Sunday, August 30, 2009

'The Boredom Project' by Saul Bellow

'Now you can write your big essay on boredom, and maybe the human race will be grateful. It's suffering and you want to help. It's wonderful to knock yourself out over these deep problems, but personally I don't care to be around while your doing it. I admit you're smart. That's all right with me. You should be as tolerant towards undertakers as I am towards intellectuals. When it comes to men, my judgements are completely female-human, regardless of race, creed, or previous condition of servitude, as Lincoln said. Congratulations, your intelligence is terrific. Still I agree with your old sweetie Naomi Lutz. I don't want to get involved in all this spiritual, intellectual, universal stuff. As a beautiful woman and still young, I prefer to take things as billions of people have done through-out history. You work, you get bread, you lose a leg, kiss some fellows, have a baby, you live to be eighty and bug the hell out of everybody, or you get hung or drowned. But you don't spend years trying to dope your way out of the human condition. To me that's boring."


Thursday, August 27, 2009

SDS and The Weatherman Underground by Mark Rudd

Two days before the National Action ('Days of Rage', Oct., 1969) was to begin I found myself in New York City. The next day I would use my forged half-fare youth card (I had turned twenty-two, past the cut-off age) to fly back to Chicago. That night I was to meet Gerry Long, my Weather Bureau comrade, about five years older than I and a hard-core anti-imperialist, in Greenwich Village for supper. Both of us were as nervous as soldiers waiting for the next day's battles. Gerry must have seen something in my face. He said, "yeah, I'm scared too."

True to form, Gerry and I decided to splurge on our Last Supper. I had about fifty dollars of the organization's money in my pocket, so we set off to a fancy Italian restaurant in the Village. We talked of the organization and the action coming up. Gerry was a realist, and that night he expressed his doubts. "Is this worth dying for? Is this a real battle of the revolution?" All I could give him were the truism we were locked into, so I didn't. I was in a deflated mood that night, bordering on depression. We decided to get drunk on red wine; what else can you do when there are no answers?

Gerry told me a story:

"On the trip to Cuba this summer, two of us were able to slip away with one of our Cuban guides. We were told that some comrades from the Foreign Ministry wanted to talk with us away from the rest of the group, which probably contained FBI informers. We thought they wanted to talk about the Weathermen.

"We were taken to a small, middle-class hotel in the same Havana barrio as our hotel. It turned out to be Fidel's home. We had all been dying to meet Fidel. You know, he really is big; I guess that's one reason thet call him 'El Caballo' [the horse]. He asked about the conference, and then he talked for a while about the American military in Vietnam- how they would invariably lose. It was strange. He wasn't really paying us much attention. His mind definately seemed elsewhere.

"Finally he just stopped, and we were quiet for a short time. Then he blurted out, "You know, something very troubling has just happened. A friend in the Bolivian government sent us a package; it arrived yesterday. Che's hands, his very hands, preserved. Before they destroyed his body, they chopped off his hands to prove they had him. They were definately his hands, I recognized them. I don't know what to do with them.'

"Fidel was just at the point of tears. He shook himself out of it, stood up, thanked us for coming. The interview was over."

Gerry and I were quiet for some time. Finally, after all the public heroics and underneath the glory of revolutionary war, is human, individual death. The meeting with Fidel was not at all what Gerry had anticipated.

The next day we were in Chicago.... after just an hour, the demonstration- and the carnage- was over. The result: six weathermen shot, many dozens more injured, sixty-eight arrested; twenty-six policemen were injured, though none seriously. Our people struggled back to the "Movement centers;', churches loaned to us by sympathetic clergy. They were scared and proud at the same time, and still not defeated....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last of The Old Guard by Louis Auchincloss

We did not become one of the major corporation law firms in the nation until the present century had begun, but in the 1890s we were prosperous and highly reputable, and Ernest and I were still in our middle thirties. And I was already having qualms about the methods some of our clients were using to achieve monopoly in their fields of action. While financial planning in the issuance of stocks and bonds to consummate corporate mergers and reorganizations did not involve us in strikebreaking or price-cutting of kickbacks or the bribing of judges and legislators, one could not be unaware that such things were going on and heartily endorsed by the cheerful and congenial entrepreneurs who consulted us in other matters in our paneled offices on Wall Street.

My reservations intensified one week when I was in Pittsburg reorganizing a steel company that had been temporarily crippled by a devestating stockholders' suit. I dealt with a bright young vice president who, in order to familiarize me with the whole corporate picture, took me on a tour not only of the company plant but to the part of town where most of the workers lived. In doing the latter he showed himself to be of a more humanitarian frame of mind than the other officers I met.

I needn't here discuss the meaness and desolation of what I saw. The men were largely from middle Europe: Hungarians, Serbs, Ukrainians. Many spoke no English; their homes were soiled and primitive. My guide told me that they were united in nothing but their hatred of the bosses. A recent strike had been bloodily supressed; scabs had taken many of their jobs. I returned to New York with much to mull over.

Lunching with Ernest at our downtown club, I could talk of nothing but the sordid living conditions of the foreign-born steelworkers. Ernest listened patiently and agreed that it was a pity that nothing could be done about it.

"But shouldn't we do something?" I wanted to know.

"I don't see what," he answered with a shrug. "Not effectively, anyhow. We're not labor lawyers. Or legislators. Or judges. The remedying of social justice is hardly our province."

"Yet we represent some of the chief offenders!"

"Not in their offenses. For that they have local or house counsel. There are things they don't choose to discuss with us, and it is not our functon to bring them up."

"But surely we could use our influence on them to show a little heart."

"How to lose a client in one easy lesson. Be sensible, my dear Addie. No one's asking for your advice in these matters. The companies we represent seek our expertise in how to handle their corporate infrastructure in the most profitable manner. What we tell them to do or not to do is always strictly within the law. That is all ye know and all ye need to know."

"But you're a man of good will, Ernest. Doesn't this all trouble you a bit?"

"Will its troubling you or me help the poor worker in any way?"

"No, I suppose not."

"You suppose correctly. Then let us dry our idle tears."

"You seem to have yours pretty well under control."

"I hope so. Look , Addie. I'll go a litter further. A lot of what you see is the birth pain of a new America, the inevitable price of rapid industrial growth. In a single generation we have covered the land with rails, electrified our cities, produced unlimited quantities of gas, steel, coal and oil. A gigantic force has been loosed, and all we can do is bow to it. And hope that one day a humanitarian force will develop in reaction, to control it."

"So, in the meantime, like ostriches, we can bury our heads in the sand"

"The ostrich is a much-maligned bird. Elizabeth Tudor was the greatest monarch Britain ever had because she solved so many problems by doing nothing about them."

"What about her defeat of the Spanish Armada?"

"Oh, a storm took care of that."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Books on the Consequences of De-Regulation and Free Market Purism

Consumed; How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole by Benjamin R. Barber
Norton, 2007

The Gospel Of Food; Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong by Barry Glassner; HarperCollins 2007

Natural Causes; Death, Lies, and Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry by Dan Hurley;
Broadway books, N.Y., 2006

Trick Or Treatment; The Undeniable Facts About Alternatice Medicine By Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst, MD;W.W. Norton & Company; 2008

Overtreated; Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee, Bloomsbury, N.Y. 2007.s/Shearwater Books, London, 2007

A Second Opinion; Rescuing America's Health Care; A Plan for Universal Coverage Serving Patients Over Profit. by Arnold S. Relman, M.D. The Century Foundation 2007

How Everyday Products Make People Sick; Toxins At Home and In The Workplace by Paul D. Blanc, M.D.[ holds endowed chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine U.C.S.F].USC Press Berkeley, 207

Bottlemania; How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It; by Elizabeth Royte Bloombury, 2008

The Unnatural History of The Sea by Callum Roberts (prof. of Marine conservation at Univ. of York) Island PressShearwater Books, London, 2007

The Persistence of Poverty; Why The Economics Of The Well Off Can't Help The Poor by Charles Karelis; Yale University Press 2007

American Furies; Crime, Punishment and Vengeance in an Age of Mass Imprisonment by Sasha Abramsky, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007

Poisoned Wells;The Dirty Politics of African Oil by Nicholas Shaxson; Palgrave MacMillan, N.Y. 2007

McMafia; A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny; Alfred A. Knopf. N.Y. 2008

The Politics of Heaven; America in Fearful Times by Earl Shorris, Norton, N.Y. 2007

Eight O'Clock Ferry To The Windward Side; Seeking Justice In Guantanomo Bay by Clive Stafford Smith ( Lawyer for 50 prisoners in Guantanomo) Nation Books N.Y. 2007

Free Lunch; How The Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves At Government Expense (And Stick You With The Bill) by David Cay Johnston, Portfolio, 2007 see also Perfectly Legal; The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit The Super Rich- And Cheat Everybody Else

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Man Who Poured America Down The Drain by William Kleinknecht

The appeal of Ronald Reagan to certain segments of the country is no mystery. America was deeply paranoid and insecure in the late 1970's, a time when oil shocks and resulting stagflation had threatened American prosperity to a degree not seen since the Great Depression. The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and the seizure of the American hostages in Iran made us fear for our ability to stave off our enemies in a dangerous world. The economist Robert Heilbroner wrote of those years that "a great national illusion was gradually destroyed- the illusion that an invisible sheild surrounded the United States that held at bay the brutalities and irrationalities that seemed to be part of the life of other nations, but not our own."

Reagan was the perfect antidote to this gloominess and uncertainty. He seemed to personify the confidence and elan of America's past. It hardly mattered that he was misrepresenting that past as a laissez-faire utopia. What was important- at least to the 27 percent of eligible voters who pulled the lever for him in 1980, a year with record low turnout at the polls- was the intensity of his convictions. Such assuredness has deep resonance in American history. It is indeed the central; tenet of the only important American-bred schjool of philosophy, pragmatism, which emphasizes basing one's actions and ethics on personal experience rather than an abstract search for the truth. "The true", wrote William James, "is the name for whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definate and assignable reason'. In his famous essay Self-Reliance, Emerson had provided the foundation for pragmatism: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men- that is genius."

It is axiomatic that great men bend history to their will, and that the peculiarities of their own psychology, or their understanding- warped or not- of long-dead philosophers, can become the dominant ethos of an age. It is no less certain that the masses are more easily swayed by appeals to the emotions than to their intellects. Even a humanist like the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr could fault liberalism as "the gray spirit of compromise", lacking the fervency and power of myth. "Liberalism", he wrote, "is too intellectual and too little emotional to be a force in history."

But the genius of James and Emerson, while inspiring as philosophy and edifying to the individual in search of self-esteem and self-justification, while potentially electrifying on the campaign stump, is not necessarily a recipe for sound government or stewardship of something so complex as the American economy. In public policy, as in science, there are truths and there are untruths, and the wrong actions have dire consequences.

It has proven untrue that deeply slashing income taxes promotes investment and creates an increase in tax revenues; it has proved disasterously untrue that deregulating the financial sector benefits the consumer; it has proved tragically untrue that abandoning social-welfare spending and locking up millions of young black men solve the problems of the inner city.

The fervency with which Reagan believed these things, and the riches they brought to certain Americans, did not make them true.

Our nation was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, the idea of a society based on reason, democracy and social contract, not on the perquisites of monarchs and aristocrats. The Progressive Era and the New Deal rested on those principles. They brought intellect to bear on the most serious problems of society. Reaganism replaced Enlightenment thinking with a corrupted Romanticism that portrays free-market purism as an article of religious faith that is the real meaning of America. The answer to any of the economic challenges of the twenty-first century is to do nothing. Cut taxes, eviscerate all regulation of private enterprise, and trust the market to guide our fates.

With Reaganism has come an abandonment of all faith in reason and progress, and it has accrued manifestly to the detriment of the average American. It is the fate of that common lot of humanity that is the subject of this book.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Strange Case of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson

Dorothy had long developed dependencies on opium, which she took twice a day, and laudanum, of which she took between fifteen and twenty-five drops daily; without stimulants. Sara Hutchison said, "you could scarcely believe her alive." When the drugs were withdrawn, in the disappointed hope that it might improve her mental health, Dorothy was only happy eating, stealing whole chickens from the kitchen. The once nimble, wiry body became encased in flesh. Her friends all dying and her constitution weakened by drugs, no longer able to walk and with nothing much to do- reading was now impossible because she was, she said, "too busy with my own feelings"- Dorothy became physically violent, verbally abusive, resentful, vulgar, self-pitying, and childlike": "a clever tyrannical spoilt child" one friend said; simply "a spoilt child" the more charitable Mary reported. Her pleasures as the years dragged by were no longer watching the birds or the surface of the lake, but waiting for the cuckoo clock to strike the hour, which made her whoop with delight, and splashing water about in a kitchen bowl.

Guests to Rydal Mount were kept away from this unkempt figure who prowled the back bedroom on the top floor, squawking like something inhuman, flaying the caps of the nurses with her nails, and bruising their arms with her fists. "We can give her no neighbors but ourselves," Mary said, "or she would terrify strangers to death...

William now tended to his sister's every need, Crabb Robinson wrote "By the bye, Mrs. Wordsworth says that almost the only enjoyment Mr. Wordsworth seems to feel is in his attendance on her- and her death would be to him a sad calamity!!! I cannot help reproaching myself for my inability to concieve this state of mind distinctly."

But sometimes it seemed that Dorothy had quite recovered." She is, as you know at times," Mary wrote

& for a short space her own acute self, retains the power over her fine judgement & discrimination- then, & at once, relapses into childlike feebleness- and gives vent to some discomfort by merry sallies or with the impatience of a petted child contrives one want after another, as if merely to provoke contradictions. But she has no delusions, & we can only consider her state poor thing, as that of premature Dotage.

What is striking about the pattern of Dorothy's madness is how it repeats the pattern of headaches in the early years of her sojourn with her brother: it comes and goes. The Gramere Journals describe her as being very ill and very well on the same day, as being able to shift between motionless trances and energetic walks in the same way she now oscillated between childlike states and adulthood.

Dorothy's response to William's final illness in the spring of 1850 left the family baffled. Her dependence on her brother they had believed to be absolute, but as he faded away, she came back into focus. Edward Quillinian reported from the deathbed of the poet:

Miss as much herself as she ever was in her life & has an almost absolute command of her own will! Does not make noises; is not all self; thinks of the feelings of others, is tenderly anxious about her brother; & in short, but for age and bodily infirmity, is almost the Miss Wordsworth we knew in days past.

What was wrong with Dorothy Wordsworth?

Would she have been saved her later suffering had she stayed living with the Cooksons, visiting the Forncett poor, running her Sunday school, or become a wife and mother instead of embarking on an odyssey of poetry with her charismatic sibling? Was the exhange of a lifetime of predictable days for a brief spell of intensity in the end worth it? Living with a writer is known to be difficult, but with Wordsworth's egomania, insomnia, and hypochondria; his creative blocks, his endless revisions, his loathing of putting pen to paper, his insistence on adulation, his years of obscurity, his troubled friendshp with Coleridge, his dependence on his sister's presence and the accessibility of her every thought, Dorothy surely had it harder than many literary companions.

In the last of his Tait's essays Thomas De Quincey implied that her collapse was due to the intellectual and imaginative boredom of her life after Wordsworth married and to the long-term effects of suppressed literary talent. She would have been spared her suffering had she been able to read more widely, to write more and to write publically, to live the life of a blue-stocking he believed her- perhaps wrongly- to be, but this was never encouraged. "It is too much to expect of any woman (or man either)" De Quincey believed,

that her mind should support itself in a pleasurable activity, under the dropping energies of life, by resting on the past or on the present: some interest in reversion, some subject of hope from day to day, must be called in to reinforce the animal foundations of good spirits. Had that opened for Miss Wordsworth, I am satisfied that she would have passed a more cheerful middle-age, and would not, at any period, have yielded to that nervous depression which, I grieve to hear, had clouded her latter days.

Helen Darbishire believed that she suffered from arteriosclerosis, which eventually effected the brain, resulting from the attack of gallstones that first came on while she was at Whitwick. Most recently, Robert Gittings and Jo Manton suggest that Dorothy was a victim of presenile dementia and that her symptoms were similiar to those of Alzheimer's. The problem with these diagnosis is that she stayed in this state for over two decades, during which she had occassional bursts of concentration and ludicity, which are against the diagnosis of an organic dementia.. As Mary said of Dorothy's illness, "It is a strange Case."

Frances Wilson's suggestion is that Dorothy suffered from depressive pseudodementia, a condition in which severe depression mimics the symptoms of dementia such as cognitive impairment, confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of self care, and today she would be treated with antidepressants. It is interesting, the author notes, that her collapse did not take place immediately after Wordsworth's marriage, to which she quickly adapted and whose fruits (children) gave her a new sense of purpose. It occurred after the deaths of Coleridge and her close companion Sara Hutchinson, and the departure from Rydal Mount of her beloved John, at which point Dorothy suffered from an extreme form of being empty of herself.

In other words, the disintegration of her familiar world, a "lifetime of predictable days', drove her into the twilight betweeen sanity and insanity. This hypothesis is consistent with the author's account of Dorothy's negative response to the time she spent traveling in Germany with William and Coleridge.

"Dorothy, who had expressed a desire to travel in order to broaden the mind and see what she called "different people and different manners", discovered that travel had the effect instead of limiting her mind. She preferred being around the same people and the same manners; it was familiarity by which she was inspired and difference that she feared. What she sees in Germany makes her appear provincial and narrow-minded, which of course Dorothy was. In her Grasmere Journals she would write about home as no one she had read had done before, imbuing the domestic with a sense of the sublime, but away from home Dorothy's journals were the work of the middle-class evangelical she was raised to be. The perfect electrometer had become the recorder of small change and foul stenches, the lone nightengale joined the chorus of Englishwomen everywhere.

And consistent with Dorothy's distaste for the "helter-skelter" of City life, as well incestous precipitations which watered the hills and vales of so much of the Romantic Literature in the 19th century.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Conversation with a Doctor

My brother Al is a doctor who thinks that a single-payer health care system is the only answer and is not too impressed with Obama's so-called plan.

He gave me several examples where evidence-based medicine (referred to as "rationing" by the opponents of reform) could save alot of money. Pointless MRI's for one. But there is no consistent mechanism to restrain doctors from ordering them.

Doctors should be salaried, and the huge expense of training distributed in a way that better encourages frontline practices rather than drawing doctors into lucrative specialties, or to elite institutions which can afford to pay the debt for them.

In the St. Louis area training of support personel in medical services is made difficult by lack of teamwork experience in Secondary Schools. We didn't discuss specifics but its probably "Bossism" that wrecks the ship. Authoritarian rather than democratic work norms and processes. Like in American industry- the lower the level the decision can be made the more effective the outcome. An experienced hand who has worked his way up from the shop floor is better than an MBA any day.

A person who has only learned to take orders "from the top", is wary of taking initiatives and laterally uncommunicative is a drag.

The network of individuals who have been trained in socially cohesive work paradigms, however, extends far beyond a specific work place into the industry and community as a whole. This, in and of itself, has positive epidemiological consequences for health.

My brother has supported Medecins Sans Frontieres for thirty years.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Medecins Sans Frontieres by James Maskalyk

I sat down with the mother.

"Your baby's not breathing well. See? He's only breathing small. Not good. We need to help him breathe. Put this tube down his throat to push in air. I think if we do not do it, he will die. Even if we do, he might die. I don't know. It's the only thing I can do."

The nurse translated and the mother agreed.

I put the flat blade of the laryngoscope past his tiny white teeth and pushed his tongue to the side. I lifted the blade until I could see his vocal cords. They flickered with each breath. I pushed the tube past them, into his trachea, then attached the bag to it.

His oxygen saturation improved to 100%. His chest rose and fell with each small squeeze of the bag.

Muriel arrived from compound 2. She's young, was trained in Khartoum, and worked for years with MSF in Darfur. She was interested and competant, the best we have.

"Okay. Like this. Just a gentle push. Watch his chest. In...and and out. This is the suction machine. You work it with your foot, like this. You'll need to suction him every hour or so"

I adressed the other nurses. "This is a hard job. You will have to help her. You too, Mom. She can't stop. If she does, the baby won't be abe to breathe and he will die. Okay?

We left them, Muriel pushig on the bag, twelve times per minute, 720 times per hour.

I wonder in cases like this, if the battle is worth fighting. The war is a long one and the odds are stacked so heavily that perhaps energy is best conserved. Maybe it's best to use likely defeats to increase our resolve to work towards a day when it will be easier to win. But then there is the other tack. Battle every time, with everything you have. Do the best you can for the person in front of you. Persuade the family of every malnourished kid to get into the truck, to come to the hospital to be fed until they are better. Track down each TB patient who left, frustrated, halfway through his long treatment and try to get him to come back even though the countryside is littered with tuberculosis patients we will never see and one case will not tip the balance sheet noticeably towards a TB-free future. To the world it doesn't matter that much. Until you remember that it means the world to the patient. One exact world, bright and full of sounds, per person. That's what is lost...

The next morning when I got to the hospital, Muriel was still pushing the bag. She had not taken a break all night. The mother was lying down on the bed, her hand resting on her child's chest, feeling its rise and fall.

I relieve Muriel, and she stumbled towards the waiting Land Cruiser. I explained to the mother that we had needed to take the tube out, to see if the child would breathe on his own. I suctioned his small mouth, removed the tape from around it and from the tube. I stopped bagging.

He was breathing. A little. More than a flicker, more than last night. I pulled the tube.

On my way home for lunch, I got a call from the hospital. His breathing was getting worse.

"Put him on oxygen," I said. We couldn't intubate him again. We didn't have the resources or the trained staff. Fifteen munutes later they called again. He was dead.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Martyrdom Of Cassie Bernall by Dave Cullen

Greg Scott took it hard.. He had seen horrible things in the library at Columbine High that morning, but he'd heard something wonderful. During the worst of it he'd heard a girl profess her faith. Amazing. Craig began telling his story that first afternoon. It spread like a brush fire. Among Evangelicals, e-mails, faxes and phone calls whipped across the country.

On Friday it hit the the mainstream media. Both Denver papers featured it. The Rocky's piece, "Martyr for Her Faith", opened with a play-by-play:

A Columbine killer pointed his gun at Cassie Bernall and asked her the life-or-death question: "Do you believe in God?"
She paused. The gun was still there. "Yes, I believe in God", she said.
That was the last thing this 17-year old Christian would say.
The gunman asked her "Why?" She had no time to answer before she was shot to death.
Bernall entered the Columbine High School library to study during lunch. She left a martyr.

The Post ran a similiar account. The national press quckly jumped aboard. On Saturday, an Evangelical Teen Mania rally in Michigan "turned into a Cassie Bernall festival" according to Weekly Standard writer J. Bottum. He described 73,000 teens in the Silverdome "weeping along with sermon after sermon about her death."

Sunday morning, April 25, the Columbine churches were packed. Afterwards, the crowds trekked down to the Bowles Crossing Shopping Center, across from Clement Park. Organizers had planned for up to thirty thousand mourners in the sprawing parking lot. Seventy Thousand showed up. Vice President Al Gore was on the platform, along with the governor, most of Colorado's congressional delegation, and a whole lot of clergy. The TV networks broadcast the ceremony live.

"Put your faith and trust in the living son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ", Reverand Billy Graham's son Franklin instructed the crowd. "We must be willing to recieve His son Jesus Christ".

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. There was a whole lot of Him tha day. Reverand Graham dominated the ceremony with a long, impassioned plea for returning prayer to public schools. He invoked the name of his personal savior seven times in a single forty-five-second flurry. He called upon God and Jesus nearly fifty times in the course of the speech. Cassie had been ready, he said. She stood before a gunman who'd transported her immediately into the presence of Almighty god. "Are you ready?" he asked.

The country was transfixed. In the first ten days, newsmagazines on the four main broadcast networks devoted forty-three pieces to the attack. The shows dominated the ratings that week. CNN and Fox News charted the highest ratings in their history. A week afterward, USA Today was still running ten seperate Columbine stories in a single edition. It would be nearly two weeks before the New York Times would print and issue without Columbine on page 1. And Cassie Bernall's martyrdom was showing the most legs.

"She's in the martyrs hall of fame," Cassie's pastor proclaimed at her funeral. That was not hypebole. A noted religious scholar predicted Cassie would become the first officially designated Protestant martyr since the sixteenth century.

Cassie's fame grew. Her pastor embarked on a nationwide speaking tourto spread the good news. "Pack as many onto the ark as possible", he said. By summer's end, the local youth group Revival Generation had blossomed from a few local chapters to an organization in all fifty states. The organizers's put on natonal touring shows with Columbine High survivors. Cassie's name sent teenage girls storming to the stage.

In the Weekly Standard, J. Borrut compared her to the third-century martyrs Perpetua and Felicity and "tales of the thousands of early Chistians who went joyously to their deaths in the Roman coliseums." And the response felt like the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Bottum said. He foresaw a generation of kids rising up to recast our cultural landscape. He later described a national change of heart, "trembling on the crisp of breaking forth...It's an ever-widening faith that the whole pornographic, violent, anarchic disaster of American popular culture will soon be swept away."

Christian martyr Cassie Bernall offered hope. In September her mother went on a national book tour. She Said Yes leapt onto the New York Times best-seller list in its first week. It has since been reissued in two paperback formats, a library edition, an an audiobook. It has sold over a million copies. The Web is loaded with sites unabashedy recounting the myth. The Evangelical churches have stuck with their story.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Erasmus of Rotterdam by Roland H. Bainton

Erasmus at the end of his life felt that his lamps had been blown out by the Lutheran gust. Not that Luther was altogether to blame. The incredible ineptitude of the papacy bore a heavier responsibility. Nor was Luther to be held responsible for the excesses of his followers. On that score Erasmus was open to even greater reproach, for the Sacramentarians and iconoclasts claimed to be implementing his ideas.

But blame apart, there was no gain-saying the debacle of the Erasmian program. His followers on both sides of the confessional struggle were being sent by the Catholics to the stake and by the Protestants to the block. His spirit was extinguished and his hopes belied. The universities were being emptied and the studies by which he hoped to refashion the mind of Europe were falling into desuetude. He could do no more that hope that God in His providence would cause the wrath of men to praise Him and that Christ, as Master of the play, would give the tragedy a happy ending. His mood was that of Elijah: "It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life...the people of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thy alters, slain Thy prophets with the sword."

The Lord might have answered Erasmus, as He did Elijah, that there were yet in Israel seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal....the situation varied country by country and century by century. In some lands by the time of his death he was already in eclipse, in others at the very peak of his influence. In Spain by 1533 his vogue was spent. As the century advanced all traces of Catholic liberalism were extinguished. In Italy the great turning point was the year 1542 which saw the establishment of the Roman inquisition. Among the Italians the vogue of Erasmus was perpetuated only by exiles, such as the Socinians, and such champions of religious liberty as Curio, Mino Celso and Acontio. Poland, well into the sixties, was the land of refuge for those cast out by Catholics and Protestants. Hungary, too, for a time was hospitable. France was divided. The Sorbonne had long since been hostile.

In Germany Melanchthon, in accord with the spirit of Erasmus, established a pattern of humanist education which prevailed in revived universities and continued to dominate until, late in the 19th century, the natural sciences encroached upon the humanities and the vernaculars displaced Latin. In the age of Enlightenment Voltaire loved the satire of Erasmus. Herder, Goethe and Lessing found the sprit of Erasmus congenial.

England was the land where the influence of Erasmus was paramount at his death. The entire English Reformation has been characterized as Erasmian, and with justice, if it be remembered that the vogue of his ideas is not necessarily to be attributed solely to his personal impact, since other men of influence in England were of like mind. The Elizabethan settlement breathed the spirit of the Erasmian attempt to achieve comprehension through minimal doctrinal demands. During this period the devotional meditations of Erasmus were not neglected... A survey of the English translations of his works during the succeeding centuries discloses that the 17th preferred the educational works- the Colloquies were used as a school book- the 18th the satirical, notably the Praise of Folly, the 19th the pacifist treatises.

The Low Countries were presumably the area where Erasmus had the most unbroken influence. The reason may be that the temper of the land had long since been formed by that tradition in which Erasmus himself stood, the piety of the Devotio Moderna.

The twentieth century, particularly in its third decade, saw a brief resurgance of interest in Erasmus. Two causes may be assigned. The first was the ecumenical movement. After four hundred and fifty years Catholics and Protestants resumed the dialogue which was possible in the early years of Luther's revolt and which Erasmus endeavored to keep open. The second reason is that the 20th century was- like the Age of Reformation- an age of revolution. Once again the liberals, who desire to bring about social change without violence, were caught between the upper and the nether millstone, and were not ground to flour but to dust! Is drastic reform possible without violence?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Note to the Reader

This is a record of my readings, mainly but not exclusively from the New Books Shelf at the Fletcher Free Library here in Burlington ,Vermont . This record is presented primarily in direct quotations from the books themselves, abridged for highlighting and summary purposes. I apologize for errors in transcription, spelling and punctuation. When time and my inclination allow I do often go back and seek to correct these errors and, in addition, revise and extend the comments.

I recommend all the books presented in this Blog. There is alot more good stuff in these books than is feasible to present in this Blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois

Fieldwork in the Gray Zone.

The autobiographical literature created by Holocaust survivors provides exceptional insight into how state coercion can make monsters out of the meek. Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi developed the concept of the "Gray Zone" to capture the ethical wasteland imposed by the Nazis on concentration camp inmates struggling to stay alive under genocidal conditions. In the Gray Zone, survival imperatives overcome human decency as inmates jockey desperately for a shred of advantage within camp hierarchies, striving to live just a little bit longer. The Nazis purposefully engineered the Gray Zone of the death camps to force inmates to self-administer to one another, with excruciating cruelty, the logistics of everyday life in the camps. As a contemporary ethical imperative, Levi urges readers to recognize the less extreme gray zones that operate in daily life, "even if we only want to understand what takes place in a big, industrial factory."

As with the concept of violence, we find it useful to think of gray zones in contemporary society as operating along a continuum of insupportable, structurally imposed settings. This perspective renders more visible the complex interaction between intimate behavior and larger coercive constraints. The homeless encampments along Edgewater Boulevard in San Francisco are obviously not the equivalent of Nazis death camps. The Edgewater homeless sometimes quip, "No one put a gun to my head and made me shoot heroin". Their lives also contain camaraderie, humour, and the joy of living. Never-the-less, addiction under conditions of extreme poverty and concerted police repression creates a morally ambiguous space that blurs the lines between victims and perpetrators. By extending the boundries of the Holocaust's Gray Zone to the everyday world around us, we can understand the Edgewater homeless as surviving along an especially coercive and desperate swath of the gray zone continuum.

Levi and other survivors assert that we do not have the right to judge the actions of inmates in the concentration camps because the Gray Zone was omnipotent. He implicitly contradicts himself, however, by devoting much of his writing to eloquently dissecting the moral dilemmas of human agency at Auschwitz through detailed descriptions of individual behaviors, decisions, and interpersonal betrayals. Following Levi, we explore the agency and moral responsibility of the homeless addicts we befriended without obscuring the structural forces that impose a gray zone. We examine in detail the micro-level mechanisms through which externally imposed forces operate on vulnerable individuals and communities; the everyday "state of emergency" ('space of death' and 'culture of terror') in which the socially vulnerable are forced to live.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Our Daily Meds by Melody Petersen

In 1980, as an incentive to get American scientists to work harder, U.S. lawmakers passed a measure that allowed researchers recieving federal grants to patent and profit from their discoveries. The law was known as the Bayh-Dole reversed decades of policy. Before this law, any discoveries made during studies paid for by the federal government had been in the public domain- that is, they had been owned and controlled by the taxpayers who paid for them.

In the same year the Supreme Court unleashed a deluge of industrial science by allowing the first patent to be placed on a living organism..reversing the ruling of the U.S. patent Office and opening the door to the patenting of genes, cell lines, tissues and organs..

These two changes put dollar signs in the eyes of college administrators and their faculties. Between 1980 and 1995 University researchers helped start 1,633 new companies. In 1997 alone researchers at Stanford Univ. filed 128 new patents, created 15 companies and earned $52 million from licenses of its products... the role of the academic as a referee to the drug companies' clinical trials became a minor one. And the moderating force that kept scientific studies honest and impartial began to disappear.

When the FDA decided in 1997 to allow prescription drug commercials on TV Omnicon and the other ad agencies grew rich from a new stream of advertising revenue, one worth millions of dollars a year, At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry had been paying ad firms to ghostwrite publications, to organize dinners and meetings for physicians, to create medical education courses, and for public relations work they called "managing the media" Now the ad firms were expanding their services to include scientific research and clinical drug trials,
with ghostwriters and pharmaceutical executives editing the papers submitted to medical journals each step of the way, picking certain words and phrases that helped boost the image of the product. Dangers of a medicine could be toned down. Benefits of a drug could be pumped up. A serious injury in a patient taking a drug in a trial might be referred to simply as "an event". The words "adverse reaction" might be changed to the more benign "side effects". A drug that worked only slightly better than a sugar pill might be described as having "proven efficacy". It was all a matter of degree. The ghostwriters were like photographers who airbrushed family portraits, softening blemishes and facial lines until their subjects looked far better on paper than in real life.

The pharmaceutical companies and their ad firms developed a publication planning strategy, flooding the world's medical journals with articles and clinical studies that, when taken together, would create an image of a product so safe that doctors would be convinced to prescribe it. As the pharmaceutical companies realized the powwer of this marketing technique, they increased spending on what they called research and development, although it would have been more accurately decribed as "selling and promotion."... at the same time they gradually took control of most of the country's medical research. In 1980 the pharmaceutical industry paid for just 32 % of the nation's medical research. By 2000 the companie's share of total research spending had grown to 62%.

By the mid-1990's, many American doctors had grown frustrated with the financial limits imposed on them by health maintenance organizations and other forms of managed care that became popular in the 1980's and 1990's as a way of restraining medical costs. Watching their salaries stall, the doctors were easily seduced by the welcoming arms of the drug industry, where the money still flowed. They found they could significantly boost their bank accounts and upgrade their lifestyles by winning favor with the pharmaceutical sales representative and joining a company's payroll as a speaker, consultant, researcher, or advisor or by serving all these functions at the same time.

For example, Dr. Martin Keller, the chief of the psychiatric department at Brown University, earned more than $500,000 in consulting fees in 1998, mostly from companies whose drugs he touted at medical conferences and in published reports. In 2004 the written contract between Dr. Arnold Klein, a Bevery Hills dermatologist, and Allergan, the company that makes Botox, became public when he was sued by a patient. The contract paid him $25 thousand every three months for consulting and as much as $10 thousand a day for meetings, plus expeses for airfare, hotel and meals.

By 2003 the drug companies had even recruited and hired many of the physicians and scientists at the federal government's esteemed National Institutes of Health. For instance, Pfizer paid Dr. P.Trey Sunderland, an expert on Alzheimer's disease, more than $500,000 between 1998 and 2004 for dozens of speaking appearances all over the world.

Only about 10% of the price of most brand name pills goes to cover the cost of the raw chemicals and manufacturing, the pharmaceutical industry has plenty left even after paying for advertisements, research and the high salaries and expensive perks of its executives. From 1995 to 2002 they were the nation's most profitable industry. In 2004 the pharmaceutical companies tirned nearly sixteen cents of each dollar of revenue into profit, according to Fortune magazine. That compares with the median profit earned by America's five hundred largest public companies that year of a little more than five cents.

Pharmaceutical executives talk about their company's medicines as if they were Hollywood producers about to release a new film. They speak of "launching their next blockbuster", which they define as a medicine that could bring in sales of one billion dollars. Sellinmg medicines is an odd business. Disease meant money. Suffering brought profit. When I visited the phramaceutical executives I often heard something like this;" Our respiratory business is doing extremely well, as is our cholesterol business. The depression business has performed better than expected. Parts of that business are really growing strongly. It is the migraine market that is the problem."

By the year 2005 Americans were spending $250 billion on prescription drugs, more in 2004 than they did on gasoline and fast food, twice as much in that year as they spent on either higher education or automobiles. They spend more on medicines than do all the people of Japan, Germany, France, Spain, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina combined.

The vast majority of drugs-more than 90% only work in 30 to 50 percent of the people....across all drug categories today an average of 50 percent of the people treated with individual drugs are recieving treatments that are not efficacious for them.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Historical Background of Shakespeare's Tragic Equation by Ted Hughes

In the turmoil of sixteenth and seventeenth century England one broad pattern emerges which will help lift into relief Shakespeare's tragic myth and which may, to a degree, validate it.

Such a vast complication as the crisis of religious belief at this time, which was also a crisis of political, intellectual, economic and social life, can be spoken of only in the largest kind of generalization. But it can perhaps be said that between the Catholic regime (repressive terror, executions, martyrs) of Queen Mary, who died six years before Shakespeare was born, and the Puritan regime that executed Charles I thirty-three years after Shakespeare died, England went through the final phase of its Reformation and was transformed.

These two historical points were extreme opposites in that events immediately preceeding Mary's reign pushed her Catholic fanaticism to a ferocity beyond anything that England had ever suffered before, while the momentum of the passions of the Civil war carried Cromwell's victorious Puritans to a severity beyond what the country would ever tolerate again. The conditions that prevailed, between these two episodes, were also, at every point, one way or the other, extreme. And peculiar- in being so uniquely productive.

It is not really possible to seperate, except artificially, this energy wave from the convergence on England of various other tidal global movements, from Europe and America, over and above the tectonic shifts of the Reformation, that lifted everything from its old foundations and simultaneously opened all horizons, physical and mental. But the decisive factor in England- the factor which perhaps more than any other determines the nature and evolution of Shakespeare's Tragic Equation- was that the process of religious change was arrested, or rather held in suspense, by the historical accident of Elizabeth I. Those two savage competitors for the English soul, which were the new Puritan spirit and the old Catholic spirit, each intending to exterminate the other, both uncertain of the outcome, were deadlocked, and in a sense spellbound, by her deliberate policy throughout her very long reign. They were not openly deadlocked, as on the Continent, with the embattled cities and occasional massacre of populations. They were deadlocked out of sight, forcibly disarmed, and forbidden any physical, direct expression whatsoever, inside Elizabeth's crucible.

As the daughter of Henry VIII she had no alternative but to keep them there. The Papacy had already condemned her as 'the bastard of a heretic", and denounced her claim to the throne as illegitimate. The revolutionary Puritan doctrine, that had so frightened Queen Mary, ultimately opposed monarchy and pressed towards what could only be civil war. Elizabeth's solution, reaffirming her father's ideal of a middle way between two extremes, was to outlaw and suppress both.

She needed a police state to do it. Even so, though she could anchor her ship of state she could not anchor the tides beneath it. Behind the new Puritan, the tsunami of the Continental Reformation piled like a tidal bore into the narrow haven of England. And it carried with it the frenzies of a jihad. And behind the old Catholic, in an intermittent campaign of war that lasted through Elizabeth's life, the international might of the Catholic Empire went on gathering itself to bring England back into the fold by any means. The ghostly front line of the deadlocked spirit armies of these two giant historical forces was drawn through the solar plexis of Elizabeth's subjects.

What she suppressed, then, when she suppressed those furies in England, was virtually an internationalized civil war. She pushed it down into that subterranean region as a controled explosion, and sealed it there, in the black hole of the Englishman's nervous system, for the forty-five years of her reign. And after her death in 1603 King James contrived, by one accident or another, to raise the pressures and temperatures inside it even further.

Down there it became the inner life of that epoch. It created the psychodrama, the international proscenium of a struggle- civil war conducted by other means- that forced England through what has since turned out to be her decisive mutation, towards the day, twenty-six years after Shakespeare's death (during the lifetime of his daughter), when it would erupt into the apocalypse of the actual war....

One can imagine the nightmares of these ( the Shakespeare's ) Catholic sons. One hardly needs to imagine them: they parade the Elizabethan stage in a dense gas of suspicion and guilt. During that reign every man knew himself to be, or could suspect his neighbor of being, at heart, officially a traitor. Elizabeth could reasonably persuade herself than any of her subjects- even her nearest and dearest such as Essex- was her potential assassin. The theatre itself had materialized ( only fifteen years or so before Shakespeare had found it) from the sheer uncontainabble excess of this national struggle of conscience, this internal Inquisition in perpetual session. Even Ralegh, at his trial, was accused of having 'the soul of a Spaniard'. And though he was reprieved for a few years, he was sentanced to the death of a Catholic activist and traitor, to be half-hanged, castrated, disembowelled and the rest, his only consolation being that his rank would limit the even to simple beheading.

Flashes of this sort give a taste of the paranoia that served for air in the crucible. But Shakespeare's phantasmagoria is the thing itself. His suspectibility to large, cataclysmic visions, and the fact that his plays emerged as poetry, inspirationally, suggests how much of his life, too, was underground, and concealed, perhaps even from himself, as with the poet who planned a work on a life like Timon's:

the fire i' the flint
Shows not till it be struck.

And that is what I would like to bring into alignment: The Elizabethan/Jacobean dream not as it appears in the historian's archive, but as it appeared- the 'form and pressure' of the 'very age and body of the time'- in the tragedies. Not the mirrored image of the civic procedures, but the processes of the inner explosion, behind the faces of both judges and accused- the controlled slowness of that explosion. First, the religious substance of it, the mass, depth and pressure. Then the retardation, the deferred release, as everything inched towards a conclusion that could only be frightful.

Since Shakespeare was born, lived and died within the crucible, his art evolved as a kind of salamander. It had time to develop the means to so thrive on and to deal with the conditions and forces that had brought it into being. The elements of the creative chemistry did not blow off in a single blissful dawn, as with most revolutions, leaving him and a few other lyrical prophets to make what they could of the ringing in their ears. Within that crucible, the conditions and forces that shaped him were also, inevitably, the very substance of his vision. What I want to suggest is that the equation of his tragic myth was, in a real sense, the equation of the chemical process within that 'controlled explosion'.