Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Come Healing (2013)

Leonard Cohen, with a beautifully sung intro by the Webb sisters (Charley and Hattie) performs “Come Healing,”at Dublin’s 02 Arena on September 12, 2013 as part of his Old Ideas world tour; it has a spiritual feeling of the need for redemption to it, a plaintive appeal—a “penitential hymn”— to the heavens to restore wholeness of body and mind (or at least some healing presence), which bears the collective burdens of its manifold experiences.

Can this song also apply to a nation’s collective consciousness, its body politic, as a call to national healing and reconciliation? Perhaps it can, but it begins with individuals.

And none of us deserving/The cruelty or the grace. What to make up of this powerful couplet, a commentary, perhaps, on the current (and past) state of world affairs? There is more than enough cruelty, and an insufficient level of grace. Whom or what is to blame

This song can be found on Live in Dublin (the ninth track on disc 1)released on December  2, 2014.

Come Healing
by Leonard Cohen & Patrick Leonard

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above

Let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim
Come healing of the altar
Come healing of the name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Do Some People Have Allergies?

Immune System

Human Response: Zimmer writes: “This picture, built up in labs over the past century, answered the ‘how?’ part of the allergies mystery. Left unanswered, however, was ‘why?’ And that’s surprising, because the question had a pretty clear answer for most parts of the immune system. Our ancestors faced a constant assault of pathogens. Natural selection favoured mutations that helped them fend off these attacks, and those mutations accumulated to produce the sophisticated defences we have today.”
Image Credit: Sam Taylor
Source: Mosaic

An article, by Carl Zimmer, in Mosaic looks at the issue of human allergies and interviews an immunologist who has a controversial, but intriguing, theory that essentially says allergies are good for us. That is, they are a long-developed and resident evolutionary response to harmful chemicals, which in some people engender equally harmful or deadly reactions. That today there exist many more harmful or toxic chemicals, many man-made, and many that did not exist 50 years ago ago, might explain why there are many more persons worldwide suffering from allergies.

For example, “Worldwide, sensitization rates to one or more common allergens among school children are currently approaching 40%-50%,” reports the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The same report says, “Worldwide, sensitization (IgE antibodies) to foreign proteins in the environment is present in up to 40% of the population.”

There are many questions on why this is so; equally important is why some persons have severe allergic reactions (sometimes fatal), while others’ reactions are comparatively mild. We are coming nearer to answering this important question, but we do not know how far we currently are from meeting this objective. We do know that in some persons, the human body’s immune system has an exaggerated, if not aggressive, response to allergens; the essential question is why this occurs? We know the mechanism of what happens; what we do not know is why some persons suffer from allergies—in some cases the response is deadly—and while others do not.

On a personal note, I for one have no known allergies; my wife, on the other hand, has asthma, and a number of allergens can cause an allergic reaction in her. Last week, we took our oldest son, aged 13, to an allergist for testing, who determined that he is highly allergic to horses, and mildly so to dandelions and maple trees. This piqued my interest on this subject.

In “Why Do We Have Allergies?” (April 7, 2015), Zimmer writes:
“That is exactly the problem I love,” Ruslan Medzhitov told me recently. “It’s very big, it’s very fundamental, and completely unknown.”
Medzhitov and I were wandering through his laboratory, which is located on the top floor of the Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education at the Yale School of Medicine. His team of postdocs and graduate students were wedged tight among man-sized tanks of oxygen and incubators full of immune cells. “It’s a mess, but a productive mess,” he said with a shrug. Medzhitov has a boxer’s face – massive, circular, with a broad, flat nose – but he spoke with a soft elegance.
Medzhitov’s mess has been exceptionally productive. Over the past 20 years, he has made fundamental discoveries about the immune system, for which he has been awarded a string of major prizes. Last year he was the first recipient of the €4 million Else Kröner Fresenius Award. And though Medzhitov hasn’t won a Nobel, many of his peers think he should have: in 2011, 26 leading immunologists wrote toNature protesting that Medzhitov’s research had been overlooked for the prize.
Now Medzhitov is turning his attention to a question that could change immunology yet again: why do we get allergies? No one has a firm answer, but what is arguably the leading theory suggests that allergies are a misfiring of a defence against parasitic worms. In the industrialised world, where such infections are rare, this system reacts in an exaggerated fashion to harmless targets, making us miserable in the process.
Medzhitov thinks that’s wrong. Allergies are not simply a biological blunder. Instead, they’re an essential defence against noxious chemicals – a defence that has served our ancestors for tens of millions of years and continues to do so today. It’s a controversial theory, Medzhitov acknowledges. But he’s also confident that history will prove him right. “I think the field will go around in that stage where there’s a lot of resistance to the idea,” he told me. “Until everybody says, ‘Oh yeah, it’s obvious. Of course it works that way.’”
Or not; as theories go, this one has its share of controversy, it not only being counter-intuitive, but going against the accepted idea that allergies are not good or in no way beneficial to humans—a sentiment shared, no doubt, by the millions of allergy sufferers. The more-accepted theory invokes a combination of genetics or hereditary factors, environmental considerations, and an obsession with hygiene. Even so, Medzhitov defends his position on the protective value of allergies, not giving it any moral weight, but a scientific one, which is dispassionate as it is based on evolutionary theory and, in particular, on natural selection and on the findings of evolutionary biology.

In Medzhitov’s case, he is not looking so much for a cure as an explanation, one being why in some people, the body's human system reacts in such a heightened manner, Zimmer writes, zeroing in on the essential question: “Instead, allergists should be learning why a minority of people turn a protective response into a hypersensitive one.” If scientists and medical researchers can find the answer to this mystery, they will understand an important piece of the puzzle of human development from an evolutionary perspective. To understand is to know with a high degree of certainty; from this point a “cure” might be in sight. What this cure might entail is now hard to say.

For more, go to [Mosaic]

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Summer's–Day Visit To The Country

Leaving The City

Eli in Action: To effectively pick strawberries, it is necessary to get down low. Our youngest has the definite height advantage in our family.

A few days ago, we all drove 40 kiolometres (25 miles) northeast of Toronto to go strawberry picking to a farm in Newmarket (Strawberry Creek Farm); we then went to have lunch at a hamburger and fries joint (The Moose Caboose) another 17 kilometres (10 miles) northeast, to Mount Albert, before heading off further north for another 20 kilometres (12 miles) to Jackson’s Point for ice cream and sherbet (Maple Leaf Dairy Bar). Over the past couple of years, we have visited Jackson’s Point a number of times. A pleasant summer-resort harbor located on Lake Simcoe, it has that small-town feel with assorted shops and a pleasant small beach where you can bring your family.

On our return home, a few hours later, while stopping for gas (at a Shell station on Hwy 48), while we were looking for a coke or soda machine, we saw this instead (see the last photo in the series). After arriving home, the fresh berries that we picked became key ingredients in a summer salad and a tasty pie. There is something wonderful stepping into Nature after being cooped up in the city for so long; the change is refreshing.

We shall return.

Sarah & Josh: There are rows and rows of strawberries that seem to go on forever. I have resisted the temptation to call this Strawberry Fields Forever.
Strawberry-Spinach Salad with mandarin orange slices. It is as delicious as it is pleasing to the eyes.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie: One of my favourites.

Good pickings: Two kilograms (4 lbs) of strawberries. Besides eating them, some of these berries went into a strawberry-spinach salad and some into a strawberry-rhubarb pie that Sarah made— both of which we enjoyed as part of our Friday evening Shabbat meal. Both the rhubarb and the spinach were purchased from this farm.

Selling Live Bait: Yes, they sell live bait here. A few dollars can buy sufficient worms for a day's fishing. We did not have the chance, however, to test out the quality of these worms. Perhaps another time.

All Photos: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Led Zeppelin: Immigrant Song

Led Zeppelin performs “Immigrant Song,” one of the British rock band’s few singles, released on November 5, 1970; it was included in their third studio album, Led Zeppelin III.

Some background information on the song, provided by Wikipedia, cites as its source Chris Welch’s 1994 book, Led Zeppelin:
The "Land of ice and snow" is Iceland, where the band played in June, 1970. Robert Plant explained: "We weren't being pompous. We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic Government on a cultural mission. We were invited to play a concert in Reykjavik and the day before we arrived all the civil servants went on strike and the gig was going to be canceled. The university prepared a concert hall for us and it was phenomenal. The response from the kids was remarkable and we had a great time. 'Immigrant Song' was about that trip and it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different."
It is; this song, it seems, is written from a Viking view, about land exploration and conquest with bits of Old Norse religion thrown into the mix. Immigration is a part of the legacy of many families in many places in the world, who at one time in their history travelled from one land to another in search of a better life, where there exists a mix of economic opportunity, principles of democracy and rule of law. It continues today.

Immigrant Song
by Robert Plant & Jimmy Page

Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords.

On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.

Modernizing Freud


The Machine & The Analyst: Schwartz writes: “Solms, whom I first met seven years ago  while working on a book about psychoanalysis and brain research, is a main proponent of ‘‘neuropsychoanalysis’’ — a term he coined for the attempt to bring the two disciplines of neuroscience and psychoanalysis together. In this pursuit, Solms emphasizes that Freud  envisioned a future in which brain science would one day be sophisticated enough to expand upon psycho­analytic ideas, like the power of the unconscious, the profound importance of early childhood experience and the significance of dreams. Solms argues that the day Freud awaited is now here.”
Image Credit: Jeff Riedel
Source: NYT

An article, by Casey Schwartz, in The New York Times Magazine looks at Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and how it can be used in a modern context by integrating it with what we know through the findings of advanced brain-scanning techniques like neuroimaging. Some call this new field neuropsychoanalysis

In “Tell It About Your Mother” (June 24, 2015), Schwartz writes that the idea of anyone using psychoanalysis alone sounds quaint if not counterproductive to finding answers, or more to the point, feeling better now (“the quicker the better”):
To invoke Freud and Dora today, though, is to run the risk of sounding instantly obsolete. The ideas of psychoanalysis, its very vocabulary — those familiar terms like ‘‘id, ego and superego,’’ ‘‘the Oedipus complex,’’ ‘‘penis envy,’’ ‘‘castration anxiety’’ — come across, for many, as quaint souvenirs pulled from a dusty attic. The very project of psychoanalysis — to cure through self-­awareness, through an exhaustive exploration of the patient’s unconscious mind — is increasingly at odds with what most people seem to want: to fix their problems as quickly and painlessly as possible. With millions of Americans now taking pills for depression, expecting to feel better in a matter of weeks, the concept of signing up for a psychological treatment that can stretch on for years no longer seems to make the kind of sense it used to.
Yet, talk therapy, as it is often called will not go away; it has its place in our modern society. Neither will Freud’s name and his ideas of the human mind be forgotten, no matter what modern scientists think about him and his discoveries more than a century ago. (Many are dismissive, but we do not remember their names.) The reason, I would argue, is that the human brain is different than the rest of our other organs; the brain is the seat of our thoughts, our emotions, our ideas, and as such we resist reducing it to a collection of circuitry, or neurons or neurotransmitters, or neurochemicals, etc.

It does not matter the language, or its precision, there will be resistance, at least today, to such thinking, which seems too simple to explain our complicated selves. This is not to say that the machine cannot be a tool of analysis—it can—and such tools as functional magnetic resonance imaging (f.M.R.I.)—can provide valuable information on any changes in the brain, (Technically speaking, it is a neuroimaging, or a brain mapping, technique that infers brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow.) The operative word here is changes—the so-called before and after pictures. The question to probe is what causes such changes, whether these are positive or negative, beneficial or deleterious.

For psychological problems, it is not a matter of repairing a part of the brain’s circuitry in the same way we do with other parts of our body with surgery or some other invasive therapy. Equally noteworthy, taking prescription drugs has limited effects, except for the most severest forms of depression. (I have posted a number of articles on the efficacy of anti-depressants; the results are mixed.) Psychotherapy also has better long-term results than medications like anti-depressants.

In the pursuit of understanding our human selves, science in the last few decades has entered many corridors that have essentially led to dead ends; it is embarrassing, even humbling to admit such. As is admitting that those obsolete ideas have some relevancy, some currency, if you will. We have come full circle; what is old has become new again, albeit with a different set of clothes. That, yes, there might be a place for psychoanalysis, since it does something important: it gets humans talking, which is what might be the pathway to cures in a world that is, for many. socially isolating and alienating. Depression claims the lives of too many, both young and old, and those in the middle.

I think that in 50 years, we will still be talking about Freud and his pioneering ideas of the human mind.

For more, go to [NYTMagazine]

Friday, June 26, 2015

Edwards Gardens Visit No. 3

Toronto Botanical Gardens

On our last visit to Edwards Gardens a few days ago, we did not have a chance to see the geese or the ducks who call these lovely gardens home; it was a short visit (the wind picked up and dark low clouds rolled in, possibly Cumulonimbus, threatening rain), and we elected to first spend the time near the Garden Café, where we viewed some sights previously unseen, including a water pond with goldfish (Carassius auratus), a collection of very large potted plants, and some new strikingly colourful flower arrangements.

If I spend a lot of time here, and I most assuredly do, the reasons are before you in these few photos. I hope to share more photos as the summer progresses.

Sarah From a Near Distance.

The Goldfish Pond

Large Pots Of Greenery
Pretty in Pink

All Photos: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Who By Fire (1979)

The song, “Who by Fire,” is the fourth track on side 2 of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony, which was released on August 11, 1974. In this 1979 video, Leonard Cohen gives a brief, yet essential, explanation of the song’s biblical Jewish source and meaning and, equally important, his interpretation of the source for life and for death, or as Cohen puts it, “who or what determines who lives and who dies.”

The song is based on the piyyut, or the Jewish liturgical poem, U’netanneh Tokef (“Let us declare the importance”) of which Mi bamayim, umi ba’esh (“who by water, and who by fire”) is one of the lines. It is sung on Rosh Hashanah (“New Year”) and on Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) in the Ashkenazi tradition, where it is recited during the Mussaf service, when the chazzan (or cantor) repeats the Amidah.  [You can also hear it sung in Hebrew herehere and here; all three are beautifully done.]

Who By Fire
by Leonard Cohen

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reconsidering Solitary Confinement In America

Crime & Punishment

No Human ContactAtul Gawande writes: “P.O.W.s have reported that the simple experience of isolation is as much of an ordeal as any physical abuse they have suffered.”
Image Credit: Brad Holland; the New Yorker
Source: The New Yorker

This is an excellent article, by Atul Gawande, in The New Yorker on the American prison system and the negative effects to individuals who are placed in long-term solitary confinement; in simple terms, it is an ineffective and cruel approach, and does not achieve any desirable positive result. Some would argue, rather persuasively I would add, that this is a form of psychological torture, not an easy thing to shrug off, notably if you have a developed moral sense of being.

About 80,000 persons are in solitary confinement in American prisons, where they spend 23 hours a day alone, for months or even decades in a space often no larger than  8 x 10 feet (approximately 2.5 metres by 3.0 metres)—the size of a child‘s bedroom. The U.S. is by no means the only nation using solitary confinement, but it is one where its practice is greatest. Before the 1980s, the use of solitary confinement was rare; since then, however, the increased use of solitary confinement has been considered a necessary way to maintain order, notably in large supermax prisons, which were built in the 1990s to house the worst of society’s offenders.

The “war on drugs” and a zero-tolerance policy on gang violence has increased the number of individuals incarcerated, primarily a result of judges handing down harsher prison sentences. Such was the political and social climate 30 years ago. The use of solitary confinement, however, has a much longer history in the U.S., dating to the early 1800s, writes Joel N. Shurkin for Inside Science:
The practice of completely isolating prisoners began in Pennsylvania and New York, and goes back to a theory proposed in the early 19th century, said Peter Scharff Smith, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
Quakers in Philadelphia proposed that if prisoners were kept in complete isolation, they might find redemption and rehabilitation by concentrating on their weaknesses without distraction and ultimately become closer to God. Taking up the theory, Pennsylvania built a wheel-shaped prison in Philadelphia designed to ensure that every prisoner was completely alone.
One famous visitor to this prison, called the Eastern State Penitentiary, was Charles Dickens. In 1842, he wrote in “American Notes” that life in the prison was “rigid, strict, and hopeless.” The prison is still standing but has not been used since 1971.
Yet, such a confined space can make anyone anti-social, altering his personality and behaviour in deeply negative ways. Gawande, a professor at Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard School of Public Health, writes in The New Yorker:
Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.
Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of the general population.* Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy. Many prisoners in solitary become consumed with revenge fantasies.
“There were some guards in D.D.U. who were decent guys,” Dellelo told me. They didn’t trash his room when he was let out for a shower, or try to trip him when escorting him in chains, or write him up for contraband if he kept food or a salt packet from a meal in his cell. “But some of them were evil, evil pricks.” One correctional officer became a particular obsession. Dellelo spent hours imagining cutting his head off and rolling it down the tier. “I mean, I know this is insane thinking,” he says now. Even at the time, he added, “I had a fear in the background—like how much of this am I going to be able to let go? How much is this going to affect who I am?”
He was right to worry. Everyone’s identity is socially created: it’s through your relationships that you understand yourself as a mother or a father, a teacher or an accountant, a hero or a villain. But, after years of isolation, many prisoners change in another way that Haney observed. They begin to see themselves primarily as combatants in the world, people whose identity is rooted in thwarting prison control.
All of these observations are humanly understandable, a result of long periods of involuntary social isolation. Would any of us behave any differently? Unlikely, since prisoners of war also behave similarly, as does anyone placed in a position where he or she has no control, no decision-making opportunity, and no opportunity for joy or happiness. Of course, some, particularly those who hold legalistic views, would argue that prison ought not be a place for any joy, or happiness or opportunity for rehabilitation, or mental health treatment for that matter; that such people are criminals and ought to be treated in the harshest way. That such people are in prison for crimes, and some for heinous and terrible crimes.

Even as this last sentence is true, the one preceding it is an opinion; and although it was once popular in the United States of America, it might not be right or even effective. One of the questions that society needs to ask itself is what is the purpose of prison. The simple answer is to lock up, warehouse, if you will, persons who break the law of the land. That is, to keep them away from society at large, as both a protective and punitive measure. Even so, solitary confinement is another step in further segregating prisoners—a prison within a prison—often used for breaking even the smallest rules of prison life. Again, there historically has been much support for this view, but is it effective? Does prolonged solitary confinement serve its purpose?

The answer is most assuredly “yes” if you view all individuals who contravene the law as criminals unable to be rehabilitated or redeemed. This is appropriate in accordance with the most simple and harshest reading of the biblical injunction of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” (Exodus 21:24). In Judaism, the rabbis have a more humane interpretation of Lex Talionis, or the law of retaliation, writing that monetary compensation is all that is necessary to make things right for the injured party. In more liberal and humanistic forms of Judaism, laws have changed with the changes in society, or at least as the changes apply to the Jewish People.

The view in America, which for all intents and purposes, has followed the Christian arc of thought in matters of justice, is also changing, for example, many persons are rethinking the necessity of retributive justice and the benefits of restorative justice. If it seems that little has changed in the making of public policy in America, this is not the case. Even conservative tough-on-crime states like Texas and Mississippi are rethinking the use of solitary confinement, a response to public sentiment; perhaps, the public’s appetite for severe punishment has waned, reaching its high point in the nineties.

Or on an emotional level, Americans might view law and order as necessary for a civil society, but they generally do not view themselves as cruel. Equally important of consideration are the numbers. With such a high percentage of its population behind bars, someone knows someone either currently in prison or formerly in prison; equally relevant, a large number have spent time in isolation, in solitary confinement, or as it is officially called, Administrative Segregation, or Ad Seg, Something is not right with this picture.

Not all prisoners can be rehabilitated. Some cannot be released to society at large. but most can if they receive the necessary mental-health treatment and have access to education programs. Solitary confinement works against this idea—making people worse then they were before—and likely makes prisoners more angry, more hardened, more determined to carry out their fantasies of revenge. In the end, it all depends on one’s view. If you view a percentage of these individuals behind bars, currently in solitary confinement, as human beings, often without opportunity, making bad decisions, as human beings failing to live up to their potential (see here for one example), then your view has support among Americans.

Changes to this practice are now being discussed in greater seriousness. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end of solitary confinement used as a means of punishment in America. The last word goes to Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times (“My Night In Solitary; February 20, 2014), after spending 20 hours in solitary confinement on a voluntarily basis to see and feel what it was like:
When I finally left my cell at 3 p.m., I felt even more urgency for reform. If we can’t eliminate solitary confinement, at least we can strive to greatly reduce its use. Knowing that 97 percent of inmates are ultimately returned to their communities, doing anything less would be both counterproductive and inhumane.
For more, go to [TheNewYorker]

For another excellent article, go to [JohnHopkinsMagazine]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gene Manipulation Turns Cancerous Cells Normal

Cancer Research

Colon Cancer Test: Berman of VOA News writes: “Lowe says 90 percent of colorectal tumors contain mutations that have a silenced Apc tumor suppressor gene, suggesting that reactivating the gene might cure the vast majority of colon cancer patients.”
Image Credit: AP
Source: VOA News

Here is some more good research news on the fight against cancer, in particular, on colorectal cancer. Jessica Berman writes (“Gene Reactivation Turns Colorectal Cancer into Normal Tissue”; June 18, 2015) in VOA News:
By manipulating a single gene, researchers turned cancerous colorectal cells back into normal tissue in experiments with mice. The strategy may eventually become one of the mainstays for a hard-to-treat malignancy, which kills nearly 700,000 people a year. If caught early using a screening technique called a colonoscopy, colorectal cancer is easily treated by surgery.

But once cancer spreads, it becomes very hard to conquer, according to Scott Lowe, a researcher with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Toxic chemotherapy drugs are often used in an effort to kill malignant cancerous cells. But they also kill healthy cells and many patients end up dying anyway. As the cancer evolves,
Lowe says a tumor suppressor gene called Apc becomes less active in the vast majority of patients. But his team genetically manipulated Apc with a surprising result. “The cells basically went back to normal. They didn’t die, they didn’t go away; they underwent the process of differentiation where a stem-like cancer now becomes a differentiated normal cell that seems to have many of its normal functions," said Lowe.
I was diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer in December 2012 and I have undergone chemotherapy, which does kills healthy cells as it does cancerous cells. (I am 2-½ years cancer-free, or as the medical community prefers to call it, “no evidence of disease” (NED; I am halfway to the milestone five-year mark.) I have written about the nasty and undesirable effects of chemotherapy in my cancer blog, where I have also written about the desirability of finding an effective replacement treatment for chemotherapy.

This takes scientific research, which requires both money and dedicated medical researchers. Thus, I find this news both exciting and promising. Perhaps in 20 years, we will no longer have this discussion, and we will no longer consider cancer (necessitating particular unpleasant treatment) as the dreadful disease it still remains.

For more, go to [VOANews]

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cancer: The Emperor Of All Maladies (2015)

This is the the first part of Ken Burns documentary, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, which originally aired for three nights, between March 30 and April 1, six hours in total, on the American station PBS.

The film’s producers describe the documentary as follows:
Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is a three-part, six-hour major television event on PBS presented by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, in partnership with WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in Washington, D.C. Based on the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, the series is the most comprehensive documentary on a single disease ever made. This “biography” of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment —the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms.
The creative individuals behind this initiative are Ken Burns, executive producer and series creative consultant; Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of CancerBarak Goodman, producer and director; and Laura Ziskin, co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), who died from cancer in June 2011.

The three parts are described as follows:
Episode One: Magic Bullets
The search for a “cure” for cancer is the greatest epic in the history of science. It spans centuries and continents, and is full of its share of heroes, villains and sudden vertiginous twists. This episode follows that centuries-long search, but centers on the story of Sidney Farber, who, defying conventional wisdom in the late 1940s, introduces the modern era of chemotherapy, eventually galvanizing a full-scale national “war on cancer.” Interwoven with Farber’s narrative is the contemporary story of little Olivia Blair, who at 14-months old is diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which spreads to her brain and spinal column. The film follows her as she and her parents struggle with the many hardships and decisions foisted upon a cancer patient. She remains in full remission a year after her diagnosis, but is still on her journey to finish her three-year treatment plan.

Episode Two: The Blind Men and the Elephant 
This episode picks up the story in the wake of the declaration of a “war on cancer” by Richard Nixon in 1971. Flush with optimism and awash with federal dollars, the cancer field plunges forward in search of a cure. In the lab, rapid progress is made in understanding the essential nature of the cancer cell, leading to the revolutionary discovery of the genetic basis of cancer. But at the bedside, where patients are treated, few new therapies become available, and a sense of disillusionment takes hold, leading some patients and doctors to take desperate measures. It is not until the late 1990s that the advances in research begin to translate into more precise targeted therapies with the breakthrough drugs Gleevec and Herceptin. Following the history during these fraught decades, the film intertwines the contemporary story of Dr. Lori Wilson, a surgical oncologist who is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in both breasts in 2013. Her emotional and physical struggles with the disease provide a bracing counterpoint to the historical narrative.

Episode Three: Finding the Achilles Heel 
This episode picks up the story at another moment of buoyant optimism in the cancer world: Scientists believe they have cracked the essential mystery of the malignant cell and the first targeted therapies have been developed, with the promise of many more to follow. But very quickly cancer reveals new layers of complexity and a formidable array of unforeseen defenses. In the disappointment that follows, many call for a new focus on prevention and early detection as the most promising fronts in the war on cancer. But other scientists are undeterred, and by the second decade of the 2000s their work pays off. The bewildering complexity of the cancer cell, so recently considered unassailable, yields to a more ordered picture, revealing new vulnerabilities and avenues of attack. Perhaps most exciting of all is the prospect of harnessing the human immune system to defeat cancer. This episode includes patients Doug Rogers, a 60-year-old NASCAR mechanic with melanoma, and Emily Whitehead, a six-year-old child afflicted with leukemia. Each is a pioneer in new immunotherapy treatments, which the documentary follows as their stories unfold. Both see their advanced cancers recede and are able to resume normal lives.
Cancer today is not the death sentence it once was, thanks to the men and women of modern science.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Clear & Credible Science, Please

Human Nutrition

Scientific Clarity:  Mustain writes: “Let’s be clear: Science is a tool to get us closer to truth. When food companies are paying for science, they are not paying for truth. They are paying to use science as a tool to protect or enhance their profits. Sometimes that paid-for science happens to align with the public’s interest (as we understand it so far). But if any of its findings start to threaten food industry bottom lines, it’s a safe bet that the science is going to be a lot harder to get funded. And leaders at the American Society for Nutrition know that.”
Image Credit: Patrick Mustain, for Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Source: Scientific American

An opinion piece, by Patrick Mustain, in Scientific American raises the question of whether a science journal ought to not accept corporate donations, notably from companies with which it ought to have an arm’s-length relationship, to better ensure scientific credibility and impartiality of their research findings; it also raises the broader philosophical or ethical question of whom such journals primarily serve; is it the general public or is it themselves?

The article looks at the particular case of food & nutrition and how the Food Industry both advises and influences governments and their regulatory agencies in ways that do not often benefit the consumer. Mustain, a communications manager at the international ocean conservation group Oceana, and a freelance health and science writer and digital media producer, writes:
Public health attorney Michele Simon today released an exposé on the conflicts of interest in the American Society for Nutrition. The ASN is the most prominent organization of nutrition scientists, publishes three scientific journals, including the respected American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and lays the scientific foundation for much of the dietary and nutrition policies and advice in this country.
The report details a flood of food industry influence within the organization, including membership on the ASN’s “Sustaining Partner Roundtable” ($10,000 per year). The list of 31 sustaining partners features names like McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company, and the Sugar Association. Also highlighted are conference sessions sponsored by the likes of PepsiCo, Kellogg, and the National Dairy Council. The report describes organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers Association or the Corn Refiners Association paying the ASN as much as $50,000 to host or sponsor sessions at its meetings.
Of particular concern, writes Simon, are the conflicts among the leadership of the organization. Her primary example is David Allison, who serves on the editorial board of the ASN’s prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Allison is in a position to determine which studies get published and which do not, and the list of his food industry ties is long, including gifts, grants, and contracts from the World Sugar Research Organization, the National Restaurant Association, Coca-Cola, and more.
In a world of dwindling public research dollars, is it wrong for organizations like the ASN to accept corporate money? In answer, the report, which is subtitled “Has the American Society of Nutrition Lost All Credibility?” does not mince words. And neither did Simon, when I spoke with her on the phone.
There is a lot of conflicting and confusing information surrounding the issue of health and nutrition; this explains, to some degree, why this is so. A fundamental issue is how such journals influence public policy, not so much, it seems, by basing their findings on science, but on the desire or necessity to please their corporate sponsors. Credibility is used a lot today, but perhaps not enough to convince the editors and publishers of such academic and science journals of its importance. I suspect that too many science journals are self-serving, that is, primarily serving the interests of their benefactors. Such is the public perception; and, yes, it does matter.

Equally important, there has been much reporting of late on what besmirches the reputation of such journals, including plagiarism, false and manipulated data, and, of course, corporate influence. These journals can’t have it both ways; if they want public trust and a large audience of readers, they need to gain it by restoring confidence in their findings, and in seeing that the findings are based solely on science, independent from any outside influences. (They might have to rethink the taking of corporate donations.) Otherwise, they will remain small publications that no one outside their circle reads or takes seriously.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]

The June solstice, the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere, begins today at 16:39 UTC, or at 12:39 p.m. EDT here in Toronto and in the rest of the eastern time zone. It is also Father’s Day; happy Father’s Day to all dads out there.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

We Are Wasting Good Food, The Result (Possibly) Of Evolved Human Expectations Of Beauty & Perfection

Human Consumption

Food DumpAllison Aubrey of NPR writes: “Cesar Zuniga, operations manager at the Salinas Valley municipal dump in California, points to salad greens that still have two weeks before their sell-by date. ‘Some loads ... look very fresh,’ Zuniga says. ‘We question, wow, why is this being tossed?’ ”
Photo Credit: Allison Aubrey; NPR
Source: NPR

I recently watched a short documentary (“Why does almost half of America’s food go to waste?”  June 16, 2015), produced by NPR and shown on PBS News Hour on how much produce is wasted in the United States. A large percentage, approximately 40 per cent of the food produced, never makes it to store shelves, either because consumers demand “perfect-looking” fruits and vegetables or it has a sell-by date that suggest to consumers the produce is insufficiently fresh. Some of it is donated to food banks, but the majority is destroyed.

I found this newsworthy, for I knew that supermarkets and restaurants, for example, had to throw out fruits and vegetables that were no longer fresh, but I had not known that large farms threw out produce only because it would not meet shoppers’ expectations.  

In a corresponding article in NPR (“Landfill Of Lettuce: Why Were These Greens Tossed Before Their Time? (June 16, 2015)” Allison Aubrey writes about America’s salad bowl, the Salinas Valley of California, where an estimated 70 per cent of American salad greens are grown. She visited the municipal dump, where perfectly good salad greens were evident.
At the dump, we caught up with Operations Manager Cesar Zuniga as a dump truck pulled in. It was filled to the brim with salads and other waste from nearby farms. "This one looks like a mixed load," Zuniga says. As it tipped its load, out tumbled a 15-foot heap of greens. And a lot of it looked crisp and ready to eat.
The Salinas Valley is known as America's salad bowl. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that farmers here and elsewhere around the country may over-plant by about 10 percent. "Some loads ... look very fresh," Zuniga says. "We question, wow, why is this being tossed?"
Zuniga says the load that arrived on this day is pretty typical. "This is what we see through the spring and fall months: We see a lot of food waste from the salad processing plants," he says. As we step closer to the dumped load, Zuniga picks up a bag of salad and looks at the sell-by date stamped on the package.
"What ended up here was good for [another] two weeks or so," Zuniga says.
So, why were these salad greens dumped?
We called Taylor Farms, the brand name on the bags we saw at the dump. It's one of the big salad processors in the area. In an email, Mark Campion, president of Taylor Farms Retail, told us that the "primary reason" that salad gets disposed of is that it gets too close to its "code date" — what consumers think of as the sell-by date.
"If we overrun a particular product ... it might not have enough code date for the customer to receive it," Campion said.
The bags we saw at the dump still had almost two weeks before reaching the sell-by date. But that was probably not long enough to ship them and get them onto store shelves, because grocery chains need plenty of time to sell the products while they're still fresh. "Most [grocery store] customers require 10-11 days of useable code date upon arrival at their distribution center," explains Campion.
The results are clear, Heather Hansman writes in Smithsonian:
Every year in the United States, six billion pounds of ugly fruits and veggies are wasted because they don’t meet visual standards. The unused produce sucks up 20 gallons of water per pound as it grows and releases methane as it rots in landfills after it’s been rejected. Because we’re judgmental about what we eat, all of those resources are being wasted along the food chain. 
There are some possible solutions, which do not address the issue initial source of food waste (we will discuss this issue shortly), but further down the food-distribution chain, the supermarkets, where most of us purchase food. An article in Time says that France has passed a law, which goes into effect in July 2016, making it illegal for supermarkets to discard food that is good and edible for human consumption.
A recently passed law in France will make it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food that is still edible. Starting in July 2016, French supermarkets that otherwise would have tossed out foods at or near their expiration dates—and that sometimes poured bleach on them to discourage dumpster divers from salvaging them—will be obligated to give the items to charity or farms (for animal feed) or face the possibility of fines and even jail time.
Arash Derambarsh, the French politician who rallied support for the new law, said that it was “scandalous and absurd” that so much food is wasted, often purposefully, and he hopes that the legislation sets a precedent that’s followed globally. As nutrition, environmental, and personal finance experts have noted, many food expiration dates are confusing, overly cautious, or both, and the result is that plenty of perfectly edible food (and money) is wasted. It’s been estimated that $160 billion worth of food in the U.S. alone is never actually eaten.
Would such a law work in Canada? in the United States? We are world-class food wasters, says David Mertl in Yahoo News’ blog, Daily Brew (May 26, 2015):
“North America is probably the worst of any place,” Herb Barbolet of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development, told Yahoo Canada. “The estimates are anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent but it’s very hard to really tie that down because it goes all the way from waste on the primary producer to waste on the consumer in the kitchen and everything in between.”
A 2010 report by Value Chain Management International so far seems to be the only effort to quantify food waste in Canada. An updated version released last year estimated the annual cost at $31 billion, up from $27 billion four years earlier thanks largely to better information. But that figure is based on quantifiable data, the report warns, and the true value could be as high as $100 billion if a UN Food and Agricultural formula is used that includes all the various costs that go into food production and distribution, such as energy, land, labour and machinery.
Consumers – we individual Canadians – account for 47 per cent of the waste. Some estimates value the food we toss out at about $1,000 per household each year.
In the U.S. it is an estimated $1,600 per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. For the two nations, that is an average of  between $20 and $30 a week per household, which is a small percentage of an average household’s food budget. Thus, the waste on an individual basis does not seem that high; of course, most people and families make efforts not to waste food, which is more often food in our fridge that has gone beyond being edible. Equally important, families and individuals will participate in compost programs, particularly in municipalities that have curbside collection of kitchen and yard waste.

This is a positive environmental effect, and it also makes us feel as if we are helping our planet’s survival, and doing good in some way, particularly in light of the fact that citizens of the world currently face so many more-important and -pressing problems, many of which today seem irresolvable. So, we do what we can, what is within our ability to do. The consumption of food is an emotional issue, for the very reason that it is tied in to our survival. And wasting it seems is, well, so wasteful. So sinful.

Given that supermarkets do make efforts to donate food that is still edible but near the date of expiry, they are doing their fair share. Moreover, concerning both large supermarkets and small fruit-and-vegetable stores, I am actually impressed and quite happy about the kind and variety of produce I see in store shelves. I suspect that the distribution network is quite sophisticated and generally works well. Can it be improved? Yes, in that all systems can be improved. But, it is a matter of small improvements, I suspect.

This leads us back to the source, to why farms discard a large percentage of edible fruits and vegetables. The problem, if one is to be found, is our human expectations of what food ought to look like, and, in this regard, whether we can accept the irregular shapes found in many imperfect fruits and vegetables. Can we learn to accept what we have for decades been taught not to? Can we learn that how fruits and vegetables look—in their misshapen appearance— does not influence their taste or nutritional value? Perhaps this might also lower the price of produce.

Even so, this might not be as easy as it initially sounds: price alone is insufficient to persuade consumers to change their ingrained purchasing habits. Either through the process of cultural conditioning or through an evolutionary and genetic sense of needing conformity and nearness to perfection (correlating with the aesthetics of beauty), we might reject store-bought produce that fails to meet our expectations of mathematical symmetry and beauty. This is who we have become, and it is not so much a matter of assigning blame as to find an explanation, a reason, to understand what is currently taking place in our brains and how we make human decisions.

This does not suggest that future generations might not view such matters in a different way.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Deep Purple: Child In Time (1970)

The British rock band Deep Purple performs “Child in Time,” which is the third track on the album Deep Purple in Rock, released on June 3, 1970. The band's line-up then consisted of  Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar, Ian Gillian on lead vocals, Roger Glover on bass guitar, Jon Lord on keyboards and Ian Paice on drums and percussion.

Hypnotic and mesmerizing come to mind during the middle bridge of feverish and fast guitar playing; you are drawn inside as into a black hole, a swirling vortex of energy and despair. And then there is the ensuing silence of words.

It is a song protesting against the Vietnam War in particular and all wars in general; it is a protest against the killing fields that became an everyday and acceptable reality in too many places in the world today; it is a protest against those who say war is necessary. It is a protest against killing the innocents, the children, who have no say in how they live and die; it is a protest against our apathy, our acceptance of what ought not be acceptable…morally, ethically, humanly. It is a protest against stupidity, of hatred, and of ideologies that endorse and engender both.

Are there really any just wars (jus ad bellum) of aggression? of provocation? of containment? of first strikes and of second strikes? Some people think so; some are our nations’ leaders; and humanity has in its wisdom drafted international laws for warfare (jus in bello). How does one enforce these rules when war itself is an act of aggression and destruction? Does the existence of such laws make things better, more palatable, ease our conscience? Or does it silence it completely as we go about our daily activities?

Given the destructive results of all wars, would it not make sense for all nations, the international community of nations, if you want. to work assiduously to end all wars? Ought not this be one of our most-pressing, our most urgent goals? the chief aim of humanity? This is not mere idealism or fancy on my part; it is hard reality, a hard and enduring truth. After all, nothing good can come out of war; and everything good can come out of peace.

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day Concert (2007)

Here is an older-looking Led Zeppelin in the rock band’s 2007 concert at London’s O2 Arena on December 10, 2007; it is called the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, which Wikipedia says, was “a benefit concert held in memory of music executive Ahmet Ertegün.”

Ertegün was the president of Atlantic Records, which he helped found in 1947; he was also considered an influential person in the modern recording industry, recognizing talent and signing many bands to his label, including Led Zeppelin in 1968. Ahmet Ertegün died on December 14, 2006, in New York City; he was 83.

The online encyclopedia adds the following about this concert, a onetime reunion of the band’s three original members plus the son (Jason Bonham) of the original drummer (John Bonham):
The headline act was the English rock band, Led Zeppelin, who performed their first full-length concert since the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, in a one-off reunion. Bonham's son Jason Bonham played drums during the band's set, and also provided backing vocals on two songs.
According to Guinness World Records 2009, the concert holds the world record for the "Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert" as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online.[1]
In October 2012, Celebration Day, a concert film documenting the event, was released. Both the film and performance by Led Zeppelin have been highly acclaimed. A shortened version of the concert was broadcast by the BBC in the UK on 8 December 2012.
The performance's set list is as follows:
  1. "Good Times Bad Times"
  2. "Ramble On"
  3. "Black Dog"
  4. "In My Time of Dying"/"Honey Bee"
  5. "For Your Life"
  6. "Trampled Under Foot"
  7. "Nobody's Fault but Mine"
  8. "No Quarter"
  9. "Since I've Been Loving You"
  10. "Dazed and Confused"
  11. "Stairway to Heaven"
  12. "The Song Remains the Same"
  13. "Misty Mountain Hop"
  14. "Kashmir"
First Encore:
  1. "Whole Lotta Love"
Second Encore:
  1. "Rock and Roll"

Pretty good for old men “past their prime,” I would say with some satisfaction. The three originals, that is: Robert Plant was 59, Jimmy Page was 63, and John Paul Jones was 61 when they performed this concert more than seven years ago (Jason Bonham was 41). There are many times where experience will more than make up for youth and vitality.

Final note: This is not the British bands first concert film. For the sake of comparison here is a performance from 30 years earlier, that is, the 1976 concert film, The Song Remains the Same, which showed the band’s performance in New York City in 1973.

Wikipedia writes about this concert film:
The filming took place during the summer of 1973, during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with additional footage shot at Shepperton Studios. The film premiered three years later on 20 October 1976 at Cinema I in New York, on 22 October 1976 at Fox Wilshire in Los Angeles, and at Warner West End Cinema in London two weeks later.[1] It was accompanied by a soundtrack album of the same name. The DVD of the film was released on 31 December 1999.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sweet: The Ballroom Blitz

Sweet, the British glam rock band perform “Ballroom Blitz,” which was released as a single in September 1973 in Europe and is found on the album. Desolation Boulevard in Canada and the U.S., which was released in July 1975.

Some background information of the band is found on their site:
Formed in the U.K. in 1968, the original lineup featured vocalist Brian Connolly, bassist/vocalist Steve Priest, drummer Mick Tucker and guitarist Frank Torpey (later replaced by Mick Stewart and, subsequently, by Andy Scott). In 1973, the band produced their first number one hit, Blockbuster, which went on to achieve platinum status. Sweet toured extensively and continued to chart with Chinn and Chapman compositions.
Fans were increasingly attracted to the heavier rock songs written by the group which appeared on the B sides of their singles, and the struggle for creative control ultimately led to a split with Chinn and Chapman. 1975 Fox on the Run (the band first self-penned single) reached the number two spot in the U.K. and top five in the U.S. charts. The Give Us A Wink album, released in 1976 and featuring the top twenty single Action, attained gold status in America and continued the group’s move toward album-oriented rock. Sweet bounced back onto the charts in 1978, scoring another top ten hit in both the U.S. and the U.K with Love Is Like Oxygen. After Brian Connolly’s departure in 1979, Sweet carried on as a three-piece outfit for three more albums before disbanding in 1981.
As for the song’s meaning, it is based on a real-life experience while the band was performing in Kilmarnock, Scotland, says the Scottish site, the Future Museum:
The most infamous event associated with the Palace Theatre occurred in 1973. Chart-topping glam-rockers, ‘The Sweet’, were driven offstage, at the Grand Hall, by a barrage of bottles. Far from harming the band, they wrote the single ‘Ballroom Blitz’ about their experience. The single went on to become their greatest hit and is still a well known track today.
True; I enjoy the song for the energy it generates in my spirit, and for the good memories of dancing to it during my youthful and formative years.

Some persons might wonder how I can like pop music, progressive rock and hard rock while also enjoying classical, opera, klezmer and blues & jazz. I most assuredly and unequivocally do, enjoying both high culture and low culture or no culture—I am not bound by the limits and restrictions of schools of thought or class or tradition or what the critics deem as important or right or essential. This might make me quirky, electric or curious. My preferences and tastes might be more wide than deep. It’s true. I enjoy so many types and kinds of music for what it does to me, which is to fill me with emotions and memories, most positive and good.

Some of you probably understand what I am saying. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Humans Living Longer, (But) Many With Some Sort Of Disability

Human Health & Wellness

Living Longer in Poor Health:
Photo Credit: Arden/Flikr Commons. Colombia, 2015
Source: IHME; University of Washington

A post in Science Daily, citing an article published June 8th in the British medical journal The Lancet, looks at the effects of poor health, including disabilities and injuries, on a global scale; the comprehensive and broad-based study. which involved 188 nations and included 301 diseases and disabilities, was conducted by an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease project and led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, in Seattle. (Funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Founation.)

Simply stated, people are on average living longer, statistically speaking, but many are living with a disability and are in poor health. The key metric in this study is the term, years lived with disability, or YLDs, which will become more prominent in mainstream health reporting. In “As death rates drop, nonfatal diseases and injuries take a bigger toll on health globally”; the post  says:
Using a measurement known as years lived with disability, or YLDs, researchers from around the world quantified the impact of health problems that impair mobility, hearing, or vision, or cause pain in some way but aren't fatal. In 2013, low back pain and major depressive disorder were among the 10 leading causes of YLDs in every country. Other leading causes globally included neck pain, anxiety disorders, migraine headaches, and diabetes. The leading causes of years lived with disability have remained largely the same during this period, but they are taking an increased toll on health due to population growth and aging.

YLDs per person increased in 139 of 188 countries between 1990 and 2013, meaning that more people are spending more time in poor health. Musculoskeletal disorders, combined with fractures and soft tissue injuries, accounted for one-fifth of YLDs globally in 2013, ranging from 11% in Mali to 30% in South Korea. Mental and substance abuse disorders also caused 20% of YLDs globally, ranging from 15% in Germany to 37% in Qatar.
The complete study, which is for the period between 1990 and 2013, is worth reading.  For example, the top two causes of YLDs on a global scale are low back pain and, major depression. This was true in every nation studied; also noteworthy is that YLDs increased between 1990 and 2013 in the majority of the nations studied. In short, people are living longer, but not necessarily in a healthy or disease-free condition; this means that health-care systems will generally face a population of older persons who will require greater attention. The lead authors, C.J.L. Murray and T, Vos, state rather unequivocally “The non-fatal dimensions of disease and injury will require more and more attention from health systems. The transition to non-fatal outcomes as the dominant source of burden of disease is occurring rapidly outside of sub-Saharan Africa.”

This reminds me of a quip from the American actress, Mae West: If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

We now know that this is true, that prevention is half the battle, genetics the other half. Yet, society will have to soon find ways to solve an increasing problem of both the current cadre of older persons in poor health and the large cohort of boomers (including this writer) who will have to face old age with diminished capacity of some sort or another; a depressing thought, no doubt, but an expected reality. In many cases, this means more resources—in the way of health-care staff and beds in public institutions—will be found and allocated, either to help families (with older persons under their care at home) or to build more public institutions.

No doubt, these are good and necessary measures when considering how to cope with a large number of people who need constant or continuous round-the-clock care. Or as some would deem it: a form of mass surveillance of the aged and ill-bodied? Even so, I would hope that other solutions can be found in my lifetime; I for one do not desire to end my days in such “public warehouses for the old.” Depressing is too mild a word to describe these places.

I think that we can do better; I am ever hopeful that we can, depending on modern science to come up with something humane within the next 20 to 25 years.

For more, go to [ScienceDaily]; for the original publication, go to [TheLancet]