Saturday, December 26, 2009


Sometimes it seems that I have been around more death than most people I know.  It has touched me again.   I learned she was sick in June and I called her then.  She had been a nurse when I was an intern.

I had a lot of fun when I was an intern and I have lost a good friend who was part of that fun.  She died, went through pain, operations, loss of modesty, while I went on with my life.

When I was an intern I organized adventures, usually just me and my nurse friends.  We went white water rafting during a low water period.  We pushed our raft for much of the way and the only rapid water we encountered was when one of the nurses peed in the raft.

We went ice fishing together and I lost my Willie Nelson tape into the hole.  We didn't catch anything but we had fun, ice skating, waltzing on the ice.  I chopped the holes with a crowbar.

She got married before the rest of us.  She had a baby before any of us.  I visited her during the height of my bachelor years and remember her yelling at cars to slow down in the parking lot because she had a baby with her.  I didn't understand that yet.  She was happy with her life in a way that made me happy.

She was a poet.

For me, divorce has been painful and the pain of it doesn't end.  Each week I re-live the loss of my children, but it is temporary, even if it is painful.

My friend knew that she would be leaving her children for good.  I don't know what she believed about an afterlife so I can only imagine how I would feel.  I would feel sad knowing that I would not be there for so many things.  I would feel sad knowing that I would not be there to comfort them when they needed it.  I would feel good knowing that my husband was solid and would be there for them.  I would feel good knowing that he would tell them stories about me, keeping me alive for them.

It would break my heart knowing that they would miss me and that I would be gone forever, that they would want to talk to me and wouldn't be able to.  I would not meet their boyfriends or girlfriends.

I'm an older parent.  I sometimes think about the likelihood that I will not be around for much of my children's lives.  I no longer have a spouse to keep me alive.  I can leave a video to tell my story.

I spoke with my friend's husband today and he told me she had died.  I knew she was sick.  I'm glad I spoke with her back in June while she was sick before she died.

She will always be a part of me.  I'm sad that friends drift so far apart.  I'll miss her.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Competitive Parenting

A father arrives at the home of his children's mother to pick up his kids.  They've been with their mom for three days, celebrating chanukah, cooking, playing, and having fun.  They don't want to leave. 

The dad and his new trophy wife are at the front door, eager to take the children to their respective families' homes for christmas.  Lot's to do, let's get going.  This will be fun.

The kids are clinging to their mom, crying, "I don't want to go with daddy, I want to stay with mommy".  The mom, teary eyed, hands them over, telling them to have fun with their dad.  "I'll miss you but I'll see you soon". 

The dad asks her if she has somehow sabotaged his time with the kids.  She says of course not.  The dad feels terrible, the kids feel terrible, the mom feels terrible.

What would be the right thing to do?  Is it best that the kids learn that they have to do what adults ask of them, or do they have the right to dictate what they want?  They can choose their friends, whether they want to eat their Brussels sprouts.  Why ignore their preferences when they clearly don't want to be with a certain parent at a certain time? Because that is a much bigger decision than they are able to make.  Their input should be considered but it is a decision with repercussions they are not aware of.  A decision that only their family should be able to make.  I shudder when I think that decisions are made by authority figures, other than family, who know the children for days at best, yet the family is unable to do it. 

I shudder to think that people need a license to fish but not to have children.  I cringe to think that in anything other than completely dysfunctional families, the parents can't work things out in the best interests of the children.  I break into a cold sweat thinking about what goes on in homes that are not under scrutiny.  Homes that don't have a gay couple for parents, homes where the parents are not divorced.  Homes where kids are spanked, loaded guns are left unlocked, second-hand smoke wafts through the home, accidents wait to happen, and do. Homes where the standards aren't so high because they are not considered high risk.  When half of all families divorce, when half of all households have guns, I think they are all high risk.

The mom closes the door and is shaking.  It is a scene that reminds her of nazi films where children are taken from parents. 

The dad feels angry and hurt.  What did my ex do to make my kids not want to be with me? 

The dad and mom don't sit down together to discuss what happened, to try to come up with a way to make transitions easier.  At least one of them is too consumed by his or her own feelings that they can't work as a couple to understand the children's feelings.  This is what I call competitive parenting and it does not attempt to do what is right for the children.  It does not attempt to teach children how to deal with difficult situations by setting a mature example.  It's all about winning.  The children will be bribed with special treats by the dad to show that he is really great and they should be happy to be with him.  Even young children lose respect for adults who behave like this.  They take the gifts and learn that acting out brings rewards.

Parenting plans of divorced couples often speak of the need to be "flexible" but there is no concrete description of what this means.  When children are with one parent, the absent parent is allowed to speak with the children at "reasonable times".  Who defines that?  These are the weapons used to wage competitive parenting, and it takes both parents to end the war.  The casualties are always children, no matter how the parents justify their actions.  If an action doesn't begin with "It would be best for the children if...", then it is likely not in their interest.  It is good practice to start each sentence that way when making decisions that involve the children.

I see parallels between drug addiction and divorce.  Each is highly prevalent.  Each  can be prevented but each is only dealt with after it happens.  Each is a disease of our culture and neither has a cure.  We pay lip service to each but continue to take the easy path on two diseases that are eroding our society.  They are too complex to deal with so we develop a one size fits all approach that does not work at either preventing the disease or treating it.

A mother comes to the home of her children's father to pick them up.  The two children, aged 4 and 6 are crying, clinging to their dad, screaming "we don't want to go with mommy". 

The father invites the mother in for a cup of tea, immediately defusing the situation and bringing calm.  The likelihood of this happening is strictly a product of how the two parents have behaved towards each other in the past.  A vicious divorce is unlikely to result in cooperative co-parenting and the result is damaged children.  Why are they damaged?  Because the parents are putting themselves ahead of the children's needs.   Children should not run the show, but that is not what cooperative co-parenting requires.  It requires the ability of parents to put their own egos aside and understand what it is like to be a child in a given situation.  We are more likely to trust a therapist to do that for us, when nobody is better suited than the parents who have known the children all their lives.

Once the ink is dry and the divorce is final, the parents are pretty free to screw up their kids.  Perhaps there is room for a skillful counselor to meet with the parents periodically, in a non judgmental way without the risk of punishment, so that the parents could be honest about how things are going, and maybe even come up with creative solutions to the recurring problems, without the fear that any imperfection will later be held against them.  Maybe our society could throw some money at this.  Or we can keep producing maladapted kids and try to fix them after they're broken.

The parents drink tea together and the children see the parents getting along.  This might be very painful for the father, seeing all the nice stuff in the home that reminds him of the money he considers stolen from him in the divorce.  Anger rises along with the desire to throw the fucking cup of tea in her face and walk out.

If he resists that urge, and the parents recognize that they can help their children by behaving better, in a few months the kids will be less angry, less scared, and better adjusted.  The lifelong benefits are staggering.

Divorce is not fair to children or adults.  We have very few wise people to settle the financial and parenting aspects of the failed marriage, and the wise people that exist do not have the time to spend on something so important.  I can think of nothing more important.

Once the money has been handed over, their is nothing to do but be a good parent in the new reality.  Resentment and anger won't help.  There's no getting even.  As painful as it is, if one cares about one's children, the only right thing to do is be a good parent and learn to cooperate with the other parent.  That means that each parent has to be able to get out of his or her own head and truly try to understand what the other parent is experiencing.  Only true compassion, the lack of narcissism, and a sincere desire to do what is best for the children will allow the children to grow strong, healthy, and happy in a world that is already difficult.  This is a delayed gratification job in a world where we want immediate results.  It's not easy.

But it's a better gift than a new video game.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The good and bad of internet shopping

Buying on the internet is great, right?  We find wonderful prices, we can do all kinds of research on items, and even share experiences with other people.

The prices sure can be good, although sometimes the shipping costs more than compensate for any savings.  We also assume that we are purchasing the exact item we want.  Many times companies have their own model number with slightly different features.  This can make comparison shopping difficult.

Reading other peoples' opinions can even be misleading.  People might be paid to write "reviews" of products or companies that are not based on reality, but based on deception.  Yes, you can be paid to write good reviews of a product, and cynical me is sure that it is common for online companies to have employees write good reviews on popular review sites.

Amazon sells many products and often has great prices.  They offer free shipping on many items, but they also sell many items through their website that they do not take any responsibility for.  These items are sold through "Amazon Marketplace" and you may not even notice that you are not really buying from Amazon, except for the fact that you probably won't get free shipping.  Amazon makes a profit on these sales and the seller get exposure on Amazon.

I recently purchased a headphone from Vibecellular, advertised as the Skullcandy Proletariat noise canceling headphone.  What arrived was a product made by Amp'd instead of what I had ordered.  The Amp'd headphones may be wonderful, but I was shocked that a company could advertise a product on Amazon and then deliver something completely different. Skullcandy has a great reputation for honoring warranties, which is why I really wanted their product.

I read further on the Amazon Reviews and found that MANY people had experienced the same thing with Vibecellular and were very angry.

I went through the usual channels and Amazon told me that they take customer service very seriously (they claim to be "obsessed" with it), but they continue to let bait and switch companies sell products on their website.  In my opinion, a company that has so consistently misrepresented what they sell should be dropped by Amazon.

Vibecellular offered me $5.  This would not bring my final price to the regular price of the Amp'd headphones, which were selling at the time for $18, although strangely they are no longer selling for only $18.  I suspect that's because it made Vibecellular look bad to sell the same headphone for both $18 and $25.  I asked for either $15 or a refund, including my shipping costs.  I have not heard back from them yet.  If I do, I will post it on this site.

On the other end of the spectrum, I  recently had a very positive experience with internet shopping.  I was in New York City and wanted to buy my kids some authentic Chinese outfits.  The shops all had the same tired items and nothing really seemed special.  It was cold and dirty and we were tired.  On the internet I found a company called Chinese Moods.  I researched the company as well as I could and didn't find anything very reassuring, but I decided to go ahead and roll the dice.  In about a week I received my items and they are beautiful, well-made, and even included a couple of gift wooden combs.  It was very nice to be so pleasantly surprised. 

You can tell that I like to dis companies that I feel are bad eggs, but I also like to bring attention to companies that are good eggs.  Shipping isn't cheap with Chinese Moods, but it's coming all the way from China, after all, and the prices are great.  The selection of items is extensive and I would recommend them highly.  Some of the English on the website is poorly translated, especially regarding the materials.  I'll post a picture of my kids wearing their outfits when they get them.

I guess my point is that we like to save money when shopping and we also like good service.  Often, we get only one of the two, sometimes neither, and on occasion we get both.  I think we should speak up angrily when we get neither and we should let people know when we get both.  We are supposed to control the marketplace.  And, remember to read the reviews before you buy!

When is a will not a will?

Is something unclear about this sentence?

All personal effects and property which I may own at the time of my death, either real, personal, tangible, intangible, or mixed, of whatsoever nature and wheresoever situated, including all property which I may acquire or become entitled to after the execution of this well, including all lapsed legacies and devises or other gifts made by this will, I leave to my wife.

There are lots of legal terms, but it seems pretty clear that my dad left everything he owned to my mom.  Including the bond in his name which matured several years ago, years after his death.

I called the financial company that holds the bond to negotiate the transfer of funds for my mother.  I was prepared with a copy of my father's will and death certificate, documents which I assumed they would require.

Much to my surprise, that was not enough.  An attorney would have to read my father's will and determine that he really meant to leave everything to my mother.  The attorney would then need to create an affidavit to that effect.

Maybe I'm dense, but this bit of news astonished me.  What is the point of a will, if not to indicate who gets what?  And what could be more clear than a will that leaves everything to one person?

I began to wonder if my will could be questioned after my death.  Was it not clear enough that I was leaving everything I own to my two children, to be shared evenly?  Was that not clear?

If an attorney helps me write a will to dictate who gets my stuff after I die, why does an attorney have to interpret what the first attorney said?

These absurd bureaucratic pie grabbing actions seem to be nothing but greed created by instilling a fear of lawsuits.  Common sense goes out the window.

I have a hard time with things that clearly just don't make sense.  During my divorce I had to have my house appraised.  I requested the appraisal and paid for it, but the appraisal company would not give me a copy of the appraisal.  They said that their client was my attorney and they were not very polite about it.  Huh?

I went to a gym in New York City, where I spend a few days every month or two, to see if I they offered a trial membership.  If I liked the gym I hoped to find a type of membership that might be geared towards people who are not in the city full time.
First I had to fill out a card with lots of personal information such as address, marital status, whether I have children, phone numbers, email address.  I left most of it blank but still managed to qualify for a meeting with a membership representative.

His first words were "What's your phone number?".  I replied that I don't give out my phone number and all I wanted was to find out if they offered a trial membership".
"We don't give free trials", he replied gruffly.  Clearly he was done with me.  I explained that I had not used the word "free" and that I would be happy to pay to try the gym for a few days before committing to membership.  He became more friendly but I had seen all I needed to see.  I found another gym where the representative actually listened to me.  I even was offered a T shirt and use of the gym for free that day, and I still hadn't used the word "free"

Both gyms were practically empty at the time I went.  The first one, Crunch Gym, had a bad attitude.  The second gym realized that they lose nothing in letting me try the gym for free, and may gain a member.  I walked out wanting to tell everyone.  Kindness and sanity exist in at least one place!  The nice gym is New York Sports Club

I like it when the world makes sense.  I like it when people communicate, rather than work on their agenda.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Screening guidelines in healthcare

If you lived in Maine and told the local animal control group that you were concerned about cobras in the area, it would be foolish and a waste of money to begin a program to search for cobras.

If, on the other hand, the local zoo had reported that their snake exhibit had escaped in the middle of summer, you reported seeing a large snake that reared up and displayed a hood, and you had small children playing in the area, then money spent on a program to find and remove cobras in your area of Maine would be a good idea.

This example illustrates how decisions on health care screening should be made, although with more simplicity.  If a disease is extremely rare in your area and you have not had symptoms of that disease without another good explanation, it doesn't really make a lot of sense to screen you for that disease.

Remember that any screening test may give a false result.  In other words, that polyp they took a biopsy of from your colon may come back with a result of cancer.  You may undergo surgery and you may even suffer complications such as infection, or scarring that blocks your intestines, among others.  It would then be frustrating to find out that the original biopsy result was incorrect and that you do not have colon cancer.

This might not even be a case of malpractice.  Sometimes it is not clear what the result of a test or biopsy is, and an informed "best decision" has to be made, often with the consultation of several experts and hopefully inclusion of the patient.  Complications of treatment can occur even when nothing is done wrong.  Infections occur.  Scarring occurs. 

I think that the public reads about disease screening recommendations and fears that health care is being taken away.  It is important to understand the difference between routing screening and good health care.

So, if you are young, and colon cancer is rare, screening for it may not be a great idea.  On the other hand, even if you are young and it is a rare disease, if you describe symptoms such as a change in bowel habits, blood in your stool and weight loss, then screening would be a good idea, even though you might not fit into the group of people that should receive "routine" screening.

That is called the good practice (or the art) of medicine, not dictated by the base of evidence guidelines, but by the patient's symptoms and the doctor's judgment.

Evidence based guidelines can be helpful to make broad decisions that might save a population money that would otherwise be wasted, and allow it to be used for more fruitful endeavors, but they are not laws.  Part of what makes all those years of  a physician's training valuable is the ability to think without a rule book, and to use judgment that may go against what is traditionally thought.

Guidelines are just suggestions for groups of patients.  I would hope that they are never used to deny care that is proposed by a physician based on a patient's symptoms.  Guidelines are not intended to be used as such.  This is further reason why it is important that patients have relationships with their physicians and the ability to be seen without a long wait when necessary.  A physician who knows you can deliver better care because he or she knows your history and the way you have presented symptoms of disease in the past. 

Systems that apply to everyone are not interchangeable.  For instance, pain scales are OK for following the course of pain in an individual, but do not give an absolute measure of pain.  One patient may have a hangnail and call the pain 8 out of 10.  Another patient may have broken a finger and call the pain 3 out of 10.  That's because a 10 is the worst pain "imaginable" by that patient and is affected by personality and experience.  A physician who knows you is better able to take your personality and experience into account when treating you.

As guidelines for health care screening evolve and recommendations are changed, it is important to remember that all bets are off when a  patient has symptoms consistent with a disease.  Sometimes adults get "children's" diseases, and children get "adult" diseases.  We need to maintain the autonomy of physicians as well as their relationships with patients to provide the best health care, if that's what we want.  Otherwise patients will need "health care providers", insurance, and "health care advocates" to help them understand the decisions and make sure the correct ones are made.

In a recent New York Times article  Louse B. Russell, a research professor at the Rutgers University Institute of Health who has studied whether prevention necessarily saves money (and found that it does not always do so) said  "It's going to take time in part because too many people in this country have had a health insurer say no, and it's not for a good reason.  So they're not used to having a group come out and say that we ought to do less, and it's because it's best for you."

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Six months ago I was married.  Tonight I went trick-or-treating with my ex-wife, her new husband, and our two children.  Life changes quickly.

In past years we had Halloween parties that the children still remember although they are only four and six years old.  No party this year that I know of.  Of the three of us, I was the only adult in costume.

I joined the kids and greeted my ex and her husband pleasantly.  The things we'll do for our children.  For the rest of the evening I just pretended that my ex and her husband were casual acquaintances, easy to do as I have no feelings of lost love.

I focused on the kids and joined them as they approached each house eagerly.  I made small talk with the people who had decorated their homes.  My son wanted to give me all of his candy.  My ex-wife made sure to call from the curb for the kids to say thank you at each house.  I wondered where the Unicef boxes were.

My ex-wife and her husband walked along together and I heard a familiar tone and pattern of conversation that I found artificial and an unpleasant reminder of what I had once bought into.  I worried that she doesn't have what it takes to find herself.  I worried for the kids.

It was raining hard and my daughter became cold and I gave her my Marlon Brando jacket, part of my biker costume.  She looked cute in her fancy dress and too-large motorcycle jacket.

How strange it must be for a child to have two homes.  Not uncommon, but strange, especially to someone like me who grew up confident in his family's unity. 

As we walked my son mostly stayed with me, his current alliance.  My daughter is having a harder time and went back and forth, telling her mom and me both that she loved us.  Reciting the mantra, "I love daddy and I also love mommy".  A seemingly unnecessary burden for a small child to carry.

We arrived back at my ex-wife's home.  I was not invited inside, and I got my jacket back from my daughter and dripped my way to my truck.  I drove home in rain blown horizontal by the wind. 

I had a feeling of sadness.  I wanted to be there to review the loot.  To sort out the good candy from the undesirable stuff.

I took a candy bar that my son had given me and ate it.  I hope they had fun tonight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where did all the friends go?

When one's marriage ends, friendships often end also.  People that used to invite me to their homes regularly with my wife and children now don't even answer my e-mails. 

Throughout the process of my divorce, one message was incessantly emphasized.  Every action was done under the guise of doing "what is best for the children".

Presumably what happens in civil actions represents the beliefs of our society.  In other words, our society wants the most important outcome of divorce to be what is best for the children.

This society is made up of the same people who no longer answer my emails or invite me to their homes.  It is also made up of my children.  My children constantly want reminders that there is still a family that consists of a mommy, a daddy, and the children, even though they know that we live in two homes. 

As I have read books about divorce and parenting, the one most important message is to not be negative about the other parent in front of the children, and if possible, be positive about the other parent, no matter how much you resent that person. 

For my children this can be very simple.  Once I slipped after my daughter said that she loved mommy.  I absent-mindedly said "I love mommy too".  This brought her so much joy that I didn't even mind that it wasn't true. 

Another example is my daughter's desire to have "group hugs". in which my ex-wife, me, and my children all hug together as we once did when we were a single family.  Although I have no desire to hug my wife, this is a small price to pay to bring comfort and happiness to children whose worlds have been turned upside down.  I don't believe this is lying to them.  I think it is doing something kind for them.  They still know that my ex-wife and I maintain two separate homes and seldom interact.

It occurred to me that the same society that wants to do what is best for the children could walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.  Divorce is like death or cancer.  When either one occurs, people tend to stay away as if they could catch it. 

My suggestion is that people reach out in these situations where others most need their friendship.  Those barbecues that you used to invite us to?  Why not still invite us and let us decide whether we are comfortable coming?  Certainly our children would delight at the opportunity to be at a barbecue where both parents  are present as well as all the children of the other couples we used to socialize with.

It is rare that there is a villain in a divorce.  Although each party probably has issues with the other, one person may choose to vilify the other partner and be vocal about it.  Seldom is this the whole story.  Let's really do what's best for the children and continue to include them in our lives.  It's easy to write people off, but it takes a caring person to take a chance and do what's more difficult and more right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Divorce

Much is said about doing what is in the best interest of the children.  I used to like the famous line "it takes a village to raise a family" and still believe it is true to an extent.   A village provides the infrastructure that makes raising a family possible.  The schools, the libraries, the cub scouts, and book sales. Friends are important for that emergency pickup when you can't make it to get your child from her karate lesson, but it is the nuclear family that raises the children and it takes two people to do that.

There are many instances where a second person is needed.  As mundane as washing dishes is, it occupies a parent while the kids are unsupervised.  It would be better to have a second parent read to the children or supervise their independent play.  All too often the kids get an electronic parent like the television, ipod, or internet to keep them busy while the single parent is busy.  At the end of the day, a single parent is exhausted and has had no time to do the things a person needs to do to remain happy, and it should be a right to pursue happiness.  When there are two parents, either parent can disappear for some private time, to read a book, take a piano lesson, or mow the lawn.  For a single parent, each of these tasks becomes a juggling feat and the children pay for the juggler. 

I don't understand opposition to gay couples adopting.  Any child would be lucky to have two loving parents, even if they were from another planet.  With a 50% divorce rate I don't think it really matters what sex the parents are, but that they stay together. 

In her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Meg Meeker, MD makes several points about what is good for children.  She makes it clear that there is good evidence that divorce damages children.  Her advice is to stay married if at all possible, that it is better to divorce when the children are 20 than when they are 14.  My inference is that divorce is essentially a selfish act when there are children involved.  Once you have children, you have committed yourself to their lives, their happiness and not your own.  To go chasing something better is not right, unless there is abuse, etc.  Marriage is difficult and there is value in making it through the hard times, even if they last years.

Part of my divorce was a required "course" on divorce, in my opinion after the horse was out of the barn, but required nonetheless.  It repeatedly mentioned that kids are resilient and do fine after a divorce.  I believe this is the wrong message.  I think it should be difficult to get a divorce, and perhaps even difficult to get a marriage.  I think the course should be given early in the marriage, before there are kids, and should discuss the damage that divorce does to children.  Earlier loss of virginity,  out of wedlock pregnancy, learning disorders, emotional disabilities, behavior problems, and shorter lives among others.

Our ideas on what is best for kids change over the years, proof that we never did know and probably never will know, what is important in raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted children. 

In divorce, it used to be that the mother was felt to be the most important influence, and fathers had to fight hard to maintain time with the children.  Usually it was a small number of days and this did not allow the father to feel involved.  Many fathers just tossed in the towel and gave up.

Now it is recognized that a father is also important and the courts tend to make sure the father gets significant time with the children, but there are many other variables involved and the court should not pretend it knows the answers to these parenting issues. 

A lot of emphasis is placed on maintaining things as they were during the marriage, mostly on "living in the style one has become accustomed to", but a divorce changes the marriage and the lives we had become accustomed to.  When a parent decides to leave, there is no reason why they should continue to be supported.  The children deserve to be supported and this should be looked at by the court, but the onus need not be on the same person who played the support role in the marriage, since the marriage is now over.  A better way to look at it would be as two single parents, each of whom has to make a life for their children without the redundant luxury that a marriage provides. 

Just because during the marriage one partner could stay home and enjoy raising children while the other parent worked does not mean this should be the case when a parent has decided to leave.  Both parents should be prepared to give up their own needs in order to provide for the kids, even if that means working at Walmart instead of going to school to further oneself.  Of course arrangements and deals can be made.  "I'll pay for you to go to school since that will provide you a better future".  This way you won't have to spend your life working for minimum wage to provide for the kids."  This is OK but it should be a deal between the parents, not a court mandated distribution of money.  If one parent worked hard to provide money, he/she gave up something precious to do that-time with the children.  That parent should be able to keep what they made and the other parent gets to keep the bonds they were allowed to make with the kids while their partner worked.

If anything, there is an incentive for divorce in many cases, from a financial perspective.  The above would change that and perhaps make people think more seriously before ending their marriage. 

At most, the financial situation should be returned as closely as possible to the pre-marital status.  If the father leaves the marriage wealthy and the mother poor, that is only addressing the money.  I would gladly have handed over half of my money  if I thought I could get half of the time with the kids that I gave up when I slunk out of the house each morning before the sun rose, and before the children were awake.

This deal should be understood when a couple decides to have children.  The mother may be giving up a career to raise the children while the father works, but this is a conscious decision made by an adult, and it has repercussions that the mother must live with.  That's being an adult.  Staying with a marriage that has difficulties (don't they all?) to pursue a happier life should not carry with it the right to live as if one were still married.

Marriage should not be portrayed as a romantic, live happily ever after, fairy tale to our children as long as we live in a country where half of the marriages fail.  Anyone planning to get married should have more work to do than picking out the best font for the invitations.  They should be required to take a marriage course, just as they will be required to take a divorce course.   A more realistic picture of marriage, and a better and earlier preparation for dealing with marital difficulty would help solve our epidemic of failed marriages.  A prenuptial agreement should be mandatory, not just to preserve the wealth of one partner, but to have a plan for a reasonable separation made while the partners are still being reasonable with each other.  After a divorce, the wedding gifts should go to a thrift shop that serves the community.

There are exceptions for abusive relationships, but the solution really should focus on removing the abuser from the abused and trying to help both people.  In these cases people generally come from backgrounds that are abusive and it is the time to stop the cycle.

In a society that worries so much about threats from abroad, I wish we spent more time fixing the problems we create ourselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

egg drop soup

Jesse doesn't like eggs, but he likes egg-drop soup.  Today he woke from his nap grumpy.  He stalked the house with a scowl on his face, head tilted down, eyes looking up menacingly for a four year old.

I suggested that we go fishing, and the scowl faded away.  We went outside to find worms.  Each rotting log was a small adventure with all sorts of odd living creatures under it.  We scampered from log to log until we had collected a dozen or so worms, got our tackle together, and headed off to the river with a candy bar.

Ever the negotiator, he asked for three junior mints on the five minute drive to the river and finally settled for one.  I had three.  We walked to our favorite spot and sat down on a rock in the misting rain, not really fishing, but hanging out.  We ate our candy bar and caught a ridiculously small fish.  Getting restless, we decided to put our rods aside and go exploring in the woods.  Jesse is a master mushroom spotter and we went mushroom hunting, enjoying the different shapes and sizes.  We threw rocks in the river.  After a while we both got hungry and left for home where I got out a can of chicken noodle soup.  Jesse suggested that I drop an egg into it.  I asked him how I should do that and he said to mix it up first, so I gave him a whisk and a bowl with an egg and he whisked it and then poured it into the soup while I mixed.  The picky eater devoured the soup, which also had just the noodles from a packet of ramen.

After lunch the day dragged and Jesse and his sister quarreled.  Jesse's bad mood returned.  I was saved by a phone call from a new friend with a daughter, Emily, aged between Jesse and Amy.  Jesse was jealous, as Emily is a girl from Amy's school, and thus really a friend of Amy's, not Jesse's. 

Somehow, even at their young ages, chemistry took over and the three of them played happily together dressing up, exploring the yard, and finally collapsing in front of a movie.  Emily didn't want to go home so I prepared dinner for the kids.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with honey, and chicken noodle egg-drop soup, a la Jesse, who is always full of surprises.

Car Mechanics

A few years ago I had to get my Subaru inspected for my registration.  I was relatively new in town and wasn't familiar with the various service stations.  I took my three year old car in to a tire dealership that does inspections and was shocked to find that I did not pass inspection.  Apparently there was too much rust on my brake rotors.  Since the car was pretty new and the brakes seemed to work fine I chose not to have the expensive work done.  I had to pay an inspection fee though.

I took the car to another inspection center where it passed with flying colors. 

As I thought about the situation, I began to recognize the unfairness of the position the car-owner is put in.  An unethical inspection center can get lots of extra business by finding problems.  In my opinion, the center that performs the inspection should not be allowed to do the work they deem to be required, as it provides an incentive for them to invent problems.

One could argue that this might put unsafe vehicles back on the road, but the vehicle was driven to the service center in the first place, so it's not as if it hasn't been on the road. 

One could argue that an unsafe car could just be taken from one service center to another until the vehicle passes.  One solution to this could be a three strikes and you're out rule, but more effective would be inspection criteria that are objective.  It should not be a judgment call as to whether a vehicle passes inspection.  The measurements to be made at inspection should be clearly described so that a car gets consistent results from one center to another.

Most owners are not very familiar with their cars.  I was ripped off for an unnecessary three hundred dollar rear brake job on my old K5 Blazer back in the 90's.  There's nothing more convincing than having a mechanic show you a broken piece from your car, telling you that the part needs to be replaced.  The shop that I was taken by was later shut down because they performed unnecessary work.

The rust on my brake rotors that caused me to fail my inspection is apparently a normal finding on a car that sits for a few days, especially if it is humid. 

The best solution of all is to report unsavory mechanics to the Better Business Bureau or the state DMV and to establish a relationship with a good mechanic.  The Mechanics File on Car Talk is a database of over 16,000 mechanics that are recommended by listeners of the Public Radio show Car Talk.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Review of Scientific Anglers Fly Fishing Made Easy Fly Fishing Kit - 4-Piece, 9’ 5/6wt

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . This Scientific Anglers Fly Fishing Made Easy fly fishing kit comes with everything the upstart angler needs for a great day on the water. Includes rod, reel, line, backing, leader and DVD Rod: Performance matched to the fly line Graphite Cork handle Wire snake guides 4...

Considering learning to fly fish?

By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

I don't ski, I don't like winter. I needed something to keep those winter blues away, so I decided to take up fly fishing. This is a good quality outfit at a good price. It's well suited for trout, bass and I feel I could probably handle a fish up to 10 pounds. The reel does have a drag. It comes with backing, weight forward fly line, one 4x leader, rod and reel. The leader uses Sci Anglers connector that doesn't require a knot, but you can use any leader you want. No flies included. It would have been nice to have a few flies. It does come with a DVD that provides a nice introduction to fly fishing, knot tying, etc.
I was choosing between this one and the Wild Water fly fishing kit and chose this one based on price. The Wild Water comes with a case, which is a nice addition and is probably a little higher quality.
Anyway, this winter I can learn to tie flies while everyone else is on the slopes.


My Review of Columbia Sportswear Highland Crest Sweater - Zip Neck (For Men)

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . The Columbia Sportswear Highland Crest sweater has a comfortable, casual style that pairs nicely with jeans or slacks. Microfleece collar lining is luxuriously soft Traditional styling works with jeans or slacks Neck zip: 7” Length: 27” Fabric: 55% ramie, 15% acrylic, 15% nylon...

Comfy sweater

By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

Chest Size: Feels true to size

Length: Feels true to length

Sleeve Length: Feels true to length

Pros: Warm, Comfortable

Best Uses: Casual Wear

Comfy sweater that is nice because it's not all wool and is not itchy. I received compliments starting the day I first wore it. I certainly didn't need another sweater but it's a good deal for a warm, comfy sweater, and sometimes that's enough to ward off the winter blues.


My Review of Boker Hunting Knife - 4¼” Fixed Blade

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . This classic hunting knife from Boker features a genuine stag handle, 440 stainless steel blade and full tang construction. 440 stainless steel drop-point blade Genuine stag handle Full tang construction Pommel eyelet Includes premium leather sheath Blade: 4-¼” Overall ...


By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

Pros: Sharp Blade, Good Weight

Describe Yourself: Casual Adventurer

I like Boker knives. This one is really nice and the sheath is also very nice. Many times you get a crummy sheath with a knife but this one is good. It's a little hard to get out of the sheath at first but it eases up in a short while. The stag handle feels a little like plastic and is on the thin side. Also, I prefer a knife with a finger guard but this one still feels safe. All in all, it's currently my favorite and it feels like a high quality knife at a good price.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fathers are parents too

Today I dropped my children off at day camp.  My son Jesse, who is 4 years old, was clinging to my back as I hung their backpacks and lunch-boxes, and led my children to the main room.  I was about to leave and reached behind me, taking hold of Jesse's shirt, and pulled him around to my front, telling him for the nth time that I don't like him clinging onto my back and that it was time for a hug and a kiss goodbye.  At this point, the camp director stepped in and said "no, no, no" and took over.  She "comforted" Jesse and suggested that I get something of mine to let him hold for the day.

I found myself becoming irritated.  Why?  My initial reaction is that I don't need or want someone to direct my parenting.  She knows my children superficially, but doesn't know much about my relationship with them, my values, how we resolve issues, whether this has been dealt with before, or whether I want him to learn how to get through the day without having to rely on holding a reminder of me.  She probably acted in a way that was based on her experiences with her own children, or, my worst fear, her assumption that as a father I was an incompetent parent.

As I thought more about it, I began to wonder whether she would have done the same thing to a mother.  As a father of young children, it sometimes seems that the assumption is that I struggle through my interactions and various challenges with my children, when in actuality I have read a great deal about parenting and have a style that I am comfortable with and that evolves as the children grow and change.  At the same time, I am not opposed to hearing suggestions on parenting when presented as just that, suggestions, rather than dictations.

Finally, I began to stew because I am not just a father, but a father whose marriage ended in the last year.  I sometimes feel that there is a bias against divorced fathers based on the assumption that they must have been bad husbands or bad fathers to have ended up divorced.  Perhaps there are rumors about what kind of husband/father I was.  This camp director also knows my wife.  In my experience, most of the people who are involved in taking care of my children outside of the family are women.  This includes camp counsellors, teachers at school, and teachers at extra-curricular activities.  My sense is that these women, although not openly hostile, tend to have a bias of sympathy with my children's mother rather than with their father.

In the end, I realize that this woman was trying to do what she believed was the right thing and the helpful thing, but it makes one think of the Golden Rule, which is not "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  A more proper interpretation is "Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them".  This requires communication.  It requires asking "Would you like some help with your son?", "Would you like me to suggest something to do about this?", because my answer might have been "No, I prefer to handle this myself".    It is important to remember that people do things differently and if you are trying to help them, it is wise to inquire  about the situation first, especially if you don't know the person well.

Obviously in cases where there is neglect or abuse we accept that others can step in and act, but even here, the definitions of neglect and abuse are subject to interpretation.  She may have felt that pulling my son off my back by his T shirt was abusive. 

I'm reminded of the recent case of a woman who let her kids go to the mall unsupervised.  She ended up charged with endangering the welfare of her children.  Her children were 7th graders left at a mall in a small, safe city - Bozeman, Montana.  Both children had attended babysitting classes which teach CPR and infant care.  The girls were also with three other children at the mall, aged 8,7,and 3.  My point is that there are many variables involved and many arguments could be made for either side of the endangerment issue.  The question is at what point the criminal system should appropriately become involved.

When divorced, a parent is under more scrutiny than parents in an intact marriage.  It can create a sense of paranoia, leaving one too afraid to speak up and defend one's parenting style, especially after reading about cases such as the above. 

I like this day-camp, and I like the camp director.  My children socialize with other children, learn new skills, and develop their growing sense of independence and accomplishment.  I wish that there was more sensitivity and understanding shown to single fathers, not just at this camp, but in general.  Fathers are parents and one should assume that parents know how to take care of their children and enjoy doing so.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Doctors should lead healthcare reform

Medicine is in a time of change. Hopefully we can create a healthcare system that provides rapid access to quality medicine for all of us. The details will be difficult to work out, but there is no question that physicians should be involved in helping to craft the new plan.

After all, physicians ultimately know what the day-to-day care of patients entails and what issues contribute to making the delivery of quality healthcare efficient. Of course the creation of a plan will also require the input of other groups including politicians, various industries, and patients, but without physicians, there will be no healthcare, and it is important to hear their voices.

So what do physicians think? Who represents their opinions? What do physicians want in the new healthcare plan?

The AMA, founded in 1847, has typically been perceived as the "voice of physicians", yet physician enrollment in the AMA has waned to a current level of 245,000 members representing about eighteen percent of American physicians. I don't think it can be said any longer that what the AMA says is what physicians believe.

Recently, an organization called Sermo, the Latin word for conversation, has become active politically and has engaged in debates with the AMA on national television. Sermo has about 100,000 physicians in its community and it's CEO is Dr. Daniel Palestrant. Membership is for physicians only. Their relationship with the AMA is antagonistic at best.

These societies may be the only exposure the public has to the opinions of large numbers of physicians as a group, and the message sent by these societies greatly impacts how physicians are viewed and whether their message affects policy decision making.

So, how does the public know what physicians think? Upon visiting the website of the AMA, there is a section for physicians as well as one for patients. The section for patients presents resources on healthcare as well as the AMA's vision of healthcare reform.

Although they do not offer membership to non-physicians, Sermo does maintain a blog , accessible from their website and available to the public, which purports to represent the Sermo physician community's perspective on select issues, presumable issues selected by Dr. Palestrant. The blog is heavy reading and focuses mostly on physician discontent with the current healthcare system, rather than presenting to patients a discussion on how fixing these problems would improve healthcare for patients, ultimately what the public wants to know. Unfortunately it sounded like doctors complaining, rather than doctors working for a better healthcare system.

I posted a message on the Sermo message board suggesting that a section be created for patients, on which Sermo could explain the issues facing medicine, doctors, and what doctors think should be done to help our healthcare system. The responses reminded me of something I learned in college psychology. A rat was randomly shocked in order to create a stressful environment. A stuffed animal was placed in the cage and the rat attacked it. On the Sermo message board, I was the stuffed animal.

Although I explained carefully that I thought a physician-only organization was great, Sermo had an obligation to present a face to the public once they had entered the debate on healthcare. The Sermo blog does this in a sense, but is difficult to read. I suggested a simple link from the homepage to a site where the public could read about the realities of medical practice from the people on the front line, not from politicians and insurance companies. The response to my suggestion was unanimously negative.  Doctors have become so stressed that they need a place where they feel safe. The sad thing is that doctors could help make the whole healthcare system a safer place for doctors and patients.

Medicine is an honorable field. I can think of nothing that feels more rewarding than making another person stop hurting, or fixing them when they are broken. Many years of training go into becoming a physician, typically at least eight years following college, and often several additional years. Physicians usually leave their training in enormous debt, and having sacrificed much of their youth to serve fellow humans. It used to be a sure bet that one would be successful as a physician, and physicians were a happy lot.  Most physicians would not want their children to go into medicine. This is troubling. 

In crafting a new healthcare plan we must not neglect the needs of physicians, but it is up to physicians to make their needs known. Both the public and doctors want the same thing and they need to be working together against the enormous political clout of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that fear a loss of profits. Most doctors are in favor of a single payor system that would eliminate for-profit insurers and curb the power of big provider chains, thus allowing more dollars to go to patient care. This is similar to the 67% of the general public who support a single payor system. Doctors want healthcare decisions to be made by doctors, not by insurance companies. The New York Times reported that between 2000 and 2005 the number of Americans with private health insurance fell by 1 percent, while employment at health insurance companies rose 32 percent. The implication is that the insurance companies are working harder to decide who does and does not deserve healthcare. Denial of care is often a decision made by an insurance clerk with high a school education. The result is a burden on doctors to deal with the insurance companies when they could be taking care of patients and the need to see more patients in less time. Doctors views are really pretty much in sync with that of the public. Doctors can't be perceived as an isolated group of fat-cats that don't care about their patients and don't want to interact with patients except to make money. In general, physicians are people who want to help people, and they have chosen this path as a living. It's time for physicians to become the strongest unified voice for healthcare reform and I think the public will support them.In searching the internet for public opinion of physicians I found almost all positive reports. People seem to still trust their doctors. Doctors should stop complaining among themselves and lead the way to a better system.  A good indicator would be when doctors want their children to be doctors again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Medical Technology-confusing even in 1955

Medicine has changed so dramatically since I graduated medical school in the 1980's, that it is hardly recognizable.

Certainly there has been an enormous growth in knowledge which is often beneficial, but has often led us down the wrong path.  For example, when advanced imaging techniques such as "CAT" scans and MRI's became available, we were able to see the inside of large numbers of patients but we didn't know what was really normal.  One thing we found in quite a few people was a small growth on their adrenal gland.  Many of these patients were subject to operations and it ultimately turned out that the growths were harmless.

This is one of the problems with undergoing medical tests.  You have to deal with the results.  Sometimes the results are incorrect, leading to further testing and treatments.  Sometimes the results are correct, different than normal, but still harmless.  An example of this would be the "bulging discs" seen on so many MRI's of the spines of patients with back pain.  It seems logical to assume cause and effect in a patient with back pain and a spine abnormality, yet it turns out that bulging discs are a common finding and usually not associated with pain.

We have certainly improved our treatment in many areas of medicine, but it has come at a price, both in cost and in quality of care.  Too many people can't be seen quickly.  Our attempt to provide care for everyone gas created problems.  We have lower level people doing higher level functions, and they simply can't do them as well.  This ranges from blood drawing to EKG's.  A controversial area is the autonomy given to caregivers that have less formal training than physicians, such as midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners.  The overload of patients has led us to treat by email or video, an idea which is hard to accept when one learned that the basis of quality treatment is a good history and physical exam, neither of which can be done electronically. 

Physicians had it good for a long time, and really didn't take care of the field.  Now there is conflict between physicians and the AMA, and a new voice has arisen at Sermo
Unfortunately Sermo does not have a section for non-physicians, although I think it would be a good idea.

This post was inspired by an item in the Journal of the American Medical Asociation (JAMA) from December 24, 1955 by G.W. Pickering M.D..  It reads as follows:

Machine Age Overtakes Medicine-
As year succeeds year, some new physical or chemical technic and some new and elaborate machine are applied to the study of disease; great claims are always made for the precision of the answers yielded by these technics and machines.  One of the greatest struggles that a practicing doctor has is to keep up-to-date with advances of this kind.  No sooner has he mastered one than another is upon him.  Moreover, the machines or technics are often so complex that he cannot understand them.  He has to take what they tell him on trust...There is a growing tendency for doctors to rely on the information given by such technics and machines in preference to the information which they gain themselves from the history and physical signs.  I am extremely doubtful if this is in the interests of good doctoring, and for three reasons.  First, the errors and limitations of these new technics are not at first appreciated...Second, a thorough clinical examination, which will be carried out only by doctors who appreciate its worth, is the best method of establishing that spirit of mutual understanding and good will which is the core of the doctor-patient relationship.  Finally, to rely on data, the nature of which one does not understand, is the first step in losing intellectual honesty.  The doctor is particularly vulnerable to a loss of this kind, since so much of therapeutics is based on suggestion.  And the loss naturally leaves him and his patient poorer.

I think there was a lot of wisdom and foresight in this 1955 article.  Technology has advanced medicine without doubt, but a good history and physical exam remain the basis of good care.  The explosion of medical technology has introduced many useless and expensive technologies as well as pure snake oil, in addition to the useful technology.  Marketing directly to patients has made it more difficult for physicians to practice good medicine and avoid the use of treatments that look wonderful on television but are not in the patient's interest. 

We have a lot of work to do, but I think that physicians still have the best interests of their patients in mind and are the only ones who can fix what has broken, even if we played a role in breaking it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another customer gone

Consumerism is down and companies are trying harder to get your business.  Well, at least some of them are.

I'm amazed at some of the sales I see.  25% off plus free shipping.  As one would expect, prices fall  when people have less money to spend, but is it all about money?

As companies cut prices, they have to cut costs too.  Have you ever called a company, any company, to become their customer?  Almost immediately you will have a live person on the phone.  Call the same company now that you are already a customer and try to get live support.  You will probably wait on hold through a series of voice menus (listen carefully, because their voice menus have recently changed) and you may end up with a person in a half hour or so.

For many online retailers, it is almost impossible to find a contact phone number.  The price we pay for low prices is the inability to contact the seller if something goes wrong.  Sure enough, I checked on the Epocrates website and they have links for live chat or to email them.  No phone number that I could find.  For an interesting story about Amazon's contact number, see this link.

Companies must do research on how severely service can decline before customers flee, even if prices are low.  Of course if service is poor everywhere, then we shop based on price alone.  I would think that when one buys a household item like a washing machine, low price is the main factor and one will take the risk that service won't be required. 

If you buy something like internet service, or phone service, then you want a company that takes good care of it's customers.  It's worth a little extra money.  I suspect that when the economy turns around, it will be the companies that provide good customer service that do well.

I had an interesting experience recently.  I received an email from Epocrates, a company that provides information on medications and other medical information to portable devices like Palm Pilots and iPhones.  The email informed me that in appreciation of my being a loyal customer (since 2002) I was being given special notice that they will no longer be supporting Palm devices that go with Macintosh computers.  I wonder what they do for their non-loyal customers? 

Now, I don't want to be too hard on them.  There was a special offer for me by which I could receive an ipod touch and Epocrates software for $199.  This is actually a pretty good deal since an ipod touch costs about $180 and the software costs $159.  But the thing that bothers me is that they are abandoning a loyal customer, and the only way I can remain a loyal customer is to shell out $200 for a device I don't need.  They point out that the offer saves me almost $200, but I went to their website to find that the regular price, for non-loyal customers is $309, so I'm really saving $110.  It probably makes sense to you if you took marketing courses.

I wrote back a thoughtful email, explaining how it was disappointing that they would drop support for the Macintosh and expect their loyal customers to spend $200 to get something they already had-a working epocrates system.  I have an ipod and I don't need another one.  I love my Mac and I'm not going to buy a Windows computer.  My suggestion to them was that they treat their loyal customers to a free ipod touch with a paid renewal of their subscription to Epocrates.  That way they would maintain their customers and would be making a genuine good will gesture.  I know I would have been swayed.  I should also mention that I always thought Epocrates was a good product and I used it frequently.

I probably would have been swayed just to receive a real reply from a real person.  Instead I received a canned reply from "Gold Support" at Epocrates thanking me for my suggestion, and letting me know it had been forwarded to the Product Development Team for consideration.  Nobody signed his or her name at the end of the email from Gold Support.

I don't expect to hear from them again, but if I do I will post it here and eat my humble pie, but it seems to me that customer service, like so many things, is just words and not action.  "Gold Support".  "Loyal Customer".  It all means nothing.  Show me the money.

In the meantime, as it turns out, there is now competition for Epocrates.  Medscape Mobile is free.

Monday, September 21, 2009


From my childhood I remember the magic of fireflies.  I associate them with vague memories of warm damp summer nights when I was up past my bedtime.  They would flash like impossible beings that symbolized the magic of childhood.

The kids in the neighborhood would chase them with nets and jars, and sometimes our bare hands, for they were one of the few bugs that we were not afraid to touch.  They were good.  A few holes would be punched into the top of a jar and the poor bugs would become night-lights, shaken until they lit up or until we fell asleep.

There was always someone who would squash one and we would look in amazement at the continuing glow that outlived the fly itself.  This was a cruel act of childhood, like burning your friend's foot with a magnifying glass in the hot sun while he was busy trying to burn ants with his magnifier.

I live in the country now in a place where the nights are so dark that the milky way is brightly visible and the stars burst through the clear night sky vividly.  There are no kids in the neighborhood except for mine.  The woods are alive with sounds that could be crickets or deer, but are always wolves to my children.

One night I was out looking at the sky and I was surprised by the flash of a firefly.  I hadn't seen one for decades.  I felt the same excitement I had as a child, a response that I think is a part of the human genome.  I rushed to find the butterfly nets from where they had last been carelessly thrown, and a jar.

There were only a few fireflies out and I ran from one end of the yard to the other as I saw them appear, and then disappear, the flicker turning into just a dark bug, barely visible, flying higher out of reach into the night.  Finally I caught one and breathlessly placed it into a jar.  I proudly brought it upstairs to my sleeping daughter and woke her to see it. 

I think it was one of those moments for her that was hard to distinguish from reality.  One minute she was sound asleep, dreaming and the next she was looking at a bug that could produce light, a strange concept to accept, perhaps blending with that night's story about something equally fantastic.

In the morning we released the fly together.  The next night I caught two.  I would have liked to have her catch them with me but they were out too late.  It became my nightly ritual, rewarded by the glow of excitement my daughter showed as she cupped the jar and took it into bed with her, the only bug I can think of that she would happily hold next to her. 

It remained a nightly ritual for about a week, at which point the fireflies stopped coming, and the wonder it all faded, as things do once kids accept them. 

Now, a year later she barely remembers them, but for me they were a moment of my childhood relived and shared.  A happy moment. 

Next year maybe she'll be up late enough to catch them with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The New Technology-Rudeness

We live in a world where the ability to communicate is easier than ever.  We have email, cellphones, faxes, texting, twitter, and more.  Along with the ease of communication has come some negative aspects such as spam and scams.  A negative side that is not often addressed is the loss of a personal human touch.  Many of our modes of communication do not involve face to face, or even voice to voice contact.  It wasn't that long ago that the only way to communicate was by mail or by talking to someone.  Of course there was also telegraph and telephone which were introduced in the mid to late 1800's.

The personal touch makes an enormous difference.  Try merging from three lanes to two while sitting there with your blinker on.  Nobody lets you in.  If you manage to make eye contact with another driver and give them a signal that you'd like to get in front of them, you will almost never be denied.  It's very hard to be rude to people that are real, not anonymous, or just a voice or electronic series of letters.

Dial a wrong number and the odds are you will be treated rudely or hung up on.  If someone actually takes the time to speak with you, figure out if you misdialed or have the wrong phone number, it's a day-making experience.

I recently had three experiences that, aside from being rude, were hurtful, and made me more cognizant of the negatives of our new technologies.

While on a recent vacation, I visited a park where my kids were playing with another woman's kids.  It turned out that she was a single mom, and we chatted for about an hour, ultimately agreeing that the next time I visited I would email her to arrange another play-date for our kids.  A few months later I emailed her to let her know that we were coming down and my kids would love to play with hers again.  No reply.  I tried again.  No reply.  I tried one more time (three strikes and you're out) explaining that I was not looking for a date, that I realized she may be involved with someone, but all I wanted was for our kids to play.  No reply. 

Maybe her email had changed, but I didn't get any returned emails.  I suspect that something in her life made her uncomfortable meeting socially with a single man and that rather than explain that to me, she simply ignored me, which was easier for her.  In fact, she can even put my email address on a list so that it won't even appear in her inbox.

I recently re-connected with an old girlfriend.  We shared a few long phone calls and many emails, all within a period of a couple of weeks (while her married boyfriend was out of town).  We even made plans to meet, although we live several hours apart.  Suddenly my emails received no reply.  My phone calls went unanswered.  Did she die?  Is she in a coma in a hospital somewhere?  Or did her boyfriend find out about me and get angry?  The first two are unlikely, the third is more likely.  I would understand it had she taken the time to consider my invested feelings and politely explain that we could not continue our friendship.  Sure, I might have argued for it and this would have made it more difficult for her.  So, the easy way was to ignore my calls and emails, eliminating the need to deal with an unpleasant situation, eliminating the need to admit that she was controlled by her married boyfriend.  I think we all know that the easy way is not often the right way, especially when human feelings are involved.

Once in a while I look through some personal ads.  A few months ago I came across one that sounded so right that I decided to answer it.  Her ad mentioned that she did not want to post her picture on the internet since we live in a small community (although I don't really see what's wrong with admitting that one is looking for a partner.  That's a natural thing to do and online dating is pretty mainstream, but I could understand her reluctance).  She did promise that "your picture gets mine".  Well, I sent her a nice email and enclosed several pictures of myself.  No reply.  I waited a few weeks and sent her an email reminding her that she had promised to send her picture.  No reply.  I'm sure that she decided I was not for her, or perhaps she was inundated with so many responses that she simply could not reply to them all.  Whatever the reason, she had made a promise and she had not kept it.  I had gone out on a limb, introducing myself to a stranger and including my pictures, so that I was no longer a stranger to her.  I consider it rude to not reciprocate when one has promised to.  The irony is that her ad mentioned that she was sensitive and kind, that she hated rude people, etc.  My feelings were hurt.

I'm not suggesting we treat spammers and scammers with courtesy.  Their intentions are bad and I don't include interactions with them as real human interactions.  They are like a bad side effect of an otherwise good medicine.

But we need the human touch and I'm afraid we are learning to do without it.  Without it we become depressed.  We become uncivilized.  We become unkind.  It's like the odd experience of visiting New York City where one is surrounded by people, almost none of whom will look you in the eye or greet you.  It would be nice if we remembered that there are human beings with lives on the other end of our computer/cellphone/fax and the rules of human interaction are still appropriate.  People need people.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fishing in Florida

My true love is the ocean.  Away from it, I feel empty.  I spent many happy years in Florida, most of the time as a boat-owner.  I remember the first boat I bought, a 24 foot Grady-White.  I was tied up at the dock, working in the small cuddy cabin and I began to feel seasick.  I was shocked.  I had just bought a new boat and I was seasick at the dock!  Eventually I learned that it's just not a good idea to be in a closed-in, small cabin, in a rocking boat, even at the dock.  I moved up to a 27 foot Grady-White several years later and enjoyed trips to the Bahamas where the water was clear and the fishing was great.  My pleasure in boating changed from a strong desire to catch fish to a desire to have my friends catch fish.  I seldom grabbed a rod that had a fish on it, preferring to watch others have that fun.  The process of keeping the boat in good shape, rigging baits, reading the water, and enjoying the life of the ocean were all I needed.  I'm nowhere near salt water now, but I have my memories and pictures that help.  This is a story I wrote long ago, actually before I was married, and reminds me of the fun I had fishing with my friends.  I actually still have the gold hook on which this story is based, but I don't wear it.  I also have a silver hook necklace which is less prone to snagging things, and I wear it often.  The worst is when I'm in the shower and my hook gets caught in one of those plastic scrubby things.  Almost impossible to get out!  Here's the story:

I blame the whole thing on my wife because she's the one who told me to exchange the tuna pendant I had bought to wear around my neck.  She reminded me that it is bad luck to wear any fish that you have not caught yet. When I bought a belt with embroidered wahoos on it, it subsequently took six years to catch my first wahoo, and that was only after I had burned the cursed belt in a secret, private ceremony.  So I returned the tuna to get a fish I had actually caught, only they didn't have any grouper pendants.  Eventually,  I left the jewelry store happily sporting a gold fishhook around my neck.
The hook had a tendency to get caught on things like my wife's cashmere sweater one time when I gave her a hug,  but I adapted to it and kept it out of trouble most of the time.
Last summer we were camping in the Florida Keys and decided to spend the morning snorkelling on one of the shallow reefs.  We brought a box of glass minnows to feed the fish.  My wife and I were in the water snorkelling with our friend Deb while Deb's husband Jim stayed on the boat.  We were surrounded by yellowtails and grunts eagerly gulping at the cloud of glass minnows we had dished out.  Suddenly one of the yellowtails ate the hook around my neck and was hooked solidly.  Although I was surprised, I had the presence of mind to note that he looked like a keeper and I started swimming to the boat.  I was about ten feet from the boat when the barracuda hit.  I only saw a blurry silver streak and felt a tug on my neck.  I looked down to see a quivering, blood trailing, yellowtail head dangling from my gold hook.  I gasped, inhaling a mouthful of sea water and swam to the boat as fast as I could while looking over my shoulder for the return of the barracuda and trying to remove the remains of the yellowtail from the gold hook around my neck.
I shot out of the water and climbed up the ladder,  sputtering.  Jim looked at me with the bloody fish head dangling from my neck and I recall that he backed up a few steps with a strange look on his face.  As I gathered composure I explained to him what had happened.  We called Deb and my wife back to the boat and baited one of our spinning rods with the yellowtail head. The cuda took the bait and we were hooked up.  After a nice battle we released the four footer after warning it never to scare a human so badly again.  I traded in the gold fishhook and had a nice barracuda pendant made which I now wear proudly and safely.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A sad story

I find myself awake early, walking around the too-big house, thinking about the mistakes I made the day before and knowing I will likely repeat them again today.  But it is a brief time of piece before the overwhelming anxiety of the day, of life, kicks in.  It's amazing how hard three little things can be.  Brush teeth, eat breakfast, get dressed.  To do that for two kids and get them each to their respective schools on time is harder than it sounds and sometimes leaves me feeling worn out before my day even really begins.

I also try to comb my daughter's hair each morning so she doesn't look scruffy.  It used to be a painful process but I have a new solution!  I bought a special "ion infused" brush and a bottle of infusium 23 leave-in conditions.  To quote Junie B, first grader (a book series by Barbara Park), Wowie Wow Wow!  This may sound obvious to some, but as a baldie, I felt this was a remarkable discovery!

I've always loved writing and wished I had chosen it as a true path, rather than something to do when I feel sad.  Oddly, my recent efforts at writing were inspired by a television show I watched about a once productive writer.  For some reason it made me want to try writing seriously, to get my style back.  Maybe it was the royalty check he received, allowing him to go out and buy a brand new Porsche, but  best of all was that he really didn't want the Porsche.

I would buy mental health, an ability to enjoy what I have now instead of missing it once it's gone.  Of course this can't be purchased.  We fill the voids in our lives with things that can be appreciated now, new ipods, computers, bicycles, and other items that bring us temporary pleasure and eventually go unnoticed.  It's easy to see how one can become a shop-a-holic, as shopping brings an immediate gratification to a life that may not have much deep pleasure.  Deep, long-lasting pleasure is hard to find.  We work hard and are sometimes successful, but happiness may still remain elusive.  I know I've been there and still had a hard time being happy.  The best feelings I've had are when I make someone else feel better.  Making up a nice story for my children, helping a stranger lift something heavy.  I suppose that our political leaders feel that way, as do our judges, doctors, and others whose job it is to help others.  Somehow it becomes badly diluted.  Helping others on a small scale is easy.  Helping others within the societal machine, as a service, fails too often.  Laws that had good intentions become twisted like a bad LSD hallucination.

A man starts a bonfire for his children, a happy occasion and a nice thing to do.  He may not have been the most careful person, or perhaps he was unlucky, but the fire burns his house that night and kills the very same children for whom he built the bonfire.  The same kids who delighted in roasting marshmallows on that fire.  How do you want your marshmallow, brown or burnt? 

An accident, and a horrible one.  I build bonfires.  On my honeymoon, my wife and I almost burnt the house down and we are both smart people.  It was not due to bad intention but to bad judgment and lack of knowledge.  How do you pay for that?  You repair the damage and learn from the experience.  How do you pay when lives are lost?  Nothing brings back the lives.

The man was arrested, had a trial, and was put to death for murder.  Before he was killed, evidence came forth that he truly was a kind, loving and loved father, that the fire was enjoyed, that it was all a terrible accident.  Why was killing him justified?  New evidence was not allowed as due process had been provided.  He's dead.  His children are still dead.  He is a villain despite whatever he really may have been.

Somehow justice has become distorted in our country.  There is a lot of power in the hands of law enforcement.  Jails are clogged, court systems are clogged, judges are rushed.  Even wise judges don't have time to spend on cases that are the most important things to ever happen in someone's life.  Crime is not stopping.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day

Taking a break for the holiday.  Will resume posts on Tuesdayl

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I promised the occasional fiction piece.  Although I seldom write poetry, I did write this one.  I would be curious if anyone has any comments on it, likes or dislikes, and what you think it's about.  I ask because I sometimes write too sparsely so that the meaning is obscure, but in poetry I like that.

acrid tendrils of gasoline smell clear the thickness in my head that I've had so long.
flames keep the coyotes at bay, finally, conspiring in newscaster voices.
I can't tell if this feels good because it's too

Why I blog

I have always enjoyed writing and that's why I decided to start a blog.  I haven't written much since college and I thought this would allow me to sharpen my skills again.  It was very easy to start the blog.  I had expected to have to learn about the complex process of creating a website, but it took me about two minutes using Google's blogspot.  I'm sure there are many other options available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but I am not able to comment on that.

I eagerly began writing again, enjoying the feeling when a good sentence was created.  I hope to write essays about things I know about that I think would interest the public.  My ultimate goal is to refine my writing to the point that I can begin submitting pieces to magazines and perhaps write a novel.

I searched for websites about how to make a blog successful.  Some things were obvious:  write regularly, choose topics that are of interest, but others were less expected.  There is a whole language that was new to me.  There are various rating scales for blogs based upon how many visits they get and how many people click through to links on the blog site.  Once again it boils down to money.  Apparently there's gold in them thar hills and people are after it.  A successful blog can generate money.  How much, I don't know.

Every forum I found about blogging was essentially about how to make money with one's blog.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be like searching how to catch fish only to find websites about how to win fishing tournaments.  I was more interested in taking my kids fishing, if you get the analogy.

Some blog forums allow you to post your blog's website on your forum messages, but only after you've achieved a certain status on the forum.  This usually means that you have posted a certain number of messages on the forum.  The result is numerous mindless posts that are intended simply to increase one's message count, such as "Nice post, bro", or "I totally agree, dude".

One forum had a post with a list of hints at how to make your blog successful.  Since I had been reading a lot about this very subject, I recognized the article as an almost exact duplicate of an article I had read on another site.  A couple of people mentioned this fact but their comments were ignored.  I posted a comment, my first on this website, stating that the article was plagiarism and the person who posted it should be removed from the forum.  As yet I have received no replies.  I did get my first post though.  Only 59 to go before I can put my blog's website on my postings.

Meanwhile I am enjoying writing again.  I have to admit that I periodically search for my blog on google, hoping that one day it will pop up in the results, or that I will receive comments from strangers on my blog's posts.  Even comments from friends would be nice.  I can't say that it wouldn't be nice to make money from my blog either, but that is not what it is all about, at least for me.