Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Myths People Believe

I was chatting with a Republican friend at my health club. Just a friendly chat, nothing political. I mentioned that our newspaper - the Sacramento Bee - is going down, like so many other newspapers, due to the Internet revolution. For instance, our newspaper is discontinuing Saturday deliveries. I told my friend that I deplore this, because I enjoy reading a printed newspaper with my morning coffee rather than reading from my computer screen. Also, I want to get the local news.

His reply was that newspapers are useless anyway, because they are just a bunch of lies and propaganda.

This reminded me of Trump, who believes and says that the media are the enemy of the people, echoing what dictators have said throughout history.

This is, of course, a falsehood. The truth is the opposite. A free press and the first amendment are the most important guarantee that our society remains a democracy and that people remain informed. American newspapers distinguish between facts and opinions. The latter are on the editorial and opinion pages. The American press - the Fourth Estate - is our democracy’s life jacket. The fact that many millions of Americans believe the opposite, along with the president, is tragic. These people’s preferred source of information is the Internet, which is incredibly unreliable. While digital has the advantage of providing access to many different news outlets, I am not sure that most people bother  to discriminate between (correct) information and misinformation, both of which are plentiful on the Internet. Read more...

Monday, November 25, 2019

My Doctor is Retiring

My Doctor is retiring. I told her I wouldn’t allow it, but she wouldn't listen and now I am stuck with the task of finding a new one. When I first became her patient in my twenties, I didn’t bother to find out how old she was. She looked old enough to know her business and young enough to read my chart without squinting, so I figured she would be ok for the next couple of decades. Besides, who thinks about retirement, your own or someone else’s at that age. But I should have done the smart thing, like I did when I got a new dog. I got a young one, so he wouldn’t die on me too quickly.

When she told me the news, I realized that she is one of the people who have known me the longest. Family doesn’t count, since they only know an obsolete version of you. But Doctors keep up with your life’s never ending transformations and transitions. She is the keeper of my body’s entire biography and now, decades later, it amounts to a bulging dossier, full of juicy details. If I was famous, she could sell my body’s dirty secrets for a ton of money to a tabloid magazine.

So here I am, without a doctor, without a gatekeeper. My body’s history floating out there, in limbo. I am supposed to transfer my records to a new doctor, a complete stranger! How do I know I can trust this person with my colonoscopies, my appendectomy, arthroscopic surgeries, MRI’s and cardiac stress tests?

I wonder if my Doctor feels guilty about dropping me like a sack of potatoes, discarded and forgotten. Did she feel bad when I sat on her varnished, faux leather chair and complained about my occipital neuralgia? She didn’t lean over and hold my hand with a pained look in her eyes. Thank God, I hear you say. Doctors are pragmatists. They are fixers, like a car mechanic. I wouldn’t expect Joe down the street to burst out in tears at the sight of my Honda’s broken timing belt. So, why am I so disturbed by the fact that my Doctor is retiring? Finding another fixer should not be such a problem. Read more...

Monday, November 18, 2019

Of Coffee Beans and Boiled Eggs

by Madeleine Kando

This is a children's story, but there is no guarantee
that you won't find it entertaining at any age.

As on most other days, I woke up at six this morning. That's what my body does without even asking for my permission. I gave up on a good night's sleep a long time ago. I go through the morning dragging my body around like a wet rag, until the demands of work and family forces me to ignore the feeling of exhaustion.

Today then, was no different. I stepped into the shower cell on automatic pilot, turned on the hot water and fumbled for the bar of soap with my eyes closed to rub in my face. I must have fallen asleep again, because the slippery egg-shaped object with a faint smell of almonds had suddenly disintegrated.

Instead, I was holding a tiny little miniature whale in the palm of my hand. It wasn't really a whole whale, mostly a mouth with a minuscule whale body. It stared at me with its beady little black eyes, suddenly stopped moving altogether and then spat in my face.

‘Who do you think you are?’ it said with a squeaky, piercing voice. ‘Rubbing me all over your body like that? Have you no shame? All that rubbing has caused my skin to break out. Look at me, I am a mess!’ It rolled over in my hand to show me his white belly, but it kept rolling and wriggling until it slithered its way through my fingers and landed with a flat thud on the floor of the shower cell.

I felt bad that such a small creature would suffer such a painful belly flop, even if it was in a dream. I bent over to pick it up and put it neatly back in the soap container, wondering when I would wake up. Read more...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Dutch Farmers' Protests: What is THAT all about? *

Did you know that Holland is the second largest food exporter in the world, second only to the United States? It is a country the size of Connecticut with 14 times more people per square mile. Imagine having to share your bedroom with 14 other people, that’s how densely populated Holland is.

There are many amazing things about this tiny country. It is home to some of the largest companies in the world, like Shell, Phillips and the ING Bank to name a few, and it is listed as one of ten countries with the highest quality of life in the world.

But the reason Holland has been in the news lately, has to do with a crisis the Dutch call the nitrogen crisis. In Dutch they call it the stikstof crisis. Literally ‘stikstof’ means ‘suffocating dust’, a much more appropriate description of what is going on with our environment. They call it a ‘suffocating dust’, not because it suffocates humans, but because it suffocates nature.

Air is primarily made up of nitrogen (79%), so you might wonder what’s wrong with a substance that we all breathe in, all day long? Well, when nitrogen mixes with other elements, it produces so-called reactive nitrogen compounds such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). Nitrogen oxides are released when fossil fuels are burned in traffic, industry and buildings. Ammonia emissions mainly come from agriculture when ammonia is released from both natural manure from livestock and fertilizer. Subsequently, nitrogen deposition occurs: the nitrogen compounds end up from the air in the soil and on the plants.

If you are a gardener, you might recognize this as the Ph balance of your soil. There is then a double impact. First, the nitrogen compounds act as fertilizer for some plants. They are usually the green, fast-growing species. These take over from the species that cannot tolerate nitrogen, which means plant species not only disappear, but in turn pose a threat to the animals that depend on them. Second, nitrogen deposits acidify the soil, something that certainly not all animals and plants can handle well. Read more...