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Category: Culture

A Real Pain
Used to be, the only drugs you saw advertised on TV were headache remedies. If I had a favorite among those ads, I guess it would be the old one for Anacin. It featured the silhouette of a human head with three windows inside it. Anacin’s claim to superiority was that it addressed three different kinds of pain, and each window represented one of the three.

The only one people really cared about, of course, was the middle window. It featured a steel hammer relentlessly pounding, pounding. A regular headache, in other words. The other two, as far as I could ever tell, were depictions of neuritis and neuralgia. Since we don't hear much about those afflictions anymore, I assume that it was Anacin that cured them once and for all.

I can’t say that I really liked those old commercials. They were about pain, after all, which is kind of a downer. But they were bearable, and the hokey imagery provided some amusement, at least for the first hundred or so repetitions. This is not the case here in the new age of drug advertising.

First of all, we’re way beyond mere headaches these days. The airwaves are now flooded with commercials for drugs that treat arthritis, depression, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, intransigent bladders, and a lot of other hellish ailments that people used to have the good grace to keep to themselves.

It is not the airing of private matters that I object to, though, or even to the non-stop hawking of prescription drugs. It is the flavor of the ads themselves that puts me off. The characters in them are excruciatingly bland and pleasant. They laugh at things that are not funny. They are irrepressibly active. They broadcast adorability every minute of their perfect days. I mean, these people are supposed to be sick, right? Why, then, are these geezers are out there playing music, hiking, sailing, bicycling, swimming, and boogying like there’s no tomorrow? And aren’t they just a little bit worried about that list of horrible side effects they are risking? Including death?

No, they are not. They may have life-threatening diseases, but these druggies remain deliriously happy. They are surrounded by other people who are the same way, and I don’t like them, either. They do not suffer, they do not inspire sympathy, they do not deserve the happiness they are faking. They are Stepford sickees.

I find the aging illness actor in the Eliquis ads to be particularly irksome. On top of his infuriating good nature, he is somehow able to draw things with his finger on the TV screen that are miraculously transformed into real objects. Each time he does this, he steps back from his work and beams with a knowing twinkle at what he has done. I’m not exactly sure why that gets to me, but it does. Meanwhile, he’s got blood clots and atrial fibrillation to worry about. And if he’s got any sense, he ought to be on guard for such side effects as excessive bleeding, inability to breathe, and vomit that looks like coffee grounds. But does he care? Of course not. Instead, he runs this carefree attitude that must be an insult to anyone who actually has blood clots.

At least the sick person in those old Anacin ads appeared to be suffering…even though she was a painting of a statue and not a real person at all. I could feel her pain because I could see and hear that pounding hammer inside her head. I would be more accepting of that guy in the Eliquis ad if he fell over clutching his chest once in a while or recoiled in horror at the sight of his blue urine. That might be a disturbing scene to witness, but I’m pretty sure I could handle it.

All I am saying is, if we are going to have prescription drug ads at all, they should be honest. I am not an advocate of human suffering, but I do believe in truth in advertising. Sick people should not be living lives that are more fulfilled and joyful than healthy peoples’. It’s just not fair. If the Anacin lady has to lead a life curtailed by a simple headache, then it is only fair that those with life-threatening diseases should be honestly depicted. Again, I don’t like agony, but I am willing to witness it in the interests of honesty and fair play.
6
There are many fine numbers, of course. 1 is at the top of many lists. Good things come in 3s, they say (though they say that about bad things, too). 21 will win at blackjack and permit you to belly up to the bar. 42 is a nice one, combining as it does two of the luckier numbers while featuring the Jackie Robinson connection. 10, 100, 1000, and 1,000,000 are members of an elite group that all hold the very first position in their categories. Their admirable simplicity, however, is thought by some to be strictly boresville.

I could go on, and even approach infinity. But why bother? Most people agree, I think, that the best number out there is 6. Duh, right? Just in case you didn’t say “duh,” allow me to summarize the evidence: even though it would be shallow to assert that physical appearance has any real importance, let’s just admit right off that 6 is the most beautiful number (with 9 a close second). It’s round (though far from being a 0) and lovely without being too heavily made-up. A wholesome, all-natural number — the kind you might bring home to meet the parents.

6 pairs well with almost any other number (although not, ironically, with 66). It has no sharp edges, no special demands, and is completely free of controversy. You would certainly have no second thoughts, for instance, about rounding up from a 6 (as you might, say, from a 5). It might be suggested that it is unpleasant to be at 6s and 7s, but think about it. Without getting too deeply into personality types (or criminal records, for that matter) which of those two numbers do you think is the real problem there?

“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” moreover, is a very catchy and upbeat musical number. Is there anyone who doesn’t love a 6-pack, whether bottled or abdominal? What sense is more mysterious and intriguing than the 6th sense? And where would we be without the 6th Amendment? In jail, that’s where!

Numerologically speaking, 6 represents Gaia, the giver of unconditional love. It also symbolizes home and hearth, loving relationships of every kind, and deep compassion bordering on empathy. What more could you want from your favorite integer?

6 is similar, both in sound and spelling, to the word “sex.” Sex, in case you are not familiar with the concept, offers a wide range of health benefits, including enhanced cardio-vascular performance, improved higher brain function, and resistance to nail fungus. It is also thought to be the absolute best method of procreation. Six, perhaps not coincidentally, provides the same benefits. And even a bad six is better than no six at all.

The sax, widely accepted the best musical instrument, shares the same kind of affinity. You’d be crazy to shrug off these kinds of “coincidences.” Indeed, the fact that there is no such word as “sux” might even be considered conclusive proof of this theorem.

Perhaps the only blot on 6’s escutcheon is Surfside 6, the unlikely 60s TV show starring Troy Donahue as private eye “Sandy” Winfield II and Diane McBain as his yachty neighbor. To make matters worse, the show was a cheap knock-off of 77 Sunset Strip. Sadly, that kind of inter-digital stain is indelible. I only mention this unfortunate piece of trivia in the interests of fairness. Which reminds me — 6 is also the fairest number!

Wait a minute. Have I gone too far? Okay look, I’m sorry about all the bad puns and, you know, the clumsy word play. I really shouldn’t allow myself do that. I can only tell you that when I think about the pain and discomfort I may have caused others, it makes me six to my stomach.
Run It Up the Flagpole
Flags have been in the news a lot this year. I’m thinking about the American flag in particular and the taking of a knee during the national anthem. Some folks get pretty het up about that kind of thing, finding disrespect even if the protest is done in a sad and solemn way. They take flags very seriously, so much so that some are willing to lay down their lives for their flag.

So I don’t want to start any fights here. I honor the sensitivity of flag worshippers, but full disclosure: I don’t care that much about flag reverence. It seems extreme to me, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to pieces of cloth versus flesh and blood humans. I am here to examine flags as a broad concept, okay? I am simply exploring my own vexillophilia, not rattling your cage.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that there are a lot of near duplications in flag design. Three simple stripes is a popular motif. The stripes might run either horizontally or vertically, and in most cases they are of equal size. The French, the Russians, and the Dutch, for example, feature different arrangements of this pattern in red, white, and blue. I can’t help wondering if these nationalities are just as willing to die for their flags as some Americans are. If one isn’t paying attention, one might end up dying for another country’s flag.

There are also some geographical themes that stand out. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland all display simple crosses with one vertical and one horizontal element. Georgia and Switzerland are also in this group, but the Norse connection is what catches your eye. It’s unanimous up there, and even England (an unofficial member of the Norse club) uses the St. George’s Cross flag (which predates the Union Jack) as its standard in sporting events. We could call this similarity a coincidence or evidence of a some dark, menacing conspiracy. I’ll let you decide.

Africa is heavy on red, green, and gold in its color schemes, and suns are a regular feature across the tropics. Five-pointed stars are everywhere (with some accompanied by crescents), but there is only one six-pointed version. While the three-equal-stripes pattern is dominant, many of these feature the addition of crests or emblems. Mexico’s, for instance, is an Italian flag with the eagle-on-a-cactus-with-a-snake coat of arms in the middle. There are many examples of this design style, but I confess that I find it a little disappointing. It’s like the flag designers gave up on fundamental symbolism and just went with something they had lying around the studio. Again, I’m not looking to start a fight.

I must say that I like the American flag. It’s homemade, according to the story, and it has a pretty clear layer of symbology. The red, white, and blue scheme is a nice one, though perhaps I am showing a color prejudice for that combination that seems common in the northern latitudes. I also like the fact that it changes every time a state is added. We may see Puerto Rico get shuffled in any time now, bringing us to a total of 51 stars. It’s an unusual design, too, so I give it points for originality. This could be national pride speaking, but I think that it’s an unusually attractive banner.

I am not alone in my admiration. Old Glory seems to have spawned its share of, if not imitators, then derivative designs. Chile, Cuba, and Liberia all have nice flags that seem to have sprung directly from Betsy Ross’ creation. Malawi’s flag takes ours and puts an Islamic star and crescent where the field of stars sits on ours. That’s a nice touch.

That said, the Stars and Stripes is not my favorite. It’s in the top ten (which is not hard given the large number of banners that fall into the “godawful” category), but not in the top three. My preferences for that honor are strictly a matter of taste, of course, and I try not to let politics (or racism, for that matter) play a part in my choices.

I put Morocco’s flag near the top because it is simple and potent. That green-on-red color combination gives me a mainline buzz, and the Seal of Solomon pentagram at dead center is an anchor of credibility. Class all the way.

Yemen (poor Yemen) is also high on my list. It features the classic three-equal-stripes pattern I’ve mentioned (it’s a classic for a reason), but it gets that basic design absolutely perfect. For starters, the stripes run horizontally rather than vertically. To my eye, that arrangement is the more stable and pleasing of the two — the way you’d want your country to be. Most important, though, they got the very best colors and sequence for this beauty. Red, white, black. Clean, strong, gorgeous.

I’d be proud to have either of those two as the symbol of my country (although I wouldn’t die for either). My choice for number one, though, has got to be Sri Lanka. It is unique in practically every category: design, color, symbology, goofiness. It’s got a lion (somehow holding a sword!). It’s got bo leaves on it, and they represent the Buddhist principles of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The color choices are meant (I am told) to include other religions and ethnicities.

Better yet, it doesn’t really look like a flag. More like a wall-hanging designed to encourage contemplation. I can’t find any nationalism in it either, unless it’s pride in their yearning for gentle inclusiveness. I might not die for such things, but I could be talked into living for them.

Sri Lanka, I salute you!
Is Too Much Enough?
Layer cake palaces
Festooned with whipped cream
Twirled into fantasies
Escaped from a dream

Hapsburgs on horseback
Kaisers on seraphim
Lions with goddesses
Cherub on cherubim

All stuffed in puff pastry
Then gilded with glaze
Plopped down in the plazas
In delicious displays

Dollop on dolloping
Baroque on rococo
Piled up on each parapet
Rampart and portico

Grander on grandeur
Topped off with more fluff
It may be too filling
But it's never enough
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon