Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

I wonder how many of you will recall that commercial from a number of years ago.  The tag line of the commercial was “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” whereupon Mother Nature stands up and with a wave of her hands—boom--thunder and lightning.

I couldn’t help but recall that commercial with its closing line as the predicted Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States.  Even now, a day after the hurricane has blown through central Pennsylvania—on its way to the Midwest—the storm is wreaking incredible havoc.  Manhattan, New York City has been hugely affected—power stations exploding disrupting power, cranes dangling from building construction sites, cars trapped in or out of Manhattan with bridges and tunnels closed. 
Of course, post-hurricane there will be debates—has global climate change made such super-storms inevitable?  I have read enough to know that climatologists are careful to talk about long-term trends, and steer us amateurs away from drawing hasty conclusions about individual weather events being caused by global climate change.  So, they are comfortable attributing the many heat records that were broken this past summer and the widespread extended drought to global climate change.  They are less comfortable attributing a single storm such as Hurricane Sandy to global climate change.

I find this whole topic maddening.  It is emblematic of a weird tendency in the U.S.—the tendency to subject something that either is (or isn’t) to a popularity contest.  So, polls are conducted to determine if people BELIEVE in global climate change.  And, while you might not think something such as global climate change would be an indicator of one’s political leaning, we find that depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, global climate change is or is not happening.  85% of Democrats say there “is solid evidence of warming” as compared to 48% of Republicans who accept that.  (Source: Pew Research Center) (Incidentally, more than 70% of so-called Tea Party adherents do NOT believe that global climate change is occurring.)
Where my anxiety goes off the scale is when the political ramifications come to play in WHO provides leadership in our national governmental structures on these issues.  Where the Republican platform four years ago had an extensive section on climate issues, the whole topic of climate has disappeared from the Republican platform.  Thankfully, the Democratic platform still deals with global climate change.  I know, I know—the platforms don’t mean much.  They simply give a snap-shot of what matters to the respective parties.

It should come as no surprise that our regard for science—or, I should say, our lack of regard—has an effect on our success in science education.  A recent report found that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries in various subject scores.  As the report notes, we might have won more Olympic gold medals, but we aren’t winning gold in education areas including science.  Who ranks first in science?  China.  The U.S. ranks 23rd.  (Source: Huffington Post article)

I do not blame our public education system for this decline—not at all.  I blame the pervasive attitude in the U.S. that science just doesn’t matter.  After all, you can subject it to a popular vote—if most people don’t believe it (whatever IT is: global climate change, evolution, you name it), then it must not be true.  Not only is it NOT true, but it has to be disputed at every turn.  Layer on top of that scorn a constant drum beat of fascination with the most mindless topics imaginable—can you say Snooky? Honey Boo-Boo?  Boxers? Or Briefs?  (All those topics have been asked of recent candidates for President, where the candidate’s position on global climate change has NOT been asked.) 
Well, Mother Nature gets the last word.  It’s not nice to fool her.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What A Difference a Day Makes

Well, could you make that a year.  No, how about a decade.  Or two decades--minus one year.

Nineteen years ago, when I was having trouble with my left knee, I had arthroscopic surgery.  I have inherited one of those lovely family genes (from my mother's side) which makes knees (and hips too, I fear) susceptible to extra wear and tear.  As years go by, the grinding increases along with the pain.

Nineteen years ago, my knee decided--yes, it does seem to have a mind of its own--that bending beyond a 90 degree angle was something it would not do.  So, I sought medical help from an orthopedic surgeon.  First stop was an X-ray.  The tech told me to lie on my stomach, and bend my leg as far as I could, so she could take an X-ray pointing down at my recalcitrant knee.  I bent it as far as I could--only to hear her say: can't you bend it more No, I muttered--that's why I am here.

Anyway, the verdict (I suppose I should say diagnosis) was Chondromalacia patella.  It sounds a lot fancier than it is.  In short, it means kneecap pain, which can be caused by wear and tear, torn cartilage, or misalignment of the knee.  Uh huh--I felt like I had all those. 

Eventually, the treatment was an arthroscopic procedure to "clean things out."  I don't know--but there is nothing particularly comforting to me about hearing a doctor say he (or she--but in this case, he) wants to clean things out.  Makes me feel as if I have been an untidy housekeeper of my own self. 

But, I had the procedure.  And, sure enough, I was able to bend my knee more than a 90 degree angle after that.  In my renewed vigor, I thought--well, I can run, and do those wonderful aerobic exercises that help one trim down.  Alas--running caused my knee to balloon in size.  So I stopped that. 

I resigned myself to bad genes and sore knees.  As if I needed final proof, while rummaging through photos in our basement, I came upon a college photo of me in basketball uniform (ooh, remember those cute little basketball pinnies?) and--lo, and behold--I had a brace on my left knee.

Fast forward to 2012.  This year, in a once-again renewed resolve to drop a few pounds, I began cycling (on a stationary bike) as well as continuing my walking of our dog.  I confess, my husband has been walking the dog more than I have, but I do try to get in one walk a day with the dog.  Anyway, the stationary biking turned out to be a bad idea--knee puff again.

So, once again, off to an orthopedic surgeon.  This time, I was less passive--maybe a bit more assertive--and I announced that if I needed a knee replacement, I was ready.  Well, the surgeon said--let's try this.  So first, a cortisone injection, which got me one week of relief.  Not long enough, he admitted, so the next step was an MRI (didn't have that 19 years ago), and arthroscopic surgery.  The MRI showed a torn medial meniscus, hence the anterior pain.

Well, I am now three days post-surgery.  And let's just say--the body doesn't bounce back nearly as fast as it did when I was in my 40s.  And, on top of that, the verdict is:  knee replacement sometime in the future.  How soon?  I will just have to let pain be my guide.

Oh, goody.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Fourth Estate

Pardon my absence, but I've been thinking.  And thinking.  And thinking.

I have been wondering whatever happened to journalism or the press in my country.  Certainly, one of the things that has made the United State a great country is our constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.  The first amendment to our Constitution couldn't be more clear:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For a quick assessment of what other countries around the world have, you can spend time here reviewing how free the press is in whatever country you want to review.  And, if you are curious where the U.S. ranks compared to other countries, here is one such assessment. 

Freedom of the press is an awesome responsibility.  Over the history of the U.S., heroes of freedom of the press have emerged.  The subject of freedom of the press is one I have visited at various times, including praising some of those heroes.  Names such as John Peter Zenger come to mind.  But so do other names--people who died getting the story.  Since I lived through the years during which the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam, I recall a newsman named Welles Hangen

While I revel in knowing that there have been many brave news people who have served us well, I am also saddened when I think what is happening to our vaunted freedom of the press today. Obviously, among forces at work are the decline of printed press, the rise of electronic media, the decline of the big three networks and the rise of cable.  On top of all that we have the 24/7 relentless breaking news that drives coverage the most absurd stories.  Nightly news coverage now sounds more like promotion for the network bringing you the news. 

The sad thought occurs to me that we don't need to lose freedom of the press--we only need to have such a diminution of the press for that freedom to seem irrelevant.

Doonesbury's cartoon for today (Sunday, October 7) expresses my concern so much more effectively and succinctly.  Please note the source is http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip

Herewith, the wisdom of Doonesbury: