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After suffering through seven endless games of the NBA finals, I have never been so glad to see a trophy handed out. I understand the idea behind the popularity of sports, the opportunity for people to transcend political differences and language barriers and, at times, the human condition itself. But it seems to me that sports has become far too like a religion. And I don’t see how people get so wrapped up in a silly game.

Yeah, I said it, a silly game. Football, hockey, bowling, golf, water polo – pick your sport – it’s all supposed to be for fun, for recreation and entertainment. Kobe Bryant is, in fact, not the patron saint of basketball (and God forbid there should ever be such a thing) but you wouldn’t know it from watching his flock. People do everything but bow to him and ask his blessing. Sports are taken way too seriously. They are, quite bluntly, an opiate. They are an escape, a diversion from everyday life in the same manner as movies and TV.

And yet when I watch sports, I am only reminded of the everyday. Rampant advertising aside, most players seem much more interested in their checks than their performance, more interested in their off-field frivolities than the nature of the game. Movies and television can at least bare incredible truths and tell great stories. Who hasn’t seen part of Casablanca or been touched by the evening news? But what great truths do sports reveal? That people with money can do as they please? That people are replaceable, can be sold to the highest bidder, or, once past their peak, are no longer of value? That’s not a very nice legacy. Granted, there were amazing feats in the early days of organized sports in the U.S., from men like Babe Ruth and Roy Campanella, Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski. But those days are long gone. And what remains? A tired, cheap display built on fabulously overpaid athletes of only mediocre talent.

I can almost hear the cries of blasphemy at those words. But who among all our major sports will be remembered in seventy or eighty years? What new, worthy show of goodness, or even of human endurance, have they brought to the world? It’s not even fun to watch anymore. A game that was supposed to last a little more than an hour now takes three to five, to make room for commercials and time-outs and fouls and a lot of nancying about without any real purpose. Most of the games have no real consequence, and the players are as uninterested and uninvested as high school seniors with spring fever.

What fun is that? What good is that? And contrary to popular belief, being six-foot-three and 350 pounds doesn’t automatically make you a good linebacker. Being seven feet shouldn’t bring NBA agents busting down your door. Those things have nothing to do with talent or determination or heart. And that’s what sports are really supposed to be about. Until those things work their way back into sports, count me out.

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The American Cancer Society estimates there were a total of 254,650 new diagnoses of breast cancer in 2009 (actual records are only available until 2005; newer information has not been compiled). As a member of the female population, I am very aware of these numbers. Television commercials, full-page magazine ads, and a virtual who’s who of celebrity sponsors make it hard not to be. Everywhere I look is the ACS “pink warning,” in ribbons, scarves, posters, bumper stickers, etc., trying to “raise awareness” about breast cancer. (Personally, I’m wondering what rock a person could be living under to not be aware.) And, as usual, I felt the need to question the authorities that be and look into these numbers more closely.

First off, let’s take that number of expected new diagnoses – 254,650 – for the 2009 calendar year and compare it to the female population of 2009: 154,000,000 (roughly, estimated from Census Bureau population charts). So with no more than a pocket calculator, I can conclude that, in 2009, any given female’s chance of being found to have breast cancer was essentially 0.00165%. There are other factors, of course, especially age and family history, but this wasn’t exactly the death sentence I was expecting. From all the media hype and social awareness I had expected much higher numbers. But 0.00165%? That means you’d have to get 1,000,000 women together to find 17 with new breast cancers (and that’s rounding up). That means if the entire metropolitan area of Memphis, Tennessee, were female, less than twenty would have been diagnosed with breast cancer during the year. I’m as likely to be killed in a freak accident involving jalapeno poppers and a road grader. Okay, maybe not, but it’s still pretty remote.

Now before anyone gets their bra in a bunch, I understand that it should not be dismissed. Like any disease, I think it should be kept in the back of your mind and those more likely to be affected (women over 45, smokers, of African heritage, or with family history of breast cancer) should take whatever steps they feel are necessary to protect or treat themselves. Breast cancer contributes to some 40,000 deaths each year; that cannot be ignored. Period. But I don’t believe it’s the plague it is played up to be. For instance, according to the National Safety Council, women under age 45 are more likely to die of accidental poisoning than to develop breast cancer.

So – to continue poking around these ACS estimates – women under 45 were expected to comprise only 25,100 of the new diagnoses. Which drops the chances to a whopping 0.00027%. Did you catch that extra zero in there? Now scrounging up 27 new diagnoses would require 10,000,000 women. That’s only slighty less than the entire Paris metropolitan complex … or the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix combined. And this is supposed to be a major concern? I’m more likely to be shot; to drown in a swimming pool; to die in a plane crash or from heatstroke; or even to suffocate in bed (according to the National Safety Council). I don’t see a lot of warnings about the dangers of bed-clothes. But maybe Martha Stewart has more up her sleeve than white sales and stock tips, eh?

The American Cancer Society’s own documents state, “95% of new cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths occurred in women aged 40 and older.” In fact, most breast cancers occur in women 70 and older, when chances of being diagnosed “skyrocket” to 0.016%. And one last percentage to throw at you … taken as a whole, over an entire lifetime, the average woman has a 0.125% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

So why the media frenzy? Why the pink and celebrity sponsors and full-page ads? Why are they worrying college students and the MTV generation about something that really begins to pose a threat only at retirement age?

I don’t know, but it has provoked me to look into other concerns and do some digging. Consider this post the first of a series exploring medical concerns. And remember to take media “warnings” with a grain of salt.

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I believe agriculture has failed us. Or, more aptly, that we, as a species, have failed the practice of agriculture.

I picked up a few melons from a farm stand. It being summer, and having a penchant for melon-meat anyway, I could not resist the lovely array of melons the stand offered. I picked a quintessential seasonal trio of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew, each which I was assure was “ready to cut and eat” as early as that very evening. They looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. I could hardly wait to dig into the soft flesh and find out whether they also tasted wonderful.

Long story short, they didn’t. Not one of them. Even after picking the ripest of the lot, the only one actually “ready to cut and eat” was the watermelon, which turned out to be very juicy (a good thing) but almost flavorless (not a good thing). But watermelon is finicky, I understand, and depends a great deal on both rainfall and soils (similar to the grapes of vineyards, I suppose, which is how some connoisseurs can hone in on what region produced a wine from a single taste). So okay, no harm no foul, on to the next melon.

The cantaloupe aged three days before I cut it, even though it already had a large soft spot on one side (which allowed me to get it for a fraction of the asking price). Again, after picking through the lot and going with the ripest one, it simply wasn’t ready. But after waiting as long as I dared, I cut it with a watering mouth and eager taste-buds, ready for that sweet soft orange flesh to practically melt on my tongue. The first sign that my plans were going awry came when the melon fell in two halves and I stared at its white innards. White, not orange, like every other cantaloupe I had ever cut that was even remotely near ripeness. Uh-oh. It wasn’t soured (my primary fear from that large soft spot on the side) but was, again, almost flavorless. The hue of the heart deepened to a pale peachy color and tasted as though someone had lightly drizzled it with the juice of an actual ripe cantaloupe … and the rest was bland. Not sweet, not sour, not bitter, nothing. And the meat itself was actually tough. For the first time in my life, I fought to scoop bites of it out with a spoon. “Well,” I reasoned, “the farm also grows gourds so maybe this one accidentally crossed with one of them.” I try to play devil’s advocate, but it was disappointing. Ah, but the honeydew still awaited. I love a good sweet honeydew and I thought if it were a fraction as good as it should be, all would be forgiven.

I waited 10 days on the poor honeydew and it never did ripen. Ten days! But it, too, was developing soft spots so I reluctantly cut it and discovered … a multi-color melon. The green around the rind was still three-quarters of an inch thick (which I take to mean it would actually have needed another week or two to fully “ripen”), and that layer was topped with light orange region comparable to – guess what – cantaloupe. The third layer, the heart, was indeed the pale greenish-white expected of a honeydew. And the flavor was non-existent. Half a dozen bites of the heart had a faint trace of something like honeydew and cantaloupe mixed and the rest was simply wet. And tough. So tough I eventually gave in and used a knife to carve the meat up. I was disgusted and ate only one slice; the rest was cut and thrown to mulch.

You can say it was just one farm, just one stand and a bad year and maybe all kinds of produce were cross-pollinating … but I don’t believe it. I haven’t had a good melon from grocery stores in years and roadside stands are hit-and-miss at best. I had hoped a farm stand, from a commercial farm, operating only a few scant miles from the farm itself, open daily, would have melons picked within a few days of being full ripe. Silly me. Why pick them ripe when you can gather them green and let them lay about for weeks on end while endless streams of gullible customers file by?

But more than that is the meat. Granted, the toughness of those latter two melons was unprecedented, but ignoring all that for the moment … where is the sweetness? Melon is a fruit, a sugar-laden fruit at that, and should taste so. It’s called a honeydew because the flesh is supposed to be sweet as, you guessed it, HONEY! What in god’s name have these melons been crossed with and genetically modified by that they can barely be eaten, let alone enjoyed?

I was never a great gardener, by any means, and can in fact unintentionally kill just about any plant known to man, but even I grew better melons than that from volunteer sprouts that came up at the edge of our garden for years. They weren’t great melons but they were good. And sweet. And we enjoyed eating them. And I know if I can (unintentionally) do it from the seeds of store-boughten cantaloupes past, these large commercial farms should have no problem at all producing a worthwhile melon. I realize that the produce needs to be picked green enough to withstand shipping and then lay on display in a store for days for potential customers to browse … but come on. Seriously. This is getting ridiculous.

When I go to the store, the tomatoes are hard and generally pink at best and subsequently all but tasteless. The apples can sit on the counter for weeks and still be bitter when you bite into them. The bananas are so green I’m afraid I’ll die of old age before they ripen. Why are third-world countries eating better produce than we are?

I have fresh-grown tomatoes in the refrigerator, right alongside my fresh-grown onions, and I’ve decided that next year I’m growing my own melons, come hell or high water. And then if they turn out gourd-tough and dirt-bland at least I’ll have tried.

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So a good deal of the world just celebrated Easter.  The ABC Network ran it’s usual Charlton Heston classic Ten Commandments and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of children and parents celebrated with colored eggs and chocolate rabbits, marshmallow chicks dyed pink and yellow and the equivalent of stocking stuffers that appeared overnight courtesy of the Easter Bunny.  For many families, it also marked the second-most-important day to attend church services, and show off some great new spring duds in the process.

Personally, I didn’t realize it was almost Easter until Good Friday, when someone wished me a “Happy Easter” at one point during my shift.  I probably grunted something similar in return; I don’t remember and didn’t feel particularly inspired by the holiday.  Saturday, again at work, I managed to wish someone a “good weekend” and another person a “Happy Easter” but couldn’t work myself up to do more than that.  The people I was around were working, too, and equally uninspired.  One co-worker was throwing a divorce party for her friend that night, another had plans that included little more than getting hammered at a local bar.  Hallelujah.  Praise Jesus.  Amen.

I think, for most of us, Easter has become as fake a holiday as, say, Valentine’s.  Largely commercialized, what hasn’t been corrupted by the Bunny has been ruined by the hypocrisy of the church.  I find I don’t really care about Jesus anymore, or God for that matter, though I was raised quite devout.  I can’t seem to find them in days marked red on the calendar, or in multi-million dollar buildings with overhead projectors and flatscreen TVs.  I don’t see their aura around the preachers whose Sunday suit costs more than my vehicle and I can’t seem to sense their presence amid all the carpet and cushions, central heat and air, and kitchen and conference room additions.

I have nothing against those who want to go, who mean no harm and aim only to better themselves.  Hey, knock yourself out.  But don’t ask me to come with you, not when I know the guy we’ll sit next to has been cheating on his wife for three years, and that woman ahead of us was in the bar trying to get laid last night and has had three abortions in the last two years.  Not when the man down front is dealing drugs and his son sitting right beside him is a rotten, thieving little turd, and the woman across the way embezzled from the business she owned.  It’snot that big a town; word gets around. 

And while I think people can change, I believe that most of the time they don’t.  Every Sunday it’s the same old crowd and, you know, I don’t even really want to be associated with them.  I (usually) do my best to live right and if I want to find God or Jesus, well, there’s a bible around here somewhere.  And if, someday, a preacher starts sermonizing from a rock after he’s worked a real job all day, even when it’s cold or raining or the sun beats down like a hot weight, then maybe I’ll stop to listen, because maybe he’ll have something real to say to me.

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