Archive for July, 2016

Who needs conventions?

Author: admin

So, the GOP national convention is over. Thank god!

Now, I’d like Democrats to call off their planned Philadelphia get-together. Everyone just stay home. I think the National DNC should collect the millions to be spent on the show and donate every penny to half a dozen deserving charities. Every cent.

Crazy idea? O.K., tell me this. Repub or Demo. Even if the Dems put on a bang-up show, lit up your old flat screen with fireworks, paraded the best speakers, made the most honorable promises, would it change anything? Would it change your mind? Would you suddenly be a more loyal member of the party? Or, would you run screaming over to do all you could to get Trumpy promptly installed in the oval office?

In sum, no matter what happens in Philly, at a cost of ten or so million dollars, would it change anything? Would the country be a better place to live? Would your mind be changed in any meaningful way? Even in a small way?

I sincerely doubt it. Nothing – absolutely nothing – will change at our house as a result of a second convention. The whole business and those millions – will have gone just to give all those out-of-town delegates a few days away from home and a chance to eat a real Philly Cheese Steak sandwich made with real Cheesewhiz. Hillary and Tim will be declared the “official” nominees, a few thousand balloons will be dropped, the cleaning crew will go to work and the convention center staff will go on to other business. At a cost of another ten million or so.

National political conventions – especially those staged before the time of the TV camera – used to be special events They were the epitome of flag-waving Americana, where everyone came away with good feelings of renewed pride in their citizenship, They offered seminal moments of what political conventions – and this country – were supposed to be. We were informed, entertained and proud!

Rigged? Most of the time. Predictable outcomes? Certainly. But staging – speeches – the presentation of patriotic spirit – the entire extravaganza – everything – all designed to re-baptize delegates, crank up their enthusiasm for the selected candidates and send them home to work their hearts out. Conventions used to be – almost always – successful. And, to the public, filled with positive messages and images. The “fix” may have been there from the beginning but the exercise served an honorable purpose.

So, tell me. When the Republican show in Cleveland ended, were you re-energized, newly filled with the spirit of citizenship, ready to go out and work hard for Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence? Did those four days personally change anything for the better in your life or as part of this big nation? Did you witness a life-altering experience? Or were you just mad the whole event caused the network to cancel four nights of “Walker, Texas Ranger?”

To our great national shame, both conventions will affect life in this country even less than those that came before. We already knew who the nominees would be, had already decided who we would support and who we wouldn’t and had our minds made up months ago.

One other thing we knew even before the GOP gavel came down – the divisiveness and anger of the citizenry at-large will remain unchanged regardless of what happened in Cleveland and what will happen in Philadelphia. What ails us – what’s causing chasms in our national relationships – what’s concerning other nation’s about our future stability and dependability – we knew none of that would be resolved by either party gathering.

What we need most to start healing this nation won’t be found on any convention floor or in either party’s machinations. It won’t appear as special programming or in-depth articles in our national media. We will not get up one morning and feel “healed,” “renewed” or find a special kindness and acceptance of people with whom we angrily disagree.

What we need most urgently is a huge one-on-one effort from each of us to stop rejecting new thought, end disbelieving in science and education-based fact, accept the humanity and personal worth of our neighbor as ourselves. And, we must reject – in the strongest possible way – demagoguery and the anti-intellectual fervor driving wedges in our country from border to border. We must demand – also in the strongest possible way – personal accountability and responsibility from leaders in every form of government under which we live.

But, even more necessary than all of that, we must each become more involved – more personally educated about the city, county, state and the entirety of this nation in which we live. Our national mess can be traced to two factors: personal ignorance about how this country is structured – how it functions – and a loss of a simple demand that people wanting to lead be educated, informed and able to work with others in the conduct our national affairs.

So, do we really need another convention? Or, do we need to just admit we need each other and start working on that?

I’ve recently undergone serious surgery. (Is there any other kind?) But, before they wheeled me in, I told the physician I didn’t want him in the room at the time. I’d already asked the guy in the next suite of offices in the same building to handle the cutting and snipping. He sells mutual funds and has no medical background. But better him than those damned professional doctors.

Such is the current nutball thinking abroad in our land with all those poll responders who say they won’t vote for a presidential candidate who’s a “professional” politician. “NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY” is their mantra. So, they’re jumping on the loud, three-wheeled Trump bandwagon in record numbers. Suffice to say, a more unqualified, doomed-to-fail, ego-scratching candidate for the office of commander-in-chief has not appeared on a national ballot since that damned Palin woman.

If one knows nothing about how our political system works, if one is uninformed or misinformed by a favorite right-wing media, hasn’t spent the time to understand how our government works or is ignorant of the whole process and determined to stay that way, I can understand the dumb and dangerous response to national pollsters. But it would sure play hell with our country if that ignorance prevailed.

There are, I think, four major reasons for such misplaced anger. First, our higher and lower educational systems are graduating students who have absolutely no idea how our government works. I run into it every day in conversations with white collar, blue collar or no collar folks. Even many PhD’s are “civics challenged.” Simple queries about government form and function draw off-the-wall responses or blank stares. Too often – far to often – the response is “I have no idea” or “I don’t know.” Makes it damned tough to call yourself an educated voter or to cast an intelligent ballot.

The second reason for a sizeable part of the uneducated electorate being mad at “professional” politicians is they’ve elected too damned many of ‘em who should’ve never been candidates in the first place. We’ve filled our legislatures and congress with nice looking, smooth talking people. They either have no idea what their job descriptions are or they have singular agendas for or against something and don’t give two hoots in Hell for governing or anything else. They are strident, ignorant and dangerous voices with nothing to say. And, an elected platform on which to say it.

A third factor is loss of respect for anything challenging a person’s thinking. We’ve developed a media system and, in some cases an educational system – to which people can turn for reaffirmation of whatever philosophy they have. Fact or no fact. I get in more arguments lately when I challenge someone. Their favorite media source or favorite politician or even their favorite bartender has convinced them of the “rightness” of a certain view and no other facts need apply. Further, their challenge to me is to “convert” to their thinking. There is no middle ground. No acceptance of the right to disagree without being disagreeable. No thought they could be wrong.

Finally, we’ve created a political system where winning is the goal – not filling an office with someone who both understands and can do the job. Go with someone who can win – not necessarily someone more qualified. Both parties do it but Republicans have become masters of the process. Cruz, Lee, Cotton, Ghomert, Bachman, King, McCarthy et al. are just a few who’ve contributed nothing – will contribute nothing – and who’ll muck up the process every day of their tenure in office.

People have a right to be mad at “professional” politicians. But they have a prior – and larger – responsibility to assure an intelligent and qualified person is elected and given the opportunity to become “professional” by fulfilling the duties of that office in a “professional” manner. If they don’t, chase ‘em out. Then find another real professional.

Imagine a Trump presidency. Who would be in his cabinet? Would it be a John Kerry or a Colin Powell at the State Department to conduct delicate but dangerous negotiations with nations we oppose? Would there be an intelligent and experienced vice president to assure smooth continuity of an administration? What professional voice would be at Treasury to guide the country’s money policies? At the Pentagon? Well, so far we’ve got Mike Pence who’s as scary as Trump.

Professional politicians – really professional with no quotation marks – are necessary at all levels for this country to survive. The political stakes are no longer simple enough for just anyone to fill elected office. Our universities should be turning out trained, talented and qualified graduates ready for careers in public service – careers in politics. We need “best and brightest” in the Capitol, the White House, city hall and the court house. To a very large extent, we’re in the divided and uncontrollable mess we find ourselves because we made poor choices. Wrong choices. Tragic choices in too many elections.

No, I had the surgeon do the cutting and snipping. He’s a professional and right for the job. Upon recovery, I may wander over to the office next door and talk to the fella there about an investment opportunity. He’s a professional, too.

Right people in the right jobs. Seems simple enough. Why have we screwed it up so many times at the polls? Because a lot of folks were not “professional” in their voting. And look at the mess we’ve got!

National doors

Author: admin

“You can’t control what’s happening, but you can control how you react.” Not sure where I read that – or when – but the words have become more personally important given recent political and social violence in our country.

While the phrase is certainly true, so is this: I’m having more trouble controlling my reactions. As violence escalates and our national political stew rots, efforts to control reactions to them have taken more personal strength and have sapped more willpower to keep my reactions under control.

Violence in our society is not new. But, in the last couple of decades, it’s become more prevalent – more pervasive – more deadly. Now, with the bloodshed of recent days flowing across our nation, it seems to have picked up intensity and has become more far-reaching – involving more and more of us.

One fact is extremely clear: we are in a national state of flux in all segments of our society and we are never – never – going back to where we were even four or five years ago. In anything.

It’s hard to describe. One way I’ve come to visualize it, is to imagine the largest, thickest bank vault door ever built, slowly closing on our nation, blocking from sight everything comfortable and familiar. At the same time, imagine a door of similar size beginning to open to reveal – reveal – what? That we don’t know, but you can be sure it will be a country and a society unlike anything we’ve ever known.

Here are some examples. We twice elected a President of mixed race. From day one, he’s been blocked, undercut and pilloried while doing his job. His performance in office can be debated, but one thing cannot: he’s been the target of the most vicious racism we’ve seen directed at a national public figure. Oh, it’s not called “racism.” No. It’s been couched in more politically acceptable terms like “typical two-party politics,” “liberal versus conservative” and “the normal friction found when one party occupies the White House and the other control the majorities in Congress.” Pure B.S..

I strongly believe the vision of a “black” man in the White House has become an excuse for racists and extremists of all stripes to come out from under their rocks and openly challenge authority without reprisal. Whether it’s Bundy or the NRA, Mitch McConnell, the apparent revival of the KKK or quickening pace of murdering Black Americans, it’s less about politics and more about race.

Another case: the dissolution of the National Republican Party. In about four decades, the cancer of extremist thought and the purging of anything different have gutted the GOP. The emergence of a dangerous buffoon like Trump is not surprising. He and the GOP have been looking for each other for years. The only questions is “what took so long?” And states with Tea Party-backed governors have seen resources squandered and several are so awash in debt they’re considering bankruptcy. Kansas, anyone? Michigan? Arkansas? North Carolina? Florida? Texas?

Another: Democrats have failed miserably to create a “loyal” opposition, have not been effective dealing as a minority party in Congress and have not built a “bench” team of up-and-coming people to challenge the majority for years to come. Anywhere.

Another: Both parties are becoming less viable as national representatives of voters at-large. Both are losing members. Both are less in-touch with Americans than just five-10 years ago. That trend will continue. A week ago, the respected IPSOS polling firm found 21% of registered voters – more than one-in-five – want someone other than the leading presidential candidates of both parties. That number will go up before November. Bet on it.

In some instances, this nation is close to becoming one run from the streets. The Dallas police killings and the documented and recent unwarranted police murders of several black men are galvanizing people of more races than just Black America. Whatever accountability – if any – that comes as a result of these slaughters will come because people in the streets stayed in the streets and demanded it. That’s not how an effective and lasting society works for all but that’s where we are. It will get louder and more violent in those streets until justice comes. In whatever form.

Maybe worst of all, the November election will have little, if any, positive effect on all this. The day after will be just as disruptive, just as raucous, just as violent and just as filled with national seething as the day before.

No one individual has all the answers to our national quandary. No one can make good on “taking the country back.” Our nation is in the throes of great change in every area of society – change that, at the moment, is undirected and uncoordinated.

One huge vault door has closed. The other is slowly opening. Behind that one is our national future. Unseen. Unknown. Out of full sight. But the first glimpses are not comforting. Not comforting at all.

I’m a cancer survivor

Author: admin

Physician examining rooms are usually small and windowless, with no comfortable place to sit. They’re lined with cabinets and drawers you just know contain all sorts of demonic tools with which to inflict pain. Likely on you. The usual minutes go from 60 seconds long to 240 seconds. It seems.

Finally, the door opens, doctor walks in, and the first words out of his mouth are “Hello. You have advanced prostate cancer and if you hadn’t shown up here two months ago, you’d be dead by now.” Word-for-word. Great bedside manner.

He hands you a copy of the biopsy report from last week’s visit. It’s all right there in pictures, diagrams, diagnostics by scale and the lab’s conclusion.

That was my lab report, cooly handed to me on a grey coastal day last Fall. Several depictions were cross-sections – “slices” of my prostate divided into nine regions. The lab used the commonly accepted Gleason scores ranging from zero to five with five being very bad. Mine showed a 4.9, a 4.8 and down – or 90% and 80% positive. No need for a second opinion here. The evidence in my hand was black and white. And conclusive.

I hadn’t made my first appointment with this urologist because of any bodily symptoms. With prostate cancer, there are usually no symptoms you can feel. What got my attention was a PSA score that had gone from 1.8 to 4.8 in six months. PSA means “prostate-specific antigen” and is determined by a normal blood test. Many doctors don’t give it a lot of importance. But it can be a good predictor that something is wrong if it changes radically in a short period of time as mine did. My primary care doc seemed unconcerned. But I insisted on a second test. That second test saved my life. I also got a new primary doc.

There are four major procedures to deal with prostate cancer: surgery to remove the prostate performed either by a surgeon the traditional way or with the DaVinci robot remotely controlled by the surgeon; radiation; chemotherapy; cryosurgery or a combination of two or more of these.

Most often, surgery is not “medically appropriate” – insurance talk – for seniors because of cost, compared to how much longer a senior may live without dying of some other problem. Radiation and drugs are often used in combination. But I’d had previous personal experience with both and knew the bad side-effects. I researched everything I could find, then opted for cryosurgery and hormones.

I took nine powerful hormone shots in eight months. The PSA reading went from 4.8 to 0.01, meaning the drug was killing the testosterone – the life-blood of prostate cancer. It also was shrinking the gland to be a better target for cryo.

Cryosurgery is done with two surgical rods. A cut is made in the lower body area between front and back. Both rods are inserted. One is shoved firmly into the prostate while the urologist watches using a tiny TV camera. During the two-hour procedure, gasses are used to freeze the prostate. First shot is -125 degrees and lasts for as long as the doctor believes necessary. Then wait. The second shot drops to -187 degrees. The idea is to kill as many cancer cells as possible on the first try and weaken the rest. Then, after a warming period, hit the weaker cells even harder. The second rod is a warming instrument to try to protect the bladder, bowel wall and other vital spots from being damaged in the freezing.

None of this sounds very comfortable. But, four weeks after the procedure, there’s been no pain from day one. I’m eating anything I want, bathroom habits are normal, I’ve been housebound but able to walk freely and do most daily activities. I feel great.

Based on his years of experience with cryo, the surgeon believes he got all the cancer. I’ll take the hormone shots for another four months. What we wait for now is a blood test and the PSA reading in about 70 days. We know it’s 0.01 today. If it’s at or close to that on the next test, we’ll have won this round.

One bad issue with prostate cancer is it often returns, no matter what procedure is first used. Maybe a year or two, or 10, or 12. With each return, you have reduced options depending on age. For me, at my age then, if it returns in a few years, the only options will be hormones and radiation. Eventually, the body will figure out how to make testosterone a different way and drugs will be needed to starve it again. May add another one to four years of life at that time.

Prostate cancer is a man-killer. But survival odds are getting better. Cryosurgery, while relatively new, is also improving, as my own experience shows. Medical science keeps working on this universal male problem and is improving the odds for all of us.

I didn’t describe all this to pander for attention. I want to make the most important point – in the strongest possible way – that males – ALL males – NEED TO GET REGULAR PSA TESTING! At least very six months. Especially after age 40. Most insurance plans pay for it once or twice a year. Do it! Pay for it yourself, if necessary! It’s not expensive. Record the results to track the trend between tests. A slight movement up is usually not cause for alarm.

But, if it climbs quickly, as mine did, get to a urologist immediately. He’ll probably recommend a biopsy so you’ll both know better what’s going on. With local anesthetic, it’s painless. And it’s damned good information. Quick and easy life saving information.

Now, GO. You’ve been warned!