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December 13, 2004

BehindTheMedspeak: The secret of eternal life


Sometimes a movie is worth a million words.

This is one of those times.

Here is a time-lapse movie of a completely frozen wood frog gradually thawing, then leaving to go about its frog business.

How is this possible?

Was the frog dead when it was frozen solid?

There was no brain activity; there was no heartbeat.

In my circles, we call that dead.

But then, how is it that warming brings the frozen, "dead" frog back to life?

Is this a resurrection?

If so, it's nothing unusual: frogs all over the world do it routinely every winter.

Some species retain their ability to revive throughout their lifespans; others freeze and thaw when younger, but gradually lose this ability as they age.

We say a virus is not alive either.

But a frog is a whole other kettle of genetic code compared to a virus.

Jon Costanzo, professor of zoology at Miami University in Ohio, said, "Here's an amphibian that has solved the problem of cryo-preserving its organs - all of them, simultaneously. And we haven't been able to do that with one [human organ]."

David A. Fahrenthold wrote a fascinating story for yesterday's Washington Post on the currently unfathomable ability of the wood frog and its cousins to do what all our science has yet been unable to even approach.

I watched the movie a second time just now, and I still find it almost unbelievable.

Here's the Post story.

    Trying to Crack An Icy Mystery

    Cryogenetic Secrets May Aid Organ Transplants

    This is the way a wood frog freezes:

    First, as the temperature drops below 32 degrees, ice crystals start to form just beneath the frog's skin.

    The normally pliant and slimy amphibian becomes - for lack of a better word - slushy.

    Then, if the mercury continues to fall, ice races inward through the frog's arteries and veins. Its heart and brain stop working, and its eyes freeze to a ghostly white.

    "Imagine an ice cube. Paint it green," and you've got the wood frog in winter, said Ken Storey, a professor at Carleton University in Ontario.

    The frog is solid to the touch and makes a mini-thud when dropped.

    But it is not dead.

    When a thaw comes, the frog is able to melt back into its normal state over a period of several hours, restart its heart and hop away, unscathed.

    This amazing process of reanimation - repeated every winter in the woods of Maryland, Virginia and the District - is being examined by scientists hoping to learn the secrets of the frog and other animals that freeze solid.

    The hope is that these apparent Lazarus routines can yield clues for improving human medicine, including better preservation of organs on their way to transplant patients.

    "Here's an amphibian that has solved the problem of cryo-preserving its organs - all of them, simultaneously," said Jon Costanzo, a professor of zoology at Miami University in Ohio.

    "And we haven't been able to do that with one [human organ]."

    The Washington region is actually home to several species of what scientists call "freeze-tolerant" animals.

    One is the wood frog, a two-inch-long creature with a call like a quack, which lives in woods from Georgia to Alaska.

    Other local species - spring peeper and the gray tree frog, as well as a few kinds of caterpillars and the babies of the painted turtle - can freeze but lose the ability as they age.

    Scientists say these animals' freezing abilities are just extreme reactions to a problem that all mid-Atlantic animals face: periodic blasts of winter cold.

    Human retirees head to Florida, Chesapeake Bay crabs bury themselves in the mud and most frog species hide out deep underground or underwater.

    But not the freezing frogs.

    Instead, buried just a few inches under dirt and leaves, they welcome the chill.

    When the soil starts freezing - even if it falls just a couple of degrees below 32 - so do the frogs.

    The result is something like the frozen gray tree frog that Professor Jack R. Layne Jr. held in his hand this week in a lab at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

    Instead of its normal grayish-green, the frog had turned almost purple, its limbs and head stuck in contortions.

    It looked for all the world like a practical joke: an ice cube made to resemble a frog.

    "You can see that it's quite solidly frozen," Layne said. "They kind of turn bluish."

    The frogs can survive this process, in which as much as 65% of their body water freezes, because their cells are protected by a kind of natural antifreeze.

    Scientists say that, before winter comes, the frogs eat ravenously, storing a starch in their livers.

    A freeze triggers their bodies to convert the starch into other compounds, most often glucose, or blood sugar.

    The frogs become, in essence, extremely diabetic.

    The glucose lowers the freezing temperature of water inside the frogs' cells, and because of this, the cells stay liquid, even as ice fills the space around them.

    This is crucial: If the water inside the cells froze, scientists say, the jagged ice crystals would destroy everything inside, killing the frog.

    It's very hard to find frogs frozen like this in the wild, because they're hidden underground.

    At the Patuxent Research Refuge, a 12,750-acre forest near Laurel, wildlife biologist Robin E. Jung of the U.S. Geological Survey, said she occasionally gets lucky and finds wood frogs hunkered down for winter.

    "Just like" - she stiffened like she'd been shot with a super-villain's ice ray - "freezing."

    In this area, cold snaps usually aren't long enough to keep the frogs frozen for more than a few days.

    But wood frogs live as far north as Canada and Alaska, and in those places they can freeze for months, scientists said.

    Medical researchers say they hope to copy these long-term freezing abilities to add hours or even days to the time that human organs can be preserved.

    Now, after organs are removed from a donor, they are packed in a special solution and kept on ice.

    But they can't be frozen because of the damage that ice crystals would do to the cells.

    Without freezing, the shelf life of these organs can be as much as 48 hours for a kidney and as little as four hours for a heart.

    If organs could be preserved longer, it would allow more time for locating an organ recipient and setting up the transplant operation, said Jimmy A. Light, head of transplantation at Washington Hospital Center.

    "It would allow you to have a more prepared patient," Light said.

    "Now, it's kind of like a fire drill. The bell rings, the clock ticks and you've got to get going."

    In one experiment, University of California professor Boris Rubinsky removed a rat's liver and filled it with glycerol, hoping the chemical would act as glucose does in wood frogs.

    The experiment worked: The liver was frozen, then thawed and transplanted successfully into another rat, Rubinsky said.

    Other researchers have turned to arctic fish, which manufacture special chemicals to keep from freezing even as the water around them falls below 32 degrees.

    Using fish proteins made in a lab, scientists have managed to preserve a pig's heart at subfreezing temperatures for 24 hours, then transplant it into another pig.

    Scientists say they don't see any immediate potential for putting an entire human body in a science fiction-style deep freeze; the frogs, after all, don't stay frozen forever.

    But just freezing and thawing one human organ would be a major breakthrough.

    "If we can translate that into a human heart, then we'll do very well," Rubinsky said.

    Now, even as researchers try to copy the frog's techniques, the freezing amphibians still haven't given up all their secrets.

    Their ability to thaw puzzles scientists, who are trying to crack the process and pinpoint the trigger that restarts the frog's heart.

    Whatever it is, Storey said, "it's not magic. It's physical chemistry."

December 13, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


In the mail today came a kind of funky catalog with an even more extensive website: all sorts of great stuff, like that stamp up top ($6.95, item #Q84), and this cool photo I.D. card ($9.95, #C301),


which identifies you as a member of the Fourth Estate, not to mention a handy Press Pass for your car ($2, #Z06),


which might save you the time, trouble, and expense of dealing with being towed.

Then there's this snappy Top Secret file folder ($2, #Z01),


which might make for most amusing times when you put stuff in it that's a goof and then see how long it takes until someone tries to sneak a peak inside.

You could style yourself a Special Investigator ($4.95, C207)


for those times when you're especially suspicious but really, my favorite has to be this XBI Card ($4.95, #C77),


which identifies you as an agent of the Paranormal Bureau of Investigation.

Why is it, I wonder, that I like alien stuff so much?

Think it's maybe what you Earthlings (oops!)


call a Freudian slip?

December 13, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye' - finally, the secret of Steam


For decades I have been mystified by the group Steam.

In 1969 they recorded one of the enduring classics of rock 'n roll and Philadelphia Eagles fans.

I had assumed for many years that Cher was the singer, but only learned it was Steam in the 80s.


Man, but the singer sounds so much like Cher, it's uncanny.

Now my research team has brought back news to us that truly astounds: there was no such group as Steam.

Read the following, from a website about the history of rock:

    1969 - A fictitious group called Steam was given credit for the chart-topping tune "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."

    The song was actually recorded by Gary De Carlo, who intended it to be the "B" side of his first single.

    Gary didn't like the song and when record executives wanted to issue it as the "A" side, he insisted it be released under an assumed name.


So a guy sang it.

We now must ask, "Who was Gary De Carlo?"

The research team returned to cyberspace and came back through the wormhole with this:

There was no Gary De Carlo in Steam.

Instead, try this review of Steam's album on amazon by one Andrew M. Bergey - whose amazon nickname is "bubblegummer," which is plenty good credentials by me - of Thornton, Colorado:

    The story goes that after singing "Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye" for the group Steam, Garrett Scott wanted very little to do with the group.

    "Musical differences" usually gets the nod in these situations but personality conflicts may have played a part.

    The back cover of their only album has a small picture of Scott with his arms folded looking a bit um... steamed.

    You do the math.

    In some sort of arrangement that only the 70's could produce, Scott stuck around long enough to co-write all 10 songs on the album.

So now we must ask, who was Garrett Scott?

Once again, a round-trip ticket to cyberspace for the research team.

What's this?

What have we here?

Well, for one thing, the superb, complex lyrics for the song:

    INTRO: |C / / /|Eb / / /|Bb / / /|C / / /|

    C Eb Bb C
    Na na na na, na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

    C F6 G C F6 G
    He'll never love you, the way that I love you
    He's never near you to comfort and cheer you

    C Am Dm G
    'Cause if he did, no no, he wouldn't make you cry
    When all those sad tears are fallin' baby from your eyes

    F E Am D
    He might be thrillin' baby but a-my love (my love, my love)
    He might be thrillin' baby but a-my love (my love, my love)

    C F Fm
    So kiss him (I wanna see you kiss him. Wanna see you kiss him)
    So kiss him (I wanna see you kiss him. I wanna see you kiss him)

    Go on and kiss him goodbye, now
    Go on and kiss him goodbye,

    Eb Bb C
    Na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

    C Eb Bb C
    Na na na na, na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

    Eb Bb C
    Na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

    C Eb B C (fade out)
    Na na na na, na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

But also the news that the song was "sung by Steam featuring Garrett Scott," and written by De Carlo/Frshuer/Leka [I gotta tell ya, I'm a little suspicious about that Frshuer person: are they sure it's not spelled Fershur? But I digress].

Wouldn't it be great if it turned out it WAS


Cher singing?

December 13, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Smittens - Walking mittens for friends and lovers


Smittens were created by a woman "... on a romantic walk with my husband."

"We were trying to hold hands through our bulky mittens, when it dawned on me to create a mitten that was large enough for both our hands. That way, I thought, we could really hold hands."

They're handmade in Seattle, Washington, and they're selling like hotcakes.


You snooze, you lose.

They're already sold out of several colors, and if you wait a couple more days, you're gonna be out of luck till next winter.

Made of Polartec, they're machine washable and cost $30-$36 here.


One set of Smittens includes one pair of regular-size mittens and one oversized mitten (Smitten) for hand-holding.

December 13, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'100 Artists See God'


Exhibit currently up at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, through January 9, 2005.

The show was organized by artist-curators John Baldessari and Meg Cranston.

It's divided into three groups - wall-hung pieces (82 of the 100), three-dimensional objects, and video works.

The artists: Reverend Ethan Acres, Terry Allen, Jo Harvey Allen, Eleanor Antin, Brienne Arrington, David Askevold, Lillian Ball, Cindy Bernard, Andrea Bowers, Delia Brown, Edgar Bryan, Angela Bulloch, Chris Burden, Mary Ellen Carroll, Erin Cosgrove, Michael Craig-Martin, Jeremy Deller, Sam Durant, Jimmie Durham, Nicole Eisenman, Katharina Fritsch, Jonathan Furmanski, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Liam Gillick, James Gobel, Jack Goldstein, Scott Grieger, Andreas Gursky, James Hayward, Micol Hebron, Damien Hirst, Rebecca Horn, Darcy Huebler, Christian Jankowski, Larry Johnson, Mike Kelley, Mary Kelly, Martin Kersels, Nicholas Kersulis, Martin Kippenberger, Rachel Lachowicz, Norm Laich, Liz Larner, Louise Lawler, William Leavitt, Barry Le Va, Roy Lichtenstein, Jen Liu, Thomas Locher, Daria Martin, T. Kelly Mason, Rita McBride, Paul McCarthy, Carlos Mollura, JP Munro, Bruce Nauman, Jennifer Nelson, Eric Niebuhr, Leonard Nimoy, Albert Oehlen, Catherine Opie, Tony Oursler, Jorge Pardo, Simon Patterson, Hirsch Perlman, Luciano Perna, Renée Petropoulos, Raymond Pettibon, Paul Pfeiffer, Nicolette Pot, Richard Prince, Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz, David Reed, Victoria Reynolds, Gerhard Richter, Susan Rothenberg, Nancy Rubins, Glen Walter Rubsamen, Allen Ruppersberg, Ed Ruscha, Pauline Stella Sanchez, Kim Schoenstadt, Jim Shaw, Gary Simmons, Alexis Smith, Yutaka Sone, Thaddeus Strode, Diana Thater, Mungo Thomson, Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson (in collaboration with Helena Jonsdottir), Jeffrey Vallance, John Waters, Marnie Weber, William Wegman, Lawrence Weiner, Benjamin Weissman, James Welling, Eric Wesley, John Wesley, Franz West, Chris Wilder, Christopher Williams, Steven Wong, Måns Wrange (in collaboration with Igor Isaksson), Mario Ybarra, Jr.

December 13, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vincent Szarek - 'Kandy-Kolored' to the max


This American sculptor creates abstract work evocative of the custom-car culture of the 60s.


Back then the lust for sheen and shine was called the "Finish Fetish" movement.


Szarek's new show, up at Fusebox Gallery in Washington, D.C. through next Saturday, December 18, is entitled "Old Glory."


Fusebox is at 1412 14th Street NW; tel: 202-299-9220.

Tom Wolfe: call your office, Charlotte Simmons is here for her appointment.

[via Blake Gopnik and the Washington Post]

December 13, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'The Night Migrations' - by Louise Glück

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds' night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won't see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won't need
these pleasures anymore;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.


December 13, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New York Transit Museum


Perhaps, Gothamites, you weren't aware that this year marks the centennial of "the greatest subway system in the world."

Hmm, wonder if London, Tokyo and Moscow would concur?

Anyway, click here to find out about all the cool things taking place to celebrate the subway's history.

Among them: "Take a historic ride on a vintage subway."

This takes place this coming Saturday and Sunday, December 18/19, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. each day.

Six vintage trains from the New York Transit Museum will run on the N line between 57th Street and Whitehall Street.

They'll also run the Grand Central S. Shuttle between Grand Central and Times Square.

What fun.

You might even consider visiting the Transit Museum (corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn Heights; admission $5 for adults, $3 for kids/seniors; tel: 718-694-1600.

The ongoing show is entitled "The City Beneath Us: Building The New York Subway."


The exhibit uses photos, movies, and artifacts to tell the story of how the system was built.

The museum's marquee attraction?

Two underground tracks lined with subway cars from bygone eras (the museum itself is in a decommissioned subway station).

Visitors can walk from car to car, each with period seating styles, strap designs, lighting, and advertisements.

What I would do?

Take noise-cancelling headphones and a good book, and sit quietly in an old subway car and read.

December 13, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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