Monday, December 27, 2010

Size is Relative

CNN ran a story on Christmas featuring a 98-year-old woman who had 100 grandchildren (actually 24 grandchildren, 57 great grandchildren, and 19 great great grandchildren).  Someone thought this was news.

My 4X great grandmother, Jael Kavanaugh Woods, doubled this.  Interviewed at age eighty (1845), she noted that she had 16 children (all living to be adults), 104 grandchildren, and 91 great grandchildren.  By the time of her death in 1848, a few more had been added.

Jael was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1765, and moved with her parents to Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) at a young age.  At seventeen, she married Peter Woods, an itinerant Babtist minister, and started a family (2).  At twenty-five (1790), she moved to Madison County, Kentucky, where her remaining 14 children were born.  At forty-five (1810), she and her husband moved the entire family (children ranging in age from one to twenty-five) to Franklin County, Tennessee; and from there (1819) to Cooper County, Missouri.

The children were born in largely unsettled territory, without doctors or hospitals.  These families travelled by wagon;  built their own homes (including their roads and churches); sewed their own clothes; grew or hunted for their food; cooked on wood stoves; dug wells for water.  No malls; no McDonald's.  Of course, this was before the age of entitlement.

You frequently hear that the United States is a nation of immigrants.  After the Civil War, as the country industrialized and the cities grew, this may have become true.  The reality is that although everyone descends from original immigrants, most of the early population growth came from settlers (or slaves) having generations of large families.  Seldom do you see pioneer families marrying recent immigrants. More likely they marry members of their own community (frequently second or third cousins).

Jael Woods' daughter Mary Woods Dallas also had 16 children; and her daughter-in-law Susan Jennings Woods (my 3X great grandmother and wife of  Charles Woods) had 12.  Only in the 20th century did the size of the families decline.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What am I missing?

About two weeks ago, I mentioned to Vera that I was having forebodings of misfortune about to occur.  Before Christmas.  Now that nothing has happened, I think only that I've missed something.

Our early snowstorm cleared up and the weather has been seasonal.  Of course, other parts of  North America and Europe haven't been so fortunate.

The Christmas tree is up.  Presents are bought, wrapped, and sitting under it.  The turkey is thawing. Dinner trimmings, including finger food, are bought.  Baking of cookies and tarts is done. The dog has been to the groomer for her Christmas clip.  Carpets are vacuumed; floors are washed.  It's only the 23rd and my list of Christmas tasks is completed.  So much for forebodings, although we do have a couple of family situations which concern me, (largely out of my control).

Vera's friend Harry Klassen did pass away.  We went to Harry's "Celebration" on Saturday.  The hall was packed and his family was pleased.

Maybe I should work on New Year's resolutions.   

And wish everyone peace, prosperity, and a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Treatment or Profits

Cholesterol is a waxy substance secreted by our livers and found in food that we eat.  Medical studies correlate the amount of cholesterol in our blood with the amount of plaque build-up in our arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes.  It is believed that reducing cholesterol in the blood will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The common method for reducing cholesterol levels are drugs, both statins, which reduce the amount of cholesterol produced internally, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors, which reduce the amount received from  food.

Without drugs, I have higher than recommended levels of cholesterol.  By taking a statin, Lipitor (Pfizer), in low doses (10mg), my LDL-C  (low density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol) is lowered to an acceptable level for most persons (2.6 mmol/l; 100 mg/dcl;).  A few years ago, this was considered near "optimum".

Two things then happened.  First, my brother had heart surgery under age 60.  This increased my risk factors for cardiovascular disease to "high risk", because of family history.  Secondly, the guidelines for optimum  LDL-C  levels for "high risk" patients were lowered from 2.5 mmol/l to 2.0 mmol/l.

My doctor then recommended increasing the Lipitor dosage to 20 mg and added a second drug, Ezetrol (Zetia in the U. S.) (Merck), a cholesterol absorption inhibitor.  This successfully lowered my LDL-C  to 1.8.mmol/l (70 mg/dcl). 

Given the apparent success of these types of drugs and their resultant popularity, sales boomed.  Lipitor became the #1 selling prescription drug in the U. S. (peaking at revenues of  $12.7 billion annually in 2007); and Ezetrol brought in $ 5.0 billion for Merck.

Then a surprise.  Under Congressional probing, it was discovered that Merck had failed to release clinical results which showed that while Ezetrol was effective in reducing cholesterol, it apparently had no effect on reducing the amount of plaque build-up in the arteries, and that eventual outcomes for patients were not improved.  In fact, outcomes might actually be reduced.  Merck pleaded that more studies were needed.

Of course, I asked my doctor about this.  He didn't know.  He was following the guidelines and the recommendations.  He said he would ask his father-in-law, also a doctor, who knew more about these things than he did.  I've yet to get an answer from him.

I stopped taking the Ezetrol for six months, but my LDL cholesterol returned to the old (previously acceptable) level.  I've resumed taking the Ezetrol.

Now I have several concerns: (1) My drug treatment is not based on any symptoms that I have (other than higher than normal levels of cholesterol); (2) My doctor doesn't know whether a prescribed drug is effective; (3) Clinical reports cast suspicion on the drug; (4) Reasons for the guidelines to be made more stringent (availability of drugs or improved outcomes?); (5) The role of  profits to the pharmaceutical industry. 

The question of pharmaceutical profits arises particularly when I see their reps trying to get time with my doctor and wonder how successful they are in promoting their products.  Lipitor is now available in generic form in Canada, but not in the U. S., due to "negotiations" between Pfizer and the generic manufacturer.  It all makes you wonder.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering John Lennon

On the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, it may seem like there have always been the Beatles.  The reality is that they were not an immediate success in North America.

Sometime in the spring of 1963, Herb Ware, an English student living at my university fraternity house, told me that the  Beatles were coming.  They were going to be big.

None of us had much of an idea who they were.  I checked the charts.  They had one song, "From Me to You", at number 5.   No one had ever seen them.  Ho hum.  Herb was obviously overly enthusiastic. 

Fast forward to the spring of 1964.  The Beatles had the top five singles.  They drowned out every other artist.

Mob scenes. Movies. Highly anticipated albums.  Memorable music.  Notoriety: "We're more popular than Jesus".  Peace Movement:  "All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance".  Senseless murder.

So we remember John Lennon.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

(As a disclaimer, these words were written by John Lennon.  What I assume John meant by "no countries" are the nationalisms which set people against one another; and by "no religion" are the intolerant aspects of  some theologies which also divide people.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Defending Beliefs

Of course, I knew better, and was being provocative, when I stated in my preceding post that "educated" Christians might not believe everything in the Bible to be literally true.  My experience told me something else. The two sentences prior to this suggestion were framed as questions in case anyone wanted to disagree. From the response, I find that some do.

Maybe the Christmas Star did move ahead of the three wise men from the East and did stop in the sky above the birthplace of Jesus.  That is, if you believe in miracles; if you reject the laws of motion and gravity and what astronomy teaches about stars.

I wasn't  trying to defend the billboard that the Atheists put up.  I probably wouldn't have done it, having no real interest in being offensive.  It was just the reaction I wondered about.  If someone is really comfortable in their own beliefs, why is someone questioning them so upsetting?  Why do they need to "counterpunch"?  If they don't like Newton's laws, why should I be offended?

I've made small efforts over the years to reconcile scientific discovery with Biblical stories.  Do you really think Noah could have collected all those animals, leaving the rest to be drowned?  Do you really think Eve was formed from the rib of Adam?   I've been assured yes, although the explanations have been somewhat creative.

I've been told that God both raised the seas and lowered the mountains to facilitate the covering of the earth with water during the Great Flood.  I've been told that God gave Eve estrogen to change her from a man to a woman, because she shared the DNA of Adam.  Who am I to quarrel?  After all, beliefs are beliefs.

I've been advised that if there really is a God that man should stop trying to recreate him for his own advantage.  This appeals to me.  However God has created the universe is probably his business; our job is to discover how and why he did it, no matter how imperfect we find the answers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catholic Outrage

The billboard at the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel reads, "You KNOW it's a Myth  This Season, Celebrate REASON!"  Along with the wording is a depiction of  three men riding camels, a very bright star, and a nativity scene in a simple stable.  The billboard is sponsored by American Atheists. 

So?  It is a myth, isn't it?  Three wise men didn't actually know where to find the baby Jesus, much less have any idea about his significance, did they?  A bright star didn't actually hover above the stable (and not destroy the earth), did it?  Certainly, educated Christians know that this story is a myth, an allegory attaching importance to the birth of Jesus, but not literal history.

Now we have the Catholic League outrage.  Atheists believe in nothing, stand for nothing!  They think man came from apes, who fell from the trees! 

Albert Einstein, an atheist by Catholic standards,  wrote:

"A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

" I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.

"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity."

To my mind, Einstein's beliefs were somewhat more than "nothing".