Sunday, July 14, 2019

The best possible today

On a recent walk, as on many recent walks, Popsie—our beloved “toy” poodle mix—would squat a little, and a pool would grow larger and larger until it hit one or more of her feet. I imagined those feet jumping onto our laps, and then tried not to.

Little did I know that I would soon be wishing for her to do that again. Our Popsie’s kidneys are failing, and she only ever leaves a few drops anywhere. She hardly drinks anything, and eats even less, so we will likely soon be saying good-bye.

She has lost her appetite; put differently, she’s gotten a lot pickier. The new diet (for kidney care) is only part of the reason. I wish she would drink more, because that would dilute the things her kidneys are trying to get rid of, and make her feel better. But she doesn’t know that, and we can’t explain that “you won’t like it, but you really have to drink two quarts of water today.”—or in her case I guess it would be “a full cup of water.”

The doctor came over to administer subcutaneous fluids and draw some blood to see how things are going. But then what?

I can see a few different directions this could go. One would be to aim for the Vulcan slogan, Live long and prosper. In this scenario, we’d try to dress up the kidney-health diet, learn how to administer sub-q fluids (as the doctor calls them), and so on. We would likely witness a long, slow decline, and at some point would decide for her to end it. To be fair, in this plan we’d be deciding on her behalf to start it.

Another possibility would be my slacker paraphrase of a hospice-esque priority, viz., to choose the best possible today, regardless how many possible tomorrows (of unknown quality) we might forgo. A motto for this scenario might be, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. (That’s in the Bible by the way.)

A friend told me about his mother-in-law, who moved in with him and his wife in her later years. As it happened, she was nowhere near her last year, but nobody knew that at the time. He told me that they encouraged her to eat “healthy” foods until she got to be 90, but after that, she went the Epicurean route. She went to restaurants and ordered mounds of tasty deep-fried stuff. Of course she couldn’t finish it there, so she brought it home and ate more of that TDFS until it was time to go back and get more! Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! Well, that last part came maybe nine years later. Yep, she only made it to 99.

In case you don’t see my tongue nearly puncturing my cheek, I think they made terrific decisions in that case. I suppose they may wonder from time to time if they should have started in Mom’s 85th year instead…

From Atul Gawande’s masterpiece Being Mortal I learned that for certain kinds of cancer, you live longer and more comfortably by going for palliative care than you by opting for one medical intervention after another. By the way, under the palliative option, you also don’t wipe out your grandchildren’s inheritance.

Lest you think me a reckless Epicurean, a couple of thoughts. In my single years (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I took one of those quizzes you sometimes see in the paper. According to my answers, I was a guy who “lives life to the hilt and seldom takes stock of where he is going,” which my housemates thought was hilarious. Apparently I liked to think of myself that way, but the reality was, as one put it, “I can’t think of anyone less like that than you are.”

I think she was right, actually: we saved for the kids’ college education; we have enough in various accounts that I can retire any time we’re ready; I have life insurance beyond the employer-supplied policy in case something happens to me before we’re ready; etc.

Another thought, which perhaps is a mere continuation of that one, is that I do somewhat believe in taking care of oneself. I read a few months ago that the ability to run a nine-minute mile is associated with better outcomes, and consequently decided to get on the treadmill a few times a week. I got down to a 9:00 mile and have since slacked off to running a mile at 6.4mph. I do this 2–3 times a week, and I’ve gotta say, “epicurean” would not be the word.

If a guy goes to the doctor, and the doc says to lose weight and eat less fast food, and he ignores that advice and dies 15–20 years before he should, I think that’s tragic because the world (and especially his family) is poorer by 15–20 years’ worth of contributions he likely would’ve made.

Popsie is some ninety years old, according to a “poodle years” conversion chart I found today. The Humane Society thought she was somewhere between six and nine when she came home with us in 2009 (yes, about ten years ago) so she’s probably 16–19, a ripe old age. She’s entitled to her version of TDFS, and this morning I made her some fried rice. It had a little (just a little, in case Dr. Lowery reads this) chicken, and some carrots, and some of the juice that was in the leftover container.

For the best possible today.

Toward the end of her life, my own mother said she wanted no more surgeries. No more tests. By this time the doctors knew she had some kind of cancer in her pancreas—which is probably what killed her appetite. So she was done.

When the doctor came by yesterday, I saw Popsie’s distress around needles. She doesn’t want any more needles and in fact doesn’t even want to go to the vet’s office.

But of course it’s not quite that simple. In the middle of writing the above, the doc called and talked about the level of ionized calcium in the blood sample, and appetite stimulants (quite a common treatment for kidney disease in dogs). And I began to think, “Well, if her appetite picks up and she feels better and enjoys walking and can pee a puddle like she used to…” but then I remembered, she’s a 90-year-old lady, and she doesn’t want any more needles.

But if a couple pokes this week means she could enjoy another six months, would it be worth it?

But she’s a 90-year-old lady!


Sunday, July 07, 2019

What is “obstruction of justice” and why is it such a big deal?

IANAL, as I'd often read on electronic bulletin-board systems, but I was curious about the so-called Mueller Report, officially titled Report On The Investigation Into Russion Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election (here's a link to a PDF of the redacted version).

Volume II of the Report “addresses the President’s actions toward the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presedential election and related matters, and his actions towards the Special Counsel’s investigation.” (p. 3, or page 11 of 448 in the PDF). It begins with some terms of reference, or rules of engagement, which I’ll summarize here. In this list, when I write “they” or “their” I refer to the office of the special counsel, i.e., Mueller’s team.

  • First… we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

    A traditional decision means they’d decide to either prosecute or decline to do so. Because the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) said that you can’t indict or criminally prosecute a sitting President, they avoided that traditional decision process.

  • Second…the OLC opinion…recognizes that a criminal investigation during a President’s term is permissible.”

    Also the OLC opinion says a President’s immunity from prosecution doesn’t extend beyond his term. Therefore they “conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.” Does this sound to you like Mueller is anticipating criminal prosecution later?

  • Third,” they avoided “an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.… Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought.”

    If you can’t charge someone, it’s unfair to them to say “we would file charges if we could” because that person has no chance to clear themselves at trial.

  • Fourth, if we had confidence… that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. …[H]owever, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

    They can’t conclude that he committed obstruction of justice because they avoided an approach that could potentially result in such a conclusion. They can’t conclude that he did not commit a crime “[b]ased on the facts and the applicable legal standards.”

I hope you consider whether Barr’s “not a summary” fairly represented the 1st and 3rd points above.

The Report also provides a surprisingly readable introduction to what “obstruction of justice” means. The summary, which begins on page 9 of Volume II (page 221 of 448 if you're reading the redacted PDF), outlines three basic elements

  1. Obstructive act.
    which includes conduct that could obstruct or impede the administration of justice;
  2. Nexus to a pending or contemplated official proceeding.
    meaning a connection to a judicial or grand jury proceeding (1503) or a pending federal agency proceeding or a congressional inquiry or investigation (1505). The proceeding need not be in progress; it can be “contemplated” (1512).

    The obstructive act has to be likely to obstruct justice in the proceeding, inquiry, or investigation in question.

  3. Corrupt intent
    here meaning an intent to obstruct justice knowingly and dishonestly, or with improper motive.
With all that, why would it be a big deal if the President did in fact do things that would likely impede or obstruct the administration of justice in a pending or in-progress or soon-to-start proceeding or investigation, and did so knowingly and dishonestly, or with improper motive?

I’ll leave the answer as an exercise for the reader :-(

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday: A Festival of Disappointment?

Both sermons I heard today featured disappointment, a theme I have perhaps forgotten from Palm Sundays past. Or perhaps I just hadn’t been paying attention. I heartily recommend both sermons, which can be found (starting perhaps tomorrow) at the respective church websites.

At Trinity, Matthew Dutton-Gillett spoke of the crowd’s wholehearted welcome as Jesus entered Jerusalem, and the subsequent wholehearted disappointment and rage when it turned out that his mission was not what they had hoped it was. That is what we humans naturally seem to do; we don’t need to be taught, as my granddaughter showed me the other day. “Grandpa has to go away now!” she declared. She is not quite three years old, but she’s got the disappointment and rage thing down like a pro.

These days I often hear things that make me wonder about the evangelical beliefs I accepted when I was younger—beliefs I thought were traditional, but sometimes turn out not to have been believed by the Church for its first thousand years, or its first 1,800 years. I wonder how much of what I think I know about what the Bible says, or what the Church has believed for millennia, are in fact what I thought. Probably I need to consider these ideas in light of Acts 17:11, which tells us that the Bereans listened to new teaching and examined the Scriptures to see whether these things were so.

For example, I recently heard a podcast discussing hell, about which the Bible does not speak mathematically. When Paul writes that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2), or Peter writes (2 Peter 3) that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance, do they actually mean that? The Lord is the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for him (Jeremiah), right?

I've been taught that this is a tension, like the idea that God didn't create evil but he wants us to have a choice (etc.), but couldn’t it be possible that in the end God will change us and open our eyes (as Paul indeed prays in Ephesians 1:15sqq.) so that all will in fact come to repentance and a knowledge of the truth? And might they come to repentance after leaving this mortal life? (If not, what Scriptures prove that position?)

But I’ve digressed.

An hour or so after Trinity’s service, I watched as Laura Turner took the stage at Menlo Church to introduce the topic of what happens when our vision doesn’t agree with God’s. Laura spoke of hope and disappointment in light of eternity, quoting Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff from his book Lament for a Son. “I believe in God the father… I also believe my son’s life was cut off in its prime,’ and that he cannot reconcile those two beliefs. The eternity part comes from 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

She spoke of the need for trust, though we are often mistaken about God’s intentions, and at that point I wondered, how are we supposed to do that? I mean, what does that look like? What did trust look like for Laura when, after three miscarriages in nine months, she found herself pregnant for the fourth time? Each previous time, she and husband Zack hoped and trusted… in what?

I think I know a part of the answer, but I am not sure I have the authority to write it. You see, I have had almost everything in life a man could reasonably want. So I’m completely unqualified to write anything about disappointment.

That said, I think the answer has to be something along the lines of trusting in the name of Jesus, by which I mean his character and identity, as I wrote about before. As I hear about people’s lives these days, I often think of the place where Paul writes that God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep (i.e., whether we are still in this life or not), we can live together with him (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).

How can I become like that—so that it’s a matter of indifference whether I continue in this life or not, so long as I can be with Jesus? I guess it requires a supernatural transformation. So be it.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

The Power of Love

I heard a fascinating insight on NPR’s This American Life—episode 638, “Rom-Com” [download].

“If you loved me, you’d learn to read” was the feeling; the speaker, a stand-up comedienne, had learned that her boyfriend had dropped out of school in the fifth grade. Somehow he mostly managed to get along without reading skills: he had a job and an apartment,which they shared. She wanted to help him remedy his illiteracy. You might guess that this didn’t go well, and you’d be right.

Her insight was that obstacles—in this case, her boyfriend’s illiteracy—carry the attractive promise that if we can somehow fix them, life will be great and we’ll be able to do all the things we wish we could. It is, of course, an illusion. As Shakespeare didn't write, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our obstacles, but in ourselves.”

Which reminds me of something I heard many years ago: some couples will hire a contractor to build their “dream home” or maybe remodel their present home to remove all its defects. Shortly after construction is complete, divorce usually follows. I don’t recall exactly where I heard this, or whether any explanation was given for these divorces, but I suspect that when their home is in its “ideal” state, there’s no more “if we could just get [this or that] fixed…” and one partner blames the other instead: “If I could just get rid of you…”

This also is doomed to failure. As Merton wrote, “Hence I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time.” (No Man Is an Island 3.1, p.25)

Which brings me to this morning’s sermon at Trinity, where Aaron asked us, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” Having been primed by the reading—1 Corinthians 13, the “Love chapter” (and also by Huey Lewis and the News)—I called out, “The Power of Love!”

I suppose Lewis sings about another kind of love, but the reason the power of love would be my desired superpower is that those other lesser ones—being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—those things can only overcome material and temporal obstacles. But the power of love, the power to be patient and kind, to not be envious, to not keep track of wrongs but to rejoice in goodness—that’s the power needed to overcome my greatest obstacles, by which I mean my selfishness and impatience and hubris and laziness.

Oh, and what did Merton mean by his comment about being miserable almost all the time? Basically that we make decisions for reasons we don’t actually know: “…our acts of free choice are… largely dictated by psychological compulsions, flowing from our inordinate ideas of our own importance. Our choices are too often dictated by our false selves” (Merton, loc. cit.). And that’s why if we just do what we like, the effects are often not to our liking.

So we need a superpower, or at least I do. I need the power of love—love from God. As John says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). I need him to change me, and I need to seek him and cooperate with him as he does his work.

Monday, January 21, 2019

I had a boring college "career"

I took some classes, looked at the "Courses and Degrees" book, and decided on my major: math. That was my bachelor's degree.

Mom, on the other hand, was ahead of her time. Not only did she change majors, she changed colleges. She loved to tell the story:

I was going to be a teacher, so I went TC, but I flunked botany.

Then I went to the business school, and I discovered business ethics, and I said, Oh, I have to major in philosophy. So I had to change to arts and sciences.

I remember meeting with the Dean. He said: education, business, arts and sciences; are you sure you don't want to try Agriculture?

Mom also mentioned a convocation the first day of college. Someone (Provost? President? some other Dean?) told the students, "Most of you are here because you had no idea what to do after high school."

I wonder if she said that because she felt he was talking to her?

And beyond…

Although my major was officially math, I took classes in the EE and Computer Science departments. My college didn't offer a CS undergraduate degree, but I suppose my degree was fairly close to what one might have been in those days.

I then went looking for a job, and found one at HP as a "development engineer," where I did digital design and then software for the next twenty-six years. It was a nice ride, but as I've told more than one person, the advantage and disadvantage I had right out of school was that the way in front of me was obvious: a highway with lots of company. I didn't have to think much about where I was headed (and therefore didn't), and I've been doing (mostly) software professionally now for over four decades.

Many young people today, by contrast, do not have a single obvious path ahead of them, and companies are not like the HP of the 1970s, where one could reasonably expect to finish out one's career. Instead, they have to consider a wide range of possibilities; many of them must forge their own paths, because (as I've heard many times) the jobs available today didn't exist when their parents were looking for work. And the fast-growing jobs a decade hence may not exist today, either. So it's more challenging, and maybe more exciting.

When I look at my resumé, there are just two companies on it. I suppose very few 2018 graduates will have a resumé like that in 2058. And I think, "More's the pity," because there are fields where long-tenured employees can be very important for an organization.

I also think it's sad that the social contract seems to have changed. Back in the 1970s, there were companies that genuinely seemed to care about employees. I don't mean that some managers cared about some subordinates; I mean that the list of corporate values had an item "Our People," as HP did.

Managers at HP had the responsibility to find classes to send thir people to; to suggest assignments to develop their people; and so on. Back in those days, we were citizens who felt responsibility for our communities, our state, our country. Today, we are "taxpayers," whose chief interest seems to be minimizing our tax bills. At least that's how the Congress seems to think.

Well, I've clearly gone on too long, and this post has strayed from a boring college career to a rant about "Why were the old days better than these?" which, as the Bible tells us, is just folly.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mom's last days

Mom had been declining for some time, since before Dad’s passing over three years ago. We found out—after Dad passed I think—that her carotid arteries were severely constricted so there wasn’t enough blood (hence not enough oxygen) getting to her brain, which was consistent with her declining mental function.

During my October visit, we went to Waimanalo Beach. She was able to walk from the car to the sand, and we sat looking at the water for a while. She mentioned that most of her colleagues at the employment service were psychology majors, whereas she had studied philosophy, and expressed her view that whereas psychology was focused on taking things apart, philosophy was more about building up one’s life. I don’t believe I’d ever heard this from her before. That evening at dinner, she said all this to my brother-in-law Neil, too.

Shortly after this visit, she fell on the porch—it was as though her legs just went out from under her. She was unable to get up without help; once up, she went to the ER under protest, where they said there was no stroke and nothing broken, but they put a splint on her left arm.

Several days later, my sister Inga noted bleeding and took her to the ER again, where a scan revealed some suspicious spots on her pancreas, later confirmed as cancer. The doctors gave her six months.

Around this time, Mom pretty much stopped eating altogether. This of course drastically reduced her likely time left on earth. My sister Donna came from the mainland and moved in, sleeping in Mom’s bed, where Mom would whack her in the middle of the night(!) when she wanted help getting to the bathroom. At some point, Inga and her daughter Jana took the night shift on weekends so Donna could (try to) catch up on her sleep.

Carol and I planned another visit—in November. I arrived a day before Carol, and accompanied Mom and Donna on what would be Mom’s last visit to her primary care doctor. The doctor suggested an appointment for a month later, “if you think she’ll still be here,” he said. I remember the date: November 18.

Carol arrived later that day. Her flight was delayed several hours, as a passenger died and they turned the plane around—not a particularly good sign! While on this trip, we installed grab bars in the hallway and the bathroom, to make Mom’s trek to the bathroom a little easier. I emailed our daughters, suggesting that they come and visit soon. The weekend of December 1 would be a better bet than December 8, I said.

Also on this visit, Jana made an appointment with Deborah Glazier, a professional photographer, who came to the house and took some beautiful pictures of Mom with us.

My nephew Keith visited at Thanksgiving and at least twice I think in December. Our daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren visited the weekend of December 1st, and Donna’s sons came too, so my mom got to see all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren in her final month. I also made one last visit, December 2–4. Around this time, Mom started sleeping on a hospital bed, and Inga and Donna both slept in Mom's bed (Inga got family leave).

Monday, December 17, I pinged my sisters after work: is Mom up? She wasn't. I returned home and put the phone on the charger. A few hours later I moved the phone into the bedroom and noted a missed facetime call, but it was late…

I was awakened by the phone’s buzzing about 10:20pm. My nephew Keith was calling on facetime—actually Jana’s face appeared. Mom's breathing was shallow; it had become quite loud and raspy. (I’ve heard the term “death rattle” and wondered if that’s what it was.) “We don’t know if it’s the end, but it's a change,“ Jana said. Inga called the hospice service, and someone there said their mother did this sort of breathing for 4 days. We all told Mom that we loved her, that she was a great mom and grandmother, that we would miss her but we will be OK. Her breathing slowed and quieted. Donna took her blood pressure: 52 over something, supposedly not enough to sustain consciousness, but who knows for sure? We kept telling her those loving things; we thanked her for teaching us about God and being an example of love and service. Her breathing got quieter and slowed.

The nurse arrived from the hospice service. He listened to her heart; apparently it was either inaudible or barely there. After discussing a few more things, he confirmed her heart had stopped. 9:33pm (11:33pm here). There were some tears, but mostly it was peaceful. For her it was a good day to die, but for us a sad day to be bereft. And yet we have the promise of eternal life, and new bodies.

Inga, Donna and I are now orphans. We are sad, but it’s not tragic.

Jana made a marvelous video honoring Mom:
Hey! That couch Mom is lying on about 00:44 in the video—I remember that couch! I haven’t seen it for over half a century.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Remembering Mom

Mom passed away December 17th. Following are the notes for my remembrances at her memorial service January 12th.
One of my earliest memories of Mom was a song that nobody else remembers. Maybe she made it up, but it went something like this (my attempt at the score is at right):
With Donna in the family happy happy home
Happy happy home!
Happy happy home!
With Donna in the family happy happy home
Happy happy home!
Each verse would have some other family member. We must have been very young.

Mom would be embarrased to hear me say this, but she was brilliant. She skipped two grades in elementary school. She’s the only one in our family I know of who got a Fulbright fellowship—she studied in England. When she worked part-time as an employment counselor, she successfully placed more job seekers per month than any of her full-time colleagues. But what makes me proudest to be her son was her amazing love and generosity of spirit.

At work, when some of the first trans-gender clients were seeking employment and nobody knew how to help them, our mom said, “Give me training and I’ll take some of them.&lrsquo; They referred all the transgender clients to her. What about the training? This was the 1970s; there was no training! She listened compassionately and intelligently, and learned how to advocate for them. Have I mentioned that Mom placed more clients per month than any of her full-time colleagues, even though she handled the cases everybody else thought would be too hard?

Not only did she love and care her own kids, she cared for some of our cousins, and for some of her grandkids too. When I was in high school, Mom led a group of youth at this church. She took a leave of absence, then early retirement, to take care of her mom, our Halmoni. A few years later, Mom’s sister-in-law moved in and Mom took care of her, too. She prepared and delivered sermons at the Korean care home down the street from here. She visited shut-ins; she told me about one elderly lady who needed help taking a bath but didn’t have anyone. As Mom told me later, “Why shouldn’t I help her take a bath?” as she helped her mom and sister-in-law. And she did.

She took care of these people; was she a good patient too? Not so much.

Mom lived the gospel by loving and giving. I think she did a great job, and that by now she’s heard the commendation from the Lord that we all long for: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”