Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Sometimes death stalks us at elbow range, and we haven't the faintest idea how close we’ve come. I think of December, 1981 in Kerala, India, when I nearly lost my balance tottering along a narrow beam as I exited from a river vessel. I didn’t know how to swim.
In June, 1983, returning from my son’s West Point graduation with my wife and daughter, I was driving in the mountains of Western Maryland along a three lane highway, with my present lane about to merge. Unfortunately, a semi-truck was laboring up the sharp ascent in front of us. I foolishly gambled I could pass before the lane gave way, only to find that three lanes suddenly narrowed into two with a car in the other lane approaching at breakneck speed. Trapped in a spatial pincher, I accelerated, threading a narrow opening between the truck and oncoming car. As I swung past, maybe a foot to spare on either side, I heard the car's screeching brakes as I viewed in my mirror its desperate careening to right itself in its lane. I had teased Eternity's border
And then there have been those plane journeys: planes nearly colliding because of tower errors, violent storms, a propeller no longer working (this one in the military flying over the Sea of Japan, all of us in parachutes).
Sometimes death comes looking for us close to home. Last week, for instance, on just a late afternoon trip to the grocery store, a big bumper in your face pick-up came speeding round a curvy bend hogging the already narrow road, sending me off the road to avoid a head-on crash. I didn’t have time to think; I reacted instinctively.
Two weeks ago, I took my annual blood work-up. Several days later, I got the mailed results. Bilirubin levels were elevated. Concerned, my doctor scheduled me for a follow up hepatic test and abdominal scan to check liver function and for gall stones, tumors, and cancer of the gallbladder or pancreas. Now anxious, I didn’t find relief in reading in my Mayo guide that elevated bilirubin levels indicated cancer. A short 36-hours after the test the doctor’s office called: the tests had turned out normal.
I got away yet again; yet I don’t fool myself. It’s kind of a hide and seek game we play with death. Sooner or later, it finds you.
One thing I learned from this most recent episode: how many are caught in death’s net, every year, month, week, day, hour, minute, and second. I note their anguish, their physical suffering, their often painful, slow demise. I have found my passion for others renewed; my sense of life lived in the context of the meaningful quickened; a heightened sensitivity to the beauty of every new day to be relished; a sharpened awareness of temporality’s potential to enhance.
To live life rightly helps our not clutching it. In fact, it helps us let go.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
More specifically, his proposal represents a direct raid on the Social Security Trust Fund, short-changing our young people. As is, his proposal cuts $175 million from the employment payroll contributions and $65 billion in employment contributions. The President’s new, massive stimulus package before Congress, $440 billion, draws 55% of its funding from Social Security funding. You do the math. It’s simply untenable, an indulgence in political opportunism, betraying American workers and their future.
Compounding the demographic and political pressures on Social Security, today’s massive unemployment has ignited a rush in applications for disability income (SSDI). According to the government’s own figures, applications showed a 21% increase just between 2008 and 2009. While the rising number of aging baby boomers may account for some of this increase, it seems more likely this sudden swell has is origin in our down economy. Frankly, one has to suspect Social Security is being used as a ruse for welfare in many instances. Obtaining benefits also qualifies one for Medicare, no matter one’s age.
In its defense, the Social Security administration argues it has strict monitoring procedures in place to assure legitimacy in the application process, with only 30% of applications approved. This is true, however, only at the initial application stage. While denied applications going through the appeal process can take up to 2-years, persistence pays and ultimately most applicants, or 67%, get their benefits approved before an Administrative Law Judge. Meanwhile, legal representation for applicants has turned into a lucrative specialty.
What’s mind-numbing is that this deluge in disability applications is leading some trustees of the Social Security disability program recommending Congress reallocate money from the Social Security Retirement program to offset deficits in disability funding!
As is, the present and proposed cuts in Social Security payroll taxes don’t offer assistance to the many unemployed, retired, disabled or those, like teachers, who are ineligible for SS. More substantially, short-changing Social Security exacerbates its perilous future.
Friday, September 16, 2011
The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has just announced that heart and lung disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for 63% of deaths globally. That surpasses the former number one killer, infectious diseases. WHO attributes the high mortality to largely preventable sources such as smoking, sedentary living, and faulty diet. In the West, Australia ranks first in heart and cancer mortality (35% heart; 20% cancer). 17 % of Australians smoke and a shocking 64% are obese. Unfortunately, Americans top the obesity scale, with some 71% of us overweight. Global Burden Chart
One noticeable observation is that even third world countries are experiencing rising heart and cancer mortality, as their diets increasingly incorporate meat and daily products. Back in the 80s when noted Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell made his blockbuster study of rural Chinese diets, heart disease and cancer were rare among those consuming an entirely plant based diet. The study’s empirical evidence has been confirmed in analyses differentiating Chinese immigrants and their offspring in the U. S. Americanized Chinese exhibit the same high incident rate for heart disease and cancer as the general population.
The real culprit here is animal protein, not fat per se. To avoid these chronic diseases the world needs to shift to a plant based diet. Studies give convincing evidence that doing so not only lessens the occurrence of heart disease, but often reverses it. Cancer incidence also decreases.
Ironically, our current health system contributes to our declining health with its continuing endorsement of a daily 30 gram fat content, low fat meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods. Some doctors are downright defiant of plant diet research. Dr. Eduardo Azap, president of the Union For International Cancer Control, debunks the notion that “cancer is a problem of rich countries” as “a misconception" (Chronic Killers). And yet when you look at WHO’s own listing, Ethiopia, for example, has a 4% cancer mortality rate; India, 6%. Contrast this with the U.S. 23% cancer mortality rate. It isn’t that we eat too much; it’s that we eat the wrong food.
Consider Harvard’s School of Public Health recently released alternative to the USDA’s MY Plate diet. Harvard’s plate seeks to offer more specific nutritional guidelines under the same USDA categories: fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Nonetheless, the Harvard plate still recommends poultry and fish as good food sources, albeit, Harvard does make some helpful suggestions, for example, recommending whole grains in place of refined grains found in foods such as white bread and while rice, which contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also makes a bold breakthrough in recommending water over milk.
Concurrently, an independent panel of 22 health experts (nutritionists, dieticians, cardiologists among them) reviewed 20 popular diets, with the Dash and Ornish diets finishing 1 and 3 respectively under Best Heart-Healthy Diets. Dr. Ornish advocates a virtual vegan diet that strongly resembles those proposed by Drs. Campbell, Mcdougall, Esselstyn and Fuhrman, stalwart pioneers with convincing empirical data behind their advocacy of a plant based diet in combating heart disease and cancer.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Four year old Christopher “buddy” Rowe in California
Twenty-three year old Matthew Denice in Massachusetts
Four people in Texas in a single traffic incident
One each in Oregon, Texas, and Michigan
What are these people doing here?
Now comes word of another Obama relative, Kenyan illegal Onyungu Obama, the President's uncle, arrested for drunk-driving in Framingham, MA. Two years ago, a judge allegedly ordered him deported. Guess he didn’t get the message. He does, however, have a Mass driver's license and social security card. Imagine my surprise.
It’s reported that when offered a free phone call for assistance, he asked for the White House. Why not? After all, Obama’s Kenyan aunt, Zeituni Onyangu had also been slated for deportation, appealed, and won permanent residence. She’d been living in a South Boston project for years, drawing disability and welfare.
Obama has retained prominent counsel in Cleveland immigrant lawyer, Margaret Wong. Meanwhile, the White House has refused to comment.
A few weeks ago, the Obama administration announced it would now prioritize deportation of those with criminal records. Does that include drunk drivers like Uncle Onyangu?
I wouldn’t bet on it.