男女黄段视频高清"Where ever we go, Coca-Cola has already been." - Against Me! "Americans Abroad"

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

An open letter for all those who find the challenge meaningless:

At some point when I was in college, my Dad was diagnosed with ALS, which everyone normally knows as Lou Gehrig's disease.  [Gehrig gave a touching speech at the end of his career, which can be seen here (I think that's the full speech; the movie Pride of the Yankees reenacted the speech, but I think mixed it up some).]  I didn't tell anyone when the news broke; first, because I didn't want to believe my Dad, the guy who I went to when physical strength was needed, was going to die of a muscular disease; and secondly, because I didn't know how to talk about my Dad dying (and arguably, still don't).

I felt alone.  

The terrible thing about ALS is that your body dies but your mind stays alive.  My Dad was still sharp as ever, and I spent several evenings with him near the end of his life watching the Cubs/Bears/Bulls on the TV, which was about all he could muster.  Eventually, though, he lost his strength.  He lost the ability to pick things up, then to walk, then to breath when he lay down.  He retired before he wanted to, he stopped going to church, he stopped going outside.  For several years, I watched my Dad shrink away until, as a matter of unfortunate circumstances, he passed away alone in the house.

If I felt alone, I could not imagine how he felt.  Every morning he woke up being able to do less than he could the day before.  He was trapped in an ever-shrinking world, and no one really understood how that must have felt for him. 

After he died, my sister Brianne rallied the family to participate in the ALS Walk4Life.  At the time, I didn't much see the point.  I would give the money, sure, and try to raise some money, but what was walking around going to do?  What point did it serve to help those with ALS?  It seemed self-serving and narcissistic. "Look at me!" I felt I was screaming, "I am sad but also doing something good!"

Then I did the walk, surrounded by thousands of people who, like me, have some relationship with the disease.  There were massive groups of families, communities, friends, and casual acquaintances who knew someone who had it, and there were people who were suffering at all stages of the disease.  

And for the first time, I didn't feel alone.     

I wish we had thought of doing this while my Dad was alive, because he might have not taken such an emotional slide had he seen all the people who, like him, were struggling.  Some were doing pretty okay, cruising around in their wheel chairs or ambling along on crutches and canes.  Others were only memorialized on t-shirts and signs.  Regardless, those who were there understood his struggle.  It was a shared moment of catharsis which, to me, was and still is priceless.  

Seven years down the road, and this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge comes along, and immediately takes the Internet by storm.  Predictably, once the trend (and it is a trend) hit peak saturation point, dozens of nay-sayers came out to explain how dumping ice on your head wasn't "true" philanthropy or charity.  True giving, true humanitarianism comes with continued effort and money giving.  Spending a few minutes taping yourself dumping water on your head was inauthentic and narcissistic. 

Sure.  In a year, most of these people are going to forget that this happened (hell, in six weeks it will probably be forgotten, like twerking or Ricky Martin).  People will likely go about their business again, and joke around about that time they dumped water on their heads.  

But I don't care.  Forget the fact that ALS foundations have raised four times as much this year as compared to the same time frame last year; forget the fact that this has given more exposure to the charitable foundations who have funded research which has recently made major strides in discovering treatments and cures (which currently there is only one treatment, and it doesn't work great); forget all of the typically philanthropic greatness which has surrounded what one website called "narcissism masked by altruism."

Above all else, these videos have made people feel a little better.  And this the core of philanthropy: the desire to promote the welfare of others.  I imagine for those who are suffering from ALS, to see Bill Gates, several of the Cubs, Rachel Ray, Elizabeth Banks, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nathan Fillion and countless other celebrities briefly think about those with ALS makes the world seem, even for a minute, just a little less dark. No amount of money silently raised will ever be able to do that.  I watch every video that come across both my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Every one.  And every time, I smile.  I don't care if that person donated ten dollars or a million dollars or no dollars.  For just a moment in a person's busy life, he or she stopped and thought about someone else.  Even if that thought was buried in navel-gazing, I don't care.

It was nice.  If you feel good doing something nice, great.  We both get something out of it.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

ALS Walk4Life

Hello Friends:

In 2007, not too long after the 4th of July, my Dad passed away.  My Dad had lived with a rapidly declining quality of life as he succumbed to ALS, a neuro-muscular disease that degenerates muscle while leaving the mind intact.  That year, and every year since, my family has tried to raise some money for the Les Turner Foundation, which researches cures and provides assistance to for those suffering from ALS.

There are a lot of causes out there to which any one person could donate, and I am sure everyone is inundated with pleas for donations.  I am sorry for adding on to that.

But, I can, with confidence, say that the Les Turner Foundation has done a lot of good with the money raised during this fundraiser and the others they operate.  More than just assisting the families and sufferers, the Les Turner Foundation has recently funded research which made massive strides in understanding the disease and moving towards researching a cure.  Researchers at Northwestern University just last year had a massive breakthrough, finding a common cause in all ALS cases.  The donations made to my team and others had a direct impact on Les Turner's ability to fund this research.

A lot has happened in my life and the lives of my family since my Dad passed away:
- I graduated from SIU with a MA in English Lit and I am nearly finished with my PhD from Aberystwyth.
- My sister Brianne got married to a great guy and landed a prestigious job as a public defense attorney for the state of Wisconsin.
- My younger brother Kiernan published two books and is working on a third.
- My older brother Kevin won a massive grant for his research at Notre Dame, as well as having a hand in the Higgs boson research, which the science community is really excited about.
- My sister Beth had her third child, and her husband was promoted to an executive level position with AMC (the movie theater company).
- My Mom has moved into a gorgeous three bedroom house.
There are a lot of major events that are going to happen soon, between my graduation from Aberystwyth and my wedding next summer, which I would really like to share with my Dad.

The reason why I participate in this walk is so that other people won't have to go through their lives without Dads, Moms, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends.  I know people have to die, and that had my Dad not died of ALS, he would eventually have left me.

But he didn't need to die from ALS.  And with a donation - even a donation of $10, $5...whatever - the Les Turner Foundation can work towards a cure.

Thanks for reading.


To donate, go to my Fundraiser Page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Suburbs V Chicago: Reflections at a Funeral

I tell a lot of people I'm from Chicago, but this is not quite accurate.  I was raised and currently live in Bolingbrook, IL, a suburb of about 75,000 people (according to the 2010 census and Wikipedia, which makes the village the 17th largest incorporated area in Illinois).  I tell people I am from Chicago for three reasons:
1) It's just easier to tell people I'm from a large city that everyone knows about and can find on a map.
2) I did legitimately live in the city for a while.
3) I'd like to identify myself more with the ethos of the city than the lack of ethos of the suburbs.
The thing about suburbs is that they are almost personality-less places.  There are some connotations about certain suburbs being more affluent (Naperville, Burr Ridge, Wheaton, etc.) and some are more working-class (Romeoville, Joliet, Aurora, etc.), but most suburbs are just names of irregularly shaped and borderless places.  And because most suburbs are squeezed together, it really becomes impossible to tell whether you are in one place or another.  The suburbs just become a stretch of grayness: faceless strip malls with a Starbucks, TGIFridays or Target every few miles; hundreds of cookie cutter residential subdivision with four varieties of houses; and stoplights as far as the eye can see, bleeding into the horizon.  The difference between any two suburbs is really negligible.  I defy anyone to legitimately know the difference between Oak Brook and Oak Brook Terrace.

One of the biggest difference between the suburbs and the city is the lack of tight-knit communities.  Certainly, if I wanted to, I could join up with a community effort in Bolingbrook through a church group or community center, but I don't know my neighbors in any significant way.  In fact, beyond the three houses immediately nearby, I don't know anything about the people that live on my street.

Earlier this week, I went to a funeral for my Dad's brother's wife's brother (my Aunt's brother who married into the Lannon family).  I am in no way related to Mark, but I went because I wanted to pay my respects to my Aunt.  I expected to see the rest of my Dad's family who likewise would know my Aunt and her family, especially after all these years my Aunt and Uncle have been married.  What I did not expect was to see my Mom's cousins.

Four families: the Lannon's, the Schulze's, the Leahy's and the Sullivan's.  As I found out over the course of the wake and the funeral, these four families were quite intertwined.

If I understand it correctly, my Mom (Sullivan) had cousins (Leahy) who lived near my aunt's family (Schulze) in Oak Park.  My Dad's cousins (all Lannon's) moved into the neighborhood.  My Mom, an only child, used to spend a lot of time with her cousins.  My Dad's brother would hang out with his cousins and got to know the Schulze's and the Leahy's.  The four families were (most of the time) friends.  There was a softball team formed (though my Dad, it was said, took it too seriously for most of the Leahy's and Schulze's).  They often ran into each other at the bars around Oak Park and in the city.  My Aunt and Uncle are not the only Schulze-Lannon marriage.  My Mom was friends with my Dad's sister before she knew my Dad.  All through the wake and funeral, my Dad's family would smile and hug my Mom's cousins, trying to cover the ground between when they lost saw each other.  It was a close knit group, and though most everyone had moved away from Oak Park, everyone came out for the funeral.  It became a bit of a reunion and a lot of stories were told about the old days in and around Oak Park (which might as well be the City).

This is probably the biggest difference between the suburbs and the city.  The space and mobility of the suburbs doesn't force interaction from those that live near each other.  I don't know anyone from my neighborhood who married someone that lived near them.  My brother, and two sisters are married; two (one sister and my brother) have spouses with families in or from Wisconsin.  My other sister married a man from around Chicago, but I don't often see his family, and I'm certainly not close to any of them.

When Catherine and I talk about raising a family and living somewhere, I worry about growing up in the faceless suburbs where everyone has to drive to get to somewhere and see some people they know and like.  Despite being surrounded by houses I can see, the ease of mobility has created an extremely isolated suburban existence.  At this funeral, I thought it would be nice if my kids grew up in an environment with such a strong community.  It's not that I haven't had a good childhood out in Bolingbrook.  And my high school (Benet Academy) and my college (Monmouth College, particularly ZBT) provided me with a close knit community in which I could belong.  I just would have liked more of that more often through my life.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Living History

I was raised in Bolingbrook, a suburb of Chicago about 30 miles outside the downtown area (but, because Illinois was built not unlike a table, I can see the skyline from any building taller than two stories) with around 73,000 people in it.  Despite it's seemingly British name (named after Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire, or Old Bolingbroke...there is a New Bolingbroke, also in Lincolnshire), the Village of Bolingbrook is not that old.  Not even by American standards, where buildings from the late 1800s are considered to be relics from an ancient time.  

This is why the Village's decision to demarcate the "historic" center of Bolingbrook seemed a little insignificant.  Nonetheless, those in charge pushed forward, and now, driving around the southeastern part of town, the street signs are brown and there are signs letting people know they have entered "Historic Downtown" Bolingbrook, built in 1960.

No, you read that right.  1960.  52 years old.  I have family members older than Bolingbrook, and I often wonder if I should petition the Village for a sign so that my Mom can be recognized as Historic Barb.

Let's compare this to, say, Shrewsbury, just over the border in England.  Two friends of mine moved to Shrewsbury, shirking their Welsh ties for the comfort and ease of a more populated town, albeit an ancient town (I'm not sure how the British decide what gets to be a city and whats a town, but I was informed that Shrewsbury, despite it's size and history, is still called a town), settled around 800 AD.   

Yes.  That is correct: 800 AD.  1212 years old.  Now THAT deserves a historical mention.  Even before that, though, the Welsh and the English continually fought over the spot, which suggests that people have lived nearby for several years - maybe even decades or centuries - before it was officially settled as a town.

The UK is filled with stuff like this: castles dotting the landscape, houses built before America was settled, towns that have stood for centuries.  Or in the case of Shrewsbury, dozens of centuries.  This is not something that Americans can fully comprehend: there has been a Shrewsbury for over a thousand years.  Although the name has changed (Wikipedia, which we should all believe unquestionably, suggests it was originally called Scrobbesburh), there has been a settlement in or near where contemporary Shrewsbury stands now.  

This is evident in the local architecture.  There is, as with most good border towns, the remains of a castle used to keep the Welsh out of England, and to export their wool around Europe using the River Severn as a trade route.  The castle has been meticulously maintained, which is not always the case with castle ruins (see Aberystwyth), and even the updates and repairs keep with the general look of the castle.  One of the towers, Laura's Tower, still stands, and from the walls surrounding it, it becomes clear why Shrewsbury was such a hotly contested strip of land.  The countryside spreads out wide in all directions, and a watchful eye could see for miles down the river.  

But castles are easy.  London has had it's city center rebuilt, destroyed and paved over every couple centuries.  Few of the original buildings which stood on the banks of the Thames from the Roman era still survive today, not to mention later buildings.  The Tower of London, built by the invading Normans in or around 1066, still stands, but the walls surrounding what is known as The City is practically gone entirely (it is rumored that one pub in The City has used part of the original Roman wall as it's interior walls, but I haven't seen it).  This is partially because the Saxon tribes ransacked the remains of the original Roman settlement too scared to put the buildings to any good use, and partially because of the wars and struggles that have taken place in London (not the least of which was the Blitz in World War II in which the Nazi army bombed several places in London, Coventry and Liverpool to rubble).  For whatever reason, though, the really early history of London only remains in myth and story (or, as in the case of the Globe Theatre, replication).  

Shrewsbury has not had as chaotic a history, despite being an often contested town.  Most of the conflicts occurred before the destructive force of gunpowder and rocketry, so many of the medieval structures still survive.  This is especially true of the Tudor style homes, popular in the late 1480s through the early 1600s.  Any street in the center of Shrewsbury is dotted by several houses with the black beams and the white plaster.  These buildings were built long before lacquering and precision tools were used to build houses, and thus have settled in quite skewed positions.  Often, cross beams were visibly warped or bowed which made the houses look like they were falling in on themselves, or in some nervous cases, into the street.

Standing beside these houses were the red brick buildings popular during the Industrial Revolution (approximately 1750-1850).  With the increase in manufacturing technology came the rise in brick production.  A good chunk of Shrewsbury, including the house in which my friend Stephanie lives, is from around this time.  Red-brick terraced houses seemed to dominate the landscape, particularly away from the city center.  There was, of course, several Georgian and Victorian buildings, but these young buildings were as noticeable as the miles of terraced red-brick houses.  

What was particularly nice about Shrewsbury, and what really gave the city it's historic feel, was how the red-brick and tudor style houses ran through even the new architecture.  Standing atop the wall and looking out over all of residential Shrewsbury, the older houses seamlessly blended into newer residential areas with red bricks and faux timbers on the facades of most of the houses.  

That is not to say that modernity doesn't rear it's sometimes ugly head.  Across the Market Square from the original town hall and several Tudor houses sits an office block that is straight from the 1970s.  Though much more appealing, the very modern Severn Theatre sits across the river from several mixed late Tudor shops.  For the most part, though, the modern buildings add a nice contrast, or stays well-hidden.  

Interestingly, though, Shrewsbury is a town of about 96,000 people.  As I said earlier, Bolingbrook is a town of 73,000.  Bolingbrook, in it's 52 meager years of existence, has grown by about a thousand people a year in order to reach that number, while the much older Shrewsbury has had to add about 75 people a year over the course of it's history to reach their current approximate population.  That is a significant different in population change, and someone who was better with stats might be able to come up with astounding percentages that neatly represents this massive difference.  Probably an impressive number like 8000% difference or some other mathematical impossibility that is paradoxically true in this situation.  Either way, that difference is interesting, probably with implications for the way that Britain grows and America grows (and even further and deeper implications about how this growth is representative of a specific mindset that is ingrained in the culture of both said countries).

Instead of all of that neat cultural analysis, I want to talk about faking history for a moment.

It's certainly true that I am a little suspicious of Bolingbrook's supposed "Historic District".  I feel that the use of historic in that sense pales in comparison to evident history or Europe and Asia (even Africa and the native tribes of North America, though most tribal nations tend not to leave awesome building laying around) and is thus inauthentic.  But this in-authenticity at least comes from an earnest place.  Bolingbrook didn't try to find some tenuous connection to an earlier settlement to make it seem like the suburb predated Columbus.  

This is not true of the Gregynog building just outside Newtown.  This massive Tudor-like building sits in the middle of an AMAZING sprawl of fields and hills populated almost exclusively by farm animals.  The building itself is owned by the University of Wales (which doesn't exist any longer), and is used as a conference hall and hotel of sorts.  There are lots of paths through sheep and horse fields, through forests, and through some meticulously manicured gardens and lawns.  The drive up the winding long path gives a breathtaking view of this massive Tudor-style house sitting among some topiary bushes, across a stone bridge which crosses a ravine that cuts between the house and the near-by forest.  

But it's all a fake.  Built in the late 19th century, the building is almost entirely clad in concrete (interestingly, one of the first concrete-clad buildings of the time).  There are no timbers or plaster fillings.  The bricks are not structural, but decorative.  The building is made to look old, but it is not as old as it looks.  And thus is a lie.  

Now, earlier I praised Shrewsbury for continuing the Tudor and red-brick architectural styles throughout the more modern residential areas, so this above sentiment would seem contradictory.  The difference here, and it's a key difference, is that the facade of these Shrewsbury homes is made to resemble older styles, not replicate the style whole-hog.  That is, there is no denying that the houses in Shrewsbury are new houses, but they borrow for earlier veneer styles.  The Gregynog house tries to pass itself off as a Tudor house, when in fact it is nothing of the sort.  There is nothing on the exterior that suggests or even resembles concrete.  The very same material responsible for the crushingly depressing Cold War architecture of former Soviet countries.

Here, Gregynog does something upon which Bolingbrook can look down: denies it's heritage in favor of fake austerity stolen from previous styles.  It's a fine line to walk, but it's one that separates authentic history (Shrewsbury and Bolingbrook, lame as it is) and inauthentic history (Gregynog).  Bolingbrook's history might not be older than the most recent renovation to Stephanie's house in Shrewsbury, but at least it's an honest history.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Problems of Living in Resort Towns

Late March/Early April is when Wales (or maybe just Aberystwyth) becomes God's country.  The grey blanket that was laid over the seaside town in early October is pulled back, and the sun shines down on the blinking, staggering, rain soaked masses.  People come out, nervously at first, but then in droves.  As soon as the weather gets above 60 (16 in C), the Welsh start stripping their clothes off.  It probably was about 67 (17 or a bit more in C) today, maybe a bit warmer in the sun, and people were laying about the pebbly beaches in bikinis and bathing trunks.  Shirtless young men running about the beach, kicking soccer balls or chasing frisbees, and young women rolling up shirts and shaking the dust of long stored shorts.  The thing is: the sun won't last long.  "I've got my rain coat over here," joked one of my Welsh housemates.  "It could still rain today."

Aberystwyth, nestled between two hills and nearly in the center of the Cardigan Bay, has long been a tourist attraction, and during the Victorian era, this was the premiere getaway for Wealthy English.  They would stroll along the promenade, lunching on the pier (which at that point was a lot longer).  There are pictures in the pier hallways of people in top hats and long dresses meandering down the prominade.  With the exception of some electric lights and signage, not too much has changed in 120 or so years.

Easter is a prime time to visit Aberystwyth.  This time of the year, the shops, pubs and promenade fills with strange voices and accents.  People slowly walking along the shops as if they've never seen a high street before.  This is good for the community, and without this yearly migration of people from inland, Aberystwyth wouldn't be able to do what it does the rest of the year.

It's not like the rest of the year is deathly quiet.  Being a town built around and to support a University, the bars are never hurting for people looking to make bad decisions.  Like the tourists, packs of students meander about town, clogging up the high street with in a slow progression towards Subway and Costa.  Or if at night, scantily clad women, and cologne soaked men twittering down towards Yokos or Pier Pressure.

This one week, though, is a perfect storm for annoyances: young tourists looking to make the most of the sunny day, and students nearly finished with school work before Spring Break hits and they all abscond back home.  It makes for an odd mixture of tiny little children with Midlands accents running away from the waves, and University students swearing at each other and drinking cider by the liter in the early afternoon.  All of them fighting for a bit of pebbly beach  to enjoy in the first bits of warm sun.

It makes doing routine things like grocery shopping or going to Spar especially obnoxious.  I begrudgingly accept that there are not going to be a lot of bench spaces available on days like this, but I find I have little patience for people slowly stumbling about Co-Op looking for the sausages and rolls for an impromptu barbecue.

I know I sound like an old man chasing kids off my lawn, but I can't help it.  I find myself getting unnaturally bristly when I hear people talk about being on vacation here.  After all, they didn't suffer through the three months of pissing rain and winds strong enough to knock the breath out of you.  They didn't deal with the sleet and grey winter that seamless stretches on for weeks.  THEY don't have to clean up the mess once THEY are gone in three weeks.  It doesn't seem right that people who don't live here year round get to enjoy the beach and infringe on my quiet little seafront.  There are times in February when I the benches will go days without anyone sitting in them.  Now that it's nice enough for me, who has waited patiently through the nasty weather, to use them, there's somebody sitting there.  Somebody who drove in for the day.  And who'll just leave once the weather turns again.

But, as I sit here complaining, I realize, just short of saying it, the irony of it all.  I don't live here, per se.  I have an address here, and I certainly am here for other times during the year, but certainly not someone raised in Ceredigion County, having gone to Penglais Comprehensive, speaks Welsh, etc.  I imagine those that live here permanently look at me the same way I look at these opportunistic tourist taking up space on what I feel is my beach.  Damn international students.  Paying with their funny money and taking all our knowledge back home with them. Really, I am just as much a tourist as the people who come down just for the weekend.  My complaints about the tourist could neatly be reflected back at me.

The only difference, an important difference, too, is that they have somewhere to go back to.  Being a student living in two countries, I have no where to go.  Chicago feels like a trip to visit my friends and family, and I certainly lack permanence here in Aberystwyth, having to store all my stuff in a closet when I leave.

This is the heart of it: the tourist make me feel lonely.  You can go visit a place when you have a home.  All of my stuff fits in about two small rooms (one of which can be stored in a closet).  I don't really have a home, per se.  So when people come to visit, it's like rubbing their permanence in my face.  It's been a long time living in temporary conditions, and I am nearing the end of it.  But that end can't come fast enough.

I look forward to the day when I can pile my wife and my dog into the car or train, and nip off to some coastal town where I'll dirty up their beach for a while before going back to my cozy little house stuffed with my furniture and books.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Me V Socialized Medicine

About two weeks ago, I was washing up in the shower and noticed a lump in my armpit.  I've gotten pimples in more unusual places, so I didn't think much of it, and went about my life.  A week ago, though, I started getting pressure pains in the same area.  I did what no one should ever do when nervous about something weird on the body: I went to WebMD.

The initial prognosis was not good: cancer.  Some kind of cancer, be it one of the lymphomas or a rare case of breast cancer that can sometimes occur in men.  Or possibly some other sort of awful infection of the lymph system which can cause all sorts of undue health issues down the road.  Or just an infected hair follicle (I'll say you the worry and let you know that it is most likely an abscess caused by a clogged sweat glad, and not some incurable rapidly spreading form of cancer).

Luckily for me, though, I was in the UK and could go to the doctor for free (as all students in the UK can do when studying for more than six months).  There are heart-related health issues that run in my family, and while it is likely that my Dad's ALS was triggered by a drug interaction, I still find myself a little antsy when my arms hurt (which is where his ALS started).  So, figuring I was dying of cancer, had clotted arteries, or blood pressure shooting through the roof, I decided to make an appointment to see a doctor.  This is the second time, see more below, and I want to dispel some rumors about socialized medicine here.

See: when I was in America I was one of the millions of Americans that did not make enough money to afford health insurance.  When I was at Carbondale, I could benefit by going to the Student Health Services for $6 for most things.  When I left Carbondale, I was left to my own devices, and like so many others, I decided to pay for things like phone service and gas money than I did for insurance with an insanely high deductible and minimal coverage.  Luckily, I am don't often get sick (though, having said that, I will likely be stricken with something here soon), so it wasn't too much of a problem, but there were a few scares where splitting headaches wouldn't go away for days or a weird pain would shoot down my left arm.  I was then left to decide if what I felt was bad enough to see a very expensive doctor, or if I should see if I got better on my own.  I'm still alive today, so again: Keegan = lucky so far.

Here, though, I can see a doctor for free.  When I got to the UK, I had no idea how to sign up for an NHS card, so I let an entire year and a half go by before I decided it was worth looking into.  Then, right after I got back here for this school year, I got really sick and worried about what I would do if I needed hospitalization.  So I asked my friends here, and they told me to register with a local doctor.  I went to the one my friend Rachel suggest (Church Surgery), and just asked at the desk.  A few forms later, and I was in the system.  A week later, and a card came for me.  Just like that, I was insured.

Ironically, I ended up losing hearing in my left ear due to an infection that caused a massive waxy buildup shortly after I registered.  Terrified that I had gone deaf (I don't often freak out about medical things, despite what this blog suggests), I went back to the doctor, but my registration with the NHS hadn't gone through.  This is was one concern I had: large government run things can sometimes be really inefficient, and thus I could be denied care.  I've been to the DMV; I knew what to expect.  Without any hesitation, though, I was given an appointment and told that they would sort it out later.  Technically, I was uninsured, but with faith in the system, I was assumed covered.

Thus arose my second concern: that I would have to wait months for my appointment.  There are horror stories passed around about how people need to wait months for critical surgeries, or how people critically wounded spent days in the emergency room.  You'll wait forever to get an appointment, people would say.  And by that point, you'll have died.  So, when the lady asked me if I had that afternoon free, I was most surprised.  I literally waited four hours for my appointment, but it was a four hour wait I knew was coming.  So I went home.  I think I did laundry.  Quietly, because I had lost my hearing in one ear.  That afternoon, the doctor looked in, saw the buildup, and suggested some drops.  That night I could hear better than I had for months previous (the problem with slow buildups is that one does not recognize subtle changes).

When I found the lump in my armpit, I went over to make an appointment and found that I would not be that lucky.  I was asked if my issue was an emergency.  Wanting it not to be, I said no, hoping I could will it with my blase attitude into being just an abscess.  The nurse turned around and flipped through her appointment book, "Let's see here, when can we fit you in..."  She flipped through pages - what seemed like months.  "How is next Monday?" she asked.

So, one time, I waited four hours.  The next time I waited a week.  I know stats people will lose their mind over this, but on average, I wait 3.58 days for an appointment.  Which, if I remember right, is about what I would wait for an appointment in the States, fully insured (and so long as I didn't have an HMO, because then the waits can be quite a bit longer...).

I realize that there are caveats to this story:
1) I live in a small town that has surgery hours set aside for students.
2) None of my concerns have been life threatening or chronic.
3) Nothing has needed immediate or complicated treatment.
4) Wales in not London, or Birmingham, or Manchester, or even Shrewsberry for that matter.  Small places always = shorter wait times.
That said, I have had no complaints about the medical coverage over here.  The doctor's office was clean and professional.  The Death Panel cleared me with little argument (THERE ARE NO DEATH PANELS, YOU IDIOTS!  Never, anywhere, could a civilized country get away with killing off old people; the UN would have a fit and Florida would go bankrupt).  All in all, I have been extremely satisfied with my experience.

Today, when I got home for the doctor, I scrolled through Facebook, and my friend Sara recommended Fahreed Zakaria's new article on Swiss and Taiwanese health care (and, really, the rest of the world), and how it compares to the US.  Interestingly, it didn't look at how socialized medicine is a better way forward ethically, nor did it look to debunk the myths about death panels or wait times.  Instead, Zakaria approached it financially.  Financially speaking, Americans, American employers, and the American government pay more (more than 22 other financially similar countries) for less care (and, as Zakaria notes, less satisfying care).  We die younger and our babies have less a chance for survival.  In short, a country that prides itself on having the best of everything provides the worst health care in the industrialized world (more than Argentina or India, which are not known to be countries rolling in splendor).

In the end, universal health care just makes the most sense.  The US spends more money on health care, as individuals, as an employer and as a nation, than anyone else, so financially, the health care needs to be reformed.  Those that complain the government is too involved can rest assured that less tax dollars will go towards a universal system than do the one currently operating (see the above link, slide 26 for evidence to that end), and a system like Switzerland would allow for a more free-market solution that would remove a lot of government involvement.  Economically, healthier people = healthy workers; I'm not economist, but I think a strong, longer living work force would be beneficial to the economy.  No matter how you look at it, there needs to be a change, and any step away from some sort of Universal Care is an unhealthy step.

See what I did there...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Freedom to Practice Religion

Let's get one thing clear before we begin: I am a Catholic.  My faith has wavered from time to time, but a Catholic nonetheless.  I believe that there is a God, and that God has influence in my life (and by extension other people, whether they believe in God or not).  I try my hardest to follow the Golden Rule (treating others as I would want to be treated), as well as loving and caring for those with whom I share this planet.  My Catholic faith, and the values it has instilled in me, are a large part of the reason I am who I am today.

That said, I have been appalled by how the Catholic and Christian faith is being bandied about during this election season, particularly on the issues of contraception and gay marriage.

What I find most alarming is how people claim that equal access to something is infringing upon the freedom to practice religion.  It is certainly true that Catholics don't believe in contraception, and to ask Catholic organizations to provide contraceptive options to their female and male, non-Catholic employees goes against their held beliefs.  But no one is forcing Christian organizations to act in the public sector.  There are religions that believe this or that to be immoral, and thus remove themselves from those aspects of society.  For example, the Amish who reject a lot of the conveniences of modern society for reasons of morality or religious obligation.  The Amish are free to live and do as they please, but they are not allowed to force those beliefs on others.  If the Amish started providing a charity organization that worked in cooperation with the government that employed non-Amish people, they wouldn't be allowed to demand that each employee behave in a certain way.

The same is true of all freedoms.  I am allowed to own a gun (which, here in Britain, people find it quite alarming that I can just walk into a place, and buy a weapon that can produce instant death; especially in light of recent school shootings).  I am allowed to carry that gun with me to certain places.  I am even allowed to discharge that weapon in specially sanctioned places.  I am not, however, allowed to carry or discharge my weapon in such a way that it infringes on the rights of others.  The same is true of religion.

There is a big deal made about how kids are not forced to say things like "under God" or have a prayer before major school events.  People claim that God is being forced from the schools.  One image that was being passed around on the social media sites suggested that the recent school shootings and other violence in school is because God is not allowed in any more (I searched for the image and found it on this kids blog, which I think is great; the mixed messages are just fantastic).  This is patently untrue.  No one is saying that you can't pray in public, what is true is that you can't force other people to sit through large group prayer as part of a public function.  I was raised Catholic and went to public school until I was in high school.  I used to pray at school by myself all the time.  I used to talk about going to CCD classes with my non-Catholic friends.  I used to talk with my Catholic friends about church (though, not a lot, and usually just to acknowledge that we both had gone).  If I had been more motivated, I could have organized prayer circles with friends so we could pray together, in private.  In sixth grade, we learned about different cultures, and one section was about Christianity.  At that point, I was even allowed to debate, as much as a sixth grader could, the beliefs and doctrines of the Church.  AS PART OF CLASS!

The same is true with all public spaces.  When I was more devout in high school, I used to pray over meals at public restaurants.  I used to play in a church band that would play free concerts in public spaces.  I used to do fundraisers for the Catholic charities knocking on doors and praying with people who donated food stuffs.  No one ever stopped me.  And no one was forced to join in.

But the fact of the matter is, not everyone is Catholic.  Regardless of whether or not everyone should believe in the Christian God (that is another post for another time), these people are all allowed to have the same freedom to practice or not practice as they see fit.  This is why college campuses with have interfaith chapels, and prayer rooms for Muslims.  Would people be so vocal about the freedom to practice religion if everyone had to stop five times a day to allow the Muslims to pray?  Probably not.

This extends to not only practices but beliefs.  Muslims, Jews and Hindus all have permanent religious dietary beliefs.  I notice that the country is not quick to ban pork, beef and alcohol.  The aforementioned Amish don't allow the use of electricity, but no one is going to suggest that the nation go dark just to accommodate one religious belief (plus, my reader base would be greatly reduced, and then fewer people would have opportunities to read about buying pants in Wales).  On the subject of leg ware, there are several sections in the Christian Bible that suggest women shouldn't wear pants or expose their bodies, and some Christian sects follow these guidelines very dutifully:
Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
1 Timothy 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.
However, I don't see former Senator Santorum or former Governor Romney jumping in to say that all pants and kilts be banned nation wide, along with jewelry of any kind, including their wive's collection of earrings and necklaces.  Why?  Because these religious doctrines would infringe upon the freedoms of others (I would love to see how the oil and natural gas companies react if there were an Amish Republican demanding for conservation of electricity and a ban on all cars; it would be fair to say the Amish are the most conservative people in America, so they should make for good Republican candidates...save for that whole isolationism and simple living bit...).

The same extends to contraception and marriage.  It was decided that contraception was legal years ago, and frankly for good reasons.  The biggest being that not everyone finds it morally problematic.  Seven states currently have legalized gay marriage, and again, because not everyone (especially gay people) find a problem with same-sex marriage.  We, as a country, decided long ago that our religious practices were not to infringe upon others basic freedoms.  This is what President Kennedy was speaking about in 1960, a speech that made former Senator Santorum "want to throw up" (ironically, it was because of Kennedy that Santorum is even allowed to be considered for the office of President):
I believe in an America...
  • that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source;
  • where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and
  • where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
The second and third bullet points are particularly poignant here, and it shouldn't be one without the other.  The full speech is linked above, and every time I read it, I am made happier to be a citizen of a country that gave the world someone like John F. Kennedy.

If those inspiring words, or ones similar from former Presidents like Jefferson, can't convince politicians to back off this issue, then maybe Christian politicians should look to the doctrine they claim to believe in so fervently:

Matthew 6: 1-8
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.