Tag Archives: Rants

Weighty matters

Oh, my gawd, I saw the most compelling news story on the Today show this morning while I was running on the treadmill (thank gawd I was multi-tasking).

Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed that fast food served at major chains like McDonald’s and Subway doesn’t actually look as good as the commercials portray (Fast-food face-offs: Does it look as good in real life as on TV?).

Can you believe that?

No, not that Americans are getting short shrift on their fast food orders. That Jeff Rossen hasn’t ever heard of food styling. Or photography filters.

Is it false advertising that you can’t actually see the ground beef patties in your Big Mac (like on TV)? Or is it false advertising that Rossen passes himself off as an “investigative correspondent”? He spent an afternoon and $20 to develop this 5-minute piece of this enlightening video.

Ugh.

This is what’s wrong with television journalism, I thought as I covered the treadmill miles. So I changed the channel, only to find Good Morning America tackling the troubling trend of skateboarders taking to freeways for their hijinks, complete with the hashtag #FreewayChallenge. This was accompanied by repeating loops of the daredevils falling in the street. I felt like I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. So if we have Jackass-inspired video and a hashtag, then it’s news?

No, this is the definition of the word irritainment, which I learned earlier this week from a “news” story in the Star Tribune. Irritainment is defined as “entertainment that is irritating but also so enticing that you can’t stop watching.”

So I quit watching. I turned off the TV news and hit the weights.

Flat tax proposal is like winning the lottery — worth dreaming about but not worth much more

“Imagine a 10 percent income tax, with every American filling out his or her taxes on a postcard or iPhone app. And abolishing the IRS as we know it.”

~ Ted Cruz, candidate for U.S. president

OK, let’s imagine a flat tax for a minute.

  • I wouldn’t have to calculate the value of the 10 pairs of men’s jeans I donated to Goodwill (because there wouldn’t be a charitable deduction).
  • I wouldn’t have to track down the three different 1098 forms from last year that calculate the interest paid on my first mortgage, second mortgage and refinanced mortgage (because there wouldn’t be a mortgage deduction).
  • I wouldn’t have to figure out how much we contributed to the 401(k) (because there wouldn’t be a deduction for retirement savings).

That was a pretty nice minute spent imagining. Since I spent several hours tracking down the aforementioned items and about 100 others as I prepared for tax season.

Fun afternoon. Who likes that kind of minutia?

I’m not saying I’m a Cruz supporter (please do not pelt me with wet noodles — I’m just considering one of his proposals), but I really would love a simple flat tax, especially the one Cruz is calling for since it’s nearly half what this household is paying now (in the interest of fairness, I must tell you that Cruz critics say his plan would bankrupt the U.S. government, but I’m looking at my selfish picture here for one minute, not the country’s).

No one can say they love tax time. Not even a tax preparer — maybe they love the paychecks, but the work this time of year is crushing. (They’d all be out of a job if we had a flat tax because who would need help filling out a postcard, right?)

People who get refunds? (What’s a refund?) Do they like tax time? Well, they shouldn’t. A refund only means they gave the government an interest-free loan. If there was a flat tax, there would be no such thing as refunds — because the 10 percent would come out when the money was earned and there would be no quibbling about it.

Imagining a flat tax is fun, but the hard reality is that something as simple as a flat tax will never happen in the United States. Way too many special interests have a stake in deductions of one sort or another or in the tax preparation industry. Abolish the IRS? Ha! The realist in me just doesn’t see it happening.

But it’s nice to dream.

Flint water crisis is a drop in the sorry bucket of government

The presidential election season tends to bring out all kinds of haters, but especially government haters.

  • I hate government waste.
  • I hate Washington, D.C.
  • I hate federal government mandates.
  • I hate do-nothing politicians.
  • I hate paying for government programs.
  • I hate those bozos in Springfield (this is specific to Illinois haters, but there are probably state government haters in every state).
  • I hate pork (by pork, I don’t mean bacon — even vegetarians don’t hate bacon, they just don’t eat it — I mean pork barrel, that wasteful spending that we all pay for but only benefits one district).
  • I hate Democrats.
  • I hate Republicans.
  • I hate socialists who hate bankers.
  • I hate bankers who back socialists.

You get the picture. So we’re all looking for the candidate who spends less, does more and doesn’t clog up the news with negative advertising. Unfortunately, one man’s government waste and pork is another man’s hope and change.

But can all the haters agree on this? If government doesn’t do anything else, shouldn’t it be responsible for providing clean drinking water?

Even before providing for the common defense or ensuring the blessings of liberty (freedom of religion, speech, press and all that), isn’t potable water, like, the No. 1 way to promote the general welfare? Human beings can’t live for more than three days without water (and it gets downright uncomfortable after just 24 hours). Not to say anything about icy cold beverages, nice hot baths, washing clothes and watering lawns, right?

Water is right up there at the top of the priority list.

So this whole Flint, Mich., debacle makes me sick (not as sick as it’s making Flint residents, I’ll bet, but still, I’m appalled).

Here’s the deal. For the most part, a modern citizen can’t ensure her own potable water (though I once was pretty pleased in the investment of a simple water filter). Sure, 150 years ago, I could have dug my own well and lugged water in buckets I made myself from safely harvested materials, but nowadays, the government sources the water (or permits the well digging), the government treats the water and the government governs the pipes through which the water flows.

Government exists for exactly this sort of job. Most of the time, when it’s being done right, I’m quite happy to leave water delivery to government because the government can take advantage of volume discounts. I’m fine to pay for my share in one way or another, usually through taxes of one sort or another and then by the gallon in usage rates, because then I don’t have to buy own water treatment plant, water tower and pipe delivery system.

Same theory applies to road construction, the fire department, the military and libraries. I can’t afford to do these things for myself so paying for a piece of them ensures I have roadways on which to drive, that firefighters will come to my aid when my house goes up in flames, that fearless soldiers will fight on my behalf and that I can borrow a book for free.

But none of those things matter if I’m dead. And I’m dead if I don’t have a dependable source of safe water.

Effective governance requires knowledgeable personnel, active oversight, safe equipment and, I’m sorry to admit, tax-hungry entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration.

Somewhere along the line, effectiveness in Flint’s water system got flushed.

At some point, we may know who exactly is to blame for Flint’s lead contamination problem, but I suspect the blame lies, in some way, with every level of government — local, state and national. A lot of lazy oversight and buck passing probably will be uncovered.

At worst, it’s just this sort of situation that inspires conspiracy theories (I was once a reporter in a town that refused to have its water fluoridated — because, lower your voice and look around furtively, that’s how the government poisons its citizens). And at best, the crisis in Flint is why so many people hate government. Because if government fails at the most basic and necessary functions, then what hope do we have that government — in any form, with any leader, of any party — can address our bigger, even more complex problems, like poverty, health care and North Korea?

Alas. Not much.

How to fake being an old lady at exercise class

So I joined a new gym recently and I love participating in the exercise classes. Like Full-Body Toning and BodyPump and Step Like You Mean It.

Just kidding about that last one. That’s not the real name. It’s a step class just like I used to do in the ’80s.

Oh my god. Has it been that long?

Yes. Back then, I had my own step, I inserted a videotape into my VCR and Jane Fonda barked me into exercise submission while I sweated away in the middle of my living room.

The instructors at the my classes nowadays probably don’t even know who Jane Fonda is.

And they certainly don’t know what a VCR is.

But there are some benefits to being one of the oldest women in these classes filled with young suburban mothers. Let’s call it Red Hat Syndrome.

Surely you’ve heard the poem that begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.” An entire sorority of women has been formed around the ethos of that poem: When I get old, I won’t care what other people think.

It’s an especially useful attitude in exercise class.

For example, I don’t care if you can see the cellulite on my butt through my tight spandex capris. And I don’t care if I’m using baby 5-pound weights during the biceps routine, and I really don’t care when I give up doing sit-ups half-way through so I can catch my breath or if people have to walk around me after class because I’m still in the way stretching my Achilles tendon.

If anyone is judging me during exercise class, I don’t care. Because I know I’m better than 90 percent of the rest of the population who are still in bed or sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through.

So when I show up to claim my 6-by-6-foot spot on the exercise floor, I take the one up front and by the mirror.

Because I don’t care!

A bonus benefit of being the old lady up front is I think people actually feel a little sorry for me. The teacher loudly mentions, “It’s OK not to use weights for this one — you can use your body weight.” And the girl behind me isn’t looking at my measly weights and even measlier biceps — she’s thinking, “Oh, good for her! I hope I’m still doing exercise classes at her age!”

And because I don’t care if I wear my hair in a ponytail and I don’t have any makeup on, I might even invest in a red baseball cap to wear to class.

Because that’s how old ladies roll.

Or step.

Feet of clay

Forget my knees, running is detrimental to the health of my feet.

With the help of Google, I have diagnosed myself  with insertional Achilles tendonitis (if you’re concerned this blog will increasingly discuss my petty aches and pains as time goes on, I am, too).

Runners nod knowingly amongst themselves when non-runners say things like, “Running will ruin your knees!” Actually, evidence suggests this isn’t true. But a lot of non-runners like to believe it is because it’s a good excuse for not running.

But I’m pretty sure my semi-regular but excruciating slow practice of running (jogging? very fast walking?) is ruining my feet.

Regular readers will recall my complaints about plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma. Both conditions have improved (I know you were waiting with bated breath for that update).

Now it’s my left heel that hurts. Not my Achilles tendon, exactly, but the place where the tendon connects to my foot. I discovered the exact location while giving myself a foot massage last night during “Bar Rescue” (never a dull moment around here, friends).

Causes of Achilles tendonitis? Age and running farther or faster than you’re supposed to. And, according to Runner’s World, “The cause [of slow healing] seems to be the collagen fibers.”

OMG. Not collagen as a cause again!

Treatment? It’s the most boring, old-person prescription ever. Avoid weight-bearing exercises. Like running. And practice copious amounts of calf stretching.

Oh, and ibuprofen and ice can’t hurt.

This is why runners give up running. People in general give up running because it’s boring and hard — genuine runners are the type of people who do it anyway. But constant nagging injuries deter even true believers.

OK, before giving it up entirely, I will try to spend more time spinning and swimming and stretching.

But I don’t have to like it.

A little rant about health care, mammograms, paranoia and unfounded faith in technology

When someone blames Obamacare for their high  health insurance premiums, I want to scream.

It’s not politics that increased my health insurance premium by $78.37 in the middle of the year (yeah, I didn’t know they could do that either, but my monthly premium  — for the exact same plan that covers me alone — went up 34% in July, the equivalent of nearly $1,000 a year).

At least, it’s not only politics. It’s wiz-bang innovations that patients demand and/or doctors recommend for no reason other they sound good.

Image by Prevention magazine

Image by Prevention magazine

Need an example? How about computer-aided-detection, aka CAD, for mammography. Computers do everything better, right?

Wrong.

CAD for mammography, which aims to double-check radiologists’ screening results, didn’t improve accuracy by any measure, according to the largest study to date of the controversial tool, published Sept. 28 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. I’ve been seething about the report shared in the Star Tribune ever since.

The JAMA Internal Medicine report found that CAD for mammograms added at least $400 million to the nation’s annual health care tab. Someone is paying that $400 million, people, and if you think it’s not you, you don’t know how insurance premiums are set. Insurance companies are out to make money, and they don’t pay for procedures out the goodness of their hearts — they pay for them out of your premiums.

You might be tempted to blow off that $400 million number, but think of it this way: There are about 35 million women in the U.S. between the ages of 50 and 74 (the age frame of women recommended to get mammograms). That $400 million means $11 every year for every middle-aged woman in the country. For just one unnecessary type of procedure among dozens, if not hundreds.

Not only does CAD not improve a radiologist’s accuracy in finding cancers on mammograms, it actually reduces it, probably because they’re depending on the computer as a crutch. “Radiologists’ sensitivity, or the proportion of times they correctly identified cancer, was 83 percent when they used CAD — and nearly 90 percent without it,” reporter Jonel Aleccia wrote.

Aye yi yi.

I’ve been suspect of mammograms since my last one three years ago, preformed after I found a lump in my breast (it was more of a bump, actually). It turned out to be a harmless bruise, but I paid $517 for an unnecessary ultrasound that discovered nothing except peace of mind (read that outrage here). In most cases — not all, I get it — but in most cases, a woman or her partner finds the lump first and the mammogram just confirms and pinpoints it. It’s one of the reasons breast cancer screening guidelines changed a couple of years ago from beginning routine screening (i.e. mammograms) for women of average risk at age 40 to age 50 and from being performed annually to every two years. Mammograms simply aren’t the be-all, end-all of breast cancer detection.

Some women are still insisting they want mammograms more often than the guidelines. The science just doesn’t back it up for healthy women (i.e., no family history, not taking hormone therapy, not at high-risk of carrying the BRCA gene, etc.). News flash: If you want a mammogram before age 50 or more often than every other year, you can still get one — pay for it yourself! Why should my insurance premium bear the cost of your paranoia?

So what can a logical woman do about health care procedures that do nothing to actually improve her health? Well, for starters, we can take control of our health care by being informed. Ask how much a procedure is going to cost before going ahead with something just because you’ve met your deductible for the year. As for CAD for mammograms, you  have a right to ask for a CAD-free mammogram, which is not only good for the community bottom line, it’s good for you because it encourages the radiologist to be more careful.

And the next time you’re tempted to blame politics for the cost of your health care, look in the mirror. I’ve seen the enemy, and it is us.

Floater

I curse you, Collagen!

Yesterday’s post was titled “Flutter,” in which I promised to go with the flow more often. Today, in “Floater,” I shall unironically complain about the vitreous compartments in the back of my eyes that are not aging well. I demand my money back! (As if I paid for this ability to see the keyboard upon which I rant. If the human eye and the miracle of sight are not evidence of God, I don’t know what is.)

The eye doctor today proclaimed my eyes to be healthy, if a bit near-sighted. Those floaters about which I complained are irksome, not evidence of anything serious except my inevitable trudge to the grave. Floaters, it turns out, are caused by collagen fibers in the gel-like substance of my eye shrinking and becoming shred-like. At 50, the eye doctor said, that jelly in my eye is like a lava lamp, all lumpy and uneven. By 70, I can look forward to looking through an orb more like a snow globe.

Ah yes, the squiggly lines that fall gently through my vision as I view my computer screen now will inevitably disintegrate into a field of snow. How perfect for a native of Minnesota: Year-round blizzards.

The loss of collagen I lament everywhere else–my face, my thighs, my hands–is now draining lumpily out of my eyes. Sigh. Babies with their plump skin (and, apparently, eyes) don’t appreciate what they got when they got it.

What can I do but … go with the flow. The lumpy flow.