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Mars

Mars

There is a popular relationship book from a couple of decades ago called Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus which was written by John Gray, a relationship expert. While some of his ideas were and are controversial, there is some merit in some of his basic ideas – that men and women have very different thought processes and ways of handling stressful situations, so different that they might well be from other planets and that our inability to at least understand the opposite sex is the foundation of a lot of the clashes that occur within relationships.

In 2014, that lack of understanding has made its way into the political arena. Much talk has been going on about the “war on women” being undertaken by Republican legislators, particularly those affiliated with the Tea Party. Certainly there is a war on reproductive rights. While some Republicans are beginning to realize that gay marriage is a war they can’t win, they continue to carry the flag for pro-life and anti-abortion causes.

While Roe vs. Wade remains in full vigor, Republican think tanks and lawmakers have been finding legislative ways around that landmark decision and some have worked so well that legalized abortion is endangered in some places. Rather than attack abortion itself, they are going after the places that provide them. Take Texas, for example.

In 2013 the Republican dominated legislature of the Lone Star state enacted draconian legislation that essentially made it nearly impossible for abortion clinics to operate. The new laws stipulate that clinic doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital (defined as being within 30 miles of the clinic). That would be fine and dandy if a), it were medically necessary and b), if hospitals were willing to grant those privileges. As many progressive activists foresaw, the inability of many clinics to get those privileges (since Texas hospitals, not wishing to be affiliated in any way with abortion clinics, chose to refuse to grant those necessary privileges) which forced a pretty significant number of those clinics to close.

When the law was enacted there were 44 clinics providing abortions and other reproductive health services to women in the state of Texas. At present there are less than 20. When the second part of the bill begins in September – which requires abortion clinics to have an ambulatory surgical center which most do not it is believed that there will only be six clinics in the entire state able to perform abortions. Six.

As you might expect, things are looking grim for Texas women. Many are resorting to self-inducing through herbal remedies or with vaginal insertions. It is 1962 all over again in Texas – and soon will be in other states that are looking to enact Texas-style legislation. While I’m unaware of any women having died as a result of a back alley abortion in Texas or complications from induced miscarriages, I do believe that sooner rather than later some poor desperate woman is going to die because she couldn’t get the abortion she wanted and needed. And that is blood on the hands of Governor Rick Perry and the mostly male Republican-dominated Texas legislature. This is why Wendy Davis heroically filibustered the despicable attempt to cram this despicable bill into law at the last minute during a special legislative session.

Many raise the flag of the sanctity of life and wave it fiercely as they defend their support of Texas Senate Bill 5 but that’s absolute crap. It’s a lie. These same conservatives who scream “sanctity of life” when it comes to abortions have no compunction to executing criminals in the state with the greatest number of executions in this century, nor are they concerned with the sanctity of life when they resist stricter and more detailed background checks for gun sales. If they cared so much about the sanctity of life, they’d be against capital punishment and private ownership of guns. They’d also be pacifists. I’m fairly sure that most of these legislators are for none of those things.

The problem is that these legislators in Texas and other states where they seek to make it harder to get abortions are only making it impossible to get medically supervised and safer abortions. They aren’t reducing the number of women who will want them, and that’s really what they’re after – to control our own sexuality. The Bible-thumpers who make up the majority of the Pro-Life movement have this absurd and naive notion that by taking abortion out of the picture, people will stop having sex. What they really want is to enforce their own religious beliefs on everyone else.

That’s what it boils down to. Yes, the war on women is largely a religious war. The fact that the ERA has never been passed, ensuring equal pay for comparable work between women and men, is also a function of the Biblical view that women are inferior to men and are meant to serve men. Talk about being from an entirely different planet.

These anti-abortion laws are abominable and must be stopped and those that have passed must be repealed. If one woman dies because she is unable to get the care she needs when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy it is one woman too many. For a party that claims to be all about free market solutions and against government interference in commerce and the lives of its citizens, they are making a mockery of their own platform. What are these laws but government interference into the businesses that provide these services, and interference in the lives of women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? It has already been determined that women have the right to control what happens to their own bodies; this is political chicanery circumventing that right.

Yes, men are definitely from Mars. Who else but followers of the God of War could enact legislation this reprehensible, this invasive? This is war and when there is war between the sexes, as Joe Jackson put it so eloquently, there will be no people left.

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All-American Addiction

All-American Addiction

We are a nation of addicts. Drug addicts. Don’t think so? Consider this little tidbit; American doctors write more prescriptions than the doctors in every other country in the world combined.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Part of it rests with us, the patients. We are the most impatient patients in the world – we want whatever is wrong to be cleared up RIGHT NOW and in an as inconvenient means as possible. If we can pop a pill and put our medical issues and bodily discomforts to rest, more the better.

Certainly, there are things that require drugs. There are conditions in which our survival depends on them. But do we really need all the prescription drugs we are gobbling down right now? Big Pharma thinks so. In fact, Big Pharma’s survival depends on us being addicted to prescriptions. They spend billions on research and development and marketing. They make us feel like we need Ambien to sleep, Claritin to breathe and Viagra to….well, you know.

That’s not to say that every drug that hits the market is superfluous. Many of them have important uses that help millions not only in this country but everywhere else overcome temporary medical issues or live with permanent ones. Nobody is saying that the world needs less insulin. HOWEVER, it is true that our lifestyle has a lot to do with our health.

We are, as a nation, as anxiety-ridden as any on the planet. Our focus is on work and productivity more and more and less and less on living. As a nation we have less free time and less leisure time than most industrialized nations and studies show we have far more stress than most. As a nation we have always been taught that achievement is the measure of a successful life and so we go balls-out to get it often at the expense of family and health.

Time has become an issue. We have so little of it, or we think we do. We value convenience and speed over everything; fast food and pre-prepared food has become staples in most households. When we do cook, we are making things from cans and bottles. Fresh produce and meat are expensive so those with less disposable income are forced to eat more unhealthy foods. The preservatives and overabundance of salt and sugar are like toxins in our system, further eroding our health. While there are those who work out and take care of their bodies, the vast majority of us don’t – at least, not often enough.

There is a happy medium folks. We don’t have to obsessively work out for hours every day but if we can take half an hour walking, riding a bike or swimming rather than sitting on our tush surfing the Internet the health benefits are enormous. If we spend an hour preparing and eating a meal rather than swinging by the drive-thru lane at Burger King our bodies will benefit. And for all the time we don’t have, how much of it is really spent on critical things? Watching TV and surfing the net are both ways of blowing off steam but for the most part we don’t use either one wisely or in moderation. I’m certainly guilty of that myself.

Yes, Big Pharma certainly has a measure of blame in our over-dependence on prescription drugs. They do influence our doctors to prescribe first and ask questions later. This has led to a deadly situation that kills people on a regular basis. Part of the problem is that doctors don’t really know what their colleagues are doing. You go to one specialist who prescribes you one thing, you go to another who prescribes you another that may not necessarily play well with the first. I am frankly amazed that there isn’t a Medical Net, a network that links all doctors and can bring up every patient and what their other doctors are doing and prescribing and that every doctor can access. It could also give doctors information on drugs and how they interact with other drugs so that prescriptions could be made with better judgment. I think the benefits of such a network would outweigh the potential drawbacks and personally I believe something like that would save lives but the entire medical profession would have to buy into it.

At the end of the day, it is our own responsibility what we put into our bodies from the food that we eat down to the drugs that we take. It behooves us all to question the necessity of every drug we take from sleeping aids to pain killers. When a doctor wants to prescribe you something, question it. Ask what the drug will do for you, and how it might interact with other drugs you might already be taking. Find out how it interacts with alcohol if you drink, and what the side-effects might be. Don’t blindly take anything that you are prescribed just because a doctor says you should – doctors are human as well and not every decision they make are always the right ones. It is up to you to be your doctor’s teammate in your healthcare.

My mom, a registered nurse who worked almost 50 years in the field (off and on) is fond of saying that nearly every prescription drug on the planet is a poison; it’s not meant to be in your system. She’s quite right – while they may not necessarily be toxins in and of themselves, they can certainly become toxic over time.

We are a drug culture. The recent baseball steroid suspensions of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun confirm that. Athletes look to drugs to give them an edge. Students look to drugs to allow them to stay up and study longer. We take drugs for recreational use. We use drugs to help us sleep and drugs to stay awake. We use drugs to aid our sex life and drugs to regulate our moods. We even take drugs to deal with the effects of other drugs.

At some point we need to stop. We need to look at our attitudes towards drugs both legal and otherwise and re-evaluate them. Nature has been wise enough to give us everything we need to have a good life. Yes, sometimes nature also gives us obstacles in which drugs become a necessary key to our survival but for the most part we are fully capable of doing without a lot of the drugs we take. If we spent as much time taking care of ourselves as we do wasting it on frivolous things, we’d cut our medical and prescription drug bills by a significant amount. As with most things, we have the ability to make changes ourselves that if done in numbers can make an enormous positive change in all of our lives. We just have to take the responsibility to do so but sadly an addiction to responsibility is not one our nation possesses.

Of Verdant Fields

This is going to be a little different from my usual blogs. I have a subject in mind, but it’s not one that I have a real opinion on. I do, but it’s not well-informed.

The subject is the legalization or at least the de-criminalization of marijuana. It’s not necessarily a hot button issue during this election campaign – none of the major candidates are discussing it as part of their platforms that I’m aware of and few of them seem to have any sort of opinion on the matter other than that it’s illegal and the law regarding it should be enforced.

It should be noted that I have a bit of prejudice in the matter; I’m allergic to cannabis. I found out the hard way in college. That was both a negative and a positive in the sense that it robbed me of a social outlet that was pretty widespread at the time, but at the same time it discouraged me from experimenting with recreational narcotics.

But that shouldn’t have anything to do with the matter at hand. Should marijuana be legalized? Should you be able to buy it at the corner market? There are compelling reasons both pro and con and in all honesty I can’t really make up my mind about it.

There’s no doubt that there are medicinal uses for marijuana and to that end several states are already allowing its availability as a prescription drug only. The plant also has other uses as hemp; it makes a durable rope as well as excellent fertilizer. Fabric can be made from it that can be weaved into garments. Even aside from its recreational use, the marijuana plant is a very useful plant.

There is also no doubt that compared to alcohol its effects are far less destructive on the human body. It is less addictive than alcohol or tobacco, and used in moderation has salubrious effects on the body. Legalizing it would allow government oversight to protect consumers from using product that has been spiked with more dangerous materials from pesticides to psychedelics. It would also allow the government to receive revenue from what is one of the largest cash crops in the country which would go a long way to reducing the deficit.

Those are some of the pros. There is also a con side. Like any substance, when overused or abused health issues can follow ranging from respiratory problems to cancer and even issues memory loss. Marijuana can impair judgment not to mention reflexes.

While marijuana has a reputation of being a gateway drug, there is no scientific evidence that marijuana users are any more likely to “graduate” to harder drugs like cocaine or heroin than non-users. However, pot farmers are breeding plants with higher levels of THC in them and the long-term effects of that are largely unknown. Pot with more of a kick could conceivably turn marijuana into something addictive.

It also has to be said that alcohol and tobacco are substances that America is having trouble with, although there has been some progress in reducing the number of smokers. I can’t see us faring any better with pot, although to be honest I don’t know if there will be a great upsurge in users if it’s legalized. My guess is there will be a slight upswing but not a very large bump at all. Most of the people who would use it are probably already using it. They might use it more often, particularly if legalizing it brings costs down although that remains to be seen if it will happen that way.

My attitude towards it has always been “We already have alcohol and tobacco; we don’t need another legal substance that impairs like they do.” Then again, there’s the freedom issue – should government be able to restrict what recreational substances we use in our own homes if they are not any more dangerous to ourselves and others than what is already legal? I have to admit that part of the equation is troublesome. Certain sexual acts are outlawed in individual states (such as Oral Sex in Georgia, although it’s obviously not enforced) from morality laws dating back to the 19th century; no government on Earth should regulate what I do for enjoyment in my own home as long as I’m not bothering anybody. Enjoying a joint and a blow job is certainly less intrusive into the lives of those around me than the guy down the block with the circular saw that he starts using at 7am every weekend morning.

I find it somewhat ironic that Republicans who advocate minimal government interference into our daily lives find marijuana reform to be so anathema. You would think that legalization would fall right into step with their smaller government platform. After all, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in fighting the drug war against marijuana alone. I think they associate pot with hippies and anti-war activists, which then becomes more of a “if you like it then I’m against it” knee-jerk reaction. But that’s just my own observation.

I’m still kind of undecided about the whole thing. Certainly I’m more open-minded about it than I was ten years ago. Call me a slow learner. Again, I recognize that a great deal of my antipathy on the subject has a lot more to do with my own allergies than my common sense. I also recognize that most law enforcement agencies are against legalization, even though legalizing pot would allow them to divert resources to other types of crime that require it.

It’s a thorny subject, at least for me. I’m tending to lean at the moment for legalization; that’s something I wouldn’t have done not so long ago. Still, the thought of verdant fields of marijuana plants in open farmland tickles my fancy a bit, although one wonders what effect it will have on legitimate farmers who suddenly see a more profitable crop available to them. Pot may become cheap but lettuce might become expensive. I’m sure there would be a lot of unforeseen consequences to legalization; there always are.

So again it boils down to freedom versus security. Should people be free to use recreational drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) of a reasonable potency or should the war on drugs continue – a war that, like Chris Christie’s ass, go on forever with no resolution in sight?

The Tyranny of the Scale

We are told by our doctors, nutritionists, celebrities and talk show hosts that in order for us to be happy and healthy, we have to be thin. There is a certain weight range that we are supposed to be in for our height and bone density, and that is that. If we don’t fall in that range, then we are unhealthy, fat and need to start exercising and dieting right away.

We watch “The Biggest Loser” on television and get inspired by fat people who take three months out of their lives in order to work out strenuously six hours or more a day, eat a carefully supervised diet and compete in challenges in order to ratchet up the drama. We get involved in their stories and wonder why we can’t lose the measly ten pounds we need “to get healthy.”

As someone who has undergone a fairly significant weight loss (and is continuing to do so), I can tell you that there is nothing easy or complicated about it. Not all of us can check out of our lives and onto a ranch where world-class trainers can supervise us on a program that not only teaches us to live healthier lives but also to discover what prompted the weight gain in the first place and deal with those issues. Most of us have to do it on our own.

Still, there is a question that nobody ever asks about the whole process. Is the stress of counting calories and going to the gym worth the extra 20 or 30 pounds that we could take off of our bodies? Most doctors and fitness trainers would say that it is.

Can we trust these people, who have a vested interest in keeping us concerned about our weight and overall health, to give us objective opinions about it though? Sure, Jillian Michaels can go on television and preach about good exercise and keeping healthy, but isn’t that how she makes a living? By being paid to teach people how to exercise and stay healthy? Nothing against Bob, Jillian or any other person who is trying to inspire you to get healthy, but I always take advice from people who are trying to sell a DVD, book or whatever with a grain of salt.

We have been taught that overweight is ugly, undesirable, unattractive. I’ve had beautiful women tell me how ugly they are because they are 15 pounds overweight and how nobody wants them. Does anybody besides me find that observe? Me, I like women with curves. I’m not fond of skinny arms and legs, flat tummies and hourglass waists. I can admire the work it took to achieve those features, but I think the work is better put in being happy with yourself. Just because you could afford to lose a few pounds doesn’t mean you’re ugly.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve yourself or that you should stop exercising and start eating whatever you want. Like everything in life, there is a balance to be struck. Obsessing on anything, even on good health, is unhealthy. We shouldn’t spend our entire lives denying ourselves in order to have a perfect body. One thing that is absolutely certain; your body will begin to degrade as you get older. Organs will fail. Boobs will droop. It is the nature of our existence that we cannot combat age and expect to win. Even the healthiest of older people cannot fight their own genetics. You can eat healthy and exercise regularly your entire life; if you’re genetically disposed towards strokes, aneurisms or heart conditions, you can still suffer any of those things. Keeping healthy will hold off a lot of issues but it won’t stop cancer.

It’s not a bad thing to have a slice of pizza once in awhile, or a piece of banana crème pie. You shouldn’t feel guilty for having an ice cream with your family, nor should you be alarmed if your weight goes up a pound or two because you’ve been slacking a bit. Moderation is the key to a good life. Balance the things you need to do with the things you want to do. Denying yourself the things you love is only going to make you psychotic.

There’s a fable I’ve heard about a young go-getter who always wanted to visit Europe. He had the opportunity to go on a study abroad program, but turned it down to work at home so that he could pay off his college loans. When he got married, his in-laws gave the happy couple airline tickets and hotel reservations but he cashed them in instead, choosing to put the money in the bank so that they could save for something better. A few years later, he won a trip in a contest but once again accepted the cash value instead and socked it in the bank. He wanted to go in style when he was older, preferring to spend his younger years building a career and putting as much away for retirement as he could.

A year before he was to have retired, he was driving home from work when he lost control of his car and crashed into a telephone pole. He was killed instantly. When he went to the pearly gates, he was angry. St. Peter asked him why. “I worked hard my entire life and all I wanted to do was visit Europe someday. I think it’s pretty rotten that God took me before I could go.” St. Peter pursed his lips and frowned, studying the folder that was the man’s life in front of him. Then he looked up, with a puzzled expression on his face. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean,” said the saint in a polite voice, “You were given several opportunities to go and you turned it down each time! We figured it wasn’t a priority for you.”

The moral is that we really don’t know how long we have on this earth, or what the future holds on it for us. Life is far too short to waste it fretting about every calorie we eat, or every moment we’re not in the gym. Our job is to seize every opportunity we can and make the most of it, because we may never get that opportunity again.

Our lives are meant to be enjoyed. 20 extra pounds aren’t going to seriously impair our ability to enjoy it, and 50 extra pounds isn’t going to make you ugly if you’re beautiful inside. If you feel unattractive and unwanted, I guarantee you there’s someone out there who finds you extremely attractive and wants you big time; they may just be too shy to tell you, or be too afraid of being rejected.

In that sense, romance is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted either. If someone expresses interest in you, look into it, even if you’re not feeling it initially yourself. You may find that someone you want to be “just a friend” is a better partner than someone who makes your heart beat faster but couldn’t be bothered to remember your birthday. Explore those opportunities because you never know where they might lead.

Bill of Health

NOTE: Beginning today, we’ll be adding material only available on this blog on an irregular basis. Keep checking back often if you like what you read.

The health care debate has become less of a debate than a series of people shouting at each other. Not everything being said makes sense, particularly coming from those who are arguing against a national health care plan. Some of it amounts to little more than name calling, a national debate on the “tastes great, less filling” level.

The whole thing is thoroughly disgusting. What must people around the world think of us? It can’t be good. Our chief executive, elected by 70% of the popular vote of the largest voter turnout in the history of this country, being called a liar by a pinhead from South Carolina during an address to the joint houses of congress. When did we become a nation of assholes?

Personally, I’m tired of the rhetoric. I’m tired of the political posturing, I’m tired of being polite about a subject that has taken on additional urgency as our country gets older and our health care declines further. As a society, it is our responsibility to take care of those who require care. That’s not from our constitution, folks; it comes from a source that is a bit older than that. That is the viewpoint espoused by early Christians.

That’s right folks; the far right, of whom many call themselves evangelical Christians (which is a nicer way of saying fundamentalist) are espousing a viewpoint that is decidedly un-Christian. That whole good Samaritan thing must have just been an early version of Punk’d. Every time I hear of some jerk saying they just don’t want to use their tax dollars to pay for someone else’s health care, I just want to stomp a mudhole into them. Sure, you don’t have any problems driving on the roads my tax dollars paid for but I don’t drive. You fuckwad.

At this point, I don’t give a crap about the Republicans and the health insurance industry. Screw the lot of them. The President needs to get tough with them and grow a pair. He’s far too polite and well brought up for that, but maybe that’s what the nation needs right now – President Kickass. The insurance companies don’t like the compromise plan that is being presented to congress? All right, how about a new one – we get rid of the goddamned insurance companies altogether and create a national health care plan using the one of France, England, Canada or freaking Sweden for that matter as a model. All of those countries provide better health care to their citizens than ours does with the supposedly more efficient business model that we have.

Why do we need the insurance companies? They’re just middlemen, taking your money and parsing it out to the medical industry as needed – and sometimes not even then. Remember, this is your freaking money. It is coming from your salary, your pay. Your employer isn’t providing a red goddamned cent to your health care other than administrative costs. It’s all coming out of your pocket. When you are denied coverage for whatever reason the insurance companies should provide you a refund of your unused cash. Why shouldn’t they? They’re making money off of your money, if nothing else in interest.

If the medical insurance industry were to go away tomorrow, only those employed by it would miss it at all. I know that the people that would be most hurt are the clerks and front line employees who are underpaid and overworked and I have some sympathy for them, but they are working for a business that is a parasite on our national economy. We don’t need them. They need to go away.

The amazing thing is that the money we’re currently paying to insurance companies could go to a national health care system and fund it easily. Why should it be any less painul to pay a tax than it is to pay a premium? At the end of the day, it’s just money going out of your wallet somewhere else. I’d much rather it go directly to the people caring for me than into the coffers of some insurance giant who then turn around and deny somebody desperate in need of treatment because of a pre-existing skin condition – acne. That should never happen in an advanced society. It’s cruel, it’s criminal and the people involved should have been marched to a medical lab and given a cyanide enema for all the suffering they caused the patient and their family.

Not that all of what ails this society can be laid at the feet of the insurance industry. The medical industry has it’s own share of blame to cop to. Recently, we got a bill for my late father-in-law for the two night hospital stay he received after a fall, which resulted in a broken wrist. The bill came to just over $17,000. $7,000 of it was just for laboratory costs. That’s the cost of drawing blood, taking urine samples and sticking those things into machines that examine the fluids and spit out a report. That’s obscene. It’s indefensible. No hospital administrator on the planet can adequately explain why costs are so high – yes, I understand that malpractice insurance is a big chunk of what hospitals charge, but Christ! Part of the problem, as Bill Maher pointed out on a recent program, is that we have turned the art and science of medicine into a profit-generating industry and not just profits, obscene profits.

This has to stop. It has to. There are too many people getting wealthy off of the misery and suffering of others. We have to rise above our baser instincts. We have to demand better for ourselves and our children. We need to become less passive in things that affect us directly and take action. E-mail your congressman and let them know your expectation is that they will push through the legislation this country needs and has to have. It is time for us to stop being distracted by the bread and circuses that constantly usurp our attention away from the matters we should be focusing on. Time to take control of our destinies again. It’s time to take back our country.