Believe it or not, some things are universal

A couple of articles caught my eye today. Like most of us (i.e. Boomers), I have more than a passing interest in issues related to health and longevity. Naturally, then, when I considered where to start reading this morning– Jeff Sessions confronting accusations of lying to the Senate, another accusation of sexual assault against Roy Moore, presidential pressure for judicial retribution against a former rival (yes, in the U.S.), or research showing yet more reasons that coffee is good for us– you can guess where I clicked first. Latte in hand, I began to read.

Time Magazine (time.com) reported on a presentation by the University of Colorado medical school on their innovative analysis of the data in the landmark Framingham Heart Study. The strongest correlation they discovered was the link between drinking coffee (up to at least six cups per day) and reduced risk for heart failure, stroke, and coronary heart disease. Well, that called for another espresso!

Even sweeter for yours truly was the next article, about Harvard researchers proclaiming that “eating too quickly may be bad for your health.” Slow and steady eaters are less likely to become obese or to develop metabolic syndrome, with its associated stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. This was welcome information because my own research had only confirmed that slow eating can really irritate those waiting for you to finish. Bonus benefits seem to be that slow eaters may burn more calories and that, by chewing and swallowing more slowly, they recognize that they are filling up and consequently eat less. I am less convinced about this last finding, having learned through determined training that it is possible to eat slowly and still eat a lot. Save when one’s plate is prematurely whisked away.

As much as I enjoyed reading articles that supported the wisdom of two of my habits (and don’t we all?) it also reminded me that for every research finding there is usually another bit that more or less contradicts it, sooner or later. My favorite commentary on this observation comes from the 1973 movie, Sleeper, after the protagonist awakes from a 200 year cryogenic slumber:

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.

In spite of this, most of us do our best. Many or most of our generation are determined not to go gently into that good night. Eyes and ears always open for any new idea, book, or product to bolster our anti-aging arsenal.  But what efforts are going to be effective?

I spent some time with a friend last week who for the first time in his life has recently faced a couple of negative test results. This led him to take one of those interactive surveys that give you feedback on your health habits, your projected life-expectancy, what you can do to increase it, and by how much. I’ve done the same and his observation of the results was the same as mine: unless you are a smoker, are morbidly obese, or refuse to wear seatbelts, your increased life-expectancy if you make ALL the suggested changes amount to no more than a year or two.

Actually, there is one factor that the health questionnaires don’t address that would skew the results. The ones I’ve seen don’t ask the question, “Do you have good health insurance?” Their results are geared for those who do. Ah, you see where I am going with this, don’t you?

We want to believe that if we do all the right things, we will be rewarded with a long and healthy life. Research usually asserts that our individual choices do in fact affect our chances. A 5% lower risk of this or an 8% greater chance of that. Similarly, drivers who do all the right things and make good choices have better safety statistics and smaller risk of accidents. But, they still need insurance. Are mandated to have insurance.

When Massachusetts passed RomneyCare, or whatever they call it now, Harvard researchers found a 3% drop in the state’s mortality rate in the first four years of universal coverage. This in a state that already had a higher percentage insured than most others. The same source had this:

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that the death rate of the uninsured is 25 percent higher than for otherwise similar people who have health insurance. According to the study, 18,000 excess deaths occurred each year because 40 million Americans lacked insurance.

Of course, from listening to friends and reading the opinions of others, it seems safe to say that the quality of our lives matters at least as much as their duration. We would like a long life, but we would really like it to be as healthy as possible. So, whose quality of life do you predict will be better? Whose would you choose? Someone who has chronically deferred medical care due to lack of access or fear of financial ruin? Or someone whose annual physicals, lab tests, preventive and proactive care, and necessary surgeries have been a matter of routine?

For an individual to make smart, research-based choices for a healthy life is a baffling endeavor, a maze with conflicting signposts, detours, and dead ends. And, if we do well navigating that maze, perhaps we will live a little longer and hopefully more than a little healthier. Worth the effort and something we all can do.

But, we have no control over our DNA and limited control over the unforeseen accidents and other events that can derail the healthiest among us. And, by this point in our lives, most of us understand that everyone is derailed at some point, to some degree. If you have been there already, you know that you have never felt more vulnerable, never more dependent on others, never more naked. Everything else, except for the support of loved ones, is immaterial whether you are rich or poor.

While we live in a time that has reached a nearly-miraculous state of medical understanding and technology, we live in a country that somehow still struggles with the basic question of whether everyone deserves to benefit from it. It is clearly not a matter of whether it is affordable. It is a matter of values and priorities.

In its 2016 report, Universal Health Coverage and Health Outcomes, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked its 35 member nations for population coverage for core health services. 24 of these countries have achieved completely universal coverage, 22 of them totally with public funds. The United States had the smallest percentage coverage, except for Greece, falling short of economic powerhouses Poland, Mexico, Hungary, and 30 others. While we attained runner-up to the bottom with 88% coverage, 54% of our population have primarily private insurance and only 34% public. The nation closest to that mix was Chile, with 93% coverage, 19% private and 74% public.

Each of these countries has recognized that the health of its state can be no greater than the state of their people’s health.

Is it any wonder that politics of divisiveness and partisanship are rampant when we have failed to agree on this most basic of social compacts? Indeed, it has become a perverse ideological litmus test to destroy what progress has been made.

A demonstration of this is taking place right now. The Republican effort to salvage the legislative year depends upon passage of a tax bill that will embody their priorities. The most recent strategy for preserving the greatest possible reduction of corporate taxes and individual taxes for the wealthy, without obviously doing so at the expense of the middle class, is to include the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate. This would save several hundred billion dollars and result in 13 million Americans losing their insurance. If it passes, it is more than possible that deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security are next, as deficits resulting from the tax cuts need to be offset.

So, there it is. It is a big deal. Affecting us, affecting our families. Affecting what kind of country we are choosing to be. What to do? Order that book on the new cleansing diet? Or demand that our representatives represent our priorities and work for the longterm health of us all?

 

 

Tips for combatting TFS (Trump Fatigue Syndrome)

Trump Fatigue Syndrome. Yes, it is a thing. I checked on Google. To be honest, it hasn’t made it to Wikipedia yet. But, even if this is the first time you have heard the term, you get the reference, don’t you? The condition is characterized by: weariness from the sheer volume (i.e. quantity) of Trump in the daily news; repulsion at the sheer volume (i.e. decibels) of Trump tweets full of all caps; depression from the constant reminders that this is only month 7, 8, or 9 of a 48-month term; impulses growing in strength and frequency to avoid print, tv, and radio news … sigh. There’s more, but just writing this paragraph is sapping the energy needed to finish this piece.

It is understandable that so much of the country might be affected by TFS. In fact, without using that term, I have written about it in this column a couple of times previously and a commenter gave a good description of its effect on her. One of the very first opinion pieces I read after the 2016 election was by Garrison Keillor. In the disoriented dawn hours following election night, Keillor gave his prescription for TFS long before the malady appeared:

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long , brisk walk and smell the roses.
– Garrison Keillor, Washington Post, Nov 9, 2016

Hmm … Yes …  Well … Oh, sorry! I was drifting there for a moment. Tomatoes, beers, travel, and roses sound pretty good.

Of course, I am fairly certain Keillor was being sardonic with “we liberal elitists.” Those who oppose Trump cannot be summed up in a three word phrase any more than his supporters can. Yet, the man occasionally occupying the White House is doing his best to encourage such simplistic tribalism. It is what he does. It is who he is. It is US vs. THEM. If you are critical of him, he will demonize you, come after you.

That is another thing that contributes to Trump Fatigue Syndrome. It is thoroughly disheartening to witness the dishonesty and dumbing down of our discourse. And on important topics, too. How can we hope for intelligent conversation and the airing of rational disagreements when the public forum has been subverted and supplanted by Twitter? By a president whose “legitimacy” depends upon 30-40 million followers who hear from their chosen leader directly? By news media condemned as fake forced to treat the tweets as real?

So, TFS has an impact. We withdraw. We convince ourselves that there is not much we can do. That Trump and his supporters deserve each other. That we do not want to be drawn into the US vs. THEM paradigm.

Ah, let’s camp on that last one for a moment.

We were having dinner with a few long-time friends a week or two ago. Touching briefly and half-heartedly on some Trump topic or other, we were living evidence of the impact of Trump Fatigue Syndrome. Someone brought it up without naming it. Someone else observed that it seems that the “echo chamber” nature of today’s bifurcated media consumption results in everyone preaching to their own choir. So what, to put it bluntly, is the point of preaching at all?

This is where we come to the tips part of the column.

Unless you followed Keillor’s suggestions– you’ve spent all your time gardening, reading British romances, or traveling abroad for the past year– you are keenly aware that our party politics have begun to resemble WWI trench warfare. Furthermore, our stalemate began well before November, 2016. Trump was just the apotheosis who has proven masterful at amplifying divisions and disgruntlement.

I have come to believe that this instinctive genius is the plutonium that powers the president’s ship. Lacking the intellectual discipline that could harness that power, Trump is ill-suited to become a successful tyrant as he careens from crisis to crisis. But he could do a lot of damage before he self-destructs. (Incidentally, IMHO, this is what made Trump so attractive a candidate for Steve Bannon, whose ambition was and is the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”)

The inclination for “liberal elitists”, or anyone else horrified at the dismantling of democratic institutions and suffering from TFS, is either to withdraw as described above or to find a way into the Resistance. To be part of THEM against Trump’s US.

I have begun to wonder if these responses simply play into the hands of Trump, Bannon, and anyone who has practiced the politics of division and hate since the election of our first African American president. Either withdraw or get into your side’s trench. Go dig in your garden or dig in and start fighting. They relish making their enemies relinquish the field, but they need THEM, an enemy they and their side can target and fight and hate.

Most of those 30-40 million Trump Twitter followers have stuck with him in spite of the increasingly obvious fact that he and the Republicans and his hand-picked deconstructors in the Federal agencies are actively engaged in legislation and deregulation that will directly harm them. Aside from his blatant lies about that work is his (so far) continuing success in pitting US vs THEM with himself as their champion.

What if we started to find ways to leave the trenches, the pitched battles? Not to cede the field, but to outflank the other side? After all, we should be clear. As frustrating as it is for millions of our fellow citizens to be dug in against us, they are not our enemies. They want mostly the same things for their families and their lives as we do. And Democrats have for at least three decades done a poor job of listening to them, advocating for them, seeing them.

Our battle is against those, whoever and wherever they are, who use deception and division in order to keep wealth and power in the hands of the wealthy and powerful. They do so with little or no regard to everyone else, particularly the voiceless and disadvantaged. Saying they are all on the Right ignores many conservatives of integrity and compassion. It strengthens those who seek division. And it blinds us to the fact that there are plenty on the Left who do the same.

Let Trump tweet and rant, lie and misdirect. Let us focus on what he and his minions actually do. Or try to do. I will try not to react to his provocations, but I will react when he and his party present a tax package designed to further enrich the rich and burden our children with greater debt. I will try to set aside the sorrow and embarrassment I feel watching him debase and discredit our highest office, but I will speak against the epic assault against science and regulatory protections.

I believe I was wrong when I told my daughter last winter that supporting Bernie Sanders was too idealistic. The current trench warfare in Washington is not winnable and only benefits the status quo. I am ready to give up on conventional party politics, but not ready to give up.

I don’t have much more than that right now. I suspect there’s wisdom in the conventional: Think globally (or nationally), act locally. But mainly, act. I’m starting by writing. Perhaps there will be something more. But I plan not to be sidelined by Trump Fatigue Syndrome. I’m retired, not dead. The goal of this blog remains. Looking around, I can’t help thinking: we do not seem to be leaving this earth or our country in great condition for our children. What can we do about that?

Boys will be boys: a male perspective after the month of Weinstein

I suppose we could take some consolation in the October media storm over revelations of sexual predation by men in powerful positions and the cascade of women’s voices in response. I mean, at least it gave us some relief from everything always being about Trump … oh. Well. Never mind.

Actually, consolation might come in the form of fewer women being assaulted or harassed. That seems possible, perhaps even likely, given the strength and numbers of those voices. Ground is surely being gained. But the path is uphill and it gets steeper the closer you get to the top.

Why have women been fighting this uphill battle for so long and still we have countless, nameless Harvey Weinsteins and Bill O’Reillys in workplaces everywhere?

Why are women still fighting for autonomy over, and the safety of, their own bodies?

Why were the Suffrage Movement and the Feminist Movement not enough to have brought us further than we are? For essentially the same reason, I think, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement did not get us beyond the plaintiff cry that Black Lives Matter.

Martin may have been able to see the mountaintop, but his assassination illustrated the salient lesson. Those who already reside at the top will do everything in their power to prevent losing their place. Or even sharing it.

Though some deny it exists, “white privilege” explains a certain mountaintop status in racial terms. It exists in extreme form as white supremacism or the underestimated anger seething in many who helped elect Donald Trump. For most of us with proper skin tones, though, we tend to favor social and political progress so long as we sense no threat to our own personal place on the summit.

Then there is male privilege. When exercised to the extreme, women are raped and physically abused, harassed and demeaned. And subjected to ridicule and shame when they testify during a Supreme Court nomination. But, the “milder” form is even more pervasive and the foundation, the underpinning for sustaining our status as the ruler of the workplace, the lord of the castle.

The danger I see after this “month of Weinstein” is that winning battles against sexual predators, as vital as that is and as despicable as they are, might substitute for the progress needed on the far broader front. Here is what I mean.

I, like other men of my generation, grew up and came of age during the 50s and 60s, a time when Rosie had left riveting and returned to the kitchen and the nursery. Rosie and her husband modeled for their children the roles and relationships that they would internalize for later use. Of course, they also had TV and other media to reinforce their gender education.

Consequently, when I launched blithely into marriage, fatherhood, and work, I knew what to expect, what the rules and roles would be. It wasn’t exactly the world according to Mad Men, but it was a world where I never questioned my right to reside on the mountaintop. It was some years before I began to consider that the women around me may have grown up in the same world, but their rulebook and assigned roles were far different. The short version of the rest of the story is that, like Fagin in Oliver!, I have been “reviewing the situation” time and again ever since.

Those on top think they occupy the prime real estate, but they are deluding themselves. They may reside above others, but they have been focused so long on their status and on not being knocked off or crowded out, they have not realized that the mountaintop was not the actual destination.

In his last great speech, Dr. King said, “And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

He was alluding to Moses leading his people to the Promised Land and that damned mountain was just something in the way! They had to go over it to get to their destination, where there was plenty of room for all.

The wonderful woman who has been my wife for twenty-five years has helped teach me what a wide-open space there is for sharing our lives. We each have qualities that help compensate for what the other may lack. I am better with her than I am on my own. And I know we are not unique in finding the value of true partnership.

And why shouldn’t this principle apply elsewhere?

When men jealously guard their status and position in the workplace, they act to their own detriment. By creating an environment hostile to half the staff, they diminish themselves. By withholding opportunity and undervaluing contributions, they sabotage the potential that would benefit them all.

What if the ugliness of the Weinstein et al. disclosures could be turned to a milestone? It will require more than a few high profile stars speaking for all women. It will even require more than a movement. We have had those. It will require greater numbers of men who finally abandon the already crumbling ramparts of their supposed primacy. Not in surrender, but in recognition that we will do better as allies and partners. In our relationships and in our jobs.

And wouldn’t it be sweet to see little pockets of change taking place against the backdrop of Trumpian misogyny, where it is accepted and excused and even promoted that boys will be boys. It is about time for adult boys to become men.