Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Here's to your health!

My mother used to say, "If you don't have your health you don't have anything" or words to that effect.  The longer I live, the more I understand the truth and importance of those words.

I have been blessed (so far, anyway) with good health.  I'm old enough now to be on Medicare, but health-wise I would say that I am as fit and healthy now as I have ever been. OK, my blood pressure runs a little high and my thyroid gland needs some help but these are minor conditions which with proper treatment don't affect my over-all well being.  So I have a lot to be thankful for.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately for a couple of reasons.  A friend of mine just lost his brother, a man only 2 years older than me, to cancer, just as I lost my big sister a few years ago.  Both had just retired from their jobs and should have been able to enjoy long, satisfying retirements - but they didn't have their health.

A few days ago I had a reply to an email that I had sent to someone who I know only from an exchange of messages here and on another blog that we both visit.  She had not visited either place recently so I sent her a message to say that I missed her and I hoped all was well with her; this was her reply:

"Thanks for thinking of me.  I've been ill for over a month so haven't been doing much.  The cancer exploded into my brain like a dandelion going to seed (as my oncologist described it) causing dizziness, nausea and flu-like symptoms.  After a week of radiation I'm feeling somewhat better and starting to recover my previous health.  I'm still a survivor and stubborn to boot so hopefully I'll be getting back to normal.  It helps to have people like you thinking good thoughts.  Thanks."

I certainly wish her a speedy and full recovery and I will even ask my guardian angel to intercede on her behalf, just in case modern medicine needs a little outside assistance to return her to good health.  She's "...still a survivor and stubborn to boot..." so I think with a little help she can eradicate the dandelions (what a terrible analogy for an oncologist to use) and get on with her life.  I believe in the benefits of positive energy, so I will try to direct some to her and it might help if you sent some her way, too.

So here's to her health, your health and my health - because if you don't have your health, you don't have a damned thing!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"You just can't keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they're going to come home just fine"

That's a quote from a statement by Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, in a recent news item from the Associated Press that recited this statistic: "A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related." The piece went on to say, "As the nation commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-9/11 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention. These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay."  And ironically this situation is at least partially attributable to advances in medical technology which has increased the survival rate of soldiers wounded in combat; "They're being kept alive at unprecedented rates," said Dr. David Cifu, the VA's medical rehabilitation chief. More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived."

According to the reporting, "Just over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it so far" and the numbers are staggering, including more than 400,000 who have have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD. and tens of thousands of veterans who suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI — mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts — and doctors don't know what's in store for them long-term.

The financial implications of this situation for the American taxpayer are staggering.  Here's how the article concluded:  "For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.

"This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."

"How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?

"The deal was, if you get wounded, we're going to supply this level of support," Bilmes said. Right now, "there's a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change.""

So here's my question to all candidates for public office:  How are we going to pay for the care that we promised these men and women.  They kept their end of the bargain and fought our (unnecessary) wars for us, so the only question is, will we step up and provide the care and treatment that they have earned with their sacrifice - or does a "no tax raise, ever" pledge to a special interest lobbyist trump your patriotic and moral obligation to our troops?

If we abandon these troops it will be a national disgrace and only those who publicly stand up in opposition to such a travesty will be able to call themselves "patriots" - because those who abandon our troops are lots of things but patriotic is not one of them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This is what happens when you let public tax dollars fund private education

This happened in Louisiana, but Governor LePage would like to allow private shools in Maine to receive public funds through a voucher system, too.  Why do we elect people who think things like this are a good idea?

Loch Ness Monster used to debunk evolution in state-funded school

An alleged photo of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. (Associated Press)

It sounds like a hoax, but it's apparently true: The Loch Ness Monster is on the science class syllabus for kids at Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana. As reported by the Herald Scotland (which must track all Loch Ness-related news), a school that will receive tax-payer dollars, will teach kids that the mythological sea creature is real in order to debunk the theory of evolution. So pay attention: That will be on the test.
Eternity Christian Academy uses the fundamentalist A.C.E. Curriculum to teach students "to see life from God's point of view."
According to the Herald, one textbook, Biology 1099, reads, "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."
Starting in the fall, thousands of schoolchildren will receive publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools, some of which are religious. Religious schools in Louisiana will receive public funding as part of a push from Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, to move millions of tax dollars to cover tuition for private schools, including small bible-based church schools. Money will fund schools that have "bible-based math books" and biology texts that refute evolution.
At Eternity Christian Academy, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier says that the her first through eighth-grade students learn at their own pace from Christian workbooks. The beginning science text explains "what God made" on each of the six days of creation. Evolution is not taught.
Carrier said, "We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children." She hopes to secure enrollment of 135 voucher students for the 2012-2013 school year. According to the website Salon, the school currently has just 38 students.
Whether this gambit will help move Louisiana from the bottom of math and science rankings in the country is unclear. A 2011 study of how well primary education prepares students for engineering careers had Louisiana third from the bottom, with only West Virginia and Mississippi performing worse.

Time Warped Insight

My view of the New York Times crossword puzzle and all things related to it is seen through a lens that distorts time in funny ways.  Monday through Friday I am seeing puzzles that originally appeared five weeks earlier; on Sunday I am only a week behind and on Saturday, when my local paper doesn't publish the puzzle, I have to buy the NYT and solve in "real time".  I know it would be less confusing and cheaper just to subscribe to the puzzle on-line and solve the same day it appears, but I kind of like my view of things from the slow lane.

My time travel can sometimes produce a view of events which is out of sequence with when they actually occurred, hence the "time warp" that affects my perception of what is going on.  I have previously written here about the departure of ACME from Rex Parker's blog, a development that I learned about in real time but will not read the details until five weeks after the event.   Well, I now have some good news to report: this past Saturday, June 23, ACME was BACK!  She wrote a long comment about the puzzle and seemed to be her old self, with no ill-effects from her absence.  She did not comment on the Sunday puzzle from the prior weekend (June 17) so it would appear, based on this totally time-warped perspective, that sometime during the week of June 18, ACME returned to Rexville and the sun is shining brightly there again. Or so it would seem.

I cannot imagine any puzzle-related development that could make me happier.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You never stop being a parent

This past Sunday was Father's Day, so I was pleasantly surprised when my older son called and said he was coming "home" to visit for the weekend.  Josh lives in Boston and he planned on taking the train to Portland on Friday to visit with a friend, and she would  give him a ride to the house on Saturday.  It sounded like a good plan all around, and I looked forward to his arrival as it's been a while since I last saw him.  But good plans sometimes go awry.

My phone seldom rings and when it rings at 2:30AM I know something is wrong.  It took me a few seconds to gain enough consciousness to realize that it was in fact the phone ringing that had awakened me and another few seconds to run through the possibilities of why it might be ringing.  Alex, my 20 year-old son, had come in earlier in the evening and I knew he was safe in bed so that left Josh as the only possibility.  By the time I had figured all this out the answering machine had stopped the ringing, but it began again almost immediately - clearly somebody really wanted to reach me.

I got out of bed and went in search of a phone but again the machine picked up before I could, and again the caller hung up and called right back.  The third time is a charm, they say, and when the ringing started again I had a phone in my hand and answered immediately, hoping there would be no tragic news as the reason for the call.  Happily, there was not.  Unhappily, it was not a wrong number.

It was Josh in a very emotional state - there had been a domestic abuse incident involving his friend and her boyfriend.  She had been physically assaulted and Josh had been verbally threatened, and they needed to get out of there;  they could get out of the house but had nowhere safe to go - could I come pick them up?

Old Orchard Beach, where Josh's friend lives, is about 35 miles from my house, about a 45 minute drive without traffic and there's not much traffic at three in the morning.  I pulled on some pants, programmed the GPS for the street where I was to meet them and headed south.  There was no considering options or looking for alternatives to going, because when a child, even an adult child, calls in the middle of the night and says he needs help, you go - that's what a parent does.

When the GPS informed me I had "reached my destination" I slowed to a crawl and started looking for them just as they appeared out of a side street.  They were shaken but OK and they were as glad to see me as I was to see them.  I don't think I have ever seen Josh more grateful to get home then he was that night (morning).  And I don't think I have ever been more grateful to have him there. 

The rest of the weekend went according to plan and I have to say this might have been the best Father's Day I have ever had.  Because, really, you never stop being a parent and your kids never stop needing you to be there for them, and I think all three of us were glad to be reminded of that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rexville, NY 14877

OK, am I the only one who didn't know that there is a real place called "Rexville" somewhere in the USA?  I googled the term recently and I really didn't expect the first result to be a map of a town in upstate New York which is, ironically, not too far from where Michael Sharp, aka "Rex Parker" lives.

Rexville, as the legions of followers of this blog know, is what I and others call the on-line community which has formed around the blog "Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle".  And those loyal followers also know that there has been trouble in Rexville lately, an incident (I don't know all the details yet) involving the community bully, Evil Doug, and it's most beloved citizen,  Andrea Carla Michaels (nee Eisenberg) (ACME).  The turmoil in Rexville has caused me more distress than it ought to, considering it's just a blog for Chrissake.  But, irrational though it may be, I am truly distressed by recent events there, probably because I have gotten to know one of the participants, that being ACME of course, and I will miss her greatly if she sticks to her resolve to abandon Rexville.

I have written about Rexville here before and the recent events caused me to go back to those posts to see if my comments from "syndicationland" (5 weeks in the past) could have in any way influenced the situation in "real time", where Andrea and Evil Doug live.  As it turns out, maybe they did - see my recent post "Well now I feel just terrible".  Indirect, sure; inadvertent,  positively - but I still feel bad that something that I intended to be an upbeat, positive tribute to someone I admire turned out to be the spark that ignited the wildfire in Rexville.

I only wish that Evil Doug had googled himself,  because one of the top results would have lead him to my post calling him out for the behavior that lead to the incident and maybe, just maybe, he would have rethought his conduct in Rexville and the whole ugly mess could have been avoided. Or at least maybe he would have been pissed enough to direct his vitriol against me instead of Andrea and the result would have been wholly different because, frankly, I don't give a damn what he thinks or says.

So there is a real-world place called Rexville and I'm sure it's a lovely place.  But I'll bet it's no where near as nice as the virtual Rexville is - or was, until a bully came into the community and chased away its crowning jewel.

I'm not ready to let this go, so stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Quote of the day"

From the daily feature in my local newspaper: " Forgetfulness is a form of freedom", attributed to Khalil Gibran, American poet and artist (1883-1931).

I find this strangely comforting, but I can't remember why.

Well now I feel just terrible

I have written often about about Andrea Carla Michaels (nee Eisenberg) (ACME), most recently about her decision to stop posting her wonderful comments on Rex Parker's blog.  Since I wrote the latest piece the "pageviews" here have gone through the roof , which I attribute solely to ACME's popularity.  I suppose I should be grateful for the increased traffic, right?

But here's the thing:  I did a little "googling" to see if I could track down where the interest was coming from and I discovered that I, through a post on this blog, may have had a hand in precipitating the events that led Andrea to her decision to abandon Rexville.  Boy, talk about "unintended consequences"!

Here are the facts:  I posted a piece quite a while ago whereby I announced the formation of "the ACME fan Club (Syndicated chapter) and pronounced myself the self-appointed president.  I intended it as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Andrea without ever expecting that there would be actual members (other than me) as at the time this blog had almost zero readers. 

Fast-forward to May 17, 2012, and the comments section of Rex Parker's blog (which syndicated solvers like myself have not yet seen) included this from Andrea: "EGOtrips took a bit to sort out
(THis weird google alert led me to EGOSURF today and I found that fanclub @Dirigonzo has started for me!?! Members: one!)" 

Andrea's comment apparently proved to be irresistible to Evil Doug (I've written about him before, too) who responded with this: ""EGOtrips took a bit to sort out
(THis weird google alert led me to EGOSURF today and I found that fanclub @Dirigonzo has started for me!?! Members: one!)"

ACME? Egosurfing? Gosh, what a surprise..."

And it went downhill from there.  There was some additional back and forth between ACME and ED with some other commenters chiming in (all in defense of Andrea) but it was pretty clear that an "issue" had bubbled to the surface.

I resisted the temptation to check subsequent blog posts to see what else transpired but it certainly appears that this was the genesis of whatever forced Andrea to leave Rexville.  And for whatever part I played (inadvertently) in setting the situation up, I am truly sorry.  I mean, I know I'm not directly responsible but what's that theory about random actions influencing events on the other side of the world...?

As I said, I feel just terrible.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ghost Face

"Ghost face" is not a phrase that comes readily to mind for me.  It's certainly "in the language" of usable phrases, but not very common in my experience.  Until today.

This morning I drove a van of veterans to the VA Center at Togus, and the vet sitting in the back seat, directly in my line of vision in the rear view mirror, was busy applying some kind of white cream to his face.  I don't know if it was face cream, zinc oxide, or some other substance but the effect was to give his face the appearance of a ghost - completely white except for the eyes, which remained dark circles. The countenance in my rear view mirror had the appearance of a Halloween mask - a "ghost face".

Eventually he removed the cream, or covered it up possibly, but either way by the time we arrived at Togus he had resumed a more or less normal facial appearance and I didn't give the incident any more thought.

Later in the day I was solving the NY Times  (syndicated) crossword puzzle and came across this clue: "Rapper who came to prominence as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan", which was totally meaningless to me.  And the answer was a grid-spanning 15 letters so I knew that I would need a lot of crosses to get the answer (or I could "google", but what's the fun in that?).  And eventually as I filled in the down answers and the rapper's name came into view, I was surprised and just a little spooked by the solution: GHOSTFACEKILLAH.

Coincidence, synchronicity, or whatever you call it - having "ghost face" come up twice in one day, in totally unrelated situations, is just plain weird.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"First among equals"

That's a phrase that I hear a lot, but it bothers me.  If things are "equal" how can one be first?  And yet it seems to apply, at least in some circles, to the Bill of Rights which comprises the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Surely the rights protected in all ten amendments are equal, yet one seems to gain special favor among politicians, especially conservative ones, seeking office.

If you are like me you are probably hard-pressed to recite the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, so let me (with the able assistance of Wikipedia) summarize them here:

  • First AmendmentEstablishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause; freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; right to petition

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[58]
    No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
    In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
    • Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
    Well, clearly our forefathers had our best interests at heart and recognized the threat to individual liberties which a strong central government posed, and they sought to limit the infringement of government on those liberties - all well and good.  But I don't think they ever intended that any one of the protected rights should ascend to superiority over the others.

    So why is it, I wonder, that of those first ten amendments the only one you ever hear specifically mentioned by politicians, especially Republican politicians, is the second amendment which protects (do I even need to say this?) the right to bear arms?  Well. let me answer my own question.

    The reason that the second amendment is "first among equals" is, very simply, the National Rifle Association - or NRA.  They are a very organized, well financed and highly effective special interest group that represents an industry that makes billions of dollars from selling firearms and accessories - to them, the second amendment is like a gold mine.  The more people who buy guns and ammunition, the more profits they make.  So they invest a lot of money ginning up "the right to bear arms" and supporting candidates who support, or who can be bought to say they  support,  unlimited, unrestricted gun ownership.

    So the next time you hear a candidate say, "I am a strong supporter of the second amendment", please remember that what they are really saying is, "I really want the NRA to support me with their money and political clout".

    It's too bad that the other nine amendments of the Bill of Rights don't have well-heeled special interest group advocating for the rights they protect - I have a couple of personal favorites that I think could use a "sugar daddy" to plead their case.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    ACME Fan Club (Syndicated Chapter) - Final Installment

    Most of what I know about Andrea I learned from her posts on Rex Parker's blog, and of course as a "syndicated solver" I read her comments 5 weeks after she wrote them.  This time warp can be significant.

    Yesterday I read her  comment from April 31, in which she described her recent discovery of some childhood treasures that she thought had been lost forever. I wanted to tell her how happy I was for her that she had recovered those items and all the happy memories associated with them, so I sent her an email.  And she replied (she is always gracious enough to reply) from a McDonald's - in Sydney, Australia!

    Is the term "jet-setter" still in use?  Yes, I see it is - according to Urban Dictionary, the first definition is: "A person who travels to numerous places around the world to places that other people always want to go but never do."  (Please do NOT look up the second definition!)  So I think we can add that to the list of qualities that make her so endearing. Not so much just because she travels to far away places, but she seems genuinely happy to hear from an admirer like me no matter where she happens to be!

    But - and here's the sad part - she ended her reply with the news that she is no longer commenting on Rex Parker's blog.  I've already commented on her reasons and my feelings about them in another post, so I'll just report the fact of her departure from Rexville and leave it at that.  And of course her departure from the blog effectively closes my window on her world, time-warped though it may have been.    Without the little insights into her life that I was able to glean from her posts I'll have no way of staying up to date (or 5 weeks behind) on events in her life and so will have no basis for further updates to her fan club (syndicated chapter).  Unless, of course, she changes her mind - hey, a guy can hope can't he?!

    Sometime in the next 5 weeks I'll read ACME's final comment to Rexville and I know I will be very sad - I suspect the rest of the community will be (or more accurately, was), too.

    So it's time to say "Goodbye" to the ACME fan club (syndicated chapter), and here's what I came up with when I googled "Goodbye video" (it seems appropriate):

    There is no joy in Rexville

    Today I learned via an off-blog message from a friend that ACME - she whom I adore from afar and fives weeks back - is no longer participating in the discussion at Rex Parker Does the New York Times crossword Puzzle.  Apparently she had finally had enough of the rude and abusive commentary that was frequently directed at her by Evil Doug, the self-appointed blog monitor who feels that it is his right and responsibility to see to it that all comments meet his personal standards.

    I've written here before about Evil Doug and I don't want to devote any more of my time or my space to him.  But there are others who share responsibility for ACME's absence, notably Rex Parker himself for his failure to rein in the bullying behavior that caused her to leave.  Rex has some rules for the comments section of his blog, one of which he specifically mentions in the FAQ section, as follows:

    "8. Why was my comment deleted (you jackass)?
    Take your pick: a. you were rude to someone, b. you were way off-topic, or c. you were talking about tomorrow's puzzle (you jackass)."

    He also has an often repeated rule prohibiting personal attacks on another commenter, but the comments that drove ACME, and others before her, away were both rude and personal attacks so they should have been deleted immediately and the one who posted them should have been warned, or banished.  Rex, as I noted in my earlier post, has not been around much to enforce his own rules lately so the ill behavior continued until it had what I suspect was the desired effect. 

    But the whole Rexville community must bear some of the responsibility for the loss of one of its most beloved members, too.  Too many of them were willing to turn a blind eye to behavior they knew was offensive, and some even seemed to anticipate with a guilty glee what off-color, politically incorrect or otherwise just plain offensive remarks might be in store for the day.  Bullies are successful when they are tolerated and get the attention they are seeking.  If the reaction of the community had been to simply shun the perpetrator, ignore his comments, don't comment on them and certainly don't reply to them I believe the behavior would have stopped.  If a bully can't get attention he fails in his mission and it's pretty hard to make anyone read your comments on a blog.

    As I write this I haven't reached the point in time on the blog when these events transpired so I do not know what the reaction of Rexville was when they learned that ACME was leaving for good but I will be very interested to find out.  But there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain:  just as there was no joy in Mudville when Casey struck out, the can be no joy in Rexville with ACME gone. 

    I will miss ACME, as I'm sure others will too.  But I'll miss her most.