Vehicle of the Soul

Some years ago I did a few days of meditation at the Zen Center in Cumberland, (a scary town full of trees and deer ticks), and they had a kind of in-joke. When the monks and nuns got sick they would call it ‘car trouble’.

Around that time I studied martial arts with a young and athletic doctor. She said that when she had to visit a mechanic she felt empathy for what her patients went through when they were not firing on all their cylinders. It’s tough to have to trust your wheels to a disdainful guy who may not like your kind. (You girls know what I’m talking about).

Well, we’ve progressed. Bob at D’Ambra’s Service Station on Hope St. has taken very good care of my cars. Having spent more time searching for an honest mechanic than true love I have a high respect for mechanic’s skills. After all, you have to trust them to keep your car prepped for the high speed lane.

As for that other vehicle–

Andrew Sullivan
makes a good comparison when talking about the free market approach to health insurance, explaining why health insurance is different from car insurance…

To continue with the car insurance analogy, pretend that everyone has one car that cannot be sold. Some people have lemon cars whose brakes fail every week, or have continuous oil leaks, etc. In other words, the insurance company knows that it will have to pay out on the people with lemon cars, not just occasionally, but continuously. There’s absolutely no incentive to insure these people at all. We could, as a society, say well, that’s tough. Only, eventually, we all end up with lemon cars – we’re all going to die one day, and the large majority of us will be sick for some time before that.

This is a brilliant insight. Your soul has one vehicle in this world. Is your value as a human being defined by your ability to go from zero to sixty in under 10 minutes? Can your worth to society be measured in your yearly income?

Sullivan touches on the question of what we are. A society that cares for its own, or one that holds profit as the supreme value. Right now Steven Hawking is sick. His contribution would have been lost to us if we discarded all our citizens who need care to get by.

Poisoned Waters Tonight on PBS

Quick commercial for PBS here — looks like this might be worth watching.

Poisoned Waters on PBS Frontline 9 – 11 pm est

More than three decades after the Clean Water Act, iconic American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are in perilous condition and facing new sources of contamination.

With polluted runoff still flowing in from industry, agriculture and massive suburban development, scientists note that many new pollutants and toxins from modern everyday life are already being found in the drinking water of millions of people across the country and pose a threat to fish, wildlife and, potentially, human health.

In FRONTLINE’s Poisoned Waters, airing Tuesday, April 21, 2009, from 9 to 11 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith examines the growing hazards to human health and the ecosystem.

Thanks to Suzanne Arena for passing along the information. A two-minute preview of the show is available here.

Mainstream Attention to Human Trafficking in Rhode Island

I’m proud to say that Kmareka, and our tireless blogger and human rights advocate, Nancy Green, led the mainstream media in discussing human trafficking at length and in detail — and now the topic is front-page news at the Projo:

PROVIDENCE –– Just around the corner from the restaurants along Atwells Avenue, Tammy Dudman scrunched down inside a parked rental car outside a suspected brothel and counted “Johns.”

She wore a New York Yankees cap pulled low on her forehead; whenever someone looked in her direction she quickly ducked.

A man walked through an unmarked door.

“That makes seven!”

I nominated Nancy Green’s piece on Tara Hurley’s movie, Happy Endings?, for the Metcalf award for excellence in journalism this year, because it’s still an issue that needs to be talked about. One thing I learned while doing a 10-hour seminar on sexual attitudes was that while I am liberal and believe there is plenty of room for imagination and creativity in sexual matters, the buying and selling of sex is still something that disturbs me profoundly. Thank you to Nancy Green and to Tara Hurley for continuing to explore this complicated issue, searching for ways to strengthen human rights for those involved in the flesh trades.


Congrats to Susan Boyle for her huge singing success. It’s apparently astonishing that an ordinary-looking, mature woman might be blessed with an exceptional talent.

I haven’t heard a woman described as ‘ugly’ so many times since Betty Friedan dared to have an opinion and write a book.

And the press has also declared that Ms. Boyle leads a bleak existence and is a spinster. And her house is run-down. Her cat probably has furballs.

I’m skeptical about the bleak existence, because she had kind of a gleam in her eye just before she wowed the audience with that Les Miserables song. She knows she can sing.

Anyone who’s seen a choir knows that plain looking people can have wonderful voices.

And could we maybe retire the word ‘ugly’ when referring to a person’s looks? Let’s save it for behavior. Like judging and name-calling.

E-News from Church of the Ascension

I started an interview with the pastor of my church, Fr. Greg Lisby, and then, in the midst of the interview, his laptop (with all his labor-intensive answers to my questions, as well as many of his sermons and many other precious things) was stolen. So we are in the process of re-interviewing.

I drove by the Lutheran church in Frankenmuth, Michigan many times over the past several days (we were visiting family there) and the marquee said, “Pray to God daily — he has answers!” Hopefully he can supply some answers for Greg to make it easy for him to redo the interview — and may God bless that poor soul who stole the laptop. And may the laptop turn up soon at a pawn shop, unerased.

In lieu of a full interview with Fr. Lisby, I am currently providing a small excerpt from the E-News with Church of the Ascension, which highlights Evensong, the performance of the diocesan youth choir at St. Luke’s this Sunday at 5 pm:

Youth Choir Festival Evensong

Please join with children of Church of the Ascension who will be singing in the Diocesan Youth Choir on Sunday, April 26th @ 5PM, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Greenwich, RI.

The combined choirs from around the diocese all use the Royal School of Church Music Program that our parish has applied for a grant to start this Fall.

See you there! Also, you may be interested in learning about how to start a music program at your own church. If so:

If you are interested in learning more about this program, you are invited on Saturday, April 25th @ 11AM (St. Luke’s, East Greenwich) to learn more about this exciting program. The national director of the Royal Music program, Dr. Cynthia DeDakis, will present information on how parishes can start this wonderful music program for children in their parishes.

PS. While we await the interview, here is a picture of Fr. Greg with his younger soon-to-be fully adopted daughter, Miriam.


Business as Usual

This is not an aberration. This is for-profit health care working as it must…

A state official in New Jersey has reviewed the cases of scores of elderly people who were kicked out of assisted living facilities — simply because they could no longer pay at the highest rates. In a new report, Ron Chen, the state’s public advocate, concludes that state regulations in New Jersey and around the country fail to protect elderly residents.

John Myers, 93, and his wife, Mae, 88, went through about $180,000 of their savings in three years at an Assisted Living Concepts facility in Burlington, N.J. But late last year, John Myers lost a lot of his money in the stock market. The family asked about going on Medicaid; that would have meant they would pay about 20 percent less, according to Chen’s report. Instead, they were evicted.

The Myers ended up moving in with their daughter. John Myers died and his wife is now in a nursing home.

I am employed in maintaining the safety net that keeps elderly people in their own homes with caretakers who come to them. I see many people who could benefit from assisted living, but for most it is unaffordable. The problem is that the in-home support is underfunded and sometimes inadequate. There’s not enough mid-level between a few hours of CNA help in a dilapidated house and the palatial assisted living that few can afford.

A business like an assisted living has to maximize profits. A snake has to bite. It’s nature.

There are many levels of need in between total independence and the nursing home. For older people and their families it’s buyer beware. We have a responsibility to search for creative solutions to the problems of aging. We boomers are looking at our parents, and ourselves, not getting any younger.

It’s a shame the Myers didn’t get a legal contract they could enforce. Assisted Living Concepts might have been more ruthless than most, but there are many medical services that won’t accept Medicaid. The reimbursement is less.

Medicaid overall is a huge chunk of money. Medicaid is our tax dollars, it’s the safety net for young and old. It can be spent to build nursing homes or to bring the care to people living in their own homes. Rhode Island is in the process of deciding how our Medicaid dollar is spent.

For-profit health care has to follow its nature. That’s what we have now. Rationing is in process, according to where the money goes, which is why it is easier to get a surgeon to put a feeding tube in a man who is going to die tomorrow than to get a dentist to treat a dental infection before it damages a teenager’s heart. Save now, pay later.

Pill for Craving

A great story about progress in treating alcoholism featuring a Rhode Island man.

CENTRAL FALLS, Rhode Island (CNN) — A no-frills bar called Goober’s, just north of Providence, Rhode Island, is probably the last place you’d expect to find a debate over cutting-edge addiction therapy. But this is where Walter Kent, a retired mechanic, spends his Fridays. He helps in the kitchen and hangs out in the bar, catching up with old friends.

Most addiction specialists would call this playing with fire, or worse. That’s because for more than 30 years, Kent was a hard-core alcoholic. His drinks of choice were Heineken beer and Jacob Ginger brandy, but anything with alcohol would do. (more)

The article follows a study of Naltrexone and Topiramate for treatment of alcoholic craving. The pills, plus therapy, had good results.

I don’t think there will ever be a one-size-fits-all cure for addiction, or one approach to behavior change that works for everyone, but new tools for recovery are welcome. We have a nicotine patch, which helps smokers, and Methodone helps many people live normal lives by reducing their craving for opiates. Replacing a drug with a drug is far from perfect, but if it helps some people then we are all better off.