Saturday, April 20, 2019

Sanity Is In Short Supply

Image result for living stingy crazy
Sanity these days, seems to be in short supply.

I have written before, at length, that in order to succeed in this world, you need not do heroic things or make stellar investments.  You need not be a brilliant scholar or stock market whiz.   All you need to do is act rationally in an irrational world.  The better you can perceive reality from fantasy, the better off you will be.

For example, in South Florida, back in 2005, all our friends had that glazed look in their eyes as they repeated mantras such as, "Property values in Florida will never go down!" and "$1.3 million for this one-bedroom condo is a bargain!"   They chose to live in a fantasy world as they were so invested (emotionally and financially) in the real estate market, that to confront reality would be painful.  And yes, a lot of drinking and drugs were involved, which helped them anesthetize themselves to the obvious.

Being slightly more in tune with reality, we sold out before it all came crashing down.   It was not some heroic insight or genius move, just a basic perception that "this makes no sense - when all the houses are so expensive that no one can afford them, something has to give!"   When you could rent a house for $1000 a month or own it for $3000 a month, clearly owning was a shitty deal.   We left.

Today, similar things are happening.  But then again, perhaps these sort of things are always happening.   Look back in history and wonder to yourself how insane you have to be to think that Communism or Nazism or Fascism were reasonable ideas?   Yet millions believed in these things.  Even today, many embrace these illogical and insane ideologies.  ISIS has been defeated, but the defeated, apparently, still believe in the cause, even as they rot in internment camps.

Here in America, people still sign up for timeshares, MLM schemes, payday loans, and so forth.  These things have long been proven to be frauds, yet so many keep signing up.   Middle-class folks -  who should know better - fail to fund their retirement, eat out in restaurants five nights a week, put it all on credit cards, and take out home equity loans to pay for it all.  They live in denial and figure that later on in life, they will address these issues or that somehow it will all work out.  Again, alcohol and drugs help to anesthetize these folks from thinking too much about mean old harsh reality.

But reality isn't all that harsh, if you learn to be friends with it.  Reality doesn't set out to be mean to you, it merely is what it is, and the more your thinking deviates from reality, the meaner it seems.   Of course, arguably none of us has a fully accurate picture of reality - our prejudices and preconceptions always queer our views.   And our perception of reality changes over time, as does the accuracy of our perception.  We lie to ourselves - an awful lot.

But no, there is no "relative" reality that each of us lives in.   We all may have different perceptions of reality, but the reality is (no pun intended) that some of us have a more accurate perception than others.   And others have whacked-out perceptions.   You may think you can fly off a building like those folks in The Matrix, but mean old reality will show its hand in the form of a concrete sidewalk coming up to meet you in a matter of seconds.

Recently, a few events in my life sort of scared me, in that people I thought were rational human beings, showed themselves to be disconnected from reality somewhat.   And these were people who were fairly well educated and should have known better.   It illustrates that even "professionals" such as doctors, lawyers, and airline pilots, can live in a fantasy world at times.   And that is a frightening thought, when you are on the operating table, on trial, or flying across the ocean.

I recently went for a checkup with our doctor, who is also a cardiologist.   The last time I went, over a year ago, he suggested I have a "stress test" and as a result of that, gave me a heart catherterization, which found little wrong with me, but set me back over $5000.  I learned a lot from that experience.  And one thing I learned, was, well, when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  So when your GP is a cardiologist, they tend to look for heart problems.

Our health is good - cholesterol is a little high, and we're working on that.  He asked if we had colonoscopies recently (four years ago for both of us) and we declined to do that again, at least for the time being.   Again, you go, and it costs you a lot of money (although it is one thing largely covered by Obamacare now) and they tell you everything is fine.   I am not sure the whole thing isn't a scam - they have 'em lined up like cattle in the "imaging center" and certainly are making a lot of money.  One friend of mine reported that they recommended such a procedure for his 80-year-old grandmother and it nearly killed her.  My brother-in-law went to pick up his wife after one, and found her unconscious.  "She started coming out of the anesthesia, so we gave her fentanyl," they said.  She slept for two days.  He was furious.

Patient heal thyself, is an old saying, and before you go to a doctor - unless you are bleeding to death - you should figure out what it is you want to achieve.   For example, he asked me if we had any other problems, and I mentioned offhand that sometimes when I am sleeping, I forget to breathe.  This happened after the catherizeration procedure, for example, when I was coming out of the anesthesia.  "Oh, you might have sleep apena!" he said, "we can do a sleep study - it only costs $5000!" which is more than my deductible.

"I'm not wearing some sort of gas mask to bed," I replied, and he said, "then you might as well not bother with the sleep study, as they likely will just say you have apena and prescribe a breathing apparatus."  In other words, you can blow through five grand to find out something you already know and be prescribed a device you don't want to use.   A friend of mine did just this - spending five grand of your tax money (Medicare) only to be told they needed this breathing machine (more money from Medicare) which they ended up not using.   Wonder why modern medicine costs so much?

I like my doctor, and I like the fact he was candid about this - why go down an expensive road when you aren't going to follow it through to the end?  He is a fitness nut (interesting term - because usually we use the term "nut" as a derogatory reference to mental illness).  He is also a Vegan, which I think is a little crazy, as our bodies are fully capable of digesting meat and dairy, although without gut bacteria for fermentation, they are not "designed" to digest a host of vegetables, including chick peas and beans.  Hence the way Vegans fart all the time.

OK, Veganism, that's a little crazy and a little removed from reality, but it is a good way to stay slim.  You see very few fat vegans, to be sure.   I can live with that level of crazy.  But then he drops a bomb on me.  We are talking about seafood and he mentions, offhand, that fried calamari is actually made from pig rectums.  "I heard it on NPR!" he says.

This made me a little worried.  You see, in a matter of seconds, I pulled out my cell phone and discovered that it was, in fact, an urban legend, and shame on NPR for spreading it.  I quickly found two articles, on Huffpo (cited above) and Slate, debunking this myth.   I have yet another reason to throw my clock radio across the room every morning - National People's Radio really sucks as a source of truthiness.  If your reality derives from reporting on either Fox News or NPR you are basically insane - just in different flavors.

As a lawyer (or former lawyer, anyway) the whole thing smelled to me of urban legend.  You see, you can't pass off one food as another, without running afoul of the FDA and a whole host of other government agencies.  You'd be sued out of existence by class-action lawyers.  Can you imagine the people who are keeping Kosher or Halal, how they would feel being served pork in place of seafood?  You just can't do shit like that in the United States without being hung out to dry.   I could see that, my doctor could not.

Why was this?  Well, it played into his internal narrative that meat was bad, the meat industry was bad (and deceptive) and that Veganism was good.   You can't even trust seafood these days!  Better off to eat kale!   It also was from NPR, and clearly he is invested in the liberal mindset they push there (along with the victim mindset, among others).

And the visit was going so well, until he dropped that bomb on us.   But it is hard to find a good doctor these days, and everyone is subject to some delusions, it would seem.   So I guess I can live with this mild delusion, and hope it doesn't carry over into his professional life.

But the next day, I had an experience that made that look tame in comparison.    I wrote before about the healing power of massage, and as you get older, you will have back and neck problems.   Some folks argue that our bodies were "not designed" to walk upright (these are the same folks who claim they were "not designed" to digest dairy, meat, or whatever - apparently they have an "in" with the designer!).  A good massage can relieve a lot of this pain and really help you in daily life.

We've been getting massages for years.  Mark had a really bad back problem, and he went to a "back specialist" who immediately asked him how much Oxycontin he wanted.   That "doctor" was later run out of town and lost his medical license, as it turns out he was running a "pill mill".   But a lot of people get caught up in this innocently, as they think Doctors (or Dentists) are Gods and know what is best for you (after a 15-minute examination) and if the Doc says opiates are the answer, who are they to argue?   A nation of addicts (and overdoses) is the result.

Again, patient heal thyself.   A Doctor can give you advice, he can't tell you what to do, anymore than a lawyer can.  And yes, Doctors can be wrong - a lot.  They are human beings like you and me.

A better Doctor recommended massage, and it has worked well for us (along with the hot tub or "hot bucket" as we call it).   Years later, we feel much better.

But finding a good massage therapist is hard.  First of all, there are a plethora of "massage spas" which are little more than covers for prostitution (the so-called "happy ending").   This has been big news in the press lately, as people are acting shocked that the "Asian massage parlor" next to the truck stop on the Interstate is giving hand jobs.    I mean, come on, people, this has been going on for decades now.  You can spot these places by how they advertise as well as where they are located.

Legitimate massage therapists are plentiful - but finding a good one is hard, as many will do little more than give you a rub-down.   Some are afraid to "hurt" their customers, but often a good massage can involve some level of pain, to relieve problems with tendons and muscles. 

And most massage therapists are a little crazy.  They may have degrees in massage therapy and know their way around the muscles and joints of the human body (better than you do), but they also tend to encompass a lot of new age nonsense, in terms of incense, aroma therapy, and whatnot.  Most of it amounts to little more than relaxing music and pleasant smells.   But sometimes, they take off on a tangent on this new-age nonsense, which can be a bit scary.

And sometimes they are just fallible human beings.  One of our previous massage therapists, in New York, got into a contretemps with his neighbor, and instead of just chanting "Oooom" in the lotus position and letting it all go, he escalated the situation by doing things like parking his tractor adjacent the property line, just to annoy the neighbor.  It got so out of hand that he ended up having a heart attack from the stress.

So much for new age healing.

Anyway, our latest massage therapist was pretty good - he gave the "deep tissue" muscle massage and really beat you up.   But after the last massage, he told me, "let me show you my new toy!" which I thought would be one of his massage tools or something.  Needless to say, I was somewhat shocked when he pulls a Mossberg 12-gauge tactical shotgun from out behind his desk, and proceeds to "rack it" several times, aiming it all over the room, sometimes at me, with shells flying out and landing all over the floor.  "You've got to be prepared!" he says, grinning.

Mark just then comes into the room, and the gun is pointing right at him.   This is not gun safety!   We both say something noncommittal like "that's nice" and I say to Mark, "I guess we'd better get going."

Time to find a new massage therapist.

I am not "anti-gun" but I do believe you have to respect weapons like anything else that can be potentially dangerous.   We recently re-wired our house with a new breaker box, and I hired a local electrician to do the work, as I have a lot of respect for electricity, particularly for a cable that carries 220 Volts at 200 Amps and could kill me with a touch.  You always make sure the power is off.

And guns are a similar deal.   The pointy-end can shoot out projectiles faster than the speed of sound.  And when they hit human flesh, they can kill.  In fact, they were designed to do just that.   So I get nervous when I see people "playing" with guns who clearly don't know what they are doing.  More than once, I have been with a friend who pulls out a gun to show it off, and says, "Don't worry, it isn't loaded!" and when you ask him to double-check, he goes, "whaddya know, there was a round in the chamber!"    Yes, drinking was involved.

Responsible gun owners don't "show off" their weapons by handling them and passing them around.  They don't lay a collection of firearms on the bed (it's a thing) and take pictures and post them on Instagram.   They don't keep weapons leaning up against the wall of their closet, because they can't afford a proper gun cabinet.   They don't keep weapons laying around loaded, where children can find them.   They don't bring weapons to work.  They don't point weapons at people unless they are about to shoot them.

Our therapist flunked the test on all accounts.  He clearly didn't know how to handle a gun - pointing it at me while he "racked" it (thank God, it didn't go off) and later at Mark.   He kept it under his desk, at a place of business.   He pulled it out to "show it off" - the litany of errors was many.   But most of all, he just freaked us out.   You want to project the image of a hippy-dippy new-age kind of laid-back person when you are a massage therapist, not a gun-toting NRA member or a paranoid "end times prepper."

I asked him why he had it, and he said, "you have to be prepared!" - but for what?   No one was breaking into his office near the hospital and robbing people at gunpoint.  It wasn't like he was running a biker bar or something.  It just scared me.  And for someone who is working two or three jobs to make ends meet, I could not understand why he felt he needed to spend hundreds of dollars on such a purchase.   This will not end well.

Leaving his office, we both fell into a deep funk.   I just wanted to weep.   Clearly, we could not go back there again.   And only moments before, we were in such a good mood.  What possessed him to do that?   Was he losing his mind?  What?  I just could not get my head around it.

It struck me than sanity is the one commodity that is in short supply in the United States - indeed the world.   If one could invest in one commodity, sanity would be it.   More precious than gold or diamonds or indeed, Bitcoin (which itself, is another form of insanity - an investment that is worth something because people say it is - that's insane!!).

People believe what they want to believe, and it is tempting to believe whatever is convenient to you.  You look in the mirror and say, "I'm pretty handsome" or "I'm not that fat!" because these things make you feel better about yourself.  Hard truths are seen as "depressing" when in fact they are value-neutral.

Myself, I tend to filter life in this manner.  Whenever something seems too good to be true, I pretty much figure it must be a lie.   Life isn't easy, it is hard.  So when someone tells me that I need to get in on a "sure thing investment!" I pretty much write it off as fantasy without even bothering to investigate - you can spot raw deals a mile off from how they are presented.  That's how I knew the pig rectum story was bullshit - if this was true, it would be in all the major newspapers and on television and whatnot.   Something like that isn't kept secret - for long.

It's why I sold my airline and Boeing stocks last year.  Some airline executive was quoted in the paper saying, "losses are a thing of the past! Airlines will never lose money again!" which to me said one and only one thing - they were about to lose a lot of money in short order.   And sure enough, we are seeing a number of airlines struggling and going out of business, worldwide.  At first, it is the "budget" airlines that are over-extended with debt.  But the process will likely continue to the majors, as seat capacity grows at a rate faster than passenger demand.  Even a mild recession could be disastrous if passenger demand flattens or declines even slightly.

But that's realistic thinking, not "We'll never lose money again!" happy-talk.   And that is the same happy-talk we saw in South Florida circa 2005.  The same happy-talk that said we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq.  And so on and so forth.  Happy talk is usually delusional talk.

Sadly, convenient thinking seems to be the norm these days.   Politicians get elected not by presenting hard truths, but by telling constituents what they want to hear.  Trump has a rabid following of people who think he is going to reopen factories and look out for the working man.  Democrats seem to be cultivating a following of "guaranteed annual income" people who just want a ton of free shit - free healthcare, free college, free money, free houses, free borders, or whatever.   On both sides of the political debate, these are convenient things for people to believe, as they favor the believers.  But the harsh reality is that anything that favors one group, likely had to be paid for by another.  Whether it is steel tariffs or guaranteed annual income - the bill has to be paid sometime, somewhere, by someone.

Myself, I am skeptical of anything that falls in my favor, as so few things in life do so.   This is rational thinking, not the insanity of living in a fantasy world.  You can call it pessimism, I tend to think of it as reality - and not pessimistic, but value-neutral.

Fantasy, unfortunately, seems to be winning the argument as of late.  Because, let's face it, fantasy is so much more fun to believe in!