Monday, September 22, 2003

Medical Dilemma

When I answer the phones during my show, I'm never 100% positive what will happen. I have a producer who screens the callers to make sure they want to comment on the topic I'm discussing, but the only info I want her to give me is the caller's name and a couple of other basic pieces of information. Apart from that, we fly without a net, and it almost always works smoothly.

There have been occasions, however, when the content of the call is so compelling that it has knocked me back in my seat. These are always the most personal stories, and often the most heartbreaking.

I had one of those today.

It started with a moral dilemma based on a story I'd seen in the New York Times about a man in Toronto who needs a kidney transplant. If he waits on the regular list, it could take a long time. But if a family member is a healthy match and willing donor, they can donate directly to him. So, his adult children get tested and, in the process, the doctors discover that one of his daughters is a perfect match to be a donor -- but a genetics test shows that she's not biologically his daughter. The dilemma: should they reveal this family secret? If so, do they tell her? Do they tell him? Do they do the transplant first? Think about the privacy laws, the impact on the family, etc.

I come down on the side of telling her, because if it's me, I'd want to know. Besides, even if he's not genetically linked to her, he's still her father. Anyone can make a baby, but it takes a helluva lot more to be a daddy.

Listeners called with every opinion you can imagine. Tell them, don't tell them, tell her but not him, tell him but not her, tell the mother and let her deal with it.

In the midst of this discussion, there was a call from a woman who said she could relate to the story because she had gone through something very similar. Her daughter had became extremely ill at age 24 and needed a bone marrow transplant. What the mother knew, but the daughter didn't, was that the woman's husband had not fathered this child. The baby had been conceived during an affair with another man, who she never told about this offspring because he was married and had five kids of his own. They hadn't spoken or had any contact in all those years. The mother had never uttered a word of this secret to her daughter, either. What to do?

For this mother, there was only one possibility when her daughter got sick. She went to the biological father (in person), told him the truth, and asked him to be tested as a possible bone marrow donor. She also asked that his children be tested. Remarkably, they all did. In the face of this amazing revelation out of the past, everyone stepped up to the plate for the 24-year-old, putting aside their own life puzzles to try to solve hers.

Fortunately, it turned out that one of the kids was a match, and doctors performed the transplant. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to save the daughter.

What would you have done?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Rated "B" For Beer

On my show today, I was talking about raising the tax on beer and other alcohol in order to discourage underage drinking. It's an idea suggested in a recent report by the Institute Of Medicine and the National Research Council (done with your taxpayer dollars, by the way, as it was commissioned by Congress).

As one who is of age but chooses not to drink, this proposal wouldn't affect me, but it does anger me. I hate sin taxes like this -- booze, cigarettes, etc. -- designed to change behavior by making people cough up more dough to the government.

If higher prices were an effective deterrent, no one would be driving an SUV today. They'd all be cruising around town in a Geo Metro. Remember, this is a nation that doesn't bat an eye at paying four bucks for a cup of coffee if it says Starbucks on it. If making beer more expensive would cut down on its consumption, you'd have to close every concession stand at every stadium and arena in the US, where a brew costs about $6 a cup.

There's a lot to say about this ridiculous concept, but here's a point I didn't get to on the air. In the report, one of the recommendations reads, "The Motion Picture Association of America...should consider content about alcohol use when rating films, and assign mature ratings for movies that portray drinking in a favorable light." In other words, if people enjoy alcohol on screen, the movie should be rated R.

Forget, for a moment, about how this would apply to current and recent movies. Let's consider one cinematic classic by the name of "Casablanca." Most of the movie takes place in Rick's Cafe Americain, where people are drinking and having a good time. Sure, Bogart cries in his whiskey when Ingrid Bergman reappears, but that's a broken heart, not an irritated liver. And when Bogie and Bergman are falling in love in the Paris flashbacks, they're draining bottle after bottle of champagne with smiles on their faces. You'd have to say that portrays drinking in a favorable light.

But what idiot would suggest that "Casablanca" be rated R, restricting anyone under 17 from enjoying it? Or would there be an exception for classics? I'd never argue that "Old School" fits that category, but let's not start this snowball down the hill.

Once you start rating for drinking, you have to do it for smoking. Next, you're rating for eating unhealthy meals and snacks. Then, for not enough exercise. Soon, we're adding a sin tax to movies that might be hazardous to your health.

Is this any way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "Animal House"?

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Nine Eleven Plus Two

Remembering the past while getting on with our lives. That's what today was about.

This morning, my daughter saw me smiling at her and said, "Daddy, you shouldn't be smiling today! This is September 11th!" I had to remind her that, while it was the anniversary of a horrible event we should never forget, we can't let ourselves be so maudlin that we can't enjoy the tremendous number of good things we still have. For instance, those frozen cinnamon toast waffles she enjoys for breakfast, hot from the toaster oven! I'm proud that, at nine years old, she understands the significance of this date (and hopefully always will), but she shouldn't let it overwhelm all the positive aspects of our daily American life.

There are adults who take today far more seriously than need be. The major airlines canceled over 3,000 flights today because so many people refused to fly on September 11th. Whatever their reason, their fear is misguided. If there's one thing we can predict about Al Qaeda, it's their unpredictability. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the 9/11/01 attacks, and other dastardly deeds were not done on dates with any significance. They may be thugs, but give them credit for understanding that you don't confront an enemy when it is most prepared, you attack when their guard is down. They're smart enough to know not to come after us on a major holiday or anniversary, or at a huge event like the Super Bowl. I remember being at work on the day of 9/11/01 when someone asked, "Is today an important date in history?" We checked every source we could and discovered the day was nothing more than a Tuesday. The only irony was that the date matched our national emergency number, 911.

On the website of the magazine Reason, Matt Welch has a good piece today, entitled "The Day Nothing Changed." He points out how, two years after the attacks, America isn't really very different than it was in August, 2001. He's right. Parents still take their kids to soccer games, we entertain ourselves with movies, TV, radio, and the internet, roads remain clogged at rush hour, business (for the most part) continues to be conducted. We know in the back of our minds we may be hit again at some point, but we don't worry about it so much that we can't live our lives the way we always have. Most importantly, we know that the vital concept at the heart of America -- freedom -- shows very few signs of any dents or dings, even with the dreaded Patriot Act.

I wonder if any members of Al Qaeda have considered this notion in the last two years. I'd like to think at least one of them has said to himself, "We hit America as hard as we could, and they're still there, still free, still drinking beer, still telling jokes, still cutting their lawns, still eating cheeseburgers, still going about their personal matters. Meanwhile, we sit in this stinking cave waiting for Osama to finish his dialysis treatment and help us roast a goat. I'd never say this out loud, for fear of being tortured, killed, and then tortured some more, but maybe the Land Of The Great Satan has the right idea! Excuse me, Allah, but you can keep your 72 virgins on ice for awhile. I want the American Dream, complete with 3,000 minutes of free night and weekend calling with no roaming charges!"

One last item, semi-related to this day and its connection to terrorism. Our stab-you-in-the-back "Partners In Peace," the Saudis, have declared that Barbie dolls must be banned in their kingdom. The order came from their religious police, officially known as The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which sounds like its members include Jerry Falwell and Dr. Zaius from the original "Planet Of The Apes."

Their reasons are twofold. The first is that Barbie is a threat to morality. The second reason is seemingly the worst offense possible in that part of the world -- they claim Barbie is Jewish.

Barbie a Jewess? HA! Let me tell you something, my peace partners, by paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen. I know many Jewish women. My wife is a Jewish woman. And Barbie is no Jewish woman!!

If there's any doll in the world that screams "Gentile!" it would be Barbie. She's the least Jewish woman since Blythe Danner played Jonathan Silverman's mother in "Brighton Beach Memoirs." Next they'll ban GI Joe because he's one of the Fab Five on "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy."

Friday, September 05, 2003

Jessica Lynch, Million Dollar Baby

Jessica Lynch gets a million dollar book deal for her story. She couldn't make the deal while she was still in the Army, so they gave her a medical discharge a few days ago, and her book contract was announced the next day. Is this the same story she couldn't remember after it happened? Come to think of it, I don't remember anything about the ambush and rescue, either -- can I have my million now?

Meanwhile, Randy Kiehl, father of another member of the 507th Maintenance Company, Army Specialist James Kiehl, calls Jessica a "profiteer" who "makes money off the death of my son and off the deaths of so many others."

I disagree. Her story was going to be told whether she told it or not. In fact, NBC is going ahead with an unauthorized TV movie about her. She has every right to tell her story -- whatever it is -- and if she can get that huge advance, that's between her and the publisher. She's far from the first soldier to try to turn a war story into a bestseller.

But the oft-repeated notion that Jessica Lynch is a "hero" sickens me. We overuse that word far too much, just as we do "genius." Tupac Shakur wasn't a genius, and Jessica Lynch wasn't a hero. Worse, most of the oh-so-dramatic original "facts" of the Lynch story that were so overhyped in the media turned out to have never happened -- to her at least.

The real hero of the An Nasiriyah ambush was an Army sergeant named Donald Walters. But, unless you're a regular listener of my show, you haven't heard his name pumped up in the media because he's not a cute, All-American southern girl who got caught up in the hell that is war. No, Donald Walters was just a brave American man who really did empty his gun at the enemy to defend his combat colleagues during the ambush, and ended up getting left behind in the desert to die.

Maybe we're still too queasy about women in combat. If so, we need to get over it.

I've also never understood why we give extra honors to soldiers who are injured in combat. The Purple Heart is considered something special. There's a POW medal, too. Should they be considered more valuable than the normal commendation medals, the ones given to members of the military who come home safe and in one piece. Is there a ribbon that says, "Congratulations, you went to war and didn't get hurt"?

They even gave Jessica Lynch a Bronze Star! That's supposed to be awarded for acts of heroism or to a soldier who "distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service." What did Lynch do to deserve that?

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not denigrating anyone who wears the uniform and serves well where and when they're told to serve. I don't want to do it, and I'm awfully glad we have tens of thousands of Americans who do. I thank all of them for their service. However, we need to cut back on the hero worship when it's misplaced -- as it is in the Jessica Lynch case, to the tune of a million bucks.

Think they'll work that argument into the book or movie? You'll have to let me know, since I won't read it or see it.