Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Value of Change

Regarding yesterday's post in which I wrote about today's American leadership regarding the "unalienable rights" of man, I wrote that I thought it was "important that the Iranian government realize that we are neither fooled nor impressed" by Iran's illusion of democracy and that although we might not be able or willing to prevent the abuse of Iranian citizens in the street, "we should be clear that we are not indifferent to it either."

My premise was that as the world's foremost leader in advocating the natural rights of man to life and liberty over the past 200 years, we needed to maintain that stature, even if it meant risking claims that we are interfering with the internal affairs of despotic nations. To a despot, comment of any kind from any quarter is interference.

I noted that our president finally said that he was "outraged and appalled" by the violence in the streets of Iran and the United States has rescinded its invitation to Iranian diplomats worldwide to celebrate the Fourth of July at American embassies (but none had RSVP'd anyway).

Reading the news today, I see that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had something to say about the president's response. "We are surprised at Mr. Obama," Ahmadinejad said. "Didn't he say that he was after change? Why did he interfere?"

"They keep saying that they want to hold talks with Iran ... but is this the correct way? Definitely, they have made a mistake," Ahmadinejad said.

Our president commented about the protesters in Iran on Friday, "Their bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice. The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. In spite of the government's efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it."

Clearly, the Iranian president is playing our president's interest in "change" against him and against our American values. "Change" is not a founding principle of this country and when the Iranian president suggests that an American response to the actions against freedom-loving Iranians threatens relations with Iran, we should quickly answer that it is Iran's actions against its people that threatens relations with Iran, then back those words up with additional diplomatic action. We should be clear about what is important to us as Americans, and that while we want "change," we will not change our values.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pulse: Weak and Irregular

I look at the language of our diplomatic initiatives today and wonder where these words have disappeared to: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

These words aren't merely archaic expressions by some idealists who founded our nation. These are words that have formed the rationale for the expenditure of American lives and wealth at home and abroad for 200 years. They have literally reflected the visceral character of America for two centuries and they have inspired uprisings in the name of liberty and toppled harsh regimes throughout the world.

The thoughts behind the words have been practically timeless in mankind's political discourse. They have centuries of history in the philosophy of the nature of man behind them.

The ancient Greek Stoics believed that the human nature yearns for freedom in spite of a person's physical environment. They believed that whatever the physical condition of man was, the intrinsic nature of man can not be constrained. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, "the body indeed is subjected and in the power of a master, but the mind is independent, and indeed is so free and wild, that it cannot be restrained even by this prison of the body, wherein it is confined."

Centuries have passed since the days of classical political thought, but the idea of the natural rights of man has persisted: the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights (1689), and many other documents are testaments to the durability of the idea that man has natural rights that should find expression in public law. English philosopher John Locke, who had a profound influence on the Founders, wrote that man's natural rights - life, liberty, and property - were inherent in people and could not be compromised by man's law.

So, when Thomas Jefferson laid pen to paper in our Declaration of Independence, he took the first formal steps in establishing our acceptance of these rights as a nation - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - as not only "natural" rights, but also as inherent rights that form a legitimate basis for action to claim them, even if those actions included revolution.

These are words that have inspired others since our independence. The motto "liberte, egalite, fraternite" (liberty, equality, fraternity) of the French Revolution and the Canadian motto "peace, order, and good government" are examples. These words can be found in Chapter III, Article 13 of the Constitution of Japan, and (believe it or not) Ho Chi Minh wrote these words into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam's declaration of independence after Japan's occupation ended there in 1945.

So, these words are more than a little bit of ink smeared on parchment. They have been the rationale for revolutions and the basis for our support of people seeking to exercise their natural rights throughout the world...

...except in Iran today.

When a friend of mine asked me the other day what I thought would happen in Iran in the aftermath of presidential elections there, I told her that I thought it could go one of two ways. On one hand, I thought the Iranian government's treatment of election protesters in the streets of Iran might be met by broad international condemnation and that America's legacy of standing loudly and decisively for the inalienable rights of mankind would find expression in a plainly-spoken diplomatic response by the United States. I thought we could give the kind of response that would sound familiar to our Founders and would give confidence and voice to the democratic movement in that country.

But I also thought that regardless of what we said, the Iranian government might not be impressed by the world's reaction and would continue its crackdown because, after all, it is a totalitarian regime that merely pretends to conduct democratic elections. In Iran, there is a difference between appearance and reality.

Either way, I thought it was important that the Iranian government realize that we are neither fooled nor impressed by their charade. We might not be able or willing to prevent the abuse, but we should be clear that we are not indifferent to it either.

In the end, the American response was lukewarm and tardy. After a week of concern that the Iranian government might claim we were meddling in Iranian internal affairs if the American government issued any strong denunciations, we finally emerged from our shell. Ultimately, the American president spoke up and said that he was "outraged and appalled" by the violence in the streets of Iran. In response, the Iranian president asked our president for a public apology for this reaction. There has been no public response from the American government.

Meanwhile, the United States has withdrawn its invitation to Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July celebrations at U. S. Embassies in less than two weeks (although the Iranians hadn't RSVP'd anyway). The offer in the first place was an outrageous affront to our founding principles and values, particularly in light of the face that recent events in Iran clearly demonstrate that snuggling up to the regime is not the answer.

So, the paramount effort right now is not to encourage and support the spontaneous democratization of totalitarian countries. It is now more important to normalize relations with nations that have responded with hostility to what they allege is past American hegemony in the region. Our new policy is to accept the characterization of our advocacy of the rights of man as "hegemony" and to essentially attempt to neutralize our enemies' hostility with confessions of guilt and apologies.

Our founding ideals are slipping. Our neutrality on a matter that has a uniquely American stamp on it is painfully significant to hopeful democrats around the world today. While the Iranian government continues its brutal crackdown on protesters in Iran, we are disgracefully fixated on other news today, and we will continue to be distracted over these next few critical days as the Iranian democratic movement stumbles and breaks down.

How weak and irregular is the pulse of these essential principles in us today...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remembering

Our nation will be fixated for days over this week's loss of three show business icons: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

Ed McMahon was Johnny Carson's late night show sidekick for more than 30 years and was known as a man who became famous for helping make Johnny Carson famous. He served as a U. S. Marine during World War II and Korea. McMahon died Tuesday after battling pneumonia and bone cancer.

Farrah Fawcett was one of the three "Charlie's Angels" in the 1970s television series and she became a popular pinup poster model with a number of television and movie credits to her name. She bravely battled cancer for three years, seeking out aggressive treatments in her attempt to defeat the disease. She lost her battle today.

Michael Jackson has been known as the King of Pop Music. His dancing, music, and showmanship electified audiences throughout the world, but his conduct with and around children taint his image. This conduct will be a minor footnote in the glorification of his life. He died a few hours after Fawcett.

Ed McMahon's passing is already behind us and Farrah Fawcett's death will be a mere aside to Michael Jackson's. Jackson will be memorialized exhaustively with tens of thousands of people in feverish adoration and mourning over him.

I do not intend to toss water on anyone's remembrances, but I will say that when it comes to character, the greatest among them will be celebrated the least.

That is the nature of our culture. We admire what is popular rather than what is good. We selectively ignore behavior in celebrities while we would call for hangings if the guy down the street pulled the same stunts. We regard as "eccentric" conduct in celebrities that we would find as downright scary in anyone else.

We will be consumed for the next three or four days with Michael Jackson's life and legacy - at least the part we'll feel like talking about. In the meantime, we will quickly forget our celebrities who were normal enough to be good, humble, patriotic citizens. And we'll hardly be offended that the coverage of performers' courageous battles with terrible diseases will be overshadowed by the scandalous reporting we've seen of the least flattering moments of their final days.

I wish we were better at understanding, celebrating, and remembering greatness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Welcome to Marlboro Country

Normally, I wouldn't care if President Obama smokes cigarettes - I wouldn't care if he smokes a pack a day. But I do care that as he crusades against smoking addiction as the most powerful man in the world, he becomes indignant with those who question him about his own smoking addiction. It's as if he isn't the one with the problem - it's the stupid reporters who keep butting (pardon the pun) into his personal business who have the problem.

Today, a day after the President signed into law what he called "his" anti-smoking legislation, a reporter asked him what is clearly not his favorite recurring line of questioning about his smoking habit.

She began, "Thank you, Mr. President. As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting, but with the new law that you signed yesterday regulating the tobacco industry, I would like to ask you a few questions, how many cigarettes a day --"

The President interrupted her, "A few questions?" He clearly didn't like where this was going.

She came back, "Well -- how many cigarettes a day do you smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law would help you to quit and why?" She was obviously zeroing in on the apparent addiction dichotomy.

The President responded, "I've said before that as a former smoker, I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family. You know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured, but there are times where -- there are times when I mess up."

He forgot to ask himself one question, "Am I in denial here?" The answer to that question would have been "yes."

I'm not a smoker, nor am I an addict, recovering or otherwise - thankfully. But I have known addicts and counselors who would tell you that you are not a "former smoker" if you're falling off the wagon or if you sometimes "mess up." If you're 95% "cured" of smoking, that means that you are still a 5% smoker - if there is such a thing - which is another way of saying that you are not a "former smoker."

I think the President's missing a great opportunity to struggle with his own smoking problem and make an important point about smoking addiction.

How much would he have helped the cause if he had answered the reporter's question this way:

"The new anti-smoking law is not about me, it's about kids who might someday think it's cool to smoke, for whatever reason. Cigarette companies have been exploiting kids for decades by embedding flavorings in their tobacco to make cigarettes more appetizing and they've used clever and famous advertising imagery to glamorize smoking. Remember the Marlboro Man?

"Let me tell you about the Marlboro Man. Don McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer were all Marlboro Men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements. All three died of lung cancer and are part of the reason that Marlboro Reds became known as "Cowboy killers."

"So, I know by now some of you are wondering, "How is the Marlboro Man different than the President of the United States?" Well, here's the difference: unlike me, the Marlboro Man got paid to be the face of fashionable smoking. I'm not saying that to be cute; I'm saying that because although I haven't been paid to deliver the message, my example is as compelling as the Marlboro Man's message ever was. There is one other difference: cigarettes killed the Marlboro Man, and we're still waiting to see how it turns out for me...

"I am aware that since I can't stand here and tell you that I'm no longer smoking, my living example works against my public stance on the issue. But I guess it shows how powerfully addicting tobacco can be. I mean, I've tried to stop smoking, but I constantly struggle with it. I don't do it in front of my family because I don't want my kids to pick up this terrible habit. I don't even like talking about it in public because I don't want other people, especially kids, to think it's cool and start smoking themselves.

"If you want to keep asking me that question every month or so, I guess you can. I won't like the question, but maybe the embarrassment I face in answering it every month will help drive me to make a life change regarding my smoking. I do realize that ending an addiction requires a life change and that if I smoke even one cigarette a day or if I light up when I'm having a rough day, then I can't refer to myself a "former smoker." That's my burden.

"I really don't want kids to think I'm cool when I'm smoking, so maybe the best thing I can do until I muster the will power to quit is to hope that one of you keeps asking me that question so kids can see how it haunts and embarrasses me. That's something the Marlboro Man could never do. So, thank you for the question."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Brits Forfiet Fiesty Rules

The word is out that the British government is suggesting that teachers not teach the "i before e, except after c" rule because there are too many exceptions to it. They say the rule "is not worth teaching" because it doesn't cover words like sufficient, veil, and their.

Lord knows that we don't need to have rules of thumb that there are exceptions to. I mean, what good does it do to have a rule of thumb that will help kids spell most of the words correctly if it won't help them with a few exceptions. Now, maybe it'll be easier for them to teach kids to spell other words like wierd, nieghbor, and mischievous... (Or is it mischievious?)

He's Barack Obama

It's this simple...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Your Humble Servant

U. S. Army Brigadier General Michael Walsh is the commanding general of the Mississippi Valley Division of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, having returned Stateside a year ago from a tour in Iraq where he served as the commanding general of the Persian Gulf Region of the Corps of Engineers. He began his army career after graduating from the Polytechnic Institute of New York with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. He has also earned a master's degree in construction management from the University of Florida. He has served his country for some 32 years and has a chest full of decorations that reflect a bit of the nature of his service.

On Tuesday, June 16, BGen Walsh appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to testify about the post-Katrina restoration of the Louisiana coast. Take a look at this video of an exchange between BGen Walsh and Senator Barbara Boxer of California.



Senator Boxer was a stock broker for a Wall Street firm from 1962 to 1965. She then worked as a journalist with the Pacific Sun newspaper from 1972 to 1974 before serving as a congressional aide for two years from 1974 to 1976. She was a member of the Marin County (CA) Board of Supervisors for six years from 1977 to 1983. She was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1983 and served there for 10 years before winning election to the Senate in 1993. She has a bachelor's degree in economics from Brooklyn College.

Whether Senator Boxer should be swinging the title the voters of California entrusted her with like a club is a matter for some debate maybe, but I don't see it. I would argue that the role the Framers of the Constitution had in mind for legislators was as servants of the people not as bullies of the people. Personally, I am irritated when I see some of our elected officials behave as demagogues and demigods and -goddesses and use their elected positions to push people around and degrade and humiliate them for their own gratification. I think it's just wrong.

For Senator Boxer to force the issue in that venue and in that tone was a gratuitously abusive, disproportionate, inappropriate, and disrespectful use of her power as a Senator.

I might not have been so out of sorts about this had she addressed him as "general" when she called him down, but in demanding an extra measure of deferential courtesy from him, she failed to extend him the same consideration. Clearly, he has earned it, whereas she has her position by the good graces (and dubious judgment) of the people of California.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fishing Karma

I wrote a post here the other day where I went on a little bit about fishing. I was careful not to exaggerate and I described my thought process: my "caught no fish" story, the fact that I couldn't catch just one fish, my "couple of fish" line, and then my satisfaction with catching three fish. I didn't exaggerate the size of the fish (because I didn't saying anything about that at all).

Well, I went out again yesterday evening and all of that truth-telling I did the other day came around in my favor. Yesterday, I caught three fish again, but I could have happily gone home after the first one. Here's a photo of that first fish. No Photoshop required!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Money's on the Phillie

My nephew, David, was drafted the other day by the professional baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies. A Phillies representative will meet him at his parents' home here on Saturday where he will sign a contract to play baseball with the team. He will board a plane for Philadelphia on Monday.

It seems like a whirlwind tour for him, but it's one that he's been working for for some 17 years. For him, it's been more than a dream; it's been an aspiration wrapped in steady hard work. I coached him for the first time when he was 6 years old playing tee ball. Even at that age, David was head and shoulders better than everyone else. Several "experts" at the ball park back then used to go on and on about how that boy was going to be a pro baseball player some day. I guess they were right.

One of the greatest attributes David has shown all throughout his playing career so far is what I think has always set him apart from the others: he is simply prepared to out-work and out-think everyone else on the field. He's always played without pretention; he has never been a flashy player either. He's just been making the plays and he has set the pace for the teams he has played on.

That humility has surfaced again. At a moment when all of the wheeler-dealer draftees are trying to hardball these pro teams for more money, David understands his bargaining position and power. Therefore, he's decided to do what has worked for him all of his life: take care of business on the baseball field. His mindset right now is refreshing - all he wants to do is get started with the Phillies so he can do what he's there for. He believes that if he does his job the way it's supposed to be done, the team can't afford to do anything but give him more and more opportunities. Ultimately, he believes it'll pay off. I believe he's right about that.

I believe the work will pay off for him just as it has his entire life so far. I'm pulling for him. My money's on this Phillie.

-----

UPDATE: David signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, June 13, 2009. Congrats and good luck, David!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blithering Fisherman

So, there I sat at 6:30 this morning, wide awake because I'm used to being awake at that time. I thought I'd take the day to relax, but I was up much earlier than I really wanted to be. I figured I could stay there in front of the tube and wait to watch Oprah to see what the latest herbal diet was or to see if she was going to give me a new car or something, or I could do some work around the house, or I could go fishing. I chose to go fishing.

I drove down to the boat launch I usually go to on the Alabama border on the Perdido River. I got there at about 8:30, half way expecting to be the only one there. After all, it was Friday morning. I got down there and there were eleven vehicles with boat trailers already there! I counted the trailers and thought, "Don't these people have jobs?" Then I reminded myself that I was one of those people...

So, I backed my boat into the water and parked beside my fellow deadbeats.

It was a pretty nice day on the water. The water was smooth with just a little breeze, but the temperature did warm up quite a lot as the day wore on. Every time I go out there, I'm reminded of why going out in the boat is one of my favorite things to do. You see things you never see, you hear things you never hear, and you can think easily because there is almost no one anywhere around.

There is almost no one around. There were the two older guys (older than I am) this morning who cruised by me slowly when I was up in a small creek/river thing off of the main river. The driver of the boat - it's always the driver of the boat - called out to me and asked me if I had caught them all yet. For those of you who don't know, this is the most frequently asked question on the river.

My standard answer is, "Nope, I left one or two for you." That is the closest you'll come to hearing the truth from a fisherman on the water. I feel so liberated when I can come that close to telling the truth about fishing. I say that because there are a good number of people who will allege that they have never heard me tell the truth about fishing. I say "allege" on my own behalf because it simply is not the truth.

There was this one time, though, when a friend of mine and I went up to Heaven on Earth (Roaring River State Park in southwestern Missouri) to do some trout fishing a couple of years ago. His name is Eddie. Eddie and I had been there a few days catching our limit of trout each day (that is the truth). They were decent-sized rainbow trout, except for some smaller ones that Eddie was keeping (that is the truth according to me). On about the fourth day, Eddie saw this nice-sized trout in the water and decided to try to catch it, but the trout was having nothing to do with any bait that was pulled past his blind eyes and muted senses (that is the truth for the most part).

Finally, Eddie reeled his lure across the back of this trout and when he did, the trout was spooked and when the fish bolted out of there, it snagged itself in the back on Eddie's lure (that is the truth). Eddie wrestled that fish for a good 20 minutes going on and on about how big the fish was. I didn't say anything because I wanted him to be quiet about the stupid fish (I'm a little competitive). I followed him all along the river bank while he let that fish kick his butt until it occurred to me that the trout net I had tied to my fruity little fishing vest was not going to be large enough. I really hated asking another person who was there if I could use his larger net. I didn't want Eddie to hear that...

I finally netted the fish for Eddie and unfortunately, everyone within 100 yards came over to admire and "ooh" and "ahh" over his fish. One of these busy-bodies who came over to look at the fish told Eddie he needed to go to the park store and have it weighed. Eddie hustled his fish up to the park store and had it weighed. That turned out to be the gift that kept giving - for Eddie.

As it turned out, his fish weighed 3 pounds which meant that they wanted to take his picture with the fish and give him a button to wear that said "Lunker Award." I about died when I saw that button and the photograph because I knew that I would hear about that stupid fish at least once an hour during our 15-hour return trip home. (Turns out I was right about that.)

I had to think of something because it wasn't likely we could snag two big fish in the back on that trip. Finally, I came up with a plan. Early one morning I told Eddie that I wanted to take a picture of him in his fishing garb (he was still wearing that stupid button). I really only wanted a picture of his button, but I didn't tell him that. Later in the day, I caught a pretty decent fish and asked Eddie to take of picture of me holding it. The plot was starting to take shape.

My scheme was to take those photographs home and go to work with Photoshop so I could have the fish I deserved. I did just that. I fully expected Eddie to ask my brother and me to go to lunch with him when we returned home so he could brag up his fish. I intended to let him do that and then show them both a real fish. By the way, in doctoring the size of my fish, I also gave myself one of those buttons that Eddie got, but mine said "Brutus Award" because it would have gone at least 5 pounds. I even put a date stamp on the photo.

I finished my work on my photograph and had it printed. It was a masterpiece. But it seemed that Eddie was never going to get around to asking my brother and me to lunch. I finally got tired of waiting so I called Eddie and told him to go ahead and call my brother so he could show him the picture of his fish and get that over with. He called my brother and arranged for us to meet for lunch that day.

I walked into the restaurant fashionably late so he could put on as good a show as he could. (I had my picture in my shirt pocket.) As soon as I sat down, our waitress came over, pointed to Eddie's fish picture (that I hadn't noticed) on the table, and said, "Didn't I see that fish on ESPN?" Everyone had a big laugh.

They laughed; I waited. Once they finished back-slapping each other, I said "That little thing? The fish you saw on ESPN was probably this one" and I showed her my picture. Eddie took the picture, looked at it, and said "I took this picture, but this isn't the fish I took the picture of." Finally, I came clean and we all had a good laugh.

Now, back to today's fishing excursion. I wasn't fishing overly hard because I was busy relaxing and thinking of something to write about here in this blog. I was fishing for bream with worms and had a couple of lines in the water just kicking back.

It was getting pretty hot out there so I started thinking about heading back to the boat ramp and enjoying the ride, but I was going to need to think of an answer to the question, "How did you do?"

Since I don't like to lie about my fishing unless there's no other way around it, I started thinking of how I could tell how I did fishing without sounding like I'm no good at fishing. I settled on this: "I was just out there for the quiet and wasn't pushing it that hard." That would have been the truth, but just as I was settling on this line, something very unfortunate happened. I caught a fish.

That changed everything because no one believes you weren't "pushing it that hard" if you caught one fish. But I wasn't going to leave there with only one fish because the only thing worse than catching no fish is catching one fish. If you catch no fish, they might not have been biting. If you catch one fish, clearly they were biting, but you weren't catching them. Fortunately, I caught another one, so then I could say I caught "a couple" of fish (you don't say you caught "two"). "A couple" could be two or it could be a modest way of saying there were more.

I started thinking that it would be better if I could give a real number when telling how I did, so soon after that I caught a third fish. I could live with that, so I headed back up the river with my pride - and a true story - in tact.

I know, that's pretty dull. No fish as big as trash cans. No wild stories about being pulled all over the river by a fish. No crazy stories about an alligator eating the big one just as you got it to the boat. No great scandals or fanfare. But I did have a good day on the water anyway. I caught these three fish; you should have seen them. They were unbelievable! Maybe I should show you the pictures...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Waking Up to Go

Okay, I have to get this off my chest.

We have all seen the FLOMAX commercial that tells us that "For many men, [it] reduces male urinary symptoms due to BPH in one week."

The commercial is unnerving to me because it leaves me feeling as though I'm not taking care of myself. It appears that I am exhibiting at least one noteworthy symptom of this BPH and I'm disturbed about this for two reasons: (1) I don't think my symptom is a bad thing (in fact, I think it's a good thing), and (2) I don't know what the heck BPH is.

The FLOMAX commercial warns those of us who are troubled by the need to get up at night to "go" that we might have some kind of problem. Here's a rundown of my symptom: When I need to "go," I get up to "go." To my untrained eye, I'm thinking I would have a greater problem if I did NOT get up to "go." So, in spite of seeing this commercial a number of times and having its haunting message play over and over again in my head, I have chosen a number of times to go ahead and get up to "go," and I don't think that means I need medical help.

I'm not a doctor here, but I think my self-diagnosis is pretty solid. I've even listened to basketball legend Earl "the Pearl" Monroe talk about how FLOMAX helped him, but I'm sticking to my guns on this one.

Someone pass the word to Earl about this. He might want to read this post to see how he might be trying to fix something that's not broken...

[BLOGGER'S DISCLAIMER: The blogger's post is intended only to poke fun at the FLOMAX commercial; it does not intend to make light of BPH (whatever that is).]

Monday, June 1, 2009

She Dreamed a Dream

In the musical Les Miserables, a factory worker named Fantine is dismissed from her job after getting into a fight with some of her co-workers when they learn that she is sending money away for her illegitimate child. As she laments her bad fortune, she sings about her lost love and her broken dreams in the song "I Dreamed a Dream."

I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.


Fantine becomes destitute, ultimately resorting to a life of prostitution. She is arrested when she resists an abusive client and is sent to prison. Finally, though, she is pulled from prison by her former boss, the owner of the factory where she once worked, and she is sent to a hospital where she dies.

By now, many of us have seen the "Britain's Got Talent" sensation from a small village in Scotland, Susan Boyle. She's the lady who confessed to having never been kissed as she lived alone with her cat in her cottage. She is clearly a woman of meager means, looking for a fresh opportunity. [Open http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY in a new window.]

As she took the stage for her first performance, we were able to see her win some disbelieving looks from an audience of several hundred onlookers and three judges, including the notorious Simon Cowell. She strutted and stomped awkwardly out onto the stage in a dress that was hardly the height of fashion and looking every bit as though she was wearing heels for the first time.

Nonetheless, she exuded a self-confidence that the faces in the crowd seemed to sense was misplaced. Their incredulity grew as she announced that she would sing the song, "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. They clearly couldn't imagine this "cheeky" 50-year old woman issuing any justice at all to the tune. Then she sang...

The audience was blown away. Expressions of shock overcame the audience and hard-bitten judges were moved nearly to tears and breathless gasps.

Here was a woman who had lived a lifetime of rejection. She didn't know the warm embrace of love, arriving at this point having "never been kissed." Fifty years of hearing the word, "no." Fifty years of rejection. It seems that it would have been enough to mark a soul for a legacy of rejection and struggle.

But she didn't accept that outcome. She marched out onto the stage in front of that audience as though determined to challenge the 500 people in the audience before her and many more at home to reject the idea of adding their voices to the persistent rebukes she'd heard throughout her life.

Most would have surrendered long before.

She won the affections of the world that night, and ultimately, she placed second in the show's season finale. But her travails were not over. In the week before her final performance, reports seeped out of the United Kingdom that Ms. Boyle was crumbling under the flood of attention she had garnered. A day after her final performance, Ms. Boyle checked herself into a mental health clinic, suffering from exhaustion.


Fantine sang:


I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...


There is broad speculation, mostly negative, about Ms. Boyle's chances for any kind of musical success in the aftermath of her surge to stardom. Who knows if she can endure the rigors of the road or the scrutiny of both the adoring and the cynical masses.

Here's hoping she recovers the spunk and courage that made her an international darling. Whether she pursues a professional music career from here or not, she has much to be proud of. Let's hope she continues to have a hope that is high and sees that hers is a life worth living.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Britannica Owes Us One

I mentioned in my first posting that my brother, Michael, recently learned that he had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). Before this, I didn't know one kind of leukemia from another, but now I have some sense of at least one kind of it. I wish I never had a reason to know as much as I now do.

Michael told me about his cancer after a high school baseball game I was coaching ended. On reflection, that was probably the best time and place for him to tell me because it wasn't exactly the best time and place to spend a lot of time talking about it. I wasn't ready to discuss it much because I wasn't even really ready to HEAR about it. I made up for it the next day when we spoke again.

Michael and I grew up very close. We were a year and a half apart in age (I'm slightly older). I look a little older than he does, but I make up for it by being more immature than he is. Until high school, Michael and I did everything together. We roamed the woods looking for hideouts and new life forms. I remember one occasion when I was about 11 years old when we found this HUGE spider that neither of us had ever seen. Its abdomen had a pattern that looked like a yellow and black brain. In a stroke of profound genius, we named our discovery the "brain spider." We returned home and searched through our new Encyclopedia Britannica to confirm that ours was a new discovery. It turns out someone had already discovered the "orb weaver."

Encyclopedia Britannica was a source of much disappointment to us. On another occasion, it supported my father's ridiculous assertion that the "tadpoles" Michael and I had spent the day collecting were actually mosquito larvae.

On yet another occasion, my father referred us to our Encyclopedia Britannica to confirm that there was actually such a thing as a "snipe" before he left us at the far end of a corn field in the neighboring county in the middle of the night with a gunny sack (burlap bag) and a flashlight waiting for him and our godfather to drive snipe to us. There was another boy - a relative of our godfather - out there with us, and after a few hours, he decided to walk to our godfather's house to see what was going on. After seeing what there was to see, he walked all the way back out to the field to us and told us that they were back at the house playing cards. I didn't believe him; in fact, I told him, "My dad would never do that to us." I was wrong. We finally all headed back to the house where we found them playing cards as the other kid said they were. Britannica let us down again, this time colluding with my father and godfather in their terrible plot against us.

So, we had our adventures. We played ball together. We mowed lawns together. We sure made the rounds.

One day, though, while my parents were out of town for the weekend, leaving us in the care of my great grandmother who was visiting from California, there was a terrible accident at our house. It was August 31, 1969, so I had just turned 12 years old and Michael was 10. I remember the date because as I watched the news that night, the newscaster announced that boxing great Rocky Marciano died in a plane crash that night in Newton, Iowa. (We lived in Newton, Illinois.)

Michael, our sister, and a neighbor were in our garage, and as Michael went to hit the handle on the door to go outside, he plowed hand and arm first through the storm glass door. He fell through the door and as he did, a jagged piece of glass severed the artery in his right arm pit.

I was inside the house when my sister ran inside for help, excitedly saying that Michael had cut himself on the window. We ran outside and found Michael bleeding profusely and slipping into shock (although I didn't know what that was at the time). I had never seen or imagined anything like it in my life. He was obviously in a very bad way. As his heart was pumping blood out of his arm pit as fast as it could, he was trying to get up but couldn't quite do it. Finally, we got him to just lie down and he laid there in the grass groggy and wavering. That was unforgettable.

My great grandmother told me to run inside and get some towels. I suppose I was hoping his injury would be something we could just patch up and everything would be okay, so I returned with some small towels that clearly were not equal to the task. Seeing they weren't nearly enough, I ran back inside and grabbed every large bath towel in the house. The towels were really not doing anything to help him because he just kept bleeding until a neighbor ran over and pinched off his artery to stop the bleeding. The ambulance arrived and took Michael to the hospital about 20 miles away. I imagine he arrived at the hospital some 40-45 minutes after falling through the window; he was only a few minutes from losing his life. In fact, he was actually dead on arrival at the hospital. Had our neighbor not come to pinch Michael's artery when he did, we would have lost him for good right there in the yard.

My great grandmother traveled with Michael to the hospital and I stayed at home with my 9-year old sister and 5-year old brother. I threw the used towels into our outside trash and hosed down the blood-soaked lawn just outside our back door. I didn't know how much blood a person had in him, but I was intuitively aware enough of the situation, I guess, to know that the combination of Michael's delirium and all of the blood that was in the lawn meant he was in grave danger. As I tried in vain to wash the blood away, I was overcome with the realization that I might not see my brother alive again. That was tough.

In the meantime, State Police in Illinois and Indiana were trying to track my parents down as they were on their weekend getaway in neighboring Indiana. My parents arrived at home at around noon the following day. I met them at the car and I quickly realized the police had not found them and sent them home, so they were unaware of Michael's accident. Thus, the unenviable task of informing them fell onto my 12-year old shoulders. That was tough too. My mother nearly collapsed, but my father supported her, got her into the car, and they sped off to the hospital.

My brother nearly lost his life in that accident, and then he nearly lost his arm in the aftermath. He underwent a good number of major surgeries on his arm over several years to repair its workings so he could regain use of a limb that was in danger of atrophy. He and I roomed together when he wasn't in the hospital and I was part of the team whose responsiblity it was to remind him to "work his hand" to help him regain some mobility in it. (He LOVED being nagged about that.)

The truly amazing thing is that the following year, Michael was back to playing second base on our little league baseball team. He would field the ball with his gloved left hand, remove his glove, and throw the ball with his left hand. Ultimately, my father made him throw with his right hand, and he did.

He suffered quite a lot as a boy, but he never used his injury as an alibi for anything. He played baseball up through Pony League, then he played football (center and nose guard) in high school. Then he went off to Chiropractic College where he graduated with distinction and was his class president. He established a very successful practice, but had to finally retire from it because as the bones in his right arm became increasingly brittle, he was injuring himself every time he treated a patient.

I write all of that to get to this point...

My brother has had the dirty end of the stick more times than Dirty Harry did (if you haven't watched the Dirty Harry movies, you didn't get that). When it comes to "the challenge of a lifetime," he's had enough for several lifetimes. I've never known him to pity himself or to accept it from others, although as an empathetic person himself, he values expressions of empathy from others. He has always been the picture of courage in the face of agony and adversity.

So, I have no doubt he will meet his new challenge with grace and courage. It's my hope that he will bear up well under treatment and that the intervening years will reveal something that I know we won't find in the Encyclopedia Britannica today - a cure for his cancer. Maybe in the coming years, we'll find one in there. After letting us down so many times, Britannica owes us one.

Just Blithering On

When my brother was diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks ago and decided to blog about his battle with the cancer, I saw what a great way it was to record thoughts and induce a little discussion. I do like to write and I do have one or two opinions about things, so it seems like the thing to do.

I have titled this blog "Blithering On."

One definition of the word "blithering" suggests that it might be a combination of two words, blather and dither. To blather is to talk nonsensically. To dither is to be in a state of indecisive agitation or fussiness. So, I guess to blither would be to talk nonsensically in a state of indecisive agitation.

Well, to be honest, I don't intend to waste either my time or anyone who decides to follow this blog's time with nonsense (if I can help it) and I'm not sure that I have an indecisive bone in my body. However, it is very likely that I'll post a thing or two after having been moved to a state of agitation. So, when it gets right down to it, the name "Blithering On" is a combination half-hearted disclaimer and a touch of false modesty. I hope that what I write proves the blog title to, in fact, be false modesty and not a confession.

With that, let me close this first post with the acknowledgment that you might find me "blithering on" one topic one day and "blithering on" another topic another day, but you certainly will be able to find me "blithering on" and on and on.