Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Heart Owie

Recently I was admitted to the hospital for an angiogram. This came as a surprise to me in many ways. I have always been involved in sports and athletic endeavors, exercising routinely, not to mention thirty-three years in the military.

So why was I now being operated on for possible heart problems? Simple. Over the last year or so, I’d been feeling increasingly tired for no apparent reason. I even have annual physicals. Even after resting at times, I would still feel tired. It was becoming more difficult to exert myself in the simplest of exercises. I would find myself out of breath, with accompanying chest discomfort.

Because these symptoms were infrequent, I chalked it up to not being in better shape like I was when I was younger. After all, I am 59. It’s tough keeping up with the twenty year olds. I travel quite a bit as part of my military obligation in the naval reserves. This means I’m always in airports. Unless I am pressed for time, I do not use the moving sidewalks or escalators in the airports. I walk from terminal to terminal and gate to gate. I run up the stairs, often skipping steps to achieve a greater aerobic exercise. Add to this my backpack which contains my laptop computer and several books.

I love to play golf, always looking for an opportunity to escape to the links for a round with a friend or two. Often we use golf carts when we play, but I always prefer to walk. So when I went out for a round after work in mid-December I found myself experiencing that chest discomfort again with shortness of breath. As I was walking down the fairway toward my ball, I felt absolutely exhausted! This had never happened to me before. So I picked up my ball and headed for the parking lot. After placing my clubs in the car, I sat down and called my doctor. I told him something was wrong. He asked me to come in.

Once I was in my doctor’s office, they performed an EKG, plus a host of other checks on my body. The EKG results were within normal range, and the doctor could not detect anything abnormal. He told me he wanted me to see a cardiologist in order to eliminate the most dangerous possibilities first. He even called the cardiologist to make the appointment for me while I sat there.

A couple of days later I was sitting in the cardiologist’s office. Once again I was given an EKG. And again, there was nothing indicating a problem. He asked me questions about any past heart problems and family medical history. He then scheduled me for an echo-cardiogram and a nuclear stress test. The echo-cardiogram was really neat!

Then on Wednesday, January 16th, I was scheduled for a nuclear stress test. A solution was injected into my blood stream so that machines could track its course while I was lying still. Later I would be placed on a treadmill in order to raise the heart rate. Then more pictures were taken of the heart in operation. Fascinating!

Later that afternoon back in my office, I received a call from the cardiologist. He had reviewed the results and did not like what he saw. There was definite blockage in at least one of the arteries. He wanted me to come in right away for an angiogram. I asked him what “right away” meant. He said, “Well, it’s Wednesday afternoon. Thursday is out. So Friday afternoon.” I said okay.

So Friday afternoon I checked into Memorial Hospital and waited for the procedure. The nurses and doctors were terrific! The procedure was virtually painless. I was in the operating room for about an hour-and-a-half. I was awake the whole time, simply lying still with my eyes closed. Two stents were inserted into my front heart artery, euphemistically called the “Widow Maker.” I was then informed I would be staying in the hospital over the weekend. On Monday I was to have four more stents inserted in the back heart artery. Blockages were between 75% and 90%.

I was finally released to return home on Tuesday afternoon. I now am on a number of pills to make sure things are okay. I have several more doctor appointments in the weeks ahead. But I feel so much better already!

This past Sunday I attended church and enjoyed the wonderful fellowship and friendship of these folks I love so much. One young mother of a cute, precocious four-year-old told me she was attempting to tell her daughter, Morgan, that Pastor Chuck had a problem with his heart. Not sure her daughter would understand, she told her that Pastor Chuck has “a heart owie.”

I guess that describes it as well as anything – a heart owie. But by the grace of God and some very skilled doctors my heart owie is all better.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's a Caucus?

This whole month of January the political landscape has inundated us with what are called caucuses. Each state enters into this arena of ideas in order to make their voices heard leading up to the primaries (usually June) and the general election (first Tuesday in November).

So, what are caucuses? We use the word in abundance every four years, but do we really know what we’re talking about? After last week’s article where I wrote about the Electoral College a friend wrote and asked me if I’d explain caucuses. Let’s see where this leads.

The dictionary definition of caucus is: “a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy.” The etymology of the word comes from the Greek word kaukos, referring to a drinking cup. In 18th Century England social and political clubs were called Caucus Clubs.

In our own political machinations we witness this coming together for debate, deliberation, and decision-making to discern who will be the most likely candidate to hold office. This is why you will see candidates pick and choose where they will spend their money and time in an attempt to garner support in hopes of gaining momentum which would carry them through not just one or two state caucuses, but to the top position. That would be the presidency of the United States.

Searching the Internet, I found this bit of interesting information about the history of caucuses in the United States on Wikipedia. “The Iowa caucuses are an electoral event in which residents of the state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa’s 1784 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa’s Congressional District Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions (also called the national conventions). The Iowa caucuses are noteworthy for the amount of media attention they receive during U.S. presidential election years. Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. Although only about one percent of the nation’s delegates are chosen by the Iowa State Convention, the Iowa caucuses have served as an early indication of which candidates for president might win the nomination of their political party at that party’s national convention.”

Typically you will see candidates begin to assert themselves about mid-way through the year leading up to the caucuses. This election year has been a bit unusual. Instead of seeing candidates begin to announce their intent to run in the spring or summer (Fred Thompson, for instance), there was instead a glut of candidates from both major parties immediately following the mid-term elections in November of 2006 (Hillary, Obama, Edwards, Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, McCain, to name the most notables). This is one of the reasons many of us have become weary of the whole process and we’re still ten months from the presidential election!

Each candidate is attempting to secure the promise of support from the delegates. It is a lot like mating. Each puts their best foot forward in hopes of appearing to be the most electable candidate. This is why endorsements are important. For instance, Hillary Clinton was able to gain the endorsement of the Des Moines Register. Because of the influence newspapers have with their readership, candidates will target major papers for their endorsement. It gives the impression of electability and may sway delegates who are not so sure. No one wants to bet on a loser. This is why when a candidate realizes they are not getting anywhere and drop from the race, they will often ask those delegates who have sided with them to throw there support behind one of the front runners. It’s all very political, don’t you know!

For most of us, we sit back and watch as all this scurrying around takes place, waiting for the dust to settle, seeing who will emerge as the party candidates. It looks a lot like when we were kids getting ready to play some sand-lot baseball. Two kids would be picked as opposing team captains. Then the candidating would begin. We’d stand all in a bunch, jostling each other trying to be seen by the two captains in hopes that we’d be picked ahead of everyone else. The best players wouldn’t worry about this because they knew they’d be picked. The rest of us would try and catch the captain’s eye, at which point we’d put on our most pathetic faces, pleading to be chosen. It was the depths of humiliation to be chosen last!

The caucuses are not much different from the way we were as kids. The difference is the outcome of our election system determines who will be the president of the United States for the next four years. It is especially critical because the president is the most powerful and influential person in the world.

Choose wisely.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Electoral College Redux

Four years ago leading up to the 2004 presidential election I wrote an article about the historical use of the Electoral College. After watching the current presidential debates with its strident hyperbole, I felt it necessary to proclaim once again the importance of the Electoral College.

This is a very important subject for all Americans to understand. The Electoral College is brilliant in its foresight. The founding fathers were indeed prescient in forming the foundations of this great country. We would be well served in frequently reviewing the documents that continue to uphold our nation’s principles and ideals, not the least of which is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Here, then, is a review of the basis of the Electoral College, and why it is still in use today, and needs to continue to be in place in the future.
First, let’s ask the most important question. Is it the popular vote, or the Electoral College vote that elects the president? Answer: Both.

Each state has an Electoral vote for each senator (every state has two senators). Then there’s an Electoral vote for every U.S. Representative (based upon state population census). Each major political party at its convention selects electors to match the number of senators and representatives. Whichever party garners the simple majority of the popular vote wins all of the Electoral votes for that state. (There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska). This is why, mathematically, a candidate could conceivably win the Electoral College vote, and lose the popular vote. Largely populated states, such as California and New York, could easily swing the number of popular votes in one candidate’s favor so that when you combine all the popular votes throughout the nation, the winner of the popular vote could lose the election – case in point – George W. Bush in 2000. In truth, the candidate for the Democratic Party, then Vice-President Al Gore, won the popular vote, and lost the election. The Republican candidate, then Governor George W. Bush, won the Electoral vote, and thus the election.

The founding fathers of this great nation understood the problems associated with a straight popular vote. The first danger is popularity – something we often experience in high school student body elections. The most popular kids were elected to be president, secretary, etc. At times it was laughable because you could see that the elections in high school had little to do with competency, and everything to do with name recognition and popularity. A truly charismatic personality could come along and sway the vote. This is particularly true with state electorates, winning overwhelmingly through popularity. This is even more telling today with the use of television. If a candidate is not photogenic, it will be an uphill battle.

The second danger is centered on sheer numbers. The most populated areas of the country would determine who would be elected if it were a straight popular vote. Though not a perfect system, the Electoral College does level the playing field somewhat so that smaller populated states (Wyoming, for example) still have their voice heard. To make the point, the overwhelming numbers of people who live in major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and so forth, would easily affect the outcome if we used a popular vote system only.

To further emphasize the point, notice how much time the candidates typically spend in what are called the “swing states.” These states are by definition, smaller in population, but since each Electoral vote counts, the candidates cannot afford to ignore them. In the final days of a presidential election you will find the candidates running to these swing states making one final shameless appeal for votes. Admittedly, these smaller states don’t have the clout in numbers, but they can be the tie breakers. They are players in this grand drama. This is why every vote actually does count. It’s not just some platitude we hear every four years during our national election.

I still am in awe that our founding fathers understood the importance of this, especially when you realize how very small our country was in the late 1700s. The principle applied then even as it does now: Every vote counts!

Make sure you register to vote. If you’ve moved since the last election, you need to register again. This would make our founding fathers smile!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Achieving Perfection

Last Saturday evening I was watching the New England Patriots play their final game of the regular season against the New York Giants. It was a barn-burner of a game! There was no backing off from either team, even though both teams were already scheduled for the playoffs. From a competitive perspective, this was arguably the best game of the year.

Following this hard-fought game, the victorious Patriots were asked about the way they had managed to pull off a victory after trailing by as much as twelve points half-way through the third quarter. Almost to a man the lament was voiced in this manner, “We didn’t play our best game, but we did what we needed to do to win. That’s what we’ve done all year.” True. The Patriots had three or four very tough, close games. But in each one they figured out how to pull out a victory.

I offer my congratulations to the Patriots for accomplishing this most rare of feats – winning every game in the regular season. Only once before has this happened, and that was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They completed a perfect season by winning both play-off games and then winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots will have to go some to finish out a perfect season.

Having grown up in New England, and my step father, Pop, being from the Boston area, I have always been interested in the sports teams from Boston. Pop and I would watch as the Boston Celtics under Red Auerbach would take on the Philadelphia 76ers. Those were great games! Here you had two of the best centers to have ever played, playing against each other: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. We also struggled with the then hapless Boston Red Sox, seemingly always under the “Curse of the Bambino.” Pop died in 1992, so he never got to see the emergence of the Red Sox in recent years where they finally won not just one World Series in 2004, but another in 2007. And then there were the Boston Patriots, later changed to the New England Patriots. In the old days they could never get it together as a team, always being trounced by their opponents. But no longer! The Patriots finally won the Super Bowl in 2002. Then they did it twice more in 2004 and 2005. If they run the tables in the next several weeks, they’ll complete a perfect season which will place them in the rarified air of the elite in professional football along with the ’72 Dolphins.

There are those who will attempt to deny the greatness of what the Patriots have accomplished to date. The Spygate matter will forever be remembered, though this took place in the first game of the season. They still ran the tables on the rest of the League – no small feat when you consider the Patriots traveled to Dallas to play the undefeated Cowboys – and won. Then they traveled to Indianapolis to play the undefeated Colts – and won again.

All of this got me to thinking about a perfect season. This football team played sixteen imperfect games, managing to win every one of them. Thus, a perfect season. I’m sure I’m not the only one to see the irony in this. What I mean is this: You take a team of some forty-odd imperfect football players and their imperfect coaching staff, put them up against sixteen other teams who are equally imperfect, and, Voila! You have a perfect season.

From a spiritual perspective I simply couldn’t let that one pass without saying something. The next morning as I prepared to preach in both Sunday services, I shared with the congregation some thoughts on this. You see, the Bible talks about perfection in a number of places. One such place is found in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect? This has always been troublesome for Christians. We know we’re anything but perfect. So, what’s this all about?

Let me give you a thumbnail picture of what I believe this is saying. Because we are not perfect (i.e., we are sinners), we cannot possibly do anything in our own strength that would cause us to be perfect. This is why we need someone to assume control of our hearts and lives. This is why we need a savior. He is perfect. Therefore, when I give him control and authority in my life, he makes my feeble, imperfect efforts at living for him result in being made ultimately perfect. I rely on him every step of the way.

The Patriots have learned to rely on each other in their attempt at attaining a perfect season in football. Over the next several weeks we’ll see if they can continue their journey of imperfection on their quest for an historic perfect season. In the meantime, I will continue to walk with my Lord, relying on him for the strength to continue, especially when I feel as though I’m blowing it.

God is the only one who can take that which is imperfect and make it perfect. That’s why I’ve placed myself in his hands.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

World War Three?

There’s a question being bandied about in more recent days as to whether the world is involved in a world war. Good question!

On the surface it would not appear to be so. Historically, we have imagined a cataclysmic clash between two equally potent armies who are in a colossal struggle for potential world dominance. In the 20th Century we had our first ever identified World Wars. The year was 1914 in what was to become the first of our world wars. This conflict came about over disputed land in the Balkans. Because of past European colonization, alliances were made to protect their territories or to grab more from neighbors. What is often thought to have been a war fought in Europe, this conflict literally spread around the world. Valiantly attempting to remain neutral, the United States did not enter this war until 1917. It was over a year later.

German and Russian forces were fighting throughout Eastern Europe in a see-saw rhythm of battle. Early in the conflict, British, Australian and New Zealander forces were fighting a losing effort against the Turks. Eventually prevailing, the British managed to capture Baghdad and Jerusalem. This sounded the death knell for the Ottoman Turks. The cost in human life is enormous. Britain alone lost 19,240 killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, arguably the bloodiest battle in history.

What made the First World War so unique was the development of what would be 20th Century technology, using 18th-19th Century battle tactics. For the first time the recently invented airplane was used in war. This provided a clear advantage to nations that could fund such expensive weapons of war. Add to this the cost of training and you have the makings of an expensive war machine. Compounding the horrors of modern-day warfare was the introduction of what would be known as “Mustard Gas.” This chemical agent in its pure form is odorless and colorless. When used in warfare, the agent is given a yellow-brown coloring, and the smell is that of a mustard plant (or garlic, or horseradish), thus gaining its name. The German Army first used it in 1917. Other war machines developed for modern warfare were the tank and the submarine. Though these weapons were tried in earlier conflicts, the Germans improved upon them, making them a part of their overall war arsenal. We also saw the use of parachutes by those in observation balloons; flamethrowers were brought into the mix; and the machine gun was modernized to be used by a single individual instead of the cumbersome Gatling Guns of only a few decades earlier.

In World War Two there was the two-front war for the United States. This created new challenges for us as a nation. We had always relied on the two large bodies of water, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to buffer us from foreign aggression. Now, the enemy we faced was in both directions. In both the Pacific and European Theaters of Operation, we developed “expeditionary forces.” An expeditionary force is one that is very mobile, and can travel quickly to a “hot spot” in another part of the world. The Marines had been working on this idea for some time. The Army was catching on to this military strategy as well. The Marines learned many valuable, yet costly lessons during their island campaigns of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, to name some of the more notable expeditionary battles. The Army is best remembered for its expeditionary campaign in the June 1944 D-Day Invasion on the beaches of Normandy, Omaha, and Utah. General Douglas MacArthur used expeditionary soldiers in various battles in the Pacific.

World War Two introduced us to the aircraft carrier, a novel idea that transformed the way we’ve conducted war ever since. The use of remote control for exploding bombs or mines was added to our weaponry. And of course, what became the ultimate WWII-ending weapon, the atomic bomb.

So where does all this leave us when it comes to a World War Three? Will our current War on Terrorism become the much dreaded WWIII? Certainly this war is being fought at a number of geographic locations around the world. Many nations are involved in this battle. The enemy we face is intent on destroying western democracy and apparently will only be stopped when: a) they have succeeded in destroying the west and our freedoms, or b) they have been soundly defeated by a determined, resolute west.

We are not watching two behemoth nations slinging arrows at each other on the field of battle as has historically been the scenario for war. This is, instead, a clash of world ideologies. We fight to remain a free people. The enemy seeks to dominate and remove our freedoms. Today we are battling an illusive, mercenary enemy who hides in the populace, inflicting damage on their enemy through IEDs, snipers, and suicide bombings, caring little for the people they supposedly are fighting for. What is frightening to consider is the “what if” scenario we might be faced with should this enemy obtain one or more nuclear weapons and the capability of delivering them to their intended targets.

Iran is working toward developing nuclear weapons, as has North Korea. The thought that these two countries, who care little for human life, is chilling. What would future generations say about us if we allowed nuclear weapons to wind up in the hands of despotic world leaders, who make no bones about using such weapons against their enemies? Is it possible to avoid a WWIII? Yes, I believe it is. But it will require a president who has the unflinching character and resolve of a Harry Truman.

Think about that as you consider who you will vote for in this year’s presidential race. Our freedoms won’t mean a thing if we do not fight for them – again – just as our forefathers have done, and this generation is doing now.