Sunday, April 25, 2010

Two articles, two insights [Bryan]

Two thoughtful articles came out last month, each dealing with the topic of adult care-giving. One article, "Letting Go of My Father," by Jonathan Rauch, appeared in last month's Atlantic. The other, "On spectrum: My daughter, her autism, our life," by Sallie Tisdale, appeared in last month's Harper's. The first article talks about caring for an aging parent, the second talks about caring for an adult daughter with autism. It was useful to compare and contrast what these articles had to say. Both, for example, talked about how difficult it is for adult caregivers when roles begin to blur, the role of adult and child, for example, or carer and cared-for.

In the end, two things really touched me. First, Tisdale writes about how parents with disabled children learn to give up on their dreams and expectations for their children.
Ambivalence is a normal state for me. It is hard to articulate what I seem to have lost, because it is something I never had. Annie was never going to go to law school—we knew that. Eventually we knew she was not even going to drive a car. What I miss is something vague and dreamy about a daughter growing up. I have fantasies of high school girls giggling in a bedroom behind a closed door, of long phone calls. I feel grief for the past, for all that there was none of, and grief for the future, for what there may be none of yet to come. Every parent loses a child, several children, as each successive child passes into the next—the chrysalis of the infant becomes the toddler, the toddler gives way to the child, the child to the youth and finally the adult. This is one element of being a parent, of being alive, though there is an enduring sorrow in realizing not that the child has died but that the adult anticipated will never be born.
In Rauch's piece, I was touched by how accepting assisted living, accepting dependency, can be seen as the last act of parental care and affection. Rauch talks of the difficulties involved with caring for his aging, dying father: cleaning up his father's poop, spending whole days at the doctor's offices, receiving panicked calls from his father's worried neighbors, and so forth. His father, afflicted with Parkinson's, insisted on his independence until it became too much:
As I reached my own breaking father caught sight of my distress. He would not accept assisted living on his own account, but when I told him that he was already in assisted living but that I was the assistance; that I was overwhelmed, underqualified, and barely hanging on emotionally; that I wanted to be his son again, not a nurse and nag and adversary—when I told him all that, and when his sister and the social worker chimed in, he acceded. He was still, after all, my father, and it was still his job, he understood, to care for me....Another phase of the story then unfolded, ending with his death in December. His last gesture to me, so very characteristic, was to wave me away. He wanted me to go on with my life rather than hover by his bedside.
Accepting help was his father's final act of love, his final way of taking care of his son, his final act of fatherly sacrifice, stricken and dying as he was.

A tale of two martyrs [Bryan]

Yesterday, Nora had a double-header soccer game, two games in a row that took up the whole Saturday morning. I drew the assignment of taking Nora to the game, while Ellie would stay home with Andrew and Stephen. It was a miserable morning, with a chilly wind and blowing rain. Nora and her teammates did just fine since they were running and moving, but it was quite miserable to be a spectator. I sat there in my cold chair while it rained, being a martyr father. I thought of Ellie, home in our nice warm house. She could keep cozy and dry, have a nice breakfast, and do whatever she needed to do. I was a bit resentful.

Anyway, when I returned home, Ellie was somewhat glum. Come to find out, she was a bit annoyed that she had to stay home while I had gone to the soccer game. I told her how wet and miserable I was, and how surely she had drawn the better assignment. She told me how needy the boys were, whining and complaining, destroying everything in their paths, and how she had felt imprisoned in the house. Surely, she argued, I had drawn the better assignment. She made the case that is was she who was the martyr, not me.

We laughed about this later, two martyrs, each envying the supposedly better situation of the other. While I'm sure any objective observer would obviously agree that I was clearly the more put-upon one here, I thought it was interesting how perspectives differ.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

...not having meant to keep us waiting long [Bryan]

Below is a section from Marilynne Robinson's book, Housekeeping (HT: Andrew Sullivan). I haven't read the book, and I don't know the context, but it contains some seriously beautiful prose. The speaker, although not a traditional "believer," contemplates loss, hope, and resurrection.

Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him -- a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail....

And when He did die it was sad -- such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was.

There is so little to remember of anyone -- an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxed Enough Already? [Bryan]

Being tax day yesterday, I suppose it was inevitable that we were to be subject to yet another round of the so-called "Tea Party Patriots." There are many odd things about this group, for example, for people who love to trumpet to their own "patriotism" they sometimes seem fairly glib in their talk about "secession" from the United States.

One of the signature issues of this movement is, I'm told, taxes. CBS news yesterday had an informative piece, "What's Obama Doing to Your Taxes". Nearly 64% of tea partiers, it says, believe that Obama has already raised their taxes, and they appear to be very, very angry at him for this. Well, what is the reality? According to the Associated Press:

Congress cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion shortly after President Barack Obama took office, dwarfing the $28.6 billion in increases by states. [...] The massive economic recovery package enacted last year included about $300 billion in tax cuts over 10 years. About $232 billion was in cuts for individuals, nearly all in the first two years. The most generous was Obama's Making Work Pay credit, which gives individuals up to $400 and couples up to $800 for 2009 and 2010. The $1,000 child tax credit was expanded to more families, and the working poor can qualify for as much as $5,657 from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

For these reasons, the Tax Policy Center notes that taxes are the lowest they've been in 60 years -- yes, lower than during the Reagan and Bush eras. So, right away, we notice that 64% of the Tea Partiers have no idea what they are talking about with respect to their signature issue. Obama and the Democrats have cut taxes drastically in the middle of a recession, which is exactly what needs to be done.

Perhaps the real worry is future taxes? Obama does propose letting the Bush tax cuts expire for higher income Americans. This will mean: (1) raising the top two income tax brackets from 33 percent to 36 percent, and from 35 percent 39.6 percent, (2) raising the capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent for married filers with incomes above $250,00, (3) raising the tax on dividend income from 15 percent to 20 percent for married filers with incomes above $250,000. These are the same tax rates that were in effect under the Clinton administration, and are still quite low, historically speaking. These taxes will impact roughly 2-3% of the population. As long as the country is coming out of the recession at that point, this seems very reasonable and hardly grounds for wild charges of communism.

Another big worry of the tea partiers is government spending. They are worried that Obama is spending a lot of government money and are very, very angry at him for this. They are correct, of course, that there is cause for concern about long term deficits. What is interesting, though, about the tea partiers is that 57% of them approve of George W. Bush. This is the same Bush who waged two wars and passed a massive new government entitlement (Medicare Part D), all on the government credit card. There wasn't even the slightest effort to pay for these spending programs (Karl Rove famously claimed "Reagan proved deficits don't matter"), and yet, the Tea Party Patriots still largely approve of Bush. Obama is the great villain for them when it comes to spending, ignoring the fact that he just passed one of the largest long term deficit reduction measures ever enacted (health care reform, which they fought strongly against), the fact that his 2010 budget actually reduces the long-term deficit from earlier projections, and the fact that one should simply not cut short-term spending during periods of recession and high unemployment.

Makes me wonder if there is something else behind tea-party hatred than actual taxation and spending policies. Their rhetoric does not match anything close to reality. Confusion mixed with anger is a dangerous cocktail. A Molotov cocktail.

[My own view on taxes, if anyone cares, is that they will need to go up once we are back to around 6% unemployement, and they will probably need to go up for the middle class. Common sense reform of entitlements will be necessary (raising retirement age), along with cuts to the defense budget and things like agricultural subsidies.]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mirror, Mirror [Ellie]

I'm hoping other women can relate to this post so it doesn't just come off as piteous and delusional. . .

Does it ever seem to you like there are three different yous, appearance-wise? There is the me I can see looking down--arms, tummy, legs--the me I see in the mirror, and the me in photographs.

Recently, I lost about 10 lbs. It was hard work, involving an increased exercise regimen and lots of diet changes. The me looking-down and the me-in-the-mirror have definitely noticed. The looking-down me saw that I had to buy new pants because my others hung off me awkwardly. The mirror me saw fewer rolls of back fat.

Evidently, the photo me has not noticed at all. Looking through recent pictures we've taken, I look just as blimpy as ever. No matter how hard I tried to look good--and the looking-down me and mirror-me assured me that I did look good--the photo-me is there as seemingly unimpeachable evidence that nothing has changed. Bryan, trying to comfort me, claims that I am just the most unphotogenic person he's ever met. This is thin comfort, even on the days that I believe it.

Bryan has gone so far as to insist that there's an impish not-Ellie that jumps in and takes my place whenever a flash goes off. He compares it to an episode of his favorite TV show How I Met Your Mother where the character Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, formerly Doogie Howser) is found to be photogenic no matter what. His friends try to take pictures of him at awful moments--bending down, with food on his face--and somehow the camera still captures him with a glinting smile and GQ pose, regardless of what he was doing when the picture was snapped. So Bryan's theory is that I'm the opposite of Barney.

Anyway, my point is, if I look awful in those recent pictures (and I do), the looking-down Ellie and mirror-Ellie's didn't look that way. Illusion or not, I'm clinging to their version of reality.

Anybody else out there have split-body-identities?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Recent pics [Bryan]

In February, Stephen celebrated his first birthday.

Nora pretending to be the dreaded "sock monster."

Obligatory cute bath-time picture.

For our 12th anniversary, Ellie and I ditched the kids (thanks Anna and Spencer) and spent a weekend in Cincinnati. Here are Remus and Romulus nursing at the she-wolf. Not sure what this statue has to do with Cincinnati, but there you are.

Here we are in the Cincinnati conservatory.

And here are Picasso and I in the art museum. (Bravo to Cincinnati for having so much cool free stuff to do.)

Lunch at Eden Park.

At the Newport Aquarium. Ellie was a bit wimpy at the shark petting exhibit.

Stephen doing is favorite thing -- ripping papers.

Nora celebrated her 7th birthday and is growing up way too fast.

The weather allowed us to return to Hocking Hills.

At Old Man's Cave.

I just got back from a trip to San Francisco for a conference. Here is an awkward self-portrait of me boating around San Francisco Bay.

I toured Alcatraz prison. Fascinating. Well worth the $26.

Here is the sign at the prison library. Apparently, the prisoners were way into German idealism. Schpoenhauer I can understand, but Kant and Hegel? Really? I'm a little embarrassed to think Al Capone might have got more out of Hegel than I did.

The Broadway. Between cell block B and C in Alcatraz. If those walls could talk, I bet they could tell some stories.

Prisoners spent 23 hours a day in small, 7 foot by 9 foot cells. The isolation cells were particularly haunting, as were the bullet holes in the walls and floors.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What makes a sport good? [Bryan]

I've been trying to figure out if there is an objective way to determine what makes one sport superior to another sport. Here are the criteria I've come up with. Call it my philosophy of sports.

1. The game should be played continually, with few stops in the action. Futbol (or "soccer" to you Norte Americanos) and hockey score well here, basketball moderately well, and football and baseball not well at well.

2. The game should focus on human skill and athleticism, not who can buy the best equipment. So, competitive swimming, which seems very dependent on suits and pools, scores low here. Golf too. NASCAR is beyond poor. Anything with steroid problems is bad.

3. You should be able to play pick-up versions of the sport the replicate the real thing. That is to say, the sport should be simple and uncluttered with equipment, refereeing, or other infrastructure. Futbol and basketball score well here, baseball moderately well, and football and hockey quite poorly.

4. Related to 3, officiating should be unintrusive and relatively objective. I'm not sure about the objectivity part since all sports have subjective refereeing. But in futbol and hockey you rarely see the officials. In football the officiating is moderately intrusive, while basketball (fouls) and baseball (balls v. strikes) score poorly, with referees being a huge part of the game.

5. You should not be able to gain advantage in the sport by getting caught officially breaking the rules. This really bugs me, and it is basketball's great bugaboo. Nothing bothers me more than when someone gets beat off the dribble and then intentionally fouls to stop the layup. Weak, weak, weak. Sports should never allow this. Basketball should make fouls much more costly. In no other sport is breaking the rules so rewarded.

6. Competitive elements of the sport need to be manifest within the official rules. This is hockey's big bugaboo. Half of the competitive spirit is manifest outside of the game itself -- in fighting. In a good sport, this doesn't happen and that spirit is expressed within the game itself.

7. The game should create moments of real beauty. This is a subjective call, but nothing is more beautiful than basketball, manifesting beauty in power, speed, and style. Hockey is too fast for the human eye, so it is the loser. Baseball and football have moments, but they are rare. Granted, your mileage may vary here.

8. Players should be asked to do everything the sport involves. The more player specialization, the worse the sport; if you play a sport, you should really play it all. Basketball scores very well here, futbol moderately well (goalies), while baseball (particularly with the DH) and football score miserably. I can't underscore how bad football fails this test, with offensive, defensive, and special team specialist, each further subdivided by positions that do vastly different things.

So, in the end, futbol is the great winner here, followed by basketball, hockey, and baseball. Football is the great loser. This is odd since I really like to watch football. What am I missing?