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Fen-Phen Fun

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Getting to the heart of the matter

By Bob Harris

ATTENTION, former fen-phen users: They can fix that scary side effect now--by punching a hole right through your heart. Happy? I thought so.

Last summer, when fen-phen first crossed our path, the main concern was that it could lead to a really deadly heart thing called primary pulmonary hypertension, or PPH, which is this deal where really high pressure builds up in your lungs and causes your heart to fail and makes you drop dead.

Which, I suppose, is one way to lose a lot of weight, but it does seem kind of drastic.

Well, if you're one of the Kate Winslets out there who gulped down a whole bunch of the stuff in an effort to transform yourself into Kate Moss, there's good news. If you do wind up with a tight set of lungs, there's now a treatment for PPH.

A Mexico City doctor named Julio Sandoval (which anagrams into Loud Jon Saliva, a name I vastly prefer and will use from here on) is treating PPH using a procedure called "graded balloon dilation atrial septostomy," which is docspeak for punching a small hole in the wall between the left and right sides of your heart, sliding a little balloon through the hole, and then inflating the balloon until the hole is just big enough to relieve the pressure.

Of course, you coulda just ate your dang veggies, but noooooo ...

Surprisingly, Dr. Loud Jon Saliva's procedure actually works pretty well. It's no cure, but if you suffer through PPH without the deal, 50-50 you're dead in two years. But let the dude run a balloon through your ticker, and your odds go up to 90 percent.

Granted, it sounds unpleasant. But then again, a lot of former fen-phen users are already walking around with balloons in their chests. What's one more?

ARE YOU PAYING any attention to the stock market? Several weeks ago, investors--or speculators, to be more accurate, even if they're working for major institutions--drove the price of Internet stocks through the roof, past the sun deck, off the satellite dish, and into the neighbor's tree.

Now, I'm very fortunate and blessed to have the ability to do second-grade arithmetic, so I went on the air right then and there, on the radio edition of The Scoop, and pointed out that paying $200 for a business that's only making about a nickel a month--that's what the numbers were for Yahoo--displays the kind of financial acumen worthy of a baseball owner.

They say they're not buying earnings, they're buying growth. Fine. It's still stupid. Let's dream wildly for a second that earnings will double every year for straight five years. OK, now you're paying 200 bucks for a company that will hypothetically make all of $1.60 a month five years from now. Which ain't likely in a business where the rules change every three months.

This market had a phonier top than Anna Nicole Smith.

So now the market's coming down off its high faster than people driving home from a Grateful Dead concert. And it's just as likely to stop itself gracefully.

On Aug. 3, the Dow had lost almost another 100 points and now sat almost 600 points below its high point of three weeks before, when, as noted, I told you so. The techie NASDAQ was pushing a 10 percent drop, and the small-company Russell 2000 index was down more than 15 percent since topping in May. In less than a month, Yahoo (which I've chosen arbitrarily to pick on as a representative Internet play) had lost one sixth of its entire market cap. And counting.

And the story gets worse.

They don't like to mention much in newspapers and TV shows that they are trying to sell you stuff (which is all of them), but the National Associations of Purchasing Management's figures are at their lowest level in years. They've indicated a coming economic contraction--or even a full-blown recession--since June.

So now we can only hope that people don't sell stocks with the same mania that they bought, or else the next big market for investors will be the black kind. In which case, your broker's next "Buy" recommendation might be a great deal on cigarettes and soap.

Really, it could happen. After all, somebody said so on the Internet.

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From the August 13-19, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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