Category Archives: Current Events

Decisions, decisions

My heart is breaking over the situation at Penn State, which seems to get worse by the minute. As a native Pennsylvanian and lifelong Penn State fan in a family of Penn State fans, I cannot believe the horror of it all.

Joe Paterno made a really bad decision. Or more likely, a series of really bad decisions. And he deserved to be fired over it, and I’m glad the Board did what it did.

But I feel very sorry for him. And I think it’s okay to feel both those things at once.

Think about a time in your life when you made a bad decision. (You’ve made them. We all have. It’s part of the human condition.) Did you say to yourself, “Wow. This seems like a really bad decision. I’m going to do it anyway”? Probably not. If you’re like me, you made that decision thinking that, based on everything you knew at the time, it was the best decision to make. My bad decisions are always clearly bad in the rearview mirror. And so are yours. But in the moment, they seemed like the right thing to do.

Fortunately, most of us are not in situations where our bad decisions will harm a lot of people. Usually it’s just ourselves and those we love who are lucky enough to deal with the fallout of our bad decisions.

I don’t know the circumstances around Joe Paterno’s decision not to go to the police. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe his good friend Jerry Sandusky tearfully begged him not to go to the police…and swore that he would never do it again. Maybe he was afraid that the whole Penn State football empire would crumble. (Which it now has.) I don’t know, and you don’t know, and we’ll probably never understand it. But I believe that he made the decision believing that it was the best decision to make at the time.

He’s 84 years old. He has spent 46 years building something that has now been ruined overnight. He will never recover – he simply doesn’t have enough time left.

So maybe just a little compassion is in order?

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The blame game

I’ve noticed a common theme running through my life this week, woven through the books I’ve been reading and real-life events.  The theme of trying to assign blame for tragic events…a school bus accident (fiction), a teenager’s death from cancer (fiction), a shooting in Arizona (real life.) As humans, we have a need for someone to be at fault for things that happen. Because something inside us believes that if we know who’s at fault, we can figure out why it happened, and then we can figure out what we need to do to keep it from happening again. And then when we figure that all out, then no one we love – or anyone, for that matter (well, the good people anyway) – will have anything bad happen to them anymore.

But the fact is that not everything we want to know is knowable, and not everything we want to prevent is preventable.

There is risk that comes with living. Each morning when we walk out the door, we take a risk that we could be in the wrong place at the right time (or is it vice versa? I can never figure that out.)

I’ve heard the following causes this week for the shooting in Tucson: lax gun laws, lax state reporting of gun ownership, political rhetoric (aka vitriolic speech), parents who didn’t do enough, community college faculty and staff who didn’t do enough, state police who didn’t do enough. And it’s likely that all of those things were contributing factors to the events of last Saturday.

But there is no one cause. No one to blame. It’s complicated. And random. People suffer from mental illness and don’t get help, because they can’t afford it, are ashamed of it, or don’t recognize it in themselves. Parents do the best they can. The police do the best they can. Reporting agencies do the best they can. We all do the best we can.

Each of us makes choices every day. Hundreds or thousands of choices. As adults, we have the God-given right to make our own choices. We can drink, smoke, take drugs (or not take drugs), drive under the influence, drive over the speed limit, keep our vehicles in good working order or not. We can walk outside the crosswalk, wait longer than we should to investigate that cough/lump/headache, and put off until tomorrow the difficult conversations we should have today.

And we all have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. Other people have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. The part we don’t like is that we have to live with the consequences of the choices that other people make.  But that’s the way it works. You can’t have one without the other.

And the part that we really don’t like is that we can do everything exactly right and bad things will still happen.

It’s just the way it is.

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Drug-induced ranting

I just successfully purchased a box of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, after being finger-printed and DNA-sampled.  Well, not quite. But close.

I guess I hadn’t bought anything containing pseudoephedrine in a long time. (I’m one of those people who prefers to groan about my symptoms to anyone within earshot, rather than actually taking something that would alleviate them.)  But having worked as a consultant for a major drug chain for several years, I was tangentially involved in the whole “move the pseudoephedrine behind the counter because teenagers are using it to make meth” initiative. But I guess I assumed that you just had to show your driver’s license to prove to the teenager behind the counter that you were 18 (as if anyone REALLY has to look at my driver’s license to be convinced that I’m 18, but whatever) and then you paid your money and left.

But no, I not only had to show my driver’s license, but the pharmacy assistant had to scan the back of it, then key in a bunch of info from the front of my driver’s license. Then I had to sign a statement that I didn’t really read, but was about some fine or something, which assume was the penalty for re-selling the pseudoephedrine-containing product to a teenager.  Which I’m not going to do, whether or not I sign the statement.

Really? Aren’t we going a little bit overboard? I can buy into having it behind the counter and making me show my driver’s license to prove that I’m 18. But scanning my license? Making me sign a statement, as if I don’t know that if I have to be 18 to buy the product I shouldn’t turn around and re-sell it to someone else?

But the bigger question is….is all this bureaucratic nonsense making any difference? Or is it just a huge pain in the ass to retailers and the average consumer. The last I checked, people who wanted to make meth (which just to be clear, doesn’t include me; Emma has a bad cold) were still figuring out how to get the raw materials.

Can’t we focus on more important things, like going around making Hispanic-looking people prove that they belong here? Oh wait, never mind.

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The latest list of lame excuses for not blogging

Yes, I’ve been in a blogging lull.  Part writer’s block, part other things, including:

1. Spending all my time wishing that February was over. (And look, all the wishing worked, because now it’s March.)

2. Playing Olympics bingo. (My bingo scorecard included the words “dream, mom, courage, pain, slush, grit, crash, and sore loser”…the last referring to the Russians, of course.)

3. It seems that every day there’s a new earthquake to read about.

4. So many new TV programs to watch at 9:00 on NBC, now that Jay is gone. (Jay is gone, right? Oh, he’s just on later? Did I miss a news story or something?)

5. Staring at Twitter, hoping that @ConanObrian will tweet something.

6. Preparing my job application for lieutenant governor of Illinois.

7. Trying to watch all of the Oscar-nominated movies. (Current count of Oscar-nominated movies that I’ve seen = 1. Unless “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” got nominated for something and I missed it.)

8. Figuring out what I’m going to wear on Oscar night. (I’m currently thinking sweatpants and a sweatshirt, pretty much like every other night.)

9. Kindergarten homework is kicking my butt.

10.  Need more balance in my life…between Facebook and blogging.

10.

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We are the world

Today I’m going to write about something that really has no consequence whatsoever (other than from a fundraising perspective, of course.)

The remake of the We Are The World video.

Yes, it’s really cheeseball. But I got all choked up when I watched it anyway.

And then I went back and watched the original. (Thank you, YouTube.) And I liked the original so much better.  (Again, I know it’s cheeseball. I know, I know, I know. I don’t care.)

Now, there are probably several reasons why I like the original better. For one thing, I know who all the performers are.  In the new version, the only people I know are Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Tony Bennett and Barbra. (Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel old.)   Everyone else is an “I think”: I think that’s Pink. I think that’s Miley Cyrus. I think that’s Wyclef Jean (who sounds like Kermit the Frog. I’m sorry, but he does.)  Second, it takes me back to a time when the world seemed much less complicated. 25 years ago, I was a senior at Juniata.  (How can that be?)

But I think the main reason I liked the first one was that everyone seemed like they were having so much fun.  Even though they were singing about a terrible situation, they were joyous and hopeful. In the new version, everyone looks like they’d rather be having a root canal. The situation in Haiti is tragic, people, so let’s be serious.

So, for those who haven’t seen it, here’s the new version:

And here’s the original. (For some reason, it ends at 6:19. Don’t know why.)

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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Uh oh, she’s talking politics

I rarely write about politics, and I probably shouldn’t be writing about it now. All of you people thinking, “Who cares what you think about politics?” have my permission to stop reading right now.  Because I’m quite sure that I don’t know all of the complexities of this issue. And I also have to admit that I don’t have any answers for this particular issue, only questions.

I’m glad that Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, because it likely means putting the brakes on health care reform as it’s currently defined by the House and Senate bills. Because I don’t believe that they get at the root of the health care problems in this country. I often hear people say (about this issue and others), “Well, it’s better than doing nothing.” And I certainly understand that feeling, and in many cases, doing something is better than nothing. But doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing.  There. I said it. Throw tomatoes at me if you want.

Yes, I think it’s wrong that children don’t have decent health care in this country. And yes, I think we have a responsibility to take care of sick people who can’t afford to pay for health care.  And yes, I think it sucks that someone with a chronically ill child can’t get health insurance when they get a new job after their old job was eliminated (or “made redundant” as they say in my former world.)

But I think we have not yet grappled with some fundamental questions around this issue. Like, what is Basic Level of Health Care (as in, the thing we all believe everyone is entitled to)? Routine wellness care? Antibiotics when you’re sick? A cast for a broken bone? Hard to argue with those. The best cancer treatment money can buy? Even if that’s the right thing to do, how could we ever afford to give it to everyone for free? I’ve heard people say that these are just details that have to be worked out. But I believe they are fundamental questions that have to be answered before we can get anywhere.

It seems to me that one of the problems with health care in this country is that if you have insurance, you pay next to nothing for health care, and if you don’t have insurance, you pay an exorbitant amount (and the people who don’t have insurance are generally the people who can least afford to pay an exorbitant amount.) Here’s a personal illustration. When Margaret was 7 months old, she was hospitalized for 2 weeks with a respiratory infection. After about a week, they started running tests to see if anything else was going on. Now, we all knew that she didn’t have the diseases she was being tested for (cystic fibrosis being one of them.) But hey, if the doctor thinks we should do the test, then let’s do it. Particularly because it didn’t cost us anything, because we had already reached our out-of-pocket maximum.  The total bill for Margaret’s hospital stay was over $40,000 (which is nothing compared to what it would have been if she had required surgery or intensive care, or both. But it’s still a lot of money.) And of that, we paid about $600, figuring in what we saved in taxes by paying for it with Flexible Spending money. We probably would have paid the same amount if she had been there for 2 days or 2 weeks. Had zero tests or a hundred.

Now I’m not saying that I wanted to pay more money. But I’m saying that I believe in economics, and economics tells us that people act according to incentives – we do what’s in our best interest. And this “all or nothing” system creates incentives for people with insurance to use as much health care as is available, because once we hit the out-of-pocket maximum, it’s free.  Add to that the incentive that doctors have to run unnecessary tests because there’s no limit on what a jury can award in malpractice cases, and you have a lot of incentives to use more health care. And I don’t see any evidence that the bills in the House and Senate address that.  In fact, they don’t appear to address the cost side of the equation at all.

I know I’m biased.  When it comes to health care, I’m one of the “haves” (actually, when it comes to just about anything in life, I’m one of the “haves”.) I have great insurance. When I tell the doctor the name of my insurance company, the relief is evident on his face. And I’m also biased toward free markets and capitalism and all that stuff. I know that I would likely feel differently if I was one of the millions of uninsured in this country.

But it seems to me that there are things we haven’t tried yet that are worth trying before we take this leap into government-run insurance companies. Like allowing insurers to compete nationally, to increase competition. Malpractice tort reform. (Don’t get me started on how everyone else is allowed to make mistakes but doctors are required to be perfect.)  Creating a relationship between the care you get and the care you pay for. Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But the House and Senate don’t either. Slow down.  Bad solutions to big problems lead to bigger problems.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

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160-pound weakling

Feeling powerless is not an unusual occurrence for me.  I come across many situations each day that, try as I might, I am powerless to change. And yet, my feeling of powerlessness was taken to a new level this week with the earthquake in Haiti.  Like many people, I was regretting that decision not to go to medical school or at the very least paramedic school  so that I could do something to help.  (I don’t think that paramedic school requires that you be able to pass college physics, so that might have been the better option for me.)  I don’t think that there’s much of a need for marketing experience in Haiti, at least for right now.  Like many people (about a million, according to the last estimate I heard), I texted 90999 from my cell phone to donate $10 to the Red Cross, and went on-line to donate more to Episcopal Relief and Development. And I prayed. And I watched Anderson Cooper.  But that didn’t seem like very much.

And I was struck by the stories of others who felt the same way. I listened to the story of an Episcopal Youth Volunteer from our diocese, who had been missing for 24 hours after the quake, until she was finally able to call her mother.  She was flown home  to the U.S. later in the week, and she spoke of the guilt she felt over leaving, when there were so many who needed help, and who, as Haitian citizens, were not able to leave.  But in the end, she realized that by staying, she would be another mouth to feed in a place where there were too many other mouths to feed, and that it would be better to come home for now, and go back again when her skills could be put to use.

Powerlessness.

I was the substitute pianist in a small Presbyterian church this morning. As it happened, the New Testament reading was from 1 Corinthians. That passage about how we each have unique gifts.  Some of us speak in tongues, some of us have the gift of prophecy, some of us the gift of healing.  I don’t happen to have any of the gifts that were actually listed in the passage – interpreting tongues is not my thing. But I guess the point is to figure out what our gifts are, and to use them to the best of our ability, rather than agonizing over the gifts we don’t have.  So today I shared with a small congregation my ability to play hymns on the piano, and with my own congregation my ability to cantor the Psalm, and with my kids  my gift for patience. (That last one was a joke, to see if you were paying attention.) And tomorrow I’ll go to work and share my gifts to do what I do there.

For now, that’s what I can do. Maybe tomorrow, there will be another way to share my gifts to help the situation in Haiti. If I look, there will certainly be opportunities to share my gifts with people here in Oak Park.

Ok….maybe not completely powerless.

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