Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paper products

We use cloth napkins. Always. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. Generally, they are finger towels of terry cloth, absorbent, big enough to wipe your hands and face on, and easily washable. No ironing. We have dozens of them.

When we have fancy guests we use linen, generally monogramed, hand hemmed, double damask, sixteen-by-sixteen-inch napkins my great-grandmother made shortly after her marriage in 1869. We have 16 of them because that’s what the Victorians had. (We also had my great-grandparents’ fruit set - six silver forks and six knives with pearl handles - but we gave them to my niece who values family heirlooms. Or maybe that’s my sister projecting on to my niece. I’m not really sure.)

We also have a lot of other linen napkins and table cloths that we use when we have guests. For ourselves, we use teflon coated table cloths that resist stains. Water and wine bead up on them. We have a friend who always knocks over a glass of red wine, so we use the teflon table cloths when he and his wife come for dinner.

Usually, when we go to other people’s houses, we end up with paper napkins. These range from little flimsies to paper towels to the really nice - and expensive - paper. Paper is fine with us. We don’t complain at all.

But I think we might be a little greener using cloth than if we used paper. I’m not sure. It may be just habit.

What I do know is that five per cent of all trees used for paper goes to paper products like toilet paper, tissues (a.k.a. Kleenex), and napkins. That seems a lot to me. And it ends up being a lot in landfills, cesspools, and sewage disposal plants. At least it’s bio-degradable.

We use tissues without a thought of being green. I used to carry a handkerchief, and it didn’t take long to figure out that I could use two or three a day because of my allergies. And then I could never get my glasses clean when I wiped them. Go figure.

We also use paper towels, although hardly with abandon. We use the tissues and towels, which I realize that despite being biodegradable contribute to the landfill problems, because they are more sanitary.

I can throw out a tissue instead of carrying the handkerchief germs around with me in my back pocket all day. I can spray disinfectant on a counter after working with chicken, for example, wipe it up with a paper towel, and not worry about cross contamination.

And everybody, I hope, uses toilet paper (enough said).

I can’t even begin to speak to disposable diapers. When our son was born we used both cloth and disposable. I hated changing poop-y diapers. It made me gag. I got over it. That has nothing to do with paper v. cloth however.

Is thee a point to this? Probably. Do I know what it is? Probably not.

As always I invite you to comment below.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today is Ann's birthday. I can't say how old she is, but she's not old enough for Medicare yet.

Shower her with greetings by commenting below, and I'll pass them on.

Sound Bites

Too many ideas in the public discourse have become reduced to slogans and sound bites. That leaves no room for any kind of thoughtful discussion. When thought ceases we are left with heat rather than light. Whose fault that is becomes a matter of discussion, one, no doubt, that would produce, ironically, more heat than light and yet another series of sound bites.

Instant communications coupled with ratings is one of the big problems. Too often the media, particularly the twenty-four hour news stations, in an effort to bring in ratings - which translate at advertising dollars - spot a breaking story and then recycle ad nauseam the most sensational conflicts and events rather than truly investigate in depth.

I can cite multiple examples of this although my list is somewhat out of date because I refuse to watch any more. Nine-eleven is the most obvious, although Hurricane Katrina and the death of Jon Kennedy Junior also stand out.

The most obvious problem is that we, Bill and Ann Q. Public, accept sound bites and sensationalism. No, we prefer them over in-depth, thoughtful explorations of the events and issues of our day.

Perhaps the most evident recent example is the idea that “Death Panels” will be included in any kind of health insurance reform. What was proposed (and included in Medicare), is counseling for people who are close to dying so they can figure out what to do with their worldly possessions and deal with their survivors and mortality. I don’t see how this is a problem.

I have a will, a durable power of attorney for property, a durable power of attorney for health care, and a living will. The living will is a statement that says I do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means, and shows intent but has very little legal force. The durable power of attorney for health care has more force and will allow Ann to pull the plug if necessary. She should not feel guilty because I am compelling her to do that.

Oregon and the Netherlands have assisted suicide laws and I think this is what more what the former vice presidential candidate had in mind in her anti-health insurance rants lately. I personally do not have a problem with assisted suicide in terminal cases.

My father and I had such a pact. When he was on his death bed, and my brother-in-law called to tell me to get my ass from the Chicago area to Manchester, TN, I deliberately packed my stash of sleeping pills. I would give them to him. He would take them. He would die in peace and not extend his suffering. That is probably a simple-minded explanation of our plan, but that was the plan. I could live with that.

My father died in hospital shortly before we landed at the Nashville airport and I did not have to put my plan into action. I am relieved, obviously that I did not have to help him die. It would have caused me great pain to implement it, but I would have done it out of love for him.

I have mentioned to un-named people that I want the same kind of treatment if I am terminal. There is no reason to put my loved ones’ lives on hold while they watch me die. There is no reason to spend everything my wife and I have accumulated on ineffective treatment for me. There should be something left for Ann to live on afterwards.

That’s seems to me to be common sense and abiding love. Others probably see it as selfishness and believe I should experience as much suffering as life, or God, or the Supreme Consciousness chooses to grant me.

I disagree.

Another hot button issue is abortion. I do not believe I have the right to tell anyone else what to do with their body - unless it affects me. I.E. Stop peeing on my foot. Do not punch me in the nose.

I cannot tell any woman that she should keep a baby she does not want. Many people feel otherwise, and I suggest they adopt whatever unwanted/ unplanned/ whatever babies are born and pay the mother’s costs, and finance reconstructive surgery to reduce stretch marks etc.

Daniel was our only child for a variety of reasons, and we never had to make the decision to abort. I am thankful we never had to make that choice. But if we had, it would have been our choice, particularly Ann’s choice. And not open to judgment from anyone else.

Another example of hot button issues that the media whore themselves out about is health care.

Yet they never talk about health care: rather, they flog the idea of health insurance, which turns out to be gate-keeping. Whom do we let in to our private club? Once in, whom do we allow full privileges?

The people who purportedly provide insurance do not provide health care, and too often they do not provide clear health insurance. I read the other day (and I should cite a source, so it was probably a recent Chicago Tribune or Newsweek, but who knows, I read cereal boxes too) about a man who had a mini stroke. He went immediately to the emergency room. They diagnosed it as a TIA (a transient ischemic attack, an episode with stroke-like symptoms which lasts for less than 24 hours). His insurance refused to pay the several thousand dollars of costs.

The symptoms of a full-blown stroke are identical. If he had not gone to the emergency room and it had turned out to be a full stroke, he would probably have been permanently damaged or dead. At the time of the attack it is impossible to tell the difference. The insurance company (which takes approximately 30 % of your payment for overhead and profits to shareholders) doesn’t care. They look for any and every way not to shell out a cent. The CEO of my insurance company received remuneration in 2007 of $12 million. No doubt a lot of that came from denying people coverage for problems that seem to be - or were -life-threatening. His insurance refused to pay. And they will probably refuse to pay if he has a stroke because he now has a pre-existing condition.

The media reduces this to slogans like “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” and “Bill proposes Death Panels.”

The United States has become so polarized that we can no longer have civil discussion. Perhaps the problem is that we are a nation raised on sound bites, beginning with the way we teach kids by setting them in front of the flickering blue baby sitter and turning on Sesame Street.

We have become too lazy to think for ourselves, in part. We have allowed labels to define us - and others! - instead of sifting through information and coming to a clear, reasoned decision.

Is there an answer? Probably. Do I know what it is? Probably not.

Please feel free as always to comment by clicking comment below.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Natural Consequences

I believe in natural consequences. They are akin to Newton's Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

When Daniel, our son, was little, we employed natural consequences. We told him what would happen if he disobeyed. He could choose to disobey and take a punishment - or not disobey. It was pretty easy, and we tried to make the consequences fair and 'organic.' They evolved directly from whatever he was doing. And sometimes the consequence, my reaction if you will, was that he made his father angry and his father shouted at him.

Today I live with natural consequences for a lot of the things I do. If I chose not to pay my income taxes I would get a fine, probably have to pay the taxes anyway, and get a jail term. If I failed to pay my property taxes, my house could be sold out from under me. If I didn't pay my mortgage I would eventually lose my house and perhaps be homeless. All these are natural consequences of a personal level.

We experience consequences in larger areas of life, too.

For instance, Joe Wilson, Republican congressperson from S.C. yelled, "You lie" at President Obama during his speech to a join session of Congress. One of the consequences for Wilson was that Wilson's constituency reacted. His Democratic opponent for Congress, former Marine Rob Miller, raised over $100,000 in the two days following Wilson's outburst. That could well put Miller in office although the race is not over for a couple of months and lots can happen. But the money Miller's campaign raised is Wilson's loss, and a good example of natural consequences.

On a more somber note, eight years ago today, Al Qaeda, financed largely by Saudi Arabians who somehow remain our tight buddies, flew three airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center twin towers. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, due largely to the bravery of the passengers who refused to let the hijackers take total control.

We have seen some of the consequences of September eleventh, 2001, but they aren't necessarily the consequences that we would prefer.

We sent troops to Afghanistan to find and bring to justice (whatever that means) the members of Al Qaeda, particularly Osama bin Laden hiding there. In that we have pretty much failed. We got sidetracked with the War on Terror in Iraq and seemed to forget about bin Laden.

However, natural consequences prevail. Unfortunately so does the Law of Unintended Consequences. We got bogged down in Iraq and remain there. For a while we sent in a Surge of troops and things got better, but as we have started to withdraw troops, more and more, anarchy prevails and the civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites has started up again.

Afghanistan is another question entirely. Between twenty and thirty years ago, approximately, it was Russia's metaphoric Viet Nam, a war the Soviets fought and had trouble extricating themselves from; a war they became bogged down in, just as we had in Viet Nam. We financed the Taliban to defeat the Soviets. Then we allowed the Taliban to take over and they encouraged Al Qaeda to set up shop, with consequences we are still facing - and faced on September 11th , 2001.

One of the consequences of our involvement in the affairs of other nations is that we unfortunately seem to choose the wrong side. For instance, we led a coup against the Marxist, socialist, democratically elected president Salvador Allende in Chile and installed in his place a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet soon became dictator and over 80,000 people were killed or imprisoned.

This is not the kind of record the United States necessarily wants, but it is the one we have because we seem not to consider all aspects - and consequences - of our actions.

Be that as it may, one of the consequences of September eleventh is that we commemorate it each year. If we thought about it long enough, we could probably discover that it was an unintended consequence of a different action, one we had no idea would follow. But at this point that doesn't matter as long as we aren't condemned to repeat that history. Today we remember the victims.

The people who died and were injured on that date faced consequences far beyond their ken. That does not make them any less significant, however.

We need to remember them today. And I think it's a good idea to remember them when it's not the anniversary of this horrible, tragic event. Each time we make a decision, we need to weigh its consequences, and think about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Perhaps we can do that more easily if we think about Newton's Third Law.