Shimen Nepom: Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs) – Kickstarter Drive

vintagestreetcar

 Excerpt: Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs)

In and out,
Out and In.
Passengers flying like birds.
Strangers, who knows where from–
From what foreign land?
The blizzard bites into the tracks.
Passengers appear and disappear;
Who knows what life they lead?

– Shimen Nepom (circa 1930-40)

In the 1930’s Shimen Nepom, a TTC streetcar conductor wrote Yiddish poetry about the daily flux of life in Toronto during the difficult depression years.  Accomplished composer and Jewish Music aficionado Charles Heller has put these poems to music and is now looking to fund the creation of a CD.

On a personal note, my Zaydie (yiddish: Grandfather) also wrote poetry in rhyming Yiddish couplets and even recorded a few of them at a recording booth.  He, likewise, was an immigrant to Toronto from Poland in the 30’s. You can see more here if interested: http://www.rankyouragent.com/MaxWiner/MaxWiner.htm

Many of the immigrants to Toronto suffered significant cultural deracination.  As a result they lived bifurcated lives with their intellectual aspirations relegated to their spare time and their days left making ends meet employed in workaday jobs.  It must have felt tremendously isolating and uncertain.  It’s no wonder that Charles notes that “these poems evoke the journeying and existential quest of Schubert’s Wintereisse“.


 Initial Reception:

charlestramvay
Charles accompanist Brahm Goldhamer performing the “Tramvay Lider / Streetcar Songs” in Toronto

Charles and his respected accompanist Brahm Goldhamer have performed the piece at a Toronto Yiddish culture hotspot and the reviews have been extremely encouraging:

“A really lovely example of Toronto culture echoing through the decades” –
Matthew Fava, Director, Canadian Music Centre

 

“Strong and touching, vivid and ironic by turns ” –
Prof Austin Clarkson


Please Donate!

Please consider giving generously to Charles Heller’s request for $4500 in funding on KickStarter to have his work professionally recorded and released.

donate

 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/170538762/tramvay-lider-cd-recording

 


More Information:

Here is Charles Heller speaking about his project:

 

 

“Survival of the Fittest”: An Inconvenient Truth or a Convenient Oversimplification?

survival

A Brief Word on Darwin

darwin

Darwin was a deeply religious man who was reticent to release his work.  He waited a full 23 years to publish his book out of fear of the religious ramifications to his work.  While he realize that he had made a significant discovery, he feared the possible misinterpretation of his work.  Indeed, “On the Origin of Species” mentions ‘love’ a full 95 times and ‘survival of the fittest’ only twice.  With readers hanging on for dear life to the ‘survival of the fittest’ soundbite, we can see that his trepidations were justified.

The Problem of Interpretation

youngoldwoman
Do you see a young woman looking left and back or an older woman looking left and forward?

Whenever an author unleashes a work, especially a work designed to change our understanding of the world in which we live, they are at the mercy of the interpretations of their readers.  People tend to read works through the lens of their own character and specifically their fears.

If one were to ask most people what a synopsis of Darwin’s work is, most would respond: “survival of the fittest”.  Although it is quite reductionist and even greater problem comes in the definition of ‘fitness’.

The problem is that fitness must never be conflated with ‘strongest’.  There are many ‘strong’ animals on the planet that are not necessarily the ‘fittest’.  Examples of the conflation of ‘fit’ with ‘strong’ are rife in recent history.

Social Darwinism

eugenics

Social Darwinism (Eugenics) is the application of the law of natural selection to humans.  This term is unfairly associated with Darwin whereas it’s initial proponents (Hegel, Spencer) in fact based the tenets of their philosophy on Lamarck’s work (a contemporary of Darwin).  Nonetheless, the idea is that ‘strong’ individuals should be promoted and fostered whereas ‘weak’ individuals should be neglected and/or eliminated.  This line of thinking marked the philosophical underpinnings of Nazism and ‘The Final Solution’.

Here we see a tragic confusion between a ‘fit’ individual and a ‘desired’ individual with genocidal consequences.

Crop Diversity: Irish Potato Famine and the 1970 US Corn Crop

potatoblight
Potato Blight

Admittedly the Irish Potato Famine occurred before Charles Darwin published his “On the Origin of Species” (published 1859) the process of artificial selection of potatoes in Ireland led to a monoculture in Ireland’s potato crop.  A monoculture is a species or race where all the individuals are very genetically similar to one another.  A specific blight came about which these potatoes lacked a defense against and wiped out the entire crop.

In 1970, the US developed a super-corn which was drought tolerant and pest resistant and they planted it aggressively all over the United States.  A fungus for which the super-corn lacked resistance emerged and ravaged the crop leading to billions of dollars in losses and food shortages.

In this example we see the that the definition of ‘fit’ used by the producers of these crops failed to include ‘diversity’ as vital component.

Jack Welch’s “Rank and Yank” a.k.a. Vitality Model.

rank

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric developed a model where employees were ranked and the top 20% were rewarded (bonuses, raises), the middle 70% were left as is, and the bottom 10% were de facto fired.  Again, we see the problem of how we rank, or determine employee ‘fitness’.

For example, in the 1980’s, Xerox invented the LISA computer.  This windowed user interface was the basis of both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems, but insofar as Xerox was concerned, it was sold off at bargain rates as a technology incompatible with Xerox’s future plans.  So those employees that produced the product could well have ended up in Jack Welch’s bottom 10%.

Here the ranking of employees is open to all sorts of faults which can, and does, in the very least, produce an individualist, non collaborative workplace.

The Alpha Male Rules Supreme

alpha

The lack of understanding of Darwin’s work leads many to believe that being the Alpha Male is the ultimate accomplishment in life.  This comes out of the misconstruction that might is right and that nature supports this theory.  To debunk this notion, take the example of a beaver that slaps his tail loudly on the water to alert other beavers to the presence of a predator.  In so doing, the beaver draws attention to himself lowering his immediate ‘fitness’ (the predator may now very well attack him) but in so doing saves many individuals who are closely related to him.  In so doing, the beaver, even if predated upon, passes his genes on indirectly through the genes of his surviving relatives.

Another example emerges from the predator evasion of deer herds.  Deer herds have alpha males which most ignorantly assume, run and manage the herd.  Thus one would think that when the alpha male determines a predator is nearby and starts to flee, so will the rest of the herd.  Not so.  In fact, in an example of natural democracy, when 60% of the deer vote with their feet by getting up, this promotes the herd fleeing and often leaves the alpha male dumbfounded.

The idea that the alpha male is the ultimate role to hold in the animal (and indeed human) world is foolhardy and does not survive an examination of the actual evidence.

Epilogue

Many people who develop paradigm shifting views bemoan their lack of appreciation and recognition during their lifetime.  They are often berated and abused by their contemporaries.  However, there would also seem to be a risk of having your paradigm shifting concepts recognized while alive in that one may have to witness the horrible mutation they undergo in the hands of those who malign and misconstrue to force it back into line with their own original world view.

 

 

Doctor’s Caring Knows No Borders

 

Ginsburg2

I had the honour of interviewing Dr. Ophira Ginsburg who used innovative uses of technology and understanding of human nature and illness to open and draw patients to a free breast cancer clinic in Bangladesh.

An excerpt is as follows:

She became a reluctant entrepreneur, partnering herself with a local phone company and MIT-educated philanthropists to develop a mobile application to help shepherd women in need into the clinic. In four months, a group of 30 women armed with mobile apps were able to interview 20,000 women. The application showed women video testimonials of other women who had been diagnosed with cancer and survived and others who were treated by early intervention. This helped dispel the notion that cancer was a death sentence, as was commonly believed in South Asia. Some other volunteers were trained to further coach women on secondary issues that might prevent them from seeking help, such as child care, transportation and/or fears of domestic violence. Ophira was able to empower women to swallow the bitter pill of a cancer diagnosis and get the treatment they desperately needed.

The full article is available here:

http://www.goodnewstoronto.ca/2015/01/doctors-caring-knows-no-borders/

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Star Trek Continues: Kickstarter 2.0

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Star Trek Continues is a fan fiction funded by Kickstarter.  The first 3 episodes produced last year as the result of a $100,000 ask (with $126,028 raised).  The first three episodes feature all the original series cinematic features.  The lighting, sound effects, character quirks, and above all else the stories all remain true to the original series.

They’ve started another campaign to yield more episodes.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/trekcontinues/star-trek-continues-2015-kirkstarter-20

As of this writing, they have $87,000 of $100,000 needed to produce two new episodes with 24 days left in the campaign.  But even if they get $100,000, there is still an incentive to contribute.  They list several ‘stretch goals’  which, for example, will allow them to visit (beam) to planets with disposable red shirt crewmen in tow to suffer agonizing deaths inline with the original Star Trek canon.

Gene Roddenberry’s son can attest to the authenticity and quality of this fan based series:

“I do have to say — and I said this after ‘Lolani’ — I’m pretty damn sure my dad would consider this canon. The fact that you do stories that mean something, that have depth, that make us all think a little bit… I really think he would applaud you guys. And I applaud you guys. And as far as I am concerned, it is canon. So thank you.”

If you’d like to see more, they have a youtube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/StarTrekContinues

And here are the 3 episodes produced in 2014:

 

Energy Supplements/Foods: Coffee Alternatives

No_Coffee_Challenge

Note: I have no medical or alternative medicine degree or certification.  Please validate any of my advice with your health provider.

Coffee is perhaps the most popular drink in the world with 54% over the age of 18 drink coffee (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/facts/).  Coffee is a stimulant with pros and cons associate with it.  My main issue with coffee is that it doesn’t address the root cause of fatigue.  Here are 3 coffee alternatives:

1) CoQ10

CoQ10 is a mitochondrial booster.  Your mitochondria are little organelles (cell versions of organs) which is primarily responsible for energy production.  When your muscles grow as a result of excercise it is a result of the increase in the number of mitochondria.  Common doses are 60mg, 100mg and 200mg.  I myself take 100mg and sometimes 200mg when fighting a cold or particularly fatigued.  Ubiquinol is more absorbable than Ubiquinone in general.  Also a particular fermented formulation, the “Kaneka KH” formulation is even more absorbable still.

coq10

2) Liposomal B12

B12 is known as the energy vitamin.  Unfortunately it’s not well absorbed.  Sublingual tablets bypass the digestive system and enhance absorption somewhat, but the best solution is a liposomal formulation.  Liposomal formulations package the B12 in a nanosphere of phospholipids (the same thing that forms your cell membranes) and like two soap bubbles coming together, when these spheres come in contact with a cell membrane, they release the payload and bypass your digestive system entirely.  Be sure to supplement with a full B complex while taking B12 to avoid depleting your stores of other B vitamins.

b12

3) Ginseng

Ginseng is an energy Ayurvedic (plant medicine) used for centuries for energy and immunity.  The supplement I take contains a few synergistic ingredients.

ginseng

4) Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is the green component of plants which turns sunlight into food (sugar) for the plants to eat.  It is virtually identical to haemoglobin (our oxygen carrying molecule in our blood cells) except at it’s core is magnesium (giving the green colour) compare to hameoglobin’s core of iron (giving it the reddish colour).  When ingested in increases your body’s oxygen carrying capacity and hence gives you energy and in general, better health through better oxygenation.  If it were up to me, the coffee shoppes on every corner would be replaced with Chlorophyll Shoppes.  It is a much healthier energy booster than coffee.

chlorophyll-large

 

 

Environmentally Friendly Sponges

sponges

With an avid interest in natural and environmentally friendly products, it’s amazing to discover how many people you discover with the same penchant.  A local visit to a local gourmet grocery store, I struck up a conversation with Bob, the owner of www.biobob.ca.

Cleaning products have always been a concern to me.  Paper towel is immensely convenient and I can’t stand the idea of washing cloth towelettes because they never seem to come clean and when left wet, especially in summer, they become festering piles of smelly infectious waste which isn’t good to wash anything with.

On the flipside, some facts about paper towel:

  • To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed.
  • Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the US alone.
  • Decomposing paper towels produce methane gas, a leading cause of global warming.
  • Paper was the largest contributor to municipal landfill waste in 2006.

(source: https://www.peopletowels.com/aboutpt/WageWarOnWaste)

I also like the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.  It truly is magic and with a daughter nearing 3, I use the magic consistently.  They were rumoured to contain formaldehyde but that was dispelled (puportedly) by this Snopes article:

http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/eraser.asp

They do however, wear out quit quickly.  Bob showed me some products of his which have survived for decades.

The sponges are not made with cellulose (wood) fibres but instead a type of plastic.  This plastic is good for the environment in that it’s intended for multiple uses and replaces the consumption of wood.  Wood naturally rots and is a haven for bacteria.  As long as these sponges are kept dry (just wring them out), they are hygienic.

Bob is hard core with his conservation efforts and told me of a sanitary product for your backside which was re-useable.  I told him he might have trouble selling that in the North American market.

That aside, you can find his products at:

http://mysponge.com/ and in some retail locations.

 

How I Brought My IBS Under Control

IBS

Caveat

What follows is my experience with IBS and the regime I came up with to treat it.  This treatment may not work for you and moreover, you may not have only IBS.  As much as I have disdain for doctors when it comes to IBS, you do need to medically rule out any more severe issues before you start treating your IBS.

Background

I have suffered with IBS off and on for 10+ years now.  It all started innocently in 2003 when I was under a bit of stress but stress I felt I would have normally been able to handle.  Even so, my stomach went off, and the more off it went, the more stressed I became and off went the vicious cycle so common to IBS sufferers and so hard for non-IBS sufferers to understand. (The enteric and central nervous systems formed together and it turns out that the stomach sends far more information to the brain than vice versa.  Thus an upset stomach can easily upset the mind.)

Concurrently, I had a sinus infection which led me to take Advil at night without food.  Advil (ibuprofen) is a COX-II inhibitor.  COX-II is the enzyme responsible for inflammation in the body.  For some unlucky people such as myself, it appears that ibuprofen also manages to inhibit COX-I which lays down your intestinal lining.  There was no warning on the box at the time.  No one believed me when I researched the answer.  Several years later, the FDA issued a warning:

GI Risk

NSAIDs incr. risk of serious and potentially fatal GI adverse events incl. bleeding, ulcer, and stomach or intestine perforation; GI events may occur at any time during use and w/o warning sx; elderly pts at greater risk for serious GI events

Source: https://online.epocrates.com/u/10b234/ibuprofen/Black+Box+Warnings

My first visit to my GP lasted 10 minutes and I left with a prescription for Pantoloc(Pantoprazole) (an acid suppressor) and Celexa (an anti depressant).  My physician didn’t mention what he was giving me, he just told me to take it and I’d be fine within a week.  I wasn’t.

Later research would reveal that acid suppressors such as Pantoloc which are in the family of PPI’s (Proton Pump Inhibitors) cause mineral and vitamin malabsorption syndromes that would plague me for the next 10+ years.  Celexa was a huge disaster which sent me straight ’round the bend.

I went through batteries of tests, many of which were quite uncomfortable.  The worst of these tests was a gastroscopy.  This is a procedure where a ‘thin’ tube is inserted down the throat or through the nose to see what is going on in the stomach.  When I read the patient preparation leaflet, it mentioned I’d be given a cocktail of drugs whereby gagging would be ‘reduced’ (not eliminated).  When I came out of that procedure, I told my parents, who had accompanied me, that if it came down to a choice between that procedure or death, I would choose death.  I stuck to it too: Dr’s were eager over the years to repeat the test for the fun of it and I denied them.

Over the years, different cocktails were tried, all with minimal success.  My main symptom, despite the other horrid general symptoms of IBS was nausea. I was nauseated around the clock.  It made eating in public impossible and eating in general was quite difficult.

As physicians became tired of seeing me in their office and as I grew more and more tense and nervous dealing with a debilitating syndrome for which there was no treatment or support, Doctors because pulling the ‘mind’ card.  “It was in my mind”.  We all experience stress and it’s the easiest thing to blame a condition on.  No one but a monk can deny they’re under stress.

The cruelest thing you can do to a person with a legitimate medical condition that the condition exists solely in their mind.  I know, from personal experience, that the patient will expend inordinate amounts of effort trying to control the condition with their mind to no avail, dropping them further and further into a morass of hopelessness and infirmity.

It was in the spring of 2014 (11 years after the initial onset) that I was able to rule out the assertion that my problems existed solely in my mind.  Things were working well for me.  My job was stable and I was getting out in the spring, enjoying the great outdoors and was taking my daughter on 5 hour canoe trips on the Grand River.

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Here I am with my daughter on our canoe trip.  I was eagerly planning more adventures for the family when my stomach started to go ‘funny’ on me again.  It always starts mildly and then seems to escalate out of control.  First the nausea sets in, then a loss of appetite, and then general digestive disturbances set in followed by severe stomach pains and digestive issues.

This time, I was convinced it was not in my head.  I was looking forward to the rest of the summer adventuring in Ontario’s outdoors and was not under inordinate stress.  So I set about treating my stomach and not my head.

Treatment

1)  On a chance visit to the local pharmacy, I noticed a new probiotic supplement.  I’ve been on probiotics but this one was quite different.  It was approved by Health Canada to prevent C. difficile (the worst possible infection you can get, difficile is French for ‘difficult’) and I figured if it could tackle that, it could tackle my problems.  I took the Soy formulation because I couldn’t handle dairy.

http://www.biokplus.com/en-us/home

biok

This probiotic contains fermented soy (hence live bacteria) and it delivered 50 billion CFU’s (Colony Forming Units).  I could feel it working but remember, your gut contains 10’s of trillions of bacteria and you’re treating it with 50 billion bacteria.  Ie, this would be a war of attrition and wouldn’t work overnight.

2) I have long known that l-glutamine is useful in rebuilding the stomach lining.  I found a newer product which contained a high amount of it.  The supplement called for taking 7 pills a day.  I took for in the morning and 3 at night.  I felt that 7 at once might be a bit jarring to my system.

intestinew

http://www.renewlife.ca/products/intestinew/  (comes in pill or powder, this link is for the powder, I took the pills)

3) Liposomal B12

The only test result that showed anything out of the ordinary was a low B12 level (way back in 2003).  B12 is a very difficult vitamin to assimilate.  It’s a multistep process involving complicated things like Intrinsic Factor.  In my research I learned that many people with stomach problems just don’t absorb this vitamin well.  To get B12, you can circumvent your digestive system by taking it sublingually (under the tongue).  Even so, I didn’t find any real advantage to B12 supplementation over the years of my illness.  Finally, I came across a liposomal formulation.  A liposomal encapsulation by passes the digestive system and delivers B12 directly to the cells by encapsulating them in the same thing that cell membranes are made of.  With this supplement I finally noticed a difference.  When I added this supplement, my energy levels started to rise, my appetite was restored and I was returning to health.

b12

http://maxhealthlabs.com/products/liposomal-vitamin-b12.html

4) Buscopan

In an unrelated visit to my doctor’s office (I’d given up discussing my stomach with Doctors) I noticed a brochure for Buscopan.  It is an antispasmodic which calms the stomach and stops the grinding and churning.  When I asked my doctor about it he said: “Oh yeah, that stuff is fine if you like… just don’t take it for long”.  I checked with the company and several pharmacists who said that there was no problem taking this stuff long term.  Also, upon taking it, my stomach churning stopped and my nausea alleviated which was a relief after suffering from it for years.  The product is a derivative of an Australian tree (Duboisia hopwoodii) and has been around for 50 years:

duboisia

This tablet offered tremendous relief.  While it doesn’t treat the cause, it does alleviate the symptoms sufficiently to allow your body and your supplements time to work.  I was shocked that no one of the 3 gastroenterologists, 2 family doctors, and a host of naturopaths and other para-medical professionals hadn’t told me of it.  I didn’t end up needing to take it long term.  A few simple pills during an outbreak was sufficient.

buscopan

https://www.buscopan.com/

4) Digestive Enzymes

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When your stomach is in turmoil, it often is incapable of producing the enzymes required to digest food.  What ends up happening is food sits undigested further aggravating your condition.  With every meal, during the acute phase I took digestive enzymes.

http://www.florahealth.com/product_categories.cfm?category_id=18&prod_id=17

Outcome

Within 3 weeks of using all 4 treatments concurrently, I returned to health.  I was relieved because the suffering was so bad that I was considering leaving my job or having to go on disability.  To this day, I can’t guarantee you that the condition will never return, but I can say that I have been living without it for 6 months now.

My maintenance routine is BioKPlus by night and an IBS support supplement I take (http://www.canprev.ca/products/digestion_ibs).  I take buscopan as needed and occasionally Immodium (http://www.imodium.com/) if I feel an outbreak coming on.  I also very occasionally need to take Dramamine (Gravol in Canada) or I take Cocculine, a homeopathic anti-nauseant.

I’m still somewhat afraid to eat in public because I don’t’ know how my stomach will be on any given night.  I’m still undoing the damage done by the medical community to my psyche and my body.  I’m still on several pharmaceuticals which are hard to come off of which I went on as a result of my IBS.

I can’t guarantee that my IBS will never return.  Indeed, if put under sufficient stress, it very well may, but at least this time I have a plan of attack in my pocket to get me back on the straight and narrow as soon as possible.

Advice

If you’re suffering from IBS, first off, my heart goes out to you.  Believe me, I understand what you’re going through.  I’d love to tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor but that would be foolhardy and dangerous.  What if, indeed, you do have some stomach condition which warrants medical attention.  If your doctor is stumped, and you start to ride the medical roller coaster, do shop around and see if you can find a physician with any understanding of IBS.  Failing that, you will need to do your own research and find combinations of alternative medicines and/or treatments which work for you.  The recipe that worked for me, may not work for you.

Personally I’d love to open a clinic treating IBS but I have only a B.Sc. in Biology to my name and there wouldn’t be any money in it given that I’m only using off the shelf products.  Thus, I’m left back at my day job but hoping that I can help as many people not lose 10 years of their life dealing with this plague resulting from the ignorance of the medical community.