doesn’t go quite as far as Lovelock, but in one article he says that sea levels could rise by 16 feet every century between now and 2400.

The middle-of-the-road scientists are being a bit more careful. In a well-respected study released in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-related agency, a number of different scenarios were examined with varying assumptions regarding world economic growth and actions to reduce greenhouse gasses. The “middle level” scenario estimates a rise in sea levels of about 16 inches by 2100. Admittedly, 16 inches of sea rise would still reek a lot of havoc; but it would not be the show-stopper that Hansen, Gore and Lovelock anticipate. The IPCC study also discussed changing rainfall conditions that will probably cause famine, but not necessarily on a world-wide basis.

You can also find studies showing even lower estimates of sea rises; a climate model developed at the Center for Climate System Research at the University of Tokyo in 2005 indicated a 12 to 15 inch rise by 2100. So what’s a few more retaining walls? Even Holland could probably handle that! (But not New Orleans).

And just to make it all the more confusing, there’s the study done for the Pentagon in 2004, which talks about upcoming famines caused not by heating, but by rapid atmospheric cooling (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). The authors believe that the melting of the ice caps will mess up the Gulf Stream and other ocean currents such that heat from the Tropics will no longer be conveyed to northern latitudes (where most of the world’s land and people are). So the tropical regions around the Equator and the seas south of it will get hotter, while much of the middle zone (the US, Europe, Russia, north China, etc.) will become cold and dry.

There are obviously a whole lot of uncertainties here. Some scientists think that we might get another 50 to 100 years of breathing room if the sun goes into a quieter phase of its sunspot cycle; one or two even think that a new ice age will soon be upon us. (However, a number of scientists are saying that solar radiation changes from sunspots and orbital wobble aren’t nearly strong enough to overwhelm greenhouse gas effects.)

We also don’t know just how quickly the Antarctic ice cap and the Greenland ice cap are going to melt. If the West Antarctic ice sheet breaks off and melts, we’re supposedly in for a 16 foot rise in ocean levels. But it wouldn’t happen instantly. Would it take 25 years? 100 years? 500 years? No one knows . . . . . although some very recent studies indicate that the ice over Greenland and Antarctica may be melting faster than previously thought. Not good.

You can also find some smart people who say that it’s all fixable and preventable. In 2004, the Princeton Environmental Institute (affilated with Princeton University) issued a study saying that we now have the technology to hold future greenhouse gas emissions steady at today’s levels, and that if we do, nothing too bad should happen. The study seems to include some very optimistic assumptions, e.g. a 50 fold increase for wind power, a doubling of nuclear power, increased ethanol production by a factor of 50 through biomass plantations using one-sixth of the world’s croplands, double fuel efficiency of cars to 60 mpg (even hybrids don’t get that yet), decrease the number of car miles traveled by HALF, replace 1400 coal electric plants with natural gas, produce hydrogen from coal at 6 times the present rate, and sequester CO2 emmissions from 800 coal electric plants (and also from the new hydrogen plants). The study doesn’t say what this would all cost or who would pay for it. I’m not sure if it were meant to be anything more than a puff piece to lull the public into thinking that global warming need not become a political issue. After all, the study was funded by $20 million in grants from BP and Ford Motor Co.

The Princeton study still has an academic cachet about it (how could anything with the Priceton brand have anything less?). If you want to see a real down-n-dirty industry approach to public awareness regarding global warming, then check out the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I’m not sure exactly who funds this group, but whomever it is, they recently inspired CEI to produce and play some 30 second commercials on TV which try to convince us that CO2 is our friend. “Some call it pollution . . . we call it life”. You can see these commercials on CEI’s web site; if you do, note the glacier commercial, where scenes of melting ice caps are run backward! Yes, CEI would like us to think that the ice caps are un-melting somehow, and that the oceans are spitting ice back up onto the land. Sorry, CEI, but you can’t make it all
go away with a cheap visual propaganda trick. Americans can be hoodwinked pretty easily by slick commercials, but you’ve gone a step too far here in assuming viewer stupidity.

So there’s a quick summary regarding the wide range of opinions about where we are and where we’re headed with global warming. Despite all the confusion, it’s pretty clear that humankind is now facing a huge challenge. If we go on burning coal and oil as we presently do, and if China and India continue to burn increasing amounts in their attempts to leave eons of poverty behind, we know that we’re headed onto unknown turf. We’re betting the farm, quite literally. The global warming situation is a real head-scratcher. At the moment, I can’t figure out just how to wrap my mind around it. So I’m gonna leave it at this for now. Hopefully I’ll be back in a few days with some more thoughts on just how humankind can reasonably approach this situation.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:01 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Uncategorized ...

They had a computer/electronic equipment recycling day in my town yesterday. I had some junk that wasn’t working anymore, so I packed it in a box and headed down to the DPW. I was a little wary, having once gone to a County toxic junk day where you had to wait in a line with your car for almost a half hour before you could drop your stuff off (which reminded me of the gasoline lines of the late 70’s and early 80’s). But no, this went quickly. No big line; there were only two or three cars ahead of me. It was a very efficient operation, just pull up, hand the stuff over to a couple of guys who help you unload, and pull right out. Easy.

The town hired a group called Advanced Recovery, Inc. to collect and recycle the computer junk. I tried to do a search on Advanced Recovery, but couldn’t find too much. They have a web site that says they have two locations, one in Newark, NJ and one in Tennessee. I assume they are run by a bunch of for-profit capitalists. But nonetheless, I wish them well — so long as they are the real deal. I assume that they re-sell what ever is salvagable and dispose of the rest in an environmentally responsible fashion. Their locations should bring jobs to places that sorely need them. Hopefully they don’t dump electronic stuff having mercury and other toxic waste into some abandoned Appalachian coal mine (most computers and electric gizmos in your home have toxic stuff in them; thus the need for special disposal).

Capitalism can be done in an enlightened, socially beneficial manner. Unfortunately, the free-for-all nature of open market competition usually encourages companies, both big and small, to take shortcuts that often put the public in danger (defective products, cheating on pollution laws, charter bus companies that don’t fix things right and hire cowboy drivers, etc.). I just hope that Advanced Recovery Inc. stays “in the light” and avoids “the dark side” of capitalism. The guys that I saw running the show on Saturday looked like groovy people. Let’s hope that our system still allows such guys to do well by doing good.

One more thing. I read a little about the recent comments on Islam that got Pope Ratzinger (Benedict, whatever) into hot water. In my estimation, the problems that cause this kind of thing are twofold: 1.) both sides (the Islamic leaders and the Vatican) are living in the past. A sense of history is a good thing, but the Pope was quoting a 14th century document about an argument between the Byzantium Emperor and a Persian Islamic scholar. And the Muslim authorities who chastised “Il Papa” pretty much took the side of that long-dead scholar. Everyone here is living in the past. 2.) No one involved in this little affair has as much as a smidgeon of humor about it. I don’t think there’s been a pope who could relax and laugh at a joke since John the 23rd. All of his successors, including the popular John Paul II, just took it all way too seriously. And the Islamic institutions . . . . let’s not even go there.

The Pope was hinting that Islam has a bias, however small, towards jihaddist violence, given the story of Muhammed and his warrior conquests. Yea, there’s something to that. But for many Islamic people today, Islam is mostly an institutional religion that presents the old stories as a metaphor for the fervor that should accompany faith in the Almighty. And Christianity, despite the inherent peacefullness of the story of Christ, has shown over the centuries that it knows how to make war and aggression with the best of them.

For better and for worse, Christianity sited itself in areas of the world that have experienced tremendous economic growth over the past half-millenium. The Islamic lands were once prosperous from being located at the crossroads of trade between Europe, Asia and Africa. But today they’re in a slump. Christian Europe got out of its slump (the Dark Ages) after the faithful finally got restless and defied Church authority, so as to advance. The Islamic world hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. So you have two cranky institutions, the Catholic Church (which once ruled an impoverished kingdom and still hasn’t gotten over being marginalized into a mere “spiritual authority”), and Islam (which still rules a kingdom that was once rich and mighty, and hasn’t gotten over that kingdom’s fall into poverty). Neither of them are in the mood right now for laughing, turning the other cheek, and just getting on with living in modern times.

Let’s just hope that Christians and Muslims learn to laugh a bit more and not take their institutions so seriously. Both religions claim to be God’s true representative on the planet Earth. At least one of them has to be wrong. But most likely, they’re both wrong. Hey, some common ground!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:46 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, September 11, 2006
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

I’ve been reading some interesting articles lately by Ed Fredkin and Lee Smolin which imply that reality — matter, energy, and even empty space — is ultimately made up of little boxes. According to these theories, even time is not continuous; it proceeds in spurts. The boxes and spurts are extremely tiny, so we never notice them. Everything seems smooth to us. But at some point of extreme magnification, reality may well become “granular”. We could never directly “see” this granularity. It’s so tiny that even the smallest blips of energy (photons, electrons, gravitons, whatever) are relatively huge. And the only way we see anything is by bouncing these blips of energy off the thing. The little grains of reality are too small to make any difference in the way that photons (light particles) bounce.

Don’t ask what lies within the boxes in space and spurts of time. That is where reality, as far as we are concerned, ends. We can never know if there’s a creamy cupcake filling deep inside all of those little thing-a-ma-jiggies that make up space and time. All we would know is that Picasso and the other Cubist painters ultimately had the right idea.

Smolin is a main-line physicist, extremely bona fide. His work is a rigorous (though yet still unproven) extension of both Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum theory. Fredkins’ work is deeply rooted in science, but veers off into metaphysics (via the fascinating field of “complexity” and “emergence”, where high-powered mathematics and modern computer science interact). Fredkin has said (more or less) that a digital universe actually looks and acts something like a computer. Some people take him to say that as a computer, the universe is actually computing something. If that were to be true, then perhaps the answer to what life means IS truly blowing in the wind. But Fredkin cuts you off before you can accuse him of believing in God. He won’t go so far as the 18th century theologians who argued that just as a watch requires a watchmaker, an orderly universe requires an intelligent and godly creator.

If you want to continue along the digital reality spectrum into the realm of New Age speculation, the next guy to see after Fredkin would be Australian philosopher David Chalmers. Chalmers hasn’t said too much yet about digital reality, but he has put out a theory of generic consciousness that takes up from Fredkin. Fredkin talks a lot about the fundamental nature of information, and so does Chalmers. Fredkin sets up the picture of a digital universe mediating information on many different levels, from tiny, super-fast micro-events within the atom to huge, billion-year macro events between galaxies. Chalmers equates information with consciousness, and posits that different flavors of consciousness may exist on both tiny and huge scales; the human brain might not have a monopoly on consciousness according to Chalmers.

These other forms of consciousness, if they do exist, would seem very strange to us. But then again, during the last 500 years when cultures from different corners of the globe first laid eyes on each other, the feelings were quite similar (e.g., when European explorers first saw African pigmies, they had a hard time thinking they were really human; it took a lot of reflection to accept that in spite of the many differences, Englishmen and pigmies share all of the salient features of the human race).

Well, in a previous essay I said that I couldn’t dig the Chalmers view. It seemed to me that consciousness is a human brain thing. I’m still not ready to accept Chalmers’ speculation about thermostats having a form of consciousness just because they process information about their environment. But the grand arc that sweeps from the digital nature of Smolins’ “loop quantum gravity” theories (which stand a decent chance of being proved right), through Fredkins’ computerized universe ideas, proceeding across Chalmers’ bridge between information and consciousness, does inspire some huge thoughts. Perhaps the Universe is somehow conscious? And that consciousness is somehow related to our individual human consciousness? And once the techno-theologians jump in to this, does God make a comeback (in spite of Fredkin and Chalmers’ atheism)? Or maybe — are those little unbreakable, unknowable granules of space and time — are they God?

Folks, this could get very, very interesting.

PS, after I wrote this essay, I went out running. In the dark eastern sky I could see beams of light shooting up from lower Manhattan. Yea, it’s been five years since nine-eleven. Definitely a reality check.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:28 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Uncategorized ...

I’ve been all geeked out lately, which explains why I’m behind with this blog. I really was never much of a computer head, but my trusty Dell Dimension L667R is getting old (like me), and who knows how much longer it’s got (again, like me). So I decided to go on ebay and get a “lifeboat”, a second computer to keep around as a spare in case of an unexpected crash one fine day. Yea, I do eventually need to get a new computer. But with my finances currently under pressure because of my mother’s home care needs, I just don’t feel like shelling out a grand or so for something decent (yea, I see all those ads by Dell and other companies for “full systems” for less than $500; but when I finally get a new computer, I want something substantial, not an e-mail / video game toy; gonna need a Pentium processor, full business software suite, DVD burner, etc.).

So I put up $70 and bought another old Dimension L, this time an L866R (maybe 6 months younger than my venerable 667). Seemed as though it would be easy to clone the old system to the new, since I have Norton Ghost 2003. BUTTTTT, things turned out to be a bit more complex than I had figured. Well, it’s a long story, but suffice it to say that the new system has taken on a life of its own. I had to put up additional cash (another $170 worth), but now I have a Win 2K system with a CD burner, modem, network card, 80G hard drive, 384M RAM, a KVM switch to go back and forth with the original computer, and pretty much all the software I had with the old system.

Do I really need two computers? No, but it’s nice to be ready, given the degree to which I’ve come to rely on the darn thing over the past 5 years. And since I don’t have anti-virus on the new [old] computer, I can fool around with “resource-hog” programs that don’t run well on the main box, e.g. StarLogo. Once I’m finally ready to get a new system (perhaps with Windows VISTA — yuk), I’m hoping to keep at least one of the old boxes. That should qualify me for permanent geek-dom!

Interesting Article of the Week: While I was slaving over my new ancient computer, the NY Times published an article on some recent medical research that really makes you think. It’s about a series studies which all show there to be a gene that regulates stem cells in a way that makes human beings fall apart as they get older. It’s basically the old-age gene. When you’re young, your stem cells churn away to keep your muscles tight and your skin smooth and your bones and joints strong and your eyes and organs working right. But when you get old, those cells stop knocking out replacements for the worn out cells throughout your body, so your skin wrinkles and your muscles get weak and achy and your joints get rusty and your eyes and heart and everything else just don’t work very well anymore.

Well, in and of itself, that’s not surprising. But what is interesting is the finding that the same process also keeps cancer from happening. OK, it isn’t perfect; in reality, old people get cancer, much more than young people. But without this genetic process and the Ink4 protein that it produces, cancer would be much more prevalent. We’d seem to be in great shape in our 50s and 60s, but out of nowhere we’d all suddenly be dying of cancer. Hardly anyone would make it to 70. (FOOTNOTE: The latest theories about cancer say that it is caused by a series of random mutations that take place in your stem cell genes over time, maybe one mutation every 5 to 10 years. It takes a total of maybe 6 or 7 mutations to fire-up the cancer process, which makes the stem cells go into overdrive and knock out tumor cells in lieu of normal body cells. These mutations can be hastened by environmental factors such as exposure to toxic chemicals or radiation. And some people have genes that make these mutations easier and faster. But even the perfect human in the perfect environment will eventually have cell mutations. At bottom, the question of when these mutations happen is a throw of the dice. I knew a guy who unexpectedly died of leukemia in his 30s. We all tried to explain it away, e.g. he spent time in Buffalo where the water was toxic from Love Canal. But most likely, he was just unlucky; his mutation dice rolled the wrong way. So long as our stem cells kept churning away, sooner or later everyone would get cancer. But the Ink4 protein turns the stem cells down after age 40, lengthening the average time for the 5th, then 6th and 7th mutation to take place, thus putting off the start of the cancer process.)

What a crazy choice nature has given us. Option 1: stay in great shape until you are 50, maybe 60, then be absolutely assured of getting cancer. Option 2: go into a steady decline after age 40, but hold the cancer off longer (or until something else gets you). Well, actually we don’t have that choice; nature (through evolution) already made the decision. We will suffer old age, we will become weak and frail and dependent; but on average we will stay around longer. According to the Times article, medical science isn’t going to find any way around this nasty choice any time soon. The promise that stem cell research will let us live to 100 feeling like a college student all the time has taken a big setback. The dream of 80 years of hot sex has been put on ice. It’s back to reality for today’s youth. Maybe you all should go back to treating old people (like me) nice, because it turns out that you’re probably going to suffer old age too.

PS, my generation was told by science that we would travel to the Moon and Mars for vacation trips. Instead, we got personal computers. Does today’s youth believe science about stem-cell fountains of youth and pollution-less hydrogen cars? Bah, I’ll stick with what I can trust; including my old computers.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:28 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Love Lies Bleeding: The young couple living upstairs from me recently decided to take their relationship to the next step, i.e. engagement. In a burst of romantic enthusiasm, the young man decided to celebrate their commitment by decorating his SUV with professions of love. However, the remains of Hurricane Ernesto just came through town, drenching us with several inches of rain. And just as love itself is so often worn down by the storms of life, my neighbor’s windshield poetry was somewhat the worse for it all.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:08 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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