The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the "I suspected as much" category...

I just came across this article [link]about cell phone usage and it played right into my paranoia. Here's the opening paragraph:

In a culture where people cradle their cellphones next to their heads with the same constancy and affection that toddlers hold their security blankets, it was unsettling last month when a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that doing so could alter brain activity.

What? You think those who walk about with a cell phone glued to their hands and ears already show signs of weird brain activity? Perhaps. Science doesn't yet know what the changes in brain activity will do, or are doing. The change is subtle, it seems, just "an increase in glucose metabolism after using the phone for less than an hour." What would that be? Brain sugar? That term sounds like a hip way of saying "flattery."

In any case, even though science has no idea whether there is (or will be) any harm from this, many people are, according to the article, "what they can do to protect themselves" from this effect. Well, short of giving up the cell phone, that is. I guess word got around pretty fast since the report was published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Recommendations range from the extreme... giving up one's cell phone... to just using a speakerphone feature, keep it away from your head. Since it is obvious that telling people not to use a cell phone these days would be nervously laughed at, the speakerphone option is the only serious advice.

Some studies show a link between cell phone use and "cancer, lower bone density and infertility in men" while plenty more find no link. We just have no idea, do we?

Mine is not threatening my brain activity at all (as minor as that activity may be) since my cell phone spends most of its time shut off and sitting on my dresser. I am not a big fan of these things. On the other hand, I am retired so have less need for communication. Even when I was working, I had no need for a cell phone. All it could do was to make me available to management. And I had no desire to be more accessible.

And, forgive me for saying so, I think using these things in restaurants, on the golf course, and so on is just rude to those around you. Let's face it, folks, the largest percentage of cell phone calls are unimportant. I saw a man the other day, riding a bicycle with a cell phone pressed against his ear. He was dressed like he was just out for some light exercise. He appeared to be in his 60's and probably retired (most residents here seem to be) so what was so important? Even if he worked, can't he be out of touch with his workplace for 30 minutes while he exercises? Don't we need a break from that stress? Isn't that part of what getting some exercise is about?

Just turn the thing off! They'll leave voice mail if it's important. Even if it's not important.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Well, let's just total that up, shall we?

It seems I am always "in heat" for new things, mostly cars, these days. There's nothing wrong with my car other than it gets poor gas mileage in city driving. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all the driving I do these days. In my car. When we take a trip somewhere, we use Faye's. Her car's a little newer. And Faye prefers the cloth seats in her car to the leather/leatherette ones in mine. So, I acquiesce.

Because I just drive around town, it would make sense to have a small fuel efficient car. Something that gets good mileage, something with enough room to carry my golf clubs and the associated gear (rain jacket, a couple of small towels, two pair of golf shoes, and about 6 hats I only wear at the golf course), something "zippy", something cheap.

So I watch ads. I peruse the internet. I do a lot of "Build your [insert model name here]." In doing so, I have noticed a commonality. Price creep does not creep like a tortoise, it leaps and bounds like a kangaroo, it soars like an eagle.

I am at that age where I no longer can tolerate the stripped down model. I once owned a `56 Chevy 2 door sedan. Stick shift, vinyl seats, 6 cylinder engine, no radio, no power steering or windows, no heater. I added an after market radio which means I found a cheap Chevy/Delco radio at an auto junkyard and installed it.

But you cannot buy a stripped down car anymore. You cannot buy a new car the way we once did. Here's how it worked. You went to the car dealership, you test drove one of the demos. You selected the options you wanted individually; radio, power steering/windows, heater, and so on. The salesman would total it up and you would sign the contract. The car would be ordered from the factory and arrive within a couple of weeks. Those days are pretty much gone.

We have gone to buying cars like we shop for groceries or garden tools or just about anything. We select from the inventory on hand. In some, maybe many, cases the dealer will try to locate a car that comes close to, or matches, your preferences from another dealer (he'll swap one of his with that dealer for it) and you'll have it within a few days at most. It seems we no longer want to wait. In exchange for not having to wait, we compromise on accessories, features, and trim.

The auto makers have found a way to exploit that. You want that $400 built-in navigation system? You have to add the "tech package" for $2500 (or more) which gives you a number of extra features and accessories you don't want or need. You want the 17" wheels? You have to buy the "touring" or "sports" package for $3500 which includes things like a motorized sun roof and a rear deck spoiler and fog lamps.

So, you see an ad for a Jetta and it says "under $16,000" and you think "Wow! That's a pretty good price." Until you try to find that vehicle anywhere. It doesn't exist. No matter where you go, even on the internet, you will not find that stripped down vehicle.

After you sigh a few thousand times, go through all the anguish, and decide you will bite the bullet and pay for what you don't want to get the 10% you do want. You find all the additional charges...

Dealer prep - Anywhere from $200 to $400 (sometimes more) depending on the make and model. This means the dealer allegedly checked the car out and washed it. And maybe tossed in a full tank of gas.

Title transfer - Starts at about $200 and rises rapidly depending on state.

Destination charge - Several hundred dollars. Basically you are just reimbursing (at a profit) the dealer for bringing the car to the dealership so you can see it on his lot and settle for it instead of the one you really wanted but could not get.

And you may also run into something that is just outright theft in my opinion. A premium based on desirability. I saw one of these premiums as high as $2000 tacked onto a new model van from Toyota back in the mid-70's.

So that $16,000 car that you saw advertised? Did you look at the fine print? You'll have to pause your DVR or get a magnifying glass for the newspaper or magazine ad to find out the one pictured is "$25, 995, as shown."

And people wonder why I'm a cynic...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hooking and other pursuits

One of the blogs I try to read each time there is a new post is the Scientific Fundamentalist, This post [Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?] really caught my attention. The title, while provocative, is misleading. He starts out musing about whether men try to impress prostitutes (in this case, think Call Girls, not street hookers) as they would try to impress a "normal" date.

He finds they do. I already knew that. Not because I patronize call girls or know men who do but because men seem wired to do so. I think it is simply human nature to want to impress others. I think it is true regardless of the nature of the relationship. I have met people in bars, at parties, at work, on golf courses, just about everywhere that casual, and transient, meetings happen. Small talk always leads to attempts to impress in one way or another. Male and female alike engage in it.

Think about it. I know I have done this again and again and I would bet that you have too. From dates, to casual meetings at parties and dances (and just about anywhere), I have done my best to impress the opposite sex. But I have also tried to impress teachers, bosses, co-workers, waiters and waitresses, and more. There is a difference in degree, method, and in conscious motivation but the desire to impress was there at some level.

My father was a salesman. It was, to me, an odd trade for a man I saw as reclusive, quiet, stern, and a bit cold. I learned that was just part of his persona. In this post [I think I am turning green], I tried to explain it:

My father, a mostly silent and stern man, would pull up in front of a large store and we would go in. As we passed through the door, his seemingly eternal frown would disappear and a smile would appear. Cheerfulness would fill his face and he would wave and greet people as if they were old friends he had not seen nearly often enough. He would exchange pleasantries, laugh at lame jokes, nod sagely at tales of woe, and be something much more human than the Dad I had known all my short life.

If you are going to be a successful salesman, you have to create a relationship with your clients, they have to see you as something more than a guy who wants their money. You have to impress them. We do this when we want to make a friend, or encourage subordinates, or get treated fairly by a company, or just about any time we interact with others.

At the end of that Scientific Fundamentalist post, this question came to mind immediately:

Isn't everyone a prostitute? In a loose interpretation, that is. The core definition of a prostitute is one who offers one's body for money. That pretty much describes anyone who works for wages. We make a moral distinction when we are talking about prostitution. Throughout my working life, I provided my body (to do some physical work) in exchange for money.

And another thought also entered my mind. This one related to the parent website of the blog. Isn't a psychologist just a rented friend?

Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm too [un]sexy for my shirt

You wouldn't know it today by looking at me but I was once rather handsome, they tell me. Never mind who they are. I was lean and wiry and tan. Quite tan.

It happened in my 19th year on this planet. That would be when I was 18 (do the math, folks, do the math) and "discovered" surfing... along with millions of others. I was a skinny kid, ribs easily counted, spindly legs, arms easily confused as loose threads hanging from my sleeves. I rarely wore short sleeved shirts or shorts, I was quite insecure about my body. I weighed about 130 lbs and stood 5'11" when I turned 18. Yup, scrawny. I identified closely with the character in the Charles Atlas ads... the one who got sand kicked in his face by the bully.

No matter what I did, I could not gain weight. I ate like any teenage boy, stuffing every kind of food imaginable in my gullet, but it never stuck to those really obvious ribs. Serious thoughts about tapeworms were voiced by my mother... who had the opposite problem. It was genetics at work. My father, at 6'4", weighed all of 140 lbs when my parents married. You are your parents, it seems.

Then I got hooked on surfing. I am not sure why. My first attempt left me with a fat lip from being hit by the board and a sunburn from too many hours in the sun for a body that had been mostly covered since I was a small child. Within 6 months, I had become a fair surfer and a deep, dark, reddish brown. The only part that wasn't tan was the palms of my hands, the soles of my feet, and the area from a few inches below my navel to a line about three inches down my legs.

My shoulders broadened and my waist narrowed. Paddling a surfboard and swimming quite a bit did that. But my arms stayed thin, my legs stayed spindly, and my ribs still poked out. My stomach was still not flat, I had no "6-pack abs", but it was close. I was lean and wiry. And very, very dark.

I learned, about a year into surfing, that no matter how tanned you got, you could still get sunburned. I spent about 8 hours in the water on an overcast day. It wasn't especially hot by south Florida standards, probably mid-80's, and you couldn't see the sun through the cloud layer. But that night I developed those bubbly blisters on my nose and cheeks just under my eyes. And some on my forearms. I did what any kid would do... I peeled the dead skin away to reveal the pink layer underneath. I looked a bit weird for a couple of days until those areas tanned again.

I still thought I was too skinny. And I thought I was not handsome. Until one evening when I was trying desperately to seduce a 15 year old girl from New Jersey, a tourist teen visiting Hallandale Beach with her parents. She talked about how sexy I looked paddling out into the waves that afternoon at the beach just down from her motel. Instead of dismissing her words as simple flattery I accepted them. To this day, I do not know why. Even so, I failed to accomplish my goal that night... probably to both our benefits.

I enlisted in the Navy a few months after that, weighing all of 133 lbs (officially). As much as I ate (and I gobbled food pretty much mindlessly then), I left the Navy 4 years later weighing about 145 lbs.

I mention all this because I noticed the other day that my weight was creeping up. I am not that skinny kid I once was. Yet I look in the bathroom mirror and that is who I see. Not the tanned surfer dude but the skinny little creep that he once was. The mind plays tricks on us all.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Got chaos? Get used to it

Another week has gone by and things are heating up. Not just the weather either, though that is certainly warming up down here in Paradise. I am talking geo-politics. Which I seem to be able to do without a university degree. One of the joys of being a human... we can talk without formal knowledge about anything all. A friend of mine (I think he's a friend) says "Ask Douglas... he knows everything!" He says that a little too often and I detect more than a tinge of sarcasm in his delivery.

Anyway, ignoring that guy and plunging ahead, the Middle East is still in turmoil. We don't really mean Middle East, though, do we? We mean Muslim countries in and around that region. Egypt is still sorting itself out, Yemen is in crisis mode, Bahrain has called in troops from Saudi Arabia, Syria is shooting its own people, and then there's Libya.

Do we belong in the skies over Libya? Should Br'er Rabbit have picked up the Tar Baby? I don't see the long term, or even the short term, benefits of this thing. I hear and read people calling this a "war" but I disagree. It doesn't even amount to the NATO actions over Kosovo though there are some similarities. Except there was plenty of reasons (propaganda) given for the Kosovo intervention that made just a little more sense than the ones given for Libya. If taking military action with Libya is justified by Qaddafi's slaughtering his own people, why wasn't that sufficient for invading Iraq? Not to mention staying in Afghanistan until the Taliban is impotent.

The No Fly Zone strategy will likely fail.
Qaddafi [Duck] is not exactly sane but he's not as stupid as some folks seem to think. He knows no one in this coalition is going to send in ground troops (that's been announced) and that the world will tire of this in time so all he has to do is hunker down and hold out. I would guess he thinks he can do that.

But let's get back to these "democratic" uprisings in the region. I worry about them. Mostly because I don't think the outcomes will be all that democratic. I think these uprisings will be used by the best organized political groups and those are not really interested in establishing "one man-one vote" societies. These groups are interested in seizing power and become the ruling tyrants. Some of this is being backed by Iran (Shi'a), I think. Mostly in Yemen and Bahrain. Some of it seems Sunni instigated and possibly Saudi financed at some level.

The only good I see in any of this is that it shows an escalation of the struggle between Sunni and Shi'a and I don't mind if these two are at each other's throats. The worst possible thing for the non-Muslims of the world would be for these two sects to join forces. In the long term it would be bad for everyone.

Being atheist, I would be among the first to be offered the choice of conversion to Islam or death. I'd much rather live in a society (and world) dominated by Christians. They seem to have evolved out of their Inquisition days and become a bit more tolerant. Islam is still in that mindset, I think, and that makes that religion a bit more scary.

Yeah, it's all about me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Random babbling and musings

I am back from golf and in a good mood so it's time for some random musings...

The space shuttles are very close to being "mothballed". The end of the shuttle era means NASA will now partner with private enterprise, they say, for space vehicles. This should be interesting.

I am old enough to remember the thrill of Alan Shepard making a sub-orbital flight. He was the 2nd human being to reach "space" and the first American to do so. I was 14 at the time and it seemed like a big deal to me. It has been almost 50 years since that first flight by an American. In those days, we really thought that we'd have established colonies on the moon by now. Of course, we also thought there'd be flying cars and domed cities.

If we had invented/built flying cars, would they be making them into Hybrids?

I am not optimistic about the future anymore. Not that I was very optimistic at any time in the past. Being a skeptic by nature, I found pessimism to be more in line with my thought processes. But I am becoming more pessimistic every day. I blame the news media. It's probably not their fault but they are an easy scapegoat.

I start Medicare this summer. Yes, I will officially be an "old goat." I am not looking forward to it. We Baby Boomers are likely to overwhelm the system. We're a bunch of crybabies, demanding ones at that. I plan on staying healthy. Like most of my planning, nature will likely interfere. I also remember life before Medicare and how the AMA was solidly opposed to its inception. That was in the days when doctors made house calls. Also before people who were not rich likely had any kind of health insurance. We paid less for those house calls than we pay as co-payments for an office visit. Things have changed quite a bit, haven't they?

I am being inundated with insurance people trying to sell me supplemental insurance to go with my Medicare. I wonder how they found out how old I am? I asked that question back when AARP started sending me invitations to join them when I turned 50. They must be getting this data from somewhere.

Speaking of visiting the doctor... I hope I have encouraged people to stop tolerating endless waits to see the doctor. Give him/her 30 minutes beyond your appointment time and then walk out. If enough people do this (and, hopefully, complain to their insurance) maybe doctors will get more efficient. Yeah, I'm dreaming and that is counter to my skeptical nature.

How do you make right angle turns in your car? Do you slow way down so you don't cut across the corner? Or do you cut the corner? My personal beef is that people seem to ignore the possibility of a car approaching the intersection on the road you want to turn onto. I cannot count the times I have had to stop well short of a corner because some idiot cut the corner too tightly.

The first time I got into any accident on a roadway was because a women turned left onto the road I was coming out of. She clipped my left headlight, dinging the fender. She was angry at me for the incident. I am unsure why. I was stopped when she banged into me.

The corner cutters rank right up there with Left Lane Snails, the "slow approachers" to red lights, and the "bitter clingers" who ride alongside you so you cannot change lanes. I blame it all on the "me first, me only" attitude that seems to be rampant throughout society these days.

Ok, now I need a nap. Now that I am an old goat, naps are mandatory

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Snips and snails

I was watching Hombre last night. It's a classic 60's style western with Paul Newman and Richard Boone. I say "60's style" because it had the political correctness of the time embedded in the plot. Newman, having been abducted and raised by the Apaches, had come to distrust (maybe even hate) his fellow White Men. For good reason, of course. Richard Boone is always excellent as the Bad Guy, of course.

Quick synopsis: John Russel [Newman]is informed that he has inherited a lodging-house in the town. He goes to the town and decides to trade the place for a herd. He has to go to another city. The only stagecoach is one being hired for a special trip paid by Faver and his wife Audra. As there are several seats others join the stagecoach making seven very different passengers in all. During the journey they are robbed by a gang led by Cicero Grimes [Boone]

But it was one small scene that intrigued me enough to post about it. The three women are chatting about men. Two seem to see them as necessary for survival and security and, thus, to be tolerated while the third opines that she likes them for themselves, for what they are. There are remarks made about the noises men make; "bathroom noises", "coughing up phlegm", and "bedroom noises."

And we do. Make those noises, that is. Not that women don't. They just hide it better. Men don't seem to be so concerned about it. After all, as boys, we made a game of making some of those noises so it stands to reason we wouldn't abandon them in adulthood. We are a crude lot.

I began to muse about the relationship between the sexes, about the attraction. I was reminded of the old rhyme we all learned at one time:

"What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of !"
What are little girls made of?
"Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!"

The odd thing is that we boys reveled in the rather disparaging description.

Why do women like men? We are pretty gross at times. And most of us are hardly the ideal human form. We have "love handles" (I had them in my twenties), grow pot bellies (and are sometimes a bit proud of them, calling them "beer bellies"), lose our hair, have rough hands, smell bad quite often, spit a lot, make all those noises previously mentioned plus more not mentioned, can be violent and belligerent, and crude. Not all of us, of course, are this way but most of us are and all of us are capable of it.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be quite the opposite. They suppress the noises, work hard to keep the physical attributes from becoming unbecoming, abstain from belligerence and crudity. At least until they've been married awhile.

There is a scene in another Newman movie, Slap Shot, where Newman is in bed with the ex-wife of a goalie on another team. She confesses that she "likes women" and Newman's character is sympathetic to her, bringing up much of the same thoughts I did... plus a few... in a more descriptive way that I won't go into but mostly having to do with body parts and aesthetics.

I should get to my point, shouldn't I?

Just what the heck do women see in us anyway?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why would Casper be friendly?

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Do you believe in ghosts? I never have even though I have an early memory of seeing an apparition by my bedside. I suppose it's because we didn't have a "haunted house" in my neighborhood. And I had an older brother who tried to convince me ghosts were real. I learned early on not to believe my brother. He would do his best to convince me of something untrue so he could laugh at me later for being gullible. He has a lot to do with my cynical nature.

But there are no ghosts, are there? We like to pretend there are for things like Halloween and we seem to love scary stories. Who hasn't sat around late at night and listened to ghost stories? Ghosts and goblins have been used throughout history to explain the seemingly unexplainable. Authors through the ages have either written scary stories or used ghosts and apparitions as ways to invoke guilt or turn their characters around. Think of Marley's ghost tromping about in chains frightening poor old Ebenezer Scrooge. Think of Hamlet's dead father who appears 4 times in the play.

The best scary movie I ever saw was "The Haunting" (1963). You never saw any spirits, no ghosts, but they were there. More inferred than seen. The one scene where an apparition seemingly appears is explained soon after.

One of the reasons I never believed in ghosts is because I could not figure out how they could harm you. They hid from sight most of the time. They were apparently unable to touch you. If something can't touch you, how can it harm you? There were plenty of real things that could harm me, starting with my brother, that I saw little need to worry about the supernatural.

At some point I began to see supernatural things as devices used to control people. Haunted houses are dangerous since they are usually rundown and seedy. Rotted floors and crumbling stairs are hazards which can hurt curious children. And children are nothing if not curious. It is a bit ironic that children want to explore haunted houses since fear is supposed to keep them away.

There were times in my life where I wished I could believe in such things as ghosts. My lack of belief has always made me feel apart from others.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whatcha workin' on?

G'mornin', folks. Another day, another post.

Wandering about Google News this fine morning, I came across this:

Three inventions that will change the world.

Reading the article, I find that he was limited to three inventions. Also, it should be "that could change the world", the "will" is unnecessary. Just about all inventions do that... change the world that is. But the article is narrowing that focus, I suspect, and maybe it should be "could change the world for the better."

After all, the invention of the atomic bomb certainly changed the world but was it for the better?

I noticed that he talked about some breakthroughs, not inventions. Rapid sequencing (and more complete) of DNA with the ability to determine which genes are "on" and which are "off", sturdy and reusable rockets (meaning ones that only need routine checkups and repairs between flights and are easily refueled), and viable "cold" fusion. That last is going to take a number of inventions and breakthroughs to accomplish. And, in the process, might destroy us... That would certainly change the world, wouldn't it?

Fusion is what the makes stars (including our sun) burn. Incredible pressure which fuses the nuclei of atoms. The resultant heat is what makes life thrive on this planet because it apparently just happened to be in the right place; the right distance from the sun. The main problem with fusion is containing it. We already know how to create it. That's the breakthrough he was actually talking about.

Maybe we should think about inventions that have already changed the world. The one I think has had the most effect (aside from the wheel) is the transistor. And that was just duplicating an invention we already had in another form. Before transistors, we used vacuum tubes. And those tubes did the same thing that transistors do now.

It's these little things that make the biggest difference. They are often not recognized as breakthroughs except in hindsight.

He then goes on to portray California as the center of the innovation/invention universe. Maybe it is. Or maybe it just has been of late. Another invention, the harnessing of steam, which changed the world happened (as far as we know) around 75 A.D. in Alexandria in Egypt by a Greek. A simple device that performed no apparent useful function but which led to the steam engine which gave birth to the industrial age. It also led to the creation of an artificial vacuum before that.

The truth about inventions is that small ones are really breakthroughs in understandings of concepts that lead to others seeing possible practical applications. And then we call those applications "inventions."

Monday, March 21, 2011


I'm depressed. I must be. Looking back at my last several posts, it's clear that this must be my condition. Where's the mirth? The chuckles? Or even a few titters?

So I went and played golf. Where I did horribly. Worse than I have done in a long time. And an 11 year-old kid with a short attention span played better than I did. This did not do much to cheer me up. Even worse is the thought that this kid will get better, much better, over the next few years. Whereas I, of course, will get much worse.

It just doesn't seem fair. It's embarrassing when an 11-year-old outdrives you more often than not. And people frown on you beating up children. So I managed to restrain my inner ogre. It's just too bad that the Humane Society wasn't on the way home. I could have picked up a puppy to kick or a kitten to drown.

Of course, I wouldn't actually do that. I'm too much of a softy to harm a helpless little animal.

Once you get into a depression, it's difficult to get cheerful again. Music sometimes helps. Unless I get sidetracked by the Blues. Then you just spiral down into a funk. Avoid the TV and the radio. Too much news and little of it good.

Chocolate cake. I think that might be the answer.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Alien life forms are popping up

Today being Saturday, I suppose I could get into politics. There's plenty to rant about, always is. Each of our two major political parties pointing fingers of blame at each other for failing the people. Both being mostly right. The economy is either improving, stagnating, or getting worse. All of which are true somewhere in the country. Unemployment figures touted at the beginning of a week are quietly adjusted, without fanfare, later in the week showing the employment outlook is not as good on Friday as it was portrayed on Monday.

I keep think handbasket, river to some nether world, and no paddle.

So I just didn't think about these things this morning. Instead, I grew concerned about the alien life forms growing on and in my lawn. Most people call them weeds. But have you looked at them? I mean, really looked at them? I am sure the ones in my yard are the spawn of some spores from outer space. Full of tendrils and odd looking tiny flowers and large seed packets, they take root where nothing else, certainly no actual grass, seems to grow.

Yeah, the dreaded "dead spots". The roots of my St. Augustine grass showing, gray and rotting, no "runners" from the allegedly good areas appear to even dare enter these zones of barrenness. But these alien weed forms thrive there.

Maybe they were blown off the dust of Mars, having laid dormant there for centuries, by a passing comet. Sucked up into its tail, they trail along until they come close enough for earth's gravity to pull them in. Light enough to waft down into the lower atmosphere rather than burn up on entry, they grab a bit of "dead" soil and immediately put down roots and begin to propagate.

When people ask me, "Do you think there's life on other planets?" I say, "Certainly!" and when they ask, "Do you think they have visited us?" I say, "They are taking over my lawn as we speak."

And I have noticed fewer squirrels this year around my house. Maybe some of the newer "weeds" are carnivorous.

We are all doomed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A bit of puttery

It's another day and another blog post. Once more, I am challenged to come up with something, anything, that does not reek of poor talent. Once more, I will likely not achieve that goal. I was never much of an achiever. To say I am an underachiever would be gilding the lily, so to speak.

I am not here. I am off playing at golf. That best describes my game of late. My putter has failed me. And anyone who plays golf, even miniature golf, knows what it means when that happens. I paid big bucks for this putter. I think it was $17 total, including shipping. And it came with a dozen Wilson Eco-core balls. I am not sure what an Eco-core golf ball is but I suspect that it is biodegradable so if it gets lost (which golf balls are wont to do in the course of a round), it breaks down and feeds the worms. Or maybe it melts in the lake you were not supposed to hit your ball into. Or maybe it contains alligator food. We have alligators in all our ponds and lakes down here.

I buy cheap putters so it doesn't hurt so much when I bend them around a tree trunk. Or throw them into the nearest pond. Still, I expect them to at least propel the ball toward the hole in the line I choose. Then, if the line I choose is wrong, I have only myself to blame. Lately, I have gotten a case of the twitches. The twitches are a subset of something called "The Yips". The "Yips" are the bane of golfers everywhere. It usually manifests itself as a wildly overhit ball that slides 6 feet past the hole on a 2 foot putt. The "Twitches" cause one to pull, or push, a short putt to one side of the hole or other.

I blame the putter. It's more comforting than blaming myself. And I can always get a new putter. Replacing myself is not an option. Unless they have perfected human cloning. They haven't done that yet, have they? Please tell me they haven't.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On grapefruit and culture

As I cut, squeezed, and blenderized grapefruit to make some juice (and even a few grapefruit ice cubes) I tried to think about what I should write about today. I come up blank a lot of times, it's my nature. I'm a blockhead. That is, a lot of thoughts get blocked in my head.

I have been thinking about cultures of late. Possibly because of the contrast between the Japanese culture and the American one in regards to the disasters in Japan. There are a number of differences but we could call the Japanese a fairly homogeneous one while American culture is more.... well, it really isn't one anymore. That is, it is so fragmented by the immigration of so many different ethnic groups (who bring their cultures with them) that American culture is highly dependent upon where you are in the country. We have a southern culture (which is actually southeastern), we have a western culture which is a mix of several again depending upon what state you are in. We have a northeastern culture and a midwest culture and any number of subcultures at city level and even below that. Each of these reflects the heritages of the dominant population of that area. Or at least the once dominant population.

A wise person once said "language is culture." I have no idea who that wise person was. But it isn't quite true or maybe it is true in a broad sense. Maybe dialect is culture also. Or reflects culture.

First, let's define culture. I like this one:
"The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group."

I think that provides a foundation for how a culture forms. I would say families each have their own culture, of a sort. They may have traditions, a history, values, goals, and standards that are handed down through the family. Mine didn't. Our family was/is quite fragmented. And we have little sense of our history. We are a mix of Protestant and Catholic. That alone should keep us fragmented. Our values are simple and also quite common. Our goals are practically non-existent. We have no family traditions. But that's us and we are a sorry lot at times. Most families do have these things.

As I see it, humans evolved from families into tribes into societies into cultures. Nations grew out of the cultures. Nations are usually fairly homogeneous. The evolution of their culture, built primarily upon the culture of the dominant tribe in the region, is influenced by war and migration. America has been greatly influenced by both but I think mostly by migration.

The only worrisome thing about cultures is the apparently inherent competitive nature of successful ones. There is a tendency to believe one's culture is superior to all others. All have creation myths which define the people as descended from gods or put there by gods. This has caused countless problems over the millennia

Will we ever evolve a human culture? One which unites us rather than divides us? Or will there always be conflict?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ideological incongruity

I often don't have much in my head to write about. Or I have too much. This morning is one where I don't have an idea. On days like this I wander about the internet, read various news stories and try to come up with something. I had just about given up when I came across this story about a poll...

11% Say Communism Better Than U.S. System of Politics and Economics

I am stunned by this. I am not sure why. I run into people all the time who think that communism or socialism would be better than capitalism. I have not felt they truly believed it, though. And the poll seems to show that contradiction...

"Eighty-seven percent (87%) say, in practical terms, free market economies work better than communist economies. Only four percent (4%) say communist economies work better. "

I have never been to a communist country. I know of communism only through school, my own reading, and some distant observation. It seems inherently flawed to me. And a miserable system under which to live. It promises equality but I never saw evidence of that. What I saw (and see) is a system where people become desperate to leave. So desperate, in fact, that they risk death to get out.

Communism does not appear to work as promised, does it? Instead of lifting everyone to a pleasant middle-class existence, it leaves most (maybe 90% or more) down in what we in the US might call the poverty class. Look at Russia when it was the Soviet Union, look at China, look at Cuba, look at North Korea.

I suspect this fascination with communism and socialism (a softer form which also fails to live up to its promises) appeals because it seems to fit with what we are taught at a very early age... we should share. But we were forced to share, we did not want to. And that is why these systems do not work well. They violate human nature. Humans want to possess things, they want more than they are given, they want to believe they can control their own destinies.

When I look at communist countries, I see single party systems and oppression. I see control of information, I see restrictions of movement, I see widespread poverty. I do not see widespread happiness nor hope nor joy.

Perhaps it's because I grew up during the worst of the ideological war we called "The Cold War" and I was programmed that way. Maybe not.

When I was in junior high (late 50's early 60's), the subject came up from time to time. My feelings haven't changed in the years since. I thought it unworkable long term then and still do. Living in south Florida at that time, Cuba was the example which convinced me it was not a moral system.

But I admit human beings never cease to amaze me with their willingness to follow dictators, live in oppressive societies, and support brutality.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

May I ramble a bit?

I lost something the other day. No, not my dignity. I gave that up years ago. It was an hour. On Sunday morning, 2 AM never really happened. Because a second after 1:59:59 AM, it became 3 AM. Daylight Savings Time had begun and I got one hour less sleep that night. I guess I didn't really lose that hour, I had it taken away from me just as it arrived.

Does it really save any daylight? Can daylight be saved? Is it a physical thing that can be added to, stored away, deducted from? Daylight is merely the sun shining on the planet. Since the planet rotates, that shiny area appears to move but really doesn't. As we all know, the sun does not actually rise in the morning and set at night. It just seems that way to observers on the ground. So, no, the same amount of sunlight bathes the earth regardless of the time of year. Daylight Savings Time is a gimmick.

Problem is, I can't do anything about it. I have to go along with the crowd. If it is observed where I live then I must also observe it. So much for choice. I have always lived in places where it is observed. And, therefore, I have never been able to ignore it. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

With the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan has come a nuclear almost catastrophe. That "almost" may be edited out soon. This will trigger an emotional debate about the safety of nuclear power generation. It is something I have mixed feelings about. I suppose you could call me a NIMBY type. I think nuke plants are fine... but not near me.

I used to drive down I-5 past the San Onofre nuclear power plant quite often. I worried about it. I worried about background radiation levels. I even would roll up my car windows and shut off the vents. I know... silly. I worried when I read about the stress fractures in the containment walls. But I mostly worried about the personnel who worked there. Not about their safety. I worried about their work ethic. You see, I figure that these workers are pretty much the same as workers everywhere. We cut corners, don't we? We overlook safety for the sake of convenience. We don't always respond quickly to an alarm, preferring to finish our coffee perhaps. We don't always click that seatbelt or wear that hard hat, do we?

I worked for a telecommunications company maintaining switching equipment. When I first went into that job, the noise was almost overwhelming. At that time, the equipment used was electro-mechanical. It clattered, it whirred, it clunked, and clanked. And there were alarms. During the daytime hours, the alarms were almost constant. And, therefore, mostly ignored. In the evening and night shift hours, the alarms were much rarer and we paid more attention to them. But we also had some "constants", some alarms that were always there. These were problems that we had not yet resolved so we "toothpicked" the relays which caused the bells to ring. Some of them had been toothpicked for hours, some for days or weeks, some for months, and some for years.

As I recall, one of the problems uncovered at Three Mile Island were "toothpicked" alarms which allowed problems to, uh, escalate.

And that's why I am not a big fan of nuclear power plants. That and I don't know what we do with the spent fuel either.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Luxury is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps

There's a commercial running now that catches my attention. It's a Cadillac commercial. It opens with an apparently rich couple sitting at the opposite ends of a longish dining table. They look somewhere between bored and indifferent. You might get the idea that they don't like each other much. The image is one of a life without excitement, without passion, maybe even without any interest at all. Jaded.

It's all about luxury. Cadillac, desiring to be (or maybe "reclaim") the symbol of luxury. And that Cadillac's luxury is exciting. This, of course, got me to musing about luxury and wealth. These are, after all, inextricably linked, aren't they? Luxury is not cheap. Those of us who are not wealthy (and that would be the vast majority of us) get only glimpses of luxury, little tastes of it.

I like those little tastes. I have been fortunate enough to have stayed the occasional time in a fine hotel suite, ridden in true luxury cars, felt the incomparable texture and give of fine leather as well as the feel of silk against my skin. I enjoyed these things. But I think I could also become jaded quite easily.

I own a Buick Lucerne with just about all the "goodies." I especially like the remote start and rain sensor windshield wiper system. The interior is "leather appointed" and quite comfortable. It's a far cry from the 10 year-old (at the time) Studebaker Champion with the torn and ratty interior that was my first car or any of the ones I have owned over the years (with one exception: I owned a 10 year-old Seville for a year in 2005-2006) I think about buying a new car but, when I do, I realize I would have to give up the comfort and convenience I have become accustomed to. I cannot bring myself to do it. I don't think of the car as a luxury, it's just nice transportation. But I don't want to go back to cramped little cars with vinyl seats that transmit every bump in the road (and we have a lot of bumps in our roads here). I won't give up what little luxury I have.

Faye sees luxury and wants it. I see luxury and see mostly expense. There are times I dream of the rough life I lived at one time. I slept on beaches, wrapped in a ratty blanket now and then, was either in the Navy or working for minimum wage, and rented cheap apartments. I lived paycheck to minimum wage paycheck. My only transportation was a motorcycle (bought used, of course). I didn't mind. I partied with friends. Had lots of laughs, didn't feel deprived.

In the back of my mind is that journey across country and back on a motorcycle with a small tent, a sleeping bag, and the minimum in clothes that I haven't taken. It's the only thing on my "bucket list." It certainly wouldn't be luxury but it would be interesting. I just don't know if I wouldn't quit halfway.

I don't want a butler and a maid, it would mean a lack of privacy. I don't want a chauffeur, I like driving myself (it's a control thing). I don't want a big soft featherbed or deep pile carpet.

Luxury to me would be someone else doing the mundane chores like shopping, mowing the lawn, and such. I don't need, or want, all the trappings of wealth. I don't think I'd be happy in a huge house.

Faye sees luxury differently. Regular visits to the day spa, a huge bathtub with jacuzzi jets. Filet mignon at one's beck and call. A mansion. A live-in cook and maid. But not a cute French one, I'm sure. A Bentley or Rolls in the garage, maintained and kept immaculate by the Chauffeur. He'd probably be the cute French one. Private jets to take her to Las Vegas on a whim.

I suppose men and women have different perspectives on luxury. Just as we do on most everything.

What is luxury to you?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How dumb are we?

I am not going to go into politics today even though it is Political Saturday again.

From time to time, I see some really stupid things done by people. I am sure they have very good reasons some of the time, other times they seem to have no idea why they did whatever it was. Like a child who does something an adult thinks is dumb and the child answers the "why did you do that?" question with "I dunno..."

Here's an example of something that, to me, made very little sense.

Calm Man Successfully Buys TV And Denies Walmart Receipt Checkers

I became even more puzzled as I read the comments and there were a lot of comments. The man felt he was standing up for his rights. And, if the law is as he says (I have no reason to doubt him), he was on solid legal ground. But you don't do things simply because they are legal, do you? Don't you also consider how your actions, legal or not, impact others? I try to.

In the above case, the man was asked to show his receipt for the TV he had just purchased. He refused. He did it quite politely, it appears, not an "in your face" protest. But he apparently did not care why Wal-Mart had the policy to ask for the receipt. It is to prevent someone from picking up such an item and just walking out of the store. Actually, I think it is to discourage that kind of theft. If you do not think that kind of theft happens, you would be wrong. I had two friends in junior high who walked into a J.C. Penny's, picked up a 19" table model TV and walked out with it. That would be around 1960. Two 13 year olds just toted a stolen TV out of the store. They walked it to the middle of the shopping center, sat with it for about 15 minutes and then carried it back in and put it back where they had "found" it. It was rare show of audacity for that time period.

He saved himself no time, no effort, and proved nothing that I can figure out. I see a number of stores who tape the receipt to the item. That way, the employee at the door can easily see it. Perhaps Wal-Marts in Virginia might consider doing that in the future.

I think he wasted his time in a sort of Quixotic exercise. We don't have a law here in Florida which says stores can't ask for receipts and I have been asked for mine from time to time. You cannot leave a Sam's Club without showing your receipt, for example. I have no problem with it so long as the employee does not treat me disrespectfully or rudely while asking for it. I understand the reasons behind the policy. This customer was exerting, rightfully, his right under the law. But the law also curtailed the right of Wal-Mart to impose a policy it felt reduces theft. Rights conflict all the time.

There are more important battles to wage.

Let's go on to something I see as really stupid.

Boy run over by truck while lying in the road

"Turner was reportedly lying in the road face down in the eastbound lane of Bassage Road with a friend when Jayne Miller, 19, drove her 1996 Nissan accidentally over him, according to a report by trooper John N. Paikai, of the Florida Highway Patrol."

The boy is 13 years old. He and another boy were lying in the road. It was reported they were "playing a game." I first thought the game might be called "speed bump" but later realized it was probably a form of "chicken." The lad is in good condition. You have to wonder if his parents are thinking... "Are we raising an idiot?" It is a good thing that it appears he will recover. But I expect he's got a lot of explaining to do.

This all pales in comparison to what has happened in Japan. Simply incredible. The loss of life and property is going to be crushing. It could be enough to set Japan's economy back 60 years. It makes Katrina seem like a summer thunderstorm.

I get earthquake reports from the USGS and noticed some increase in activity along the Pacific Ring of Fire over the past couple of weeks. We live on a very fragile, relatively thin, crust that floats upon the molten rock a few miles down. The activity along the Ring of Fire did not alarm me. In fact, an increase in activity is usually a sign of less overall danger than periods of quiet. In quiet periods, the pressure builds and that is what usually results in a major quake. This active period, however, was preceded by what I saw as an extended period of quiet. But these things defy predictability. Which makes these events all the more terrifying. And puts the fragility of life on this planet in perspective.

Everyone seems to be focusing on the problems at one of the nuclear power plants in Japan. And that is something to worry about, don't get me wrong.

There is something else that I have observed about this earthquake. Something that is not receiving widespread attention. Japan is a society that depends strongly on mass transportation. Much of that transportation is in the form of rail lines and subways. Guess what happens when they get shut down by a natural disaster such as this?

With trains shut down, Tokyoites have to rough it

Just something to consider as we worry about the rising cost of oil and our dependence on it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Cough: Emerging into the light

This took place between 1997 and 1999. No need to worry about my current health. Last in the series... bet you're glad to read that!

After getting discharged from the hospital for the last time, I began taking a more aggressive stance regarding my condition. I was fed up with being told things that didn't seem true and often made no sense considering what I knew about myself. I had never had any allergies as a child or adult. I was 50 years old when this started and allergies do not pop up in the short period of a month. Neither does Asthma ( a favorite diagnosis by a few docs). It felt and acted like an infection from the beginning but was not treated that way at the beginning and later was treated as a secondary infection as a result of an ongoing condition.

It was called "asthma", "chronic bronchitis", and that great catch all... "COPD." You know what COPD is? It stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease but really means "We have no idea what is really wrong with you." Doctors, I learned through this ordeal, are as stumped as anyone when it comes to something that fits too many possibilities or doesn't fall into the neat diagnoses found in their medical books. It's a rare doctor who will admit he is stumped and seeks help. Their is a certain level of ego that is part of the makeup of those who enter the medical profession. And the ego is a master at control. Believe me, I struggle with mine all the time.

I found that doctors are less interested in curing you than they are in maintaining you at a level that keeps you dependent on them. I don't think that is their intent. I think it is just how they learn to function. It just seems to be the best they can do in some cases. In Palm Beach County (and, I suspect, a lot of other places) I found people on medications for life that should have been temporary treatments. A co-worker who also had a lung problem similar to mine was on prednisone for 12 years. As a result he had a huge number of bone problems due to a lack of calcium. The prednisone depletes calcium rather quickly.

In addition to that co-worker, there were two others who had chronic lung problems. I began to suspect something known as "sick building syndrome" and made complaints to the company and to the health department. The health department could not (or would not) do anything, they told me, unless someone died whose problems could be traced back to the building. I had no intention of being that person. The company made a few cursory tests in the building but decided I was a troublemaker or was perhaps angling for a lawsuit and found no problems. Even though they were well aware of the toxic mold in the stairwells.

In the end, I had "fired" one primary doctor, one pulmonary specialist, one ENT specialist, and two infectious disease specialists. I had been on the following medications:

Albuterol inhaler (2 puffs twice a day and as needed)
Flovent (two puffs twice a day)
Prednisone (5 mg per day)
Ciproflaxin (antibiotic, 750 mg 3 times a day)
Prevacid (30 mg once a day for acid reflux)

... for 18 months. Higher dosages for some at various times. And a few others for short periods which triggered adverse side effects I refused to put up with and which were not believed by the various doctors who prescribed them.

At the end of two years, I had quit the inhalers, dropped all antibiotics and prednisone and stopped the Prevacid in favor of over the counter ranitidine (generic version of Zantac) and that only once a day just before bedtime so I don't wake up with heartburn in the middle of the night. And I didn't die. Or get worse. Or have relapses. Slowly, I built up my lungs as best I could. I adjusted my diet to reduce my exposure to foods that aggravated my acid reflux problem.

I am now a doctor's worst nightmare, the Patient From Hell. My cholesterol went up to 204 and my good cholesterol was poor. A new primary doctor on my first visit to him offered to put me on Lipitor. I said "You can prescribe it if you wish but I won't take it."

"Would you rather have a massive heart attack?" was his reply.

"If I do, it would be my choice! You suggest treatments, I decide if I will take them. If you cannot handle that, you aren't going to be my doctor."

Instead of taking a statin, I got more exercise and altered my diet to reduce red meat and increase fish and poultry. My cholesterol dropped to 186 and the ratio of good to bad dropped to 1-3 (recommended by the AMA at the time). There are people who need these drugs and that should take them. I am just not one of them.

And that, my friends, is where I stand today. I am open to advice; I am willing to listen, to have treatments explained to me as clearly as possible. But I no longer just follow doctor's orders blindly. And I never will again. There are good doctors (most), great doctors (too few) and mediocre doctors (too many) and you have no way of knowing which is which until it might be too late. They are not gods, they are just human beings.

I still have minor problems with my lungs from time to time and I keep an up to date albuterol inhaler in my medicine cabinet just in case but haven't had a need for it since 2000. I truly think I would have been through this problem in a few months in 1997 if the doctors had simply believed me, had just listened to what I had to say.

And now I will never write about this again.

Addendum: Here's a story that is worse than mine...

Don't let a doctor destroy your baby's hearing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Cough: Waging war

These events happened between 1997 and 1999. My health is currently pretty good.

After dumping my first pulmonologist and basically just ignoring my first ENT doc, I found new hope in my infectious diseases specialist. A lovely woman, first generation Cuban-American, who seemed genuinely concerned and competent. This wasn't to last throughout my relationship with her but she did me a great amount of good. I always pictured her as driving a black Porche Carrera and was disappointed to learn she drove a fairly low key BMW sedan. She is the one who introduced me to the PICC line and that is when I began the long road to recovery. I was to go through two, this covers the first.

She arranged to have the PICC line inserted by a couple of nurses at a nearby (to her office) hospital. A simple process quickly accomplished. I was introduced to the procedure of connecting/disconnecting the antibiotic container, clearing and cleaning of the connector using Heparin and care of the insertion point (preventing infection), and living with a tube hanging out of my left arm. It also meant showering with my left arm wrapped in plastic for the next several weeks.

The antibiotic was delivered in what looked like medium sized cold cream jars. These were to be kept refrigerated until about 15 minutes before use. Inside the jars, there was a balloon which filled it. Inside that balloon was the antibiotic. The balloon would "deflate" as the antibiotic was delivered through the line. The process took about 20 minutes or so from taking the jar from the fridge. If all went well. If there was no blockage in the line. Each week, a van came to our house and delivered a Styrofoam cooler filed with the next week's doses packed in those frozen gel packs and would pick up the empties. (We kept a number of those gel packs, very handy things, and at least one Styrofoam cooler.) The second PICC line, I was giving syringes (sans needles) which were much easier.

I had to do the treatment 3 times a day. Once every 8 hours. Even if I had to get up at 3 in the morning on my days off. I was working midnight to 8 AM at the time and I set a schedule of 11 (or so) AM, 7 (or so) PM, and 3 (or so) AM.

The first day after insertion of the PICC line, I ended up in the emergency room. The cough had me whipped that day. My lungs were clogged and I could not make it to the hospital on my own (Faye was at work) so I had to call 911. They arrived in a big rescue truck, ignored the PICC line and jabbed another IV into my right arm to provide me with the usual saline and off we went. 5 hours later, I was home again and breathing better.

The only other incident was a visit to the ER because the PICC line coupling blocked. Instead of clearing the blockage, the ER nurse tried to give me the dose through a vein in my hand. I had been on prednisone for several months and my veins were easily ruptured. The idiot did not listen when I told him not to use a tourniquet and the vein blew out. I told him to find someone else to deal with me. And he eventually did (after I "insisted"). It was only one of so many times in that two year period where I noticed that medical professionals do not listen to patients.

The line was supposed to be in for a period of 8 to 12 weeks. It stayed in for 16. It helped but did not cure. We found out during the second PICC line period that the pharmacy was giving me a generic form of Fortaz and it just wasn't good enough. She had not authorized use of a generic.

Removing the PICC line was done at her office by a nurse. It's a weird feeling as the line is slowly drawn out of your arm. Dr. Diaz chatted with me while it was being done. We talked about pseudomonas and she mentioned that it could be really nasty if it got into the lungs. My response? "Hello? Why do you think I am here?"

Like I said, they just don't listen.

When I ended up back in the hospital about 7 or 8 months later and needed another PICC line, things picked up speed. I "fired" my primary doctor when he again insisted I "must have allergies" and called me "Doctor Doug" in a rather condescending and dismissive tone. I chewed him out, told him to not bother to come into my room again and to simply sign off on anything Dr. Diaz ordered. I would switch to his partner as my primary after I got out of the hospital. I was still being badgered to have sinus surgery, which I still refused to do because no one could, or would, explain just what it was supposed to do in my situation. It was during that stay that I re-asserted my usual demanding self and took control of my problems and began to get better.

I have since decided that doctors are like auto mechanics. Great ones are very rare, and if you find a good one (who listens to you), hang onto him or her. And I hold the philosophy of this: a doctor who makes a mistake may only lose a bit of income, the patient may lose a lot more.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Cough: Up my nose with stainless steel implements

All of this happened between 1997 and 1999, no need to inquire about my current health. [third in a series]

After leaving the hospital that first time, I began the usual asthma regimen of steroid inhalers, prednisone, and antibiotics. I picked up a dust mask to wear when mowing my lawn. I was careful. I was hopeful, even optimistic. This would not last long.

As soon as I was weaned off the prednisone and antibiotics, the symptoms re-emerged in force. Instead of concern about the diagnosis or something missed, I was accused of not following the doctor's orders. I found this dynamic to be common with all the doctors I dealt with over the two years of The Cough. They were never wrong, never at fault, only the patient could be making things worse. Within a month, I was looking for another pulmonologist. That was right after arriving in advance of my appointment and waiting TWO HOURS for him to show up. When he did show up, he (for the second time) accused me of not following his directions and dismissed my denials.

Meanwhile, back at my primary doctor's office, there were regular arguments about the cause of my problems. The doctor insisted I had allergies aggravated by acid reflux issues. This was instead of The Cough aggravating my acid reflux problem. I finally insisted he refer me to an allergist to determine just what these alleged allergies might be.

And so it came to pass that I went to the allergist.

Allergists have an interesting practice. When I walked into the examining room, I was asked to blow my nose into what appeared to be a piece of waxed paper. At one time in my life, I would not have been able to do this. I was terrible at blowing my nose, all I would accomplish is blocking my Eustachian tubes and blunting my otherwise good hearing. But along with this lung problem, I had plenty of sinus mucus. And, due to the prednisone I was now taking on a daily ongoing basis, blowing my nose produced a copious amount into that paper.

The doctor came in and interviewed me about possible allergies I might have. I explained that I had not ever had any that I was aware of. The only thing close to an allergy was my having to sneeze a few times after leaving my workplace when pine pollen was in the air. Here in Florida, pine trees are like weeds. They are everywhere. When they produce pollen, it's almost like living in a yellow cloud of dust. My workplace was climate controlled and intake air was heavily filtered. Dust of any kind is anathema to switching equipment. When leaving the office, I would sneeze three times and never again. That was it, the full extent of my sensitivity to foreign substances. The doctor seemed skeptical.

In due course, he poked my upper left arm with a pin with some substance on it to "get a baseline" for the allergy tests which would be run at my next week's appointment. When I returned for that appointment, I learned that I reacted so minimally to that baseline test that he worried that the allergy tests would not work well. But that didn't stop him. They ran what I like to call the "Porcupine Test" or maybe the "Excessive Acupuncture Procedure." 30-something pins were stuck in my back and left there for many minutes. After they were removed, I was asked to come back in a couple of days to evaluate the results.

There were no reactions. I was then given shots of some other substances in my arm. These also failed to produce any reaction. The doctor was clearly puzzled. He told me there was definitely a problem because my mucus samples were loaded with pus. I obviously had some kind of infection or a reaction to something. He ordered a sinus scan.

A sinus scan, if you have not had one, is done in an MRI. You lie on your back with your head in this large white ring and told not to move. There's a lot of noise, like grinding stones, and it seems to go on forever. It actually only takes about 5 minutes. And a week to get the pictures and analysis. It showed I did, indeed, have a sinus infection in two areas (lower sinus) and a slightly deviated septum. The allergist had me referred to an Otolaryngologist. This is, if you do not know, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. Those who specialize in this are as strange to me as proctologists.

Once I went to him, I began to have serious doubts about the medical community. He wanted to take a sample. To do this, he sprayed some kind of painkiller into my nostril and then began stuffing several instruments of torture into it. One of these was a light. It was eerie to have light seemingly come from behind my eye. But he got his sample and asked me to come back in a week to go over the results.

That next visit showed me why I should not trust doctors. He now had those sinus scan pictures in his possession and became fixated with that slightly deviated septum. He could fix that. Sinus surgery was indicated, he said. It would improve the drainage, he explained, which should help to reduce the sinus infections. Those would be the sinus infections which he assumed I was plagued with. But, in reality, were the grand total of two that I had suffered in my lifetime.

I did what I do best, and what doctors fear most, I researched. Specifically, sinus surgery. What I found was that the AMA had taken a new position on sinus surgery in the last few years; they opposed it if the patient could breathe through his nose. Their studies showed that sinus surgery begot more sinus surgery and did not reduce infection rates appreciably over time. My ENT doctor had not heard of this. Neither did his yacht broker, I don't think.

We disagreed about the sinus surgery. Repeatedly. Loudly. He did, however, suggest I get a referral to an infectious disease doctor to treat the pseudomonas infection he had found in my sinus. Which I did. I also considered locating a different ENT doctor.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Cough: hospitals suck

The first week in the hospital was actually split between two hospitals. It seems that my health plan didn't have a contract with the one (Palms West) I went to for the emergency care. I spent two days there before they told me about it and arranged transport to the nearest hospital within my plan.

It was an interesting two days. After the initial treatment of nebulizer (two treatments) and steroids (prednisone), I was placed in a semi-private room with a suspected cardio patient. He was just there for observation. It turned out that was a good thing; that he was there, I mean. I was supposed to get nebulizer treatments every 4 hours to keep my lungs open and as clear as possible. It was about 10 PM or so when I began to realize I was seeing spots before my eyes and was very light-headed. I hadn't had a nebulizer treatment since about 4 that afternoon. I buzzed for the nurse. I coughed, repeatedly. I waited... and waited. No one came.

My roommate rolled over in his sleep and pulled a couple of EKG monitors off which triggered an alarm at the nurse's station (one supposes) and a nurse appeared, walked past my bed and checked on him then re-attached the leads on his chest. She walked past me on the way out the door while I whisper-wheezed "I need some help" which she failed to hear. Noting my distress, my roommate buzzed the nurse who came back to him and he directed her to my bed where I convinced her of the need for a nebulizer treatment.

In the morning, I was introduced to a pulmonologist who would be trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I gave him the background, explained I was not allergic to anything, and told him I was in his hands. He gave me the possibilities (Good: possibly unknown allergies, to Bad: cancer) and told me he will need to run some tests. they wheeled me to a room with a large machine and explained the Lung Function Test to me.

I failed. Miserably. I could not even get started. As soon as I tried to breathe deeply, I began coughing violently. I was given a nebulizer treatment. I managed to get past the first step in the test but then began coughing violently again. Which put an end to further attempts to test my lung functions. So I was wheeled back to my room and left alone the rest of the day except for a couple of nebulizer treatments and meals and the taking of "vitals." Faye visited, my doctor called and apologized for not treating me more aggressively, but he didn't come by.

That night, sometime around 11 or so, I began coughing violently and then I felt a sharp pain in my back on the lower right hand side. It felt like I had been shot or someone jammed a cue stick into it really hard. I had just broken a rib. I soon learned no one really cared about that. Seems they no longer tape you up when you do that. Better to just leave it heal on its own, especially if your lung functions are already impaired. Or so I was told.

In the morning, they broke the news to me that I either had to sign a request to be treated there or be moved to another hospital. I chose to move. An uneventful trip in an ambulance brought me to Wellington Regional where I got a private room and a new pulmonologist. He also promised to inflict tests on me in an attempt to ascertain why I was having trouble.

I spent the next 5 days there, high as a kite on O2 and prednisone. Tests were attempted with about the same results as at Palms West. But, after 5 days, I was able to walk more than 50 feet without passing out and was promised that I would be right as rain with the proper treatment. This turned out to be overly optimistic.

I also learned that night nurses rarely follow the doctors' instructions unless the patient demands it (I did) and that some of them are terrible at inserting and removing IV devices. And that food at hospitals is not uniform. Wellington provided quite tasty meals once I got the doctor to take me off the cardio diet. You have to be firm, they think they are in charge.

I went home. I went back to work. I was feeling better. For a couple of weeks, anyway. Silly me, I still trusted doctors then.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Cough - The Beginning

I have mentioned The Cough a couple of times in the past. It represents a period which continues to impact my life. Over the next few days, I will try to tell the story.

The Cough began in April of 1997. It was preceded by a flu that lasted a few days and had all the usual symptoms; fever, aches, loss of appetite... It ended with a tickle in the throat which triggered coughing spasms that resembled Whooping Cough. I would cough until I wheezed, gasping for breath, and until a headache overwhelmed me. Nothing seemed to help. A "dry" cough. I sucked on various lozenges, used Chloroseptic sprays, and drank cough medicine by the gallon. Still I coughed. My doctor was no help. He suggested cough medicine, he sympathized, he queried me about possible allergies. I have no allergies and the cough medicine had no effect.

In May of that year, we took a flight to Dayton, Ohio to visit some friends for a week. While there, the "dry" cough turned "wet." I was now coughing up phlegm. I carried tissues, I sucked on lozenges constantly. When I got back home and then to the doctor, he prescribed amoxicillin. It had a minimal and short term effect.

I took to sleeping in my recliner in the living room. Faye could then sleep and I was more comfortable. In short order, I was coughing up phlegm that was like glue. Thick greenish brown mucus that dried hard. It was not just from my throat but also from my lungs. I started suffering shortness of breath.

In July, we met Faye's sister and her family at Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. We stayed only a half day before I had to leave. The heat and humidity combined with my breathing trouble made it impossible to stay. I ended up in a hospital emergency room right after we arrived home.

My O2 saturation was 64%. I couldn't walk more than 20 feet before needing to rest. I was admitted after a couple of nebulizer treatments got that up over 90% and I was considered stable

Thus began a two year battle for survival against a bug called Pseudomonas. I would learn a lot about doctors and medicine, little of it good. I would spend 2 separate weeks in hospitals. I would be on antibiotics and inhalers and Prednisone for those two years. I would miss a lot of work days. I would make numerous visits to emergency rooms. I would be tested, scanned, and mostly pitied.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Will there be tanks in the streets?

I am truly worried about my country. As I wrote last week, I see it weakened by the increasing divisiveness. And that this is mostly ideological in nature. It's been around for a long time. Back in the 60's, the US went through a period of divisiveness that was triggered by a war in a land far away. I found myself in the middle of all that. We had a draft then. Selective Service was the "500 pound gorilla" in the room. It couldn't be ignored.

The specter of being drafted influenced most of us in the 18-26 year old male demographic. It hung over our heads as we made decisions about our futures. We enrolled in college more for the student deferment than for the educational opportunity. I enlisted in the Navy because I did not want to be drafted into the Army. I probably would not have enlisted at all if there had been no draft active at the time.

Outside the military, the division grew stronger. Fueled by the fear of involuntary servitude, college campuses became hotbeds of unrest. Protests and peace marches were regular events. Student radicalism grew. Distrust of the government grew. The idea of revolution grew. I thought, at the time, that it was very possible that I would see civil war break out. I thought it would be unsuccessful but I still considered it a real possibility and a real tragedy. It didn't happen, of course, that revolution. But the radicals didn't go away. Instead, they began working inside the system.

In the late 60's, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had a schism of their own. A small band of these radicals (and they were radicals) wanted more than peaceful protest, they wanted that revolution, and formed the Weather Underground. They cooperated with other splinter groups and committed quite a bit of violence. Bombings of some campus buildings, pushing peaceful protests into riots, and the active push for violent change. A few died in the process (mostly victims of their own activities) but most didn't. And they didn't go away once the Vietnam War ended. They slipped back into society and found positions of influence. Some became professors, some became teachers, some ran for office (and won) where they pushed a muted call for the change they wanted.

They believed they had a better way, a more equitable way, for society to be structured. They believed socialism was better than capitalism. The concept of a democratic society, to them, was communism.

Socialism does work, by the way, on a small scale. Communes, cooperatives, families all use a socialism of sorts. The problem with any socio-economic system is when the construct is large. The complexity tends to defeat it. In the Soviet Union, socialism worked poorly and well at the same time. It did a fair job of distributing the wealth of the country but a very poor job of growing it. The result was a rather poor society. The lack of growth was, in my opinion, due to the lack of incentive inherent in socialism.

Capitalism provides incentives and, therefore, enhances and encourages growth of wealth but does not (and cannot, in my opinion) do a good job at distributing that wealth.

Today, we seem to be fighting that old battle between socialism and capitalism again. I should say we are in an escalation of that battle because the battle is a constant one in human history. And a long running one in the US.

The battle makes us weaker at a time when we need to be strong. We are under assault by yet another ideology, this one having a religious foundation. And there are signs that the socialist radicals are aligning themselves with the religious radicals. The hope, I think, is that out of the chaos, an opportunity to seize power will emerge.

We are in for troubling times, much worse than we have seen for some time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A need for speed

When I was a youngster, I often dreamed of having a flying carpet. I wouldn't soar very high over the houses and trees, but just high enough to not run into anything. It was about escaping, I suppose. When you are a small child, you are like a prisoner, dependent on and controlled by adults and older siblings. I'm sure I was not the only child to have that recurring dream. I daydreamed about this more than I dreamt it at night.

It's easy enough to transport yourself as you lie on the cool grass and watch the clouds drift across the blue sky. I wasted a lot of hours doing just that. I spent a lot of time in trees, too. It's a wonder I never learned to fly. Maybe I would have if the jet age hadn't started. I was never a speed demon. I rarely wanted to go very fast. Though I did from time to time.

Even when I had a motorcycle, I never let it run full out. Well, except for one time when a friend and I rented a couple of little 90cc thingies in Long Beach when I was stationed there. Ran up and down Pacific Coast highway with the throttle twisted tight. Top speed couldn't have been more than 60 MPH or so. Not really fast. Made it a little hairy on some curves but had no problems, I cruised my BSA and Triumphs at 85 a few times.

I've only taken a few cars above 100 MPH. One time I did it, I was forced to take a 90 degree turn at 45. That came close to being the last time I drove. It was my brother's XK140. The weird part was it didn't feel like I was going that fast until I started to approach the intersection of US 1 from Sunny Isles Causeway. It came up awfully fast and the light was against me. I was braking and downshifting like a madman. I was just lucky there wasn't any cross traffic at that time. I slid around the corner and headed north just like I knew what I was doing.

It's all about escape, though, isn't it? A way to avoid thinking about the mundane things of life. The mind has to focus on the tasks at hand or risk a crash. And I never thought a crash would be something I would walk away from. I had friends who had crashed while racing or just cruising. A couple with who broke legs, laid up for weeks.

When I was 15, a close friend and several kids I knew smashed up a couple of cars while joyriding. There were about 8 kids in the two cars. My friend was driving one of them. The other car clipped his rear bumper on a turn and the both cars spun out and were eventually stopped by trees along the side of the road. The driver of the other car broke a couple of bones and somehow managed to get smacked in the head by the gearshift. His girlfriend had her pelvis crushed by the transmission when it was forced back and up at impact. There were no seat belts then, no airbags. People flew all over the inside of the cars and some were ejected.

My friend was found about two blocks away, wandering around. With a head injury. In a daze. It made the news, of course. The 11 o'clock news that night. I already knew about the wreck because the word of it spread fast. The TV news reporter talked about one boy being wheeled into the emergency room shouting, "Take my picture, I was in the wreck!" I immediately knew who that was... my friend, Steve.

When you're young, you rarely think of consequences.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Attorney daze

Different days bring different woes. Golf days bring misery in the form of wasted shots and unlucky bounces. Exercise days bring little aches and pains that nag and annoy. But the worst day of all is a Lawyer Day.

And that day, my friends, is today. I have an appointment with my attorney this morning. I have never met the man so I am not sure why I call him "my" attorney rather than "the" attorney. I don't own him, just renting him at the usual exorbitant prices.

A quick recap: Mom worked for an attorney for 35 years, retired, developed Alzheimer's and came to live with me after my father died in 2001. Six months later, her former boss died and left her a stipend of $1000 per month. The Trustee chose not to locate her and inform her of this stipend. When I learned about it some six months after her passing, the Trustee wanted to pay it out in $1000 a month payments. No interest, no lump payment. So I engaged a lawyer. That was two years ago.

Seems a simple matter, doesn't it. There is no question that the money is owed to her estate. But the Trustee and his attorney have been uncooperative and stall on any request for information. It seems silly to me. It seemed that way when it first started.

Now it just seems expensive and annoying.

Maybe more later today after I talk to "my" lawyer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Whatcha watchin'?

I watch a lot of TV, maybe too much. I'm a baby boomer, TV came of age as I was growing up. While it wasn't my baby sitter, I spent a lot of my younger years in front of it. We humans seem drawn to images and sounds. I suppose it is in our genetic makeup.

Few dogs or cats pay any attention to the TV. Do they know something we don't? Or do they quickly realize the noises coming from that thing are not real and the images are flat, without dimension, and cannot be real? Maybe it's because there are no scents from the things in the pictures so they know it is unimportant to their world.

Not humans, though, we perceive the world mostly with our eyes and ears. Even when we hunt, that most basic skill of animals, we use our eyes and ears more than any other biological sensor. We are limited that way but it certainly hasn't held us back.

One of the things I have been watching of late is reruns of Gunsmoke on Encore's Westerns channel. 7 PM EST 5 days a week. I record them while I channel surf through the History, Discovery, Science, and other channels. I surf those channels mostly for things about WWII. I am fascinated by that period of time; the decade leading up to it as well as the first few years after it. The Korean War doesn't interest me as much, nor does the war I was involved in (Vietnam). Neither does WWI, which many say caused WWII. I suppose that's true, the results of one war often create the reasons for the next. Who knows what might have happened if the victors in WWI had rebuilt Germany instead of punishing it.

I like Gunsmoke for very different reasons. It depicts a society we could not understand today. Marshall Dillon is not a smart big city detective. He's not a cop like you find on any of the Law and Order series. But his cases aren't all that complicated either. The outdoor scenes appear to be shot in Southern California. I don't believe the terrain around Dodge City, Kansas looks much like what you see on that show.

But the really interesting thing about Gunsmoke is the characters and the relationships between them. You cannot see that sexual tension that should lie beneath the surface of the friendship of Dillon and Miss Kitty. I also like the glossing over the of the job Miss Kitty has. She's a madam, after all. She owns the saloon, she hires girls to work there. You don't really think those girls are there just to sit and drink with the cowboys, do you?

You want more realism? Then you need to watch Deadwood, the HBO series. That was definitely more in line with what went on in the Old West. And, yeah, I watched that too... twice, actually, all the way through the series. Faye thought it was because of the gratuitous sex and nudity. Same reason she thinks I watch Spartacus on Starz. It's not entirely true. I watch all of these because I am interested in the human condition.

And I wonder if I could have survived any of the eras which interest me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Time is just not on my side

I don't have any spare time anymore. Since I retired, I have more scheduling problems than I ever did while working. I thought retirement would get me out of the grind, as they say. Instead, I now do things I didn't do while working. I get up early in the morning to play golf 3 days a week. I get up early to go exercise 3 days a week. The seventh day, I get up early so I don't miss out on coffee. And because everyone else in the house is up. I end up wanting to go to bed at 10 PM.

My "free" time is Tuesdays and Thursdays after 10 AM. I'd add in Saturdays and Sundays but there are no doctors, lawyers, or other businesses that I need to deal with that are open on those days. I occasionally make appointments for the golf day afternoons but I'd rather be taking a nap if possible.

I notice that, for retirees, doctor appointments are important matters. I have no idea why. Just going to the doctor's office is an ordeal for me. I hate waiting rooms and I hate waiting. In fact, I refuse to wait more than a half hour after my appointment and I have taken to showing up only 5-10 minutes early. So, if my appointment is for 2 PM, I am there about 1:55 and I leave at 2:30.

The staff personnel are getting tricky, though. I notice they often bring me in to an examining room by 5 minutes after my scheduled time. Then I sit there for a half hour or more waiting for the doctor to show up and give me 5 minutes of his precious time (for which my insurance will pay him handsomely and I will give him some chump change $20 as co-pay). I will have to re-think my strategy on this.

In addition, I have this legal thing going on which means the occasional appointment or legal errand. This is not a regular thing but it is something which intrudes on my life. For instance, two weeks ago, I was asked if I would be available for a telephone conference call at 10 one morning. Though I was available, there was no call. I suggested that next time it happened, I would send a bill for my time. It's difficult to get any respect from lawyers.

I gave up trying to get it from doctors long ago. They enjoy robbing you of your dignity anyway. I don't think they went into medicine because they want to help people but for the power they can pretend to hold over the patient. And most of us patients enable them.

I always think that next week, or next month, I'll be able to just kick back for awhile.

I'm just fooling myself.