Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

The ancient Christians had a fear of sudden death. It is even immortalized in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


“From battle and murder, and from sudden death. Dear Lord protect us.”


Most death today is not sudden. People who would have stroked on out or died  of cardiac infarction a few years ago are often revived these days, some even come back to live normal lives. Most people today slip into death, like you would a hot bath, a little at a time until you are immersed. We often die today in stops and starts, bits and pieces. Death and its opposite, life are prolonged, often without real purpose. Sudden death in today’s culture often seems to be the preferable way of passing.


My dad is dying. He has all the signs. He has stopped eating and for the most part stopped talking. He lies in a hospital bed all day. His progressive dementia which has been with us for a decade suddenly hastened in the last few months making us unable to have a real conversation with him, other than to check his needs regarding such things as hunger and cold. My brother went to see him today and found him in a talkative mood. He looked at my brother and asked “How’s Farnsworth ?” Farnsworth had been a friend of my youth. My brother did not supply the accurate answer which would have been “Farnsworth is in jail for killing his wife a year or so ago.” Instead, my brother reported him “fine” and went on to have a conversation about a neighbor of ours whom my father said that he had recently seen at the man’s nursery. This fellow has been dead for the better part of 20 years (and was a pretty big crank when he was alive).


My father has been in a hospital, a rehabilitation unit, a nursing home and a home setting nursing home over the last few weeks. Now he is back in the hospital. He will soon go back to the home setting until he is judged ready for hospice care. This medical musical chairs is the current American way of death. We march around the chairs in a group and a chair is pulled away each time the music stops. In the end though the outcome is always the same, the final chair is pulled out from under us. For all our prolonging and perhaps even procrastinating over death, the final result is the same today as it was for the medieval monk who so feared sudden death. You cease living. In the immortal words of John Cleese in Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch, “he’s passed on, he is no more, he has ceased to be, he’s expired and gone to meet his maker, he’s a stiff, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he’s pushing up daisies, his metabolic processes are now history, he’s off the twig, he’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot. “  No matter how thin  you slice it, you are still just as dead. Nailing a  Parrot to its perch is not going to fool anybody, even John Cleese, for very long. The music is still going to stop.


I’m going to miss my dad when he’s gone, just as I have missed every piece of him, that was taken away over the last years. You’d think that by dying gradually, we could get used to it, like the hot water in the tub, as we slide in a bit at a time. I don’t know. Maybe the medieval monk was wrong. Maybe it should be:


“From battle and murder and from gradual death, Dear Lord protect us.

From emergency rooms and rehab centers and nursing homes, Dear Lord, protect us.

From the unnecessary usurpation of thy divine plan for our lives, Dear Lord protect us.

From thy gift of longevity of life without the commensurate gift of quality for that life, gracious Lord, set us free.”



Monday, July 14, 2008

U.S. Government agrees to back everything

Reacting to the shot in the arm given the U.S New York Stock Exchange by the government’s pledge to save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, President Bush and Secretary of the Treasury Paulson announced today that they would be submitting legislation to Congress “immediately, and certainly before the Dow opens tomorrow” that would require the Federal Government to guarantee the economic viability of every company in the United States. “Fundamentally” the President said, “every business in the country is in great shape, this was just done to shore up confidence that the government stands behind its businesses and to prop up the stock exchange prior to November’s election.” Secretary Paulson called the move a “no brainer”. “Look” whined the Secretary, “How can we prop up an investment bank like Bear Sterns and not agree to guarantee Frank & Angies Pizza Parlor ? Legally one business is as important as the other. Luigi  “Frank “Salvatore, proprietor of Frank & Angies said that while his business is profitable, “it will help  me sleep better at night knowing that no matter how bad our food is, or how bad we screw up, Frank & Angies will still be here to serve the public.”


The move proved to be truly bipartisan until Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi indicated that she would be introducing an amendment to the bill requiring the United States to guarantee the solvency  all businesses in Canada and Mexico. “What is the sense in having something like NAFTA if we can  be positive that only our businesses will always be solvent ? We can’t foist that risk on American companies.” Several Republicans  have objected to the amendment and President Bush has said he will veto any legislation which in his words, “make it more likely that undocumented aliens can sneak into our country.”


Wall Street seemed a bit cautious regarding the move. One analyst said that “Guaranteeing everything at once like this is a risky move, up until now the government has dribbled out the guarantees a little bit at a time whenever the market needed stimulus. Where do we turn to if the market starts to fall again and there are no businesses to guarantee ?” Sources at the Treasury Department stated on condition of anonymity that contingency plans for guarantying the solvency of every citizen in the United States are even now being drawn up, should the markets need another boost>

Friday, July 11, 2008

What if we just ignored it ?

The stock market opened down 154 points this morning, much like yesterday. Signs are that the slump will continue. You know what ? there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t effect the market, the price of oil or the value of the dollar anymore than I can reverse the law of gravity, which, like the market says that what goes up, must come down. Sometime last year I came to the same view about International affairs and decided that I would never read about them again. That lasted less than a week.


The deal is that we humans are worriers. In fact, sometimes I think that’s all we are is just one big bundle of worries. None of us “consider the lilies” nearly as much as we consider the rate of inflation., the price of hamburger or the national deficit. As I stated above, unlike lilies, which we can not only consider, but grow, there is nothing we can directly affect about climate change,msra or drug wars in Mexico. Oh, we can get involved with political solutions, but that takes collective action, it is not something that we can do by ourselves. If we are brilliant biologists we can possibly invent a vaccine, and I have often thought that medical research is probably the highest calling of the human being. Unfortunately, a good deal of  that research is controlled by drug companies who put the profit motive ahead of individual suffering.


So, in the midst of the suffering, is it ethical to simply bow out of the worry and, like a monk, take up the contemplative life, perhaps, like the Buddha, choosing to think that this life is all an illusion anyway ? Probably not, worry breeds empathy, and active empathy is the path each human being should be searching for. The Buddha may have thought that all was an illusion, but he still felt an obligation to relieve suffering. That’s the issue though, we all too often focus on our own fears and apprehensions and not on those who truly suffer. In 100 years, no one is going to be impressed if my house loses 80% of its value in this downturn. They will probably wonder why I did not do something useful with that money when I had the chance. Well, maybe 100 years is asking a lot of the human race, but probably in 1000 years they will.



Man is born to trouble as sparks fly up. Thus it has been, thus I fear it will always be. I think that the trick is learning to deal with the trouble you can actually deal with, and then actually dealing with that trouble. The more you deal with trouble, the less you worry about it. Dealing with it can help others, but also help your own peace of mind. At least that’s my theory. I have not put it into practice yet in my first 55 years. Wonder how the Astros did last night ?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Two years and counting

“My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you.”  James Cagney as George M. Cohan.



Today is the two year anniversary of that venerable institution the “Mills of the Gods”. Happy Anniversary to me. Like me, the blog was born one day too early. If my mother could have held out for 48 more minutes I would have been born on New Year’s eve and my birthday every year would be one huge party. Like George M. Cohan, “Mills” was born on the third of July, unlike Cohan, I don’t lie about the birth date.


Cohan told everyone that he was both of the 4rth of July, an auspicious date in America ,and he always celebrated his birthday that day. There was a lot of self promotion in Cohan’s birthday fantasy. He had written the famous patriotic song “ Yankee Doodle Dandy” in which the singer claims to have been born on the 4rth. I used to always watch the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on July 4, it was part of my tradition. I still watch a few scenes when I come across it on television. I especially enjoy the ending where Cagney dances down the White House steps and then gets in line with the soldiers marching off to WW II singing his hit “Over There”. That’s a great song. It was written back in the days when we as a nation used to be invited “over there”, now we come over, invited or not. Mostly not, and over stay our welcome, if any.


It has been an enjoyable but burdensome task  writing this blog for the past two years, knowing in my heart of hearts that I was acting  as the moral barometer, in some way the conscience, of our nation. But then again, someone has got to do it, and I could not think of anyone’s opinions I more admired or trusted than my own. And while I am disappointed that my readership has never reached double digits, I am smugly satisfied that prophets (unlike profits) are often without honor in their own cyberspace. Not that I am comparing myself to Jesus, but if the shoe fits, you are at the very least Cinderella. I take an 11 ½ which is somewhat larger than Jesus would have taken, although in his day one sandal size tended to “fit all”. So Jesus I’m not, but I can still pick up the mantle of John the Baptist, the lonely voice crying in the wilderness, which  is all I really aspire to, although I would just as soon forgo the beheading. Well, now that I think about it I’m not real keen on wearing animal skins and eating locusts and sleeping out every night either. But I do like the part where you get to criticize everyone else.


So to all my readers, you know who you are, and more importantly I know who you are, each and every one of you. Thank you for your patronage. I promise you that you have gotten exactly what you paid for. Without you I would be writing this blog only to myself everyday instead of the five days out of seven that I write it only to myself. You make a difference in my life, and if you are silly enough to take any of the advice I offer in these renderings, I am going to make a difference in yours, and not a positive one at that. So have a happy holiday everyone and come back for the start of my third season next week. My mother thanks you my father thanks you , my brother thanks you, and I assure you Mr. President, I thank you.