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Friday, June 22, 2012

Bugs R Us

Have you been following the bug news? About how we are made up of about 90% bugs?  Or microbes, as the experts call these little bugs. This comes as a nasty surprise to someone like me who has this phobia of bugs. even micro-sized ones. Maybe you too are thinking: Yuck.

But the experts are saying these bugs are a good thing. As one of those experts, Lita Protor, at the National Institute of Health said:

These microbes aren't just along for the ride. They're there for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with them — we give them a place to live, and they help keep us alive.

"They belong in and on our bodies; they help support our health; they help digest our food and provide many kinds of protective mechanisms for human health," Protor said.

Also in the news is nonstop moaning about the obesity crisis. Some people are linking obesity with consumption of too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup, such as in sodas. We already limit or prevent our kids from drinking sodas at school. As you probably know, there is a move afoot to limit how much of these sugary drinks even adults can slurp down.

So what does sugar have to do with bugs? Well, stay with me here: obesity seems to be related to the kind of bugs colonizing our bodies. Experts are saying fat and skinny mice (another critter regardless of size, I don’t much like) have different bugs in their bodies.

 Scientists at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis have found fat people, like fat mice, have  different bugs than their skinnier friends:

They have found that the ratios of various bacteria in the guts of obese mice and obese humans were significantly different from those of lean controls, suggesting that altering the stomach’s microbial balance with antibiotics might put patients at risk for gaining weight.

The experts go on to relate all of this to overuse of antibiotics. Just like farmers use antibiotics to fatten up livestock without increasing how much they eat. The experts find inverse correlations between certain bugs and obesity, as well as some serious diseases.

I take that to mean some micro-bugs are good for you and some are not.

The bottom line seems rather obvious to me. The bad bugs are enjoying all this soda. That means there  may be a simple solution to the obesity epidemic since the bad bugs are making us fat. 

You remember the old folk remedy for getting rid of slugs, ants and other undesirable bugs? You pour something sweet like beer or soda into a small container. The bugs drown, after they drink themselves into an alcoholic stupor.  

So, we should be allowed to buy those large sodas. We just should not drink them. Rather than drink the sodas, we need to set the sodas close to us and let the bad bugs drink themselves into oblivion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

After we hear about civil wars in Egypt and Syria, the next item on the national news is Jerry Sandusky’s trial. How painful it is to listen to descriptions of the victims’ testimony. And even more so to the testimony of the adults who turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the abuse. 

Yesterday Dottie Sandusky reportedly testified she saw and heard no evil. And that her husband, the former Penn State assistant football coach, “just liked helping boys.” Today the defense rested and Sandusky’s fate will soon be in the hands of the jury. 

David Brooks’ argued in the New York Times when this controversy was still fresh, that after the atrocity of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes comes the vanity of condemnation: 

The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

I agree if you have not had to face what you would do when confronted by evil you can’t know for sure what you will do.  I have not seen a child sexually abused so I can’t say for sure what I would have done.  

I can say first hand what it is like when the evil is shrouded in silence.   

I was five years old.  One of the first times I was allowed to go along with my brother up the block to play with the neighbor kids at their house.  The rest of the kids went inside.  For some reason I remained outside playing. 

I hadn’t noticed or didn’t think anything of the fact the neighbor kids’ grandfather also stayed outside too.  After I got away from him I ran home.  I had no words to describe what he had done to me.  So I showed my Mother.   

I had no expectation of what my Mother would do.  I had no knowledge that it was a crime.  I just knew he had hurt and frightened me. 

My Mother’s first words were not of outrage or even disbelief.  Instead she began to tell me what she was not going to do.  She was not going to tell anyone.  And neither would I.  For over fifty years. 

She said talking about it would create a big “to do” in the neighborhood.  The neighbors would no longer like us.  My brother would not be allowed to play with his friends up the street.  

I don’t know if my Mother told my Dad or anyone else.  But my Mother did arm me with advice.  She told me to never go back to that neighbor’s house to play if their grandfather was visiting.  She also warned me, as many mothers of the day warned their daughters, to never be alone with a man other than my father or brother.  If I was ever alone with a man, she said, everyone would believe whatever happened was my fault.

My Mother used the two tools she had available at the time to protect me: silence and fear.  My experience with the “silence and fear” approach occurred in the 1950’s when many things about sex were taboo.  But surely times have changed.   

Nevertheless, utilizing pseudo-psychology, people like David Brooks still tries to excuse the silent approach.  According to Brooks, the experts say people don’t always see what they see.  Similarly, Cal Thomas writing in the Courier Journal also tried to find someone to blame other than the abuser and those who kept silent.  Thomas argued that the permissive society of the 60’s with its free love is responsible for these boogeymen who come out into society and feel free to act.  

To use one of my Mother’s terms, Brooks and Thomas are full of hogwash.  We should not buy Brooks’ excuse for people who keep silent.  Nor should we accuse our permissive society as Thomas urges.  That is merely a form of excusing the silence.  The boogeymen are out there in part because of the understandable silence and fear of the victims and the not so understandable silence of adults who are aware of the evil. 

Surely we have come beyond the belief of a half century ago that a female who did not protect herself should be held responsible for whatever happened to her.  A belief shared by some Middle East societies that demand their women leave their houses only in the company of their father or brother. What is the rationale: men are unable to control their basest instincts? And so women and children are responsible for the evil done to them? 

But to the question: what would I have done if I had seen a child being abused, I like to think I would call 911 immediately.  Because if one of my children had come to tell me what I told my Mother, the police would have needed to protect the abusing adult from me and my Louisville Slugger. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

“Get it While You Can”

I read a couple of studies about numbers that are going to change my life. First, some mathematician who analyzed America’s obesity epidemic. Then some economist who looked at social security and interest rates. I really need a better cure for insomnia than reading scientific and economic articles. 

You might ask, what do those two things have to do with each other? Other than as cures for insomnia. Well, it came to me in a dream.  Is the obesity epidemic going to solve the social security program problems? All the fat people are going to die off and not collect benefits? Or is Medicare, the health care plan for folks over 65 the same demographic as social security beneficiaries, going to make some big breakthrough in obesity? Maybe make everyone healthier and more productive? 

Actually, I don’t know about any of those. But both studies have to do with numbers and planning. And like most of those studies take some reading of fine print. The mathematician who looked at the remarkable increase in obesity in recent decades was able to correlate weight increases with the removal of government subsidies to farmers to NOT grow food.

So the price of food became cheap. And, as other scientists keep saying in obesity analysis, in much more sophisticated mumbo-jumbo, humans are just like other animals: “See food, eat food.”  For a not-so-mumbo-jumbo discussion of the interesting similarities between humans and other animals read:

But hidden in the mathematician’s study was another interesting little take-away (oops, I seem to be talking about food again). His study also showed that weight gain does not become permanent for three years. Which means those annoying three to four pounds I keep gaining and losing are not really permanently attached to my hips. They are just visiting until three years has passed.

On to my other revelation. The big-shot economist, again with very revealing numbers, concluded that a person who is first eligible for social security can make one of the best investments in the current economy, by NOT applying for social security until they are much older.
 In other words they should just let their money sit with the government and let it earn around 8% interest. Then when they apply they will have made so much more money they will be a very old, almost rich person. Of course, by then, as the one economist with whom I took one class use to say, and the only thing he said I seem to remember, “In the final analysis we are all dead.”

So I have to wonder, am I the only one who read this article about interest rates and social security? Is it safe to assume no young and hungry politician read this same study? And he is now going to use it to reduce social security rates? Is it really a plot to get me and all the other baby boomers to wait to apply for social security in the hopes that obesity will have killed most of us off before we apply for benefits?

Here are my conclusions.

1) Who knows what government politicians are plotting? But you can be pretty sure it is not going to do you any good.

2) As for dieting, while it may seem strange to take advice from a mathematician, his logic makes perfect sense. So I have decided there is no point in weighing myself until three years have passed. Any change is transitory before that passage of time.

3) Speaking of transitory and similarities between species, I am starting to wonder if baby boomers are dinosaurs on the Titanic.

4) While I am considering what advice to take, I think I will go the celebrity route: someone from my generation who also seemed to agree with the economist from my college studies.  As Janis sings, “Get it while you can.” 

Might as well apply for social security as soon as I am able and while it is still around. Please pass the chocolate cake.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mad Men and Women in the 21st Century

I am not a great typist. And I have only myself to blame. In high school, a million years ago, when it was mandatory for all girls to take typing, and when my Mother said I would never get a job if I could not type, I had to speak to the principal, a Jesuit priest, and talk him into giving me a special dispensation. I got out of the requirement by telling the truth.  I explained I did not want to bring down my GPA with a typing class and also that I had no intention of taking any job that required typing.

Well, that strategy worked pretty well for me. You will not be surprised that I became a lawyer. I was always better at talking about things than typing or spelling. You see, I became a lawyer those million years ago when attorneys still had secretaries.  

Go ahead, you youngsters out there: Laugh. There really was a time when professionals had secretaries. And the professionals were almost exclusively men and the secretaries all were women. You’ve watched Mad Men on TV. You know what I mean. 

You might think that solved the problem. And it did for a few decades. But now that everyone has to do their own typing, or as they call it, “keyboarding” my spelling and typing issues should also be resolved. Every computer now comes equipped with “Spellcheck” or some variation thereof. That solves my typing, er… “Keyboarding” inadequacies.  

Actually, not so much. The mess Spellcheck makes of my typing is worse than my typing. And that is saying something. 

This is not one of those articles about the obscene things Spellcheck and particularly iPhone technology can do for a careless digit. But there are some corrections that I have to wonder--who came up with the default corrections for mistypes? 

What were they thinking?  For example, "Fir day". How can spellchecker think I mean to type fir day all the time? And what is fir day?  Surely the odds are greater that I mistyped Friday than some imaginary holiday in Norway.  Or maybe there really is a fir day somewhere.   

And how about “Spellcheck.” If you type Spellcheck, it corrects to spellchecker?  Who ever uses the word spellchecker? Except of course, the geek who created that word. 

Then there is my all time favorite: “Return gin”.  My mistaken typing of “returning” routinely is corrected to be “return gin.”  Now why would I always be writing about return gin? And who says that, let alone does that. If I had some gin I would not be returning it. You can bet after a session at my keyboard I can use all the gin I can get.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sprinklers Anyone?

Last night a real estate-related dispute in which I had only peripheral involvement ended up with neighbors in another city calling the police alleging threatening behavior against each other. I believe the incident began with a rug hanging over a patio railing. Is this how the Hatfields and McCoys started their feud?

I have not heard anything more about the railing or the rug today. And for that I am thankful. Nevertheless, I’m a little bit curious what happened. Maybe the police behaved like Bobby Hill and Andy Renko on the old “Hill Street Blues” TV show and mediated the situation, everyone going home relatively calmed down and happier. Or maybe like in the “Maltese Falcon” as Bogey suggested, the police took the whole lot of them down to the station and they all swore out complaints against each other.

For today I have had to deal with a bunch of insurance claims in another real estate matter. This one concerned a flood that caused a BIG mess, the kind someone might have had an excuse to get excited about. Five condos were significantly damaged. But luckily no one got nasty or called the police. Insurers are just slow to pay. So what else is new?

Since I have been dealing with these business matters at home I also have the chance to interact with my pet. I inherited this dog in the same way I inherited the real estate problems, from my parents. And both inheritances have been something of a headache.

The real estate needs almost constant managing. And the dog has always been anxious and unfriendly towards most people. At first he followed me everywhere, not so much for company as to reassure himself that I was still here. Now he has developed a little Alzheimer's and a lot of arthritis.  He no longer comes upstairs to keep tabs on me and sit by my side as I work on the computer. I don’t know which ailment has caused his absence.

He’s taking a bunch of pills, such that it is a challenge to keep track and give them at right times. In the last week he started on some new meds: an antibiotic for what are essentially bed sores, and an anti-inflammatory for his arthritis. Whatever it is though, he is doing much better with the new pills. The joy of life now seems to be far from over for him. In fact he is happier and friendlier than I can ever remember him. My old dog also loves to go in the yard and play in the sprinkler. As the vet says, sometimes when dogs get Alzheimer’s they forget to be anxious and instead turn into nice dogs.

I wonder if maybe some of the folks who need to involve police in settling their interpersonal dramas would be less anxious if they developed a little dementia and forgot their anxiety. Maybe then they would go out and play in the sprinkler instead.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Petty Disputes or Beer Toss

I had the Sunday New York Times and Louisville Courier Journal spread out, debating between the “Week in Review,” the “Style” section with the hunky Olympic hopeful, and the comics in the local paper, when my phones began to ring. As a result, the rest of my Sunday afternoon was consumed with phone calls about petty disputes between other people in a business matter. Don’t other people’s disputes always seem sort of petty?

In the midst of all this telephoning, I had a beer drop out of the fridge and spray all over the kitchen, inside the fridge, the cabinets, appliances, countertop, rug, me and everything else. Not since Mt. Vesuvius erupted has there been such a beautiful spraying machine. Did I mention I am allergic to the gluten in the beer? So I really had to clean it off of everything that might come in contact with food. Then I had to take a shower and wash the rug.

The one thing I have to say, though, is the beer felt mighty cool. In the moments before I picked up the beer and tossed it into the sink, spraying what little of the kitchen had not already been sprayed, I was transported back to childhood, playing in the sprinkler on a hot day. Maybe we need to all try to see the world for a few moments like a kid sees it—for the fun it might produce, rather than for the mess.

My husband had graciously done the grocery shopping and then  agreed to barbecue.  So I guess I have to get him another beer now. There wasn’t much left in that first can.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Simple Life

We were without power for about twelve hours: an auto accident took out a nearby utility pole. Reduces you to the simple things in life. Since it happened at night that means finding the flashlights. And in the morning trying to figure out how to make coffee.

The night was cool so we opened a window. This morning we needed no alarm clock as we woke to bird calls. We enjoyed a nice walk in the park and a leisurely read of the newspapers. To our surprise, the dog happily ate plain kibbles without all the extras we usually add in--we were not opening the fridge to keep its contents cold. We went out to breakfast to solve the coffee as well as the "no opening the fridge" dilemma.

Now the power is back on.  I have gotten busy and am doing the laundry, emailing friends, and writing on my computer. But it was kind of nice without power for awhile. Inside the house was really quiet, except for the bird songs wafting through the open window.

I easily could get used to a few hours without power. That is, if I could solve one of life's great mysteries: making coffee without electricity. Is there a solar-powered coffee pot? If not, someone should invent one.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Capulets and Montagues over the Centuries

Roseanne McCoy, born in 1859 into a family where feuding was to be a way of life, and her infant daughter, were laid into premature graves less than thirty years later. See the History Channels’ excellent portrayal of this infamous feud.

Lal Bibi, an innocent 18 year old Afghan woman, chained to a wall and beaten and raped for five days by local militia, may die a premature death because of a family feud. Read the June 2, 2012 New York Times account. 

The dispute between the Hatfields and McCoys supposedly started over a stolen pig.  But there are those who believe the bad feelings between these Appalachian clans had their roots in the American Civil War.  

Jim Vance, uncle to “Devil Anse” Hatfield, the leader of that clan, had been released from the Confederate Army because of a broken leg. Vance, a member of the Hatfield Wildcats, a sort of local militia, was believed to have killed Asa Harmon McCoy out of anger for his joining the Union army.  Since neither family had much sympathy for Harmon McCoy, his murder did not immediately lead to further bloodshed. 

Thirteen years later, when a stolen pig claim was litigated to the dissatisfaction of the McCoys, the McCoys killed Bill Staton, a relative of both families, whose testimony they believed had been the cause of their loss of the pig lawsuit. The McCoys who killed Staton then were acquitted on the grounds of self defense.  

Roseanne McCoy and Johnse Hatfield were cast as two star-crossed lovers in this family feud. After Johnse was smitten by Roseanne, to the distress of both families, he brought her back to the Hatfield family home. The McCoys saw to it that Johnse was arrested on bootlegging charges. Following his rescue by the Hatfields, the result of Roseanne’s “midnight ride” to warn his family, Johnse proved able to move past his stars much more nimbly than Romeo. The lout abandoned a now-pregnant Roseanne. Not long afterwards Johnse married another McCoy, a cousin to Roseanne. Even though Johnse reputedly was more of a lover than a fighter he certainly did not bring peace to either family. 

Over the next several years, Hatfields and McCoys continued to kill each other in numbers and manners I won’t recount here. Watch the well- documented History Channel mini-series or read any of the accounts if you wish to hear about the full body count. 

More than a century later, in another mountainous region across the world, Lal Bibi, an 18 year old Afghan woman, had not yet had a chance to be anyone’s lover, star-crossed or otherwise.  We don’t know if historical disputes predated the current one involving Lal Bibi’s distant male cousin, Mohammed Issa.  He either had started a relationship with a local girl and was unsuccessful in an attempted elopement or failed to pay the bride price for his fiancĂ©. In any event, the unnamed girl’s family believed it had been wronged.

The Hatfields would have dredged up some charge of trafficking in poppies and if that failed to punish the would-be suitor, they would have shot him and/or several of his male relatives.  In Lal Bibi’s case, when the wronged family failed to obtain a satisfactory settlement, they seized Lal Bibi, who had no involvement in her distant cousin’s alleged wrongdoing, and chained her to a wall, raping and beating her for five days. In addition to her pain and suffering during her kidnapping, once released, her rapes rendered Lal Bibi unmarriageable and shamed; in her society, dead.  

Defying tradition, her family took her to a hospital and then filed a complaint with the governor.  Nevertheless, they say they will kill Lal Bibi if the government does not provide justice for the crimes against her. Lal Bibi, perhaps more accurately, says, “I am already a dead person.” She believes, as apparently her family does, she cannot live with the shame.   

Tribal customs and perhaps genetics, in the case of the Hatfields/ McCoys, play a role in the feuds. The violence between the Hatfields and McCoys may have had its roots more in genetics than in stolen pigs. (“ Medical researchers have discovered that many McCoys suffer from the autosomal dominant Von Hippel–Lindau disease, with approximately 75% of them having tumors on their adrenal glands…The male members of the  (Hatfield) family may have belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup E1b1b” ) 

We don’t know whether a genetic tendency towards aggression in some males in the Afghanistan feud plays a role, but we can see compassion and common sense have not eliminated the age-old desire for revenge. When legal remedies for wrongs are not satisfying, Lal Bibi’s family and her tormentors just like the Hatfields and McCoys take their version of justice into their own hands. In Lal Bibi’s case that means her family will kill their own daughter. 

As Shakespeare, writing for the prince, told the Capulets and Montagues: “All are punished.”   Over the centuries how is it that the insanity of such feuds continues?