The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Here’s an unhealthy definition of homophobia that I recently came across:

There is really no such thing as homophobia. It is a false concept created by the gay community to smear the healthy aversion to a unnatural and disgusting deviancy.

I found it on the Rapture Ready Christian board. It’s the herald of one Mr. Mannn, a 23 year old rapture-ready fundamentalist who admits to going out on dates. Why date, if rapture ready? Didn’t Paul say that it’s best to hold off on romance and marriage and family making, as to get ready for the big lift? Is Mister Mannn really ready for rapture? Can he say that three times fast?

But seriously. The biggest problem that the heterosexual majority has about homosexuality is that it focuses too much on the “sex” part. With our dirty, self-centered minds, we picture what homosexual sex must look like. Then we say “yuck, that couldn’t be any fun; what a mistake, what a perversion”. Aside from the chauvinism, that view misses the more important thing, which is relationship. We (and I do mean we; my right hand index finger and ring finger are of equal length and I don’t have any older brothers) miss the fact that a homosexual relationship really isn’t much different than a heterosexual relationship. We forget that sexual activity (including “lite” forms like holding hands or hugging) takes up — what, maybe 5% of a couple’s waking hours? Maybe 20% in the first few months, then after that maybe 10% if you are under 30 and really lucky, probably less than 5% if you are over 40. What about the other 90 to 95%? Well, that’s all food shopping and arguing and having dinner and watching TV and gardening and painting walls and going to work, etc. etc.

Mr. Mannn and other homophobes out there might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of long-term exclusive relationships between gay men or gay women, and that most gays want such a relationship. However, the gay crowd did do themselves a disservice by adopting that term to describe themselves. It implies lack of responsibility, promiscuity, swinging sex as an end in itself versus sex as a matrix for relationship. So the heterosexual crowd focuses on the sexual acts of gays, and thus focuses on the severe differences between us and them. If the “gay” community would drop that worn out name and adopt something that encourages relationship and common ground, it might help. But even if not, it’s time for “not gay” people (like Mr. Mannn) to grow up too and see that the differences are much smaller than the samenesses.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, April 28, 2006
Society ...

There’s an article in the May Atlantic about how eating contests are being turned into a commercialized pro sport here in America. There are now leagues and prizes and TV coverage of an expanding array of pie contests and hot dog contests and donut contests, etc. etc. It gives you indigestion just thinking about it.

Interestingly, professional eating was prophesied decades ago in an Alka Seltzer commercial. The setting was a pie-eating contest where a bunch of contestants were washing up in a locker room after the main event. One guy says to another “pretty good pie today, Tank; what was that, blueberry?” Mr. Tank replies “yea, blueberry” while eyeing a young rookie on one of the benches, suffering from indigestion. He goes over to offer some sympathy to the aspiring glutton, advising the use of a bubbly antacid drink. (This was one of the less noted efforts in Alka Seltzers’ award-winning series of commercials from the the 60s and 70s, including “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” and “that’s some spicy meatball” and the prison mess riot where the inmates chant “Alka Seltzer” while banging the tables.)

I’d be surprised if Miles Laboratories/Bayer doesn’t soon cut a sponsorship deal with the International Federation of Competitive Eating or the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters. I can see it now, the Alka Seltzer 500, a full day of . . . ugh. And after that, Bromo Seltzer would have to respond in kind . . . .

A lot of thinking people are thumbing their noses at this attempt to turn a vice (gluttony) into a profit opportunity. Converting over-consumption into a money making spectacle points to all that is wrong with America today, including its wasteful use of fossil fuels and its obesity crisis. How can anyone with a conscience watch people pig out just for fun (and get voyeuristic thrills when someone pukes) while people are starving all over the world, including some places yet in America? Ralph Nader has called competitive eating one of the four major signs of societal decay. Other folk invoke memories of the Roman Empire and its crazier emperors like Caligula. And the keepers of the Olympian ideal call this a junk sport, not a true test of athletic skill.

Personally, I couldn’t see wasting a half hour or so of my time watching people stuff their faces. I can’t relate to the people who gouge themselves against the clock, or who enjoy watching others do it. However, an Atlantic article points out that there are some interesting human stories behind the upward trajectory of competitive eating. Perhaps the best one belongs to Sonya Thomas, a short, 100 pound woman who emigrated from Korea. Sonya competes regularly against red-blooded American men and women two to three times her weight, and she usually beats them. Sonya in turn can only be beat by some Japanese guys, the best of whom is Takeru Kobayashi, a small, 23-year old eating machine.

As with the auto industry, America started the game of competitive eating, but Asia is beating us by staying leaner and working harder. Even in the game of gluttony, America gets tripped up by laziness and indulgence. We think that big is always better, but we eventually get passed by the smaller and smarter ones. America, this eating thing may be a joke, but something similar is happening in a lot of places that do matter. Like Toyota vs. GM, for example.

Oh, speaking about the auto industry, I recently saw one of Volkswagen’s new series of crash commercials. I’m quite impressed by the realism — people driving along, talking, having a good time, then WHAM, out of nowhere: breaking glass, air bags popping, twisted steel and plastic snapping, cars sliding over the road out of control, like toys. I was involved in a 30 MPH accident a little over a year ago, and I can vouch that these commercials capture the shock of a car collision at speed.

VW is doing this to sell cars, most certainly. They want to convince you that the Jetta will protect you better than anything else on the road these days. But they also do everyone on the road a great big favor, especially younger people, by reminding them that IT CAN HAPPEN TO ME. In the ad that I saw, two guys are yacking away while crusing a little bit too fast through a residential neighborhood. Then in a split second, a pick-up truck backs into the street, and CRASH!!!!!

The ad shakes you up a bit, and that is good. We all need some reminders that driving is VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS, a potentially DEADLY business (despite Volkswagen’s reassurance that the Jetta will keep you safe; if a Jetta interacts with a Navigator barreling thru an intersection or zipping along on a freeway, the Jetta’s occupants are toast). If we don’t treat it that way, as most people don’t, then there will continue to be unnecessary death, bodily injury and expensive property damage. We all need to wear those seat belts, put the cell phones away, keep the conversation to a minimum, and keep our eyes and our minds on the road full-time.

P.S., this is exactly what a guy in my office has been trying to do with high school kids, long before VW got the idea. Here’s a newspaper article about him. Arnold (Andy) Anderson, you are the man.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:43 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Book Review . . . Sort Of. One of the assistant prosecutors at my office was nice enough to loan me a copy of Natan Sharansky‘s 2004 book THE CASE FOR DEMOCRACY. I had previously read something about Sharansky, how his book was a favorite of President Bush and his friends. So I’ve taken a look at it; but I can’t say that I’ve read it cover-to-cover, nor that I intend to. It’s not exactly a comprehensive overview of what democratic government is, where it came from (ancient Greece, among other places), where it has been tried, and what the results have been throughout the course of human history. Sharansky is a Russian Jew who experienced the Soviet Union and its gulags in all of their ugliness (he was a political prisoner). He then moved to Israel and got involved in politics there. Thus he tends to focus on the bad old days in Soviet Russia and the continuing trauma in the Middle East since the 1970s. His bottom lines are that the old Soviet Union sorely needed democracy; that democracy is one of Israel’s biggest strengths; and that democracy is what the Arabs need in order to get their act together. Democracy is the more-or-less cure-all for each of the world’s many political problems and injustices.

Although I didn’t go thru the book with a fine tooth comb, I don’t recall Sharansky saying anything about how Russia and the other former Soviet republics have fared since they embraced democracy in the early 1990s. In some places (Lithuania, Estonia), democracy has clearly been beneficial, supporting a stable and responsible government. In other places, including Russia herself, the results have been mixed. The generally open form of government practiced under Boris Yeltsin turned out to be something close to a disaster; and since then the Russians have since elected a guy (Putin) who is cutting back on democracy and returning to some of the old Soviet habits. The Ukraine is up for grabs in spite of democracy, Kyrgystan and Turkmenistan have moved back to autocracy, and some of the other southern states might yet vote in Sharia (Islamic law), with its rough justice and restrictions on women’s freedom. (The fundamentalist Iranian government, which sustains itself through democracy, is reportedly working to promote this in the former Soviet republics along its border).

But Sharansky does admit that democracy shouldn’t be rushed. On page 74 he says that “elections are never the beginning of the democratic process. Only when the basic institutions that protect a free society are firmly in place – such as a free press, rule of law, independent courts, political parties – can free elections be held . . . After defeating Hitler, the US and other allied occupation forces wisely decided not to hold federal elections in Germany for four years. Had elections been held in 1945 or 46, the results probably would have undermined efforts to build German democracy, something those who hope to help build democratic societies in Afghanistan and Iraq would be wise to keep in mind.”

President Bush openly cites Mr. Sharansky’s book as the basis for his “democracy on the march” philosophy; but GWB has ignored the warning on page 74. When political parties are run by clerics and the courts are overseen by religious judges and the rule of law comes from the ancient interpretation of a spiritual text, one has to wonder if shotgun democracy is such a good thing. And one can pause at the irony of our nation’s insistence upon quick elections in Iraq; we were trying to promote the ideals of the Enlightenment, but our method was hijacked by an ancient force coming from a blood-feud world.

Sharansky’s comparison between post-war Germany and post-war Iraq is on the money. But restoring the economy in Iraq and bringing its society back into the developed world would probably have required even longer than the four or five years that it took to get Germany to the point where elections made sense. Rushing the elections in Iraq, along with not sending enough troops to secure the place and not having a well planned, adequately funded program to rebuild the infrastructure and the economy there, is going to earn Mr. Bush a place in history alongside U.S. Grant (who flubbed the Reconstruction after the Civil War, setting the stage for continuing racial strife) and Woodrow Wilson (who couldn’t put Europe back together after WW1, setting the stage for WW2).

Too bad that Mr. Bush didn’t take more seriously the books that he (supposedly) based his policies on.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:32 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’ve just become aware of the Kinky Friedman phenomenon down in Texas (OK, you have the right to ask where I’ve been, since he’s already been featured on CNN, Sixty Minutes, USA Today, NPR, etc.). On the off chance that you’re more in the dark about celebrity politics than I am, Mr. Friedman is a 60 year old Jew from Texas who wants to run for governor this November, and is trying to get enough signed petitions to get on the ballot (as an independent). Mr. Friedman is a former country singer, comedian, and mystery writer — probably some other things that I’m missing. You can check the Wikipedia on that. Oh, just in case that’s not unusual enough for you, he’s also a vegetarian (a man after my own heart). Some describe his as a mix of Lenny Bruce and Hank Williams; whatever, this dude is truly an American original.

Given the lock that the Republican and Democratic parties have on politics here in the USA, an independent generally has an icicle’s chance in hell for any elected post of greater stature than county park commissioner. And how could a Jewish vegetarian ever get the support of the voters in the Lone Star State? If you like underdogs, this guy is your man (or dog).

But “the Kinkster” (as he calls himself) does seem to be picking up some momentum, at least outside of Texas. The national press loves him, and relishes his colorful aphorisms (his two campaign slogans are “why the hell not?” and “how hard can it be?”; he told Wolf Blitzer that he wouldn’t play in one of his golfing fundraisers because “the only two good balls I ever hit was when I stepped on a garden rake”). He’s got Willie Nelson out on the trail with him, and his campaign manager worked previously for Jesse Ventura, the former wrestler who got elected governor of Minnesota as an independent.

And believe it or not, there’s some substance behind the vaudeville show that the Kinkster is putting on “deep in the heart of Texas”. He has a policy agenda that is fairly detailed and seems to make sense. It’s an eclectic blend of liberal and conservative ideas, with a little something for everyone: prayer in schools, gay marriage, biofuels, tough border enforcement along the Rio Grande and a liberal policy for illegal aliens.

The big question is whether Texas is taking Friedman seriously. Zogby’s latest poll (taken in March) showed him at about 17%, behind Republican incumbent Rick Perry, Democratic challenger Chris Bell, and another independent, former state comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a former Republican. However, that was up from around 10% late in 2005. Perry still leads the pack, but with only 36%; not exactly a landslide. The political analysts are calling Friedman a long-shot, but there’s still a lot of time yet. If he does get on the ballot (which is still up in the air), it could get interesting.

If I could give the Friedman camp one bit of advice: aprenda hablar español! Take the Latino vote seriously. The Friedman campaign web site does not have a Spanish version; that has to be corrected immediately. Mr. Friedman is running as an anti-establishment candidate and needs to attract people who normally don’t bother going to the polls. There are plenty of Latinos in Texas who qualify for that. Here are the stats: in 2002, Latino citizens (i.e., excluding illegals) were 27.6% of the voting age population. However, they were only 23.4% of registered voters, and comprised only 18.6% of the turnout. Given high rates of growth in Hispanic populations, the numbers for 2006 (and the disparities) are probably even higher. Friedman needs to lead voter registration drives in the Latino neighborhoods and needs to appeal to their concerns.

If the child of a German – Jewish immigrant family can be taken seriously in Texas politics, there’s no reason why he can’t relate to the Latino community. ¿Por qué, para el motivo del infierno, no debemos hacer eso, el Kinkstero?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Did you ever come across something in your food pantry that’s been sitting around for maybe 10 years, something you pretty much forgot about? This morning I came across some very old graham crackers. I was planning to make some chocolate pudding pie using soy milk, and I thought that a graham cracker crust would go nicely with this. I vaguely remembered having some crackers around, so I snooped around amidst the cans and bottles and boxes until I came across them. They were pretty much intact, no bugs or anything. But you could see — and smell — that they were way past their prime. So I walked over to the store and got a new box of graham crackers. And then I decided to put them side by side for comparison, thus the picture below.

The old ones are on the left, new ones on the right. As you can see, they seem to lose their color with age. They still had their texture, but they had an odor like rancid oil. That’s probably because the hydrogenated oils with which they were made finally spoiled. Those hydrogenated oils supposedly have a long shelf life, but not 10 years. If you were starving and there was nothing else to eat, you could probably get them down your throat. But the newer ones clearly seem nicer. Ah, the sweet blush of youth.

Well, just for once, I don’t accuse big business of swindling the masses here; not because of some old graham crackers that I forgot to eat. In fact, I’ll even give Nabisco and Keebler credit for responding to pressure from health advocates and eliminating hydrogenated oils and trans fat in their crackers. The saturated fat content is now pretty low too; eight little cracker squares have only 3% of the daily sat fat limit. So, is this the perfect snack?

Well, it ain’t bad so long as you stick to the plain ones (not the sugary version or the chocolate coated temptations). You could do much worse — and most of you do. But then there’s still the salt content to worry about — eight crackers give you 8% of the daily sodium limit; that other 92% gets filled out very quickly, say by a couple of slices of cheese and some bread, or an order of fries. You wouldn’t think that graham crackers should be salty, but they probably need NaCl for shelf life . . . so that today’s grahams won’t look like my 1996 vintage grahams after a just few months.

Bottom line, you’re on your own to munch responsibly here in America. If you truly want to be healthy, forget about the tasty treats that the big food corporations line the supermarket shelves with and mix up your own granola: toast a few handfuls of raw oatmeal on a pan in your oven and mix in some unsalted walnuts, unsalted sunflower seeds and black raisins. And if you really need to go wild, toss in a few almonds. I have that with lunch most every day. Enjoy!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:42 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Uncategorized ...

Benchsitters: One of humanity’s biggest problems is that we’re all so different. Well, maybe not everyone. There are a lot of people who think alike. But there are still a lot of people who approach the same given situation in different ways. It comes natural; it’s just what they do. In some ways, diversity of mind is good. But it also causes car accidents and wars and law suits (why else would we have so many lawyers?).

Let’s go back to driving for just a minute. There are laws that supposedly define which car goes and which car yields, along with stop signs and traffic lights. But there are still a lot of places where it’s a judgement call. And every now and then, there’s a conflicting situation where one person thinks that the other guy should stop, and it just makes perfect sense to the other guy that he should go. And then, CRASH! Happens every day, even when both drivers are fully alert. Then add in some distractions and alcohol and sleepiness, and you see why there are so many tow trucks and car body shops out there. If all the roads were perfect and everyone always followed the law and drove responsibly, accidents would go way down. But there would still be a base number of traffic accidents that could not be eliminated due to mental diversity.

This also helps to explain why the Enlightenment was a such failure with regard to government. For a while there back in the 17th and 18th centuries, European polite society thought that the scientific revolution would carry over into the world of government. We would surely find an optimal way to govern ourselves — utopia would be realized, war and crime would vanish. Well, after all kinds of experiments with egalatarianism and democracy and socialism and communism, we still don’t have a system that fits all circumstances. Actually, we hardly have any ideas that help in any circumstances. Democracy? Works OK in some places (India), bombs out in others (Russia). On both the micro-level of the individual and the macro-level of the nation, there is just too much unexplainable variation in how we think.

I believe that there is an evolutionary, biology-related explanation for the wide diversity of opinions and contrasting ways of thinking about the same given set of facts. It probably helps the human species to survive if the majority of people think “inside the box”, i.e. in ways that conform to the dominant social / environmental conditions and challenges. But it also helps to have some rebels, a few contrarians, a handfull of freaks and weird-o’s in every crowd. For the most part, those people will be outcasts, people who don’t follow fashion trends, people with a wide range of ideas and opinions and styles that the majority will never take seriously. But just in case the world changes, just in case the winds and tides suddenly shift, it’s remotely possible that a small handful of these outcasts will know what to do. The mainstream crowd (and the other weirdo’s who randomly don’t have behavior patterns that match the new environment) will either get in step with those former misfits, or go the way of the dinosaurs. Someone will always be able to survive and lead the community to adapt to the new environment.

But big changes like that (whether they relate to weather or geography or social and political conditions) are far and few between. So for the most part, we outcasts remain on the bench, like field goal kickers in a football game. (No, even worse; most field goal kickers get out once or twice in the average NFL game, whereby the average outcast remains an outcast all his life.) Most of us go thru life waiting in vain for our time to come, marching without stop to our different drummer. But still, it’s good to know that we are here for a purpose, that Nature has a reason for our isolation. So, to each and every oddball and misfit out there (or at least the harmless ones like me), a tribute. As Milton said, “They also serve who only stand [or sit!] and wait”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:50 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 9, 2006
Uncategorized ...

I’ve spoken a number of times here on my virtual soapbox about the growing inhumanity of the medical institution here in America, about why “capitalist medicine” is rapidly becoming an oxymoron. I just read a quote from an article in the New England Journal of Medicine by a Doctor Robert Sade, who is currently on the American Medical Association’s Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs. Dr. Sade said that medical care in modern times “is neither a right nor a privilege: it is a service provided by doctors and others to people who wish to purchase it”.

Ah yes, Dr. Sade. The Marquis would be proud. He was a laissez-faire kind of guy too.

I think that the best medicine you can get these days is medicine for the soul. So in that vein, I submit for your consideration the picture below, taken near the street in front of my house. It’s only a little crocus and it only lasts a couple of days. But it certainly does help heal the wounds of modern living.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:16 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, April 7, 2006
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EBAY BLUES: Back in the mid 1990s, it was hip to say that the Internet was going to change our lives. The big money men on Wall Street even believed it for a few years (but then the bubble burst in 2000). The Internet has turned out to be a real convenience, but it hasn’t changed my life. However if I had to name one institution on the web that did have some effect on the way I live, it would have to be Ebay. But the effect of Ebay isn’t always positive.

Ebay amounts to a world-wide bazaar where you can find an amazing variety of stuff for sale. You can easily find things that you otherwise wouldn’t know where to look for. You can also sell stuff that you need to get rid of. All in all, Ebay can be quite a resource.

But it can also be quite a frustration. Back in the old days, you would see something for sale in a store or shop with a price tag. You could buy it right then and there, or you could haggle a little with the seller and maybe get a better price. But on Ebay, it’s mostly the opposite. You see an item and a price; perhaps it’s a good price, but you’re probably gonna pay more if you really want the item. The Ebay bidding system is designed to goose up the prices that sellers get. Most of the time, the initial price that you see listed is a decent price, maybe even a bargain. (But always beware of the shipping cost and consider the total price with shipping; some sellers tempt you with a low price but charge much more for shipping than the cost of a box and the UPS or USPS fee).

So you see something you like and put in a bid, then wait a couple of days. You also entered a “maximum price”, the most you’d be willing to pay. If someone else bids, then your price will go up to match it, but no higher then your maximum. If the other bidder goes over your maximum, then you don’t get it — unless the idea of being outbid drives you into a rage and you try to get even by throwing more money at the product than your competitor. Ebay sends you an e-mail as soon as you are outbid, and there’s something about it that seems to encourage rage.

This can be especially frustrating if you’ve bid on something early on, say six days before the end of the auction, and in the last five minutes or so someone outbids you. They call this “sniping”. It’s totally fair on Ebay. But it’s certainly not pleasant. Ebay’s official comment? Just make sure that you set your maximum high enough so that no one else will outbid you.

Well sure, that’s great if you’re making lots more money than you know what to do with. And there are a lot of people out there like that these days. Unfortunately, the rest of us who have to watch our budgets must compete against such people on Ebay. So, perhaps you see something you like and put in a bid with a maximum price that you feel is on the high end — good protection from being outbid. Then along comes someone for whom money is no object, and you’re bumped.

It never fails to amaze me how high some people bid for relatively simple items (like the stuff that I’ve bought, e.g. small kitchen utensils, essential oils, CDs, Roman coins, old railroad timetables). Ebay is clearly not the place where you always get a bargain. Only once in a while, clearly less than half the time, do you bid a low price and actually get to buy the thing at that price. More than once, I’ve seen an Ebay price zoom up past what you could pay by doing some minimal search engine research to find a regular seller for the same item. For example, there was a CD on Ebay that was listed at auction for $6 with shipping. I saw that Alphacraze was selling the same CD for $8 with shipping. So I put a bid in on “the Bay” with an $8 maximum. Well, wouldn’t you know that someone bid $9; I thus went to Alphacraze. Another time I was outbid on an item where the seller had the same item listed on the “buy it now” pages (which is a fixed price option that some Ebay sellers use). The person who outbid me paid more than if they bought it via the fixed price offer, right there on Ebay. After I was outbid, I proceeded to buy the fixed price item, which had a fair price although not a bargain.

There’s nothing much to be done here, no great injustice. Ebay is just Internet capitalism at work, with all its glorious possibilities and all its incredible frustrations. Ebay is basically a game that you play. Even if you play smart, very often you lose. The only way to make things better would be a code of courtesy amidst Ebay users; i.e., unless you really need the thing in question, you refrain from outbidding the person who got there first, even if you figure that it would still be worth it to you if the price were a few dollars higher. Thus far, I have adhered to that code (except in one instance where the bidding was so competitive that it was clear that you just couldn’t buy anything unless you joined in on the game). Unfortunately, we’re living in a gladiator world, a world of people acting like rats trying to tear little crumbs away from each other. Until and unless that mentality changes, Ebay is going to continue to be a ratty experience.

Rat-World Footnote: Another example of rat-world mentality is the growing frequency here in Northern New Jersey of drivers zooming around you on the right when you’re ready to pull away from a stop light that has just turned green, even though you’re not making a left turn. It’s tempting sometimes to floor the pedal and race the right-lane rats; let’s see who turns chicken first. But I don’t do that, as it could be dangerous. However, twice in the past few weeks I pulled away from a light at regular speed, and the right-lane rats just ran out of room and had to stop and pull in behind me (parked car ahead). Yea, I get a little rush when that happens, but it also makes me realize just how nutty people are these days, lunging for a right lane pass where there clearly isn’t enough space to comfortably do it. It’s rat-thinking such as that which causes the high accident rate and high car insurance rates that we have here. And which makes Ebay such a nice little opportunity for two-bit capitalists.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:25 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Uncategorized ...

WASTE OF BREATH AND MONEY: It looks as though the recent fad of performing scientific studies to prove that people with medical problems improve when other people pray for them is coming to a close. Here’s the NY Times article about a big study that showed that anonymous prayer for patients having heart operations had no effect, and that telling patients beforehand that they would be prayed for possibly made their condition worse! This study was privately funded, and cost $2.4 million. The federal government supposedly has spent $2.3 million for other similar studies. This seems like a royal waste of money, and spending any more money (government or private) after this study would be a downright sin.

I’m all for prayer and belief in God, but the notion that we can control the medical outcomes of another through our prayer (or lack thereof, if you don’t like the person) implies a severe lack of humility. Religion should stick to mystery, and science to the lack thereof. Unfortunately, many in our country have gone back to a snakehandler form of spirituality, a George W. Bush form of religiosity. Dr. Richard Sloan summed it up best: “Studying religion scientifically . . . makes for bad science and bad religion”. Mix religion with politics and the results are that much worse. Let’s hope that this waste of money is over; until we find a cure for cancer and AIDS and a thousand other terrible diseases, there are a lot better things to study.

(However, I am in favor of general research into the role of psychological states on health and illness; those studies do seem to say some valuable things.)

DEMOCRACY MARCHING IN IRAQ: Ah yes, the Iraq campaign; another George W. Bush idea. Mr. Bush’s theory is that democracy cures all. He figured that hurrying Iraqis to the polls would make up for the mess that we let happen after our invasion.

But despite three major elections, Iraq seems to be coming apart at the seams. The NY Times had an article today saying that a lot of Iraqis are leaving the many mixed Shiite – Sunni neighborhoods; the Shiia are heading for Shiite towns, or the Sunnis light out for their own turf. And the many mixed areas are thus becoming polarized, as those who remain are mostly Shiite or mostly Sunni (not both, as before). That’s not a good sign. The Newark Star-Ledger reports that about one-third of all Iraqi medical doctors have left the country since 2003 due to assassinations by the insurgency. The doctor shortage is causing people to die from lack of available care. Again, not good.

(As I’ve said before, I’m not criticizing the excision of Saddam Hussein; I’m criticizing the lousy job we did of filling the vacuum created by his absence.)

Now that the NY Times makes you pay to read Tom Friedman, my favorite overview-man has become John Simpson of the BBC (you can still read him for free!). Simpson has visited Iraq several times since the American occupation began, and he’s not optimistic about the current prospects over there. He makes the point that rushing the common folk to the voting booths before daily life could return to normal probably just made things worse. Here are Simpson’s own words:

“Looking back on the events of the past year, it is clear that the three different popular votes which were held in Iraq, two elections and one referendum, played a big part in whipping up the violence. People who had tended to regard themselves primarily as Iraqis were suddenly forced to focus on the fact that they belonged to a particular group: Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Christian or whatever. The act of voting was as divisive as it was empowering, and the fact that it happened three times in 11 months added to the intensity of the problem.”

So, if Mr. Simpson turns out to be right, America shot itself in the foot in Iraq by insisting on instant democracy! Yes, democracy is on the march in Iraq; a march towards civil war, that is.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:05 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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Church of the Churchless
Clear Mountain Zendo, Montclair
Fr. James S. Behrens, Monastery Photoblog
Of Particular Significance, Dr. Strassler's Physics Blog
My Cousin's 'Third Generation Family'
Weather Willy, NY Metro Area Weather Analysis
Spunkykitty's new Bunny Hopscotch; an indefatigable Aspie artist and now scolar!

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