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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"America's Best Idea"

While, recuperating, I spend many hours reading and watching the news and commentary, especially on cable T.V., and specifically, relating to the so-called Health Care Debate.

Much of the debate seems to center on the mythical ideological division between Liberals and Conservatives about issues of Big Government versus Free Market Private Enterprise.

The President is having a hard time getting his way because Senate rules and traditions conspire to demand 60 votes (rather that the supposedly democratic majority principle, which would seem to call for no more than 51).

This mundane but annoying historical fact is infuriating to Obama supporters from The Left who took literally the concept that his overwhelming election victory (with coattails of Democrat control of both Houses of Congress) would mean sweeping reforms were possible.
It turns out that Republicans can exert power (mostly the power of veto) by coalescing with a mere handful of Democrats who got elected (or are awaiting election in the next cycle) by constituencies that are far more skeptical of Obama’s call for Change.

These Blue Dog Democrats are carry overs from the Clinton era - barely distinguishable from Republicans on central policy issues, especially when labeled Big Government. Clinton’s declaration in 1994 that "the era of BG was over" is still their mantra.

So I listen all day to this debate about Big Government and whether any national health care system, and especially one with a public option is Socialism or whether the health care companies will be priced out of business by the unfair competition that the government option entails. Ironically, from the other side of their mouths, the same people who argue that government will outcompete private companies also argue that government is too incompetent to be trusted with health care - ignoring the example of Medicare, which works and which they also opposed.

Then the other night I watched a Ken Burns documentary about our National Park System, subtitled: "America’s Best Idea".

It tells the story of how millions of acres of wilderness were preserved from development. Contrary to all logic and history, at the end of the 19th Century, after two hundred years of brutal exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals, the rape of forests, rivers, natural resources of all kinds, and the genocide of the Native Americans who had resided on the land, suddenly it was decided to set aside these certain lands, to keep them free from development, and to protect their pristine existence at any cost.

The people who decided to do this were those who had gorged themselves on the frontier, become wealthy and fat and bloated during the feast. They were of the era of "Manifest Destiny", "rugged individualism", free market Capitalism at its most free. They were the believers in these principles as philosophy, politics, religious theory.

Yet they were persuaded to wipe the blood from their mouths and let some part of their prey live.

The Icon of the era was the young Theodore Roosevelt. A self-made epitome of the "rugged individualist" and proud hunter and killer of all things wild, he was also an intellectual, lover of the West and all its mythologies, and a collector. More importantly, his wealth was Old, not dependent on ravaging the wilderness or pillaging the vanishing frontier. He had the sense of "Noblesse Oblige" that has marked several of the American families that have established themselves as practitioners of a form of philanthropy that considers the "public good."

As president, of course, TR gave his class a good thrashing, busting trusts, pushing through Progressive Era reforms, and insuring permanence to the national parks system. He was the most "Active" of Government activists; he bullied the monied interests of Capital by steamrolling them with Big Stick Government. He was justifiably called "socialist" by his snarling enemies, the J.P. Morgans, who were appalled by his use of their government to whip them.

Sure, the national parks equate to socialism - the government withholding land from private exploitation in order to satisfy the needs of The People and their descendants.

I guess a health care system can’t be defined the same way.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Painful Injection

One of the most annoying things about being in a hospital was the constant jabbing of my veins. First thing they do after putting you in one of those silly backless gowns in set up an Intravenous line to provide saline and for convenience when they have to inject drugs or whatever else they can think of into your veins.

Then they come around to stick you in other veins in order to draw blood for testing. This is done at the apex of inconvenience: when you have finally dozed off, or when you have managed the pain of the everpresent I/V needle.

And then it so happens that I have an apparently genetic problem that the nurses call "Rolling Veins". My mother and sister shared this trait. The vein walls are particularly firm, and when the needle tries to enter, the vein rolls away and resists puncturing. This is very painful as the nurse jabs, prods, pokes. Blood clots under the skin form and throb.

So it is with this vivid memory that I read today of the attempted lethal injection execution of a murderer in Ohio. For almost two and a half hours, the workers (I won't call them doctors or nurses) tried to find a vein that would accept the cocktail of drugs that were intended to kill this guy.

Finally Ohio's governor called Time Out and rescheduled the execution for a week later. Cries of "double jeopardy" and "cruel and unusual punishment" are likely to fail, although the status of lethal injection as a "humane" form of execution is likely to suffer some humiliation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How I spent my Summer vacation

It's been a month since my last post. Nothing much has happened. You might say I've been on a Summer holiday.

So anyway, I had a little bit of cancer. They tell me it is gone now and not to worry, it will probably not come back - at least not in the place it showed its ugly face, because that place doesn't exist anymore in my body. They threw that out and everything else that surrounded it, leaving that portion of my guts with some vacancies that they filled up with some other spare parts that they moved in.

That's as near as I can come to explaining it. Something of a medical marvel, it seems, I was chosen to be part of an academic program to prove the efficacy of this particular procedure: a robotic laparascopic radical cystectomy. Luckily for me, the doctors at USC all seem to have been paying attention in class when this subject was discussed. From top (Dr. Gill and Dr. Skinner) to the residents (Dr. Patil and Dr. Chin) and the nursing staff at USC Hospital and the Norris Center, were spectacularly on top of their game.

So, now I am in recovery mode. How long? Well, a nurse said a rule of thumb was one month for each hour of surgery in order to be at full strength. I am told I was on the table for 9 and a half hours.

There are things I have to learn to do all over again. Things that I have been taking for granted have to become concentrated tasks. But that's okay. It's only a nuisance, sometimes embarrassing. Dignity is one of the first victims, and to tell the truth, I never felt very dignified anyway.