Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cold Advice You Should Stop Bugging People With

Some of you may recognize the following from my Facial Literature rant from a couple days ago:

Amazing how many people feel irresistibly compelled to share their own personal remedies or methods for relief with you when they discover you have a cold. "You know what you need?" they will ask you rhetorically, and after describing their unique prescription they almost always say something along the lines of "I swear by it" or "it works every time."

At first, it seems kind of nice that people

want to help; after hearing this routine about sixty times in two days, it makes you kind of roll your eyes.

I wish I carried around a clipboard, and asked each person who insisted on describing their special tonic of essential oils or lemons or ginger or even hard liquor to write it down on the clipboard.

"I think there is some space on page four," I would say, and then they would understand how tiring it is when people swear you need to buy a bunch of crap to fix your cold (to which there is no cure) when really all you need is extra sleep and water.

I could offer nothing more than a weak and tired half-grin when later that morning at work a coworker asked, "How's your cold?"

"Oh, it's fine," I replied. "Much better. Really, I just have a little lingering congestion in my chest. I'm sure it'll clear up nicely in a few days."

"Oh, you need some Vick's VapoRub!" the coworker blabbered on moronically as my eyes glazed over. "Trust me, it works like a charm. You just rub it on your chest. Vick's VapoRub."

I don't know if anyone else has been exposed to this phenomenon of cold advice overexposure, but one of the main reasons I am glad to be through with my cold is the unwanted suggestions really seemed unrelenting. I didn't know if I could take much more unsanctioned advice.

"Drink tea with a lemon slice"; "Take echinacea with goldenseal"; "Are you drinking enough orange juice?"; "Before bed, put a drop of eucalyptus oil on top of your head, and put a drop on your pillow where you breathe"; "Drink some rum with honey and lime"; "Oscillococcinum!"; "Dress head to toe in wool before you go to bed, and drink a ton of water. You'll just sweat it out"; "Dude, Jack Daniels makes this whiskey with honey in it...that's what you need."

Always, this dubious advice is prefaced by some version of the rhetorical "You know what you need?" question. Without fail, before you have a chance to say "I don't give a flying finch what you are about to say," they are engrossed in a detailed description of some worthless remedy that at some time they believed helped them work their way through a cold.

Just as predictable is the "Trust me: it works every time" line, or some variant thereof, to punctuate their inane council. It's as if they stand to gain something if they persuade you to try their specific technique, or buy the crap that they like to have when they are sick.

What is the reason for this? Why do people feel compelled to dispense their cold-related advice completely unprovoked, while all too often people can't summon up the courage to point out to someone that they have something stuck between their teeth, or even hanging from their nose?

Honestly, the common cold is a pretty strange topic for people to give unwanted advice for. The cold has no cure, and as such the body must work on defeating the virus in it's own way. The concept that a remedy will fix your cold is somewhat misguided.

True, there are things that will aid your body in it's struggle against the troublesome cold: hydration, zinc, sleep, hydration, vitamin C, sleep, and plentiful hydration are all very useful in making sure your body has a chance to work on the issue.

Sure, that is not a complete list. However, I am not compelled to rush out and buy a bunch of expensive supplements that may or may not be effectual when my tried and true method is quite reliable and cheap.

Also, it's important to be able to separate the things that help you get better from the things that help you feel better. For example, I like to drink peppermint tea with honey when I have a cold; it makes me feel better. However, neither peppermint nor honey are helpful in your body's efforts to rid itself of the terrible and vexing cold virus.

While I was sick, I hardly had the gusto to fend off these relentless tidbits of advice from pretty much everyone I encountered. I would just sort of take it, and pretend I appreciated the stupid idea I was just forced to listen to, and nod appreciatively as my malapropos adviser told me they "swear by it."

In the wake of this sea of misinformation, I feel compelled to dispel a few of the more common ideas that seem somewhat pervasive in the compulsive advice-giving community:

  • Antibiotics are not for beating a cold. "I take antibiotics when I get a cold; I don't mess around." This is probably the dumbest thing that I have heard many people tell me about fighting a cold. Not only are antibiotics pretty bad for you (you should avoid taking them unless there is no other realistic option for healing yourself), but they don't even do anything for your cold. A cold is a virus and antibiotics only work against bacterial infections. Even worse, taking antibiotics improperly can breed dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Using antibiotics for a cold will only make you worse off.

  • Over-the-counter cold medicine is useful in diluting cold symptoms, but it actually makes it harder for your body to heal itself (it has to distract resources from dealing with the cold to deal with the drugs you just took). Use them as sparingly as possible in your quest to abate your suffering.

  • Orange juice is not good for a cold. We all know that orange juice has lots of vitamin C, and I wouldn't argue that vitamin C can be helpful in getting though your cold. However, orange juice is a horrible choice; it is acidic (especially pasteurized, although even fresh-squeezed is still acidic) which causes your body to produce more phlegm--something your body is trying really hard to get rid of. You are throwing a wrench to the cogs by drinking orange juice when you have a cold. Find another vehicle for your precious vitamin C.

  •  Don't force yourself through a difficult workout. Small doses of exercise are fine, if you are feeling up to it. I'm talking about some yoga stretches, a set of push-ups or an easy bike ride. Not a full-on workout at the gym. Getting your blood flowing and your heart pumping can be beneficial, but straining yourself will just force your body to work on healing two things at once. Take it easy.

  • Echinacea is not helpful if you are already sick. Echinacea is an immune system stimulant. It's useful if you feel like you might become sick, but if you're already there then it's too late. By then, your immune system is already going nuts and doesn't really need further provocation. Taking echinacea when you are already sick is like... if your house were ablaze, and the fire department is struggling valiantly to contain the flames with their wildly blasting fire hoses, when all of a sudden you remember: "Oh yeah! I have that fire extinguisher in the kitchen!" It's too late; put the echinacea back in the cupboard.

  • Alcohol is not helping. This is an example of one of those things that might make you feel better, but that hot toddy you're nursing in between nose-blowings is actually distracting from your body's efforts to heal itself. Not only is alcohol tough on some of your key organs, some of which are lending a hand in the quest to vanquish the virus, but even worse is alcohol's dehydrating quality. Remember, hydration is your number one (and free!) asset in getting yourself well again.
Or maybe it's number two; it's possible that sleep is number one.
It doesn't really matter how you rank them, though. You need both, and lots of both, and you don't really need any other hokey nonsense to stifle your sniffle. The cold is a virus, and time is the only cure. You need to let the cold run it's course.

Get to bed, get some rest, and drink a ton of water--even if you're not thirsty.

Trust me, I swear by it; it works every time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on Love

[This poem was written about seven years ago as an offering for my grandparents on their fiftieth wedding anniversary.]

A boy asked his professor about Love and learned that Love is governed by vectors, and Love's path is determined by forces of attraction and repulsion.

The boy asked his friend about Love and learned that Love is boring and foolish, and Love's path is determined by idle minds.

The boy asked his sister about Love and learned that Love is a physical enterprise intended to engross a couple in gratification, and Love's path is determined by a desire for a brief but intimate glimpse of euphoria.

The boy asked a homeless man about Love and learned that Love tears at your heart and stabs at your soul, and Love's path is determined by deception and sorrow.

The boy asked a postman about Love and learned that Love conducts itself with grace and formality, and Love's path is determined by fate.

The boy asked a minister about Love and learned that Love can save us from sin and reserve us a place in heaven, and Love's path is determined by God.

The boy asked a musician about Love and learned that Love is flamboyantly beautiful to the point of being irresistible, and Love's path is determined by incomprehensible emotions.

The boy asked a store clerk about Love and learned that not everyone wants to share their thoughts on Love.

The boy asked a librarian about Love and learned that Love is important for a properly healthy and fulfilling lifestyle, and Love's path is determined by open communication and warm feelings.

The boy asked a soldier about Love and learned that Love is something to pride and defend with every morsel of integrity in your being, and Love's path is determined by the unwritten justice that rules what is right or wrong.

The boy asked a politician about Love and learned that Love is pleasant, and Love's path is determined by similarities in belief and preference.

The boy asked a poet about Love and learned that Love has frivolous peaks and valleys, and Love's path is determined by the dreams of the highest clouds and the despair of the deepest, loneliest caverns.

And finally, the boy encountered a happily aging marriage intertwined with a bond of Love so unshakable and sincere that an impressive half of a century of dedication posted no doubts regarding its purity.

The boy learned of true Love, and learned that if you surrender yourself to the warm embrace of Love, then Love will determine your path.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bottom Feeders and Scavengers: a Blessing to Society

There is a rising subculture in our country and in others which feeds off of the waste of society. Dumpster divers, professional bottle collectors and scrap-heap scavengers all pick through the refuse of others looking to scrape up a little extra cash.

Some people find the presence of these persons somewhat of a nuisance; to many, a person digging through your trash bin is perceived in the same light as a skunk or rodent rummaging around in your waste barrel.

They are pests, and they are undesirables. They should be shooed away, or sprayed with something offensive to usher them out of your precious container of garbage.

Really though, I admire these grungy nocturnal scavengers. I support their cause, and believe they are bettering the world around us by choosing to benefit themselves from society's waste.

We've all seen hobos with massive shopping carts picking bottles and cans from the trash bins to redeem them for the bottle deposit.

In my opinion, this is undeniable proof that the bottle deposit system works, and good for them for helping divert these carelessly discarded resources from the trash and back into the recycling stream where they belong!

Not too long ago, I was at a work-related meeting where they were discussing the pros and cons of automatic bottle collecting machines that accept your bottles and issue a ticket (the redeemer presents the ticket to a cashier inside the store to claim their cash reward). The main problem with these labor-saving machines is they become a hot-spot for "professional bottle collectors." Their presence in a nice store is considered undesirable.

I couldn't help but laugh openly (right in the middle of the meeting), for awarding this practice with such an official and respectable-sounding title. "Professional bottle collectors": awesome.

Nonetheless, I am totally in favor of people meandering about and collecting perfectly good and recyclable bottles and cans, and doing the responsible thing with them.

Imagine what else we could do with a deposit system like this; with a deposit on plastic bags (maybe two cents--that's just my two cents though. [See what I did there?]), we would have not only a greater return on plastic bags from consumers, but even those too careless to recycle their bags for the two cents would likely have their bags plucked from the streets or waste bins to be surrendered for the deposit money.

Deposits like these keep our streets cleaner, and keep monetarily valuable resources in the recycling stream where they can be beneficial, instead of sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years in a completely worthless manner.

Even if you are too lazy and selfish to recycle your own crap, someone else will if it means they can scrape together a couple bucks for doing it.

I personally do not return my bottles to the vendor for the deposit money; I find the practice of redeeming bottles to be very tedious and time-consuming. I just put my bottles out with the rest of my recycling, and I am perfectly happy to pay someone thirty cents to redeem my empty twelve-pack for me. I am very happy that there are people around that are perfectly willing to do it.

Another interesting trend that is growing in popularity is dumpster diving, or Freeganism. Freegans typically visit the dumpsters of grocery stores or restaurants after-hours, when food that is unwanted or has approached the expiration date is discarded.

Grocery stores are forced to throw this food away when the date printed on the package draws near (for liability reasons), and restaurants have copious amounts of prepared meals that get tossed because the diner couldn't finish, or the meal was prepared incorrectly.

However, in a lot of cases it is still perfectly good food. The Freegans rescue the expired or unwanted product from the dumpsters, inspect it to decided if it is still edible, and ultimately bring it home to enjoy a meal. For free.

I think this is wonderful! The tremendous waste our society perpetuates is just completely sick. So much crap gets thrown away all the time that grocery stores build their margins with high throw-away numbers in mind; it's better for them if they over-order and have to throw a few things out than it is to under-order and run out when people are still willing to buy something.

The Freeganism movement helps save some of this perfectly good food from becoming waste.

Is dumpster diving a glorious task? Not really; I think it's pretty gross and I wish they would wear plastic gloves (some do). I certainly won't do it.

But next to composting, it is the most responsible thing I can think of for dealing with the inevitable food waste that an establishment like a grocery store or restaurant produces.

Grocery stores and restaurant owners are obviously resistant to this movement, because they want people to come into the store or restaurant and actually buy this crap. They don't want to throw it out, they want to sell it.

However, it seems to me that the people involved in this movement aren't going to shop/dine there anyhow.

So what's the harm? Let them dig through the trash.

I usually look the other way when someone is rummaging through a trash bin, or a dumpster. I don't want them to feel ashamed by having me watch them, and I am certainly aware that their task at hand is not something they are proud to be doing (there may be some exceptions to that, but those people probably aren't reading my blog anyhow).

Also, I separate my deposit-worthy recycling from the rest of the bin and put it to the side, so the professional bottle collectors will have a mighty easy time scooping them up on recycling day. They always come by the night before a pickup and rummage through the bins anyhow; why not make life easier for them?

I consider the bottom feeders of our culture to be a great blessing to society, and they offer a service that taxpayers do not have to pay for (deposits are paid by the consumer when the consumer voluntarily opts out of the deposit return process).

Keep digging, keep diving, and best of luck out there to you beautiful and under-glorified janitors of society!

I am very likely your biggest fan.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On annoying cyclist behavior

I love cyclists.

I love watching other people ride their bikes. I love looking at other peoples' bikes, and checking out how they have chosen to set them up. I also get great pleasure from hearing that a fellow cyclist is enjoying their riding experience.

However, like pretty much anyone who steps outside in an urban environment with their eyes open, I frequently see lousy and annoying cyclists exhibiting lousy and annoying cyclist behavior.

These renegade hooligans discredit the value of responsible cycling for the rest of us, and it's no wonder people are quick to judge me as a reckless person simply because I ride a bicycle.

I recently had someone say to me in conversation, "Oh, I'll bet you save a lot of time commuting by bicycle! It must be nice to not have to stop at red lights."

The real kicker is that the person was being completely sincere, and not just making a sarcastic jab at lawless cyclists; there is a disgustingly common misconception that cyclists are somehow immune to the rules of the road, and can meander about as they please with no regard to other road users, pedestrians, or even their own mortality.

I would like to offer an official waxy opinion regarding cyclists who disregard the rules of the road: you suck.

Here are a few things you should not find yourself doing while you cruise along on your two-wheeled wonder:

  • Running red lights. You are using the same road space as cars and pedestrians who are expected to observe the lights, signs and signals that very clearly describe when you are allowed to go, and when you are expected to stop. Your impatience is unjustified, because most traffic lights will have you waiting a maximum of thirty seconds. If you are choosing to travel on a vehicle that tops out at fifteen miles per hour, can't you afford thirty seconds from your life to wait for the stupid light? If for nothing more than the simple sake of not being a dick?
  • Traveling the wrong way down one-way streets. What are you, stupid? You are going to hurt someone, and I hope it's just yourself. It is very likely that thirty yards away is another street that is going the appropriate direction for your intended route of travel. You are inconveniencing all other persons using the street correctly by going the wrong way, and making everyone else adjust to your selfish laziness. Try to at least pretend you are a smart person while you ride your bicycle, even though you are clearly not that bright at all.
  • Traveling the wrong way down a bike lane. This is even worse, because you are endangering cyclists who are actually using the road correctly. A lot of cyclists going the right way don't know how to respond to an idiot barreling straight towards them in the bike lane; best case scenario, they are usually forced to signal out of the lane and go around these offensive bike salmon. I even see bike salmon in the wrong bike lane even if there is a more directionally appropriate bike lane on the opposite side of the road, apparently because they are too lazy and self-absorbed to simply travel on the correct side of the street.
  •  Pulling up in front of other cyclists at the light. I have no idea why this constantly happens. In very few other situations in life does a person feel justified waltzing boldly to the front of the line when they are clearly the last to arrive, but it happens with cyclists at red lights all the time. Cyclists will pull up in front of you, even if it lands them squarely in the middle of a crosswalk or a live intersection. People get absorbed by this mentality that because they are on a bicycle, they have a right to scoot in front of the rest of traffic and wait in the front of the line. But wait, I'm a cyclist too! Take your proper place in the back of the line, you selfish putz.
[The worst offenders are the cyclists who cut in front of you at the light and then proceed to travel much slower than you, forcing you to wait for an opportunity to pass them again. This can turn into a devilishly annoying game of leap-frog, and begs the question: "What the heck is wrong with you?!"]
  •   Trying to pass a bus on the right when they have pulled over to take on passengers. I shouldn't have to explain this one. Don't be lazy: signal out of your lane and pass the bus on the left. Life is hard enough for people that have to take the bus everywhere; they certainly don't need the threat of collision with a cyclist added to their list of woes. If you can't be bothered to pass the bus on the left or it seems too risky with the traffic at hand, just wait a couple seconds behind the bus. It's gonna pass you again anyhow.
  •  Neglecting to slow down or stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. I constantly encounter pedestrians who appear surprised that I stop for them. They assume that because I am on a bicycle I will ignore their right of way and plow through the crosswalk without any regard. I usually find it necessary to offer a hand gesture asserting the fact that I will allow them to use the crosswalk before I proceed. This is not how it should be! Pedestrians are more vulnerable than even cyclists, and right of way is not dictated by courtesy--it is the law. As a rule of thumb, if you estimate a pedestrian will make it to the crosswalk before you can realistically pass through it, you should slow down or stop to allow them that right. Don't be a dick. It is rare enough for pedestrians to actually use the crosswalk; you should honor their respect for the rules of the road by showing them that you respect them too.
  • Failing to advertise your intentions with proper signaling. If your goal is to instigate a traffic accident, then you are best off forgoing hand signals. For those of us who are not stupid and suicidal, please try to communicate with the other road users before you attempt a traffic maneuver. Shocking as it may seem, most motorists have no idea what the heck you are doing on the road, and have no ability to anticipate your spontaneous swerving throughout the lane. Even if you are just passing a double-parked car, signal out of the lane!
[As an addendum to my post on signaling from a few weeks back, if you are changing lanes from the left to the right, a right-turn signal with the left hand is not appropriate. That is a signal intended to indicate an intention of turning. In this case, point with your right hand. Whenever you are changing lanes (either side), the most appropriate thing you can do is simply point to the road space you anticipate occupying. This is the simplest and most universally understood announcement of your intention when changing lanes.]
  •  Riding on the sidewalk. It is called a sidewalk, not a side-ride. Have some respect for people that are stuck on foot, and keep your darn vehicle on the road. The only exception to this rule is in the case of multi-use trails that feed into sidewalks, where the cyclist is expected to use the crosswalk to cross the roadway in order to continue the trail. If that's not the case, you are just being a dick.
  • Talking on the phone. It's bad enough that motorists do this, but at least they don't completely compromise their ability to operate the brakes of their vehicle by doing it. Try to keep your hands on the handlebars, please. If you simply cannot wait to field your precious phone call, pull your bike to the side of the road. People swerving around the road because they are jamming their hand into their pockets trying to wrestle out a phone call so they can tell homeboy how they aren't up to anything, "just chilling, what's up with you?" deserve whatever clumsy fate they are destined for. You can't work the brake lever if there is a phone in your hand that you are actively holding against the side of your fat head. It's just impossible.
Riding a bicycle can be fun and safe, but the latter is largely dependent on not being a complete moron. Annoying and selfish cyclists will always exist, because annoying and selfish people will always exist, but the fewer of them on the road the better.

Thanks for tuning in for this week's waxy PSA, readers. Remember, before every ride take a moment to check your brakes and the air pressure in your tires, and then pull your head all the way out of your posterior.

Until next week (and hopefully indefinitely after that), try to make sure you are not only just one less car on the road, but also one less idiot as well.