Stephen Kahn

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Disillusionment and Re-illusionment (Part 1)

In Hard to tell on December 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm

As the world appears to be a bleak place in many ways, adults try to protect children as much as possible. “Preserving children’s innocence,” is a typical phrase. In the past, when the hazards of life were much more apparent – no immunizations against smallpox, no seat belts much less air bags on carriages, and barbarian hordes around every corner, for instance – adults were less concerned about children’s innocence, as illustrated by the appropriately titled Grimm’s Fairy Tales, though as the Wikipedia entry illustrates, even then adults were starting to worry about cleaning up their act as far as what they told young ones about the world

The trouble with protecting children’s innocence is that when the kids start to grow up and discover that the world is a bit cruel and nasty, they get a shock like having the water in a warm shower suddenly turn icy cold. Children do not always take this loss of innocence well.

I don’t remember ever being all that innocent and optimistic. My wife, the youngest of five, encountered the shock of her parents’ divorce, but on the whole managed to live in world of happy oblivion – “I lived in Disneyland” – I think she once said to me. Later in life, she was rather startled to hear from her oldest sister about how much conflict there had been in her family and to realize how much bitterness her sister held against their mother.

As my wife entered her teens, she began to develop an identity of her own, such as wearing black pants and dressing as a beatnik (as her mother regarded her mildly eccentric teenage apparel), and lying about how she met me when we started to date. Her mother did not take this well, resulting in a huge scene and my wife throwing herself out of her house as soon as she reached the age of 18. She got a tiny apartment and a crummy job as a file clerk and a little television of her own. As she began to watch the television news instead of the Mickey Mouse Club, she began to realize the world has a lot of ugly stuff. My wife is not a person to get depressed by temperament, but she went through a period of gloom as she thought about the nature of the world.

While not universal, the process of “protecting children’s innocence,” followed by childish depression and disillusionment, followed by who knows what hi-jinks with alcohol, drugs, sex, religious fanaticism, violence and other crime, is a fairly common cycle in modern life.

Addictions (part 2)

In Good news, Humor on December 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Merry Christmas.

An acquaintance of mine and his wife were raised as evangelical Christians, in one of the Dakotas, if I recall what he old me correctly. He tells me that they are no longer religious believers, and that they sometimes laugh at some of my jokes about cults and believers. (Example: Transition Whidbey is not exactly a “cult” in that it has a leader and a lot of followers [like the semi-cult which my wife and I defeated in a law suit decades ago]; Transition Whidbey – and I presume the other “Transition Towns” – consist of quite a few people who wish to be cult leaders and very few followers for each.)

It is interesting and perhaps a bit eccentric to me that even though these two acquaintances say they are no longer evangelicals, they continue to act like evangelicals in many respects, but with some twists. In other words, “You can take the boy and girl out of the evangelical country, but you can’t take the evangelical out of the boy and girl.”

Some typical evangelical beliefs/traits/characteristics: 1) Have lots of children. 2) Raise your children to believe in God. 3) Home school your children, so they are not too subjected to secular society and hostility to religious belief and other “state/irreligious” controls and influences.

My semi-ex-evangelical acquaintances: 1) Have six children and Mrs. Acquaintance is about to give birth to child #7. 2) They take their children to a (conservative) church most Sundays. [Twists: They move restlessly from church to church, because in part because the churches remind them too much of the churches they attended as children. Also, the churches tend to be not too tolerant of the children attending service with their parents – and acting like children. Thus the churches want to “segregate” the children into “Sunday school” – which my acquaintances dislike.] 3) The acquaintances are home schooling their children. [Side comment – one of my brothers – as secular as I am – mostly home schooled his children.] 4) Not exactly a proto evangelical trait, but the acquaintances are planning to have a home delivery of the next child. [Another side comment – my brother’s wife worked for a number of years as a midwife, then became a nurse and a nurse supervisor, and then went back to being a midwife.]

Final comment by me. My wife and I were products of moderately large families (five children in each). We stopped with one child. Our child “mated” with another woman. My daughter and her partner have one child. Also, from an ideological point of view, I consider the world to be overpopulated, and I think there is much to be said for people limiting the number of children they have to one or two. However, the world is also becoming more tolerant. Thus, I will never say anything critical or judgmental to my acquaintances about their engaging in Mrs. Acquaintance’s addiction to having children.

Addictions (Part 1)

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I have been thinking about addiction. Addiction isn’t just about needing something desperately. We all need air, we all need water. A short time without these substances, and we die. So addiction means we need something to the extent that it harms us.

Oddly, I am addicted to food; odd as food is a required substance. Lack of food doesn’t kill you as quickly as lack of air and lack of water, but starvation can do you in soon enough. However, too much food kills you as well, if more slowly. Fortunately, I have a mildly addictive personality, and I am fortunate in having my addictions cancel each other out a bit. For a long time, I did not exercise enough, thus becoming not only a bit fat, but also a bit depressed and probably a bit liable to a heart attack or a stroke. However, once I began seriously exercising (both at the gym and in my five acres of woods and big garden back yard), I began to lose weight and overcome the depression, and the exercise may have contributed to my still being alive at an age about 25 years past the age when my father died of a heart attack.

However, I became mildly addicted to exercise. Other people at the gym are more seriously addicted to exercise. Some of the exercise machines have signs requesting participants to stop using them after 30 minutes. (I am not in great danger of using any of these machines for 30 minutes without stopping.) Other people at the gym participate in events like iron-man triathalons, events where they swim for 2.4 miles, bike for 112 miles and run a marathon (26 and a smidgen miles). That MAY be good for some of the participants, but such events cause some people to drop dead of heart attacks and burns up the knees of other people.

Some substances, such as nicotine, heroin and cocaine are addictive to most people who try even a little bit. Others, such as alcohol, are addictive to a few people, but splendid for others. In the case of dangerous substances, you can live without the substance. For food addicted people, such as myself, one can’t go “cold turkey”; eventually I will have to eat some turkey, cold or not.

Interestingly, a species can become addicted. Some birds are addicted to migrating each year; however, some geese, such as the ones who migrate to Norwalk, Connecticut, have learned to stop migrating because they are apparently having so much fun polluting the lakes there with their droppings.

Humans, probably the most obnoxious species there is, though rats, starlings, cockroaches, and coyotes try to give us a run for our money, suffer from many spee-cial addictions, such as war, overpopulation, and noise. Is religious belief an addiction?

Like exercise, religiosity may be a mixed bag. Some people are inspired to kindness by their religious beliefs; others find belief fends off depression. On the other hand, some people are motivated to murder by their religious beliefs; others are depressed and guilt-ridden; some combine the worst of all possible worlds by becoming suicide bombers.

The worst disease in the world and the sure-fire cure for it…

In Good news, Humor on December 18, 2011 at 4:42 am

A few years ago, after years of somewhat inexplicable good health, I suddenly came down with a severe symptom in what I thought was only a “cold” – not being able to swallow as I tried to sip a glass of water. The advice nurse at my HMO told me to call an ambulance. I was taken to the island’s hospital and examined by an otolaryngologist on call to the hospital, who told me that I seemed to have a lung infection only seen in young children. He also said (more tactfully, but the meaning was clear) that depending where it was situated in my lung, I might survive or it would probably kill me. Before he sent me to the Intensive Care Unit, he said that it seemed to be in the “right spot” [for my survival]. The medical staff plied me with a variety of treatments and medications [which I interpreted as “the kitchen sink”]. All I remember of this medical witch’s brew was antibiotics and steroids. After a few days, I recovered enough to be released. At the follow-up session with the otolaryngologist, he asked me what I had suffered from. I was astonished – HE was the doctor. He explained that none of the tests administered to me had revealed the cause of my illness. As a person who has suffered from an excess of mirthiness for most of my life, I concluded that the leading cause of death is not heart disease or cancer (and similar afflictions) but the UNKNOWN AILMENT. My efforts to get a foundation going to raise money to combat this dreadful disease (with perhaps the entire ONION WEB SITE as the poster children) went nowhere.

Recently, one of my feet suddenly experienced a dreadful rash. I work out and shower at the local gym. Although I diligently try to protect my feet with thongs, I thought perhaps a particularly nasty case of the fungal disease known as “athlete’s foot” had infected my feet. I used an anti-fungal over the counter medication. As the condition did not improve, and as my doctor was in Afghanistan treating American soldiers and Taliban prisoners with equal mercy and skill (having been called up in his reserve unit), I visited a Physicians Assistant (a pleasant and seemingly competent East_Indian assistant doctor from Canada). She told me to use a stronger anti-fungal over the counter medication.

After a few weeks, my condition did not improve. I went to visit my doctor (back from Afghanistan) but first arranged (at some inconvenience in location) to visit my wife’s dermatologist. The dermatologist told me, “I am glad you came in. If this was a fungal disease, it would have responded by now.” She told me that she did not know what I had (the anti-fungal ointment preventing proper testing and diagnosis); she described it as eczema (which Wikipedia tells me is another way of describing “We don’t know what the “f” you have”) and she prescribed steroids. She said the steroids should alleviate the condition in a few weeks.

When I saw my personal doctor a couple of weeks later, he looked at my feet, listened to what the dermatologist had told me, and said, “Hmmm…”

I asked my doc about Afghanistan. I had been a little worried about my personal doctor being taken out by Taliban snipers or terrorists. He told me that his sleeping quarters had been right next to prison camp where the Taliban prisoners had been kept. He had felt fairly safe there, as he did not think the terrorists who had been firing occasional rockets at the camp did not want to aim them where their comrades were being kept. He also said, “One of my [American medical] comrades is a devout Jew who always wears his yarmulke. I was concerned how the prisoners would react to him, but they thought he was fine. They admire anyone who is very devout.” [When not killing each other, religious nutters stick together. Only makes sense.]

As I was asking impertinent questions, I asked about his ethnic background. My doctor has what is known as the epicanthic fold so I always assumed he is Asian. However, he told me that he is “half-Japanese (mother) and half-Polish (father).” As some of my ancestors were Polish Jews, there is a very slight (perhaps one in a billion or so) chance that we are related.

In any case, the dose of steroids HAVE cleared up my foot. Therefore, I conclude that the most prevalent disease in the world is the unknown ailment, and the sure cure for it is steroids. Perhaps I will just take steroids from now on (along with my daily baby aspirin and my daily four fish oil capsules) and perhaps live longer than Ray Kurzweill, another smart-ass Jew. Singularity or not.

What a long strange trip it’s turning out to be

In Good news on December 14, 2011 at 4:39 am

I am not surprised that the 21st Century is turning out to be very strange.

Some items to note:

We are finally realizing that we have said just about everything there is to say, we we are becoming very terse, inventing communication methods such as twitter.

We are finally realizing that everything we do and say can be held against us and will be. Obstetricians and midwives are now reading newborns their Miranda rights

We are finally realizing that money is the root of all evil, so more and more people are giving food and money to food banks, though some people haven’t got the memo yet, and are stealing food from food banks. Their more gifted siblings are starting banks and stealing from everybody else

It is my belief that religious belief is an invention. Our first drafts of empirical skills such as medicine were clumsy and painful, involving clumsy tactics such as leeches and amputations without anesthetics. Now we can transplant hearts; perhaps one of these days we will be able to transplant empathy (the basis of humane behavior) to inhumane people such as sociopaths. Which leads me to infer that we are also improving religion, moving away from stake-burnings and jihads and toward empathy, tolerance, and compassion. A lot of people who don’t really believe in God have decided to act as if He/She/It really exists and really is a Being of Love and Compassion and wants us to behave consistently with this idea. Still needs better marketing.

A Christmas miracle

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm

‘Cyber Week’ Results in Record Online Spending of $6 Billion

Not alive, but not doing well

In Bad news on December 3, 2011 at 2:52 am

Besides dying pets, tonight I learned that our truck, we we hoped to last as long as we do, is not going to make it much longer. Well, my wife and I grumbled at each other about how we can’t afford another vehicle, and the problems in picking out something that will do, but at least she did not start sobbing.

Don’t be on the bottom of the pecking order

In Bad news on December 3, 2011 at 2:46 am

In September I reported on the death of one of our hens, Little Peep. Recently, another hen at the bottom of the pecking order, Ethel (aka 4 of 4), became ill. My wife removed her quickly from the chicken coop (to protect the other hens from infection) and brought her into in the house in a cage. My wife cared for her tenderly for several days. Recently, we learned about a veterinarian on Whidbey Island who treats chickens and other poultry. Ethel was not doing well; not eating much; not drinking. My wife took Ethel to the vet. The vet examined her and said, “There is nothing that can be done for this hen.” At my wife’s request, he put her to death in a quick and kindly fashion.

My wife came home sobbing. Mortality, whether of pets or people, is a tough row to hoe.

The Evolution Babe — too little, too late

In Humor, Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Let us consider evolution. Quite a few people have commented on how much the Republican candidates such as Romney and coy quasi candidates such as Palin look not quite real. More like androids or pod people than human beings.

At first I thought, perhaps they are beta versions of androids released before they were quite ready for the market place. Thus Romney’s unconvincing flashes of temper, or Palin’s coyness and inability to hold a steady job, even one as undemanding as Governor of Alaska.

However, I have found a more convincing explanation: Evolution in Action. As this catch phrase needs a better meme, I have started the ball rolling by dubbing her THE EVOLUTION BABE. However, there surely is a better meme, so I ask you, my readers (who may be down to one reader at the moment as my blog fades to black) to find her a better personification.

Anyway, as the tragic, vicious top of the food chain creatures we are, doomed by our own creations – robots, androids, and artificial intelligence programs – The Evolution Babe – [albeit an impersonal and mindless process] has been desperately trying to evolve us to compete with out own Frankenstein-like creations. At the least they will put most humans out of work by the end of the decade. At most, humans will become totally obsolete and irrelevant by the end of the century.

Romney, Caine, Perry, Palin, Bachman and the others are not “pod people” — they ARE real human beings as The Evolution Babe strives to create human beings more robotic than the robots, more android like than the androids, and even less intelligent than the artificial intelligence programs that answer your phone call for customer or technical support at the call center in India or Miami.

Too little, too late, Evolution Babe. We are toast. Stick a fork in us.