Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Afterthoughts

Even though I don't go to the movies much anymore--and I definitely can't tolerate a nano-second of any other awards shows--watching "the Oscars," Hollywood's top-ranking annual self-love festival, is an enduring habit I can't seem to shake.

Although I'd only seen one of the nominated "Best Picture" films this year, I still made my picks, set up my snacks, and settled into the sofa for four hours. (Hey, once a year can't hurt, even if it is Lent.)

Predictably, as always, the show ran overtime and straight into Downton Abbey. While much of the proceedings do tend towards boring, there were a few notable moments, both shining and awkward. Here are my winners:
  1. Julianne Moore - charming and classy in her Best Actress acceptance speech.
  2. Lady Gaga - shocked me with her gorgeous singing in the Sound of Music medley. Who knew?
  3. John Travolta - could use sexual harassment prevention training. Just ask ScarJo or Idina Menzel.
  4. Chris Pine - dude, what's with the tears during Glory? David Oyelowo, yes. You? Get a grip! 
  5. Michael Keaton - good to see him just enjoying being back on the "A" list, but I wish he'd won.
  6. Sean Penn - "SOB" to the Best Picture winner? Really? Joke or no, trashy.
  7. Neil Patrick Harris - fine job as host, but did we really need to see him in his underwear?
Last night was the 50th anniversary of me watching the Oscar telecast. I think I deserve an award.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents of Note

Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota - Four Influential Presidents
Today is "Presidents' Day," a blandly impersonal, generalized celebration of national chief executives. Prior to 1971, there were two specific presidents honored in February, on their birthdays: Lincoln on February 12 and Washington on February 22. Both dates were holidays, regardless of which day of the week they fell on. However, as three-day weekends became more important in American society than our unique history, our two greatest presidents were homogenized into the colossally boring Presidents' Day.

You could call it a redistribution of our historic wealth. We might as well have an "Avocados' Day" or a "Televisions' Day," for all the meaning the day now imparts.

In honor of this watered-down occasion, here's a link to the "Top 10 Most Influential American Presidents." I disagree somewhat with order and choice, but for the most part it's a solid list:

1.  Abraham Lincoln
     No argument. He saved and preserved the nation. Number One for sure.

2.  Franklin D. Roosevelt
     A bit too much on the socialist side for my taste, but due to the events of his tenure, there's no doubt FDR belongs on the list.

3.  George Washington
     I would put "the father of our country" a close second to Lincoln.

4.  Thomas Jefferson
     This is about the right spot for TJ.

5.  Andrew Jackson
     I don't know if Jackson should be listed instead of James Monroe or James Madison.

6.  Teddy Roosevelt
     For creating the National Parks system, TR belongs not only on this list but in heaven.

7.  Woodrow Wilson
     Presided over the implementation of the Federal Reserve and the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN. Influential? Yes. In a good way? Um, I don't think so.

8.  Harry S. Truman
     In using the atomic bomb to end WWII, HST had to make probably the most difficult decision in history. Definitely deserves a place in the Top 10.

9.  James K. Polk
     Polk should be higher on the list. No, he didn't "steal" Mexico. He bought and paid for California, Nevada, and more with $15 million and opened the American West.

10.  Dwight D. Eisenhower
      What DDE is doing on this list is beyond me. See #5.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When Wrong is Right

When I was growing up, my father always had the same response to news about any murderer of innocent people: "Take him out and shoot him."

In my idealistic youth, I would be horrified that my kind, thoughtful, funny father could make such a cold-blooded statement. "Dad!" I would protest in shocked outrage. "That's just wrong!"

Time is a thorough, patient, and effective teacher. I have learned my lessons well watching world events over the decades. In the wake of the fourth US hostage, Kayla Mueller, being murdered at the hands of Islamic terrorists, I think "You were right, Dad. We should just take them out and shoot them."

A conversation we had during the Iranian hostage crisis gives me a clue how Dad might deal with ISIS. I was visiting my parents in New York; it was summer 1980. The hostage crisis had dragged on since November 1979. Dad and I were watching television, and a review of the hostage crisis showed images of our US Embassy employees when they were first seized. The American captives were bound and blindfolded; their Iranian captors were celebrating as they paraded their human prizes to cheering crowds. I had never seen my father seething with such controlled anger. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, "What would you do if you were in charge, Dad?"

He turned from the TV and looked at me, his eyes blazing blue fire. He pointed sharply at the screen, "I would have told them, 'You've got 24 hours to let them go. Or we're coming in to get them.'" He stopped speaking and turned back to the program, but an unspoken "Take them out and shoot them" directed at the Iranian captors hung in the air. For the first time, I began to realize that perhaps such a course of action was not "just wrong," as I had always maintained.

Whenever I see footage or photos of the current Islamic terrorist atrocities being inflicted upon innocent and helpless people in the Middle East today, "Take them out and shoot them" now makes perfect sense to me. I wish I could tell Dad.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Praying for a Leader

Most Americans have heard about President Obama's slap-down of Christianity at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. The best response I've read comes from the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal:

“It was nice of the President to give us a history lesson at the Prayer breakfast,”said Bobby Jindal. “Today, however, the issue right in front of his nose, in the here and now, is the terrorism of Radical Islam, the assassination of journalists, the beheading and burning alive of captives. We will be happy to keep an eye out for runaway Christians, but it would be nice if he would face the reality of the situation today. The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please deal with the Radical Islamic threat today.”

Well said, Governor. The Crusades and the Inquisition aren't exactly front page news these days, having occured hundreds, almost thousands, of years in the past.  The president also mentioned slavery and Jim Crow. The 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries also present no clear and present danger. It's the here and now we need to be concerned with, and his job is to protect, defend, and support our nation. As usual, he's off the clock.

I don't know what's going on in the president's head--thank God. But from the pathetically stupid remarks he makes, and his reckless actions and lack of same, his thought process doesn't ever seem to be supportive of our country or history. I'm counting the days until he's gone, and I'm praying for a true leader next term.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Gift Taken for Granted

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
~ Psalm 46

Do you have a Bible in the house? If so, you would be risking your life in over 50 countries. In 2014, persecution of Christians reached the highest level in modern times. You'd have to go back to the Middle Ages to match this kind of pervasive, brutal hostility to a religion.

I still have my college Bible, a required textbook for Theology 101. It's on my bookshelf, complete with yellow highlighted passages and notes in the margins from my preparations for mid-term and final exams. A few years ago, I bought a copy of the complete King James Version (KJV) with Apocrypha (those are the books included in the Catholic Bible, but omitted from Protestant scripture). That Bible is flagged throughout with Post-It notes marking my favorite passages. In my Kindle, I've downloaded three Bibles--the English Standard, New International, and KJV versions. The electronic Bible is so handy (and so economical), there's really no excuse for me anymore; a daily goal (not always successfully met) is to read it for a few minutes each day.

The KJV is my favorite. The language is beautiful and poetic, and you know I'm all about the words. Some scholars believe William Shakespeare worked on it, and I agree. As evidence, please note that Shakespeare was 46 years of age when the King James version of the Bible was released. I now direct you to Psalm 46. At the beginning of the psalm, count forward 46 words--"shake." At the end, count back 46 words--"spear."

Who but Shakespeare could orchestrate that masterful translation?

But back to religious freedom and the increasing worldwide persecution of Christians. Including paper and electronic versions, I own five Bibles. How much trouble would I be facing in over 50 countries?

We take our freedom of religion for granted in the USA. Christians may be derided as "holy rollers" or "Bible thumpers," Bill Maher may take swipes at us on network television, people may scoff at prayerful football players--but we don't have to think twice about reading the Bible or going to church on Sundays. Even if we aren't religious, we should appreciate just how courageous it is to attend Christian services or own a Bible in so many countries.

In North Korea, being a Christian is illegal, and if a person is discovered with a Bible, up to three generations of their family would be executed. That's far beyond harsh punishment. What is North Korea so afraid of? I'd have to say--the Truth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Statesman of the Century

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Fifty years ago today, Sir Winston Churchill died. Ever since I was in the sixth grade, when Churchill was the subject of my first history term paper, I consider him the greatest leader of the 20th century.

As a lifelong lover of words and the English language, I think he was without peer as a gifted speaker and writer. His expression was so stirring, so inspiring, so elegant and profound. I believe it was his depth of commitment, spirit, and eloquence that brought Great Britain successfully through World War II. We certainly could use a statesman of his caliber today.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Delusion vs. Reality

...there’s the line when he declared, “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance.” Doesn’t he realize that he just did that to millions of people, after promising them they could keep their plans?
~ Robert Tracinski

I didn't watch the State of the Union speech the other night. Honestly, I simply can't listen to the president anymore; he is a total waste of my time. He thinks everything is roses and lollipops, that the sun has come out tomorrow, that he has healed the planet. But, like millions of my fellow Americans, I know that the facts are otherwise.

Last May, I was laid off from my job. I was not unduly concerned; this was my fifth layoff in three decades. In the past, I've always rebounded quite promptly, within a couple of months, and always to a more lucrative position with the promise of better opportunities. News flash to the White House: Those days are over. After six months of intensive job searching and many dozens of applications submitted all over town, in November I accepted a lower level position, with no benefits, at a 40% pay cut.

Time for me to "turn the page," I suppose the president would say. He's turned it all the way back to my 1999 salary.

Meanwhile, my health insurance ended along with my last job. With no income outside of unemployment insurance, I decided to go without insurance for the rest of 2014 and suck up the penalty. I'm not eligible for benefits at my new job, so I bought Affordable Care Act insurance--"Obamacare"--that started this year on January 1. I chose the economical Bronze plan, because at my new hourly wage that's all I can afford to pay for.

The good news about my low-paying job is that I qualify for subsidies towards my premiums, which will cost me $168 each month. The bad news is that my policy has a $5,000 deductible. The co-pay for an Urgent Care visit is $120. Outside of the covered, once-a-year wellness checkup, all other doctor visits are cash upfront until the deductible is met. Welcome to "affordable" health care.

I do wish President Obama would stop "helping" the middle class. We just can't afford his version of reality.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Farewell to a Friend

Joel I. Bernstein, MD
1953 - 2014

"The writer must write what he has to say. Not speak it."

~ Ernest Hemingway

It was midsummer when I learned that Dr. Joel Bernstein was ill with a deadly cancer. The cruel and tragic irony of this oncological genius, who had saved literally thousands of lives, falling prey to the dreadful disease he had applied his skills to defeat for so many others, was almost physically painful. Joel was dear to me, for one of the lives he saved was my husband's.

In 1994, Dr. Bernstein's aggressive and creative treatment of Pete's almost fatally advanced cancer was a life-and-death gamble, but we had nothing to lose by trusting him. The year and many following were hard. Pete almost died more than once, from both chemotherapy and complications after surgery. But Joel was with us every step of the way, and each time I spoke with him, I remember feeling confident that Joel would bring Pete through the ordeal. He did exactly that; our family had an extra dozen years with Pete because Joel chose to be fearless in attacking the cancer.

In 2006, when Pete was extremely ill again but various referral physicians seemed unable to figure out the problem, Joel was the one doctor who told us the truth. Weary of the endless rounds of specialists, tests, and inconclusive results, we circled back with Joel. With his characteristic calm, gentleness, and compassion, he transitioned from his doctor role to that of our dear friend as he helped us face and deal with the end of Pete's life. Joel made the most terrible thing that had ever happened to us bearable, and he ensured Pete a death of peace and dignity. For that, I will always owe him what I call a soul debt--one that can never be repaid.

Joel has been heavy on my heart in the past six months. After Pete's death, when my longtime physician had moved out of town, I asked Joel to be my doctor; it was his "honor," he replied. So I became Joel's healthy patient, the one who saw him only for a sore throat every couple of years. My last office visit was in September 2012. I thought of making an appointment to see him after I heard of his illness, but I didn't want to take his precious time. I knew that so many people would need him much more than I during his remaining days in practice. But he stayed in my thoughts and prayers.

On Christmas Day, Joel died of his cancer. This week I attended a memorial service for him at the hospital. From the many speakers, I learned that among Joel's numerous interests were opera and gardening, that he was an excellent cellist, and that he had an IQ of 170. The last item didn't surprise me, nor did the fact that Joel never mentioned it to anyone. But then, his intellectual brilliance was obvious.

Photo by Beth Mallon
I certainly had known that Joel loved dogs; that's all he and Pete ever seemed to discuss at checkup appointments--their black Labrador Retrievers. One examining room in his office suite looked like it belonged to a veterinarian. It had statues, placards, and pictures of black labs, including the huge framed wall photo of him with his dog giving him a nuzzle. I remember Pete telling me about Joel's old dog, Duke, being put down, and when Joel got his next dog, Tommy. (I also remember asking Pete, "Do you two ever discuss your blood work?") Joel's beloved 11-year-old Tommy was at the memorial event with his new owner, the dog sitter who had always cared for him when Joel traveled (and who took the wonderful photo of Joel and his pet). She told me that Joel had called her very soon after his diagnosis to ask if, after his death, she would take care of Tommy.

Poor Tommy looked lonely at the reception afterwards, casting searching eyes around the crowd as if looking for Joel to appear. I can relate to that. It's difficult to believe that someone who did so much good for so many people, who could make his patients laugh at cancer even as he battled it to the last cell on their behalf, is gone. The heartache among his friends, colleagues, and patients--many of whom fill all three roles--is palpable. I'm hoping that writing this goodbye will help me to move past my own lingering sadness.

Yes, I will find another doctor. But there will never be another Joel Bernstein. Rest in peace, dear friend. How well you have earned it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Play 'La Marseillaise'--Play It!"

"Vive la France," indeed. Marchons.

Photo: USA Today

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Extreme or Mainstream?

Andrew C. McCarthy educates us on the normalcy of Islamic violence, linked here. The Western world needs to learn this lesson or die of our self-imposed ignorance.