Sunday, July 08, 2007

Not like they used to be ...

I do not comment much on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's community columnists, if only out of a sense of solidarity. I was in the first group of writers. Patrick McIlheran seems to think it has brought me fame and fortune (maybe he's approved a check request I don't know about) and it was a great deal of fun.

But it's not easy (at least for most people) to be opinionated on demand and too much grief may be beyond the job's pay grade. I also think (but Ricardo Pimentel disagrees) that recycling writers off the street brings dwindling returns. There are going to be fewer and fewer regular Johannas who can do this type of thing.

One memorable column from the most recent batch was written by an MPS teacher named Steve Paske (who, in fairness, is not bad). While he apparently thinks that piece touched a nerve by exposing the dead weight (or at least it should be) of the Un-Fit, what he actually did was to display a remarkable level of smug.

He runs, you know. He did it in college. He is healthier than the rest of us. From running. Fat people get sick, but his purported absence of health care costs is presumably his special gift to us all.

Because he runs. Did you know that? Fast. And far.

Oh, except it turns out that this form of self abuse (and that's what running 30 miles per week after it starts to hurt you is)has resulted in physical breakdown after all. He needs custom orthotics so that he can keep it up and is pleased that the taxpayers are going to pick it up for him.

Good for you, Steve. Knock yourself out. Literally.

But the burden of today's column is to argue that this form of self abuse ought to be subsidized for every one. Because it is physically virtuous. He notes that insurers will pay for orthotics for people who suffer from Type-2 diabetes and need them because they are fat. (Steve is fit, have you heard?)

Maybe, Steve seems to think, we ought to let them hobble about. After all, they don't run. Like Steve.

Let's send someone he calls Joe Fat Guy (one's cholesterol efficient blood runs cold at the name) a message. If Jabba in the Recliner would have only known that we'd leave him crippled, maybe he would have laid off the nachos and guac. And run. Like ... well, you know who.

I certainly don't begrudge Steve the chance to continue to do something that he enjoys and which is obviously a huge part of his self identity. (He's fast.) But I find it easier to smile at someone else's enthusiasms if they don't elevate them to the level of sacrament and manage to show just a tad less disdain for those who don't share them.

Here's the problem, Steve. You're getting old. You can't do what you used to and, unfortunately, it will only get worse. You may find it easier to take with a dose of humility.

I've got to go. The treadmill is waiting and I don't have MPS insurance.


Anonymous said...

Self-abuse is a good word for Steve’s dependence on running, exactly.

Dad29 said...

A very good friend of mine--an attorney, non-smoker, VERY light drinker, and #2 man in a Fortune 50 HR department ran 3 miles every morning.

They found him, dead at the age of 47, halfway through his course one morning.

Thus I have continued smoking, eating a slightly imbalanced diet, and jabbing (for exercise, of course) at a tv remote. So far, so good.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

We should thank unhealthy smokers. They cost so much less in health care costs. This is obvious because they die sooner, dad29's friend not withstanding. Smokers don't get alsheimers and diabetes as often, and they rarely end up in assisted living situations. They die too soon. Dieing is cheap. Living is expensive. So if the government is buying healthcare, unhealthy people save us money.

Anonymous said...

And we won't have to shell out Social Security for Dad for decades past his prime remote-jabbing years, either.

Plus, smoking has a mellowing effect, making him a more calm and reasoned commentator with every hour of the day as he ups his intake. Do we really want to see Dad in withdrawal? Give him a light!

Stephen Paske said...

dad29 has made a logical error called a hasty generalization. This is taking one case of something and using it to generalize a whole. Statistically speaking, the runner is much more likely to not have serious health problems than the smoker. His friend is an exception to the rule. I equate it to plane crashes. They happen, but you're much safer there than in a car.

And I don't know if the Jesus guy has seen anybody linger through a bout of emphasema or lung cancer, but these are not cheap ailments to treat, nor are they quick deaths.

His arguement fails to hold weight because he assumes that smokers die quickly. They die young, but not quickly. I suppose you avoid a few routine physicals along the way if you don't live long, but I'm guessing that the respitory infections, pnemonia, etc. that they require treatment that costs just as much or more. In addition, they tend to miss work more, meaning they are less productive, and not contributing to the company paying their health insurance costs.

The healthy person is less likely to go to the doctor during their long life than a smoker is during a short one. I'd also venture to guess that a non-smoker is no more likely to die slowly than a non-smoker. End of life cost is probably about the same. In fact, I'd venture to guess a non-smoker is more likely to die quickly in their sleep and that the smoker will develop a costly disease that is expensive to treat.

As far as the smugness in my article. Journalistically speaking I've found that a smug article garners a whole lot more response than a calm one. Often I'll inflame my rhetoric in order to get people to discuss and ponder what I've said.

Rick Esenberg said...


Actually I think there are studies that suppore Jesusisright's point that smoking actually reduces health care costs. I can't say if they are right, but I think more than one researcher has found that.

I suspect that not all that many runners keel over. A more common scenario might be my wife's. She ran more often than Tommy Thompson and know she has a host of orthepedic problems. She is fit and looks great on the outside, but her MRIs resemble those of a guy who played in the NFL for 12 years. These things will never kill her. They will just cost - year after year.

This may be why an insurance company might decide not to facilitate extreme forms of exerise or to subsidize a form of exercise as a lifestyle choice after it has begun to cause injury.

Some people like to run and that's great. But they are not necessarily (even in the aggregate) saving society any money. Run because you like it. But don't claim that you are doing the rest of us a favor. You're probably not.

As for smugnness, I really do appreciate the difficulty of doing this type of thing in your spare time. In fact, I wouldn't go after a community columnist that way unless he invited it and maybe even, as in this case, did so for a second time.

Is the reaction you get to the point that you are trying to make or the does it get lost in the reaction to the way you made it. The paper doesn't really care about the answer, but maybe you do.

When I did the CC columnist thing, I once made a smart ass crack about the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. My point was valid and the comment was funny. But it was hurtful to a lot of parents and kids who, with some justification, love the place. It stepped on what I was trying to say. So I was sorry that I did it.

Anonymous said...

And sometimes I feel like I played 12 years in the NFL. I was just with an athletic trainer who was working on one of my ortho issues. He has worked for awhile and has seen a fair amount of people in my situation. He said that it has brought him to the conclusion that the human body was built for walking. Repetitive traumas and micro traumas to the same body part will get you eventually. And then it costs. So listen to what your body is telling you on those long runs.

Of course there are freaks of nature such as Favre (I love you man)