Thursday, October 1, 2009

First the candy, then the bullets

Good news, meet bad news. How do you parse and spit and swallow?

Here's what you need to know:

Right now, candy sales are off the charts. There are simply not enough bullets to go around. Far too many people believe Wal-Mart is the one corporation that best symbolizes America. Upwards of 75 percent of students in Oklahoma cannot name the very first president of the United States. Then again, 25 percent can. Maybe we should be impressed.

How many snippets of ugly do you want? How do you sift and sort the various specious spitwads of untoward reality? The machine keeps churning, the news wires keep pumping and it's an endless cavalcade of hope and woe, pain and stupid, divine and beautiful, same as it ever was, except completely different. Shall we dance?

Cancer rates are way down, overall. Did you know? Also, the murder rate in New York City is as low as it's been in nearly 50 years and no one can really understand why, considering how desperate and depressed and murderous everyone is supposed to be these days. Who wants candy?

Somehow, we are living longer than ever. Average lifespans are still increasing, thanks to wonder drugs and artificial pumps and valves and stimulators and the sheer force of will that millions of Americans apparently have to live long enough to watch the finale of "Dancing with the Stars."

Then again, the raw data proves we are also fatter, dumber, generally more miserable than ever. It's a bizarre paradox: prescription meds are more popular than Jesus, self-help is the biggest section of the bookstore, the U.S. ranks near the bottom in public education quality in the world, and the woeful American diet, after all these years of organic this and low-fat that and overall enthusiastic health-food awareness-raising, is just as fatty and sugary and toxic as ever. We have not learned a thing. Or if we have, we forgot it already, due to all the high-fructose corn syrup rotting our brains.

Is there a correlation? Is there some bizarre juncture where those same two opposing ideas -- longer lifespan and worse overall health -- meet and slap each other in the face and move on, pretending the other doesn't really exist? Would it not be simply terrific to someday read the exact same headline, in reverse? "Life spans shortening, everyone healthier, happier than any time in past 100 years."

This is my question: Is anyone keeping score? Is there any way to know for sure if we are, on the whole, making some sort of vague yet palpable progress, advancing the human experiment even a little? Or are we merely regressing into a sticky black puddle of prelapsarian goo? Can it be both? Do you get to choose? I think you get to choose.

Some of my favorite studies to blip across the news wires are always the ones that talk about adding years to your life, about how modifying this or that aspect of your diet or health regimen will either add or subtract a year, two years, a decade to/from your time on this pale blue dot.

I don't quite get it. Are we really enthralled by such information? Is anyone thrilled at the rather obvious idea that if you stop snarfing a family-sized bag of neon-orange nuclear Doritos every damn day, you will die at a ripe old age of 92 instead of a sickly and pallid 89? Should we not be discussing the only thing that really matters: how you live and feel in this very moment, the one right here and now?

Here's the new study: Quit smoking, quit eating garbage, quit drinking HFCS-laden swill, get more exercise, laugh louder, screw longer and, hey, guess what? You get to live better today. You get to climb stairs and keep up with your 22-year-old boy-toy in bed and dance past 9:30 p.m. without your knees giving out. You make these changes not because they add precious years to your life at the end, but because they add breaths and grins, loves and orgasms to your life, right the hell now. Go figure.

Speaking of which: Remember the chorus of whines against the various smoking bans enacted across America not all that long ago? Get this: turns out they actually work. Turns out, insofar as actually reducing the rate of heart attacks, smoking bans are a big, stinking success. It's pretty much straight-out, shut-up, seatbelt-law irrefutable: In towns with the bans, fewer people died. Damn you evil big gummint, stay away from my freedoms! Oh wait.

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