Monday, February 1, 2016

God and the Holocaust

The recent obituary of a prominent Jewish theologian and scholar included the challenge of reconciling the horrors of the Holocaust with belief in God.  It described how the "utter evil of the Holocaust" compelled not only Jews, but others, to re-consider and re-assess the meaning and contribution of the Enlightenment (the 18th century philosophical movement dominating European thought) which included the concepts of liberty, reason and tolerance.

It interests me that in attempting this reconciliation, the criticism is directed at the Enlightenment philosophy in general - critiquing the philosophy, but with a continued belief in God.  Attempts to reconcile earthly horrors with the existence of a God continue.  In other words, all explanations of great tragedies must be explained in the presence of the "incontrovertible fact" of the existence of a God.  The possibility that such tragedies contravene this "fact" is never a consideration.

Are there not times to reconsider certain "supposed facts" (i.e. a God) when they seem to not correspond with observed facts?  The monstrosity that was the Holocaust is such an observed fact (and of course there have been many others).  It is certainly easier to explain such human horrors in the absence of an all powerful and loving deity than it is to accept such a deity's existence.  These human catastrophes beggar the acceptance of and belief in a deity.

"Once-accepted facts" (e.g. a flat world, an earth-centered universe) disappear with the discovery of "new facts."  Can a God-fact continue in the face of the real fact of The Holocaust and the continuation and constancy of human terror and slaughter. The answer seems to be - "Absolutely!!"  But  a great deal of upside-down reasoning and rationalization is required, don't you think?.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Supporting Africa

I have been to Kenya and Uganda assisting Generis International, an organization dedicated to improving the education of children and women in East Africa.  I learned very quickly that without "boots on the ground" you will never be assured that your donations are dispensed properly.  The poverty seems vast and unending.  Generis does put "boots on the ground."  Though a very small organization, it is large in what it accomplishes.  Small ideas can bring about large realities!  Generis realizes it will not change the world, but can make it a better place for a few.  Small institutions develop a personal relationship with the people - and via these small connections they are able to insure that their donations of money and material goods are properly used and dispensed by trustworthy local citizens.  Generis purchases locally in Africa to support the local economy - e.g. school uniforms, or goats, or some sewing machines are purchased to train and educate African women and children - inspiring  hope for the realization of a better and more comfortable life.  Even pencils are known to make a difference!

Attempts by large organizations or NGO's to help are often impeded by hurdles of major proportions.  In a recent NewYorker piece (Jan 4), Larissa MacFarquhar, writing about the Ford Foundation and its current president, Darren Walker, put it this way:

"The urge to change the world is normally thwarted by a near-insurmountable barricade of obstacles: failure of imagination, failure of courage, bad government, bad planning, incompetence, corruption, fecklessness, the laws of nations, the laws of physics, the weight of history, inertia of all sorts, psychological unsuitability on the part of the would-be changer, the resistance of people who would lose from the change, the resistance of people who would benefit from it, lack of practical knowledge, lack of political skill, and lack of money."

So true.

Generis knows this.  But Generis has found the way - small in its operation, but so large in its calculated limited successes.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Children and Contact Sports

"If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002."

Dr. Bennet Omalu, in an opinion piece in a recent issue of the New York Times, arrived at this conclusion concerning the possible damages that may result when children are involved in major contact sports, like football, at young ages.  The conclusion drawn here, however, is purely suppositional.  Children are not subjected to these "radiological and neurocognitive studies" as described and there is no factual knowledge about brain injury in these children. No such study has been done, to the best of my knowledge. That doesn't mean that such injury may not have occurred, but there is no data supporting the claim.  As a rule, young children, with proper protective gear, rarely get injured from mild contact in sport as they are not heavy enough or strong enough to inflict such injury.  Yes, it may come from falling on the ground, but rarely from contact with a rather light, small player.

Nevertheless, there would be nothing wrong with modifying contact sports so that injuries are less likely.  Does football really require tackling at such a young age? Should head shots be eliminated in soccer for young players, etc.?  Not only helmets, but well-regulated restriction of actions that could result in injury, may be very helpful in eliminating, or at least reducing injuries in children engaged in contact sports.  One need not necessarily eliminate the sport, just modify some of the rules to make it safer.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Tired, Poor, and Huddled Masses

The outcry to ban Syrian migrants from the United States based on the possibility that one of the terrorists involved in the French attacks may (an I emphasize "may") have had a valid Syrian passport reminds me of the cries during World War II that helped restrict, if not eliminate, the acceptance of Jews attempting to escape the massacres perpetrated by Nazi Germany.  Not only was immigration  severely restricted, in part because similar fears of enemy infiltration, but Italian, German, and Japanese nationals, as well as those American citizens of the aforementioned ethnicities were interned or otherwise restricted.

German citizens were often detained as were American citizens of German descent.  Many were removed from residences in coastal areas.  A total of 11,507 Germans were interned during the war.  110,000 Japanese-Americans were interned.

Italian nationals in the United States during the war were also interned.  Classified as "enemy aliens" they were detained under the Alien and Sedition Act.  A total of 1881 were so detained, and a number of them were also relocated from coastal areas.

I am unaware of any seditious act that was proactively prevented by this relocation and internment policy.

We now have a decision to make.  Will we ban all immigrants from the ravaged countries of the Middle East as a means of protection from ISIS terrorism?  Hypothetically, If we knew that 5 terrorists were planning to enter this country disguised as Syrian refugees, should all refugees be banned?  Even if a terrorist was able to kill some Americans, should we close our borders completely?  As a matter of fact, isn't it possible that a terrorist could enter the United States as an ordinary tourist?  And, furthermore, should we remove Arab muslims from coastal and densely populated areas?

Are we a society that is now ready to close its borders to the "tired, the poor" and the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

The world has become a dangerous place.  ISIS must be contained and/or eliminated, and the means by which this can be brought about is unclear.  But to close our doors and enclose ourselves in a tight protective shell that thousands of innocents will be prevented from penetrating, is clearly not a solution.  It is surrender.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Questions a Doctor Should Answer

Doctors should answer a patient's questions.  Doctors should invite questions and ask patients to come prepared with questions.  If a doctor does not know the answer to a question, he should volunteer to get back with the answer.  Doctors should never minimize the importance of a question, no matter how trivial it may seem.   Doctors should understand that a patient may be upset, may not understand what is being related to him, and may need time to compute the information being provided.

Doctors should make certain that patients fully understand what has been told them.  Studies have shown that a patient's comprehension and retention of the issues discussed is unreliable - frequently forgotten and/or misunderstood.  Patients should write down (or perhaps record) what the physician is saying and review these notes with him before departing, insuring comprehensive certainty.   Even better, bring along a relative or friend.  Four ears and two brains are far better than two ears and one   brain - especially if the information is serious and complex.

Questions for the physician might include:
  1) What are the risks/benefits of the prescribed therapy?
  2)  How successful has this therapy been? Are there other forms of therapy to consider?
  3)  How common is my problem?
  4)  If an invasive procedure - what are the chances of complications or death?
  5)  How many procedures (if a procedure is to be done) have you performed?
  6)  How many patients with my problem have you treated?
  7)  What is the followup for my treatment or procedure - how often may it have to be repeated?
There may be others, specifically targeted to the medical issue at hand.  There may also be time constraints and, perhaps, another visit for questions and discussion should be scheduled.

Commendably, many physicians will have proactively covered these questions in their discussions
having anticipated the patient's appropriate concern.  But if not, one should not be afraid to ask.

Remember - as the doctor is interviewing you, you are simultaneously interviewing him.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Trump, Carson, and Joseph N. Welch

"You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

These famous words, the words of Joseph N. Welch, the Boston attorney representing the United States Army during the widely-viewed (and infamous) Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, were directed at Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.  McCarthy had just accused a member of Welch's law firm of having been a member of the Communist Party during his youth.

It's time that at least one of the Republican presidential candidates level a similar condemnation of the spiteful, indecent, and ignorant words of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  Trump certainly has no understanding of "decency" - ridiculing his opponents for their appearance, or for their manner of speech, or because of a tendency to perspire.  But the nadir came when he inferred presidential guilt for 9/11 -  holding President George W. Bush responsible for the event.  Outrageous!!  Yes, he was our president at the time- in office for a total of eight entire months!  And yes, President Roosevelt was in office in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked - and perhaps President Lincoln should be held responsible for the Civil War which began one month into his presidency!

Carson's comparing the United States to Nazi Germany is similarly outrageous.  Peter Wehner, in his New York Times op-ed piece on October 20 characterized Carson's remarks as showing a "staggering ignorance when it comes to the unique malevolence of Hitler's Germany."

"Staggering ignorance." An "imbecilic historical analogy," writes Wehner.

Carson went on to opine as to how Jews in Germany could have survived the Holocaust if only they were permitted to have guns!

"Staggering ignorance."  An "imbecilic historical analogy."

Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson - you've done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, gentlemen.  At long last have you left no sense of decency?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Pope Francis Didn't Say

Everyone loves Pope Francis - engaging, smiling, a man of the people - humble, loving - and a man of peace. Francis possesses a special charisma and "stage presence" unique to his office.  Francis has filled his recent visit to The United States with pleas for peace, for ending poverty, for the caring of the young, the sick, and the old.  He, in other words, echoes the hopes of humanity.  Who can possibly be opposed to any of these pleas and hopes!

But words are not actions - and some words lack specifics.  The very controversial Pope Pius XII, whose papacy spanned the era of Nazi Germany and World War II, also prayed and preached for peace and love.  What he did not do, and why "controversial" is applied to his papacy, is that he failed to name names.  He never directly condemned Hitler's policies, nor Mussolini's.  He never denounced the Nazi perpetrators of the mass murders and human extermination that occurred during his papacy. His words may have made a difference, above all since many of the perpetrators were Catholic.

A general damning of war, human suffering and poverty- that's easy.  What's difficult is directing such condemnation at those actually known to be at the root of human suffering.   Like Pius, Francis has failed in this regard.  As Pius failed with Hitler and Mussolini, so Francis is failing with Assad, with Khamenei, with Al Quaeda, with ISIS - and with all others responsible for the terrorism, murder, and genocide that plagues humanity today.  Francis urges us to care for and to empathize with the teems of migrants desperate to find security and stability in Europe, but castigates no one responsible for this extraordinary display of despair.  It is a noticeable silence.

The world knows the power of papal speech.  Words matter.  And the words of a pope, particularly such a beloved and charismatic pope, carry great moral weight.  As we listen to his words, we must also listen to his silence.