Archive for the ‘Newspaper Articles’ Category

Long-term use of antihistamines to treat insomnia is not advised

April 23, 2017

From Ask the Doctors in the Conway Log Cabin 4/23/17
by Robert Ashley, M.D.

Dear Doctor: I’m leery of sleep drugs, so I’ve been taking Benadryl to help me sleep. Now I read that it should be taken only for a limited time. What’s the story on this drug?

Dear Reader: Diphenhydramine HCL, or Benadryl, is a sedating antihistamine. The medication has been used since 1946 for allergies, but because it is sedating, or sleep-inducing, people have also used it to help them sleep. Unlike the allergy medications Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra, this medication blocks histamine receptors in the brain. Histamine is necessary to promote wakefulness, motivation and goal-directed behaviors; when the receptors for histamine are blocked, drowsiness occurs. Many companies have marketed diphenhydramine and doxylamine (another sedating antihistamine) for insomnia under different brand names.

Researchers have conducted many studies of diphenhydramine for insomnia, but most have been small. One of the larger studies looked at individuals with an average age of 44 years who had mild insomnia. In this study, people either took diphenhydramine or a placebo. The diphenhydramine group switched to a placebo after two weeks. The participants kept diaries of how long it took them to fall asleep, their total sleep time and the number of times they awoke.

Researchers found no difference between the drug group and the placebo group in the time needed to fall asleep. However, sleep quality improved significantly among those taking the drug. Total sleep time also improved with diphenhydramine, but only by 29 minutes. The authors did not find significant adverse effects and did not find rebound insomnia when the participants stopped diphenhydramine. The authors concluded that, for the short term, the drug does have benefit in treating insomnia.

As for the merits or risks of taking the drug for more than two weeks, there are no good long-term trials of diphenhydramine, and prolonged use raises the potential for problems. Further, two weeks of using sedating antihistamines can create some degree of tolerance to their sleep-inducing effects, so their effectiveness may wane.

In its guidelines for sleep medications, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine does not recommend the use of antihistamines for chronic insomnia. Sedating antihistamines can lead to dry mouth, constipation, retention of urine in the bladder, blurred vision and a drop of blood pressure upon standing.

Further, diphenhydramine’s half-life, the time it takes for the drug to lose half of its activity, is nine hours in adults, but 13.5 hours in elderly individuals. That means the drug is still having effects long after one awakes. Sedating antihistamines also can cause grogginess, confusion and memory loss. This is especially concerning in the elderly.

I would re-evaluate whether diphenhydramine is really helping you sleep. You should also consider whether the medication is causing any side effects. Other medications can be used as sleep aids, but the best move, especially for the long term, is to improve your sleep hygiene, such as using the bed for sleep and not for watching television.

If you have trouble doing this on your own, a professional who specializes in sleep therapy might be able to help. Though sleep therapy is a relatively new field, it has shown significant benefits.

Robert Ashley, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Making war on the people

April 2, 2017

Article from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette by Philip Martin

We don’t need our best and our brightest involved in politics; genius should be out curing cancer and writing novels that sound the black depths of the human heart. It doesn’t take any particular talent to serve in a state legislature or even in Congress (Jefferson imagined an amateur government might be run by yeoman farmers and tradesmen); they just need to be reasonably honest and, as Harry Truman said, “work in the interests of the common people and not in the interests of the men who have all the money.”

Governance is more like medicine than music. The prime directive of its practitioners should be to do no harm to the body politic. Certainly there are times when tough measures are called for, but any scars that are inflicted should be in service of achieving a greater good. We might disagree on what actions our elected representatives should take at any particular point in time, but we have a right to expect that they govern with a degree of empathy for the folks back home.

Ha.

We all know an individual American’s worth directly correlates to the bank account size. Money buys access, money changes minds. Money warps reality in ways that are absurd until you consider who stands to benefit from the absurdity. Poor people just don’t matter to some of those who are supposed to protect us. Our government is free to make war on the poor and powerless.

Most of us have become something less than citizens. We are more like crops to be harvested or resources to be exploited. Fictive personalities have been granted a better set of rights than you have because those stateless corporations have the ability to write much bigger checks to the people who pass laws than you can. So these corporations have been given the right to sell information they’ve surreptitiously gathered by spying on you.

You might think that your information belongs to you. Too bad. You’ve been outbid.

At the same time, a lot of these lawgivers have decided that the privacy of the world’s most public self-proclaimed billionaire matters more than national security. Despite promises to comply with decades of electioneering tradition by releasing his tax returns, despite real questions about what foreign entities might hold the note on his gilded existence, our president won’t tell us about his finances.

Because, as he’s said, he’s president and you’re not.

And if you want quality health care, prepare to pay for it. Or get yourself elected to Congress. Because these people are beholden to super-citizens like insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms. Because they have bigger things to worry about than whether you can afford to get sick. (Besides, if you amounted to anything, you’d have plenty of money to pay your doctor. After all, do you really need an iPhone or a curved-screen TV?)

The world is a hard place and you probably shouldn’t expect these denizens of marble halls to help you out. Because they’ve either got theirs or are in the process of getting same. And because you’re dumb enough to let them operate as they do, to let them get away with not doing the right thing.

To be fair, the world is a complicated and nuanced place and it’s sometimes hard to decide which course is the right one to take. So it’s not surprising that human beings might look to professional explainers, for people who can make the world seem simpler. While there are plenty of people willing to try to do this in exchange for your attention (which they can sell to advertisers), most of them are guessing just like the rest of us. And worse, their guesses are incentivized by third parties who have their own versions to propagate. Most of us prefer to hear stories that reassure us and flatter our sense of ourselves as decent and smart. Any problems we have are most decidedly not our fault—they’re the fault of whoever the professional explainer finds convenient to demonize.

Some of us understand this and take into consideration that the talking heads on television—whether they’re paid by MSNBC or Fox or by the taxpayers—are entertainers whose mission is to convince us that what their corporate sponsors would do is precisely the best thing.

This is how they get you to vote contrary to your own interest.

That’s your right, and it’s sometimes a noble thing. I can think of many things I would gladly support with higher taxes. You probably can too—most of us want a government able to protect us from threats we can’t handle on our own. Most of us would prefer old people not starve, that sick people not be denied medical attention.

Most of us believe there are some legitimate functions of government. A lot of us would prefer a government that doesn’t overly intrude on our daily lives.

I don’t think it’s wise to put much trust in government. Not because everyone who seeks or holds office is venal and corrupt but because it is so easy for human beings to rationalize whatever course they’d prefer to take. For cultural and psychological reasons, lots of us desire firearms; so someone provides the rationale that lots of firearms somehow makes society safer.

For cultural and psychological reasons, lots of us feel uncomfortable around people whose sexual identities seem less rigidly defined than our own; so someone provides the rationale that these people are disturbed and morbid, that they represent a threat to the way others would live.

For cultural and psychological reasons, some of us would prefer not to deal with vocabulary and nuanced argument; so someone provides the rationale that feelings trump facts and that there’s something unreliable and effete about thinking too much about anything.

This is why so many of us believe things that are demonstrably untrue; because someone has cynically supplied us with a set of talking points with which we can argue any absurdity. They’ve set us against each other, to squabble about what scares us most. We’re playing their game.

Maybe they’re smarter than we think.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

Read more at

http://www.blooddirtangels.com

50 Ways to Live a Longer, Healthier Life

March 27, 2017

(From the March 2017 Issue of AARP Bulletin)

The editors at AARP have filtered through numerous medical journals and studies to identify the best actions you can take to achieve a longer, fuller life. We know there are no guarantees. But genetics account for just 25 percent of a person’s longevity. The rest is up to you. With this collection of some of the most important longevity findings, you’ll have the road map you need to get to 80, 90, 100 or beyond.

1. Frozen is fine

You can eat a balanced diet even when fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season because frozen can be as good as or even better for life-extending nutrients. British scientists found that fresh fruit can lose nutrients after three days of refrigeration, while frozen fruits don’t suffer the same fate. Another study similarly found that frozen blueberries contained more vitamin C than fresh ones.

2. Cut back on pain pills

Regular use of painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen — including over-the-counter brands such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve — may raise your risk of heart attack and stroke by 10 percent, according to a 2014 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel review. (Prescription-strength versions may increase your risk by 20 to 50 percent, even after just a few weeks of use.) Reserve these drugs for severe pain, and use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time.

3. Please go to bed

Consistently sleeping less than six hours a night nearly doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a review of 15 studies published in the European Heart Journal. Another study found that consistently sleep-deprived people were 12 percent more likely to die over the 25-year study period than those who got six to eight hours of sleep a night. These tips from the National Sleep Foundation can help ensure that you get good quality shut-eye, even if you’re among the half of people over 60 who have insomnia:

  • Make the room pitch-black dark, and set the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees.
  • Exercise every day. It doesn’t matter what time of day you work out, just so it doesn’t interfere with your rest.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  • Shut down your electronics an hour before retiring, as the light from some devices can stimulate the brain.
  • Replace your mattress if it’s more than 10 years old.

4. But don’t always go right to sleep

A Duke University study that followed 252 people for 25 years concluded that frequent sex “was a significant predictor of longevity” for men.

5. Get (or stay) hitched

Marriage truly is good for your health — and your longevity. The prestigious Framingham Offspring Study found that married men had a 46 percent lower risk of death than never-married men, in part due to marriage’s well-known impact on heart health. Indeed, a 2014 study by New York University’s Langone Medical Center found that married men and women had a 5 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

6. Ripeness matters

No, you won’t die from eating under-ripe produce, but new research shows that fully ripened fruit has more life-lengthening health benefits. For example, green bananas are low in fiber and high in astringent tannins that can cause constipation. Fully ripened pears and blackberries have more disease-fighting antioxidants. And in watermelon, a deep red color signifies more lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

7. Don’t sweeten with sugar

A high-sugar diet boosts blood sugar, which in turn plays havoc with your heart by increasing levels of LDL cholesterol while lowering heart-friendly HDL cholesterol, and tripling your risk for fatal cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day, and men no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams).

8. Consider extra vitamin D

Vitamin D, a bright byproduct of sunlight, has many health benefits, including a link to longevity. But too much vitamin D increases your risk of dying as much as too little, according to a 2015 Danish study. So you want to get the right amount. Don’t just rely on outdoor time to get extra vitamin D; the rate of skin cancer rises as we age, so it’s important to limit exposure. The smart plan: Ask your doctor if you would benefit from extra D in pill form. University of Copenhagen researchers found that the ideal vitamin D level is more than 50 nanomoles per liter of blood, but less than 100 nmol/L.

9. Go green

If coffee’s not your thing, green tea also has proven longevity cred, likely because it contains powerful antioxidants known as catechins that may help combat diabetes and heart disease. In a large study of more than 40,000 Japanese men and women, drinking five or more cups of green tea a day was associated with a 12 percent decrease in mortality among men and a 23 percent decrease among women.

10. Vacation … or Else

Not taking time off work might, indeed, be deadly. One study of men at high risk for coronary artery disease found that those who failed to take annual vacations were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. And in the long-running Framingham Heart Study, women who vacationed just once every six years were eight times more likely to develop coronary artery disease or have a heart attack than women who vacationed twice a year.

11. Eat whole grains

The average American eats one serving of whole grains daily — and that may be just a single morning slice of toast. But eating three or more servings each day can cut overall death rate by about 20 percent, according to a 2016 study from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Have some oatmeal or brown rice, or get adventurous and go for quinoa, barley, even farro.

12. Spice it up

Eating hot chili peppers may add years to your life. In a 2016 analysis of the dietary habits of more than 16,000 men and women over 23 years, those who reported eating hot peppers reduced their risk of dying by 13 percent. Not a fan of those peppers? Even a little spice can have health benefits. That’s because the body produces endorphins to reduce the heat from the capsaicin in the peppers; those endorphins also reduce pain and inflammation.

13. Drink whole milk

You’ve been told forever to drink low-fat or skim milk, or go for fat-free yogurt. But research published in the journal Circulation in 2016 concluded that those who consumed the most dairy fat had a 50 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, a disease that can shorten your life by eight to 10 years on average.

14. Just add water

Staying adequately hydrated — measured by urine that’s light yellow or straw colored — can also help prolong a healthy life by reducing the risk of bladder and colon cancer and keeping kidneys in tip-top shape. Bonus: It might even help you lose weight. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that those who sipped more H2O ended up eating 68 to 205 fewer calories per day.

15. Say yes to that extra cup

Coffee does more than help you wake up; it also reduces your risk of stroke, diabetes and some cancers. And in a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation, Harvard researchers discovered that “people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says coauthor Walter Willett, M.D. Mind you, a cup is 8 ounces, so your 16-ounce Starbucks grande is really two cups by that measure.

16. Live like the Amish

A University of Maryland study found that Amish men live longer than typical Caucasian men in the United States, and both Amish men and women have lower rates of hospitalization. What are the Amish ways? Lots of physical activity, less smoking and drinking, and a supportive social structure involving family and community.

17. End the day’s eating by 9 p.m. 

Not only is eating late bad for your waistline — sleeping doesn’t exactly burn lots of calories — it also increases the risk of heart disease by 55 percent for men ages 45 to 82, according to a Harvard study.

18. Eat your veggies

In a study of 73,000 adults, most in their mid to upper 50s, vegetarians were 12 percent less likely than carnivores to have died from any cause during the six-year study period. The 2016 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that mortality rates were lowest overall for pesco-vegetarians (those who eat fish occasionally), followed by vegans (those who eat no animal products), and lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat dairy and eggs).

19. Eat like the Greeks

The Mediterranean diet, with its reliance on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts, is one of the healthiest diets for both overall health and longevity. Harvard researchers, reporting in the BMJ in 2014, found that those who followed the diet most closely had longer telomeres, which cap the end of each strand of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. Even those who only sporadically followed the diet reaped longevity benefits, researchers found.

20. Eat less

If you want to reach 100, put down the fork, says Dan Buettner, who studies longevity hot spots around the world, such as Okinawa, Japan. Buettner found that the oldest Okinawans stop eating when they feel 80 percent full. A National Institutes of Health-funded study similarly found that cutting back calories reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance.

21. Drink less (here’s a trick) 

More-than-moderate alcohol consumption (generally, more than one drink a day for women or more than two a day for men) leads to a shorter life span. Here’s one way to cut your intake: Pour red wine into a white-wine glass, which is narrower. Studies by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that people poured 12 percent more into red-wine glasses. You’ll also pour less wine into your glass if it’s sitting on the table, instead of in your hand, says Brian Wansink, the lab’s director.

22. Save your pennies

Money might not make you happier, but it will help you live longer. A 2016 study by Stanford researchers published in JAMA found that people whose income bracket was in the top 1 percent lived nearly 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1 percent. The disparity could be attributed to healthier behaviors in higher-income groups, including less smoking and lower obesity rates, researchers say.

23. Or move to one of these states

If you’re not wealthy, consider moving to California, New York or Vermont, where studies show that low-income people tend to live the longest. Loma Linda, Calif., has the highest longevity thanks to vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists, who live eight to 10 years longer than the rest of us. Nevada, Indiana and Oklahoma have the lowest life expectancy (less than 78 years).

24. Ponder a Ponderosa

Experiencing a sense of awe — such as when viewing the Grand Canyon or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth — may boost the body’s defense system, says research from the University of California, Berkeley. “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” says Dacher Keltner, a psychologist and coauthor of the study.

25. Get a friend with four legs

A few studies on the link between pet ownership and health have found that owning a pet can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, even improve the odds of surviving a heart attack. Now the American Heart Association has weighed in with a report published in the journal Circulation that recommends owning a dog, in particular, for those seeking to reduce their risk of deadly heart disease. Dog owners are more likely to be physically active and are also less vulnerable to the effects of stress, the report says.

26. Find your purpose

Do you wake up looking forward to something? In a 2014 study published in the Lancet, researchers found that those with the highest sense of purpose were 30 percent less likely to die during the 8.5-year study period. In fact, doing something that matters — whether it’s helping your children or interacting in a community of like-minded folks — is correlated with seven extra years of life, according to researchers who study people in “blue zones,” areas of the world where folks live the longest.

27. Embrace your faith

Attending religious services once a week has been shown to add between four and 14 years to life expectancy, according to researchers who study blue zones. Don’t belong to a church? Ask to join a friend at her services, or just drop in at a nearby house of worship; most have an open-door policy.

28. Be food safe

About 3,000 Americans die from food poisoning annually, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even seemingly healthy foods — like sprouts, cantaloupe, berries and raw tuna — can make you sick or even kill you, says the FDA. Your action plan: Keep your kitchen pristine, wash your hands and utensils before and after handling food, separate raw and cooked foods, refrigerate perishable food promptly, and cook food to a safe temperature to kill deadly bacteria.

29. Consider mountain life

People residing at higher altitudes tend to live longer, a study by the University of Colorado and the Harvard School of Global Health revealed. Of the 20 healthiest counties in America, many are in Colorado and Utah. Researchers think lower oxygen levels might cause your body to adapt in ways that strengthen your heart and circulation.

30. Go nuts

In a European study of adults ages 55 to 69, those who ate 10 grams of nuts daily — 8 almonds or 6 cashews — reduced their risk of death from any health-related cause by 23 percent. As for specific ailments, consuming a handful of nuts at least five times per week lowers the mortality risk for heart disease (by 29 percent), respiratory disease (24 percent) and cancer (11 percent), according to a previous U.S. study. Sorry, peanut butter fans: Spreads didn’t show the same benefits.

31. Keep watching LOL cat videos

Laughter really is the best medicine, helping to reduce stress, boost the immune system, reduce pain and improve blood flow to the brain. In fact, laughter has the same effect on blood vessels as exercise, report researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

32. Get social

Studies show that loneliness increases the risk of early death by 45 percent. It weakens the immune system and raises blood pressure while increasing the risk for heart attacks and stroke. By contrast, people with strong ties to friends and family have as much as a 50 percent lower risk of dying, according to a study in PLOS Medicine. So visit a friend. And don’t discount your online friends. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that those who use Facebook also live longer, but only when online interactions don’t completely supplant face-to-face social interaction.

33. Watch your grandkids

While babysitting every day is stressful, regularly watching the grands can lower your risk of dying by a third, according to a 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior. That adds up to an extra five years of life, researchers say. They speculate that caregiving gives grandparents a sense of purpose, and keeps them mentally and physically active.

34. Try to stay out of the hospital

A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study found that some 250,000 patients die each year in hospitals from medical mistakes, such as misdiagnoses, poor practices and conditions, and drug errors. Sometimes the best way to avoid a grave condition is not to enter the system at all.

35. Read more

Sounds like we made it up, but scientific research supports the longevity benefits of reading — newspapers and magazines will do, but books are the best. “As little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the study’s senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale.

36. Read the ‘AARP Bulletin’

Really. This and other smart publications can keep you up to date on health info. Studies have shown that when people are empowered with information to make important medical decisions, it not only enhances their well-being but also improves a treatment’s effectiveness. So keep reading aarp.org/bulletin and aarp.org/health.

37. Monitor yourself

Don’t wait for annual checkups to consider your health. By then, a small problem could have morphed into a life-threatening illness. In one English study, researchers found that less than 60 percent of people who developed unusual symptoms in the previous three months had seen a doctor. Symptoms that might point to cancer include: unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more (this can be an indication of cancers of the esophagus, stomach or lungs); fever; extreme fatigue; changes in bowel or bladder habits; or unusual bleeding. Other unusual symptoms that could signal disease? A patch of rough, dark skin could indicate diabetes, and a strange color on your tongue could signal serious acid-reflux issues.

38. Visit the hardware store

Among the most common causes of “unintentional deaths” are carbon monoxide, radon and lead poisoning, the CDC reports. Make sure there’s a carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom, and be sure to test and replace the batteries every two years. Was your home built before 1978, when lead paint was outlawed? One trip to the store can get you all you need to test for these toxic substances.

39. Practice home fire drills

Just 1 in 3 families have a fire-safety plan, says Robert Cole, president of Community Health Strategies, an injury-prevention education organization based in Pittsford, N.Y. “People underestimate the speed of a fire. Many waste time figuring out what to do, or trying to take belongings with them. Everyone should know what to do and how to get out safely.”

40. Find a woman doctor

When Harvard researchers in 2016 analyzed Medicare records documenting more than 1.5 million hospitalizations over four years, they found that patients who received care from a female physician were more likely to survive and less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. In fact, about 32,000 fewer people would die each year “if male physicians achieved the same outcomes as female physicians,” the researchers said. Previous studies have suggested that female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and are more effective communicators.

41. Make peace with family

While we often stress about small stuff — the guests are here, and we’re not ready! — it’s the nagging, long-running forms of stress, such as a family dispute, that put your longevity at risk. Chronic stress hastens the cellular deterioration that leads to premature aging and a vast array of serious diseases, according to long-running research from the University of California, San Francisco. This sort of cell death “turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of early diseases of aging and in many studies of early mortality,” says lead researcher Elissa Epel. The remedy: Come to peace with the people in your life. Forgive your family, forgive yourself, put the past behind you — so you can have more life in front of you.

42. Take the stairs — every day

A study by University of Geneva researchers found that taking the stairs instead of the elevators reduced the risk of dying prematurely by 15 percent. What’s more, a daily stair climb shaves six months off your “brain age,” according to researchers at Concordia University who performed MRI scans on 331 people ages 19 to 79. Gray matter shrinks naturally with age, but less so when people stay active.

43. Toss that rug

One of the top risks for falls at home is throw rugs. Those slip-slidey accoutrements send 38,000 older adults to the emergency room each year, according to a 2013 study by the CDC. Banish these rugs from your home, and make sure bath mats have a nonslip bottom.

44. Beware the high-tech dash

Nearly one in five traffic accidents and more than 400,000 crash-related injuries involve a distracted driver, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports. Top distractions, according to a recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, are cellphones. But a less-obvious risk is using the touch screen on your car’s dashboard.

45. And drive less

In 2014, more than 5,700 older adults were killed and more than 236,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Per mile traveled, fatal crashes increase noticeably starting at age 70 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older, a highway safety organization says. If you’re feeling unsafe behind the wheel, it might be time to look for alternative transportation.

46. Better yet, walk

What’s the best prescription for a longer life? Exercise. And doctors are literally prescribing it instead of medication. “There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. It benefits your brain, heart, skin, mood and metabolism. Even as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can help (that’s all it takes to burn off the calories of one chocolate chip cookie). Once you can do 10 minutes, push it to 15. Then 20. Start slow, but just start.

47. Just not in the street

Nearly 5,000 pedestrians are killed annually in the U.S., according to the latest federal figures, and nearly 20 percent of those deaths were among adults age 65 and older. If you walk for your health — and we hope you do — stay safe and consider doing so at the mall, a community health center or a park.

48. And go a little faster

The benefits of a brisk walk are real: A University of Pittsburgh study of adults 65 and older found that those whose usual walking pace exceeded one meter per second lived longer. While researchers say they can’t recommend brisk walking as a panacea for living longer, they did see increased survival in those who picked up the pace over the course of a year.

49. Get fidgety

Never mind what your grade school teachers said; fidgeting is good. A 2016 British study finds that sitting for seven or more hours a day increases your risk of dying by 30 percent — except among active fidgeters, who see no increased risk.

50. Trade in Ol’ Bessie

High-tech safety features have now become standard in new cars. The government mandates that all have airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control — “up there with seat belts and airbags in its life- aving benefits,” says one industry leader — and tire pressure-monitoring systems. Carmakers also offer back-up cameras, self-parking features, blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, and forward-collision warning with auto-braking.

Border Cantos

March 9, 2017

Philip Martin Critical Mass piece on an art exhibition at Crystal Bridges

BENTONVILLE — Once in Arizona I heard an old cowboy say, “A border is a scar on the landscape,” and from the way he said it, I assumed it was an old American Indian saying, a bit of folk wisdom handed down through generations, taken for granted and hardly thought about.

But when thinking about it and trying to discover the source, I realized that it wasn’t some cliched proverb but maybe an original notion, something that, if I had the wherewithal, I should attribute to the speaker.

That was 25 years ago, in American Nogales, a few blocks from Mexican tumult, and I don’t remember why it came up.

It stuck all this time because it sounded poetic and might be true. But while wandering through the new “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, I realized it wasn’t true at all. A scar is the result of trauma, a seam that marks where the body was split, but it signals re-integration and healing, where the flesh has knitted together. The assertions of punk philosopher Henry Rollins aside, a scar isn’t really stronger than regular tissue (it’s only about 80 percent as strong) but it’s better than the alternative. Though we might think them ugly because they are a residual of pain, reminders of bad happenings we have survived, we ought to find them beautiful.

A scar is a repair, a new beginning.

And a border is meant to be an end. A border separates rather than joins. A border is a man-made thing, imposed and maintained by governments, breached by wind and weather and creatures ignorant of its purpose and undeterred by statute. A border is something only our kind can see and only with some help. We need a fence, a wall, a checkpoint, a smoothed channel of sand — something like an outfield’s warning track — to see a border.

Richard Misrach, the photographer whose monumental (60-by-80-inch) pictures hang on these walls, means to help us see the border. Not so much as a political symbol, not as a physical barrier separating us from them, not as a dam holding back a wash of the unwanted — but as a lonely ribbon cutting through an empty, silent sea of dust. As thin black stitching breaking for a horizon, lighting out for the territory beyond the scrub hills and ocher plains. As a fugitive, futile idea as vain and doomed as the statue in Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias,” Misrach’s aim is not journalistic. He’s after something more forensic and universal.

He says he wanted to make beautiful pictures and Misrach has, though many of his images — with bleached skies and stark reminders of human absence (the things we leave behind) — bespeak a certain terribleness. The borderlands are cruel and men are crueler: Witness the martial detritus (ammo boxes, shotgun shells and speckled human silhouette targets) of the U.S. Border Patrol.

To this end, few people appear in these photos. Those who do inevitably have their faces obscured by the barriers we’ve put up to keep them away. On their side of the border, which appears in a few shots as festive and color-shot as it is indistinct, a dreamy, out-of-focus Mexico hums with messy signs of life as opposed to the alkaline blankness of “our side,” where the desert seems like a killing jar for those desperate enough to try to cross it.

Misrach started shooting in the desert in 2004 long before the border became a pop political flashpoint, before Donald Trump became president in part by promising to “build a wall” and get Mexico to pay for it. In fact, nearly 700 miles of wall already exists, mostly in and near the towns along the nearly 2,000-mile border. It was built in fits and starts, as betrayed by the lack of a uniform style. In places it’s a corrugated iron fence made from repurposed military helicopter landing mats, sometimes it’s chain link topped with razor wire, sometimes it’s X-shaped barricades like those found on the Normandy beaches during D-Day. But most often in Misrach’s photos it’s a disarmingly benign-looking metal picket fence. Mainly it works to keep vehicles from surreptitiously crossing the border. People can go over and around it.

But once they do, they might have to cross 50 miles of desert to reach the first road. Some die in 120-degree heat. And some who make it leave behind evidence of their journey, like the backpack Misrach found with a pair of yellow boxer shorts bearing the cartoon character Taz (Tasmanian devil) riding a skateboard, an empty bag of Ruffles, a blue plastic razor, soap, toothbrush, socks and a few condoms.

Misrach photographs these poignant articles, as well as signs of efforts to mitigate the cruelty, such as the frayed blue flags snapping above plastic barrels filled with jugs of water for migrants.

After meeting sculptor and experimental composer Guillermo Galindo in 2011, Misrach started hauling back some of the things he found for Galindo to convert into musical instruments.

Outside the exhibit entrance, Galindo’s musical sculpture Fuente de Lagrimas (Fountain of Tears), constructed of a water barrel peppered by shotgun pellets and bullets, stands. Water drips from its puncture wounds, falling onto a metal plate, making a soothing, sloshing sound. Inside the gallery there’s a theremin he built from discarded bicycle rims and an instrument he calls the “ropofono,” a loom with contact microphones that brush against clothing discarded by migrants. It makes a ghostly sound, like the rustling of furtive night walkers.

Galindo, a Mexico Cityborn U.S. citizen, has also mounted a damaged section of the wall — one of the old helicopter pads, twisted probably by a ramming vehicle — into a gonglike sculpture he calls The Angel Exterminador (Exterminating Angel). He’s re-created the mysterious effigies that Misrach has photographed — X-framed agave stalks wearing tattered clothing — into a stringed instrument. Elsewhere he has converted a discarded can into the resonating chamber of an instrument modeled on a two-stringed Chinese erhu. He strings empty shotgun shells together to create his version of a West African shaker.

Throughout the gallery you can hear Galindo’s ambient, organic music, a 260-minute score called “Sonic Borders” played on the instruments he designed. It haws and sighs, trickles and coos, and gradually pulls the listener into the wide and teeming emptiness of the desert.

While the artists might deny the political nature of their work, it’s impossible to ignore the geopolitical implications of the physical border barriers — the sterility of the rich north is again and again contrasted with the teeming desperation of the south. Misrach has several images of Border Patrol drag tires — low-tech methods of smoothing the sand near the border so that migrants’ footprints would be apparent.

Galindo says that he first got a sense of how he could collaborate with Misrach on this project when he noticed how the dragged tires made a kind of staff in the sand on which notes might be plotted by migrants’ feet. Seen another way, the drag tires make a warning track like those found in baseball stadiums. They signal a danger zone: Look up, you’re about to hit the wall.

Which, on the U.S. side, can be problematic. While Mexican artists are free to decorate their side of the wall, the U.S. Border Patrol allows no such displays. In many places, they don’t even allow access to it.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Robert Frost wrote in his often misinterpreted poem “Mending Wall,” the one that many think has as its moral “good fences make good neighbors.” What “Border Cantos” makes clear is that, above all else, a border is a made thing, just like a work of art. They go up, but invariably they come down.

And the only real difference between us and the people on the other side is the fact of our separation.

Art

“Border Cantos:

Sight & Sound

Explorations From

the Mexican-American Border”

Through April 24, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville

Admission: free

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, Saturday-Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday

Info: crystalbridges.org or

(479) 418-5700

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

blooddirtangels.com

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

A detail from photographer Richard Misrach’s Playas de Tijuana No. 1, San Diego, California, this 2013 pigment print hangs at “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border.” The exhibition continues through April 24 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

 

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

Guillermo Galindo’s Lone Jar is a pigment print that is part of the “Border Cantos” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

This sculpture by Guillermo Galindo is created from immigrants’ clothing, wood and string. Effigy is part of a collaborative exhibition with photographer Richard Misrach at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Photographer Richard Misrach (left) and sculptor/composer Guillermo Galindo are the artists of “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations From the Mexican-American Border” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

 

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Border Target No. 51, near Gulf of Mexico, Texas is a Richard Misrach photograph that is part of the exhibition “Border Cantos” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Agua No. 1, near Calexico, California is the title of this pigment print by photographer Richard Misrach.

 

Courtesy of Guillermo Galindo

Shell Pinata is made from sheet metal and Border Patrol shotgun shells casings. It is part of the “Border Cantos” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Courtesy of Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach’s Protest Sign, Brownsville, Texas is one of his prints hanging at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is part of the collaborative exhibition “Border Cantos,” with sculptor and composer Guillermo Galindo.

The Many Uses of Kindness

March 9, 2017

Philip Martin article from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 2/28/17

In his more autobiographical than it might first appear novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut writes:

“I went to the University of Chicago for awhile after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.

“Another thing they taught was that no one was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, ‘You know —you never wrote a story with a villain in it.’ I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.”

A lot of us think stories with villains in them are vulgar and crude because they tend to let readers off the hook. Because no one is in their own heart a villain. Everyone has motives and can justify their actions. People are profoundly influenced by the circumstances they grow up in, by their parents, caretakers and friends, and by the ways early requisites are frustrated or met. Brain chemistry plays a role. We are all individuals with unique personalities, each of us invested with certain potentialities and limitations.

But none of us are born bad; I don’t believe a God would seed any soul with evil.

Though we might resist them in our fiction, we understand that in real life villains abound. Or at least they seem to until you allow yourself to recognize the wounded child within the fury and the heedless bluster, the neediness that compels acquisition and ostentatiousness. A monster is only a monster until you discover the source of its sorrow. Then it becomes an explicable human being, worthy of pity if not forgiveness.

So I wish that Hitler might have passed his audition for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, or that his severe architectural watercolors had found favor beyond the Jewish dealers who championed his work—Josef Neumann, Jakob Altenberg and Samuel Morgenstern. Things would surely have been different for the world had his interest in human beings matched his technical prowess.

Had Timothy McVeigh found a good girlfriend he might not have felt the need to bomb America; had Charles Foster Kane not been ripped from his childhood he might have had a chance at happiness. Had Richard Nixon received a hug at the right time, who knows how much history might have been ameliorated by kindness?

But these days we don’t talk much of kindness—for some of us it presents as weakness. At best, it’s seen as sort of a compensatory virtue. (If you can’t be the biggest, the best, the most impressive, maybe you can at least be kind.) It has little currency in our present moment when our elected representatives stand ready to do real damage to real people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.

Yet I want to understand these people who beg us for our dollars and votes, who yearn for high office and honorifics. Most of them probably started out with ideals, with at least the notion that they might help make the world a better place. Of course they were corrupted by the easy money that was offered them. Most of us would be too. Most of us would take the checks then reverse-engineer a theory to sell our constituents, the little people too dense to understand the president’s tax returns, who need a state-sponsored monument to the Ten Commandments to expand their moral education. But then most of us don’t hold ourselves out as would-be leaders willing to sacrifice our private ambitions for the public good.

How does one reconcile one’s conscience to the things one must do to stay in office—to avoid the wrath of the corporate players who, far more than the American people, are the ones who call the shots in the marbled halls of this country’s legislatures? How does one inure oneself to the heartbreak and suffering of people to the point that one makes common cause with bigots, misogynists, and sexual predators?

It used to be that Americans insisted on a base line of public decorumthat to achieve anything of substance in life one had to at least pretend to be a decent person.

It’s not that bad people didn’t succeed, or that ruthlessness was rewarded, only that a certain level of hypocrisy was generally maintained. In general, people who behaved badly sought to deny their bad behavior, and if that wasn’t possible, to explain how it wasn’t so bad as it appeared. Bad people who depended on the support of the public were especially concerned with making it possible for those inclined to defend them to be able to credibly do so.

Now some people can grab other people by their body parts. Or shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

That’s probably always been the case, so maybe our new age is more honest. It’s certainly more raw—more people have screamed at me on the phone in the past year than in the rest of my career combined. And I’ve never been more inclined to scream back. I’ve never felt less amused by the petty dissimulations and transparent spinlies—emanating from our lawgivers. I’ve never been closer to adopting the Howard Beale position in Network (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”)

But I’m going to try to be kind.

I would urge you to do the same. Ask your questions, for despite what they will try to tell you, you have a right to ask questions and they have a duty to answer. They are the ones who held themselves out for this work, they were not drafted or forced, and if they find the heat too much they can find their way out of the kitchen, probably into a sinecure provided by their corporate clients.

If you keep asking, they will have to answer. Insist nicely, but insist. For they are not bad people; maybe they just weren’t raised right.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

I Underestimated Us (from March 2016)

March 3, 2017

By Philip Martin

Philip re-posted this on Facebook in March of 2017

I thought it would never come to this, that there was a bottom to be struck from which we might rebound. Now I’m not so sure. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests we are an infantilized nation, uninterested in hearing any message that doesn’t pay tribute to our not-so-secret image of ourselves as the best, brightest and most persecuted people on the planet. I thought that when it came down to it, the American people–the everyday folks who watch Jeopardy! and work the Sunday crosswords–would not be having any of this cult of personality strongman jive.

I thought we were too smart for that, that we’d seen the movies about Lonesome Rhodes and Howard Beale, that at least enough of us knew about Father Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith and that there were limits to how far we’d let some amusing con man go before we’d yank hard on his chain and tell the boy to settle down. A fake reality TV star with special-effects hair? The American people might string him along a while for laughs, but eventually he’d push it, he’d refuse to disavow the Ku Klux Klan or passively plagiarize Il Duce, spend a week apologizing and then drop out.

Yeah, Ronald Reagan was an actor, but it’s not fair to compare him to Donald Trump, for whatever you think of Reagan, when it came down to statecraft there was a deep seriousness to the man. You mightn’t have agreed with his philosophy, but as The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak once said of National Socialism, at least a guiding ethos was present. Trump offers nothing more or less than his super-powered self–he’ll bat his eyes to melt Putin’s heart, he’ll make those rapey Mexicans pay to build their own wall. He’ll make us all winners again.

And sure, it’s not surprising he did all right at first. After all, name recognition is what matters more than anything else. And Trump’s name is everywhere; if he’s good at anything aside from inheriting money it’s self-promoting. I stayed in one his hotels eight years ago, and every week I still get emails inviting me to enjoy a special rate to return or to play golf on one of his courses.

He’s got a sense of humor and he’s utterly shameless–he made his own bad taste a trademark, and his brand is so ubiquitous that some people even believe he’s whatever he says he is: smart, handsome, a good businessman, a scratch golfer. It’s disapppointing, but a lot of Americans support Trump simply because he’s rich. (Because you know, the rich are always doing stuff for the little folks, like leaving $100 tips and moving their manufacturing plants to China.)

(Not that Trump supporters will listen, but there are any number of ways to become a billionaire, and one of the easiest ways is to inherit $200 million. As a lot of people have pointed out, though Trump is worth about $4 billion now, if he’d just stuck his inheritance in an index fund and spent his time walking the earth he’d be worth about $13 billion.)

But the real reason people support Trump is because he doesn’t require anything of them but their free-floating anger. I’m not ready to give Trump credit for doing this on purpose, but at times it seems he’s conducting a kind of Stanley Milgram-type experience on the body politic. He rants all this racist, extremist ugly stuff because it’s what frustrated people who don’t like to be challenged want to hear. He doesn’t believe it any more than he believes in the common sense of common folk, but it’s working so he’d be a fool to change. And a lot of his supporters understand how unworthy Trump’s message is, but they don’t care because he’s not coming for them. He’s after the other guy.

Trump is like a professional wrestler in that while he engages with reality, he does so in a odd, almost metafictional way. He understands he’s fake, and that at least some (most) of his potential audience knows he’s fake. He’s playing a character called Donald Trump. But he’s also real; he’s been validated–animated like Frankenstein’s monster–by poll numbers and primary results. He knows he can really be the nominee, despite the GOP’s best efforts to stop him. (And it’s saying something that a lot of serious people don’t think Trump’s the worst the Republicans have on offer this time around.)

While a lot of Democratic partisans might see that as the best thing that could happen for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t give me a lot of comfort. Nobody has tomorrow promised to them, and I’m not at all comfortable with the Donald getting that close to the big chair. I don’t imagine a Trump presidency will be any worse than disappointing to all involved (especially to Trump himself). I think that the legislative and judicial branches would frustrate Trump at least as much as they have Barack Obama, but I’d rather not play chicken with the Constitution, and I’m not all that curious to see if he nominates Howard Stern or Judge Joe Brown to the Supreme Court.

(It would be funny to see Trump govern more or less like the moderate Democrat his history would suggest he might be. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest he’d take any steps to make the federal government smaller.)

Frankly, you all are scaring me. This should have been put to bed a while ago, the grownups should have swooped down and taken us in hand. But the problem is, there really aren’t any grownups anymore, are there? We’re a nation that lives on fast food and idiot television. The only kind of thinking we like to do is magical. We can’t even be grammatical in our anonymous comments.

Someone told me we get the government we deserve. Let us pray that isn’t true.

Buddy Holly 2-3-1959

February 3, 2017
Innocence is apparently a renewable resource. Americans have lost it dozens of times in the last 60 years. There was JFK and Vietnam and RFK and Martin and Watergate and the Challenger disaster — every one of those signal events wounded us and made us believe the world could never be the same again.
Yet, then again, maybe there is something to the cliche. Maybe the death of idols and the indifference of heaven teaches us lessons we need to learn in order to grow up. At least we feel compelled to find some point in catastrophe. Innocence lost, something gained. Maturity, perhaps? Or wisdom?
At 1 a.m. Feb. 3, 1959, a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza took off from Iowa’s Mason City airport in a light snow heading to Moorhead, Minn. Minutes later, it crashed in a cornfield, instantly killing its young pilot and his three famous passengers — Buddy Holly, 22; Richie Valens, 17, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28.
“The crash first scraped the ground at a spot in the middle of the field, breaking off one wing and other parts of the plane,” reported The Clear Lake (Iowa) Mirror-Record. “It then bounced and skidded about 200 yards further to the northwest, scattering wreckage and debris along the way until it piled into a wire fence along the north end of the pasture. The plane was completely demolished in the crash, but did not burn.”
Hours earlier, the three stars had performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake before a sellout crowd as part of a multi-state “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest.
It had been a miserable tour plagued by bad weather and a creaky bus. Holly chartered the plane, feeling he needed a respite from the cold, bone-jarring bus. Originally he planned to take his band mates — guitarist Tommy Allsup and bassist Waylon Jennings — with him on the plane. But Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, who had a cold, and Allsup ended up losing a coin flip with Valens.
That plane crash, rock ‘n’ roll’s first tragedy, shocked a naive generation into the realization they were not immortal. As songwriter Don McLean put it in his windy ballad “American Pie,” it was “the day the music died.”
And it was. The crash proved to be a harbinger of hard times for ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis was in the Army, Little Richard got religion, Jerry Lee Lewis had been derailed by scandal, the law was hounding Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins was almost killed in a car wreck. And the generation of teen-idol performers who began to emerge after the founding fathers faltered threatened to swing rock ‘n’ roll back in the finger-poppin’ direction of Pat Boone.
It is fitting that a 16-year-old kid named Robert Thomas Velline — who used the stage name Bobby Vee — filled in for Holly the night after the plane crash (amazingly, the promoters refused to cancel the tour). Holly’s crash turned out to be Vee’s big break; the death of the genuine fertilized the growth of the imitative.
And Buddy Holly was genuine. He was fast emerging as a contender to Elvis’ throne with such Top 10 hits as “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” — bracing, brisk records that retain their fresh allure today. Though he recorded for only three years, Holly and the Crickets produced dozens of songs that have become part of the rock ‘n’ roll canon — from the anthemic “Not Fade Away” to the melancholy “Learning the Game” to the uncanny “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (Holly’s first posthumous hit).
All those songs are just part of it. Holly and the Crickets were the first self-contained rock ‘n’ roll band that wrote songs as well as performed them. Their two-guitar, bass and drums lineup became the model for rock bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Holly popularized the Fender Stratocaster —still the world’s most popular electric guitar. Many British Invasion groups copped Holly’s guitar style and hiccuping, rockabilly vocals. Paul McCartney admired him so much he later acquired the publishing rights to his music; he has been quoted as saying if not for The Crickets, there would have been no Beatles. John Lennon and Roy Orbison said that Buddy Holly made them feel it was OK to wear glasses on stage. By dying young, Buddy Holly was caught in amber; his geeky good looks and heavy black glasses were enshrined as icons in our collective consciousness. He seems less a person than some kind of Eisenhower-era cartoon, a rock legend who didn’t live long enough to wear out his welcome, to succumb to the temptations of the high life, to make mediocre records.
But Buddy Holly isn’t just a legend; he was a rangy, raw-boned country boy from Lubbock, Texas, too. Jerry “J.I.” Allison met Holly in when he was in the seventh grade and the legend-to-be was in the eighth.
It was Allison who married Peggy Sue Gerron — the inspiration for at least two of Holly’s most famous songs — and whose steady drumming helped define The Crickets’ trademark sound. He is usually referred to as Holly’s best friend — he and Peggy Sue accompanied Holly and his wife, Mary Elena, on a double honeymoon in Acapulco.
“We really didn’t start hanging out together until high school,” Allison says, “when we started learning to play rock ‘n’ roll together. I was playing in a country band called Cal Wayne and the Riverside Range Hands; Buddy used to come out and sit in with us and do Bill Haley stuff.”
At the time, Allison says, the teen-age Holly was playing with schoolmate Bob Montgomery, doing Louvin Brothers songs and similar material. In 1954, however, Holly saw — and apparently met — Elvis Presley when he played Lubbock’s Cotton Club. Buddy and Bob added a bassist to their act and amended their business cards to read “BUDDY AND BOB: WESTERN AND BOP.”
Holly’s precocious songwriting and energetic performances earned him a contract with Decca, who summoned him — minus his band mates — to Nashville in January 1956. Although those Nashville sessions were overseen by the veteran producer Owen Bradley, Holly didn’t really click with the Nashville pros.
Starting with “Blue Days, Black Nights,” Holly recorded five straight-ahead country singles for Decca Records’ Nashville division that went unnoticed. Disappointed with the results, Decca allowed Holly’s contract to expire. He returned to Lubbock where he worked with several local musicians before settling on the lineup that would become the original Crickets — Allison on drums, Joe B. Maudlin on bass, Nikki Sullivan on guitar.
Recording with Norman Petty at his Clovis, New Mexico, studios 100 miles west of Lubbock, the Crickets soon earned themselves new record deals on Decca subsidiaries Coral (for records released under Buddy Holly’s name) and Brunswick (for records credited to The Crickets). By August 1956, the Crickets had a No. 1 hit with “That’ll Be the Day.”
They went on to have an iconic pop career — a few hits, a break-up and a plane crash.
At the time Holly died, he had made only $60,000 or so in royalties. Now his estate is estimated to bring in more than $1 million per year; and he has sold nearly 60 million records posthumously.
If Buddy Holly were alive, he’d be 80 years old now. What if the first wave of American rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t gone down in that Iowa cornfield? It is possible that, like James Dean before him, Buddy Holly left the stage at precisely the perfect time for legend-making. He had broken with The Crickets and moved to New York, and there were pressures on him — as with Elvis Presley — to move in the direction of pop music.
Buddy Holly might have tried to make himself into Dean Martin — after all, no one could have had any real expectations that the rock ‘n’ roll idiom would survive more than a few years. He had also expressed a desire to do a gospel album with Mahalia Jackson, and to do more songwriting and producing for other artists. He might have evolved into a country artist, like Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash or even his last bass player, Waylon Jennings. Had he survived, Buddy Holly might have managed to preserve his dignity, and to have escaped the appetites and excesses that ruined Elvis. He might even have done what that most perfect rock ‘n’ roll song rails against: he might have slipped away, back into obscurity.
But there are only a few transcendent moments in rock ‘n’ roll, and when Buddy Holly hit that first line of the second verse of that song — “My love’s bigger than a Cadillac” — he walked right into one of them. Not fade away? He hasn’t. Not fade away? Don’t worry, he won’t.

Wondering what to do next

January 30, 2017

Philip Martin Article published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 1/29/17

If you are wondering what to do next, start with something blank: a clean white sheet of paper or a fresh browser window. Or a stretched canvas. Or the fraught still air of a quiet moment.

Gather whatever tools you have. Your paint pots, your pencils, your coffee, your guitar. Your nerve. The flick of hubris you try to keep tamped down during social interactions. That part of you that imagines your expression worth the attention of others. The inarticulate furiousness and dissatisfaction that troubles your sleep. Your conscience. Your truth.

Now begin.

Begin in humility, knowing the point is not to make any display of acumen or effort but simply to try. The point is to do, to fill up a lifetime with doing. To push out fear with busyness. To discover your limits and bloody your nails scraping against them.

Do not imagine an anonymous audience; speak to your ideal intimate. Do not condescend or explain or worry about what they will not understand. For if you are fortunate enough to be heard, you will be misunderstood and willfully misconstrued. If you are noticed, you will be ungenerously appraised.

Still, receive whatever criticism you are lucky enough to get. And remember that this is not therapy. You should not expect to be healed through endeavor. Do not expect any reward beyond that which is inherent in making the thing. Do not expect that you can please those who will not be pleased; do not expect that you can win friends or influence people.

This is just what you do next, what you do to keep sane. What you do to hold onto your self-respect.

Above all, you should not pretend. Do not hedge your efforts, but try to strike it flush. And when you miss, try again. Do not worry about the misses. Misses are inevitable and necessary. They are your education and experience. Your exercise.

If you are wondering what to do next, you need to avoid collapsing into whatever comfort is available. You need to be suspicious of easy habits that lure you into physical and mental lassitude. Comfort can be a trap. There are always those who would prefer you soothed and placated, hypnotized by shiny spinning things. We are liable to trade much away for the illusion that all is well.

You are an adult, so you know that all is never as well as it might be. The world is no accident; it is what we have made it. It is as much the product of our unreliability and our folly as of any thoughtfulness and foresight. Our society is an expression of our collective will.

But the world was never a blank–it was rife with creatures before we got here. We inherited a planet precariously balanced between extremes, verdant and blue and hospitable to soft flesh and warm blood. However you look at it, it took a squaring of miracles to bring us here, to deliver us to the top of a food chain, to invent our superstitions and our science.

Climbs are hard. Falls are easy, though they seem unimaginable until they happen. But they happen. All the time. Things fall apart. What we make is unmade.

It is possible that you will one day be powerless. That your voice won’t matter. But now is not that time.

Someday you may worry that your neighbor will report on you. It is easy to think that cannot happen here, but it could. It has. If you read history you know this, you know how people can imagine themselves good people even as they permit (or suborn) evil.

Consider that one of the lucky things about living in this country, in this age, is that up to now most of us have never really had to make a hard choice about which side we’re on. Most of us have been able to take for granted that–no matter how heated the rhetoric becomes–most of what we argue about amounts to very little.

There are petty inequalities: Someone pays a little more, someone else a little less. Someone is allowed access, someone else waits in the hallway. We are used to being insulated from the consequences of our choices. We can cheer for blue or red; someone will win and someone will lose and they will line up again in a year or two or four and play the game again.

Nobody goes to prison. Nobody gets tossed from an airplane in the middle of the night. (Not yet. Not that we know of, at least.)

But this can change. We might believe we have made something more resilient than what people in other parts of the world have made–a better machine into which we plug the egos and delusions of needy people who imagine themselves great, and who imagine that they might somehow “lead” us to greatness (or maybe just want to secure the spoils of office)– but nothing lasts forever.

You know how people behave. Why do you imagine yourself immune to the forces of history? Why do you imagine your nation more durable than the empires of the past? Is it because we have better Wi-Fi?

Is it because you believe that God looks on us with special favor? That He loves us more than the others?

If so, why is that? Because we are so much better at loving our neighbors as ourselves? Because we care so much for the poor and the sick?

If you are wondering what to do, turn it over in your mind. Start from zero. Imagine what might be, and try to make it so. Distrust what feels easy, the careworn cliches and the analgesic homilies. Question it all.

If you are wondering what to do next, imagine the world you want. And get to work.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

Read more at http://www.blooddirtangels.com

 

Philip Martin’s January 1 Column

January 1, 2017

Welcome to the everlasting now
By Philip Martin

This article was published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 1/1/17 at 1:50 a.m.

It’s an arbitrary line we’ve just crossed, from one year to the next. The wind doesn’t know it’s a new year. Calendars are artificial as hash marks on AstroTurf, just another way human beings keep track. Another way we can pretend our rituals and mythologies matter, that the stack we’ve piled up that’s maybe bigger than our neighbors’ means something. But it’s just an odometer; it rolls over and sometimes the numbers line up in ways we find interesting or significant.

I get why some people have no interest in participating. What use will all our trophies be in the cool and coming night?

But I also get why some of us are waking up with aching heads this morning. I try to watch myself these days, but I might even be one of those sorehead romantics. Engagement, at least for now, seems more interesting than the alternative. I understand that it’s all just dragon chasing, but the desperation with which we poor humans can play is touching; the wanting is always more important than the getting.

I realize that’s a dangerous sentiment, that it wanders through the neighborhood of Gordon Gekko and Ayn Rand. But I don’t think greed is good, or that the mindless pursuit of self-interest is somehow noble or natural. I only think a lot of people like to hear things like that because it provides them with cover for doing what they want to do, for leveraging every small advantage they can find. I think it’s all right to give a sucker an even break, to share your cookie with the dirty kid in the Toughskins dungarees. And I don’t worry if that makes me a Christian or a Communist because I know I’m doing it for my own selfish reasons, so I might sleep a little better.

At this point waking up in paradise would be a nice lagniappe.

Not that I have to worry too much about that; I pass up opportunities to be a better person all the time. There are homeless folks I don’t give money to, there are stricken and sad people to whom I don’t provide comforting words. When I donate something, I ask for a receipt. Mostly I try not to make anything worse for anyone if I can help it.

Anyway, it’s no longer the year in which David Bowie and Carrie Fisher and millions of other people I never met died; it’s a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter. And as such it’s terrifying. For like they say, the future is unwritten, but look at all the hands grasping pens, looking to scrawl their names big in the book. That sort of ambition ought to scare those of us cognizant of history and the limitations of our arts and sciences, but it’s the way the world has always worked. We’ve never been led by our wisest or most humane, we’ve mostly been led by charismatic monomaniacs who had the foresight to be born in fortunate circumstances.

Some of them we make heroes because there is a part of us that requires heroes, just as we require an apparently ordered universe. (Just as we require a repeating calendar, and the very concept of time. We need ideas that we can sink into our minds to tether us to the reality we’ve agreed to observe.) We imbue the people who capture the attention of the cameras and the sycophants with magic. We imagine that they might know things we don’t–that we can’t–and that they might, by force of personality or magic, deliver us into a world that’s different from the one we’ve always known.

Yet while our gimmicks and toys have become more elaborate and efficient, human nature is the gravity that drags us back into the mire. We can expect to live longer than people used to, to hang around the bar for a few more auld lang synes than our great-grandparents did. But these imagined gains are undercut by the fact we can kill each other deader now, at a faster rate, from a greater distance.

We’ve traded our libraries for a cybernetic consciousness that’s proving no more reliable or disciplined than our individual brains. We’ve traded our books for touchscreens, our rituals for affection for apps. You can argue the advantages of the old over the new or vice-versa; you can be nostalgic for the glowing warm distortion of the analog or unsentimental about the inevitable triumph of the digital, it’s all part of the same drive for diversion.

Whatever the stakes, we will find ways of preoccupying and forgetting ourselves. That’s why some people care so much for football. Why some people care so much for politics. It’s not because they really think the outcomes of the contests will have a major effect on their lives, but because they know they won’t. Most people are too concerned with those problems that are particular and immediate to them–they worry about their jobs, their kids, their marriages, whether they’ll be able to ever retire–to put much effort into finding out about and analyzing arcane policy proposals. Mostly we just vote for people we think we’d like were we to meet them. Or for people we think we’d like to be.

It’s really that simple. You like the way someone looks, you feel assured by their persona, you’ll find a way to justify your feelings, even if you’re not stirred enough to actually vote for them. That’s why candidates are sold like other products. An appeal to the buyer’s aspiration beats an appeal to reason, but the most effective method is to activate one’s fear.

And as important as newspapers and other newsgathering organizations pretend it is, it isn’t as important as one’s private life. People like to use high-minded words like “liberty” and “freedom” but the truth is most of us would trade those in for a guaranteed level of personal and economic security. There are no guarantees. No one can keep you safe. No one can ensure your prosperity in a complex world where things so erratic as the phobias and foibles of men influence the market.

All we can do is stay alert–“woke,” as the kids say–and understand that the future belongs to those who seize it. And that, in the long run, there is no long run. It’s the moment, the everlasting now, that matters.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

http://www.blooddirtangels.com

Editorial on 01/01/2017

Dave Barry’s Year In Review (2016)

December 30, 2016

December 30, 2016 10:00 AM

Dave Barry’s Year in Review: 2016 — What the … ?

The United States of Powerball

If the record-breaking Powerball jackpot has you dreaming of how you would spend the winnings — you are not alone. But where you live plays a big role in how much of the prize you would get to keep. BY: Nicole L. Cvetnic and Sarah Whitmire / McClatchy

North Korea successfully tests a hydrogen bomb, although this achievement is tarnished somewhat by the fact that the explosion causes the death, by startling, of the isolated nation’s lone remaining chicken.

In what critics cite as yet another example of declining U.S. prestige, Iran seizes two U.S. naval vessels and captures 10 crew members; what makes the incident particularly embarrassing is that these vessels were docked in Cleveland. The captured sailors are released, but only after Secretary of State John Kerry assures the Iranian government that he will not deploy James Taylor.

The Powerball jackpot reaches a record $1.6 billion, with an estimated 45 percent of the tickets being purchased by the city of Detroit using money budgeted for “infrastructure.”

Speaking of huge amounts of money being wasted, in …

FEBRUARY

… the presidential primary season takes center stage. On the Republican side, the big issue — as you would expect, given the stakes in this election — is Donald Trump’s hand size and whether it correlates with the size of his portfolio, which he claims is huge, although he is reluctant to show it to the non-supermodel public. The hand-size issue is raised by Marco Rubio, who scores in the early polls, then fades as voters realize that he is still in the early stages of puberty. Trump’s strongest rival is Ted Cruz, a veteran debater so knowledgeable and confident that Mahatma Gandhi would want to punch him in the face. Meanwhile Jeb Bush, who was considered the early favorite, fails to gain traction with the voters despite having by far the most comprehensive set of policy initiativezzz

Sorry! We nodded off thinking about Jeb, as did the voters.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is widely presumed to be the front-runner based on being a historic woman with a lengthy resume of service to the nation who, with her husband Bill, has serviced the nation for decades to the tune of several hundred million dollars. She is declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses via a controversial and confusing process that, in some precincts, involves dodgeball. But Clinton faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, a feisty 217-year-old Vermont senator with a message of socialism, but the good kind of socialism where everybody gets a lot of free stuff, not the kind where starving people fight over who gets the lone remaining beet at the co-op. Sanders wins the New Hampshire Democratic primary, followed — in what some observers see as a troubling sign — by Vladimir Putin.

Dave Barry goes searching for protesters on the campaign trail

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry goes in search of protesters in New Hampshire – the “live free or die” state – and ends up in a gaggle of passionate Ted Cruz fans.

Natalie Fertig McClatchy

In other February news:

▪ A lengthy standoff at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon finally comes to an end when anti-government militants, after protracted negotiations, are eaten by the federal wildlife.

▪ Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the nation’s political leaders observe a period of mourning and reflection lasting three billionths of a second, then commence the important bipartisan work of not making any progress whatsoever on a replacement.

▪ The troubled Chipotle chain temporarily closes all of its restaurants after several customers are attacked by what health authorities describe as “E. coli bacteria the size of adult pythons.”

▪ The Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl, thanks in part to a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the Carolina Panther defense for stealing Peyton Manning’s walker.

Speaking of unsportsmanlike, in …

MARCH

… the Republican presidential race grows increasingly nasty, spiraling downward in tone to the point where Ted Cruz makes the following statement, which we swear we are not making up: “Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.” This sounds as though Cruz is saying that he would copulate with a rat, as long as the rat was not Donald Trump. Presumably that is not what Cruz meant, but nobody really wants to know what he did mean. Meanwhile Ben Carson announces, in his extremely low-key and soft-spoken manner, that he is going to suspend his campaign. Or visit Spain. Or possibly rob a train. There is no way to be certain.

From Florida’s Python Challenge to the candidates most likely to get us into World War III, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen lobbed a few choice zingers about the 2016 presidential campaign at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables.

Matias Ocner mocner@miamiherald.com

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders are also in a tight and testy battle, although Clinton slowly gains the upper hand thanks to the Democratic Party’s controversial formula for allocating “superdelegates,” which is as follows:

▪ 57 percent go to Clinton.

▪ The remaining 43 percent also go to Clinton.

Responding to charges from the Sanders camp that the Democratic National Committee is tipping the scales in Clinton’s favor, chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz states that “the DNC is scrupulously neutral in the contest between Secretary Clinton and the senile Commie fart.”

In other political news, President Barack Obama nominates Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Republican leaders are quick to note that, while Garland appears to be qualified, his name is an anagram for “Rancid Lark Germ.”

But by far the most controversial political issue of the month — which nobody thought about before, yet which all of a sudden is the defining civil rights struggle of the 21st century — is the question of who can pee where in North Carolina.

In foreign affairs, Obama pays a historic visit to Cuba but is forced to leave after three days when he discovers that there is only one golf course. A historic baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team has to be called off in the fourth inning because all but four of the Cuban players have switched sides.

Speaking of historic, in …

APRIL

… England observes the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates the occasion by wearing a large hat and smiling grimly at horses.

Meanwhile world tension mounts when satellite imagery reveals that North Korea has positioned an 18-story plastic bottle containing an estimated 40 million liters of Diet Coke on the border with South Korea, and has somehow obtained what one military analyst describes as “Mentos mints the size of barns.” North Korea insists that the project is “strictly defensive,” but the United Nations Security Council, responding with its toughest sanctions yet against the rogue nation, votes to unfriend Kim Jong-un on Facebook.

In another alarming international development, Russian fighter jets, continuing a pattern of increasingly provocative behavior toward the U.S., attack the control tower at La Guardia airport. After assessing the damage, airport authorities announce that departing flights will be delayed an average of four months, nearly twice as long as usual. Secretary of State Kerry calls the act “a deliberate provocation” and, in his strongest response to date, warns that the U.S. is considering “a harshly worded memorandum.”

In U.S. presidential politics, Ted Cruz, making a last-ditch effort to stop the Trump juggernaut, announces that his choice for running mate is — prepare for a game-changing jolt of high-voltage excitement — Carly Fiorina. This would be the same Carly Fiorina who dropped out after the New Hampshire primary because she got approximately six votes. On the plus side, Cruz manages to make this announcement without mentioning rats.

In other political news, Hillary Clinton is troubled by a persistent cough that leaves her unable to speak at some campaign stops, forcing her to express her commitment to working families by shattering a porcelain figurine of a Wall Street banker with a hammer. A Trump spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that the Trump campaign “will not speculate on Mrs. Clinton’s health,” adding that “she obviously has some terrible disease.”

Speaking of bad news, in …

MAY

… tragedy strikes the Cincinnati Zoo when zoo authorities, fearing for the life of a 3-year-old who has climbed into the gorilla enclosure, are forced to shoot and kill a gorilla named Harambe, who instantly becomes way more revered on the internet than Mother Teresa.

In other domestic news, passengers at major U.S. airports complain that they are missing flights because security lines are so long.

Q. How long are they?

A. One of them contains a Wright brother.

Asked for an explanation, a spokesperson for the federal Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening passengers, blames the airline industry, pointing out that “If the airlines didn’t keep selling tickets, we wouldn’t have all these people showing up at airports trying to catch flights.” The spokesperson suggests that people planning to travel by air during busy times should consider other options, such as suicide.

In a medical breakthrough, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital announce that they have performed the first successful penis transplant in the United States. The patient’s name — we are not making this item up — is “Manning.”

Abroad, satellite surveillance reveals that North Korea has constructed what military analysts describe as “an extremely large slingshot” as well as a latex balloon believed to be large enough to hold a quantity of water equivalent to Lake Tahoe. The North Korean government insists that these items are intended for “medical research.”

In sports, suspicions of doping by Russian Olympic athletes resurface after little-known sprinter Vladimir Raspatovsky, who has never previously posted a world-record time, wins the Kentucky Derby.

Speaking of winners, in …

JUNE

… it becomes evident that, barring some highly unlikely political development, the next president of the United States will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the nation is in the grip of a worsening heroin epidemic. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Speaking of coincidences: Bill Clinton happens to find himself in the same airport as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and — as any two people would do if one of them was the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer and the other was married to the subject of a federal investigation — they meet privately aboard Lynch’s Justice Department jet. When word of the meeting leaks out, Lynch assures the press that she and Bill did not discuss the FBI investigation into Hillary’s email, adding, “nor did we inhale.” For her part, Hillary continues to insist that she never emailed anything classified, and even if she did she actually didn’t, besides which so did a lot of other people such as Colin Powell and Harry Truman, and this so-called “scandal” is ancient history from literally years ago that just makes a person sigh and roll her eyes because it is preventing her from fighting for working families while at the same time being a historic woman.

Also for the sake of balance we should note that throughout June, Donald Trump continues to emit a steady stream of truly idiotic statements.

In sports, Cleveland — in a historic upset — actually wins something.

The day Cassius Clay and The Beatles shared the ring

On February 18, 1964, The Beatles were in Miami Beach to perform on the Ed Sullivan show and were taken to the training camp of boxer Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali.

Charles Trainor ctrainor@miamiherald.com

But the big sports story for June, and the year, is the death of Muhammad Ali, a person so remarkable that even the tidal wave of phony saccharine media-manufactured grief-hype that engulfs modern celebrity deaths cannot detract from the simple truth that he really was as great as he said he was.

Internationally, the top story is “Brexit” — the decision by voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. This comes as a big surprise to professional pollsters, who had confidently predicted the opposite result; they enjoy a hearty laugh, then head across the Atlantic to apply their talents to the forthcoming American presidential election.

Meanwhile British politics is plunged into chaos, the result being that in …

JULY

… Prime Minister David Cameron and other top officials resign, new people take office, and the UK essentially has a new government, ready to move on. This entire process takes about two weeks, or less time than it takes the major American political parties to agree on the seating arrangements for a “town hall debate.”

In U.S. politics, the Republicans gather in Cleveland to nominate Trump, although many top party officials are unable to attend because of an urgent compelling need to not be there. Nevertheless Trump receives enthusiastic prime-time endorsements from former celebrity Scott Baio, several dozen Trump children and current Trump wife Melania, who enthralls delegates with a well-received speech in which she tells her heartwarming story of growing up as an African-American woman in Chicago. The dramatic highlight comes on the final night, when Trump, in his acceptance speech, brings the delegates cheering to their feet with his emotional challenge to “grab the future by the p—y.”

On the Democratic side, the month gets off to a rocky start when FBI Director James Comey, announcing the results of the bureau’s investigation, reveals that when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, her official emails, some including classified material, were basically as secure from prying eyes as a neon beer sign. Nevertheless, Comey says he is recommending that no criminal charges be brought against Clinton, because, quote, “I don’t want to die.”

With that legal hurdle cleared, relieved Democrats gather in Philadelphia for their convention, which opens — in a bid to placate Sanders’ delegates — with the ceremonial caning of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This is followed by several hundred speeches praising Hillary Clinton for the many accomplishments she has achieved, as well as the achievements she has accomplished, while at the same time being, historically, a woman. In her acceptance speech, Clinton calls on Americans “to join with me in building a better world for us and for our children,” adding, “or I will crush you like an insect.”

In a media shakeup, Roger Ailes resigns as chairman of Fox News following allegations that his name can be rearranged to spell “I ogle rears.”

As the month ends, skydiver Luke Aikins sets a world record by jumping out of a plane 25,000 feet over California without a parachute or wing suit. He manages to land safely in a net despite the fact that on the way down — in what John Kerry calls “a deliberate provocation” — he is strafed by Russian fighter jets.

Speaking of provocations, in …

AUGUST

… Donald Trump goes to Mexico, having been informed by his team of foreign-policy advisers that this is where Mexicans come from. He meets with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and although he does not try to persuade Peña Nieto that Mexico should pay for the huge imaginary wall that he has promised to build, Trump does demonstrate his legendary prowess as a hard-nosed businessman by negotiating what he describes as “a fantastic price” on a souvenir sombrero that he claims is “easily 4 feet in diameter.”

Meanwhile, newly released State Department emails cause some people to suggest that the reason a variety of dodgy foreign businesspeople and nations gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state was that they expected — get a load of THIS wacky right-wing conspiracy theory! — to receive special access to or favors from the U.S. government. Hillary has no choice but to roll her eyes and laugh in a violently unnatural manner at this latest attempt to use these discredited smear tactics to prevent her, a historic and lifelong woman, from fighting for working families as well as working for fighting families.

Dave Barry discovers something other than fish in the ocean off Rio

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry roams the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to discover (and make sense of) all the sights and sounds surrounding the 2016 Olympic Games.

Nicole L. Cvetnic and David Eulitt / McClatchy

Abroad, the summer Olympic games open in Brazil amid dire warnings about Zika, riots, muggers, muggers with Zika and windsurfers being attacked by predatory oceangoing feces. But the games for the most part go smoothly, the biggest glitch being when one of the diving pools mysteriously turns a dark, murky green. The mystery is finally solved when the pool is drained, revealing a Russian nuclear submarine, which Russia insists is in international waters.

In the athletic competition, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt becomes the first athlete ever to win the men’s 100 meter final wearing flip-flops. But the U.S. team dominates the games, with the most memorable performance coming from a team of athletes led by swimmer and rocket scientist Ryan Lochte competing in the Four-Man Gas Station Wall Pee.

Elsewhere in sports, the opening of the National Football League season provides a much-needed diversion to Americans who are sick of being bitterly divided over politics and welcome the opportunity to be bitterly divided over how players respond to the National Anthem.

Speaking of bitter, in …

SEPTEMBER

Clinton and Trump square off in the first presidential debate, which leads to a national conversation about an issue of vital concern to all Americans, namely the alleged weight gain of Alicia Machado, Miss Universe 1996. This topic is raised by Clinton in an obvious attempt to bait Trump into wasting valuable campaign time talking about something that cannot possibly benefit him, so naturally Trump, who by his own admission has an extremely high IQ, latches onto it like a barnacle onto the Titanic. He focuses on the former Miss Venezuela with laser-like intensity for the better part of a week before getting back to his previous campaign strategy of engaging in bitterly personal Twitter feuds, often with other Republicans.

But it is also not a totally great month for Clinton, who appears to collapse while being helped into a van after hastily leaving a 9/11 memorial ceremony. Her campaign, responding with the transparency, openness and candor for which it is famous, initially downplays the incident, saying that Clinton felt “overheated.” Ninety minutes later she appears outside her daughter’s apartment building and tells reporters “I’m feeling great.” But later that afternoon her physician releases a statement saying that two days earlier, Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia. This leads to renewed speculation about Clinton’s health, which is quickly quelled by a vast army of Clinton campaign officials, surrogates, allies, lackeys, henchpersons and media flunkies, all heavily armed with talking points and declaring, in unison, that she has no undeclared health problems and is going to power through this minor, pesky, so-called “pneumonia” which is old news and will not distract her from being a historic person of gender with a lifelong commitment to fighting for working etc.

Speaking of overheating, Samsung announces a recall of all Galaxy Note 7 phones after an attempt to re-brand them as “smart charcoal lighters” meets with consumer resistance. Adding to Samsung’s woes are reports that some of its top-loading washers have exploded, although the company insists that the machines are “perfectly safe when operated using the delicate cycle,” provided that “there are no humans nearby.”

In other technology news, Apple announces the release of the iPhone 7, which is basically the iPhone 6 with the added convenience of not having a headphone jack. The marketing slogan is “At Least It Doesn’t Burst Into Flames.”

In entertainment news, “Game of Thrones” once again wins the coveted Emmy award for Drama Series With The Most Naked People.

But for sheer drama, no TV show can compare with what happens to the American political system in …

OCTOBER

… when the U.S. presidential election, until now a cross between farce and soap opera, mutates into a full-on horror show.

The early part of the month goes badly for Trump with the release of a 2005 video in which he talks about kissing and groping women, which according to him he can get away with because he’s a star who uses Tic Tacs. Trump quickly apologizes for the video, noting that (a) it was recorded long ago when he was just 59 years old; (b) his remarks were “locker room banter” such as you would hear in any locker room in America occupied by morally deficient billionaire pigs; (c) Bill Clinton did way worse things; and (d) WHAT ABOUT BENGHAZI?

But the story does not go away. Over the next week Trump is accused of improper groping by enough women to form a professional softball league. Trump responds to these allegations with a five-pronged defense:

Prong One: These women are lying.

Prong Two: ALL of them. They are LIARS.

Prong Three: They are frankly not attractive enough to be groped by a star of his magnitude.

Prong Four: The election is rigged!

Prong Five: WHAT ABOUT BILL CLINTON AND BENGHAZI?

Meanwhile the Clinton campaign is dealing with a steady stream of WikiLeaks emails suggesting that the Clinton Foundation is dedicated to humanitarian relief in the same sense that the Soprano family was dedicated to waste management. But this kind of scandal is ho-hum stuff for the Clinton campaign, whose campaign slogan has slowly morphed from “Stronger Together” into “At Least She’s Predictably Corrupt.” As the month wears on and Trump continues to flail away unconvincingly at his alleged groping victims, it appears more and more likely that Clinton has established herself, with just enough voters, as the least-loathsome choice in this hideous, issues-free nightmare of an election.

And then, just when we thought it could not get any weirder or any worse, we are hit with the mother of all October surprises in the form of the incurable genital wart on the body politic known as Anthony Weiner. While probing Weiner’s laptop (Har!) for evidence of alleged sexting with an underaged girl, the FBI reportedly discovers thousands of emails that were sent from or to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which apparently had a higher internet profile than Taylor Swift. FBI director James Comey sends a letter informing Congress that the FBI is taking another look at the email issue. In a display of the intellectual integrity that has made our political class so respected by ordinary citizens, all the Democrats and allied pundits who praised Comey in July as a courageous public servant instantly swap positions with all the Republicans and allied pundits who said he was a cowardly hack. This new development sends the political world into Full Freakout Mode, with cable-TV political analysts forced to change their underwear on an hourly basis. Meanwhile millions of critical swing voters switch from “undecided” to “suicidal.”

In non-campaign-related October news:

▪ A government report concludes that the Affordable Care Act (Motto: “If You Like Your Doctor, Maybe You’ll Like Your New Doctor”) is going to cost many people a lot more, while continuing to provide the same range of customizable consumer options as a parking meter.

▪ In a chilling reminder of the nation’s technological vulnerability, a series of cyberattacks disrupts popular internet sites such as Twitter and Netflix, forcing millions of Americans to make eye contact with each other.

▪ In yet another blow to Samsung, the Federal Aviation Administration announces that it will not permit commercial aircraft to fly over states known to contain Galaxy Note 7s.

▪ In the arts, Bob Dylan refuses to answer his doorbell, forcing members of the Swedish Academy to leave the Nobel Prize for literature in his mailbox.

The month ends on an upbeat note as Americans celebrate Halloween, a welcome escape from the relentless drumbeat of bad news, as evidenced by this FoxNews.com headline which we swear we are not making up: “Some Florida Parents Plan To Arm Themselves While Going Trick-Or-Treating Over Clown Concerns.”

Speaking of treats, in …

NOVEMBER

… the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Finally! Yay! What a fun month! OK, that’s our summary of November. Now it’s time to move along to the events of …

DECEMBER

No, that would be wrong. This is supposed to be a review of the whole year, warts and all, and we have to face reality. So let’s all take a deep breath, compose ourselves and go back to …

NOVEMBER

… which begins with yet another letter to congressional leaders from FBI Director Comey, who lately has generated more correspondence than Publishers Clearing House. This time he says, concerning the newly discovered emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop: never mind. This forces Republicans and Democrats to again swap positions on whether Comey is a courageous patriot or total scum. For a brief period members of Congress are so confused about who stands where that they are in real danger of accidentally working together and accomplishing something. Fortunately before this happens the two sides are able to sort things out and resume being bitterly deadlocked.

As Election Day approaches, a consensus forms among the experts in the media/political complex, based on a vast array of demographic and scientific polling data evaluated with sophisticated analytical tools. These experts, who have made lucrative careers out of going on TV and explaining America to Americans, overwhelmingly agree that Hillary Clinton will win, possibly in a landslide, and this could very well mean the end of the Republican Party. The Explainers are very sure of this, nodding in unison while smiling in bemusement at the pathetic delusions of the Trump people.

Unfortunately, it turns out that a large sector of the American public has not been brought up to speed on all this expert analysis. And so it comes to pass that the unthinkable happens, in the form of …

DECEMBER

No, dammit! We have to do this! What happens in …

NOVEMBER

… is that Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, unless this turns out to be one of those really vivid dreams, like the one where you’re at the dentist but you’re naked and your dentist is Bette Midler and spiders keep coming out of your mouth.

Trump’s victory stuns the nation. Not since the darkest days of the Civil War have so many Americans unfriended each other on Facebook. Some even take the extreme step of writing “open letters.” Angry, traumatized protesters cry, march, shout, smash windows, set fires —and that’s just the New York Times editorial board. Leading celebrities who vowed to leave the country if Trump won immediately start making plans to … OK, to not actually leave the country per se, but next time they definitely will and YOU’LL BE SORRY.

In Washington, Democrats who believed in a strong president wielding power via executive orders instantly exchange these deeply held convictions with Republicans who until Election Day at roughly 10 p.m. Eastern time believed fervently in filibusters and limited government.

On TV, the professional Explainers, having failed spectacularly to predict what just happened, pause for a period of somber and contrite self-reflection lasting close to 15 minutes before they begin the crucial work of explaining to the rest of us what will happen next.

Joe Biden lies awake nights, staring at the ceiling.

Meanwhile a somber Trump, preparing to assume the most powerful office on the planet, puts the pettiness of the campaign behind him and — facing a world rife with turmoil — gets down to the all-important work of taking Twitter shots at the cast of “Hamilton.” He also begins assembling a cabinet that — reflecting the diversity of the nation he has been elected to lead — includes several non-billionaires. The president-elect also receives classified briefings, during which he learns, among other things, that there are a LOT of foreign countries, including some where he does not even have golf courses.

Meanwhile, the Democrats — now on a multi-year losing streak that has cost them the presidency, both houses of Congress and a majority of the state legislatures — desperately seek an explanation for their party’s failures. After a hard, critical look in the mirror, they are forced, reluctantly, to stop seeking scapegoats and place the blame where it belongs: the Electoral College, the Russians, Facebook and, of course, James Comey.

In the month’s biggest non-election news, the death of Fidel Castro is greeted with expressions of sorrow from several dozen world leaders who never had to live under his rule, and tears of happiness from many thousands of Cubans who did.

As the bitter and tumultuous month finally draws to a close, Americans briefly stop fighting over politics and come together to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way the Pilgrims did in 1623: fighting over flat-screen TVs.

But the focus turns back to politics in …

DECEMBER

… during which Trump continues to dominate the news, his face appearing 24/7 on every channel including the Food Network, even when the TV is turned off.

The president-elect is busy, busy, busy. Early in the month he ruffles the feathers of the Chinese government when — in what is viewed as a departure from diplomatic protocol — he texts Beijing a poop emoji. Also he threatens a drone strike against Alec Baldwin.

But the big story continues to be the cabinet. Trump’s choice for secretary of defense is James N. “Mad Dog” Mattis, who impresses Trump with his sophisticated understanding of modern military strategy and also by biting the head off a live hamster. Most of the drama, however, involves the herd of hopefuls auditioning for secretary of state, including former Trump foe Mitt Romney, who dons wingtip kneepads for his pilgrimage to Trump Tower, after which he explains to the press that his previous criticisms of Trump have been taken out of context, particularly his use of the phrase “scum toad,” which Romney says he meant “in the spirit of constructive dialogue.”

In the end, Trump gives the job to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson on the basis of having a name that sounds like a spaceship captain in a movie called “Escape From Planet Doom.”

Chris Christie dines alone in a Golden Corral in Freehold, N.J., pondering whether to accept the ambassadorship to Belize.

Meanwhile, allegations of Russian interference in the election resurface after intelligence satellites detect the presence of 43,000 stolen HILLARY yard signs in Vladimir Putin’s garage. This leads Democrats, who spent the fall mocking Trump for claiming the election was rigged, to claim that the election was rigged. Vote recounts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin fail to change the outcome, although several hundred Wisconsin ballots are found to contain disturbingly high levels of cholesterol.

The question of who won the election is formally laid to rest on Dec. 19, when the Electoral College meets and votes to go back to 2015 and start over.

No, seriously, the Electoral College formally elects Donald Trump, confounding professional pollsters who claimed to have detected a late surge for Mike Huckabee.

The New York Times and Washington Post, seeking to improve their understanding of pro-Trump America, partner with TV network news divisions to create “Operation Outreach,” in which teams of reporters will travel to non-coastal regions carrying rucksacks full of chewing tobacco and moon pies, which they will trade with the natives in return for colorful quotes about their political views, religious beliefs, sex practices involving livestock, etc.

Meanwhile abroad:

▪ French President François Hollande announces that he will not seek re-election, leading professional pollsters to predict, based on scientific analysis of the data, that he will win in a landslide.

▪ In a disturbing development, North Korean troops mass near the South Korean border armed with what intelligence sources identify as “a large quantity of Samsung Galaxy Note 7s.”

Finally, mercifully, 2016 draws to a close. On New Year’s Eve, a festive crowd gathers in Times Square, and millions more tune in on TV, to watch the ball drop that marks the dawn of the new year. This is one of the great traditions that connect us as a nation, and it serves to remind us that, although we disagree on many things, we are all part of the same big family — the American family — and when all is said and done, we hate each other.

This is what we are thinking as the big lighted ball begins to slowly descend the pole, traveling roughly two feet before it is vaporized by Russian fighter jets.

Happy New Year, fellow Americans. It’s going to be exciting.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/dave-barry/article123321019.html#storylink=cpy