Stephen Kahn

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Diagnosis vs. Prescription

In Bad news on June 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I have been fortunate in that I have not suffered many serious illnesses. The first came in my late 50s. At that time, the doctors did not seem to know what was the matter with me, but they seemed to know what to do, and after a couple of scary days, I rapidly improved.

In my current situation, they seem to know what is the matter with me (bacterial infections of my leg), but the prescriptions have not gone as well as the doctors envisioned. I now suffer from rashes and serious itching. The prescriptions have been changed several times. Each change has produced unpleasant surprises and frustrating disappointments. Yesterday, the Cipro (which worried me) has been dropped. I am continuing with the other treatment for my infection – Cephalexin.

I also received more prescriptions for my itching and rash, going from topical Benadryl to tablets, and adding some other antihistamines. I took them last night, and did go to sleep, but woke up this morning with severe itching. I go in today for more wound care for my infected leg. While this is fascinating to me, and to my wife, who continues to provide wonderful nursing care, I can’t imagine it being of much interest to my poor readers, but if you are still reading this blog, I appreciate your attention and comments.


Antibiotic anxiety

In Bad news on June 25, 2012 at 1:20 am

As my leg infection treatment has not progressed as well as I had hoped, my doctor prescribed two new antibiotics. One of them, called Cipro, has some scary warnings, especially having to do with tendon ruptures. I have taken the prescription as directed for the weekend, but I am going to see the doctor early Monday, and I will express my concerns and see if there is an alternative I can try. I already have lost a lot of my exercise benefits from being ill; I do not want to be so terrified that I no longer can take a walk or do a little light lifting.

The underground non church church

In Hard to tell, Humor on June 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Omnivores (a category that includes our chickens, my wife, and myself), seem to function best if they eat a varied diet and engage in a variety of activities. Thus our chickens eat a worm here, a beetle there, a blade of grass over there, and a clover leaf just next to where you are standing. They wander from one part or another of the chicken run, sometimes pecking each other to test the pecking order, sometimes hiding in the ferns (for who knows what reason), sometimes running to the gate in the hope I have brought them some “chicken candy” (raw oat flakes).

I appreciate that some of my blog readers are religious believers (who tolerate my atheistic rantings) and that some of them are like me, “ethical nihilists,” or very close to such. I hang out with the Lutherans at the wood splitting (and probably will again) when my current ailments mend enough. For the most part I find them amiable enough, but I do not attend their church services. I also hang out with the organic farmers and gardeners, and with the local library folk, and sometimes even head a little far afield, as when I attended the Whidbey Island Republican caucus, where I placed my own nomination for President (a libertarian but not Ron Paul) and spoke in favor of gay marriage (so my daughter and daughter out of law can make honest women of each other).

However, at the last Lutheran woodsplitters get together, their amusement at their indoctrination of tiny children rubbed me the wrong way. So I set forth to attend an atheistic church session. Which I did, though things almost went badly amiss. I will tell more in future episodes, as well as revealing my devious plans for Whidbey Island proselytizing.

How to win friends & influence people (2012 version)

In Humor on June 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

In my 68 years on this earth, I have learned few things (and I am forgetting them quickly).

Nine out of ten people would prefer to proselytize (a fancy word for “sell”) than be proselytized.

Nine out of ten people are more interested in themselves than in other people.

Nine out of ten people are more convinced of their own correctness than in the information provided by others.

If you can identify that tenth person in any group you happen to be in, that person will buy anything you have to sell, will listen to everything you have to say with rapt attention, and will happily and enthusiastically join the cult you are starting.

Maybe Mindi was just making a preemptive strike?

In Bad news on June 15, 2012 at 3:43 am

Maybe Mindi was just defending herself.

I have written at times about a former student of mine, Mindi, who was, I think, convicted of murder. I write with some hesitation because I am getting old, my memory is getting shaky, and although I am pretty sure there are newspaper reports that document what I say, they are so old that they are difficult to find on the World Wide Web and I decided to stop trying to track them down. So I put “allegedly,” and “as as I remember,” and “I think,” and other weasel words just to be on the safe side.

What I remember is that Mindi was an unattractive and indifferent student, who seemed to blossom after she graduated and got married, but then was given a life sentence after she was convicted of murdering her husband in cahoots with a boy friend. After I wrote about her (and apparently found her address) I was told that she had been released, and graduated from college. Then I read a comment by what might have been the brother of her dead husband making vague threats. I wrote to police authorities; her address disappeared from where I had found it on line, and I know nothing more of Mindi’s tale.

I thought about this as I drove by the closed Harbor Pizzeria restaurant today. My postal address lists the small incorporated community of Langley as our home town, but we usually think of the small unincorporated community of Freeland as our home, and that’s where we usually shop. (Geographically, we are about midway between the two tiny hamlets). Little shops and restaurants open and close in both communities fairly frequently Not that long ago, a new pizza shop opened in Freeland. I ate at this restaurant a few times. It served pizza and sandwiches and calzone and typical pizza shop food. It was OK, though not exceptional. The woman who usually served the food seemed pleasant. I assumed she was the owner.

She was recently murdered. Her husband was arrested. From the newspaper story in the local paper, they were both intelligent, professional people with impressive careers in science and computer science.

I am amused because so many of my neighbors on Whidbey Island, like to think of it as a peaceful, Garden of Eden where lots of old Christians and old hippies concentrate on growing carrots and cabbages, raising chickens and goats,  going to church, the gym, and thinking good thoughts and pretending that the world is not full of evil and cruelty, or if it is, it takes place in Afghanistan, or perhaps in Seattle (which has had an outburst of shootings and killings, most recently a person allegedly suffering from mental illness shooting about half a dozen people, ending with himself.

If you are morbid enough to wade through the story I have linked, you will see the crime was apparently impulsive and blundering. Even Mindi could have done better, though she had none of the experience or credentials of the alleged murderer.

As I get older, I go back over many stories and interests of my youth, including Shakespeare. (I am just embarking on watching all the performances of Shakespeare’s plays filmed by the BBC.) Probably the most famous female villains in Shakespeare’s plays are Lady Macbeth and two of King Lear’s three daughters, Goneril and Regan. All of Shakespeare’s major characters are complex and layered (as are human beings in general), so just as we argue and wonder about Lady Macbeth and Goneril and Regan, we will never know the full story of why Mindi murdered her husband (instead of just divorcing him) or why Robert “Al” Baker allegedly murdered his wife Kathie instead of just divorcing her.

Lady Macbeth gets perhaps the juiciest lines, including:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty!

Lear is a subtler play, so it’s hard to convey Goneril’s and Regan’s complex nastiness out of context.

The best brief ones I can provide are:

Hang him instantly.

Pluck out his eyes.

Cover your eyes and watch your neck.

Last antibiotic infusion

In Good news, Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 at 1:42 am

In about 15 minutes I am supposed to receive my last antibiotic infusion. I guess that means I am cured.

In my health care team my Polish-Japanese (but American born) personal physician has turned over my care for the moment to my Indonesian physician, who has authorized the stopping of my antibiotic, but is juggling my medications, though so far nothing has fallen to the floor.

Tell me why you stopped reading this post

In Bad news, Good news, Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Getting back to the cults I belong to, I will briefly and redundantly review the ones I have described.

Transition Whidbey. Worthwhile points: realize that we are running out of fossil fuels and that economics based on never ending growth cannot continue. Silly points: Failing to realize that humans are dangerous, wicked creatures; failing to acknowledge we need to shoot people before they shoot us; and thinking that positive thinking avoids conflict and tough decisions.

Trinity Lutheran Church. Worthwhile points: treating each other kindly and supportively; outgrowing nastiness and cruelty of earlier versions of Christianity. Silly points: Believing in unreal and imaginary concepts such as God, Satan, Heaven, and Hell and life after death.

Another cult I belong to is the Red Cross. As with other cults to which I belong, I am completely unsuited to this cult. Worthwhile points: The Red Cross acknowledges that bad stuff happens in this mundane life, and tries to prevent such events (where possible) and prepare for recovery and aid. The bad stuff occurs because of natural disasters – storms, earthquakes, floods, land and snow slides, forest fires, epidemics, and a multitude of other such events, as well as from human caused disasters, whether wars, genocides, land and snow slides, epidemics, forest fires, and so on.

As unsuited as I am for the Red Cross, I am even less suited to be a First Responder, a person who rushes to the scene of an disaster and provides immediate medical attention or SWAT team firepower. For example, if trying to perform CPR I would forget the exact steps and be squeamish about breaking the victim’s rib cage.

Transition Whidbey talks about future events that may not be occur or may be forestalled. We may not really run out of fossil fuel, or may at least discover some substitute that does just as well – solar energy, tidal power, bicycles. Religious believers talk about events that can’t not be proved or disproved – Heaven, Hell, etc.

The Red Cross forecasts events that occur often enough – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – that they seem likely to occur again – and also forecasts events rare enough – that many people consider them unlikely, and prefer not to spend time thinking about them, much less energy and money preparing for them. For example, the most likely disasters where my wife and I live are probably a major earthquake and/or a tsunami. My wife and I have prepared in ways large and small. Small: we have placed a sturdy rubber band around the knobs of our main kitchen cabinet. In the event of a moderate to strong earthquake, the band will (we hope) prevent the doors from flying open and all our china dish ware flying to the floor. It’s a little inconvenient because we have to remember to put the band back on each time we open the cabinet doors to remove or return a dish. Large: We have installed (at some expense) a large water tank outside our house. If power is out for days, our well pump will not work, so we may need to have enough water to live on for weeks. Also, we have purchased a large (cranky) generator so we can run the well for short periods of time, run our refrigerator-freezer, for short periods of time. If no earthquake occurs, this will all be wasted time and effort. On the other hand, if a major earthquake occurs, we will be glad, though we will then be faced with the issue of whether to share with (or leach off) our sparse neighbors, mostly (like us) living on acreage in the woods.

Some of the possible disaster events are unlikely indeed, but not impossible. For example, consider volcanoes. Having lived in Portland, OR at the time Mt. St. Helens erupted, and having quite a bit of volcanic ash land on our roof and our street (and having driven through a serious and almost blinding ash cloud on a trip between Portland and Seattle), I don’t consider volcanic eruptions impossible. However, scientists talk about supervolcanoes that have occurred in the past. Some have occurred in fairly recent times, one of the most famous being Krakatoa, in Indonesia. Just as the Richter Scale measures earthquakes, the Volcano Explosive Index (VEI) scale measures volcanic eruptions. Krakatoa was probably a VEI6, killing somewhere between 30,000 to 120,000 people. Geological records indicate that some volcanic eruptions have hit VEI8. In modern times, a VEI8 eruption would quite likely destroy humanity.

A lot of speculation focuses on Yellowstone, where VEI8 eruptions probably occurred before humanity was around to wipe out other species, such as dodo birds. If a VEI8 occurred, we (people living on Whidbey Island) would probably not have much time to worry about anything, but it’s quite possible that a VEI6 or VEI7 might occur, and then all our preparations for disaster might prove useful, or might simply prolong our agony.

But not to worry, there are lots of other natural and unnatural disasters to fret about, such as Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). During the cold war, both the United States and USSR considered using EMP pulses as weapons, as they might destroy the infrastructure of an enemy, particularly communications, power generation and transmission, and the like. Although the cold war has subsided a bit (though not dangers of various kinds of warfare), nature still likes to yank human beings around. So our old friend SOL (the sun at the center of the solar system) creates its own EMPs, by occasionally sending us star signals (solar flares.) We may be due for some jolly ones next year. Probably the largest documented solar “storm” in human history was in 1859. While there was no Internet at that time, humans did have some “modern” devices, such as telegraphs, and they were hit hard.

“Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe.”

One of the projects the Red Cross works on is encouraging people to be prepared for disasters. Mostly disasters likely to occur in our geographic region. My brother lives near Joplin, MO, so he should be prepared for a tornado. My brother’s situation is complicated as 1) he was a weatherman when he was in the Navy and 2) he is crazy (either schizophrenia or bipolar, depending on which of his psychiatrists you talk to). The last time there was a frightening storm in his area, he was looking out the door with interest describing the weather cells while his wife (who related the story to me) was urging him to get downstairs into the storm cellar. Also, a lot of people in these area don’t have storm cellars, though after a tornado hits, quite a few people who were not hit, rush to buy one. I think they may also be called “barn doors” as a nickname, as in “Closing the barn door after the horse has been blown away by the tornado.”

Here in Puget Sound, we are not likely to have a tornado. However, a few weeks ago I was a bit surprised to read in the local newspaper that a “twister” hit a nearby town, knocking down several trees (though injuring no one). Near the end of the story, a person who had observed the storm said that he had lived in the Midwest, observed tornadoes, and would have to describe our storm as a “tornado.” (I am guessing that the newspaper decided not to use the word “tornado” in the headline or lead paragraphs of the story.

Problems with trying to alert people to prepare for possible disasters include objections such as 1) “Prepping” (apparently “preppers” is now a term preferred to “survivalists”) is expensive; 2) Prepping is difficult; 3) thinking about disasters is frightening; 4) leading to “I don’t want to think about something so scary.”

If this blog post was so frightening (or boring) that you stopped reading about ten or twenty paragraphs ago, please leave a comment about why you stopped reading.

The bitter libertarian who hates social workers

In Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on June 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I met J at the gym. Gradually, we found we have much in common, but are also quite incompatible.

For example, in the stuff in common category, we are both Jewish (though do not much regard it as a meaningful label), both come from unhappy families, both at times lived in the New York City area (though Joe much longer than I), both have had some slightly dangerous and disquieting experiences. (J worked for an alarm company for a while.)

For one thing, my wife and I are both still alive, and both in reasonably good health, despite a variety of aches and pains (not unsurprising to people in their 60s) and despite my recent leg infection and hospital visits.

J, on the other hand, lost his wife to an illness a few years ago. Evidently, the experience left him bitter and angry, as he was I gather, quite fond of her. (Perhaps there is some guilt involved, but I can’t really decipher if this is the case.)

J has contemplated suicide, and as he is a bright fellow, he has thought through the most effective way to perform such a deed. He finds it difficult to amuse and distract himself, but he says what works best is to read books with short anecdotes. I tried to find some books for him that fall into this classification, but he is very prickly and and more often than not, says, “No. That does not amuse me that much,” when I suggest something, though on a couple of occasions I did have some success.

J, also considers himself a libertarian, and rails about big government and taxation. I gather (though I am not sure) that over the years he has amassed (through investments) quite a bit of money. We don’t have much money, though, for now we get by comfortably enough. I suspect, that now that his wife is gone – his money does not comfort him that much.

I attended the recent Republican presidential caucus for my part of Whidbey Island, though through most of my life I have more often voted Democratic (though not rigidly or exclusively). As this was before Romney became the probably nominee, people were all over the map in their choices, with interesting ironies and paradoxes. (Such as members of the party of “family values” fervently supporting Newt Gingrich, hardly a paragon of keeping it in his pants.)

There was a strong contingent of libertarians present. I was not entirely surprised to see J there, advocating for Ron Paul. I have an emotional attachment to anarchism/libertarianism, though I consider it quite impractical as an actual system of organizing human society.

J was there, crankily muttering about Ron Paul. Everyone got a minute or so to speak to the assembled group, before breaking up into small groups and then with members of our own precinct). I spoke in favor of Gary Johnson instead of Ron Paul. Gary Johnson is younger than Ron Paul. While Ron Paul seems fit and coherently incoherent, he is a bit on the elderly side, and as I am as well, I felt entitled to speak in favor of a younger person. Also, as Gary Johnson has actually held public office (as governor of New Mexico), he seems surprisingly pragmatic for a libertarian. No one paid any attention to me, including my acquaintance J.

Washington State is going through a commotion about gay marriage. My daughter and her partner don’t want to settle for civil union or domestic partnership. I spoke to others asking them not to sign the petition to repeal Washington State’s gay marriage law. [A while after the caucus I write about, it has been submitted, and there will indeed be an election in Washington state.]

I was amused. In a small group where I spoke in favor of gay marriage, limiting myself to one minute, and disclosing that my daughter wants to marry her partner). A gentleman politely responded, explaining that some of his best friends were homosexual, and that he had nothing against homosexuals, etc., etc., and going on for 15 minutes, (I checked my watch) and explaining about what God and Jesus wanted, etc.

Finally, after listening and not arguing, I politely said I had to rejoin my caucus group and left his table, where he may still be going on about what God and Jesus want, for all I know.

J has a thing about social workers. Apparently (I never quite got all the details), as his wife was dying in her hospital bed, a social worker told him something, or reassured him about something, or simply said something that upset him. Anyway, he speaks of social workers with great bitterness and contempt.

I have known a few social workers. Similar to how I regard people of various religious groups, ethnic groups, etc., I think they come in a variety of qualities as far as intelligence, ethics, likability, etc. J was having nothing of it. On the other hand, he doesn’t care a whit about homosexual marriage, though I doubt he objects to it. Side bread is buttered on, etc.

After listening to him rant about social workers a few times, I finally revealed to him that my aunt Arlene had been studying to be a social worker at UCLA and was murdered. J had the grace to restrain himself from blurting out, “Served her right,” though I suspect the thought ran through his mind. Whatever.

Back to exercising

In Good news, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

After my weekend visit to the emergency room at Whidbey General Hospital, my wife and I called our HMO in Everett. They advised me to visit as soon as possible. Although my wife’s nursing care has been impeccable, our constant contact had begin to wear thin. Also she had been asked to provide an extra day of coverage at her senior center volunteer work. She asked me if I felt strong enough to drive myself to my doctor’s office. Although I had not driven our vehicle or left home on my own for a month, I decided to take a chance on transporting myself. I also felt some relief at traveling on my own for a bit. I dropped my wife off at the senior center and cautiously headed for the ferry.

When I got to the medical clinic, my doctor greeted me with his usual optimistic cheer. I discussed my visit to the emergency room, and the on-call EM doctor’s revelation that I seem to have a heart murmur. My doctor listened carefully with his stethoscope, and indicated that 1) heart murmurs are not uncommon; 2) often do not indicate anything very serious; and 3) my murmur is so slight it is barely possible to hear.

He indicated 1) I am probably not having a heart problem; 2) I am probably not having gall bladder problems (the other most likely cause of my symptoms; 3) I was probably having a digestive upset (most likely a result of all the antibiotics I am taking). He also indicated that the most recent bacterial strain detected in my devil’s brew of infections is one often involved with animals and dirt. As I have not been walking barefoot in our chicken run, I am not sure of any direct connection, though as I let the chickens out of the coop this morning, I looked at them severely, and suggested they might think better of drinking from puddles (as they were enthusiastically doing).

My doctor also indicated that I should resume exercising, which I am about to do.

The entropy of salesmanship

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 12:25 am

Humans are quite varied, as individuals and in the groups we call “cultures,” and civilizations. Over long periods of time we gradually change. One of the changes I perceive occurring (at least in my culture) is that we are developing quite a bit more of “sales resistance.”

Humans are curious creatures (in several senses). As we developed reason and language, we observed and drew conclusions and then attempted to persuade others. One person ate some plants, did not get sick; and told others: “This is good to eat.” Another person ate some plants; threw up; and told others, “Don’t eat that; it will make you puke.”

These efforts to convince other people of various practical and abstract ideas has been called salesmanship, proselytizing , and so on. For example, humans noted that plants died down in winter and came back in spring; they eventually concluded that “human death,” (a depressing event) might not be permanent; they began to develop religions which spoke of rebirth. At first, these ideas were rather crude and silly (wrapping pharaohs in mummies and burying them in huge pyramids); then they became crude and silly in more sophisticated ways, such as Christian burials and ideas about Heaven and Hell.

During my lifetime, I have noticed that humans have gradually developed more sales resistance. There is still lots of sales activity going on; radio, television, and the Internet are deluged with advertisements. However, in person to person activities, most of the people I know personally are constantly selling something (whether it is something practical – such as how to eat well, grow carrots, or how to worship God – but most people are very resistant to other’s sales efforts. And even those doing the selling are much more polite and tentative.

When I was in my thirties, my wife and I ran a small prepress business. I constantly got calls from people selling equipment and supplies. Aggressive sales people called on me in our shop. I clearly and vividly remember one salesman, selling an alternative brand of equipment than the one we used. He walked into the shop, followed me around as I worked, and constantly explained to me how his brand of equipment would be cheaper to operate, easier to operate, and more effective in getting my work done. He offered to bring in one of his machines (which would have been quite an elaborate, expensive, and difficult operation at that time) and do all my work for a day, to demonstrate how much better his equipment could carry out our work. While I was irritated by his persistence, I did in fact admire his effort and determination. However, I refused his offer.

In fact, I had studied the matter enough to realize that all three major brands of equipment in the business at that time had good points and bad points, and all three could do the work we did well enough. After about an hour of his aggressive “salesmanship.” I finally reached my limit, confronted him, and said, “I am tired of listening to you. I want you to leave, right now. If you don’t, I will call your boss and complain about how you are harassing me.” Even with that aggressive response on my part, it still took me about ten minutes to get him out of our shop.

I have had religious believers, (most notably Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) knock on my door and behave in a similar manner. Once, when I was home alone doing some work for my job, and rather bored, a Jehovah’s Witness (surprisingly, by herself and without a partner) knocked on my door. Grateful for any excuse to avoid doing the work I was supposed to be doing, I invited her in. Quite sensibly, she backed away quite hurriedly and left my home as fast as her legs could carry her.

Certainly, in the earliest days of Christianity and Islam, salesmanship was quite a bit easier. Christians showed up in places such as Britain and Ireland, said, “Hey our loving God is much better than your Druids; go with us.” Even though the Christians got a little carried a way at times, and murdered those who disagreed as vigorously as the Vikings or Druids did, quite often preaching alone did the job.

Same in Mexico and Peru. While Cortez and Pizarro were not exactly gentle folk, quite a few of the inhabitants were not that fond of sacrifices in temples where hearts were cut out of virgins and whatever, and sometimes the gentle preaching of priests was persuasion enough. My favorite early Christian, Roger Williams, was much loved by the Indians he befriended and studied. He didn’t really try to preach to them, but he probably did convince a few Indians that Christianity was a pretty cool religion.

The Trinity Church Evangelicals I do volunteer work are full of opinions about what kind of chain saw to use (Stihl), what kind of truck to drive (all over the map), and what kind of God to believe in (a very kind version of Christianity with room for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists (and probably just about any non-violent version of God you want to worship). However, they are extremely polite and patient about my (finally revealed) atheism, and most reluctant to challenge it.

I am also a bit bemused by a recent comment in my blog trying to convince me of the wonderfulness of Christianity, even after reading my scornful and sarcastic comments about it. I am fairly sure that Robyn, the person who posted, will not persist in arguing after such a hostile reply on my part. Salesmanship just isn’t what once was, though this may not yet be true on Iraq, Afghanistan, or North Korea.

One of these days, we will all be almost completely silent. (Technological developments such as Twitter reflect our increasing reticence. Humans will approach each other quietly and politely, offer a little food or a kiss, and then slink back into the trees.