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January 24, 2008



Government rebates coming to citizens soon.

I read with interest and curiosity this morning that the federal government intends to cut my wife, myself, and daughter a $1,500 check as a means to boost consumer spending, stimulate the economy, and ward off a looming recession. While any unexpected monies are welcome, I think I need the money less than the government.

Maria and I live within our means and don’t live mired in debt; this has been a bedrock principle of our marriage and family, and it results in better sleep at night. We live without the burden of heavy credit card debt weighing us down, as do so many Americans. The federal government, in contrast, is horribly indebted. According to the National Debt Clock, the government owes $9,193,596,347,664.82 as of today. As the estimated population of the United States is 304,169,225, so each citizen's share of this debt is $30,225.27. I would like to put my check towards balancing the government’s books. The government needs it more than my family does.

We all get a bit of cash back from our taxes while the government is a financial basket-case. This seems to me like the very epitome of democratic short-sightedness and collective long-term folly.

Our national debt has continued to increase an average of $1.43 billion per day since September 29, 2006. A huge chunk of this money, to be paid for by our children most likely, has been sunk into the Iraqi desert sands to, at the very best, extremely mixed political outcome.

George W. Bush, thy name is misrule!

Whoever is president next shall have a huge mess to clean up…


President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson

January 05, 2008

A Stereotype Come to Life: The Worried Father


Bags under her eyes as Julia recuperates from pneumonia.

There I was, the living stereotype: the worried parent hovering over his sick child and looking down with concern and fear.

All day long Julia had not been her usual self. Her cheeks were flushed. She did not giggle or play with her parents: she laid there with a blank expression on my face. She had once become so lethargic that she could not sit up, or even hold her head up: she was like a rag doll. For the first time in her life, Julia was really sick. She had bacterial pneumonia.

Julia had particular trouble sleeping New Year's Eve. If she lay on her back (which was her habit) to sleep, the phlegm would send her into fits of coughing. She would fling her shoulders back in an attempt to breathe more freely through the fluid in her lungs and evade the pain in her chest. I held Julia to my chest and urged her to sleep on her stomach, and she would do so for a few minutes before waking up in pain and thrashing around. Julia slept fitfully. Her breathing was shallow and labored; she made a small noise every time she exhaled, as if she were in pain, and her breathing was quicker than usual, as if she were running a race. Julia’s immune system doing what it was supposed to do, as her body was fighting all-out an infection; she woke up constantly, crying bitterly.

I sat there in the dark and worried. I watched my daughter nervously.

When Julia woke up crying I would sit up with her hugged to my chest. This would open up her lungs and allow the phlegm to move out of the nose and throat to give her temporary relief. Then I would caress and kiss Julia back to sleep as I lay back down with her flat on my chest; and this continued late into the night. I would feel her forehead that seemed to be on fire and listen to her labored breathing. Julia's rapid breathing was punctuated by the occasional small moan. She drooled copiously on my shirt.

I worried.

I did not sleep.

I did lay there in the darkness with sick baby in my arms, waxing meditatively about how babies in the past died so often, and about how unthinkable and devastating it would be to have one's infant child fall sick and die. I thought of how the average woman in the 19th century would give birth to five children only three whom survived childhood, and how Benjamin Franklin had suffered the pain of his son "Franky's" early death the rest of his life -- a grim and depressive New Year's Eve it was for me, surrounded by melancholy reflections, lying there in the darkness, comforting feverish baby Julia on my chest. I felt kinship with the untold millions of fathers before me sick with worry over their ill children. How many a father had fret his brow all night just like me? Felt this horrible, dull pain in your heart as you worry?

Would she get better? Or not?

Does Julia feel my heart beat under her ear? Does my love for her help her to fight off infection? Through her delirium does she feel my loving kisses? Do they help? Does she feel the up/down swaying of my chest as I breathe? Does she even know I am here? Might she be reassured?

Is she improving? Getting worse?

We both finally fell into a deep sleep sometime after two in the morning. Julia was exhausted and I was exhausted: a typical symbol for this year. Julia never was an "easy baby."

But there always was tenderness, attention, love, and forward progress -- the next morning, the first day of that next year, Julia’s fever was almost gone.

It was an auspicious start for 2008.

It would take another week, and a strong regimen of Azithromycin, to rid Julia totally of pneumonia. But that night was the turning point.


Resting on mommy's chest.

January 01, 2008

Bread and Circuses: The Temptation


Maria browses the Internet on our new HDTV.

My Internet service provider, Time Warner, has always probably held that I was a strange customer.

When I first called them up to order service, they were incredulous that I wanted only Internet service and no cable access for television. They had all sort of special deals, the customer representative explained to me, to bundle high-speed cable modem access to the Internet with all the cable TV stations. “No,” I was patient but firm. “I just want a contract for Internet access but NO cable TV.” I got what I wanted.

For almost two decades I have turned my back on what has been called “the great unacknowledged educator of our time” – television. In my early twenties I took my TV out to the desert and blew it up with a shotgun blast at short range and have lived without it ever since. At the time TV seemed to me like an insidious plot to make my country stupid, and I would have none of it; the act of destroying my TV was a ritual cleansing of sorts, and I continued sans television until I got married at 36 years of age. After long negotiations, my wife and I agreed to own a TV hooked up to a DVD player but with no cable TV access – I could live with that. For a wedding present my good buddies Jim and Marty bought Maria and I a TV, something that brought them much mirth. “Let’s buy Richard a TV!” they laughed together. These past five or so years we have watched movies on DVD with Jim and Marty’s TV in our living room.

But this holiday season we acquired a new HDTV, and this has changed things. Time Warner regularly sends me “special offers” trying to entice me into buying more of their communications services. “You already have the Internet coming through our pipes into your home,” they say, “so why don’t you simply add on TV and phone services, too. We could hardly make it more easy than this.” To be more specific, their latest offer is cable TV, high-speed Internet access, and digital phone for a hundred bucks per month. Their whole approach is to get customers to have all the services bundled together. The Time Warner logo emphasizes this, and they have special offers to get customers to commit to Time Warner for all their communications services.

If I canceled my analogue phone service with ATT and committed to Time Warner digital phone, I could almost get TV in the bargain for what I pay now. It would essentially be cable TV for free! And now that I have an HDTV, I could have all the new HD cable stations without spending any more money per month. It would take just one phone call.

I am tempted.

It all comes back to the same dilemma as always: time and priorities. That precious spare time, after all one’s obligations to the rest of the world are settled – how does one use it? On my deathbed, will I regret having missed television? Or will I regret not having delved further through the stack of books next to my bed (often wait in vain) that await my limited time and attention? So what if the HD signal is wonderful and rich and vibrant? Is there really much on TV that is worth it? Anything really worth my time will eventually come out on Netflix sooner or later. And my wife is trying to get into painting and a sense of space and quiet – no new electronic distractions – would help.

I tend towards wanting to control the pace of dynamic media entering the household. I tend towards voting “no” on TV in our household. When I watch TV in hotels, it seems like such a circus. It seems they would do anything to keep you from changing the channel and losing advertisers – they are in the “boredom killing business.”


From Network (1976)
(25.7 mb)

There are flying graphics and flashing lights and everyone-is-so-excited – seemingly designed for an audience with the attention span of a gnat. I think I would want more quiet and introspection and less circuses and noise in my life (and the life of my family). I know there is good programming on TV, but if it really is that good I can wait and get it on Netflix. If the movie is any good, I can wait six months. I could care less about sports and sports coverage. I read two newspapers a day and am informed about the world there and on the Internet.

What is left?

On the other hand, there is so much I want to write – so much I want to read. In this sense, I harken back to the days of Lincoln, Jefferson, Bacon, Montaigne, Boethius, and Seneca where distractions were fewer. I don’t see how TV brings me closer to discovering myself – to living as deeply as did people in the past. I see TV as taking me away this. TV seems to me all about entertainment, and I don’t really want “entertainment.” I want something more. In the past people were thrust back more on themselves. It got dark out and you lit a candle and wrote, read, or talked with family or friends. They didn’t use TV as a form of electronic anesthesia.

What can TV offer me? I don’t want sitcoms. I don’t want a laugh track. I don't want celebrity gossip. I don't want "lifestyles of the rich and famous." I don’t want wit and style. I don't want to watch others play sports – I want to play sports myself. I don’t want simulated life – I want real life. I want fulfillment. I want truth.

And I have that pretty good right now without TV.

On this first day of 2008, what is the best use of my precious time? Just because HDTV nowadays has more vibrant color and a wider 16x9 format, is the content of any higher quality than previously? I don’t think its any better than before. So I am inclined to say “no” to Time Warner and their tempting offer.

What do you think? Am I missing something?

I am open at this moment to the opinions of others, especially those different from my own.


Wife on her way to Stage 6 and downloading 1080p DIVX clips to play on new Sony Bravia HDTV via her laptop.