Monday, August 31, 2009

Why I Don't Volunteer

Lately, it seems that everyone -- from our President and First Lady to bloggers on the Huffington Post to public service announcements on the radio – has their feet on my behind, prodding me to go out and volunteer already. It’s good for our country! It’s good for the community! It’s good for your health! It’s fun!

While I have no argument with those points (well, maybe with the last one), none of them are going to move me to volunteer, even though if you look at my life superficially I have more free time than most. Does that make me mean and selfish? Some of you may think so.

I don’t care. I need my QT.

QT is Quiet Time, and that is the time which I don’t spend working, cooking, cleaning, exercising, driving, doing errands, sleeping, etc. QT is time for thinking, for reading, for gazing upon others’ art, for creativity in words and shape. QT is time to converse with Two Dogs and our friends. QT is more valuable than gold; it is the stuff of life. I guard it vigorously. Money may come and money may go, but lost QT is lost forever.

I am not one of those “people…who need [a lot of] people.” I prefer to keep my social circle small and select. When I approach a gathering of strangers, I’d rather that gathering be with peers with whom I can exchange thoughts, ideas, creativity, and laughter. I would not be comfortable spending much time with people who are worse off than me economically, culturally, and emotionally. I am an emotional sponge – I absorb negativity around me way too easily. Reading a sad news story online, or watching a tragic movie (such as Changeling) can affect my mood for days.

I know it’s important that someone stand for hours ladling food onto the plates of a long line of homeless people, or read stories to developmentally disabled children. I just don’t want that someone to be me.

Some people think volunteering is so good, especially for young people, that it ought to be mandatory. Those people are as annoying as a toothache. (Isn’t it reeeeeeally int-ter-est-ing, as Arte Johnson would say, that most of those same people would be too old to be conscripted under such a law?)

It is perfectly OK to write a check, or drop off boxes of food and clothing. Charities cannot run on volunteers alone – they need the material goods, too. Can you imagine any charity saying, “Oh, no, we can’t use your money – just your time”? Me, neither. Help in the way you feel most comfortable with. Personally, I would even do some pro bono graphics or writing for a cause I believed in. Just don’t pull me too far from home.

One of my favorite quotes (attributed both to Oscar Wilde and Ruth Rendell) is, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” Your first duty is to cause as little trouble for others as possible. Anything beyond that is gravy -- and strictly voluntary.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Tasty Summer Snack

Two Dogs made this for us not too long ago. He is a creative foodmaster!

1. Slice a peach, nectarine, plum or pluot into slender wedges.

2. Slice cheese into thin rectangles that can fit on top of the fruit wedges. We used sharp cheddar, but any sliceable cheese will work.

3. Place a piece of cheese atop a wedge of fruit.

4. Eat and enjoy!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hole in Whole Foods' Heart?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, wrote an op-ed piece detailing his own prescription for fixing the health care crisis in America.

Mackey has some ideas that make sense, such as:

Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

But then he comes up with this doozy:

Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Unfortunately, private charity is not going to be enough to pay for health care the way it is in America now. What needs to happen, at the very least, is for the costs of insurance to come down so that individuals and businesses do not have a crippling financial burden.

Mackey evokes the “boogeyman” of “socialized medicine”:

All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Which is not true – take it from a Canadian doctor, Michael M. Rachlis, who wrote his own piece in the Los Angeles Times. And if “socialized medicine” is such a nightmare, why is France (whose system is a combination of public and private options) ranked number one among industrialized nations in health care?

And then Mackey takes this tack:

This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.

We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.

In other words, let them eat organic apples.

If Mackey has forgotten those of us who

1. have congenital (from-birth) diseases, hereditary diseases, or diseases that appeared in our childhood without warning,

2. have felt the scourge of cancer due to no personal behavior but because of the toxins floating around in our environment,

3. have received one of those sudden personal injuries, whether in the car or on the sidewalk or in the home, which are just as debilitating as illness,

then he is a fool. If he has deliberately ignored them in order to further his campaign against “socialized medicine”, then he is craven. It is tragically easy to ignore real-world problems when you sit in the throne of the CEO of a highly profitable corporation. It’s too bad Mackey hasn’t learned this lesson from Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t expect him to pay for my health care, but I am furious that people like him, who oppose true reform, might stand in the way of my being able to afford my own.

Already, the call to boycott Whole Foods is coming loud and clear. Mackey is out of step with the people who shop at Whole Foods, most of whom are progressive, caring, and more-than-ready for a change in the way we do health care.

I would also join the effort, loud and clear, except –

I have a brother and sister and brother-in-law who work at Whole Foods.

If the boycott has a measurable financial effect, who do you think is going to feel the sting first? John Mackey, or the average worker trying to feed a family or save money for college?

This is a situation that is grayer than it seems. Should we temper our righteous political anger with tangible personal concerns?

Let’s all think about it.