Friday, April 20, 2018

This price ain’t right

My doctor recently advised me to get a shot for pneumonia. I’m over 65. I volunteer in a homeless shelter. And I’ve had two pretty formidable head colds this year.

She didn’t have the drug in her office, but told me I could get the shot at CVS.

When, prescription in hand, I got to CVS, I found that Prevnar wasn’t covered under my drug plan. The shot would cost me $230. We did a bit of back and forth with my doctor and the insurance provider, but I decided to go ahead and get the shot. Amortized across five years, $230 is not much if it prevents me from getting pneumonia.

The bottom line was my bottom line: I can afford it. (And, miraculously, I had just won $230 by winning the NCAA March Madness bracket at the gym. So I even had the cash in my pocket.)

Lucky me.

But for a lot of folks, $230 is a big deal, especially if they’re elderly and on a fixed income.

When my husband was undergoing cancer treatment, we didn’t bother to keep track of all the drug-related costs – prescriptions, chemo – or any costs for that matter. When we’d get the periodic reports from Medicare and Blue Cross, thick files that no one could possibly understand or interpret, we’d just go to the bottom line and find that – hip, hip, hooray! – we owed nothing.

Over two years of fairly intense treatment, I don’t think that Jim’s accumulated out-of-pocket expenses came anywhere near the $230 I paid for the Prevnar shot.

Lucky us. (Sort of. Jim wasn’t all that lucky…)

But for a lot of folks, even those covered by Medicare and/or other insurance, those thick reports include a notice of how much you owe. And for many of those folks, what they owe can be plenty.

Anyway, with the recent nothing-to-do-with-cancer Prevnar episode and Jim’s treatment not all that far in the rearview mirror, I read an article on one cancer drug in the Washington Post with great interest.

There’s a blood cancer drug, Imbruvica, that costs $148K a year. Some physicians looked into whether they could lower costs by lowering the dosage. Turns out, it looked like they could. Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia seemed to do just as well taking fewer pills once they’d gone through an initial higher-dosage round. Which would mean a big money saver for those with high deductibles, and for insurance providers. Looked like a win-win. But not a win-win-win.

While the researchers were thinking about celebrating that win-win:

…they learned of a new pricing strategy by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, the companies that sell Imbruvica through a partnership. Within the next three months, the companies will stop making the original 140-milligram capsule, a spokeswoman confirmed. They will instead offer tablets in four strengths — each of which has the same flat price of about $400, or triple the original cost of the pill.

Just as scientific momentum was building to test the effectiveness of lower doses, the new pricing scheme ensures dose reductions won't save patients money or erode companies' revenue from selling the drug. In fact, patients who had been doing well on a low dose of the drug would now pay more for their treatment. Those who stay on the dose equivalent to three pills a day won't see a change in price. (Source: Washington Post)

The pharmas are, of course, defending this move as innovative and convenient. While – mirabile dictu – keeping their profits.

I’m all in favor of pharmaceutical companies being able to recoup their research costs. But this sounds pretty darned nastily rapacious and f’d up.

Because high out-of-pocket costs are a big barrier to folks staying on their drugs. Someone who had been paying $5K under the prior regimen would now being paying nearly twice that. The average Social Security payment is a bit over $1.1K. And there it could go in one fell swoop. Or worse:

…Despite efforts to connect patients with resources to help them afford co-pays, some will request a drug that is cheaper but maybe less effective — or even push to discontinue the medicine.

I don’t know what the answer is to the high cost of drugs in particular and healthcare in general. And I’m not arguing that it should all be free. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if there were Medicare copays for those who can afford them. And there comes a point where, I believe, someone who elects extraordinary measures should expect to pay for them. (E.g., organ transplants for 80 year olds.)

As gouges go, this move by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, while not quite rising to the Martin Shkreli level, seems a bit much. The new price just ain’t right.

Forget ‘where’s the beef?’ It’s going to be ‘where’s the heme?’

I read somewhere that the food missed the most by former carnivores who’d converted to vegetarianism is bacon. I can see that. But I’m guessing that a good old burger would run a close second. It would for me, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I like meat. I like steak. And duck. Baby lamb chops. Veal piccata. Pork chops. Chicken. I really like chicken.

I like stuff made with meat: beef stew, chicken noodle soup, shepherd’s pie, chili, spaghetti Carbonara.  BLT’s. Gus sandwiches. (A Gus was invented by me and my brother Tom when we were kids: bacon, lettuce, cheese, dill pickle and mayo. Yum!)

But I could become a vegetarian. I’m already about a 90% in-house vegetarian.

What I could never be is a vegan. No dairy? No eggs? No honey? Fuggedaboutit.

But vegetarian? Yeah.

There are plenty of good reasons to become a vegetarian. Health, for  one. Then there’s the yuck factor about where most of our meat comes from. Sure, I look for the free range chicken and grass-fed beef. But those meat factories? The slaughterhouses? Just thinking about the yuck factor…

What I don’t tend to think about is the environmental implications of eating meat. All that meat consumption – and as wealth increases worldwide, there’s a lot more of it – ain’t all that good for Mother Earth. Greenhouse gases, water pollution. We should be eating less meat, not more.

For Patrick Brown, beef is the biggest culprit.

Animal agriculture eats up an astonishing 30 percent of the earth’s land. Brown says he’s tackling the problem with a burger that uses 95 percent less land and 75 percent less water than ground beef.(Source: Bloomberg).

And his company, Impossible Foods, is trying to do something about it. He’s come up with a “magic ingredient” that makes a veggie burger taste like a real burger.

The ingredient, made from soybean roots and genetically engineered yeast, goes into vegetarian Impossible Burgers, which are available in a growing number of restaurants -- even fast-food stalwart White Castle. It contains heme (pronounced HEEM), a key part of red meat and a source of iron, which humans can’t live without. Think of Brown’s discovery as plant-based blood. Brown, 63, says it makes the Impossible Burger sizzle, smell and taste like real red meat…

“The way to solve this big global problem is not by ordering people to change their diets, it’s realizing that we’re using the wrong technology,” Brown said. “You can’t make meat that satisfies the craving that meat-lovers have without heme. It’s the magic ingredient.’

Ah, heme. (Is there anyone else out there of a certain age who’s thinking about Hemo the Magnificent, an animated film all about blood that educated us kiddos in the late 1950’s. I don’t believe that Hemo the Magnificent had anything to say about why we like those drippy, juicy, medium-rare burgers. I’m pretty sure it focused on the blood coursing through our veins. Guess by the time you get to a certain age, pretty much anything and everything can dredge up a reference to something from childhood. All I an say is, expect more of the same.)

The idea of a vegetarian burger that closely resembles a meaty-burger almost gets me to see if there’s a White Castle in Boston where I can get one. Almost, but not quite.

Anyway, I’m all for meatless-meat, and Impossible Burger’s impossible burger sounds more appetizing than that meat grown in a petri dish.

Couple of problems.

Impossible is looking for FDA approval, and the FDA says that plant-based heme is too new for them to sign off on it. Then there’s this:

The heme molecule is also involved in another controversy. Studies have shown that steak lovers are at risk of colon cancer while chicken breast junkies aren’t. Heme makes red meat red, so some researchers think it could be a culprit, said Robert Turesky, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Oh, no. Will vegetarians have to turn to fake chicken McNuggets?

Brown disputes this, dismissing reports on the possibility that heme is a carcinogen as “garbage science.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of smart money backing Impossible Foods, including Bill Gates and Google Ventures.

Fake meat will be one of the year’s hottest food trends. An increasing number of flexitarians -- people not looking to eat meat at every meal -- are helping to drive interest, according to Rabobank. Sales of alternative proteins are dwarfed by the $49 billion red meat and chicken market, but they’re expected to grow about 17 percent a year to $863 million in 2021, according to a CoBank estimate.

Ah, flexitarian. Guess that’s what I am. Always nice to have another modifier…

Meanwhile, go Impossible Foods. Forget ‘where’s the beef?’ Looks like we’ll be asking ‘where’s the heme?’

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Got the blues? Got the reds? Got the Yinmins?

My favorite color is now and always has been blue. Maybe it’s because I was the blue-eyed tow-head who – when the clothing wasn’t hand-me-down, which more often than not it was – was automatically assigned something blue. I was bummed that both my grammar and high school uniforms were forest green, not navy blue. I craved a blue-frosted birthday cake, but my mother didn’t approve of blue as a food color (other than blueberries and Easter eggs). One of the highlights of my childhood was attending a birthday party where not only did the cake have blue icing, but the ginger-ale was died blue, too.

And things haven’t changed all that much. I still gravitate towards blue clothing. My bedroom, foyer, hall, kitchen, and upstairs bathroom all are painted some shade of blue. Two chairs in the living room are blue. (What would my mother say? She didn’t like blue as a decorating color, either.)

I’m enough of a blue person that I’m relieved that, when they assigned a color to indicate the political leaning of a state, left-ish states got blue. (Phew!)

Although in many respects, I’m an oddball, my affection for blue is hardly unique:

It’s overwhelmingly America’s favorite color, according to Pressman of the Pantone Color Institute. “Blue is that concept of hope, promise, dependability, stability, calm, and cool,” she says. “We think of it as a color of constancy and truth. It’s one of the most approachable colors, the color that’s the most comfortable.” Blue is central to the brand imaging of Ikea, Ford, Walmart, and Facebook. It’s on our refrigerator shelves, our walls, our clothes. Two-thirds of Major League Baseball teams feature blue on their uniforms. Blue is everywhere. (Source: Bloomberg)

When it comes to blue, there’s an awful lot of choices out there. Having gone through not one but two Benjamin Moore fan decks when I picked the colors for my 2015 reno, I can vouch for that.

Despite my interest in things blue, I haven’t given a lot of thought to how we get all those color choices. Sure, I was in marketing so I know all about CYMK and Pantone PMS. All those formulae out there…But what’s really behind colors? Hmmmm.

As it turns out, there’s an awful lot, going way back in time, back to before there were MLB teams with some blue in their uniforms.

Blue is one of nature’s most abundant tones, but it’s proved hard for human hands to create. When the ancient Egyptians tried to replicate the deep, oceanic tone of ultramarine to adorn tombs, papyrus, and art, they wound up with something more like turquoise. During the Renaissance, ultramarine could be costlier than gold, because the lapis lazuli from which it derives was mined in remote Afghanistan. (Michelangelo nevertheless scored some for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.) The first modern synthetic pigment, Prussian blue, or ferric ferrocyanide, wasn’t discovered until the early 18th century, by a German chemist trying to make red. Since then, many common blues (cerulean, midnight, aquamarine, smalt) have contained traces of cobalt, a suspected carcinogen.

So there are scientists who focus on developing new pigments. A pigment is “a substance capable of imparting color onto another material.” In other words, you need pigments to make colors. One such scientist is Mas Subramanian, who discovered/invented YInMn blue “the first blue pigment discovered in more than 200 years”. And a pigment that seems to be better, less dangerous, than the blues that are out there.

Pigments get patented, and can turn into big business. The pigment “responsible for the crisp whiteness of traffic lines, toothpaste, and powdered doughnuts” is worth a cool $13.2B per annum. The overall market for pigments is $30B. (Pretty good market share for that powdered doughnut pigment…)

YInMn is wending it’s way through the approval process – it has been approved for industrial coatings and plastics. And Crayola has recently introduced Bluetiful, its first new color in years, which is “inspired” by YInMn.

What might get in YInMn’s way of mass commercialization is that, because of the scarcity of one of its chemical components, it’s pretty pricey.

Anyway, price aside, blue seems to be on a good path. Not so red, which has always been something of a color problem child. Remember when they had to take red M&M’s out of the bag? And I learned from the article, the Red Coats who the embattled farmers took on at Lexington and Concord wore red coats “infused with crushed cochineal beetles.” Well, yuck.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat…The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has.

Pigment scientists are working on it, but, as a non-red person – other than red Chuckles and jelly beans - I’m not all that concerned.

Red’s problem is just one more reason I’m happy to be blue.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On the 18th of April in ‘75…

I had something else lined up for today’s post, but then presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted out this image – Grant Wood’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. This, quite naturally, put me in mind of Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the first two stanzas of which we had to memorize in grammar school.

Paul Revere's Ride

And, so, every April 18th, these words pop into my head, unbidden:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.
I grew up, of course, in what was likely the last era when schoolchildren were required to memorize stuff. Lots of poetry – much of it doggerel. The times-tables up to 12. And, if you went to parochial school, lots of catechism answers (many of which made no sense whatsoever). 
And this stuff sticks with you. I’ve got those two first stanzas of “Paul Revere’s Ride” down cold. Not to mention the entirety of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” which commemorates the dead of the Battle of Concord. (Those dead being the “country-folk” who got “up and to arm” thanks to Paul Revere’s midnight ride.) The Battle of Concord occurred on the 19th of April in ‘75. And these words will pop into my head, unbidden, tomorrow. 
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Concord Bridge is a really lovely spot. If we ever get a lovely spring day, I just might zip out there and pay it a visit. (And recite this poem, silently, to myself.)

What else do I know, thanks to the nuns?

Other first Longfellow stanzas – “Hiawatha” and “Evangeline.” For some reason, bits of Robert W. Service (“The Spell of the Yukon.”), bits of Alfred Noyes (“The Highwayman,” “The Moon Is Up.”), bits of John Greenleaf Whittier (“Snow-Bound”). Henry Holcomb Bennett (“The Flag Goes By”) And, yes, I had to look up the poet’s name for this one. I would have sworn it was Helen Hunt Jackson. But, no, she was “October’s Bright Blue Weather.”

Occasionally, we memorized a poem in its entirety:

William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils.” Emily Dickinson’s “I Never Saw a Moor” – an easy-peasy one: 8 lines. Robert Frost “Stopping by the Woods.” Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” – even better than “I Never Saw a Moor” in terms of easy-peasy: 6 lines.

Most memorable was “O Captain! My Captain” by Walt Whitman, which we recited, all together, in ultra-dramatic tones, and with a beat that presaged rap (until Sister Saint Wilhelmina stopped us). I remember my fifth grade class – nearly 50 strong – pounding our hearts as we moaned, “But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.” Who were we to make fun of Walt Whitman? A bunch of smart-alecky 10 years old at Our Lady of the Angels in Worcester.

I don’t know what all this memorization was worth, but nearly 60 years on, I can still dredge up plenty of it.

And today I’ll be dredging up “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Maybe I’ll even walk down to the North End, to Old North Church, to Paul Revere’s House, to Paul Revere’s statue. Which is one of the benefits of living in a city that’s chocked full of history. And a bit of poetry.

Thanks, Michael Beschloss, for putting this in my mind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Peak gingham? Who knew

For the last couple of summers, my go-to shirt was a washable linen number, faded denim-blue, from LL Bean. Simple. Cool. Comfy. Goes with everything, if your everything is pretty much khakis, jeans, and no-color linen pants. Anyway, I lived in it, and have been looking forward to living in it again, if we ever have anything resembling spring or summer weather.

I’ve gotten so much use out of that shirt that, when I saw it in the LL Bean catalog in aqua teal gingham, well, $10 coupon in hanLL Bean Ginghamd, how could I resist? 

So I didn’t.

Of course, the weather has been ghastly. And, of course, I’m well aware that one doesn’t wear linen or white or a straw hat before Memorial Day (or after Labor Day). Still, I’ve had that gingham shirt sitting there on the catch-all ottoman in my bedroom, and every once in a while I’ve picked it up, given it a look, and envisioned myself, portrait of simple, cool, comfy sophistication. Out there playing Beacon Hill doyenne. Passing for a W.A.S.P.

And along comes Bloomberg to suck the joy out of any and all anticipation. Their joy-sucking vehicle: an article entitled:

We’ve Reached Peak Gingham. You Should Find Some New Shirts

Well, I never.

You should find some new shirts, not me, thank you.

Gingham, the woven cloth in contrasting checks, has had a fashion moment in recent years. Somehow, it’s managed to become a pervasive summer style. Now it seems those checks are starting to fade.

The pattern is peaking and will likely retreat back to its status as a humdrum basic for warmer months, fashion trend analysts predict. This means that, while we’re bound to see city sidewalks laden with gingham again this summer, it may be the last such time in a while. (Source: Bloomberg)

At least I’ll have next summer to be part of the gingham-ladening of city sidewalks before this charming little check declines into frumphood. Fashion oblivion.

Until I read the article, I had not been aware that gingham had been last year’s go-to print for a number of fashion labels. Not surprisingly, someone who orders clothing from LL Bean is not all that up on fashion labels. But Kenzo showed off a “white-and-red gingham vichy dress” during Paris Fashion Week last year.

Here I must take a pray-tell pause to ask: what, pray-tell, is a vichy dress? Something worn in Vichy, France? Huh?

Googling did little good to find an answer. One of the items that came up when I searched for “vichy dress” was an image of a blue-checked gingham dress from the Vermont Country Store, an emporium that makes LL Bean look like the devil’s outfitter, Prada.

Anyway, gingham has drifted from Fashion Week down to mass-marketers catering to the hoi polloi.

Stores such as Target Corp. and department store outlets updated their basic offerings, including shirts and blouses, with gingham. They caused a 73.8 percent spike in new items featuring the print in March, according to data from trend forecasting firm WGSN.

And once Target et al. latch on, high fashion puts its nose in the air and moves on.

The mass-market stores are “where trends go to die,” said Emma Griffin, an analyst at WGSN. The garments being sold at those stores are the simplest basics. It’s gingham in its most boring form. “It’s reached its peak,” she said.

Guess I’ve been told. The gingham dream is dying. For everyone other than myself. I’m still itching to get into that gingham LL shirt.

Will calico supplant gingham? (As in gingham dog and the calico cat.) Apparently not.

What’s replacing gingham? Mixed checkered patterns and plaids, another timeless print with overlapping stripes. Appearances of these checks are up 15 percent year-over-year on pre-summer 2018 catwalks, thanks to such high-end fashion brands as Victoria Beckham and Red Valentino, according to WGSN. Meanwhile, gingham was relatively quiet on runways over the past two seasons. That may have been a signal.

Thank the fashion gods I have a checkered shirt in my closet. And maybe a plaid or two. Not sure what “overlapping stripes” are, but stripes I do.

But the signal about gingham being on the way out? That’s a signal I’m ignoring. At least not until I get to wear my new shirt a few times. In fact, I’ll bet that I’ll still have that shirt when gingham comes back around.

Never in style, never out of style…

Monday, April 16, 2018

Five years on…

It was a chemo day. And because on chemo day my husband was pumped full of steroids and felt pretty good and had plenty of energy, we always went out for lunch. Scampo’s? Toscano’s? One of those places. I can’t remember which one, but they were our two post- chemo spots.

It was a chemo day, so when we got back home after lunch, I took a nap. Jim – all pumped up – didn’t.

He got me up about 3 p.m. to tell me that something had happened at The Marathon. Something bad.

I walked out front, and there was the usual complement of runners walking around, shrouded with their silver warmer-upper-blankets. Were there cops? There must have been. Were there sirens? There must have been. All I remember outside our front door was runners milling around the Public Garden and the Common.

Soon enough we found out what had happened. It was bad. Really bad.

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Here’s what Pink Slip had to say five years ago today. April 16, 2013:

What was, up until 2:50 p.m., a glorious day…

Personally, even at the time I knew it hadn’t really been a glorious day. Not for us. We kinda-sorta already knew that, if this chemo wasn’t last ditch, it was second-to-last-ditch. Which is what it turned out to be. We already knew that Jim’s cancer wasn’t curable. But we hoped for manageable. We hoped for remission.

But Patriots Day is always a glorious day for Boston. The Marathon. Spring. Sox at home…

Only not that day. Not April 15, 2013.

A week on, I had processed my thoughts, and here they are in a rather long post dated April 22, 2013.

That was the week that was…

And a few days later, things were sort of back to normal, and I went to see the Sox play with my dear old wonderful friend Marie, which I wrote about on April 26, 2013.

Home Opener

It was pretty clear by April 2013 that my husband was on borrowed time. Not so with Marie. Her cancer recurrence wasn’t diagnosed until the fall.

But by the end of April 2014, I’d lost them both – Jim in February, Marie in April.

I guess I’m going full-narcissist here and, on a day when I should be thinking about the fifth anniversary of the Bombing, and the death and destruction it rained down on so many, I’m thinking about what was going in my world at that time.

Anyway, I still love Patriots’ Day.

The forecast is for rainy weather, but not call-the-game rainy weather, so I’m heading out to Fenway to watch the Red Sox play the O’s – my home opener for this year. After the game, I’ll watch a few late coming runners finish. Then I may head over to the post-Marathon party at my gym/PT hangout, where the owner and a lot of the patients/gym rats are runners.

But I will also be thinking of those who were killed – Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Sean Collier, and this little guy, Martin Richard:


Five years on…Those five years sure went fast…

Friday, April 13, 2018

Throw another log on? Not so fast!

We haven’t had much of a spring quite yet. Lots of days when the temps have stayed in the 40’s. Damned few of those glorious early spring days when the temps are in 60’s or even – how loverly – the 70’s.

So a lot of my neighbors are still using their fireplaces.

I like the smell of smoke. I like the feeling of toasty toes when I get up close and personal with a fireplace-fire. I like the occasional occasions when one of those neighbors invites me in to enjoy a glass of wine by a big roaring fire.

But my own fireplace?


I have a perfectly nice fireplace in my living room. And during the 27 years I’ve lived here, I’ve had exactly one fire in that lovely fireplace. A Duraflame log, maybe 25 years ago. And that was that.Fireplace (2)

Too much of a hassle. Too much concern about a cinder hopping out and singeing the carpet. Or my toasting toes. Too much clean up after. Too much worry about something ugly happening in the chimney.

And as you can see, instead of logs, I have stuff in my hearth. candles. A vase. A work of art – an enameled copper plate made years ago by an artist friend of my brother-in-law. At Christmas, this all gets augmented with poinsettias.Nice big festive flaming-red poinsettias.

Turns out that, in terms of the environment, by not firing up my fireplace, I’m onto something. Turns out that burning wood in your own fireplace is a big contributor to air pollution. At least in Europe, so I’m guessing that – even though we have more wide-open spaces and big skies – it works the same way here in the good old US of A.

This is becoming a big deal in Britain, where wood burning – in fireplaces and in wood-burning stoves – has caught fire.

About 175,000 new wood-burning stoves are sold in Britain each year. In 2015 an official survey found that 7.5% of Britons burn wood at home, usually to provide a little extra heat (most wood-burning households have central heating) or because they like looking at flames. Wood-burning is fashionable and seemingly environmentally friendly, since trees can be replanted. It is also, unfortunately, a big contributor to air pollution in Europe.Gary Fuller of King’s College, London, an air-pollution expert, has calculated that wood-burning is responsible for between 23% and 31% of all the fine particles generated in the cities of Birmingham and London. These particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometres (thousandths of a millimetre) in diameter, are blamed for various respiratory diseases and lung cancer. In fact, pollution from wood-burning seems to be falling gently, despite the rush to install stoves—perhaps because new stoves are cleaner than old ones, and much cleaner than simply burning logs in a fireplace. But that is still a lot of smoke. (Source: The Economist)

One reason for the pollution is that all those wonderfully evocative smelling particulates going up in smoke are doing so in densely populated areas, where pollution is already clustered. Places like Birmingham and London. And Boston.

The situation is even worse in Denmark.

Domestic wood-burning supplies about 3% of Denmark’s energy consumption but accounts for 67% of fine-particle emissions.

Unfortunately, they’re predicting that the spring cold-spell continues for a while here in Boston.

By mid-April I’m usually switching my winter clothing out for spring stuff. I always keep a few un-seasonal things on hand for those cold days in summer and unseasonably warm days of winter (which we do occasionally get, even in this bill chill of a winter freezing its way into spring).

So I’m guessing that my wood-fire-warmed neighbors will continue stoking their fires for another couple of weeks.

Environmental impact-wise, however, sounds like we’d all be better off throwing on another fleece rather than another log.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Sign me up for a sarco

Earlier this week, I went to a wake and funeral for the husband of a friend. Vin was just 69,his death sudden and unexpected. As I told my friend Mary when we spoke at the wake, Vinnie died doing what he loved best: hanging with Mary, something he’d love doing since they met in law school. Vin and Mary had been married for 43 years. They had just met with a real estate agent to talk about selling the home where they’d raised their boys, and were on their way to lunch. Vinnie was a Villanova grad, so it had been  a good week. Nova had won the NCAA basketball championship on Monday night, and this was Wednesday

On the way back to Boston from the wake, we were talking about how much we all wanted to die like Vinnie. No pain, no ventilator, no last ditch/low probability chemo, no heroic measures, no time to panic, no fear.

Yes, we all want to die like Vinnie – just not at the age of 69.

It’s wonderful for the person who dies. Not so great for the ones left behind.

The good part of a more prolonged dying process is that you get to make your farewells and start preparing emotionally for the loss that’s to come. It’s just that there needs to be a happy medium.

When I used to hear about someone being diagnosed with cancer and dying two months later, I’d think that this was just awful. Having lost two loved ones to long, multi-year bouts with cancer, I’m not so sure that it actually is. Two months might well be that happy medium. You miss the hell-scape of a long illness, but you get to say your good-byes and make sure, as they say, that your affairs are in at least semi-order.

Of course, most of us don’t get a choice of how we wind things down and out. That is, unless at some point, we decide to take control.

And, yes, I’m a supporter of right to die/physician-assisted suicide initiatives (as long as there are plenty of safeguards in place). As medical technology improves, this becomes more and more of an issue. There’s a big difference between being artificially kept alive and living.

Physician Philip Nitschke is working on an answer to the question “how do we die with dignity?” And even taking it one step beyond, and focusing on a good death not just for the terminally ill. He’s the founder of a non-profit organization, Exit International, focused on the legalization of euthanasia – and on the well elderly being able to come up with an exit plan so that they’re ready when life takes a real turn for the worse.

Nitschke has been giving a lot of thought to this over the years:

Thinking in this context about what I wanted my own last day to be like, I began to envision a machine, device, invention, thing  ― I’m searching for terminology here that is not yet in our vocabulary ― that might elevate the spirit when the end is nigh.

“The Sarco,” as the capsule that I have co-designed with Dutch engineer Alex Bannink has been named, is my first tangible expression of enquiry for death to be much more than “just dignified.”

The Sarco is a 3D-printable machine that provides death Sarcoby hypoxia, an environment  with low levels of oxygen. It can be transported wherever one chooses. Facing the awe of the Rockies? Overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean? Where you die is certainly an important factor.

Nice scenery at the end is hardly a new thought. The film “Soylent Green” showed the benefit of the peace that pretty pictures and a soothing soundtrack can bring when drifting away from this world. The thought that ground-breaking film left on the shelf, though, was the possibility of feeling not just dignity at the end, but of feeling euphoric. And why not?(Source: Huffington Post)

Well, I’d just as soon that the good doctor hadn’t brought “Soylent Green” up. First there’s the life-sustaining use of human remains, with its high yuck factor. Then there’s the alarming note that the movie takes place in a completely dystopic 2022. I don’t think that, even at the rate Scott Pruitt’s going, the environment will have gone to complete hell in the next four years. But, alas, we can’t completely rule out Dystopia 2022 either.

So just in case, sign me up for a Sarco:

A Sarco death is painless. There’s no suffocation, choking sensation or “air hunger” as the user breathes easily in a low-oxygen environment. The sensation is one of well-being and intoxication.

Here’s how it works: Potential users fill out an online test to gauge their mental fitness. If they pass, they receive an access code to a Sarco device that works for 24 hours. After the code is entered and an additional confirmation given, liquid nitrogen in the generator is released, rapidly bringing down the oxygen level in the capsule. Within a minute, the user loses consciousness; death comes a short time later.

A Sarco death is painless. There’s no suffocation, choking sensation or “air hunger” as the user breathes easily in a low-oxygen environment. The sensation is one of well-being and intoxication.

I will, of course, want to access my Sarco on the very day when life’s no longer worth living. But here’s the thing: what if I wait to long and miss the window of opportunity. By waiting just a few hours too long, I fear I’d be addled or physically unable to put in my access code.

Still, I like the idea of the Sarco. I envision myself talking it over with my nearest and dearest. We’d have a final glass of prosecco, eat ice cream, and tell a few stories. Hugs and kisses all round, and then we all walk together to my Sarco.

I want it to be in a beautiful place. Snail Trail in Provincetown, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, would work. But it would be a drag getting the Sarco in over the dunes. Let alone having to drag the Sarco back out with my dead weight in it.

Sky Road in Connemara? That’s a gorgeous spot. We could just have the driver pull over. The Irish do death pretty well. That might work.

I don’t imagine that the Red Sox organization would be particularly happy to have someone fade out during the seventh inning stretch.

Anyway, I hope I have a good long time to figure this all out.

Sure, when the time comes, I wouldn’t mind going like Vinnie. Just not quite yet. But it’s good to have a back up plan, and the Sarco may be mine.