Thursday, April 10, 2014

The 'Godfather of Bull' Whips Up a Fairy Godmother

Tiao Maia received the Consular Legacy award for Humanitarianism last week.

     It wasn’t until we were at 51,000 feet in the Lear jet that I realized there had been a terrible misunderstanding.
     I thought Tiao Maia -- the 52-year-old Brazilian cattle baron sitting next to me -- was taking me directly to Salt Lake City, to spend the holidays with my family. But after we reached our cruising altitude, the billionaire produced a map and pointed out all the places we would be going first -- a two-week adventure that included a stay at a luxury resort in Acapulco. My stomach convulsed. The word “parachute” entered my mind. I didn't know this man at all!
    How did I keep getting into these uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous, situations? I was saying “Oops, I Did it Again” ten years before Britney Spears was even born.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Praise the Lord -- I Got Bored. I Quit.

"Just leave me alone, Mr. don't satisfy me at all."
                                                         painting by Viktor Vanetsov
    Pardon the pretentious reference to Shakespeare, but my interest in e-cigarettes "resolved itself into a dew,"  after becoming "weary, stale and flat."  It's now evaporated into one final, parting vapor. I quit!
   As I said in my first and most widely read post about e-cigarettes, I was ambivalent from the start about trying out this delicious and adorable product ( I had quit smoking tobacco 10 years ago. But these new lifestyle enhancers promised to give me back the companionable relaxation I still missed. And they did do that! 
    I was thrilled. I repressed my growing concerns about the long-term safety of e-cigs, and came up with an array of rationalizations that still make real sense to me. But what eventually made the most sense is that I was ever-so-gently being "sucked into" a Habit that felt -- physically and psychologically -- like smoking.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Beggar Wears Prada (or Why I Stopped Giving to Public Broadcasting)

Get ready to change the channel -- it's almost time for NPR's Spring Pledge Drive!
(Be sure to get the "officially sanctioned" Carl Kasel1 doll as a thank-you gift!)
The Devil is in the details.

  (Oct. 8, 2013) The twice yearly public radio pledge drive is finally over. Thank god. If you listen to those fools pleading, cajoling, making "rational" appeals and glorifying their role in your life long enough, it can make you physically ill. Switch to a rock station and listen to Eminem's "Berzerk." It'll drive you less crazy.
    But if craziness is your thing, consider this: Just weeks before NPR's nationwide panhandling fest began, its seventh CEO in seven years announced that he was leaving his $700,000 a year job for one that pays $2 million. The staff was "stunned." They feel OK about making only several hundred thousand dollars a year.
    I don't feel OK about bankrolling these vain, elitist, self-important people, who have ensconced themselves squarely in the top One Percent. They expect the rest of us, who earn far less and don't likely have  rewarding, prestigious jobs, to pay for their fancy-pants lifestyles. That's not my kind of charity.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Your crime: dementia. Your sentence: solitary confinement

Don't feel bad. He doesn't even know he exists.
    Do you ever envision yourself as old and alone? Can you imagine that you -- that active, attractive, sociable you -- might someday essentially be a prisoner in an institution that runs your life? And that nobody will care -- you will be forgotten?
    Maybe your memory and your volition will have deteriorated, but you will still be you. No one seems to realize that. Each day at the nursing home, you get washed off, spoon fed, strapped into a wheelchair, and abandoned in your darkened room. Deeper and deeper you sink, into inconsequentiality.
    You grow pale and gaunt. Your eyes are increasingly haunted. You will be here until you die. Someone needs to be shouting: "WAIT A MINUTE ! THERE'S A PERSON HERE!"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Big Blow: I misoverestimated my interest

I finally got serious about vaping, and it was too serious for me.
    This is what it's come to: An e-cigarette that's so big, and complicated, and requires so much attention and maintenance, that there's no way I can sit back and enjoy it in a relaxed, casual way. It's more akin to a musical instrument or a cumbersome medical device than a simple pleasure. It requires both hands, and both sides of my brain, to keep this damn thing going! I wasn't after a hobby or yet-another household chore when I took up vaping. I didn't want to become a mixologist, or fiddle around with various "components" so I could "tweak" my experience. I didn't want to pimp my vape, or pimp anything else. I object to pimping!  I just wanted a nice puff now and then from a cute little cylinder -- not the equivalent of a didgeridoo!

Monday, March 17, 2014

E-cig Semantics: If this isn't a smoke-filled room, I don't know what is

       Shit: This is disappointing. The sun finally came out, after weeks of dreary weather (which I actually prefer), and I had my draperies open, to let the light pour in through my floor-to-ceiling windows. I have a beautiful second-story view of sky, mountains and huge pine trees.
    I sat down to work at my computer, with my ever-delightful e-cig as my companion. Ah, that caramel hazelnut flavor inspires such insightful prose. I blow and think. Blow and write. Rinse and repeat. How nice.
    Then, in a moment of struggle to pluck that perfect word out of my jam-packed old brain, I looked up, to gaze at my scenic outdoor panorama.
    The swaths of bright light revealed that I was sitting in a smoke-filled room. I was appalled.
    You say it wasn't smoke, it was "vapor." I know that's the terminology, but it didn't seem all that vaporous to me. It hung in the room, spreading everywhere. It had substance, weight, density.The breeze from our whole-house air cleaner propelled fanciful, slow-dancing plumes here and there, undulating and curling, lilting  and swirling. They had sparkles in them, that seemed to be what is known among we clean-air advocates as "particulates." They weren't in any hurry to go anywhere.
    They weren't behaving like water vapor. I take long, hot showers. I have sat in many a steam room, entertaining the ladies with outrageous, made-up stories about my life (I was a drunk. I gave it up, and am now an inveterate truth-teller). I know the dynamics of vapor. I am basically a Connoisseur of Vapor!
    Steam dissipates, quickly and cleanly. This looked to me like pollution.

The Heady, Naked Guile of Medical Style

Perhaps having no clothes on is the real key to avoiding migraines.
    Doesn't the sexy ecstasy of this promotional photo make you wish you had migraines? If only you did, your insurance or Medicare would buy you this silvery, "tiara-like" fashion accessory, which is essentially a glorified TENS unit that is designed (elegantly) to reduce the incidence of "cluster headaches." It obtained FDA approval last Friday, after a "fast track" process that required no independent scrutiny or verification.
    Why would the FDA be so cavalier about a device that transmits electricity into patients' skulls? Why would it accept two limited, unimpressive studies as adequate proof of "safety and effectiveness"? How can we assume that such a device can target one specific nerve, leaving adjacent nerves and brain tissues unaffected? What might be the long-term effects of using such a device on the central nervous system?
    The Cefaly product is available by prescription only, the FDA said. Yet, astonishingly, this "newly approved" device has been available without a prescription at many retailers -- including -- for more than three years, which I learned inadvertently by doing a simple Google search. It gets 2.7 stars.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Don't be STUPIDO! These are cheap, easy, "staggering" Alzheimer's antidotes

   Vitamins and spices have a demonstrably greater impact on the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease than the tortured chemical confabulations being put on the market by the pharmaceutical industry, according to scientific literature. Why are we being kept in the dark? Why do you think? 
    A study in the May 2013 issue of  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that a simple, 30-cent daily regimen of Vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid slows the loss of gray matter from 5.2 percent per year to 0.6 percent in those with mild cognitive impairment, a common prelude to Alzheimer's. Nothing produced by Big Pharma has slowed the progression at all.  
     “It’s the first and only disease-modifying treatment that’s worked,” said A. David Smith, professor emeritus of pharmacology at Oxford University in England and senior author of the study. “We have proved the concept that you can modify the disease.” 
    The results were characterized as "staggering" by  the Academy. Has your doctor mentioned this to you?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vaping Imagery: From divine to disgusting in six months

Hey lady: Thanks for making us look so attractive.
    When I took the plunge into the study and personal use of e-cigarettes last August, the photographs of vaping and vaping gear were beautiful. They were stylish, hip, creative, sleek. This seemed like a dignified and delightful pastime that blended fashion, technology and sensual pleasure in a very compelling way.
    What the hell has happened? As I continue to monitor coverage of the e-cigarette issue, I never see this beauty any more. I don't see the refreshingly "clean" portrayals of this alternative to a "filthy habit."
    Almost overnight, the image of vaping has been dirtied up, and it's been done damned effectively. I'd like to blame the media, or some conspiracy of the Usual Suspects, but I can't do that honestly. We as vapers are the major contributors to this in-your-face blow-up of how vaping and vapers are viewed. We are fueling, in very graphic ways, many of the  prejudices and objections espoused by our opponents. WTF? Maybe we should clean up our acts and try not to look quite so grotesque. No wonder people want us out of sight!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Is it Artificial Intelligence or Authentic Stupidity?

    Maybe you'd better Google yourself and find out if this crazy, grandiloquent, power-mad computer mastermind named Kalev Leetaru has targeted you yet. If not, just wait awhile.
    He has posted several detailed web pages ABOUT ME, and the extent to which I pose a threat to Big Oil, even though all I ever do is sit here quietly, hating Big Oil. He claims I am "associated" with the Dalai Lama, Anderson Cooper, and Beyonce. I love that!
    He swears his analysis of more than 10 billion people, places, things, and activities -- connected by over 100 trillion relationships -- enabled him to predict the "Arab Spring," as well as where Osama bin Laden would be found. So I bet he knows where you are!
   He intends to learn everything about everybody, so he can forecast the future for his clients. But it only took me two days to reverse engineer his algorithm and find the fatal flaw in his deranged machinations.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Picking Up Steam: E-cigs' excellent evolution

From "nicotine replacement" to gourmet indulgence
Vaping has become a foodie's dream: luscious, calorie-free confections.
    I am craving cotton candy so much right now. But the butterscotch, creme brulee and fudge brownies are calling my name, too. On days like this, it's best to just close up shop, kick back in your La-Z-Boy recliner (preferably with a view of the clouds outside), and devote yourself to creating sweet clouds of your own.
    For decades now, smoking has generally been regarded  as a "vice," and a "dirty habit,." even by smokers themselves. Then, e-cigarettes stampeded into the market, with the head-tossing ebullience of wild horses. They offered a "clean," stylish, infinitely safer alternative to smoking. A passionate, activist vaping community has sprung up almost overnight, throughout the U.S. and Europe.
    The notion that e-cigs perpetuate nicotine addiction is fading fast. These products don't even deliver nicotine in therapeutic amounts, but they do unexpectedly exert a powerful, wonderful "placebo effect."
    So the whole thrust of this energetic, creative entrepreneurial adventure has gradually shifted from nicotine delivery to creating a "smoking-like" experience that provides pleasure and relaxation. The best products envelop the the user in flavor, "throat hit," and aromatic vapor. Vaping has become a banquet, with an ever-changing array of luscious flavors. We aren't in Marlboro Country anymore. Today's men have learned that blowing banana-creme doesn't compromise your masculinity. Neither does kiwi or gummy bear.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The rambunctiously rich rewards of the "Thrift Shop" lifestyle

The thrill of the hunt is part of the Thrift Shop experience.
Macklemore bagged a beauty, if you don't mind animal slaughter.
    Watching the video for the Grammy-winning "Thrift Shop" was like viewing a rousing, witty tribute to my 95-year-old mother, and to the values she instilled in me in the 1950s. I have been plowing through stuff that others have discarded all my life. I have found countless treasures amid the trash. I left plenty for you.
    In today's frantic, acquisitive consumer culture, my Mama's motto is more relevant than ever: Living well, on almost no money, is the best revenge. Looking hip and strikingly original in an outfit that you "curated," using items that cost you between 49 cents and five dollars, is very rewarding.
    Just as the Grammys were being handed out, New York was gearing up for Fashion Week. Did anyone else notice how many of those designer geniuses flagrantly plagiarized Thrift Shop chic in their collections?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Great White Hoax: E-cigarettes are delicious, but they don't deliver nicotine

Puff the "Magic" Draggin'
The power of blissful, wishful thinking.
   I love e-cigarettes. They're fun. They're beautiful. They're tasty! They offer comfort and relaxation.
   Opponents argue that they perpetuate addiction to nicotine -- even though they are vastly safer than tobacco cigarettes -- and that their exuberant, stylish marketing campaigns will create a whole new generation of nicotine addicts.
    But they -- and those who see e-cigs as a smoking-cessation aid -- have been the victims of a Great, Billowing White Hoax. That fragrant vapor -- from cartridges which can contain nicotine levels as high as 24 mg -- actually transmits virtually no nicotine to the bloodstream. Yet they are helping millions to quit. Cool!
    E-cigarettes, my review of the scientific literature suggests, are, generally speaking, a placebo. Users believe they are getting their "drug," but in fact they are engaging in an habitual behavior, and enjoying its sensual rewards. These hip, colorful, good-enough-to-eat products deliver "minimal or no nicotine."
    Is this a scandal, a killer blow to a dynamic new industry, or delightful news about our "need" for a "fix"?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Nursing-Home Netherworld: Putrefaction, pain and poop

Let's face it: Most of us will wind up here, for weeks, months or forever.

      I wretched. I couldn't help it. I wretched again. David, I'm sorry! He had asked me to remove his diaper and clean up the mess in his nursing-home bed. Feces extended from his mid-back, down his buttocks, to his knees. It was still  pouring out and piling up, surge after steaming surge of porridge-textured poop. It was a nightmare, like "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
     "Don't call anyone," David said. "I think they're mad that I keep doing this."
    I was up to my wrists in it, but it was all so slippery, and he is so massive, that I couldn't get the soiled diaper or drenched mattress protector moved, in order to wash him.
      I said, "David, I'll be right back."
      Then I went into the bathroom and vomited. I puked my brains out, but I did it quietly. He never knew. I felt ashamed, but there was no holding it back.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Elderly Girl Helps Win the Civil War, and then Conquers 1890s Paris

    After chopping off her fabulous hair, binding her bounteous breasts, and gluing a mustache above her oh-so-kissable lips, Elderly Girl distinguished herself as a Union soldier during the Civil War. Her fellow troops were so drawn to her heavenly essence, that they theorized they must have been "turned gay" by the stresses of mass slaughter, and they pursued her relentlessly, even during the Battle of Bunker Hill. What a disgrace! While fighting off her own comrades, she avoided killing the enemy by dazzling them into helplessly shooting themselves. She then went South to help with Reconstruction, and was such an adorably tireless advocate, she was named an "honorary Negro," which was the greatest distinction of her life. The rednecks down there leered at her as if she were a meaty ham hock, and smacked their lips as she walked past.
    Exhausted  by the wanton callousness of American men, she boarded a ship to Paris, hoping to discover a whole new world of civility and provocative ideas. Oh dear, that poor girl. It was more of the same:

    All those Romeos called her "Juliette" as a nod to her Shakespearean grandeur, but she really was the same exact Elderly Girl to whom we still look for advice on beauty, fitness,  interior design, conversational brilliance, lying with conviction, mindful eating and sanitary protection. It's a dirty world, ladies. Beware.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Does 2014 Make You Look Fat?


Ignore negativity, and reject the pressure to conform.
    Let's begin with the premise that all body types have their own special attractiveness, and that each is potentially healthy. We've got to stop trying to jam ourselves into shapes that are not in our genes. But let's face it: Most of us are far from optimally healthy. This year, maybe your resolution to shape up will stick!
    Every year about this time, my previous posts on exercise, weight-training and health in general go viral for a few weeks. Then, interest dies down, and I guess people go back to their cheese-pizza, couch-potato, "fat-pants" lifestyles. I fear that most of us don't really give the idea of "a new Me" a chance. We hurl all our fantasies about a fit body and wholesome lifestyle out the window, and say, "Maybe next year."
    I wish I could convey to you how rewarding this process can be. If you regard it as a huge, exhausting, multifaceted overhaul, of course you'll retreat back into your cozy status quo. But if you begin every day to make lovely new choices from one moment to the next, you will sense the benefits immediately. Eat a banana, walk around the block, do some light stretching while you're watching TV. Pleasure will befall you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hey Jude: You made it bad

Another charity that cynically manipulates the tender-heartedness of its donors.
Marlo Thomas and some of St. Jude's young cancer patients.
        (Jan. 1, 2014) Maybe you've noticed the recent flood of heart-tugging (and very costly) national TV ads seeking your "desperately needed" funds for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. These slick appeals have buttressed  the "nonprofit's" constant campaign to enrich its nearly $3 billion nest egg.
    I always liked the late Danny Thomas, who undoubtedly founded this organization with the purest of intents. His daughter, Marlo, has fought aggressively to "keep the dream" (and her dad's memory) alive.  
     But donors who have done their homework about how this "charity" raises money, and how it spends those hard-earned dollars of yours, are scathing in their assessment of St. Jude's priorities and integrity.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How I "made up" the Biggest Lie of my life...

(...and then finally did an About Face)
    A friend who's known me for many years recently threw out this casual remark: "You used to be so pretty, Sylvia. I mean, you were really stunning."
    He didn't hurt my feelings. Actually, I laughed. I was never beautiful, or even cute. I aggressively, desperately, painstakingly camouflaged my natural homeliness with makeup. Ha, ha, Fred: I fooled you!
    Beginning in my mid-teens, and continuing through my mid-40s, I embraced a career as a fine artist. Each morning, I approached the bland, blank, quite icky canvas of my face, and painted upon it the most striking portrait I could muster. From sun-up to sundown, I was in "full regalia," forging through life disguised as good-looking girl. My time-consuming labors served me very well. I got pretty much everything I wanted.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Eve with "The Filthy Boys"

He looked pretty darned clean to me.

    I was just about to knock on the door to Apartment 1B when I heard a terrible sob.
    "Please don't -- not again!" a young man cried.
    Then I heard a whack. And another one.
    "I'm sorry I was bad! I'll do anything you say," the trembling voice pleaded.
    Then another voice -- this one harsh and cold -- shouted, "Shut up, or I'll put the gag back in, you worthless piece of shit. Give me those ropes. Hands behind your back. Now bend over."
   "Oh God, not the whip again, Daddy. I can't bear it." There was a struggling sound. "Not the whip!"
    I had forgotten to breathe. My hand was still frozen in knocking mode. What should I do? I was concerned. I was scared. And, frankly, I was curious. So I did knock, as if I were a pert and determined Avon lady.
    The two guys were flushed, breathless, smiling. One wore a diaper, the other a scanty, black leather outfit. "May I borrow a corkscrew?" Couldn't I have avoided saying "screw" somehow? "Come in!" they replied.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mommies become the secret spokesmodels (with benefits) for Corporate America

Are they scoring -- or whoring?
        It seems like only yesterday that our buying decisions were being manipulated by cynical advertising executives, who used focus groups and psychological research to analyze our aspirations and insecurities.
    Now it's the housewife next door -- the spokesmodel in sweatpants -- who's calling the shots. A multibillion-dollar industry has sprung up that presumes to identify the "influencers" among us, who can be bribed into becoming "brand ambassadors." A program last night on the Live Well Network gleefully described how women can get "unbelievable tons of free stuff" -- from wrinkle creams to laptops to vacuum cleaners and pricey toys --  merely by agreeing to place helpful customer reviews on Amazon, Target and WalMart; on their "mommy blogs"; and via Facebook and Twitter. Some of the biggest corporations in the world are clients of these firms, which seduce ordinary women into providing the best advertising there is: word of mouth. This begs the question: How trustworthy are all those reviews that had seemed to provide such a democratizing resource for consumers? Those who write the best reviews can receive thousands of dollars in the coolest new products, and even trips to some of the most exotic resorts in the world. So we who want to make intelligent buying choices are still being screwed -- just by greedy women instead of ruthless men.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

StoryCorps' predictable plot

Here we go again: A charming upstart becomes an insatiable Fat Cat.
                                                             "Fat Cat" 2010 by ira upin
    (Oct. 30, 2013) During this past month, StoryCorps -- a favorite feature on NPR -- celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its founding premise was simple: Put two friends or relatives into a cozy, private booth -- along with a microphone and a box of Kleenex -- and magic will happen.
    Magic did happen, according to series creator and CEO David Avram Isay, as tens of thousands of ordinary people experienced an extraordinary emotional intimacy, thanks to this modest format.
    The real magic, though, was in the bank account. Astonishingly, StoryCorps has evolved into a $10 million a year enterprise, with 140 employees. Your tax dollars make up a third of the budget, and foundations pay most of the rest. So how does Isay manage to blow 11.4 percent of the budget on his full-time fund-raising?
    In many respects, StoryCorps -- which portrays itself as a unique medium of heartfelt Truth -- has become an elaborate fiction. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Few, the Proud, the Masters of Manipulation

PROTECT YOUR KIDS from the Military-Seduction Complex
Being an American soldier is like being the Daddy to all the world's adorable children!
   The commercials are more moving and stunningly tender than any ad campaign I've ever seen. First, there's the music:  a radiant, expansive, heart-rending hymn of somber violins that sounds worthy of a beloved president's funeral. The visuals are of noble young Americans: Beautiful, brave, principled, determined, competent and strong -- an idealized profile of what this country is supposed to be about.
    The few. The proud. The Marines. I have seen this series of ads over and over again the past 18 months. Even though I despise war, and believe that our military-industrial complex is the world's biggest, most dangerous source of corruption and suffering, I never tire of watching them. They stop me in my tracks every time. They pour forth with the poignant  power of superb human beings doing what they believe is truly righteous. There is grace and magnetism in the way these clean-cut kids hurl themselves out of planes, surge through forbidding terrain and leap with awesome fortitude over one barricade after another.The ads use sophisticated psychology to lure today's peace-loving kids into our "humanitarian" military. Watch out!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Elderly Girl's secret passageway to the role of Global Icon

(Soon to be a major motion picture? The first option expired, but they've bought another.)
         Can you imagine frolicking with your sisters through the endless rooms, secret passageways and tropical underworld of this neo-Byzantine castle? Can you imagine wearing anything you wanted from any of the cool boutiques inside? Isn't it like every little girl's dream come true? You may think it helps explain Elderly Girl's confidence, her splendor, her sense of freedom, style and beauty. But the truth is much more complicated.
    Elderly Girl was conceived, born and lived in the Kronstantinople Bazaar, the most splendid mall on Earth. It's hard to believe, but she was a rather stupid child. Her three big sisters were brilliant and brave -- true originals. So why was it she who became a Planetary Phenomenon? It's an epic tale that will captivate the human race forever. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Regarding Alzheimer's: Let's blow Big Pharma's mind, and expand our own

I can see for miles and miles.
                                                                               by Alphacoder
       (June 6) Despite billions in taxpayer dollars, pharmaceutical companies have failed spectacularly to provide any real hope to the millions among us who suffer from Alzheimer's and other dementias. Their best efforts have not only been ineffective -- they have also come, of course, with terrible side-effects and outrageous price tags. 
    Screw them! We don't need them! Remedies that enrich and enliven the brain have been out there for thousands of years. But Big Pharma isn't interested in these liberating substances, because they can't be patented.
    Among other strategies in our war on Alzheimer's, we should investigate the use of  MIND-EXPANDING DRUGS in order to defeat a MIND-SHRINKING DISEASE. Does this not make perfect sense?

Monday, October 21, 2013

A final act of love: Slamming the door on Morticia

A dignified, loving farewell, no morticians or toxic chemicals required.
    Our mothers cared for us from the moment we were born, attending to our needs in countless ways. We emerged from their bodies, and that intimacy was never eradicated by time or distance. They devoted themselves to nurturing, protecting and supporting us. They would have died to save our lives.
    So when a mother -- or any loved one -- dies, how should we feel about having his or her body briskly zipped into a plastic bag and whisked off to one of those dungeons known as mortuaries, to be stripped naked, and then (among other indignities) punctured, clamped, drained, and glutted with chemicals?
    We do have options. We can keep our loved one with us, at home, and take care of the body ourselves, in one final act of love. There are networks all over the country that can help us through this process. Not everyone would want to do it, of course, and even among those who wish they could, it might be too complex and traumatizing during a time of grief. But for those who are able to cope, it can provide the rewarding sense that you bestowed upon your beloved the warm, all-embracing farewell that was so well-deserved. -- rather than one that was sterile, lonely, cold and invasive. 
(This article also includes info on intriguing alternatives to burial and cremation.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Our future: Everything in modulation

 Don't worry. Be happy.

  In a recent post, I documented the desperate -- even ruthless -- effort to gain acceptance of vagus nerve stimulation for the treatment of depression. The medical-device industry is investing millions in order to reap billions in the burgeoning field of neuromodulation. But if you're not depressed: "Don't worry. Be happy!" Before long, they'll be peddling something that may change your life, too. Your brain is their playground.
  If you have any of these conditions (among others), just be patient. The finest minds in science are at work as we speak: Anxiety, sleep apnea, depression, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke, Tourette's syndrome, addiction, "phantom pain," obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson's and other movement disorders, obesity, tinnitus, incontinence, PTSD,  fibromyalgia, hearing loss, bladder dysfunction, migraine, IBS, asthma, eating disorders, chronic pain, heart disease, systemic inflammation, and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. They will also perk up your memory and cognition. All you'll feel is a little tingle.
  But the more you know about the industry, the more uneasy you'll feel about them messing with your mind.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What happens in my Vagus stays in my Vagus

Get away from my neck, you medical-device vampires!

    A highly unpleasant spotlight, which turned me into a Vagus showgirl for five years, has finally been turned off. I just completed a Cyberonics, Inc., clinical trial of the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, to assess its effectiveness in helping those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. It was a ridiculous, scandalous experience.
    I don't trust Big Pharma, and I don't trust the multibillion-dollar medical device industry. My cynicism was vindicated by the bizarre combination of incompetence and ruthlessness that characterized this study.
    In trial after trial, this device has shown itself to have extremely limited value. But Cyberonics (which sounds like a sci-fi cabal that unleashes evil robots), is determined to keep trying until it wears down its opponents and qualifies for reimbursement, so it can achieve its dream: a fabulous financial windfall. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The E-Cigarette Seduction: Are We Blowing It?

Coming soon: A sobering look at safety. Research findings are being suppressed.
E-cigarettes are fun and flirty, hip and tasty! They're diabolical!

    After having smoked since high school, I finally gave it up 10 years ago. I broke the habit. I was free. I was sad that I had to give up this comfort, but I was gratified that I had moved on.
    Enter e-cigarettes. The moment I first saw someone on TV exhaling a cloud of vapor, a little devil in my brain (or maybe it was an angel who felt deprived of simple pleasures) cried out, "Oh boy!"
    Was it really possible that I could smoke again? I still missed it. Not inhaling actual smoke, which I now found disgusting. But here was this substitute that would allow me once again to enjoy the languid pleasure of taking in and releasing a fragrant and tasty breeze. Smoking is so relaxing! I felt uneasy but excited.
    I bought a starter kit of a simple, generic style (Fin). They'd sneaked some vanilla into the menthol, which seemed kind of presumptuous. But when I fired up that first cartridge and took a deep draw, and blew it out my lips and nostrils, I was immediately in a billowy Heaven. It was the most enjoyable smoke of my life.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Restroom gig: A process of elimination

This is part two of a two-part series
 It's "potty time" at the disco, y'all!"

    "Do you think I'd be doing this crap job if I could find anything else?" the young lady at a local dance club exclaimed. She was pretty, with magenta streaks in her glossy dark hair. The vest of her neon pink uniform had the unconvincing motto, "Flushed with Pride," embroidered in silver above her breast. She was the present-day incarnation of the "powder room" attendant. Unlike her predecessors from a more refined era, who gracefully presided over elegant accommodations and served "the upper crust," today's "loo" lieutenants must cope with drunkenness, drug use, vomit, sex in the toilet stalls, feces in the urinals, and disdainful patrons, as they attempt to eke out a living in the nation's hip, jam-packed bars, trendy eateries, and throbbing, rowdy dance clubs.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The black gentlewoman in the marble dungeon

     This is part one of a two-part package on the difficult, 
often demeaning job of restroom attendant, then and now.

    The candlelight, the rose bouquets, the champagne, the maroon brocade walls and the quiet lilt of chamber music in the air ensconced  me in a world I had only seen in the movies. My escort and I were having dinner in a lavish hotel restaurant shortly after I moved to New York City. The tuxedo-clad waiters moved about, carrying large silver trays aloft, as debonair as Astaire. Everything was muted, yet sparkly.
    As we finished our entrees, I told Mitchell, a Park Avenue lawyer, that I needed to use the restroom. "I'll order the chocolate souffles while you're gone," he said. Then he handed me a five-dollar bill.
    Ever since I had arrived in this crazy, beautiful city, men had been buying me things, taking me places, putting me into cabs and slipping me twenties. But getting paid to pee? Could things possibly get any better?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How my ravishing friend became a goddess of global Buddhism

Chagdud Khadro, formerly Jane Dedman
    In 1978, one of the most beautiful and compelling friends I’ve ever had was backpacking through Nepal, where she came upon one of the world’s pre-eminent Buddhist teachers at an “empowerment” ceremony. Jane Dedman, who had recently begun studying Buddhism, humbly made an offering of a jar of honey and a white scarf to the wizened, gray-haired eminence. She asked if she could become his assistant. Two weeks later, in her dazzlingly brazen way, she would ask to become his wife.
    Today, from her home base in a fantastically colorful  and ornate compound in Brazil, she has become one of the greatest spiritual leaders in the male-dominated global Buddhist movement.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Howler breaks free, and screams into the wild

This is Part Two of "Going Down, Please"
Hiding in plain sight is a sexy art form indeed.  / by Salvador Dali
     I've been having all kinds of crazy, pointless fantasies about what I might do that would distract me from wanting to die, since I'm such a baby about suicide. ("Just say yes!" Nancy Reagan is shrieking.)
     It has occurred to me of late that if I were on the lam, I might regain my will to live. I haven't been pursued in a while. Maybe the titillation of being featured glamorously on "WANTED" posters would distract me from my morbidity. Interpol agents would be competing relentlessly to capture and subdue me. It would require all of my wits and dramatic talents to evade them. Wouldn't it be fun to leave behind taunting evidence -- a citrus-mint-scented handkerchief, an empty absinthe bottle, a note from Julian Assange offering financial support, a Deviant Art magazine -- which proved that they had just missed me? Ha, ha!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Going Down, Please

Part One of a Two-Part Memoir

      "You will make a wonderful secretary," my junior high school guidance counselor told me, after we all took standardized vocational aptitude tests in the mid-1960s. "Your clerical speed and accuracy are the best we've ever recorded. Plus: You're a smart dresser."
     I was incredulous. My plan had been to become the Paris-based correspondent for NBC's  Huntley-Brinkley newscast.  I was both furious and hurt. Oddly enough, the thought that maybe I could become an elevator operator at a local department store called "The Paris" lifted my spirits. Up and down, in and out, back and forth -- it seemed suited to my psychic swings, which had already become a foreboding aspect of my character. "Going down, please," I practiced, aiming at a modulated resonance. I'd have to be a real Renaissance elevator operator though -- I was raised  that way. I could unsettle my captive audience by reciting disturbing literary passages --  from Poe, for example. Pits, you guys! Pendulums!
    I always thought that if Poe were alive, maybe the two of us could shack up. In a menage, with Salvador Dali. We'd live in a spooky mansion, and we'd play out our bizarenesses together like it was jazz improvisation. Cool! And we'd love each other for what we were, ain't that right Edgar? Evermore!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lupus: A Rash Quest for the Truth

An Andy Warhol-inspired depiction of my Fiery Flare.
       In spite of all the dire warnings I received from doctors, I refused  to take the medications that were prescribed for me after my diagnosis of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. My decision to do the best I could to take care of myself was quite liberating, and I was at peace with it (most of the time).
    I have become more convinced that probiotics are helping me, and I have found medical evidence that supports my inadvertent discovery. I will elaborate below. I believe I am also benefiting from the supplements black currant oil, oil of oregano and Omega-3s, for which there are persuasive scientific explanations.
    I endured a florid, unsightly and uncomfortable rash under my eyes for nine months, starting in May 2010. Like so many of you who have responded to my original post, "A Lupus Mystery" (which I've reprinted at the bottom of this one), I have no idea how sick I am or how sick I may become.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Elderly Girl's lusty Dad conquered everything, until he met the fiery Islamina

 Daddy was from a swashbuckling, hard-fighting, hard-drinking breed of Cossacks.
His story will be part of the planned movie based on "Elderly Girl's Secret Passageway."

      The genesis of the Kronstantinople Bazaar is unquestionably one of the great mysteries of American history. Actually, it is one of the very few authentic mysteries that even exists in this coarse, materialistic,  literal country, which has such a short and stupid memory. There is no magic here! SUVs and greasy bags of "fast food," dumbed-down TV and sports. There is no wonderment, no nuance. There is no soulfulness, except among our beautiful black people.  
     You go to other countries, you will find depth and passion, conviction and pride, even among the simplest peasants. Each of them actually has a philosophy! They know their place in this throbbing universe, and it gives their lives a humble majesty that few Americans can even comprehend. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Operation Alzheimer's: The next civil-rights struggle

Somebody's mother.

    It is not unreasonable to regard American history as an ongoing series of battles for equality, respect and acceptance. African-Americans, immigrants, women, veterans, the disabled and the LGBT community have had to advocate heroically on behalf of themselves, decade after decade. and their progress has been agonizingly slow. We who are in the majority should have had enough integrity and compassion to take the lead in demanding fair treatment for these oppressed groups (don't we have any sense of responsibility, humanity or moral outrage?). We should have embraced and celebrated their differences, instead of forcing them to cry out, "I am a human being!"
    But now, we in the majority really must act: We must give a voice to the millions of Alzheimer's patients who suffer silently in the darkest corners of our collective lives, cruelly stripped of their personhood. We are all they've got, and we're failing miserably. We must wage a War of Interdependence. Shall we overcome?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

IMPATIENT: Just give me the stethoscope, and get out of here

Since you're all so busy
I'll take care of MYSELF!

  Under today's greed-driven, production-line health-care system, doctors apparently don't have time to take care of patients properly. I have the time, and I have the Internet. I want to be the Doctor In Charge of Me. If I screw up, that's my problem. But I really think things are already about as screwed up as they can get.    
    Medical care has become a numbingly impersonal, sloppily organized, hugely bureaucratized, scarily negligent, and thoroughly exhausting process.
    I understand that most people are too busy to take charge of their own care, and the majority wouldn't want to, anyway. But I am tired of feeling like a slab of diseased meat on a factory-farm conveyor belt. I want to be cured --  at least as cured as cured meat! -- and I want the right to do it my way.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Doctor Who? Doctor You!

This is Part Two of "Impatient," above.
It's not a stretch to assert that your body is YOUR wonderland.
     It's time we had a "patient liberation movement." Become your own #1 best doctor! Those who are well informed should be granted greater latitude in taking charge of their own health care. But even now, there is much you can do to avoid or minimize your entanglement in the bloated, exasperating, often pointless Dictatorship of the Medical Elite. You can save time and money, but more importantly, you won't feel so helpless, angry and confused, if you become the Boss of Your Own Body. It's exhilarating!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dr. Dreamy Does a Bedroom Scene

New info: More data indicating that meniscus surgery is worthless.
My doctor is dreamier: He does bedroom surgery.
     When I told the secretary on the phone that I wished the orthopedist could come to my house and do my knee operation while I was in my own bed, she didn't react. She just said, "We'll see you at the surgical center first thing in the morning."
     I went to sleep with a knot in my stomach. Going out into the world overwhelms me. Going out into the medical world is worst of all. Heaps of forms to fill out, interminable waiting. And the legitimate fear that my knee will never be the same.
    I was awakened when all of my bedroom lights came on. Standing around me were the surgeon, smiling broadly, his PA, an anesthesiologist and two nurses. My dear Joe stood there shaking his head, as usual, at what I am able to get away with.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Resolutions: Running Out of Excuses

    You can always find excuses not to go jogging. At the moment, my cat is dying. My herniated discs are inflamed. I have lots of housecleaning and kitchen work to do. I have a writing deadline looming. The temperature outside is in the single digits, and air quality is poor. I just had surgery, for pete's sake! It would be stupid to exercise.
    Anyway, who cares? Pretty much everyone else is still in bed. When they do get up, they'll be cramming themselves with sausage, pancakes with syrup, and fried eggs. Sure, it's nice to be healthy and slender, but is it worth the effort? Why pressure yourself? Why not just be a regular person, and purge yourself of those wild and crazy jogging fantasies?
    Now is a good time to kick the excuses out of your head, and hit the road. You may soon regard it as the most profound resolution you ever made.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Global Panel Selects Elderly Girl to be "The First Immortal"

"Fountain of Eternal Life" by Marshall Fredericks.
    Every couple of years, Elderly Girl is awakened from her luxuriant slumber by a 3:30 a.m. phone call. Her wavy hair gleams, her cheeks are adorably rosy, but in her eyes there is exasperation. It must be Stockholm ringing again to announce that she's won the Nobel Peace Prize. Please, people! Elderly Girl has been rousted by these annoying intrusions about 40 times in the past 85 years. Every time, she has politely declined. She doesn't like prizes. She resents them. She rejects them! They're trinkets that cheapen one's accomplishments and taint one's motivations. Her wish is to solve problems, not to be celebrated. She was preparing to say "NO THANK YOU!"  yet again, until a gentleman with an East European accent told her she had been selected to be "The First Immortal."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Model Intentions: I Got Duped, You Got Screwed

I don't have a photo of Punky, but this looks
 very much as she did in 1968 -- sweet and beautiful.
Dear Punky Fortune:
    I have wondered for so many years how things turned out for you, and even if you’re still alive. Long after I’d moved to New York, I heard that your pimp almost beat you to death. I heard about the heroin. I heard that you’d had two kids before you were 20.
    I think you must know that whatever role I played in what happened to you was unwitting. I hope you realized that I was there with the purest of intentions. Decades later, the betrayal that affected all of us, but which victimized you and your girlfriends in unspeakable ways, still makes me ill. I am so sorry.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


If your pacemaker or defibrillator attacks you, that's too bad!
     Her beloved husband of more than 50 years had a defibrillator implanted in his chest to save his life if his heart stopped beating. Instead, the ultra-sophisticated device killed him. He was feeling pretty good until it malfunctioned, zapping him with 1,400 volts through the right ventricle. He cried out, falling onto the couch. As his wife ran toward him, it surged through him again. She took him in her arms. A third massive jolt slammed him.
   The defibrillator-gone-mad tore into his heart 30 more times, until both he and the battery were dead. The device had gotten so hot, it burned a hole through his chest.
     The multibillion-dollar corporation that made the defibrillator wasn't liable. Firms that make life-sustaining medical devices are exempt from prosecution, thanks to their lobbying finesse. Thousands of people every year are injured, permanently disabled or killed by their products. Sorry about that, but you're on your own. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oh Father, Where Art Thou?

My Dad donated his body to science 28 months ago. I was notified yesterday that that they
 have finally finished with him, and whatever was left  has been cremated. I am glad it's over. My
 "share" is next to my recliner in a handsome box, which I can embrace whenever I wish.

    March, 2010: The part that hurts and haunts me the most is when they tore back his face. I am crying even as I write about it. What did they do with my father's face?
   He sounded so matter-of-fact when he mentioned several years ago that he would be donating his body to the medical school upon his death. I didn’t pay much attention to it, because it seemed so consistent with his scientific rationality -- he was a chemist -- and his ethical imperative to do the right thing.
    I also paid it little mind because I couldn’t imagine that anything could hurt me more than his death itself. I was wrong.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Teenager Flowers, Plath-style, in the Bell Jar of New York

       The Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City plays a prominent role in Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar." Her protagonist spends the summer of 1953 in the legendary old monstrosity while struggling through a fashion-magazine internship, just as Plath did. Three years before her iconic, semi-autobiographical novel was published in the U.S., I came to New York for a summer job with a Madison Avenue advertising agency, and I stayed at the 23-story, 700-room Barbizon as well.  I was 18 years old.
    Each night, I hauled my bedspread and pillow up 15 flights of stairs to the roof. I did it for the magic -- for the sheer joy and beauty of lying there, surrounded by glittering skyscrapers and that pulsing urban dynamism that floated up from the street. Imagine having this place you'd always dreamed of, soaring majestically all around you as you slept.