Too long away

There are few excuses for neglecting a blog but here are mine.

2016 was a difficult year for us. My husband’s cousin, a youngish man of 64(young from our perspective) died in the late Spring, a shock to all his family. Late in the summer our beloved dog Charlie became ill and died of a small tumour in her great heart. Health issues, since partially resolved, both our own and those of close friends, occupied the rest of the year.

But we are in a new year, and the pain of those losses is receding. Not to say the world is comfortable with a man with a clear personality disorder in the White House, but one can carry on.

My plans to become a writer of non-fiction have faltered, mainly because I write fiction and that seems to be that. However, there is a good deal more to learn about writing fiction and I am looking forward to a retreat in April with the kind friends of Writescape. Before that, I  will travel to Bermuda to visit my sister and her family. One of my journeys there resulted in No Motive for Murder, the third in my Dangerous Journeys series.

Another book, currently titled Painting of Sorrow, is under consideration by an agent. Fingers crossed.

Bad news is that my long-time publisher, Arline Chase of Write Words Inc. has closed up shop. Soon I hope to republish the books under my own imprint. so many thanks due to Arline for taking a chance on a beginning writer when she published Murderous Roots. All best wishes to Arline going forward.

Because of Arline’s retirement, I’ve been studying self-publishing both at CreateSpace and at Smashwords, where my books currently have a home. When I’m ready, I’ll reissue all four plus in the fall, the fifth in the series.

Of course, I read. Today I finished a book by a writer friend, Crozier Green. His novel of the early days of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, titled The Little Wagons, was a terrific read. Please see the review below.

Crozier Green has written an engrossing, action-filled novel of the beginnings of the Cosa Nostra in Italy, seen through the eyes of three men and the woman they all desired. Two of the men rose from sulphur mines, graduated to the prison of Palermo and battled for supremacy in the nascent crime families of nineteenth-century Sicily. The woman, a wild and wildly-intelligent daughter of one of the bosses, manipulates both men and the officer of the Carabinieri who loved her, to gain power of her own.

The Little Wagons is suspense-full, fast-paced, well-written book that deserves five stars for its vivid characterization. Even minor characters are well-described. I won’t forget any of them soon.

The plot, involving as it does the entwined lives of four different people, is handled well. The opening description of the sulphur mines brings the reader into a hellish, claustrophobic world. The setting alone is sufficient to explain why men would do anything, including murder to escape from it.

The Little Wagons is a great read and terrific history.

That’s about it for a sunny and warm Saturday in the Kawartha Lakes.

 

 

 

 

Happenstance and Science

Quest for a wonder drug started with shrew bait – The Globe and Mail.

An article in this morning’s Globe and Mail tells the story of a researcher, Dr. Jack Stewart who started to look at the pain-killing possibilities in shrew saliva. Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? But that is the nature of science. It was known, the article tells us that shrew saliva had paralytic properties. Dr. Irwin G. Martin had published a paper on the subject in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1981. Dr. Stewart’s research into the chemical that caused the paralysis led him to his recent discovery. A typical chain in science: primary research in an area as unlikely as shrew saliva at one end and a potential treatment for not one but three major cancers— ovarian, breast and prostate— at the other.

This is the chain that politicians, businessmen and other non-scientists don’t seem to understand. Much of medical discovery comes by happenstance. Vincristine and Vinblastine are potent anti-cancer agents derived from the periwinkle plant, common now in many of our gardens. The plant searchers, funded by amateur botanists and Royal Societies, brought plants and seeds from all over the globe, often to London. From there the seeds were shared, first to Paris, according to Michael F. Brown, writing in Who Owns Native Culture, 2003. Folk medicine revealed that many plants were in common use as treatments for disease. Anthropology, botany, chemistry, medicine, all studying these plants, often a considerable remove from any thought of practical application, but all leading through the cross-pollination of publication, to the drug that brought hope at last to childhood victims of acute leukaemia. I first met the drug while I was working as a resident at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1972, treating those children, mostly under five years, who now had a chance, not just for survival, but for a cure.

This won’t happen, can’t happen without the funding of primary research,  research without a known outcome. How can you predict that shrew saliva might cure human cancers? But you can fund the inquiring minds, let them talk to one another, and wonderful things can happen from that cross-pollination.

We deny funding to universities and basic science at our peril.

The Harper Government and Statscan

Ottawa set to announce major overhaul of EI | CTV News.

At the end of this story from the Canadian Press is the following:

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley’s department has stopped sending Statistics Canada key and current information about how much federal money is flowing to each of the provinces for EI claimants.ndrew Jackson, the Canadian Labour Congress’s chief economist says the loss of data will make it much more difficult to analyse the impacts of changes to the EI rules.

So they are changing the rules, but don’t bother them with the facts about the consequences of their actions. If there were ever the hallmark of the ideologue, this has got to be it. This government has the same approach to science– the Conservatives have fixed ideas, based on some political theory, and not rigorous scientific investigation, and are making decisions in that fashion. I wonder how they would react to a physician who made decisions about treatment based on a belief, not investigative studies. Their decisions, based only on belief, may alter our country beyond recognition. Who voted for that?

Science Advances.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/subatomic-particle-may-travel-faster-than-the-speed-of-light/article2176893/

The above article in the Globe and Mail tells us the exciting—if true—news that scientists have now created a particle that moves faster than the speed of light. For those of us who are impaired in our knowledge of physics, this news brings a sense that the world will somehow change, even as our understanding of it does. And perhaps it will. If objects, albeit at this point neutrinos, can move faster than the speed of light, what does it imply for science-fiction concepts such as time travel and teleportation. And what about weapons? It seems that every advance in pure science brings in its wake those who choose to use the new knowledge or technology to create ever more efficient ways to kill their fellow creatures.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/health/13gene.html?pagewanted=2&ref=general&src=mv

This article in the New York Times tells of a break-through of a hopeful sort. Scientists who used their knowledge of a killer—the AIDS virus—and used it to construct a weapon of a different sort, this one loaded with genes that will seek out and destroy cancer cells, in this case the B cells of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The article has an excellent explanation and graphics.

I think the authors downplay the risks of the treatment. It is no small matter to have all your B cells destroyed and live dependent on infusions of gammaglobulin to fight everything from hepatitis to the common cold. On the other hand, to have these little T cell grenades, reduced in number once they have done their job, but waiting, waiting for next evil cancerous cell to appear, must be comforting. The treatment itself, once the first days of fever and racking chills while the battle ensues are over, seems benign, with no side effects save for the long range one of susceptibility to infection.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27paper.html?ref=health

Another outside the box thinker. Dr. George Whitesides has manipulated the science of microtubules and miniaturization to create a laboratory on a piece of blotting paper no larger than a postage stamp. This was done with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This technology has the potential to put testing into the field far from the conventional laboratories and indeed into the hands of the patients and other users, i.e. farmers. Yes, farmers.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27sari.html

And finally a low-tech solution that any woman in a sari-wearing nation could use to keep her family safe from cholera and other water-borne illnesses. The sad part of the article is the drop-off in use over time if there is no outside reinforcement. However there was a 25% increase in those who had not been trained to use the sari now filtering their water.

This same information appeared also in 2010 http://mbio.asm.org/content/1/1/e00034-10.full