Monday, July 28, 2014

A Partridge Family Christmas

Okay, I admit it: I love the Partridge Family. When I was a kid that was "must see TV" for me. They were part of a fantastic Friday night television lineup. As a teen I owned most of their albums. I lost those somewhere along the way to now, but if I still had their music I would play it - and love it. That bubblegum rock brings back so many sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) adolescent memories!

Saturday evenings Antenna TV plays back to back episodes. I happened to tune in this past weekend. Wouldn't you know they played their Christmas offering. That is a peeve of mine, when television stations play sitcom Christmas episodes when it's not the Christmas season. Especially annoying when it's nearly 90 degrees outside, as it was Saturday evening here.

But what could I do? So I watched. I winced. No bubblegum rock, but a Christmas in carol during a hot July. More out of place than a flatulist at a funeral service - at least to my way of thinking (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit). Funny thing is, I don't remember seeing their Christmas episode during the original run. Can't say I enjoyed it that much now
But these retro television stations and oldie radio stations just do so much for this nostalgia-loving guy. What is it about that stuff that makes me want to drive by my childhood homes (both of them) just to reminisce? (I've actually done that a time or two.)

Well, summer is still going, although we are slated to have below normal temperatures again this week, with a chance of breaking an all time low temperature for one day this week. But last Christmas is a distant memory and the next is too far off to contemplate very seriously.

Once it gets here, I bet this Christmas episode of the PF will be nowhere to be found. And then I'll think back to the summer, when I did see it, and when my feet weren't cold....

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Patriot Would Love To Bash A Liberal In The Nose

So there I was yesterday in the grocery store doing my weekly shopping. I was on the way to the produce aisle when a man I had never met came up muttering something about all the money the government is paying out on Social Security and disability - the latter of whom were mostly of questionable complaint, like obesity he said, and mostly young and black.

How weird.

I patted my own paunch and commented that I probably shouldn't say much about obesity. And with that joke I intended to go on about my business. But then the man went on to tell me how sick it made him when anyone didn't understand that one could not be a Democrat and a patriot.

I don't know, maybe he thought I looked clean-cut enough and with my conservative haircut I appeared to him to be one of them. You know, those "patriots" who love their country so much they hate half of its citizens and all of its minorities.

Now I have rules for the engagement with anyone in conversation. My primary rule is that the person I am talking to has to be reasonable and at least open to the possibility that there exist reasonable opinions other than theirs. I didn't have a sense of that being the case with this "patriot" fellow.

That's another thing. It really turns me off when I hear in the modern political discussion people conferring upon themselves the title Patriot. In the same way it would if I heard some pious person refer to himself as a Saint. I'm an informal guy and was never that big on titles, anyway. I like self-conferred titles even less.
Anyway, I continued my shopping and after a bit I encountered the Patriot again as I passed the magazine stand. He was still muttering about politics. He was still on his rant about patriotism and said he would love for one of those of those liberals to say something so he could bash them right in the mouth. And he punctuated that with a jab.

Now this fellow was at least a foot taller than I am and weighed three hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce. He looked to be my age or slightly older. He was big but not especially muscular. In fact, now that I think about it, he sort of reminded of Porky from the old sex comedy movies.

I suggested to him that, big as he was, he probably wouldn't find many people wanting to argue with him. And certainly I didn't feel like wasting either my time or my face trying to reason with him. But he told me that wasn't it. He wouldn't even mind getting his butt kicked so long as he got to punch one of those "damned liberals."

Then he pointed to stack of magazines on the rack with President Reagan on the cover - a commemorative issue. "There, that's good," he said. And I noticed behind those a stack of magazines that had been turned backwards. He confessed that he did that the week previous and gloated that they were still reversed. He turned one over and it had Hillary Clinton on the cover. "That would be the worst thing ever for us if she ever got elected president," he offered.

As I made my way down the aisle he went to lament how "they" had introduced race into politics and other "patriotic" notions such as how the liberals are ruining our country. I smiled (well really sort of laughed), wished him a good day and went on my way.

I never imagined a trip to the grocery store could be so entertaining. And how odd to see in person one of the things that I think is increasingly going wrong in my country. Not liberalism or even conservatism, but rather intolerant folks who think diversity of opinion is a dangerous thing, that some voices ought to be silenced, even under the threat of violence.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Killers Among Us

Murderers and serial killers hold a morbid fascination for me. I'm not sure why.

How is it that some of our fellow humans can snuff out another human's life as casually as the rest of us swat a fly or stomp a cockroach?

Years ago, when my lady friend used to live across the street from me, we often spent Saturday evenings together watching television. One of the shows we regularly watched was America's Most Wanted. Some of the most gruesome killings imaginable were reenacted on that show and I have to tell you: it often left me with a severe case of the willies. I don't mind confessing that I would usually ask my lady friend to stand at her door and watch to make sure I made it home safely in the dark night.

Another scary thing about cold-blooded killers: they often look just as normal as the rest of us. Heck, Gacy was a clown (literally). Bundy was an intelligent, articulate, handsome fiend.

And it isn't the case that all killers are testosterone-driven males. Television movies, especially, have made us aware of "Black Widow" killers. Or consider the movie they made about Aileen Wuomos, Monster, starring Charlize Theron. That one can sure change your outlook. Evil not only can often have a normal face, but a soft, pretty one as well.

Evil. That is a word that is hard to resist in discussing cold-blooded killing. These dastardly killers bring out our archetypical ideas about the Devil. Reading the life stories of some of these people can leave you thinking that maybe demonic possession is not so far-fetched after all.

Mental illness? To be sure. But how is it that of the thousands of ways one can be mentally ill, there are those who develop into heartless killing machines? Dennis Rader, the infamous BTK killer, actually combined both of these ideas into an explanation: "I actually think I may be possessed with demons, I was dropped on my head as a kid.”

I know I don't sleep in my bed quite so soundly when I pause to think about this segment of humanity. I once had in my employ a young man who (we found out later) was scheduled to be on America's Most Wanted the weekend before he was finally apprehended. None of us knew this because he was working under an alias (and with an altered hairstyle and contact lenses to change his appearance). He was wanted for gunning to death two men in a drug deal gone bad. While he was in my employ he sold one of my coworkers a stolen truck with forged documents that fooled even the DMV. All of us were blown over when he was arrested and we leaned who he really was. He was both courteous and a very hard worker. All a role he played to cover his secret life.

Oh, I forgot to mention how we all shuddered in fear when our coworker told us how he and his young bride had met that killer alone, late at a night in a fast-food parking lot, to exchange five thousand dollars in cash for the truck!

And so it goes in this crazy world of ours....

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Cold Day In Hell

Well, not exactly. Ah, here in northern Georgia the southern summers can be brutal with all the heat and humidity. I work at a metal fabricating plant, in a powder coating shop. No air-conditioning because the oven temperature for curing the powder is well over four hundred degrees. But before that happens the filthy steel must be washed with detergent water heated to over a hundred degrees - that belches additional steam and humidity into our workplace.

This week we have been having a brief period of relief from what has been slightly above average July temps. Yesterday, according to the weather in Chattanooga - just north of where I live and my old home town - we set a record for the lowest high temperature for a July 18. It was 72, degrees, with overcast skies and drizzle to light rain all day. The previous record lowest high for that date was 77, way back in 1918. (That not only was before my time, but also before my parents' time!)

But what about global warming? Well, it seems every time there is a weather anomaly the denialists allude to it as disproof, while the champions assure us that instead it's further proof of their thesis. What can the average lay person hope to understand about this?

I think the big debate is whether the global warming (for which there has been enough data to satisfy this non-specialist fool) is a human-induced phenomenon, or whether it is just part of the ebb-and-flow of nature.
Several years ago arch skeptic and professional debunker James Randi had the audacity to question the anthropocentric climate change thesis. For that he was publicly flogged by his fellow skeptics and debunkers, until he tried to walk back his original skepticism. (I posted about that once and don't have the links at hand, but they are easily found with a Google search).

What Randi originally wrote didn't seem to me unreasonable, but what was interesting to me was yet another example of how non-religious orthodoxy attempts to stifle open-minded inquiry.

Now I'm not what they call a climate change denialist. I am, however, someone who is very mindful of Twain's observation that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. I wonder how much about root causes we can know with certainty by examining statistics, trends, and anomalies. Are the climate scientists really "doing" science or merely making predictions and educated guesses?

I'm old enough that I remember well the global cooling scare of the seventies and eighties. When I was living in Chattanooga in the 1980s I endured some very cold winters then, including one where we experienced the lowest ever recorded temperature (minus 7 degrees, Fahrenheit) for that city. Global cooling seemed reasonable enough.

But now, thirty years later, after Chattanooga recorded it's highest ever temperature in July, 2012 (107 degrees F), it's enough for me to doubt anyone fully knows exactly what the heck (if indeed anything) is happening with the climate.

Just recently much was made about a decade-long "slowdown in global warming." For example, here is a link to a Guardian article, dated Feb. 26, 2014, explaining that the Global warming slowdown "does not invalidate climate change." While less than a month later a Skeptical Science article states Global warming not slowing - it's speeding up. This article points to surface warming and explains:

So contrary to what the denialists claim, there is no “slowdown” in global warming and certainly no “pause” or “cooling”, as the Earth continues to accumulate heat faster than ever. It’s true the rate of surface warming appears to have slowed slightly in the last 15 years. However, 2013 was still the 5th warmest year in the 164-year global temperature record, according to the University of York.

Okaaaaay. Lies, damned lies and statistics, I suppose.

Okay, I get that the various reports and surveys get massaged by those with agendas. Sure, it is in the interest of the Corporatists to downplay any role humans have in harming the environment and possibly bringing about widespread climate change. Costly regulations and such would surely eat into their profit margin.

And I don't deny that ecologists at times seem to be practicing something akin to religion in their relentless zeal to "save the environment." I'm closer to aligning myself with this group, certainly, than the former. But I'm not an extremist about the matter.

I know I'm thankful for this brief respite from the July heat. It saves on the ol' electrical bill and braces me to endure another month and a half (at least) of heat and humidity - unless the temps start falling to abnormal lows. In which case that would be either consistent with anthropocentric global warming or the ever-evolving climate of earth.

I don't know. I'm agnostic about the matter and fairly weary of the whole "debate."

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Great Atheist Myth

I was reading an online United Kingdom newspaper which discussed a new "atheist map" showing where atheism is prominent in the world. China is prominently featured as a country where half the population is atheist.

The comments are always for me the most fascinating part of any story. I saved one from "Julia" who opined:

Depressing in our Age of Reason that so many people still believe in a sky god no one has ever seen. There will only ever be peace in our world when the whole globe is free from these myths which have caused untold bloodshed over the centuries with every religious person believing only their god is the right one and many willing to kill for it.

Ignoring the shallowness of the invisible sky god jab, what I believe is the main myth of modern atheism is the idea Julia express: if only religion was rejected in toto and atheism embraced instead, then, finally, there would be world peace and all the warring and killing would stop.

Anyone who understands human nature to any degree at all must surely realize that the true cause of "untold bloodshed" is rooted there, within a person. The dark aspect of human nature is completely compatible with unbelief as well as belief in god(s).

It seems to this blogger that an overly strong sense of ego is the root cause of violence. Being right is more important than being kind, when all is said and done. The stronger one's sense of self-importance and the rightness of their ideas, the more willing one will be to engage in aggressive and violent behavior to sustain that.

Religion will not turn nonviolent souls into aggressive killers; neither will nonbelief turn the violent into pussycats (however, both are handy excuses). In fact, I routinely see "debates" waged online that - if conducted with the same tone and measure of aggressiveness - would surely result in fisticuffs and bloodshed if they were held in person rather than online.

Age of Reason?

How about Age of Arrogance? Humans have always been more arrogant than reasonable.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I Still Miss Hee Haw

I'm dribbling this post on this Saturday evening, while thinking about Saturdays past. Long past - as back in my youth.

I'm alone (as usual now) on a Saturday night, as I never was on Saturdays in my youth. I had a full day today. I ran my mom around, taking her to pick up some prescriptions, then to the grocery store for victuals suitable for her recent gut problems. Afterwards I managed to squeeze in an increasingly rare lunch date with my lady friend. That was followed with a relaxing visit on her porch with her mom and the "kids" (her precious little dogs).

But it's twilight now The loneliness has set in. My solitude often leads towards a slight feeling of isolation. But as a child these Saturday evenings were spent with my family at home. Watching Hee Haw on the tube was a ritual. My mom and stepfather were big country music fans (back when country music was country music instead of pop music sang with a drawl).

Being a natural born southerner, the rural culture of Hee Haw was quite familiar to me. Although I'm a city boy, I had lots of family and friends who lived out in the country and on farms.

I've played baseball in cow pastures, using dried cow piles for bases. I'm not unfamiliar with the outhouse. I know the pleasure of drinking naturally cool and filtered well water and eating sun-warmed tomatoes straight off the plant. As a child I spent a lot of time in rural churches, without padded pews and air-conditioning. (A favorite pastime was watching the singers and preacher try to avoid swallowing the insects that flew in through the open windows, attracted by the lights inside which lit up all the surrounding nothing.)

The cornball humor at the expense of our country dialect was easy on my youthful ears. It was all very familiar. On the other hand, I have to say that I never became acquainted with any Hee Haw Honey-types, with their skin tight cutoff blue jean short, shorts and tied-off at the tummy shirts, complete with plunging necklines and push-up bras.

That latter was always a source of amusement (and titillation) for me. Hee Haw always ended the show with their gospel quartet singing an old, familiar hymn, accompanied only by Roy Clark on acoustic guitar. The quartet consisted of Clark, his co-host Buck Owens, Grandpa Jones (who always lost his familiar hat for this number), and Kenny Price. And there listening in a circle were the various members of the cast, including those enticing, skimpily clad young honeys! (I play the guitar myself, and I think if I had been Roy Clark looking out onto that scene I probably would have gotten my thumb hung in the strings.)

Yeah, that's just the type of corny humor you could expect, and it was so stupid you had to laugh. I remember one example in the form of a riddle which illustrates this:

Q: What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
A: A violin has stings, a fiddle has strangs.

That came from one episode which I remember. And if you know anything about classic country music, especially the closer it is to roots music, you know that no one can make a violin squeak and squeal like a mountain fiddler - a totally different sound than you would hear from an orchestra.

I often wondered how well this type of humor was received up north. I've read that Hee Haw was quite popular there. But I wonder if they realize how close to the truth the culture of the show was. It was only slightly a parody.

It is noteworthy, speaking of northerners and country humor, that two of the main cast members on the show were Canadian transplants: Gordie Tapp and Don Harron (Charlie Farquharson.), although even as a kid I thought those two stuck out like, say, missing front teeth.

Well, sometimes something we saw on Hee Haw would trigger my mom and stepfather to relate stories from their youth. My stepfather was a real raconteur. I think the modern family is missing something without good old-fashioned story telling. The rural life was something both charming and deep, and the doses I was exposed to - with family and friends in the country more so than Hee Haw - sank deep into my soul.

Country music, country humor, and especially country cooking ("Hey Grandpa, what's for supper?") are bits of the country you could never get out of this city boy. Of course the older I get, the more nostalgic I get about my youth. Saturday evenings with family and Hee Haw was a much simpler, happier time for me. It all seems so very far away now. I know Hee Haw reruns are still around on cable (which I don't have). And they have released some of the shows on DVD. But that could never take the place of what I experienced back on those Saturday evenings of my youth.

I remember the cast signing off for the most of the show's run with a little ditty:

We loved the time we spent with you,
to share a song and a laugh or two,
may your pleasures be many,
your troubles be few...

Sweet and poignant at the same time. And for me on this lonely Saturday evening, I love having my friends at my blog to share bits of my life with. I don't feel so alone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wisdom From A Convicted Murderess

Barbara Graham went to her death in San Quentin Prison's gas chamber back in 1955 for the crime of murder. Reportedly her last words were: "Good people are always so sure they're right."

I have to agree with her observation.

I do a lot of reading. It's my favorite hobby. In my efforts to be informed I try to get a good feel of the various ways of looking at things. I somewhat pity those inflated wits who never do more than reinforce their biases by refusing to stray outside the comfy confines of their pet theories.

Years ago I became distressed by the way the conservative surge here in the good ol' USA tortured logic in order to make their points. As an outlet I began looking into this by starting a blog which I called Right-wing Dumbth (borrowing the "dumbth" from the late entertainer Steve Allen, who coined that word to describe what he felt was the heights of stupidity.)

After a while I quite. I quit because I began to notice way too much left-wing dumbth. In fact, when examining any issue, one's primary task should be to winnow all the chaff of emotion from the wheat of facts.
Otherwise, we risk becoming self-righteous crusaders, dead certain we are right.

Okay, I still blog. I still give my opinions, and do it passionately at times (and probably employing a degree of dumbth that my emotions saddle me with). But I know it's there. Would that others recognized the same of themselves.

Right now this country seems to be coming apart at the seams because we are so polarized. And, in my humble opinion, this is in no small part due to goofola thinking, shoddy argumentation, and excessive emotionalism. It certainly is hard to compromise when almost everything is deemed to be so important a matter that there is no room for reconsideration.

Yet we are all so damned sure we are right! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

What's On Your Clothesline?

My late grandmother used to explain it this way: If everybody put all their problems out in the open the way they hang their clothes in the backyard on a clothesline, everyone - after inspecting everyone else's - would still come back and choose their own. (Mind you, she was saying that back in those rough depression and WW ll days, when everyone was struggling and said laundry would be threadbare, patched, and hopelessly stained or faded; you could pretty much tell who was in the worst financial shape by the laundry.)

When I was a child my mom had it rough. She is temperamentally "high strung" by nature. She cared for both her parents until they died, and at the same time was raising her own three kids while Dad went out and earned the bacon. Eventually she wound up "hooked" on "nerve pills" while trying to cope. Those were very unhappy times for her and all of us. I remember her complaining constantly about the "hell" she went through at home (young kids can provide that for a parent, especially if their nerves are jangled already). We would sometimes drive down the streets on our way to church or the store and my mom would watch the houses go by and lament, "I wonder how much hell goes on in that home and that one and...." Sure, they might be all nice and tidy to all appearances from the outside. Still she wondered if the insides were full of fights and turmoil.

Recently I was reminded of those sad days while I was driving down the road with my lady friend as she was discussing how dysfunctional her family life is (and believe me, it really is). She said everybody's life has forms of craziness; everyone has at least some family tragedy or dysfunction (this, too, was said as we drove down the road looking at homes).

As I worked today I listened to my coworkers as they discussed the various problems facing them in their private lives. I thought about Grandmother. We have these problems and we somehow deal with them. We "inspect" other's laundry by airing our problems. No one seems to wish to exchange problems - not really. Our pain is a part of us.

I've often said it and I do believe it, that in my life so far I've had more than my share of good fortune and good health. Maybe I never had very high expectations of life. I was born into poverty, I'm not living hand-to-mouth now but know where my next meal is coming from and am at least financially solvent. It could all be swept away tomorrow, but it doesn't take much to make me happy. I think as long as I have a roof over my head, a place to sleep, something to eat, a ride to get me where I'm going, and maybe my old guitar, I will be fine.

I realize now that the busier your life is, the more crowded with proverbial "irons in the fire," the more potential there is for zaniness and unhappiness. Some folks can stand more stress than others. I notice the older I get the less stomach I have for pressure situations. I'm happiest now focusing on the basics and learning to accept the thousands of things that are just out of my control.

But that's me. Your laundry is okay, I suppose, while mine may show some wear and appear plain, but it's mine and I'll take it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Root Of Evil

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10, NIV)." Indeed. How I abhor the fact that our culture forces upon me the need to be so mindful of mammon.

I have savings accounts that I have been socking money into because I have to be prepared for emergencies, and because I don't want to face old age practically resourceless. It's not as much as it could have been had I ignored people needing help or family members who have no one else to help them. But I suppose that if society were a kinder place, where human need was not in constant play against human greed, the ranks of the needy would be greatly reduced.

I'm just saying that it bothers me that every time I consider helping others I have to consider how it will impact my own life. It's not purely selfish motives at play here. If we can avoid being a burden to others it will help those others
I'm shocked to find that today there are still between 20 and 30 million people (I've seen various estimates) who are still in slavery. Wikipedia states that most of these slaves are in South Asia, where debt bondage flourishes. Could anything other than viral greed be back of this?

My own country, the United States, has a very ugly history with slavery. That because the wealthy wanted to retain their wealth and gain ever greater wealth from the labor of others. We may have ridded our economic system of that "peculiar institution," but it has been replaced now by wage slavery - a system whereby the common laborer must lose more and more freedom, face greater health and safety risks, work harder than ever for less pay, as their "masters," the greedy CEOs, makes over three hundred times their wages.

Not to get all political here, but has anyone else noticed how dutifully the media reports on our legislators who fear increasing the minimum wage will put a strain on companies and result in lower levels of employment, while ignoring the fact that reining in CEO perks and pay would allow a fairer, healthier system overall? A company could remain profitable, probably more so, if better wages were paid the workers from the overabundance of the CEOs.

I ranted last time about the medical establishment. Again, I see the love of money as the taproot of the problem. The healing arts once was a ministry for the good of humankind. Now it has become another vehicle for financiers to gain wealth off the suffering of others.

When I was a baby President Eisenhower left office and in his farewell address warned us to beware what he called the military-industrial complex. We obviously didn't listen, because war is big business now and our leaders seem ever desirous to keep us at war, thus feeding the machine.

Hey yeah, politics. It has been said that we in the US have the best democracy money can buy. Follow the money. See how many big corporations and lobbies contribute to candidates from both parties (and why must we saddled with this two-party system anyway?) so that whoever wins will be beholden to them. In our democratic aristocracy we find that for the first time in history the majority of our Congress is made up of millionaires. Can that be a good thing?

In this day and age might makes right. Might being mammon, there. Our media are controlled by the wealthy corporations. Can we get the straight dope on anything anymore? Investigative reporting has taken a back seat to fluff reporting that keeps the ratings high and cash flowing in. Too much commentary and not enough straight reporting, because the sheeple must trained, not educated and informed.

I could go on and on. But what to do besides bitch and moan? Well, I try as much as possible to live life on my own terms. As for my own wage slavery, my savings allows me to opt out of some forms (but not all!) of overtime I might otherwise feel obliged to accept. It shields me from many abuses. I have the option of taking a lesser paying, lesser nerve-rattling position. That l have not considered yet because I still have my elderly mother to look out for, but one day....

I am now proudly debt-free and hope to stay that way barring any health crisis. My savings should take care of most other emergencies. For years now I have lived a life of voluntary simplicity and have become quite the critic of consumerism. The Joneses can kiss my ass and so can anyone else who looks down on my frugality. As much as I try to help others I can't help chiding them if I perceive they are putting their own necks in the noose. I don't give anyone the shirt off my back without first inquiring how they came to have no shirt. Sadly, most of those in need just haven't cultivated the fortitude to make the hard choices necessary to gain more freedom. And yes, I realize this is easier to do for a bachelor such as me than for a married person with kids. But everyone can simplify and avoid the keep-up-with trap.

Lastly, I think knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have the more tools you have. The problem is getting good, unbiased information. That is very, very difficult. Everyone has an angle and a vested interest. But it helps to keep an open mind and not be troubled about going against the "common knowledge" and accepted wisdom. Experts are often wrong. Still, we would be fools to ignore what they say. I just think we would be fools to place authorities on pedestals and not question anything. Anyone who has studied the history of any body of knowledge cannot help but see that time brings more light and revises old theories.

I often marvel how money has no value besides that placed upon it by the human imagination. The lower animals get along well without because they operate under another system. (A mouse would shred hidden paper money because it desires a comfy bed over a savings account.) I think the less we can worship money, the less we are forced to depend on it, the more we can eliminate our lust for it, the happier overall we will be. Kinder, too. As I said, I hate being forced to hoard what money I do, because, speaking frankly, it is almost impossible to get along without it in our system of doing things. I know I can't change the system but can only adjust myself to make the best of it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

As I Was Saying...

Life recently dealt me some curve balls that necessitated a blogging break. But for me blogging as an emotional outlet blogging is hard to beat. That, and the longing for fellowship with my cyber friends is calling me back to my blog, although I have no idea how frequent my dribblings will be.

I see I left off talking about how science is often put on a pedestal. It isn't that I am anti-science. Not at all. However, I am one of those who believe the "modern scientific worldview" isn't necessarily the final answer. I'm a thoroughgoing skeptic.

Along this line, I have been paying increasing attention as the years roll by to the subjects of health and healthcare. I'm getting more intimately involved in the details of my mother's health issues and her ten doctor-prescribed medications. My younger brother (early fifties) is now on seven doctor-prescribed meds and happens to be married to a nurse. He is forever urging me to get to the doctor and "get checked out," even though I have no apparent health issues other than normal wear and tear of my age. My last physical (admittedly a few years ago now) showed me completely normal for my age.

Not to get al TMI or anything, but I have, as is common in men my age, a slightly enlarged prostate gland. My brother, however, is taking a prescription for that. His doctor also put him on treatment for decreased testosterone. He also takes pills for cholesterol, for high blood pressure, for pain after a recent neck surgery, for anxiety, and for I don't know what all else. My head was just spinning by that time. I told him when I do choose to see a doctor I want to see a doctor and not a pusher. Sometimes I wonder if that is even possible anymore.

I had a severe prostate infection several years ago which I dealt with by going to the doctor. After a rather painful examination (which left me bent over the examining table, clutching the other side in pain while shouting obscenities), I was given a butt-shot of antibiotics and then a course of oral antibiotics. I was back to normal within a few days.

Last year I started getting those same symptoms again and recognized what was heading my way. I went down to the local pharmacy and examined their over-the counter prostrate health formulas, settling on one that I have been taking ever since (which I am not going to plug here), purchased some Vitamin C (and took several times above the RDA), and also picked up some cranberry pills to flush my kidneys and hopefully prevent a UTI if I didn't already have one (which is what I thought might up at first). I "cured" myself within the week.

Now I don't write this to encourage others to do as I did. But I would urge everyone to keep abreast of what's going on in the world of medicine and healthcare. And I would ABSOLUTELY SUGGEST YOU TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR OWN HEALTHCARE and not just place it uncritically in the hands of physicians.

When I saw my brother this past weekend at the emergency room as we were there with our mom (I called him off his job), I noticed his hands were so swollen you couldn't see his knuckles. He couldn't bend his fingers but with great difficulty. His ankles, he told me, were swollen as well. "What's up with that?" I asked. I was informed his doctor had recently changed his high blood pressure medicine. His doctor advised him to check back with him in six or eight weeks. I suggested he not wait that long. Heck, I guess he now needs a prescription for a diuretic (his other hypertension pill supposedly contained one).

I may be wrong of course, but I remember a time before my brother got "in the medical system" that he didn't take medicine. He is now grossly overweight, which suspiciously started about the time he began treatment for his "low-T." Hmmmm. Now, to be honest, like many of us older folks, he had packed on some extra pounds over the years, but after his testosterone treatment he seems to be working towards a job playing Santa at the malls.

It has been my experience with friends and family that once the doctor gets out his pad and starts writing these damned prescriptions, inevitably one will follow another. This med has side effects that require another med, and so on. That's another thing I do. When I'm with my mom at the various doctor's offices she goes to I can't resist reading the magazines there, with all their fulll-page ads for many wondrous treatments that are available now via the wonder of modern science. Then there among all these sleek ads with pretty pictures of people living "active" lives, supposedly after treatment with the wonder drug, and the large type extolling the virtues of said treatment, there will be some small print which lists possible side effects. Man! Ever read those? Hell, the cure is sometimes worse than the disease.

Perhaps this sounds like an angry screed against modern medicine. I don't mean for it to. But I do think modern doctors are too into treating symptoms and not enough into basic health building, as per nutrition, for example. Simple correctives probably get overlooked because it's simpler to prescribe a pill (and then another and another to deal with side effects).

If my brother had lost twenty pounds before he got "into the system" might that have lowered his blood pressure enough and improved his cholesterol readings (and here I will state that I have come to question much of the modern thinking about how cholesterol affects coronary disease, but that's another story) that prescriptions would not have been indicated?

Again, I don't blame the pill pushers totally because I believe we have minds of our own and allow ourselves to be duped into thinking there is a shot or pill that will take care of any problem. Advertising sways us (not just with medicines, but everything) way more than it should. I don't care for such string-pulling and turn a skeptical eye towards all advertising (just what do pretty girls have to do with automobiles, anyway?).
In a time when people find "jogging in a jar" an attractive substitute for actual physical activity, and taking supplements easier than actually eating right, it doesn't surprise me that there are so many pill junkies around. When I was growing up people were taking acid and smoking pot to get their kicks. Now prescription painkillers are the big deal, and "pill mills" flourish because of it. And I have personally known people who made their living, or at least supplemented it, by going to the various doctors who blithely supply them meds which they turn around and sale to others for a profit.

Now I started out in the system and just found myself increasingly at odds with my doctor. But wait! He is an authority. Shouldn't I trust him totally with my health? I don't feel so inclined. It's like the old joke:

Q - Know the difference between God and doctors?
A - God doesn't think he's a doctor.

Once during a physical I complained of some occasional chest pain. I felt (and ten years later still feel) that I was correct in attributing it to certain activities on my job (moving around a hand crane loaded with coils of steel weighing hundreds of pounds). My doctor insisted I take a Thallium Stress Test. I know, I know, better safe than sorry. But I just felt I knew me and my body at least a bit better than my doctor did, so I flatly refused. Doctors certainly don't like it when you disagree with them! I'm still here, by the way, and haven't been treated for heart disease.

The only recommendations I will make are that everyone should take an active part in their health maintenance and health care. Stay informed of what's going on. Stay in tune with your body. And for heaven's sake, take all the all the latest breakthrough reports in the field of health with at least a moderately skeptical eye. Learn enough about nutrition to make wise choices in the nourishing of your body. Walk and/or perform whatever exercise is practical in your circumstances ( my 81-year-old mom is wanting to learn Tai Chi; so cool!). Finally, I'm one of those who believe in the placebo effect. A healthy mind can assist in maintaining a healthy body.

Back in the "olden days" people didn't run to the doctor every time they had a sniffle, pain, or ache. And people still managed to make it to old age, despite the modern BS that we are living so much longer these days and "75 is the new fifty." (My great, great grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee, lived to be 105, and most of my grandparents and great grandparents survived well past the biblical three score and ten years - and I don't think my family is unusual) I question the value of many medical tests, especially the idea that we should constantly be looking for the next health crisis lurking somewhere in our system. That can get really expensive. So can so-called preventive medicine and "borderline" illnesses. Oh, well, that's my rant for this time.