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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Benjamin Franklin Riding Shotgun



Because what happens always amazes and flummoxes me, when driving around I sometimes pretend that Benjamin Franklin has mysteriously been whisked from his own time and deposited on the seat next to me. I greet him courteously and explain what has happened to him, and that he is now riding in a vehicle traveling at 70 miles an hour on a road in the middle of Ohio in the year 2010. Ben, being Ben, takes this in stride and, characteristically curious about everything, begins to look around him. That’s when the complications start.

“How does this vehicle work? What propels it?” the good doctor asks. I explain that the “automobile” is fuelled by gasoline, but of course he has questions about what that means. Hmm. Well, these dinosaurs died, you see, and (“What are dinosaurs?”). It gets complicated fast. Then, annoyed at my ability to explain something so basic, he wants to know how the automobile is powered by the fuel. Well, another hmm, there was a day when I could have given a rudimentary explanation of the internal combustion engine, but that day has passed. I temporize by suggesting that later I’ll introduce him to someone who will provide him with a complete explanation. “Don’t you know?” he asks, astounded at my complacent ignorance of this marvel’s workings, and I squirm in embarrassment. In Gore Vidal’s comedy “Visit to a Small Planet” the alien from outer space is asked the same question about his spaceship, at which point he shrugs his shoulders and mutters, “It just goes.” Not a very satisfying explanation. Arthur. C. Clarke’s famous statement is all too true: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Ben is also in wonder at the traffic whizzing by on all sides at incredible speeds. “How do you keep from running into each other?” he marvels. That one I’m better at answering. I inform him that all American citizens are expected to drive, and to drive well. “All of them?” he asked, thinking of the collisions horse riders have in his day. “Yes, all above the age of 16,” I assure him, agog at the fact myself. (Indeed, contrary to what you might suspect, Americans are the safest drivers on the planet. We’re good at it.) He’s pleased, but immediately wants to learn to drive, a thrill we’ll also postpone until later. But, reader, stop and think how difficult a task it would be to teach Ben enough that he could safely drive through a busy downtown intersection. Would you want to ride in the car with him on his first outing?

Ben’s also curious about lights, both in the car and outside. Are they powered by his own personal baby: electricity? Yes, is the answer. “All of them?” Yes, again. Now Ben does a little dance of excitement while sitting in his seat, at which point I remember to make him buckle up, and he promptly has questions about the buckle. What is this material? Plastic. How is it made? Uh, got me. Can mankind fly? Yup. How does that happen? Well, another engine and the shape of the wings do the trick, I manage to say, but just then a plane flies over, and when I point it out he undoes his seatbelt and leans dangerously out the window (after I first show him the button that lowers it), and stares at it, open-mouthed.

The more questions he asks, the dumber I feel. Try this same experiment when you’re next standing around bored, waiting for something. Pretend Old Ben is right beside you, questions at the ready. How much could you explain about, well, almost all the things we so casually accept as commonplace. Ben certainly wouldn’t agree with such complacency. 2010 contains a paradise of marvels in Benjamin Franklin’s eyes.

And it should be a paradise in our minds too. What a world we live in! We’ve come from living in caves to dwelling in a metropolis, from crawling out of the sea to the moon, from delivering messages on horseback to texting, from papyrus to the most incredible invention of all: the internet. We are living in an age when all the information on the planet is available to everyone instantly, and all people who want to be connected can find each other in seconds, hearing each other’s voices, sharing photos, playing games across continents. The new events of the world, from tornados to war, to murder, to dramatic rescues, to silly antics of children and pets, are informed by videos shot by casual spectators, their iPods/cell phones pulled from pockets like guns from holsters.

We take it all for granted, a major mistake. Suppose that somehow all the problems in the world—all of them—were solved by midnight tonight. How long do you think it would be before there would be new (and serious) problems everywhere? The answer—obviously—is immediately. Six billion human beings running around doing things are going to generate problems with every movement. And those problems are what we tend to concentrate on, forgetting all else. Every time I hear someone say something like we shouldn’t spend money on going to outer space (or building a cathedral, financing the arts, etc.) as long as there is poverty on this planet, I shake my head. With that ethic we’d still be living in those caves.

Surely it’s appropriate to stop every once in awhile and appreciate what we have: the greatest civilization ever, possibly the greatest in the history of the universe! And minute by minute, like billions of ants, we’re working to create new marvels, better machines and buildings, trading zillions of goods (the apples I buy at Kroger come from New Zealand!), generating wonderful new ideas, curing diseases (transplanting hearts!), thinking up ways to protect our planet, inventing shortcuts to ease the burdens of all. If Benjamin Franklin were riding shotgun in the car with you and you saw the world through his eyes, wouldn’t it be exciting? Exciting for both of you?

Consider what William James said in a 1907 letter to his brother Henry:
“The courage, the heaven-scaling audacity of it all, and the lightness withal, as if there was nothing that was not easy and the great pluses and bounds of progress, so many in directions all simultaneous that the coordination is indefinitely future, give a kind of drumming background of life that I have never felt before.”

More than a hundred years later it’s only gotten better.
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Related Posts:
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Electricity and Cave Man Living," February 4, 2011
"Life's Little (But Important) Rules," April 23, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Take a (or Many) Pills Easily


My Pills in May of 2011
In September of 2009, as a way to steadily infuse medicine into my body, I was fitted with a PICC Line, which pumped the medicine once a minute into my system via a permanently-attached tube in my arm. It was a nightmare to keep myself clean with this device on (and sleeping was no picnic either), but I eventually figured out a method that worked. I was so proud of this invention (inventions are not usually the sort of thing I’m good at, but I spent many an hour thinking about this one), that I published “How To Shower With a PICC Line” on the advice website eHow. I also published some other efforts on eHow: “How To Place Smart Bets at Craps,” How to Speak in Public Without Making a Fool of Yourself,” and “How To Make Ethical Decisions.” Authors get paid small amounts for these things (so far I’ve earned the stupefying amount of almost $10.00), but the pleasure comes from thinking about how much you may have helped others. As of this writing the PICC Line article has been viewed 1,631 times! My latest article has the title of this post, and what follows is its text.

Taking a pill is a tremendous task for a great number of people. “I can’t swallow pills!” they’ll tell you, almost as if proud of this failing. That’s a shame, since it’s really quite easy to accomplish this mundane task. If you’re one of these people, how can you conquer your pill aversion? 
The usual adversion most people have is a combination of the mental and physical. The first difficulty comes from the word “can’t.” Very bad mindset comes from the word “can’t”; it always annoys me when I hear it said. If you “can’t” do something (speak in public, ask someone out on a date, stop eating), then you really can’t. Try saying this aloud instead: “I find taking pills difficult, and I’m bad at it, but perhaps I can learn how to do it so it’s no big deal.” Much better.

The physical part is mostly mechanical. You put the pill on your tongue, and instantly that bad mindset kicks in. Ugh! Well, stop that! The pill is tiny. You’ve often put huge objects in your mouth without gagging or worrying. Calm yourself. Think of it as a mint or, better yet, don’t think of it at all. Just put the pill in your mouth on the front to middle part of your tongue (not the tip). Now take a drink of water. Don’t swallow the pill, swallow the water. The pill will go where the water goes. Concentrate only on the water; forget the pill entirely.

If it doesn’t go down, simply drink more water. Stop worrying about the pill. It’s a tiny object, much smaller than many things you routinely consume without thought. Treat it like that and you’ll be fine.

Mindset is all here (as in many things). I myself can take up to fifteen pills of various sizes at one gulp. I’m proud of that, but that’s because it’s my mindset to be able to do this, and, frankly, I’m showing off. But, having had a heart transplant in November of 2009, I’d better be able to take large numbers of pills easily or my life would be hell.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Elena Kagan and Me

One of the things I do for fun is to gather friends together for a playreading, which means we sit around and read a play aloud, typically with no one but me having seen it before. This is not high art, and alcohol is frequently involved so that some people get noticeably freer with their reading of the text as the evening progresses. These gatherings, which have been going on since I was in high school, have come to be known as the “Whaley Players.” Some of my friends, and particularly those in my chosen family, have done dozens (hundreds?) of these readings (and are fine actors to boot).

In the 1980s at the University of Texas, my good friend Jay Westbrook (see “How I Became a Law Professor” Jan. 27) teamed up with Professor Elizabeth Warren, also on the Texas faculty, for a series of projects, including a number of books about bankruptcy law, including their collaboration on the leading casebook used in this country to teach that subject. They also sponsored a yearly conference in Austin on bankruptcy law, and on two occasions I was one of the speakers. This led to me becoming friends with Liz Warren, who is an incredible person. Since those days she has gone on to work wonders, and is currently on the cover of Time Magazine because of her work as the Chair of TARP (the Troubled Assets Relief Program). In fact, she’s all over the place: on Oprah, in Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism—A Love Story,” etc. She was one of the names prominently mentioned as a possible Supreme Court pick by President Obama.

In the school year 1999-2000 I was a Visiting Professor at Boston College. It was a great year for a number of reasons. Boston is a wonderful city, and I was living in a rented apartment in the Back Bay near the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue (“No, no!” one of the locals corrected. “It’s ‘Comm. Ave and Mass. Ave.’”) I made a number of good friends at Boston College, including some students I am still in touch with. There were troubles too, however. It was in the fall of 1999 that I first experienced atrial fibrillation (about which more in a future post—interesting story with, as you know, ultimately a happy ending).

In October of 1999 I met a man called Buck, an IT expert at a local company, and we began a romance that lasted almost two years (though for much of that he had to keep flying to Columbus). We had great times together. Buck was a determined eccentric, and fun to be with on many levels. He lived in the oldest house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and periodically had to absent himself while tours came through (he was one of the caretakers of this historic place). The house was amazing—in some rooms you had to stoop down because the ceiling was very low (people must have been shorter in the 1600s).

While in Boston I called Liz, and she invited me to Harvard to show me around the law school and have lunch. The tour was fun—I got to see Oliver Wendell Holmes’s lunch box, among other interesting things—and Liz is always a joy to be with. At one point she said to me, “Doug, if I’d have known you were interested in visiting Boston, we’d have asked you to visit at Harvard.” I laughed at that. “While I’ve written some articles and books I’m proud of,” I replied, “I’m not known as a scholar. My reputation is as a teacher.” Liz pooh-poohed that. “Boy, could I sell a visiting teacher to the faculty!” she said. “We’re forever inviting famous scholars who can’t teach and the students complain loudly.”

At some point I introduced her to Buck because, by a major coincidence, they lived across the street from each other. They had nodded in passing from time to time, but now knew each other’s names. After I explained to Buck how famous she was (arguably the leading expert in the United States on bankruptcy), he (like most of us) was in awe of her.

Then Liz invited Buck and me for an evening at her house, and I suggested making it a playreading. Intrigued, Liz consulted with her husband Bruce, and they agreed. I chose “Mary, Mary,” a favorite play because it only has five characters (three men, two women) and is very funny. Liz said she would find a woman friend to join us.

When the night arrived, we all came and were introduced to each other, and the playreading was fun (Liz, in addition to her other talents, can act). The Harvard faculty member that Liz had invited was fun too. When I told her that she would be playing the part of a young blond, intelligent, rich, beautiful socialite, she laughed and said it was type casting. Part of this professor’s story was that Bill Clinton had nominated her for a federal appellate court judgeship, but Congress, then in the control of the Republicans, was not acting on any of his judicial nominations, so hers looked dead in the water (that November would bring in the election of George Bush, ending the issue).

Flash forward to this past Thursday morning and I’m reading the newspaper. One of the letters to the editor mentioned that Elena Kagan (President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court) is being faulted for having no judicial experience, but that that was only because the Republicans wouldn’t confirm her when Bill Clinton nominated her (she was a White House advisor at the time of the nomination). Hmm.

I keep a diary (well, really just a journal of the day’s happenings with no editorial comment), so I dragged out the one for 2000 and scanned through it. The entry for April 16: “Buck and I go to Liz and Bruce’s home for playreading of ‘Mary, Mary’—Elena Kagan also there.”

So let history record: Elena Kagan is one of the Whaley Players. She should highlight that on her curriculum vitae.

The Younger Elena Kagan and Elizabeth Warren


PS:  On September 29, 2015, Elena Kagan came to the Ohio State Law School as a guest speaker at a reception on our 125th anniversary as a law school.  In the receiving line I shook her hand and reminded her of this meeting, 15 years in the past, and she laughed and said it had been fun.

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“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad


1. Mama.
On the heart transplant front things are going very well indeed, and the Infectious Diseases doctor, Stanley Martin, finally cleared me for getting a cat. You may remember from prior posts (see “Parakeets and Me” Feb. 5) that he had told me to get rid of my parakeets because they convey too many diseases to humans. Barbara (see “The Woman Who Runs My Life” May 5) kindly took them home with her while I was still in the hospital. My lung infection (see “New Year’s Eve Party Without the Host” Jan. 7) has scaled down to the point where Dr. Martin finally said I could get a pet as long as I didn’t have to deal with the feces. Try doing that with a dog. But a cat is allowed, though the good doctor had rules (not a kitten, litter box must be changed once a week, etc.). It had been very lonely coming home to a lifeless condo, so it was important to me to come home to a living creature that would, I hoped, be glad to see me.

One of the members of my chosen family is Pamela, who at one time had 13 cats, but is now proud that her “nuisance of cats” (the technical term; I looked it up) is down to a mere eight. Helping me find a suitable cat was a labor of love for her, and she promptly located one currently under the care of her regular (and I mean she sees him a lot) veterinarian. This kind and gentle man is a sucker for abandoned animals and one of his other customers had captured and brought to him a mother cat and her two kittens. She’s about 1½ years old, had been declawed, but, interestingly, not spayed. Apparently last November (about the time of my transplant) she’d gotten out from her prior home, had a romantic dalliance with a Tom, produces a litter of kittens (who knows how many?), and managed to keep two of them alive until they were all captured and delivered to Pam’s vet. In her short life, Mama has had perhaps too much adventure. Pam’s vet farmed out the kittens in due time, but “Mama Cat,” as they called her (and in theory—this is theory only, mind you—she answers to that name), stayed around, becoming the office favorite, being permitted the run of the place (she rubbed up against Pam and I when we first came in with the cat carrier), and obviously loved by all who met her. The vet himself was sorry to part with her, and there were misty eyes at the reception desk as Pam and I exited, cat in carrier, to take her back to my condo.

Mama and I have now been together a month, and are having a great time. If I’d written what’s happened as a dream screenplay entitled “Doug Gets a Cat” it would perfectly reflect the reality of how things have happened. Mama found the litter box right away, learned to like me enough to come up and suddenly lick me for no apparent reason (I do know how to pet a cat, and we’ve had many antic games—particularly the little red bug produced by the lazar pen I once used in the classroom, which scuds around the floor and has to be chased up and down stairs, so far mysteriously eluding capture by Mama the Mighty Huntress). We even sleep together. Mama and I do have a steady battle about which mammal is really in charge. Someone once well said that dogs have “masters” and cats have “staff.”

2. Biopsies.
This topic might seem unrelated, but stay with me.

Once last September, then next time the day of the transplant itself (Nov. 23, 2009), and periodically thereafter (once a week for the first couple of months, then once a month for a year, and then three times a year, and, eventually, once a year), I have had and for the rest of my life will have to endure a biopsy. In this interesting medical procedure, which takes about 45 minutes, the cardiologist inserts a tube into my neck on the right lower side, threads it down to the heart (which, trust me, does not like this) and takes a couple of tiny snips for analysis. Sounds like fun, right?

Actually, it has had its fun moments. In the very first one last September, the cardiologist performing the procedure was Dr. Carl Leier, who is quite a character. As I was lying down on his table he informed me that for background music “You have a choice: 60s music or 60s music.” He looked at me steadily, waiting for a reply. “Well, doctor,” I opined, “I think I’ll choose 60s music.” “Good. I should warn you that sometimes I sing along.” I nodded agreement to that too, remarking, “Doctor, I want you happy all during the time when you’re sticking things down my neck, so sing away.” The operation then proceeded and the good doctor did sing along occasionally. Dr. Leier has a good voice too, and only sang snatches of songs, but, I confess, it was a bit disconcerting to have a doctor playing around with my heart while crooning in my right ear “DUKE, DUKE, DUKE . . . . DUKE OF EARL, DUKE, DUKE!”

The biopsy operation tests for the body’s rejection of the heart, and produces a number on a scale of zero (which means no rejection) to four (which would be bad). I’ve now had about ten of these and with three exceptions they’ve all been zeros. I did have one 1A (mild rejection) and two 2s (rejection starting), but in all those cases a simple adjustment in medication took me back to zero the next time out. So things are good for old Doug.

I’m very pleased with it all, particularly the very talented doctors and their nurses and assistants who have been so friendly time after time. My thanks to them.

3. My iPad.
Every April 1, the major yearly check from my law books publisher arrives, and this year it was, happily, higher than expected. So I asked Barbara (see above) if I could afford to buy a toy. She said yes, and the iPad arrived shortly thereafter. I was suspicious of this new device. How complicated would it be? Could I learn to use it? Would it outperform my beloved Kindle when reading books? Was I throwing away money on a beta version that would be much improved if I waited, say, a year?

The result is clear. I love my iPad, and they will have to pry it from my cold dead hands in order to bury me. “Yes,” therefore, is the answer to all the above questions. The book-reading screen is bigger than the Kindle’s, and it can handle color photos and maps and other illustrations that are usually awful on the Kindle. Even better there’s an App you can buy and download that allows you to read Kindle books themselves, including ones you’ve read in the past and those currently on your Kindle, moving them directly to the bigger iPad screen. Okay, I do sometimes feel guilty, like I’m “cheating” on the Kindle, so every once in awhile I pull it out and read a little on it’s too-small screen—just so its feelings aren’t hurt.

It’s the iPad’s Apps that are wonderful! You can surf the net, summon up Word documents and revise them, read your email, watch ABC shows you missed, get the latest headlines, have a calculator, Wikipedia, GPS, weather forecast, dictionary/thesaurus, games, and much much more at your fingertips. It’s truly a major technological advance, and makes the 21st century a good time to be alive.

Yesterday (Tuesday) at 7:30 a.m. (!!!) in the morning I went to OSU’s Ross Heart Hospital for my monthly biopsy. I took the iPad with me so that in the waiting room I could read one of many books I have currently stored on it, and that iPad attracted a lot of attention. Everyone wanted to see it: doctors, nurses, aides, patients. I handed it around and demonstrated the various Apps. The one that most amused people (and gathered a crowd) was the “Cat Piano.” In this App a touch of an icon summons up a piano with about 15 white and black keys, and when you push one of them you hear a cat’s meow in the right pitch for the note pushed. Thus you can actually play tunes with cat meows (and change the kind of cat meows from six different choices: angelic, asthmatic, fur ball, etc.). It is very funny to listen to, unless, that is, you happen to be a cat named Mama. It drives Mama nuts! Where exactly are these cats? Why are they making these annoying noises? How did they get into what is now “her condo” without Mama knowing it? And how do all these musical cats fit inside that little box? The first time I played it for her, sitting on the floor, she got so frustrated she jumped on the screen with both front (declawed) paws, producing a major screech that sent her scampering frantically into a distant part of the house. Now, whenever I want to summon her from wherever she’s napping, all I have to do is play a note or two on the iPad cat piano and she’s right there bristling—ready for territorial battle.

And you thought I couldn’t tie these three things together, didn’t you?
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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How To Become an Atheist

Scary title, right? For most people, yes. Science now believes there is a genetic component to being religious, more dominant in some folks than others. If you’re a deeply religious person, I have no doubt the thought of becoming an atheist is very disturbing—hell, downright impossible. But don’t stop reading.

Consider this for a moment: if there truly are no gods and death means death and nothing more, is it smart to ignore that possibility? Believing in something that doesn’t exist and—even worse—building much of your life around that assumption is surely a major mistake. If there are no gods aren’t you wasting a good deal of your life servicing a myth? A Victorian philosopher/mathematician put it this way: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Of course that appeals to the lawyer in me, but it’s sound advice for everyone.

Okay, let’s say you’re open-minded enough to at least consider exploring atheism, how do you do it? In recent years there have been a number of best-sellers by the so-called “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism,” and all are well written. Try Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion,” Christopher Hutchens “God Is Not Great,” Sam Harris “The End of Faith,” or Daniel Dennett “Breaking the Spell.” There is even a DVD of these four men having a two hour conversation on atheism, called “Discussions with Richard Dawkins—The Four Horsemen.” Any one of these references, approached with a willingness to listen, will set you to seeing the world in a very different way.

Consider, if you will, how the world would change if there were no gods/heaven/hell/angels and all the other trappings that religious belief totes around. For you personally—no mistake—it would summon up a seismic shift in perception! No God? NO GOD!!! Then . . .what? What? Why then comes the darkness! Comes despair! In her book “Reading Lolita in Tehran” Azar Nafisi describes the problem: “If one day I lose my faith, it will be like dying and having to start new again in a world without guarantees.” Yes, Azar, it would be like that, and the possibility is definitely hard to face. But we don’t always get to do easy things in life, do we?

So, yes, your personal view of the world would collapse if you stopped believing in your god, but there’s also one more important thing to appreciate: other than your own angst, the rest of the world wouldn’t change at all. Things will go on just as they always have. When good things happen, believers will thank their god; when bad things happen that same god will be given a pass. If someone prays for something to happen and, by golly, it does, some god is immediately praised for benevolence; but when those prayers remain unanswered, ah, well, gods have their reasons, and people left in serious trouble are offered the sop of stupid remarks like “God never gives you burdens you can’t handle,” or “When God closes a door He opens a window,” or “God works in mysterious ways.” No one ever says “God is unthinkably cruel.”

Humankind invented gods because they feared death and therefore would accept any explanation—no matter how improbable—allowing them to conquer death and continue living. Thus mighty Jove could throw thunderbolts from the heavens, snakes give epicurean advice about apples, slain prophets rise from the dead and float up to heaven (or ride there on a horse), and Joseph Smith could peer into a hat and dictate the meaning of golden plates unfortunately recalled before their data could be backed-up. If you’re not a member of a particular religion, the myths of that particular religion seem ridiculous. It’s been pointed out that we’re all atheists as to other people’s religions. True atheists take one more step.

But death? The finality of it is so overwhelming: no heaven, no gods to give us virgins to enjoy, no harps to play. How can atheists cope with such a dismal prospect?

The answer is simple: live life as well as you can while you still have it. But is that then also a license to commit crimes or be cruel or boorish to others? No. There remain laws, official and unofficial, enforced by civil authorities and society both. Behave like a cretin and you’ll pay the usual penalties. Frankly, the genius of Christianity and some other religions is the Golden Rule: do unto others, etc. If only we all obeyed that simple instruction.

And, finally, consider that if everyone abandoned religious justifications for their bad behavior, life on the planet Earth would be dramatically better. Had Osama bin Laden been forced to recruit atheists, the World Trade Center would still be standing.
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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Sayings of Robert Whaley


Dad had memorable ways of expressing things, and I thought I might expose you to some (but certainly not all) of them. Here goes:

1. “Budget the Luxuries First”
Dad taught me that it’s important to enjoy life now while it’s still going on. Think about it. You don’t want to be lying on your death bed and slap your forehead while moaning over all the things you should have done but never got around to actually doing. In making financial plans he suggested that (when possible) we should all remember that the luxuries of life are themselves worthy of serious attention, lest we never garner our share. Of course, one can carry this idea too far (which is true of almost everything), but done sensibly it is good advice. Looking back on the times I’ve applied it, I don’t regret a single one (well, that night in Chicago—but never mind).

Having said that, a story:
Two of the members of my chosen family are Art and Lorri, who I’ve loved dearly since 1980 when we first met and bonded. Somewhere in the early 80s they were faced with a financial decision: spend money on a vacation to California or use that money to hire someone to strip and repaint their front porch. Which to do? Budget the luxuries first, I quoted to them, attributing it to Bob Whaley. Damn right, they agreed, and promptly went to California and had a wonderful time. However, they were cursing old Bob pretty good weeks later as they labored on their front porch, tools and paint brushes in hand, sweating in the 90° weather.

2. “Let’s Avoid Pooling Our Ignorance”
Ever find yourself debating something and then realizing that neither one of you knows what he/she is talking about, it being obvious that more expertise is needed to solve the problem? In such a situation Dad would suddenly stop and comment “We’re just pooling our ignorance,” and then he’d suggest we stop talking about it and hunt up a source of wisdom. Remembering this, and saying it out loud when appropriate, avoids lots of wheel-spinning.

3. “Be Worth More Than Your Salary”
This one is good advice to anyone who wants to get ahead professionally. Be worth more to the business than the salary they’re paying you, and things will go much better for everybody. But this advice only works if your boss is aware of the superiority of your efforts. As Gilbert and Sullivan say in their comic opera Ruddigore, “You must stir it and stump it, and blow your own trumpet, or trust me you haven’t a chance!” When my son Clayton, working for an aviation company in Seattle, came up with a new software program that could save millions, I urged him to make certain the credit for this advancement came to him. Who wouldn’t want an employee working wonders like that? I should mention that Dad himself was bad at following this latter advice. The Air Force often used him as a trouble-shooter, giving him duty assignments to take over squadrons that were under-performing and filled with tension and bad blood. He’d come in, take over firmly, and use his organizational genius and winning personality to put things right again. The squadron would then go on to win awards, but by the time this happened the superior officer who’d sent him on this difficult assignment would have moved on, and the new superior would have the understandable attitude that any officer could run a squadron so trouble-free. Late in his Air Force career, Dad confessed that he regretted not having made sure that when upper command changed personnel, the very grateful officer who was leaving informed his replacement as to who had worked the transformation of this squadron. “If I’d have done that,” Dad said ruefully, “I’d be a general now.”

4. “One More and Quit Forever”
This saying is more or less the Whaley family motto (Dad being its inventor), and perhaps it’s best forgotten, but, alas, it does come up quite a bit. Say, for example, the question is whether to have another drink. “One more and quit forever,” would be the standard Whaley reply (from Dad, from me, from my sister, my ex-wife, and even, I believe, my son)—the damn thing is catchy and an easy temptation to someone already inclined to have that drink (or dessert, or cigarette or, say, sky dive). Well, you might comment, what harm is there really in having one more (fill in blank) if you’re going to quit forever? That would be right except the motto is immediately renewable (say in twenty minutes when another round is in the offing).

Another story:
Jerry and I were together for twelve years, and like almost everyone in my life he took repeating the Whaley motto on appropriate occasions (by then all of our friends were using it too). One January, years after Dad had died, we went to New Orleans for a law professors’ convention, and Jerry, for the first time, got to meet my sister Mary Beth and her husband, Rich, who were then living in that grand city. We all met at a fine restaurant in the French Quarter, ordered drinks, and had a splendid meal. When dinner was winding down, the waiter appeared at Rich’s elbow and asked him if he’d like another drink, pointing to Rich’s empty glass. Rich smiled. “Why not?” he asked rhetorically. “One more and quit forever.” Both Jerry and I later agreed that on hearing this we felt a chill. Everyone we knew who said this motto had learned it directly from me. But Rich wasn’t one of those people. Ah, but Rich had certainly spent much time in the company of Robert Whaley, and that ghost was suddenly at the table with us all.
________________________________________
Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011

Monday, May 10, 2010

Straight Talk


The far right is always fretting about the dreaded HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA, which in their worst nightmares has gays taking over the world and imposing their perverse lifestyle on (to use my father’s word) “normal” people. In reality, it turns out that the homosexual agenda has no goal more grand than being treated like everyone else. Plus, given that all modern research shows homosexuality to be biological in origin and comprising around ten percent of the population, it's impossible that homosexuals could flip a sufficient number of straights to gain control of the planet. Damn.


But for you heterosexuals reading this, I want you to imagine what would be your lot in such a gay-dominated world. Take a deep breath.


From a very early age—and certainly by puberty—you’d be aware of a strong attraction to the opposite sex. Think back to your earliest sexual stirrings and remember how that felt. Now think about what it would be like to hide that attraction all the rest of your life.


You’d be taught from your earliest years that such desires are “sick” and “sinful” (and in many parts of the world outright illegal). Would you nonetheless be brave enough to tell your parents that you are attracted to the opposite sex? How awkward would that conversation be? Would they be disappointed in you? Worried about how difficult your life would be as a straight person? Throw you out of the house and lead the rest of your family in shunning you? Consider what life on the streets would be like for a teenager in your position. Would you risk that or would you elect, as most straights do, to live a lie? Maybe if you pray enough or see the right therapist you can become gay. Try that and see if that works. Or, how about this: marry a person of the same sex and hope that leads to happiness.


You might find other heterosexuals who share your disgrace, but that’s a harder task than at first appears. Most heterosexuals are very good at hiding their sexual orientation and pretending to be gay, and they will come out of their straight closet only with patient coaxing. You might try flirting to see if the one you’re attracted to is really straight, but that carries with it the serious risk of being beaten senseless by the object of your affection or his/her friends (or even the police). Be careful.


The only straight people you will routinely see on TV or in your neighborhood are the stereotypes of heterosexuality: men and women who so straight they can’t hide it, and who therefore shamelessly flaunt their interest in one another—men and women who go so far as to live together, or frequent bars catering only to straights, or who display public affection! They are even invading TV shows and movies!


You aren’t that brave, at least not at first, so you live alone a lot with your misery. Even if you do stumble upon true love, you will of course have to hide it. You can’t let the world know you are straight, so you can’t hold hands with the woman/man of your dreams, much less engage in such a radical act as a public kiss. Kissing a member of the opposite sex in the wrong venue, say as passengers in an airplane, can lead to very unpleasant scenes, including threats of arrest.


When it comes to choosing a job, you’ll be challenged to break out of the stereotypical heterosexual occupations: for men these are construction worker, action movie star, professional athlete; teacher, lap-dancer, housewife being reserved for women. No matter how patriotic or martially talented you might be, you will be forbidden by law from serving in the military. Ever since the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., it has been the accepted wisdom that gays make the best soldiers, and allowing straights to join them would destroy the cohesiveness of military units. If you protest that this is ridiculous, know that when it comes to the combination of logic and straights-in-the-armed-services the motto is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”


In most places on the earth you can’t marry your true love, no matter how real your devotion and deep your commitment. You may live together, but the world at large will know that you’re really just a “pretend” couple and will certainly not allow you the many benefits of marriage. In most states you can’t get health care through your partner’s occupation, can’t make medical decisions for him/her in the event of an emergency (or even be allowed in the sick room), and, due to inheritance laws, will have to pay a crippling amount of taxes when your so-called “spouse” dies, or else lose the home you have lived in for decades. At the funeral your soul mate’s family, who have always hated you and the lifestyle you so wickedly imposed on their child, will take over and, if they allow you to attend at all, will seat you with the general mourners. None of the speakers at the burial service will mention your name, and you will not be invited to console the biological family afterwards, and only your close friends will attempt to console you. Unless you are careful to have iron-clad wills in place, these same people will ransack your house and carry off treasures you and your love have accumulated through the years. If you are reckless enough to actually have children, they will become the littlest victims of all this heterophobia.


When, inevitably, you snap and howl at the unfairness of it all, you’ll be met with the ultimate (and unanswerable) justification: their religion commands this treatment of your kind. In vain you’ll wonder what sort of religion could possibly be so cruel.


Sounds pretty horrible, right? Well, the good news is that things are getting better for you poor straight people. Many gays and their institutions, and even some religions, are tolerant of heterosexuality, or, better, actually supportive. Alas, the government is still heterophobic on all matters that count, but if you are careful enough (hide things or find the “straight” part of the city to live in, come out only to the “right” gay people) you can live a life without significant stigma. It’s better than nothing.


Okay. Now take another deep breath and be grateful this is all a fantasy.
________________________________________
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Woman Who Runs My Life


I first met Barbara in 1977, when she came into my life as a friend of my first partner, David. The two of them had met in a pottery class, and hit it off right away. She is a short, beautiful woman, with a great laugh, much good common sense, and more affection for those she loves (including her Buddy, see photo) than seems possible. Even after David and I broke up in 1981, she and I remained close friends.

In the 1982-83 school year I was a Visiting Professor at the University of California Hastings Law School in downtown San Francisco. [Hmm. Gay single man in San Francisco? Good times that year—another post, perhaps.] During my absence, my home in Columbus was rented out to another professor visiting at OSU and his family. They took fairly good care of it, but nonetheless when I returned, I was depressed thinking how much there was to do (carpets to be cleaned, things to be repaired, walls to be painted, etc.), and how little I wanted to do it, particularly given all the professional and other things that had piled up during my western adventures.

Shortly thereafter Barb asked if we could go to lunch, and once seated she launched into her pitch. As I well knew, the year before she had quit her job of 14 years at a printing company when the sexual harassment grew too much for her, and since then had been on unemployment. Much embarrassed, she asked if she could borrow $500, explaining her detailed plan as to how she would repay it. I agreed, of course, but told her that instead of monetary repayment, she could work it off by putting my house in order for an hourly rate. She jumped at the task.

Barbara was her usual efficient self, and dived into making things right with great enthusiasm and much originality. As I have mentioned in prior posts, I have no visual sense, and thus no taste (one of these days they’re going to take away my Queer Card). Left to my own shopping decisions, I always come home with the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s Xmas tree, proudly showing the miserable thing to my friends, only to have them shade their eyes and shake their heads sadly. Barb, on the other hand, has wonderful taste, and doesn’t hesitate to express it (“This must go,” “This must be replaced,” or “Oh, Douglas, how could you do this?”). She went through the $500 fast, and, with much more obviously still to be done, I wrote out a check for $750 and handed it to her. “You don’t understand,” she told me, taking it reluctantly, but knowing what I said was true, “this would never end.” “That’s my plan!” I said with pleasure. She looked at the check, confused. After a bit she said, “Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand.”

And that’s how Barbara came to be a fulltime employee of mine. From 1983 until this very day she has been in charge of the details of my existence. She pays the bills, has the taxes done, buys a new car for me whenever I need one (she loves cars and motorcycles—she’s the former biker chick mentioned in “My Inadvertent Tattoo” of March 6th of this year). She picked out most of the furniture I own and helped me select the condo I moved to four years ago. The two of us formed a corporation named “Commercial Law Lectures, Inc.,” and for over twenty five years she would set up lectures for me to give all across the United States advising bankers on “The Law of Checking Accounts.” In these ventures she would do all the work ahead of time: get the hotel, print up the materials I provided, send out the advertisements, sign up the attendees, make sure there were coffee and pastries, plus zillions of other things, and then I would show up, give the six hour lecture, and we’d split the profits. We did this over 260 times until my failing heart brought things to a halt two years ago. The corporation is now defunct (or at least I think it is—she’s very sentimental about winding it up, and gets teary-eyed when contemplating the task—I’m a little afraid to ask).

Barbara was born in Belgium of Polish parents who, as teenagers, met in Nazi Germany after being snatched from their Polish villages, and forced into ugly work. They had three daughters, Barbara being the middle child, born on the way to Youngstown, Ohio, where they settled, and where Barbara, age 3, had to learn English. These days she is as American as apple pie, and remembers little of Polish, except some choice curses and (a favorite of mine) a drinking toast which translated is “Goodnight, brains!”

There are more Barbara stories than I could ever relate in this blog, though some will come up naturally. Of the ones I don’t tell, some I dare not tell or she’d rip out my new heart. Alas, these are also balanced against stories she’d better not tell about me, and which also will remain blog-free. I cannot stop myself, however, from relating this one:

In her forties, Barbara was a Roseanne Barr (then at the height of her TV popularity) lookalike, and this led to no end of fun. Particularly in airports and restaurants were people doing double-takes and whispering with gestures in her direction. She loved it. One particular evening in the Orlando airport our flight was delayed and people became restless and bolder. When they started gathering, mob-like, I huffingly approached the crowd and in an insincere voice informed them “This woman is not Roseanne Barr. Please leave us in peace.” That, of course, just stoked their curiosity, and the next thing I knew Barb was signing autographs and telling stories from the set. I sat off to the side, my reaction alternating between horror and humor.

When the heart transplant came along, Barbara took charge of me completely. Since the doctors said I couldn’t keep my parakeets, she generously took them home with her. For the first two weeks that I was home, she mothered me up one side and down the other, while I sometimes bathed in it and sometimes protested that I needed more space. She was everywhere: making all the meals, changing dressings, chatting with the nurse about this and that, driving me everywhere (I was buckled into the back seat to avoid the dreaded airbags), carrying all things heavier than ten pounds, helping me figure out how to shower without opening up my chest, and many more tasks kept her busy. And she was pleased to do it.

If that woman loves you, you are indeed a lucky human being. If she were ever to quit on me, what in the world would I do? Cry helplessly, no doubt as I faced the terror of figuring out how to run my life myself. (Shudder) Many a friend has told me they need a Barbara of their own. Good luck with that. They certainly can’t have mine.

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“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Toast to Andrew

As you may know from prior posts [“About That Heart Transplant” 1/24/10, “My Heart Belonged to Andrew” 2/17/10, and “Another Letter to Andrew’s Parents” 3/9/10] Barbara and Byron (the mother and stepfather of Andrew, my 27 year old heart donor) and I have been working our way closer to one another for months. My last letter that Lifeline of Ohio forwarded to them contained my email address, but Jenny Hoover of Lifeline said that such identification needed to be omitted until both parties had signed waivers stating they wished to communicate directly. With that emendation, the above “Another Letter” was sent. But the letter identified me by name and mentioned the fact that I’m a retired OSU law professor, from which Barbara tracked me down via the internet and, to my surprise, sent me an email. I was particularly startled when she mentioned she had been reading my blog since it contains more about me than I usually share with strangers I am just meeting. Our subsequent email exchanges even led to a brief phone call, plus photo swapping of the three of us, etc. Everything I learned about them made me more eager for a meeting, and that feeling seemed to be reciprocated. Finally I invited them to dinner at the Refectory, an upscale restaurant here in Columbus, for the evening of Wednesday, April 28th, and they agreed to come.

Meantime things were moving along at Lifeline. Jenny Hoover had sent us waiver forms, which we dutifully signed and returned. That done, two weeks ago she sent us each emails suggesting we meet for lunch with her. By this time the only possible lunch on my schedule was the Tuesday before our restaurant date. Barbara sent me an email about Jenny’s request and asked what we should do. (We felt like little kids going behind our parents’ backs to accomplish something verboten.) I suggested that I’d draft up an explanatory email to Jenny, show it to Barbara for changes, and then send it off. My eventual email to Lifeline included a CC to Barbara and Byron, so Jenny would definitely know we were in cahoots. It said:

Jenny:

I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, but Barbara and Byron and I have been in communication with each other for a month (without yet meeting). One of my letters that you forwarded on to them mentioned my name and that I was a retired OSU professor, and with that information Barbara found her way to my blog and email address. We have even spoken on the phone, and agreed to meet for dinner on Wednesday, April 28th at the Refectory.

We've felt sort of guilty doing this without you knowing it, but what's done is done. So our question to you now is whether you still want to have lunch with us before then, or whether that's unnecessary? Lunch is particularly difficult for me because I have rehabilitation therapy (torture in the gym) Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at noon, not getting out until after 1 pm. That leaves Tuesdays and Fridays, but next Tuesday I will be in Ann Arbor all day giving a lecture on promissory notes to Legal Aid lawyers, and I already have lunch with a former student scheduled for that Friday. So that only leaves Tuesday, April 27, the day before our scheduled supper. Or we could have a late lunch on one of the days I workout, assuming you'll take me winded and sore.

We all much appreciate everything that you and Lifeline have done to bring us together. Barbara and Byron appear to be wonderful people, and since Barbara has read my blog and, amazingly, is still willing to meet, I suspect we'll get along splendidly. As I said to Barbara in an email, I know that our first conversation will be delicate, and probably filled with tears. That's to be expected. Another complication is that they are still dealing with a major tragedy, one that has given me new life, and that means that I particularly will have to phrase what I say very carefully, being forthcoming but not prying, sympathetic and helpful.

So thank you very much for bringing us together. Let us know how you think we should proceed.

Doug


Jenny’s reply was an observation that “You are right those things do happen in the world of the internet,” adding that we need not meet before our restaurant date. She did ask that we send her a photo of the meeting.


All my friends were anxious to see how the meeting would turn out, but the more I thought about it I began to worry I was pressuring Barbara and Byron into this (unless strictly watched, I can be something of a bully, which will surprise no one who knows me). I myself have an adult son, and if he died and donated his heart to someone, I’m not sure that I would have the desire or courage to arrange to meet that person. So on that Tuesday I sent an email to them confirming the reservation for the following evening, adding: “I'm looking forward to this, but I want to reiterate that I would certainly understand if you change your mind and don't want to meet. That wouldn't offend me in any way.” Barbara promptly replied that they’d see me tomorrow night.


Supper that Wednesday could not have gone off better. Barbara and Byron are an elegant couple, and when we met at the maĆ®tre’d stand we recognized each other from the photo exchange, had an immediate hug, and then I spread my hands helplessly and managed, “Thank you for saving my life.” We proceeded to have a splendid time while eating delicious food.


Barbara and Byron are wonderful people, fun to talk to, with very interesting lives of their own—in short, people I would want as friends no matter how we met. There was much discussion of Andrew, of course, and of the other people in his life, and I was grateful to learn more about this amazing man. Before we got into a discussion of Andrew however, I volunteered I didn’t want to encroach on matters they wouldn’t care to discuss, and if something arose of that nature they should simply say so and we’d move on. The only time that happened was late in the evening when I asked if it was proper to know something about Andrew’s death. Barbara said it was a long story she’d rather not get into, and we quickly switched topics. I did learn that Andrew had also donated his liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and that Barbara and Byron had been in contact with the one individual who had received two of those organs, but had not heard from the final person. I also told them things about a transplanted heart: for example that since the nerves to the heart have been severed it doesn’t respond to stimuli. This means if I’m frightened, the heart doesn’t automatically beat faster, nor will it calm down just because I take a few deep breaths. Much of our conversation involved swapping stories having little to do with Andrew, and there was a great deal of laughter. At one point I invited them to a future Whaley Players playreading at my condo, and Byron said that was possible only if he could look at the script ahead of time, to which I immediately agreed. Just before we left a waiter was dragooned into taking the photo for Lifeline’s records; in it we are toasting Andrew.


As we left the restaurant I presented them with a small gift: a rose bush plant (they are both gardeners, particularly Byron), and told them it represented three hearts: Andrew’s heart now beating inside me, and both of theirs which in an hour of great distress found time to make other people’s lives possible. We all hugged and parted.
________________________________________
Related Posts:
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"Another Letter to Andrew's Parents," March 10, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013