Saturday, November 25, 2006

Worries About My Own 3 LBS

3 LBS is a new CBS drama that focuses on a superstar neurosurgeon who sees his patients as mechanical vehicles driven by brains that are nothing more than 3 lbs of "wires in a box" and has a bedside manner to match, and his new apprentice who, in addition to being an outstanding neurosurgeon in his own right, sees and warmly treats his patients much more holistically.

In last Tuesday's episode (it's on opposite Fox's "House," and several critics have lambasted it for being an insipidly unoriginal amalgam of "House" and Grey's Anatomy"), a woman with no history of epilepsy begins convulsing from a grand mal seizure in the middle of a store and is subsequently diagnosed as having a tumor on the left side of her brain. Her doctors don't want to operate because if they do, the woman will lose her language ability. They want to zap the tumor with radiation instead to minimize damage to her language faculties, but she refuses because she's pregnant and doesn't want to irradiate and destroy the fetus. When her doctors discover that she has uncommonly strong language capability in the right side of her brain, they offer to do the surgery. They tell her that she'll never be able to speak afterward but might well be able to process language to some degree in her right brain to make up for what she loses from the surgery to her left brain, and that if she doesn't have the surgery, she'll surely die.

I've long worried that I might be struck someday by an injury or disease that severely damages my left brain, permanently depriving me of my modestly superior language ability, and leaves only the grossly inferior non-verbal abilities of my defective right brain in its wake. If this were to happen, I would surely want to die, for what would I have left to live for? I would be of absolutely no use to myself or to anyone else. I would be little more than a mute or incoherently babbling idiot.

I pray that this fate never befalls me or that, if it does, I will have the strength and means to do what needs to be done. But, more importantly, I pray for the willpower to do my best with the abilities that I have for as long as I have them.

Friday, November 24, 2006

How Did it Happen?

How interesting! I just went into Rhapsody and clicked on its review of The Who's album Who's Next, and at the precise instant that I began reading the review, I heard the closing moments of "Baba O'Riley" in a commercial coming from the TV in the other room. Was that a remarkable coincidence or the result of divine causation or something else? It was almost certainly coincidence and not necessarily remarkable given the extreme popularity of that legendary album and song with the baby boomers who currently rule this part of the world's culture. But, still, I'm struck by the virtual simultaneity of looking at the Rhapsody page on Who's Next and hearing "Baba O'Riley."

If I have too many of these kinds of experiences, it just might shake me up a little.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Milton Friedman and Scandinavia

I think his [Milton Friedman] belief in the superior efficiency of free markets to government as a means of resource allocation, though fruitful and largely correct, was embraced by him as an article of faith and not merely as a hypothesis. I think he considered it almost a personal affront that the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, could achieve and maintain very high levels of economic output despite very high rates of taxation, an enormous public sector, and extensive wealth redistribution resulting in much greater economic equality than in the United States. I don't think his analytic apparatus could explain such an anomaly.
--Richard Posner

I wonder how Friedman would have explained Scandinavia. I wonder how anyone does who unwaveringly champions the free market, small government, and low taxation. If Posner's correct, Friedman couldn't explain it, and he felt bothered that he couldn't. I feel bothered that economists and politicians with Friedman's influence continue touting a system--ours--in which there's such a gross and unfair distribution of wealth and so much suffering among the young and not-so-young when nations such as Sweeden seem to point to a better way that combines the best of the free market with the best of big government to foster opportunities for the greatest degree of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Isn't this what a nation should primarly be about?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Buddhist Nonviolence

Nonviolence belongs to a continuum from the personal to the global, and from the global to the personal. One of the most significant Buddhist interpretations of nonviolence concerns the application of this ideal to daily life. Nonviolence is not some exalted regimen that can be practiced only by a monk or a master; it also pertains to the way one interacts with a child, vacuums a carpet, or waits in line. Besides the more obvious forms of violence, whenever we separate ourselves from a given situation (for example, through inattentiveness, negative judgments, or impatience), we kill something valuable. However subtle it may be, such violence actually leaves victims in its wake: people, things, one's own composure, the moment itself. According to the Buddhist reckoning, these small-scale incidences of violence accumulate relentlessly, are multiplied on a social level, and become a source of the large-scale violence that can sweep down upon us so suddenly. One need not wait until war is declared and bullets are flying to work for peace, Buddhism teaches. A more constant and equally urgent battle must be waged each day against the forces of one's own anger, carelessness and self-absorption.
--Kenneth Kraft, Inner Peace, World Peace

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

If I Won the Lottery

I just completed the following assignment for my new class:

You just won the Sucker's Lottery, and will receive a payment of $100,000 a year for the next thirty years. The catch can only collect the money if you volunteer to work somewhere 40 hours a week. Where would you choose to work, and why?

This is what I wrote:

If I won a lottery that guaranteed me $100,000 a year for thirty years so long as I did "volunteer work" somewhere for forty hours a week, my wife and I would immediately move to Thailand and live extremely comfortably on that kind of money. There, if possible, I would work many of those forty hours per week publishing a website that explored the integration of philosophy, religion, science, and other disciplines in ways designed to entertain, enrich, uplift, and maybe even enlighten my readers as well as myself.

If it sounds presumptuous of me to imply that I could benefit anyone by "working" at writing articles on the Internet in place of more traditional labors, I would suggest that perhaps the best thing we can do for others, if we can afford to, is follow the late, great mythologist Joseph Campbell's advice and "follow your bliss." For when we are genuinely happy with our own lives by doing our best at what we love most and do best, we can inspire others to follow our example as fully as they are able. And if what we do best is communicate in speech or writing our passion for engagement with life, deep inquiry, and transcendent wisdom, that is proverbial icing on the cake. I believe that any volunteer work I might do should help others in some way, and I can think of no better way for me to help others than to do what I've just described.

However, I would also want to devote some of my forty hours per week to helping poor people in whatever ways I could. Perhaps I could teach English to adults and children or help distribute food, clothing, and other necessities to them. And If I had or acquired any other skills beyond the meager ones I possess now, I could teach or share them as well. I'm sure that between this and maintaining my website, I would have no trouble keeping busy for at least forty hours per week doing things that could make a positive difference, however modest, in this world. And I can think of nothing better to do with the rest of my life than that.

Now all I need to do is find a lottery and a way to win it that offers the same prize as the "sucker lottery" in this exercise.

What would YOU do if YOU won the lottery?