Sunday, March 21, 2010

Not a Big Deal

The wife said it again. She used that phrase. No, not the dreaded “we need to talk”, thankfully; that one -especially when uttered by ex-1 - has caused me more stomach trouble than flu and cheap burritos combined. (Hmmm…flu combined with cheap burritos. Now that would be a rough day.) This was more benign – “we should start going to church again”.

I know to some people that would be far from a benign suggestion, possibly leading to a rude reply and, depending on who said it, perhaps fisticuffs. In this case both my daughter and I just emitted non-committal but agreeable-sounding hums and kept eating. It wasn’t until later that I wondered why, given how little I usually get out of it, the idea didn’t and still doesn’t bother me more. This led me to ponder my lifelong experiences with churchgoing (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to be specific).

I know this sounds odd, but looking back at my childhood I can’t say I thought of going to church in religious terms. It was just a part of domestic life, something the family did. Once there I acted like I think many “heathens” do when missionaries preach to them; I listened, said “that’s nice to know” and got on with life. It simply had no impact on me beyond the practical applications (the non-religious Commandments aren’t a bad guide to living). As for the confirmation classes, I kicked butt. I memorized all the material and could rattle it off like a recording. But here again, it didn’t move me. I observed and understood what it meant to other people, but I was unaffected.

I did derive tangible benefits. I attended some statewide church youth gatherings and had a great time. Those gatherings tended to have many more girls than boys, which was a boon to me; I rarely sat down at the dances, and it was at one of these that I had my first make-out session.

It was at church that I first got some responsibility and a bit of freedom, albeit due to extenuating circumstances. High school boys traditionally served as ushers, but due to a population gap at our very small church I started ushering when I was in sixth grade. (Incidentally, shouldn’t the term be “ushing” ? Drivers drive, players play, why do ushers usher instead of ush? More language mystery.) This meant not only escorting people to and from pews and taking the collection, but getting to sit in a back pew separate from my family; big stuff for an 11yo. As a high-schooler I had my girlfriend sit with me occasionally.

You have no doubt noticed that the benefits were mostly secular, and some were unintended from the church’s perspective. Nevertheless, they were real, and still bring back some fond memories. I also can’t say I was scarred in any way by the religious part of my upbringing, or that its absence would have made my life obviously better. Perhaps that's why I don't get any more annoyed about church than I do about, say, going to a craft show. Church was never a huge bother;It was just part of growing up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Really Big Deal in Many Small Ways

John Holbo at Crooked Timber has a post that I appreciate in a couple of ways. First physically.....

I’m a lefty, which means I now occasionally Google up things to do with left-handed guitar.

I never tried to learn guitar, but as a fellow lefty (the only one in my family; now my daughter is right-handed despite both her parents being left-handed; I continue to wonder about that), I can sympathize with the struggle to learn to do just about anything. My southpaw status was a source of great consternation to my Kindergarten teacher; her attempt to convert me was only slightly less enthusiastic than that of a new missionary in Africa. My brief foray into golf as a teen was with right-handed clubs, because that was what I happened to buy at a rummage sale; I didn't know left-handed clubs existed. I was given permission to "cheat" in the 10-key adding machine (yes, I know.... once again I date myself) portion of a class in high school by looking at the keys more than usually allowed because neither the teacher nor I knew how to handle my incompatibility with the right-handed layout.

Then there's John's larger point.....

I think about the things that interested me, growing up – like science fiction novels, for example. And comics. And I realize that almost everything I knew about these things that mattered a great deal to me (did you notice?) I learned by talking to about six people, four of whom were kids like me, and going to four different stores in my hometown. (And sex. Did I mention that, as a young teen, I was quite intrigued by the topic of sex, but – sadly – lacked reliable sources of information and reportage on the subject.) I suspect you could provide your own examples, if you grew up pre-internet. And I feel it’s pretty important, somehow, that those of you who grew up post-internet probably can’t provide your own examples. Or rather fewer.

Of course, this is a flagrantly obvious thought: the internet = important!

Commenter Emma added this. was also limited to a much smaller slice of cultural achievement—that which was current in one’s social circle and popular culture. Which led to strange knowledges and huge gaps. I could sing all of Oklahoma, because my parents had the record, but could only listen to the pop music of the actual year I was in, because that was all that was on the radio station I could get on my transistor. You might see West Side Story on the telly, late one Saturday night, and have to wait years to see it again. No culture on demand. No way to know who was the third spear carrier in the back row of the black and white movie who looked strangely familiar. I’m so much less tolerant of those gaps now.

Just recently I said to my wife that I can only imagine how different my very-small-town childhood would have been if the internet had existed. I was recreational reader of reference books when I wasn't wandering around outside daydreaming; my parents would probably have had to throw me outside if I'd had the internet to peruse. I can also only guess what effect the lessening of small-town isolation would have had; as it was TV (non-cable) was my prime source of information about the wider world.

Of course, I see the downside to the internet regularly when I help my daughter search for information for a school report; the huge amount of junk that has to be winnowed. But even this has the benefit of cultivating useful skills such as the ability to corroborate and recognize reliability in sources.

Commenter magistra had this to say.

I think there are a couple of particularly interesting wider issues. One is that the concept of what is ‘normal’ is getting redefined. If you are into China bluegrass or believe in alien abductions, you are no longer an isolated freak (though you may still be a freak); you have support for your interests or views.

As someone who wasn't exactly "normal" growing up (and probably still isn't), I can relate to that.

The other is the increasing significance of partially-reliable sources. If you wanted to know about Blake’s Seven or George III twenty years ago, you could go and find a reference book (which would probably have been edited very carefully) or you could rely on what you and your friends could remember (probably very inaccurate). Now you can go to Wikipedia or other online sites and get information which is probably mostly right, but not as rigorously checked as a book would have been. All this is anathema to proper reference librarians, but for many things, probably/partially right information is enough. I look up several dozen trivial queries a day: not worth going to the library (or even digging out a reference book) for, but nice to know.

Those last few words are a pretty good summary of what the internet has done for me as a generally curious person; it has provided easy access to things (and people) that are nice to know.

Old Haunt

Our most recent trip to Sioux Falls did have a pleasant difference in that we were able to coordinate it with a surprise birthday party for my Dad in Centerville the next day. In fact, his wife used our visit as both the motivation to actually organize the party, which she had been contemplating but hadn’t gotten around to doing until she heard we would be in the area, and a cover story for the extra cooking, etc. for the festivities. As a result it was a complete surprise; Dad didn’t realize something was up until other people started arriving.

There was also a bit of a milestone for me. Dad wanted to go to an Italian restaurant in Vermillion, which marked the first time I had been there since I moved away nearly eight years ago. I had been in the area a few times since but had always had some excuse not to visit (no time, out of the way). The truth is I had avoided returning because it had hurt so much to leave. If I had to do it over I would still be there, even though the odds of meeting my wife (who does know how I feel) would have been long. But we didn’t do enough to reopen any wounds; just a quick drive past my old house and Public TV to show my wife the locations.

The town hasn’t changed very much. The only big additions since I left are Wal-Mart and a new Holiday Inn Express. The other changes are basically more of what was already there: the trailer court where I lived is larger, there are more storage units, etc. The restaurant – which I had only patronized once when I lived there - had moved from where I remembered it, but was a good place to eat. Overall, it was still the town I remembered. Someday I may actually pay it a proper visit. I think I can handle it now.

The drive back home had an interesting feel to it (although happily nothing like the drive down, the first hour of which was on a snow-packed highway at 35 mph). There was standing water filling ditches, creeks, rivers, etc. almost everywhere, with more snow ready to melt, giving the impression that we were getting out just ahead of trouble. In fact, many of those areas have since flooded. It will be interesting to see the conditions in three weeks when we go back to see yet another doctor.

Primary Care

Another month, another trip to Sioux Falls for medical reasons, with two more already scheduled over the next few months. At least my wife’s condition finally seems to have motivated the various doctors to do some proper diagnostics, as opposed to tossing pills at the problem and hoping for the best. My wife also seems to have found a competent general practitioner here that she trusts, which has been some time coming and which I believe is directly related to the sudden activity, but that’s a topic for later.

On second thought…..why later?

For all the expensive specialists and technology that make U.S. medicine distinctive from (if not necessarily better than) most of the rest of the world, basic communication is what gets things moving. Finding a primary doctor who can not only understand a patient but provide a plan of action and if necessary get the right people who can provide answers (or at least some hope of finding answers) involved and motivated is the key to navigating the great medical maze and actually benefiting from that vaunted technology. (It only goes so far, however. My wife was told she couldn’t get in to see one specialist until June. When the other doctors attempted to intervene, they were told to take it or leave it.)

Unfortunately making such a connection tends to be similar to finding romance – largely a matter of happenstance, of stumbling around until you find the right person. Perhaps there’s a market for a medical equivalent of eHarmony, where doctors and patients can fill out questionnaires and search compatibility databases to determine if they should do business together. I can imagine lots of problems making it work, but if it did it could save time, money and aggravation.

Even once established, this relationship has the added complication of being easily broken by one or the other moving on, especially from areas like here; my wife has had a couple of GPs go to greener pastures in the short time I’ve known her. That and the shortage of new doctors going into general practice make the 40-year local doctor, like the 40-year marriage, increasingly rare, which would mean lots of repeat customers for that website. Unfortunately, I think a good number of those customers would be just as frustrated with their options as they are now. I just hope my wife can hang onto this one for a while.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Suck It Up for the Kid

Well, at least my timing is pretty good. I managed to pay an all-too-infrequent visit to Brian, Amy and company at Incertus just in time to to read a post that revs me up.

Here's the story: Jewish woman and Catholic man get married, he converts. They have a kid, and get divorced. Judge gives her primary custody and they agree to raise the child Jewish. Husband decides to renege on the deal later and has her baptized. Wife gets a restraining order. Husband takes the kid to church and gets news cameras to come along, loudly proclaiming that his rights to worship as he chooses have been violated. Ex-wife's lawyers demand he be held in contempt and spend the next six months in jail over this outrage.

Brian covers the various religious angles, so I won't get into that too much. Besides, I tend to agree with the notion expressed elsewhere in the post that this isn't really about religion (although I imagine many people tried to talk them out of it on that basis,and others told them a Jewish/Catholic marriage would be a tough slog), but about taking shots at the ex by whatever means available, of which religion is always prime, and in this case I believe is especially effective against the mother. The idea of the child as a possession (I do what I wish with my kid!) is also apparent here.

It's hard to feel optimistic about this situation. Either the parents are going to have to back off and compromise somehow - and we all know how often that works when religion is injected into a conflict - or this could end with someone doing hard time under tragic circumstances, or with one parent (so far the father is the likely candidate) banished from the child's life.

I do wonder about the "duress" mentioned by the father, but I suspect two types. The duress for conversion was classically romantic/hormonal; the besotted boy agrees to anything to get the girl. This is an oldie but doesn't necessarily corroborate his alleged devotion to his faith. The other is probably the type of pressure inherent in any negotiation, especially under such emotional circumstances. I don't see a court buying either of these. Religious conversions, particularly to Judaism, aren't done casually, and divorce agreements like this one are hammered out painfully and deliberately,with plenty of opportunity for contemplation. Any “duress” was self-inflicted.

On a more general level, it is another reminder that children affect a divorce just as profoundly as they do a marriage. Staying together "for the sake of the children" has long been justifiably derided, but that's effectively what must be done by divorced parents who truly care about their children; they have to get along (in this case for a very long time; the child is 3yo). The divorce ends the marriage contract, but not the parental contract. That has to be handled separately.

Electronic Innoculation

March…..not quite the light at the end of tunnel, but perhaps a reflective signpost glowing from the light. The snowdrifts are showing dirt, and temperatures are approaching normal, at least here. We’ll probably get pasted at least once more, but winter is finally showing signs of retreat.

I recently engaged in a titanic struggle with a nasty Trojan virus my daughter’s laptop picked up somewhere. ( another context the Trojan is the virus protection. English is a funny language.) I haven’t had much experience with them, so this was interesting. It hijacked the Microsoft security center, which began spewing forth all sorts of nonsense and demanding I subscribe to whatever it was to get rid of it. It also made all the desktop icons disappear and pretty much brought all functions to a halt, including the on-board antivirus software.

I consulted the man who originally set the computer up for my daughter, and he recommended I try Trend Micro’s Housecall, which is free and could be run from the internet so it could work around the virus. I knew I was on the right track when the computer kept trying to block access to the website. After considerable clicking, back-paging and re-clicking I was finally able to get the software running. I don’t recall the exact time it took to scan, detect and fix the trouble, but it wasn’t long, and the computer seems to be functioning fine now.

I was so impressed ran it on my old desktop just to see what would happen. It took quite a bit longer, which wasn’t too surprising given the relatively limited processor and memory of the old beast, and didn’t find anything toxic. Overall, I heartily recommend it, at least as part of the arsenal.