A blog about nothing.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

10-MINUTE TRAINING

Find yourself pressed for time? In the space the size of a coffin, and with a couple pieces of equipment, you can get a day's worth of training in, in the time it takes you to get out of bed. 10 sets of 10 reps in 10 minutes. See the video below.

The exercises I chose.

1. pull-up: the single-best lat (back) builder, and all that is required is your bodyweight (and a bar)

2. dip: same can be said about this exercise, which is for the chest. use the power tower to combine exercises 1 and 2.

3. deadlift: nothing better to strengthen the core while working the hamstrings and spine.

4. bench press: on a fitness ball, with dumbbells to work each pec separately.

5. bent-over row: another great lat builder

6. dumbbell curl-press: to target the biceps and the shoulders in the same exercise.

7. upright row: to further nail those deltoids!

8. kettlebell swing: the single-best exercise (in the estimation of some), combining a power lift with cardiovascular benefits

9. dumbbell squat/press: great to target the large muscles of the legs and shoulders. this will really wind you!

10. any combination of jump rope, leg lifts, curls or other movements tacking the smaller muscles, more for recovery and cool-down.

The weights I used: 54-lb kettlebell; 50-lb dumbbells and 30/35-lb dumbbells

With few exceptions the exercise are compound movements, alternating between push and pull movements, and done for a total of 10 repetitions or more each, with as little rest as possible in between. Girls may wish to cut the weight used down by as much as 75%, but weights tolerated vary with fitness. Do some variation of this twice weekly and you've a weeks' worth of resistance training worked in for less time than it takes to watch a sitcom. Enjoy!

video

Friday, January 30, 2015

LET LIFE BE LIVED


Traditionally those of a mystical persuasion (including the authors of ancient texts, modern sages, and me) refer to all action that takes place in the Universe as the result of interplay of the 3 qualities, or gunas, and the 5 elements (earth, air, water, fire, and ether).

Depending on the combination of these elements, and their interplay, specific actions arise. It is easy to witness this at the chemical level. Combine oxygen and hydrogen and they will invariably form water. If you or I could have a conversation with these elements - that is, if they could talk - and they were to tell us that it wasn't necessary at all but rather they had decided, on their own and entirely of their own accord, to combine to form water, we would laugh. They had no choice in the matter. It is in the very nature for water to be formed from these atmospheric elements. Tell that to the rainy day!

But at the human level, an individual is not so easily convinced. Imagine telling someone that they do not have full responsibility for their actions, which are caused by the interplay of the elements and qualities present within their body, many of these determined by their birth and physical location, although to some extent by personal choices such as the food they consume. You are liable to get smacked. The ego is a sensitive thing, and each of us likes to be in charge, even if it's the illusion of control. But I have had first-hand experience that everything happens by itself, and that an individual doer is totally a figment of the imagination.

First a bit about the three gunas. These are sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the harmonious and tranquil; rajas the passionate and restless; tamas the slothful and inert. These qualities are present in food and then in the organism consuming the food. Sattvic foods are fresh fruits and vegetables; rajasic foods are spicy foods and fried foods, and foods eaten to excess; and tamasic foods are processed foods as well as meat, fish, chicken, eggs and alcohol.

When I was in college, I decided to experiment with animal foods. I was lifting weights at the time and interested in packing on a lot of muscle, and the bodybuilding magazines I devoured said animal protein was the way to go, so I went. Up until then I had been a vegetarian. But almost overnight, it became eggs for breakfast, canned tuna for lunch, and beef or grilled chicken for dinner. Snacks were whey protein shakes. In the span of about 3 months I went from my high school graduation weight of 165 to about 185 pounds. The added 20 pounds were mostly muscle. But there were other physical changes. I broke out in raging acne, for instance. And the crippling fatigue. I slept like a log and in the morning could hardly get out of bed, even after a whole night's sleep! And the mood changes. I was restless (from eating too much) and lethargic (the influence of tamas). It was as if I had become a different person.

With time I gave up the animal products and returned to a plant-based diet, ultimately transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism. The change my body and actions underwent as I returned to a diet mainly sattvic in nature was to be expected. Harmony and tranquility once again prevailed. Although I do still eat spicy food. You can't sit around and meditate forever. Some action is, after all, required.

My point is that though we are responsible for what we put in our bodies, we are not the doer of our actions, which are the result of the interplay of the elements and qualities we choose to include and emphasize. After all, the body is just a conglomeration of chemicals.

Try it for yourself. Change what you eat (hopefully for the better) and sit back and observe how your behavior is affected.

To quote the Srimad Bhagavatam: "Heaven is the domination of Sattva in the mind."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

JUST DANCE

Yesterday I heard on the radio that the UK crooner Sam Smith has been ordered to pay royalties to singer/songwriter Tom Petty. It seems the former's hit song "Stay With Me" bears too strong a resemblance to the Heartbreaker's 1989 classic "I Won't Back Down." The settlement also included a writing credit. Of course if Smith wins a Grammy Petty won't share the award since he didn't contribute anything new to the song. The DJ who reported news of the settlement mentioned other artists who had borrowed from classic hits. Vanilla Ice, for example, in his 1990 hit "Ice, Ice Baby" took the riff from "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie and made it his own. In a deft legal maneuver, Ice's lawyers were able to prove that because the beat differed by one note it was not technically the same. Ice won the suit.

It got me thinking about other songs I've heard that sounded familiar, some vaguely so, others downright obviously. Will Smith, for example, strung together a series of hit songs in the late 90s, all of which sampled from classic disco.  Of course he gave the original artists credit (and a portion of his profits) so it his creative license never made headlines. I'm referring to such hits as "MIB," for example, and "Gettin' Jiggy with It," as well as a personal favorite, "Miami," which took the Whispers' "And the Beat Goes On" and set it to Smith's own lyrics. So I played that '79 hit. And walked down memory lane. Of course the memories were vague. I had been only 6 years old at the time. But how I loved to dance! In Ms. Matlow's 4th grade class, when I was 9, my three friends and I would get up in front of the class and dance to Michael Jackson hits. His Thriller had just come out. Man, could we move! Legends in our own minds.

I don't dance enough. Sure if a catchy tune comes on I'll move a little, usually when I'm alone. But I should do it more. We all should. If it is good enough for the Fresh Prince... So let the beat go on, and catch a load of that woman in the gold tight pants. She sure can move!



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

I remember the night as though it happened only last week. Halloween 2003. I was at a warehouse party with a few friends. Drinks flowed. Ecstasy got passed around. Music blared. Dancing. Laughing. Good times.

But if you have ever taken ecstasy you are probably familiar with the drug's tendency to bring out the softer, reflective side in your personality. And so it happened with me and my high school friend and to this day best pal, Pete, that night way back when. Which was funny, considering how macho and manly my dear beer-swilling, jiu-jitsu grappling, Bronco-driving, power-lifting buddy Pete prides himself to be. In the midst of all the laughing and dancing, the general ballyhoo, we found ourselves immersed in a deep conversation of the meaning of life, and the possibilities for the future.

Pete was in a serious relationship with his girlfriend of nearly 7 years, Eva. She is now his wife. He told me of his plans to marry her. I myself was in a rather long-term (for me) relationship with my then girlfriend, Shannon, and Pete asked me to "take that step" with him. We could have a joint wedding, he suggested, raise our kids close-by, be Little League coaches together, just as we had once been teammates on Jon Welch's Pirates back in the day. Good times. I mumbled something about not being financially solvent. Pete was (and is). He had just built his own apartment complex where he lived as landlord. I was teaching high school, moonlighting as an ESL instructor, trying to get my screenwriting career off the ground, and going nowhere but working hard and growing tired. Sure, I made decent money (around $50,000 before taxes and retirement) but rather spendthrift at the time not only had I not managed to save a cent, I had actually accrued a bit of credit card debt. I live much more simply now, but then I had a $1,100 in rent and nearly $600 in car payments with which to contend.

At around this point in our dialogue, Pete paid me one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. He said to me, "Dude, you are the smartest guy I know. There has to be something you can do with your life. To you know, be a success." Perhaps it was a little backhanded. Anyway, I took those words to heart and enrolled in medical school. To, you know, challenge myself. Do something with my life. This required me to leave the security of my home town, sell my car, give up my apartment, and witness the inevitable end of my romantic relationship.

At my farewell dinner, Pete congratulated me on my decision, which was more than he would ever do, although going to the West Indies to medical school was not what he had in mind when he suggested I "do something." Gone were our dreams of raising families together. But they were really his dreams anyway.

The years that followed took me to a tropical island, to the bowels of the American south in Houma Louisiana, and to the bitter winters of Denver for medical residency. When I finally returned home, roughly 6 years after Pete and I had that drug-fueled heart-to-heart, life was different. I was different. So were my friends. Pete and Eva had married. They now have three kids and are fixing to move into their first house together. My then galpal Shannon is now the proud mother of three children herself. Most of my other friends are on the same page. Spouse and kids. Even my two closest buds from high school, DJ and Jason, both of whom I always thought would be unattached for life, together embody yet another example of the American dream. Last I checked DJ was engaged and Jason had a son.

As for me, I'm a sort of fish out of water. My lifestyle is that of someone half my age, it is the life I lived when I was half my age, a college student unattached and unaffiliated, footloose and fancy free. But it can be lonely when you don't fit in much with your contemporaries. Although I have become my own best friend, and what adventures!



Writing about travel, the author Kent Nerburn (thanks Kerstin) has this to say:

"You may wake one day and find that you have become a runner who uses travel as an escape from the problems and complications of trying to build something with your life. You may find that you have stayed away one hour or one day or one month too long and that you no longer belong anywhere or to anyone. You may find that you have been caught by the lure of the road and that you are a slave to dissatisfaction with any life that forces you to stay in one place.

"But how much worse is it to be someone whose dreams have been buried beneath the routines of life and who no longer has an interest in looking beyond the horizon?"

Comforting words these.

The Hindu scriptures, in discussing the stages of life, refer to three distinct avenues following one's days as a student. These are householder, wandering monk, or a life of retirement. To put it in context, these texts were written thousands of years ago. Not many other options back then. Simplicity is often best. And while most people choose the life of householder, I opted instead to wander the world, though certainly not as a monk, considering all the drinking and whoring I've done. And now I lead a life of retirement. There is a place for so-called contemplatives, and authors such as Aldous Huxley urge that there be more of these earnest seekers of Truth. You need not be of senior-citizen age to apply. Qualifications?

The Srimad Bhagavatam has this to say about the contemplative, or the one leading a life of quiet reflection: "He who is calm and feels the same towards all beings is a free soul. His wisdom is profound, and his simplicity is childlike."

Contemplative. It may not make you monetarily wealthy, but it's as good a job as any. If interested, inquire within.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

THE ONE BEHIND THE MANY

Here I'd like to quote a passage from the book "Unity is Divinity," which is a compilation of the teachings of the holy man Sai Baba. Discussing God, he says:

"The One (God) is comprehensive of all that is. It has no wants, no desires, and no activity to realize anything. God created the world as His sport. He laid down that every deed must have its consequence. He is the dispenser of the consequences but He is not involved in the deeds.

"Therefore, it becomes plain that neither the personalized God (Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc.), nor the individualized selves (you and me), nor the objective world can ever succeed in discovering the beginning of the cosmic illusion which brought them into existence and started the chain of cause and effect. Nevertheless, one can succeed in knowing when this illusion, this cosmic dream, will end.

"When will it end? When the objective world is ignored or set aside or denied or discovered to be the same as the Divine, the individualized soul is no more, the individual consciousness merging with the absolute. When he is no more, the aspect of God reflected in the highest quality of purity, is superfluous and disappears. And when the personalized God is faded out, the Absolute alone is. When there is no child, how can a person known as mother exist? It is a word with no significance. When a personalized God, a personality separate from the rest (the individual soul) and the mental creation of the soul (manifest reality) are non-existent in the developed consciousness of man, the cosmic illusion which is the progenitor of all three, cannot persist."

The universe is a dream in the mind of God. Just as when you go to sleep at night, all that you see and experience in your dreams can be said to be you, since it emanates from your mind,  so in life God is both transcendent and immanent in all creation which derives from the Divine Mind, simultaneously all that is and yet no one thing in particular. Your personal connection with this divinity is the consciousness through which you experience life, your line to the divine.

Sai Baba is also known for shorter sayings which can be seen as guides to live by. Included in these are my personal favorites:

"Love all, serve all."

And,

"Start the day with love, fill the day with love, end the day with love. This is the way to God."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

ON LIFE AFTER DEATH

Scientists are currently grappling with a question that has haunted humanity for eons. It is this: Is consciousness annihilated immediately after death, or does it continue to exist? In other words, is there an afterlife?

One of my favorite books, What Dreams May Come, says there most definitely is. If I remember, the author, Richard Matheson, posits a spirit realm in which we exist with infinite capabilities before and after bodily incarnation, and earth is where we come to test our strengths within the confines that limitations (like the human body, and a finite lifespan) impose.


But who really knows what comes after death? Science has for a long time studied near death experiences, or NDEs, but they only give a glimpse as to what happens when the brain is temporarily offline, not when it has gone completely caput. As some experts argue, when the brain is dead, irrevocably so, as in passed resuscitation, it flatlines, and since nobody has come back from such a state, no one can accurately describe what if anything lies on the other side.

Enter faith, which many of a religious persuasion assiduously cling to, when they justify belief in a hereafter. The mind generally enjoy existing, and so it likes to fathom a realm after earthly life has ended, but presumably the mind dies with the body, so how can it construct a realistic futuristic scenario in which it does not exist?

Physician and philosopher Raymond Moody, a leader in the field of "life on the other side" has this to say on the matter: "I am convinced that at death, personal consciousness is taken up into a more inclusive state of existence."

What precisely does that mean? Once you give up individual life, what is the nature of this total reality that you hypothetically achieve? A question worth considering.

But if as one sage has said, "Sleep is short death, and death is long sleep," and if while unconscious during deep sleep you can be said not to exist since you are not aware of your existence, then an awareness unaware of itself, or the long sleep that death is purported to be, is akin to not existing at all.

But since your mind is not around to raise the question, it is as good as unasked. Like so many other of life's grand mysteries.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

THE NEW ONE PERCENT

I am a member of the one percent. Not that one percent, not the richest one percent whose average annual income is $500,000 or more. I am not a billionaire farmer, major food corporation, pharmaceutical company or university hospital who in addition to the investment bankers, consulting firms, and petroleum manufacturers control the world’s wealth. Truth be told, I am a member of the poorest one percent, those who make $2,500 or less. Some years my income has been as low as zero. Not every year, mind you. There have been good years and bad years. But this year, despite writing magazine articles, essays, novels, blog posts, even a couple screenplays, I have made practically no money. My total income of $500 resulted from the sale of a book on nutrition I published two years ago. Lean times, these.

I bring up the whole percentage thing because I intend to become a member of another “percent” group. I hope to join you, the ones with the real power, the power to change a flawed and corrupt system and usher in the true prosperity that is humanity’s goal and purpose.

First, a little bit about that system.

As of March 31, 2014, all U.S. citizens are mandated to have health insurance. Politicians call it a marketplace, ignoring the fact that in a free market a person can choose whether to purchase a product, but having health care is now compulsory.

In order to work, the new health care system (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known also as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare"), depends on a small minority.

Obamacare requires everyone to have minimum coverage, but many already do. Most people already have employer-based insurance, public coverage such as Medicaid, or are privately ensured. Some people are exempt from having coverage, for example if you’re incarcerated or not currently living in the country. And for those age 65 or older, there is Medicare.

But if you are a healthy, single, uninsured male of low-to-moderate income between the ages of 18 and 34, the government needs you. You belong to a group of about 3.5 million individuals, or roughly one percent of the American population. Because you will be unlikely to visit the doctor and incur medical expenses, your premiums ($2,500 per person, per year) will go towards the treatment of people with chronic/existing medical conditions. In fact, if you avoid accidents, remain healthy AND are health-conscious (eat a plant-centered diet, work out, don’t smoke and drink in moderation) you could go well into your 70s, 80s, and beyond without needing any real medical care. Yet by the time you have reached the average American male’s life expectancy of 76, you will have invested over $100,000 into the medical system. And if you choose not to spend your final days in the ICU during the last two years of life, the average person spends 29 days in the hospital, 12 of them in the intensive care unit, at a total cost of nearly $100,000 dollars - you won’t use it. Your premiums will be fed back into the system, to the companies that profit treating the diseases caused by corporations[1] that get rich making us sick, a system that by your conscious choice, by lifestyle habits dating back decades, you have not endorsed or taken part in.

Obamacare relies on insurance premiums from the new one percent to raise $7.5 billion per year.[2] 7.5 billion dollars. The government demands this of you to finance a broken health-care system, then turns around and pays billions of dollars a year in subsidies to keep disease-producing food cheap.

How wasteful is the current medical system? Of the 2.6 trillion dollars we spend annually on health care – one third (800 billion dollars) is wasted on unnecessary care. The health care system is rife with unnecessary procedures, erroneous diagnoses, and medication errors. Trust someone who virtually lived in the hospital for several years, first as a medical student and then as a family medicine physician, the medical system is an uncoordinated and confused mess. Not only are hospitals bastions of waste but pro-industry bias has seeped into scientific journals, where studies are funded by those with vested interests and results confounded to show a benefit for a drug which may not exist.

But you have the power to say no.

If pundits and popular columns are correct, millennials - you - are about to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. You believe in freedom and fairness and will not buy into a system devoid of these qualities. Obamacare is neither fair nor free, and it cannot work without you. Premiums will be affordable for everyone only if enough young, healthy people sign up for coverage. The government is very clear that without millennials to dilute the risk and offset the cost of insuring older and sicker enrollees, health care costs could eventually spiral out of control and the system will collapse.

*

The term health care is a misnomer, really. The more accurate term is sick care, since the U.S. medical system is geared towards diagnosing and treating diseases rather than preventing their occurrence. And it’s a shame. The Institute of Medicine, a non-governmental, nonprofit agency, reports that “there is strong evidence that behavior and environment are responsible for over 70 percent of avoidable mortality.” And some estimates are that as high as 85 percent of health conditions are directly related to the above-mentioned lifestyle choices, the most important of which is diet. Because junk food consumption visits such a disproportionate amount of hospital visits on the country, it would seem more appropriate that the fast food industry foot the bill for the treatment of the conditions it causes, either through increased taxation similar to what is faced by alcohol and tobacco – or through direct payments, or both.

Right now, it is the other way around. The government pays to keep fast food in business, subsidizing the production of animal products and feed grains, so the market is glutted with cheap, high-calorie, health-destroying fare, then demands that you subsidize the cost of a flawed medical system that wastefully treats the clogged arteries and cancerous tumors resulting from such a diet.

The broken medical system is, like many of the patients it treats, on life support. According to the Institute of Medicine, the health care system currently in place is “disorganized,” “uncoordinated,” “capricious,” and “spotty.” If you add up medical errors, drug interactions and hospital-acquired infections, medicine itself is the third leading cause of death in this country, behind heart disease and cancer. Payment incentives to hospitals and physicians encourage more treatments, while defensive medicine, coupled with the need to comply with patients’ desires, drives costs in the direction of more, more, more. Which is why, come 2020, health care spending is expected to reach 20 percent of the GDP, or over 3 trillion dollars. A figure that is unsustainable, so unsustainable in fact that it threatens to bankrupt a country already on the verge of economic collapse.

In the end most of the 2.6 trillion dollars spent yearly on health care goes towards the common conditions, the diseases of overconsumption and undernutrition. There are too many specialists making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually treating serious diseases that have as their root simple lifestyle choices. The medical system is eminently equipped to deal with emergencies and catastrophes, but these are not the common ailments that glut the system. The country’s unprecedented rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes are linked to diets high in fat and cholesterol found in meat and dairy products, and the cost to taxpayers is enormous. By 2030, the annual medical costs for cardiovascular disease alone are projected to triple to $818 billion. The Medicare and Medicaid spending for obesity-related conditions is now over $60 billion per year. Ironically, just two-thirds of this amount, or $40 billion, could end world hunger altogether. But the system reflects the state of our country’s health. The average hospital patient is very complicated, with several diagnoses and a long list of medications. Managing all these conditions, and keeping in mind drug interactions and contraindications, is very difficult. Studies come out with such rapidity that physicians struggle to put the new recommendations in place in a timely fashion, and when they do, another study comes out to contradict the findings of the prior one.

The reality is that the health system can only simplify and improve with the cooperation of the patient. Only when the patient simplifies his life and improves his health will the system that treats him reflect this. Patients need to be healthier, by following a healthier lifestyle, to ease the glut on the system. In short, they need to stop being patients. In fact, the best thing you can do for your health, according to neurosurgeon and founder of holistic medicine, Dr. Norman Shealy, is to avoid medical care that is not essential to life or function. That means staying off drugs, out of the hospital, and away from doctors. Which, if the ACA succeeds, will be highly unlikely. With beefed up ACA plans, people will visit their doctor not necessarily because they should – because they have health issues requiring treatment - but because they can. Which is precisely what pharmaceuticals want the public to do. Like producers of junk food, pharmaceuticals relentlessly market their wares, and it is not uncommon for patients to see ads on TV, then ask their doctor for a prescription, and even if the doc doesn’t see the benefit of the treatment for that particular patient, often the path of least resistance is to simply write the script. If a patient comes in demanding an expensive test like a CT scan or MRI, doctors often acquiesce if only to give patients what they wish and “stay on their good side.” I’ve been there, seen it happen, prescribed some of those drugs and tests myself.

Medicine has always been a business, and the idea of a marketplace - the word used for the website where consumers are directed to shop for insurance - makes it even more so. And in the world of business, it’s the customer (in this case the patient) that is always right.

There are ways to keep the system balanced rather than to compel individuals of modest income to fund a system that is uncoordinated, inefficient, corrupt, and downright dangerous in the treatment of diseases which the government is funding billion-dollar corporations to cause.

It is time we demand that the big corporations responsible for the decline in America’s health  cover the cost of treating the diseases that their calorie-dense, nutrient-deprived food has caused.

This seems only logical. Instead, the government mandates that you sign up for coverage, arguing that it is unfair that the burden of paying for the uninsured is shared by those who have insurance, as is currently the case. It is true that about $1,000 is built in to annual insurance premiums paid by American families to offset the cost of caring for those without insurance. But in the new system, the burden of paying for the uninsured becomes the burden of paying for preventable lifestyle diseases whose prevalence government subsidies have encouraged. The burden hasn’t been eliminated, just transferred. The government is trying to replace one injustice with an even bigger injustice, asking the healthy as yet uninsured individual to pay 2 ½ times that amount for the medical conditions of the sick insured.

Of course, you can simply give in, complaisantly pay what you are ordered to pay, and then go see the doctor for irrelevant issues because you can, and maybe eat fast food because subconsciously you expect to one day come down with the diet-related diseases that you are paying thousands per year for now.

Or, you can choose to invest in your health today rather than in future disease, and demand that fast food producers and those who consume junk food bear the cost of the sickness ravaging this country. You can demand higher taxes on these corporations and direct payments to fund the cost of health care that is diet-related disease’s consequence, and refuse to pay an additional dime. By merely preventing preventable diseases (and cleaning up so many unnecessary expenditures that dominate a wasteful system) we reduce the cost of health care from the 2.6 trillion that the country currently spends to a couple hundred billion. And through peaceful protest of a flawed and corrupt system it is now in the hands of the new one percent to make this happen.
*

Fast food has been called the new tobacco. Like tobacco, high-fat animal products and refined carbohydrates are bad for you. They are crap. And like the cigarette companies, the McDonald’s and KFCs of the world make a fortune selling crap to consumers. But unlike fast food, tobacco is not cheap. Even though a cigarette is easier to produce than a pound of beef (considering the manpower, transportation costs, and all the other steps and factors involved in taking an animal from pasture to plate), a pack of Marlboro smokes easily costs more (over $14 in the state of New York) than a McDonald’s meal. For the price of a NYC pack of cigarettes you could buy over a dozen Sausage Mcmuffins! Why? Because tobacco is heavily taxed, and higher taxes are reflected in the purchase price, which consumers can choose to pay, and – judging from the consistent decline in the prevalence of smokers - increasingly fewer do.

But in the case of fast food, the reverse is true. Not only are burgers and fries not heavily taxed, the government actually gives producers of these pseudo-foods money to go on producing. Not only does the government devote taxpayer dollars to the production of foods loaded with the saturated fat and cholesterol that the government itself cautions the public to avoid, but get this: when production exceeds demand, the government buys up the surplus, as happened recently when the USDA bought $40 million in excess chicken from struggling producers.[3] And this government aid is reflected in the lower purchase price of junk food items, which encourages consumers to load up on these empty calories, which in turn causes the diseases that are to blame for the rising costs of health care.

Take obesity. Obesity is primarily a social disease – the result of aggressive marketing of high-calorie foods and our physically inactive culture – and its prevalence, especially in kids, is increasing. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Currently more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. At a time when you are the most active and actively growing, to carry an additional one third of normal body weight as pure fat is unacceptable and a reflection on how twisted the system has become.

What is the real cause of today’s obesity epidemic? Sugar gets a lot of bad press, but the real culprit is much more ubiquitous.

Over the past hundred years, meat eating has nearly doubled. The average person now eats his bodyweight - 200 pounds – in animal food. Cheese intake has risen more than eight-fold, to 34 pounds per person per year today. Collectively, Americans now eat more than one million animals every hour.

Neal Barnard, head of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, writes: “It is easy to blame sodas when we have not come to terms with our collective addiction to the meat and cheese that are making us and our kids fat - or when we lack the courage to confront the industries that sell them.

In other words, blaming childhood obesity on refined sugars (or for that matter, on lack of exercise) diverts attention from the real cause: too much animal food. And why? Because fast food is so cheap.

Take a stroll around your local supermarket and you will notice something rather interesting. The price of meat is around the same as the price of produce. In some cases, produce costs more! Eggs can be purchased for $1.80 a dozen, while you can’t buy a small box of berries for under $1.99. Chicken breast at $1 per pound for the price of apples? How can this be? Surely it is less costly and time consuming to pick a green out of the ground or a sweet off the tree than it is to raise an animal for slaughter, then kill it, skin it, gut it, chop it up, fry it and serve it. The latter is a multi-step process that involves hordes of (underpaid) workers in multiple locations, not to mention the hardship on the animal, confined as it is to a small space its entire life then shipped over long distances to be beat over the head and sliced in half.

In other words: Given the labor intensiveness and the heavy environmental impact involved in the production of animal products, how on earth can meat be so cheap?

If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll know that our elected officials have been debating the trillion dollar federal Farm Bill, which among other things addresses how much money is given to farmers to grow and raise the food we consume. Why the government and by extension taxpayers should give farmers anything at all aside from the price of their goods doesn't make sense from a market standpoint and is a throwback to a bygone time. If you've ever taken an economics class you know that consumer demand should dictate price and profit should dictate participation. That’s what happens in the case of fruits and vegetables, which receive almost no government aid.

Said by Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas to be as important to our country as national defense (by the way in 2102 alone the U.S. spent $682 billion on defense, highest in the world, and more than the countries with the next 10 highest defense budgets combined[4], but that’s another issue), the Farm Bill is a massive piece of federal legislation that also governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which go to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops (corn and soy) which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, and thereby supporting the production of meat and dairy products, which contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease, the government is essentially encouraging the development of disease and then mandating you to pay for disease treatment.

Subsidies to grow animal feed saved factory farms (CAFOs) some $35 billion in operating costs between 1997 and 2005. According to the Environmental Working Group, the feds wrote checks for $256 billion in farm subsidies for commodities, crop insurance, and disaster programs, and $39 billion in conservation payments between 1995 and 2012.[5]

Between the years 1995 and 2005, meat, dairy, and grains received an overwhelming majority of government subsidies (86 percent). Fruits and vegetables? Less than one percent.

As it stands, the Farm Bill, with its spendthrift subsidies, is a monstrous example of corporate welfare. The federal government pumps billions of dollars into subsidies for meat, sugar, and other unhealthy products, in essence feeding record levels of obesity, diabetes and other fatal and disabling health problems. What’s more, these dollars go to an increasingly fewer number of farmers. Some three-quarters of the subsidies went to just 10 percent of farms, and many of these “farmers” are stockholders in large corporations who have no contact with the food itself, mega-rich members from the Forbes 400 list, including multi-billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (net worth $15.8 billion) and investment company chieftain Charles Schwab, who is worth $5.1 billion.[6]

According to the Environmental Working Group, "at least 50 billionaires or farm businesses in which they had a financial interest benefited from $11.3 million in traditional farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012." These billionaires belong to a group of 400 U.S. citizens who now have more wealth than 185 million of their fellow Americans combined. And the bill currently being considered contains changes that will likely increase the subsidies these billionaires reap, making the rich insanely richer. With the number of people living in poverty and on foods stamps at an all-time national record, with 75 percent of the U.S. public living from paycheck to paycheck and student debt exploded to over $1 trillion while U.S. millionaire households now possess a staggering $50 trillion in wealth, adding to the wealth of the richest one percent clearly represents an egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars.

“Farm programs that benefit billionaires are indefensible and irresponsible," writes Alex Rindler, an EWG policy associate. "Our broken policies propped up the richest few at the expense of taxpayers and struggling families – that’s a backwards vision that no one should be proud of.”

Then, after spending your tax dollars to make the rich richer, by paying for the production of meat and refined grains, the government as the USDA tells you to limit or avoid these foods and focus on fruits and vegetables, whose production the government supports only negligibly.

These conflicts between what our government recommends people eat and what foods are boosted by taxpayer dollars in the form of agricultural subsidies have been the focus of a large outcry on the part of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, but the public is largely unaware, and the members of government seem hardly to care. Most taxpayers have no idea that they subsidize unhealthy foods, but the disturbing truth needs to be made known, as PCRM president Neal Barnard wrote to the chairs of the House and Senate agricultural committees in Congress.

“Factory farms pose a serious public health hazard, so why are they subsidized by public money?” Dr. Barnard has written. “These facilities pump out high-fat, high-cholesterol meat products and often pollute waterways—yet they also receive generous subsidies under the Farm Bill. We want Congress to stop rewarding facilities that endanger public health.”

But the critical reforms suggested by medical experts have been roundly ignored.

The House and Senate continue to conference the $955 billion Farm Bill, which expired in September. If the bill is not renewed soon, the government will likely reapply the outdated 2008 bill, which allows direct payments to billionaire farmers, and would cost taxpayers $23.6 billion more than the proposed reform.

The reality is that the longer Big Ag can hold off on paying for upgrades and changes to the system, the longer it can continue to make money at the public’s expense. And why not? The forces that be profit considerably by maintaining things as they are. Factory farms now produce most of the animal protein in our diets, and in dollar amount it appears cheap. But what is the real price we pay for mass production of flesh foods? Antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of waterways with concentrated animal waste; and animal welfare problems, mainly as a result of the extremely close quarters in which the animals are housed.

A 2006 UN report showed that global emissions from all livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, even more than cars, trucks, and planes. It takes three units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one unit of food energy on average among all agricultural products. But for industrial meat, the ratio can be over thirty-five to one. The modern intensive confinement production systems is stressful for food animals, and that stress increases both the shedding of pathogenic bacteria and the level of stress hormones that make their way into the food.

The CAFO model is economical, supporters argue, but that is only because important costs are not reflected in either the production system or its products, but are instead paid for by the public in other ways. Such externalities include declining property values, the public health costs of pollution, the cost of fighting resistant infections, and the cost of cleanup of spills and other environmental disasters.

And perhaps most importantly, the cost of diet-related diseases suffered by an increasing number of Americans.

Though they are not included in the cost of producing or buying the meat, poultry, eggs, and milk that the modern industrial animal agriculture provides, all of these costs are picked up by you - regardless of whether you choose to consume these foods. You can no longer afford to remain blissfully unaware of the cost involved at so many different levels of that ice cream or frozen yogurt, the diner omelet, protein shake, chicken breast sandwich, bacon breakfast, etc. etc. Just because it comes in socially acceptable pretty packages doesn’t mean you should accept it. There are dire consequences of violating mother nature’s laws which we are now beginning to suffer in the form of epidemics such as swine flu, mad cow, MRSA, not to mention hormone imbalance, arsenic poisoning, cancer, asthma, global warming, and dead zones. All of which are linked to industrial animal production.

And if it takes the prospect of saving a little on the cost of health care to initiate the change the world has been waiting for, then the health care reform has served a much larger purpose than it ever set out to achieve. In other words, because the government needs you to support a system that will collapse without your funding, you can by taking a stance make possible sweeping changes which, long overdue, would be impossible to achieve otherwise.

Through increased taxation rather than subsidization, the additional funds obtained could be used to treat the conditions fast food causes, and if junk food establishments choose to charge more for their meals, as would likely happen if taxes were higher, consumers could either opt out of buying junk or choose to participate in the cost required to treat the conditions that inevitably ensue.

What is required is your peaceful protest of a system that is ruining the environment, bankrupting the economy, and robbing the nation of its health.

The time for action is now, and the action that is required is to do nothing at all.

Don’t pay for health insurance you don’t want and finance a system that doesn’t work until the government addresses the real culprit in the nation’s, economy’s and environment’s woes and stops subsidizing processed foods, and through heavier taxation holds the big corporations responsible for the diseases they cause.

By voting with collective action, or in this case inaction, by refusing to fund a health system spun out of control while the government continues to fund business interests responsible for the health care debacle, refusing to the tune of 7 billion per year, changes will follow.
*
Over 50 years ago, in her timeless masterpiece “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand wrote (parentheses mine):

“The specific reason behind the plan is profit, always is. The working of an intricate mechanism, operated  by pull, threat, measure, blackmail (or in the present case, mandated coverage) – a mechanism like an irrational adding machine run amuck and throwing up any chance sum at the whim of any moment – was devised a long time ago (the Industrial Revolution?) and this is only a recent instance. They (the corporations), the men who run them, and who profit by them (first in making the population sick and then in making them well), are only chance riders, not the builders, of the infernal machine that is destroying the world. Riders on a machine without a driver, trembling hitchhikers who knew that their vehicle was about to crash into its final abyss, and it is not love or fear that makes them cling to their course and press on toward their end, it is something else, some one nameless element which they knew and evaded knowing, something which was neither thought nor hope, something identified only as a certain look in their faces, a furtive look saying: I can get away with it.

“Why? Why do they think they can?”

In a free market, supply tends to match demand, and until the demand for meat and eggs and dairy falls to zero, supply will still exist, at the cost of the environment, health, and the future.

In a perfect world, if we all stopped eating fast food, all the McDonald’s and Burger Kings and KFC’s and processed food manufacturers would go out of business. We wouldn’t even need the government to stop subsidizing them. It might take time, for those empires could operate at a loss for a while, but eventually, voting plants and saying no to junk would win. But fast food is now recognized as the American (and increasingly, the globe’s) cuisine. However, some countries are immune to the influence of advertising and relentless marketing of a food that is at odds with their lifestyle. Consider the case of Bolivia. Recently it was reported that McDonald’s is closing all restaurants in Bolivia, because the nation has rejected fast food. Bolivians don’t find it worth their health or money to patronize the junk food giant. They are accustomed to locally grown minimally processed whole foods (vegetables, legumes, complex carbohydrates) and don’t trust food prepared in such little time, and are in fact turned off by the quick and easy, mass production method of fast food. Nevertheless, fast food remained in Bolivia for over a decade, despite losses every year! Any small business operating in the red for that long would have folded and left the area in less than half that time, but such are the deep pockets of the corporate giants. In contrast to many other cultures who consume fast food on a weekly basis, natives of this South American country seek quality over cheap calories and “restructured meat technology” often used by fast food joints. An example of restructured meat technology, McRibs contain a mixture of tripe, heart, and stomach bound in a factory to pork trimmings. Many fast food items are really just molded blobs of restructured meat passed off as real food. The McRibs came about as a result of a chicken shortage and due to global popularity remained on the menu as profits rolled in. Not so in Boliva, where McDonald’s is officially history.

The Bolivian rejection of McDonald’s is an example for the rest of the world to follow.[7]

But will we?

In America we have become so accustomed to processed food divorced from its source and hardly requiring teeth to chew that the idea of eating fresh fruits and vegetables is viewed as novel or strange.

It is not enough for the chosen few, the new one percent, to boycott junk food. Some are already doing this. We must boycott the entire system (government, major corporations including both fast food and pharmaceuticals) that supports and profits from the production of these foods and the treatment of diseases caused by their consumption until federal assistance of these harmful substances ends.

It has been said that when you look at the actual cost of protein in the supermarket, and then factor in the corporate welfare system, and the damage to the environment, and the sickness that results, then if you consider the inferior (non-nutritious) product we are getting as a result, we have the most expensive food in the world. If you removed the corporate welfare system (government subsidies), factory farms and fast food purveyors would fall like dominoes.

If the government stops bailing out large corporate farms, they will fold, and with them, fast food will follow. Without subsidies, the free market will finish them off.

Holding the wrongful accountable makes sense, but instead the government seems intent on rewarding the culprits and demanding retribution from the innocent. This is the age of contradiction. Only in today’s world could the government try to reform health care while still allowing the marketing of fast food and high-calories snacks to children, marketing which continues to become ever more sophisticated, and to allow animal products in schools.[8] Nothing less than drastic measures can stem the tide of childhood obesity when advertisements for fast food and vending machines containing high-calorie snacks saturate children’s environments.

You may argue that the fast food industry has no responsibility to oversee the public’s diet, only to provide a product the public is willing to buy. But, if it weren’t for government subsidies hamburgers would cost closer to $200 than the $2.00 burger you can get at your local joint. If the real cost were reflected in the purchase price, there would be far fewer takers.

While Congress debates how to cure America's massive debt problem, and the Farm Bill languishes on the debate room floor, you as a member of the new one percent can demand key changes which according to experts would save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and improve the overall health of Americans while unburdening the costly health care system.

The astounding rate of childhood obesity will only worsen unless drastic measures are introduced to cut consumption of animal products, without which the drain on America's health care resources will only increase.

As it stands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses school meal programs and other food assistance programs as a dumping ground for surplus animal products. When cheese prices fall, the USDA buys up millions of pounds of leftovers. When beef prices fall, it buys up beef. School menus then feature cheeseburgers, cheese pizza, and Salisbury steak. These purchases are designed to boost agribusiness income, which they do, while setting kids up for health problems down the road.

If the USDA based commodity purchases on health value, this would reduce expenditures by about $14 billion over the next decade and save on medical care costs while improving our children’s health.

We must end large subsidies for agribusiness to produce GMO corn and soy products, in exchange for subsidizing "specialty crops" (the Farm Bill’s term for fruits, nuts, and vegetables). As it currently stands, commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat) receive $33 billion, while specialty crops receive only $4 billion.

Implementing these and other changes, which I specify in my book, adds up to a savings of $333 billion over the next decade, or 33 billion per year, a huge sum. So huge in fact, that just one year of savings at this rate is almost sufficient to end world hunger!

As we stop promoting unhealthful foods, health will increase, and medical expenses will fall. Today, meat consumption costs the medical system up to $130 billion every year. By trimming the fat off the nation’s waistline, we would easily trim off a huge chunk of unnecessary medical care.

If the government is serious about the nation’s health, it should devote taxpayer dollars to providing much-needed support for small-scale and organic farming, as well as initiatives that make healthy local food more accessible to Americans.

As it now stands, food producers profit by making you sick, and hospitals by putting you back together. It seems reasonable that if you don’t participate in the cause of disease – if you veto fast food – you should not be held responsible to cover the costs of caring for those who frequently partake. But the health care reform makes no consideration for your individual health-conscious choice, and fails to recognize the link between the disease-producing foods the government funds on the one hand, and the severely flawed medical system they are asking you to fund on the other.

But you have the power to see to it that they do.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was a dress rehearsal for aware, economically-disadvantaged citizens. Though we are on a disastrous course and the hour is getting late, with your influence politicians can be made to change course drastically and quickly move to a more just and stable system.

The writer and activist David DeGraw, who coined the term “the 99 percent,” said it best: “As long as we allow short-sighted and greed-addicted forces to dominate our political, legal and media systems, we will continue our descent into the abyss… We can no longer afford to sit back and wait for politicians to fix these problems… It is now time for awake and aware individuals to step up, find common ground and lead their communities to a sustainable future.”

As members of the new one percent, you can either pay $2500 a year in overpriced health insurance, continue in habits that will lead to health conditions years down the road requiring tens of thousands of dollars you’ve invested to treat; or adopt the healthy lifestyle that will render future medical payments virtually nonexistent…

And

demand that the government receive this funding from the people who will need the treatment, through the corporations they have paid money to in exchange for the food that leads to sickness, early death, health complications, and exorbitant medical expenses.

In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

If you believe that the misappropriation of funds must end, if you have the courage to act on your convictions by doing nothing at all, then join us now. And if anyone asks why you refuse to pay for insurance tell them, “I am a member of the new one percent. We are the ones with the real power.”

With time, that will be all the explanation you need.




[1] Ten corporations control almost everything you buy. These include: Nestle, Kraft, Pepsico, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Mars. And most of the food they sell is junk.
[2] 1 percent of a population of 300,000,000 is 3,000,000 individuals each paying an average premium of $2,500 per year.
[3]http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/16/news/economy/chicken_prices/
[4] http://pgpf.org/Chart-Archive/0053_defense-comparison
[5] http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf
[6] http://www.ewg.org/research/forbes-400-subsidy-recipients-1995-2012
[7] http://www.getholistichealth.com/38160/mcdonalds-closing-all-restaurants-in-bolivia-as-nation-rejects-fast-food/
[8] http://www.pcrm.org/good-medicine/2008/summer/expelled-processed-meats-cause-cancer-so-why-do

LAST DAY ON EARTH

We were instant friends. I had come home to pick up a few things when I heard a barking coming from what had been my brother’s bedroom. I entered the room to find what looked to be a playpen arranged on the floor and in the center of it the littlest thing, all black and furry.

I picked him up - he couldn’t have weighed more than a couple pounds – amazed that my mother had said nothing about getting a dog. I promptly introduced myself. I know that sounds odd, but it didn’t feel odd at the time. I carried him around the house, stroking him soothingly. I was to meet my father later that day, and since my mom wasn’t home and I didn’t know when she’d be back, I put myself in the little pooch’s place – I didn’t know his name – and felt how freaked out I’d be if as a baby I was taken from my biological mother and deposited in a dark room of an empty house, alone. So I took him with me to my dad’s. He nestled into my lap as though it were the most natural place in the world to be. From that moment on we were best friends.

I am not a dog person. I have never been. I’m not quite Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall from the movie As Good As It Gets. He was a misanthrope. I just always viewed dogs as sloppy, prone to shedding, and too in your face for my taste. I preferred subtlety. I was always more of a cat guy. Ironically I am allergic to cats and haven’t had one in years, and the last time I did, the coyotes took them. The coyotes took most of our pets: rabbits, guinea pigs, but never the dogs. Most of the dogs we had were too big. Trampie, whom my aunt Sheri had found on the side of the freeway and rescued, weighed about 50 pounds. Then Bailey, a Doberman who we got from my grandmother because he was too unruly and ferocious. Chauncie, the sweet Lhasa Apso that was a gift from the neighbors who were moving to a smaller house without a yard, was small enough to become wild dog food but Bailey, who was in love with Chauncie, would never have that. Snoopie, the beagle we had for a time, could outrun the coyotes, though once he did come back after a romp in the adjacent mountainside with claw marks on his shoulder. Snoopie only lived to be one year old; ironically his death had nothing to do with coyotes – he fell out of a moving car. Devo, our German Shepherd, weighed as much as three of the biggest coyotes, so they posed no threat. I coexisted with these dogs, who were more for my brothers and my parents. I sometimes would pet them, but it was more of a perfunctory tap to please my dad, who is a huge dog lover. When Devo died, my mother was devastated and we didn’t have a dog for ten years.

Then my brother gave her little Prince as a present. Prince – named after the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, since that is where we live - was technically my mother’s dog, but over the two years we had him I was the one who spent the most time with him. While my mother was at work, I was at home writing, and he’d often sleep by my feet. We bonded. We had little routines. I got used to having him around. To taking him out to pee. Giving him treats. Cuddling him, playing tug of war with the many toys he’d bring to me, most of which were twice his size. How he loved to growl. The dog had so much spirit. The only way I could get him to calm down was to grasp him by the hips and flip him upside down. He liked it. Of course there were things about Prince that annoyed me. He was demanding, and high maintenance. And he was a puppy, and you know how puppies are. Once he bit off the end of my USB connector and I got so mad I yelled at him and chased him to a corner where he cowered for two whole minutes. The next minute it was all forgotten and he was licking me insatiably. Prince was a ferocious licker. He’d go for the orifices: eyes, ears, nose. He especially loved the space between fingers, which he’d coat with several layers of saliva, all the while making a clucking sound, and then emitting a satisfied burp.

Recently my girlfriend of 3 years and I had broken up, and just by being by my side Prince had helped me through it. He was my companion. Warm, cuddly, and he smelled so nice. Of course he ruled the house. He had beds set up in several rooms, and if you closed the door he demanded that you let him in, scratching at the wood, and yelping at my mother. If my mother and I were in separate rooms, he’d every so often come check on me, then go back to my mother, with whom he slept. The house was his kingdom, and we were his subjects.

Prince unapologetically pooed and peed in the house. He refused to use the pads, and only infrequently would relieve himself on walks. But he was like me that way. If I have to go, there is no stopping me. So I couldn’t really hold it against the guy. It’s not like we could leave the door open and let him go in and out as he pleased, not with the coyotes. Twice I’d saved Prince, swooping him up in my arms when he’d got out of my sight and they’d surreptitiously entered the yard and waited. Even with Prince inside I had seen the coyotes patrolling the back yard and the front yard. Sometimes they’d call to him at night. The coyotes clearly view our property as their domain, and for years they’ve eaten not just our pets but squirrels, moles, and the rabbits Prince so loved to chase. With owls, hawks, and crows, our backyard and adjacent hills are a regular old Animal Planet. But I hadn’t seen any coyotes for a while.

It was cold that Sunday, and I decided to spend the day curled up with a book by the fire. Prince kept me company. Every so often he’d approach me, nudge me to be petted or coddled, or maybe see about finagling a treat out of me. A couple times I put down my book to get down on the floor to wrestle with him – perhaps a bit too rough, but wasn’t it good to play rough now and then, in case he was ever confronted by some animal? My mom walked him in the front yard, always on the leash, but there were many times – when we’d get the mail, bring in the groceries – when Prince would dart outside and snoop around. I knew that if one of those times a coyote happened to be waiting in the lurches, Prince would easily have been snatched up. I had read about coyotes snatching little dogs right off the leash. With Prince a hundred feet away from me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. But dogs will be dogs, and it’s so hard to always be on red alert, hyper-vigilant. Everyone told us it was best to keep him confined in the house at all times unless on a leash, no exceptions, but I felt like I was denying him something sacred when I’d forbid him from going out in our backyard and chasing away rodents and letting loose a few high-pitched yaps as he so loved to do. And when he’d done it, he’d come back to me with a strut, feeling so proud. His little spirit needed that.

And so it happened that Sunday night, the wind was whipping and Prince began howling. He’d wanted to go outside several times that day and I’d accompanied him. My mom had also taken him out for a walk only an hour before. And still he barked. He darted into my room, barking and raising his little paws in a gesture of imprecation. I tried to pick him up but he wanted with his soul to go outside, the call of the wild in his eyes. I was already in bed and it was cold so I cracked the sliding glass door open a little to let him step into the back yard, give a few lusty barks, and come back in as he often did. But the moment I opened the door, he was gone. And before I knew it, he had dashed down the side of the house, through the iron gate, and into the front yard. I leapt from bed and ran after him. I heard three yelps, and by the time I reached the street, there were three of them. Three coyotes, big ones, in the middle of the cul-de-sac, and they had Prince, or what I assumed was Prince, in the middle. I couldn’t tell. It was dark and I was about 100 feet away. I called after Prince, and when the coyotes heard my voice they took off like thieves in the night, in three separate directions, the closest one bounding up a grassy hill on the front of the property of the house two doors down. I thought (prayed) they had left their quarry in the middle of the street, shocked but unharmed. But our little Prince was gone. Not a trace anywhere, no blood, no hair, nothing. And I hadn’t seen him in the snares of any of the dogs. But surely one must have had him. I returned to the house and knocked on the front door where I was met by my mother. “Prince is gone,” I told her. I was in shock. My mother chastised me for letting him out without a leash, but she relented when she saw how upset I was. Her words gave way to tears. I went and lay down and could do nothing but stare at the ceiling, and ask why? Why had I opened the door? Why hadn’t I gone out with Prince? Why hadn’t I carried him in my arms? Why, why, why?

They say to spend every day as though it’s your last. Up until the catastrophe, that day we spent together had been perfect. And it had been his last.

By morning my mother had made several phone calls to share the unfortunate news and receive condolences from the family. My Aunt Linda said if Prince had been her dog this never would have happened, since she would have made sure never to let him get outside without a leash. I knew this would have been the safest thing to do, but what about his spirit?

The next morning I attempted to piece the mystery together. I examined the driveway for blood. There was nothing but a few drops of some liquid, long-since dried. I told my mother this before she left for work, and together we came up with a convincing hypothesis: the coyotes, attempting to lure Prince out, had peed on the driveway. No wonder the little guy was so amped up. They had defiled his property, and he wanted to confront them! Now it was up to me to confront them. I secured a few dog treats in my pocket – in case Prince were still alive, since I hadn’t seen them harm him or carry him off, such is the power of hope against all odds – and made for the property two doors down. It had been vacant for a couple weeks but workers had already gutted it in preparation for a large-scale renovation, presumably to attract potential buyers, so I had no qualms about walking up the grassy knoll where I’d seen the coyote flee. Sure enough, there was a passage leading along the side of the house to the backyard, which was nothing more than a porch facing a mountainside. I kept my eye out for Prince’s collar or the cute little black hoodie my mother had recently bought him. No sign. I walked through the house, fully expecting to see a coyote den. After all, they had to sleep somewhere, why not in a newly-vacated house? Actually, coyotes keep their dens on hillsides, I recalled having read. And the house was empty. I walked through the house, letting distant memories return to me. Many years before I had babysat at the house. It had been New Year’s Eve and I was thirteen. The child’s name was Brandon. Cutest thing. That had been the only other time I had entered the house. Oh, and when I was 16 and I had crashed my Jeep into the neighbor’s car, I had to knock on the front door and confess. They weren’t the Heims. These were other neighbors, also long gone. In truth, the house never did hold occupants for very long. And with a small backyard facing a barren hillside, no wonder. It was depressing. I looked at the hillside, trying to chart the path of the dog-thief, but all I saw was dirt and shrubs and . . . a hole. Maybe 2 feet square. Much too large for a snake hole, was my first thought, since I’d seen snakes in my own yard. Certainly not large enough . . .

I went closer. I heard several high-pitched yaps not unlike Prince’s. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Could it be? Inside the cave I saw two glowing eyes staring at me. I stepped closer. The wind rustled the trees and the sun lit up the face of the cave. It was a baby coyote, staring back at me. Tan and furry, the little thing couldn’t have been more than 1 or 2 months, the age at which I found Prince. And it was lying in, of all things, Prince’s black hoodie. My heart sank. There was no mistaking it, Prince was gone for good. But at least I had closure. Where are your parents, little one? I found myself asking aloud. Wasn’t my dog enough food? Coyotes in lean times are known to hunt during the day, but would they leave their pup unattended like this? Then I remembered the dog treats in my pocket. I took out a slice of chicken jerky, and held it out to the puppy. By this time I had unconsciously grabbed a rather large and smooth rock and I knew what I planned to do with it once I got my hands on the little guy. After all, he was the enemy’s spawn! It took some coaxing, but at length the little thing inched out, enticed by the sight and smell of the treat, and when it lurched for it with its little mouth, I swooped it up, dropping the stone in the process. It looked up at me…trustingly. I heard rustling in the bushes. Mommy and daddy must be coming home. I took off for my property with my quarry tucked in my side, like a football.

An hour later I was sitting on the couch with the little pup. He was licking me just as Prince had licked me, just the day before. I couldn’t kill the little thing. If I did, I’d just be on their level, nothing more than a wild animal. But I could have my revenge. It is illegal to keep a wild dog for a pet. But no one will ever know, as I don’t plan to make the same mistake twice: Little Prince – for such is his name - will be strictly indoors.

OK, that last bit about finding the pup didn't really happen, but it sure felt good to write about!