LETTER TO THE GAZANS — Time For Change

Far be it for me, hardly an expert on the Middle East, to offer thoughts on this decades old conflict.  But am I missing something here?

 Didn’t Hamas begin this conflict by lobbing missiles on Israel? Didn’t it do so with NO possible realistic goal to destroy Israel or have it submit to Hamas’ dictates?  Didn’t Israel agree to a Egyptian-brokered cease fire while Hamas did not?

 If I have my history correct, Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in 2005.  Wasn’t that supposed to open the doors to a Palestinian renaissance, without those hated Zionists controlling your lives?  Settlements, settlements, settlements.  Israel must remove them or there will never be peace in Palestine.  OK.  Now what?

 Israel is the evil empire, isn’t it?  Hamas knew Israel would not tolerate missile attacks.  Hamas set you up to take the hit for their political/religious agenda.  Israel has repeatedly warned you to leave targeted locations.  Could you envision Hamas doing likewise to Israelis?

 Hamas uses you as human shields, hides weapons in mosques etc. etc.  So what is the answer?  Gazans…..isn’t it time to reject your jihadist leaders who seeks your destruction in order to gain international support?  Your life has no meaning to them.  Is that a surprise?  And finally– how’s your life been under Hamas?  Has that been “workin for ya?”

 So I apologize for offering such a simplistic, perhaps naive recommendation for your lives.  Of course having your own Palestinian state would be great for you.  Being recognized among the world of nations would be ideal.  Having economic opportunities, free from fear is every human being’s goal.  But you aren’t anywhere close to that, are you?  Hmmm.  Any other ideas? 

SENSELESS. SLAUGHTER

There is a time for war, a time for peace.  There is a time for anger, a time for confrontation. There are those human beings, however, who bring shame on our species.  Those are the murderers of the three Israeli youth.

No politics, no oath of jihad, no level of political frustration can ever justify what they perpetrated.  As long as human beings are capable of committing atrocities in the name of hatred we are a diminished species.

The mentally deranged are excused.  But the mothers  of jihadists who commend the death of Israeli children and laud their children  as suicidal murderers defy human comprehension.

This is sad on so many levels.

WHEN SKEPTICS LOOK AT LIFE AFTER DEATH

I totally understand the skeptics perspective on anything paranormal.  I get it–where’s the “proof”?  

For most of my life, I was in their camp.  There is no rational explanation for many extraordinary experiences people have or the uncanny ability of mediums to describe our deepest connections with those who have died.  I guess where I depart from my scientific colleagues who deny the reality of such occurrences is that I have heard too many to discount them, to label them hallucinations, or fabrications.

 Basic principle 101– people don’t make up stories about their deceased loved-ones.  They have no reason to do so.  Rather the contrary—-they risk the ridicule of others.  I know this is so.  They have confided this to me.

 In his book What Is Death? biologist Tyler Volk battles with this issue.  He sides with the materialist–monists.  Our mnd is the creation of our physical brain.  There is no such entity as the soul.  Physical death is the end of existence.  That ‘s his mantra and he is sticking by it.

 Ironically, he places a footnote in his book which challenges that very belief. On page 232 he reports an experience of “one friend, a professor of sociology and biology” who had a paranormal experience. Interesting that he introduces the story by offering credentials and therefore credibility to his friend.

 Volker writes He traveled in his mental, astral body from his hotel bed to his house in West Virginia.  Floating above his mother, he watches her on the couch, reading a magazine with the television on, until she put the magazine down and fell asleep.  He floated down close enough to note the article she had been reading.  He was enough of a scientist to want to verity his experience.  When he returned home, he asked his mother whether she ever read such-and-such an article.  She told him she had been, but didn’t finish because she fell asleep. He even found the magazine in a stack on the living room coffee table, where he had seen her lay it.”

 Hmmm.  Interesting how Volker places this in a footnote near the end of the book and does not comment further on it. He even uses the term “astral body” without explanation.

I would have used this anecdote to open the book up!   It is an incredible experience from someone who clearly had credibility in Volker’s eyes.  Yet he can’t deal with the cognitive dissonance.  It doesn’t fit into his materialistic, science based dogma.  How unfortunate.

 To me, these experiences are illuminations of a deeper more complex and transcendent reality.  Why marginalize them? Why deny them because they don’t fit the pre-conceived paradigm?  It is not even scientific to deny facts that don’t fit.  Einstein would have never made his breakthrough discoverie of realtivity if he had been motivated to fit his observations to existing beliefs.  Quantum theory remains scientifically valid yet philosophically and cognitively extremely difficult ot undertand.  That doesn’t mean we should deny their reality outright.

 Mystery abounds in the universe.  Dark energy and dark matter are science based descriptions of the universe, accounting for more thatn 90% of “everything”.  We understand and perceive less that 5% which is the energy and matter we think we know.

 My wish is merely this.  Remain openminded about the nature of reality.  Don’t discount what you can’t explain.  Be skeptical but not dogmatic.  Remember, absence of proof is not proof of absence.  Enjoy the journey to discovery.

METAPHYSICAL LESSONS— ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT….

ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM.  MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILY, LIFE IS BUT A DREAM.

 So, do these words trigger any deeper associations for the reader?  I recall a medium’s connection with my paternal grandmother Fanny.  Her words of wisdom to me involved letting go of worries and concerns since life is only a dream anyway.  Later on, this concept was confirmed by one of my aunts, Pearl who had deep metaphysical interests.  Yes, her mother, my grandmother Fanny,  did express those sentiments during her life.

 And what about the directive to “row, row, row” ?  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that self-directed action is required in this incarnation.  Passivity is not appropriate in the face of the challenges of existence.  Free will dictates that we are obliged to make choices.  Choose to act in ways that promote our best interests.

 But what about going “down the stream”?  Does that imply we should always take the easy way out of our dilemmas?  Probably not.  But on the same token, continually struggling against the flow of one’s life is foolish and wasteful.  There is a path in our lives that needs to be pursued.  We may need to work to discover it.  But once we do, it will feel right.  At that time it will seem as if our journey is downstream.

 And what about joy in the face of obvious suffering? Wouldn’t it be great if we can find enough satisfaction in the multiple aspects of our life to reach some level of serenity? A great deal of that will be determined by how we perceive our lives.

If we are intense and competitive we can never relax. Whatever we have or achieve will be overshadowed by the accomplishments or material possessions of others. The ability to cultivate the attitude of gratitude puts our minds into a state of relative bliss.  Observe those around us who seem at peace with the world. Rarely will they compare themselves with the lives of others.  Ultimately we should recognize that our unique life journey reflects the need to learn karmic lessons that are ours alone to experience.

So perhaps there is wisdom in this simple childhood rhyme. 

MICHAEL’S WOMAN

This is a bit of a human interest story–at least I think so.

 Michael is a 40 year old male patient of mine with some sort of developmental disability.  I’m not quite sure of his diagnosis but suffice it so say that he can drive, come to my office on his own, concisely describe his symptoms and remember what meds he is on.  In many ways he is an ideal patient.  At times I believe he comes to me to be reassured that he’s OK.  That’s fine with me.  Perhaps that applies to my less disabled patients as well.

 On his last visit I asked how his girl friend was doing.  He said she was good, then added that he wanted to marry her.  He giggled afterwards, as he frequently did when he was pleased with himself.  ‘Will you live together?” I asked.”No” he replied, she needs a lot of help and she might lose her assistants if we lived together.  But I can help out with her a lot”.  He giggled again.  ” We have a lot in common” he noted.  ” I’m disabled and so is she “.  He smiled broadly and clapped his hands together.

 It was a good visit. 

AM I A WANDERING KHAZAR ?

I have always been fascinated by Jewish genetics.  It probably began when I took note of the Middle Eastern origin of Jews and my Father’s family physical similarities more to Eastern European/Slavic peoples.  My Father, Frank was a blue-eyed, blond haired 6 footer as a youth, resembling much more a Russian than a member of the tribes of Israel.  And yet he and all his ancestors were known to be Jews from Eastern Europe, the Pale of Jewish settlement, the Russian lands now part of Byelorussia and Lithuania.

Known collectively as Ashkenazim, their native language was Yiddish.  It just seemed as if there must have been genetic mixing in my family’s history.  After all, Iranian Jews looked very “Iranian”, Ethiopian Jews resembled their countrymen, as did the black African Jewish tribe, the Lembas.  When DNA testing became more accessible studies now seem to point to just what seemed to be the case.

Y chromosome analysis of Jewish males from around the world today seem to point to a Middle Eastern origin, mitochondrial DNA, derived from maternal lines, are much more varied.  The logical conclusion–over the past 2 thousand years or more, Israelite males set out on “business trips”, met local women where they traveled, settled down and created the founding gene pool for a variety of populations.  The proclamation of maternal Jewish affiliation was clearly a later invention.

And now its my turn.  My results are in from 23 and Me, the online DNA analysis.  No question of my Ashkenazic Jewish genetics. But of interest was my paternal haplogroup is R 1a 1a (R-M17)  Present in only about 5 to11.5% of Askenazic Jewish males, it is the dominant male type in Slavic / Eastern European men.  According to 23 and Me it is not of Near Eastern origin.  So what does that mean?  Am I descended from that legendary, exotic and controversial tribe the Khazars? Who you may rightlfully ask? (see Khazar Theory of Ashkenazi Ancestry in Wikipedia)

This Turkic tribe migrated into Eastern and Central Europe and converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century.  Historical documents by contemporary Christian and Muslem historians questioned the wisdom of such a decision, thus strengthening the claim of its veracity.  What remains controversial is to what extent these converts became integrated into Ashenazic, Yiddish speaking Jewry of Russia and Poland. Of course politics and anti-Semitism has played its role as well.  Were Zionists from Eastern Europe actually Europeans after all? Were Israel’s critics right to deny the historical connection to the land itself?

Science seems to have provided THE answer. The haplotype of 85% + contemporary Jewish males today have Middle Eastern origins.  Strangely, mine doesn’t.  Does it really make any difference? Perhaps not, but it does explain the Eastern European phenotype (physical appearance) of
many contemporary Jews– particularly of some of my relatives.

CRITERIA FOR A BELIEF

Do not believe what you have heard.

Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down for many generations.

Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.

Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.

Do not believe in conjecture.

Do not believe in the authority of teachers or elders.

But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

 

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

SAVANTS — Why Exclude The Psychics ?

The 1988 film Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise brought public awareness to the reality of the Savant syndrome.  It is often associated with the autism spectrum or after brain injuries.  Often, despite low IQs they exhibit extraordinary brilliance in specific areas such as memory, rapid calculation, art, and music.  ESP  is actually noted in about 10% of such individuals. Anatomically, the syndrome has been associated with damage to the left anterior temporal lobe. Of note are reports that the syndrome can be replicated via stimulation using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

What I find quite fascinating is the distinction drawn between such aberrant mental abilities which are only vaguely understood, and other claims of extraordinary consciousness which are deemed fantasy or at best fraudulent.  In particular I refer to the skeptics pronouncements regarding psychic ability and mediumship.

Is it such a stretch of thinking to consider such abilities a form of the Savant syndrome?  Clearly psychic/medium claims are not directly associated with neurologic disorders.  But if these abnormal brain conditions can somehow “release” otherwise hidden human abilities (such as with TMS), and if the actual mechanisms of such extraordinary mental abilities remain a mystery, why not entertain the possibility that psychic/mediumship abilities are equally “real”?

Certain individuals may very well have the ability to access information and energies that the vast majority of us do not.  The familial / multi-generational association with these abilities also suggests some physical/brain difference between “us and them”.

 Perhaps the strong reluctance to acknowledge the possibility that psychic/mediumship are real reflect the skeptics deep seated fear that the metaphysical implications would decimate their deeply felt personal beliefs.  Because they are invested in a world view which denies a spiritual universe, they must continue to deny the possibility that these “paranormal” claims are real.

 Interesting–as strange as they are, savant abilities are NEVER referred to as paranormal, merely preternatural — presently unexplained by contemporary science.

My hope is that open-minded investigation will prevail.  Be guided by evidence and continue to seek the truth.

END OF LIFE DIALOGUES — When Dying Is Healing

Readers of my blog know by now that I believe it is incredibly important that we be open to discussing all aspects of the inevitable fate that awaits all living beings–death.  Painful, repugnant, upsetting, frightening…..any and all of these reactions to the notion of death are common and understandable.  But, I believe, by opening Pandora’s Box, we will come to deal with death and learn to accept what we cannot change.

 End of life dialogues (EOLD) willl allow us to understand what death truly is and perhaps find solace in coming to the realization what it is not–namely the end of existence.  More to come regarding that aspect of death.  But this particular posting concerns the notion of death as healing.  Does that sound particularly bizarre or contradictory to you?  It shouldn’t.

 Case in point.  Sadly I received news that my 70 year old first cousin succumbed to multiple sclerosis.  Although we were not particularly close over the past decades I knew him to be an amazingly kind, loving and compassionate human being.  He was a social worker whose devotion to his profession as well as his family were deeply felt.  Unfortunately, his form of MS was unrelenting and progressive.  He suffered from debilitating form which ultimately left him virtually paralyzed and speechless.  When he died his daughter remarked, “At least he doesn’t have MS anymore.”

 The truth of that statement is my point.  In the face of unremitting suffering, from whatever cause, from terminal cancer, dementia, or any organ failure, when there is no quality of life anymore, when there is no hope of improvement, then dying becomes healing. In my cousin’s particular case, his beloved wife had passed several years ago.  His amazing children brought him into their home to live out his remainng days.  Sadly his mother who is nearly 104 remains alive to witness his passing.  But, in truth, dying under such circumstances becomes healing for one’s loved -ones as well.  Witnessing the suffering of those we love is unconsolable suffering for us as well.  So it may well be that under such scenarios, dying  may be the only process that allows the healing process for loved-ones left behind to begin.

 And for the individual who is suffering, the angel of death becomes an angel of mercy.

The VA Healthcare System–a Preview of Obamacare

I really don’t like playing the role of the pessimist.  I wish Obamacare would transform healthcare into a system that benefits us all.  The problem, however, boils down to the difference between capitalism and socialism.

Now this may seem rather extreme.  Why introduce such “hot” terms into the healthcare debate?  The reason is quite simple–it is completely relevant.  For example–I am a member of a small medical practice…..4 physicians, 20 employees.  I have a small business.  I have expenses which must be met on a biweekly, monthly basis.  Salaries, rent, overhead, malpractice costs etc. etc.  I have a strong vested interest in making my practice consumer friendly.  After all I am not the only gastroenterology practice in town. If I don’t produce a satisfactory product– patient care— I may go out of business.  If a patient calls for an appointment I will see them (or one of my partners will see them ) the same day.  If they need a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy on a timley basis, I will make sure they can obtain that procedure in a short time.  I feel a compelling ownership of my medical practice– no one will write me a pay check if there are no funds to distribute.  Now compare my situation with a V A doc.  Regular hours, regular vacations, limited involvement in the business of running a practice.

 Why should the VA doc insist on an immediate visit for a patient, or a scope ASAP.  It’s not his practice. The VA doc is a salaried employee.   It is the difference between capitalism and socialism.  This is not a direct criticism of the VA doc.  He/she have chosen to work under that  system for a variety of reasons.  But the incentive to work harder, to see more patients in a timely fashion, to add work to their schedule is just not there.  It is human nature.  When we lose that awareness, we wind up with a healthcare system like Canada, western Europe, England.  Healthcare may be inexpensive for many, but the wait times and attention is much deferred.

  A two teered system will emerge here as there–delayed healthcare for the masses, immediate attention for cash paying patients.  It is only a matter of time.