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Archive for November, 2009

The world has ended several times in my life. Each time, I usually awakened the following morning, automatically checking for functioning body parts and mental faculties just in case my room wasn’t a replica created by some extraterrestrial force the way things often happen in The Twilight Zone or on a Hollywood movie set ala moon landings.

So far things have always checked out, although I admit the possibility of delusions implanted in my mind by those same unknown forces. Nevertheless, I went about my business as if the world remained unchanged. My life quickly returned to normal as I settled down and waited patiently for the next end of the world.

Now, the next one is rapidly approaching. If the mammography guidelines recently proposed by a federal task force are implemented, we’ll have breast cancer panels and God knows what else. The end of the United States is near. And we all know the U.S. is the world.

But there’s a discordant note in the current state of hysteria around us. As an occasional flash of clarity strikes, reason tells us this one just doesn’t track. We wonder, what does the word “guidelines” denote and connote?

Is a guideline a matter of law? Has Congress passed and the President signed a law mandating breast examinations based on some arbitrary number picked out of a hat? Has the President issued an Executive Order directing the establishment of a Breast Examination Panel tasked to decide who can and who cannot have an examination?

To the best of my knowledge, none of these has taken place. In fact, these same guidelines were recommended 12 years ago. No one to the best of my knowledge panicked then and nothing occurred to change the guidelines. So, what accounts for the current hysteria?

Perhaps this is just one more example of the politics of the slippery slope. We’re all intelligent people here. We understand that a slippery slope kicks in when a specified action is considered to be the first step that automatically and irrevocable leads to the complete and total destruction of mankind.

In politics, the slippery slope is a common political tactic employed by both major power-holding political parties to scare the crap out of the public. The purpose of a slippery slope accusation is to arouse public emotions and stir some sort of rebellion against the programs of the other party.

It’s a very effective tactic. We Americans are quite susceptible to fear-mongering for a couple of reasons. We are distinctly uneasy about the domestic economy and its direction. We fear a loss of our hard-earned gains and for the future of our children.

Compounding our domestic fears, America’s perceived fading influence on the international stage fuels fears of a takeover by unspecified enemies somewhere out there. Recently, there has been a reactivation of out fright response engendered by talk of a murky New World Order and the Illuminati. And United Nations forces are rumored to be secretly patrolling remote roads in the United States.

Taken together, domestic and international factors create a sort of free-floating anxiety that hovers over us like the proverbial raincloud hanging over Joe Blitzfit In this environment, nerves are on edge and any change from the comfortable and known is bound to be met with panic.

Here’s the reality. There is little if any chance the proposed guidelines will negatively affect women’s health. When it comes right down to it, women are going to ignore the guidelines and continue their self-examination followed by a mammogram if their examination finds something.

Further, no doctor in his or her right mind is going to refuse the request of a health-conscious woman who wishes a mammogram. It’s insanity to think so. Obstructive medicine is a sure road to professional death. A few doctors in the past have hung up their practices because of the cost of liability insurance or a plethora of government regulations. And some have refused to perform certain medical procedures, primarily abortions, because of a moral conviction, but in my judgment there is no similar moral bar to a mammogram.

Will insurance companies refuse to pay for a mammogram beyond the limits suggested in the guidelines? That’s highly doubtful. The trend lately has swung toward a strong belief that medical treatment is a matter between a patient and his or her doctor. The era of a remote figure that may or may not be a physician sitting in an antiseptic office somewhere and automatically disapproving certain claims immediately is slowly fading.

True, insurance companies make a little money by denying claims. But I would almost be willing to bet that the amount of money collected on premiums far exceeds the amount of money paid out in claims.

Insurance companies aren’t going to jeopardize those premiums by adopting highly unpopular practices that might drive away institutions such as the federal and state governments, which pump enormous amounts of money into the coffers of insurers through government-offered group health coverage plans. The insurance companies are greedy but they aren’t fiscally dumb.

I know it’s easy for a man to be blasé about this matter. Men have breast cancer, too, but compared to the rates for women, the numbers are few. We thus tend to downplay the problems of women. That’s wrong on the faced of it.

It’s equally wrong for the federal task force to base its recommendations solely on statistics. Ignoring the human factor is a surefire road to irrelevance. As well, it calls into question the validity of the panel’s findings. Governments, all governments in the U.S., federal, state, and local, do not possess a great deal of credibility as it is. The feds insensitive treatment of this matter has lowered its credit score immensely.

In the final analysis, the anxiety and hysteria over the panel’s recommendations constitute nothing more than wasted energy. For once in our lives, we ought to ignore the slippery slope. Let’s send a signal to fear-mongering politicians. Let’s resolve that the end of the world is not at hand.

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Open Salon recently put out a call for the sexiest man living. That’s patently unfair to heterosexual males like me because we don’t look at other men as sexy. Speaking only for myself, I view men in general as dorks. There’s no hotness, no sexiness to a dork.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is no dork. She is sexy as all get out and has more balls than most men I know. She’s strong and independent, with nerve above that of Nancy Pelosi, my runner-up selection in case a sex-tape of Sarah and Levi Johnston pops up.

Sarah epitomizes your American ideal of maleness. She’s an outdoorsman par excellence, a hunter, a fisherman, a camper, ready at a moment’s notice to fight a salmon until it tires and then slap it skin, bones, eyes, and entrails over an open-fire or eat it raw.

She definitely dominates the landscape around her, exuding charisma by the bucketful. Beside her, John McCain is a wizened, shriveled shadow of a real man. If I could bottle and sell her essence, I’d be a millionaire in short order.

And talk about testosterone, it shines from her forehead like a glinting diamond, catching the eye and holding it until she disappears from view.

As far as outward physical attributes go, she has an amazing skull. With her prognathous jaw, heavy brow, deep-set eyes, high cheekbones, and ruby red lips, she signals her genetic superiority to all potential mates.

Put all of the above together with a pair of legs to die for, and you have Sarah Palin as My Sexiest Man Living.

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Yesterday I received an e-mail from my cousin in Arkansas. She keeps me informed of goings on and I appreciate her messages. She wrote that her husband and brother (another cousin) had gone to “the farm” at three a.m. on a deer hunting foray. The farm she mentioned is owned by her husband and he drives about a hundred miles at least once a week, sometimes more often, to see how things are going and to consult with his manager.

This year, his crops are soy beans and rice. At least one of the rice fields has been harvested but the soy beans were largely destroyed under a deluge of rain that extended over several days and inundated the crop land. Such is the fate of farmers. It’s a risky business.

The farm is large and meanders in and out of stands of woods. The crops are ringed by dirt roads that form a boundary between the woods and the crop land. And running through the crops are a series of smaller roads, small dikes, and irrigation canals. Water for the crops is diverted from creeks and streams that run through the woods by a series of diversion dams between the woods and the crops.

The woods are a convenient home for deer and smaller wildlife, and the crop lands are prime sources of food for them. When my cousin’s husband gave me a tour of the farm a couple of months ago, we saw several herds of deer browsing along the edges of the soybeans, which were still thriving at that time. The deer were easily visible from our ground-level position on the perimeter road, and had anyone had the inclination and a deer rifle, he could easily have shot one maybe two deer before they bolted.

But the accepted method of deer hunting is from a deer stand. For lack of a better description, a deer stand is like a small tree-house constructed on the trunk of a tree about 30 feet from the ground. A stand is really nothing more than a platform anchored to the tree with two by fours as braces.

Hunters access the stand by climbing a wooden ladder. Then, they wait for the deer to appear in their view. If the deer are near enough for a clear shot, then the hunter is likely to kill his limit in short order. If there are two hunters, both may kill their limit before the day is over.

On the day I visited, my cousin’s husband pointed out several strategically placed deer stands. Even from ground level, the crops spread out before me for well over a thousand yards. From the vantage point of one of the elevated stands, a hunter could see much further. A hunter with a high-powered deer rifle with a scope can score a hit easily from that distance.

As we drove around the farm and the woods, with my cousin’s husband explaining the intricacies of farming, I began to think about my own hunting days. I was young then, very young, and a part of the culture of the time and place. My favorite reading material was the Shooters Bible, at that time a flashy publication advertising every make of gun anyone could imagine.

I myself owned four guns, a .22 caliber plinking rifle, a .20 gauge shotgun for small birds and varmints, a .12 gauge shotgun once owned by my granddad for quail, pheasants, and rabbits, and a  bolt-action 7-millimeter Belgium Mauser. This latter gun is a mystery. I can’t remember how I came to have it in my possession. I just remember driving to a gravel pit with friends and shooting cans with it. This was one hell of a powerful rifle, literally blowing a can to smithereens.

Because of my background, I entered the military service quite familiar with guns. I was very accurate with the M-1 Carbine used then by the Air Force. I could easily hit the bull’s eye with regularity, and at one time I was asked to join the rifle team. I declined respectfully. Although I was a good shot, I didn’t want to spend my service time on a rifle range. Competition firing isn’t just a matter of picking up a gun and shooting it when your turn comes. Consistent accuracy takes a lot of practice to achieve. I was too undisciplined then.

After my service time ended, I never returned to the old home place except for brief visits and I never hunted again. It wasn’t that I suddenly became anti-gun. My life following my discharge from the service became filled with family, job, and various other sports, primarily baseball at first but eventually fast-pitch softball. I played in a city league for a few years and hung it up in favor of golf. That’s where my life stands at the present.

When I received my cousin’s e-mail, I wondered what I would do if her husband asked me to accompany him to the farm for deer hunting. I knew that I wouldn’t, so the only issue was how to say no gracefully. I finally settled on a straightforward and honest answer. “No, thanks, but I appreciate the invitation,” I would say simply without embellishment or excuse. If I were pressed further, I would add, “I don’t hunt anymore. It’s merely a matter of my personal preference, but I certainly don’t object to other people hunting,” I intend to avoid a never-ending series of excuses about guns and hunting. It’s counterproductive.

The truth of the matter is, a truth I will never tell my cousin, shooting a deer with a high-powered deer rifle is too easy. Where is the challenge? The process might be fair if the deer had a rifle, too. Besides, I am at a stage of economic independence that I don’t need to hunt to eat. Some people do, of course. Let them. Me, I just trot down to Safeway and browse the aisles, hunting for a can of SPAM.

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I’ve been somewhat preoccupied over the past month or so. Almost all of my time during that period was related to my cataract surgery. In retrospect, it seems I was preparing for surgery on one eye and recovering afterward while at the same time, getting ready for surgery on the second eye.

Yesterday, the doctor completed the second operation and this morning I visited him in his office for a follow up examination. His verdict, I no longer need eyeglasses.

That’s bad and good. First the bad news. I like my Top Guns because they add overall character to my face and hide those mousey-blue bags that give it that sad, droopy effect. I am  not that sad and I can still wear Top Guns, but the lenses will be plain glass insted of prescription glass. On the other hand, the expense of a new pair every year or so will be reduced dramatically. That’s good.

But the doctor’s happy demeanor when he broke the news followed by my joyful tap dance wasn’t the end of the process. Before he gives me the final all clear, I will need to continue a regimen of eye drops in both eyes three times daily and at least two more examinations. I fully expect things to move along quite well, and in a couple of weeks, the doctor will give me his final clearance to resume my everyday activities.

Pending the end of the process, I have a couple of things to do. The first is to renew my driver’s license. The doctor gave me a certificate of 20/20 vision this morning, so I’ll wait until early next week when I’ll visit the driver’s licensing agency on a slack day. The certificate will permit me to forgo that pesky eye exam at the counter. That dratted test had been a royal pain in the arstermeister for me and here’s why.

The aforementioned 20/20 vision is in one eye. The other one is virtually gone, 20/50 or something like that, but the cataract surgery on it permitted enough light to reach the optic nerve for absolutely great binocular vision.

In other words, when my eyes work together as a team, my vision is virtually perfect. But when they operate individually the way we’re forced to use them to look through the vision test machine one eye at a tine, one works well enough to pass the at-the-counter vision test, the other doesn’t.

This makes for an awkward situation, and on at least one occasion I was denied a renewed license until I presented the eye examiners with a document from an ophthalmologist certifying to my ability to drive. I tried to explain to her that the vision test is stacked against prospective licensees. No one drives around with a machine strapped to the head, looking first into one peep hole and then another. We drive with two eyes working together. Therefore, why not test both eyes together.

Moreover, I told her, we don’t drive around squinting at and searching for individual letters on a stop sign or a direction sign on a freeway. Driving, good driving, requires the driver constantly to sweep traffic conditions ahead, with both eyes I added. Closing one eye to read a sign is a hazard to our health.

Despite my impeccable logic, she forced me to spend the time and money for a certificate certifying that I could safely operate a motor vehicle. So every few years just before my license expired, I’d tromp down to the ophthalmologist’s office for an eye test and another certificate.

Now, the embarrassment and inconvenience of rejection is over. The two lenses in my eyes will never be clouded by cataracts. With my restored 20/20 eyesight, I’ll be able to waltz through the vision test because, in this state, one 20/20 eye is all that’s required for license renewal.

But the ultimate result of my cataract surgery is the ability to see things I haven’t seen in years, things like cars, pedestrians, and loose tires rolling across the freeway. It’s a miracle. I encourage anyone who needs cataract surgery but has hesitated to just do it.

A couple of cautions, though. Don’t be surprised when you look in the mirror fot the first time after your surgery and see an odd looking face staring at you. In my own case, the bags under my eyes were so huge, I may need to check them the next time I fly. And for some reason, I saw more wrinkles and sags and cellulose on those vaunted Hollywood idols the first time I booted up my 46 inch high def than I could have imagined. Apparently, the high def techs haven’t figured out the finer points of air brushing pixels.

Despite these minor shortcomings, however, my world is brighter and more beautiful than I remember. The colors are vivid, the sky bluer, the greenery greener, the ocean aqua-er, and the inside and outside of my loved ones more beautidul than ever.

Not all is sunshine and roses, though. The surgery won’t clean your windshield. I learned that the hard way this morning when I could hardly see the road despite my 20/20 vision.

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This morning I was chatting with a Facebook Friend about finding a suitable blog platform. She’s a professional writer, so she’s a little pickier than me. She’s looking not just for an audience but for the right audience. Professional writers need the exposure that could lead to a paid gig. And, of course, all professional writers write to be read widely. Otherwise, why write.

I’m not a writer myself. I write basically for my family and friends. A blog is a good way to reach them beyond the bounds of E-mails and letters. Oh, sure, it’s nice when others write nice comments about the things I write, and I have met some fine people through my blog. Can’t deny that, and I hope to meet more good folks with interesting things to say.

My own approach to blogging is simple. I am not at all good at writing about myself. My inner feelings are boring even to me, and I am sort of bored right now. That’s why I tend or have tended to write about external events. And since my interests are quite broad, I am inclined to write according to no particular pattern. Today, I might write about a political event, tomorrow a blurb about an article I ran across in GQ magazine. Whatever strikes my interest at the moment will likely be the topic for the day.

I also like to add a humorous touch to most of the topics I am interested in. That doesn’t mean everything is funny. Some topics are absolutely without humor, child abuse, domestic violence, murder, and suicide, for example, are devoid of laughter.

That’s why the current run of murders in this country is disturbing. Thirteen soldiers murdered at Fort Hood, Texas, one murdered and mayby 15-plus wounded in Orlando, Florida; these are just two of the most egregious examples of recent violence in America today.

Of course, the perpetrators of these crimes will always have an excuse. The guy in Orlando was fired from his job two years ago and he was mad at the company. Oddly, the individuals he murdered are not, “the company.” But somehow in the mind of this deranged individual, the employees who worked for “the company” became “the company.” So, he decided to murder as many human beings as he could.

He may or may not have known or cared that he was shooting individuals rather than “the company.” Is this insanity, or is it a failure of the ability of some people to understand distinctions?  One individual is dead but “the company” lives on. Similarly, thirteen dead but the United States Army survives.

In addition to the damages done to the survivors of these monstrous acts, the perpetrators have harmed the United States in more ways than one. Globally, they’ve added to the perception that this is the most violent country in the world. Say what you wish, but the perceptions of other nations are important within the global system when it comes to the achievement of the vital national interests of the U.S.

Domestically, the current rash of violence has exacerbated the feelings of fear and parnoia among ordinary Americans.  Who among us might be the next mass murder? That guy down the street who looks odd with his little round glasses and close-set eyes? Or a respected Army psychologist?

The most disgusting cipher in the equation is society’s failure to deal with the violence that seems to be a part of our cultural DNA. Why are we as a country so reluctant to tackle the issue? Is it because we feel helpless? Maybe we think its someone else’s job. Or have our leaders failed us? We have a justice system that excuses criminal behavior and a penal system that has become a breeding ground for violence and gang activity.

Whatever the answer may be, it’s a puzzle. As far as solutions go, my own personal impression is that the violence has largely missed the elites of our society. As long as people below the elite level murder each other, as long as the elites do not find themselves the targets of random and mass violence they will continue to largely ignore the issue, appearing on television and uttering meaningless words after a mass shooting or an especially egregious murder.

Somehow, in America, we tend to look at the moment and at the situation. Broader ramifications seem beyond our comprehension.

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I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as rife, but speculation about Gavin Newsom is in the air. It started this past Friday when he announced his withdrawal from the governor’s race. In the beginning, everyone seemed inert, hardly grasping what had just occurred. But the talking pointy heads are beginning to emerge and as time passes, we can expect the underwhelming story to gain a little staying power.

Newsom’s expressed reason for his withdrawal was a desire to spend more time with his new baby daughter. That’s understandable. First time parents always seem a little overwhelmed at the 24/7 tasks of caring for a newborn infant. Some have wondered, however, if a couple as rich as the Newsoms hasn’t already employed a baby sitter or whatever they’re called by rich people, nannies or something European chic such as Au pair.

Naturally, as soon as Newsom ended his press conference Friday, the questions began. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to know the real reason he decided to drop out. The thinking class figured, based on its experience with politicians, that a simple explanation could not possibly be the right one. The want-to-be-with-my-family excuse has been used by virtually every politician in the country at one time or another. Political analysts have a difficult time with both simplicity and repetition.

In the case of Newsom’s real motives, a couple of explanations hit the media waves almost immediately. The first one posited that Gavin was far behind Jerry Brown and falling further in soliciting money for his campaign. In modern American politics, so the theory goes, money equals success. No one aspiring to a political office can approach electability without the monetary resources needed to get his or her message out to the voting public. Gavin came up short in this area.

The second reason Gavin withdraw, according to the pundits, was his standing in the polls. Since the beginning of his efforts to become the Democratic nominee for governor, he has lagged in the polls. In the latest, he was a full 20 points behind Jerry. Overcoming a deficit like this is a challenge to say the least.

Those are the motives proffered by the punditry class. And both of them are valid and logical. But are they the primary motivating forces behind Newsom’s withdrawal? Some have suggested other reasons.

At the top of the list is a hint, never directly articulated, that someone lined up against Newsom was prepared to cover every inch of Newsom’s personal life, or at least enough to brand Newsom as an untrustworthy individual. Does this one hold water? Perhaps. But most likely, given Brown’s commanding lead in money and polls, the nuclear option would never have been needed.

Another possible motive plays on Newsom’s expressed desires in the past to achieve political office beyond San Francisco. This one suggests implicitly that Gavin may be looking for something at the federal level, a congressional seat or something like that. His failure in the Democratic primary would definitely put a damper on further political aspirations. By withdrawing now and using the usual reasons, Gavin leaves open the possibility of revisiting the issue at a more propitious time.

Whether or not any or all of these are the real motive, one fact remains clear. Gavin has withdrawn from contention. At this point in time, motives are irrelevant. Some recognize this and concentrate on the matter of his future. What will Gavin do now?

Again, several ideas have been floated. For the time being, he will finish his second term as mayor, putting his energies into the changes he wishes for San Francisco.

After his second term ends in 2012, the possibilities are open. He may return to his business interests, of which he has several in the pleasure and entertainment business, successful enterprises such as a winery, resorts, restaurants and wine bars.

Some, such as former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, believe Newsom will return to politics at some time in the future when the political environment is more receptive.

Regardless of the political tack Newsom may eventually take, he will continue to be a polarizing figure. His stand on gay marriage has illuminated the nascent strength of California’s conservative majority in certain areas of the state such as the interior valleys where conservatives, along with many of California’s statewide population of Black voters, were instrumental in killing state-wide gay marriages.

Of course, outside forces were a strong factor in the passage of Proposition 8, an Amendment to the State Constitution that restricts marriage to one man and one woman. But the point is that conservative strength is there and can be mobilized easily against Newsom.

Perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding Newsom’s sudden withdrawal from the primary against Jerry Brown is the question of who predicted Newsom’s decision to hang it up, at least for the time being, as far back as September 15, 2009.

On that date, an anonymous item appeared in the blog  I Love You Gavin Newsom. The post predicted with uncanny accuracy not only Newsom’s withdrawal but also the exact reason given by Newsom in his public statement on Friday, October 31, a month and a half after the blog post.

Someday, the identity or identities of the author(s) will be known. In the meantime, speculation about the conundrum that is Gavin will continue. Our speculation is that Gavin’s absence from the political arena will be temporary. He is an ambitious individual with a taste for the power political office brings. Power once experienced is difficult to forget.

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