Thursday, May 21, 2009

Uncommon, Common Sense

If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for - our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking today at the American Enterprise Institute


Friday, May 8, 2009

To Mom, With Love

My mother died in May 1997, at the age of 92, with my Dad and four of her six children at her bedside. A memorial service was held for her in August, the month of my Dad’s birthday when we all gather for a reunion in New Hampshire. Many people were at her service, and I remember thinking how surprised Mom would have been to see them all there because she was so genuinely humble.

She was born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the daughter of German immigrants, one of six children. She remembered hardships: walking along the railroad tracks to collect pieces of coal in the wintertime, delivering the laundry her mother did for others, and being compelled to leave school at 14, right after her 8th grade graduation, to work at Beacon Mill. She called it her Alma Mater.

Mom met my Dad on a blind date when he was a student at M.I.T. The next time he saw her, he asked her out for an afternoon walk…and did they walk! By the time they returned, close to dinner time, he was exhausted and late for a date with a girl in his own hometown of Fall River (about 20 miles away) with whom he was unofficially engaged.

Dad never regretted choosing my mother instead. He called her “my girl” until the day she died and for the five years that he lived on without her.

My parents had six children also: five girls and one boy, fortunately for him, the oldest. They saw each of us through college, with two receiving advanced degrees. This was extremely important to my Mom. With only an 8th grade education, she considered herself poorly educated and not as smart as other people. She was wrong of course, but it fed her determination to have her kids go to college. And she went back to work in a jewelry factory to help make that happen.

I remember at my college graduation, my mother borrowed my mortarboard and posed for a picture of triumph, sitting on a brick wall with her legs crossed saucily, a rare moment of silliness for her.

My everyday mom cared for us quietly and conscientiously and unselfishly. She asked little for herself. One thing she did like was potato chips…and another was chocolates, but these were rare luxuries. I remember one year wanting to buy Mom a big box of potato chips for her birthday, but I didn’t have any money, or not enough. I got out our old blue wagon and pulled my two younger sisters around the neighborhood to collect bottles that we could redeem for 2 to 5 cents at the drug store.

We did get enough bottles to buy the potato chips that cost 69 cents, but Mom had seen us soliciting, and she was embarrassed. She told me she didn’t want me to do that again, but she accepted the potato chips, and I think she liked them, which was all we cared about.

I can’t give my mother potato chips or chocolates any longer, but love for her is writ deeply in my heart.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wanted: Bureaucrats?

Here I go again linking: This piece from Investor's Business Daily exposes the inherent structural deficiencies of Medicare, the presumed model for the president's proposed (but undisclosed) "public plan" for national health care.

When it comes to health care, maybe it really does take a brain surgeon and not a bureaucrat.

Avoid the Nocebo Cha Cha Cha!

When I was a kid, from the time I learned to read up to about age 13, I was a hopeless hypochondriac. I developed symptoms for every disease I read about, and I was particularly concerned about appendicitis. After taking me and my complaints to the family doctor several times (needlessly), my parents brought me to see their chiropractor...and there I was cured.

Like the physician, the chiropractor found nothing the matter with me, but he helpfully suggested my folks buy me a parakeet to get my mind off myself. I was aghast, insulted...and made well. My stomach pains disappeared, and my appendix remained intact for 54 more years.

This experience taught me early in life not to aspire to any employment in the medical profession, and that's just as well since, apparently, many medical students suffer disease-less symptoms just as I did. Nevertheless, today, because I am interested in health care, I do visit a few medical blogs. One I like particularly is Junkfood Science at

This blog belongs to Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN, CCP. She offers "critical examination" (read common sense evaluation) of healthcare news. Today's posting at
draws on an article by Stuart Blackman in, oddly enough, Financial Times, concerning the nocebo effect. Had I read it before my visit to the chiropractor, I should have been saved a bit of angst.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What I've Learned About Communities

Last Thursday night my almost-four grandson stood on the stage of the Celebrity Ballroom in John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino with 100 of his peers and stared in bafflement at whatever a little boy could see of the darkened house beyond the bright stage lights. Then he proceeded to join the performance, singularly out of step in every particular. He was alternately funny, bad, and emotive, but never in group-sync, and to a degree, these nonconformities have been the story of his pre-school experience thus far.

Fitting in is not always easy. It takes a tremendous toll on teens in particular. However, three and four year olds are not much concerned about social status and very much concerned about their own needs and desires. They are the center of their universe, and they act accordingly and arbitrarily, sometimes cooperative, sometimes disruptive as mood and circumstance dictate. Everything is on the surface, though; there’s no concealment or artifice. So I wonder, can there be a community of pre-schoolers? I think not.

A true community is a voluntary association of like minded individuals. They may be drawn together by neighborhood (physical or virtual), and for the most part they share values, beliefs, and interests. I pulled out my 10-pound Random House Unabridged Dictionary for a weighty check of this definition and found Random House stressed also a “common governance”…and being old, the 1993 edition, mentioned virtual not at all.

Communities overlap, and we all belong to several. Envisioning them is like picturing rain drops falling on a pond and creating rings of ripples that expand, meet, and dissolve into the watery whole. Some communities are stable over long periods of time; others are as temporary as most of the alliances struck up in high school or among a travel group. Some associations are rock solid, like 20 years residence in the same neighborhood, and others are names and pictures and words on a dot matrix screen or people with no acquaintance at all, who are affiliated merely because they accept the same beliefs and attitudes.

For the most part, communities are considered good things. They can accomplish tasks that elude the individual. They offer trust and a sense of belonging, give meaning, motivate, and provide security. On the other hand, a certain amount of conformity is necessarily a part of any community. The very commonality that defines community excludes as well as includes.

I’ve been on a list of people taking The Polling Point poll frequently. I’m always asked for my political affiliation, gender, age, and household income even though these are things that don’t change every week. Then I’m asked to rate various companies in various ways. Lately, I am always asked whether I consider myself primarily a member of my local community, my country, or the world. I answer my country. I am attached to Reno, NV, because I have lived in this area for the past 13 years, and I love two of my kids and my grandchildren are here. Nevertheless, it does not claim my primary allegiance. Perhaps this is because I’ve lived in a number of different communities in different states and liked them as well. The world, on the other hand, is too large to claim my allegiance and also in many places alien, even hostile.

The sense of belonging to the American community is important to me, and I hope for all Americans. To me this sense of belonging comes from sharing the values and history of our country and believing that America is exceptional and should remain so, remain strong, remain a world leader. I believe the American community is and should continue to be stronger than its parts: the millions of individuals and the myriads of smaller communities that make up the nation.

This belief sets me apart from many people…including most everyone I was recently associated with in the academic community…who believe in multi-culturism and diversity. For the most part, for most people the difference here is only one of emphasis: the primacy of our national identification verses competing identifications with race, country of origin, linguistic group, religion, even gender and sexual orientation. However, for an activist few, multi-culturalism and its offshoot “diversity” are the whole potato, and they claim special privileges for groups deemed "minority." The latter practice undermines the organizing principle of our republic, which is equality before the law for all, not special treatment for some, and ultimately destroys the trust within the larger community.

It also goes against all we know about human nature. Despite all the communities we participate in, we are individual members of the human race, driven to make our own way in life with (or without) the support of friendly associations. Community is essential to human development, but individuals making free choices are essential to true community. As soon as narrowly defined affiliations call for privileges others do not enjoy, competition and conflict are inevitable. What is needed is allegiance to the overarching umbrella community that is inclusive.

My grandson (he's the blur in the picture above) hasn’t really developed a sense of community yet; he’s struggling with it while still developing the closer tie of family. He’ll have to give up some of his individuality as he becomes more acceptable within a group, but I hope not too much... because what I’ve learned about communities is that they need good, strong, principled individuals to check needless and imposed conformity, to lead and guide and work within them, and to check the privileging of some communities over others by dictate or decree.

Note that this posting is in response Robert Hruzek's group writing project at that continues through May 10.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ice Runneth in His Veins

Nurse, mom and "member of the human race," Carol Peracchio analyzes the president's "Cold, Cold Health Care" on American Thinker:, illustrating how it's cool to be heartless.