Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Georgia On My Mind 2.0

In March, I posted a blog describing the scourge of Alzheimer's and the way it was taking control of my mother-in-law, Georgia Kolb. Having then recently dropped my crystal ball, I had no way of knowing what the future held for my bride's mother.

Sadly, Georgia passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly on Tuesday morning, the day after the 29th anniversary of my biological mother's passing. Georgia died in her sleep, succumbing to a stomach flu bug that a healthier incubator might have outlasted. We were blessed that Mom maintained a level of cognizance with family and friends that enabled us all to avoid the anguish of losing our close personal connections. She never suffered. She merely left us much too soon.

I thought I would publish the obituary I just wrote as a tribute to Mom. She was a part of my life for more than 30 years, 12 years longer than my biological mother, especially significant when one considers that I could walk and talk from the day of our initial meeting.

The obituary does not go into much detail about my personal relationship with this remarkable woman. She welcomed me into her family, and gave me her daughter, notwithstanding the differences in our faiths and notwithstanding the importance of faith in her own life. She respected the fact that her grandchildren would be raised in a non-Christian home; she made a commitment not to interfere with their religious upbringing and she was true to her word. As a result, Phillip and Ellie have a deeper respect for their grandparents' faith, grew up without being conflicted and understand that there is room in the world for many traffic lanes to God.

The obituary does not go into much detail about the mischievous times we shared. When her health allowed, we made regular trips to Mystic Lake casino during her visits to the Twin Cities. She loved the fact that she could sneak away with her son-in-law, smoke her Virginia Slims without getting busted, and brag to the doorman that she was the kind of mother-in-law that I wanted to spend time with. During a family trip to Cancun, we over-sampled jumbo margaritas one night, much to the chagrin of my bride and my father-in-law and much to the amazement of Phil and Ellie, who had never seen Dad and Grandma so "happy".

I know that at nearly 58 it's my turn to start saying "goodbye". I just don't want to get good at writing obituaries. I tried to avoid responsibility for this one. It was too difficult to write and do sufficient justice to its subject. The draft received from the well-meaning scribe from the funeral home, and the look in Deb's eyes when she read it, made avoidance impossible.

Many thanks to my Facebook friends who discerned from my status and the resulting comments what had transpired and expressed their condolences. We've lost another great lady and it is comforting to see how universally that truth is accepted. Here's what I came up with:

Georgia Marie Kolb died Tuesday, December 15, succumbing peacefully to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. With her passing, Big Stone Lake-area residents have lost their Grand Doyenne, a woman with an unbridled passion for life and commitment to serving her family, her church and her community.

Born to Elmer and Ruby (Gagnon) Hamm in Odessa, South Dakota on November 19, 1936, Georgia lived nearly her entire life within a 10 mile radius of her beloved Big Stone Lake. A graduate of Ortonville High School, she and sweetheart Kenny Kolb were married on January 8, 1954.

She and Kenny raised their three children, Kim, Deb and Mark, while Georgia held down various jobs, including positions at the Hilltop Café, the restaurant at the Big Stone Canning Factory and Auchstetter’s Drug Store. Georgia’s warm, embracing personality made her a natural retailer. For nearly 20 years, she operated Georgia’s Apparel in Ortonville, bringing the latest styles personally selected from Fashion Market in Minneapolis to her neighbors on the prairie. For more than 50 years she and Kenny ran Ken’s Fireworks in Big Stone City, becoming one of the largest independently owned fireworks merchants in the State. Customers drive for hundreds of miles each year to reconnect with Georgia and the relationship she established with all of her customers.

Georgia was also a devoted and energetic volunteer on behalf of a number of causes. Not surprisingly, she was a real “firecracker” in her work with the Big Stone Lake Area Tourism, promoting the hosting of the MS Society’s TRAM and professional walleye fishing tournaments on Big Stone Lake. She and Kenny served as Grand Marshalls of the Ortonville Corn Fest Parade. Her efforts were memorialized in a granite monument offering thanks permanently installed at the foot of Big Stone Lake. Her love and support of Tabor United Methodist Church, where she and Kenny were married, resulted in years of devotion to the church’s choir and Fall Harvest, Flower Show and Christmas celebrations. Active in Eastern Star, Georgia rose to serve as Worthy Grand Matron of the Minnesota Chapter.

Of all Georgia’s loves, none were more important than her friends and family. Whether holding court at her weekly Friday Lunch Bunch or warmly embracing her lifelong friends from church, business and the community, all who knew Georgia were blessed with her special sparkle and camaraderie. Luckiest of all to have shared her presence was Georgia’s loving family. Georgia gave unselfishly of herself, showering her children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters and in-laws with love and devotion throughout their lives. Georgia set an example for her family by walking the walk of selflessness, a strong work ethic, dedication to the community and a spiritual moral compass.

Georgia is survived by her husband Ken of Ortonville, MN; children, Kim of Big Stone City, SD, Deb (Sam) of Independence, MN, Mark (Karen) of Rockford, MN; grandchildren, Kyle and Shawn Kolb, Phillip and Ellie Stern, Kelly and Kristi Kolb; brothers and sisters in-law, Bob and Marge Kolb and Arlyss and Luane Welde; many nieces and nephews, and special friend, Mary Ann Ulrich. Georgia is preceded in death by her parents, her brother, Robert Hamm, and her sister, Ruth Hamm Wollschlager.

The family wishes to express its thanks to the caregivers at the Golden Living residence in Millbank, South Dakota, and to Golden Living’s resident cuddler, Boots the Cat, for the loving care extended to Georgia over the past months. Memorials are preferred to the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota for the support of Alzheimer’s research. Donations may be sent to the Minnesota Medical Foundation, P.O. Box 64001, St. Paul, MN 55164-001.

A celebration of Georgia’s life will take place at Tabor United Methodist Church in Big Stone City, South Dakota at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, January 2, 2010. Visitation will be held at 12:30 p.m. prior to the celebration.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Night 2009

It's morning in Independence.

Local elections were held in Independence today. I had spent the past few months working diligently for two of the four candidates vying for two open seats on the Independence City Council. My blog mentor, Charlie Leck, a long time resident of Independence had recruited me and I relished the opportunity to work with him to achieve some good for our community.

The election should have been a cakewalk. My primary focus of support was a long time member and former chair of the planning commission, a cub scout leader, a financial advisor, and a neighborhood community leader. The other candidate we worked for was an incumbent with a thoughtful voting record and a long history of community service. This being a small town in Garrison Keillor's back yard, she is also the choir director at church and teaches piano.

Our two opponents, on the other hand, were not of the Jimmy Stewart genre. One was an incumbent who was prone to throwing temper tantrums at City Council meetings, accusing the mayor and the police department of various conspiracies to undermine his libertarian rights. Through the magic of videos of Council meetings posted on the Independence website, you could actually watch this public servant use language in public forums that, to quote Professor H. Higgins, "would make a sailor blush."

The incumbent's running mate is a free spirit, with a history of engaging in whatever behavior suited his purpose without regard to the laws and regulations that most of us choose to observe. When he owned a lawn service company, he saved a buck by disposing of hazardous chemicals in the wetlands on his property, not caring that they were flowing into the adjacent stream that served as the source of drinking water for his neighbor's livestock, killing them. He moved and asked the City for a conditional use permit to build a barn on his property for the private use of his family. Upon acquiring the permit, he immediately built a large commercial facility and advertised for boarders. When the City tried to stop him from violating the terms of the C.U.P. he applied for, he sued the City. The matter was settled out of court and sealed.

Unfortunately, the election contest was not a cakewalk. My candidates' opponents refused to attend a candidates forum hosted by the League of Women voters, resulting in its cancellation. The opponents spread falsehoods about my candidates, accusing them of everything from wanting to take property without compensation in order to build nature trails throughout the City to wanting to ban all hunting in Independence. As a Jewish kid, I wouldn't really care about the latter but, apparently, it is a big deal to many Independence residents.

Neither of the accusations were true, but truth was not an obstacle to my candidates' opponents.

They circulated an old map developed by an Open Spaces Commission that had looked at ways of preserving the rural nature of Independence notwithstanding its proximity to Minneapolis. The map showed trails which the opponents pointed to as proof of the intent to engage in uncompensated taking. The truth was that the trails were labeled "natural", not "nature", trails and identified existing wildlife migratory patterns.

The cow killer, consistently with his "I'll do what I want" mentality, put out lawn signs and circulated postcards that bore the logo of the Republican Party, even though the race was non-partisan and even though he had neither an endorsement nor permission to utilize the GOP trademark.

Both opponent candidates also promoted reducing the City's budget by disbanding our local police force and contracting with the County Sheriff for police services. Although couched as a demonstration of fiscal conservative-ism, it was really payback for perceived slights. And it turned out to be the opponents' Achilles' Heel.

Without a vigorous local press to shed a light on the nonsense being foisted upon the Independence electorate, we needed to find an issue that energized our supporters, swelled our ranks and got out the vote. The proposed replacement of the police force provided us with that issue.

These days, every candidate running has to promise lower taxes, an improved quality of life and responsiveness to the electorate. Most voters in an off-year election don't give a rat's patootie which candidate prevails on those issues. They've heard it all before. But mess with their public safety and it's a different story.

During the last few days of the campaign, I instructed volunteers who were out knocking on doors asking for support or telephoning to get out the vote to focus on one issue: If we don't elect our candidates, the City Council will vote next year to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff and close down the local police department. Not voting for our candidates or not voting at all was a vote to dismantle our police force.

THAT threat did the job. The election judges told me this morning that they had been told to expect 250 voters in today's election, representing about 10% of eligible voters. In fact, there were more than 1,030. When the counting was done, my primary candidate had received 698 votes and the incumbent I was supporting received 630. The paranoid libertarian incumbent received about 350 votes. The cow killer received 303 votes.

Folks in the community, once informed of the threats to their public safety that would result from failing to elect my candidates, came out in force and gave us a landslide. In so doing, I believe the electorate also sent a message about what kind of campaign is acceptable in Independence.

So, fortified by large quantities of adrenalin and celebratory rum at the local tavern, I thought it was time to return to my prairie pondering and share the lesson of persistence and reliance on the common sense of voters that manifested itself in God's country today. It feels good to be back.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


If you read the "About Me" blurb in the right-hand column, you will see the revelation that "I like to take photographs". This blog was intended originally to allow me to showcase some of my work from time to time. Today seemed like a good time to put the intention to practice while working on the Franken Recount missive promised this morning.

My cousin Kevin and I visited the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Museum before Kevin returned home to southern Minnesota after his holiday weekend visit. I happened to have my camera along and was blown away by the photographic opportunities. Not the sculptures, necessarily, magnificent as they are. I was mesmerized by the site as a public gathering place. Tourists, a wedding party, a professional photographer shooting professional musicians, a grandmother comforting a crying infant, a magnificent flower garden teeming with tiny life.

I plan on returning soon with my tripod and macro lens. In the meantime, here's a little sample to cleanse my blogging palate. Click on an image to view a larger version. Feel free to download any you wish. The color in the original images is better than reflected on this blog and can be further tweaked in any photo-editing software.

Senator Franken! (Watch This Space)

Now that Al Franken has finally been declared the winner of Minnesota's U.S. Senate election contest and Norm Coleman has conceded, the embargo on blogging imposed by the Franken Campaign has been lifted. When I volunteered to assist, I agreed not to write about anything I saw or did in connection with the election contest until the election was resolved. Since I served as a volunteer attorney for the campaign during the recount process, I took the directive as a matter of attorney-client privilege until waived.

It was an honor to have assisted ever so slightly with the campaign and a real eye-opener on the machinations of high stakes campaigns, both Democratic and Republican. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences that helped reaffirm my belief that Minnesota will be well-served by its new junior Senator.

I have to deal with some prior commitments but will be pondering the experience from the prairie soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bad Posture and Bad Posturing: Stooped and Stupid

posture |ˈpäs ch ər|
noun: a position of a person's body when standing or sitting
verb: [ intrans. ] [often as n. ] ( posturing) behave in a way that is intended to impress or mislead others

Jimmy Stewart had good posture. Tall and lanky, he always carried himself proudly and effortlessly. His posturing in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains an American classic, the tale of Everyman taking on corruption in Government.

My how times have changed. There has been much posturing coming out of Washington D.C. and Columbia, South Carolina over the past week or so. Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, both stalwart proponents of family values and the sanctity of marriage (particularly when worrying about same sex couples wanting to join the sacred ranks), have been forced to admit to behavior that they publicly refused to tolerate in others.

It made me realize that when one’s posture begins to suffer, there is a tendency to looked stooped. When one’s posturing suffers the fate of public servants Ensign and Sanford, there is a tendency to look stupid.

Judging from press coverage driven by the perception that the public gives a rat’s patootie about the details, I am one of the few people in America that did not care to share the contents of Governor Sanford’s intimate e-mail exchange. When I started writing this, I was under the impression that the Governor had fallen for his Argentine paramour like a lovesick adolescent. Not wanting to be judgmental about affairs of the heart, and not being privy to the condition of his marital relationship, I refused to fault him for giving in to the emotional pull of newly found love. After all, when an irresistible force such as hers meets an old immovable object like him, you can bet, as sure as you live, something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give.

Then the SOB acknowledged that he had regularly “crossed the line” when on road trips with his buddies, immediately switching his image from being a hopeless romantic to a self-absorbed boor. And, as noted above, particularly in light of his past posturing about family values and the need for our public servants to set a proper example and his propensity for marching out his beautiful accomplished wife and four sons whenever it made sense for political purposes, he looks stupid.

His Republican colleague, Senator John Ensign looks even dumber. This paragon of virtue who, posturing, called on President Clinton to resign when his dalliances became public, was forced last week to confess that his marital vows were similarly modifiable when the Senator's hormones took control. Now that he, too, has traded civilized restraint and respect for his spouse for the carnal pleasures of the wife of one of his top aides, he’s adopted a different viewpoint on the propriety of resignation.

His pronouncements of trouble in his marriage that led to such behavior are besides the point. When you deem yourself worthy to stand tall and posture about the logical harsh consequences of immoral behavior by public officials, do not subsequently (?) stoop to entering into an adulterous affair with your close friend’s wife and wife’s close friend. You come across as stupid.

On the other hand, I suppose that if everyone experiencing strife in their marriage took that as a get out of “jail” free card and explored intimacy outside of the marital relationship it would, at least, demote the perceived threat posed by same sex couples to the one man/one woman contingent.

Certainly, this is not a partisan issue. But the hypocrisy of those who deem themselves worthy to preach and attempt to impose their alleged moral values on all of us, yet abandon their public principles at the batting of an eyelash (or the tapping of a shoe in a men’s restroom) is sickening and peculiar to social conservatives. You don’t see Barney Frank advocating for same-sex marriage and flying up to Nova Scotia to lose himself in the arms of a lobster heiress. More precisely, even when Barney Frank advocates for same-sex marriage, he adopts a live and let live posture, content to allow those who disagree to carry on in their own lives as they see fit.

So, dear social conservative friends, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Practice what you preach. And if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, NOT!

And, finally, Governor Sanford, show some respect for the mother of your children and quit pining in public. Your continued public apologies, couched in excuses, are making matters worse. Being a man means more than flying to Buenos Aires to service your mistress after your wife pleads with you not to see her again. It means owning up to the hurt you've caused and hopes and dreams you've discarded and making amends to your family, if possible, quietly, sincerely and earnestly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And, He's Left-handed (Part 2)

I was right. The last Prairie Pondering blog generated some heat. But after a little more than a week, I'm still in the kitchen.

The response to the concept that President Obama's Cairo speech offered a new approach to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East brought two general reactions. Readers either applauded my observations and shared my yearning for an end to the insanity of U.S. policy (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result) or they mocked my naiveté and proclaimed the impossibility of Israel's making peace with terrorists who refuse to acknowledge its right to exist.

Here's a couple of samples from the contrarians:

From my good friend, M, in Montreal (see the comments to the blog for her complete response):

Oy, oy, oy Sam. Well written and thoughtful as always, but I think you're putting too much faith into someone who is either genuinely naive (or personally doesn't really care) about Israel, and is only interested in pushing his own agenda without weighing the risks to the one country upon which he is trying to force his will.

BOTTOM LINE: until the Arabs of the Middle East (and the rest of the world) accept that Israel has the right to exist as an independent, democratic (small d ;-)), Jewish state there will never, ever be a hope for peace and stability in the Middle East. THAT is the clearest truth of all. Obama can give speeches and make proclamations until the next U.S. president replaces him, but the only change is that Israel's enemies now think they bear even less responsibility to seek peace or negotiate, and have the backing of the US president.

It saddens me, and in a way frightens me, that much of American Jewry seems willing to support a Middle East policy that offers no serious consequences to those that would seek Israel's destruction.
I love you, Sam, but I can't agree with you this time. Nor can I understand why anyone would think that Obama is a friend of Israel. He's not. His advisors are, for the most part, not. And because they're not, the security and continued existence of the Israel that I and many others love is now at greater risk than ever before.

!עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי (Long live the nation of Israel!)

An anonymous poster also commented:

There is a two state solution and the other state is called Jordan. The only justification for the state of Israel is the G-d gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. This was the reason Harry Truman used in l948 for ratification of the existence of the State of Israel. Israel's neighbors refuse to recognize the existence of the state of Israel, and one cannot make peace with someone who does not even recognize your right to exist.

And, finally, there's my close friend, Chanan, a Russian Israeli, who had prophetically warned me about the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and who believes that President Obama is a closet Muslim, has no concern for Israel and will abandon and destroy the Jewish State because he does not understand that the Arabs will never recognize Israel's right to exist.

You should know that I respond with some trepidation. What I fear most is the possibility that I will suffer the same fate, the same ridicule that befell German Jews who defended the National Socialists in the early 1930's. If my analysis of what is transpiring, and what needs to occur, is in error, the consequences for my people are horrific. And so I ask myself repeatedly, "am I listening for what I want to hear from the Obama Administration or am I listening to what it is saying?"

I am listening to what President Obama is saying and, significantly, words matter with this president. I heard him stand up before his audience in Cairo and proclaim that peace was not achievable without the Arab nations' recognition of Israel and it's right to exist. I heard him admonish his hosts that they cannot hope to achieve the stability of the two-state solution without renouncing terrorism, controlling terrorists and cease the fomenting of hatred against the Jewish State. In effect, he spoke M's "clearest truth". This president is not an idiot. Words matter. He was not relieving the Arab states of responsibility. He was imposing responsibility as a condition of cooperation from the United States.

There were a couple of developments this past week that increased my comfort with my analysis. Vice President Biden was interviewed on Meet the Press on Sunday. The concerns of M and the anonymous commenter were addressed head on. Here's the transcript from the conversation David Gregory had with Vice President Biden on the subject of Israel and President Obama's position (thanks to RealClearPolitics for posting the transcript):

MR. GREGORY: Let me return to a couple of foreign policy notes...


MR. GREGORY: our remaining moments. Israel. Is the president trying to distance himself from Israel in order to assuage the Arabs?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Absolutely not. Look, here...

MR. GREGORY: If that's the case, then, why is this administration only making unconditional demands over settlements on Israel and on no other parties?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, they are make--we are making demands. We're making demands both today...

MR. GREGORY: Unconditional demands.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Look, look. The president of the United States, in his speech to the Islamic world and the Islamic communities, stood there and said--and it's a paraphrase, I don't know the exact quote--we are unconditionally tied to Israel. Israel's security is our security was in essence of what he said. So he made it clear we're not distancing ourself from Israel. What we say is that, look, what happened was all the parties signed onto a thing called the road map. It was the thing that everybody said that would bring, result in a two-state solution. The Israeli government signed onto that, the Palestinian Authority signed onto that, the Arab states blessed that. That's what we want to see happen. So we are moving all the parties as best we can toward keeping their part of the bargain.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah. But wait a minute, you were making an unconditional demand only on Israel and no other parties...

VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. No, we're not.

MR. GREGORY: ...over settlements. That's not the case?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, we're not. No, that's not the case. We are making...

MR. GREGORY: What unconditional demand has this president made on the Arabs?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: The unconditional demands we're making on the Palestinians that they have to provide security for Israel. They have to stop this, this, this, this baiting of their populations. They have to stop incitement. We've made it clear to the, to the Arab states, they have to do something more than just talk about normalizing relation with Israel.

MR. GREGORY: Is there moral equivalency in the fight between Israelis and Palestinians, in your view?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. No, there's not moral equivalency in...

MR. GREGORY: Did the president suggest there was in his speech?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I don't believe the president did suggest that. What the, the president suggested is for the well-being of innocent Palestinians and Israelis, that what you need to do is you need a two-state solution along the lines that all the parties had heretofore agreed to, and we're going to use all of our diplomatic capability to move the parties toward actually implementing what they committed to.

Before you dismiss this as the unscripted musings of "Foot-in-Mouth" Biden (as some of my debate opponents have been doing this week), let me explain how things work. A lot of very intelligent, highly paid staffers at the White House, and the president himself, decide whether, where and with whom to put forth the Administration's positions on the Sunday news shows like Meet the Press. Anticipated subjects are reviewed. Answers are carefully crafted. Sometimes instructions are given not to make any statements contrary to the official position of the Administration. Sometimes, the interviewee is coached on how to address outstanding issues in order to make sure that a subject of controversy is covered in the manner POTUS wishes it to be covered. There is no way in Hell that the White House did not anticipate a question about the Administration's commitment to Israel after the Cairo speech. And, accordingly, there is no way in Hell that the Vice President's description of the "unconditional" demands being made on the Arabs was off the cuff rhetoric. He was delivering a message as instructed. Words matter.

The second event was Israeli's Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech in response to President Obama. For the first time, he acknowledged that, with conditions, he would accept the two-state solution he has long campaigned against. The conditions, appropriately, dealt with security issues. The conditions also dealt with the status of Jerusalem, not an insignificant obstacle. M, Chanan and others who challenged my views this week reminded me that, under Israeli jurisdiction since 1967, Jerusalem has been open to all faiths. Previously, while under Jordanian control, Jews were not allowed in the Old City. They fear a return to those exclusionary policies if the Israelis give up control and their concerns are understandable.

However, again, a fresh approach can bring about a compromise. President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu's response as a good start. As with the need to control terrorists before there can be any hope of peace, the president recognizes that Jerusalem has to remain open to all faiths. He believes however, and I cannot imagine that he is wrong, that there are ways to assure such access even if the city is not under the exclusive control of the Israelis.

We have no choice but to try. Spare me the commentaries on the intolerance of Islam and the destruction of Jewish and Christian communities in Arab lands. I do not need to read more accounts of the subjugation of women in Arab communities or the seemingly barbaric imposition of Shariah law. I understand that these injustices have occurred and continue to occur. And, unfortunately from my point of view, it will be a long time, if ever, before those cultures change.

The tragedy would be to allow ourselves to be blinded by our abhorrence of such barbarism as we try to fashion peace with Israel. Our desire to establish peace and stability in the region is precisely for the purpose of allowing Israel to thrive as a democratic Jewish State without concern over the imposition of Islamic law in its territory. How Muslims treat one another in their own countries is besides the point as long as they recognize Israel's independence. As I noted last time, that is the starting block for the discussion imposed on the Islamic world by President Obama in Cairo.

Allow me a final comment on the anonymous commentator's observation about the Source of Israel's entitlement. My faith (philosophy, not religion) leads me to believe that God
did give Israel to the Jewish people. My multi-cultural awareness puts me on notice that my faith is not universally shared. I am not willing to trust resolution of the conflict to hoping that (paraphrasing Yasser Arafat of all people) my imaginary Friend is more powerful than their imaginary Friend. Rather, I prefer to believe that God left a few untied ribbons dangling when he presented the package of Israel to the Jewish people and, as with so many other grants of free will, He is leaving it up to us to figure out how to tie up the loose ends.
!עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי

Saturday, June 6, 2009

And, He's Left-Handed

I know I am going to take some heat for some of what I am about to write. However, a theme in President Obama's speech in Cairo this week refuses to fade from consciousness and gives me the courage to proceed:

It is time to discuss in public what everyone acknowledges in private.

President Obama was referring to the inevitability of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, requiring Arab nations to accept Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish State and requiring the Israelis and their supporters to accept the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. The president was stating the obvious. There can be no peace in the Middle East without such bilateral acceptances.

Unfortunately, until now, no would-be mediator has been successful in pursuing the obvious. By voting for change, we elected a president who is willing to shout to the world that the Emperor wears no clothes and to force all parties to the debate to move on to a level of negotiations that is not based on unrealistic underlying assumptions used as if they were legitimate bargaining chips. The Arabs cannot extract concessions from the Israelis by agreeing to recognize Israel. The Israelis cannot take credit for agreeing to an independent Palestine on their border. After President Obama's speech in Cairo, those entitlements became the starting blocks of the negotiations, not interim goals to be achieved. In effect, President Obama was telling the parties, if we cannot move on from those starting blocks, we can't move on. No starting blocks, no race.

What a difference an administration makes! The eight years that ended on January 20, 2009 were marked by public policies, or a lack thereof, that were first vetted with an eye towards the political implications. Politically untenable positions were generally discarded. Worse, the politics pursued were those of a right-wing ideology. The right-wing base that financially supported, and vociferously shored up, the last administration had effective veto power over any proposal that did not fit within their view of America.

Consider the debate over immigration policy. President Bush's rare practical position that recognized that we were not going to be able to return 11 million "illegal" residents from Mexico as a starting point of immigration reform was shouted down by the Far Right, accusing the president of promoting a general amnesty for Mexican scufflaws and their nursing children. The president's proposal to initiate immigration reforms was merely stating publicly what everyone acknowledged privately. Eleven million illegals were staying put. But W lacked the independence, credibility and leadership capability to dismiss his opposition.

Not so with the new president as he addressed the world. He signaled that from now on, there would be honest discussions exploring peace in the Middle East. Not "easy", "honest". He did so without clearing his remarks with other members of his political party. He proclaimed the obvious regardless of the political consequences he knew would follow from the response of the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). He insisted that Hamas relinquish its policies of hatred and violence against Israel that the organization has so effectively utilized to maintain political control and distract its constituency from demanding a government that addresses basic societal needs.

The implications of such forthrightness are striking. I am not naive enough to think that political considerations are ignored in the Obama Administration. But the willingness to do the right thing in spite of anticipated political fallout, and the demonstration of faith that the American public has the maturity and intelligence to respond to an honest discussion of the challenges facing us, gives me much hope for the future of our country with President Obama at the helm.

Our new president personifies leadership, not gamesmanship. He relies on thoughtfulness and pragmatism, not demagoguery. He has taken some very tough positions.

Witness the shockwaves resulting from the paradigm shift in the American auto industry implemented by President Obama. There is a lot of short term collateral damage to working class families all across the country as a result of the Obama Administration's gameplan for "saving" General Motors. In fact, I am not sure I agree with everything that has been done. But, and it is an important "but", I am willing to be proven wrong because I have a sense that the Obama Administration is addressing a very difficult situation with the best of intentions and not as a means of furthering a political viewpoint.

Nothing comparable to The Patriot Act has been generated in response to the threats to our national security posed by imminent financial collapse. Public debate has not been muzzled. Government decision-making has been significantly more transparent than ever before.

We finally have a president who, faced with unprecedented challenges on every front, realizes he does not have the luxury of either time or multiple chances at success to allow himself to squander opportunities to find solutions. He will not engage in doublespeak; he will not ignore in public what "the deciders" acknowledge in private. The president's resulting popularity, even in these difficult times, shows just how hungry Americans are for such rare candor.

In terms of Middle East peace, it will take many more speeches. It will take international acceptance of President Obama's pragmatic, wise, no nonsense approach. There are parties at the negotiating table whose personal agenda is enhanced by the continuation of the hostilities. But, by continuing to discuss in public what everyone acknowledges in private, the larger Israeli and Arab communities can now bring pressure to bear on the peace process and use the growing weight of public opinion to fashion a more selfless resolution.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taking Out the Trash

Shortly after I left the full time practice of law to run a chemical dependency treatment center in 2001, a friend asked me if treatment works. I observed that it seemed like 20% of the patients who went through treatment succeeded in staying in recovery after a single rehab experience. 20% of the patients would never recover from their chemical dependencies no matter how many times they went through a treatment program (the so-called "Lost"). The remaining 60% were an unknown. Their likelihood of success depended on the treatment experience, the appropriateness of the program, the skill of their counselors, the support of their families and their ability to deal with their unique personal struggles and willingness to give sobriety a try. For the entire six years I worked in the field as an administrator, the 20/40/20 ratio continued to ring true.

I've been thinking a lot about the lost 20% lately because if we accept the premise as true,
i.e., the Lost are never going to benefit from chemical dependency treatment and learn to live normal, productive lives, then we have to acknowledge in this era of hope with increasingly limited resources that the costs of supporting the Lost are expensive, long term propositions. We also need to acknowledge that it may not be appropriate to allocate resources as we have historically to care, and coddle, the Lost, while so many members of society are, as a result, denied access to remedial resources.

I am mindful of, and have long admired, Hubert Humphrey's observation that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. To be clear, I am not speaking of persons with mental or physical infirmities that make successful chemical dependency treatment or to otherwise function productively in society impossible.

Rather, I am talking about the segment of society that consciously chooses to play the "treatment game", bouncing from program to program as an alternative to accepting the responsibilities of employment, parenting, self-betterment and other
indicia of adulthood. Too often, these Lost fly below the radar of societal scrutiny, relying on commonly held perceptions of the challenges of chemical dependency to avoid being held accountable.

In the past, taxpayers just paid for the Lost to attend one treatment program after another, often with a short hiatus between episodes of shelter in well-intentioned licensed facilities. The financial impact was enormous, but it was a price society quietly paid to warehouse the Lost. Three years ago, my employer received about $2,500 a month for counseling services rendered to each client. Using my 20% rule, at any one time, the treatment center was home to 15 clients who I'd consider part of the Lost. On an annual basis, that amounts to providing treatment for 180 of the Lost. At $2,500 apiece, it cost taxpayers $450,000 a year, effectively wasted, to treat the Lost. $450,000. One treatment center in the "Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers". Wasted.

So, what do we do as a society? How do we justify wasting such vast sums of taxpayer money with minimal likelihood of success when so many programs are being cut or eliminated and so many of the vulnerable adults championed by Vice President Humphrey are going wanting?

I recently posed this question over lunch to a friend who is a former officer of the local N.A.A.C.P. I'll call him "Jeff". His answer was startling, probably because it was not the usual "society cannot give up on those who struggle". Jeff responded that it was like clearing garbage from one's home when its accumulation impairs the living environment: "We have to take out the trash".

The scope of the topic of our concern went beyond the chemically dependent who were incapable of sobriety. It included generations of what are typically thought of as underprivileged residents of the community who are perpetually un- or under educated, employed and/or engaged in self-betterment. Focusing on the Black community, my friend observed that the election of our new president offers a positive role model for today's youth and that the ongoing race card blame game used as an excuse by many of their elders lacks credibility. Jeff suggested that it is time to move on from the chronically chemically dependent Lost and from those
unwilling to make any effort to reside in society as lawful, productive members.

But, of course, moving on has its consequences. To use Jeff's analogy, you still have to deal with the trash left behind. From Jeff's point of view, this requires establishing residential campuses where persons otherwise intent on disrupting society are required by court order to live. Residents would be responsible for maintaining their living quarters, assuring a drug-free environment and not tolerating lawlessness. Residents unable to abide by these guidelines would face jail time as a consequence of whatever conduct landed them in the residential campus in the first place. Eventually, the scufflaws would age to the point that they are not a threat to society as a whole or to themselves, and society will have survived to a clean start.

I cannot conceive of any cooperative effort by law enforcement, the judiciary, civil libertarians, social services and willing taxpayers that would allow the creation of such a system. The liberal in me fights the idea that we've sunk so far that intelligent men like Jeff, long involved in the Black community, see no viable alternative to the current situation or to the residential campus concept besides building more jails.

I am back to my original dilemma. I believe that we have a responsibility as a society to help those who cannot help themselves. But, what do we do with those who choose not to seek to partake in economic recovery? What do we do with those who have given up on themselves and choose the comfort of an artificial high to making the effort to live drug-free? As with the classic philosophical debate about the lifeboat carrying 7 people that can only sustain 6, we have some choices to make.

Government and philanthropic financial resources are increasingly precious at the same time they are in increasing demand. It simply makes no sense to deny services and support to persons with legitimate needs because we continue to throw money at others who are making a conscious decision to be wards of the state. Maybe cutting the latter group from support is a form of "tough love". But what then?

I have no answers today. I merely pose the question and ask that we keep in mind the billions of dollars that are wasted as governments and charities are being played for chumps. There are so many worthwhile programs that have done so much good for so many people. I witnessed the successes repeatedly during my six year stint in the social service community. The dilemma is not with the program participants who strive to achieve success. The problem is with the faux participants who park themselves at the public and philanthropic trough with no real desire to use the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

What do we do? I welcome your comments.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Answer the Damn Question!

I spend most Sunday mornings catching up on the week’s issues and events by watching several news shows that I’ve recorded on the satellite’s digital video recorder. I usually start with TPT 2’s Almanac and Washington Week and move on to ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopolous and NBC’s Meet the Press. I ignore Fox. If I skip the music and matters that don’t interest me on Almanac and skip the commercials on This Week, I can be up to date in a little over 90 minutes.

This past Sunday was no exception, except (sorry) it gave me an idea for this blog: Politicians do not like to answer direct questions. This Week started out with two interviews. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was first up. He was brilliant in his portrayal of the work of the Obama Administration and successfully defended its efforts from partisan attacks. He was necessarily vague about some aspects of the President’s policies. I accepted everything he said without pause or concern. ;-)

George Stephanopolous’ next guest was Republican Congressman John Boehner from Ohio. Congressman Boehner serves as the House Minority Leader in Congress and often serves as the spokesperson for the Republican Party. I was so startled by his exchange with Mr. Stephanopolous on the subject of carbon emissions and climate change that I had to watch the interview again to make sure I had heard it right over my hamburger/onion omelet (cooking is another part of my Sunday morning ritual).

Here’s the transcript of the exchange (with my comments in parentheses):

George Stephanopolous: Describing Congressman Boehner’s reaction to the decision to allow the E.P.A. to regulate carbon dioxide as means of controlling greenhouse gasses.

Congressman John Boehner: This decision is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to enact a national energy tax that will have a crushing impact on consumers, jobs and our economy. The Administration is abusing the regulatory process to establish this tax because it knows there are not enough votes in Congress to force Americans to pay it. (In 2006, more than 2 years before the election of Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had given the E.P.A. authority to regulate carbon dioxide in the Clean Air Act. The economic consequences of regulating carbon dioxide emissions are not a “national energy tax”. They are the wages of our sinful ignoring of the problem for decades and now being forced to implement extraordinary measures to try to save the planet. Repeat for effect: to try to save the planet.).

GS: Let me ask you then about energy. You’ve come out against the president’s plan to cap and trade emissions. So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it? (N.B. THESE are the "pending questions" referred to throughout below.)

JB: George, we believe in our “all of the above” energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy. We’ve got to make sure we have resources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy. We need other types of alternatives and, yes, we need American made oil and gas. (Technically, Congressman Boehner did not answer the question. It comes close only if we parse the answer to assume that Congressman Boehner believes that reduced reliance on fossil fuels will reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions.)

GS: But that doesn’t do anything when it comes to emissions, Sir – (Interrupted)

JB: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don’t work with other industrial nations around the world, what’s gonna happen is that we’re going to ship millions of jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way. (Still not answering the pending question, Congressman Boehner deflects the inquiry and moves to the politically expedient soundbite of focusing on American jobs.)

GS: What is the responsible way? That’s my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

JB: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it’s clear . . .[Interrupted] (This was the response that triggered this pondering. “Carcinogen”? Breathing? Blame the cows? Again, Congressman Boehner does not answer the pending questions. The House Minority Leader, prominent spokesperson for the national Republican party, is more comfortable belittling the threat of climate change from excessive carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by human endeavors than he is admitting there is a problem and offering a specific alternative to the E.P.A.’s regulation of carbon dioxide emissions.)

GS: So you don’t believe greenhouse gasses are a problem in creating climate change?

JB:... we've had climate change over the last 100 years -- listen, The question is, how much does Man have to do with it and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can’t do it alone as one nation. If we got India, China and other industrial countries not working with us, all we’re going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas. (Still no answer to the pending questions. Rather, Congressman Boehner again deflects by rewording and posing the same question back to Stephanopolous and, again, wrapping himself in the American flag.)

GS: But it sounds like what you’re saying is that you don’t believe the Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions. You’re suggesting it’s not that big of a problem even though the scientific consensus is that it is contributing to climate change.

JB: I think it is, I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer? (Ditto, absent the American flag.)

GS: And what is the answer? That’s what I’m trying to get at. (Thank you Mr. S.)

JB: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. (At least since the beginning of this interview.) They don’t want to raise taxes one and a half to two trillion dollars like the Administration is proposing and they don’t want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. (Deflection. God Bless America.) And so, we’ve got to find ways to work towards the solution to this problem without risking the future of our kids and grandkids. (Think about this. Most folks lacking the intelligence to serve in Congress [I’m making a BIG leap of faith here] discovered sometime before Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth that man-made carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the problem of global warming. So why, on April 19, 2009, is the House Minority Leader still in the “we’ve got to find ways to work towards the solution” stage? Because, of course, the House Minority Leader would rather play politics with the issue and use it to attack the Obama administration by engaging in economic fear-mongering than get on board a meaningful plan to save the planet and the future of his kids and grandkids.)

GS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

JB: I think you’ll see a plan from us, just like you’ve seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget. (If you say it enough times, people will believe anything. And, by the way, Congressman Boehner never answered the pending questions.).

The bad news is that many politicians, including Congressman Boehner, cannot get past party politics to do the right thing for our society. The good news is that Americans seem more willing to publicly disapprove of such recalcitrance. We learned something during the eight years of the Bush Administration. We learned that when the pronouncements of our elected officials defy common sense, it is okay to say so and to react as we would to any other idiotic verbal diarrhea.

If the Republican party is unwilling to distinguish its environmental viewpoint from that of the coal lobby in a meaningful way, so be it. The party’s adherents are entitled to their opinions. But they ought to have enough respect for our democratic way of life to openly proclaim their position, by answering the questions, and let the electorate decide whether they belong in positions of leadership. Absent such respect, the Republicans are just a bunch of clowns trying to fool all of the people all of the time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A New Beginning (No Ewoks)

What a day! Spring has finally arrived on the prairie and I celebrated by getting out my bike, dusting it off, putting on my helmet (as promised) and riding on the adjacent bike trail for nearly an hour at about an 8 m.p.h. average clip.

I went further west on the Luce Line than ever before, making it a mile or so past Charlie Leck's farm, and plan on pushing the envelope a little further each time. The bike trail runs for 63 miles from start to finish. Meadow Breeze Farm is just off Mile 12, giving me 51 miles to explore under Horace Mann's directive.

I feel great, having accomplished something I've been merely yakking about for two long,
i.e., getting off my fat butt and enjoying the outdoors. Frankly, it's a nice change of pace. I've felt rather paralyzed emotionally lately and forcing myself to get out may prove to be the breakthrough I've needed. Haven't we all been there?

The forest of anxieties constricting my ability to function normally consisted of the final illness and death of my good friend Tom Silver, the need to forumlate a defense for another good friend and client and file my first pleadings on his behalf using a confusing electronic filing system in Federal Court, the need to respond to a pile of discovery requests in another matter, organizing 2008's financial information to meet the government's April 15th deadline, keeping abreast of details in Minnesota's U.S. Senate election contest, deal with client issues as they get called in, handle new files with gratefulness and enthusiasm, and, as always, internalize all emotions and stresses.

Haven't we all been there? It is not the first time the volume of demands has seemed overwhelming. We know, intellectually, that we will eventually push forward, perform the necessary tasks, and feel the pressure relieved. The hard part is believing that the relief will come to pass when in the middle of that forest of anxieties.

Some people rely on faith to get them through these emotional roadblocks. Whatever works. I rely on the lessons of James Clavell. In
Noble House, Clavell wrote of the trials and tribulations of Ian Dunross, the 20th Century taipan of the House of Struan. Having previously read Tai-Pan, Clavell's brilliant portrayals of the same Scottish trading family in the 19th Centuries, I closely identified with the Tai-Pan's struggles when I read Noble House in the early 1980's.

Ian Dunross probably did not worry about the electronic filing system instituted and mandated by the Federal Courts. Rather, according to the Wikipedia entry on
Noble House: "(I)n 1963, the tai-pan, Ian Dunross, struggles to rescue Struan's from the precarious financial position left over from his predecessor. To do this, he seeks partnership with an American millionaire, while trying to ward off his arch-rival Quillan Gornt, who seeks to destroy Struan's once and for all. Meanwhile, Chinese communists, Taiwanese nationalists, and Soviet spies illegally vie for influence in Hong Kong while the British government seeks to prevent this. And nobody, it seems, can get anything done without enlisting the aid of Hong Kong's criminal underworld. Other obstacles include water shortages, landslides, bank runs and stock market crashes."

Clavell's books are worth reading and I won't give away the ending of Noble House. Suffice it to say that Dunross addresses his challenges aggressively and individually, rather than allow the number and scope of the problems he faces overwhelm him. That is the lesson I regularly take from Noble House and that is the manner in which I can achieve my emotional freedom, break the shackles of anxiety-induced depression and, not incidentally, return to blogging.

By tackling each tree individually, you find yourself in a clearing. The forest that seemed impossible to deal with becomes separate piles of stacked firewood. My discovery responses are complete, I picked up two major new clients this week, the Federal court Answer and Counterclaim are filed, taxes were paid, Al Franken will be seated before Independence Day, Tommy lives on as a stellar example of what it means to be a mensch in the collective memories of all who knew and loved him and
I went further west on the Luce Line than ever before, making it a mile or so past Charlie Leck's farm, and plan on pushing the envelope a little further each time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Lessons of Natasha

The tragic death of Natasha Richardson last week gave us all much to think about. In sitting down to write this installment of Prairie Pondering (again), I am (again) hit with a stream of consciousness of subject matter: the fragility of life, bad things happening to good people, privacy rights of celebrities, cherishing the time we have with friends and loved ones, sweating the small stuff, "if only ____", karma, taking advice, refusing advice, health care, the irrelevance of social status in matters of fate, etc., etc., etc.

No doubt I will revisit the event from time to time to make a point or two, but today I intend to focus on just a couple of the things I have been pondering.

My first reaction to hearing the news was that I would need no further urging from my bride to wear a helmet when bike riding. A few years ago, I spent one summer as an avid cyclist and, supported by a client in the business, loaded up with fancy riding equipment, including a tear-drop shaped helmet that I was instructed never to ride without. Once we moved to the country one farm over from a bike trail I used to drive a half hour to get to, I decided that it was more important to look "cool" than ride safe. I believed that since I was limiting my cycling to carefree jaunts down car-free gravel paths, I could leave the helmet behind and rely only on a baseball cap to shield my balding head from the sun. Deb protested; I chose vanity over safety.

That will not be the case in the future. The fluke of Ms. Richardson's death made me realize that it was stupid to unnecessarily risk my life on the hope that my baseball cap and enclosed head would not suddenly hit the gravel roadway (less forgiving than snow) as a result of a blown bike tire, unleashed dog, unnoticed rear-approaching cyclist or inability to timely remove my feet from toe clips.

Undoubtedly, many cyclists, skiers, snowboarders and other outdoor enthusiasts will similarly take the lesson of Ms. Richardson's death to heart and head. Her senseless sacrifice will save lives. That is not much of a silver lining, but it satisfies our collective desire to find something positive come from a shared horrific experience.

The second item I keep returning to is the lesson to be taken from Ms. Richardson's death with respect to the allocation of health care. Allow me the assumption that an identical fall and resulting injury sustained by any other visitor to that ski resort last week would not have made front page news all over the world.

After the event, I suggested to my wife, an R.N. with 30+ years of experience, that the public's awareness of the dangers of subdural hematomas publicized by Ms. Richardson's death would result in more accident victims obtaining treatment, as Ms. Richardson had been encouraged to to, and, correspondingly, many lives being saved.

Deb's response illustrated the stark realities of health care today. She explained, accurately, that medical facilities lack the hardware and staff resources, and insurance companies lack the funds, to allow everyone who takes a tumble on a ski hill to obtain an M.R.I. or a CAT Scan. For the most part, the wounded will be advised to watch for symptoms of head trauma and seek medical attention only in the event symptoms develop.*

I can imagine some contentious debates over course of treatment while the Richardson tragedy is fresh in our minds. The forthcoming demands for expensive procedures to rule out undetected, potentially fatal trauma, are consistent with the level of care we have come to expect and which have resulted in health care costs that have created the current health care crisis. In reality, entitlement to basic health care, including access to preventive medicine, must be distinguished from universal entitlement to the best possible health care that science can deliver.

This reality constitutes the flash point in any discussion about what kind of universal health care system we can and should adopt. Accepting it means that we acknowledge that some people will suffer health consequences medically avoidable. On the other hand, accepting it means we also acknowledge that the greater good, i.e., the ability to deliver affordable basic health care services to the largest number of recipients, trumps the alternative of spending the same finite amount of funds on premium levels of care for far fewer recipients.

Whoever is funding universal health care, be it insurance companies or the government, absent an increase in premiums or taxes, there will always be a limited amount of money to spend on all the medical services that will be delivered to all the beneficiaries of the funding entity. Therefore, as a matter of fundamental fairness, the pool of shared available funds should not be depleted by the purchase of extraordinary services by the most demanding. Rather, it must be left to individuals to purchase extraordinary services, like an immediate M.R.I. in response to a seemingly innocuous bump on the head, either directly, or with supplemental insurance coverage priced accordingly.

Again, this approach means that patients with better financial resources will receive "better" health care. There is no viable alternative. The hope, of course, is that by bringing costs down through the implementation of universal coverage, everyone's basic health needs will be met and higher levels of care will become more affordable and therefore available to more and more patients. In the mean time, we have to accept the fact that we are not, and will likely never be, a prosperous enough society to offer unlimited, on demand, state of the art, high technology medical services to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

The Natasha Richardsons of the world will, of course, always have the offer of such services available to them. Hopefully, when needed, they will take advantage of the privileges they enjoy, continue to thrive and, use their privileged status to support philanthropic endeavors, as did Ms. Richardson, that care for the rest of us. I'll be thinking about that while riding down the neighborhood bike path wearing my geeky helmet.

*P.S. The morning after I posted this blog, there was a related story on ABC's Good Morning America. Here's a link to the news coverage of the story. May God bless you, Natasha.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Mom Song. [Lyrics on Screen+Download]

While I'm pondering my blog on Natasha Richardson and the lives she saved, I offer you this video which sums up the relationship between all mothers and their children. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ides of March (Plus One)

Spoiler Alert: I admit to fallibility in this edition of Prairie Pondering. Stop reading now if that is a problem.

Tomorrow is my 57th birthday. I've been joking that these are the last of my pre-Heinz days. I started celebrating a couple of days ago when I hit two downtown bars during happy hour with friends from work. I continued on Saturday at a wonderful dinner with Dana and Greg (b. March 15) Kellenberger. This morning, I was joined by three dozen friends and family members at Jun Bo, the town's best dim sum restuarant, for brunch. The owners' presented me with the frozen whipped cream cake pictured here in appreciation for my business generation on their behalf.

I am always grateful to reach another birthday. I never feel as old as the calendar makes me out to be. 57 used to seem ancient. Now it must be the new 37. I certainly do not feel close to retirement age, either chronologically or financially. I have survived on Earth nearly twice as long without my mother as I was blessed to live on it with her. But, as usual, my father contrasts her early passing with his youthful exuberance at 80. It was fun to watch him hold court at brunch this morning as long time friends discussed
their parents settling into the local Jewish assisted living facility. He reminded me, again, that he was never going to "end up" there, too.

There are a few indications that the new 37 is not exactly the same as the old 37. Last year, my dentist fitted me with a mouth guard so I would not grind my teeth at night. When she asked me if I was self conscious about how I looked wearing it, I just laughed. As I told her, I'm 30 pounds overweight, I'm balding, I sleep with a CPAP so I look like a scuba diver in bed, and when my sciatica acts up, I walk with a cane. No, I assured her, I was okay with a mouth guard.

My memory is probably not what it was when I hit 37 for the first time. I'm not worried about it, yet, but there are times when I'm an idiot. Last Wednesday I left the office in Minneapolis at about 4 p.m. to drive 120 miles to Brainerd. I had a meeting Thursday morning as a member of an advisory group to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and didn't want to have to drive up at 6:30 a.m. to make it on time. I made plans to have an early evening dinner with some clients to prepare for Thursday's meeting.

After driving for about 45 minutes and 40 miles, it occurred to me that I did not remember putting my overnight bag in the car when I left the house Wednesday morning. I pulled over on the freeway, looked in the back of the car, and spoke sailor. Taking the next exit, I returned to the farm on snowy, icy back roads, trusting my GPS rather than my memory, picked up my bag and headed out towards a planned shortcut to get me to my destination in a reasonable time. I forgot about the detour around the road construction on U.S. 12.

By the time I arrived in Brainerd with an extra 50 miles on the odometer, I was 80 minutes late. The clients were waiting for me in the hotel bar and we had a nice dinner. But it was not an early evening. It would have been nice to relax in the hotel's indoor pool as I did before last month's meeting, except I forgot to bring a bathing suit or shorts. Anxious to get a decent night's sleep, I plugged in the CPAP and grabbed my iPod, which I fall asleep to each night. Except that I had forgotten a component of the CPAP that I had removed to dry out, rendering it useless, and I had forgotten my headphones to use with the iPod. Without my mechanical aids, I did not get much sleep.

In the morning, I dragged myself out of bed to get ready for my meeting. I wanted to look my best, but I had forgotten my razor. I went out to the car, which, of course, had been parked outside all night. It had warmed up to -12 F by 9 a.m. The windshield was covered in frost. I needed to scrape it because I was running out of time waiting for the vehicle to heat up. I had my scraper but I had forgotten my gloves in the office.

The good news is that I have acquired wisdom from aging and don't sweat the small stuff. The world did not end by being 80 minutes late or by having to spend an extra $5 on gasoline. My hands warmed up once inside for my meeting. I slept well the
next night. I'll be more careful when leaving home next time. Until I drop some weight, it's probably best that I don't go out in public in a swimsuit. My stubble while meeting with the D.N.R. was notable only in its inadequacy. And not having headphones for the iPod Wednesday night just meant I had more podcasts to listen to on the drive home.

March 16th. A birthday I've shared for 57 years with James Madison, our similarly short 4th President, and with Jerry Lewis, our similarly bloated cultural ambassador to France. Tomorrow I turn 57 and, as I've often noted to others fretting about their age, it beats the alternative. "Thank you" to all my well-wishers. I do love celebrating birthdays, whether mine or yours, in large part because it reunites me annually with so many great friends.

From memory (mostly):

Fairy tales can come true,
It can happen to you, if you're young at heart;
For it's hard, you will find
To be narrow of mind, if you're young at heart;

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes,
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams;
And life gets more exciting with each passing day;
And love is either in your heart or on the way;

Don't you know that it's worth
Every treasure on earth to be young at heart;
For as rich as you are,
It's much better by far to be young at heart

And if you should survive to a hundred and five,
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive;
And here is the best part, you have a head start,
If you are among the very young at heart!