Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for August, 2014

It’s (Still) All About Jobs

Lots of noise in the business world about the economy. What’s the Fed gonna do? Is the Recession over? Will rising interest rates pull us back into the despair of 2008-10? What about the blah blah blah?  That’s all this noise is, really. Blah blah blah. It’s all about jobs. Still. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs and work. There aren’t enough jobs out there. People have stopped looking for jobs. Unemployment is stagnant, but even those numbers don’t tell the story because hundreds of thousands of people have just given up the search.

But wait, there’s another side to the coin. It seems that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs out there, but businesses can’t find people with the skills, or even the desire to learn the skills necessary to fill those jobs. Gone is the willingness to take an entry-level job of whatever sort at whatever pay in order to start the journey to “get ahead”. Some would go so far as to say that NOT taking that low-pay starter job is a rational decision. The cumulative value of various and sundry government programs add up to a “salary” that far exceeds most entry level jobs, benefits which would go away if one took such a position.

So which is it? Come on…you can’t have it both ways now. Either there are no jobs, employers are withholding jobs to avoid this or that (Obamacare, yadda yadda), or employable adults are simply unwilling to work. Which is it? Are there no jobs, or has there been a paradigm shift in the collective sense of what it is that must be present in a job before it is worth taking?

I call BS on the no jobs thing. There are jobs out there to be had. Good jobs. Jobs that will add up to $20, $30, $40 or more per hour jobs. The problem with all of those jobs, and the reason that employers are having a tough time filling them is two-fold: you don’t start at $20, $30, or $40 per hour, and in order to have those jobs you have to do actual work. It’s Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness, not Happiness.

Pursuit is another word for work.

Say what you will about government policies that discourage hiring (30 hour work week = full time, mandatory provision of health “insurance” for companies with >50 employees), gnash as many teeth as you please about the inability to house a family on a single minimum wage income (what household has only one worker now, anyhow?), mount as much hew and cry all you wish about income disparity, in the end it all comes down to a very simple, very common denominator: in order to have a job you must be willing to go to work.

All work has value; there is honor is any job. That is not to say that all jobs and all work are equal, or have equal value, or even that there is any justice in the valuation of one job relative to another (why is someone who sells municipal bonds a millionaire while the plumber who drains the basement that was supposed to be kept dry by the pipes purchased with those bonds is not?). No, the point is that having a job, going to work, doing the work has an intrinsic value in and of itself, and that all jobs intersect in society in order that society can function, much like the 11 men on a football team must each do his job in order to move the ball down field.

It’s been offered many times by many people that the best social program for a society is a job. The job you start with, or the job you may have at the moment is not necessarily the job you want to end up with, but each job provides you with a sense of participating, of producing, of contributing, while at the same time perhaps providing a stepping stone to something better. The “Pursuit” in Pursuit of Happiness.

To land and then to keep a job is really not all that difficult. I worked for others as a younger man, and for some 25 years now I have been an employer. Really, as someone who gives people a job I’m here to tell you it’s not that tough to get one. You need three things, only, to get a job. You must WANT a job. Once you have a job must be willing to DO the job, to work hard. You must have integrity–you must be honest.

Seriously, that’s all it takes.

Ideally you would add a fourth component; you would be ambitious. People who have jobs to fill also have businesses to grow, and growing businesses have room for ambitious workers to grow into much larger jobs. Hard workers who are honest, who put in an honest day’s work who have any ambition whatsoever move up, either with the company that gave them that first job or with another company that is competing for the skills they acquired because they took that “entry-level” job. The managing editor of Time Magazine started there in a sub-minimum wage job as a fact-checker. She is the epitome of the axiom that all you need is a foot in the door and the willingness to work hard.

Sure, sure, I know, it’s not always that cut and dried, and people get rooked, and bad stuff happens. I know. That’s life. Life happens. Life can be hard. In life, though, the reality is that rarely, if ever, is anything handed to you. You earn it. You don’t sit back because something unfortunate might happen because the odds are really stacked in your favor that they won’t, go against you that is, if you simply go out and demonstrate your willingness to get a job, even an entry-level job, work hard, and be honest. The work/life balance thing is all well and good, as long as you remember that work is part of the equation, too.

Indeed, work comes first.

 

Thoughtfulness in a Self-Important World

Thoughtful: 1) Contemplative, pensive. To give deep consideration to an idea, news, or concept. 2) Showing consideration for the feelings or needs of other people.

How much information is too much and who gets to make that choice? Is there an element of timing in that question? For instance, is the amount of information that is ultimately enough (and not too much) subject to some kind of schedule, and if so who gets to choose when the information is made available? I’m prompted to think about this by a couple of very current events, or types of events: two instances of death resulting from police/citizen interactions, and more than several instances of government officials or public individuals enmeshed in scandal, or the appearance of scandal. You’ll not find commentary here about the particulars of any of these current events; I have no standing and therefore will offer no comments. My over-arching thesis, though, is that the twin virtues of transparency and disclosure have been tarnished in these instances by the evil twins impatience and entitlement.

Think about it for a moment. Events that are large and important fairly cry out for patience and a deeper, more thoughtful discussion. One that begins after facts have been extricated from the web of innuendo that is born in the bosom of personal opinion. The stampede of analysis now comes even as a story unfolds, before it even ends. It matters not whether we are observers of an event that touches on a certifiable “big theme” (e.g. racism), or one that is tiny, local, or personal (e.g. infidelity). The commonality rests not with the protagonists in the event but rather within its observers, especially those who comment: it’s all about them.

Are you old enough to remember when it was considered unseemly to be a self-promoter? Even if you are, it’s tough to recall those days before the ever-connected world when blatant “look at me” or “listen to me” behavior was met with the collective cluck of a society bred for humility. This “cult of self-promotion” not only imposes itself on big events and grand issues (comments that begin with “I think…”), it also means that no one is to be allowed a privacy if the entitled and impatient self-promoters decide that they simply must know, well, whatever. Right now. “A universal, wrathful demand of the public for complete disclosure” about everything and anything. (Gideon Lewis-Kraus)

The need to know trumps all; one who asks the question in some way is granted all manner of primacy over one who might have the answer. It’s can be uncomfortable to watch at times.

The phenomena is not without irony. Witness articles critical of self-promotion that tell the story of someone who is almost famous for talking about not promoting him/herself. Nice, huh? It’s like a hall of mirrors, a kind of “Inception”. Trust that it doesn’t escape my attention that there are more than several folks out there who consider “musings” and “Random Thoughts: a form of self-promotion. An irony within a discussion of irony.

There’s a certain power in thoughtfulness, a seriousness that induces thoughtfulness, in turn, in the listener. If we always know what you think or what you did precisely when you thought or acted, how are we to ascertain what, if anything, is important? If one demands full and immediate disclosure of any and all information, regardless of how significant or trivial it might be, or how public or private the consequences, how are we to order anything at all along the grand/small continuum? At some point the primacy of the inquisitor must find its limit, if only for a moment.

A moment of peace for the rest of us, should we care to think about something deeper than the event in question. A moment of peace for an individual who might harken back to an earlier day, one when it was possible to graciously decline to offer anything at all, lest it encourage someone to be interested enough to ask questions.

Sunday musings 8/17/14

Sunday musings…

1) DOMS. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. The CrossFit gift that keeps on giving.

2) Rob Lowe. “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

I came across a piece written by Mr. Lowe in Slate Magazine about dropping his first-born off at college. Quite well-written, I might add. I know nothing of Mr. Lowe other than the couple of his works I’ve seen (I do not read tabloids or bios of actors/athletes, etc.). From his article, in which he shares the pain of letting go of that first child and the fear that letting go might mean being forgotten, I get a feeling that he and I would be quite comfortable in one another’s company. The above quote seals it.

There’s a piece of mine out there somewhere in which I say “never compare your dress rehearsal with someone else’s Opening Night,” or something along those lines. Actually, it might have been “don’t compare your practice reel to someone else’s Highlight Reel” now that I think about it. But no matter, pretty similar to Mr. Lowe’s advice to a son having a sudden crisis of confidence wondering if he will measure up to his classmates. It was good advice from me then, and it’s good advice from Mr. Lowe now, both to his son and to each one of us. The courage to fail during the process, and the will to endure the endless behind-the-scenes effort necessary to create a “Highlight Reel”, should be a source of pride, a wellspring of confidence for all of us as we view everyone else’s.

Good on ya, Rob Lowe. First round’s on me.

3) Twain. “I used to remember everything, but now I only remember the things that never happened.” –Mark Twain.

Twain never disappoints, does he? There’s all kinds of meat on that bone. Is he saying that he no longer remembers things that really happened, only those things he imagined at the time, or imagines now? Or is he rather saying that looking back on his life he only remembers those things that SHOULD have happened, but didn’t?

Knowing Twain, my bet is that his answer would be:”yes.”

Memory is a funny thing. Partly accurate reportage, one’s memory is leavened by equal parts wishful thinking and regret. At least according to Twain. Think of your own narrative, the telling of your story. How much is fact, how much is embellishment (never let the facts interfere with a good story!), and how much is what you wish had happened? We were telling stories at dinner the other night, stories we all knew, ones we’d all taken part in creating and ones we’ve told countless times. Each time they are told they get a little better. Does this happen with you? Some of the stuff in our stories probably never really happened, but we remember it just the same.

But Twain also touches on regret in this quote, don’t you think? Things that could have been, or should have been, but for one reason or another, never were. Dangerous ground, that. Regret can turn the urn of happiness into a sieve. In his later years Twain was said to be increasingly bitter. One wonders if his regret fertilized the weeds in the garden of his memory.

Ticking time bomb, or soothing balm over time. Memory serves.

I’ll see you next week.

Posted by bingo at August 17, 2014 7:01 AM

Sunday musings 8/10/14

Sunday musings…

1) Blondetourage. Should be a word.

2) Donovan. Landon Donovan has announced that he will retire at the end of this MSL season.

In other news, Johnny Manziel.

3) Burpee. “Talk Burpee to Me”, a full length article in today’s NYT on CrossFit and CrossFitters socializing. All in all very positive.

End of the beginning, or beginning of the end?

4) Rank. In a similar vein, Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health magazines published Top 50 lists of the fittest athletes in the world. Kinda funny that they would publish them in the same week. Perhaps this whole CrossFit Games thing really is breaking through into the main stream.

Neither list is as outrageous as the Outside list of a couple years ago that ranked only endurance athletes; both lists include our own Rich Froning at 19 (SI) and 4 (MH). As with all such lists (50 greatest MLB players, etc) one should never discuss these lists without proper preparation.

Start with beer.

5) Villain. While I’m thinking about magazine articles, SI posited that MLB is less interesting and less compelling because it is without a single villain in its ranks. No A-Rod orRoger Clemmens, not even a Reggie Jackson to love/hate. It’s an interesting proposition, and one which naturally prompts me to turn to our CrossFit world (shocking, I know). Try as I might, at least in the competitive arena we, too, are notably lacking for a villain. Heck, we barely even have any intramural enmity among the competitors. What passes for anything like this is a single couple of Games athletes who ignored each other on the field, and the only reason this was evident at all is because everybody else was so busy cheering for each other.

What do you think? Is Sports Illustrated correct? Is it necessary to have someone to cheer AGAINST in order to have competition that maintains its interest?

6) Mission. As we exit our Games Season and enter the 8 months between the Games and the Open, this is a good time to remember the true mission of CrossFit, the program. Now is the time that we quietly go about the work of making ourselves, and others, better. Even for the 250,000 or so of us who signed up for the Open and made neither The Games nor Regionals, it’s not about 8 months to prep for Open 15.1, it’s 8 months to quietly go about the business of mechanics, then consistency, and then intensity. These are the months when those of us who coach do our most important work, helping people become better versions of themselves for no reason other than that, to become better.

The CrossFit Games are a spectacle, one meant to show the world that a wholly different level of physical and mental fitness is possible. They are an advertising vehicle meant to let the world at large know that it is CrossFit, the program, that best allows the creation and expression of this level of fitness. The Games and their run-up, like other fitness competitions in which CrossFitters participate, are also ways for us to commune with like-minded souls, to foster our rather uniquely positive community on a scale much larger than that to be found in a Box or a garage or the corner of a commercial gym.

For almost all of us, though, the competitive aspect of the Games season is not what CrossFit is about at all. The Sport of Fitness is our spectator sport, and for some it is our weekend warrior pursuit, but these 8 months of the “Quiet Season” are what CrossFit “the program” is really all about. Now, without the siren song of The Games or The Open, we quietly and not so quietly go about the business of the core, essential competition that speaks to the mission of CrossFit laid out so eloquently so many years ago in “What is Fitness?”: you vs. you. The daily effort to move along the health/wellness/fitness curve as we strive to become a better version of ourselves tomorrow than we were yesterday through the toil and effort we endure today.

The Games are over for 2014, but you and I are still in season. We are always in season, always competing. It’s you vs. you. Still. The most important mission for CrossFit, the program, is to help you win.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 10, 2014 6:02 AM

The Bellevue Death Ray, Revisited

Man, what a place Bellevue Hospital must’ve been back in the day. It was crazy enough in MY day in the mid-1980′s. Bellevue is arguably the most famous hospital in the world, famous mostly for the treatment of psychiatric patients, and made all the more famous by the Christmas movie “The Miracle on 49th St.” in which Santa Claus was institutionalized in one of Bellevue’s top floors. For those of you who don’t know Bellevue Hospital, the top six floors of a 30 floor tower were (are?) reserved for psychiatric patients, at least one of them for psychiatric patients who hail from Rikers Island.

I’m not really sure why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Bellevue recently. My experiences as an ophthalmologist in private practice in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio really have exactly nothing in common with my experiences as an ophthalmology resident on the lower East Side of New York City. Nonetheless Bellevue has been on my mind. Since I’ve been thinking about it I thought I’d share some stories about Bellevue and about my time as a resident at all of the NYU hospitals. This will also give me an opportunity to introduce you to some very special, very interesting characters whose lives crossed paths with mine.

Irwin Siegel was an optometrist with multiple roles at Bellevue Hospital. His most important role for me and my fellow residents was to teach us about optics and refraction, the science and technique of prescribing glasses and contact lenses. Dr. Siegel was also a noted researcher in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal diseases, specifically diseases of the macula or center of the retina; there is actually a syndrome named after Dr. Siegel and two of his partners.

Dr. Siegel was a fascinating man, especially fascinating to a child of suburbia like me. The prototypical New Yorker, Dr. Siegel lived his entire life in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He did not own a car, and used some form of public transportation for more than 95% of his travels. You got the sense that any forays outside the island of Manhattan were viewed as akin to a ride on the “Heart of Darkness” express. The guy simply reeked of New York, and he spent his entire professional career at Bellevue Hospital.

Recall that my life’s memories are wrapped up in eyecare, optics, and the optical industry. My father’s first job was at American Optical in Southbridge Massachusetts, at the time the largest ophthalmic manufacturing company on the planet. The very first lasers were actually developed in the laboratories of AO. In the early 1960s Dr. Siegel and his partners were doing research on lasers at Bellevue. Now, as you can imagine, something as powerful as the energy of the laser light had also come to the attention of the U.S. Military. So comes the story of the Bellevue Death Ray!

Dr. Siegel and Dr. Ron Carr were doing laser work somewhere in the bowels of Bellevue. This would have been in the early 1960s, and the laser they were working on was an enormous mechanical monstrosity, a piece of equipment that took up more space than most upper East Side kitchens. Not only was it physically enormous, but the generation of a single pulse of laser took well over a minute, a minute filled with a crescendo of sound not unlike what one would experience when a jet engine is engaged . Imagine a room, half filled with this exotic piece of near–science fiction equipment, surrounded by white–coated scientists all wearing goggles that look as if they had been spirited away from a Mount Everest expedition. Add in a few very senior military officers in full dress regalia and the scene is set.

The officers visiting from the Pentagon really had no idea what to expect. They were intrigued by this new technology, interested to see if there might be some military application. Dr. Siegel noted that he and Dr. Carr were mostly bemused by the presence of the officers, although he did admit being a little bit impressed by the two-star general in their midst. The  experiment/demonstration was set up, on one end of the room the monstrous laser, on the other end of the room a rabbit in a box, his head poking through a hole, the laser aimed at his left eye. Goggles were donned and the switch was flipped.

The laser came to life, slowly building energy in the rudimentary laser tube, the whine and the clang and the clatter growing in intensity with each passing second. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Carr stood calmly to the side, ignoring the laser and concentrating on the rabbit. The officers, on the other hand, slowly crept back away from the laser, trying to melt through the wall, and failing that trying to become as small as possible. Two-dimensional, if possible. The wail of the laser grew… the sound filled the room… the wail, the clatter, a crescendo… BAM!

And then, silence. The doctors and the officers took off their goggles. They walked over to the  box and discovered that the rabbit was dead. Immediately one of the colonels started doing a jig. “We have a death ray! We have a death ray!” He began to run for the door, headed for the telephone (no cell phones or sat phones in those days). “Well, hold on a minute,” said Dr. Siegel. “Let’s just take a closer look.” It turns out that rabbits are not terribly bright creatures, and that when they are frightened they tend to forget how to move backwards. This poor bunny, the only creature in the room without Ed Hillary’s goggles, had been so frightened by the noise of the laser that he literally suffocated himself, pushing against the rim of the hole in the rabbit box in an effort to escape.

When Dr. Siegel looked inside the rabbit’s eye there was a single perfectly round burn, approximately 2 mm in size in the middle of the rabbits retina. There,  in the space of approximately 5 minutes, was born and died the Bellevue Death Ray.

The epilogue of this story is rather interesting, though. About 10 years later, after numerous refinements of both the production of laser energy and the focusing of that energy, one of the most important trials in the history of medicine took place using focused laser light to prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. The Diabetic Retinopathy Study was the very first prospective, double–blind, randomized clinical study done on a cooperative basis across the entire country, the type of study that is now considered the ‘gold standard’ for medical research. The results of that study have saved countless individuals from a life of blindness due to diabetes.

This is where I trained, and men like Dr. Siegel who told us this tale from Bellevue Hospital as part of our optics classes, is one of the men who trained me.

Cape Week

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the only constant is change; the only thing in life on which you can depend is that things will not always ever be the same. An important corollary to this is that all things, good or bad, will come to an end. So it appears to be in my little slice of the world. While it’s not quite clear exactly when, it is clear that a very important part of my adult life is near an end.

This is the weekend when Beth and I digest the latest iteration of the annual White Family Cape Cod vacation week. For 23 consecutive years all, or almost all, of my family has congregated in the same 2 cottages across the street from the ocean in the idyllic little town of West Dennis, MA. After that comes 12-14 hours of driving home, a rolling debriefing and decompression from a full-immersion experience into my family. For 8 years or so both vacation and the drive home have been fodder for my “Sunday musings”, some of my best. Although some aspects of the vacation were as immutable as Bill Murray waking up in that hotel room every day in Groundhog Day–a seeming violation of my “everything changes” dictum–each year has actually turned out to be a truly unique story told exactly once. For 23 years. It’s really been a remarkable streak when you think about it.

The genesis of this annual odyssey was my youngest sister’s wedding and the addition of a fourth set of in-laws to the family Holiday dynamic. Beth and I are both first borns. We were the first to marry and the first to bring members of the next generation into the family. We have always lived a mutually disagreeable distance from both families, in the backyard of neither, and no closer to either. Both families were equally unhappy with our zip code. Really a compliment, when you think about it.

As part of this it was clear right from the start that there would be no winning and losing when it came to family visits on the big 2 American Holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nope, it was gonna be all War of the Roses, just degrees of losing. My proposed solution? We would declare a summer White Family Holiday and we would all convene in one place for a week together. Thus began 23 years of “The Cape Week.” When we began my caboose, Randy, was 6 weeks old, the 5th of what would become a gaggle of 10 grandchildren, the youngest of whom is now an 8th grader. Somewhere there’s a picture of him dwarfed by a 15 lb. lobster at dinner in year one.

For 23 years we distilled each year’s visits into a single week. We laughed and we cried, whispered and screamed. We loved and not-so-loved over each week as my generation fell into and out of our childhood family roles. It’s kinda like draft slots, right? You sit at the same place at the family dinner table and its even called “Beth’s seat”, or “Darrell’s seat”, or whomever. Whatever your place was in the family (agitator, comforter, achiever, slacker) at some point in the week you fell right into your allotted space. Triumphs and tribulations were tabulated as we offered each other all manner of advice and support. Some of it even solicited! In some years we single-handedly kept the vintners of California solvent with our dinner-time consumption.

So why now? Why is this summer the year that the end is nigh? Ah, it’s that old bugaboo, change. The younger couples and their children were paying attention and they have seen what it takes for the grandchildren to attend as they get older; this has (rightfully) given them pause. It’s hard, very hard, to make a week like this happen every year. As the kids get older, move through their school years and into real life, getting them to the Cape becomes ever more challenging, even when they truly want to be there. More than that, though, is the inexorable change wrought by time in my parents, Gram and Gramp. Soon, much too soon, the trip will either be too much for them to handle, or they’ll not be with us to handle it at all. All things come to an end, after all. Even something as unlikely and wonderful as a family of 20 meeting for a week on the same beach for 23 years.

The lessons are as obvious as they are at once joyous and sad. Good things are worth the effort it takes to keep them alive. My family, led by my brother, will likely try to do just that. Even good things, or the best of things, will eventually succumb to change and perhaps even come to an end. These realizations are bittersweet in our case for they bring along the dread for what this proxy for ultimate change portends. Late one night Mrs. bingo was awakened to the sounds of my muffled sobs as the end appeared before me. This year? Next? Change is the only constant. Everything comes to an end.

As I turned to leave, not knowing if I would ever return, I bent down to kiss my beloved beach goodbye.

 

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