Remember The Reason

 

 

This morning I bought a poppy — an artificial one, to be sure, but the sentiment was there nevertheless — from a vet wearing a VFW cap standing at the corner of Broad and Third.  The red poppies remind us that Memorial Day isn’t just about a three-day weekend and cookouts, it’s about a lot more.

This weekend, take a moment to remember, then thank a vet.

From Ex to X

In a few weeks filming will begin on six new episodes of The X-Files.  The mini-series of new adventures of Mulder and Scully will be broadcast on Fox starting next January.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.  Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket.  TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows.   They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch.  Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.

The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle.  The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families.  The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.

But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too.  Where did the plot line leave off?  I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now?  Is The Lone Gunman still around?  What about Skinner?  I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago.  I need a refresher course.

I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?

Ordinary Forgetfulness, Or Alzheimer’s?

The Neal side of our family, unfortunately, has a history of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that has been growing lately.  Mom and Grandma Neal had dementia, Uncle Gilbert had Alzheimer’s, and my great-aunt, who another relative described as “crazy as a bedbug” when I was a kid, had mental problems so debilitating that she was put into a care facility at about the time she reached retirement age.

When you’ve got such a history in the family, and seen what these terrible degenerative brain diseases can do to bright, kind, loving people, you can’t help but wonder if there is a gene lurking somewhere in your DNA mix that will ultimately turn you down that same dark street.  And, you also pause at every instance of forgetfulness and ask yourself whether it is a sign that the dreaded downhill slide has begun.

It’s important to remember that an infallible memory is not part of the normal human condition.  With the richness of daily experience flooding our brains with new memories during every waking moment, it’s entirely normal to not remember every incident or person from the past with perfect clarity.  And the memory failure that most frequently causes people to question whether they’re losing it — the mental block that leaves you temporarily unable to recall a name, or a word — is commonplace in healthy, average humans.  Other normal issues include the tendency to forget facts or events over time, absent-mindedness, and having a memory influenced by bias, experiences or mood.

Fortunately, too, there are tests that can be taken that can help doctors distinguish between these ordinary conditions and the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.  The tests range from simple screening tests of cognitive functioning that can be given by a family doctor as part of an annual exam and completed in a few minutes to intense and extensive neuropsychological examinations that involve multiple days of evaluation.

The existence of such tests raises an interesting question.  Aging Americans are routinely poked, prodded, and scanned for heart disease, cancers and other bodily ailments.  Even though, for many of us, the prospect of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is as dreaded as any finding of a debilitating physical disease, there seems to be less of a focus on early detection and treatment of degenerative mental diseases.  With recent studies showing that significant percentages of older Americans are afflicted with dementia, shouldn’t that approach change?  Why shouldn’t a short cognitive screening test be as much a part of the annual physical as the rubber-gloved prostate probe?

Aged Dating

Recently we were out for dinner with the Bahamians at one of the better local restaurants.  As we enjoyed our meal, a 60ish woman who knew our friends from years before stopped by our table to say hello to them.

The woman was wearing a skin-tight black mini-dress that ended about six inches above her kneecaps, with an exposed shoulder and stiletto heels.  It was the kind of skimpy, clingy outfit that demanded a supermodel’s figure, and this woman didn’t have one.  It obviously wasn’t a comfortable ensemble for her, either.  Throughout our brief interaction at the table, she was tugging the dress up toward her exposed shoulder, and tugging it down at her hem, trying to limit the overexposure of her permatanned flesh.

So why was this middle-aged woman wearing an ill-fitting garment that looked like it was hard for her to take a breath?  She explained that she had gotten divorced and was out on a date with a new guy, and made some rueful observation about how the dating world was tough for people our age.  Then her date appeared at the doorway and she went teetering unsteadily away, adjusting her dress, again, and touching up her bleached blonde hairdo.

It was an awkward moment.  Kish and I didn’t know the woman, but we immediately felt both sorry for her and . . . confused.  Sorry for her, because she looked ridiculous and miserable, and confused, because she apparently recognized that fact and elected to wear an outfit that wasn’t close to being age-appropriate, anyway.  Evidently she was  desperate for male attention, but did she really think that wearing something that left nothing to the imagination was the way to achieve that goal?  Her outfit seemed to say a lot about her confidence in her personality and other attributes and about her sense of what middle-aged men are looking for on a date — neither of which was positive.

It was a depressing encounter on a lot of levels.  It made me appreciate, once again and for countless reasons, how very lucky I am to be happily married.

Death To The Boston Bomber?

On Friday a jury concluded that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty for his involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Last month, the same jury found Tsarnaev guilty of planting bombs that killed three people and maimed and injured hundreds more, as well as the killing of an MIT police officer.  The jury then heard evidence about the appropriate punishment for his crimes and deliberated for three days before unanimously concluding that death is the appropriate sentence of Tsarnaev’s placement of a bomb that killed an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, and Lingzi Lu, a graduate student from China.  By all accounts, the jury took its job seriously and soberly and carefully considered Tsarnaev’s childhood and cultural background, as well as evidence that his older brother was the mastermind of the bombings, before deciding that the death penalty was appropriate.

Tsarnaev’s crimes were terrible and unforgivable.  They were terrorism in the truest sense of the word, because they were not targeted at any specific person.  Their only purpose was to kill and hurt people indiscriminately, harm the reputation of a venerable American institution, and cause the general populace to worry that they might be risking their lives whenever they attend or participate in a mass sporting event or rally.  There is simply no justification for the commission of such crimes.  Whatever his upbringing, anyone who can rationalize placing a bomb in a crowd and killing wholly innocent people is a bad man who deserves to be punished.

Nevertheless, I’m opposed to the death penalty for Tsarnaev, as I am in other cases.  I don’t think we need to show terrorists overseas how tough we are, and in any case I doubt that they pay much attention to the workings of the American justice system.  I also don’t think killing Tsarnaev is going to dissuade others from committing acts of domestic terrorism, just as the execution of Timothy McVey for the Oklahoma City bombing didn’t stop the Tsarnaev brothers from proceeding with their crimes.  A death sentence simply ensures that we will spend huge amounts of time and money on appeals and will be reminded of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his awful crimes every once in a while, when his case is reargued and reargued again in court.

I’d rather we just throw this evil man into prison and leave him to rot, alone and forgotten, for the rest of his miserable and misbegotten life.

JFK’s Last Speech

 I’m in Fort Worth, Texas for meetings and spent last night at the Fort Worth Hilton because it’s close to the meeting location.  When I learned the hotel also is the site of John F. Kennedy’s last speech, it gave me a chill.

JFK spoke here on the morning of November 22, 1963,  at a breakfast meeting of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.  For a man who was a forceful orator and turned many a memorable phrase, the speech is a thoroughly unremarkable effort, with a standard joke about Jackie Kennedy’s celebrity status, recognition of the politicians and dignitaries who were present, and then a discussion of Fort Worth’s contribution to the continuing need to maintain a strong defense against the Communist threat.  The speech, of course, gave no hint that the history of the country and the world would shift forever a few hours later due to an assassin’s bullet.

There is a little plaza next to the hotel that commemorates the occasion with a statue of JFK, some photos, and some quotes from his speeches.  One of them is:  “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”. With the red brick hotel looming in the background, it’s a sobering place.

Breaking Badathon

Kish and I admittedly have been derelict in our hot TV show watching.  We have never watched Mad Men, or Dexter, or the vast majority of the other shows that have dominated the national conversation and shifted the zeitgeist over the past decade or so.

That includes Breaking Bad.  And our out-of-itness meant that, for years, when one of our friends would ask what we thought of the latest episode, we could only shrug and say we don’t watch the show — a response that was typically greeted with a puzzled look and then a heartfelt “You’ve got to watch it!”  But somehow, with everything else on our plates, we just never got around to it . . . until now.

We’ve decided to do a crash course in cultural catch-up.  With AT&T U-Verse as the platform, we’ve subscribed to Netflix, installed Roku, and started our studies.  Breaking Bad is the first class on the schedule, and each night after I return home from work we’ve become immersed in the weird world of Walter White and his pal Jesse and his crooked lawyer and watched mini-marathons of episodes.  We’re now nearing the end of season 3, and things just seem to be getting worse, big picture, for the ever-rationalizing OCD cancer-battling chemistry teacher turned bad-ass meth cook.

Some people argue that Breaking Bad is the best show that has ever been broadcast on TV.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, I would say it is a superior show, although I’m not sure that it is quite at the level of The Sopranos or The Wire.  Still, it’s got all of the elements of a great show — fascinating characters that you care about, great acting, evil, unexpected violence, stone-cold criminals, difficult moral choices, and little touches that just make the show a bit more interesting, like a character who always wears purple.

But here’s my problem:  I simply can’t watch too much non-sports TV programming without dozing off.  I don’t care how good a show is, and whether Hank is in mortal peril — there’s something about sitting on a couch and watching hours of TV that makes me nod off.  Three episodes is about my limit, and that’s OK by me.  I prefer to parcel out and savor the episodes of a great show, rather than watching them all in one big gush.