Saturday, November 21, 2009

fuss about mammography guidelines

Old news, just another agency saying it again.

And you'd think a sniper was shooting 40 year old women at a shopping mall.

I don't understand why women are so devoted to such a lousy test. Mammography may save some lives - not often and usually in older women.

And the blogosphere is full of women saying they were diagnosed by mammogram in their 40's and would be dead if they hadn't been tested. That might be true for a few, but it can't be true for many. This is like basing health policy on shark attacks or lightning strikes. Most of these women would have found lumps a little later, had them biopsied, and been treated the same way months or years later, with the same excellent survival rates. Some of them would have been screened at 50 and the lesions that were present at 44 would have vanished anyway.

Commentators tell me that breast cancer is the greatest health concern of women. Only if they are illiterate or misinformed or responding too enthusiastically to marketing plans. Others have announced that women do not base health decisions on evidence or statistics. That's not true. I do.

I was 53 at diagnosis but I don't think that mammogram saved my life. I can't be sure, but I might have died of heart disease at 70 with the same DCIS in my right breast, not bothering anyone.

I've always looked at evidence and guidelines. I was skeptical about mammography. No skeptical enough to ignore it
completely, but I spaced them 5 years apart. I thought that was often enough and it turned out it was.

We have way too much breast cancer "awareness" and way too much screening.

The guidelines (which are not new incidentally) are rational, not rationing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Reasons to live in Alaska

Nobody ever asks what I think about Sarah Palin

Muktuk (no one eats raw whale in the Lower 48)


Night skies in winter

Moose in yard


Dog mushing

Fillipino food

Fourth of July in Juneau

legal ivory from extinct mammals

Reasons to move to Florida

Cuban sandwiches

place is swarming with Keadys

can walk dog without putting on sweater, coat, and four booties

26 species of turtles

over one million alligators

no volcanoes


better chance for a real chopped liver sandwich

fresh produce

flowers all year round

Saturday, August 22, 2009

alaska vegies

Last week I went to the one of the many local farmers' markets. Now I know many people don't associate Alaska with fresh produce. But we have beautiful and delicious vegetables, and more types than southerners would imagine. Big, expensive vegetables.

Last week I bought some carrots, cucumbers, and parsley. And I looked for cabbage. The usual table cabbages ( not the giants grown for competition every year) were way too big.

I love cabbage - raw or cooked. I can eat the usual supermarket cabbage all by myself in a week or two. And Alaska cabbages are remarkably sweet and tender. But huge.

So I thought about buying a nice Alaska cabbage. I would have to find three other people to share it with me. It was all too much to cope with.

Today I visited another farmers' market. I bought local cheese, mikunya greens, daikon, turnips. And a couple normal size cabbages, one green and one red. I asked the Korean farmers about them. "Pick early," they said. "Too big, no one buy".

Tomorrow, cole slaw with shredded daikon and carrots!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

health care reform and stupidity

I am trying to figure out the health care reform protesters. They don't look like wealthy hospital owners, cardiac surgeons, or imaging equipment executives. Most of them look like people who have jobs and the kind of health insurance which will bankrupt them after a trip to the emergency room, the birth if a baby, or an early and treatable cancer. What the hell are they defending?

It can't possibly be health care in the US today. This seems to be a new and mysterious battle in the culture wars, like creationists, vaccination resistors, and gay marriage opponents. Sarah Palin, of course, is right in the middle of it. I didn't think she would just disappear but this is even worse than I thought.

Maybe Charles Pierce is right in "Idiot America", when he says we have become a nation that values ignorance and superstition over knowledge and science.

And the health care reform they are objecting to isn't even the single payer or "socialized" model they are protesting. In fact it looks like a rather wimpy compromise instead of a solution. There are sound reasons why all other major industrialized nations have gone the single payer route.

Obama has only been in office seven months and I am already back to my old angry self!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

happy to have herps

I came home from work today frustrated about my job and my life. I am a little embarrassed to report how much my reptile and amphibian pets improved my mood.

I have two great dogs. They greet me with enthusiasm after an absence of ten hours. But they are almost too much like me. They read my moods and respond to them. They know how to get what they want (food) from me.

Tonight we will snuggle in my bed and I will pet them and talk to them.

The herps really don't care about me. This is remarkably soothing.

I have been worried about the frog for six months. He has refused to eat more than once every six to eight weeks. I know that he is an old frog. I am at least his third human and I adopted him four years ago. So I have worried about frog palliative care and frog euthanasia Then a month ago, he started eating. Now he is up to two goldfish (and the occasional earthworm) each week. Tonight I cleaned an enormous poop from his cage and told him how pleased I was.

My brothers used to tease me about being easily entertained.

The king snake had eaten a mouse on Saturday. She was only a week past a shed and was so soft to touch and brilliant to look at that it made my day. She has bitten me twice,so I was pleased when she curled around my neck peacefully as I cleaned her cage.

On careful inspection, the corn snake didn't need anything. I turned on everybody's basking lights for the evening and thought about how grateful I was to be living all these creatures.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where were you when you heard?

Not Michael Jackson's death. And why is this sad story 24/7 news? Every time I turn on CNN they have a banner that says "Breaking News Michael Jackson". Breaking news? I suspect he is still dead.

I have felt bad about Michael ever since his skin turned white and his nose disappeared. This is a tragic classic American story too much like Elvis. I am looking forward to a definitive biography from someone like Greil Marcus about ten years from now.

But where were you when you heard that Sarah Palin is leaving office? I was in Juneau taking this picture when I heard the news on the car radio. Juneau's roads form an H, with the bar as the Juneau Douglas Bridge. Technically there are four "ends of the road". The one pictured here, "out the road" past Eagle Beach is the most dramatic. Perhaps because it is about 40 miles out from the center of town, this is the one that is called "end of the road".

And Sarah. I have never voted for her and never would. But I'm horrified by the media coverage. This Vanity Fair article is so vicious I can't believe it would have been written about a male public figure. According to the article, Palin is a monster because 1) she is from Alaska and 2) had a baby a year ago.

Todd S. Purdum on Sarah Palin |

Friday, June 19, 2009

2nd year mammogram is fine!

I celebrated by watching Penn and Teller's Bullshit show on "Breasts"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

reading Mrs. Gaskell

The Kindle has changed my reading habits. I cannot resist the brand new $9.99 "hardcovers". But all the great Victorians are available for free or a few dollars. So I've downloaded all of the Brontes and Mrs. Gaskell, big hunks of Dickens and Trollope, and good old Wilkie Collins. I read some of this treasure trove every day.

Right now I'm thinking Mrs. Gaskel is the best of the lot. None of her characters are carictatures. She is so respectful of the people, servants and masters and tradesmen alike, while plying her wicked humor everywhere. She does food even better than Dickens and has pelnty to say about clothes and furniture.

Carol Shields was writing about Jane Austen when she said, "the true subject of serious fictin is not 'current events', on-going wars or polictical issues, but the search of an individual for his or her own true home". I'm fond of Jane, but I prefer Elizabeth.

And Cranford is everyone's own true home. I think of Brendan Behan reading this "very comfortable class of a book" in his borstal cell at the age of sixteen. Lingering over the description of the cherry brandy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

nothing good can possible come of this

I haven't seen "Nurse Jackie" yet but all the reviews make this show sound like the best thing that ever happened to nursing. There is the problem that the lead character is addicted to prescription drugs, takes them a work every day, and trades sex for drugs with a pharmacist. And I should be grateful to Showtime for having a nurse in a feature role?

Then there is another new nursing show (I've forgotten the title already) starring Jada Pinkett Smith. I see from the promos that she is a "chief nurse executive". The promo, of course, features her doing CPR in the ER. I hate to bring this up, but it doesn't take eight years of college to learn CPR. It is taught to anyone off the street in three hours. I would like to see this character do something really hard, like face a federal inspector, negotiate with the nurses union, or approach the medical staff about an abusive and dangerous physician.

Monday, May 25, 2009

vacation and broken ankle

Despite the injury, the vacation was great. I slowed everything down, seeing fewer people and going fewer places, spending more time in decent hotels with my leg elevated.

Lorraine and I had a great time in Albany - who knew what a fine and historic downtown they have. We had an awesome dinner at Captain Jack's Oyster House.

And Bruce. Our cheap seats were wonderful -close to the stage and behind it . And, in all the years I have followed Bruce and the band (or his other bands). they have never been better. Bruce relaxed, not talking much, but warm and affectionate with us. About to turn 60 and at the peak of his power. On my feet and dancing (despite cast) for 3 and 1/2 hours.

Then a pleasant drive to Rochester. I spent three days in a recliner at Aunt Margaret's place. She brought me glasses of water and snacks and a cocktail every day at five, She called the relatives and they came to see me. Uncle Jim and Aunt Bonnie took me out to lunch in a place overlooking Lake Ontario, then out for frozen custard and a burger at places he must have taken me to as a child. Uncle Bill and Aunt Gari came to dinner, and we talked about how much we miss my father. Lunch with Aunt Jeannie and her sons Randy and Scott, and Scott's three remarkably gracious kids (2-4-6). Two year old Zak said, after visiting the water garden, "I love waterfalls". I spent an hour with my cousin Mary Alice and her granddaughter Addy.

How can I live so far away from such great people?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Patrick Henry's quilt

His big brother Jack has a Funky Monkey quilt with a different pattern. I forgot to photograph that one, though. Working with all that bright orange is a real treat.


Handsome nephew #1 graduates from high school today.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

further adventures in healthcare

I've been working on pandemic flu plans for eight years or so in various jobs. Now its here. I have to confess to a little thrill initially but now its like the volcano - no good will come out of this. And 2009 H1N1 is complicating my vacation plans and plans to see Springsteen back east and to add to everything

I had a dog walking accident Tuesday night and fell and broke my ankle. (You should have seen the little guys run for their lives.)

So far this doesn't look like a big medical expedition. I dragged myself to bed (whimpering) and called the orthopedic office the next morning. (Never go to the emergency room with a fracture unless its sticking out of the skin. They don't consider it an emergency.) At the office they had me in, x-rayed, and casted in about 20 minutes.

This is a walking cast, but my ankle hurts and moving hurts and I spend part of the work day lying on the office floor with my foot up on the desk trying to get the swelling down.

In ten days I'm supposed to be a plane to New York. If the volcano doesn't blow again. I wonder how this ankle will feel after 12 hours flying time scrunched in that little seat. And I can't drive, so I will have to plot complex train, bus, and plane routes to get where I'm going. And what if Albany is in the throes of influenza and Bruce's show is cancelled and there I am in Albany...

I know, I'm whining.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

my favorite toy

This is an indoor day, obviously. Just looking out at the gray world is dispiriting. (Aunt Anne reminds me that we need ashes for Lent..).

So the Kindle is perfect. I don't have to venture out to the library (five blocks) or Barnes and Noble (three blocks.). I don't have to fall back on the hundred unread books piled up around the house.

Even though the free wireless connection sucks here in Alaska, I love this gadget. I love the feel of it in my hand, and scrolling through the titles of my virtual books.

When I bought it I told myself that of course I would still use the library and my favorite used book store. But Kindle has replaced these in my affection. This is the nicest, most comfortable way to read. I carry it with me everywhere and it draws quite a crowd. I thought only a deeply obsessed reader like me would want one, but everyone seems to like it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

now we have ashfall

For years I have been whining about how I wanted to see a volcanic eruption. There has not been one in Alaska in 20 years. Two years ago we were on alert for Augustine for three months. No eruption.

Redoubt has erupted about every 12 hours for a week. Air travel is hopelessly scrambled. My friend Lenka is supposed to fly from Frankfort (Germany) to Houston to Anchorage, where I will meet her and send her on to Juneau the next day. Now this seems unlikely and her mom is scrambling to find a new route. Seattle to Juneau should work.

Now, for the first time in Anchorage, we have ashfall, Everything looks like New Jersey. Gray, gray skies. I run my finger over the snow, the step, the car and come up with a thin gray slick.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

birthday presents

For some reason I've been given some lovely presents this week. Linda gave me a box of hammentashen (not easy to get in Alaska) and a ticket for Spamalot.

My nephew Sean made me the pendant necklace, and Suzanne sent me the pearl and stone rope. Candles from Cynthia and Barb - there's still a little night left to enjoy them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

nice stick Rocky

Fur Rondy

One of our favorite events at the annual winter carnival here, the Fur Rondy, is the dog weight pull. This dainty little Alaskan husky, Reebok, eventually pulled 400 pounds. Some of the dogs were so eager to pull the handler had to hold them in midair to fasten the tow rope, since they launched themselves the minute their paws touched the ground.

Then there was this bull terrier. He was delighted to be the center of attention but had no interest in pulling anything.

It was snowing heavily and everyone was walking around in fur hats eating reindeer hot dogs. The carnival rides did not look appealing, swirling through the snow. But we northerners are a festive bunch now that the light is back. So what if we expect at least two more months of winter..

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

best time wasting web site of all time

Comic book covers! Millions of them. I've often thought that I'm not smart enough or geeky enough to appreciate comics, but I can handle covers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This young cow has been living with us for the last week. The dogs ignore her except when she gets close to the front window. That must be dog territory and they defend it vigorously.
Yesterday afternoon a young woman (probably drunk) began harassing the moose. She waved her arms at it as she approached and backed the poor animal up against the building. Cars stopped and people got out and screamed at her. I stepped out on the front porch and called 911 on my cell. I could see other people doing the same.
We weren't protecting the human. We didn't want to see a moose shot because of her actions.
Three police cars arrived in record time. Two officers grabbed her from behind while the other distracted the moose. We all cheered as the shoved her into the car. The moose calmly went back to her bed among the trees.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

President Obama

Somewhere around 1968 I despaired of this country. Then in 1972 it seemed everything could change - and it didn't. All these years I've plugged away for fine candidates and (usually) watched my worst nightmares come true. The last eight years the worst of my life as a citizen.

By Inauguration Day I had stopped grieving over Hillary. Suddenly everything I had ever imagined stood in front of me.

I developed a new fascination with the transfer of power. I hadn't heard of the tradition of the outgoing president leaving a handwritten message for the new one (subject of a mean and funny SNL routine last night). I though about the children and longed to see Michelle Obama's inauguration dress in the Smithsonian. I hit the White House website at least twice a day.

Now I wake early to NPR and listen for the good news of the day. Guantanamo closing. No torture, no secret prisons. Abortion gag rule gone, Freedom of Information Act restored. Stem cell research funded. Lily Ledbetter's bill signed (and she danced with the president at the ball). The word "science" said out loud. What will happen tomorrow?

It had never occurred to me that the evils of the Bush administration could be undone.

I read the latest New Yorker, clipped the article about Obama and John Lewis, and tucked it inside my own copy of Taylor Branches' "Parting the Waters".

The latest alumnae bulletin came in the mail and I cried over the image of my fellow Columbia graduate, Barack Obama.

In today's New York Times, Bruce Springsteen spoke about the imagined land he had been singing about for 40 years. "And so on election night it showed its face, for maybe, one of the first times in adult life... I sat there on the couch and my jaw dropped and I went, 'Oh my God, it exists,' Not just dreaming it. It exists, it's there, and if this much of it is there, the rest of it's there. Let's go get that. Let's go get it. Just that is enough to keep you going for the rest of your life. All the songs you wrote are a little truer than they were a month of two ago."

And tonight Bruce and the whole extended E Street Band did an entire Springsteen concert in 12 minutes. Nothing missing. It was aerobic - raised my pulse to 160 in a second and kept it there long after the set ended and the fireworks faded.

Everything is differnet now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I cried all through the Lincoln Memorial concert. The mall looked wonderful. Obama looked wonderful - he looked presidential.

The show was beautifully produced.( Except for some awkward moments with eagles. Those of us who have tried to chase eagles out of the garbage cans are not impressed by their close-ups),

.But everyone (well, almost everyone) on stage dressed in winter going to church clothes or dress uniforms. Smiling. Usher,, Queen Latifah, Herbie Hancock, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder standing so tall, proud, and happy. The choruses - church choirs, military glee clubs, kids. The flags. Bruce and U2. I cried because Pete Seegar has lived to sing "This Land is Your Land" today and because Odetta didn't. I cried remembering my first trip to DC, the antiwar rally in the fall of 69, and walking towards the mall for the first time as Richie Havens sang "Freedom".

And now its forty years later and everything seems possible. I don't think I had ever imagined today. Those forty years seem like a moment standing and shivering under cloudy skies. Today I raise my head and look at the present and the future.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Great poem from nephew Jacob: Bad Dog

My nephew has given me permission to share this brilliant poem he wrote a couple years ago. He wants a per cent of any profits involved. I didn't dare tell him that there is no money in poetry, even very fine poetry like this.

Bad Dog

I am a bad dog.
My gas makes a fatal fog.

I once stole my master's new car.
I drove 120 mph into a bar.

I drink martinis with the baby.
My behavior couldn't be worse if I had rabies.

I once watched a NASCAR race.
I bit a racer there in the face.

In one day, I stole a steak
And throw a car into a rake.

If you think I'm going to the pound
You're wrong! Cause i am one bad hound.

Friday, January 9, 2009

more touching Snowzilla news

Family portrait at the 2003/2004 Snowzilla

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

good weather for Snowzilla

Its been cold. Now, those of you who don't know Alaska may say "duh - Alaska -cold in January?". But Anchorage usually has pretty nice winters. Not as cold as Berlin NH or Fairbanks AK. (I have wintered in both of those places.) Not as snowy as my hometown of Rochester NY.

But the last 10 days have been cold. Highs of 0, lows of -25. Our usual crystalline winter days obscured by ice fog. Not like Fairbanks' -50, but inconvenient and unpleasant.

Nonetheless, Christmas and New Years have been wonderful. And Snowzilla has flourished.

Snowzilla became part of Anchorage winters three years ago. A neighborhood eccentric built an 18 foot snowman in his yard full of derelict vehicles and assorted trash. The story was (inexplicably) picked up internationally. Crowds swamped the pretty little subdivision (including me and my sister and nephew) posing for pictures.

This year, in the week before Christmas, local officials served Snowzilla's creator with a court order forbidding the snowman as a danger and a public nuisance. On the evening news, the fellow said sadly that he would comply. The next morning, low and behold, Snowzilla stood tall. A Christmas miracle!

Aalskans sprung into action to defend a person's right to build gigantic snowmen. See for pictures of tiny snowman picketers at City Hall, carrying signs like "Snowpeople have rights too" and "Obama save us".

Last weekend I rounded up some neighbors and went to visit Snowzilla. He was as awesome as ever. I don't think anything could make me happier than a giant snowman.