Monday, June 27, 2011

The Room of Old Men

The chairs that ringed the big room were half filled with old men.
Some had canes, some had roller-walkers, a couple were in wheelchairs.
A couple of them carried an oxygen bottle with clear plastic tubes running from the bottle to around their head and under their nose.
Most of them just walked with a limp.
A few were like me, walking normally (if I do anything normally).
Many of them had the deep, rasping cough of a life-long smoker.

As I sat and observed those around me, I thought, these guys took the bullets and the shrapnel for me.
These are the ones who came back.
Some paid in the jungle or the desert.
Others, like these, came back, but they still paid.
On the installment plan.
Some of them would say that the ones who came back in a box are the ones who got off easy.
And I would agree with them.

I have skated through life because of the lifetime of discomfort and pain they paid for me.
I owe them.
Big time.
I owe each one of them.
There is no way that I can repay or compensate them for the life of suffering (some of them more than others) they have endured so that I could raise my children free from fear and harm, go where I want, when I want, say what I want.
All of this is written on those pieces of paper we call our Constitution.
But the words on the paper aren't worth anything unless some of us defend them against those who want things another way.

I went to the doctor today for my annual checkup.
Because of my short service in the US Army, I am entitled to free medical care from the US Veterans Administration. (thanks to all of you who pay your taxes.)
He said my prostate was down from 2X to 1X. (don't ask me how the doctor was able to make this determination.....)
This is good news.
We are not sure why the change has taken place.
I am taking Saw Palmetto pills but they are not supposed to affect organ size.
But something did.
Not complaining, just sayin.

My blood pressure was good.
They took some of my blood to do a workup including HIV (just to settle the possible question).
Just like last year (except for the HIV test).

I am disgustingly healthy.
Even though I grunt and moan about my little aches and pains, in reality, they are so minor that I do not need to take any chemical substances to diminish their intensity.
The day may (will!) come when this will no longer be true, but for now it is so.
I am blessed.
I can still run three-plus miles each week, and walk three miles twice a week.
Many of those men in the big room can barely walk to their cars.

And while I am most grateful to Yahweh for his illogical kindness and love to me, I also feel a strong sense of gratitude to the old men sitting around the big room today.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Life As Plan B

As planned, I ran my 3.5 mile hilly course this past Saturday morning.
It was "planned" because my preferred plan has seemingly become un-achievable.
Running six miles without stopping.
Never mind that the preferred six-mile course is one of the most challenging in the area.

After acknowledging my diminishing strength to complete the 6 mile course without stopping, I have dropped back to my next most challenging path.
Bankhead Parkway is a relatively steep road that gains about 200 feet in less than a mile.
I ran up the hill, bopped along the relatively flat Tollgate Road for a quarter mile then down the heart poundingly steep Mountainwood drive (walking).
Mountainwood drops (or gains, depending which way you are going) about 90 feet in about 1300 feet.
It is so steep that one can easily slip and fall if it is wet. (BTDT)
Anyway, did the whole circuit without a mishap.
The party was physically challenging and I can still feel a few pokes of pain around hips and hammys.

But the psychological sense that this is but a sad substitute for the distance my heart desires to run is buried somewhere near the surface of my conscious mind.
It is time to stop whining and suck up whatever endorphin-induced ego expansion I derived from going the longer distance.
Those days are over.
It is time to stop whimpering and learn to love what is left of life.

But the sad fact is, this is not the end of seeing physical and mental abilities diminish.
This is just another brick falling out of the wall of my life.
More are sure to come.
In fact, hardly a week goes by without some additional reminder injecting itself into my perception that I cannot do some small task as well/long as I used to.
I honestly get tired of seeing this.

From this, I can see why old people become depressed.
And it gives me a better insight into the value of visiting rest homes.
But I have never been good at relating to people.
Especially old people.
And increasingly, that is me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

End of an Era

The Saturday morning plod along the Cotton Row course did not go very well.
My breathing was more-or-less okay (better than last go-round... but that is not saying much), and my strength was somewhat better.
But I had to stop and walk in both mile five and six.
Not good.
And not according to plan.
At least, not per Plan A.

As if to punctuate the situation, my left knee developed a nice jabbing pain in the ligament just below the kneecap early in mile five.
This was just after my second walk.
It was not the sharp ice pick kind of pain, it was more like someone whacking me with a tire iron just below the kneecap.
It got my attention.
And it forced Runner, Coach and Running Central to have a meeting to decide what to do and when.

The decision was quickly arrived at as left knee continued to squeak loudly – keep going and see if the problem fixes itself.
So I did.
And it did.
But it took a while.

I tried modifying my gait this way and that to take some of the pressure off the complaining ligament, but nothing seemed to help.
But as I kept going, I noticed that the pain seemed to diminish.
After a couple of minutes or three, the pain was down to a nuisance level and I knew I was going to be able to finish.
Or, at least, my left knee was not going to be the reason that I did not finish.
My overall strength was another matter, as I was forced to stop and walk again near Courthouse Square.
But I knew what this meant.

After my poor performance last week I made a promise to myself that if this session did not go well, I would stop running the six-mile distance.
“Well” means, run the whole distance without stopping.
As much as I love it, I have to face reality (I hate that....).
I cannot run this distance any more.
So, life is what it is.

Thus, next week I will return to my 3.5 mile course on the back side of the CR course.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Economics 201

Lets get something straight – governments have no money.
I do not mean that they are broke – insolvent – I mean they have no internal means to finance themselves.
You and me, we can go to work for someone who is willing to pay us for our labors and we earn money, with which we buy food to feed ourselves and pay our bills, etc.
The government – be it on the local level, the county level, the state level, or the federal level – must take money from someone else in order to finance its operations.

The government is basically a service organization, invented to handle tasks that we as individuals cannot, or choose not, to do.
Services such as provide protection from criminals, or put out fires at our homes while we are away working, of control traffic on the roads so everything runs in a safe and orderly manner.

To do all these things for us, government collects money from the people it serves by collecting taxes.
Since some taxes are more burdensome on some people than other people, there are many different kinds of taxes.
All of these taxes are of two basic types – taxes on income received, or taxes on things purchased or owned.

The government is not us and they.
The government IS US.
WE ARE the government.
This is true even of totalitarian governments.
This may not seem true but think about this for a moment.

“Government” was the creation of people to supply a needed service – protection.
You may have heard the phrase “might makes right” and to some extent it is true.
It is often the case that the stronger of two people will prevail in a conflict.
It is also true that the stronger of two groups will prevail in a conflict.
Thus, if one group is threatened by another group, it will seek to become as strong as possible to defend itself against the group that is challenging it.

Think about the organization of a basic group of people.
Start with a primitive community – just three or four families living near each other.
Each family might be mostly self-sufficient and go days or weeks or months without contact with the other members of the community.
But at some point, for some tasks, someone will seek or need help from one or more of the other families.

It could be that the men decide to go hunting for a big animal for food, and one of them knows where some are or have been.
The others may not know this information.
So the others will follow his lead in the hunt.
Another man may be better at making arrowheads or stone knives than the others, so soon, the others either learn from him how to make better tools, or they just trade for new tools from him.

Over time, a single person or family will rise to become the “leader” of the group/clan/tribe.
Other members will look to the Leader to organize them in a way that will best protect them from outside threats - whether from wild animals or other groups of people.
They did not know it, but they just invented “government”.

As time passes, the leader would require some form of commitment from the subjects/followers to allow him/her to perform the leadership functions without having to spend as much of his/her time doing the everyday things that the other families do.
This may be a commitment of time for service – tending the leader's crops a few hours each week, for example, or each family bringing some of their crops/meat to the family of the leader to compensate for the fact that he/she does not have time to tend to such tasks – or both.
They did not know it, but they just invented taxes.

As the community grows protection of the group will become important.
Any community – even primitive ones – need real estate – territory – to hunt animals for food and/or grow crops.

Even in totalitarian governments, both elements need each other.
It may be that the common people are not treated fairly and suffer hardship under the policies of the government, but they need some of the services the government provides.
And the government needs the people.
It needs some of them to staff the army and police – the very organizations that may be mistreating the people.
It needs the food the people produce.
It needs the products the people build in the factories.
If the practices of the government become so harsh that the people begin to die or revolt, then the government will have to adjust its policies or be overthrown.
It has happened before, it will happen again.

It this point you may be asking, “what is the point of this?”.
Fair question.
The point is (ta da) government has no money of its own.
It must fund its operations from money it collects from the working people.
But consider this – there is only so much money in a country at any given time.
It ALL belongs to the people – not the government.
So the more money the government takes from the people, the less money there is left over for the people to spend on the things they want.

Yes, new wealth CAN be created, but it takes time.
So the total pie can and does get larger, but at any given moment, that pie is only so large.
Government does not create new wealth.
Government does not make the pie grow larger.
Only private companies make the pie grow larger.
The more money the government takes from that pie, the less there is left in that pie for everyone else to spend.
Government can only take money from one person and give it to someone else.
Government only moves money around in the current-sized pie, it does not and cannot make the pie larger.
Because government does not invest the money it takes into enterprises that will grow and create new jobs or new wealth.

Thus, any dollar that the government spends or gives to someone, came from someone else.
So the unemployment payment the government gave to John Jones this week, came from all of Mr. Jones' neighbors who are still earning a living by working.
The salary that the government pays to Suzi Smith who works in the unemployment office, which pays Mr. Jones his weekly check, came from Ms. Smith's neighbors who are still earning a living by working

Every dollar that the government takes from its working citizens is a dollar that those citizens cannot spend themselves.
Those dollars taken by the government are not as useful – or “valuable” - as dollars paid to people who earn them by working.
Because the persons who earn the dollars do not get to make the decisions on how or where (or whether) to spend their dollars.
Which is more useful to you, you spending your money on things you want/need, or your neighbor spend his money on things he wants/needs?
It is the same with the government.

The government MAY spend that dollar in a way that is acceptable and useful to the person that the tax dollar was taken from, or the government may spend that dollar on a study of the mating habits of fruit flies.
(by the way, someone ASKED the government to pay for that study of mating habits of fruit flies)
If we, as citizens, do not pay attention to what our elected representatives do with our money, and call them to task on spending that we disagree with, we will have out of control spending by our government.
Oh, wait.....

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Confession Time

Okay, it's time to fess up.
My six-mile run this past Saturday was a disaster.
Well maybe not a disaster.
It just did not go as planned.
Given that I had such a good run the week before, I was expecting an equally good session this time, as well.

The goal is simple – to run the six mile course without stopping.
Never mind that my time to accomplish this task is longer than in my younger days.
I can live with that.
I just want to run the course without stopping and with nothing broken.
In that respect, this last session achieved half of my goal.

As I have said in past blogs, because of the hilly terrain of the first three miles of the course, I can tell in the first half mile how I am going to do in any particular attempt.
And it was so this past Saturday as well.
I did not feel “strong” early on.
I did not feel weak exactly, just not at my best.
So that set me to wondering if I would have to cut the session short or what.

In times past I have found myself with diminished breathing capacity that reduced my running ability, but that has not happened in several weeks – and may be fixed for good.
This past session, I just felt less strong, and to my surprise, my breathing was never a problem.

But by the time I got to the first serious little hill early in mile three, I knew I was in for a difficult journey.
I pondered whether to turn around and limit the party to four miles, but ego got the best of me.
I wanted to go the whole way, thinking that early in mile four the course is virtually all down hill.
So I kept going.
But I stopped and walked that first hill.
When things leveled out a bit, I started running again.
Then I walked The Hill at the end of mile three, as planned.
But I had to walk a few hundred feet in mile four, and another few hundred feet in mile five, and a hill in mile six, just over a half mile from the finish line.

I finished discouraged and perplexed (and running).
Why was I so “weak”?
I could think of no reason.
I had gotten a nominal amount of sleep the day/night before.
I had done a normal chest workout Friday morning with no signs of weakness.
I did not “feel” tired or sick.
So, why did I bomb so badly on my favorite course?
Surely, I am not too old to run this distance any more.
Or am I?
I am 66.
Is it time to face the reality of my age?

In the last six or eight weeks I have run this course only twice without stopping to walk at least once.
Some of the walking can be attributed to building up my running strength to handle the course distance from the three-and-a half mile distance I was running previously.
But which is the exception and which is the rule, running the six miles without stopping, or running the six miles with a walk or two mixed in?
Part of me does not want to know the answer.

We will try it again next week and see how we do.
I fear I may have to kiss my favorite running course goodbye.

I can remember my great grandmother, her long white hair pulled back in a neat bun, sitting in her old wooden rocking chair in her big, nearly empty living room, looking out the tall front windows of her old house (which was long ago demolished in downtown Sacramento).
Just sitting silently and looking out, watching the cars and occasional pedestrian go by.

It did not register at that time how lonely and empty her life must have been then.
I was just a kid about 8, maybe, self-centered and focused on playing with things, too shy to want to interact with people I did not know very well.
I remember us talking - she asking me questions, me answering, me asking questions, she answering.
I fear I was a bit terse in my comments.
But I did not know what to say to her.
I remember feeling very disconnected with my great-grandmother.
I did not know much about her, her childhood, where she was born, where she had lived, if she worked, where she had worked, etc.
And, frankly, I did not care then.
I was too young to appreciate the value of wisdom and perspective of older people then.

Some days I feel very close to that scene.
But the person in the rocking chair is me.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Ticked Off By Judicial Stupidity - Again

Re the following tidbit....

To which I respond-

Welcome to Canada.
Or China.
Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in Texas has ordered Medina Valley Independent School District to not do or say certain things during its graduation ceremony.

One of the things prohibited is prayer.
Imagine that.
Some of the words that are prohibited are, “in [diety]'s name”, “bow their heads”, “amen”, and “prayer”.
So much for free speech.

As you can guess, this suit was brought against the school district by a single atheist family, with the help of the ACLU.
So, just as in the Ten Commandments case in Alabama a few years ago, a single person or family can stand the entire nation or community on its head with the help of a sympathetic federal judge.

So, what would be some possible reactions to this judicial absurdity?
Here are a few:
1 Comply with the order.
Pretend God does not exist and that the entire community has no interest in acknowledging Him in any way in public/civic events.

2 Kill the judge.
This is the Taliban method of handling local civic disagreements. It works but there are some risks and consequences.

3 Kill the atheist family.
The Taliban method again. Since they are the cause of the problem; eliminate the problem and go back to praying at graduation ceremonies. Again, there are some risks and consequences to this response.

4 Hold prayer meetings in the street in front of the homes of the judge and/or the atheist family. Say the prohibited words just loud enough to be heard by the target individuals.

5 Have the Valedictorian READ the judges order at the graduation ceremony, thus, saying all the words the judge has prohibited to be said at the ceremony.

6 Pray, and/or say all the words the judge has prohibited.
Pretend this order was never made. Just do what you planned on doing. This response will likely result in jail time for those involved, including the school administrators. I say, tough noogees. Send them to jail. Send everybody to jail.
Let the judge and the judicial system deal with a massive civil disobedience movement.

7 Have the crowd chant the prohibited words during the graduation ceremony.
Of course this would just be a spontaneous gesture of protest/free expression, which is "protected" free speech.

8 Boycott the graduation ceremony.
Just don't go there. Find someone who has a large enough field or pasture and hold the graduation ceremony on private property. Charge a one penny admission as a token to make it a private event.


April 15 th of 2013 was my last year to work for HR Block. I disliked the corporate pressure to make us call customers to try ...