Saturday, May 19, 2007

They race horses, don't they?


There's a guy peeing in my azaleas--Before catching up on the news of the world--it's going to hell in a hand basket--I might describe to the gentle readers the circumstances under which this is being written. We live in Baltimore, a block and a half away from Pimlico race track, and today, the third Saturday in May, is Preakness day, the running of the second of the Triple Crown horse races. I don't much care about horse racing, although one of the joys of living here is occasionally getting to see these most graceful animals practice in the mornings. I don't know a thing about horses and wish I knew more, but these thoroughbreds are spectacularly beautiful.

Anyway, for most of the year, the fact anything is happening at Pimlico is irrelevant to life even a block and a half away. But on this day, it takes over the place. You should know we are in the Mt. Washington section in north Baltimore, one of the remaining great neighborhoods in this old somewhat benighted city. It is a neighborhood of old homes (ours is more than 100 years old), old trees, children and some of the lushest vegetation you are likely to come across in the temperate zone. Maryland is where southern foliage meets northern foliage and we get the best of both--gorgeous springs and awesome autumns, and the place is seriously green. I mean green. The city also is known for its azaleas and although they usually all come out together and are gone by now, they are staggered this year because of the weird weather, and so many of the bushes are still in bloom.

Into this lovely place one day comes 100,000 people, some of whom are coming to see the race, many of whom are coming because it is an EVENT, and most of whom because the infield is home to one of the best parties in America. By 8 o'clock in the morning, the cars start parking on the streets (many of my neighbors convert their lawns to parking lots for $25-50 a shot and make hundreds today) and African-American kids from nearby collect every stray supermarket shopping cart and for $5 will tote your beer coolers to the racetrack. Some kids, my daughter and her friends included, set up lemonade and candy stands to service the visitors, and the church down the street has a huge barbecue going. The relative quiet is shattered by low-flying planes toting advertising banners and at least once a Preakness, an Air Force stealth bomber will blast the sky overhead in a publicity stunt.

It also is the largest single collection of drunks (many of them beautiful women) I've ever seen and when the race is over, they all pour out of the track and try to find their cars, pee in the bushes and, happily, buy lemonade and refuse the change. The place, of course, is a wreck by nightfall, but surprisingly, Baltimore City moves in and by Tuesday you would never know anything odd took place. There rarely is trouble and we've not had anything broken or stolen.

We can go up the street and watch the race through a fence, but for the Preakness itself, odd as it sounds, we watch it on television. We can see it better.

I'm on my front porch, my favorite place in the world, watching the people go by, admiring my fuchsias, and writing. It is sunny and quite lovely.

And now for the world...

I'm here captain. I just went into the bushes to pee in this guy's azaleas--As we reported here earlier, the ashes of James Doohan, Scotty in "Star Trek," were blasted into space in April and the capsul containing old Scotty returned to earth somewhere in New Mexico--"somewhere" because no one could find them. Everyone on the S.S. Enterprise can now relax: They found the capsul, and that containing the ashes of astronaut Gordon Cooper. They will be given to their families with a plaque.

Oh God, not Barbra Steisand!--One of my favorite "South Parks" is when the town is attacked by the giant ego of Barbra Streisand, a weapon of mass destruction if ever I heard of one. The kids save the place. I bring this up because a gentle reader pointed out something I didn't know. Earlier this month I posted an item about what happened when Digg.com posted the encryption code used by anti-pirate software to protect DVDs. They got threatened by lawyers. They pulled the item only to find that their readers were in revolt over the censorship and told the lawyers to shove it The code popped up in hundreds of thousands of sites and even wound up on a t-shirt.

My gentle reader pointed out this is called the Streisand Effect.

In 2003, an environmental activist Kenneth Adelman posted a series of aerial photos of Streisand's Malibu beach house on his web (see above). She sued him for $50 million, which of course, he didn't have. The purpose of the law suit was to get him to remove the house picture, censorship by law suit. Until news of the suit, no one paid much attention to his site; after he was sued, more than a million went to look. The suit was thrown out and the pictures distributed all over the world, having, obviously, the opposite effect Streisand's lawyers intended.

The old rules no longer apply. Says one crisis manager, now you actually have to go and talk like a decent human to a site owner. That doesn't always work, of course, but launching lawyers on them has the opposite effect--the Streisand effect.

Why is that person sticking their fingers up my ass? Oh, she's looking for vitamins-I have mentioned here before that I believe the three things medical science knows the least about are sex, nutrition and lower back pain. Now let's talk nutrition--and how the press covers it.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute reported last week that men who take multivitamins are more likely to die from prostate cancer than those who do not. As reported in the NCI Journal, the government scientists tracked 300,000 men, about a third of whom took multivitamins, 5 percent took lots of vitamins. Within five years, 10,241 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, 1,476 of them had advanced cancer and 179 died of it. Heavy user of multivitamins were almost twice as likely to die as those who didn't take any. (The scientists reported that there was no evidence the pills increased your chances of getting cancer of the prostate, only that if you got it, you were more likely to die of it.)

Here we go again. I do not know if multivitamins are good for you or bad for you. I do take them. But I do know that for years we have been hearing about how vitamins prevent diseases including cancer and now there appears to be a reversal. Suddenly vitamin E, which has been touted as being able to prevent cancers and heart disease, is now responsible for causing them; antioxidants like vitamin C which have been reported to do all kinds of good things are found not to do a thing at all, and now we get the evils of multivitamins.

Stick around for a couple of years and we'll get the reverse again. They truly don't know what they are talking about and misuse statistical correlations. My favorite example is the time some researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that college students who smoke marijuana heavily were more likely to wind up in student health with psychosis than those who do not. They studied 12 students. The point is that if they tested to see how many of those 12 were breast-fed as infants, or were born on streets with maple trees, or read comic books, they might have found the same correlation. At least this study had a larger sample.

Not a single journalist I know of listed all the studies that show the alleged benefits of vitamins, studies this one contradicts. Even the veteran Judy Foreman wrote she was throwing out some of the vitamins because of the new studies. She should know better.

The motto of this blog used to be: "Everything causes cancer in mice. Everything cures cancer in mice." Keep that in mind too.

I am happy to report that the lady with her fingers up my ass (actually, a urologist at Johns Hopkins) found my prostate to be smooth and sturdy and enlarged if somewhat under-utilized. I have found another thing that won't kill me this year. I keep popping vitamins.

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