Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Fundamental Question

Fundies help me out here:

1. God is omnipotent - all powerful

2. God is omniscient - all knowing

3. In order to be allowed beyond the pearly gates one must embrace Jesus Christ as one's lord and saviour.

4. One has until virtually one's last cognizant moment to do this.

5. Living a good life, doing good deeds, thinking pure thoughts will not get you into heaven.

6. It doesn't matter if one sins as long as he or she takes care of #3 above BC (before croaking.)

Preachers and the like constantly direct their parishoners, and anyone else who'll listen, to live a righteous life and avoid temptation and sin.



Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thinking About Moving

My wife and I have given some consideration to moving to Germany. My older son has lived there for 4 or 5 years and loves it, although he does miss home at times. Of course, he speaks the language fluently. My younger son has some skill with it as well. My wife and I struggle with "guten morgen," and "danke shoen" or nervously asking "Wo ist die toilette, por favor - er I mean, uh - what is it? - uh - bitte? Yeah, that's it - Wo ist die toilette, bitte?" - spoken triumphantly, and, of course, loud enough for all the people in the room to stop in their tracks to turn and stare at us. But I guess we could eventually pick up enough to get by over time.

But I'd really miss some uniquely "American" things which are generally difficult to get in Germany and elsewhere abroad. What would those things be, you might ask?

Well, these come to mind:

Tap water at restaurants.

Ice in drinks.

Clothes dryers.

Stores open 24/7.

Air conditioning.

American toilets.

When we were in Vienna some years ago and a few years later in various parts of Germany, restaurant servers looked at us askance when any of us requested a glass of tap water. Bottled water is the rule. Tap water, verboten.
Soft drinks may be served chilled, but forget getting ice.

I could probably get along fine without a clothes dryer, but few people have them, or so I understand. My wife would more likely find that a bother, but I'm sure I'd miss the effects of the loving touch of those fabric softener dryer sheets. The liquid stuff you put in with the wash load just isn't the same.
I could also probably adjust to the lack of 24/7 shopping, but it certainly is convenient to go to, well - a convenience store - at midnight to get a gallon of milk, a can of coffee or a bag of whatever. Or to be able to go to a drug store and get something for that maddening itch or a serious case of the hoohaws.

Obviously, most of the above are, on balance rather piddling trifles.
Living without AC though, would be tough for this fat boy. The area of northern Germany where my son has been living has been extremely hot most of the summer. His apartment is on the top floor of his building with poor air circulation. He can't even find a fan, for whatever reason. The few occasions I've been obliged to spend a hot, humid summer night without AC have been hellish. With my having Apnea, a decent night's sleep is rare enough. Trying to do so without AC can be a nightmare.

Then there's the toilets. You world travelers probably know of what I speak. In Austria and Germany, where I have traveled, most of their toilets are designed with what is euphemistically referred to as "the shelf" which is high and dry. One does not truly appreciate the great job that the water in the bowl does for one's olfactory senses. I remember the glee with which I responded to finding American style toilets in a public restroom at the Grand Hotel in Vienna. Woohoo!

I know, I have exposed my very soul and revealed that I am a truly spoiled and predictably shallow American. What can I say? These are some of the things to which many Americans are accustomed. They are all part of the hallowed "American Dream."

After several days in Germany a couple of years ago I found myself wistfully envisioning myself sitting atop one of those wasteful American toilets, sipping a glass of ice water obtained straight from the tap (yeah, I know, it's a fairly disgusting vision) in my air conditioned suburban home while my clothes are spinning dry in the basement laundry room, contemplating a midnight run to the 24 hour Kroger Store for a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey.

Now THAT'S my America!

Just an additional note. Something weird happens to some of my paragraph divisions when I publish. I've tried to remedy the situation to no avail.
Oh, and one more note: We're not moving anywhere.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


My wife, son and I went to see Michael Moore's Sicko last weekend. While I have generally agreed with most of Moore's positions over the years, I have not been a fan of his modus operandi. His prior films have depended largely on cheap shot humor and guerilla or predatory journalism. While Sicko includes some of that, overall it depends far less on those tactics than Moore's prior work.

I liked this film. Approximately the first half of the picture is spent illustrating the limits and shortcomings of the current American health care system. Much of the remainder of the film focusses on health care systems in other countries including Canada, England, France and Cuba. Yes, Cuba.

I have read a number of the reviews and other discussions of this film. Detractors are quick to point out how the film tells only partial truths, ignoring good things about American health care and passing over the bad aspects of the systems in the countries noted above. I don't doubt the truth of many of these charges. As with his previous works, Moore doesn't claim to be unbiased. He doesn't even claim to be fair.

The fact is that no health care system anywhere, especially those of countries having relatively large populations are perfect. Not even close. However, the question remains: Which system or systems are the most equitable, the most workable, resulting in the optimum healthcare for its citizens?

I am certainly not prepared to answer such a question. But it is impossible to ignore the glaring shortcomings of the American system which for the most part remains a "for profit" industry. Therein lay the core of the problem. As long as medicine and medical care - all aspects of it from individual medical practices, emergency care, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, drug manufacturers and purveyors remain in the private sector, with pretty much all of it concomitantly under the thumb of the insurance industry - the primary focus of their efforts being a positive bottom line and paying dividends to share holders, medical care in this country will continue to be second rate for many, and effectively unavailable to many more. As with so much in this country, profit is the holy grail. Everything else is secondary - even life and health.

I know this is an old, but nevertheless, an ongoing argument. To suggest that all or any of the medical industry be nationalized is anathema to most hard core, and even not so hard core capitalists. Just the thought of - dare I say it? - socialized medicine is enough to send these folks into apoplexy, wildly gesticulating as they drop, spittal spewing from their contorted mouths, veins popping from their crimsoned temples.

I've no doubt that there are gaps and failures in the best of the nationalized health care systems. The draw back most often cited is long waits for care - especially non-emergency surgery and other specialized care. I don't know if that particular problem is ubiquitous with all nationalized health care, perhaps it is. Of course another, and larger complaint is the resultant increase in the tax burden. Given the often incredible costs for even routine medical care today, a significant hit from the tax man is probably unavoidable.

However, if there is to be any significant improvement in the quality and availability of health care in this country, hard decisions must be made. What is of most importance to us? Wealth or health? How many of us might be willing to give up trophy houses, having expensive "toys," and generally living lavishly to help insure that the greatest number of our country men, women and children have access to the best medical care? So far, and sadly, it is apparent that not many are so inclined.

I am not a glutten for punishment. I do not wish to be taxed out of existence. My son in Germany pays taxes at around 41% of his gross income. Some European countries have much higher tax rates. It's a hard nut to swallow. However, the populations of these countries seem to have adjusted to it, some perhaps kicking and screaming, but most in relative quiet, in the knowledge that they can obtain health care, along with other services and benefits with little or no additional cost. As an example, in Germany if someone, owing to the effects of aging or poor health, is forced into a nursing home or some other type of full or intensive care facility, they are not required to divest themselves of everything they own in order to qualify for government aid. It is all simply paid for by the government through taxation. Such people are not required to sell hearth and home, their other worldly goods and empty their bank accounts. They can actually retain their estates.

I hear people in the US complain that they don't want to pay for someone else's medical care. Others complain about paying taxes that support public education, if they have no children, or no school aged children. The fact is, though, that we all pay for any number of government services that we never use, and/or receive no benefit from. Why not education? Why not health care? The better educated and healthier our population, the more productive we will be as a nation.

While I don't for a moment imagine that designing an efficient, responsive and equitable national health care system for a country the size of the U.S. of A. would be easy, I find it hard to believe and, frankly, disingenuine of people to claim that it can't be done. Of course it can, and it has. Is it beyond the possible for the best minds in medicine, business, industry and government to come together and study the world's many and varied medical systems and come up with a workable solution for the U.S.? Pick and choose what works, dispose of what doesn't. At the outset, there would no doubt be problems. Complaints would run rampant. Some heads would probably roll. There would be significant growing pains. It would never be perfect or cover all the bases. But the status quo just can't be allowed to continue. Far too many people are falling through the ever widening cracks in the current system. The primary purpose of health care should not be to line the pockets of insurance company CEOs or their share holders. Its purpose should not be to enable doctors to join the best country clubs. The primary purpose of health care should be the improvement and maintenance of our citizens' health. Period.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Where All of This Is Heading?

Sometimes I think or at least hope, if I just start writing, something will begin to roll out of my mushy little mind. I have written a good deal here and elsewhere over the past 20 months or so. This is my 141st post on Rupture. Granted, some of them don't amount to much. Some are just silly and pointless. But a number of them were written with at least a modicum of thought, seasoned at times with emotion, occasionally rather raw emotion - usually anger.

Since my first post in November of 2005 I have read a number of books, several magazine articles, any number of blog posts and comments, most having to do with god and religion. I still have difficulty making sense of it all. Just as it seems that born again christians constantly repeat a small number of stock phrases drummed into their heads at their respective churches, I find that I too, have become somewhat repetitive in what often amounts to diatribes against religious belief and believers, dominionists, religious radicals of all stripes and their often heinous acts of violence. I guess there are only so many ways one can say the same things.
I just finished reading the book I alluded to in a previous post, Jack Huberman's The Quotable Atheist. As I noted, it is a collection of several quotes from mostly non-believers but with a few believer quotes thrown in just to spice it up a bit. Some are quite funny, but most are serious in nature. In the end when taken together, the message is essentially the same: Religion and a belief in god, any god, is wasteful, ludicrous and to many of the "quotees" downright evil.

While I could laugh at many of the good, often witty quotes, ultimately I put the book down with a twinge of sadness, even of dread. A great deal of the turmoil, destruction and death now being perpetrated on our planet is based upon which god one believes in.

The recent failed bombings in London provided yet another wake up call about the ever present danger of terrorist attacks. One can only take heart in the fact that these guys were inept. They couldn't get out of their own way. I conjured a scene of one of the brainiac doctors attempting to detonate one of the two Mercedes bombs by dialing the implanted cell phone detonator, only to have the recorded message break in "We're sorry, the number you have reached is not in service.' Bilal, I thought you activated all of the phones. No, Khalid, I assumed you had them turned on, Allah be praised." My wife's initial response was that it was a terrible waste of good cars.

The fact that at least some of these terrorist wannabes are medical doctors is troubling. First, they cannot be considered as true to their professional calling if they were actively and willingly attempting to "first, do harm." Mistakenly perhaps, I think of medical doctors as men and women of science. That, for those fellows in London and Glasgow science lost the battle with faith, is disturbing.

The three major monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are arriving at a pass which many hope will culminate in an ultimate battle to determine who is truly king of the hill. What most people of these respective faiths don't appear to acknowledge is that there is, in the end, very little difference between these religions. They were all three born out of the same part of the world of the same traditions. Each of their sacred texts are an inter-mix of much the same material. All of it is a conglomeration of myth and legend told and retold, written, rewritten, translated and re-translated ad nauseam over more than 2 millennia, and yet each is now believed to be the one and only, inerrant true word of god. And many of them are more than willing to see millions of people die over this ludicrous load of crap! Many hope to take an active role in the massacre.

There was a great cartoon in an issue of the New Yorker magazine a few months back which depicted the scene of a battle worn king his sword raised high in victory, sitting astride his rearing horse as it stands atop a huge pile of the battlefield dead, the legend below reading: "Let the healing begin!"

It's just that kind of absurdity which haunts me as I see how all of this emnity throughout the world may well play itself out. What will the winners of such a conflagration do upon achieveing their victory? Will they be looking to the sky for their saviour, their prophet? Might it not be like the idiots through the years who have convinced people that the world is going to end at such and such a time? Will these victors be deafened by the silence of their god? Will they desparately look for signs, wildly reading some kind of spiritual meaning into every damn thing that passes? How will they explain away the failure to realize the rapture? How will they rationalize their failure to touch the face of god? Will they mourn the dead?

Will there be any hope for a voice of reason to rise up out of the ashes? I fear not. The gross stupidity which brought them to Armageddon will live on, igniting new flames of religious fervor continuing to subjugate the weak and further divide the survivors to foment yet another, greater battle for the glory of their god.

I end this with a couple of quotes, the first from Huberman's book from Percy Bysshe Shelley:

"If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? . . . If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? . . . If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him?. . . and if he has spoken, why is the world not convinced?"

The second is a quote of Albert Einstein's repeated in Walter Isaacson's biography, Einstein (pg.387):

"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."