The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘disease’ Category

THE TRUTH ABOUT ZOMBIES

There has been a lot of fascination lately with zombies.  Apparently, the most viewed show on television is “The Walking Dead,” a series devoted to man’s battle against these creatures.  Personally, I can’t get into the show as I accidentally had a brief glance at the opening scene of one episode two weeks ago which began with a number of people kneeling before a trough who were hit on the head with a pipe and whose throats were then slit, their blood pouring out.  This would, in my view, have been something that was in bad taste at any time – and in view of the videos that ISIS so proudly posted on YouTube is simply revolting.  But that’s just my opinion.

While the practice of voodoo has been with mankind long before African slaves were exported to the Caribbean, most Americans knew little about it nor cared much about it and its sister cults until the late 1950’s.  The Kingston Trio which had formed, primarily to perform calypso music, had been thrust into the limelight when their song “Tom Dooley” was an outstanding billboard success in 1958.

When Capitol Records approached them with a boatload of money and told them that they were now “folk singers” – a genre that was becoming increasingly popular – the three young men agreed.  However, keeping with their original motif, the following year they recorded, “Zombie Jamboree,”  a song originally entitled, “Jumbie Jamboree” and attributed to Jamaican, Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr.  While I was first introduced to this song by them, I do prefer Harry Belafonte’s version which follows:

 

 

“Zombie Jamboree” came and went without having any major impact on our interest in its subject matter.  Until fairly recently.  The interest in zombies has exploded to the point that movies and television programs draw a wide viewership when they portray the living dead and mankind’s ability – or inability – to deal with them.  There seems to be a consensus that the way to stop a threatening zombie is either by shooting it in the head or applying an ax to that same body part with a great deal of force and vigor.

I wonder if that methodology was researched using taxpayer funds.  After all, last year our government gave a grant in the amount of $307,000 to inquire into the behavior of sea monkeys, $50,000 of which was allocated to study synchronized swimming by these tiny shrimp; another $856,00 to study how mountain lions adapted to being on treadmills; and $387,000 to determine whether rabbits who were given Swedish massages benefited from that therapy.  So why not a couple of million or so to determine the best way to defeat our zombie foes, if and when they should actually come into being?

I would attribute the intense interest in zombies to Ebola and stories about other possibly terminal diseases which seem to be erupting throughout parts of the world.  The general theme of how a person is transformed into a zombie usually centers around some new and horrible germ, virus or perhaps manmade chemical weapon.  Of those alternatives, I would give most credence to the third of them.  But the explosion in interest in zombies precedes these events by at least a number of years.

Perhaps my greatest hesitancy for believing in zombies is that they are supposed to be dead, mindless creatures – feasting exclusively on living humans.  In the first place, if they are truly mindless, why wouldn’t they just eat each other?  And have they never heard of Moo Shu or pizza?

On the other hand, if there is evidence that these creatures exist, there is probably no greater proof than that many of them will be voting on Tuesday – with or without state issued ID cards.

I’VE GOT A LITTLE LIST

Here’s a list of countries that have earned their way to a top ten list:

10.  Mozambique

9.  Guinea

8.  Burundi

7.  Burkina Faso

6.  Eritrea

5.  Sierra Leone

4.  Chad

3.  Central African Republic

2.  Democratic Republic of the Congo

1.  Niger

The list in question is entitled, “The Least Livable Countries in the World.”  The link to the full report follows.

http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/10/25/the-10-least-livable-countries/

If you have some familiarity with geography, perhaps you will be taken with the same thing that grabbed my attention.  That is that all of these countries are located on the continent of Africa.

If you read the entire report, you will note that the data and criteria was collected from the UN Development Programme.  The basis for indexing the countries worldwide was determined by three factors:  life expectancy, education and income.  These were then numerically quantified into what the UN calls a “Human Development Index.”  In a separate report, accessible from the same link, Norway which ranked as #1 had an index of 0.944.  Niger, at the bottom of the list had an index of 0.337.  I presume that an index number of 1.000 would be found only in the country of Nirvana.

In the United States, some of our politicians have found a rallying cry around the cause of “Income Inequality.”  The average person who lives in Niger earns $1.25 per day.  Which brings us to examining a far more important issue than “Income Inequality” – specifically, “Income Sufficiency.”  If an individual earns enough to provide a family with a comfortable home, food on the table, education and medical treatment, does it really matter that he does so in only a 1,500 square foot house while someone who has been more successful, been born to the purple or has simply gotten lucky, owns ten houses which average 15,000 square feet each?  That is not a matter of equality but rather an instance of envy.

This snapshot of ten African nations made me think immediately of life in many of America’s inner cities.  However, unlike these countries which are extremely poorly managed, in many cases have repressive governments and are further hampered with limited natural resources, most of our inner cities residents have access to ever expanding numbers of government subsidies, live in a country with a mandatory educational system and have the ability to succeed – if they choose to exercise that right.  It would be foolish not to admit that the inner city child has a more daunting task ahead of her than her counterpart who grows up in an upper class suburban environment.  But at least the opportunity exists, something that cannot be said for the citizens of those countries who made this list.

As Americans, do we really care about world poverty, limited life expectancies or lack of education – specifically as they affect those who live in Africa?  We responded to the Ebola outbreak – but is that a matter of concern for Africans who are being infected with Ebola – or because we are simply worried that it might spread here and then become a problem affecting our own country?  Sadly, those who are the most vocal on the issue seem to have taken the low road of political aggrandizement rather than true humanitarian concern.  And while we may, in the short run be able to stem or eradicate this most recent outburst, we will not do anything to change the long term outlook for the citizens of the affected African nations – or the others on this list.

Ebola was first identified in 1976.  It was as virulent then as it is thirty-eight years later.  But working to develop a vaccine makes no economic sense.  The disease was largely confined to the African continent both then and today.  And quite clearly, pharmaceutical companies, looking at the return on investment for developing an inoculation which would be marketed to poor Africans who could not pay for it and additionally might resist an effort to establish a preventative program and comparing that to the potential financial boon by developing yet another weight loss drug to be sold to an affluent American market where insurance and typical family income would guarantee an explosive market made that decision simple.

To my fellow Americans who complain that the United States is responsible for everything bad that has happened since man began recording his history, I find it strange that we are leading the effort to assist those who are victims of this disease.  But if they find that insufficient, perhaps they would like to take a more personal interest in resolving the problem by heading to the affected area and lending their helping hand.  It is true that we are still debating the appropriate way to handle people returning from the areas of infection in Africa.  But to my knowledge, there is no prohibition against traveling there.  And, given the generosity that Americans generally have, there’s probably a government program to help them buy their ticket.

EBOLA AND MENTAL HEALTH

After my mother’s death, my Aunt Helene readily inserted herself as a surrogate.  I had always been very close to Mom’s younger sister and I welcomed her nurturing and support at both that difficult time and for many years afterward.  I never failed to call her weekly and always sent her a wonderful birthday present.  On her 70th birthday I hosted a party for her, her three children and their spouses at The Four Seasons for dinner – although I had to specify that they gave the guests menus without prices on them – as she would have gone into cardiac arrest if she saw the cost of the meal and would have opted for bread and a glass of water.  She was a very practical lady.

There was a one year period when I was a child when my aunt disappeared from the scene.  It’s as though she had been abducted by aliens and transported to a distant planetary system.  In fact, although my parents never told me what happened and I learned the truth many years later, she had been consigned and confined to Bellevue Hospital to be treated for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia.  This was in the late 1950’s.

The “modern medicine” of that day frequently addressed this psychological illness with what today we may consider to be a rather primitive treatment.  It  was known as “shock therapy.”  If you saw the first “Lethal Weapon” Mel Gibson movie, you may remember the scene where he is suspended by his hands from the ceiling and water is poured over him as his interrogator hits him with electrodes to force him to talk.  That’s “shock therapy.”  It’s apparently extremely painful.

Well, the medical practitioners at Bellevue pronounced my aunt “cured” after she had been confined there for a year and undergone that treatment twice a week during her interment.  She returned home to her family, but I could see that she had gotten much more docile, measuring every word and making sure never to offend anyone.  She had always been a very gentle person but her gentility had transmuted to an almost submissive meekness.  It was many years before she rediscovered some of her previous élan.  And discussing that one year was so painful that no one in the family dared speak of it or ask for details – until many years later when my aunt felt comfortable discussing it and brought it up herself.

Four years went by and Aunt Helene began experiencing the same symptoms she had exhibited before her commitment.  Many years later she confided in me that she would have committed suicide rather than repeat her “therapy” at Bellevue, which incidentally, was known as one of the premier psychiatric hospitals in the country.  Fortunately, she had found an osteopathic doctor and had been seeing him for several years.  She described her current symptoms and told him about her stint at Bellevue.  He told her that he had a theory but he would need to request her medical records from the hospital before he could confirm his belief.  While waiting for those records he ordered some blood work done so that he would have those results when he received her transcript from Bellevue.

Two weeks later he called my aunt with news – some bad, some good.  “Helene, you do have a medical condition – that’s the bad news.  The good news is it isn’t schizophrenia – it’s hypoglycemia.  You have low blood sugar, the reverse of diabetes.  And hypoglycemia manifests itself in many symptomatic ways that may look like schizophrenia.  We need to raise your blood sugar level which we probably can accomplish through diet – and you should be just fine.”  My aunt told me that when she hung up from that call she felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.  And she dealt with her condition through dietary management until her death at the age of 85.  I still miss her as she was a wonderful lady.

The blood work that Dr. Castin had received from Bellevue Hospital showed the same low blood sugar levels five years earlier.  But none of the physicians there caught it.  So my aunt went through nearly one hundred unnecessary shock treatments which left deep psychological scars.  Well, we all know the old joke that if you’re on the operating table the one thing you don’t want to hear your surgeon say as you float off under the anesthesia is, “Oops.”

Ebola is a potentially fatal disease – the mortality rates ranging between 50 – 70% according to the World Health Organization.  Mostly it has been confined to large areas of west Africa.  Probably those mortality rates would be lower in countries with more advanced infrastructure and medical systems.  Both the flu and traffic accidents kills more people in the United States than have fallen to Ebola in Africa.

As much as man would like to think he is in complete control of his own destiny, what we used to refer to as Mother Nature has a vote in the conversation – and she sometimes holds a very strong hand.  We have seen devastating plagues afflict human populations several times in recent and past history.  And while it is probably true that we are better equipped today than in the Middle Ages when bubonic plague ravaged Europe, it would be pure hubris to believe that we are so wise and so well prepared that we are impervious to a potentially ruinous outbreak of something the old gal has cooked up for us.  Admitting that would be to take the first step toward truly preparing for the potential of just such an outbreak.  And therein lies the problem.

Repeatedly since the first Ebola victim came to America from Liberia and subsequently died in Dallas, we have been told that any “large scale” outbreak of the virus is unlikely.  While that sounds reassuring, I for one would like to know the definition of “large scale.”  Is that one hundred patients; one thousand or one million?  That would seem a germane question since we have now been informed by the CDC that we have five hospitals which are prepared to handle just such an outbreak should it occur.  What the CDC has neglected to tell us is that between all five of those hospitals, spread throughout the country, there are a total of eleven beds to accommodate those who might come to them with the infection.

The CDC and its head, Dr.Tom Frieden have not exactly been reassuring in the way in which they have handled the situation thus far.  Nurses’ union leaders are complaining that they not only have not been instructed in the protocols that should be implemented to insure their safety and the proper treatment of the patients entrusted to them, but that they do not have the appropriate equipment nor instruction in how to use it.  That is a bit chilling.

The president assured us that there was no chance that Ebola would make its way to the United States.  As of this writing, we now have four such cases, the latest being a returning doctor who is with Doctors Without Borders and lives in our most populous city, New York.  He is currently quarantined in Bellevue Hospital.

This evening, from that hospital, the mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio and NY governor, Andrew Cuomo together with the physicians who head NYC’s and the state’s health services appeared together at a news conference to update and reassure the public about the most recent Ebola patient and any potential threats to the health of New Yorkers because of the exposure he may have had to others.  I was impressed with several things at that press gathering.

First, in the finest tradition of the White House, the scheduled press conference began late.  In fact it started nearly forty minutes late.  Simple common sense would suggest that if you’re dealing with a restive public who are concerned about a situation, delaying a scheduled press briefing is not the way to instill confidence.

Second, I was struck by the almost robotic monotone in which the public was updated on the latest Ebola patient by both the mayor, the governor and the female doctor who heads NYC’s health department.  I will give credit to the state’s chief physician.  He appeared definitely to have a pulse and seemed to engage actively and with interest in the topic at hand.  I don’t expect a Periclean speech from either our elected officials and certainly not from appointed bureaucrats, but a little bit of emotion would convey a sense of actual interest.

Third, we are asked to rely on our government’s public health officials and agencies to keep us safe from harm.  One of those on a Federal level would be Sylvia Burwell, the head of Health and Human Services.  You’ll remember that agency which formerly was headed by Kathleen Sibelius who brought us the Obamacare website roll out.  In his remarks, Governor Cuomo, never a candidate for a MENSA application, referred to Ms. Burwell as the head of Homeland Security – a post currently occupied by Jeh Johnson.  Forgive me but I’m not instilled with the warm glow of security when those who are supposed to be in charge don’t know where those with whom they may need to coordinate actually work.

If we accept, perhaps with a grain of salt, that Ebola is fortunately a hard virus to transmit from one person to another, that may give us some comfort.  But what is disturbing is the response from those within Federal agencies which seem at best, confused and unprepared.  That is not unlike this administration’s response to a host of other issues which have surfaced in the last six years.

There are threats which nature provides and which man has created.  The two terrorist attacks which have occurred in Canada, I use the term terrorists because Canada’s PM has done so being unafraid to call it as he sees it, are truly disturbing, especially in this context.  We have seen recent purported uses of mustard gas in Syria.  After 9/11 we had a mini crisis as we worried about the dissemination of anthrax.  And terrorists in Japan have used sarin gas to advance their agendas.

In view of the savage brutality of the Islamic extremists (terrorists), it is not beyond the realm of possibility to believe that if they view their mission as destroying the infidel by any means possible they would eagerly resort to the dissemination of chemical weapons within major U. S. or other western population centers without regard to the niceties of international conventions to the contrary.

I hope that our officials are correct and that any outbreak of Ebola in the U. S. will be limited in nature and that we may assist in eradicating it in west Africa.  But based on the response we’ve seen to date, to put all one’s faith in that outcome might cause a trained medical professional to question the state of our mental health.

THE FLOOD

In the small town of Crawfton the city fathers gathered together.  The alert that they were to be in the path of a torrential downpour during the next several days had come in from the National Weather Service and they were deciding the most appropriate action the town’s residents should take.  Finally, they decided the safest thing would be to ask all residents to evacuate to the high school which was on the town’s highest ground and they took steps to set up a shelter with food and bedding in the school’s gymnasium to accommodate them.  They, the town’s one policeman and the members of the volunteer fire department went door to door to warn the residents and help them move to their new temporary shelter.

It happened that the mayor knocked on the door of Elder Burt Timmons, one of the community’s most well respected residents.  Elder Timmons came to the door and invited the mayor in.  But the mayor, aware of the urgency of the situation declined and explained the situation at Timmons’ doorstep.

“Please gather what you will need for several days for you and your family and come over to the high school.  We would appreciate it if you would assist in volunteering to help organize the rescue effort when you’re there.   Perhaps your wife, Marcie could help the other women in the cafeteria and your kids could help supervise some of the younger children.”

“Well, Mayor,” Elder Timmons replied.  “Marcie and the children are visiting Marcie’s mother.  And I have faith in the Lord that he will spare me from any danger.  In fact, moving to the high school would, in my view, be a denial of that faith.  So I’m going to stay here and wait it out.”

Despite the mayor’s insistent pleas to reconsider, Elder Timmons remained adamant and the Mayor finally went on to his next call.

As predicted, two days later the skies darkened and the rain began falling.  The intensity of the storm increased and the volume of the downpour gained strength.  All of the town’s residents but for Elder Timmons were warm and safe in the school.  And as the water pooled up and grew higher, it began seeping into the Timmons home.

Undeterred by the rising water which ran freely on the first floor, Elder Timmons held to his faith and prayed for deliverance when Jimmy Anderson, a high school senior came by the house in his row boat.  He could see Timmons through the front window and yelled at him, “Elder Timmons.  Get in the boat.  I’ll row you over to the high school.”

But Timmons shouted back, “No need to worry Jimmy.  I have faith in the Lord and he will save me from any harm.  Thanks for stopping by.”  And Timmons returned to his prayers as Jimmy rowed away.

The following day the water had risen to the point that Elder Timmons had to abandon the first floor of his house, taking refuge on the second floor.  Jimmy’s father came by in the row boat and again offered to row him to the school.  But just as he had done the previous day, he declined the offer, citing his faith in God’s goodness and provision.

The water continued yet the next day and the second floor of the Timmons home was completely inundated from the deluge, forcing Elder Timmons to seek refuge on the roof of his home.  Although he was clad with a slicker, the torrential rain and the wind made its way into his clothing and he was feeling cold and wet, but his faith was unperturbed.  So when the FEMA helicopter flew over and threw down a ladder for him to climb, he refused their assistance.  Several hours later, the water engulfed his roof and Timmons was swept away.  He had never learned to swim and as a result drowned.

But Elder Timmons’ faith had not gone without its reward.  At his passing, Timmons’ soul was immediately taken to the pearly gates where St. Peter himself greeted him and then quickly ushered him in to see God himself.  One would have thought that with the promise of eternal happiness fulfilled, Timmons would have been overjoyed.  Yet he seemed downcast and troubled.  God saw that and asked him the source of this sullenness.

“Lord, You know that I’ve always been faithful to You since my baptism.  I’ve never broken one of your commandments or missed a Sunday service and tithed with joy.  Yet, in my most trying moment as I prayed to You to save me from the flood, You abandoned me.  I don’t understand how I might have done any more to keep to my faith and be deserving of Your compassion.”

“My son, you are mistaken,” God replied.  I sent you two row boats and a helicopter to rescue you.  What more did you expect of me?”

This old story reminds me a great deal of the 2014 election.  Sadly, the GOP has decided to take on the role of Elder Timmons.  At this point, we should not be wondering whether the Republicans are going to take control of the Senate but how much of a majority they will hold.  That is not the case and those of us who hope for positive change find ourselves with a nail biter that may not be resolved until January.

Potentate Obama handed the GOP the absolutely most convincing argument that he could (he was off teleprompter) when he said, “This election is about the Obama administration’s policies.”  Amen.  If you liked what you have seen over the past six years, and most Americans do not, then it is clear that you should go out and vote for the Democrat hack who is running for office.  If not, you should be calling your neighbors who feel as you do and urge them to get out and make a real change – a change for the better and one that is long overdue.

Elections are not won other than at the ballot box (and subsequently the counting of those votes in the canvass).  That fact is not lost on the Democrats.  That is the real reason for their opposing voter ID laws.  That is the reason for their supporting an open immigration policy.  That is something that is still not apparently clear enough to Reince Priebus and the Republican Party.  Otherwise, there would be a nationwide ad campaign that asked the following:

“Are you tired of hearing about a new scandal and example of incompetence every week?  Fast and Furious; Benghazi; the IRS; the NSA; the Veterans Administration; ISIS; and now the Ebola outbreak?  If so, we welcome you as a new or returning Republican voter.  It is time for a change – a change to get America back on track – a change for the better.  Vote Republican – and vote proudly.”

I wonder if there’s a job waiting for me at RNC headquarters?  I think I’ll wait to apply until after the flood waters have abated.

A SKEPTIC’S VIEW ON “HEALTHCARE”

Grandma taught me a lesson at an early age.  It was a lesson that as a child I didn’t really appreciate or understand.  “Sweetheart, if you have your health you have everything.”  I adored my Grandmother but I thought filling up the page of my stamp album with all the pretty stamps or getting an A on the history test were far more important.  Then I got older – and then I grew up.

Because she was widowed at an age when my mother and aunt were young, she had to work hard to get by.  She held two jobs and took in other peoples’ laundry to make ends meet and to save a little bit each week.  Sadly, back in the 1920’s there were no social financial safety nets – other than what you might receive from family, friends or neighbors.

Grandma was not obsessed by money.  She never anticipated, nor did she have aspirations to become wealthy.  But she definitely understood that it was a bad thing not to be able to pay her bills and she worked diligently so that neither she nor her children were ever in that position.

Part of Grandma’s profound understanding of economics, based less than on her third grade education than on the experience she gained by attending the “School of Hard Knocks” was that income was only one component of being financially secure.  The other was how she spent what she had earned.  So she would go to five or six different grocers to buy the finest quality produce at the best possible price.  If she were president of the United States, this country would be running annual surpluses – which then could be used to help those who had not learned or didn’t care about the lessons she had been taught by life.

I don’t believe my Grandmother thought of herself as a Libertarian.  I’m not sure that the word had even been coined while she was alive.  But if she were with us today, I’m sure that she would identify far more closely with that system of government than what we find ourselves saddled with today.  And perhaps, by osmosis, that is why I view the world as I do.

Let me say that my views do not necessarily follow a “party line.”  There are very few essential issues to which virtually all Libertarians subscribe.  Beyond believing in a  limited amount of  government intervention in our lives and taking personal responsibility for our actions,, many of us who consider ourselves to be Libertarians are free to agree or disagree.  That, in itself, differentiates the Libertarian from most people who subscribe to the dogma promulgated by other political parties.  We do not have to subscribe blindly to the party “platform” in order to be considered loyal partisans.  That is, of course, also the weakness of Libertarianism.

Perhaps a better word to use to define Libertarianism is the phrase, “people who are skeptical.”  While we commonly accept the word “skeptic” as meaning a person who doubts, the derivation comes from the Greek “skeptikos” which refers to a person who investigates.  So with that in mind, let’s investigate why Obamacare isn’t working – at least not as it was touted it would.

First, I think it is fair to say that the primary premise behind the law was that it would enable every American to get health insurance.  In that respect it makes the assumption that having health insurance is the equivalency of having healthcare and that those who do not currently have health insurance would, with great avidity, seek it out.  Granted, there have been difficulties with access to the website which might have deterred some of the uninsured from investigating their new options.  But the most recent polls suggest that only one in five of those who are uninsured have even bothered to try to see what options are available to them.

If I were marketing a product that I was convinced “everybody” wanted and needed but found in surveys that only one in five actually had an interest, I would probably revise my expectations and my marketing strategies.

Second, Obamacare approaches the question of “healthcare” only from the standpoint of the consumer – not the medical establishment.   It doesn’t require skepticism to realize that if our doctors and hospitals are not willing to accept people who are covered by the new “health insurance” because of the minimal reimbursements which are being offered to them, they will find more profitable ways to do business and those who hold these new insurance policies will find themselves holding a worthless piece of paper.

If we were to purchase a product that was advertised on national television and discovered when we went to use it that it simply did not work, all sorts of government agencies, in the interest of “consumer protection,” would be filing law suits against the manufacturer and probably drive that company out of business.

Third, I have said many times that we do not now have and will not have after Obamacare a “healthcare system.”  What we truly have is a “disease maintenance” system.  If we were serious about improving the nation’s health, we should focus on having a “wellness system.”  But there are several problems with that concept.

The first is that there is very little money in providing “wellness.”  The healthy individual does not go to the doctor, other than for an annual physical exam and does not need the services provided in our advanced operating rooms.  Nor does she require prescriptions that support our pharmaceutical companies and our drug stores.

The second problem is that living a healthy lifestyle requires effort – individual effort.  It means that the individual must accept responsibility for his own good health and that requires discipline.  Americans like things fast.  That includes food – whether at a franchised McDonald’s or from the freezer of our grocery stores.  These products may be FDA approved – but that doesn’t mean that they promote good health.

The FDA and the Department of Agriculture also approve the way in which we raise and feed the factory-farm animals that contribute significantly to our diets.  The estimates are that 90% of the FDA approved antibiotics which are manufactured are fed to these animals.  As we ingest them in our meals, we naturally absorb the antibiotics that the slaughtered animals consumed during their brief lives.  Why, therefore, should we be surprised that the NIH has raised concerns that antibiotics are no longer proving to have the efficacy they once did as new “super bugs” are proving resistant to them?

It’s one thing to refer to problems and criticize and quite another to offer positive solutions.  But in a country which has almost universally accepted the concept of “disease maintenance” as “the way things are,” it is unlikely that either Obamacare or any variation of it will prove effective in the long term.  Our “healthcare system” will continue to hemorrhage both blood and red ink.  And it will be up to the individual to look after her or his own well-being.  That is if the government will let those few of us who believe this to follow our hearts and our consciences.

As Grandma said, “When you have your health you have everything.”  For those who do not believe that statement – well, they have Obamacare.

A MATTER OF HONESTY

If you haven’t heard about the “Crack-Smoking” Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford – you’ve obviously been on a vacation in Tahiti and had no internet or television reception.  The Mayor of North America’s fourth largest city has “issues.”  He’s obese, has frequent stumbling bouts as a result of his drinking to excess and has, by his own admission, smoked crack cocaine.

Perhaps it’s human nature to want to make fun of people who behave badly – or at least pay attention to them.  How else would Alec Baldwin stay in the news.  But Mayor Ford is exceptional, even among those who behave badly and prefer to do it in public.  Mayor Ford openly admitted to his indiscretions and has promised to reform his ways.  In my view, while it is hard for me to imagine behaving in the way he has, I find his honesty and admission of impropriety to be extremely refreshing – and something from which all people in the limelight might well do to emulate.

I think that most of us are willing to forgive a person if he earnestly admits to having made mistakes – even big mistakes.  After all, we’ve all been guilty of having committed offences in our lives.  Far worse, at least to me, is the person who is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and claims that he never ate the ginger snaps.

And I guess that’s why I’m so provoked by and written so much recently about Obamacare – and the president’s refusal to admit that he knew and lied about what would transpire when the law was enacted.  Even some of his fellow Democrats are now fessing up that they knew back in 2010 that millions of individual policies would be cancelled.  If the rank and file in Congress and the staff of HHS knew as well, how can any reasonable person conclude that the president was unaware of what was, in essence, common knowledge?

It’s unfortunate that the councilors in Toronto do not have our same perception of the Mayor’s conditions as those of us south of their border and are stripping him of all his responsibilities.  After all, he is merely suffering from several medical and perhaps psychological conditions.  Under the terms of Obamacare, being a “Crack Head” or a confirmed alcoholic or a person who is obese is no reason to have an insured individual’s rates adversely affected.  In fact, there is only one “addiction” that is penalized – that being for using tobacco.

I’ve been trying to figure out the logic behind this – if there is any.  Sure, the tobacco user is far more likely to develop lung cancer or emphysema, conditions which are expensive to manage.  But on the other hand, the tobacco user has spent thousands or perhaps tens of thousands over the years in Federal and state excise taxes to enjoy his habit before these conditions manifest themselves.

Perhaps the logic – the only scenario that I can imagine – is that the person who uses heroin or cocaine or downs a quart of alcohol a day is likely to do himself in at an early age and not prove to be a burden on the healthcare system.  Or maybe this is simply a concession to the Hollywood boosters, many of whom consume excessive amounts of alcohol or use drugs that are presently illegal.

What is most interesting to me is that with both Mayor Ford and President Obama in the news, notwithstanding the fact that both of them have declined in terms of their approval ratings, the mayor of Toronto still holds a commanding eight point lead over Obama in terms of the voters’ approval.  It makes me want to learn to interject “eh” into my conversation and learn to pronounce “aboot” correctly.

There’s only one drawback to wanting to move to Canada.  They already have implemented a health care agenda that reflects the ultimate goal to which Obamacare is moving us.  And that could explain why Canadians, when they need quality medical treatment, travel to the United States.  At least for now. 

THE CURE FOR CANCER

My father was one of the most generous people who ever lived on this planet.  He would help out anyone if it were within his power, whether or not he knew or liked the person.  I guess in today’s parlance, you would call him a chump.

I don’t know how many times he and I were out walking and a “bum” would ask him for a hand out.  Dad never refused one of these men the change he had on him – or if he had none, a small bill or two.

His generosity extended to everything he did – how he treated his employees and how he contributed to charities in which he believed.  Although he did not subscribe to the tenets of the Salvation Army, he always made a point of dropping a five or ten dollar bill in their red kettles during the Christmas Season.  As he pointed out, “During the Great Depression, they were the only organization that would give away free donuts to those who needed something to eat.  The only one.”

I offer this not as a paean to my father but to put in context something that he said many times.  It was the reason that he refused to give money to “charities” whose work consisted of trying to eradicate some particular disease.

When asked by a friend if dad contributed to The American Cancer Society, he replied with an emphatic, “Absolutely not.  If they actually found the cure for cancer, they would suppress it.  There are too many people who make a living from fund raising for them ever to let that cure be released to the world.”

Now that may sound cynical to you – but if you stop to think about it for a minute one thing should be very clear – particularly in light of all the conversation centered around Obamacare.  We know that the health care industry represents approximately one sixth of our economy.  That includes doctors, dentists, hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, pharmacists and, of course, prescription and non-prescription drugs.  And as large as it is now, it can only grow bigger under Obamacare as we add a new layer of bureaucrats to try to mis-manage it further

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time you realize that I normally reference “health care” under the more accurate name “disease maintenance”.  Put another way, our drug-therapy-centric system merely ameliorates the symptoms that our various maladies cause.  Ninety percent of our drugs treat symptoms (sometimes with devastating side effects) but do nothing to correct the underlying physical condition.  If you question the truth of that statement ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Since we have classified so many different forms of cancer, let me offer the easier example of diabetes to illustrate my point.

We know that in the U. S. we have an outbreak of diabetes which is nearing (and will soon reach) epidemic proportions.  To call this a plague is not to over-exaggerate.  We also know that the adult version of this disease, Type II, most often results from the dietary choices we make throughout our growing years and our adult lives.

This is a crippling and a chronic illness.  It has significant implications for those who allow it to go uncontrolled which may result in amputations, blindness and nearly always has severe impacts on cardio-vascular health (another chronic illness).  So how do we deal with treatment for those who have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes?

Is our emphasis on educating these patients on the foods which they should be eating and those which they are to avoid?  Yes.  That’s about ten per cent of our treatment.  But ninety percent of our treatment is establishing them on a regimen of blood monitoring and dispensing insulin to control their condition.

The medical industry doesn’t make a lot of money selling its patients on the idea of going to the grocery store and loading up on fruits and vegetables.  In fact, it makes none.  But it does make a lot of money selling blood glucose monitors and diabetic supplies.

The following is what the American Diabetes Association (ADA ) has to say about this disease:

The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 is $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity. The largest components of medical expenditures are hospital inpatient care (43% of the total medical cost), prescription medications to treat the complications of diabetes (18%), anti-diabetic agents and diabetes supplies (12%), physician office visits (9%), and nursing/residential facility stays (8%). People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 is attributed to diabetes. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. For the cost categories analyzed, care for people with diagnosed diabetes accounts for more than 1 in 5 health care dollars in the U.S., and more than half of that expenditure is directly attributable to diabetes.

If the ADA’s analysis is correct, last year we spent over $52 Billion as a nation on prescription medicines to “treat the complications of diabetes” and on anti-diabetic agents and diabetes supplies.  That, by virtually anyone’s standards, is a lot of money – spread over a lot of companies that manufacture and distribute these products and which support a lot of people who are their employees.

Where is the incentive for our medical professionals to cure this disease when those who treat patients with diabetes collectively earned $20 Billion last year in office visits from those who suffer from this malady?  Or for our hospitals to do all within their power to eradicate this disease which earned them revenues of over $75 Billion?

This isn’t a matter of rejecting the common logic and practice of medicine as we find it in this country.  This is merely a matter of applying common sense to a nonsensical way in which we treat disease and asking, “Why would ‘health care professionals’ pursue a path that does not cure but merely ameliorates the symptomology of a disease?”  If you can find an answer to that question that is something other than “money” or sheer ignorance, please share it with me.

In all fairness to our doctors and others in our medical establishment who are devoted to providing quality patient care and who make that their first priority, I believe it is only honest to say that even if they were to get on my bandwagon and to  insist that their diabetic patients observed a life style and eating regimen that might resolve this medical condition, it is likely that only a small percentage would do so.

We have developed a mind set of entitlement and immediate gratification.  We pop a pill to lose weight or so that we can achieve an erection and we smear our faces with creams that we hope will take years off our appearance.  And the drug and cosmetics industries, recognizing our weakness, feed our human frailty with “newer and bigger and faster and more effective” products to satisfy our laziness and vainglory.

Perhaps, even if for all the wrong reasons, the country is beginning to wake up to the perils that Obamacare presents.  Perhaps there is a stirring among at least a few of us that we do not have trust in the government to make wise decisions about our health care and that ultimately the responsibility for staying in good health falls neither to the bureaucrats nor to our doctors but is ours and ours alone – because we are the only “me” that is now, has been or ever will be on this planet.

Perhaps, something good will come out of our objection to Obamacare.  Hopefully, it will be an awakening that the individual has responsibility for his own life and his own actions and will not allow an impersonal government to make decisions which rightly belong to each of us and to each of us alone.

If that were to occur to enough people it might start a revolution of thought and action which would make the Founding Fathers  proud of the great experiment that they set in motion nearly two hundred fifty years ago.

CONSEQUENCES

I’ve suggested for some time that we live in a society in which the pursuit of irrational self-interest has become the predominant religion.  By irrational self-interest I mean that we view the immediate gratification we receive from an activity as being of far more importance than the ultimate consequences of that behavior.

A simple example would be the person who goes out partying on Saturday night.  She has a good time getting looped, only to blow a 2.0 on the breathalyzer after she wraps her car around a lamp pole on the way home, killing someone waiting at a bus stop and then undergoes a series of plastic surgeries to return her face to something close to what it looked like before the accident.

I believe that if you were to interview anyone who found herself in this situation and asked,  “If you knew how going out and getting drunk would forever change the rest of your life would you still do it?,” she would emphatically respond, “No.”  Of course, by then it’s far too late to alter what has happened.

Society’s response to bad behavior is generally re-active rather than pro-active.  That is because society is made up of people who think in irrationally self-interested ways; elect legislators who think similarly to their constituents and who promulgate laws based on their after the fact mentality rather than trying to construct programs which might minimize the number of incidents for which we then specify a punishment.

I remember that in grammar school, in addition to the academic awards of “Honor Roll” and “High Honor Roll” which were presented to those of us who attained certain levels of proficiency in our studies there was another award that was given called a “Citizenship Award”.  In some ways, I prized this award the most highly.

I knew from my report cards whether I would make the High Honor Roll.  But the Citizenship Award was not measured by test scores and final exams.  It was awarded or withheld based on my conduct throughout the year and was conferred after my teachers and the principal discussed the behavior I had exhibited.

I’m sure there were a lot of factors that went into their determination about which of us students would receive this award.  Perhaps being on time for class was one of the factors and conducting ourselves appropriately during “fire drills” was another.  But these and the other factors that our educators considered all stemmed from one fundamental principle – whether or not we were respectful of ourselves and knew how to extend that respect to our fellow students and those who had devoted themselves to educating us.

Of course, I had a leg up because the same values that I was taught in school were ones that were practiced by my parents at home.  It was natural for me to be courteous and hold the door open for someone or to give up my seat if an elderly person boarded a crowded bus.  I saw my parents do that all the time and I learned from them.

Thirty or forty years ago such behavior was the norm rather than the exception.  I seldom find children with that same outlook today – but then I seldom find it in their parents either, a fact which no doubt contributes to their progenies’ attitudes and behavior.

I would have been shocked to read the story I reviewed this morning if we went back to the time that I was much younger.  This would have been so horrible that I would have wondered whether the media got it right.  How could anyone possibly be so insensitive?  But today, the story that follows is so typical of ones that we read each day that we have become de-sensitized to them.

OHIO MAN SENTENCED TO JAIL AFTER TEASING DISABLED GIRL

“An Ohio man faces one month of jail time for teasing and taunting a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy after a video of the incident went viral.”

The story goes on to relate how William Bailey who lives next door to the little girl’s family, “was dragging his leg and patting his arm across his chest [while he was waiting for the school bus] to pick his son Joseph up.”  I asked him to please stop doing this. ‘My daughter can see you.’ He then told his son to walk like the R-word.”

Mr. Bailey is 43 years old.  His son, Joseph is 9.  Last summer this child stopped by to play with the little girl and her siblings in their home.  He brought a pocket knife with him and threatened to “cut up” the disabled child and then began calling her names.  By the way, the little girl who was taunted is named, Hope.

I have always enjoyed reading about the early civilizations which mankind forged together.  I was fascinated by Greek mythology as a child.  Referring back to that, when Pandora’s box was closed and the one remaining virtue left inside was “Hope”, I am afraid that it might have been hermetically sealed.

I CAREd

When I was ten I received a surprise birthday present from my aunt and uncle.  It was a brand new crisp twenty dollar bill.  I had seen one before, but had never actually held one in my hand.  And I had certainly never been the proud possessor of such a thing.  I was awestruck when I opened their Birthday Card and saw the bill inside.

Of course, this was many years ago.  Twenty dollars would buy two hundred comic books, instead of being a minor deposit on a pair of gym shoes or designer jeans.  I offer you that information just to put the gift into perspective.

Well we had a festive little Birthday Party, Grandma providing the catering, the finale being my favorite birthday (or any other occasion) cake, a three layer sponge cake with fresh whipped cream and strawberries spread between the layers and topped with more whipped cream and glazed whole strawberries on the top, leaving just enough room for the insertion of the ten birthday candles.

After the company left, my Mom, who had whisked away her sister’s twenty dollar bill for safe keeping asked what I was going to do with all that money.  I had seen some ads on television from a group called CARE.  They helped out a lot of poor children in Africa and other underdeveloped countries.  So I asked Mom and Dad if it would be alright if we could send them ten dollars and if I kept the rest.

My mother hugged me and said that would be a very nice thing to do and she promised to get their address so that they could send in a check for my donation.  But as it turned out, after she sent in my ten dollars, she and Dad received a thank you from CARE and some information from them about the work they did, and they became regular monthly donors to CARE for the rest of their lives.

Apparently, even ten year olds can make a little bit of a difference in the world.

Since I made my little donation to CARE, many other organizations have been founded to help feed those who do not have enough food to survive.  Although I have forgotten the particular group that placed the ad, I remember one that said a ten dollar donation would enable them to buy enough food from a food bank to feed a family of four for a week.

Imagine that.  For the price of a couple of “Happy Meals” we could feed an entire family for seven days.  It’s something that we should all think about the next time we pull up to the drive in window.

But as much of a difference as each of us could make to the impoverished who share our planet, this is minor compared to one other benefit we could offer the world.

I’m not sure when we will see the final accounting of the amount of money that will be spent this year on the Presidential campaigns of the two candidates.  Not to mention the amount that will be spent on senatorial and congressional races and local offices.  But my guess is that $500 Million is probably a low estimate.  And that’s just for television advertising let alone all the mailers and flyers which besiege us at every one of these events.

What if, you’ll forgive my clinging to my childhood starry-eyed optimism, what if, instead of contributing to political candidates, those donors turned their attention instead to the charities whose mission is to feed our poor?  Can you imagine the impact that $500 Million would have in reducing the suffering, malnourishment and need of people both in America and around the world?

Instead of seeing an endless procession of ads bashing the other candidate and explaining why he or she is a thief, a crook and a liar – all of which I find extremely depressing, we might see an ad of a little girl in Somalia or Appalachia who said, “Thank you for helping my family by giving us our food.”  That would be an ad that I would actually enjoy watching and feel good about seeing.

As with all things it comes down to priorities.  But if a child of ten could see the misery of other children who were less fortunate, shouldn’t we adults have the ability to share that insight?  Shouldn’t we all CARE?

PHYSICIAN HEALTH THYSELF

Things were getting a little tight around here a few months ago – in terms of clothing.  I rely on that measure far more than a scale in determining whether I’m on the straight and narrow or have gone off to gorge at the gorge.  Apparently, I’d been grazing but far from the beaten path.

I happened to read an article which addressed the question of our being a fat nation – and worse, that this trend is both continuing and accelerating.  The study was prepared and released by the CDC (Center for Disease Controls and Prevention).  Here are the findings they reported:

Currently, 35.7% of adult Americans are obese as are 16.9% of American children between the ages of 2 – 19.  This report projects that by 2030 that number will have risen to 44% of adults and in some states the number of their citizens who will be obese will exceed 60%.  Some, by the way, is 13 states.

The report also projects that there will be 6.8 million new cases of chronic heart conditions, compared with the 1.3 million new cases annually now and that the number of people who will develop Type 2 diabetes will reach 7.9 million new cases a year versus the 1.9 million new cases that currently occur.

The CDC defines obesity by a formula known as the BMI (Body Mass Index).  I decided to put aside my aversion to my annoying digital scale (which gives readings to a presumed exactness of 0.2 pounds) and step on the darn thing so that I could compute my own BMI.  I got the reading (higher than I wanted) and did my little computation.

For those who have an interest, the simple formula is (Weight/Height in inches Squared) x 703.  (Please don’t ask me how they came up with 703 as a factor as I don’t know).  So for a person who weighs 130 and is 5 feet tall the computation would be (130/60 x 60) x 703 or (130/3600) x 703 = 25.39.  Overweight is defined as a BMI between 25.0 – 29.9; obesity is defined as a reading of 30.0 or above.

Well, there was good news and bad news.  I was far from the obese category – but enough inside the overweight category that I knew I had to take action.  I computed the weight I would need to achieve to get a BMI reading of 24.9 and found that I would have to lose 12.8 pounds – or I could simply ignore the situation and go out and buy clothes in larger sizes.  I decided that the first option was the saner of the two.

In six weeks I was able to lose 8.6 pounds without deprivation or starvation.  Here’s what I did:

1.  I eliminated all alcoholic beverages from my diet.  I admit that a vodka on the rocks with a couple of anchovy olives (or two) in the evening is relaxing.  But those are empty calories and do nothing but add to weight (and liver) problems.  After a few days, I found that I didn’t miss them.

2.  I enjoy (and make) a good cup of coffee in the morning.  I love it with a couple of teaspoons of (raw) sugar and some Half & Half.  But I found that I could learn to love it just as much with only one teaspoon of raw sugar and with milk.

3.  In addition to the large quantities of purified water I already drink, I added some brewed iced green tea to my diet.  I found it to be both thirst quenching and tasty.  In addition to the antioxidant qualities inherent in green tea, I have read that it can be effective in weight loss.

4.  I began eating a Chia seed pudding for breakfast each morning – together with some fruit – typically either cantaloupe or honeydew melons which have been in season and have been excellent.  Chia seed has been called the “miracle of the Incas” as a key to longevity.  The pudding takes about five minutes to make and is absolutely delicious and satisfying.  (If you would like the recipe, please email me and I will be happy to send it to you).  Chia seed is available packaged at Whole Foods and at many other stores which specialize in organic foods in their bulk foods section.   And please don’t ask me if Chia seed is what is used in “Chia Pets” because I don’t know.

5.  I began eating my main meal mid-day rather than in the evening.  I have often found myself involved in a project at night (blogging as an example) and would eat dinner later than I should and then retire shortly after.  By juxtaposing my main meal to mid-day and eating a yogurt and some fruit at night, I found that my lunch satisfied my appetite and even if I ate my supper late, I didn’t experience any great food cravings.

That was it.  I think you would agree that this was hardly a radical change in lifestyle and one that anyone with even a little bit of will power could accomplish without experiencing life-changing traumas or depression.  Of course, I have to admit I had a little bit of encouragement along the way.

One day, about two weeks into my newly launched program, I went to a store which had cantaloupes and honeydew melons on sale.  These four fruits were my sole purchase and as I waited in line to check out I couldn’t help noticing the lady who was just ahead of me.  I didn’t need to do a BMI computation to know that she was morbidly obese.

She was probably in her early 30’s, had a pretty but very bloated face, her arms had so much loose flabby skin that it was uncomfortable for me to look at without feeling some revulsion, so I turned my attention to her fully loaded two grocery carts that she was pushing.  Both carts contained 12-pack after 12-pack of various sodas – and candy.  That was it.  To the tune of $148 worth of this junk food.  No veggies, no meats, no produce of any kind.  But the finale to the story is that she used her Nevada EBT (food assistance) card to pay for all this stuff.

We know that our healthcare system is broken.  Neither Obamacare nor any other concoction is going to fix it until we address the real issue which is educating and preventing disease through intelligent dietary choices rather than trying to cure disease after it has occurred.  Actually, 90% of the prescription medications which are dispensed do not attack the fundamental cause of a disease but merely minimize the symptomatic effects of it – and the cost of prescription medications is one of the major reasons that our medical system is bankrupt.

If we can’t pay for the system we have implemented now, how in the name of all that is holy will we be able to pay for it over the next 18 years when the explosion in serious chronic medical conditions which the CDC predicts occurs?

I know I have spoken on this subject before because to me this is one of the most fundamental problems that America is facing (or more correctly, not facing).  I have taken some simple steps so that I could demonstrate that I could practice what I preach and while I’m not quite there yet, I know that continuing my program will get me there.

I don’t want to be a burden either to myself or to my fellow citizens by following a path that is going to tax the medical system further than it already is.  And that is especially the case when it is possible for us to make a tremendous difference in our personal well-being by taking a few easy steps to remedy the situation.

If taking your health in your own hands seems un-appealing to you then I would suggest you consider the alternative.  If we already have a shortage of doctors to treat those with chronic conditions, how many more will we have to educate to treat all the new patients that will require attention?  And faced with the burgeoning deficits for medical care, how long do you think it will take for government to start making determinations about who should and who should not receive treatment?  If you think that is hyperbole or fear-mongering, speak with someone who has had a life-threatening illness or required an organ transplant either in the UK or in Canada.

As always, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Clearly it is up to each of us to determine the most effective path we should follow to a lifetime of  good health – as government either doesn’t understand or is unwilling to face the truth that “the current system is broken – and it can’t be fixed.”

I raise my glass of iced green tea to you with the toast, “To our good health.”

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