Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poem: Precious Peaceful Moments

Of the 500+ poems I wrote between 2005 and 2007, this is one of my favorites.  It's from the summer of 2005 when I went with my 3-year-old daughter to visit my parents in Houston.  This was when M and I were separated, and before Syd was born.

------

the cell phone doesn’t ring when i’m here.
i’ve been down here four days,
and it hasn’t rung even once.

i sit here in the study
behind a laptop,
little cricket sounds
issuing from the speakers
at random intervals,
my daughter standing at
my side
as thunder rumbles outside.

it’s raining.

the rain splatters on the window,
dripping from the big
trees overhead,
flicking the leaves of the foliage
in the landscaping beyond the window.

a bird squawks somewhere high above.
either calling for his mate,
or pissed off at being wet.

little pools of water ripple
in the grass.
it’s flat down here,
and there’s nowhere for the water
to run-off.

my daughter lays her little head
on my leg.
she’s tired.
trying to have a bowel movement
for an hour
will do that to you.

the bird is squawking.
still pissed off.
the rain has slackened,
but still falls with
those big gulf coast drops.

everything is soaked
and dripping.
the day seems soggy.

and yet it’s serene;
peaceful
in a meditative
sort of way.
the thunder is just
a gentle rumble
in the distance,
deep in the belly of the
white clouds nesting overhead.
the rain is kind,
not harsh.
and the wind
brushes the leaves with baby’s fingers,
testing,
prodding,
curious.

the hanging clock in the study
tick-tocks away,
the only sound in the house
besides my typing.
it’s older than i am –
it has been a part of this family
since before
i was conceived.

pissed off bird still squawking,
but it’s not insistent
or grating.
it only adds to the
serenity.

a car motors by outside,
windshield wipers moving
in a flurry.

my daughter has walked away
and i go to search for her.
i find her standing before
the big windows in the
family room,
staring at the rain
as it falls from the gutter
overhead,
a waterfall splashing
against round rocks in the
bed behind the house.
she’s running her fingers
across the window,
following the streaking
lines of water
as they run down the glass.

she’s calm,
unconcerned.
just like the day itself.
at peace,
with the worries
of the world
far away
and insignificant.

on a day like today
only the now matters,
existing
in this little corner
of the world,
where the rain
falls down from white clouds,
and the thunder
tumbles around overhead,
and a bird squawks in the branches,
and a clock
ticks off the seconds
of this soon-to-be-gone
peaceful moment.
 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Notes from the Cave



We've started a new weekend rotation at work and thankfully I will no longer have to work third shift on the weekends.  I might have mentioned this in my last update, now that I think about it.  Either way, it's officially started now, so my weekend night shifts are done.  Thank God.

For those of you interested in hearing my original music, I haven't been posting new songs to Serene Musings lately, because I can post them to Tumblr instead in audio file format.  It's just a better medium for it.  So if you want to hear my latest stuff, click here.   I bought a MIDI keyboard device, which allows you to use computer software to generate just about any virtual instrument you can think of and play it on the keys.  So I have been adding more instruments to my arrangements.  The last one had virtual drums, bass, and honky tonk piano, along with my own vocals and guitar playing.  

I typically try not to talk politics on NFTC, but I hope you'll indulge one comment on all the criticism surrounding the problems with the federal exchange website, Healthcare.gov.  This is the site where uninsured people can go to purchase health insurance under the new healthcare law.  Users have apparently been experiencing a lot of bugs and glitches and various other problems.

Originally, the healthcare law envisioned each of the 50 states setting up their own state-based health insurance exchanges.  Federal grants would be given to those states that followed through and set up their own exchanges.  For those states that were unable to set up their own exchanges, there would be a federal exchange website people in those states could go to.  This is what Healthcare.gov is.  It's the federally-run health insurance exchange for people in those states that don't have their own state-based health insurance exchange.

The problem is that way more states ended up not setting up state-based exchanges, not because they couldn't afford it or didn't have the resources, but because Republican lawmakers in those states essentially refused to do it out of spite over the existence of the law itself.  In the end, only 14 states ended up setting up their own healthcare exchange; 36 did not.  This is far more than what the original law envisioned.  

It's little wonder, then, that the federal healthcare exchange website has been experiencing problems.  There are way more users than what the developers of the site originally envisioned.

I also think it's ironic that Republicans scream the most about states' rights and how states should control their own destinies without interference from the federal government, etc., etc., etc., yet they willingly deferred to the feds on the healthcare exchanges, and now are sitting back with looks of smug self assurance saying, "See, I told you so, the federal government can't do anything right."  Then maybe you should have set up your own state-run and state-operated healthcare exchange! The federal exchange was never supposed to be the primary way health insurance was purchased by uninsured Americans.  It was supposed to be largely state-based and state-run with the federal exchange just there as a backup for a handful of states who legitimately didn't have the resources or funds to start their own exchange.

For what it's worth, my home state of Kentucky (whose governor is a Democrat) does have it's own healthcare exchange, and it's working just fine!

Okay, I'm sorry.  I didn't intend for that to go on so long or get so heated.  I'm sure half of you skipped everything I just wrote anyway :)

Now for the story of my stress test and echocardiogram, which I had on Wednesday.

I was scheduled for the echo (an ultrasound of the heart) at 9:15 and the nuclear stress test at 10:00.  The stress test is where you walk on a treadmill and they take your blood pressure and monitor your heart.  It's "nuclear" because they also inject you with a radioactive dye and give you two heart scans, one before the treadmill workout, and one after.

I had the echo, and then went in to get the IV started for my stress test.  I was nervous about this, because I sometimes get faint when I get blood drawn.  I was also a bit nervous about being injected with this radioactive dye.  In addition to that, I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything that morning, and I tend to get jittery and become more prone to anxiety when I have low blood sugar.  I wasn't even allowed a drink of water.

Long story short, the tech tried to start the IV in my hand (which I wasn't happy about), but missed the vein.  He didn't want to poke me there again, so he went to my elbow next and successfully got the IV started there.  I was fine up until he started injecting the dye.  At that point, I felt faintness come on me very suddenly, and within seconds I fainted dead away to the floor.  The tech apparently had to catch me and let me down.  I have a sore back from flopping over.

I woke up flat on the floor with someone holding my legs up, and about six other people standing over me calling my (first) name ("Byron!  Byron!").  I was apparently out for a minute or two and didn't respond immediately to the smelling salts.

Ah, life as B. Scott Christmas.

After a short time with some oxygen and a saline drip, I started feeling better and was able to complete the stress test and nuclear medicine scans.  I was able to get all the way up to my heart rate limit (182 bpm), which a lot of folks apparently can't or won't do.  

I don't have the results back yet.  They told me my cardiologist looks at the results immediately, and if there is anything urgent, I would be contacted.  Otherwise, he'll go over it with me at my next appointment, which is in November.

This was two days ago, and I haven't heard from them since, so I assume no news is good news.  I might call them next week to see if I can move my appointment sooner than November 20.

My weight, by the way, has been holding steady at about 199 pounds.  I DID finally break that 200 pound plateau that I complained about in the last edition of NFTC, but was not able to achieve my goal of 195 by the time I had my stress test.  Oh well.  Not a big deal.  


Monday, October 07, 2013

10 Fun Facts About John Tyler

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States

1. Born in March of 1790 in Virginia, about a year into George Washington's first term as president, John Tyler was the first U.S. president born after the adoption of the Constitution.  His father, also named John, was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, a prominent slave-owning politician and judge, and served as Virginia's governor in the early 1800's.  The house Tyler was born in, which was built by his father in the mid 1770's, still stands in Charles City County, Virginia, and is known as Greenway Plantation.

2. After attending the College of William and Mary, Tyler studied law and was admitted to the bar at only 19 years of age, opening a practice in Richmond.  He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates just two years later at age 21 and served until 1816, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  In 1813, Tyler married Letitia Christian.  Together they had seven children.  When Letitia died during Tyler's presidency, he remarried in 1844 to Julia Gardner, the first president to marry while in office.  She was 30 years younger than him and together they, too, had seven children.  Tyler's 14 children are the most by any president.    

3. While serving in the House of Representatives, Tyler distinguished himself as independently-minded, a firm opponent of federalism and the national banking system, supporting the notion of states' rights and a limited federal government.  He was one of the main opponents to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which limited slavery to only southern states.

4. After briefly leaving politics in the early 1820's, Tyler served two 1-year terms as Virginia's governor, starting in 1826.  During this time, he delivered the funeral address for his father's old friend Thomas Jefferson, who died in July of 1826.  In early 1827, he resigned as Virginia's governor to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate.

5. Choosing what he believed was the lesser of two evils, Tyler sided with Andrew Jackson over John Quincy Adams in the contentious presidential election of 1828 and thus allied himself with Jackson's new party, the Democrats.  It was an uneasy alliance, however, and during Jackson's second term, the independently-minded Tyler broke with the new party and joined into an equally uneasy alliance with the emerging Whig Party of Henry Clay.  This angered the Democrats of Virginia, who managed to force Tyler into resignation from the Senate in 1836.

6. Tyler was nominated by the Virginia Whigs for the vice-presidency in 1836, running together with Tennessee Whig Hugh L. White.  They placed third in the final voting, and Tyler returned to private life.  In 1838, however, he re-entered the Virginia House of Delegates as a Whig, where he was unanimously elected Speaker.  Two years later, he supported Henry Clay for the Whig nomination for presidency.  However, Ohioan William Henry Harrison was nominated instead, and Tyler was nominated again for the vice-presidency.  Though now representing Ohio, Harrison had been born at a sprawling plantation in Virginia just down the road from where Tyler was born.  "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" won the election in a landslide and swept into office in 1841.  

7. Just one month after assuming office, Harrison became the first president to die in office.  Though the Constitution stipulated that the vice-president would assume the powers of the presidency upon a sitting president's death, it was unclear whether the vice-president would actually become the president or serve merely as the "acting president."  Tyler immediately asserted that he was, in fact, the new president, and took the presidential oath of office to confirm that fact.  After several months of debate, both the House and Senate confirmed that Tyler was, in fact, the 10th president of the United States.  Despite that, many continued to think of his presidency as illegitimate, and his detractors began referring to him as "His Accidency."

8. By the end of his first summer in office, Tyler had completely alienated the Whigs by vetoing two banking bills the Whig-controlled Congress had passed.  All but one of his cabinet members resigned in protest, hoping to force Tyler, himself, to resign.  When he refused, the Whigs officially expelled Tyler from the party - making him the only genuinely "independent" president since the advent of the 2-party system.  During his contentious term in office, he had more Supreme Court nominations and more cabinet nominations rejected than any other president in U.S. history.

9. Tyler was forced to form an independent third party in order to run for re-election in 1844, but after realizing that his chances for winning were slim, he dropped out of the race in August.  Democrat James K. Polk went on to win a slim victory over Henry Clay.  Tyler retired to his plantation in Virginia, named Sherwood Forest, where he spent his final years farming.

10. When the secession crisis broke out in 1861 following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the elderly Tyler took part in attempts to solve the crisis.  When those attempts failed and the Civil War finally broke out, Tyler (along with fellow ex-president Franklin Pierce) sided with the Confederacy.  Elected to the new Confederate House of Representatives, Tyler died on his way to the opening session in January of 1862.  Because he fathered children late in life, Tyler is the earliest U.S. president who still has grandchildren alive today - both were born in the 1920's.  One still owns and maintains Sherwood Forest in Charles City County, Virginia.     

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Discussion of Circumcision

Sounds like a rousing subject, no?  I thought so too.

Believe it or not, this has been a major topic of conversation at my place of employment this week due to a protest that took place a few days ago.  The hospital I work at has been doing research on the merits of different circumcision devices, and an anti-circumcision group called Intact America staged a protest outside the hospital.

OMG, right? 

In discussing this situation with various co-workers, it struck me that there are a lot of misconceptions about circumcision, its use, its purpose, and its history.  So, naturally, I decided a blog post was in order to provide a little education on the subject.

Though circumcision today is most commonly associated with Jews and Muslims, it has been practiced among humans for thousands of years.  The ancient Egyptians were practicing it, to one degree or another, as far back as 4,500 years ago.

This is a diagram of a carving in a tomb at Saqqara, Egypt, dating from around the time of the pyramids.

It's likely that the ancient Jews picked up the practice from their Egyptian cousins.  In the book of Genesis, when God establishes his "everlasting covenant" with Abraham, he establishes the practice of Jewish circumcision as a requirement for all Jewish males on the 8th day after their birth.  Circumcision, in fact, is not just "a thing" Jews are to do, but it is actually established as the very outward, physical mark of what it means to be a Jew: "it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you" (Genesis 17:11), and "any male who is not circumcised shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (v. 14).

In Luke 2:21, the infant son of Mary and Joseph is circumcised on the 8th day and given the name Jesus, in keeping with Jewish law and custom.

In his teaching life, Jesus is never depicted speaking or teaching about circumcision.  Like other Jews of his time, Jesus would have accepted the practice as the social and religious norm, required by God as a sign of his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people.

It was not until after Jesus's death that circumcision became an issue for his followers.  Like Jesus himself, the earliest Christians were all practicing Jews.  They followed all the Jewish rules and customs, ate only kosher foods, practiced all the sacrificial rites, and celebrated the traditional Jewish holidays, including the weekly Sabbath.  Like all Jews, they circumcised their sons.  However, when Christianity began to spread outward from Palestine into the larger Greco-Roman world, many Greeks and Romans were receptive to the message of Jesus, but not at all keen on "becoming Jewish" - that is, on following Jewish dietary laws or, especially, getting circumcised.  The Jewish leaders of Christianity at that time, namely Peter and James, insisted that new Greek and Roman converts must also get circumcised and become Jewish.

This soon became the source of a major rift among the early Christians, with the apostle Paul leading the charge against circumcision (in the book of Philippians, Paul calls Jewish Christians "dogs" and "evil workers" who "mutilate the flesh.")  According to the book of Acts, James and Peter eventually changed their minds and decided to allow new non-Jewish converts to forgo circumcision, as long as they followed certain dietary laws (Acts chapter 15).

Although conversion to Judaism, along with its required circumcision, continued to exist in small circles of Christianity for the next few hundred years, mainline Christianity after the time of Paul gave up the rite and began regarding it as part of the "old covenant" through Abraham, superseded by the "new covenant" through Christ.  Around A.D. 150 (roughly 100 years after Paul's arguments against circumcision) Justin Martyr wrote that circumcision had become a sign not of the covenant between God and the Jews, but a sign that Jews are "separate" from Christians and the rest of the world, and so that Jews, alone, would receive their "just punishments" from God, which Justin equated to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and other Jewish towns.  These circumcised Jews, according to Justin, deserved to have their towns and cities destroyed because they crucified Jesus.

This vicious anti-Semite is one of the most beloved of the early Church fathers

A papal bull issued in the 1400's by Pope Eugene IV specifically outlawed the practice among Christians and established that it was a mortal sin which would cause "the loss of eternal salvation."
        
Like Christianity before it, Islam also has roots in Judaism, arising in Arabia in the 7th century A.D. (about 600 years after Jesus).  Islam reveres Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as prophets, but not Paul.  As a result, unlike Christianity, Islam never rejected circumcision.  Muslims, from that time to now, circumcise their sons as part of a religious rite.

With all this history in mind, why then do so many modern Americans, who are neither Jewish nor Muslim, circumcise their sons?

From the time of Paul, up through the end of the 19th century, circumcision was virtually unheard of outside of Muslim nations, Jewish communities, and Coptic Christian communities (a form of Christianity practiced in north Africa).  Folks like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, not to mention their millions of fellow countrymen, were virtually universally uncircumcised.  The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1876 described it as a "bodily mutilation" practiced by Jews and Muslims and generally abhorred by Christian nations.

You know you're picturing it.

However, beginning in the late 19th century, doctors in mainly English-speaking nations began promoting circumcision for a variety of health reasons, claiming it could cure or prevent everything from kidney stones to joint disease.  By the first few decades of the 20th century, the practice had become widespread in places like the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia (it did not ever spread in any significant fashion to mainland Europe, Asia, or South America).

As time passed, however, and medical science progressed, it became apparent that the earlier claims for the health benefits of circumcision were not just untrue, many were patently absurd (one very prominent physician claimed the practice could cure childhood paralysis; another popular theory was that it somehow prevented masturbation).  As a result, circumcision began to decline rapidly in England after World War II, and eventually Canada and, to a lesser degree, Australia, followed suit.

In the U.S., however, circumcision has remained common.  Circumcision is practiced more widely in the U.S. than in any country on earth outside of the Middle East and northern Africa.  The practice is very rare (with rates less than 20%) across Europe, Asia, South America, southern Africa, and Central America.  The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 70% of the world's male population is uncircumcised.  Among those who are circumcised throughout the world, roughly 70% are Muslim.  Among non-Muslims and non-Jews, the U.S. has almost as many circumcised men as the entire rest of the world combined.

Even within the U.S., the practice is not geographically equal: it is far more common in the Midwest and Northeast, and less common in the South and (especially) the West (in the last decade, rates have been has high as 80% in the Midwest, and as low as 35% in the West).

Midwesterner, Rick Santorum.  Probably circumcised.

Westerner, Nancy Pelosi.  Probably not circumcised.

Advocates generally argue that circumcision prevents the spread of STD's and is a form of good hygiene.  Both of these claims are controversial.  According to various studies done in recent decades, STD infection is more likely among uncircumcised men.  However, opponents of the practice argue this is not a good enough reason to remove a portion of the penis, since simple safe sex practices can virtually eliminate the risk of STD's.

As for hygiene, though most acknowledge a need for increased care for uncircumcised people, opponents again argue that this is not a good enough reason for removing part of the penis.  The simple fact is that most human males throughout human history, up through the present day, have not been circumcised, and they've managed their personal hygiene just fine.

Despite how supporters of circumcision point to hygiene and STD prevention as reasons for circumcising boys, a WHO study in 2007 found that, in the United States, social conformity is the most commonly cited reason for parents choosing to circumcise their sons.  The same study showed a strong correlation with the father's circumcision status: 90% of circumcised fathers chose to circumcise their sons, compared with just 23% for uncircumcised fathers.

CONCLUSION

I have two daughters, so I never had to make this decision for my own children.  However, if I had had sons, I would have had them circumcised, and I would have made that choice primarily for social conformity.

Despite that, I am with the opponents of circumcision in spirit.  There simply doesn't seem to be any legitimate reason, in a First World nation, for widespread circumcision of male babies.  Safe sex practices and good personal hygiene eliminate the primary biological arguments for circumcision, and if we stopped circumcising, then the social conformity issue would quickly disappear too.

The simple fact is, the very thought of "female circumcision" is shuddered at and referred to as "ritual genital mutilation" (see this fact page from the WHO), yet the same standard is not held for mutilating the genitals of boys.  The foreskin is not an evolutionary accident; it's there for a reason.

In my opinion, there really doesn't seem to be any good argument for continuing its practice on a widespread basis, especially in developed countries where safe sex practices and good hygiene are the norm.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Notes from the Cave



It's way past time for another update from the Cave.

You may recall a few weeks ago that I blogged about a new CD I've been listening to by an indie band called Terminal Union.  I got to see them live recently and they were exceptional.  If you like folksy Americana music, you'd love their stuff.

The fella on the right is M's cousin's husband.  I guess that makes him my cousin-in-law?

A lot of new faces at work in the last few months, and some old faces gone.  That kind of sucks and, quite honestly, I don't enjoy working there as much as I used to, but I suppose that's just the way it goes.  I've never adjusted well to change.  The good news is that beginning in mid-October, I won't have to work third shift on the weekends anymore.  I'll be straight second shift all the time.  I'm really happy about that because I have come to dread those third shift weekends.  I used to love them, but now that I eat cleanly and sleep normally those third shifts are hard to endure.  I've just got one more to work before the change.

Thanks to my mother, I got a new car recently.  She was replacing her old car, so she gave it to me.  Nice, eh?  It's a 2006 Honda Accord, but it only has 29K miles on it and it has all the bells and whistles: leather interior, 6 CD changer, Sirius/XM (paid up through the middle of next year!), sun/moon roof, etc., etc.  M is now driving my Altima (she didn't want to drive the Honda because it's a manual transmission) and we sold M's car, which had over 170K miles on it.  Still, we got $1500 bucks for it, so we're pretty happy.  Added to the 1200 bucks we got from the Kentucky State Treasury Division of Unclaimed Property, it's like we've had a nice fat autumn tax refund.   

If you haven't been listening to the songs I've been writing and recording, you really should.  They are FANTASTIC.  Just kidding.  But seriously folks, I've done 4 so far and you can listen to all 4 of them at my Tumblr page: Click Here Now. And tell all your friends to Click Here Now. And if you know any record company executives, tell them to Click Here Now too.

I've hit a major plateau in my weight loss, and I can't help but think that there MUST be a psychological element to it because I'm basically stuck at 200 pounds.  200.8 to be precise.  I just can't seem to get below 200.  I've said all along that 195 was my goal, but these last five pounds have proven to be unbelievably difficult to lose.  Over the last three weeks or so, I have weighed in at EXACTLY 200.8 pounds at least four different times, including today.  Several times I've been slightly higher than that, but never lower.  I just can't seem to break that level.  

In any case, I have until October 23 to get to 195.  That's the day I have my stress test and echocardiogram.  Since I scheduled it back in early August, I've been saying I wanted to have my weight loss goal completed by then.  Thanks to this plateau, that's in jeopardy now. 

Part of the problem is that I haven't been walking as much, and the reason for that is because my foot is injured from walking so much.  It started out as a problem at the ball of my left foot (I self-diagnosed it as sesamoiditis), but now it's moved into what must be a tendon or ligament along the anterior-medial side of my foot (that's the top-inside for you non-medical types).  I can still move around just fine, but it hurts, and when I actually go for a power walk, it flares up even worse.  So I've not been walking as much in an effort to let it heal, but it's not healing very quickly.  Of course, I also am on my feet 8 hours a day whether I walk in the mornings or not.  I got some inserts for both my walking shoes and work shoes, but I can't tell if they are helping or not.    

It sucks getting old.    

In any case, once I DO get down to 195, I'm going to post those "before and after" pictures I promised earlier this summer.  I had taken some "before" pictures of myself in January, when I still weighed 250, planning on starting a New Year's resolution workout routine.  That didn't pan out so well, but then the heart attack happened and the weight loss finally started for real.  So ladies, just keep waiting with bated breath for those topless Scott pics.




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