Friday, May 30, 2008

The health of journalism.

I picked up a “Time” magazine in the doctor’s office waiting room today. Remarkably it was a current issue; most waiting room magazines are, well… old. Anyway, the big story in “Time” was about John McCain’s health. More specifically, the story was an analysis of how John McCain’s health could affect his run for office. Several polls were cited in the article in order to assess public confidence in whether McCain was healthy enough to be president.

And what exactly was McCain’s serious health issue? Eight years ago he had a melanoma removed from his skin. It’s usually a five-minute procedure which is then treated with a band aid! Why his took five-hours is anybody’s guess – open heart surgery takes five hours. I’ll wager the reported got minutes and hours mixed up. Journalists often have trouble keeping their facts straight.

Yes I know… melanoma can be a deadly cancer if it is not treated. My wife had such an incident. In fact, her primary care physician misdiagnosed the spot on her arm as a harmless mole. As is becoming all too unsettlingly common, I again found my medial knowledge superior to that of many physicians, so we had a dermatologist remove the mole. The pathology report came back: malignant melanoma! (My wife doesn’t see that physician any more, by the way).

It really pains me when journalists are so bent on doing journalism that they create a story where there is none. And John McCain’s fitness to be commander-in-chief is in no way threatened or impaired by virtue of The Media crafting of a Health issue”. Now I can list a number of other reasons which, in my opinion, cause me to believe John McCain is a less than desirable choice to be president. But his having the foresight to have a “potentially” dangerous mole scratched off his skin is not one of them.

I understand that "Time" has magazines to sell. I also know that journalists need to write just as fish need to fly and birds need to swim. [Yes, I know what I said] But often there is no story there – and there is no issue with McCain’s fitness for the presidency here, at least, where his health is concerned.

Here is a story suggestion for
“Time”, (or any other journalist out there, for that matter) - Do an article on how many Americans die each year of melanoma because they don’t have health coverage or the money to visit a dermatologist. Or would that require too much writing?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A man called Wand-a

From reading one of my previous posts, you would know that I have a difficult time going through airport security. So I make a game out of trying not to “beep” the metal detector. I usually win; but not last time on our recent return from Hawaii.

As we went through security at Kailua-Kona airport, I did my usual emptying of my pockets into my upturned fedora. However, I left two film cans in my pocket this time – it is high speed film taken with our under-water camera while we snorkeled on the Big Island. I didn’t want the powerful X-ray to cloud my tropical fish pictures.

BEEP! “Would you step back through the metal detector, please, sir” the TSA agent says. Realizing it had to be the film cans setting off the detector, I removed them from my pocket and attempted to hand them to the TSA agent. Nope - I had to walk through the metal detector again, film cans in hand. BEEP!

Step over here, sir” the TSA agent monotones. “The reason why we have to check you is because you set off the detector twice”. (Duh! I set if off twice because the film cans are still in my hand.) They have me gather all my things together from the X-ray belt and move to a section behind a glass partition. All the while I’m still holding the two film cans in my hand.

We can take you someplace more private to do this if you would like, sir”. TSA agent now says. Like why!?! Are they going to strip search me? The TSA agent puts on a pair of purple latex gloves. I swallow hard.

They have me put the film cans on the table and I sit in a chair and kick off my low-security Crocks. He picks up a metal detector wand and begins wanding my feet – nothing! He then he has me stand on a mat, my legs apart and arms outstretched. I look like the drawing Leonardo da Vinci made of the guy in the circle. The TSA agent begins wanding the outline of my body – nothing. He seems disappointed. He wands his wrist watch to verify the detector is still working – Beep! Yup, it works.

He then begins wanding up between my legs. I stare at the horizon – silence. The wand lingers a little bit longer in the vicinity of my groin than I am comfortable with. I'm wondering now just how badly this guy wants to find metal in my pants? Again, he tests the wand on his wrist watch. Beep! Yes, it's still apparently working.

I’m going to pat you down, now, sir.” TSA agent now says. I now become curious just how much “patting” I am going to get? I’m just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I stare again at the horizon… but this is getting creepy.

As I am standing there with my arms outstretched being patted down, I turn to the other assisting TSA agent and suggest: “Just out of curiosity, can you wand the film cans there?” He waves the wand over a film can – Beep! They now decide to turn their attention to the film, testing it for traces of explosives residue. Nada! The disappointment is palpable.

Unless they want me to strip naked, they are out of options at this point. My wife hands me my jacket and we head to our gate.

It must be an incredibly boring job being a TSA agent. Like being a fireman where there’s never a fire; like being the sheriff of Mayberry. He probably went home all excited and told his wife about me today: “Honey, guess what happened at work today!!”

The TSA has made me hate flying.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I dreamt I died and went to Heaven

Ted Kennedy has just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He now has a much clearer idea of just when his life on this planet will be coming to a close. A few months ago, one of my friends was diagnosed with the same type of deadly tumor. He had gone to a fair, had a massive seizure and woke up in the hospital. Now his life completely revolves around fighting a tumor that inevitably will end his life.

Today I’m sitting here in Hawaii, perhaps with a greater appreciation of this warm beautiful place than on my previous visits. When I return to Oregon, I begin interviewing physicians, one of whom I will select to open my chest and replace my aortic valve. I can’t help but look around at the bright tropical fish as I snorkel and wonder if this will be the last time I see these colorful critters again. There will ultimately be that day, but we are never truly ready for it to be now.

I might be lucky, if I don’t survive the surgery I will never know it. I will be under sedation; my consciousness will fade and never come back. The mortality rate for this type of surgery is 2%; the mortality rate for not having the surgery is 100%.

Michael Shermer
is often asked what his opinion is of life after death. “I’m all for it!” he says. But he is under no illusions that his consciousness will survive forever in a Biblical Heaven. Those are stories made up for us to believe so we will not worry about death. They are for children.

My documentary about Jerry Andrus is extremely close to being ready for release. In it I recorded one of my favorite poems of Jerry's. He reads in the film; part of it goes like this:
“I dreamt I died and went to Heaven; everything was perfect.
I could stand it for just one day.

You could not help anyone because no one needed help.
You could not improve anything because everything was perfect.
What a joy to worship the lord for a billion billion years."

You can hear the entire poem in the memorial excerpt clip from the documentary I played at Jerry’s memorial celebration here.

I find comfort in something my wife believes; that the quality of one’s life is related to the quality of one’s relationships. If it is my time to die, I won’t take my comfort in the illusion that I will see my mom and dad and grandparents in Heaven. Rather, I find solace in the thought that my memory will live on in the minds and hearts of my wife, children, grand children and friends. And when they die, it will no longer really matter.

For now I look at my toes against the salt-and-pepper sand on the warm Hawaiian beach and realize that I am made of the same stuff; cooked in the furnaces of stars of a billion galaxies. I was created from the stuff of the universe and it is there I will ultimately return someday. I find my peace in that. - Aloha

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hawaii - It's not just another state.

I actually believed I would not be blogging from Hawaii, however with the advent of wireless networking everywhere, (even in Paradise) well, why not. Even Kara was able to blog from places like Romania – Hell, I was surprised they even had electricity there.

So here we are on the beautiful Big Island, USA. We Americans take it for granted that Hawaii is just another one of our states, you know, like Iowa or Wisconsin. After all, it is so conveniently located to our borders, a mere 5-hour flight. I am sure the rest of the civilized world must lift a skeptical eyebrow when they acknowledge that we conveniently acquired this place as just another “state”. Yeah… right! Well, what the hell, we are big and powerful and what the hell are they going to do about it anyway? Hawaii is a state. Funny how we aren't that interested in wanting Porto Rico to be a state… but that’s another subject entirely.

The “natives” (meaning people born here) speak Hawaiian, a distinct language. However, it sounds a lot like pigeon-english which leaves me a bit suspicious. None the less, they have a lot of places here with names we mainlanders can’t pronounce. I don’t worry much about that; I couldn’t pronounce the names of the native American names in Washington State either. They have a lot of lava here, as we do in Oregon, so I’m not feeling like I have to adopt some type of foreign awareness pretentiousness either. They take VISA card here just like they do at home. No big deal.

Still there are differences here that make it worth the trip. Papaya for one… tastes like tepid ice cream here, back home Papaya tastes like crap. Mangos here are wonderful also; a little better than crap back home, but not by much. We make “POG-Tais” here – Rum and POG (Papaya-Orange-Guava) juice. They go down so nice! Of all the staple foods we picked up here, the rum is being depleted the most quickly.

Gasoline is something else, it is $4.35 a gallon or more depending on where you get it. So we try to limit our driving as much as possible. Worst of all, with the grand-baby and all the equipment, we had to rent an SUV. I can imagine a fleet of tanker ships laden with gasoline coming to the Big Island, my only consolation is that these tankers are returning to the mainland laden with holds full of pineapple juice. If I think along those lines, I don’t feel so badly.

Some friends of ours who travel a lot said, after their last trip here, that they thought they were through coming to Hawaii. I can’t ever think I would ever be “through” coming to a place like this. It is warm and wonderful and I can pretty much understand the language. I hope I will be back again someday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Unifying Theory

People who know me know I am a Skeptic - I believe we all live in a natural universe and that science is a tool to help us understand how that universe works. My friends and family all know that nothing yanks my chain more quickly than claims of the paranormal. I don’t suffer the fools very well who believe in ghosts, lake monsters or telekinesis.

So recently when a friend told me that she believed “something” (or someone) was going into her closet and moving her things when she wasn't there, I challenged her to come up with some type of explanation. Not included among her various hypotheses, however, was the distinct possibility that she herself had moved those items and had simply forgotten.

I was feeling rather smug about my Rational World View until I recently, as has happened to me all too many times before, again had the unsettling experience of having my own small possessions disappear... apparently, completely off the face of the Earth.

Now, surely, I might have concluded that I too had simply misplaced these items. My dark glasses, for example; I wore them just yesterday. I have a strong recollection of having rinsed the dusty glasses off in the bathroom. Yet, they can not be located on the usual surfaces on which they are ordinarily placed. I searched the EVERYWHERE. Nothing! They cease to exist.

Having studied this odd phenomenon for a number of years, I have come to the rational hypothesis there has to exist an Alternate Parallel Universe (APU). Clearly, after using an object, and upon placing it down and diverting one’s attention from it… Poof, it is transported by yet undetermined means to the APU. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

My dark glasses are there now (actually, several pairs) as are a number of screwdrivers and the chuck key to my power drill. Grocery lists are also, I suspect; although some physicists postulate that the wad of dried pulp often found pants pockets removed from the laundry may have been the grocery list at some previous time. Data regarding this is still being gathered. Science has long confirmed that an even number of socks placed into the laundry will result in an odd number of socks coming out. PhDs have written papers on this.

No, the APU seems to be the strongest theory of where my things seem to go when I put them down. And conducting thorough searches of the proximity for these objects invariably turns out to be fruitless.

I don’t believe that man can travel to the APU and recover the lost tools, objects and eyewear. I just believe that at the moment of my final breath, I will have a flash of incredible brain power and suddenly remember exactly where I put my dark glasses, and all the other junk I've misplaced in my life! Although, at that precise moment, it won’t really matter much anymore.

The pharmaceutical ads on television generally crack me up, but the funniest has to be the ads for menopause drug, Boniva. “There”, former Flying Nun actress, Sally Field smiles, “I just took my osteoporosis medicine for the month”. Wow, now she has freed up valuable time to do whatever it is she does with the rest of her month. Like, my God - taking a pill EVERY DAY! Who’s got that kind-a time?!?!

Oh, I donno… maybe dialysis patients who are hooked up to kidney machines for five hours at a stretch three days a week! But what’s a little time out of your life if it keeps you alive!

The ads for cholesterol lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin were still airing even after research was publicized showing that neither of these drugs had any effect on reducing cardiovascular disease.

It frightens me to think that there might be some very clueless women out there taking Boniva every day with along with their multi-vitamins. My God… none, I hope!

We depend on our physicians to tell us what is good for us and what we need. Unfortunately that target keeps moving as we find that our trusted medications we may have been taking for years are actually ineffective, or worse, bad for us. Oh well, there was once a time when doctors told patients that smoking actually aided digestion.

So who are we to believe? Our doctors? The FDA? Chinese herbal medicine? I guess there’s always the Internet.

[Right: Back cover advertisement from Sept. 1936 Science and Mechanics Monthly magazine.]