Thursday, June 10, 2021

AA's Big Book has had profound influence

(Addiction and Recovery column from TH-R, Aug. 21, 2012)
By Bob Gaydos
It is one of the best-selling and most influential books of all time, with more than 30 million copies having been sold and millions of lives changed by what is contained on its pages. Yet it is not exaggeration to suggest that a majority of its readers don’t know the actual name of the book.
It is known, proudly and even reverentially, by most who have read it as the Big Book. Officially, the book’s title is “Alcoholics Anonymous,’’ the same as the famous 12-step program for treating alcoholism (and other addictions) described within its covers. The Big Book received more recognition for its influence recently when the Library of Congress included it on a list of “Books That Shaped America.”
There are 88 books on a list that ranges from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man.” The common factor among all 88, according to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is that “they shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.”
While it may not be for everyone, the Big Book has certainly shaped people’s views and lives. Since it was first published in 1939, it has been the textbook, if you will, of how to get -- and stay -- sober, for millions around the world. AA, of course, has spawned numerous other 12-step programs to deal with addictive behavior. And, while basing its recovery program on established spiritual, psychological and medical precepts, Alcoholics Anonymous has also widened the dialogue within all three areas and influenced the way practitioners in those fields deal with addiction.
The authors of the Big Book are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA. But they had plenty of help from some of the original 100 AA members whose stories were included in the first edition. Many recovering alcoholics today regard it as remarkable that Wilson, the primary author, wrote two of the main sections of the book -- one being his story -- when he had less than four years of sobriety.
One could say the Big Book is a classic example of what it preaches. Much of the recovery program contained is take from the Oxford Group, A Christian fellowship that emphasized self-examination, making amends and working with others. (Wilson and Smith both were members of the Oxford Group for significant periods.) But the Oxford Group’s heavy religious emphasis did not sit well with many of the other drunks who were early member of AA. As a result, most references to “God” were eliminated or changed to a “Higher Power of your understanding.”
Editing also changed the preachy “you” to the inclusive “we” in describing how
alcoholics got sober. Thus, this is what we are and this what we did. If you follow these suggestions, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
What do current members of AA think about the Big Book? A sampling of recent comments:
  • “When I first read it, I had to say, ‘(Expletive!) I’m an alcoholic. How did they know?’”
  • “I used to walk around with the Big Book (in early sobriety) like a protective shield.”
  • “It helped me understand I have an allergy.”
  • “In many ways it’s like the bible for alcoholics. It provides direction and order.”
  • “Think about the impact. One person reads it and passes it on to others for more than 30 million.”
  • “When they get (the Big Book) people are usually in such pain, they will read it.”
  • “It gave me a guide for living, far beyond just not drinking.”
  • “Simple rules for broken people.”
There’s a significant local angle to this story. When it came time to publish the book, Wilson and the others chose The Cornwall Press, a now-defunct printing operation in Cornwall. Because they were going to charge $3.50 for the relatively short book, they wanted it to look impressive, so they used thick paper and the widest possible margins. Hence, the “Big Book” nickname. Subsequent printings were smaller in size, but the name stuck.
The first press run was for 4,800 copies, with the promise from the printers that more would be printed when the first copies were sold. But even those original copies were in limbo as the printer refused to release any books until they were paid for. Although printed in the winter of 1939, only a few copies were paid for at the time. The significant release came in early 1940. Today, with inflation, “Alcoholics Anonymous” sells for around $8 to $10, but many AA groups simply give copies to new members, continuing to spread its message.
bobgaydos.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

For the record: I am not an old coot


B
This is an old coot, according to society.

By Bob Gaydos

    My chiropractor called me an old coot recently. At the time, I was lying on his table on my stomach while he used a snappy tool to somewhat painfully but successfully loosen my upper back, so I didn’t say anything. Out loud.

    To myself, I said something along the lines of, “Who the hell is he talking about?“ Only it was a bit more vulgar.

     For the record, I am not an old coot. Nor am I an old codger. At 79, yes, I guess I am chronologically old. And I have in the past been called a curmudgeon. You can’t be a young curmudgeon.

      You can, however, be a young whippersnapper, Doc.

      Some definitions are in order before I talk about ageism.

      An old coot, according to Oxford Languages, is “a foolish or eccentric person, typically an old man.”

      The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English goes further: “An old man who you think is strange or unpleasant.”

       Not exactly complimentary.

       The term, “old codger,” which some think is the same as old coot, is not. According to the Free Dictionary, “old codger” is “used affectionately to refer to an eccentric but amusing old man. codger. graybeard, greybeard, old man, Methuselah — a man who is very old.”  It sounds a bit less insulting. But it’s not.

       Curmudgeon, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.” Dictionary.com defines it this way: “A bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.” No age is mentioned. However, other dictionaries pretty much define it as a stubborn, cranky old man. Your pain-in-the-butt, “Get off my lawn!” neighbor.

         I plead not guilty to all three.

         Back to the chiropractor. The label was applied to me with a slight chuckle in his voice, suggestive of the foolish or eccentric person category. The conversation that prompted it revolved around me not doing something or other which others felt would be in my best interests. The term is presumably meant to be affectionate, but it’s dismissive. It suggests that the older person in question is incapable of making rational decisions for himself and for his own benefit, or that he simply cannot occasionally make an unwise decision on his own. That sometimes he’s just a.dumb ass. No, the term suggests that he does what he does because he’s a foolish or eccentric old man. An old coot.

          This assumption was further borne out when the chiropractor asked my partner to make sure I filled out my Medicare form before the next visit even though I was seated a mere 8 feet away from him and within hearing distance. Again, dismissive. By the way, I have excellent hearing.

          Now, it’s possible that I am being overly defensive about this incident. It has been suggested that I sometimes take things personally. And I know the chiro meant no harm and he’s helping this old body to be more flexible. But I feel that at a time when the guy I already voted for for president is 78 years old, the guy I never want to be president is 74 years old and the guy I would’ve preferred become president is 79 years old, someone has to stand up for people who have lived three-quarters of a century and are still contributing to society. And I don’t necessarily think that those with maybe half a century of experience are the best judges of the capabilities of septuagenarians.

         Call it personal. That’s the curmudgeon in me. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t foolish, cantankerous, eccentric, cranky, stubborn old men out there. I know some and I think most of them were probably that way when they were young, too. I don’t know what you’d call them. Sir, maybe.

         And yes, I have my moments. But so do we all. It’s the old coot label I object to and the assumption that comes with it that this is a person not to be taken seriously because he’s old. He’ll be fine. Help him find his slippers. 

          I picked on the chiropractor because actually he’s the only one who’s ever called me an old coot (so far), but his remark was, I think, simply reflective of a lot of people's attitude towards older men. This is especially true about older men who still have opinions about things and are not hesitant to express them. Yes, that would be me and that’s where the curmudgeon label comes from.

          The closest I can come to for a similar term for women is “old biddy.” You don’t hear that used a lot because women today won’t stand for it, for good reason. It’s dismissive and insulting and most likely used by people who have no clue about what the woman who just annoyed them is really like. She’s just an old biddy. Labels are risky business.

       

This is not an old coot.
This is not an old coot.

   One more thing about old coots. If you have any doubts about whether the term is really insulting, just Google “old coot” and click on images. It’s not a pretty picture. The drawings and photos are remarkably similar in their unpleasantness. Not one distinguished or even normal-looking older man among them. This is how society sees old coots — weird-looking, gnarly, even threatening old men. Someone you might run from rather than go to for mature counsel. So yes, it’s personal.

           I speak here for all men of a certain age and mindset. I may occasionally say or do something that annoys you. If so, I apologize in advance. I’m human. But there’s still a well-functioning brain behind this (hopefully) non-threatening facade. So save your labels for your jelly jars. I am not an old coot.

rjgaydos@gmail,com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.


        

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

On Unwritten Rules, in Baseball and Life




  Fernando Tatis Jr., rule breaker?


 By Bob Gaydos

Life is full of unwritten rules. Please and thank you. Don’t interrupt. Don’t double dip. Flush the toilet. But is it really a rule if it’s not written down? And is it really a rule if sometimes it’s OK to break it? Is it a rule, say, if your young slugger hits a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch to put the game on ice?
    
 The big controversy of the week, refreshingly, involved baseball. Welcome back, boys of summer.
      The young slugger is Fernando Tatis Jr., who plays for the San Diego Padres. Tatis says he never heard of this rule we’re about to talk about. Sounds like another unwritten rule: When in doubt, plead ignorance.
       Some baseball purists, as well as the pitcher, manager and other players on the opposing team, think that Tatis broke one of the sport’s long-standing unwritten rules. That is, when you’re at bat and the count is three balls and no strikes, you do not swing at the next pitch. It’s thought to be even more of a rule when your team is winning by a significant margin, lest you be accused of rubbing it in. (I am explaining this in a little bit of detail for those readers who may not be baseball fans.)
      The Padres were leading the Texas Rangers by seven runs in the eighth inning when Tatis came to bat with the bases-loaded. He had already hit a homerun in the game. The Texas pitcher, who shall go nameless here to spare him further embarrassment, was shaky and threw three straight balls to Tatis. If Tatis followed the unwritten rule, he would not swing at the next pitch on the odds that it would be ball four, he would walk to first base and the runner from third would score. If it was a strike, he would be free to swing at any succeeding pitches.
      But young Fernando gets paid good money to hit home runs and drive in runs, so he swung. The ball soared out of the park for a grand slam homerun and instead of one man walking in with a run, four Padres crossed the plate. Instantly, San Diego was up by 11 runs instead of seven runs.
      The Texans, who eventually lost 14 to 4, complained more about that swing on the 3-0 pitch the next day than how they were embarrassed by the shellacking they had just taken. But a lot of other major league players and managers who were interviewed, including a number of pitchers, said the responsibility is on the pitcher to make a good pitch in that situation and not look for an easy strike expecting that the batter won’t swing. After all, in baseball, as well as other endeavors in life, the idea is to win the game and the more runs you have the more likely you will win. Also, baseball today is different from baseball a generation or two ago. Teams all have young sluggers and score runs in bunches today and seemingly safe leads are no longer safe.
       So I’m with Tatis on this one. I am not a fan of rubbing it in, but even Little League doesn’t say the game is over until one team is ahead by 10 runs. What’s more, it turns out I’m consistent. My Facebook memories the other day included this serendipitous post: “I called the green light for Astros' Carter on 3-0 pitch. You have to know he's swinging. Boom! 3-run shot and Yankees lose. It's not a complicated game.” Aug. 19, 2014. Another slugger in a situation just crying for him to swing at the three and oh.
      By the way … if you want to use politics as a metaphor for life, the Republican Party seems to have come up with an unwritten rule: Do not ever publicly speak ill of the leader. In nearly four years of the Trump Administration, four years of lying, incompetence, race-baiting, dismantling of government safeguards, disregard of the Constitution and all-around ignorance of presidential duties, I have yet to hear one local elected official publicly say a negative word about the party leader. Never mind Congress members; they fear for their “careers.” I’m talking about locals. Apparently, saying he blew it on Covid would be somehow a bad thing for potential voters to hear, deaths notwithstanding. A sign of independent thought? Forbidden. They are “leaders” without courage. An odd combination. Also by the way … the Democratic Party clearly has no such unwritten rule.
       By the way … when I decided to write about unwritten rules I did what everybody does today – I Googled it. Turns out a lot of people have written about unwritten rules. Or rather, a lot of people appear to have written about unwritten rules. One of the things that is abundantly obvious with just a little research is that what looks to be the best current list of unwritten rules has been repackaged, reheadlined and reimagined dozens of times as someone else’s list of unwritten rules. Reddit appears to be the original source of many lists. It includes such handy advice as:
— Don't ask for something if the person only has one left — gum, cigarette, piece of cake, etc.
— If you use up all of the toilet paper, you refill it.
— Don't mess up an apology with an excuse.
— Buy a plunger before you need a plunger.
— When someone shows you a picture on their phone, don't swipe left or right.
— When the host starts cleaning, the party's over and you need to go home.
— Let people get off a bus, train, or elevator before you get on.
    There are plenty more and you can Google them yourself, but my internet-driven unwritten rule is one that reporters learn the first day on the job — cite your source. Don’t take credit for someone else’s work. A few sites who repackaged the Reddit list did (Buzzfeed for one), but many did not. That’s just not nice.
       By the way … speaking of “not nice,” not long ago I led a column with someone else’s spoken, but unwritten rules for life: 1. If it’s not yours, don’t take it; 2. If it’s not true, don’t say it; 3. If it’s not right, don’t do it. The rule-maker prefers to remain anonymous, but I like to think I’ve given them more legitimacy by, you know, writing them down.
       And finally, back to baseball, Texas pitcher Ian Gibaut, who relieved the pitcher who gave up Tatis’ grand slam, was suspended for three games and fined by baseball officials. Gibaut, a rookie, came in and immediately threw a fastball behind San Diego’s next batter, Manny Machado, apparently as a warning for the Padres daring to smack Texas pitching around the park. It’s supposedly another baseball unwritten rule — if you embarrass us by showing our ineptitude, we will throw pitches at you. That’s not exactly an example of number three above, doing the right thing. More like, see how petty we can be. There’s another sports (and politics) unwritten rule: Don’t be a sore loser.
       PS: According to AP, before the controversial game, the 21-year-old Tatis was leading the majors with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. And you groove a pitch to him with the bases loaded? More unwritten rules of life: Don't assume anything. Always RSVP. Never give Fernando Tatis anything but curve balls.
rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Politics in the age of pestilence

By BOB GAYDOS
 Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, on the same team.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, on the same team.
   The job of the next president of the United States is to restore a sense of competency, decency and dignity to the office. Nothing is more important than that. 
     I actually wrote those words about three weeks ago as I worked on a reaction to developments in the Democratic presidential race and various complaints being voiced about the front runners — too old, too radical, too conservative, too male, etc.
     COVID-19, unfortunately, intervened. It also reinforced my belief in that simple campaign slogan: competency, decency, dignity. Put any Democrat’s name in front of it:
     — Joe Biden, competency, decency, dignity.
     — Bernie Sanders, competency, decency, dignity … uh, scratch that campaign, not the sentiment.
     — Andrew Cuomo, competency, decency, dignity. (I know; it’s Joe, but just hold that thought).
     As swiftly as Covid-19 moved through parts of the population, just as swiftly do political stories change. Sanders dropped out and pledged to support Biden just as I was rewriting for Covid. Cuomo burst on the scene just as abruptly, reminding Americans that it is important to have elected officials who are capable, competent and concerned about people’s welfare. Actually, their lives.
     Cuomo’s father, Mario, also a New York governor, once wrestled with the notion of running for president to the point he was dubbed “Hamlet on the Hudson” — to run or not to run. He decided not to at the last moment. Andrew has insisted repeatedly he is not looking to be president.
     Not yet. He’s also a friend of Biden’s. But Democrats can at least rest assured that if something else unforeseen happens between now and their nominating convention in August, they’ve got Bernie and Andrew in the bullpen. Elizabeth Warren, too.
   But the real need now is for Democrats to present, not just a familiar, comfortable name for president, but a super team, if you will, of potential cabinet members and presidential advisors who will reinforce the need to return competency, decency and dignity in the Oval Office.
      The need for competency has been apparent from the first days of the Trump presidency. The administration’s unconscionably inept response to the Covid-19 virus is the predictable result of three-plus years of looking the other way, justifying and making excuses for Trump, a man with no moral compass or sense of responsibility and who is incredibly dumb to boot. His dismissive attitude to doctors and scientists on the handling of the virus has resulted in chaos, fear, panic, a probable recession and death. There is no excusing this arrogant incompetence.
     In the category of decency and dignity, I include a respect for the truth as well as the Constitution. I also include an understanding of this nation's once respected role as the leading voice for freedom and democracy on the planet — a nation represented by the Statue of Liberty, not by an egomaniac’s wall and caged migrant children,
    Regarding the nay-sayers among Democrats … Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both 78 years old. I am 78 years old. If you wanted to dig into my past life and drag out every stupid, profane, dumb, selfish, hurtful thing I have ever said or done, a lot of people probably would say, no, I don’t want him to be president.
     Given that, I still say without hesitation and in all humility, that I believe I would make a much better president than Donald Trump has been (as would a lot of you). That’s because I think I have learned, sometimes the hard way and with age, what is important and what is not so important. I don’t think I’m smarter than trained professionals. And I have a respect for the truth as well as the history of this nation. If you want references, I can probably pick some up.
     But I’m not running for president. Joe Biden is and, until recently, Bernie Sanders was. (Cuomo still says he’s out.) While I can agree and disagree with both men on a variety of issues, I have no doubt that either one would honor the tradition of the office and work immediately from day one to remove the stain that has been Donald Trump. I can say that about every one of the Democratic presidential candidates.                  
      For disappointed Sanders supporters, and they are legion and loyal, the victory can be claimed in his demand for Medicare for all. If the virus has shown anything, it is the utter failure of the American health system to deal efficiently and even-handedly with a health crisis. People should not die because they can’t afford to get tested or there are no tests or they have no insurance for treatment or their governor insulted the president. Not in this country. Biden as president may calm Wall Street worriers, but he must also make Sanders’ central issue part of a Democratic plan to restore America’s legacy of competency, decency and dignity. Sanders for Health Secretary? A thought to build on.
      Having been vice president to Barack Obama for eight years (a source of much of his support), Biden knows how this is done. As the presumptive nominee he should choose a younger female vice presidential running mate and assemble a team of one-time rivals for the presidency as potential cabinet members. Unity must be paramount for Democrats. Take back the country first, then fix all that has been broken. Republicans appear ready to stick with Trump right into the sewer. A united, impressive Democratic team behind Biden can defeat that.
      Also key is voter turnout. Republicans will do anything to keep potential Democratic votes from being cast. They have already shown that. A unified Democratic Party behind Joe Biden, with a plan to make America competent, decent and dignified again should get out the vote. It would help if Obama campaigned. It is also crucial to reclaim the Senate.
     And, as he enters the fourth and last year of his term, President Biden, at age 82, can say he does not intend to seek re-election, paving the way for that younger vice president to continue the restoration project. First remove the stain from the presidential seal, then polish it with gusto.
rjgaydos@gmail.com

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Enjoying The Impossible without guilt

Burger King’s Impossible Whopper

By Bob Gaydos
     If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
     I’m talking about the Impossible Burger, obviously.
     In a recent column about a young man who couldn’t believe I didn’t eat bacon (not fanatically, just practically, for health reasons), I ventured into a discussion of the new plant-based burgers that have quickly become popular and promised to write a review as soon as I found a place that served them.
      Thank you, Burger King in Warwick, N.Y. My partner and I do not frequent fast-food establishments, but we recently had some unexpected time to kill and went to the nearest Burger King, specifically looking for the Impossible Burger to satisfy our curiosity.
       There it was on the menu — the Impossible Whopper. Two please, with cheese. No fries.
       The first reaction will be hers, sitting across from me in the booth:
       Bite.
       “Incredible.”
       Bite.
       “It looks like meat.”
        Bite
        “It acts like meat.”
        Bite.
        “It tastes like meat.”
        ... “Delicious.”
         I agree. If you didn’t know it was a meatless burger, you wouldn’t be able to tell. We were satisfied. It’s possible.
          My partner hasn’t had a beef hamburger in more years than she can remember. She also doesn’t eat red meat. But if we have a yearning for a burger, she’s hooked. We now know where to go to satisfy it without feeling guilty.
          However, some vegans and vegetarians, the ones you might think would appreciate this culinary development the most, are not thrilled with this “meaty” hamburger concocted in a lab. Strict vegetarians, in fact, are reportedly turned off by the taste of the Impossible Burger. They say it tastes and acts too much like real meat. It stirs up feelings of guilt and worse.
        And some vegans are upset — even feel cheated by Burger King — because the Impossible Whopper is cooked on the same grill as the beef burgers. To them, this is an unacceptable mingling of beef product with plant product. One customer has even filed a lawsuit against Burger King for false advertising, although it doesn’t appear that the company has ever advertised the product as vegan.
      Burger King did say at the introduction of the new item that the Impossible Burger would be cooked on the same grill as its beef and chicken products, but customers could request that their Impossible Whoppers be cooked by a “non-broiler option.” The oven. The company says this offer stands. But until this lawsuit it was not well-publicized and most customers are probably not aware of it. In truth, most customers don’t care.
      And there apparently are a lot of customers for the new product. The Impossible Burger, the Beyond Meat burger and other new, plant-based meat substitutes are growing in popularity with a group of people to which I may belong – flexitarians. Who knew?
        I came upon this new category in my research on meat substitutes. It’s apparently a real word that was coined in the 1990s, a combination of flexible and vegetarian. One online dictionary tells me that a flexitarian is ”a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.” 
According to that definition, I am probably a flexitarian wannabe, since, while I eat plenty of vegetables, I eat poultry or fish more than occasionally.
       Another source says that, basically, flexitarians are omnivores who are trying to reduce the amount of meat in their diet, for health, environmental and ethical reasons. These are not people who don’t eat red meat or won’t eat burgers, but are happy to be able to enjoy the taste of a burger without the beef from time to time.
        It’s about being flexible (or balanced), which to me is a recipe for good health. The meatless burgers are processed, offering less protein and less fat than beef burgers and, like beef burgers, probably too much sodium if consumed regularly. The Impossible Whopper’s calorie count is about the same as regular Whoppers, about 630. Beyond Meat burgers, which are rumored to be coming to McDonald’s sometime in the near future, are non-GMO. Impossible burgers do contain GMO‘s. If this matters to you, take your pick. Flexibility.
        Right now I’m curious to compare the Impossible Whopper with the Beyond Meat burger and, while we don’t have a Burger King in our neighborhood, we do have a McDonald’s. As a wannabe flexitarian, I’m willing to share the appreciation.

rjgaydos@gmail.com
         

Take me to your leader: A fable?

By Bob Gaydos
Emperor Diocletian, of Rome

They really should have known better. After all, the evidence was there from the beginning. The erratic, impulsive behavior. The fascination with the spotlight. The ignorance and pettiness. The lying, cheating, arrogance and lack of empathy. It was a show. Always, just a show. Not surprising for a veteran of what was known as reality TV.
     Yet the people of The Promised Land elected him to be their leader, even though he made it pretty clear to anyone who paid attention to his street brawl of a campaign that he didn’t really want the job, just the attention and prestige that went with it. Run for leader. Insult everyone. Wow the audience. Maybe stir up new business for his brand-name empire … Sell the name. It was always about selling the name.
    It worked. Sort of. The other major candidate, a woman, was clearly more qualified for the job. Smarter. More experienced in government and diplomacy. Familiar with the constitution. And her husband had been elected leader in the past, twice. She understood the tremendous responsibility that went with the honor.
    In truth, many citizens saw The Showman for what he was and did not like him or vote for him. However, many other citizens, saying they did not like her because she was too something or other (traits usually overlooked in males) chose not to vote at all or to vote for a third candidate with no chance of winning. A protest of sorts, they said. He’s obviously unqualified, but we just don’t like her, was the reasoning.
      She still got the most votes, but that didn’t matter under the arcane voting system used in The Promised Land that emphasized geography rather than actual numbers of people. Also, he cheated. He got secret help from another country, ironically (to all but him), a country which had long been an unfriendly rival for world leadership. The Other Land and The Promised Land had waged what was described as a Cold War for decades, stockpiling weapons and forming alliances with other nations. The Promised Land had emerged victorious in that struggle, so the Other Land was glad to help disrupt The Promised Land campaign and infiltrate voting systems to provide just enough geographical votes for The Showman to win. A “leader” who could be bought.
      The investigations started immediately because there were actually laws prohibiting such interference in the country’s elections. Those who had written the laws a long time ago feared influence over a leader who was beholden to foreign powers for their help in getting him elected.
    Their wisdom was quickly validated as many early decisions made by the new, unprepared leader were to the benefit of The Other Land. He also filled key government positions and judgeships with people who were as equally unprepared or equally self-serving as he, or both.
     Worst of all, the delegates who had been elected to Congress to write the laws and to provide a check on the leader — at least those delegates from his same political party — chose instead to overlook or defend his inexplicable, often cruel, decisions.
     Of course, they knew who he was from his well-documented past and his ruthless campaign and had almost universally condemned him at first. But once he demonstrated that through his support among rank-and-file party members he had political power over their careers, his onetime critics bowed and kowtowed. They had staked their careers on the votes of people who were, in many ways, as ignorant, petty, boorish, racist, selfish and uncaring as their leader. None of the delegates had the courage to resist. Those who shared his views, of course, simply hoped to get rich in the process.
      It didn’t take long for the unraveling of the veneer of civilized governing to begin. The leader spent most of his time playing golf, watching television and sending messages to the people via social media. He gave his adult children “advisory“ roles in his administration. He chose people to lead various departments of government whose main mission was to dismantle those departments. He rekindled feelings of racism and distrust of immigrants among those citizens who had previously been outvoted by the nation’s more welcoming and open-minded citizens. He ignored all his campaign promises and lied about “accomplishments“ daily. His supporters cheered.
      In just two years, The Promised Land had lost its standing as the respected, trusted leader of the free world. He insulted its longtime allies and, instead, courted leaders who were as ruthless and thuggish as he. Murderers. All the while, he also saw to it that his private business interests gained financially from his position as leader. He insulted his generals, his senior diplomatic advisers, top law-enforcement officials and anyone who dared to disagree with him. He fired the top law-enforcement official who was investigating foreign interference in his election. Still, his party members in the Congress supported him and resisted any efforts to remove him from office.
      Inevitably, being someone who never learned from his mistakes — actually never admitted any mistakes —  The Showman went looking for help from yet another country to help solidify the position which he hoped would become leader-for-life. He would withhold aid to Newkraine unless its leaders agreed to try to dig up some dirt on a political rival. He also abandoned longtime allies on the battlefield, leading top military leaders and even some of his own party supporters to criticize him.
     The opposition party, having gained some power in the Congress because of his erratic behavior, began a serious attempt to remove him from power, using the laws of the nation as their guide. In response, some of his followers in the citizenry threatened civil war were he to be removed. Leaders of an extreme religious cult, which had supported his every immoral act, warned of eternal damnation for those who would dare to try to remove him from office. After all, he had been sent by God.
    All the while, he lied, as did his closest aides, often contradicting themselves and compromising him in the process. To them it didn’t matter. Until of course it did. To him. He fired those who couldn’t keep up with his lies and managed to find others willing to try. He called those who criticized him or were testifying against him “scum.“
     By this point, even most of the citizens of The Promised Land had grown weary of The Showman and wary of what he might do next as commander-in-chief with an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
     What he did was order his loyal supporters among congressional delegates to storm the private, top security hearing in which an official investigation was being conducted into his efforts to extort help from Newkraine for his political purposes. They were ineffectual, but to him it didn’t matter. They had served a purpose. These lawmakers were demonstrating that the law didn’t matter, just as he had been insisting on a daily basis that the truth didn’t matter. “The press is the enemy of the people,“ was his motto. 
     In the end, only he mattered. More to the point, he knew full well, only the next season mattered. Could his show survive for another season? That was the overriding question, not global warming or terrorism. He knew from his reality TV experience that the best way to guarantee success was to foment friction, create turmoil and drama, play to people‘s fears and biases, do the unexpected. Create suspense. Make people long for a hero who would just make it all stop.
       “Make me leader again,“ he would say. The people of The Promised Land would cheer. His contract would be renewed for another season. Reality. He knew that from the beginning. They should have known, too.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A life without bacon? Not impossible

By Bob Gaydos
    
   “You don’t eat bacon!?”
      The look of incredulity on the speaker’s face matched the tone in his voice.
       “No,” I replied. “I don’t.”
        End of conversation. At least the out-loud part.
       “What, are you a commie? Un-American? A vegan!?” I said silently to myself, imagining I could read his mind.
       Then, out loud again, “I don’t eat red meat either.”
       “Yeah, my doctor told me I shouldn’t either,” Mr. Incredulous offered. “Not good for my heart.”
        I nodded knowingly.
        He went back to his slice of Buffalo chicken/bacon/ranch pizza and I dove into my taco salad (with grilled chicken). By looks of the size of the guy and his relatively young age, I surmised his doctor was probably right. But not for me to say, at least under the circumstances (in public, others at the table and none of my business).
        I don’t go around making a big deal about what I eat and try not to comment on what others eat, or should eat. But I notice. I notice that a lot of Americans seem to have  difficulty making the connection between how they eat — what they eat, more than how much — and their general well-being:
       — “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but I love cookies and candy and cake and soda …” 
       — “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger deluxe, but leave off the lettuce and tomato. No pickle, but I’ll take the fries.”
       — “Diet Coke, please.”
       — “I hate salad.”
      And of course, there’s an out-of-shape, orange-skinned septuagenarian in the Oval Office who lives on burgers, fries, fried chicken, steak and ice cream. He has also effectively disbanded the President’s Council on Fitness and ended Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-free school lunch program.
     So what the heck, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for us, a lot of Americans have apparently decided. Man or woman cannot live on kale alone, right?
      Right. But man or woman is likely to live a longer, healthier life if a few greens and assorted vegetables were a more common part of their diet. The chief rap on bacon and red meats, healthwise, is that they’re loaded with saturated fats, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and stroke. That’s why the doctor told Mr. Incredulous to lay off the bacon.
      But a lot of people (myself included) don’t like to be told to do what’s ultimately good for them. In fact, they will often do the opposite. There’s a lot of that going around these days in this age of anti-science and constant accusations of “fake news.” Willful ignorance is now brandished the way a gold star from the teacher used to be.
       So how do you get people to do what’s good for them (and also, by the way, the planet)? How do you convince people to occasionally eat more healthful food when they are hooked on beef, bacon and burgers?
       Well, maybe you figure out a way to blend a bunch of plants together and make them look and taste like a beef burger.
        Welcome to the Impossible Burger, now available at Burger King. Or the PLT Burger from Beyond Meat, about to get a test run from McDonald’s.
       What’s different about these and other new, plant-based burgers that are causing a stir in fast-food lines as well as the stock market apparently is that — unlike the well-meaning veggie burgers that have been around for years — these Whoppers and Not a Burgers actually look and taste like beef burgers. Juice and all. But they’re vegan. No animal byproducts at all.
      I’m thus far unable to provide a personal review of one of these plant-based burgers because I haven’t found a place serving one yet. When I do, I will.
       But it is worth pointing out that the plant-based burgers themselves, even if they turn out to be juicy and yummy are themselves a mixed bag, health-wise. For starters, they have been heavily processed to attain the desired taste and texture and the jury is out on the health effects of a lot of the additives. Also, they can be high on calories and tend to be heavy on salt, which is definitely not a health benefit. They also have less protein than animal-based burgers and, while they contain no cholesterol and have added some vital nutrients, they may have some saturated fats from coconut.
      In other words, the jury’s still out.
      So why bother? For one thing, eating even a little less red meat is good for one’s health. For another, relying more on plants, less on animals, for food, is good for the planet. Livestock farming is a major contributor to global warming (greenhouse gasses, ammonia) and a major consumer of water and user of land. People who believe in science think global warming is the major issue of our time. (As we know, the Oval Office burger-muncher is not a science believer.) And for some, there is the benefit of knowing that no animals lost their lives so they could enjoy lunch.
        I’m no purist in this area. As I said, my taco salad was topped with chicken. I also eat seafood, including sushi. But I don’t run from salads, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and love non-dairy frozen desserts as well as frozen yogurt. My favorite non-beef burger thus far has been a black bean burger. Delicious, especially with sweet potato fries.
      I guess my point, which I wrote about several years ago when a doctor told me it would behoove me to cut down on the sweets, salt and red meat, is that it is entirely possible to enjoy eating and also enjoy good health. Take fewer meds. I tried to follow the doctor’s suggestion. She said most don’t. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits. Medical costs have soared.
      I still do the best I can. Lost a bunch of weight and I am in pretty good health for an old curmudgeon. No meds. Wear a size 36 belt. I don’t feel deprived because I avoid bacon. Oh, in a weak moment, I might actually grab a piece. I haven’t yet, but that’s all it would be. A piece. It’s all about balance. Given my usual diet, it won’t kill me to have a slice of bacon. Then again, between you and me, it wouldn’t kill Mr. Incredulous to try a nice Greek Salad once in awhile. Or at least an Impossible Burger.
      
rjgaydos@gmail.com