Here is a rule I generally follow: If an issue is too complex to wring the truth out of in a reasonable amount of time and effort, go with your gut feeling.

Hence, when I was told that my cholesterol levels were too high, I declined my doctor’s recommendation to take medication for it. Instead, I opted for continued vigorous exercise and a strict low-cholesterol diet. I maintained this lifestyle for almost a year and then had my cholesterol checked again. It had hardly budged. At that point, I realized that this is a genetic trait that I could do little about. My family has virtually no history of heart disease, so I reverted to eating pretty much what I pleased (within reason – and I do happen to like fruits and vegetables). I’ve been doing this for several years. More recent tests have shown that my cholesterol levels have dropped somewhat.

But my new doctor was adamant that I should start taking statins to lower my cholesterol levels. He confronted me about it twice, and each time I firmly refused. The whole matter seemed fishy to me. I knew that somebody was making a ton of money off of these medications. I knew that they were being heavily promoted in the media – and I was suspicious.

It’s not at all clear that cholesterol, even “bad” cholesterol, (LDL) is bad for us.  Dr. Shane Ellison has made a case that the benefits of cholesterol outweigh its risks. I recommend reading the article, though it’s somewhat long. Ellison is not alone; many others have questioned the premise that cholesterol (LDL) is our enemy, and that we should fight it with drugs.

Others opine that Low Density Lipids (LDL) are, indeed, a risk factor that needs to be addressed – but only when the patient is already suffering from heart disease. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, at The Huffington Post, makes this argument, and backs it up with several studies. He claims that millions of Americans are harming their health, and wasting their money, by taking cholesterol medication when it is not indicated at all.

In the pro-Lipitor camp, we find articles touting its benefits not only in combating heart disease, but also, in combination with Viagra, in relieving impotence. For example, in drugs.com we read:

Men with erectile dysfunction who do not experience symptom relief with Viagra (sildenafil) may have another option: A new study suggests Lipitor (atorvastatin) may improve men’s response to Viagra.

This is interesting… because a lot of people are claiming that Lipitor itself can cause erectile dysfunction (impotence). For example, here and here. We read on ehow:

According to the Mayo Clinic, Lipitor may cause difficulties in achieving or maintaining an erection. It may also trigger loss of sexual desire or drive.

I won’t be the first to point out, however, that the company that markets Viagra is the very same company that markets Lipitor: Pfizer.

That’s right. Pfizer markets a drug that is widely claimed to cause impotence – and it also markets a drug to treat that impotence. If you check the Lipitor official website, you will find a list of possible side effects. Conveniently, erectile dysfunction is not listed. I think Pfizer is not being on the up and up with us.

When your doctor speaks to you, he’s probably not lying. Most likely, he has your best interest in mind. But he may be swayed. I don’t claim to be an expert in the matter, but money talks. Lots of money talks a lot – and, in this case, we’re talking about a very large sum of money. I’ll conclude with a quote from Dr. Ellison:

With dollar signs in their eyes, drug companies have launched a massive fear campaign about cholesterol. Being led by the pharmaceutically-compliant National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), the campaign convinced the entire world that LDL- cholesterol is bad and that total cholesterol levels should remain below 200 mg/dL in order to prevent heart disease. (Of the nine nerdy members of the NCEP, eight had financial ties to cholesterol lowering drug makers like Pfizer, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and AstraZeneca. This fact was concealed when the NCEP made its recommendations public.)…

Pfizer’s blockbuster drug Lipitor became the first prescription drug to make more than $10 billion in annual sales. To date, Forbes Magazine tells us that statins are earning drug pushers $26 billion in annual sales – the equivalent of your lifetime income, plus 1500 others, every year! Think this can buy medical journals, ads and lobbying to push fear along with the cholesterol-lowering agenda?

I know some of y’all have been wondering about me. Yes, I’m still alive – but it’s SUMMER! In any event, here’s what happens when white people get together for a flash mob.

It seems the Homeland Security Administration has outsourced its signage operations to China. At least that’s the impression I got yesterday while driving along the Oregon coast with some friends. One of us wanted to stop for coffee, so we pulled into an espresso booth next to a gas station. Across from the booth, I noticed the following abomination:

bad English

I’ll go ahead and transcribe the wording here, in case you thought your eyes were deceiving you or the glare makes it hard to see:

Land Mgt. & Fire Skills to end loss via terrorist spawned coordinated wildfire Attacks & extreme fire storms, that suppression agencies evacuate  from.

When it comes to butchery of the English language, have the terrorists already won? Have there actually been any “terrorist spawned coordinated wildfires?” If terrorists wished to start such fires, would we realistically be able to stop them? Is it necessary to have a grade-school diploma in order to write signs for Homeland Security?

How many grammatical errors can you find in the above sentence?

Via blogragu, I found this article about China’s recent refusal to accept American plastics for recycling. According to Quartz:

The drop-off in Chinese demand, and the lack of immediately accessible alternatives, could hit American cities hard, says Quartz’s contact in the industry. “Cities are going to have a huge problem on their hands because they don’t know what to do with this stuff,” she says. “They have made commitments saying it’s recycled—but they didn’t say how or where.”

Not that the US couldn’t open new plants. But sorting trash to be recycled is labor-intensive, and therefore expensive. (The US’s failure to sort it properly is why China is turning US trash away.) And while optical sorters exist, those are expensive too. And either will raise costs for US cities.

At the same time, the U.S. government is spending a ridiculous amount of money on various welfare programs. According to various sources, around 110,000,000 Americans receive some sort of welfare from the government. The total cost, to taxpayers, is staggering. Since we’re spending huge amounts of money in charity, and since we now have a huge need for unskilled labor (sorting recyclables), wouldn’t it make sense to put some of those people to work doing the sorting and processing? If they’re physically incapable of working for 8 hours, make them work for 2 or 3 hours a day. If they can’t stand up, let them sit down as they work. If they lack the mental capacity to follow complex instructions, have them do the simple, repetitive, work.

If somebody objects that making people work for their money is “slavery”, then I’d like to know what you call it when the rest of us are forced to work, four and a half months, for the government.

Portland has its share of crazies; it has a visible undertow of drug addicts, including meth addicts, that blights the downtown area. It also has many homeless people whose mental health is dubious. Add diversity to the mix and the need for some form of protection becomes obvious.

I’d put off getting a taser for years. I wanted to get the type that can fire from several feet, but they’re rather expensive. A couple of days ago I finally made the leap. The young man behind the counter, at the gun store, explained that he would have to run a background check on me for the purchase.

“A background check? No problem” I thought. After all, I have no criminal history and nothing to fear. So why should there be a problem. But requiring background checks for tasers is a problem – when you consider that the taser won’t even work until it’s remotely activated by the manufacturer following a successful background check. I may be wrong, but it would appear that this would make it very difficult for a criminal, or an ex-convict, to acquire a working taser. Guns don’t need to be activated. Anybody can get a gun; if he can’t get one legally, he can buy one on the black market or steal one – and the gun will still work.

Taser International has this to say:

We at TASER International live and work to “Protect Life.” One of the ways we do live is by doing all we can to keep our life-saving devices out of the hands of criminals. We will not activate any TASER CEW without a clear felony background check. It’s the right thing to do because it protects all of us.

There are many decent people who have criminal records. People who were falsely accused and forced to take plea bargains. People who have mended their ways. People who made stupid mistakes or broke laws that make no sense. These people have the right to defend themselves and their families. It would make a lot of sense for them to have tasers. That way, they can do so without using lethal force. As it stands, since they cannot get tasers for this purpose, their only realistic alternative is a gun. You’re more likely to kill somebody with a gun than with a taser. You’re also more likely to end up with a long prison sentence and eat up valuable public resources in the process. There’s a lot more fallout if you use a gun against an intruder than if you use a taser.

While it’s true that a gun can be fired several times before it needs to be reloaded, while a taser has only one shot, there’s no reason we should not have both weapons in our arsenal. It doesn’t make sense to create a situation where a segment of the population has the option of using guns, but no option of using tasers. Just my two cents on the matter.


I found this street puppeteer at the mall in Arica, Chile. Enjoy!


But don’t worry; I’ll get around to it!

I still get emails from change.org, even though they banned me a long time ago. Sometimes their petitions amuse me. Sometimes I actually agree with them. I did find the following petition rather curious:

My name is Nicholas Coppola. I’m a Catholic. And I’m gay. For more than 5 years, this wasn’t a problem. I taught Sunday school; I helped people grieve at funerals; I served Communion; I gave readings at Mass. Members of my parish knew that I was gay, and they accepted me.

Then after a Mass in January, I was told that, at the direction of my Bishop, I was no longer welcome to help with or volunteer in the church in any way. Just because I had married my partner, David.

But Cardinal Timothy Dolan — the highest ranking Catholic in America — recently spoke out to say that the Church needs to do better at listening to and supporting gay people. I don’t want to turn my back on the community I love, so I’m inviting Cardinal Dolan to break bread with my family and set an example for other Catholic leaders — including my Bishop — that they must be tolerant and accepting of gay families.

I started a petition on Change.org asking Cardinal Timothy Dolan to break bread with my family so that he can see we’re just like any other American Catholics, and shouldn’t be excluded from helping the Church. Click here to sign my petition.

I first came to the Catholic Church after an injury prevented me from continuing my job as a construction worker. Participating in the ministries at St. Anthony’s gave my life a purpose and connected me to an incredibly caring community.

I have always been open and honest about my relationship with my now-husband David, and many of our church’s parishioners even attended our wedding. Just the other day, an elderly woman came over and sat by me during Mass. She held my hand the entire time.

I’m 47, and I’d like to think I have pretty thick skin. But what if I was 15 years old and still questioning who I was? What if I saw the church treating others this way, or worse, what if I was publicly rejected by my faith community? That’s why I felt like I needed to speak out, for those young people, and with the help of GLAAD, I’m doing that with my petition.

As for the Catholic church, I’m certain that if enough change.org members sign a petition, it will abandon its belief in the Bible and embrace sexual diversity instead. In the face of all those signatures, God will surely change his mind – and so should the Catholics. If they don’t do so willingly, we can always have an inquisition, right?

But in all seriousness, perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I was under the impression that religion is supposed to be about believing, not about democracy or consensus. Last time I checked, Christianity (including Catholicism) placed a lot of emphasis on the Bible, even to the point of believing it – at least in theory.  The Bible is very clear on what it thinks of homosexual relations. In the book of Leviticus, such relations are described as an “abomination.”

I don’t think that homosexuals are that way by choice and I’m fairly certain that most religious people would not condemn a person for having those urges. But there’s a big difference between having those urges and acting upon them. And then there’s another big difference between acting upon them and actually sanctifying such a union. It’s almost as if a Jew were to complain that his synagogue rejected him because he opened a restaurant next door that specialized in pig products. I don’t blame the Catholic church for kicking him out. I would suggest that Mr. Cappola join a Buddhist temple. Or perhaps he can found his own religion.


As sugar has been phased out of chewing gum, various artificial sweeteners have moved in to take its place. Each sweetener has its proponents and foes, but the most controversial of all seems to be Aspartame. Depending on who you believe, Aspartame “has been found to be safe for human consumption” or responsible for “degenerative diseases and neurological afflictions“.

Clouding the issue is the fact that proponents of Aspartame have a lot of money and power. It also seems suspicious that Aspartame use has so proliferated among sugarless gums that it’s difficult to find any sugarless gum, at regular retail outlets, that does not list it among its ingredients. I have watched, with concern, as Aspartame-free sugarless gums have dwindled over the years. I used to be able to buy any number of Orbit sugarless gums that did not include Aspartame. Now, every single Orbit flavor has the sweetener.

Wrigley owns Orbit and I submitted my query via their website. I asked why all of their flavors now include Aspartame. This was their response:

Thanks for asking about aspartame used in Wrigley products. We understand the importance of ensuring the ingredients in the food you eat are safe, and can assure you that food safety is one of Wrigley’s top priorities. 

Wrigley uses the high intensity sweetener, aspartame, in a number of our products – both as the primary sweetener in some of our sugar free brands and as a flavor enhancer in some of our sugar sweetened brands. As an ingredient, aspartame is beneficial because it provides an especially long lasting flavor.  Because of its intense sweetening power (aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar), it is used in very low amounts in foods and beverages, and only a miniscule amount is needed to enhance the flavor of chewing gum.  For example, it would take approximately 40 sticks of Doublemint® to equal the amount of aspartame in one can of diet soda.

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener made of two amino acids – phenylalanine and aspartic acid – that occur naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, grains and dairy products. The two amino acids are linked together by a methyl ester group that is also found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

Aspartame is quickly and completely metabolized in the body, just like any other protein. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into three components – aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol – that are then used by the body in the same way as those found in foods that are eaten every day. In fact, these components are found in much greater amounts in many common foods. For example, a glass of tomato juice provides 6 times as much methanol as an equal amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame.

Since 1967, aspartame’s safety has been documented in more than 200 objective scientific studies. These extensive studies – often involving amounts of aspartame many times higher than individuals could possibly consume in their everyday diet – have been reviewed by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association, Canada’s Health Protection Branch, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Foods, and by the experts of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization. In fact, over the past two years, health authorities in the European Union, United Kingdom, France, and Canada have conducted detailed reviews of aspartame and re-confirmed its safety.

All of these groups, as well as the regulatory authorities in more than 100 countries, have found aspartame to be safe for use as a sweetener in food and beverages. Its safety has been confirmed overwhelmingly by all scientific evidence accumulated over the course of the past 37 years of testing. Of course, each and every ingredient used in Wrigley products is in full compliance with local food and health regulations.

It should be noted that a very small percentage of the population – 1 in 15,000 or approximately 0.007% – has a rare inherited disease known as Phenylketonuria (PKU) that prevents their bodies from properly handling phenylalanine.  People with PKU are placed on a special diet with a severe restriction of phenylalanine from birth to adolescence or after so that they get just enough for proper growth and not too much as to cause adverse effects. Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional source of phenylalanine, aspartame-containing foods must carry a statement on the label “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine” in the U.S.

To find out more about aspartame visit www.aboutaspartame.com and www.caloriecontrol.org. These websites also include sections addressing misinformation and unfounded allegations about aspartame safety that periodically surface in the media and on the Internet.

We hope this information has been helpful. For additional questions or more information about Wrigley, please visit www.wrigley.com or contact us at any time at 1-800-WRIGLEY (9744539) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST. 


Jim Wilson
Consumer Care Representative

Still a bit skeptical, a golden opportunity arrived: My local grocery store was having a “buy two get one free” sale on this gum! Not only that, but the same store also had a Trident cinnamon gum without Aspartame. So I bought a couple of Orbit cinnamon gum (with Aspartame) and a couple of Trident cinnamon gum (that uses  Xylitol instead). I would conduct my own unscientific test.

Which would have the best flavor and which would last the longest?

trident and orbitToday I have the results. The Trident/Xylitol gum’s flavor lasted only about five or six minutes. Toward the end of that period, there was a slightly bitter aftertaste. However, it started with a great burst of flavor that was superior to that of Orbit.

The Orbit/Aspartame gum’s flavor lasted around 13 minutes. It was much less intense at the beginning and more uniform throughout that period. There was no bitter aftertaste. When the flavor ran out, there was no taste at all.

In conclusion, if you’re averse to ingesting Aspartame, only plan on chewing your gum for five minutes or relish the initial burst of flavor, go with Trident. If long-lasting flavor, or no aftertaste, is important to you, and you don’t mind ingesting Apartame, go with Orbit.

Now you know which one is right to carry.

I’m in the habit of preparing well for my vacations, especially when it comes to safeguarding my money and making sure I can use it. To this end I put together a plan. I would have two prepaid debit cards. One would be on my person at all times while the other would remain at the hostel, in a safe if possible.  I would load funds onto the cards as I needed them, a few days in advance and never very much. I confirmed that there would be no problems using my cards in Peru and that, if one was lost or stolen, I could easily notify the bank and have the funds transferred back to my bank account or to the other card.

My online research told me that American Express had the best prepaid debit card. There would be no extra fees and no monthly charge. When I called them, they assured me there would be no problems using the card in Peru and that I would have the flexibility I desired.

But when I got the cards, I was unable to load funds onto them from my bank account using their website. I notified them of the problem and it took them almost two weeks to get it working. Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time and it was fixed well before my departure.

Or so I thought. A few days after arriving in Peru I tried to load funds onto one of the cards – and got an error message that my account could not be verified. I could only call them during business hours, and even then I was getting tech support from what appeared to be India. They weren’t much help. Each time I called (3 times if memory serves me right), I was told the problem was fixed and that I should try again in a little while. Sure enough, the error persisted. I called again and demanded to speak to a supervisor. He told me everything was working fine and there should be no problem. That the funds had been loaded onto the card. From my experience in the U.S. I knew that if this were the case, my bank account should show a pending withdrawal. It did not. I informed him of this and was told that this is not always the case. I was told to be patient and wait a few days. According to their website, it can take up to 5 business days. Those 5 days elapsed and the money still wasn’t there. The following morning, steaming mad, I called again (each call had to be made from an internet cafe’). This time the Indians told me they’d load the funds themselves. In the end, the funds did show up – about a week and a half later.

When I returned home, I wanted to unload the money back into my bank account, something I was originally told could be done. Now it turns out it cannot be done. Had the cards been lost or stolen, the only thing they could have done was to send me a new card. Where would they have sent it to when I was traveling around Peru?

I normally don’t like advising against an option unless I have a better one to suggest. At this point, I think the best option is to carry one or two regular debit/credit cards with you and some cash safely hidden. American Express has proven itself to be technically incompetent, ignorant (or misleading) of its own policies and careless with its customers. It might be that American Express is less willing to spend money and resources on its prepaid services since those customers typically have less means or influence than their regular customers.


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