Addiction? Habits? No Laughing Matter. Ferguson On Spears

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert


Please ponder this presentation.  The film may provide a fertile foundation for deeper thinking.  Eye To Eye With Craig Ferguson On Spears

In my earlier missive, The Price of Addiction. Bush and War I went out of my way not to discuss “dependencies” as though they were obsessions, habits out of our control.  I did not wish to define a fixation as a tendency that could be easily contained.  Personally, I believe there are physical, physiological, psychological, neurological, environmental, ecological, and emotional components that cause us to do as we do and think as we might.  Every entity and each element effect  our thoughts, words, and deeds. 

From my reading, research, and experience, I surmise there are many influences.  Billions of determinants stimulate our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.  Chemicals etch pathways in the brain.  Muscles have memory.  We cannot clearly determine if any one occurrence is the catalyst for another.  Avenues are opened and ignored.  Trails are cleared and some take the trek.  On any given journey participants will realize starkly different realities.  Conscious choice is truly a challenge.  The mind detects less than what occurs.  Humans miss more than see, hear, or feel.

Yet, although I tried not to engage in a dialogue that might be controversial, I received a comment on another site questioning my use of the common term “addiction.” Please allow me to say, I accept that I know little.  I understand nothing with certainty.

I recognize that the mind and body can and do embrace habits.  I have consistently indulged in many unhealthy activities.  I participated in numerous wise and wonderful patterns.  What worked well for me, ensures my safety, sanity, and stability remains mine.  The behaviors that once caused great harm, I happily left behind.

Last week, the mainstream media blasted the airwaves with talk of a tragedy.  I did not plan to speak of Britney Spears and her demeanor.  I was sad for her, for her children and her family.  I felt that Miss Spears was screaming out in agony, and we as a society were laughing at her expense.  Britney may have been asking for attention, as many assume.  I applaud her for knowing that she needs help.  We all do!

Life affords us many lessons.  We can learn none of these alone.  Every individual mirrors another.  When we reflect or relate to others we open doorways that we might never imagine.  I believe and have long stated, “Empathy is the best educator.”

Today I was reminded of a moment I thought stellar.  A comedian Craig Ferguson, mentored many with his words of wisdom.  Please ponder this insightful interview and share your thoughts.  If you have an experience with what is commonly called “addiction,” please recount your tales.  I trust your thoughts will teach others.   If you are as I am, what you say or write may enlighten even or especially you.

The Price of Addiction. Bush and War

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert


Please view the video presentation.  Do the Math.  What might The Cost of Iraq truly be?

Chapter and verse has been written on George W. Bush and his history of addictions.  None doubt his alcohol abuse.  The President speaks of this obsession often.  His own struggle to stop drinking may have endeared him to many voting constituents.  People in America can attest to their own struggles with alcohol dependency.  Some feel certain George Bush did his fair share of cocaine; perhaps, it was another drug of choice.  It seems marijuana was part of the party boy’s bingeing.  Currently, and for the last twenty plus years our President has been clean.  George W. Bush is sober and possibly no longer addicted to intoxicants, unless we are speaking of war. 

I am told killing and defeating personal enemies can be exhilarating.  I know not.  I think none are my foe, forsaking my own fixations.  I do know that many, myself included believe they have addictive personalities.  When I relish a pastime, I truly do.  However, I do not believe in the contention, “Once an addict; always an addict.”  Although, I acknowledge many do.  People can present a panoply of reasons to support their claim.  Rationale for such a belief is abundant.  Nevertheless, I am of the mind that habits can be left behind permanently.  No replacements are necessary. 

Over the course of my life, I have indulged in much that was unwise and unhealthy.  However, each of my habits was pursued simultaneously.  Slowly, I rejected one after another, until they were all gone.  I accept that my life and stories are my own.  Yours or George’s may be different.

However, I do assert as a friend, familiar, or family of an addict I would not be willing to support the habit of a devotee.  I wonder; would you happily bankroll the drugs, the booze, or the food that feeds the addiction of another?  I have, out of “necessity,” sponsored my own abusive practices.  Still, I surmise supplying the obsessed is unwise.  The habit will not die easily as long as it is fed.  Part of what helped me work through my addictions was the need to consciously consider the cost.

Drowning our sorrows in sauce, escaping in amphetamines, or feasting on foods until your body can hold no more is expensive.  Spreading democracy to satisfy an ego or to leave an impressive legacy takes quite a toll.  Trillions of dollars are necessary to continue this compulsion.

Money is not the only concern when we assess addiction.  The damage done to the devotee is awful enough.  The harm that comes to those the addict encounters is immeasurable.  When a person chooses to engage in abusive habits many are hurt.

Thus, I ask, do we really wish to support an unhealthy practice?  Consciously or not, we do.  We fund the President’s habit.  American citizens, Congress, or we the people sponsor the war in Iraq.

I do not believe in tough love; nor do I think behavior modification releases a person from their dependency.  I think each of these “treatments” offers only a temporary solution.  The hair-of-the-dog and drug therapies delay deliverance; however, these methods do not suppress a desire.  I maintain we must choose for ourselves when or how we work through our addictions. 

George W. Bush chose his path.  Mister Bush mentions that turning to the Lord, locating a place of faith contributed to his healing.  In 2005 . . .

Bush, a Methodist who credits his religious faith for helping him stop drinking and handle the demands of his job [said] “There’s all kinds of ways to quit drinking,” he added in remarks to a March conference of faith-based social service providers, “but one of the most effective ways to quit drinking is for a person to make a choice to go to a place that changes your heart.”

George W. Bush may be “right.”  For some, faith can move mountains.  Yet, a strong belief in the Lord does not seem to help with George’s current fixation. 

G-d, Jesus Christ, and President Bush’s belief in these miracle workers does not dissuade this man from evil doings.  George W. Bush violates the Commandments daily.  The tablets proclaim, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Yet, George W. Bush does.  This man is responsible for murderous acts.  He encourages mass slaughter. These reactive behaviors do not benefit a nation, a world, or even an individual.  What seems to be another addiction for George W. Bush is devastating the globe and we are paying for it.

I do not understand what motivate us, as a nation.  I do not comprehend what moves Congress to act as they do. Iraq war veterans are against this war.  Some of these soldiers were elected to office in hopes that they would find a way to stop the blood bath.  Freshmen members offer words of wisdom; yet nothing changes.

“We stand together to tell this administration that we are against the escalation, and to say with one voice that Congress will no longer be a blank check to the president’s failed policies,” said freshman Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), who was a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad. “The president’s plan to send more of our best and bravest to die refereeing a civil war in Iraq is wrong.”

We are still funding a failed war effort.  The argument is that if we stop supplying the dollars we will not be supporting the troops.  The troops themselves dispute this claim.  However, members of the House and the Senate fear the people will not believe this is true.  It seems Americans do not recall this action has been taken in the past.

A new report from the Center for American Progress details how, over the last 35 years, Congress has passed bills, enacted into law, that capped the size of military deployments, prohibited funding for existing or prospective deployment, and placed limits and conditions on the timing and nature of deployments.

Hell did not freeze over; however, with global warming it might.  George W. Bush does speak to our addiction to oil and recently relented that America’s compulsion to consume may be adding to the affect.  Still, I digress.

For some reason the charismatic Vice President Cheney and his partner in war crimes George W. Bush have a hold on Congress; thus, negating the “power of the purse.”

Vice President Dick Cheney has made it clear that he does not believe Congress has much to say about the war in Iraq, in particular, or about foreign policy in general.

With repeated assertions that the country “cannot run a war by committee,” the man who defended the Reagan Administration’s Iran-Contra wrongdoing and counseled the first President Bush to omit consultation with Congress before launching the Gulf War of 1991 has established the current administration’s view regarding which branch of government is in charge when it comes to warmaking. “The president is the commander in chief,” growled Cheney in a recent appearance on Fox News. “He’s the one who has to make these tough decisions.”

President Bush has dutifully echoed Cheney’s line with clumsy but apparently heartfelt references to himself as “the decider.”

Were it not for the small matter of the Constitution, the Vice President and his charge might be convincing on this matter.

Unfortunately for these transitory occupants of the White House, the Constitution affords them no comfort.

The document is clear in its language: “The Congress shall have the power… To declare war, grant letters of marquee and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress…”

If that makes it sound as if control over matters military was placed squarely in the hands of the House and Senate, then the founders succeeded in communicating their intent. James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution were exceptionally blunt about their hope that the president would serve as a mere commander-in-chief, implementing the directions of the Congress with regard to the targets or military actions, the characters of those actions and their durations.

The founders bluntly stated their fears about executive excess in a time of military conflict. “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement,” warned Madison, who explained that, “In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand, which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”

The Constitution was written “to chain the dogs of war” by founders who believed it essential that the endeavor be “run by committee” — with the legislative branch fully empowered to check and balance the ambition, the avarice and the vanity of the executive.

Perchance the forefathers also predicted the possibility of delusion and dependence.  The writers of the Constitution may have known that a President can easily become addicted to power.  S/he may have an uncontrollable desire to conquer every entity in his or her path.  It seems George W. has this proclivity, and we, the people support him.  We honor this Commander with title of Chief.  The American people and their Representatives ignore the penchant of this President.  We give him dollars so that he may do his deleterious deeds.  Knowingly, we walk with Mister Bush down a path of destruction!

Why? Why are we willing to let a man that has a history of unhealthy habits lead us into battle.  More importantly, why do we fund such folly?

I beg; I plead; write your Congressman or woman.  Place a telephone call to your Representatives.  Sign every and any petition.  Speak to your friends and family; ask them to assist you in your quest.  Let us stop this insanity; exit Iraq.  End this war!  Do not allow this President, drunk with power, to dip into your purse.  Send the troops home before more harm comes to them.  Please help save your fellow humans from a fate that need not be theirs.  I thank you for caring.

Reasons to Reflect on George W. Bush and his Fixations . . .

  • Addiction, Brain Damage and the President, “Dry Drunk” Syndrome and George W. Bush.  By Katherine van Wormer.  CounterPunch.
  • Bush Gets Stoned by the World Media, U.S. Press Less Interested in Drug Remarks.  By Jefferson Morley. Washington Post. Thursday, February 24, 2005; 6:00 AM
  • pdf Bush Gets Stoned by the World Media, U.S. Press Less Interested in Drug Remarks.  By Jefferson Morley. Washington Post. Thursday, February 24, 2005; 6:00 AM
  • George Bush’s Addiction to Nuclear Weapons, By Lawrence S. Wittner.  George Mason University.  History New Network.  April 11, 2005
  • The Trouble With Tough Love.  By Maia Szalavitz. Washington Post. Sunday, January 29, 2006; B01
  • pdf The Trouble With Tough Love.  By Maia Szalavitz. Washington Post. Sunday, January 29, 2006; B01
  • Behavior Modification: Does It Work? © 2002 by Brian Thomas.  Courtesy of the Family-Content Syndicate
  • Two Fronts in the War on Poverty, Bush Seeks More Aid for Church Groups; Others Face Uncertainty.  By Michael A. Fletcher.  Washington Post. Tuesday, May 17, 2005; A01
  • pdf Two Fronts in the War on Poverty, Bush Seeks More Aid for Church Groups; Others Face Uncertainty.  By Michael A. Fletcher.  Washington Post. Tuesday, May 17, 2005; A01
  • House Begins Debate On War, A Partisan Divide On Bush Troop Plan.  By Jonathan Weisman.Washington Post. Wednesday, February 14, 2007; A01
  • pdf House Begins Debate On War, A Partisan Divide On Bush Troop Plan.  By Jonathan Weisman. Washington Post. Wednesday, February 14, 2007; A01
  • VoteVets.org
  • Iraq Veterans Against the War.
  • FACT CHECK: Congress Has Repeatedly Placed Limits On Military Deployments And Funding.  Think Progress.
  • Center for American Progress
  • What Congress Can Do. By John Podesta and Lawrence J. Korb.  The Center For American Progress.February 21, 2007
  • “Exercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War.”  By John Nichols.  The Nation.  January 29, 2007
  • Self-Doubt, Defeating Thoughts, Illusions, Delusions, Disappointments, Depression

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    This is the Twenty-First Century, the Information Age.  Wherever we journey people are chatting.  They do it online, while in line, and with a Digital Subscriber Line [DSL.]  So much is being said, more is not vocalized.  People talk though they rarely discuss what they are truly thinking.  This is a series of tales about self-doubt, illusions, delusions, disappointments, defeatist thoughts, and perhaps depression. 

    We all have experienced some of these states; yet, few wish to speak of them.  We prefer to presume, and plan with a modicum of information.  We pretend to know.  However, on occasion we might reluctantly admit we understand very little.  Too often, we seem to be wrong, wronged, and wrestling with what is.

    Life delivers many mysteries and we muse about each of these.  We conclude with certainty, only to suffer from self-doubt.  Today, I am flooded with feelings, wonder, and worry.  What is not said, though intimated, overwhelms me.  A relative, a close friend, a corporation or two, and former Governor, current Presidential candidate Tom Vilsack, are on my mind.  They remind me of myself.  Each is sharing information, albeit obscurely.  I suspect these persons are too busy They are franticly beating themselves up.  There is no time for much else.  These individuals fear that their own words may give others the ammunition they need to hurt them. 

    You too may be familiar with that nagging force that drives many of us.  ‘If others knew me, if they heard what I truly think, if they knew what I did and why, they would slam and damn my spirit.’  Often, people decide it is safer to stay silent.  They say very little, only enough to satisfy a curious soul.  I did this.  I have been to scared to share authentically, much like Audrey, Gabriel, and Governor Tom Vilsack.  I questioned my choices, my worth, my thoughts, and my feelings.  At times, the events that led me to query were extreme.  On other occasions, the everyday decisions seemed enormous.

    Months ago I published a private moment. I presented a scenario that some thought captivating; others found my missive tremendously agonizing, a difficult read.  Some of those that felt my distress  feared I was exposed.  Perchance, they worried I would publicly depict their woes if only I knew.  I would not.  I cannot.  I trust that none of us can truly know another or what is within.  Although, frequently, we think we do.  I might have thought I knew a former beau; yet, from  being acquainted with him, I realized I did not even know myself.  I believe few of us do.  We define ourselves as inadequate beings and then build on this self-concept.

    Years ago I was in a relationship so awful, it did not feel as though there was a liaison.  Yet, the involvement consumed me.  Troubled as I was, I held much inside.  I did what people do.  I imagined I was wrong, or terribly flawed.  I feared, that if I spoke of my concerns I would surely realize greater rejection.  Abandonment was a certainty in my mind.  I did not want the person I cared for the most to sense my strife.  I withheld my feelings from him, even when he opened the door, slightly.

    I talked to others.  Any ear was welcome.  I sought consolation, solace, and support.  However, not from the person that I believed had the power to hurt me.  I gave him that authority.  I granted myself none.  Certainly, I was not good enough.  I trusted he, Gary was great.  I was wrong and right, simultaneously.  I still think Gary is sensational; yet, I realize that he does not recognize that he is.  Gary is busy.  He is putting himself down as he actively pursues perfection.  He postures as though he has achieved the ultimate success.  Still, there are moments, when with me he revealed himself.  I saw what few have.  I realize Gary is my mirror, just as you dear reader may be.

    Gary taught me much.  He talked about perceptions, assumptions, and love.  He communicated while saying very little.  I was always wondering, what did he mean.  Why does he think this or that?  I wanted to understand him wholly.  Most of all I wanted answers to these questions.  “What am I doing?”  “Why are feelings so sorrowful?”  Finally, after years of grappling with my musings and hiding what was within me, I wrote this exposé.  I reversed the roles, seeking empathy.  [I offer an introduction.  If you wish to read further, please follow the link.]

    Fast Forward; The Story Unfolds. Fade into Feelings
    Perception; Assumptions are only Associations.
    You meet me for the first time, we talk, talk, talk, for close to four hours.  There is so much energy, so many common interests, and infinite seeming similarities.  I call you and express an interest in getting together.  You telephone me the morning of the day we are getting together, just to chat and share.  A man answers my phone.  You freeze and hang up.

    You may wonder?  When we do see each other, the conversation continues to be stimulating.  You discover in the course of this conversation, as I desire to be honest and I am always completely honest with you, what this man means to me.  I tell you that he is my best friend, the person I met many years ago when I was most vulnerable.  He is physically beautiful as well as a beautiful person.  Yes, he has the key to my home and my heart.  You are so confused.  Why did I ever approach you?  I have another.

    Soon after, I email you and ask to see you again.  You wonder why am I asking; my life is full.  There is no room for you.  You are puzzled.  You question yourself, `Why would you accept the invitation?’  But you do.  The conversations are so stimulating.  It has been a long time since a stranger has been this interesting.

    After writing and reflecting, after revisiting all that was, I acknowledged, I was my own worst enemy.

    This narrative may not reflect your reality.  You may not have experienced such an encounter.  Your anecdotes will be different.  Everyday affairs affect your life profoundly; these cause you to pause.

    This week a close friend and persons in my family are confronting their demons.  While reflecting on their choices, they wonder; might they have been wrong.  Were they foolish to trust their instincts, to do as they thought best.  Their faith in others is faltering.  They no longer trust themselves completely.  Each of these individuals is feeling, as we all do at some time, miserable, misguided, mistaken, or merely as though they were wrong.  Whatever they might be thinking about themselves, they are as we have been, reluctant to admit it.

    These solid souls are depressed, disappointed. They are mired in the dynamics that led them to this state.  Placing the onus on others might seem a solution and even apt; however, when people outwardly do this, I suspect, in truth, they, I, we, most of us blame ourselves.

    Moments ago, I heard former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack is withdrawing his name from the Presidential race.  I can only imagine what he might be feeling.  I watched his campaign and was impressed.  However, he received little attention.  Personally, I cast my ballot for principles; I seriously considered Governor Vilsack’s candidacy.  Still, the majority vote for electabilty.  This equates to popularity. 

    People tend to follow the lead of the famous, the familiar, and the flock.  Tom Vilsack, though admirable was not showy enough for some.  Sadly, this brilliant man and exceptional Governor could not mount the campaign of his choosing.  Contributions, time, and money, go to the select few, the charmers, the charismatic, the compelling, and those with name recognition.  Campaigner Vilsack believes he is not a money magnet.  He thinks he is the wrong man for this “type” of race or at least his handlers have told him this is so.  I strongly suspect Governor Vilsack is questioning himself.  His strengths are likely not looming as large in his mind as they are in mine. Might candidate Vilsack be experiencing self-doubt, illusions, delusions, defeatist thoughts, and depression?  Yes, we are our own worst enemy.

    I suspect we are all willing to believe the worse when it pertains to our sense of self.

    Few of us feel as though we are the one, the extraordinarily enchanting individual that people want to be with, work with, or the person that is infinitely important.  We are suspicious of those that do want our attention.  Are others attracted to our beauty, power, and position, or are they after our money, the dollars they think we have.  Most of us are not honored as we wish to be.  We struggle with what life offers.  Companies, communities, and compatriots often do not serve us well; we suffer at the hands of others.  Each of us frequently questions whether we are able to meet our own needs.

    In my own life, I have had ample reason to doubt.  I could claim insanity, or I might reference being human.  My most recent quandary came after much deliberation. 

    Up until a year ago, I lived in the glorious state of California.  I resided there for close to three decades.  While I loved my life in SoCal, I was cold.  The maritime climate chills me to the bone.  I chose to leave my home state and travel south and east.

    Initially, I investigated the possibility of change.  I looked at crime statistics.  I perused the demographic information available to me on the Internet and in public domain documents. I studied school districts and I weighed the pros and cons.  However, I knew list making would leave much to be desired.  Imagination plays a role in each of our decisions.

    As a child, I lived with my Grandparents in South Florida.  I spent two months playing in what was then called Miami Beach.  I loved the weather and longed to return.  Thus, no matter what I read, no matter what the research revealed, I was destined to travel to the land of my dreams.  I planned and packed for the move.  Still, I feared making the wrong decision.  That apprehension has not left me.  I waiver; I worry.  I wait to feel settled.  At times, I wonder.  Was my choice wise. 

    A relative of mine has a similar quandary.  She took a leap of faith and now, recognizes that her transition was not what she expected.  This brilliant woman says little about her situation.  She seems embarrassed, unable to discuss her decisions.  Perhaps she believes people will judge her.  Accidentally, I discovered days ago, she thought I was certain, settled, and pleased as punch with my move.  While Audrey was working through her own quandary, she did not discuss our similar circumstances.  She just assumed, as persons often do.  We think others are living a life of bliss and we, once again are wrong.

    I understand what Audrey is feeling.  My sentiments are similar.  From her silence, I can only surmise that Audrey takes for granted I will be critical of her change of heart.  Oh no, dearest Audrey, I empathize.  I even understand that voicing internal dialogues leaves us feeling vulnerable.  If only we knew, we are our own worst enemy.  Others will not judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves.

    Fantasies are the fabric of our lives.  At times, our whimsy does not involve friends, family, or familiars.  The workplace causes our heart to palpitate.  The marketplace can stimulate sensations.  Our fragile souls are easily shaken.  Our sense of self can be destroyed.  Any moment can weigh on our minds. Our sensibility is often pulled in every direction.  We engage and encounter influences outside ourselves; these too cause us to question our choices and understanding of ourselves.

    Today, as I pondered my family member’s situation and remembered my own, a close friend telephoned .  Gabriel too is in a quandary.  He wanted to discuss his concerns; yet, he barely said a word.  He was busy, beating himself up.  Apparently, he has been engaging in self-criticism for days.  Gabriel knew he was wrong.  He wanted to be punished for his errors.  Evidently, Gabriel did not trust that anyone else would sufficiently slam him and damn him.  Therefore, he took on the task himself.

    Gabriel Bell made a multi-million dollar investment, or at least has taken steps to solidify what he sees as his mission.  This gentleman is a feeling soul.  Gabriel works to serve others.  He is an educator and an entrepreneur; mostly he is hugely empathetic man.  Gabriel Bell feels deeply.  Money may be involved in his dealings; however, for him the dollars are less relevant than the prospect of bring joy and wisdom to others.

    Years ago, Mister Bell discovered a philosophy that spoke to him.  It is people centered.  Gabriel imagined offering this program to schools.  He wanted to serve the public and pupils well.  Mister Bell endeavored to connect with the company that sold this service.  He was certain he had; only to realize that business is brutal.  A corporation that professes altruism, communication, and compassion, has none for those that they depend on for income.  Practically speaking the business managers and attorneys representing this organization do not trust others; yet, they expect others to have faith in them.

    Mister Bell is fighting for supplies, a reasonable commitment, and all he receives are requests for cash.  What might have been a pleasant and prosperous undertaking is now the source of much pain.  Gabriel is crushed.  Schools and students are not benefiting from this prolonged legal process.  Nothing is going as planned.  Giving gracefully has become a battle of wits.  Gabriel Bell blames himself for his innocence, naivety, and credulous demeanor.  He might dismiss his disappointment, his disillusionment, and relieve his depression by stating, ‘That is the way corporations works today.’  He would be correct. 

    While voicing ones feelings does not eliminate the real emotions that reside deep within us, it helps the healing to begin.  Yes, we are still able to cast the all-consuming shadows of self-doubt.  Nevertheless, when we honor ourselves and share what we sense  so much can be resolved.  Remember Gary, Audrey, and Gabriel too who is now speaking out, sharing his secret concerns.  Mister Bell is hoping to create an alliance once again.  He is working to coalesce with a company whose philosophies he once admired.  He will, if their own self-doubts and illusionary suspicions do not remain their guide. 

    Conglomerates, comprised of sensitive souls, are much like individuals; we are all our own worst enemies.  If only industry and institutions recognized this.  Businesses are busy; they too doubt their decisions.  They simplify, so that the may reach the bottom line.  They stay silent when speaking would be better. They fear  the numbers may leave them vulnerable to the stockholders that support them.  Corporate establishments slice their own throats in hopes of remaining safe.  These actions cause them to suffer unduly.

    Home Depot customers and shareholders are questioning their commitment.  They too have reason to reflect and realize that they are not at fault.  Home Depot profits are slipping.  Employees treat customers as they are treated, badly.

    Home Depot has delivered superb financial numbers in the past five years, with total sales growing an average of 12% per year and profits doubling.  But the share price has dropped 24% during the biggest home improvement boom in history.  And shoppers are getting grumpier. The University of Michigan’s annual American Customer Satisfaction index shows Home Depot slipped to dead last among major U.S. retailers, 11 points behind Lowe’s.  Home Depot employees, who were encouraged to “make love to the customer” under co-founders Bernard Marcus and Arthur M. Blank now sometimes treat them like bad dates. “I don’t want to say one bad apple spoils the bunch,” says Curt D. Bridges, an electrical engineer from Decatur, Ga., who used to be a die-hard Home Depot fan.  “But sometimes some [store clerks] almost blow you off.”

    Nardelli’s strategy to expand into the contractor supply business, while cutting costs and streamlining operations in 1,816 U.S. stores, has pushed customer service down the company’s priority list. Many full-time workers have been replaced with part-time employees, who now make up 40% of store staff. Meanwhile, workers’ incentives for good customer service have dwindled, too. The profit-sharing pool for workers shrank to $44 million, down from $90 million the prior year, despite record sales.

    The customer service fumbles have been exacerbated by the emergence of newer, more customer-friendly Lowe’s stores. Sales at Home Depot stores open at least one year rose 1% in the first quarter, compared with 2.1% in the same quarter last year, according to analysts.  (Lowe’s jumped 5.7%).  Home Depot compounded Wall Street’s angst last month when it announced it will stop reporting those figures. That’s an unusual move for most retailers, let alone the second-biggest in the U.S., and has analysts wary of more bad news ahead.

    People prefer to go where they are well cared for.  They want to know the truth, hear the facts, and feel the energy that makes us all uniquely human.  Yet, as I concealed my emotions and apprehensions, as Audrey hid hers, as Gabriel veiled his voice, Home Depot does the same. 

    Each of us tends to castigate ourselves; we need no assistance to feel awful.  We stay silent, or simplify the dynamics of a scenario.  We do not allow ourselves to experience others as we might.  Humans are so busy protecting themselves from great pain.  They do not open their hearts and minds to communion.  Sadly, we are our own worst enemies and continue to be so.

    Humans crave an authentic connection and severe the possibility.  Home Depot wants a strong, loyal customer base; yet, their policies destroy what brings people to them.  Individuals, such as Gabriel Bell, want to be more than a source of earnings.  He hopes to be meaningful; that is his deepest desire.  Yet, his silence seared a significant connection.  Audrey hopes as we all do, to be admired and appreciated; however, her lack of sharing does not make this possible.

    Tom Vilsack wants what we all yearn for, recognition of his innate worth.  The former Governor humbly prefers to be perceived as a magnanimous person, a man that can create unity.  He has no interest in being a political pawn playing to the masses.  The nature of a society satiated in image offers little opportunity for authentic sharing.  Even when we want to be open, self-doubt, illusions, delusions, disappointments, defeatist thoughts, and perhaps depression lead us to question ourselves.  Oh, don’t I know this!

    Benevolence is beckoning.  We can continue to defend our hearts in our feeble attempt to deliver ourselves from evil, or we can emerge and engage.  My own experience is when I share my secrets, tell others what is bothering me, and confess to my own shortcomings people are open, loving, giving, and great. 

    Might we extend our hands, voice our fears, and find a friend in others.

    References . . .

  • Fast Forward; The Story Unfolds. Fade into Feelings  By Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org
  • Ex-Iowa governor drops 2008 presidential bid.  Cable News Network. POSTED: 2:10 p.m. EST, February 23, 2007
  • Home Depot: Last Among Shoppers .  Business Week  June 19, 2006
  • In Country: Field Conditions

    (It is Friday evening. The workweek has ended; although not for those on battlefields throughout the land. Some seek entertainment on the first evening of a weekend. Others hope for an end to war. Possum reflects. – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

    copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

    Stories of war times are many and varied.  Ever soldier sees the situation through different eyes.  Even memory changes over time.  Memories come and go.  New ones are discovered as old ones disappear somehow.  The variation from person to person is wide ranging.  The experiences were so very different and yet we shared so much in time and place.  Tonight we visit time in the field with an infantry company in the central highlands of Vietnam.  Pick up your gear, put on your boots, and move down the trail for another of the possum’s tales.

    Life in the field with a company of infantrymen was a very different proposition than the experience of life in a base camp.  We in the field called the people in support positions in the rear “base camp jockeys.”  Other soldiers in other companies had more demeaning names for those left in rear guard positions.  We in the field were the original “grunts.”  A more appropriate nomenclature is difficult to imagine.  We moved about with all our worldly possessions on our backs.  Every rising from a sitting position was accompanied by a series of audible grunts both to express our general opinion of the situation and as a result of exhalation in the the effort of rising.

    In exact opposite to the base camp soldier, we were often unshaven and nearly always dirty.  We lived in hot and steamy conditions punctuated by regular marches from one hilltop to another.  We were sweaty and smelly all the time.  Water was scarce and we wasted very little for such amenities as shaving.  A bath required either a fine stream or a rain shower.  Any rain shower when we were camped was very likely to be accompanied by a large group of naked men frolicking in suds and rain.  Bars of soap were shared freely by those who carried such.  We all carried whatever minimum we thought was necessary.  I saw a bar of soap as an unnecessary burden and just shared whatever someone else offered.  After a shower we just put back on the same dirty clothing we were wearing before and continued about our day.  Thank goodness we were all in the same state of hygiene, whatever that happened to be, so no one took real note of anyone else.

    Clean clothing was delivered in large bags at undependable intervals.  The arrival of clean clothes was always greeted with a mixture of emotions.  We had to find whatever we could that fit within reason so we usually looked like a ragtag bunch.  We usually had clean clothes and showers at different intervals so we were putting clean clothes on pretty dirty bodies nearly every time.  Underwear was left behind very early on as the chafing in the humid and dirty conditions was unbearable.  Just think about poison ivy between the legs and you get the idea.  We wore T-shirts, fatigue shirts and pants, socks, and boots.  We had enough issues with which to deal without adding skin chaging to the list.

    Every movement of the company in the field meant we picked up our belongings and walked.  Feet were always having trouble with blisters along the way.  The medic was prepared with various sorts of medications and bandage material as nearly every march meant several feet in trouble.  After a time I managed to accommodate my boots, socks, and feet to alleviate that problem, but the first few days were painful indeed.

    When we were settled in camp for a day or more we sent patrols out every day.  Usually at least two groups of about eight men would go different directions to survey the area and to search for any evidence of people or enemy forces.  Most such patrols meant just another hike through the jungle, but some were met with greater incidents.  Sometimes the company was encamped on top of a mountain.  In that instance the patrol might begin with an all downhill trek and end with a steep uphill climb at the end of the day.  Those days were difficult in a very physical sense indeed.  On some occasions native populations were encountered.  That meant at least a brief period of gunfire unless the people were clearly friendly and welcoming.  Sometimes caves or other places of living were found and had to be searched.  Tunnels were discovered with great regularity.  Such tunnels were used by the VC (the enemy forces) for protection in times of bombing.  Occasionally such tunnels were still occupied at the time of discovery.  Sometimes we dropped a hand grenade in the opening and left the hole unexplored especially if the tunnel was very small.  Sometimes we had no members of the company small enough in stature to get in a tunnel.  No matter what was found the whole affair was exciting, frightening, and dangerous all wrapped in one.

    We carried our personal items in ammunition cans.  These were rectangular boxes about three inches deep, eight inches or so high, and about ten inches wide.  The box held our pens, writing paper, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and any other personal gear we owned.  Some people carried playing cards, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or other items.  My set included disposable cameras sent from home.  The cameras were then mailed home for developing.  I came home to find lots of pictures my family had pored over but none of which I had seen before.  Part of the homecoming was explaining the pictures and identifying the people and places shown.

    Letters home were written nearly every day by many of us.  I wrote on the days that we were not moving about the countryside.  My family supplied airmail paper and pens with nearly every goodie box from home.  Letters to family and friends were nearly always couched in cheerful terms and talked about coming home and future plans.  Little of real life or real circumstance was conveyed along the way.  Folk at home had no real need to know just how miserable life could be sometimes.

    Nights were long and usually pretty boring overall.  If we were encamped for any period of time someone would break out a deck of cards and a low stakes poker game would ensue.  Our company played small dollar limits so a big pot might hold as much as $25 or $30.  We pretty much just swapped money back and forth with no real winners and no big losers.  Once final bedtime arrived (usually right at dark unless we were very late in setting up) we divvied up the hours until dawn (usually counted as 6AM no matter the real time of daylight) and set radio watches for the night.  Every person in the headquarters platoon of which I was a part took a shift.  I was the newest in the group and was usually left with last choice, generally about 1AM for a two-hour shift.  By dawn everyone in the company was beginning to rise so we could take shorter turns monitoring the radio.  The radio was monitored for both company and battalion contact every minute we were out of base camp.  One just never knew what to expect in the next moment.

    In the field we were in positions of constant exposure to foreign forces both friendly and enemy.  We never had a feeling of real safety in the field.  The days were long and overall boring with little or nothing to attract our attention.  All was relative to the day and the moment.  We joked among ourselves without ever admitting to any degree of fear.  To admit fear would have somehow lessened ourselves in the eyes of our fellows.  The constant suppression of mindset wore on day after weary day.  Over the course of time most emotion became flat.  We moved through life in a fog without real pleasure or real feelings of any sort.  The loss of the ability to be alive in that way was a serious problem for so many upon returning to the states.

    Time in Vietnam as time in any war was mostly a time of waiting for something to happen or not and hoping nothing too exciting was coming around the bend.  Those in base camps had various options for entertainment which were lacking in the field.  All who served in any capacity were subject to conditions far from ideal.  We were all stranded in strange surroundings.  All of us found our own ways to adapt and to maintain any semblance of connection to life back home.  Those of us in the field companies were sure life had dealt us the worst of the hands, but those in the rear had little more to ease their burdens.  We all suffered to on degree or another whether in the field or in base camp.

    Open Thread. The Beauty of Blogs According To Tony Snow

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    Tony Snow Slams The ‘Hateful,’ ‘Polarized’ Blogosphere

    Let us have a discussion, a conversation, to coin a Clintonism.  Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow is sharing his view of Blogs.  The Press Secretary states they are “wonderful,” “imaginative,” and “hateful.”  Might we chat about this.  Cyberspace is a connective medium. 

    Might we come together, converge, or are we, in this new “democratic age” just too divisive?

    Please spew your odious, offensive, and obnoxious thoughts as you reflect on the comment Tony Snow offered.  However, please, do so gently. 

    I personally am an assertive, active, lover of peace.  In words and deeds, I work to reach nirvana.  Expressions of “hate” will not take me to the paradise I seek.  Perchance, when I arrive at my chosen destination, those that think blogs [such as mine?] are vile will be there, awaiting my “wonderful” words of wisdom.

    I can only imagine that Mister Snow is not searching for solace when he “punches it up” his preferences.  Secretary Snow, I invite you to join the “imaginative,” interesting, and insightful peaceful persons here at BeThink.

    Gardasil; Truth and Consequences. Merck Stops Lobby

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert


    Please view this Gardasil Commercial.  Contemplate the truer concerns.

    On February 3, 2007, I expressed my distress in an exposé titled, Texas Mandates STD Vaccination for Elementary Age Schoolgirls.  In my writing I discussed the executive order imposed by Texas Governor Rick Perry.  This Christian conservative concluded young schoolgirls, ages eleven and twelve, must be inoculated against cervical cancer.  A series, of three shots, each costing $120 would be required.  The consumer would be forced to pay for this state-imposed immunization.  Actually, the child would not, or could not possibly purchase such services.  Parents would bear the financial burden.  The young girls might carry another costly load.  Drugs have side effects.  The more effective Pap Smears do not.  Nonetheless, profits are on the line.  I know, you thought saving lives was the greater concern.

    Granted, mothers, fathers, or guardians could opt out of the program, if they think to do so.  However, there is a stigma associated with nonconformity.  A parent may be labeled negligent or a religious zealot.  Few will think a concerned custodian is doing what is right, moral, or ethical if they are not protecting their young daughters from cervical cancer.

    When I first learned of this story there were many questions, numerous concerns, and too few answers.  I speculated.  I investigated.  I determined Governor Perry had close ties with the Pharmaceutical distributor.  I postulated.  This plan is profitable; it is not necessarily prudent.

    Nevertheless, state officials in some twenty other regions are considering similar measures.  In my own home state of Florida Gardasil injections may soon be mandatory.  The drug company, Merck has been lobbying lawmakers nationwide. 

    Weeks ago, hardly any one was assessing the facts.  Although readers at BeThink.org were.  I received many brilliant, insightful, and informed comments.  I cannot thank stickdog and maggiemahar enough.  Your wisdom and knowledge may have provoked a change in Merck policy.  Perchance, your sharings stimulated those on the right, left, and in the middle.  It seems more people are mindful.  Individuals and groups are asking, ‘What are we doing to our children in the name of science and safety?’

    Today, there is more news on this topic.  I will contrast this recent bulletin with the research stickdog and maggiemahar presented.  I think you might find each assessment interesting. In fact, a review of all of these together might be truly enlightening.  Much of what is not said in the official statement is stated in reader remarks.  Please peruse each of these accounts and decide for yourself.  Is Gardasil the optimal solution for a prevalent problem?  Is cervical cancer a common occurrence.  Might Pap smears be a more effective, preventative treatment?  Will Merck terminate their lobbying, or only alter their operation.

    Merck ending lobbying for mandatory Gardasil vaccine
    Science News
    February 21, 2007

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Drugmaker Merck & Co. said on Tuesday it would stop lobbying state legislatures to make it mandatory for schoolgirls to be inoculated with its new cervical cancer vaccine.

    The company said it made the decision after re-evaluating its lobbying program, which has generated fierce debate with some religious organizations saying it could encourage promiscuity and parents groups questioning the need for such a widespread vaccination program.

    Merck’s Gardasil is the first and only vaccine against cervical cancer.  Approved in 2006 for females aged 9 to 26, it works against strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

    Earlier this month, Texas became the first U.S. state to require that all 11- and 12-year-old girls be vaccinated against HPV.  Republican Gov. Rick Perry said parents could opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their children if they objected for reasons including religious beliefs.

    About 20 U.S. states had been considering mandating the vaccine, many for girls before they entered the sixth grade.

    The vaccine, given in a series of three injections at a price of $360, has been endorsed by medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    In December, Merck said it was looking into providing Gardasil at much lower prices in developing countries and to make it available within months.

    Richard Haupt, executive director of medical affairs for vaccines at Merck, said the media publicity had become a “potential distraction” that was interfering with the company’s objective of promoting widespread use of the product.

    “We’ve reevaluated our position, but certainly plan to continue education efforts in different venues, such as with legislators, health departments and coalition groups in various states,” Haupt said.

    The company reaffirmed it continues to expect combined revenue this year of $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion from its array of vaccines, including ones to prevent shingles and infections with rotavirus.

    GlaxoSmithKline Plc is expected to file in April for U.S. regulatory approval for its cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix.

    Cervical cancer kills some 300,000 women worldwide each year.

    The number of deaths seems compelling.  However, when we assess the data, we must consider the word “worldwide.”  Too often when given a statistic we ignore the variance in situations.  Health care standards in a third world country do not compare with those in the Western world.  Numbers may skew an evaluation.  Health care services provided for the poor, even within our own country are a source of concern.  Perhaps we would be better served if we looked at all the facts and circumstances.

    After reading the news report and Merck’s contention we might reason that religion and the fear of promiscuity were influential in drug company’s decision.  However, I suspect there is a more persuasive argument.  The facts presented in this statement are fascinating and perhaps profound.  Nevertheless, they differ from the evaluation stickdog offers.  Please read this text.  I hope you will find it meaningful. 

    Stickdog studied the original research on Gardasil and found the conclusions questionable.

    The Facts About GARDASIL

    1) GARDASIL is a vaccine for 4 strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), two strains that are strongly associated (and probably cause) genital warts and two strains that are typically associated (and may cause) cervical cancer.  About 90% of people with genital warts show exposure to one of the two HPV strains strongly suspected to cause genital warts.  About 70% of women with cervical cancer show exposure to one of the other two HPV strains that the vaccine is designed to confer resistance to.

    2) HPV is a sexually communicable (not an infectious) virus.  When you consider all strains of HPV, over 70% of sexually active males and females have been exposed.  A condom helps a lot (70% less likely to get it), but has not been shown to stop transmission in all cases (only one study of 82 college girls who self-reported about condom use has been done).  For the vast majority of women, exposure to HPV strains (even the four “bad ones” protected for in GARDASIL) results in no known health complications of any kind.

    3) Cervical cancer is not a deadly nor prevalent cancer in the US or any other first world nation.  Cervical cancer rates have declined sharply over the last 30 years and are still declining.  Cervical cancer accounts for less than 1% of all female cancer cases and deaths in the US.  Cervical cancer is typically very treatable and the prognosis for a healthy outcome is good.  The typical exceptions to this case are old women, women who are already unhealthy and women who don’t get pap smears until after the cancer has existed for many years.

    4) Merck’s clinical studies for GARDASIL were problematic in several ways.  Only 20,541 women were used (half got the “placebo”) and their health was followed up for only four years at maximum and typically 1-3 years only.  More critically, only 1,121 of these subjects were less than 16.  The younger subjects were only followed up for a maximum of 18 months.  Furthermore, less than 10% of these subjects received true placebo injections.  The others were given injections containing an aluminum salt adjuvant (vaccine enhancer) that is also a component of GARDASIL.  This is scientifically preposterous, especially when you consider that similar alum adjuvants are suspected to be responsible for Gulf War disease and other possible vaccination related complications.

    5) Both the “placebo” groups and the vaccination groups reported a myriad of short term and medium term health problems over the course of their evaluations.  The majority of both groups reported minor health complications near the injection site or near the time of the injection.  Among the vaccination group, reports of such complications were slightly higher.  The small sample that was given a real placebo reported far fewer complications – as in less than half.  Furthermore, most if not all longer-term complications were written off as not being potentially vaccine caused for all subjects.

    6) Because the pool of test subjects was so small and the rates of cervical cancer are so low, NOT A SINGLE CONTROL SUBJECT ACTUALLY CONTRACTED CERVICAL CANCER IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM – MUCH LESS DIED OF IT.  Instead, this vaccine’s supposed efficacy is based on the fact that the vaccinated group ended up with far fewer cases (5 vs. about 200) of genital warts and “precancerous lesions” (dysplasias) than the alum injected “control” subjects.

    7) Because the tests included just four years of follow up at most, the long term effects and efficacy of this vaccine are completely unknown for anyone.  All but the shortest-term effects are completely unknown for little girls.  Considering the tiny size of youngster study, the data about the shortest terms side effects for girls are also dubious.

    8)  GARDASIL is the most expensive vaccine ever marketed.  It requires three vaccinations at $120 a pop for a total price tag of $360.  It is expected to be Merck’s biggest cash cow of this and the next decade.
    These are simply the facts of the situation as presented by Merck and the FDA.

    Sources —
    Merck and the FDA:
    http://www.fda.gov/c…

    NY Times:
    http://query.nytimes…

    Alum Injections Cause Neural Death in Mice:
    http://www.straight….
    http://journals.huma…

    Stickdog submits more for your consideration.

    More On GARDASIL
    There are two sides to every discussion, of course. This vaccine does appear to confer some benefits. If I were a sexually active woman who disliked condoms and liked to have multiple sex partners who had not yet been exposed to any of the four strains of HPV that this vaccine protects against, I just might sign myself up.

    But that’s not the same thing as making this vaccine MANDATORY for a preteen population it was not rigorously tested on a scant 8 months after its initial rush job FDA approval.

    Aside from all the known risks of all vaccines, the unknown risks of this three shot regimen for preteens along with their other vaccine load, and the unknown long-term risks of this vaccine for all populations, we have to look at cost vs. benefit.

    7861 of the placebo subjects contracted 83 cases of HPV 6-, 11-, 16-, 18-related dysplasias during the testing period compared to 4 cases among the 7858 subjects who were given GARDASIL. That’s after counting out every subject with any prior exposure to these strains. This includes 42 of the less serious HPV 6-, 11- related low-grade dysplasias.

    Merck has published no data for how many non-HPV 6-, 11-, 16-, 18-related dysplasias were contracted by these subjects over these periods, but some practitioners have commented that they expect the vaccine to protect against 40%-50% of all dysplasias.

    In terms of every possible kind of dysplasia for which this vaccine confers protection, Merck’s own clinical evidence suggests that this vaccine saved about 10 patients out of each 1000 injected from the painful process of having these dysplasias treated (over the entire course of follow ups which ranged from 18 months to 4 years). Note that the populations for these studies were not preteens but women at the height of their sexual activity. Further note that since the vaccine uses virus-like particles (a new vaccine technology) and is only about five years in testing now, there is no guarantee that it has any long term efficacy.

    Of course, the pre-teen population is so less sexually active (and when active, so much less likely to be active with a previously contaminated partner) that I think it would be conservative to estimate that preteens are 5 times less likely to contract HPV dysplasias than the 16 to 26 year olds who were tested by Merck. So instead of saving 10 women per 1000 from painful treatments for HPV dysplasias, this vaccine would save perhaps 2 girls per 1000 from these procedures among the much younger population that Merck and Merck’s politicians are targeting for mandatory vaccination.

    Do we really want to pursue a public policy that costs $360,000 to vaccinate every 1000 girls while exposing each and every one of these thousand girls to the known adverse short term and largely unknown long terms side effects of three injections of a new vaccine just to save two of the more sexually active of these kids from having to have their dysplasias treated conventionally?

    What kind of a risk and cost vs. benefit trade off is that?

    Note that nowhere are we discussing actual incidences of cervical cancer because there is no clinical evidence whatsoever that GARDASIL reduces cervical cancer rates, and even if we place our hope in the fact that it might, cervical cancer is simply not a meaningful health risk for any girl in the target vaccination population who is getting an annual pap smear.

    While it is a widely accepted medical theory that HPV “causes” cervical cancer, it’s not close to being a fact. Although the vast majority do, many cases of cervical cancer don’t show any association with HPV. It’s a very good guess that certain strains of HPV are necessary co-factors for certain highly prevalent types of cervical cancer to emerge. The two really bad strains protected for in GARDASIL go hand in hand with 70% of CURRENT cervical cancer cases. My point is that there are 36 nasty strains of HPV screened for currently, and the human body is an ecology. We have no idea how protection against the two strains of HPV that are CURRENTLY most prevalently associated with cervical cancer (typically decades after initial exposure) will affect overall cervical cancer rates far in the future.

    What we instead DO know is that current practices of annual pap smears and screening for ALL bad strains of HPV continue to reduce rates of cervical cancer among the US population annually. If all US women received a pap smear every year and were then promptly treated for any abnormal growths encountered, both the cervical cancer contraction and mortality rates would plummet even further to the point where HPV-associated cervical cancer would kill no more than a handful of US women a year. Yes, that is a guess as well, but it’s a far better guess than assuming that conferring protection against four of the myriad of current and future strains of harmful HPV will somehow do the trick.

    Certainly GARDASIL’s benefit data against the four strains of HPV it targets are compelling. HOWEVER, the benefit data against ALL forms of HPV are not published by Merck and estimated by OP-GYNs to be a mixed bag. The benefit data against cervical cancer itself are nonexistent. The long term risk data for any population are nonexistent. There are almost no risk data at all for pre-teens. The fact that the “placebo control” was a shot of alum that was recently shown to cause neural death in mice is particularly problematic in terms of interpreting the small amount of risk data that were gathered.

    Studies of the long-term benefits of a new drug or vaccine take a long time. It would take several decades to prove conclusively that this vaccine prevents cervical cancer deaths. So why the rush to make these three injections COMPULSORY for preteens?

    Perhaps this would be excusable if GARDASIL conferred protection against HPV generally, but it does not. We have absolutely no way of even guessing how conferring protection against four strains of HPV will affect cervical cancer rates decades down the line. If you do, please quantify the expected benefits in terms of the expected reduction of cervical cancer contraction and mortality rates for the population of US women who get annual pap smears. The only thing you can say about these numbers are that they are unknown and tiny.

    I am not trying to stop anyone from signing up themselves or their kids for this. If you want to pay $360 to make your little girl one of Merck’s test subjects, please do. As I said, the vaccine shows promise. It may be a life saver for a small segment of the population (especially those too poor or uninformed to get annual pap smears), and it offers protection against most genital warts and a good percentage of HPV dysplasias.

    The procedures to remove these warts and dysplasias are very painful, so these benefits are compelling. However, the risk and cost vs. benefit profile of this vaccine is not such that it is good public policy to mandate it — especially not for a pre-teen population on which it has never been sufficiently tested — even with an “opt out” clause. If Merck wants to make sure that women and parents who want it and can’t afford it can get it, they should offer it to low income individuals and families on a sliding scale rather than lobbying state and federal governments to pony up the billions.

    Author Maggie Mahar contributes her thoughts to the discussion.

    Gardasil–Merck vaccine
    The fact that Merck’s vaccine protects against only 70 percent of the viruses that cause cervical cancer is key.

    Pap smears, by contrast, can detect nearly 100% of cervical cancers. This is why Merck itself acknowledges that girls who receive the vaccine still need to have regular Pap smears.

    But given all of the hype about Gardasil there is a real danger that girls who receive the vaccine will think that they are now “safe” and don’t need Pap smears. Last weekend NBC news interviewed a young girl in Texas who expressed relief that she had been vaccinated: “Now this is one cancer I don’t have to worry about fighting.” No one corrected her.

    Merck has been pushing Gardasil and pushing hard–enlisting of help of organizations like Planned Parenthood (which receives large contributions from Merck) because the company desperately needs a new blockbuster drug. After being forced to withdraw Vioxx from the market Merck is financially strapped. See the Wall Street Journal’s stories about the vaccine–the Journal makes it clear that this is a business story.

    If Merck were primarily concerned with saving lives, it would make this vaccine available–at an affordable price–in the emerging world, where Pap smears are not readily available. Instead, it is charging $360, making Gardasil the most expensive vaccine ever manufactured.

    Posted by: Maggie Mahar | Feb 10, 2007 10:46:29 AM

    You dear reader, may have thoughts to share?  Has your personal experience helped you to understand the dynamics of this campaign.  If so, in what ways?  Please share your stories.  Merck will spin their tale.  I think it might be wise we articulate our anecdotes.  Let us teach the children and their parents to protect themselves from profiteers, pronouncements, and promiscuity.

    Refer to Resources . . .

  • Texas Mandates STD Vaccination for Elementary Age Schoolgirls.  By Betsy L. Angert.
  • Florida may require vaccine for girls,  By Marc Caputo.  Miami Herald.  February 6, 2007
  • More On GARDASIL  By Stickdog.  posted at BeThink.org.  February 5, 2007
  • The Facts About GARDASIL  By Stickdog.  posted at BeThink.org. February 5, 2007
  • Gardasil–Merck vaccine By Maggie Mahar.  posted at BeThink.org. February 10, 2007
  • Iraq War. What Did Bush/Cheney Know. When Did Bush/Cheney Remember It?

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert


    Please View the Musings of the Master of Destruction.  George W. Bush Reflects on the war in Iraq.  Bush admits that Iraq Had Nothing To Do With 9/11

    I was wandering along in a familiar battlefield, when I saw a projectile.  Bush/Exxon Oil buddies fund 90% of US killed in Iraq.  This Improvised Explosive Device [IED] brought back memories of the blood for oil theory.  I flashed back as I looked forward.  This week was full of the present repeating the past. 

    Questions referring to Weapons of Mass Destruction permeated the periodicals again today.  Lewis [Scooter] Libby, the former Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney is on trial.  The question is did he leak the identity of Central Intelligence Agency agent, Valerie Plame.  If so, was he told to do so by the Administration.  Was this White House planning a war regardless of the evidence?  Might Joe Wilson’s contention, Intelligence was being manipulated, a threat to the President’s preferred truth. 

    In 2003, Mister Wilson, a career Foreign Service Officer and Ambassador, and Plame’s husband, stated, after ample investigation Iraq was not purchasing uranium used in Weapons of Mass Destruction from an African country as the Bush Cheney clan declared.  Joe Wilson wrote, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”  He avowed The Administration was in error.  Wilson wondered aloud and often, ‘Why were we going to battle in Iraq?”

    You, dear reader might recall the Wilson woes, the concerns about weaponry; you might even remember the blood for oil theory. However, I. Lewis [Scooter] Libby does not.  Apparently, his work load, while working in the White House was overwhelming.  Libby cannot be expected to recall what he thought, said, did, or felt.

    [Libby’s lead attorney, Theodore V. Wells Jr.] contended it was “madness” to try to convict Libby of a crime based on his foggy memory about fragments of conversations that were the subject of FBI questions three and four months after they took place.

    Imagine the insanity of an impeachment hearing.  If a person can be excused for forgetting what was said or done in the course of a few months, years of activity would surely be dismissed.

    Admittedly, the doings surrounding the Iraq war are as a maze.  We each walk a straight line thinking we understand the intent and then, boom!  We hit a wall, a barrage of bullets greets us at ever turn.  Words offer no wisdom.  We muse.  Is the Iraq war a fight against terrorism?  Are we to believe that democracy can be spread through regime change

    Is the blood for oil theory viable?  What of Iran, Are they supplying arms to the rebels; thus, making these Middle Easterners responsible for all the killings. Could the Iranians be funding the insurgency or are our allies the source of rebel income?  It seems Saudi money fuels much of the massacres and has; yet, this realization faded only to be revisited again in the pass few days. 

    The Middle Eastern wars remind us of George Santayana. 
    “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Perhaps, we are damned.  Not only are we not learning from our past; we cannot even recall it.

    I offer some references in hopes that you dear reader might help me maneuver through the labyrinth.  I am reflecting on the Iraq war, the reasons for such folly, the fallacies, and the possible truths, as is Number 43.

    Mr.  Bush drew an analogy between the Revolution and what he called “a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life,” wording that left unclear whether he meant the combat in Iraq or the broader fight against terror.

    Washington, he added, “believed that the freedoms we secured in our Revolution were not meant for Americans alone.”

    The president has often seemed to find solace in past occupants of the White House.  He has invoked Lincoln’s shepherding the nation through the Civil War.  He has recalled Truman, who struggled to explain another unpopular war, in Korea, and whose dismal public approval ratings shot skyward long after he left office.  And more recently, he has been referring to Washington as well.

    “I’m reading about George Washington still,” the president told reporters at a December news conference where he defended his Iraq policy.  “My attitude is, if they’re still analyzing No.  1, 43 ought not to worry about it and just do what he thinks is right, and make the tough choices necessary.”

    So often in the past, our fair President stated the war in Iraq would be merely a momentary skirmish.  We would never spill blood for oil.  After all, he is a compassionate conservative, regardless of his family history and ties to oil.  However, as time went on the war seemed without end.  We, the people were informed, or reminded ‘This will be a protracted battle.’  George W. Bush, the perpetrator of doom, warned, the next President would have to address the combat.

    Mister Bush often reminds Americans they are fighting in Iraq to ensure that the Iraqis never use their Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    The threat comes from Iraq.  It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions — its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror.  Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups.  The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations.  It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons.  It is seeking nuclear weapons.  It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people.  The entire world has witnessed Iraq’s eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith.

    On some days he admits the arsenal was destroyed long before his Presidency.

    Bush, Cheney admit Iraq had no WMD, take new tack.
    They cite oil-for-food scam as justification for invasion
    By Scott Lindlaw
    Associated Press
    October 8, 2004

    Washington – President Bush and his vice president conceded yesterday in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, trying to shift the Iraq war debate to a new issue – whether the invasion was justified because Hussein was abusing a U.N. oil-for-food program.

    Bush’s response was his first reaction to a report released Wednesday by Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s top weapons inspector, that contradicted the White House’s main argument for invading Iraq.

    Yet, on many other occasions President Bush and Vice President Cheney claim there were Weapons of Mass Destruction and perhaps, there still are.  Forty-two percent of Americans agree; the stockpile was there and a solid nineteen percent think it is still seething in the ground in Iraq.

    Then there are the days that the Administration reminds us, ‘No, no, the armaments were not their concern’.  The United States went to battle hoping to find and capture the terrorists that downed the World Trade Center Towers.  George W.  Bush wants these mercenaries, “Dead or alive.”  They must be in Iraq.  After all, one evil doer looks like another.  They have different faces; yet they are the same.

    [T]hat is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam Hussein’s links to international terrorist groups.  Over the years, Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans.  Iraq has also provided safe haven to Abu Abbas, who was responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger.  And we know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East peace.

    We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy — the United States of America.  We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.  Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq.  These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.  We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.  And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.

    Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.  Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

    Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror.  To the contrary; confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror.  When I spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.  Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction.  And he cannot be trusted.  The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network.

    Terror cells and outlaw regimes building weapons of mass destruction are different faces of the same evil.  Our security requires that we confront both.  And the United States military is capable of confronting both.

    Ooops, terrorists are not the true reason for our aggression.  We are seeking to stabilize the situation in the Middle East.  We want to show the Iraqi people, and ultimately the world how wonderful democracy is.

    Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women’s rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves — police and borders guards and local officials — are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.

    This is a massive and difficult undertaking — it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran — that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)

    Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. (Applause.)

    Yet, of course there is no connection.  The Al Qaeda and Hussein Link is dismissed, reluctantly.  The Administration is not ready or willing to let go; however, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States did.  Still Bush and Cheney fight on.

    Al Qaeda and Hussein Link is Dismissed.
    By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank
    Washington Post; Page A01
    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    The Sept. 11 commission reported yesterday that it has found no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda, challenging one of the Bush administration’s main justifications for the war in Iraq. 

    Along with the contention that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials have often asserted that there were extensive ties between Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network; earlier this year, Cheney said evidence of a link was “overwhelming.”

    But the report of the commission’s staff, based on its access to all relevant classified information, said that there had been contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no cooperation. In yesterday’s hearing of the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a senior FBI official and a senior CIA analyst concurred with the finding.

    The staff report said that bin Laden “explored possible cooperation with Iraq” while in Sudan through 1996, but that “Iraq apparently never responded” to a bin Laden request for help in 1994. The commission cited reports of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda after bin Laden went to Afghanistan in 1996, adding, “but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”

    The finding challenges a belief held by large numbers of Americans about al Qaeda’s ties to Hussein. According to a Harris poll in late April, a plurality of Americans, 49 percent to 36 percent, believe “clear evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found.”

    As recently as Monday, Cheney said in a speech that Hussein “had long-established ties with al Qaeda.” Bush, asked on Tuesday to verify or qualify that claim, defended it by pointing to Abu Musab Zarqawi, who has taken credit for a wave of attacks in Iraq.

    Nevertheless, the United States did after all allow the people of Iraq to vote, and are they not grateful?  They are truly dancing in the streets, as they leap over one bloody body and then another.

    These well-connected Texas oilmen, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, have repeatedly reassured us, he has no ulterior motives, and self-aggrandizing agendas are not theirs.  The Bush legacy, which by the way is never on this President’s mind, will be that he spread democracy throughout the globe; and he accomplished his mission in such a compassionately conservative manner.  George W.  Bush was and continues to do the work of G-d.  Working with the Lord is the course this diabolical deliverance stayed.  Jesus saved our Commander-In-Chief when he was young and out of control.  Now Mister Bush will rescue the people of Iraq, regime change was his calling; however, that endeavor was ineffective.  The focus is floundering.  The American people are impatient.

    Perchance, the President must find a new enemy.  There is word that Iran will be the President’s next conquest, or it will not be.  The Administration seems intent on proving all the dreadful artillery is now in the hands of Iran, or is it?

    Boston Globe Editorial
    Bush’s confusion on Iran in Iraq
    February 15, 2007

    President Bush said yesterday that he does not know if Iranian-made roadside bombs used by Shi’ite militias in Iraq were delivered on orders from the “head leaders in Iran.”  Bush was correcting an impression left by a US military briefer who said Sunday that the bombs — called explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs — were traceable to the “highest levels” of the Iranian government.  Given fears of a military clash with Iran over its nuclear program, it’s a relief that Bush said he is not seeking “a pretext for war” with Iran.

    Welcome as this assurance was, it did not go far enough.  Bush cleared up one cause of confusion but he left others unaddressed.

    Since the United States has been aware of EFPs being used in Iraq since June of 2004, why is it only now that Bush has publicized the use of those weapons and their Iranian provenance?  And even if Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, gave a green light for the Revolutionary Guards component known as the Quds Force to smuggle EFPs to what the US military briefer called “rogue elements” of the Mahdi Army — the militia associated with the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — what would be the purpose of Iran’s military assistance to Shi’ite armed groups in Iraq?

    The sudden spotlight on Iranian munitions in Iraq has inadvertently caused confusion.  Bush’s omission of any explanation of the reasons for Iran’s military aid to affiliated Iraqis makes it seem that Bush and his advisers are themselves confused about the motives and aims of major players in Iraq’s many-sided civil war, including factions that have been, at least nominally, allied with Washington.

    The administration’s ostentatious show of exposing and cracking down on Iranian operations in Iraq is being staged largely for the benefit of Sunni Arab states, particularly the Saudis.

    The American – Saudi Arabia alliance is often termed a marriage of convenience.  While the pair differed on much, they found the relationship mutually beneficial.  However, September 11, 2001 changed that dynamic.  Divorce seems eminent, though both countries are fighting to stay together while realizing their separate interests are as strong as the common bonds that sustained them for seventy years.  Oil has been as children often are in a traditional union, the reason for the relationship.  Now, while the governments are still trying to work together, the Saudi citizenry sees no reason to continue the friendship.  After all, it is merely a façade, as is much in this combative campaign.

    Saudis reportedly funding Iraqi Sunni insurgents
    USA Today
    December 8, 2006

    CAIRO (AP) – Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

    Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.

    But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

    Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.

    Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq’s insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces, the officials said.

    In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said.

    Overall, the Iraqi officials said, money has been pouring into Iraq from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bastion, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

    Saudi officials vehemently deny their country is a major source of financial support for the insurgents..

    Officials do not speak for the people.  The citizens of Saudi Arabia hear the repeated rebukes from George W. Bush and Company and they are angered.  Anti-American sentiment is extremely high.  Secrecy and transparency abound.  Even when we are told what passes for truth, we find reasons to question the contention.  Perchance the question is, “What did we, he, she know and when did any of us know it?”

    There is so much confusion.  Who is the enemy; who is evil?  The Good Guys are not wearing their white garb and even if they were, with all of this back and forth, the fabric is soiled.  I will add one more morsel to the mix of muck.

    Bush softens assertions on Iran weapons
    Says it’s unclear top leaders were involved
    By Borzou Daragahi and James Gerstenzang. 
    Los Angeles Times.  Boston Globe. 
    February 15, 2007

    WASHINGTON — US officials from President Bush to a top general in Iraq said yesterday that there was no solid evidence that top officials in Iran had ordered deadly weapons to be sent to Iraq for use against American soldiers, backing away from claims made at a Baghdad presentation by military and intelligence officials earlier this week.

    Yikes!!!  What is a person to believe?  I trust that none of what we know is true; yet, it all is.  Each individual person, each government believes what they think is most beneficial for them to believe in the moment. 

    Sadly, in a world where no one is responsible, we all are, but for what.  No one admits to remembering; actions are discounted for they cannot be verified with certainty.

    No one trusts anyone any more; even personal recollections cause us to recoil.  Cynicism is ubiquitous.  Connecting the dots seems impossible.  Possibly you can help me.  Certainly, “my” President cannot.  Mister Bush and his co-conspirator knew nothing.  They cannot remember what they did believe.  Neither of these predators protects our country.  With thanks to them, danger pervades our planet.  Iraq is our past, our present, and the world’s future; yet, no one is certain why.

    Connecting the Dots; Seeking a Plausible Path to Iraq . . .

  • Bush/Exxon Oil buddies fund 90% of US killed in Iraq.  By Evan Derkacz.  AlterNet. February 16, 2007
  • Improvised Explosive Device [IED]  GlobalSecurity.org
  • Bush declares war.  Cable News Network.  March 19, 2003
  • Plame’s Input Is Cited on Niger Mission, Truth, War, and Consequences.  Interview, Joseph c. Wilson.  Frontline.  Public Broadcasting Services.  October 9, 2003
  • What I Didn’t Find in Africa, By Joseph C. Wilson 4th.  The New York Times.  July 6, 2003
  • pdf What I Didn’t Find in Africa, By Joseph C. Wilson 4th.  The New York Times.  July 6, 2003
  • Libby Case About ‘Lying,’ Prosecutors Say, By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig.  Washington Post.?Tuesday, February 20, 2007; 3:30 PM
  • pdf Libby Case About ‘Lying,’ Prosecutors Say, By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig.  Washington Post.?Tuesday, February 20, 2007; 3:30 PM
  • Saudi Citizens Funding Iraq Insurgents, Iraqi Officials, U.S. Panel Says Saudis Sending ‘Boxes Of Cash’ To Sunni Militants.  CBS News.  December 8, 2006
  • Iran arms Iraqi insurgents, By Bill Gertz.  The Washington Times.  February 12, 2007
  • More Blood for Oil,  By Carl Bloice.  Z Net. January 16, 2007
  • Regime change,From building ties to Saddam to removing him from power.  Cable News Network. Monday, September 30, 2002
  • Saudis reportedly funding Iraqi Sunni insurgentsUSA Today.  December 8, 2006
  • Defending Nation’s Latest War, Bush Recalls Its First,  By Sheryl Gay Stolberg.  The New York Times.  February 19, 2007
  • pdf Defending Nation’s Latest War, Bush Recalls Its First,  By Sheryl Gay Stolberg.  The New York Times.  February 19, 2007
  • The Iraq Connection, Al Qaeda-Hussein Link Is Dismissed.  By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank. 
    Washington Post.
    Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page A01

  • Bush: Iraq war plan will prove its worth  USA Today.  January 22, 2007
  • pdf The Iraq Connection, Al Qaeda-Hussein Link Is Dismissed.  By Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank.  Washington Post. Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page A01
  • Report: No WMD stockpiles in Iraq.  Cable News Network.  October 7, 2004
  • President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East.  Office of the Press Secretary. November 6, 2003
  • President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat. Office of the Press Secretary. October 7, 2002
  • pdf President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East.  Office of the Press Secretary. November 6, 2003
  • Bush Fuels Oil Conspiracy Theory, By Ted Rall, AlterNet. January 10, 2002
  • Bush’s confusion on Iran in Iraq. Boston Globe. February 15, 2007
  • Bush softens assertions on Iran weapons, Says it’s unclear top leaders were involved.  By Borzou Daragahi and James Gerstenzang.  Los Angeles Times.  Boston Globe.  February 15, 2007
  • 12/01/05 FOX Poll: Bush Approval Rises; Public Split on Pre-War Intel, By Dana Blanton.  Fox News Thursday, December 01, 2005
  • Ed Week. ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    Education Week is discussing “Math Anxiety.”  The American Association for the Advancement of Science is about to embark on their annual endeavor, assessing Math and Science in the schools.  A seminar is planned and educators are looking forward to the analysis.  A precursor to the meeting evokes this discussion, ‘Why might people, pupils have anxiety about Mathematics.”  I know why.  I lived  with this angst for decades.

    Social scientists thought the reason for such stress was a simple one.  I loathe that notion.  For me, nothing is “just that simple!”  I believe life is complex.  Learning is an intricate  process, more so than any of us might imagine.  The individual nuances that comprise our unique being cloud an already complicated reality.  Each step involved in erudition expands our horizons.  Every aspect of a problem is part of a broader evolution.  The whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. 

    When we consider a triangle, we might recall the rote formula we all memorized as children.  The angles added together will equal 180 degrees.  Well, while this is true when mathematicians calculate in a two dimensional world, the globe on which we live is three-dimensional, some think it is four.

    Math, more so than any other subject, can release stressors in the brain.  The source of these can be felt in the heart and the soul.  When studying arithmetic there is an accepted belief; answers are correct or they are wrong.  Few professors focus on the more important process, why does a formula work.  What does each calculation mean; how might one measure define the whole or a part?  How and why are the recommended actions relevant? 

    Pupils rarely comprehend the underlying principles.  Therefore, students do not understand the elements.  Hence, they are left feeling as though they cannot succeed.  Many will not.  Learners do not have, what for them is the necessary information.  Sadly, with all the recently imposed curriculum constraints, scholars are not afforded the luxury of learning in a manner that might meet their needs.  Facts and formulas are imposed; thus, the trauma.

    When we cannot conceive that we will achieve, we will not.  What we do in one academic discipline affects our performance in other areas.  Researchers are now realizing that they must address “Math Anxiety.”  Pupils are the priority; life principles influence learning in a profound way.  Just as the experts are now noticing a struggle with Math can change a life.  It altered mine greatly. 

    I was once an A+ Mathematics student.  I excelled in Algebra.  I began studying when I was very young, before preschool.  Math was my pleasure and then, a teacher turned my love into panic.  “Arithmetic Angst” set in.

    ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students
    Researchers delve into causes and implications of fear of the subject.
    By Sean Cavanagh
    Coverage of education research is supported in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.
    Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 12

    Stellar athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and motivational speakers like to say that pressure makes diamonds. The higher the stakes and the harder the circumstances, the thinking goes, the more likely we are to overcome our fears and doubts and produce results.

    If only it were that simple in mathematics.

    In recent years, researchers and educators have delved further into the topic of “math anxiety,” or the ways in which students’ lack of confidence in that subject undermines their academic performance. Today, the issue is receiving renewed attention from academic scholars and others, who believe that developing a better understanding of the causes and implications of math anxiety is a key to improving achievement for many students.

    Emotional and cognitive factors in learning, including math anxiety, were scheduled to be explored at a seminar in San Francisco this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS, which is based in Washington, is an international professional association of scientists.

    “It’s easy for people to hear of this and dismiss it. They hear of it and say, `Why is this a problem?’ ” said Mark H. Ashcraft, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was slated to speak on the topic at the AAAS gathering.

    “It affects people’s academic performance,” he said of such anxiety. “It affects people’s career choice. It’s not just an attitude or feeling that can be ignored.”

    When he first began examining the impact of anxiety on math performance, Mr. Ashcraft assumed that students’ unease or nervousness amounted to “an attitude,” as he recalls it, rather than a phobia with a direct link to the brain’s processes. “I was wrong,” he says now.

    A number of researchers, including Mr. Ashcraft, say there is evidence that anxiety disrupts student performance in math by wreaking havoc with “working memory.” Such capacity is a type of short-term memory individuals use to retain a limited amount of information while working on a task-and block out distractions and irrelevant information. Anxiety can sap students’ working memory during tests, but in other problem-solving situations, too.

    Please allow me to share more of my own story.  I went to a small high school.  Eight hundred students attended classes school-wide.  Pupils were tracked according to their skills.  I was placed in the upper-level classes.

    In the Spring and Fall of my first year, on our final exam, I received the only A+.  Each test consisted of twenty word problems.  Oh, how I loved these.  My instructor insisted, all work must be displayed.  A correct answer without work was awarded no credit.  He wanted to ensure that we understood the process and why it works.  A right or wrong answer meant little to this marvelous Math master.

    Then it happened.  I was enrolled into Miss Zs class the following year.  I had no trouble with complex conceptual concepts in the past.  Yet, I had many struggles with this teacher personally.  While I acknowledge . . .

    ‘Conceptual Barriers’
    Some evidence also suggests that anxiety is more of a factor in math than in other subjects.

    While students who are anxious about math sometimes are equally apprehensive about other subjects, that anxiety does not undermine their performance in areas such as verbal skill to the same extent it does in math, Mr. Ashcraft and others say. And while the public may be inclined to see anxiety as simply a byproduct of a student not understanding a math concept or topic, researchers believe students’ self-doubts can in fact be a prime cause of those struggles.

    Students feel more anxiety in math partly because they are dealing with so many concepts and procedures that are foreign to them, said Robert S. Siegler, a professor of cognitive psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, who has examined children’s thinking abilities in math and science. Once students realize they do not grasp a math concept, the internal pressure grows.

    “Math entails certain conceptual barriers that lead people to read the same passage over and over again and not understand it,” Mr. Siegler said. By contrast, in reading a history lesson, students are likely to recognize vocabulary, themes, and ideas, even if they do not understand all the implications of a particular passage.

    “You don’t feel like you totally didn’t understand it, and you’re just floundering,” he said.

    This was not my situation.  The paradox of incompatible psyches was.  Miss Z was a woman that saw the world as black or white, right or wrong.  When she “explained” a problem she went through the steps one by one, never expressing the thought behind the process.  A proof was a proof. This mathematician went from point A to B without clarification.  For her, it was “Just that simple.”  If only she elucidated the concepts.  I might have been enlightened.  Oh, how I long for Mister K, the colossal connoisseur of Math Meaning. 

    My parents tried to have me moved to another classroom.  Perhaps another teacher could help me.  However, when attending a small school there are few options and less leeway than there might have been elsewhere.  My High School as a whole was magnificent.  The educators exemplary.  There was only the one, the instructor that changed my life.  I had no desire to leave what was beneficial to me.  A better Math education might be found; however, at what cost.  My family and I chose this institution, for overall, it was the best. 

    Still, with each passing day greater anxiety set in.  I frequently sought assistance from Miss Z.  On every occasion, I left in tears.  Clearly, she did not care to explain in a manner that might assist me.  Her words were curt; they cut like a knife.  I, on the other hand, did care.  I expressed my extreme concern.  I had an aptitude for abstract concepts throughout my life and knew to my core I could, I would understand if only. . . .

    What I did comprehend was I was lost, lost in my longing for knowledge and a devoted, understanding instructor!  Confusion became my constant companion.

    In his research, Mr. Ashcraft has found that anxiety tends to have the most powerful impact on students when they are working on certain types of math problems-typically those with larger numbers, or those requiring multiple steps.

    Individuals with high levels of math anxiety tend to rush through problems, making them prone to errors, the UNLV researcher has concluded. Those math-anxious students also have far more difficulty on problems that require processes such as “carrying” numbers than on questions where such steps are not necessary.

    In a 2001 study, published by Mr. Ashcraft and Elizabeth P. Kirk, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the researchers concluded that math-anxious students struggle on problems involving carrying, borrowing, and long division. Those processes require a lot of working memory, they concluded, a function that is easily disrupted among students prone to math anxiety.

    “[A]nxious individuals devote attention to their intrusive thoughts and worries, rather than the task at hand,” Mr. Ashcraft explained in a 2002 paper discussing that study. “In the case of math anxiety, such thoughts probably involve preoccupation with one’s dislike or fear of math, one’s low self-confidence.  [P]aying attention to these intrusive thoughts acts like a secondary task, distracting attention from the math task.”

    Interestingly, these conceptual challenges were never concerns of mine.  I longed to use my capacity for carrying, borrowing, and long division.  I pride myself on my amazing memory.  However, when I feel my spirit is suffocated, when I feel certain that success in a given situation is not likely I freeze.  Miss Z never expressed any confidence in my skills.  I imagine that she saw my papers and placed an “F” at the top without even reviewing my attempts.  Although, admittedly, I cannot be certain.  Still, I relate.

    ‘Choking Under Pressure’
    Others have sought to better identify which students are most prone to the effects of anxiety in math. Sian L. Beilock, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, found that students who had high amounts of working-memory capacity were, in fact, most susceptible to seeing their performance fall in math, on more complicated problems.

    Ms. Beilock and Thomas H. Carr, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, summarized their findings in a 2005 paper published by the American Psychological Society, titled “When High-Powered People Fail: Working Memory and `Choking Under Pressure’ in Math.”

    Students with a good amount of working memory rely on “really intensive strategies” to solve math problems, such as keeping track of numbers in their heads as they move from step to step, Ms. Beilock explained in an interview. That approach serves them well on relatively simple math problems, but not more complicated ones, she said.

    In higher-pressure situations, such as timed tests, or where researchers put students under additional stress, those high-memory students fare more poorly. Performance pressure sucks the working-memory that has served them so well previously. By contrast, individuals with relatively little working-memory capacity do not seem to suffer as much, Ms. Beilock said.

    The idea that students with a lot of working memory-who tend to be better students-fare more poorly under pressure is counterintuitive, Ms. Beilock acknowledged. And it has implications for evaluating student performance through tests, she said.

    “Testing is hitting people who would normally perform the best, the hardest,” she said. Because of the impact of pressure on exam performance, she said, “it’s dangerous to [make] conclusions about ability from the test.” Performance pressure among top students, she added, could be pulling them down on tests.

    Still, research has shown that students can learn to overcome anxiety, Ms. Beilock said. One strategy simply involves practice with math problems, which can make it easier to retrieve answers from memory. Another is to train students to become more accustomed to working under pressure by having them take timed practice tests, for example.

    Oh yes, these strategies will work.  If I fear failing, I struggle to breathe when taking a test.  If my heart pounds faster when I am timed, then immerse me in all that breeds misery for me.  These theories make sense in some convoluted universe.

    Although there has been little definitive research on what makes math anxiety worse, some scholars have suggested that math teachers or parents can ratchet up the anxiety of students by placing unrealistically high demands on them, or by showing annoyance when concepts aren’t quickly mastered, while providing little academic support. Mr. Ashcraft also points out that math anxiety is somewhat higher among women than men.

    Exactly!!!!!!!!  The external and internal pressures placed on a student cause great suffering.  These are far more volatile than any conceptual barrier, at least they were and are for me.

    Sheila M. Ford, a former elementary math resource teacher and principal in Washington, believes anxiety is just as likely to affect students in other subjects. But she also believes students’ uneasiness in math tends to rise faster if they sense that a teacher does not have mastery of the material.

    “It goes back to teacher preparation and knowledge of the subject matter,” said Ms. Ford, a former member of the governing board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “If the teacher’s uncomfortable with the curriculum, it will be noticeable to the students.”

    At times, the teacher may have knowledge and is prepared to facilitate growth; however, sometimes educators forget that the way in which they communicate, verbally, and nonverbally matters.  Teachers that are rushed, overwhelmed with paperwork, insensitive to individual student needs can harm a pupil.  It is true, if a child fails in one discipline they are likely to falter in another, perhaps every academic study.  Their sense of themselves is also reduced.

    An instructor has more power than they might recognize or accept.  Individuals are fragile and if we lump them into one frame and forget how easily effected they are then we have not done as we aspired to do.

    “Math Anxiety” is not mere folly.  It involves more than a momentary stress or a single subject.  If we are to serve our students well, we must evaluate a larger equation.  It is not only what goes on in a classroom, or on a piece of paper; the entire process must be questioned and thought through.

    As a Math anxious student, I never forgot this scenario.  The repercussions benefited me when I later became  a teacher.  I understand the importance of patience.  I comprehend that any given student might be brilliant behind what appears to be a bumbling façade.  I acknowledge that if I as an instructor am not presenting material in a manner that meets the pupils needs I must find an alternative.  All of this was solidified in my mind years later.

    I was substitute teaching in a High School Math class.  These students were also tracked.  I found myself in a precarious situation, teaching upper level Advanced Placement students in a very affluent, well-educated District.  I confessed my sins to the class, telling them that as much as I once loved Math and expected to study it in college, after my own High School experience, I left Mathematics, Geometry, Calculus, and Trigonometry behind.  I asked them to assist me; they would have to instruct each other.  I requested volunteers.  Knowledgeable students came to the board and explained problems as they offered solutions.  They went through each equation step-by-step.  I was dumbfounded.  The progression was so clear; the steps made perfect sense.  My gosh, I could do this work.  If only all those years were not wasted.

    I thanked the students for teaching me in a manner that met my needs.  They were clear, patient, willing to answer questions, and most importantly, they did not judge me.  Although I admitted to my shortcomings, these lovelies did not define me as incompetent.  These empathetic souls actually understood my anxiety.  Perhaps, that was the greatest treasure.

  • pdf ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students, Researchers delve into causes and implications of fear of the subject. By Sean Cavanagh.  Education Week. February 16, 2007. Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 12
  • Clinton Blames Bush and Congress. Calls for Accountability, Not Her Own

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    “I was wrong.”  “I am so sorry.”  These few words strike terror in the hearts of those that most need to say them.  Today, Hillary Clinton comes to mind.  The New York Senator forgets, or perhaps needs to remember how an apology affects a relationship.  The Senator may wish to reflect on what happened to President Bush and his Republican “right.”  In this last midterm election, incumbents audaciously chose to stay the course. American citizens decided to drift off.  Missus Clinton may look at her own life.  We all have a history that illuminates and offers insight.

    Former First Lady Clinton might realize that once voiced, repentant phrases expressing reflective, remorseful, sorrow evoke empathy.  Those that receive our sincerest apologies acknowledge that we understand their woes.  Frequently, people feel as though they are understood when another person recognizes their pain.  People are able to forgive reflective souls that relent and authentically say “I was mistaken.”  “I am to blame.” 

    I learned long ago that only the strong are open, honest, and vulnerable.  Individuals that admit to their wrongdoing are truly Honorable.

    Far and away the biggest stumbling block to apologizing is our belief that apologizing is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt.  We have the misguided notion we are better off ignoring or denying our offenses and hope that no one notice.

    In fact, the apology is a show of strength.  It is an act of honesty because we admit we did wrong; an act of generosity, because it restores the self-concept of those we offended.  It offers hope for a renewed relationship and, who knows, possibly even a strengthened one.  The apology is an act of commitment because it consigns us to working at the relationship and at our self-development.  Finally, the apology is an act of courage because it subjects us to the emotional distress of shame and the risk of humiliation, rejection, and retaliation at the hands of the person we offended.

    All dimensions of the apology require strength of character, including the conviction that, while we expose vulnerable parts of ourselves, we are still good people.
    © copyright 1995 Sussex Publishers, Incorporated.

    Persons that refuse to claim culpability rarely recognize their role in interactions.  However, these same persons often claim, “You need to take responsibility.”  ‘Tis true; we must for they never will!  They are too weak.

    The cowardly are busy blaming.  They justify and intellectualize their rational deeds, never accepting that there is no absolute “good” or “bad.”  Life is gray, though never gloomy if we share our selves, our indiscretions, and our sorrow.  All is a lesson.  What we think is reasonable is, momentarily.  As we allow ourselves to learn, we recognize that nothing is solely sweet or sour.  Shades and flavors dominate the complexities of life.

    What we believe, say, do, feel, or are, whether it is considered sensible or not, is valid.  Our visions are correct at the time we have them; yet, later we may discover we were wrong.  So, be it!  With more information, we evolve, or we can, if we are open to change.  Often our own transition is our greatest challenge.  It certainly is for Hillary. 

    If we cannot or more accurately, will not, concede that we were too frail, uninformed, scared, or silent then we plainly become indigent, insolent, intractable, and obstinate.  Again, I refer you to Senator Clinton, or President Bush, or [fill in the blank.]  Preferring to be “right” and correct is beneficial, if we think that being considered self-righteous and sanctimonious is favorable.

    Nevertheless, the feeble among us are frequently found in the highest of offices.  The axiom says, “Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  When any of us thinks we are invincible, time and circumstances will surely tell us, we were wrong.

    Americans, actually, humankind admires valor, and yet, struggles to understand it.  Thus, we witness as we often do, fallen heroes.  Currently, we have Hillary, the heroine.  We are perhaps witnessing her demise.

    Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on ’02 Vote
    By Patrick Healy

    One of the most important decisions that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton made about her bid for the presidency came late last year when she ended a debate in her camp over whether she should repudiate her 2002 vote authorizing military action in Iraq.

    Several advisers, friends, and donors said in interviews that they had urged her to call her vote a mistake in order to appease antiwar Democrats, who play a critical role in the nominating process.  Yet Mrs. Clinton herself, backed by another faction, never wanted to apologize – even if she viewed the war as a mistake – arguing that an apology would be a gimmick.

    In the end, she settled on language that was similar to Senator John Kerry’s when he was the Democratic nominee in 2004: that if she had known in 2002 what she knows now about Iraqi weaponry, she would never have voted for the Senate resolution authorizing force.

    Yet antiwar anger has festered, and yesterday morning Mrs. Clinton rolled out a new response to those demanding contrition: She said she was willing to lose support from voters rather than make an apology she did not believe in.

    “If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience in Dover, N.H., in a veiled reference to two rivals for the nomination, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

    Her decision not to apologize is regarded so seriously within her campaign that some advisers believe it will be remembered as a turning point in the race: either ultimately galvanizing voters against her (if she loses the nomination), or highlighting her resolve and her willingness to buck Democratic conventional wisdom (if she wins).

    At the same time, the level of Democratic anger has surprised some of her allies and advisers, and her campaign is worried about how long it will last and how much damage it might cause her.

    “Some of her many advisers think she should’ve uttered the three magic words – `I was wrong’ – but she believes it’s self-evident that the Senate Iraq resolution was based on false intelligence and never should’ve come to a vote,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the former United Nations ambassador and an adviser to Mrs. Clinton on foreign policy.

    Navigating the antiwar anger, and toughing it out for 11 months until the primaries, is now perhaps Mrs. Clinton’s biggest political challenge.

    Indeed, in many ways at this stage, Iraq has overtaken her and other candidates’ campaigns, as was evident yesterday as she rearranged her schedule to appear briefly in New Hampshire before returning to the Senate for a debate on Mr. Bush’s war strategy.

    The American people are clamoring for her act of contrition.  They want her to apologize to admit that she was wrong; yet, she is stuck in the blame game.  The onus will not be hers.  The Senator stands on the senate floor and offers reproach.  Bush blundered.  Congress miscalculated.  Missus Clinton was only following their flawed lead.  She huffs and she puffs; she may blow her own house down.

    Perhaps, the New York State Senator forgets her husband and his necessary act of admission.  Might she remember how his popularity waned?  Yes, he remains well-liked today; however, had he not confessed his “sins” his destiny would have surely been different.  Posturing did not work for him.  It is not serving Senator Clinton well.

    Missus Clinton, please recall; in the same way that your marriage was harmed, and your heart was broken by Bill’s actions and apparent lack of repentance, your own reactions and reluctance to confess is hurting your relationship with the voters.

    While President Clinton is still popular, he is not trusted as he once was.  His own complacency clouded his legacy.  His smugness reeked of insecurity.  Your similar stance is straining your campaign.  Clinton constituents are trembling.  Terror is striking in the hearts of Hillary supporters.  Senator Clinton, it seems you fear appearing less than stalwart.  Possibly, the idea of apologizing or admitting you were wrong leaves you weak in the knees.  Transgressions certainly cause voters to pause.  However, the electorate is willing to empathize, or at least they have been in the past.  The last election might suggest the constituency tires when a representative refuses to apologize. 

    Hillary, pursue as you might, and please ponder.  Are admissions of wrongdoing truly harmful or do they create healthy connections?  Of course, the choice is yours, just as it was in 2002.  I can only quietly advise from afar.  In my mind, an apology is golden.  You might consider words of compunction.  These could embolden a questionable campaign.  Hillary, are you willing to be strong, vulnerable, and open to scrutiny or will you continue to stay the course?

    Perchance Senator Clinton considers her newest tactic best.  If you cannot find the strength to apologize, then fabricate a strategy, regain your footing, and solicit support.

    Clinton urges Iraq pullout in 90 days
    The Sydney Morning Herald
    February 18, 2007

    US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has called for a 90-day deadline to start pulling American troops from Iraq.

    The wife of former President Bill Clinton has been criticised by some Democrats for supporting authorisation of the war in 2002 and for not renouncing her vote as she seeks the US presidency in next year’s election.

    “Now it’s time to say the redeployment should start in 90 days or the Congress will revoke authorisation for this war,” the New York senator said in a video on her campaign web site, repeating a point included in a bill she introduced on Friday.

    If the Senator builds this bridge, will the public walk across it? Has the Former First Lady found her way to an ’08 win?  Proposing a pullout could be the path towards the Presidency.  Missus Clinton might be able to avoid those words of contrition.  I wonder again; will this steadfast woman emerge without a scar or perhaps, the public will forever await her apology.

    Right or Wrong, I apologize for any errors . . .

  • Clinton argues ending Iraq war more important than her 2002 vote, By Holly Ramer.  Associated Press.  Newsday.com  February 17, 2007
  • Voters seek clarity on Clinton Iraq vote. MSNBC News.  February 12, 2007
  • A Voter Rebuke For Bush, the War And the Right, By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei.  Washington Post. Wednesday, November 8, 2006; A01
  • pdf A Voter Rebuke For Bush, the War And the Right, By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei.  Washington Post.  Wednesday, November 8, 2006; A01
  • Hillary: Bill lied to me about Monica,  Scotsman.com.  June 5, 2003
  • On Apology, By Aaron Lazare.  Oxford University Press.
  • Behind the Apology: It’s Not What You Think, By Ellen Langer.  Psychology Today.  January 2000
  • Go ahead, say you’re sorry – psychological aspects of apologies, By Aaron Lazare Psychology Today.  January- February 1995
  • Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on ’02 Vote,  By Patrick Healy.  The New York Times.  February 18, 2007
  • pdf Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on ’02 Vote,  By Patrick Healy.  The New York Times.  February 18, 2007
  • Clinton Admits to Lewinsky Relationship, Challenges Starr to End Personal ‘Prying’, By Peter Baker and John F. Harris.  Washington Post.  Tuesday, August 18, 1998; Page A01
  • Stay the Course? What Course? By Eugene Robinson.  Washington Post.  Friday, June 16, 2006; Page A25
  • pdf Stay the Course? What Course? By Eugene Robinson.  Washington Post.  Friday, June 16, 2006; Page A25
  • Clinton urges Iraq pullout in 90 days.  The Sydney Morning Herald  February 18, 2007
  • There’s Possum for Dinner, Children

    (Another wondrous Possum Tale. The author shares the origin of his name.
    Thank you Possum for this and all your sharings. You and your tales are wondrous teachers. – promoted by Betsy L. Angert
    )

    copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

    Childhood is such a marvelous time.  A time of great wonders when nearly every experience is new.  A time when food is an exploration.  We all have memories of those times past.  In today’s life my friends and I are real foodies.  We love fine food and the stories that go along with such adventures.  Today’s recollection is of a childhood time when food was on the table but the experience was somewhat different.  Follow down the yellow brick road, around the curve, and over the bridge for another of the possum’s tales.

    As a child I enjoyed the benefits of hunting wild game both in the field and on the table.  By age six or seven my brothers and I were taught the care and handling of a shotgun.  Christmas at nine years old brought the first shotgun of my own, a 20-gage, Remington, semi-automatic, with a stock shortened to fit the arm length of a child.  The gun had quite a recoil and left a bruised shoulder behind after each day of hunting.

    My family hunted rabbits and doves with regularity.  When we were young my father loaded the car with people and dogs (if we were rabbit hunting) and off we went.  Dad always knew a farmer where we could hunt with full permission of the landowner.  Sometimes we stopped at the owner’s house, but most times we had blanket permission and just went to the fields.  Many times we took along my father’s friend, Bud.  I never did discover how the two of them came to be friends as they were very opposite in so many ways. 

    Far from the privileged childhood that was mine, Bud’s existence gave new meaning to the word, poor.  Bud was retired when we first met at about my 6th birthday.  He scrambled for every bite of food on the table.  His very living was always in peril from most any adverse event.  Still Bud took life as it came his way without complaint.  Whatever he had always seemed to be enough for his satisfaction.

    Bud was a crack shot since shotgun shells in those days cost as much as 10 cents.  He could not afford to miss even a single effort to kill his target or he would be both poorer and hungry.  Many days my dad gave Bud shells for the hunt as there were not always enough in Bud’s house to accomplish much. 

    Poor as Bud may have been in economic terms, he was a treasure trove of natural wisdom and folk tales.  He knew the ways of the animals and could always find his way back to the car no matter how far we wandered through either fields or woods.  He delighted in telling stories to show a child the ways of the world.  If or not the stories were true I do not know to this day.  I still remember just how tall Bud stood in the eyes of a little boy.  In fact Bud stood tall in his own ways by most any measure of men.

    One special winter day we were hunting rabbits.  My father, my brother, Bud, and myself were in the hunting party as we were on so many occasions.  For his own reasons Bud had dropped back behind the group.  I followed him to see what was about to happen as Bud had a way of finding interesting things along the way.  One just never knew what to expect in his company. 

    Seems he had seen a nest high in a tree.  With no leaves on the trees the nest was easy enough to see  with a structure of leaves and twigs in the high fork of the tree.  Bud, with his keen eye for nature, somehow knew the nest belonged to a possum and that the owner was in the nest.  A 10-year-old boy is easy prey for a man who he worships and so convincing me to shoot at the nest was pretty easy for Bud. 

    Lo and behold, not only was Mr. Possum in residence, he was killed by a single shot aimed only at the nest.  Somehow the eyes of a boy were not good enough to actually see the animal in the nest.  Remembering the sound of that possum’s falling to the ground with a heavy thud shocks me to this day.  The shot brought by father and brother back to see what happened.  Father reminded me of the family rule, “Whatever you kill, you eat.”  No exceptions were allowed.  My brother already had a cardinal served for dinner when he mistook the song bird for a dove.  Mr. Possum was duly loaded inside the game jacket I wore for the trek home.  Mother was not entirely pleased to hear we had bagged a possum, but Dad convinced her that the lesson was important.  Dad dressed Mr. Possum and presented him to Mother for cooking.

    Mother boiled the possum for what seemed like 4 days, but was more likely only a few hours.  The smell permeated the entire house since the weather was cold and the windows were all shut down tight.  After boiling to remove a large portion of the fat which possums accumulate just from living a possum life, the carcass was baked for dinner.  I remember mashed potatoes (a staple of family dining in our home) along with the meat.  In addition we had green beans (green in name only as they were always cooked in fat and sugar into a shapeless, dark brown mass before eating) and most likely had jello in addition to desert (Mother really made a mean pie or cake in those days).

    Dinner in our household was almost always served on a back porch that was converted to a dining area when I was about 6-years-old.  We ate on a formica topped, 1950’s table the same as did most of our friends and neighbors.  Meals in the dining room were reserved for special occasions such as times when our relatives were visiting or the occasional Sunday dinner.  Just imagine the family’s surprise when Mr. Possum landed on the dining room table.  We used our everyday dishes and silverware but the room was otherwise decorated just as though we were having company for dinner. 

    My father served the meat from a platter in front of his plate.  Each person got a fair share and somehow my share seemed bigger than others.  Having already smelled dinner in preparation we were all suspicious of our fare.  Our worst suspicions were confirmed by the very first bite.  Not only did the meat taste pretty strong, gamy, and to our minds, purely foul, but the fatty texture lent a degree of sliminess that defies adequate description even though the memory is crystal clear even today.  We each and every one were entirely cured of our possum dinner desires.  Never again did we kill or eat a possum in my home.  My father’s lesson was a good one, well applied so we learned right then and there not to kill what we did not wish to have for dinner.