Modern Medicine

We were wrong about doctors and science.

For the past 100 years, we all thought that we were all living longer and healthier lives thanks to science and modern medicine. We could eat whatever we wanted, do all kinds of daring things– like lock ourselves into two tons of jagged metal and glass and hurl ourselves down the highway at 100 miles per hour– and cover the earth with refuse and soot, and still live longer and longer and longer.

Life expectancy at the turn of the century was, oh, about 22. Now, men can expect to live to 75 and women to 75 and four days. And it’s all thanks to modern medicine.

Or is it?

Turns out, maybe it isn’t. Turns out maybe we don’t even believe it ourselves: everyone is flocking to alternative remedies. Got some strange rash on your bum? Go to a chiropractor. Stomach upset? Get a massage. Broken arm? Take some natural herbs and stick some needles into your arms.

Why are so many people doing this? There are a gazillion television programs telling us that doctors are smart and compassionate and nurses are beautiful and sexy. Why do we suddenly prefer tea enemas?

Maybe it’s because we discovered some kind of secret truth about doctors and hospitals. For one thing, an awful lot of people seem to die after seeing a doctor. For another thing, hospital food is pretty well uniformly bad.

We all have been raised to believe that science– doctors– saved us from the awful polio virus. That fact is like a totem of modern science, a cathedral: it hovers over us constantly, hammering into us the idea that science saves, that modern medicine can cure everything. But I was shocked a few years ago to discover that the incidence of polio had waned to practically nothing before Jonas Salk invented a vaccine for it. (Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.) All these years, we thought that science had saved us from polio, but it didn’t. It was something else. What was it? If the real doctors know, they sure won’t tell us. “Go home, eat a variety of foods, and stay out of wars.” Not good tv. The pharmaceutical companies sure won’t tell us. “This drug, which cost you 100 times more than it cost a vet to give to a hamster, will cure you if you take it tonight since we have figured out that most people go to the doctor just after a particular virus has peaked in strength and, therefore, will feel better the next day no matter what, so you might as well think it was the drug that did it so we can make zillions of dollars to invest in research so that some day we might be able to copyright your DNA and sell parts of it to other people.”

But we’re all living longer, aren’t we? So if it wasn’t science and medicine that saved us, what did?

Probably, the simple abundance of relatively nutritious food. You may think about McDonald’s and laugh, but it might surprise you to know that even a Big Mac has some nutritional value. You can walk into a McDonald’s and pick up a Big Mac and some fries and a milk shake pretty well any time you want to. That’s affluence. It wasn’t like that for thousands of years. Does a Big Mac sound nutritious? Not very. But consider a world in which many people didn’t even know if they were going to have enough food to last them through the winter.

So yes, we are fat and unfit, but we are living longer than ever, even though, if you believe the TV preachers, we are the most drug addled, promiscuous, violent, and pernicious generation that ever lived. Think about that! If even one tenth of what the TV preachers– and more than a few pulpit pundits–say about the human race was true, wouldn’t life expectancy be declining?

A few years ago, the doctors in Israel went on strike. A well-known study (so well-known I can’t remember the name of it) was done on mortality rates during the strike. It turns out they went down. Some people rationalized that this was because patients were forced to postpone surgeries, stop eating hospital food, and pay smaller health insurance premiums, but it’s not true, according to the researchers. The death rate actually went down. It went down and it stayed down. Eventually, the pr got so bad that the doctors went back to work without getting anything that they wanted. Maybe that’s the real reason there hasn’t been a doctor’s strike yet in Ontario.

Do you suppose that if church ministers unionized and went on strike, that the church might actually grow? Well, think about that a bit too. In our church, the Christian Reformed Church of North America, ministers generally spend a lot of time at big meetings hollering at each other about purity and orthodoxy and scriptural authority and the like. What if they just went out into the cities and cleaned up a few vacant lots and distributed sandwiches to the homeless instead?

Here’s another juicy piece of information: what professional group do you think declines surgical procedures more often than any other? You guessed it: surgeons. That’s worth thinking about a lot the next time your doctor recommends surgery to you.

I have one last little gripe: most of us are gradually coming to the realization that animals deserve a little more respect than we have been giving them in the past. We used to see animals as steak-fodder, beasts of burden, and incipient fur coats. Now, thanks to the extremists, we moderates are beginning to realize that animals are not all that much different from us. I mean, sure, lions and tigers kill indiscriminately, while we only kill when we really, really have to, like when our oil reserves are low so we can’t hurtle ourselves across the highways in our metal and glass behemoths anymore, but, basically, we’re not all that different. Then why does a vet get, like, 50 cents for doing surgery on a dog, while a doctor gets mega-bucks for doing surgery on a human being, like, say, Preston Manning? Does this make sense? Do you really believe that a doctor is that much smarter than a vet?

What I think we should do is de-regulate surgery. Let anyone do it. After all, the free markets have given us this wonderfully rich and meaningful lifestyle we all now share (unless you are lazy). Why not let it work its magic on medicine? If you get a few really, really bad surgeons setting up shop, hey, people won’t go to them after a while and they will go out of business, like Microsoft, so we will only be left with the best surgeons. And they will have to price themselves competitively or else people won’t go to them anymore, unless you are very rich, in which case you probably also pretty smart, in which case you wouldn’t go to a surgeon anyway. I mean, would you rather have some crackpot cutting into you with a knife or giving you a tea enema?

I am not Paid Enough

I just read in the Globe and Mail (November 11, 1997) that Disney Corporation has settled a suit with Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg quit after he was denied a promotion by Michael Eisner. So he sued Disney for– get this — 2% of all future profits on any product developed during his ten years with the company.

Now you may think this is a very strange idea. You work for a company. You go into a snit because your boss doesn’t give you a promotion. So you quit. In the real world… pardon me… in the world that people who do real work exist in, if you quit your job you’re told to turn in your tool kit or your notebook computer and get lost. Just imagine your bosses face if you asked him for a percentage of all future profits based on anything you worked on while you were there? But then, that is the world of unionized employees who we all know are ruining our society with their ruthless, greedy demands. Now let’s get back to the rarefied world of capital gains deductions and private boxes at the Skydome.

So, is this another of the endless cycle of incidents demonstrating ruthless greed among the upper classes in our society? You’ll be surprised at my reaction: I think this is a great idea. And since all citizens in this country are treated as equals by the law, I intend to contact my lawyer and initialize similar proceedings against all of my previous employers. I figure that when Katzenberg wins– actually, I think he has won– Disney settled out of court– I can appeal to his precedent.

So I am going back to all my previous employers, including United Grain Growers, and demanding a specific percentage of all the profits they have made since I worked there for four summers about twenty years ago. Let’s see. I worked for three months driving a truck and moving things around in a warehouse. I’ll have to get some figures from them: how much profit did they make while I was there? What percentage of the total work activity performed by all employees at that time did my hours comprise (judging from the level of activity at their downtown office, I’d say about 50%)? How much profit have they made since then? Fifty million?

Let’s see. If they had 5,000 employees at the time, then I represented about .02% of the workforce. Since I only worked from June to August, I’ll have to accept a measly 25% of my .02, which is .005. Now multiply that times total corporate profits of $50,000,000 and you have a modest $250,000 that United Grain Growers owes me right now. But I’ll tell you what, Wheat-Boys: pay me $125,000 cash right now and I won’t sick my twisted lawyers on you!

Boy, I can see now why Disney hired Katzenberg in the first place! The man is a genius! And don’t forget– this is the same company that paid Michael Ovitz $38 million dollars to quit. Why? Why does a company as smart as Disney pay someone $38 million dollars? Because he made their stock go up? Because he masterminded the production of several brilliant movies that won loads of Oscars and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars? Because he opened a new theme park that had to be expanded right away because it was deluged with rabid fans from all over the world? No, my friends. He got $38 million dollars from Disney because– hold on to your hats– he failed. Yes, he was FIRED because he stunk up the place, and Disney preferred to pay him $38 million dollars than put up with his incompetence any longer.

Now kids, before you go to work tomorrow at McDonalds or Burger King and try these same proven strategies for personal success, remember one thing: you don’t make the rules.

UPDATE: Wired Magazine estimates that Michael Ovitz, who left Disney in 1996 after 18 months as President, received $38 Million plus $92 million in stock options. Eisner won’t be crying in his beer any time soon: he himself has earned an estimated $1 billion and still holds 8.7 million shares.

What a Circus

Oh what a circus, oh what a show
Argentina has gone to town
Over the death of an actress called Eva Peron
We’ve all gone crazy, mourning all day and mourning all night
Falling over ourselves to get all, of the misery right.

[Evita – Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber]

Added March 12, 1998:

Crazy is right. Diana may be the most monumentally insignificant person of the 20th century. What I mean is that the scale of her media coverage exceeded her real importance by an unimaginable degree. Quick, name one thing Diana was good at? Name one of her “achievements”. Name one of her special talents or remarkable gifts? The truth is that any well-brought up girl could have done as well or better at the few things we think she was good at: smiling and giving short, inconsequential speeches.

And while the world wails about her death and spends millions of dollars on flowers and tasteless mementos, another 10,000 children will have died of starvation or malnutrition around the globe. But that’s the point, you see. In Diana’s death we feel validated as people. Look at me– I am weeping. I have a heart. I am compassionate. I have real human feelings! I supported her opposition to land mines and her concern for AIDS victims! I bought the Elton John record…

One last comment, if you can forgive me the cynicism: the height of these cheap emotions was reached with Elton John’s new version of Candle in the Wind. Just in case you didn’t know, Candle in the Wind was written for the memory of Marilyn Monroe, another physically beautiful woman who first courted, then seemed to despise media attention. Then it was rededicated to AIDS victim Ryan White.

I think it was a monumental miscalculation on John’s part to not write a new song for Diana. It makes the whole thing look cheap and tawdry. And British.

What’s the matter Elton– can’t come up with anything new anymore?!

Marilyn Monroe, depressed, and alone in spite of her popularity, probably committed suicide (some paranoids believe the Kennedys had her snuffed). “Candle in the Wind” was a beautiful song that captured something of the tacky ambivalence with which we adore then destroy celebrities (the prurient curiosity about the fact that her body was found “in the nude”).

So Elton John and Bernie Taupin took this sensitive, honest song, and quickly rewrote it to accommodate Princess Diana’s funeral. Unfortunately, they also debauched it. They removed the lines about how the media, ever exploitive, reported that Marilyn had been found in the nude, ironically proving that while overtly despising the media that “hounded” Diana to her death, Elton wishes also to provide a “tasteful” version of the lyrics for mass consumption.

Geez, you have to wonder if Marilyn, up there in the sky with all the other dead celebrities, feels a little jilted. Elton, you’re an idiot.

Microsoft Windows Sucks

I recently reformatted my hard drive, erasing every last vestige of my bug-ridden, over-worked, over-loaded, registry polluted Windows 95 installation. I thought it might help. My hard disk was thrashing like crazy, programs froze-up, graphics broke into fragments of tiny coloured pixels like some splattered silicon suicide on a glass sidewalk.

It did not help. Windows still runs like garbage. I have 64 megabytes of RAM, and it still thrashes like crazy. Word sucks up memory like a drunken politician leaving precious little for really powerful programs like Corel Draw. It is pitiful.

For a quick record, these programs run badly:

  • Word 7.0
  • Corel Draw 5.0
  • Adobe Photoshop 3.0
  • Windows 95
  • Clean Sweep
  • Norton Utilities 2.0
  • Crash Guard
  • Netscape 4.0
  • Norton Anti-Virus 3.0.

These programs run reasonably well:

  • Quicken 2.0
  • Front Page 98
  • Excel 97
  • Cakewalk 6.0

These programs run REALLY well:

  • Paintshop Pro 5.0.

Even Microsoft basically admits that their software is full of bugs. My question is, why can’t we get our money back? Because they won’t give it to you. They simply refuse. They laugh in your face and say, “Go to hell. We got your money. Don’t make trouble or we’ll sick our vampire lawyers on you.”

The automakers must see this and turn green with envy. Why didn’t they think of that? “Sir, the gas tank on my Pinto just exploded incinerating my family.” “Go to hell– what do we care.”