Malala, and messages of compassion

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First...

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First Initiative anniversary event (Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres)

 

 

It’s probably enough to leave a lot of us — not just Jon Stewart — speechless: lovely little Malala Yousafzai reporting with a smile on her thoughts about the Talib pointing a gun at her:

 

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’  But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

There are skeptics, of course, and people back home in the once-peaceful Swat Valley who worry that all the publicity will bring more terror to their area. But I say, Go for it, Malala.

 

Imagine what might happen through dialogue. Maybe the government could even come un-shut. That is, if you use the word’s definition as a verb: “take part in a conversation in order to understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” What seems to happen more often in Washington is not dialogue, but monologue v monologue.

 

To come down to the issue which currently consumes about 90% of my time these days (thanks to new book): What if there could be education so girls like Malala would know about how to prevent unwanted pregnancy? And about ALL of their options should such a thing happen? Education along the whole spectrum, for girls and boys alike?

 

And then, what if there were real dialogue, as in “understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” One side would need to back off of the abortion-on-demand-and-without-apology stance, and the other would need to back off the ban-abortion-and-then-everything-will-be-solved stance.

 

Now back to Malala. I’m glad she didn’t get the Nobel, she’s got plenty of time left — assuming the Taliban don’t get her.  In a world of obstinate monologue and increasing brutality, her gospel of dialogue and education are a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonia Sotomayor gets my vote

English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court j...

English: Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am definitely voting for Sotomayor. Oh, wait, she’s not running for anything. That’s a pity.

A little late — since it’s already got 931 reader reviews on Amazon — I just got around to reading My Beloved World. it is a tale told incredibly well, with kindness, humor and self-analysis so clear and so unpretentious it must fill every one of her Jesuit instructors with pride and joy. It certainly fills the reader with joy. Sotomayor makes you proud to be on the same planet.

With almost everyone and every institution in Washington too painful to watch these days, at least the justices of the Supreme Court (with the notable exception of Clarence Thomas) seem to be working. Unfortunately, half of them are working in directions — think Citizens United — that are downright scary, but we have to hope that justice will prevail among the justices.

Anti-choice forces are racking up laws so blatantly unconstitutional there’s no doubt where they want to wind up: back before the Supreme Court in hopes of overturning Roe v Wade. And THAT’s scary. Because they clearly expect to win, and to send American women straight back to the dark ages.

I have a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach about that prospect. I have no idea how any of the justices would vote. But because she radiates warmth and compassion and the brilliance of a gentle intellect, my vote would go to Sotomayor.

Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of My Beloved World.

War, loss and memories

Old section of West Point's Cemetery

Old section of West Point’s Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Memorial Day, how is it for those whose losses are real? How must it feel to go through another — or maybe your first — weekend when the whole country mourns with you,  then watch things return to normal for everyone else while they’ll never be normal again for you. Watch everyone else making new memories when you’re just trying to hang onto the old.

I was thinking this morning about my friend Dave. I can’t even bring his face into focus any more.

Dave was in the West Point graduating class of 1951, which was pretty much decimated by “the forgotten war” — Korea. We were pinned — do people still “get pinned” I wonder? — before he left that last time.

The “forgotten war” took place throughout most of the years when I was in college. It was soon enough after World War II that wars were perceived as between good guys and bad guys; we were the good guys. The draft was in place, Vietnam was years away, military service was a given for most young men. On New Year’s Eve at the Army/Navy Club in Washington recent West Point graduates tended to talk about who wasn’t there.

When the armistice was signed in July, 1953, a collective sigh of relief could be heard across the U.S. But two days after the armistice, Dave was killed by someone on the other side who hadn’t gotten the word. I never went to another New Year’s Eve party at the Army/Navy Club. After a couple of notes back and forth with Dave’s family, we lost touch.

Sometimes around Memorial Day, though, I wonder how they survived. Dave was smart, funny, gregarious, and loved the Army. He wanted eventually to become a military doctor.  He would have been 23 in another few months.

Paul Krugman is my hero

Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksban...

Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2008 at a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Krugman says call it what it is: a depression. “A recession is when things are going down; a depression is when things are down, and stay that way for a long time.”

Krugman offered this opening comment to a sell-out crowd in San Francisco, where he was highlighting a Commonwealth Club event and promoting his new book, End This Depression Now. Ending this depression now is entirely possible, if you believe Nobel Prize-winner Krugman, and this writer believes Paul Krugman. Aside from in-house economist Bud Johns, who has accurately foretold so many economic events as to be spooky even if he hasn’t yet won a Nobel Prize, Krugman is the only living person able to make economic sense to my mathematically-challenged right-brained self. During his San Francisco talk he ticked off enough data to paint the picture — and it is not a pretty picture. Krugman compared the problematic impasse to a family car that had broken down. Its battery was dead. A new battery would make it run. But the man of the house refused to recognize the bad battery or consent to getting a new one, suggesting instead that the rest of the family just walk or take the bus. “You have a problem,” Krugman noted, “but the problem isn’t with the battery.”

So how to fix it? Before offering the answer, Krugman said first we have to understand that “government workers” aren’t the evil bureaucrats in Washington, but are the teachers, firefighters, service workers everywhere who are out of work, with their numbers threatening to be increased. Then he listed steps he would recommend:

First, a huge infusion of money (none of this timid stuff, which Krugman reminds us is what had FDR triggering a double-dip depression in the late 1930s) from the feds to the states, so they can start re-hiring those teachers and public sector workers.

Second: debt relief, starting with mortgage debt and soon extending to other areas like student loans.

Third — then we get into monetary policy, and not even Bud Johns and Paul Krugman can explain that to yours truly in adequately simplified terms.

So the national debt remains staggering and everybody worries about what we’re bequeathing our grandchildren. At least we might keep the country afloat, mass desperation relieved and families together, and that would be something to bequeath.

Paul Krugman did not approve this over-simplified message. But he still gets my vote.

Anthem Blue Cross 'doing the right thing'?

In testimony before the California Assembly Health Committee yesterday, Anthem Blue Cross President Leslie Margolin said of her company, “I think we do the right thing, and we try to do the right thing every day.”

What that means is, turn a profit for the company every day. If you are in business to make money, that is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, when Margolin says the company’s goal is to provide “care, comfort and coverage to those in need,” that is simply not true. Physicians and health care professionals provide care and comfort. Anthem provides coverage which sometimes pays for these things and often does not, if they can help it.

Is there no way to connect those dots? Care and comfort for those who need and deserve it — i.e., every human being — are not going to happen until we get the coverage people out of the equation.

OK, not going to happen any time soon. It could happen in California, except for Governor Schwarzenegger‘s probable veto. It should happen in Washington, except for the money and muscle of the coverage people. In lieu of those realities, a health bill that takes a tiny step in the right direction would be welcome.

Grassroots Healthcare Reform

If we get a health reform bill, it may be thanks in part to a push from the ground up. That belief is leading to a variety of grassroots support endeavors.

At a hospital-sponsored town hall meeting on the issue this week in San Francisco attendees were invited to take the microphone to tell their stories. Probably a bad idea at any meeting, since such an invitation guarantees off-point rambles and rages and this one certainly proved the point — but there were enough horror stories to assure everyone that our current non-system is a train wreck.

A cardboard cut-out of President Obama stood at the back of the room (there was a lot of photo-op going on before things got started) and the promise was that videos of the stories would go straight to Washington to help speed passage of the hoped-for health reform bill.

Participants told of needed care that couldn’t be found, needed drugs that couldn’t be bought and the widespread suffering of the un- or under-insured. A panel of local experts presented aspects of the hoped-for national plan and spoke of San Francisco’s own moderately successful effort to provide health coverage for all.

Speakers were asked to keep their remarks to under three minutes, another dictum doomed to failure, and a few did. My own plea (one minute, forty seconds) was for inclusion of some guarantee/protection of individual choice at the end of life. It stemmed from working for many years (as I still do) with terminally ill adults who seek options including hastening their dying. It was tempered in deference to the hosts, since St. Francis is a member of Catholic Healthcare West and the opposition of the Catholic Church was largely responsible for defeat of a widely popular physician aid-in-dying bill that narrowly failed in California two years ago. And the likelihood of such a controversial issue getting into the massively complex bill we may or may not get is somewhere between slim and none, but what the heck. With Mr. Obama standing there, I couldn’t resist.

At similar gatherings around the country, I suspect the message and the messengers are much the same. Health reform is a national need that translates in millions of heartbreaking individual stories.

My personal favorite message came from panel member Catherine Dodd, PhD, RN, District Chief of Staff for Nancy Pelosi in her pre-Speaker days. Dodd explained the current three-fold status (two in the Senate and one in the House) of the healthcare bill and defended its  probable cost. Then she threw out one new number: 19.7. After everyone had let 19.7 sink in, she told us that is the number of years it has taken this country, every time a health reform bill has been floated, to bring it up again. “We can’t afford another 19.7 years,” she said. I think she’s right.

Sir Edward's Choice

It is ironic that while some of us were offering mostly light-hearted comments about how we might choose to die, news circulated  that  Great Britain’s reknowned conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife had just made that very real decision for themselves.

Sir Edward and his wife Joan, a ballerina before she gave up her own career in support of his and of their family, flew to a Swiss clinic sponsored by the Dignitas organization with their two grown children to end their lives together. He was 85, almost blind and losing his hearing; she was in the final stages of terminal cancer.

I strongly support the right of terminally ill, mentally comptetent adults to hasten their own death. While there is a very distinct line between hastened dying for the terminally ill and “suicide,” it would seem almost cruel to criticize Sir Edward’s choice. And the key word is choice.

What most of us would choose is precisely what Sir Edward and his wife did indeed have: a swift, peaceful end with loved ones at the bedside. Few of us would choose what actually happens too often in the U.S.: prolonged pain and indignity, often a death that follows extended, expensive, frequently futile treatment, in circumstances we would never have chosen for ourselves.

Physician aid in dying, now legal in Oregon and Washington, is one good way to put rational choice back in the hands of mentally competent adults.  The Oregon law has been in effect for over a decade and has proven that such legislation works. It offers comfort and compassion and has not been abused. Efforts to extend this humane law into other states have been vigorously fought by religious groups, but end-of-life choice is just as much a right as is reproductive choice; like other individual rights, it will eventually come.

Given the enormous financial cost of the universal healthcare system most of us want, and the enormous human cost of futile end-of-life treatments and denial of physician aid to terminally ill adults, the time has come for serious dialogue about the right to die.

Sir Edward Downes left a remarkable legacy in his music. A very private man throughout his long life, he nonetheless left another admirable legacy in his poignant death. Maybe those of us over here in the colonies can learn something. Maybe we could at least honor him with a little civilized discourse.