Sunday, February 17, 2019

Self diagnosis

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about all the prescription drug commercials on television these days.

Based on the volume of the type of commercials I see, I don't know what we, as American consumers, purchase more – beer, cars or pharmaceuticals.

The blog I wrote back then worried about all the side effects the drugs that are meant to cure you can actually be worse than the malady you are treating. You know, the rapidly speaking voice at the end of the commercial that tells you that treating erectile dysfunction with this particular drug might actually cause your death. (Suddenly, being a Sixty-Minute Man doesn't sound so appealing anymore).

 Anyway, since then, the proliferation of prescription pharmaceutical ads on the air seems to have actually increased.

The other morning I was keeping track of the ads so I could write this blog. In the course of less than an hour, I counted nine such commercials. There were probably more because I walked away from the tube from time to time and for several reasons.

But it was astonishing to me nonetheless.

It got me to wondering if we could self-diagnose ourselves as we sit in front of the tube mindlessly eating our pizzas and guzzling our beers. (Is there a pharmaceutical for that?)

In less than an hour, I saw ads for Vraylar, Ageless Male Max (OK, not a scrip, but bear with me), Xarelto, Linzess, Taltz, Celebrex, Ambien, Prevagen and Repatha.


I guess it's possible I could wake up one day feeling a little nauseous and discovering that my symptoms match those on the Linzess commercial. Hey, Doc, I know what's wrong with me. Write me a prescription.

Or maybe my complexion is spotty. Where's my Taltz, Doc?

OK, OK. I am taking Eliquis to thin my blood as a way to treat my afib. But that was at the recommendation of my cardiologist, who hooked me up to various machines and computers to get her readouts. It was not a self diagnosis.

If it was up to me (actually, maybe it is, but I was trained to wrestle with words, not maladies. I am not a physician), I'd self diagnose my way out of taking any drugs at all. All those pill bottles on the counter make me feel like an old person.

I did google "pharmaceutical ads on TV" and found a couple sites that more or less confirm the burgeoning prevalence of these ads on television. Big Pharma, apparently, spends upwards of $4 billion annually just to advertise the top 10 prescription drugs in the country.

And, there is a movement to take these ads off the air.

Good luck with that.

I have a headache...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Golf in February

With the forecast for temperatures in the 70s on Wednesday, primal instinct took over.

I fished out my golf clubs.

This was a major commitment on my part. For various reasons over the past five years or so, including having a daily part-time job that ate up my afternoons, I hadn't played golf at all. I can't begin to tell you how painful that was for me.

But that was about to change.

So I put on a pair of cargo shorts and a polo shirt, put the clubs in the trunk of my car, and headed off to Heather Hills Golf Club in Winston-Salem.

A couple things to note here:

• The first thing that should jump out at you is "cargo shorts." C'mon. It's February. According to the forecast, it's going to hit 70 degrees plus. The only thing more ridiculous than wearing shorts in February is, well, playing golf in February.

• Why Heather Hills?

Heather Hills is an "executive" style golf course that usually doesn't have a lot of traffic. And both of those are good things.

An executive golf course is usually short in length. Heather Hills is about 3,200 yards and a par 60. (Lexington Municipal, by contrast, is par 71, 5,600 yards). For a guy who hasn't played in nearly five years and wants to kick off the rust, this is perfect. So is the idea that there usually aren't that many other golfers at Heather Hills watching you, which could raise my embarrassment factor with any shanks, chilli dips or whiffs I might employ,

• I almost always walk the course when I play. First, I walk for the exercise. And secondly, I walk because I can save five or six bucks as opposed to renting a cart. Priorities, you know.

Anyway, I walked up to the first tee, took a practice swing, and then struck my first tee shot in five years. I used a 7-iron for a 133-yard hole.

Two things happened next. I hit a perfect shot. Well, perfect in the sense that it went straight. It also went short, maybe 90 yards or so. I didn't care about length. I hit a nice shot that went straight.

I ended up bogeying the hole and I projected my score for the entire round, meaning I would shoot bogey golf. I'll take that.

There are some issues about playing in February, however.

Like the grass. I think the course at Heather Hills is seeded with Bermuda, which means everything is an off white right now. Or about the color of my used golf balls.

Also, there's not much grass cutting going on. That means the fairway rough is a couple inches tall.

It's amazing how you can lose a camouflaged golf ball in the fairway. I lost four, but I found two. Not quite break even, but acceptable.

Another thing I didn't factor into the round was that I've grown five years older. I like to think I'm immune from aging, but, sadly, no. Those 7-irons that I used to hit 150 yards a half decade ago are now 110 yards (or less). I guess I have to recalibrate my whole game.

And walking. Sheesh. I carry two woods and six irons, plus a putter, in an effort to lighten my bag. But after Wednesday's round, which I figure was maybe 3-4 miles of walking with a 25-pound bag, wore me flat out.

I was stiff as board before I got back to the car. My feet were killing me. Heather Hills, as the name implies, has some substantial hills on it. Duh. So I need to do a better job taking measure of my surroundings.

My round actually deteriorated on the back nine. I was tired.

But, you know. I shot an 89 (a 39 on the front side). That's 29 over par. I don't care. I was playing golf. Life is good.

The next time it's 70 degrees, I'll be on the course again.

Riding a cart.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

And the winner is...

Well, here it is, Super Bowl Sunday, and I haven't made my prediction yet.

Possibly because it pains me to do so.

Once again, there's a battle raging between my heart and my brain.  The trouble is, my heart really isn't in it. The trouble is, this appears to be a no-brainer.

As I illustrated last week, there seems to be a lot of Patriot fatigue out there in real-world land because the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots are in their ninth Super Bowl this century. Unless you are from New England (or Los Angeles, I suppose), the ennui appears to be palpable.

Although, I concede, it could be just me.  But I don't think so. I talk to people. I exercise with people, some who happen to be football fans, every morning at the YMCA. I ask them their feelings about the Super Bowl. The ho-humism is nearly overwhelming.

Like most, I'm as tired of seeing the Patriots' annual appearance in the Super Bowl as anybody else.

But then, 40-plus years of sports writing forces me to make this concession: if you can't beat the Patriots in the playoffs, then shut up. As much as we might not like it, they earned it. In spite of the Spygates and Deflategates, the organization is consistently superior in its drafting and player acquisitions. And Brady, the leader on the field, has demonstrated he is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and we should see it as a privilege to be a witness to his greatest-of-all-time career.

Really, who's been better? Starr? Farve? Unitas? Graham? Elway? Baugh? Staubach? Manning? Montana? Namath?

Just look at the statistics, people. Just count the Super Bowl rings. If the Patriots win today, Brady will own a six-pack of championship rings. Sheesh. And yikes.

As the Philadelphia Eagles showed last year, Brady and the Patriots are beatable, and when you do beat them, it makes victory all the sweeter because you've beaten the very best.

Last year, there was a sense of upset in the air.

This year, there seems to be a confluence of talent, fate, karma and history coalescing in the ozone (if not the end zone). Even the weather seems to be cooperating.

And so, it comes to this: Patriots 35, Rams 21.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

What, again?

I think there's New England Patriots fatigue loose in the country.

The day after the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams each won their conference championships (heck, it might even have been by Sunday night), this revealing NFL meme popped up on Facebook:

My first instinct was to laugh.

My next instinct was to shake my head in serious agreement.

I can understand why America might be a little tired of the Patriots. Next Sunday, the Pats – with greatest-of-all-time quarterback Tom Brady – will be making their ninth appearance in the Super Bowl in this century.

In case you've forgotten, this century is only 18-plus years old.

Brady, who is 41 years old and seems to have lost absolutely nothing from his talent bag in almost two decades, will now have more appearances in the Super Bowl than any NFL team (other than the Patriots, of course).

If the Patriots beat the Rams next Sunday, it will be New England's sixth Super Bowl victory in an awesome span that began in 2001 with a 20-17 victory over the – really? – Rams, who were in St. Louis then. That also means Brady has stayed in one city longer than the Rams have in that time frame. Sheesh.

If the Patriots win and Brady should happen to win the Most Valuable Player award, it will be his fifth MVP trophy. He'll have more hardware in his trophy case than ACE (is the place).

That's nuts.

If they haven't already, the Patriots appear to have reached that sainted realm held almost exclusively by the nearly perennial champions New York Yankees, where you either love 'em or you hate 'em, and there's no middle ground. It's that kind of prestige.

In an informal survey that I conduct each morning during my workouts at the YMCA, I've been asking my friends if they're going to watch the Super Bowl this year.

"I dunno," is the most common reply. That in itself is a little revealing, since Super Bowl Sunday has turned into an excuse for National Party Day over the years. Everybody watches the Super Bowl.

But maybe that's changing. I myself plan to have the remote handy. If the Patriots are dominating, I'll probably do some channel surfing. I kinda like to know what's going on with the mystery of Oak Island, you know? But if the Rams – with whom I have no interest at all – are winning, I might stick around to see how things play out.

Right now, I haven't even paid much attention to the hype, which surely will ramp up this week. Ho-hum. Even Kim has threatened not to make her chili this year.

Maybe I can watch a replay of last year's Super Bowl. I'm a dyed-in-the-green Philadelphia Eagles fan, and I'll be living off the Eagles 41-33 victory over New England for the rest of my life. I still watch Nick Foles call for the Philly Special every chance I get.

Maybe the Rams have something special in their playbook, too. We'll see. Maybe.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Final notice

These days, getting the mail makes me a little nervous.

I think my age has something to do with it.

I got a piece of mail the other day from my former employer, The New York Times, which owned The Dispatch, the newspaper for which I worked 30 years before I retired in 2006.

Getting mail at this time of year usually means tax stuff.

This was not tax stuff. This was my annual notice that my life insurance benefit has been reduced. Again. It happens every year.

The $100,000 policy I signed up for when I was a working stiff back in my glory days is now down to $42,200. Last year, it was $60,800, so the annual drop-off rate appears to be accelerating at an alarming clip.

I'm sure actuarial tables are involved in the calculations somehow, but at this rate, I'll hardly have anything left for Kim to bury me with.

In fact, at this rate, I'll be owing them money in a couple of years.

Wait. What? I thought I was giving them money all these years. You know, those little forgettable deductions taken out of my paycheck that I hardly noticed.

I'm wondering if my insurer knows something about me that I don't. Clearly, my insurer is anticipating my impending death, which I guess is what insurance companies do. I guess they want to make sure that when I die, Kim has nothing extra left to, you know, live on.

There is some good news, though. My annual contribution for my shrinking coverage has dropped from $46.95 per month to $32.54 per month, which means my pension got a little bit larger. A tank of gas every two weeks larger. Thanks for that.

•  •  •

The insurance notice wasn't the only one I got.

Sports Illustrated, a magazine I've subscribed to since I was a junior in high school, sent me a second renewal notice that my subscription is about to expire. (There seems to be a lot of expiring going on around here).

I never got a first notice.

But it seems I can play a little game here. The second renewal notice said: "Because time is now a factor and you've been a loyal subscriber, the publishers of Sports Illustrated have given official approval to send you up to 9 ISSUES FREE! Renew today!"

I've been a subscriber for 51 years, so you'd think I'd get a cheap alarm clock or an ill-fitting sweatshirt or something from them just out of sheer gratitude. But nine free issues sounds acceptable. I think it's because of the word "free." I'm a sucker for anything that's free.

Maybe I can get my insurer to give me nine years of life insurance coverage for free. You know, just out of sheer gratitude for making all those payments for so long.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Memphis Belle

For a brief moment, as she lumbered down the runway at the Davidson County Airport, inexorably building airspeed, I found myself catching my breath.

A vintage B-17 World War II bomber, the famously named Memphis Belle, gained purchase and took to the air, its four Wright Cyclone engines wonderfully straining against gravity to fulfill their latest purpose, traveling through time.

She was beautiful. I nearly cried.

The Belle gained altitude, maybe a couple hundred feet or so, it's silhouette unmistakable perhaps even to the novice eye. She did a slow, graceful turn, followed with a heart-thumping flyby over the airfield, graciously dipping her wings in salute to the 30 or so spectators who gathered together on a cold Saturday morning to watch history go airborne.

The Memphis Belle, movie version.
When she reached the far end of the airfield, she made another casual turn, leveled out and then flew directly over our heads, engines pounding, heading south to Florida.

Oh, my. Did I really see what I just saw? The Memphis Belle? In Lexington?

Yes. Sort of.

A quick history lesson: The World War II version of the Memphis Belle, an early production B-17F piloted by Asheville's Robert Morgan, flew its first combat mission over France in November, 1942. It was United States Army Air Corps policy at the time to send aircrews home after completing 25 missions, and the Belle successfully completed her 25th mission on May 17, 1943. (Mission counts gradually increased as the war dragged on. Some airmen eventually flew 30, 40, 50 and even 60 or more missions).

The Memphis Belle, historically correct version.
But she wasn't the first to reach 25. Hell's Angels turned that trick three days earlier. It turns out that Hollywood director William Wyler, with 16mm cameras in hand, filmed an amazing on-board documentary about the Memphis Belle as it became clear she likely would complete her 25 missions. Guess who got the publicity? And so this is how history is made. (Afterwords Morgan asked Wyler what would he have done if the Belle hadn't returned from its last mission. Wyler replied that he had no problem because he also had plenty of footage of Hell's Angels, too).

Then, in 1990, a movie called Memphis Belle, starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, John Lithgow and Harry Connick Jr., was released. The flick is supposed to relate the story of the Belle's 25th mission, but it's actually a composite of many World War II bombing missions by many aircrews. It's not a bad flick as war movies go, but if you believe the movie, the Belle was lucky to survive its final flight. In actuality, the real Memphis Belle's 25th mission was a "routine" bomb run over Lorient, France. Nobody was hurt.

Anyway, the B-17 used in the movie was a modified B-17G, (The Sally B, I think) built in 1945, which features a twin .50 caliber machine gun chin turret under the nose to ward off head-on attacks favored by Nazi pilots. The Hollywood Memphis Belle had the chin turret removed, and it was this aircraft, the movie version, that was at the Davidson County Airport on Saturday.

The real Memphis Belle, the one that flew 25 combat missions, sits in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

One way you can tell the difference between the two planes is by the nose art. The name "Memphis Belle", written on the real Memphis Belle, is done in block letters. The name is written in cursive script on the movie plane. Something to do with permissions and copyrights, I think.

Anyway, none of this detracts one iota from what we saw on Saturday. Nearly 13,000 B-17s were built during the war, and today, only about a dozen are still airworthy. So when you see a B-17 take to the sky, you've really seen – and heard – something.

It might also be nice to remember what these planes were meant to do. The Eighth Air Force, of which the Memphis Belle was a member, lost more than 26,000 aircrew in the war – more than the entire United States Marine Corps (19,700 deaths) in that conflict. A crew member had a staggering one-in-five chance of not reaching his 25th mission. Soldiers in fox holes had a better survival rate.

Keep in mind, also, that most of these aircrews were boys in their 20s, flying missions in sub-zero temperatures at 25,000 feet, dodging dangerous Messerschmitts, Focke-Wulfs and flak along the way. Each bomber held 10 crewmen, so the casualty count adds up fast when a plane goes down. Then ask yourself, what makes a kid fly a 2,000-mile round-trip mission to drop eight bombs? (A B-17 usually carried eight 500-pound bombs, maybe more on a shorter mission).

Where does that come from?

It's enough to make you cry.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Flat Earthers

A month or so ago, we were watching a segment on CBS Sunday Morning – one of my favorite TV news shows ever – about people who believe the Earth is flat.

I was intrigued by the notion that there are people out there who believe the Earth is flat; that the sun and moon are relatively the same size to each other (explaining eclipses, I guess) hovering just several hundred miles above our heads; that there has been no human space exploration (the moon landings are Hollywood-quality productions); that, indeed, there is no gravity and Sir Isaac Newton got it all wrong; that the oceans are held in place by a wall of ice on the perimeter of this pancake that we live on, patrolled by NASA agents to make sure we don't climb the ice wall and fall off (although I don't know how we can fall if there's no gravity).

We've been lied to, according to Flat Earthers (FE's, in my world), ever since the days of Copernicus, who told us the sun is not the center of the universe. A round Earth is a centuries-long conspiracy. We nonbelievers, in fact, are told to wake up before it's too late,

If a round Earth is a conspiracy, I'm not sure what the end product of this conspiracy is supposed to be. Maybe it's anti-knowledge. Stop sending your kids to expensive colleges, where they clearly teach lies. Stop believing in government, in academia, because it's all a lie to get your money.

The Flat Earth Society claims about 200 people per year are joining its ranks, convinced the Earth is a disc more or less somehow suspended in space. NBA star Kyrie Irving is a former Duke student who tells people to "do the research." Hmm. And I thought he spent just one year at Duke because he declared for the NBA Draft early. Makes you want to see that transcript, huh?

Flat Earthers, apparently, have an answer to everything about this issue, and it gets pretty complicated – too complicated for me to get into in detail. I'm not a scientist, nor an anti-scientist. I'm a sports writer still trying to solve the mystery of the infield fly rule.

But my take on all this is that FE's say they are basing their beliefs on what they consider to be empirical evidence: they've never seen the curvature of the Earth with their own eyes; they don't believe a round Earth is spinning through space at 1,000 miles per hour because they haven't felt the effects of such speed, etc, etc.

Which leads me to my own empirical evidence:

When you're driving 60 miles per hour down the Interstate, is a fly leisurely buzzing around in your car flying at its own pace, or is it also doing 60 miles per hour down, just like you are?

If there's no gravity, why do our ear lobes, nose tips and breasts droop to our knees as we get older? Why do we get shorter in height as spinal compression works its magic?

Psst. It's gravity. That's empirical enough for me, brother.

Where's the equator on a flat Earth? If there's no equator, why do hurricanes rotate in a counterclockwise motion in the Northern hemisphere, but clockwise in the Southern hemisphere?

How do the season's change?

Clearly, you can't reason with people who believe what they believe despite what the evidence shows. Maybe Rudy Giuliani is correct after all: the truth is not the truth.

I'm not sure I want to get into conspiracies that are harder to explain than the actual science (or, as I call it, reality). I'll leave it to shows like Sunday Morning, where I can walk away thoroughly entertained and still wonder why the sky is Carolina blue.