Saturday, March 29, 2008

Eating Eel

I'm on vacation, or actually, on a family visit to Michigan. My oldest son, an avid road bicylist, recently moved to a new home and we had to come see it. It's in Northville, a picturesque older suburb of Detroit.

Last night we went to dinner with Kevin and his girlfriend at a French/Japanese restuarant that lived in a beatiful old mansion with center staircase and stained glass windows. The menu was eclectic, to say the least. Plenty of fresh-made sushi choices, some Korean-influenced dishes with kimchee on the side, miso soup, plus the traditional filet mignon and scallops, etc. Tables were spaced reasonably far apart in large upstairs rooms where we were seated, and wait staff appeared to be Japanese for the most part. We were not rushed. It was quite pleasant.

When the menus came, my son's girlfriend said that they had a little bet about my choice of entree, and she giggled. I began to worry. Then I saw it - eel! I really had no choice, and she said, "I told you so", when I ordered it. She knew that I'm a gastronomic risk taker, and this was something new for me.

The waitress brought me a black laquered box with a removable top. When I opened it I found several long strips of eel with the skin on. The eel had been cooked in some kind of sauce that darkened it. The eel was sitting on a bed of sticky white rice that filled the rest of the box, except for one corner where a small pile of cabbage rested. I took a bite of the dark fish...

Eel is very mild. It needed the sauce it was cooked in. I ate the top skin but not the bottom skin. Perfectly acceptable! The cabbage had a big time kick to it, but it, too, was edible. There was soy sauce on the side, so one could make a bite of eel and rice seasoned with soy sauce. I finished all the eel and most of the rice. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I love Spring. I love to see the sun already up when I wake, and I revel in the low sun's warmth when the workday is over and I sit with my wife, savoring a taste of Scotch as we relax before dinner. Even when patches of snow reflect those rays and make me squint, I can almost feel the energy of plants straining to make the buds that will soon be bursting open with the new energy of the season. Mr. Woodchuck has begun to wander on the back hill, and baby rabbits are making their first appearances of the new year. My spirit is coming alive, too.

It was about 30 degrees this afternoon, but the sun was bright and the center section of my front yard was snow-free, courtesy of the warm leach lines of the septic system hidden deep under the ground. A perfect day for a little golfing practice! So I grabbed my sand wedge and hit about 90 pitch shots from just in front of my living room window out toward the street. The white balls gathered, for the most part, in a little circle around my shag bag, and people in cars passing by looked at me and laughed. I laughed, too, celebrating the Spring that is trying so hard to banish the cold winter of Rochester.

I'm so grateful for my life and the endless variety of experiences that the years bring to it. I can feel the new muscles my workouts have built over the past two months, and I can't wait to use them to stride up and down the mountains, to synchronously strike the golf ball in a high arc toward the green, and to gently lift my little grandchildren into my arms. That physical energy also helps me look for joy in my relationships, my reading, and my learning.

Spring marks the start of a year which will progress more quickly than I wish toward another dark and cold winter. Such is life - a miracle, but finite. I savor it. I wonder why it is that my life, in particular, has been one of privilege and relative freedom from pain and disappointment. There is no answer.

Flaubert said that a good perspective for writing a novel is to be "like God, everywhere but always just out of sight" - or something like that. For me, Spring is that time of year when God's creation speaks more clearly to me, where the traces of God are more obvious. Someday the hard winter of my life will arrive, and perhaps there will be another sort of Spring just around the corner. That would be very good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Easter Musing

You know I'm a Christian. A liberal one, however. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but I don't think that God interferes much in creation. I don't pray for miracles for me or anyone else, but I do pray that I might be more like Jesus. I believe that Jesus left it in our hands to make the world better by loving God and our neighbor.

That said, what I've been wondering about lately is what God is doing in the rest of the universe. It's a big place, and lots could be happening there. It's hard to believe that God would have got all this going without having some sense that interesting things would happen in other places besides our little planet.

My Easter wish is that intelligent beings all over the universe agree that it's a good idea to say "Thank you" to the creator and have a special time where they re-commit to moving things along in a positive (Creation-forwarding) way. Hopefully, maximizing the potential of creation and avoiding destruction is a universal idea. So, Happy Easter, you extra-terrestrial beings!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama & Reverend Wright

Barack Obama's minister, Rev. Wright, has points of view that certainly warrant debate. On most points, Christians of many stripes would agree with his position: for example, that racism still exists across America. On other points, agreement would be more difficult to reach: for example, that 9/11 resulted from America's actions in the Muslim world. Having listened to many of the video clips now circulating, I'd say that Wright's points of view are not outrageous even if they may not be mainstream opinions. The problem is the way he makes his points. What works with his congregation does not work with our country in general, and Obama, his friend and parishioner for 20 years, cannot escape his association with Wright.

Personally, I'm not concerned about Wright's influence on Obama. They are black men from different generations and backgrounds, and they see the world differently while still being friends. Like Obama with Wright, I have friends born one generation before me who live with outdated views that they internalized as young people. We are friends, but I cringe when their innate bigotry comes out in conversation. These people still live in the world of their youth and they don't even realize the implications of what they say. This, it seems to me, is part of the problem with Wright; he doesn't see that the world has changed around him. He's still fighting the battles of the 1960's with 1960's rhetoric. Since Obama's public record does not show him agreeing with Wright on the controversial issues, I continue to support Obama unequivocally. Unfortunately, I do not represent the typical American voter, so I think Obama is in trouble due to Wright.

The problem with Wright that cannot be avoided is that his church allowed him to go far beyond accepted norms in his public sermons, and then compounded the error by videotaping his excesses. The image Middle America gets from these tapes will be hard to erase. Obama started with a tough assignment - convincing white America that a black man can be mainstream enough to be an acceptable president. Wright's behavior raises questions about how mainstream Obama really is. Obama's opponents will use every means to ensure these questions stay in the forefront, and Middle America surely will be influenced. Those older friends of mine, people who before this weekend may have given Obama some consideration, likely see him in a different light due to Wright. What flies in an urban black Chicago church does not fly in Middle America, and these people recoil from the venom and what they see as a lack of patriotism. They ask, "Why would Obama stay close to this man and stay a member of a church that allows this kind of talk?" Obama's judgment comes into question, right on top of the race question. This is trouble, and it's got to be addressed successfully or Obama may be history.

It might be tempting for Obama or his surrogates to compare Wright to McCain supporters Hagee and Bob Jones or some of Hillary Clinton's more outspoken supporters. This will not work. Obama will have to state his case straight out. He needs to ask the question, "Do you have friends that you don't agree with?", and then he needs to say, "Well, so do I. Reverend Wright is a good-hearted man who loves the Lord, but he's been wrong about some important things. This is where we disagree... I still love him, but he and I see America much differently." Obama will either successfully separate himself from Wright in Middle America's mind or he will not be in the White House next year. That's the way I see it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Resign, You Shameless &#@*%@!'s

At this point in their presidency, the only thing George Bush and Dick Cheney could do to make me happy is resign immediately. Every day they serve is another day of disgrace and another day of disaster for the republican party. I would love to see both of them bankrupt and in jail, since they've pretty much done that to America.

I'd be fine with President Pelosi as a caretaker until next January. Maybe she could start to unwind some of the idiocy.

p.s. It may be that Obama's minister will cost Obama the presidency. There are certain things an American should not ever say, and he said some of them. I just don't know how Obama can distance himself far enough from those unfortunate remarks. SO sad.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Surprise! The Sexes Disagree on Spitzer.

It wasn't a national poll with statistically valid conclusions, but merely an informal poll of men and women in my normal haunts. With respect to Spitzer's actions, men believe that gonads make them stupid or that relationships with wives have something to do with infidelity. However, women allow no excuses even if they believe that men's gonads make them stupid. End of story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You Disappointed Us, Eliot

Nothing bugs us more than being wrong. When Bill Clinton, he of the pickup truck with a rug in the bed, messed around with an intern many people believed it was perfectly in character. When Wilt Chamberlain bragged about sleeping with 20,000 women, he was considered a stallion of incredible stamina. When a French president was found to have had a long-term mistress, it was dismissed as a cultural thing. But when a dogged prosecuter, now a "clean Gene" governor, is found dallying with prostitutes, we can't deal with it. He has to go because he was not the person we thought we knew.

I feel for him. When husbands and wives aren't doing well, their sex drives don't go into hibernation. They do dumb things that they later regret. We all have stories where infidelity has tragically altered the lives of friends or our own families. Now Eliot Spitzer will be joining the crowd of those whose libido has ruined them.

Spitzer's actions do more actual damage to his marriage than to New York State. Many leaders have had personal issues but still accomplished great things. There's no reason to believe that he could not continue to perform his job. Yet, he's got to be punished because he turned out to be a different person than the one we voted for. Disappointment has delivered its verdict.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Snowblowing and Lawnmowing

It's a beautiful morning in Rochester, New York. We got about six inches of very heavy snow last night and another inch this morning. Tonight we could get another 6-10 inches. The trees are laden with snow and the neighborhood is like a fairyland. And best of all, I can use my snowblower!

You see, I'm one of those strange people who love to have a nice clean driveway. If we get an inch or two of snow I'm out marching up and down with my shovel, and if we get more than that I fire up the snowblower. I've been known to shovel at 11 p.m. while the snow is still coming down. And if, before I finish, we get another half inch on the completed part, that's great! That means I'll be out again, soon.

When snow shoveling time is over, I can't wait for lawn mowing time to arrive. Lawn mowing is just as satisfying as snow shoveling, but in a different way. I don't get the cardio workout from walking the driveway and heaving the snow, but I do get the satisfaction of seeing the long, straight rows cut into the green grass. The lawn looks so nice for a few days! And, I love to be outside in the heat of summer, sweating and getting a farmer tan.

Another benefit of dealing with the snow and the grass is that they require mindless routines that leave plenty of brainpower available for cogitation on other matters. I find that I often "lose myself" as I guide the riding mower effortlessly around and around our yard or the churchyard.

Modern life is so mechanized,insulated, and air-conditioned that many of us hardly spend any length of time outdoors. Snowblowing or shoveling, and lawn mowing, expose us to the extremes of temperatures where we live. That's good. We feel more alive. In fact, these activities are maybe even 10% as wonderful and rewarding as walking 18 holes on a challenging golf course! That's saying a lot.

Friday, March 07, 2008

It's Time to Reform Health Care

Health care costs in the United States are spiraling out of control. A recent study indicated that these costs could absorb 20-25% of the gross national product (GNP) in just a few years. There is no way America can remain competitive if so much of our economy is devoted to keeping us healthy. However, I contend that a significant percentage of current health care spending is unnecessary and ill-advised. We need a major revision in our thinking about health care, and government must provide us with the facts and a plan for change.

During my working years I seldom thought about health care. We had a healthy family, and our only contacts with the system were regular doctor visits and a few "emergencies", such as when one of my sons broke his neck playing football. The health care system met our needs, and my company paid most of the cost. But now I have a much different outlook.

Since 1999 I've worked at a local volunteer ambulance corps, primarily as an EMT "medic" on the ambulance. In this role I've seen thousands of people enter the health care system for a wide variety of symptoms - traumatic injuries, cardiac and respiratory issues, seizures, strokes, common internal disorders such as kidney stones, the "flu", psycological disorders, and others. Many of these people clearly need qualified medical assessments and treatments, but many others require other types of non-hospital care that can be much less expensive, more effective, and better for the patient.

The three most important opportunities for non-hospital care involve preventive care, end of life care, and specialized care for common disorders such as diabetes, alcoholism and psychological/behavioral issues. Far too many emergency room cases relate to these types of issues - issues that emergency rooms and hospitals are not designed to deal with, that clog the system and hinder care for those with true emergencies, and cost us huge sums when treated there.

Perhaps the best example of an opportunity for preventive care is obesity. Those who are significantly overweight experience a wide variety of symptoms that relate directly to their weight. They have musculo-skeletal problems that create a need for hip and knee replacements, they are likely to contract diabetes, and they are at far greater risk for cardiac and respiratory problems. We need incentives that encourage people to not become obese, such as higher insurance costs, prohibitions of certain insurance-covered treatments for those who have not controlled their weight after being diagnosed with obesity, and large co-payments for specialized equipment like motorized chairs that mitigate some negative aspects of living with obesity. These incentives would save huge costs while actually improving the lives of those who have this problem.

End of life care is a disaster in our country. We seem to believe that death can be avoided simply by performing more and more medical interventions, even though we all know this is not true. The health care system needs a process whereby aged persons with certain chronic conditions, or those with confirmed terminal illnesses, go to hospice rather than hospital. Doctors can and should make these diagnoses. However, in today's world both patients and their families are often in denial of the futility of the situation they face. The result is ineffective, costly, and often gruesome medical treatment for those whose near-term demise is certain.

Finally, we need specialized care centers for those with common chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, alcoholism and drug addiction, and psychological disorders. These conditions can be life-threatening, but paramedics can stabilize most patients with diabetic issues and asthma, and emergency rooms have little capability to deal with addiction or psychological problems. Most of these patients could be diverted to specialized care centers that would be more effective and less expensive.

I've not spent any words describing specific cases that support the recommendations outlined above. In my view, these conclusions are obvious to most health care professionals, and anyone who spent a few months riding on an ambulance would come to the same or similar answers. What is needed is for our governmental agencies to generate the facts, communicate them to Americans, and enact new laws that will reduce overall health care spending and improve outcomes. The fact that they are not doing this means that politicians are not addressing matters that truly are of great national interest. All of us need to recognize this and elevate the issue to those who have the power to fix it. Or, we can go bankrupt by keeping the disfunctional process that has evolved over the past half century.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cheney Who?

Remember Dick Cheney? I think he was vice president once. Something about the war, maybe something about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. I forget. He had heart problems, didn't he? Maybe he died and noboby bothered to notice. Maybe President Bush doesn't know where he went. I don't know. But I don't think I miss him.

Speaking of President Bush, I wonder if he's thinking about alcohol and cocaine again. If I was him, I'd be looking for some solace and it's probably hard to find. The war, the economy, gas prices, Saudi Arabia giving him the one-finger salute, republican candidates staying far away from him - it's got to be lonely right now.

It's hard to find anything in government doing well these days, other than Halliburton. At the beginning of 2002, its stock was trading at about $5. Now, it's close to $40.

Cheney and Bush have trashed the country, but their buddies in the oil business are doing just dandy. Maybe that's what it was all about from the start.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Bush Economics

The U.S. dollar has fallen 30% against the Euro during the last five years. It has fallen hard against most currencies. Everything Americans purchase from overseas is going up in price, not because of normal supply and demand but because our currency is not worth what it once was. And as any economist will tell you, the value of a currency fluctuates based on the relative strength of a country's economy, the relative risk that it will be able to repay its debts, and the amount of inflation that the issuing government is willing to allow.

Our president talks about "keeping America strong", but his policies have resulted in weakening our country - weakening it a lot. His tax cuts, war fighting, and budget-busting spending have combined to make us appear a lot weaker to other countries. The declining value of our currency is an excellent measure of this weakness because people around the world are actually betting their fortunes on how they perceive us, weaker or stronger. No presidential balony can mitigate this clear worldwide verdict.

If we end up paying $4.00 per gallon of gasoline versus $1.50 when he took office, just remember that about eighty cents of the $2.50 increase is directly related to the currency impacts of President Bush's disastrous economic policies. If our currency was not devalued, today's gas prices of $3.15 per gallon would be about $2.60. This makes a big difference every time we stop to fill up our tank. The bottom line is that he cut taxes on the rich, inflated the dollar, and let the carnage flow through to everyone who drives a car. Thanks, Boss!