Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Do You Read?

Just an observation...

I enjoy reading the blogs of people who I don't agree with in every aspect, but who have enough points in common with me that a conversation is easily facilitated.

You learn more from interacting with people who aren't exactly like you, in which case each of you simply congratulates the other on how right they(and you) are, and who aren't completely different from you, in which case the chasm of differences becomes too wide to contemplate crossing.

Who do you read and why?

Blogroll Update

I'm going through the blogroll, deleting blogs that I haven't really read in quite some time and adding some that I read regularly.

The first addition goes to John Hobbins and his blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry. John actually frustrates me sometimes. I don't always agree with him and he lapses into occasional, fiery rhetoric. However, he almost always has something interesting on his blog and even when I disagree with him, I can see that he has thought deeply about the points he is making.

Next addition goes to Joel Watts with his blog The Church of Jesus Christ. Quite a weighty name to give to your blog! My husband looked over my shoulder one day while reading it, thinking it was the website of a new denomination or maybe a cult. Nope. Just some guy blogging....but he blogs frequently and has an interesting mix of ideas.

Third addition...Opining Online, by Donna B. I've run into Donna at Assistant Village Idiot's blog before and every time I click over to her blog I always find something interesting on it...a mix of personal blogging, conservative ideas and some posts that are just for fun. Well-rounded.

I'll be adding more over the next few weeks.

The Giver

I bought and finished The Giver, a juvenile/young adult book written by Lois Lowry, over the weekend. With future books in mind for the boys, I thought it would be good to read it and the plot summary on the back of the book seemed interesting.

First reactions:

1. The book deals with subjects that probably aren't appropriate for elementary age children. While not graphic in any way, a good reading of the book requires more of a sophisticated understanding of human development in order for it to make sense. When Jonas has a proto-sexual dream, he is told that he has experienced The Stirrings and it's time to begin his "treatment" which comes in the form of a daily pill meant to inhibit The Stirrings.

Further into the story, Jonas discovers that Release from the community is not a form of exile into another community, but is premeditated execution/death. He becomes enlightened of this fact by watching his father Release an infant; a disturbing scene, not because it is graphic but merely because of the sinister implications.

2. The book is very Logan's Runnish/Brave New Worldish. A future Utopia is achieved by carefully controlling all aspects of society, from birth to death.

3. The book is not a great representation of the sci-fi genre. It takes place in the future. It presumes all sorts of technical advances, but not much detail is put into these features and they are not carefully thought out.

Debra Doyle, a young adult fiction author, hits the nail on the head with this criticism:
Things are the way they are (in the novel) because The Author is Making A Point; things work out the way they do because The Author's Point Requires It."
She's right, but I think that only more sophisticated readers would be bothered by it to the point of distraction.

4. I found the ideas about communal memories probably the most intriguing part of the book. In The Giver
, there is one person who holds all the memories that have ever existed. The rest of the community don't possess these memories of pain, war, starvation...and also happiness, individuality, differences in the way things are and the way things used to be. The Receiver/The Giver is the only person who hold this inner knowledge within themselves. They bear the burden of knowing the freedoms and joys that have been lost along with the pain and difficulties that have been banished.

The memories separate them from everyone else and place them in psychological isolation in the community.

While not being the only theme Lowry develops, it is the one I found most "true". Having knowledge of awful things that other people don't know about is very isolating. Not sharing that knowledge in order to protect others is a heavy burden.

It hit home for me because I have known things about many people that I have never shared because of how it would affect others. Either through chance, confession, or accurate intuition, many secrets have rolled into my path, many of which I'd like to be blissfully ignorant. None of them are earth-shattering, especially if you happen to be fairly cynical internally. Yet there are times when it would be nice to "un-know" some things.

But I guess that's what the whole "knowledge of good and evil" theme is about in Genesis.

There is no "un-knowing" available.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Update on Harry Potter

I've read the first 3 books already and let The Rationalist start in on the series.

He read the first book in one 24-hour period. He seems to enjoy them so far, having started the second one right after he finished the first.

I have moderately enjoyed the books, though they haven't been a complete surprise to me because I have seen snippets of the first three movies.

If I had one criticism it would center on the lack of character development of Harry Potter. I feel as if Hermione, Ron, and even Draco are more rounded out than Harry. He seems to always be reacting to things and he doesn't seem to possess much of an inner life outside of the context of his parent's death and Voldemort.

For a character who is supposed to be "the hero", he seems to lack substance.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parental Censorship

I just started reading the Harry Potter books. When they first came out DH and I didn't have children and then, when we did, they were too young to be interested in Harry Potter.

The Rationalist has been asking to read them for quite some time, but they are just out of his assigned reading level for his accelerated reader program at school. Mainly, I was trying to make him wait until he was a bit older. From what I have heard, the last few books are a lot darker and have more general peril in them. I knew once he started the series that he would fly through the books in a matter of months, if not weeks, so I was hoping to let him loose on the entire enterprise once I thought he could handle all of them.

I am somewhat ambivalent about exerting a measured amount of censorship over what our children read. When I was a child, I was an advanced reader. By third grade, I was reading my mother's pulp fiction paperbacks, most of which were wildly inappropriate for me due to the sexual and violent content. By fifth grade, I was a huge Stephen King fan.

The scarier, the more horrifying, the better.

So....I understand the urge for fantasy and horror at a young age.

On the other hand, I was exposed to many subjects at a young age that I wouldn't want my own children to be exposed to. Walking the line between implementing parental guidance and allowing breathing space for the kids is a balancing act.

The Intuitive is ready to attack all of the R.L. Stine , Goosebumps books. I'm making him wait until 3rd grade only because I made The Rationalist wait that long. I had been turned off of the Goosebumps series when The Rationalist came home with one in first grade. The story involved a young girl become possessed by a scary mask and almost strangling her best friend to death.

Too much for a 6 year old to process.

By third grade The Rationalist landed in a classroom stocked with every Goosebumps book ever written. He'd read them all by Christmas break.

Now, I only casually keep track of what he's reading. There have been only a few instances when he has come home with a book that has been vetoed by us, usually because it has more realistic violence in it than we think he's old enough to handle. It is surprising sometimes what subjects pop up in the young juvenile section of the library.

One of the books he picked out in second grade dealt heavily with domestic abuse and had scenes depicting a woman being hit by her husband...way too heavy of a subject for an 8 year old to deal with. Usurping his choice, we made him stop reading it and find something else to meet his reading requirements.

It's becoming more complicated to figure out what is appropriate now that both of the boys are becoming more sophisticated.

The illusion of parental control I possess will probably completely evaporate over the next few years.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wisdom or Hypocrisy?

Is holding your tongue in the presence of others, whose views are vastly different than your own, wisdom, or a hypocritical attempt to preserve relationship with those who would reject you if they knew what you really thought?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fool Me Once, Fool Me 36 Times

There's a song on the radio that always fools me when it starts because I always mistake it for another song.

Every. Single. Time.

Here's why:

HT: Opining Online

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Home Economics--health care

Perhaps never before in my life has the economic state of our country been as relevant to me as it it currently is. I floated through college without much thought about economics, health care, or recession.

Insurance? What do I need that for?

Job security? There are plenty of jobs around.

Home prices? I live in an apartment.

The funny thing is that every sector of the economy has had a very direct impact on our family over the last few years.

Before my cancer diagnosis and treatment, things were tight enough financially that there was the slightest moment of considering dropping coverage for me. DH is covered through his employer at little to no cost. Adding the kids into his policy cost extra. Adding me into the policy doubled, almost tripled, the "extra".

So, like most lower middle class families, we considered whether the money was better spent on insurance we hardly ever used, or paying off debt and making ends meet in a less stressful way. We wisely chose to continue insuring me.

Every year our premiums have increased. At this point, when the next fiscal year's rates go into effect in April, we will paying over $800 per month for insurance. That's $9600 in one year.

Government health care starts to sound like a great idea to average families like ours.

Here's why.

Every year rates have increased for us. By next year, if rates trend as they have every other year, those rates will be closer to $880...then $960....then $1055...and so forth. Rates soon sky-rocket out of control. Keep in mind that those rates are what we pay. The insurance company gets even more money from DH's employer, making the insurance company's take about $1,000 per month for our family of four.

Having gone though extensive medical treatment, one would think that I would recognize how crucial insurance is in paying for expensive, life-saving medical care....and I do. However, when I sit down and add up all of my medical bills and subtract the amount actually paid by the insurance company versus what was actually billed by various hospitals, surgeons, and imaging centers...there isn't a single penny that was paid that we hadn't already paid in the form of insurance premiums. The insurance company still came out ahead, which is mind-boggling when considering all the treatment I had.

They do this by having negotiated rates with hospitals and doctors. That negotiated rate is about 20%-25% of what is actually billed. So, a hospital stay of $20,000 dollars only earns about $4,000-$5,000.

In order to increase their earnings, hospitals and doctors begin to raise the list prices of their services. 20% of $1500 is more than 20% of $1,000. List prices continue to climb in an effort to recover more from insurance companies.

In theory, this doesn't really matter. As long as everyone is playing the same game, the inflated prices have no real meaning. What happens, though, is that the uninsured go into a hospital, get a bill for $20,000 and the hospital staff is nice enough to offer an uninsured rate that cuts the bill in half...to $10,000.

How generous of them.

The usually unknowledgeable patient thinks the hospital is doing them a huge favor when it is really making them pay twice as much for the same services for which they charged an insurance company $4,000.

It's scandalous.....at least for those uninsured who wind up paying it. For the uninsured that don't pay, or can't pay, it's simply a bill that gets ignored and goes unpaid.....until the hospital sends its collectors after them.

For those who don't pay, the cost is absorbed through higher prices by those who do pay and by government subsidies; local, state, and federal.

The question......is this really a better solution than a national health care system?

It is if you are an insurance company.

It isn't if you are a patient, a doctor, or a hospital.

Economically, it's a crazy scheme with little regulation and a boatload of money to be made by the insurance companies.

Not being a communist, I don't have anything against corporations making money. And from that perspective, I do think that a point is coming when insurance companies will simply price themselves out of the market. They will reach a saturation point, not only with people who can't pay the premiums they are demanding, but also with people who will begin to think that the government can do it better with less overall financial impact on families.

How much will be too much? At what point will the middle class being hurting enough that they will reject insurance companies in favor of nationalized health care?

If things continue just as they are, it won't be too long at all.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

I've had a chance to catch my breath and come to terms with the whole house situation...yet again.

The remaining termite damage is small compared to what we repaired over the last year; the short end of the garage and maybe some involvement near the kitchen wall that connects to the garage. I know that things are structurally sound because we made major structural repairs to every other wall in the house, and I know what's on the inside of those walls.

So....I've taken a breath and decided to move forward with renting the house out and buying my brother out of his portion of it.

Yep....I'll be rivaling Donald Trump in no time flat....investor and landlord will be added to my current jack-of-all-trades tool belt.

After catching my breath, I went in search of the deed to the house. It was paid off years ago, and I hadn't looked for it because it was low on the list of priorities in managing the estate. While going through the relevant stack of house-related papers, I found my father's original settlement papers from when he bought the house.

Much to my frustration, I also chanced across an envelope dated one month before his closing date. It was a termite inspection report. It noted termite infestation in several areas of the house.A shock passed through me as I realized that my father knew the whole time that his house had been infested and damaged.

There had been some speculation on my part about how much and when my father knew about this disaster. He had mentioned to me once many years before that he thought he might have termites. This conversation took place in the context of him eventually selling his home.

Now, I realize that it was a lie/half-truth. He didn't suspect....he knew. He knew it before he ever bought the house. He knew it the whole time he was living there. He knew it as he made plans to retire, sell the house, and move to Alabama.

He knew the whole time and he was going to pass it off onto someone else if he could get away with it.

Suddenly this problem wasn't a result of his procrastination, or denial of what was happening...it was the result of his outright attempt to buy a house on the cheap and unload it on someone else, later.

What a family pedigree I have!

Alas, I can't say that the image of my father is tainted by all this. I knew that he wasn't exactly the most integrity-driven person in the world.

As I discussed in my other post about forgiveness, the world can't survive without redeemers.

In small and large ways the Christian life is one of taking the crap and refuse that the world, and other people, spew out and repairing, restoring, and renewing it.

My dad left us a rotting pile of a house and we have turned it into a solid, new, improved home.

He planned to pass a problem onto someone else; we planned to prevent someone else from having the problem.

Lately I don't sermonize much, or have any great illusions about my ability to communicate with God, or for God, but trying to see the situation through these themes is the only thing keeping me going right now.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Movie Madness

Thanks to Redbox and Blockbuster Express kiosks everywhere around us, DH and I rent/watch movies much more frequently than we used to.

$1 is a small price to pay for a DVD rental. The low cost not only makes us rent more movies, but also makes us more willing to rent movies we haven't heard of or aren't certain that we'll like.

Sometimes it works out....sometimes....not so much.

Like Pandorum...a sci-fi movie that's more horror than sci-fi. The back-story of the plot is really just a set-up for the gory action which follows. It's irrelevant and could have been replaced by an innumerable number of alternate back-stories that would get a spaceship full of people out into space and have creepy things start to happen.

Not much different than 2012, another example of a backstory which has nothing to do with the actual movie. By the time all of the overdone disaster scenes have passed the Mayan calendar has been completely forgotten. A better title would have been Neutrinos Run Amok and Screw Everything Up.

The Time Traveler's Wife got so-so reviews but I enjoyed it. The only downside was that the night after we watched it I kept having recurrent dreams in which DH was disappearing. It doesn't help that DH has the occasional sleep twitch. The combination of the weird dream and the sudden shaking from DH's jerky movement made it seem even more real.....like he was plopped into bed after appearing out of thin air.


I didn't sleep well all that night. How can you rest when you think the person next to you is constantly dematerializing and re-materializing all night long?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Absorbing the Cost

I haven't posted in quite a while, though I have shown up here and there in the comments sections of a few blogs.

The truth is that, besides being insanely busy and out of town quite a bit, I simply haven't felt desirous of blogging. There's too much going on in my head to pluck out an idea and flesh it out.

I've also had to learn yet another lesson in the school of forgiveness, a lesson inflicted upon me by a repeat offender....and it has been difficult. The gift of consistent forgiveness is taking its toll on me and each time I have to give it....it comes with more reluctance and pain and is harder to summon.

As I have had to sift through everything that I've been feeling, looking for the right way forward, I can't escape the fact that relationships, families, and society itself cannot survive without people who are willing to absorb the pain and consequences caused by other people.

As the saying goes--an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will leave the whole world blind and toothless.

Forgiveness isn't fair. When we forgive, it's costing us something. Sometimes the price is light and simply a matter of releasing annoyance with another person, but sometimes the price cuts to the center of who you are and the "pound of flesh" extracted for payment is your heart.

The refusal of forgiveness causes its own collateral damage either because of the anger and resentment simmering below the surface, or because not forgiving allows the pain inflicted upon us to continue working its way through those around us. Like a tsunami heading for an unprotected shore, sin and its after-effects threaten to wipe everything out. Forgiveness becomes a shield against the coming tidal wave, taking on the full force of what's coming in order to protect the populated village in danger of being devastated.

Thinking of forgiveness in such noble, heroic terms doesn't make it less of a deep sacrifice.

At each point of intense forgiveness I have had to surrender some part of myself....letting go of idealized dreams and hopes connected to that person, or situation. Sometimes it seems as if there is little left to let go of.....as if I am scraping the bottom of the barrel of my hopes and dreams looking for some small scrap to offer up.


DH and I spent last weekend finishing up fixing the garage to my father's house. It was the last major project left in this process and as I scraped old paint and prepared to caulk some cracks where drywall met drywall, I discovered that hidden behind this upper section of drywall was more termite damage. I inserted a screwdriver into the crack and felt it push through rotted, decimated wood and instantly teared up.

It wasn't over. I wasn't "done" with this house. I couldn't sell this house with this going on beneath the drywall.

I was filled with anger at my father who I know had put up this drywall to purposely hide this damage. I was filled with frustration at his chronic procrastination, denial of the seriousness of the situation, and the high likelihood that his solution to this mess was to cover it up and let someone else deal with.

That someone turned out to be me.

That's the way that it works. Our actions frequently fall back on the people around us who are innocent bystanders.

I stood on the paint-covered step-ladder with my head in my hands and felt that pang of knowing I was going to have to pay the price for someone else's bad decisions again. I couldn't sell the house and pass those consequences onto an innocent, unsuspecting victim. I could let someone know up front about the damage, and take a huge hit on the value of the house, undermining all of the hard work and investment of time and money we have put into this house.

Or....I could hold onto this house that I never wanted, rent it out until there was enough money to make repairs, and then sell it.

I wouldn't be "done". I wouldn't benefit from the house in any significant way for a couple of years. I would continue to bear the responsibility of handling this mess.

Another situation calling for me to "fix" something I didn't cause.

Lately my faith seems non-existent. Maybe not non-existent, but so different and foreign in nature to what it used to be that it feels wholly "other" to me. And yet in the midst of the emotional turbulence I feel, I sense those themes of Christ's forgiveness, suffering, and perseverance moving through me. As I contemplate the chaos caused by others, I see Christ. I hear "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."

So, I try. I try to be a peacemaker. I try to reconcile what I face in a way that will be beneficial to everyone.

I'm hoping I don't fail.