The last time I checked, we appeared to be in the middle of the yet another food-diet-nutrition-health craze. This one seems to be centered on the concept of everyone eating or consuming only items deemed to be organic.

This craze comes on the heels of the gluten-free craze (a new study shows it increases heart attack risk), the kale craze (a new study shows kale is icky), the low-fat craze, the no-fat craze, the sugar-free craze, the low-salt craze, the low-calorie craze (you inhale water vapor in lieu of food), the no trans-fats craze, the no-sugary-drinks craze, and that pesky eat-your-darn-vegetables craze.

Whew, I just lost my appetite.

On one level, I get the organic thing. If we eat only products that have been raised naturally, then we avoid ingesting large amount of insecticides, hormones, and other nasty chemicals. OK, good idea.

The problem is that what constitutes organic seems to be in question. For instance, can a food based on GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds but raised without pesticides be organic? Can a cow raised without growth hormones but still loaded with antibiotics be organic? Can lawn and leaf bags made from only recycled wood pulp be organic? And should we care about organic lawn and leaf bags?

I think what bothers me the most about the organic craze is that it looks more and more like just another scam. For instance, oranges are considered one of the best fruits to eat as their tough skin keeps the nasty chemicals they’re sprayed with from getting inside. So why should I pay 50- to 75-percent more for organic oranges that look like they just survived a Mongol invasion?

If you look at organic foods, they invariably cost a lot more than conventional products that look suspiciously similar except that, in the case of organic fruits and veggies, they invariably look awful (like radioactive-fallout awful). And the more outlandish the product, the higher the price.

I was recently in a store that caters to the healthy-eating crowd and it offered organic everything. And the more I wandered around, the goofier it got.

I saw canned organic cat food that cost (not kidding) almost 10 times what the food we feed our cats costs. I saw organic cleaning products that cost more per ounce than unleaded gas. I saw a bag of ice that was said to have been made strictly from spring water. Yup, organic ice.

Next we’ll be planting things in organic dirt. Oh wait, we do.

The organic toothpaste and toothbrushes (with lovely wooden handles) cost enough to cover a dental visit. The organic makeup and shampoo was beautifully packaged and came with a handy home-equity loan form to make paying for them easier.

The organic cheeses were so pricey I figured it would be cheaper to just buy a cow or goat and make my own (but pay no attention to the people who were sickened by unpasteurized cheese a few months ago). And yes, the organic meats were just amazing. The packages were so small and the prices so high that I noticed a bargain bin next to them full of gold ingots that were cheaper.

Now, I know the healthy eaters out there are already gearing up to yell at me and send me packets of kale. Save your energy and kale. Just take a deep breath, drink a cup of organic green tea and listen.

I totally respect your desire to eat healthily in a world dominated by agri-businesses that supplies us with less-than-healthy foods in order to maximize their profits. I get it. Really.

But, in your single-minded rush to avoid these tainted foods, you’re falling for a lie that sounds good. Just because a label says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. And, even if the label might be true, it doesn’t mean the benefits are provable.

The best example of this type of deceptive marketing is the vitamin-supplements industry. Not too long ago, a certain TV “doctor” was all sorts of nuts over Raspberry Ketones. This is a substance derived from raspberries that supposedly has vast health benefits. Except that there’s little to no scientific proof that any of it is true.

The same can be said for megadoses of vitamin C, doses of cinnamon, fish oil, and every other supplement that costs more per gram than platinum but can’t be proven to work. That’s pretty much where we’re at with organic foods.

Marketers and sales types are slapping the word “organic” on any and every product they can find, bumping prices by huge margins, and people are falling for it. “But the government regulates what they can call organic,” you say.

Well, there might be some guidelines, but who is enforcing them these days? The folks looking to gut the EPA? The same guys who want to drill for oil in national parks? Those guys? Yeah, I’m sure they’re very concerned about whether or not your organic baby food actually contains several parts per million of industrial-grade crud. Chances are better they helped manufacture the crud.

So, to put a fine point on it, don’t always believe what the package says. Don’t trust that the government is there to safeguard your health. It isn’t.

If you really want organic kale, plant a garden and make sure to avoid chemicals. If you want organic eggs, raise a chicken or go to someone you trust that does. But most of all, do that rarest of things and use some common sense. You’d be amazed at the results.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he attempts to eat in a healthy manner between trips to the Chinese buffet. Hey, no man lives on kale alone; he needs the occasional egg roll, says Seinberg.

Location:

If you want to become a submariner, you have to get through the Navy’s basic training. Then you have to apply to enter the submarine service, pass a lengthy series of psychological screening tests and aptitude tests, and then undergo specialized training. This makes sense. You’ll be, potentially, manning billions of dollars worth of sophisticated technology with the real potential to do enormous damage.

So, you’re wondering, what point am I making? It occurred to me that we put a great deal of time, energy, and money into screening and training a lot of people in our society. And yet, the people in charge are not screened, tested, vetted, checked, or in any way monitored to determine whether or not they should be in charge. Take Congress, as a prime example.

There are only three requirements to be a member of Congress: You must be 25 or older (30 for the Senate), be a United States citizen for at least seven years (nine for the Senate), and you must be an “inhabitant” (as opposed to inmate) of the state where you’re elected.

I’m sorry; I know several aging dogs and cats that could qualify (if you go by dog/cat years). I mean seriously, these folks make big salaries, get amazing benefits, and can even be convicted felons and still serve.

And where’s the after-hire evaluation? Who is holding these folks to their campaign promises? Who keeps track of how many new laws they got passed or how many good projects they got funded?

But getting back to my original point, I think it’s high time we began to screen potential elected officials. We’re all sick of corrupt politicians voting based on campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, or just straight-up bribes. They abuse every perk and on the rare occasions when they get caught, they either get away with it, or get convicted and still keep their pensions and jobs. Really?

A person working at McDonald’s who pulls a dollar out of the register and pockets it would be fired on the spot and likely charged with a crime. How does Mickey D’s have higher standards than Congress?

From now on, anyone who wants to run for office (any office) must pass through the following set of checks, tests, and screenings. First, if they’ve been convicted of a crime (felony or serious misdemeanor), they’re disqualified.

Next, a psychological screening is done by a qualified mental-health professional to see if the candidate is sociopathic or psychopathic (most chief executive officers, many lawyers, and more than a few surgeons are, it turns out). Also, they need to be mentally healthy, not raging narcissists or megalomaniacs (sorry, Mr. Trump).

Finally, several members of the clergy of different faiths should interview the person to determine their moral health. Please note, this isn’t to find out if they’re pious; they fake that all the time.

No, the idea here is to see if they actually understand the difference between right and wrong. Bribes are wrong, voting in a manner that represents your constituents is right. Sending genital pictures via cell-phone is wrong, treating women with dignity is right.

And finally, they have to answer a simple, but critical question: Why do you want the office?

The science-fiction author Robert Heinlein once wrote that anyone who sought the office of president should be immediately disqualified from holding it. Kurt Vonnegut said, “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

If authors can figure this out, then we should all rethink whom we elect these days. Some folks say we get what we deserve, and, when you look at the sad state of voter turnout and registration, maybe that’s true. Some people have suggested that, if more people voted, we’d have better representation, as the folks in office now were rarely, if ever, elected by an actual majority of eligible adults.

Right now, many folks are appalled by the behavior of the current president and his crew, and for good reason. None of these people are qualified for their jobs. Actually, most of them aren’t qualified to be dogcatcher.  A retired brain surgeon who lies in his autobiography; a failed CEO; a climate-change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency; and, of course, the ego in chief who has gone bankrupt how many times?

Politics has been disreputable, dishonorable, and dysfunctional for as long as anyone can remember. It’s ruled by crazy people, paid by greedy people, and has nothing to do with the democracy. So let’s start elevating the level of candidates and I’ll bet things improve.

So, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pruitt, Ms. DeVos, can any of you tell us what the term “ethics” refers to? No, Mr. Mnuchin, not whatever you can get away with. Sorry, Mr. Trump, your hair does not constitute a platform (though it could be a structural member). Uh, Mr. Bannon, put down that kitten and back slowly away and, no, you may not kick that puppy.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has been watching politics and politicians for the last few decades and noted that things have gone downhill — a lot.

Location:

This must happen to everybody. You’re sitting at your computer, working, and a cat climbs into your lap.

“Hi, I need ear scratching please,” says the cat.

So you pull one hand from the keyboard and start scratching. Purring commences and the little furry head lazily turns to the multiple screens. And you know what comes next. Yup, politics.

“Who is that guy with a cat on his head?” asks the suddenly curious feline.

“Umm, that’s the president.”

“Why is a cat sitting on his head? Is he cold a lot? Wait, is that my old buddy Teddy from litter-box school?”

“Well, no, that’s his hair. Litter-box school? You went to school for — never mind.” The cat climbs out of the lap and over the keyboard to view the screen more closely.

“No way, that’s a yellow cat on his head.” So you switch to a photo showing his hair blowing around in order to prove it’s hair.

“Wow, that poor cat is getting blown all over!” exclaims the now disturbed feline.

“Really, that’s not a cat, it’s just the guy’s hair. Well maybe a hairpiece,” you venture, trying to calm things down. The cat stares a little longer and climbs back into your lap.

“More scratching please.” Typing one-handed is slow. But purring can lower your blood pressure.

You’re sitting on the couch with an iPad in your lap when a large cat jumps onto the couch, slides into your lap, dislodging the iPad, and looks up at you.

“Some full-body petting please.” So you move the iPad over, switch it to CNN and proceed to stroke the cat from head to tail and loud purring commences. After a bit the cat turns to the news.

“Why does that man look so angry?”

“Oh, that’s the president’s spokesman and he’s talking to reporters,” you explain trying to get the concept of a press conference across.

“But why is he so mad? He keeps yelling at those people every time they ask a question. By the way, scratch under my chin please.” So you scratch the chin and the purring resumes.

“Well, some people think he’s angry because he doesn’t like what he’s told to say.”

“By who? Who tells him what to say?”

“The president, you know the guy with the cat on his head?”

“Why doesn’t the president talk then? Why make the guy so upset? And why is he chewing so much gum?”

“Well the president is too busy to talk all the time and they worry that he might say the wrong thing if he tried.”

“And he probably has to hold still so the cat stays on his head too.” Right. Cat logic.

You’re at the kitchen table having lunch and watching MSNBC and a cat jumps into the chair beside you. The cat looks at your sandwich and then at you. “You going to eat that whole thing?”

“Well, yeah that’s why I made it.”

“OK, just checking. I mean, I don’t want you to overeat. It’s not healthy you know.”

“This from the guy who inhaled breakfast and barfed it on the carpet. Thanks for your concern.”

The cat looks up at the screen inquisitively. “Why are those people arguing with each other. They’re all talking at the same time and you can’t understand anything. It sounds like a cat fight I saw yesterday by the library.”

“Those are members of Congress from different parties arguing over health-care reform. They have different opinions. The guy at the desk is a newsman and he’s trying to calm them down.”

“Parties? Yeah, they must be drunk to be shouting like that. If he wants to calm them down, can’t he just shoot them with a dart or something or maybe slip them a Valium? Worked for my Aunt Maude after she got fixed.”

“No, political parties. Groups of people who have different philosophies. The ones on the right think everyone should have easy access to health care and the other ones think they should make tons of money.”

“What does one thing have to do with the other? If you’re sick you go to the people vet, right?”

“We do, but not everyone can afford to without insurance.”

“Insurance? Do we have insurance for the vet?”

“No, but we can get it if we want to spend a lot of money.”

“Oh, so the insurance companies get rich but people get healthy?”

“Not really.”

“You know; you people make no sense at all. And why is that one guy so red in the face? Does he need a vet?”

“That’s Mitch McConnell and yeah, he definitely needs a doctor of some sort.”

“So, you done with that sandwich?” And you pick the chicken out and give it to the cat as he makes far more sense than the TV.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he talks politics with all four of the family cats regularly. He hasn’t finished a sandwich in months.

Location:

We live in interesting times. No two ways about it. Some people are focused on the idea that the world is crashing down around us as a result of the election in November. Others see the world as on its last legs since the dawn of man, and still others think things have been going to hell since maybe the 1930s.

Personally, I’m getting just plain exhausted by all of it. I’ve been involved in the media in one way or another for over 30 years and I can say that the current mess that’s passing for American politics isn’t really new.

When I was still in college, I got into a public debate with James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983. He was the guy who suggested trees cause air pollution. He and I went at it in a public forum and he won. Not because he was right, but because he used rhetorical tricks to get the crowd on his side.

Fast forward to 2017 and Tweet Wars, alternative facts, hacking, and, well, you get the picture.

The fact is, we have always had hatred in our country. We’ve had intolerance, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, sexism, and just all-around grumpy people.

The difference for those of us who live in a blue state in little old Altamont, is that we’re seeing this hatred very clearly and it’s sad, frightening, unnerving, and nasty. So what do we do about it?

Some folks have taken to social media on a daily basis to rant, rave, sign petitions, send letters, and speak out, based on their point of view. Others have gotten even more active, joining protests, groups, and marches.

Phone calls are made, signs are displayed, and chants are shouted. And, of course, leading the opposition is “Saturday Night Live,” skewering the current administration on a weekly basis in contrast to Fox, Breitbart ,and Rush (Limbaugh, not the band).

Other countries are alarmed and speaking out, too. So here we are in what would appear to some to be open political warfare. So, again, what does one do to remain calm and sane? Well, I have a few ideas I’d like to share.

First off, tune out. Really. Turn off the news, shut off Facebook and Twitter, silence your phone, and go outside. Look around. Things are melting; streams are burbling pleasantly; birds are singing; and, miracle of miracles, the sun has continued to rise every single day.

Love your partner, love your children, your parents, and your animal companions. Sit quietly on the couch and just breathe. Water your houseplants. Do some laundry or vacuum. Spring is starting on March 21.

Dust off your bicycle and put away the snowshoes. Go to your job and be nice to your co-workers. Wave to people as you’re out and about (practice the Altamont Wave). Smile at people, pet strange dogs, say hi to squirrels, and enjoy the fact that you’re alive and functional.

Remember that most people want the same things: A safe place to live, enough food, a decent job, good schools for their kids, a clean world to live in, and maybe a little money in the bank.

Many of us in Altamont are fortunate in that we have many of our basic needs met. Not everyone, to be sure, but many of us are doing OK thanks to work, luck, and maybe karma. In other words, each day it’s probably a good idea to focus on what’s working in your life as opposed to what’s wrong in the world. I’m not saying to ignore things, maybe just give yourself a break on a regular basis.

Back in the 1960s, one of the more famous slogans was, “Make love, not war.” It’s still true today.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you might be on, it’s probably time to start thinking long-term and big-picture. We’re a little planet in a big universe and just a single country among many others. We have limited resources and not terribly long lives, so maybe it’s time to put the nonsense aside and focus on getting along and enjoying life.

I’m all in favor of fighting for what you believe in. But remember the old saying: Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is focused on petting animals and looking for sunshine these days when he’s not ranting and raving periodically. The cats just prefer he keeps up with the ear scratching and feeding. They couldn’t care less about politics. Smart animals, those cats.

Location:

About two years ago, maybe a bit longer, I began to hear about the tiny-house movement. No, it’s not about living in the Barbie Dream House, but you’re closer to the truth than you think. The idea was that people, fed up with high mortgage payments, loads of possessions, and a high cost of living, would shed their huge houses for a tiny alternative, many of which they built themselves.

There were articles; websites; and then, after a time, TV shows about building, buying, and living in tiny houses. Now, keep in mind that most people define a tiny house as having 400 to 500 square feet of living space.

In 1978, the average American home was 1,780 square feet and, in 2013, it was 2,662 square feet, despite the shrinking of the average size of the American family. One other detail to keep in your mind: The last state room my wife and I had on a cruise ship was under 200 square feet and that included a full bathroom, queen bed, and an ocean view.

Many of the hallmarks of tiny houses are almost nautical, in that, like the accommodations on boats, every square inch of space is used in as efficient a manner as possible. Storage is found in every nook and cranny, large appliances are avoided, and many accommodations are made that most of us would find tough to live with (folding furniture, loft sleeping, one room).

And the folks in these shows and documentaries all say the same things: They want lower costs; simpler lives; fewer possessions; and a focus on experience and living life, as opposed to working non-stop to afford stuff.

You might peg these folks as crunchy-granola, left-wing, hippie folks who love kale and run vegan restaurants on the side, and, in some cases, that might be true. But mostly they just want lower bills and fewer things cluttering their lives.

I have no problem with those goals and, in light of our current economy and world situation, they seem quite sane. But, alas, the forces of capitalism have invaded and kind of hijacked the tiny-house movement.

Now a tiny house can be bought just like a regular house complete with custom finishes, multiple sizes, all sorts of gizmos and at a price that is no longer any great bargain. Many early tiny-house people were able to build or have built a livable structure under $20,000, but now you can easily spend triple that.

I even saw one model that opened at the touch of a button like the pop-out on a big travel trailer. This is not your mother’s tiny house.

Some of the shows follow people who have their houses built by “tiny house experts” but, from what I saw, the experts were just greedy carpenters who had glommed onto a new market. One guy was quoting prices so high I swear he was salivating on camera.

Now, the thing is that, while a new house for many people can cost anywhere from $275,000 to $750,000 depending on size and locale, one could look at a tiny house at $60,000 as a bargain. Well, I don’t see the bargain when one features a single tiny bathroom, many times with a composting toilet and maybe a total of 400 square feet of living space and the other features many bathrooms and 2,000 to 5,000 square feet of living space.

Some people have suggested the tiny-house people are too extreme and most Americans could never downsize that much. That might be so, but what I think we really need is a small-house movement.

What if you could buy or build a 750- to 1,000-square-foot house that featured good-quality materials, energy-saving features, and decent-quality workmanship for maybe $75,000 to $150,000 depending on size and locale?

I’m talking about a house like our parents and grandparents would have lived in. I’m talking about kitchens that don’t feature granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. Bathrooms that have sinks that look like sinks and not modern art. And houses that are built in clusters or on large lots for the sake of green space and privacy (pick your preference).

Tiny houses will never be the norm in this country but they certainly point in a positive direction. Now, if we could just get things out of the hands of the money-grubbing marketers and greedy developers and into the hands of people interested in serving the people as well as the planet, we might have something.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg notes that he and his family live in half of an 1880s-era house in the village of Altamont. They rent out the other half to a tenant. There are no granite countertops in either apartment.

Location:

Pages