Sunday, July 18, 2010

Godspeed, Greyhound

An e-mail arrives with the news Bob Wennberg has pancreatic cancer. He could be gone by the fall, they say.

I turn to the window, to the tree, to the sky, to 1977 on a golden Santa Barbara morning. Bob is standing at a lectern, peering down through his bifocals at a bevy of diffident nineteen-year-olds. He cocks back his head and sets forth the key analytical critiques of disembodied existence. It’s hard stuff.

Somebody asks Bob a question you wouldn’t remember, and gets an answer you couldn’t forget. Bob says, “Some days, I think I’d like to be a Greyhound bus driver. I wouldn’t give lectures anymore. I’d just look out ahead at the highway and drive—right into the night. I’d take people where they needed to go. They’d be there by the next morning. It would be honorable work, something useful.” He chuckles, but you wonder if the man is half serious.

Now there’s a website for his former students to write to him in the past tense and say … what? Dear Doctor Wennberg, You were the greatest. I don’t remember much philosophy, but you had such a big impact on my life. Thank you so, so much.

Is that enough?

* * *

Last week my friend John called on a whim, asked if I’d go with him to the Blue Bayou in Hillsborough. The musical act was billed as an Indian jazz flute player. So I went with John, and my daughter Alex came along, and we’re sitting there listening to this music—it’s both familiar and peculiar at the same time—having a draft or two. And John says, “What if you had more than one life? What would yours be?”

“I don’t know,” I say. I think about it for a minute. “I guess I’d like to have my same mind and experience—I’d like to be me—in my son’s body. I would know everything I know now, right? But I’d be in his body. Six-two and athletic and buff. And nineteen.”

“You’d be formidable,” John says. “But wouldn’t it be just a different sort of torture? Think about it, really ….”

“OK, what would you be?”

“I’d be a passionate musician. I’d be consumed by some instrument."

There had been this brief and magical moment when John had everything—his own mortgage company and a faux-farmhouse mansion with a pool on seven acres, a Porsche convertible, and a beach house in Beaufort with a boat. To say nothing of a lovely and inscrutable Argentine wife and four equally stunning children. Then she left him and it all unraveled. He lost it all, except for the kids—them, and the grand piano. Nobody knows how he got the thing into the rented bungalow in Carrboro when it ended.

“It wouldn’t even matter if people loved me,” John says. “They would, of course—everybody’d love me—I’d be that good. But I wouldn’t care. It would just be about the music.”

* * *

Thirty feet goes by fast when you’re sixteen on your way down from a concrete bridge into a river of clear melted snow on a hot day in the Ecuadorian jungle. Down, down, into the water, hold my breath, feel the current, swim against it, open my eyes, see the green boulders and the tiny fish.

I break the surface and tread water, look back at the bridge. Steve Moss is up there. “Come on, Steve!” I shout. “You can do it. Jump!”

Steve is silent, staring down. He’s never going to do it. Steve is a quiet, nerdy medical student from the farmlands of South Georgia. He’s been working long hours in the mission hospital with my dad. I’ve taken him here to show off. I want Steve to see I’m not afraid to jump from the Alpayacu bridge. I’ll dare him to do it, too, but I know he won’t. He’s not the type.

People are so predictable—they really are. Except when they’re not.

Slowly, cautiously, Steve hoists himself onto the concrete wall. He stands up there, balanced on the narrow slab for almost a full minute. He’s trying to get up his courage, I think. I’ve seen people get this far and back down, ease off the bridge and wonder what they were thinking.

“Just do it, Steve! Don’t be a chicken. It’s OK, it’s only water down here! You’ll be fine.”

Steve bends his knees slightly, almost crouches, and then . . . he releases himself out into thin air like an uncoiling spring. Up, up, out over the water, he’s a bird. Then he coils again, a spinning ball, one flip. Two. Two-and-a-half. He cuts the river like a knife blade and disappears under the Alpayacu, leaving barely a ripple.

We dry off on the warm rocks and Steve says, “I admire your dad a lot. He’s the kind of doctor I want to be.” Then he tells me about his father, Captain Robert “Moose” Moss.

Steve’s dad was a farm boy from Colquitt County, Georgia, but in 1941 he became something else: a highly decorated P-40 fighter pilot and one of the legendary Flying Tigers of World War II. Moose and his fellow Tigers shot down 299 enemy planes in seven months. They were credited with stopping the Japanese invasion of China. When Moose got back to South Georgia, he wanted to build something different at Moose Farms—something to remember the Flying Tigers—for the sheer majesty of people diving through the air but now without the metal and the fire and smoke. And so he built a deep swimming pool and a high diving board and it became a world class aquatic facility where six Olympic teams have trained.

The Moss Farms competitive diving teams—the kids who train there—are called the Diving Tigers. Steve was one of them. (“Just jump!” I’d shouted.)

* * *

Pam and Alex join me for sushi and a drink on a hot Friday night at Brightleaf Square. We sit out in the courtyard, listen to the Bull City Syndicate playing blues for awhile, then head down Main Street for a walk.

Pam and Alex disappear into a little shop with West African objects d’art. I stay outside and watch the passersby. When the girls don’t come out after awhile, I go in and find them engrossed in conversation with the Nigerian shopkeeper. I join in.

“How’s business?” I say.

“Getting better,” says the Nigerian shopkeeper. “I was worried when I opened here. They had the street torn up then, and there wasn’t much foot traffic.”

He talks to Alex. He has a daughter, too. Alex tells the shopkeeper she just graduated from college and doesn’t know what she’s going to do.

“Here is a proverb for you,” the shopkeeper intones. “A wise person said, ‘You only live once. But if you work it right, once is enough.’”

That could be true, I think. Trouble is, so many people screw it up the first time—right out of the box. By the time you know, that’s it. So once is not enough. Twice, maybe. Otherwise, what good is midlife imagination? What’s that for?

We’re about to leave. “Good luck,” I say to the shopkeeper. (I mean it. I’m worried about him.)

“Thanks,” he says. “At least I’ve got my day job.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

A moment later I’m staring at a business card and I realize I’ve been talking to a doctor—a professor of obstetric anesthesiology at Duke Medical School. The shop is his hobby.

* * *

I leave Pam and Alex at the concrete waterfall by the Tobacco Warehouse and walk back to get the car at Brightleaf. I cut across Pettigrew Street and pass the Durham bus station. I see a Greyhound there, about to leave the depot. It’s an inferno out here—I'm drenched with sweat. I hear the hum of the bus and imagine the cool inside. Then I ponder the Nigerian shopkeeper-anesthesiologist and suddenly I think, I could be somebody else. I could be a touring country singer, or a police officer in a college town. I could be out there—protecting the public from twenty-eight-thousand knuckleheads. Or what if I turned and walked, just over there, and got on that bus? I’d sit right up front where I could see everything. I wouldn’t need to know where we were going. The bus driver would take care of that. He would head us out West. We'd cut across the Piedmont like a silver knife through the steamy night. We’d be into the high country by eleven-thirty, crossing the intercontinental divide. All the passengers would be asleep, but not me. I’d watch the moon rise over the Smokies and I’d talk to the driver. He’d be quiet for awhile, but finally ... he’d tell me the meaning of this life and what may lie beyond.

This was a good one, Bob. Godspeed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carry Me

Part 1.

What I remember most about that morning in 1968 is the cold blanket of fog covering the Ecuadorian páramo, and how my dad disappeared from view just a few feet ahead of me on the trail into Lake San Marcos. I was ten years old.

We had spent the previous night in Cayambe, a mountain town at the base of a massive snow-capped volcano by the same name, and then at dawn headed out on foot from the trailhead--me, my brother Tod, his friend Jim, our dad, Dad’s friend Mr. Allpress, and Victor Chicaiza.

Victor was a stout Quichua man hired to carry our camping gear, including tents and food supplies and our dad’s inflatable rubber boat for trout fishing. Victor planned to leave us at the lake and hike back out alone once he got us down there with all this stuff.

Dad suggested at first that we stay together on the trail, but it didn’t happen. Tod and Jim ran on ahead, eager to slip the surly bonds of adult supervision. Next went plodding Victor Chicaiza, slowed by his massive burden but still outpacing Mr. Allpress, Dad, and finally me.

About a half-hour into the hike, Dad disappeared in the fog. I called for him to wait for me, but he didn’t answer. I started to run with my knapsack, lost my footing in the mud, and fell headlong. I smacked my shinbone with full force on a branch that had fallen over the trail.

Lying there in the mud and the mist, with my leg throbbing in the moments after I’d fallen, I screamed for Dad. I screamed first in pain and then in panic when he didn’t come.

In retrospect, I now imagine Dad had been chatting with Mr. Allpress on the trail and failed to notice that the boy wasn’t following behind him. Eventually, of course, he realized that I wasn’t there and he turned around and came back for me. Mr. Allpress walked on.

By the time I saw Dad emerge from the cloud up ahead, I was crying. But then I felt ashamed of my fear and the tears and I blamed it all on the hurt leg. Dad checked the bruise on my shin, gave due regard to my agony, and set forth a provisional diagnosis: “You might just have a little fracture of your tibia there, Ol’Buddy,” Dad said. “You probably shouldn’t walk on it, in any case. Tell you what, let’s find a spot for you to sit for awhile and I’ll go get Victor to carry you down.”

Dad helped me up out of the mud, then crouched and told me to climb on his back. He carried me until he found a flat place, then sat me down in the páramo grass. “Now just wait here, Ol’ Buddy,” he said. Then Dad gathered up his gear and my knapsack, too, and took off down the trail to Lake San Marcos.

It seemed like hours, sitting out there alone on the mountainside. The fog begat a cold drizzle. I wondered if Dad had forgotten where he’d left me. Then he and Victor Chicaiza showed up, and they were a welcome sight. Dad said Victor would carry me all the way down to the lake. Then he said Victor was going out to Cayambe and he’d bring back some plaster bandages so Dad could set my leg in a cast. (He, Dad, would just heat up some water on the campfire to soften the plaster--no problem.) Finally, he said Victor was going to bring in a horse from Cayambe on the day we would leave, so I could ride out and Victor wouldn’t have to carry both me and the boat.

By that time, my leg was actually feeling quite a bit better, but I wasn’t about to say so. And then . . . the more I thought about that cast coming in from Cayambe and the horse and all, my leg started to feel plenty bad again.

The truth is, I ended up having a pretty good time for a kid on a fishing trip with an implausibly broken leg. I hopped gamely down to the lakeshore on my “good leg” and caught my share of rainbow trout. In the evenings, we grilled the fish over the campfire and Dad and Mr. Allpress talked and told stories into the night.

Henry Allpress, Esquire, was a distinguished-looking, avuncular gentleman who worked for USAID in Quito. He was the epitome of what I thought of admiringly as an “American Colony man.” He had two lovely daughters who went to our school--much older than my brother and me--but he didn’t have any boys of his own. Mr. Allpress loved to fish, and to talk about fishing, and it seemed nice that Dad had a friend.

After we’d camped out there at Lake San Marcos for several days, Victor showed up with the horse, just as Dad had asked him to, but the horse had no saddle or bridle--just a blanket and a rope. Victor steadied the horse while Dad and Mr. Allpress lifted me onto his back. The horse tried to throw me off at first, but Dad and Mr. Allpress held on to me and Victor reprimanded the horse. Victor then tossed the inflatable rubber boat and sundry camping gear over his shoulders and led the horse and me straight up the mountain.

By the time I was fully evacuated to Quito, my leg was pretty well healed. As for the guilt, I’ve still got that.

Part 2.

I remember it was a sweltering afternoon in North Carolina that day I pushed Angela’s wheelchair up the wooded trail to the waterfall at Chimney Rock. It must have been the summer of 1993; she was just a little girl.

Chimney Rock is a place of magnificent natural beauty. You gaze across rolling valleys of forest to the horizon, and then to the tiny wildflowers close at hand--the Jack-in-the-pulpit and Solomon’s seal. It’s where they filmed The Last of the Mohicans. But on this day, my eyes were glued to the trail, as I maneuvered Angela’s chair around rocks and roots.

I struggled and sweated for a couple of hours and then Hickory Nut Falls splashed into view--a splendid white veil tumbling four-hundred feet over a sheer cliff. I couldn’t push the chair quite close enough, and so I carried Angela in my arms the last few yards into a cool and thundering mist.

That night I had the dream again. In the first part, I see Angela walking. She’s at the end of a dark hall and I don’t recognize her at first. Then she laughs and says, “Hey Dad, it’s me! It’s Angela.” She’s tall and graceful and walking. And then there’s the second part, where I’m sitting in a wheelchair myself, surrounded by walking people. Somewhere deep in the dream, I know it’s a sham--that I really can walk, after all, but I can't admit that I'm malingering. And then I fall and I’m lying on the ground. Somehow I know, once again, that I am able to get up and climb back into the chair, but I can't will myself to do it. Nobody suspects my secret. Nobody comes to help me, either. So I just lie there on the floor by the chair. Then I wake up in a sweat.

This dream used to visit me often, but it’s been a long time now.

Part 3.

It’s March, 2010, and Matt and I are headed out on a father-son backpacking adventure in the Virginia high country. The trip is Matt’s idea and I’m honored that he wants to spend his Spring Break with me, instead of with his buddies at Arizona State.

We set out on the trail into the wilderness and quickly realize we’re ill prepared for something: deep snow. Matt is wearing sneakers. By the time we camp the first night, his feet are numb. We get a fire going and he warms up.

As the fire burns down, I feel like telling my son a story. “Matt, did I ever tell you about the time I went backpacking with Grandpa and Uncle Tod in the mountains of Ecuador and I hurt my leg?

I recount for Matt the tale of the trip to San Marcos and Victor Chicaiza and the horse.

In the morning, the fog has mostly cleared and we’re treated to an ethereal orange sunrise glinting off snow-covered conifers and boulders and icy fields in the valley below.

After a second day of hiking through snow, Matt can’t feel his feet again. Late in the afternoon we lose the trail; it seems to disappear at an impassable rock face. We decide to camp where we are, in a wind-swept meadow with no source of moving water but plenty of snow to melt.

Try as we might, we can’t keep a fire going that night. Everything is wet. Matt’s feet are still numb. Temperatures fall into the mid-twenties. The two of us wrap up in every piece of dry clothing we have, and we lie in our sleeping bags--not warm enough--as the wind whips through the tent and our watches seem stuck between two and three in the morning.

When dawn arrives, we decide to head home early. We’re just too cold and we’ve used up most of the propane to melt snow. Retracing our path, we find another route out.

Traversing one more deep snowfield, I step through the icy crust past my knee and twist my right ankle. I don’t say anything at first, but the more I walk on it, the more it hurts. Near the end of the day, I mention it to Matt. I’m moving pretty slowly.

By late afternoon we’re back to the road, just a half-mile from the backpackers' parking lot. “Dad, you stay here and I’ll go down and get the car,” Matt says. “I'll pick you up.

“No, I can walk it, man,” I say.

“Dad. Just stay here. I don’t want you to walk with a sprained ankle. I’ll be right back up with the car. It’s just over there. . .”

I rest on my pack and wait for my son. I gaze back up the mountain from which we've come. I don't want this to end. Then my mind wanders, and I'm waiting on the páramo. Waiting for Dad and Victor Chicaiza to come and carry me through the mist.

Twenty minutes later Matt shows up with the car and I'm shaken out of my reverie. It's time to go home. He peels off his wet shoes and socks and drives barefoot with the heater blasting through the floor vents. We cross into North Carolina and he says, “You know, Dad, I was actually worried last night that I might lose my toes and never be able to play basketball again.”

“That really happened to a guy who went to my college,” I reply. “Why did you think I was blowing on the fire so hard last night, just trying to get it going?”

By the time we pull into Chapel Hill, my sprained ankle is pretty well healed. As for the guilt . . .

* * *


Tod calls on my birthday. I tell him about the adventure with Matt, and then we’re reminiscing about our days growing up in Ecuador. I recount my memory of that trip to Lake San Marcos. He hasn’t thought about it in a long time, and he remembers things a bit differently. “It’s funny how you recall some things and not others,” Tod says. “It’s just your perspective at the time.”

“That’s so true,” I agree. “What I remember most is hurting my leg and Dad leaving me up there in the fog on the páramo, and Victor and the horse.”

“I hardly remember any of that,” Tod says. He remembers shooting some waterfowl off the lakeshore with his shotgun, and then swimming in to retrieve it, and Dad getting mad and looking at him with this certain look of searing disapproval. And then Tod says, “Do you remember Henry Allpress?”

Now it’s Friday afternoon and I’m winding up to leave the office. On a whim, I Google this name I’ve hardly thought of in over forty years: Henry Allpress. His 2008 obituary pops up in a newspaper from Hilton Head, SC. He was ninety-four.

I quickly do the math and figure out that Mr. Allpress was the same age I am now in 1968 when we trekked into San Marcos. The obituary says he was a lawyer with the State Department and served several tours with USAID in Latin America; that he was from Nebraska and a lifelong Methodist; and that he loved fishing and made several long canoe trips into the Canadian wilderness, "despite Cottie's objections."

I learn that Mr. Alpress is survived by, among others, his daughters Margaret and Marilyn and his granddaughter, Maria Paloulias Wood, Esquire, an attorney in Raleigh, NC. I Google Maria Wood's law firm and find her e-mail address and write to her.

Maria writes back and says it’s a wonderful surprise to hear from someone who knew her grandfather in the 1960s. She’s heard many stories of his days in Ecuador. She describes a loving grandfather who “lived to fish” but was “always there” for her--teaching her to drive, taking her to freshman orientation in college, and coming to her first law office to take picture after picture. She says she might like to name her first son Henry.

I hope somebody takes young Henry fishing. And if he can't walk for any reason, don't wonder why, just carry him--that's what I say.

* * *

Short video of the backpacking trip:

"Appalachian Spring (Not Quite)"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

No Dumb Questions

“There is no such thing as a dumb question,” Mr. Stockman told our geometry class. “Ask me anything.” A lot of math teachers say this but they don’t mean it. They never want you to take them literally. I tried it. I asked Mr. Stockman, “How do you spell hypotenuse?” He said that was a really dumb question.

When I was a college student, I got a volunteer internship with the Santa Barbara County Probation Department. I was assigned to drive around in a county car and try to find these probationers who had “temporarily disappeared.” One day I went looking for this guy who was a heroin addict. He was supposed to be on a methadone maintenance program and going to drug abuse counseling sessions, and he wasn’t going to those. So I found him in this rundown apartment in a sketchy neighborhood. He looked terrible. I introduced myself and said I was a student intern with the Probation Department. I asked him how he was doing and he said, “Man, I am really depressed.” So I looked at this poor man—he was unemployed, strung out, really sick, all alone, and about to be taken back to jail—and I blurted out the following brilliant interrogatory: “Why are you depressed?” He looked straight back at me—I appeared to be about fourteen years old—and said, “What are you majoring in?”

A couple of years ago I was explaining to a young research assistant what it was like to run statistics on a computer back in the late 1970s. In those days, you went to the Yale Computer Center, which was housed in an elegant neoclassical building with a rotunda entrance on Whitney Avenue. Inside the YCC you waited to use a big machine that punched little rectangular holes in paper cards. You always screwed up a few cards, so you had to re-punch and replace those in the deck in exactly the right order. Then you would stack up your cards and carry them over to another big machine called the Card Reader, which performed the same basic function as a Hungarian fortune teller. The Card Reader rifled through your cards and “read” the inner meaning in the pattern of holes while you stood there and watched. The Card Reader’s interpretation was then transmitted into the bowels of something called the Mainframe. The Mainframe was massive. You had no idea how it worked. For all you knew, there was a small team of dissident Soviet mathematicians inside there working with slide rules—it was that big. Anyway, you gave the Mainframe a couple of hours and then walked over and inquired at a service desk on the other side of the building, where a guy in a white shirt and tie and pocket-protector handed you a printout the size of the Sunday New York Times. Almost all of it was Error Messages. The next step was to go over and stand in line to speak to another fellow named Dave who was schooled in the arts of Error Message Divination. Usually Dave pointed out that you had forgotten to punch a semicolon on one of your cards. Dave knew very well which card it was, but he wasn’t about to tell you. That was something you had to figure out for yourself. When Dave said this, you would drop your whole deck of cards on the floor of the YCC where they would scatter in a wide radius and mix with the dropped cards of other graduate students. That’s when the real research started. Those were the days.

My research assistant stared at me, wide-eyed. I was suddenly reminded that she was born during the latter years of the Reagan administration. “Could I ask you something?” she said.

“Of course,” I replied. “Ask me anything.”

“Why didn’t you just use Excel?”

* * *

So I had this cool dream the other night where I was wearing a tuxedo up on a big stage, and I was hosting the global awards for Best Health Care in the World.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is my distinct honor and privilege tonight to announce the winners in several categories for Best Health Care in the World.

· In the category of Lowest Rate of Preventable Deaths, the winner is France! . . . and the consolation prize for 14th place goes to USA!

· In the category of Longest Life Expectancy, at 77 years for women and 72 for men, the winner is Japan! . . . and the consolation prize for 24th place goes to USA!

· In the category of Fairness . . . Responsiveness . . . and Overall Health Care System Performance, the winner again is France, closely edging out Italy! . . . and the consolation prize for 72nd place goes to USA!

· Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve saved the most important award for last. In the category of Most Expensive Health Care in the World, measured by the highest percentage of gross domestic product spent on health care on the planet . . . topping out at 17.3% of GDP, a whopping 2.5 trillion dollars spent on health care in 2009 and growing at 5.7% . . . the winner is . . . USA!! USA!! We’re Number 1!! No other country comes close! Come on up here, USA, and receive your award . . .”

“Thank you very much, Jeff, and thank you ladies and gentlemen. First, I'd like to point out that we do have the greatest cutting-edge medical care in the world . . . Just ask any Saudi billionaire with a rare form of cancer! Ha ha! But anyway, I’d like to accept this award on behalf of our nation’s insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, HMOs, our wonderful political system, the lobbyists, and most importantly, Jeff, those 46 million uninsured Americans who really made this possible. If those folks weren’t willing to go without basic health care and then show up and wait for hours in our hospital emergency rooms, I wouldn’t be standing here today. It’s a great accomplishment. And we’re not stopping there! As we speak, we’re seeing to it that 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day! Just in the last three years, our nation’s great insurance companies have held the line against 12 million Americans with preexisting conditions and made sure they didn’t get coverage! Looking to the future, there’s a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that says by 2019 we’ll have 66 million uninsured people in America. People will be spending 40% to 60% more on health care than they are now, and businesses will see their health care costs double—from $429.8 billion in 2009 to $885.1 billion in 2019. Employer spending on health insurance premiums will increase 72 percent. Spending on government insurance programs could double and the amount of uncompensated care in the health system will go through the roof. These are amazing numbers, Jeff. No other country comes close to us on this. We’re Number 1!! USA!!"

“Thanks, USA, and congratulations! Before you sit down, could I ask you one question?”

“Sure, ask me anything.”

“Do you think Congress is going to pass health care reform legislation this year?”

* * *

A girl I knew in high school forwarded an e-mail urging everyone to send an avalanche of messages to Congress to defeat the Democrats’ scheme for a government takeover of the American health care system. The e-mail was from Ralph Reed, the conservative political activist and former head of the Christian Coalition. Reed warned that passage of President Obama’s far-reaching “socialist agenda” would be “the end of America as the ‘Land of the Free’.”

Ralph Reed is a smart fellow with a PhD in American history from Emory, so let me ask you something: Does he really believe this?

I replied to my former classmate and said I supported health care reform. She sent back a three-screener with a lot of material explaining the basics of the Free Market System and some commentary by Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, who is an expert on health care, being an orthopedic surgeon by training.

Doctor Congressman Price was sounding the alarm about the evils of the Democrats’ proposed health care legislation. He cited specific examples, like: “This bill, on Page 733, empowers the Washington bureaucracy to deny lifesaving patient care if it costs too much.” Whoa. That sounded pretty bad. So I downloaded the thing and looked up page 733 and it said the bill would authorize a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research. The purpose was “to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.” I read it again, looking for the part about denying lifesaving care to patients. I just couldn't find it, and so I gave up on that and went back to the other stuff from Doctor Congressman Price, like: “This bill – on page 301 – will force Americans to purchase the health coverage that Washington picks, not that you select for yourselves.” Whoa again. So I looked up page 301 in the bill and it says people get to pick their own coverage. It says you can keep your current employment-based insurance plan, other grandfathered health insurance coverage, a qualified health benefits plan, Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare for people the Armed Forces, etc.

What am I missing?

Yesterday I read an article about the national Tea Party convention in Nashville. These people are really mad at Obama. For a fee of $100,000 The Sarah is coming to speak and inspire and channel their rage to take back the country from the Socialist in Chief. But even The Sarah may have a hard time topping the opening screed by Tom Tancredo. The former Congressman said President Obama was a “committed Socialist ideologue” who was elected only because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote.

Come to think of it, when I went to vote last year at the New Hope Fire Station, nobody made me pass a civics and literacy test at all! Maybe that’s a good thing . . . I think I could have passed the reading test. I’m pretty sure I could have answered the question about the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of 1870 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But what if they’d asked me to explain the Senate rules that allow one Republican Senator to place a “blanket hold” on 70 Presidential nominees awaiting Senate confirmation so that he can get federal money to build a Counterterrorism center in Alabama?

Now that’s a really hard question. I have no idea what the answer is. I'm just a professor. Remember the professor on Gilligan's Island? He figured out how to make a radio from a coconut, but he had no clue how to fix a hole in a boat. Somebody has to crack this. I wonder if any of those dissident Soviet mathematicians with the slide rules are still around.

* * *