Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Eye Surgery Makes Columnist Nervous

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 23, 2013.

GOUVEIA: On the road to better sight

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Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013 11:31 pm | Updated: 12:07 am, Mon Dec 23, 2013.

By the time you read this my medical procedure will likely be over. Nothing complicated, but under a knife nonetheless. I've always believed there are only two kinds of surgery: Major and someone else's.
I'm having cataracts removed, which I'm told is now almost the equivalent of having your toenails clipped. It is a procedure almost half of all Americans have at some point in their lives. It's supposed to be a big nothing. The difference is now it's happening to me.

I'm a complete coward when it comes to medical procedures. I hate needles, to the point where I turn my head when someone is getting an injection on television. I have been known to pass out while just sitting still and having blood drawn.
I'm a big wuss.
But when your vision deteriorates to a certain point, you have no choice. So a few weeks ago I went to see a specialist who told me I needed this particular procedure. Thus began a flurry of appointments and a whole lot of explanations - which frankly, I could have done without.
I know it's important we all understand exactly what is going to happen to us once we step into any operating room. Knowledge is power, and every patient needs to be a fully informed one. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I had only a vague idea what cataracts were, and was content with that limited knowledge most of my life. When they had to be removed, I just wanted the doctor to go ahead and take them out - preferably while I was sleeping comfortably and blissfully unaware.
But no, apparently there is an ethical and medical obligation to explain these things in tremendous detail. Thus, in a short time I have learned more than I ever really wanted to know about cataracts and their removal.
My doctor (who is very good at what he does and very personable) told me all about it like he was explaining the fundamentals of baseball. He will begin by putting drops in my eyes, giving me a shot to numb the area, and then make a small incision in my eye. Then he will break up the lens inside my eyeball, remove it in pieces, and insert the new clear lens inside. Just a few hours later, I will be ready to go.
The problem is I pretty much heard nothing after the shot near the eye part. My brain was totally frozen in fear at that point.
But eventually I got by it, secure in the knowledge I would be floating along the edge of consciousness while it took place.
It was then it registered he would be cutting my eye with a sharp instrument. I don't quite know how I thought the cataracts were going to be removed, maybe with a magical laser beam or something. But suddenly it hit home that he was going to slice my eyeball open like a grape (at least in my now terrified mind).
And did he really say "breaking up the lens and taking it out in pieces?" He's going to cut into my eye, and then break stuff inside it? I mean the logical side of me says it makes sense, but the rest of me is screaming in protest.
I have been very fortunate thus far in my 57 years on the planet. I have avoided any major surgery and been relatively healthy. I am grateful for this and count myself as extremely lucky. This procedure is a virtual walk in the park compared to what others go through every day.
And I am looking forward to improved vision. Maybe I'll now be able actually see who catches those passes at the Patriot games, or accurately read what is on my computer screen. Those who knew me as an umpire years ago say I should have had this back then.
I should be on my way home now. I hope they give me a patch on my eye. My grandson loves playing pirates. I just hope he doesn't want me to let him wear it instead.
So Merry Christmas to everyone. And I'll be seeing you - hopefully a lot more clearly.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Where to Go For the Holidays - Tough Choices

So where are you going for the holidays?


            That’s a question families everywhere face each year, and the answers vary depending on a number of factors.  Geography, religion, children, illnesses, divorce, aging relatives and weather are just some of the circumstances that come into play in this most sensitive and personal of decisions.


            When I was a child, our family hosted holiday dinners almost every year.  We had the biggest house, and 20-25 people was the norm come Thanksgiving or Christmas.  We kids loved staying at home but still getting to see so many relatives, including some we only saw at this these events.  If not for those dinners, I would have never really known my Uncle Percy.  The memories of those days are priceless.


            Then when I was twelve, my parents split up.  Things got messy, and holidays became something of a strain.  The gatherings were smaller, we started going elsewhere more often, and it just wasn’t the same.


            At 16 I started dating the girl I would eventually marry.  We began attending at least two family celebrations each holiday, trying to make everyone happy.  We wed five years later and continued the practice.  It was inconvenient and tiring, but we managed


            Then we had our first child.  And thus began a gut-wrenching tug of war familiar to many families, one which kept us debating and negotiating for a couple of decades.


            Everyone (mostly grandparents) wanted to see the kids on Christmas and were devastated at even the possibility they might not.  We all lived in the same general area, so geography could not be used as a reason.  But it soon became apparent to us that rushing around with children on Christmas Day was not a lot of fun.


            Still we did it, believing it worth the effort.  With each passing year we would float the possibility of staying home for our own dinner.  Our house was too small to host, but we thought perhaps we would see one family before the holiday and one after.


            But the guilt and gnashing of teeth was awful.  My grandmother – who I loved more than anything – cried the first year we announced the plan.  She told me there would be a time when she wasn’t around, and she didn’t want to miss her one-year-old great-grandson on Christmas.  We told her she had to understand.


            Then she suddenly got sick, and died that Christmas Day.  One of the last things she asked me was to please let her see “my baby” on Christmas Day.  I promised I would, but never got the chance.  That was my saddest Christmas, but in many ways my most meaningful one. 


We told ourselves then we would do whatever necessary to see family on holidays.  In the years that followed we bought a bigger house and started hosting.  We still did some double celebrations, but the number was greatly reduced.


            You might think all this would make me more understanding when faced with the holiday situation after my kids had their own families.  And you would be wrong. 


I was every bit as bad as our parents were in the beginning, unable to process the thought I might not see my kids and grandchildren on Christmas.  I laid on the guilt, just as thick as they had.


            Today my younger son and his family live several states away.  They are extremely good about alternating holidays.  My oldest and his family live nearby, and they have been equally good at doing the same.  And I have eased off the guilt trips.  Not much, mind you.  Just slightly, but I’m trying.


            It is difficult having lots of family who want you on holidays.  But trust me, it’s more difficult when those doing the wanting are gone.  So the eternal struggle to find the middle ground continues, and each family does what it thinks is best.


            It’s not selfish to want to spend Christmas at home with your family.  But that desire often doesn’t fade with age.  Still, as we get older, we have to accept our changing roles.  But nowhere does it say we have to always like it.


No matter where you go this season, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all you good readers.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Year Later, Gun Fight Goes On


By Bill Gouveia


Almost one year ago today, the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut took place.  Over two dozen people – the majority young children – died in a senseless slaughter committed by a sick individual with guns that fired massive amounts of bullets in just seconds.


On that day, I promised to stop being a coward on this issue.  I wrote in this space about pledging to speak out as a citizen concerning the lack of common sense gun control in this country.  I begged our legislators on every level to take action and make sure we were doing all we could to keep guns – particularly those that fire incredible numbers of bullets quickly – out of the hands of people who clearly should not have them.


That was one year ago, and the greatest country in the world has still done nothing to make their sacrifice and that of their families truly mean something in the struggle against gun violence.  In fact, if anything, the pro-gun lobby is now stronger than ever.


I’m not anti-gun.  I don’t like them, I choose not to own them, but I respect the rights of those who do.  The problem is many of them don’t seem to respect my rights and the rights of people like the children in Newtown.


We live in a society where many places are afraid to allow the dispensing of medical marijuana, but are just fine with selling weapons at a gun show with little to no background check.  We live in a society where the biggest current political battles are repealing a law that provides healthcare to those who need it, while zealously making sure guns that can kill hundreds of people in mere seconds are available to almost anyone.


Congratulations to the NRA and its many supporters.  You have done a magnificent job both in the political arena and in the battleground of public opinion.  You understand better than anyone what it takes to be successful in passing laws or preventing them from being passed.  You have perfected the most dangerous, most difficult, and most effective weapon possible.


You have harnessed fear.


You make people afraid.  You tell them who and what they should fear.  You thrive and prosper because of this.  You feed on it, use it, manipulate it.  And you do it better than almost anyone else.


I have to grudgingly respect your political acumen.  You are always on the offensive.  You didn’t back down for a second in the face of the Newtown tragedy, or Columbine, or Aurora.  You didn’t try to ride out the storm, maintain a low profile, orpractice damage control.


You went on the attack.  You suggested teachers should carry weapons.  You said our problems stem from not having enough guns in the hands of the public, rather than having too many.  


You convinced people already distrustful of their government to trust it even less.  You told them the President of the Unites States wants to take away their guns, even though there is no evidence to support that claim.  


You told people the government was to blame for not institutionalizing more of the mentally ill, while at the same time you made it more difficult to prevent mentally unstable people from getting guns.  You knew that if you just made people afraid, if you convinced them someone was trying to take away their rights, they would support you.  And you were right – at least so far.


But my faith in the American people is as great as yours.  I believe they will eventually force the passage of reasonable laws creating standardized backgroundchecks.  I believe they will see regulating guns is different from banning them.  I believe they will recognize your politics are self-serving and destructive.


And most importantly, I believe the deaths in Newtown were not in vain.  Along with Columbine, Aurora and other tragedies, Newtown will eventually help turn the battle for logical gun control.  I believe better gun laws means safer neighborhoods and fewer dead children.


You can go on all you want about the Second Amendment and bad government.  But you can’t change the fact we are the most violent and gun-happy nation on earth, and we owe those Newtown children better than this.


You will not use my fear against me.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed ataninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Enjoy this Golden Age of Boston Sports


By Bill Gouveia


            It has become a bit passé to bemoan how spoiled we Boston sports fans have become.  But I’m going to do it anyway.


            It’s like telling your kids how tough it was in the “old days”.  You know, when you actually had to get out of your chair to change the TV channel, and walked to school in the snow uphill both ways every day?  The kind of stuff you swore you would never drone on about after listening to your elders do the same when you were younger.


            But when it comes to sports here in New England, these in fact are the good old days.  They may never get any better.  We are living in the golden age of Boston sports, and those of us nearer to the end of our journey than the beginning are really starting to appreciate it. Or at least – we should be.


            Let’s make the obligatory review here.  The Red Sox have won three World Series titles (including this season) in the last ten years, after going most of nine decades without one.  The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001, and played in two others – the most successful professional sports franchise in the country over that time. 


            The Bruins won a Stanley Cup in 2011 after almost 40 years of futility.  And the Celtics won a championship in 2008 and nearly won a couple more before moving into their current rebuilding mode.  That’s eight professional championships in the last 13 years, and several near-misses.


            That is one heck of a run.  So Boston fans must be just smiling and enjoying life, right?  If you believe that, you just don’t understand the general nature of the average New England fan.  I wouldn’t say we are generally pessimistic, but also wouldn’t disagree if that was your opinion. 


There are people who think the proverbial glass is half full.  There are folks who believe the glass is half empty.  Then there are Boston sports fans who want to know who took the other half of the water, and who they can blame for allowing it to happen.


            If you’ve ever listened to Boston sports talk radio (my car radio is perpetually tuned to one of the two stations) you know the passion New Englanders bring to what most consider fun and games.  And you know that shortly after the Red Sox won the World Series this October, the focus of hardcore fans had already turned to who was going to be catching and playing centerfield next season and how they should be obtained.


            Patriot fans feel like they are suffering through a “down year” as their injury-riddled team heads towards its fifth consecutive division title.  In my 41st year as a season ticket holder, I laugh as I listen to complaints about the team not signing enough stars or the way their coach conducts his press conferences.


            I sat on cold aluminum benches to watch this team for 30 years.  I went when you couldn’t give away game tickets.  I suffered through Dick McPherson, Ron Meyer and Rod Rust as head coaches.  I was there when the highlight of the game was a dog catching a Frisbee at halftime.


            So my advice is – smell the roses.  Pause and appreciate what we have been given.  This is something special, something unique, and it may never happen again in my lifetime or that of my children and grandchildren.  This is the pinnacle of being a professional sports fan.


Of course, I should take my own advice.  I’m as bad if not worse than most.  I can find a problem behind any silver lining when it comes to our local teams.  It is the result of watching Bucky Bleeping Dent’s homer, the ball go through Buckner’s legs, Grady Little leaving Pedro in, and Eli Manning twice outplaying Tom Brady in a Super Bowl.


But I’m trying to rehabilitate myself.  I’m turning over a new leaf.  I’m going to sit back and enjoy this tremendous sporting environment in which we live.  I’m going to relax.


What’s that?  The Sox signed AJ Pierrzsynski to catch?  Oh man, bad move.  They should have kept Salty.  There goes next season. 


I’m not sure this rehab thing is working.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Raw Milk Under Seige in Foxboro

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 2, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Got milk?  Was it from the farm or the super market?

            If the Foxboro Board of Health adopts regulations currently under consideration, raw milk might not be available any longer in Foxboro.  Lawton Farms, the one operating dairy farm in Foxboro and Norfolk County, says they already come under existing state rules and laws.  They claim the proposed extra layer of regulations would drive them out of business.

            While they have not yet publicly discussed or considered the controversial milk measures, the BOH has definitely gotten something they seem to have been seeking:  A lot of attention. 

Their recent public hearing on the proposal had to be indefinitely postponed last week when an overflow crowd showed up to participate.  When the meeting room capacity was exceeded, largely due to the presence of Lawton Farm supporters, officials had to cancel and plan for a larger meeting in the future.

No one seems to doubt supporters of the new regulations are motivated by an honest desire to protect the health of the public.  But there is a great deal of controversy over the health benefits and problems associated with raw milk, and it is unclear in the minds of many whether local regulation is the answer.

Raw milk advocates point out Massachusetts state regulations provide extensive protection already.  They question the need for an overlapping set of local rules.  Additionally, the proposed local regs would tremendously increase the reporting responsibilities of farm operators.  According to Terri Lawton, one of the farm’s owners, this in particular could force the farm to close.

This is not the place to get into the complicated issues of milk (now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write).  There is no doubt the government has an interest in regulating the production of this very common product in the name of safety and general health.  At the same time, much evidence exists to indicate raw milk has certain health benefits and people want the right to purchase it – short of buying their own cow (which no doubt would violate other board of health regulations).

            There appears to be no sensible reason for the local Foxboro board to jump into this issue in the manner being proposed.  While there have been incidents at the Lawton Farm that have brought in regulators over the years, none have risen to a level requiring an additional layer of local bureaucratic regulation.

            Of course, you are talking about an elected board that not long ago passed a rule requiring permits for all bake sales held in town.  It is commendable to see them being aggressive in protecting the health of the citizens they serve, rather than sitting back and waiting for problems to happen.  But sometimes officials can get caught up in trying to do too much.  This may be one of those instances.

            In my mind, this is why the Board of Health in every community should be an appointed board with a professional working with them.  While electing people is certainly democratic, it is not always practical when the positions involved require certain skills and experience. 

            That is not meant to denigrate in any way the capabilities of Foxboro’s Board of Health members.  It is merely meant to point out regulators are usually hired or appointed, not elected.  Your ability to get votes should not be the reason you wind up setting health regulations.

            BOH member Eric Averdon said recently his board should evaluate if they want to continue to allow unpasteurized milk to be sold in Foxboro and “if we decide to continue to allow it, whether and how to regulate this.”  This sounds a tad arrogant.  While Massachusetts is one of three states that allows both local and statewide regulation in this area, some would see this as a reach for a local board. 

            Just because something receives a lot of support does not make it right.  No matter how many people either back or oppose these regulations, the final decision has to be made based upon safety and the public interest.

            Yet at the same time, there are enough real problems in Foxboro without creating new ones.  At press time, local cows could not be reached for comment.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the Day President Kennedy Died

This column appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, November 22, 2013

GOUVEIA: The day that we lost 'our' president
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It was just another November afternoon in Miss Russell's second grade classroom at Norton's L.G. Nourse Elementary School. At a little bit after 1:30 p.m, our thoughts had already turned toward getting home in time to play before it got dark.
Then the crackle of the in-school intercom system broke into our quiet afternoon. We heard the familiar voice of the office secretary, Mrs. Tripp, float from the gray wall speaker and wondered who was getting called to Principal Holbert's office this time.


But Mrs. Tripp had a far more serious announcement, one that would change the world around us. We could hear the tremor in her voice as she relayed to us the unthinkable.
"May I have your attention please?" she began as always. "We ask you to please bow your heads on your desks for a moment of silence to pray for President Kennedy, who was shot in the head today in Dallas." There was a long pause, then she said "Thank you," and the speaker once again went silent.
I usually walked home, but that day I ran. I wanted to get to my television and catch up on the latest news. President Kennedy was the only president I had ever known, and was from our state. He was one of us. I remember thinking: "Why would someone shoot him?"
I got home and my younger brother came rushing to the door yelling, "The president is dead. Somebody killed the president!" I shook my head and told him no, he had only been shot. Mrs. Tripp had said nothing about him being dead.
Then I stepped into our television room and saw my mother crying. She looked up at me and nodded slowly, reaffirming my brother's news. "He's dead", she sobbed heavily. "President Kennedy is dead!"
Even though I was only 7, I was deeply affected. Like other Americans, I was glued to the television the next few days as the nation grieved and prepared for uncertainty. I watched with my parents when the alleged assassin, himself, was shot and killed on live television, right there on our Zenith console in stark black and white. I remember wondering just who was in charge of everything now.
I watched the funeral with my maternal grandparents, crying when little John-John Kennedy stepped up and saluted his daddy's coffin. It hit me then that although we had lost our president, he had lost his father.
Looking back a half-century later, it was a defining point in my young existence. It forever connected politics and life for me, and gave me a reason to understand my government and hope to make it better.
President Kennedy was a great leader in our eyes. Here was this man from a wealthy family, dedicating himself to helping poor people and fighting racism.
As kids in Norton, we had little exposure to the latter. Our town was whiter than snow. We didn't hate black kids - we just didn't know any. But they had to be good people because President Kennedy was trying to help them.
My Portuguese and very Catholic paternal grandmother had a huge picture of President Kennedy on the wall of her family room. This was during the days when we celebrated the strengths of our leaders, rather than desperately searching for their every flaw.
I now know President Kennedy was a man with many flaws. His personal life left a lot to be desired. He made many questionable choices.
But he still founded the Peace Corps. He still made a commitment to the space program that led to putting men on the moon. He still laid the groundwork for civil rights legislation that changed a nation.
He was still "our" President, and represented the youthful hopes and dreams of the 1960s.
His example taught a young boy growing up in Norton that you have to give back, and that government should always put people first. His famous words from his inauguration speech stayed with me:
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
His death taught us all that time is something to be cherished, not wasted. And that there are few sadder words in the English language than "what might have been "
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Will North Attleboro Voters get to Decide?

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 11, 2013

by Bill Gouveia

At some point, you run out of excuses. Your feet get flat from being dragged so much. Your fingernails are worn to nubs from your desperate attempts to hang on as you are being dragged forward. Eventually, you have to let go and allow yourself to be pulled into the present and - perhaps - stage your biggest battle right there.
Welcome to local government - North Attleboro style.
Last week it was reported work is still being done on the special act charter which would allow voters the option of changing to a mayoral/town council form of government. The proposal - which has been around in the same general format for close to a decade - has yet to make it before the voters for any binding action. But now town officials say it is getting closer to the point where citizens can actually make the choice denied them for almost a generation.
"I know we have a lot more work to do, but we're getting there. It's a lot cleaner and a lot neater than what we had before," Selectman Michael Thompson reported recently. Officials have been working with a representative from a state agency to "clean up" the document, which many thought was never all that "messy." However, the board has given no estimate of just when the proposal that has been discussed since before some of them were elected might get to actually be decided.
Of course, the question of change has many hurdles to pass even if it manages to escape the bowels of North's town hall. Chief among them is it needs to be passed along to voters by one of the very institutions it seeks to replace - The Representative Town Meeting, or RTM.
North's RTM has steadfastly and consistently refused to consider or defeated attempts to reform itself over the years.
It is a bulky body with few members who have actually gained their seats through contested elections. It has in the past voted against even reducing its own size, despite often having vacancies it cannot fill.
So if and when the charter proposal is forwarded by selectmen, it will have to be sent on to the voters by the RTM. That does not mean they have to approve it or recommend it, but rather just allow it to be placed before the same voters who elected them. If history is any indication, the likelihood of that happening is not very high.
And that really is the crux of this matter. While the decision of whether or not to change North's form of government is certainly important and requires careful attention to detail, the truth is this is much more about whether or not the will of the voters and citizens actually matters.
Oddly enough, this is about deciding what form of democracy actually makes the decision of whether or not to alter this particular form of democracy. Do the people themselves get to cast their ballots on how they are ultimately represented at the local level? Or do the institutions which are the objects of their undeniable desire for change maintain the ultimate veto power?
In no other area community does the difference between the government itself and the community members at large seem wider than in North Attleboro. As in many local towns, voter turnout has been a problem. But here it may be largely because the voting populous is tired of being asked for their opinion, and then having it ignored.
Several times North voters have expressed their desire for governmental change via non-binding referendum questions at the polls, only to have their votes explained away by those with personal political power bases in need of protecting. The voters and citizens who live in the present seem to be constantly in conflict with those who cling to the North Attleboro they remember and want to preserve.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to determining if North's government should change. That is up to the good people who live there to decide.
But those same folks deserve the chance to make the actual binding decision. The time for stalling and delaying is over. Let North Attleboro vote on its future, and let their decision truly mean something.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.