Archive for October, 2017

It’s not difficult to agree and disagree with someone at the same time…well, much of the time it’s not difficult. General John Kelly’s recent remarks about the Civil War occurring because of “the lack of ability to compromise,” is, most assuredly, a naïve and simplistic explanation. I suppose it could be called ignorance, since Kelly was not born and raised in the South and would have read but not experienced the differences in the northern and southern cultures. That aside, however, I certainly agree with Kelly that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. Although Lincoln asked Lee to take command of the United States Army, Lee’s loyalty lay with his state. In this regard, I believe that to many men of that time, particularly military men and particularly men who had graduated from West Point, such as Lee, were more inclined to support the area from which they came as opposed to a nation that was still in its infancy.

Historians have immediately come out to castigate Kelly. I would ask the question of these supposed experts, “Were you there? Are you so certain of all of your facts that you can take this man to task?” Sure, we are convinced that the single cause of the war was slavery, that African Americans were considered, at worst, inhuman and at best, three-fifths of a human being, but unless we were living at the time, it’s darned difficult to know the exact truth. Personally, I admire writers and historians like Ron Chernow, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, Carl Sandburg, Bruce Catton, and the many others who have written of the Civil War. Like anything else, however, it’s tough to write it if you can’t taste it or smell it or weren’t a part of it. A friend of mine was an infantry officer in Korea. He said that the two things people who have never experienced war would be lost to understand are the cacophony and the smell. “In battle, your ears are battered, and the smell is horrific,” he said. I have no frame of reference for that, therefore, I would be a fool if I was attempting to write about it as fact.

Bear with me here for a minute. Picture yourself on a sunny Sunday morning, July 21, 1861. You’re 12, maybe 13 years old. You’ve been to church with mother, father, your sister and baby brother. You’ve been rolling a hoop around the backyard as part of your play whey you spy mother and father loading a picnic basket into the wagon. “Where are you going?” you ask. “We thought we’d take you all down to Manassas to watch a bit of the war,” replies your father. Now, split yourself in two. Half of you is the 1861 person and half of you is the 1943 person standing by your farm somewhere near Prokhorovka, where the largest tank battle in the history of warfare is about to be launched. The 1861 you is probably going to respond, “How wonderful of you to think of taking us off to see the war,” while the 1943 part of you may well be thinking, if not saying, “Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” See the different mind sets that can occur in less than a hundred years? Fascinatin,’ ain’t it?

Sure, we all know that slavery was ‘the’ cause of the Civil War, but what about the fact that the Southern economy was in trouble. Other countries were climbing on the cotton bandwagon, and the South could no longer lay claim to “King Cotton” as their key to wealth and prosperity. The South was a one-crop economy while the North was growing its industrial economy and had s large financial sector looking for expansion. In addition, ten years prior to the conflict, California, Minnesota, Oregon and Kansas all became states. Should they be slave states or not? Kansas initially was and was denied statehood, while the others, “free states,” were granted statehood immediately. This further tested the relationships between slave-holding states in the South and the abolitionist ‘yankee’s in the North. There is little difference in the breakdown of civil discourse between then and now. Those favoring slavery, for example, killed an abolitionist printer in a mob action in 1837. Anti-slavery groups would attack pro-slave people and groups and do the same damned thing. Can you say, “White supremacists versus leftist liberals?” or “Rights versus my rights only?” However, I must say that I don’t believe we are on our way to another Civil War…yet.

In researching, I came across a paragraph in Intellectual Take-Out that I found revealing: “Even before the Constitution was written, Samuel Johnson ironically asked, “How is it that the loudest yelps for liberty come from the drivers of Negroes?” By the 1850s the hypocrisy could no longer be ignored because of the sheer scope of slavery. The Census of 1860 shows there were some 4 million slaves in the South—compared to 78,000 in 1727 and 697,000 in 1790.” By these statements, if our Constitution reads that we are a nation conceived in liberty, how could slavery ever be allowed in the first place. When you come right down to it, the North and the South were really two different nations from the outset. The North was an industrial economy with a strong financial backing and an urge to expand. The South was an agrarian economy with little financial worth that was dependent on slave labor to make money. You might call “culture clash” a major cause of the Civil War. Hell, you can call it anything you wish. Suffice it to say, that two percent of the American population of that time were killed, more by disease than by bullets or artillery. The figure most often cited is 620,000, but some authorities say it might be as high as 700,000. It really doesn’t matter today as we look at civil unrest in this divided country of ours. I truly believe that we are a nation of so much good, that evil stands little chance of creating the type of violence we saw just over 160 years ago…Good God, I hope so!

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Who says we’re civilized

“We live in an age of enlightenment. Why do we allow these dangerous sports to continue?” That statement may well have been made by some Mesopotamian around 2100 BC. Our highly sophisticated Greeks, who brought so much to Western civilization, including democracy, fashion, dramatic structure, and Olympic sports, also gave us pankration, a totally uncivilized sport they introduced in the Olympia in 648 BC. Translated, the word, pankration, means “all force,” and it was with all force that two combatants went at each other. Why? It was ‘sport,’ an Olympic sport at that.

“We live in an enlightened age. Why do we allow boxing?” Over the last 126 years, more than 1,000 people have died in boxing matches. It should be banned. Why? Competitors elect to pursue this as a career. Granted, many of them may not be fully aware of the dangers of the sport, yet many of them are. If this is the choice they have made for their lives, are we, as a civilized society, allowed to say, “Stop, you may kill yourself?” To me, two principles apply here…the first is freedom of choice. You, the athlete, are free to choose the career you wish to pursue. Second, as civilized as we are, our society thoroughly enjoys the sight of blood and the violence which is brought about when competitors enter the ring.

Do hockey fans attend games to watch graceful skaters on ice? Bullshit, they go because they want to see who can hit the hardest. The idea of scoring goals or “winning” is secondary in professional hockey. It’s more of who can “take out” whom without getting sent to the penalty box, and even if that player is penalized, what the hell, he’ll be back in two, five, or ten minutes. Civilized society? That, too, is a bunch of crap. If being civilized means being blood thirsty and paying money to watch men, and in some cases, women, beat each other up, perhaps there’s something wrong with civilization…or not. Perhaps that is a part of what civilization is all about.

Do you remember the days when professional hockey players refused to wear helmets? It wasn’t until the 1979-1980 season that helmets were made mandatory for anyone entering the NHL. In 1959, hockey goalies played unmasked until Jacques Plante was hit in the face in a game. Teams didn’t carry back-up goalies at the time, and the game had to be stopped while Plante’s face was stitched up. He refused to go back on the ice until he was allowed to wear the mask he wore in practice. Montreal’s coach, Toe Blake, finally relented and Plante could play with a mask from that day forward.

Today, we face another injury crisis in another sport, football. It’s called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Actually, it’s an injury that can occur in any sport where the head gets knocked around for whatever reason. If you think about it, that’s damn near any competitive sport. From experience, I can tell you that even swimmers and divers can get their bells rung on certain occasions. Back to football, however, and the NFL. Junior Seau’s suicide and that of several other professional athletes, Aaron Hernandez suicide in his cell, and the research that is being conducted, particularly by the CTE Research Center at Boston University, will, hopefully, result in the creation of “a safer environment for all contact sport athletes, military personnel and other individuals exposed to repetitive head impacts.”

Will this “safer environment” be created? Sure, but only to a certain point. Figure it out…if our heads can get knocked around in any situation, the brain is going to be moved. It just happens to be the way our brain is situated in our bodies. Car crashes, falls, accidents of many kinds, and athletic contests where contact takes place are all situations where our “bells can get rung,” “our stars can be seen,” and our vulnerabilities exposed. So what am I saying? Seems to me that the human body was not originally designed to take the abuse we have so wonderfully created to screw it up. What does that say about humankind and its civilization and its age of enlightenment? We think of being civilized and enlightened as being intelligent, cultured, and moving forward with advances in science, technology, and philosophy. We look on those who are not a part of our definition of civilized as being backward and, in our words, “uncivilized, backward, and unenlightened.”

When you come right down to it, mankind has never been civilized, never lived in an age on enlightened behavior, and has not advanced far from the time our hands were dragging on the ground. It’s either that or we must redefine “civilized.” Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love football and all other athletic endeavors. My sport was basketball and sure, I received a few hits. My kids played baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and were terrific swimmers. Maybe competitive athletics should be left out of any discussion of civilization because we have certainly made tremendous advancement in so many other areas. It’s my sense that as long as people enjoy competitive athletics to the extent of their ability, we are going to have things like CTE and other traumatic brain injuries. It’s a choice, just as it is for people in other professional sports. The key is how we prevent these injuries from occurring at too early an age, and I just don’t see that as being possible. Therefore, it is incumbent on us, as parents, on us, as doctors, on us, as coaches, on us, as researchers, to do everything in our power to ensure that our kids, their kids, and those kids get the very best equipment and treatment possible. I have sufficient confidence in mankind that someday, CTE and its associated injuries will be conquered, whether by invasive or non-invasive procedures. I also have confidence that competitive athletics will survive as long as mankind exists.

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You never know that you’ve missed something until it suddenly reappears. Please, let me explain. For ten years, between 1969 and 1979, we owned a summer house in North Falmouth. For you who may be from outside of New England, that’s a section of a town on Cape Cod. Our house was about three blocks from the water. When I was on vacation, I would be up before anyone else, and I would walk down to the water, to the ocean, to that wonderful sound of water lapping against the shore, small waves breaking on the jetty’s, the stink of salt water that had been captured by the seaweed that had washed ashore during the night. I’d pick up beach glass, that white, brown, green, yellow, and red pieces of broken containers that had been pounded by the ocean bottom from who knows how far away, and that had eventually deposited on the shore. I might see a cargo ship on the horizon or a bit closer, but I’d feel the sand between my toes and the water caress my feet, and it was wonderful. It was rejuvenating. It brought the world together for me and it was a place of peace…early in the morning. From where we were, we didn’t get to see the sunrise, but our sunsets were magnificent. There were times when I would drive over to the other side of town and stand on a bluff, and there I could watch the sun rise out of the water, out far beyond Martha’s Vineyard which could be seen, and out beyond Nantucket which was out of our sight from the mainland. Imagine being able to get up in the morning and watch the sun rise out of the ocean and then, as evening fell, watch it drop back into that same ocean, just from a different side of town. That casts a spell, and when you no longer get to see that ocean, walk that beach, smell the salt air, pick up the beach glass, you don’t really know that you’re missing it because other things consume your time. You take on more responsibilities in your job. Perhaps you don’t take all the vacation you’ve earned because, “It’s just too busy.” The kids grow up and have other things to do. They go to the beach with their friends or, as ours did, they became involved with activities that didn’t allow them ‘beach time.’

Time goes on. You may realize that there’s something in your life that you’re missing, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. “The beach? Oh, yeah, well, haven’t been for a while. The back’s been acting up, and the wife’s knees are bothering her, and we don’t walk in the sand all that well, and…well, you know, maybe next year.” And so it goes. Then, one day, you don’t have to work anymore. You’re a “retiree,” and you have all that free time, but the beach seems farther away now. You don’t have a house to go to, and the cost of a motel on the Cape in the summer, well, wow, we’ve got to watch our dollars now because we’re retired, and we have more medical costs for prescriptions, and the real estate taxes are killing us, and we had to hire a guy to cut the lawn, and, and, and, and and go the excuses. You just don’t get to the ocean. Oh, sure, you might take a run over to Castle Island in Boston, but that, too, requires finding a parking place and walking around, and well, you know…we’re back to the aching legs and backs and so forth.

Then that day comes when everything changes. In my case, it was Joan’s cancer and for a long time that was what occupied every minute of every hour of every day. There was no talk of anything else. How can we make her declining life better? What can we do to help her? And then, she’s gone. No matter how prepared you are, you aren’t. That hole in your heart doesn’t go away. After a while, you may learn to accept that it’s there and always will be, but it doesn’t go away.

In my own case, along came Juli. I’m one of the few very lucky people on this earth who has been able to find great happiness with two women in my life. The two are almost exact opposites, yet they meld. They are two strong forces, yet they are gentle. Today, a magnificent fall day in New England, one of the first because this month has been so warm, we went shopping. “Anywhere else you want to go?” I ask as I’m pulling out of the Dollar Tree parking lot. “Yeah,” Juli says, “Let’s go look at the foliage up by St. Timothy’s, on that pond.” That’s what we did. I was shocked when I pulled into a space overlooking Willett Pond. The sun was glinting off the small ripples of the pond. The trees all around were sharing their beautiful fall colors. The wind was blowing just right, and I was transported back to the peace that I used to know when I would walk on the beach in the early morning. “What’s wrong,” she asked. “Nothing,” was about all I could say for a few minutes. Somehow, in some way, I wasn’t really sitting in the car. I was walking along the water’s edge. Strange? Weird? Oh, yeah, it was all that and more. I didn’t realize that a part of my life that had been missing was showing up once more as I sat in the car, watching the water, almost searching for that big ship. It wouldn’t be there of course. I could almost smell the salt air. I could almost hear the seagulls over the ocean. I could almost envision myself picking up the beach glass once more. If I never get to the ocean again, I will have today’s remembrance forever. I think I might just have found some peace.

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I’m just really pissed

Perhaps I just don’t understand America anymore. It appears that it’s okay to kill 26 or 58 people and not talk about taking a hard look at our gun laws. We don’t wish to discuss those laws because there are a bunch of people who belong to this thing, a lobbying group, is probably the best way to put it, and they say that we shouldn’t discuss making it more difficult for crazy-ass people to get guns. Now, I know that there are a great many hunters in America. If you’ve ever read the book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, you would understand why many Americans want to and really should own guns. Those aren’t the crazy-ass people I’m talking about. Those people, the good guys, they want to go out and kill deer and rabbit and other food – real food – for their tables…so their families can eat…so they won’t starve. Can you understand that? However, this lobbying group, the people who belong to the National Rifle Association (NRA), well, the administrators of that group, they just don’t seem to give a shit if crazy-ass people get guns and go kill other people. Hey, their families haven’t been shot to shit by a crazy so why should they care, right? If it’s other folk’s families who are getting killed, why should they give a damn? The same is true for Congress. Hell, it’s only been Gaby Gifford and Steve Scalise and they survived. I mean, the largesse that the NRA bestows on Congress is of far greater importance. Go ahead, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, call me out on that one, you cowardly bastards. We’re talking human lives here. Whether it’s Columbine or Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or Las Vegas, or anyone of dozens of other shooting situations where people have been killed, you and your cowed colleagues always come out with, “It’s too soon to discuss further legislation.” That fucking sentence makes me sick, and how you can even mouth the words without puking is beyond me. You have allowed the NRA to become so powerful in this country that it runs you. I swear that if the NRA rounded up every Congressman in Washington, brought them to the Capitol steps and told them to drop trou, there wouldn’t be a one who didn’t have his pants around his ankles. I really have fucking had it with you people. That Second Amendment bullshit is so old and so tired that you should all be ashamed to even utter it. That, “They’re trying to take away your guns” nonsense is just that and you know it. Who the hell needs an AK-47 to go deer hunting? It’s time, as Ross Perot said years ago, to “Wake Up, America,” but in this case, it’s time to wake up to this NRA group that has Congress by the balls on a downhill pull. It is time to clamp down on the NRA, on gun shows where any crazy-ass can purchase any weapon other than perhaps a tank, on gangs in the street who are getting their guns too easily, and…on the members of the United States Congress who walk around with blinders on when it comes to gun control.

I would love to lay this country’s problems at the doorstep of the NRA, the Congress, and the present administration, but I can’t do that. We, the people, are just as much to blame. We have turned a blind eye for generations to the problems of our country. We allowed big tobacco to continue to kill people, and until Surgeon General, Everett Koop, began to speak, we went merrily along, watching our family members get lung cancer and saying, “Oh, well.” According to the US Department of Health, “If smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger alive today.” Sure, teenage smoking is down, but that’s still a whole lot of lives going to waste because we refused to get so pissed that we just allowed to keep on keeping on. We allowed the foods we put on our tables to be genetically modified, and we said, “Wow, that really tastes better.” And now what do we have? We have an obesity problem that puts America at the very top of the obesity chart and pulling away from other nations as we waddle out fat asses down the street. Even Jenny Craig and company can’t do much about us now. We said that we needed stronger pain medications because our poor little bodies were hurting so much, and the pharmaceutical companies said, “Okay, baby, we got just what you need. Oh, and don’t worry, you won’t have to take it for long…suckers.” So where do we stand today? The guy in the Oval Office comes out and states that we have a national public health crisis in opioid addiction. If you noticed, he stopped short of saying it was a national crisis. He had to qualify it. In that way, Congress wouldn’t have to appropriate funds to support the fight against our opioid crisis. Oh, what the hell, we have $56,000 to fight it. Great, last year, it cost us $57 billion in our fight against opioid addiction.

We’re better than this, America. We’re better than keeping our mouths shut and letting the food industry, the tobacco industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the NRA, and so many other “big guys” buy us off with stuff that, in the long run, is going to kill us. It may appear bright, shiny, and good right now, but somehow, someone knows that what’s good for big business isn’t always good for you, me, and the rest of the people on the street. It’s not up to me anymore. I can’t go around, stamping my feet, and screaming. I’m too old for that. This is a job for the millennials. Take a stand. Take a long, hard look at where America is today. Do you want to live this way? Can you live this way? Will you be allowed to live this way?

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What to do, what to do, what to do…that seems to be the question on the mind of this old man. Heck, I get up at three-thirty, quarter to four, pull on the compression socks…which I must tell you is a real pain in the ass to do in the complete darkness of the bedroom. The height from bed to floor makes it perfect for getting the damned things on, but they are so tight, I swear I’m going to tear a muscle or two one of these days. It’s almost a relief to slip into the cross trainers after finally getting those suckers up to my knees…I tried the thigh-highs once or twice, but, er, how do I put this…they went a bit higher than the thighs and caused the boys some discomfort.

Anyway, once into the footwear, on goes the sweatshirt and it’s off to the (a) bathroom and (b) computer. After all, one never can tell, it’s possible that one of my many insulting essays has found its way to Donny’s desk and he wants to give me a “tweet-out.” Then again, he’s probably not even up yet, so I still have time to diss him on whatever he may have said last night. Finding nothing from Goldilocks – I’m crushed that he doesn’t respond, can’t you tell – it’s check the e-mail, do the Greater Good thingie, and read the morning e-papers, which now include the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as well as the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe. No, of course I don’t read every article. Hell, I’d never get to the gym if I did that, and the gym is the principal reason for rousting my ass out of bed at such an ungodly hour.

To say that I must ‘skulk’ into the kitchen this early in the morning might sound just a bit weird, but we have a Cairn Terrier, twenty-seven pounds of “I can get whatever I chase, and I’m always alert.” Alert, in this case, means, “I’ll bark my ass off if I’m disturbed from my sleep,” which also means that Juli will wake up, get pissed, get up and take the dog out…so I skulk. My breakfast of a Rocky Road protein bar – yes, it’s just about as good as the ice cream – and my V8 Fusion Black Cherry…hum, yum, it’s quietly turn off the light in the kitchen – we had these noiseless switches put in when we did some other work. I think Juli just wanted to keep the dog quiet. You may not hear the switch but seeing the light must be something altogether different…don’t ask, don’t tell.

If you were to waterboard me, I could not tell you the reason I get to the gym between 4:30 and 4:40. It makes absolutely no sense. By law, they are not allowed to open their doors until five. So, I sit, and I watch, and I wonder. I’ve told you this before, but I wonder about the people in those cars going by on Route 1, and I wonder about those trailer trucks…are they coming or going? Are they just beginning their day, or are they ending their night? I wonder about all those cars pulling into the supermarket lot and the people who are going into the store, even though it doesn’t open for a couple of hours. What are they doing? Who are they? Or maybe I’ll just pull out the Kindle and begin reading whatever the hell it is I’m reading right now…actually, I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th President.

Once the gym doors open, it’s about an hour and a half of pounding away on a recumbent bike, crunching my abs 250 times, stretching muscles that strenuously object to being stretched, and climbing back into the car, sweat-soaked and wondering why the hell I do this each day…I really do know why, first, because it’s fun and second, because there’s a hell of a lot of social interaction at the gym. I get to chat with a faculty member at a private school, nurses from Boston hospitals, teachers from all levels of public education, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, stockbrokers, high-tech people, and all of this while I’m busting my ass…and yes, I do bust my ass.

By now, it’s after seven o’clock in the morning. That leaves an entire day…what to do, what to do, what to do? Juli’s up; the dog is fed and has been out; the TV is tuned to CBS This Morning with Charlie, Gail, and Nora…but it’s just after seven. Shower doesn’t take long…new pair of those #$%&* compression socks – which are a bitch to put on after showering, and, and, and…now what. Hey, wait a minute, what happened to the day? The day’s gone. What’d I do? What’d I do? What’d I do? Where’d it go, where’d it go, where’d it go? Hmm, maybe I’ll figure out tomorrow just what happened to today, but, by then, I’ll probably be wondering what to…ah, to hell with it, I’m alive and livin’ the dream.

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Know what the OECD is? I didn’t until I went online to do some research about obesity in this country and others. Anyway, the acronym is simple. It’s the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was founded in Europe shortly after World War II in an attempt to avoid the mistakes made after WWI that led Europe and the rest of the world on a collision course that began with the eruption of the second world war. Its primary purpose is to “help governments foster prosperity and fight poverty through economic growth and financial stability.” If you’re thinking Marshall Plan, you’re on the right track. In the early days, the job of the OECD’s predecessor was to administer the Plan.

How do I go from the above to talking about obesity? Well, it’s quite simple. The OECD is concerned about obesity in its member countries, largely because more than one in two adults and nearly one in six children are overweight or obese in the countries involved. American ranks as one of the most obese countries in the world. Yep, that’s right, we’re a bunch of fat asses. We’ve already taken the number one position away from Mexico and it appears that by the year 2030, nearly fifty percent of America will be overweight or obese.

What is the major cause of obesity here and elsewhere? Well, perhaps the most important cause is willpower. We eat too much. Let’s face it, there is one hell of lot of good tasting stuff out there and if we can get it, we’re going to eat it. It’s very simple. If we eat more than we burn up, we’re going to gain weight, so how we behave is a major factor. Look, I’m not writing this piece to brag about losing my 60+ pounds over the course of one year…okay, I am…but just a little bit. I did it by not having food after four o’clock in the afternoon. Was I hungry? Sure, for a while, but I got used to it…and trust me, I have as little willpower as anyone. After all, it took me 51 years of smoking before I finally gave that up. So, I guess I can say, “Don’t give me that bull crap about you not having any willpower,” you probably have a lot more than me. Let’s be practical here, how many hours a day are you sitting down with your cell phone, sitting in a car, sitting in the office, sitting at home watching television, sitting this, sitting that. If we don’t move and metabolize what we eat, we’re on our way to extra-large, two x, and so on.

Willpower, however, is only part of the answer to obesity, perhaps the most simplistic part. Biological factors also figure in here. Doctors say that genetics, hormones, and neural circuits complicate human behavior, just as they complicate sleep behavior and sexual behavior. Today, we have what I’d like to call a ‘new’ food group. It’s called hyperpalatable foods. These are foods that have been deliberately engineered to taste better but are not as good for you. Take white bread as an example…it’s really like eating sugar because the carbohydrate has been broken down to glucose when it hits the body. Less processed carbohydrates, like whole grain bread take longer to break down and have less of this glucose effect on you.

What are the most addictive foods that will help you make the scale cry? Well, I’ll use Calorie Secret as a source on this and talk briefly about the most addictive foods according to this one publication…the other sources are pretty close on which is bad for you. Donuts, pasta, pizza, cake, cookies, chips, chocolate, French fries, and candy top the list. Unfortunately, ice cream is considered to be the most addictive food. Okay, so now that I’ve taken away all of the fun, where do we go from here? The solution is simple. To me, it’s found in two words: Moderation and Exercise. We really cannot escape what the food industry has done to make our processed foods more palatable. Hell, even baloney tastes better today than I remember it tasting when I was a kid, and yes, I have a baloney sandwich every once in a while. Even the meats we buy have been genetically modified in many cases. Our trick is merely to be cautious in how much it is of everything we eat. Did you ever take a look at the dinner plate in front of you? Most of us would say something like, “Yeah, it’s the plate we have dinner on, so what?” How big is the plate? We used to use ten-inch plates for our meals, we now use eight-inch plates. They still look filled up with food, just not as much. I’ve just discovered cauliflower potatoes. They taste great, have no real cauliflower taste, and are just as filling. I’m quite certain that when I read the label carefully, I’ll have to swear off them for good…one of the reasons I’m not anxious to read the label.

“Hey, you’re scaring me,” you’re saying, but I have to respond that that is the last thing I want to do. I was obese, no two ways about it…261 pounds on a six-foot frame was too damned much. What I did isn’t going to work for you, guaranteed. If you want to lose weight, you have to find your own way. I found that exercise and switching over to a diet of mainly fruit, protein, and everything else in moderation worked for me. I also upped my exercise program a bit. I try to get to “my” gym every day, even if it’s for a brief workout. Don’t like that, try increasing the number of steps you walk in a day.

Okay, I went off on a tangent there, but let’s face it, obesity is a real problem in the US and in many other countries. It leads to all sorts of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and sleeping disorders. Take it from someone who has diabetes and heart disease, if you can prevent yourself from getting them, DO IT!

I could go one and on about obesity and the problems it has already caused in the world…it’s a social problem, medical problem, mental problem, and damn near any other kind of problem you want to list. The good news is that it’s preventable. I’m not talking about turning to tofu and salad greens. I’m talking about common sense and self-worth. Will I gain some of that weight back? You bet your bottom dollar I will, but will I go back to where I was…never, never, never. The world is a great place. We just have to watch out for the charlatans who want to have us eat our way to an early ending.

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We live in an age of technological wizardry. The computers in our cell phones are more powerful than those used to send Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon. We speak to men and women on the International Space Station in living color just as if they were no farther away than our neighbors across the street. These are magnificent advances, but unfortunately, there are some other problems that we are not solving quite so quickly. We have yet to figure out how to feed the poor worldwide; childhood obesity is a growing problem, as is the opioid crisis. We have foreign policy problems that must be solved to avoid a third World War. There is so much information for our children to absorb and we have yet found the proper way to instill it in them. We, the United States that is, suffer from so much violence on our streets, have more jails than any other nation, and yet, we really don’t appear to know how to handle what other nations are doing a much better job of doing. I’m going to examine a single problem in our society and propose a step to help – not cure – to help the situation.

For the most part, law enforcement officials agree that domestic violence represents the most common crime in their communities today. Perhaps as much as 80% of these cases are violence caused by men against women. If one speaks with probation officers, many will tell you that they feel the courts are treating the offenders fairly but harshly. “They all have to be released on bail, not personal recognizance,” one probation officer told me. If one addresses a similar question to police officers, however, the reaction is quite different. “They just turn ‘em loose to do it again,” is among the politer comments that I have heard.

There is a consensus in the law enforcement community that restraining orders are rarely worth the paper they are written on, and that, almost without exception, they are violated in some way, shape, or form. All too often, that form is in the return of violent behavior on the part of the offender, resulting in physical harm or even death to the complainant. As we are all aware, restraining orders are hardly a defense for a fist, knife, bat, or bullet.

Since we have home arrest bracelets for some offenders, here’s an entrepreneurial idea: Today, many states have a zero-tolerance policy, i.e., when officers respond to a domestic violence situation, an arrest must be made. Once the arrested party has been taken to the cruiser, the victim and a domestic violence counselor determines whether a restraining order will be taken out. It is incumbent on the domestic violence officer/counselor to determine whether the offender represents a genuinely serious threat to the victim. If that is the case, the domestic violence officer/counselor so informs the court, and as part of the restraining order process, both parties are issued electronic, non-removable wrist bracelets.

The electronic wrist bracelet will sound an alarm if the offender comes within a certain distance of the offended for more than one minute. It will be equipped with three small lights: the first, a green light, will glow until the offender comes within the specified distance. At the end of 30 seconds, if the offender is still within the ‘zone,’ the red light will begin to glow. This also will last for 30 seconds, at which time, the alarm will sound. For the victim, the alarm would be in the form of a vibrating or pulsating silent alarm. For the offender, the alarm would be a piercing noise. Simultaneously, the alarm would be displayed in the nearest police station equipped with a LoJack-like computer system.

The bracelet can be activated at the time of the bail if the court so orders. In addition, the offender is told that if the alarm goes off once, his bail will be revoked, and he will be placed under arrest until his trial. The offended party will be told that if she, in this case, is shown to be in violation of the restraining bracelet in any way, that she is also subject to arrest. If this seems to be unfair and too costly, it might be that such bracelets would be issued as part of the restraining order process, i.e., when a restraining order is issued, the complainant receives one of the bracelets. At the time the restraining order is served to the offending party, he/she is also fitted with a bracelet. Since there might be one or more children involved in the restraining order, it is possible that the bracelets would not necessarily be ‘paired,’ but might be in ‘set’ form, with as many as four positives (complainant) bracelets to a single negative (offender) bracelet.

The restraining bracelets would be manufactured with an automatic code. The activation and deactivation of the bracelets would be technology that would be available to the average patrol officer. In addition to an alarm sounding on the wrists/ankles of the individuals concerned, a monitor board, on display at the dispatcher’s station, would display name and home address of the party whose alarm was activated. The problem here, of course, is that if neither party is at the address, it presents an untenable situation in that the police would not/could not respond.

This idea requires substantial brainstorming, substantial technological knowledge (hardly my strong point) and a substantial infusion of dollars (definitely not my strong point) to accomplish. Participants for such a brainstorming session would include police, probation officers, both prosecuting and defense attorneys, and perhaps someone from a youth services agency.

Some of the “next steps” that have already been taken include the following.

Speaking with a sampling of law enforcement officials, including police officers, probation officers, and prosecutors. Results: By and large, the response was positive. One prosecutor told me that they already have such a bracelet. Further conversation with Bill Reagan (see below) indicated that what the prosecutor told me was not the truth. Whether it was out of ignorance or just a desire to “brush off” my call, I have no idea.

Speaking with Bill Reagan founder of Lojack. Results: Bill indicated that the technology is not yet available for something as complex as this..remember, this was 15 years ago. He suggested that I find a small, hungry electronics outfit to look at the problem. He also felt that the cost might be prohibitive.

Doubtless, there are other steps, but if it can be accomplished, this will be another weapon in the war on domestic violence.
Next Steps:
1. Who has the engineering expertise to construct such
mechanical devices? Ergo, is the technology out there?
2. At what cost?
3. Is satellite availability a necessity?
4. How and through who?
5. Are such devices already available?
6. Other questions that need to be answered.

Finally, this idea occurred to me some 15 years ago, Today, at 83, I offer the idea free and without conditions to anyone willing to take it and run with it. My only interest in this is seeing fewer domestic violence victims pay the ultimate price.

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The curse of loneliness

Elvis sang…”Are you lonesome tonight,” and went on to croon, “Are you sorry we drifted apart,” and perhaps that could also fit into this topic. Doctors are learning more and more about loneliness, particularly as it affects the elderly.

Certainly, I can, anecdotally at least, tell you about loneliness as it relates to my own life. I can describe it in four short words…It is a bitch. When someone with whom you’ve spent the bulk of your life cheering the birth of your children together, laughing together, crying together, doing whatever together, is too tired or in too much pain to carry on a conversation, you’ll do almost anything, try almost any way, to bring them back to you as they once were. In your heart of hearts, you know it’s not going to happen. You realize that through no one’s fault, you are very much “drifting apart.” And that’s just it, the process of drifting apart, and you watch, and you listen, and you try to talk, and yeah, in the privacy of somewhere, you even cry. Then your love is gone. Even though you knew it was going to happen, even though it was really a blessing, it hurts. Then there’s the wake and the funeral and a couple of weeks of telephone calls asking how you’re doing, and then people – relatives and friends, colleagues and concerned neighbors – all must get back to their own lives…and there you are.

Am I complaining? No, no, not in the least. I’m just telling you how it goes. If you’re elderly, it’s very possible that several of your friends with whom you used to chat are also gone. The kids are grown with families of their own. They may live nearby or far away but they still have family responsibilities. You are alone. Sure, you have hundreds of social media ‘friends,’ and maybe some are in the same boat as you, but having a conversation via computer, letting your hair down and have a genuine conversation, is not something you do electronically.

I happen to be a social animal. Every Myers/Briggs I’ve ever taken says that I am shy and introverted… well so much for that test, but the truth is that I enjoy people. For a little better than a year after Joan’s death, it was tough. I rejoined a gym, going at the same old time, 5:00 am, came home and did…well… did really nothing. Perhaps I e-mailed; perhaps I read; perhaps I even wrote for the blog…but I really can’t remember. It was two years later that Juli retired and came to live with me. The loneliness disappeared, and as I’ve told her on many occasions, if she had not come here to live, I’m positive that I’d be with my late wife.

Research has determined that social interaction is important and lack of it can lead to such illnesses as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, and cognitive decline. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, conducted a study involving more than 300,000 people, Fortune magazine reported. One of the conclusions reached was that people with large social connections stood a 50 percent chance of living longer than those whose social connections were limited. Nearly every study has shown that social interaction is an absolute necessity, particularly for the elderly. This raises some interesting questions. First, if our younger population, and I include millennials in that group, are so tethered to their electronic means of communication, what will they do as they age? Will that tether take the place of social interaction with other human beings? Personally, I rather doubt it. In fact, I’ll wager that their decline in mental abilities will decline at a more rapid rate than others who have developed interactive skills with people rather than electronic connections.

According to Fortune magazine, “The bottom line is that loneliness is becoming increasingly recognized as a threat to public health. Understanding how to combat what could be a growing problem in the U.S. is important for communities, and experts are calling for more research in the space. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase,” Holt-Lunstad said in a statement. “Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”

To sum it up, loneliness is much more than just another problem for the elderly. It’s a public health problem, and it can have physical and psychological effects on just about anyone. Don’t believe for a moment that loneliness belongs exclusively to the ‘old folks.’ In the US edition of The Guardian, it was noted that, “In 2010, the Mental Health Foundation found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people than the elderly. The 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55s. The answer to all of this, as I see it, is to use the social media as a tool, but get out there and meet people face to face. One of the ways that was a big help to me was to do some volunteer work. Of course, that was when I was in my 40s through my 70s. Volunteering can be great fun. The friendships that I made back then are my e-mail buddies of today. Today, Juli and I converse about everything under the sun…and the folks I meet at the gym are just as crazy as I am!

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Snippets I

This is the first in a series that I’m going to entitle “snippets.” It will contain brief comments about news of the day and my reactions to that news. I hope that you’ll feel free to comment. I promise not to attack your views the way some people find it necessary.

From The Washington Post: “Last night the news broke that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” This was according to Wilson, (Frederica Wilson, Democratic Representative from Florida) who late yesterday told The Post that she had overheard the call on a speakerphone while riding in a limousine with Johnson when Trump called, and that this exchange made the widow cry. This is what Trump claims was “fabricated,” which now has reporters speculating that Trump may have a recording or an official transcript.

Trump also said that he had proof of crimes that could put Hillary Clinton in jail. He intimated that he had proof James Comey was lying. He damn well better have proof of this latest comment because the media and the Congress should not let him get away with this kind of insensitive remark. A President of these United States would not make such a remark. Donald Trump would make that type of remark. In addition to his comments, I cannot help but wonder why it took 12 days for Goldilocks to say anything about the four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger. From what I understand, it was during that period that Trump and Bob Corker were having their own private little feud, at least they were at each other when Trump wasn’t off playing golf.

Opioid Crisis: There is no question that we have an opioid crisis in America. The question is, “What are we actually doing other than saying that it exists?” Big Pharma is a lobbying group in Washington almost equal to the NRA. We know that getting gun regulations passed is about as certain as Hillary getting pregnant, ergo, we’re not doing one damned thing. As most of you are aware, Donald Trump is not my president, but we do agree on one thing: This is, without question, the most incompetent collection of assholes ever to sit under the Capitol Dome. If 435 people cannot find consensus about anything, it has nothing to do with issues and everything to do with personalities. It seems to me that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are more useless than tits on a bull and should be voted out of office as soon as possible. If Congress and the Department of Justice cannot reign in what Big Pharma is doing to destroy this nation, they should all be forced to resign. Addiction, in my mind, is not a disease, it is a choice. I made a bad choice when I decided to smoke. I did it for 51 years. Some would say, “Oh, he’s addicted. He has a disease.” Bullshit! Ten years ago, I quit being addicted. I’m not proud of the fact that it took me more than half a century to do so, but I did it…and I’m not the strongest-willed person in the world. Purdue Pharma, the makers of oxycontin and other pain meds should be fined a million dollars every time anyone dies of a drug overdose in this country. Too harsh? Well, since mollycoddling hasn’t worked, perhaps it is time for harsh. If that doesn’t work, let’s give a hot shot to the CEO when we pass 1,000 deaths in any given year…now that’s harsh!

Halloween Parties at School: Hey, schools are for educating our children, not for partying. You want a Halloween Party, tell mom and dad to invite your class over after school. We bitch and wail about how our kids aren’t staying competitive with children from other countries, but it’s no big deal if we have a party at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etcetera. What’s next, a party every day of the week for some damned fool thing or other? Suck it up, kiddies, you’ll get your fill on October 31st which, by the way, is a Tuesday. Oh, and the little darlings won’t still be on a sugar high on Wednesday?

Racist writings anywhere: I am so pissed at cowardly racists who sneak around writing the “N-word” on residence hall rooms, paint swastikas on synagogues, and otherwise scuttle like the rats they are. Of course, I’m also tired of the Black Lives Matter signs that I see. Every life matters, people. Patience and understanding helps everyone. If it wasn’t so damned long, I’d have that made into a sign for my yard. When the culprits are discovered, not “if,” but “when,” they should be prosecuted and jailed for a minimum of a year, during which time they should be force-fed exactly what the consequences of racism are, including holocaust films as well as how blacks were treated in the past…and in the present. This is the 21st Century and we surely haven’t come very far in our tolerance of others…and that’s just plain wrong!

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Who is responsible?

It doesn’t matter if you’re are the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, making millions of dollars a year or a lowly peon doing grunt work and making minimum wage. By accepting the position that you are in, you are also accepting the responsibility for your position, and you are accountable for doing the job your position requires.

That seems antithetical to some of the people I’ve encountered lately. From, “Naw, I don’t know where that is” in a retail store, the answer given by a clerk who then walked away, to the person who is supposed to open the doors of the gym but who makes no apologies for being late or even attempts to get to her job on time, people don’t appear to understand the words, “responsibility” or “accountability.” I can understand the person at the gym who informed me one day that the manager often called her and asked that she check him in early because he was going to be a few hours late. If her boss doesn’t take his job seriously, why should she?

In accepting the Liberty Medal Award recently, Senator John McCain said, “To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” While he was speaking on a far grander scale than anything of which I could conceive, there is the analogy of the clerk who didn’t know where the product was or the employee who didn’t care to open the business on time. We, each one of us, is accountable for the actions we take, the responsibilities we accept by the positions we occupy, and when we attempt to pass the blame onto others, our structure falls apart.

Let’s get down to basics for just a moment. Assume that you and I have gotten married. We’re young, but we want to start a family. We’ve saved a bit of money and believe a baby would not be a problem. Our child is beautiful. Then things begin to go wrong. I lose my job but find one that doesn’t pay quite as well. We struggle but we make it because we have accepted the responsibility of parenthood and the responsibility of being married. We do not put our child in an oven and kill it…yeah, that’s right, put the, in this case, two kids in an oven and kill them. You do not allow me to kill our child and help me bag it up and throw it into Boston Harbor. Let me go a bit further. You are a tenured professor at a prestigious university. You are a published author and reasonably respected in your field. However, you’re getting a bit long in the tooth; you’re tired; and more and more, you allow your grad assistant to take over your classes, make assignments, correct papers, and on some days, you don’t even bother to show up at your office. Are you being responsible? Hell, no, but you’re tenured and an institution at the institution. Sad to say, but you can get away with this nonsense for many years, or at least until some young academic vice president comes along and questions why you weren’t at your 8 am class or why you had your grad assistant teaching your 5 pm class on the same day. Then, you find your office is being moved to the basement of the crappiest building on campus. If you don’t get the message at that point, you’ll probably receive a buy-out offer that will be difficult to refuse.

I can understand why people are late for work…they don’t care about others. They are dissatisfied with what they are doing. They are underpaid, at least in their own minds. However, if this is their attitude, in truth, they are not underpaid. They are actually overpaid because they aren’t fulfilling the responsibilities they agreed to accept when they accepted the position. Did I ever feel overworked and underpaid in any job I held? Of course, I did, and there are probably times when you felt the same way. However, it was my feeling that if I continued to perform, to be accountable and responsible, things would change, and, for the most part, that’s exactly what happened. Rather than look for others to blame, it’s up to us to understand exactly what is required of us before we accept any position where we have responsibilities and where we are accountable for our actions. It doesn’t matter if it’s being that CEO or that retail clerk, that tenured teacher, or the coach of some team. Oh, did I forget to mention the coach? Let me explain. My high school had not won a football game in several years. A new coach was hired and the old one went back to his first love, teaching mathematics. On the first day, the new coach addressed the team. “You can continue to lose games if you want,” he said, “or you can work harder than you’ve ever worked before and we can win.” I was there. Those were his words. I didn’t play the game, but I was there. My friends worked harder than they ever work before and wound up with an 8-1 season. Under George Boothby, the new coach, they became a team, each person responsible to the other, each with a job to do, each accountable to the coach and to their teammates for their actions, each savoring victory after so many years of defeat.

It is the same with anything we do in life, whether it’s the amount of studying we do to achieve a certain grade, the amount of effort we put into our jobs, or the hard work we do to ensure that our team wins, we are accountable and responsible for our own actions. That’s a lesson that seems to be fading away in America today.

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