Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Banning Cell Phones in Cars

When people say our lives were simpler sixty years ago, they mean it was easier to remain unthinking and ignorant sixty years ago. It was easier to live unexamined lives sixty years ago. Sixty years ago we were not faced daily with opinions and facts that were diametrically opposed to our own. We could have black and white beliefs about the world and have those beliefs corroborated by our like-thinking neighbors, like-thinking politicians, and like-thinking newspapers. We could go for months on end without having our beliefs refuted or challenged.

This was a choice sixty years ago.

And many people opted for this choice. Those that didn’t decide to remain ignorant had complicated lives sixty years ago, just as we do today.

The topic of banning the use of cell phones by vehicle drivers has come up due to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board. The study reports that cell phone use causes distractions and these distractions are causing accidents on the road. Therefore, all cell phone use by vehicle drivers should be banned,.

The people against the ban say that hands-free cell-phone use is as safe for drivers as when they talk to a passenger.

But a complicating factor needs to be studied before a course can be set regarding vehicle drivers and their use of cell phones.

What area of the brain is used when hands-free cell phones are used by drivers? Is it a different area of the brain in use than when drivers talk to passengers? And if it is a different area, is the use of this area of the brain more likely to be a distraction than when a driver talks to a passenger?

The larger question, of course, is: How ignorant do we want to be in this technology-driven world?

Or, put another way: How ignorant can we afford to remain and not kill ourselves off sooner than the Cosmos has already ordained?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Pearl Harbor

I do remember Pearl Harbor.

I was ten years old when the news came. It was Sunday. Every Sunday afternoon, my dad drove my sister and me downtown to the Paxton, Illinois movie house. We each had a quarter to pay for the show and a nickel for Milk Duds. My sister was 13 then. She was getting old to be with her little sister on a Sunday afternoon. Still, it was something to do. Tony Fratia was the manager. He took the tickets and stood at the back of the theater when we came out and smiled and shook people’s hand when they said, “Nice picture, Tony,” or “Good show”.

I don’t remember the movie we saw on December 7, 1941. I just remember that it was cold and rainy/snowy, and that when dad picked us up, he said, almost as soon as we got in the car, “The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor”.

I wasn’t sure who the Japs were or where Pearl Harbor was. But I was very sure that something awful had happened. My dad hated President Roosevelt like poison. But we all sat around the radio at noon the next day, very solemn and  with respect while Roosevelt made his “day of infamy” speech and declared war against Japan. A few days later, we sat around the radio again and listened as Roosevelt declared war against Germany on December 11, 1941.

On a day-to-day basis, the wars probably affected Paxton less than many communities. We had rationing. But ours was a farming community, and I don’t remember going without anything. We felt only a little deprived of gasoline, meat and sugar. We had a black and white “A” gas rationing sticker on the car windshield. That meant we were among the many who got the least gas. But we didn’t go many places anyway. And we started using oleo instead of butter. The oleo came in white chunks that had a capsule of yellow dye included. Actually, I loved oleo days. My mom would churn up the white chunk and the dye capsule in the Mixmaster so it looked like butter. I couldn’t stand the taste unless it had plenty of sugar and cinnamon mixed in. But the good part was that after mom put the yellow oleo in a container, she made a cake out of the oleo sticking to the sides of the bowl.

People were always giving my dad things in exchange for I don’t know what. Dad had a great personality. He looked like Gary Cooper and he knew the names of all 2700 people living in Paxton. He was a cashier in the First National Bank, and I know he wasn’t giving away free samples. But what he did for people that made them give him sugar and meat, I don’t know. I think it was little things, like helping old people figure out their bank statements or giving people more of a grace period than their loan agreements allowed, but I’m not sure.

People put a fringed flag in their window with a red star in the middle when a son enlisted or was drafted. Occasionally, the red stars changed to gold stars when they were killed. It didn’t happen often, but often enough to remind us in grade school that there was a war on.

I listen to old-time radio shows on XM-Sirius. The ones that ran during the war years still include PSA’s about buying bonds and remembering to turn in lard for the war effort. To this day, I don’t know what lard was used for in making ammunition. But I remember collecting containers of lard and grease with my friend Marilyn. We went around our neighborhood on Saturdays with her red wagon and collected lard, then we took the containers to a war-effort center downtown. It made us feel good.

To run a really good war, the enemy has to be demonized. Our Defense Department did that and does that, in spades. As kids, we loved to hate the Japanese and Germans. From the time I was 10 until I was in college I was very standoffish about people with Asian eyes or a German accent. I think I started to realize how illogical that was when I worked closely with Doug Kimura in an art-supply store at the University of Illinois. Doug was one of the most attractive, funny, warm-hearted men I have ever known. And he sounded like he’d been born in Iowa, which he probably had been.

My mom’s biggest fear during the forties was that my sister or I would get pregnant by a sweet-talking soldier in nearby Chanute Field. The air force base was in Rantoul, just 12 miles south of Paxton, straight down Route 45. And it’s true, I did walk along Railroad Avenue rather than take another route home from the stores on Main Street because there were always convoys of soldiers rumbling down the highway, and I would get whistled at. But I don’t think mothers knew how pragmatic and independent the war had made their daughters. At least some of us had decided our lives would be on our terms, whatever that entailed.

The wars became a way of life for us kids. There were daily reminders on the radio, in the newspapers or at the moviehouse where “The News of the Day” ran just before the feature. But we adapted our lives to the far-away atrocities. And even as the Honor Roll down at the Legion Hall got longer and longer, our lives had a familiar, secure, hum-drum, day-to-dayness until May 8th 1945 when VE Day was announced. And finally VJ Day arrived on August 15, 1945.

I was 14. And NEVER would my mom have allowed me to go to a party with my sister under normal circumstances. But Mom just said, “Go ahead”, and even though my sister wasn’t thrilled about having a tag-along to a major party…it was VEEJAY DAY!!!!

And the party was one hell of a blow-out. And yes, soldiers from Rantoul had heard about it. Turns out, the telephone was just as effective back then as Facebook and Twitter. And there was beer, there was kissing, there was fumbling and groping and truth to tell, this fourteen-year-old was all-eyes and a little scared. Funnily, I didn’t drink any alcohol. I am positive it was because of an adventure I had when I was eight years old while my folks were out shopping. I found my dad’s cache of homemade wine and stole a Kool cigarette from my mom’s stash. And I had a little party. I just barely got myself cleaned up and out of the bathroom by the time they came home. It was quite a few years before I tried booze again.

Of course, the whole world has learned a thing or two since Pearl Harbor Day. We’ve become cynical. We’ve learned that no war, no fighting anywhere is about freedom or human rights and protecting the homeland.

We’ve finally learned that all wars are about enriching people, particularly those in positions of power who can start wars. We’ve learned that no war anywhere is worth the costs in men and material except to the powerful people who get enriched because they started the war in the first place. What we haven't learned is how to keep powerful people from starting wars to enrich themselves.

We’ve learned that people in power tell powerful lies. We've learned that all people in power tell lies.

And though it’s tempting to look back 70 years and idealize the “good wars”, we know that we were being lied to back then too.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bush Administration Lies Still Haunting Lives

On November 6th, the long-running CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” featured a segment called ‘”Operation Proper Exit”. It was about a program to return soldiers to Iraq who have experienced profound psychological problems caused by their deployment(s) to Iraq. The reasoning behind this program is that many of the soldiers were medevacked out of Iraq and either in shock or under anesthesia and they never had a chance to mentally sort things out. Many Iraq vets in the throes of post-traumatic stress flashbacks are unable to let go of their anxieties. It is believed that returning to Iraq will alleviate these agonies.

One of the soldiers interviewed was Cpl Steven Cornford who went to Iraq when he was 18 in 2007. He is now 22. He wept during the whole interview and was clearly still having severe problems due to his time in Iraq. His depression and distress was caused by his witnessing the death of his friend—a death he says he should have been able to prevent. He returned to Iraq under the “Operation Proper Exit” and feels it has been helpful. He said he is not as angry, not as “snappish”, more kindly to his wife and family, and not as furious with those around him that he sees as “complainers”.

The worst part of watching this young man who is still so horrifyingly damaged by his stint in Iraq was hearing him say that he gets mad at people in the United States who complain about their lot because, he said, “They just go about their daily lives, while there's still people dyin' every day. For them.”

And this young man obviously believes that the reason the United States inserted itself in the affairs of Iraq was in order to protect Americans in the United States from the threat posed by Iraq.

Perhaps it is necessary for severely damaged veterans to believe that the reason they lost limbs, eyesight, and are not in their right mind is because they were fighting a predator that was intent on crushing the American way of life…a predator like Hitler’s Third Reich.

But this, of course, is not true.

Can these vets allow themselves to realize that they were in Iraq so that Vice President Dick Cheney could enrich himself by selling equipment of war through his Halliburton Company? Can they allow themselves to realize that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld went along with the lies about weapons of mass destruction in order to once again feel the testosterone surge of being involved in the glories of WAR? Can they let themselves understand that George W. Bush and all the neocons were in Iraq in order to steal Iraq’s oil resources for the benefit of the United States and in order to gain a foothold in the Middle East? Can these vets allow themselves to know they ruined their lives for nothing more than to make little men feel powerful and to get rich?

Can these vets allow themselves to know that the war in Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with protecting Americans or protecting the United States?

Both Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently come out with books about their time in the Bush administrations. “In My Time” has been written by the insane and sick warmonger Dick Cheney with the help of his daughter Liz. And “Known and Unknown” is the product of the war-loving but ultimately bumbling, past-his-prime Donald Rumsfeld. If these two men are able to justify and even glorify the fact that they and George W. Bush killed, maimed and ruined the lives of thousands and thousands of young men and women for no good reason, then they are luckier than men like Steven Cornford, who live every day with the horrors they wrought.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Booze and Breast Cancer Risk

The New York Times article about drinking and breast cancer in the NYT “Well” Department this morning is so annoying.

But first, let me say that all cancer coverage being hyped in the news these days is annoying. Take for instance a recent Jennifer Aniston ad. She wants us to buy a T-Shirt because, she says in the beginning of the ad, the money will help find a cure for cancer. But at the end of the ad, she says “100% of the money will go to fighting cancer”.

Fighting cancer and finding a cancer cure are two different things. Fighting cancer is giving money to pharmaceuticals for their chemo drugs, giving money to huge hospitals for radiation therapy, giving money to huge hospitals to fund their testing and technology departments.

Fighting cancer is not about finding a cure for cancer…far from it. Fighting cancer is about funding all the people and hospitals and doctors who are making a living off of cancer. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that, but it’s not the same as devoting energy and technology to finding a cancer cure. And ignoring the difference or exploiting the difference in confusing ways is unconscionable.

This morning, we read in the NYT that a new study at the Harvard Medical School has been “looking at the habits of more than 100,000 women over 30 years” which “adds to a long line of studies linking alcohol consumption of any kind” to breast cancer risk. The study has concluded that if a woman has more than three drinks a week of alcohol of any kind, she’s at risk for breast cancer.

The article has a few caveats. For instance, it says: “Like much of the previous research on alcohol’s risk and benefits, the new study was observational and lacked a control group, and it drew from self-reports, which can be unreliable. Nor was it able to determine whether changing one’s drinking habits over time – drinking a lot early on, for example, and then stopping at age 50 – made any difference.”

Another red light re the reliability of the study was: “Among the factors women will have to consider, experts say, are family history of heart disease and cancer, as well as their use of hormone therapies like estrogen. Alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer in part by raising a woman’s levels of estrogen, the authors said.”

Translation in layman’s language: THE STUDY IS FLAWED.

This study is like saying 100,000 women ate pickles three times a week for 30 years and two-thirds of the women have developed colon cancer; we think there may be a connection but we’re not sure how many of the women were being treated for colon diseases or had a family history of cancer; however, we conclude that eating any kind of pickle puts women at risk for colon cancer. 

How about if the women in the Harvard Study started drinking because their doctors put them on estrogen therapy and the side effects were causing angst and depression? How about if there is no connection between booze and breast cancer but all the women in the study drank moderately and had a family history of cancer? How about if many of the women didn’t tell the truth and there was no way of checking their veracity?

How about if researchers exercised some caution and restraint before publishing conclusions that are suspect?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Aftermath…The Real Problem

An editorial in the October 18th issue of the New York Times (“Republicans and Foreign Policy”) states that “Accusing President Obama of being weak or refusing to lead is ludicrous when you consider all he has done to repair the damage his predecessor did to America’s standing in the world.”

None of the Republican presidential candidate frontrunners are coming close to a viable foreign policy platform, the editorial concluded. 

At a recent debate, Texan Rick Perry was asked what he would do if the Taliban took control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Perry jumbled up names and facts, the NYT said, “and ended up accusing Washington of refusing to sell F-16s to India, which actually had declined to buy the combat planes.”

Herman Cain said a leader does not need to know the names of people who run places like “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan”. But apparently Cain doesn’t know that although Uzbekistan’s President Karmov is a tyrant with a woeful human rights legacy he allows America to use Uzbekistan as a supply route to Afghanistan. 

Romney wants to increase defense spending but gives no idea how. Hunstsman wants the US out of Afghanistan right away, while Senator Santorum wants the US to mount an aggressive push to win, but gives no clue as to how the US is to do that. Neither Perry nor Romney give an indication as to when or if they would get troops home, the NYT said.

The aftermath always brings with it a stew of recrimination, complicity and hopeful alliances that may or may not work out. Back in the 1960’s, everyone was waiting for Madman genius Jerry Della Femina to come up with a blockbuster idea at a brainstorming session his first day working on a Panasonic ad campaign. Finally he said, “I've got it!” How about 'From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor.'"

All of us, including the Occupy Wall Street folks, would love to see Obama solve the problems of the aftermath of the Bush administrations. But he didn’t and he hasn’t. However, claiming that he caused the problems is silly and not productive. A simple statement from the Repubs that they don’t know how to get themselves, us and the world out of the mess their guys caused, would be the most healing and positive thing they could do.

Will they do it?

Of course not.

Monday, October 10, 2011

AMA’s Biggest Problem: Doing Harm

The American Medical Association, which had its inception in 1844, has a mission. It is to: promote the art and science of medicine for the betterment of the public health, to advance the interests of physicians and their patients, to promote public health, to lobby for legislation favorable to physicians and patients, and to raise money for medical education.

Doctors and healthcare workers take a Hippocratic Oath which states that above all, doctors are to do no harm.

However, the truth is that in 2011, the AMA has but one aim. And that is to enrich itself and physicians and hospitals. And the AMA doesn't give a damn about doing nothing but harm to patients.

Yesterday, I heard from three friends who underscore the reality of the above statement.

Friend No. 1
Her cancer has returned after five years of having no recurrence. Her physician is demanding that she undergo a toxic series of chemotherapy which may prove to be so debilitating and horrendous that permanent impairment or death could ensue. My friend, who has made a second career of researching her own disease, wants to try radiation therapy, but her doctor is adamant and will only advocate chemotherapy.

Friend No. 2
Obeying her doctor’s advice over this past weekend, she entered a hospital in her city to have her heart medications changed. However, during a test, the artery to her heart was “nicked by accident”. She went into cardiac arrest; her chest had to be opened in order for the damage to be repaired and for her heart to be restarted.

Friend No. 3
A few months ago, he fell and broke his hip while walking to a grocery store. Nine-One-One was called. He was transported to a hospital (not of his choosing) where an emergency hip transplant was performed. Now it has been discovered that the physician who did the transplant neglected to insert a necessary washer to keep the device from abrading a bone. My friend will go into the hospital this week to have this oversight corrected. He is in his eighties.

In case you are not aware of it, EMT’s answering a 911 cannot go to specific hospitals, but only to hospitals their ambulance company requires. And they cannot recognize preferences as to “do not resuscitate” since their oath says they must save lives no matter what it entails and no matter how ill-advised in reality.

The AMA has made unconscionable pacts with the pharmaceutical industry so that all physicians prescribe drugs to all patients, whether necessary or not, whether safe or not, and which often have side effects more deleterious than the disease being treated.

The aim of the AMA is to have all persons (including babies) under a doctor’s care and on some sort of drug therapy FOREVER.

All doctors are advising all patients to undergo expensive tests that are unnecessary, thus driving up the cost of healthcare and enriching doctors and hospitals.

The main problem with healthcare in the United States is not that there are no adequate affordable health insurance plans—which also can be laid at the door of physicians and hospitals—but the main problem with healthcare in the United States is the avarice of doctors and hospitals that are greedy and immoral and doing horrendous harm.

And by the way, if you think the medical community is avidly trying to find a cure for cancer, it is not. Cancer is too lucrative to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and auxiliary organizations to have it cured and no longer in our lives.

I believe if a cure for cancer were found, the person who made the discovery would be either discredited or murdered. There is a frightening similarity between the Vatican and the AMA.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where Is Ed Rollins Going Now?

It’s clear that Ed Rollins, who was the brains (well, some of the brains) behind Nixon, Reagan, Bush-the-First, and Ross Perot, has totally decamped from no-brains Michele Bachmann’s campaign. Rollins is still listed as a Bachmann “senior advisor” and he cited the usual suspect—health reasons—as to why he stepped down from the day-to-dayness of keeping Bachmann from killing her own campaign with her stupidity. Still, the NYT reported this morning that he told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, that Mrs. Bachmann does not have the money or resources to compete with her better-financed rivals, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. 

“Right now,” Rollins said, “she’s competing hard in Iowa, but she doesn’t have the ability or resources to go beyond Iowa at this point in time, where Perry and Romney can go into South Carolina, Arizona and other places.”

The NYT said Rollins had pinpointed Bachmann’s biggest roadblock to winning the Republican nomination. The NYT did not say that she can’t get the dough to go further than Iowa because people are realizing what a total know-nothing and loose cannon she is.

So, okay, Rollins’s reasoning is pretty elemental. But, as the NYT notes, why is Rollins making these statements now?

Where is he going? And what candidate is he going to be using his "guerilla campaign" tactics on? Stay tuned.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Malaprop Michele Blunders Away

To paraphrase Calvin Trillin about George W. Bush, obliviously on she sails.

Whether Michele Bachmann will have malapropped herself into an entire book of gaffes, misstatements, flubs, slip-ups and outright lies before she gets the bad-act hook, only the GOP backroom boys know.

Her latest effort to show she is capable of being on equal footing with presidential candidates Texas Governor Rick Perry and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, had her claiming that Perry issued an order for Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus and that the vaccination caused mental retardation.

In fact, Perry’s order never was enacted because the Texas legislature decided against it. Bachmann made her mental retardation claim after talking to a woman who said her daughter got the vaccination and then became retarded. Experts quickly said there is no evidence whatsoever linking the vaccine to mental retardation.

No attempt was made by Bachmann to check out the woman or her statement. And Bachmann’s minders either didn’t know she was going to blurt out her non-fact on Fox News and NBC’s “Today” show, or they didn’t care.

Even folks close to the campaign who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity say Bachmann is influenced by the last person she talks to.

In attempting to put the best face on Bachmann’s shoot-from-the-hip habit of making uninformed statements, the members of her staff who are paid to clean up her messes, say she is “real”, “driven” “emotional” and “impulsive”.

Great. Just the kind of president we need in this age when our biggest enemies are also real, driven, emotional, impulsive, and ignorant.

Add to that, after particularly tense situations, our Mrs. Malaprop winds up in the hospital with severe migraine attacks requiring medication (read, knockout drops).

Bachmann said recently that little girls who have a negative reaction to the papillomavirus vaccination don’t get a do-over.

Hey! Neither do we if a president makes an asshole statement and the conversation leads to a nuclear attack.

Well, I’m just saying…because Michele Bachmann hasn’t a prayer to become president or dog-catcher. But I wonder what the GOP is going to do to rid itself of its prime clown act?

Enter Sarah Palin.