Sunday, January 26, 2014

Religion and Disease

Looking and listening to the news of the day is getting downright dispiriting. Still only partly awake when the BBC came on the air this morning at 6:00, we were assaulted with the news of the day—Rioting, shooting, blowing things up in Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Thailand . People are having so much fun killing other folks who aren’t quite like them, mainly because of religion (or power, but religion seems to be all about power these days).

Then, on the radio, came a guy talking about how evolved we are, relative to the Neanderthals and other early folk-like critters. We are evolved because we are socially conscious. We think, we imagine, we are aware of other things beyond roasting a piece of meat over the fire. We have conjured up a funny concept of a creature we call God, and, as a result of our really smart brainpower, we have created lots of rules of living that we make believe we were given by the God.
And, of course, when other folks ignore our rules of living, we kill them, just because they’re, well different, and we know that different is inherently threatening. Not wishing to have our rules challenged, we generally kill the folks tossing out the challenges.
So, that’s our daily news digest. NEWS FLASH: some folks in some land blew themselves up and brought a few dozen other folks along with them.
So, I began thinking about our “evolution” to this higher order being. And, then I began to wonder about the evolutionary advantage of making up stuff about a GOD thingie, and trying to make everyone think alike. And I was drawn to two possible conclusions: 1) if we all really thought alike, isn’t it likely that we would cease evolving, and become stagnant, and eventually die out as a species, because something else would take our place?; 2) we seem so vaguely crazed about ensuring that our version of the RULES and our version of the GOD becomes the only version left standing that we run an increasingly serious risk of a self-induced apocalypse—you know, nuclear winter and all that, which might also have a deleterious effect on our survival.
So, then my mind began its usual thing of playing. And I began wondering about disease, and epidemiology. And I thought, maybe organized religions are a sort of virulent disease state., spreading slowly throughout the globe.  And, like many disease states (bubonic plague, for example), if allowed to spread unchecked, it could eventually engulf and destroy the globe’s population.  So, perhaps we need  some kind of epidemiologic approach to arrest  the spread . Like many disease states, organized religion has mutated into several different forms and its manifestations differ depending on the receptivity of the hosts.  But still, thinking, say, of colony collapse disorder, now killing off our bee populations, we need to begin seriously examining ways to reduce the incidence and prevalence of these potentially deadly disease organisms.
NIH—calling NIH . . . where are you guys? We need your best epidemiologists on the job now.
Ta ta . . .

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m waiting . . . still waiting . . .
Waiting for a high-ranking Muslim cleric to utter the words—“this is not Islamic. Those who perpetuate such acts are acting counter to every tenet of religious thinking under Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, and these people have converted it into a religious force of death.”
Yes, I am awaiting such a statement from any high-ranking Islamic cleric. But, no, it’s waiting for Godot, I think. Even worse than waiting for Catholic hierarchy in the bad old days to denounce priests for defiling little children, or their housemaids.
The latest (suicide??) bombing in Kabul killed many innocent folks, and the Taliban gladly claimed credit.  This would be like Charlie Manson announcing to the LA Times—“I just got my latest kill, folks. Still thinking about the next one”.
But the Islamic faith just keeps on truck’n, as though nothing is wrong with Islam. After a time, a religious order gets to be defined by onlookers, even especially, onlookers who do not belong to that faith. I understand that Muslims the world over really hate it when non-Muslims decry their faith and lump all Muslims as actual or potential terrorists.  But I have to say, until someone begins stepping up to the altar of public opinion and denouncing the fools who blow up innocents, so as to obtain their 72 virgins, the global denunciations will keep on coming.  It’s time for Muslim Clerics to denounce the Taliban and all the other Muslim terrorist groups who kill innocents, just to prove a point.
Which brings me to our year of 2014.  Why, well because of its resemblance to 1914.  Remember 1914? That was the year that someone shot and killed the Archduke Ferdinand and kick-started WW I.  Remember WW I? That was the war that killed some ten million folks and laid the groundwork for that other war, WW II that killed  way more than ten million—60-85 million, but who’s counting?
Are we in that same state of mind now? Well, almost the whole of the Middle East—let’s see Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, now routinely see folks blown up or otherwise killed by one ethnic cleansing agent or another. All in the name of religion (aka power). Now the thugs have extended their reach to South Sudan and the Central African Republic, again all in the name of ethnic cleansing of one type or another (again, really just power acquisition).
Then I observe the Europeans, who should know better, squabbling amongst themselves, with the British on the sidelines tossing darts at them. Some of the ideals are at least similar to 1914, similar enough to cause concern. Would the Europeans begin to cease squabbling and begin yelling, and then, as Europeans are wont to do, begin tossing inflammatory objects at one another? Well, we hope not, but hope is starting to get lost  here in the USofA, where squabbling has shifted to name-calling—lying, yelling and  corrupt moves to poison the well of democracy.  
The growing income inequality and the means by which the rich in this country attempt to subjugate the poor and the shrinking middle class are also reminiscent of the early 1900s. Listen to Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of a book on TR and Taft: “To be sure, Roosevelt had faced a pernicious underlying crisis, one as pervasive as any military conflict, or economic collapse. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, an immense gulf had opened between the rich and the poor; daily existence had become more difficult for ordinary people, and the middle class felt increasingly squeezed.” She goes on to say, “Yet by the end of Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House, a mood of reform had swept the country, creating a new kind of of presidency and a new vision of the relationship between the government and the people.”
Sound familiar?? Two differences: 1) we don’t have a Teddy Roosevelt in office, nor is there a TR waiting in the wings; 2) we have a right wing press now—the Faux News Network-- that is not really a news outlet at all. It could best described as the PR wing of the royalty core of the GOP.  We also have a supportive unit within our Supreme Court—led by Tony and his houseman Clarence—that has declared that corporations are folks like you and me and that money is speech.  So, unlike the early 1900s, when TR began reining in the dukes of the land, our Congress now opposes any attempt by our president to enact any controls over the wealthy.  So, for the time being, the dukes of the land reign supreme—meaning the Koch’s and others of their ilk are free to despoil our fair land in any way that pleases them.
This separation of the rich from the poor, and the increasing attempts by the GOP to eliminate the middle class, strikes me as  at least similar to the ethnic wars that rage throughout the Muslim world. Theirs are based on religion. Ours are based on money (but maybe there is no real difference between religion and money).
I’m old, so it may not matter for me. But it will matter for our grandchildren, who are still trying to figure out their way in this world.  I worry for them, but worrying is fairly useless.  I suppose, it’s what grandparents do—worry.  I keep hoping (no hope is not yet dead) that the middle class and the poor will finally understand that they are not powerless.  They can vote and they can denounce the people on the right who are bent on destroying their future.  But will they?
We’ll see. Meanwhile, I wonder what’s happening in Sarajevo??

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Reading several articles yesterday about bakers who refused to bake wedding cakes for upcoming same-sex weddings left me scratching my head wondering what’s next.  First, the same issue arose in different states—Oregon and Colorado. In both cases, the bakers are being told they are violating the law by discriminating against Gays.  Secondly this thing presents weird resolution possibilities.
That made me stop and think a bit more. What, I wondered, if the baker had told a Black couple that he would not bake their wedding cake because he doesn’t serve Blacks (or Latinos, or Republicans, or . . .)?  Does that provoke a different reaction among the folks paying attention to this little protest? I think that both bakers are citing their right to religious freedoms as their reason—God has apparently told them that Gays are a No-No, so they really cannot bake their cake.  I mean, what would they tell God? Plus, they might get struck down, ruining their credit rating entirely.
So, as my brain tries to wrap itself around this annoying little issue, one of hundreds in this increasingly annoying land of ours, other little thoughts keep creeping into my brain. I mean, what if the baker acceded to their request, or simply gave in to the demands of the court system and agreed to bake their cakes. If you were that couple, would you actually eat his cake?  I can already envision the aftermath court hearing. “No, your Honor, I have no idea how the Jalapeno peppers got into the cake, and, as for the rat poison, well, that truly baffles me.” If a baker told me that he would not bake me a cake,  I would certainly want to haul his ass into court, but eat his cake??? Hmmm, I don’t think so. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.
So, I’m left wondering how one could ever resolve satisfactorily such a thorny question.  Can one ever discriminate about doing business with someone who is part of a class of people (Gays, Blacks, Republicans) if the discrimination is based on religious beliefs? “Your Honor, my God and I had a conversation about this issue and he instructed me that to serve Republicans would be to dishonor his name. I mean, look at all the crap they are into—cutting off food stamps to poor people, destroying the public’s access to a free quality education, denying healthy care, turning the banking system into a giant gambling machine. So, I really cannot in good conscience supply them with their ration of my high quality marijuana (assuming I live in Colorado).”
So, I don’t have any idea how we can seriously cause everyone to suddenly become rational on this issue of religiously based discrimination.  Unless we tell the bakers that they need now to move their asses to Tehran on the first available flight out. I’m sure they would love living in AllahLand.
And on that exoplanet called Kansas, apparently the righteous lawmakers there have decided that anyone who wants to is now allowed to carry a concealed weapon into any public place he wishes, including your kids school. But, since they are also committed to ridding the state of that annoying tax-sucking machine called public education, it is perhaps not surprising that  we should all start carrying guns into schools.
And in an amazing feat of weight-loss prowess, the New Jersey Gubernator, Mr. Christie has managed to defy all physical laws by losing 450 pounds and shrinking himself into a size one suit.  I mean, his Press conference was truly awe-inspiring, watch him shrink over the 2 hours as he explained his non-involvement in that messy little traffic jam his guys created without ever telling him about it. Wow, is he really tiny now, or not??