Why We Would Have Been Better off with President McCain

Sarah Palin and John McCain in Albuquerque
John McCain and Sarah Palin, Albuquerque, NM, Sept. 6, 2008. Photo by Matthew Reichbach, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As much as I appreciate Barack Obama for what he’s done and tried to do, I’m beginning to think we’d all have been better off had John McCain won the last election. 

Yes, it would be nice that gasoline would now be around $2 a gallon and my home double its 2007 value and not nearly half.

But I am certain about two things that would not be. 

First, there would be no Tea Party, which was an immediate reflex to Obama’s election, and the government would be humming along—and no doubt growing—nicely.

Second, we would not have Sarah Palin wandering as a free agent, continuing to pretend to know what she’s talking about. If she had been elected vice-president she would have been efficiently muzzled and hobbled to make sure she could not embarrass McCain with her disconnected blathering. Of course a Vice-president Palin would not be out there railing against Obama, who still would be a Senator from Illinois (would Rod Blagojevich still be governor?). No, her political career would have come to an effective end (if she hadn’t resigned first) at the hands of her own handlers. None of us would still be suffering the insufferable Sarah Palin.

But because she wasn’t elected vice-president, she’s still out there, within the safe confines of Fox News, where she’s encouraged to entertain and rouse Party loyalists.

I don’t see relief any time soon.

Does Massage Release Toxins that Must Be Flushed out with Lots of Water?

Water glasses

Massage therapy works in many ways to relieve stress, alleviate muscle pain, and otherwise promote good health and well-being. 

However, massage is not something you have to believe in for it to work any more than you have to believe in a root canal for it to relieve pain from an abscess. It’s not a placebo, although the placebo effect sometimes may be at work.

A recent study, reported in the New York Times in February 2012, revealed new information about why massage after a vigorous workout helps relieve muscle soreness and inflammation. The culprit is not lactic acid (as was once thought), but cytokines, which are part of the inflammatory response that occurs when muscle tissue is damaged during a workout. The experiment involved several muscle biopsies taken from different volunteers rather than anecdotal evidence. 

“This is important research, because it is the first to show that massage can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines which may be involved in pain,” said Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. She was not involved in the study. “We have known from many studies that pain can be reduced by massage based on self-report, but this is the first demonstration that the pain-related pro-inflammatory cytokines can be reduced.” she said.

The abstract of the research article is here. It’s called “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage,” in case you ever want to refer to it.

I was glad to read of this research, because it’s conclusion is evidence based. It’s something massage therapists can use when they talk about how and why massage works, instead of making vague references to things like “releasing toxins.” 

When I was in massage school, more than a dozen years ago now, I learned that after receiving a massage it’s very important to drink lots of water to “flush out the toxins” released by the massage. No one ever told me what those toxins were, where they were hiding, and how massage released them. Rather, it seemed a matter of faith. Many massage therapists still claim this as a benefit of massage. For example: 1, 2, 3. 

Massage therapists do make a legitimate reference to the lymphatic system, which massage does have an effect on. Lymph is the fluid that is within the lymphatic ducts and glands. Lymph is essentially the same thing as blood plasma (the liquid component of blood) and interstitial fluid (the liquid substance filling the empty spaces around cells in various tissues).

The lymphatic system does not have a pump behind it to move lymph through its intricate network of ducts and glands, like the heart moves blood through arteries. It relies on the movement of the body to exert gentle pressure on the ducts to keep lymph flowing toward the base of the neck, where it drains into the subclavian veins on either side and is thus returned to the blood stream. Lymph becomes plasma, which is filtered through the kidneys.

Meanwhile, blood pressure pushes some of the plasma out of the blood capillaries into the surrounding tissues, where it then becomes interstitial fluid. The same gentle pressure that moves lymph through the ductwork, also pushes interstitial fluid back into the lymphatic ducts. The fluid goes round and round and round.

Movement of the body—through contractions of muscles—moves lymph through the system. Massage does the same thing, only it’s someone else’s muscles doing much of the work.

The lymphatic system is part of our immune system. An immune response is how the body responds to and fights infection. White blood cells, many of which are stationed at lymph nodes, attack and destroy all sorts or invaders. The byproducts of battle are eventually excreted in a well-functioning system.

So what are toxins? A toxin is a poison of plant or animal origin that induces an immune response. If the body cannot fight the infection on its own, or without serious intervention otherwise, death is the result. 

Something else you learn in massage school is that massage is contraindicated for someone with a systemic infection. Massage is not an appropriate intervention for acute infectious diseases caused by toxins. 

But what about drinking all that water? Well, you don’t need sophisticated studies to know that without enough water, eventually you’ll die of dehydration. But after a massage, do you need to (as I once overheard one LMT tell her client) “drink lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of water”?

No, you don’t. You may develop a thirst after a massage, in which case you should drink some water—just as you would any other time you are thirsty. After all, you do need to replenish your fluid supply to keep from dehydrating. And the brain is good at telling you when you need more water. But when your massage therapist routinely hands you a bottle of water after a massage and reminds you to drink it all to “flush out the toxins,” you are getting a placebo.

Here is more information about what drinking lots of water can and won’t do for you:

Five myths about drinking water
The water myth
Eight glasses
Recommended water intake a myth

Make Chest X-Rays Mandatory for Cigarette and Cigar Purchases

Photo: Wikimedia

In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration ruled that cigarette makers put one of nine graphic images on each pack of cigarettes for sale in the United States. The purpose was to warn people of the deadly dangers of tobacco use. The ghastly images—meant to dissuade people from smoking—were to be in use by October of 2012.

In February, however, a federal judge ruled the images unconstitutional. This is a travesty, an abomination.

Smoking kills. We know that. People who smoke are slowly killing themselves. They also are slowly killing those around them who are unfortunately forced to inhale clouds of carcinogenic smoke. We have to stop this.

Click image to see all nine

But I think the government’s anti-smoking campaigns are. That’s because our perceptions have all along been misguided. For example, the tamest of the nine images says, “Warning: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.” That’s cloudy thinking.

The truth is, smoke and smoking don’t kill people. People who smoke kill people.

Is it too harsh to say smoking is not only a crime but is a sin? I don’t think so. It may not be among the biblical lists of things that evokes God’s wrath, but I think it’s safe to say God would agree that taking a life through the deliberate act of smoking is just as bad as any other way. More than anything else, this is a religious problem

We must stop these suicides and homicides. So here’s my proposal: Enact a law to make chest x-rays mandatory before purchasing of a pack of cigarettes or cigars. After the x-ray, you must then sit down with a radiologist, a cancer specialist, and a counselor. You will then be issued a certificate with a date and time stamp. After a reasonable waiting period of 24 hours (per pack or single cigar), you may present your certificate and buy your tobacco product.

I can see right off that there are some logistical and ethical problems with my plan. But I’m a big-idea person. I leave it up the lawmakers and attorneys to close the loopholes and sort through these relatively minor concerns. After all, the purpose here is to save lives. 

As I said, this is a religious and moral issue. I call on clergymen and clergywomen across the country to use their positions of influence to speak out against this dreadful scourge. Frankly, I have no idea why they haven’t been doing this all along. Perhaps they just haven’t thought about it. 

It’s terribly unfortunate that trafficking in tobacco is legal in this country. Yes, I know it goes back to colonial days, and smoking is part of the American psyche. But in this case our founders were very misguided. It’s time we got on the right track.

Disclaimer: I used to smoke. But I haven’t for more than 20 years. Make of that what you will.

The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, Maybe

why we lieIn a relative world, what is true and what is not true depends on what one believes. People tend to believe what they want to believe and nothing else. And everything a person believes is the truth. Who would say, “Everything I believe is a lie”? In a sense, people sometimes choose delusion.

Those who understand this have little trouble taking advantage of others.

In his book Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingstone Smith makes some interesting points about the human propensity toward deception. Here are three.

First, Smith contends that the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait. Those who can easily deceive others are more likely to survive than those who can’t.

Second, just as the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait, so too is the ability to detect deception. Smith uses a poker game as an analogy. An excellent poker player is one who easily bluffs the other players at the table. In addition, an excellent poker player easily detects when others are bluffing. Players with neither of these skills should not play poker. I don’t play poker.

The ability to hide telling traits is the third and most interesting point Smith makes. It’s not enough merely to mask tell-tail signs of deception with a poker-face, because someone skilled in detecting deception will see through the mask. Smith contends that the greatest deceivers are those who can first deceive themselves. If I believe that what I say is true, I will have a much easier time convincing you that what I say is true. Then you become a believer. And truth becomes relative to belief.

A relative truth cannot be wholly reliable because it is based more on belief than reality.

As belief propagates in ever-widening circles it transforms into the kind of truth that must be true because “I saw it on TV (or the Internet).” That’s why negative campaign ads work so well. Negative ads need not be true. It’s necessary only that people believe they are true.

Self deception—whether by means of denial, repression, self-righteous bias, or any of the other defense mechanisms and biases psychologists have identified—is a door that always leads away from truth and toward delusion.

With this knowledge, it’s easy to see how people are so easily led astray and deluded by the used-car salesman who just wants that piece of junk off his lot or the politician who just wants your vote. Both will say anything with absolute sincerity to get what they want.

Is it possible to know the truth? Yes, but only with the understanding that belief and truth are not the same thing. You can discover truth once the layers of deception and delusion—both internal and external—are peeled away to expose things exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.

You will know you’re getting close when what you find is disagreeable and difficult to accept.

Occupy RushMouth

Rush Limbaugh by Ian Marsden
Drawing by Ian Marsden, courtesy WikiCommons

Twenty years ago or so, I listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. I’d heard of him and wanted to know what was so special. Even though I didn’t agree with his politics, I thought it was appropriate to hear what he had to say and judge for myself.

I hung in there for a couple of months, listening to his newspaper-rattling and sighs of disgust while slurring and maligning any person or idea he didn’t like or agree with. 

He claimed he was just an “entertainer.” But his stated goal was to destroy liberalism. I listened as much as I could. And then one day I said to myself, “That’s enough.” I switched him off. 

Every once in a while I’d come across a story about him and wonder, “Do people still listen to him?” Yet I’ve read he has millions of listeners—5 million–20 million. Whatever the number, it’s a lot.  

In spite of his stated objectives—however misguided—no good can come from his hateful speech. Limbaugh’s inability to see it underscores his own delusion. And 20 million pats on the back each day is a lot of encouragement to stay in the dark. Yet because millions believe he’s right doesn’t mean he is. Twenty million people can be wrong.

We are fortunate in this country that physical assassination is a rare thing. But character assassination is acceptable, legal, and prevalent. Rush Limbaugh is not an entertainer. His recent attack on Sandra Fluke is character assassination. Not that she’s his first hit, but she is suddenly in the spotlight over an issue that’s important and personal to many people. 

The caricature above suggests Rush Limbaugh is the face of the Republican party. The face is where the mouth is. While the Republican candidates stumble all over each other trying to prove who is the more conservative, the mouth of the party is busy spewing hatred and contempt. If the mouthpiece is delusional and morally corrupt, what we say about the rest of the party?

Some of us believe it’s proper for a government of by and for the people to help those in need. It’s a point of view, not a disease. The real disease festers in the mouth of Rush Limbaugh.

The Occupy Movement has more territory to cover.