Friday, July 15, 2005

Juvenile Deliquency - 21st Century Style?

In the July 11, 2005 edition of the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) online, there was an interesting observation regarding Islamic recruitment among the young people of England. The article observes that "one leading analyst of the Islamic diaspora even compares the lure of extremist Islam to 1950s teens listening to Elvis in an attempt to shock their parents." Apparently, some recruits to radical Islam have tried other ways - the example used was a Pentecostal preacher's son who first tried to get attention by "being a rapper" - to shock their parents. With today's insanely "understanding" (is that an oxymoron?) parents, children apparently will go so far as to be a suicide bomber to have their parents' full sedulity.

Has it truly come to this? Far beyond window-shattering sub-woofers, sexual promiscuity and unprotected intercourse, drug abuse and alcoholism, tattoos and piercings, children now must declare their independence and "adulthood" by blowing themselves and, more tragically, others up. Well, that completely tears it. Apparently, we have achieved a spirit of aloof, isolated procreation that mimics the guidance and supervision given to the offspring of the sea turtle. We fertilize the ovum far out in the murky, detritus-filled waters that are our modern world, swim through the 9 months of gestation in our own preoccupied and distracted lives, and leave our eggs on the beach and in the hands of whoever and whatever may befall them. That beach, with it's clutch of unattended hatchlings, is a breeding ground of despair, false prophets and hateful, racist, shallow thinking. These forsaken and abandoned children are, for all practical purposes, on their own, lest we - collectively, the parental units - "interfere with their process of discovering themselves." The pendulum of parental detachment and "Nanny 911" mentality is now, irrevocably, off its natural path. Pushed forward by the children of the 60s and 70s - regardless of ethnicity, religion, or race - the bob has swung wildly off its course.We are far past the apogee of the bell curve that plots the rise and, inevitable, fall of our civilization.

In reports from, there were the following descriptions of the bombing suspects: "Every week, 22-year-old Shahzad Tanweer joined friends for games of soccer and his beloved cricket. Hasib Hussain, 19, was a charmer who liked to flirt. He wore blue contact lenses and hair so long that one friend said it "fell like a curtain" atop his lanky frame. Thirty-year-old Mohammed Sidique Khan worked as a counselor in a youth center. He seemed to spend more time in the gym than the mosque." Elsewhere, I read that Tanweer often cruised the streets of Leeds in a red Mercedes.

I see a patten that I hope is merely an aberration - a mirage - that only I see. Youthful rebellion - be it against parents or society or governments or religions - has become much more than a simple pursuit of getting an inattentive parent's or peers’ attention; it has become murderously de rigeur. The rich, materially-privileged but parentally-rudderless lives of many of the current generation has bred an infestation of discontent and ill-fated behavior. But, among a small number of advantaged - through the sweat of the preceding 2 or 3 generations - Muslim children, apparently this restlessness has transitioned to deadly, self-annihilating jihad.

My generation may have rolled lawns with toilet tissue, or egged homes or even bashed mail boxes down a rural road. The latest generation begat the madness of drive-by shootings and now, cross-culturally, become even more murderously inventive. Now, no longer content with self-mutilation, these misguided youths must make a horrific demonstration of their religious fanaticism. Blog Bloke on calls it "Death by Stupicide." He couldn’t be more correct.

The youth of today - be they Christian, Muslin, Buddist, or Jewish or Druids - seem to be desperately seeking a higher purpose- a calling. When they can’t find it within the superficial, vain, materialistic society in which they live - and is anyone surprised by that? - they turn to fanaticism. They may be as actors on our traditional stage of life but, when they remove their makeup, they are monsters.

"The boy next door" has taken on a new, wholly-frightening, meaning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Remembering America's Hannibal

O that a soldier so glorious, ever victorious in fight,
Passed from a daylight of honor into the terrible night;
Fell as the mighty archangel, ere the earth glowed in space, fell--
Fell from the patriot's heaven down to the loyalist's hell!

- Thomas Dunn English, Arnold at Stillwater

Had he been killed in one of the numerous military encounters of his career as a Revolutionary War patriot, he would have gone down, undoubtedly, as one of the 3 or 4 greatest heroes of the Cause. But, surviving - though crippled from his wounds as he was - he instead became the most reviled of any soldier in American history. The journey from the most celebrated of patriots to the very name his countrymen use, even to this day, to condemn the most vile acts of cowardice and betrayal is one that, unfortunately for those seeking the truth of his motives, will forever be shrouded in mystery. But, far from a story of simple villainy, it is a prism that, when subjected to the light of scrutiny, emits a spectrum of light that commands deeper inspection and scrutiny. As his infamy lurks even in the scant treatment of history in our schools today, all should appreciate by now I am referring to Benedict Arnold.

His ancestors can be traced back to 1635 when his namesake sailed with other Puritans, led by Roger Williams, and settled in Rhode Island in the Pawtucket River region. While the first iteration of the name Benedict Arnold rose to succeed Williams as governor of Rhode Island and served several terms until his death in 1678, subsequent Arnolds found progressively less prosperity. By the time of the birth of the fifth in the line of this once-esteemed name, fortune and esteem had passed from the Arnold family. Benedict V, the subject at hand, was born on January 14, 1741 to Benedict and Hannah Arnold in Norwich, Connecticut. He was the second child to the marriage; the first, also christened Benedict, had died in infancy, as so many of this time did.

Tragedy seemed to reside in the lives of the Arnolds, steadfastly anchored with the death of their first male child. Its dark cloak, all told, took three (Mary, Elizabeth and Absalom King) of the four children born subsequent to young Benedict. Only his oldest sibling, his mother's namesake, Hannah, remained in the once-happy Arnold home by the time Benedict reached the age of 13.

The psychological impact on the oldest child was clear to those who knew and wrote of Benedict in adulthood. Young Benedict's parents instructed him in the Calvinist doctrine, specifically, a vengeful, omniscient, but sometimes-capricious God whose wrath was not so much directed against the sinner but to those innocents whose death might serve as a more powerful warning. For if God will take an innocent, what might He do to those who would truly offend? With the tragedies of his siblings, the oldest child of the family disavowed any such arbitrary power, heavenly or earthbound, and continued to challenge it as an adult.

Adding fuel to his personal fires, was his father subsequent alcoholism and fall from social grace after the death of the majority of his offspring. Shunned by the church (whether or not he was formally excommunicated is unclear) and in financial ruin, Benedict's parents were both disgraced, dead and penniless by the time the boy reached 20 years old. Witness, as he was, to the Norwich community's abandonment and dismissal of his parents in their sorrow, one might see how the young man would come to despise those who were so unforgiving of human frailty. With little insight, one can imagine the anger the young man could harbor for those he would encounter later in his life. Those who, holding themselves aloft - buttressed only by artificial social or, more relevantly, political status - could abandon those of lesser standing with such sorrowful consequences as befell his parents. These are the experiences of youth that so often, for good and bad, chart the path of the adult life.

As he sought to salvage his family name, young Arnold rose from apprentice (with his late mother's brothers) to a prosperous New Haven merchant and owner of his own small, but active, West Indies merchant fleet. Driven by a passion to reclaim his family name from indignity, he became a true American success story. As available history recounts, he suffered no man impugn his name and was not one to avoid confrontation if honor was in question. As fate and the times would fall into place, Arnold was among the first to challenge New Haven's loyalists "old guard" when British taxation and disregard of the New World's colonies' began to boil in the late 1760s.

But, even with the demands of a growing mercantile and his constant feuding, driven by Benedict's disdain for the "establishment," a young man's nature will find its way through all distractions. Benedict married Peggy Mansfield on February 27, 1767. The young couple had three children before tragedy again fell at Arnold's doorstep. Peggy's untimely death in June, 1775 set her widowed husband on his fateful path in American history.

At the word of the disastrous day in April, 1775 of the confrontations at Lexington and Concord, it was Benedict Arnold who organized 64 men into a militia company in New Haven. Arming and supplying themselves, they were, through the exhortations of their leader, formally established as the Governor's 2ns Company of Guards. Allowed to vote on their own officers, the group elected Arnold, known throughout their ranks as a champion of American liberties, as their Captain. Later in the month when Arnold proposed to march to Massachusetts' aid, the loyalist "elders" forbid the Footguards access to the town's magazine and arms store. Arnold delivered the retort, "None but the Almighty God shall prevent my marching." Delivering a 5 minute ultimatum, Arnold and his men were promptly given the keys to the armory and, weapons
secured, his band were off to help the Bostonians confront His Majesty's General Gage in Boston.
That is was Arnold's idea to confront the British at Fort Ticonderoga and secure the precious cannons there is of little historical dispute. That the idea was also acted upon by Vermont's Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys virtually simultaneously is also a matter of historical record. Regardless of the timeline, Arnold's idea was accepted by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety upon his arrival in Boston and he was granted a colonel's commission. He left his new Haven Footguards and rode west in early May, 1775, recruiting his assault forces as he went. Within 10 days and, joined by Ethan Allen's forces, the audacity and boldness of Arnold's plan was substantiated. Fort Ticonderoga fell in less than 10 minutes. The some 200 artillery pieces captured there were subsequently part of the grand saga of Henry Knox and his amazing caravan of the precious cargo eastward to the Boston. The story of their "miraculous" appearance of these same cannon on Dorchester Heights in March, 1776 led to the British evacuation of Boston, retreat to Nova Scotia, and their triumphant reappearance in New York harbor months later.

As the rebels took command of the Fort and it's surprised British forces, he took one of the first of many steps in defense of his principles of honor that would bring him continued confrontations with others less chivalrous. As Ethan Allen's rowdy mountain men began to loot Fort Ticonderoga, Arnold stood against this unmilitary and most ungentlemanly behavior. He was, standing with a much smaller force of troops, roundly and aggressively shouted down, to the point of being shot at by drunken Vermont troops at least twice. It was Arnold's first but not last experience with louder voices and higher placed civilian patrons.

While Allen and his 'Boys dispersed back into the hills that were their homes, all the way telling all who would listen including the Continental Congress, how it was their initiative and bravery that conquered the British, Arnold had grander plans. His eyes were on Lake Champlain and, ultimately, the British fortress of Quebec. He moved decisively onto Quebec not knowing that his initiative was frowned on by the tentative Continental Congress who disavowed any offensive actions, especially into Canada. Though Arnold's name was bandied about as a renegade, a "loose cannon," he forged ahead. His disregard for his "betters" in the civilian sector were to be the seeds in Arnold that grew his doubts in the incompetence of those who would lead the new country.

Arnold, unaware for the most part of those working behind the scenes (including Ethan Allen) to minimize his martial talents, wrote a letter outlining his proposed campaign on Quebec to the Congress in June, 1775. After several months of personal lobbying, not the least of which was dedicated to convincing George Washington, himself, of the worthiness of the northern assault, Arnold was given command, from Washington, of around 1000 volunteers and set off across the treacherous wilds of Maine for Quebec. The journey would earn Benedict Arnold the title "America's Hannibal." The "famine proof" force of Arnold has lost too many men from disease and dissertion to attack the city when he finally scaled Abraham's Heights outside the city in November, 1775.

Nevertheless, Arnold, wisely, steadfastly laid siege to the city and its military leader, Sir Guy Carleton. He effectively bottled up the city and the British forces it contained, even though commanding an inferior (in almost all senses of the word) force, for nearly 2 months. With the arrival of General Montgomery, flush from his conquest of Montreal, the combined forces finally assaulted the city on New Year's eve, 1775. It was a disaster. Montgomery was killed in the first charge and Arnold was shot in his left ankle soon after. Leaderless and thoroughly undisciplined, the assault forces retreated. The great northern adventure was eventually abandoned. As he retreated from the failed Quebec campaign, Arnold further claimed widespread fame at the Battle of Valcour Bay where, with little more than canoes and rowboats, he kept the British fleet on Lake Champaign from proceeding south to trap Washington in New York.

Of course, in the halls of the civilian leadership, there must be someone to blame, as it always must be. And, as it would be throughout the remainder of his career as a citizen soldier - one not in leadership by wealth or land but by commitment and passion - it would be Benedict Arnold. Those who served with him - the honorable and the truly patriotic including Washington - would speak only of his passion and leadership. Those who would bring him to heel, the infant government with its petty power struggles and inconstant purpose, would constantly deny Arnold the recognition and acceptance he so passionately desired.

It was to remain so even after he almost single-handedly saved the day at the Battle of Saratoga for General Gates by leading the charge at Bemis Heights, Arnold was to still find no glory or appreciation. At the very moment the pompous Gates (who would, later in the war, be recalled from South Carolina by Washington, himself, for incompetence at the Battle of Camden) accepted British General Johnny Burgoyne's sword in surrender, Benedict Arnold lay near death in a field hospital with a left thigh completely shattered by British grapeshot. He would never physically nor, as history infamously reports, psychologically recover.

I do seek to change history. One cannot dismiss the significance of the act of ultimate treason Arnold committed. However, neither should we dismiss the life of Benedict Arnold as one of simple treachery and betrayal. His truly is one of the most complex and fascinating lives ever lived. It deserves all Americans' inspection. The contradictions - fervent patriotism versus heinous treason, military genius versus self-serving egotist, endurance through immense personal tragedy versus greedy perfidiousness and deceit - are many and will remain inexplicable in the haze of 250 years past. However, he - and the lessons his life teach us - cannot be simplified as some would have us believe. He suffered much for the Cause of Liberty and he cannot be dismissed, simply, as a ungrateful traitor.

Ironically, when all is examined, the name and fate of Benedict Arnold lay solely with a single misplaced bullet on the scorching fields of Saratoga. For if the bullet had been true to its mark, the death of its recipient would have undoubtedly secured his place in the esteemed pantheon of Revolutionary War heroes. But, striking as it did, sparing life but securing infamy, it did it's victim no service. I wonder if Benedict Arnold, as his lonely final years passed in London's exile, ever wished the bullet had been truer to the mark? I suspect, in my heart, he did.

On the Saratoga battlefield there is a monument consisting of only the left boot of an unnamed officer. The inscription, which fails to identify the boot's owner, poignantly reads:

"In memory of the 'most brilliant soldier' of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, the sally port of Burgoyne's 'Great Western Redoubt', 7th October 1777, winning for his countrymen the Decisive battle of the American Revolution."

One Little Shred of Humanity Left

I don't expect this entry to get much attention and probably even fewer comments but, as is true of about half the BLOGS I write, this one is for ventilation. Yes, the kind required for blowing some fresh air over my nostrils but also in the sense of ranting about a topic that just drives me up the wall. The subject in question is pet abandonment.

A little background may shed some light on the murky waters that are this crime. I have an office in a "professional office complex." It borders some woods, an area that stretches about 100 yards deep behind our building and a half-mile or so down the parkway, moving west. The wooded area and a 8 foot chainlink fence separates our complex from Highway 59 which runs on higher ground behind my clinic.

After I moved in the office, some 6 or 7 years back, I would get occasional, early morning (I get to the office between 4:30 and 5:00) glimpses of feral cats. These hearty buggers have, I assume, been living in those woods long before I got here. They are the most feral animals one can imagine: avoiding all human contact at any cost. Undoubtedly this is a learned response, sensing - as only animals can - that humans are not to be trusted. They know, perhaps firsthand, the capabilities and tendencies of our species.

It is a useful survival trait. For, if they were to be tame, they would dare to approach cars, moving or not, to beg for a handout. They would, if they were so naive, be crushed in the parking lot or on the street or, if they are lucky, just have someone throw rocks (or anything else handy) at them. Being the intelligent creatures there are, they have learned and they learned quickly. They scurry back into the woods and safety. I have been here for some years now and I see their ghostly images in the predawn hours. I can sometimes see then observing me from the safety of their woods, eyes reflecting the fading morning streetlights or in the headlights of my car. They know that potential evil and even death lurks out on the pavement.

I think, often, about where they once might have been. In the lap of their former owner or curling, figure eight-style, between their owners' legs while they are at the sink or opening up a can of wet cat food. Perhaps, they once purred in contentment, that motorboat purr that signals sheer contentment. Maybe once, they actually kneaded their claws into a rug (or some soft furniture) as I understand this is how they display ultimate feline bliss. But, for these cats, the days or purring and curling up in a warm lap are long over. Now, they run with the speed only a "flight-or-fight" adrenalin rush can fuel.

Last winter, I started feeding them. I couldn't stand, as an old man with all the sentiment that entails, to see their starvation-ravaged frames skulking about in search of the birds (that had long since flown further south) or rodents (who were hibernating), the staples of their usual scant diet. I would place a bowl of cheap, dry cat chow and a bowl of water at woods' edge in the pre-dawn hours. It would be completely gone a mere hour or two later. It cost me about 10 dollars every couple weeks; the reimbursement to my heart paid in full, many times over.

I have heard the arguments against this behavior. "You'll only allow them to bred more cats!" "You're not doing them any favors; they'll stop hunting." And the laughable, "You'll make them tame." My brain initially agreed with the naysayers. But, fortunately, in retrospect, my heart had a stronger voice.

A few cups of dry cat food a day is certainly not going to change their miserable existence. They are only a salve to the heart of someone who has seen too many animals killed on roadsides everywhere. Maybe, my heart tells me, if they have a regular - if meager - source of food, they will not be forced progressively nearer the roads, desperately trying to avoid starvation in the leaner times. My heart always wins the argument.

The first of the admonishments mentioned above, though, has come true. One of the female strays did have a litter of kittens this spring. I saw them, following their mother one early morning, as she showed them where the "emergency rations" were placed. The kittens, a marvel of evolution and strength of breed, were beautiful, typically-curious and playful kittens. That was in March and, while I don't see them chasing their mom much any longer - their time as adolescent cats give them leave to hunt alone now - I do know they are all still alive. I saw them all, for the first time in weeks, last Saturday morning, playing and chasing each other at the edge of the woods. Kittens are kittens, wild or domesticated.

Their mother, who is about as domesticated as she will ever be, does greet me most mornings. She keeps a distance of about 20 feet but she lets me know she is there and that it is time to serve breakfast, her only sure meal of the day. She watches, at a safe and unwavering distance - she is and never will be, tame - and sits. I trudge up to the woods, a plastic drink cup full of Purina, and exhange greetings. When I turn and walk back to my office, I glance back over my shoulder and she, incessantly cautious, approaches the food. I smile and I go back to the work of the day.

Sometimes, I am amazed at their strength and will to live. With the southern summer, comes fleas, ticks, biting flies, fireants and other plagues on the animals of the wild. But, somehow, they manage to survive. I know several generations of these ferals have died. A couple years back, there was an orange tabby who, I presume, was one of the earlier generations. He was truly a splendid specimen. I am guessing about 12 pounds and with an impressive bearing. I have to assume he was the patriarch of the clan for his time. I don't see him anymore. I also haven't seen his sidekick, a smaller male, a white tabby, either. I don't think of those two much anymore as I suspect they died from the elements or were killed on the highway in a lean time of distance foraging.

At least for now, "my" mom and her kittens live. I am realistic enough to know that they probably will not all last through the brutal summer and, certainly not through the more brutal winter. But, for their time, they will take what life gives them and, even if they could, probably not complain.

While I try and avoid it, sometimes I let myself think of the original owners of these animals. The ones who originally took the parents (more likely the grandparents or great grandparents) of these animals home as kittens and gave them a home. They fed them, petted them, maybe even took them to the vet for shots and the like. I wonder, when I am calm enough, what changes occur that allows abandonment of their pet - any pet? When there are so many - admittedly strained to capacity and beyond these days - facilities willing to take in unwanted pets, what goes through someone's mind when they leave a pet to the wilds or the side of the road? When animal shelters go so far as to place cages outside their buildings for anonymous, no-questions-asked nighttime drop-off of unwanted pets, what can these individuals be thinking? Do they actually have that capacity? What mind can rationalize this? The more I dwell on the subject, the more cynical I feel. So I don't allow it often.

Please, before you fire off your missives of censure and castigation for the audacity and superficiality of one who dares complain about the plight of dumb animals when people are suffering worse fates elsewhere in the world, I understand your prioritization and your point. The thoughtlessness and cruelty of mankind knows no bounds. Clearly, it is not species-specific. People, certainly, do come first in our thoughts and our concerns. Starvation of people is worse than starvation of animals. Yes, my $10 every couple of weeks could (at least, according to the commercials) feed a starving child somewhere in the world. Yes, yes, I do understand, more than I might have led you to think. Many may think, but polite enough not to write it, what a piteous, misdirected, and egocentric - yes, even eccentric - old man I am. After the recent "Live 8" concert, I realize this sort of writing is merely a flyspeck on the enlarging blot of humanity's indifference. Truly, there is no need to waste your time telling me that which I
already know.

Perhaps, it is all interrelated. If we don't give a care for the millions of refugees dying around the world of starvation, abandonment, and displacement, why should we even spend a few minutes of thought about stupid pets? Well, maybe we shouldn't. If we don't do anything about starving people, we shouldn't expect any concern whatsoever for lesser creatures. And, sadly, I really don't.

However, I will do what I can for the unfortunate orphans in my woods. Nature will, as nature always cruelly does, take care of the rest. Despite the inevitable I will not begrudge myself this simple, selfish and very personal pleasure. In a world where indifference and callousness grows exponentially everyday, I will enjoy to my own minuscule stand against apathy. It is a reminder that life will find a way, even in the face of - and in usually in spite of - humanity.

For more information about helping save feral cats, see this site.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Benefits of Age

“At sixty, a man has passed most of the reefs and whirlpools. Excepting only death, he has no enemies left to meet....That man has awakened to a new youth...Ergo, he is young.”

George Benjamin Luks, American painter

There are many wonderful benefits of middle age. It has taken me many years to come to this conclusion. In my younger days, I raged. I fumed I ranted. I rebelled. I have pictures of me in my youth, when I had more hair, fewer wrinkles, and seemed to always have a serious expression on my face. I was attuned to every slight, every ill-mannered comment, every question of my knowledge or judgement. Even the slightest sense of a challenge to my omniscience - a lowly pharmacist questioning my dosage instructions on a prescription - would be enough coal to keep the fires of indignant outrage burning for the rest of the day.

I remember the daily annoyances that used to drive me absolutely berserk. Just the drive to and from work would push me buttons just the wrong way for the full 24 hours, usually every day. People parking their oversized SUVs too close to my car. Drivers pulling out in front of me, quickly and just in time to cut me off, and then slowing to a crawl. Or, as I approached a red light, pulling up on the side street, tripping the traffic light and forcing me to stop for their entrance onto the throughway. One lousy car and I have to stop for them! Or some politician giving a speech on television and saying all the wrong things. That would give me enough righteous outrage for days. A teenager with his car radio booming with those horrendous bass acoustics rattling his and, more importantly, my car windows.

But for the past few years, I have become aware of quite a change. Driving home has become an almost welcomed comic ending to the day. I like to drive without the radio and in the peace and solitude of my little car because the entertainment lies outside these comfortable confines. Watching the helter-skelter drivers, forever jockeying for position and all ending up together at the next red light with hardly a change in their starting position brings a wide smile to my face. The young pharmacists, fresh out of school and equipped with the knowledge - or at least their computers are - of every known side-effects of every drug on the market, still question me about prescriptions. They call to tell me that my recently prescribed Drug X has been shown to cause diarrhea in 2 per cent of patients when used with Drug Y the patient is already on. They ask, with their best professional phone voice, if I really want to use this combination? As I suppress a laugh, I switch to my deepest, professorial voice and reply "Yes" and thank them for their well-researched, current information on the subject of these possible drug interactions. I assure the well-intentioned, young graduate that I think the patient will be fine. I thank the pharmacist again and hang up with a whimsical smile on my face. I think, briefly, of the pharmacist making a note in his log that they warned the prescribing doctor of the possible interaction and the physician accepted the risk. "CYA" and all that, at its very best.

I come to my empty home - I am divorced and my children are grown - and I, maybe to some, selfishly, revel in the tranquility. I have probably always been a bit of a loner but, like so many things, I fought against it. I married and stayed married for almost 25 years. I had three great kids. I grew up, for all practical purposes (a much too long a story), as an only child, but I thought it would be a good thing to have kids. I served 12 years as an Army doctor - this, after growing my hair long and vehemently protesting against the military and Viet Nam, Kent State, and the assorted missteps of the 1960s. Now, after all the rage and the indignation, I have finally had a soulful, spiritual exhale.

But, lest you think I am some bitter, complacent, aged shell of a man, resigned to living on the edge of society, for my remaining few years on this planet, I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. In my heartfelt solitude I have found an immense sense of peace and comfort. It is a oasis in my heart where resides a calm. There is a sensation that one must feel when, after fighting upstream against the rapids of a raging river, you reach a tranquil pool. Here, at the top of the headwaters, the current no longer pulls downward at you. There is no struggle and only minimal effort keeps you afloat. After the long swim, banging against rocks and scrapping against the shallows of the raging torrents called life, there is a respite.

I have a recurring mental picture of the salmon swimming upstream from the ocean in the northwest rivers. They fight against the river's torrent to spawn. Then, from starvation, trauma and exhaustion. We spend most of our lives in the same sort of struggle. Fighting and clawing against the currents of daily life is our youth. And, as we age - doesn't "maturing" sound better? - we realize that, despite all our fighting, kicking and screaming, we ultimately reach the same tortuous end. Some sooner (like my son, Danny, 1980-2002) than later.

After over a half a century of fighting the good fight, I have, reached a sense of contentment. I have achieved far more than was rightfully mine to achieve. The only son of a mail carrier in a family that never went farther than high school, I was the first in our modest history to go to college, much less medical school. My family could never afford medical school so I accepted a free-ride from my old nemesis, the good old U.S. Army. I have published 3 books, spoken to the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians. I have published medical research papers. The whole nine yards. I am proud of what I have accomplished. More importantly to me now, is that it has made my parents proud. Now as they slide onward toward octogenarian-hood, they can still talk to their neighbors about their son, the doctor.

Truth be told,. there have been many (many, many, many) failures and regrets along the way. I was never much of a father and an even worse husband. But I have made peace with these glaring imperfection and defects. Now, instead of regret and discontent for the errors and missteps, I am unabashedly happy. I have taken the conscious and innermost decision to rest in the backwaters of whatever remains of my life. Lest you get the idea I have given away all my worldly possessions and have gone to live in an Oregon commune, you couldn't be more wrong. I have all intentions to live life to it's fullest and enjoy whatever time I am given on this earth. It's just that I am, at long last, happy and contented. I am, in the trite old (is it?) phrase, "in a good place." Surely, it is not the absolute cloudless calm that I know death will be, but a conscious, deep sense of the sudden lack of conflict. It is a fine place to be.

I can speak, with some degree of experience, about the sensations of death. I recall, with great clarity, the "time I almost died." I venture that many have had similar claims to the almost-afterlife, but mine remains quite vivid with me. During a heart catheterization prior my quadruple coronary bypass (it sounds more dramatic to say "quadruple" than simply a 4-vessel bypass), I had what pop culture would call a "near-death experience." During the procedure, shortly after I threw up from the nausea induced by the dye injection, I remember what can best be described as simply falling asleep. But, unlike the sleep of fatigue or after a day's work, it was a memorable drifting off into unconsciousness. I don't remember the "feeling" of dozing off in any of the many thousands of naps and nocturnal rests in my life. I remember laying down and, then, waking up. But this sensation was exquisitely unique.

Before you roll your eyes, it really was a sensation I had never felt before and I have not since. There was no "light at the end of a long tunnel," no voices calling for me in the distance, no angels, none of the things I have heard from near-death survivors. This feeling was something entirely different. It was an overwhelming sense of calm, of peace, of solace. It was a deep inner sense of tranquility.

I noticed later, in the cardiac care unit, that I had some very painful circular burns on my chest. When I asked the nurse what they were, she nervously informed me that my heart had "stopped" (specifically, I went into asystole) during the procedure and I had to "defibrillated" 6 times to resume an effective heart rhythm. The burns, I was informed, were from the haste of the cardiologist to apply the paddles to my chest with inadequate conductant gel and the increasingly higher voltages used in the attempt to get my heart back into an effective pulse. When I discussed the episodes with my cardiologist, a friend who I had actually trained during his Internal Medicine residency, he told me he "was scared to death" he was about to lose his former Chief Resident. His exact words were I was "dead for about 60 seconds."

Since that little heart stopper, when I was the ripe old age of 42, I have lost all fear of death. Death, in my heart, mind and in the innermost depths of my soul, is nothing to be feared. It is an almost orgasmic peace. Perhaps not in the circumstances in which one dies - car wreck, gunshot, heart attack - but, when that heart beats its last beat, I am convinced we will all have this peace. When those last few red blood cells deliver their last molecules of oxygen to the last living brain cells and we have an "irreversible end of consciousness," we will experience a final, ultimate, overwhelming sense of placidity.

With apologies for the diversion, I return now to the point of this rambling: whatever lies ahead, it's all OK. Through all the aches and pain of waking up each morning, all the alopecia, all the wrinkles and blemishes, the daily loss of neurons, it's all going to be just fine. And when people question my judgement, drivers cut me off on the freeway, the power goes off in a storm, and I forget to record my favorite TV show, I will try to remember that lesson. I wish, as we all do, that I could go back and visit myself when I was 18 and scared to death of starting college, or when I was 24 and marrying for all the wrong reasons, or when I was 39 and leaving the Army for the alien and increasingly competitive world of private practice, or even just 3 years ago when my son died. I would smile, knowingly, and whisper "you will get through this, too." Age does have some unique advantages and I find that I like them very much.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Living in Deadwood

Filthy, profane, pornographic, misogynistic, bloodthirsty, chimerical.

Innovative, ingenious, inspired, realistic, unflinching, imaginary.

Whatever your view of the HBO series "Deadwood" - if you even have one - you can find ample support on either side. I, for one, consider it just what the HBO original series advertisements call all their creations: "original, groundbreaking, award-winning," etc. Deadwood (with its season two finale scheduled for May 22) is the unpolished, warts-and-all truth about the settling of the American frontier.

I freely admit I am terribly prejudiced as I have been a fan of Deadwood's creative force, David Milch, for decades. I was hooked with "Hill Street Blues." I was reeled in with "NYPD Blue." I fought against drag of the reel when he struggled through addiction and a creative fog with "Murder One" (1995), "Total Security" (1997), and "Big Apple" (2001) which he put together without his long-time partner, Steven Bochco. But David Milch has landed me, hook, line and sinker with Deadwood. He has - but I really hope he hasn't - reached as high a creative arc one can reach with this view of the Dakota territories, circa 1880. While I am not much of a television-aholic as I once was (thanks to the spate of reality detritus clogging the airways), it is the one show that I actually plan an evening around. Fortunately, that evening is Sunday and easy enough to clear out.

The addiction started simply enough when the first season of Deadwood came out earlier this year. I had seen the occasional advertisement on HBO and an occasional review that sounded promising but it was the "Created by David Milch" that cinched the deal. Popping the first DVD of the set into the player was not accompanied by any real preconceptions since, while I knew Milch could write cop dramas very well, I had no idea how he would work with a western. The answer, quickly apparent, was that classic "Milch-speak" works as well in Deadwood, South Dakota as it does in New York.

And the formula Milch has developed over 25 years of writing and producing is not only geographically nonspecific it is time-insensitive as well. Dialogue is used to convey not just information but mood. "Anyways" is Milch-speak to signify either "it's time to change the subject of this conversation" or "you are boring me and I am going somewhere else with my thoughts and, possibly, my body." It means the same thing whether it is said by Andy Sipowicz or Al Swearengen. To David Milch, dialogue just gets in the way of action and is to be kept at a minimum. Storytelling and acting are the keys and they are at the center of all of Milch's work.

And the writing is the key. How else does one explain taking a serviceable but hardly distinguished actor like Ian McShane (never heard of him before, have you?) And turn him in one short 12 episode series into a Golden Globe Award winner. An actor who has been knocking around in films and TV since the early 80's and whose most recent "claim to fame" was the villain in "Cody Banks: Secret Agent" has gone from C-list actor to A-list celebrity. And, baring an unknown talent transplant from Lawrence Olivier, it is the writing and the scripts and the storytelling that make the actor. And David Milch has done that with McShane.

Equally important to Milch is that there are never "just" black and white characters. There is never just clearly a bad and a good. Despite all his warts (alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abandonment, racism, etc., ad infinitum), Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) was one of the most beloved cops in televison history. He was honest; he was real. And when you dug way, way down to the core of his human essence, he was a decent human. But, as Milch would have it, it takes a lot of digging to find that truth.

In Deadwood, the flawed hero is even more obscure in his humanity. He is the previously mundane and unrecognized Ian McShane as Al Swearengen. Swearengen was one of the founding fathers of Deadwood and runs the town with an iron fist and a sharp blade. When we are introduced to him in season one, he is a ruthless, conniving, murderous pimp who, by all appearances, would just as soon feed you to Mr. Wu's pigs (this method of disposal of one's enemies is story all unto itself) as steal your gold. But, as the episodes roll on we learn Al is not the Beelzebub he would have all those around him believe. He defends and employs a crippled housekeeper at the Gem Saloon and, while he bellows obscenities and humiliations at her almost hourly, he would cut the heart out of anyone who dared do the same. He demeans women regularly and enthusiastically in his saloon/brothel, let anyone else offend his favorite (and possibly the only female he has ever loved) Trixie, and woe be unto him. When the local lay preacher falls terminally ill from a brain tumor and seizures, it is Al Swearengen who mercifully and, almost, tenderly, euthanizes him. In David Milch's world - as in ours - even the most vile humans have a glimmer of compassion, somewhere.

Conversely, the knights in shining armor in Milch's Deadwood are also flawed. The closest thing to a hero in the series is Seth Bullock, played by Timothy Olyphant, and the reluctant sheriff is a flawed and troubled character. He set out from North Dakota, where he was a Marshall, hell bent to seek his fortune as a merchant in Deadwood. But he is inextricably pulled by his moral fiber to bring law and order to this purgatory over which Swearengen rules. But, rather than enemies, he finds himself strangely allied with his moral antithesis in the quest for self rule. His morality is further challenged when, after doing the "right thing" and marrying his dead brother's wife and son, he falls in love with the femme fatale, Anna Garrett (Molly Parker), recently widowed at the hands of Swearengen and heir to the richest gold claim in the town.

These are but a few of the circus of characters in Deadwood. Cy Toliver (Powers Boothe) enters to play the even more evil foil for Swearengen with his own brothel and casino. Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine) met his end there but his sidekicks, Calamity Jane (Robin Weigart) and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) are still important pieces to Milch's web of human, well, calamity. The artistry with which Milch keeps the thickening strands of the Deadwood plotline and the constant ebb and flow of allies and enemies is a wonder to watch. It is a soap opera with teeth; Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Knot's Landing and Dallas with dirt, grime, and horse shit. It is, unquestionably, the best series on television, cable or otherwise. [Trivia Fact: Ian McShane actually was on Dallas in 1989 as suave Englishman Don Lockwood. His character tempted Sue Ellen away from J.R. Ewing and ended up marrying her.]

As the finale for season two approaches on May 22, it promises to set the stage for the next season with even more plotlines. Who will meet their end before contract renewals is anyone's guess, though I have heard that Sy Tolliver (Powers Booth) will be leaving in the finale. Who will become Swearengen evil foil for next year? Will it be the arrival of Hurst, the multimillionaire from San Francisco, who will stay and become the nemesis? Or will Hurst's psychotic flunkie, Wolcott, stay around (personally, I doubt that "Mr. W" will live through the finale but never try and predict David Milch's twists and turns)? And what will become of the Chinese family feud of Mr. Wu (old school) versus Mr. Lee, a.k.a. "the San Francisco cocksucker?" One - or both - clearly, must die.

Whatever happens, Deadwood is one of those rare - and becoming almost extinct - dramas that entertain and capture the imagination of its viewers. In a broadcast world inundated with video cameras following pseudocelebrities and want-to-be-someone's through increasingly fake competitions and paper mache worlds, Deadwood is art. It is "reality" as I really imagine it was in the mud and muck of the Dakota frontiers in the late 1800's. With scripts becoming collector's items in television today, Deadwood is one of the last beacons of what the broadcast medium can and should be. Along with FX's "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck" and a few rare other exceptions, let us hope that this sort of artistry and creativity can survive the Pet Rock craze of reality television.

In my shrinking world aesthetic, in comparison, I will take Deadwood's "fantasy" over what euphemistically is called "reality television" every day of the year.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

When will we ever learn?

As reported by Reuters:

CHICAGO - May 11, 2005 - Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. Wednesday said its experimental obesity drug was effective in helping patients lose weight in a 28-day, mid-stage trial. Patients taking a 15-milligram dose of Arena’s oral drug, known as APD356, lost an average of 2.9 pounds after 28 days of treatment, compared with a loss of 0.7 pounds by obese patients taking a placebo. Diet drugs have a checkered history, with few resulting in lasting weight loss. At the same time, doctors are eager for a safe and effective treatment for obesity, a major risk factor for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The San Diego-based biotechnology company said the results were highly statistically significant and that no serious side effects occurred.

There they go again! Yet another diet drug trumpeted in the press. The folks taking the drugs lost a whopping 2.9 pounds in 28 days and those taking the placebo only lost 0.7 pounds. Three pounds in twenty-eight days!! Four short weeks! WOW! Are you as underwhelmed as I am?

As this new miracle cure gets some ink, nudging up in the race to your drug store shelves with rimonabant (Acomplia), no one seems to get the big(ger) message. To whit: quit looking for healthy lifestyles in pill format! It just has not been invented nor is it likely to come out any time soon in a patch, topical gel, time-release, or enteric-coated gelcap. People, a pill is not the solution.

I won't even get into the whole "Fen-Phen" fiasco and how many hearts were damaged (and lives lost) by that ill-fated combination again. Nor will I get into another rant about how worthless and overpriced the most recent "diet drug" brought out for weight loss (sibutramine, Meridia) is. And don't get me started about the whole Relacort and CortiSlim green tea nonsense. But, for pity's sake, it is high time that the pharmaceutical industry climbed off this tired horse and started putting resources into something more important. Maybe, I don't know, just off the top of my head, perhaps - more thorough drug testing? With longer drug trials we will avoid the current travesty of bringing drugs to market with either insufficient testing or the ability to cover anything that is actually negative about the drug.

I am refering, of course, to the recent withdrawals of the COX II inhibitor class of antiarthritis drugs - Vioxx, Bextra, etc. With the rush to market and multimillion dollar rollouts of new prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry is, of coursem just doing what comes naturally. Profits over safety. But, that's just business. Even if I don't like it, I can understand it. Capitalism, the American Way, apple pie and all that. It's the "solution in a pill" metality, actively promoted by the drug industry, that I take issue with.

When will we, as the consumer, finally wake up to the truth? We are never going to have what we all dream of, namely, health by pill. Sure, there will be plenty of new, over-priced "cures for obesity" like this APD356 (Arena Pharmaceuticals). We should have Acomplia (Sanofi-Aventis, of France) - drum roll, please - next year. But with the best of the studies of Acomplia, patients lost 16 pounds on average over two years, compared with 5.5 pounds for those who took dummy pills. Now, by my calculations that is about 2.5 ounces per week over 2 years. Does this sound like a miracle to anyone? It certainly does not to me. For someone with 50 pounds to lose, that will "only" take slightly more than 3 years of Acomplia "therapy." Of course, on a cost per ounce basis, based souly on what I expect Acomplia to cost, it will probably work out to be about $5.00 per ounce of weight loss (calculation, purely hypothetical, are shown below). This is progress? I think not.

Somewhere in the reams of doctor and patient information that will be published in newspapers, magazine, professional journals, and by the crack team of Sanofi-Aventis representatives will be an asterisk which points to a discretely buried and barely readable subscript passgae at the bottom of every page. It will read, to the effect, that:

"Weight loss should only be expected to be accomplished in patients who follow a fat-restricted, reduced-calorie diet and participate in a regular program of moderately-vigorous aerobic exericse."

And there, my friends, will lie the real truth. There is no cure for inactivity, work and family demands on our time, meals in the car, on the run and out of a sack, Whoppers or 64 ounce Big Gulps, or reality television. There is no pill to cut down on dietary fat grams or sugar. There is no patch that will make you walk, jog, crawl, swim, or cycle for 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. There is no time-release capsule that will reverse the "thrifty gene" passed on to you by your ancestors from hundreds of years of selection and stop your body from storing fat every chance it gets. And there has never been and will never be a drug that you put into your body that does not have side effects, some possibly lethal.

So, as we sit on our sofa or easy chair and watch the news and advertisements for the "next big thing" to lose weight while we sleep, remember this: where the rubber meets the road, there is only one thing that can improve your health - you. It is you - and you alone - that has the ultimate control of your health. How you choose to live, when all is said and done, is all we have. And the decision you have to make, despite the thousands of books and "experts" that tell you differently, is a simple one. You can choose to live as healthy a life as you can or not. You can swear off the absolute "garbage-as-food" sold out of drive-thru windows or not. You can park your car a half-mile farther from work and walk or not. You can take the stairs or the elevator. You can carry your golf clubs 18 holes or ride in a cart. You can break a sweat, raise your pulse and exercise or not. You can turn off American Idol, Survivor, The Great Race, The Newlyweds and Chasing Farah and all the other mindless dribble that passes for television, or not. When will the idiotic chatter of who's going to win a meaningless reality show change to "what I did to improve my health (or my mind or my family life or my profession or my hobby) last night?" Sadly, I answer myself, never. What type underwear Bo Bice wears or what Paris Hilton said was "hot" seemingly is the only thing on our minds these days.

I am not just talking about weight loss. I am talking about being as healthy as you can, in mind and body. About spending quality time with your children before it is too late. Learning something new - knowledge or a skill - that makes your mind expand beyond it's current boundaries. Discussing a real issue - like war, famine, genocide, the hereafter, your faith - with friends or family.

And, just on the off chance you might be interested to know, health does not come in a pill.
Calculations: Based on the best study published to date, patients taking Acomplia lost an average of 16 pounds over 2 years. There are 52 weeks per year and 104 weeks over two years. There are 16 ounces in a pound. So, 16 pounds is 256 ounces. 256 ounces over 104 weeks is 2.509 ounces per week. Thus, if we (very, very conservatively) estimate the cost of a months therapy of Acomplia is $100 per month and we have 50 pounds to lose, we will need a little over 3 years to lose 50 pounds with Acomplia. Three years of therapy at $1200 per year (12 months X $100 per month) to lose 800 ounces (50 pounds X 16 ounces per pound) works out to about $5.00 per ounce.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Death of Western Media

I apologize before I begin because I know, right off the bat, that this item is going to be much more of a rant than an entry in this web log. When you get to be my age, it's not very often than the blood pumps with the rapidity and velocity that enables the energy required to go off on a rant, but this, gentle reader, is such a time.

There is a clear distinction, at least in my personal classification scheme, between a rant and a BLOG. A BLOG is typically a measured, coherent, logical opinion or attempt to sway opinion in one direction or the other. A rant is often driven more by passion and enthusiasm rather than logic or an attempt to sway the reader opinion. Be it anger, sympathy, outrage, or understanding - the release of the passion is the entire point and is not always a display of proper logical discourse or valid arguments. The purpose of a rant is purgative as opposed to the usual BLOG which is to educate or give structure to an opinion. So, forewarned, this is - and with no apologies - a rant in the purest sense.

I am so tired of watching (actually, not watching) cotton candy news. But, when I thought more about it, I realized they are only giving us what they know the majority will watch. Junk food for the mind. JonBenet Ramsey, Susan Smith, Elizabeth Smart, Lori Hacking, Laci Petterson - tragedies all but, the fact that we seem to be fascinated by such individual misfortunes is becoming, sadly, a pathological national obssession. I understand that there are reasonable, studied and clear explanations for the human psyche's need to stop, crane out necks and view tragedy unfolding. The Passion plays of Christ's and, even earlier, the Greek tragedies of Plato make one cringe and want to turn away, even as it makes one yearn to look, to feast one's eyes, and to try to understand: for abhorrence and fascination go hand in hand. But, when watching train wrecks of the human condition becomes a national idée fixe we have, in my opinion, a significant reason to be concerned.

Caution: Now, for those keeping score, what preceded could be described as a legitimate BLOG; from this point on, I descend rather abruptly into the pit of an absolute, unfiltered, and an unapologetic rant.

Now, with the seemingly all-pervasive story of the "Runaway Bride," we reach a new depth of degradation and profligacy. We have become not merely a society hooked on junk food, we are a society fizated on "junk news." There is little nutritional value in either. We, apparently, sit thoroughly mesmerized by the inner workings of the disturbed mind of a 32 year old medical assistant and the hand-wringing office manager fiancé from the obscure town of Duluth, Georgia. We hear sound bite after sound bit from anyone and everyone, jockeying for position at the microphone, including restaurant waitresses, clergymen, firefighters, policemen, pop psychologists, wedding planners, marriage counselors, the local police chief, the district attorney, and a "family neighbor" who had a cousin who knew a bridesmaid for the Mason-Wilbanks wedding. I have a visual image of everyone in this sad little town queing up, as if waiting for the Judgement of St. Peter, to tell their pathetic and tenuous "first hand knowledge" about the rueful and piteous tale of these star-crossed lovers. I await the appearance of a pet psychologist interviewing the beloved family pet, Old Blue.

It is a sad commentary on the American mindset when people actually care about this issue while thousands are being butchered in Darfur without a peep of interest. We never saw this depth of analysis when the world stood idly by during the massacre of almost a million Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. If you want racism, the "Hispanic male" slur aside, that is racism. We fixate on the "evolving human drama" of this histrionic ditz and turn away from the true tragedies of the world. Particularly, if these tragedies involve Africa.

I, unlike others, do not place the entire blame on the mass media. While CNN, Court TV and others have made this story the Greek tragedy that it is, these successful ventures obviously have their bottom line in mind. These media outlets sell advertisements to make money and they will cover the type of news stories that they know the American public will watch. And, by our watching, will see their advertising minutes. So, they air these tabloid items as news. They are inexpensive to cover, do not require any actual thought or analysis, and even the most junior broadcasters can be sent to armpit Georgia for the live interviews. The endless parade of smarmy "experts" (expert wedding planners, expert psychologists, expert waitresses, etc.) have their perpetual "Will work for airtime" signs around their necks. Airtime sells books and services so this pro bono discourse is a mutual exercise in back scratching. Further, it is no small coincidence that CNN's blow-by-blow, minute-by-tedious-minute telethon requires only a 28-mile hop, skip and jump from its Atlanta headquarters. For cost-efficiency, this particular emotional meltdown cannot be topped.

But, it is the viewing public that shoulders the bulk of the blame for this woeful cataclysm. Those fueling this wildfire, consuming the meager remnants of rational thought in America, actually watch these broadcasts and, loaded with their trivia, are ready for the water cooler the next day. "Did you know she bought the bus ticket a week before she ran off?" "Did you know that John Mason's father used to be mayor of Duluth?" "Did you know that Jennifer's eyes actually did pop out of her skull once?" It is just these sort of probing inquiries that are important to we, the people.

And, before my head turns a full 360 degrees on my neck and explodes, this parting prediction. The final nail in the coffin that is our culture is the fact that I clearly see the following unfolding, quite probably in the order presented, in view of my mind's eye:

1. Paid interview with some major interview host in prime time; Before the end of May, 2005, Dr. Phil will also rush tape a show on "premarital stress" and use the phrase "What were you thinking?"

2. Book deal for Wilbanks in 6 figures; smaller book deals for John Mason, Wilbanks' parents, Mason's parents, and Old Blue (ghost written by Hiraldo Rivera).

3. Made-for-TV movie - two actually, authorized and unauthorized - run on different channels at the same time. In prime time, of course; one-hour documentary on Court TV. Old Blue is interviewed but turned down as host of the new Animal Planet series, "Crazy Brides and their Crazy Pets."

She, and the "tragedy-struck family," will actually make money off this silliness. And, the next time a woman is missing, anywhere in the country, those in the search will always wonder "Did this woman just run off to hide?" and, more disturbingly, "Why am I out searching in the woods, anyway?" It is with that question that the true fallout from Jennifer Wilbanks affect us all.

If you want to know how low the media in the West has sunk, you need no more proof than this. But it speaks volumes, also, about our collective consciousness. As long as our culture displays even a modicum of interest in this sort of tabloid fluff, I am confident in predicting we will continue to have it fed to our eyes and our brains by the commercial media.

Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but we will be watching "Newlyweds II: Britanny and Kevin Federline" on MTV when this civilization falls.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Flight of the Democrats

It was with a twinge of sadness that I read a recent New Your Times article by Rick Lyman that chronicled the rise in U.S. citizens moving, permanently, to Canada.

It seemed to Mr. Lyman that a large contingent of American liberals were actively seeking Canadian citizenship and fleeing, what they feel, is a worsening of the American political and social scene. Quoting from the article:

"America is in no danger of emptying out. But even a small loss of residents, many of whom cite a deep sense of political despair, is a significant event in the life of a nation that thinks of itself as a place to escape to.

Firm numbers on potential émigrés are elusive.

"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

Other immigration lawyers in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax said they had noticed a similar uptick, though most put the rise at closer to threefold.

[End Quote]

I have to admit I have some really mixed feelings about this, seemingly, unique watershed event. I deeply regret that some people see American as having drifted too far to one side of the political spectrum. Drifted so far, in fact, that they can no longer lives here as citizens. One young lady was quoted as saying "Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down." That truly saddens me. America should be a place for honest debate and discussion and, yes, even protest. For someone to feel so disenfranchised that they feel their only recourse is to leave the country is significant.

We have always been a country where healthy debate was welcomed. If your candidate does not get elected, you fight harder in the next election. You protest. You write letters and editorials (and, today, BLOGs). You contribute to the party of your choice. You go to meetings and you organize. You get more active locally for candidates closer to home. But to just pack your bags and leave? I believe this truly says something significant and worrisome. It's says something sbout the Democratic Party and the Republican Part. It says something about us all.

On the other hand, the conservative in me leaps for joy. I think "Fine! Leave! That will make our majority in the next election even greater. We won; get over it. Good riddance!"

But, I still keep having that nagging feeling that this is not the way it should be. The pendulum should not swing so far as to knock people off the edge. Should it?