Mississippi Chris Sharp

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THE CHRONIC DIARIES VOL I , THE CHRONIC DIARIES VOL II, and THE CHRONIC DIARIES VOL III, a record of this personal journey through cancer (and LIFE) are PDF files that can be downloaded from the above links. (Right-click on the link to download it.) You will need ADOBE READER to view these files. If something you earlier read here is gone, it is now in one of the volumes above. The rest of what you see here is published in reverse order for the convenience of my regular readers.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in October of 2008. Below I write about some of my experiences with this new event in my life. As far as I am able, the facts as they pertain to my CLL are presented here, but they may be occluded behind the cloudy substance of human experience and recollection. If you want to learn more about the clinical mechanisms of CLL and the means by which it is treated, you will not learn much from this blog; I suggest you visit www.clltopics.org, which certainly has been and continues to be a beneficial site for me. There are other sites as well. There is a literal mountain of information for a CLL patient to misinterpret when he is searching the web for information, without any supervision; One can depress himself right to the point of death. Be careful what you read!  Being thus warned, read on at your discretion. My goal here is to inform my near and distant family, friends, and fans, of my status, and to do that in a manner that is hopefully an entertaining read.  If any one feels so inclined, Drop me an e-mail, most particularly if you also have CLL and something you read here was beneficial to you.

Though they are thinly disguised, real people are written about within this blog. If you want to learn how ONE person is thinking about the personal-human experience that is CLL, then read on with the understanding that somewhere between the facts and the experiences I write about herein, lies the truth . . . sometimes sacrificed on the altar of bruised  and jaded perception. The list of things I don't know is very long . . . the list of things I am sure of is getting shorter and shorter. You are welcome if you choose to stay here a while. Be advised that I will write about anything I choose, whether it pertains to CLL or not, since this new life of mine is FILTERED through the experience of cancer; while it is not the focus of my life, it certainly makes one look at life differently. Time is split into two eras: BC (Before Cancer) and AD (After Diagnosis). Thank you for reading this. I hope you can find the time you spend here worthwhile!

 

Everything written here is ©2013 J. Christopher Sharp

 

The Chronic Diaries: Vol. IV

11/8/13 Plagiarism! Again!

That there are plagiarists in Washington is not new, nor is it news unless the plagiarists are from political camps one opposes.

Bill Clinton is an alleged plagiarizer. George W. Bush (43) is an alleged plagiarizer. Hillary Clinton was accused of plagiarizing Bill Clinton (of all things!). Joe Biden was accused of it (OK...he admitted his, crediting “youthful mistakes”) President Obama was accused of plagiarizing former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Now, Senator Rand Paul is accused of various and sundry plagiarisms. There will be others. One can be a plagiarist and still continue to be promoted in public office. The people's memories are short and what politicians say is seldom remembered for more than a few years. We expect to hear untruths. Why should we be indignant when we get a bit of plagiarism sprinkled about to spice up our rhetoric diet?

My verdict: I suspect they are all guilty. I suspect we are all guilty. We read and hear so much, being constantly bombarded with the wit and wisdom of every pundit, right and left, and every “expert” who has ever written a book, no matter how bad, on every subject, no matter how unworthy. We don't live in a vacuum. Few of us have completely original thoughts and if we did, the words of others have made an indelible stamp. If I am lucky, someone will plagiarize this in just a day or two.

Rand Paul is the latest of the bad form plagiarists. He whiningly blames his speechwriters (Why do Senators have speech writers? Why does anyone have speechwriters?). He says, like Al Haig, “Mistakes were made.” Or did he really say that? If taking the words of others as ones own is plagiarism, what do you call projecting your own words into the mouths of others? Whimsicalism? Justfoolinism? Fraterinventionism? He then goes on to threaten to quit politics, saying, "If you don't stop I'm taking my toys and going home to practice opthalmology." Oops! Another justfoolinism. I'd rather have Paul's plagiarism than his diversionism. Seemingly, he says it's the media's fault that I have lost quite a bit of respect for him. He has himself to blame for that. Rand....get rid of your speechwriters! Don't hire new ones, either. In the long run, I think I respect him no less than the aforementioned politicians, but certainly less than I did. Perhaps because his plagiarism and the way he has handled its revelation reveals a vacuousness I had not noticed before.

"Mistakes were made," said Al Haig.

"Mistakes were made," said Joe Biden.

"Mistakes were made," says Rand Paul.

"I did not have plagiarism with that woman," said Bill Clinton. OK! He didn't say that. I couldn't resist another justfoolinism.

And while there are many things I might accuse Hillary Clinton of, plagiarizing her husband of 38 years is not one of them. Which of them knows where their own thoughts stop and their spouse's begins? OK. Bill has clearly had some thoughts that were not Hillary's. And Hillary may have wondered what Bill was up to as Bill was wondering if Hillary was wondering what he was up to, but that is very nearly the same thought. My own wife has planted so many ideas in my head over the last 33 years, most of them good ones, I suspect every idea I have that you also think is a good one actually came from her. If I credited her on everything I'd sound like Jimmy Carter, who regularly gave credit for ideas and national policy decisions to Rosalyn, Miss Lillian, Ruth Carter Stapleton, and Amy. AMY!!! Maybe he should have listened to Brother Billy.

"Jimmy, you a momma's boy. You oughta kick those Eye-raineeyun's asses. That place has gone to hell over there ever since they up and run that Shaw off," observed Billy, eating boiled peanuts as he chugged a few not-quite-cold Billy Beers (I still have an unopened can!) at his Plains service station on a hot South-Georgia summer day.

"Well, at least I've never plagiarized," replied Jimmy.

"Naw. And, you don't never say nothin' worth hearin', neither. Always quotin' Momma like somebody somewhere besides here gives a rat's butt about what Momma thinks about anything, and you, the President of these here United States," said Billy in disgust, raising his hand to whomp Jimmy a good one until he saw about fifteen Secret Service agents draw their pistols. He promptly lowered his hand.

"I'm afraid you can't bully me anymore, Billy," said Jimmy.

"Afraid is right. Shut up and have a beer. Y'all boys all put t'em guns up and have a beer, too," said Billy, pointing to the ice chest with the Billy Beers submerged in the tepid water, "And some peanuts."

The reader may decide for himself if that was truthful or another justfoolinism. 

I often wonder about the news media itself, a marvel of multiple plagiarisms. Have you ever wondered why something becomes a news media topic all of a sudden, and a Google search turns up even major news outlets with a string of articles on the suddenly hot topic that all look suspiciously the same while also wondering why there are no credits? Ahhh! The work of publicists, public relations consultants, and the magic of press releases. Some publicists even freelance as speechwriters.

Many times, newspapers, trade magazines, online magazines, and blogs pick up press releases and run then exactly as written, especially on a slow news day when they must have copy to fill pages otherwise devoid of content. I seldom see credits or see sources footnoted...I just see the copy. Not only is this plagiarism, it is the worst kind, since it is plagiarism that never gets to the truth of the matter, but reveals only what paid publicists want revealed. Typically these types of press releases reveal nothing because diversion and concealment are their very purpose.

At the very least, I'd like a little truth with my plagiarism, please. It is so bland without it.

So that I will not be accused of plagiarism, I will offer the following credits for this brief  editorial:

1.      Gautier Elementary School, Gautier, Mississippi (I learned to read and write there. Many of the words I used I got from various teachers and textbooks.)

2.      Mrs. Gambil, my first grade teacher

3.      Mrs. Myers,  my second grade teacher

4.      Mrs. Gibson, my third grade teacher

5.      The rest of my teachers

6.      The Oxford English Dictionary

7.      Mrs. Poole, my 8th grade English teacher who gave me a big fat zero on a book report and promptly introduced me to the word “plagiarism” by way of accusing me of plagiarizing from Cliff's Notes rather than having actually read Tom Sawyer. (How did she know?)

8.      I learned about the alleged plagiarisms above from various and sundry sources. I did not just magically know of their alleged plagiarisms. I had to get the news from somewhere...but I have no clue as to where the news originally came from, but cluelessness and the work of others is credited here.

9.      Every writer, producer, newscaster, news analyst, editor, pundit, publisher, whose work I ever read or heard.

10.  Myself, since I frequently borrow previously recycled ideas and rhetoric from myself

11.  My mother

12.  My grandmother

13.  My grandfather

14.  My brother

15.  My wife

16.  Aunt Ann

17.  My nanny, Lela

18.  Unnamed and unknowable others

19.  World Book Encyclopedia

20.  McGuffey's Reader

21.   ___________________ (insert other in blank)

22.  Everyone who ever told me anything that I remembered

23.  Any memory of what someone else may have said that actually informed my opinion

24.  Oh! And history teachers.

25.  Will and Ariel Durant's The History of Civilization

26.  The Weekly Reader

27.  National Geographic

28.  Anything liable to turn up in a Google search on any of the words contained herein

29.  My ghost writers

30.  My editors

31.  et cetera

32.  ad infinitum

33.  in saecula saeculorum

34.  gettum in tedium monotonus

That should cover it. I hope. If not, and the plagiarism accusations begin to fly, then I can take some comfort knowing that history indicates I most likely have not damaged any future political aspirations. To be accused of plagiarism means that someone actually read what you wrote or listened to what you said.

It could be worse.

11/3/13 Things That Matter

Having discovered Google Books and Open Library where out of copyright books are free for download, I seldom buy a new book these days. But Charles Krauthammer's Things That Matter caught my attention. I downloaded the ebook version from Books-a-Milllion since I gave up on Amazon because I've never had an order there be fulfilled without complications. Though downloading a PDF file and reading it on my computer or my tablet is easy, the ebooks and Kindle versions seem to be far more complicated. Once I successfully got Dr. Krauthammer's book downloaded, after several false starts, I discovered I had to activate the ebook reader Alkildo, which I have never used before but was sitting patiently on my tablet waiting for its chance because that is where I happened to find the book sitting on the electronic bookshelf. Now I have one more login and password to remember. This irks me more than a little. I wish I had ordered the hardcover version, as this is a book worthy of a permanent place on an old-fashioned bookshelf.

Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. Now that I am finished, it still speaks to me, my mind sorting through all the things it inspired me to contemplate further. Some the essays caused me to recoil, others are forcing me to examine gaps in my own thinking, and still others were surprising in that it is not always easy to predict what a great thinker may be thinking.

The TV news-show pundits these days make a significant amount of money from the books they hawk on their own shows. Everyone who is in the news who has something to say and speaks to a loyal audience has a book to sell, too. It seems that one of the ways to get TV face time on a news show is to have written a book. Having written a book is no indication that anyone actually has anything worthwhile to say.

I am very fond of my step-father who orders every book that is offered on Fox News. He reads them, or claims to, then brings them to me. While I think Glenn Beck actually has something to say, I have read a couple of his books that were thus furnished. None of them are worthy of a spot on my bookshelf, yet they occupy space there only because it is difficult to throw a book away. I regret that I don't have Things That Matter in a format where it can occupy physical space on one of my many bookshelves and I can permanently retire some books that don't matter.

Much of the material that is in modern news books is so dated as to be irrelevant in just a few months and completely useless to a new reader in just a few years. To have compiled a book that consists of political news columns over the last thirty years and have it be still relevant is a remarkable achievement. Congratulations, Dr. Krauthammer.

There are a few other essay books from political writers based on current news columns  that still I find relevant even though the political operatives have changed more than once. William Saffire's Take My Word For It and P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores are the two that come to mind. The former taught me of the twisted language that politicians can use; the latter still taught me that our government is no worse now that it used to be. Both are still relevant: a remarkable achievement for books based on then-current politics long after the currency has lost much of its value.

Things That Matter will be added to the list. It will lose none of its currency. Following Dr. Krauthammer from his beginnings as a liberal to his ultimate destination as a conservative is fascinating. He is not the first one to make such a journey. Me? I was born a conservative. If there is a gene for it my DNA will prominently display it. I tried as best I could to become a liberal in my college days since that seemed to be what was expected of me, but I failed miserably. It was a terrible time for me because I was young and wanted to please everyone. This is not possible. After I discovered Ayn Rand, I developed enough spine to understand that my thoughts would no longer please many people. I had a mind of my own and I would henceforth use it. Of course, being a young sponge, I absorbed more Ayn Rand than I could legitimately hold on to, and dripping Ayn Rand all over the place was too much for many. It eventually became too much for me as well, though what the sponge absorbed and held still remains. I am thankful to Ayn for the spine. Like Dr. Krauthammer, I too was young once.

I enjoyed reading of his fondness for baseball. I enjoyed what little he presented to us of having to deal with a major disability. I really enjoy the lesson that he persistently achieved in spite of his disability. Lesser men would have quit. To abandon a safe medical practice for the unsure world of the writer is remarkable, but one cannot put a value on having something relevant to say and the ability to say it well. People will always be interested in that and many will trade their money for the wisdom of the thinker.

The good thinkers never tell us what we should think. They simply tell us what they think. And the recorded thoughts of thinking men are valuable to us all, even when their thinking challenges us. Even if we don't agree they force us to develop better arguments or ultimately to abandon our own untenable position. I am thankful for that.

In these days of lost civility in political discourse, when the entire political spectrum vocally mourns that loss while continuing in its own incivility, we have a soft voice of reason. One can hold an opinion that they do not change in the course of debate and not be unreasonable or uncivil. This is a lesson that needs to be learned by many: just because I don't agree does not make me uncivil, it just means that I don't agree. Why should that bother anyone? The illusion that politics is any more uncivil that it has been in former times is as much an illusion as my incivility simply because I am of a different mind.

I particularly took note on Dr. Krauthammer's declared war on the comma. I use far too many. Maybe when he reads this he'll edit it for me and send copy back with every comma he thinks is superfluous removed. I tried purposefully to leave out as many commas as my heart would allow. He will likely think there are still too many.

I also noted his thankfulness for good editors who improved his writing. I did not know they existed. As a writer, I am still young. Dr. Krautmammer was young once too. As we move beyond youngness we discover that life has taught us many things. At least I hope we do. The only wasted life is the one that was lived without learning anything. I have learned a lot; I still am. There is lots yet to learn.

Give us more of those who provoke us to thoughtfulness: those who challenge us by poking holes in those things we misname theories that are merely unsupported hypotheses. And give us more of those who will instantly spot a timidly inserted colon where we normally would have put a comma. Maybe they will like that better.

I doubt it. I suppose I should just use commas like I always do and let the chips fall where they may. I still want to please. That part of my youngness is still with me, though much less so.

We were all young once.

11/1/13 Congratulations, Red Sox

They used to chew tobacco on the baseball field. Now tobacco is taboo. Too bad.

For the first time since childhood, I did not see a single Major League playoff or World Series game. Today the sadness of that strikes me. I seem to have lost interest in the national pastime. I am even sadder that the national pastime is no longer the national pastime. The leisurely pace of a baseball game, its leisure instantly shattered by the crack of the bat or the catcher's throw down to second base, seems to have been eclipsed by football and mixed martial arts. Though I enjoy both the others, I cannot declare that this is an improvement.

The fans enjoyed seeing their Red Sox win the World Series right there in Fenway Park. They have waited a long time to see this at home field. I congratulate the team and their fans though I did not root for them. But rooting for the Cardinals wasn't much good either. I was so uninterested that I never even checked to when when a game was on.

All I can say about it is thanks to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for finishing off what Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa started. Though they are not the only guilty parties, their faces and their names are the ones that come to mind on every thought of modern baseball with the admirable exceptions of the voodoo face of Andy Pettit and the voodoo arm of Mariano Rivera. If those two were ever involved in steroidal scandal, it escaped my attention. If so, please let me keep my illusion.

I suppose baseball will never be what it once was. We are too used to instant gratification which baseball fails to deliver as often as its competitors. For the modern world, baseball is just too slow. The spaces between the action are too long. But never does a bad hot dog taste better than at a baseball game.

I suppose I really started losing interest in baseball when the players substituted chewing gum for chewing tobacco. I loved seeing a pitcher on the mound with the bases empty as he went through his full wind up with a stream of Beech-Nut tracing down his chin. I loved seeing the catcher have to raise his mask to spit the brown juice on the ground near the feet of the batter approaching the batter's box. Because of that, I can only make this connection: about the time major league chewing tobacco was in visible decline, major league steroids were visibly on the rise. The steroids were likely always hovering below the surface, less obvious than the tobacco juice spat upon the ground in front of the camera.

The joy and peace of Camelot was destroyed when King Arthur's evil son/nephew Mordred finally said out loud what everyone already knew. If Roger Clemens had quietly preferred the honest vice of Beech-Nut maybe my Camelot would not have disappeared.

Maybe I should just get on out to the ball park when the season opens next year and have myself a hot dog.

10/31/13 Your Health Care Plan Come January 1

What's it gonna look like? Are you wondering? If so, then you have lots of company. I think we are all wondering, and I think there will be no one unaffected, except for those on Medicaid; the rest of us will feel some impact.

Our President said, during his 2012 re-election campaign, “If you like the health-care plan you have now, you'll be able to keep it. Period.” He said it several times. There are a couple of videos floating around on YouTube that I'm sure he wishes were not there, since they show him saying it over and over again, in different venues, on different dates. Maybe he believed it. Maybe not. Maybe he believed what his own minions (read that as sycophants) that surround him were telling him.

I think it might have been more accurate had he said, “If you like the health-care plan you have now, you will be able to keep it. Asterisk.” While that may have been more accurate, it doesn't yield much of a dividend for a political campaign, does it? There are so many caveats surrounding what one may be able to keep or not keep as their health care plan, the statement the president made was an outright prevarication, which is a kinder yet no less direct way of saying that he lied. Now his minions are turning to the law itself for clarification of what he really meant by saying what he said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it is officially called, or the ACA for short, or Obamacare as it first became somewhat disrespectfully known, but is now being called that even by Valerie Jarrett, the President's most senior adviser, which means that it is perfectly acceptable for me to call it that, too, has specific language that sets the minimum standards for a health insurance policy. Many existing catastrophic policies and “mini-med” policies do not meet those standards, so, by law, they can no longer exist. That means that even though one likes them, they cannot keep them. The administration is relying on the language of the law for this elimination of these classes of health insurance policies.

Yet, the administration has granted waivers to the law, choosing unilaterally to apply it some places and not in others, seemingly at will, including waivers of self-insured plans administered by unions. Millions of people's insurances were waived so that they did not have to comply with the law. Those waivers were granted to unions and large employers who had some clout. A single person purchasing insurance for themselves and their families lack that clout, so they got no waivers.

The administration also chose to grant a one-year waiver of the employer mandate, having reasonably decided that imposing it now would result in some serious job eliminations to stay under the 50 employee threshold, or some substantial hour cut backs to keep employees under the full-time status of 30 hours per week or more. This was a great boon to business. Large employers have political clout. Again, a single person purchasing insurance for themselves and their families lack that clout, so they get no waivers.

The administration, at the pleading of congress, saving them the potential danger of doing it themselves by legislation bound to cost some of them their careers, waived the requirements of the Grassley Amendment that would place Members of Congress and congressional aides and staffers under the aegis of Obamacare, subjecting them to the same income/subsidy relationship as all other Americans who are required to obtain insurance on the exchanges will face. Thus, the law as it stands for Americans in general will not apply to Congress, who will get to keep their employer contributions even though the law specifically says that they cannot. This has infuriated many Americans. The reason given for this was that it would cause a brain-drain in Washington, as if more lucrative jobs awaited those aides and staffers outside Washington, who are the ones who actually wrote and the only ones who actually read the behemoth Obamacare bill, since government jobs nowadays pay more than their private counterparts. Some creatively diligent patent-medicine salesmanship has gone into the selling of this, but no one seems to be buying.

That's a lot like the Obamacare Exchange Website. No one seems to be buying there, either. What idiot decided, apparently at the last minute, to force you to “enroll” before being able to look at plans and prices. The enrollment means nothing until the plan is bought and the first premium is paid. I wonder how many enrollees have not bought, or have actually enrolled and pressed the BUY button, but will never send in the first premium check. And if they send the first premium check, I wonder how many will send the second? Or how many will send December's premium payment?

One can count on seriously ill people to make great sacrifices to pay their premiums. The healthy ones? They may just decide to skip December's since there are many other things to spend their money on than insurance they don't think they really need, since they are healthy enough not to need any health care, whatsoever. What they won't realize, until it's beyond repair, that it isn't just a matter that they weren't covered for December and they can pick back up in January, having skipped December...their policy will have lapsed, and it must be re-instated, or they must apply for a new policy during the open enrollment period. This will subject them to the penalty, not just $95 the first year, but $95 or one percent of their income, whichever is greater. Most of them will be making more than $9,500 per year.

I am covered under a waived union plan. Under the rules of the waiver, the plan must come in to compliance by January 1, 2014, without any excessive rate increases. Excessive here is being defined by HHS. I'd be willing to bet that the basis will be somewhat arbitrary based on the clout of the waivee, but I am speculating. My speculations, however, are not without some historical precedent. This has yet to be determined. What has been determined, though, is that if and when my plan comes in to full compliance, it will be considered a “Cadillac” plan, and I will be subject to taxes on the employer contribution.

Right now, insurance on the health care exchanges is based on actuarial tables prepared with the input of government. Someone made some calculations of who is likely to join and what the likely income and the likely payout is likely to be. That is a lot of likelies in one sentence, too many to make an insurance actuary comfortable. If you do not know what an insurance actuary is, he is the person who looks at statistics, preferably based on data collected over time, to determine the income/expense of an insurance product which is used to determine the premiums charged so that the insurer can stay solvent while still being able to pay claims. An insurance company that is nearing insolvency can find their license to sell insurance in a particular state revoked, and every state has an insurance commissioner, of an office of insurance that looks into the fiscal viability of those companies allowed to sell insurance products in their states. The Federal government does not regulate this....states do, and each one has their own requirements.

Once actual data is collected, we can expect the insurance premiums to rise. Under Obamacare, insurers have to justify rate increases, and they must pay out a certain portion of their income, with only a certain percentage allowed for overhead, expenses and, (GASP!) profit. Excess profits must be refunded to someone. I'm not sure if it is the policyholders or the government. I'd be willing to speculate that the government gets this money, but that is pure speculation since I don't know. I admit of speculation. I am prone to it and am seldom lonesome for it, gleefully indulging myself with a sometimes reckless abandon.

“I speculate that if you like the health care plan you have now, you may, in special circumstances, be able to keep it. [Asterisk-deleted].” might have said the president much more accurately. But one cannot run a political campaign on that sort of statement.

“The health care plan me and Michelle have is better than yours,” might have said the President with no speculation involved, “And even though we mean-spiritedly closed the Grand Canyon and every other thing visible and painful to the American people during the nasty government shutdown perpetrated by unpatriotic, recalcitrant, obstreperous, and reprobate Republicans, we kept the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base open so I could have a little time away from the hectic duties of my office.” He might have said that, and if he had, he would have been telling the truth, but one cannot admit of such things. One must listen to one's advisers who whisper of their greatness in their ears, ears longing to hear such whispers.

Valerie Jarrett actually said of Barack, as she referred to him in an interview, “...I think he has never been challenged intellectually...He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do.” That leaves us with a couple of assumptions, one of which is undeniable...Ms. Jarrett thinks he is intellectually unchallenged and above the ordinary things other people are faced with. The other is that Barack Obama thinks this of himself. Perhaps this is why  he was not more personally involved with the roll out of the piece of legislation that bears his name. The nuts and bolts by which mechanisms are held together, the fasteners that keep them in place and stop them from flying apart when force is applied, the very force that they were designed to handle....well, those nuts and bolts were just too ordinary for such a talented person. Those mundane things are better left wholly in the hands of small minded people. The small minded person he left in charge was Kathleen Sebelius, who, apparently taking her cue from the President, felt that those nuts and bolts were far to mundane for a person of her talents, and who accurately but arrogantly reported to Congress that she works for the President and the President alone, while being unable or unwilling, or both, to answer any questions in a congressional hearing. She deferred to Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who admirably did her best at explaining why things were like they were and what rapid fixes we could expect for the obvious malfunctions, who very unadmirably failed to reveal any numbers on actual Obamacare enrollees, saying that those numbers would be available in mid-November. She either knew and would not say, which is bad, or she literally did not know, which is even worse.

The President, Sebelius, and Tavenner, or all three of them, or others (most likely others we will learn as they explain their actions from under the bus) hired the Canadian company, CGI International, as one of the contractors to design the website, which, with many cost overruns, cost about $600 million only to work as good as it does, which is hardly at all. Apparently the thing that CGI International is best at is lobbying for large, no-bid government contracts and the ability to satisfy bureaucrats with all the complex government contracting paperwork required by law to be a large, regulation compliant government contractor, both of which is far more important to a bloated government bureaucracy than actually delivering any useful work at the contract price.  No one bothered to check that the government of Canada had fired them, as well as the government of the province of New Brunswick. Having a good lobbyist helps you get through several past incompetencies when being vetted for such a huge government contract. And having Senior Vice-President Toni-Townes Whitley, a friend and Princeton University classmate of Michelle Obama, who are both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni doesn't hurt either. While it certainly didn't hurt, I wonder if it helped? I will wonder about that for a while.

Did I also mention that Whitley is an Obama campaign contributor and a contributor to his victory fund? I might get around to wondering if that helped a little bit, too, since her contributions as reported by the Federal Election Commission seem generous but not excessive for one whose friend's husband is running for President of the United States of America, which is pretty impressive.

While I am wondering, let me wonder why Princeton allows a black alumni association? What is wrong with just being a member of Princeton's regular old alumni association? I will speculate that many Princeton alumni may be asking themselves this same question right about now, perhaps wondering where their large, open-ended, no-bid government contract is. Maybe it's in the same place as their winning Powerball ticket. I don't think that even a good lobbyist can help you acquire a winning Powerball ticket beyond recommending that you try your best purchase one that has the winning number, but a no-bid government contract coming on top of a string of previous firings for failures to deliver services to other governments is a piece of cake.

I think I will call the Obamacare toll-free number (which has a terribly ironic numeric acronym associated with it) and ask to speak to the supervisor, either Ms. Tavenner or Ms. Sebelius and see if I can get them on the line, or at least to return my phone call. If I complained about not being able to speak to them, they'd likely say that they are far too important and busy to speak to an ordinary person about a personal problem. They'd most likely tell me about the law and how I have to comply with the law. I doubt I could get a waiver of any kind, since they would say that the law is the law, and I cannot be exempted from the law.

“Hmmmmm!” I might say to Ms. Sebelius, but not wanting to ruffle her feathers, just let that lay there for a moment.

“Is there anything else I could help you with, sir? I am extremely busy reporting to the President for whom I work directly.”

“Do you think you might be able to help me get one of those no-bid government contracts?” I might ask.

“To do what?” she might ask back.

“Oh, just about anything you want, I reckon,” I might say.

“Well, what qualifications do you have for offering any services to the government on a contract basis?” she might ask.

“I've never been fired by any other government for failing to perform, which, I think, is a pretty good qualification, besides, I have a Princeton tee-shirt, which seems to be as good a qualifer for performance as an actual Princeton education,” I might say, adding, “But it's got an egg stain on it that just won't wash out. I hope that doesn't disqualify me.”

“CLICK,” the phone most likely might say.

That's about the most accurate likely that is contained in this document, and I don't even have to speculate about that.

10/28/13 Multiple Myeloma (MM)

You may be asking, “What is that?”

That is the blood cancer that ultimately claimed the life of former vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro. She struggled with it for many years. It is a cancer of the blood's plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) wherein the bone marrow produces defective plasma cells, produces too many of them which do not die off as normally programmed, and the infiltrated bone marrow devotes itself to their production as the expense of other blood cell types, mainly the red blood cells, which are the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. It is considered to be an incurable cancer, meaning that it is chronic, though a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant is an optional treatment that can lead to a cure, but it is a dangerous procedure, itself.

I mention this because I have a close friend just diagnosed with MM. He has gone with me on my CLL journey all the way, accompanying me to chemo treatments, encouraging me, praying for me, and just generally being there. Now, he has his own blood cancer to deal with.

Like CLL, MM is very treatable, depending on the particular genetics of the patient. One can live with it for a long time, or one can succumb to it, to a complication from it, or to the treatment for it. There is no easy choice here. Every turn is fraught with peril, much like life in general. Folks can live with MM for a long, long time, and many can live out the remainder of their natural lives with only the slightest inconveniences. That is my hope for my friend.

What is our natural life? What is its length? We have observable numbers that tell us what the averages and medians are, but we have no way of knowing where we will fall within those numbers. If the median life span is a certain number, then half are below it while the other half are above it. Will we be the ones to help increase the median number, or will be among those who skew it downward? No one knows that.

We only have now...this minute...this instant. There is no guarantee of the next moment. Well, the next moment is guaranteed, and so is our place in it, but our consciousness of it is not. Does this seem morose to you? If so, then why? It's been this way since you were born.

Yet we are born with a blank slate: nothing behind us and everything in front. As we mature, we discover that there are far more things in our rear view mirror than in the view through the windshield. Maturity should teach us something about that. And it does, but it is a hard lesson, for it is always other people that get sick and die, or at least, so far, it has always been other people, so it is a shock when we come to the realization that it is our turn.

Hmmmmmm! I don't really like the sound of that, and like everyone else, I will jump through hoops to postpone it, avoid it, and fight it tooth and nail. I can only hope to be successful for a while: maybe a long while, maybe a short while...but my own mortality looms before me, like an approaching stop sign, obscured through the fog, or obscured through an illusion I have created for myself. Funny thing though, it's not that metaphorical stop sign that's moving. It's me. It's us. It's all of us.

We are all in this together. We humans share a common goal and a common destiny. It's easy to talk about when the circumstances seem to surround others, but it is much harder when we have come to the realization that the circumstances have engulfed us. First there is denial, then anger, then acceptance. We must get through the first two to get to the last. And there is great peace comes with acceptance. We have always tried to change those things we could change, and we still strive for that. It is what we should do, because acceptance does not mean quitting. Acceptance means that we have learned to be here now.

If we could see our tomorrow, we certainly would take more time to be here now.

Sometimes we can't even view the past clearly. Think about that for a while, if you will.

10/25/13 Islamic Women's Rights...an Oxyoron

I read today of the Saudi government's promise to arrest those who are in support of the protest underway over the cause of women's rights. It seems that women are protesting their legal prohibition from driving an automobile. The Saudi government has promised arrest and censure of those who show support for the protesters, even those who show that support through the use of social media. In other words, a “LIKE” click on a Facebook post can land you in a Saudi prison.

The Wahabi sect of Islam in Saudi Arabia is ultra-conservative. One can term that as “fundamentalist.” A conservative fundamentalism seems reasonable there if one recalls that the Arabian Peninsula was the home of the Prophet, and it contains the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, which “infidels” cannot even sully by their mere presence. The Sunni Wahabi clerics are as stodgy and inflexible as the Shiite Ayatollahs in Iran, or Taliban Mullahs in Afghanistan. They are all as staid and rigorous as each other.

The rights of women in many Muslim countries are nearly zero. Women are killed for family honor. Women are unable to even have conversations with any male who is not a  family member. Women are not allowed to go out of the home unchaperoned. Women are not generally allowed to choose their own husbands. Women must wear the burkha or veils or other coverings that keep them from the lustful eyes of men. I wonder why it is that Muslim men trust their women so little that they think their women would so easily dishonor themselves? Perhaps it is the men who don't trust each other. Maybe it's the “boys will be boys” excuse? It's OK for boys, but anathema for women.

In some Muslim countries, women are forced to stop attending school beyond grade school level. They must be kept out of sight, sequestered away deep within the confines of their own homes, much like prisoners. They also get the honor of becoming one of four wives any man who may afford to can legally acquire under the tenets of Islam. And in Saudi Arabia, they cannot even legally drive a car. Whose honor is it that Muslim men are protecting?

These rules about women may be contained in the Koran, or they may be contained in the Hadiths, or in the traditions of Sharia law, but I wonder why liberated women the world over, who have shown themselves capable of making decisions about their own lives don't, with a single unified voice, decry the human rights abuses that women endure at the hands of their male oppressors in Muslim countries. These religious rules and regulations are not designed to protect women....they are designed to oppress them.

Here we go. I will be accused of being an Islamaphobe, of not understanding the customs of Islamic countries, of being intolerant towards the culture of others, but I will maintain my position. If we can declare the ancient African, traditional custom of female circumcision a violation of human rights, then we are fooling ourselves by saying that the oppression that women undergo at the hands of men in Islamic countries is different: for what woman really feels that another woman must marry the man selected for her by her father? Are their any women in America that feel this is OK? If not, then where is your protest?

In this country, women get alarmed because some think it reasonable that the parents of minor females be notified when their daughter is seeking an abortion, and use every legal means to prevent this obstruction from the minor's access to the abortion. This is not a problem that would ever be contemplated in many Muslim countries...the baby's abortion would just naturally follow the abortion of the life of the mother at the hands of her honorable father and brothers. Where are women on this issue? Why are they silent? Who among them thinks this is a reasonable way to treat women?

Honor killings, they are called. One does not have to go all the way to a Muslim country to find them. One can go to mostly Muslim Dearborn, Michigan, and find the occasional honor killing. While this custom is not exclusive to Muslims, existing on the Indian subcontinent  as a matter local custom more than a Hindu religious practice, we sure do hear a lot about it from Muslims. For every honor killing we hear about, think of how many opressions, beatings, maimings, and other horrific things women endure that we cannot see, especially since everything about them is covered from public view.

I am not an Islamaphobe, but I am tired of seeing what I see, hearing what I hear, and being told that my own eyes and ears are misleading me...that Islam is a religion of peace – that the very name of Islam means peace. Nope, the Arabic word “Islam” means “submission.” Apparently, being Islamic, for women, means to not only submit to Allah, but to submit to inglorious and injurious treatment at the hands of their men, who, apparently, are much smarter than the women who are unable to govern themselves. These are the same men who think it is OK to rape non-Muslim women, or to grope and fondle any unchaperoned or improperly chaperoned woman so bold as to simply be in a public place. Perhaps in Islam only the men are allowed the right to be unmolested in public places, and this would depend on your particular Islamic creed, since Sunnis and Shiites molest each other regularly.

This nation fought an internal war over slavery. This nation, less than a hundred years ago, finally gave women the right to have a political voice by voting. The entire world condemned South Africa for it's apartheid, and rightfully so. Why, then, does not the entire world condemn the apartheid inflicted on Muslim women? The victims of apartheid were oppressed because of the color of their skin. The victims of honor killings are murdered because of their gender.

At least they don't have honor killings in China...they just abort, or give birth to and abandon females because they value male children far more highly. This seems much more humane than an Islamic honor killing, doesn't it? Of course not. Where are the women on this? Even the men in China are becoming restless because they far outnumber women, thus can find no mates.

Well, women, where are you? Where are your protests at the UN, at the US Capitol, or in Riyahd? Aren't there enough women attorneys to keep this atrocious male behavior in a constant state of condemnation all around the world? Where is your unified outcry?

Christians! Ahh! Christians in Muslim countries, you're not only next, you are in great peril. Maybe the Muslim women would earn some more rights if they would stand up for the rights of Christians in their own countries. That's easier in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran because there are actually Christians there. The only Christians you'll find on the Arabian Penninsula are workers from foreign countries. In the Emirate of Qatar, they may even keep you as a literal slave, since Qatar requires the same person who sponsored you to get you into the country to grant permission for an exit visa, and trying to leave the country without one is a cause for arrest. Only a fool or a very desperate alien would take a job in Qatar. They can legally ask you if you'd like to be paid for your work, or would you rather have an exit visa? Of course, are free to choose, but you may not like the outcome.

Remember, it was the Wahabi sect of Islam that gave us Osama Bin-Laden. If we Westerners think that these people are our friends, we are more foolish than I thought. They are so full of their own self-righteousness and proximity to God that they will kill their own daughters and sisters rather than have their honor besmirched. It is their honor they are concerned about. It is their own mistrust of their daughters that prohibit them from driving a car. Imagine, American woman, that you could be arrested there for simply driving a car, and then explain to me how things are wrong with America? Remember, it was followers of the Taliban that shot Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head simply for seeking an education.

Islamaphobe? No, I'm not an Islamaphobe, but I'm not blind and deaf, either. Egregious excesses are committed in the name of Islam, yet Islam, itself, does not speak out harshly against these excesses. Islam does little to stop them. Mainstream Islam makes a show of moderate civility, then stands idly by as atrocities are committed against their own women, much like Christians stood quietly by as entire portions of Warsaw were emptied of Jews in World War II, making lame excuses, or furnishing the occasional condemnatory editorial. Everyone just shook their heads and said to themselves, “Oh! My! This is bad.” It took an attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese to motivate this nation to do something about the mayhem in Europe.

I am not advocating a mobilization to fight the nations of Islam, but history has shown that when unified, the rest of the world is in danger from militaristic Islamic expansion. If Islam will oppress and murder their own daughters, and the fundamentalist sects in Egypt will burn Coptic Christian Churches and kill Christians, why would we not expect  Israel to be skeptical of Iran's claim of nuclear development for peaceful purposes? In their twisted use of language, peaceful purposes may very well mean the elimination of the nation of Israel. They have promised this time and time again. Is the world deaf?

There are those who fight tooth and nail to eliminate every expression of Christianity from the public sphere in this country, and then turn around and defend Sharia law as a legitimate expression of Islamic culture. I am persuaded that we are confused. Think not? Then do your best try to persuade me otherwise. It's not gonna be easy.

Of course, not all Muslims are the way I described above, just like all Christians are not like Fred Phelps and his nefarious tribe from the Westboro Baptist Church. Extremists give the very thing they hold dear a bad name...but how do we determine the extremists? What is our responsibility to ensure that extremism does not run roughshod over tolerance? And when does our tolerance lead to our own demise? For ultimately, it is the extremely intolerant who eliminate those who tolerantly stand by and witness their own execution.

It's a dangerous world out there. My hope is Peace, Shalom, and Salaam. Writing that was easy. Achieving it is quite different. Sometimes, achieving it is only possible at the point of a gun. Think about that if you will, and just what that means, then go fishing to relieve your mind of that insolvable burden.

If the fish could talk, they'd cry foul, too.

I am not ignorant that there are secular nations that are predominantly Muslim, where women are not treated in the manner described above, but such nations as Turkey are finding themselves increasingly inclining towards theocratic rule. This cannot be good, for Turks, or for those around them. We already had the Umayyad Caliphate and the Ottomans. What historical evidence do we observe that makes us think that this cannot happen again? The historical evidence is that it will.

And for every one of my Christian friends who think our nation should be governed as a Christian nation, which denomination of Christianity do you think should be the one to govern? The Episcopals? The Lutherans? The Unitarian/Universalists (though I find no Christian connection with them, I named them anyway). Perhaps the Roman Catholics, whose own historical record of governance is not so good. Perhaps the Puritans, though their record is not so good either. Their tolerant religion would only govern long enough to realize that their tolerance had neutered them into a dangerously lukewarm insignificance, finding themselves deposed by a far less tolerant sect. When governments are run by theocracy, you ultimately wind up with the groups like the Taliban or the Westboro Baptist Church, who have no second thought about the godly elimination of those who don't think like them. Who wants either? Not me.

I am a Christian. If you asked me to choose between a religious government and a government proposed by Thomas Paine (an atheist founding-father, and if you don't know who Thomas Paine is, them shame on you), I'd likely choose a government instituted by Thomas Paine. Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world. He'd have chosen a moral government, without corruption, but He would have allowed us the ability to choose for ourselves whom we should serve, and how. He allows us this, today. We are free to choose Him. We are free to reject Him. We can do either without having our lives, our property, or the lives of our families at risk. I like this way of government. I like being able to choose. In our Christian tradition, God has always allowed us to choose. In our Christian tradition, there have always been consequences for our choice, but the judgment was left up to God, whose only earthly requirement was that we have some degree of morality to govern our behavior towards each other. When we faced earthy, governmental consequences for religious choices, it was because government had been infiltrated with someone's specific idea of religion.

Women driving a car is not immoral any more than the car is immoral. Women wanting an education is not immoral any more than education is immoral. Women who fail to completely cover themselves are no more immoral than the men who would look at them lustfully because their smile is revealed. The government that dictates our religious practices is guilty of great immorality, for it tends towards injustice and even murder. We should all be thankful for the freedom to choose. We should be thankful for this freedom even when the choices others make are not the ones we would make for ourselves.

We must be tolerant. But we must not tolerate intolerance. To successfully do so, we must become intolerant. This is an oppressive dichotomy as old as mankind....or womankind.

10/24/13 What Would I Do Without This?

This forum is my mental wastebasket. Just think of it. You're reading my mental garbage. I really didn't intend for it to be that way, and not that I think you might think my mental garbage interesting, but this blog does serve as my clearing house. Well . . . either this blog or my personal journal. I write things I think are honest on this blog, though I write brutally honest things in my journal I would not dare put on this blog. I write what I really think on this blog. But I write what I double super secretly really, really think in my journal. There is a difference. One you get to see. The other...not very likely. But the seeds of many things I write about here are contained in my journal, or at least the outlines of them, provided you think I ever use any sort of outline rather than just ramble. I am prone to stream of consciousness writing, and my attention span is too short to allow me to write anything beyond four or five pages. I've been encouraged to write a novel, but I lack the discipline. I have been encouraged to write a book about anything, but I lack the discipline. What you have, instead, is a long, long book length of ramblings and musings. Some writers made a successful career off of just such writings, but I suspect their basic and extended qualities were far superior to mine. Voltaire comes to mind, and I lack the chutzpah (though I have a considerable amount) of daring to place myself in the same category, but I admire him, immensely, as did the entire of France, except a Bourbon King or two, and the entire world, still; I cannot approach his greatness. That does not deter me, though. I will write, anyway.

Truthfully, I am too lazy to write much more than an extended essay, because I can write an essay based on musings of a one-line quotation from someone else. It hardly requires much research to come up with a one-line quotation. And any sort of non-fiction work needs to have references and cross references, and I'm not writing an academic treatise, but something short and sweet that I hope you'll enjoy reading, even if it is about nothing at all.

Thinking about this blog, mulling over it and all the time I've spent on it over the past nearly five years, I wonder what I did without it. Where did all the words come from, and where do they go once I hit the publish button on my ancient Microsoft Front Page software. Of course, I know where they go into the blogosphere/cloud/cyberspace, but I wonder what the connection is between them going there and leaving me, because they leave a vacuum, and not a bad vacuum, but a pleasant one.

Of course, vacuums don't last long. They will be filled with something. Many times the something that fills that vacuum isn't worth writing about, or perhaps it is, but I can't express my real opinion about some subjects, or of some people, in a public space, not wanting to embarrass them or myself, of which the latter is more likely.

I really write when I get the blues, and I had a case of them so bad earlier in the week that I was forced to write about it in my journal. You won't get to read about what got my goat. Having written, though, the goat has been un-gotten . . . returned, as it were, and is now satisfied to chew its cud in a quite place.

Today, I take my fourth dose of Methotrexate. It is beginning to do what it is supposed to do, but getting used to it and its side effects are not coming along so well. I suppose this contributes to the blues, somewhat. Here's a link to Methotrexate and its side effects. You can decide for yourself which ones I may be experiencing.

http://www.drugs.com/sfx/methotrexate-side-effects.html

I don't want to enumerate them for you since it will sound like whining, but the list is impresssive, isn't it?

I find it remarkable that I could not take, nor ever take, Enbrel, Stelara, or Humira, because they could cause lymphoma or reignite my leukemia. Yet Methotrexate has the  undesirable side effect of possibly causing leukemia. Hmmmm! That is the cause for some dark thoughts, which are occasionally inescapable. I am able to escape the darkness right now and and able to merely make mention of it without brooding. Sometimes the brooding is inescapable. Earlier in the week I brooded. Right now, the brooding is just a wicked, though fleeting, memory. Maybe it will be less so once I take my next dose in about two hours.

Next week, I will take my 5th does and then go to Hemosapien's clinic for bloodwork to see just what sort of damage the Methotrexate might be doing internally. Hopefully none; but the bloodwork will reveal what the bloodwork will reveal. Science is like that. It simply reveals what it reveals when it works right. Sometimes politicians and corporate sponsors get involved and illusions are revealed, or veracity is concealed, after all, some scientists must make sure, above all else, that funding for their research continues. There are precious few heads of scientific research departments who report to their sponsors that their work is a dead end, and funding should be immediately withdrawn, the program closed, and all available resources sent to some other research facility that is on the right track. I suppose in the history of the world it has happened, but it seems very unlikely. It is easy to go on-line and search out clinical trials for new drugs and see that there are many that have been discontinued because of safety reasons, or because they were ineffective, or effective but no more so than drugs already available. In part, this is because they have to report their research to the FDA, and in spite of my feelings about government intrusion, the very fact that there is a governing body to which research must be submitted stops a lot of big-pharma shenanigans.

Yes, this capitalist is admitting that big-pharma can have some conflicts of interests, but mostly those conflicts of interest can be dramatically reduced by the proper application of lobbyists, which is one of the best medicines big-pharma has been able to come up with for itself. I wish I had a lobbyist or two, so I could get me some of that corporate welfare, much like the contractor who has been developing the Obamacare website. It seems they have performed poorly on other government projects, but their lobbyists helped them to get the Obamacare job, anyway. After further review, I suspect that the thing that CGI Federal excels at is the ability to provide the proper invoicing, the proper paperwork for change orders, and the proper documentation that bureaucrats need to fill their files....never mind the actual work. You think I'm being facetious! No....many times the contractor selected is the one who is familiar enough with the system so as to make the paperwork easier for the bureaucrats, particularly those papers that must be submitted so that money can change hands. I've seen it at the state and local level, and I've seen it at the national level. Give the bureaucrats what they need and want, and you can get what you need and want. They need paperwork done correctly, and you need more money. Do the former and the latter is easy.

While there are many that deride welfare recipients, and I have done so, too, let us all deride corporate welfare recipients, particularly those who charge the government a lot of money but don't really deliver any useful work. How does one get one of those contracts that are filled with cost overruns, anyway? I've never had the luxury of one of those. For some reason, people always expect me to do what I told them I'd do for the amount of money I told them I'd do it for. Are they being unreasonable, or is it just because I have no lobbyist? I need to get one in the worst way. Can you recommend a really good one that works on the cheap? Or, perhaps, one that works on a percentage of the take like a trial lawyer hot on the pursuit of a tort? I didn't think so. I'm not that lucky.

Maybe I need to put an ad on Craig's List.

Lobbying firm wanted. Up and coming potential government contractor looking for the highest caliber lobbying firm. Only those firms with a proven track record need apply. Must be willing to work on a negotiable percentage of the successful award of government contracts. Lobbying fees will be paid only when contracts have been awarded and funds advanced by the government to this potential client. If you want to nitpick about any lack of marketable skills this potential client may have, then perhaps you are the wrong lobbying firm and we will not waste our time with an interview. Potential candidate firms must be willing to fly us to Washington, wine us and dine us at their own expense, and lobby for us to select them as our representative firm. Only lobbying firms that can guarantee success, with remuneration to us for time and effort spent in travel, negotiations, and completing government contracting forms will be considered. If you think your firm has what it takes to become part of our successful team, then we welcome your resume, which must include four first-class airline tickets (or transportation via private jet), prepaid hotel confirmations for two suites at one of Washington's four-star hotels, will-call limousine service, and at least four tickets to a Redskins game (and not end-zone or nose-bleed seats, either). No phone calls, please. All candidate firms whose resumes do not include the required accompanying qualifications will be rejected. No Redskins tickets will be returned in any case. The deadline for submissions October 31, 2013. We are an equal-opportunity lobbying firm employer.

That should do the trick.

On another note, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn love to point out waste in government spending. Senator Sessions recently pointed out a  $23,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a project to study “The Meaning of Life.” I hope the NEH grant produces some successful results. Men have been asking themselves this question ever since one picked up a piece of charcoal and used art to inscribe his story on the walls of caves in central Europe.

I wonder what they expect to find and how $23,000 of taxpayer money will help them find it? There's lots of wealthy people who would give a whole lot more if they could get the answer to that question, even if the answer offered was bent to fit their particular notion of life's meaning. King Solomon wrote a book called Ecclesiastes which deals with this subject. He enumerates an entire litany of projects he embarked on to give his life some meaning. Ultimately, he decided that the meaning of life was to serve God, but this is an old-fashioned idea, not having much merit these days since men have become too smart to believe in such superstitions as their being such an entity as God out there in the cosmos.

What else will $23,000 buy? Hmmmm! It will buy a fairly nice used double-wide mobile home, but not the land to put it on, nor the expense of moving it and setting it up. It is the price of one Lithotripsy, which will give one immense relief from the plague of a kidney stone, which could be much closer to the providing a true meaning of life than a used mobile home, 'cause a bad enough kidney stone will make one swap a mobile home for a lithotripsy without so much as a second thought. It will also get you one fairly well-appointed German-engineered automobile...a Volkswagen Jetta...but Volkswagens are not what usually come to mind when we think of German-engineered automobiles

I wonder how the grant recipients are spending the money? I wish I had a copy of the grant application. Are they merely polling living people who are trying to discern the meaning of life as they get along with the living of it, I wonder? Now, If you could poll some dead people, they may be able to give a more convincing response, but $23,000 is hardly enough to develop the complex systems capable of polling the deceased. We just don't have the technology, and $23,000 won't get us there. Maybe they spent the money on Ouija Boards, or those Magic black balls that you asked a question to and then turned it over and the answer floated up to the viewing window. I don't remember what those were called. Do you? Maybe they are spending it on one of the thousands of Sister So-an-So's, who are able to tell them the meaning of life through various mediums. Maybe they are calling the psychic hotlines. Maybe they are searching frantically and futilely through old newspaper clips looking for the headline, “Psychic Wins Lottery.” I may be on to something there.

Maybe they spent $23,000 on fortune cookies and are polling them. You can buy a couple of truckloads of fortune cookies for $23,000. That's enough money, though, that a rapscallion, predisposed researcher could get the fortunes of his choice inserted into the cookies. Why, you could have them all printed up that said, “Stop Global Warming”, and then write your paper that that was the overwhelming revelation of your study. I think someone may already be doing this, but it is costing far more than $23,000 in that case.

Maybe the researcher bought a copy of Monty Python's movie “The Meaning of Life” and is paying a dollar to 22,995 people to watch it and comment, since you can buy the DVD for about five bucks. Maybe, just maybe, the grant is being used to study the movie, itself, as art. Maybe we'll get a review of this excellent movie, or at least, I thought it was excellent. That's probably closer to the truth. The name of the study is just a bit misleading....that's got to be it. I'm back wishing I had a copy of the grant application.

Maybe the grant is being used to supplement the income of the researcher who is spending a year long sabbatical wandering the earth in search of the meaning of life. If that is the case, I can't help but wonder: is he wandering the earth in a semi-well appointed Volkswagen Jetta?

It makes as much sense as anything I else I can think of.

Rather than grants from the NEH, it should be pretty simple to get a Kick-Starter program going. It should not be hard to raise $23,000, if indeed $23,000 is what one needs, to answer the question that has plagued the minds of men ever since men became aware that they had such a thing as a mind. I might even contribute myself. I'd much rather do it in that fashion than do it through tax-money, though I daresay, I expect the outcome of the research will be the same either way, except, without doubt, it is much more impressive to be doing this kind of research with the authority of a government grant. It lends far more legitimacy to it than Kick-Starter, though, I suspect, it will not yield any better results.

The meaning of life....yours for $23,000; what a bargain this is for all of mankind. Pardon my cynicism. An NEH study of this is as relevant and beneficial to mankind as a study of the meaning of a Monty Python movie; perhaps, far less so.

10/20/13 I'll Just Have a Spam Sandwich, Please, On Light Bread.

To eat, or not to eat? That is the question.

Well, I have to eat. But what shall it be?

For every study that tells me I should eat something because it is good for me, there is one that tells me the same thing is bad for me. I should eat more soy for protein and less meat for good heart health, but unfermented soy products are bad for me. Milk is bad for me, but soy milk is also bad for me...that leaves rice milk and almond milk. Maybe goat's milk from goats I raised and milked myself is good for me, but no doubt, there are reports that will deny that.

If I eat beef, it must not be corn-fed feeder cattle designed to be raised for beef. It needs to be grass-fed. But then again, I should not be eating beef at all, just vegetables. But the vegetables must not be raised on regular farms, but organic, pesticide free farms...farms that use no commercial fertilizers either. The plant apparently is able to distinguish between nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus contained in chemical fertilizers as opposed to those same chemicals coming from hand-placed chicken shit. But, if I use chicken shit, it must be composted first, which destroys many bad microbes. But wait....the chicken shit must come from organically raised chickens, and therefore be free from hormones and antibiotics.

Maybe I'll stop eating chicken, too, and just eat wild turkey harvested at the point of my own shotgun...that's pretty organic, don't you think? Maybe some venison harvested at the point of my rifle. But, alas, as much as I like venison, my stomach doesn't. It seems that the extra leanness of the meat causes me some problems and my stomach just refuses to allow me any comfort in its consumption.

Fish!! That's the answer! I'll eat more fish. But not shellfish, mind you. They're not good for me, those cholesterol laden, bottom feeding shellfish. Those that come from the Gulf of Mexico, which is my most likely place to get good, FRESH seafood (and by fresh I mean fresh, not the government description of fresh, which just means never having been previously frozen.) Gulf coast seafood, thanks to BP, has been polluted forever, tainted with oil and oil absorbing chemicals like Corexit. No, the only fish I can eat are scaled fish. I can't eat catfish, or farm raised catfish because of the antibiotics and agricultural chemical runoff in their ponds. Tilapia and salmon! Now there's an option for me. No, you say? Farm raised Tilapia are bad for me? And Farm raised salmon are the worst of all? I must eat wild-caught salmon, and not too much of that because of the mercury contained in them.

So, can I eat bass and bream caught in my own pond? Yes, I suppose, but since I no doubt have some GMO corn in a bag somewhere on the premises, its proximity to the fish in the pond probably excludes them, too. Besides, I sprayed Roundup around the edges of my pond, so I guess that's out, too.

No, apparently I must go to the farmer's market and eat only such things as are available to me there. Fresh collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens. But wait, my urologist says that I cannot eat green leafy vegetables because of my past history of kidney stones. Maybe I can buy some of those hydroponically grown tomatoes, not the cardboard-methane-gassed kind in the grocery stores, but those grown on a nearby farm where they cultivate those tomatoes year round. Nope? Why not? Because they have been fertilized with artificial fertilizers you say? I am told that I should just eat the certified organic tomatoes, grown by a certified organic farmer. We've all seen those tomatoes, the ones with the tomato worm holes in them, the ones with the brown spots from wilt and blight. And never, they say, should I eat canned tomatoes, since the acid in the tomato leaches out the bisphenols from the lining of the can, which will soon render me a candidate for non-voluntary admission to a mental health hospital.

I've decided on growing my own tomatoes. I will not use any pesticides, no fungicides, and no fertilizers, and I will eat pretty well as long as I can get used to the taste of tomato worms, which will grow to the size of a medium cigar, and hopefully will taste pretty good sauteed in a little soy sauce, a safe, fermented soy product. But wait....soy sauce is laden with salt. The safety of the fermented soy is counteracted by the high concentration of sodium. Maybe just tomato worms cooked on the grill. No, the smoke from the grill adds carcinogens. Maybe just baked tomato worms, toasted until they have the texture of shredded wheat, since I can't eat the shredded wheat itself because of the gluten. And since when did the world become allergic to gluten? Bread as a food is as old as mankind.

Pharaoh Gnaugahydekentemt II sent for his court physician because of a whole litany of problems: flatulance, bad skin, halitosis, hiccups, erectile dysfunction, hair loss, skin eruptions, and constipation. These things were interfering with his day to day operations of Egypt, and more particularly, were threatening to cause his demise before he could finish the remarkable tomb he was building for himself.

“Stop eating bread, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, milk, fruit, soy products, meat byproducts, processed foods, grains, and vegetables,” the court physician said.

“What does that leave me to eat,” the astonished pharaoh asked.

“Tomato worms.”

“We don't have tomatoes here in the Nile valley,” said the Pharaoh.

“You'll be quite hungry, then,” said the physician, “Or you'd better be finding some.”

“What about locusts and frogs?” asked the Pharaoh. “We have these periodic outbreaks of locusts and frogs caused by those pesky Hebrews.”

“No, they're no good. The locusts are all fed on pesticide laden, GMO grains. The frogs? The frogs eat the locusts. They're contaminated, too.”

“Well, Mr. Physician,” curtly asked the pharaoh, “What do I eat?”

“Wine and whiskey are the only safe foods. If you consume enough of them, all your symptoms will go away.”

“But they'll kill me,” said the pharaoh.

“But you won't care!” said the physician.

Shortly after that, the Memphis and Alexandria papers had a full page ad calling for applications to fill the abruptly opened position of court physician. The Luxor Gazette reported that the intoxicated pharaoh had accidentally fed the previous court physician some poisoned dates.

Ooops!

10/13/13 Disturbing News as EBT Cards Fail to Work

While watching Ole Miss lose in the most admirable way to Texas A&M, nearly neutralizing the athletic prowess of Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny “Football” Manziel, only to lose by a field goal in the final four seconds of the game, I was met with disturbing news. EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards had stopped working across several states, leading many to Tweet about riots and disturbances. It seems that hundreds of EBT beneficiaries believed the failure of EBT cards to work was caused by the government shutdown stalemate in Washington. I saw some Facebook posts about “things getting real bad.” I even saw one from a lady I know personally, an employee of a local dollar store, asking for prayers because of the ugly turn of events she seemed to be witnessing in her own store. The Tweets I read were very disturbing, they were very alarmist, and many of them were very racist and bigoted from every spectrum of racism and bigotry, from which no ethnicity of people are immune.

The racism displayed in the initial Tweets I saw were those directed by African-Americans towards whites. Many of them seemed to think the EBT cards of white people were still working while their own EBT cards were not. I suspected then that they were seeing working ATM/Debit cards, not working EBT cards, but I can't be certain; I can only speculate. What I don't have to speculate is that many people were using social media to report riots, or near-riots, or reporting the reports of riots that had been reported by others. I also don't have to speculate that trolls were Tweeting things that were read and believed by others, which were then re-Tweeted as eye-witness accounts.

The next wave of racism in social media posts were from those directed by whites towards African-Americans. It was all nasty business, and little of it legitimate, as those trollish posts were re-posted, edited, embellished, and further re-posted as personal recollections. While some of them may well have been actual eyewitness accounts, it is hard to tell the legitimate ones from those of the trolls or the fear-mongers.

In this age of instant communications, searching the internet for the truth was no help. Google turned up thousands of hits, many with dates from last year, and many with dates from yesterday, which turned out to be posts made yesterday which referenced the posts from last year. One can easily get confused, and I am not saying that I am not confused and offering clarity...I can only offer the observations of one who was vicariously attending a football game at the time, not personally witnessing any near-riots at the local dollar store, nor any riot prevention lock-downs at the local Wal-Mart.

I am not prone to conspiracy theories, but those who are were quickly at work reporting as fact what seems to have been part of a novel published early last year, which has as its plot government control by electronic fiscal manipulation. A short-story version of that novel was published on the internet last November by author Matt Bracken. I read the story when I saw a link to it a few months ago. It was compelling, plausible and interesting reading, like a well-crafted Tom Clancy or Dan Brown novel. Just like them, it was also fiction. As plausible as the scenarios presented by Bracken are, they are still fiction. To have someone who does not know the difference between fact and fiction, and make a report from the fiction, through which others were duped into thinking the postings from the fiction were actual accounts of real events, is an inexcusably poor platform on which to base one's actions.

However poor this may be, Tweets were re-Tweeted, then re-re-Tweeted, some with embellishments. The embellishments were picked up by the original Tweeters, then again re-tweeted. The entire thing fed on itself.

As I Googled some more, passing by as many posts in the blogosphere as I could, hunting for what seemed to be a legitimate news source, which was no guarantee of the truth, only the hopeful promise that something posted there had at least been initially vetted by someone in a position of authority (but after looking at some of the typos and grammar, I decided that no editor had looked at any of these, either), I was able to glean that a Xerox Corporation subsidiary has a government contract for the administration of EBT transactions in several states. Apparently, through one or more of the following things, the system went down for several hours: a failed test of back-up procedures, a program upgrade, and/or a power outage and failure of UPS systems. You can also perhaps throw in the general incompetence of the IT personnel at the company for good measure. All are plausible, and any of them likely, as they are all part of the occasional problems one encounters with computer systems and their operation. This is apparently not the first time the system has gone off-line and failed to work. It is unlikely it will be the last. It is every bit as similar as when I am informed by a clerk that my debit card is not working because the system is off-line, or a sign posted on an ATM machine that says, “Out of Order.” We have all seen this. We have not all, however, been EBT card users who saw this during a government shutdown, which seemed to be the source of the greatest part of the controversy. A contributing factor could have been that when EBT cardholders went to the Department of Agriculture's SNAP benefits website, they were greeted with the notice that the site was off-line due to the government shutdown. It is not a far leap to assume that one's EBT card is also not working because of the government shutdown.

The conspiracy-theorists were not content with any plausible reported explanation. They immediately began to post about about government created false-flag operations, about how this was the administration's way of showing the Republicans on Capitol Hill that they better not mess around anymore with this government shut-down thing, because riots were as close as an errant, or intentional, mouse click. While I admit of my share of cynicism, even I am not that cynical . . . or paranoid.

That trolls, or the misguided, or people actually so ill-prepared that they would Tweet about starvation, hunger, and the denial to them of food for their families is reprehensible. The idea that anyone is so ill-prepared in America that they have not so much as a six pack of Ramen noodles (which costs about a dollar) in their cupboard is completely foreign to me. That someone would Tweet about starvation and hungry children because food was not immediately available for purchase right this instant is also reprehensible. That someone would Tweet about hungry men being readily willing to kill for food is beyond reprehensible in this case. Of course, hungry men will kill for food, but a food delay of a few hours, or even a day, is a bit quick to start entertaining such an idea, don't you think?

I'm sure there are those who will advise me that because I am not poor, I do not understand that people are hungry and in immediate peril. I would reply that, no, I don't understand. I will reiterate that a six pack of Ramen noodles costs about a dollar. While Ramen noodles are no way to live one's nutritional life, they will sure keep you from starving, at least for a day or two. A couple of five pound bags of corn meal wouldn't hurt either, or cost very much. Maybe a pack or two of powered milk, or a couple of cans of evaporated milk. If one has an empty belly, these will go a long way to seeing that a belly is filled until something better comes along. If nothing else comes along, we would all have some very fond memories of Ramen noodles, corn meal, and powered milk.

I did discover some horrible websites. Some of them were so racist as to be unmentionable here, and their very existence proves that racism, prejudice, and bigotry know no bounds and have no limitations.

I was born into a culture of segregation and racism. It was an ugly one, but things are better now, though a long way from perfect. As I have said on this blog before, if I denied the existence of these tendencies, or that they exist in me, no one would believe me. That racism still exists in Mississippi is undeniable, and Mississippians, white and black, don't deny it. We strive to govern our behavior so that our shortcomings don't rule us, so that we don't abandon ourselves to things we know are not right. Nearly all of us strive to treat each other as we would like to be treated. Not everyone has that as their goal, but most of us do, and we try to avoid those that don't. We mostly gave up, long ago, on the idea that one can educate them. A hard heart can't be educated if its owner does not recognize its hardness to begin with. There is no room in a hardened heart for anything other than what has been hammered into place by its owner; no one else can make a dent in it.

Is Mississippi the only place that racism exists? I kind of doubt it, since it is extremely unlikely that the bad websites I saw, or the bad Tweets I read, all originated from Mississippi. They seem to come from all over the country, many of them from places not even affected by the EBT snafu but anxious to exploit it, and some of them seemed to come from out of nowhere.

Maybe, if we're lucky, all those bad tweets and websites do originate in one place . . . from one bad heart that is intent on causing as much trouble as possible. But we are not that lucky. There are plenty of bad hearts out there, empty of everything but suspicion, envy, paranoia, and covetousness.

How I wish that were not true.

Update: 10/14/13 – The only reporting than mentioned anything similar to a riot is in the following link, from the Jackson, Mississippi, CLARION LEDGER:

http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20131013/NEWS/131013001/Walmart-customers-riot-when-unable-use-EBT-cards  This was picked up by the Clarion Ledger from AP and USA Today sources. The rest of the “news” comes from speculations from the blogosphere, and seems to be based primarily on the Tweets of irresponsible persons.

2nd Update: 10/14/13 – This link

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3078549/posts  quotes a news story from TV Station KSLA in Shreveport, which indicates that there were disturbances at Wal-Marts in Mansfield and Springhill, Louisiana, where EBT cards were not showing available balances or limits. Apparently the news traveled so fast that the Wal-Marts were overwhelmed with customers on a no-limit shopping binge. Though still a disturbance, this is exactly the opposite of what was reported in other places. Instead of EBT cards not working, we have reported instances of them working without any limitations, and the alleged attempts of many to obtain merchandise through fraudulent means.

3rd Update: 10/14/13 – The capability of instantaneously reporting erroneous information by social media, its ability to incite disturbances, the ability of sensational social media posts to overwhelm any cool voice of reason, and the size of any mob these can generate are all dangerous precedents. Much information is being reported on this incident, even now, and most of it seems a rehash of things already reported, very little of which has been vetted in any manner. The blogosphere is a place of extremes and fringes. It is difficult to find blogs of current events that represent calmness and reason. The extreme sites are everywhere.

 

10-11-13 Heaven Has No Return Address

Every hour spent composing and editing a letter to a friend, and every hour spent reading one, is time spent in conversation that has a different quality than face-to-face conversation. Of course, nothing is better than face-to-face, since we see expressions and hear inflections: the raised eyebrow, the wince, the smooth elongation of a diphthong, or in my case, the superfluous syllables attached to a vowel; but we frequently engage in our discussions amid a world of distractions. But, there is something magic about the focus in a letter, in the communications between humans that are undistracted by daily life, or if so, waiting until the distractions have passed with seemingly no lapse in time or focus. No one puts you on hold to check the latest tweet in a letter. You have their undivided attention.

Often, letters to others are really letters to ourselves, especially if we like to write to begin with. We start with all the pleasantries, then dive right in to comedy, tragedy, memories, difficulties, abstractions, and characterizations. I admire that letters that reference earlier letters sends one frantically searching for that letter, scrambling all over the place looking for the nook where the letter is now hiding, having been stowed away in a any number of places meant for safe-keeping.

“Which safe-keeping letter pile did I put that particular letter in?” I wonder aloud to myself as Debbie asks me what I am so urgently looking for. “The last Rita-letter,” I replied.

"You mean the one that came yesterday, or perhaps the one in your back pocket?" She asked.

I reach for the letter in my back pocket. I peer intently at it. "No, this is the one that came yesterday. I am looking for the letter that came before this one," I said. She shrugged her shoulders. I shrugged back.

“Did you look in the basket beside your chair?” she asked.

“Yes. Not there.”

“Did you look in the stack on the bookshelf beside the TV?” she asked.

“Yep. Not there.”

“Have you looked at the stack on the old sewing machine?” she asked.

“Aha!” I shout. I raced to the old sewing machine in front of the the east window in the kitchen. It is one of those old cabinet-enclosed, foot-powered treadle machines, the kind that ruthlessly mashes innocent young fingers that are continually drawn to poke and prod into those magic mechanical works by the noises they make, the finger seeking the noise and the noise-maker seeking to mash the finger. There was a stack of letters several inches high in all sorts of disarray, leaning askew to the point where gravity would take over just any minute, waiting for the slightest puff of air to send the precariously perched cache spilling onto the floor. As I approach, the disturbance of the air as it parts to admit my body is all that it needs to send the pile already yearning to get lower and lower, trying to get to the earth's center, as we all do, prohibited only by terra firma. Splat and scatter. The letter has to be in that pile. I remember putting it there. I must have said that out loud to myself.

“You didn't put those there,” said Debbie. “I've moved them three or four times, hoping you'd put them wherever it is that you decide to keep your Rita-letters. They are everywhere.” I just nodded, knowing better than to say anything. I raced through the pile of letters as I picked them up, looking for the envelope with the latest date. The letter was not there. As I looked through the pile, some of the letters were not in envelopes. I read a paragraph in one of them. I read another . . . soon, I was reabsorbed in a letter that was two years old, forgetting about the letter I was searching for. I sat in the Duncan Phyfe chair beside the sewing machine, to continue reading the letter that had distracted me. As I sat in the chair, I spied the corner of an envelope sticking out between the cushion and the arm. I grabbed it and pulled it out. There was the letter I was looking for. It had to wait now, since the letter I started re-reading had all my attention. I'd refer to the found letter later when I was making a reply to the reference that forced me to look for it. In the mean time, I was on a different adventure, just as if a charging bull interrupted my pasture picnic. I was forced by Rita-circumstance to focus on something unintended, but nevertheless urgent. It is the way of Rita-letters.

I now have one main place I store all my Rita-letters, though I still find the occasional misplaced one. They are liable to turn up most anywhere, including my pickup truck. Down in my studio I have a bookshelf filled with CD's, DVD's, cassette tapes, DAT tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, Syquest Disks, Zip Disks, and dozens of hard drives (SCSI, IDE, EIDE, SATA, ESATA, USB, FIREWIRE...you name it), and dozens and dozens of composition books and Moleskine journals filled with notes, essays, thoughts, lyrics, seriousness, foolishness, and whimsy of all sorts. It is my media shelf. There is no purchased, prerecorded media there, just stuff I have recorded live or worked on myself over the last 30 years. It is a treasure trove of wonder, or an apothecary of apathy, depending on who you talk to. It is not replaceable, therefore priceless. It is primary source stuff that no one is looking for, except me. I can't even decipher it in any meaningful way. I always have the greatest of plans to label everything properly before I put it away, but I seldom do so, thinking, in great error, that I'll be able to remember what is on that unlabeled CD that looks just like every other unlabeled CD among the hundreds and hundreds of unlabeled CD's. Even worse, I speculate about what may be on an unlabeled hard drive. I keep telling myself that one cold, rainy weekend, I will listen to those CD's, or load up those hard drives, and label them, but when I listen, they sound like so many other live recordings that I can't tell what they are or where they were recorded, though, occasionally, I'll find a real jewel of one that has something obscure that I played somewhere that I don't even remember knowing that I knew. Those were usually late-night third sets at some venue where anything goes, where the adrenalin of performing was gone, and the band had settled in to simply play music for each other, having long since won the crowd, with the ones who came to the venue for other purposes having gone and those who came to listen to the music still there, listening, waiting as much as we were for whatever magic live music can produce. It's hard to get through the first two sets that sound much like the first two sets of every performance from that period. It is so easy to get distracted doing this, especially if one considers falling asleep a distraction, since falling asleep is likely in a warm, dry room, on a cold winter's day, with headphones on, listening to lullabies. The occasional recorded clam will wake me right up with a snort and a laugh, then I drift immediately back into my distraction of sleep.

See how easy it is to get distracted? I was off on another tangent, deeply off, and that distraction is unappreciated at this time. I was telling you about my media shelf. No, wait. I was telling you about piles of Rita-letters. No, wait longer, still. I was telling you about my search for a particular earlier Rita-letter referenced in a later Rita-letter which required me to look at the reference to make a sensible reply. I was telling you I had found it wedged between the cushion and the arm of the Duncan Phyfe chair next to the old-sewing machine at the east window in the kitchen. None of that is important now. I must finish with my distraction before I get distracted a second time.

The second shelf from the bottom on my media case, in the right hand corner, there rests my now mostly-assembled stack of Rita-letters. There's about a hundred or so. Somewhere, among Rita's belongings, are as many replies. Each one of those letters is a treasure to me. Each one is filled with the most wonderful, clever graphics augmenting and expanding the words. They are the result of hundreds and hundreds of hours of Rita's time she invested in communicating with me, or as I mentioned earlier, perhaps communicating to herself through a kindred spirit, for letters are magic like that.

Like Rita, I started out composing each one of my letters to her on the computer, where I have nice electronic copies of them. Too anxious, or perhaps too lazy, I sent several as PDF letters via e-mail...but mostly they went through the USPS. Later on in our letter exchanges, I abandoned the computer. I wrote to Rita on fine vellum or linen paper, using a fountain pen, and purposefully kept no copy. Amid her artifacts are those letters of which there is no copy and no memory of what may be contained in them. Their only existence is wherever they may happen to be located among her belongings as they are no longer accessible to me physically, or through her memory of their contents. I chose to do things the real old-fashioned way.

I wish I had kept copies of all my replies to her, but I chose not to do so for some now unsearchable reason. I simply felt I must do it. I think Rita liked to see the real, hand-placed ink on fine paper, though the paper was not always so fine. But the ink was always from a fountain pen, with the occasional blot that betrayed this old-fashioned way of doing things. She once said she enjoyed deciphering my handwriting, which was her genteel way of telling me I should take more time with my penmanship. I always started out with great intentions and clear writing, but progressed to sloppy carelessness as I became absorbed in the writing and had no means of editing other than scratch-outs. When the words come faster than the hand can produce them, the legibility suffers, just as the keyboard now tells me to slow down. I'll write faster if I slow down and not have to correct every word because of reckless fingers. Try that with a fountain pen and ink. Try to edit ramblings and distractions placed on paper with a fountain pen. No, think what you will, writing in that manner requires some discipline, and I had none. She expected none. I was as free to be me in a Rita-reply as I have ever been in anything, and that is pretty free, since I am not accustomed to being constrained.

Rita and I spent many hours face to face. We spent precious few on the telephone, but managed perhaps a bi-monthly phone call. If you've ever spoken to me on the phone, you may have noticed that I am always in a hurry. The first lapse or pause in the conversation tends to get me off the phone, since it takes me five minutes or less on it to say what I want to say. Many of you may find this a relief.

It may take me days to compose a letter, but it can be composed at leisure, or at the driven whim of passion, whichever mind I have at the time. It can then take a leisurely trip across country after being mailed the next day, for one should never send an impassioned letter the same day it was written, then it can be consumed at leisure by its recipient. It is an ancient form of communication, invented at a time when there was hardly any other durable form of communication, and no other form of communication at a distance unless smoke signals are to be included, but perhaps they were too awkward, and clever graphics by smoke signal were haphazard at best, and completely ineffective or misinterpreted at worst.

There were the drumming of tribes in faraway, exotic places which were used for long-distance communications. The drumming all sounds the same to me, but then I am only familiar with it through Johnny Weismuller movies, which might just render me an anthropological idiot. They must only be saying, “Here we are. Come join us.” Or, “Here we are. You better stay away.” It is unlikely that drumming or smoke signals were ever used to say, “Aunt Martha came to visit last week. She showed us slides from her trip to Amsterdam and we had a nice dinner of turkey, dressing and all the fixings, with fresh cranberry sauce. She carried the remaining sauce home with her in her Buick.” I may be deceiving myself. I may not know what I am talking about. I could be on to something. It is up to the reader to decide.

So much is up to the reader to decide. Where is the veracity in what I am reading? Where is the truth? Is it in here, somewhere? Is it concealed behind a facade uneasily penetrated? No, the truth, in letters between friends, is usually easy to get at. Just read long enough, and it will reveal itself, its true self, just as we do to each other when we get to know each other for who we really are. Eventually, there are no facades. There is just us. That is the Rita I came to know through scores of Rita-letters.

None of them made me love her less, and none of them could have made me love her more.

I regret that I cannot be at Rita's Memorial in Berkeley tomorrow. It was at a memorial for a mutual friend where I first met her. It was at that memorial that Rita changed my life and made a gift to me of the entire West Coast, and by extension, the whole world. Clever girl, that Rita. She will be missed. But, on cold, rainy, winter days, when I again set out to organize and label my otherwise unlabeled media collection, it will be a bittersweet joy to be distracted by all those letters from her which I have in my possession, me reading them, and wondering what my response might have been. When that happens, I, perhaps, will compose a new letter to Rita all over again, right there in my mind, as I try to recollect what I may have written, and yield to the wonder of cold, gray-day speculation becoming a warm reality.

Please note the photograph of the Rita letters. The only one that brings me any sadness whatsoever is the one in the center...the only one not from Rita...the sealed, addressed one that never made it to the mail. 

10/8/13 Progressivism versus Conservatism

I am a conservative. There are lots of us.

There are also lots of progressives.

They are an oil and water mixture, not blending, but only appearing to when shaken. Give the mixture just a minute or two, and it will re-stratify, separating into the unblendable layers, just like an Italian dressing, tasty to some, but objectionable for a variety of reasons to others.

“What do you want to conserve?” I was once asked.

“What do you want to progress?” I curtly asked back.

It was a provocative question, though. One for which I had no ready answer. What DO I want to conserve? It is a fair question. It deserves an honest answer. I must be honest with myself in the process. It is unwise for me to try and fool me, for who, then, becomes the fool? It's as wise and useful as cheating at solitaire.

There are honest people who look for government to be the answer to human need. They would do this by having government move wealth from one sector of the population to another. One sector is presumed to have more than it needs, the other, to be lacking. It seems right and fair to some to move this perceived excess to those segments of the population who are less well off. Government is perceived as the vehicle for doing this.

There are others who recognize the need for government, simply because a lack of government means anarchy. They honestly perceive the primary role of government as the establishment of law and order and the protection of private property.

If there is something I would like to conserve, it is my personal liberty and my private property that would be denied to me by an intrusive, progressive government. I am not the first person to feel this way, nor am I likely to be the last. I would like to conserve the idea that no one else has any right to or claim on what I have earned or acquired.

Without bothering to provide references, I recall that I work until late in March of every year for the government. Everything I make during the year's first quarter goes to satisfy the fiscal obligations imposed on me by the law. Of course, I get some benefits in return for this taxation. I get roads to drive on and bridges to cross over. I also get the ability to dial 911, if I have a phone, but will have to obviously fend for myself the best way I can until the authorities arrive, whether those authorities are the police, fire department, or ambulance. It is possible that dialing 911 produces nothing, because the authorities guarantee me nothing since they can't control anything until after they arrive, and sometimes can't control them after they do. But I can dial the number and have someone answer. Hopefully that someone will be competent, but that is not always the case. There are no guarantees of protection of life or property.

I also get air traffic controllers to help ensure that airplanes do not proceed with chaos, but neither can they guarantee my safety. The laws of physics will prevail despite the best efforts of the air traffic controllers.

I also get the benefit of research funded by the government, though I daresay that much useful research is also funded by the private sector...perhaps as just as much, or more; I don't know.

I get food inspections, but that does not guarantee me anything. I must still guard against foodborne illnesses.

I get a military that protects us from foreign invaders, but we haven't had many foreign invaders since 1812, unless one counts the invasion from our southern border, which I admit is not quite the same thing. But, we don't get the military just for taxes that we pay. We may be called on to serve and to pay a price far greater than our tax money. It is possible that we could pay it directly, or have it collected through the lives of our sons and daughters. Many Americans have before.

My employer and I have paid taxes which promises an old-age pension and health insurance. While this was controversial in the beginning stages, the only controversy that seems to be left now is that the government charged with its fiduciary management seems to have squandered the money. Others in such a position of fiduciary mismanagement would likely be charged with a crime, but the government is allowed to legally keep such obligations off-budget, which is a concept I wholly fail to understand. I wish I could keep a few off-budget projects going, but my budget will simply not tolerate it.

I wish I could say that I get good schools for my children in return for my taxes, but that is not the case. As a Mississippian, by default, I get poor schools. But I am not alone since there are failing schools and mismanaged school districts all over the country. In an effort to make the schools appear to be successful, we keep reducing the curriculum to the lowest common denominator. Common is the operative word. We now call the preferred educational curriculum Common Core. We no longer strive for the uncommon, we have settled for the common. I remember my grandmother warning me to stay away from “common” women.

“She is common,” Grandmother would whisper to me. There was hardly a word that could have had a worse meaning. Even a prostitute had more value in my Grandmother's eyes than a common woman, since she knew that women could be forced by circumstances into situations they'd rather have not found themselves.

“But you don't like progress?” I have been asked. I no longer bite on that too common question. Everyone likes progress, but it is the means by which it would be achieved that we find great differences.

“You didn't build this,” a politician was recently quoted as saying. Many replied back that they did indeed build it. They built it without the help of government. In fact, many claim that they built it in spite of the government. They built it in spite of licenses, zoning restrictions, inspections, permits, fees, hiring and wage regulations, insurance regulations, and a host of other tick bites along the way, each one just sucking a little bit, and a little bit, and a little bit more, until they were a mass of itching bites and welts. Hardly any of them expected help from government . . . they just wanted government to not try and thwart them at every turn.

As far as this writer can see, modern government exists to primarily help its welfare recipients . . . and that consists of those who are unable to do for themselves for whatever reason, and those who are able to employ lobbyists to obtain government assistance on a massive scale. All of us first-quarter-work-for-free folks get very little from the government that is not common to all, such as the things mentioned earlier. We don't get SNAP benefits. We don't get free phones. We don't get free medical care but rather underwrite the free things that others receive. We don't get more back in income taxes than we paid in. It seems like the more progress we make, the less self-sufficient we become, and self-sufficiency is very likely the main thing I am interested in conserving.

The founders of our nation did not stake their lives on building a Christian nation. They staked their lives that our creator endowed us with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They staked their lives that these rights were not granted to us by the benevolence of government, but by our creator, that these rights were inherent to all humanity simply by reason of being alive. That a majority of them recognized a creator is beyond question. (some of them didn't...Thomas Paine comes to mind, God Bless him!!) But the Declaration of Independence specifically mentions “nature” and “nature's god” distinctly and separately, allowing all men to choose for themselves whatever it is that they reverence as higher than themselves. It declared that men already have that right; it did not deign to award men that right.

The Constitution is the document around which our GOVERNMENT was formed. It is not the principles upon which this nation was founded, though it contains those principles. Progressives have cried that it is was a flawed document from the start. I do not deny this, which is why we have a means to amend it from time to time, correcting those things which are found to be flawed. At least once it was amended, then unamended, the flaw being found to be the amendment. Perhaps it should be amended again so that our Senators are once again appointed by our state legislatures and not directly elected by the people, which seems to have set up a plutocratic/aristocratic “upper chamber” which has become the most dysfunctional segment of our government.

There is no end to progressivism. It goes from one step to the next, each one giving me a larger teat upon which to suck until I am no longer able to provide for myself. Then, progressivism has a nasty habit of turning itself into opressiveism...that is to say, I no longer have a voice since I no longer can do for myself, whether by having grown used to the taste of the milk, or by decree. The self-sufficient person threatens to upset the apple cart. This makes for bad form to those who would show us better how to live our lives, as if they knew. My Grandmother knew when I needed a dose of castor oil. I cannot allow the government the same familiarity as I endured at the hands of my grandmother. It is this freedom to choose for myself that I would conserve. I still don't like castor oil. Who does? But I will decide for myself when I need a dose or not. If I am willing to suffer the results of not taking it, then so be it. If I am willing to suffer the taste of it for the benefit it will bring, then so be it.

Since I pay local taxes to support public education, I would like to get the benefit of being able to send my children and grandchildren there for their education. As it is, I get the taxes with none of the benefits. The schools in our county received a failing grade from the state and are always a single step away from being taken over. While the State dilly-dallies, whole generations of children are abandoned to a poor education. I do not want to send my children and grandchildren to failing schools, so I go to great expense to send them to private school. I went to public school. I got a good education there, but times have changed. While I went to public school and got a good education, others that went to the same school did not. Some of them had needs that the school was unable to meet. Some of them were just slackers and stoners. But we cannot afford to abandon a whole generation of children to failing schools here, or anywhere, and more money directed towards the schools does not seem to help the education of the children. It is far more complex than that. There is something missing, and that something is likely the same thing that makes our government now want to spend money sending 2 to 4 year olds to school when we have evidence that says that head-start programs offer no long-term measurable benefits to a child's education. The evidence for this is beyond reproach, the long-term study having been funded by Head-Start itself who was much chagrined by the results.

What, then, would I conserve. Well, I would have conserved the core family unit, but I think it is too late to conserve that. We have moved beyond the family to a broader “It Takes A Village” approach, where we put our trust in government. The sanctity of the family, of the tribe, has been maligned by everyone but anthropologists who study tribal customs in isolated areas and label it “culture.” It is our own culture I would conserve. It is the very thing that makes me me that I would conserve.

“Everyone is special,” says the sociologist. That's true and not true. Everyone is special by the fact that they are unique just like everyone else. But some are gifted one way, and others gifted in another. Some are just gifted with being lucky, which is a hard gift to beat. The trails blazed by the pioneers who yearned for the freedom of self-sufficiency of owning their own land is littered with the bones of the special and the not-so-special. Even some of the special ones had their slain or diseased bodies consumed by worms and fungus. The not-so-special ones succumbed in large numbers. Yet, they faced hardship, deprivation, and death, for something we seem to be trading for an adulterated, addictive milk offered to us in exchange for the freedom from the danger of being able to choose for ourselves. We no longer get to experience the great teacher of failure. We are reduced to the lowest common denominator.

If I could conserve something, something so sacred, so precious, so invigorating, it would be the right of men to fail and fail often, and dust themselves off and re-start under their own means and motivation, however meager, for this is what makes men great. I think we have progressed beyond that. I do not think it progress when we are furnished a gentle failure at great expense while being denied the chance to fail while doing greatly.

Yes, I was borrowing from the great progressive, Teddy Roosevelt. If we could all be like Teddy in our actions, and unlike him in his desire to inflict what he thought was best on common folks, then we, too, could be as successful. For if ever there was a man who perceived himself to be above common folk, it was Theodore Roosevelt. There was nothing common about him...not in his own life or in his own estimation of himself. That's the trouble with progressives...they think too much of themselves.

Maybe, in that sense, I am a progressive, too. If so, then this is a tenet of progressivism unwelcomed by progressives, and one this conservative would like to conserve.

Think about that, if you will. That's as honest as I know how to be.

10/6/13 Time to Take a Sabbatical

Ever put too much wet concrete in a wheelbarrow and tried to push it? I sure have. It's not easy on smooth ground; on rough ground, you are guaranteed trouble. If you have, too, then you know the result, which is concrete everywhere but the place you want it, having been overwhelmed by the dynamic fluidity of the wet concrete that is far heavier than you thought it was. Oops!!

First, my greatest and most sincere thanks to two-time Grammy winner Mike Compton for coming to play on the show at Meridian Community College on October 1. I am thankful for his peerless talent and our long-time friendship. You can learn more about Mike's music at http://www.mikecompton.net  We had a good turnout for the show and folks left with smiles on their faces. All performers must entertain their audience. I am confident the folks were entertained. Thanks to all of you who have commented on the show.  I am also thankful that Raymond Huffmaster, Augie Joachim, Gene Bush, and Piper were part of this wonderful show. They are loyal and faithful friends, each and every one.

As some of you have since learned, Gene Bush was ill that night and came straight to the show from the doctor's office. He was scheduled for tests back home in Nashville last Friday, and we hope the results will be favorable. That made two of us that were ill that night. It is a performer's job to make sure that the audience gets their money's worth, no matter how we might feel at the moment. Events are set up months in advance, plans are made, people's calendars are arranged, all for the moment when the show starts. Sometimes the logistics are difficult, and even tentative until everything is in place, which is usually just about show time itself.

The musicians are there live performing in a linear progression of time, which will wait for no one. As Ed Dye taught me, you can't phone it in...you have to be there. This is sometimes only accomplished through the greatest effort and by the sheer strength of will-power and adrenalin. When the show is over, the exhaustion sets in on top of your underlying malady. I am still exhausted.

While my leukemia is still in remission, that does not mean that there are no complications from it. I am dealing with some of its complications right now, and have been for about two months. I am what you call immuno-compromised. Being immuno-compromised means that the odd things that turn up in a person with a normal immune system that are promptly dealt with tend to stack up and fester in me. That is the case now.

My underlying leukemia prohibits me from taking medications that are typically very effective for the auto-immune malady that has manifested itself, and about the only one available to me is an older chemotherapy drug called methotrexate. I was supposed to start taking it last week, but I refused to do so amid much fussing from my doctors because they said I needed to get on it right away. I would not start it with Tuesday night's show on the agenda. I'm glad I waited. I started the methotrexate yesterday and have been completely incapacitated by it. It's funny how two small tablets in your mouth feel like two large concrete blocks in your stomach. The nausea has made me unfit company, and completely unfit for performing, thus my absence from last Friday's Sucarnochee Revue. Thanks to all of you who inquired about me in my absence. I was thinking of you, too.

Effective this date, I am on hiatus. I am taking a sabbatical. I simply lack the energy to continue performing at this time. I put a lot of energy into a show, and the recovery periods are getting longer and longer. I am not recovered from Tuesday night, yet. Add the variable of methotrexate, and the equation becomes too complex for this person to solve at the moment.; it is not that it has no solution, I just don't have one yet.

When I do return to performing, it will be with all new songs and a new recording of them. I have been working on this for some time, but have not had the inclination or drive to finish. I am determined to do so now, and the resulting work will be Piper and me, together, with some guest musician appearances. Performing with my daughter has been one of the greatest joys in my life. The acorn that fell from the tree took root and is growing strong. If she asks me to, I may consider accompanying her at some point, but right now, I am breathing a sigh of relief at my own action. This does not mean that I will cease being a musician, since that is not possible for me, and I am not retiring, since that would be about as effective as Bret Favre's retirement from the NFL. I am taking some time off for rest, healing, and recovery, though, and certainly some time to let this new medicine settle down, if it will, so that it does not cause me so much trouble.

Many years ago, at a lonesome spot in my life, I asked the Lord for an audience for my music. He found me one in the most remarkable way. I am thankful for each and every one of you who are a part of that audience and would never neglect you, but give you everything I've got. Now, He has told me it is time to rest a while, and recover, and work on my new music. What the result will be, I am uncertain; but that it is necessary is not an uncertainty.

In the words of the great Douglas McArthur . . . I Shall Return. Just like the General, though, I'm not too sure when.

Thank you all...my music fans, my blog readers, my friends, my family, and everyone of you who have touched and continue to touch my life along the way.

My blog?? Of course I will keep writing my blog!! This is one of the things I find restorative and restful. In the meantime, all my music will be in my studio (Stump Whipped Studio) which will still be open for recording, live recording off premises, mixdown, and final mastering of your project, and I will still work with my friend Jacky Jack White on The Sucarnochee Revue as the technical producer. Maybe when I am ready, Jack will give me an occasional spot on the show.

I am extremely grateful for the music with which I have been blessed, thankful that it has touched some of you, too, and thankful for the music which is to still to come. I am also thankful for this respite. Many, many blessings upon you all.

Now, I've got some spilled concrete to clean up before it sets up and requires a jackhammer. I didn't overturn the entire wheelbarrow full, but It's a wonder.

I am thankful for that, too.

9/24/13 Can you say AUTOIMMUNE?

Man, there are lots of autoimmune diseases. There are so many, it's hard to believe that we all don't have one, maybe two. Google any website that can furnish the exhaustive list, check the symptoms, and see how many you have or are developing. At least two, probably more.

There's some serious ones out there, too.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Lymphoproliferative Syndrome

Autoimmune Pancreatitis

Multiple Sclerosis

Paraneoplastic Cerebellar Degeneration

Rheumatoid Arthritis

None of these sound very good to me, or to the people who have them. If I have neglected your particular, severe and debilitating autoimmune disease, please do not think I purposefully omitted it. There are dozens and dozens . . . simply too many to list by name. Go here if you want to learn more about them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoimmune_disease Wikipedia is not the answer to everything, but it sure is a useful starting place. Make yourself at home there. Send them a donation while you're at it.

I have already collected one suspected autoimmune disease: Restless Leg Syndrome. RLS causes me no end of trouble since it dramatically interferes with sleep. I take medication for that, which is mostly effective, but sometimes nothing helps. When that happens, I usually get up, come down to my studio and write in my blog. Well...there it is and here I am.

Autoimmune diseases tend to show up more frequently in people who already have suppressed immune systems, such as me. My immune system is as reliable as a Fiat on a desert roadway, and just as hard to maintain since Fiat parts are not usually available nearby, wherever you happen to be. I seem to have collected my second one: Psoriasis

My Psoriasis started out bad and seems rapidly getting worse. It is what it is. It could be worse than Psoriasis! I have a reader of this blog who is a CLL patient who also happens to have Multiple Sclerosis. Her hands are full. When I think of that, I am embarrassed to think that I am appearing to complain about Psoriasis. But, you might need to know that there is more to Psoriasis than just a mere skin condition; it is rather involved and difficult to treat...especially for one like me. The older I get, the more complicated these things become. I am collecting chronic diseases like some philatelists collect postage stamps. As my Physician Friend Frank said, “The difference is that a good stamp collection appreciates in value.” We both laughed out loud when he said this.

I am fortunate to now be under the care of my Physician Friend Frank (We'll henceforth refer to him as PFF), who you met here when I first started this blog. He was very encouraging to me when I was first diagnosed with CLL, and offered me a good sounding board and effective counter to my own moroseness, which can be consuming. One must not allow oneself to be consumed with moroseness. A good British stiff upper lip is far more productive than an overdose of moroseness. PFF was my friend before he became my physician. There is no awkward doctor/patient relationship that must be established and confirmed before trust can be developed, or for me to know that my best interests are at heart; PFF already has my best interests at heart. He did so prior to me being his patient, and served me as a friend before he ever became my physician. PFF helped me sort through the mountains of clinical information I had read about CLL, without the benefit of clinical training to interpret it. He counseled me. He warned me. He set me on the right track. When I was at my most suspicious of everything Hemosapien and Gooday were telling me, looking at them, the bearers of bad news, the prophets come to tell the king of God's soon coming judgment, as if they were my enemies rather than my allies, that I was off base. He warned me that they would go to bat for me and do everything in their power to treat me as best they could for the disease that was a misfire in my own body. PFF was right. I was wrong. I don't mind admitting that I was wrong. People should try it more often.

Here's what Jonathan Swift said about admitting one's error:

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying...That he is wiser today than yesterday.

I'll have to give old Jonathan a great big amen on that. There is so much I don't know, and so much that I only partially know that is a danger to me and others. Even my physicians don't know everything. I'll admit that it disappoints me some when they admit it. But it would be infinitely more disappointing if they admitted to knowing stuff that I know they don't know. I've seen doctors like that. They are usually so sure of themselves that they miss something they should have seen. They are the ones who tell the patient, “Oh, you just have a little arthritis I your back.” They are not like the other physicians who told the arthritic-back diagnosed patient, “No, you don't have arthritis. You have a metastasized stage V lung cancer which has spread to your spine.” This has happened to two close friends of mine in nearly the exact same manner. Even doctors can get it wrong, especially the ones filled with hubris. I'll take a little humility and temerity with my physicians, please. I'll also take experience and the wisdom it brings.

We have to remember that our physicians are treating us because it is our own bodies that have failed us, many times in the most remarkably personal way, since lots of cases are not routine, but incredibly complex. As PFF said, “If the practice of medicine were all routine, it would get boring.” I say, if it were always routine, anyone could do it with a little bit of training. It is recognizing the complexities and relishing the challenges that make a good physician. I am thankful for them. I am thankful for them even when my own body will not cooperate with their plans.

So, here is where I am. In the midst of this worsening Psoriasis, I am not a candidate for the systemic treatments which have proven effective, such as biologicals (monoclonal antibodies) which are similar to those used to treat my CLL (Rituximab is a biological I took during my chemotherapy) since a family history of leukemia or lymphoma precludes their use. We might say that I have more than a family history of leukemia; I am personally involved with it. Biologicals work by suppressing your immune system. Since I am already immuno-compromised, taking something that suppresses an already suppressed immune system can be fraught with peril: doubly suppressed, as it were. Topical treatments seem to be increasingly ineffective. I am a complicated case. PFF and a colleague with whom he consulted say that any systemic treatment I may undergo must pass muster with Hemosapien and Gooday because of the effects they may have on my CLL, or the effects they may have on any future treatment of my CLL. Hemosapien is wondering whether my new autoimmune acquisition has something to do with a change in my CLL status. Everyone is wondering, including me, but I wonder a lot. I wonder regularly. I wonder why I wonder about things. Wondering usually comes after speculation and reckoning, but this time, I just went straight to wonder. I wonder why?

Four physicians, at this very minute, are counseling on the best way to proceed without doing ancillary damage. It may not be possible to proceed without ancillary damage, but we can make the best choice based on the assessed risks, since no medical treatment is risk-free. Nothing in life is risk-free. Life, itself, is not risk-free. Welcome to the club.

So, today, my solution for dealing with this consists of the words I have written here. They have been cathartic. They have reduced my stress levels, which may, according to what I have read, reduce the symptoms of my psoriasis. I will not complain about anything. I will take it as it is. I will play it like it is a drama/comedy on the worldwide stage of life. I will not let it be a tragedy, today, for the tragedy is surely yet to come. Right now, there is just some discomfort. In the light of the things other people are facing, some discomfort seems hardly worth mentioning. There is still a whole lot of joy in the midst of discomfort.

I will embrace the joy. I will simply endure the rest.

OK, I admit it....some lingering minor vexation is harassing me, but it will not steal my joy.

9/16/13 Darkness

I am going to quote Genesis. This may raise some hackles a bit. Regardless of what one might think of the Genesis creation story, there is much to learn from it as men recorded what they felt were the words of God. You may believe this. You may not. You may not even believe in God. But you can read the beautiful, poetic words of the writer of Genesis, bear with me for a moment, and see for yourselves if there is any wisdom contained wherein men may profit, for the questions that Genesis deals with are as old as mankind, and the issues we wrestle with are as modern to us as they were to Genesis' author(s).

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void;

and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good:

and God divided the light from the darkness.

Darkness is never associated with anything good. Thieves operate under the cover of darkness. Vagabonds and miscreants prefer the cover of darkness. Cockroaches and rats work their magic under the cover of darkness. Crooked deals are done in secret (darkness). Politicians sell themselves for money in private (darkness). Prostitutes advertise their services under clever pseudonyms (darkness). And we all took a cookie (okay, several), from the cookie jar when no one was looking (darkness). As we look at the scales, look about for our spouse to determine their whereabouts so that we will not get caught red-handed, we quietly, furtively, remove the ice cream from the freezer in the dead of night (darkness). We conceal our misdeeds (darkness). We run for cover when accosted with the truth (darkness). We fabricate elaborate stories (darkness). We apprehend the truth and hog-tie it so that it cannot escape; we camouflage the truth and point to the fabrication (darkness).

It is the light that drives out the darkness. The darkness cannot be contained, since to contain something would imply that it has properties that can be apprehended, and darkness has no such properties. Darkness is merely the absence of light. God saw the darkness. He said, “Let there be light.” He saw the light and that it was good, and He divided the light from the darkness. Where there is light, there can be no darkness. Darkness cannot stand in the presence of light; it must falter...it must fail.

As I look at the world around me, we seem overcome with a malaise of foolishness and mayhem. It overtakes us at every turn. Murders, mass murders, chemical murders, genocides, suicides, fratricides, regicides, and others, besides. The world is gone crazy. Or has it? Could it be that we simply have more light shed on these things than we once had? As the ever increasing speed of media brings light to bear on formerly dark actions; as media changes in an ever accelerating manner so that everyone has become a news reporter, a photographer and videographer, a writer, and a publisher, we are spraying light in much the same manner as a tomcat sprays a houseplant. There is an abundance of light, though much of it is filtered.

Run through a prism, visible light breaks up into separate bandwidths which we see as colors. White light gives us a clear picture and is the most revealing, but filtered light brings us a portion, which is better than darkness though still only a portion. If we are viewing the world strictly through yellow or blue, we see only the yellow and blue reflections of those things. It would be better to view the world through the green, since we cannot have green without yellow and blue; with green, we get them both. Better yet is to view the world through clear white, since clear white brings everything into view and focus; it conceals nothing. With clear white, only the shadows from its brightness are able to conceal anything, and even with bright, radiant light, if it is coming from a single source, there must be shadows. It is in the darkness of the shadows that the truth is obscured. It is also light through the prism that filters things in such a manner as to  allow us to see only certain bandwidths. Sometimes a partial picture is worse than no picture.

Isn't the truth what we are after? Isn't light what can bring us the truth? Isn't darkness the truth's obscurer?

Oh, give me light! Let me be a light! And let me be a light that shines in such a manner as it conceals nothing but reveals everything. To be a bringer of light is not to be a constant admonition to others; it is to be a light so that others may see for themselves. They must make their own adjustments based on what is revealed, at least the wise ones do. Light is of no benefit to those who see what is revealed but have no wisdom to make use of it . . . who have no desire to make use of it . . . who'd rather have shunned the light and continued unabated in darkness. Let us never be those people. Let us be the ones who search for light and rejoice when we find it. Let us be those who welcome the light, turn our faces towards it, and reach out to it as it burns away the chaff from that which would nourish us.

We all have had bright lights appear and pass through our lives. They are those people who reveal to us a different us than the one we had perceived so that we are never the same anymore. I am thankful for every one of those lights which have shone on a path heretofore unseen. As more and more of those lights pass into the great light, we must become the light in their stead. Eventually, the white light overtakes us all, and then we go clear. We accelerate to the speed of light and become invisible to those around us. We came from the light and we yearn to return to the light. We only have darkness in this world. When we have gone clear, we have merged with the light of lights, and in that light is no hint of darkness, for it is a light that casts no shadow, since the source is not a pinpoint, but encompassing.

A single, weak forty watt bulb hung from a wire disperses the cockroaches. Give me the light, please. More light, less roaches.

9/2/13 Labor Day

Labor. We must perform it. We must have it. It is the lot of men to labor.

Someone wrote about this a long time ago. Genesis 3:19 says:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

We labor for our bread. We labor for our comfort. We labor for our lives. We labor until the dust from which we are formed reclaims us. Through labor, we tend our fields, nurture our crops as they grow, then harvest them, preserve them, and eat them for our sustenance. We must have labor. Unfortunately, there is no escaping it.

Capital? The land we till is capital. The plow we till it with is capital. The seeds we plant are capital. The barn in which we store our harvest is capital. Labor without capital is fruitless. We must have capital and labor, else, what do we hope to gain by our labor? The world is populated far beyond and in such a manner that being hunter/gatherers is completely beyond the scope of the mass of humanity.

Many an ancient fisherman no doubt said to himself, “If I could just get a bigger boat and a new net, I could catch a lot more fish.” Thus was born the business of finance, a necessary component of capital.  “With the increased amount of fish I catch, I will be able to pay off the loan for the new boat and net in just a year,” said the perhaps illiterate fisherman to himself. Though he was illiterate, he could count money just fine.

A year later, he had repaid the loan and was now able to keep more of the profits for himself, and soon enough, refitted his old boat, furnished it with a new net, and employed others to operate the boat, bringing more fish in every day. The fisherman prospered and he grew. The more he prospered, the more he reinvested his prosperity in his fishing fleet and the more employees he hired.

After having agreed to work for wages, his employees soon became disgruntled at what they perceived to be the prosperity of their employer. “Why should he live so fine when we work for measly wages. At our expense and labor, he grows fat and rich,” one among them said to the nods and acclamation of those gathered around him. “Let us demand our fair share of the harvest that would not be possible without our labor.”

Thus began the struggle between capital and labor. We cannot prosper without labor and labor cannot prosper without capital. It is a symbiotic, co-dependent, yet tenuous relationship. Even the most humble fisherman needs capital as much as the owner of a large fishing fleet. Even the most humble farmer needs seeds to plant.

Finance? Ah! This is the most despised portion of the triumvirate of capital, labor, and finance, for finance is capital in its purest form. It is the enabler; yet the image of greasy, greedy usurers is as old as any image we humans possess. The money-lender is mostly portrayed as the bad guy. Many times he was, but mostly not.

Many times, the capitalist has been the bad guy . . . but mostly not.

Many times, labor has been the bad guy . . . but mostly not.

We are all the bad guys when we demand something that we have not earned, something for which we have not labored, nor sweated, nor risked.

A very wise man once told a story about a certain man who owned a vineyard. The vineyard proprietor hired a laborer to pick grapes for an agreed-on dollar per day. The next day, another man approached the vineyard owner and asked for a job and asked for two dollars a day. The proprietor agreed to this.

Through loose lips, the dollar-a-day worker found out about the two-dollar-a-day wages being paid to the man next to him, performing the exact same task for twice the money. He was angry about this and went to the vineyard owner to complain.

“That fellow you hired last week is making twice the money I am,” said the dollar-a-day worker. “That is not fair.”

“What is not fair about it?” asked the vineyard owner.

“We're doing the same work, yet he is making twice as much . . . that's what's not fair,” the peeved dollar-a-day man said.

“Did you not agree to work for a dollar-a-day?” asked the vineyard owner.

“Well, yes, but that's not the point!” replied the dollar-a-day man.

“That is exactly the point,” said the vineyard owner.

That story brings me to this, which I learned from one of the most remarkable men I ever had the pleasure of meeting. As he showed me the thousands of acres of prime farmland he owned in Louisiana's Red River delta, near where it joins the Mississippi, he said he had once worked this very same land as the poor son of his poor share-cropper father. He told me that as he was seated on a horse-drawn hay mower, he asked the Lord what is it that other men knew that he did not, for they knew how to make money and all he knew was how to sit on that horse-drawn hay mower and cut that grass. He said the Lord answered him audibly from heaven.

“I can make money even doing that,” said the Lord.

As I looked around at the fields of freshly planted soybeans which stretched for a couple of miles in every direction, the red, fertile dirt crossed here and there with drainage ditches and breaks of Cypress and Water Oaks, as birds flew in the evening breeze on a red-skied sunset in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, I asked him why he had driven us in his squeaky old farm truck to this exact spot to tell me that, which seemed to me to be an arbitrary place. He could have just as easily told me from his front porch where we had been sipping some iced tea prepared by his very gracious wife.

“The Lord was as good as his word. I bought all of this by cutting grass. I have cut grass all over the country. I have cut and baled hay when you couldn't give hay away, and stored it and sold it when it was precious and dear. Everything you see here for six square miles,” he said with 360° sweep of his hand,” was paid for by cutting grass.”

I thought about this for a moment. I looked at him, sensing something else but not able to discern it completely.

“So, why bring me here?” I asked.

His right arm raised a slight downward less than perpendicular to his body, he pointed directly at a spot about fifty feet away, near a cypress break where the water from a drainage ditch passed through a culvert under one of the farm roads. He said, “That is the place where I heard the voice of the Lord. If I were any closer, I'd have to take off my shoes.”

The goose bumps went up and down my spine, for I was indeed looking at a holy place: if not holy for me, then certainly holy to my host. I would not violate it by taking a single step closer. We stood there for a minute in silence, looking at the spot, then we gazed at the deepening hue of the sky, shifting from red towards violet as twilight began to set in. We silently got in his truck and drove back to his house without saying another word, such was the magic of that place and the very personal spiritual experience he shared with me. The magic of that spot was unmistakable. Why he had brought me there was for my own benefit. What he shared with me has profoundly influenced me. What he saw in me that motivated him to share this with me is mysterious to me, but I am thankful he saw it and acted on it. Remarkably, though it has been years, I could drive straight to that exact same spot he showed me as if the GPS coordinates were permanently programmed into my head. It would be no less holy to me now than it was then, simply because of its holiness to him. If I dared to, shoeless would be the only way I could approach it.

I learned from him this poem at that very spot:

I bargained with Life for a penny

And Life would pay no more,

No matter how I cried in the evening,

When I counted my scanty score.

For life is a just employer,

She will pay you what you ask,

But once you have set the wages,

You must perform the task.

I bargained with Life for a penny,

Only to learn dismayed,

That whatever I would have asked of Life,

Life would have gladly paid.

You can take that or leave it. It is far older than my friend from whom I learned it. Many sources attribute it to the prolific ANONYMOUS. Some attribute it to Jessie B. Rittenhouse, who apparently published it in a book called The Door of My Dreams, in 1918. I have no basis for denying it to Rittenhouse. Some have attributed it to motivational speaker Napoleon Hill, but he most likely borrowed it. I think it is older, but then again, I am simply choosing to think it’s older. The words from the lips of my larger-than-life friend, there in that magic place, his phrasing, his meter, the cadence of his words, and their sanctity made it seem like the words were coming straight from his heart. Though they were someone else's words, they had become his just as surely as the title to the land on which we were standing was in his name. Besides, this is my blog, and I intermingle fact and fiction at will; in fact, I am guaranteeing you no facts at all. This would not nearly be as much fun without the embellishments, though there are none here at present that I can think of. You have been warned.

Through labor, we can prosper. We can have increase. We can develop capital. Through that, we can serve our own needs and the needs of others, though anyone can see a need and work to mend it, no matter their circumstances. The same wise man who gave us the story of the vineyard also observed that the widow who put two pennies in the collection plate had given far more than the wealthy man who put in a fat check, because she had given from her need, not from her excess.

Another wise man once said, “...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

There. There in that one fraction of a sentence, is the real source of joy and peace in life, for without contentment, there can be no peace, but it is a hard lesson. I suppose that is why the Lord's Prayer instructs us to ask for our daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins, and for us to forgive those who have sinned against us, for delivery from temptation and evil as we go through the motions of life until His kingdom and His glory claim us. Then, we will finally know real contentment and be free from our labor, for none of us escapes labor in this life, nor worry, nor pain, nor suffering. If we are lucky, we bear it with the admirable grace of Job, if indeed, it is possible to use the word “lucky” and “Job” in the same sentence; perhaps “wise” would be a better choice.

Happy Labor Day. Enjoy this respite, all of you who labor.

I certainly am.

8/31/13 The Immoveable President Sherman

President Bill Sherman sat at his table, sipping his black coffee and reading the Washington Post, having just finished a breakfast of two sunny-side up eggs, a whole rasher of bacon, six pieces of sour-dough toast, and a generous portion of orange marmalade. He had a pile of briefing papers prepared for him to review prior to the morning NSA briefing, but right now he was enjoying the newspaper. He was perusing the high-school football scores from the previous evening. He always enjoyed the morning paper. Sometimes he got more accurate information from it than the pile of briefings stacked up beside his coffee cup. In fact, it seemed to him that sometimes these briefings were taken word for word from the newspaper. He wondered which had come first, the briefings or the newspaper articles. He sighed as he put his paper aside and began going over the briefings. His NSA meeting was in fifteen minutes.

The more he read, the more he frowned. He said to himself, “Dammit, last week it was Egypt. This week, it's Syria. A year ago it was North Korea.” He wondered what it would be next week. He thought about how, in dealing bellicose dictators, the scenarios were all the same, just insert different country names and reuse the same briefs.

He lingered over the brief that called for a “limited response,” a “surgical, precision strike,” on targets in Syria as a way of sending a message. He was an old soldier. He knew nothing about limitations in warfare, he only knew about an all out effort to achieve a specific end. The only limitations he ever considered were his orders, the lengths of his supply line, the size and strength of the enemy operating in his rear, the size and strength of the enemy before him, and the limitations of his own forces and how he may best employ them. If the desired specific end was complete capitulation of the enemy, he knew how to go about that and of its costs. If the desired end was sending a message, he thought, “Why not send a letter by mail? Delivering a message attached to a Tomahawk missile would serve no purpose.” He thought that as a general, how he would not have obeyed any orders that charged him with a task and simultaneously prevented him from carrying it out . .  he would have resigned his commission.

He wondered where all this limited military involvement came from. Who had invented it? Sun Tzu had said that to be unprepared to wage an all out campaign was to be certain of destruction. This country, he thought, insulated by two oceans, had an odd way of looking at war. He recalled his own service during the American Civil War, and remembered how badly things had gone for the Union until General Grant showed that he was willing to spend lives and bring unrelenting pressure to his enemy. Sherman served Grant, and believed likewise . . . prosecute your enemy until he surrenders or is no longer capable of engaging. He had seen what this had cost his own men, their families, and the families of his opponents. He understood this. He did not understand a gentle war. He knew that there was no such thing as a gentle war. The adjective “gentle” could not be properly attached to the noun “war.”

He looked at another brief, which recommended supplying arms and ammunition to rebel fighters in their effort to remove Syrian ditator Bashar Assad from power. He then looked at another brief which listed those rebel groups, and every single one of them were only united in their desire to get rid of Assad and their hatred of the USA. He knew the minute Assad was gone they would be fighting each other with the very same arms we had furnished. He also knew that, ultimately, they would turn those same arms on any group so foolish as to intervene to stop what the whole progressive humanitarian world would be able to denounce as genocide. He shook his head.

No matter how he chided those in his service, he could not get them to understand that there would be no limited military engagements during his tenure . . . it would be all or nothing. If the issue was too unimportant to risk everything, then he would risk nothing. He would not send a single soldier to die for nothing, for mere police work. He refused allow America to be the world's policeman since he knew that soldiers, trained to break things and kill people, did not make good policemen. He knew that you cannot put a soldier in harm's way then deny him the right to defend himself or his buddies in his squadron, platoon or company. Soldiers escalate quickly. They don't call in the SWAT team and hostage negotiators, they call in close air support. Collateral damage? Well, what of it? There was bound to be collateral damage, and it was best for soldiers to think of their mission, their objective, than it was for them to sit around worrying about collateral damage. One would see them through to victory; the other would get them killed.

“Why do they keep recommending this to me?” he asked his American Pit Bull Terrier, Forrest. Forrest looked up at him, wagging his tail, waiting for the faithful hand that would scratch his ear. Sure enough, there came the hand settling down on the ear, and the wave of endorphins released by the scratch of his master's hand sent ol' Forrest into an ecstasy just like a junkie getting a shot of heroin. Forrest's foot patted in time with the scratching.

Sherman thought about his old nemesis, Nathan B. Forrest, for whom the dog was named. “Forrest,” he said to himself, or perhaps to the dog, “Now there was an enemy you could admire. He could do more with less than any commander I ever saw, and he did it quick, decisively, and unpredictably. I detested the man, personally, but I admired his courage, and sincerely respected his capability.” Forrest looked at Sherman as he talked about his namesake, his head tilted to one side as if he were trying to understand. “Forrest commanded your respect,” Sherman continued. “He never led from the rear. Because of that, his men would have followed him straight into hell. The minute you failed to respect Forrest, you placed yourself in grave danger as you always do when you underestimate your opponent.”

He reviewed more of the briefings. The more he reviewed them, the more unsure he was of who his actual opponents were. They all seemed like enemies. Only the women and children seemed worthy of assistance, yet any of the armed rebels, or Assad himself, would discount the lives of thousands of women and children as insignificant. It was a hard reality, but then again, it was a hard world, he thought to himself.

It was past time for the NSA meeting. He picked up the phone, calling down to the situation room in Basement Level 3 of the White House. The NSA director immediately answered. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“Good morning. Is there anything y'all have to tell me that is not contained in these briefings?” he asked.

“No sir, Mr. President,” NSA replied. “We are just needing your approval on limited engagement if we are to proceed. DOD has a plan for different scenarios.”

“What is today's domestic threat level?” asked The President.

“Yellow, sir,” said NSA.

“It's always yellow. Is there ever a green day?” He asked.

“We never use green, sir,” said NSA.

“So I've noticed," pausing, and continuing, “There will be no limited military engagements today, or any day, or ever,” said The President.

“But, Mr. President . . . ,” stammered NSA as the President cut him off.

“Nope. Nope. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mr. President,” said NSA.

“Then stop sending me briefings advising them,” said the President as he hung up the phone.

He sipped his coffee. He thought about a road trip.

He turned to his personal assistant. “Get on the horn and order up the unmarked C-37. I want to take a little trip this morning, right now. I'm taking Forrest with me.”

“Where shall I tell them you are going, sir,” asked his assistant.

President Sherman shook his head. “Top secret,” was his reply.

Marine 1, the helicopter that provides local transportation for the President had received orders and fired up its turbines, performing all the pre-flight inspections, preparing to take the President to Andrews Air Force Base where Air Force 1 would be standing by, engines running, waiting to transport the President to the top secret location.

The C-37 was the military equivalent of the Grumman Gulfstream V business jet. It would become Air Force 1 when the President was on board. He was taking it rather than the Boeing 747 because he could not very well be top secret flying it into a small-town airport, or any airport for that matter. He saluted the Marines standing at attention at the helicopter, boarded Marine 1 with his dog, and they took off to Andrews. The only people accompanying him were his two personal Secret Service Agents. They frantically tried to get the President to tell them where he was planning to go so they could arrange for field Secret Service protection, but he declined to do so, and forbade them to make any phone calls. That didn't stop the pilots on Marine 1 from talking on encrypted radio frequencies, or them being ordered to provide answers to the Secret Service to questions for which they had no answers.

Fifteen minutes after take-off, Marine 1 landed at Andrews. The C-47, now Air Force 1, was ready and waiting. Earlier, two F-22 Raptors and two F-15 Eagles had taken off and were being directed by an ever-circling AWACS plane which was assessing all air traffic and monitoring any threats. The fire control systems on the F22 were remotely capable of being operated by the AWACS technicians. Wherever Air Force 1 was headed, it would not be headed there by itself. The President knew this and did not mind, since none of this would be seen by the public, therefore, making him relatively incognito to the place he was planning on visiting.

He returned the salutes of the Marines as he left Marine 1, and saluted the Marines standing guard at Air Force 1 as he went aboard, Forrest following at his heels without the need for a leash. The President flopped down in the seat nearest the pilots. Forrest lay on the floor at Sherman's feet. The two Secret Service agents sat in seats in the back of the plane.

“Where to, Mr. President?” asked the Captain.

“Vicksburg,” said The President. “Call ahead to the Army Corps of Engineers. Tell them you have a senior White House official that will need a ride and an escort. Do not tell them who. If they insist on knowing, tell them you at not at liberty, but it comes from the top. If they persist, get General McWilliams from Army Corps of Engineers on the horn and let me speak to him.”

In spite of the pilots' best efforts, they were not able to get anyone in the military chain of command to respond since they did not have the authority to order anyone about, nor could they reveal the real call sign of their aircraft, nor divulge who was on board. The President wanted no scene, just to make a trip to Vicksburg.

“Mr. President, We've got General McWilliams on the horn. You'll need to speak to him,” said the Captain.

“Jim!” said the President into the phone.

"Who the hell is this?” asked General Jim McWilliams, Commanding General of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

“Bill Sherman,” laughed the President into the phone, which went absolutely silent on the other end.

“Well I'll be damn, I'm sorry, Mr. President,” said General McWilliams. “How may I serve you, sir?”

“It's good to hear to the voice of a regular soldier and a friend,” said the President.

“Thank you, sir,” said the General to his commander-in-chief.

“Jim, I need a small escort to meet me at the Vicksburg airport. I want to make a little inspection.”

“Bill,” said General McWilliams to his old friend, “I could have used a little warning before a Presidential base inspection.”

“Not coming to the base,” said Sherman. “Making a little trip to the military park. I want to do a little thinking there. I need a driver, a couple of escorts, and as little fanfare as possible. I don't want anyone to know I was there until I'm back on the way to Washington. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said General McWilliams, “I'll make it happen.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

“You bet, Bill . . . I mean, Mr. President.”

“'Bill' will work when it's like this, Jim.”

“Thanks, ol' pal. I'll bet you still suck at hitting a two iron,” said the General.

“At least I know which end of the putter to use,” said the President to his friend. They both laughed as he hung up the phone.

Air Force 1 landed at Vicksburg Municipal Airport, but it looked exactly like hundreds of others that landed there on a regular basis. A limousine and two cars were standing by. The president jumped down the ladder of the C-37, saluted the Marines, and turned to the astonished Army Lieutenant and Sergeant who were awaiting their previously undisclosed VIP. They snapped to attention and saluted. President Sherman returned their salutes. “At ease, men.”

He stuck out his hand, first to the sergeant. “Bill Sherman,” he said while shaking the sergeant's hand. The slack-jawed sergeant could hardly believe what was happening to him. He escorted VIP's all the time, but never any such as the one now shaking his hand. He was speechless, just holding on to the President's hand, continuing shaking it.

“Damn, son,” he said, retrieving his hand “What's your name?”

Snapping back to attention and saluting, he said, “Staff Sergeant Timothy O'Daniel, Mr President.”

“At ease, I said,” laughed the President. “Where are you from, son?”

“Angleton, Texas, sir,” he said.

“Brazoria County?” asked Sherman.

“Yes, sir,” said the Sergeant.

“Do you know where China Grove Plantation was,” asked the President.

“Yes, sir. About a mile from my home,” was the reply.

“The hell you say.”

“How do you know about China Grove Plantation, Mr. President?”

“I've been lots of places,” The President said sadly. Why this was stated with sadness was a mystery to the two soldiers.

Turning to the Lieutenant, who had witnessed the whole exchange, the President stuck out his hand. The Lieutenant said, “Second Lieutenant Ollie Dixon. Shiloh, Tennessee, sir.”

“Where? Where did you say?” asked the President as if he did not hear.

“Shiloh, Tennessee, sir. Are you familiar with it, sir?” The Lieutenant grinned, knowing full well that the President was familiar with Shiloh.

“Oh, yes, son. I've been there, but it was a very long time ago. I am glad to have you to men as my escort here. I want to go to the military park, me and my dog, but on second thought, Lieutenant Dixon...Sergeant O'Daniel, have you ever been to the Shiloh Military Park?”

“Oh, yes sir, Mr. President!," fairly shouted Lieutenant Dixon. "My whole family is from Shiloh and Selmer. My home place is just a couple of miles from the park. I've walked every square inch of it many times.”

“Would you like to make a little trip there and be my guide?” asked the President.

“Yes, sir. Is that an order, sir?” asked Lieutenant Dixon.

Sherman laughed out loud. “I believe it is! You and Sergeant O'Daniel hop on board. We'll fly up there for a visit. Can you arrange some transportation from some of your kinfolk, Lieutenant Dixon?”

“Yes, sir. My dad has a conversion van we can all fit in. I'll get him to meet us at the Savannah airport, which would be the closest one you could fly this plane into.”

“Well, when we get airborne, you can call him. You can tell him that you are coming for a surprise visit with a couple of your friends and that you need to escort an official to the military park, but you understand, you must not tell him who. Can you do that?”

“Without fail, sir,” said Lieutenant Dixon.

“And, furthermore,” said the President to them, ”You are both sworn to secrecy about this whole trip. You may not say anything, under direct order, to your superiors when you return and are questioned as to your whereabouts. This is top secret. If they press you, tell them you have been ordered to tell them to call General McWilliams who will be able to explain things, I'm sure, to their satisfaction.”

Turning to the pilot, the President said, “Savannah, Tennessee. We got enough fuel to get there” 

“Yes, Mr. President, but there is no jet refueling at Savannah. We'll need to refuel here, then we'll be good to go and come back or return to Washington.”

Upon hearing the mention of Washington, the President turned to his escorts. “Can you men stand to get away for a couple of days?”

“Yes, sir,” they both said. “We'll need to get some gear, though.”

“You won't needing anything that I can't come up with, I expect,” said The President. “I will keep you long enough for your commanding officers to decide that you've gone AWOL. I'd love to see their faces when they get the word back from General McWilliams. In the meantime, you'll get to see your folks,” he said to Lieutenant Dixon, “You'll both get a trip to Shiloh, and then you'll both be my guests at the White House for a day or two. Ever been to Washington?”

“No, sir,” they said in unison.

“Well, there's no better way to see it than as my guest.”

As soon as they were refueled and airborne, there was an insane scramble by the Secret Service to keep up with their President. They managed to do so safely and discretely. Savannah and Shiloh, Tennessee, never knew that President Sherman was there until Lieutenant Dixon's father later told his wife, who immediately called the ladies of the Shiloh Baptist Church, who called everyone they could think of. Sooner that you could blink an eye, the word had spread from Memphis, to Jackson, to Nashville, even to Corinth and Tupelo, Mississippi, but it was all too late, and all for naught. The presence of President Sherman was just a wisp of a memory to McNairy County, all of western and central Tennessee, and all of north Mississippi, which is just how the President wanted it...no fanfare until it was too late to matter.

The first thing the President did when he arrived at Shiloh was visit the place where his friend and enemy, the very capable and competent Confederate Commanding General Albert Sidney Johnston had taken a bullet in the calf of his leg, and refusing to have it tended to in the heat of battle, had bled to death from a wound that could have easily been treated. Sherman hung his head in a moment of silence. He and Johnston had served together in Mexico, had been friends, and were both saddened that fate had placed them on opposite sides of a desperate battlefield.

“Was General Johnston how you knew about China Grove Plantation, sir?” asked Sergeant O'Daniel.

“Yes,” said Sherman, sadly. “We were friends before we were enemies. Even as enemies, we were still friends. He was a very capable commander, though foolish to have refused medical treatment, which resulted in his untimely death, though death on a battlefield can hardly be called untimely.”

“Then you knew that my hometown is where General Johnston made his Texas home, which is how you knew about China Grove,” said the Sergeant.

“Yes. I visited him and his family there as a guest when I was the headmaster of the Louisiana Military Academy in Pineville, Louisiana. He was a fine man. An honorable man. And my friend.”

“Had you met each other face to face in the battle, what would you have done, Mr. President?” asked Lieutenant Dixon.

“I would have blown his brains out,” said Sherman, matter-of-factly.

“Even though he was your friend?” asked Lieutenant Dixon.

“Business is business,” said Sherman. “He would have done the same for me, and would have wept over my grave as I am weeping at his now. Back then it would have been a question of which one of us could deliver the fatal shot first. There would have been no hard feelings unless one of us was such a bad aim as to have gut-shot the other.” He wiped a tear from his eye.

Amid the sights of the battlefield, where so many thousands of Americans bled and died, many of them serving a cause they felt was right, and many more of them simply doing their duty, the memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of battle overcame President Sherman. He thought of all the dead and wounded he had seen on this battlefield. He thought now of how peaceful it seemed, as if the horrors of Shiloh had never happened, as if the land itself had no memory, or the blood of the fallen had not fertilized its soils nurturing the lush growth he saw before him now, where once had stood only the splinters of trees from flying cannonballs, and where the torn bodies of men had lain from those same cannonballs, minie-balls, and grape shot. The blood of horses and men had mingled until the ground was red. If men could only have seen what he had seen, and if men could see that and still choose that, then they needed killing, he thought. Better dead those that would visit this on mother's sons than those sons themselves, he thought to himself.

“And they said I was insane,” said Sherman to himself.

“Beg your pardon, sir?”

“Nothing, Lieutenant Dixon. Nothing. I was just thinking out loud to myself in this place where men gave everything they had. This place knew no limitations. It was all out.”  Forrest sensed his master's sadness and whined a bit, wagging his tail, looking for some way to cheer him up, as if one look from his eyes would be enough to shake his master from the gloom that had overtaken him.

The President looked down at his dog. “That dog's namesake served admirably here,” said Sherman to his escorts. “I don't suppose there was ever a tougher son-of-a-bitch than General N.B. Forrest. If that man had fear, he knew how to conceal it. He over-ran his own men leading a charge, and when they pulled back due to withering fire, Forrest didn't know it and broke through our lines all by himself. Everyone and his brother was shooting at him, alone on his horse, a target that seemed so easy but proved to be elusive. Forrest reached down, pulled up a dead soldier behind him and used him as a shield as he turned tail and got out of there. Never was there a feat of such daring, or an escape so magnificent. I have often admired him, and more than once feared him. I regret that we were never formally introduced after the war. I didn't like him, or any thing that he stood for, but one doesn't have to like a man that one respects . . . the respect alone is enough, and sometimes, even better than fondness.”

Whatever it was that President Sherman needed from a visit to his old battlefield, he seem to have gotten it. After their stay in Washington, Lieutenant Dixon and Sergeant O'Daniel, after first being in trouble, which General McWilliams straightened out forthwith, were surprised to learn that they were now Brevet First Lieutenant Dixon and First Sergeant O'Daniel. Brevet meant that they got to wear the uniforms and insignia and have all the distinctions of their upgraded rank, but the pay increase would not follow until it was time for their next pay grade increase, at which time they would be further surprised to learn that they had been breveted again to Captain and Master Sergeant. This breveting would follow them throughout their entire Army career, much to the puzzlement of their superiors who only saw in their files that they had been engaged in some top secret mission.

When he returned to the White House, and at the very next NSA meeting, he asked those seated around the table, “Have you ever been to Shiloh?” They all said no.

The very next day, they were dispatched to McNairy County, Tennessee, where  Lieutenant Dixon's father, Charles, a Viet Nam Veteran, escorted them around the Shiloh Military Park. He told them of what he had seen of President Sherman the day of his visit.

It was at least a month before they dared to mention “Limited Military Engagement” to him again.

8/31/13 Substitutions and Their Relevance

For your own edification, substitute the word "Syria" for the word "Egypt" in my 8/17/13 Blog Post, leave out the references to Napoleon and The Sphinx, and see for yourselves if it is not still relevant. We seem bound and determined, driven by an unpersuasive narrative of leaks from the White House, to engage in some "limited action" in Syria. We might as well dial up Assad, let him know that on next Tuesday precisely at 3:00PM local time, a Tomahawk cruise missile will strike an abandoned mini-mart at the corner of Jihad Street and Bedlam Avenue in Damascus, an already bombed out area that looks a lot like Detroit. If we give Assad enough warning, he can bus in thousands of women, children, and captured rebels just before the missile strike so that the videos of their torn bodies can be posted on YouTube. As Charles Krauthammer said in a Washington Post op-ed piece, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union. A Tomahawk missile is for killing."

While you are about your own edification, you might read the 17th chapter of Isaiah, asking yourself, "What did Isaiah know about this?"

8/29/13 Katrina and the Land Mass

It seems like a lifetime ago. It seems like yesterday.

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Katrina made her way on shore, aiming dead-eye at Waveland and Bay St, Louis, Mississippi, or a part of the land mass the exists between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, as Mississippi was referred to on many national news broadcasts at the time. This still irks me.

When talking about poverty, it's easy to refer to Mississippi by name. When talking about our racist and Jim Crow past (we Mississippians acknowledge this), the word “Mississippi” slips effortlessly and frequently off tongues. When talking about poor public schools, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, obesity, and anything negative, “Mississippi” is easy to say.

Yet, when Katrina devastated everything South of Interstate 10 East of the the Louisiana border to West of the Alabama border, Mississippi became known as the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile. Of course, in the world of media, the operational motto is “If it bleeds, it leads,” and the flooded New Orleans 9th Ward and the fiasco in the Superdome certainly made for good press.

“There are dead bodies in there,” one temporary resident of the Superdome said.

There were dead bodies in the land mass, too. And flooded homes, and homes reduced to concrete slabs, and places where even the concrete slab was gone. From Pascagoula to Waveland, the coastal counties of the land mass were devastated, and the destruction did not stop there. We had hurricane force winds as far north as my home in Porterville, some 150 miles north of the coast, and widespread power outages, even in parts of the land mass as far north as Columbus and Starkville.

The media seemed to skip most of this, focusing on New Orleans, which certainly had its share of trouble. While the media continually led with stories of people demanding the government do something for them, that government had failed in its duty to protect them, feed them, and provide them with comfort and safety, people in the land mass, many of whom had likely spent the last 24 hours in the water clinging to trees, set about helping themselves, retrieving what was left of their possessions from the battered remnants of their homes, cutting downed trees to provide access to emergency vehicles, and marshaling whatever assets they could beg, borrow, or steal to serve their own needs and the needs of their neighbors. When the government did show up, they showed up with thousands of clerks and mountains of applications, and some bottled water. I think the folks appreciated the bottled water far more than they appreciated the paperwork.

I am not saying that government didn't offer some assistance to land-massers during that time. My father and my step-sister were furnished with FEMA trailers that took six weeks to connect and be certified for occupation after they were set up in their yard, and then, they had to attend an eight-hour “trailer-living” class before being given the keys. I suppose they thought that people from the land mass were not capable of figuring out things for themselves; we needed to be educated by expert government contractors on how to sleep in a camper.

“This is the refrigerator and this is the microwave,” said the FEMA certified expert camper-living education contractor to my step-sister, Teresa, in her new FEMA furnished camper home in Gautier, Landmass. “You put things in the refrigerator that you need to keep refrigerated, or keep cold,” he said, adding, “And the microwave is used to cook food.”

“My, my . . . what will they think of next,” Teresa said sarcastically to the FEMA certified expert camper-living education contractor.

“This,” he said, pointing to the bed, “is the bed. This is where you will sleep.”

“We had one of those before Katrina floated it off somewhere,” said Teresa. “I think I can remember how to sleep on one of those. We've slept on the soggy upper level floor for six weeks, but I do recall how to use a bed. Thank you for reminding me, though.” As the FEMA certified expert camper-living education contractor was leaving, Teresa smiled and waved and said, “Bless his heart.” Ever the angel, that Teresa.

My dad got one of those, too, as did my cousin Tammy, my friend Debra Jean, and others I knew that lived in their same subdivision. They all had endless papers to sign, including one that said they had been properly trained and now understood how to flush the toilet. It was, perhaps, the first flush toilet that many people from the land mass had ever seen.

All that existed in the town of Waveland was a whole string of FEMA trailers. Some  FEMA certified expert camper-living education contractors made millions of dollars from all the sub-contractors, sub-sub-contractors, and sub-sub-sub contractors, as well as the various clerks who went out and had the paperwork executed, each piece of paper having a different clerk. Most of these expert clerks had been imported from other places as folks who lived in the land mass were too busy to work the good-paying part-time jobs since they were still picking up their belongings, or returning the soggy, moldy belongings of others that they found in their yard.

“There is a small to medium-size container ship aground in my living room,” my father said, thinking he was speaking to the FEMA Land-Mass relief Coordinator. “Could someone come and retrieve it?”

“For English, press one, please. Para Espanol, numero dos, por favor,” the FEMA Land Mass Coordinator said. Daddy gave up after a while, having to decide on remaining on the phone, waiting for a real person, or the necessity of going into the camper and using his newly acquired camper skills to successfully navigate the toilet. Nature had her way, just like it did with Katrina. Besides, a small to medium-size container ship in your living room is not really a major inconvenience. It could wait a few more days.

And me?? What did I do in the aftermath of Katrina while so many members of my land mass family had lost everything? I was helping to restore power to others in the land mass who had none. I was working, doing what it is that we do for a living. We were at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, putting back up broken power poles, stringing new conductor, and restoring electrical service to the United States Navy, where a huge Katrina materiel marshaling effort was being put together, and installing temporary high-voltage and secondary voltage connections to the hangar in the flight operations area that was being converted into a temporary hospital for all the folks from New Orleans who were being evacuated from New Orleans' Charity Hospital (Remember that one? This is where some doctors euthanized some patients who were too sick to be moved). I remember working for days to restore power to this part of the land mass, and building all the temporary services to feed electricity to the dozens and dozens of FEMA temporary offices all set up there, each one filled with dozens of FEMA desks, FEMA chairs, FEMA fax machines and telephones to nowhere, and FEMA computers, with thousands of FEMA file cabinets, and hundreds upon hundreds of FEMA employees and the employees of FEMA contractors. The tarmac at the hangar had over three thousand 18 wheeler trailers filled with supplies. Many of them had ice but there was no power to keep the reefer units running, so the ice melted. Anyone from the land mass could have told them that the ice was perishable and needed to be delivered, forthwith, to someone who could use it. The FEMA folks didn't think to ask us what we thought, after all, we were merely land massers.

I remember when the first (and only) C130 plane landed at NAS Meridian carrying the sick people who had been evacuated from New Orleans. A total of twelve patients walked down the steps under their own power, each escorted by a nurse, or nurse's assistant, or orderly, and walked into the FEMA Mobile Hospital triage area, and from thence were escorted into the newly operational FEMA Field Hospital. Of the 125 beds in the temporary hospital, all they ever used were the twelve for those twelve patients, who resented having to be in a bed, and mostly sat outside and watched all the activity and smoked cigarettes, occasionally asking one of our workers if they could bring them in some beer the next day. We never left to be able to bring anyone anything. We slept in navy barracks when we got to sleep, and ate in the Navy Mess when we ate. The NAVY was a gracious host and saw that we lacked for nothing. The FEMA folks were not quite that way, though.

I remember being ordered by a FEMA person to stop what my crew was doing and to immediately come and get a generator hooked up for his personal office. This was before land power was restored. I declined to do so, whereupon he flashed his FEMA badge and ordered me to do so, again, this time in the name of FEMA. I declined a second time and kept right on doing what I was doing.

“You don't understand,” he shouted, “I am with FEMA and I am ordering you to hook up the generator that is supposed to be feeding my office trailer. I have important work to do and can't get it done because you land massers don't understand just who you're dealing with. I am the FEMA regional coordinator.”

“And I am in charge of this crew, and the guys you see here are working for me, and we are all working for and at the direction of East Land Mass Electric Power Association,” I said. “I am not working for FEMA. If you can go and get East Land Mass Electric Power Association to come and tell me to immediately stop what I'm doing and hook up your office trailer, I will come and do it immediately. Short of that, and on behalf of all the men you see working here, you can kiss our collective ass.” I was not ugly or irate when I said this, and think I said it very politely, but he seemed to take great offense at my declining and suggestion and rushed off with his cell phone in his hand, furiously yet futilely dialing, getting no answer since cell phones weren't working yet, either. I suppose he thought his FEMA credentials would make his cell phone work when there was not an operational cell phone tower for a hundred miles. It could be that the laughter of my men irked him like a sand spur under a horse's blanket. We kept on doing what we had been instructed to do by those who were paying us. I never saw the FEMA regional coordinator again. We may well have and most likely did hook up his office trailer, but he must have been busy with other things. I kept an eye out for him, but he was likely somewhere else flashing his badge. Even a land masser knows that you have to serve the people who are paying you.

That is enough about Katrina. I hope we never see the likes of her again. Well, we'll never see a Katrina again, since that name has been retired, but the likes of her . . . you can count on that. Maybe not this year, or next year, but sooner or later, the likes of her will bear straight down on the land mass. If the levee along the New Orleans' Industrial Canal that runs from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River had not failed, the land mass might have gotten more attention. But the levee failed, as all levees must eventually do when the conditions are bad enough, and New Orleans had a rough go of it. But so did folks in the land mass . . . those in Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Gautier, and Pascagoula.

From deep in the heart of the land mass, I am wishing you all a good day. Today, there is not a sign of the formation of a tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, or the Atlantic. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow could be something completely different. We folks in the land mass know about this.

In fact, we land massers know more than we'll admit, particularly to those who think they need to teach us how to flush a toilet.

8/25/13 Murderously Bored

Though boredom is rare for me, I have certainly been bored. I have been strikingly bored. Haltingly bored. Even murderously bored. I admit that there have been times when I was so bored, I loaded up my rifle, a spotlight, and got on the 4-wheeler to ramble down in the woods looking for coyotes, armadillos, and feral hogs, singularly purposed with the intention of their murder on my mind, and not a random murder, mind you, but a deliberate, one-shot murder if possible. I have successfully relieved my boredom many times in this manner. I hope none of y'all think I am sick and twisted.

There is no connection between shooting an invasive species of pest out of boredom and the shooting death of a human being. Many are likely to see a connection, but there is none. Only sick and twisted minds declare a search for a random human being to kill just because of boredom. Granted, some strange things are likely to emerge from the minds of teenage males, particularly when engaged in group-think, since there is no basis for the ability to make rational decisions, but what is it that is lacking in their thinking that allows them to come up with the particular decision made by those three teenagers in Denton, Oklahoma, in that the decision was to ride around and seek out a random victim they could shoot in the back? Teenage boys usually find other means to relieve their boredom, those means being much less harmful to other people, though in times past it was believed that those outlets for teenage boredom may have contributed to bad eyesight. How did these three come to this decision?

I can't help but thinking, and please forgive me, because I have tried my dead-level best to do so, that the denial by authorities of a racial component in the murder of 22-year-old Australian student, Christopher Lane, is meant to prevent any further violence from vigilante types. If the situation were reversed, no matter what the authorities claimed, we would be hearing the worst claims of racism, Jim-Crow, lynchings, and everything else you can imagine from those advocates who make their livings from such terrible events.

Does that mean I am glad the shooters were black? Well, according to the reports, one of the three, the driver, 17 year-old Michael Jones, is white, but the alleged trigger man, 16 year-old Chancey Luna, and his accomplice, 15 year-old James Edwards are black. Does that mean that I am glad the victim was white? I submit that I am very sorry that there were any victims and perpetrators, because this story is about as mean and low-down indictment of human nature as any story I have ever heard. I am just sorry it happened. I am sorry for the victim and his family. I am sorry for the alleged perpetrators and their families. I am sorry that their parents did not know that they were actually not “good kids” as has been reported.

I suppose it is natural that parents rush to defend their children, but I never experienced that as a child. In my childhood, any time I was accused of bad behavior my mother never came to my defense, accusing my accusers of injustices against my angelic self. I was guilty until proven otherwise. It would never have occurred to my mother that others would have lied about me just to get me into trouble. Her first assumption was that I must be guilty. While I was never accused of anything so heinous as murder, I was accused of drinking a stolen Coca-Cola one time (I was guilty) and had to go and pay for it. I was accused of breaking out some windows in an old, abandoned school building one time, this occurring as part of an ill-advised group wherein I was not the ring-leader, but a misguided follower. I threw my share of rocks, enjoying the destruction I was inflicting on someone else's property. I paid dearly for this.

My mother would be telling me right now, were I one of the three teenagers in Oklahoma, “Son, you are in a lot of trouble, but not nearly so much as you will be when I can get you home.” She would say this whether I was guilty or not. She certainly would not be being quoted on TV as saying I was a good boy. She might say that she was sorry I was in a lot of trouble, and extend her deepest sympathies to the family of the victim.

The former deputy prime-minister of Australia, Tim Fischer, is blaming the incident on the “gun cult” in America, warning Australians to stay away from the USA. I heard it cited in an editorial that blaming this incident on the gun is like blaming the rope in a lynching. I don't disagree with that analogy. Under Federal law, and the laws of every state, the teenagers were illegally in the possession of a handgun. Perhaps the person to whom the handgun belongs has some culpability. Was it one of the parents of the alleged murderers? We have yet to learn where the handgun came from. I suppose we will find out in due time.

Our constitution gives us the right to bear arms; it was designed to do so on purpose. In European monarchies, and in governments as old as mankind, only the citizens of a certain class were allowed to bear arms, or only those in government service. The people at large were not allowed to keep and bear arms. It should be obvious that the reason for this was that an unarmed populace was a more easily controlled populace. Those feudal knights could have their way with the local peasants, who, though armed with pitchforks and scythes, were not very well prepared to defend themselves against armed and armored thugs hired and supported by the local baron, count, prince, earl, duke, viceroy, king, emperor, etc.

Our second amendment rights are as sacred as our first amendment rights. I would argue that there are those who would defend their first amendment rights at the very cost of their lives while denying that a second amendment even exists. How, then, would they expect to defend their first amendment rights? Bring out the pitchforks and scythes. Oops, that won't work. The number of people in our vastly populated urban centers who own pitchforks and scythes are precious few. It could be that Mayor Bloomberg is wanting to ban those implements of destruction along with larger than sixteen ounce sodas and sparklers.

Maybe we should make a concerted effort to get rid of everything that might be used to injure ourselves or another person. We could ban the following items and all be much safer: sodas larger than sixteen ounces, transfats, fats, sugar, GMO foods, corporate farms, food additives, food preservatives, bicycles, tricycles, tobacco, patent medicines, prescription medicines, hammers, screw drivers, glass bottles, razor blades, box cutters, pocket knives, butcher knives, steak knives, butter knives, scissors, Bic pens, pencils, rakes, machetes, hoes, pitchforks, spade forks, seed forks, scythes, sickles, shovels, spades, spoons, sledge hammers, axes, hatchets, chainsaws, circular saws, band saws, hand saws, hacksaws, keyhole saws, propane heaters, torches, acetylene, gasoline, kerosene, fertilizers, step ladders, extension ladders, plastic bags, duct tape, concrete, concrete reinforcing steel, steel in general, two by fours, hammer handles, short lengths of large copper wire, steel cables, long bolts, screws, scrap iron, concrete blocks, automobiles, bumper jacks, electricity, hydraulic pistons and rams, trains, planes, 24” through 48” spirit levels, bricks, rocks, any and all varieties of farm implements, and, of course, those dangerous bridges from which distraught and confused people are regularly hurling themselves. Maybe we should ban stagnant water, ponds, lakes and rivers while we are at it. Throw in ultraviolet light, mountains, avalanches, landslides, wildfires, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, pestilences, plague, mosquitoes, ticks, redbugs, spiders, wasps, bad microbes, venomous snakes, constricting snakes, armadillos, coyotes, and feral hogs, too, please. No, scratch the armadillos, coyotes, and feral hogs . . . their elimination is my job, particularly when I am bored.

Guns, rightfully, should be regulated, and they are. There are gun-free zones all over the country. The City of Chicago is far more gun-regulated than Duncan, Oklahoma, yet in every instance, the crimes committed with a firearm in those places are either illegal themselves, doubly illegal because they were committed with a firearm, or triply illegal because they were committed with an illegal firearm. We regulate yet utterly fail to stop the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Did we expect to be any more successful in stopping murder by whatever means?

There is something rotten in the heart of men that leads them to murder. In the Genesis story, Cain was able to slay his brother Abel without the use of a firearm. He likely used a farm implement, since Cain was a tiller of the soil. Had Cain been able to obtain a high-powered rifle, Able might have preferred it to the death he received. It would seem to me that a bullet is better than being hacked, but either one leads to the same end. Neither Cain or Able is around to tell us which method they might have preferred; we are forced to speculate.

Murder is illegal. Using a firearm in the commission of a crime is illegal. Illegal possession of a handgun is, well, illegal. Discharging a firearm from a public roadway is illegal. Discharging a firearm inside the limits of a municipality is illegal. Conspiracy to commit murder is illegal. How many illegalities do we need to intimidate a potential murderer into displaying good sense and a respect for the law? If we added a couple more, perhaps it would be a deterrent. What do you think? I think not.

If we made handguns illegal and their possession a crime, then we would gain nothing, other than the inability for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. In the case of Christopher Lane, had he had a dozen legal guns in his possession, it would not have helped him from taking a random shot in the back from some bad, extremely bad, teenagers. They might just have easily run him down with the car they were driving. Maybe we should make roadside jogging illegal, for our own safety, of course...or perhaps being out in a public place. That would do it, perhaps. No, maybe not, since, according to the statistics, we are not even safe in our homes, since most accidents happen at home.

It seems there is no way to be perfectly safe. We live in a dangerous world. Even the Australians know that. Right now, after having written this, I am bored. It is 4:20 in the morning. I am thinking that there might be an armadillo or a feral hog afoot. I'd say they are in great danger if I can so much as catch a glimpse of one. So I am headed out the door to get on the 4-wheeler to see just how many I can kill. In doing so, I will not have broken a single law, though if you could ask my intended victims, they might beg to have the law changed. Fortunately, they cannot speak for themselves, and any human advocacy group that might want to intervene would have no bearing on my behavior. If they tried to stop me on my own private property, they would be committing a crime. Some of them are determined enough that they would be willing to risk jail to do so. By the time they read this and mobilize, I will have returned from my wanton, murderous mission. Hopefully, I will have been successful. Maybe the three teenagers in Duncan, Oklahoma, should think about coyotes and armadillos the next time they get the urge to kill something.

Maybe it is a good thing that country boys who hunt know about firearms and what they can do. They know that when they take aim and pull the rigger, the bullet, set on its ballistic course, does things that cannot be recalled. Only those who spend their time playing video games with artificial guns know that they can push the reset button and start over any time things don't go as they planned.

I know that we all wish life had a reset button. What would its value be? How much would you pay for one? There is no reset, there is only the ballistics of the bullet speeding towards its destiny. The value of knowing that is nearly as valuable as a reset button. Too bad many don't have the sense to recognize or the discretion to make use of it. It is a terribly expensive lesson.

I mourn for the victim, with the victim's family, and for the waste of young lives who made such poor choices. I hope they will be made to bear the responsibility of their actions. Everyone here is paying a terrible price.

I intend to make at least one armadillo pay. It will serve as breakfast for the buzzards, who, after all, must eat, too. They will be thankful, if, indeed, a buzzard is able to be thankful. They sure can be hungry, though, and I am willing to be the cause of the satiation of their hunger.

Lucky buzzards.

[Update 8/31/13 - My murderous intentions came to naught. Not a single armadillo, coyote, or feral hog presented itself so that I could kill it. It seems, like all living things, they prefer not getting killed and are wary of me. The buzzards weren't so lucky. If they were depending on me, then they are famously hungry by now.]

[Further updated 9/1/13: It was pointed out to me by a reader that alleged trigger man Chancey Luna is not actually black, but bi-racial since his mother was white. Is bi-racial the politically correct word? How does Luna define himself, I wonder? And has anyone asked him? Regardless of his racial identity, if guilty, he is a bad egg. Bad eggs come in one awful fragrance - Hydrogen Sulfide. There are white eggs and brown eggs. Then there are bad eggs of either color. Remarkably, eggs look the same on the inside, regardless of their shell color, and bad eggs all carry the same distinctive stink.]

8/17/13 International Politics and Critics

There are few things as complicated and as minimally rewarding as international politics. How do nations get along with each other, anyway?

The language of diplomacy is always cloaked, always obscured behind the idea of letting the other nation think what one is suggesting is their own idea, or in their own best interests, since sovereign nations are not directly able to order each other about, though they would like to. It just doesn't work this way. There is national pride, honor, and the fact that no nation is required to do what another nation wants it to do, especially since other nations don't promote things which are against their own interests. Where politics and self-interest collide, there is always a hidden agenda. No nation is immune from having an agenda thrust on it, nor immune from forwarding their own agenda. It is the way of men, nations, and international politics.

“I am going on an official state trip to China to discuss trade, Asian-nation relations, and military cooperation, where I will have the best interests of the Chinese at heart,” said no American diplomat, ever.

“We like taxing and selling the opium we encourage the Afghans to grow and would like to facilitate the addiction of the entire nation of China, which will bring billions of dollars to the British East-India Company, thus the British crown, and allow us to control the Chinese like an organ grinder controls his stringed monkey,” admitted no British diplomat, ever.

“I am going to the G-20 summit where I will present a list of demands that will inflict sheer bedlam on the economies of several nations while enhancing our own,” said no government leader, ever.

“The Arab Spring is a breath of fresh air that clearly indicates the Arab people's desire for secular, democratic governments,” said several American politicians and diplomats, rather recently. Many of the diplomats have since retired, though the politicians linger. At least one of the diplomats is now dead, but it was not reported what the late Ambassador Stevens may have actually thought about the Arab Spring, the overthrow of Mohammar Qaddafi, or what the Arab people in Libya may have wanted. We can be relatively sure that Ambassador Stevens did not want to be dead, or at least as fellow humans we are inclined to think that is what he most likely wanted; we cannot be certain.

The Arab Spring has been unpredictable. It seems that the Arab people, rather than vote themselves democratic governments, have turned towards fundamental theocracy. Did this catch our diplomatic corps by surprise, or is our nation forwarding its own narrative, one that is inconsistent with reality, hoping the narrative catches on? I don't know. I cannot say. I think that many who serve in international relations don't know much about international relations, and what they do know might be wrong. It is a dismal field...nearly as dismal as the dismal science.

All of the aforementioned are observations; they are not criticisms. I am avoiding criticism, since there are plenty of critics, most of them inhabiting their own place of confusion. As I write this, I have read the news from Egypt, and it does not look good for the Egyptian people. It seems that our nation is in the process of supporting a military coup of what seemed to be a democratically elected government that went bad in securing more power for itself. Hmmmm! How does one cope with that? What side does one take? A distant nation cannot be simply for “the people”, without being for some political entity that will represent “the people.” What those entities seem to be and what they are are not necessarily the same thing. Only time will reveal the true character of political and governmental entities, particularly in those places where peaceful transitions of power are an anomaly, and never very peaceful. In fact, throughout all of history, the peaceful transition of power has been very rare, since transitions of power are usually accompanied by revolts, riots, mayhem, and murder. This has been par for the course.

So now my normally critical self is withholding judgment on the administration and what many are decrying at its lack of leadership in the struggles for power in the Middle-East. What course should our government pursue? There are a bewildering array of scenarios, none of them pleasant and nearly all of them wrong. The administration is being castigated for doing too little, for not doing enough, for supporting the Egyptian military, for not supporting the Egyptian military, for furnishing military aid in spite of what the laws in our own country require, for not furnishing enough military aid . . . just pick any position and laud it or vilify it. it won't matter; you will have plenty of company, and plenty of argument. Since there are so many expert opinions that differ by 180°, any opinion somewhere between those two points is likely to be just as valid. Of course, those with advanced degrees in international relations, and vast experience in the field as emissaries, envoys, and diplomats have every right to think that I am an inexperienced rube from the provinces and don't know what I am talking about. They would be right, but all their education, training, and experience does not help them agree with each other, nor reach a consensus on a clear, consistent policy for us to follow. It has to be the most unrewarding job, that of a diplomat.

Before WW2, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, visions of WW1 clearly in his mind, has to think that the course he was following would keep Britain out of the continental war. He had to think appeasement of the Nazis, even though at great cost to the Poles and Czechs, was the best course. History has shown that he was as wrong as any human ever was about anything. But maybe our history does not have all the facts. For all we know, Britain's early entry into the was may have resulted in British defeat, thus all of Europe would be speaking German now. We aren't omniscient. We aren't clairvoyant. We can only follow the man who can lay out a vision clear enough for us to see it. Winston Churchill was the right man. Neville Chamberlain was the wrong one, though we have to give him the benefit of the doubt . . . He thought he was doing the right thing; we cannot allow for an instant that he may have thought to himself, “I am purposefully choosing to do the wrong thing.”  No man chooses that.

Men may become perverted and twisted so that they can no longer determine right from wrong, and absolute political power is the best man-perverter that has ever been discovered. Diplomats have to deal with this all the time, the perverted remnants of a formerly good man. Many times, these are the people in power, and they are determined to hold on to it since the examples of those who held it and lost it are not those that lead one to a favorable conclusion. Most of the time it is either hold on to power at all costs or be killed in the process, since being killed after the process is typical.

Is it any wonder that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is desperately holding on to power? I wonder what the upside is for him relinquishing it, or being overthrown? Nothing in surrender or capitulation will benefit Assad or his minions; it will most likely mean their deaths, or if they're lucky, merely their lifetime imprisonment. Former Egyptian President Mubarak stepped aside and is now in prison awaiting trial, or perhaps not awaiting trial, just execution. Quaddafi, with the interference of American fighter jets, lost his battle and was murdered at the hands of his captors. Saddam Hussein was captured, then later hanged as a criminal. Hahmid Kharzai, the Afghani President, must hang on to everything he has, else he will find himself beheaded on the outskirts of Kabul. Former Pakistani President, Parvez Musharraf, had he been able to, would still be in power and not in prison. Iranian Shah Reza Pahlavi, dead now from cancer, would have been dead anyway at the hands of his overthrowers had he not abdicated and fled to the USA. None of these outcomes looks attractive to a dictator, so they fight with everything available to them while our government and its diplomats decide on what our roles should be. The dictators keep power by oppressing those who will oppress them if they get to power. It is a nasty business. If we knew the winning side, we would most likely pick them. We could use some of the clairvoyance I mentioned earlier.

I do not envy President Obama. He has plotted a course for relations with other nations that does not seem to be serving him. But I maintain that if he had plotted a different course, it would not serve him, either. If he changes course, it will not serve him. Nothing he can possibly choose can silence his critics, nothing, that is, but success. Even then, I suppose those who were not part of the success would be critical that he had not been successful sooner. There is no end to the criticism.

Since the winners get to write the history, we seldom get the whole story. As we witness the current events around those nations in turmoil, we have, perhaps, our only chance to get the full story, and record it for posterity. After the fact, the facts are edited. The only facts we will have then are those preserved for us. Generations from now, those edited facts will become history. The other side of the story will have been lost to us.

It is a mistake, though, to think that because we watch the news, have access to the news, video clips of the news, and analysis of the news, that we have the full story. We only have the story that is being reported. Others edit and choose that which we see because they are showing us that which they choose to show us. Maybe we should only let the women and children of places in political turmoil be the reporters. Maybe then we would get a different side of the story. If we consistently got this other side of the story, how would we then govern ourselves in international relations? Probably every bit as effectively as we do now, which is not very effective.

Ever taken a cathartic and have it fail to work? Oh, goodness, it compounds the problems, increases the discomfort, and reduces one to a caterwauling misery. This, my friends, is similar to international relations. Sometimes the right cure is the very thing that fails to work, making things worse, not better. We would not choose the right cure if we knew in advance it would produce the wrong results. Think about it for a minute. The very fact that the right thing might inadvertently produce the wrong results is a peril that no one wants to hazard. In that case, the right thing turns out to be the wrong thing. Yet, shall we choose the wrong thing? Oh, goodness, two times!

Best wishes to our government as it struggles to do the right thing, or what it thinks is the right thing, or what is actually the right thing that produces the wrong result. Let us never choose what we know to be the wrong thing. Let us have the ability to know the difference.

I am reminded of my friend Waleed, a very talented and gifted Cairo-born engineer I am working with on a project in Greenwood, Mississippi. During a break in the work, I told Waleed that I did not presume to know what may actually be going on in Egypt since my only knowledge of it was the news. I asked him, point blank, about what was in store for Egypt since the deposing of Mubarak, the election of Morsi and ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the subsequent extension of his power. Waleed's answer? He looked me in the eye, softened his voice, and as if gazing into the future, or peering across the sands of the Sahara, perhaps thinking of his family in Cairo half-a-world away, said, “It's worse than you can imagine.”

I am imagining. I am imagining with all my might. I am thinking of Waleed's words to me, the words of one who knows Egypt far better than I can ever hope to. For me to imagine that I know Egypt better is to admit that perhaps Waleed knows Mississippi better than me . . . and that is not possible. So, I submit. No matter how terribly I can imagine, I am reduced to this . . . it's worse. This is not an encouraging thought.

I am thinking that the world is on the brink of a full-scale Middle-Eastern war. If there can be anything worse than that, I am incapable of imagining it, which is exactly what Waleed told me. I hope our diplomats get it right, but even if they do, there is so much that is beyond their control, if, indeed, they are able to control anything, which is not likely.

We are borne about on fickle winds that blow in whatever direction they will, hoping to catch the wind that will lead us to a safe harbor. We should be thankful for the peace that we enjoy at home right now, since throughout various recent wars, America has never been at war, only our military. We must support every effort to bring our service men and women home from foreign soil. We are all Americans, perhaps with different visions of how our government should work, but this is not new; it has always existed. Best wishes to those serving in our diplomatic corps. Best wishes to the government that would give them direction and guidance. Best wishes to the people of the Middle-East. May we all have the clarity of vision that will enable us to be supporters of the right thing, and may the right thing never be those things which take food, shelter, and safety beyond the reach of women and children.

It was four o'clock in the morning in Washington, D.C., during a cooler than usual August. A soundly sleeping President Sherman was awakened and called to a hastily cobbled meeting of the National Security Administration and the State Department to discuss what steps must be immediately taken to forestall the complete breakdown of law and order in Egypt. His valet brought him a cup of coffee and set it on the nightstand beside his bed. He rolled out of the bed in his red union suit, put on his boots, sighed, and sat there sipping on the steaming cup of Maxwell House coffee, which he had enjoyed on his many trips to Nashville in an earlier life, the one before he became President. He hated these early morning meetings, but it was part of his job, and he was never one to shirk his duty, no matter how unpleasant it might be.

He clomped to the elevator in his boots and union suit, his hair disheveled, looking like he had been on an all night drunk even though he was a teetotaler, pressed the button labeled “Basement 3” and moved his coffee cup to his lips as the elevator doors closed. About the time his lips touched the tilted cup, the elevator began moving with a lurch, causing him to spill some of the hot coffee on his union suit. It dribbled down his patchy salt-and-pepper beard as he cursed under his breath. His accompanying personal secret service agents did not say a word as President Sherman continued to mutter his mild curses, which they knew could turn profane at the very next moment. He was not a man to be trifled with until he had at least had his third cup of coffee.

The elevator bumped to a halt at level B3. The doors opened and Sherman stormed out, spilling more coffee as he went, striding directly to the door of the situation room where the Chiefs of the NSA and the CIA were waiting with the Secretary of State, various Middle-East diplomats, and members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. All eyes were on him as he burst through the door. He flopped down in his seat at the head of the walnut table, everyone silent, waiting for him to say something. He peered intently at them all, a scowl on his face.

“So?” he asked. “What's this about?”

Everyone began speaking at once. He pounded the table with his fist, then held his hand up. “One at a time,” he said. “You! State. Go first.”

“Mr. President," said the Secretary of State, “The situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate. It is being reported to us that elements from Syria and Libya, and Al Queda operatives from Mauritania and Mali are gathering in Egypt. The situation looks grave. Already, there are rumors that some of the weapons we have provided to the Egyptian military have been compromised. It looks like a complete breakdown of law and order and a full scale civil war are in progress.”

“And?” asked President Sherman.

“Well, sir. We are merely apprising you of the situation,” said State.

“Thanks, then,” said the President, rising from his seat. “Having been thus apprised, I'm now going back to bed.” He turned to go, clomping his way towards the door, his union suit unbuttoned in the back, his arse exposed to the people sitting around the table. They averted their gaze, embarrassed at this president who seemed to care so little about decorum or the dignity of the office. They wondered why they had agreed to serve in the administration of such a coarse man.

“But Mr. President . . .” shouted the CIA director. “The deteriorating situation calls for immediate action to protect our interests in Egypt.”

President Sherman whirled around in his tracks. “What interests?” he demanded. “We have no interests in Egypt. Let the Egyptians work this all out for themselves.”

“But Mr. President,” said the director of the NSA, “If we do not intervene, we are likely to see the fall of all of North Africa to the hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood and consequently, to the influence of Al Qaeda. Already we have word of the operations of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and even their funding by the Saudi kingdom.”

“I regret that,” said the President, “But what do you expect me to do about it? I'm not going for the old 'domino theory', though I can see its tempting relevance here.”

“We have reached the conclusion that Congress would be amenable to the approval of a limited military engagement in Egypt, to show them that we mean business,” said the House Foreign Relations Chairman, nodding towards his Senate colleague, who nodded in agreement. They looked at the President, who was still scowling, then looked back at each other nodding, then continued their simultaneous nod again at the President. He did not nod back at them, merely raised an eyebrow.

“When you two bastards agree on something, I am at my most skeptical,” said President Sherman. State winced at this breach of political etiquette but said nothing. As if by magic, Sherman produced a cigar from somewhere in his union suit. He popped it in his mouth and one of the Secret Service agents produced a lighter, lit it, and held it out to the President who puffed on his cigar in a cloud of smoke. There was officially no smoking in any Federal building by law, but no one dared say anything about it, though State coughed and cleared her throat, as if the smoke bothered her. The President went over and stood directly behind her chair, puffing on his cigar, enveloping them both in the cloud. She coughed harder. The more she coughed, the more he puffed. In about 30 seconds, the entire room was full of the smoke from his Honduran cigar. The two legislators had their heads down, red faced, embarrassed and furious that the President had denigrated them by calling them bastards. Not since Lyndon Johnson had any President called a member of congress a bastard to his face.

“The USS CVN Carl Vinson is in the Mediterranean, sir, just off the coast of Sicily” said the NSA. Defense says that they are ready on your command to launch cruise missiles, carry out drone trikes, or launch a full scale attack with all the Vinson's air combat resources.”

“Against whom?” asked the President.

“More as a demonstration of strength and commitment than against any particular target, sir," said the NSA.

“So, all you recommend that we just flex our muscles by sending some ordinance downrange to no target in particular?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Sort of to show them we mean business, sir,” said State.

“All right,” said the president. "Fire about fifteen cruise missiles, all equipped with two thousand pound warheads, right at GPS coordinates 29°58′31″N/31°08′16″E.” In a rush, all of the people seated around the table whipped out their smart phones and punched in the GPS coordinates. A staggered gasp was heard around the room, traveling like the wave at a football stadium until it had completely circumnavigated the table.

“Mr. President!” exclaimed State, looking up from her phone, “That's the coordinates for the Sphinx. You would destroy the Sphinx? Imagine the public outcry at the destruction of such a valuable piece of human antiquity.”

“Is it not Egyptian history that we are preparing to alter?” asked the President.

“Yes, sir, that is our desire, but not at the risk of alienating the entire world. We just want  more of a symbolic military gesture,” said the Senator.

“Idiot,” said the President. The Congressman was glad he didn't say anything and be thus embarrassed. The President continued, still addressing the Senator but pointing his finger at the Congressman beside him, “You and your equally idiotic colleague from the House come in here demanding that we just fire some missiles at Egypt to make some sort of statement that will show our strength. Would you have us fire them at some absolutely unpopulated area of the desert? Maybe the news media can go there to film some craters in empty Sahara sand. Does that seem like a show of strength to you? If it does, then you are even more stupid than I thought you were.

“Would you rather we fired those missiles into a population center and killed and maimed innocent women and children, those who are already being killed and maimed by their own fellow Egyptians? Do we fire them at a hospital? A retirement home? Perhaps an elementary school? Unless we are cruel, far crueler to them than they are to each other, then our message will have no effect.

“Therefore, let's reduce the Sphinx to a pile of rubble. We won't be the first to deface it. Someone broke its nose off a few hundred years ago for no apparent reason. Let's just reduce it to rubble and finish what someone else started. If that doesn't do the trick, then the next target will be the Great Pyramid...Then the Valley of the Pharaohs, the tomb of Ramses. We'll get every famous Egyptian landmark one by one and the world will get a real show of just what we are capable of.”

“Mr. President, that would have the entire academic world condemning us,” said State.

“The entire academic world already condemns us,” said the President. “Let's give them something substantial to condemn us for. Are you more worried about what the academic world thinks about us than the lives of women and children? Are you more concerned about stones cut and stacked into the likeness of a lion with a man's head than the life of one child? Are you concerned about this simply because the Sphinx is ancient?”

No one said a word. They all looked down at their hands on top of the table. The President's reaction was unexpected. They had learned to expect the unexpected from this coarse and belligerent man, but this time he had gone too far. The Sphinx was precious to all of humanity, except of course, those jihadists from the Arabian peninsula who were waiting for their chance to seize power so they could blow up what they thought was an idolatrous sculpture.

“When you recommend a military action, which by its very nature is meant to kill people and destroy things, and you're more concerned about the things than the lives you'll disrupt and destroy, I'd say you're suffering from a misplaced sense of priority,” said the President, puffing furiously on his cigar, the pall of smoke hanging thickly about the room.

No one said a word. This time they knew better than to speak at all.

“Remember Napoleon's exploits in Egypt?” asked the President. Only the Director of the CIA nodded. The President looked at him, addressing him directly since he was the only one who had shown any inclination of knowing that Napoleon had ever set foot in Egypt. “It was disastrous for Napoleon. France abandoned over 30,000 men to a slow and brutal death by starvation and murder in Egypt after Napoleon made good on his escape. When the French troops ran out of ammunition, food, and water, they were cut down one-by-one by the Arabs. France refused to even re-supply them, and the only thing they had to eat after their horses and mules were gone was each other. Had it been a little more disastrous a little sooner, and the Little Corsican left there to rot with his men, it would have been good for all of Europe just a few years later. As it was, Napoleon escaped, successfully laying the blame laid on those he left in charge, and he then succeeded in pillaging and raping Europe for the next fifteen years, consuming an entire generation of fathers, brothers, and sons of Europe, leaving death, misery, and starvation in his wake.

“I intend on none of that. If I do nothing, I'll be criticized. If I do something, I'll be criticized. So, let's do something to give them cause for legitimate criticism if we are indeed going to do something. I regret that the Egyptian people are going to endure some terrible times at their own hands, but I will not offer the blood of one American youth on any partial, limited engagement in Egypt. I will, however, sacrifice the Sphinx if you think a statement from us is advisable.” The last sentence was posed more in the form of a question than a statement.

The room was silent.

“I thought not,” President Sherman said, turning on his heels, spitting out onto the floor a piece of the cigar he had chewed from its stump. He vanished, leaving a trail of smoke in his wake as if he were on the battlefield again, throwing out a smokescreen diversion to cover his retreat, thinking of his own children and their mother, of the mothers whose son's lives he had spent like so many nickels, and the mothers from whom he had taken food and sustenance to feed his own army in a different time, in a different place. As he boarded the elevator, he wiped away the tears from his eyes at his memories of those times, and the thoughts of the people suffering in Egypt, and of his inability to make any effective choices in this situation. Only his personal secret service agents ever got to see this display. They never said anything to anyone about it. Sherman knew that and was thankful. Nevertheless, he felt like he had to say it.

“If you guys ever breathe a word of what you just saw, I will personally kick your asses to hell and back!”  They didn't doubt that he could, or that he would. They only knew that they were proud of the fact that he would never have to try. They loved this coarse man, who spoke the truth in the most remarkable way, directly, and to power. He never wavered. He never failed. They thought we could use more presidents like him, those who never tested the waters through polls of public opinion, those who would lead a charge from the front, not driving his men on the point of a sword, but leading them by showing them that they, too, could overcome their fear in order to do their duty. President Sherman was a rare commodity: the honest politician. He knew the weaknesses and failings that were common to all men. He knew that he was not exempt from them, unlike some of those who had served before him and would serve after him.

“Why did I agree to serve?” he asked himself, over and over, hanging his head tiredly as the elevator doors opened to the second floor living quarters of the White House. He paused to look up at a portrait of Lincoln, whose administration he had served much earlier I his career.

“What would you do, Mr. Lincoln?” he asked the portrait, not really expecting an answer.

“I'd keep them guessing,” said the portrait back, the image of Lincoln winking and smiling before settling back to the near image of its former self, though Lincoln seemed to have a slight smirk rather than the scowl the portrait previously displayed. Sherman whipped his head around to see if his secret service agents heard or saw that. They heard and saw something, but they were not sure what it might have been. They shrugged their shoulders at Sherman, who turned,  clomped into his bedroom, sat on the edge of his bed and removed his boots, and lay back, scratching, as like all soldiers, he was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. The junior secret service agent removed the perilously perched still-lit cigar from the sleeping President's lips. They then closed the door to his bedroom, peering curiously across the hall at the portrait of Lincoln. They looked at it closely. The looked at each other. The smirk on Lincoln's face was foreign to them, and of intense curiosity.

“Man, don't say a word,” the senior one said to the other. “Keep yo' mouth shut. Ain't nobody saying nothin' about nothin' that happens on this floor. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it's gonna stay.”

From inside the closed door, they heard the sounds of the President's gentle snores, with the occasional snort. They thought no more about it. They never said a word.

8/15/13 The Summer Malaise

I'm in the middle of it. The summer malaise. This is that time in the south when it's too hot, too wet, and too humid to have too much interest in anything creative, in anything that requires thought since we are too busy swatting mosquitoes, dodging wasps, and scratching from the redbugs. Even the dogs lay around under the front porch, nestled in the red dirt that is hidden from the afternoon sun, only coming out when a strange vehicle pulls up in the driveway, and immediately returning when they see that the caller is not the deadly UPS or FEDEX delivery person. What is it about the sound of a UPS truck that incites normally docile dogs to a rabid hostility?

There is still nothing to write about. Well, nothing except for our witnessing of the internal dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by the efforts of the administration to help ensure Democrat success in the upcoming mid-term elections. Already we have witnessed the extension of benefits to members of congress and their staff (To avoid a brain drain, they say. I say, “What brains?”), the delay of the employer mandate, and the delay of the implementation of the maximum out of pocket costs. What else will be delayed, changed, or carved out for special interests. I see terrible corruptive associations in Obamacare in that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can regulate, not regulate, waive regulations, or authorize special exemptions at will, or at least at will until some court in response to some lawsuit rules that they cannot be so capricious and arbitrary.

HHS would never admit of capriciousness or aribtrariness, though. They will only admit of informed, educated, know-what-is-best for us competence. Those of us who fail to see things like they do are merely uneducated and uninformed, which is a hazardous road for anyone's government to take. As January 1, 2014, looms nearer and nearer, we can expect more delays in implementation since the government, and the people governed, all find themselves caught up in the words of former speaker Nancy Pelosi, “Let's pass this bill so we can see what's in it.” Everyone is seeing what's in it, and no one seems to like it, including those in congress who voted for it, and many labor unions who lobbied for it, and those in congress who found a way to bypass the portions of the law that were applicable to them. Senator Charles Grassley's amendment has been chided by members of congress. Why did they vote for it, then? Was it by design that they included the amendment, then lobbied the administration to change it by regulatory fiat? Did they do this so they could deny responsibility? It seems so to me. How does it seem to you.

“Senator Babbitt, what do you think about HHS ruling to allow the government to continue to make contributions to congressional employee health care even though the law calls for all congressional employees to purchase their insurance on the exchanges?” asked a reporter to the senior senator from Oklabama.

“I think it is a great breach of the separation of powers for a government agency to waive or change any law duly passed by this august and ancient institution that is the representative of the people in this great nation,” said Senator Babbitt, who looked uncomfortable addressing the subject even though it seemed he was so deliberate in his response he might as well have been reading from a teleprompter.

“Are you going to take the additional benefits allowed to congressional employees by HHS?”

“Well, of course, since we will be abiding by the lawful regulations,” answered Senator Babbitt. “We intend to follow the letter of the law, not daring to place ourselves ahead of the law or exempting ourselves, but subjecting ourselves to the same laws and regulations as are applicable to every citizen.”

“But, Senator, the law does not allow congressional employees any additional benefits other than that available to all citizens who will be on the exchanges,” countered the reporter, who was sure he had the senator on that one. But, senators are not so easily had.

“We are following the letter of the law. I cannot be responsible for a change in the regulations, but am required to follow them. The law allows HHS to promulgate such regulations as are necessary to implement the ACA. This change in regulations was the doings of HHS and not my office. I would have surely voted against any change, but it is out of my hands. Now, I, like every other American, am required to follow the rules and regulations.”

“But the Grassley amendment, which you voted for, specifically spells out how the health insurance benefits for congressional employees are to be handled. Is this regulation not a bypass of the very amendment the Senate included?”

“The Grassley Amendment was the doing of Senator Grassley. I did not sponsor the amendment, though I thought it was a good thing. Now, HHS has taken it upon themselves to modify it. I am not responsible for this modification,” snorted Senator Babbitt.

“Other members of congress have called for rejection of this and are refusing to comply with any waiver of the Grassley Amendment. What do you plan to do?” asked the reporter.

“Other members of congress can choose for themselves whether or not they will follow the law at their own peril. I intend to fully comply with the laws and regulations of this great nation. It seems ludicrous that any member of congress would be so bold as to say that they are not going to abide by the law,” answered Senator Babbitt, adding, “I have an important committee meeting I must attend. Please excuse me. I must go now.” And he walked off, having produced his sound byte that would air on the evening news, which would simply state that Senator Babbitt was critical of any HHS waivers and that he was bound by his oath of office to follow the law of the land. This, he thought, would play out real well in the world of politics and voters...a humble public servant doing his duty to his constituents by subjecting himself to the same law as everyone else.  His constituents were not persuaded of this, though, as he was to find out on the second Tuesday of November, 2014. Shortly after that, he would find himself referred to as “former senator”, and only then when he would make the news by getting arrested on a DUI in his hometown of Washington, DC. It had been two decades since he had any connection with Oklabama. He owned a “home” there, but had had it leased out for over ten years. Oklabama was a place he returned to every six years to campaign. Other than that, there was no need for him to visit the state. He actually found it depressing, preferring the excitement of Washington to the dreary, mundane Oklabama, where the only contacts he had were Chambers of Commerce, and business development associations, and other lobbying groups. He found the rest of the people, those not contributing large sums of money to his campaign, completely detestable, frequently referring to them in private as “inbred ingrates.”

Senators cannot be troubled to spend their time on the needs of citizens...that is what Congressmen do. He was too busy dealing with important affairs, important national and international affairs. There was no time for individuals. Besides, he had people for that. His people were instructed to defer all individual calls to the heads of the local office of the congressmen in their district. After all, he was a senator, not a mere congressman. Members of the world's greatest deliberative body must deliberate, and above all else deliberate. They must not deliberately get involved in concerns of individuals in their state, nor be so foolish as to accidentally get involved in them, either.

“Senator, you handled that well,” said a sycophant aide. “I don't see a committee meeting on your schedule. What committee has called a special meeting?”

“The committee of the Thursday haircut club. I'm meeting several members of the HHS oversight committee where we will discuss things, mostly football, while getting a haircut at the congressional barber shop, since I am far too busy to leave Capitol Hill to get a haircut where I might have to wait in line with commoners, or be approached by some reporter.”

The aide thought to himself that he was lucky to be working with one of the smartest senators who ever lived, one who really knew the ropes of Washington, one who really knew how to get things done. Unfortunately for the Senator, or perhaps fortunately for the aide, Washington would be drained of his brain right after the Senator lost his re-election bid, the voters of his state having successfully been persuaded by his opponent that the Senator was “out of touch” with the needs of Oklabama's citizens, a charge Babbitt ineffectively rebuffed all throughout an ineffective, though extremely well funded campaign. As his poll numbers began to show the ineffectiveness of his campaign, Babbitt was amazed at the number of his urgent calls to those he thought supported him that went unreturned. He was livid. He was furious. He was, after all, the glorious Senator Babbitt. Who would dare to not return his phone call?

Soon, he would be one of the principals of the lobbying firm Babbitt, Sinclair, and Lewis, and would be amazed at how much money he would make. He would think he should have quit the Senate long ago. He would think that he was now on easy street, watching his bank account grow at a precipitous rate, right up to and until he got his third DUI, when his clients dropped him like a hot potato. All of his influence could not get the felony DUI charge dropped. He would spend six months in jail, during which time his accountant would empty his bank accounts and flee to Bolivia. The rest of his life he would be forced to subsist on his Senate retirement of only fourteen thousand dollars a month. This soon led to a bankruptcy filing since he could not seem to reduce his spending to less than thirty thousand dollars a month. Life can be hard, sometimes.

Enough about Senator Babbitt.

What about Dr. Farid Fata, the Hematologist/Oncologist, the Lebanese native who practiced medicine in Michigan? His story is right here: Hematologist charged with Medicare Fraud

He is right up there with former Mississippi oncologist, now federal penitentiary inmate, Meera Sachdeva. Of course there are American born physicians that get charged with Medicare and insurance fraud, but it seems to me that there is a very high percentage of them who are immigrants. Is this just me, or do you see it, too? Or is is just that immigrant physicians are the ones most likely to be prosecuted? Hmmmm! More than the fraud, I am worried about their bad medical practice. Sachdeva administered more chemotherapy agents than she purchased, which means that many people were given diluted chemotherapy, or mere saline, since it is not possible to administer more of something than you actually have, thought it is apparently possible to bill Medicare and insurers for more than you have. This came to light in Sachdeva's case when a hospital in McComb, Mississippi, admitted several oncology patients from Sachdeva's clinic who had the same, unusual, bacterial infection. A visit by the State Medical Licensing Board determined that Sachdeva's clinic was using dirty IV infusion supplies.

The case of Fata seems a bit different. He merely diagnosed people with cancer and gave them chemo when they did not need it. I'm sure that if this went on long enough, Fata would have been named the AMA Doctor of the Year for his unusually high cure rate of cancers in his clinic. He would have been the keynote speaker at dozens of AMA luncheons, training doctors on how to treat patients and get the same success rate, and even more, training them on how to run a successful practice. The lust for money is not in all physicians, but because of their rigorous training, many of them denied themselves for so long that the temptation of money is hard to resist once they begin their practice. Physicians are human, too, subject to the same lusts and passions as are common to all men. It is unfortunate that we single them out as exceptional people, placing them on a pedestal that may just be a bit too tall for their own good. Our doctors are not our gods, they are merely our physicians, and they practice their craft. Some are better than others. No doubt, mine are better than yours. Remarkably, if the plumber fails to fix our leaking pipes, he gets to do some warranty work. If our doctor fails to cure our illness, he gets paid over and over again.

“But, it's hardly the same thing,” you say to me.

“It's hardly the same thing,” Gooday, Hemosapien, Mainmost, and other physicians say to me.

“I agree completely,” I say back. “Plumbers are absolutely responsible and accountable for their work. Only in a mixed up world do we allow that the more education one has, the less he is accountable for the results of his work”

No one says anything. Everyone scurries away, leaving me to my own devices. I have become persona non grata.

I will take two aspirin and call myself in a couple of weeks if I am not better. Like poor Senator Babbitt, no one will return my phone calls.

8/4/13 Cicero, Again

“Write. Even if you have nothing to say, then write and say so,” Cicero said long ago.

“Write. Even if you have nothing to say, then write and say so,” Cicero has been saying to me for the last three or four days.

“Thanks, Cicero,” I finally said back. I headed down to my studio, fired up this computer, and am determined to write something even though I have nothing to say. Well, there's lots I could say, but there is really no need in saying it. I am not motivated to say it. I can't change anything by having said it. Some idiot is likely to disagree with what it is that I might say, then I'd be all mad about it. Some idiot may even successfully point out just how full of bovine effluvia I am, and that would really make me mad.

I could write about politics, but that's been done. In fact, it's been overdone, and overdone to the point of familiar folly. The faces change; the names change; even the details of the circumstances change, but the folly of human political endeavor never seems to change. I'd laugh about it if it weren't so dangerous.

I could write about national politics, gridlock in Washington, the ineffectiveness of congress, the invective of party partisanship. I could write about constitutional rights and their encroachment by a government gotten out of hand. I could write about Detroit and the dozens of other cities breathlessly waiting for Washington to bail them out with money that does not even exist, assuming on behalf of all the people of the United States the obligations those cities created for themselves for their former employees.

I could write about the faltering Affordable Care Act, and how the government is waiving such portions of it as appears might damage their chances in the 2014 elections. I could write about the way that as more and more of it is revealed, politicians on both sides of the aisle are seeing terrible difficulties in its implementation.

I could write about scandals in Washington: about Benghazi, the IRS, drone strikes targeting American Citizens, or spying by the NSA, CIA, and the FBI. I could write about scandals in New York, and stoop to throwing out dozens of clever but sophomoric Weiner jokes, giggling to myself like a pre-sophomore, thinking I'm cute when actually I'm insufferable, causing people all over to roll their eyes in disgust as they see those jokes coming from a mile away. Weiner jokes have all the true comedy of toilet humor . . . it's a low place to take comedy, and every bit as good as taking comedy to a no-longer-shocking profanity. It will serve no purpose. I think I'll leave all of those things to someone else, because someone else will be unable to remain silent about them. Before the New York mayoral race is over, we'll have had all the Weiner jokes and variants of Weiner jokes that we can stand. We'll certainly have had more of them than Weiner can stand. I'm just glad I'm not Anthony Weiner, but in his defense, if he could see me now, he'd most likely be glad he's not me, either. That probably works both ways.

Who would trade who he is for someone else? Of course, at this time, most would not likely trade their own persona for that of Anthony Weiner . . . but that is not representative of all people. There are folks around the world in desperate circumstances who may be glad to have their name be the focus of jokes in the national media if they could just have a plate full of food and a safe place to sleep for themselves and their family. Hey, maybe I could write about that! Nah! There's no stopping place once you get started. Besides, it's likely that there are many who would brave starvation and political oppression just to stay who they are. If we think we'd like to be someone else, then we are missing something critical. While I hope that no one really wants to be someone else, I do hope that the full plate of food and safe place to sleep gets delivered . . . somehow . . . someway.

I could write about George Zimmerman, but I didn't hear the evidence the jury did. I was not there. I can have an opinion about how the trial went, whether the verdict was the right one, or about its implications for the future of race relations in this country, but others seem to have done that already. Few of them were at the trial, either, and none of them were there when the tragic event occurred, but that does not stop the speculators from speculating, nor the baiters from baiting, nor the gullible from taking the bait. I could write about how some think Zimmerman's acquittal was a misprision of justice. I could write about how some felt he must be convicted simply because of the mayhem that may result from his acquittal. I could write about a lot of things, but it is one thing I can be glad about not having to have an opinion, since the opinion of the jurors is far more relevant than mine.

I could write about the relevance of my own opinions. In doing so, I could evaluate my own opinions and remind all of you just how smart and well informed they are, chide you some if yours differs the least little bit from mine, and feel smug about how clever I am . . . but that would serve neither you nor me. Perhaps it is better if I keep my opinions to myself. It will certainly make for a better friendship even if it makes for less lively conversation. Sometimes, less lively conversation is just what we need.

I could write about the importance of me being right and you being wrong. I could write about me always having to have the last word. I could write about the hubris I tote around with me, hauling it about like a lead anchor fastened with a heavy chain about my ankle . . . or better, like a Mastertone banjo fastened to my ankle by the same heavy chain, the banjo about as heavy as the lead anchor and as intolerable to those around me as the anchor is to me. If I started examining and writing about that, there also would be no stopping point. There are so many things about me that need attention and further work, it is just too depressing at this time of the morning to consider it seriously. I think, other than what's written, I'll not write any more about that at this time. You can just nod your head and agree with me that there are some areas that could use some improvement, and naturally, after having said that, I wouldn't dare bring up anything about any thorny hedgerows you have that might need a little pruning; that would be bad form. We may be guilty of lots of things, but let us never be found guilty of bad form.

I could write about medical issues, the recent removal of several skin lesions that were non-malignant, good reports, mixed reports, bad reports, the good news on the cutting edge of medical research from Gooday and my caretakers at the Big-as-Texas Cancer Center in Houston. The personal things are not worth writing about, except to say that the removal of suspicious skin lesions that turned out to be non-malignant is good news. I could also write about finally seeing a long time physician friend as a patient, learning just how competent he is, and learning that his colleagues and employees admire him as much as I do, which I surprisingly found surprising. Why would this be surprising to learn that the person you thought you knew was actually the person you thought them to be? And that they are extremely competent in their field of medical practice? I suppose we humans are always surprised to have confirmed what we suspected about people is really true, especially if everything we thought about them is good. We'd hardly be surprised if we discovered that all the bad things we thought about someone was true, would we? How shameful of us! Or is it just me? Am I the only one that is that way? I hope not and I hope so, all at the same time. If it is just me, then it'll be easier to fix than if it's everyone else, too. We humans are a suspicious and fickle lot. We are prone to folly, discord, and gossip. We are tossed to and fro by the slightest shift in the wind, our opinions as flighty as mosquitoes blown about in a stiff breeze, unable to land and feed on our hosts, unable to do any damage due to the wind, but lurking by just as soon as the wind subsides, inserting our proboscis into our host, injecting our itch-inducing anti-coagulant, and feasting on their blood, growing fat off the essence of others. But, I don't have an opinion about that. Those were just words that flowed in a stream of consciousness from my brain that stimulated my fingers to move in such a manner as to type out these words, and unfortunately, the words are coming faster than my fingers can reproduce them. Having noted that, I'll move on with more nothing to say.

I could write about my friends who are suffering from illnesses much more serious than any I have to write about. Some of them are having a hard time. They are all in my prayers.

I could write about prayer and its effectiveness. You could argue about it and its uselessness, and how, if god exists, he has cast us into the melee of life in this universe and interferes and influences events in our lives with as much care and concern as the turtle who laid her eggs on a remote beach who never looks back once the eggs are laid. I'd most likely have a lot to say about that if you said it to me, but I have recently declined to comment when given the opportunity, which is a major milestone in my life. No longer having to have what I perceive as a crushing victory in every situation where things of a religious nature are concerned, since that is not possible, I have witnessed the truth that a soft answer turns away wrath, that God will call whom He will call, and that my pearls are too precious to be shown to those who do may not appreciate their beauty. A simple faith, from which I cannot be moved, seems to serve much better than whopping someone upside their head with a bond leather, large-print, gilt-edged edition of the Scofield Reference Bible. Things are what they are. Things not seen clearly now will be revealed. My faith is important to me. My faith is everything to me. Let me live my life so that my faith is evident without me having to use thousands of words to explain it to others who neither appreciate what I'm saying, nor the fact that I'm telling them . . . yet, let me always have a ready answer for those who seek Him, that He may use me in the manner He sees fit. It is not necessary that I understand all His ways, but it is necessary that I walk in such light as I have received. Does that sound like a prayer to you? I think it is. Let it be effective and fervent as I am persuaded this is a good thing to pray for.

I could write about theology.

“Why don't you?” asks Calvin, a mere whisper in my ear, but loud enough that I whirl around to see just where the voice was coming from. There, like the vanishing Cheshire Cat, Calvin's stern smile is all that is visible, just off to my left, near the shelf where I keep hundreds of CD's and DVD's of live music recordings in such a state of disarray that I am unlikely to find any particular one, ignoring the smile and reminding myself of the promise I have made to myself hundreds of times to straighten all that mess out. Then the Cheshire grin catches my attention again. “It will be helpful if you explain my excellent theological positions to everyone, bringing them closer to a knowledge of the truth, though I daresay that they need Jesus more than they need my theology.”

“That's a remarkable admission coming from you, my old friend and nemesis,” I replied to the shrinking grin. They never last very long, these late-night, early-morning Calvin visits/hallucinations; already the smile was disappearing into the ether.

“I never thought my own theology was more important than my Lord,” he said, and the the smile disappeared leaving nothing but the shelves of music media shambles. “You should think about cleaning all this mess up,” was the final thing I heard as once more I was alone, just me and this keyboard, and my recollections of all the things I was not going to write about.

I could write about my trip to California, but it would be a repeat of what I have written before, except that every year the crowds get larger, the existing relationships more personal and permanent, and my own amazement at the new ones that get established, recognizing the involvement of a Providence that others would find laughable. I invite them to laugh as I go about my business of enjoying the establishment of the remarkable relationships and the fruits they bear. I am humbled by them. I am overwhelmed by them. I have no words to describe them or their nature, other than they are influenced and presided over by Providence. Others can describe them in whatever manner they see fit. I will not argue, but will simply marvel.

Marveling is a good thing. Having something to marvel over is a good thing. Enough marveling and one soon realizes that one's life is marvelous. I have come to that conclusion. I could tell you all about it, but it would take too long. Let it rest with this: I am grateful.

Gratefulness. There's a subject worthy of words, a subject worthy of volumes of words, a subject that brings life into a perspective that cannot be accurately measured through any other facet without being skewed. I am simply grateful. If you read this far, I am grateful for having had your attention this long, particularly when I had nothing at all to say, from which it must follow that I had nothing worth saying, and consequently, nothing worth hearing. It took a lot of effort on your part to read a whole bunch of nothing this far, but blame it on Cicero. He is the instigator. He is the cause of this self-indulgent nothingness.

That Cicero. He was a joker.

6/30/13 Paula Deen . . . Enough, Already!

I am tired of hearing about Paula Deen. I am tired of those condemning her. I am tired of those defending her. I am tired of her sponsors dropping her. I am even tired of seeing pictures of her smiling face.

It has become passé for media celebrities to be convicted in the court of Political Correctness, serve their time away from the spotlight (or, as in the case of Martha Stewart, literally serve your time), and then come back to redemption by a public that seems to have no memory.

I never watched Paula Deen’s shows on the Food Network, but that is not a commentary on Paula Deen; I just don’t watch the Food Network. The only time I can remember actively seeking out the Food Network was when there was a segment on a show that featured Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Mississippi, and I was on it playing music. But that was ten years and more than ten pounds ago. Maybe the pounds are because I ate too much Paula Deen-like, rich Southern fare, known as Soul Food by those outside, but simply known as food to us Southerners. I share the taste of that food with Paula Deen, just like millions of native Southerners of all racial persuasions.

That is not all I share with Paula Deen. I admit that I have used the n-word in the past. There are no doubt some native Southerners of my generation and older who have never used the word, but they are precious few. And, the word is not exclusively used in a disparaging manner by white Southerners. I have heard it used in Chicago, Boston, NYC, and California . . . all of them supposedly more tolerant and urbane places than Mississippi.

I won’t be so disingenuous as to insult the intelligence of Mississippians who happen to be African-American. If I maintained that I had never a single time in my life used the n-word word, no one, black or white, would believe me, particularly African-Americans. They would simply know better. Nor would they likely deny using words about Caucasians that I might find disparaging. It is a fact of life in most every place, I think.

I grew up in a household where, as a child, if I were overheard using the n-word, or any of a long list of words used like expletives, such as dad-gummit, dad-burn, dag-nabbit, dang, darn, durn, doodley-squat, crap, gee-whiz, golly, or holy-moly, I would get a first-hand on-the-job refresher course in the taste of Ivory soap, issued by my mother, my grandmother, or one of my loving aunts. There was no escaping it. Lord have mercy on me if I was overheard saying “Jesus,” “Good God,” or “God Almighty,” as a vain expletive. Even saying “Lord have Mercy” would not do unless, head bowed and hands clasped, I was earnestly petitioning the Lord to have mercy . . . if it was thought that I had used it in vain repetition, as a form of a curse, I might get to enjoy the whole bar of Ivory soap, or worse, the dreaded Octagon laundry soap. Welcome to the South, y’all.

“I’m sorry, y’all,” said Paula Deen.

Us, too, ma’am. We are all sorry for our prejudices. We are all sorry for our bigotry. We are all sorry for our imperfections as human beings. We are all sorry that our foot gets into our mouth, sometimes . . . sorry that the foot is there, and sorry for the mouth that caused the foot to get there, and sorry for the mindset that enabled the mouth to coax the foot to our lips, and most likely, sorriest about what it all may have cost us. Foot tastes worse than Ivory soap, but not quite as bad as Octagon.

I recall some similar things happening in other arenas.

After the nation got tough on impaired driving, I overheard one heavy-drinker ask another, “Have you gotten your DUI, yet?” It seemed to be a right of passage among drinkers who enjoyed the honky-tonk scene.

One overweight middle-aged Southern man asked another, apparently both of them on the Paula Deen diet, “Have you had your bypass yet?”

“No.” The other one said, adding, his chest stuck out like there was a medal for valor pinned on it, “But, I have had a couple of stints put in.”

“Have you had your politically incorrect conviction and public humiliation, yet?” one celebrity asked another.

“Yes, I have,” the other said, glad to be on the upswing again and have all that behind him. “You see, I’m now listed as SUCCESSFULLY REHABILITATED.”

Ah! Successfully rehabilitated. That sounds like Al Sharpton, who has, himself, defended Paula Deen. Al was rehabilitated after the terribly discrediting, race-baiting Tawanna Brawley case, the very thing that brought the Reverend Sharpton to the national scene. Since then, he has apparently traded soul food for tofu, lost a lot of weight, and made a lot of money. That he survived the taint of Tawanna Brawley is a testament to the savvy of Al Sharpton. I salute him for that. I also salute him for his defense of Paula Deen. He is quoted in various sources as saying, “A lot of us have in the past said things we have regretted saying . . .” If it weren’t for Tawanna Brawley bringing him into the media spotlight, where he managed to figure out how to stick, Al Sharpton may have regretted saying anything on behalf of Tawanna Brawley, or against her non-existent, invented racist attackers. Instead, he has to be thankful for her . . . an odd twist, don’t you think?

Oh please! Not a single African-American, anywhere would believe me if I testified in a thousand oath-bound depositions that I have never used the n-word. But I can testify, in a thousand more oath-bound depositions, that I know, instantly and precisely, the taste of Ivory soap.

My mother, grandmother, and aunts? They would likely be charged with child abuse, today, but to them I am grateful, for the n-word never crosses my mind but that it is instantly followed by mental images of Ivory soap, and even the white and red paper wrapper with the legend, “OCTAGON” printed on its face.

Best wishes, Paula Deen. May you soon regain whatever it is that you think you have lost, if not for your own benefit, then for the benefit of those who no longer have a job because of the frailties of the human mouth. I suppose it would have been better had you perjured yourself during your deposition. After all, presidents have perjured themselves with no effect.

I wish someone would ask Bill Clinton (Arkansan) has he ever used the n-word. Or Jimmy Carter (Georgian). Or Lyndon Johnson (Texan . . . well, OK, it's a bit late to ask LBJ). Maybe ask Al Gore (Tennessee, though he mostly grew up in DC). The use of the n-word is not limited to Southerners, nor is familiarity with the taste of Ivory soap.

Thanks, mother, grandmother, and Aunt Ann. A little soap never hurt me, and I am thankful for the example you set for me, since you were consistent and never, ever let me hear you use any of the words for which I received a mouth washing. I finally figured out that if you could do it, so could I. A mental image of Ivory soap seemed to help a lot.

Maybe Paula Deen can get her TV show back so I can not watch her, again, as was my custom. She never needed me, anyway.

Turn the page now.

6/17/13 ROR1 Protein Identified on Metastasized Cancer Cells

Dr. Thomas Kipps and his team at the Leukemia Center at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have been at the forefront of Leukemia research for a long time. There are many things discovered there that have brought great benefit to CLL sufferers just like me, including the correlation of a less-favorable prognosis requiring early treatment through the testing for IgVH Gene Mutational Status. This is a very expensive test, not offered by commercial labs or paid for by insurance. It was done for me free by Dr. Kipps and Company because the CLL Consortium (a pool of research universities and hospitals, including UCSD, MD Anderson, the Mayo Clinic, Ohio State University Medical Center, Dana Farber Cancer Institute Harvard Medical School, Emory Medical Center . . . and others) wants to collect that data from us CLL patients. (Thanks, Dr. Kipps and UCSD!) By the way, unfortunately, I am UNMUTATED.

Read more from UCSD - HERE

After careful observation of some patients who had fared better than expected after receiving targeted gene therapy, where a patient’s own immune system is modified with his own immune cells to target certain proteins that express themselves on the surface of cancer cells, they made a remarkable discovery. The embryonic protein RO1, which switches itself off after birth, was found expressed on the surface of metastasized cancer cells, but not on the surface of the parent tumor. This is huge news, since targeted gene therapy, or the synthesizing of a new monoclonal antibody (like Rituximab, Alemtuzumab, etc.) type drug can be developed to target only the ROR1 protein. This can possibly allow the metastasized cancers to be treated successfully while the parent tumor is treated by more conventional means. The extent of how successful treatment using these means against ROR1 is unknown, but it is a great starting place, since the cancer patient frequently succumbs to the metastasis or complications from it rather than the parent tumor.

The ROR1 protein was found expressed in metastatic Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Lung Cancer, and I’m sure they are searching for it like mad on a host of other types of cancers. I’m also sure they are working on modifying some of the existing monoclonals to get them to target the ROR1 protein.

The Rituximab I took targeted the protein CD38 which exists only on the cancerous B-Type White Blood Cells (lymphocytes). Though Rituximab can have very serious side-effects, up to and including death (pretty serious, I’d say), it targets and destroys only the cells containing the protein CD38, and not adjacent cells and tissues, unlike conventional chemotherapies and radiation.

This is huge news in the cancer community, and it is brought to you courtesy of the folks who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). There are lots of them, and I salute them, each and every one!!

6/13/13  Cancer Treatment vs. Physician Assisted Suicide

I read an ABC news article on-line last night, from 2008 . . . well before Obamacare and the IPAB board was a factor looming in our lives. The article set forth the plight of an Oregon woman, the late Barbara Wagner, and her fight against lung cancer. Here is a link to the article, written by Susan D. James:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5517492&p

Ms. Wagner was a participant in the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Health_Plan), a program in Oregon that was set up to cover low-income people otherwise ineligible for Medicaid. It is was and is a program with noble intentions, but less-than-noble practices. This particular case is one where the expense of cancer treatment meets the expense of physician assisted suicide, and the future of someone's life is decided by bureaucrats based on an economic formula . . . sort of like the scenario one may envision where a very-ill patient under Obamacare will get introduced to the IPAB board.

Ms. Wagner had a recurrence of her non-small-cell lung cancer and the prognosis was grim. She had been told by her oncologist that she was terminal with just a few months to live. The oncologist recommended a new (at the time) drug called Tarceva, which could possibly prolong her life by several months. The OHP's policy of denying further cancer treatment if the chance of a five year survival was less than five percent kicked in, and Ms. Wagner was denied the drug.

Oregon is a state that has physician-assisted suicide; they call it the Death With Dignity Act. This has been around a while in Oregon, about 15 years, and has been called on remarkably little, though it has some grim applications, as in the case of Ms. Wagner. After receiving the news of her prognosis, and the recommendation of her doctor to take Tarceva as a means of extending her life and not as a curative treatment, Ms. Wagner found herself the recipient of a letter from the OHP advising her that she fell under the the 5%/5% rule denying her the Tarceva and further advising her they would pay for palliative care (hospice) or physician assisted suicide. The Tarceva would cost around $4,000 per month plus the cost of administration since once does not simply purchase the drug but must have it administered in a hospital or chemotherapy infusion center, which likely adds half-again or more to the cost of the drug itself. The cost of palliative care for a few months would be far less, and, as it turns out, the cost for the lethal doses of prescription medications for physician assisted suicide is about $50.00.

This case raised such a nationwide stink for Oregon and its OHP that the decision not to allow her treatment was reversed and she was furnished with the Tarceva. She died three weeks after the Tarceva regimen was started. Granted, in the course of one's life, which has now come down to the wire, dying today or three weeks from today really makes no practical difference, particularly if the death occurred in 2008 and it is now 2013 . . . just what is three weeks now? Of what significance is it?

There's not, really. But there is a universe of difference between the hope of the living and the receipt of a letter from your insurer offering to pay for physician assisted suicide. It can be argued that palliative care is a form of suicide, since the fight to prolong life is abandoned and the disease is allowed to run to its terminus while providing as much comfort as possible for the patient . . . but this argument does not really pass muster and is a far cry from an active suicide.

There are many cases in states with no physician assisted suicide (the only states that have it are Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and Washington), where at the end-of-life stage, a caring physician administers heavy doses of pain-killing opiates, a possible side-effect of which could be death. Physicians can do this ethically. There are thousands of prescription and OTC medications that have death as a possible side effect (read the label on aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprophen). Morphine is no different, since in large doses, or in some people at any dose, not only can it eliminate severe pain, sending the patient into a comfort-zone unattainable any other way, but does so while suppressing the patient's respiratory system. I know of at least two cases here in Mississippi where I think the physician felt that death was just hours away and I knew that the doses of morphine being given were rather large. The suppression of one's respiratory system is why one must be in a hospital setting to receive morphine. Of course it has a tremendous potential for abuse, but it also can kill you and you not even know it, simply by causing you to stop breathing as you sleep peacefully in the arms of Morpheus. If you are terminal and have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order on file with the hospital, they will not intubate you if you stop breathing while under the influence of morphine; you will be allowed to die. Allowing one to die and assisting in their suicide are not ethically the same thing, though the practical result is the same. The semantics of this are at once obstreperous and subtle, but the decisions are left to those on the scene and personally involved in the care of the patient, which is far more cogent than the decision of some distant, bureaucratic board ruling. Oncologists deal with death all the time, and the very personal death of their very personal patients is always taken personally. I admire their ability to cope and whatever means they use to maintain any sort of clinical detachment. I know that my own oncologist, Hemosapien, would be personally touched by my death, even if it were by some means other than my CLL, but certainly more so if my death were attributable to my CLL.

The OHP is a microcosm of what is likely to occur under Obamacare – the cost/benefit analysis of bureaucrats, which under the ACA will be the IPAB board. How this 15 member board will review all the cases that come before it remains a mystery to me. Will their be sub-boards and committees? Undoubtedly! Of course, there will be rules and guidelines but these will be subject to appeal and review. And how will that appeal and review process work? Health and Human Services has already shown a proclivity to waive portions of the law as it deems fit and proper. Will the  scandal headlines that erupt in 2014 after Obamacare's full implementation, be, “Tea-Party Member Denied Treatment?”

Oddly, the IRS, that same organization that focused on conservative groups to deny or delay 501(c) 3 or 4 tax-exempt organization status, is the entity that will collect the tax one will owe if one is not covered under a qualifying health care plan, and provide the tax credits for those whose income is below a certain level. Their track record is not very good. Nor is that of HHS, whose waivers are cited above, since most of the waivers were granted to labor unions who had plans in effect that did not meet the guidelines of the ACA.

While the IPAB board may not send out any letters advising patients advising patients to consider a physician assisted suicide (as did the OHP), they will certainly send out notices that indicate the cost/benefit threshold of future treatment has been breached, so only palliative care will be allowed for the rest of ones increasingly short life. I'd rather think this was between a person and their physician, not a person and the IPAB board.

Who will be allowed waivers? Will the waivers be automatically granted to some, and denied to others? Will negative press coverage make a difference? It certainly made a difference in the case of 10 year old Sarah Murnaghan, who received a waiver from HHS to allow her to receive a transplant of adult lungs to cure her of her cystic fibrosis. Ms. Murnaghan received her new lungs yesterday and is beginning her hopefully complete recovery in a Pennsylvania hospital today. The entire nation was furious about this, since the HHS rules for transplantation do not allow children under 12 to receive adult donor organs, and young Ms. Murnaghan was an innocent child. Ms. Wagner, on the other hand, was an elderly smoker with lung cancer. Though the cases are different in circumstance, they are not different in practice . . . since both patients had their initial denials waived purely because of negative press. If bureaucrats can waive the law at will, particularly to save face over negative press, then what kind of law is it? What law can be waived for convenience? While the recipients of waivers are grateful for them, what about the people who do not receive the waivers?

IPAB is the acronym for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. By the nature of their name, it will be their job to advise of at least two things, though this is by no means all-inclusive:

  1. Health care providers will be advised how much money they can expect to receive for specific AMA code related procedures. Of course, this will be as customized by market, city, state, and hospital demographics as some of the tattoos I've seen on those awful ink programs on TV, and subject to waiver because of bad press or political affiliation.
  2. Patients will be advised that there will be no payment for further treatment since they have passed the event-horizon of what the IPAB says is prudent, subject to modification because of bad-press or political affiliation. While the IPAB may not come right out and advise a patient to move to Oregon to take advantage of its physician assisted suicide program, it certainly will advise a patient of palliative care options that are practically beneficial to the patient and fiscally beneficial to the government.

The more complicated things are, the more potential for abuses. We already have abuses because of the complexity of medical care as it exists today, and we are replacing that complexity with something even more complex . . . a compounded complexity, as it were.

“Let's pass this bill so we can see what's in it,” said the seemingly benzodiazepined former-speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is, unfortunately, not-exempt from Obamacare, due to the GRASSELY AMENDMENT, but would like to have herself and her staff exempted since she is among those legislators concerned about the prohibitive costs her staff members will likely face upon its full implementation. If Nancy is concerned about the prohibitive costs her poorly paid staff members will face, well . . . isn't that one of the things that Obamacare was supposed to address? There are rumblings in the House and Senate about wanting to revoke the Grassely Amendment, but to our great credit, the legislators know that we are watching them. Look for a concerted attempt to postpone (waive) the Grassely amendment before the 2014 implementation of the ACA, or eliminate it entirely after the 2014 elections.

As for Obamacare? We are beginning to see what's in it, Ms. Pelosi, and through the murk we can clearly discern an exponentially obfuscating bewilderment. Take another diazepam, or two, Ms. Pelosi, and have one of your poorly-paid staff members you'd like to exempt call me in the morning and explain to me why it's good for me and bad for them. I’d really like to hear someone make a good case for this, as unlikely as it would seem. Stopping a “brain drain” from Washington, DC, is not going to be a part of any successful argument, since it was the aides and staffers that gave us the 1900-plus pages of ACA legislation that no one read, including Ms. Pelosi, but perhaps Senator Charles Grassley, or an aide, who then decided it would be bad form to apply something to all of America and exempt congress and its staffers. Good luck poorly paid staffers and aides ($25,000 to $170,000 per year), as you leave government service and flee to private industry in search of better insurance. I don’t think it’s going to be the mass exodus that some members of congress are claiming. If so . . . then let ‘er bump. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Why the implementation of the ACA and its potential higher costs should be bad for aides, staffers and members of congress and good for me is going to be extremely difficult to explain. If we don’t watch them closely, we’ll see their exemption, yet!

I doubt Kathleen Sibelius, in the flesh, can explain it to my satisfaction. That congress is entertaining any inkling that they and their staff members should exempt themselves offers evidence far more compelling than any words of explanation. If their exemption prohibited curative treatments, offering only palliative care, well, then, perhaps I might be able to understand it better. No one offered to mention what health benefits they would be allowed in exchange for their exemption. I suspect it would make me too angry to look and see. I think I'll join Ms. Pelosi in a diazepam. Maybe that's the future of medical care . . . give everyone enough diazepam, then they won't care.

Soma, anyone? Add Huxley's Soma to Vonnegut's Ethical Suicide Parlors, coupled with Orwell's telescreen, and we have a completely horrifying vision of the future. Whew!! I do need that diazepam.

And by the way, the OHP no longer covers cancer treatment at all, but they do cover the cost of diazepam prescriptions and the cost of physician assisted suicide.

Remarkable! 

 

Health and Human Services

Washington, DC.

 

June 13, 2014

 

[Title] [Name]

[Address]

[City], [ST] [Zip]

 

Re: Cost/Benefit threshold exception

Case number: [SSN]-[Threshold Exception Number]

 

Dear [Title] [Name]:

 

Your IPAB case worker has notified your IPAB board that the cost/benefit threshold for your case (number cited above) has been reached. The cost of your medical care has now exceeded and/or is anticipated to exceed any possible benefit your country may realize in the future from your continued treatment for your <{IFYES} [chronic disease diagnosis] {THEN} [Chronic Disease Name];{IFYES} [terminal disease diagnosis] {THEN} [Terminal Disease Name]>; you will be a net drain on society as your age and the seriousness of your illness make it unlikely that you will be able to pay any taxes in the future, or participate in any meaningful value-added way.

 

Your IPAB board would like to advise of the following options available to you, henceforth.

 

1.      Palliative care from an IPAB registered hospice care facility

2.      Free final vacation package, including

ñ   Free one-way bus ticket to Oregon, Vermont, Washington, or Montana

ñ   Up to five days worth of daily meal vouchers (limited to 14 vouchers)

ñ   State residency requirement waivers

ñ   Pre-certified/no co-pay office visit with participating physician.

3.      Appeal of IPAB ruling to the IPAB appeals committee.**

4.      NONE

 

Your IPAB board agent, [Agent Name], is there to serve you and we welcome your input and comments. Please use the our toll-free number (800) 666-IPAB to leave your recorded comments at our personalized automated call center.

 

Yours truly,

 

John R. (Jack) Kervorkian, III, MD

IPAB Executive Director/Under Secretary

Department of Health and Human Services

 

cc: [Case Worker Name], IPAB Case Worker

[IPAB Field Office]

[IPAB ID Number]

(800) 666-IPAB

 

attachments

   Donor form

   Self-Addressed Envelope

enclosures

   “Big Sky Country” travel brochure

   “Sasquatch Country” travel brochure

   “Downtown Montpelier Walking Tour” travel brochure

 

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Morbidly funny? Wickedly prescient? Uselessly cynical? Self-indulgent tripe?

Time will tell.

5/30/13 Leading from the Front

Captain James Cook was a British Royal Navy Captain, navigator, explorer, cartographer, and world traveler. Reading his journals is fascinating, with many, many mundane entries about longitude, latitude, depth soundings, and wind and weather, interspersed with glimpses of terror, mayhem, and death at sea, or the same on the shores of some distant island at the hands of hostile natives. Captain Cook himself met his demise at the hands of hostile locals in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1779. Prior to his death, he had seen as much of the world as any man had theretofore seen, naming many islands which still bear the names he gave them to this day. He was a remarkable man, and a remarkable leader: a lesson for all who would lead.

Scurvy, caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, was a common ailment of sailors. It can be fatal. Captain Cook and his ships surgeons had run experiments on feeding daily rations of sauerkraut and a wheat wort to the sailors. Wort is the soured mash that is later fermented into beer. I have never eaten wort, but it sounds nasty, and apparently it is nasty, since the sailors mostly refused to eat it, even when knowing it would prevent them from getting scurvy.

At first, Captain Cook had ordered the men to eat their daily rations, but this wasn't working out to his satisfaction due to their refusal. He then developed a unique idea, setting a fine example of leadership and showing that he knew more than a little about human nature.

...the man at first would not eat it, until I put it practice – a method I never Knew once to fail with seamen – and this was to have some of it dressed every day for the Captain table…I found it necessary to put every one on an allowance; for such are the Templars and disposition of Seamen in general that whatever you give them out of the common way -- altho' it be ever so much for their good -- it will not go down, and you will hear nothing but murmurings against the Man that first invented it; but the moment they see their superiors set a value upon it, it becomes the finest stuff in the world and the inventor an honest fellow.

His sailors thought that they were being provided swill for their food, since the officers had not previously been required to eat the wort or sauerkraut. Hearing these murmurings and knowing that he needed neither them nor a crew with scurvy, Captain Cook set forth a bold new plan. He would eat the daily ration of the sauerkraut and wort himself, requiring his officers to do the same. I'm sure that, human nature being what it is, there were those who tried to shovel their ration over the side, but no doubt the Captain could not have the sailors see this being done. Everyone ate, including himself.

When the sailors saw the the Captain valued this food, they began to consume it with a relish . . . thus, for the first time in the history of long naval voyages, though signs of scurvy were diligently searched out by the ship's surgeons and the Captain, not a single drew member became ill.

Later on, when it was discovered that citrus fruits were filled with vitamin C, the sailors were allowed limes to eat, thus, sailors became known as “Limeys.” I suspect sucking on a lime is better than eating wort, and while there are those who have a taste for sauerkraut, I am not among them . . . though, I'd eat a bait of it in lieu of getting the scurvy.

The example here is that until Captain Cook showed the value of these foods to the men by consuming it himself on a daily basis, they had no taste for it. When the crew learned that it was fit for the Captain, and that he apparently liked it, they decided that it was fit for them, too. He may have even acted like he was going to cut back on their rations in order to consume it himself.

“The bloody Captain . . . eating all that bloody wort 'isself, 'e is, leeavin' none for us seamen what works so hard and apt to take the scurvy,” said an able-bodied seaman to the chief bosun's mate on the main deck, as the ship slid forward under full sail on a fresh gale off the port stern on a warm, tropical night, the new moon overhead, and dark as dark could be, except for the glint of the Southern stars and the orange glow from the clay pipe of the bosun's mate..

“You'd better eat it up when they serve it,” said the bosun's mate, “Thar's no need in letting the officers get it all when we can have our share.”

Overhearing this conversation, normally administering discipline to anyone who dared use the word “Captain” in any sort of derogatory manner, Captain Cook smiled to himself, went below, and retired to his quarters.

“Eight bells,” said the officer of the watch, followed by, “Two hundred-forty fathoms, no bottom!”

A fair wind, a soft, deep sea, a ship's larder full of scurvy-less foods, and a Captain to be respected, “It could be worse,” the sailor said to himself, as he stood tall, erect, and straight-of-spine, facing the bow of the ship, peering off into the limitless distance of a tropical night, the Southern Cross blazing overhead. “It could be worse . . .”

5/27/13 Memorial Day

So many gave so much. So many simply did their duty when called on. So many showed the determination to do their duty in the face of their worst fear, which is true courage. I am thankful for them all. I honor their memory.

(Sergeant) Alvin C. York, a real person, born and raised in Pall Mall, Tennessee, not just a character in a movie whose portrayal won the great Gary Cooper an Academy Award for best actor, said this.

Liberty and freedom are so very precious that you do not fight and win them once and stop. They are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them!

I tip my hat to Alvin C. York, a seemingly ordinary, simple, country man who did extraordinary things.

All men are capable of doing the extraordinary; extraordinary comes in the doing and having done. It never comes with mere contemplation. Sometimes the extraordinary just slips up on a fellow in the process of having to do something in the face of desperate circumstances.

As Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I submit that it is the desperation that yields the extraordinary that can overtake a man. We never know what is in another man's heart, or how he will react in a given situation; neither does the man, himself. We don't know what is in our own heart. We'd like to think that we can rise to the extraordinary, but perhaps we fool ourselves. We'd like to think we'd show courage in the face of danger, but we have to wait until the danger is no longer distant, but in our face as we inhale every one of its odious exhales to know for sure. In terror and fear our courage is revealed.

Many men have faced overwhelming dangers in the process of serving their country. Many faced them and succumbed...but they faced them just the same. Most of us have courage like the young man in Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage. We have romantic notions of how we would behave. How we might stand and fight as others turn tail and run...but we might find ourselves more fleet of foot than we imagined, leading the retreat instead of grudgingly being forced to rationalize the folly of not following.

Being fearless is not courage because the fearless need no courage. Being afraid and facing the fear is courage. I wish we could all be fearless, but more, I wish we all have the courage to overcome our fear. This is true courage.

“Weren't you afraid?” the reporters asked Sergeant York.

“Yeah! I was powerful afeared,” he replied, “But them machine guns wuz a-tearin' us up.”

Desperate circumstances give birth to the extraordinary in men. I think I'm more thankful for the extraordinary men than the desperate circumstances.

5/12/13 Baited and Switched by AT&T

I was tired of my iPhone 3GS. I think it had also grown tired of me. It was time for me to upgrade. Detesting the fact that Apple forced me to use iTunes to do anything with my iPhone, and despising the way iTunes kept popping up on my PC, demanding that I use it, and nearly daily requiring me to update it, always having to download 80MB files, which I would likely have done had it been the least bit intuitive and user friendly, which it was not, and I'm not computer illiterate. I was just ready to go to something that was more PC friendly. What can I say? I am a PC guy. It is too late for me to become an Apple person.

The first thing “Low”, my salesperson at the AT&T store in Meridian, tells me after looking up my account is that I am grandfathered in on unlimited data plans on my existing phone plan and air card. Right off the bat, he warns me that I should never change the plan, that as long as I don't I can keep them. So I trade in my old 3GS and my old data hot-spot for a Samsung Galaxy 4 and one of the new Sierra Wireless Wi-Fi Unite hot spots. For good measure, I get a Samsung tablet, too. Low fixed everything up at the store, got it all working, and I left with a host of new electronic gadgets to figure out.

I spent so much time the first two weeks getting my very complicated phone working to my satisfaction (they warned me!), and getting the tablet working, that I did not spend too much time on the mobile hot-spot, noting though that I could not get it to work. I could connect devices to the hot-spot, but the hot-spot would not connect to the mobile broadband network. I had no need for it at the moment, and as I said, distracted by other things, I decided to wait. Yesterday, my wait was over. It was time to get the hot-spot working.

Every time I'd try to log in to the network, I'd get the message “Error Code 33.” No error codes were addressed in any of their literature, so I go on-line to AT&T to see if I can come up with an answer. I found it!! AT&T says that when error code 33 is displayed, you must call the 800 number they showed because there is an issue with the account, or the SIM card, or some other issue that must be addressed by AT&T. I call them up, but I call too early. I wait until the business hours indicated in their recording and call them back, my UNITE Hot-Spot device in my hand.

Before I connect with a representative, AT&T's automated attendant tells me that the conversation will be recorded for accuracy and verification. They always tell me that. I wonder who the recording is there to protect, me or AT&T? They certainly don't go to the effort for my benefit.

I get a young man named Andrew. When I explain to him about my problem, he has no clue about error code 33 and spends some time researching the issue, no doubt scrolling through several screens to get tot he one with the answer. He is very polite. After a  few minutes, he comes back and says that the problem is with my account . . . the new device will not work with one of the old, unlimited data accounts. He instructs me that I must change it to one of the new, limited data accounts to get it to work. Now this makes me more than a  bit angry. When I tell Andrew about how the store assured me that I could keep my data plan just like it was, advised me against changing it, set the unit up and supposedly got it working, which I'm sure they did, but AT&T later stopped it from working . . . he advised me that he was not sure why they told me that at the store since they are not authorized to do it.

Trying to be helpful, Andrew asked me what my history of data usage on my hot-spot was.

“That's irrelevant,” I replied. "I'll likely use the new one more than I did the old one, so history has no bearing.”

“I'll be glad to offer you a one-time $20 credit for your trouble because you had to call us and it's not working like you expected, and I can switch you to our 5GB per month plan which will save you ten dollars a month over what you are paying now,” said Andrew.

“So, what's it cost if you go over your monthly data plan allowance?” I asked.

“Ten dollars per GB or any portion thereof,” he replied.

“Nope. No, Thanks. I just want my old plan to work on this new device like they promised me,” I said, plainly, matter-of-factly, and unequivocally. “I've been baited and switched. I have already heard that AT&T is trying to get rid of the old unlimited data plans in any way they can, and here I've been baited and switched so your company can accomplish what it wants to accomplish. Nope. I'm not falling for that.

“Andrew, please keep in mind that I am not angry with you personally, but I sure am angry at AT&T's shoddy and transparent attempt to use unethical means to get me off the unlimited data plan. I am furious.”

“But, Mr. Sharp, your device will not work until you change your plan,” Andrew countered, “and I can do that for you, today. Looking at your history, it is doubtful that you will exceed the data allowances under the new plan.” If he could see it, why did he previously ask me if I knew my usage history? It's odd how information suddenly becomes available to them when it's to their advantage.

“No. I am taking it back to the store and letting them figure it out or give me a refund and return my old device to functionality, as well as throw a fit if they can't deliver on what they promised me as they were taking my money,” I said. Andrew had asked me earlier if I had ordered the new stuff over the internet. When I said no, that I had purchased it at a store and they had gotten everything all set to go, he seemed rather disappointed. This will, no doubt, make it more difficult for them, but not impossible. Looking at the box, I see that there is a $35.00 re-stocking fee on the device. AT&T is going to make it difficult and costly for me to not do what they are steering me to do. We'll see how this goes.

“So, Andrew,” I said, “Since this is being recorded for quality and verification, I want you to confirm for me that you are simply doing nothing to my account. I am not authorizing you to change it, nor are you changing a thing about it. You will confirm that things are exactly as they were before I called...that I have an unlimited data plan, that my device is not working because it will not log on to the network, and you have done nothing to fix it.”

“No sir,” he said, “I have not changed anything.”

“I will go back to the store and let them fix their screw up,” I said back. “I don't like this bait and switch. I am not the only person who went into the store and bought this same device only to have this happen. They'll fix it or give me a refund, or cancel the service entirely. If they are telling folks things in error, then the store manager should know that he has employees giving customers bad information . . . though I don't think this is the case. I think I am supposed to be so disappointed that my hot-spot won't work and that you can easily fix it for me so quickly, all while saving me ten dollars a month plus giving me a twenty-dollar one-time credit, that I am supposed to just giddily jump on the offer as if I were a child being offered a Kit-Kat bar in exchange for his left-over Brussels sprouts.”

“I'm sorry you feel that way, sir. Is there any thing else I can do for you, today?” he asked, sounding genuinely remorseful, since no doubt all his training as a call center employee had taught him that I was supposed to take the bait. I didn't, and he was shocked, sorry, and didn't know what else to do. Had he had something else to offer me, he no doubt would have. No, he had done his job tactfully and helpfully, and done everything within his power to direct me to the only solution he had the authority to offer. I could have asked for his supervisor, probably gotten more, but, no, I am going back to the store and let Low explain to me face to face why he instructed me to never give up my unlimited data plan and then sell me something that would not work on my unlimited data plan. If Low can't explain it, then he will get a chance to explain it in to his store manager in front of me; then the store manager will get his chance to explain why it is that they cannot do it, or he will fix it, or he will give me a refund, a full, complete, no $35 restock fee refund, and restore me to where I was before I started this new adventure based on their advice, which has not at all played out like they told me it would. Does my anger at this seem reasonable to you? If it doesn't, then you are not persistent enough. If you think I am unreasonable, why would you think so when I am only asking for delivery of what I was sold and what I paid for?

No doubt, in the store, they will think I am rude simply because I will be persistent. Rudeness and persistence are not connected. Baiting and switching is not only rude, but it's illegal. Anger, while not being rude, itself, can certainly lead to rudeness; but persistence is not rudeness. Now, their position will be that an employee simply gave me bad information . . . that he gave it to me honestly, but still in error. I already bought once, and I'm not buying that, too. I think what AT&T is trying to avoid is exactly what I am wanting to do, which is use my mobile hot-spot for wi-fi connections for several computers at my house, perhaps seeing the chance to do away with the Hughes Net satellite network, which also has limitations. But, I was aware of the Hughes Net limitations before I bought and have worked well within their framework. They have a 500MB per day bandwidth limitation, which amounts to 15GB per month if I use it all, which I don't, and unlimited usage between 2:00AM And 6:00AM every morning. That is not a problem for me, because I started writing this at 2:30AM. It is now 3:55, and I am fixing to use some of my bandwidth to upload this to my website. AT&T now wants to limit me to 5GB per month, no matter when I use it, and charge me an extra $10 per GB or any portion of a GB afterward. I can't help but thinking that they knew this at the store.

I will report back. I'm sure you are waiting breathlessly.

5/4/13 BATCC and Back Again

Debbie and I made our trip to BATCC for my annual checkup last weekend. We stopped in Baton Rouge and spent the night with our life-long friends, George and Myra, enjoyed a wonderful evening of conversation, good food, music, met some new musician friends, and had a special treat when George and Myra's son, Casey, and his wife, Stephanie, made the trip from New Orleans to see us. Casey is a professional musician and it was the first weekend of New Orleans' Jazz Fest, and he was loaded with gigs on the following Sunday, starting early and going on until late. We had a wonderful visit, and I appreciate them taking the time to come. Casey was already a good musician when I first met him when he was about fifteen. Today, he is world class, firmly embedded in the unique New Orleans musical scene. I think he was certainly influenced by his wonderfully talented song-writing father, and perhaps a bit by his father's friend; Casey didn't say so, but he did come all the way up New Orleans to see me, and to get some of his mother's wonderful gumbo...I'm not sure which, maybe both, but thankful either way.

That's a lot how we need to live our lives . . . thankful either way. But, I'm here to tell you that sometimes this is easier said than done. Thankfulness and gratitude can help us keep our focus on what we have, which is a precious lot. Fear, cynicism, and bitterness can keep us focused on what we lack, which can also be a lot, but for certain is an exponentially lot more if that is our focus. We can so focus on what we lack that we completely ignore what we have, perhaps thinking we have nothing. I can't think of a much sadder way to live one's life, though some lives are born into trouble and end out worse. It is a mystery of the human condition that I cannot explain. Perhaps Job can explain it better than me. In fact, I'm sure he can. Read Job for yourself and see. It's there for you, and it's free, except for what it may cost you in thinking, which for some folks is an unacceptable price to ever have to pay. Thinking can cause a host of problems for some, so they'd rather just not do it. I don't think I am one of those people. Thinking is liberating, particularly when thinking results in our shedding shackles we had placed on ourselves by our previously bad thinking. It's those moments of epiphany that help fill our lives with breathless wonder. We expand and can never again fit the same container, but migrate to a larger one, which soon also becomes too confining. If we are lucky, we expand and expand until the earth can no longer contain us, then enter a new dimension. Liquids conform to the shape of their vessel, but a gas does so only in a closed vessel . . . leave it open, and it will expand beyond the vessel, mixing with the eternal ether that surrounds it, while still being the gas it was, only expanded beyond containment. That's what gratitude and thankfulness will get you. And if we focus on it close enough, we will sublimate like frozen carbon dioxide, going straight from a solid to a gas. Sublimation!! Ah! That's what I'm looking for. Where does one find it? It is not typically a property of humans possess, but that does not mean I will call off the search for its discovery, nor does it mean that I if I am successful I will be able to successfully communicate it to others. So many things we just have to discover for ourselves.

This morning I am struck with something the great G.K. Chesterton said, but I am often struck by Chesterton.

The modern habit of saying “This is my opinion, but I may be wrong" is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong I say that it is not my opinion.

I wish I had said that. It is not much of an opinion if the one advancing it admits of error during its expression. Who needs an opinion like that? What good is it to the one expressing it, or to those to whom it is expressed. Surely, I have some opinions that are based on facts that are erroneous, but my opinion is still my opinion. I suppose when one expresses an opinion filled with a trepidatious temerity they are just talking to hear themselves talk. Why don't they just be quiet? Well, that's a difficult thing for humans, isn't it?

“I like dark roast coffee, french-pressed or percolated,” I said, expressing my opinion, which was not really an opinion at all, but a simple declaration.

“No you don't,” said Eustis, the village expert. “The water for coffee should never exceed 190 degrees. Boiling water ruins the coffee, extracting things that are not desirable, making it bitter and undrinkable. And percolated coffee is the worst of all. No, you don't like it; you can't like it, and that's a fact. You're wrong.”

“Hmmmm!” I thought to myself.

Sensing that my silence was some sort of weakness, or deference to his superior knowledge, Eustis continued, “Those methods of coffee making have been long discredited by the coffee intelligentsia and a knowledgeable person like yourself should not make such statements in the future.”

“Hmmmm!” I said again. Eustis fell silent, perhaps having run out of coffee facts that were germane to my opinion and his admonition.

“Eustis,” I asked, “What has any of that to do with what I like?”

“Everything, since what you like is not based on good coffee science,” he replied.

I didn't feel like continuing a conversation where I was getting lectured about what I like, since there is no arguing about what someone likes, so I asked him about a recent two-day fishing trip he had taken, and rather than hearing about the fishing, I began to hear endless things about back-weighted, tapered, floating fly lines versus mid-weighted double tapered sinking lines, and the advantages of home-tied flies over commercially produced ones, and the proper technique and presentation of the fly. I listened for an hour I suppose.

“But, how many fish did you catch?” I asked.

“Oh, I didn't actually catch any fish. By the time I got through properly preparing all my tackle, I had very little time to spend fishing. Fly fishing is very complicated, and one must get everything just right if one is to catch fish properly,” he said.

“I wonder if the fish knows the difference between being caught properly or not?” I mused, more to myself than to Eustis, but he was on the ready for an attack.

“That's a foolish question,” he snarled back at me. It was an excellent question I thought to myself as I sipped on some inferior perked coffee; but that is my opinion. Eustis would not agree. He went on and on in his world of the tiniest perfections, and I enjoyed my coffee. Eustis would not drink any of it, refusing it because of its tainted inferiority. I declined to show him my fly-fishing equipment when he asked me. Mine is not up to Eustis's specifications. The fish I catch are all caught improperly, though, I have discovered a direct proportion between the number of fish that I catch and the time I spend having a hook in the water. I suppose the smart fish just laugh at my equipment and technique. The stupid ones, however, seem readily caught. If one were to ask me my opinion, I'd say that there are lots of stupid fish, though I am not offering my opinion here, because a couple of those fish seemed pretty smart to me, at least as far as fish go. I am not qualified to speak on the intelligence of fish. I am qualified to set the hook on one, reel it in, filet it, and fry it up to eat, afterward having a cup of inferior coffee.

Eustis seems to focus a lot of energy on what he does not have. There is always just one more thing he needs to get everything just right, to make him excel at whatever he is doing and to make his life complete. He enjoys the excelling more than he enjoys the doing. Of course, everyone wants to do well, even excel, but in his case, I don't suppose he ever really enjoyed a cup of coffee or a fishing trip . . . something is always missing which distracts him from simply being there, doing what he is dong for the sheer joy of it, meanwhile laughing at an elderly matron fishing in a creek from a bridge on a sunny day, using, of all things, horror beyond horror, a cane pole, a cork, and chunk of sun-baked rotten chicken liver. The catfish never knew that the method used to catch him was outdated and old-fashioned, and I'll bet a dollar to a dime that the fish-matron was not on a catch and release program, either . . . she was on a catch and eat program. This would have been lost on Eustis, even the sunshiny day.

Eustis has no wrong opinions. They are all flawless, but de-toothed by thousands of mitigations endlessly considered, so that the end result is nothing. At least the fish-matron enjoyed fishing and the fresh cooked fish. When she broke her cane pole, she just went out to the cane break behind her house and whacked off another one. It would never have occurred to her to pay for one. She needs to meet Eustis and show him what a wall of silence sounds like. She would think he was speaking something besides English as she continued to pull in fish while Eustis was explaining all the things she was doing wrong. Maybe he should explain things to the fish who seem completely unaware of their own ignorance in the matter.

We left George and Myra's on Sunday morning in time enough to have a late lunch at Pappadeaux's in Beaumont, TX. I never tire of the fried soft shell crabs, and though my stomach has been in a state of rebellion for the past month, for reasons as yet undetermined, I ate the crabs and a big bowl of crawfish bisque. I later paid dearly for it, but would do it again.

We checked in at the BATCC hotel and they were their usual cordial selves. The valet parkers and the hotel bellmen know me by now. They also know that I am a good tipper, so you'd think a celebrity arrived. The hotel clerk had everything in order and we went to our room. By dark, neither Debbie nor I had any interest in anything but sleeping, since we were still full from our lunch and had kept late hours the night before.

I was up early, though, made a pot of coffee and was rearing to go to get to my appointment with Gooday. I arrived at the Fast-Track Lab at 6:30 and had my blood drawn. I knew from the number of vials they drew that something was amiss. “I am on a research protocol. Did you draw the blood for the flow cytometry?” I asked the phlebotomist.

She looked at her orders. “No. There is no research order here.” I had heard this before. “Then, you will be seeing me again later,” I said. I don't think she believed me. They see so many people there that they have a very ordered way they go about things or else there would be mass confusion, which is sometimes the case anyway. It is best not to rock the boat but I am seldom still in a boat, much to everyone's displeasure.

While I am in the waiting room to see Gooday, I am reminded once again of how difficult things are for others who face the worst odds in dealing with their very personal type of cancer. I posted this on FaceBook while I was there. Rather than type it all again, I will paste it here as a quote.

Let me just say something about thankfulness . . . when one can walk into this place on their own two feet, get the opportunity to see and visit with others who are not able to do so, listen to their stories about their own valiant struggle with a cancer that is far more malevolent and urgent than one's own, one learns to have a thankfulness, caring, and compassion that transcends one's own personal fears. There are people here who are as ill as any human being can be, and they are not just here . . . they are everywhere. God bless them all. I am thankful for what I have at this moment. This side of heaven, this moment is all we have. We should never let it pass unnoticed! When we look at others in the midst of their struggles, we should never forget the mirror into which we are peering. The eyes that peer back have in them our own reflection.

 

I will write more about this on my blog, later, but for the moment, I am completely overwhelmed, as I always am, of all the facsimiles of ME I see in the lobby. I see me at every turn. It is a powerfully humbling experience to understand that it is not others I see with respirators, wheelchairs, face masks . . . it is visions of myself. That includes the courage and defiance I see glimmering in the eyes of those who for all outward appearances have no apparent reason to show defiance. The best part of the human spirit is alive and well here, though housed in bodies that are failing, as they all eventually must. Carpe diem, y'all. Make the day yours!

I will not retract a single word of what I wrote then, nor can I improve it. It is an opinion worthy of tenacity, not temerity. It is perhaps one of the best opinions I have ever had. I will not taint it with any sort of double-mindedness.

As I was sitting there, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between an elderly man seated next to me and a lady from volunteer services whom he apparently knew from previous visits. They were both Jewish. I heard him tell her that he was waiting to see Gooday, so I knew we had CLL in common. After they finished talking, I leaned over to him and said, “Shalom Aleichem!”

“Ah! Aleichem Shalom!” he said with a big smile. He was hairless from chemotherapy, had a mask on his chin but not covering his face, though it no doubt should have been, and was obviously very ill. “Are you Jewish with that accent?” he asked, still smiling.

“No, sir, but I know when to say Shalom Aleichem.” He smiled even bigger. “And your accent, I cannot place it,” I said.

“Johannesburg,” he replied.

“Boy, that's a long way to come for treatment.”

“No, no,” he said. “I have lived in Big College Town, USA, for many years, but have been coming to see Gooday for treatment of my CLL for a long time. They really know their business here.”

“I am here to see Gooday, too,” I said. He peered at me. The bond was established at that moment. “You are young to have CLL, but they are seeing it in younger people these days. Are you doing well at the moment?”

“I think so. I am in remission and am here for my annual checkup. I am on a research protocol that requires me to come here at least once a year, even though I am seen by my Oncologist back home.”

“The cancer research they do here is beyond comparison. That is why I came here instead of getting treated in Big College Town. I wanted the treatment here, as well as to be contributing something to their research. I was doing well with the CLL, but then out of nowhere I developed an extremely aggressive T-Cell Lymphoma, and the chemotherapy for it is much worse then the CLL chemo,” adding, softly, “I have been having a hard time.”

I said nothing, just listened. He continued, “I am about six months into the treatment for the T-Cell Lymphoma, which has the worst side effects. I was depending on my wife of 36 years, my helper, my mate, my ultimate care-giver, when she died suddenly just a few weeks ago. I have really been lost without her.” I was stunned. I was speechless. I was stymied. I had no words. He shed tears for a minute or two, took off his glasses and wiped his eyes, then said, “My daughter is here with me. I have been here taking treatments for a while, now. I am so thankful I have my children to look after me. I have been lost without my wife.”

I reached over and touched his hand. I can't say that there was any healing in my touch, but I can say that there is always comfort when one human being establishes empathetic contact with another, and the touch reinforces it. We sat silently, then the harsh moment eased.

We chit-chatted for a minute or two, then I said, “I have a friend who just completed his Urology residency at the medical school there in Big College Town. He is back home in Mississippi, now, building his practice. He had lots of options, but chose the Big College Town Medical School over several other places.”

“Then he is a wise young man, because we have a cutting edge urology department there, though urology is not my specialty.”

“You are a physician then?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. I am Professor Emeritus of Neurological Radiology at the medical school at Big College Town.”

“Well, I know what a neurologist does, and I know what a radiologist does, but what does a neurological radiologist do?” I asked.

“We have cutting edge technology at Big College Town Medical Center where we use Magnetic Resonance Imaging in real time to focus special Ultrasounds to blast brain tumors that are otherwise inoperable. I have researched this and taught it for many years. Now, I am retired, the Professor Emeritus, though I still work as much as I want, and when I feel like it. The best thing about being Professor Emeritus is that I have a permanently assigned parking space and no longer have to look for a place to park.” When he said this, his eyes twinkled and he laughed out loud. I laughed with him. There is certainly healing in laughter.

I told him of a friend of mind who had just passed away due to an aggressive Glioblastoma, which is a type of brain tumor. He said he was sorry about my friend, then became excited about talking about his work. “Every glio is aggressive. Glio is a very hard brain tumor to treat. It is unique to the glio cells in the brain and is a type of tumor which occurs nowhere else. All the research we are doing in my department at Big College Town Medical Center is designed to treat exactly this type of cancer. We are making great strides every day, but are still so far away. There is yet much work to do. Some glios we can treat successfully, but others, depending on their location, are so aggressive and so quickly damaging to the personality and motor functions that our best efforts fail them. There is so much to do, but we will not yield. I chaired the whole department of Neurological Radiology for many years. What we can do now is amazing, but there is no resting place, since we can save some, and we lose some, and sometimes we don't know why one patient responds and another one doesn't. There is still a long way to go, though we seem to stay right on the edge of a breakthrough.”

Talking about his work animated him in a way that amazed me. He sounds just like Gooday. “We are right on the edge,” he said.

“We are right on the edge,” Gooday always says.

We continued our talk for a few more minutes, then the receptionist called out, “Dr. Emeritus!”

“Well, I have to go now to see Gooday. I will see how my CLL is behaving while I am dealing with this T-Cell Lymphoma. It, too, has been showing signs of acting up, perhaps triggering this lymphoma. I am in good hands. They treat me very well here. There is no place like this for blood cancers and other types of cancers, too. Of course, if I had Glioblastoma, I'd want to be treated by my colleagues at Big College Town. What they know here about treating Glio is what they learn from us. We all share the common bond of wanting to defeat cancer. It is fascinating and rewarding work, but frequently frustrating, because cancer has a mind of its own. Now, you be well,” he said with a bow, “and Shalom Aleichem.”

Aleichem Shalom,” I said back, rising to shake his hand. Then he was gone through the door. There was a man who was thankful in the middle of the greatest loss. He made me thankful for two things: What I had, and having made his acquaintance. I am humbled by his grace in the face of tremendous loss. I expanded as the result of a simple, ten minute conversation. People are so multifaceted: we usually get to view just one facet or two . . . sometimes the ones they meant to reveal to us, and others, the ones they exposed by accident. When the accidental exposures outshine the ones presented, we can get a glimpse of the quality of the real person inside. I hope folks see similar facets in me that I saw in Dr. Emeritus, because they shone with the prettiest, brightest, most beautifully colored light, with not a hint of a shadow in them. May God richly bless him and multiply the grace I have already seen so that his portion grows ever larger, ever richer, and eventually sublimates in an expansion that fills the ether. It is what we should all hope for each other.

I heard my own name called out by a familiar voice. It was Nurse Alice, who smiled the biggest smile. She always does. She was standing in the doorway with my chart in her hand waving me in, and giving me a hug at the same time. Every touch from her has in it the essence of healing. She examined me, looked a bit concerned when I flinched as she  checked for the tell-tale enlarged spleen.

“What's that?” she asked.

“I've been having some stomach troubles, and that's a bit tender.” She then asked me to describe my stomach troubles, which I did, and she said, “You should see a GI right away to get this checked out.”

“My appointment is Wednesday,” I said.

“Good,” she smiled. I got another hug.

Then she asked me the usual CLL questions and I was able to shake my head no to each one. “I have no complaints...none at all...I am not even complaining about this stomach. Every time I come here I learn all over that I have no reason to complain about anything!” I then made a couple of cryptically clever remarks which didn't escape Nurse Alice, nor did I expect them to, I just wanted to try to make her laugh, which I did.

“You're so funny,” she said, then hugged me again.

In waltzed Gooday. “Looking good,” he said, reviewing the results of my CBC. Then he told me about the new things on the horizon, and impending FDA approval on a new treatment, which was likely to be the one I would take if and when I needed treatment again. Then we talked about life in general. I then told Nurse Alice that they had neglected to draw the blood for the research protocol. It was the only time I saw her frown. She looked at her chart.

“I will call them at the lab. I'm sorry, but you will have to go back over there,” she said.

“Make sure they know I'm coming and what to do when I get there,” I said back.

“Don't worry, I will.” I then realized that it was pointless for me to have said that.

I bid them adieu, Gooday gave me his typical bear hug, Nurse Alice hugged one more time, said she would let me know the results of the flow cytometry as soon as it was back from pathology, and I was off back to the lab. I was saddened that I did not see Dr. Emeritus again. I said to Nurse Alice, “Please give him my best and highest regards.”

“Oh! You know him?” she asked.

“Yes. We had the most wonderfully poignant and inspiring conversation in the waiting room,” I said.

“I will convey your regards,” she said. There is no question in my mind that she did, too. When I got back to the lab, the chief phlebotomist said, “You told us we'd see you again, and here you are.” She seemed surprised. I wondered about that. I am still wondering about that. I could speculate about it, but all the phlebotomists know is what's on the orders that are printed out and given to them. They will not do one thing more, nor will they do one thing less. Anything out of the ordinary confuses them. I confuse them every time I go in there, since they never seem to have the complete orders. Am I complaining? Nah! They can stick me as many times as they want to in the lab. I'd only complain if they had to do a bone marrow aspiration over again. I might do more than complain, then. I might use some mild bad language.

We had a nice trip home with a stop at the Bass Pro Shop in Baton Rouge, where I spent too much money buying things I didn't need, but sure wanted. By Wednesday I had gotten an e-mail from Nurse Alice with the flow cytometry report attached. “Congratulations,” she said, “You are still in a complete remission.”

I was blessed going in, and I was blessed coming out. I am thankful for the spirit every person I saw that was fighting their own very personal, sometimes fatal battle. Some fighting them courageously. Some fighting them quietly. Some fighting them on the strength of others long after their own has failed them.

I have told you my opinion about this, and I am not wrong. I will never be wrong about this. You . . . I'm not so sure about you, but if you are one of these people, then see in yourself what I have seen in you, and you may find out that what was once your opinion is not your real opinion after all. Me?? I have lots opinions, and not a single wrong one, else not a one of them would continue as my opinion. Some of them are quite amusing, though, and best kept to myself.

Now for a cup of perked coffee!

Post Script

I learned from Gooday of the passing of Britain's Dr. Terry Hamblin, one of the world's leading Hematologists and experts on CLL. Remarkably, Dr. Hamblin had CLL himself. I enjoyed every word of his blog where he mixed science with his very real Christian faith and theology. While I have the faith and the theology, it is the science I lack. Dr. Hamblin  did not lack this. While I don't mourn for any lack of science, I mourn for the passing of this great man who took the time to write such an excellent blog, informing me with facts about the disease we shared, and on more than one occasion taking the time to respond to an e-mail from me. Britain's health-care system required Dr. Hamblin to retire from medical practice at 65, but that did not stop his research. He is mourned by many and will be sorely missed. He had visited my blog several times. I cannot claim that he was a regular reader, but had indicated that he had enjoyed reading my thoughts. Like so many with CLL, he died from a secondary cancer. Now rest peacefully in the arms of the Lord, Dr. Hamblin. Gooday and the rest of your colleagues will miss your presence and your continuing contributions, and will continue to build on the contributions you made while you were with us.

If you have CLL, you will want to read his blog, which his family says will stay up in perpetuity.

Here is the link: http://mutated-unmuated.blogspot.com/

For you universal health-care fans, Dr. Hamblin had some rather unrepentently blunt things to say about how medical care works in Britain, and how your health care may be decided by bureaucratic committees rather than by you and your doctors. Many here point to the wonderful system they have there. Many there do not like the system at all. You will have to decide for yourself. I think you know my opinion about the Affordable Care Act. I have yet to see any indication that anything I have yet opined needs to be modified. Others have offered their opinions, including those who are in charge of its implementation and administration, but I declare I believe they are wrong . . . I'm just waiting for them to say so, as they seem to be dangerously flirting with remorse, unpreparedness, and, no doubt, thoughts of resignation from government service. I will wish them well on their future endeavors.

4/10/13 Obamacare's Dismantling

It looks like Obamacare is on the way to a dismantling by HHS directive, Congressional limitation, State refusal to participate in exchanges and Medicaid expansions, and will likely suffer a lingering death, or most likely, dis-corporate itself after an apparent suicide. What will replace it will likely be worse, not better.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius announced that the implementation of state exchanges will be delayed simply because the government is not able to have them in place by the 2014 deadline. This has occurred because of the number of states refusing to put them in place themselves, which, apparently, HHS was counting on. So far, twenty-seven states declined, much to the chagrin of HHS and the Obama administration.

Many states are also declining the expanded Medicaid coverage, all of which is initially funded by the Feds. They could clearly see the carrot dangling before their nose and decided not to pull that wagon because the cost of the program rapidly shifts the burden of funding away from the Federal Government to the states. After looking that gift horse in the mouth, states simply said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” Exacerbating this was the Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the Federal Government from holding existing state-directed Medicaid money hostage to a particular state's participation in the new, expanded coverage. States, unlike the Federal Government, cannot print their own money, and most are required by their own constitutions to balance their budgets. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. “Shift it to the states,” some HHS operative must have said in some off-site, catered meeting at a first-class resort in Maui. “They'll jump on the bait money, and never even pause for an instant to see if there's a hook in there somewhere. Let the states raise taxes on their own people. Once they've bitten, we'll set the hook, adjust the drag, and begin to reel them in.” Lots of governors saw the hook before the bait ever hit the water and declined to show any interest in it, no matter how much finesse was used in its presentation. I've known some bass who behaved in the exact same manner. I've also known some who bit at the first thing that looked good to eat. Guess which one ended up as a filet on my dinner plate.

The CLASS Act portion of Obamacare, that offered benefits for long-term care, was repealed by congress as being fiscally unsustainable. The promises that we would see our insurance premiums come down by as much as $2,500 dollars per year has not materialized, and it looks like it won't, since insurance premiums are headed higher, by $2,500 and more. This isn't exactly what the bill's authors had in mind. We are also unsure that we will get to keep our current health care insurance if we like it, or get to see our current health care providers. We can't keep our current health care plan if it no longer exists, or if we can no longer afford it, and we likely can't continue to see our chosen health care providers if they declare, “Nope!! Insurance not accepted. Cash on the barrel-head, only!”

The growing number of companies that are entirely eliminating coverage for spouses and dependents, having found a legal way to control their costs by forcing spouses and dependents onto the exchanges, is not what the government had in mind. Being able to keep my no-longer-minor children on my health-care plan until they are 26 is not much of a benefit if my employer eliminated spousal and dependent care coverage entirely. The government also did not consider how many companies on the cusp would actually trim their payrolls of full time workers so that they were the beneath the threshold of compliance. It is one of the side effects of laws . . . there are always loopholes, since no matter how we humans try to use language to say exactly what we mean, hopefully eliminating any chance of internal exclusions and variables such as these, language is imprecise, and our ability to envision every scenario is limited. Perhaps this is why Obamacare has grown from its original 2,000 plus pages to include nearly 9,000 pages of additional regulations.

The government is going to try to control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid by relying on (surprise!!) their ability to force doctors and hospitals to take less money for the services they provide. I wonder why the government expects this model to work, since they have tried this ever since the inception of the programs and it has not worked yet. What are they planning to do differently? I'm sure that many studies show how the government has used these methods to successfully control the rate of growth in the programs, which have grown alarmingly, but would perhaps have grown so that they consume all of the GDP had cost control measures not been implemented. This is similar to congress and the administration saying that that have introduced significant cuts in spending, when in fact all they have produced are cuts in the rate-of-growth in spending. You, like me, may have often wondered why we hear that this new cost-saving program will save taxpayers $100 billion over the next ten years, starting with no savings the first six, but being instituted precipitously over the final four. Wonder no more! That's three election cycles for a Congressman, and one for a Senator. The voters should reject these types of savings forecasts as beyond consideration of one who has any sort of brain. Apparently there are politicians who really think that our being capable of our own analysis is not a significantly large enough segment of the voters for them to be concerned about. They might be right.

There is still the issue of waivers that were granted mostly to Unions and (remarkably) insurance companies who engage in the business of selling health care insurance. Those waivers are set to expire in 2014. I expect they will be extended after dire warnings of immediate huge increases in premium costs. The culprit here? Obamacare's elimination of annual coverage limitations, which are currently $2,000,000 if you haven't been waived, and will go to unlimited in 2014. The chances of this occurring are slim or none. It is one of the only things in Obamacare that would have benefited me. This benefit has been waived, and I expect it will continue to be waived. We'll see.

Obamacare will prove to be so unworkable that there will be a replacement coming down from the halls of congress. It will be called “The Single Payer System.” I think this is what Obamacare supporters wanted all along. I think this is what we will get.

I will not make light of the one thing I think Obamacare did which helped to stop abuses by insurers, particularly on those who purchased individual care policies on their own. The ability of an insurance company to drop you from coverage simply because you developed a serious illness was an unconscionable breach of ethics by health care insurers. We all buy insurance before we need it, pay the premiums based on what actuaries predict their risks and exposure to be, and expect it to be there when we do need it. Unfortunately, it was perfectly legal for health-insurers in many states to drop an individual at any time, based on nothing more than its arbitrary decision to do so. Some states would not allow that, but forced insurers to cancel the entire class of policy. States could have addressed this issue, as some have, or the Federal Government could have done so by simply passing a law that said, “No health insurance provider shall cancel any individual health insurance policy that is currently in force, upon which the premiums are being paid as they are due, or are paid within a thirty day grace period.” This way, your health insurance would work like your life insurance, since life insurers cannot single you out by canceling your current policy without canceling the entire class of policies. They can deny you coverage to begin with, but once issued, if one pays one's premiums, the policy will stay in force. Who would buy life insurance under any different terms? Why did we ever allow health insurance to be any different? Successful lobbying, I suppose. I think it's shameful.

Remarkably, it did not take 2,000 pages to say that. It only took thirty-six words, and not a single taxpayer funded position for boards, navigators, or tax enforcement officials was created. It may have resulted in health care premiums being higher, but, aren't they higher anyway?

Navigators!! Obamacare navigators!! Thousands and thousands of “trained” Obamacare Navigators. The salaries and benefits of this new class of Federal employee may run the cost of an already increasingly expensive Obamacare exponentially beyond redemption. The number of abuses and incompetencies that will be inflicted by navigators on those who employ them and those they were employed to serve will be the stuff of future legends. The navigator will know the tricks on how to help a friend get that liposuction they desperately want, but don't need, by knowing just which doctor to send them to for evidence as to why this cosmetic procedure is really medically necessary. That same navigator will be the one who could tell you, “A carotid bypass is not necessary, really. We'll just have them remove your failed stints and insert some new ones, just as soon as you recover from your recent stroke.”

Every tried to get a reliable answer from the person on the other end of the IRS toll-free help line? I rest my case.

I am currently spending some of my $100,000 per year annual limitation to try to get down to the causes of some problems I am experiencing. No test has been conclusive, yet. I hope there is some money left for treatment after all the expensive tests are done. If I can just make it through to 2014, everything will be fine, since the waiver I am under will expire.

For some reason, I have no real confidence in that. I hope beyond hope that you will be able to point to this and remind me that I was wrong, but I'll give 7 to 1 odds that I'm right, and I'll almost be certain that no insurance actuary would dare take that bet.

They are pretty good at calculating the odds, those actuaries. Ever talked to one? They tend towards introverted, live in a mysterious world of statistics and probabilities, having almost no social skills, since they are always trying to predict your behavior. If you are a gregarious, affable insurance actuary, then I apologize . . . I was merely using the personal statistics I have compiled from actuaries I have known, and former bosses who owned insurance companies who dealt with actuaries on a daily basis.

4/10/13 An Interesting Development

Not to be alarmist, or to worry myself unnecessarily, but for the first time since my first round of chemotherapy at BATCC in August 2009, my white blood cell count is slightly out of bounds on the high side. There's many things that could cause this, none of them related to CLL. They are running some tests here in Meridian, and I will report to you what they find. The tests they are running are based on some symptoms which sent me to the doctor. There is no reason for me to think I am in the beginning stage of a relapse. Did you hear me? I said there is no reason for me to think that I am in the beginning stage of a relapse. Consequently, I am not worried about this, being the rational, numbers oriented person I am. I am not worried at all. Not the least little bit. Nor do I find this news distracting. What? What? What did you say? Oh, excuse me. I said that I did not find this news to be distracti . . .

There are plenty of other things to worry about. I have not yet filed my taxes. I have not slept well in nearly a month. My stomach feels like I swallowed a concrete block, which is what sent me to the doctor. But the white blood cell thing . . . that is just an indication that something else is going on inside my body. It has nothing to do with CLL. Nah. Of course not. Merely a coincidence. A chance occurrence, as it were. The next CBC will reveal that my WBC has returned to normal. Not to worry. I'm not worried. I'm not even a teeny-tiny bit worried. Not the least little bit. This is the CLL blog, after all. I suppose I must write something about CLL from time to time.

I go to see Gooday at BATCC at the end of the month for my checkup.

I'm not the least concerned about my elevated WBC . . . completely indifferent.

So I keep telling myself. 

4/7/13 Bad Press? Good Press?

Disgraced former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer gets a talk show. Disgraced former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wins the GOP nomination to run for the Senate. Disgraced former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has almost five million dollars in his political campaign chest to make a run for the New York Mayor's office. Hmmmm!

This just goes to reinforce the idea that any press is good press. One can be an elected official and fraternize with prostitutes, resign in disgrace, and return to a high-profile public venue. One can abdicate his responsibilities as governor, turn up in Argentina with his “soul-mate” and be politically rehabilitated. Anthony Weiner? Oh! Please! There will be no end to the jokes.

Next, I'm thinking we will see the political rehabilitation of John Edwards. Will anyone remember how he disrespected his dying wife? If Edwards, Weiner, Spitzer, and Sanford can be so disrespectful to someone with whom they exchanged wedding vows, what, then, will be their obligation towards you and me, and why would they honor it? I have to agree with Ross Perot on this one: a man who routinely cheats on his wife will not think twice about cheating me. By extension, we have already established that that man is a liar and a cheat. Where will he draw the line on lying and cheating?

I think Warhol overlooked something. A good public relations firm can turn your fifteen minutes of fame (infamy) into a TV talk show or a resurrect your failed political career. This says a lot about us.

Have we become so jaded that we are allowing these people to be rehabilitated, just because we see them on TV? Shame of us. Let their rehabilitation include being ineligible for public office or any venue that puts them before the public because we have a memory and will not vote for them. Of course, I believe that one should be forgiven, but forgiveness doesn't mean that they should be restored to a position of public trust or public exposure. Forgiveness does not mean that I should vote for them. I can forgive them without supporting them politically . . . that's easy . . . there's lots of folks I have nothing against but don't want to see on TV or in public office.

There is a common lowness that we seem to fail to recognize. Maybe it's we who don't have the collective memory and this allows people such as these to reappear in our political arenas and be taken seriously.

When John Edwards reappears politically and is taken seriously, I will be convinced that there is no hope for the American electorate.

What is the South Carolina GOP thinking? And, WHY?

4/6/13 Nastiness in Presidential Politics

In the recent election, we seemed to have been overtaken in an outbreak of nastiness in Presidential politics, and towards the Presidential candidates in general. Depending on our party affiliation and the candidate we support, or if the President has our favor or disfavor, we either go too far, or we criticize others for doing so. It's hard to be endearing of any President who tramples underfoot the things that are precious to us. This current bucket of nastiness is not new, nor even at unprecedented levels. The things parties have said about the other candidates, the other Presidents, and the things Presidents have said about each other, both as Presidents and candidates are scurrilous. This is as old as the nation.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama said, “The problem is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion dollars for the first 42 presidents -- number 43 added $4 trillion dollars by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion dollars of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic.”

Notice that Obama didn't say “President” Bush, just “Bush.” He also accused him of being “unpatriotic.” He also most likely regrets having said this since it gets resurrected to haunt him from time to time. Obama may have any one of ten thousand reasons why our national debt is as high as it is, but it is what it is, and certainly increased dramatically on his watch; that much is not arguable. When Obama said this, I remember the Republicans getting a bit steamed at the time over the lack of respect shown to the dignity of the Presidential office, but that was to be expected since a resort to the dignity of the office is the place of safe refuge when one wants to appear to be occupying the high ground. While there have been some things said about Obama that I would not have said, would have preferred that others did not say, since I actually respect the dignity of the office, his treatment has been far less heinous than what other Presidents have received at the hands of the opposition, and some even at the hands of their own party. Sometimes, the only way to make your point is through brusque speech. Let's explore this.

First, let's acknowledge that the right to free speech is one that our constitution declares already belongs to the people, and it is not a benefice of government. We are allowed to say what we want about any bonehead President, and usually, the bonehead Presidents are the ones that do things I don't agree with, which transitions to the fact that from time to time, every President will be a bonehead. It's my right to point this out when I think it's necessary. It's the President's right not to like it, and frequently, his supreme displeasure and my good fortune for him not to be able to do anything about it. I am not required to be decorous, nor is anyone else.

Bush got more than his fair share of scathing, disrespectful comments from his opposition, but most likely none more than his opposition thought were required. I also had a few scurrilous comments about him. To be candid, I thought he frequently displayed the attributes of an idiot, not to actually call him one, but he displayed those attributes, nevertheless. One should take great care in displaying idiotic attributes too often, lest one be actually taken for an idiot. It can happen. It certainly happened to W. More on him later.

The following things have been said by Presidents, by Presidential candidates, Vice-Presidential candidates, or about them. Many of them are reprehensible. Of all the Presidents who had insults hurled their way, I can only think of two in whose cases the insults should be guarded: Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. Go too far and Jackson would likely kill you. Nixon would sic the IRS on you. History has been mostly unkind to both of these men, not without reason, though both were great visionaries tainted with sinister designs. Jackson was omniscient in his stance on a National bank becoming too powerful and controlling our economy (think Federal Reserve). Nixon was a foreign policy wizard and set the stage for our exit from Viet Nam. Jackson was too direct to be too complex. Nixon was the soul of complexity, even insisting that his daughters make appointments to see him and that they call him “Mr. President.” Jackson would likely have boxed Nixon's ears had he heard this for himself.

"Bush is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things," said the late Christopher Hitchens.

"George W. Bush is emptiness personified, formed of vacuous phrases to hide his life. He is a picture which the news media, blindfolded and foolish, never broke open. He is being completely handled. He delegates everything, including the fight for his political life. His daddy's team is fending for him," said Jane Prettyman.

James Carville gets in two with one stroke, saying, "In the Clinton administration we worried the president would open his zipper. In the Bush administration, they worry the president will open his mouth."

"The Bush operation reminds me of North Korea. You have a group of insanely loyal, fiercely committed lunatics, devoting their lives to slavish devotion of a moron whose only claim to power is that his father used to run the country. George W. Bush is Kim Jong II with better hair,” some Democrat political operative said.

"This is a guy who could not find oil in Texas,” said Senator Al Franken about George W. Bush.

"He's probably the least qualified person ever to be nominated by a major party. Yes, he was elected governor of Texas, and before that he ran a baseball team and lost a lot of other people's money in the oil business. But what has happened in the intervening five years to make people believe that George W. Bush would be a good president? What is his accomplishment? That he's no longer an obnoxious drunk?" said Ron Reagan, Jr.

"They are ugly people and they behave in ugly ways," said former NY Governor Mario Cuomo about the Bush administration.

"If he's a reformer, I'm an astronaut," said Senator John McCain about George W. Bush.

"I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush as a 'deserter.' What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate," said Michael Moore.

"My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than those two bozos," said George H.W. Bush (41) about Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

In 1992, the Bush (41) campaign put up billboards featuring a photo of Clinton paramour, Gennifer Flowers, with the legend, “And now He wants to screw the country, too.”

The opposition campaigns accused both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush of being draft dodgers.

Then there was 1988's “Get Out of Jail Free” card mailed to over 400,000 Texas voters that referred to Willie Horton and read “Michael Dukakis is the killer's best friend and the decent, honest citizen's worst enemy.”

In 1973, Lyndon Johnson said of Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, “Jerry spent too much time playing football without a helmet."

Congressman John G. Schmitz (R-CA) said, "I didn't care that Nixon went to China, I was only upset that he came back."

In 1972, the Nixon campaign put up signs in Florida that read, “Help Muskie in Busing More Children Now." Edmund Muskie was the Democratic Primary frontrunner at the time. Before New Hampshire's 1972 primary, the Nixon campaign initiated phones calls at all hours of the night with the callers identifying themselves as African-Americans who had been bused in from Harlem to work on behalf of Muskie.

“He is the candidate of the three A's: Acid, Amnesty [for draft dodgers], and Abortion," said Nixon about George McGovern.

1n 1972, the Nixon campaign disclosed that McGovern's running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, had had electric shock treatments for clinical depression. McGovern, after declaring that he would stand by Eagleton, dumped him for Sargent Shriver, after which the Nixon campaign went after McGovern for being indecisive and disloyal.

Harry Truman said, “Lyndon Johnson's got no guts. He should have run for re-election in 1968. Instead of letting a mob of anti-war protesters run him out of the White House.”

There were the 1964 campaign auto tags that showed a mule passing a cloud of gas that had the legend, “LBJ has spoken.”

There were the 1964 campaign's Goldwater bumper sticker that read, “In your heart you know he's right,” that were countered by the Johnson campaign's bumper sticker that read, “In you heart you know he's nuts.”

In 1964, the Goldwater campaign published a book entitled, “A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power." This book was filled with nasty stories about Johnson, starting with election fraud and corruption, and ending with political murders and implicating Johnson in the assassination of JFK. In 1988, the Bush (41) campaign would try similar tactics, apparently using a why-reinvent-the-wheel approach.

In 1964, the Johnson campaign produced a children's coloring book that featured pictures of Goldwater dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.

"If you didn't know you were going to be VP a month ago, you're too dumb to have the office," said LBJ in 1964 to his own running mate, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, of Minnesota.

Asked if Nixon had participated in any major decisions in his administration, the reply from Dwight Eisenhower was, "If you give me a week, I might think of one." Ike was not fond of his vice-president.

In the 1960 campaign, Harry Truman said, “If you vote for Nixon, you might go to hell.”

Kennedy's urban appeal did not extend into the rural areas. After visiting a state fair in South Dakota during the 1960 campaign, Kennedy said after his poor reception, “Well, that's over. F**k the farmers.”

In 1960, there was the Kennedy campaign ad that had an unflattering photo of Nixon with the caption, “Would You Buy a Used Car from this Man?"

In 1960, Kennedy said, “Nixon is a filthy lying son of a bitch and a very dangerous man."

In the fifties, Harry Truman said of his successor, “Eisenhower will make Ulysses S. Grant’s scandal-scarred administration look like a model of perfection.”

In 1928, several Protestant ministers told their congregations that if Hoover opponent, the Roman Catholic Alfred E. Smith got elected, all non-Catholic marriages would be annulled and all children of these marriages declared illegitimate; some even declared that anyone who voted for Smith would go straight to hell.

In 1928, in Daytona Beach, FL, the local school board had a note placed in every child's lunch pail that read: "We must prevent the election of Alfred Smith to the presidency. If he is elected you will not be allowed to read or have a Bible."

in 1928, the Hoover campaign produced this shameful poem, which some ardent Republican came up with:

When Catholics rule the United States

And the Jew grows a Christian nose on his face

When Pope Pius is head of the Ku Klux Klan

In the land of the United States

Then Al Smith will be our president

And the country not worth a damn. 

The Republicans accused Smith of indulging in playing cards, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, evolution, nude art, prize-fighting, greyhound racing, and modernism.

Former President Woodrow Wilson said that President Warren Harding was terse and totally negative. Wilson called him "a fool of a president."

In 1920, the Warren G. Harding campaign had to suppress evidence of Harding's extra-marital affairs. His paramour and her entire family were sent on an all-expense-paid tour of Asia. Harding's brother-in-law, who had married a Catholic, was sent to Europe. Harding's opponent, Ohio Governor James M. Cox, called Harding, “A dummy, an animated automaton, a marionette.”

A Harding biographer, funded by the opposition, said of Harding, “He was a brilliant politician, shrewd when it came to giving people satisfying emptiness."

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt called President William Howard Taft a "puzzlewit and a fathead." Taft countered by calling Roosevelt an "egotist and a demagogue."

In the campaign of 1888, the Benjamin Harrison campaign attacked Grover Cleveland about his sex life. Cleveland had married Frances Folsom, the daughter of one of his former law partners, in the White house while president.  Folsom was 21, and Cleveland was 49. The Republicans referred to Cleveland as the "Beast of Buffalo" and spread rumors that he beat her. Frances issued a rebuttal saying the Republican claim was nothing but "a foolish campaign ploy without a shadow of foundation."

In 1884, Republican James G. Blaine, the opponent of Grover Cleveland, was greeted with this campaign slogan, “Blaine, Blaine. James G. Blaine, the Continental liar from the state of Maine." The Republicans countered with claims that the bachelor Grover Cleveland had fathered a child with a 36 year old widow in 1874. The Blaine campaign said, "The issue is evidently not between two great parties, but between the brothel and the family, between lust and law." They also said of Cleveland, "We do not believe that the American people will knowingly elect to the Presidency a coarse debaucher who will bring his harlots with him to Washington." Cleveland was called a "lecherous beast, a moral leper, and an obese nincompoop." The Republican campaign slogan became, "Ma! Ma! Where's my Pa?"

President James A. Garfield remarked that he could never decide whether President Ulysses Grant’s imperturbability was proof of his greatness or his stupidity. President Grant said, “Garfield lacks the backbone of an angleworm."

The campaign of 1876 against Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden was filled with vitriol, and was particularly interesting since Tilden won more than 50% of the popular vote, while Hayes got the majority of electoral votes, with Florida being one of the states where irregularities in the ballot counts held up the declaration of a winner, with the election ultimately being decided in the courts. Sound familiar? Think the Bush/Gore campaigns of 2000.

Tilden issued press releases accusing Hayes of being involved in some of (U.S.) Grant's scandals. The Tilden campaign accused Hayes of shooting and wounding his own mother "in a fit of insanity" after a night of drinking.

Zachariah Chandler was the head of the Republican Party and Hayes' campaign manager. The frequently-drunk Chandler extorted money from Republican political appointees holding jobs as a result of the 16 year run of Republican Presidents. He sent a fund-raising letter to every Republican office holder, demanding a donation of 2% of their salary to the Hayes campaign, to be remitted promptly. He warned that the campaign would publish a list of those who did not pay, sending it first to their department heads.

The Hayes campaign said that the bachelor, Tilden, had had numerous affairs with  married women. They also said that Tilden had contracted syphilis some years earlier from an Irish prostitute and that the STD had affected his actions and made him a target for blackmailers.

In 1865, Andrew Johnson succeeded to the presidency on the assassination of Lincoln. Most of Johnson's many, many troubles came from within his own party, though he was labeled as “white trash” by both sides. During Johnson's impeachment trial, the country nearly erupted into civil war again. The Louisville Leader had a headline which asked, “Are you ready once more to take up the musket?” Iowa promised to send a hundred thousand troops to ensure Johnson's removal from were he impeached. Indiana promised to send a hundred thousand to counter Iowa, and to keep Johnson in office if he were impeached. Passions were barely held in check. 

An Indiana congressman said, “I am in favor of the official death of Andrew Johnson. I am not surprised that one who began his presidential career in drunkenness should end it in crime." Another congressman said Johnson was “stained with the filth of treason." Another called him a "despicable, besotted, traitorous man."

Republicans claimed that the Republican Johnson had conspired with the Lincoln assassins. This tactic would be repeated by Republicans against Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

In 1860, New Jersey Democrats called Lincoln “the brainless bob-o-link of the prairies.”  Former Presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce called him a war-monger and would-be dictator.

In the 1852 presidential campaign, the Whigs accused Democratic Candidate Franklin Pierce of cowardice in the Mexican war. It seems the Pierce had received a very painful wound to the knee, from which he fainted, and had to be carried off the battlefield. He was referred to as “The Fainting General.”

Apparently, General Winfield Scott, 1852's Whig Candidate, said that Pierce, who had a reputation for drinking excessively, “was the winner of many a hard-fought bottle.”

When President James K. Polk sent troops to Mexico in 1846, young Congressman Abe Lincoln claimed this was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced" and was certain that Polk was "deeply conscious of being in the wrong."

John Qunicy Adams said, “Andrew Jackson is a barbarian who can barely sign his name." He also said that Martin Van Buren was, ”A player of base and dirty tricks."

Andrew Jackson said, “I have only two regrets: I didn't shoot Henry Clay and I didn't hang John C. Calhoun.

The election of 1828 was perhaps the nastiest of all. John Quincy Adams lost to Andrew Jackson, after Jackson believed the election was stolen from him in 1824, since it was decided not by popular or electoral vote, but in the House of Representatives. Jackson was determined not to let this happen again, and all the stops were pulled out by both candidates. The Jackson campaign called Adams a pimp. The Adams campaign called Jackson's wife, Rachel, a slut. A newspaper printed that "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!"

During the War of 1812, opposition journalists openly speculated that James Madison had persuaded Congress to do his bidding by pimping his curvaceous and popular wife, Dolley, to congressmen in exchange for their votes.

Aaron Burr, who served a term as Jeffersons vice president and later had much trouble of his own, much of it resulting from a duel where he killed the popular Alexander Hamilton, and later on a trial for treason, said President James Monroe was so dimwitted that as a lawyer he had never won a case that paid more than $5.00.

Thomas Jefferson's supporters said of John Adams, He has a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Adams supporters countered by stating, Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." Each side upped the ante, The Jefferson camp saying that Adams was a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant; the Adams camp saying Jefferson was a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.

Even Martha Washington said, Jefferson is one of the most detestable of mankind."

Thomas Jefferson hired a man names James Callendar to do his dirty work for him. Even though libel is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law, Callendar was charged with libel against Adams, was convicted, and served a prison sentence. After his release from prison, Callendar felt that Jefferson still owed him a debt, but Jefferson wanted nothing more to do with him. It was Callendar who subsequently broke the story of Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, which later DNA evidence would indicate was not nearly so much of a fabrication as Jefferson declared.

President John Adams, upon his defeat, accused Thomas Jefferson of having a mean thirst for popularity, an inordinate ambition and a want of sincerity. Adams told of various  calamities that Jefferson’s policies would inflict on the country.

Thomas Jefferson was enraged by George Washington's lack of support for the French Revolution, stating that Washington was "a Samson who had allowed himself to be shorn by the harlot, England."

Jefferson Henchman, James Callendar, offered a public toast for “the speedy death of President Washington," which is about as low and as early as one can get in the history of the nation.

I suppose, having considered all this, things are not so out of whack after all. Isn't that good to know? I wish a good, old-fashioned fistfight would break out in the White House, or on the floor of the House or Senate, just like in the good old days. I'd like to see Chuck Schumer duke it out with Lindsey Graham, or perhaps Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Bachmann in a cat fight, complete with undeleted expletives. 

4/3/13 News is Bad News

Ordinary doesn't make for good ratings, and all news outlets want good ratings. Ratings are how they charge advertisers for their services. Even our public broadcasters are not above caring about their ratings, and everyone knows that their news reaches the choirs in their own lofts . . . it's the others they would like to get on board . . . to proselytize, as it were.

I earlier wrote about bad sportscasters doing play by play; they must say something. Consequently, their analysis is often obvious, insipid, and mostly wrong. No one ever heard a sportscaster say, “Hey, Phil, let's just shut up and watch the game.” Newscasters are a lot like them.

According to the news, there's lots for ordinary folks to worry about other than paying their mortgage, keeping their jobs, and educating their children. There's GMO foods, international intrigue involving GMO foods, international conspiracies involving GMO foods, and evil corporations poisoning us with GMO foods; and that's just for starters. The list of things to worry about is endless.

We are greeted with headlines declaring world doom due to climate change, yet we feel we have done something about it if we drive a Subaru or a Prius. I wish I lived in a place where I could walk to work, but Mississippi is just not geared to work that way. Poor old Mississippi and the folks who live here. We must drive polluting automobiles, unlike those who live in more sophisticated places. At least in Mississippi, most of our automobiles are sitting on concrete blocks in our front yards, which are most likely to be the photos of Mississippi shown to you via the news, since an ordinary photo would not do anything to increase the ratings. The only vehicle I have up on concrete blocks is my electric golf cart, which I use to putter around Timberview Lodge, where I am blessed to live. If it's not too wet, I even take it down into the woods. You'd be surprised, just like the feral hogs, at how quiet you can be on an electric golf cart. Right now, it needs some tires and a new set of batteries, which are just prohibitively expensive at the moment, even though when running, the cart is used considerably around here. It is our contribution to green.

Green is frequently featured in the news. Greenettes are often pitted against degreeners, some of which is filmed in front of green screens, meaning there is no background there, only illusion, which is one of the things the news does so well, particularly those corporate news-mongers whose only goal is to serve their bottom line and their stockholders, and as everyone knows, stockholders have no conscience, only a self-serving interest to increase the size of their dividends and the value of their holdings. This is frequently reported on the news that way: that corporations are only interested in increasing their economic and political power. Another segment of the news makes the same claim about government. Both news-anglers deny what the opposite sides say about the other.

“Corporations are good things,” says one side.

“No! They're evil,” says the other. “We need government to protect the people from them.”

The news likes to put faces on the evils it warns us of. The left leaning news warns us constantly that the Koch Brothers are the very faces of the devil, and are really wanting to eat our livers and steal our natural warrior energy that GMO foods have not already robbed from us. The other side warns us that all the evils of the modern world can be traced back to George Soros, who I admit, looks more like my idea of Ol' Beelzebub than the Koch Brothers, and I further admit that I can't fault those who think that the modern, bloatedly fattened face of the post-Tipper-restrained Al Gore similarly bears a strong resemblance . . . but I could be playing to my own prejudices. Yes, I have them.

So do you. We all like to hear things on the news that reinforce our preexisting prejudices. After all, aren't all prejudices preexisting? – a post-existing prejudice is an oxymoron, since prejudices that remain after honest investigation cannot still be considered prejudices but informed opinion. But how honest are our investigations? Do we delude ourselves? No, I don't think we delude ourselves. We allow the news to delude us by thinking we have the facts when what we mostly have are distortions of the facts, parts of the facts, and facts skewed by those who hold precious the most blatant prejudices, disguised in a cloak of reasoned subtlety.

“I heard it on the news,” said Clovis confidently.

“What news?” asked his brother, Willis.

“Hannity,” replied Clovis, his thumbs stuck under his braces and his chest poked out.

“But, Sean Hannity is not news,” rebuked Willis, his arms flailing about like he was swatting at an attacking Red Wasp. “It's commentary.”

“Says who?” asked Clovis, sticking his chest out even further, causing one of his suspender clamps to suddenly fail, nearly striking Willis in the face.

“Piers Morgan, that's who,” Willis nearly shouted, grabbing the other suspender, giving it a sharp tug, stretching it as far as he could, and letting it go with a “smack” against Clovis's chest. Then the fistfight was on, all precipitated by an argument over whether Piers Morgan or Sean Hannity represented the best the news has to offer us. Neither one does, of course, but you can't tell Willis and Clovis that else you'd be in the middle , finding yourself fighting the both of them, since blood is thicker than water.

“We haven't had any real news programs since Walter Cronkite retired,” shouted Jarvis, the older brother of the Davis clan, trying to separate his two brothers, getting a bite on the wrist in the process of twisting Clovis's ear, and a kick in the shin from Willis while he was distracted by the bite. He was already fighting both, who had turned on him in a fury of frenzy. He would have rebuked himself to himself, but he just didn't have time to do so, since his hands were full of warring, wayward brothers.

Neither of them would ever listen to their older brother, who seldom watched TV news programs, but got most of his news by reading “The Nation”, “The National Review”, and “The Onion”. Jarvis figured out that if you weeded out the ridiculous from a feature in “The Onion”, you'd be as close to the truth as you might be from reading the other two. Somewhere between the sublimely ridiculous and the ridiculously sublime was the truth. Jarvis was certain that he could get at it with just a little work. The real truth was that there would likely be a trip to the emergency room for some stitches before the brotherly brouhaha was finished, and he was just as likely to be the patient as either one of the other two. Eventually, reason prevailed, and the brothers ceased their fight, but not before Jarvis took a jab to the eye, causing a shiner, a picture of which would make the front page of the weekly Froward County Ledger, the headline reading, “No Charges Will Be Filed Say Younger Brothers.” Now, this was news: plain old everyday, useful news, since everyone was interested in this odd family who kept mostly to themselves except for the occasional outbreak of minor internal violence which were reported in the local paper.

Lots of folks in the world feel like Willis, Clovis, and Jarvis: willing to fight over their version of the news. But for what purpose? How do they serve themselves and each other by fighting over the veracity of news organizations that mostly serve themselves by giving us what they think we want to entice us to linger on their channel so they can count us in their ratings, boosting their value to their advertisers. Once, TV newsrooms were persistent but necessary money-losers to their corporate parents, but they felt they had to have a legitimate news organization since the relatively modern invention of journalistic standards ruled out partisanship. “Only newspapers are partisan,” the TV news executives told each other. And newspapers were partisan, had always been partisan, and would likely continue to be. This had been true since America was a British colony, though what the newspapers were allowed to print in the colonial days was subject to a post-publication edit by the seizure of the paper's printing assets and the arrest of its publisher and editors. The new-fangled nation's notion of freedom of the press was an intoxicating experience to publishers, who, as a group, gleefully moved off in all sorts of partisan directions. Liberty is a powerful thing.

So as the earth warms up, and frackers endanger our lives by further endangering our already endangered environment, and as the Koch Brothers conspire with Monsanto to feed us genetically modified foods, all while George Soros controls all major media outlets not already controlled by Rupert Murdoch, all of them trying to control our minds, rendering us all Manchurian Candidates of one sort of another, we will digest the news that is hyped to the point of ridiculous, as we watch, riveted, as the white bronco traveling at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour down the freeway, hoping to see the scene end in chaos, mayhem, and misery, to the repeated replays of compounded-tibial fractures in tournament games, while reading the latest political rantings of TV, movie, and music celebrities, as if their opinion counted or didn't count, since everyone has an opinion and wants an outlet for it, and Jim Carey brags, in the most base manner that his lack of gun ownership is proof of his natural endowment, we mistake for news what is not news, just public mental-masturbation pitted against a adolescent angst, desperately in needing of a cleansing like an acne face needs an astringent. Most of it doesn't even bear repeating as gossip, much less repeating in a national forum.

Why do we debase ourselves by allowing them to debase us in this manner? Who is being served? Maybe a good dose of salts is what we need. Maybe it's what they need, too. I'd like to see a news segment on, “The Benefits of Epsom's Salts in Modern American Newsrooms.”

3/29/13 38th Parallel Jitters

What is going on over in Korea? And why?

The still wet-behind-the-ears North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the United States seem to be purposefully escalating themselves on the way to an incident of some sort. What motivates this behavior? Is it similar to two turkey gobblers (it is turkey season here in Mississippi) strutting and drumming over the nearby hens? Who will be the winner here? Who will get the hen? Is there a hen to win?

Of course, the young gobblers have all the hormones and drive to pass their genes on to a new generation, but it is the older, full-grown gobblers that nature entrusts with the job . . . the young ones flee pall-mall in disarray, a mass of bleeding spur marks, not gobbling quite so loud, or drumming quite so hard, so as not to be noticed and invite another lesson from the old long-beard. Is this what is happening in Korea?

Where is the hen the strutting gobblers are about to fight over as they strut and drum in decreasing radius circles, displaying all their feathers in a dance as old as reproduction? Who will be the winner?

I reckon that Kim Jong Un has a lot to prove to his own people. I reckon we aren't going to allow him the opportunity to prove it. I also reckon that South Korea has been around long enough to bear the responsibility and expense of defending itself. No wonder they had all that capital to invest and grow their country into an economic powerhouse; they didn't have to invest much of it protecting themselves from their megalomaniac cousins to the North.

Every day brings news of an escalation in tensions. One would think that the North Koreans are so nervous that they are about to soil their pants. I don't think America is about to wet its pants, but maybe we should be feeling a bit of pressure from increasingly urgent bladder demands. It is possible that this could escalate until either or both gobblers get within striking distance and then the fight is on. If so, what will be the outcome? And for what purpose?

History has shown that engaging the North Koreans is not going to be easy. America has shown that it is unwilling to bear the public scrutiny of making a war cruelly severe and brutal, thus, perhaps, bringing about its early end. We are too fastidious and prissy in trying to maintain our good-guy image, addressing UN concerns, building coalitions, careful lest we involve the Russians or Chinese and have this escalate into something that we absolutely don't want. Well, what I don't want is for us to be messing around with North Korea, period. Leave them to their own devices. If they attack the United States of America, let it be because of their own foolishness, not because of our provocation. Any cornered animal is dangerous and will attack with great force and resolve. Why would we back them into a corner?

We should keep in mind that we are not dealing with regular people, here. Our idea of having them backed into a corner and their idea of being backed into a corner are most likely two different things. Our perception is the key to our understanding . . . either one may be wrong, but real-world consequences, the results of which are correctly perceived, can be the result. No one wants a nuclear armed North Korea, but it is too late for that. No one wants a North Korea with ballistic missiles that can reach the US mainland, but it may be too late for that. If we felt that a strike from North Korea was imminent, we would have to execute a first-strike to disable them as best we can. If they feel like an attack is imminent, an escalation to nuclear may be sudden. I don't know why everyone just can't settle down and enjoy a steaming hot, spicy Korean dish, and drink a beer or two . . . take the weekend off . . . enjoy some time with the family.

Things are certainly complicated. Sending a B-2 Bomber all the way from a base in the US didn't help matters. Inviting border incidents will not help. Nor will disabling direct military and communications hot-lines. I laughed when read that a military direct-hot-line used for faxes had been disabled by the North Koreans. I wonder how dueling, escalating faxes sent over this line might read.

“Stop your foolish threatening of the Superior North Korean nation, peoples, and leaders or we will be forced to taunt you a second time,” the unsigned fax from the North might read.

“We are not threatening you, just doing routine military exercises,” the fax from the South might read.

“Total world annihilation is a heavy price to pay for doing nothing but spinning your wheels in futile demonstrations against our sublime leader,” read the return fax from the North, upping the ante.

“Just kidding,” read the reply back from the South. “We noticed that your fax machine is a Samsung. Bwahahahaha!”

Unable to face this most recent loss of face, Kim Jong Un called a double-extra-super-secret-emergency meeting of his advisers. “We must make fax machines of our own! This is an embarrassment to the country. Who is responsible for our purchase of fax machines from the South? Well! Speak up!! Who? I demand to know!!”

Somewhere, in a third floor cubicle, in some white-washed, nondescript, poorly heated office building in Pyongyang, a low level clerk in the Democratic Peoples Office of Office Equipment Acquisition was eating a bowl of ramen noodles in pepper-laced chicken-esque broth. This was the 11,756th time in a row he had eaten the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As far as the North Korean leaders could determine, Kim Kim-Kim was the one who had issued the purchase order to Korean Import/Export PTY, LTD, for the acquisition of the fax machine used to send the transmissions to the South Korean military leaders. Kim didn't have any input in the decision making process about the acquisition of the fax machines, he just signed the properly executed purchase order and sent it on the the lowest and best bidder, the Korean Import/Export PTY, LTD, who was not the lowest bidder, but was determined to be the best bidder, because the owner just happened to the brother-in-law of Kim Jong Un. Kim didn't know that a full company of North Korean troops was on the way to detain him for intensive questioning, else he would eaten his noodles faster, though he might have enjoyed them less. Kim had never seen an electrical hi-potential testing machine before. He would soon know what they looked like, and how there were other applications for them besides electrical testing. His intensive questioning would most likely last the rest of his life, which he may later wish were much shorter. Whether it would be shortened by a bullet, or accidental nuclear incident, he would not know, and by that time he wouldn't care.

Kim heard some commotion out on the street as the truck ground to a halt and the company of troops exited in formation and began storming into the building. He had seen this before. He was glad he was merely a low-level clerk, because these guys always came for the big-shots.

“Uh! Oh!,” he said to himself, slurping his noodles, “Someone is in big trouble.”

3/13/13 Better Business Bureau Shakedown??

For all you folks who rely on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and things such as Angie's List, or reviews from purchasers of products from internet businesses, you are being prudent using due diligence before you make a decision on how to spend your money. But, due diligence doesn't stop with checking with the BBB or any on-line list, in fact, these things can be as misleading as an on-line dating site, since you never know who is on the other end of the internet connection, or at the end of a complaint to the BBB. Things are not always what they seem.

Reviews of products from internet vendors, for example, can be very misleading, considering the fact that frequently the one posting the review simply doesn't know what they're talking about. Some amateur photographers give glowing reviews for cameras that appear to be high end, but the lenses are simply sub-standard for professional purposes. A video camera that declares itself to be a “Pro-sumer” model is very likely to have all the capabilities of a consumer model wrapped up in a package that looks just like the professional ones; the differences are solely on the inside, while the external package looks in every way like its big brother, which costs a couple of thousand more dollars. That, in itself, is OK, since some people want the appearance of professional. The professional, on the other hand, wants the internal guts that do the things the professional requires. The external package is not nearly so important beyond its ergonomic functionality.

The reviewer who declares that a HD FLIP camcorder is every bit as good as a Sony three-chip, time-code embedded camera is one who has no basis for actually making the comparison. Both of the cameras serve a purpose and are designed for a specific function.

The same thing is true for audio components, televisions, computers, firearms, musical instruments, and a host of other items. There are even things that look top-shelf, and cost top-shelf, but belong in the dust-bin. These are the worst items, and the ones most likely to be raved about by those who are unable to actually make a legitimate comparison.

People ask me all the time to comment on the guitar or banjo they just purchased. I usually tell them that I am not a good person to review the item they just spent their money on, because they ultimately want me to tell them what a wonderful instrument it is and how wise they were to have made the purchase, and what a good bargain they got. I usually ask them, “Do you like it?” Sometimes, they are not sure about this and will like it more if I act like I like it, too. It is not my job to make them feel good about their purchase; nor is it my job to make them feel foolish for having made it. They made their decision and now they'll either enjoy their purchase, regret their purchase, trade up or trade out, or learn that sometimes the investment in fancy equipment will not yield the results they are looking for since they lack the experience to take advantage of the features the apparently fancy equipment offers (or doesn't). An expensive video camera will not come with the skills required to be a good videographer. Nor will an expensive banjo give you a right hand like Earl Scruggs, which is the biggest thing that separated Earl Scruggs from all the other banjo players.

I have always found the Better Business Bureau to be a waste of time. That is my opinion, and I'm sticking to it. It looks good to have a BBB plaque on the wall of a local business . . . your customers come into the waiting room and see that plaque and are put at ease because they are assured, erroneously, that your business is a competent one. But all that's needed to obtain the plaque is to pay your dues to the BBB, and the local chapter will deliver it, or most likely, ship it directly to you.

I have been involved in complaints that people made to the BBB (back when I worked for Yazoo Manufacturing Company), and in every case I determined that the person lodging the complaint either never gave the company an opportunity to make any sort of adjustment, bought a product that was completely unsuitable for the purpose they intended, or turned out to be someone that it was just simply not possible to satisfy because they had unreasonable expectations. People occasionally buy a mower from a dealer, say, in New Jersey, decide for some reason that they don't like it, and then expect the factory in some distant location to refund their money. First . . . they didn't buy it from the factory.  Second . . . few factories are interested in refunding the retail purchase price of any product they sold to a distributor, who sold it to a dealer, who then sold it to the person who now wants their money back. It just doesn't work that way.

Inevitably in these situations, there goes a complaint to the BBB, and the BBB sends a letter similar to one that might be sent to a delinquent debtor by a credit collection agency, warning of perilous damage to one's reputation from negative reviews from investigations by the BBB . . . almost like a mob shakedown. Yazoo usually responded to the local BBB chapter, to which they belonged, and let them get huffy with the distant BBB chapter that was threatening the damage, or demanding the response. I always witnessed this with an intense interest, since a phone call to me from a reasonable person would get far more attention than a letter from some BBB chapter over some complaint that I knew nothing about prior to receiving the BBB letter. I simply can't fix it if I don't know about it. Sometimes, I couldn't fix it when I did know about it . . . because some people just can't be satisfied.

Now I read about a Southern California chapter of the BBB that allegedly issued good ratings to businesses who joined up and paid their dues, and poor ratings to those who refused to join. They apparently also immediately upgraded poorly rated businesses to A+ ratings just as soon as they paid their dues. This, my friends, is known as “Pay to Play.”

The national BBB has suspended the Southern California chapter for this behavior, and I say well and good for sweeping around their own porch. I wonder if the suspension included an “F” rating for that particular BBB chapter? I wonder if they have posted this suspension on their own national website?

The Greater Froward County Chamber of Commerce Arts and Entertainment Committee was gathered around a table in the meeting room of the Chamber of Commerce office in downtown Froward. The committee chairman called the meeting to order with a bang of the gavel, in the usual facsimile of Robert's Rules of Order that is common in small towns. They were there to discuss all the remaining details of the annual Spring Festival one last time before the festival was to occur the next weekend.

“I'd like to hear a report from the Food and Concessions sub-committee,” said the chairman.

Eunice Scofield rose with a big smile. She was a spindly, awkward thing; a recent graduate of the State University, had a degree in Communications, and had recently been hired by one of the local banks where her father was one of the major stockholders. She was filling a position that had not existed before her hiring and would most likely not exist after she got married and quit her job, but she had no prospects at the moment, having unrealistic expectations of how her suitor was apt to look, and enduring her parent's scrutiny of any eligible suitor because of their standing in the local community, not wanting her to mate with anyone outside their perceived class . . . which placed poor, plain Eunice at a great disadvantage. The only person who had shown any interest in her was Bubba Wilson, who worked down at the local tire shop, did not have all his teeth, and made what Eunice thought was a lurid but nevertheless exciting pass at her while he was installing a new set of tires on her Land Rover, which not only got him fired from his job after a phone call from her father to the proprietor, but got him nearly arrested as well. Eunice was thrilled and disgusted at the same time. Eunice's father was just disgusted that someone of Bubba's station would so much as think that Eunice might have any interest in someone like him. Bubba was just puzzled by the whole thing . . . she was a girl . . . he was a boy . . . what was the big deal, he wondered? He had merely asked her a question to which she had not said, “No,” nor had she said, “Yes.” He could tell she was considering it, and still thought so the next day until the sheriff drove up, got out, and warned him never to speak to Eunice again, after which he promptly got fired by the proprietor who had an open, though somewhat delinquent, line of credit at the bank where Eunice's father sat on the board.

“I can't get a break,” said Bubba to himself as he walked down the street to his home, since he had no car himself.

Eunice rose to give the required report at the meeting. “I have arranged for all the food vendors to load in the evening before the event, have verified that all participating vendors have their food licenses, their “Serv-Safe” certifications, and have checked with Angela's List and the BBB on those out of town vendors who are coming in since we don't know them. We also set it up so that the vendor participation fee included membership in the Froward County Chamber of Commerce. Everything is set to go,” after which she sat down.

The chairman was pleased with this report, since it required nothing from him, and moved on to other business.

“I'd like to hear from the Entertainment Sub-committee,” said the chairman.

Eunice rose again, since she was also the vice-chair of the Entertainment Subcommittee, but the Entertainment Committee's chairman was not there that evening, delayed from having a new set of tires installed, the delay being caused by Bubba's recent dismissal. Everyone wished that Bubba was back at the tire shop, even Eunice, but no one dared say so. “I have checked on all the entertainers, looked at their contracts, and they have verified that they will be here the evening before at 5:30 for sound check, and they will all arrive at least an hour before their appointed performance times.”

“Did we check on the references of the out-of town performers? You know, we are paying some pretty big money and the festival would be a big flop if some of this regional talent failed to show up, and it would be even worse if what they sold us was not what they delivered,” said the Chairman.

“Every one of them had glowing references,” said Eunice. “I checked them all with Angela's List and the BBB, and none of them had any complaints lodged against them. One report to the BBB said that one of our featured bands performed what they called some of the best karaoke they'd ever heard, which I thought was excellent recommendation. I'm really excited about hearing them. We also deducted membership fees from their money to make them all members of the Chamber of Commerce. Everything is set to go.”

The Chairman seemed satisfied with this. “OK. Everyone knows their duties. Now we can adjourn, continue to work out the details and little problems as they crop up, and all enjoy the festival on Saturday. The only thing that can mess up this festival now is bad weather. Has anyone checked the weather forecast?”

Eunice spoke up. “Oh! I checked with WWOW's meteorologist, and the meteorologist at State U. It is supposed to be clear as a bell on Friday and Saturday.”

“Good,” said the Chairman. “Then, I'll entertain a motion to adjourn.” And the motion was seconded by Eunice, and carried by voice vote, and the meeting was over.

About 300 miles off the south coast in the Gulf of Mexico, a low trough and high level disturbance was developing, building slowly in intensity as the cloud tops began to rise higher and higher, dropping the barometric pressure in an increasing radius curve. A much colder, denser, higher pressure air mass in Manitoba could sense this from two thousand miles away, and began to move with increasing swiftness towards the low pressure now over the Gulf. Both air masses were seeking equilibrium in as passionate a way as things with no passion can possibly do, which can be remarkably passionate yet without any feeling, particularly without any feelings or concerns about the success or failure of any local festival, or of the hard work that had gone into it, or of the thousands and thousands of dollars that would go down the drain if the sun refused to shine, which it would, and did, as violent weather blew down food vendor tents, scattered arts and crafts all over downtown Froward, and drenched the PA system as it poured about six inches of rain coming in horizontally, not dropping vertically. The rain continued throughout the Friday night before the festival, then persisted through Sunday. The Saturday Spring Festival was a complete bust.

Unable to pay the bands, several complaints were lodged with the Froward Chapter of the BBB, but these mostly came to naught since the people who ran the Froward BBB were all members of the Froward County Chamber of Commerce, who had decided that they couldn't be held responsible for an act of God.

The one good thing about all this: Bubba had been hired as a day laborer by the Froward Street Department to help with the cleanup of all the mess. As he was toting rain-soaked stuff to the dumpster, he saw Eunice standing on the street corner, crying. He walked over to her, not remembering anything about the admonitions the Sheriff had given him earlier.

“I'm sorry about the bad weather and your festival,” he said. I know you worked really hard on it, only to have it come to this.”

“We planned, we worked, we let no detail slip through that we did not check,” cried Eunice. “We even checked with the best meteorologists in the state, but all for naught . . .” She buried her face in her hands, then began to cry on Bubba's shoulder. This was an interesting turn of events, Bubba thought to himself.

“No one can control the weather,” said Bubba, softly. “Hey! Want to go and get a cup of coffee?”

“But you're working,” said Eunice. “Won't you get into trouble?”

“Screw it,” said Bubba. “You're way more important to me than this crappy job.” Eunice just melted. They walked down the street towards the coffee shop, the Froward City Street Superintendent and all the other workers watching as Bubba threw off his work gloves, slicked his hair back, and took off his dirty jacket, throwing it in the dumpster as they walked past it. No one said a word to Bubba that day, nor later, other than the word came down from higher places to the Street Superintendent to give Bubba a permanent job, which he did without question, though he had had his brother-in-law in mind for the job.

“Sorry,” the Street Superintendent told his brother-in-law. “I tried to get you the job, but you know how small town politics can be. By the way . . . when are you going to pay me back that hundred dollars you own me”

“I reckon when I get a job,” said the brother-in-law, thinking that he could never get a break, wondering how that sorry Bubba could have gotten hired over him.

3/10/13 Modern Problems

Our modern problems seem so complex to us. There's lots of problems. Everyone has them. They've had then for as long as gravity, physics, biology, nature, governments, anarchy, and people have been able to complicate the lives of men . . . that's been as long as men have been around.

Take the problems with modern communications, for example. Wisely choosing a cell phone carrier and plan can be as complicated as anything that ever existed, since by design, the service providers make it almost impossible to compare apples to apples. We shop around. We do “research” on the internet. We look at Angie's List and other places that are designed to help us make smart shopping decisions. We arm ourselves with binders of information (not to be confused with Romney's binders of women), labor over the minutiae of fine print in the service agreements, talk to representatives of the prospective companies, and ponder every caveat to ensure that what we are agreeing to in a two year contract is actually what we want; then, we make our decision. Of course, we want something for nothing if we can get it, which is a thing pursued by consumers as long as any man ever had something another one wanted, and we largely get what we pay for. After we buy in, we despair that the economy plan is not what we wanted because it turns out to be more expensive than the expensive plan we frugally decided against. We wanted something for nothing.

Nothing is most likely what we get for nothing, yet we are consistently surprised when nothing is delivered though it is nothing we are paying for. The danger is in the fine print.

After being on hold for over an hour, Bill Wilson finally got connected with a CellAmerica customer service representative. There were some overcharges on his monthly statement and he was glad he had persevered to get through to someone who could help him.

“My economy phone plan is supposed to be $39.95 per month,” Bill said to CellAmerica's Customer Service Rep (CSR), who on answering had reminded Bill the smart-aleck Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, from NPR's “Car Talk” radio show, “But the bill I am holding in my hand is for $195.77. Something is wrong.”

The CSR asked for Bill's phone number and then pulled his account up on the computer screen. “What was your question about your bill, sir?”

“Why is it so high? I only made a few phone calls and received and sent a few texts during the past month, yet my bill is five times higher than it should be. This is not right.”

“Thank you, sir, for choosing CellAmerica,” said the CSR, “I am looking at the charges and see that you made several calls that were during our peak usage times which are not covered under your plan, and text and data service are not included at all with the recurring monthly charges.”

“Peak service time? What is that?” asked Bill, looking frantically at his bill.

“Sir, your plan allows unlimited calling for free during our off peak times which occur between 2:00AM and 3:00AM on weekends. Every other service we offer is listed under the a-la-carte section. Your plan only requires you to pay for the services you actually use, and only as you use them.”

“Well, if that's the case, what does my $39.95 per month get me?” asked Bill, a bit sore at the answer he just got.

“Thank you, sir, for your question,” said the CSR, apparently reading from a script on the computer screen. “Your $39.95 monthly user fee, in addition to allowing you unlimited network access, allows you to make unlimited calls between 2:00AM and 3:00AM on weekends, and otherwise pay only for those services you actually use.”

“Harrumppphhhh!!,” snorted Bill. “I never would have signed up for this plan had I known that.”

“Thank you, sir. Please see the footnote at the bottom of page 121 of your Customer Agreement where the services you receive under the Economy plan are plainly spelled out. If this plan is not working out for you, you can upgrade to one of our more comprehensive plans for a small, one-time fee, of $149.95, plus the monthly cost of the plan that you choose that better fits your needs.”

“How about if I just cancel this crappy plan and switch carriers?” asked Bill.

“Thank you, sir,” said the CSR. “Would you like for me to cancel this plan for you? We can cancel it for a one-time fee of $149.95.”

“What??” cried Bill. “You mean it'll cost me $149.95 just to quit doing business with you?”

“Yes, sir, and thank you, sir. Please refer to the footnote at the bottom of page 171 of your Customer Agreement where the early cancellation charges are plainly listed.”

“If all the details of your plan are listed in the footnotes, than what, may I ask, is listed in the plan, itself?” asked Bill.

“The footnotes are an integral part of the plan, sir,” said the CSR, “And they are plainly referred to throughout the agreement.”

Bill slammed the phone down in a fury, thinking, as he did so, that he could hear laughter in the background. He was livid. He had heard enough about footnotes to agreements that had nothing in the agreement and everything in the footnotes. He walked outside to make another call to a different cell phone company to see about switching his plan. He had heard of a company that would pay your cancellation fees if you switched to them. He googled up the company on his cell phone, incurring more charges on his Economy Plan, and in an instant had the number and pressed the hyperlink on his smart-phone screen and dialed them up. The company was ConsumerCellular, a wholly owned subsidiary of SmartCell International, LTD., which also owned and operated CellAmerica, though Bill did not suspect this.

Funny! The number he dialed this time had no automated attendant, but a real human answered on the first ring. The lady on the other end of the phone had a voice that sounded a lot like a young Judy Garland as Dorothy: sweet, believable, and forthright. “Ahhh!” thought Bill upon hearing the voice, “I can tell that this is going to be the company for me,” not knowing that the same girl also answered for CellAmerica, CellHost, UniCom, FreeCom, FreeCell, NobleCell, and AmericaCom, all wholly owned subsidiaries of SmartCell International, LTD., which, remarkably, was wholly owned by Mexican communications magnate Carlos Nogordo and the three major US cellphone companies. It never occurred to Bill that none of the companies cared who he did business with, since, ultimately, they all their hands in each other's pockets, as well as his.

Bill was ensnared in the midst of a modern problem from which there was no escape, and this familiar scenario fits every definition of a modern problem. Previous generations had never envisioned problems like this.

In an earlier time, another Bill Wilson, tired and sore-footed, walked beside an even more sore-footed horse up to the door of one of the local liveries, The Equine Salon. He hitched his horse to the post and ambled inside aiming to have a word or two with the farrier who had shod his horse just yesterday. The horse had thrown a shoe just as Bill crossed the mountain ridge that separated Dry Gulch from the alkali flats beyond. It was about thirty miles, and Bill had not known the horse threw a shoe until it started limping. A sore-footed horse won't get you very far.

The farrier seemed surprised to see Bill, since when he had paid his bill yesterday, Bill had said he was headed across alkali flats and then on to the town of Bitter Water. “I though you-uz gone off to other parts,” said the farrier to Bill.

“I was aiming to be, but my horse th'owed a shoe just into alkali flats and came up a bit lame. There weren't no goin' no further. I had to walk him all the way back. Me and him are a bit sore over that shoddy shoddin' you put on him,” said a somber Bill to the farrier.

“I ain't never done no shoddy shoddin' in my life!” cried the farrier. “Everthang's first-rate around here, including them economy horseshoes you had put on yesterday.”

“Well I reckon you'll be a needin' to fix 'em, jus' the same,” said Bill, “And I ain't expecting to pay nothing for it, neither.”

“There ain't no guarantee on no horseshoe, 'specially the economy job, and besides, I can't even make no adjustment of no sort unless you brought the old shoe in with you. Got that old shoe?”

“Naw, the horse th'ew it somewhere along the way. It was gone before I knowed it,” said Bill, scratching his beard which was itching something fierce. He wondered if it was just lousy or whether his skin was dried out from the all the alkali dust he'd worn and eaten since yesterday.

“Well, iffen you want that shoe fixed, it'll be three dollars, up front, and if I'uz you, I'd get me something besides them cheap shoes you bought yesterday. We've got some good, forged ones rather than them pot-metal ones I tried to talk you out of buying yesterday.”

“I thought you jus' said everything 'round here is first-rate,” said Bill, the steam coming out of his ears just a bit.

“They're first-rate for cheap shoes, as first-rate as a cheap shoe can be. They's the ones you wanted. You had yore choice and you didn't want the good shoes. I told'ja that them that you'uz a-buying was the cheap ones,” replied the farrier, still miffed that someone had dared to question the integrity of his work.

“Well, I'll be a needin' 'em fixed. All of 'em I suppose,” sighed Bill.

“That'll be twenny dollars, up front, for the good shoes,” said the Farrier.

“Twenty dollars!! The good shoes wuz only fi'teen dollars yesterday!” cried Bill.

“That'uz yesterday. Today, they're twenny.”

Bill knew he was stuck. He wasn't about to get halfway across alkali flats and have his horse throw another shoe, but he couldn't bring himself to give even more money to what he thought was a shoddy outfit doing shoddy shodding.

“Ain't there another farrier in this pissaint town?” asked Bill.

“Yep. There's old Smith just down the street. Iffen you want, youc'n'jus' git on down there. He'll charge you twenny-fi'e dollars,” said the farrier, now glad to be getting shed of a problem customer. No one could guarantee a shoe on a horse. They were horses, after all.

Bill turned without a word and started down the street to Smith's Shop. When he walked up, old Smith said, “That horse's done th'owed a shoe.”

“Yep, that's why I'm here. Can you fix him up? Your competitor down the street shods shoddily, won't stand behind his work, and I won't have it.”

“I coulda told you that. He works cheap, but his work ain't much good. He used to work here until he went and set up shop for hisself after I run him off,” said Smith, who disingenuously failed to mention to Bill that he also owned the property that The Equine Salon which its shoddy farrier rented from him, and his rent was twenty percent of the gross sales. Smith got paid whether you had your horse shod with him or the farrier down the street.

“Well, I need him shod. I'm skeered of them alkali flats with these cheap shoes,” sighed Bill.

“That'll be thirty dollars, cash-on-the-barrelhead, up front,” said Smith, a big smile on his face, showing his brown teeth stained with tobacco juice. Smith spit out a cud onto the sidewalk, not even aiming for the street, just “splat” right on the boards.

“Thirty dollars?” Bill cried in despair. “That's way too high!”

“But that gets you the new, forged steel shoes, not cast-iron or pot metal shoes,” said Smith, grinning even bigger. Iffen it's cheap you're a-lookin' fer, youc'n'jus' git on back to wher' you come frum, but you see what cheap got you. There ain't no cheap here . . . just quality.”

Bill knew he was stuck, and there wasn't any use in complaining about it. “Just get 'er shod and I'll be back to pick her up after I've sent a telegram and maybe wet my whistle.”

“That's thirty dollars, up front, please,” said Smith, still grinning, his empty hand held out, waiting to be filled. Bill peeled off three Greenback tens, but Smith moved his hand away.

“Don't take no Greenbacks. Just silver or gold,” said Smith.

This was getting more difficult by the minute. Bill handed Smith two twenty dollar gold pieces. Smith stuck them in his pocket and pulled out a ten-dollar Greenback and handed it to Bill as change. “I reckon iffen you won't take no Greenbacks as payment, I won't be takin' none as change neither, pardner,” said Bill, thinking he had ol' Smith on this one.

“Ain't got no gold to make no change with. Take it or leave it. Suit y'self,” said Smith, with a shrug of his shoulders and an angelic air that seemed rebuff anyone who might think Smith was anything less than honorable. Bill sighed, as he had done many times since yesterday, and took the Greenback ten and headed towards the telegraph office.”

He told the clerk, “Send a message to Mr. Tom Wilson, Fairmont Hotel, in Bitter Springs. Start- Brother -stop- Delayed by a thrown shoe -Stop- Will head out in the morning -Stop-Expect me in a couple of days -Stop- Signed Bill -End”

“Will do. That'll be two dollars, up front,” said the clerk.

“This is about the up-frontest town a fellow is likely to encounter,” said Bill, handing the clerk the ten-dollar Greenback.

“No Greenbacks,” said the clerk, “Gold or silver, only.”

“This is about the goldest and siliverest town I ever seen, too,” said Bill, handing over a ten-dollar gold piece.

The clerk counted out his change in Greenbacks. Bill couldn't believe it. “Well, that there's twice today that I had to fork over gold only to get back Greenbacks as my change. I'll be taking my change in gold or silver, I reckon.”

“Ain't got no gold or silver to make no change with. You'll have to take the Greenbacks or nothin'. Suit y'self,” said the clerk, “It ain't no skin offa my nose, neither way.”

Bill took the Greenbacks and turned to go. Just as he reached the door, the clerk said, “By the way, the telegraph line's down. I doubt it'll be fixed before Friday.”

“Today's Tuesday,” said Bill. “I'll have been in Bitter Springs fer a full day before you even send that telegram. Why didn't you say so?”

“You didn't ask,” said the clerk, with sort of a smirk. Bill detested smirking clerks.

“Well, then, I'll be getting' a refund, and in gold, no Greenbacks,” said Bill, finally beginning to wise up to the urgency of the currency issue. The clerk said not a word and pointed to the sign over the door. In big bold letters it read, “NO REFUNDS FOR ANY REASON. THIS MEANS YOU.”

Bill just shook his head. “This town's as hard on a feller as a cheap shoe is on a horse.” He turned and headed down the boardwalk to the saloon. The sign out front read, “The Friendly Saloon.” That sounded good to Bill. He was hot. He was more than a bit angry. And right now, he had a powerful thirst.

He walked up to the bar and the barkeep said, “What'll it be?”

“Whiskey,” Bill replied.

“That'll be a dollar, up front,” said the barkeep.

“Up front. Up front. I ain't never seen so much up front as they went and got themselves in this town,” Bill thought to himself. He pulled out one of the Greenbacks and laid it on the bar. The barkeep reached under the counter producing an unmarked bottle of whiskey, and poured what appeared to Bill to be a rather skimpy shot. Bill gulped it down, thankful they had taken his Greenback dollar. As it hit him, he thought that he had just swallowed a mixture of kerosene and turpentine, not the whiskey he expected. He spat it out before he could reach the spitoon.

“Hey!' said the barkeep. “Don't be spittin' on my floor.”

“Sorry, mister,” said Bill. “That stuff is awful. What kind of whiskey are y'all serving up in here anyway?”

“That's the Greenback kind,” said the barkeep. “Iffen you want something else, it'll be gold or silver.”

“And up front, too, I expect,” sighed Bill.

“Certainly!” said the barkeep, his shoulders thrown back, as proud as any peacock, Bill thought to himself.

He laid his last gold piece on the bar and the barkeep reached behind him to the shelves in front of the mirror, got a bottle of good whiskey, and poured Bill a shot. He took the goldpiece and started to make change, counting out the Greenbacks. By now, Bill knew the drill. “Just keep 'em coming,” he said pointing to the empty glass. “I don't reckon I'll be needin' no change.”

As he sipped his whiskey, he considered earlier times: times far less complicated by the modern problems he was facing . . . had he only known what an ancient grandfather of his, Billio Wilsonius, endured in Roman occupied London trying to get a chariot wheel repaired, he might have thought their lots were not so different.

Now back to the modern modern times.

Our modern Bill Wilson was driving down to the office of Consumer Cellular to sign up on their service when one of his new tires blew out nearly causing him to lose control of his car. He muttered a few bad words and got out and surveyed the damage. Not only was the tire blown, but there were some serious scuffs on the wheel, and a piece of the rubber from the tire had put a pretty nasty dent in the fender well, damaging the fender itself. Bill called AAA on his CellAmerica phone, incurring enormous expenses in the process since he was on hold for about fifteen minutes during their peak usage time and the language he was thinking became coarser and coarser. AAA arrived in about a half-hour and towed him to the tire shop just before closing time. Everyone was in a hurry to close up shop as Bill stood there discussing his predicament with the tire shop manager.

“Looks like road hazard damage to me,” said the tire shop manager. “These tires you bought are covered for road hazards.”

"Whew! Thank goodness,” said Bill, thankful that something was going his way.

“Just show me your purchase receipt and we'll take care of it,” said the tire shop manager.

“Receipt? I don't have the receipt!” said Bill.

“Can't do a thing without the receipt,” said the manager. “You'll have to buy a new tire.”

“But, I just bought these less than a month ago. Can't you look it up and see when I bought them?” asked Bill.

“Store policy is that you have to produce the receipt. No receipt, no road hazard warranty. Sorry.”

“Just get me a tire and put it on,” said the exasperated Bill, pulling out his wallet and producing his credit card to pay for it. The store manager frowned when he saw the card. He sort of felt sorry for Bill, but there wasn't much he could do about it since he was as bound to store policy as Bill was.

“We don't take credit cards any more, or checks,” he said. “Cash on the barrel-head, only.”

“But, I don't have the cash!” cried Bill.

“Well, you could go and get it, or perhaps have someone bring it to you,” said the store manager. “Anyway, it looks like it'll have to be tomorrow since it's closing time. Do I need to call a cab for you, or can you get a ride?”

“I'll call a friend to come get me,” sighed Bill. In the course of history, it seems that more Bills have sighed over circumstances beyond their control than just about anyone else. Maybe it's good not to be named Bill. Bill dialed the number of one of his friends, incurring more of CellAmerica's peak usage charges. He muttered under his breath when he got his friend's voice mail, left a message and hoped he'd get a return call, soon. It was getting dark. He'd need to find a friend, and quickly now, else he'd get no cab in this area after dark. He began dialing differently numbers madly, but no one answered. He sat on the sidewalk at the tire shop, now deserted, as he watched the last wisps of the evening sun drop below the horizon.

A horse with a thrown shoe . . . a car with a bad tire . . . Greenback dollars . . . unwelcome credit cards . . . ineffective communications means.

Some things never change. Modern problems have always been modern, haven't they?

3/9/13 Lesson #20,001 English as a Second language: Affect and Effect Clarified

This is lesson number 20,001 of English as a Second Language.

Congratulations on your great achievement at having made it this far. Now that you have mastered the first 20,000 lessons, you are ready to begin to start dealing with some of the subtleties that make English so expressive. This lesson will deal with subtle, shifty differences between the words EFFECT and AFFECT, which cause no small amount of problems among those who were born to English. Our simple lesson, based on the soundest use of the language and words, as formulated by our master English scholars, will easily solve this seemingly complex use of these two simple-but-deceptive words.

First, we will begin with the dictionary definition with credits to the website Dictionary.com.

af·fect

verb (uh-fekt) (used with object)

  1. to act on; produce an effect or change in: Cold weather affected the crops.

  2. to impress the mind or move the feelings of: The music affected him deeply.

  3. (of pain, disease, etc.) to attack or lay hold of.

noun (af-ekt)

  1. Psychology. feeling or emotion.

  2. Psychiatry. an expressed or observed emotional response: Restricted, flat, or blunted affect may be a symptom of mental illness, especially schizophrenia.

  3. Obsolete, affection; passion; sensation; inclination; inward disposition or feeling.

ef·fect

noun (ih-fekt)

  1. something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence: Exposure to the sun had the effect of toughening his skin.

  2. power to produce results; efficacy; force; validity; influence: His protest had no effect.

  3. the state of being operative or functional; operation or execution; accomplishment or fulfillment: to bring a plan into effect.

  4. a mental or emotional impression produced, as by a painting or a speech.

  5. meaning or sense; purpose or intention: She disapproved of the proposal and wrote to that effect.

For the native English speaker, a study of the dictionary definition should be sufficient. Unfortunately, most native English speakers seldom refer to a dictionary and frequently get themselves into trouble with their improper use of words.

These two subtle words will be far more difficult for the non-native speaker, though, and this lesson is designed to eliminate those difficulties by starting you on your path to discovering all the various uses of these two very important words. In other words, we will be effective in removing any doubts about your effective, correct use of these words, and will disabuse you of any affectations you may have previously had on their correct usage, removing your ineffectiveness and steering you towards an, if not intimate, then certainly a close affection for proper usage.

We have found it effective to actually use the words in a way that will affect and produce the effect of real clarity towards their meaning, not an affectation of clarity, and not merely using words to describe their usage, or affect their usage; we find that approach contains a certain ineffectiveness, affecting nothing in your personal English skills. Thus, we use our exclusive approach to affect you in such a way to achieve the effects you are seeking in the improvement of your English skills.

To affect something is to produce an effect. Sometimes the effects are desirable, other times not. Sometimes people try to produce effects by taking on affectations, for example: a misguided young man attempting to effect a romantic relationship with a young lady by taking upon himself certain affectations that he mistakenly thinks she will find attractive. Frequently, in the case of a romantic situation, misapplied affectations can produce effects of diminishing affections from the undesired affectations or effections, as it were, leading to rejection, and consequently, poignant circumspection, and affective, if not effective, reflection. False affectations frequently affect the effectiveness of amorous advances, resulting in effectively diminished affections. Were the young lady to like him based on initially effective affectations, what might her later opinion be when the affectations have become less effective, thus potentially affecting her negatively once she learns that to all effects, he is merely affectatious, not sincere? She might be affected to disastrous effect.

The above paragraph should effectively clarify for the student the proper use of the words, and simultaneously affect desired effection of honest romantic affections (a beneficial side-effect, as it were, though not without risk), though one should not confuse effection with affection, since to do so would render one ineffective. It has been argued by some philologists that effection is not actually a word, electing the word efficacy, but the editors believe that effection is the result of affection, though the dictionary now renders the use of the word affection as pertaining to the production of an effect as obsolete, leaving the word affection to refer solely to one's particular fondness for another entity. The editors have disagreed, citing that affection is also the result of having effectively affected something. Were the something not affected, there could have ultimately been no effection or affection. Efficacy is merely the effect of afficacy, but affection is not necessarily the same as afficacy, since afficacy is not even considered to be a word. Even the editors find this confusing, thus have effectively rejected this altogether. Efficacy is to afficacy as affection is to effection, but to introduce afficacy at this late stage is merely confusing, producing unwanted effects. The editors have chosen to resurrect the obsolete affection, use the (arguable) invention effection, deny the use of efficacy as ineffective, and avoid what would necessarily result in the invention of the word afficacy. The editors strive for a consistent clarity at all times, though are not always effective, and were we to regress, might say occasionally that our inafficacy yields a lack of efficacy; but we will not allow this, and it is shown here merely for illustrative purposes.

A thing can be affected the point that the affectations yield an effective effectation, thus effectively effecting the affectations.

The editors are sure this clears all this up immensely, and all to the proper effect.

Next week: Lesson #20,002 – There, Their, and They're: The Treachery of Homophones.

3/5/13 Detroit . . . The New Luxor?

The City of Detroit has fallen on hard times. A significant portion of it has been abandoned to decay. Detroit's fiscal problems are so severe that The State of Michigan is in the process of appointing a manager to preside over it, since the city's bankruptcy is almost certain. The idea of ghost towns is symbolic of the west, but not the mid-west. Are we now to have mid-western ghost towns? Southern ghost-towns, too, since a significant part of New Orleans' Ninth Ward is likely to stay un-rebuilt forever.

We've witnessed many a movie shoot-out in western ghost towns and abandoned mining villages. Now, the formerly real ghost-town shootouts, since relegated to movies, have re-emerged as real shootouts between bad guys, and bad guys and good guys in abandoned sections of formerly major cities. History is repeating itself.

Luxor, Troy, Capernaum, Pompeii, the ruins of castles in Europe, Detroit . . . we are witnessing our own modern history in the process of being reduced to mere artifacts. One day in the future, someone may declare that the ancient, fabled Detroit is just a myth.

If one thinks that new civilizations will not be built on top of the ruins of this one, then history class was a waste of the student's time and the school's resources.

3/5/13 The Socialism of Jesus

Well . . .  He wasn't a socialist. He was not even a political liberal. He was apolitical saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus was raised as a conservative, orthodox Jew. He went to the synagogue and the Temple on the appointed days, He kept kosher and the holy days, and He attended to His temple obligations. He despised the corruption He saw in the temple, though, and once raised a ruckus, infuriating the temple authorities, no doubt, which earned Him a bad name with the establishment.

Except for one single thing, everything He did for people was done for those who came within His reach. Everything He did for people was done with His own resources, which were limited since He owned nothing, but what He had He gave of freely. The multitude He miraculously fed was fed with fishes and loaves which He asked for and were freely given to Him . . . He didn't forcefully take or demand them from anyone.

Everything He did for others was done for them, personally. He did nothing that was done for the the masses in general except for the single thing referred to earlier. Even the multitude He fed were those who were within His hearing distance.

The idea that if He were here today, He would be a Socialist is an invention. It is far more of an invention than the single thing He did for all of humanity, which was to offer His life as a sacrifice so that humanity at large, and humans, personally, could be reconciled to God. This single thing, this greatest of all things, is the thing rejected by most of humanity in favor of a social gospel that originated somewhere other than with Jesus. That humanity rejects this is not surprising to Him, because He said that this cornerstone of His building would be the one rejected by those who had every reason to receive it first.

People like to refer to the story of the woman taken in adultery as proof of Jesus' liberality. When her accusers brought her before Him, citing the law, it is recorded that He silently made some marks in the sand. We don't know what He wrote or drew, but we do know that immediately after doing this, the woman's accusers all disappeared. Perhaps He wrote the names of the accusing men who had also slept with the accused woman and in an embarrassment of guilt they left rather than continue their accusation. He then asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers?” Since there was no one to accuse her, there was no case for the prosecution of the crime. “Go and sin no more,” He said. I suspect that if a single  accuser had remained, the story would have ended quite differently. Jesus, Himself, was not willing to throw stones, but had her accusers remained, would He have prevented what was then a legal execution? We don't have the answer to that question, but we do have the precedent that He always kept the law as He honestly interpreted it. 

People also like to refer to the story of the rich man who wanted to become a disciple. It is recorded that a certain, important young man asked Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus told him, in paraphrase, “You know the law.”

The important young man said, “I have kept the law since I was a child.”

“Yet, you still lack,” replied Jesus. “Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.” It was a remarkable invitation. It is recorded that the important young man went away sad because he was very wealthy and could not bring himself to part with his wealth.

Jesus then said that it was easier for a camel to come through the door of a hut than it was for a rich man to get to heaven. He disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus answered, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.”

This was not an indictment of money. This was an indictment of the important young man's ideas of his own power and wealth . . . of his idea that he would be able to merit some special treatment from God, or access to God, because of his life-long obedience to the law . . . but his reliance was in his own abilities; he did not understand that his reliance should be on God. The important young man also wanted more than his own personal salvation. He wanted to be counted among the number of Jesus' hand-picked disciples . . . perhaps he thought he could buy his way in. It was this idea Jesus was rejecting. The important young man's sadness is recorded. We can't be certain whether his sadness was because of his learning that his money would not buy him influence, or because he felt that he would be eternally damned. I suspect the former far more than the latter. You must decide for yourself. 

Jesus never forcefully took from one person to give to another. Jesus never advocated for the government to do so either. Jesus never even advocated the abolition of slavery. Jesus said that we are to render to the government what belongs to the government. When arrested and accused by the government, Jesus did not even try to defend himself . . . He never advocated for political rights or freedoms, not even His own.

Was Jesus a social radical? Nope!! He was an individual radical. His personal charity was not socialism, but a personal love for all humanity, as manifested by how He treated all those who came within His reach.

Did He leave us an example to follow? Certainly! But it was not governmental socialism and wealth redistribution He advocated: not even close to that; it was not government at all, but personal. He did say that we are to love God and to treat everyone as we would wish to be treated. This extends as far as our reach. This is apolitical. This is our duty to ourselves and God. This is a very personal responsibility His example requires from us.

To use Him as an example of governmental socialistic wealth-redistribution is a perversion of the scriptures. Conversely, so my fellow conservatives won't have any reason for a self-satisfied smugness while reading this: to hold Him up as a conservative right-wing theocrat is also a perversion of the scriptures. Jesus was never smug about anything. His example is one of our personal responsibility to help the helpless, the poor, the needy, and the down-trodden who come within our reach, including the despised Samaritan. This example contains no hint of earthly governmental responsibility. So where did that idea come from?

Your guess is as good as mine, perhaps, but most likely you won't like mine, since I think that any idea that shifts our responsibility from personal to governmental has the wrong author.

3/2/13 Glioblastoma

I have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. As Hemosapien told me over four years ago, I will die from it, or from a complication from it, or with it . . . one of the three. But, through treatment, I have been given time for which I am extremely thankful. Glioblastoma is not like that. It is a primary cancer of the brain, the most prevalent kind. You can read about it here. It doesn't fool around and frequently, depending on the location of the tumor inside the brain, steals the identity of its victim before it steals their life. There are treatments for it, but it is almost invariably a fatal cancer.

I had the pleasure of spending nine wonderful days in a magic place getting to know Sue. She is a great fiddler, quick to laugh, and a joyous presence. We enjoyed music in a beautiful surrounding, met many new friends, renewed old acquaintances, and enjoyed our mutual gifts of music in a way that only musicians can share, learning to read those unspoken signals musicians send to each other, taking cues, letting the music swell and ebb like waves building and crashing on a beach, while in between crashes making those gentle, soothing sounds as the water assumes the shape of its vessel, seeking to level itself. Our very lives are like water. Our very lives are like music. Our very lives are like music writ upon the water's surface: fragile, fleeting, ephemeral.

Sue is a veteran, journeyman, and skilled musician. She is also loved, admired, and respected by her many life-long and new friends. She is also in hospice care due to a recently discovered Stage IV Glioblastoma.

The unique essence that will be gone with her will be missed by many, many people. She will leave behind memories of wonderful music that will survive her passing, lingering long after she is gone. Like artifacts being studied by anthropologists in some far and distant time in the future, she will have left a legacy of music in her wake that will be studied, and even better, enjoyed by future generations of musicians and music lovers. Through recorded artifacts, unavailable and unimaginable not so very long ago, I will enjoy some of the music we shared together, today.

Artifacts and memories are always our legacy to the earth. They are the only things we leave behind that last. The artifacts rust and decay, and the memories eventually fade, but the memories are likely to be those things which influenced another person, thus our influence can be passed down through many generations. In the meantime, though, we are filled with the reality of our own loss and overcome with our own sadness, all while looking through what seems to be a clouded glass into someone else's life, but in reality, poignantly seeing our own reflection. Those who share her heart will have voids left that simply cannot be filled; it is those voids that will be most prominent in the faint, ghostly reflections seen in the clouded glass.

We must cherish our time here. It is the only thing we really, truly possess in this life. Everything else is just an illusion. Godspeed to Sue. She has already started this difficult journey that we all must make, but it's the same one we all surely started on from the moment of our birth.

An intellectual knowledge of this makes it no easier for anyone, and words seem so recklessly futile in the face of eternity. We are thankful for our friends and for those who have loved us. We are thankful for all those who touched us along the way. We depart knowing that there are those who have been touched by us, and whose lives will be less full because of our absence, and those who will be prompted to think of us and then smile when music springs forth from the air. We will be the ones to smile, now, even in the midst of grief: the music having touched us. Others will smile later. Left to our own thoughts, the smile will fade, but will never completely go away, because we have been moved from our former place, to another one, a better one . . . a place we made for ourselves by the influence, touch, and joy of having known and loved each other.

It is our legacy to each other.

From John Donne’s MEDITATION  XVII

No man is an island, entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,

As well as if a promontory were,

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee

2/23/12 Conspiracy Theories

There's always been lots of 'em . . . they're still floating around and growing with an increasing urgency. One-World-Governmental, New-World-Ordered, Illuminatified, Rothschildian-dominated, Masonic-Knights-Templared, Area 51ers, Roswellites, Alien-encounterers, Trilateral Commissars, Bilderberg Groupies, and even Bigfooters, every one of them secretly controlling the world (except Bigfoot), making decisions for you, determining every facet of your life so that you are just a puppet in a play run by those who control everything, even your thoughts. These gnostic theories are seductive to men. Once seduced, there is no letting go, since there is no way to disprove them. The harder one works to disprove anything, the inability to disprove it is used by the conspiracy initiate as evidence of the conspiracy. Eventually, they can become self-fulfilling, just as someone who dabbles in the occult can literally vex themselves to death over the spell they think someone else put on them. It seems a waste to me to die that way, but some would have it so.

There are as many conspiracy theories as there are conspiracy theorists. They abound like aphids on an infected crepe myrtle. The conspiracy theory surrounding aphids is that they secretly plan to infect and kill every tree on the planet. But that can't be true, since the realization of their goals would mean their own demise. Hmmmm! Maybe that's what all conspiracy theorists desire . . . their own demise; or sensing their own demise is imminent, even if there were no conspiracies, they seek something to blame it on. Maybe, they think, we'd all live forever if conspirators weren't conspiring against us. Even the Earth conspires against us. Nature. Asteroids. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. The Cosmos. Things so large we can't grasp them, down to things so small we can't see them clearly with the most powerful optical devices. There's a whole host of things conspiring to kill us, enslave us, subjugate us, and control our minds . . . all of them at the beck and call of conspirators. There is no escape, only a Gnostic initiation through which we are enlightened enough to be able to name the conspiracy. Ahhh! That doesn't give me much hope. There's just no disproving a conspiracy theory, nor is there much of a chance to prove one. There is only the faith of the believer in the conspiracy.

The conspiracy may exist. It may not. What one takes as truth another dismisses as fable. This is not new. It is the way of things of faith. Our faith is our faith and not necessarily the world's fact. Having your faith challenged is something one should get used to. If it is easily challenged, then one should examine one's own faith. If the fact that someone else's faith has led them to a different conclusion causes our own foundations to buckle, then we need a stronger foundation.

I suppose the original conspiracy theory is the belief that God exists and is interested in the affairs of men. Men got together and developed complex theories and doctrines about this . . . we call it theology. Is there a connection between the word theory and the word theology? Etymologists and philologists may say yes or no, but if they dare say no, then I'll know that some conspiracy is afoot.

Where one man plainly sees evidence of God's existence, another sees nothing beyond what his senses tell him. Where one man thinks he has a sense beyond those we normally identify as the senses, another man can process no information beyond sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. This is not new. It's been around as long as men, so why should anyone be threatened by it?

I admit that I am also a conspiracy theorist. Mine is an ancient one that has been shared by many millions of people. It was around way before there was a Tri-Lateral Commission, but was perhaps contemporary with an ancient New World Order.  I will tell you about it if you can stand it and sit still for a spell.

When the world was young, there was a king here. He was the most intelligent and beautiful of all creation. Yet, as a created being, he could not share in the nature of the relationship that God had with Himself, thus through a perverse twist, he began to covet something that was not his and became consumed with that most dangerous of passions, envy. His name was Lucifer. He said, apparently to himself and others, “I will ascend into heaven. I will be like the Most High.”

Lucifer never thought he could kick God off His own throne; he just demanded an equal share of something that was not rightfully his. This didn't quite work out like he planned, but having been consumed by his own perversion, he proceeded with a revised, diminished plan, which was just to be evil for the sake of being evil. God was not unaware of the perversion in Lucifer's heart. Though God created Lucifer, God did not create evil; it started as the proud, haughty seed of perversion and was then nurtured in the heart of envy. I will. I will. I will. When one declares, “I will” too many times, one soon starts willing to possess things to which he has no right.

When it became obvious to Lucifer that he had exceeded his authority, crossing the event horizon of something with more energy than any black hole, he knew there was no escape. Then very angry at God, and himself, as are all those consumed by envy, through his great intelligence and subtlety, persuaded a full third of the angels in heaven to join him in rebellion. He and his minions were cast out of heaven and no longer ruled the earth. They were discorporated.

God, in His mysterious wisdom, and for whatever reasons were important to Him, recreated the Earth, this time creating a man to rule over it, giving him dominion over the entire earth and every living creature. God named him Adam. God created a mate for Adam and told them to be fruitful and multiply, placing them in a lush, fertile Eden filled with everything men could possibly want, while placing only a single restriction, that they should not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.   

Covetousness, or the desire for something that is not rightfully ours, is the most dangerous passion. It leads to envy, malcontent, lust, greed, avarice, concupiscence, lasciviousness, lying, stealing, murder, and is the father of every evil thing. Adam began to covet the one thing that God had reserved for Himself, demanding that they not eat the fruit of His tree. Adam must have a taste of it.

Lucifer, now known by another name, Satan, came to Adam's mate, Eve, one evening in Eden. He was subtle. Eve knew what God had said about the tree, and she dared not eat, but Satan asked her, “Did God really mean that you shouldn't eat the fruit of that tree?” as he pointed towards it. “God knows that from the moment you take the first bite of it, you will be like Him,” he said, tempting her with the same temptation that had overcome him. Eve, being thus deceived, ate the fruit, then gave it to Adam.

Adam, of course, being master of Eden was watching this whole exchange. He had dominion over every living creature and could have banished Satan with a single word, but Adam himself had already coveted that which was not rightfully his. He wanted to be like God, too. Eve being deceived, had eaten the fruit and given it to her husband. Adam, not deceived, with full knowledge of what he was doing, willfully chose to disobey God.

The moment he did that, the title to the earth passed from Adam to Satan as surely as if a real estate contract had been drawn up and signed by the clients of the best of Philadelphia's lawyers. At least, Satan had his earth back and was a king again. He gloated over his victory over Adam and God. Well, at least he gloated over his legal authority to have dominion over the earth again; he knew this had no impact on God.

Adam and Eve tried to hide what they had done. They covered themselves with fig leaves so God couldn't see them, but this was useless. We can't hide anything from God. The coverings they had made for themselves were not acceptable to God, so God, Himself, went out and got the skins of some wild animals to cover them. That something had to die and blood had to be shed to cover Adam and Eve's sin was the first time that death had entered into the world. Once he opened shop, Death has had a long and prosperous business; he's still prospering.

God, Himself, had a plan for the redemption of man. He would become a man Himself, and offer His own blood as a single, permanent sacrifice for man's wickedness. He would reconcile mankind to Himself, by and through Himself, as a gift to all who would would partake of it, such was His love for mankind.

He took it on Himself to became a man without a human father, thus He had no stain of the sin of Adam which had passed to all men, and amid real trials and temptations such as are common to all men, He lived a sinless life as a man, thus death had no dominion over Him. He submitted to death only because He knew its eternal importance to me, to you, to all men. Since death had no dominion over Him, the grave could not hold Him, leading one of His apostles to write, “O Death! Where is thy victory? O Grave! Where is thy sting?”

He returned to Heaven as the Most High God He always was and is. When asked His name once, He said, “I AM THAT I AM.” That's a good name to have if one can wear it. It won't fit me, though. It's not my name. Another time He declared, “I am the Alpha and Omega,” as one of His names.  He has many, many of them. I know Him as Jesus. I've met Him, and He is not me. He has His own mind and existed before me, is independent of me, and is unaffected by me. But He has another nature that inhabits me, and makes a part of me the same holy essence that is His nature. He has made me His joint-heir. He did this because He loves me with a love that is stronger than that of a mother for her own child.

Think about that for a minute. What is a joint-heir? Does not a joint-heir share equally in an undivided interest in the whole? Therefore, being undivided, since trying to divide the eternal is like trying to divide by zero and simply can't be done, do I not have access to the whole? Is it not all mine? And if an infinite amount is all mine, is there any reason not to share as much of it as anyone else wants? Since the river of Living Water can never be drained, the Lord has said that out of us, “shall flow rivers of living water.” From one inexhaustible river comes many inexhaustible rivers . . . there is no end; there is no boundary; the room occupies more space on the inside than its external dimensions allow. Since it is infinite, trying to divide it is a futile exercise. Divide by one and you still have the whole. Infinity divided by one an infinite number of times is still infinity. Infinity divided by a thousand is still infinity. Infinity divided an infinite number of times still has the infinite as its dividend. To grasp a small piece of the infinite is to grasp all of infinity. But it's bigger than that, because, with infinity, zero is the divisor; there is simply no beginning point and no place to end.

If one were searching for a better, more attractive conspiracy theory to have and to hold, one would be hard pressed to find it. It is there for you. It can be your faith, or it can be your fable. Whatever decision one makes will have no impact on God, or me . . . He will still be God and I will still not be God, just simply who I am. But, you are welcome to come along and share in His bounty, in fact, you can have it all if you can divide it and you can have even more of it if you can't. Take your zero and use it as a divisor and check the results for yourself. One cannot divide the infinite, for there is no place to stand to do so. If one wants it, there is a Rock to stand on from which it can be reached, but you can't just take your share, because your share is all of it.

I have abundant joy from the hope that is within me, the faith that is inside me. It is my faith. I will cling to it with every fiber of my being. I will not be moved, having an unwavering confidence in The One in Whom I have placed my faith, for above all, He is faithful. It's all my flaws and blemishes that He has promised to remove as far as the east is from the west, and to claim me for Himself. How did I deserve such mercy? The answer? I don't. He chose me from the foundation of the world. He chose us all.

There. There's my conspiracy theory. The difference between mine and the others is that I have the freedom to choose my path. And . . . it's a path that offers hope, not doom. It offers light, not darkness. It offers life, not death. It offers redemption, not condemnation. It offers reconciliation, not rejection. It is born of love, enacted by love, and has love as its final culmination. What's not to like? When confronted with a decision, I simply said, “Yes, thank you.”

Perhaps that's why the word “gospel” means “good news.”

What on earth does this have to do with CLL? Well, I have CLL and it was on MY mind. What other reason do I need? <GRIN>

NOTE: I said that envy is the most dangerous of all passions. I also said that covetousness is the most dangerous of all passions. They are inseparable, conjoined twins.

2/22/13 Speech and Censorship          AUDIO Blog Click HERE

Political correctness is becoming the new censorship. We've come to expect career-ending repercussions from politicians, sports-casters, entertainers, and athletes when they “misspeak.” No one is allowed an accident any more. A slip of the tongue is fatal. Every group that identifies itself in a particular manner has become as sensitive as a root canal gone bad.

Even that most sacred of free speech arenas, the church pulpit, has become a target of the politically correct crowd. Whatever it is that persuaded Tim Tebow not to speak at First Baptist Church in Dallas will be dissected, digested, and most likely found unpalatable and regurgitated, but what is being preached there is not a new-fangled sort of hate-speech. The Bible still says what it says, and what it has said for millennia, and has not changed much. It is society that has changed and is continuing to change. That there are those who dislike what the Bible says, or the claims it makes for itself is nothing new . . . but far from it.

The world is not changing for the better, because liberals who used to defend free speech with all the chutzpah they could muster are now those crying “hate-speech” at anything they decide is at odds with their views. How did liberals allow themselves to be thus manipulated?  Liberals used to be the tolerant ones. I think those days are behind us. Liberals seem to be well on the way to becoming intolerant zealots, changing places with the old guard conservatives who tried their best to stifle liberal voices of tolerance.

Perhaps I am misusing the word “liberal.” What I am seeing now fits no classical definition of the word, but more closely fits the word “bigot”. Yet “bigoted” is never a word that liberals would think of applying to themselves, as if they were exempt from this very human condition. We used to lump liberals and leftists together, but there's a significant difference. Liberals were champions of free speech. Leftists never were, though they claimed that right for themselves. In the classic sense of the word, I suppose I'm a liberal, though I've never been a leftist.  

I'm beginning to think I'm becoming intolerant of intolerance. Does that make me bigoted? If this continues, I suppose I'll just vanish into the ether like a collision between equal amounts of matter and anti-matter somewhere out in deep space, or worse, I'll begin to pull my hair out. The lunacy of human behavior is getting beyond reasonable comprehension, headed towards intolerable.

Many historians have pointed out that it's the tolerant who ultimately yield to the zealots, because the tolerant allow zealots to go about their business long after the business of zealots has become the destruction of those who tolerate anything besides the object of their zeal. This has been oft repeated in history. Why should it not be repeated yet again?

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Am I hated because I'm a Christian? If so, then clearly I'm not the first. Nor the last. Nor alone . . .

2/21/13 Augustine. A Joker?

I am certain of this, that no one has died who was not going to do so at some time, and the end of life reduces the longest life to the same condition as the shortest.

Augustine, City of God

That Augustine. He was a real joker.

Not really. But he was one of the greatest thinkers, theologians, and writers of all time. He was the Bishop of Hippo, near the even more ancient city of Carthage, Hannibal's capital, in North Africa, and lived from 354 to 430. His Confessions and City of God were and are two of the most influential works in all of Christendom and stand in stark contrast to the mostly jejune landscape of late Roman writers. Augustine goes out of favor for a while, but new generations of theologians rediscover him, resurrect his works and he returns, still relevant after nearly 1600 years. His books are still in print, and still studied. That, is remarkable. I think he is beyond caring who gets the royalties from his book sales.

Why is he still relevant? That's simple . . . because men have not changed very much in all that time. Our worries, our fears, our personal struggle to reconcile ourselves to God, our relationship with Christ, our personal wickedness and struggle with sin, our lusts, our greed, our avarice, and the sufferings of human frailty amid our quest for redemption make him as relevant today as he was then. Men still face the same questions, desires, and vexations that faced Augustine, who always showed his humanity mixed with his spirituality. Augustine did not peer down on us from lofty places, he came from lowly places, still offering serious admonitions about our behavior and our need to correct it, but he shared our failings with us. He was one of us.

He was an active priest, dealing with the cares and duties of his parish and bishopric on a daily basis, and still managed to find time to think and write voluminous works that have survived from antiquity, still influencing people in the most remarkable way. That is a fact, because today, I was influenced by Augustine as I was reading and he forced me to consider my own mortality.

Don't take the quote I offered above as a cryptic, coded remark about my health. I have freely shared all of my concerns and troubles in the past and will do so again, but I am free from those worries at the moment and am allowed this wonderful opportunity to glimpse my own mortality from this new perspective. It is not morose, though it could be. I nearly laughed out loud when I read the above quote. It is obvious . . . but the stating of it so anciently succinctly precipitated a curious humor in me, a morbid humor, though not an unpleasant one. There's not a thing of urgent relevance in a man's life today that was not common to Augustine. There are many things we fret and worry over that did not exist when Augustine was alive, but, really, are these things one should fret over?

“Where's the remote? I want to watch the news.” Augustine shouted to his assistant bishop.

“The batteries are dead,” said the assistant bishop back to a very impatient Augustine. “I was planning to take the donkey down to the market to get some AAAs just as soon as the Vandals got through sacking the town, but they took the donkey.”

“You'll have to walk, then, or borrow a donkey from one of the parishioners. Can you call Marcellus and see if he still has a donkey that we can use?” asked Augustine.

“I already tried, but HT&T (Hippo Telephone and Telegraph) has yet to come fix the phone line.”

“Didn't you let them know the phone was out last week? Didn't you remind them tht I am an HT&T stockholder?” Augustine was a bit agitated by this time.

The assistant bishop knew this tone all too well, hesitated, then spoke softly. “I did remind them, but they said, stockholder or not, that the Vandals had made off with all their service camels. It could be weeks before they get around to repairing all the damage they did.”

“Well, you know those Vandals . . . they can't help but vandalize everything in their wake,” sighed Augustine, dipping his pen in the ink and inscribing on the papyrus, squinting in the dim light of the compact fluorescent bulb in his desk lamp, angry that he was not going to hear the baseball scores on the evening news. He was a big Cardinals fan.

We will all embrace the distinctly indifferent state of dead soon enough, therefore it is with great thanksgiving that we recognize that we are alive. If we're lucky enough to have understood Augustine, we are alive and not a servant to the things that would own us, but free from their claims. Augustine thinks this is when we are the most alive.

When we are dead, we will be just as dead as Augustine, though he has been dead much longer. When measured on the eternal scale, will we not have been reduced to simply the same condition?

That Augustine. Always the clown. If he'd still had his wife, she perhaps would have told him to get up and push the ON button and quit griping about the remote. Maybe that's why he became a priest.

Now, I'm the joker.

2/21/13 No Way to Stop Federal Spending

We're as out of control as a car crashing through the railing in an off-camber, decreasing-radius curve on a steep mountain road, careening to the bottom. We will not stop until the forces of inertia and gravity have equalized at the bottom of the hill. What's left may not be worth picking up, other than to reduce the eyesore of twisted metal left rusting in the landscape. Thank you fiat currency! You're not money at all, since money is worth something. You, fiat currency, are why the government can continue to spend far more than it takes in, since currency has no value other than the people's willingness to accept it. The government can print all of it it wants, then debase it at will.

When our government talks of cutting spending, it usually is referring to reductions in the rate of future spending increases. Our current Executive/Congressional standoff, with all its dire warnings of sequestration and automatic spending cuts, reduces government deficit spending by a trillion or two dollars over a ten-year period, depending on which news article or government report you look at. At best, it cuts government spending by $200 billion a year, leaving a deficit, based on current spending, of only a trillion or so, which continues to be added to our total federal debt. This is not a real spending cut, does nothing to reduce our federal debt, and is a perversion of the truth, since the debt grows in spite of the spending cuts. It's really difficult to get at the real numbers. They're a moving target, and the true numbers are published in the most obscure places, with agencies concealing them like mice hiding in a cat-filled hay-loft, lest they be discovered.

If I came to your business and looked at your financial statements, your monthly Profit and Loss Statement, or your statement of Income and Expenses, I could think of many things I could ask you about how you manage your business . . . all of them pertinent. I could look at your cost of goods sold and your sales figures and determine your operating margin. I could look at your expenses for office space, equipment, insurance costs, employee salaries, direct labor expenses, etc. Every business person uses these reports to manage their businesses, see where they can reduce costs, and determine, if necessary, when and if they need to raise their selling price to generate more operating margin (gross profit), since it is the margin from which all your expenses are paid. Without margin, you may as well sleep late every morning, or even better, go fishing.

The federal government makes this difficult, though, by the way it lumps things together on its audited statements for its own agencies.

What has precipitated this is a John Stossel report, and a Washington Post article on The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation . . . a very small independent government agency that was established by an act of Congress in 1992, according to 20 USC CHAPTER 67 Sec. 5701, to:

. . . encourage and support research, study, and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind.                                         

That sounds noble enough, doesn't it?

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation (The Foundation) was initially funded by the sales of specially minted coins sold by the U.S. Mint at a premium to the public. The margin on the sales of these coins provided an endowment on which The Foundation was to operate, though the law allows for it to receive appropriations as well, which it does. Endowments soon run out when they have to be deposited with the US Treasury and invested in government bonds, which are as safe as any investment, though Moody's downgraded the value of government bonds. But they pay almost nothing in interest, thanks to the Federal Reserve's monetary policy and artificially low interest rates, because the government cannot afford for interest rates to rise, else they would default on bond payments. Just think of how a two-point increase in interest rates would consume the government's income simply to pay interest on the debt. Hold your breath, because it's coming, and most likely soon.

The Foundation's board members serve with no pay, but of course, are justly entitled to reimbursement for expenses of travel, meals, and lodging when engaging in official business. My friend, Jim Herring, whom I have long admired, is currently serving as The Foundation's Vice-Chair.

The Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Budget Office documents, and the audited financial reports of The Foundation itself are available for everyone to read, though they are more than a little cryptic. They contain no Statement of Income and Expenses as recognizable by any business person. Their statement contains such line items as “Program Obligations.” It turns out that it is nearly impossible to separate the program obligations of the awards it makes to prize-winners from the program obligations of The Foundation's administrative expenses and salaries.

It is also difficult to get information online to determine how many employees The Foundation actually has. I suppose I could pick up the phone and call Jim Herring, but I would rather save my phone call to him for a more pleasant reason. He will see this blog post soon enough and may decide to call me, or respond, and if so I will welcome even his excoriation. I'm sure that Jim Herring thinks this program is a valuable service to the American people. If it is, I wish they would make it easier for me to determine just how effective it is, as any charitable organization would and should do, in determining how much money The Foundation spends on itself versus how much money it puts into the hands of those it deems worthy of receiving the awards it provides as its reason for existence. It's not an easy determination.

One watchdog web site says that The Foundation has two employees: an Executive Director with a salary of $106,000 per year, and an executive administrator (they used to call these clerks and assistants), who makes $31,000 per year. Another watchdog website says The Foundation has nine employees with an average salary of $68,903 per person per year. The law itself calls for the executive director to be a GSA Executive Level V Employee, which carries a salary range of up to $145,500, and for other employees to be no greater than Civil Service Pay Grade GS-15, which has a range of $99,628 - $129,517. I wish I had a nice GS-15 level job in a small office of a small, obscure government agency, along with its very generous sick leave, vacation, health and retirement benefits.

Since there is no line item on their audited statement I have been able to identify as employee salaries or expenses, I have no real way of knowing. All I can find is that there is about a $600,000+ balance on deposit in the U.S. Treasury that belongs to The Foundation, and some $25,000 of corporate and private contributions, and a program expense of $450,000, of which nearly all was appropriated by Congress through an earmark initiated by my own Mississippi Senior Senator, Thad Cochran.

One has to sort through thousands of web pages that are describing how to apply for The Foundation's grants and awards, since nearly every college, university, and school district has a page dedicated to how to go about getting one . . . but they don't come so easy. In fact, I think The Foundation could be well endowed if they could get a couple of dollars from every web page that is directed towards informing people about how to apply for the grants and awards.

The program seems to have paid out about $195,000 of awards to 12 different recipients in 2012. This may be completely untrue, and if it is, I apologize, and someone please direct me to a single page that shows the award winners and the amounts they received. The Foundation's own web site does not do this on a single page. Funny, its audited statement lists the lease payment of a copier for about $2,100 annually, but does not have a line item for Awards Presented. It also lists the terms of a lease of the office property it maintains in Auburn, NY, but does not say how much the lease is. I'm sure all this information is available, but it's nearly impossible to find on-line due to the tens of thousands of people telling you how to apply for and obtain these awards.

So, I'll resort to my own business management skills with what limited cryptic information I've been able to glean, little of which came from the audited statement of operations. Out of an annual appropriated budget of about $450,000, awards seem to have been made in the amount of $195,000. If this was done from the appropriated budget, then it's likely that the two employee scenario is correct, since the nine employee scenario would have put them into the use of their endowment principal just to cover day to day operations, which, hopefully, no one would be so foolish as to do. But, the awards presented could have come out of the endowment on deposit with the treasury, and all of the appropriations used to cover the operating expenses; I'm just too weary to search any further. But, if that's the case, then it costs nearly two dollars for every dollar awarded. Hmmmm! I must be missing something. I sure hope so.

By the way, one of the awards is used to send a winning high-school class on a trip to Disney World. I'm prudently declining to comment here on what the benefits to mankind may be for this award.

Here's the case in a nutshell ---

The President wants to kill The Foundation, mainly, no doubt, because all liberals want to kill any program that may honor the evil Christopher Columbus in any way. The world would, of course, be a better place if only the malevolently incompetent Columbus had not sailed West looking for the East. North and South America would still be undiscovered and uninhabited by anything but its tribal, indigenous, stone age people. Russian satellites would no doubt have never been able to see the continental landmasses that Columbus opened for European exploration . . . which angrily reminds me of the media reference to the landmass between Mobile and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.. The world would still be flat were it not for Columbus. But that's not the only reason the President wants to kill The Foundation; he says it's redundant and serves no real purpose.

As you might suspect, the President and I don't agree on much. Remarkably, we may have found a tiny bit of common ground. And there's bipartisan support in Congress to get rid of The Foundation. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has a list of independent and redundant Federal Agencies he'd like to see abolished. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is on that list.

The stopper? It seems that Sen. Thad Cochran still likes this program. Maybe he likes it because Jim Herring is the Vice-Chair and perhaps slated to become the chair. It's not like this is a personally valuable thing to anyone who donates their really-personally-valuable-finite time to serve since neither board appointments, the vice-chairmanship, nor even the chair pays any money.

Maybe Jim Herring and Thad Cochran know something I don't, which is not only possible, but likely. If they do, I wish they'd tell me. As of this moment, I see no purpose for the continuation of this program. One single request from the combined personal prestige of Jim Herring, Tom Coburn, and Thad Cochran could have some private foundation funding all the apparent $195,000 of award money annually, rather than continuing an inefficient government program that delivers seemingly less than half of what it costs to its stated, lawfully-delegated primary mission.

I admit that Foundation is more efficient than the UN's World Health Organization and UNICEF, but emulating the UN's efficiency is not a good model for any business or government agency.

I'll make this promise . . . if I get a letter, even one that excoriates me for not knowing what the hell I am talking about, since I have already admitted it due to the difficulty in obtaining what should be relatively easy obtainable information on such a small program, I will publish it here.

I reiterate: I have the highest respect and admiration for Jim Herring. You can read why on another page on this same web site. I suspect I'll write more about this later, but I'm exhausted now from spending so much time finding mountains of mostly irrelevant information, and very little knowledge.

This is another promise: I am a conservative, first, and a Republican, second. Right now, I'm in a very anti-incumbent mood because we, as Americans, must be willing to limit the terms of our own congressional representatives if we're going to get true reform in Washington. I know . . . I've already been castigated because of this attitude, since Thad Cochran brings home the bacon due to his advanced seniority and his willingness to use earmarks to make sure Mississippi gets more than its fair share of the Federal dole. But I am done with this thinking. I didn't vote for my own Republican Congressman in the past election because of this anti-incumbent mindset I am carrying around . . . I simply did not mark the ballot since I also couldn't vote for his Democratic opponent. We are committing suicide with all this Congressional experience and seniority, since most of the seniority is the collection of the experience required to get re-elected. Getting wealthy while in congress is a curious and mysterious thing to me. Isn't it curious to you, too?

It is a faulty bit of logic to want other state's citizens to send their representatives home when we want to re-elect our own because of the benefits of their seniority resulting in the steady influx of Federal fiat dollars. Someone has to draw the line somewhere. I have.

By the way, here is one more huge caveat: I am not a journalist, nor an investigative reporter. There are no facts here, since nothing I found was reliable enough to be considered fact, and for every pseudo-fact I found there was a faux-fact countermanding it. I have taken what I wanted, tried to honestly interpret it for my own purposes, and gleefully offer them here, refutable and fractional though they may be, and most likely are. This is an editorial, not a scholarly paper. My opinion is mine. Feel free to offer me any evidence that may persuade me to change it. I'd rather be writing something funny, stretching the truth to the point of prevarication, but I rather think the truth is not too far away. If we can't de-fund and abolish a government program as miniscule as this, how will we ever dismantle something larger? Where is the water hot enough that will shrink the pants I bought that are a bit too big? Or should I just eat more to grow to fit them? I always seem to grow to fill the pants, regardless. Governments and I are alike in this.

Of course, if you asked any of The Foundation's newly named award winners about the importance of The Foundation, and asked them before they had received their check or trip to Disney World, or even after had they received their check but before it cleared the bank, they would raise their hands and swear to the relevance of The Foundation's positive benefit to all of mankind. I suppose I would, too.

 Gee whiz!! Did I just indict myself??? Mercy me.

2/19/13 Horaces in the Arts

The first Horace that comes to mind is Quentus Horatius Flaccus (65-27BC), known to the world, like Madonna, Cher, Elvis, Sting, Prince, and Bono, simply by a single name. Horace was a great Roman poet who lived during the time of Emperor Augustus (Octavian). Some say that Horace produced the only poetry worth reading during the entire Roman era. That may be an overstatement, but some swear by it. It is likely that there were other poets producing some great poetry during the thousand year span of the Roman Republic/Empire, but Horace takes his place at the top of the heap. He may have been a singer, too, though we have no evidence of that, since he lived quite a bit before there was a means to record it. I'd like to have a good CD of Horace reciting or singing his own poetry, but I'm afraid that the recent EBay ad I saw was a fake. You gotta watch what you buy on Ebay; there's a lot of shenanigans out there.

Thinking about single name monikers for famous people: this is nothing new. Remember Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ovid, Diogenes, Virgil, Homer, Agamemnon, Paris, Hector, Pliny (both of them), Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner? They make the modern single-namers seem like copycats. However it works, being so famous that you are identified by a single name is good indication that your career took a good turn. I suppose, forever, when the single name Horace is mentioned, Quentus Horatius Flaccus will come to mind, at least to mind of all those who know who Horace is. Schools have shied away from classical education, so it is entirely possible that no one will remember who he is except for historians and the few remaining classical educators. As for me, I know the old Horace.

Then, there is Horace Trahan (http//:www.horacetrahan.com), slightly less well known than our Roman Horace, but capable of still directing his own destiny, having much more in front of him than behind him. The native of Ossun, Louisiana, is the real thing, for all of you who insist the on having the genuine article of artistic expression infused with local culture. On his new CD, ALL THE WAY, you can almost smell the crawfish on his breath coming through the speakers.

Speaking of speakers, I went down to my studio this morning and inserted Horace's ALL THE WAY CD, jacked up the volume, and had him blasting through the Mackie HR824's. I listened once through the Mackies, then slipped on a pair of Sennheiser HD280 headphones and listened again, with the Mackies still up so I could feel the beat. It is a good thing when I want to listen to a CD twice.

I came about this CD by my close friend, Steve McCartney, who is the director of the Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Library. Steve, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, and a Rajin' Cajun graduate of The University of Louisiana/Lafayette, is Horace's cousin. Steve kindly hand delivered this CD to me a couple of months ago and I have been neglectful in listening to it, but I don't listen to the music of many others, so it has taken me this long to have the time to sit down and listen closely to someone else's music. Thanks, Steve, for bringing this to me. I've heard two Horace Trahan CD's so far, and I liked them both. The first CD Steve gave me is not listed on Horace's website, so if you want one, stick with ALL THE WAY.

Ossun, Louisiana, is in Lafayette Parish. That is about as Acadiana as you can get. I have been over nearly every pig trail in Louisiana, having lived there and traveled for five years from 1986 through 1990. I have been all over Lafayette parish, from Lafayette, itself, to Scott, Cankton, Duson, Mire, Broussard . . . but, somehow, I missed the unincorporated town of Ossun. I looked it up on the map, and sure enough, I've been right through it as I passed from Scott, Louisiana, and up LA 93 to Sunset, and from there to Opelousas. Folks, this is Cajun country, and I've been through every foot of it. I can name nearly all of the towns, many of them off the beaten path for the Cajun Country touristas - - When you've been to St. Martinville, Erath, Eunice, Centerville, Ville Platte, and Abbeville, you've made the rounds. One of the best friends I've ever had in my life lives in New Iberia. The Cajun people are a gracious people, and have always been extremely gracious to me . . . God continue to bless them all.

So, Horace Trahan is not performing Cajun/Zydeco music from a studied, intellectual standpoint (Zydeco is how I'd label him). . . it is who he is. My favorite picks out of the 15 songs on the CD, which is a lot of music for the money nowadays, are GETCHA SOME, THE SKY IS THE LIMIT, GET THE PARTY STARTED, KEEP YOUR HEAD UP, TIME TO LET IT GO, ALL THE WAY, and SCHOOL IS COOL. The longest song is THE SKY IS THE LIMIT (3:59), so it seems that Horace had it in mind to make this recording for airplay, since most radio stations refuse to play anything over 4 minutes. Keeping songs under 4 minutes is a talent I completely lack.

The feel of the recording and production is sort of Techno-Funk meets Zydeco. Some of the production values exceed what I prefer in an album, but I think Horace was going for the dance record, and this is a matter of taste . . . purely subjective. The music I like is so alternative, no one listens to it but me and a couple of others, so I am not the best judge. I could have used a bit less compression and air-thumping bass drum, and the distracting loud cymbal crashes panned hard left, then hard right, then hard left. I don't think this is even clever use of knobs on a mixing console . . . to me, it just distracts from the essence of the music. The back of the CD proclaims that Grammy Award winning Ivan Klisanin recorded, mixed, and mastered the record, and it is perfectly recorded, mixed, and mastered to be a commercially viable recording/club DJ record. I've never won an award for anything, much less a Grammy, so be careful before you accept any of my ideas about how someone else's music should sound. I just know what I like, and I do not like the overall sound of the recording . . . it is too sterile for such an organic music. Keep in mind that I gauge all Zydeco music by the standard which got me started to liking Zydeco . . . the great Wayne Toups. Organic is too mild a word to apply to Wayne Toups. Wayne is as sweaty as a young Tina Turner. Some folks like this . . . others don't.

The music, however, is a completely different thing from the recording's production values. THE SKY IS THE LIMIT is sort of like Zydeco meets The Band. This is a good combination. Anything that suggests Levon Helm without intentionally trying to suggest Levon Helm is a remarkable achievement. I don't know what was in Horace's mind when he wrote and performed this song, nor will I try to be so clairvoyant. Somewhere along the line, though, I think he absorbed some of The Band.

The song KEEP YOUR HEAD UP was sort of like Zydeco meets Dire Straits, which is another good combination. As before, anything that suggests Mark Knopfler without trying to intentionally do so is very desirable; at least I find it so.

I really liked the song TIME TO LET IT GO. The credits list Chantelle Trahan as background vocals. I don't know if this is Horace's wife, daughter, sister, cousin, or what, but when it's time to sing, Ms. Trahan, let it fly!! I don't know what the production intent is here, but before the song was over, I wished to hear her less subdued.

I REALLY liked the discordant sounds Horace pushed from his accordion on the song DON'T STOP THE MUZIK. It is a brave thing to intentionally make discordant sounds. The astute musician knows that the resolution that follows the discord is a very powerful thing. Horace made great use of that. I think the “DJ” referred to in the lyrics was a club DJ, since this song had an overall feel of club music produced for a dance crowd. I think, perhaps, this is the audience Horace is pursuing. If that is the case, then he is getting the sound he wants and making his brand of Zydeco accessible to a larger market than his Acadiana.

The song ALL THE WAY grabbed me, I think, particularly, because I could hear the buttons and valves working on the accordion. I could hear the push of the buttons and “fop” of the valves. I like to be that close to the music. Most recording engineers and producers detest that sort of organic sound, and I detest their detestation and their professional desire for musical sterility. If you want sterile food, go to a McDonald's. If you want something that tastes as organically delicious as it is, then try some garfish balls at the Pig Stand in Ville Platte. The former is predictable. The latter? It may be a big roll of the dice, but you'll either roll a seven or crap out . . . you most likely won't roll a benign six. I'll take the garfish balls covered in a cayenne pepper sauce and most likely roll a seven; but I'm willing to risk crapping out for the chance at the experience of the sublime.

The song SCHOOL IS COOL was a welcome surprise. The voices of children are always a joy to hear.

I'd like for my own son, Canaan Sharp, to meet Canaan Trahan, one of the background vocalists. Canaan has never met another Canaan. Maybe these two can shake hands one day...besides, my own Canaan is a native Louisianian, born in Baton Rouge in 1989 when we had the pleasure of living there. I always tell folks, and it's the truth, that if circumstances had been a bit different and we had stayed just one more year in Louisiana, we never would have returned to Mississippi. I never met a more gracious, joyful, and hospitable people than Louisianians, particularly those west of New Orleans along and about thirty miles either side of interstate 10. God bless them all.

I enjoyed the work of the saxophonist and flautist on the record, particularly the flute working with the accordion on the title cut ALL THE WAY. The guitar player is a journeyman guitarist, flawlessly executing every guitar solo. While I enjoyed his flawless execution, I kept waiting to hear a performance. I am still waiting.

I suspect a live version of this recording would have a completely different feel and sound which I would like better. Then again, I LIKE LIVE MUSIC. This was real music, but somehow passionate performance was victimized by flawless studio production. It's not easy to get a passionate, reckless, reach for the stars performance in a studio recording, but then it's never easy to reach for the stars and successfully grab them. Some folks do. If they miss while reaching, though, it's OK, since it's the reaching I'm looking for, and the occasional touching of a star even if we can't grab hold of it.

Horace, if you read this, keep on doing what you do. I hear the energy of a Wayne Toups in your original music, and I respect it and admire your writing. The production polish takes away the music's raw edge, and Louisianians, just like Mississippians, will never be noted for their polish. It is the raw edge people are looking for, but it's the raw edge that studio recordings can take away, since the prevailing wisdom is to make everything perfect. Sometimes our perfection is found in our flawed humanity. You can help folks find that raw edge that reveals our humanity. A producer that will not accept anything less than your gut wrenching, sweat dripping performance, pushed almost to the point of failure will help. Roll the dice, and enjoy some garfish balls that just might later make you sorry you forgot to pack some Rolaids.

By the way, I liked this enough to listen to it TWICE. It will go in my truck for several more listens.

ALL THE WAY/Horace Trahan/no record label listed, but it is available through iTunes and directly from Horace's website linked above.

It WILL make you want to get up and dance and shake your butt a bit! That doesn't happen to me too often.

2/17/13 AUDIO BLOG  Listen HERE

2/17/13 The World's Gone Topsy-Turvy

When the Chicago Police Chief accuses the gun lobby of corruption because of record gun violence in a city where law abiding citizens cannot own firearms, only criminals . . .

When a Chicago official accuses anyone else of corruption . . .

When an Illinois Congressman and heir to the already tainted throne of a civil rights icon gets charged with several counts of corruption, along with his wife . . .

When a mother attends a school assembly program, starts dancing with the students, then strips to the waist in Colorado, and this makes national news . . .

When a sitting Secretary of State has the temerity in Congressional hearings to use the phrase ”What difference does it make?” when answering a question about ANY aspect of the murder of a US Ambassador by foreign attackers on US soil . . .

When our Affordable Care Act seems increasingly unaffordable for those whom it was designed to serve, for the governments that implement it, for the employers that will pay for much of it, and for the health care providers providing the services . . .

When the Department of Homeland Security, The Social Security Administration, the IRS, and several other government agencies start purchasing billions of rounds of .40 calibre S&W Hollow Point Bullets that the military cannot legally use . . .

When the State of Missouri debates a bill in their House of Representatives that has language that will require citizens to disclose to administrators in their children's schools whether they have a firearm in their home . . .

When politicians who obviously know nothing about firearms begin to talk about firearms after they have been instructed by their aides who also obviously know nothing about firearms . . .

When illegal immigrants can no longer be referred to as illegal, but undocumented . . .

When food stamps and other social programs designed to help Americans are extended to those who are in this country illegally . . .

When Medicaid recipients have to and are encouraged to tie up resources in hospital emergency rooms for routine medical care because they can't get in to see primary care physicians because there isn't one in their area, or there is one but they don't take Medicaid . . .

When our government can target and kill American citizens . . .

When our government can target and kill American citizens by remote control using trained twenty-somethings who are doing the equivalent of playing a video game . . .

When our government, under the National Defense Authorization Act can detain American Citizens indefinitely, suspending Habeas Corpus . . .

When our government, under the Patriot Act, can spy on Americans . . .

When our government acts to suspend, limit, or deny any American their rights under the our constitutional Bill of Rights . . .

When the government attitude becomes one that it is the GOVERNMENT that grants the citizens those rights through the constitution and not that the rights belong to the people and the constitution places restrictions on the government . . .

When Senators, Congressmen, and government regulators are routinely censured, indicted, and prosecuted . . .

When the Justice Department willfully chooses not to enforce the laws of the land . . .

When the US Government refuses to secure our own borders . . .

When we have a President who wants to improve America's standing in the the eyes for the world community who shifts from military protection of American interests to the protection of American interest by remote-controlled assassination, and thinks this helps his original intent . . .

When the President delegates to himself the authority to assassinate . . .

When an increasing number of drones circle our neighborhoods keeping watch on us . . .

When our government declares US Veterans to be domestic terrorist threats . . .

When a multiple murder by an Islamic psychiatrist occurs on a US military installation, whose own papers declare it to be a terrorist attack, but the government denies this . . .

When our schools don't teach our children to read, perform simple arithmetic, drops algebra and advanced mathematics from the school curriculum in order to make themselves look better through better test scores . . .

When schools talk of dropping cursive writing and penmanship . . .

When every position advanced by teachers unions is one that benefits teachers but offers nothing that benefits the children they teach . . .

When poor educational results is continually linked to a lack of funding . . .

When states offer illegal immigrants the same college tuition it offers its residents . . .

When ANY state or the Federal government offers illegal immigrants the same benefit it offers its citizens, other than due process under the law . . .

When the government declares that enemy combatants are entitled to the same protections under the law that are the rights of US Citizens, and are not subject to military tribunals . . .

When the Government and the Egyptian people think the “Arab Spring” is a good thing, and Moresi is an improvement over Mubarak . . .

When the government requires me to show a photo ID to obtain medical care, purchase a firearm, fly on an airplane, enter and exit the country, purchase alcohol, buy a pack of cigarettes, open a bank account, buy common over the counter sinus medications, and pick up prescription medications, but refuses to require me to show one to vote . . .

When the same congressional representatives that voted for the ACA have their own, better medical insurance that they will be able to keep . . .

When the same congressional representatives who will be required to cut benefits in Social Security simply because the nation will no longer be able to afford it have, and will continue to have a far better pension program, and are not even required to participate in Social Security . . .

When someone stops a school bus, kills the driver and kidnaps a child to hold as a hostage . . .

When a mixed-up former country music star was held in a mental-health facility, released while still suicidal, commits suicide, and it is covered by the national news media for a solid 24 hours . . .

When a suicidal person is released from a mental health care facility while still suicidal, in all likelihood because they had no insurance or their insurance benefits had been exhausted (I do not know this but suspect it and am very curious to know) . . .

When any nation with nuclear weapons thinks any other nation should NOT have them, too . . .

When any nation with nuclear weapons thinks Iran and North Korea SHOULD have nuclear weapons and will stand by and permit it . . .

When the thinking becomes that with the advent of smart weapons and drones, warfare has become more surgical, thus, somehow, more humane . . .

When collateral damage, when kept to a minimum, is acceptable (unless you were the collateral) . . .

When the idea advanced by William Tecumseh Sherman that, “War is cruelty, and the crueler it is the sooner it will be over,” is thought to be archaic and old-fashioned . . .

When a nation in the process of reducing its Navy thinks this a wise means of maintaining world influence and protecting its shores . . .

When the people believe that a cell phone and dialing will 911 keep them safe . . .

When the people are willing to trade every right they have for a safety that exists only in the pages of academic treatises no one but academics read . . .

When the people are trained to think, and then actually begin to think that those same academic treatises are a better replacement than their own brains . . .

When the people think that criminals will read those academic treatises and then be enlightened . . .

When the people think that outlawing firearms will make them any more difficult to obtain than one can currently get crack or crank . . .

When the people think that more laws regulating firearms will make the world safer when criminals already violate any and all of several laws when they use or even possess a firearm . . .

When a murder or aggravated assault involving what is known as a “hate crime” is any more illegal than a murder or aggravated assault . . .

When the equivalent of Animal House's Dean Wormer's “Double Secret Probation” is thought to be useful and taken seriously by otherwise serious people . . .

When a government throws up every sort of roadblock to the continual development of its own energy resources, maintaining a dependance on energy imports . . .

When the government discourages independent citizens and trusts only those who rely on it for their daily bread, their health care, and their education . . .

When the government continually wants more of your tax money and continues to tell you that it will spend your money wisely, and for your own benefit . . .

When anyone thinks that the almost prophetic words of Kipling, “East is East and West is West, and ne'er the twain shall meet,” is less relevant than it was when he uttered them . . .

Well, “Topsy-Turvy” seems just a bit inadequate, doesn't it?

And Secretary Clinton, you could just see in 2016 what difference it makes. Best regards as you and your husband enjoy your retirement with the millions and millions of dollars you have made while is a lifetime of PUBLIC SERVICE.

Oops? I left that one out.

When “Public Servants” come out of office as multimillionaires . . .

That one certainly makes “Topsy-Turvy” seem woefully inadequate. What would the term be? If you think of one, please let me know. Lunacy is the only one I can seem to think of at the moment.

2/16/13 Audio Blog  Click HERE

2/16/13 Educational System Failures

Sure, I have friends who are teachers. My daughter is a teacher. But there's a few things that need exploring that's going to ruffle the feathers of a few teachers, whether they're relatives, friends, or both, or neither.

The President has proposed that children start attending school when they are four years old. It wasn't too long ago that they made children start attending school when they were five years old. Then, there is the Headstart Program which is available for economically disadvantaged children who are as young as three years old, but the recent release of studies conducted by The Department of Health and Human Services indicate that any advantage Headstart children have received have all but vanished by the time the child reaches the third grade. Though, to be fair, children who attended Headstart do have a higher graduation rate.

Here's what needs stating that no one seems to have stated yet: Since Kindergarten is a requirement now, our educational system must admit that it now takes 13 years to teach children what they used to teach in 12. Now we seem to be in the midst of a similar quandary wherein it's an admission that it will now take 14 years to teach them what we used to teach them in 13, and formerly taught them in 12. I find this puzzling. Am I the only one? I hope not.

Now, we even have California dropping algebra from its core curriculum for 8th graders. If 8th graders can't handle 8th grade Algebra, how is it that they will be better at it when they are older? Is it that they are just expected to be magically better at it when they are in high school? Or perhaps, in order to keep the grades looking good, the schools just drop algebra altogether?

Every state has failing schools and failing school districts. I am from Mississippi and we certainly have our share. In my own home county our school district is always just a single step away from being taken over directly by the state for its continually failing scores. We spend less per student than any other state in the nation. By every standard by which schools are measured, Mississippi is dead last among the 50 states . . . yet what you read here is mostly the product of a public school education in Mississippi. I can write. I can spell. I can use correct grammar. Though, I must add, English itself offers some major difficulties here, particularly for those who learn it as a second language; but I cannot think of another language that is so expressive or has so many words available to it. I'm also not saying that I learned nothing in college, but I am saying that whatever critical thinking skills and writing skills you witness here were acquired in public education, and then mostly refined because as I got older, I simply had more to say. It's hard to write when you have nothing to say beyond, “it's like . . . like, for real . . . you know what I'm saying.” No I don't know what you are saying, because you aren't saying anything.

That we have graduates of American public schools that are unable to balance a checkbook, or even understand the need to, is shameful. Not only do our students need algebra, they need basic business math. Math was never easy for me, but I learned it, and I use math nearly every day in my business. The formula I=KWx1000/ExPF is one that I use regularly. You can look up Ohm's Law and the meaning of the symbols for the variables if you're of a mind. If you already know about it, good. If you don't and are like me, you'll be looking it up. One NEVER has all the absolute values for the variables . . . I have to use simple algebra to solve the equation for the thing I don't know. This is SIMPLE algebra, not rocket science, though you can't be a rocket scientist if you can't do simple algebra. It does not require algebra to balance a checkbook, but it does require mathematics, and I daresay that are some rocket scientists who can solve a differential equation but fare about as well as some mathematical illiterates when it comes to balancing their own checkbook. Isn't this shameful? Isn't it shameful when people cannot understand numbers well enough to know what the true cost of their mortgage is?

Not to ramble too much, but to hammer home the point: when will our educational system admit that it is a core failure when it takes 14 years to do what it once did in 12. If this does not produce the desired results, will children be required to go to school at 3 years old? Then 2? Then 1? Will we have prenatal education for our abortable biologic non-human masses? Will the government raise our children from the cradle? Is this what our mothers and fathers want for their children? I swear I believe a return to the locally run, one-room school house would produce better results than some we are seeing today.

Oddly, home schooled children seem to do extremely well in college and on standardized testing. “But they lack the social skills of children who attend school in a formal setting!” cries our school's paid sociologists and school counselors. Hmmmmm! They also lack saggy britches (I know it's BREECHES, but I am from Mississippi and I will spell it like I say it), they mostly lack tattoos, and they mostly don't drop out of school, either. Perhaps it is because their parents are intensely involved in their education. Perhaps it's because their parents make them read books, then write about what they read.

Our schools don't require our children to read enough. We show them movies in schools. We show them other television programs. We allow them to be babysat and hope, beyond hope, that the teacher is able to maintain some type of discipline in their classrooms. We cannot eliminate trouble-making students from the classroom because they have a right to be educated, even though many would not be. We revise the curricula to match the lack of performance of the students so that the schools appear, by reduced measuring standards, to be doing well. We allow teachers to resist any means by which their own performance would be measured.

Please . . . I know about the dedication of teachers. I had many dedicated, devoted teachers at whose hands I suffered . . . and LEARNED. I owe them a tremendous debt which I can never personally repay. But they were paid for their work. Like everyone else, they took a job knowing what the wages were. Once committed, it was up to them to perform the task for which they were being paid. I am the product of the dedication of many teachers and the ones that were the hardest on me are the ones I remember today. They were hard on me because they saw potential and demanded that I perform at the level they knew I was capable of; they wouldn't accept anything less. Sometimes I felt that they were unfair because they did not seem so hard on others. Perhaps their unfairness was actually towards those others in whom they saw less potential. That is unfair for me to say, because a teacher can bestow facts to us that we are required to regurgitate when examination time comes, but a teacher cannot bestow a thirst for knowledge on a student, nor can a teacher teach that we all remain students for the rest of our lives. There are so many things we just have to get on our own, but many of them we acquire with the help and guidance of a good teacher. God bless them.

Teachers Unions?? Since when were school workplaces ever like dangerous steel mills or coal mines that teachers were in danger of their lives and limbs from their working conditions? Nope, that is out. And arguments that schools have become violent places in modern times is right out the window, too, since we all face the same violence every time we venture out into a public place, or even stay in our homes, since home invasions are relatively commonplace nowadays. Nope . . . Teachers unions are all about money, and earning more of it while working less and not having accountability for failures, and lessening the requirements for continuing education and certification. Teachers unions are about getting more for doing less.

And money? There will never be enough of it. The more we spend on education, the more educators need to fulfill their mission. In the world of primary and secondary education, we have been repeatedly told that students are unable to learn in 50 year old school buildings, yet we pay the highest dollar and place the highest value on the post-secondary educations which students receive at those ancient ivy-covered buildings in Ivy League schools. Why? Oh, why? I wonder: does a 50 year old building diminish the learning capacity of a 17 year old, but having studied in a 200 year old building makes an 18 year old smarter? Is there not something wrong with this? If it could be reduced to an algebraic equation, which it can't because there is no way to get the variables to balance, it couldn't be solved because, ultimately, it would require zero as a divisor. Try dropping zero into your spreadsheet formula as a divisor and just see what error messages pop up.

They used to teach this to 8th graders in California, but what will those students be taught now? They will be taught that algebra is not important, simply because it's no longer taught. They will get THIS on their own. What poor signals we are sending to them! And starting them to school at 4 years old won't help, though, starting them to school at 4 years old will do one thing . . . it will completely change the Headstart program. They will simply expand the 3 year old program, and drop back and pick up 2 year olds . . . perhaps even 1 year olds.

It's about the same thing as a modern day Leakey family member on their endless quest for humanoid artifacts in the Great Rift Valley's Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, finding a new jawbone fragment that's a million years older than anything previously known. Rather than admit that everything they told us before was obviously wrong, if this new thing is right, they say, “Just add a million years to everything we told you before.” I don't think it's quite that simple. But what do I know? I only have a brain the retains the knowledge that one cannot divide by zero. I am not a trained anthropologist, nor am I an educator.

Hmmmm! At the end of World War II, when the Soviets and the United States were in a rush to get to the German rocket research facility at Penemunde, to bribe, coerce, and flat-out kidnap scientists, which may have been the only time in the history of the world that so many governments placed such a supreme value on scientists, I find it remarkable that there was not a single sociologist, anthropologist, political scientist or certified educator among their number. They seem to have been all engineers, mathematicians, physicists, and chemists.

Welcome to the new world, new-born child. You will soon be educated by your government before you can even properly use a spoon . . . or a toilet.

Now won't that be a cause for teachers unions to denounce classroom-workplace hazards!!

And please understand . . . The teachers in the CLASSROOM have to deal with the curricula and the directives that come down from offices they never see, from administrators they never meet, as directed by educational consultants who are handsomely paid to do studies that take years to analyze for recommendations, and even longer to implement. As of late, most of those studies seem to indicate that little Johnny should, above all things, be made to feel good about himself.

Little Johnny, you better tighten up. The world is coming at you faster than you think. You'll either be a productive, contributing part of it, or it will pass you by leaving you dependent on the benevolence of an increasingly bankrupt government. Find your spot in the world and cling to it . . . make your own way with the tools you get from your education. Declare it to be so and hang on to it with all the persistence you can muster. Never be dissuaded nor turned aside by failure, because each failure is a lesson.

Johnny, only when you quit is your failure final. It's up to you. The water is out there, but you must drink it. If you're not thirsty, you won't even see the water.

A good teacher feeds us enough salt to make us thirsty. Where do they find it??

2/1/13 CT Scan Results

Some mixed results from a peripheral blood flow cytometry report, some enlarged lymph nodes, and my worry over the darkest, most malignant self-interpretations, which can be the most dangerous kind, resulted in Hemosapien ordering a CT scan with contrast. The results of the scan are back, and it could have been a lot worse. We are always thankful for what we get when we realize that it could have been worse. As it is, it's not-too-shabby. Not-too-shabby is like a breath of spring air and sunshine after two months of rain, influenza-like-illness, and a household of ill-tempered, ill-feeling, illness-suffering women.

We have passed what the CDC refers to as an “influenza-like-illness” around my household since the week after Thanksgiving. Now, we are all on the mend, thankful it was not the real influenza. As bad as whatever this is, the real flu would no doubt be much worse. Dealing with influenza-like-illness had my already compromised immune system in a state of shock, doubtlessly contributing to the enlargement of some lymph nodes, which were the cause for some alarm.

Hemosapien scheduled me for the CT scan early last week. The night before, I opened the bag containing the CT-contrast material I was supposed to drink. I've had it before. It is the most outrageously mislabeled, falsely advertised, “Berry Smoothie”, plaster-of-paris concoction consisting of a suspension of Barium Sulfate formulated, in name only, to approximate a berry flavored smoothie drink. “What is a smoothie, anyway, and what is its relationship to the bottle of Quickrete I hold in my hand?” I asked myself. There was none, I decided as I vigorously shook the bottle, removed the cap, tore off the tamper-evident seal, and proceeded to drink all eight ounces down in a series of the largest swallows I could muster. It took eleven gulps to get it down, and Herculean effort to get it to stay down. I gagged at the taste, thinking I might have preferred the flavor of chalk to the feeble mask of berry, which did not mask or disguise, but had merely insinuated itself into the middle of something that completely overwhelmed it, rendering it more than useless, even counterproductive. I gagged again as I threw the empty bottle in the trash and turned to go out on the front porch lest my gags become more urgent than my ability to suppress them could handle. I broke out into a cold sweat, sat down in a chair, waited until my systems returned to normal, then returned inside.

“One more to go in the morning,” I sighed. It was one of those sighs that my Debbie would find impressive, working its way up from the tips of my toes. I have learned this from her, since I have been the precipitate for so many of those sighs. “Huhhhhhhh!!!!” I sighed again. The next morning, I went through the same ritual rather than having my morning coffee. Barium infused “Berry Smoothie” is not an acceptable substitute for morning coffee. Off to the hospital I drove, the barium suspension setting up in my intestinal tract like the plaster-of-paris it resembled.

I have been through the hospital admission procedures before. This time I got a veteran clerk in admissions who had helped me many times before. She asked for my ID and insurance card. I handed them over, reminded myself that I have to show an ID to receive medical treatment but do not have to show one to vote, remained silent on the issue which caused me to mentally wander off in a fit of self-congratulatory admiration of my superior powers of self-control, when I resurfaced as a patient and asked the veteran clerk to look up my name and not to start a new account, as they so often do. She pulled up an existing account, asked me to confirm my birthday and address (which was plainly visible on the ID I had already handed her, though I did not say this . . . again, I marvel at my self-control), and then she asked me if anything had changed. I told her no.

“What is your social security number?” she asked.

Any hint of my five-seconds ago self-congratulatory self-control just vanished right out the window like dust mites stirred up in a March wind. I was powerless to stop myself at this third provocation. “Aren't you looking at it?” I drolly asked.

“Yes,” she cautiously answered, suspecting, perhaps, that the step she was about to take was a bit higher than her first estimation.

“You just asked me if anything had changed and I said not. My social security number certainly hasn't changed,” I said. She quietly proceeded through the rest of the forms, perhaps afraid to ask any more questions. Then, something unusual happened which has not occurred before. I am not sure whether this next event was caused by some new implementation of the ACA, or whether it being January and a fresh, new insurance year they do this all the time, or whether some recent fraudulent insurance cards furnished by patients caused it, but the clerk called the number on my insurance card and verified it with a clerk from my insurer on the other end. I'm sure they have done this before, but they've never done it with me sitting there. Then the clerk made copies of my ID and my insurance card and the photos of them appeared on the screen. In the future, she wouldn't have to ask for my ID, when she called up my account, she could look at the picture she took of my ID and see that it was me. Somehow, I think that this won't happen. They will ask for my ID and compare it to the ID they already took a picture of. If that is the case, she will actually be comparing IDs. Would she bother to look at the picture and then compare the ID to me, or was the ID itself the only thing she would compare? I decided it would be counterproductive to raise this issue with the clerk at this time, since she was not a hospital policy maker, but swore to myself that I would wear a disguise next time and see if she would be satisfied with the ID comparison versus the comparison of the ID with the real person seated across from her desk. I suppose they don't really care as long as the insurance pays.

As we were seated there waiting for the computer to do whatever it was doing, someone in the ER waiting room was as violently nauseous as I was when I was taking chemo. They just kept on retching, loudly and repeatedly. She remarked, “My goodness, someone is sick out there.” I laughed at my memories of violent nausea, more to myself than out loud, but apparently loud enough for her to be offended by my apparent callousness. She chided me, saying, “Someone else's sickness is not something to laugh at. There's a bug going around that has the ER full of people with violent nausea.”

I bit my tongue, reflected a minute, and decided that she needed the whole story, gently, so as not to chide anyone else who may have seemed callous to her. “I'm sorry. I hope it's only that stomach bug he's got and not a chemotherapy induced nausea,” I said softly. “I was not laughing at him, but at myself and my memories of feeling the exact same violent nausea he seems to be having while I was taking chemo. Maybe it's just the bug that's got him sick and not chemotherapy. I'd trade a cancer and chemotherapy nausea for a stomach virus any day.” I then wished the stomach virus on the nauseated man, hoping that was the extent of his troubles and that he would recover in a day or two. The clerk said not another word, peering intently into her computer screen, slightly red-faced, but otherwise giving no sign of having heard me. I think she was mentally chewing on her foot. I think that because I have chewed on mine many times, feigning interest in something other than the person across from me to whom I made comments that I wish I had not made. Maybe she thinks I am an asshole. She could be right, though she didn't say, playing her cards closer to her vest this time.

She put the hospital ID bracelet on my arm and sent me off to with an escort to Radiology. The escort was a new development. My escort insisted on walking me to the door of the Radiology Department, though I knew exactly where it was. This must be some new policy. I speculated, then wondered about that. Maybe some folks never notice these things. Maybe their memories are focused on things that are more important to them. Maybe they have no memory, or maybe mine is just better than theirs. Maybe it's that my memory seems to be better because I am here, now, experiencing and recording in my memory whatever it is that I am experiencing. I cannot be certain that this process works the same for every human being. The more I speculated, the more I wondered . . . all as I was being escorted the two hundred feet to the door of radiology.

My escort opened the entrance door, the one that had the huge sign on it that said, “Give your admission papers to the clerk at the window and have a seat until called.” On the inside, a huge sign said, “Give your admission papers to the clerk at the window and have a seat until called.” My escort, holding the door open for me, said, “Just give your admission papers to the clerk at the window and have a seat until they call you.”

I could not help myself. “You mean you want me to give my papers to the clerk at the window and have a seat until I am called, just like those two large, impossible to miss signs say?” My escort hung his head and shrugged his shoulders, said nary another word, and walked off to find others in need of an escort. I decided I would give my admission papers to the clerk at the window and have a seat until I was called, but there was no clerk at the window. I just had a seat in the empty waiting room.

A few minutes later, the clerk came in. She opened the window and asked me if I had given her my admission papers yet. “No,” I replied, “You weren't there to receive them.” I got up, walked over and handed her the papers. She gave me a questionnaire to fill out and I returned to my seat.

“Have you ever been here before?” I checked YES. There were lots of other questions, to which I checked YES or NO, leaving many of them unanswered just to see if anyone was going to actually look at it. I think the most relevant question for them, in my case, since I was not likely pregnant, was “Are you allergic or ever had a reaction to IV contrast?” I checked the NO box.

“Why are you here, today?” I thought over this question. Did they not know why I was here? Did Hemosapien not have orders for them, or were they relying on me to tell them what it is that he had ordered? Was this a trap? Was it to see if I was paying attention? I wrote in the blank, “Don't YOU know?” I gave the questionnaire back to the clerk and resumed my seat. A few minutes later, the Radiological Technician came into the waiting room and seeing that I was the only person in there asked, “Mr. Sharp?” I got up and went with him back the CT room.

Computerized Tomography, X-Ray Computed Tomography, Computer Aided Tomography (CAT Scans), and CT scans are all the same thing. Click HERE for a Wikipedia article on CT scans.

CT scans are remarkable diagnostic tools in the hands of radiologists. The cross-sectional X-rays produce clearer 3-D images which reveal dramatically more than traditional 2-D X-rays. One of the drawbacks is that they introduce significantly more radiation exposure to the patient than traditional X-rays, and CT scans are themselves thought to produce cancers in as many as 1% of the patients exposed to them because the increased radiation causes some DNA damage at the cellular level. The benefits versus the risks are always to be considered in any medical procedure, as none of them are without some risk. I had declined a CT scan earlier, but the way I felt and the fact that Hemosapien and Gooday had noted some enlarged lymph nodes made me ready to submit. When Hemosapien suggested it this time, I agreed. Perhaps the radiation damage I avoided was the previous CT scan that I had declined.

The first theories of working CT scans were proposed in the early 1900's, but they did not come into widespread use until the 1970's. They were as expensive then as MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are now. The price of them has come down since the price of the equipment has fallen, mainly due to their widespread use. The more of anything a manufacturer can make, the less its cost is likely to be. This is the nature of manufacturing. The nature of hospitals is that they don't want to have to send you somewhere else for diagnostic services that they can offer themselves. The backlash is that once they buy expensive equipment, they urge their affiliated physicians to make sure that the machine is used enough to pay for itself and to return a profit. This increase in their ability to serve our diagnostic needs, which is substantial, results in an increase in what our insurers have to pay out. It is a never ending cycle, but who is to say that we are not being served?

The Philips CT machine whirred and buzzed, its rotating X-ray tube traveling about 100 RPMs. I know this because I counted them and sort of figured it out in my head. The table on which I lay was raised to the right height as the technician injected the IV contrast into the vein in my left arm. As it traveled around my body, I felt the flush of heat and the metallic taste in my mouth, which is typical. After a minute or two the technician left the room, to insulate himself from the radiation, and a voice as metallic as the taste in my mouth said, “Take a deep breath and hold.” The table carried me through the donut of the CT machine. In a few seconds the metallic voice said, “Breathe.” They did this about three times, then I was allowed to get up and go. High-frequency radiation is funny . . . you can't feel it a bit when you are getting it . . . but if you get too much, all kinds of bad things can happen. We feel the infrared radiation from the sun because it is heat. We sometimes can tell the UV radiation from the sun because it makes our eyes dry out and smart, and our skin starts to turn the slightest pink, though by that time, you are already sunburned. The infrared radiation occurs at frequencies lower than visible light, and UV radiation occurs above it. X-rays and Gamma-Rays occur at frequencies far, far above our ability to sense them in any way, though if we get enough of them, we can tell, later, what their effects have been. I hope that the only evidence they ever see of my CT scans is the pictures the radiologist was able to read.

I left the hospital to their work and I got on with mine, heading to Covington, Tennessee, for a meeting the next morning with some business associates, and from there to Gleason, Tennessee, for another meeting the next day. I was feeling bad, and it was cold, cold, cold. The weather was made colder by my wondering what the radiologist would find. Some new, sinister, malevolent manifestation of the CLL, or worse, an evil cousin. I drove for hours with this on my mind. One can try to force it off one's mind, but it is easier to talk about than it is to do. I don't wish it on you so you can see if you are any better at it than I am. It is easy, when one is left alone with one's own dark thoughts, for them to become darker, and darker. It is easy to throw the dark thought off for a moment, or a minute, or even a day when we are able to get distracted by challenging work, or fun, or mere diversions . . . but in moments of silence, the dark thoughts come back like a midnight raccoon to your garbage can. The house dog barks and roars that the raccoon is out there, but all it can do is bark; were it face to face with the raccoon, it would, hopefully, be simply ignored, not having its courage really threatened; the wizened lap dog knowing better than to approach too close to the sharp raking claws and the rapier teeth of the raccoon. In the meantime, the garbage just gets scattered everywhere, the neighborhood dogs join in the cacophony of barks, and a big mess is left to clean up the next morning. I think that was me the next morning. After I got on with business and was distracted with other things, the dark thoughts did not affect me until my long drive home, then on through the weekend. The longer I waited, though, the better I felt. Soon enough, I was certain that the evils over which I had brooded were phantoms since I had not gotten the call.

“Unremarkable,” I thought of my CT scan. Had it revealed anything really alarming, the radiologist would have alerted Hemosapien. I shot off an e-mail.

Since I have not heard from you, I suppose the results of the CT scan were unremarkable.

There were some other things in the e-mail, but they had everything to do with deer and hog hunting and nothing to do with CLL. I won't trifle you with them here.

I heard back from Hemosapien yesterday, and he sent me a copy of the radiologist's report. It could be worse. It could be much worse. It could be far worse. Actually, it's not too shabby. The radiologist's impression:

Residual enlarged axillary nodes with fatty hilum. Several of the axillary nodes appear smaller in size in patient with CLL. No progressive lymphadenopathy is identified. The spleen remains minimally enlarged with stable left adrenal mass and 2mm nonobstructing right renal calculus.

Let this layman try to interpret what the radiologist said:

  1. Residual enlarged [lymph] nodes. The key word is RESIDUAL. These are left over. They are not new.
  2. Several [lymph] nodes appear smaller. Some of the residual nodes have decreased in size. This is a good thing.
  3. No progressive lymphadenopathy is identified. Nothing about my lymph nodes are worse than they were before.
  4. The spleen remains minimally enlarged. The key word is REMAINS. The enlarged spleen has been around ever since I was diagnosed. It is smaller than it was before chemo, but it still has a minimal enlargement. This could be worse.
  5. Stable left adrenal mass. Uroman knew about this. He said it was a benign growth on my left adrenal gland. He said they would not check it again unless I had some symptomatic reason that it needed to be checked. The radiologist reports that it has not changed. This is good.
  6. 2mm nonobstructing right renal calculus. A kidney stone! I knew it was there. It has been identified more than one way before: a previous CT scan, and an occasional nagging pain that I am all too familiar with. “Persistent” is the word the radiologist used earlier in the report. He's seen this kidney stone before. I've felt it before. Perhaps I should give it a name since I've had it for so long. Hello, Stoney, Jr.

There were a couple of other new things of note that were in his details but not in his impression. Calcification in the wall of the abdominal aorta. I read up on this and opted to eat some Cheerios for breakfast instead of bacon, and take my fish oil capsules loaded with those Omega3 Fatty Acids. If I do this again tomorrow, instead of choosing the bacon, I may be starting a heart-healthy trend. Small fat containing umbilical hernia. I read up on this. I suppose all the coughing I have done since Thanksgiving has contributed to it. Lots of people have these. I have not noticed it and had the radiologist not seen it, I would have no symptom of it. It is new, but it is not something that needs any attention at this time, unless I was referred to a general surgeon who is trying to put two kids through college while paying some hefty alimony, who would, no doubt, immediately recommend it be repaired, as much for his own benefit as for mine.

The net result! I laugh at myself, in wonder and awe, thankful for the opportunity to explore myself and my own journey through the process of CLL, and am THANKFUL that I have the kidney stone. I may change my mind about that later, when it starts on its inevitable journey south, but in the meantime, I am rejoicing.

I never thought I would be able to say that about a kidney stone. I reserve the right to change my mind, later . . . but today, it is welcome . . . provided it stays put.

Hello, Stoney, Jr.

1/18/13 Head Start's Late Surge Comes Too Early

The Head Start program, a product of the Lyndon B. Johnson Great Society, has come under some tight scrutiny recently. Expect this to continue for a while. Head Start's Mission Statement is: Head Start promotes school preparation by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services. Head Start programs are administered locally, mostly by local governments, non-profit groups, and school systems who furnish 20% matching funds in order to get Head Start grants from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is an entity internal to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

There has been some question as to Head Start's effectiveness. Consequently, Congress authorized a study by HHS to determine the impact of Head Start on the outcomes of the economically disadvantaged children it served. A link to the main study's executive summary is shown below.

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/executive_summary_final.pdf

The results of a follow-up study tracking the outcomes of children through the third grade was just released by HHS. Head Start is drawing some criticism for its performance based on the report. A link to this report's executive summary is shown below.

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/third-grade-follow-up-to-the-head-start-impact-study-final-report-executive

While the initial report is not flattering to Head Start's effectiveness, the follow-up report is even less so. That these reports are unfavorable indictments of one of HHS's most visible and long-term programs is certainly a departmental, internal disappointment.

A myriad of articles and editorials are available on-line for one to read at will, citing statistics from the above studies (and many others, since the desire to determine Head Start's effectiveness has been around as long as Head Start), some as harsh as the reports above, others pointing fervently to the few statistics that indicate some benefits of Head Start participation, and others, critical of the reports that instruct us on how to properly interpret them. In other words, there are those who tell us not to take what is contained in the reports at face value, that a proper first-class deconstruction of them is necessary to separate out the desired indications. The above links are not to the reports, themselves, but to their executive summaries, which is the very tool provided by those conducting the study for executives to use to make management decisions. It is odd that some indicate the executive summary, alone, is not suitable for this purpose, since that is its purpose. That those charged with failing to live up to their mission would question the methodology and veracity of a report indicating their ineffectiveness is hardly surprising, is it?

The studies compared Head Start participants with a similar economic circumstance control group that used alternatives, including other care facilities and staying at home in parental care. Little difference between Head Start participants and the control group was found in the main study, and the follow-up study indicates that there is no discernible impact remaining by the third grade. The reports beg the question that if there is no discernible impact for children in Head Start participation over the group that stayed home with their parents, why spend $8 billion a year on it?

We are being encouraged by some to sweep aside the statistics offered by the reports as unreliable, and to make assessments of Head Start based on anecdotal evidence of its immediate impact in the lives of the children it is intended to serve: to consider that the children spend the days in a safe environment, get hot meals served to them that they otherwise might not get, and get medical, dental, and mental health screenings and care, in addition to the intended educational head start. The study finds that there is no significant difference between the Head Start group and the control group in nearly every category that was monitored.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also conducted its own investigation into fraud and abuse within the Head Start system, finding the children were recruited and enrolled from families who did not qualify for Head Start participation. The GAO also found that families were encouraged by Head Start staffers to under-report their income so as to appear to be qualified by keeping their reported incomes below the qualifying level, which is 130% of the Federal Poverty Level for their size family.

Many have called for the complete elimination of Head Start due to its ineffectiveness. The hard part is that once a program is entrenched, it is nearly impossible to kill due to its own internal support mechanisms. No one at HHS wants to admit that one of its flagship programs is ineffective, but ineffective is what its own report indicates.

I'm just glad I'm not the one who has to defend this program from those who would cut off its funding. In the private world, ineffectiveness is curtailed much quicker. Only in the mysterious world of government programs does ineffectiveness get rewarded with continuing funding. In the real world of government programs and funding, these reports will turn out to be crucial for Head Start's continuation, since the best possible argument that can be advanced in its defense is that a lack of funding causes its ineffectiveness. More money would solve everything.

We often hear of “bloated” government programs, yet there is not a single government program head that considers his own program “bloated.”  His is, most likely, significantly underfunded.

Taxpayers are getting no dividend on the money invested, at least, not on any scale that is measurable. Oddly, too, the report's control group consisted of children who either stayed at home or were enrolled in other “care” facilities. Try using the word “care” modified by the word “day” in front of it and see how inflammatory it is with Head Start supporters. The biggest benefit of Head Start to children, though it was not considered in the reports, is likely its ability to effectively point parents to other government programs that will help them. Head Start's medical and dental services are mostly screening services. The actual health care is nearly always provided under Medicaid, since an economically disadvantaged family that qualifies for Head Start will be qualified for it as well, particularly under the programs instituted in most states that ensure Medicaid coverage for children. Perhaps Head Start's parental guidance services consist of telling a parent that their child is ill and needs to see a doctor. If so, the health benefit for the children participating in Head Start over the control group? Insignificant.

I'd hate for my program to be labeled insignificant and ineffective. I regret that theirs is. For one thing, the children who are its very raison d'etre are not served. Nor are the taxpayers. So who IS served? Hmmm! Apparently not Head Start staff and workers, who  all claim to be severely underpaid. Perhaps it's the management. Perhaps it's those to whom they paid so much for all those studies. Maybe it's no one. If it IS no one, then fixing it should be easy. 

We already know it's not the children.

1/17/13 New Treatments for CLL in the Works

After all, this is the CLL Blog. Since I have some worries that bear watching, but am not actively dealing with the disease at this time, I have the time to think and write about other things. I am thankful for that. The Fludarabine/Cyclosphosphamide/Rituximab (FCR) chemotherapy regimen developed at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has been very helpful in allowing me this respite. I am thankful for it as are thousands of others.

The link below is from the CLL Global Research Foundation, headed up by Dr. Michael Keating (you know him as Gooday) at M.D. Anderson. Many promising things are emerging that may replace current treatments in the near future, including targeted gene therapy. These new things are not chemotherapies, but biological treatments that target only the cancer cells. The most promising of these seems to be the Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARS) where a patient's own T-cells are modified to attack the cancer as if they were antibodies produced by our own bodies. In the video below, Dr. Keating also mentions other drugs that are showing much promise and talks about the “bridge” drugs that he sees in the immediate future that will fill the gaps between the targeted gene therapies and traditional chemotherapy.

Watch to learn more:  http://player.vimeo.com/video/56923252?api=1

Keep up the good work, Dr. Keating, and all those in the Leukemia Center at MDA! Thanks to all of you who have devoted your careers and lives to research on finding a cure for this cancer. Don't be slackers, now!!!! :)

1/15/13 Down on His Luck

At dusk yesterday, coming out the door of the Winn-Dixie and into the parking lot at that time of the day when twilight can obscure how we see things, perhaps even what we see, before the time the parking lot lights have grown bright from the energy they consume, their feeble but surreal contribution in the twilight lending an unnatural sheen to what my eyes already perceived as unnatural, I spied what seemed to be a down and out vagrant standing near my pick-up truck. He seemed to be looking in the back of it as if he might be trying to decide if something in there might not really be his, as if he might have mislaid something valuable in the back of my pick-up truck by some accident. I decided not to approach any closer, but hailed him from a safe distance.

“You! Hey, you,” I shouted . . . he looked up at me, eyes empty, face dirty. “Get away from my truck.”

He took a couple of steps back, raised his hands shoulder height, palms out, to show me they were empty and backed up a couple more. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to cause any trouble.” As the words left his lips, he seemed to relax and whatever tension he had had about him eased off and vanished up into the increasing intensity of the lights, which seemed brighter as they also consumed whatever energy he had released. I don't know what was on his mind, but whatever it was, it was gone now.  He looked hungry to me.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.

“I haven't eaten today,” he replied, his eyes focused on the sack. I had some crackers and cans of vienna sausage in it mixed in with other items. I fished around in the bag for a can, whipped one out and approached him, my arm extended. He gently received them from my hand then I dug in the bag for the crackers. He opened the can immediately, drank all the juice in one long pull and started digging a sausage out of the packed can with what looked like a very dirty hand. Or was it the twilight? I couldn't be sure. I set my grocery sack in the back of the truck, opened the tail-gate, opened the box of crackers and pulled out a tube and set them on the gate, seating myself next to them.

“Can  I sit, too?” he asked.

“Sure. Have a seat,” I said, gesturing with a sweep of my hand.

He attacked the sausages with a will, saying, “Man, these are good!”

I looked closely at him as I reflected on this. I wasn't the one who was hungry. I watched him eat. After a minute I said, “Well, anything is good when you're hungry.”

“Ain't that the truth!” was his reply.

I said nothing else as he ate it all up, which he did in short order. He wiped his hands on his dirty jeans, a hole here, and rip there, not unlike what you might see on a brand new pair some teenager paid lots of money for, but these were worn-out the old-fashioned way, not as someone's expensive idea of what a trendy fashion was supposed to be, but by being worn every day for days on end and being washed and rewashed until they were threadbare and thin, as delicate as tissue paper. The winter wind would hardly be reduced in velocity when encountering this thin barrier between it and his skin.

I was trying to determine his age. The more I looked at him, the older he seemed to be. At first, I thought he was in his mid-forties, but now it seemed I had missed it by a generation or two. “What's your name?” I asked him.

“Common Sense,” he said.

“Well there's a name you don't hear every day!” I replied.

“No. There's only one of me. And I used to get around a lot more, but I have fallen on hard times. No one takes me seriously anymore. They say I am old-fashioned.” He sniffed a couple of times and wiped his nose on his sleeve. I'm not sure after witnessing this whether he cleaned his nose or whether the grime on his sleeve transferred back to it, the sleeve being like a dishrag full of the rendered fat from a skillet, unable to possibly absorb any more, just able to move around what was already on it and in the skillet. He didn't seem morose but just stating the facts as they were. There was no self-pity about him, just a slow, patient, persistent-seeming sadness that was observable but only mildly so.

“Want another can of the vienah sausage?” (vine-uh . . . that's how we say it down here.)

“Yes . . . please,” he said, already peering into the bag.

“Help yourself,” I said as he reached into the sack in the deepening twilight, the yellow-glare of the now bright high-pressure sodium parking lot lights revealing the dirty sleeve in stark contrast to its white plastic. He popped the tab of the can, ripped off the top and again, drank the juice in one gulp. The finger sliding into the can to extract a sausage was repeated. This time, he talked as he ate, a bit slower, both the talk and the eating, the first can having taken the edge off his immediate hunger. He ate them as if they were the finest caviar, as if they might have been a sliced piece of a fat, marbled rib-eye, as if they were a not-too-hard fried strip of bacon with a lard biscuit wrapped around it.

“Man, these are good,” he said again as much to himself as to me, looking off into the distance, perhaps recalling better times when luxuries such as this were his to consume when he wanted. It was just a can of vienna sausage. He started talking as he ate. “ Years ago, folks seemed to want me around. I was consulted on all sorts of things . . . but there are so many experts now that I seem to have become redundant.” I was all ears, not knowing what to expect, really. Was his name Common Sense? Or was he portraying himself as common sense, itself? I wasn't sure of his angle, and the eyes, less empty than I had imagined in the twilight, but still shielded in dark shadow by the light from straight above on the pole, seemed to have perked up, showing some of the dots of light we expect to find in things that are alive which may allow more light from inside out than they reflect from the outside, especially when vienna sausage have relieved a hunger that had buffed their surface like a coarse sandpaper dulls the varnish on a table. I thought I might be being played, but I was willing to go along. I didn't have much of an investment here. This might be amusing.

“People used to rely on me,” he continued. “Fathers tried to teach me to their sons . . . to get them to first think of me, at least trying to get them to observe the obvious. Mothers taught their daughters to let me be their first resort. Great men in high places gave deference to the things I would whisper in their ear. But those days are over now. Everyone has advisers and gurus that prevent them from even noticing that I am around. I am no longer wanted, having outlived my usefulness.

“I was once in great demand. Now I just bum around. I still have a few who confide in me, but they seem to be fewer and further in between. So here I am, talking to you, eating your sausages in this parking lot, thinking I should also warn you that there is stuff in the back of your pick-up truck that others might be led to clandestinely appropriate for themselves.”

He finished off the second can, once again, wiping his hands on his pants leg.

“So, tell me. How did you get to become Common Sense?” I asked.

“I am older than I look,” he said, and I already stated that I had misjudged his age since he now appeared to be much older than I had first thought. He continued, “I've been around a very long time. I don't really remember when I was born, but perhaps it was when someone observed that water flowed reliably down hill, or when the first person put two and two together and the abstract concept of math became a working, useful thing in a man's head. That's been a long, long time. I don't really recollect. I suppose I've lost as much of my ability to recall as I seem to have lost in stature among people. I think TV was what finally did me in, since TV renders a man's brain next to useless, unlike reading or even radio.”

“Folks had common sense long before they were able to read,” I observed.

“Sure they did. You don't have to be able to read to have common sense. And there's lots of folks who can't read that can put two and two together. They may not be able to read, but they can count. They'll sure know which end of a bargain is the best one. I'm the one who shows them that. They look to me for guidance. Lots of folks were simply born with me. Others acquired me through experience. A memory is one of the most reliable things about common sense. A man's memory is how he learns not to make the same mistakes over and over again. A man's memory instills what common sense he has that is not instinctive.”

“Many never seem to learn, though,” I said.

“Nope. Many never do.” He shook his head as he said this, sadly now. “I am always there for them, though, but for some reason, my voice has been stifled by the desire people seem to have for instant gratification. This causes them to ignore me altogether, even when I can get a word in loud enough to get them to turn their head, which seems to be less and less often.” The more he talked, the sadder he seemed to be.

“This makes you sad?” I asked.

“Sure does. But my sadness is not over my own plight, though I am a bit threadbare and hungry, but over my inability to help them in any way whatsoever. Whoever got their ear is doing a better job that I seem to be able to do at the moment, but people don't understand that by serving themselves in this manner, they are not serving themselves. I am not here to be served . . . it is service that I offer. But its no longer the service people want. I am as useful now as a VCR repairman. There is no demand.”

“Some of us still want you around. I rely on you,” I said.

“You? The fellow who leaves valuable stuff in the back of his pick-up truck in a grocery store parking lot when you know better?” He gave a big chuckle. I laughed with him. He was right. I had nothing to stand on on this charge. I suppose we all miss it from time to time. I though I knew him, but I can see that we were hardly acquainted.

I don't know if he was what he claimed to be. It is unlikely. Probably just a bum down on his luck, but it was a good story. It was worth the price of two tubes of crackers and four cans of vienna sausage just to get it, since I gave him extra crackers and sausage for the road. I watched him walk off into the darkness at the edge of the parking lot. I had asked him where he was going from here. He told me he wasn't sure, that he had no specific plans other than to continue South to warmer climes for the winter. He said that Florida looked promising, that lots of the older folks down there still knew him and he usually got a decent reception. At least it was warmer.

I had asked him when was the last time he had been to Washington, DC. He replied that he had been run out of town there many years ago. He indicated a return visit there was not in his immediate plans. “I'm trying to help people,” he had said, “There's no work for me in Washington. Too many other advisers, all of them experts. I'm just Common Sense.”

When I got home, I took all the unnecessary stuff out of the back of my truck and secured the rest in my toolbox. Now that we were personally acquainted, I would not want him to think I had neglected him. I thought about all the times I had neglected him in the past. I thought about all the times I was likely to neglect him in the future. I thought about how it might be to have gotten old-fashioned, perceived by a modern world as no longer capable of rendering useful service. I decided that I was not as far from him as I had thought, just a mere wisp away from being in similar circumstances.

“Doubly redundant,” I said.

I thought I heard a laugh. I'm sure I heard a laugh. I whipped my head around and looked in all directions. There was no one there but me. I laughed out loud at myself, but the laughter seemed to have a wide, stereo separation. 

1/12/13 Overwhelmed with Conflicting Statistics

Amid the furor over the Vice-President's indication of executive orders being used to limit constitutional rights, I decided I would write something refuting an article on gun control I read in The Huffington Post. That I would disagree with an article from Huffington is hardly surprising, is it? And many of you are wondering why I would even bother to read The Huffington Post. I think it is important to read what others are thinking, particularly those who don't think like me. I already know what I think. I know what people who think like me think. I want to know what those who don't think like me are thinking. Huffington is a reliable starting place.

I won't even post a link to the Huffington article here, but it quoted some gun statistics which I found a bit dubious. Me finding them a bit dubious and them actually being dubious are two different things. One is perception and the other is fact untainted with perception. The truth can be very hard to get at. I have written before about the great Talleyrand who told us how easy it is to arrange facts for public consumption. In the case of crimes committed with firearms, there are so many statistics out there that you can just keep on searching until you find the ones that suit you, ignoring those that don't. I searched and searched, found what I was looking for, found lots of things I'd rather not have found, and found so many distorted, twisted facts that soon, I was in a bewilderment over the the veracity, or lack thereof, of everything I had read. I spent hours trying to research for a rebuttal, but everything I came across was suspect. I even became suspicious of my own motives since I have an agenda. I am not dispassionate about my 2nd Amendment rights but am not willing to ignore facts that don't support my cause in favor of only those that do, so I will just ignore facts altogether. They are so easily arranged.

The fact is <GRIN>, there are tremendous numbers of statistics available on-line from many, many different sources, including pro-gun sites, anti-gun sites, liberal media outlets, conservative media outlets, The United Nations (UN), The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and hundreds of others. Many of these sites have statistics which are in an uncontrolled flat-spin conflict with each other, some even internally. It seems to me that the facts should make themselves clearer if they want to be taken seriously. I'm sure the facts would do so if they had the power, but they silently stand by and allow miscreants and ruffians to manipulate them for their own purposes. One would think the facts would have more spine than that, but, no, they say nary a word while so many do violence to them. I would serve as their protector, but I don't think people would take me seriously, nor should they. The voice that claims loudest to be in control of the facts is the voice that, in all likelihood, is actually in control of the facts. I'd rather my facts not be controlled by others, but be reliable and consistent. Apparently they have no desire to be so. Perhaps the real facts are really like reliable Buddhists; they have learned to abandon their desire.

The facts quoted by the Huffington article came, apparently, from Wikipedia, which apparently uses facts gleaned from a UN website where they are difficult to extract. Wikipedia made it easy since the extraction of the facts was done by the Wiki author, who may have had an agenda of his own. Oddly, the UN site had facts available for 2011, but one had to go back to 2004 to find the facts that seemed to fit the Huffington article. Facts that were applicable a decade ago are perhaps less than applicable today, unless, of course, they are the facts I happen to be searching for. I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend that Huffington writers use something besides Wikipedia for their facts, and recommend that the facts, themselves, at least consider acquiring, legally, of course, a small-calibre pistol to thwart further violence from being perpetrated on them, though merely having a firearm does not automatically guarantee its successful use for an intended purpose. It can be handy, though, just like any other tool.

The DOJ website has a link to crime statistics that indicate violent crime has dropped dramatically in our nation since 2004, including violent crimes involving firearms. The CDC, on the other hand, seems to point to facts that deaths by firearms are up. They separate out accidents, homicides, and suicides. Some of the other sites I visited didn't bother to do so, leading one to mistakenly think, perhaps, that all the firearms-related deaths were homicides.

I found websites that indicated dramatic drops in violent crimes in Washington, DC, and Chicago, which have occurred since the Supreme court ruled that local laws prohibiting homeowners from keeping firearms in their homes were unconstitutional. (If so, how does New York still get away with this?) I need to do some more research on it, but I don't want to since for every fact I find, I find another which frustrates it, which in turn frustrates me. I am tired of being frustrated with conflicting facts. I want the truth. I'd prefer that the truth line up with my preferences, but the truth, unlike those spineless, casper milke-toast facts, will not do so.

I also encountered articles that indicated that homicides involving firearms (not all crimes involving firearms are homicides) in Chicago, where it is illegal to have a firearm outside your home, were up significantly. Maybe someone failed to notify criminals that possessing firearms and then using them during the commission of a crime is, first, illegal, and then, doubly illegal. I also found several articles about the dramatic rise in violent crime in Australia, including armed robberies and home invasions, that has occurred since Australia disarmed its citizenry. Violent felons will no doubt confirm overwhelmingly that they prefer unarmed victims. This makes so much sense as to need no statistic in its support, though there are some.

About 20 years ago, the US News and World Report had a whole issue dedicated to “Guns in America.” In that issue they had a segment where they interviewed inmates in correctional facilities who had been convicted of using a firearm during the commission of their crime. I remember that 98% of the inmates interviewed said they preferred their victims to be unarmed. 98% is an overwhelming majority. It makes me wonder about that other 2%, though. I still wonder about that 2% to this day. That 2% is a game bunch. They must be in the business they're in (or were formerly in) for the adrenalin rush of the hunt. Apparently, they prefer their victims armed. Folks, let me assure you . . . an encounter with one of those 2% is dangerous business.

Having said that, let me go on to also assure you that being alive is dangerous business. There are many things lobbying for the chance to kill you: accidents, viruses, cancers, cancer treatments, bacterial infections, anti-biotic resistant bacterial infections, arterial blockages, aneurisms, pulmonary embolisms, cigarettes, alcohol, drunk drivers, bad drivers, distracted drivers, recreational drugs, designer drugs, stress, pharmaceutical companies, genetically modified foods, trans-fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, hydrogenated fats, pollutants, heavy metals, international corporations, airlines, asteroids, comets, volcanoes, carbon emissions, solar radiation, nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation, domestic terrorists, foreign terrorists, floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, incompetent medical care, nursing homes, old age, bad restaurants, and, remarkably, even felons. There are more things waiting for the chance to kill you than you can name. We hardly stand a chance of something not killing us. The statistics support it. The facts support it.

I will make up some facts. Here's one . . . The local and state law enforcement officers in Mississippi who say they do not want to be the one who knocks on your door and greets you with the words, “We've come to take your guns,” is 98%. The other 2% is a worrisome lot.

With the Defense Authorization Bill's indefinite detention amendment, The Patriot Act, and other things that place restrictions on our rights as citizens, concerns over restrictions of our 2nd Amendment rights are legitimate. As for me, I have to make an admission that I believe is as true as anything I have ever heard: The 2nd Amendment is the greatest assurance that there will always be a 1st Amendment. If the facts one is seeking are being sought by those who believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees us the right to use firearms to deer hunt, they will find what they're looking for, or invent them if the facts they find are inconvenient.

For those who like to pick and choose when convenient, as we are all wont to do when we are being coy or disingenuous, and will get all school-girlishly giggly when referring to the 2nd Amendment's “well regulated Militia” language, please let me point out that the 1st Amendment says, “Congress shall make no respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Supreme Court has interpreted these to mean something different than what they actually say. Many who don't like how the court interpreted the 2nd  Amendment would not even so much as dream of criticizing how the court has interpreted the 1st Amendment.

A Goose tastes better than a gander, they say . . . I don't like either one. Remarkably, many of those whose livelihood depends on the 1st Amendment and are its greatest proponents are those who would deny us our 2nd Amendment rights. That is a fact. Use it as you will . . . the facts just don't care.

1/11/13 The World Did Not End, Yet.

December 21, 2012, came and went without incident. The world did not end, except for the 153,319.64 people I talked about earlier. It pretty much went right on for the rest of us. Yesterday, my long-time friend, Jake, was among the 153,319.64. Jake's recently diagnosed stage IV cancer got the best of him, as it will some of the others among the 153,319.64.  We will all be counted among their number one day. Yesterday was Jake's day. Don't mourn for Jake . . . mourn for the great loss to his family and loved ones . . . mourn for yourselves. It'll be your day soon enough.

Isn't that a cheerful, rosy thought this rainy Friday morning? Wake up to that as you drink your first cup of coffee and you'll probably hit the back button on your browser pretty quick. Before you do that, though, stop and be glad that you are still here, that you haven't taken your place among the 153,319.64. You could have, you know.

There's a lot of things that will come and go without the world ending. The elections came and went and the world did not end, though many thought it might if things didn't go their way. Notre Dame was literally dismembered, chewed up, and spit out by Alabama, but the world didn't end, though some Fighting Irish fans think it may have. Perhaps they have not recovered, yet. Soon, like all sports fans, they will begin to muse about next year. Maybe next year will be the year. We all have that wellspring of hope that the new year will bring the good fortune we missed out on last year. The new year will bring just what we need. That is our hope and there's no reason to let go of it, yet. We may have to later, but not now. As soon as our despair is over, we can get fully involved with the hoping business.

I recently read an article that indicated some modern Mayan shamans were gearing up for a lawsuit. WHAT??? First, just who are these modern Mayan shamans?? Second, who are they going to sue?? Third, and why?? Somehow, the term modern Mayan shamans does not instill in me much confidence. Are they going to sue persons of European descent? That would only be suitable for the Incas and the Aztecs. Mayan civilization experienced its zenith and demise prior to any Europeans even knowing about any “New World.” The Mayans were in disarray, decline, and death as a civilization in Pre-Columbian times. Can't blame that one on white Europeans. All we can be blamed for is misinterpreting their calendar, or the lack of its continuation. And even if we did, what are the damages?

Perhaps there are newspaper headlines in Southern Mexico and Guatemala that read, “Modern Mayan Shamans Claim Damages Over Calendar Faux-Pas.” Now, I don't wish the modern Mayan shamans any bad luck, or any bad press, but both come when they want to and like a bad house guest, leave only after they've stayed far too long. It's not my fault, and I don't want the expense of having to defend myself from such a dubious claim. It is possible that were I named in such a suit, I would have to go all the way down to Mexico City to defend myself in a Mexican court. Perhaps they will sue in the International Court in The Hague. They would have about as much enforceable jurisdiction as a Federal court in Mexico on a tort case involving US media outlets and citizens.

Many of the people in Southern Mexico, the Yucatan, and Guatemala are of mestizo heritage. That's what we were taught in schools. Now, I think, perhaps, this term has become pejorative and is no longer used. They are now Mexico's indigenous people. Apparently, some of them still practice Mayan shamanism, but have no doubt given up practicing the human sacrifice part, which caused many the forerunner of a mestizo and full-fledged Mayan to breathe a sigh of relief. While Yaqui indians in the Sonora and Chihuahua (and their deserts in the USA) still get to legally collect and ingest peyote, as was their religious custom, I suppose the modern Mayan shamans have been barred from continuing their human sacrifice program. It was a messy, dangerous business, anyway.

Manuel has been employed by us for nearly ten years. He is from the Mexican State of Chiapas. Manuel is a mestizo, he says. His Native American heritage is obvious when you meet him. Manuel is well on the way to becoming a US citizen, and is studying for his citizenship test. We're all crazy about Manuel. He is a good man and likes working for us as much as we like having him work for us . . . in fact, we work together.

I asked Manuel about the Mayan calendar. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “No se.”

I asked him about modern Mayan shamans. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “No se.”

Now, perhaps, many would take his seeming reticence as some sort of indication of a conspiracy . . . those with suspicious natures who think every simple avoidance of a question has a furtive connection to some sort of purposeful evasion. I began to eye Manuel carefully, thinking that he was concealing something from me. The wheel in my mind turned slowly and deliberately.

“Manuel, don't you want be enjoined to this class of Mayan shaman plaintiffs and win big damage awards, thus freeing yourself from the awful burden of having to work for a living?” I asked.

“No,” said Manuel. “Soy de Christo, y todos de las personas del pueblo de mio, tambien.” Of course I already knew this. Manuel is a Christian, and a Protestant to boot, from a very small village in the mountainous part of Chiapas. Early on in the days of the conquistadores his Mayan shamanistic heritge must have been damaged by some European missionary, who at that time was no doubt Roman Catholic, meaning that his people were doubly converted.

Though I can recall the conversation, I cannot recall if Manuel was speaking Spanish or English. In most of our conversations, I speak in my passable Spanish and he speaks in his excellent English. We like to communicate in this manner. I get to practice my Spanish, which occasionally is a source of great amusement for him, and over the last ten years I have taught him much English. We have taught each other, never having any problem with communication. We rapidly switch back and forth from English to Spanish, each occasionally slowing the other down and asking for a repeat.

No tengo la palabra,” I will say to him.

“I don't know that word,” he will say to me. Then, the lesson is on. Him speaking in Spanish and me speaking in English, a reversal of our normal mode of communication, usually ending in guffaws of laughter. Manuel is quick to laugh. We share that. We also share the same God. Neither one of us knows much about Mayan shamans. Manuel may know more than he lets on, and I'm sure he does, but it is not important to him. His reticence is not conspiratorial.

“What day is it according to the Mayan calendar?” I ask him in Spanish.

No se. The Mayans didn't speak Spanish or English. They spoke Mayan. My grandmother and grandfather were familiar with a dialect of the old tongue (idioma viejo), but it was lost in our father's generation,” he says back in English or Spanish, I can't be certain which. “I know that today is the eleventh day of January, 2013. That is all I know.”

“Don't you know anything about the Mayan calendar?” I ask him, thinking now that I know more about it than he does, since I have read about it on the internet, and what I read has to be true since it is on the internet.

“I know they had one,” says Manuel, “But it was of no significance to me or my family. Hoy, el dia es Viernes, once de Enero. Here and in Chiapas, it is Friday, the eleventh of January. It is payday. Where is my check?”

I look through the envelopes in my hand, find his, and hand him his check. He earned this money the old-fashioned way; he worked for it. He tuned to climb back up in the bucket truck. He is an excellent lineman, having learned valuable skills working for us that will serve him wherever he goes, if he ever chooses to go. We hope he chooses to stay. He has done so for the last ten years. I expect he knows more about power-line work than Mayan calendars, which is, perhaps, a far more profitable think to know about, unless this lawsuit thing proceeds. Even if it did, I expect a Mayan, Mayan shaman, and Mexican attorneys will just about starve to death before anyone actually collects a single cent of any award from a superfluous lawsuit.

Maybe they had best learn some valuable, marketable skills, like Manuel.

1/11/13 How Far Do Nuts Fall from the Tree?

Apparently, not too far.

We all knew Canaan, my 23 year old son, was talented . . . we just had yet to discover what those talents were. Charm, wit, affability, unfailingly loyal, an easy graceful manner – it was easy to discern these, but, arguably, they aren't really talents, I suppose; they are mannerisms . . . gifts, but mannerisms.

But now something has been revealed which had heretofore been occluded by those very things mentioned above. He published this story on FaceBook the other day. It is worthy of publishing here. His FaceBook post was unedited. Here, his story is in the hands of a (somewhat) capable editor. The story's edited form is published below.

          Kitty Kitty

©2013 Canaan Christopher Sharp

I am working at a generator plant in Greenwood, Mississippi, this week, as I often work in different locations. One of the joys I have working at this said plant is a cat simply known as "Kitty Kitty". Kitty Kitty is extremely friendly and easy to get along with. I pet him often when he comes to visit me in my tiny portion of the vast plant. He comes to say, "Hey!" about 2 or 3 times a day. He has a trick where he stands on his back legs so I can reach his head to pet him (that just how nice this cat is).

Well, that's all dandy, but I'm somewhat allergic to cats. Usually my eyes will become engulfed in flames if I pet them (exaggeration) but my eyes will burn, water and itch intensely. For some reason today they didn't burn, making me think Kitty Kitty was a miracle cat.

I got off work and chilled at the motel room for a while, enjoyed "My Cousin Vinny" (great movie), then my tummy rumbled. It was dinner time. I found myself craving breakfast, so I went to Waffle House, sat down, and ordered my food. I was waiting for it; then it hit me. My right eye was itching and burning and my left eye was watering profusely. From experience, I knew not to rub the itchy eye because that would only make it worse. As I cursed Kitty Kitty under my breath, I closed my left eye and started violently blinking my right eye. After about 3 minutes of gritted tooth, angry blinking it was over . . . and I could see again.

I realized I had been staring at a police officer who was waiting to pay for his food and he had the most creeped out, bewildered look on his face as if he had just watched an exorcism. At this point I was thinking that this police officer had just seen me chanting, "Damn you, Kitty Kitty," while rocking back and forth holding my left eye shut and winking directly at him violently for at least 30-60 seconds, possibly more . . . not to mention the waiter beside me who said simply, "Dude! You good?"

All I could muster in reply was, "Yes. Ha! Cats!" with which he let out an awkward laugh of discomfort and walked away.

Damn you, Kitty Kitty.

Now, tell me that didn't stir up a funny mental image. Yes sir, that nut fell pretty close to the tree.

One can write about anything. Anything at all. One can even write about writing, or not being able to. One just has to write. To be funny, one can take the mundane, ordinary things and move them towards ridiculous, exploring all the various scenarios that could develop, letting the reader's imagination take them where it will from the images the writer suggests with words. After all, don't the best writers paint images for us using words as the colors and washes on their palette?

The funniest stories are always the ones we tell on ourselves.

By the way, Canaan was born nearly ten years after I married his mother. Today is our anniversary. We have been married for thirty-three years today, January 11, 2013.

I also went to see Hemosapien on Wednesday. A few indications, already known, have suggested the need for a CT scan. I am off week after next to drink the Barium cool-aid, then enjoy some brief, but high radiation, after which the radiologists will look and see if I have more enlarging lymph nodes. This was not unexpected. Things are changing in my body, and it bears watching . . . that's all at this time . . . just watching.

In the meantime, I expect to get some more funny stories from the other writers in this family. I think we are all becoming writers. I use a full size keyboard. Piper and Canaan seem to enjoy using their iPhone. I will write on my iPhone, too, but only under protest.

Happy New Year, everyone, if I haven't already told you so in person.

12/21/12 Today's the Day the World Ends

The world is definitely ending today. Well, it is ending for about 153,319.64 people. The World Health Organization says that on average, 56,000,000 deaths occur worldwide every year. Since I don't want to include or miscalculate for a leap year, I decided I would divide the annual death number by 365.25. That's 153,319.64. I guess the .64 person is just really sick, perhaps having eaten some bad spinach, or maybe some bad sardines, and has a mere 36% chance of recovery. I can't be sure. I am speculating about that person. The other 153,319 need no speculation. The world will end for them. It will be over. December 21,2012 will definitely have world ending consequences for them.

What about the rest of us? Well, the world won't end for the rest of us, but some of us are in the 153,319. Is it you? Is it me? Is it both of us? Hmmmm! I don't think it'll be me, but you won't know for sure until I write about my survival on December 22. And then, I can't be sure that you will be here to read my writing if I am alive to write it because you could have been one of the number to fail to make it through the day. If we both go, how will you know that I went, too? I won't be able to report on it and if I did, you won't be able to read about it. We will have become statistics, and I have been told by those who collect statistics that I don't want to become one. It is never good to be part of someone else's statistical compilation.

Ol' Clyde, the sportsman's sportsman became a statistic back in November. You remember him. His funeral was handled by Bubba's Bait Shop and Funeral Home. I nearly went to his funeral, all because I wanted a coke and a bag of potato chips. According to some, cokes and potato chips will soon make a statistic out of me. It could do so today. If it does, you can tell your friends, “Those cokes and chips got him.” You can tell them, that is, if you are still here.

There's lots of folks that aren't here anymore. It seems the older I get the more of them I know. That's a remarkable thing. I wonder about it since speculation is not really useful here. It is what it is. I can remember a time earlier in my life when no one that I knew had ever died. Since then, many people have done so, some of them with not so much as a goodbye or any apparent reason. I heard about a man this happened to one time.

When I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, there was a clerk in a run-down convenience store near where I worked. One would never stop at this particular store at night, or even be in that part of town at night unless one was after something that was for sale at the store, but not by the store. After lunch one day, a co-worker and me braved stopping in there so he could get a pack of cigarettes. This particular store mostly dealt in quarts of beer and Newport cigarettes. They did not have the Benson and Hedges that my colleague wanted, so he opted for the Newports, saying, “One kind will kill you just as quick as the other, I suppose.”

At this, the clerk waxed philosophical . . . poignantly philosophical. He twirled the goatee on his chin, looked off into the distance, and recalled, as if seeing an angelic vision, “You know, I knew a man one time. He was a good man. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He didn't chase women. He didn't do nothin' wrong. Then one day, he just up and died.” He shook his head sadly at all the things he, himself, might hate to miss out on by dying before he could complete his appointed rounds. My friend and I shared in what seemed to be his grief for a moment, his remembrance of this good man and his apparently pointless death. The clerk recovered and said, “You know, when I go, I wanna  have a reason. I want them to say something kilt me. I don't want to just die for no reason at all.”

We all burst out laughing, shocked from our sharing of his apparent sadness and surprised by the humor of his statement. Though he laughed with us, I could tell that it wasn't really a joke to him. He was determined to engage in those vices he enjoyed until his friends would be able to say that they finally caught up with him and kilt him dead. That was the way he wanted it. That's the way he would have it. A pointless life was to die for no apparent reason. By golly, he would have a reason. He would see to it. No one would ever to be able to say about him, “He didn't do nothin' wrong, he just died.”

I stopped in that store several times after that. As soon as I walked into the store the clerk and I would start grinning at each other, recalling the conversation. One day, they closed the store down and he was no more to be seen. I have often speculated about him. I have wondered about him. I reckon if he's not dead yet, he's still chasing those things that are likely to kill him. I suspect he's not wasting any time on things that are not likely to kill him. He would think there's no fun in that.

But he could be dead. Something may have killed him. Then again, he could have just died for no apparent reason in spite of his best efforts. I don't know, nor do I have any reason to think so. I can only speculate. I can only wonder. The place where he worked is now a part of Jackson that looks like a fire-bombed Dresden after World War II. That part of the city certainly died. Maybe he died with it. I hope not. I am choosing to think not. But I don't know. If he is alive, I doubt he's reading this, but he could be. If so, I wish he'd drop me a line. I'll more than likely drop dead before I get that note. I could drop dead for no apparent reason of from a multitude of them.

Me? I'm still here. Nothing has kilt me yet, though a couple of things tried their best. I was better than them, with the help of others, this time. Maybe next time it will be different. If so, my friends will be able to tell folks what kilt me, since I won't be here to write about it.  I've certainly gotten to the age where I think that had I known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself. We all get there if we live long enough.

I hope you pass a peaceful and joyful day, today, December 21, 2012, the Winter Solstice. Maybe it won't be the day the world ends for either of us. Some will be less fortunate. At least, being the Winter Solstice, it'll be the shortest day of the year. That should be of some comfort.

12/20/12 UN Wants Retroactive Cash Payments from Wealthy Nations for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

That bastion of conservative frugality and useful accomplishments, The United Nations, is wanting to assess retroactive cash payments from nations who may or may not have produced greenhouse gasses contributing to global climate change which may or may not have damaged certain unspecified nations at some point in the past, or may or may not damage them at some point in the future. The USA, Japan, Canada, and Russia are refusing. China and Brazil are exempted. The too-liberal-for-their-own-good EU, relying on Germany to foot any bills it may incur is on board, along with 135 other nations who may stand to receive some of this money. After the UN is through with the costs of administration of the $200 billion or so it greedily plans to collect each year, as much as four or five million dollars will likely be available for distribution among the damaged, of which all will most likely be sequestered for their own benefit by corrupt government leaders in third-world countries. If the UN is successful, this will only be used to fatten the UN.

I can think of few things the UN has actually done other than severely disturb parking in downtown New York and defrauding the City of New York out of millions of dollars of revenue from unpaid parking tickets. New York expects me to pay my parking tickets. They expect you to pay your parking tickets. The UN, however, does not expect its members, minions, agents, heirs, successors, or assigns to pay their parking tickets.

How about this for a proposal: The USA will contribute as much money to this program as the UN administration and member nations actually pay in back parking tickets, interest, and penalties to the City of New York. This flood of revenue should help New York hire all the law enforcement personnel and restaurant inspectors needed to protect its citizens from those menacing drinks that are larger than 16 ounces while simultaneously helping the United Nations advance its great desire to redistribute wealth from rich nations into its own coffers, ostensibly, for re-redistribution to the wealthy despots of poor nations.

The United Nations is the only place where small dogs routinely bite the hands that feed them. Real small dogs mostly know better than this. People, though, do not seem to understand it, especially when headphones are placed on their ears that automatically translate what the speaker is saying into their native language. Maybe the UN uses GOOGLE TRANSLATOR as its translation service. Have you ever tried GOOGLE TRANSLATOR? My own translation of Uzbeck or Urdu would be as beneficial for your use.

No wonder those UN diplomats all seem to be sleeping. The first thing – you have a diplomat speaking . . . that alone is enough to put one to sleep. Second – you have diplomats incapable of doing anything but speaking speaking about things they can do absolutely nothing about. Third – you have this useless speech being translated by some mysterious translator sitting somewhere in some back room who is as sleepy as the diplomats listening to the speech, and perhaps as good at speaking a second language as the person you get when you call your credit card company customer service. Fourth – What time is lunch, anyway? Fifth – though they bring in food for the diplomats, most of them choose to eat out since lunch is from 11:00AM until 3:30PM, even though the assembly comes to order at 10:30AM and adjourns at 4:00PM.

Those diplomats must do something between the call to order and adjournment, so they put on their headphones and listen to badly translated diplomatic speeches . . . or are they really listening to John Tesh?? Either way, they are bound to be lulled right to sleep from their early call to order, and of course they will be wanting another nap after their exhausting lunch.

Where else on earth can a person from a third-world country whose per capita income is measured in goats, and a wealthy man is anyone who has over five, come and be a clerk, live like a king with a hundred thousand dollars a year in salary, all the perquisites of UN employment, and permanent free parking in one of the earth’s most expensive cities, and never again venture back to their home country? Only the UN offers this kind of opportunity. How does one become a janitor at the UN, I wonder? These are no doubt some of the most coveted jobs in all the world.

“What do you do for the UN, Prubaptha?” asked Gwanibje during a lunch break at the UN World Agricultural Central Planning Conference being held in Copenhagen.

“I am an assistant deputy junior clerk in the office of the sub-secretary of the UN Council on Pan-Asian Goat Milk Statistic Assimilation.”

“Ahh! Excellent! I am the Apprentice Level 3 clerk at the UN Equatorial Administrative Region Agricultural Practicalization Committee for Goat Milking,” said Gwanibje. Then, turning to his neighbor at the bar, seeing the name badge on his lapel, he asked, “Achmed, what do you do?”

“I am a goat herder,” said Achmed.

“And what UN agency do you work for?” asked Gwanibje.

“I am a goat herder,” said Achmed.

“Yes, of course, you said that. But for what UN agency do you teach people to herd the goats?” asked Gwanibje.

“I do not teach people how to herd goats. I herd the goats for myself and the goats. It is good for the goats, and it is good for me,” said Achmed.

“But you have no connection to the UN?” asked Gwanibje.

“What is the UN? I am a simple man . . . just a goat herder,” said Achmed.

“Well, it certainly is remarkable that you are here, with this name badge, in this bar in Copenhagen at this very time, and you are a goat herder unconnected with the UN. I wonder how this came to be?”

“I live just outside Copenhagen,” said Achmed. “This bar buys fresh goat milk from me to use in their lattes. Someone told me I had to have on a name badge to enter here today, so they gave me a name badge.”

“Well you are certainly in the right place. We can help you with all your goat problems since we are both with UN agencies that promote goat agriculturalism,” said Prubaptha.

Achmed looked at them both, carefully. He paused, brushed his moustache back on each side of his mouth, lightly blew on his cup then took a sip of his tea. “So, you know about goats?” he asked.

Gwanibje and Prubaptha both started talking excitedly all at once about all the UN offices of agricultural-animal husbandry dealing with goats and other ruminants, and all the various programs, sub-programs, and thousands and thousands of administrators and support personnel all based at UN headquarters in New York, but currently in Copenhagen for the UN World Agricultural Central Planning Conference, who could help him with his goats. There were dozens of people in this very bar whose specialty was goats.

“Ah! Then!! It is kismet that has brought me here! Yes, I think you can help me. I would like to buy one more goat, but I don’t have the money,” said Achmed. “I have five goats, but I really need one more nanny so I can have enough milk to sell and still have some for myself.”

“You own five goats already?” asked Gwanibje.

“Yes,” said Achmed, “but I really need another nanny goat from a different blood line.”

“But our program is for poor people, not wealthy ones” said Prubaptha. Achmed looked at her with surprise at the notion that he was a wealthy man. She continued, “Because you own five goats, you are considered wealthy, therefore the UN can be of no assistance to you.”

“Five goats might make one wealthy in his own homeland, but in Copenhagen, I’m afraid five goats doesn't make me part of the wealthy class,” said Achmed.

Prubaptha and Gwanibje both laughed at this. Achmed was offended by their mirth at his expense, but he held his tongue.

“Where do you think we are from?” asked Gwanibje.

“From your dress and speech I would say that one of you is from India, and the other from Central Africa, but I am a simple man . . . a goat herder. I am not educated in such things,” said Achmed.

“We are both from New York City,” laughed Prubaptha, “and five goats won’t make you wealthy there, either. You can’t even have a goat in New York City.” Both of them laughed at the thought. Achmed did not laugh. He thought about his five goats. He also thought about his cupboards, bare except for the largesse of the Danish government, and his five goats. He did not understand how he could be considered wealthy. Maybe they knew something he didn’t, he thought to himself, since after all he was a mere goat herder, though he suspected that he knew far more about goats than they did.

“So you have never seen goats?” he asked.

“Well, not REALLY,” said Gwanibje. Prubaptha nodded. “But we know all about them. Trust us. We are working for the world’s foremost United Nations goat agencies.”

“Ah! I understand!,” said Achmed. “Tomorrow, I will bring you some of my goat’s milk if you will still be here, as a gesture of friendship. Goodbye then.”

“Yes, we will be right here at this same time and would like that very much,” said Gwanibje. Prubaptha nodded, smiling with delight that she had managed to get this close to the very essence her UN job had prepared her for, yet disappointed that Achmed was a wealthy goat-herder, thus beyond the scope of her work. She was excited, nevertheless.

“We will drink to your health!” said Achmed as he saluted and turned to go with a smile, friendly towards his two new acquaintances, but a bit twisted as he turned to the door and made his way out. He thought about how, tomorrow, they would enjoy the taste of their goat’s milk lattes laced with a touch of aged billy-goat urine. A drop or two would do the trick. As they sipped their lattes, he'd drip some of the essence of the billy goat onto their shoes. As the goat urine warmed to their body temperature, others would begin to notice and continually steer clear of them long before they would discover that the smell stuck in their noses was coming from their own bodies. It seemed that Achmed actually knew more about goats than they did, though they thought not. He was not a simple man, as he had said, but very complex, with a long and reliable memory.

Upon his return the next day, Achmed was greeted with the warmest smiles from Gwanibje and Prubaptha, who arranged to introduce him to many of their UN goat-expert clerk friends, all of them anxiously awaiting to meet someone who actually raised goats and to taste the fresh goat’s milk for their lattes. As they crowded around, Achmed admonished them cheerfully, “There is plenty for everyone. Take your time. Take your time. Achmed will serve you!” 

He smiled to them all as he clandestinely dribbled the goat urine onto Prubaptha’s shoes. She took a long sip of her latte, held it up to Gwanibje and said, “This is the best goat’s milk I’ve ever tasted.” Gwanibje agreed. Achmed just smiled and said, “It is nice to have my goat’s milk so well enjoyed by those who know goats so well. I am just a simple man. I am just a goat herder.” He dribbled some of the goat urine onto Gwanibje's shoes, too.

Achmed left shortly thereafter, leaving the aged billy-goat urine to work its magic. As the evening wore on, Gwanibje thought that Prubaptha must have forgotten to shower. Prubaptha kept casting furtive glances at Gwanibje, suspecting he was the source of the foul odor. During that night's banquet, they noticed that as others approached their table to sit with them, after placing their plates on the table, they suddenly feigned interest in an old friend they spotted across the room and rushed over to sit at another table. They even noticed that a couple of those feigning interest in old friends sat alone. Prubaptha was afraid that people thought she was the source of the smell. Gwanibje was certain she was. He finally got up, bid farewell to Prubaptha, saying, “Tomorrow is a very busy day for the Equatorial Administrative Region Agricultural Practicalization Committee for Goat Milking. We convene at lunch-time, then off to tour the sites of Copenhagen, courtesy of the Danish UN diplomatic mission. I must be off to prepare. Good night, Prubaptha.”

“Yes, and the  Council on Pan-Asian Goat Milk Statistic Assimilation has a working breakfast meeting early in the morning at 10:30. Then, a luncheon at noon at which we will host the UN General Agricultural Council to present them with the past year's assimilated data. Though we have already sent it out by e-mail, the official presentation is a protocol formality. I must also go and prepare for tomorrow,” she said, squirming uncomfortably in her chair at the smell of Gwanibje, holding back a retch that was approaching the upper part of her throat, wishing he would hurry up and leave. They both rose and turned to go, sorry for how the night had passed, with each having thoughts of having been stigmatized by the other.

As they parted company, they noticed that the stench did not seem to be the less. As they entered separate elevators in different parts of the hotel, they both noticed how people stared at them, moving as far away from them as they could. Each heard a gag or two, as people tried to suppress them, not wanting to seem impolite.

A elderly, callous, well, perhaps better yet, unchivalrous Texan, staying at the hotel in Copenhagen on business completely unrelated to the UN looked directly into Gwanibje's eyes as they rode up on the elevator and said, “Son, you smell like you bathed in goat piss. You might try a different cologne. That one's not working for you!” Everyone on the elevator tried unsuccessfully not to laugh, and the only ones who didn't at first were the ones who did not have the benefit of their UN translators, but soon, they joined the laughing as they recognized that the brash Texan had no doubt made a comment about the terrible odor coming from Gwanibje. Only an American, they thought, would be so crude as to mention something like this. They were proud that they were not so impolite, but when the doors opened on floor three, they all got off the elevator, even though not a one of them were staying on the third floor. The person waiting on floor three who had mashed the elevator up button took one whiff as everyone got off and decided to pass. They'd all wait for another elevator. Not the Texan, though. He stayed on with Gwanibje. Goat-piss was not enough to drive him off the elevator. He'd smelled it before. He'd smell it again. It was just a strong smell to the Texan; but to Gwanibje, it was beyond revolting . . . it was nauseating.

The Texan bent down and took a sniff of Gwanibje, looking at the spots on his shoes. “Son, I believe a billy-goat's done pissed on your shoes,” he said. “Where'd you get pissed on by a billy-goat in downtown Copenhagen?”

“Achmed!” said Gwanibje, the light bulb finally lit.

“Where is Achmed?” asked the Texan.

“Achmed is a person, not a place,” said Gwanibje.

“Well, Achmed, who has apparently pissed on your shoes, has too close a relationship with billy-goats if you ask me,” said the Texan, now laughing out loud.

“Sir, pardon my arrogance, but just how would you know the smell of goat urine,” asked an indignant Gwanibje.

“There ain't a farm boy in Texas that don't know that smell,” said the Texan. “A billy-goat's about the nastiest thing there is. You smell that once and you never forget it.”

“So you know about goats in Texas?” asked Gwanibje.

“Barbecue one or two cabritos every Labor Day,” said the Texan, “But not a buck-grown billy. They ain't fit to eat. Their meat smells just like your shoes even after it's cooked. Can't get rid of that smell. You'll have to throw them shoes away, socks, and most likely that colorful robe you're wearing, too. And, I'd steer clear of that Achmed. A feller that'd goat-piss on your shoes is not exactly a friend.”

The doors to the elevator opened and the still laughing Texan stepped off, turning to face Gwanibje before the doors closed and said, “Nice chattin' with you. I'd find that Achmed and put them shoes under his pillow if I were you.” The elevator doors closed. As the elevator began to move, Gwanibje could still hear guffaws of laughter coming from the rude Texan. It seemed he could hear his laughter for several floors. It seemed he could hear the laughter as he placed the shoes and socks in a trash can in the vending area on his floor, walking barefooted the rest of the way to his room. He could hear the laughter as he washed his feet, washed his body, scrubbed and scrubbed, and heard the laughter continuously while nothing seemed to be able to mask the stench in his nose, nor the vile essence that seemed to have been absorbed by his skin and now into his bloodstream, as even his breath seemed to reek of goat-piss.

As Achmed lay down that night, his final thought before a peaceful sleep overtook him on the outskirts of Copenhagen was that there were at least two people at the UN goat conference who now knew more about goats than they did when they arrived. He took great satisfaction from that. Had he known about the Texan, he would have liked to have made his acquaintance and shaken his hand.

12/14/12 Fruitcake, Anyone?

Who actually eats fruitcake? Someone is bound to. Someone must like it.

My bank hauls out what appears to be the very same bricks of Claxton Fruit cake every Christmas. I ask them, “Are these the same ones y'all had up here last year?”

“Oh! No!,” they assure me. “We get them fresh every year. Would you like to buy one?”

“No! No!,” I said. “I don't want one, but I still think these are the same ones you had out here last year. Do you put them in the back and haul them out after Thanksgiving every year.”

“Mr. Sharp, you are too funny,” says Theresa, the very helpful and extremely competent assistant manager at the branch bank at which I do nearly all my business. I wasn't trying to be funny. If Theresa thinks these are fresh fruitcakes, then it is because the home office collects them and returns them to the branches every Christmastime. I think I am on to something. Theresa thinks I am a little touched, but she is kind to me anyway.

“We sell lots of them,” said Theresa. “You'd be surprised how many people like fruitcake.”

“I expect the people who buy them are giving them as presents to those they don't really like. Once you put one of these in circulation, it could last for years. One might even get his own fruitcake back.” I speculated about this. I wondered about it.

“Who is benefiting from their sale and how much are they?” I asked.

“The Meridian Civitan Club,” she said. “All the local banks participate.” I didn't know this since I hardly ever go into another bank. “They are six dollars, with half the money  going to the Civitan club.” I peeled off a ten and two ones and handed them to her. She smiled and hustled over to get me two of the fruitcakes.

“I don't want the fruitcakes,” I said. “Just give all the twelve dollars to the Civitan Club.”

“You mean you don't want the fruitcakes?” she asked.

“No. Just to donate to the Civitan Club. You and the other girls can share the fruitcakes if you want, or you can give them to another customer.”

“None of us will eat them,” she said. “None of us here like fruitcake.”

“Well, then, give them to someone who does,” I said.

“That will be hard to do,” she says back. “We sell very few of them.”

“I thought you just told me you sell a lot of them,” I said.

“Oh, the bank does, but we hardly sell any at this branch.”

“Well, give them to me. We'll take at least two of them out of circulation,” I said.

I walked out of the door to my truck with two of the one pound fruitcakes under my arm. Though it was only two pounds worth, it felt like ten. They were plastic wrapped, with the density of lead, but had a springy sort of texture, like pieces of an old, dust-mite filled mattress. I placed them on the ground side by side and stood on them. There was a softness under my feet that felt quite comfortable. “They would make good replacement shoe insoles,” I said, surprised by this discovery, wondering how long they'd last until the began to decompose, thinking that perhaps they'd never decompose, because I've never seen a moldy fruitcake, or a spoiled fruitcake. They are as durable as some McDonald's fries that found their way onto the floorboard of your car. They are as durable as Twinkies.

I picked them up off the pavement, took one of them, and bounced it on its end on the pavement. While not quite as bouncy as a superball, it bounced remarkably high. I caught it on the way up. “Hmmmm!” I said to myself. A plan was developing.

I thought of a spinster aunt of mine, one who was so frugal as to recycle old Christmas gifts and Christmas cards. Surely she would like the fruitcake, since anything she got for free was bound to be used and used up. I also thought about the “Dirty Santa” game we would play at the Church Christmas party. I was all set for Aunt Margaret's Christmas gift and for the Church party. The fruitcake was perfect for both . . . after all, it is the thought that counts, isn't it?

Ever since I mentioned Fruitcake and how I don't like it, folks have been telling me that I just haven't eaten THEIR fruitcake, which no doubt, I will truly enjoy if I could just have a single taste of it. I have eaten fruitcake that I thought was less bad than other fruitcake, but none that I enjoyed, since it is fruitcake, and I don't like fruitcake. At best, their wonderful fruitcake will be less bad than others . . . but being less bad will not mean that I like it.

I once said that I did not like calf's liver. The person to whom I said that declared, “Well, you have not eaten MY calf's liver. It is delicious far beyond any other.”

“But it's made of calf's liver, and I don't like calf's liver. How it's cooked cannot change the fact that it's calf's liver, which I do not like.” I protested.

“But mine is smothered in thick gravy and onions . . . and when it's fresh and sliced thin, you'll love it,” they said.

“If you leave out the calf's liver I might,” I said. I also thought that the fresh, thinly sliced calf's liver would taste less bad than calf's liver that had set out in the sun for a bit too long, but I cannot be sure. Rancidity may improve the taste of calf's liver. Understand that less bad and liking are a long way apart. It is the same way with fruitcake. I do not like it. It is not that I don't like your fruitcake; It's that I don't like fruitcake. That doesn't mean you shouldn't like it. In fact, you can have my piece, too.

I found a really good recipe for fruitcake on the internet the other day. You might want to try it.

BUBBA'S DOWN-HOME RUM-SOAKED FRUITCAKE

1.     All the usual fruitcake fixin's

2.     Rum (750ml bottle of the rum of your choice)

3.     Mix ingredients in large bowl and pour into cake pan

4.     Preheat oven to 325 Degrees

5.     Drink some of the Rum

6.     Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes

7.     Drink some more of Rum while waiting

8.     When done, take outside and feed everything (except Rum) to the Chickens

9.     Drink the rest of the rum, then take a nap

When you awaken from your nap, you can call your friends and tell them how wonderful you fruitcake was. I'm sure they will all want to hear about it.

12/14/12 Connecticut Horror

Who kills his mother than goes to the Kindergarten Class where she teaches and opens fire on her students? A crazy, mixed up 20 year old named Adam Lanza, that's who. This is an unspeakably horrible incident. We seem to hear about school and workplace shootings all the time, starting with Charles Whitman who killed 13 and wounded 32 more from the bell-tower on the campus of The University of Texas in Austin on August 1, 1966. We remember the Columbine, Colorado, incident. We remember the Virginia Tech incident. We even remember the incident at the Lockheed-Martin plant in my own hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, when disgruntled employee Doug Williams killed 6 co-workers, shot 7 more, then killed himself.

Why don't these people just kill themselves to begin with? They seem determined to take as many with them as they can. They are Godless people who have heard the voice of evil and carried it out.

I have no answer for this great evil. I have no answer for behavior that is so damaging to others. I can only think that the violence continually present in our entertainment is partially to blame. Many others will point to guns and their availability, but that doesn't satisfy, either. Lots of people possess firearms and never commit murders or multiple-murders with them. Lots of people watch violent movies and play violent video games and never commit crimes. What is it in the exceptions that trigger them?

I mourn for the victims and the families of the victims, and for the family of Adam Lanza as they struggle to make sense of of what just happened. There will be no sense to make of it, other than Lanza just went crazy. Something in him snapped, and suddenly he felt he was doing the right thing. Or if he knew he was doing the wrong, there was no sense of morality to stop him. What is it that makes men's hearts so dark and fearful that the only way they see out is committing suicide immediately after taking out as many others as they can? Who are they hoping to get even with?

Why?

12/9/12  Exhaustion

I am exhausted. There is no starch left in my jeans. My fibers have wilted. The support structures keeping my spine upright have been replaced with an over-boiled linguine. I don't know what to do about it, except for this: I am not complaining, but merely making an observations. The exhaustion is mental, which means that my body has imitated what my brain is feeling. Physical exhaustion can be cured by a hot bath and a good night's sleep. Mental exhaustion is more resistant to treatment.

A long work week, followed by an intense period of metal gymnastics of developing switching orders for the energizing of a new 12,470 volt feed to new switches for the Thad Cochran Natural Products Research Center on the campus of Ole Miss just did me in. I started writing them last Thursday, reviewed them with all the appropriate players Thursday afternoon, discovered some very real and potentially threatening problems in what it was that we were actually trying to accomplish, and spent nearly all Thursday night re-writing them, limiting them to what we knew we could do, and omitting those things that we were not sure of, which, had we proceeded, might have placed us all in great jeopardy. Underground electrical distribution circuits can be tricky, because once they enter the ground, you cannot be certain how the phases might have rolled when they emerge, or how they might have been rolled years ago to get them to match existing circuits. Tying different circuits together is always tricky. There is no room for error. In trying to eliminate the possibility of human error, I was at wits end.

I hustled to the campus before daylight Friday morning to verify with my own eyes the differences I saw in the engineer's drawings versus what I was able to see in the actual field equipment. This is no place for assumptions . . . only the facts will do, and sometimes the facts can be hard to ascertain. They can be arranged for convenience, but the true test is when you throw the switch. Do the buildings affected go dark? Does the entire campus go dark? Does the substation that feeds all of Oxford go dark? Does all of TVA go dark? If so, does the entire electrical grid East of the Mississippi go off-line, plunging the country into chaos? Do expensive pieces of electrical equipment go into a low Earth orbit in a violent eruption of fire and brimstone? Is it uneventful, or does the smell of ozone hang thick in the air? Does everyone still have their eyebrows intact, or are you fortunate that only their eyebrows are now missing, a singed shadow of their former selves?

This all must be thought about in advance so it can be done safely, without any events. There is always the possibility that a piece of electrical equipment will malfunction, but let it be the equipment that failed, not that we did things in such an order as to cause it to do so. The pressure of this is tremendous. When I was younger, I used to thrive on it, enjoying the adrenalin it produced. I still get the adrenalin rush, but now, once it is over, I am completely exhausted: wrung out like a dirty dishrag, as hollow as step-pulled/stump-whipped chitt'lin's. There is no there there.

Contemplating that, I get up and rush to the mirror in the bathroom. I flip on the light switch without the benefit of switching orders, laughing to myself that perhaps I should have written some down, but some switching is just too simple and routine. The light comes on as planned, without any events . . . I breathe a sigh of relief. I peer deeply into the mirror and see myself looking back at me.

“You look tired,” I said.

“I am,” I said back. “If you could place an ammeter on me, you would see hardly any current flow. Any minute, I might trip out from under-voltage or under-frequency.”

“That bad, huh!” I say to myself.

“Yep!” I say back.

“Maybe I have a blown fuse and am single-phasing,” I said.

“Could be,” I said back to me. “It would be wise to check and make sure.”

“Maybe your DC control current is dangerously low. Have you checked your batteries and your battery charger?” I asked myself.

“Not lately. I suppose it would be wise to do it . . . I am just too tired,” I said.

“Don't worry. I'll go and do it for you,” I replied.

“You're not much help,” I chided myself, even though I was trying to be helpful. Sometimes we get in our own way, thwarting ourselves as we try to help ourselves. Sometimes we put too much on ourselves. I had placed more on myself than was good for me, and now I am paying the price.

I went over the switching orders with very capable people, who made suggestions, and I incorporated their edits. Everyone wants to make sure that the switching comes off as planned . . . UNEVENTFUL. After going through all that Friday morning, I had to leave before the switching actually began because of prior commitments. I knew I was leaving all the work in the hands of those very capable people, but that did not mean I wasn't worried about it as I drove home from Oxford.

I received a few phones calls along the way, citing the progress of the various stages, then about the time I got home I got the word that everything was complete. There were no events, no smoke, no darkness, no Eastern Seaboard power grid failure, and no scorched eyebrows. I was thankful for that. I am always thankful for that. Now, it is two days later, and I have not recovered. I am lost in a wilderness of weariness. I suppose that this is because the second phase of this switching procedure starts tomorrow morning. I will leave this in the hands of those same very capable people, but I will be beside myself waiting for the phone call that tells me that everything is done, the switching is complete, and that it was uneventful.

As I was thinking all this, still looking in the mirror, the incandescent light bulb over the sink blew out with a “ffffink!” The bathroom was now dark. I went into the laundry room and got another bulb, one of the new and improved compact fluorescent bulbs the government wants us to use. I unscrewed the old bulb and placed in the new one. It lit right up, a cold, feeble facsimile of the bulb I had taken out. At least it worked. I had had an electrical event right in my own bathroom, though it was not an earth-shaking one. At least I still had my eyebrows. I have some more incandescent bulbs somewhere in the house and as soon as I can find one, I will replace this miserable, cold, new-but-not-so-improved light bulb that is in there now.

In the meantime, I am off to get some rest while I can. I will think about tomorrow tomorrow. Today, I am through thinking about anything at all, other than thinking of how thankful I am for very capable people. There are lots of them out there. Many of them keep your lights on and do remarkable things in such a way that you never know that they were being done, because they were uneventful. Bless them all, Lord, and keep them safe!

Enjoy your day of rest.

12/8/12  Sachdeva Gets 20 Years!!

You have previously been introduced here to Dr. Meera Sachdeva, Monica Weeks, and Brittany McCoskey. Please refer back to my blog post dated 8/17/12. Sachdeva was the oncologist, owner, and operator of the Rose Cancer Center in Summit, Mississippi, whose clinic was shut down by the Mississippi Department of Health after numerous cancer patients were all admitted to the same Pike County, Mississippi, hospital with similar bacterial infections. It seems that Sachdeva's clinic had been re-using IV kits with patients sharing previously used, dirty needles.

On top of that, Sachdeva billed private insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid for far more of expensive chemotherapy agents than she actually purchased. Though Federal prosecutors were apparently unable to prove that the chemo drugs had been diluted, or useless solutions substituted, it is not hard to make the assumption. It is entirely possible that mere saline solution labeled as something other than what it was had been given to patients who had entrusted Sachdeva and her clinic with their very lives. The prosecutors only said that IV infusions drawn for different patients were drawn from the same bag, reusing dirty needles. One does not have a very long leap to make to get to dilution and  fraudulent substitution; it is about like leaping over the remains of your neighbor's dog's visit to your front yard. This is speculation though, and not proven in court. We are allowed reasonable speculations about Sachdeva's heinous behavior, and those speculations may or may not be true and will continue to be speculations. We are not speculating when we say that Sachdeva is a convicted felon, charged with defrauding her victims. Unfortunately, her victims as defined by the Justice Department were not her patients, but an assortment of 56 private insurers and government programs.

Sachdeva's accomplices were independent medical billing clerk Monica Weeks and Rose Cancer Center office manager Brittany McCoskey. All three plead guilty to charges most likely reduced through plea bargains in exchange for their guilty pleas.

An October sentencing date had been put off until yesterday, December 7, 2012. Yesterday, the court handed down their sentences.

Monica Weeks received three months house arrest and is required to pay $20,000 in fines for her conspiracy conviction. I also wish she had been forever barred from practicing as a medical billing clerk, but that does not seem to have been part of her sentence. Previously, her attorneys had argued that Weeks never placed the lives of any patients in jeopardy. I wonder how, being a part of the conspiracy, that is possible other than through clever semantics. Congratulations to her attorneys. They did their job well.

Apparently somewhat more culpable in the eyes of the court, Brittany McCoskey received a thirteen month prison sentence and must pay $55,000 in fines for making false statements.

Sachdeva received a 20 year prison sentence and orders to repay $14,000,000 in fraudulent charges. It was previously reported that six-million dollars in cash and other real assets belonging to Sachdeva have already been seized. It was also reported that she has substantial assets in her native India. Sachdeva made several attempts to bond out of jail but Federal judges continually denied her, citing her as a flight risk.

Reiterating, sadly: none of her patients were listed as victims. Some of them are now deceased. To be fair, some would now be deceased had Sachdeva done everything within her power to administer the correct amounts of the correct chemo drugs, because this is the nature of cancer. We have to believe that some of her former patients are now deceased because of the shoddy care they received at the hands of this woman. I wonder if she, with all her expert training, thought to herself, “This patient only has a few months, anyway, so let me see if I can make a few extra bucks since I am not doing any REAL damage to them because chemo won't change their outcome.”

If she thought that, then perhaps the next extension would be, “Since we all die anyway, why postpone the inevitable?”

Being a physician is not a guarantee of insulation from greed and avarice. We place our physicians on pedestals, take nearly everything they say at face value, never questioning anything about the code-based/fee-for-service based way in which our physicians and clinics bill our insurers or our government. The way medical billing is done and the low rates for specific procedures dictated by Medicare, Medicaid, and our Preferred Provider Organizations who are part of our insurance networks literally leave clinics looking for more ways to put more codes on medical records. I suspect that if the justice department were to draw a dozen different medical clinics at random and audit them carefully, they could find as many prosecutable offenses. The more laws we have, the more criminals we create.

As you can see, I am of two minds on this. Physicians are simultaneously culpable and very vulnerable. I can't see much improvement coming down the pike with the continuing implementation of the ACA (Obamacare). I see more and more physicians retiring while the gates are forcibly and desperately opened to more and more people to attend medical school, paid for by the government, to become primary care physicians. The State of Mississippi has announced the relaxation of MCAT scores and pre-med training, and a significant increase in the number of students allowed to enter the University of Mississippi Medical School, with the promise of free tuition and the forbearance of student loans for those graduates who agree to a family practice in rural areas. Some of these new students will not become good doctors, though their names will carry the letters “M.D.” affixed. Many of them will only stay in the rural areas for as long as required to fulfill their obligations, and some, less. Our recent spate of Advanced Nurse Practitioners has shown their proclivity to abandon rural areas for the urban areas where they can make more money, and in particular, an abandonment of Mississippi entirely, in favor of those states where they are allowed an independent (and urban) clinical practice. If we lower the standards for medical practice, we just might get what we deserve. Physicians should be able to make a good and comfortable, even an excellent living without resorting to medical billing shenanigans. A few shenanigans might be called mistakes, but a consistent pattern of mistakes might more correctly be labeled as fraud.

We are back to the premise I have stated over and over: Our medical care is mostly paid for with someone else's money. I'm a lot more careful with what's in my pocket than with what is likely to be in yours. I suspect if we all had more skin in the game, and were presented an a la carte menu of medical services and their prices, we may be more diligent about discussing with our physicians just which ones are really necessary. We don't get that choice, nor can anyone tell us in advance what medical procedures will cost, though they seem perfectly capable of billing us after the fact. What else on this whole wide earth do we purchase in this manner? Perhaps we have gotten to the point that when we hear the word "Doctor" or see the letters "M.D." that we lose our sense of frugality. If someone else is paying for it, even if it is my employer provided insurance, why should I care? I have actually had people with the letters "M.D." affixed to their name say this to me, but they say it only ONCE.

Meera Sachdeva had the letters “M.D.” affixed to her name, too. Maybe at one point she was a good doctor. Maybe at one point, she cared more about the outcomes of her patients than the balances in her many domestic and international bank accounts. But she is testimony that the letters “M.D.” and being a good doctor have no connection. And, the letters “M.D.” and being a responsible, honest, caring human being have no connection whatsoever. The letters "M.D." certainly allowed her the opportunity to inscribe, or have inscribed, medical billing codes on patient charts for services she never provided. In her case, it was not only billing fraud, but shoddy, second-rate, and wicked medical malpractice.

We often forget that running a medical practice is a business, and successful businesses make profits. When the business of running a medical practice, or more particularly the avarice of its owners, gets in the way of good medical care, the letters "M.D." don't quite have the significance they once had; though I daresay that thousands of good clinics and medical practices are just like many other small businesses: overwhelmed with rules, regulations, uncertainties, and the costs of business operations, wondering just how they are going to meet this week's payroll. Just a couple of additional billing codes here or there might be just the ticket. Tempting, it is not?

I hope Meera Sachdeva enjoys her new home as best she can. She certainly will enjoy being sentenced in a country where she has the right against cruel and unusual punishment, else I'd see that she was IV fed a continual dose of diluted cyclophosphamide, just enough to keep her nauseated beyond measure while taking years to finally send her off to whatever god at whose altar she worships. I can't be certain what god that is, since Sachdeva did not say, and if she did, well . . . we know she is a fraudster.

Money is a poor god if you ask me. 

If she has any assets left in this country, the wave of civil suits that will follow will consume them. If her family has any of the benefits of these assets, they have no right to them; they belong to her defrauded patients or their survivors, who were her real but unnamed victims. No doubt the government, which was also truly defrauded, has extended its long arm to attach every asset it could find in this country for its own reimbursement. Private insurers and her patients will just have to get in line behind the government. There is nothing left here, but the sad stories of people whose trust was violated in a most personal and tragic way.

There is nothing left here but grief, shame, and what seems a triflingly small amount of justice.

12/2/12  Facts? News? Fables? Fabrications?

This is not a news blog. Nor is it a history blog. I am not an historian. It has been suggested that I am a passable amateur historiographer, but I am not capable of being an historian, since I cannot help but extrapolate and insert myself into places where a lack of evidence or a laze of research has left gaps. This is one of the problems of history . . . the historian cannot always separate himself from the history he studies, but it is not a problem which historians are unaware. We all are informed by our culture, our traditions, and our training, bringing with us biases and prejudices which have governed our opinions since childhood. While a true historian approaches this with great caution, I do so with glee and abandon. This, my friends, is called fiction. There is not always a clear demarcation between the facts of history, the passions of the writer, and fiction. It is up to the reader to sort things out to his own method of understanding. It is up to the reader to discern fact from fabrication. The doing so is the better part of the fun of history, though our discernment can lead us as astray as a passionately opaque historian. The point where we insert ourselves into history is where we come away with our own conclusions that make it useful.

It has been said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. I disagree! I am entitled to my own facts! Oh . . . don't misunderstand me! I know which ones not to challenge and which ones can be messed with. I will not fool around with Newton's Laws of Motion or Thermodynamics, Newton's Principia Mathmatica, Ohm's Law, or Boyle's Law. People ignore then violate these all the time with the worst consequences.  Avogadro's Number, Planck's Constant, and Einstein's Relativity, are things I know better than to fool around with, but I am not capable of meaningfully distorting them or violating them in any way. I know that where you have oxygen, fuel, and a source of ignition, you'd best be planning on having a fire or at least a fire extinguisher to the ready.

I know that if you put granulated Sodium Hypochlorite (swimming pool chlorine) down an armadillo hole and pour some household ammonia on top of it, you really need to have a previously and carefully prepared exit strategy from the very dangerous eruption that will instantly follow. I also know that the danger from doing this is not necessary since the chlorine or the ammonia alone is enough to get the armadillo out of the hole. I also know that the combination of the two will definitely leave a dead armadillo in the hole, and a dead everything else in the hole, as well as a potentially dead me if I am so foolish as to ever try this again.

I know that heating pine resin for your homemade Stradivari violin varnish needs to be done outside, since if it gets to a certain temperature an exothermic reaction follows, right on your kitchen stove. If you don't know what exothermic reaction means, then understand that it is good to know when you are potentially nearing one and to know that a fire extinguisher will be absolutely useless until the reaction is over, and then only to put out the significant fire that was started on its account. Gunpowder ignition is exothermic for goodness sake. Nitro-Glycerin can go exothermic so fast that it is a detonation, meaning it oxidizes all at once. I know that when using a homemade furnace to melt aluminum, it is best not to put the small, broken chainsaw parts you think are aluminum into the hot fire, since they may very likely be magnesium, which could have unintended consequences for your homemade furnace and adjacent structures; once again, a fire extinguisher just may not help you. Some things you just don't mess with, since the rules by which physics and chemistry govern themselves are not likely to change because of your opinion about them. I have learned not to even challenge the Peter Principle, which states that in any organization, everyone rises to their level of incompetence. This is nearly as inviolable as the uselessness of a fire extinguisher in the middle of an exothermic reaction.

I know that what goes up must come down. I know that the water-lubricated surface of wet pavement reduces the friction required to stop an automobile in a short distance. I know that a frog bumps his butt every time he jumps. I know what people say happens when we make assumptions. We all know lots of these things. We all know things which we have learned best not to challenge.

Even history has facts which it is best not to challenge. Why would I challenge the date of the Norman invasion of Britain? I have no foundation upon which a challenge can stand, other than the date 1066. History tells me that William the Conqueror invaded England and whipped King Harold II on October 14, 1066, at the Battle of Hastings. I could rebut this, but it would be pointless to do so. It doesn't matter to me (nor to the Normans or British, now!) whether it was September, November, 1065, or 1067. It was when it was, and I have been trained that it was October of 1066. I am comfortable to take the word of others on that. I wasn't there, and some that were, perhaps not having a calendar at hand, may have argued over the exact date. Sometimes. I wonder what day it is. But there are an infinite number gray areas in the humanities, the human sciences, philosophy, and theology that allow as much tampering, bending, and manipulation as one is capable of imagining. We should know the limits of reasonable tamperability, though. Yet, when we have reached that limit and are still not satisfied, we are not required to stop; we can move on directly to fiction. It does not matter. I've read many of works of fiction that contained in them the truth about a lot of things. Fiction is like that. It can continue where the facts leave off, not being constrained by them, not limited by them, but set wonderfully free from the chains that are facts. I do this all the time in my writing. Mostly, I provide a warning, but sometimes not. Let the reader beware.

I write this blog because I am required to write it. I don't know why it has become a requirement, nearly an obsession; perhaps my own sanity demands it. I am aware of the motivations that began it, since I wrote them down. They are at the top of the blog header. How it has grown to be what it is is a mystery to me, but not one I spend too much time pondering to myself, since its pondering is here for you to read about. It is a powerfully curious thing, though. I can speculate about it, but mostly I wonder.

I frequently try to think of what others must have been thinking when they write something obscure. I speculate about their motivations. I then wonder about my speculations. I have written about this before . . . speculating about things I wonder about. I reckon I am not through with that, yet.

I mix facts and fantasy at will, and place historical characters in modern settings, choosing for them the words they spoke for themselves under different circumstances, or inserting the words I think they might say if they were with us, today. Those are liberties that I allow myself, though any words I create for the mouth of another are really my own words. Isn't that what fiction is? When we analyze the motivations or the thinking of another, are we not teetering on the verge of fiction? But, what is to stop us? Where is the line between truth and fiction? Of course, it must be . . . if it is on the news . . . then it must be true. If it is on the news channel that I watch, it must then be truer. If the analysis is reinforcing a conviction I already hold, it must then be truest. Is there a true, a more true, and a most true? Is not true a word which has no superlative? Benjamin Franklin said, “Half-a-truth is often a great lie.” I think that is about the most true thing I ever heard.

There is danger for us to be constantly reinforcing what we may already incorrectly or incompletely know. We love to surround ourselves with sycophants who massage our egos but do nothing for our understanding. In our effort to get at the truth, we must search out the things which challenge what we think and then ask ourselves, “Why does this challenge me?” How can we get at the truth if we do not strive to understand what it is that people unlike ourselves think? Why would we not enjoy their company?

Well, no one enjoys the company of a fanatic. Churchill described a fanatic as one who cannot change his mind and will not change the subject. Everyone finds fanatics tedious. Some of them are even dangerous. No one enjoys their company, other than their fellow fanatics with whom they get along just swimmingly. We can hold on to things that are dear to us in spite of near fanatical differences. That is why the shrug of one's shoulders has an almost universal significance. Nearly everywhere it means “I don't know” or “So what”. I can always shrug my shoulders at an obstreperous agitator. “So what,” my shoulders say to him, silently, but perhaps louder than my words.

I can nod my head as someone is telling me what they think, and frequently do. Sometimes I stop them in mid-sentence to warn them, “My nodding means that I am understanding what you are saying. It is not to be interpreted as my agreement.” So many times, this seems to satisfy others since they see us as listening and striving to understand. Many times those we perceive as adversaries merely want a hearing, not necessarily concurrence. Many times they are satisfied to have been given the hearing, and both leave the exchange having learned something, if nothing more than something about each other; that they have passionate convictions they hold dear, and they know the other is willing to give, if not their concurrence, then at least their consideration. Sometimes in human relations, this is enough. Sometimes, it is not enough, but it is all we can give.

So, I will write. I will study history. I will use it until it fails me, then I will take to fabrication, speculation and sometimes, outright prevarication. I will write the truth as I see it interspersed with whatever my mind can conjure, by whatever devices I can make use of, but never will I do so with the intent to deceive. There is a big difference between deception and entertainment. My purpose here is to entertain, inspire, exhort, uplift, brighten, expound, challenge, divest, and occasionally agitate (in a good way) all those who stop here for a brief sojourn. It is never my intention to deceive, even if I do allow myself the luxury of fiction.

And you can send me an e-mail. You can be angered or amused. But you can't comment on this page unless you are a hacker, and if you are a hacker, you will soon be exposed. Please, hackers, don't take this as a challenge . . . I know your capabilities and I am not your equal. There are so many things I am not equal to: so many things against which I don't measure up. We must all know our limitations, though, sometimes they are fictional boundaries we have set for ourselves.

If we are to dabble in fiction, why have any boundaries at all?

Thank goodness I am not an historian.

On Christmas Day, 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. One of his first acts was to appoint court historians to record the story of the King's remarkable invasion and conquest of England. They would do this in French, since none of them spoke Germanic tongue that then passed for English. After many days of assembling the recollections of key players, dictation to scribes, and the careful assembly of page after page of documentation, none of which was obtained from any English-speaking participants, since they, having been defeated were either not around, being mostly dead, or if still living, not congenial enough to participate in the writing of the history of their own defeat, some disagreements broke out among the historians as to the actual date of the Battle of Hastings. There were many heated exchanges, and a document that seemed to satisfy the writers was finally produced which was presented to the newly crowned king.

The court historians were proud of the ruthlessness of their King, and pointed out how complete and cruel his crush of the English was. Entire villages and towns were laid waste, much booty was collected and shared among the men, and stories of rapine and pillage were glorified in the history. King William thought some of this less than noble and would have no part of it.

Speaking to the Chief Court Historian, the King insisted, “These stories of rapine and pillage sort of put me in a bad light. I was hoping for Papal sanction, but these could be detrimental to my cause. I want them struck out. In fact, leave out all the ugly stuff, and just write about how we have kindly 'liberated' England from the oppression of the wicked English King Harold ll.”

“But, Your Majesty, the Court Historians, after much work, have completed this document which details the facts of the invasion, the facts of the battle, the first-hand recollections of your generals and other senior officers, and preserves their words and the glory of your conquest for future historians,” argued the Chief Court Historian.

“Well, I don't like it, and I want it changed, with the bad parts all removed,” said the King.

“Your Majesty, my professionalism will not allow me to do that,” argued the Chief Court Historian with the King.

“Bailiff!! Cut off his head!!” said the King, whereupon the Bailiff drew his sword and with a single swoop, promptly removed the head of the Chief Court Historian.

The King looked around at the horrified Court Historians and pointed at one. “You! You there! You with the curly-toed shoes . . . come forth!!”

Since they were all staring terrified at the lifeless head of their former supervisor laying there on the cold stone floor, none of them immediately responded to the King's order. As they slowly came back to reality, emerging from the real but surreal one that had captured them, everyone looked down at their shoes. Pierre Sans-DuLuc suddenly realized that he was the only one wearing curly-toed shoes. He took in a big gulp of air, and with knees knocking and hands trembling, presented himself before King William, bowing low.

“What is your name?” asked the King.

“I am called Pierre Sans-DuLuc, Your Majesty,” Pierre croaked out. His throat was as dry as late-summer cotton.

“Really!!” observed the King. “Well, Monsieur Sans-DuLuc, you are the new Chief Court Historian. We shall see if you are as unlucky as your predecessor or perhaps a bit more lucky. I want this history document edited so that it will make me look better in the eyes of history. Can you do that for me?”

“Oh! Yes, Your Majesty, and quickly,” said Sans-DuLuc.

“Then kneel before me,” said the King. Sans-DuLuc knelt. As the King approached him, drawing his sword, he shivered in terror, fearing his head would soon join his predecessor, but he only felt a light touch of the flat of the King's sword on each shoulder. “Arise, Sir Pierre DuLuc. From this day forward, you shall be known as DuLuc. I strike the 'sans' from your name, as you have proved this day that you are with luck and not without it. Now, off with you all, and go and get me my history.”

Sir Pierre DuLuc, sans Sans, arose, delighted with this turn of events. There was one question he had of the King though, and he felt since it was his lucky day, he might be able to hazard a single question directed at the King which might help him in his task of more accurately recording history. “Your Majesty, if I may be permitted to speak . . .”

“Well, What? What?”

“There is a question of the date of the invasion and battle, itself, Your Highness. Some say September, some say October, yet others say November. No one seems to have brought a modified-Norman calendar, and these Brits use the old Julian one. What would his majesty prefer the date to be? It shall be so arranged.”

“September, October, November? One month, or another. It is no matter,” said the King. “History is what we will make it. I like October, myself, somewhere around Columbus Day but definitely before Halloween.”

“Is that Columbus Day according to our modified-Norman calendar, the old-Julian, or the new and improved modern scientific Gregorian calendar, Sire?”

“I suppose we should make the best use of new scientific discoveries; we don't want the world perceiving us as not modern. Let it be the Gregorian date. Now, off with you. Get to your task, DuLuc, while you are still du luck.”

DuLuc bowed low before the King and turned and exited the throne room, all of his now subordinate court historians behind him in single file, each breathing a heavy sigh of relief to be out of the presence of the unpredictable king . . . each glad to have a heavy breath to let out in a sigh.

One of the junior historians asked DuLuc, “What is the Gregorian calendar, Sir DuLuc?”

“I don't know. I made that up. We'll have to invent it now, I suppose, to go along with this Columbus Day the King mentioned,” said DuLuc.

“Who is this Columbus?” asked another of the historians.

“I don't have a clue, but I dared not reveal this to the King at the time,” said DuLuc. Everyone nodded their still remaining head in agreement.

After they had left, the King also departed the throne room while he was having it cleaned up with a vacuuming-steam cleaner, removing every trace of the previous Chief Historian. As he was walking towards his chambers, he laughed to himself over the entire exchange. He thought it was remarkable that the new Chief Historian never mentioned a word about Columbus, but acted as if he knew what the King was talking about. He could hardly wait to see the new history, no doubt, with some reference to the word “Columbus” which was the Latinized name of one of his favorite Italian drinking buddies from his college days in Paris. “History is what we will make it! Cheers, my friend Colombo,” he spoke to the wind. “We will write you into history!”

I laugh at myself!

12/1/12  Character? Caricature? The Difference in Value

Caricatures of famous people can be expensive works of art. The character that made them worthy of caricature is a far more valuable thing. The one is a facade that represents some essence of greatness someone felt worthy of commemorating. The other is the actual essence of character that led the artist to commemorate them, or someone to commission the artist to do so. Both can have value and students can learn something from either. We all can be the beneficiaries of both.

The story of the Obama administration's return of the Oval Office Churchill Bust has been so widely spun by both sides of the political spectrum as to make it extremely difficult to ascertain what really happened. The usual news/internet suspects offer their predictable slant on this, whether it is Huffington, Fox, Briebart, or Media Matters, etc. We must glean as best we can from the tarnished reporting to try to get to the truth.

It seems there were two busts of Churchill in the White House. The controversial one that was returned by the Obama administration was loaned to Bush43 by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was presented to Bush43 by British Ambassador Christopher Meyer on July 16, 2001. It was delivered back to the possession of then British Ambassador David Manning early during the Obama administration amid a redecoration of the Oval Office. The bust is reportedly still in possession of current British Ambassador Peter Westmacott at his USA residence. The original bust, given to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, is still on display in the White House.

The Oval Office Churchill bust was loaned to Bush43 for the duration of his term. Upon re-election, Bush43 asked to keep it during his second term. This bust was not loaned permanently and was expected to be returned at some point. If there was an error of protocol here, it was that Bush43 failed to return what he had personally been loaned for a specific period, leaving to others what should have been his responsibility. If you had loaned me an expensive piece of artwork to place in my rented office and I moved out, you might be a bit miffed if the new tenant had to return what you had so graciously loaned to me which I so callously left behind.

Unwittingly fanning the flames of controversy during the recent election when the Romney campaign was aiming to secure some political capital from the handling, or mishandling if you will, of Sir Winston's caricature, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer denied that the bust had been returned, offering as proof a photo of the 1965 Johnson-Churchill bust on display outside the White House Treaty Room (where it still sits). In short - it is true that the Oval Office bust was returned by the Obama administration. It is true that some Brits perceived this as a snub. The whole incident was political fodder for the Right, exacerbated by Pfeiffer's seemingly disingenuous denial. If Pfeiffer's denial was not disingenuous, then it might be more correctly labeled as vacuous. Pfeiffer either knew which bust was returned and was the subject of the controversy, or he did not. If the former is true, then we have no choice but to think he was disingenuous. If the latter, then he did not know what he was talking about, thus the label “vacuous.” I will not retreat from this position, though I will grant to Pfeiffer that the two busts, by artist Jacob Epstein, were nearly identical. To paraphrase Churchill in this instance, Pfeiffer became the “slave of the words he let slip out,” apparently in a hasty, heated response to an editorial written by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.

The truth is out there, but it can be very hard to find. I'm not certain I have it, yet.

Here is a certain truth: The return of the Oval Office Churchill Bust seemed unchivalrous to some, but it is less ignominious than the treatment the post-war Churchill occasionally endured at the hands of his own British Parliament.

Where a bust of Churchill is placed, or who wants it or not, changes nothing about Churchill or his place in history. The world will still vividly remember Churchill long after Presidents Bush and Obama have most likely been consigned to history's footnotes. Please remember that the events that brought Churchill to greatness were so monumental that no one would like to see them repeated. I'm content if none of our presidents ever rise to such heights, preferring them to become mere footnotes to a gentle, uneventful passing of history. Our wish should be that our presidents all become Millard Fillmore's of American History, though I daresay that during Fillmore's administration there was no more or no less acrimony in politics than there seems to be now. Political acrimony is one thing. Epic, monumental events that form, shape, and give birth to greatness in men are altogether another. It was the Civil War that revealed a Lincoln. It was World War II that revealed a Churchill. Pardon me, but I can do without the revelation of any more great men.

I'd like to think that while considering this, Churchill would merely light a cigar, take a sip (or several) of a fine single-malt, well-peated scotch, laughing out loud as he recalls having stared, unblinking and unbending, in the face of things of a far greater urgency. It is Churchill's character I celebrate here, not his caricature.

11/22/12 Thanksgiving

I am thankful for every day.

It is a good way to live one's life, being thankful for what one has. The more we are thankful for what we have, the less we focus on what it is we lack, or what we think we lack. Writing about this is not a new theme for me, and I have written exactly the same thing before on previous Thanksgiving days, and on previous occasions when things didn't seem to be going my way, when the purposeful choosing of gratitude wiped out dark, foreboding, ominous feelings precipitated by things I lacked, or perceived I lacked.

Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45) What comes out of our mouth is the gauge of what is in our heart; may they be the fruitful words of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Today, I will add thanksgiving, though it serves us well everyday.

I have often heard people quick to use the verse where Jesus is quoted as saying, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) People whip this one out for their own convenience, mostly, and sometimes rightfully so, when we have set ourselves up as the Righteous Judge, which is not a title or office reserved for us. But in the passage from Luke, above, we clearly have a way to gauge what is in people's hearts by hearing the words that come out of their own mouths. We cannot know their motives, nor can we always pick up on words that are deceptive or duplicitous, but over time, the words coming out of our mouth convicts us or vindicates us in the eyes of others.

Perhaps the best words recorded in the bible that came from anyone's mouth, other than the words of Jesus, were FROM the words of Jesus, when in a parable He told us of a man and what he said:

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

There were two men in this parable Jesus told in the 18th chapter of the Book of Luke. Both men had words to say to God. You can go and read for yourself what Jesus said about them.

Words from our mouths can be deceptive, but they never fool God. And over time, when the words of our mouths that people hear fail to line up with the actions they see, we don't fool them, either.

But words of Thanksgiving, even when we don't FEEL thankful, have a way of changing us, if not forever, then at least for a time. It is when we feel the least thankful that words of thanks can bring about true gratitude and a sense of contentment. When we start to compile a list of things we HAVE, and begin to say them out loud, declaring our thankfulness for them, it has the remarkable way of soothing us in a way that cannot be truly comprehended, only experienced.

Spend this day being thankful for every moment of peace, every morsel of food, every minute spent with family and friends, and if we can't be thankful for these things, then at the very least, we can be thankful that we are not walking about in the shoes of another, which may be very uncomfortable, indeed. Look down at your own feet. Are there shoes on them?

Well, then, what's not to be thankful FOR? Whatever shape they're in, they're far better than NO shoes.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this time. Thank you for the table that is set before me. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my friends. Thank you for your love and mercy. Thank you for a cup that overflows. Thank you for the living water which you have so freely provided for me to drink. Help me, through the words of my mouth and the touch of my hands, to share the abundance with which I have been so richly blessed. Help me to serve others in the way you would have me serve. Let me do all things, experience all things, and endure all things in a true spirit of thanksgiving.

11-21-12  The World is Ending, Again

We all know that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, the day of the winter solstice. Many people have read much significance into that. On one hand, given that calendars can be extended on towards infinity, and the Mayans had no computers or printers to conveniently print out calendars for future years, as we can, having rather to engrave them in stone tablets, perhaps Mayan government funding for calendar calculation and replication was cut due to some Mayan governmental oversight committee charged with eliminating government waste. On the other hand, the calendar manufacturers may have gotten a government contract to do something more useful than make calendars that ran a millennium or more into the future. Maybe the owner of the Mayan Calendar Company, LLC, just decided they had no more funds to focus on research and development and laid off everyone in that entire department. Maybe the guy charged with carving them in stone simply retired when he reached the age to draw his pension and they saw no need to refill the slot. Maybe they decided carving stone with stone was just too difficult and they had enough future calendar calculations to last a while. There is no telling.

If you talk to Harold Camping (remember him – The Family Radio Service founder that predicted the world's End?), he would say that the world was already supposed to be ended and that the Mayans were obviously wrong. Or is he now going to reappear and say that they were right?

Predicting the world's end is apparently an easy thing to do. People do it all the time. None of them, so far, have gotten it right, nor do they seem required to. Except, perhaps, for Camping, whose own world-end theory morphed into some spiritual/invisible era change where one world ended unnoticeably while another spiritual/invisible world, equally unnoticeable, began. It's hard to tell for sure...these unnoticeable things, I mean. I can't have much confidence in them, but that may just be me. I have the sneaking suspicion that when the world ends, lots of folks will notice it, though there may be no one around to report on it, or no one around to read the reports if they were indeed reported. This whole world-ending business is just too complicated for me. Remember, I am from Mississippi. If one were not careful, one might think I was from Missouri, instead.

“I seem to have gotten the math wrong,” said Camping of his faux pas. Well, is he a mathematician or a prophet? The qualifications are not necessarily the same. If he is a mathematician, he needs to practice some more. If he is a prophet, then he needs to have his prophecy license revoked. Marshall Applewhite (You simply MUST remember him and the Heaven's Gate cult) voluntarily surrendered his prophet's license, though it was on the harshest terms for him and his followers. I sincerely regret the choices they made. It was certainly a world-ending tragedy for them.

This brings me to my real point.

Between now and December 21, 2012, the world will end for lots of people, for reasons as varied as any manner I am capable of imagining, and some unimaginable. None of them I can think of at the moment seem likely to be desirable or admirable, though some may well be. It seems a personal world-ending event is much more common than a general world's end, predictable for some, but mostly unpredictable. A personal world-ending event is not a question of if, but when. I find it extremely regrettable, but folks have been experiencing their own personal world-ending events for a long time now, and there seems to be no let-up, just a sort of faux postponement. Funeral homes are popping up like Dollar Generals.

Nearly every Junior and Community College now has a Mortuary Science school. I've even known a few people, now retired, who went and took the classes and became certified morticians because they were bored. A couple have since opened up funeral homes. Just yesterday, on a drive over by the Tombigbee river, just across the state line in Alabama, mind you, I saw one of those flashing signs despised by municipalities everywhere, declaring, “Bubba's Bait Shop and Funeral Home.” It was simple metal building, gas pumps out front, and a Bud Light sign on the window. This was your one stop shopping place . . . one of those country stores that had a little bit of everything, the usual canned goods and groceries, some light dry goods, a few plumbing supplies, horse feed, a bit of hardware, beer coolers and more beer coolers, live bait, and a hot-food counter where they served bad fried chicken and those things they call burritos which are filled with some spicy ground-meat resemblance, wrapped in biscuit dough and then deep fried in cottonseed oil which has been continually scorched beyond its “best if used by” date. There were several tables and chairs in the back for patrons to eat their food, beyond the merchandise, but situated before the live bait tanks. I have seen many places like it. There are few things as pleasant as enjoying a tube of Rolaids after eating one of their burritos, all while listening to the soothing sound of chirping crickets in the cricket cage and the aerators in the minnow tank; it just brings one to a close, personal communion with nature that is unattainable nearly anywhere else. The scenic wonder of our national parks takes a back seat to the natural, earthy fragrances, sounds, and atmosphere of a place like Bubba's. To be completely fair, though this was in Alabama, it was just a few hundred yards over the state line, so about half the folks in there, like me, were from Mississippi, and I noticed a couple of Tennessee tags on some pick-up trucks, too. There was not a single car, but all 4-wheel drive pick-ups, some of them jacked up as tall as a shotgun house on stilts.

It was hunting season, so Bubba's was filled with a combination of fishermen and hunters: the hunters were all in camouflage outfits so they could not be seen by wary deer as they were sitting in their insulated and heated shoot houses. The fishermen were all dressed in rubber boots and overalls, most of them also camouflaged, apparently so the fish, looking up from the murky depths of the river, would mistake them for shrubberies of various sorts. No one ever said that fish were very smart. I was the only one not dressed in camo. I felt nearly naked as everyone looked me up and down.

“You must be here for the funeral,” said Bubba.

“No,” I replied. “I am here to get a coke and a bag of potato chips.”

“Are you sure you're not here for the funeral? We're gonna bury ol' Clyde. Everyone liked him. We're likely to have a big turnout,” Bubba told me.

“I'm sorry, I didn't know Mr. Clyde. I regret to hear of the passing of your friend.”

“Yep,” said Bubba, shaking his head slowly as a tear formed in the corner of his left eye, which looked like it may have been glass . . . I couldn't be sure. “Ol' Clyde was a good'un. He never missed a day of fishin' and huntin' right up 'til he had the big one. He'd hunt all day and fish all night, or fish all day and hunt all night. It never mattered much to ol' Clyde. He was a sportsman's sportsman.”

“He was fortunate to have so many admirers,” I said, setting my coke and potato chips on the counter.

Bubba looked me up and down, twice. I couldn't tell which eye he was looking at me with, but one of them, certainly, was peering intently at me. “I cain't sell you them right now,” he said.

“Well, why not?” I asked.

“'Cause ol' Clyde's funeral starts in about fifteen minutes, and by law, I can't sell no food items a quarter-hour before, or a quarter-hour after the funeral. It's a hell-uv-a bad law, if you ask me. But they say since ol' Clyde's laid out out back, when we bring his remains in here for the funeral proper, I can't sell no food or beverages. That's why we're so busy right now. Ever one's done stocked up on what they needed before the funeral and now they're a-stayin' 'til it's over. Some of 'em missed the deadline and'll have to wait now. If you're a mind to, one of them feller's over there will give you a beer to tide you over until after the funeral's over.”

“You're having the funeral in HERE?” I asked.

“Yep. We do it all the time. Them chairs and tables in the back ain't only our eatin' area, it's our funeral chapel. You might as well go on and stay. Ol' Clyde's widder will be glad to meetcha. You can just tell her you knowed ol' Clyde from way back . . . that y'all'uz ol' fishin' buddies. She'd like that. She won't never know no differnce.”

“Thank you . . . Bubba, is it? But I reckon I need to get back on the road. I'll stop in again, sometime when I'm down this way. Perhaps you'll be able to sell me my coke and chips.”

“Yeah, I'm Bubba. Shore hate you cain't stay. We'll have a hell-uv-a good time sending ol' Clyde on off to his re-ward. The law says I cain't sell nothing right now, but folks done bought all the beer they'll need for the funeral. The law don't say nothing about eatin' and drankin' during the funeral, just about me sellin' it,” he explained.

It looked like to me the funeral party had already started. Bubba said, “You be shore and come back, now.”

I nodded as I headed for the door. Already, six men in camouflage overalls were wheeling ol' Clyde's casket out into the eating area/funeral chapel. To the sight of dozens of camouflaged men standing at attention, I heard a synchronized popping of Bud Light tabs. “Schhhhh-took,” cried the beer cans. “Slurp,” was the sound echoing from the simultaneous sips of those gathered for Ol' Clyde. “Chirp-Chirp-Chirp,” cried the crickets in the cage. “Whiz-a-wiz,” cried the aerators in the minnow tank. And “Chusssshhhh, crackle, crackle, pop, sizzle,” shouted the deep fat fryer as a sweaty, consumptive, hair-netted woman wiped her brow with one hand while putting biscuit-dough burritos in the deep-fat fryer with the other. I wondered if she was Mrs. Bubba. Apparently you couldn't sell them during the funeral, but you could have them hot and ready for those who developed a lustful burrito hunger precipitated purely by their prohibition for a short period.

I wondered where ol' Clyde's women were, but they were pulling up in a black Jeep stretch-limousine as I approached the door. The stylized gold-leaf lettering on the side of the limousine said, “Bubba's Bait Shop and Funeral Home. 24 Hour Service. Call (205) 555-5555. Ask for BUBBA.”

The last thing I heard as I walked out the door was Bubba telling the cook, “You know, ol' Clyde sure loved them burritos. We need to put one in his casket along with a box of crickets. That'd be a nice touch, don'cha thank?” She said nothing, just shaking the fry basket, getting the burritos nice and golden brown as she continually wiped her forehead, this time, I noticed, with the same hand she put them in there with. It was a bit comforting knowing that they would be too hot for either hand when she took the out of the oil. A lot of things can sure pass through a person's mind in a short time.

I picked up a flyer at the door. It read, “One Month's Free Bait With Pre-Need Funeral Arrangement. Just Ask Bubba!”

The world certainly ended for ol' Clyde. He will be missed by his many friends.

11/17/12 What Would We Be?

Be as you wish to seem

Socrates

There is no escaping Socrates. He is a recurring theme in my writings. He was a recurring theme in the writings of many: Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon. I suppose that's because he was a teacher, and they that sat at his feet went on to become some of the world's most original and profound thinkers. Most of what we know about Socrates comes from what his students wrote about him. We are thankful for that, for very little of what Socrates said or did has passed to us through his own hand.

The quote above is one worth governing one's life by.

“How should I live my life?” the student asked the master.

“Be as you wish to seem,” the master said back.

Young Xenophon scratched his head at that. He pondered it. He thought about it. “What do I wish to be?” he asked himself. He had no answer, but continued to ponder the question. “I want to be wise like you, master, but how will I know when I have achieved my goal?”

“You won't get there by merely thinking about it; and you may never know if you have achieved it,” said Socrates to the young Xenophon, “You'll have to actually do something. We can't just intellectually be what we seem to be, we have to become what we seem to be. What is it that you seem to be?”

“I seem to be a student,” he replied.

Socrates said, “You are a student, so you are what you seem to be. But is there another aspect of your nature in which you are presenting yourself as something you may not yet be? What do you like? How do you spend your free time?”

“I love horses. I love to train horses - - working with them, training them in such a way as they do not need the whip or the spur, but carry us and serve us because we have trained them to want to do so.”

“Do you know how to do that? Have you mastered this? Are you satisfied that you are able to be that person?” the master asked his star pupil.

“Oh, no!,” cried Xenophon. “Horses have a mind of their own. Sometimes it seems I have accomplished what I want in a particular horse, but other times it seems I know nothing about horses at all. Each horse has its own personality, and some just can't be taught.”

“Are not some students the same?” asked the master. “Are not they who come to this school with the most knowledge the hardest to teach, having no room in their minds for something new?”

“I suppose it is as you say,” said Xenophon, “I only know that I have a lot to learn.”

“Than you are well on the way to your complete education,” said the master. “What have the horses taught you?”

“Taught me?” asked Xenophon. “I am the one who trains the horses.”

“But surely, you have learned something about horses from the horses themselves,” said the master. 

Xenophon thought about this, suspecting it was a trick question, since Socrates was quick to lay traps for his students, particularly those who thought they had the ready answer. He stated to speak, but held his peace a while longer as he pondered with all the cleverness he could summon on how he might answer in a way that would satisfy the master and not bring on more questions, endless questions, each one getting harder and harder until one's mind was weary from self-examination.

“I have learned that the horse will respond to the whip and the spur, but is always ready to throw his rider when trained that way, for his fear is always ready as his answer. But I have also learned that one can train the horse to carry the rider willingly, to move in such a way as to keep the rider balanced. But to train the horse like this, one must earn the horse's trust and respect, and nothing will suffice but time. As the horse grows in experience, the horse and rider learn to trust each other. Soon, the horse and the rider have respect for each other, and the horse will not turn away at the sight of the bridle, but yield to it in willing service. If one can train a horse in this way, one not only has a means of transportation, but a friend and servant. Yet the man must serve the horse, too. They must serve each other.”

“And did you just wake up one morning with this knowledge? Or did you learn it from the horses?” asked the master.

“Oh, no! It was a hard lesson. I learned it from working with the horses. The hardest horses to train were the ones that had been taught through fear. It was nearly impossible to train them to something new, so great was that which had been instilled in them.”

“Ah! Now, you see my dilemma,” said the master as he turned to other things. Xenophon knew that he had been dismissed, that the lesson was over. He had learned something without having been taught anything. He knew now that he had much to unlearn before he could learn more. He knew then that he would be what he seemed to be. He would be a master trainer. A physician and breeder of horses. After all these centuries, The Works of Xenophon still teach men who would study it about the training and care of horses. It is still a valuable tool since, even though centuries have passed and the world seems a different place, horses haven't changed all that much. They are still horses.

The honest man strives to be what he seems. Sometimes what a man seems to be and what he is are not the same. When there is less to a man than meets the eye, we would be wise to give him a wide berth. And, sometimes, the horse seems gentle right up until the point where we put our foot in the stirrup.

Things are not always what they seem. If we know nothing else, we should know that.

11/16/12 New Developments

The nefarious Dr. Meera Sachdeva, the Summit, Mississippi, Oncologist whom you  previously met here, and her cohorts in crime, were to have been sentenced today, but their sentencing was put off until December 7. Now what do you suppose made them delay the sentencing? Did the judge have a Tee Time that conflicted with his courtroom duties? Now will will wait and see what happens on December 7.

Since I was unable to contact Hemosapien yesterday, I sent a copy of my flow cytometry report to Gooday. You can count on hearing back from Gooday. He said exactly what I thought he would say: Suggest watch and wait. Check nodes in January.

So, I'll be going back to Hemosapien in January to be checked again, then on to BATCC in April for my follow-up there.

I did just learn something profound that was said by Michael J. Fox, who has struggled with Parkinson's disease which cut a successful career short. I learned this from my friend Charlene, who forwarded me an e-mail update from a friend of hers who is about as ill as a human being can be, while keeping the classic British stiff upper lip. Michael J Fox said:

My happiness is in direct proportion to my acceptance,

and direct disproportion to my expectations.

This is a valuable thing for one to learn when dealing with a bad illness. Every  time I have had an expectation, my illness has had a way of thwarting it. Every time I have learned acceptance, I have never been disappointed. Charlene's friend had to have a double lung transplant, and is now dealing with a fungal infection in her new lungs and their rejection by her own immune system. Even the anti-bodies being produced by her own body to fight foreign intruders are being rejected. Things are compounding on her in a manner that cannot be imagined, including developing allergies to benadryl (Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride) and corticosteroids, which are designed to prevent allergic reactions. Technically, it is impossible to be allergic to corticosteroids, since they are produced by our own bodies. This lady is as sick as one can possibly be and needs our thoughts and prayers. Please send them liberally. I don't have to mention her name. God knows her name . . . you can just refer to her as that really sick lady. God'll know who you're talking about.

If only the interest in our savings accounts could compound the way an illness can in our body. If only people didn't get sick. If only there were no wars. If only there was no enmity between humans. If only there was no enmity between family members. If only the world was a better place. If only the doctors knew more. If only the sun would rise tomorrow. Wait . . . now just wait a minute. The sun WILL rise tomorrow. Well, then, if only I were there to see it. Some of us will be. Some of us won't. Shall we trade what we have for what's behind door number 3? There have been some big winners. But, there have been some big losers. We must learn to be content with what we have, for that is the only place wherein we will find peace.

Didn't someone wise once say that? Let me think about it for a minute. Hmmmmm!

“. . . for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. . .”

Paul, the Apostle, Philippians 4:11. This is the secret to a happy life, no, no . . . more than that: it is the secret to a joyful life. There is joy in contentment. There is peace in contentment. There is life in contentment. And where there is a lack of contentment, there is contention. Contentment or contention? They are both things that can be learned. They are both things that can be unlearned. Paul learned to be content wherever he found himself. He didn't say he started out that way, but that he learned it.

Now, I am going to be content to watch and wait. What other choice is open to me? Contentious watching and waiting? Caterwauling watching and waiting? Cacophonous watching and waiting? Cowering watching and waiting? Cowardly watching and waiting? Clandestine watching and waiting? Gooday and Hemosapien know more about this than me. I know enough to be dangerous to myself and others. I m content to watch and wait.

The only option to me is to be content while watching and waiting. For I could malcontentedly watch and wait, but to what purpose?

I am wanting to write something funny, but funny seems far from me at this time. Maybe I'll just be content with what I have and content with what I wrote. If I m not, then, like Paul, I can LEARN to be so while Dr. Meera Sachdeva contentedly waits her sentencing for the most wicked of crimes against her patients. I wonder how content she is now? I suspect Michael J. Fox and the unnamed lady above have far more contentment about them.

11/16/12 Peripheral Blood Involvement of a Lymphoprolifierative Disorder

Boy, that's a mouthful!

I went to Hemosapien for my checkup the day after the election (November 7). Gooday had previously discovered some swollen lymph nodes in my neck on my visit to BATCC back last April. He seemed unconcerned and said that they did not seem to be CLL type swollen nodes. Well, last week, Hemosapien noted them, too, and found some more in my armpits. He didn't seem too concerned, but ordered a peripheral Blood Flow Cytometry, which is a test done from a blood sample rather than from bone marrow aspirate.

I have not been feeling well. In fact, I have been feeling rather wretched, ill from some unnamed, generalized malaise, and displaying symptoms that were familiar from my bout with CLL. My blood work looked good, but the swollen lymph nodes were either unexplainable, or simply not explained, or something that merely bears watching rather than action. CLL is a lot like that.

My Peripheral Blood Flow Cytometry came back while I was away on 11/9/12. I had previously told Hemosapien just to fax it to my office and I would get it on my return, which would have been last Monday. I wasn't feeling well last Monday and didn't go in to the office, but my brother saw the report on the fax machine and decided to call me about it.  He read the result Hemosapien had underlined, “No immunophenotypic evidence of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.” This was the good news I had hoped for as it meant that after exectly three years, I was still in remission. Three years in remission is a good thing and a cause for celebration, no matter how bad I felt that day. This news made me feel better.

I went on a business trip Tuesday and Wednesday with a business associate from Caterpillar, which included a trip to Mobile on Wednesday. My friend had never been to Mobile, so after we were through with our business, I took him East on I-10, through downtown Mobile (which has grown and become quite impressive with some tall buildings), through the Bankhead tunnel, across the causeway, where we found a nice place for a late lunch in the town of Daphne, Alabama, on the East side of Mobile Bay. It was a nice trip: Good business with a good friend, followed up by a nice lunch and then two-and-a- half hours to discuss our plans for business on the way back, all on a beautiful day for a drive.

Yesterday morning I got up and went to the office. There on my desk I found the Flow Cytometry report. I saw what I expected to see, then read further, seeing something I did not quite expect. The sentence before the good news that Hemosapien had underlined read, “Peripheral Blood with a very small Kappa predominant B-cell population showing dim CD10 expression (<1%).”

Ah! I'm sure you understand every bit of that! If not, let me help you. There are Kappa type B white blood cells and Lambda type B blood cells. The Kappa and Lambda are both proteins that, together, make up a complete antibody. These usually occur somewhat proportionally, but you can have disease that is Kappa skewed or Lambda skewed, and the ratio of the two is an important tool for your physician to gauge your response to treatment, or the failure of your treatment. Right now, my ratio is slightly skewed towards Kappa, but well within normal limits, having a ratio of 1.33. This is a good thing.

However, a very small, but observable number of my B type kappa white blood cells (and CLL is a cancer of the B type white blood cells) have a noticeable expression of the protein CD10. CD10 is an enzyme that inhabits the surface of the cancer cells, not only of CLL, but of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, Burkitt's Lymphoma, and Follicular Lymphoma. It can also be an indication of Richter's transformation, which is where CLL changes into Non-Diffuse Large Cell Lymphoma. This happens in about 5% of CLL patients, and can occur suddenly, even in patients who are in remission. All of the above mentioned lymphomas are acute and dramatically more dangerous than the CLL I am now in remission from. The worst one is Richter's Transformation leading to Non-Diffuse Large Cell Lymphoma. Naturally, this is on my mind, and was on my mind before I read this report, since the growing number and locations of swollen lymph nodes was already known.

The Flow Cytometry report also says, “In summary, a very small kappa predominant B-cell population is detected showing CD10 Expression (<1%). The significance of this small population is not certain however the possibility of a very low-level peripheral blood involvement by a lymphoproliferative disorder cannot be entirely excluded.” Now, while I am glad of the things it did say, this is something I'd rather not read in my report. It has not been there before, nor have the swollen lymph nodes. This is just the kind of thing that can send a layman with more than a little knowledge, dangerous knowledge, into a tailspin of despair.

I put in a call for Hemosapien. Nurse Hallie called me back, but dammit, my phone had gotten accidentally switched to silent mode, so I missed her call. Nurse Hallie could not answer my question, anyway. Hemosapien will have to call me himself. Had he felt this was an issue that needed immediate further investigation or action, I would have heard from him. I still want to talk to him, but I'm sure he will say, “We will keep our eye on this, watch, and wait.” That is the hallmark of CLL . . . watch and wait. For a person used to doing something, watching and waiting is sheer torture.

I am trying not to waste this time of remission worrying about what may happen in the future. The number of things that may happen in the future that are good, or bad, that may be completely unrelated to this cancer of mine are unlimited. I could die in an accident. I could die from a heart attack. Or worse than all of these, I could die from nothing at all over worry about something that may or may not happen.

So here goes: I see this. Hemosapien sees this. Gooday at BATCC will see it when I go back there in April. It will be what it will be. In spite of my best efforts, there will be days when this will worry me to distraction, but I am going to make sure that those days are few and far in between. The fewer and farther, the better.

Some days we walk in victory. Others, we walk in despair despite victory . . . and it is on these days that we do ourselves the most damage. Yep, I'm going to worry. I'd be misrepresenting things if I told you I wasn't. But I'm not going to worry too damn much. I'm simply going to get busy with the things I need to be busy with . . . and deep, dark, foreboding thoughts should not be part of those things that occupy my time. While this is easier said than done, it will be done. It will be done. Done!!!

As Gooday would most likely tell me, “Let me worry about that. That is my JOB!”

Laymen with knowledge can be dangerous. I am my own worst enemy. I must watch out for myself. Perhaps I will hide when I see me coming.

And by the way, TODAY is the day Dr. Meera Sachdeva and her cohorts will be sentenced for their shenanigans on the treatment of her cancer patients. I will report back. It is likely that she has more to worry about, TODAY, than I do.

Wait, I just think I saw a disorderly lymphoproliferative B Cell go flashing by. No, it was just my imagination, once again, running away with me. It was just my imagination, running away with me. Hey!! That will be today's theme song. It will now be stuck in my head all day.

There are worse fates. I LIKE that song. Who doesn't??

11/15/12 Secession!! What???

There seem to be lots of petitions floating around among the states calling for secession. The last time I looked in to this it seems that things did not go well for the states that actually seceded, nor did they go well for the states that committed to the union. It was just a horrible experience. It was so bad that this native Mississippian feels that Mississippi didn't actually, completely, and functionally come out of Reconstruction until the 1980's. Many may disagree, since reconstruction was officially over for Mississippi in 1876; but Mississippi's Jim Crow laws and voter suppression efforts led to other Federal interventions, and Mississippi is one of the few sates still covered by the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968. We have had a hard time living down our past, and just about the time we begin to earnestly shed the shackles and move Mississippi into the 20th century (though it's the 21st, we are still playing catch-up) . . . who rationally wants to re-identify with the dark things in our past by talk of secession? Not me!!!

Elections and politics don't always go the way we want, but that does not leave the citizenry without a voice, nor of a means for the redress of grievances. I am certainly numbered among those who resent the deeper infiltration of the Federal government into more and more aspects of our lives, and I see our liberties being siphoned off one by one by a Federal juggernaut that seems to be out of control. There is no question in my mind that my own representatives have contributed to the out-of-control spending and regulation. A significant portion of this has come about by Congress' abdication of its role as lawmaker by allowing the creation of commissions, agencies, bureaus, and authorities that are empowered by congress to create regulations that have all the effect of law. In effect, we have bureaucrats working for the Executive branch making policy that have the effect of law. Why Congress has chosen to abdicate its responsibility and delegate its authority and power to the executive branch is a mystery to me. I think it is even a dangerous one . . . but it is not one that cannot be fixed if our elected representatives would get about the business for which we sent them to Washington.

Because of that, and an election turned to gall and wormwood in the stomachs of many, there is this new talk of secession. It depends on which partisan, inflammatory, or spurious website you look at that leads one to a determination of just how widespread this movement is. Is it all hot air, or are some really serious?

If Nathan Bedford Forrest were alive today, he would be likely to address modern secessionists in a manner that they would find very discouraging.

“You want to WHAT?” asked the aged Civil war general.

“We want to secede from the union,” said the chairman of the Modern Secessionist League at their convention in Froward, Folly, to the specially honored guest speaker who had just now learned the reason for his invitation.

“Have y'all lost your minds?” He asked.

“No sir, General,” said the chairman, “We think the time has come to dissolve the union so we can have complete control of our own affairs here in the great and sovereign state of Folly.”

The elderly Forrest, speaking barely above a whisper and having to be supported by two aides who accompanied him everywhere, since he was 181 years old, replied, “Don't call me General. I stopped being a general 153 years ago. There comes a time in a man's life when he must abandon his folly and get on with working within the framework of things as they are. I don't know why you invited me here, but I think I can assure you that this audience does not want to hear what I have to say about any secession from the union.” The weakness in his aged body could not hide the fire in his eyes as he spoke. There was a real and vital MAN still living inside the ancient body. He shook off his aides and rose to his full height, which was 6'1”, not too tall by today's standards, but nearly a giant in his days as a young man . . . and even now, seeming taller than he actually was . . . and standing alone on the dais, looked his audience over and declared, “You must stop this foolishness,” at which they gasped. Not getting the response they had expected.

“I sacrificed everything I owned for a cause I believed in, even though that cause turned out to sheer foolishness. I tell you all that the war that will follow will be anything but glorious, and I know that glory is what you are seeing for yourselves. But there is no glory. There is only death, blood, and the sacrifice of your property, the safety and comfort of your mothers, your wives, and your daughters, and the death and dismemberment of your sons. There is a time for war, and when brought to it, all a man can do is fight, but to seek it is the height of the folly of mankind, and you are headed down a path which you do not want, nor from which you can stray once you start.

“I know what I am talking about. I have sent my own men to their deaths, and spent their lives like I might have spent nickels from my pocket. I have looked men square in the eyes and knowingly and willingly fired my pistol right into their face at point blank range and watched them die. I have run men through with my saber an cursed them as I pushed their dying body off its point, and wiped their own blood on their clothes to clean it. I did this without a second thought, and I would do it again. I doubt many of you have the stomach for such business, preferring to send others to do this for you, but it's your own sons you will send.

“I have had musket balls cut out of my body without the benefit of any anesthesia other than a drink of whiskey, and bitten on bullets and sweated while the surgeons did their shoddy work, only to have it done again the following week. I doubt many of you would be willing to do this. I earned the respect of my men by never asking them to do something that I would not do, led a thousand charges from the front, not the rear, but in doing so, I watched my own family come to near starvation as I earnestly fought for a lost cause that was lost from the very beginning. But I did what I felt was my duty to the best of my ability, though it cost me everything but my life, and how I wish I have been killed in my first battle rather than to have seen those things which still haunt me after all these many years. The thing that perhaps haunts me most is what we would have become had we won. Just what is it that we would have won, and how would it have served us?”

The once enraptured crowd had fallen into a deathly silence, pondering these words they had not expected to hear, pondering them because they knew that the one speaking was not talking through a vision of future glory, but through experiences none of them had encountered, not thought through, and not thought would actually affect them or their fortunes. Words that had come so easily from their mouths just moments before now seemed stuck in their craw, choking them like an alkaline dust stirred by hot desert winds.

“On May 9, 1865, I made my farewell address to my troops. I never expect to have to utter such words again in my lifetime, or yours. I will read to you what I said then.”

By an agreement made between Liet.-Gen. Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama. Mississippi, and East Louisiana, and Major-Gen. Canby, commanding United States forces, the troops of this department have been surrendered.

I do not think it proper or necessary at this time to refer to causes which have reduced us to this extremity; nor is it now a matter of material consequence to us how such results were brought about. That we are BEATEN is a self-evident fact, and any further resistence on our part would justly be regarded as the very height of folly and rashness.

The armies of Generals LEE and JOHNSON having surrendered, you are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army east of the Mississippi River to lay down your arms.

The Cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations, and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate, is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms -- submit to the “powers that be” -- and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.

The terms upon which you were surrendered are favorable, and should be satisfactory and acceptable to all. They manifest a spirit of magnanimity and liberality, on the part of the Federal authorities, which should be met, on our part, by a faithful compliance with all the stipulations and conditions therein expressed. As your Commander, I sincerely hope that every officer and soldier of my command will cheerfully obey the orders given, and carry out in good faith all the terms of the cartel.

Those who neglect the terms and refuse to be paroled, may assuredly expect, when arrested, to be sent North and imprisoned. Let those who are absent from their commands, from whatever cause, report at once to this place, or to Jackson, Miss.; or, if too remote from either, to the nearest United States post or garrison, for parole.

Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.

The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully, and to the end, will, in some measure, repay for the hardships you have undergone.

In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the Cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, has elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my past success in arms.

I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.

N.B. Forrest, Lieut.-General

Headquarters, Forrest's Cavalry Corps

Gainesville, Alabama

May 9, 1865

My own great-great grandfather, Ransom Lane McElroy, of Company C of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry was there in Gainesville, Alabama, to hear that speech. He had served with Forrest during the war, and his company was later transferred to Lieutenant-General Richard Taylor, Forrest's commanding officer, mentioned above. That Ransom Lane McElroy was a tough soldier, there is no doubt . . . for Forrest would have no slackers and shirkers in his cavalry; he would not think twice about dispatching any man who was derelict in his duty. Ransom Lane McElroy received his parole in Gainesville, Alabama, that same day of May 9, 1865. As a Confederate cavalry soldier, he owned his own horse, which he was allowed to keep and he rode it home the 50 miles or so to Lauderdale, Mississippi, the home of my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my mother, and my six-great grandfather who was the un-named father of the great Choctaw chief, Pushmataha . . . the place where I was also raised, just ten miles south of my current home in Kemper County, Mississippi. My roots run deep here, all the way back to days of the Woodland and Archaic period indians, before there was any recording of history. Perhaps that is why it feels so much like home; it is in my blood.

My family possesses a painting of Ransom Lane, or “Paw” as he was called, according to my Uncle Son, who is the only one left that is old enough to remember him. Paw had a big moustache like me. I wonder if he has ever peeked down from heaven at me, elbowed some of his former cavalry brothers and observed to them, “That boy has a fine moustache!”

Paw returned home with his horse. In immediate post-civil war Mississippi, that made him a wealthy man. I don't know what he may have been feeling or thinking about the speech of the General he admired and served during the late unpleasantness. I doubt if he or the general he served so faithfully would be signing any petitions about secession, today. I'm certain I won't, because . . . because, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

And our President, our nation's Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces has taken the following oath, and will take it again this January, 2013: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The soldiers who serve under him have already taken or will take this oath: I, (NAME), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

If our pledges and our oaths mean nothing, then nothing can help this country. Our word MUST MEAN something; in fact, it MUST MEAN everything. 

11/12/12 Scott McQuaig – I'm Still Falling

I'm not a reviewer. You've heard me say so before, right here. I suspect that if I were asked to write a review, the person asking might be reluctant to ask me to do so again, because I might be heavy handed because the role of a reviewer is not one that I relish. I do know, however, what I like, and as I grow older and increasingly curmudgeonly, that list seems to be getting shorter and shorter.

I have been a fan of Scott McQuaig for many years, having shared the same stage with him as a co-performer, and having shared the stage with him while we performed together. I always liked what I heard, never being disappointed with it – always wanting to hear more. Scott is a crooner. His smooth country voice is soft, expressive, and pulls the listener in during a ballad as if he were telling the story for us and us alone. Scott doesn't seem to sing for the crowd; he sings for me.

One more than one occasion, I have been moved by his songwriting. This is not an easy admission because, as a songwriter, the songs I hear from Scott are always songs I wish I had written myself. Of course, I think that's a compliment. I suppose it's about the highest compliment any songwriter can pay to another one.

Which songs on “I'm Still Falling” do I like the best? That's a tough question. I would be easier to pick out the ones I don't, but easier doesn't mean easy. Those songs that speak to me the least are merely a matter of one style of song over another, and those songs that fit my style get preference. There is not a single song I don't like, but man, oh man, there are some that speak to me, as if born right out of my own experience, my own pain, my own soul.

The first two cuts, THE LEAST I CAN DO and FIND YOURSELF ANOTHER FOOL are straight ahead modern country tunes. When I first heard Scott's 32ND STREET many years ago, during a show we both were billed on, I said to him, “Man, what a song.” 32nd STREET was never my street, but another street was, and one can substitute “Hard Times Road” for 32nd STREET, it would make no difference. That song tells my story. It tells your story. It tells everyone's story. It is a song written and sung by every boy growing up in the South coming to grips with the changes in his own life. This is the magic of music.

The title cut, I'M STILL FALLING is a sweet ballad. I've got it cranked up on my studio monitors, listening to the soft punch of the mix, John Elmore's guitar, the rock solid percussion of David Zettler, and the poignant harmonica played by Steve Smithson, who, more than any other harpist knows when to play, when not to play, and when to make one note wring a tear from a glass eye. And Tommy Ethridge never fails on the bass. Of all the songs on this record, this one is flat out my favorite. It is a smooth country serenade that every woman would like to hear outside her window on a moonlit night. It is just the song to move her to say, “yes.” This song should be #1 on Billboard's Country Music charts right now, but Nashville seems misguided these days. Music lovers are losers, everywhere, having traded the TV version of karaoke for the real thing. Music is not what TV music judges say it is, regardless of their popularity, fame, or musical tastes. The real McCoy is the real McCoy. I won't allow myself to have less than that. I won't listen to it. This . . . this is worth listening to, again and again.

ONE DROP OF WATER is a classic country honky-tonk song; a two-stepper that should have everyone smiling as they dance. If you like country music reminiscent of Buck Owens and Faron Young, this is it. If you call yourself a country music fan and either don't know who Buck Owens and Faron Young are, or worse, don't LIKE them, then, for your own sake, please hit the back button and stop reading this right now.

I CAN'T FEEL A THING has as much pain as any song I've ever heard. Scott played before me one night on the syndicated radio and TV show, “The Sucarnochee Revue,” and I stood in the wings hearing Scott do this song. I was literally moved to tears. Here is the story of a man lost in the wilderness and can't find his way. Maybe he foolishly abandoned  someone he loves, or maybe the one he loves abandoned him after he took for granted the thing he loved the most. But his pain is unmistakable, it is pain morphing into numbness. This is accentuated by Scott's poignant work with the slide on his Stratocaster, yielding those human vocalizations that sometimes an instrument can express when words fall short.

REMIND ME TO TELL YOU SOMETHING and FIRST SECOND GLANCE are modern country toe tappers that make you feel good. All the pain of the previous song is swept away in light-hearted melody in a couple of good time songs.

SNAKE IN MY KITCHEN, co-written with my former band-mate and long-time friend, harpist Steve Smithson, is a full fledged blues tune and breaks up the country vibe on this album. Though specific credits are unfortunately not mentioned, I strongly suspect we are hearing some guitar work from the remarkable Tom Rovinsky on this cut, as well as more of Scott's slide work. As usual, Steve's harmonica playing is impeccable – Is that Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, or Steve Smithson? Now, I love the blues, but, it's Charlie Patton, Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, and the Mississippi Sheiks that I like. Modern electric blues escapes me, mostly. But sometimes it grabs me, just like Mississippi Fred McDowell grabs me and won't let go, but keeps my undivided attention for the duration of the song, making me nostalgic for it the minute it is over. Congratulations, boys, SNAKE IN MY KITCHEN put me right there.

1862, also co-written with Smithson is the story of nearly every native Southerner's great or great-great grandfather. My own great-grandfather fought with Company C of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry, served most of the war with General Nathan B. Forrest and Lieutenant General Richard Taylor (the son of President Zachary Taylor). If you are from Mississippi, it is hard to escape this heritage, and it is not glorified here, but bespeaks of the hard times of war. While none of the people of the same generation as Scott and me knew any Civil War veterans, our parents and grandparents certainly did. The stories they heard were not stories of glory, but they were stories of courage, valor and sacrifice...and hard times.

WHEN A TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS THE BLUES calls out to everyone who ever heard the distant sound of a train whistle and longed board it and go somewhere, anywhere, and leave troubles far behind.

WORKING ON A REAL GOOD THING is what we all hope to be working on. This Southern Rock song of the type which passes as country nowadays should be right at the top of today's country charts. McQuaig and Smithson have penned a good one here. It starts out jamming and ends jamming. This should bring every honky-tonk crowd right off its butts and onto its feet to shouts and hand waving as the people dance, not with each other, AS COUPLES, but just dance with abandon WITH each other as a single dancing entity. I do love a Southern Rock jam, and the rhythm section in this song is jammin', I say. Do you HEAR ME?.

I enjoyed every cut, am inclined to the ballads, particularly the ¾ time I CAN'T FEEL A THING, but it's hard for a ¾ time song to get much attention these days. That says nothing about the song, but speaks volumes about the people who purchase music.

There is a secret track, if you'll be patient. It is what it is, and will stir the hardest heart to tears with a simple rendition of a classic melody, some say, arguably, the most beautiful one ever written. You'll have to can decide for yourself. I did. It is.

All songs are ©2012 Frost Bridge Music/ASCAP. The CD was recorded and mastered in Meridian, Mississippi at Point Recording by the very capable and talented Clay Barnes.

More information, CDs, and I'm sure booking information is available at

www.scottmcquaigmusic.com

This non-review was unsolicited and had it been, would most likely not be here. And, by the way, I paid $15.00 for my copy of this CD and consider it money well spent. That, itself, should speak volumes. Best wishes Scott, and all you Tomcats!

 

 

 

11/9/12 de Tocqueville Knew More Then Than We Know Now, Perhaps 

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French politician, historian, diplomat, and political thinker. He was also a survivor of the Reign of Terror, just avoiding his own execution when Robespierre lost his head. He and a companion were sent to America in 1831 by the French government on a diplomatic mission, ostensibly to study and observe the American prison system. While he and his colleague did visit many prisons, de Tocqueville took the opportunity to observe American democracy. He wrote two volumes about this called Democracy in America, the first of which was published in 1835 and the second in 1840. He was nearly clairvoyant in his observations, warning of the potential for a civil war over slavery. He made many terrific observations which are still valid. That a work of political science should still be relevant after 177 years past the date of publication of the first volume is remarkable; but perhaps not, since men, what they desire, their political aspirations, and the nature of power have not changed all that much.

Here are several observations he made that we would do well to study with all earnestness. 

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
 

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

 
America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

 
Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.

 
I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.

 
When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint . . . . It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. . . . they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.

 

Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

 

The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.

 

There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.

 

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.

 

It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs could be successful in choosing those who ought to lead them. It is impossible to believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever emerge from the ballots of a nation of servants.


It is above all in the present democratic age that the true friends of liberty and human grandeur must remain constantly vigilant and ready to prevent the social power from lightly sacrificing the particular rights of a few individuals to the general execution of its designs. In such times there is no citizen so obscure that it is not very dangerous to allow him to be oppressed, and there are no individual rights so unimportant that they can be sacrificed to arbitrariness with impunity.

 

There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult - to begin a war and to end it.

 
What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?


There are some nations in Europe whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid. Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.


When a nation has reached this point, it must either change its laws and mores or perish, for the well of public virtue has run dry: in such a place one no longer finds citizens but only subjects.

 

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.

 

Every nation that has ended in tyranny has come to that end by way of good order. It certainly does not follow from this that peoples should scorn public peace, but neither should they be satisfied with that and nothing more. A nation that asks nothing of government but the maintenance of order is already a slave in the depths of its heart; it is a slave of its well-being, ready for the man who will put it in chains.

 
I have always thought it rather interesting to follow the involuntary movements of fear in clever people. Fools coarsely display their cowardice in all its nakedness, but the others are able to cover it with a veil so delicate, so daintily woven with small plausible lies, that there is some pleasure to be found in contemplating this ingenious work of the human intelligence.


Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy; those who had anything united in common terror.

 

I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.


It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak; and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens.

 

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.

 

Our contemporaries are constantly wracked by two warring passions: they feel the need to be led and the desire to remain free. Unable to destroy either of these contrary instincts, they seek to satisfy both at once. They imagine a single, omnipotent, tutelary power, but one that is elected by the citizens. They combine centralization with popular sovereignty. This gives them some respite. They console themselves for being treated as wards by imagining that they have chosen their own protectors. Each individual allows himself to be clapped in chains because that the other end of the chain is held not by a man or a class but by the people themselves.

 

The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.

 
The more alike men are, the weaker each feels in the face of all.

 
Men cannot abandon their religious faith without a kind of aberration of intellect and a sort of violent distortion of their true nature; they are invincibly brought back to more pious sentiments. Unbelief is an accident, and faith is the only permanent state of mankind.

 

From the time when the exercise of the intellect became a source of strength and of wealth, we see that every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea became a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the graces of the mind, the fire of imagination, depth of thought, and all the gifts which Heaven scatters at a venture turned to the advantage of democracy; and even when they were in the possession of its adversaries, they still served its cause by throwing into bold relief the natural greatness of man. Its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilization and knowledge; and literature became an arsenal open to all, where the poor and the weak daily resorted for arms.

 

Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure.
 

Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.

 

It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in the great things than in the little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without the other.

 

We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man's support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.

 

The most durable monument of human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.

Slavery...dishonors labor. It introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man.

The happy and powerful do not go into exile, and there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune.

 

You may be sure that if you succeed in bringing your audience into the presence of something that affects them, they will not care by what road you brought them there; and they will never reproach you for having excited their emotions in spite of dramatic rules.

 

Montaigne said long ago: "Were I not to follow the straight road for its straightness, I should follow it for having found by experience that in the end it is commonly the happiest and most useful track." The doctrine of interest rightly understood is not then new, but among the Americans of our time it finds universal acceptance; it has become popular there; you may trace it at the bottom of all their actions, you will remark it in all they say.

 

A man's admiration for absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him.

 

I am unacquainted with His designs, but I shall not cease to believe in them because I cannot fathom them, and I had rather mistrust my own capacity than His justice

 

The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.

 
They will not struggle energetically against him, sometimes they will even applaud him; but they do not follow him. To his vehemence they secretly oppose their inertia, to his revolutionary tendencies their conservative interests, their homely tastes to his adventurous passions, their good sense to the flights of his genius, to his poetry their prose. With immense exertion he raises them for an instant, but they speedily escape from him and fall back, as it were, by their own weight. He strains himself to rouse the indifferent and distracted multitude and finds at last that he is reduced to impotence, not because he is conquered, but because he is alone.

 

Men who so uneasily tolerate superiors patiently suffer a master, and show themselves proud and servile at the same time. From this foul drain the greatest stream of human industry flows out to fertilize the whole world. From this filthy sewer gold flows. Here humanity attains its most complete development and its most brutish, here civilization works its miracles and civilized man is turned almost into a savage.

 

It was not man who implanted in himself what is infinite and the love of what is immortal: those lofty instincts are not the offspring of his capricious will; their steadfast foundation is fixed in human nature, and they exist in spite of his efforts. He may cross and distort them – destroy them he cannot. The soul wants which must be satisfied; and whatever pains be taken to divert it from itself, it soon grows weary, restless, and disquieted amidst the enjoyments of sense.

If you find these many quotes thought provoking, you can download both volumes of Democracy in America for FREE at the Google Books links shown below. You will need the free Adobe Reader to view them.

Democracy in America, Vol. 1      Democracy in America, Vol. 2

I recognize that there are real and legitimate differences in how men perceive the world and their place in it. Most of these differences are honest differences based on culture, background, and training. Not all of them are that way, though; many are disingenuous attempts to use partial facts and half-truths to persuade men to do that which is against their own long-term interests. But, frequently, long-term interests are ingnored and sacrificed for expediency. This is one of man's greatest weaknesses.

America has reached a critical mass of demographic change and this has been welcomed by many. The results of the recent election have shown that blocks of minority voters and women (who are not in the minority by the way), when banded together, exceed the voting strength of the traditional white-male-anglo-saxon block. As the poet said, “The times they are a changing.” But, what goes around comes around in politics. Today's liberals are very likely tomorrow's conservatives, or at least their children are, so any perceived mandate over the direction of the country is only temporary in the grand scheme of things. Temporary, that is, except for those things indicated by de Tocqueville,  who was extremely prescient and insightful in his observations about America.

As a nation, we have perhaps reached the fatal malaise de Tocqueville warned us about. Those who receive from the government cannot be expected to vote against their own self-interests and our politicians have shown a lack of willpower to curb government spending. This can only lead to massive inflation and ultimately the collapse of our economy. There are dozens of historical examples to look at to make one's own extrapolations. There is no need to mention them here since every one who would investigate has the same resources as me to research and make their own determinations. Those who would fail to come up with similar conclusions should ask themselves, “What makes us different?”

There is nothing that makes us different. No entity can continuously spend more than it takes in without eventually having to pony up. There is always a day of reckoning, just as there was in the home-building industry, just as there was in the credit card industry, and just as there WILL BE in the student loan industry. When the money borrowed exceeds the ability of the borrower to repay, the lender has lost control. That there is something free, or an action can occur without an equal and opposite reaction violates what we know to be common sense. Everything costs something. If we get it for free, it cost someone else.

People never immigrated to America to be dependent. They immigrated here to be self-reliant; to be free from oppression of one sort or the other, based on their perception of the liberty they would find here. And many of them found just what they were looking for and have since prospered, become solidly entrenched in the middle class, and many of them have become job providers. They saw opportunity in places where our vision has been limited to government dependence.

It seems unlikely that anyone grows up with the goal of becoming a government dependent, though there are those who grow up with dreams of the transfer of wealth from one set of people to another; those who warn us of the greed of corporations and business people . . . those who would see themselves prosper from the success of others. Many of these people think that the successful have an obligation to repay to society what society has provided them. It has even been said that those who are successful dd not build their success themselves, that their duty is to repay their success because it was really built by a benevolent government.

But regulations upon regulations, and increased taxes on profits stifle growth and investment. If one sees the rewards of one's labor being taken away and given to another, and the risks of investment are not offset by the potential to profit, then one soon finds that investment and growth has been stymied; then who will we all work for? The government? As a class, government employees of one sort or another have become the largest single block of workers . . . and they vote for bigger government. No one votes to kill their own job, even though they may plainly see that the job they are doing is redundant.

Who doesn't want to make more money? I can't think of anyone who would choose less money. I can, though, think of politicians who have traded more money, today, to blocs of voters whose increased pay and benefits will be financed on the backs of tomorrow's voters, who will be unable to benefit in the same manner . . . and will most likely be angry.

I was never a Tea-Party member, though I frequently found myself in sympathy with the goals of the Tea-Party, which was to restore fiscal responsibility to the government. I have never seen a political group so maligned and reviled. Almost from the start they met with vehement and vitriolic opposition, being called racist, bigots, anti-education, and haters. It seems that the Tea-Party opponents have worked to add another denotation to the definition of the word “hate”, which has also come to mean, “those who disagree with me.” Disagreements, even vocal and ardent disagreements, are not hate, nor are they hate-filled. This is an unfortunate development.

Though I said this earlier, it bears repeating. Pardon my redundancy. There is comfort in knowing that cycles bring everything back around, sooner or later. The children of today's continually-spend-more-than-you-take-in fiscal opportunists will perhaps become tomorrow's fiscal conservatives. I watched the swell of young people who supported Ron Paul in his clear message of personal liberty, personal responsibility, and fiscal responsibility, until Ron Paul was done-in by our firmly entrenched two-party system. Many have noted that our two-party system has outlived it usefulness for actually getting prudent things done. We no longer have the loyal opposition, we just have the opposition. Words, bluster, and posturing have been substituted for common sense. Where will it stop?

According to de Tocqueville, it will stop when our republic has ceased to exist as we know it. The citizens have learned that they can vote themselves wealthy, and the politicians have learned that they can bribe the electorate, and by extension, as previously indicated, people seldom vote against their own self-interests. Why should they? Why WOULD they? If there is a stopping place it will be stopped by those who find the present burdens resting on their shoulders when they have no chance of benefit themselves from the system they are supporting. It will be those for whom the trickle-down, government funded largesse no longer trickles-down; it will be when there is no largesse to re-distribute. When we are all equally wealthy, we will all share in the same poverty. Is this the equality anyone had in mind?

I wish there was less government, and less government intrusion. But there are many who are quick with rebuttal, decrying our need for regulation so we can have safe food, safe medicines, better education, infrastructure improvement, and law and order. Of course, government must play a role in the regulation of the dealings of men with each other. That is one of the primary functions of government. Yes, of course, there are businesses who would take advantage of the systems to defraud others, stifle competition, and furnish shoddy, unsafe, and unhealthy things to the public. Yes, we are all glad of the interstate highway system and all the culverts, box culverts, bridges, and beautifully crafted and expensive river and bay-spanning bridges that we all use every day. All these things are functions of government . . . but they are not all functions required by the federal government, since states seem to be able to make their own regulations and programs that protect their citizens and provide for the infrastructure within their borders. Many states take regulations they perceive to be in the best interest of their citizens farther than the Federal government does, and many of those same state have put in place regulations to prohibit spending for these regulations, shifting the burden to the private sector, and are simultaneously witnessing private sector investment and investors leave their state. Will the next round of regulations be those that prohibit free movement?

The government that removes the possibility of my failure also stifles the possibility of my success, homogenizing everything down to a level of mediocrity only desired by those who produce nothing. Is this what we want for ourselves? It this the equality we would claim for ourselves?

 

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits. After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

 

de Tocqueville was far ahead of his time in his observations. The government and the people he describes above seems to be the one we would have for ourselves. That there are two different parties, each one seemingly different in philosophy, has been no guarantee against this. Each party seeks its own elevation above all things. Each politician seeks his own re-election. In allowing this, we are steadily becoming reduced to being shepherded by what we now perceive as a benevolent government. But when we have allowed ourselves to be shepherded, we are admitting to being sheep. In our lust for equality, we are reducing the brightest and best among us to the wasteland of mediocrity; and I suspect we'd rather be labeled anything than mediocre. Mediocrity is the harbinger of decay. De Tocqueville said that this is where we would find ourselves one day. Perhaps the day is now.

In this post election period, the next immediate political battle is the one of facing the “Fiscal cliff.” Even now we are hearing this new buzzword, having it become ingrained like it is a new development. The Fiscal Cliff is reached when our government runs out of borrowed money. Even now, each party is using this as a cause for its own agendas. Agendas or not, borrowed money is borrowed money. The misleading cries over government shut-downs, the failure of the government to be able to meet its obligations for payment of wages, the suspension of social security checks, the suspension of medicare, the loss of public safety employees (remember, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away!), and other things is an illusion propagated by those who will raise the government borrowing limit without having a single one of the things mentioned above come to a halt if they don't. Each party will point fingers at the other, with accusations of obstructionism, callousness, and economic collapse; yet each party will declare that they are doing the will of the people.

This republic of ours is a democratic republic. The majority rules but the minority has rights which cannot be suppressed by the majority, and the nation is divided nearly 50/50 on which way we should go. Had the electorate wanted to present a clear mandate to the executive branch, then perhaps the electorate would have seen fit to change party majority in the House of Representatives. The electorate did not see fit to do so, and all spending bills originate in the House, and each representative is answerable directly to the the people whom he represents every two years. This is a check and balance built into our system. If we are so foolish as to want to remove the checks and balances, then we will deserve the dictator we get as a result. Who would want that?

Well, it seems there are many who would like that, and they come from both sides of the aisle. I know some conservatives who say that we need a strong president who will straighten this country out, and that would be done with the suppression of the right of minorities. I know some liberals who say we need a strong executive branch to ensure that people are provided with what they need for a safe, comfortable life, but that would be done at the expense of everyone but those receiving the benefits. I don't think either group really understands what it is asking for, or the troubles they will face should they get what they think this country needs. It is a dark place to which either group would lead us.

“Equality, Liberty, and Fraternity,” was the motto of the French Revolution, which not only freed a French public from the excesses of the Bourbon kings, but it consumed those who fought for it and served it to the best of their not-inconsiderable capabilities, ultimately resulting in an fiercely oppressive dictatorship. The sheep had found their shepherd, the man who would bring them peace, the man who exerted his will over Europe for a dozen years, killing off an entire generation of men who were fodder for his hobby. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

Do you need any more examples? He was not unique. There were plenty more before him, and plenty more after him. There will yet be another. The question is not when, but WHERE?

Economic freedom is inexorably linked to political freedom. The two cannot be separated. The only way our government can pay for today's excesses is through growth and fiscal propriety, the debasement of our currency, or revolution. The people have shown that they don't want the first one (de Tocqueville anticipated that). No one wants the second one since that will ultimately produce massive inflation which will in effect be the biggest tax of all on the middle class (We are in the process of this now . . . Remember we are in the middle of Quantitative Easing Round 3). And for certain, no one wants the last one; at least I hope no one wants the last one.

We have the perfect framework for government in this wonderful experiment called The United States of America. Hopefully, we citizens understand that, and will not only allow, but demand, that those in positions of government authority be open, transparent, and adhere to the vow they took to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of The United States of America. This, and this alone, is the greatest hope man can have in mankind. We should never neglect it.

10/19/12 CLL Blog? Yes, It Still Is!

I started this blog to write about my adventures in dealing with cancer. It was good for me to have done that, because nearly all of my angst and fears just vanished into the ether as I wrote about it. Three years ago I had just finished round three of six rounds of chemotherapy. November will be three years that I have been in a complete remission of my Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Though in complete remission after those first three rounds, I was advised and did take the final three rounds to knock the Leukemia back even further on its rear-end. I have enjoyed my remission, but know that it is not permanent, that the leukemia is still lurking somewhere in my body, just not active enough to be detected at this time; it has not gone away. It will likely visit me again, much like an unwelcome house-guest who remarkably seems to turn up right at suppertime. It does not have to, but it most likely will.

I am still aware that I have some unfavorable genetic markers that place me in a higher risk category for a more sinister advancement of the disease, in particular the dreaded Unmutated Immunoglobulin Heavy-Chain Variable Region Gene (IgVH). This, in combination with elevated ZAP-70 protein, Cell Marker CD38, and elevated Beta 2 Microglobulin (β2M), puts me at a much higher risk of advancement than many others with the same type of leukemia; but my prognostic indicators are not the worst ones, either (Deletion at Chromsome 17q). With cancer, one learns that things are what they are. But what things are and what things seem to be are not necessarily the same thing, either. Sometimes things are not nearly as bad as them seem. Sometimes, they are worse. If, indeed, they become worse, then let it not be because they seemed worse than they really were. There is a lot of healing in our attitude.

Now, I have included attitude in the mix, perhaps provoking someone to think that I think I did well during my chemo because of my attitude. This is not so. I have had all the feelings, the dejection, the fears, and the depression all cancer patients have. I had days of great victory. I had days of great defeat where I hid in dark corners, thinking dark thoughts, making dark plans. On many days I was capable of defining my attitude, but many others saw the attitude defining me. This was not what I wanted, but leukemia wasn't what I wanted, either.

“You can't always get what you want,” Mick Jagger sang, directly to me, it seemed. I cringed and sought shelter in dark places, but the song came ringing back to my ears, just as if someone had turned up the volume on my vintage Marantz Integrated Amplifier. The choir in the background sounded just like angels coming to carry me home. What I wanted was to be rid of this. Mick sang again, louder this time, and pushed my attitude to a new low. The lower it got, the more I wrote.

“But if you try sometime,” Mick kept on singing, “You just might find, you get what you need.” I liked the ending of the verse better than the beginning. Was that angels or Keith Richards singing in the background? I couldn't really tell.

I wrote and wrote in this blog, then I wrote some more, all throughout steroid induced sleepless nights, roaring like a lion with a toothache in the words typed as hastily on this keyboard as I could get them out, which is pretty fast; howling like a North wind behind a storm front, just like we had this past Wednesday night. I wrote things I knew about. I wrote things I didn't know about. I wrote things I really felt. I wrote things I did not feel and then felt my attitude about them change. The more I wrote, the better I felt, until I finally wrote my leukemia into remission . . . or was that the chemo?

I wrote until I have over 1,200 pages of blog posts. I gave names to my physicians and the places that treated me: Mainmost, Gooday, Hemosapien, and the Big-as-Texas Cancer Center. The more I wrote, the more I heard from others who had the same type of cancer, or another type of blood cancer. Many of them had far more pressing needs and urgency than me, but they said that reading my blog had encouraged them, maybe helped them. The more I heard from them, the more I wrote. The more I wrote, the more I heard from them (You know who you are!). This kept on until I became a compulsive writer. I now keep a journal as well as write this blog. I am compulsive at both, but border on obsessive/compulsive on my journal, insisting on a Moleskine book to write in, and letting nothing but a fountain pen touch the page. Each now-filled Moleskine not only contains words, but is stuffed with four-leaf clovers. There are dozens of them in each book now sitting on the shelf.

Everyone who has ever noticed has asked me how I could find so many four-leaf clovers. Many wanted to know if I was lucky or did I know some trick. Well, I have always been lucky, and being lucky is better than being good some have said, but then I got this leukemia.

“Perhaps you are not as lucky as you thought,” they said. They may well have a point, I conceded, more to myself than to them.

I'm still lucky. Even with the leukemia, I'm still lucky. I don't think I would change what I have been through the least little bit, though if you told me that you could guarantee my complete cure for a dollar, I'd likely betray the essence of this sentence by immediately handing you the dollar. I have been blessed with an opportunity to see life through a different set of lenses. Either the filters have been changed or the blinders have been removed, I can't really determine which; but something is different. I like the difference. Whatever is there now that wasn't before is welcome. Whatever is gone now that was there before is a welcomed loss. I can't determine whether I have gained something or lost something, I just know that I wouldn't trade what is for what was, but I may be willing to trade what will be for what was. Is that me defining my attitude, or my attitude defining me? I don't know which. I'm not sure I want to know.

The number of things I don't know has increased a thousandfold, by ten thousandfold; the decimal point just keeps on moving to the right, forcing an infinite number of zeroes to its left without me having had much to do with it, or about it, other than having had the occasion to stop and think about things that no one really wants to think about it. If there is a blessing in cancer, this must be what it is.

So I write. I think about whatever I am motivated to think about and I write about it. I speculate, wonder, and write, and I am the beneficiary.

“But you never did tell us. Is it by luck that you find so many four-leaf clovers, or is there some skill, some experience, or some method you use?” everyone asked.

“OK, it's no secret. I will tell you if you are sure you want to know,” I said.

They leaned forward in anticipation, several of them already having said that they had never found one in their life. I marveled at that.

“First,” I said, “You need to find a patch of clover.”

“Well, that's obvious,” they said.

“Never overlook the obvious,” I replied. I could hear the inrush of their breath on that one. How many times do we overlook the obvious, missing our chance, thwarting our own designs, dealing ourselves and others much grief?

“When you find a patch of clover, you have to cast your gaze downward,” I said, stating the obvious, again.

“And?” they asked.

“Well, the next part is easy,” I answered.

“Tell us!”

“Then you simply don't look at the three-leaf clovers,” I said.

Am I lucky? I think so. Am I having to spend a lot of time, now, writing about dealing with chemotherapy, doctors, hospitals, research protocols and clinical trials, insurance, and the myriad vexations of dealing with the complexities of health-care? No, I am not, now. That was then. This is now. Tomorrow is tomorrow.

I think I'm lucky. I do know this . . . I can sure find a four-leaf clover.

Do you need one?

10/18/12   Just the Facts, Please . . . Just the Facts

 

Since the masses are always eager to believe something,

for their benefit nothing is so easy to arrange as facts.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Talleyrand was the inventor of modern diplomacy and the cloaked language still used by career diplomats today. Talleyrand served King Louis XVI, served during the French Revolution and the Republic afterward, served Napoleon, then the restored Bourbon kings. He managed to keep his head while so many others lost theirs, including those whom he served. How did he do this while being despised by each and every government indicated above? He made himself indispensable. He made himself into the only one FOREIGN governments would deal with. “Send us Talleyrand,” they all said. He also made himself a fortune in the process by actually serving his own interests with a far more polished diligence than he showed to those he was supposed to serve, yet still serving them in the process. He had the remarkable talent of being dispassionate even when his head was threatened by Louis XVI (who lost his own); by Danton, Robispierre, and Marat (who either lost theirs or died by assassin); and threatened and utterly loathed by Emperor Napoleon (this was extremely dangerous), who, to his great chagrin and rage, could find no one capable of replacing him.

Talleyrand was able to hear orders for his arrest, the confiscation of all his property, and a death sentence pronounced on him with all the display of passion one might expect were one to hear from their laundry that their shirts were ready for pickup. Talleyrand was a master of the craft of politics and a master of the craft of language designed to conceal. Talleyrand was the reason why French was the language of international diplomacy for a century-and-a-half before it finally gave way to English with the establishment of the UN and international air travel. Talleyrand could make you or break you. He certainly could survive you and your government. He demonstrated that several times. He was as cold as a January Arctic Char at 10.0° North. It wasn't blood in his veins; it was ice.

He was also witty, coy, catty, and had a long, searing memory. If one ever crossed him one could expect retribution, which would come steadily at the pace of Talleyrand, which may be as leisurely as a Khyber Belt comet's trip around the sun, but every bit as certain. On the wit scale, the only other Frenchman to exceed him was Voltaire, but Talleyrand learned much from the great one, and it served him well. He was also a great whist player (an ancient card game played for money) and would no doubt be a top player on today's World Poker Tour were he still with us. Unfortunately, even great diplomats and politicians must apprehend their own demise. Talleyrand escaped death many times, only to meet death, which is exactly the same spot we all find ourselves in, whether we are as smart as he or not.

Talleyrand faced many obstacles in his life, beginning with a birth defect that left his left leg nearly useless, which in turn caused his family to deny his right-of-firstborn inheritance because he was considered unfit for the military service which was the tradition of his family. Instead, they prepared him for the church. The Roman Catholic Church could not keep him, though. He was ordained as a priest, elevated to bishop, and became the church's representative to the French Crown, where he no doubt learned much of his diplomatic skills that would serve him in the future. He was excommunicated  by Pope Pius VI in 1793, and defrocked by Pope Pius VII in 1801, for serving his own interests rather than those of the church. He had already been accused by many of being an unbeliever, which was no real problem for the church at the time . . . but when he began to use his appointed position to aid the French Republic in sequestering church property, his ties with the church were duly severed. His enemies called him, “Le Diable Boiteaux.” (The Lame Devil.) He apparently had no friends.

He visited America and was the guest of Aaron Burr. Later, when Burr visited France, Talleyrand declined the return of the favor because of Burr's killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Talleyrand admired Hamilton and his Federalist Papers. This may be the only case we know of wherein Talleyrand did something out of noble purpose, though he may have thought that Burr was up to some political misadventure and thus wanted nothing to do with him which was most likely correct.

Why all this about Talleyrand?

Today, how nations talk to each other has Talleyrand as its basis. He has not been without influence, which lingers, still. There is much one can learn from the study of Talleyrand; much that is good, and much that can be learned, from his example, of what not to do . . . both good and bad.

Many argue that Talleyrand was disloyal to those who were due his loyalty. He was loyal to the one he held most dear, and that was himself. To himself he devoted his unflagging, unwavering loyalty. But he was dispassionate.

He could argue with the best of them, and take either side which suited him in any debate, or invent a third if it became necessary. He could use reason. He could make cutting remarks. He could, with an easy callousness, dismiss his detractors and those less than equal to himself (and there were few equals). But he was dispassionate. He never broke a sweat. He never did more than raise an eyebrow, which for him, was almost a betrayal of the anger and passion that must have followed him all the way from his childhood. He certainly made the most out of what he had, and managed to fit himself into the most complex scenarios with ease. When so many lost their heads during the Reign of Terror, how in the world did he manage to hang on to his?

Perhaps it was his coolness. If one could be that cool under a duress that would make any normal man crack, then perhaps there was no pleasure to be derived from witnessing the death of one so talented. It must be that. It can't be anything else.

We no longer have dispassion in politics. We only have partisan politics, partisan politicians, and partisan practices. We seem to have lost our ability to step back just a short distance from the place wherein we would be engaged, and to try our best to see it through another set of eyes, to hear it through another set of ears. We've abandoned this skill to the eyes and ears of our own self-indulgence and self-importance. Maybe we can no longer think objectively. Maybe we no longer listen to what others are saying. Maybe it was the doing of those things that kept Talleyrand alive when so many governments fell.

So, just give me the facts the plain old undistorted facts the unredacted facts ― the raw facts ― the unedited facts ― the facts that have not yet been digested and regurgitated in a fit of passionate misadventure. I'll distort them in the manner I see fit. I'll edit them to suit my purposes. I'll only show you the ones I think you need to see. From those, I will build my case, since, according to Talleyrand there's nothing so easy  to arrange as facts. He spoke more truth in that than we care to admit.

So, when you see a politician spouting facts like they were his own (perhaps they are!) think TALLEYRAND. When you see politicians grown fat from their own self-service, their fine linen and wool suits with buttons and seams straining against the thread that holds them together, their pensions that are better than yours, their insurance that is better than yours, and their war-chests full of PAC money from lobbyists as they sit on committees preparing to vote on legislation which will affect the stocks in their investment portfolios  ― think TALLEYRAND.

And when you see two friends or acquaintances going at each other in vain and profane babblings, not meant to persuade, not meant to clarify or impart, but to assuage their own passionate self-interests, whether it is the self-interest of money, the self-interest of power, or worse, the self-interest of a compelling inner need to feel good about one's own self-righteous indignation when others may see things differently than our facts demand ― think, NOT Talleyrand.

The facts about his life are worthy of further study. I have arranged them here as it suited me. Go and get your own facts and arrange them as you'd like. Talleyrand would be proud.

By the way, before there was a Cher, a Prince, a Sting, or a Madonna, there was a Voltaire and a Talleyrand. Were they the forerunners of modern rock stars? I think I'll go and make up some facts about this. It can't hurt.

10/13/12 Nobel Peace Prize . . . It Ain't What It Used To Be

In 1893, upon reading a French newspaper obituary for his brother, Swedish arms manufacturer, chemist, inventor of modern smokeless gun-powder, and the inventor of Dynamite, Alfred Nobel, seeing himself labeled as “The Merchant of death”, was a bit concerned about how he might be viewed through the lens of posterity. Like many wealthy industrial barons of that time and this one as well, he grew perhaps a bit remorseful over the manner in which he made his great wealth, and/or the amount of it. Nobel was, by all indications, one of the world's most prolific inventors of new means and methods by which men more efficiently kill other men. This led him to make some decisions about what to do with his large fortune upon his death, because he did not want to be remembered as its “merchant.” Who would want to be remembered like that?

Nobel bequeathed 94% of his fortune to be used to create a foundation which would award annual cash prizes in those areas that he thought were of the greatest benefit to mankind: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Several committees were formed to investigate and award prizes in each field, with Nobel's specific instructions that a committee be formed in Norway (then a part of a Norway/Sweden union) to investigate and award an annual Peace Prize. Since 1905, this has been the task of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. It seems likely, based on some of the awards of the last few years, that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has grown fat and lazy, and run out of fresh ideas. Maybe the committee still has its original members since Norwegians descend from hardy stock. Perhaps it's time for the Nobel Foundation to consider making some changes to the committee's members.

There have been times in world history since the invention of the Nobel Peace Prize, that no Peace Prize was awarded. With the world already in the throes of WWII in 1939, there was no prize, nor during the years of 1940-42 when Germany occupied Norway, and a few other years along the way when the committee either felt there was no worthy person to receive the prize, or perhaps they did not have the time to leave their Norwegian retirement home Tuesday bridge game to make decisions about who might receive the award. Real, bona-fide persons who have made great personal sacrifices to serve the peace, prosperity, and liberty of their own countries have been awarded the prize, but there have been a few clams along the way. 2012 is a clam year. I will get on to that in a minute.

Many great Americans have been awarded Nobel Peace Prizes since its inception.

  • Theodore Roosevelt was awarded it in 1906 for his role in brokering a peace agreement in the Russo-Japanese war.
  • Woodrow Wilson was awarded it in 1919 for his greatest failure: the establishment of the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations), which The United States declined to join and soon collapsed without its support (as would the UN would perhaps do today were the USA to pull out).
  • Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1945, the first and least controversial of TWO Tennesseans to win the prize) for his work in establishing the United Nations (Franklin Delano Roosevelt called Hull, “The Father of the United Nations”)
  • African-American diplomat Ralph Bunche (1950) for his work in mediating peace in Palestine in the late 40's when Israel was being established
  • Former Secretary of State, Chairman of the joint-chiefs-of-staff, and general George Marshall, whose Marshall Plan helped restore prosperity to the ashes of a starving and devastated war-torn Post WWII Europe
  • Dr. Linus Pauling (1962 - he won TWO  by the way. His first one was in chemistry in 1954 - and he is considered by many to be the second most influential scientist of the 20th century, behind Albert Einstein) for his work in declaring the dangers of the continuing development of nuclear weapons, for which he came under some nefarious government scrutiny in those McCarthy era years, having his passport revoked by the State Department
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964 – the first of TWO Georgia natives), whose work needs no description here since all Americans should know who he is and what he did and shame-on-you-if-you-don't.

From here on to the present, the American Peace Prize winners get a bit more controversial, perhaps merely because they are so close in our memory (or at least in mine), and perhaps because of careless sloppiness by Norwegians grown fat and drunk on rakfist, the putrid, brine soaked, gelatinous, fermented fish Norwegians seem to like so much. Undoubtedly, rakfist is an acquired taste, much like the following list of Americans who received the Peace Prize.

Former Secretary-of-State Henry Kissinger, shared the 1973 Peace Prize with North Vietnamese politician and communist party leader, Le Duc Tho. Tho declined the Peace Prize, saying, “There is no peace in Viet Nam.” Many think Kissinger is unworthy of having received the prize for the Paris Peace talks since they view Kissinger as a war criminal for his role in promoting the secret bombings in Cambodia. However Kissinger's nomination was considered, the awarding and acceptance of his Nobel Peace Prize is certainly not without controversy.

Jimmy Carter (2002 - the other Georgian). Former President Carter established his Carter Center, “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." One might add, if one were of a mind, “And to plead and beg for a better legacy than a weak, pusillanimous presidency, by winning a Nobel Peace Prize.” Jimmy Carter seemed to have a sign on his back with the legend, “Please Award me a Nobel Prize.” There is no question that Carter made real and valuable contributions to the improvement of life in many parts of the world, particularly, this writer thinks, with his work with Habitat-for-Humanity, but it was obvious to everyone that Carter was lobbying for the prize, wanted the prize, and needed the prize. It is hard to gauge another man's motivations, but Carter's pandering was just a bit too obvious. At least Carter worked for many years to win the award. Perhaps some sleepy Norwegian committee member, the overwhelming smell of rakfist on his breath, in some off-year when no one in particular was obviously worthy of the award, said, “Goodness gracious . . . go ahead and give the award to Carter so he will stop sending us his resume and press releases every week.” In any case, Carter won the prize, but unfortunately, he has seen it cheapened since then.

In 2007, former Vice-President Al Gore won the Peace Prize. He is the other Tennessean. He won the prize for his work on the International Committee for Climate Change, primarily for his oft discredited documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth” which has Gore monotonously lecturing an apparently Xanaxed audience with a PowerPoint presentation filled with spurious, anecdotal data, and scientific data later shown to have been compromised by over-zealous researchers. I am not denying climate change, but I am denying the alarmist nature the “inventor of the internet” brought into the dialog about climate change. He has been shown to leave a rather large carbon footprint, and would be about as remembered for his political contributions as former Vice-Presidents Dan Quayle, Spiro Agnew (who at least did something actually memorable, even if it was illegal), and Aaron Burr (certainly memorable – everyone should know of the nefarious activities Burr found himself involved in, starting with the killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel and not improving much after that and if not, well . . . were you asleep in history class, or were you a victim of the fashionable, modern history revisionism so popular in school curricula these days?). Al Gore has done what Al Gore has done. Whether it was worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize is certainly controversial.

Just eleven days after Barack Obama was sworn in as President (2009), he was nominated for the Peace Prize. “For what?” the world asked and is still asking. Over the next eight months, he was considered by the rakfist-breathed committee and then awarded the prize. “For what?” the world asked and is still asking. "For what?" Barack Obama asked himself. In the eyes of many, this frivolous award cheapened the Peace Prize to a new low. “What is the criteria for awarding a prize?” the world wanted to know. The Norwegians weren't telling. I wonder if this was some sort of advance award? Getting elected to be President of the USA does not automatically earn one a Nobel Prize, at least it never has before, except in the case of Barack Obama.

Before I move on to the latest lazy gaffe of the Peace Prize Committee, let's consider a few other things. In the last forty-one years, a Peace Prize has been awarded every year. This unabated burst of activity by the Peace Committee has led to some controversial awards and is the most lengthy period in the award's history that it has consecutively awarded to someone . . . anyone. There was no award made in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918 (WWI years), 1923, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1939-1943 (WWII years), 1948, 1955, 1956, 1966, 1967, and 1972. In those years no one was deemed worthy of having deserved the award. With all those non-award years, did the Nobel Foundation warn the committee members to get busy and stay busy?

Not all modern Peace Committee awards have been controversial; sometimes, they hit the nail squarely on the head

  • Albert Schweitzer (1952)
  • Andrei Sakharov (1975 – Soviet  Physicist and developer of their thermonuclear weapons program turned dissident, and both he and his wife were arrested and suffered during many years of Soviet repression, retribution and internal exile)
  • Mother Teresa (1979)
  • Lech Walesa (1983)
  • Mikhail Gorbachev (1990 – who presided over the peaceful breakup of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the iron curtain, and rest assured, it did not have to go that way. Though these events were not precipitated by Gorbachev -- I'll have to give Ronald Reagan and the people of The United States of America most of the credit for that -- the political instability during that period could have caused any and/or all of the worst scenarios imaginable, so I tip my hat to Mikhail and the Peace Committee on this one!)
  • Aung San Syu Kyi (1991 – Burmese dissident who received her prize while in a prolonged house arrest and could not make her acceptance speech until 2012)
  • Nelson Mandela (1993 – he spent 30 years in a South African prison to earn his Peace Prize) 

One of the biggest gaffes committed by the Peace Committee was its failure to award a Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and just a few days prior to his assassination in 1948. 1939 and 1948 were among those years the committee decided that no one was worthy to receive the award. They simply must have eaten too much rakfist that year. Gandhi's peaceful, consistent, non-violent revolution, resulting in his violent death, changed the shape of an entire sub-continent, liberated  hundreds of millions of people from colonial rule, started India on its trek into the modern ages, and profoundly influenced later generations of non-violent protesters of governmental repression, not the least of which was Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama, who won the peace prize in 1989. Some said the awarding of the prize to the Dalai Lama was a tip of the Peace Committee's collective hat to Gandhi, but this would be cheapening the award for the Dalai Lama, who has been a consistent champion of the peaceful freedom of his Tibetan homeland and people from Chinese domination during his long exile. The Dalai Lama has earned the peace prize all on his own! The Peace Committee has since expressed its regret over having not given Gandhi the award, but Gandhi did not do it for any award, nor would he likely enjoy being a Nobel Laureate today since its value has been considerably diminished.

So now, after that bit of background into Peace Committee foolishness, we get to their latest lazy display of rakfist-induced incompetence, the 2012 award. The winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize is . . . drum rolls please . . . The entire European Union. Though this is not the first time the prize has gone to a group (the International Committee for the Red Cross has won twice before), it is certainly the largest group to have done so. Now, the value of the award, after having been previously diluted by an insipid frivolity has been further divided by all five-hundred-million-plus of the EU's inhabitants, or at least by the twenty-seven member states.

And how will the prize money be spent, and who will divide it? Perhaps it will go to Brussels where the disbursement of the prize money will be debated endlessly by emasculated diplomats sent there to merely occupy a seat since the EU governing body must DO something if nothing but produce documents of its having met to produce documents. Now, perhaps, they will have something to do that has a purpose besides asking Germany to bail out the weak sister nations whose cradle-to-grave social protections have reduced them to near bankruptcy and the least common denominator. Perhaps the bureaucrats will award themselves the prize money, splitting it up among themselves as a reward for their service to the European Union. Perhaps they will award the prize money to Greece, Ireland, Portugal, or Spain as those member nations face their own urgent debt crises. Perhaps they will use the money to offset EU peacekeeping forces they may have to send into Greece or Spain to stop rioting there as the they resist austerity measures and want to continue to spend more borrowed money each year than their gross domestic products will support for their own comfort and leisure. Perhaps the Germans will belligerently claim the money as payback for all money they have sent towards support of those bankrupt governments. Perhaps an angry Ireland will demand the money be given to them since it can really benefit their small population.

It could be that the wise bureaucratic sages in Brussels decide that the only way to divide the prize money equitably is to do a complete census update of the EU and send each and every one of the 500 million inhabitants their fair share. The current award is 8,000,000SEK (Swedish Krona). That's 1,194,707.45USD at yesterday's exchange rate, or 992,075.21EUROS. Divide that by 500 million and you get .00198 Euros per person (that's about ¼ of one US cent).

Careful now! As you know, fantasy can overtake reality in a split-second on this blog.

After weeks of debate in the general session, and much more among the Committee for Disbursement, the proposed budget was finalized and reported to the Governing Board of EU Economic Affairs which made its report to the EU Presidency and general legislative body right away. Here is a copy of the proposed budget for the disbursement.

*All figures are in EUROS

It was to be expected that there would be much debate over this controversial proposal. After days and days of heated exchanges, it was voted for and duly passed to send Germany the bill for all ancillary costs of the disbursement, since they were the only nation with the ready cash to pay it, and to send each EU citizen their check for .00198 Euros. In order to facilitate the whole process, Germany was to be billed in advance of any actions other than the expenses of the oversight committee which had already occurred. Germany protested defiantly, to deaf ears, since the lone dissenting votes were offered by itself and the UK, which thought this was a profoundly foolish idea, no matter how equitable. Out-voted 25 to 2, the EU bill authorizing the disbursement was duly passed, signed by EU President Jose Manuel Barroso on December 12, 2012. “A gift for every EU citizen just in time for Christmas,” Barros