Saturday, October 1, 2016

It’s A Cat’s World


Felis Catus: the domestic or common house cat. Jason Daley for Smithsonian writes: “Though the first full dog genome was sequenced in 2005, it took another two years for a cat’s genome to be sequenced. And it wasn’t until 2014 when a high-quality map of this cat’s genes, an Abyssinian named Cinnamon, was finally published.”
Photo Credit: Rob Stothard; Getty Images

Today is #Caturday in the world of Internet memes, so this is another story, among many, that will help spread this meme. How apropos, since this is a story of how cats became common around the world. An article, by Jason Daley, in Smithsonian says that “evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl, from the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, presented the first comprehensive study of the spread of felines through history at a conference in Oxford.”

Cat were first found in the Middle East, spreading to eastern Mediterranean along with the farmers who domesticated the felines to keep the mice from eating their agriculture; and then thousands of years later cats migrated by sea from Egypt, where cats were revered, to Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In “New DNA Analysis Shows How Cats Spread Around the World” (September 27, 2016), Daley writes:
Geigl and her colleagues analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of 209 domestic cats found at 30 archeological sites in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The cats span human history, from the dawn of agriculture through the 18th century.
What the researchers found is that cats spread in two waves. The first explosion happened when agriculture first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, where the wild ancestors of domestic cats live. Geigl suggests that when people began storing grain, they likely attracted rodents. These rodents, in turn, likely attracted the wild cats. Early farmers may have seen the advantages of having cats control the rodent populations and encouraged them to stick around, eventually leading to domestic breeds.
The second wave of cat-spansion happened several thousand years later, explains Callaway. Geigl’s team discovered that cats with a mitochondrial lineage from Egypt began appearing in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa between the fourth century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. The team believes sailors may have begun keeping cats on ships around this time to control rodents, spreading them to port cities during trading missions. In fact, a cat with the Egyptian mitochondrial DNA was found in a Viking site in North Germany dating between 700 and 1000 A.D.
What this research has confirmed, so far, is that cats have been domesticated much longer than 4,000 years ago, which was the generally accepted belief among scientists, but archaeological digs and Geigl’s current findings tell us that cats have been living around humans for much longer—probably as long as 10,000 years ago, when humans adopted a more agricultural lifestyle in a region known as the Fertile Crescent.

As is common with dogs, there are also pedigree cats and official cat shows with awards. The International Cat Association (TICA), based in the U.S., recognizes 63 breeds of cats, it says, “from the ancient Abyssinian to the newer breeds like the Lykoi cat, and including wild looking Chausie and Bengals.” The Canadian Cat Association (CCA) lists 55 breeds, including the house cat,  On the other hand, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), also based in the U.S., recognizes only 41 breeds of cats.

Some people fancy cats; some prefer dogs as companions; there are notable and noticeable differences between the two. On a personal note, I love cats, as do many writers, including Jean Paul Sartre, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. There is a good short article in The Guardian (“Authors’ mews: writers and their cats;” November 12, 2008) on writers and the cats who reside with them. Not to say too much here that people who have resided with cats already know, but cats have an air of mystery about them; they are mystical beings.

Final note: one does not “own” a cat. The cat “adopts” the human.

For more, go to [Smithsonian]

Friday, September 30, 2016

What’s It All About, Alfie? (1966)

Memories & Nostalgia

Here is the final scene, with Alfie (Alfred “Alfie” Elkins played by Michael Caine) raising the fundamental existential human question (on love), from the British film, Alfie (1966). Why do we love? Can life have meaning without love? Is there love without forgiveness?

For an additional genuine flashback memory, Celia Black records the song, “Alfie” at Studio One of Abbey Road Studios in the autumn of 1965, overseen by Black’s regular producer, George Martin. The song, written and composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was released in January 1966, four months before the film’s release. It became a hit in the U.K. Dionne Warwick sings another fine version [here]; it was nominated for an academy award, but did not win.

The Autumn cycle of Jewish holidays begins with Rosh Hashanah (Sunday October 2nd at sundown). It is considered the Jewish New Year, so we say Shanah Tovah Umetukah (Hebrew: שנה טובה ומתוקה ), which translates as “A Good and Sweet Year.“ I wish this sentiment, along with good health, happiness and personal fulfillment, to all my friends, family and  faithful readers, both new and old; both young and young at heart; and both near and far. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Deadly Cancer And The Life-Saving Help I Got From Mesothelioma Lawyer Center

Guest Voices

Every once in a while I have a “Guest Voice” on my blog; it is usually about a subject that is typically covered on this blog. No subject is closer to my heart than cancer, and to hear the good news of someone’s recovery, especially when it is helped by kind people, as the writer of this post, Katherine Keys, explains, well, it makes my day and brings a smile to my face.When Ms. Keys contacted me, I thought that the best way of telling her story is that she tell it in the first person. This is what she has done.

by Katherine Keys

When I got the diagnosis of mesothelioma, it was a terrible shock. I was devastated. This is a type of cancer that has very poor survival rate statistically. Even for stage I mesothelioma, the median survival time is just 21 months. That meant I was supposed to have no more than two years to live, most likely. It was hard to hear, but thanks to my friends at Mesothelioma Lawyer Center, I was able to beat the odds, and it has been nine years now.

Mesothelioma: Caused by Asbestos
I was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that attacks the pleura, these thin layers of tissue that surrounds the lungs. When I got my diagnosis, I was only at stage I. Most people with this type of cancer are not so lucky. Most people are diagnosed in the later stages because it takes years, often decades, for the symptoms of mesothelioma to become severe enough for a person to go to the doctor. Even then, many people are misdiagnosed.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer, and an aggressive one. We still don’t know everything there is to know about it, but we do know that the leading risk factor is asbestos exposure. Over many years some people have inhaled the fibers from this harmful mineral. They get lodged in the lungs and pleura and cause the damage that leads to cancer. There are many more restrictions today on the use of asbestos, but this came only after thousands of people suffered from the consequences of exposure.

My Story Fighting Mesothelioma
My story starts with symptoms that seemed like the flu. I thought I had just come down with a nasty viral infection, but then the symptoms wouldn’t go away. My doctor prescribed painkillers, but they didn’t help. One day the pain in my chest and lungs was too much to bear and I ended up in the emergency room. I was just 49 years old when I received the diagnosis right there in the emergency room that I had cancer.

Given just about two years to live, I was not prepared to accept that prognosis. I felt young enough to fight this cancer, especially since it was only at stage I. That meant it had not yet spread very far, so treatments could get it under control if we were aggressive enough.

I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy, a radical surgical procedure that removed my entire right lung as well as the pleura surrounding it. I was left with just one lung, months of recovery to go, and radiation treatment to target any remaining cancer cells. The results were amazing; the cancer was gone. I now get checked out once a year, and every year I hear the wonderful news that the cancer has not returned. I am in pain sometimes and my one lung gives me some limitations, but I get to live and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Working with Mesothelioma Lawyer Center
One thing I am especially grateful for is the help I got from Mesothelioma Lawyer Center. The kind and compassionate people there always made me feel special and provided me with the information and contacts I needed to understand my cancer and get the treatment that saved my life. They are the reason that I am here today and able to share my story of hope with others.

Mesothelioma Lawyer Center provides a wealth of information, thoroughly researched, that helps mesothelioma patients feel more confident seeing doctors and lawyers about their illnesses. They also help patients find experienced lawyers who specialize in helping asbestos victims file lawsuits and get the justice and compensation they deserve after being unknowingly exposed to this poisonous mineral. I encourage anyone who has received this terrible diagnosis to let Mesothelioma Lawer Center give them information and options. It’s what saved my life.

Katherine Keys has been fighting Mesothelioma for 9 years. When she was first diagnosed at the age of 49, doctors told her she had less than 2 years to live. Katherine refused to believe her time was limited and instead decided to fight the cancer. Katherine is convinced that it was her positive attitude and determination to win that has allowed her to survive against the odds. 

For treatment, Katherine had her right lung and the lining of the lung removed, a major surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). After several months of recovery, Katherine began radiation treatments. She had treatments five times per week for several months. Although she had been scheduled for chemotherapy treatments, she was relieved to learn that she didn’t have to have them.

Today, Katherine feels blessed to be able to spend time with her family and share her story with other people living with mesothelioma. While she has been through a lot and is still challenged by physical pain and limitations after having a lung removed, Katherine sees every day as a gift. She hopes her story brings resilience and positivity to people living with mesothelioma.

Copyright ©2016. Katherine Keys. All Rights Reserved. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Presence Of God In Our Human Consciousness

Science & Religion

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
—Psalm 19:1, KJV

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.
The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.”

Albert Einstein, “Moral Decay” (1937); 
later published in Out of My Later Years (1950)

The Heavens: There might be a valid reason why so many of us enjoy looking at the night sky, enjoy images of our solar system and beyond, enjoy looking upward and outward. It’s curiosity, to be sure, but it might be much more. Carl Sagan said:  “To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.” —Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), Ed. Tom Head, p. 70.
Photo Credit: Beth Hoeckel
SourceThe Atlantic

One of the best novels of the 19th century (and of the modern era) is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866). It speaks about the great themes of humanity: love, forgiveness and redemption. It is by all accounts one of the greatest Christian novels ever written. It is easier to apprehend if you have read the Bible. Now, reading the Bible is not the same as understanding it, but it is a good start.

Although I am a man of Jewish upbringing, along with the Jewish Bible, I have read the complete Christian Bible a number of times. I have studied it and I am better for it. I have also read all the works by Dostoevsky, who brought his understanding of the human condition into novel form. His understanding was informed by his Christianity. Dostoevsky was not alone among 19th century Russian writers, nor among writers in general. The search for transcendence was common, and writers of all religions sought to understand the great existential question of Life, even as scientific knowledge was increasing.

But with knowledge comes sorrow, or to put it another way an understanding that knowledge is without end. It is limitless, just as is infinity. Just as humans have problems with mathematical infinity, we have problems living with the idea of infinite knowledge. Which brings me to a personal essay, by Jack Miles, in The Atlantic on why our human belief in God persists. In “Why God Will Not Die” (December 2014), Miles writes about the existential question of coping with the limits of human knowledge:
And how do we cope with that? However we cope with our ignorance, we cannot, by definition, call the coping knowledge. What do we call it? Let’s not give it a name, not even the name religion; the dilemma precedes religion and irreligion alike. But if we can concede that religion is among the ways that humankind has coped with the permanence and imponderability of human ignorance, then we may discover at least a new freedom to conduct comparisons. If we grant that we must all somehow go beyond our knowledge in order to come to enough closure to get on with the living of our lives, then how do religious modes of doing just that compare with irreligious modes? Since the challenge is practical rather than theoretical, the comparison should be of practices and outcomes rather than of theories and premises—yet the hope must be for a reasonable way of coping with the impossibility of our ever living a perfectly rational life.
As I have written before a number of times, science digs deeper and in searching for answers, raises more questions. This is particularly true in theoretical physics and in cosmology. Some very weird stuff, phenomena if you will, is going on. I am sure that scientists will eventually come up with some explanation; I am also sure that this will lead to further questions. And so on.

There remains a great divide between Science and Religion—and a lot of hostility and suspicion directed at the “other side”—but it is chiefly based on ignorance emanating from both camps. There is also uncertainty, much of it. Science’s child, Technology, offers no answer to fundamental existential or epistemological questions; it does however offer a potential but possibly necessary distraction from reality, a temporary relief from the harshness and unpredictability of life. If we are made insignificant, it might as well be a pleasurable insignificance. Even so, no one wants to believe that they are not significant. I like what Einstein said about the purpose of man’s creative forces, whether it be the arts, science or religion. It’s about being ennobled, raised up from the mire, the rubble of broken promises.
Some of us might not call ourselves “religious” and we might not regularly attend religious services, but we can still view religion in a positive way, in a positive light and see its purpose as giving some inner meaning, particularly in the midst of “trying” or “difficult” circumstances. Living a perfectly rational life is not possible, and it seems will always be so for humans. It is also true that there is (and continues to remain, even in the most hostile conditions) an abiding presence of God in our human consciousness. The ontological question of God’s existence persists. This is why Atheism is a hard position to hold; it negates the possibility of the existence of God. Doubt, encouraged by human reality, has a way of creeping in.

For more, go to [TheAtlantic]

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Picking Canada’s National Bird

Birds Of Canada

Snowy Owl: Canada does not have a national bird, and many think it’s time to have one to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation (its sesquicentennial) in 2017. Almost 50,000 Canadians voted online at the site of Canadian Geographic for their choice of a national bird, part of its National Bird Project. [Ed.I voted for the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus).] There are now five finalists, which are in order of votes: common loon, snowy owl, gray jay/whiskey jack, Canada goose and black-capped chickadee. The final choice will be made by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society; the winner will be publicly declared by its magazine in its December 2016 issue (hitting the newsstands on November 21, 2016). It is, however, ultimately up to the Canadian Parliament, and chiefly the party in power, the Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to decide the matter. For more, go to [CanadianGeographic].
Photo Credit: Joel Bissell; Muskegon Chronicle via AP
Source: CBC

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Spacesuit Of Many Colours

Photo Of The Week

Spacesuit “Courage”: Expedition 49 flight engineer Kate Rubins, aboard the International Space Station, wears a flight suit (called Courage) hand-painted by pediatric cancer patients as part of The Space Suit Art Project. The colourful flight suit was worn to raise awareness about childhood cancer and the value of art in bettering health and wellness. The CollectSpace website writes: “The unique garment was produced by ‘The Space Suit Art Project,’ a collaboration between MD Anderson, NASA Johnson Space Center and ILC Dover, a company that develops NASA spacesuits. […] Born out of the hospital's Arts in Medicine Program, which helps patients cope with cancer treatment through art, The Space Suit Art Project inspired the leaders within NASA’s space station program to support the effort with help from astronauts, scientists and engineers. The agency provided the patterns for the suits and collaborated with ILC Dover to assemble the garments.”
Photo Credit: NASA

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Glenn Gould: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 (1962)

Glann Gould plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, opus 15, with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by  Leonard Bernstein on April 6, 1962.

If it seems in the opening comments, a rare event, to be sure, that Bernstein is distancing himself from Gould, in a sort of betrayal, it is not so Bernstein said, who considered Gould a close friend. In this excerpt from “Glenn Gould Variations–By Himself and His Friends” (1983), edited with an introduction by John McGreevy, Bernstein gives his explanation, which is also found on the Leonard Bernstein site (“The Truth About a Legend”):
So I went out, read these few notes, and said, “This is gonna be different, folks. And it's going to be very special. This is the Glenn Gould Brahms concerto.” Out he came, and indeed he played it exactly the way he had rehearsed it, and wonderfully too. The great miracle was that nobody left, because of course it had become such a thing to listen to. The house came down, although, if I remember correctly, it took well over an hour to play. It was very exciting. I never loved him more.
The result in the papers, especially the New York Times, was that I had betrayed my colleague. Little did they know—though I believe I did say so to the audience—that I had done this with Glenn's encouragement. They just assumed that I had sold him down the river by coming out first to disclaim his interpretation. It was, on the contrary, a way of educating the audience as part of Thursday night's procedure. All this was not only misunderstood, but repeated and repeated and multiplied exponentially by every other newspaper that wrote about it.

Then Harold Schonberg, the ex-chief critic of the Times who wrote the infamous review, wrote a Sunday piece in the form of a letter to “Dear Ossip”— Gabrilovitch, I assume. “Dear Ossip, you vill nyever guess vat last night in Carnyegie Hall hhappent!” sort of thing. The piece was based on this notion of betrayal. He has never let that notion die, and because it’s so juicy it has undergone a kind of propagation all over the world. However, the “juicy” part is what did not happen. (For me, the juicy part is what did happen.) Of course, a defense is very weak, once a legend is born. It’s rather like the Radical Chic Black Panther legend, which I can never seem to set straight. I have the feeling, even now, that trying to make this story about Glenn clear by telling the truth can’t really erase the now legendary, but false, version.
We can always try to set the record straight, never an easy task when legends of the mind take hold.