A Perversion of Psychiatry

So, Mike and I are back to the awful topic of genocide, relating specifically to the participation of psychiatrists in this heinous crime. We are particularly offended by the grotesque misapplication of psychiatric theory and practice to the political field, justifying murder of the “other.”

Two psychiatrists, Jovan Raskovic and Radovan Karadzic, were responsible for utilizing psychiatric theory as a justification for Serbian domination of the Yugoslavian federation of governments. Composed of 6 states and even more ethnic groups, as well as diverse religious groups including Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches, and Muslims, and with the recent history of the Nazi occupation and complicity of some Croats with the Nazis, the challenge of peaceful coexistence in Yugoslavia was overwhelming. And it broke down after the death of Marshall Josep Broz Tito in 1980. The Serbs believed that they were  naturally disposed to rule, and a psychological construct was developed, based on a bizarre misapplication of Freudian theory, to support their position. Raskovic’s view was that the Serbs bore an Oedipal complex which compelled them to kill the “Father”, the government of Yugoslavia. Their reward would be the “Mother”, symbolized by the land of Yugoslavia. He said the Croats had a “fear of castration” which rendered them incompetent to exercise authority and hold power. He published a manifesto, Luda Zemlja, had great success in promulgating his theories and, whipping up the Serbs to a frenzy of aggression, established the Serbian Democratic Party.  As his health was failing, he put his protege, Karadzic, another psychiatrist, as head of the party.

Karadzic used his knowledge of psychiatry to inflict terror on the groups that he persecuted, particularly the Bosnian Muslims. Now known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” he used rape as a tool of intimidation and social disruption. As his troops killed, maimed, and raped, he terrified the victim population not only to flee, but to not want to return to the scene of their horrific experience as an element of his “ethnic cleansing” program. The raped Muslim women were socially disgraced, not accepted by their communities, and many committed suicide. This anticipated result was designed to among other things, reduce the reproductive capability of the Bosnian Muslims. Karadzic was convicted of war crimes for his role in the Srebenica Massacre and other massacres of Bosnians.

The Nazis had their own whacked out theories of their ethnic superiority, and convinced themselves that they were more suited to rule (and exist) than others. They carried the characterization of the “other” groups to subhuman extremes as a justification for genocide against the Jews, Romani, and the slaughter of homosexuals, intellectually disabled persons, schizophrenics, epileptics, and others whom they considered undesirables. They found little difficulty in gaining the cooperation of psychiatrists in their madness. Six months after Hitler became chancellor of Germany, a compulsory sterilization law was passed requiring the sterilization of individuals with various neurologic and psychiatric diseases. Among these was “hereditary alcoholism.”

The background of support for this kind of idea was the eugenics movement which had gained great popularity in the United States during the early 20th century. This is not to say that the characterization of Jews as racially defective began at that time, because it did not. Jews had been characterized by the composer Richard Wagner, among others,  as “parasites” and “vermin” decades earlier, and was a direct influence on Hitler, who used the same terms in his manifesto, Mein Kampf. The term eugenics was originated in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. The aim of this philosophy was to “breed out” human disease and suffering by promoting the reproduction of people with desirable characteristics, and sterilizing those who had undesirable attributes. It should be noted that this idea was first proposed by Plato in his classic work, The Republic. In the US, the American Breeders Association was formed in 1903 to further the cause of eugenics. In 1911 J. H. Kellogg, the corn flakes guy, founded the Race Betterment Foundation which established a pedigree registry. Laws were passed in several states forbidding marriage of different classes of “defectives” and mandating sterilizations of mentally ill persons. The US Supreme Court upheld the practice in a 1927 decision in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” It took 15 years for this decision to be overturned, but not before tens of thousands of men and women were sterilized.  And while not official policy, an extraordinary number of Native American women were sterilized, many without their consent (such as during an appendectomy.) In Hitler’s  Mein Kampf, dictated while he was imprisoned, he mentions the eugenics movement in America, and he strenuously advocated for the purity of the Aryan gene pool, using whatever means necessary, including genocide.

During the 1930s Germany’s mental hospitals were overcrowded, with most of the patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. In a paper published in Germany in 1925 entitled Permission for the Destruction of Unworthy Life, written by attorney Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, it was suggested that some persons are “on an intellectual level which we only encounter way down in the animal kingdom.” The economic burden of caring for such persons was a major aspect of their argument. Another psychiatrist, Berthold Kihn, wrote in 1932 that mentally ill individuals were costing Germany 150 million Reichsmarks per year. His paper was entitled The Eradication of the Less Valuable from Society.

Although the killing of mental patients was under discussion in Germany throughout the 1930s, it was not until 1939 that action was undertaken. On September 1, 1939, the same day that Germany invaded Poland, Hitler issued an authorization for the killing of mental patients. After carefully accounting for all the hospitalized mental patients, along with their diagnoses, plans were made to carry out the exterminations. Early in 1940 the first 20 such patients were made to undress and led into a “shower room” at the Bradenburg Asylum where they were killed with carbon monoxide gas. Their gold fillings were removed and the bodies cremated. Over the next 1 and 1/2 years over 70,000 patients had been killed in this manner in the program known as Aktion T-4. A total of 6 killing centers had been constructed, and they competed with each other. One center had a special celebration to mark the killing of the ten-thousandth patient. All employees received a bottle of beer. Nor was gas the only means of killing. Many were dispatched by shooting, drug overdose, or starvation. In fact, it is thought that of the approximately 250,000 mentally ill patients killed, at least 100,000 were starved to death. As many as 10,000 of the murdered were children. And once the gassing of mental patients was found to be so effective and efficient, as we all know, they instituted the program at the concentration camps to implement “The Final Solution” to the elimination of the Jewish population. Another doctor, Josef Mengele, ” was a notorious sadist who carried out gruesome experiments on inmates at Auschwitz. It is so disturbing how entire societies can degenerate into madness, and how complicit in the madness doctors can be, especially psychiatrists.  Don’t doctors take an oath to do no harm?

And on a happier note, I can report that Mike had a good report from one of his oncologists this week. He will have a telehealth visit with his other oncologist next week. I expect good news there as well. In fact, I expect good news for an extended period of time. Let’s have prayers, please for Mike’s friend Ellis, who starts radiation next week for prostate cancer. At his stage of life now many of Mike’s friends have been treated for cancer, and right now things are going well for all of them. Good medical care, a cooperative patient, and prayer energy make for a powerful combination. I hope all of you are well, and that you continue to take the coronavirus seriously. If you don’t it might just take you seriously. Don’t forget to love your neighbor, be positive and hopeful, and pray for world peace. Until next time, so long from Happy Meadows.

Good Golly, Miss Molly

So, just a few days ago “Little Richard” Penniman died at the age of 87. He burst onto the popular music scene in the 1950’s, and successfully crossed the race line that had divided popular music up to that time. His brand of music was innovative, bawdy, and had a pounding rhythm. Mike was an instant fan. Mike and Judy saw him perform not that many years ago in Mableton, Georgia, and enjoyed themselves immensely. Mike recalls he did a little preaching as well as performing his music. As with many people who are thrust into stardom from a simple life, Little Richard had more than his fill of drugs, sex, and wild and weird experiences.  He was one of the greats.

So, a few days ago a story came on line about a Chinese study investigating whether the COVID-19 virus could be recovered from semen. While possibly not the most pressing COVID-19 issue, it still could be of some interest or importance. The investigators identified 50 male patients aged 15 or older who were or had been hospitalized with the COVID-19 infection during a 3 week period early in 2020. They were able to obtain semen samples from 38 patients. The other 12 were reported to be either comatose, dead, or otherwise unable to have an erection. They did identify the virus in the semen of a few hospitalized patients, and in 2 convalescent patients. So, this could be a new STD. However, just because they found viral particles in the semen it does not mean that the particles were necessarily infectious. Further studies are warranted.

So, after a cold, wet spring  we went almost 2 weeks with no rain. But now we are back to cool and wet again. The flowers are beautiful this year. Here are a couple of our iris, and our neighbor’s magnolia.

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The iris are just about done, but there is always a nice sequence of blooms of one sort or another to enjoy.

Mike, Judy and I are walking every morning. Mike and I go out again in the afternoon. We are averaging over 3 miles per day, and Sunday we did 5. I might let Mike go out by himself on the afternoon walks as it gets hotter. He just signed up for Sirius streaming, so he won’t be much company any more if he gets into his talk radio shows. He hasn’t listened to Sirius since he has been confined in March because he only had it on the car radio.

Mike sees his doctors later this week. I’ll let you know how it goes, but we are not expecting anything particularly newsworthy.

So, I have a couple of more serious topics to go into, but I don’t want to spoil the mood now; so, it can wait. I hope that wherever you are the sky is blue, the birds are singing, and the flowers are beautiful and fragrant. Don’t forget to pray for world peace, love your neighbor, and be safe, safe, safe. So long from Happy Meadows!

 

 

Baseball and Bernoulli

So, to follow up on my blurb last time about baseball and spitting, Mike and I watched a couple of innings of Korean baseball on TV, and indeed, nobody was seen spitting. The game was pretty good, but not up to major league standards. On one play the batter hit a long fly ball to center field. The center fielder misjudged the play completely, turned the wrong way to go catch the ball and wasn’t even close to it when it fell in the outfield. The bases had been loaded, and everyone scored, the batter stopping at third base with a triple. The pitching was pretty good. Mike thinks that the hardest thing to accomplish in sports must be to hit major league pitching. It’s not like golf, an easy game where the ball just sits there on the ground, motionless, waiting to be struck a blow. No, in baseball the pitch is moving, and fast. The batter has less than a second to decide whether to swing or not, depending partly on whether he thinks it will be a ball or a strike, and whether it will curve or not. He has to aim his bat for where he thinks the ball will be in a few one-hundredths of a second.

Mike says things have changed some in pitching since he was a kid. The pitchers throw harder, and don’t throw as many innings in games so they don’t ruin their arms. It used to be a badge of honor to pitch a complete 9 inning game. Back in the olden days pitchers threw mostly fastballs, curve balls, and change-ups. There were a few who threw knuckle balls, and a variation of that was the opposite, a palm ball. These latter two pitches came out of the pitcher’s hand with no spin, supposedly causing an irregular and unpredictable flight. Sliders were introduced as well, and are still popular. Almost everyone throws a slider, a sort of half-curve ball. A few other trick pitches, like a screwball, were tried by a few pitchers. Another trick pitch appeared in the 1970’s, the split-fingered fastball. It was first mastered by Bruce Sutter who used to be a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. The pitch seemed to drop like a rock just as the batter was taking a swing. He was so effective that twice that we know of he came in to pitch in the 9th inning and struck out three batters while throwing a total of 9 pitches. Mike saw him do it against Cincinnati, and his friend Jack saw him do it against Montreal, I think. Youngsters who want to become famous and wealthy pitchers are throwing harder and harder at a younger age, many of them injuring themselves in the process. I don’t know if it is true or not, but Mike says he read somewhere that one-third of all pitchers wind up having Tommy John surgery because of ligament strain or rupture. And yes, that is the same Tommy John who put his name on men’s underwear.

But, there is controversy. Mike recalls listening to a baseball broadcast with his father when the announcer  said the pitcher had thrown a sharp-breaking curve ball. Grandpa Moe derisively commented that it was impossible for the thrown ball to curve sharply. He said it had to be an optical illusion. The reason that it was impossible for the ball to curve sharply was Bernoulli’s Principle. He would tell Mike’s friends that there was no such thing as a sharp-breaking curve ball, and Mike’s friends would graciously refrain from contradicting him. I personally couldn’t say whether a ball can curve or not, but it sure looks as though it does on television.

So, what did Grandpa Moe think Bernoulli had to do with it? It is worth noting that Grandpa Moe had a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and used to take advanced math courses for fun when he was in graduate school. He failed to pass along the talent for math to Mike, who nevertheless managed to earn B’s in his college chemistry classes through a combination of luck and hard work. Daniel Bernoulli was a Swiss mathematician who lived in the 1700’s. His Principle, or Theorem, states that in fluid dynamics the total mechanical energy of a flowing fluid remains constant. The mechanical energy is comprised of the kinetic energy of the flowing fluid, the gravitational potential of elevation, and the energy associated with fluid pressure. So, he said, at points along a horizontal streamline, higher pressure regions have lower fluid speed, and conversely, lower pressure regions have higher speed. I have absolutely no idea what this means, and, I can assure you, neither does Mike. Apparently, though, it has many engineering applications including in aerodynamics. According to what Mike has read, no airplane would ever get off the ground if not for Professor Bernoulli and his Principle. So, maybe Grandpa Moe, for reasons unclear to us, was right. But I do know this: good amateur baseball players will never be successful professionals unless they learn to hit a curve ball, sharp-breaking or not.

You may or may not have seen the new “Solutions” section in yesterday’s newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They are featuring articles by guest writers who have a solution to offer about something possibly of use or interest to their readers. One of the 2 writers in this inaugural venture was none other than my pal, Dr. Michael C. Gordon. He wrote about the challenge of staying sober for addicts and alcoholics under pandemic conditions, and offered suggestions. You might enjoy reading it. I will try to figure out how to add a link, but in the meantime, it is in the Monday, May 11 edition if you want to look for it. The best thing about this was that they put in a plug for my blog, and for my grandfather’s autobiography as well.

So, there is always more to say, but it will have to wait for another day. We are eating, sleeping, and feeling well here in Happy Meadows, and I hope you all are too, wherever you may be. Take good care of your cats and dogs, love your neighbor, and every day pray for world peace. Mike read this morning in his thought for the day email that peace arrives when you get rid of fear and anger. Sounds right. Until next time, don’t let life throw you a curve ball, and if it does, hit it out of the park! So long from Happy Meadows.

This Has (Almost) Nothing to Do with Mother’s Day

So, I have learned that Mike can wonder about something for a long time before he looks into it, if he ever does. There is a tree in front of our house that bears the mark of a prior surgery to prevent a trunk from toppling over. Here are pictures.

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This picture shows what looks like a tree with two trunks, but could be 2 trees originating from 2 seeds that germinated in close proximity to one another. You can see the surgical result better in the next picture, taken from the opposite side.

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Mike has always wondered what kind of tree it is, but has never bothered to find out. I suppose being confined to quarters, so to speak, he has looked at the house and yard more closely, and has had way more time to do so. Another thing Mike has wondered about is the tree by the deck behind the house, specifically, what kind of tree it is. Not very long ago he made the startling observation that they are both the same kind of tree. You might wonder how a person could live in a house for over 35 years without noticing something like that. But, the discovery stimulated Mike to action, and within no time it was determined that they are both red maple trees. What is strange about this, among many other things, is that Mike always thought the tree in front was some kind of maple, and he never once considered the possibility that the tree in the back might be a maple. I don’t know about you, Mike!

Baseball is back, in Korea, sans fans, with a major rule change. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, spitting is no longer allowed. Talk about unintended consequences! In yesterday’s paper Steve Hummer had an informative and entertaining article about baseball and spitting. One day, and maybe soon, people will wonder with horror about how such disgusting behavior could be considered tolerable. Indeed, some people have been aghast about this forever. But spitting is so common as to be part of the game. Of course, it has its origins in the use of chewing tobacco by baseball players. Mike has several recollections of spitting or other tobacco related events in his life. He went to a baseball game in Milwaukee in 1983, the year before he moved to Georgia. At that time Harvey Kuehn was the Milwaukee manager. Mike used to bring binoculars to games, and he recalls scanning the Milwaukee dugout just at the time that Kuehn was letting go of a thick brown rope of saliva that reached from his mouth almost all the way to the ground before it dropped. Watch your step, y’all! I should mention that tobacco is not a particularly  health-forward substance. Among other things, it causes cancer, heart disease, and arterial disease, even if it isn’t smoked. Poor Harvey Kuehn had serious health problems including diabetes and heart disease. He had to have a leg amputated because of an arterial blockage, and died several years later at age 57. I’m not saying that the chewing tobacco habit caused all of his health problems, but it certainly didn’t help. Mike recalls a 25 year old patient that he treated for alcoholism who had cancer of the tongue. He was a baseball player, and had chewed tobacco since age 14. Not good. Mike knew a priest back in Wisconsin who used to bring communion to shut-ins at their homes. Back in those days the communicants would open their mouths and stick out their tongues, rather than accept the communion wafer in their hands. Father Tom told Mike it was commonplace for the men to have a mouthful of snuff, which at least for him diminished the spirituality of the occasion. Mike also recalls one day many years ago playing golf with a man who was in the Georgia legislature. At the beginning of the round, the fellow put a big cigar in his mouth. Although he never lit it, nevertheless it got shorter and shorter as time went on. Mike says he ate the whole damn cigar, and on the back nine started in on a new one! Mike admits that he used to smoke, but quit for good in 1974.

And, speaking of things that Mike didn’t know, he found out recently that from about 1907 to 1913 Galveston, Texas was a significant port of entry to the United States for Jewish immigrants. The Jewish Benevolent Societies, particularly in London, were trying to steer Jews away from New York where there were diminishing opportunities and very crowded conditions. It is estimated that about 10,000 Jews came in at Galveston during those years. They mostly settled in the American West or Midwest. Mike’s grandparents on his father’s side came in through Ellis Island. On his mother’s side, her mother was born in America. Her father told Mike he came in with his mother and siblings through Quebec. From there they took a train to Duluth, Minnesota, where his father and his older brother and sister had already established residence. Mike isn’t sure where they entered the country. Maybe Detroit. He says he never thought to ask. His grandfather’s family was stuck in Quebec for a week because of a problem with their tickets, and slept in the train station. When Mike and Judy got married they honeymooned in Quebec, and passed through the station, I imagine the same one his grandfather had been stuck in 90 years previously. Carl Cowl used to tell a story about a man with a fruit cart who gave him a banana there. He had never seen a banana in Lithuania. Carl suffered terribly from hunger as a child. Every time he told this story Carl would tear up, thinking of the kindness of the man, and how hungry he had been. Mike also recalls that his grandfather was a speed eater. by the time everyone else at the table had just about picked up their forks, his grandfather had cleaned his plate.

So, it has been downright cold the past few days, although mostly sunny. Mike and I seem to be taking longer walks recently. I think he is getting stronger as he recovers from that bone marrow transplant. We hiked over 4 miles yesterday, a record for us. We go see his doctors the week after next, and I hope they have good news. I believe they will. I suppose there is more going on in Happy Meadows, but I can’t think of anything else right now. So, let me say adios to you all, and wish you all good health, peace of mind, and a very Happy Mother’s Day. Don’t forget to be kind to your neighbors and loved ones, and to pray for world peace. Bye, bye!

 

Sock It to Me

So, the other day Mike ordered some socks on line. He was running low on athletic socks which are all he wears any more. He ordered 4 pairs of socks, or at least thought he did. When they arrived he found 4 bundles containing 6 pairs of socks each. I think Mike doesn’t always read things carefully. He now has a lifetime supply, unless he gives 2 or 3 bundles away, which I think he should. Pay attention, Mike!

While on our walk this morning, Mike got to wondering, as he has on and off for the past 60 or more years, about why the Bill of Rights was not a part of the original Constitution. He never took a college course in history, and his high school education was abysmal, partly through poor courses and teachers, and partly because of his lack of effort. This is off-topic, but there is a reason that his teachers were sub-par. Mike grew up in Chicago and went to South Shore High School, which was in the next neighborhood south of Hyde Park. Some years prior to Mike’s attending South Shore, the Hyde Park neighborhood was transitioning from a white to a black population.  South Shore High opened in 1940. By the time Mike got there in 1956 the (all white) teaching staff was comprised of a great many older teachers from Hyde Park High School who got the positions based on seniority, not merit. He says some of his teachers were average, some were below average and a very few were outstanding. Over the past many years South Shore has undergone several changes, and is now a college prep magnet school. Less than 1% of the students are Caucasian. During Mike’s tenure at South Shore High there was not one black student, based entirely on the boundary lines for the schools. At that time, and possibly still today, Chicago was one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. Another factoid: James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA with Francis Crick, attended South Shore High School.

So, back to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Mike says that the reverence for the Constitution that one often hears expressed is somewhat undeserved, given that it legalizes slavery and denies women the right to vote, among other things eventually corrected through a combination of war and the amendment process. It turns out that unsurprisingly, the original 13 colonies were not uniform in their political preferences, and many individuals in the colonies had their own agendas. So, like everything else, a resolution was accomplished through negotiation and compromise. The agreement was that the constitution would go forth as originally written, and that a bill of rights would be added. In 1789 James Madison introduced a bill of rights in Congress that consisted of 12 items, 10 of which were included in the final Bill of Rights which were ratified in 1791. One item never made it, and the 12th, which regulates the compensation of members of Congress, wasn’t ratified until 1992 (!!) as the 27th Amendment. Mike gets irritated by politicians who hold themselves out as strict defenders of the constitution, because the constitution didn’t do much to protect the rights of women and it legalized slavery. It is true that it included a process for amendment which did fix some of the more grievous omissions, but not others. It took a bloody civil war to be won by the North in order to pass an amendment to delegitimize and ban slavery.  Much of the Constitution is constructed to prevent the abuse of power, such as had been experienced by the colonies courtesy of the King of England. Abuse of power is nothing new (vide infra).

This week’s Torah portion contains the core of the ethical behavior expected of the Hebrews. Found in the physical center of the Torah, Leviticus chapter 19 contains such pearls as giving to the poor, protecting the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, not mocking or abusing the physically disadvantaged (don’t curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind), avoiding gossip, telling lies, holding grudges, judging a case in a biased fashion (abuse of power), and failing to render assistance to someone in need. It is also where the Hebrews are admonished to love their neighbors as themselves. None of this would have been necessary if people behaved properly in the first place.  The fact that this section occupies the physical center of the Torah suggests that it is central to Jewish belief and obligation, an interesting point made by Rabbi Holtz in Mike’s Torah study yesterday. It is extremely difficult for people to not advocate for their own self-interest, even when it diminishes that rights or opportunities of others. Our country is engaged in a great struggle of this type right now. May God Bless America, and may we arrive at a just and equitable structure where everyone has equal voice and opportunity. Every week I ask people to pray for world peace, but really peace needs to start at home, and it has to start with loving each other and doing the right thing including using power fairly. A good example of the unfair use of power was when Senator Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority leader failed to act on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, an effective but shameful move supported by all 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary committee.

Out walking this morning, we had time to muse upon and discuss local matters as well. For one thing, I let Mike know that the cat he called Ruff, one of Big Fluff’s posse, prefers to be called Amaryllis. So, Amaryllis it is. We said hello to a lady walking 2 medium sized dogs, one of which has a heavy coat thanks to its Saint Bernard mother. She said Bernie doesn’t tolerate the hot weather well, and Mike suggested a shave. I think a lion cut would be perfect. Well, I am for now running out of momentous proclamations and opinions. Stay tuned, as there will be more, I am certain. Until next time be well, be safe, count your blessings, love your neighbor, and pray for world peace. We love you all! So long from Happy Meadows.

A Little Problem of Genocide

So, last week was so full of special events that I still have two to mention. First, Ramadan began the evening of April 23. The 9th month of the Islamic calendar, it marks the month in which the Prophet Muhammad received the Koran from Allah. It is marked by fasting and communal prayer, and ends with a great feast and rejoicing. The other day to be noted is Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year was April 21. It is a day set aside to recall the murder of 6,000,000 Jews by the Nazi regime during the Second World War. There are many things about this that are incomprehensible and horrifying. One wonders what kind of a person could find it acceptable to execute an entire class of people, and how they could be in a position to bring this disaster about? How could they organize such a mass murder? And of course, how could God let it happen? Mike says that his grandfather, Carl Cowl, who left Lithuania in 1905 with his mother and siblings (his father was already in America), completely lost his belief in God when he learned of the Holocaust. Yom Hashoah serves the important purposes of not only of remembering the dead, but also of reminding society of the potential for genocide to be carried out, and not only against Jews.

The term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin, an attorney, a Jew from Poland who fled the Nazis and came to America in 1941. He was horrified as a boy when he learned of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Turks during and after World War I. He introduced the term in 1944, and it was adopted by the International Military Tribunal  set up to try war criminals in Nuremberg. In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution making genocide a crime punishable under international law.

Interestingly, the term has been somewhat difficult to define, or to get various groups to agree on a definition. In 1948 the United Nations defined genocide as any one or more acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Acts included in the definition, in addition to murder, are measures intended to prevent births (forced sterilization) or forcibly removing the group’s children. Genocide is differentiated from another crime against humanity, “ethnic  cleansing,” which forcibly removes a group from a geographic area. Often both crimes are committed simultaneously. The international law went into effect in 1951, but was not ratified by the United States Senate until 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. A quick check on the internet, with Mike’s assistance, revealed a list of 53 instances of genocide over the last 1000 years, 35 of them occurring in the 20th century. I’m sure some people will quibble about whether this or that incident was really genocide, but two things are obvious: 1) genocide is a common occurrence; and 2) the 20th century was brutal. Of the 53 incidents of genocide found the low estimate for the number of people murdered is 23,300,000. The high estimate is 58,300,000. It is impossible to wrap one’s head around numbers like this. Nor is our world free of genocide as we write. It is going on right now in Mynamar against the Rohingyas, and Darfur is another example. Of course, some (the murderers and their allies) will deny that it is happening at all, and others would argue that what is occurring in Darfur is not genocide, but rather, “just” ethnic cleansing.

So, again, how can this happen? In 1996 Gregory Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, presented a paper suggesting that genocide develops in 8 stages. The presentation was made to the United States Department of State not long after the Rwandan Genocide.

Stage 1 – Classification – “People are divided into ‘us and them’.”

Stage 2 – Symbolization – “When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups.” An example would be the Nazis forcing Jews to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing.

Stage 3 – Dehumanization – “One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.” Such language referring to Jews can be found in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and earlier in the writing of composer Richard Wagner and others.

Stage 4 – Organization – “Genocide is always organized…Special army units or militias are often trained and armed.”

Stage 5 – Polarization – “Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda.”

Stage 6 – Preparation – “Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity.”

Stage 7 – Extermination – “It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human.”

Stage 8 – Denial – “The perpetrators deny that they committed any crimes.” Holocaust denial is a real phenomenon, and is illegal in many countries.

Stanton also listed preventive measures that could be taken at each stage to try to prevent the process from moving forward. Regrettably, all too often the measures are either not taken, not taken in time, or prove ineffective.

M. Hassan Kakar has written: “For genocide to happen, there must be certain preconditions.  Foremost among them is a national culture that does not place a high value on human life. A totalitarian society, with its assumed superior ideology, is also a precondition for genocidal acts. In addition, members of the dominant society must perceive their potential victims as less than fully human: as ‘pagans,’ ‘savages,’ ‘uncouth barbarians,’ ‘unbelievers,’ ‘effete degenerates,’ ‘ritual outlaws,’ ‘racial inferiors,’ ‘class antagonists,’ ‘counterrevolutionaries,’ and so on. In themselves, these conditions are not enough for the perpetrators to commit genocide. To do that – that is, to commit genocide – the perpetrators need a strong, centralized authority and bureaucratic organization as well as pathological individuals and criminals. Also required is a campaign of vilification and dehumanization of the victims by the perpetrators, who are usually new states or new regimes attempting to impose conformity to a new ideology and its model of society.”

Sober reflection and consideration reveals that some of these stages and conditions exist in our American society right now. Our defenses include a free press, unbiased judiciary, organizations that are devoted to exposing and speaking out against hate groups, laws that forbid hate speech and the display of hate symbols, speaking out against hate by the clergy of all denominations, and legal protection from violence for those speaking out against hate mongering. It is vital also that as individuals we speak out against bigotry and disrespect for people of differing backgrounds and beliefs.The threat is real, and thankfully, thus far our legal and social institutions are working.

And on a lighter note (literally), I suppose, unless you really think about it, is the sudden rash of people presenting to emergency rooms after ingesting bleach following a statement during one of the president’s briefings in which he speculated on the possibility of ingesting a sanitizing substance in order to prevent or cure COVID-19 infection. It is shocking that any public official could say something so stupid, that anyone would agree that it is a good idea, that anyone would act on the suggestion, and that he would express no regret or culpability for the outcome of his remark. Mike says that his followers are so blindly loyal that the ones that live through their bleach adventure will probably vote for him again. I think that an over-arching principle involved in what I have talked about today is that people believe what they want to believe. Another principle is that complacency is our great enemy, the whole point of having a Yom Hashoah.

So, it is beautiful again today here in Happy Meadows, another day of breezes, sunshine, people walking their dogs, and kids riding their bikes in the streets. I hope it is beautiful where you are as well. Let’s all keep praying for better things for our society in general, and for all of us individuals in particular, whether of the 2-legged or 4-legged variety. Until next time, stay safe, be well, and love your neighbor. Au revoir!

The New Normal

So, yesterday marked our attempt here in Georgia, in some small way, to return to normal. This is not to say that normal behavior for Mike would be to get a tattoo or go bowling, because he is unlikely ever to do either. But now he could, that is, if he could push past the hordes from Tennessee and Alabama that must be rushing our Georgia bowling alleys and tattoo parlors as I write this.  (Thanks for the gag, Judy.) I think it has yet to settle into the general awareness of people here that what used to be normal may never be seen again. Steve Hummer in today’s AJC wrote that “normal(ly) left town over a month ago.” I don’t think we will ever see everything go back to “normal,” some things in ways we cannot yet imagine. But here are some examples: Many businesses that closed will never reopen. Many people are learning that they can get along nicely with a lot less. Businesses of all types are discovering that operating on line has its advantages, and will continue to do so in some significant ways after the danger has passed. Many people that were or are still alive are or will be dead. No disrespect intended, but once we have succeeded in controlling this epidemic the death toll will be the equivalent of a whole lot of planes falling from the sky. And don’t expect control any time soon. The coronavirus is highly contagious, so much so that probably 90% of people exposed will get infected. As long as the virus is out there, and as long as there are substantial numbers of susceptible people out there, we will continue to see plenty of infections. Universal vaccination is the only realistic answer to this problem, and this won’t happen for a couple of years in all likelihood. So, the new normal is new, and here, for sure. What we need to learn from this disastrous circumstance is that we need to be much better prepared for epidemics of novel respiratory viruses, because this isn’t the last one we will see.

I may have mentioned this before, but in some ways Mike is rather strange. You know what an earworm is…..a song or phrase that won’t get out of your head. Mike woke up a few days ago with “Megawati Sukarnoputri” running through his head. He thinks it started in a dream. Why this happened is, like all the Great Questions, unanswerable.  Thankfully, the storm has passed, and there is room in Mike’s head for other things again. Megawati Sukarnoputri, in case you don’t know (or, for that matter, even if you do know) is the oldest daughter of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia. She became active in politics herself, and served as the 5th president of Indonesia from 2001-2004. Her full name is Diah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri. Now that would have been as earworm! More like an ear anaconda. The name Sukarnoputri is a patronymic meaning daughter of Sukarno. Indonesians don’t have surnames, per se. Mike told Judy that he had an earworm but didn’t tell her what it was for fear that it would be contagious, as they often are.

And speaking of contagious, to continue with our theme, let’s talk about leprosy. The  Torah portion read in synagogues this week is the section in Leviticus that deals with leprosy. There is extensive discussion of what to look for, and what priestly rituals need to be executed in order to deal with it. Clearly they realized that it is a contagious disease. Fortunately, we now know more about the cause and treatment of leprosy than was known at the time of the writing of Leviticus. Also known as Hansen’s Disease, leprosy is caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. This is an extremely slowly growing and poorly transmissible infection, sort of the opposite of COVID-19. It involves the skin and peripheral nerves. Typically patients develop either flat hypopigmented patches, or nodules. There can be extensive destruction of the nose. Involvement of the peripheral nerves leads to loss of sensation of the fingers and toes. In advanced disease the digits can become deformed and even disappear. In Biblical times leprosy was suggested to be the result of a moral failure on the part of the afflicted individual. There are two Biblical instances in which someone was stricken with leprosy through a moral failure. The first was when God spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Moses told God that he couldn’t do what God asked because the Hebrews wouldn’t listen to him. His response indicated his lack of belief in God’s power. God struck his hand with leprosy, and then relieved him of it immediately, as a sign of His power, just to show Moses that He wasn’t  messing around. The other instance was when Moses’ sister, Miriam, was critical of Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. Cush according to the Book of Genesis was a son of Ham, and grandson of Noah. He was also the father of Nimrod. The people of Cush are thought to have lived in Ethiopia and the Sudan, and were dark-skinned. (Moses was not the only man in the Bible to dig black chicks. King Solomon had quite an affair with the Queen of Sheba. Mike carried on this noble tradition when he married Penny, Michelle’s mother. He says it is the most biblical thing he has done in his lifetime.) So, God struck Miriam with leprosy, and then relented after Moses asked him to. One proof that leprosy is not due to a moral failure is the fact that armadillos are susceptible to it, especially in the southern United States. You don’t have to believe me. You can look it up.

I could go on and on, as you know, but I think I will leave it there for now. Other than the reality of our new normal, things are well in Happy Meadows. I hope the same is true for you, wherever you are. Don’t get careless, be well, always love your neighbor, and don’t forget to give your cat a big kiss. Bye, bye!

Earth Day and Gaylord Nelson

So, it is another beautiful day in Happy Meadows. That is, it was beautiful yesterday when I started to write this. However, it is now today, a dark and stormy day. I hope you are all well and somewhat, at least, enjoying your new life in the midst of a crisis. Unfortunately, for many it is hardly enjoyable. This would include the sick, the elderly, the newly unemployed, the financially strapped, the homeless, the hungry, the overworked healthcare workers, public safety workers, public servants who have to make hard decisions, and those for whom life is not enjoyable even in more normal times. Many people, though, are enjoying an opportunity to slow down, spend more time with their families, breathe cleaner air,  and spend less money.

With so many people staying home, many consequences you would never have thought of have occurred. On Monday the price of oil went negative. That meant that if you had a tanker of oil headed for port, looking for a buyer, you would have to pay someone to take the oil off of your hands. Like that would ever happen. But the demand has plummeted. Air travel is down over 90%. Other businesses have lost their customer base. There was an article in the paper yesterday morning about a pet walking and sitting service whose business has dried up because people are staying home. There were 3 pictures of the owner of the business in the paper, a lot of coverage for this kind of story. I checked, and there were only 2 pictures of the governor of Georgia in the paper (unless you want to count Mike Luckovich’s cartoon, which depicts the governor in a reprise of that stupid campaign photo where he was pointing a shotgun at some kid. I think it was his son.) If you count the cartoon he ties the pet service owner.

And speaking of the governor, he has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest here in Georgia this week, and is getting a lot of ink in the national press. How did he do this, you ask? He had ordered a “shelter in place” for the state early this month, which seems to have been working to slow the increase in deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic. We don’t really know how wide-spread the virus is because of the very limited number of tests that have been done. As of 2 days ago somewhat over 82,000 people had been tested in a state of 10 million people. That is less than 1% of the population. We have had a little over 21,000 positive cases and so far 846 people have died. Scientists agree that the only safe way to open things back up towards normal will depend on having the capacity to do wide-spread testing and aggressive contact tracing for people who test positive for the virus. We are not close to being able to do that. We also need to be able to test to see how many people in the population have antibodies to the virus that would make them immune from recontracting and spreading the infection.

The state is in a very serious financial mess because of the shut-down in business. Tax receipts are way down, and we are going to experience a significant shortfall in revenue. The state is required by its constitution to have a balanced budget, and the budget has to be passed by June 30. Georgia is running short for this fiscal year, and the legislature isn’t even in session because of the epidemic. Without a huge infusion of cash from the federal government Georgia is in big trouble. So, I would agree that the governor has a major headache to deal with, and I’m glad it is his problem and not Mike’s.  The challenge is to try to save both lives and livelihoods.

Surprisingly and seemingly prematurely though, on Monday the governor announced that he is relaxing the shut-down order and allowing some businesses to reopen. For some reason, he found it necessary to make himself look ridiculous in the process. How did he do this? He did this by specifying barber shops, massage therapists, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors as among the first businesses to reopen.What was he thinking, and doesn’t he have people to advise him on policy decisions? He took a page from the Florida governor’s book. Ron DeSantis has declared professional wrestling to be an “essential service” in Florida. Mike says that on Friday he is going bowling, and on the way home stop for a haircut and a tattoo. Maybe he will get a tattoo of the governor holding a shotgun pointed at some kid emblazoned on his chest. And next week the restaurants will be allowed to reopen. I think people will be very cautious about getting back into circulation. Most business owners are very responsible, and will operate first out of safety considerations. Probably, the governor is depending on this. Shockingly, the president last night criticized the governor for his action. This after expressing urgency to open things up, and telling the governors the decisions are up to them. Some people say the president’s public health team encouraged him to try to slow things down. Mike suspects he just took an opportunity to bust the governor in the chops, still resenting him for not appointing his own choice, Doug Collins, to the senate. In any case, we are getting mixed messages from our leaders. Not helpful.

And, the haters are coming out of the woodwork. Conspiracy theorists are blaming the Jews. Mike saw a post on line structured as an official post from both the CDC and the WHO. It was headed “What to do if you get COVID-19.” Among the suggestions were to visit your local mosque, visit your local synagogue, spend time in diverse neighborhoods, and spend the day on public transport. In other words, spread the disease to as many “undesirables” as possible. SAD!!!

So, yesterday was the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the idea of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, a progressive liberal and ardent conservationist. He was born and raised in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. How could anyone from a place called Clear Lake not be an environmentalist? He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and served 2 terms as governor of Wisconsin. He revived the Democratic Party there just at the time that Senator Joseph McCarthy was dragging the Republicans down with his anti-communist witch hunt. He initiated a strong environmental program in Wisconsin with a great deal of public support. Elected to the senate, he carried the same energy and enthusiasm for the environment into his legislative efforts while meeting with a great deal of resistance from industry. So, he turned to the people and proposed April 22, 1970, as a day of protest about the state of the environment. The rest, as they say, is history. Congress went ahead with significant reforms in a series of environmental preservation laws including the Clean Water Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Clean Air Act. He did not limit his energy to saving the environment, and was an early and vocal opponent of the Viet Nam War, as well as a supporter of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, and of civil rights legislation. Gaylord Nelson was one of Mike’s heroes. Here is a statement of Nelson’s philosophy: “Environment is all of America and its problems. It is the rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.” In 1995 Senator Nelson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No one has deserved it more.

So, that is all for today from Happy Meadows. We send all of you our love, and hope you stay safe and healthy, stay positive, and don’t let anything get you down. Don’t forget to do your part to make the world a better place, in small if not in large ways. There is and always will be a lot that needs to be done.  Bye, bye!

 

No Jokes Today

So, in my last post I was talking about the price of Mike’s chemo medicine (17540 times more than gold per ounce), and about how broken our healthcare system is. I also said something about people not seeking medical services because of inadequate or no insurance. Another aspect of the brokenness of our system is surprise billing. This generally occurs when people go to a hospital. Typically they will go to a hospital which is within their insurance network. Also typically, their doctor who they are working with is also an in-network physician. The problem for the patient arises when, after they are home and recuperating, they suffer a setback when they get a bill for several hundred to several thousand dollars from a doctor they never heard of. Then they discover that the emergency room doctor, or radiologist, or the anesthesiologist, or some other service provider assigned to their case by the hospital was out of network. How does this happen? I’m not completely sure about this, but I do know that doctoring is in the process of being taken over by big business. Insurance has always been big business, and hospital systems through consolidation have become big business, including the taking over of medical groups that affiliate with them. Now large investor groups have bought up emergency medicine, radiology, anesthesiology, and other kinds of medical practice groups. These entities contract with hospitals to provide services for their patients, in exchange for whatever considerations agreeable to both parties.  Parties that are not involved in these agreements are the patients. At this time there is no requirement that the groups affiliated with the hospitals take the same insurance plans that the hospitals do, and the losers in such an arrangement are the patients and their families who are hurt financially through this unfair arrangement. This problem has been one of the few that the president as well as both houses of congress last year agreed to fix. That it didn’t happen was the result of a massive expensive lobbying effort mounted by the big moneyed investor groups. Remember those TV ads last year that showed emergency workers bringing a patient to the hospital only to find the lights were out? Mike wondered at the time who was running those ads and what their motive was. Now we know. Another attempt was made this year by attaching the bill to the CARES act. It was agreed to by all parties but at the last minute dropped from the bill, again because of intensive lobbying by the big money investors. The argument was that it wasn’t directly related to the COVID-19 problem, even though it obviously is for the many thousands of COVID-19 patients who get carried to emergency rooms, wind up in ICU, and then get slammed by bills from out of network providers.  It is a disgrace that the wealthiest nation in the world can’t find the gumption to fix its terribly broken health care system. Mike thinks it should be the number one issue that people vote on, and for a great many people it will be.

So, it has been a little over 2 years since Mike’s friend Warren passed away. Warren would have been 76  two days ago. Even though Mike is quarantined, he thought the cemetery would be a safe place to visit and maintain plenty of distance from other people. Judy agreed. The cemetery is close to where we live, and that afternoon we drove over there. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and we were the only ones there. Mike brought a stone to put on Warren’s gravestone. This is a custom of Jewish people, and goes back to when Abraham buried Sarah in the cave at Machpelah. Warren wasn’t Jewish, but Mike thought it was a nice gesture, and I agree. Mike also said kaddish for Warren. (See “The Kaddish,” April 1, 2018.) While he was at it, he said kaddish for his late wife, Penny, who passed away just over 28 years ago. And, he thought he might as well include many other loved ones including, his parents, his brother, Judy’s parents, all of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as many close friends. May all of their memories be blessed.

Mike wanted me to say something about how wonderful  people have been during our crisis. A great many people have stepped up to help others in ways great and small, and there is no end of need. The loss of employment has hit people hard. The fallout of this has many ramifications, one of which is the decrease in support that our houses of worship have received. Most churches depend on weekly offerings at services, and now services are held on line where the best they can do is pass a virtual plate. Synagogues don’t pass a plate, but people send in their pledges on a monthly or quarterly basis, usually. I’m not sure how other religions handle it. Our houses and communities of worship do great charitable work in the surrounding community, and have stepped up during the present crisis. Even though they are not holding services, they still have expenses. Mike wanted me to remind you to please try to keep your commitments to your houses of worship if you are able. Some  will even be in a position to increase their commitment, at least temporarily; and if so, please do. If you are financially distressed, give of your time. It will be much appreciated, and make you feel better. There is always something you can do that will help someone in need. If you are not affiliated with a religious organization you can always join one, or give of your time, energy, and possibly money to the not for profit agency of your choice. Thank you.

We went for a walk today between rain showers. Big Fluff wasn’t outside but the rest of the posse was. Underfoot was under a shrub, and we also saw Big Orange, Cali, and Ruff, all chillin’ like villains. I never saw so many people out walking their dogs, carrying their little colorful poop bags. One lady had her dog wearing a harness from which a purple poop bag dangled down. And the street is full of kids riding their bikes. So, life goes on. We will make it here in Happy Meadows, and I’m sure you all will too, wherever you are. And you will learn first hand that what hasn’t killed you will make you stronger. So, no jokes today. Maybe next time. And until next time stay safe, be well, make yourself useful, and don’t forget to pray for world peace. And until then, remember that we love you all. So long from Happy Meadows!

More Precious Than Gold

So, hello again from Happy Meadows, where the weather has been glorious, although some surrounding regions had terrible storms this week. We once again saw the power of nature as tornadoes raged through the South destroying property and killing people in the random way that they do. I hope all of you were spared  from a tragedy. The other scourge of springtime here in Happy Meadows is pollen, especially pine pollen. Everybody is sneezing, blowing their noses, and wiping their red eyes. The yellow pine pollen gets all over everything, and sometimes forms clouds as I have referred to previously. Fortunately, the pine pollen season has just about passed, and black cats like me are losing our ghostly green glow.

Mike was released from his captivity on Monday, briefly, doing the only thing that he gets to do away from home (except for walking in Happy Meadows.) He went to a doctor’s office. Actually, it was the Urgent Care center, but that is the same thing, basically. He had a stye on his right upper eyelid, and his eye was swollen shut. He was hoping the doctor there would drain it, but he thought that was a job for an ophthalmologist, so he prescribed antibiotics. Mike had called his ophthalmologist, but the office is closed, even for emergencies. Fortunately, the antibiotics are working, and he is already much better. We took a picture, but I will spare you.

So, Mike’s new chemo medicine came by UPS on Tuesday. It is a capsule that he takes once per week for 3 weeks, and then is off for 1 week. Mike took note that the cost was about the same as the chemo medicine he is already taking daily for 21 days, then off for 7 days, and start again. So the new medicine per capsule is 7 times as expensive. And per milligram it is even more expensive. Mike wondered what the cost per ounce of the new medicine is, since gold is priced per ounce. Mike is no mathematician, so this could be wrong, but he calculated the price of the medicine at $34,625,331.04 per ounce. Compare this to the current price of gold at about $1,735 per ounce. The medication costs about 17540 times more than gold. With his insurance he only has to pay 5% of the cost, and fortunately, doesn’t have to buy it in ounce quantities. He is grateful to be getting the world-class care that he receives at Emory, and that he has good insurance. But this exposes how messed up the health care system is in our country. And the pricing of pharmaceuticals is only a small part of the problem. Let’s hope the politicians have the courage to fix things to make health care affordable for everyone. Good grief!

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed numerous weaknesses in our healthcare system. I will give you one example. Many people have either poor insurance or no insurance. So, a visit to a medical establishment is frequently an expensive undertaking reserved for emergency situations. People who start in with a dry cough and fever are staying home hoping it won’t get worse. But the COVID-19 patients are now known to deteriorate rapidly, and can go from what seems like a cold to severe pneumonia in a day. Then they either die at home or get to a hospital in critical condition. Had they gone to seek medical care a day or 2 earlier, they could have gotten care which would have possibly been stablizing at a less critical level, and been life-saving. I hope all of you are staying safe. I also hope you survive financially. This is a scary time. And speaking of scary, how about the lions and tigers in the New York City zoos that are infected with COVID-19? If domestic cats can become infected, which so far doesn’t seem to be the case, containment of the pandemic will suffer a huge setback. Let’s all hope and pray for good health and blessings.

So, I hope you all had a good Easter, or Passover, or whatever you do or don’t celebrate. I have a lot of hope that things will improve, and I’m sure Mike does too. Until next time be well, be safe, love your neighbor, and pray for world peace. So long from Happy Meadows!