Monday, March 30, 2009

Resource Conundrum

I’m beginning to think that medical science has gone too far, that we live too long.

This has to do with two things: the state of the economy and my knees.

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees, which makes it painful to walk, to run (hah! I haven’t run in years), even to sit quietly in a confined space like a car or my seat at the opera. But this is NOT an organ recital, nor is it going to be.

Too often, it seems to me, our culture uses our finite resources as if they were infinite. We save people who should not necessarily be saved, and who, in past generations, would have died. We fund those who have been flooded out to rebuild on flood plains. The definition of insanity that I have come to love is the act of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That is where we waste our resources, doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.

My father, who grew up with asthma from the thick air of coal mines and coal furnaces near Pittsburgh, started smoking young and smoked until he was retired when he quit, miraculously, cold turkey. (What the hell does ‘cold turkey’ mean, anyway?) That didn’t preclude him from getting emphysema, and in his eighties he talked wistfully about getting a heart-lung transplant.

I loved him dearly, and I still miss him, but that would have been a terrible and selfish use of our resources.

My mother, on the other hand, gave up smoking but always resumed it when she could. Even when she developed emphysema and was housebound - at least in that she no longer drove and sources of cigarettes were too far for her to walk - continued to smoke. While she sat at the dining room table with her oxygen on. I still don’t know who bought her cigarettes although I assume it was the cleaning lady. (Is housekeeper the acceptable term now? I can’t keep up with politically correct B.S. these days.)

My mother lived in Tennessee a few blocks from my sister, while I lived - and continue to live - near Chicago. I told my sister that if she ever figured out who bought the cigarettes for my mom to tell them they could sit with her in the burn unit and listen to her agony. It never came to that, thank God. That behavior, combined with her increasing vagueness impelled us to move her to assisted living. But that’s off the point.

My very unpopular view is that we throw much too much money towards the unsolvable. Perhaps the octomom (I never thought I’d comment on her) is a prime example of the extravagance of our resources. She already had six kids, two of whom apparently, are disabled. We spend far more of our education resources (probably two to three times as much) on some of the the disabled than we do for gifted or “average” kids. It would be more wasteful only if we rebuilt her house on a wetland that floods consistently and requires constant rebuilding. And now that she has these children, we cannot punish them for her judgment.

[I’m not even sure what words we can use these days for those who are mentally challenged without being politically incorrect (I was astounded to be chastised for using the word Oriental, which I grew up with, instead of Asian. Have we gotten so pseudo-compassionate that we can no longer think? Of course, a lot of us don’t bother to think in any event.)]

Those of us with physical disabilities require more of our resources too. However, the mentally gifted and those of average intelligence are the ones who are productive citizens, the ones who make scientific and medical breakthroughs, the ones who keep our economy going so we can continue to live at the standard to which we have become accustomed.

I am not advocating that we ignore the disabled. . Especially since my knees have begun to bother me. All human beings require love and whatever resources we can afford to give them. We need to become fully human by extending our compassion to people who need it. But I am suggesting that we need to be more discriminating about whom we shower with our resources.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Opera Madness

I went to my last opera of the season last night. Actually, it was two, neither of which had I seen before.

Last night's were Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. They were really bleak with a lot of lovers getting killed by jealous husbands. But the music was absolutely enthralling. They were sung in Italian with English super titles, which means the words are projected on a screen at the top of the proscenium.

Last week was Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, which was not at all bleak, and was kind of funny to hear the harem girls singing in German.

Ann doesn't like opera enough to pay the price for tickets, but I have wonderful seat mates, or at least I had. The seats to my left are not subscribed so I get a variety of people there, although at the last two operas no one sat next to me so I had a little room to spread out. The seats to my right are occupied by two solo women, Linda, whose husband doesn't come to the performances, and Joan on the aisle, who is not married. Joan told me she is not going to subscribe next year. She has some good reasons, and I understand. But I am going to miss chatting with her.

The people who sit behind me, Gary and Marianne, and their friend Judy, are wonderful. We meet for dinner before the opera, and Ann joins us then goes home. Gary and I went to the same high school, but he graduated with my sister. He's a lot younger than I am.

I have had subscriptions to the Lyric Opera for several years off and on. When Ann and I started going to the opera, we got nosebleed seats and watching the production was like looking at the Grand Canyon from an airplane 35,000 feet in the air. We could hear wonderfully because the acoustics are great. We took a hiatus for a while and then ended up in the first balcony for a couple years' subscriptions.

That was a trip because of the people around us. We were on the aisle. The third seat was occupied by the Mentholatum Queen. She arrived for every performance in a haze of Mentholatum, which made my nose run. The more I blew my nose, the more Mentholatum she applied. Ann and I traded seats at the intermissions, and by the time the opera was finished we both had clear sinuses.

The people who sat behind us were intense opera buffs. The Lyric is noted not for its standing ovations, but for its "Walking Ovations" which occur at the end of each act or performance as people try to rush out to be the first in line for the toilets at the intermissions or the taxi cabs at the finish.

Mr. Intense Opera Buff took great delight at yelling Bravo! or Brava! in our ears. And he took great offense at the Walking O and invariably screamed something about staying for the curtain calls. "Have respect for the singers!" he would shout.

We didn't rush out because we drove downtown and had no need to sprint home. Maybe if we had, our hearing would be intact. We parked once with valet parking at a vacant lot, now an opulent office building, across the street from the Lyric. When we returned to our car one evening, all the attendants had left - with keys in each car. We were driving a Saturn at the time, but there were a lot of Beemers and Benzes ripe for the stealing.

These days I take the train. And occasionally I have to rush out to catch the 11:20 at the Metra Station. If I miss it, I have to wait until the 12:50, which gets me home around 2 a. m. And I'm not particularly interested in spending an hour or so in the Metra Station, especially at that time of the morning.

Last night I took my time leaving because I said good bye to my seat mates for the summer. I watched the Walking O in the dark, the patrons tripping and dropping things and returning to pick them up. I waited until the curtain call was over and the house lights came up. I put my opera glasses away and left with the majority of the crowd. Outside I noticed the block-long lines of people waiting for taxis. I crossed the street, lifted an arm, and a cab stopped immediately. The driver sped - literally up to 50 m.p.h. - and slammed on his brakes at stop lights, but he got me to the Metra station in one piece. I arrived about five minutes before boarding.

I feel a little guilty about hailing a taxi out of line. I fear that others will emulate my technique, and I'll eventually be out of luck and have to walk to the Randolph Street Station. I've done it in the past, and it's probably good for me. Guilt is generally a wasted emotion, however, so I shrug it off. I do what I have to do, and I haven't missed a train yet.

I will miss the opera, however. I lose myself in the music and the stories - despite the bleakness of some of them. The opera is a social occasion as well as entertainment for me. But I'll be back next year.

For now, however, La commedia รจ finita!

As always, feel free to comment below.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Big Lie

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was on the tube yesterday spreading fear that Obama Administration policies leave us unprotected. Sounds like the recent presidential campaign again, doesn't it?

"There is no prospect" that Iraq will return to producing weapons of mass destruction or supporting terrorists, Cheney asserted, "as long as it's a democratically governed country, as long as they have got the security forces they do now and a relationship with the United States." This from yesterday’s State of the Union on CNN.

What former Vice President Cheney, who hid from the press and voters for the entire eight years he was in office, didn’t mention, however, is that Iraq was NOT a haven for terrorists until the Bush-Cheney administration invaded, and NO weapons of mass destruction were found. He also failed to mention the fact that Saddam Hussein had turned into a pathetic despot who spent his time writing romance novels.

And Cheney failed to mention the millions he received from Halliburton stock, which had a year to date high - right before Cheney left office, believe it or not - of $55.38. Now that the stock market is crashed, Halliburton is selling at just under $16. No wonder he’s lashing out.

Cheney, like Rush Limbaugh, is the master of the Big Lie. He said, according to the AP, that all the Republican administrations goals in Iraq were accomplished and that they kept the country safe from another terrorist attack: "I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles," he said.

"President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack."

Here’s what Cheney also failed to mention: Osama Bin Laden’s goal was to bring the United States to its knees financially. Osama Bin Laden has accomplished that goal. He doesn’t need further terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center because the billions and billions of dollars that the Bush administration spent waging war on Iraq accomplished that without further attacks. The Bush administration gave away suitcases full of American cash out to Iraqis without any kind of oversight.

Lack of oversight. Does that ring a bell? Oh, yeah. The sub prime lending crisis.

Cheney lies to us outright when he says [Bush Administration War Policy] “was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.” First, Cheney in effect created a fourth branch of government with his vice presidency. He said his office is not a part of the executive branch of US Government, and then flouted the Constitution in the name of executive privilege.

Second, Cheney decided the executive branch could do whatever it wanted and created, as George W. Bush’s puppet master, executive orders and presidential signing statements that put laws into effect while at the same time nullifying them. For example, according to the Boston Globe (Jan. 4, 2006), when Bush signed “the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.

“After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a 'signing statement' -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.”

Constitutional? I don’t think so, but I’m not an expert. However, “Elisa Massimino, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, called Bush's signing statement an 'in-your-face affront’ to both McCain and to Congress.

''’The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch,’ she said.

“'Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it's being told through the signing statement that it's impotent. It's quite a radical view.’"

CNN is doing a good job of creating conflict, which the network needs to promote its television shows.

I wonder, however, at the wisdom of having a failed politician (in the very worst sense of the word) spout hatred when we already have so many solutions to find.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An old complaint

I’m tired. I’m really tired.

There are a couple of reasons. We moved my daughter Shannon’s stuff out of her boyfriend’s, make that ex-boyfriend’s, home on Friday. Yesterday my son Derek and his girlfriend JoAnn visited from Denver. I love Shannon and Derek dearly (and I think JoAnn is terrific but I’ve only met her twice. So far so good). Those two events made me tired, but a good tired.

The main reason I’m tired, however, is the #%&@ing time change. For me, I don’t go to bed at the normal time. I go an hour later. Last night I read until about one, and then slept like a baby until 8:30. That of course is midnight and a pretty normal 7:30 on “God’s Time.” We go through this madness twice a year, but we seldom consider its consequences:

Pedestrians are three times as likely to be hit on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time goes into effect.

Car accidents of all sorts spike seven percent the Monday after Daylight Savings Time goes into effect.

Heart attacks, which spike on Monday mornings in any event, see a dramatic five percent increase over “normal” Mondays the day after Daylight Savings Time goes into effect.

Those are sobering statistics (which I derived from official-looking websites and may or may not be true). Advocates say that we save energy by not having to turn on lights in the evening. That was possibly true forty years ago, but today, with video games, television, computers, and other electronics, in addition to widespread central air conditioning during the summer, energy savings seldom occurs.

Anecdotally, there are other reasons not to change the time. School children suffer. (When I was a child in Minnesota, the governor got on the horn every spring and every fall and ranted about why he didn’t want kids waiting on dark streets for school busses, that it was too dangerous. No doubt he had a point.) But when I taught, it took a good two weeks in the spring for kids to adjust to the time change. It took another two weeks for them to adjust in the fall. In the meantime their focus was fuzzy, their minds mushy, and their retention of information and skills I was trying to teach much lower than the rest of the school year.

Spring particularly is an important time in most schools because that’s when the mandatory state tests occur. Kids who are already fuzzy or mushy don’t test well. (The idea of the tests is pretty ridiculous, but I’ve covered that in other blog entries.)

And even if there weren’t tests, in the spring teachers already compete with the weather if it’s nice and cabin fever if it isn’t. Adding one more stressor is not wise policy.

Is there a solution? Of course. I’ve suggested it before: Spit the difference. In November, let’s “fall back” half an hour and then never change the time again.

The alternative solution is not to change the time at all. Ever. Schools and businesses can change their hours if they want their workers and students to have more daylight to play in.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to take a nap.

Please feel free to comment below.

Monday, March 2, 2009

25 Random Pieces of "Wisdom"

Twenty-five random things I’ve learned over the years.

1. As an English teacher I learned - and tried to teach - the difference between your and you’re, its and it’s, there, their, and they’re, to, two and too.

2. Most people (and dogs) can be trained, but few truly are educated.

3. Even dogs respond to the difference between lay and lie.

4. If I don’t do something now, and if I wait long enough, I usually don’t have to do it. Either someone else picks up the slack or few people notice and it seldom matters.

5. It’s (see, I know how to use it’s) easier to get forgiveness than permission in most cases.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it isn’t all small stuff; some thing really do matter.

7. Semicolons are pretentious.

8. I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten and anyone who thinks they did is pretty stupid.

9. Life is one long journey of learning.

10. Love comes in a lot of forms and it’s all good.

11. But what too often passes for love is not always good.

12. Too many people live by rules instead of thinking for themselves. Focus on what’s right and true, not what some rule says: that is, think independently.

13. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” is pure platitudinal nonsense. If that were true, there would be no one in mental institutions, no one in homeless shelters, and thousands of Congolese women would not face serial rape by the soldiers charged with protecting them.

14. We don’t get to choose our parents or our race or our nationality or our sexual identity, and any kind of prejudice is silly because who we are is an accident of birth.

15. I did get to choose a lot of my family, and some of them chose me: certainly my wife, grandkids, son and daughter, sister, and cousins. It’s great to have that much love.

16. Exercise is much easier to fantasize about than participate in. Damn!

17. You have to retire to something rather than from a job.

18. Cutlery and napkins are your friends.

19. I don’t worry about the weather because I have no control over it. The weather has no moral value: it just is. Thus it cannot be good or bad, merely comfortable or uncomfortable, violent or calm, and so on.

20. A lot of life is like the weather.

21. A lot of what I forget isn’t important enough to remember.

22. Guilt is usually a wasted emotion.

23. I cannot be anything I set my heart and mind to, despite the claims of certain platitudinous soothsayers.

24. Most of the things I worry about don’t happen, but the things I never foresaw blindside me. I worried about my son driving, and I never considered Daniel would be killed falling off a roof.

25. It's all right to dislike someone or something, and no one else has the right to tell you you're wrong.

Thoughts? Comment below: