Monday, March 30, 2009

Things My Father Taught Me -- the Top Ten

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He would be 99 years old. When we were kids, we called him Poppy (not to be confused with Poppy Bush). He was extremely influential in my life and one of my heroes. So in honor of his birthday, here’s to Ed Allen, Jr., who showed that the American dream can really happen. Well, maybe not any more, but in the last century. He taught me:

1. Enjoy the outdoors. He showed us how to love ice skating in winter, being in the woods in summer, and outdoor cooking before charcoal and gas grills were commonplace. He loved our cottage properties first at Clark’s Lake and later at Washington Island. He had a series of boats over the years. He and I used to eat our lunch on the water during the summer when I was a teenager working at WDOR.

2. Be good to animals. He loved Omar the St. Bernard and Clancy the springer spaniel. He buried them with their rugs on the WDOR property, where trees are growing over them. He also kept some pheasants in a cage in the attic above our garage on the bay shore. He had ongoing wars with squirrels that tried to help themselves to the goodies in his bird feeders, but he didn’t hurt them. He just tried to thwart them.

3. All the interesting reading is found outside school. He raised me on cartoons in The New Yorker and stories by Damon Runyon. Dick, Jane and Baby Sally couldn’t compete with that. Neither could anything else we had to read in school until I discovered at the University that there was a lot of good stuff out there. Quite possibly this is a commentary on the teaching we received in school.

4. Save some of your money. He gave us Savings Bonds before we knew what they were. He encouraged us to contribute to our savings accounts. He was a product of the Great Depression, so he didn’t waste much.

5. You can do anything if you aspire to it, and you should excel in what you do. He started with just desire and made it big in Chicago broadcasting, then left NBC in 1951 to start his own radio station and other allied businesses. He started radio stations in Sturgeon Bay and Manitowoc, both still in existence, and with Mother started a very successful Door County guidebook that still is published under other ownership. He started the Cherry Train, a tour train that still operates on Washington Island after more than thirty years. He tried other entrepreneurial enterprises. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get there. He told us that we could do it, too. He encouraged me to draw and paint and praised my artwork to others. He wanted me to be the best artist in Door County. I didn’t accomplish that.

6. Develop and use your talent. He raised us on the parable of the talents, and he meant it. He never understood people who had little motivation. He used his speaking talent to rise in NBC radio and then operate his own radio business.

7. Don’t compromise your integrity. He was honest with his family, friends, business acquaintances and employees. He expected integrity from them, too. I never asked him how he came to grips with the Watergate affair and President Nixon’s resignation, since he had great respect for Nixon. It had to be difficult. The picture of the two of them shaking hands didn’t stay on the wall.

8. Family matters. Honor your family and care for them when they need it. We moved in with Grandma Allen in Oak Park for a few months when we were between houses and Grandpa had died. Father and Mother brought both their mothers to live in Sturgeon Bay as they aged, so we would all be near each other as needed. We all drove Grandma Allen and Aunt Lina to church on Sundays for quite a few years, although we went to a different church. He also loved Mother and they had a very good marriage.

9. Have a relationship with God and mean it. He was strong on attitude about going to church. He had difficulty with our little Episcopal Church in Sturgeon Bay after we moved there, and he took us to several other churches in hope of finding a good match with his belief system. In the end he stayed with the Episcopal Church. He wasn’t about to put up with a faith that he didn’t believe. He criticized some people for going to church for business reasons.

10. Influence the political process. Being in the radio business was a help, because he scheduled ongoing political events and discussions for broadcast. One of my early memories of WDOR was the broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings with Senator Joe McCarthy. Regular reports from Senator Proxmire were broadcast for years. Other broadcasts gave people the opportunity to follow politics. He served as Door County Republican Chairman for several years. While I am not a Republican, he taught me that the political process is important.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chocolate Chip Bars

My tasting panel in my test kitchen, Laura and Ian, said they did not like these bars with nuts in them. I think the nuts make them really good. You don’t have to use nuts. The recipe may be doubled.

Chocolate Chip Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup chopped nuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Stir flour, baking powder and salt together. Melt butter. Add brown sugar, egg and vanilla, then dry ingredients. Mix until combined. Last add nuts and chocolate chips. Put in greased 8 inch square baking pan. Bake about 25 minutes. Cut when cool.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Age Quiz Benefits Drug Companies

Today’s New York Times has a story about an age quiz. The link to the story is The article begins: “Americans yearn to be young. So it is little wonder that RealAge, which promises to help shave years off your age, has become one of the most popular tests on the Internet. “

What will we fall for next? This is a brilliant marketing scheme that benefits the drug companies. People like us unwittingly take the age quiz without knowing that our answers are being used. The drug companies look at people’s answers and market drugs to the people, based on their answers.

By doing promotions like this, I believe that the drug companies spread anxiety about real or imagined medical conditions. People are interested in how long they will live. According to the article, Dr. Mehmet Oz, featured regularly on the Oprah Show, is on the payroll of RealAge, so people are likely to think the quiz must be okay.

Do I think this is good for people? No. I think this is another way for the drug companies to make money. I believe that we already are bombarded with advertising from drug companies without this, too, especially since it appears that the people who take the age test do not know that their answers will be used by the drug companies. It looks like deception to me.

I believe that we are being overdosed and overprescribed now. I say beware.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fluoridation News and Opinion

Fluoridation in municipal water supplies is in the news. Why do I care? It affects me. I do not support dosing the entire population with a substance that is available elsewhere than in the water supply for people who want it. And I question whether government should be putting anything in the water supply that could have a negative effect on the entire population.

The community of Poynette made the news in the last few days because of its controversial decision to stop fluoridating its municipal water last summer. Some people object to that decision. An article by Bill Lueders in the March 20, 2009, Isthmus, points out that over time people have contacted the city of Madison questioning its fluoridation. According to the article, Madison did a study in January, and concluded that fluoridation is good and “there is no harm in fluoridating our water supply.” The article quotes Tom Heikkinen, Water Utility general manager on this, who says, “This is a public policy decision that should be made by elected officials.” The study’s conclusion is that the practice is safe. I believe they are referring to fluoride’s safety in its role in slowing down tooth decay. Heikkinen doesn’t say what he means by “safe” in the article.

Reports say that fluoride taken in excess is poison. Fluoride intake can be excessive due to being ingested in various ways, such as city water, toothpaste, soda made with fluoridated water, and swimming in pools filled with fluoridated water. Fluoride has been reported to cause hip fractures. My concern is the mostly unreported reports about fluoride and impairment of thyroid functioning. They don’t seem to be talking about that.

An authority on the subject of fluoride and thyroid function is Mary Shomon, author of the website , and author of Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You...That You Need to Know (HarperResource, 2005), and other books. In the section of the Living Well book, she says, “Fluoride, a common additive to water supplies, a frequent ingredient in toothpaste, and a common treatment given by dentists, is likely one of the reasons behind increased rates of hypothyroidism—and other health concerns—in the United States." (p. 271). She also says, “Some experts and researchers believe that fluoride is in part the reason for near-epidemic levels of hypothyroidism in the United States. Fluoride has been used for decades as an effective anti-thyroid medication to treat hyperthyroidism, and was frequently an effective treatment at levels below the current 'optimal' intake of 1 mg/day. This is due to the ability of fluoride to mimic the action of thyroid-stimulating hormone. The more fluoride circulating, the more the body thinks there is TSH circulating, which shuts down the thyroid, making it less active." (p. 273).

Enter the blogosphere. The Daily Page, the online presence of Isthmus, has an ongoing conversation that I find very interesting, with various points of view from intelligent to absurd. It is at The discussion points to some sources that apparently the Madison Water Utility people did not consider. I offer them as informational, not necessarily the last word on the issue. Try, called Fluoride News Tracker; or

Flouridation may be legal, and safety is a big question. Another question is whether government should be permitting water to be adulterated with fluoride, or, as has been proposed elsewhere, statin drugs to control cholesterol whether needed or not. What is to stop us from putting other substances into the water, such as drugs to pacify us into not acting on civic issues, or anything else that might control society by chemical means?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

food production news

Here is a news story about inspections of food production plants. It appears that it is remotely possible that we may have some improvement. Can we hope?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things My Mother Taught Me -- the Top Ten

This list begins with early childhood and progresses with my age. In some cases I didn’t follow her advice very well if at all.

1. Don’t push your little brother down the stairs.
My mother stopped me just in time.

2. Don’t go out in the street alone.
Again, this is about my little brother. He was hit by a car when he was very small. He lived. We were glad.

3. Be polite.
My mother required me to recite a special saying when she thought I was being loud, rude and obnoxious. I recited it obnoxiously. It was not effective. I give her credit. She tried.

4. Take care of your own pets.
Mother thought pets were ok, but she made it clear that she would not take care of them. My turtles died rather quickly, and my goldfish lasted quite a while. I remember our tadpole cemetery next to the back porch on Iowa Street. I didn’t have to take care of the dogs because they belonged to everyone in the family.

5. Do well in school.
School was easy for me so this was no problem, but it was important. As I remember it, my mother bribed my brother to get good grades, but I had no such incentive. Was that fair? Later in my life at the University, getting good grades became a problem because I discovered a really great social life.

6. Cook with convenience foods.
Mother was the convenience food queen. She brought home the first boxed dehydrated mashed potatoes to ever come off the assembly line. She fed us canned beef stew and even canned chicken pies before frozen chicken pot pies were available. She fed us frozen vegetables before the neighbors knew they existed. Mother had a double identity. At work she was broadcasting a cooking show, and at home she was giving us early forms of junk food. Needless to say, she lived to be 92.

7. Use labor saving devices as soon as they are on the market.
Mother was not fond of household chores, so she was ahead of everyone else in dealing with them. She had early models of the automatic washer, dryer, chest freezer, electric broiler, steam iron, microwave oven, and more. Her chest freezer dated back to the 1940s. Look at item number 8 to see who used all these things.

8. Have someone clean your house so you will have time to do more interesting things.
The cleaning lady came along with all those labor saving devices. We didn’t have enough money to pay for the twelve-cent movie matinee, but Mother had the cleaning lady. In those days most moms stayed at home and did their own cleaning, so having the cleaning lady was a good idea. Our mother went to work every day and stayed there a long time. She had some inconsistencies. I remember that Mother decided that I needed to learn to iron my clothes when I was in fifth grade. That was not a pleasant day. I agree with her that many activities are more interesting and fulfilling than cleaning house.

9. Honor and stay connected to your family.
I am very glad that we all love each other. As long as we had parents, we gathered with them as often as we could, and everyone came home to them for Christmas. What a crowd.

10. Follow your dreams.
Mother was a teacher, model, writer, radio personality, community supporter, wife and mother. Teaching and modeling didn’t last long, and she cut short her fiction writing career to jump into the radio business. She wrote radio scripts in the days of radio drama. She had what was probably the longest running radio program in Wisconsin history, a five minute recipe program, five days a week from 1951 to 2005. She created and published a Door County guidebook for many years. She invented the House and Garden Walk in Sturgeon Bay, to benefit the Hospital Auxiliary. The auxiliary gave her two life memberships. How long did they expect her to live? She was a leader among women without being a feminist. She didn’t try to make her children into something we were not. She taught us by example that we can live the lives we choose.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Medical Care Delivery

Is it all in our heads? Are our assumptions about sickness and going to the doctor based on sound science, or something else? Maybe not all of them, but maybe some of them are. What is good health?

Here’s a book that offers something more than the usual approach to the current health care delivery system. Dr. Nortin Hadler expresses little patience with many of the sacred cows of traditional and nontraditional medicine, and offers plenty of evidence for his view that Americans are being overtested and overtreated. It’s called Worried Sick: a Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Hadler is a rheumatologist whose field is musculo-skeletal medicine. He is concerned with what he calls overmedicalization, which is policy based on common assumptions perpetrated by doctors and the popular press. Hadler shows that many treatment assumptions result in unneeded interventions and drugs that offer little improvement in patient conditions. He calls it Type II Medical Malpractice – “doctors doing the unnecessary, albeit very well.” This compares with Type I Medical Malpractice, “which is doctors doing the necessary unacceptably poorly.”

Hadler offers a social construction for illness, based on his research into socio-economic status of peoples, not just individuals. And his evidence points to causes of illness in many people due to their situations in society, their families and workplaces. He differentiates illness from disease. He carefully presents his view that people go to the doctor with pains or conditions that would be tolerable if they were in different socio-economic positions. He says in his introduction, and spends the next hundred pages explaining, “Once I educate you, you will be able to go before your physician with such complaints as ‘Doc, I feel awful. Could it be in my mind?’ or ‘Doc, my back is killing me. I can’t figure out why I can’t cope with this episode.’”

His point is to teach well people how to navigate the health delivery system critically. He understands that there are circumstances that require one to go directly to the doctor in order to survive, but that is not the focus of this book. He deals with doctoring for heart disease, stroke, blood pressure and blood sugar issues, cholesterol screening and treatment, aging, metabolic syndrome and more. For example, about metabolic syndrome, he says, “Do you really think that 43 percent of Americans age sixty to sixty-nine should be medicalized as having the Metabolic Syndrome? Could it be that this definition [reported in the book] is nonsense?” Hadler offers a list of treatments for various conditions that he says do not qualify as effective because their benefits are barely measurable.

He gives his solution to the problem. He advocates overcoming “misdistribution and the inconsistencies in the quality of care,” to prevent sickness and heal when prevention fails. He says that first medical treatment must be effective, then of quality, since quality treatment is good only when it helps someone. He wants “rational, not rationed, health care.” He has a plan to finance and carry out his proposition in the United States. It sounds different from what others are saying.

This book is extensively documented and based on much research. Hadler is professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology, and has written other books, including The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System, which is on the same subject.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Life is better with a pet. With all the hype these days about Barbie’s 50th anniversary, I think a furry cat is much better than a plastic doll. Is there a humane society for Barbie dolls?

Oprah featured her new, very cute shelter cocker spaniel a few days ago. This week’s Newsweek magazine features a story about a shelter dog bringing love into a family. Animals get a chance at life thanks to the humane society.

I have a young shelter cat. She came home with me yesterday. The Dane County Humane Society ( had her until yesterday. They call her a brown/orange tabby mix. I think God designed her coat to look like a Monet painting, with a hint of stripes. She is somewhere between kitten and cat.

There is some mystery about a pet one finds at a shelter. A shelter cat is a different kind of orphan. The mystery is the emotional baggage that comes with the cat once it goes into a home. I know some things about my new cat because she lived with a local vet for quite a while after being hit by a car. I don’t know if she has residual damage from the altercation that isn’t evident.

The Madison area has several places to find shelter animals. Some pet stores feature shelter animals from time to time. I discovered Friends of Ferals and Happy Cat in addition to the humane society. Probably there are other organizations. It all makes getting a great pet an easy event.

Move over, Barbie. Make way for a living companion.