Tuesday, September 29, 2009

At the ER

You've probably heard about people who like to make economic predictions based on tiny things that they (economists? futurists? predictor dudes?) think tip us off to what's coming next. I just read that colorful (pink was singled out) necktie sales is just such an indicator. It got me thinking. The last family wedding (last year in June) featured a pink tie on the groom which I thought was a big success. Of course, this was before the gigantic Wall Street collapse and before we even knew we were entering a recession. So, that particular piece of haberdashery was not an accurate economic predictor. On the other hand, I'm told he still wears it to church sometimes, so perhaps at this point next year we'll be singing "Happy Days are Here Again". Perhaps not.

We went to a little church activity on Friday that ran out of daylight before we could do much of what we were supposed to be doing - playing softball. Not long after returning home, Mona gave me the unavoidable news - she was having to pass a kidney stone, a problem she had avoided for two years.
About an hour later, we went to the local emergency room hoping, really, just to get the drugs that would make the whole thing less painful.
Arriving at the room didn't offer much comfort. The waiting area was about the size required of three couples to dance safely, with maybe three quarters of the seats occupied, though you couldn't know everyone's story just from looking: Two small children considerably less active than normal; a couple wearing face masks (but for whose protection?); an older woman who just looked hungry and other folks not moaning in pain, but not hiding it very well, either. Mona's condition had gotten a promise of quick service, because she couldn't sit without discomfort.
Maybe a half hour later, we were brought into one of the semi-private exam areas. A doctor arrived whose questions came at precisely the moment poor Mona was throwing up. She finally got her first drug hit before being wheeled off for x-rays. I, meanwhile, tried to look useful and hide my frustration at having no duties whatever.
We left just after midnight with all the drugs we'd need in hand, feeling more fortunate than the young fellow on the other side of the curtain who had just found out he probably had a burst appendix and might have to stay for a week. Of the two of us, Mona is far more prepared financially for sickness, but then I'm generally more healthy. Her bill will be split between her medical savings account and her group coverage.
She's OK now, which I know because she's back to talking about next week's desert trip, though the meds left her a little woozy through the weekend and she even took a two hour nap yesterday. By evening she was back to driving, with me as passenger. I guess now we can start stashing moisturizers and Chap Stick for the trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good Decision, Sir

About a year ago in this space I made what I thought was one of those self-evident statements. "Presidents are elected to make good decisions." And not long ago, I demurred from judging any of President Obama's decisions based on the theory that we can't know if a decision is good or bad immediately, and maybe not for a long time after.
But I feel that at least one decision in the news last week will pay off for our country in the long run - the decision to cut down and simplify the anti-missile system promised by Bush 43 to The Czech Republic and Poland.
Of course, that's not the way it was announced. The President kept the initial declared reason to install such a system - stopping missile strikes from Iran. It's still a threat, he said in so many words, and so a better, sea-based system would be employed to keep the Czechs and Poles safe.
But of course that wasn't the real reason behind the original system, which was (now don't say this too loudly) stopping a RUSSIAN attack, nor the real REAL reason - financial reward for military contractors who aided the GOP cause and could NOW stand to add billions to their collective bottom lines. Let's complicate this even more. No nation on earth now has such a system, because they have not been shown to work. Ever. And since there is nothing mechanical in the way of Russia launching such an attack even TODAY, it means this: We generously offered a non-working system to solve a non-existent problem to two countries which didn't really want it anyway. And even if such a system worked perfectly, all an aggressor would have to do to overwhelm it would be to simply send more missiles than the defense had missiles to use to STOP the aggressor. That, I admit, is a complicated paragraph. You are free to read it again, or else my college freshman English is finally paying off.
Here's how the decision works for us. We recognize that Iran has neither weapons NOR missiles, and the world sees us notice and approves because it means we have taken a tiny step back from insanity. The Russians feel much less confronted, which is a good thing. The rest of the NATO nations can't now complain that they want an anti-missile system tooooo. And even we can now see plainly that it's impossible to stop EVERY contingency out there, no matter how many gazillions you are willing to spend. Sick or future sick Americans can also rejoice because the pie-in-the-sky promised by Bush to two long-suffering but middling nations won't be used as an excuse to leave people to die without treatment.
For what it's worth, Brent Scowcroft, Bush 41's adviser in such matters and no Democrat, feels the same way about this decision. Good decision, Sir.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What, ME Apologize?

Relationships between people can be complicated, and the sometime issue of Who Owes Who an apology can likewise go back a long time.
But, that being said, the question of public apologies by public people can be even MORE complex, as a couple of incidents from the last week or so demonstrate.
Let's first take the case of Serena Williams, a formidable person who I would NOT want to have angry with me. Taking exception to a foot fault call late in her semifinal match at the US Open Tennis Tournament last week, she threatened the linesperson who had made the call, using some pretty graphic terms, which lead to her disqualification from the match.
The apologizing started pretty quickly, but Serena has little leverage, mainly because she has no particular supporters other than tennis fans, who certainly know that threatening the linesperson is absolutely a no-no. Sure, she has friends among prominent African-Americans, but they have little or no pull with the tennis bigshots, who are almost all white. The latter, in fact, feel they bent over backwards by letting the Williams sisters play the Doubles Final after the incident, which was won by Serena and her more low-key sister, Venus.
I see her future in these terms. Serena is too big a draw for the WTC (Womens Tennis Council) to simply expel, nor is it too likely that she will be fined other than the $10,000 imposed by the US Open. On the other hand, she may find herself hustling to mend fences with major sponsors like Nike and Wilson to show that she's really just a regular person who just had one really bad day. She'll never go hungry, but someone as well known as she is makes more money OFF the court than ON. Keeping those commercial doors open (minded almost completely by white folks) becomes pretty important.if she wants a post-playing career as prominent as that of Arthur Ashe, tennis' first black star.

Then there's the case of Joe Wilson, congressman from South Carolina, he of the "You lie!" shout, whose situation is very different. I don't know Wilson's plan for the next 10 years or so. He might not even have one, but for now his only real power base is white GOP voters from his part of the Palmetto State. If there's anything left of the redneck, Bible thumpin', anti-black, anti-immigrant vote, that's where you'd find it. Wilson claims that his supposedly spontaneous outburst in the midst of the President's speech last week has had the net effect of greatly adding to his profile and campaign treasury. But he ALSO wants to claim moral high ground by saying that has already apologized to Mr. Obama, and that this apology has been accepted.
Wilson, you have to say, comes out of this looking pretty good. Every South Carolina redneck now knows who his favorite Congressman is, as Wilson shows his courage by refusing another apology, this one to the House itself. Sure, they could censure him, but he might just profit from that, too in terms of total campaign donations - "The Man Who Had the Courage to Tell the Truth!" Bumper sticker production lines will have to work overtime to keep up with demand.and Wilson becomes the next Strom Thurmond, who was also a South Carolinian. He even has his son, a candidate for state office, saying that Dad isn't a racist at all, just in case the state still has a moderate or two.
All this is not to say that saying "I'm sorry." puts you in a weak position. Human relations should outlast temporary power power plays. We don't want to win battles only to lose the war when people who would have been our friends have all been manipulated to the other side, leaving us the scorched earth of broken human relationships. Better to gulp it down: "My darling, I was wrong. I'm so sorry, and ask your forgiveness."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Early September is when Congress reconvenes to tackle things that haven't been resolved yet. We know big things are expected when the President comes on national TV to grab the headlines away from the other side, as he did tonight. The subject was health care - and paying for it. One major player in this issue has gone for good - Senator Ted Kennedy, who was invoked on behalf of the President's cause. I continue to wish Mr. Obama well. In the long run, it's not the obstructionists we honor, but the ones who make, finally MAKE, things happen, and I don't mean invasions.

The pro tennis world has four major tournaments each year: in Australia, France, the U.K. and our own US Open, contested in New York City. Australia's too far for most people to ever get to, but the other three all have things that make them unique even though it's the same game and many of the same players.
For instance, at Wimbledon, near London, the players have to go with a little more tradition. By rule, the players all wear white. But at the US Open, being played now, you can wear any color you like. Today I saw a match between two guys in orange shirts and black shorts. It was as though they were contending for the championship of Halloween. Tonight the world's #1 one player, Mr. Federer of Switzerland, wore black shoes and socks and looked a bit like he was waiting for his suit to come back from the cleaners.
The women players are also known to want to generate their own "look". Most of them are tall and slender, like models, but with athleticism and terrific suntans thrown in. Some wear dresses, others go for some version of tops, both with and without sleeves, and skirts. No one asks ticket holders if they came to see Nadia's hot pink ensemble, but to many the outfits add value to the ticket.
Then there's Serena Williams. Last night she wore a black dress with a purple fringe and matching headband. She looked, and I mean this in the most positive way, like a battleship loaded for war in the service of the Nike Nation. Unlike most of the other players, her figure is, uh, pronounced, and I would guess she looks formidable even in pajamas decorated with little duckies. But when it's time to compete, just seeing her makes you want to be sure you brought your "A" game, or she could make the match brief and painful.
Well, that's enough of that. Don't you just hate old guys who think they know something about fashion? I know I do.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Can Summer be Over?

In today's comics: A disheveled-looking guy says to another one, "I couldn't get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition - I'm broke."

Various members of the family have taken up blogging lately. A recent entry described giving away a 15 year-old Honda to charity after the car had gone past the quarter million mile mark. It was accompanied by the poignant picture of the now-empty spot in the driveway. Gets you right here (sob), doesn't it?

California is full of suburbs with Spanish names. Ever heard of Chula Vista? It's south of San Diego. Last week the Chula Vista little league team beat Taoyuan, Taiwan (a city in which I lived doing missionary work almost 40 years ago) and become world champions. I've written before in this space about how I enjoy watching the games at this level. No doubt a great deal of work went into the team's success.
Even so, the team's manager, Oscar Castro, might have laid it on a little thick in the postgame news conference. He noted that San Diego's pro teams, the Padres and Chargers, had come up short in their efforts to win championships, and that he thought his team's win partially made up for that. Whew! Major League Baseball, the National Football League and ...the Little League?
Hats off to Castro and his assistants. But can you imagine what it might be like for him to go back to the office/shop/factory where he actually earns a living? I hope he's prepared to take a quick dive from the sublime to the mundane. And I hope no one says "All right, big guy. Your 15 minutes of fame are over as of now. Take your usual spot on the replacement windows production line. You've got a week to catch up." Doh!

We had no real reason to hold a micro tennis tournament last weekend, but we had one anyway on the two courts located near downtown. I tried to not invite bad players, but when you never know who's coming, it's better to have too many than not enough. So we started with four doubles teams and eleven players, but as the day went on everyone with a little patience got a chance to show his stuff. The draw of partners was random, but we still ended up with a father/son team who were too good for the rest of us. Players ranged from about 20 to around 75 years old, and we even had food on hand. Being unofficial, we paid the city no rent and had no insurance. For their part, the city didn't even provide a restroom key. A few people stayed and watched for awhile, but no one made any sponsorship offers. The trophies were ridiculously cheap, consisting of used balls, plastic ball can lids and a round piece of paper commemorating the event glued to the undersides. Since there was no entry fee, no one complained. My partner and I finished 3rd, which meant no trophy at all, though we did produce a tough "W", which was the whole idea. Next year? We'll see how great the demand is.