It's Living, Not Dying

I have been relatively quiet for the last few weeks as far as my on line presence.  Not silent mind you, but comparatively quiet.  The reason for this is I have felt like a sun-baked pile of shit.  The new chemo protocol that I have been on for the last couple of months has some side effects that are rather debilitating.  Mostly what is called distal neuropothy.

Do a Google search if you want to know more, but the bottom line is that one loses tactile sensation in the hands and feet and it feels like there are ants crawling just under the skin whose feet are needles.  And that goes on 24/7.  In my case, my legs have become rather weak which makes balance a bit of a chore.  I have to think before I move.  Hell, I often don't think before I speak, so thinking before I move is a real challenge.  (That is a joke, in case you did not catch on .. )

Thus, answering the phone, responding to emails or text messages has taken a back seat to my being a frigging wimp about this stuff.  Oh well, I can handle what I can handle, and I will not apologize for being a wimp...

Other than to inform those who hear from me more frequently than they have recently of my excuse, this post is also to re-affirm a couple of things, as follows:

Cancer is a bitch, there is no question.  Getting cancer is a serious attitude adjustment.  I suspect having cancer cured must be pretty cool too.  I don't know, that is not likely in some cases like mine.  Regardless, cancer is a part of life.  That means a part of living....not just a part of dying.  When I am beat up, miserable and hurting like a son-of-a-bitch, it feels like I am dying, but I am not.  I am living.  And of those times in between, when the side-effects are diminished and I can function reasonable well, I am certainly living.  I have fun.  I do shit I should not do according to my Dr. and all those well wishing folk who offer up advice.  That is living for me.  Pushing the boundaries a bit is what makes living fun and worthwhile to me.  So that is what I do.

We have been taught to respond to the news that someone has cancer a certain way.  I don't think what we have been taught is very helpful.  People who have cancer are not dying, they are living.  Not all of them sit around thinking about dying all the time.  Yeah, it does rest heavy in the back of the mind.  There is this little black marble back there that sends out a reminder now and again...it says:  "You ain't gonna beat this you know....one of these days your going to finish up, and it won't be nearly as long from now as you keep telling yourself".

And that little voice is right.  That is pragmatic realism reaching out.  But pragmatic realism is only good if it does one some good.  So one has to respond to that little black marble appropriately at the appropriate time.  Sometimes the appropriate response is a resounding 'fuck you'.  Sometimes it is a sort of weary 'yeah...yeah....yeah... whatever, I am busy right now'.  Other times one is best to listen and figure out a way to be at peace with that knowledge.

Sometimes, the best response is to sit down and just talk it out.  Sort of like what I am doing here.  It is easier here in the written form in some ways.  I don't have to take up someones time by having them sit and listen to me seemingly bitch about my condition.  They can choose to take the time to read this or not.  They don't have to sit and wonder what it is that I need or want to hear, or what might be appropriate for them to say.  I hate putting folks in that situation.  Yet I can't just turn it off either.  I actually need to talk it out in order to understand where I am, what I have become.

I have tried not to talk about it, really, I have.  Who wants to hear this shit anyway.  It is a downer.  But it is a part of my life now, a big part.  In time, in effort, in impact on my family and friends.  I try to focus on my little projects at the farm, or ranting about politics on FB, or listening to the stories others tell.  Yet I find myself falling back into the same old trap of telling about the treatment, or the disease itself or something related.

So now and again, I just give up and let it flow.  Talk about it.  One has to I think, at least someone like me does.  I have found that I background conceptualize a lot of things, and that those things don't become real until I verbalize (or write) them.  So that is my excuse.  That is why I write shit like this.

We really do need to find a different way to think about cancer though.  A way to laugh about it, and to remove the stigma of death from it.  There is a big gulf between living with cancer and dying of it.  Just like there is a big gulf between driving a car and getting into a fatal car crash. To drive is not to crash and die.  And even if it ends that way, there was all that driving before the crash.  All those miles of sights to see, hearing the sing of the tires, the engine grinding out power at our demand.  That is living.  The crash does not matter.  Living with cancer is just driving the car knowing that the crash is coming.  Death has a name for those of us with diseases like this.  That is the only difference really.  For most folks, death does not have a name or it is assumed to be called 'old age'.  Of course, as much as I drive, maybe the name will surprise me one of these days... lol.

I guess that is enough.  I am talked out.  I have written things that I probably have written before.  I have written things I have said before, probably numerous times.  I just needed to talk it out again...

Now. I suppose I should quit yammering on and go do what I am talking about... I have stuff to do.  I guess that means I am living... :-)


Valcade + Darzalex + Dexamethazone

Reference Info:

A routine week goes something like this:

  • Thursday 
    • 07:45 Labs including CMP and CBC, record vitals
    • 08:30 Oncology Physician consult + lab review + vitals review
    • Physician sign-off of days treatment protocol, adjustments made if required
    • 09:00 IV setup, catheter insertion
    • 09:15 100ml saline + steroid + anti-nausea + benadryl
    • 10:00 Pharmacy delivers 500ml saline + 55ml Darzalex
      • Darzalex drip started at 100ml/hr
      • Blood Pressure + Oxygen content measure
    • 11:00 Increase Darzalex drip to 150ml/hr
      • Blood pressure + Oxygen content measure
    • 12:00 Increase Darzalex drip to 200ml/hr
      • Blood pressure + Oxygen content measure
    • 13:00 Blood pressure + Oxygen content measure
    • 14:00 Abdominal subcutaneous delivery of Valcade ~2.26ml
      • Blood pressure + Oxygen content measure
    • 14:30 Line flush, catheter removal
      • Blood pressure + Oxygen content measure
      • (Done at clinic - go home)
    • 20:30 Daily meds + Dexamethazone
  • Friday
    • Likely no sleep from Thursday night unless HPK used and then only sometimes
    • Muscle and some bone ache
    • Fatigue
    • Feeling of physical "fragility", irritable
    • Distal neuropothy - mostly feet, some in large muscle area of upper leg
    • magnified weakness in hips
    • Spinal pain masked by dexamethazone
    • Little or no sleep
  • Saturday
    • Wash-rinse-repeat of Friday x 2
    • Intense fatigue
    • Intense irritability
    • Inability to focus
    • Depression like symptoms, slightly diminished cognitive function
    • Spinal pain masked by dexamethazone
    • Sleep finally comes sometimes with the help of HPK
  • Sunday
    • cognitive function back to normal
    • Spinal pain returns - no longer masked by glucocorticosteroid(dex)
    • magnified weakness in hips and lower back
    • mood stabilizes somewhat - less irritable
    • some intestinal disturbance
    • shortness of breath after minimal activity
  • Monday
    • Generally a good day
    • A bit weak yet
    • improved stamina
    • Spinal pain controllable
    • distal neuropathy evident but lessened
    • appetite about normal 
  • Tuesday
    • Wash-rinse-repeat of Monday
  • Wednesday
    • Best day of the weak
In addition to the above, there are two side-effects that showed up for me which sustain and do not diminish throughout the week:
  • Upper respiratory congestion.  The coughing is like to give one a hernia(anecdotal).
  • Nasal congestion.  Mostly, my nose runs continuously.
An inhaler does help with the coughing sometimes.

General History:
  • First obvious signs of disease: October 2012
  • First Diagnosis late February 2013
  • Confirmed Diagnoses ~May 2013 (see damage to spine, loss of 8 inches of height in ~45 days -> Select MRI Button at this link
  • Treatment - Radiation ~May 2013
  • Treatment - Revlimid ~ Late May 2013
  • Treatment - Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant - March 5th, 2014
  • Shingles January - March 2015, developed permanent neuropathy 
  • Relapse -  October 2015
  • Treatment - Surgery for osteonecrosis February 2016
  • Treatment - Change from revlimid to Valcade ~ Sept 2016
  • Treatment - Added Darzalex ~mid-September 2016
I am putting this here as my own reminder as well as in case someone runs into it and wants to know some things to expect should they end up with this treatment protocol.  The protocol itself is rather new as of this writing.  I am the only patient that is being treated this way by my oncology team at this point.  Adjustments are being made to help with quality of life as we go along.  For example, the dexamethazone schedule was initially 10mg/day for two days then a day off.  This was simply too much for me to handle.  The mood swings were unpleasant for me and everyone around me, not to mention the sleep schedule was impossible.   Thus, the team chose to go back to the 20mg once per week on Thursdays.  The point being that the darzalex/valcade combo can be adjusted.  No one is an expert at this stuff yet.  The FDA fast-tracked the protocol for whatever reason and clinical trials ended just shortly before my team offered the option up to me.

To be honest, the fact that it was offered up to me indicates two things to me, and this is just my impression: A) I am in good enough shape that the experts on the team think it will work and B) The failure of the previous treatment was serious enough in my case to make it worth taking the risk on a new treatment.  

Again, this is my impression.  The oncology team has been and is straight forward with me: They answer my questions honestly.  That said, cancer treatment is as much an art as a science right now.  I know the team does everything they can do to keep the message positive without withholding information nor spinning it.  In cases when they don't know, I believe they simply stay positive.  A very good strategy I think, and I appreciate it.  There are a lot of known unknowns in this cancer game.  What is known for sure is that no one walks away from multiple myeloma having been cured.  That is a simple fact.  I am alive because some very talented folk juggle a lot of variables, do a lot of research, collaborate with other professionals and ....well, care about what they do.  Underlying that, and even more fundamental to my quality of life, are family and friends who are supportive in letting me do what I feel that I need to do, while encouraging me when things are a bit tough.  I am blessed, lucky and grateful.

Enough said... I have shit to do tomorrow..... 


I Miss Books...

There is this device in my life which has become ubiquitous: My tablet.  It serves many purposes and is entirely useful to me.  For example: It reminds me of when to take certain medications, keeps track of when I took them and allows me to email that history to my Doctor.  It allows me to set the phone aside, do my work and still be able to take calls right there on the tablet.  I don't have to have both the tablet and the phone close by, just the tablet.  I can browse the web, connect to and do system administration tasks on my home server, modify pretty much any document including all those office documents, PDFs, etc... .  I have reference material available on every subject from bee-keeping to recipes to solar power.  I can print hard copy from it to pretty much any network printer if I choose to.  It allows me to order things on line, do my banking and even my accounting.  I can change my insurance plan.

And I can sit down and read a book on it.  But.....

It is not a book.  I honestly hardly ever pick up a book anymore, and I miss it.  I asked myself what it is that I miss about a book.  What is it that my tablet does not provide that a book does?  

What it boils down to for me is that a book is a single thing.  It has one purpose, which is to convey that which the author was thinking about to others.  And when I pick up that book, it becomes personal.  That author is telling me the story, and I have this thing in my hands which in some very real way connects me with that author and the story being told.  It is physicality.  The laying on of the hands.

As a single entity, the book allows me to disconnect from everything other than that which is in the book.  There is no worry about battery life, connection speed or bandwidth.  There is no backlighting to have to adjust, no little reminder sounds or pop-up messages, reminders or icons.  That tablet is so very handy for so many things.  But a book is so absorbing in its singularity and physicality.

I think it is time I learned to set down the tablet and to pick up a book again like I used to....  


It Ain't What It Was

One used to hear horror stories about chemo-therapy.  Endless nausea and other side effects that are debilitating.  It is not that such things have disappeared, but they have been substantially reduced.  A month ago, it was determined that the chemo that I had been treated with for the last three years(Revlamid) had stopped working, or in technical terms I had gone 'refractory' to the medication.
So, easy enough to address... move on to the next medication.  Less convenient that the pill that I had been taking, because I now have to show up for a shot once a week and have labs prior to each treatment.  That is workable... more of a PITA, but workable....

Then, after a couple of weeks of getting these shots of different stuff(Valcade) and attempting to adjust to the little quirks that come with this new treatment, the Dr. sits me down and says

Hey, some really cools shit just came through clinical trials and show promise for enhancing the impact of Valcade.  (That is not a quote).

Darzalex, a monoclonal anti-body, combined with Valcade, a targeted proteasome inhibitor, further combined with Dexamethazone, a glucocoroticosteroid, is the cocktail of the hour for those with multiple myloma and for whom other treatments are failing.  Cool!

So, I agree to this protocol (my Dr is cool about such things, ensuring that she explains what she is suggesting, then  giving me all the info I ask for, and letting me decide if I want to pursue the option or not).  The Dr. and team take care of all the arrangements with insurance, the hospital where I get the first treatment, pre-treatment labs, pre-treatment education(of me), the whole she-bang.  I simply show up at the appropriate time and place and all is taken care of, right?.  And guess what,...  it is!

I show up, my car is parked for me by valet service. The front desk knows where to send me, I am checked in within 5 minutes, an orderly shows me to my room within another 5 minutes, and I have met the Dr. and nursing team and support staff within the next hour.  There is a wait for FedEx to show up with the medication until about noon,  In the mean time, I have had a catered breakfast, my internet connection is established, the protocol has been reviewed, pre-meds have been administered through the now installed catheter, vitals have been recorded... etc...  .

Note that this is a fairly new medication, the side-effects are generally known, but not all that familiar as to when and how they show up.  That said, by 13:00, I have received the weekly dose of Valcade (subcutaneous), a pre-treat dose of dexamethazone, some other pre-treats that are supposed to reduced side effects(benadryll)  and the IV of Darzalex is started up.

In about 45 minutes, the side effect hit.  Nothing terrible mind you:  Kind of like an allergy attack. Shortness of breath(minor), watery eyes, runny nose.  They stop the IV drip, and give me some more pre-treatment stuff, cut the IV rate of flow back and start up again after a half an hour.  It works.  My body adjusts quickly to the new anti-bodies.  The side effects go way.  They dial up the delivery rate to 100ml/hr and I spend the next 10 hours slowly getting the Darzalex.

Pretty painless.  And a team of professionals made it that way.  A lot happened behind the scenes for me to be able to sit here and glibly summarize this.  I am fortunate in a lot of ways in this regard.  My wife has a job with insurance that covers the better portion of a lot of expense.  I have an excellent oncology team, and have had since day one.  I have friends and family who are supportive in the way I need them to be.

There are a lot of folks out there who are not this lucky, they are dead, or close to it.  It is that simple.


Dumb Boy Economics

So, let me get this straight:
  1. We live in a world of ever increasing population.
  2. Technology is increasing productivity, thus reducing the number of people required to contribute to the production of any given item.
  3. This increase in productivity reduces the cost of the end product(right? Labor being the most expensive part of productivity..?...ask any CEO or head of HR)
  4. Thus, driving up productivity by reducing labor, drives down the cost of products/services which are then sold to that shrinking number of folks who no longer have as much, if any, income to purchase the products they no longer work on and get paid to make.
Yeah... somehow the logic there just does not work for me.  The logical conclusion of that scenario is that a few very large institutions produce all the products as cheaply as possible, all the while complaining that 'lazy people' won't come to work for their flat paychecks and shrinking benefit packages.

A recent article entitled,  This Is a Jobs Report That Democrats Can Boast About, has an interesting summary of why the celebration of fewer unemployed folks might not be all that great a celebration:

"The United States economy is creating jobs at a rapid pace; most people who say they want a job are able to find one, and employers are having a hard enough time finding workers that they’re having to pay higher wages. But large segments of the population, especially those without advanced education, left the labor force during the last several years, and relatively few of them are being pulled back in by this improving job market. Fixing that will be an important goal of the next president. Meanwhile, for reasons that aren’t fully understood, economic output is growing much slower than job creation, which will mean lower living standards in the future if that continues. ...."

This is not rocket science: This is a result of a very simple equation, most of the parts of which are listed up there at the beginning of this little rant. However, it is not just that we are using less labor to produce products, we are producing products with less value. Namely, services. I have worked in the service sector at various times in my career. It is not for me. At the end of the day, I don't really feel like I did much. There is no 'widget' to look at and say "Yeah, I processed that today." In many cases, some numbers got re-arranged, a meeting was engaged in, and.... nothing. But America is shifting towards service sector jobs, and corporate America really seems to think that a four year degree is a requirement to have such a job.  Oh, and they really are not interested in re-training...it is expensive and the ROI is variable.  And therein lies the rub: The blue-collar worker is expensive to retrain, can't afford to retrain on their own, and besides, who gives a damn?  They can pull themselves up by their bootstraps again if they are worthwhile.  And if they can't?  Well, it is not like America owes them anything, does it?  Of course not... as any Libertarian or Tea Party hack, or half the GOP for that matter.  After all, the market is God, and God randomly drops some through the cracks now and again....  
Speaking of open and free markets and all that opportunity out there: "Value Added" has been a buzz word for a while now, about the same amount of time (in my experience) as "Shareholder Value Added". The first has some reasonable facsimile of meaning, the second is so utterly meaningless in a healthy economy that it should be struck from all language. It is a despicable term. And it has contributed to our economic woes as much as any other factor. It is not in and of itself bad, but the focus on it is absolutely destructive! All one has to do is think about it a bit to know why.... Please do. Oh yeah... and feel free to tell me what compelling 'fact' makes me wrong.  Shareholder Value Added is what drives companies to pay the investors before paying their people, all while blathering on about how the "employee is our most valuable asset".  Yeah, right!  Now days, the shareholders are more a part of the company than the folks making the product.  Ask any CEO... (just don't expect an honest answer unless you are swinging the same brand of golf club.)

Another Dumb Boy over-simplification is as follows:  We are not, and will not be for some time, ready for wide open Global Trade.  We the people are not ready for it, our Government certainly is not ready for it, and Economists are not ready for it. As is clearly shown below, political scientists certainly are not ready for it.  Economists have been preaching one side or the other of our economic system forever, and they are mostly wrong.  We were told that NAFTA would be great for us (except for Ross Perot of course), it has not been.  I have not seen one convincing paper written which would lead me to say "Gosh! Lets have another trade agreement!  It is so good for us!"   Not one.

In the article entitled "Why Voters Don’t Buy It When Economists Say Global Trade Is Good", the author points out some characteristics of anti-globalizationists which I frankly think are mostly crap... as follows:

"The first is isolationism more broadly. Trade skeptics tend to think, for example, that the United States should stay out of world affairs and avoid getting involved in foreign conflicts. They are not eager for the United States to work with other nations to solve global problems like hunger and pollution.

The second is nationalism. Trade skeptics tend to think that the United States is culturally superior to other nations. They say the world would be better if people elsewhere were more like Americans.

The third is ethnocentrism. Trade skeptics tend to divide the world into racial and ethnic groups and think that the one they belong to is better than the others. They say their own group is harder-working, less wasteful and more trustworthy."

So why is the crap? 

The first one is actually partly correct I think. We are sick and tired of constantly being at war, of paying trillions for our defense when it is rather unclear what it is that is offensive or otherwise against our interests, and having those trillions disappear into some country which really did not like us much to begin with and still does not like us much when we are done 'defending' them. On the other hand, I don't think we have any problem contributing to the economies of other countries in order to address hunger, pollution, disease, education or any of a myriad of other issues. That is not a problem! What is a problem is sending a bunch of our tax money to some country where that money never gets to the folks that need help. I have no interest in helping developing countries! I do have an interest in helping people who need help though, and I mean in terms of 'teaching them to fish' as compared to 'giving them fish'.

Nationalism is a bunch of bunk as far as a reason for ant-globalization.  It has nothing to do with who might be better, or worse or superior or inferior.  It has to do with policies which encourage jobs to go elsewhere.  Guess what, if my job goes elsewhere and I am not trained for the next job, I am now not only out of a job, but I have to fund my re-education all while trying to maintain what I have earned over the years doing the job which is now gone.  Or am I supposed to sell everything and use my retirement to retrain myself.  This is what bothers drives our distrust of globalization.  It is not about bringing others the same opportunities we have.  It is about taking our opportunities, and giving them to someone else with whom we are not willing to compete, and should not have to all of a sudden.  Eventually, sure.  But at the stroke of some politicians pen?  No!

Ethnocentrism is yet another red herring.  Sure, it exists.  Show me somewhere in the world where it does not.  Generalizations around ethnicity are natural.  That is cultural differentiation.  It takes time to learn to work with someone whose point of reference is very different, who sees the world from a very different perspective.  Do these 'experts' really think that such differences should not be a reason to approach global trade slowly and carefully?  Apparently.  Supposedly one is supposed to be able to drop into any culture in any given society at the drop of a hat and be successful and productive....  Get real!  Working successfully with those from other cultures and societies takes time, patients, and a great deal of understanding.  I have made the attempt, and sometimes done fairly well.  Others have not had such good experiences.  Others have had no experience at all.  And they are supposed to just 'fit in' and be productive all of a sudden?



Trade Agreements -- The Physics Just Does Not Work....

Proponents of Trade Agreements like NAFTA have touted these complex negotiated agreements as good for the American workers, suggesting jobs available to the US would increase.  Additionally, the new avenues of trade would bring increased revenues to the US, allowing US companies to increase exports, thus opening new doors for increased wealth for one and all.  Additionally, trade deficits were prophesied to decrease and manufacturing would start to grow again as a result of reduced tariffs on US import to participating companies.

All these benefits to the US citizens were supposed to stem from the new freedoms supplied to companies, both large and small, to do business across participating borders.  I am particularly interested in the 'end result' of benefit to the average US citizen - to me, that is the end result that counts.  I don't care about corporations, and frankly, I don't give a damn about the US Government either any more.  To be honest, they are basically the same thing in my view: Wall St. has now become the Uncle in Uncle Sam.

There is much ado about the TPP, and how trade agreements are such a good thing.  I keep looking for statistics that show how good a thing NAFTA has been for the average American.  Can't seem to find any.  There are stories of how one company (usually large) or another did well.  Their stakeholders (..er... shareholders) certainly did, the CEO and top brass certainly did, but the people who have a real vested interest in the companies, in other words, the employees, did not do well at all.  And that is reflected in our overall economy in my view.  NAFTA is not the cause of our woes, it is just one of the many substantial contributors.

Being just a simple schmuck, I am inclined to ask the following question:  If we engage in business with countries where the labor pool is unskilled and valued at a tiny fraction of our labor pool, will the value of their labor pool go up, or will the value of our labor pool go down?

Silly me:  I think that the basic principle of of water applies here:  Water will always seek the lowest, or closest to gravitational center, that it can to come to rest.  Another apt analogy is that a high energy state seeks a low energy state, pretty much the same thing.  Guess what - Economics works the same way, and it follows that wages and therefore standard of living will act accordingly.

If we want to maintain our standard of living, we don't want NAFTA, and we don't want TPP.  They are not targeted to US citizens living in an increasingly better world.  Quite the opposite in fact.

Fear of Choice - Mostly the Choice of Others

One of the most compelling and important things that America offers it's citizens is choice.  From our political views to religious belief to philosophical bent.  Employment, education, locale in which to live, all these things we may choose for ourselves.  This was what our country was built on.  Not only individual choice, but collective choice as well.  Our constitution is a framework on which we build and grow as a society, ever flexible and changing; dynamic.

It is that dynamic nature which makes our constitution one of the best ever written.  It allows us choice.

There are dangers inherent in having choices.  We might make a bad choice.  And then what?  There is no going back, as we all learn too soon in life.  There is only going forward.  But a bad choice is generally not permanent.  We can choose again, applying what we have learned before to hopefully make a better choice.  There is also the danger of having to live with other peoples choices, or conversely, recognizing that others have to live with ours through no fault of their own.  These are the choices that we have come to fear the most it seems.  And our response is to deny, or attempt to deny, choices other than our own.... and we diminish ourselves, our society, our culture and our country through fear of choice.

How did we, a people that calls itself free, end up fearing the very choices that make us free?  What is it exactly that we are afraid of?  What risk do we mitigate by diminishing choice?  Perhaps most importantly: What choices have we become most afraid of?



Synapses fire in parallel
but in no particular order

Ideas merge, concepts mesh
clashing in undisciplined dischordance

Muscles clinch and cramp
reflecting dendridic chaos

Anararchy of body
Revolt of intellect

And yet the soul envelops
the rise, the plateau, the decline

Through it, because of it, in spite of it
I remain.... me


In the Service of Ones' Own....Ambitions?

My Dad and my Mom spent most of their working lives in the service of others.  Mom, as a Registered Nurse in the operating room, and as ...well...., a Mom.  Dad as many things along the way, the longest and most recent as the owner operator of a carpet cleaning business.  Together, they owned and operated a pick-your-own strawberry operation.

No matter what they were doing, there was always the sense that they were serving a purpose beyond themselves, both as unique individuals as well as together.  My brother and I were taught along the way to work the same way.  To find that which brings a greater meaning than simply meeting our own needs and ambitions and then fit our skills, abilities and ambitions to those things.

In this way we contribute to all, whether by large or small measure.  The meaning of living a life is enhanced by our having looked beyond ourselves.  In a way, it is a selfish thing to do in that we gain from having looked beyond ourselves.  Some call it a sense of ultruism.  Whatever one calls it, it has an impact...

This campaign season is the first time in my life where I have seen a candidate coming into a position of a potential win who displays not a shred of purpose beyond himself.  No ultruism.  No meaning outside his own ambition.  His primary competitor is very much like him, though not so blatantly.

Both Trump and Clinton display rather rabid ambition.  Their styles are different, but the primary focus is in each ones own goal.  Not the goals of the country, not the goals of their people.  Their country and their people are tools that they use to get where they want to go.

Trump shows this, and has shown it his entire public career.  He does so by blowing through others concerns, by playing on divisions, and by doing so in a way which brings no unification.  He lets others take care of such trivial matters... ie., the now weakened GOP.  Everything and everyone are simply tools to get what he wants.  Trump serves no one but Trump.  That is perfectly clear.

Clinton shows this as well, with a much more nuanced methodology.  She will shift about on issues depending on circumstances and audience.  Her style is to appear to serve whoever will get her where she want to go.  Her style is more palatable to me, as it is less confrontational, yet I see someone who wants to achieve for themselves before serving any purpose other than her own.  If Clinton serves something greater than herself, it is hard to discern what it might be.  Clinton, as compared to Trump, is very unclear....

I don't get the impression of any ultruism or concern for anything other than their own ambition in either of these candidates.  So, to what purpose would I be voting for either of these individuals?  If all I see is ambition for themselves, to what greater purpose beyond myself does my vote go?  To my countty? To my people?  To some greater good for the world at large?  No I don't thinks so....

I don't know what my vote in November will mean.  About all it can mean is that I dutifully went out and did my patriotic duty to vote.

This really sucks.....


Causality...Does Anyone Give a ????

About five or so years ago, for various reasons, I decided to be my own Devils Advocate.  In other words: Whatever my established views were on a given subject, I would argue the reverse.  This is an exercise often foisted upon those who are on debate teams.  One must convincingly argue the point of view opposite of that personally held.

It has been an interesting experiment.  I was pretty bad at it to start.  My arguments consisting of only the standard cliches of those around me with whom I disagreed.  I just sort of parroted those folk, and watched for the reactions of those with whom I generally agreed.  But along the way I began to start listening to myself, and then listening to those I was parrotting.  And I began to understand.  I began to change.

These shrill sounding fools who questioned the very principles on which I had built and determined my values still sounded shrill for the most part.  But the shrillness increased in volume:  And it turned out that the added volume was my own shrill sounding arguments.  The same-old....same-old.  Politics, religion, socail issues.. it does not matter.  The sound is the same.  The arguments old. The logic lacking. The willingness to engage in real discourse, to ask questions, to consider the other point of view....these are all utterly lacking.

There are so many opportunities for engaging with each other, for learning from each other and from the world around us.  And yet we avoid doing more than bludeon each other from a distance.  A post on FaceBook slamming one party or the other.  A blog post denegrating this group of people or the other group of people.  A news article compelling us to look at some sub-division of society as the source of our woes.

You see, the source of all our woes can be eliminated if we just select the correct target group to blame those woes on.  Wall Street, the 'lazy welfare' bunch, the politicians, the liberals, the right-wingers, the immigrants, the Chineese.... .  Clearly one of these groups are to blame.

"But No!", shout those who wish it not to be.  It is not some target group they say.  It is that we no longer pray to the God of our fathers, we have lost our spiritual center, and God is punishing us.  Yet others determine that, God or no, we have dehumanized ourselves, killing wantonly, consuming without concern of what it is that we mitigate our glutony with.  And then others point to the divisions caused by inequality.

And they are all onto something.  Every one of those issues is real.  Cultural divisions that present themselves as clashes of religion.  Businesses pushing products that are clearly not well tested for safety.  The rich demanding special treatment.  The immigrants who show up demanding that society bend to their preferences.  The LGBT communnity splashing themselves in the face of a society, which has for far too long been intolertant for no other reason than self-righteos bigotry, exacerbating the hard feelings instead of calming them.  Muslims who will not take ownership of Jihad, when it is theirs to own up to.  All of these things are real.  But none of them are the cause of who and what we are becoming.  No, there is something else within each of us which has stretched and torn, becoming inflamated and infectious.  There is no pill for this.    


A Tribute

Dad died today.  Like all fathers do at some point.  It was no surprise, he was old.  He had been in pain for two years, trapped in a body that he wanted nothing more than to escape from.  This man who had been so physically active all his life just wanted to go, and he said so ---- often and emphatically.  Today he got his wish.

LeVerne Robert Wieland.  A man whose life was a story.  I wish I could tell just the ones that are most poignant, but that would take a lifetime.  Dad lived a life of poignancy.  He found those things he thought important and dove into them, often head first.  And then he kept going at them.  He studied those things, lived them, learned from the living, and applied what he learned, always remembering what it was that made it important in the first place.  The guy could always find his center.  He made sure of that when he married a lady named Charlotte who through the many years worked with him, laughed with him, sang in harmony with him in church and at home.  He found a girl that shared his center and who could pull him back to it when the work days got too long and too many strung together to count.  She is his partner still.

Dad started life on a farm in SW Wisconsin where he grew up and went to school until the 8th grade, after which he worked on the farm until he joined the army.  It was there on that farm that he learned his work ethic and developed a love of  growing things.  Dad was good with animals, but even better with plants.  A two hundred pound working man that simply loved orchids or any other flowering thing. I used to wonder why.  Years later now, having time to stop and actually look at a flower every now and again, I only now begin to understand that he was amazed by these incredible forms of life.  He saw much more than a flower I think.  He saw a miracle.

LeVerne is a man of faith more than anything else.  Faith is the core of what he was and still is.  He found that faith in the army, I am not quite sure how or why.  When he found it, it became the core of his being.  It set for him the path that took him through the rest of his life.  After leaving the Army, he went on to Seminary in Owatonna MN where he met Charlotte.  Fortunately for my brother and me, they chose to marry and dedicate themselves to family instead of becoming missionaries or whatever.  Never-the-less, Dad made sure that we as a family understood what faith is about.  It is about living what one believes.  And dad was damn good at that.

We studied!  And I don't mean sitting around re-reading passages of the bible, though there was more of that than I could sometimes stand.  We learned history, ancient as well as recent through those studies.  We learned of the Hittites, the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Ottoman empire, ... not just the mentions of them in the bible either.  We learned of the politics of the day, the players in the establishment, the economies, the standards of living, of the lives of the common people of those times.  This was not your standard one hour Sunday School stuff.  This was study, every damn day for many years!

And we learned.  More importantly, we learned how to learn.  Dad showed us that learning was a matter of application as well as conceptualization.  My brother and I were allowed to participate in discussions of oft times wieghty subjects.  It was not that we had much to offer, it was that it was good practice for us.  This is how Dad, with Moms help, gave us the education we would eventually sustain ourselves with.  It was through his faith.  And Dad shared that faith with everyone he could.  I mis-understood that for most of his life.  For reasons of my own that don't really matter now, I thought he was trying to accomplish something by evangelizing.  It was not until recently before he died that I came to understand that it had nothing to do with accomplishing anything:  He simply cared for others and wished for them to have something that he found so fundamentally central to his own life:  Joy.

Now this sounds as if all was serious religosity and a strict lifestyle.  It was not.  To the best of my knowledge, no two boys had so much freedom, nor such great places to be free in.  We were encouraged to be outdoors, to run, to get out of the house after breakfast and be welcome back after dark.  Dad worked hard and long, but he found time to take us fishing, to teach us to plant and care for a garden.  To have pets and care for them as if they were family.  We camped, and took drives.  He took us to parks, museums and zoos.  We did not spend much time watching TV unless it was coverage of an Apollo shot to the moon or election coverage.  We did watch disney on Sunday nights, and Wild Kingdom sometimes.  But mostly we were too busy living life to be sitting around watching other peoples lives... Dad provided for that lifestyle and Mom was 100% behind him.

Laughter.  Dad's sense of humor could be infectious.  The guy had this way of twisting ideas by structuring sentenses is ways which presented an irony in the most unexpected way.  Sometimes it was just goofy and over the years, repetitive.  But he knew how to deliver, had an amazing sense of timing that could, sometimes, rival the best of commedians.  I recall a number of times when Mom and Dad laughed so hard and long that they literally cried.  I remember not having a clue about what it was they found so funny, but finding myself laughing just as hard for seeing them laugh like they did.  Dad could make people laugh, and loved doing so.

The gift of music and art.  Dad appreciated more than just flowers.  I swear one of the reasons he married Mom was that she had the perfect alto voice to match his tenor.  The two could sing harmony like few I have ever heard.  He despised rock and roll.  Simon and Garfunkle were his wild side, and he questioned even thier rather tame lyrics.  Yet he grudgingly tolerated my preference for hard, blues based rock like Led Zepplin, as long as it was shut off when he came within hearing.

My grandmother on my Moms side was an artist, and a damn good one.  She worked in oils and acrylic for the most part.  Landscapes and still lifes were her forte.  Dad could, and did, examine those paintings with appreciation and an eye for both detail and composition.  I know there was some poetry he enjoyed as well, but only because he mentioned it.  I guess there are parts of fathers that we will never really know. Perhaps that is the way it should be...

Mostly, I think, Dad saw life itself as a form of art. Maybe that is romaticizing a bit, but that is my impression on reflection.  Regardless, through his own appreciation of the arts along with Mom's, he taught us to appreciate the efforts of musicians, poets, painters and sculpturs to capture and protray ideas and impressions.

...and yet this man at his core was so complexly simple.  That sentence is an oxymoron, or at least contains one: I know.  But that is what made Dad such a cool guy.  All that complexity and knowledge and experience boiled down to a man who cared, contributed to the best of his ability, and held to his faith.

I could go on and on, but at the end of the day, he was the man we called Dad ... it is that simple.