Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beatrix Potter’s ‘Tale Of Kitty-In-Boots’: 100 Years Later

Children’s Books

Kitty-in-Boots: Beatrix Potter’s original illustration. Rebecca Mead writes for The New Yorker about this feline in boots: “It may have taken a century for Kitty-in-Boots to surface, but there can be no better time than today, the age of ‘Transparent,’ for a gender-binary-defying cat to materialize.”
Illustration Credit: Frederick Warne Co; The Victoria and Albert Museum
SourceThe New Yorker

An article, by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker looks at the recovery and upcoming publication of a Beatrix Potter story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” about a well-behaved black kitty cat who leads a double life. It was written and then abandoned a century ago.

In “The Bittersweet Announcement of a New Beatrix Potter Book” (February 1, 2016), Mead writes:
Last week, Penguin Random House announced that it will publish another “lost” Potter work about a cat: “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” which she had begun and abandoned two years earlier, in 1914. Several manuscripts of the story were discovered in 2013 in the Potter archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum by Jo Hanks, a publisher at Penguin Random House; the book is being published this fall to coincide with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Potter’s birth.
According to Penguin Random House, Potter’s intention to publish the story is evident: the archive included a version that had been set in type, suggesting that its publication was once quite far along. In a letter to her publisher, Harold Warne, Potter characterized the principal character as “a well-behaved black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life, and goes out hunting with a little gun on moonlight nights, dressed up like puss in boots.”
Linda Lear, Potter’s biographer, writes that Warne was lukewarm about the proposal, however, and suggests that this lack of enthusiasm led to Potter’s abandonment of the book after she had completed only some sketches and had begun just one color illustration. This image, the projected frontispiece, shows a black, green-eyed cat wearing a hunting jacket, britches, and boots. In one paw, she is grasping a limp, indeterminate trophy—a pheasant, perhaps—while supporting a rifle with the other.
We have a few Beatrix Potter books in our children’s library, and they are as delightful for adults to read, as they are, I am sure, for children. The book will be released for public consumption on September 1, 2016. It will have new illustrations by Quentin Blake. Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866 and died on December 22, 1943. She was 77. Besides being a well-known British writer of children’s books, Potter was a natural scientist and conservationist; she was ahead of her time as a woman of science.

But it is as a writer that she is best known. Writers draw inspiration and obtain ideas for stories from what they know, and in the case of writers of children’s books, it is often that they return to the imaginings of their young minds, when ideas are inchoate and are not yet fully developed or firm. In Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (2006), Linda Lear writes: “Childhood forays into the countryside nurtured her imagination and inspired her art. Soon her London school room was home to an eclectic menagerie of insects, butterflies, and small animals, especially mice and rabbits all of which she drew with endless fascination.”

For more, go to [NewYorker]

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Dual Role Of Senescent Cells

Age-Related Diseases

Mice-mates: almost two years old. The lab mouse on the right had a majority of its senescent cells cleared by a drug starting at age one, which allowed it to live 25 percent longer than the mouse who had no such treatment. And it was healthier, say the researchers. Even so, it is too early yet to say whether this will work for humans, although there is discussion about anti-aging drugs. Ewen Callaway writes in the journal Nature: “Eliminating worn-out cells extends the healthy lives of lab mice — an indication that treatments aimed at killing off these cells, or blocking their effects, might also help to combat age-related diseases in humans. As animals age, cells that are no longer able to divide — called senescent cells — accrue all over their bodies, releasing molecules that can harm nearby tissues. Senescent cells are linked to diseases of old age, such as kidney failure and type 2 diabetes. To test the cells’ role in ageing, Darren Baker and Jan van Deursen, molecular biologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and their colleagues engineered mice so that their senescent cells would die off when the rodents were injected with a drug.” Yet, the senescent cells containing the p16 protein also aid in wound healing and prevent tumor suppression, making it important in the prevention of cancers. Does one benefit cancel another? Perhaps medical science has not yet found the “fountain of youth,” but it is delving deeper into understanding the complex process of aging. 
Photo Credit: Jan Van Deursen
SourceNature News
More: Go to [Nature]; and to [here] for the original research article.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Questioning The Accuracy Of The LNT Model

Diagnostic Imaging

CT Scanner: The LNT model used for the last seven decades to estimate cancer risk is not accurate at low dosages common to medical imaging, say researchers at Loyola University. Catharine Paddock writes for Medical News Today: “The researchers say the model that is used to estimate the potential cancer risk of low-level radiation from medical imaging machines—such as this CT scanner—is wrong and should be abandoned.”
Photo Credit & Source: Medical News Today

An article, by Catharine Paddock, in Medical News Today says that some medical researchers are questioning the validity of a decades-old theoretical model—Linear no-threshold model (LNT)—which essentially says that there is no safe threshold when it comes to exposure to radiation. The model also says that the sum of many small exposures equals one large exposure. In other words, there is a cumulative effect on the human body.

It was John William Gofman [1918-2007], an American scientist (nuclear and physical chemistry), who first advocated for such a model to estimate actual cancer risks from exposure to low levels of radiation. The LNT model, Wikipedia notes “is considered the  foundation of the international guidelines for radiation protection.”

Yet, it ought to be thrown out, at least when it comes to establishing guidelines for medical imaging. says James Welsh of Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine. In “‘No evidence that CT scans, X-rays cause cancer’” (February 4, 2016), Paddock writes:
Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Oncology, the researchers describe how the linear no-threshold model (LNT)—first proposed over 70 years ago—is used to estimate cancer risks from low-dose radiation, such as medical imaging.
But—say James Welsh, a radiation oncology professor in the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University, Chicago, IL, and colleagues— risk estimates based on the LNT model are only theoretical, and, as yet, "have never been conclusively demonstrated by empirical evidence."
They say persistent use of the LNT model by regulators and advisory bodies leads to unfounded fears and money being wasted on unnecessary safety measures. As a result, many doctors are averse to recommending and using the most appropriate imaging procedures for their patients, and many patients are unnecessarily scared to undergo them.
This was my fear, as well; I, too, had read and been told that CT scans and x-rays have a cumulative effect on the body, increasing the risk of cancer. A recent article in Scientific American says just as much. [see here]. The article points out the benefits of using low-dose scans, where such scans deliver 75 percent less radiation than typical scans while giving sufficiently accurate results. The article also notes that physicians order too many CT scans and as a result patients receive unnecessary doses of radiation. This is a concern. Obviously, ionizing radiation (such as gamma rays) cause damage to the living cells’ integrity and ability to repair itself. It destroys DNA bonds.

A too large dose of radiation can be harmful, and even lethal at high enough levels of exposure, such as when one is in close proximity to a nuclear blast or the site of a nuclear accident. High-dose radiation is anything greater than 500 millisieverts (mSv). As an example, at Chernobyl (April 26, 1986), 134 plant workers and firefighters received high radiation doses (800 to 16,000 mSv), suffering acute radiation sickness: 28 persons died within the first three months.

What can turn lethal when control is lost can be beneficial when sufficient control is maintained. Such is the thinking behind safely harnessing the power of ionizing radiation as a diagnostic tool. The unanswered and debated question is determining a safe dose for medical imaging, and the most important question is determining the cumulative effects on the human body. This requires answering to everyone’s satisfaction, because a fear of over-exposure to radiation will prevent persons from having diagnostic tests that use radiation.

These tests, after all, do save lives, and CT scans are a wonderful diagnostic tool. The benefits over-all outweigh the risks, and one wonders what would happen if the use of CT scans diminished greatly. This is true in my case, where an emergency CT scan (about 10 mSv of radiation, the FDA reports) revealed I had a large tumor in my colon. I have had a half-dozen scans since this initial one a few years ago. Combined, this is well under the threshold of high-dose radiation, thus I should not be overly concerned. To be honest, I am not overly concerned, but I do want to know more. I would like more assurance, if this is at all possible.

The study’s paper reasons that low-dose radiation, which includes and is comparable to normal natural background radiation. does not contribute to cancer. (In Toronto, it is 1.6 mSv/y). The reason is that the human body, Paddock writes, “is able to repair damage caused by low-dose radiation— something that has evolved over millennia in humans and other organisms that are continually exposed to naturally occurring radiation in the environment.”

It would seem rational to think that multiple low doses over long intervals would allow the body to repair itself, something that is not possible with a single high dose. Yet, as much as there is truth in this statement, I continue to find this argument lacking in reassurance for the following reason. The dose that a human gets from a  CT scan (even of the head at 2 mSv, let alone the chest at 7 mSv) is much higher than the annual background radiation in the city in which I reside (1.6 mSv), or for that matter the average annual background radiation of any major city in the world. The Canadian annual average is 1.77 mSv; the U.S. annual average is 3.00 mSv; and in Japan it is 1.50 mSv. The worldwide annual average is 2.4 mSv. 

Again, this is noteworthy. Equally compelling, we still do not have sufficient knowledge on the cumulative effects of low-dose radiation. Although a study published in the journal Nature (June 30, 2015) suggests that even tiny doses above natural background radiation slightly elevate the risk of leukemia. The large-scale study focused on nuclear-industry workers, but the results could be extrapolated to both health-care workers and patients. For this reason and others,  I am not sure that the LNT model ought to be abandoned just yet.

I am sure, however, that this is not the end of the discussion.

For more, go to [MNT]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Peter Frampton: Show Me The Way (1976)

Peter Frampton and band perform “Show Me the Way,” which was a huge hit in 1976. If you were around then, you noticed that it received a lot of airplay on the radio. It is the third track on Frampton Comes Alive!, a double live album. The song is prominent for the use of the talk box effect.

Show Me the Way
by Peter Frampton

I wonder how you’re feeling
There’s ringing in my ears
And no one to relate to ’cept the sea
Who can I believe in?
I'm kneeling on the floor
There has to be a force
Who do I phone?
The stars are out and shining
But all I really want to know

Oh won’t you show me the way
I want you to show me the way

Well, I can see no reason
You’re living on your nerves
When someone drops a cup and I submerge
I’m swimming in a circle
I feel I'm going down
There has to be a fool to play my part
Someone thought of healing
But all I really want to know

Oh won’t you show me the way
I want you to show me the way
I want you day after day

I wonder if I'm dreaming
I feel so unashamed
I can’t believe this is happening to me
I watch you when you’re sleeping
And then I want to take your love

Oh won't you show me the way
I want you to show me the way
I want you day after day

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Does Beauty Truly Matter?


Jane’s Pears: Juliette Aristides writes in the Introduction to her 2008 book, Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill Publications): “In previous eras, artistic production was colored by the subtext that human beings, as children of God, have divine origins and that our existence is not transitory but eternal. This belief provided not only hope for the future, but a deep assurance of the significance and value of a human life. Artists reflected this vision of reality in their artwork, which enabled them to glimpse beauty in the face of tragedy and to portray monumental views of human life. That is why Sandro Botticelli could paint his ethereal goddesses, revealing a reality only hinted at in the world as the black plague ravaged Europe.”
Photo Credit: ©Juliette Aristides, Oil on canvas, Private collection.
Source: Future Symphony Institute

An article, by Juliette Aristides, in Future Symphony Institute writes that, yes, beauty does matter, and all the more so in a world marked by both post-modern ideas and a pragmatic utilitarian views of the world and, more broadly speaking, of the universe. Finding something of value and importance in the aesthetics of beauty is distinctly a human attribute. Even in the midst of suffering, the search for beauty does not diminish.

Beauty might be superfluous, and like friendship and art beauty is not necessary for our survival, but it is one of the things that give value to survival. In “The Hope of Beauty,“ Aristides writes what many artists feel is true:
While people share much with other living creatures, the desire for beauty, the capacity for self-reflection, and the longing for eternity are distinctively human qualities. On some subconscious level we need beauty, despite its perceived lack of function. If we were to give a horse a diamond ring, it would assess it only on the basis of its utility, essentially asking the question, “Can I eat it?” In contrast, the human being has the elevated option to ask not only “Is it useful” but “Is it beautiful?” The enormity of human suffering in the world does not render this question, or the desire to ask it, trivial. Rather, it affirms an appreciation of aesthetics as fundamental to our nature.
Artists help us see the surprising beauty that breaks into our daily lives by celebrating that which might otherwise pass by unnoticed. Artists are in a unique position to leave an intimate record of human life, as they give us the opportunity to see not only through their eyes but also through their thoughts and emotions. One could say that the greater the art, the more clearly we experience this communion of souls. Artists remind us that despite the pain and ugliness in the world, something deeper exists – a beauty that peeks through the drudgery of life, whispering that there is more just beneath the surface. We see a landscape filled with longing and loss or a figure filled with love and empathy. These images enable us to long and love with the creators.
Nature shows us one kind of beauty, such as the way the light falls through the tree canopy, speckling the forest floor where I now sit and write. Occasionally, an unusually insightful individual is able to capture this kind of beauty in art. This is why Mozart’s Requiem Mass still moves people to tears in packed orchestra halls or why people are willing to wait in line for hours to see an exhibition of works by Vermeer. Despite all appearances and talk to the contrary, we crave art that captures truth and remains powerfully and beautifully relevant long past the time of its creation. This sort of art is not just pretty or made up of the hollow aesthetic beauty that changes with the eye of the beholder. It is not sentimental, for sentiment is fleeting. The sort of art that lives eternally is that which captures astonishing, spine-chilling, breathtaking beauty that heightens our senses and floods us with transforming thought and emotion. In this work, we hear a whisper from another world saying, “It’s all real.” The ache to last means you were meant to last; the longing for beauty calls to you because beauty marks a reality that actually exists.
For some, this reality is as real and necessary as others that dominate the realm of ideas, such as those marked as utilitarian or practical. Beauty and hope are allies in humanity’s struggles for purpose and meaning. The beauty that touches our soul comes from a place of longing that is universal. It is true that in the drudgery that is often part of our lives, we glimpse some beauty that speaks to us, if only briefly. When you hear a beautiful piece of music from Mozart, or read an inspiring story on the relationship between parrots and humans—both broken— or see a beautiful flower in the midst of a decaying city, you know that something remarkable has taken place. Beauty can lead us to tears.

For more, go to [FutureSymphony]

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mozart’s Idomeneo: Ileana Cotrubas: ‘Se Il Padre Perdei’

Italian Opera

In this 1982 Metropolitan Opera production of  Mozart’s Idomeneo, King of Crete, an Italian opera seria conducted by James Levine.  The setting is the Island of Crete, circa 1200 BCE, after the ten-year Trojan War between the Greeks and Trojans, which the Trojans lost, resulting in  many of them becoming captives, including Priam’s daughter, Princess Ilia. (For a full synopsis, read here.)

The Romanian opera soprano, Ileana Cotrubas (as Ilia, daughter of King Priam of Troy) sings the aria, ”Se il Padre Perdei” (“If I Lost My Father”), which is taken from Act II, scene 2. Since she has lost everything, Ilia tells Idomeneo with emotion that Crete can be her homeland. Love, ill defined and mysterious, transforms her thinking.

The libretto is written by Giovanni Battista Varesco, and Wikipedia adds, “from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. […] The work premiered on 29 January 1781 at the Residenz Theatre in Munich, Germany.”

Se il padre perdei,
La patria, il riposo,
a Idomeneo
Tu padre mi sei,
Soggiorno amoroso
È Creta per me.
Or più non rammento
Le angoscie, gli affanni
Or gioia, e contento,
Compenso a miei danni
Il cielo mi diè.

English Translation
I have lost my father,
my country and my peace of mind,
to Idomeneo
you are now a father to me,
and Crete is for me
a blessed land to stay.
Now I recall no more
my anguish and distress;
now heaven has given me
joy and contentment
to compensate for my loss.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Screening For Depression

Mental Health

“Highly sensitive individuals are those born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting, as compared to those who notice less and act quickly and impulsively. As a result, sensitive people, both children and adults, tend to be emphatic, smart, intuitive, creative, careful, and conscientious…”
Dr. Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Child: 
Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them (2002)

Unwell Being: “La tristesse durera toujours.” [The sadness will last forever.] ― Vincent van Gogh
Image Credit: ©
SourceScientific American

Elizabeth Lees of Scientific American reports on a recommendation made in the United States, which says that all adults, including pregnant women, should be screened for depression by their family physicians. In “All US Adults Should Be Screened for Depression, Panel Recommends” (January 27, 2015), Lees writes:
This recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is largely consistent with the group’s previous recommendation, which was issued in 2009, said Karina Davidson, a member of the task force and a professor at Columbia University Medical Center. However, at the time the previous recommendation was made, there was not enough evidence for the group to either recommend or discourage depression screening for pregnant and postpartum women, she said. 
Depression, a disability of the mind that also affects the body, is the most common mental-health problem in the United States. About 16 percent of the American population (one in six individuals) has suffered depression at some point in their lives, and 6.7 percent (one in 14 individuals) has suffered a bout of major depression in the last year. This equals 15.7-million adults, half of whom received no treatment; and of those receiving treatment less than one-quarter of those diagnosed (21 percent) received treatment in accordance with guidelines set by the American Psychiatric Association. (In Canada, 8 percent of the adult population, or about 1.5 million adults had a major depressive episode.)

Other stats to consider: 1) women are 70 percent more likely than men to suffer depression; 2) the average age of onset is 32; 3) a greater prevalence of depression was found in the southeastern states; and 4) depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, reports the World Health Organization, with an estimated 350 million persons of all ages suffering depression. This equals approximately 4.8 percent of the current world’s population of 7.3 billion people.

Another question worth pursuing is whether it is also possible and necessary to conduct early screening on children, since the numbers are similar to that of adults. There is sufficient knowledge that antidepressant drugs are not as effective for adolescents as they are for adults. In effect, children are not little adults but require as a group individual research on effective treatments. Current methods of treatment focus on psychotherapy, the two most widely used being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), both conforming to what are called evidence-based treatment approaches.

Well, there might be too much evidence, and not enough love, hope and beauty. And not enough simple acts of kindness. The world feels deeply fractured and alienated, awash in haughty indifference (a form of hate) and passive rhetoric (a form of cruelty). Where is the hope when people are not present? Yet they still demand more. Absence makes the heart grow colder. A few bear the burden, feeling a reality that is unreal, callous, unbearable. “Don’t worry; be happy.” I wish it were so easy. “La tristesse durera toujours.” For the few, courage is getting out of bed and doing what is necessary for others. With angry tears and, more often than not, a warm broken heart.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]