Thursday, September 22, 2016

I have a French disease (Ménière’s)

You don't have to grow old to be preoccupied with aches and pains, but experience does foster the angst.

Donna-Lane, having survived two bouts with cancer in the past five years, tends to become concerned with every new twitch and bump she feels. Has the cancer returned? Quite a legitimate fear. But so far so good, her checkups have all been clean since the chemo and radio treatments ended in March.

Since she and I have been together the past three-plus years, I have almost never been ill. Maybe one mild cold for a few days.

Yesterday was different. Severe nausea, which worked itself out, and dizziness, which is the concerning part. I don't have any heart issues, etc., but I do have an inner ear issue known as Ménière’s. It was first discovered in the early 1800s by a French doctor, Prosper Ménière. (Why would someone want to have a disease named after them?) https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/menieres-disease. More than 600,000 people suffer from it in the US.

Is it hereditary? Experts are unsure whether it's genetic or environmental or a combination of both. However, my older brother also has it. And my mother, though not diagnosed as such, has been having dizziness issues. Then again, she's 93 and otherwise going strong.

A potential problem with Ménière’s is vertigo to the point of suddenly falling down, even though remaining conscious.

No, the world is not spinning. It just feels like you've had a little too much to drink.

But think of the ramifications. How long would I be able to sit at the computer to research and write? If walking through the apartment was a concern, what about walking around the village? Driving a car? And worst, could I keep my balance swinging a golf club?

Giving up the car and driving would not be tragic. It would be somewhat limiting for reaching off-the-train-and-bus-route places. But we could survive. There are always friends with cars for really important short trips. D-L managed without having a car for years. And at some point, assuming we grow old(er), they'll probably take away our licences anyway.

I start asking myself, do I really feel dizzy? Really feel nauseous? Or am I imagining feeling those things because I'm overly concerned about those symptoms and the possible progression?

The mind is a mystery when it comes to physical aches and pains.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Where is the discussion of REAL ISSUES?

Thus far, the media coverage of the US Presidential campaign has focused almost entirely on character flaws. Hillary's corrupt pay-for-play style of governance, whether pandering to Wall Street or accumulating personal wealth through the guise of a charitable foundation. Her lies and evasion on why she used a personal email server for classified government business. And now the dodgy tactics of hiding possibly serious health issues. Trump, well, he's as off-the-wall and over-the-top as they come, mostly bombast, but potentially a dangerous wild-card if he gains the reigns of true power. Let's hope there would be cooler heads around a President The Donald to tie him up and gag him whenever critical decisions are to be made.

The mainstream media, which has foregone all pretense of objectivity, only stokes the fire of name-calling, much the same way CNN and Wolf Blitzer seem to love a plane crash. It brings in viewers, eager for the gory details. Facts are irrelevant. Cue the talking-heads gossip.

The real casualty of the campaign is serious discussion of serious issues: 

- Jobs in an economy that the government pretends is recovering but uses flawed formulas and has left the middle class and poor way behind as the 1% hoards all the wealth; 
- An education system which has abandoned the teaching of critical thinking in favor of standardized test-taking and whose undisciplined students are falling further behind the rest of the world ; 
- A health care system, also rigged for the benefit of the elite, in which hospital costs and drug prices are way out of line with other developed countries;
- An increasingly surveillance-driven police state in which all emails, social media, vehicle movements, and especially dissent are monitored, guilt is assumed rather than innocence, and too many cops shoot first and cover-up later;
- Continual undeclared war around the world, dropping US bombs indiscriminately on supposed combatants based on sketchy information and any civilians who happen to be in the blast radius (Clinton and Trump will both continue the warmongering - in fact, they will likely ramp it up to the threat of WWIII with Russia and China);

There's much more, of course: the environment; the TPP treaty which cedes more control to multinational corporations (the same ones who avoid paying taxes); bankers who should be in jail for fraud and manipulation; the preservation of Social Security and the threatened theft of the elderly's lifeline; etcetera ...

I understand the anger of many of America's citizens; the regular folks have been ravaged by the corrupt politicians and corporate charlatans for decades. I understand the fear of many of America's citizens; in Europe, we have suffered several heinous terrorist attacks close to home.

Anger and fear can be and are often destructive. They don't have to be. They can be channeled to start to fix things and build a society founded on mutual interests and a measure of trust.

But first we have to openly, calmly and rationally discuss real issues. Not orange hair and blue pantsuits.
     

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Numerology

One of the things I like about Europe is use of metrics on roadways. The conversion is relatively simple in the kilometres to miles direction. 100 km equals 60 miles.

If we're traveling a long distance, it's easy to determine how long it will take us to get there. Averaging 100 km per hour (60 miles per hour), a distance of 350 km will take us about 3.5 hours.

Also, calculating with kilometres makes it seem like you're covering more ground in a shorter time.

On the golf course, I'm less enamored with the use of metrics. I've played for 50+ years and therefore memorized how far I hit each club ... in yards. When confronted with a distance to the green in metres, I have to do the mental calculation -- not that hard, roughly a 10 percent difference. 100 yards is about 90 metres, etc. But I'm never quite sure because my golf clubs, too, are used to dealing in yards.

Also, it's deflating. Seems like I'm not hitting the shots as far as I used to. About 10% less far. Not good for the ego.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Life in a Backpack

We were checking in at Carcassone airport for our Ryanair flight to London. I had paid for one checked back of 20 kilograms; as it turned out, I could have gotten away with a smaller charge for a 15kg bag, but with Ryanair (and other low-fare airlines) having an overweight bag could cost you even more, so pay a little upfront to eliminate the risk of paying later. (Ryanair's CEO once proposed to charge passengers to use the toilet on the plane during a flight!)

The queue was quite long and only two agents to handle the 40-50 people checking bags. For a good 30 minutes, I got to observe the people snaking through the stanchions with me, and could probably write an interesting short story with them as characters. D-L sat over yonder and waited, and of course struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to her.

As he was tagging my suitcase, the young man asked if he could check my carry-on luggage -- my backpack -- gratuit ... for free! My initial reaction was near-shock that Ryanair would offer anything without charge. Even the drinks and snacks on board are cash or credit card.

But then I realized something even more important. I simply did not want to be separated from the things in the backpack: my computer (and power cord), iPad (and power cord), camera (and power cord), tape recorder (and power cord), papers I had brought to work on, notebook, pens.

With the exception of Donna-Lane, my day-to-day life is contained in that computer. All my work files, financial records, thousands of photos, my connection to family and friends all over the world.

That's why those electronic devices are in the backpack. That's why they don't leave my possession, except when I have to place them in the tray to go through security (and then I don't go through the scanner until they do). The idea of risking them getting lost enroute to and from the luggage hold of an airplane is anathema.

Oh, I know all about backups. Yes, I could replace the computer, iPad, etc. within a day or two and be back in business. But what of the instant "fix" I might need from scrolling through emails and Facebook if I am without an iPad for hours and hours? What of scanning the news of the world headlines on Drudge? How could I survive without cute kitten videos?

No, thank you, young man. Keep your hands off my backpack.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Do I Need to Think About Open Carry?

I am, by nature, a trusting soul.

I am becoming less so.

I don't yet see terrorists and drug dealers under the bed, but I am aware of them in the shadows of the streets.

Today, I was walking along a road in our usually quiet village, on my way to where Donna-Lane had a doctor follow-up visit.

A dark car swung off the road, and I assumed they were going to park. Instead, the driver, a woman in her late 20s perhaps, stopped alongside me and was asking me something.

In my trusting soul mode, I moved closer to the car to try to understand what she was saying. She seemed to be looking for a location, a street or a business. But with my limited hearing and limited French, I couldn't pick up her rapid-fire French. I probably had no idea of the location she sought even if I could understand her. It was pointless to have even listened to her question, except to try to be polite, rather than ignoring her and keep on walking.

Seated next to her was a young man, perhaps 15 or 16, dark complected, possibly of Arabic heritage, wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He didn't look sullen but he didn't look friendly either.

After I'd told them I didn't know of the place they were seeking, and they drove off, I thought about what might have happened in view of recent events like the murders by truck in Nice or the random street shootings in Phoenix. The woman or teen might have had a gun and shot me. Or since guns are much harder to obtain in France, they might have jumped out of the car and slashed me with a knife. (There was no one else on the street that I had noticed.) Or they might have had an accomplice stuff me in the trunk to kidnap me for ransom -- good luck with that, given my bank account -- or just to kill me because I'm a Western white guy and automatically the enemy.

It probably would not have mattered to them that we buy our meat from the two Halal butchers in town. Or that we are friends with a wonderful artist from Morocco. And with a former Ambassador to the US from a Middle Eastern country. Or that one of our dearest "family of choice" is a couple from Syria.

I don't like the feelings of suspicion. I prefer to take people at face value until they prove otherwise.

I don't like to think about maybe carrying a knife as self-defence when walking around the streets (Swiss Army, of course). In London, I stuck a metal nail file in my pocket as we headed to the theatre district after dark.

I have never been inclined to own a gun -- too dangerous with children or grandchildren around. Though I wouldn't mind have a taser handy. My best defence is probably a golf club -- that I know how to use, and it could do serious damage to a kneecap!

Wonder what people would think if I "openly carried" a sand wedge on the streets?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Future Fear

I fear for the future of my grandchildren.

And I am frustrated by my inability to influence the type of changes that would put the world on a more positive trajectory.

Everywhere you look there is an amplification of intimidation, terror, violence, senseless killing.

The root of the problems, in my view, is the lust for money. The symptoms may include racial and religious hatred, inconsistent application of justice, armed conflict between and within nations. But look closer and at the core of every divisive issue is money or lack thereof.

When the US and its puppet states drop bombs from drones on wedding parties in the Middle East, it begets radicalized jihadists who shoot up Paris or Orlando and drive lorries through holiday crowds in Nice. And then nearly ever non-Muslim in the Western world looks with mistrust on nearly every Muslim in their neighborhood or on the trains and undergrounds. And vice versa.

Why the drone bombs? Well, it started with oil, didn't it? And then kinda got out of hand? But consider, too, that someone -- mostly US defence contractors -- have been making bucketfuls of money from war and the constant spectre of war. Not to mention so-called nation-building reconstruction projects. Follow the money.

I have seen, up close, so-called Christian preachers who rail against the alleged sins of others as a blatant fundraising tool, then personally pocket much of the donations. And maybe spend some of it on their own sins. (To be fair, I have also known good, self-sacrificing preachers who are truly interested in the spiritual and physical well-being of others.) The same sort of self-aggrandizing rhetoric is true of some imams who spew and spread hate while enjoying supposedly off-limits pleasures. Follow the money.

A presidential candidate is given a pass for gross and most likely criminal negligence by political appointees, while a young person is incarcerated in a for-profit prison for a very minor offense (often a trumped-up charge). Are we surprised at the anger? Couldn't be because Wall Street wants their corrupt friend and congenital deciever Hillary pulling the strings for the wealthy, could it?

How is it that, despite the increasing terror incidents, immigration crises, civil wars, and superpower tensions that the Dow Jones -- the faux barometer of economic health -- is racing to new records?

When I was growing up, there was a sense that the next generation would build on their parents' generation and thereby enjoy a somewhat better life. And the next generation, and the next ...

I fear we have lost that sense of an ever-improving society. I fear that we have shifted into a state of endless attack and counterattack with the innocents caught in the middle. I fear that when my grandchildren are ready to inherit the world ... there may not be much a world left to inherit.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

I Was Born Under a Wandering Star

In another life, I think I would have been an explorer. Say, 600 years ago, if I came to the edge of the sea, instead of concluding the land I knew was all there was I think I would have said, "Let's jump in a boat and see what's beyond the horizon."

I love to wander and discover new things, at least new to me.

When I moved to the Dallas, Texas area years ago and we were house-hunting, I rarely used the same route from the apartment more than once. I like to see where this road goes, where that one goes, what they connect to. (Came in handy when there were traffic jams; I knew which alternate routes would get me someplace.)

In the past three 700-1000km trips between Geneva and Argèles-sur-mer, we've taken a different autoroute each time. We've pretty much covered the breadth and depth of France, and been rewarded with some spectacular scenery.

Today, a typical lazy Sunday with no social commitments, we headed north along the coast, destined for a couple of vide greniers (flea markets). Never mind that we had just found the premier purchase we had been looking for right in our backyard (D-L will probably tell about it in http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/). I was feeling the need to get away from the computer, away from the apartment, and "get the stink out of me," as an earlier generation used to say.

We never found the vide grenier in Saint-Cyprien, perhaps because we bypassed the port area. We ended up in a couple of detours in Canet Rouissillon,  blocked by a marche (street food market).

We kept on to our furthest destination, Saint Marie de la Mer, another of the dozens of villages along this stretch of the Med and someplace neither of us had been before. After cruising the streets in the plage (beach) area for a bit, we decided to park and get a croissant. I'd had no breakfast before we left Argèles.

To our pleasant surprise, their vide grenier was going on right in front of us in the parking lot. We managed to find a wonderful multi-colored blanket for our picnics, and I nearly bought a WWI-era sword, but at 200 euros it was more than I wanted to pay for something I didn't need nor want that badly.

Perhaps I should have bought the sword. It might have come in handy against pirates on the high seas when I set off exploring.