Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just outside of Matador...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Matrix of Rackets

     So, last Friday I think my doctor fired me. 
     I came in for a routine checkup of my cholesterol levels because about six months ago I stopped taking the 40 milligrams of Crestor Dr. X prescribed and he was concerned about where my numbers were going. I kicked off the conversation, which took place, of course, in a windowless, closet-like, steel-and-linoleum-lined examination room that must be designed to induce maximum dread saturation in the human psyche. I told Dr. X that I had embarked on a high-fat, butter-meat-cheese-crème-fraîche diet and ditched the ultra-low-fat, grains-and-tofu program that I followed for about five years. Dr. X paused dramatically after I finished and then stated bloodlessly that my cholesterol had gone up from 220 to 260 since my previous blood test three months earlier. Yes, well... I told him I had started eating shitloads of meat, butter, and eggs three days before my latest blood test. Chagrin transformed his face like a mask.
    I then explained that I thought the combination of statin drugs and a low-fat, high carb diet had damaged my system. The mask of chagrin on Dr. X's face was transforming slowly into something you might see in the Rite-Aid around Halloween. Apparently he thought I was blaming him, since he had put me on the drug and approved of the Ornish/Essylsten diet I'd put myself on. In point of fact, blame was not on my agenda. I was simply trying to describe my version of reality in the interest of improving my health. For about a year, I'd developed a range of alarming symptoms: peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in my hands and feet), striking memory loss, poor balance, atrophying muscles, intractable insomnia and I attributed it to side effects of Crestor (yes, go fuck yourself Astra Zenica, makers of Crestor), combined with a lack of vital nutrients that my body needed to make routine repairs for five years. 
     Then I commenced a discussion about a possible Vitamin B-12 deficiency, since this is a not unusual outcome for someone who gets insufficient nutrition from animal-based foods. Dr. X said they could run a simple blood test for it. He had now turned his attention completely to the screen of the laptop computer that had become a prosthetic extension of his persona. I suspected he had lost interest in the conversation. I wondered out loud if the results of the test might be skewed, since I had also recently put myself on a dose of B-12 sub-lingual supplements. This is where Dr. X lost it. He stood up abruptly and said, "I'm not a boutique physician! Other people are waiting out there to see me!" Then he pointed at me and said, "You are going to die of a heart attack or a stroke!" That was possible, I thought, but then something was going to get Dr. X, too, eventually, unless he managed to funnel himself into Ray Kurzweil's cyborg singularity rapture.
    I thought further: my doctor is a most intemperate fellow.
    Then I trotted obediently down the hall to the phlebotomy parlor (another windowless closet), and gave more blood for the B-12 test. Dr. X appeared briefly in the doorway and handed me a slip of paper with the name of a osteopath-naturopath in town who might better entertain my particular health concerns. One thing I didn't mention to Dr. X during this incident - nor did I mention it in last week's blog - was the fact that my girlfriend (a professional librarian and crack researcher) had discovered a website that disclosed payments from pharmaceutical companies to doctors. Dr. X, evidently, had scored about $200,000 total over a recent 18-month period, including about 20-K from Astra Zenica. I didn't bring it up with Dr N in the exam room because I did not want to turn the office visit into an adversarial event, and there's no question he would have gone batshit. But there you have it, now, like so much meat flopped out in the table.
     This personal anecdote is only a tiny sample of the quackery and corruption at large in this segment of society. Of course it extends into the many branches of the nutritional sector, too, including the matrix of rackets in the food, farming, and policy realms that have left the American public in a daze of metabolic syndrome from eating a diet based almost entirely on processed corn byproducts.
     I'm five foot nine and a half and I weighed in on Friday at 164.5 After about two weeks back on butter-meat-cheese-crème-fraîche, my hands are still tingling. They seem even worse today after the first pretty good night's sleep I've gotten in months. That kind of damage is sometimes permanent. I'll have a pity-party for myself and then maybe I'll get on with my day. But I'll let you know how I'm doing over time. And if you know of a good physician in the Washington-Warren-Saratoga County region of New York, drop me a line (jhkunstler at
    Meanwhile, please be assured that I will get back to commentary on national and international issues. I will say it's ironic that the big event of the week is the Supreme Court's review of the Obama Health Care Reform Act, a cherry on one of the biggest clusterfuck cakes that the world ever baked. Mark my words: health care in the USA is unreformable. Like a lot of other things in Racket Nation, it simply has to implode to transform itself into something better.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

...old school near downtown Quitaque...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

...inside of old rusted out 51 Chevy pick-up truck...Dennison...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Juked by Medicine

This still moment on the verge of spring equinox, industrial civilization is taking a rest from its travails of finance and economy. The creaking and groaning vehicle of world banking lurches forward with its latest patch, the Greek fix, but the explosive resignation last week of a Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith, posted as an op-ed essay in no less than the New York Times, afforded a glimpse into the dark place where American values crawled off to die, like turning over a rock in a meadow to find the white slithering things that dwell there, and asserting a broad and anguished truth at the heart of our culture: all is swindle.
      In the still moment, the nation is digesting this discovery, and I think it will represent a turning point in the arduous plotline of the crime story that banking has become. It's also the moment of reawakening for the Occupy movement as it now struggles with what it is to become. I doubt that it can avoid turning angrily and maybe viciously political as it focuses its energies on occupying this summer's looming political conventions.
     But in this still moment I want to take a break from purely public issues for a second week and discuss some personal things: nutrition and medicine. I hope it will be of interest to some of you. Last week, after a four year misadventure on an ultra low-fat vegan diet (no meat, no cheese, no eggs), I turned around 180 degrees and resumed eating all those verboten things again. I had been feeling shitty for a long time, in particular with muscle pain, muscle weakness, penetrating fatigue, and some weird neurological symptoms and I decided to take drastic measures.
    This personal misadventure started about four and half years ago when my doctor read me the riot act on my cholesterol numbers. The total was around 290. I forget exactly what the LDL ("bad" cholesterol) was, but it wasn't good, and ditto the HDL ("good" cholesterol) and the triglycerides (oy vay). The upshot was that my doctor put me on a whopping dose of the most powerful statin drug, Crestor 40mg (made by AstraZenica). I left his office feeling like my identity was transformed from a healthy normal person to a prisoner on death row. 
     I thought I had been leading a healthy life. Being self-employed, and master of my own schedule, I was able to work in a lot of exercise. For twenty-five years I was a runner. A hip replacement put an end to that. During that same period, I also swam a mile a day in the local YMCA lap pool. After hip surgery, I walked daily instead of running, kept swimming, and also did at least four weekly sessions in the weight room (including the cardio machines such as the elliptical trainer, easy on the joints). During the temperate months, I also biked many days of the week. Because I got so much exercise, I thought I could eat anything I wanted to, and did. I was a capable cook, having worked in many restaurant jobs during my starving bohemian years, and I could competently put together everything from a butterflied leg of lamb to a flourless chocolate cake.
    After receiving my "death sentence" from the doc, I went straight to the cardio diet bookshelf and found works by two of the chief authorities on the subject: Dr. Dean Ornish, the popular TV celebrity, and Dr. Caldwell Essylsten, a less public but also renowned nutrition guru from the Cleveland Clinic. Both of them promoted ultra low-fat essentially vegan diets. I used them as a guide for learning how to cook for myself in a new way. This largely revolved around vegetables braised in stocks rather than oil-fried in a wok, lots of brown rice and other whole grains (oats, especially), and the substitution of plant (soy) based protein foods like tofu, tempeh, and the various veggie "burger" products for actual meat. Plenty of salads, of course, and fruit. Of the two diet docs, Essylsten was the most severe. You were barely allowed to eat a nut. However, in defiance I ate the same lunch every day for all those years: peanut butter on one slice of our local Rock Hill 8-grain bread. Otherwise I was pretty strict with myself.
     Over the next several years I lost about 20 pounds (from 188 to 168 - I am 5' 10"). By 2011, my cholesterol was down to 110 total (about equal LDLs and HDLs), but I was feeling shitty all the time as described above: lack of stamina, muscle pains, cramps, etc. I was aware that I was getting old, over 60, but I suspected that these were not necessarily natural aging issues. I was having trouble remembering things, names especially, and at times felt like my brain was fogged. I developed neuropathies (tingling and numbness) in my hands and feet. I grew suspicious that these things were connected with the whopping dose of Crestor that I was on. There is, of course,  a body of anecdotal chat on the Web about the evils of Crestor and other statin drugs, and in July of 2011 I decided to taper down and get off the stuff. By September it was out of my system.  My doctor was rather cross with me. He assured me that an LDL level above 70 was a death sentence, should I get back there.
     Over the next six months, the brain fog and the name-forgetting went away, but the muscle issues and fatigue-and-stamina problems persisted. I was still on my nearly fat-free vegan diet. My theory was to see how far up my cholesterol would go on diet alone. In November it clocked in at 220 total and I forget the LDL number because my doctor was shaking his head and making clucking sounds as he reported it, along with his now-standard empirical warning that I was back in the death zone.
    So, all winter I staggered on feeling shitty and eating low-fat vegan. There is for sure a large body of counter-argument on the whole cholesterol issue, led by the author-journalist Gary Taubes (a supernaturally fit-looking dude). This argument states that fat is actually a critical and essential component of human diet, and animal fat in particular, which is crucial for the continual process of cell renewal and the processing of many other nutrients, especially many vitamins. There is also a range of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that you can only get from animal foods. All of these things have a bearing on muscle performance and the health of nerve tissue, in which fats are an indispensible component.
     Frankly, I knew about these counter-arguments, but the authority of medicine these days militates the opposite way, and in these nearly five years I allowed the authority of my doctor to persuade me to drive down my cholesterol by all means available. I now regard this as a mistake, perhaps even a personal fiasco. I think I have done a lot of damage to my system and that it will take a long time to repair. But I am back in the realm of meat, cheese, and eggs. And, yes, I do eat a lot of vegetables, especially green and leafy ones, and I am watching my carbohydrates (but not eschewing them).
     I've also come to a conclusion about what started this whole long melodrama. At the time I first got my high cholesterol "riot act" reading, I was also eating a lot of sugar and refined white flour in a certain form. In the evenings, after a day that included at least two episodes of strenuous exercise, I allowed myself to eat Pepperidge Farm cookies and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I probably ran through a bag of cookies every two or three days and ditto a pint of ice cream. I now believe that my cholesterol numbers were high not so much because of the meat and cheese that I was eating, but because I regularly consumed too much sugar and refined flour. That is my current theory and narrative.
     So, I'm back to an omnivore's diet. (The first time I had real eggs scrambled in butter in nearly five years was quite a moment!) It's been about ten days. I can't say that I've noticed any marked improvements. As I said above, it will probably take a long time to undo the damage done. I'll check in again on this theme after a while and let you know how things are going. I'm scheduled to go in for another routine physical on Friday. I imagine it will be a contentious session. But I wonder if doctors are losing their legitimacy now in a way similar to the other authority figures in our culture: the political leaders, the bankers economists, the business executives. To get back to where I started this blog, all is swindle these days. And medicine, being the life-and-death racket that it is, may be the biggest swindle of them all.

Friday, March 16, 2012

...Wall Art???...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


      Unless your mobile home was blown all over the county on opening day of the tornado season, this must seem like an interlude of reassuring normality in the world's convulsive wendings. The IED known as Greece has not quite yet exploded, loud as all the graveyard whistling that emanates from Europe might be. Even the invocation of a "credit event" by the notorious ISDA has seen a first-stage payout of a few mere billions - though you've got to believe that this is some kind of stage-managed dumb-show designed to conceal the fact that the whole credit default swap racket is a network of frauds. 
     Where I live, in the uppermost Hudson Valley, the peace and tranquility of the moment is overlaid by sweet spring zephyrs arriving about a month early. I hope that doesn't portend weeks on end of 90-degree summer heat, but I have the consolation of not being in Texas, where that would be more like three straight months of 100-degree-plus heat. It must get tedious running in and out of the a.c.
     My gardening schemes which fermented all winter are finally going into action. Yesterday, I banged together the first two of ten raised beds arrayed geometrically in a forty-eight foot square foot formal vegetable and herb garden. I've done it before on a smaller scale at a different house in a different time when nobody except the clinically paranoid expected the collapse of civilization. I'm going to put in a not-so-formal patch of corn-squash-and beans outside of that in the manner of the people who lived here a thousand years ago, really just to see how it works, and I may also plant a monoculture patch of potatoes elsewhere.
     The "back forty" awaits the arrival of twenty fruit trees - mixed apple, pear, cherry, plus blueberry, raspberry and current shrubs - and two blight-resistant American chestnuts (not absolutely guaranteed blight-free). A mighty effort has been made over recent decades by valiant arborists to restore the American chestnut. It was this tree (Castanea dentate) which made the forests east of the Mississippi so prolific with game in the time before clocks arrived in North America. My back forty used to be huge lawn, with an above-the-ground pool decorating the middle of it. The pool is gone, thank you Jeezus. I'll start with this set of fruit and see how they take to the soil here, and if they get going well I'll get twenty more next year. It could add up to a really immense amount of fruit for one household. There's always cider....
    Altogether I have about an acre-and-a-quarter of already clear land to experiment with. The rest is woodlot. The woods will require a lot of grooming and brush-hogging to get decades of "trash" out: rampant honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, box elder. There's a lot of good hardwood in there otherwise, and I built a saw-jack set up to cut stove lengths. There's enough in there to be self-replenishing with careful management. The house I bought last fall has a fireplace with a stove insert. The builder insulated the shit out of the place. The chain saw is off in the shop getting its battered old chain replaced. I have to learn how to sharpen the damn thing now. Cutting firewood is where you get a really vivid sense of the power embodied in gasoline. A couple of gallons will get next season's supplementary supply laid in. In the past, and probably, in the future, this is a job that would be nearly impossible to do by yourself. 
     These days, except for highway repair and oil-drilling, there are few outdoor activities that require a gang of men working together. In the years ahead, household composition is going to change hugely for many reasons. It's unusual these days to have a lot of children - considering population overshoot, it seems crazy to promote that - but people with something to offer in the way of skills and labor may have to join forces just to get the necessary day's work done together. I'm sure that will have its consolations, even if it means you don't get to have a 3,500 square foot house to yourself.
     The deer-fence installer just submitted his estimate. It was an eye-opener, but it has to be done and it's a one-time thing. I could have done it myself in a half-assed way with plastic netting but this is not a time for half-assed measures. My place is like a petting zoo, there are so many deer on and around it. Left open, they would ravage anything I grow like locusts. And they had the easiest winter in memory - no snow on the ground all January and February, something nobody around here has seen before. Here it is March and they are still looking plump and ready to pop out lots of healthy babies. So I have to put a fence up around the garden and orchard part of the property, with gates into the woodlots. The fence has to be eight feet high because the white-tailed deer is a mighty leaper. It's going to look a little like Jurassic Park. 
      Of course, if the USA gets into really deep socio-political shit, it's easy to imagine the entire deer-herd of Washington County getting exterminated inside a couple of years by hungry, desperate jackers. The people I play fiddle with on Tuesday night, many of them boomer-age hippie homesteaders and master gardeners, remember thirty years ago when you hardly ever saw a deer. We could easily get to that point again when times get hard. 
     About a week ago, I stopped on a country road to take a leak. I stepped into the woods for a minute and then, stepping out, was horrified to see dozens of ticks crawling on my pants legs. I took the otherwise unused snow-brush to them. The really weird part is that it was only thirty degrees that day. Yet they were already active and right lively. This place is now the epicenter of the eastern Lyme Disease epidemic. I went to a party not long ago where at least fifteen people were currently in treatment, or had been more than once before, for Lyme. Some just couldn't get rid of it. It is a wicked-ass illness, very difficult to get out of your system, and debilitating in myriad ways. It, too, was unknown around here thirty years ago.
      I honestly don't know if my own little homesteading experiment at the edge of this sweet-but-beat little village is going to work out. I'm pretty confident about growing vegetables because I've done it successfully before, even in recent years when I was a renter sitting out the housing bubble. But it gives you something psychologically nourishing to do while the turbo-industrial world wends its way into the long emergency. Pictures to come on my website as the season wends where it will.
     Apologies for late posting today...time change and all....

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Jock Sturgess discussing his work at Richland College this evening...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Reality Check
By James Howard Kunstler
on March 5, 2012 8:37 AM

America is starting to remind me of Bette Davis in the horror movie classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? America is losing its grip on reality. America is acting like an elderly strumpet in too much pancake makeup performing a song-and-dance on the beach while its kinfolk lie dying in the sand.

History is taking us in a certain direction and we don't want to hear about it. We've got our hands clapped over our ears and we're shouting "Kittens and puppies! Kittens and puppies!" Here are some of the things that we're confused about:

We tell ourselves we're in an economic recovery, meaning we expect to return to a prior economic state, namely, a turbo-charged "consumer" economy fueled by easy credit and cheap energy. Fuggeddabowdit. That part of our history is over. We've entered a contraction that will seem permanent until we reach an economic re-set point that comports with what the planet can actually provide for us. That re-set point is lower than we would like to imagine. Our reality-based assignment is the intelligent management of contraction. We don't want this assignment. We'd prefer to think that things are still going in the other direction, the direction of more, more, more. But they're not. Whether we like it or not, they're going in the direction of less, less, less. Granted, this is not an easy thing to contend with, but it is the hand that circumstance has dealt us. Nobody else is to blame for it.

A particular set of economic behaviors are over. The housing sector will never come back to what it was because that whole living arrangement is over. We built too many houses in the wrong places in no particular civic disposition and it only worked for a few decades because of cheap oil, cars purchased on credit, and foreigners lending us their money. We're done building suburbia, and after while, when we can no longer stand the dysfunction and inconvenience, we'll be done living in the stuff that's already there. To complicate matters, we have no idea how over all this is. That's why one of the main themes in this presidential election - not even stated explicitly - is the defense of the entitlement to a suburban lifestyle; in other words, a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. As the suburban dynamic increasingly fails, disappointment may turn to fury. It will be the result of leaders not telling the public the truth for many many years. This public fury may be very destructive. It could bring down the government, provoke civil war, or lead us into foreign military adventures - the result of blaming other people for our own bad choices. If we put our effort and spirit into inhabiting our piece of the planet differently, this might turn out differently and better. By this I mean returning to traditional development patterns of civic places (towns) embedded in productive rural places (the agricultural landscape).

More higher education is not going bring back the turbo-charged consumer economy. We will not need more office gerbils, bond salesmen, regional deputy managers, or Gender Studies PhDs. That's going in the opposite direction too. Though corporations and giant institutions seem to rule our lives these days, they will soon go extinct. Anything organized at the giant scale is going to wobble and fall: national chain retail, trans-national companies, colossal banks, big universities, you name it. The center of economic life in America will be food production and other agricultural activities, not computer gaming, big box bargain shopping, and hybrid car sales. We will need more farmers, more people competent in agricultural management, and more human laborers working in the fields. There will be a lot of other practical, "hands-on" kinds of jobs, but not so many positions in air-conditioned cubicles. You might want to check the "no" box on those things, but reality will have her way with you anyway.

We're real confused about our energy predicament. Stories are flying all around the news media to the effect that the USA will soon be an oil exporter. That's utter nonsense, by the way. We still import more than two-thirds of the oil we use. Another story is that the Bakken shale oil fields will make us "energy independent." That is a complete misunderstanding of reality. Another widely-repeated untruth is the notion that we have "a hundred years of shale gas." These are stories generated by the particular stage of collective grief we have entered - the bargaining stage, where we attempt to negotiate a better contract with reality. Good luck with that. The truth is, we're nearly out of the good cheap oil and gas and what's left is so expensive and difficult to extract that we may not have the capital investment resources to get it. One byproduct of ignoring the disorders in our banking system is that we are also failing to pay attention to the absence of real capital formation. Meanwhile, the oil and gas companies are propagandizing tirelessly in TV commercials in order to get "other people's money" to sustain their Ponzi operations. (Translation: swindling retirees who cannot get yield from "safe" investments such as bonds.) Eventually we'll have to face it: the fossil fuel age is ending and there are no miracle rescue remedies waiting to come on-stage.

We're not going to "tech" our way through the array of mega-problems we face, in particular the energy predicament. The American mind-space today is clogged with cargo-cult fantasies about electric cars, nano-manufacturing, and "information" technology that would allow the trajectory of progress to continue just as we have known and loved it. This too, like the end of suburbia, will lead to vast disappointment. We're heading instead into a "time-out" from technological progress, duration unknown, which will probably also result in the loss of some tricks we've already learned. The leading wish-fulfillment fantasy, of course, is that we will change out all the gasoline and diesel cars for electric cars. This is not going to happen. We will be a far less affluent society. There will be much less capital available to devote to auto loans. Our towns, counties, and states are all going broke and will not be able to keep the stupendous roadway system in repair. That's a major reason why we have to return to living in walkable towns instead of disaggregated suburbs, and why we desperately need to repair the regular (not high-speed) rail system.

We pretend that if we ignore the problems in banking / money / capital formation they might just fade away like the morning dew. The failure to reintroduce the rule-of-law into these matters will destroy the system, and will probably even overtake the destabilizing potential of the peak oil problem - in fact, will accelerate it due to capital scarcity. President Obama is not doing America any favors by, for instance, allowing Jon Corzine to remain at large. If we continue this policy of pretending that nothing has gone wrong, reality will correct our money system for us, by sweeping away all our current arrangements and forcing us to begin over again from scratch. I mean literally from scratch.

It would be nice if we could correct the disorders in the collective conversion that we call "politics," but we are probably going to see ever greater divergence with reality. For the moment, all leadership in America has drunk too much Kool-aid, all of it lacks conviction and competence, none of it wants to enter the actual future.