Monday, January 30, 2012

Meditation XII -- Dead

the guards trembled and became like dead men.

As I read Matthew's narrative about Jesus' resurrection, my mind's eye is usually drawn to the followers of Christ and the effect that rising from the dead would have on them. How easily we can forget the other story.

Maybe we look at the scene with an "of course" sort of attitude. An earthquake happens. A dazzling being appears, moves the heavy stone from the entrance of the tomb, and sits on it, awaiting the women who will come to honor the Lord. Of course the guards would tremble. Of course they would be like dead men.

But then it is easy to forget them. We listen to the angel's proclamation and instructions to the women. Then we see Jesus who comforts the women. Then it is so easy to skip over to what believers call "The Great Commission."

But the guards were not dead, only like dead. They had to report what had happened. They too were witnesses, in some part, to the resurrection! And what happened when they told the chief priests? They were paid off and told to disseminate a false report, one that portrayed the disciples as criminals.

There are your dead men. Having seen the truth, having a miracle before them, they loved their own vision of the universe so much they not only chose to ignore the truth, but to spread the lie. And the lie, death, is what they chose to live with and to make disciples to.

Lord, let me not look at You and turn away. Give me strength and courage, when Your Truth proves my error, to leave those things that are not of You, and even if naked and alone, to run into your loving arms.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Meditation XI -- Betrayal

Judas, who would betray him, answered, "Is it I, Rabbi?"
One might argue that Judas was no more evil than the other disciples, and that he believed he was doing good in handing Jesus over to the chief priests. Sure, he had pilfered from the treasury of the group, but maybe he had convinced himself that doing good to himself was doing good for the group, and this was good for the Master.
Note that Christ's disciples all asked Jesus the same question: "Is it I, Lord?" All except Judas, who addressed our Savior as "Rabbi." Shall we read into this that Judas had not accepted Jesus as Lord, but as merely a teacher? Was Judas, as one who expected a military conqueror as Messiah, hoping to force Jesus' hand? I do not know, but I'm struck that all the other disciples, even Peter, thought it possible to betray the Lord, though they loved Him.
Remember Judas left the group and sought the chief priests after the incident with the woman who anointed Jesus for burial. Others said the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Did Judas see himself as "the poor"? Did he figure, with Jesus doing so much talking about death and end times, that it was incumbent up on him to steer the course of Jesus' ministry?
It ultimately does not matter what Judas' motives were, except to say that he probably thought he was doing the right thing. What we should note is not just the betrayal itself, but the possibility that Judas deceived himself (or was deceived?) so much that he thought he was doing good in doing evil. And we should tremble at how close to such thinking we may all be.
Jesus, help us to remember to ask "Is it I, Lord?" from time to time, not only that we avoid betraying You, but that we not betray what You are to us. Be Lord and not Teacher only. Whether we are whore, tax collectors, priests, paupers, or princes, let us fix ourselves to Your will and mercy. Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts on SOPA and PIPA

Much of the following has been cobbled together from a few Facebook posts I have made in the last couple of days. My apologies if you have read it before.

I have not looked long and hard at the legislation proposed in SOPA and PIPA, but I have mixed thoughts on what little I do know. What I have seen is a great deal of hysteria on both sides, which I am learning comes with pretty much all political territory.

Two ideas often go through my head when new laws are considered. Let's stop short of calling these two ideas truths, because there are always exceptions, but I've found nothing to show them as wrong.

Often people who are against whatever bill under consideration (and even after) give a hundred reasons to say it is awful, but I usually find myself responding, But something must be done. That is how I felt about Obama's health care initiative. Not all of it is great, some of it is not good, but those who see no problem with the confluence of health care corporations and a dwindling economy have their heads in the proverbial sand. 

I look at SOPA and PIPA the same way: something must be done to protect not only artists, but everyone who creates something. How do we protect the creative work of a computer programmer or the teacher or the engineer? What is going to make sure the textbook I am writing won't be pirated?

My second general maxim when it comes to law is: It is nearly impossible to go back. We generally do not make rules on a trial basis. Even when we realize ordinances have not helped a community (for example, when a dry town votes itself wet), the community almost never changes it. With laws that effect the whole nation, it takes years, often a generation or more, to change it, if we do so at all. So new rules are like writing something into culture instead of having culture evolve.

A problem in our culture, a friend pointed out to me, is that for so many who have never known anything but a world with an Internet, most things have either been free or seemed to be free. That keeps people from even seeing the harm they may be doing. My addition to this thought is that fewer people are creators. That is, few do anything to create, but only consume. How can they know what it takes to be an artist of any kind? As I have said many times, we must create or we destroy.

As for Wikipedia going dark, I keep wondering why they didn't do so later in the semester when more high school and college students were stealing, I mean, writing research papers. Wouldn't that have gotten more attention? But apparently, did generate a lot of attention, if the news feed in my Facebook is any indication. If Wikipedia really wanted to serve the world, it would go dark and never bring its "light" back. Ever.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

TV notes – Cymbalta hurts

8thcircleWhen my doctor prescribed Cymbalta for my diabetic neuropathy, I shot him a confused look. I thought he was trying to pull one over one me. But he assured me that Cymbalta was first designed for just my problem: pain in the extremities due to diabetes, and that only later, after it was discovered that patients reported feeling better emotionally did they discover it benefits for those suffering from depression. Thus it had become a drug prescribed for millions of people for the latter use.

So I gave in, trusting that the information was accurate, and I wish I hadn't. While the drug has done a good deal to help my pain, it may do more harm than good.

In my opinion, every prescription of an anti-depressant is a death sentence. It may not literally kill the patient, but eventually many wish they could die. The doctor has doomed the patient with lifelong dependency on the "medicine," even telling the patient most often, "You will take this or some other drug for the rest of your life."

Doctors and pharmaceutical commercials are almost never honest about the side effects of such drugs, particularly what takes place when one stops taking them, which happens for a variety of reasons. If you think a depressed person is difficult to get along with before taking Cymbalta, try dealing with him a couple days after he has quit using it.  And long term effects of taking such drugs have not been studied enough.

A couple years ago, Eli Lilly, the makers of Cymbalta started its "depression hurts" advertising campaign. Not so clearly, it connected the emotional difficulty of depression with physical pain, which is not always accurate. You'll note that these ads are often much longer than other commercials on television. The ads essentially beat the viewer on the head with its message and droning music, telling those with depression, "You're in pain. Your pain is a problem for other people. Cymbalta will fix that." It told those without depression, "If you want your life to get better, make sure your friend/companion/loved one takes this."

Don’t forget that many doctors misunderstand the order of events in people’s lives. Some will prescribe an anti-depressant when a patient is in pain, assuming that the patient’s feelings and attitude might because of pain, not depression.

Now Eli Lilly, instead of being ashamed of such crass manipulation and deception, is advertising this product for anyone with chronic pain. This action is far over the line. Big Pharma has done it's best to make sure all of us believe we have have a problem that can be solved via drugs. Most people use the phrase "my meds" as easily and often as they talk about what they eat for dinner or what they watch on television (the latter a seriously important drug or drug supplement). 

Though Lilly was cited by the FDA for misleading ads in 2010, the company has taken its message beyond those with depression or chronic pain, but continued to tell people that Cymbalta is for pain. Any pain.

Feel bad? Forget Tylenol or Advil, or meditation or taking a nap or anything else that might have worked before. Take Cymbalta. But realize you might killing yourself in the process. Even the fine print is not clear about this.

If corporations really are people, Eli Lilly (and the rest of them) is among those worthy of a special place in Hell. In Dante's Inferno, the Eighth Circle was reserved for those guilty of “theft, fraudulent rhetoric and falsification” (among other sins). Suicides were sent to the Seventh Circle with the violent. Clearly Dante felt that violence to language was even more heinous than violence to others, including the self. Seems an apt place for Big Pharma. The only thing I would add is that the suicides should be able to throw rocks at the executive and drug reps burning below them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reading Response – Of Obesity

atlantateaserbusshelters_page_2_vertI am overweight myself, but wasn't as a kid. I have mixed feelings about ads such as those being produced in Georgia and written about in the NPR story “Controversy Swirls Around Harsh Anti-Obesity Ads.” I agree that we have to get people's attention, especially the overweight parents of these kids. On the other hand, I wonder how kids will use these ads as fodder for their abuse.
I also know that PSAs that sugar-coat things don't tend to work, especially on kids. Consider the Truth ads. These have been very successful, in large part because they are honest. (Of course, they are not funded by big tobacco. And you will notice you see fewer of these because the organization lacks the money power of huge corporations.)
However, I wonder why there are not more PSAs aimed at people to encourage them to be more encouraging. Not “positive.” Encouraging.
cheering family I have been helped a great deal by the little bits of encouragement throughout the week. Lots of people will tell me very specific, but thoughtful things, and those help me to keep in mind that my diet and exercise are working. What doesn’t help? Advice. Most of it is something I already know. Some of it comes from the perpetually skinny and is over simplistic. What also hurts are those who think they are encouraging by telling me I’m still fat. One relative will hear another talk about my weight loss and say "Really? It looks like you have gained weight" or "I can't tell" or "Well, it's about time you did something." alexanddadsoccer
I have a long way to go, and I know it. I'm fat, and I know it. I didn't get the  weight on quick, and if I want to live a healthy remainder of my life, I can't get it off fast. I just also know that there is, at least for me, an emotional attachment to food as well as to sitting still. And having people honest and thoughtful has made a huge difference in how I handle the really difficult parts of the weight loss journey.
And while we are at it, why not some PSAs aimed not just at the parents who raise fat kids, but at the executives of fast food industries and the government autocrats who protect them. These are people who on one hand block every attempt at health care reform and on the other block attempts to make food healthier and safer. These are people who seem all about the money, but ignore the economic realities of the products, policies, and practices. But such efforts would not likely work. Most PSAs appeal to the heart, and these people don't have any.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Bookmarks – The Metamorphosis and Other Stories

Pieces like "A Hunger Artist," "In the Penal Colony," and the title story are absolutely brilliant and rich in themes. I also liked "The Stoker," though I am not sure why. But some of the other stories were incomprehensible to me. I must admit, however, that I read most of this book at night, often when I was very tired.
The Introduction was rather useful. The translator's Afterword was not.
I believe the material is, as a whole, worth reading, but I wonder about some of the tales, which Kafka himself seemed to think were "unfinished."
For a personal take on the title story, click here.

When you don't care, it shows

This afternoon, I watched the FCS championship game between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State University. I was rooting for a Bearkat win, almost entirely because my niece attends the school. But their 17-6 loss was not the only disappointment I encountered. NCAAfcs
During the game, the announcers got several facts wrong about the area, in particular confusing Frisco, where the game was played, with Dallas, which is clearly where they wanted to be. Their lackadaisical tone spoke volumes. They misspoke, making a travesty of English, and not once did I hear them correct themselves. Maybe that seems petty, but had this game involved some 8-5 Division I team, they would likely have shown more respect.
rice_jerry_200 At one point, NFL great Jerry Rice was interviewed, mainly about the new award which bears his name. They apparently could not interview him during a lull in the game or during a lengthy timeout, but during a couple of exciting plays, one of which was an interception. His voice was barely audible, but I was struck by how he was put in the position of defending the athletic ability of players in what I suppose many feel are second rate schools. When he was talking about the winner of the award, he was difficult to understand. So does ESPN only send the good audio equipment to games where 7-7 Division I teams play?
At halftime, there was coverage of Penn State's hiring of Bill O'Brien to replace Joe Paterno. That's to be expected. But it only brought back my ire concerning the whole mess, especially having to listen to Joey Galloway opine that O'Brien brings "energy" and "passion" to the job. Of course that is said about most people getting hired as coaches, but it was particularly irksome to hear this tripe after watching O'Brien at the press conference. The man was stiff, like kid in his freshman speech class. Even his hand gestures were clearly rehearsed. (Don't get me started on the implication is that Paterno didn't have any passion or energy.)
But I digress. A lot of people talk about sports at smaller schools with the same circular reasoning. Commentators regularly belittle  schools the size of Sam Houston or North Dakota during arguments over whether the "big boys" should have a playoff system, saying that if they have never heard of the school, then it should not have a chance to compete with well known programs. But this prejudice, so clear in ESPN's handling of this (shall I remind you) championship game, goes far beyond sports. Though there are more Americans actually going and graduating from these schools, mention of less known colleges is usually dismissive at best, and often mean-spirited. lett
When Leon Lett committed his supposedly bonehead play on Thanksgiving, 1993, Dale Hansen remarked, like so many in the sports intelligentsia, that his "mistake" showed why he went to Emporia State.  Supposedly he wasn’t smart enough to go to a big school. It was probably not the first time I'd heard someone on television put down smaller colleges, but it would be one that made me think about how others think of colleges.  When my own alma mater, East Texas State University (now Texas A&M Commerce) reached the NAIA semifinals in 1980, though they are about an hour from Dallas, few knew about it as far as the media were concerned. Nothing has changed. Dallas has many not-Division I schools nearby, and almost even scores of their games are rarely reported or given.
I didn't watch the news tonight but only one of the local stations (NBC-5) has a story or anything about today's game, which was played less than an hour's drive away from most of the area's broadcast studios. And NBC's story was posted before the game. There was no report about the game itself. There are stories about SMU's win over Pittsburgh in the barely interesting BBVA Compass Bowl, but almost nothing about a championship game right here.
By the way, during the broadcast of the game, there was a PSA featuring Lebron James encouraging kids to get an education. There was also a commercial from the NCAA touting their academics and how lots of student athletes were not "dumb jocks." Well, if you take football and basketball out of the mix, you'll probably find more athletes graduating and getting actual jobs and higher GPAs. But after watching male athletes at my own school working very hard to barely skate by, I have begun to doubt even this. Bottom line: James is a hypocrite and the less attention a sport (or gender) gets on television, the more likely you are to see their athletes getting degrees and looking for legitimate work.
I long ago grew tired of the "no one has heard of--" mentality. It implies that the way to judge the quality of a college would be how many times it is on television playing football and how many games that football team has won. But that only goes for Division I schools. The rest it seems, are out. They are, for so many students, second and third choices, despite the fact that smaller schools do not provide an inferior education or that many of those who have someone paying big dollars for them to go to "big" school are sometimes not adequately prepared for the real world.
Okay, this has been a bit more rant than real argument. So I must get back to what has me set off . ESPN reminded me of what has been true, but overlooked, a long time: Americans have been listening to what the television tells them is important a long time and most often believes it. Worse, we have, as a culture, determined that anything not lauded by some jerk on the national stage must not be important. This mindset is particularly heinous regarding those who belittle and deride, in words and in attitude, the smaller universities and community colleges that are the backbone of real education in the United States. And when we don’t stand up to jerks expressing how they (barely) think, it says a lot about what we think of our ourselves as a nation.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Music Notes – A Moment’s Peace

I've been listening to this album much of the day today (not all, because Spotify won't allow me access to the track "I Want to Talk About You" without me shelling out some money), and I must say the listening has been a welcome delight. John Scofield has always excelled at ballad and soulful blues guitar, but this disc provides a fine combination of the two that has me nodding my head much of the way through, especially on standards like "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You?" and "I Loves You Porgy.

The Carla Bley tune "Lawns" and "Johan" have  beautiful, warm tones. They are the kind of songs that make the listener actually want to be in smoky nightclub. Or a church. I don't know why those images came to me, but listen and I think you'll feel the same way.
"Mood Returns" and Scofield's rendition of the Beatle's "I Will" are snappy without being loud. The heads are catchy and improvisations are toe-tap worthy.

"Plain Song" reminds me of a Pat Metheny tune from from the New Chautaugua or Watercolors days. But this is a Scofield ballad through and through, less ethereal than those Metheny projects, but with a similar introspective feel.

Larry Golding's work on piano and organ is really fine, accentuating and not just accompanying the sweet notes ringing from Scofield's guitar. Their interplay on "I Loves You Porgy," which closes the disc, is particularly tasty. All the other performers here provide their usual good work, but Golding's contribution is particularly valuable to this project.

A Moment's Peace fits, for me, very nicely into the playlist of mellow music that Grace Under Pressure and Quiet often occupies.  (A nice introduction to Mr. Scofield's earlier ballad work can be found on Slo Sco. But for now, this new disc has certainly helped me through at least one crappy day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Meditation X -- Signs

"Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
James_Tissot_The_Pharisees_and_Sadducees_come_to_tempt_Jesus_detail_350When Jesus said this to the disciples, they could not make sense of it because they were worried about having forgotten provisions for their journey. They had just witnessed, prior to setting out, a confrontation between those Pharisees and Sadducees and our Lord. But is clear they did not understand what He had said either.
"And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven." Clearly feeding four thousand people was James_Tissot_The_Pharisees_Conspire_Together_400not "sign" enough for them. Nor were any of the other miracles Jesus had performed. The truth is that they wanted no sign of Christ's authenticity. Anything Jesus did was, for them, merely proof of what they had already chosen and determined to believe about Him. After all, they even refused the sign of Jonah that later was right in front of them.
Which brings us to Jesus and his disciples "on the  other side." The disciples had already seen Jesus feed multitudes. Twice. These actions should have Sign of Jonah by James Tissottold them, "I will nourish you." They had seen him walk on water and quell a storm." This should have told them, "I will protect you."
Only after Jesus had explained, had put into context where He stood on the matter of bread, did they get it: "he did not tell them to be aware of the leaven of the bread, but of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees." For these who had chosen to be enemies were looking to destroy, and their teaching could not do otherwise.
Lord, make us open to your teaching and aware of those whose interests blind them. Help us to read the true signs of Your life and words and thus share in Your joy and creation. Amen.