But first, a few of your thoughts on yesterday’s column:

Rodger King: ‘Shrill! What happened to your fairness, your humor? Lighten up.’

Don Rintala: ‘Often I disagree with your political opinions, but this time I’d like to march with you. Let’s look at prostate cancer — a very ‘popular’ disease. It metastasizes to the bones, and eventually the spine collapses. This entails both paralysis and excruciating pain. Once it becomes clear that your case is terminal, what’s the point of passing your days in a state of paralysis and extreme pain, while paying colossal medical fees? Many would opt for assisted suicide in such a situation.

‘The Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress, and 10th Amendment states that all other powers lie with the states or the people. Nothing in the Constitution gives the feds power over what drugs we can take, or how doctors can deal with their patients. By rights, Oregon’s assisted suicide law should trump any federal attempt to nullify it. There is, actually, a court case being brought by the state of Oregon to reassert their rights. Let’s hope they win.’

David: ‘I’m surprised to hear you argue that the government is meddling in your business. The government’s purpose – ever since FDR – has been to meddle in people’s business (for the people’s own benefit, of course). Whether it’s Republicans telling you what you can or can’t do in your home (for your own benefit), or the Democrats telling you that they need to take lots of your property away from you (to spend on things that are for your own benefit) – these are two sides of the same coin. It’s just that you complain about one side, conservatives the other. You obviously enjoy politics as a sport. Some people love to debate political issues. There is another way, apart from conservative or liberal. It’s a view that says the individual is more important than society, that people should live for themselves, not for the love of the collective.’

☞ But there are 6 billion of us on the planet, David. Doesn’t that call for a little organization? And isn’t democracy the least bad way to attain that organization? And within a democracy, isn’t there room for people to agree (even if for largely selfish reasons) that a just, compassionate, prosperous society is worth trying to attain – even as we may disagree about the specifics? And wouldn’t such a society offer public education and health care to children? And perhaps build public roads or have a central bank? Maybe a public police force and fire department – and perhaps even zoning? And before you know it, you’ve got a lot of interesting opportunities to debate, as people differ about how far to go and in what directions. And those debates are healthy, if you ask me, and worth engaging in.

One more from you before we get to the main event:

Rob Schoen: ‘No comment on today’s column. You have every right to select as insipid a topic as you choose. But then I’m a dog person. Now, if I may be so bold as to suggest a financial topic. Thousands upon thousands of people are worried about black cats – no wait, that’s John Ashcroft – I meant to say are lining up to refinance their home mortgages. What’s your wisdom on this topic? Given that lots of interest $$$ are to be saved in the process, when should folks be doing this? Do you have anything to add to the conventional wisdom?’

☞ Not really. The decision is fairly straightforward. You weigh the annual savings against the upfront costs. Then decide: Is it worth your time and effort?

What you don’t know for sure is how long you’re going to keep the loan. If you think you won’t be moving for a long time, it’s easier to justify the upfront costs.

Bear in mind that the interest you save by refinancing is tax-deductible (if you itemize), so the saving may be less than it appears. Sure, you’re saving $2,000 a year in interest, say; but you’re also losing a $2,000 tax-deduction. So maybe, after tax, you’re only saving $1,400 a year. Meanwhile the upfront costs of refinancing a home mortgage are not deductible, they are 100% real – except for any ‘points’ you pay (each point equals 1% of the loan). And even points, on a refinancing, are not be immediately deductible they way they are with an initial mortgage. Instead, you have to write them off over the life of the loan ($100 a year over 30 years if you’re paying $3,000 in points on a 30-year mortgage). Only when you pay off the mortgage early can you take what remains of the undeducted points in a lump as a tax deduction.

The mortgage field is highly competitive. Shop around.

And now, finally, two famous conservatives addressing yesterday’s topic:

First, here is William F. Buckley’s take. You will have to decide for yourself exactly where he comes out on the issue. But I read his column as being unsupportive of Ashcroft, even though Buckley, too, is both conservative and seriously religious.

And here is my friend David Brudnoy, the conservative Boston radio talk show host, seven years ‘born again’ – not in the religious sense (far from it), but in the sense that it was seven years ago that he was given two hours to live. He is writing here privately to another prominent conservative, but has granted me permission to reprint this excerpt:

I have, as you know, long since made a commitment to myself to do anything that I can do to continue to live, and I have become, in my doctors’ view, and they say this repeatedly, their best patient: I do exactly as told, I do nothing to harm myself, everything to help. All the drugs, all the rest, the absence of smoking my beloved pipes, practically no coffee, the frequent naps, the eating even when I have little appetite, as happens, etc. This is a very fair trade-off for seven years now of continued existence in a pretty decent shape, as you’ve seen yourself.

And another commitment to myself: that when and if life should no longer be a joy to live, even with all the impediments – the neuropathy, the lypodystrophy (the misallocation of fat in certain parts of my body and the hollowness of cheeks and thinness of arms and legs), the fatigue, the damn zillions of pills (my doctor the other day went on the computer and concluded that I had taken 156,483 pills in the seven years since I “died”) – I will definitely think about getting out of this mortal coil, by my own hand if necessary.

Will Rev. Dr. Bishop Rabbi Mullah Ashcroft be there to arrest me if I need marijuana to keep food down, lest I waste away to nothing? Could that man please just save us from terrorists and stop trying to inflict his personal views on us all?

Will I have to be howling in unendurable pain – as at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital I was, several times a day for several days, such that I thought for the very first time in my life about suicide, though assured by the doctor and the nurses, truthfully as it turned out, that that part of it all would pass – with no relief in sight, while he and his goons sweep into my doctor’s office to prohibit him from prescribing morphine if I need it?

I hope others on our side of the aisle will begin to give this some thought, as many have come out for stem cell research when realizing, as Sen. Hatch and Nancy Reagan and some others have done, what it might mean to people like their beloveds. It is awful that it takes a personal thing – your sister, my AIDS, Reagan’s Alzheimer’s – to get you, me, Nancy, to see things more clearly. But there it is. I am not going to wish that sort of thing on anybody, Ashcroft included, but the temptation is there, hovering, while wondering if anything but a personal epiphany arising out of his own or his wife’s or children’s misery will get that wretched man to see the light.

I say to the AG: you endure unrelenting, hideous pain all you want, you waste away to nothing because you can’t keep your food down owing to chemotherapy, you go to meet your Maker in absolutely unbearable excruciating horror if you like – but please don’t demand that I join you in that approach to the situation.

How, I wonder, can a person who sees himself as a devout and religious man be so vicious, and, moreover, so blind to the needs of others? What creates people like John Ashcroft? Where does Bible-thumping go so dreadfully wrong? Is the Left really so completely out of the bounds of reason when they see that type of American “religious” person as sharing more than just a wee bit of mentality with the Wahabists?

We’re barely into week nine of what will likely be a decade or more of struggle to preserve our freedoms from the tyranny wished upon us by religious crackpot Muslim reactionary zealots, and our attorney general takes time out of that to try to crack down on medical marijuana and physicians giving some comfort near the end to people in miserable pain. What kind of a man is this man? You know him personally. Is there just no empathetic cartilage anywhere in his body? Is he absolutely dead to kindness?

So there you have it. I assume that John Ashcroft is not dead to kindness. That he thinks of himself as kind, lauds kindness, and aspires to it. And yet, to my mind, and even some minds to my right, he has gone wrong.

One of you wrote to ask me if I really think he wants people to suffer, and the answer, of course, is no – any more than those who burned witches at the stake were sadists or thought of themselves as murderers. They were doing God’s will as it had been revealed to them. So, I think, is the Attorney General.

  • No column Friday. This one was long enough for three.
  • Don’t miss “The West Wing” tonight. I actually got to visit the set while they were filming it – way cool! – and saw (over and over and over and over) the little bit where President Bartlett reveals how he plans to cook the Thanksgiving turkey. (Hint: Not like a guy.)
  • Like many of you, I feel I have a great deal to give thanks for. Not least, my terrific readership. To your good health.
 

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