Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are you more civic literate than your elected representative?

I stumbled on this "civic literacy" quiz this last week. Actually, I think a friend shared it with me, but I'm not certain.

I'm suffering from e-mail miasma. It could have to do with those damn eye drops I've been writing about. (Yeah, sure, blame it on the eye drops....)

Anyway, the quiz is fun, challenging and humbling. You'll be able to compare your results with those of elected officials. That's the really scary part. You'll see why....


Friday, January 23, 2009

Eight-point Side Effects without end

After reading yesterday's Red Electric post, one near and dear to me asked to see the package insert for my Istalol, the beta blocker I’ve been prescribed to ward off glaucoma. If unchecked, the condition leads to blindness.

She was concerned about my brooding over the doctor’s warning that the eye drops had, on occasion, caused depression. I had written in this space that, ironically, his very words were depressing.

Istalol’s insert, printed on both sides of a flimsy half-sheet, is not designed for those who going blind. You are reading this in 12-point type. The insert is written in what seems to be eight-point.

That looks like this.

Obviously the government or the drug companies, or both, don’t care enough to make side effects perfectly clear, even for those with 20/20 vision.

Once you get out the magnifying glass, you must scan, Holmes-like, through verbal pharmaceutical sludge.

“The precise mechanism of intraocular hypertensive action of Istalol is not clearly established at this time. Tonography and fluorophotometry studies in man suggest that its predominant action may be related to reduced aqueous formation. However, in some studies a slight increase in outflow facility was also observed.”

Perhaps the author of this rhetorical “outflow” of “predominant” verbal “action” was the same person who ordered it written in 8-point type. It’s not just hard to see, it’s nearly impossible to understand.

No wonder my doctor asked directly “Are you prone to depression?” and “Do you have heart problems?” As frightening and depressing as the questions were, at least I understood them.

Interestingly, the word “depression” is listed twice in the insert, but it is only one of dozens of “adverse reactions” reported, however rarely, by users of Istalol. Hallucination, confusion, anxiety, disorientation, memory loss. The list goes on and on: “nausea, diarrhea, dyspepsia, anorexia, dry mouth .... "

In fact the possible side effects are so numerous that I’m having trouble taking the warnings seriously. Then again, after two days of dropping this stuff into my eyes, I could be hallucinating, confused, anxious, depressed and suffering from memory loss.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Depressing Sight

My eyes still dilated after two hours of testing, I sat and watched the white-jacketed doctor pore over my chart. He intently flipped back and forth between 18 months’ worth of graphs and notations that tracked change in my vision. He peered down at photos of my optic nerve taken a year ago and compared them with those taken just 15 minutes earlier.

For 10 minutes, like a student cramming for an exam, he had his nose in my recent ocular past. At one point, without looking up, he said, “Sorry this is taking so long.”

All I could think to say was, “Uh huh.”

Finally he swung around in his chair and pronounced that he didn’t like the “trend” in my left eye. My field vision tests showed that my vision is still slowly deteriorating.

Let me be the first to say that I hadn’t noticed it. After all, I don’t go around one-eyed looking for little scattered lights blinking on the wall of a dimly lit dome in a doctor’s office.

I’m into sunsets at the beach, and evening of reading, a morning of writing and looking for signs of spring. My sight is still serving me quite well, thank you.

But the dome test showed I had this problem caused by early-stage glaucoma.

“I’d like to put you on beta blockers,” he said. “Do you have any problem with depression?” he asked, slowly introducing possible side effects from the medication.

“No” I said hesitatingly, feeling slightly depressed at the thought of drug-induced depression.

“How about heart problems. Palpitations, that sort of thing?”

“No problem,” I responded without skipping a beat.

“Occasionally, not often, but occasionally, patients experience these problems with the eye drops I’m recommending.”

For the past year I’d been using another type of drop to lower pressure in my eye. Less pressure could stop, or at least markedly slow, my loss of vision to glaucoma.

The right eye was fine, presumably thanks to the drops. But then the left….

The word “depression” hung in the air. I don’t think I’ve ever been depressed. Sure, some January mornings the warmth of bed has kept me from facing the day. The room beyond the covers has been depressingly cold.

No, when I come up short, my response is, sadly, anger at myself, but not depression.

Now the doctor was possibly, just possibly, presenting a Hobson’s choice. He never said it in so many words, but he was really probing whether I would prefer blindness to possible depression.

Does life at my stage come down to such choices?

As I say, the very thought of depression was depressing, and I hadn’t even started to squeeze the little bottle that would release a single drop of the drug into each eye once a day.

Is this the way it will be? You have a choice, “cancerous death or chemotherapy and radiation,” “deafness or hearing aids,” “blindness or depression.”

In each case, the choice is clear even though the obvious alternative is diminishes life.

Not quite take-it-or-leave-it Hobson's choices. Call them half Hobson’s. You accept them because, like full Hobson’s, you have no choice, not really.

• • • •

After reading this over, I should note that many people have no choice at all. There is no bad and less bad. It’s just plain bad.

I also know that some who read this will suggest that I have other choices besides the ones posed by the doctor. Indeed, the doctor may decide there is a better course if the new drug too doesn’t work or if the side effects, including depression, appear.

What I do find strange is the paradox that warnings of possible depression are themselves depressing. It's a bit like being intolerant of intolerance. Those are snares to avoid.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sam Adams' expiration date

As I teased open a new box of Wheaties, I paused at the “shelf life” message on the top near the flap,

The chance observation was two weeks ago, long before Mayor Sam Adams and his former lover Beau Breedlove resurfaced in the news.


“Better if used by …” began the label, and here the computerized packaging machine had stamped “23OCT09” followed by an 11-character alpha-numeric lot identification. Things can go horribly wrong, even with the Breakfast of Champions.

How odd, I thought. Could the mere tick of the clock at midnight on 23OCT09 make my Wheaties worse or "un-better"? Certainly in all those months in their box, the flakes had gone through a slow, even decline. These things don't happen overnight.

Each day, minute and second in the life of my Wheaties made them worse.

So if the flakes get a tad worse between 23OCT and 24OCT, so what?

It would seem that Adams faced a similar conundrum, in reverse, with regard to Breedlove’s 18th birthday back in 25JUN05.

Here we really must pause. Inquiring minds can no longer contain themselves: Is “Beau Breedlove” really, REALLY Adams' ex-lover’s name or did it come from FOX News or central casting? Have the movie rights been inked? Come to think of it “Sam Adams” rings a bit hollow too.

Okay, back to the thread….

To Adams, Breedlove, at age 17, came with his own label, “Under penalty of law, do not bed until … 25JUN05.”

After repeatedly lying about ever partaking of Breedlove’s bedly charms, Sam now tells us he waited until the expiration date on Breedlove’s status as a minor.

Right. And I’m going to throw out my Wheaties on midnight 23OCT09. As my wife reminds me, I have sunscreen that dates from the Clinton presidency.

Nature has this unfortunate habit of not fitting into our rigid, legalistic schedules and deadlines. Wheaties, Grape Nuts and Cheerios deteriorate slowly over time. Human beings mature sexually and emotionally at their own, madding pace. Give someone a name like “Breedlove” and who knows what might happen …

I don’t know about Sam, but if he were of my Wheaties frame of mind, we the People of Portland might doubt whether he paid too much heed to the warning on Beau’s label. Given that Adams lied to us more than once (and on more than one aspect of this tabloid escapade), is there any reason to believe that he would have paid much attention to mere words and warnings?

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's words need to be read as well as heard

Many pundits have judged the new president’s inaugural speech to be good but not great.

That depends when and how it is encountered. Taken on its own, free of the immense historical significance of today’s Obama inauguration, I believe it stands with the greatest inaugural speeches.

As we heard it today, the speech had to compete with the palpable aura of the day.

Today Obama spoke to us as we exhaled in relief and cheered in great national pride. His words could not match the feelings of the moment.

What was the speech up against? Just how vested were we all in the portent of this event?

Perhaps 200 of us gathered at the Portland Community College campus center to watch the distant events projected on a big screen. When Justice Roberts and Barack Obama took their places for the swearing in, we saw everyone on the dais in front of the Capitol rise.

And so, a continent away, did we.

We were there.

Later, back in our classroom, more than one student pronounced the speech just OK. So-so.

I thought it was better but I also felt it fell short. There was no “Ask not what your country can do for you … ” call to sacrifice. No “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” reassurance.

Certainly those sentiments embedded in Obama’s words, but the speech was far from indelible.

It was only later, after I printed out the transcript and read it closely that I saw it for its greatness.

Here was crafted prose firmly in the lineage of great oratory. The reference to “gathering clouds and raging storms,” was Churchillian. Many heard Roosevelt in the cautionary preamble. The offer to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist” rang of Kennedy as did Obama’s alliterative proclamation that duty is “the price and promise of citizenship.”

Years from now, when students of history read the speech free of the wet-eyed, elated multitude on the Capital Mall, when the relief over the departure of a miserable administration is no longer palpable, when we no longer surprise ourselves at being blind to race, this speech, rich with historical reference, will be an oratorical monument to our times and to our character.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Saving 1-800-Got-Junk

It’s time again for me to save the 1-800-GOT-JUNK people from themselves by removing their signs.

Another way I'll help is by using the 1-800-GOT-JUNK name a lot in this post.

They'll like that, I know because the company likes having the 1-800-GOT-JUNK name everywhere.

That's the problem.

1-800-GOT-JUNK signs are going up AGAIN all over the neighborhood.

I really should invoice 1-800-GOT-JUNK for my sign removal work. Then again, I do get paid off in their 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs, which I keep after removal from the shoulders of our streets.

I’ve probably collected four or five dozen 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs over the years. I’ve even found 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs on Terwilliger Parkway. Who knows, 1-800-GOT-JUNK may plant its signs in our parks and cemeteries.

To 1-800-GOT-JUNK, the entire city is a billboard.

The 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs are moderately useful to me because they usually have a blank side where I can write with my medium-point Sharpie. When my wife has her annual pottery sale, I write stuff like “Pottery Sale today!” on the blank sides and put the signs up early in the morning.

I’ve also written “Impeach Bush” and “Peace Now!” on 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs.

Of course I mask out the “1-800-GOT-JUNK” on the other side.

Besides getting free signs to write on, why am I doing 1-800-GOT-JUNK a favor?

Well, it’s clear that 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs, which are not intended to come down after a day’s exposure on our streets, are littering the public right-of-way. You’ll notice that, with the exception of Realtors (who, alas, are a special case), 1-800-GOT-JUNK is the only company (except, until recently, Jobdango) to put up signs in the neighborhood. Oh, a few gutter cleaners and painters post on utility poles, but they are fairly cooperative when I tell them they are breaking the law.

Obsessed as I am, I carry a long metal rod in my car for knocking down such signs.

But 1-800-GOT-JUNK doesn’t seem to care that it is breaking the law by putting up the signs. 1-800-GOT-JUNK knows the city has better things for its police to do than bust 1-800-GOT-JUNK.

Still, what company in its right corporate mind actually wants to be known for so blatantly and visibly violating the law?

And the answer is … 1-800-GOT-JUNK.

Not smart. So I’ve taken to making 1-800-GOT-JUNK folks look smarter than they are.

Right now I have five newly removed 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs in my garage (see photo). I happen to know that each costs about $10, which I suppose is pretty cheap publicity. In this case it is cheap BAD publicity. And it junks up the neighborhood. Got Junk indeed.

In the past, I have called the owner of our local franchise to inform him about the problem with 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs. His name is Tom. His number is not 1-800-GOT-JUNK (which gets you an operator in Peoria or some distant American burg where they now actually pay people less than folks in phone call centers in Bangkok or Mumbai).

Tom’s number is — should you ever be so moved to call (hint, hint) — 503-209-9253. Tom is actually a very nice guy. After listening to me politely but firmly inform him of the downside of his sign advertising, Tom always assures me that he never. EVER, will put up 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs in Hillsdale again.

A few months go by and, as sure as the daffodils sprout in the March and local coyotes munch on neighborhood cats, out come his 1-800-GOT-JUNK signs.

Tom clearly has a recall problem. I’ve come to think of it as an occupational hazard resulting from years in the 1-800-GOT-JUNK business.

So I’ve given up on Tom’s getting the message that he’s breaking the law and alienating a lot of people like me. I also tell him, as an extra incentive, that I will publicize what 1-800-GOT-JUNK is doing, but he just doesn’t care.

A likely possibility is that Tom is getting his orders from 1-800-GOT-JUNK corporate headquarters in someplace like New Jersey, the Cayman Islands or Southern California where breaking the law in places like Oregon is written into franchise agreements. (Okay, okay, my on-line research tells me the 1-800-GOT-JUNK headquarters is in Vancouver, B.C. where they ought to know better.)

I sometimes dream that when the world is a much better place, the CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, who turns out to be one Brian Scudamore, will call to thank me for my years of service on behalf of the 1-800-GOT-JUNK company.

Until then, I’ll keep busy helping 1-800-GOT-JUNK in my own unassuming way.

Labels: , , ,