Saturday, December 29, 2012

A "Sense" of God

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks enumerates the familiar arguments for the advantages of religion (The Moral Animal, NY Times, Dec 24).  Sam Harris in his "The Moral Landscape" dates the evolutionary origins of religious practices back  some 95,000 years, when evidence of human burials were first discovered.  Harris continues to argue that there may very well be a genetic (Darwinian) advantage to "religion" or forms of "superstition".  Harris would, then, agree with Sacks - there are definite advantages to such beliefs.  

However, the apparent need for religion, the apparent need for the belief in a supernatural deity has nothing to do with the the reality of an actual existence of someone called God.  The concept of God, a concept most people demand in order to explain the "unanswerable" questions of life - questions such as compassion co-existing with human evil, or natural disasters of overwhelming proportion - can remain only as a concept, not more.  It is a quantum leap to equate a concept with a reality.

Sacks explains the evolution of religion thusly: "an idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and now, evolutionary biology."  He then concludes by indicating that "It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God."

He, correctly, chose the phrase "sense of God," and not the phrase "existence of God."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Should Threats of Destruction Be Ignored?

"Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land," he told the crowds, saying he wanted the Palestinians to have all the territory that makes up modern-day Israel.

"We will never recogniזe the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take," he said.
Hamas said 500,000 attended the four-hour rally, held under a leaden winter sky.

These are the words of Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, at a rally celebrating Hamas's 25th anniversary on Dec. 6, 2012.*

It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand how anyone can read such words, and then remember the similar spoken words of the Iranian president,  and continue to heap criticism on the threatened country, Israel.

Just imagine the outcry if Palestine were described in equivalent words by Israeli leaders!

*Haaretz (a leading Israeli newspaper) Dec. 8, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nurse Practitioners, The New York Times, and The Blog

 License nurse practitioners and other similarly trained medical personnel (e.g. physician-assistants) to practice medicine - independently and without supervision by a physician.
There are 158,348 licensed nurse-practitioners in the United States (American College of Nurse Practitioners, 2008). Just imagine the increase in the availability of medical practitioners if even 50% of them would open family practices, supplementing the present number of family practitioners (95,075 in 2009, according to the American Association of Family Practitioners). Nurse practitioners (see Blog July 16, 2008) are perfectly capable of handling the vast majority of medical issues (I would guesstimate some 95%) for which patients visit physicians.

The above is excerpted from The Blog entry "Medical Care - Payment and Practice (May 30, 2011).

In today's New York Times (December 16) the lead editorial is entitled "When the Doctor Is Not Needed" with the sub-heading "Well-trained health care workers can do some jobs as well or better, and for much less money." The editorial, part of a series examining ways to decrease the cost of medical care, spotlights pharmacists, retail clinics, trusted community aides, self-care at home, and, of course nurse practitioners, who are now licensed to essentially "practice medicine" in 18 states the the District of Columbia - without a doctor's involvement.  It goes on to cite a report from the Institute of Medicine calling for the "removal of legal barriers that hinder nurse practitioners from providing medical care...."

So, keep reading The Blog, and stay ahead of the game!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Germany and Israel - It's Time For Attitude Alteration

"A Palestinian shoots a rocket, and Israel answers with a fighter jet.  Both sides kill civilians.  It doesn't matter which side kids are on."

This view, a view apparently supported by many others, was expressed by Jonathan Logan, a 23 year old German whose previous pro-Israel attitude has recently shifted.

There are at least a couple of reasons to be disturbed by this attitude.  First, and foremost, is the drawing of equivalency of guilt for casualties inflicted on Israelis with those inflicted on the Palestinians.  Somehow the need to remind the world of the long history of this seemingly un-ending conflict, appears to be un-ending itself!  Without going into the history, can equality of blame really exist when one side deliberately fires on civilians in the absence of direct provocation, while the other, in response, targets only military and terrorist sites.  Yes innocents are injured and killed.  But equivalence of blame - hardly!

When the death of an innocent occurs,  cause makes a great difference.  The accidental death of a child is not equivalent to the murder of a child.  Yes, two children are dead - but the manner of their death DOES matter!  There is not equivalence of guilt!

Next disturbing point - the Germany-Israel bond.  Nina Müller, a German mother was quoted in the NY Times as saying that it was "still not possible for Germany to be more critical toward Israel.  "Because of its (Holocaust - my word) history, Germany is always cautious and diplomatic," she said  "You can't allow yourself to be very critical in another situation you might see differently."

Good old German Holocaust guilt!

I'm certainly not advocating that Germany join the countries in Europe that have condemned the recent Israeli decision to expand housing in contested areas of East Jerusalem.  But I do feel that Germans should no longer feel hostage to Holocaust history in their outlook towards Israel.  It is not the Holocaust that should be the basis for a positive position on Israel, but its feeling of concern for a small country, formed as a result of a UN resolution, and recognized by almost all nations - a country that believes in democracy, human rights, women's rights, minority rights, and freedom of religion and speech - a country whose outstanding medical care is freely available to all its neighbors, friends and enemies alike - a country that contributes to the advancement of science and art at the highest levels - a country that just wishes to co-exist with its immediate neighbors as well as its larger neighborhood called "the world."

Just imagine what the Middle East would be like if back on day 1 in 1948, Israel was recognized and welcomed by its Arab neighbors, and the West Bank and Gaza became a Palestinian state.  Does anyone truly believe that Israel would not have accepted the Palestinian state?  Does anyone truly believe that Israel would have attacked the Palestinian state in an attempt to re-establish its so-called biblical borders?

So why the conflict?  It certainly didn't begin with Israeli attacks in an attempt to "drive the Arabs into the desert."  It began with Arab-led attacks, in an attempt to "drive the Israelis into the sea." The situation we have today is not more than the result of ongoing Israeli resistance to those Arab aims.  Somehow it seems very difficult for many people to grasp this very simple issue.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gay Rights and Conversion Therapy

Gay rights - sure.  Freedom of speech - absolutely.

Gay rights, as valid as they are, cannot trump free speech.  Those opposed to gay rights have the freedom to argue publicly against them, just as do individuals who are opposed to integration, or against Muslims, or against Jews, or against Christians - as long as they do not create a major public disturbance or contribute to violence.  Free speech has no limits except those deemed liable to result in riotous behavior.

A federal judge in California correctly ruled that a recent state ban on "conversion therapy" for citizens under age 18 was unconstitutional.  "Conversion therapy" is a form of mental health therapy which purports to assist gay individuals who wish to alter their sexual orientation.

Though one can argue the age factor, the principle of allowing "conversion therapy" should be upheld.  It is not for legislatures or judges to decide the validity or non-validity of a medical "therapy" in which participants are willingly engaged.  Arguments that it "may cause harm" are also invalid.  Many medical therapies "may cause harm," but are not subject to legislative oversight.

It is the the responsibility of the medical profession to properly advise on the validity or non-validity of a form of medical therapy - and it is the right of an individual to either take this advice, or not, once he is made fully aware of the risks and benefits - as is the case for ALL medical therapies!

However, medical insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, have the right and responsibility to either include coverage for various therapies or not.  If such plans, after carefully considering proper scientific studies, conclude that there is no benefit to "conversion therapy," or that the risks far outweigh any advantage, they retain the responsibility to deny coverage for such treatment.