Part II, Medicine…

This is my first true rebuttal to President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address. I plan to write in a sort of sequential order based on the topics that appeared in his speech. One of the first things he brought up was entitlements, state funded health care and retirement. Bush gave lots of figures in his proposal giving increased tax benefits and federal funding to cover lower-income homes and those without insurance through work.

I, however, do not believe this is enough. These tax breaks are nice for individuals, but do nothing to help businesses cope with the massive portion of expenses they cover in order to give insurance to their full-time employees. With the drastic increases in the costs of health insurance over the past decade, fewer small businesses can afford to cover their employees, so the burden has shifted to them. But for that to work out, those employees would have to be paid more in order to cover it, and so they go without coverage. Federally increasing the minimum wage will not cure this problem in any way, and has its own set of unfortunate consequences, which I will go into another time.

What, then, to do?

It is time for America to step up to the plate and accept the truth that health care is not a business, it is a societal need. We have the wealth and the capacity to provide medical care to each and every citizen. If business and government alike wish to keep everyone working, they should be completely in favor of not subsidizing the health insurance business and their administrations, and just giving untaxed money much more directly to the use of medicine.

My solution is for the United States to create a basic Universal Health Care service, and completely nationalize our current health care and insurance industry. I greatly applaud Massachusetts for being the forerunner of universal health coverage, and am behind California following suit. Let them be the testing grounds to set the stage for when it can be implemented across the entire nation.

This, I am sure, is overly idyllic. But, as hundreds of years of use now has shown, capitalism has its dehumanizing aspects, and this is one of those aspects. The idea that human health is a matter of profit for a company, rather than given its due consideration and dignity, is unfortunate. Ask almost anyone who is actually in the health care industry, and you’ll find countless scores of women and men devoted to improving the lives of others. The thought of making sure they make a few bucks when someone needs antibiotics for a minor infection does not even enter their minds.

I also think that, what it boils down to, is whether or not we are actually in this societal experiment together. We’re all here now, and we’re all neighbors. When one person is in need, others surely will step in to help. All people everywhere believe in this basic principle in one way or another, because it’s a factor of living as societies.

The biggest lynchpin to the whole scenario involves caring for those who no longer contribute to society, namely the elderly. This is where social security lines up with health care in terms of being in dire need of contributers vastly outnumbering consumers. To this, I say the retirement age absolutely must be increased. People live longer, and are far more able in their later years than they used to be. Also, a great many retired people would probably have wanted to work several more years before being ousted. The original retirement age of 55 was set in place when the average person did not live to that point, and those who lived beyond did not for very long. To this, I say the retirement age should be 75 or 80. This would change the ratio of those working against those drawing pensions a great deal.

There is far more to say, and many more details to work out in these ideas. And it is entirely possible my thoughts are completely flawed and could never work. Either way, I plan to keep pondering it and working out the numbers. Still, my common sense tells me that if we eliminate the business administration end of health care, and eliminate the idea of private insurance at all, medical treatments might just become cheaper.

The Amphitheater…

Okay, so this is just a little plug for myself, but I’m not sure how many of my faithful readers (both of them) are aware I keep a second blog. It’s called The Amphitheater, and it’s meant to be a slightly more serious attempt at thinking and writing. Although I fall short of my own high standards all too often, I think my most recent post, Great Speeches, is almost decent. I’m especially fond of, besides the Churchill speech, the Dr King speech I found.

I wish I wrote more prolifically, but my daily life doesn’t always allow for free time and clear thought, so I write when I can (often at work). I’ve been tempted to combine the two blogs to give the illusion that I write regularly, but I still like to draw a distinction between my personal life and my ‘legitimate’ writing. Besides, it’s not a exactly a long and treacherous bridge to cross between the two.


Great Speeches…

This is intended to be the first in a short series of remarks to President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address. Political speeches tend to arouse a bit of passion in me, both negatively and positively. It has always been something of a dream of mine to be an orator. I would love to write essays and speeches, and deliver them in such a way as rouse and feed off the energy of my audience. To become a speaker who could incite a riot if I so chose, but instead would rally people to be better or to defend themselves and each other.

Winston Churchill has always been an idol of mine. A far-seeing man of great ability as a writer and as a leader of a nation, listening to his speeches still bristles my hair and stokes the fire in my chest. I have a lapel pin of his silhouette, hat on and cigar in mouth. I have only worn it once so far. It is a good luck symbol for when I need to speak publicly. Visions enter into my mind when thinking of speaking like Churchill. I see myself, as I see him, wearing a trench coat, walking through a wind storm, holding a hat to keep it from flying away. Head down, a long swift stride, walking across a street to a house of governance. Moving through the forces against human action, to this venue, to tell the world the terrible things it does not wish to hear. Telling them the worst has yet to come, but still reinforcing everyone’s will to stand firm, because they can and shall emerge from hell. (This is also how I feel when I listen to the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.)

So many speeches also bother me, not because of the speaker, but because of the writing itself. It all too often feels like trite wording, using basic techniques, to pull at emotions. Great moments in time require great thought and great writing to wield them. One cannot use Nickelback when Beethoven is needed. The people cannot suffice on cake when bread is needed. And the world cannot be understood via Hollywood when the word of God is needed.

Here is President Bush’s address to the nation following the September 11th attacks. To me, the whole speech feels too simple-minded and lacking actual feeling and contemplation. “These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.” It almost seems caveman-ish. They hurt us. They bad. We strong. We good. This is not a critique on the speaker, as this is just the transcript, so I am thinking only in terms of the writing.

I’m sure it is a good enough speech for the people whose information comes solely from television and for people who have never once paid attention to a single day in history class. But for those of us who fully grasp the gravity of events but lack the abilities to use words worthy of them, we need those great speakers of the world to give a voice to the common minds of men.

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Woodrow Wilson, War Message before Congress, 2 April 1917:
Even in a request to declare war against Germany, “We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their Government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools.”

Winston Churchill, Speech before Commons (Excerpts), 4 June 1940:
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.” This whole speech is positively amazing, I highly recommend downloading it and listening to it with no other distractions, as one would have been glued to their radio, their only source of information.

Franklin D Roosevelt, Pearl Harbor Address, 8 December 1941:
“But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.”

Dwight D Eisenhower, Farewell Address, 17 January 1961:
“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

It almost seems as though the greatest speakers disappeared with the end of the World Wars. But such is not the case at all. I was even hoping to stake the blame on President Reagan and his ‘folksy’ style of speaking, but he still did not dull the language, and went through what I consider a great gesture and spoke some in the tongue of the land he was in. Still, credit has to be given to the greatest English speaker since the Wars…

Dr Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam, 4 April 1967:
“So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, 12 June 1987:
“Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]”

Mikhail Gorbachev, Speech to the United Nations, 7 December 1988:
“We have arrived at a frontier at which controlled spontaneity leads to a dead end. The world community must learn to shape and direct the process in such a way as to preserve civilization, to make it safe for all and more pleasant for normal life.”

At almost regular intervals in the affairs of mankind, great trials will need to be faced. Brilliant minds and deft wisdom will be needed, and thoughtful words to go with them. I’m sure I don’t have what it takes, but I do believe that I would be up for challenge were it placed before me. Either way, whomever is writing speeches for those currently in seats of power is severely lacking.

“This will be another moment of time where we, representing mankind, will not succumb to fear. We will weep, and we will mourn, and we will save all we can. And through our sorrow and rage, we will remain stalwart and united.

“Our allies, so many of whom were former enemies, stand with us as friends. They will support us and defend us as we have and forever shall do for them. When you attack a brother, you have the family to reckon with. So it is with the blessings of our allies that we invoke Article V of the NATO charter.

“Together, American Citizens and all other free peoples of the world hereby declare: The perpetrators of this attack shall be found and brought before the light of justice in the World’s Court. The reasons behind this desperate act of inhumanity will be revealed. And we shall lift the burden of those horrible manifestations and spare all others from the tragedy which has befallen us.”

-Part of what would have been said had I been a mere seventeen years older in 2001.

Oh the Anticipation…

I’m sure by now, you, my avid readers, have been on pins and needles to find out just what happened at my first Jazz Band rehearsal. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s amazing just how far months of reminders and getting kids pumped and excited for a new thing will do for its success. Even with the drastic change in scheduling, kids were still up for what would be a new experience for them. It’s always nice to see some eyes light up at the prospect of learning more, completely different music. So when three o’clock rolled around on Monday, I had my horn out and a stack of music to sightread and a pair of drumsticks to click a backbeat. I was ready and raring to go.

Well, after all this preparation, four kids showed up. Just four. They were four great kids, but they were only four. So what to do? Go forward as though nothing was different. Two trumpets, a trombone, and a sax make for a nice starting point for a group. These guys were all over it, though were a little daunted by the look of the music itself. However, once they learned how to feel a bit of the groove, how to lay back and blow, it was great. By the end of the rehearsal, I felt very satisfied with their quick progress and with my own work as their teacher.

I have since sent them out to recruit more players, and I have done the same. I think with them having a good first impression and telling their peers about it, this fledgling music program could get on its feet. I do have hope.

Along with the Jazz Band, I have started the Jazz Combos class. Open to all instruments wanting to learn styles and improvisation, it is intended to be a reinforcement of the Jazz Band proper. Many flute and clarinet players expressed intense interest in playing jazz, even after being told the Jazz Band would not be open to non-big band instruments. So what could be assumed is that Jazz Combos would have a larger attendance than that of the big band.

Reality and assumptions rarely line up, do they? I had one kid show up yesterday, the trombone player from Jazz Band. I felt so unmotivated and heartbroken that he and I just sat around talking jazz and hanging out until the early bus could take him home.

I was at a loss, and I still am. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get these kids that say they want to play jazz to actually get up and play it. Jr High Jazz Band was what motivated me to learn saxophone at all. I started playing clarinet in elementary school because I loved Benny Goodman and old style Dixieland jazz. But when I got to Jr High, that’s not how it worked. So I made a very conscious decision to learn tenor sax over the summer and make it in my eighth grade year. I picked it up and learned every single note of the horn and some scales, and sealed my fate as a saxophonist. I wish I knew how to evoke the same motivation for music from these kids.

Now, I know that I was a different case, since I went on to become (nearly) a music major. I still don’t really know what to do with myself in music. I play a little bit with the beginning band kids during my lunch breaks, but it is mostly me exploring the unfamiliar world of brass and helping keep percussionists’ heads in the game (hand an eleven year old boy a pair of drumsticks and see how long he’ll stay still). Nothing I do now is for myself in music, nothing to expand my playing ability, or even to bring it up to where it was at this time last year. I’m languishing in music, as well in general because I don’t play anymore.

I miss dearly playing in my old jazz combo and working with a great teacher. I felt as though I was finally on to something, then I had to leave it, far far from finished. (Alliteration anyone?) I have said numerous times to my wife that I have to truly admit to myself that I am actually a musician. And I have said many times that I wish I had had one more year at Stanislaus to dive deeper into jazz and finish my bachelor of arts in music as well. C’est la vie, though. There really is no time for or point in regrets.

The best thing for me to do, I think, is to find an outlet or two for playing. Get myself into a big band that plays during evenings, find a group of people to jam with and learn from. Anything, really, to get my fingers wiggling and my toe tapping. The world is so much duller without music, and I truly am an incomplete soul without that magic art in my life.


Nerves of Noodles…

I can’t believe how incredibly nervous I am right now. In about an hour, I will be starting the first rehearsal of my school’s jazz band. I’m doing my best to remind myself how raw these kids are and how I still have the feeling of jazz in my gut and feet, even though I’m desperately out of practice. I’m just nervous as hell, and that feeling won’t go away until I’ve done this more, this being the primary teacher for a group of students. I still remember how nervous I was as a young music student and now know how I feel these days that getting up and performing is no big deal.

What makes these nerves a little tougher is that although I love jazz and love trying to play, I always feel as though I’m just trying. Maybe I hold it in too high of regard and myself to too high of standards, but my sense of self worth in this field is somewhat lacking. Okay, greatly lacking. Regularly I find myself wishing I had just one more year back at Stanislaus to learn more jazz and become more fluent in its expression.

Oh well. I’m here, and I’ll be fine. I know it. People have most certainly survived through worse. I’ll probably duck downstairs a little early to prep myself a bit, but I’m somewhat discouraged toward doing so because of a rather tiresome substitute who was the former band director at this school. I pity the kids sitting through his rehearsals right now, because he has a tendency to talk a lot with the few kids that are related to his former students. Those poor kids get so bored, especially the ones coming in there, dying to play.

Wish me luck, it’s one of the few things I believe in this world~

A Great Idea…

I heard a wonderful idea on the radio the other day. It had to do with the disconnection of American civilians from the Iraq war. In the past, wars would touch the lives of all, at least within one degree. In the World Wars, every ounce of energy went into war production. So many men were drafted and rationing meant everyone contributed. During the Vietnam War, the draft kept all men potentially involved and no one was far removed from the conflict. With the current Iraq War, there are so few involved, all are volunteers (technically), and the most the vast majority of us ever feel is a passing feeling when we hear of yet another few soldiers dead. It has cost so many lives and over 400 billion dollars so far since September of 2001, and it will continue on for many more years.

Currently, the very idea of the draft being activated is practically nonsensical. So what, then, to do about this problem? A thought a brilliant solution was presented by a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day. I was in my car and only caught the middle of the interview, which saddens me, because I do prefer to give credit where it is due. So, what should be done to cover the costs and make the citizenry participate in their country’s affairs? The suggestion I loved was this: a two dollar War Gas Tax.

The very mention of such a thing hit me like a ton of bricks! What a swift way to directly touch peoples’ lives with the war, help pay for the war, and get them reevaluating if it’s a war they don’t want. I was more than happy to pay double for a tank of gas, then get pissed off and start sending letters to my congressmen. When people are forced to contribute that much of their livelihood, they then question, does my life hang in the balance? If I do not contribute, will my life end due to enemy invasion? Am I saving my friend’s or countryman’s life by doubling my costs for living? Are we stopping the conquest of half the world by evil, or are we stopping nationalists from freeing their country and brethren?

Within days of hearing this great idea, whenever I would flip past news channels on television, any and all government members, executive and legislative alike, were reiterating the fact that they will not be increasing taxes. Now, this strikes another chord with me: How do we justify not raising taxes when our spending increases every single year? While this is a subject for another entry for sure, it still warrants mentioning.

This concept of government spending has always boggled my mind, as it has anyone I have ever spoken to. If any of us individuals attempted to do what the government does, spending more money than it could possibly earn, we would have been swiftly referred to a “Big, Surly Man with a Bat” collection agency. We cannot continue to subsist without working toward digging ourselves out of debt. We are setting ourselves up for utter economic devastation, and when the US government has to file for bankruptcy, who will they be filing to?

For the record, the President’s spending for the Iraq War hasn’t gone through any standard budget methods. Namely for the reason of avoiding being turned down for the amount of money that his administration wants/needs to spend to perpetuate the war. Since September 11th and the creation of the ‘War on Terror’, funding for this so-called war has not been a part of the standard budget, but been acquired through emergency channels. To continue a war we didn’t (and still don’t) need and stretching our very defenses to the point of being useless to actually fend off an attack, the President is spending our emergency credit.

We have spent money and credit reserved for when something horrendous happens in order to invade a land that had no capability of harming us, or even our allies. (Israel, as it is armed by the United States, has more firepower than the rest of the Middle East combined.) It’s like we’ve used our emergency credit card to rent a car and drive to a Get Rich Quick Scheme seminar. The only people who do that are truly foolish and thoughtless. Of course, that’s a rather obvious truth, one which seems to be a regularly presented recurrence.

I’m sorry, that’s been quite a bit of rambling ranting. I’ve been writing this over many days, whenever I have half a thought. And as usual, several half-thoughts still don’t add up to being a complete one. But, as this is just a venue for such thoughts, they are appropriate. Good luck trying to comprehend, and feel free to chime in as you, my throngs of readers (both of you), wish.