The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
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Monday, March 28, 2005
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Time for a Random Roman Catholic thought: I recently had a thought or two about the Roman Catholic Church and its marriage annulment process. Actually, it wasn’t much of a thought, mostly just a memory. I was once married, many years ago. And me and the X were married in church by a Catholic priest (who later quit the ‘hood). Well, after things fell apart, I pretty much lost my enthusiasm for Catholicism, as I knew that the Church wasn’t very nice to those who might need a second chance at the altar. Admittedly, the Church does let a whole lot of people do it (i.e., get re-married after divorce); but it forces most of them into a rather peculiar kind of confession. I know, because I was asked to make that confession.

Some years after my divorce, I got involved with another Catholic girl, and we explored the idea of marriage — Catholic marriage, which was the only option for her (mainly because of her family). So I talked with some priests and sent my papers in to the local Marital Tribunal, as to get my previous marriage annulled. I tried to strike a balance between being truthful about the stresses and bad breaks that we encountered (and the mistakes we made in how we saw one another), and in being charitable to my ex (by not mentioning some things about her that probably would have gotten the Tribunal’s ear, but which I felt were none of the Church’s business). In a few weeks, I got a letter back from my “advocate”, basically telling me that everything I said was irrelevant and that I’d better take a plea to “immaturity” if I wanted to get anywhere.

Yea, immaturity. That’s the Catholic Church’s main theory about why so many marriages fail here in the US of A. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what their arrested development can do. I never made that confession. There were and still are plenty of things wrong with me, but in general, immaturity is not one of them, (Sure, I’ve had my immature moments, but making a risky commitment to a difficult and complex woman was not the stuff of teenage romance novels). As you can guess, I never did get married again. But at least I kept a grain or two of my otherwise receding authenticity.

I suppose that the whole thing is a moot point by now. I just read that the Vatican is reigning in the American bishops and priests regarding marital annulment. No getting off light on a simple plea of immaturity anymore. Well, at least the Holy Fathers are giving up a bit of their “fatherhood”, by getting away from the parent-child viewpoint regarding annulment. From now on, they assume that you’re mature enough to know the rules regarding marriage. One shot and out. If it doesn’t work, then have a nice life with the Episcopaleans or Unitarians.

Or maybe with the Quakers, who I tried and didn’t stick with, but who still have a spot in my heart. Ah yes, “friends” forever.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:03 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Brain / Mind ... Current Affairs ... Society ...

I want to say something here about the Terri Schiavo drama, but with all that’s been said over the past ten days, it’s hard to say anything new. It’s harder still to arrange all of the pieces and angles into a coherent, understandable picture. Nevertheless, for what little it’s worth, I’ve got some random thoughts that I want to share. (Hey, a million other bloggers are having their say, so why not me?)

*** Ms. Schiavo will soon be dead. Or is she already dead? Her parents certainly see her as being alive, but the doctors and judges seem to say that she’s pretty much dead, given that she’s missing the part of the body / brain where consciousness, thinking and feeling are mediated.

*** So, it boils down to the question of what human life is, and how do we know when it is present.

*** The doctors and judges seem to have settled on a definition of human life that is tied to upper brain function. If you have a working upper brain, or a resting upper brain, or even a misfiring upper brain, then you are human and are entitled to basic social protections (like food and water). If your upper brain is gone for good, though, then you’re not legally human. As the headline of an article in the NY Times asks, “Did Descartes Doom Terri Schiavo?“.

*** That explains why Ms. Schiavo was adopted by the religious conservatives as their poster child. The real issue here is ABORTION. If upper brain function defines human life, then most abortions do not involve human life. Around two-thirds or more of abortions take place during the fetus’ first three months, when the developing brain structure doesn’t show any signs of having been “switched on” (no brain wave, as with Ms. Schiavo). However fourth and fifth month abortions are fairly common, and by that time the fetus does exhibit signs of upper brain functioning.

*** So, if the Terri Schiavo case holds, it will have logical consequences for both sides of the abortion dispute. It will put to rest the idea that a human life is at stake during the first trimester. But, it will support the notion that abortion becomes murder immediately thereafter (unless the life of the mother is at stake).

*** As to the medical malpractice settlement . . . yes, I voted for John Edwards, but now I wonder if malpractice lawsuits sometimes go too far. Was an OB/GYN specialist responsible to ferret out Ms. Schiavo’s bad eating (and barfing) habits? And then pay out $1 million for not preventing their consequences? This doesn’t appear to be a case where a patient is harmed solely because they depended upon a medical specialist to interpret complex medical evidence and the doctor messed up. Bulimia may be a lapse of common sense or may be a psychological issue, or may even be a sociological question (see below). But is it primarily an OB/GYN issue? (I don’t have all the facts here; perhaps the doctor in question could and should have done more. But 100% liability doesn’t sound right either). If there is a problem today with judges and the courts, I’d say that it is exhibited here and not with what happened after Ms. Schiavo lost consciousness. (Not that I support Bush’s proposals to limit liability law suits, which are tailored to protect big business).

*** Getting back to Ms. Schiavo, it’s tough to watch someone die, even if they are brain dead. It’s got to be tougher still if you are the parent. I do feel sorry for Mr. & Mrs. Schindler. Even if it is just their imagination, Terri Schiavo is still alive to them, but soon won’t be. Mr. Schindler’s dramatic, rabble-rousing exhortations can thus be forgiven, given that a parent’s love for an injured child is just as automatic as Ms. Schiavo’s continuing eye and facial movements.

*** And the bulimia thing leads us to the late, great Karen Carpenter, who also died of a heart attack brought on by bad eating habits. Yea, it is regrettable that American society places so much pressure on women to be thin while at the same time offers so much incentive to be overweight. We just can’t seem to find the sensible middle. Getting back to Karen, wouldn’t it be ironic if Ms. Schiavo listened to the Carpenters when she was growing up back in the 70s?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:40 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, March 21, 2005
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I don’t like animated GIF’s. When you first look at one, it’s kind of cute. But by about the third or fourth cycle, it gets rather boring. After a few more cycles, I start to realize that this could go on all night and all of next month, if you let it. It’s just a robot, just a machine, with no sense of purpose behind the entertainment that it temporarily provides.

But for the heck of it, I finally decided to learn how to make one. See above. Yea, it goes on and on and on, just like any other disgusting animated GIF that you see on the Net. But then again, so do the real Earth and Sun and Moon. Sunrise, sunset ….. sunrise, sunset. We’ve got to try to find some sort of meaning amidst the meaningless of an uncontrollable cycle. The repitition hides the preciousness. You wouldn’t miss it unless it wasn’t there. So try to do the best you can with all of it, while it’s there for you . . . and you are there for it. Even though the world some days is just one big annimated GIF.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:50 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, March 18, 2005
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IN THE NEWS: Some medical longevity specialists recently published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that increasing obesity in America will reverse the long-run increase in life expectancy within the next 50 years. In other words, people are going to live shorter lives, on average, because they’re too fat. Of course, there are disagreements in the field. Most other longevity experts think that average life expectancy will continue to increase because of advances in medicine. However, they admit that obesity is becoming a big problem and will make longevity lower than it otherwise could have been, even if it doesn’t make it lower overall.

I don’t like to think of myself as a liberal snob, but you really have to wonder just how smart Americans are. America has definitely been getting fatter over the past 25 or 30 years, despite all the good information that has been readily available to the public throughout this time about the health effects of obesity. American’s definitely don’t think ahead too far. Steak, cake, shakes, fetticuine alfredo, Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerrys . . . . . scarf it down today, forget about tomorrow. What a country.

But in many ways, despite its many stupidities, America is still a great country. And it’s interesting that its Muslim sons and daughters are increasingly restless for a progressive form of Islam that embraces America’s best values (e.g. education, tolerance, open-mindedness, and individual rights). There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about a woman who leads Islamic prayer services in New York City, despite all of the taboo in classic Islam about women. According to Islamic tradition, women must pray apart from men in segregated corners of the mosque, and certainly cannot lead men. But Islamic tradition isn’t entirely edifying to the average American-born Muslim these days. One survey indicates that only about 10% of native-born Muslims attend mosque weekly. According to the Times article, the mosques and Islamic centers are often ruled by immigrants and thus don’t meet the needs of American Muslims. So, the native types are experimenting with modernism, such as allowing women to pray together with men and even allowing women to lead the prayers at times.

This isn’t the first place where I read that women are the ticking time bomb within fundamentalist Islam. The idea of women’s equality is out of the bottle throughout the world, and even the gnarliest of imams and ayatollahs can’t put it back. The anti-western strain of Islam appears to be getting stronger out there in the “Moslem Crescent”, which stretches from the tip of Africa to Southeast Asia. But in their hearts, Muslim women increasingly know it’s wrong. I think there is hope for the emergence of a modernist Islamic movement, even out in places like Nigeria and Yemen and Bangladesh. I even hold out for a peaceful reconciliation between third world Islam and the West. But only if the West could give them something worth reconciling with – something more than obesity, greed, aggressive marketing, materialism, lawyer-talk, sexual obsession / immaturity, and all of the other missteps of American culture. (And having Wolfowitz at the World Bank does NOT appear to be a good way of giving them “something more”).

Finally, as to the Terri Schiavo thing — to be honest, that’s a real toughie. Years ago I totally agreed with the decisions to remove forced breathing apparatus from brain-dead patients. But now it’s been kicked up a notch, to removing food and water. That’s a step closer to mercy killing. It’s not a step to be taken lightly, especially if the person in question didn’t leave any “living will” instructions.

On the other side of the coin, Ms. Schiavo has been unconscious for 15 years – I’m fairly comfortable with the notion that she ain’t coming back. Still, the chances aren’t totally zero, and crazy things have happened before. In a kinder and gentler world where resources and mercy were plentiful, I’d say that we should never pull the plug. But in a nasty world of limited resources where population needs and expectations are getting ahead of wisdom and technology, perhaps we have to do some medical rationing. But in doing so, let’s not add too much to the “many missteps of American Culture” cited above. Let’s not let 15 years become 15 weeks. It could be you or me on the other end of that feeding tube next time (and I hope and pray that won’t be the case!).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:04 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 13, 2005
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Perhaps one of the most basic decisions that we all make is just how aggressive we will be about getting what we want. I.e., just how much damage are we willing to do to others in order to satisfy ourselves. In this matter, no one is an angel. We all have to injure someone else every now and then in order to survive. On the macro scale, if you drive a car, as I do, you help to choke people with lung diseases and you’ve sent soldiers off to die in order to obtain petroleum. On the micro scale, you can’t have a stable marriage without sometimes manipulating and taking advantage of your partner in order to meet your basic needs. If a man and woman can’t accept this fact, they are a bit too idealistic for real-world marriage (unspoken romantic idealism, which society encourages in its pop culture, is probably a bigger factor in divorce than you would think; most love songs aren’t written about real people).

But beyond this base level of violence and exploitation, we all decide just how much more force and aggression we’re going to use to satisfy our desires. Obviously, some people go so far in their use of aggression as to attract a response from the government. They call it crime. But short of that extreme, we still make decisions about how demanding and forceful we’re gonna be in life, and how much we’re gonna care about hurting other people’s feelings, bodies, and economic interests.

To me, this is what philosophy is all about. Or should be.

Of course, we all know people (or maybe groups of people) who don’t care too much about what they do to others. These are the “caveman” types. Their brains seem to be wired to give they joy whenever they beat someone else and seize the booty. (You see them most every day at traffic lights, zooming around you on the right so as to get ahead of everyone once the light turns green). What’s even worse in my book is when people like this combine their aggression with intelligence, talent and charm. What you get then are politicians and corporate executives. And also, conservative talk show hosts . . . however, don’t think that the liberal, politically correct academians who the talk show hosts hate so much aren’t often wolves in sheep’s clothing. And as to priests and ministers and other religious leaders . . . don’t even get me started.

But what troubles me even more are the mostly average people who don’t get any particular thrill out of defeating others, who don’t believe that everything is a winner-take-all-game, but who give in to aggression in the name of security. Ah yes, security. A very seductive mistress, who I myself have succumbed to many times. Ancient historians claimed that the Roman Empire never fought an aggressive war. In their eye, Rome conquered Europe and North Africa and Palestine solely for security’s sake. Unfortunately, one man’s legitimate security needs easily becomes another man’s oppression.

I myself don’t have any answer to the problem of security war. The best security would come if we could all communicate and cooperate and be fair and open-minded. But it only takes one person who isn’t fair or won’t cooperate or can’t communicate his or her needs and understand the needs of others to tear apart the fragile web of trust. They we all go back to our fall-back position, i.e. independent action in order to obtain personal security. (We do often group together in taking such actions, e.g. through families and tribes; but such affiliations are fluid and are mostly based on circumstances. With a shift in the winds, we easily go to war against those who share our blood or our tribal colors).

Until humankind figures out some way to vastly improve communication and understanding and sell people on the long-run benefit of fairness and cooperation, then war, crime, neo-conservative anger, and a society where aggression is the unspoken norm (even, and perhaps especially, amidst liberals) are gonna be with us for a long, long time.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:04 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, March 11, 2005
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I’m a fan of non-professional, unknown writers who savor the ridiculous little things of life. Unfortunately, I can hardly name any such writers. Hardly anyone can. You read their stuff somewhere, some magazine or blog, you nod your head, chuckle to yourself and say “yea, he’s (or she’s) right” and you leave it at that. You never learn their name and you never see anything by them again.

Well, I recently came across something like that, but this time I did stop and take names (or name, anyway). I was looking for a CD on amazon.com, namely Firehouse’s namesake album from 1991. I eventually found it and started reading the reviews. One of them was especially entertaining. It was written by a guy who calls himself “canuckiewookie”. He hails from Portland, Maine, and I guess that he has Canadian roots (what if he came from Kentucky? would he then be . . . oh, forget it). He tells you how a couple of Firehouse albums turned his drive home from high school in his junky old car into a transcendent experience. And then came graduation and the whole timbre of the rock music world changed (from hair bands like Firehouse putting out lively, overproduced tunes to gloomy grunge artists cranking out lean, angstful dirges). Yea, that’s high school all right. You live in a little bubble where everything seems pretty cool, then reality eventually sets in and blows it all to bits. And all you’ve got left is the memories of the good times and of the stuff that once made you smile. Like canuckiewookie’s Ford Tempo and his Firehouse tapes.

You can check out canuckiewookie’s reviews of Firehouse and other stuff
here. Oh, as to the Firehouse album . . . . I did eventually buy it, but not from amazon. I found it for $3 (with shipping) on ebay. Ebay, amazon, google, yahoo, the whole Internet . . . . . it all blurs together for a graying old rocker like myself. For a young guy like canuckie, though, the whole net thing is truly “write on” . . . . . as in “right on”, an expression we used to use such a long, long time ago. Back when we were cool.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:24 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 6, 2005
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More or less by accident, I tuned in on The McLaughlin Group this morning. I didn’t know that Mr. McLaughlin was still on TV. I remember watching his show in the mid-80s, back in the Ronald Reagan era. It always turned my stomach. John McLaughlin was born with a true talent, the talent of confrontation. He couldn’t issue a sentence from his mouth without making you want to either pop him in the mouth or run for cover (unless you happened to agree with his view point). Fight or flight. There was no middle ground with John McLaughlin. Everything with him was a big crisis, a huge boondoggle — just one more example of how liberal thought and values were corrupting our civilization. The man was walking pepper spray, a major irritant.

I’m not sure who came first, John McLaughlin or Rush Limbaugh. But as it turned out, talk radio and not Sunday TV became the fertile soil for the rise of popular conservatism. And so today we think of Mr. Limbaugh as the man leading the charge for the conservative cause. But hey, McLaughlin was a pioneer in my book. He helped shape the mold for all those angry, aggressive conservative commentators out there today on the Fox network and on the radio talk shows. McLaughlin led the stalking horses who cleared the way for the rise of the nice-guy troglodytes, e.g. Ronald Reagan and GWB. Their nastiness let “Dutch” Reagan be “Dutch” Reagan, jellybeans and all (don’t forget the monkey bread). Sure, before McLaughlin and Limbaugh there were George Will and William F. Buckley, but those guys wore bowties. McLaughlin threw the bowties away and started raising his voice. And the heart of America started listening.

But watching McLaughlin today was a little bit sad. He still went thru all the gruff, angry motions, but you can see that’s he’s softening around the edges. Ah, the price of old age; wisdom makes you realize that things aren’t so simple after all. But in order to stay on TV and share the spotlight with cavemen like Irving Kristol, John McLaughlin keeps on scowling, despite the fact that his heart really isn’t in it anymore (for example, he’s quite ambivalent about the war in Iraq). Ideology is a young man’s game. Today we have Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and other smart, nasty guys out there on the bleeding edge. Maybe it’s time for McLaughlin to hang it up.

Or maybe not. I’d like to think that old people have a role to play in society, despite all the resources they use (e.g., health care) that could otherwise benefit young families. I’d like to think that young people benefit by interacting with old people. (Especially since I now qualify for AARP membership). Old folk are living proof that nothing lasts forever, that everything is subject to decay and demise . . . . including the nasty strain of conservatism that McLaughlin and his imitators helped to infect our nation with back in the 1970s and 80s.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:27 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 5, 2005
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Here’s what’s cooking at my place today: vegetarian chili. And yes, I’m wearing non-leather shoes as it simmers. I picked up a nice pair the other day at Payless. Yea, I’m giving them a plug (for free), because they’re the only place around here where you can get decent leatherless men’s shoes at cheap-o prices. Admittedly, they’re made by non-union labor in China, but I’m all for world trade. Our economy eventually got out of its sweatshop phase, and I’m hoping that China will follow. Enough heavy issues for now, I’m gonna see how that chili is doing.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:03 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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