A great deal of what we read in newspapers, magazines, and books, and what we see in the movies and on TV is written and produced in New York City or Los Angeles. Much of the "political wisdom" comes from the PR machines of the White House, the Congress, and from the Washington media corps.
In short, one might conclude that all knowledge, wisdom, and wit are confined to those who inhabit New York City, Washington, DC, or Hollywood.
As I creep gingerly up on my 7th decade of life experience - which was gained in many cities in the U.S. and in about 30 foreign countries, I decided to put down some ongoing thoughts in a series I call "The View From the Outback." That experience has included the U.S. Marines, law school, the ATF, the CIA, Fortune 500 executive, writer, public speaker, educator, editor, and publisher - for openers. For over 20 years, I have written articles off and on for various magazines and newspapers. I've had an enormous number of letters published in major national publications. The Outback is the rural area in Northeast Texas where I have lived for the past 10 years. Each Monday I will attempt to post a new set of musings from the Outback.
Do you suppose that after they went backstage at the convention after the "Big Kiss" that Tipper said to Al, "Honey, how come you never kiss me like that at home?"
Gov. George Bush, responding to criticism about his campaign from within the Republican party, dismissed the critics by saying that they were the ones who "jump out of the foxhole before the first shell is fired." Mr. Bush is a pilot and should have stuck to a reference he better understood. The purpose of digging a foxhole is to have a place to hide when the shells, bullets, and mortar rounds start coming in. If you "jump out of the foxhole ...." you are liable to get hit in the butt with an incoming round. He might better have said, "Those are the same people who parachute out when only one of four engines loses power. You wait. We'll get that fourth engine up to speed - and then kick in the afterburners on all four engines."
Someone please tell me why you watch "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" One contestant I clocked took 4 « minutes to twist in his seat and ramble on about how he was not sure of the answer. After all that time, he took the money and ran. This is compelling TV? This is suspenseful TV? It strikes me as agonizingly boring. Obviously, I must not get the point. On Wheel of Fortune, when a contestant takes too much time, Pat says "don't get buzzed out." In 15 years or so, I cannot remember anyone getting "buzzed out" on Wheel. But the threat works! On Jeopardy! they actually have a clock bar-graph. There is no time to tell us your complete family and educational history - like on Millionaire. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz . CBS is putting Bette Midler opposite Millionaire on Wednesdays. Count on a lot of us being tuned in, dear lady.
Dallas Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones signed a contract with Joey Galloway valued at $42.5 for seven years. In the first regular-season game, Mr. Galloway tore a ligament in his left knee and will be out for the season. While nobody likes to see a player hurt, there is a perverse pleasure in seeing one of these ridiculously high-dollar contracts torpedoed. As with entertainers, we have lost all sight of reasonableness with regard to the salaries of athletes. Have a nice day, Mr. Jones. Perhaps there is a hole at the bottom of your "deep pocket." If any more gold-plated players go down, you may have to become a day-trader in high-tech stocks.
Gov. George Bush referred to Adam Clymer of The New York Times as a "world-class asshole." Many who overlooked Bill Clinton's sexual escapades, his lying to the American people, to the courts, etc., were quick to condemn Mr. Bush for his "un-presidential outburst." My favorite reaction came from a woman who called a talk show and said she thought it was great that Mr. Bush was so honest. She said that now Al Gore may be looking up some swear words in the dictionary, so he too can appear to be a regular guy. In libel and slander, truth is a defense. Many talk show hosts and callers said that from what they knew of Adam Clymer, Mr. Bush had made an accurate characterization. Next case.
Entertainers and Politics- Revisited
In an earlier column, I railed against entertainers who were strident in the expression of their political beliefs, or who went "far out" in promoting animal rights or environmental causes. Now, Director Robert Altman apparently has said that he will move to France if George W. Bush is elected. Roberto, what time does the boat sail? I want to send a fruit basket.
To his credit Mr. Robert Altman was quoted as saying, "I don't think show business personalities should get involved publicly and show their feelings because that ends up working against them." Right on. You heard it here earlier.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who are considering suicide if Al Gore is elected and the Democrats regain control of both houses. Maybe moving to Italy would be a better choice. I have friends in Omsk, Siberia who have convinced me that it is a lovely place. Nice opera house, sports stadium, friendly people, and so on. At least in Siberia, there might be more freedom from government tyranny and intervention than in the U.S. with Al Gore and both houses controlled by the Democrats. Think about that - very hard.
The Original KIWI Fruit
The other evening, I had a nice chat on the ham radio with Bruce, ZL1KP, in Te Puke, New Zealand. He told me that Te Puke was the center of the KIWI producing area. He noted that because there are a lot of "knockoffs" of the original KIWI, the fruit from New Zealand has a trademark label on it - "Zespri." The next day, I found Zespri brand New Zealand KIWIs in a Kroger store, and I bought a few. Later, at Wal-Mart, I saw that they had some odd-looking KIWIs with the COPEFRUT label (whatever that is). So, if you want the original, look for the Zespri label. Try a KIWI, Blueberry, and Banana salad. There's a lot of taste and nutrition in that concoction.
A Breakthrough in Cuban-American Relations? Rottsa Ruck
At the U.N. meeting, President Clinton and Fidel Castro shook hands and exchanged some brief "pleasantries." These two act like two gang lords from the Bronx, rather than the leaders of their respective countries. Where would we be today if American presidents had refused to sit down and talk with the various leaders in the old Soviet Union, in China, and elsewhere?
Here in the Outback, we would like to slap both Clinton and Castro up beside the head with a 2 x4. That is, as the saying goes, how you get the attention of a mule. Is this any way for a great nation to conduct its foreign policy?
Privacy on the Internet
I spend an inordinate amount of time researching privacy on the Internet, probably because I was with the CIA and am slightly paranoid. I have ZoneAlarm, Norton Internet Security, Norton Anti-virus, Cookie Pal, and Eudora e-mail with lots of filters set. I constantly download updates to plug Internet leaks and vulnerabilities with various programs, like Internet Explorer. I have no problem with Outlook and Word - because they have been erased from my disk.
(ZoneAlarm -an Internet Firewall - has a new version, with industrial-strength customization. Until Sept. 15, you can get a discount if you buy it ($29.95). www.zonelabs.com Lately, I stumbled across a couple of interesting items. I wanted to find some HTML code to put a box on this web site for the reader to send the URL for this column to a friend. So, I cut and pasted several sets of code from various pages that do that sort of thing - to study them. Some say "Send this Story to a Friend," or whatever. Heck of a deal, for the Web page you are on. Some have code that sends your e-mail address and the e-mail address of your "friend" to the server at the site you are on. And you wonder why you get so much SPAM. Just one more reason.
Anybody who is paying attention knows about Doubleclick.com, one of the top players in Internet ads. It is their cookie that often "customizes" the ads you get when you surf, and so on. Like many people, I have no interest in ads, and will not click on them because I know that will start another round of tracking me. Doubleclick offers an OPT OUT on their home page. According to them, the OPT OUT will keep you from being tracked by those sites affiliated with Doubleclick.
I am now on about my 15th time to go to their page at www.doubleclick.com and Opt Out. Then, mysteriously, after a while, I check in Cookie Pal* and my OPT-OUT is gone and a regular cookie string in back in place. It appears that they only half mean what they say. You apparently have to keep checking to see if your OPT-OUT is still in effect. Oh, I am sure it is an accident - and not intentional. You know how flaky computers are. Nobody would lie to you.
*Cookie Pal is a terrific program that lets you decide which sites you want to set a "cookie" on your computer. You can also view all the cookies quickly and delete those that have slipped through the net. You need some cookies, if you deal with online banking, buy books and computer stuff, etc. I have a total of about 10, which I keep pruned. If you have never checked, you could have several hundred cookies on your disk at: C:\Windows\Cookies.
Cookie Pal is at: Cookie Pal and is shareware.
Norton Internet Security does some of the same cookie functions, although I still prefer the greater flexibility of Cookie Pal.
For fun, I blocked amazon.com in my Cookie Pal and went to Amazon to search for one book and put the result in the Out-basket. Amazon tried to set 16 cookies! Then, I logged out and back in to delete my credit-card info and phone number from my account information. Amazon tried to set 48 cookies! Those computer guys Jeff stole from Wal-Mart have gone a little overboard. Mr Bezos is a really bright guy. If enough of us write him about his new policy, maybe he will rethink it. I'm already on record, twice. In the meantime, there are choices.
The moral of the story is: Get a selective cookie blocker, get a firewall program, don't click on ads, never "register" with a site unless it is imperative that you do so, never forward a site to a friend, and never open an e-mail attachment that you did not know was coming. Just surf, read, download (if you have a good anti-virus program), order only on "secure" sites, and slip quietly into the night.
Prescription for Disaster
A fairly recent phenomenon is advertising prescription drugs directly to TV viewers. It is interesting to hear the rapid-fire "admonitions" that accompany most of these ads. "Not to be used by pregnant women, those with liver disease, or while nursing. May cause dizziness, numbness, insomnia, difficulty in breathing, rash, impotency, a decrease in libido ....." Those warnings are only a hint of the full truth about many prescription medicines. You owe it to yourself to become familiar with the full range of side effects. Within reason, you ought to have some input into the medicines you take.
This is not Coke or Pepsi they are pushing. It does not seem proper to visit your doctor and tell him or her that you want such-and-such drug you saw on TV. This is a little more serious than Wheaties verus Total. It may, or may not, be the proper drug for you. Also, doctors are put in the position of defending themselves if they tell a patient that the drug they saw on TV is not the right one for them. That is a bad way to start a visit to the doctor. It seems to me that it is better to let the doctor suggest something and then do your research if you are not comfortable with his or her choice of medications. Nobody follows you home and forces the pills down your throat.
Always provide your doctor with a list of all vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements you take. There are often serious interactions with prescribed medications, and he or she should have that information at the outset, not later when you start having fainting spells.
With all the information available these days, you can also do some advance research by category. Suppose that you have been told that you have hypertension (high blood pressure). There are many reputable medical sites (and medical texts) where you can research the broad categories of drugs normally prescribed for hypertension; diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers. (News: For those who take the very expensive VASOTEC, the patent has expired, and I believe TEVA in Israel already has FDA approval to produce a generic.)
Many doctors are being driven to distraction by patients who buy the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) or surf the Internet to learn about various ailments and medications. For many decades, we walked out of a doctor's office with a prescription that we knew nothing about. It was the "This ought to fix you up" style of medicine. That mode is, or should be, disappearing. If you run into a doctor, and there are many, who rush you through the appointment like you were in line at Burger King, and is not disposed to have a give-and-take discussion with you, maybe you should find another guy or gal.
If I may, a personal example. I went to a Dermatologist to have some suspicious "bumpy things" on my hands and arms examined. He said they were only "precancerous" and zapped them with liquid Nitrogen. Then, he scribbled a prescription and told me, I think, to rub the cream on my arms, but not my face, again, I think that was what he said. And it had nothing to do with the little "bumpy things," that he hit with the Nitrogen, as they would soon be covered with bandaids. The whole appointment took about three minutes and he was gone - like Batman off to solve another crime. I researched the prescription when I got home and decided at best it was for cosmetic purposes. Lacking a clear understanding of exactly what it would do for me and how he had told me to apply it, I tossed the Rx in the trash.
The next visit, he pronounced my "bumpy things" cured (I knew what they were called by now, as I had bought a book on Dermatology - in self defense - since my first visit). Again, he scribbled a prescription, rattled off something about spreading it on my face - and he was gone in less than three minutes. This time, my research uncovered some potential (and probable) skin aggravations that I was not interested in enduring, especially for only cosmetic purposes. Well, you guessed it. I cancelled my next appointment and am looking for a new Dermatologist. With him or her, maybe I will have a chance to discuss the two prescriptions I tossed in the trash, in a little greater depth than "Here. Use this. Goodbye."
Prescription drugs help a lot of people and save a lot of lives. Doctors take an oath to "do no harm." However, sometimes the side effects are nearly as bad as the original problem. Perhaps, given a clear choice of the benefits versus the risks, you might even opt not to take a specific drug.
One also has to be aware that the drug prescribed to you may be one for which the physician has samples. Samples are useful to give a patient a "starter dose" to see how he or she tolerates the drug, before committing to an expensive supply from the pharmacy. One downside of this is that you may get "what is in the closet" rather than what might be the best for your particular case. The whole area of "sampling" is under considerable scrutiny in Washington. As a cynic, and former Federal agent, I have always pondered the possibility of payola for prescribing certain drugs. "Dateline" or "60 Minutes" please get on this. Maybe they did it and I missed it.
Ask your doctor to spell the name of the drug (its brand name - and generic name if there is one), mention the dosage amount (e.g., 10mg), how often you are to take it, and the name of the manufacturer. It is no secret that there are a lot of mistakes made in filling prescriptions in pharmacies. Doctors have notoriously bad penmanship, for one thing. Then, when you get the vial of pills from your pharmacist, or through the mail, you can check to make sure that it was properly filled. And you will have all the information you need to do a little research - if you are so disposed.
I know of one case where several drugs were prescribed by brand name for a heart patient leaving the hospital. The doctor wrote out a complex list, using the brand names, of when and how to take each pill. Some were for potentially life-threatening problems associated with post- op recovery. The pharmacy filled the prescription on a Sunday with mostly generic equivalents, with no cross-references. A terribly anxiety-ridden and dangerous position for the patient.
In Texas, and I assume in most other places, pharmacies include a "patient handout" when you get the prescription filled. But, those short summaries don't come close to "full disclosure."
Here is just one example from a patient handout, juxtaposed with the information the doctor has, or should have, on hand. The drug is Amiodarone, which is often prescribed for those with a heart arrhythmia (irregular rhythm in the heart).
PH=Patient Handout DR=Doctor's Reference
PH: Check with your doctor as soon as possible if: you are experiencing cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain caused by breathing ....
DR: Amiodarone is a highly toxic drug and exhibits several potentially fatal toxicities.
Pulmonary Fibrosis may occur in up to 5% treated for >5 years and may be fatal (Merck Manual and other authoritative sources). (Pulmonary Fibrosis is a serious lung disease - obviously - if it can be fatal.) Other sources indicated that the pulmonary problems may manifest themselves as soon as a few days, weeks, or months.
PH: Check with your doctor as soon as possible if: you have decreased or blurred vision, visual halos, or decreased peripheral vision....
DR: Amiodarone causes corneal microdeposits (tiny deposits in the cornea of the eye) in almost all patients.
PH: Check with your doctor as soon as possible if: you experience weight loss ....
DR: Amiodarone can alter the functioning of the Thyroid, causing weight loss, weight gain, etc. Patients should have their thyroid function tested every 3-6 months.
While I am not trained in medicine, I have tried diligently to fairly reflect the side effects shown in repeated medical papers and books that I have perused - at great length - on this one drug. And those are not all the side effects. In fairness, some people experience few of the potential side effects. Many do. As with any drug, the reactions are very individualized. One fellow I monitored on a medical forum said that he "had all the side effects with Amiodarone they tell you about some they don't." Another said he had no problems, and so it goes. I make no pretense to judge the efficacy of the drug, but merely point out that with any drug there may be serious potential side effects you ought to be made aware of.
The lesson, I hope, is that if your doctor does not spend time going over the potential side- effects, and you toss the Patient Handout in the trash or in a drawer without reading it, you are flying blind.
We get constant sobering reminders about the possible side-effects of drugs. At the World Congress on Lung Health and Respiratory Diseases, held in Florence, Italy, researchers told the participants that over 300 regularly-prescribed medicines can damage the lungs. Pneumotox
With any prescription drug, absolutely call and report any of the symptoms on the Patient Handout - or any other symptom that you did not have before you started taking the medication. Something as simple as a persistent cough, or a dizzy spell, may be a clue that something very serious is going on. Your doctor needs to know. Don't worry that he or the nurses will think you are a "hypochondriac" if you call.
A word of caution! Once you start delving deeply into prescription drugs, you may think you don't want to take any of them because of the listed side effects. Some of those effects were experienced by possibly less than 1% to maybe 4% of the participants in the clinical trials. These percentages are usually listed in the complete data. Of course, some effects, such as a dry cough with certain anti-hypertensive drugs affected a substantial percentage. Again, it is a case of balancing the benefits against the risks. If a drug has a 75% chance of helping you, and a 1% chance of hurting you, it is not a hard decision.
One of the first places to look for information about a prescription drug is the web page for the manufacturer. They often have full disclosure documents on their sites about their various medications.
My favorite site for overall medical information, which is used by medical professionals, and requires that you register: Medscape
Here are a few other sites with information about prescription drugs:
MSN Drug Info
You can buy the Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), the doctor's bible for prescription drugs, for about $50. But, if you take only a couple of drugs, that is a bit of an overkill. Plus, you will need a medical dictionary to interpret what you read.
I have the The Merck Manual, Seventeenth Edition. It is a reference work of medical diagnosis and therapy, intended for the medical profession. Again, you will need a medical dictionary to understand even one-half of what you read. But, it can be valuable.
My current dictionary is Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, Edition 18.
For general home Medical reference, it is hard to beat the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. The hardback book is 1378 pages. It is also available on CD-ROM. I have both. This book has saved me several visits to the doctor - and eased a lot of anxieties. It also has prompted a couple of visits. Looking at the color photos of skin cancers, I became uneasy about some growths on my hands and forearms. The Dermatologist said that they were "precancerous" and burned them off with liquid Nitrogen. A few bandaids and a month or so later and you can't even see where they were. A little longer before making that visit might have been very bad news.
If you have heart disease, or are generally interested in the subject, there are several good newsletters.
Heart Advisor from The Cleveland Clinic (a pioneer in heart bypass, etc.) 800 829-2506
Heart Watch from the publishers of The New England Journal of Medicine 800 999-6043
Harvard Heart Letter from Harvard Medical School
A very good general health-news newsletter:
Health News, from the publishers of The New England Journal of Medicine 800 849-9155
There are other "heart-related" newsletters, which I have cancelled because the doctors, no matter how competent, have turned into medical hucksters, selling their own brand of supplements, juicers, flax-seed grinders, water purifiers, and on and on. The two that I cancelled were from Phillips Publishing, Inc., Potomac, Maryland.
I am not suggesting that you become your own doctor. But, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about what ails you - and about the available therapies. My Cardiologist, who is nationally recognized, surprised me one day by saying, "With the Internet and all the other medical information that is now available, some patients know more about their particular disease than their doctor." I presume that doctors hate to see me coming, as I usually have a one- page printed list of questions. And I have the references to the medical literature in my briefcase, which I always carry to an appointment. "Oh, oh. Mr. Research is here again! Tell him we are out to lunch."
Next week, I will talk about the role of vitamins, minerals, and herbs, particularly whether some are safe, and possibly better, alternatives to certain types of prescription drugs. This isn't Voodoo medicine folks. In Germany, where supplements are regulated, about 600 or more are regularly prescribed by doctors.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Richard C. Rhodes
You are welcome to quote sections from this page - or the whole page, as long as the source URL is included. Of course, I would be flattered if anyone linked to this page. It is very hard to be the writer, editor, fact checker, copy editor, and publisher of anything. So, I welcome corrections of fact, notes of misspelled words, and so on.
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