Learn to Manage Your Health

Here is a link to an excellent article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Upon reading this article, I found myself recalling the many quarrels I have had with the medical profession over the years. Somewhat more realistically than stated by Maureen Dowd, doctors are often more like members of a priesthood than gods; witness the furor throughout the medical profession when Barry Marshall proved that peptic ulcers were caused by helicobacter pylori, it was as though he was preaching some heretical doctrine.

My own experiences with doctors date from childhood bouts with tonsilitis, when my family physician and the school physician offered opposing views of what the proper treatment should be. “Medicate!” said one, “No! Have the tonsils removed.” protested the other. Then there were the three doctors who, when fully informed by me of the etiology of a problem that I was having, took three subsequent visits to arrive at the diagnosis I suggested on my very first visit, meanwhile prescribing medication — NSAIDS — that had no effect; and if I had continued taking the NSAIDS, they could very well have caused additional problems. Eventually, we all agreed on my original self-diagnosis, and the problem was healed by taking a one-week vacation and ramping up the therapy that I had begun before ever consulting any doctors.

In more recent years, I have experienced intermittent problems with an irritable bowel, with a herniated disc and with rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t consult any physicians for any of these problems because I understood what they were and how to deal with them. The irritable bowel was tamed by varying bulky and granular foods. The herniated disc was healed by careful exercise, increased food intake and more bed rest. And the arthritis was handled with careful exercise and the addition of a bit of honey to my diet.

Think of the body as a vehicle and the brain as a navigator. If we had to pass a “driving test” to operate our bodies, too many of us would fail. Instead, we try to use physicians like chauffers, and expect them to do the navigating for us. We need to improve public school education in the areas of health and wellness. But we also need to rethink the uses and abuses of health insurance. People who can afford to hire chauffeurs to drive them around do not use insurance to pay for that privilege. Insurance was devised to cover extraordinary losses of ships, cargo and buildings, due to things like fires, floods or maritime mishaps.

In my own case, I have worn corrective lenses since adolescence. But even when replacement of my glasses or contacts has been covered by my health insurance, I have paid the costs out of pocket; I considered such replacement a “standard living expense,” one I could easily plan for and afford, and I no more considered using insurance to cover those costs than a business should consider using insurance to buy replacement laser cartridges or copy paper. And on the few occasions when I have been involved in auto accidents, bitten by a dog, etc., I have strongly opposed compensation by insurers of the people who felt responsible, insisting that I would prefer to sign a quitclaim absolving the insurer and the insured of any responsibility, and in every case but one, that is precisely what I did; in the exceptional case, the insurer sent me a check to reimburse $10.50 in doctor’s fees.
 When I was a child, many people seemed to believe that exposure to cold air, standing in front of an open refrigerator door or going out in the cold improperly dressed, could cause you to catch cold.  But as an active member of a Boy Scout troop that often went pup tent camping in late fall or winter I learned that was nonsense. 
If I had a cold at the beginning of the weekend, when I returned home the cold would be gone.  I thought that the cold air made it difficult for germs to survive, but that was not the reason — at least not entirely — for the cold symptoms disappearing.  Today I have a more complete, better reasoned and imperically verified picture of what it takes to control cold symptoms or symptoms of chronic bronchitis and it is quite against conventional “wisdom” on the subject.   

 So what is the answer, more bed rest?  No, that is precisely the wrong thing to do.  When you are resting, your breathing is diminished and irritants in the nose, lungs and bronchial passages tend to remain pretty much in place, perhaps even accumulate.  Suppose that something on the stove was burning and pouring smoke into the kitchen.  You would get rid of the smoke and odorous material by turning on an exhaust fan.  And so it is with congestion and mucus in your body.  To expel the irritants that cause them, you should get more exercise to increase breathing activity.  When my cold symptoms disappeared on camping weekends, it was because of my increased activity and the corresponding increase in breathing — much like turning on the fan in the kitchen. 

 As a smoker, I occasionally experience bronchitis, and when I do, I take a brisk walk for a couple of miles and the bronchia quckly clear up.  If I don’t do that, mucus builds up and I find myself trying to cough up phlegm.


If you wish to learn more about managing your own health, there are a limited number of free online classes available at ALISON.com.

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Limits of Ideology

Conservative writers teach their followers to adhere to “received wisdom,” to adhere to traditional ideas and rules, and resist or even reject new ideas out of hand.  But the brain is a navigational device.  People are in constant motion in an ever-changing world.  When the bridge that separates your home from the local shopping mall is being repaired, you have to find a new route to and from the mall or do without the things you desire.

Hard and fast” rules may be useful, but they have limitations which must be recognized, or they lead to errors.  Let us take an example from a rule with which we are all familiar.
In English spelling class, we are taught: “I before E, except after C and in words rhyming with A such as neighbor and weigh.”
That rule works well for words like lie, die, friend, and deceit, receipt, ceiling, as well as eight, weigh and neigh. But it is useless when applied to words like glacier, efficient, being, either and protein.
So if you stick to that rule with unflinching belief, you will leave immense room for error in your writing.  Never forget that the first letters in the words “belief” and “believe” spell “belie.” That alone should serve to indicate that all beliefs are open to question.
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Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance in Politics

When you hear a politician running for office proclaim that “government can do no good,” think of him or her as someone applying for a job, because that’s exactly what he or she is doing, and think of yourself as a prospective employer interviewing the candidate for a job in your company, because that’s precisely who you are.

In the course of a job interview:

Would a doctor get hired by a hospital if he said, “Medicine can do no good?” Would a lawyer get hired by a company or a law firm if he said, “The law can do no good?” Would a teacher be hired if he said, “Education can do no good?”

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Lessons in Life

One of the most valuable lessons I learned, at a very early age, was how to deal with opinions expressed about me by other people. If someone praised me or something I did, I learned to look critically at myself or the deed to see if there was any merit in what they said. After all, they could simply be trying to win favor with me for their own ends. And if I was criticized, I would go through the same process, and if I found merit in the criticism, I would look for ways to change.

At first, for personal guidance, I relied on things I read in the Bible — the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and other things from the Book of Matthew — and things I read in the writings of early Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). Socrates was more moral, Aristotle was more logical. Then, when I reached the age of 11, I had the Boy Scout Law to guide me: “a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverent.” These things helped me evaluate my behavior, demeanor and comments made about me by other people.

Another important lesson was learning the difference between antipathy and sympathy, between inherent negativity of the critic and constructive criticism. I have never been averse to people offering criticism of me; valid criticism can help us to steer a better course through life. In fact, constructive criticism is stock-in-trade for good teachers, editors and managers, and is often accompanied by suggestions for improvement. Those who truly care about us, who want us to do a better job or lead happier, more productive lives will not just demean or criticize us, but will help us to find ways to improve. And knowing that is a key to choosing our friends and colleagues.

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The Human Brain

A well-written article by Carl Zimmer in the NYT
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/science/in-the-human-brain-size-really-isnt-everything.html?hp discusses recent research into what makes the human brain different from the brains of other mammals. He writes that “Once that cranial growth was underway, our forerunners started leaving behind signs of increasingly sophisticated minds, like stone tools and cave paintings. ”

But is that sheer narcissism on the part of human scientists (and perhaps Mr. Zimmer as well)? Consider the wonders produced by what we like to think of as “lower animals.” Before modern humans existed, animals were producing art and architecture. Beavers built dams, bees built intricate hives and birds built beautiful (and very functional) nests. Still other animals, although we tried to deny it, used sticks and stones as tools. Could they have been the teachers of early man?

Moreover, if you watch your pet dog or cat sleeping, you will see that they dream, and their dreams may cause their legs to respond as though they are running. As much as we might wish to deny it, those are clear signs of consciousness. Moreover, compare the faces of animals that have endured abuse with those who have been well cared for and you will see the not-so-subtle expressions of fear and uncertainty on the former, and joy in the faces of the latter.

To the best of my knowledge, the one thing that truly distinguishes mankind from other animals is that we produce weapons which we use to kill other people and animals. Is that something to be proud of? I think not.

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Economics 202

In a New York Times article, Thomas Edsall examines a question raised by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu:  “Why can’t America Be Sweden?”  Acemoglu is an economist, and economics is far from an exact science, so Mr. Edsall is able to find numerous arguments from other sources to counter those raised by Acemoglu.    

Acemoglu contends that money is the great motivator, and that “the United States must maintain an economic system that provides great rewards to successful innovators.”  But what do we really know from our history about whether or not this is true?  

First, there is the issue of competition.  History has shown that when companies get too large and too wealthy (e.g. monopolistic), they actually put a damper on creativity and innovation, merely content to drive up prices to make themselves wealthier.  An excellent example may be drawn from the 1990’s when IBM was forced to divest itself of its personal computer operations.  That spurred a rapid and sustained surge in growth in the personal computer market from which companies like Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Hewlett Packard, and many others benefited  immensely, and due to the competition, many consumers were also able to benefit from lower prices.

A few years before that, I spent five weeks in Europe (Austria, France and Germany), and was amazed to see innovations everywhere:  people in France had desktop microcomputers with which they could dial up their banks to manage their accounts, televisions all over Europe displayed images with much better resolution than televisions in the U.S., and there were also many innovative kitchen appliances that had yet to find their way into American houses.  This was before the Euro, and ATMs everywhere were able to reliably accept many different currencies and return their value to the user in different currencies, when my experience with similar machines in American laundromats, which only had to deal with American currency, was frequent failure!  Oh yes!  And the French were routinely using smart cards (similar to our credit cards, but which didn’t need to be inserted into a scanning device)!  There were many other innovations as well, but I don’t wish to belabor the point.

Asked for examples of American innovation, Acemoglu mentioned Google, Amazon, Facebook Wal-Mart and other successful companies, but he apparently failed to adequately define what factors contributed to their success.  I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s failed SDI project.  When President Reagan announced to the public that he was initiating a project to place satellites in orbit armed with missiles that could shoot down Soviet missiles aimed at the U.S., I immediately realized that it would be a waste of money.   All the Russians had to do was fire a single missile with a nuclear warhead and detonate it high over their own country where it could do no harm, and the satellite would be blinded; permitting other missiles to be launched with impunity.  

But I also realized that President Reagan was misguided in yet another way.  In part, his SDI project was predicated on JFK’s project to put a man on the moon, which spurred the American and other economies with microwave ovens, TANG, digital watches and clocks, transistor radios and many other technical innovations.  But the essence of JFK’s project was focused on getting men to the moon and back to earth alive, and to sustain life on that trip it was necessary to reduce the weight of the vehicle and provide instrumentation, foodstuff, and the means to preparing the latter.  SDI had nothing to do with keeping men alive and comfortable.  

Similarly, the success of companies mentioned by Acemoglu can be attributed to the desire to create useful and affordable products for people; in the case of companies like Google and Facebook, the ongoing financing — largely through advertising — was necessary but secondary.  

One final note…

A non-profit organization located at Cambridge University in the UK has invented an innovative and inexpensive tool for teaching computer science to children.  This invention, called “Raspberry Pi” has only been on the market for a little over a year, and demand for the product has grown exponentially during that time — perhaps everywhere but in the U.S. And at the rate that demand for the Raspberry Pi has grown worldwide, we might reasonably anticipate that the U.S. will lose the edge it has held in the computer field for more than half a century; then, perhaps Acemoglu will be able to explain how a non-profit organization beat his beloved profiteers.  







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The Ultimate Right

In an article in the New York Times , conservative ideologue Ross Douthat presents a one-sided view of suicide.  Although there may be a shred of truth in what he wrote, he passed up an opportunity to examine the issue in its full scope.  

First, what is suicide?  In one sense it is the exercise of what might be termed an “individual’s right to end one’s own life.”  The loneliness factor, to which Mr. Douthat would like to attribute all suicides, has historically resulted in far more failed suicides than successful ones; a phenomenon that has been described as a bid for attention.

But is suicide always wrong?  There are, of course, laws against suicide, but those laws were enacted to prevent injury to the suicidal actor’s surviving dependents and to innocent people who may be inadvertently killed or injured by his or her actions.  But there are also numerous incidents in which suicides were not motivated by loneliness but by the desire to save lives, to protest injustice or simply to cease being a burden on society.  

Think, for example, of the number of military heroes who sacrificed their own lives, sometimes by throwing themselves on top of grenades, to save their comrades in arms.  And consider the Buddhist Monks in Vietnam who immolated themselves to protest injustice in that country, or more recently, of Mohamed Bouazizi, who, in a similar act, protested injustice in Tunisia and was posthumously credited with inspiring the Arab Spring.   

Finally, there are those who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have reached the end of their usefulness in life and do not wish to be a burden on society.  We have hospice care for those who have been diagnosed as being very near the end of life, but perhaps we should consider euthanasia clinics where people who are thinking about suicide could go and find  counseling away from that direction or, failing that, be safely and comfortably euthanized.  Presented with those options, the rate of suicide attempts might actually decline.




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The Right to Bear Arms


There has been much discussion by people in the NRA and others against legislation restricting sales of firearms.  Much of that centers on the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  But what does the 2nd amendment actually say?

2nd Amendment:   ”A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”

So what is a “militia?”
 Webster’s definition of a militia reads::  “1a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency b : a body of citizens organized for military service 2: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service.”

You will note that nothing in the 2nd amendment says anything about hunting animals
or recreational use of firearms, or even protection of one’s home.  Moreover, the military
draft, which is no longer enforced in this country, is implicit in the 2nd amendment.  It
would not be unreasonable to say that abolishing the military draft was a violation of
the 2nd amendment.  The military draft was abolished in 1973 by a Democrat majority in both houses of Congress and a Republican President (Richard Nixon).  The 2nd amendment says nothing about protecting the people from the state, only about the people securing the state.  


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Mind-Sets Revisited

I recently had a discussion with someone regarding the Constitution Project Report on “extraordinary renditions” and torture encouraged by the Bush Administration.  This man still tries to make excuses for his own behavior or that of people he ideologically identifies with (right-wingers). 

 He argued that the U.S. had engaged routinely in torture prior to the Bush Administration, as though,  if that were true, it would excuse the Bush Administration for its unlawful actions.  But the logic of that argument doesn’t hold up; if it did, one might be tempted to go out and rob a bank, and then try to justify it by saying, “Bonny and Clyde and Willie Sutton robbed banks.”   (Bonny and Clyde were famous bank robbers from U.S. history)

When we are children, it is quite common for us to try to justify wrongful actions committed by ourselves or our friends when we are caught by saying, “So-and-so did it.”  But hopefully, as we grow up we learn that is no excuse. 

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Liberals and Conservatives Part II

In my February 2011 post ( https://corticalsense.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/liberals-and-conservatives/), I pointed out that during the American Revolution, conservatives were sympathetic to the British aristocracy, not the colonial rebels.  But in today’s world of politics, conservatives will often claim to be the “real Americans,” and attempt to brand any liberal or progressive President as being a “dictator!”\

So, are things any different today?:  Read the Constitution Project’s report on torture during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:  http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/684407/constitution-project-report-on-detainee-treatment.pdf and pay special attention to the description of the conservative Bush Administration’s treatment of detainees and how strongly it correlates with the British treatment of American revolutionary fighters, and how radically it diverges from the history of the United States during various wars throughout history.  You’ll find the comparison on Page 161, Chapter 4.  Elsewhere throughout the document, numerous examples are given of how that conservative administration tried to wrest power from Congress and distort existing laws.  

The document also quotes a letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail: 

I who am always made miserable by the Misery of every sensible being, amobliged to hear continual accounts of the barbarities, the cruel Murders in cold blood, even the most tormenting ways of starving and freezing committed by our Enemies. … These accounts harrow me beyond Description. …

I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this — Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won’t prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed.

and quotes George Washington as well: 

Let them have no reason to complain of us copying the brutal manner of the British Army. … While we are contending for our own liberty we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case, are they answerable.”

And note:  the Constitution Project is a non-partisan enterprise, neither liberal not conservative; it’s sole purpose is to monitor how closely our government adheres to the Constitution and laws.

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On Education

Someone called me recently for assistance with a problem. They reported that they could access the internet via their cable ISP, but could not access their inherent email account from either of two computers. They called the cable provider first for assistance, and the “techie” at the other end performed a number of “services” over a period of about ninety minutes. In the end, little had changed.

When the problem was described to me, I suggested that they should look to the most common element — the cable modem/router. I did not know at the time that the ISP’s technical assistant had not ordered the modem to be reset. While waiting to see if I would be called upon to show up and solve the problem, I received an email from the caller stating that everything was fine. He had reset the modem.

It is this sort of thing that leads me to conclude that our educational system fails, at all levels, to teach people elementary problem solving skills, including the rules of logic, how to formulate a problem, critical thinking and analysis, etc. Even elementary math is most often taught as a set of hard and fast rules without any attention being paid to the practical consequences of applying those rules to the real world. That, I believe is what “statement problems” in math were meant to do, but many students simply don’t seem to be able to understand those practical applications; perhaps because they didn’t learn to read.

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