So, officer O’Malley comes into the back room at the Italian restaurant, only to find the priest, the rabbi and the minister sitting on the floor with dice and cash in plain view. It is obvious that they have been illegally gambling, but the cop hasn’t actually seen them doing it. So, he turns to the priest ans says, “Father, have you been gambling?” The priest says a quick Hail Mary, then says, “No.” The cop turns to the minister and says, “Reverend, have you been gambling?. The minister says a short prayer asking Jesus for forgiveness, then he also denies gambling.
Frustrated, he asks the rabbi if he has been gambling. The rabbi responds, “With whom?”
I heard a number of such jokes when I was growing up. They were pretty mild, but they often played softly with stereotypes. The priest was generally earnest and a little naive. The rabbi was usually clever and a little more worldly.
It is hard to imagine a little joke like this getting through the din of vulgarity in the modern world.
Months have passed since I posted here. Now I have something to share.
Two weeks ago my father died. He was a professional violinist, an avid sports fan, a strong man and a strong personality. He put down his worn tuxedo at 90, after playing professionally for78 years. Congestive heart failure eroded him till he could not walk ten steps without stopping to catch his breath. He declined aggressive treatment, deciding instead on hospice care.
He was chipper on the morning of his last day on Earth. The about Noon he took a turn for the worse. His passing would be brief, but not easy. He started groaning and gasping for air, complaining that he could not get comfortable as the nurse and I rolled him onto one side, then another. I held his hand and recited a couple of prayers with him. I looked into his eyes, my face a foot away from his, and told him that I loved him. I talked about the good old days and how he had performed for Presidents and played with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Sammy Davis Jr., and other stars. He listened and spoke occasionally, but he was still uncomfortable. He looked at me with anxiety in his eyes and grabbed my arm with a strength he had not shown in years.
The nurses gave him a combination of Ativan, Morphine, and Haldol. His speech started to slur, but he restlessness and discomfort continued. He cried out for Jesus. At times he was unintelligible. At one point, after about four hours, he lifted his arms towards the ceiling, gazed upwards, and in a breathy voice, he whispered, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” as if it had just occurred to him. The nurses gave him more Ativan. At five hours, a new pattern appeared. He started to doze, not breathing for about 30 or 40 seconds, then he suddenly awoke with a start and with a wild look in his eyes, he started gasping for breath. This lasted for about two minutes, then he stopped breathing and appeared to doze again for another 30 or 40 seconds, followed by more gasping. (I have since looked it up and learned that this has a name. It is “Cheyne-Stokes” breathing. The literature claims the dying look more uncomfortable that they are, but who knows?) I just held him and talked to him. At six hours he wasn’t saying much, but he gestured and said he had pain in his throat. I looked at the nurse and said, “Isn’t there anything you can do to make him comfortable?” She gave him more morphine. Finally, a few minutes later he fell asleep and began to snore. I stepped out of the room and asked for a drink of water. I returned two or three minutes later, and he had stopped breathing.
Some of you may have been present through a “hard passing” death. I had never been with someone in the hour of death before. It was harrowing and disturbing. It left me spent and a bit numb. The nurse told me it was quite common. If you Google “death – agitation” you will see that this is how many people die. I had no idea. The movies portray the dying as very collected, saying things like asking Knute Rockne to tell the team to “win one for the Gipper” some day, or trying to give a cop a description of a criminal. That may be true for a few, but not for most of us. We are never quite in harmony with this world. Rudely shoved out, we enter this world, and many of us will be rudely shoved into eternity.
PS There was one funny moment. After switching my dad every few minutes onto one side or the other, at one point he was on his back, with his head elevated. He mumbled that he wanted to be moved again. I said, “Dad, which way do you want to go?” He just pointed up.
The Wikileaks story has taken over the headlines. The private who leaked the cables will no doubt spend many years in jail. As a condition of his security clearance, he would have had to sign an agreement not t disclose what he released. Politicians are calling for prosecution of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. But whose laws did he break and where was he when he broke them? Prosecution may be more difficult than we think.
Most of what we have seen so far is more embarrassing than strategic. An ambassador here or there may have said some sharp things about a foreign leader. So, how do you vote? Is Wikileaks a positive force for transparency or an act of treason?
The call came the afternoon before Good Friday. They obtained custody of their teenaged grandson from their daughter six months before. Now during Spring Break a driver crossed the center line on a California highway. Grandma was still in the hospital, and their grandson lay dead in a Las Vegas mortuary. The twist was that the boy’s mother was fighting them over disposal of his body. She obtained lawyers based on the promise of a wrongful death suit against the driver of the other car. It turns out that the custody order didn’t survive the death of the boy, so the parents have priority in deciding what to do with his lifeless body.
It seemed a travesty on top of a tragedy to the grandparents. The mother was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She abused her son badly enough that she went to prison when the boy was two, but regained custody thereafter. The grandparents had acted when the kid, beaten and bullied, refused after a visit to go back to Miami with his mother. He hated the town and he wanted nothing to do with her. The court appointed psychiatrist said the relationship with Mom was awful. She hit her son and gave him a black eye between court hearings. Her lawyers finally convinced her she was going to lose and she conceded custody to the grandparents last fall.
Despite law favoring the parent, even a parent who had lost custody twice due to abuse, the grandparents wanted to bury this troubled child where they knew he would want to be: near their Indiana home, not in the city he loathed. There were negotiations over the Easter weekend. She might agree to cremation (paid for by the grandparents) and splitting the ashes. After several hours of attorney time devoted to hammering out the details of a deal, she backed out. She might agree to allow burial in Indiana at the grandparents’ expense if the grandparents paid to fly her and her three other kids and a boyfriend up to Indiana for the funeral, paid for her hotel room and got a her a car. Wait – that’s not enough. She needs to have a Catholic service instead of the one prepared by her Protestant parents. Would it work if the grandparents paid for a priest to do a Catholic service before the Protestant funeral? OK. More attorneys prepared the paperwork, then she backed off again.
By this point they had spent several thousand dollars on attorneys. They could probably prevail if they put together the evidence of her abuse and testified that Miami was the last place the boy wanted to be. But, that would cost thousands of dollars more and prolong their pain. They gave up, and they are now on their way to Indiana for a memorial service. And I, a witness to this family tragedy, thought about my children and my grandchildren and all the petty problems of everyday life and gave thanks.
While watching the womens’ downhill competition last night, it struck me that the medals for downhill racing are unequivocal in a way few human endeavors are. What constitutes the best in most activities is subjective. Who is the best lawyer in town or the best doctor amounts to a matter of opinion. Even when there seems to be a consensus, it is usually a consensus of opinions.
Even in many sports, we can argue about which is the best team. There is the subjectivity of judging figure skaters, and even speed skaters can complain about unfair pushes and shoves.
Not so in downhill skiing. The competitors each take their turn running down the same course. It is about who gets to the bottom of the hill fastest. Period. There is nobody else to blame if you fall – no intervening human contact.
I suppose weather conditions could change to someones advantage or disadvantage during a day of competition, but it is about as pure a meritocracy as you can find.
The Las Vegas Review Journal reported today that Harry Reid raised $15M in political contributions for his campaign in 2009. It amounts to $7.50 for every man, woman, and child in Nevada and probably about $30 per voter, which seems to me an astounding sum when you consider that Harry wasn’t on a ballot in 2009. He spent $2M campaigning in the last three months of a year when he wasn’t running. All of this occurred in the middle of a deep recession before the Supreme Court struck down caps on corporate contributions. By the next election day, Harry might end up spending $45M running for office. If he gets 50% of the vote, he will end up spending an amazing $180 for every voter who actually presses the button for him.
Admittedly, the Nevada Senate raise is going to draw more attention and money than usual this year, but I believe these numbers are indicative of how much of our money is getting devoted to the political process.
At first blush, you might think this would lead me to favor imposing campaign spending limits. I might do so if I thought they had any chance of working. Instead, they invite massive evasion. I suppose disclosing how much Exxon or Bank of America gives to a candidate might help keep the public informed about who owes what to whom, but there are very few public servants who will not listen to the donor of $100,000.
Lost in the firestorm that has erupted over revelations of Sen. Reid’s comments about then Senator Obama’s election prospects and race is the context of those comments. It explains why African American political leaders were so quick to forgive his “poor word choice.” They knew he was not a racist from his lifetime commitment to civil rights, but I believe they also knew that Sen. Reid was not expressing a racist opinion because the subject he was discussing was how voters might react to an African American candidate.
It is easy to forget that two years ago many Americans wondered whether this country could elect a black man to the Presidency. Early in the Obama campaign, a majority of African American leaders in the Democratic Party still supported Hillary Clinton. Were they racists? Of course not. But, they accepted the conventional political wisdom at that moment, which held that sufficient latent racism probably existed among voters to deny the Presidency to an African American candidate.
To a certain extent, voters need to identify with a candidate to vote for him. In that sense, Sen. Reid was stating a truism: the more Obama was perceived as a “black” candidate, instead of a candidate who happened to be black, the more difficult it would be for some white voters to identify with him. To handicap a political race, politicians and political analysts must assess the possible prejudices of voters, be they racial, regional, religious, or class based. The problem is that a candid discussion of those prejudices is not politically correct, and it can be portrayed as racist or bigoted by those willing to repeat it out of context in our “sound bite” culture.
A lot of us will remember 2009 as a hard year. I will remember it as the year my mother died. I was reluctant to write about this. I’m not sure if it was simply too personal, if I didn’t want to troll for condolences, if I was too busy with Christmas and in the middle of moving houses to gather my thoughts, or if I had a hard time connecting them to my feelings.
The good news is that my mother lived to be 87, died married to the man she married 64 years earlier, was lucid until the end, suffered no pain, and faced her final passage without fear. From where I sit, that looks like about 75% of the measure of a successful life, right there.
One thing surprised me about her final days. She did not die from any acute illness, but from a weariness of life itself. This caused our family much consternation as we tried to push her to eat and drink enough to survive. Over her last six weeks I called ambulances to take her to the hospital three times and to quick care facilities twice, all for episodes of falling caused by her weakened condition. She objected each time, but each time the family wore her down. And, she had four stints in rehab facilities.
I did not realize it, but since my mother died, several friends have told me of parents who died in the same way. They just lost interest in eating or drinking, and they faded away. They outlived life. It is not that my mother did not know starvation and dehydration would kill her, she was simply indifferent to that outcome.
Our postmodern culture, with its relentless materialism, cannot comprehend not wanting to live any more (absent a painfully terminal illness) because life is seen as all there is. The religious culture which preceded modern times rejected suicide as a denial of God’s sovereignty. At the edge of life, the lines between suicide and not caring whether you live or die become a bit blurred.
I devoted today to seminars connected with the annual meeting of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, a group designed to bring the bankruptcy bar and judges together. The first panel discussion of the morning was entitled “Obamanomics.” Guest Panelist , former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, discussed America’s current financial dilemma (including the coming Medicare/Social Security crises) with two bankruptcy professors, a judge, and an economics professor. What struck me were Smith’s remarks. From our current debt situation, he suggested there were four possible responses: (1) continue to solve troubled industries with GM and Chrysler-like infusions of cash, tilting the potential bailouts away from secured creditors, towards favored constituencies; (2) continue bailouts without raising taxes, thereby debasing the currency; (3) raise taxes sharply to cover the cost of entitlements; or (4) renege on the generational social compact which formed the underpinnings of Social Security and Medicare.
Smith made the point that option 1 will quickly erode foreign confidence in US investments. Note, as a matter of policy, the traditional legal expectations of secured investors are thwarted for the benefit of a favored political constituency. Foreign investors favor the US because the rule of law operates here. If political considerations trump the expectations of secured investors, the US will become just another banana republic in the eyes of foreign investors, and our current economic difficulties will be a fond memory.
Option 2 reaches the same result through inflation. The investor gets his money back, but he is paid in devalued dollars because of our profligacy, so foreign investment shuts down.
Option 3 is politically challenging. Moreover, seriously raising taxes would dampen economic activity in an already compromised market.
Option 4 is probably politically impossible, but some measure of repositioning benefits might occur.
A recent thread touched on the question of the Obama Presidency as an opera. If the election and Presidency of Mr. Obama was a Shakespeare play, we would probably be at the end of the First Act. Which Shakespeare character would Mr. Obama be?
He doesn’t have to be the protagonist (although it is hard to imagine him in any other role.)
A hint about my tentative choice. He rises to power based on an eloquent speech in one play, then is brought to ruin by a disastrous foreign war in another.