No Code

The moment when I realized that my assumptions about what it meant to be an American were just that – assumptions – was when I listened to the debate about using torture in interrogations, after 9/11. It was horrifying to me to hear members of our own government seriously talking about not whether to use torture, but how much.  As if once that door was opened there were any boundaries worthy of the name. 

How naive I had been, I thought, how could I have missed how close we were  to savagery? A government that can see its way to torturing the citizens of another country will not shrink from doing the same thing to its own if it imagines a need exists.

For that reason this Doonesbury cartoon evokes a rueful laugh. On the surface it is about a simple man who has swallowed a line of thinking without thinking.

What he is not wrong about, though, is the need for vigilance on the part of all of us when it comes to our leadership. I learned during the Cluck years how quickly institutions could be corrupted, and during the McConnell tenure that the naked lust for political power could be used to break what I believed could not, would not, be broken.

Because why? Because, I thought – Americans don’t do that s**t. Naiveté again.

So here I am in my golden years trying to figure out just how many “bad guys” are really out there? How to do what I can to help contain our country’s worst impulses so that the best ones can get the chance to be expressed?

I think that if I’m going to save the world I better get cracking.


From The New Yorker


Continuing on in this light-hearted mode, I would like to talk about the problem of doing CPR in dinosaurs like myself. If you watch enough medical shows on television, you could easily get the idea that resuscitation after a full arrest is a pretty cool thing with good results almost to be expected.

The reality is not so cool. When an 80+ year-old person’s arrest happens in a hospital, their chances of being brought back are around 12%. There is a very good chance that they will re-arrest, depending on why it happened the first time. Among that initial 12% of survivors there are patients who will have lifelong neurologic handicaps of varying severities. Many will not be able to take care of themselves, and will be discharged to nursing homes. Some will be in a vegetative state.

In short, a small fraction of persons my age who arrest will go home fairly intact. To me, that fraction is too small. Way too small.

When I had my stroke a couple of years ago and was being transferred from the ER to the ICU after I had regained the power of speech, the admitting nurse asked about my choices for critical care. I told her that I was to be considered a DNR patient (Do Not Resuscitate), which means that if I suffered a complete cardiorespiratory arrest nothing was to be done.

The nurse dutifully wrote down my wishes, my chart was so labelled, and a DNR sign was placed in my room. The R.N. did not gasp or faint or try to talk me out of my decision, but accepted it matter-of-factly and went on with her other questions. Having DNR put on my chart doesn’t mean that I will be ignored by staff from that moment forward. And it certainly doesn’t limit my freedom to be a total pain in the ass as a patient if I want to be.

It simply means that if all my lights go out, don’t go looking for a switch.

Others may make very different choices. It’s not a right or wrong situation. But for myself, I don’t like those odds, and I abhor the idea of being brought back to “life” in pieces. (And BTW, those dismal statistics are for in-hospital CPR. If the arrest occurs elsewhere, the odds are worse.)


From The New Yorker


One of the most beautiful songs/performances that I’ve heard. Written by my favorite poet of them all, Leonard Cohen. Unlike a lot of other musicians and groups that I have fancied over the years, my appreciation for this man’s work has grown steadily and shows no signs of flagging. Even though the troubadour himself left the building six years ago.

He’s been my man all the way from the soooooo romantic Suzanne, which was a perfect anthem for a 60s dreamer, to tender hymns like this one.

You know, maybe we should pick some tea and oranges that come all the way from China, then sit down and watch this together. All we need’s a bunch of cushions and a rainy Sunday afternoon.


I was ready for quite a few of the things that come along with being a senior citizen. Physical capacities lessening a bit, forgetfulness up a notch or two … I anticipated these and more.

But what I wasn’t ready for was this unholy trio:

  • Basic irrelevance
  • Performing ordinary tasks is regarded as amazing
  • I have become “cute”

Let me take them one at a time. Irrelevance first. A friend of mine put it very well when he said sadly: “I just spent nearly a week with my children and no one asked me my opinion about anything.” That’s when you realize that you’ve been assigned to a new category which is: people who come from just too far back down the road to have anything useful to say. Like you were King Tut, a leftover from another era.

Performing ordinary tasks is next. What … you tie your own shoes? Cook your own food? Turn the computer on all by yourself? That’s amazing.

I don’t know exactly at what age this happens, but it’s closely associated with retirement.

The horrible “cute” thing. This is the worst. You spend your whole life creating and living in the fiction that you are a dangerous and fascinating person. And then one day you hear a young woman’s voice behind you saying “Look at that old guy … isn’t he cute? A crushing blow. James Bond was never cute. You realize that you and a Capuchin monkey at the zoo are now looked at in the same way.

Wearing a new shirt? Cute.

Wearing a new pair of slacks? Cute.

Wearing any clothes at all? Cute.

Dance a couple of steps? Cute.

No need to go on. All of us, if we last long enough, will eventually face these indignities. Part of the human condition, and all that. But no one says we have to like it.

In my head, I am still dangerous, but there are differences today. While I used to overcome adversaries with physical prowess, now I do it by being crafty. And since I have become so disarmingly cute, finding out that I’ve outwitted them often comes as an unwelcome surprise.


3 thoughts on “No Code

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