human, being


Heroic glowing monkeys and the greater good
May 28, 2009, 11:20 am
Filed under: As I See It | Tags: ,

This morning on NPR, I heard a story about Japanese researchers who successfully created a transgenic monkey that has an extra gene that makes it glow, and its progeny also have the gene. This transgenic research is quite an accomplishment, because the technique can be used to create families of monkeys with genes for human diseases.

I get a squeamish stomach thinking about research animals, especially when they are something other than mice. However, since I work in a major research center, I know that we would not have medications for any diseases at all if it weren’t for research animals.  In the PR world we call them “animal models” so that the animal rights people don’t picket us or run terrorist activities against our labs.

I wish there were a better model. But there is not. Research animals allow us to have headlines like this one from last night:

US cancer deaths continue to drop: report

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The number of cancer deaths have steadily declined in the United States over the past 15 years, saving a possible 650,000 lives over that period, the American Cancer Society said Wednesday.

But 1.48 million cases will be diagnosed this year and over 562,000 people will die from cancer this year, ACS said in its annual cancer statistics report.

The cancer death rate fell by 19.2 percent for men between 1990 and 2005, mostly due to declines in deaths from lung, prostate and colorectal cancer, the group said.

Deaths from cancer, the second-biggest killer in the United States after heart disease, decreased by 11.4 percent for women over the same period, in large part due to decreases in breast and colorectal cancer.

I believe in the concept of the greater good. Research animals lead to a greater good for humans. Yep, still a bit queasy writing that, but when I dig down, I know it’s what I really believe.

I work with very bright cancer scientists who have contributed to this decline in cancer deaths because they have used animals to understand how cancer works biologically, metabolically and genomically. They have created and tested new cancer treatments, including targeted drugs that have better outcomes and fewer side effects than traditional chemo and radiation, on these animals to make sure there is some effectiveness and little toxicity before trying them out on people.

(In other words, better to kill off some mice with a new treatment than a bunch of people.)

I’ve been to our vivarium, and those little nude mice are cute. They’re very well cared for.  It’s sad to see them sacrificing their lives for ours. In their own little ways, they are heroic. I would not have survived melanoma without the help of mice way back in the day.

I don’t believe that cosmetics and household products should be tested on animals. I don’t believe that animals should be treated cruelly. I have a hard time thinking of companion animals being used for any kind of research, but the truth of the matter is that heart transplantation is possible because dogs were sacrificed.

Every year on my campus, the medical school holds a ceremony for people who have donated their bodies to science and medical education. I’d love to see some kind of ceremony for all the mice who do the same thing. As non-sentient beings (despite what Disney tells us), I recognize that they don’t have a choice in the matter. In fact, they’re bred and born to be research subjects. However, as life forces, we should honor them in some way.

Just as we need to honor the glowing monkeys in Japan, and those that follow, as heroes of human medicine.

Here’s a prayer for all creatures who play a such a critical role in solving human illnesses.

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Like everyone else, I’ve been paying attention to the news coverage about the H1N1 flu virus — aka swine flu, hybrid flu, Mexico flu (because, according to Israel, pigs are not kosher and therefore it would be hurtful to Jewish people to have unkosher-named virus). And here’s what I think. (Because I know you’re dying to know.)

<sarcasm>

  1. We are at the beginning of a zombie movie. Soon, the World Governments will be force-vaccinating all human beings. The vaccination will cause the virus to mutate into a zombie-creating syndrome that turns our pupils red and makes us ravenous for brains. We will all become zombies, as in 28 Days, not Night of the Living Dead.
  2. 100 years from now, our great-grandchildren will look back at the Great H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 and think regretfully about all of our naivete. We didn’t act fast enough. Too many people poo-poo’ed the idea of handwashing. Now all human beings — Swinevivors, as they are now called — live in sealed bubbles because of depleted immune systems.
  3. H1N1 flu is the pestilence that is to sweep over the land before Armageddon. We all know this, right? Because December 21, 2012 is only964 days away, and that’s when the world will end.

</sarcasm>

I think a new virus is a little unnerving, but I’m not panicking. If it were like Ebola, or like the virus portrayed in the movie we saw last night (L: Change the World, a Death Note movie), which was a combination of a virulent flu and Ebola, then I would be the first in line for a sleeve of duct tape and plastic wrap to seal myself into my house. After all, I have VPN and can work remotely from home.

I’m also no world health expert, so if WHO thinks we need to be at the equivalent of security alert orange, so be it. I’m all for interesting the world in a little more handwashing and convincing those who are ill to NOT share the wealth by coming to work or sending their sick kids to school where my kid can pick it up. A little good comes from every crisis.

However, I do have a realistic conspiracy theory, not about the virus itself but about the coverage of the virus:

  1. The 24-hour news cycle and Internet needed new fodder. We can only be reminded so often that we are in “tulmultuous economic times.”
  2. In America, fear makes people spend money. People have not been spending money. Remember after 9/11, how the economy crashed and the government responded by scaring us to death about “being prepared”? Those of you who went out and spent $500 on food, radios, supplies and the like, raise your hand. (See, my hand is up). What’s scarier than the idea of losing your job? Dying from a mystery virus that makes you bleed out of your eyeballs and fingernails. Or cough yourself to death. I bet Purell’s market position has improved tremendously in the past week.
  3. I’d like to say there is a conspiracy between advertisers and news outlets, but that would be ridiculous and un-American. It’s a free press after all.
  4. The best way to control human beings is to make them afraid. Anyone else notice a pattern since 2001?

Last night, the Denver news reported 2 confirmed cases of H1N1 virus in Denver. Was I surprised? No.

But that’s because yesterday I looked up the CDC’s numbers for the “regular” flu for the past season: nearly 26,000 confirmed cases (many more were unconfirmed, like the case I know I had in January but never was tested for flu).  55 kids died from the flu in the 08/09 season . That’s just in the United States.

People get viruses every single day and some infected people will die. Because death by virus is so commonplace, it is not news … unless the virus is a mutant. (Wait, is there a connection between a mutant virus and the new Wolverine the Mutant Movie? Aha! Yet another conspiracy!)

964 days from now, as the Earth stops rotating on its access and we all fly off into airless space, I may eat these words. Until then, I’ll ignore the hype and refuse to panic. And wash my hands a lot. Because there’s nothing wrong with good hygiene … just in case.



On Columbine
April 19, 2009, 11:47 am
Filed under: As I See It | Tags: , , , ,

Colorado's state flower, still beautiful

On April 20, 1999, I was in my office in the public relations department at The Children’s Hospital when my boss gathered us into a meeting. Someone was shooting people at Columbine High School, and as the level 1 pediatric trauma unit for the region, we could get some of the shooting victims in our emergency department. We immediately put our emergency plan into place. While some of my colleagues staffed the ER and the communications center, my job was to watch local news coverage and give periodic updates.

Ten years ago, a psychopath named Eric Harris committed mass murder with his friend Dylan Klebold. I saw enough on that day to never want to read or hear about what happened at Columbine again.I saw dead bodies on the lawn beside the stairs. I watched Patrick Ireland climb out the window. I sat, horrified, as someone put a sign in the window reading 1 bleeding to death.

I don’t need a dozen pages in today’s Denver Post to remind me that a decade ago, Colorado got put on the map not by our sports teams or our skiing, but by the worst school massacre in history.

Please, let me bury my head in the sand. It does me absolutely no good to watch the images on TV. I don’t need to watch them, because all I have to do is close my eyes and watch the memory of what I saw, live and in color, on April 20, 1999.

The other day, Lauren told me that her school was doing an anti-bullying program called Rachel’s Challenge. She wondered who Rachel was, and I told her that she was a girl who was shot to death at her school by some very mean kids. I told her that the program was about making sure that kids never felt they had to “get back” at the kids who were mean to them again.

I told her that schools are much safer now than they were 10 years ago, but as I spoke those words, I wondered if I was telling a lie.Yes, you can do everything you can to teach kids kindness and compassion, but in every society there are people who are simply fucked up in the head, people whose brains are built wrong, and no one and no school assembly is going to make them have an epiphany that their desire to kill everyone, as Harris wrote in his journal, is wrong and they should give it up.

I heard on the news last week that law enforcement has thwarted about two dozen possible school shooting scenarios since Columbine. The Internet has been a big help, because apparently kids who plan to commit mass murder like to brag about it on their MySpace pages ahead of time. I’m grateful for that.

There is some debate now about whether Harris and Klebold were bullied, or if they were bullies themselves. Dave Cullen, a journalist who covered Columbine extensively, has a new book that disputes a lot of the Columbine mythology–that they were part of the Trenchcoat Mafia, for example, or that they targeted jocks. From the reviews, Cullen seems to have done a stand-up job bringing truth and reality into why Columbine happened. But I won’t be reading his book. I just don’t need the emotional trauma.

I wasn’t there on the grounds of Columbine ten years ago, but I experienced enough of it via satellite to feel upset beyond comprehension. Whenever I hear about the tragedy, I say a prayer for the people who lost loved ones or who were hurt that day. And then I change the channel.



Music: The Connection
April 16, 2009, 9:56 am
Filed under: Cool Things Found the Internet | Tags: , ,

My friend Andrew Hudson posted this video today, and I’ve watched it a few times now. Stand By Me is a beautiful song, but the way it’s presented here makes me know FOR SURE that we’re all connected. Otherwise, how could a song that has almost become trite in our culture still move us like this does?

This video was produced by an organization called Playing For Change, whose aim is to connect the world through music. They raise money to provide resources to musicians and their communities around the world. So the organization sent producers around the world to record musicians playing their version of this song. The result is remarkable.

Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.



On a sad goodbye to Megan the Goat
From weblogs.newsday.com

From weblogs.newsday.com

There is a god, because on Wednesday, America voted and sent Megan Joy the Goat home on American Idol. If I would have had to listen to her weird, chuckling vebrato through one more song, I think I may have pulled my eyeballs out with fondue forks, because that would have been less painful.

Had Megan performed every week with the fuck-you energy she gave on Wednesday’s farewell show–when the goat vebrato actually worked a little–maybe I’d have a different opinion of her. But maybe not.

Now, I have been an AI fan since the first AI slum year, when there were no stylists or vocal coaches, and a karaoke business owner actually made it into the top 10. Of course, Kelly Clarkson is now an official superstar, even though her current hit song is about the dumbest thing I’ve heard since … well, Megan’s goat chortle. Don’t get me wrong. I (heart) Kelly Clarkson big time. I even bought tickets to her concert for Lauren and me. It got canceled, and we both cried.

Some years I got bored and stopped watching. Namely, the Fantasia year. I still don’t understand why anyone would actually pay money to hear her screech.

Right now, in Season 8, I’m debating whether to stop TiVoing and get a little bit of my life back on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Even with the addition of Ca-rah and the threat of the judges being able to bring back someone America hates, it’s all gotten a little bit trite.

In the auditions, I picked out Lil Rounds and Danny Gokey as front-runners. I mean, come ON, how can you not vote for a mom who’s family was devastated by tornadoes and a man whose wife died? Seriously? Do you have a heart? And they also happen to have amazing voices.

Danny does have an amazing voice, but he’s become so predictable. Seriously, if your fellow contestants can imitate you, then you’re in trouble.

I’m concerned about Lil. That chick had such and edge and the stylists and people helping her choose her songs have seriously made her into an old woman. I think Paula said it best: We don’t want to see Lil Rounds the Adult Contemporary Artist. Oh, Lil! Why do you eschew the judges and refuse to sing a Mary J Blige song? As Simon would say, you’re becoming bohr-ring. Girl, you have the most to gain! Don’t throw it away.

I liked Anoop because he was different (wow, an Indian dude?), but he’s become such a cheese ball. Is he skating along on the success of Slumdog Millionaire? Maybe. He does have a good voice. Buy his record? Maybe not. Buh-bye in about 3 weeks, I think.

Of course Scott is there in the top group, because even though his voice is completely anemic, he has overcome great odds against his disability. And that equals sympathy vote. I admire him. He’s a fabulous musician. But I wouldn’t buy his record. I already own Billy Joel‘s greatest hits. Scott is no Billy Joel, and I just don’t see where he fits in my music vocabulary.

Matt and Kris? They’re both adorable. I’d love to take advantage of them for a few days, have them sing me love songs and play their instruments for me. But then, I’d realize they’re nice guys but nothing special.

I think, despite certain fashion disasters of the past week, Alison may be the one to beat. She’s different. She has energy. She’s charismatic. And we can judge her solely on her talent without some sob story of a back story. I love her voice. Yes, she was a little over the top last week. But still, I love her voice. I think she’s closer to Kelly Clarkson than any other contestant in terms of commercial appeal.

The other wildcard, of course is Adam. He’s a bit of a freak show. I don’t like the Elvis hair he’s been sporting lately either. Give me the black nail polish any day. Now, he’s a freaking mouthwatering piece of man (but then, I can have interesting tastes). His voice is incredible. However, I think he may just be too weird for the show. I still can’t decide if his Ring of Fire performance was legendary or awful. It was so trippy, it felt like I had just swallowed a pound of magic mushrooms … not that I’ve ever done anything like that. I think that Adam will get picked up and have a career after the show regardless of how he does. And I’d probably buy his record, although I’d secretly listen to it without letting my other 40-something friends know.

Last season’s AI was awesome: the Battle of the Davids! I’m so happy to see both are enjoying commercial success. That battle kept me captivated all season. This season is just kind of  … meh! Good talent, but no one with a spark that’s keeping me all that interested.

Maybe things will get better without weird, goatish Megan Joy on the show. God knows I wish her well, as long as I don’t have to listen to her.



I’m a snob
March 30, 2009, 9:27 pm
Filed under: As I See It

The other day, I read a news story that said strip clubs are getting inundated with women from all walks of professional life looking to strip and supplement their incomes … or actually make an income after being laid off. And that story made me think about what I might do in such dire straights? Could I actually take my clothes off for money?

I’m not a prude–far from it. I’ve been to strip clubs, and honestly, I think that for the most part women who are exotic dancers are incredibly empowered. Really, who’s being taken advantage of? The woman taking the money off the guy, or the guy getting the eyeful for $20 or $200?

I have some friends who work in this industry, and they make damn fine money. One friend dances at the Diamond Cabaret, and she can bring home 2 grand easy (and in cash) working four five-hour shifts a week. She used to be an IT recruiter. She got laid off in the fall.

She’s a beautiful woman, curvy, over 40, mom of three girls, married to a great guy who loves and supports her. She’s not the cliched sexually abused, depressed, self-hating victim of a woman you see portrayed in Hollywood. Actually, she’s quite the opposite. Smart, vivacious, self-confident, loving, fun. She gets off on the attention, for sure. She really gets off on the money. At the same time, her knees and back are killing her. And she has to lie to her kids, who think she’s hostessing at a bar. Her oldest is nearing puberty: Can she be fooled much longer? Yet the money is awesome.

The thought of making $8k a month for half the work I do now? Hell yes, I could do that.One month and I’d be out of debt and could pay to replace my nasty carpet with hardwood floors. Two months and we’d have money for a wedding. A nice wedding. Three months and the basement could be finished. Six months and we’d have a down payment on a new house on top of all that. Money money money money!

Then, I think about some of the men I’ve seen at the strip clubs. Sure, at a place like the Diamond most of the men are clean cut, or at least clean. But at others–sheesh. Could I give a lap dance to a good looking guy wearing an expensive suit, tipping me with Benjamins and buying me top-shelf liquor? Possibly. Could I shake my thing for a day laborer with no teeth and a wrinkled $5 bill?

I don’t think so.

Think of it this way: You’re in your car, stopped at a light. You feel someone watching you and you glance at the car next to you. There sits a good looking person. Smiling at you. Flirting with you. Married or not, that feels pretty good. You might smile back, flirt back. Harmless? Yes! Fun? Yes! It’s a little thrill for the day (Yes! I still have it! Woo hoo!) Now, imagine that the flirty-pie is completely unattractive. Do you return the flirt? Or do you quickly fiddle with the radio, or pull forward so you’re no longer in his/her line of sight?  Yeah, that’s what I thought. Me too.

And that’s why I could never take off my clothes for money. I’m too much of a snob. I don’t think I could get my head around pretending to be attracted to unattractive people. Which makes me admire women who can strip for a living. They’ve got more balls than I do. And more cash.



Tarot Reading

I’ve been an ad hoc user of psychics and tarot card readers for more than a decade. Yeah, yeah, it’s all hooey and these people are crooks out to steal your money and blah blah blah. Call me a sucker, but I really do believe that some people have deeper intuition and connection with the spiritual than others do. And I believe they can help give me insight into my own life.

I don’t use these services on a whim. I understand that it’s not typical that I’ll get a straight answer — and I should never expect a yes or no answer.

Given my current state of confusion, on Saturday I had a tarot reading with Kate, a woman I met at Full Moon Books in Lakewood about a year ago. We clicked then, and I saved her card for future reference. When we met at Starbucks in west Denver, we clicked again.

I chose 12 cards. We talked for 90 minutes. I left feeling better and worse, because as much as I know not to expect a clear answer or sign, I still wanted one. And didn’t get it. Thinking back, I also didn’t ask direct questions. I asked: What is next for me in my career? Not: What direction should I point myself. But maybe it doesn’t matter.

The themes:

  • 6s and 6 month timeframes
  • My life is a reflection of the turmoil in the world and some of this is out of my control
  • It’s time to do more inner work
  • My perfectionism, especially when it comes to my body and my health, is causing me to be in a war that is killing me
  • I can’t solve it all at once, which is one reason why I feel so stuck.

Here’s what Kate and the cards said.

On work and career: Stop looking for the work and start looking for the people

  • I have spent the past 12 to 18 months learning and gearing up for a move in my career. She felt some connection with Boston, not that I would move there, but that I would go there or meet someone from there who would be a mentor. A light-haired woman will be my mentor–either someone I come to know or someone whose work I read.
  • I have spent all of my life looking for the work, the job, the perfect situation. Now it’s time for me to stop doing that and start paying attention to who is coming into my life. The work, she said, will come to me. I have to let go of the idea that I have to FIND it, and rather let it manifest through the people who appear.
  • Marketing, market research, “new” medicine (blend of East/West perspectives), “green” work, and top thinkers are the themes she’s come up with.
  • She said I should really listen to my intuition and get outside my comfort zone, especially when it comes to feelings about attending certain classes, seminars, conferences. I told her I have a deep interest in going to BlogHer this year, but don’t have the money. She immediately perked up and said, “Oh, yes, that would be a good idea!” She suggested that I set the intention to go and ask the Universe for the money. So, Universe: I intend to go to BlogHer this year. I graciously request the money to make it possible to go.
  • She was the second person to tell me that I won’t fully come into my own professionally until my early 50s, and then I will be a public speaker who is well known.
  • She said there is change brewing at my current job that will manifest in 4 to 6 months.

On the relationship: We have a deep strength.

  • My relationship with Steve hinges on how he feels about himself. She said that when Steve has strong self-confidence, we are incredible together. When his self-confidence is low, we falter. Given that I didn’t say anything other than I wanted to know about my relationship, it was interesting how spot-on this was. Although, I hadn’t contributed our ups and downs to his self-confidence level per se.
  • She said he’s at a crossroads (which he is). She said that he wants me to make the decision for him, and that I should not because other things I’ve decided for him have come back to bite me (and they have). He feels like he’s in a prison (interesting, because he used those exact words on Thursday night).
  • She said that our conflict over my relationship with Ryan will continue until he decides to step out from between us and let us make our own way with it.
  • Again, she said in 6 months, we’ll come to a point where we make a decision about whether we will move forward together or go our separate ways. I didn’t like to hear this, especially not with a timeline, because I think that can be self-perpetuating.
  • With all of this in mind, she said that we have a deep strength and a deep love for each other, and when we draw on that and live from that place, that’s when we are great. So that’s what I’m going to focus on: remembering our strength.

On health: Perfectionism is my dragon

  • I have been in a war with my body. (sure have)
  • When I let go of my obsession with my body being perfect (weight, physical fitness, no illnesses, everything under control) my body will be perfect.
  • The Fertility card came up: We discussed whether I want more children (I don’t), and the fact that I’ve been having all these female issues lately, including not getting my period in March (I’m not pregnant; 3 tests say no). She believes that I have great creativity that is waiting to be birthed, and the fact that I’m not paying attention to it is also causing me health problems, particularly mental health (stress) problems.
  • She warned me to take care of my back, especially my mid- to low-back. I’ve had issues with that area in the past due to a bad car accident in 2003, but things have been good for about 2 years. So, I doubted her. Then, lo and behold, last night, salsa dancing, I got dipped funny, felt my back pop in a sick way, and today my sciatica pain is about an 8. I can’t sit for more than about 20 minutes. Where does the pain start? At my waistline, left side, travels into my butt, around my hip, into my knee. Yay!

Final cards: The Wish Card and the Dragonslayer

  • I got the wish card. I wished for clarity in my life purpose. The next card was the dragonslayer. Gee, Universe, thanks for the clarity. But it got me thinking: What are my main dragons?
  1. Perfectionism, especially about my body and health, which manifests in not even trying or giving up when I can’t be perfect, and so much ugly self-talk that I should be arrested for abuse. I want the perfect relationship. I want the perfect house. I want the perfect work situation. I want to be perfectly fulfilled and not feel a drop of discomfort. Hmm. And how’s that working for me?
  2. Impatience.
  3. Looking outside for the answers and trying to control the situation (aka, not trusting that my greatest good is unfolding and is mine if I just accept it).
  4. Trying to “fix” everything at once and giving myself a hard time when I don’t have any focus. Which takes us back to #1.

Kate said the time is ripe for me to make lots of wishes, set as intentions. The reading had lots of cards about going within, inner journeys, etc. and looking for people–in other words: Stop trying to do it all on your own and let people help you, Lynn!

An interesting aside

On the way home from my reading, I was trying to get from Broadway south onto Speer to cut through Cherry Creek, and I couldn’t get over to the right. I grumbled as I drove up 6th Avenue. There are a lot of lights. I wanted to get home to start working on refinishing an old dresser.

As I neared Detroit, I was compelled to stop at this little store called Apothecary Tinctura. It’s an herb and gift store, catering to holistic and homeopathic medicine. There, I was compelled to ask about herbs to help me strengthen my meditation practice (hell, what practice? I should say start it!), and as Kristine was mixing me up a custom blend of Bach’s flower essences, I hear my name.

There was my friend Helen, who I’ve known for about 10 years. She’s an amazing graphic designer and a good friend. We don’t see each other but 2 or 3 times a year.

I started talking about why I was there, and we had a great conversation. Tomorrow we’re going to lunch to keep talking. She and I have always had this connection that allows us to be great brainstormers together. My best professional projects have been done with her.

I don’t believe in coincidences. She decided to stop there on a whim as well. Denver has more than 1.5 million people. We were supposed to meet on Saturday.

I’m paying attention, Universe.