Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Be an Advocate


"America's Health Care System is neither healthy, caring, or a system."

~Walter Cronkite~

"Take care of the patient and everything else will follow."

~Thomas Frist, M.D.~

Our health care system is broken. And if you're part of that health care system (as I once was), you need to hear this. You need to read this and take it to heart. Our system isn't broken by government intervention (although Medicare is a  nightmare), by lack of training, or even by lack of highly skilled doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, et al.  It's broken because we've become so highly specialized, and because there are now so  many moving parts, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. 

Despite the technologies of the 21st century, which seemingly allow doctors from every specialty to communicate seamlessly, it still doesn't happen. The ridiculous lack of communication between doctor and patient is incredible. In part, because like a good mob boss, doctors place layer upon layer of people between them and their patients. Nurse practitioners, Physician's Assistants, Nurses, and a host of other people, like receptionists, lab techs, pharmacists, home health specialists ALL play a vital roll in a person's care. That's a lot of moving parts. And if you couple that with caring for people from a generation with White Coat Syndrome who don't dare ask questions, you have a formula for disaster.

If you have a family member in need of care, or who is currently receiving care, and they seem lost, or if their condition is worsening, heed this. You need to educate yourself and become an advocate. This is the story of my mother:

About three years ago, my mother was told she needed to use supplemental oxygen as needed, especially at home while at rest and at night. A home concentrator was brought to her home and she began to use it. Also delivered were small oxygen bottles for her to use when she was mobile "if needed." Until recently, those mobile bottles weren't necessary. This is going to get hard to follow, so I'll apologize in advacnce. 

My mother has had low hemoglobin levels for as long as I can remember, so like an ignorant fool, I assumed her oxygen needs were related to that chronic issue. When I pressed my now 91 year old mother for info from her doctor about why she needed oxygen, she said, "I don't know. He just said I needed it." No questions asked, of course. And so that was how it went for 3 years...And then everything changed.

About 4 months ago, my mother started getting weaker.  She was losing weight, didn't eat much, and needed oxygen 24/7. Although I continued to blindly assume this had to do with her hemoglobin levels and the fact she was in her 90's (mentally, she is still sharp as a tack), I insisted on going with her to a follow-up appointment to her pulmonologist. This is where the whole thing started and what I began to see unfold was terrifying.

We didn't see her doctor that day. We saw his PA. She was polite and seemed knowledgeable, but I stopped her the moment she started to ask how my mother was doing. "Wait," I interrupted. "Why are we even here? Does my mom even have a diagnosis?" This young PA looked at me like I was from another planet. "Of course, she does. She has pulmonary fibrosis. Interstitial lung disease. You didn't know?" AHA!! The curtain was finally lifted. My mother didn't think to ask 3 years ago, and I wasn't smart enough to ask most recently.

So, the oxygen needs were because her disease had progressed AND she had a mass on her lung. Now it started to make sense. And here's where the communication continued to break down. The PA prescribed some different meds and ordered a PET scan. When the nurse came in to discharge us, I asked about using the new meds. "I don't know," she said. "I'll be right back." She came back with an answer which brought a host of other questions from me, which she also either didn't get, or didn't understand from the PA.

When we checked out to schedule a follow-up and a PET scan, the receptionist thought it best to schedule those on the same day, a month later!! So my question to her was, "Considering she has a mass on her lung that resembles cancer, would you not feel like that PET scan should be sooner?" She agreed and that particular procedure was moved up to the following week. My point is, had I not asked, my mother surely would not have and we'd still be waiting for a PET scan. The family you have in your care need an advocate. Speak up! But wait, it gets better. I'll try to move this along some, but it's horribly convoluted.

Only a couple days later, I called to check on my mom. Her voice was extremely hoarse, her breathing was labored, and her oxygen stats were in the 70's. To be fair, 70's weren't all that unusual for her, but something was amiss. I suggested we take her to the ER and she agreed without an argument. Now I KNEW she was sick. My brother scooped her up and took her to the ER and I met them there shortly after.

Here's the problem with ERs. They're horribly overcrowded, understaffed, and the doctors are asked to be specialists in a variety of areas. So, once my mom was taken to her room, a battery of tests were taken to get the answers to questions to which we already knew the answer. It's a horrible waste of time and resources, and in the end, the doctor came in to tell us, "All the tests are normal. She has fibrosis, which means this is just how it's going to be, so we're going to discharge her and have her follow up with her pulmonologist." And at first, this seemed logical.

Enter our first real advocate who was paying attention. A young respiratory therapist came in to do some final checking on some things. She was actually on loan from another department, but when I told her we were about to sign discharge papers, she was shocked. "She's not a candidate for discharge with these stats! I'll talk with the doctor. Is she on Medicare? If so, all she has to do is say so, and she stays." That was definitely information I didn't know. When the doctor came back, he asked if I had more questions. Short version: She stayed. The bottom line, again, is, if someone hadn't been there to advocate for my mother, she'd have been discharged, and probably be dead by now.

Once admitted to the hospital, things finally started to happen that should have happened a long time ago. We saw the pulmonary doctor (not his PA), we started steroids, upped her oxygen intake,  got her regular meals, tested her demands for oxygen while at rest and under exertion, got her nebulized breathing treatments and got several balls rolling in the right direction. You know what? She got better. Not cured (fibrosis only gets worse, never better), but she started eating, she had more energy, her color improved, and her oxygen stats climbed in to the 90's.

We set her up with high flow oxygen, home health care visits once a week, physical therapy and so much more. But you know what? Without an advocate from outside the healthcare system, she would never have been able to coordinate and figure this all out. And even if the healthcare system had come through with the coordination, it would have taken weeks. There were new prescriptions, some Medicare wouldn't cover from a retail pharmacy, someone needed to pick them up and show her how to use a nebulizer. She needed coached on when to turn her oxygen up and how. And it was a logistical nightmare she wouldn't have navigated just to get her the high flow oxygen equipment she now needed. And the most mind-blowing piece of that entire puzzle was that no doctor we saw at the hospital knew high flow oxygen for home use existed. Unreal. It took one phone call and one question from an advocate willing to ask the question to get her what she needed. She wouldn't have.

And just when we thought we had everything set up to run smoothly, a home health care nurse who was only trying to meet my mom's request, called the pulmonologist to get her smaller oxygen bottles with an on-demand regulator which wouldn't have met her flow needs. And the DOCTOR APPROVED IT!!  Someone, for the love of god, read a chart. Pay attention! I arrived in time to send the oxygen delivery guy back with all his new stuff and got messages to everyone involved to not make oxygen use decisions without calling me first. Again. the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing and it almost put my mom right behind the 8 ball again.

Now, before you suggest she needs 24/7 care, this exact scenario would have played out the same if she were 41 instead of 91. She doesn't know what questions to ask. And her generation doesn't question anyone with a white coat. What she needs is someone to ask the right questions. More importantly, she and people like her, need someone to ask ANY question. 

To be fair,  I was blessed to have a career where I witnessed the happenings at some of the finest ERs in the country, so I have a fairly unique perspective when it comes to being an advocate for someone. The fine professionals in these ERs were grossly overworked, understaffed, underappreciated, and...human. If you learn nothing else from this short, hard-to-follow rambling, learn this. Doctors, nurses, techs, and everyone else in that hospital are human. They do and will make mistakes. And there is so much information from so many sources to be communicated, you can be sure information will be lost. 

YOU have to take responsibility for your care. Whether it's you or a family member, you have to assume people will make mistakes and drop the ball when it comes to communication. YOU have to be the coordinator. YOU have to be brave enough to ask the tough question or even the questions you might think are stupid. YOU have to educate yourself. Google makes it easy these days. And what happens if you don't?

It's not totally the fault of the individuals who are merely part of a broken system. But it's true that people get more sick and die every minute of every day because they didn't have an advocate to ask the right questions. 

Become an advocate.


Friday, December 1, 2023

Green Acres


“If you’re going to complain about farmers, make sure you don’t talk with your mouth full”
 ~ Molly Tiernan ~

“There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.”
 ~ Mahatma Gandhi ~

“They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” 

~ Tupac Shakur ~


And we can't go any further without my favorite quote about farmers: "If you ate today, thank a farmer." In some cases, this quote, along with the Tiernan quote from above, could be considered true. But if you're from Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, or nearly any other state which grows millions of acres of feed corn and soybeans, it simply isn't true. What is true is that we don't have anywhere near what I'd call a food shortage in the United States, or the world, for that matter. What we do have is a world-wide distribution problem. We have subsidized farming and a greed problem. People simply aren't starving because there isn't enough food.

Before I go one step further, let me be clear that I have the utmost respect for farmers and the hard work they do, and to some degree, the risks they take. What I don't support is the farming industry and the way it's set up to maximize profit and control distribution. And this isn't just in the farming industry. Like just about any other industry you can name, farming is a product of capitalism and is more about profit than it is about food. And believe me when I tell you, we're all about to suffer for it in a big way.

How did I come to this cynical conclusion, you may ask? I spent two years helping some local, well-established farmers during harvest. They made the mistake of sharing some numbers with me and I started digging just a bit.  Math wasn't my strongest subject in school, but I've gotten good enough to do the basics, which is mostly all it takes to figure out some basic profit and loss and distribution.

I drove a grain cart, which means I could see each and every bushel of corn or soybeans picked go through the computer. It's simple division to determine bushels picked based on weight, but it isn't really necessary. The computer does it for you. I won't bore you with the daily details, but what I can tell you is that, in round numbers, they harvested 250,000 bushels of corn each year. Of that 250,000 bushels, 10,000 bushels were transported to the local Cooperative. And the other 240,000 bushels? Well, these former truck drivers spent all winter each year delivering corn to the closest ethanol plant to make government subsidized gas for your car. Surely you've noticed that 10% ethanol gas at the pump is less money than regular unleaded, even though the process is more expensive.

So, why would these farmers (and most of the others) sell all this corn to make gasoline? It pays better. Much better, actually. In some cases a dollar per bushel better. Take that times 240,000 bushels, and now you're talking about real money. And why on earth would selling corn for ethanol pay better than selling it for food? Listen, Linda. We have enough food. The ethanol commodity is government-subsidized.

If you'll recall from your basic Economics class, when demand for a product increases, so generally does its price. When you have an overstock of something, it drives the prices down. And in the case of corn, excess supply was bringing it down... a lot. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but that whole, "knee high by the fourth of July" nonsense is long gone. Now corn is 6-8' tall by that date. Modified strains of seed, better insecticides and herbicides, and endless supplies of irrigation, have pushed production way, way up. Irrigation alone basically doubles the yield compared to dryland corn. So, what is one to do with all this excess and still keep the price up? You create a market for it (ethanol), and then you subsidize it. The same is true of soybeans, but to a lesser extent. Another crop for another time.

It sure sounds like everyone wins, doesn't it? There's already enough food. So why not make a way to support farmers that helps stretch the supply of fossil fuels and utilizes all this corn. I'll tell you why, and there are two reasons I can think of just off the top of my head. The first in my mind is that you have to fix the distribution problem so that no one in the world goes hungry while we're growing record crops before you do anything else! How inhumane is it for a starving child to know or see or even hear about sources of food going to put fuel in cars? And make no mistake, there's also a large percentage of corn crop going to feed cattle, an obvious food source, and yet, feeding grain to cattle is a ridiculously inefficient use of the crop. And I haven't even addressed water yet. 

The second reason in my opinion, and likely the most important, is the impact agriculture is having on our environment. You can argue all you want about climate change and whether or not it's happening. Of course it's happening. It's been happening since the last ice age. The question isn't whether or not it's happening. The question is, 'At what rate?" It's now happening at an exponential rate and human beings and agriculture have almost everything to do with the rate at which it's changing. Here's partly how.

Since white Europeans hit the continent and started farming, more and more of our native grasses have been converted to farmland. In fact, by some estimates, up to 98% of the once lush grasslands of the Great Plains have been lost to agriculture. That creates a species issue, a water retention issue, an erosion issue, and even a carbon dioxide issue. Sure, crops create oxygen, blah blah blah, but only a fraction of what is produced by trees and native grasses for only a fraction of the time. In addition, erosion and over-planting (even with "no-till" and crop rotation) is killing our topsoil. If you've been sleeping, an adequate topsoil is part of the equation that keeps us all alive. By the admission of the farmers I worked for, the topsoil depth, when they began farming in the area some 50 years ago, was about 2 feet. Today,  the depth is closer to 6 inches, and yet, we keep planting.

Have you heard of the Ogallala Aquifer? In most of the Midwestern states and throughout the Plains, it's where we get our fresh water. If you had a glass of water today, it came from the Ogallala Aquifer. It's also what gets used for irrigation of crops...the ones that go to make gasoline, biodiesel, corn syrup, plastic, and other useless crap to a starving child. And if you think we don't have starving kids right here in Nebraska...hell, right here in Jefferson County, you're just not paying attention. But I digress. The Ogallala Aquifer is slated to be mostly gone by 2050. That's 26 years. You think wars over oil are bad, wait until Midwesterners start killing each other over something to drink. 

Just like the decades-old conflict between Israel and Palestine, many will try to say this is a complicated issue. And I can see where you might want to lean that direction. Sure, working out how to pay farmers, create demand, feed everyone, and fuel our cars has a lot of moving parts. But the one moving part we can't ignore is our environment, and especially, our water. It's running out. And it's running out locally in our lifetime.  When that happens, none of the other parts will matter. 

It's not complicated.



Tuesday, October 24, 2023

It's Not that Complicated

"Perspective can definitely be filtered by when you decide to jump into the discussion."



My friend, who responded to a post of mine on Facebook with the above quote, is correct. Your perspective can, and often is, filtered by when you decide to jump into any discussion. And I can tell you exactly where I was when I decided, after 50 years of keeping my head in the sand, to enter this one.

I was on vacation, driving down Hwy 168 in North Carolina, when I began to notice Israeli flags flying everywhere. Billboards, road-side attractions, and storefronts by the dozens were brandishing the Israeli flag and boasting, "We stand with Israel!" And because I'm an American and I like to be supportive, I thought, "I'd better stand with Israel, too!" Followed by, "I wonder what's going on in Israel." To be honest, I hadn't been keeping up with the happenings there recently, or since, well, ever. 

So, just like I finally did with things like the white European move west and happenings at places like Mount Rushmore, I began to dig into what was, in fact, IS, happening with Israel, Palestine, the Gaza Strip, etc. I asked most everyone I knew, be they Christian, Jewish, or something in between about what they knew about what was happening in the Middle East and why we were supporting Israel. I got varying opinions (as you might expect), but the lead-in was nearly always, "Well, it's a complicated situation, but..." 

But I'm here to tell you, from where I'm standing, based on just a little more digging (I am NOT professing to be any kind of Middle East expert) it is NOT complicated. In fact, it isn't complicated at all. So, should you be open-minded enough to consider what it is I've found, let's talk about why I, in fact, do not stand with Israel. 

Let's clear up something first. For starters, not standing with Israel does NOT mean I don't care about Israeli people or Jews. What I'm about to discuss has absolutely nothing to do with one's "Jewishness." I've been called an Anti-Semite twice this week, and nothing could be further from the truth.  Accusing me of antisemitism is a gaslighting technique to avoid facing a hard truth.  To be clear, I do not support the Israeli government. The people are just like us and want what we be understood.

Furthermore, I do NOT support the recent actions of Hamas. What Hamas has done is terrorism, plain and simple. And whether or not Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people, and whether or not Israel funds Hamas to discredit the Palestinians, what Hamas has been doing is wrong. But, so is what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for decades. Israel has been raining down genocide on the Palestinians in the name of God since WWII, and folks, that's just not okay.

How did this all get started? (I'm going to paraphrase a lot! I'm writing a blog, not a book). It may not surprise you to learn this is a religious war over, of all things, property. Apparently, some 6,000 years ago, the bearded sky man himself promised Abraham a "promised land." Abraham then spent some 40 years in the desert looking for said promised land, but never found it. Apparently, it turns out that land is Palestine.

Fast forward a few years to say, c. 1947, prior to which there was no geographic Israel, and the good ole Christian folks of the US of A supported the Jewish people in claiming lands in Palestine...violently, I might add. It was ordained by God, after all, and it was time the Israelites got their land. And besides, Israel was the only democratic state in the region and the United States needed stability (aka, someone who believes like they do) in the region so that we could peacefully get, you guessed it, oil. And so, the killing of innocent men, women, and children in the name of God to claim the holy land was begun and it's been going on for close to a century now. 

This should sound familiar to you. Remember those white, European settlers who landed on the beach with a mandate from the Queen of England to "claim lands in the name of England?" Well, 54 million indigenous people and 98% of the native grasslands later, and they've done exactly that. They wiped out an entire, innocent population with no mandate other than an order from the Queen.

And how about the Crusades? How many people were slaughtered during that mess in the name of Christianity, and more specifically, Catholicism? And that leads me straight to the war we continue to wage in the Middle East over an attack on US soil. The number of deaths from 9/11 has now multiplied by the tens of thousands over a "war on terrorism" with the likes of Al Qaeda. 22 years. Twenty. Two. Years we've been waging war with an "enemy" we could have wiped out in 10 minutes. Follow the money.

The US is likely funding Al Qaeda so they can continue to wage war, because wars make the rich richer. Israel is likely funding Hamas in the same way, to not only discredit the Palestinians, but so they can continue to wage war that makes...the rich richer. In much the same way, the US funds drug cartels. You remember Ronald Reagan and the 1980's don't you? 

So, you think this is complicated because it's a religious war in a region that has been at odds for centuries. I say it has nothing to do with religion, or being Jewish, or some mandate from god. I say it's as simple as right or wrong and it isn't that difficult to figure out. Want to know who the bad guys are? The terrorists?

If you believe the slaughter of innocent indigenous people in the name of the Queen was ok; if you think enslaving millions of Black people was ok, while proclaiming Christianity, was acceptable; if you think the Israeli government slaughtering innocent Palestinians to claim land promised by the word of god in an ancient text is prophetic, or that continuing to wage war with Al Qaeda in a war we could have won in minutes is "just the way things are," then you don't have to look very far for the religious, terroristic, cultist extremist...

It's you.

It's really that simple.




Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Thoughts and Prayers

"Positive thoughts and prayer have been the best means available, since the beginning of time, to transform darkness to light."

~Cat Stevens~

“Mankind have such a deep stake in inward illumination, that there is much to be said by the hermit or monk in defense of his life of thought and prayer.”


~Ralph Waldo Emerson~


If you've followed me for any length of time at all, you can probably guess what I'm about to say about Mass Shootings and Thoughts and Prayers. And you'd probably be wrong. I'll be the very first to admit, every time I hear of a mass shooting (which seems to be almost daily) and hear of your thoughts and prayers regarding said shooting, I'm tempted to tell you where to stick your thoughts and prayers. But, I've changed. Or, at least, I'm changing. All you hard-core followers need to hang in there.


It would seem what we need is policy change. Seemingly, we need common sense gun control and legislation that make it more difficult for "bad" people to have guns. And I'm not suggesting that isn't still a direction in which we can go. But gun control doesn't work, does it? Even the hard core gun control people like me are beginning to understand that legislation, regardless of how sweeping, won't necessarily keep guns out of the hands of people who want to use them for purposes of mass destruction......or singular destruction for that matter. Sure, other countries have had some "success" with strict gun laws. But let's forget about borders and gun control for the moment. You and I both know the issue is bigger than that. Much bigger.


It's no longer about just gun control. It's about world hunger, economic collapse, homelessness, healthcare, climate change, immigration, and so much more! It's about eliminating the gap between the Haves and Have-Nots. It's about the meeting of basic human needs to which we are ALL entitled. It's about coming to the realization we're all one. We. Are. One. Every American and Russian are one. Every plant, animal, human, and (if they're out there) alien, are one. One! We're all made of the same ancient star dust. We aren't OF earth. We were put here. Either on purpose or by some cosmic accident, no one knows. But we are all the same. Until we change that basic understanding, nothing really changes and we're all doomed. We've been here as a species before.


So, what will it take to make these sweeping changes? It will take a change in the collective consciousness. It will take arriving at a place where we realize our Oneness and begin to take care of each other on a global scale. On a cosmic scale. And how precisely do we make such a sweeping change? You guessed it.....Thoughts and Prayers.


Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a Catholic gentleman who was telling me about how fascinated he was to know that, during mass, people all over the world were praying the same prayer. He could feel the power of that "group awareness." And if you're still with me, and have followed me here, or Facebook, or have read my book, or anywhere else, you know I'm not a Christian. I'm a spiritual person constantly searching for an answer to the big questions. It's likely I'll never find them in total, but the search gives me purpose. It stretches my mind and nurtures my soul. I love science. And you would think that would put me in direct conflict with things like "prayer." (Call it whatever you want, actually). But, as it turns out, prayer and science are friends.


We've touched on this topic before, but science has blown the lid off this thing. Thoughts (prayers, meditation, whatever) produce energy in the brain. Energy has mass. And if energy has mass, then mass is influenced by gravity, which, in short, means thoughts can change things. Yeah. Yeah. I know. We're talking about things on a subatomic scale. But what if.....what. if. we could multiply that subatomic movement times 8 billion? Kinda makes you wonder if we could change some things doesn't it? Or, at the very least, influence them?


Group Think is a thing. It works. If you don't believe me, consider something we've all witnessed, Mob Mentality, as a negative example. How many of us who don't "pray" have witnessed the influence of a prayer group? It's difficult to deny results. Collectively, we can make a change. One at a time, we can begin to use the power of our thoughts to influence the outside world. We can come from a place of love until someone else uses THEIR thoughts to influence the outside world, and so on, and so on, and so on.


Sure, it's a really tall order. It's an order of Everest scale, but it's really the only way we're going to change things and save our species. Basic needs must be met. If we're to consider ourselves an advanced species, then no one should be without food, shelter, or medical care. No one should be afraid of being gunned down in their school, office, or place of worship. We HAVE to start taking care of each other. It's not easy. And I hate to admit it, but it all starts with Thoughts and Prayers.


I'll take all I can get.




Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Village Conundrum: A Tale of Two Cities


 “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” 

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities ~

About four-and-a-half years ago, I was out joyriding with my brother and noticed a phone booth nestled along the main street of a town I'd never heard of, and clearly had never taken notice of. As we cruised by, I shouted at him to stop, because frankly, I hadn't seen a phone booth in over 30 years. As it turns out, the phone booth actually worked! And as I stood there in shock at the dial tone coming through the headset (you youngsters will have to ask a grownup about "dial tones"), I noticed a "For Sale" sign in the yard of a house down the street.
And that is the ultra-short version of how I came to be a resident of the town where I now live. Having retired from the Dallas Fire Department, I resigned myself to a life of solitude, living in my camper, traveling the country, and occasionally the globe. It was exciting. Putting down roots has always been frightening to me, but this tiny town of 100 people (or less) simply called to me.  
I bought the house, sold the camper, met the love of my life, bought a couple old buildings in the crumbling downtown (one side houses the post office, the other now offers storage units). It was blissful, actually. Peace, quiet, friends, and fresh, clean air were mine for the taking. What a wonderful little place! Roots, at last! The water ran, the toilet flushed, and the lights came on.  Hakuna Matata.
Then, ever so slowly, I made a grave mistake. I got involved. Little by little, I eased in to a couple board meetings. Then, the village treasurer resigned and they needed someone "just 6 hours per week" while they looked for someone. Then the village clerk resigned, and well, as long as I was already there, why not do the clerk job temporarily, as well? And that's how I became the permanent village clerk/treasurer. It didn't really take much time and I only did it for a couple years, but it opened my eyes to things I now can't unsee. I came to know some things I can't unknow.  

It opened my eyes to why small towns are disappearing, or at a minimum, falling into disrepair. I came to know how leaders can become power-hungry, and how they stay that way because people hate change and are downright apathetic. Small town people especially hate change. "Stop messing with our little farm town!" "We like things the way they are!" "Why do we need to spend all this money?"And when people, who for years didn't give two shits about the happenings in their town, suddenly begin to care, they seem to do it with a total lack of understanding about the process. Why? Because, they don't want to get involved. They just like to complain. But many, if not most, small towns do need to make some changes. Here's why.
In our small town, my wife and I are two of the youngest residents. There are some younger, but not many. With an aging population, you have to find ways to attract young people with families, or sometime in the next 25 years or so, the last person alive can turn out the lights before they die.  So, how does a town with no school, virtually no small businesses, and seeming lack of caring attract young people?

You start with infrastructure. You have to improve your water, sewer, and electric systems to meet reasonable standards. And you have to think futuristically. You have to maintain and upgrade your streets, clean up your downtown, and basically improve the curb appeal of your entire town. And then you have to make an attempt to attract small business. I'm not talking about bringing in a Walmart, but you need the tax base of small business that pay property and sales tax.

Why do all this? Because you need to attract people to keep the houses and lots full. Full houses mean a stronger tax base. A stronger overall tax base means we individually pay lower taxes to maintain the same budget. But you can't get people to move in or build if you have nuisance properties all over town. So, as difficult as it is (even if some of the crap properties are owned by board members), you have to make a plan to clean up, restore, or condemn properties that make living in your community unappealing.

While many scream such a plan will make their small town too large, keep in mind the geographical limits are set and no one is going to put up a 5-story condo. But, if you want your taxes to stay low while your property values go up, you have to invest financially and emotionally in your community.
Now, let's fast-forward to another small town my wife and I visited for an auction just over a month ago. This little Nebraska town has fewer people than where we presently live. In the entire town, we saw one property that needed some clean-up and repair. They had a small grocery store, a bar/grill, and a gorgeous, brick community center and library. The streets were clean and, based on a sign we saw, the town even has a plan in place to sell land cheap (perhaps even give it away) to people willing to build. Why are the two towns so different?

Well, to be fair, many retired farmers with large bankrolls live in this small town. But the bigger picture is (and you could just tell by how things looked), the community has bought in to the notion of making their town a great place to live.......for everyone, not just for the handful that want tings this way or that. They've bought in to the notion of community. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure their little town has their share of bickering, and ours is probably a nicer picture than I paint, but the differences in attitude are clearly different.
Here's all I'm proposing: 
1) Our village leadership needs to remember that, despite their best intentions, they're there to serve at the will of their small constituency. Find out what they want, and get them on board with what they need. That'll improve the collective attitude. 
2) Our village leadership needs to set the standard for community improvement by cleaning they're own backyard before they condemn another. Be the example. This also improves buy-in.
3) Village leadership needs to find a way to stop leaving a wake of pissed off residents, vendors, and newspapers. You can be effective without being a dick. And you'll NEVER win a battle of whits with a newspaper, no matter how incompetent their editor/reporter is.
4) By-and-large, the board needs to be more informed before issues come to a vote on meeting night. And for god's sake, vote "nay" now and then. (I know. It happens, but still.)

There is much more, but it really boils down to the overall attitude of the village, and there's a world of difference between the two villages I described. And by the way, if you're a resident, don't complain about your village board's transparency if you aren't involved. Transparency is a two-way street and your elected board is under no obligation to spoon-feed you information if you won't seek it out yourself. It goes both ways. And please, please, educate yourself before you bitch. It's embarrassing.

And just one more thing, lest you think I'm not willing to put my money where my mouth is......

Matthew Leatherwood for Village Board of Trustees 2022. I'd love to have your vote.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Big Bagel: Why I'm Still Not an Atheist

 "Sometimes new questions are more important than new answers." 

~Howard Bloom, The God Problem~

"Prepare to have your mind blown."

~Matthew Leatherwood~

By a show of hands, how many of you believe our existence began with a "Big Bang" roughly 13.73 billion years ago? Good. Good. Ok, now put your hands down. And now, how many of you believe in Creationism, or, a god that in some way created everything? Ok. Ok. Cool. You may put your hands down. 

Now, before you all start arguing, what if I told you, "you're both right." At least, you both could be right. You're going to have to hang in here with me a bit while I explain, but I'm about to attempt to do just that. On the surface, it seems largely a binary choice argued on one side by science; the other side by religion. But we can get there. Keep reading.

If you've read There's Never Been Nothing, you already know of my "struggles" with determining the existence of a higher power; God, if you will. I've labeled myself plenty of things in the last 61 years or so, but Atheist is a place I just couldn't go. Despite so much confusion, study, and soul-searching on my part, the idea that this is all there is has eluded me. Up until now, I haven't been able to take on the Atheist label for two reasons. The first involves how we explain self-awareness. We're all biologically the same, yet I'm only aware of "me." That speaks of soul to me. 

The second, now becoming more clear than ever, is that, at our current level of understanding, we know you can't make something from nothing. Therefore, logically, there's never been nothing. Which in itself, is wholly illogical. There's always been "something." But how? Both those statements make my head hurt. They make both perfect sense, and simultaneously, no sense at all. 

In my continuing quest for answers, I recently picked up a copy of The God Problem, How a Godless Universe Creates, by Howard Bloom. In his book, Bloom "promises" to make a solid argument about how our cosmos came from nothingness. At last, an explanation based on facts that would explain how there could have once been nothing. His suggestion gave me an inkling of hope and a strong dose of skepticism at the same time. This book is 600 pages of very sound physics, both theoretical and scientific, starting with the Babylonians, of how our universe was created and why it continues to exist and communicate, all without the presence of God. 

I'm sorry religious folks, but the science on this one is sound (don't quit reading. I'm getting to your side of the story). Our universe, ever expanding at an exponential rate, was created with a Big Bang roughly 13.73 billion years ago. Since that time, everything from the smallest quark to humans, have been competing in a push/pull level of existence for attention. The law of attraction basically controls everything. Called "Recruitment Strategies," everything from the first bang has been competing for attention. It occurs at every level. Every. Level. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even quarks do it. It's survival of the fittest at the most basic level. So, if you're a scientist, you're on solid ground. This info is without dispute. 

Now for you religious folks. I'm sorry, but your bearded god in the sky and savior-type deity just isn't real. Or is it? I'll be the first to admit, the bearded sky man and savior story just isn't going to do it for me. It's a great story, but I'm not convinced it's in any way factual. But here's the rub. I don't know. And neither do you. Why? Because we weren't there at the "beginning," whenever the hell that was. The fact there's never been nothing suggests there wasn't a beginning. Or was there?

Still hanging in there? Ok, cool. There is now evidence in the world of theoretical physics that our universe was born of a Big "Bagel." Picture a bagel (or donut) with a hole in the middle. Our creation sprang forth from the hole, matter going one direction, anti-matter the other. Now enter a recruitment strategy that suggests gravity pulls these two toward each other on the outside edge of the bagel until they meet. When matter and anti-matter meet, you get a big bang......rinse and repeat.

See where I'm going here? There is simply no way of knowing if our "Big Bang" was the first big bang, or simply one of an infinite series of big bangs which all started from a bagel. We know for a fact, big bangs springing forth new universes are happening all the time with no end in sight. And as it turns out, no beginning in sight either.

It boils down to this. No physicist I've considered or read about, no scientist, biologist, or otherwise brainiac sort, has ever truly addressed or been able to explain what happened BEFORE the Big Bang. The closest I've read in terms of an explanation actually resembles religion. If you can't explain it, make up a fairy tale. In the scientific world, that tale would be that before the Big Bang, there was nothing. But the Big Bang had to come from something, right? And what of this "God Particle" and how critics fear we're close to finding it and shouldn't? Let's be clear. No matter what you call this particle, it isn't "nothing."

It's completely plausible to me, that something "created" this universe almost 14 billion years ago with a bang. But it didn't come from nothing. And those that aver "God just always was," then tell me, where did God come from? They didn't come from nothingness. What all this really means is that from a scientific standpoint, we know we all started with a bang. But we just don't know what happened before that. But it had to be something. That's the extent of our understanding.

So, until someone proves the idea of nothingness, I cling to the idea that "something" is behind this whole thing. And since time and space are both relative to our existence, for all we know, our universe is a dust speck on a flower being carried around by an elephant. We simply cannot know for sure. Without proof otherwise, I'll never be an Atheist. And believe me, I've looked hard.

There's Never Been Nothing


Sunday, July 3, 2022

Celebrate Anyway


“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions."

 ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel ~


Four years ago, almost exactly to the day, I sat alone on the front porch of a house I had owned for only three months. Prior to that, I lived mostly in a 28' camper and lived the life of a modern-day gypsy. I had no dog, no cats, no wife, and really no true responsibilities. And by mere happenstance, I came upon a house that literally called out to me.  So, here I sat on the porch of this great little house, in basically a strange place, with no real friends or even solid acquaintances. A fireworks show of epic proportions was about to begin, and I was about to witness it alone. To be honest, I was at total peace with that.

Just last night, I sat in a lawn chair in the driveway of that same house, poised for the same fireworks show, surrounded by my wife, family, and great friends. (Our dog and two cats waited in the house. The dog was not in a celebratory mood). Times certainly have changed and I have so very much to be thankful for; so much to.......celebrate!!

Let's be honest. Our little, infantile democratic republic has given us damn little to feel like celebrating about lately. As if a world-wide pandemic wasn't enough, we've had major unrest in the stock market, a tumultuous presidential election complete with an insurrection, and now, SCOTUS is setting us back to the stone age.

Women have lost the right to control their own bodies, EPA guidelines are being struck down, and now things like gay marriage, equal rights, and voting rights are in the cross hairs of the highest court in the land. Oddly, interracial marriage isn't currently being addressed but we all know why. SCOTUS has literally set our country back 50 years or more. It's infuriating. It's unacceptable. It's frightening.

In the last week or so, I've read so many Facebook posts about people not feeling like America deserves a birthday party. People are wearing black instead of red, white, and blue. And you know what? I get it. As adamantly as people chant "'Murica!" at the top of their lungs, "'Murica" ain't so great any more. We lag behind other developed nations (and some underdeveloped) in almost every category; incarcerated persons being the exception. We lag behind in math, science, and reading. Our impoverished are growing more so. Our birth mortality rates are embarrassing. Our health care is ridiculous, and our government is dropping the ball at every turn.

We have many a reason to not celebrate a holiday like the 4th of July. But celebrate we must. Last night I celebrated good friends, a wonderful partner for life, a wonderful home, and a great village. My wife and I are bright blue in a town, county, and state that are bright red. Not all, but many of our friends don't share our same religion or politics, and we're friends anyway. And we celebrate that every chance we get.

Look, I'm not suggesting we just sit on our asses and ignore the decisions that are turning our nation upside down. We must vote, speak up, get involved, and make our voices heard! But it doesn't have to be one or the other. I'm infuriated by the recent SCOTUS decisions. But, last night I celebrated. I have to. I have to find reasons to celebrate.'

Relatively speaking, our country is still in its infancy. 250 years is nothing. We will go through many, many changes. Honestly, I feel there's an excellent chance our capitalist-based economy will crumble before long. Our democracy and our voting rights are already being threatened to the extent actual voting may make no difference at all. The real elite that are running the show are being exposed for the long con they've been playing, but we've let it go so long we'll not likely recover. And that says nothing of the way our climate is changing. That, also, is nearing a tipping point from whence we may not return. It's a dismal state of affairs if that's on what you choose to focus.

Today, I am grateful. Despite the issues, things could be so much worse. So, make your voices heard! And for crying out loud, BE angry! There's about to be a great burst of reform. It is so very hard to find the silver lining in such dark clouds, but find it we must. Do everything in your power to bring about the change you desire. It's going to be difficult and it's going to get darker before we see light.

Celebrate anyway.