Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The gift that keeps on taking

That’s how Michael J. Fox describes his Parkinson’s Disease. He’s not just making a joke. He sees his disease as a direction that gives meaning to his life, to be an advocate for a cure by giving publicity to the disease no one else ever could. Muhammad Ali got people’s attention, but he didn’t respond to medication enough to talk about it, his Parkinsonian symptoms being from head trauma rather than Parkinson’s disease.

I’ve heard Fox use this line before this year. Then I heard him say it again in a recent interview about this silliness Rush Limbaugh started. This time Mr. Fox could barely get the joke out because he was so symptomatic. He used to tell it better.

As a neurologist it’s been easy for me to recognize Mr. Fox’s states on TV. Once I saw a reporter catch up with him on the way in to speak. Fox was shuffling with a hand tremor typical of Parkinson’s. When speaking he always has the opposite symptoms, the dyskinesias that are side effects of medications that loosen up the Parkinsonian symptoms. It would be typical of patients to take their medications minutes before they need to walk or talk. Apparently that’s what Fox does. For that he’s being attacked?

Several days after saying Fox was putting on an act, Rush Limbaugh said on his show he had received many messages telling him that he had it wrong, that Fox’s symptoms were from too much medicine, not too little. But Limbaugh couldn’t just say he was wrong. Instead he then spoke as if Fox had been manipulating the audience by taking too much medicine. No, Fox does what patients with Parkinson’s have to do to function. They suffer the side effects of medication that allows them to move rather than the Parkinson’s that keeps them rigid.

Some conservative bloggers and commentators are parroting Limbaugh’s recent position. Some are still stuck on Limbaugh’s initial contention that Fox was faking or like Sean Hannity pretending that putting on “an act” is different from “faking”. What power Rush has over Republicans to follow him in ignorance and arrogance.

Then Laura Bush chimes in about manipulating people’s feelings. Strange she wasn’t criticizing her husband’s party for that.

Many politicians are scum when it comes to lying about people. My own observations are that Republicans are worse than Democrats at this, but how can such a thing be quantified? I’m sure it’s a human capacity for arrogance and ignorance, for partisanship and denial that drives this, whoever is the most under that spell. I understand that better than I understand why more people don’t see this. If they did, negative ads would kill a candidate rather than boost a candidate despite some negative backlash as it seems to be now. People either don’t mind the partisanship or they really believe the attacks on others, such as when Republicans imply that voting for Democrats will get you killed or when Democrats suggests all Republicans are scumbags. That’s what I don’t understand. Why is this OK with people? Why do people listen to Rush? Why do they find simplistic and fantastic bombast worth their time?

I was heartened to see a CNN poll that only 26% of Americans approve of Rush. Unfortunately that many on the right and a similar number on the left make a majority that want to see their enemies ridiculed, who values someone’s skill at that over love and knowledge that philosophers say are the ultimate good things in life.

I’m tempted toward the traditional hope that everything evens out in the end. That’s one aspect of traditional Christianity I always liked. But the closer I move toward God, the more I believe that’s not God’s way. There’s no way to make it all fair. Those of us who try to be good despite the burdens that come our way face difficulties in that. There is no magic tote board that awards points for that. Nor is there one for everyone who insists on being bad boys and girls, to be hurtful and liars in the name of some cause or just for their selfishness. Such people will keep disturbing the peace and using up resources for nothing for as long as I live. They just add to how nature does the same thing, such as it does to Michael J. Fox with his Parkinson’s Disease.

There is suffering that nature causes. There is suffering people cause. I would fight both, but either one is bigger than I am. So I turn to God. He tells me they’re all dead already, the virtuous and the scum. The former have a better chance to live on in Him than the latter. It’s not to make it fair. It’s because that’s what God wants. People don’t change that much. Most don’t improve at all on the life given to them. Then they die. To try to do better than that is not an act. God knows this. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t. I’ll take God.

Friday, October 27, 2006

When is crow on the menu?

I’ve been reading a lot of political blogs lately. So many words written in such places are silly, but I like the numbers. I guess it’s like how some men read the articles in Playboy and some just look at the pictures. I just look at the pictures. I just look at numbers. I know I’m not the only man like that.

So lately the numbers for Democrats in Congress have been the best they’ve been since the last of boll-weevil Democrats became Republicans. An average prediction has Democrats picking up 20 seats in the House of Representatives, up to 40 if a wave of change hits on Election Day. There’s about a 50:50 chance of Democrats taking over the Senate. Of course some Republicans scoff and say the Republican get out the vote effort will have them beating the polls again.

Still it’s interesting to me. I ask myself why. A couple of blogs this week pointed me to a USA Today poll done last weekend regarding how voters saw Democratic issues. The poll listed 11 steps Democrats might take if elected. One thing that struck me about the items on this list is that not one of them affects me personally. Some affect my clients a little, especially if Democrats could manage to pass universal health care. Increasing the minimum wage would help my clients a little, but only some of them. It wouldn’t do anything for my clients on disability or who are unemployed. It wouldn’t do much for the most painful problem my clients have, which is their anxiety about what they should do to get out of their neediness. Maybe if Congress could double their income, some of them could calm down, but a small change is still going to leave almost all of my clients on the wrong side of having discretionary income.

There never will be doubt how I’ll vote. I’ll never be a swing voter. In fact I already mailed my votes in for this election. In talking about that, I could pretend that it is critically important who wins the election like everyone does on their blogs, but I don’t think it matters much. So what do the numbers mean to me?

They mean that I’d like to see Republicans humbled. They take their governing for granted, however that happened. They shouldn’t. At the same time I know that, though, I also know that conservative Republicans have had this condescending attitude ever since I first remember seeing one in 1964. My Dad thought Ronald Reagan was wonderful that year as he spoke for Barry Goldwater, so noble in such a lost cause. I naturally paid attention. So did others, most of whom were old enough to vote, which made Reagan governor of California in 1966.

I know conservatives had a history before then. They wanted Taft in the fifties instead of Eisenhower. Men like William F. Buckley were around then. I don’t know anyone who dropped out of the limelight before 1964, but it certainly impressed me how much conservatives were alike after that, all egotistical about their intellect, even though they believed in simplistic ideas like everything being the best if people are given the greatest freedom, except for sexuality. Yes a well-regulated free market is a good thing, but isn’t it interesting how one needs both freedom and regulation to manage that? Such a balancing act is too complicated for these Einsteins. Fantasy makes for simpler and better slogans.

Even at their politically weakest, conservatives were insufferable. At least they were polite about it then. With power the conservative attitude has gotten so much worse. So I root for them to lose power even beyond my partisanship, though not with the life or death grip that some attach to each election.

Only if I think about it, no one’s going to be humbled by this election. Politics never ends. Whatever the outcome, both sides will try to spin the results into some sort of victory for them, setting the stage for an even greater victory in 2008. Both sides will claim that is their future. Only neither future comes. The battle just continues, 2010, 2012, 2014, …

Republicans have had most of the power since 1980. What is the result? Government spending is worse than ever. The Cold War ended, but other protracted international conflicts evolve. They haven’t overturned Roe v. Wade yet. Maybe they will soon. Of course that won’t change things in my state, California. Ah, it’s a reason to continue to ask for campaign contributions.

I’ve looked through the Republican agenda before. As with the Democrats, if the whole thing came to pass it wouldn’t change my life. It would change lives I know, but not mine. Yet both sides engage in rhetoric that choosing them is vital.

I have a feeling that this attitude will just go on. Maybe it will take economic or ecological catastrophe to change it. So I’ve started to prepare myself to be disappointed no matter what the result of the elections. No one will be humbled. No one will eat crow.

I wonder if crow is on the menu in the afterlife.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

God overrides my budget, but just for $12

I had a long morning with clients yesterday. I was tired. I’ve been trying to get back in the habit of walking over the noon hour, but often I’ve been too tired or hungry to do that. Sometimes God has wanted to talk to me in a way that requires more intimacy than if we talk as I walk. So I haven’t re-established my ideal routine yet, maybe in November.

I’ve also felt guilty because I haven’t gotten around to getting the smog check on my car, due by the end of the month so I can register it. If I were perfect, I would have done that by now. So should I do that after work yesterday or give in to feeling tired? Something familiar said, “Let’s go,” with my mind picturing the gas station where I had the smog check done two years ago. OK. Then the competency came welling up in me to ask when the master of my car’s fate could fit me in. Hey, not a bad answer, he could do mine after he does the one he’s about to start. $51, eh? Why, I remember when it was $12.

So, where to eat in the meantime? God said if we were going to splurge on the car, why not spend a few extra bucks on the salad bar? I needed the veggies. OK.

I think about how to describe for someone else how this is God doing this, helping me, as has been God’s place in my life for 17 years. There is a presence. There is a voice. It is more than just words, but also a change in my cognition to include God and several aspects of what He’s trying to tell me. Both my body and my mind respond with sudden energy and confidence. What’s the problem with calling this God? Is it that someone thinks I don’t deserve God’s attention if he or she doesn’t get the same attention from God? If I could imagine such a thing, I would do so all the time. I can’t. It’s something beyond me, something with which I cooperate, but can’t control.

My nature is perfectionism. I guess I was taught that at home, in school and in the workplace. It’s a trap many get into naturally because it works. There are bound to be benefits if I’m perfect, so it’s natural to become dependent on that. It’s a hard master. God has always been someone who breaks me out of that. If I had been perfect with this smog check, I could have paid less. I know there was one ad for $29.95. Maybe there was another for less. God helps me not care so much about that, so I can just get it done. Besides over lunch I realized that with the cost of the certificate for the DMV and a couple of other charges hidden from ad prices, but included in the $51, I was only spending $8 more getting it done at this more convenient place. That and $4 more for something healthier than a fast food lunch, wasn’t it worth it? Yes, Lord, it was, You’re right again. I’ve lost track of how many times in a row that is for Him. It’s a lot.

People can say this God is just a better part of me. They may even be right, but God tells me they’re not right. We do many other things to help each other. This is just something unusually concrete and one where I understand my need for God well. I want to be perfect. When I’m sane spending $12 more to just get done what I need to do makes sense, but that’s not where my nature takes me. On my own I drift into traps like perfectionism. God frees me from them. Sometimes in the last 17 years I’ve said, “What took You so long?” and He’s asked why I didn’t ask sooner, but we’ve gotten steadily better at this.

Yet either an atheist or a traditionalist might wave a hand and say it’s ridiculous to call that God. No, it’s not. God says so, too. People don’t like it. They want God to be who they say He is or isn’t. Why should they be right? God is whoever and whatever God is, not who anyone says He is. Everyday something happens that proves that to me. Some things are easier to describe than others.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Troublemakers always defend themselves

For over a month the blogosphere has been disturbed by criticism of how the young woman is standing in front of Bill Clinton in the above picture. Have you felt it? I didn't. Then I came across a parody of this substituting George Bush and some young men. I didn't get it. Then I followed the links and oh, now I get it. Still the original story is much more interesting. A Wisconsin law professor, Ann Althouse, saw the above picture. She first decided the choice of who decided to stand where must not have been random, and then went on to speculate about exactly what was wrong with those involved to produce this picture. Where would a real feminist stand, if one even would be in the same room as Mr. Clinton? A summary appeared recently in The Huffington Post.

One commentator concluded that Bill Clinton's pink face must be a sign of sexual arousal related to the young woman in question. I can think of other possible explanations. This comes up so often on the internet, so often in political and religious propaganda anywhere that whatever possibility the speaker thinks of must be true. No, there are many possibilities to be considered if one is to make sense of anything.

Also familiar was that Ann Althouse took no heed of those who commented on her blog to warn her that she was making a fool of herself. I didn't read through that many comments like this, but the ones I saw were expertly turned aside by Althouse. She attacked the person making the comment. She attacked the substance of the comment. I'm sure she is well trained to do that. Unfortunately that's not the same sort of training that insures that someone can look at a picture such as the one above and give a good answer to, "Is anything wrong here?" Only troublemakers would answer "Yes" in this case.

I used to feel discouraged that I didn't have the right words to defeat people who said silly things on the internet about science being wrong, mostly regarding evolution but on other issues as well. Then I came to realize that it didn't matter what words I used. Just disagreeing with people triggers personal attacks against me and my reasoning ability. No matter how much substance there is to something I say, someone who doesn't like it will deny it. If I throw in a lot of substantive comments, those in denial will just pick out whichever one they can deny the best. Troublemakers are often skilled at making themselves sound reasonable, be they fundamentalists attacking science, atheists attacking God, or political partisans attacking everything their opponents stand for. Ann Althouse is my latest example of someone who defends herself in this very well, yet is dead wrong in doing so.

Look at the picture again. Then read Althouse's attacks. Apart from a few fellow travelers, it's easy to see that Althouse has made a fool of herself. If her beliefs lead her to say this picture is an outrage, then her beliefs are worthless. They led her astray. Of course maybe her words are all a way to indirectly express some anger. Fine. Let her apologize and give an improved understanding of where her words came from. I won't hold my breath for anything so insightful. Such insight is so rare.

In the meantime this is what public discourse is like. So many people are so angry about so many things, and defend everything they say about that, no matter how silly, especially if there's any kind of group to support them in their attacks on certain people or aspects of society. I'm glad that reality goes on despite how people speak about it. I'm convinced that God is more in the reality of life than in any words. Maybe someday it will be common knowledge that the people and things that troublemakers attack are rarely the complete story of what's wrong.

What's wrong with that picture? Nothing, the disturbance was really all about something else.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Defacing reality

Among the newspaper racks outside my local drug store is one for Signs of the Times, a monthly Seventh Day Adventist publication. Last year the July issue caught my eye with large letters “ASSURED” and the picture of a woman in her thirties who simultaneously looked like someone very assured and a grown up version of a girl I knew in elementary school. That was sufficient to hook me into reading their version of why it’s a good thing to have the assurance of being Christian.

I picked it up again recently. The cover really does look like my childhood friend. My actual friend is probably much older than this model by now, but I was curious and the inside cover lists a credit for the picture, so I wondered what I could find about this on the internet. That was easy. The picture is right here: http://creative.gettyimages.com (The site won't let me link to the image directly, but its number is 200164133-001)

The picture was altered for the cover. It was cropped horizontally at the level of the left cuff of her sweater, which I suppose makes her look even more assured, as it emphasizes her face more. I notice that it also hides that she’s wearing blue jeans, though. More clearly deliberate is that her earring is gone on the cover. Hey, if you don’t like reality, just change it.

I had wondered when I first picked up this magazine if the model on the cover was a Seventh Day Adventist. Did they just get someone who worked in the office to strike an assured pose? No, they didn’t. There is a series of pictures with this model at Getty Images. Some are wholesome and maternal. Some aren’t, even beyond just an earring. I’m pretty sure she’s not Seventh Day Adventist. She’s also not my childhood friend, since the resemblance disappears with other poses, and the date of the pictures is 2001. My friend was definitely older then. So my questions were answered.

Then there was this additional information. They took away her earring? Oh what liars. He I thought this woman was a paragon of virtue, as my friend was, and it turns out she’s a whore. Isn’t that what they’re saying an earring means?

I’m sure I would lie a little in service of a greater truth. I’m also glad I had the opportunity to find all the pictures from this series. There are some interesting themes there. I wouldn’t have had that if the cover had to have been of a woman who in fact wasn’t wearing an earring. Maybe they would have just gotten someone from their church then instead of a professional. It’s a little thing.

Yet for me it’s so symbolic for a big thing. Human beings hate reality. They love spin. They love deception to make something look more like they want it to be. It’s not just religion, but politics, entertainment, anything where perception can substitute for reality. Give me reality any day, the earring, the blue jeans, even things much worse. I think someday people will learn to face reality better, not by throwing away God, but by coming to understand who God really is. She tells me She likes wearing tasteful earrings and blue jeans, sometimes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Partisan science

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gave a long speech recently on the Senate floor to support his claim that global warming is a hoax. He had a little data, but mostly he presented one-sided arguments why he’s right and anyone who disagrees with him is wrong, mostly attacking media and Al Gore rather than getting to the data of any specific point the way a scientist would. Scientists say recent global warming has been measured. Inhofe says so was warming 1000 years ago. Yes, but the current warming is more, and the reasons for the warming then don’t seem to be the cause now. Inhofe doesn’t mention any of that. He always stops when he’s ahead. Fitting that pattern he also doesn’t mention how one can be sure that increased carbon dioxide levels lately are from burning fossils fuels, due to a lack of carbon 13 that would be present in volcanic gases or other natural sources. Good scientists look at all the data. Partisans don’t.

Then partisans accuse scientists of being selective if they try to narrow their data to what’s reliable. Inhofe attacked Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego for publishing her study of 928 papers on global warming in Science in 2004. Oreskes found none of these rejected the idea that there is currently global warming due to human activity. Claims that there are indeed papers that reject this point to editorials and trade publications, not research articles, but OK, so it’s an overwhelming consensus, not a unanimous one. Does Inhofe address this? No, he just takes his shot at Oreskes and runs away.

It takes very little effort to do a search on any of Inhofe’s claims and see that reality is very different from what Inhofe claims. I always wonder about such a speech, whether the content is bad science, bad history, bad foreign policy, or bad theology. Is this just partisanship, or is it outright lying? I’m sure some people that just repeat the arguments of other don’t know anything of how distorted such arguments are. They don’t know the primary sources. So some blogs applauded Inhofe, saying how devastating this will be to their opponents. Not if it’s a pack of lies, guys.

Scientific illiteracy in the US is striking. Many people don’t think about the difference between good data and useless data. Many don’t understand the difference between data and argument, the former being a fact, the latter possibly being complete fantasy. Yet what strikes me more is that this is not mostly about science. It’s mostly about partisanship. People sound about the same saying their theology is right as Inhofe was here. I’m tempted to say that’s a difference between Republicans and Democrats, but I’m sure it’s not. Republicans are currently more successful at this, but I’m sure Democrats can be partisan, too. Maybe Republicans are telling bigger lies, the kind that supposedly makes for better propaganda. Maybe they’re more incisive and disciplined about it, maybe more confident.

One thing I’m sure of is that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. In addition, science will continue. Just as this is a pretty crazy time to be opposing evolution with so much more data from molecular genetics on the way, it’s pretty crazy to be calling global warming a hoax when there is already data showing warming and increased carbon dioxide from human activity. How much that will matter is uncertain, but it’s certainly not a hoax.

The real story will take more than one or two election cycles to play out, as the real story about aging baby boomers and the national debt will as well. Republicans don’t care how harshly history will treat them beyond that. Neither would Democrats. Political animals adapt to changing conditions even faster than biology does, so maybe a Republican President in 30 years will be repudiating the prejudices of current Republicans, appealing to a new generation of voters who don’t feel lied to by current lies. I’m pretty sure the future I would choose where everyone rejects partisanship is not where we’re going.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Backwards chest x-rays and other things I know are wrong

There is something on TV that regularly reminds me that it's fake. Look, guys, people's hearts are on the lower left. Is that so hard to remember? I suppose the problem is that TV people don't know the outline of a heart on a chest x-ray. Otherwise maybe they would stop putting up chest x-rays backwards on view screens. Occasionally they'll even put one up upside down, but apparently enough people can recognize that as wrong that it doesn't happen often.

Getting it backwards happens often. From casual observation, I'd even bet that TV people get it backwards more often than they get it right somehow. It seems that way. Even on my favorite Law & Order episodes where the pathologist is revealing some juicy, hypertechnical finding that is crucial to the case, there's a backwards chest x-ray in the background. Suddenly I'm brought back to reality that this is just an actress mouthing words from a script. What fun is that?

Of course I've always thought shows like Law & Order must drive some attorneys crazy in a similar way over all the improper questions and other poor procedure used in the courtroom scenes. Reality is not only boring, it's lengthy, too. While televised trials have shown there's some audience for reality, is that only because the news anchors on channels showing TV trials are so opinionated? Would unadulterated reality ever make it on TV?

I don't think about that last question much. TV will be whatever TV people make it. Instead I think about just how much of our society is obviously fake. The fakes are not obvious to everyone. Rarely are they as objective as a backwards chest x-ray, yet fake ideas, fake history, and fake science are all daily experiences unless I keep very much to myself.

So I came to something I said last time. I never have found a role model about whom I would say, "This person has it exactly right." There's no one like that in politics or religion, no one regarding how to live life or have interpersonal relationships. Even scientists become fake when they talk beyond their expertise. Reality and experience are the teachers. Science confirmed that for me in many ways. Yet I am not atheist or agnostic. I know God. If no one else believes that, I still know God. God has never put up a chest x-ray backwards or anything like that to make me question that He is God. But He has told me things that say He is not the God traditionalists believe in. He does not have unlimited power. He does not have unlimited knowledge. As a matter of fact, He has no database at all to feed me any fact I don't already know. He's never told me there's some bag of money hidden in some bushes for me. What He does do is take my concerns and order them in ways that amaze me, giving me a clear direction in some area where I felt confused on my own. He's answered my prayers in other ways, taking away some negative emotions, reinforcing others, giving me strength and comfort as I need it, often without my asking.

That is the God I came to know after that road-to-Damascus experience 17 years ago. I look at our culture, and almost everyone is talking about some other God, both theists and atheists, getting so many parts of what I know backwards. I try to do the same thing as when I see a backwards chest x-ray on TV, just shrug and realize that I'm listening to fantasy. But so much of our culture is backwards. Many of my fellow liberals like the idea that all religions are true. Yet I find greater truth in saying all religions are false in some way or all dogma is false, as I wrote recently.

Most of life is not as objectively wrong as a backwards chest x-ray, but it is just as backwards. People tend to say their enemies are wrong, but not them, oh no. People like to think they know what they're doing. It doesn't look that way. It looks like life is bigger than almost everyone.

Maybe nature will help us out through cultural evolution being driven by our nature, working on our institutions that have been building since the agriculture revolution. Hopefully when we finish adpting to that and to the scientific revolution, we'll be smarter, humbler and kinder, because the alternatives are so deadly. Maybe God will help with this. Maybe He'd rather see what happens naturally, for the most part. No matter how ugly the present looks to me, I can find hope.

But I can also find ugly and mistakes. I can decide what to do besides yell at the TV that the chest x-ray is backwards. It's not much. God confirms that for me, that there's not much I can do. I can live my life with Him and see how much better that is than without Him, but to tell that to anyone raises such impossible questions, from those who say there is no God to those who are certain they already know Him.

The heart is on the lower left. It's too bad all of life doesn't come with such clear directions. At the same time, I'm forever reminded at how badly people do with even those simple directions.