Saturday, August 25, 2012


Be here now.--Ram Dass

The unexamined life is not worth living.
–attributed to Socrates

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
–Satchel Paige

But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.
–Andrew Marvell

Why am I writing this memoir? The simplest answer is that Tina asked me to, many times, and it is hard to deny such a “brave soldier,” such a beloved person, what she would like. A preview draft was a present for her 67th birthday, 3 April, 2011.

Staying in the here-and-now is a good way to keep from sadness or worry. Happier previous times can be a source of joy or remorse, taken by themselves or compared with the present. Satchel Paige, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, warned us that too much attention to what is behind us can slow us down. True enough.

Re-examining one’s life can bring greater insight, though still rather limited, being wholly subjective. The ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself” was cited by Plato and attributed to Socrates. Robert Burns recognized the problem: “O would some power the giftie gie us,/To see ourselves as others see us.” Introspection gets us only so far.

Why should anyone read this? Family, friends, and acquaintances may find it interesting because they know the two people involved, were involved themselves, or know others who intersected our lives. Others may find the story of our enduring love of value, too–a story rarer these days than before, we think. Those who care for paraplegic or quadriplegic patients, including those with multiple sclerosis, may find it informative and encouraging. It tells of a life well worth living.

This story starts with Tina’s determination to live on, despite great handicaps, then explores our pasts to understand our present and perhaps predict our future. The narrative is followed by my reflections on various topics. We finish with recollections and tributes from friends, family, and nursing staff members who have chosen to contribute, to honor this warrior or to provide illuminating information.

Writing a book is a scary task. My first book, The Variable-Slit Impactor and Aerosol Size Distribution Analysis, my 320-page doctoral dissertation, was published in 1974 in about a dozen bound copies, which more than satisfied the public demand for it.

I have read that hundreds of thousands of new titles are published yearly (in the U.S.), only 2 percent of which sell more than 500 copies. I am not envisioning commercial success. This book is a gift to Tina, to me, to friends, family, staff, others who have helped us, and those unknown to us who come to profit from it.

Getting underway, I have lots of adages to encourage me:

“Do it now.”

“Work is love made real.”

“Strike while the iron is hot.”

“Make hay while the sun shines.”

“He who hesitates is lost.”

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

“Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

focus[a book by Leo Babauta]

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

So, let’s get going.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
May 2012

P.S. Writing this book-to-be has turned out more pleasurable than I anticipated, like writing a very long letter to a friend.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


After Ting and I moved from Westchester County, NY, to our country home some forty miles north, we would sometimes learn of the situations faced by the members of our former multiple sclerosis support group. One woman is doing well, but her MS-afflicted boyfriend has died of MS complications. The husband of a care-giving spouse, we learned, spent much of his days during fair weather just sitting outside, looking at their garden. Not reading, not listening to music or news, just looking. We felt sorry for both husband and wife.

Approximately half of MS patients develop significant cognitive losses. As with physical impairments, these losses can be intermittent, so the care-giver does not know for sure the state of mind of the cared-for. “Know thyself,“ Socrates advised us; hard to do. Even harder is to know well other people, as we only partly glimpse what is in their minds. For our interactions with some MS patients, this problem is exacerbated: are they there?

When my most precious person in the world is thinking clearly, it is a delight. When she seems confused, then so am I. She will repeat the same phrase or sentence scores of times without pause. It is something she thought or something she has just heard. If I ask her a question, she replies to it briefly, then resumes her mantra. Perhaps she is too tired or the room is too hot. We do not know why she starts, nor why she ends.

Almost always when I enter her bedroom and greet her as my most precious person in the world, she responds, ”I love you with all my heart.” Often, she will then say it over and over again, lest I think she “never could recapture / The first fine careless rapture.“

She is there. So am I. For each other.


[Submitted to the National MS Society Blog]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


When I was putting money into my conventional Individual Retirement Account [IRA], I was pleased that it lowered my taxable income for that year, although I realized that it would be taxed when I took it out later, and could even be taxed at a penalty rate if I did not meet certain requirements if I did not wait until I was 59 ½.

Is tax deferral really a bargain?

Conventional IRA You put, say, $1000 into the IRA in a year when your tax bracket is, for example, 30%. The rest of your income is taxed as usual, but this $1000 goes untaxed into the IRA. Imagine it grows at a constant 6% per year for 24 years, and thus approximately quadruples to $4000, at which time you take it out and it is taxed as income. If your tax bracket is still 30%, then you keep (1-0.30)x($4000)=$2800 to use as you please.

Roth IRAWhat if your original $1000 had been taxed at 30%, but you were allowed to withdraw it later without paying tax on the withdrawal? If the (1-0.30)x$1000=$700 grew at the same 6% per year for 24 years, it would quadruple, and you would end up with $2800 to use as you please…exactly where you would have ended up with the tax-deferred account. If you can trust the government not to change the law and tax it again on the way out.

Taxable Bond What if your original $1000 had been taxed at 30% so that you only had $700 to put into a 6%/year bond, and then the interest was taxed yearly at 30%, so that it was really only earning you a net of (6%/year)x(1-0.30)=4.2%/year? After those same 24 years you would have ended up with ($700)x(1+0.042)x(1+0.042)…, which equals ($700)x(2.684)=$1878, almost $1000 less than our other two examples.

We see that tax-deferral is not a magic bullet, but it can better than having no tax preference at all.

A Closer LookWe have assumed that your tax bracket has been the same at the start and the end of the 24-year period, 30%. If that is true, then the final value of your account when you withdraw it is the same whether you are taxed on the money before you invest it or only when you withdraw it.

Will your tax bracket be higher or lower a couple of decades into the future? No one knows. You are taking your chances. Government tends to grow, and taxes tend to be raised, though there are periods in which “loopholes” are closed and taxes reduced. If what you want to do with the money comes to be considered a “loophole,” you may pay a penalty on withdrawal of your money when you want to withdraw it. Do you feel lucky?

As we age, we pay off our mortgages and our children become adults, so two common tax deductions are gone, leaving us in a higher tax bracket.

Eventually, we retire, and our incomes usually are reduced, leaving us in a lower tax bracket, if the brackets have not been changed by law during this period. If we have significant medical expenses, they can become heavy enough to become tax deductions, too, also lowering our tax bracket.

Tax-deferral is generally better than no special tax treatment at all, but it is not the bargain I once thought it was.

Still, I was happy to have that IRA, as my employer had added its contributions to my own. I was especially happy to have that IRA last year when I cashed it in, to cover unusually high medical expenses we had incurred.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


My latest piece published in is "Talk," discussing why women do more of it than do men. Here is a link to a related article, from Elle:!stackState=0__%2Frelationships%2Fwhy-women-gossip-1534715.story


You no doubt have noticed that men tend to talk less than women. As her nurses care for my wife, Tina Su Cooper, I hear them conversing with her readily, more freely, and more superficially, than she and I do. On the telephone, her conversations with friends last much longer than mine.

Relationship advisors recommend to men that we talk more openly with our “significant others,” and with each other…and they may have a point. My advice to women who are hoping to have men fall in love, and stay in love, with them is: talk less, more meaningfully.

In my memoir, Ting and I, I wrote:

I married a quiet woman. It’s a blessing. “Talk is cheap” and “silence is golden.” Usually.

Why do some people talk so much? Some are nervous, filling the pauses with their noise. Some are so self-absorbed, they do not realize we are just not all that interested. Too much information, “TMI.” Often the patter is like that of the stage magician, designed to distract: Ignore what I’m doing; listen to what I am saying. As the man said when his wife caught him in bed with another woman: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Manipulation is the goal of another type of talker, who argues, persuades, nudges, suggests, pleads, berates, wheedles, to name a few. Leave me alone!

Conversation is a form of exchange, a trade. If one party is lying or deceptive, he is exchanging counterfeit words for honest words of the person he is talking to. In economics, Gresham’s Law, an economic principle, is that cheap money drives out dear; in other words, debased coins and currency tend to proliferate, while valuable coins and currency are withdrawn from circulation, hoarded. Similarly, lying becomes endemic. The honest people no longer want to tell what they are thinking. “Political correctness” drives out candor.

If we are to count to ten before speaking in anger, the quiet person is doing that already. If a soft response turns away anger, a quiet response is softer still.

Granted, virtues can be overdone, becoming vices. Too little talk could make us mysteries to one another. Misunderstandings may more easily arise. Sometimes we must speak up or ask others to do so. With a quiet person, we may not know what we are missing.

We are to look before we leap, think before we talk. Brevity is the soul of wit. There is already too much chatter in our lives.