June 2009 Archives

The recent unrest in Iran has led political leaders and average citizens around the world to call upon the theocratic government in Tehran to ease its oppression.  The Obama Administration has, however, taken a more low key approach.  President Obama has stated that he would like to have the Iranian people sort this out themselves, without interference from the United States.  His philosophy is that the natural course of events would lead to a better and longer-lasting solution, as it would be a true reflection of the will of the Iranian people, rather than one imposed from the outside.

His "let's keep our noses out of it and let things sort themselves out" way of thinking would be brilliant if he only decided to apply it to his own country as well as to Iran.  Rather than burning hundreds of billions of dollars trying to keep GM and AIG solvent, he should let nature take its course and allow the businesses to fail.  Despite all the rhetoric and hyperbole, dissolving General Motors would not be equivalent to handing the nuclear codes over to North Korea.  The Republic was strong before GM was founded and will survive GM filing for bankruptcy.  Companies enter bankruptcy all the time, and often come back better than before, as bad habits and failed business models are discarded, and fiscal discipline is imposed.

But what about the people who are going to lose their jobs and their health benefits?  Shouldn't the government intervene to save these people from disaster?  The answer is, unfortunately, no.  The stakes for the workers really does not affect the unstoppable force that is the free market.  Any efforts to nullify the effects of the market in these poorly-managed companies are doomed to failure.  If we are interested in saving these jobs and benefits and simply must do something to help them, it would be far cheaper to simply hire people laid off by GM as government workers and pay them to stay home.


Dead and Loving It

During the course of my other career as a dentist, I get to see a lot of daytime television.  All my rooms have a TV set mounted high on the wall, and most patients find it relaxing to watch them while we work.  Naturally, I get to see some of what they're watching, and I have to say that some of it leaves me scratching my head - I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see somebody like Sylvia Browne, who's a frequent guest on "The Montel Williams Show."

Sylvia Browne is a psychic and clairvoyant who claims that she can see the departed.  When audience members ask her about some deceased relative, the conversation usually goes like this:

Audience Member: What can you tell me about my father?

Sylvia Browne: I see him.  He's with you now.  He's a strong figure, standing over your right shoulder.

AM: Yes!  He was right handed!

SB: I'm getting a strong sense of the letter J.

AM: Uhhhhhh

SB: Maybe it's an R

AM: Hmmmm

SB: T.........P........W......I'd like to buy a vowel, Pat........A

AM: Yes!  His name was Anthony!!!!  How's is he doing?

SB: He's happy.


Yes, he's happy.  They're always happy.  Nobody's departed relative is ever bummed to be dead, never full of regret or bitter with blame.  She never tells a widow "Joey says that if you would have used a little less butter on his pork chops, he'd still be alive" or "Your grandma is angry at the thought that your grandpa got re-married to that floozy Hazel.  She never liked how Hazel was always eyeballing her good silverware."  It doesn't matter if Anthony was an angry drunk who was killed by his wife's karate coach, with whom she started having an affair after Anthony lost his job.  He's really happy to be dead right now and wants you to know that he's looking out for you and wants you to be happy.

                I suppose she could just be shielding her audience from what these disembodied souls are really telling her.  "He's dead and happy" goes down so much easier than "He's angry and going to haunt you forever and hide your keys whenever he gets the chance."  But I doubt it.  She's really just a huckster, preying on the grief of people who have lost someone close to them.  (Now, if she really wanted to establish some credibility, she could go over to "The Maury Povich Show" during one of his weekly "Who My Baby Daddy" specials and point out the father before the DNA results come in.  But, unlike all the dead people she sees, most of these clowns are not happy to be recognized.)

Muffin Top Karma

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                While standing in line at the grocery store the other day, I happened to witness a conversation which got me thinking.  Two young women, probably in their early twenties, were engaged in a spirited discussion, apparently regarding some third party.  One of them was quite animated, waving her arms about, pulling up her two-sizes-too-small-for-her halter top, which then exposed her ample muffin top and obligatory butterfly tramp stamp.  She was in a lather about some offense offered up by this third party, and was explaining to her friend how much she would like to deliver a beat down, and "crack me some skulls."  She peppered her diatribe with plenty of f-bombs and other words that should have gotten her mouth washed out with soap.  She finished it off with "That little ho better watch out, because karma's a bitch."

                As I watched two of our Leaders of Tomorrow walk off, two things struck me.  First, I started to ponder what it was about cuss words that some women find so appealing.  It is not attractive when uttered by either gender, but especially so by women repeating them over and over again.  Is it to portray a certain level of edginess?  Is it to shock?  After the second or third f-bomb, it lost its shock value and simply became disgusting.  Is it to show the world that women can do everything men can do?  I can understand women wanting to demonstrate that they equal to men, but why do they have to choose the worst aspects of male behavior to imitate?  I am all for women entering fields associated with maleness.  It's super cool that my wife is into football and that she was excited that Adrian Wilson signed his new deal.  But she didn't grab her crotch, spit, and cuss like Muffin Top Girl to show me her excitement.  If women wanted to demonstrate their being equal to men, they shouldn't be crude and crass.  They should act like ladies, who don't act like they're in a women's prison, and have a little class.  In fact, that would show superiority to men, rather than equality.

                The second thing that started to rattle around my brain is this whole "karma" thing (which I think is a bunch of hogwash).  It seems like every time some ill befalls some people, they announce that karmic retribution awaits the person responsible for that ill.  But why is the karmic clock starting only now?  If the universe rights wrongs and settles scores, why isn't the bad thing being visited upon you the universe's way of paying you back for something you've done?  I wanted to tap Muffin Top Girl on the shoulder and point out that maybe whatever her friend had done to her was her karmic retribution for being such a potty-mouthed knucklehead.  I didn't (of course) because I didn't want to be on the receiving end of a beat down.

Roman history fascinates me like few other things, especially the time in the 200 years prior to Caesar through the early imperial period.  Men like Marc Antony, Cicero, Julius and Augustus Caesar, Nero, Sulla, and Marius grab hold of the imagination and don't let go.  But the name "Cato" evokes a special feeling for me. 

Cato the Younger was a contemporary of Caesar and Cicero, and a strict adherent to his core beliefs.  He loved Rome and wanted nothing more than to serve her.  As Senator, he never missed a session of the Senate and was publicly critical of his fellow Senators who did.  He believed in the uniqueness and specialty of Rome, and fought every day to preserve it.  In a time when corruption and bribery were a way of life, he refused to run a dishonest campaign when he ran for consul, and suffered defeat because of it.  Undeterred, he went back to the Senate and continued his political life.  When Caesar overstayed his term as governor of Gaul (with its immunity from prosecution), Cato led the fight in the Senate to have him recalled to face charges of corruption.  He did this despite the fact that Caesar had many powerful friends in Rome.

Caesar, of course, refused to vacate his office and instead marched on Rome and declared war on the Senate.  After the Roman Civil War ended with Caesar as dictator, Cato couldn't deal with it.  His beloved Rome was gone forever, and his remaining in the Senate would be tacit approval of Caesar's reign.  So, he attempted suicide by eviscerating himself.  Taking a knife, he opened up his guts.  One of his slaves found him and fetched a doctor, who pushed the intestines back in and sewed Cato back together.  Cato would have none of it, and soon thereafter removed the stitches and repeated the process, this time causing his own death.

That single-minded adherence to his beliefs, even when everyone else had long since compromised, is what makes Cato appealing to me.  But Cato the Younger wasn't the first or most famous ideologue of his family.  Cato the Elder, the Younger's grandfather, was the first to carry the cognomen "Cato", which roughly translates into "wise."

During his youth, Cato lived on a farm near a retired Roman general, whose feats were well-known to all in the area.  The young Cato was inspired by the man and wished to imitate him.  He entered the military and fought in the Second Punic War against Carthage.  Rome and Carthage were long and bitter rivals, perpetually stuck in a Cold War that flared up periodically, and this was not the first or last military engagement Romans and Carthage had with each other.  He later led an army against the Seleucid Empire - another nemesis -and decisively drove them out of Greece, putting an end to their habit of harassing the Roman provinces.

His military bona fides established, Cato went on to a political career.  His love for Rome and Roman ways showed through in everything he did. He is most famous for ending virtually every speech on the Senate floor with the phrase "Carthage must be destroyed."  It didn't matter what the subject was - grain supplies, taxes, contract law - his audience was reminded that Carthage was Rome's mortal enemy and must be defeated.  While Cato didn't live to see Carthage destroyed, the Third Punic War, which was destined to end in Carthage's eradication, began the year of his death in 149 BC, and he had to know that the increasing hostilities between the two Mediterranean powers was about to come to a head.

                What brought both Catos to my mind this week were recent statements by President Obama.  He proposed making insurance benefits taxable last week, while I distinctly remember him slamming John McCain offering up the same proposal during one of the presidential debates.  Senator Obama decried the suggested tax, stating that we had never resorted to such a measure in the past, and he wasn't going to be the first to do so.  Now, it appears, he has changed his mind.  Ditto for the Congressional Democrats who were elected in November 2006 on the platform of ending the war in Iraq.  Here we are two and a years later, and the war isn't over.  They campaigned on issues that they believed would get them elected, then changed their positions when it became clear that following through on their promises would lead to problems that would cost them re-election.  This lack of conviction is not limited to Democrats, obviously.  George H.W. Bush wanted us to read his lips on taxes, and we all know what happened after the election.  A few years later, Newt Gingrich led a Republican takeover of Congress, promising to balance the budget and establish term limits.  Neither ever happened.

                The only President in recent memory who shared the Catos' single-minded determination to stick to his convictions was Ronald Reagan when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union.  While his predecessors shared the views that the Russians were never going away and the Iron Curtain was a fact of life, Reagan knew that the Soviet Union must be destroyed.  He can be forgiven all his other faults because he inspired America to win the Cold War.  People laughed at him when he challenged Gorby to "tear down this wall" but he remained undeterred, and the world is better off because of it.

                Since Reagan, we have borne witness to President after President who has seemed to be guided by nothing deeper than polling data.  Bush 41 couldn't decide whether he was conservative, moderate, or liberal, and his tenure was largely forgettable as a result.  Clinton wrote the template for others to follow when he formulated his famous Triangulation policy, trying to straddle the Left and the Right enough to remain popular.  George W. Bush did have a strong conviction to fight terrorism, but that only came about after the attacks of September 11, and he was hardly a leader, standing alone until others followed when it came to terror.  EVERYBODY wanted to kill Osama bin Laden.  The only concrete thing that Obama could promise us during the campaign was that he wasn't George Bush.  Oh, and that he liked Change.

                As I started to write this lamentation over our lack of strong, visionary leaders, I started to dial it back a little bit.  After all, there really are some men with unwavering adherence to their core beliefs - unfortunately, they are almost all crackpots.  Dennis Kucinich comes to mind.  Ron Paul, too, although I would put him more in the mildly-nutty category.  But is it so wrong to have leaders who are followers first?  Maybe the fact that we don't have a strong adversary like an evil Soviet Empire or Carthage has left us bereft of the need to be led to places we didn't know we could go.  Abraham Lincoln had preserving the Union to rally the nation around.  John Kennedy had the goal of putting a man on the moon.  We have the 50th year of our "health care crisis."  That's not quite as compelling as barbarians at the gate, is it?  We have no major enemies, nothing catastrophic at our doorstep, threatening our very existence.  Maybe we're just waiting for the right adversary to come along.  If given the choice between squishy politicians because we're at peace and strong leaders because we face destruction, I guess I'd rather have the former.

Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another?

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I am a glutton for punishment.  I freely admit it.  Maybe it is a character flaw.  Maybe Freud would attribute it to everyone's innate "death wish."  Maybe it's in my genes.  Whatever the reason, I can't just leave well enough alone, but need to seek out new and interesting ways to abuse and humiliate myself.  Not long ago, I blogged about the emotional beat down doled out by my first triathlon.  Any sane person would have taken the cosmic hint - if you can't hang with 60 year old women in endurance races, maybe you should seek other avenues of entertainment.  But not me.

Last weekend, my buddy Brad and I competed in the Tribal triathlon.  Now, the name "Tribal" evokes images of primitive danger and of untamed wilderness.  As Doc Holliday (coolest dentist EVER) said in Tombstone (coolest movie ever), "That's just my game."  Of course, my wife Stephanie would respond, "Uh, no it isn't.  You'll poke your eye out."

We knew nothing about this tri going into it, other than it was close to town and would be our last chance for glory before the racing season closed.  So we went for the gusto and signed up.  This was Brad's first race of any sort, but his apprehension started to melt when we decided to rent professional road bikes.  I would not be dusting of the Schwinn for this one.  During the pre-race orientation, I said a little prayer of thanks for that decision after hearing the race director declare that this was one of the most challenging courses in the state.  "You'll use every gear on your bike" he warned us.

It started off well enough.  I made it through the 1000 meter swim and did not drown and did not finish dead last.  That, in my book, is well enough.  When I exited the water, Brad was ready with the bikes and we were both eager to make up some time, as although I didn't finish last, I certainly didn't finish first either.  We raced out of the transition area and straight up hill.  When the bike is in the lowest gear, you are standing up, and still going less than 1 mph, you know you are on a steep hill.  No worries, I kept telling myself.  What goes up must come down, and we'll have a nice downhill.  And we did.  Lots of uphills and downhills.  Eventually, we caught up to the rear of the pack.  Brad and I got separated halfway through the bike leg when I stopped to put my chain back on.

Near the end of the bike run there was a steep downhill, at the bottom of which was a turnaround, which sent us back up the hill to start the running portion of the race.  Almost home.  As I sped down the hill, I saw Brad coming up it.  Knowing that he was only five minutes or so in front of me, I decided to kick it up a notch and try to close the gap.  As I approached the bottom of the hill at maximum warp, I could see the turnaround coming up, with a Sheriff's deputy standing in front of it, directing traffic.   

What I couldn't see was the loose gravel.  It whipped my rear tire out from under me, sending me to the pavement, bouncing first on my left side, then on my head, and finally on the palms of my hands.  I ended up on my back, about 6 feet in front of my bike.  "Are you hurt?" the deputy called out.  I wanted to shout "Are you some kind of jokester?!?!  I just crashed my bike!  Of course I'm hurt!" but figured it wasn't nice to antagonize old men with guns.  So I just said "I don't know."

Surveying my numerous injuries, I thanked God that I hadn't been killed or broken any bones.  Picking the gravel out of my arm and seeing the deep and wide gash that was already causing a balloon to form on my elbow, I consoled myself that it would probably leave one bitchin' scar.  But the jammed thumb and torn up palm on my right hand meant I couldn't finish that last hill.  The bike was unridable anyway.  After keeping me seated for fifteen minutes to see if any internal injuries were going to kill me, the deputy gave me a lift to the top of the hill, and I took off running through the desert.  In my wounded state of mind, I kept praying that there were no animals following the trail of my blood, waiting to ambush and devour me.  Apparently, when you bounce on your head a few times, you start to believe that land sharks really exist.

As I emerged from the desert and saw the finish line, I was filled with dual disappointments: that I missed my goal time, and that there won't be any more races for three months.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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