Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chalk It Up to Relationships

Being lucky enough to have both sons living within a mile of my house, we have developed a pattern of meeting on weekends for lunch.  One place we often go to has recently remodeled to now have a dozen pool tables, all of them with pockets.  When we were there this last time, with my 13 year-old grandson, I was remembering my experience at a Pool Hall, as they were then named, at about my grandson’s age.

I grew up in Mason City, Iowa, which was the hometown of Meredith Willson, of Music Man fame.  His inspiration for the featured song “Trouble in River City” was the Pleazeall Pool Hall, sometimes called Ramsey’s, after the family who owned it.  My father was a pretty good pool player and he brought me in when I was fifteen to meet the Ramseys.  I never actually asked him what his goal was, but I soon was skirting the city ordinance that disallowed entry until age sixteen (whether it was because of the beer, the girlie magazines, or the marginally socially-acceptable clientele, I never figured out).

And I learned to shoot pretty good pool…and billiards.

Even today I joke about lessons one can learn from shooting pool: colors, patterns, number sequence, geometry, physics, psychology, tolerance, attention to detail, and how to hold your liquor.

Willie Hoppe
I exposed both Tim and Sean to pool at an early age and the summer lodge we visit as a family has a pool table in the basement.  My grandchildren do not seem as interested: too many electronic distractions in their lives.  When I was growing up I knew the legends: Willie Hoppe, Minnesota Fats (both fictional and real), Willie Mosconi, and Paul Newman, hero of The Hustler.  Today, although you can see pool played on television, it is nine-ball, rather than the classic 14-1 straight ball, and you never see classic billiards or “snooker”, both considered the dividing line between amateurs and serious pool players by the crowd from Mason City.

Sean and Tim gave me a custom pool stick about twenty years ago, which I still keep in my car, carry to lunch at Big Shots, and pack in my golf case when we go to the Lodge. It is too delicate to use while breaking, but serves me well in the heat of the game.  I hold my own with both my sons, or at least they let me believe I do, and there are more mutual “Good shots!” than “Oopses”.  And we congenially break for food.

Willie Mosconi and "Cowboy Jimmy " Moore
Of course there are negatives to considering shooting pool as a sport.  Tables are indoors for starters. And the exercise quotient is limited to stretching over the table for a long shot.  In California we don’t have to worry about smoke, primary or secondary, unless the kitchen catches fire.  And the fact that at least half the tables last weekend had children under 16 playing at them has improved the language and discouraged the drinking.  The fact that there were so many young people there gives me hope that my grandchildren may find a greater interest as they mature, perhaps remembering it as something their dad and granddad enjoyed.

Part of their Heritage (check out my book "Harnessing a Heritage" at www.deefitzgerald.com} .

I don’t know about you, but I have had a rash of hang-up calls lately.  Next post I’m going to try to find out why.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Knights Templar and Bank Failure

“Do you know anything about the Knights Templar?” asked my younger, but grown son.  He has become a regular viewer of the Discovery, History and Food channels, which I encourage but am somewhat surprised as he is also an avid sports fan and in these days of hundreds of channel choices, there always seems to be something sporting to watch.

I vaguely remembered stories of one of my grandfathers who was a Mason and had either achieved the level of Knights Templar or was working toward it when he passed away in his sixties.  So, I thought it had something to do with the Freemasons, and I committed to doing some research to verify that.

Turns out that I can only be given credit for being half right.

Temple of Solomon
The group that collected that name started out as a group of nine noblemen in the early twelfth century, all related, all wealthy and on a mission to secure Jerusalem after the First Crusade.  They quickly gathered support, choosing their name from the fact that they were calling the Temple of Solomon their headquarters.

They were well chosen for their quest, being among the bravest, strongest, and most skilled of the knights; easily recognized by their white tunics and prominent red cross, astride magnificent warhorses.  They quickly gathered popular support and soon had the blessing of the Pope, which gave them several critical advantages:  they became a popular charity, the funds collected were free from taxation, and tied to that they had free access over borders, crossing at will to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

As their number grew, so did the diversity of their mission.  Bands of Muslims, loosely united under Saladin, were a threat to the pilgrims, often being attacked and killed by the hundreds.  A loose protection was afforded if the pilgrims had nothing to steal, and so the Knights Templar developed an organization that allowed depositing wealth in safe territory and redeeming the value left when they arrived in Jerusalem.

If this seems like an early banking system, that is correct.  In fact the note that was given the pilgrims to redeem their deposits was called a cheque, a French word.  This process was ultimately to lead to the downfall of the group, almost 200 years from their inception.

Phillip the IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Knights and, looking for a solution to his problem, played on the general distrust of so many of the secret rituals the group practiced: secret initiations, custody of relics, including stories that they had the Holy Grail, which probably never existed and the Shroud of Turin, which, although it existed, was probably a forgery which post-dated the history of the Knights.

King Phillip IV of France
Eventually, Phillip prevailed.  The then Pope, Clement V, was coerced into disbanding the order.  Prior to that, Phillip engaged in wholesale persecution of the leaders, the most prominent of whom was Jacques de Molay.  All were tortured and coerced confessions were used to accuse them of heresy.  Many, including de Molay, were burned alive at the stake.  After the order was disbanded, the member’s lands and assets were seized, most becoming property of the Church.  At their height the order literally owned Cypress.  At their depth they owned nothing.

Templars at the Stake
The parallel between their rise and fall and the world banking crisis is easy to make.  Power and wealth become abused and the asset value may precipitously change in a short period of time.  Perhaps the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch should feel fortunate we no longer consider heresy the great crime it once was.

Thank you, Tim for encouraging my information seeking.  The current Freemasons do indeed have a tier of initiations, culminating in Knights Templar, but it has little direct connection to these original knights.
In my next post I think I’ll explain why a lunch with my family made me reflect on cues and queues.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Roald Dahl - Another Reason to Read

I came to Roald Dahl late in my reading career.  Actually, before I read one of his books I saw the movie.  It was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder.  To this day I cannot get on an elevator without remembering that real elevators don’t go sideways.   I then went back and read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “James and the Giant Peach”, and eventually “Matilda”.

This latter was also made into a film, which I did not see, as was “James…”, which I did see, and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox", which I saw and enjoyed.  I heard on NPR that I may have a chance to see “Matilda”, not as a remake of the 1996 movie, but as a musical on stage.  That is if it is successful in London, and is considered a good investment to bring to Broadway.  The former is likely, but the latter is in doubt.

Dahl, in case you forgot, is known for the darkness of his children’s stories and unpredictable endings.   And the NPR pundits believe New York Theater has so turned to reruns and happy endings that investors are averse to risk.

It was the unpredictability and darkness that appealed to me in Dahl’s books and was one of the reasons I chose him to read to my children when they were growing up.  There were other favorite authors too, chosen for similar reasons.

Probably my most favorite author was Judith Viorst.  My younger son never tired of hearing how Anthony would get “fixed” by his younger brother.  The older always felt he deserved a book for his “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days”.  When the Marines took me to Okinawa for a year, I sent back tapes of some of Viorst’s books, which Mary put in Sean’s crib to remind him of his father’s voice.

We have had the opportunity to hear Ms. Viorst on two separate occasions, one with her son, Alexander.  She has become a perennial favorite, as we age at almost the same pace as she has with her books on aging, the most recent being “I’m Too Young To Be Seventy:, And Other Delusions”.  She shared with us the inspiration for her stories, all of which are hugely autobiographical.

Another favorite quirky author is Maurice Sendak, who also has seen his books successfully made into films.  Since Sendak was first a successful illustrator and did the illustrations for “Where the Wild Things Are”, he must have enjoyed seeing what the graphic artists were able to do with his concepts.  I was surprised to find out that he is still alive at age 83.

The last of the writers I am reminded of by Dahl’s recent play is Shel Silverstein, whose quirky cartoons first attracted me as a reader of “Playboy”, where he was a regular contributor for cartoons and feature stories in the 1950s and sixties.  My favorite book is “Light in the Attic” but his most famous would be “The Giving Tree”, which I reread on occasion.

I have two growing grandchildren, one just turned seven and the older will soon be thirteen.  I am tempted to ask my son if either of them have been exposed to my choice of off-beat children authors, but I am somewhat fearful of his answer.  I do know that they were read to and that they now read.  But reading is not their passion.  Their time choices run, as many of their contemporaries do, to X-Box, texting and the internet.

Maybe I can give them another reason to read.

My next post was inspired by my son Tim’s discovery of a group he had not heard of before, the Knights Templar.  Maybe I can pique some interest from you to learn the story of this group.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

HeLa

I have scrupulously avoided making a post seem like a book review, although I have recommended books in the past.  But I am currently engaged, and that is an appropriate word, in a book titled “The Immortal World of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.  This first novel by a very prolific author was a New York Times best seller in 2010.
It tells the story of a poor black woman who died of aggressive cervical adenoma-cancer in 1951: a growth so unusual that her treating physician, George Otto Gey of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, cultured biopsy sample both before her death and at her biopsy.  The humanity of the story centers on the lives of her surviving siblings and their progeny, all of whom were poor, in poor health, and unaware for twenty-five years that her cells were changing medical science and making some people a lot of money.

But the greater story in my mind is the evolution of cellular research and the doctrine of Informed Consent.

For more than twenty years I have been closely involved in a course designed to establish standard evaluation of dental care, under the umbrella of the California Association of Dental Plans.  In that course we have carefully constructed a definition of Informed Consent as coming from Tort Law and Battery.  We teach that it has four elements: Risk Assessment, Benefits, Alternatives and Financial choices, to which we have cleverly assigned the acronym, BARF.  While we do teach that California in a court case in the early 1970s defined the concept, I was unaware until I read Henrietta Lacks, that the first U.S. court case to mention the word Informed Consent was in 1957, when Dr. Paul G. Gebhard was found guilty of malpractice and had his license suspended because he performed an hysterectomy after discovering a cancerous tumor while the patient was under anesthesia.

In fact, the concept had very late origins worldwide, coming only after the Nuremburg Medical trials in 1947.

Rebecca Skoot
Ms. Skoot provides meaningful discussion also of the Privacy issues surrounding medical records and treatment.  I had been very aware of the restrictions about medical privacy from the establishment of the Healthcare Portability and accountability Act, and work within those restrictions on a daily basis in my work.  But the nuances of balancing the value of medical research against concerns for patient care were never as clear as this book paints it.

HeLa cells
To follow the advancement of cellular research and how much it was and is dependent on the cells from Henrietta Lacks, named for the first two letters of her first and last name, HeLa was absolute riveting: not only to me, but to my wife and her non-medical book discussion group.  The virulence of the cells in the tumor Dr. Gey biopsied was responsible for those cells and their dividing successors to develop freezing of cells with stasis, shipping of cells throughout the world, in vitro fertilization, testing the effects of space on cells, and recombination, identification of chromosomes and ultimately defining the human genome, with development of the Polio vaccine, with meaningful studies of the effects of atomic radiation contamination, and even current and future treatment of AIDS.

I am currently working on a position paper for a dental group that requires analysis of papers written on a subject.  In dentistry, and to a lesser degree in medicine, valid long-term double-blind studies with large populations are rare.  Part of the reason for that, other than expense, is that if patients in the study are made aware of the risks and benefits, many would opt out of the study and few would voluntarily agree to placebo treatment.  So, in order to proceed with those kinds of studies, patients are given very broad-based information on which to make a decision.

In some cases this means that “experimental” treatment, which most terminal cancer patients accept, may actually aggravate a condition rather than cure it.  This was certainly true of Henrietta, who was treated painfully with radiation, the treatment of choice in 1950.

It was also true of my niece who recently died of recurring breast cancer, slowly and painfully, while in experimental treatment.

The book brings more questions than answers to the issue, the family did not suddenly become wealthy or healthy, but it is certainly worth the read.

In my next post I will catch you up on what is happening to the works of one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl.