Thursday, October 20, 2016

Looking Out (Oct 2016)

Autumn 2016

A couple of photos, near my writing space, of a few of the green houseplants residing with me inside my residence. These include two philodendrons, a dieffenbachia and an African violet (Saintpaulias). The last photo, a northwestern view, shows the large public park with its changing Autumn foliage. Lots of reds and golds are in view, contrasting with the blue sky; some would define it as more of an azure sky. These photos were taken last week; and even looking at them today provides me a different impression, one that is influenced by both my experiences today and by the cumulative ones that preceded it. Both memories are real; both memories are valid. It is always inspiring to look out after a long period of introspection. One can easily see that too much solitude can lead to malnourishment of the soul.

All Photos: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bob Dylan: Hurricane (1975)

One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs (co-written by Jacques Levy)—in a catalog that has many great songs—is dedicated to the case of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer falsely accused and framed for the 1966 triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. Racism played a prominent role in Carter’s arrest, prosecution and incarceration, which Dylan makes clear in the song. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I can still remember hearing the song for the first time in late 1975, when it was released as a single, and how much it stirred a passion for justice. So it remains, as it should. (You can hear another version, with Emmylou Harris singing backup, [here].)

It, the song, is the first track on the album Desire, which was released in January 1976, Wikipedia says, “making the Carter case known to a broad public. ‘Hurricane’ is credited with harnessing popular support to Carter’s defense.” Carter was freed in 1985 after spending almost 20 years in prison. Soon after he moved to Toronto. Rubin Carter died of prostrate cancer on April 20, 2014; he was 76.

I saw Bob Dylan in concert at the (old) Montreal forum on October 30, 1981, when he and his music showed definite influences of Christianity. For some, this was Dylan’s dark age of music creativity, but I disagree. The opening song of this concert was “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979), which is as true as it was then and is as good as it gets in the department of creativity. In a simple word, the song is “masterful.” This song can never get old, since its meaning forever stays young.

The story of Dylan and his search into both Christianity and Hasidism (to wit, the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Judaism) has already been told and analysed, and is not worth recounting here. Only his intimates know some of the story; only the people that were there during the time can ascertain what happened. Even so, this does not mean that they do “know;” only Dylan himself knows and appreciates the complete story. Others can only speculate, What we do know is that Dylan’s music changed then, and that he had a spiritual experience or awakening, which is not a bad thing but always a good thing.

Like many searchers, myself included, Dylan wants to find his place.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

T-Cell Cancer Therapies: Greater Scrutiny Required

Cancer Research

Dividing Lymphoma Cells: The thinking is that these can be destroyed by CAR-T therapy.
Image Credit: Steve Gschmeissner; SPL
Source: Nature

An article, by Hedi Ledford, in Nature shows how difficult it is to meet the public expectations for emerging new therapies to treat cancer. One of the most promising (and perhaps over-hyped) is an immunotherapy, where the body's T-cells are used to fight cancer. While it has been successful in particular cancers, it has also resulted in human deaths in others.

The central issue is how to both effectively and safely use such newer therapies, which don't have the proven track record of conventional cancer therapies like chemotherapy, which have been around for decades. Oncologists know all of chemo's side effects. This is hardly the case with the newer therapies that use the body’s T-cells.

One such example is known as CAR-T, which is an acronym for chimeric antigen receptors T-cell therapy.  The National Cancer Institute describes it in the following way: “After collection, the T cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs are proteins that allow the T cells to recognize a specific protein (antigen) on tumor cells. These engineered CAR T cells are then grown in the laboratory until they number in the billions.”

In “Safety concerns blight promising cancer therapy” (October 12, 2016), Ledford writes:
But progress of the therapy, called CAR-T, has been marred by its toxicity; several deaths have been reported in clinical trials. Even as the first company readies its application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — expected by the end of the year — researchers are hard at work to make the supercharged T cells safer.
Doing so is crucial to expanding the use of the therapy to more people, says Anthony Walker, a managing partner at Alacrita, a consulting firm in London. “Right now it is heroic medicine,” he says — a gruelling treatment deployed only in people for whom all else has failed. “Patients are taken sometimes to within an inch of their lives.”
Most CAR-T procedures begin by harvesting a patient’s white blood cells and sifting out the T cells. Those T cells are engineered to recognize cancer cells, and then infused into the patient, ready to do battle. The approach has shown remarkable success against leukaemias and lymphomas: in one study, all traces of leukaemia disappeared in 90% of the patients who received the treatment (S. L. Maude et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 371, 1507–1517; 2014).
A promise is only as good as its ability to be fulfilled. The jury is still out on immunotherapies like CAR-T, and it will take time. Even if the FDA starts approving such therapies, it will take years of real-life data to see if it is indeed effective and safe for the majority of patients. It is true that all therapies have some risk, but it ought to be an acceptable risk, This is the primary role of the FDA, is it not?

During my last visit, when I questioned my oncologist, who is also a medical researcher, on whether immunotherapy was ready to replace conventional therapies like chemotherapy, he said not yet, adding that there was a great deal of hype surrounding much of cancer research announcements—where it is difficult to ascertain fact from fiction. Well, if truth be told, so much and too much in America is bathed in hype, notably if there is money or commercial investment involved.

There is a valley of difference between hype and hope, where the latter is based on bettering the human condition for the greatest number of people. One wonders how important patient interests are when compared to others that have more tangible rewards. Let’s hope that the FDA does not rush things just to line the pockets of a few. It would be far better if they are guided by the ethical principals of beneficence.

For more, go to [Nature]

Monday, October 17, 2016

Large Tourist Cruise Ships Threaten Venice’s History

Photo Of The Week

Gondolas & Cruise Ships: The traditional gondolas contrast with the large cruise ships that bring more tourists to beautiful Venice, whose success as a tourist attraction could lead to its undoing. So says author Salvatore Settis, an internationally renowned art historian, who writes in If Venice Dies, that the tourist ships “may permanently damage the city’s history.” Simon Worrall writes the following for National Geographic: “Venetians are being driven out of the city by skyrocketing rent while giant cruise ships dwarf the skyline, risking a disaster like the Costa Concordia, the boat that sank off the Tuscan coast. There’s even talk of building a Venice theme park just outside the city. ” Settis argues, among other things, that a city cannot live only on tourism, that such large cruise ships disturb the aesthetic harmony of the city and, perhaps most important, Venice is too important a historical city to be forgotten. It’s not only important for Venetians, but also for humanity.
Photo Credit: Education Images, UIG: Getty Images
Source: NatGeo

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sammy Davis Jr. Entertains Germany (1985)

Sammy Davis Jr. [1925–1990; born Samuel George “Sammy” Davis Jr. in Harlem, New York City, NY] performs at the grand opening of Casino Hohensyburg (Spielbank) in Dortmund, Germany, on June 28, 1985. He was called “Mr. Entertainment,” but such titles are used only as a descriptive term to remind people of what an individual does and not necessarily what motivates him. It is undoubtedly evident that he was an entertainer’s entertainer; he could sing, he could dance; he could act. But he was also a man who understood his humble roots and what it meant to achieve success in the performance of something good when many others could not or did not. It is not always easy to find your place; it is even harder to maintain it. Sammy Davis Jr. died, aged 64, of throat cancer. For more, go to [SammyDavisJr.]

Song List
  1. Where or when
  2. New York, New York
  3. What I did for love
  4. Candy Man
  5. I´m singing in the rain
  6. What kind of fool am I
  7. The lady is a tramp
  8. Improvisation / I´ve got you under my skin
  9. I´ve gotta be me
  10. For once in my life
  11. As time goes by
  12. Mr. Bojangles
  13. Interview (1971)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Nobel Prizes (2016)

The Winners

Past Winners: The Nobel Prizes were created by Alfred Nobel for promoting outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace. In his will, he dictated that most of his fortune should be used, the Nobel Prize organization says, for prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”
Image Credit & Source:

Each year at this time (i.e., early October), Nobel Prizes are awarded, still considered the most prestigious international award in recognition of individual achievement; these awards were stipulated in the will of Alfred Nobel [1833–1896], the Swedish industrialist and inventor. The first ceremony was held in 1901. There are six prizes, the one for Economic Sciences was added in 1968. The winners this year, their ages in parenthesis, in each category and in order of announcement, are as follows:

Medicine or Physiology (Monday October 3rd): Yoshinori Ohsumi (71), the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet says, “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.” Yoshinori. Ohsumi is born in Japan and conducted his research at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan.
For more, see [NYT].

Physics (Tuesday October 4th):  David J. Thouless (82), F. Duncan M. Haldane (65) and J. Michael Kosterlitz (74), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says, “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” The trio were all born in Britain, but conducted their research in the United States. David J. Thouless is Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA; F. Duncan M. Haldane, is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Princeton University, NJ, USA; and J. Michael Kosterlitz,is the  Harrison E. Farnsworth Professor of Physics at Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
For more, see [Nature].

Chemistry (Wednesday October 5th): Jean-Pierre Sauvage (71), Sir J Fraser Stoddart (74) and Bernard L Feringa (65)the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says,“for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.” Jean-Pierre Sauvage is Professor Emeritus at the University of Strasbourg, France; Sir J. Fraser Stoddart is Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; and Bernard L. Feringa is Professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Suuvage is born in France; Stoddart in Scotland; and Feringa in the Netherlands.
For more, see [ScientAmer].

Peace (Friday October 7th): Juan Manuel Santos (65), the president of Columbia, the Norwegian Nobel Committee says, “for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220 000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process. This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.” It is important to note that Colombians voted no to the deal that President Santos signed with the Marxist rebels.
For more, see [WaPo].

Economic Sciences (Monday October 10th): Oliver Hart (68) and Bengt Holmström (67), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says, “for their contributions to contract theory.” Oliver Hart is Andrew E. Furer Professor of Economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA; and Bengt Holmström is Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics, and Professor of Economics and Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, USA. Hart is born in Britain; and Holmström in Finland.
For more, see [BostonGlobe].

Literature (Thursday October 13th): Bob Dylan (75), the Swedish Academy says, “for having created new poetic expressions with the great American song tradition.“ Dylan is an American and the singer-songwriter is considered the voice of his generation. Although his work does not fit within the conventional boundaries of literature, it seems to have, nevertheless, inspired the committee to include him as a poet and his work as poetry. It might also speak of the power (and necessity) of passionate words at a time like we are witnessing and living in now.
For more, see [NYT].

The United States (with 336) and Britain (with 117) continue to lead in the number of prizes won, (as of 2015), having the most Nobel laureates. Germany (with 98), France (with 62) and Sweden (with 32) round out the top five. Canada, the nation where I reside, is listed in the top ten and ranked ninth with 19 Nobel Laureates.

Quick Facts 
  • Awards: 573 Prizes to 900 Laureates
  • Prize categories: 6
  • Awarded women: 48
  • Awarded organizations: 23
  • Multiple Nobel Laureates: 6
  • Average age of a Laureate: 59
  • Age of youngest Laureate: 17
  • Age of oldest Laureate: 90
The awards ceremony will be held on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. The award consists of a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash prize of 8 million Swedish kroner (SEK). or about 1.2 million (Cdn). The ceremony is held concurrently in Oslo and Stockholm, the Nobel Prize site says: “Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine and Literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway. Since 1969 an additional prize has been awarded at the ceremony in Stockholm, The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which was established in 1968 on the occasion of the Riksbank's 300th anniversary.”

For more, go to [NobelPrize]

Friday, October 14, 2016

Let’s Go To ‘The Mountain’

Montreal Memories & Nostalgia

Beaver Lake Pavilion:
Photo Credit: MartinVMtl; 2008
Source: Wikipedia

One of my favourite things to do while growing up in Montreal was to play at Mont-Royal Park, or as it was often called, “the mountain.” (The highest point at the top was 233 metres (or 764 feet) above sea levelThe pavilion at Beaver Lake was one of the places where we used to go often during the 1960s. It first opened in 1961, and it was quickly “considered one of the most innovative buildings in Québec,” writes les amis de la montagne on its site.

Back then, when we lived nearby on av du Park (Park Avenue), every Sunday during the summer, my father would say in Yiddish (zal s ale geyn tsu di moutain,) “Let’s all go to the mountain.” So, when I was very young, my two brothers and I would go for a walk (for about 30 minutes) with my father and mother from our house to an area near the pavilion at Beaver Lake, where we would picnic. Later, my father would give us money for ice cream, which we would buy at the concession stand inside the pavilion.

Beaver Lake (photo below), a popular place all year round, but more so during the summer. It got its name from the discovery of beavers’ dams during the time the artificial lake was made in 1938. The lake, in the shape of a four-leaf clover, has a maximum length of 240 metres (or about 787 feet). You can see another Montreal landmark. the dome of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mont-Royal (Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royalin the background (upper corner left) behind the grove of trees. 

The oratory, Canada’s largest church, was deemed a national heritage site in 2004. The dome, the third largest of its kind in the world, is a familiar site in and around the city of Montreal. I have been inside the oratory a number of times, and found it peaceful. (I plan to elaborate more about this place in another post.) I have fond memories of seeing it as a child as we were returning home to Montreal while traveling east on Hwy 40 (Autoroute 40), part of the Trans-Canada Highway. We would take day trips to Ontario, chiefly to Ottawa or to the beaches just across the Québec–Ontario border. 

Years later, as a working adult, if I traveled by car or by taxi returning from the airport, the sight of the oratory told me I was home. I have always considered Montreal as “home,” my home, and “the mountain” as the magical place of childhood. La montagne est Montréal, ma belle ville.

Beaver Lake (Lac aux castors): 
Photo Credit & Source: Go Montreal Tourism