Friday, April 24, 2015

Use it or lose it? I say use it!

Exercise is extremely important to prolong health.  The women in this photo exercise 5 or more times a week.
I wrote about our trip to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado recently and one startling fact stood out to both my bride and I.  There is an obesity epidemic here in Baytown.  Wait a second, don’t stop reading; not yet anyway.  I’ll try not to be offensive.

Granted we only met 5 Texans on our 1 week long trip, as maybe 50% of the people I talked to were from other countries and almost to the person, they were thinner than what is the norm here.  The other 49% were Yankee snow birds and for the most part, thinner also.  But of those 5, 3 were over weight.

I guess Tex-Mex food is the culprit, or maybe it is our high summer humidity.  The winters are wet and cold also.  We have a high spring and fall pollen count!  Yes, that’s why we all stay inside and eat… a lot.  It’s simply not our fault that we can’t get in shape.

I've been threatening (myself) to run a 5k, so I did. However, my mile times were dismal. I jogged the whole time and ended up the 3.1 mile course with 11.24 per mile. I probably could have picked it up, but I needed a baseline. BTW, the Blue Heron Park pond loop is .68 miles around. 1K is .62, so each lap is a good 1K. 9 times around is 6.1 miles or just short of a 10K.

Back in my prime, I ran a sub 6 minute mile on a regular basis and often went under 9 minutes for the mile and a half.  So 11.24 for a mile seems very slow to me.  As an adult, I ran many 10K fun runs and that’s what they were, as I wasn’t competing.  I was always happy to finish the 6.2 miles in under 48 minutes.  I’ve always contended that if you jog a mile in under 8 minutes, you are no longer jogging, but running.  Maybe some coach or trainer can correct me?

I tried to find out who coined the term “use it or lose it” with no luck, but the definition is this:  If a person doesn't exercise his or her physical body, he or she will likely lose strength, stamina and endurance.  Note: Thank the Lord, Hanoi Jane didn’t coin it.

Now this is the test part.  If you can’t get off the couch at 40, you will be pushing a walker by the time you are in your 50’s.  My Vietnam Veteran buddy Ren Fitts has quite a few war-related injuries and although not an old man, he was headed for total knee replacements.  What jerked him sideways was when the doctor told him he had better get used to the idea of using a walker, because the next step is a wheel chair.  This scared him and the man doesn’t scare easily.

Guess what?  Ren joined the gym and began using the swimming pool and treadmill.  The pounds are coming off and so is the pressure on his knees.  His wife is discovering amazing results also.  Ren is a big guy and needs to get more weight off, but he is doing something about that due to his new vision of what he needs to do.  The doctor now tells him he doesn’t need full knee replacements and his surgery will be in and out with a great recovery time.

The Spin class set up to face each other for
competition doing sprints.
At 62, I still have some 10,000 meter fun runs in my future.  My 5000 meter run was just the beginning, but only I can make myself do it.  I have to use it or lose it.  At one time, like karate, running was my life.  Like Mr. Gump, if I was going somewhere, I ran.

I talked to a lady on the pond track the other day and told her about a software App called “Map my run”.  It’s free and once installed on your phone, it will track your time, distance and it even has the route mapped out.  She hopes to run again some day and I told her when she can walk a mile in under 15 minutes, she should consider jogging.

She worried about her knees and was indeed over-weight, but I told her when she can get under 15 minutes, that weight won’t be there.  Every pound you can remove brings relief to those knees.  Use it or lose it folks.  If things have progressed to the point that walking and running are too hard on your joints, go do the pool exercise.  When the strength comes back and the pounds fall off, you will be surprised what you can do again.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism - an article by Helen Snider

Vietnam Veterans, Alcoholism, and a New Perspective

Every Vietnam veteran is a hero but it would seem that not everyone remembers that: In fact, the issues faced by Vietnam veterans have been sorely overlooked by the central Government since the end of the conflict and this continues to this day. Approximately nine million American men entered military service during the lengthy process of the Vietnam war (which has the dubious honor of being America’s longest war) and yet public spending on veterans has been consistently low and consistently inconsistent (with the average vet in Boston receiving $25,000 per annum in benefits, whilst the average vet in Cape Cod receives just $5,500 per annum in benefits, for example). This poor treatment has served to exacerbate feelings of being disconnected from society for some veterans, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug misuse, and other mental health disorders cause by trauma.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism

60 to 80 per cent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder
 (PTSD) are also presenting with some form of alcohol abuse. The Veterans Administration who primarily deal with the care of veterans from Vietnam conservatively estimate that between 500,000 and 700,000 of Vietnam veterans are still experiencing severe mental and social problems related to their experiences whilst they were in Vietnam. Significant numbers of this vast number of men are also alcoholics. In layman’s terms, these men are choosing to use alcohol to numb the pain and attempt to erase the memories of what they experienced when they were on active duty in Vietnam.  It is interesting that most veterans choose alcohol rather than illicit drugs, no doubt because of the socially acceptable nature of choosing to drink a beer or head to a bar: staying within the confines of the law and under the radar of what is societally normal is important here. It is clear, then, that alcoholism is a problem and has been a problem for many Vietnam Vets.

Treatment Options

Treatment plans for alcoholic veterans, particularly those veterans who are also presenting with some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, has always been vigorous and intensive. Often involving intensive therapy with a trained psychologist, the two conditions are treated simultaneously. Group counselling is recommended as the most successful form of treatment, which is generally offered in VA centers alongside other veterans, as many emotionally battered Veterans, particularly those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, struggle to trust or connect to others but find it easier to open up to and forge relationships with those that have experienced the same war time situations of themselves. The goal of those counselling sessions and treatment plans is to cure both the PTSD and the alcoholism with complete abstinence and sobriety.

Yet a new perspective posed by new research from the FDA could change that, although no one knows yet what impact this might have on veterans. Sobriety has always been the main goal of all alcoholic rehabilitation programs: this includes both expensive residential rehabilitation centers and the free AA support groups that are held in every town up and down the country. Now though the FDA have turned this on its head by suggesting that complete sobriety now doesn’t have to be the sole goal of treatment for alcoholism. In February they drafted an article that proposed that sobriety and complete abstinence was no longer essential for an alcoholic to no longer be considered ‘sober’: instead reduced drinking and consistent ‘non heavy drinking’ days would have the same effect. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that alcoholics are, by the very nature of their condition, unable to have just a drink or two and that they will always be vulnerable to the impact of ingesting alcohol regularly.                     

How this new report will affect the treatment plans of vulnerable Vietnam veterans is yet to be seen: the concept of allowing an alcoholic to still drink regularly seems counterproductive to the hard work of the therapy and counselling they have already undertaken. And these brave veterans who have already given so much for their country certainly don’t deserve to be used as guinea pigs to test this new theory from the FDA.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The bigger the lie

Politics.  Nothing has changed in all the hundreds of years that law makers have stood before the masses and projected themselves as “champions” of truth.  Americans went through about a 20 year period of head in the sand ignorance, but we are returning to the days of the Lincoln – Douglas debates; thank God.  This go around the main issue isn’t slavery, or immigration, or race relations.
It’s getting the United States of America back into the hands of the people voting and just like in the 1860’s Americans are wising up.  We are listening, but folks, let’s actually listen this go around.

Politicians in general are currently viewed as self-serving professional wallet-skinners and I am right there with this assessment.  As my Nigerian-born friend George Eligiri once told me about Nigerian politicians, “once they go back to make radical changes in the system, they are instantly corrupted and join the problem.”

I think the cancerous environment of law-making is so overwhelming; no one survives their initial intentions of making changes.  No politician, regardless of what their political flavor, can get anything accomplished without massive trade-offs or outright finagling.

Yes.  I said finagling and we’ve seen this so abundantly that it is almost expected.  Mrs. Clinton is a prime example.  Her trail is so littered with dubious and dishonest (either by commission or omission) finagling that she dismisses with an almost flippant sarcasm; belligerently daring anyone to question her.  The bigger the lie the more people will accept it.  On top of that, her erased email server screams guilt.  Her reaction is pure contempt that her integrity is even questioned.

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

In my April first column, titled: “The dog catchers bacon”, I talked about a fictitious character who drove around in the shadows, basically identified only by his broad and friendly smile and the crispy bacon.  In the story, every hair on my head stood up in warning, but I was drawn in by his smile and the wonderful fragrance of his gifts.  These two wonders caused me to drop my guard, even though everything about the man was blatantly wrong.

In the parody, I somehow came to my senses before I gave up my two prized possessions (read my rights and property or if this doesn’t make sense, my two dogs).  The sneaky thief who almost beguiled me with false promises skedaddled in a cloud of smoke and I was so confused, I couldn’t even file a police report.  Thus I was manipulated for the whole process to repeat itself, most likely in another guise.  That is exactly how our political pundits survive to stay in a position of power.

The bigger their lie – Remember Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook”, or Hillary’s husband, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”?  J Edgar Hoover stayed in power for years by spying on everyone.  No one said a word when he was recognized at parties dressed as a woman – a very ugly woman too.  This was conservative America and folks we tight-lipped as a clam.  The bigger the lie the more people will accept it.

Has our President fulfilled any of the promises and hope that won him the vaunted Nobel Peace Prize?  He won it on hope and a promise.  In doing so, he devalued the prize exponentially, just like his crony Al Gore did.  The bigger the inconvenient truth the more people will accept it.

Giving these guys a Nobel Peace Prize pretty much means Ernest P. Worrell should be awarded one for bringing hope to children who feel they cannot excel.

My dogcatcher story was so preposterous, it became credible to some.  3 TV stations called me, the Baytown Sun, and even the Baytown Police Department’s Lt. Eric Freed for a follow up.  I was standing in Sedona, Arizona when my phone rang April 1st after the story ran.  “Is this Bert Marshall?  This is ____ at Fox News in Pennsylvania, we want to do a follow-up on the dog catcher story…”

I grinned and said, “Are you a journalist?”  She said she was and I told her it was a political satire piece for April Fools Day.  I heard her yell to someone, “Oh!  It’s an April Fools prank!”  She then hung up.  My first thought was, “Geeze, don’t journalist’s comprehend what they read any more?”

Nope, the bigger the lie the more people will accept it, so get ready to hear about a year’s worth of verbal dodgeball while we try to elect a pre-selected politician who actually cares about the people.  Oh, the quote in paragraph 6 is by the propaganda minister of the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels and was paraphrasing from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blood, Some Sweat, and Possibly… Fears?

I stood about a mile down the Bright Angel Trail inside the Grand Canyon in sunny Arizona and heard a 10 year old teary-eyed girl complain “We could have gone to Disneyland”.   Before her parents could reply, I said, “I felt the same way when I was your age, but now I realize my parents gave me experiences I could never duplicate in an amusement park.”

Her mom and dad just shook their heads knowingly and my beautiful bride and I turned and began the descent to the 1.5 mile house below.  My wife didn’t correct me for speaking out and I thank her for that, but what I said was the truth.  No man-made faux entertainment facade can duplicate God’s creations.   I know, as my Dad made sure I saw raw nature growing up as we meandered coast to coast.

The Bright Angel Trail begins at the rim the Grand Canyon and to put this place into perspective, let me relive my first glimpse into the giant crack. 

We drove my Jeep from Baytown to Clovis, New Mexico the first day – 700 miles.  That is a long way in a lifted Jeep running 4.88 gears and 35 inch tires.  Day two found us in incredible Sedona, New Mexico.  I say incredible because it is a Mecca of trails, hiking, and ATV off-roading and this appeals to the freedom-loving side of our psyche.

We wanted to hike to Cathedral Rock and not knowing the ins and outs, we were disappointed when the parking area was full.  We were redirected 2 miles away to the auxiliary parking lot.  To put it in plain English, I was PO’d, as in “not particularly happy”.  Well, it turned out that this redirect was a blessing in disguise, as the 4.5 hour round trip hike on the trail was exactly what we physically wanted.  It also prepped us for the big crack hike.

The other way was a round trip of about an hour and the easy way in and out and not at all what we wanted.  Sometimes our path is not our own, but exactly what we need.  Think about that a moment.  If I was a Bible preacher, that would preach.  It would preach good.  Adversity is actually our friend.

We wanted to do more there and we did, seeing ancient cliff dwellings and because of my Dad and Mom, I have an appreciation of such historical sites.  Wrapping up, we drove north for the Grand Canyon and the historic El Tovar hotel – the one where Teddy Roosevelt stayed – and Sir Paul McCartney.  Some of its attraction is lost on me though – like no elevator and almost non-existent Internet service.  Old Teddy probably didn’t notice.

Well, seeing we had already hiked through some clothes, we had to make a laundry run and this took a couple of hours after check in.  Neither my bride nor I wanted to hit the sack before seeing the actual Grand Canyon, so we stepped off the 100 yards or so to the rim behind the hotel to get our first look at the big crack.

Holy Evil Knievel!  Talk about something bigger than what you can imagine!

I immediately stepped back and took a deep breath.  I had a feeling of acrophobia, mixed with a healthy dose of vertigo after looking over the measly 4 foot stone wall.  Abyss!  Honest as the day is long, I looked down on the stone path next to me only to see where some soul had lost their supper.  I can’t think of a better way to explain what the first sight of the Grand Canyon is, than to say someone took one look and tossed their cookies.

To sum up a challenging and vigorous hike, my Bride I and carrying around 15 pounds of water each, made it to Indian Gardens and back in 7.5 hours.  That is a 3800 feet descent and back.  That year of training at the gym named after the clock paid off.  Although others do it faster, most don’t, regardless of their ages.

One bizarre observation I had visiting all the State Parks was the total lack of Texans.  We met only 5 in a week of travels, 3 of which were working concessions. I made it a point to question probably 60% of hikers we encountered.  Most were from other countries and continents,  Poles, Israelis, French, German, Russians, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Britain’s - you name it, we met them.

The rest of my encounters were Americans from the northern part of the US, escaping the cold.

Do American’s visit our national parks?  Are we shallow amusement park people only?  Are we really this plastic?  Are the YouTube videos of Americans being out of touch with everything except sports and the entertainment industry actually true?  We talked at length with a French couple at the highest point in Mesa Verde for a half hour and they had been touring America for… 5 months!

Do foreigners know more about our history and geography than we do?  I shudder to think this is true, but all evidence in our parks and historical sites points in this direction.  I want more.  I want to see and experience more of our history.  I don’t want to repeat it; I just want to recognize it.  I want to “be it”.

The drive to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in my Jeep probably cost me twice the cost of gas of a passenger car, but we did it and we did it in American style.  I think the miles added up to over 3000 and we enjoyed every second of our American road trip.  Oh yea, the money we spent stayed in America too.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

It's all so clear now!

After reading about PAD, or peripheral arterial disease in Wednesday's Baytown Sun, I realized I must have this malady.  It all became so clear. Although this is sad news, it's actually good news because I can finally pinpoint all these weird and bizarre symptoms I occasionally (read: quite often) experience.

In case you skipped over (read: didn't bother to read) the informative article I'll 'splain it briefly.  “PAD is a common but serious form of vascular disease caused by a build up of plaque in the major arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your legs, feet, arms and pelvis”.

Common side-effects are: “cramp-like” leg muscle fatigue or heaviness, pain and discomfort that occur in the buttocks, thigh or calf muscles while walking or climbing stairs.  I can honestly and truthfully confess that I have these symptoms in Spin class and while hiking!  Especially the buttocks part and it usually starts about 30 minutes into the class.  My legs begin to have those classic cramp-like fatigue and heaviness symptoms too, especially when we do an extend five minute uphill pedal.  I can't for the life of me believe I didn't see this before.  I'm diseased!

Take last Tuesday for instance.  My Bride and I were out for a casual stroll in rocky Sedona, Arizona on the Slim Shady Trail (read: elevation 4500 feet).  I was carrying a small backpack with about 20 pounds of food water and supplies and it was a cool 55 degrees with the humidity around 20%.  No problem, right?  Wrong!

We hadn't gone (read: rocky trail climbing) more than 4 miles and I began to experience classic peripheral arterial disease symptoms!  In oil town plain speaking; my butt was aching, as were my feet, legs and lower back.  I know, I should have turned back, suffering from this disease, but I didn't.  I guess it was the majestic Cathedral Rock that mesmerized me into ignoring these symptoms - I can't say.

Up, up, and up we climbed until we were fairly close to the summit and all the time my buns, thighs, feet, and toes were burning.  I shifted the pack around and drank long from one of my water bottles as I stared at the giant red rock formations prevalent in the area.  I chuckled and remarked that "the locals ain't seen nuthin' till they've seen the Fred Hartman Bridge."  We both found this humorous for some reason.

We finished up the long hike back to my Jeep and danged if my Bride didn't complain of the very same symptoms!  On top of that, we both suffered a bout of lethargy!  We drove into Sedona and got a table at a place called Javelina Cantina. A hot plate of Arizona-style Mexican food partially restored us to our former healthy state.  I may just write the American Medical Association and explain that there may just be a healthy antidote for this PAD condition - Mexican food after heavy exertion.  It goes without saying that we both slept well.

Yesterday morning, ignoring the PAD symptoms we experienced only 2 days prior, we stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail... and began our descent to Indian Gardens 4.5 miles away.

Both of us were carrying close to 10 pounds of water and salty snacks and with walking sticks, the hike progressed fairly well, but each step down was the equivalent of putting on the brakes.  The incredible view made it easy to ignore the screaming thigh muscles as PAD began to rear its ugly head.  That is the only explanation I have for this condition - or is it?

The long hike down to Indian Gardens was nothing in comparison to the 4.5 hour hike back up the canyon trail.  As we neared the last mile and a half we encountered casual hikers who only planned to the do a smidgeon of the trail.  They were kicking up a lot of dust and that is when it hit me - I don't have PAD.  I don't have PAD any more than I have COPD - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

I was simply coughing because the air is dry and I'm breathing dust.  I don't have PAD; I have what is commonly called EXERTION.  My body was simply responding to the extreme demands I was placing on it and heavy exercise doesn't negate these pains; it allows you to experience them and recover.  Wow!  What a revelation!

Of course I know this and the point I am making is actually quite simple.  Why wait until your body is failing before you do something to reverse the trend?  The outer trails are there to lure people to challenge themselves and make no mistake, they challenged us.  However the many visits to the gym on a regular basis made our trekking possible, but if you think your legs and buttocks won't ache, forget it. 
There are good aches and bad aches.  We experienced the good ones.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The dog catcher’s bacon

I want to go on record and say I write this column with extreme trepidation.  Pet care is on my highest priority list and although everyone doesn’t see a pet as a family member to love and care for, many of us do.  Thus said, read on at your own discretion.

Recently I was in my front yard at 4am watching my two tiny dogs select the exact location they needed to do their business, when I spotted what looked like an official City of Baytown dog catchers truck creeping down the street.  The truck was idling with the head beams out and as it passed under the street light, I could make out a large smile on the driver’s face, as he scanned back and forth.

“Oh Lord a’mercy!” I squealed and called my two precious pups to me.  I didn’t have my doggies on a leash, as they were in my front yard, but I sure as the Dicken’s didn’t want a fine, so I ran backwards, my Ninja Turtles pajamers a’flappin’ and set them inside the front door.  I hoped in vain that the driver didn’t see me and my doggies, but alas, he ominously stopped in front of my house.

Now, like Jim Finley, I have successfully evaded the law probably one time too many, but when the cab light came on, I could plainly see the man was signaling me.  “Rats!  Busted!”  I looked back at my doe-eyed Shi-Tzu and Papillion/Pomeranian mix and it was if they knew we were in deep doo-doo.

Walking outside, I headed down the drive and came up to the passenger-side window.  The first thing that hit me was the heavenly smell of bacon and incense.  In a trusting voice sounding like Joe Biden, he said “Hello my friend.  Would you like a treat?”   

I was hesitant as the hooded man asked pointing at the huge box of fried bacon.  His accent was so odd; it took me a second to realize what he said, but that voice…

“Uh, what?” I muttered, as I leaned in and not taking my eyes off the hidden and shadowy apparition, I took a piece of bacon and mechanically began to chew.

“Aaa, you wanna give up dos doggies?”  He chuckled lightly after speaking and I found for some odd reason, I immediately trusted the fellow.  Helping myself to a second stick of savory fried pork, I finally said the first thing that came to mind.

“Uh, what do you mean friend?”  His infectious grin made me smile, even as I licked my fingers.  I had the desire to sit on my haunches, but remained upright.  I liked the guy.  He was someone I could trust.

“De dogs.  I catch de dogs.  I am the de best of de best of de best dog catcher.  I want dem dogs.”  Again the chuckle and danged if I didn’t chuckle with him.  That smile spoke wonders.  I realized it really didn’t matter what he said, as long as the bacon kept flowing and he kept smiling.

“Who are you and why are you out at this time of morning friend?” I blurted as I scratched behind my ear.  It was about this time that I heard the snuffing sounds coming from the back of his truck and looking closely, I could make out wet noses in the caged area.

His name was as unknown to me as his accent and I forgot it the second he said it – twice, as the first and last names were the same, but what he said next made me drop my bacon on the street.

“I am de best dog catcher in de five counties.  I catch de most dogs.  Tonight, I catch seven, but will have 3 or 2 time dat many before de people wakes up.  I love catching dogs so much, I sometimes lure dem right out de back yard with dis bacon.”  Although I couldn’t see his eyes for the shadows, the smile was as big as ever.

I was speechless, but the man was so friendly and engaging that it took a minute to realize the monstrosity of his statement.  Whoever said old dogs can’t learn was wrong.

“You work for the City of Baytown?” is all I can think of to say and the man chuckles again and I smile.

“No, I work for de highest bidder in (his voice is slightly muffled and I don’t really hear him) and dey buy de dog.  I sell maybe a hunerd a week.  Is good business.”

“Just in Baytown?  You grab a hundred dogs a week in Baytown?”  Now I was getting angry, but was still mesmerized by the man’s voice.

“Oh de heck no.  I drive all over de counties.  I jus do Baytown ever two week.”  He chuckles and I have heard all I can handle and grabbing a fist full of bacon, I step away and inform him I am “calling Johnny law!”

I wasn’t prepared for his response, but threw myself away from the truck when he lights up the back tires in a most god-awful rubber-burning exhibition which sets off car alarms on both sides of the street.  The smoking tires and dogs barking confused me to the point that I didn’t get a license plate or DOT number from the side of his truck, I’m sad to confess.

The cloying odor of burnt rubber and deep-fried bacon lingered long after the heinous dog thief was gone, but not the warning he left.  You see, it took all of that to wake up a sleeping neighborhood, as all of us think we are safe.  We are told repeatedly that we are and by honest looking people with soft voices and big smiles.  Keep your pets safe folks.  There are bad people out there.

The real poop on the Ukraine

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