Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tokyo Day 2- Fun with a Friend- Morning at Meiji Shrine

On our second full day in Tokyo we met up with a new friend who had made plans to show us various sites.   We strapped on our athletic shoes and headed off by subway to Harajuku, the shopping area for younger people.  There we saw the famous garb of the Japanese youth- eclectic and fun for the most part. But the real first destination was the Meiji Jingu (Shrine), established in 1920 for the  Emperor Meiji (ruling from 1862-1912) and his consort Empress Shoken, who are considered deities.  We passed through three gates, called torii, where as our host explained you successively leave behind the physical world to enter the spiritual.  On our way in we were lucky to pass two wedding parties in traditional Shinto dress, as well as some "spirits"  and a young woman dressed in traditional kimono talking on a cell phone.

First Torii at Meiji Jinju

Another Torii
Gift of wine from France to Emperor Meiji who opened Japan to the West

Traditional wedding

We did a ceremonial cleansing at the  Temizusha (ablutions font) and then went up to the main shrine, where one bows twice, claps hands twice and bows once again. A coin offering is also accepted.   On our way out of the grounds, which were stunning in autumn colors, I heard chanting so like a child to the pied piper I found a group of elderly people practicing chants for a performance- a Shinto choral group if you will. (see addendum) Very haunting.
Offertory Box to left
Shinto chant practice
Main Shrine
Drum in front of Shrine

Grounds of Meiji Jinju

For more information on Shintoism, which Emperor Meiji made the state religion of Japan in 1868, see here  and here.  Most important, for my niece in particular, is that Kami are Shinto gods.

UP NEXT: The afternoon/ evening in Tokyo at the Hama Rikyu park, Sumida River trip, Asakusa and Ginza.
ADDENDUM :  To the western ear, the people chanting sounded like a choral performance to me.  However, that description is not really accurate in context.  My friend, guide and helpful editor points out that the performance " is called Shigin, which is a traditional form of Japanese poetry and usually chanted. There is strictly only one standard melody."
Also, Lonely Planet August 9, 2010 states: 
Visiting a shrine:
Entering a shrine can be a bewildering experience. Just past the gate you’ll find achozuya (trough of water) with a hishaku (long-handed ladle) to purify yourself. Take a ladle, fill it with water, pour some over one hand, then transfer the spoon and pour water over the other hand. Finally, pour water into your cupped hand and rinse your mouth, spitting the water onto the ground.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tokyo Day 1--Not Lost in Translation

I expected to be very disoriented when I got to Tokyo for the first time.  After seeing Lost in Translation, I thought I would be badly jet lagged and put off by surreal scenes of large neon glassy buildings from a taxi.  Luckily I was neither and in fact loved Tokyo even with the large neon glassy buildings.

 We arrived at night and got a tour through Shibuyu, Roppongi and Roppongi Hills (possibly not in that order) before arriving at our hotel, the Westin in  Ebisu neighborhood.    Unlike Bill Murray's character, I found the cab ride, once we got to Tokyo after what seemed like an endless amount of time on a freeway (it was about 2 hours total in the cab from Narita to the Westin at a cost greater than what we paid in taxes on our frequent flyer air tickets) to be exciting and the city accessible.  One difference I noticed from what was shown in the movie was that there was plenty of English on signage.  I expected none and was pleasantly surprised at how much there was.

Christmas at Westin Tokyo
The Westin hotel was decked out for Christmas with a huge central tree and toy train track, foreshadowing the Japanese love affair with all things Christmas.  One of my colleagues observed that the abundance of Christmas paraphernalia at the Westin at first seems to derive from its being  an American chain hotel.  But once you go out into Tokyo (or even hang around for Sunday brunch) you realize that the Westin is catering to the Japanese in its Christmas excesses.  I had hoped to miss the Christmas carol season but every public place in Japan as far as I could tell was playing American Christmas songs.

Yebisu Garden Place Baccarat Eternal Lights
Our first day out in Tokyo led us across the street from the Westin through Yebisu Garden Place, an outdoor mall that sported during the holiday season a huge Baccarat chandelier.  We took the JR Yamanote to Tokyo Station, walked through the financial district, the Marunouchi, to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Moat near Otemon (Main) entrance to Imperial Palace East Gardens

To enter the East Gardens you must cross a famous moat pictured here.  The East Gardens were once part of the defense perimeter of the Edo Castle from the Tokugawa Shogunate (the basis for the James Clavell novel, Shogun).  Shortly after you enter the Gardens, you see a guardhouses, called bansho, before you head across a large field toward the site of the donjon or castle tower, dating from 1638.  All that is left of the donjon is the base which you climb to get a loftier view, both of current Tokyo and, in your mind, of shogunate Japan.
Doshin Bansho
Hyakunin-bansho - guarding entrance to Honmaru (inner citadel)

Donjon Base with skyscraper in background
Walking away from the remains of the Donjon, we headed toward the Ninomaru (second citadel or defense ring) which has been turned into a beautiful Japanese garden.  We spent a long time on a  bench soaking up the atmosphere of the small and large pleasures of the garden-- the pond, the little waterfall, the small arched bridges and the three legged snow scene stone lantern.  The scene looked suspiciously like the stock picture I have as my background on my Blackberry but there were enough differences that I concluded the stock picture was taken elsewhere.  And the autumn colors were spectacular.
View of  Ninomaru Pond with reflection of autumn colors

Pond with reflection

Arched bridge in Ninomaru garden

Stone Lantern near pond in Ninomaru

Waterfall in Ninomaru garden
Vivid autumn colors in Imperial Garden.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Charms of Japanese Bathrooms--with instructions.

In my last post, I wrote extensively about the wonders of Japanese toilets and showers.  I forget, however, to include the instructions for use of the toilet.  Here it is. Study carefully.  It's complicated.

The Charms of Japanese Bathrooms

I have grand plans to write up our trip to Japan day by day.  We covered a lot of territory, so to speak, in the ten days we spent there.  I have many pictures of pretty settings and delicious foods.  I promise that I will do some blogging about those aspects of the trip.  However, today I want to feed my lifelong obsession with bathrooms and comment on those I found in Japan.

My family teased me as a child that I could not go anywhere without checking out the bathroom.  I am not sure why bathrooms fascinate me so much but I have touched on the topic at least twice before  in this blog. And  Japan proved to be a bath lovers delight when you found a "western style" toilet.  (Japanese style toilets are in the ground and require squatting  which some of us with injured muscles can not currently do too well.)

Toto toilet
First, western style toilets in Japan, sometimes even in public settings, have heated seats and water sprays to assist you in your hygiene.  Some people like me love it.  Others, like my husband, felt offended by the heat on the tush and would not even consider the water options.  I had been exposed to the Japanese Western style toilet before, through a former colleague who had a small side business in those types of toilets, but could not convince my husband to allow me to replace his home throne with one with heat and sprays. Perhaps in the future if we ever remodel the master bath I can get a Toto toilet like this one from the Hotel Granvia Kyoto.

Flushing sound effect sensor
Second, as one of my Japanese friends explained, people in Japan are not comfortable with the sounds of their body functions on the toilet.  In the past, like certain women in the US, Japanese women would flush the toilets many times to block any sound. The Japanese decided that such flushing was wasteful and instead put in a toilet flushing sound effect in restrooms.  Some of these flushing sound effects are triggered automatically by motion (particularly hand motion like those on some of the towel dispensers) and can be quite irritating to those of us who are less shy and do not want to hear the constant roar of a flushing toilet in the commode. Here is a picture of one of those sensors in a public toilet in Kyoto.

Third, certain women's stalls in public restrooms have little seats for infants while mom is otherwise indisposed.   The great thing about these infant seats are the picture instructions that mom not leave the baby unattended to put on makeup or smoke (see picture below). Not having a baby in tow these days,  I found the seat useful for holding my camera case.
Infant seat in Japanese public bathroom
Slippers for WC in Nishi Hongwanji

Fourth, the Japanese have special slippers for the bathrooms to make sure that  what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.  Apparently this practice is common in ryokan, minshuku and private homes (none of which did we visit).  I found these slippers in one of the Kyoto temple's bathrooms.

Sink shows you where to dry hands
Fifth, for reasons I do not understand, there are rarely paper towels or hand dryers in public bathrooms.  Most women carry little cloth towels in their purses when they are out and about.  This lack of towels seems to me to be similar to the fact that Japanese do not typically use napkins at the table but do have wet towels provided when you first sit down in a restaurant and sometimes again after a course or two.  I learned to use the wet towel as a napkin although I observed that the Japanese around me seemed able to eat without wiping their mouths incessantly like I did after every few bites.  But I digress.  The real issue is drying your hands in the bathroom.  And I found my favorite sink of all time in Japan with a built in hand dryer in the front opposite the electronic faucets.  Such an elegant design.

Sixth, (and finally for now), I fell in love with the shower at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto.  It was a wonder of economic design.  It had the shower from above, a movable handheld shower, and shower sprays at mid body to work on those parts of your back that frequently ache. I have seen showers in a local spa that sprayed from the top and the sides, but those showers were big and clunky. The shower in the Granvia was slim and well designed for someone my size as well as someone my husband's size.  Again, if I ever remodel the master bathroom, I will make every effort to get this shower assembly.  Then I can relive every day my wonderful Japan bath experience.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black and Blue Friday- It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In recent years I find myself drawn, like a moth to flame, to stories about the crowds storming the stores in the wee hours of the morning the day after Thanksgiving.   The stories appeal to me even as the act of going out into the fray on one of the craziest shopping days of the year does not.  I cannot imagine anything I would do voluntarily that I would hate more.  Yet I am fascinated by those who see it as sport.
© 2007 djLicious Creative Commons License
I can somewhat understand the thinking.  I love a good bargain as much as anyone else.  Just not enough to subject myself to crowds gone wild.  There is always a scene of people fighting over the last electronic device priced as an "unbelievable value".  There are always pictures of crowds storming the doors.  Sadly people have been injured and killed in those shopping melees.  Can it be that the desire to get a deal  brings out the worst in us?

About 15-20 years ago, I would take my children to the local mall to see a Santa Claus parade on the morning after Thanksgiving at a civilized hour--9:30 a.m.  Santa arrived on a fire engine preceded by the marching band of the local high school.  We would have to wait, sometimes as much as an hour or so, because Santa and/or the teenagers in the band were never quite on time.  After the parade, which installed Santa on his chair in the center of the mall, the mall was officially open for the Christmas season.  One year, I remember a precursor of Black Friday when I went into one of the toy stores and it was having a one day only morning special sale.  I felt exhilarated to find this unusual sale so much before Christmas.  Little did I know that a trend was in the making.

Black Friday, according to Wikipedia and various articles cited therein, started in Philadelphia.  The phrase was first heard in the 1960s and was believed to be pejorative based on the swarm of people who went shopping along the streets the day after Thanksgiving.  The phrase then spread out into other areas of the country and eventually the meaning was changed to the current, more consumer friendly view that the sales during this time take retailers out of the red and into the black. I feel like the expression is still fairly recent, perhaps because I live in Los Angeles area.  In 1985, the expression was not even known in Los Angeles according to an interview with a representative of Carter Hawley Hale, aka the Broadway stores.

Now it is the stuff of the internet and news stories.  Black Friday-- a day of infamy and pretty good deals if you can stand the hoards of people.  And now you can do your Black Friday shopping this weekend on the internet-- preempting what is known as cyberMonday, the Monday after Thanksgiving when you can get good deals online.  I prefer to shop online as much as possible anyway, although when my dryer gave up the ghost today (joining its friends the dishwasher and washing machine in appliance heaven) I found that others are busy buying online.  The first place I tried to buy a washer could not deliver it for three weeks!  Luckily, for an extra $50 in price, I found another place which will deliver on Monday.

Oh, and this year I ordered my Christmas tree online.  I am renting a live tree which will be delivered on December 18 in the morning and picked up on January 2.  Hopefully it won't die during its visit to my toasty (thanks to Great Grandma) abode.  And reportedly sales are up this year on Black Friday.  If it helps the economy then we all have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Can't I Stop? Confessions from A Restaurant City Junkie

Hi.  My name is Scooby and I am a Restaurant City addict. (Hi, Scooby)

I do not smoke or use drugs.  I do not drink--much.  I am reasonably good about not overeating.  I do not shop too much and indeed dislike ostentatious spending on "fashion".  (And my friends will let you know that fashionable I am not.)  I do not watch much TV or go to the movies.  I find that I am bored by most sports these days.

My vice is being on the internet and in particular I have become enamored of this particular online game, Restaurant City.  In the past week or so, it got a bit out of control.  I have 6 restaurants and I trade among them.  I  decided to buy with the virtual coins one earns through the game an Indian Buffet which wiped out my balances in two of my restaurants and seriously diminished the balances in three others. (I do not do much in the 6th which I set up to play with my grandson but he has moved onto his own video game addiction.  His parents are wisely trying to limit his game play through strict time controls). As a result of having such low balances, I went on a playing spree to boost my numbers.  The more you play, the more you earn.

The other way you can boost your numbers is to pay real cash for virtual cash.  I promised myself I would never do that but I succumbed a few months ago when I decided I needed to have the Coffee Bar completely stocked.  I actually spent $30 on it.  And now I am eying a Dark Chocolate Fountain and debating whether to buy another $10 of Playcash so I can get 4 of them.  Part of me thinks that it is justified because it is a cost of entertainment but another part of me wonders why I want that damn Dark Chocolate Fountain so much.  It is merely an image on my computer screen.

Today's NY Times addresses the use of the internet by teenagers whose minds are still developing and its affect on their ability to focus.  Will they be forever distracted because of their extensive smart phone and internet use, which allows instant gratification?  To me this distraction theory is at odds with the "addictiveness" of the internet for me to get information and unfortunately to play online games (except for MMOGs which I avoid because that would involve interacting with others and I like being in control of my own business). People spend hours playing these games.  I have spent hours playing online games.  I find myself anxious to get back to my computer when I am hanging out with the family as they watch TV.  Watching TV feels too passive for me.

The AMA and APA have so far declined to designate excessive online game playing as an addiction.  Some disagree.  Whether it is a true addiction is of little moment to me because I need to understand why it is so engaging.  Some have said it provides distraction from our work and other routine aspects of our lives.  Surely I cannot build a real business in weeks like I did my virtual restaurants on Facebook.  Farmville similarly appeals to people, anecdotally, because it reminds people of a so-called simpler time when you could grow your own food and manage your own family business.  I am certain universities will set up research institutes and governments will get involved as this phenomenon continues to grow, not only in the US but in other parts of the world such as UKChina and Korea.

So perhaps if I really am not "addicted",  I can indeed, as a companion NYT article recommends today, put myself on an internet diet, particularly limiting my game playing.  But the cravings are oh so great and the flesh is weak.  Maybe I will go eat a cookie or have a glass of wine instead.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Consumer Retort- the Democratization of Consumer Research

A few years ago I subscribed to Consumer Reports online.  I had had a paper subscription in the past and when I let that lapse I would check out the periodical from the library when I needed to do research relevant to product consumption (as opposed to food consumption on which I need to do no research other than the lifting of fork or spoon to mouth).  I thought the online subscription would pay for itself in the savings and enhanced quality of products I would get from studying the Report.
photo © 2008 Manchester City Library  Creative Commons License

I just got a notice that my subscription was not renewed because the card I had on file was declined.  Several months ago I had to cancel my personal Amex card because someone in England used it to buy a lot of expensive stereo equipment.  I have a new card but have not updated all of those online subscriptions I have but don't remember that I have.

I decided to not update Consumer Reports because I really have found that it is not all that useful these days in buying items.  Case in point.  I consulted Consumer Reports before I bought my latest washing machine.  I bought a particular HE machine based on its rating.  Shortly after I placed the order at the Big Box Store,  I got a call from a plumber I had consulted about repairing my old washer.  He said he thought I might as well get a new one but not to waste my money on an HE machine.  Oops!  Then I decided to check the online reviews by consumers of the HE machine I had purchased.  One said that it shredded their clothes.   Another said that it developed a funny smell and had to be regularly cleaned with some additional product that cost a small fortune.  Double oops !  Since I was only a day away from delivery from the Big Box Store, I decided to go ahead with my purchase.  Luckily I have followed the directions for use assiduously and have not had any shredded items--yet.  And I have shelled out for the additional product to keep the machine sweet smelling.  The purchase turned out okay but no thanks to Consumer Reports which did not warn me about any of the issues I found in the  reviews online.

Another case in point is my vacuum cleaner.  I  bought it from Old School Big Store last year based on a very high Consumer Reports rating.  In my opinion, it is a mediocre machine, which I would have discovered if I had read the reviews by consumers online first.  Last week I bought a vacuum cleaner for my son and his family, a Hoover which cost about 40% of the price of the vacuum I own.  I researched the Hoover online and read a number of favorable reports by purchasers.  My son says that it works great.  Another win for the online review and another fail for the professional reviewing magazine.

Recently, I did not even bother to look at Consumer Reports before I bought the new dishwasher.  I solely relied on reviews on the internet.  So far, the machine works quite well and lives up to the accolades of the consuming masses.

So it would appear that the democracy of the internet has produced a better result than a business built on the promise of giving the best advice about what to buy.   I do not know if this outcome is the result of a decline in the standards of Consumer Reports or if it is inevitable that, for consumption decisions, the word of the masses (at least those opining online) is more reliable.  In any event, viva democracy !

Chinese Wall

photo © 1997 Brian Kelley Creative Commons License
Yesterday I was in a four + hour meeting with members of the PRC government and business community.  This is only the second time in my life that I have met people from the PRC and I think the first time was over 15 years ago.  The meeting was long due to the frequent stops for translation but interesting to see how entrepreneurial the Chinese business people are.  Communism may still be the official song but the real tune is capitalism.

And capitalism was in its full bloom so long as it benefited the Chinese. Even the government people wanted something for nothing.  One of the government officials seemed to be asking (in remarks that he admitted were prepared for him) that we stop worrying about enforcing our rights in China because the "Market Player" was more important.  Maybe the translation was a bit off but I took that  to mean that the local companies distributing our product were more deserving of revenues  than the companies, like mine, who invest  in the development and production of the content.  This same government official said that we should not worry about piracy in China because it was an advertisement for our product.  His countrymen (and they were mostly men) laughed but none of the Americans in the room did.  I have seen that same argument on the Western internet pages of those who also want us to give away our product (movies and TV shows) for free on the internet.  Like certain Western internet companies that will go unnamed (e.g. search engines and ISPs) the Chinese want to build their internet businesses on the backs of others who have invested in producing the content that causes people to use those internet services.  The newspaper and magazine industries are well aware of this phenomenon.

Internet penetration in China is quite high for a country with a massive population, much of it poor.  We were told that penetration is about 32% representing over 400 million using the internet.   About 10% of that are video only users.  China is a huge market but the cultural differences, which the Chinese also commented about, make it difficult to for my (and most Western) industry.  I have read that Chinese have a more relativistic or situational view of morality deriving from their spiritual beliefs, unlike Westerners who, as believers in a monolithic deity, see morality in terms of black and white, right and wrong.  For most Westerners, theft is wrong (unless of course it is on the internet and then it is justified).  We continue to hear that Chinese factories are notorious for taking designs provided by Western companies, and producing a counterfeit good at the same time they are producing the legitimate good for export.  Do the Chinese see anything wrong in this? Not if it benefits their economic growth.

The Chinese yesterday claimed to respect our intellectual property and to have laws that enforce our rights but the reality is quite different.  Piracy is most rampant there and the legal claims so far are not making even the smallest dent. To me the tell tale sign was that one of the delegates, an older woman dressed somewhat frumpishly, particularly compared to her colleagues in expensive suits, was carrying a large "Burberry" purse. Ironic?  You decide. (Although to be fair, I have seen Americans who work to protect intellectual property also sporting counterfeit purses or watches.  A bargain is a bargain.)

My thoughts on this matter are still in flux.  I think there is great opportunity in China but will we be able to bridge the cultural gulf?  For my part, I spent a fair amount of time worrying about whether I would flub some protocol.  For example, it took me half the meeting to get right the art of exchanging business cards.  I knew enough to exchange them with two hands but for the first half of the meeting I was handing them over facing the wrong direction-- with the text toward me rather than toward the recipient. I finally figured out to turn the cards around and felt more confident by the end that I was not insulting someone inadvertently.

On my way to the meeting by happenstance I was listening to a audiobook novel about modern China and corruption in business there.  The novel, the Man from Beijing was written by Henning Mankell, a Swede.  I have no idea how accurate its descriptions of the Chinese are but I suspect it affected my viewpoint when I entered the meeting.  Where I am now in the book, it is talking about a split in the communist party in China from traditional Maoism toward a more capitalistic tenor, particularly in the approach to doing business in and supporting Chinese immigration to Africa as a means to forestall class war in China. The conclusion is that China, while protesting colonialism, is engaging in a form of neo-colonialism based on economic control rather than control of governments, a viewpoint shared by another writer , Professor Peter Navarro, (this time of nonfiction) who some view as demonizing the Chinese.   See reviews at Amazon link for Navarro book.   One criticism said:  "In The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century (which I recommend to anybody who cares about global peace and prosperity), author Will Hutton says, '[China] requires our understanding and engagement - not our enmity and suspicion, which could culminate in self-defeatingly creating the very crisis we fear.'"

It is difficult to know what to make of China.  To me, the best I can determine is that China is reaching out to others from behind its wall but unfortunately the differences in culture and history make the wall still quite difficult to penetrate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunsets of Autumn

Sedona Sunset October 2010
Redondo Beach Sunset November 2010

I feel very fortunate to have a husband who loves to take photographs and to have the opportunity to be in places which are very photogenic.  Above are two sunset pictures taken about a month apart in different parts of the southwest-- Arizona red rock area and Los Angeles beach area.  For an added treat, below is a sailboat picture taken shortly before sunset today in Redondo Beach.
Redondo Beach  November 14, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wine and Die?

I picked up the July/August Nutrition Health Alert from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today to read the cover article about lowering risk for breast cancer.  Now that I have ovarian cancer, my risk for breast cancer has increased so I am becoming even more sensitive to what I need to do to reduce the risk of that disease as well are the recurrence of the cancer I have already had.

Two of the four risk factors they identify I already knew. Keep your weight down and exercise.  I am struggling with both of those now but am working on them.  Today I walked 2 miles and cooked another vegetarian, low fat, low cal dish --crustless spinach and mushroom quiche with egg whites.  Yesterday I made veggie lasagna with no pasta-- only squash, broccoli, tomato sauce and low fat cheese.  By the way, spaghetti squash is NOT a good substitute for spaghetti.  I'm just saying.

A third factor I also knew and have practiced--no hormones.  The fourth factor, however, perplexes me.  The article suggests minimizing alcohol, quoting a Harvard scientist Walter Willett, who worked on the Nurses' Health Study (hello my participant sister) and a new study from the UK, the Million Women Study.  "Just one drink a day can raise your risk for several cancers", the article states, with a glass of red wine prominently displayed.

The health gurus on PBS push red wine for health.  My oncologist told me a glass of red wine a day was fine, even desirable.  I have invested in bottles of red wine and a wine rack and now I have to cut it out?!   Why is there a split in the advice about drinking red wine?

photo © 2009 Matthew Rogers  Creative Commons license
The National Cancer Institute, those folks who supported the study I wrote about the other day about CT scans as an early screen for lung cancer, have on their website an article touting the benefits of red wine in reducing cancer risk.  The article however is eight years old and says itself that research is just beginning on the issue.  Presumably the studies cited by CPSI are more current and are based on human longitudinal research rather than animal research.  However, they are also based on self report and do not have any control groups, which the animal studies do.  In the animal studies, resveratrol and polyphenols were the chemicals with a positive impact on lowering cancer risk.  See also here.  And one wonders how much people underestimate in their self report the amount they drink.

My favorite research, however, is being done in angiogenesis.  I favor this research because red wine and dark chocolate are two of the foods considered antiangiogenic.  Dr. William Li (not to be confused with my wonderful oncologist Dr. Andrew Li at Cedars) of the Angiogenesis Foundation argues that cutting off the blood supply to cancer cells is the best way to prevent cancer.  Standup2Cancer reports:
Angiogenesis is a big word for a simple concept: it’s the process through which our bodies create new blood vessels. In normal, healthy individuals, new blood vessels grow only under specific circumstances: as part of the healing process for an injury, for instance, or during pregnancy. Our bodies contain a natural system of checks and balances to regulate the growth of blood vessels, known to scientists as angiogenesis stimulators and inhibitors. “The stimulators act as natural fertilizers to get vessels to grow, and the inhibitors prune back extra vessels when they’re no longer needed,” Li explains.
Without blood vessels to supply them with the nutrients necessary for expansion, microscopic cancers have nothing to do and nowhere to go. But as cancer cells mutate, they can hijack the body’s system of checks and balances, using angiogenesis stimulators to create the blood supply they need. A microscopic tumor, given a steady influx of blood, can grow to up to 16,000 times its original size in as little as two weeks. And, of course, what goes in must come out; the blood feeding the tumor is circulated back through the body, now bearing cancer cells that can take up residence in distant organs, leading to metastasis. “This is the turnkey step that converts a harmless cancer into a deadly one,” says Li.
So what do I believe?  It is hard to sort out the research.  I think that I will try to steer a middle course.  I do not really drink wine every day anyway and I enjoy red wine so I probably will continue to have a few (i.e. 3-4) glasses a week and hope for the best.  Kompai!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In Memory of Ellen

Our friend Ellen Lutz died Thursday night.  It was coming for months and indeed we knew earlier in the week that it would be only days.  I want to say, although I cannot be sure, that Ellen battled breast cancer for at least 7 years.  I remember her telling me after I found out about my own cancer that she was alone during her first chemo treatments and her children were in high school.  Both of her children are in their early 20s so I am estimating based on that memory.

Ellen in September 2010
I first met Ellen in 1986 in Oahu. She and her then husband, Glenn, met Paul and me for a working vacation.  We had our sons with us- mine was 2 and theirs was 1.  We all hopped in a rental car and drove on the coastal highway outside of Honolulu.  At some point we stopped at a mansion on the beach.  Ellen hopped out of the car and ran with an envelope toward the house.  She was serving Ferdinand Marcos with the complaint in a human rights case that she and my husband had filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act!

I reconnected with Ellen on Facebook last year.  She reached out to me by email when I got my cancer diagnosis and wrote encouraging missives about how to cope with chemo and hair loss.  At the same time, her cancer was back and had passed into her brain.  Notwithstanding the radiation treatment she was undergoing at the time, she and her husband Ted came out to Los Angeles in February (I believe) and called to see if they could stop by.  I was feeling too sick from the chemo so we did not get to see them then.  Luckily, Paul was able to see Ellen last month in Boston, shortly before she could no longer tolerate having visitors.

Here is an obit that Ted wrote for Ellen.  She was a remarkable person-- warm, funny, smart and very driven to do good in the world.  I understand she died with dignity and luckily was not in pain.  I wish I could accomplish what she did, both in living and in dying.

Ellen L. Lutz, an international human rights lawyer, teacher, and activist, died on November 4 at her home in CambridgeMA. The cause was metastatic breast cancer.  She was 55. 

During her final two years battling the disease, she directed the Cambridge-based human rights organization Cultural Survival, co-edited two pioneering books (Prosecuting Heads of State (Cambridge U. Press) and Human Rights and Conflict Management in Context (Syracuse U. Press), submitted formal reviews on state behavior to the UN Human Rights Council, led international litigation on behalf of Panama’s threatened Nobe Indians, and sang alto with the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus, each with equal enthusiasm and skill.  

Her concern for human rights began when, as a 15 year old exchange student to Uruguay, she witnessed the onset of Uruguay’s state sponsored “Dirty War,” and supported the international human rights movements such actions spawned across Latin American during the 1970s. Logically, after graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple University (1976) and obtaining a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mahr (1978), she took a Law Degree in International Law and Human Rights from Boalt Hall Law School (University of California at Berkeley) in 1985.

Ellen’s persistent interest in Latin America continued as professional work with Amnesty International (1979-81),in Washington ,DC, and in San Francisco. She later headed the California office of Huma Rights Watch (1989-94), where she conducted research and published on little-known but extensive human rights abuses in Mexico,  and she was co-counsel in two groundbreaking human rights cases in US courts, against the infamous Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Argentine General Suarez-Mason.

Moving with her family to Westborough Massachusetts in 1994, she helped to set up and then served as Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, taught international law. human rights, and mediation at Tufts, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, and wrote widely. One of her students, now a professor at OccidentalCollege, recalled how “warm and desirous she was of connecting to students amid the formal Fletcher iciness, a marvelous force of nature.” 

Ellen was asked to become Executive Director of Cultural Survival in 2004, where she increased the participation of indigenous people on the Board of Directors and Program Council, while steering the organization away from local development projects to broad human rights initiatives. “Development work like building schools, digging wells, and providing services is what governments should be doing,” she said. “Our work is to make sure governments live up to their obligations.”

One of her colleagues wrote, “It would be difficult to quantify Ellen’s ferocious passion for justice. Her zeal and natural warm-heartedness combined with a legal rigor that made her a truly formidable advocate.”  There was much of such personal and professional praise. But, perhaps the most encompassing and, for Ellen, meaningful compliment came from Stella Tamang, a Nepalese tribal leader and friend. 

To Ellen, my Kalyana Mitra,

In Buddhism Kalyana means Wellbeing and Mitra means friend. Kalyana Mitra therefore means friends who always think about their wellbeing.  You have been such wonderful friend, a constant support during the problems I was facing about the political problem back inNepal.  We also talked about family, our children, and life.  I am blessed to have a friend like you.  We believe that if a person has done good Karma, he or she gets to meet with wonderful people, and you are the one for me.

And Ellen was not a Buddhist. 

Ellen is survived by her husband Theodore Macdonald, an anthropologist previously with Cultural Survival and now with Harvard University, and her two children from a previous marriage, David and Julia Randall, now studying at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, respectively. Her cat, Misty, and dog, Churi, are well taken care of. All are thankful to their Kalyana Mitra.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Use of Scans May Become Less Scant

Today the Washington Post reported that a federal study (National Cancer Institute) had found that the use of CT scans could reduce deaths from lung cancer by 20% in former and current smokers.  The article stated:
The participants were randomly assigned to receive three annual screenings with either low-dose helical CT scans, which are also known as spiral CT scans, or a standard chest X-ray. The CT scans use X-rays to obtain multiple images of the chest. Most hospitals can perform the scans. The subjects were then followed for up to another five years to see who developed lung cancer. Those who were diagnosed received standard treatment. A total of 354 deaths from lung cancer occurred among the subjects who underwent CT scans, compared with 442 among those who got the chest X-rays - a 20.3 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality.
To date, there has not been an effective screening test for lung cancer and it is believed that the higher mortality rates for lung cancer derive from finding the disease in later stages rather than through early screening.  Similarly, ovarian cancer is not easily detected in early stages because there is no good screening test.  Testing CA-125 levels is not very accurate.  And having your standard gynecological exam is not a great way to find ovarian cancer, as I well know given that I had one about 4 months before my tumor was found with a CT scan, already at stage 3.

I have given a lot of thought to why CT scans are not used more frequently to screen for ovarian cancer.  There are probably a lot of reasons.  First, ovarian cancer is still fairly rare. A woman in this country has a lifetime risk of less than 2% of developing ovarian cancer .  Second, CT scans for ovarian cancer, typically  full abdominal with contrast on a multidetector CT scanner (MDCT)  have side effects from the radiation (possibly leading to cancer) and allergies to the contrast agents (ranging from a rash to anaphylaxis-an inability to breathe).  Third, and probably the most important factor for those of the cynical bent, CT scans cost a lot of money because the machines are expensive (approximately $900,000 or more for an MDCT) and insurance will not pay the fees which can be thousands of dollars (after all the machines don't pay for themselves).

Perhaps there will be research on CT scans as screening for ovarian cancer like the research of the study on lung cancer screening reported today.  It will not do any good for me just as the new screening results for lung cancer will not help my good friend who has stage 4 lung cancer. But these scans may help others including my own daughter and granddaughter.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Come Back Innocence!

There are times when I wish I were more uninformed and innocent about how things work.  It shows up in simple but impactful events in my life.

Last week, my Maytag dishwasher became very ill.  I thought about repairing it but it is over 10 years old and I figured with the abuse my family has given it, it was time for it to go to dishwasher heaven.  I have been happy with my Maytag appliances for the most part.  They do not last as long as I remember machines lasting in my childhood (I think my mother had the same washer and dryer for over 20 years) but as I said my family is high maintenance and our machines (other than the exercise machines) get a workout.

When I first started buying appliances, Maytag was the gold standard.  Their advertisements on TV featured the lonely Maytag repairman because the machines reportedly never needed maintenance.  I could not afford Maytag when I was younger but at some point I decided to invest in the brand and pay the extra money for quality.

Then I started reading about Maytag.  They were sold to Whirlpool.  They have declined in the past 10-15 years in quality.  They have outsourced their manufacturing to China and Mexico.  So this past weekend I should not have been surprised to discover that my now broken dishwasher was recalled for a fire hazard.  Luckily for me, I did not experience the electrical short that causes fire from the dishwasher.  But when I went back to look for the recall information, I was shocked to see how many recalls there have been in the past 15 years for Maytag dishwashers and Maytag appliances in general.

In my days of innocence, I would have purchased a Maytag without question because I trusted the brand.  Now, I had no idea what to buy and had to embark on hours of research to find a new dishwasher.  I could not tell enough about the dishwashers on the internet so I actually went to a big box store to look at various dishwashers (the Maytag store is now long gone).  After discussion with the salesman, who seemed smart and knowledgable, I bought  a Maytag model anyway,  which also had the best consumer ratings on various internet sites I checked.  I also bought insurance for the machine because I know there is a chance that the machine will be defective and Maytag does not give much in the way of warranties (certainly not in the labor area).

Similarly, I am experiencing a loss of innocence about the fish and poultry that I used to eat.  I finished "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer and concluded that factory farming is even worse than I thought, having read other books such as those by Michael Pollan, that describe the horrors of the food industry in the US.   I resolved not to eat any animals anymore, mostly for environmental reasons, given the huge side effects that our form of factory farming of poultry and fish has on those animal populations as well as human populations (e.g. environmental effects of animal waste, decimation of the ocean ecosystem and abuses of factory farm workers).

I have lasted all of 10 days, during which I have had two days of utter fatigue which I am tentatively attributing to my change in diet (rather than the rapid return of my cancer).  Last night I broke down and bought curry chicken salad at Urth Cafe, all the while knowing that the restaurant necessarily must buy their chickens from factory farms.  Perhaps they do not get the chickens from the worst of the worst, but if Foer is correct, it is virtually impossible to get any non mutant chickens  (or turkeys) in this country, even if they are raised in something other than factory style henhouses.  No matter what the labels say-- organic, free range, vegetarian--the animals in this country are raised with an assembly line efficiency mentality and none of them are what they claim to be.  Foer claims that all the labels lie.  How depressing.  I was happier when I knew less about the method of production of our meat.  While I aspire to be a vegetarian, I find myself craving the animal flesh and justifying it by my body's apparent need for that flesh.  Now I have to struggle with my conscience with every bite I take of the delicious curry chicken salad or roast turkey.  Bah Humbug.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Time Enough?

Perhaps because of my recent confrontation with the possible end of my life, I have become increasingly obsessive about the choices I make in how I spend my time.  I am not saying that I make good choices.  I just think a lot about the choices I make and whether I could have spent that time better.

When I look at the time budget of my days, I spend most of my time during the week at work. I do not mind that, although there are some types of use of time at my job that I resent, such as reviewing documents and answering interrogatories at this point in my career.  Most of the time, however, I find my job interesting and engaging.

Much of my leisure time these days is spent on the internet,  largely reading articles but also checking Facebook and LinkedIn to see what people are up to.  I also have a secret vice that is getting a bit out of control--playing games on FB.  I finally stopped playing Bejeweled Blitz which was a major time suck with no redeeming value and real harm to my right arm from the repetitive motion.  It was hard but I overcame that addiction. Now, however, I spend more and more time on Restaurant City, where I have a chain of restaurants that I check every day.  Recently, they added a coffee bar that you could stock by playing the game and I found myself quite obsessed with making sure all of my restaurants have the necessary ingredients.  Last night, I spent the evening drinking wine and playing Restaurant CIty, only to discover this morning that the "prize" I had worked to get is no where to be found now that I have supposedly achieved it.  I must stop playing this game too although I justify it by telling myself it relaxes me and allows my thoughts to coalesce on other issues.
Restaurant City Delish Level 80

I do not exercise much anymore.  My work day starts early and I no longer have the ability to walk at the beach in the morning before I need to get on conference  calls.  I am also much more fatigued and achy so I use that as an excuse not to exercise.  But I need to exercise, or so all the medical sources say, to hold the cancer at bay.  A dilemma for sure.

I also do not play the piano anymore, partly because of my sore arm and partly because my mother in law is always in the living room watching TV when I have time in the evenings.  I do not watch much TV or movies or listen to music at home.  I choose to listen to books on tape in the car instead of music and rarely spend my free time watching a DVD, even though I work in the motion picture business.  I used to love listening to music and watching filmed entertainment but now it seems like a waste of time.  I wonder why this change in interest?

I think my obsession in how I choose to spend my time stems from the need to learn as much a possible as quickly as possible so that if it is taken away from me, like it has been with my friends who are dying or with those older people in our lives whose memories are not working as well as they once did,  at least I can say I crammed in a lot in those days before the change.  I want to travel.  I want to read.  I want to challenge myself intellectually.  I want to write.  I want to accomplish something in my job that will have an impact.  These goals are simple enough, if only I could stop playing internet games!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

They're Baaaccckkk!! Or are they???

Last night I was lying in bed eating something bad for me and watching a rerun of Star Trek TNG when I looked up at the skylight and saw my kitty staring down at me!  I thought to myself, kitty should not be on the roof looking in at me.  It isn't safe--for either of us.  So I went downstairs immediately and opened the door to coax her off the roof.  "Kitty", I said and there she was on the ground coming from the opposite direction of where the skylight is on the roof.  MMMMM.  

Are they back?  Those masked thugs; those food thieves?? Or is my kitty a flying magician who came come down off the roof and appeared to be walking from her usual place under the car in the short time it took me to get downstairs?

You decide.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jeeping and Hiking in Sedona

As I mentioned in my last post, we went on a Pink Jeep tour yesterday to Broken Arrow Trail.  The trip combined great views of Chapel Rock, Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, the latter so named because the jeeps used to go around a rock on the edge of the cliff.  Here is the rock below.  The path is too narrow now for the jeeps so we just parked and looked at the views.

Chicken Point
The tour combines unbelievable scenery with a bumpy ride which the driver likened to a rollercoaster on the red rocks.  At one point we were in the jeep at 45 degrees.  Shortly thereafter we went down "Devil's Staircase.  Here are pictures of the jeeps behind us doing those two thrill rides.
Jeep at 45 degrees

On Devils Staircase

Today we hiked along Oak Creek to get views of the Cathedral Rock.  We were lucky to be ahead of the incoming thunderstorms and get a picture of the famous view of Cathedral Rock showing the reflection of the Rock in a waterpool.

Cathedral Rock

Later in the day, I managed to get a reservation to Palatki Ruins, right near Enchantment.  We have been coming here for years and never went to these ancient native American ruins, including pictographs from  four native cultures: the Archaic Indians of over 2000 years ago, the Sinagua of about 800 years ago, the Yavapai and the Tonto Apaches.  Here are examples of pictographs from each of these groups.
Yavapai animal drawing
Sinagua drawing of man on horse in center
Tonto Apache shaman markings
Archaic Indians (possibly mountains, sun, trees)

For an interesting discussion of one of the pictographs  (left), which the ranger pointed out as Asian looking and likely drawn by Archaic Indians, see this website.