Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Progress Report...and A History Lesson

Well, things must be going o.k. so far; here we are, halfway through the medical procedures, and I'm already back blogging. Actually, we're two-thirds of the way through. The left-eye surgery and colonoscopy took place last week [what fun!], and the right eye gets done on Wednesday (In a related note, celestial high-fives to Paul Baines, regular reader/visitor/commentator, for his kind vibes from the UK. By the bye, Mr. Baines is also a world-class purveyor and creator of street art, as well as an insightful observer of the art scene. Don't believe me? Well, who does? Check for yourself).

There's really not much to tell about the colonoscopy; as with most people, the prep is the truly ugly part [no need to go into detail here: just understand that the preparations involve taking a two-week supply of a popular laxative in about an hour, followed by four stool softeners, twice the normal dosage. Draw your own conclusions]. They found a couple of polyps, but, pending further review, they're believed to be non-cancerous.

The eye surgery [cataract removal, along with a lens insertion], on the other hand [or eye], turned out to be rather interesting. First of all, my opthamologist used sound waves to break up the offending growth [being in radio, I find that somehow appropriate]. Then, some kind of teenie-tiny suction device [I'm sure there's a medical term for it, but I'll be damned if I know what it is] removes the particles. Then, a plastic lens [folded, somehow] is inserted through the incision. It opens up on the eye and, shazam, improved vision. And it really is improved vision, in my case. I'm severely near-sighted, and the left eye, worked on first, is much the worse of the two. It's truly bizarre to be able to see reasonably clearly out of it after 40-some odd years of wearing glasses. Of course, I now need to wear reading glasses for "close work". Complicating this is the fact that the right eye is still severely near-sighted. At first, I was switching between the reading glasses and my old prescription glasses. For the last day or two, though, I've settled on the reading glasses when I need them [like right now, for instance] and no glasses at all otherwise. This gives me what I call the "Popeye effect": clear sight from one eye, while squinting out of the other [hence the famous squint-eyed sailor at the top of this post].

But enough about me. Speaking of Popeye, did you know he's celebrating his 80th birthday this month? He first appeared on January 17th, 1929, in an established comic strip called Thimble Theatre, by Elsie Segar. The feature had spent a decade telling stories of the Oyl family, especially Castor, and his sister, Olive [She, in the pre-Popeye days, dated a friend of Castor's,Ham Gravy]. A story line sent Ham and Castor out on a boat, operated by Popeye. Reader response to the character went through the roof, and soon poor Ham was written out of the strip [making him the Pete Best of the cartoon world]. Popeye and his sea-faring adventures soon became the main focus of the comic, and Segar became a rather wealthy cartoonist.

So, happy birthday, one-eyed sailor with the strangely-mutated arms! No less a Superman expert than co-creator Jerry Siegel claims he developed the Superman-Lois relationship based on Popeye's [frequently] unrequited love for Olive [Siegel was also smart enough to make Lois a much hotter babe than Ms. Oyl ever dreamt of being]. Sometime I need to take a look at the whole Popeye-Olive Oyl-Bluto triangle. Why these two guys, who frequently seem friendly enough, need to fight over a woman who has a pickle for a nose raises some intriguing questions:

-Why Olive Oyl? Hey, they could certainly do better. Unless OO has some undefined skills in, shall we say, intimate moments [Cleopatra was said to be rather plain, yet she nailed down two key figures at the founding of the Roman Empire. Was it in how she nailed them?].

-The Popeye-Bluto rivalry; their battles frequently break down to contests of strength. Strength implies superiority, or power over another. Is this all just a struggle over who's on top during those long, lonely nights at sea?

-Repeated struggles: do Popeye and Bluto have an "Olive Oyl" in every port? Does Bluto beat Popeye consistently in any of them? And, more importantly, do any of them look like Lois Lane [or even Lana Lang]?

But that's for another time. Again, thanks for the prayers and good Karma. Please keep it coming. Another surgery awaits...

-Mike Riley

Monday, January 19, 2009

Down For Maintenance...Not My Computer, Me!

When someone first starts writing a blog, they come to it with enthusiasm [or, at least, let's hope so. Whether the goal is money or notoriety (there aren't that many
famous bloggers), it's easy to be "up" for regular posting]. Soon, though, reality sets in. Lots of EC drops, but almost never a comment. I'm okay with that, though. After all, I'm not the most active commenter out there. Still, I try. I make an effort to add something new here at least once a week [it's much cheaper than psychotherapy, and I can pretend I'm creative].

For the next two weeks, though, I may be away completely. Why? Well, it's my turn for maintenance. I've mentioned here a time or two that I'm diabetic [more insights on the subject here]. In case you're not aware, diabetes plays all kinds of havoc with its sufferers' bodies. One area that usually takes a beating are the eyes. In my case, the problem is cataracts. They're not at the "I can't see anything" stage, but my opthamologist thinks it's a good time to have them out.

I have to confess I'm a little nervous about the whole thing. I probably shouldn't be. After all, this same doctor took care of TheWomanILove's cataracts, a couple of years ago, and she's done quite well since her surgeries. And I seem to remember reading somewhere that cataract surgery dates back to ancient Rome, making it one of the older regularly-practiced procedures. There's even a bonus up-side for me. My eye doctor seems to think that, by implanting a plastic lens in each eye after removing the cataracts [think permanent contact lenses], I might not need glasses for my near-sightedness. What is nearsightedness? To explain, please welcome a special guest: (Jinkies, that Velma is hot! Daphne's got nothin' on her...)

Still, it's a moment of mixed emotions. I've worn glasses since I was about seven, more than 40 years! The only photo I have of myself without glasses is, well, revealing in other areas [hey, I was in college...]. The pleasure most people feel when the air hits their exposed face seems, well, freakish to me. Besides, for various reasons, they can only do one eye at a time. So, for a week, I'll be looking out through one surgically-improved eye, and one that is still very nearsighted. Talk about an odd view of the world!

Complicating all this is the fact that, in-between the two eye surgeries, I'm going in for my first colonoscopy. I could throw in a link to a medically sensible explanation of the procedure, but just think: camera sliding around up your ass, and I think you'll have a better sense of the whole thing than medical science can give you.

In summary, then: I'll try to get back here as soon as I can. But if there's nothing new here for a couple of weeks, I think you'll understand.

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's All Freud's Fault, Well. Sort Of

There is, or at least was, a group of people in the habit of blaming Sigmund Freud
for Everything Wrong with Modern Society. Well, while Freud's seeming emphasis on the Sex Drive being responsible for everything from choice of automobile to choice of whether or not to smoke certainly didn't make him any friends among the Status Quo powers of Early-20th-Century America, they did find enthusiastic support within the new Mercantile Class. Or so goes the premise of one episode of a BBC short series [four, one-hour episodes] that I discovered recently while cruising a social site [the series can be found here ].

Actually, the person responsible for the Cult of Consumerism wasn't so much Freud, as his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Forgotten today, he may have been the most important man of the 1920's in America. Bernays:

-translated many of Freud's observations into usable information for business. After the First World War, American Industry was running at near-top levels, from manufacturing war materiel for the Allies. Manufacturers wanted to keep their factories putting out product. But, to make that work, Americans had to be convinced to purchase for pleasure, not out of necessity. Bernays helped sculpt advertising that addressed those purposes, based on Freud's observations on what pleased humans.

- "invented" the concept of public relations; may have been the first person to call himself a PR expert. Bernays saw the Populace, in general, as something to be feared, as it could easily be "herded" by Authority [as he had just seen happen in World War I]. He hoped to turn the techniques of persuasion over to the Private Sector, who, he believed, would use the power for marketing their goods, instead of promoting political ideas [which, with few exceptions, is the way it's all played out].

-created the first "media events" for promotional purposes. Bernays was once hired by a major cigarette manufacturer, who had a little problem: in the 1920's, the link between cigarette smoking and cancer, emphysema, and other debilitating illnesses had not been discovered, but there was a traditional taboo which forbade women from smoking openly in public. In a famous experiment, Bernays hired a group of attractive women, and told them to join the line of march for New York City's Easter Parade. On a signal from him, they were simply to light up, and smoke in public. Then he sent cleverly-written press releases to local newspapers, alerting them that "attractive women" would be taking part in a "women's rights march", lighting "torches of freedom" during the parade! The papers, for the most part, got the hint, and wrote articles noting that women had smoked in public, without the Republic collapsing.
-created the concept of "product placement". When Bernays was at his peak, it was not unusual to see an actor or actress [whom Bernays worked for], promoting a product [whose manufacturer had also hired Bernays], in advertising [created and sold by Bernays], in popular magazines like Cosmopolitan [which Bernays was a consultant to]. The modern idea of interlocking promotions is at least 85 years old...
I guess what intrigues me the most about Edward Bernays is that, after creating most of the modern advertising culture we live in, he disappeared into the background, and is virtually unknown today. Well worth a few minutes of your time to watch the video hyperlinked above [besides, American Idol has only been on one night, and already I'm bored! Can't we just move along to Hollywood? Please?].
-Mike Riley