Monday, October 31, 2011

They didn't say it.

Sometimes I get to thinking that nobody ever really said anything. I’ve learned that every time I quote someone I better check really hard about whether they actually said it or not, because so many of these things we are sure someone said, weren’t. Or, someone said it before they did. Or, if it is in an ancient text, you might find out it was added much later.   

For example, one of my favorite scenes from The New Testament is the one where Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I like it because of the whole stoning thing, which, is horrific, but historically interesting, because of the idea expressed that we who have our own sins should not to judge others so quick (or, arguably, at all), because Jesus does not condemn the adulterer himself, but, most of all, because it is the only example in the Bible where Jesus shows he can write.

It’s not just one of my favorite scenes, but it is one of the most famous in the Bible period. In fact, I bet everyone I know has either said or heard someone say in a discussion, Let he who is without sin . . . .

But, just in case you are one of the seven people in the world who is saying, what are you talking about?:

Jesus was teaching in the temple on the Mount of Olives when some scribes and Pharisees brought to him an adulterer, and they intended to stone her according to the law of Moses. They are testing Jesus, to see what he would say, so they could accuse him themselves. But, he just writes in the dirt with his finger, ignoring them. But when they persisted he rose and gave the he who is without sin line. He sat down again and continued to write. And, he got to them, so that they left one at a time. When Jesus was alone with the woman, he looked up and asked where her accusers were and if no one had condemned her. She said no. He replied that he would not either and that she should go and sin no more.

Despite the universal familiarity of this story in the Western world, it probably shouldn’t even be in the Bible, according to many scholars. That is, it wasn’t in the earliest versions they can find. Now, forget about whether you believe that the entire Bible is fiction or not, because I’m not discussing that here, just whether what you thought was in it really wasn’t. This Biblical scene, known in Latin as the Pericope Adulterae, or Adulterer Passage, has been in almost every standard English Bible since the 1500s. It was even in the very first Greek text published by the famous humanist, Erasmus, in 1516, compiled from a few incomplete texts made as early as the 12th century, and continuing in new editions for the next 300 years. It is the King James Version (1611), my personal favorite, despite many errors. It is in most modern versions and the Catholic Church considers the Latin vulgate from the 4th century A.D., authoritative, and that included it.

As best as can be figured out, it was placed at some point in Hebrew texts made two or three hundred years after John was first written (best guesses, at the end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd century A.D., although some say earlier). Eventually it was put into a Latin version. Yet some of the early church fathers, like Origen, make no mention of it either.  More, it turns out when they compare the various versions of this story in John, there are many different ones, some very different from the standard version. It was in some later Latin texts, but not in what is known as the Syriac Edition (likely made in the 2nd century A.D. and very popular then). The earliest it can be traced back to is from the 4th century A.D.  It is certain that church fathers in that time period like Jerome and Augustine included it. It is thought that some scribe or another decided that he had a good answer to the taunt of some Jews earlier in John that Jesus couldn’t write and plopped it in. Whether it was actually from an unknown tradition can only be speculated.

This isn’t a new theory either. It has been quite well known since at least the early 1800s. Of course, nothing is ever simple in Biblical exegesis (what normal people call interpretation). There are some scholars who claim that it was written by the original author (John, or someone using that name) despite it being absent from the earliest manuscripts. Some scholars believe that passage is much more similar to the other three gospels than it is to John, but a few disagree.

So, while most Bibles continue to keep it in John where it is expected, since the late 1800s some print it after John but before Acts, almost as its own book, and others in footnotes, the margin or as an appendix. Few translators seem to want to leave it out completely. After all, it is a great story.

And this seems to be the reason that apocryphal stories get circulated and deemed authentic. They make for good stories or sayings. The Kings James Version of the Bible has included this gem since its being published in 1611. And though it was known it was a mistake, they have never fixed it, though many other mistakes in it have been corrected: "Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel" should really be, "Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel." This isn't even disputed. But, the first version, even if incorrect, is so evocative, it was just left as it was.
But, let's get out of the Bible. I have used the Mark Twain saying about the weather in San Francisco on many occasions. You know, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Turns out, he never said or wrote it as far as is known. In Roughing It, he actually said it was very temperate there. Where did it come from? Who knows?

He’s also known for “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” But, actually, he was quoting Benjamin Disraeli (who probably didn’t say it first either).

I like to picture Harry Truman saying “The buck stops here.” But, apparently not. According to Fred R. Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotation, it comes from a newspaper article with a picture of an officer at a desk bearing the sign 3 years before Truman supposedly said it first.    

I got a few others from Shapiro. How many times have I heard some politician or pundit quote Senator Everett Dirksen saying “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it begins to add up to real money.” But, there’s no record of him saying it. Apparently it came from a 1938 New York Times article.  

Also, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is often attributed to the famous economist Milton Friedman in 1975. But, it can not only be found in my favorite Robert Heinlein novel (and the funniest SF novel I’ve ever read), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, published in 1966, but can be traced back to a 1942 newspaper article.

I once read a book on the important German protestant Martin Luther because I loved his facing down the Catholic authorities over a theological dispute, when it could have cost him his life, and saying (in German), “Here I stand. I could do no other.” Maybe he said it, but, if he had, nobody who was there seemed to know it, and it appeared in publication decades later for the first time.

I thought that Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes,” but he was a little boy when it was coined in a book in 1716.  Franklin didn’t say a lot of things he supposedly said. One of them is his most famous, and is much misattributed lately,  – “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” He wrote it in 1775, but he put it in quotes. Someone else said or wrote it first. Franklin, who was an expert plagiarist, at least showed us that much.

When they were leaving Constitution Hall after the signing of the Declaration, a woman waiting outside asked Franklin what kind of government they gave them. He answered - “A republic, if you can keep it.”  Except, of course, no one knows if he really said that at all. There's no good evidence of it.

When I was growing up as a typical war loving little boy, I learned that Blackjack Pershing arrived in France in World War I to say, “Lafayette. We are here,” at the tomb  of the French nobleman who fought for us in our Revolution (well, my ancestors were digging up roots in Russia or something, but you know what I mean). Except, it was really his aide, Col. Charles E. Stanton.

Richard Henry Lee is given credit for his eulogy of Washington that included the words “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen,” but it was written by John Marshall, the first great Supreme Court Chief Justice (excepting those who think he ruined the country).

Alexander Hamilton’s famous written words are few, though he was incredibly verbose, orally and graphically, a "word machine," as his most recent major biographer called him. This one is beautiful:

“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

But the most memorable words are so obviously lifted from his mentor, Hugh Knox - “Our duty is written, as it were, with sunbeams” – that it belongs in this list.

There are so many Thomas Jefferson misattributions, it isn’t funny. Conservatives, in particular, seem to love to misquote him these days:

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. . . The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases” (actually Pres. Gerry Ford in 1975).
“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” 
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
These are just examples. There are many more.

I personally love this passionate and painful speech by the Indian Nez Pierce tribe chief, known as Joseph, which moves me enough that I will quote it in full here, and not for the first time:

 I am tired of fighting.
Our chiefs are killed.
Looking Glass is dead.
Toohulhulsote is dead.
The old men are all dead.
It is the young men who say no and yes.
He who led the young men is dead.
It is cold and we have no blankets.
The little children are freezing to death.
My people, some of them,
Have run away to the hills
And have no blankets, no food.
No one know where they are-
Perhaps they are freezing to death.
I want to have time to look for my children
And see how many of them I can find.
Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired.
My heart is sad and sick.
From where the sun now stands
I will fight no more forever.

It is the last line that is really famous, but the whole speech makes me want to cry. But, apparently, it was written later by a journalist and the chief never uttered it.

Shakespeare may even have more attributions than Jefferson, Franklin and Twain, the American champs,  but my favorite is “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive,” actually written by Sir Walter Scott.

I've been making this list since 2008 and every little while add another one. I'm not stopping, but enough for today. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


When I was in my twenties I decided that I did not want to wait until I was middle aged or older to travel and I tried to get to a few places. My list pales, is probably embarrassing, in comparison to some other people, but I still consider myself very lucky. Although I still love to travel, I managed to satisfy the real itch long ago and if I get to go somewhere every few years now, or even not, that’s fine. I can go on to the Great Adventure* without a pang of regret about what I might have missed.

*I stole that description of the afterlife from the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A few months ago I wrote about my first trip abroad (11/18/10 - Knockdown, drag out vacation) and want to pick up the topic again, if not in such painstaking detail. I am not much of a memoirist, I’m afraid, as I can’t even remember what year I went to all of these places. My initial thought was to cover some 20 countries I’ve been to, but after the last post, I know that this is a laughable goal, as I’m way too verbose. But, I’ll cram in what I can. As usual, I note that this isn’t Wikipedia and you can go there for the Baedeker treatment.

Mexico – I can’t remember what year I went exactly, but it had to be sometime between 1993 and 1996. In case they quiz me in the afterlife, I’m going with 1995. It amazed me that, in an effort to promote Cancun, it was actually cheaper to fly there and stay in a hotel there for a week than it was to just fly there. Perhaps it is still the same. I had no intention of staying in Cancun if I could help it. My belief was that it was more for kids than adults and too crowded for my blood (though many other people prefer the action) and my brief visit confirmed that for me. I’m not saying that it wasn’t beautiful and the hotels weren’t great, but it's definitely not for me. I am informed that a Cancun like sprawl now travels far down the Yucatan Peninsula. But, I did use it as a base to travel to two islands and then to an inland archaeological site before I left.

The Island of Women (Isla Mujeres) was small and quite poor. I didn’t notice a lot of women either, but, from the little I know, it was given this name from the fact that the island was a center of a Mayan fertility cult and they found many female figures there. The woman I refer to sometimes in this blog as my Insignificant Other (“IO”) and I stayed in a great little hotel on a peninsula with water views on three sides. The water was brilliant blue (as is true many places) and we could walk out into it for about a half mile and it was still not up to our waists. It was also the warmest water I have ever been in my life outside of a hot tub. Actually, in the heat of the day, that wasn't always refreshing. We had dinner one night with a sunset I still remember (and have a so so picture of – mostly clouds that doesn’t do justice to the actual view). IO wasn’t too happy with the iguanas that had the run of the island. I thought they were cool. There may be a little Mars/Venus going on there.

After a night stay in Cancun where I believe I picked up Montezuma’s Revenge we went to Cozumel and stayed in a condo with 4 guest rooms but only we inhabited. There was a net hammock stretched across the living room.  A large patio stretched to the water, but there was no beach there. You climbed down a ladder at the edge of the limestone shelf that the island is made of into the ocean. It feels like you are in a giant aquarium. I saw exotic fish (they are all goldfish to me) twice the size of a basketball. A large eel, maybe a foot long in my memory, lived under the ladder.  The waves at the beaches on Cozumel were too rough to wade, but I took an excursion miles offshore to snorkel and they took us to the place they filmed the opening scene to the movie Splash, a coral garden good enough for a Disney film. While snorkeling there, with hundreds of square miles of water around me, I managed to bang my head on the underside of the boat. It hurt enough that I fed the fish on the way back, if you get my meaning. I also saw a barracuda while down there, which did not please me much. Getting sick on that little adventure was not my first stomach problem there. Our first night there IO and I went into a restaurant in we which were the only customers. After ordering, IO casually stirred the tomato and onion salsa with a spoon, the aroma of which traveled to my nose, and triggered a reaction which this blog is too effete to describe. But, let’s just say I felt it necessary to profusely apologize to the non-plussed manager about his bathroom and then waited outside while IO finished her dinner. The nauseau lasted until morning after which it was like it never happened.

I also saw a coatimundi there. It’s a strange if attractive animal in the raccoon family, but with a prehensile tail. Have a picture of it somewhere.

Before returning home we went to see Chichen Itza on the mainland, probably the best Mayan ruin. At that time you could still climb the incredibly steep steps of the Temple of Kukulcan, the Mayan Indian feathered serpent God. Chichen Itza is one of those places where, if not for the thousands of tourists, you would really feel as if you were transported back in time. Even looking down from the top of the steps was an eerie and exciting experience. Climbing down, you are aided by a metal chain due to the steepness, but I saw little old ladies doing it. Nevertheless, IO panicked a few feet from the bottom, to my great amusement, and was stuck there. She literally couldn’t move. I said, “Look, I can touch your ankle. Even if you fell, you wouldn't be all that injured.” At some point an impatient but ancient woman climbed around her to the ground and she soon got her nerve back. When we were leaving, I had an arm full of handicrafts that locals make right there and sell. My favorite was a miniature Chac Mool, reclining temple guards which reminded me a bit of myself. As we were exiting the area, one of the artisans followed me, ridiculously lowering his price as I walked away. I started to feel guilty, but IO kept saying that we couldn’t afford it. Finally, I stopped and did a quick calculation from pesos to dollars. It would cost something like another 30 cents. I caved.

Austria – I went there alone during my second trip to Europe in 1997. I wanted to avoid meeting anyone this trip, as they slowed you down, and I really just wanted to see stuff. That meant no more staying in hostels, although some were quite nice. I was just too old for the commotion there anyway. I also decided not to take public transportation in favor of a car until I got to Serbia, where it was just too difficult to arrange for one. My boss at the time, who was about the same age that I am now a quarter century later, was tickled at my travel stories from the first trip and gave me an extended vacation this time so I could cover a lot of ground. I started off in Germany and entered Austria, the home of Mozart and Hitler, intending to see three cities, and also spend some time in the mountains. I started with Salzburg and Innsbruck, two fairy tale like towns marred only by ubiquitous electric trolley lines.

While there, it started to rain heavily, and I spent a day in a condo/hotel where I looked out the window at the mountains and read Will Durant. It was actually not a bad vacation day, as I was exhausted from my week's travel thus far and it was a welcome break. But the next day, with no relief in sight, I took off for Italy for four days, before returning through a mountain pass and heading to Vienna.

On my way there I passed the Abbey at Melk, but did not stop there. However, I could see it for a long time high up on a hill and it gave me a profound feeling. For centuries, the folk who lived around there would never see a bigger or more prominent building and it must have been even more awe inspiring than it was to me. The actual abbey there now is only a little over three centuries old though, which, in Europe time, is practically infantile.

A little later I passed a tiny road that seemed like it went on for ever with tall vegetation on both sides. I pulled into it and headed down. I was just really into the adventure. After quite a while I could see that the fields of grain on both sides of me ended in the distance at what looked like a wood. I kept on going and finally could make out what looked like a metal gate that you could easily climb over or through. When I got there, I saw the sign on it. I don’t speak or read more than a few German words which I picked up, like most people my age, from WWII movies and Hogan’s Heroes. But, I recognized two words on the small sign:

Wehrmacht, which are the armed forces (Wikipedia says it technically means “defensive might") and Verboten, meaning forbidden.

I like adventure, but I’m not crazy. I made a ten or twelve point turn on that tight little roadway, and headed back the way I had come. A few minutes later I saw in the distance what looked like a little jeep heading my way. There was not room for two vehicles on this road, which was my main concern. As I approached the jeep (I bet it was built in America from the look of it), we both came to a stop. There were two young men in it, probably around my age, but possibly younger. One had flaming red hair and reminded me of the great German tennis player, Boris Becker. They both got out of the car. In those days, if not still, European military carried around very big guns with them and they both had one slung around their shoulders. I’ve seen enough movies and it was disquieting, to say the least. Boris approached me and I tried to speak with him, showing him my passport. He didn’t speak English very well, but we could communicate a little.

I tried to explain that I was a tourist. I did this by picking up my camera and mimicking taking pictures.

“Oh,” he said, “James Bond. A spy,” or something like that (it’s been a long time, folks). I didn’t like it, and realized a little later when I was on my way that he was just having fun with me. It didn’t feel like fun at the moment, but it was exhilarating. I headed into Vienna.

Vienna is a magnificent city and the four days I spent there were nowhere near enough. I did see the great Opera house, but not enough of it as I had not registered for a tour. I saw a performance of the Lippizaner Stallions, magnificent show horses descended from a breed brought to Spain by the Moors. Even if you think it might not be your thing (and that would describe me), you would probably enjoy it. I did. And there were extraordinary museums and castles. I'm pretty sure I went to Sigmund Freud's home, but I just can't pull it out of my memory (uh oh - what if that's a Freudian memory lapse?)

I also saw the opening of an American play by the playwright Edward Albee, whose first effort, The Zoo Story, was so funny, that when a friend and I had to read it to a class in high school, we laughed so hard that we literally could not speak for a long time (another one of my great triumphs in high school). His biggest success though was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which I did not see. The play I saw was Marriage Play, which made it to Broadway eventually, but was not a big success. I thought it was pretty good, even if it was just a middle aged couple contemplating divorce and their history.

I also went to a concert of Johann Strauss music (you know - The Blue Danube, Tales from the Vienna Wood, Die Fledermaus). I don’t play an instrument, but my musical tastes are fairly eclectic and include some classical. I like Strauss and despite the fact that I had nothing with me but shorts and sleeveless tee shirts, I asked if that would be okay, and was told it was. Still I had front row seats, and to tell the truth, I was kind of underdressed. Okay, really underdressed. Normally, I'd say, who really cares, but just this year, almost a quarter century later, a relatively uptight friend scolded me for it. Now I'll say who cares? It was a great concert.

There is another memory I have of Vienna which is a little different than the previous. Other than Scandinavians, I was a little disappointed with the looks of the European women I had seen so far in my two trips. One day I was heading up one of Vienna’s incredibly deep subway escalators. There were people above and below me all in a line. In between the two sets of escalators was a conventional staircase. Coming bouncing down the stairs was a beautiful blond girl. She was probably around 20 year old or so.

As I traveled up the escalator and she was flying down it, I could see the head of every male in front of me turn to watch her pass, and she definately knew it. Maybe that’s why she took the stairs. Big smile on her face the whole way. As she got closer to me, all the men right in front of me were looking too. And as she passed, someone leaned back.  . .

. . . a little too far. Boomboomboomboom, down we went all in a row like hormonal dominoes, all men fortunately, because a woman might not have found it as funny as we all did. I’m not saying it was me who fell first. I’m not saying it wasn’t me. I really don’t think I ever knew, and I can’t tell you how many of us fell down backwards, but I think it was around 6 or 7 of us.  No one got hurt and everyone laughed. I didn't see her after, of course, but I’m sure she is still laughing about it somewhere, now in her mid-40s, remembering the days when all the boys couldn’t help but look. Ah, memories.

Turkey – One more for today. My friend Fred and I went to Turkey and Greece in 1990. It was the first time I traveled with anyone else. Our first stop was in the ancient city of Istanbul, once Constantinople. Turkey is, of course, a Muslim country, still the most secular of them all (though that may be slowly changing). It is also spectacular, filled with exotic mosques, and an underground water filled cistern that was featured in my favorite James Bond film, From Russia with Love.

We checked into an old looking, if respectable looking hotel. We tried the water. It was cold. Fred went down to ask if anything could be done about it. No, the concierge explained. The delivery of hot water would not be until tomorrow. Wow.

I don’t know how to explain what happened next, but, I think it is best if I just keep it short and say – the toilet seat bit me on the ass. You see, there was a big crack in the seat and . . . It really hurt though. A lot. I hurt myself quite a bit this trip, actually much worse than on the toilet seat, but, that was in Greece, and to be told another day.

We went out that night. First, we stopped in on the concierge and asked him if he had a recommendation for where we should go to eat.  He in turn had a question – “Do you like dog meat?”

I can’t remember exactly the order of which days we did what, but like Vienna, it is a very hard city to do everything in four days. One night we took a tour. Of course, we stopped at the tour guide's relative’s carpet store, and his relative’s restaurant and I’m pretty sure it was a relative’s bus too. At the restaurant, I had some dish or another, but didn’t enjoy the meat in it so much. It tasted kind of funny and I’m fairly certain it was – yeah. The next day was the first of many with stomach trouble.

But, that night my stomach was still fine. At the restaurant, everyone on the tour had to get up with their countrymen and women and sing some song from home, and we would vote for the winner. This is the only time in my life that I ever really sang in public. The problem was that neither Fred nor I thought we knew the words of any songs other than Happy Birthday. But, perhaps a miracle happened because suddenly I remembered Barbara Ann, the Beach Boys' classic. How easy was that? Ba-ba-ba, baba baran. So, we sang it together badly while everyone else looked on blankly, wondering what bizarre song the Americans were singing (we called it singing). Every group sang for their country – that is, except the French. I hate to badmouth the French (no I don’t) but they just wouldn’t sing – except for one of them, a nice guy who did his best alone. Anyway, we didn’t win. They didn't vote for a loser, but I'm pretty sure we would have won that. Two cute little sisters from Indonesia sang their national anthem in beautiful harmony and with great passion. Everyone voted for them. They reminded me of the two little girls in the Mothra movies - but, I'm dating myself.

After dinner, we were left off to fend for ourselves and Fred and I walked through the city. We found ourselves going downhill and eventually, down by the water we came to what I thought was a fair, with a police guard at the bottom. It wasn’t a fair, but, in fact an outdoor brothel, with little ramshackle buildings set up for the girls. Did I say girls? I mean women. I mean middle aged, haggard, homely women. One of them looked like a grandmother. I was horrified. Of course, you couldn’t tell by the looks on the faces of the men, who seemed very taken with them. They cheered whenever someone went into the little rooms.

Needless to say, we didn’t participate in the festivities. Ycccch.

When we were leaving the hotel after four days to travel down the coast, I went outside a minute before Fred. Seeing the bellhop, I gave him a tip, an amount I thought reasonable and he seemed to appreciate. Tipping – baksheesh – is a very big thing there. I was waiting on the sidewalk when Fred came out, about 50 feet away. He walked up to the same bellhop and with a big smile on his face gave him a tip. Fred walked towards me grinning ear to ear, pleased at his generosity. The bellhop looked at Fred’s back and sneered. Maybe sneer is too generous. When Fred got to me I had an even bigger smile on my face. I said “How much did you give him?” It turned out it was a fraction of what I had given. I gleefully told Fred about the glare he had just gotten. And, naturally, Fred blamed me – I had given too much. Maybe I had. But, it was so worth it to see the contrast of Fred's smile and the bellhop's snarl.

I always feel when I tell tales from my life like this that I should add I’m not making stuff up. Some of them sound a little unbelievable to me too. I just have a strange life.  More tales from my trips in the future.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Political update for October, 2011 - II

Read yesterday's post first.

So, after I mocked the debates yesterday for being boring, this last one turned out to be the most enjoyable one yet when I got around to watching it on my dvr. Partially, it was because there was lots of drama with a few of the participants bickering or trying to poke holes in each other, and, occasionally, there was even some substance (not much, of course).

As I wrote yesterday in my post-note, I thought Romney cleaned Perry's clock, actually embarrassed him. At one point Perry looked like he was ready to spit or hit Romney. Romney actually scolded him - told him he had a problem letting other people speak. And though some commenters today were saying that it hurt Romney too because he lost his cool a little ("Are you just going to keep on talking?" he asked Perry) and because he gently put his hand on Perry's shoulder at one point, I don't see it. Let's face it, when most people watch a debate, they think the people they like did better than they objectively (if there is such a thing) did and visa versa for those they don't like. And, I heard some of that today while the cable networks were playing the clips to death. But, most of those who prefer Perry to Romney have admitted their guy is just not very good at this, and that Romney won their battles, just not for any reason that would be to Romney's credit.

My Romney feelings are complicated. I did not like him personally in '08. I don't particularly trust him in that he appeared to me more likely to say what he thought the Republican base wanted to here. Many conservatives don't like him much for a similar reason - they believe he is a secret liberal, and for good reason. He campaigned like one when he was running for Senator in Massachusetts. I don't believe he's a liberal - although his transformation to a more conservative candidate 4 years ago may be somewhat manipulative. But, I give him the benefit of the doubt that at least he believes he is a conservative now. However, that doesn't mean I believe he is genuine either. I just doubt him. And, I don't really like the shots he gives people while playing the ingenue, such as when he (while smiling) mentioned that Rick Perry had a rough couple of debates so, of course, he was cranky.

Perry came into the debate wounded from the flap about a speaker who introduced him at a rally and then called Mormons a cult and suggested it was better to vote for a Christian than a good person. Conservatives are sensitive about being seen as bigots and many conservative commentators have rejected what Reverend Jeffress said. Honestly, I don't see what is wrong with what he said. Why can't a religious person say that this is my religion and if you don't agree with it exactly, then you are not part of the religion? Of course, someone else might disagree. I do. Perry does. Romney does. In fact, almost everybody does. But that doesn't change the fact that it should be okay to say it. The truth is - religion in America is, in some ways, becoming slowly secularized. That might not be to the liking of many, but I honestly think that is what people want - for candidates to believe in God and have a religion - but maybe not to be too serious about it.

Whatever my reservations about Romney, I would prefer him to Obama, while believing (along with many conservatives) that once in office, he will be relatively moderate, particularly about the culture wars, at least compared to Perry, Bachman, Gingrich and Santorum. And, unless there is some third party candidate I really want to vote for, I will likely vote for him if he wins the nomination. Unlike conservatives who think Obama is wrong about everything, I just think his economic policies are not only bad, but dangerous in the long run. Short of John Kerry, there are few people who have ever run for president I would not choose over him (even George Bush, bad as he was).

While I think those who are complaining about Romney touching Perry on the shoulder are just looking for something to criticize, and I thought some of his zingers were a little nasty, the most cringe producing moment of the debate came for me when Rick Santorum interrupted Romney repeatedly and then complained Romney was out of time to respond. Please. The closest competition for the moment was the Romney/Gingrich argument about where Romney got the idea for the health care mandate in Massachusetts - from a think tank, or, a think tank and Gingrich. And, taking third place, was when Romney was questioning Herman Cain about 9-9-9 and argued that citizens under Cain's plan would have to pay a state sales tax and a federal sales tax. Romney is a bright guy. No one denies that. And he certainly understands that the state tax would be there whether there was a federal sales tax or a federal income tax.  It was a cheap shot and one hopeful of fooling the audience (who, though, seemed to easily fooled).

My favorite parts of the debate were a number of remarks made by Ron Paul, where he gave answers that seemed counter-intuitive if you actually want to win the nomination, but were honest expressions of his political philosophy, and not geared to win him popularity. Once, the moderator (though he did little moderating) asked him if his suggestion that all foreign aid be done away with would include Israel. He said yes, and didn't really get boos (or applause) from an audience which was ready to applaud for any pro-Israeli remark. Although what he said was not what they, in general, might want from their president, they seemed to respect that it was a genuine reflection of his philosophy. Speaking about whether the candidates would negotiate for hostages, Paul also asked the panel if they condemned Ronald Reagan for doing just that. Other than a weak defense of Reagan by Gingrich, the other candidates all remained silent. None of them want to talk about the real Ronald Reagan, who was a mixed bag like almost everyone else. My point is, Paul risked getting booed again just by bringing it up.

Ironically, as opposed to the '08 campaign, when all the Republican candidates (including Romney) ganged up and sometimes mocked Paul, this time they seem to both respect and fear him. Of course, Paul's courage of his convictions will not help him win the nomination. And, I do believe that his eccentricies would lose him the general election were he nominated, particularly his foreign policy, not to mention that he refuses to try to be charming or beg favor with the media (he actually called Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity secret statists recently - that takes cojones if you want to win the Republican nomination).

My least favorite moment of the debate - when Gingrich pretty much called me and all other atheists immoral because we don't pray. Poor Newt. Still trying to rally the base. Probably didn't help that he called congress ignorant, but, while he might be smart compared to a lot of them in terms of reciting odd historical facts, they may be smarter in other ways - as with not running for offices they can't win and not pissing everyone off if you do.

Okay, now I got it all out of my system. Peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Political update for October, 2011

Not another debate tonight. What's left to say? 9-9-9. Yeaahh. Romneycare. Booo. Make Obama a one term president. Yeaahh. Utah, no Texas, no Massachusetts. Reagan, Reagan, Reagan. And, seriously, no more mentioning your wives and kids. Oh, and stop saying you are "job creators." Really, I just can't take it anymore.

I don't think I'm watching. No, who am I kidding? I'm recording it. I'm going to watch later.

There are 13 months to go until the election and already I am so bored of these guys, I can't tell you. It's not that the issues aren't important or interesting. It's just - we know, we know already. All we have to look forward to is that Newt Gingrich will recite some obscure historical fact for us at some point, while referring to his time as Speaker of the House (ignoring his ignoble demise and taking credit for whatever was accomplished during that time).

Oh, I know what's new. Huntsman is boycotting this debate because it's in Nevada and he's supposedly protesting that that state moved its caucus up. Never has there been such a successful presidential campaign boycott since John McCain suspended his campaign to deal (in a futile and unimpressive fashion) with the financial crisis of 2008. It actually reminds me about a joke about himself Rodney Dangerfield used to tell: "To give you an idea of how well I was doing at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit." If anyone notices Huntsman wasn't there, that will be the most attention he's gotten so far. Maybe he's just bored too and needs a break.

Of course, I have to mention Herman Cain, the rising star. First, let me (quoting Bear) self-reference myself from May of this year, when I first brought up the contestants. With respect to Cain I wrote that I didn't think he had a chance "unless everyone else clears out except him and Mitt Romney" and that though "he might do well in debate," not so much with several other contestants with similar views. I didn't like his views on Muslims, as, they are idiotic not to mention unconstitutional. But, ultimately I wrote:

"Leaving that issue aside, I get the feeling that he could do better in the nomination process than many of the other maybes. . . Cain . . . He is my dark horse surprise." And no, for the few of you who think that that was some racial remark, oh shut up.

Pretty good call if I say so myself (sorry Bear). Herman Cain has gone from a name almost no one knew to the front runner in some polls. But, already he stumbled in a couple of weeks, insisting on Meet the Press - his first really big public opportunity, that he wasn't familiar with neocons. Seriously? I wouldn't have expected him to be an expert on them, and frankly, political ideologies are always difficult to define, but how about pro-democracy, militarily agressive and free traders, which are pretty easy identifying characteristics. After his somewhat ignorant remarks about Muslims a few months ago, this also strikes me as a little ignorant for anyone who wants to run for president. I mean, Neocons were in the news the whole Bush administration.

I'm also not so cracked up about the 9-9-9, the mere mention of which makes me cringe. From the description of it I've read so far, it doesn't make all that much sense to me either. Not that the present tax code makes sense, or is especially fair, but when you are loudly proclaiming that you have the solution to something as big as taxation, it should be good, not some cool sounding plan that doesn't really measure up.

The first problem I see with 9-9-9 is will greatly increase taxes for people who just can't afford it. People who don't pay taxes now and make very little money would soon find themselves not paying a few percentage points, but close to 18% (a 9% income tax and 9% federal sales tax). Those who make millions of dollars investing might find themselves paying a few percentage points.

More, take a man who makes $15,000. He will probably spend most if not all of that money, so they will pay 18% of  that, leaving only $12,300. If he happens to have made that money through his own business - that's another 9% of whatever profit he made.

Of course, those who are unemployed and making no money now, will still pay the new 9% federal sales tax in addition to their state tax, if they have one.

Now, to make matters worse, suppose he has $5000 in medical bills - which is hardly ourtageous. I personally have spent much more than that in the last two years each. But, this poor snook will not be able to deduct it under 9-9-9. The guy who gave $5000 to charity gets the deduction, but not the guy who was saving his life. Fair?

Another aspect is that business can deduct costs but not its payroll. Cain claims it is more than set off by the reduction in corporate tax from 35% to 9%. I'm not sure it will really work that way, because we know many corporations now pay no taxes. How does a new business manage this, if it has a high payroll as its main costs, but not a lot of revenue yet?

There are other problems with it, but, the internet tells me that it has already, predictively, come under strong attack in the debate tonight, and, of course, they are Republicans, not Democrats.

Besides - Herman? That's not a president's name, is it?

Ten best Herman's in history:

10) Herman Cain
9) Herman Brooks (fictional main character of the short lived tv show, Herman's Head)
8) Jerry Herman (composer - Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles)
7) Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
6) Woody Herman (musician)
5) Herman (from the early rock group, Herman's Hermits - actually, Herman was a nickname for lead singer Peter Noone)
4) Hermann Goring (a Nazi who committed suicide at his trial for war crimes, he makes the list because of notoriety - don't hate me. I left out the umlaut over the "o" to punish him)
3) Pee Wee Herman
2) Herman Munster
1) George Herman "Babe" Ruth


This abbreviation is short for Occupy Wall Street, the only thing to challenge Herman Cain in political news these days (President Obama's job bill isn't even close).

What is it? I'm not sure. From the little I can tell (most of the coverage is either mockery or sensationalism) it sounds a lot like the Greek protesters who have to take less from the government or the anarchists who show up at WTO meetings to disrupt and with no clear ideological perspective except sort of down with capitalism. Marxists? I'm sure some. Crazy? Some. Anti-semites? Some.

But, the one major idea underlying the protests is that Wall Street screwed up and led us into a financial decline. There's some truth to that, of course, but I find more fault with government policies that led to  and even caused the mortgage crisis and has essentially bailed out Wall Street to the tune of possibly 60 trillion dollars over the years, at least according to some estimates. Even if that is high, it makes you wonder whether Wall Street has really made any money at all, or has really been the biggest stimulus package in history. Ironically, since wealthy people pay most of the taxes in the country, it has been rich people bailing out and supplementing other rich people.

What will OWS accomplish? Nothing. I do not believe it has either the staying power or the organization of the various tea parties which led to a Republican sweep of congress in 2010. Right now, OWS seems like a bad movie with no plot or great writing.

This is the easiest prediction of the year.

Short post this week, you lucky dogs.

Post note: I am watching the debate. It is more fun than I thought.  I have to say, Rick Perry went after Romney on an unfair charge (Romney had landscapers who apparently hired some illegals). Romney not only smoothly body slammed Perry twice, but Perry looked foolish. Even the crowd seemed to be down on him. He looked to me like he wanted to punch Romney in his mouth.

No doubt, Romney is simply the best debater on the floor. It would be hard even for his critics (unless they are working for one of the others) to deny that, even if they don't trust him or disagree with him on policy. No one has succeeded yet, though they beat up Perry and beat up Herman Cain tonight. They can't land a glove on him (as I write this, he got booed lightly by the crowd for taking a shot at Perry, and then cheered when Perry took a shot back at him). After tonight, I even more strongly believe he will be the nominee.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Dieting - The great adventure

I started off with a post on the death penalty and on cyborgs. Really. But, then I started writing about dieting and I shelved the other stuff for another day. The following is purely autobiographical. Those who can’t tolerate autobiographical blog posts, please turn away now.

It is remarkable, on reflection, how much time and effort dieting has taken up in my life. Then again, it is remarkable how much time eating and just thinking about food has taken up in my life too. Sometimes I think if I added up all the time I have spent thinking about food, women and the pain in my left leg, it is hard to see how I've had time to think about anything else.

I was a skinny kid. At some point early on there was actually concern about how little I ate. When a teenager, my appetite became voracious (not unusual for a teenager), but my metabolism burned through as much as I could eat and then some. I graduated high school full grown at 155 pounds. College at 165. I steadily gained weight after then until at age 32, weighing just 195, and feeling enormous, I starved myself for 11 weeks until I weighed 169 pounds again. I knew I couldn’t maintain that low weight as I thought about food every few seconds. My entire family was fat. There was no way around it. I steadily gained again, up and down over the years, and at my high point, weighed 255 – 100 pounds more than when I graduated high school. Knowing I could trim down to under 170 and look relatively small let me know that when people said I or others were just big boned, they had no clue at all what they were talking about.

I put on all that weight despite the fact that I spend the large part of most years dieting. For many years, up until the present one, I was on the Atkins Diet. You hear all kinds of criticism about it from people, but the studies seem to show it is the fastest way to lose weight, and, as it allowed me to eat a lot, it is the only thing that really worked for me. And, it worked fairly well for a long time. That is, if I was dedicated to it, and there is no point to being on it if you aren’t, I would lose weight, and quickly at first. After a few years though, I noticed that the weight loss was slowing down and when I went off it for a vacation, or a mental health break, I would quickly gain the weight back and that would become my new plateau. That isn’t unusual and despite what some people think, has nothing to do with Atkins. I’ve read that nearly everyone who goes on a diet ends up heavier after a year has passed.

In 2008 I moved to Virginia and didn’t diet for a year, which was why I went up to 255. But, something else happened soon after I moved which was much more important to my eventual weight loss. My brother, 4 years older than I was and very obese, died of a heart attack while sleeping, his hands tucked together comfortably under his head. It had all the appearances of death by apnea.

You probably know what apnea is, but if you don’t, google it. I’ll just say it is when you stop breathing while you sleep, or don’t breathe enough. I was a snorer and my evalovin’ gf had long told me I would often stop breathing when I slept. I knew that I barely slept my whole life. I knew I had been chronically exhausted my whole life. I thought it was just me - who I was. Naturally I put the exhaustion and lack of sleep together early in my life, but not really to the extent I did later. I also knew that I had never breathed normally through my nose in my life. My gf laughed at me for pulling on the end of my nose while I drove, but that was the only way I could breathe through both nostrils at once.

Sleep clinics had been sprouting up in the last few years, and I decided I might as well check it out. So, I did. To make a long story short, I took the sleep test. What I learned blew my mind. It wasn’t just that I would only sleep a few hours a night. It wasn’t just that I woke up frequently. It turned out I woke up somewhere between every one and two minutes. That seems impossible, but it was true. I would hold my breath until my self-preservation instinct would wake me up suddenly so I could take a breath and then go back to asleep for another minute or so. I knew that I would often wake up frequently, but I had no idea how frequently.

The doctor at the clinic recommended I try the CPAP machine. This is a small machine which basically shoots air in your mouth so you can breathe normally all night. I had heard about it from my sister, who was one among a few people who told me it had changed their life, and I expected the recommendation to work for me. I tried it one night at the clinic. I warned them that I literally had slept zero hours the night before and it probably wouldn’t be an accurate result, as I would pass out for a few hours no matter what, but they didn’t seem to hear me or care. I slept about 4 hours and they told me it worked great. But, I protested that when I had woken up during the night I felt like I was suffocating. Go get a CPAP machine they said. So I did.

I made an appointment with one of the companies on a list they showed me that leased the machines. I was embarrassed to even put the mask on in front of the respiratory therapist, but took it home and tried – for 3 months. Because the therapist had become a good friend, she gave me different masks to try, but nothing worked. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like air was rushing down my throat and though it was supposed to keep my throat moist as well, it didn’t. I now woke every few minutes to take a drink or to stop from choking. Plus the head strap really hurt my head. I doubt I ever wore it for more than an hour and eventually, I think it was for just a few minutes. I really tried. I wanted it to succeed, because I saw no other options.

Finally, when I couldn’t do it anymore, they sent me to a surgeon to see if he had a solution. He did. He told me that there was no way I was breathing through my nose more than a little, but, obviously, I knew that already. Then he drew me a life sized picture of the space I had in my throat to breathe right next to a picture of what it should look like. I was shocked. My entire life I had been breathing through a little half dime sized opening in my throat instead of a much larger figure 8.

You know the expression that your life passes before your eyes. In a sense, that is precisely what happened to me right in the doctor’s office. All of a sudden the mysteries of my life were explained to me. When I was a baby they thought I had childhood asthma. I think they were wrong. I think I just couldn’t breathe because my nose didn’t work and the opening in my throat was so small. It explained why I choked so often when I ate my entire life. And, mostly it explained why for my whole life I didn't sleep and was so tired. I had been so sleepy as a kid that my mother asked me once if I thought I had chronic mononucleosis. When I young and a runner I mused about the fact that while I could seem to run endlessly without much effort, I was sleepy the whole time, and I still remember thinking how strange it was while on a run that if there had been a couch conveniently on the side of the road, I would have gladly sit down on it. I did not seem to experience the runner’s high people told me about. More, I had very little ambition, little drive and just wanted to sleep all day long. When I went to grade school I would immediately try and go to sleep and it got worse the older I got. In high school I wrote a mystical sounding poem in a creative writing class about a “sleeper,” and I was the only one who knew what it meant.  I often fell asleep when sitting down or doing anything which required mental energy, like, say, studying. I barely got through high school (helped by the fact that they didn’t really want to fail anyone). I remember vividly one day another student ask the teacher why it seemed like I was snapped out of a stupor when called on. She thought I was faking. I remember thinking, some day you will all see that I had some weird disease. I didn't know what, but I knew something was wrong.

I did well enough in college to go to law school, and did okay there (until I just hated school too much the last year and completely stopped going to class or trying to learn anything) but, really, I could have slept the whole way through. When I raised my daughter as a young attorney I would sometimes regret how little energy I had to play with her although I mostly blamed this on the terrible pain I was suffering in my leg by then. Sure, I knew being so tired wasn’t normal, but, never did it occur to me that it was curable.  And, still, I did everything I wanted to do - work, play, read, travel, date and so on, because what else was I going to do? Sleep? I was even fairly workaholicish for a long time and, no real complaints - I've had a very lucky and happy life.  I just tried not to complain about it too much.

Now, a middle aged man, my doctor told me that if I didn’t have the surgery, which was uncertain, or use the CPAP which I couldn’t deal with, in his experience I would start having heart attacks within 7 years. He wanted to do surgery on my nose to repair my deviated septum and remove other blockages and then consider throat surgery, if necessary. Still sitting there, I started to look back at my life and wonder how different it would have been had I had surgery when I was young, even though this never seemed to occur to anyone, least of all me.  At the same time I thought about the physicist, Stephen Hawking, who has accomplished so much while suffering incomparably more than me with ALS, or other people who had far greater handicaps than I do and yet accomplished great things, and I felt like a whining baby. Everyone has an excuse. Still, I couldn’t help wondering. . . .

He performed the surgery on my nose in May, 2009. It wasn’t so bad. I took pain killers for only one day while still in recovery and my nose was packed with cotton and some plastic funnel like device for less than a week, if I remember right. It was uncomfortable, but manageable. When the packing came out, I was still uncomfortable, and my nose was a little swollen. But, very soon I did something I had never done in my entire life without pulling on my nose. I breathed through both my nostrils at the same time. And I could do it all the time. I am doing it now, and though this may seem normal to you, it is still wonderful to me.  I could even work out or sit down without seeing black spots. Why this had never alarmed me I can’t tell you. The surgery also improved my apnea, but not enough. It was throat surgery time.

I had a choice. He could use a technique where radiowaves burned my upper palate, shrinking it, or he could do traditional surgery, removing my tonsils and my apparently giant sized uvula. That’s right, a giant uvula. No man minds a giant organ, but it’s not the uvula you are thinking about. Oh, I also had a high placed tongue, whatever that meant. No, not so anyone would ever notice but an ENT, but there it was. The first technique he described was relatively new, it would not be covered by insurance, and was a little uncomfortable for a while. The second, the surgery, was permanent, covered by insurance, and incredibly painful, he said, producing the worst pain of any surgery ENTs perform. Apparently, having your tonsils removed becomes a lot more painful as you age. I chose the second method, despite his subtle hint I should go the other way. But, I laughed at pain. Hah hah. I lived with pain. Snort. It would be a trifle.

So, in December, 2009 I went under the knife again. Apparently, as much as I had suffered for nearly half my life from chronic leg pain, it could be a lot worse. True to my doctor’s word, I had not experienced pain like this before. Swallowing water or even ice cream, just plain swallowing, in fact – and you can't stop that – was like swallowing sharp glass. It was horrifying.

But, the pain was only part of the problem. I was on all kinds of painkillers including Oxycondone. I have never taken any casual drugs or any major painkillers in my life other than after my nasal surgery for a day. I did not react well to it. I started having obsessive compulsive conversations with two other people in my head, and they were not pleasant people. All I remember was that one was a man and one was a woman. I knew that there were not actually other people in my head, but I couldn’t stop talking to them either. It was dark and restless and very uncomfortable. Between the horrible pain and the incessant OCD conversations I could not sleep. The first night, and I’m not making this up, I tried to convince myself that I was a Nazi torturer and I was happy because I could torture myself. I think I slept a half hour until I gave up and just got up to begin my day suffering.

I called my doctor in the morning. An assistant took the call. I explained that there was something wrong with my pain medicine. They told me it was just a painful recovery and to hang in there. Somewhere in that period my daughter came down from NY to help me. At one point she patted my hair and it was like she was driving a knife into my head. I repeated the conversation with my doctor’s office the next morning, begging them to switch my meds. My daughter left that night to go home. She had put up a Christmas tree for me, completely decorated with ornaments and lights. After she left, I was sitting in misery on the couch, staring blankly and imagined that the entire tree tipped over and crashed to the floor. Unfortunately, I soon realized that what I had imagined was that I had imagined it. I had to go out to the shed, return with a hammer and a nail, and then fasten a hanger to the wall with which I tethered the tree after I righted it. It is funny in retrospect, but it was miserable then.

The next morning, after three days of virtually no sleep and intense pain the whole time, I told the poor resident who answered at my doctor’s office that either they put me back in the hospital and fixed the problem, or I would begin taking pills until I felt better. I meant it when I said it and I don’t know if I would have done it.  But, it worked. She told me go to the emergency room and a friend gave me a ride. They gave me a shot of something to kill the worst of the pain. I slept an hour. Given how used I was to not sleeping at all, an hour was actually refreshing and I felt marginally better. They didn’t change the type of my medications but spaced them out differently and, more important, gave me a throat lubricator of which I could take as much as I wanted! That helped a lot. I have no idea why they hadn’t given me it to me before, but based on the repeated apologies from the residents, I got the feeling they had screwed up and knew it. I would see my doctor in 4 days and thought I could handle the pain until then. I would say the pain had gone from 99 (100 on my scale actually kills you) to a 90, but that was okay. A few days later the doctor, after also apologizing repeatedly, gave me three new medications. I filled the prescription, but then put them away, deciding to take only the over the counter medication, Alleve. The pain was still horrible, but with the drug induced people gone in my head, and my throat lubrication, I didn’t think I needed it anymore. I actually am good with pain (okay, maybe not dental pain, but we all have our weaknesses). After another week, I was over a big hump, although it really took about two months to recover maybe 90%. And, for another six to eight months my throat would not feel quite right every time I swallowed.

But, in the meantime, something else wonderful happened. My apnea went from a 40 on the scale before my first surgery to a 2, meaning I no longer had apnea. Even my surgeon was really surprised. My oxygen levels at night were normal. And though you don’t change the habit of not sleeping for nearly 50 years, when I slept - I slept, if only 4 to 6 hours a night. I wasn’t waking up every minute or so or suffocating all night long. After a while, I felt much stronger, much healthier than I ever have as an adult and I could really breathe for the first time in my life. I'm sitting here right now doing it and I can't tell you how amazing it still is to me.

I realize that I probably can’t explain the difference to me to someone who hasn’t lived with something like this, but imagine that from the time you are a baby, you are kept on a narcotic, and one day when you are 49, they wean you off it. You think you might appreciate the difference? Those with their own issues, and I’m not claiming mine are special or especially horrible, will understand better.

I know that all of this seems like a big detour from talking about dieting, but it’s not at all. Over the course of the next year I started working out a little harder. And, I started thinking more about really dieting and losing weight. But, over a year passed since the last surgery while I recovered and slowly got in better shape. Finally, right after New Years, 2011, I went to my doctor and had a talk with the Physician’s Assistant. I told her that I gave up. I was surrendering. Atkins was just not helping me lose weight anymore and I knew I wasn’t capable of a regular calorie based diet no matter how they dressed it up. I wanted to cheat. I wanted a drug. You might be thinking, so what, you take a pill? What’s the big deal? But for me, it was a tremendous admission of defeat, that I wasn’t able to deal with the problem on my own.

Possibly, this admission was a long time coming. I had long realized that I had an eating disorder, one I shared with my entire family. Even though I was not all that overweight, it wasn't so good either, yet I had always been the “skinny” one in my family.

When I used the phrase eating disorder, some people, especially those who had no problem dieting or just not eating, looked at me like I was crazy. Just don’t eat so much, they sneered. But, I couldn’t stop. I loved food too much. I had no trouble being disciplined at other things, but I couldn’t stop eating. The only things that would stop me from constantly eating or thinking about it was being on trial, having a broken heart, or a high fever or headache, all of which were fairly rare events.

How bad was this? Here's an example. I once explained to a puzzled co-worker who just couldn’t understand the problem, that when I drove home for a half hour, if I didn’t have a little snack with me, some part of me, unseen and unsuspected by others, was wondering if I would starve to death during the drive home, even though I knew that was ridiculous. Even an upset stomach could not stop me or one of my siblings from eating. I could have a huge meal, feel full to the point of sickness, yet be thinking about when my next meal would be. One day I called my brother up and I told him I had a really difficult day, so guess what I did? He knew instantly. I went out and had a huge Chinese dinner, breaking my diet, comforting and punishing myself at the same time. He did the same thing all the time. We all did.

And, I hated hearing people who didn’t feel this addiction to food – an addiction from which I could not go cold turkey – tell me that all I had to do was stop eating or stop thinking about it. Just say no, is that it?  And, what could I say? Silently, to myself – F’ you.

So there I was asking my doctor for pharmaceutical help and feeling weak and a quitter, but also finally feeling awake enough to tackle the problem head on – if I just had a little help. I told her I didn’t want three things – something that would hurt me internally, something that would make me incontinent or speed. She said – pick one. So, I picked speed. The drug was called Phentermine and was part of the drugs that made up Phen Phen, which was incredibly effective, but had been ripped off the market when people started having heart attacks on it. Phentermine is not technically an amphetamine, but closely related so that it is a controlled substance. It affects your brain so that you don’t care about eating. She told me that all of her patients on it lost 40 to as much as 80 pounds over three months, the maximum time she’d let me on it. Yes, when it was over, I’d have to learn how not to eat so much myself, but this could be a big break for me. And, now that I could actually breathe, I thought maybe I could do it.

Oh, one thing to watch out for, she added. It was possible my blood pressure would spike, but it had never happened with any of her patients and it was very unlikely to happen to me. So, I started on Phentermine. Four days later, I had barely eaten and lost ten pounds, really forcing myself to eat a little each day. It was incredible. I wasn’t hungry at all. I told everyone I knew with weight problems about it. I did notice that my blood pressure had been too high when I checked it every few hours, but expected that it would even out in a few days. Right?

So, there I was on the 4th night in the emergency room with my blood pressure spiking well into the stroke zone. I had called 911 late, probably a little before midnight, thinking better then than at 3 a.m., or dying during the night from a stroke. Of course, having high blood pressure doesn’t necessarily make you feel bad at all. It's the silent killer.  I felt great. A crew of senior citizens showed up at my house in an ambulance. They were a cheerful bunch and took my blood pressure. In fact, they each took my blood pressure for practice. My own reading was accurate. You’d better go to the hospital my elderly friends said. They strapped me to a gurney, although by all appearances, I was by far the healthiest person there. One of them started telling me her physical problems on the way to the hospital. I offered to let her lay on the gurney, but she didn’t think that would look right.

My blood pressure eventually went down in the hospital, but was still dangerously high, and I was told to give up the Phentermine immediately, as if there was any doubt about it. I didn’t mind so much what happened to me as I did that I would have to give up the drug and the amazing weight loss.

Or did I? Four months later I was talking to my physician. Want to try again, he asked, almost conspiratorially? This time, we will start you off at one quarter the normal dosage and see if that works. So, I got another prescription and started again. My blood pressure was not affected at the low dosage. But, unfortunately, it also didn’t have any affect on me. Sure, I told myself I wasn’t hungry for a week, but soon realized I was as hungry as ever. Still, I had been forcing myself to go down to 1500-2000 calories a day. My guess is I had been doing 4-6000 normally and sometimes much more.

After a month of this, I renewed my prescription and paid for a new month’s worth of pills. But, I never took another one - or maybe it was one more. Who cares? I realized exactly what I was doing. In fact, I realized that even while sitting in the doctor’s office a little part of me knew I was probably going to just take the pills as a placebo. I don’t mind placebos at all. I’m happy to take a placebo if it helps me. But, I was happier now that I was doing it on my own.

Now, a half year having passed after I started again, I have lost a fair amount of weight – possibly 35 pounds. It is not as much as I would have had lost if I tolerated the Phentermine, but I also know that I did it myself, which is a good feeling. And, I would have been long done with the Phentermine at this point and don’t know if I would have kept the dieting up or floundered again once I was off it. Who can say? My first goal was 205, which I passed recently and the next goal is 185. Unlike my usual dieting, I feel pretty confident that I can make it. After 185, I can’t say for sure. But, I definitely feel much better physically.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think about food constantly. I still open the refrigerator door constantly. I just don’t eat much. At the end of the day, all I’m doing is just saying no, just like all those annoying naysayers told me to do. But, I also realize that there are reason I can do now what I couldn’t manage to do before. It’s my nature to analyze things and I’ve sought of ranked what helped me get here, strange as it sounds. Whether it is right or not I’ll never know.

First are the surgeries. Being able to breathe normally has changed my life more than any other factor. Being much more awake, no matter what I’m doing, is still magical for me, and almost a surprise every day, even if I still rarely sleep more than 6 hours.

Second, is having a great workout partner – ironically, the respiratory therapist who helped me with the CPAP machine. It is true that I have had difficulty getting into workouts and having someone there to distract me, and for me to pathetically try to keep up with (it’s no comparison really), helps a great deal. This is true even if exercise is the least important part of losing weight (at least, that’s what a lot of studies show). I always say that I hate every second of every minute of every hour of it, but she makes it bearable for me.

Third, is the Phentermine. Sure, it could have killed me, and then when I went down in dosage it did nothing for me other than be a temporary crutch. But, I will give that crutch some credit. It helped me get started.

Okay, I will give myself a little credit. Because ultimately, it is me winning the mental struggle to not eat even though I want to all the time, and to exercise as much as I can, even though I’d rather not. And, I’ve just made up my mind to accept the minor but relentless suffering as best I can. But, that’s no different than almost everyone else struggling through it. So, shut up, I say to myself, and stop looking longingly at the refrigerator. It will be there tomorrow.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .