Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Taking care of family

It's one topic we can agree on — we should take care of our family. The sticking point is often, who does the work. If your parents are still together as a couple, the healthier parent takes on those care giving responsibilities.

With only one parent left, a child will step up and take on those responsibilities. If you are an only child, it's easier and more complicated at the same time. You have all the responsibilities. The whole process is a lot more complicated than the bumper stickers that advise: "Be nice to your kids. They'll choose your nursing home."

I was reading an article in Time titled "Who Takes Care of Mom?" by Francine Russo. The author shares her experience as being the "bad" sister, who lived far away as her mom's health failed. "She never asked me to do anything, and I didn't volunteer." That sums up what many experience when siblings become caregivers.

I experienced that myself last fall when my mother had surgery. Although I knew there was little I could do while she was hospitalized, I coordinated my visit so I was there before and immediately after the surgery. There was nothing I could really do and as my mom put it during a recent visit to my home, "I don't remember seeing you in August."

I wasn't there when my sister and brother and their families tried to help Mom and help Dad help Mom during those weeks post-surgery. I called. I asked questions. I contributed little to the recover process.

The good news is that my family knew this going into the process. My sister and I talked about this prior to Mom's surgery. We all knew my visit during the surgery would be during the easy phase of the recovery — doctors and nurses did the bulk of the work here. It was when Mom returned home with special medical equipment, home health visits, etc. that the real work began.

It's important for families — especially siblings to talk about these issues before the relationship gets strained. Caregiving is a stressful experience and there will be blowups, frustrations and hard feelings. I don't see a way to avoid it altogether, but there are a few ways to ease the tension.

Families should talk about how they plan to proceed when a parent needs assistance. Is there money for in-home care? Will someone move in? Will a parent move in with a child? Will your parents needs to live in a nursing home or other-type of assisted care facility?

It's a good idea to discuss medical directives, guardians and wills at this time, too.

It's an uncomfortable subject, but it's one that is well worth it. Discuss what your parents want and don't want. Discuss what each of the adult children in the family can do. Then, you can hopefully develop a plan that makes everyone feel good and not like a "bad" sibling.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Officials need to research before action

A deceased children's author may not appear in a third grade social studies reading list in Texas. Apparently, the Texas State Board of Education took steps to eliminate books written by Bill Martin Jr. from the curriculum. Why?

A board member thought Martin wrote a book that contains "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system." Articles about the action were published all over Texas. The story made me ask, "Say what?" as the facts unfolded in black and white (I read the article initially the old fashioned way — in the local newspaper.)

The board members apparently got the deceased children's author of the Brown Bear series and a children's book on how to say the Pledge of Allegiance confused with a philosophy professor's book Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

In the news articles, there is a bit of back-and-forth among board members on the issue. One said she received "research" from another member about Martin. The original sender claims she did not research the issue. I think everyone can agree that no one really researched the issue.

The board members contend their intent is to pare down the list of books eligible for state curriculum standards. While it's a tough task, board members need to take their work more seriously and really research the books to be on the list.

I have a crazy idea. Board members could talk to the educators who recommended the books for the curriculum and choose books based on the merits of the selected selected. The board probably has good intentions, but it isn't showing so far. Hopefully, they will do more research before the final vote in May.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tabloids, budgets and infidelity — Oh my!

I know there are plenty of important things going on in the world today. This morning, I watched a video about the orphans in Haiti and the difficulties of treating their injuries. There are dozens of stories on the proposed changes to the banking industry. And, what about that Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance? Boy, who saw that one coming.

After reading all of that, I'm still thinking about one story that doesn't mean that much in the grand scheme of my life. It's former Sen. John Edwards' admission that he fathered a daughter with his mistress.

I've read Elizabeth Edwards memoir Resilience. I understand from her and from my own head — her marriage is none of my business — but I still read the stories. Edwards' announcement was expected a long time ago.

The National Enquirer initially broke the story. The tabloid is reportedly submitting its coverage of the Edwards affair for a Pulitzer Prize. It's an award that brings to mind war, financial meltdowns and tragedies such as the Haiti earthquake coverage — not a politician's inability to commit to his marriage vows.

I can't say whether the tabloid deserves the prize or not — that's up to the committee. The tabloid does deserves a pat on the back, because it broke a story that no one else touched. No major news organization print or broadcast reported this story until it seemed Edwards was willing to confess it.

I wonder whether the mainstream media outlets had the resources to check out the story. I've experienced this at a community newspaper level. Someone calls with a juicy tidbit that is the seed of a valid news story that impacts your community. The problem: you have four city council meetings to cover and only two writers. Do you drop the bread and butter or go for the tip?

Major news outlets said they checked out the reports of infidelity, but never confirmed it. The 2008 campaign had plenty of important stories that didn't involve Edwards' sex life. Tabloids had an advantage, because they often practice checkbook journalism where they pay sources for information. People are often willing to share a story when they get a six-figure check. With no confirmation, the whispers of the infidelity slipped through major news outlets' radar as the tabloid kept pursuing it.

The Tiger Woods sex scandal is similar. The same tabloid broke a story about infidelity, but major news outlets didn't report it for days after his car crash. I wondered at the time if he was getting a pass like Edwards. But, a real news organization needs to track a story down. Eventually, the whole big ball o' mess was aired on mainstream news outlets.

The two stories are similar because 1) a tabloid broke the story — not mainstream media outlets and 2) each man portrayed an image that didn't match their personal behavior.

These guys are not alone. There are plenty of men and women who do this all the time — act one way in public and another way in private. Regular Joes just don't rise to the level of a tabloid story.

Stories of the private lives of politicians and celebrities are very trivial when you look at bigger stories such as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Haiti earthquake, the economy, health care reform and all the political craziness in Washington. But, these stories make me wonder: How many stories aren't being covered by the mainstream media? How many reporters (or Congressmen) have had time to read the full health care reform bills? How many reporter positions have been cut at newspapers and broadcast outlets all across the country?

How has our readership/viewership demands shaped how media organizations allot their budgets? If we click first on the Heidi Montag plastic surgery story or the latest on the Conan-Leno battle for late night, what incentive do we give the accountants at media outlets to increase the newsroom budget? I'm guessing very little.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We still need to fix the health care system

With the election last night of Scott Brown in Massachusetts , a lot of people think health care reform is dead. Many people hate the reform on the table so much, they were downright giddy.

Brown's election may very well be the death of health care reform, but it's death doesn't resolve the problems we have in the system.

This new change doesn't help that there are a lot of people using our medical system, who have no way to pay for it. The change doesn't help the people, who need medications but can't afford them. The change doesn't help create a more cost-effective way of delivering health care to those in need.

I hope once all the happy dancing and finger pointing is over both constituents and elected officials in Washington will take another look at reform.

Just yesterday I was sitting in a program on pregnancy. The nurse conducting the class mentioned that a simple tape measure was once used to determine the baby's growth throughout a pregnancy.

Today, doctors rely on ultrasounds to track a baby's development. Most insurance and government programs pay for ultrasounds, so most patients aren't directly footing the increased medical bill.

Are they really necessary? The nurse presenting the program didn't seem to think so. One can debate the medical and cost merits of each method. Mothers-to-be might have some strong input on the issue. Ultrasounds give them an opportunity to see their growing baby on a regular basis. A tape measure couldn't compare on an emotional level, but it would save money.

This is just one random idea of how health care expenses could be turned into savings. I hope the momentum for change whether it began in the 2008 election or began in Massachusetts in 2010 will move in a positive direction for health care reform. We still need to fix our health care system.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will I use any of the banned words? Maybe

"Wash your mouth out with soap!" It's a phrase we heard as children from our real parents and those perfect TV sitcom parents. It was typically a threat for saying something inappropriate like a four-letter word (you now a curse word).

Things sure have changed this century. In general, four-letter words are more common. I'm not sure they are more accepted, but they sure do surface a lot more on TV.

I may get embarrassed watching primetime programs, but it usually has to deal with the sexual content or context — not the words being said by fictional characters or by reality TV cast members.

With 2009 still not far in our rear view mirrors, there are several lists still making headlines for 2010. Time magazine reported on a list of banned words for 2010. It's not dirty words. It's a list of over-used words. The list came from Lake Superior State University folks, who have been releasing a list of words banished from the Queen's English for mis-use, over-use and general uselessness for 35 years.

While the list might not wield any power in 2010, it's interesting to take a look at the list. I don't think I'll be using No. 14: Chillaxin'. I never knew about this word before reading the list. Other words like transparency will most likely be used whether it's talking about health care reform or full-body scans at the airport.

The complete 2010 list:

1. Shovel-ready
2. Transparent/Transparency
3. Czar
4. Tweet
5. App
7. Friend as a verb
8. Teachable Moment
9. In These Economic Times ...
10. Stimulus
11. Toxic Assets
12. Too Big to Fail
15. Obama as a prefix

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jurors can take a break from social media, Internet

I am one of those people. When I received a jury questionnaire several months ago, I couldn't fill it out and return it fast enough. The jury summons appeared weeks later and I was excited. Why? Again, I am one of those people.

I served once on a county jury in a Georgia town. I was shocked then to be selected for service, especially since I worked for the county's only newspaper. It didn't matter. The county attorney was also selected for the same jury. I imagine there are a lot of factors attorneys and prosecutors go through during jury selection. I may not have been the best choice, but I'm guessing I was a better than someone else choice.

I suspect I was chosen for the federal jury last November, because I had a low juror number and a third of the people who showed up for jury selection knew the defendants. By noon, I lifted my hand to take the oath with 13 other folks.

I took the judge's instruction to not look up information about the case or talk to people about it very seriously. While at home, I checked my e-mail via my iPhone and didn't turn my computer on for the three days I served as a juror. I didn't watch the local news in case the court case was on some TV station's radar. It wasn't, but just to be safe no news for me.

I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary until I read this Time article about jurors. Apparently, some folks can't stand to be away from Google, etc. I figured it was best to stay away from all the technology for a few days. Besides, I was exhausted after each day at court. Sure, we reported at 9:30 a.m., but we didn't leave until after 8 p.m.

Who had time to input any more data anyway? We were given all this information and we had no outlet for it -- we were not allowed to talk among ourselves and we certainly were not allowed to speak to other people about it.

It's interesting to see how jurors are influenced by technology today. Information and data needs to be presented in a way, so it captures the minds and attention of the jurors. In the federal courtroom where I served, they had an electronic "white board" that enabled prosecutors and defendant attorney's to show evidence, highlight it and enlarge the image to make a point.

TV shows like CSI often have a negative impact on the court system. Hollywood reality and crime scene investigation reality are two different things. On TV, they have the best technology and can solve a case every time thanks to clever writers. In reality, state crime lab budgets have been slashed and the scientists don't always confirm data 100 percent. Test results aren't ready in hours like they are on TV. State crime labs often have a backlog of cases and can't pass along information to detectives for weeks and sometimes months.

Jury duty is important. It's not convenient, but it's not totally unreasonable either. If your can't serve, you just have to ask for an excuse.

Jury duty isn't comfortable, because you are deciding something very serious -- guilty or not guilty. I look at jury service as if the defendants themselves had selected me. They asked for a trial by jury and I was asked (summoned) to help make that happen. They may not like the verdict I helped deliver, but the system allows them to appeal that.

At the end of the trial, I did what the courts and the defendants asked me to do. I did it all with just the evidence and information the court provided. I didn't use the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google or anything else.