PBS Spells No

Once upon a time, PBS presented to Americans the very finest examples of our musical culture. Such programs as “Live from Lincoln Center,” “Great Performances” and “Live from the Met” offered viewers a wonderful sampling of classical music, opera and dance featuring some of the greatest and most admired artists in the world. That’s what PBS used to do, anyway, and I say that with sadness and regret and now some growing anger.

What has replaced that programming are low-brow shows such as “Antiques Roadshow,” surely the dullest and most predictable non-reality entity on television, along with self-help shows with the well-worn likes of the Suze Orman and Wayne Dyer and an increased number of pledge week appeals for money which specialize in showing aging doo-wop groups from the 1950s and ’60s. What a sad ending for PBS.

The network recently announced its 2014-1015 program lineup. Yes, “Downtown Abbey” is there again — to my delight, although the PBS insistence on delaying it months beyond the first showing in Great Britain is another instance of misguided management. But the rest of the season is notably mostly for the total absence of classical music. There’s no classical dance. And there’s only one opera, “Porgy and Bess.” (If you happen to like jazz, you’re out of luck once again as well.)

In brief, it’s a pathetic lineup that speaks to a diminished sense of values on the part of the people who run the network. I of course cannot say it will cost PBS viewers because I have no way of knowing. But I do know it will cost them at least one viewer — me. And it will cost them my pledge, too, because I will no longer offer my financial support given their lack of interest in what interests me.

There are network programs of some quality, to be fair about it. But more and more I am seeing lower-level programming come to the fore with an emphasis on pop culture. What else would you call the appearance of Lady Gaga and a repeat showing of “Cats” from nearly 20 years ago?

All of this does indeed make me sad and disappointed. I feel abandoned, my companionship no longer desired. I don’t expect that to matter in the big picture, but the executives who oversee PBS need to know they have divorced me, not the other way around.

Plenty of Shame to Go Around

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. To wit, the conflict between the Israelis and Hamas.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of this ages-old clash in the Middle East. Does anyone? But I don’t believe you have to be terribly nuanced when to grasp the level of mindless killing and destruction going on now in Gaza. And how many words have been wasted once again on who is to blame?

The answer to that is, obviously it would seem, both sides. Leaders on both sides through the years have demonstrated an appalling lack of vision, have turned a deaf ear to the needs of their people and have justified murderous rampages with rank platitudes. A plague on both of them.

Yes, Hamas has shown it cares nothing for the welfare of the people it claims it wants to protect and lead. It has shamelessly put those people at great risk and failed them time and again. It is a terrorist organization which shows no evidence of a sense of morality. And thousands of people have been killed and so many more made homeless solely by their failed, misguided actions.

And yes, Israel has a right to defend itself against violent attacks that deliberately target civilians. Israel is a democratic nation — something the warlords at Hamas can only imagine — and that merits respect. But precisely because it is a democratic nation, it must rise above the eye-for-an-eye tactics that diminish the nation in the world’s eyes. Israel says it does not target schools and hospitals and civilians. I can believe that. But when the result of your own militarism is attacks on schools and hospitals and the deaths of hundreds and thousands of civilians, what’s the difference? Residents of Gaza who have nothing to do with Hamas must wonder.

The leaders of Hamas and Israel jointly share responsibility for the horror now underway in Gaza. They seem unable and unwilling to move beyond their own hatreds. A lasting peace in the Middle East will forever elude these narrow-minded worshipers of chaos. And it is their people who will continue to suffer as a result. Shame on them. Shame on all of them who pursue paths of infinite pain, death and betrayal.

Wackos? Crazies?

Ah-ha. Gotcha’. Republicans in Congress eager to show the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups are now gleefully reporting they have been handed a selection of emails written by Lois Lerner, in which the former IRS officer refers to some members of the Republican Party as “wackos,” “crazies” and “assholes.”

Republican Dave Camp of Michigan says this demonstrates Lerner’s “deep animus toward conservatives.” Apart from the surprise at finding a Republican who knows the meaning of “animus” — Michele Bachman no doubt thinks it has something to do either with animals or enemas — Rep. Camp’s assertion brings evokes a reply of so-what?

Whether Ms. Lerner has an animus or not, she’s hardly off base in referring to a large number of Republicans in those terms. Really. How else can you seriously characterize people like the witless Bachman and Sarah Palin, with her constant cries of ‘impeach him.”? What else would you call Republicans like Ted Yoho and his suggestion that only property owners in this country be allowed to vote? Or Ted Cruz, who shut down the government and cost this nation hundreds of millions of dollars for his own selfish wants? Or Louis Gohmert, perhaps the most amoeba-like congressman currently holding elective office? Or the brain-addled Glenn Beck or drug-addled Rush Limbaugh, among the densest of the conservative commentators?

Seriously, what else can you conclude when you look at that group, and so many others in and out of the Congress who cling to the Tea Party branch? They are indeed wackos and crazies, and the worst of them are assholes. And while Speaker John Boehner doesn’t qualify — he’s merely a wasted opportunist — he’s behind the wacko, crazed effort to sue President Obama for not properly implementing Obamacare, a program Boehner and his Republicans have wasted a vast amount of time and money trying to repeal. Does that make any sort of sense?

Now, yes, I know name-calling doesn’t advance the political agenda, nor does it help us move toward nonpartisanship in government. But frankly, there’s little hint that many Republicans in Congress — and unfortunately, some Democrats — really want any sort of nonpartisan role. The result is a Congress that has done nothing, making for this to be perhaps the worst session in memory, and which continues to applaud a stance that abhors the very nature of government.

For that they deserve the label of assholes. Now let’s move forward.

Charged Up

Who’s the most interesting man in the world?

It isn’t Ryan Reynolds. It isn’t Robert Pattinson (whoever he is). Heck, it isn’t even George Clooney. Nope, the most interesting man in the world is Jonathan Goldsmith, and that’s official. And yes, you do know who Jonathan Goldsmith is. He’s that guy from Vermont who appears so cool in the Dos Equis television advertisements. And guess what? He’s 75 years old.
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I mention that last fact only because I’m really getting tired of the people who oversee production and marketing campaigns pretending that people who are older don’t exist. Or don’t count.

My grievances have reached something of a peak this summer. I enjoy going to the movies, always have. As a youngster, I especially liked war movies. As an adult, I preferred films that had a story and characters and something to care about besides explosions. Maybe even the occasional fantasy. As an older adult, I want films that tell me interesting stories about people.

As an older adult, however, what Hollywood sends me are over-the-top, witless movies (i.e., Transformers, The Expendables III, any other sequel or prequel) written for children under the age of 18 with a mental age not exceeding 12. I’ve lost a lot of enthusiasm for going to the movies, not because I’m an immobile (I ride a bicycle twice daily and hike regularly) crank (I’m a grandfather addicted to the kids and grandkids) but because I still respect the virtue of good storytelling and find it conspicuously absent in the theaters. My money instead now goes to live theater and concerts.

And a lot of us older adults — I’m 74 — have some money. The AARP reports that there are 100 million Americans over the age of 50 who control about 70 per cent of the disposable income in this country. In fact, Americans over the age of 50 constitute the third largest economy in the world, surpassed only by the gross national product of the United states and China. And Hollywood can’t turn out more than a couple dozen or so movies for us each year?

Again, using an AARP factoid, almost everyone you see in a new car commercial these days apparently is between the ages of 18 and 24. And yet — people ages 75 to dead buy five times as many new cars as people 18 to 24. That’s worth repeating bluntly: if you’re close to shuffling off this mortal coil, you’re still more likely to buy a new car than your great grandchildren! Why haven’t the boneheads who market new car ads caught on to this by now?

Ironically, one group that does seem to have a scintilla of knowledge of these things is the justly beleaguered airline industry. Their ads — when they show you people and not clouds and baggage — focus on the first class or business cabins. And the people sitting in them are older. That’s because, of course, flying first class these days requires that you be a CEO (they tend to be older) or have a functioning annuity (again, most likely the property of someone older).

Everyone else on the flights is presumed by the airlines to be immobile, given that seating in coach — the “main cabin,” in airline-speak — is somewhere between really tight and really-really right, no kidding. if you’re flying coach, and you don’t or can’t pay increasing fees for upgraded seating, you will soon come to know what it feels like to be old and infirm. The worst I ever felt in my life came not after running a 6.2 mile road race but after I stepped off the plane following a coach class flight from Atlanta to Dallas. I would rather body surf from LA to Sydney than fly that trip in coach.

Another one of the industries which has a regrettable focus on older adults are the large drug manufacturers. In pursuit of ever-greater aggrandizement, they are constantly peddling their latest over-priced pills for a variety of problems that aren’t really problems (Low-T guys, I’m talking to you) and which generate more side effects than a bad bike crash. I wish they would go away. Or at least face some kind of control in the sale, advertisement and pricing of their pills.

So yes, sometimes I suppose I do sound more like a grump than a gramp. But you should also know that I occasionally sip one of those Dos Equis beers, and that at least makes me one of the most interesting men for a little while, doesn’t it?

Let’s drink to That

Reprinted from the Keene Sentinel

Granite Staters, it seems, take the notion of quenching their thirsts very seriously. So much so that New Hampshire now leads the nation in the annual per capita consumption of alcohol. To which I say, let’s drink to that.

Which reminds me of one of the funniest bar jokes I’ve encountered lately. A fellow goes into a bar — stop me if you’ve heard this before — and asks the bartender for a free beer if he can show the bartender an amazing trick he’s never seen before. The bartender agrees, and the guy pulls out a hamster, who runs to the end of the bar, jumps on a piano and plays “Maple Leaf Rag” beautifully. The bartender is stunned and pours the free beer.

Now, the man asks for another free beer in exchange for a trick, and the bartender agrees if the trick is just as amazing. So the man pulls out a frog, who sits on the bar and offers up a beautifully sung rendition of “Yankee Doodle.” Before the song ends, another customer in the bar rushes over and offers $200 for the singing frog. The fellow agrees. The bartender is aghast. “You could have gotten millions of dollars for a singing frog. Why did you sell it so cheaply?” The man replies, “Nah, no big deal. The hamster’s a ventriloquist.”

So, you might be wondering now, exactly what does this have to do with New Hampshire’s consumption of alcohol? Well, first, I suppose it helps if you’ve had at least one beer before listening to that joke. And second, a lot of Granite Staters have already had at least one beer. The statistics from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Services Agency — that doesn’t sound like much of a party group to me — says we put away 32.7 gallons of beer per person every year.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Gee, Bill, that’s a lot of beer, right? Well, not necessarily. In fact, it breaks down to about 350 12-ounce cans. And that’s less than one can per person per day. Why that’s scarcely putting a dent in the dry whistle, to mangle several metaphors at once.

Of course, I’m a strong advocate for responsible drinking and support without hesitation all efforts to limit the use of alcohol by those who aren’t legally entitled to use it. That said, I will admit that I am legally entitled to use it, and that I use it responsibly, so teetotalers should please find someone else to get after.

But I really do wonder why it is that we drink more than everyone else per capita-wise. And there would appear to be some pretty obvious ideas about that.

One is that New Hampshire has the lowest prices on alcohol anywhere around, so it’s not just folks who live here but those in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont who find it easy and less costly to drink here. And remember we have arranged our liquor stores to be readily accessible to anyone from Massachusetts (or anywhere else) driving into our state. Think about it: the first thing you see along the roads into our state after the “Welcome to New Hampshire” sign is one telling you there’s a state liquor store at the next exit. Who could resist such a friendly invitation?

And let’s remember that the beauty of our state attracts a lot of visitors each year, and those visitors seem to enjoy their alcohol, whether they’re sunning at Winnipesaukee in the summer or enjoying apres-ski time at Granite Gorge or Bretton Woods.

Want another reason? Well, how about we have a lot of really good breweries in New Hampshire, and the products they turn out are very drinkable, whether basking in summer warmth or chilling out in winter.

And of course some people would declare that the cold, snowy winters — even if in the main they aren’t quite as cold and snowy as they used to be — account for a lot of the reason for serious drinking. After all, a bit of grog or something like it helps to warm the tummy and cheer the spirits when the thermometer drops well below freezing, and besides what else can you do? (There are other answers to that question, and that’s surely a subject for another column.)

Personally, I prefer summer consumption. The warm weather encourages me to bring something cold onto the porch or the yard for a refreshing break from rebuilding the side of the garage that broke off during the snowy winter while I was enjoying some warm refreshment inside. And there always seems to be some company when I step outside this time of year. Regrettably, however, they’re mostly black flies and mosquitoes. Which gives me yet another reason to pour a drink.

Seriously Maine

Everywhere you look, people are vacationing. You probably even know some people who have already taken a vacation or who are planning one shortly. You can tell whose those people are because they are constantly talking about their vacation, either how wonderful it was or how wonderful it’s going to be. You, of course, are welcome to talk about your own vacation, but don’t count on anyone else listening very closely. We know all about that.

We drove up to Maine the other day — I can already sense your restlessness — for a little stay on the coast near Bah Haba, which we used to call Bar Harbor before we discovered almost everybody there is a tourist from Boston. Which is interesting because we discovered that everyone who operates the tourist stores in Bar Harbor is from another country. No kidding. The combination of Boston and Pakistani accents can be mind-blowing.

That said, we also discovered that apart from cars with Massachusetts tags there are a lot of cars with Florida tags. That’s certainly understandable. Florida is an unbearable place in summer, and, honestly, for most of the rest of the year, too, and we’re not talking about just the weather.

The weather in Maine for our trip was really nice except for the one day the temperature hit 89 degrees, or the two days we had to turn on the heat in the house, or the other two days when it poured rain. We enjoyed changing clothes to match the heat, cold or dampness and were glad we brought a closet full of items — ski jackets, tee-shirts, sandals, heavy rain boots and dark glasses equipped with wipers (kidding about that last one).

Given the weather, we found ourselves inside our house a tad more than anticipated. And so we turned on the television for some evenings full of relaxing fun. Now, you may not know this, but there are some unusual cable networks available in Maine. Viewers like us have a choice of the major networks, a couple of channels including ESPN, and approximately 87 shopping networks. We might have miscounted, but it’s pretty close to that. They’re selling about anything you could imagine including but hardly limited to gold, baseball bats, shoes, horseshoes, pie pans, jewelry, incense, carburetors, a window knob, door stop, a Slim Whitman CD, mufflers, and what appeared to be a sexual device resembling a pipe bomb. We fell asleep before the bidding ended on that one.

Shopping in BH was fun in a spendthrift sort of way, although it is extremely difficult to find merchandise in this tourist home that doesn’t contain the image of a lobster. You can buy — and I’m not kidding — an aquarium shaped like a lobster. And a tee-shirt with a lobster on the front and a bowl of chowdah on the back, perfect for anyone who might be hungry but for the life of them can’t seem to remember what’s out there to eat.

We dined in several restaurants, all of which made no secret of their crustacean offerings, everything from lobster boiled to lobster burrito. We consumed enough to put a serious dent in the supply chain for the rest of the summer. Too bad for those of you headed up to Maine in July and August. Interestingly, the best meal we had was an omelette minus all traces of seafood. Go figure.

What wound up giving us more pleasure than anything else during the vacation turned out to be a museum. The old masters here, however, weren’t hanging on a wall; they were sitting on the floor with four wheels. This museum holds some 60 or so immaculately preserved automobiles from the so-called brass era, the years before World War I (1917 in case you forgot). We admired and were pretty much awed by the Stanley Steamers, the 1912 Maxwell, the 1904 Ford, the 1905 Pierce Arrow, the curved dash Olds and so many others. The museum at Seal Cove is a genuine treasure trove; if you like cars, this is worth your time. And get this: there isn’t a single lobster in the entire building.

We returned home to New Hampshire grateful for the vacation time and experience. After a few days back, we met up with some friends and of course launched into the stories of our vacation. They listened intently, obviously fascinated. Well, okay, in truth they barely listened. They could hardly wait to interrupt us to talk about their upcoming trip to . . . well, we forget where. We were waiting for them to take a breath so we could talk about the weather in Maine. Or the TV. Or the shopping Or . . . I forget.

It Was Just a Little Phone Problem

So, we needed to make a business call to clear up a question and make a payment. Easy, right? Automated systems make this kind of thing a piece of cake, and besides, big business is customer oriented these days, knowing that how they handle customers can prove to be a boost or a drag on their profits. And shareholders don’t like drags. (Note: ask General Motors stockholders how happy they are over GM’s recall of 28-million vehicles for safety-related issues. THIS YEAR.)

Anyway, we called on Saturday morning to this very big business — just for the sake of this discussion, let’s call it Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire — to ask our question and make our payment. We were greeted by an automated welcome directing us to several options. As we followed those automated instructions, we were directed by a non-human to several other options. And those in turn led us to the last option, finally, after a mere 10 minutes or so. That brought us the news — delivered by a slightly cheerful disembodied robotic voice — that Blue Cross — oops, just pretend it was Blue Cross, okay? — was closed for the weekend. We should try again during weekday hours, approximately 11 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. (just kidding).

Actually, we tried again on Monday morning around 11 a.m. just for the heck of it. After a series of options presented by that same modestly cheerful non-humanoid voice, we were placed on a hold for 15 minutes. Truth be told — and we’re being truthful here — Blue Cross — oops, again — didn’t cut us off. They just didn’t answer. We stayed on hold for those 15 minutes while being thanked time and again for our patience. That was heartwarming, but after 15 unanswered minutes, we had to go.

Monday afternoon we tried again. It was a little after 2. We went though some of the same series of options before settling in for a bout of terrible music and that voice thanking us once more for our unrelenting patience. About 45 minutes later, our patience, however much appreciated, was — to be honest about it — faltering. After one hour and five minutes, it disappeared altogether.

just before we hit the one hour and 20 minute mark, our plea and our call was answered by what seemed to be a female human with a female human-sounding voice. We greeted her with the almost as much fervor one welcomes a son back from the wars. In a relatively short period of time, this pleasant Blue Cross representative — darn it, sorry about that — answered our question and took our payment. Just like that. We were now free to move on with our little lives.

Adding up the toll, it came to about two hours on the phone to ask one question and make one payment. Now we know our little lives don’t count for much in the big scheme of things, and that was rudely amplified for us by this experience with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire (or whatever). We have learned our lessons: Don’t ask questions. Don’t ask anything, just pay. Big business is very busy.

We’ll really try to remember those lessons. Especially when October gets here.

Dear Graduates…

Reprinted from the Keene Sentinel

About this time every year we are treated to the scent of lilacs, the whirr of hummingbirds, the sight of greening fields and of course the forlorn, haunting cry of the college graduate: “Has anyone out there got a job for me?”

It didn’t always used to be that way. I can remember when I graduated into a job I had already been holding. A distinguished, honorable job, one that stoked my ambition as it paid the rent. Sort of. I was a copy boy at a modest-sized daily newspaper in North Carolina.

Does anyone recall copy boys? They used to be a staple of every newsroom. Kids — aspiring journalists, really — who undertook every conceivable humble task that important editors deemed important in order to learn the newspaper business from the inside. I got to be particularly good at guessing which editor would want his coffee — there were no “hers” in those days — and at which time and getting the cup dropped at the right place on his desk just before he could ask for it.

I also got to be pretty good at taking obituaries on the telephone, a desk model like you haven‘t seen in at least three decades. The funeral home would call in details about the recently deceased, and I would transcribe it to the newspaper’s preferred format. It wasn’t hard, but it called for attention to detail, and it was actually a kind of writing, which was what I wanted so desperately.

To make a old story much shorter, my talents were soon recognized by the sports editor — he liked his coffee black with a little sugar, and I never messed up his order — who needed someone to cover a Little League baseball tournament. At the time I thought that was a pretty good assignment. Only later did I come to realize the veterans on the sports staff each vehemently declined to drop his ego low enough to go to that tourney. But I did quite eagerly, and pretty soon that led to writing grown-up sports stories, which led to the police beat, city government, the state legislature, the governor’s office, investigative reporting, city editor, and onward and upward in a time-honored way of journalists.

Interesting you might generously say, in a nostalgic sort of way, but what does it have to do with spring graduations?

Only this: a lot of commencement speakers are really terrible. Or weird. How else to explain Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak telling graduates several years ago that their futures will be clouded because there are so many robots out there. Beware of robots, he cautioned. That would seem to make concerns about merely finding a job appear quite insignificant.

One speaker claimed that there are only two kinds of commence speeches: bad ones and short ones. Point taken.

I remember vaguely the address at my graduation, although I fail to recall exactly who the speaker was. I think, however, he had retired as a general in the army (ours) and was getting by on a somewhat dubious record of strategic achievement in the military.
I distinctly recall his telling us that “you are the future for America,” and that “your future is bright and unlimited.” He may possibly have added that the future is ours to shape, but then all those words of wisdom years later tend to run together in a muddle of cliches. What I recall even more clearly is the graduate next to me who read a comic book during the speech. And that I was envious.

I suppose it would be good to conclude with some inspiring words of my own for today’s graduates as they prepare to stumble into a not-very-friendly adult world. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any beyond a general suggestion that they always be kind to each other, avoid posting nude photos on Facebook, and remember to inhale after they exhale.

Perhaps I should let Dr. Seuss have the last word. What he said actually carries some meaning for graduates, or anyone else, really. Pithy, trenchant and true. Read it and believe, dear graduates:

As you partake of the world’s bill of fare,

There’s darned good advice to follow.

Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.

And be careful what you swallow.

A Guy from Mass and Healthcare

Wealthy out-of-state supporters of Scott Brown — a loser from Massachusetts (that’s a political fact, not an insinuation) — are paying for a series of noxious television ads that show up frequently these days. They target the Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — who would be Brown’s opponent in a U.S. senate race if Brown wins the Republican primary — as well as New Hampshire’s two Democratic Congresswomen. The ads convey outdated and simply wrong information about the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, which Brown’s opposition to seems to constitute the largest part of his campaign.
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The ad urges everyone in New Hampshire to reject Obamacare, insisting it’s bad for us, taking away choices and costing us more money. Here’s the truth about all that — it’s just so much blather.

First, the initial response to the Affordable Health Care Act in New Hampshire has been overwhelmingly positive. Yes, of course there are Republicans in this state who don’t abhor President Obama and everything to do with him. But more than 40,000 Granite Staters have signed up for Obamacare, far more than ever anticipated. And it is obvious that number is going to grow. Abandon it, Scott Brown? And exactly what will you tell those more than 40,000 people — soon to double — about taking health care away from them?

Of course, Scott Brown has a plan to replace Obamacare. Oops, I forgot. He doesn’t. Nor do any other Republicans have any realistic plans for how to take care of the nearly 9 million people nationally who are now part of Obamacare. They can only object to it and call for its repeal (Republicans in Congress have tried nearly 50 different attempts to repeal Obamacare. That’s your tax money they’re wasting, by the way).

A lot of us in New Hampshire were upset at the lack of initial sign-up options in our state. We had only one option: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which decided to unilaterally cut off certain hospitals and doctors from its plans. Here’s what you need to know — they weren’t required by the Affordable Health Care Act to do that. They did it because it would keep their costs down and their shareholders and highly paid executives happy. Scott Brown’s ad doesn’t tell you that.

Things are getting better, thank goodness. We will have at least five options for health care beginning in October. The likelihood of costs going down with this competition is very high. Scott Brown’s ad doesn’t tell you that. The chance that hospital and doctor choices will go up is equally high. Scott Brown’s ad doesn’t tell you that either.

Few have ever claimed Obamacare was the last word in better health care for Americans. Most Republicans, however, have insisted it was terrible and needed to be repealed. Scott Brown is among them. And Mr. Brown and the other Republicans are only now becoming aware that it isn’t going to be repealed. It is, we hope, going to be improved, with the help of Democrats and Republicans working in a nonpartisan way for the betterment of health care choices for all Americans.

Right. And that will happen when pigs fly.

I’m nonetheless hopeful we’ll take what we have and try to make it better (a single payer plan would be a huge step in the right direction). I’m confident that those who insist it needs to be done away with will go down as losers. Whether they were rejected by voters in Massachusetts or not.

Digging Deeper into the VA

A lot of politicians are suddenly upset now that it seems some veterans have been waiting up to 115 days to get an appointment with a doctor at the VA. Of course, it took me only 86 days to secure an appointment with my dermatologist at a public clinic, so I can understand that no one is worried about my healthcare.

And that’s probably a good thing.

I’m not convinced that having politicians worry about you is akin to having them do anything for you. For instance, in the VA brouhaha — which is truly disgraceful, by the way, in a nonpartisan sort of way — we have Republicans and now some Democrats joining in the shouts of outrage to have VA chief Gen. Eric Shinseki resign. After all, somebody
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has to be blamed for that mess. And how did we get into that mess anyway? It’s not hard to figure out that if we hadn’t gone into two undeclared wars (Iraq and Afghanistan, in case you forgot), we wouldn’t have millions of veterans coming home from battlefields and crowding VA offices all over the country. And by the way, earn extra points for historical memory if you can recall that it was a Republican president who got us into those messes under somewhat false pretenses (at least in Iraq). And yes, Democrats did join Republicans in supporting the undeclared wars, but few lawmakers in either party had access to the reams of misinformation the Bush administration used to win support for the overseas misadventures.

And there’s another small historical tidbit worth remembering, too. In the last 12 months, Democrats in Congress have proposed a bill funding significant upgrades for VA facilities. And what happened to those bills? Well, a lot of those Republicans who have been criticizing the VA loudest are the same ones who voted down the VA proposal earlier. In other words, it’s hard not to to see them as sharing some measure of responsibility for that VA mess now, a mess they see most easily disposed of by demanding that Mr. Shinseki resign.

I don’t know if he ought to resign or not. But I do strongly believe that fixing the problems in the VA go a whole lot deeper than firing its chief administrator. Getting rid of Mr. Shinseki might make some people feel better, but I wonder if it would make any of our wounded warriors better? I would hope Congress might dig a little deeper into all of this.