Sunday, April 10, 2011

What would Mizushima say about corporatocracy?

"We Japanese have not cared to make strenuous spiritual efforts. We have not even recognized their value. What we stressed was merely a man's abilities, the things he could do--not what kind of a man he was, how he lived, or the depth of his understanding. Of perfection as a human being, or humility, stoicism, holiness, the capacity to gain salvation and help others toward it--of all these virtues we were left ignorant."

"... we were greedy, because we were so arrogant that we forgot human values, because we had only a superficial idea of a civilization."

Take these words, replace Japanese with American, or any number of nationalities for that matter, and I think you have an accurate assessment of the status quo. We define our heroes, our role models, by what they can do, not by who they are. In that way, we are a society of abilities and accomplishments. We hand out resumes listing our achievements and quantify our successes materially, counting dollars and possessions. We neglect, however, to measure humility or stoicism, to quantify our virtues.

The text which I quoted is from a book called the Harp of Burma written by Michio Takeyama in 1966. [If you want to read this book, which I highly recommend, I'm about to spoil the plot in the next few sentences.] The novel is set in Burma, at the end of World War II, and follows a Japanese troop who have surrendered as prisoners of war. One member of this troop, a soldier named Mizushima who is an especially talented harp player, never returns from a dangerous mission, instead disguising himself as a Burmese monk so that he can roam the mountains for the purpose of properly burying abandoned Japanese corpses. This soldier, the focal point of the novel, speaks the words with which I began this post.

Returning to the present, I think that Mizushima's disillusionment is more applicable than ever. Here in America, we hear about Donald Trump's designs on the presidency of the nation. What would it mean for a man defined by his wealth to represent this country? In other news, the city of Quincy, Mass. has elected to corporatize its downtown. Is this the future that Stephenson predicted in Snow Crash? A country divided into corporate city-states?

This bubbling crescendo of materiality threatens to crush Mizushima's human qualities of stoicism, humility, and holiness. Such qualities have no place in a corporatocracy, thrown under the bus of greed and ambition.

If what I'm using words to say doesn't make sense, try looking at it this way:


Monday, April 4, 2011

Mushrooms and Health

We're living in the midst of a global obesity epidemic. As of 2000, there were 300 million obese adults worldwide (WHO). With the expansion of multinational food corporations, America is exporting its nutritional ethos to the rest of the globe. The American diet is a health nightmare, deep-fried and over-sweetened. The results of this diet are diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart-disease, hypertension, and stroke, leading to pre-mature death and lowered quality of life.

A component of solving this crisis is medicinal mushrooms. While most store-brought mushrooms, such as the white button mushroom, have no medicinal properties, there are a host of less readily available fungi that have medicinal properties. Enokitake, Shitake, Oyster, and Maitake have variously been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, inhibit tumor growth, and modulate the immune system.

To summarize Chang's 1996 article, we have known that Shitake mushrooms have anti-tumor properties since 1969 (Ikekawa). Chihara (1987) isolated a compound in Shitake mushrooms called lentinan which, through immunopotentiation, is effective at reducing tumor growth. This compound has been proven effective in human trials. Taguchi (1987) showed a significant survival improvement in gastric cancer patients treated with letinan and chemotherapy as compared with those treated with only chemotherapy. Other chemicals from Shitake mushrooms have been shown to improve liver function in Hepatitis B patients, inhibit HIV in vitro, and lower serum cholestoral in high cholesterol mice.

These effects are only a sampling of the medicinal benefits from one particular mushroom species. Given the enormous health gains available the question is: why don't we eat more mushrooms? As I see it there are two answers: The first is simply a question of availability. The average supermarket only stocks the white button mushroom, a non-medicinal species. "Gourmet" varieties, like the medicinal shitake, enokitake, maitake, and oyster, are typically sold at gourmet prices, outside the budget of the average consumer. This issue could be remedied by increased production, which would lower prices and increase availability.

The second factor limiting mushroom consumption is mycophobia, the irrational fear of mushrooms. It is well-known that certain species of mushrooms are poisonous, and some cultures have extrapolated the fear of poisonous mushrooms to the fear of all mushrooms. The English and Irish cultures are well-known mycophobic cultures that traditionally have avoided mushrooms at all cost. Overcoming mycophobia is really a question of education and awareness.

That said, here are some of the other angles from which I've been thinking about mushrooms: