Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 - A Requiem

What can be said about 9/11 that has not already been said?

Most people ask you where you were or what you were doing when you heard about what was happening. I'll start there.

I was ready to head to work, intending to be there at 9:00 a.m. At about 8:40 or so, I turned on the television to see what the weather would be like for that day. Instead of the normal format of my cable news station, I saw the picture of the first tower that was struck, with that gaping hole in it, black smoke pouring out.

I knew it was no accident.

I sat there, stunned, and the minutes went alowly by as the newscasters speculated as to what was going on. Then, behind them, I saw the second plane hit the other tower right as it happened. Clearly, this was an attack. I could only think of the people, how many people, there must be in those huge buildings. I felt sick. I didn't know anyone who worked in the Towers, but I knew people who did know such people. I didn't try to call any of them, since none of them would know any more than I was already seeing.
I watched a while longer, but eventually, I had to leave to go to the office; I had clients to meet. I needn't have bothered; they all cancelled. There, we had a TV with horrible reception playing the news out as events unfolded. I learned about the Pentagon being hit. I have a cousin who works at the Pentagon. I didn't know at the moment that he was on the other side until later. Then there was Flight 93. It took some time for them to report what had gone down with it. To this day, I don't know for sure what its target would have been. And I saw the Towers fall.

Enough of that. My thoughts stray toward the next day and the next week afterward. The country changed. All of a sudden, we were frightened, in the dark, and we did something as a nation that we hadn't done since December 7, 1941, when we were last the victims of a surprise attack: We held hands as a nation. We were united in our feelings, our shock, our sympathy for the victims, and our pride in the heroic efforts of the rescuers, so many of whom lost their lives.

That was then. Today, 11 years later, I find myself living in a country that is very different from those following days. It's hard to believe the changes that have literally turned our nation upside down. Two wars. Thousands of deaths among our troops, thousands more wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead.... a worsening situation in Afghanistan, with a struggle against fundamental extremists called the Taliban. And nowhere to be found was the man responsible. That happened only last year; maybe it makes a difference to the victims and rescuers families and brought some sense of closure. I don't know. I am far more frightened at what we've become.

Power-seeking people have taken advantage of the state of the nation after 9/11, and turned it into a severely polarized society. Old divisions are arising again, particularly racism. An economy spiraling out of control. A drive by some to limit the rights of others, especially women and minority voters. Class warfare began, and the middle and poorer classes started losing ground. Crisis after crisis. It's been hard, very hard on a lot of people. Other countries are in precarious positions as well. The world is certainly not better off.

Amidst all this, a small, extremist right-wing faction of our own arose, promising to return us to the America we had before 9/11, riding the  wave of patriotism, and saying that there was hope. We could fix all our problems, they said, if we returned to our "American roots" and the principles of our Founding Fathers. It sounded good to a lot of people, and one propaganda-based news organization jumped in on the bandwagon. Thus was the Tea Party born. In a few short years, they exploited the hysteria, the worry, and the uncertainty into a movement joined by religious fundamentalists, who had an agenda of their own. Remake the country into our image, they said, and everything will be all right.

More people swallowed the bait, the movement grew, and candidates they sponsored got elected. They gradually took control of a whole political party, which was desperately afraid of losing the votes and money that came from the extreme right. All of this happened without much thinking and analysis on the part of the majority of people involved. They were all too glad, relieved even, to shed the burden of our situations, and simply to believe what they were told by the movement's leaders and the propaganda "news" channel. Meanwhile, the other major political party had no coherent message and was ineffective. In spite of the hope that was stirred up when a very different kind of President was elected, things were locked down in Washington, DC. The American people were lost in the shuffle. No one was serving their interests anymore, and jobs were lost, families began to suffer. By the time this new President was sworn in, the situation was dire, indeed. At the time, I thought that anyone who wanted the job under those circumstances was crazy, and it's no easier today. Everything he's tried to do in the last two years has been blocked by the party of the extremists in the House of Representatives, the extremists cowing the more moderate and reasonable members into voting as a single party bloc against everything that has to do with the other party. The American people continue to suffer.

But not all of them. In the last couple of years, the Dow has gone from 8,000 to 13,000. The corporations are paying less and less in taxes while their profits soar. The wealthiest Americans are getting wealthier, and taxes on the latter two groups are the lowest they've been in 60 years. The "job creators" are rife with cash, so where are the jobs? Sent overseas instead of hiring good, honest Americans, all in the name of greed. Still, it's not enough for them. They want to pay less and accumulate more, they don't care where that money comes from, and they don't care who they step on to get it. They don't care that every one of the tax cuts they've received have increased the nation's debt. Their greed now dominates our country's economy and society. Huge amounts of money are pumped into political campaigns and into politicians' pockets, unrestricted and unsupervised. Do not be fooled; they own those politicians. We may think that we elect them, and there are still a few good and honest people among them, but the truth is that we've turned from a democratic republic into an oligarchy controlled by the corporations. Their public face? The ultra-conservative extremists, who are also (in name, at least) religious zealots determined to have things their way. Their way or the highway. If you think about it and really examine them and look at the rest of the world, it's ironic that they most closely resemble a group that we're supposedly fighting against: the Taliban. Yes, America has its very own Taliban. We should be extremely alarmed, but another one of the casualties has been the truth. Lying has become standard practice, and disturbingly, large numbers of people believe these lies, in spite of easy evidence that proves them false. Take, for instance, their standard-bearer and candidate for president; he's an habitual liar, as is his running mate (even the propaganda channel called him out on his convention speech). Don't believe me? Click here for an article that lists them in detail. Do a search on "Romney lying" or "Romney lies" and you'll get a huge number of hits from reporting organizations all over the country. Despite this, people continue to support him. I am not doing a commercial for the opposition; I'm simply pointing out the effect the American Taliban has on the public today. It frightens me. It's reminiscent of Germany in the early 1930s. Doesn't that worry you?

In fact, it frightens me more than the way I felt on 9/11. The stakes, in the end, are much higher and will affect far more people. There are roughly 330,000,000 million people in this country, and the 99% of the population not making money off the situation we find ourselves in are worse off than they were on 9/10/11. We'd just had the first government budget surplus since 1969; it was immediately squandered and our treasury pilfered. Do you have any of that money? I surely don't.

I'm not going to make a laundry list of every challenge we're facing; that's something that you ought to do. Choose your sources carefully, and choose more than one. You'll have to try to distill the truth yourself.

I have gone on far too long as it is, so I'll leave you with this: Remember how the country felt in the immediate period after 9/11? Fearful, but holding hands and feeling some sense of common cause?

What will it take to get that feeling back? What will it take to get out from under the thumbs of the corporations? What will it take to make the American dream possible again, and have the America by and for Americans that Lincoln once spoke of? Most importantly:

What are you willing to do about it?

Make sure you vote on Election Day. It really matters this time. Vote as an informed person, vote your conscience, vote for what you think is a truly better America. Your lifetime and that of your children and their children depends on how you make your choices. Think about your own life, of course, but think of your neighbor, your family, think of the country. It's not just about you. It never really has been.

Without being trite, I hope that God will bless America. We need it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Pain in the Neck

Very literally.

So, what happened after my last post? I had a whole series started to tell my story about doing a play. I still do. However, I got sidelined. Once again, my body decided that something needed to break down (and this is a hobby that I simply must give up). This time, it was trouble with my neck, shoulder, arm, and right hand. Painful and limiting in what I could effectively do. Including typing effectively.

So I go to the doctor (being one of the Americans that actually has insurance) to find out what the deal is. A gazillion x-rays, an MRI, and four consultations later, it was determined that I had cervical stenosis that was pressuring all the nerves that come out in vertebrae C4 through C7 (the mid to lower part of the neck), aggravated by scoliosis, arthritis, and bone spurs. Oh, lucky me. All of them said that it would take surgery to deal with it. All of them except the insurance company, of course. They were sure that simple physical therapy could fix the problem, and would be far more cost effective. Right.

So, I go to physical therapy, where from the get-go I am informed that it will be a waste of time and that I'll need surgery. Does this impress the insurance company? Naturally not. Therefore, I had the privilege of enduring 4 weeks of therapy without the hope that it would really help. It wasn't so bad, on its own. The people at the facility are very nice, patient, and thorough. That doesn't mean that it didn't hurt. All I really got out of it was improved muscle tone in the weaker side of my neck, which would set me up better for therapy after the surgery. Reports are filed. What's next?

What's next is the process of getting the insurance company (two, actually; I have secondary coverage as well) to authorize what is surely going to be an expensive procedure: Major surgery, at least a night's stay in the hospital, perhaps two, recovery, and yet more physical therapy afterward.  After much exchanging of test results, letters, recommendations, and perhaps a little bribery, they finally agree to it. Thus is it finally scheduled for August 1. In the meantime, I wait with the same symptoms, mainlining ibuprofen, and cursing under my breath.

At last, the day arrives. Into the hospital I go, I get prepped, and off we go. The thing about anesthesia, for those of you who haven't gone through it, is that it knocks you out, and it seems like only seconds later that you're waking up in the recovery room. It's weird. Two hours had passed. The doctor goes and talks with my wife and tells her all about it (which likely grossed her out). Strangely, even though they're headed for the back of the neck to remove the offending soft tissue, do the bone fusions and put in a metal plate, they enter via the front of the neck. I have this nifty five inch scar to prove it.

An already too-long tale made shorter, everything went as planned. Of course, for a month after the surgery, I had to wear one of those neck collar support things to hold my head still while things healed. "Spiffy," said I, "I'll catch up with some reading and writing." Ha. It held my head at just beyond the angle where I could comfortably see a book, and I couldn't see the keyboard. Really aggravating for someone who has so much writing to do and is a bookaholic planning to read 150 books this year. This was the hardest part of all, mollified only by the neat pain pills they gave me.

Yesterday, I went to a post-op doctor visit, and was finally told that I could take the collar off (except in the car, in case of sudden jolts or an accident. Incidentally, now my frigging car won't start). So here I am, right back at the keyboard, trying to get my head around catching up. Where is a manic phase when you really need one?

It still hurts around the area of the fusion, but the pain running down my right side is gone, and my right hand is working again. So, I shall now cease shutting up, and get on with it. However, guess where I get to go tomorrow?

Back to physical therapy. Oh, the joy of it all.