Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The only thing we have to fear

Each day I get the “Men’s Health Daily Dose” conveniently delivered right into my email in-box suggesting I should “Steal These Secrets to Be a Master of Any Grill,” or promising I can “Crush Belly Fat with Just Two Exercise,” or that I can “Discover the Greatest Sex Positions for Every Penis Size.”

Yeah, I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “but John you all ready have discovered the secrets of being a master-griller.”

Thanks. It’s true.

And, well, in all modestly, I must say I really don’t need to discover the greatest sex positions for every penis size.

I really just need to discover the greatest sex position for one penis size.

Anyway, some years ago, I don’t even remember, I must have bought a book that would “Shred My Abs in 28 days,” or something like that, got on the Men’s Health email list, and never bothered to unsubscribe. About 50% of the time I delete the Daily Dose. 40% of the time I sort of skim the article. The remaining 10% I might actually read. Today’s I read. The headline: “Is It Safe to Eat Tuna Fish Every Day?

I like tuna. I used to eat lots of tuna. Maybe 3-4 cans per week. It’s inexpensive and a great source of protein. The dudes in the gym can tell you how great a source of protein it is. Lately I have been eating less as I have been eating less meat in general. But there was something about the headline that caught my attention, so I read it.

The article was about tuna and mercury. All seafood contains some mercury but tuna, a top-feeding predator, contains more than others. The article offers a formula based on body weight, type of tuna, and how much you can eat based on either the EPA or CDC recommended limits.

That’s right. There are two different limits. And get this: For the EPA it's .7 micrograms per kilogram of body weight and for the CDC it's 2.1 micrograms per kilogram.

CDC’s limit is 3 times as much as the EPA’s. 3 times! That’s quite a disparity. It would be kind of like the FDA saying, “we think the average American should consume a 2000-calorie per day diet.” And USDA saying, “Meh. We think 6000-calories per day is just fine. Plus it’s good for our farmers!”

By itself, this “big-federal-government’s-right-hand-not-knowing-what-its-left-is-doing” sort of thing would be worthy of a blog-length rant. And yet this is not what I want to share. What I want to share is the sadness I experienced as I read through the article.

Here is the source of my sadness: How did we get to a point where we have come to accept our heavy-metal, neurotoxin-tainted seafood to the point where the question is: How much mercury in my tuna can I eat? Shouldn’t the question, and article headline, be something like: “What the Hell is Mercury Doing in My Tuna?

Yeah, sure, occasionally there is some article or activity to raise awareness of food safety, but its usually around an e-coli outbreak. Let’s be honest. We don’t really care about this low-level poisoning. There is mercury in our food and, well, I guess that’s just how it is these days.

But we do get upset. About some things. Very well meaning folks still get all up in arms about the “harmful affects” of vaccinations even though that science was debunked years ago. And schools are closing and hand-sanitizer sales are up as “Ebola-panic,” a virulent form of fear that seems impossible to contain, breaks out across the land. Congressmen and women are calling to ban flights into the USA from West Africa. Messages of calm and restraint are met with calls and tweets for the CDC's chief to resign! Meanwhile the number of Ebola cases in the USA remains lower than the number of deaths each year from the scourge of deep-fried turkeys.

Where are the Congressional hearings on that? How do we know there it isn’t some shady terrorist outfit that has infiltrated cable-TV cooking shows luring na├»ve Americans into putting their American lives at stake by deep-frying a most American food on the most American holiday? How do we know if that is not happening?

The scary truth? We don’t.

Photo by kennejima (Flickr link)
Now back to that mercuried tuna: Efforts to shut-down coal plants are seen as a “war on coal” missing the point that those coal burning plants are what are putting that mercury into the atmosphere to rain down into rivers and oceans for fish to absorb and for us to eat in our tuna. With mayo. And onion. With a slice of tomato and melted cheddar on a lightly toasted sourdough.  Mmmm.

I know we all say we just want to live happy, safe lives. At least I do. I say it. But I wonder. I wonder if the truth isn’t closer to secretly wanting to be afraid all time; being on guard against something, whatever it is, just so we can exist at a heightened state of anxiety and readiness. Maybe it gives us a sense of purpose to worry about such things just outside our actual control. Maybe it is an evolutionary adaptation that conveys a survival advantage when poisonous snakes are around and saber-toothed tigers are licking their chops waiting to eat us. Being an all-the-time, on-alert Homo Erectus probably helped.

But those days are passed. Not everything is out to get us but we haven't evolved enough to proportionally allocate our worry according to the statistical probabilities. Rather the media hype-machine pulls our fight-or-flight triggers shooting warm rushes of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol through our frightened bloodstream. We get scared, then angry. It feels good. And just think how boring it would it be, day-after-day, to listen to Fox News or MSNBC open with: “Tragedy again today as 1,579 Americans died from various forms of heart disease. Let’s go to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for this troubling development.”

Who wants to hear that every night? That's boring. I might as well just make myself a sandwich then go to bed.

Now, where did I put the can opener?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A post post-season post

It’s hard enough to wake up at 6:30 a.m. for school in this last month. This last month of daylight savings and baseball. It’s getting darker each day and though the solstice is two and a half months away, we are in the darkest of days. Our beloved home team Nationals lost 3 games to 1 against the Giants in the so-called National League Division Series. I still call it the playoffs but that doesn’t matter. All that matters now is that we lick our wounds and figure out how to move on.

For moving on, at least in this baseball post-season, we are somewhat fortunate to have a secondary home team. The Orioles, just 30 miles up the road, are the home team for many in our area. But where we live in Maryland, saddled up against the border of the nation’s capital, is solid Nationals territory. And though the O’s are as good a team as any to root for, the aging, but still reviled owner, Peter Angelos, and his all-out campaign to thwart locating a professional baseball team in Washington, D.C. will forever prevent anything more than a passing interest from this writer. It’s one thing, perhaps, to forgive. It’s another to forget.

View of Nats Park from Center Field
Our Nats were a mere 62 days old when my younger son was born. And his older brother was two months shy of three-years-old on the very first Nats opening day. Thus, unlike older kids (and adults) around here, they have no real experience of not having a home team. I grew up in South Jersey as a Phillies fan. I suffered through the mid-70’s then came of baseball age during the late 70’s and early 80’s glory years of Phillies baseball (and Philadelphia sports in general). Thus, I also don’t have the same experience many have around here of not having a baseball team. Older kids and adults who came of age after the second incarnation of the Senators fled to Texas in 1971, and before the Nats arrived in 2005, are naturally inclined to be O’s fans. And that is okay for them. All that is to say is we have not suffered that pain of that loss. The Nationals are my boy’s birth team and my adopted team. 

Two years ago we watched from the left field stands in utter dismay as our boys collapsed in what is one of the greatest implosions in sports, giving up a 6-run lead and the decisive game to the Cardinals. This year's Nats seemed stronger, firmer, more tested than the 2012 version but the outcome was about the same. Our 2014 Nats held the scores tighter and were in every game. The pitching, with a few notable gaffes, was strong. Our hitting, however, with the exception of youngsters Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, never left the dugout. And rookie Manager Matt Williams is taking plenty of heat for his stubborn orthodoxy which put a little-tested rookie reliever in a most critical game and situation while more seasoned, and perhaps able, relievers watched from the bullpen.

And that is the way with a 5-game series. Enough has been written about the unfairness of it all: Playing 162 games to then have to face another good, if not excellent, team in a best of 5 hardly seems right or fair. As a result, in the postseason, every move, every pitch, and each at bat take on a magnified meaning.

The baseball gods are trickster gods. And they will turn even the slightest miscue into folly. Throwing to the wrong base on a bunt?  2 runs. A late inning walk to load the bases? Wild pitch. Can’t field a bunt at all? The baseball gods will frown on that for sure. In the regular season a deflected ball off the pitcher’s glove is little cause for concern. In the postseason it’s a death sentence. Which is why, of all the sports, the lessons of life are found most in baseball. Just like in baseball, in life, not everything is right or fair.

Baseball is a team sport comprised of individual performances. Pitcher against batter. The lone outfielder sprinting for a ball. An infielder's errant throw. The team wins or looses and can do so on the heroics or failure of one individual. There are times when a team rallies to shield the miscue and all is well, like the epic 15-inning come from behind game against the Dodgers in LA in September. We thought the baseball gods were smiling on our boys then. Now we know they had more devious plans in store.

And just like in life, in baseball there is always the possibility of redemption. Or perhaps not possibility, but hope. Redemption may not happen today. Or tomorrow. It may be next year. Hopefully. For some, redemption takes years. And patience is only rewarded after interminable waiting. Ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan.

For us Washington Nationals fans, there is the hope of next year. Pitchers and catchers report in four and a half months.

And I like our chances.