Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ed, Michael, Farrah and Billy

What a week. We have lost Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and BILLY MAYS!

I am one of a million, I know, but here are my quick comments:

-- Ed McMahon. The venerable sidekick, I first became acquainted with him when my parents let me stay up and watch The Tonight Show. Carson and McMahon were an incredible team and I continued watching even when I was old enough to stay up and make my own decisions.

-- Farrah Fawcett. When I heard the news I immediately e-mailed my college roommate to remind him of Farrah's sultry poster that graced the walls of a million male dorm rooms in the late 1970s. We don't recall either one of us having one (I actually had one of her successor on Charlie's Angels, Cheryl Ladd) but we remembered well the famous pose that helped make her famous.

-- Michael Jackson. I was a big fan of the Jackson Five as a young teenager and remember being so impressed with Michael because we were roughly the same age (I'm about 10 months his senior) and he had this incredible voice. As time went on he made some amazing music and nobody can deny his talent. The weirdness and creepiness of his adult life was, however, well -- weird and creepy. While I love some of the songs -- e.g. Billie Jean, Thriller, Beat It -- those videos that are getting such accollades don't do a thing for me. Major weird, in my opinion. And although he was not convicted of the molestation charges, there is absolutely no defense for having little boys visit and sleep in the bed with him (nor any excuse for parents who let their sons visit him under those circumstances). His life, in so many ways, ended up being tragic. Really sad.

-- BILLY MAYS!!! I put this in all caps because this is the way you always heard the venerable TV pitchman's voice. My blogger friend Bob wrote a hilarious post a few months ago about Billy Mays. He must have made a mint pitching those TV products like Oxyclean or those beads that you attach to your jeans. He became somewhat of a caricature of himself (laughing all the way to the bank) with his jet black hair and beard and his most recent gig was on ESPN.

We will miss them all. Celebs, like them or not, have an undeniable presence in our lives and culture. We have those "remember when moments." I'll remember all four of these.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

It's early Sunday morning and today is Father's Day. I am waiting for Wife, Daughter and Younger Son to go to church with me. Later Older Son will join us and we'll have lunch here at the house.

I have stated earlier here that I don't receive gifts and/or recognition well and, although I will love having all of us together today, I would be fine to just bypass the Father's Day stuff. I remember reading, however, a post by Kelly where she talked about how maybe our children have a need to give to us and we need to learn to be gracious receivers. So that's what I'll be today and let me tell you, folks, I am ever thankful for those three people who give me one of my favorite titles -- Dad.


I'll be thinking of my own dad today, who left me in January 2006. He was far from perfect and sometimes I can still think of some of the things he said and did, especially in my adult life, and have imaginary arguments with him in my mind. That's probably material for my therapist to deal with one of these days when I finally go to one.

I decided shortly after he died, however, that I would do well to concentrate on the good things about my dad and let go of the things I might have liked to change about him (which is a work in progress). A female friend who lost her dad a few months before I lost mine told me that losing a loved one is kind of like childbirth. It's painful and grueling, but as time goes on the memory of the pain fades and you just enjoy all the blessings. I think that's a great analogy.

So when I think of my dad today, I'll think of how he worked and provided for his family; his wit and sense of humor; his total, unconditional love for my mother and how he cared for her when she was sick; and his sense of service (and what he taught me about that). There are other things as well but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. And I'll refrain from those imaginary arguments.


I have truly been blessed to be a father. I have made a truckload of mistakes and I have no doubt that, when my children decide to get therapy, it will take a few visits to deal with me. So, if I'm still around and they want to send me the bill, I'll pay at least half.

There are plenty of books and reading material out there about being a dad, being a good husband or just being a man in general. I have read my share of them, or parts of them. I am a bit of a skeptic, though, and I take some of the advice with a grain of salt. I'm especially cautious about the "latest and greatest."

Being a Christian, and being a part of a church of the Evangelical ilk, a lot of the reading material that has come my way has, naturally, been slanted toward that way of thinking. But some of it just doesn't do it for me and, at the risk committing heresy, some of it I just flat disagree with.

A few years back there was one of these latest and greatest books about manhood that was making great waves, especially in the Christian world. I had heard a lot about the book and what an impact it was having on men.

It did not have that effect on me. Not only was it, in my opinion, poorly written, but the author kind of gave this loose formula for what he thought constitutes a godly man, talked a lot about movies that he thought men should like and cited a few Bible passages. Problem was, the author described a man with whom I had very little in common. I didn't like some of those movies and had not seen some of them. And I thought he took a bit of license with the Scriptures he used to support his theories.

So here is where I have arrived:

-- Just because I read something that may not help me, that doesn't mean it is not helpful and possibly life changing to someone else. So I need to be careful in voicing my opinions or at least in how I voice them. By the same token, those who read the "latest and greatest" need to understand that, just because it might have been helpful and life changing to them, that does not mean it will necessarily be so for everyone else.

-- There is room for disagreement. I don't have to "break fellowship" just because I do not agree on some "formula" for being a man.

-- I am blessed beyond measure to have the privilege of being a husband and father. With all of the "how to" advice out there -- some of which is very good and some of which is not so good -- I find it amazing that the greatest commandment ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength") and the other one that is like unto it ("Love your neighbor as yourself") is the best advice I can get, and take hold of, for being the best husband and dad I can be.

Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The New Health Care Plan

I have been following with interest the unveiling of President Obama’s health care plan. It has taken him a while to get to this, one of the hallmarks of his campaign for “change,” what with all the economic matters he has had to address. Still, only a few months into his administration, it’s obvious that his minions have been working behind the scenes on this health care overhaul.

I don’t pretend to understand all of it, but the basic premise seems to be that there will be health insurance available to all Americans. If you have insurance through your employer, the president says, you will be able to keep that insurance and stay with the physician of your choice. He has reiterated this time and again.

As I understand it, though, in addition to private health insurance, there will be a government alternative which will provide competition of sorts, according to President Obama, that will assure that those currently without insurance will be able to get it.

This would include the unemployed and “uninsurable.” However, even if you have insurance through an employer or you are self-employed and finance your own health insurance, you can switch to the government sponsored brand if you so desire. Again, this is my feeble understanding and if I’m wrong here, I expect my blogger friends to correct me.

Of course there is that pesky little question of cost and how your government will pay to insure all of these folks. A couple of ways the president has mentioned include the tax increases he is proposing for those making more than $250,000 (the so-called “wealthy,” which is laughable, but I digress), and making health benefits that you get from your employer taxable. Thus more revenue for the government to use for the government sponsored plan.

So, if I am understanding correctly, if you make more than 250 grand, not only is your tax bracket going to change so you’ll pay more in taxes, you are also going to be taxed on the value of employer provided health insurance. A double whammy, if you will.

The president vehemently denies that this is “socialized medicine” and he doesn’t even want to call it national health insurance. To his way of thinking, it’s competition for the private sector insurers which will only improve things across the board for all of us and bring back some semblance of sensibility to a health care system gone seriously awry.

Critics say that private employers will encourage – subtly or otherwise – workers to move toward the government sponsored plan. And why wouldn’t they? Providing health care for workers is a huge expense.

Personally, I am not passing judgment on any of this just yet. Those who have read my entries here know I am both fiscally and socially conservative. I am skeptical of anything government gets involved in. I believe in limited government and I certainly do not want the government telling me what doctor or hospital I can use, whether I can even see a doctor or have surgery, etc. And -- I know, I know -- President Obama says this is not what he is proposing. But if there is this massive shift away from private sector insurance to government sponsored health care, I am not convinced some of these “never evers” can’t happen.

Still, something needs to be done, so I am willing to listen.

Here are some still unanswered questions in my mind:

-- Is health care a right or a privilege? If someone who is a lazy bum and does not work, does he/she have the right to health care?

-- Why are employers expected to provide health insurance? I am not so sure this is a good system. For one thing, it discourages entrepreneurship. Many people have great ideas for starting their own businesses but are probably afraid to quit their “day jobs” because of the health insurance. In addition, if your small business grows and you want to hire workers, you will have a hard time competing for good applicants with the bigger companies who are better able to provide insurance. Why can’t health insurance be like any other type of insurance and a person just pays for it his/herself?

-- Why does health care have to cost so much in the first place? Could that be part of the problem? I have a number of doctor friends that I love and respect but sometimes their complaining about the cost of practicing medicine rings a bit hollow when I see the houses they live in, the cars they drive and the trips they take.

-- Should there be caps on malpractice claims? With these outrageous judgments against doctors and hospitals, you can bet insurance is going to cost more. And going to the doctor or hospital is going to cost more too.

As I said, I am undecided on all of this and will stay tuned to see what Congress comes up with. The president is on a fast track and thus far his rock-star status has stood him in good stead for pushing through his agenda. We'll see if that happens with health care.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mid-Year Book Report

Thought I would give a few short reviews on some of the reading I have been doing this year. As I look back, I see that I have read more current best-seller types than I would have thought. I try to stay away from some of the more trendy stuff but Wife has handed off some of her book club picks and I always buy and read the newest Grisham tome when it comes out, an exception from my usual get-it-at-the library policy. Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows. This delightful story is set on the UK island of Guernsey during the German occupation in 1946. An up and coming writer makes an unlikely visit to the island and falls in love with the charm and depth of its residents. The humor and warmth of the characters will hook you from the beginning. A definite page turner and I gave it five stars on Shelfari.

The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. I should have known better when I saw the title of this one. This is "chick-lit" and I mean that with all due respect to my female friends, colleagues and family members. I just believe this is one that might be enjoyed more by a woman than a man. Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal columnist and co-author of The Last Lecture, wrote a column a few years ago about female friendships. He got a huge response, including an e-mail from a woman in Ames, Iowa who shared with him about her friendhip with a group of eleven women who all grew up together in Ames and remain friends to this day (they are now all in their mid 40s ). He visited one of their frequent reunions, interviewed familiy members and fellow Ames residents. The result is The Girls from Ames which I found silly, boring and unremarkable, kind of like dull reality television. But look at the reviews on Amazon and you'll see there are many who disagree.

The Associate by John Grisham. Grisham loosely returns to the theme of The Firm, the one that brought him to fame. This one tells the story of another superstar Ivy League law grad who gets caught up in the prestige of a NYC law firm, but some of the underworld types get hold of him and blackmail him with secret stories from his past. It's another great read by this storyteller who just keeps them coming.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is hands down my favorite so far this year and I will give credit where it is due, to Wife, who handed me this book after both of her book clubs had done it and told me I would love it. And she was right. This new 40-year-old author tells a story of relationships between female black domestic workers and their female white employers, set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. I laughed, cried and shook my head in wonder as I turned the pages in amazement and related to similar situations in my hometown in South Arkansas as I was growing up. Remarkably, I even have a blog post here from a few months ago that touches on similar subject matter. This book definitely gets five stars.

Witsec by Pete Earley and Gerald Shur. This is the story of the history of the Federal Witness Protection program in the U.S. I have always been fascinated by the Witness Protection Program but before reading this book, most of my knowledge came from TV crime and detective shows. Co-author Shur is the founder of the program and the book relates the history of his employment in the Justice Department and his relationships with many of the relocated witnesses. I loved it.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Mortenson was climbing Pakistan's famed K-2, stopped mid-way and turned back. He took a wrong turn and ended up in a small village where he was cared for by the locals. He was so taken with the area and his Muslim hosts that he decided to begin a school. Today literally thousands of children are being educated and girls (who are often oppressed in this culture) are being given opporutunities heretofore unheard of due to Mortenson's efforts. Although I disagreed with some of his views on the American involvement in the area, I was struck and awed by his persistence and devotion to education in this part of the world against incredible odds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

You tell 'em, Sarah

I realize there are those who read this blog who are not fans of Sarah Palin. If you read any of my stuff during election season, you know I love her, but that really does not matter here. This is more about respect and decency, which should have no boundaries with regard to political leanings.

Earlier this week David Letterman made a crude joke on his show about Palin and her daughter and something that might have happened at a Yankees game they were attending.

"There was one awkward moment during the seventh inning stretch," said Letterman. "Her daughter got knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

He also said the hardest part about the Palins' trip to New York was "keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter." Hilarious.

I really believe Letterman thought he was talking about Palin's older daughter, who is 18 or 19 and, as we all know, had a baby out of wedlock a while back. In reality the daughter at the Yankees game was Palin's 14-year-old. But does it really matter which one he might have been using as a way to get laughs?

Letterman later made an apology, only it was not really an apology, and he used it to get even more laughs. He tried to "clarify" that he was talking about the older daughter, rather than the younger one, as if that would make his remarks more acceptable.

Governor Palin was on The Today Show this morning and she was right on target in her interview with Matt Lauer, speaking with the eloquence of a governor but with the fire of a mother. She reminded Lauer that it was Barack Obama who had declared "the children are off limits," a statement with which she wholeheartedly agrees. And it should apply across the board.

When asked by Lauer if David Letterman owes her an apology, Palin said, quite succinctly, that he does not need to apologize to her. What she would like to hear, she said, is an apology to all young women who were, ultimately, mocked and degraded by his remarks and for "contributing to a culture that says it's OK to talk about statutory rape."

"It's not cool; it's not funny," she said.

And I don't think many of us would argue with that.