Saturday, April 26, 2008

Save the Children

Once I heard a writer say, “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” That’s the way it is for me on today’s subject – The State of Texas and the Mormon Fundamentalists.

I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. Kind of like the horns on a ten point elk, a multiple horn dilemma. Here’s the deal:

1. Consistent with my views about all organized religious groups, I have no affinity for the religion these people follow.

2. Nor do I support what appears to be a cult-like lifestyle of isolation and rejection of the outside world.

3. If this group embraces and encourages abusive practices, physical or mental, against anyone of any age, I condemn it.

Having taken this position, here’s where my dilemma comes into play:

1. The Fundamentalist Mormons should be free to practice whatever they want to practice and live in any way they want free of government interference.

2. If they want to engage in polygamy or polyandry or gay marriage or if they want to live without any kind of marriage, it is their business, not ours.

3. Do I see any exceptions to my hands-off principle? Yes. If girls (or boys) under the age of either 16 or 18 (I am not sure what the appropriate age should be) are being forced to marry against their will, outside authorities have a right to intervene.

4. If there is incontrovertible evidence of physical or mental abuse, outside authorities have a right to intervene.

5. OK, then, who is to determine what is free will and what is robot-like behavior exhibited by people who have no experience or awareness that there might be another way? That’s tough. Do I trust the people in the child welfare system to make enlightened decisions on these matters? No way. Not even a little bit.

6. Should I trust and rely on the laws of the State of Texas to decide whether to leave these people alone or charge them with crimes? Whether to keep families together or split them apart? No. The laws are written to protect people who live conventional lives, not uncommon folks whose decisions are alien to most of the rest of us.

7. So – what now?

We can’t go back and begin the process all over again. We’re in the middle of it. Families have been split up. Some mothers have access to their children; some do not. DNA tests are being done. The focus, appropriately, is on the children and their welfare. The authorities are saying the right things – about care and consideration and compassion. But they’re in over their heads. They are on uncharted ground. Good intentions aside, mistakes will be made. And even if everything from here on out is done perfectly, the traumatic disruption in the lives of these hundreds of children will cause lifelong damage to many.

One thing I don’t hear much about. What about the adult males in this story? I guess they’re still in the Yearning for Zion Ranch, hanging out. The unspoken assumption is that they’re the bad guys. Maybe they are. In a patriarchal society they make the decisions. But I’d still like to know more about them.

So I’m left where I began – with a dilemma.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Flower Power

Here’s one for those of you who like conundrums. In the Chronicle’s Earthweek section today there is an item called “Plants and Morality”:

A Swiss federal committee raised eyebrows in both the scientific and religious communities by professing that plants deserve respect, and that killing them arbitrarily is morally wrong. In a report on ‘the dignity of the creature in the plant world,’ the Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology condemned the decapitation of flowers without reason. But committee member Bernard Baertschi conceded that the sheer pleasure a human might get from picking the petals off a daisy could be reason enough to make it morally justified. The report stipulates that ‘all action involving plants in the aim to conserve the human species is morally justified.’ Only a minority of the group’s members said they objected to patenting plants, with the majority ruling the action did not infringe on ‘their moral value.’

OK, let’s see if I’ve got this right. If I decapitate a flower to save humanity it is not an immoral act. If I decapitate flowers because it makes me happy, no problem. If, however, I go around decapitating flowers because I disrespect the plant world, I’m a murderer. I guess this makes sense, since I wouldn’t want my relationship with flowers to be politically incorrect. About ‘patenting plants,’ I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Have a nice day. I’m going out to smell the roses. I promise not to hurt them.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Don't Care

Some days I sit down to read the papers and quickly realize that what I don’t care about outweighs the other stuff. That’s the way it is today. To wit:

I don’t care that the Pope has graced us with his presence. But I’d have to be in an isolation chamber all week to avoid the reverent fuss surrounding his visit. I guess it’s nice that tens of thousands of people can go to the ballpark for a Mass. And that Benedict is sorry that his sexual predators have behaved so badly. But really, I don’t care.

I don’t care that Jimmy Carter is meeting with leaders of Hamas. Or that, horror of horrors, he embraced one of them. I don’t know whether what he’s up to will do any good, but his willingness to open a dialogue isn’t the end of the world.

I don’t care that Obama is accused of being an elitist. He is, and he’s arrogant too, but so what? Better that than the fake “I’m just one of you,” bullshit that the pandering lady from Chappaqua tosses around as she tries to convince regular folks that she feels their pain.

I don’t care that HBO has fallen on hard times. Or that the Actor’s Guild might go on strike. Or that Katie Couric has bad ratings. Or that there are no big hits on TV this season.

I don’t care that Northwest and Delta merged. Or that Google did better last quarter than people thought they would. Or that executive pay is obscenely high. Or that a few hedge fund managers made $3 billion last year. Or that the Clintons made a lot of money in recent years. So what?

I don’t care that Roger Clemens is being investigated. I don’t care whether George Bush goes to the Olympics. I don’t care which Freshmen basketball players turn pro. I don’t care who the 49’ers draft this year.

Enough. I don’t care that I don’t care.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Politics & the Torch

As I write this the Olympics Torch is touring my city. Or at least I assume it is. I hear the helicopters overhead, so that’s a good sign – or not, depending on your point of view.

Here’s mine: I think using the Olympics as an excuse to protest bad things China has done or is doing is ridiculous. It’s a mistake that will lead neither to a free Tibet nor a reduction in human rights violations by the Chinese. It won’t reduce the amount of lead in the toys they make. It won’t end genocide in Darfur. And all the rest . . .

Am I saying the Chinese should not be confronted, chastised and pressured to change their ways? No, I didn’t say that. I’m saying that making the Olympics the catalyst for these protests is inappropriate and counterproductive.

I’m not naïve about the Olympics being free of politics. The games have been used to further political agendas at least since 1936 when Hitler was the host. Probably even the original contests back in ancient Greece weren’t free of politics; I don’t know for sure. But in recent times – with the protests, the boycotts, the terrorism – they’ve been an excuse to further some cause or other.

It gets even worse when the politicians get on board. Will George Bush attend the Opening Ceremonies? Maybe. Or maybe he won’t attend them but will show up later to support our boys and girls in red, white and blue. Or maybe he’ll do both. Or neither. What we see are the world-class panderers outdoing themselves to pander better than the other guy. It’s enough to make you cynical.

I think there is a possibility that the Olympics can be an occasion for sport at the highest level. An opportunity to watch talented, dedicated athletes compete in a real-time drama that is seen only infrequently. It is possible. But not likely if the fundamental purpose of the games is subordinated so that a variety of favorite causes can be promoted.

I’ll learn later today or tomorrow how the Torch did here in San Francisco. I hope it has a peaceful ride. I hope the stories are about what the Torch really symbolizes. Will that happen? No. The stories will be about the protests and disruptions. What is important will be lost in the sound and fury. And what do I say about that? What a shame.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Meds & Me

I started taking statin drugs to lower my cholesterol nearly 12 years ago – first Pravachol and then Lipitor. They worked and my numbers went from high to average or better. Then, two years ago I added Zetia. It would, my cardiologist said, lower my LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and lessen the possibility that bad cardiovascular things would happen.

He was right about the numbers. My pre-Zetia LDL was around 100; two months ago it was 63. Here’s where it begins to get confusing. A few years ago the conventional medical wisdom was that an LDL reading of 62-160 was normal. Now they say it should be 100 or lower. So even by today’s standards my pre-Zetia LDL wasn’t bad. But, hey, if lower is better and I’m not suffering from any side effects, why question whether I should continue taking Zetia?

No reason – until I began reading that Zetia may not be all the hype said it was. Turns out that a research study buried for nearly two years by the drug makers of Vytorin (a combination of Zocor and Zetia) showed that the drug did indeed reduce LDL but didn’t have any impact on plaque buildup. The key evidence, does it reduce heart attacks and strokes, won’t be known until 2012.

Not surprisingly, these revelations led to a controversy in the medical and pharmaceutical communities and confusion for the average user, i.e., me. Since the studies weren’t totally conclusive about the positives and negatives surrounding Zetia I was left uncertain about whether I should continue taking the drug.

Here’s where I learned something about myself. If I had been wired up differently I might have dropped Zetia at the first sign there was an issue about it. I had my annual cardiology checkup soon after that so I figured I’d ask the doctor, which I did. He did not have a firm recommendation since there was still so much unknown on the subject. I could continue with Zetia and Lipitor as is. I could drop Zetia and up the Lipitor dosage. I could drop Zetia and leave Lipitor unchanged. He did suggest that if I changed my meds I do a blood test in a few months to check on the impact it was having.

On the one hand I was telling myself, “If I’m not doing any harm and there’s a chance I’m doing some good, maybe I should keep things as they are.” On the other hand I was telling myself, “Why continue taking something that hasn’t proved to be beneficial? I should stop the Zetia.”

I usually don’t delay making decisions. I could more often be accused of making decisions too hastily. So my indecision was a deviation from my usual pattern. I’d be seeing my primary care physician soon and would ask her. In the meantime I’d keep taking both Lipitor and Zetia. I saw her, asked, and got about the same answer the cardiologist had given me. No real help here.

It is now time to refill my Zetia prescription – or not. The timing is good in that this week the controversy has ignited again and this time the cardiology community has taken a firmer stand. Don’t prescribe Zetia unless you, the doctor, feel it is absolutely necessary.

I’m now convinced. I won’t refill my prescription. What I will do is remember what I’ve seen about my behavior. I’ll take a risk even if there is only a small chance that the risk will pay off. I’d rather do that than play it safe and miss the chance for a breakthrough.