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This Summer of Horrible News- Get Away From It If You Can

GLOOMBERG-NEWS-222x300

– The 7-year-old son of an Australian member of ISIS is pictured holding the decapitated head of a soldier, a photo distributed on social media by his father.

– A white towel drapes the corpse of 18 year old, Mike Brown, an unarmed black man, two days from starting his first day at college, shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri last weekend.

– Far-ranging rockets fly into the night, aimed at Israeli citizens while shells land in “safe” places housing Palestinian refugees, wounding and killing women and children.

– Another 135 people die in a single day from the deadly Ebola virus, now spreading through West Africa.

– An actor and comedian who captured our hearts for over three decades with his obvious love and passion for life, kills himself- the victim of a deep depression.

– An airliner with 300 innocents aboard gets shot out of the sky over Ukraine and it is days before repatriation of the bodies and burials can take place as armed insurgents keep even investigators from reaching the scene.

– Thousands of Central American children who survive a 1,300 mile trek to the American border escaping violent gangs in their home countries, are dispersed throughout towns and villages in the U.S. while the government decides what do with them. In many of those towns, angry protestors demand the children leave and let it be known they are not welcome.

– American politicians forget the art of compromise and the business of governing grinds to a halt as partisan gridlock leaves our Congress as one of the least respected institutions in the nation, unable to address any of the country’s problems.

These eight news stories have one thing in common. These are the headlines of our summer of 2014. I am not alone in remarking about how bleak and horrible the world seems right now. Certainly, for those of us who work in the news business, where these dismal stories are part of our normal routine, it is hard to take. And for those not in the media or journalism worlds, it is all equally appalling and sad.

There is only one answer to this as far as I can tell. The world, despite our best efforts, is not going to fix itself. But you do have the power, mostly, of determining what information you receive. So unplug. Just disconnect every now and then. Don’t watch the news. Stay away from news web sites. Go outside. Breath clean air. Go for a walk. Take in a comedy club. Go to a baseball game. Rediscover your partner.

We all need to take a break from this horrid summer of news. For our own mental health.

“Cosmos” and Resisting the Temptation of False Equivalence

Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473-1543

Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473-1543

The National Science Foundation released a survey last month that found nearly 1 out of 4 Americans mistakenly believe the Sun orbits the Earth. This was all cleared up about 500 years ago by Nicolaus Copernicus who correctly theorized that the Earth and all the other planets in our solar system orbit a largely stationary sun. Still, 25% of the country disagrees. So does this mean the media is obligated to present the other “side?”

We know by now that the earth is a spherical object. There are satellite photos that confirm it. There are still-photos from the moon. Get high enough in a jet and you can see the curvature of the earth. Yet, there is an actual Flat Earth Society that contends otherwise. This is, literally, their take on the world:

Flat_earth

Do we carve out a few minutes to give the Flat-Earthers their “side” of the argument?

There is something called the “Creation Museum” that opened in Petersburg, Kentucky six years ago, that among other things, shows humans walking around with their friends, the dinosaurs. There is ample evidence, of course, that humans never co-existed with dinosaurs; the creatures had gone extinct by the time relatively new-fangled human beings came along. But let’s find the Museum Curator and put him on the air because, surely, this is the other “side” of the Dinosaur story.

And now, Neil deGrass Tyson, hosting a modern-day sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is under attack from some quarters for espousing Darwin’s theory of evolution with opposing groups demanding equal TV time from FOX and National Geographic to talk about creationism. That is the very definition of false equivalence.

Science and religion, fact and faith- are too entirely different realms. This does not mean there are no religious or spiritually-inclined scientists or that there are no persons of the cloth who subscribe to scientific discipline and study. It would be great to hear both “sides” on a show that deals with the controversy of creationists versus scientists. But if you’re writing a book or producing a TV series on the history of the universe- it’s about facts, not opinions.

From a philosophical point of view, I must admit I have never understood the revulsion on the part of fundamentalists toward the theory of evolution. How is it, in any way, an affront to the belief in the existence of a higher power? How amazing is a God that creates a universe that allows for the constant change and improvement of all living things through the process of natural selection?

I would go even further and wonder aloud how anyone who studies the infinite nature of our universe could be without a sense of wonder that eventually lands at a spiritual place that attempts to answer what we can’t with pure science. What came before the “big bang” is not knowable. What extends outside the edge of the universe is unfathomable, because theoretically, there is no edge of the universe.

It is in the realm of philosophy where science and spirituality rightfully mingle together. I am grateful to live in a world that considers both. There is little doubt in my mind that all of life as we know it and understand it, spiritually and scientifically, is, in fact, an amazing miracle.

But let’s not corrupt scientific fact with religious opinion by putting spiritual beliefs on some kind of equal footing with objective scientific inquiry. Those beliefs are completely legitimate. In a church. Or in a museum dedicated to Creationism. But not on a television series based on the story of our universe as we’ve come to understand it through long-established methods of scientific research, inquiry and peer review.

The Unheralded Return

September 20, 2013 1 comment

Homeless

The bearded man was not clean. He did not smell of cologne. His long, unkempt hair fell to his shoulders. He wore simple, nondescript clothing, streaked with the dirt of the city. Pedestrians walked past him, clutching their pocketbooks and their wallets just a little tighter. But he asked for nothing- nothing material. He was not begging. He stood on the street corner talking about love.

He asked anyone who might listen or accidently listen, to consider the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. He talked about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the lonely and disaffected. In the end, he said, these miserable, poverty-stricken street urchins; these pitiful, sad and needy people that no one seems to care about- these are the people who would inherit the earth, not the mighty titans of Wall Street or the politically powerful or connected. Because the world- the real world- was populated more by the urchins than these Masters of the Universe who would eventually lose everything through their own undisciplined greed.

He did not yell. He spoke in a controlled, soft voice. There was sadness but also a tenderness in his eyes. The men in well-pressed suits walked around him. And the fashionable women paid no heed. And a teenager nearly ran into him as she texted furiously on her smart phone, startled as she caught a whiff of him.

It did not make any Cable News program. There were no breathless, “Breaking News” crawls along the bottom of the TV screen. No one tweeted it. Social media missed it.

It is possible many of those who walked past him attended church the next Sunday. But it turned out that not one of them picked up on the resemblance between the crazy bum on the street corner and the tortured porcelain figure that loomed right in front of them, nailed to a cross. He had come back because the world had never needed him more.

And no one noticed.

Science and the Near-Death Experience

August 13, 2013 1 comment

Near Death Experience
Scientists say they’ve measured significant increases of brain activity at the approach of death, possibly explaining why people think they are seeing typical “near” death experiences like tunnels and bright, white lights, and feelings of being out of one’s body.

I think the scientists have bumped into something important here but my gut and I guess what passes for faith, both tell me we are not hallucinating these things.

First, the findings of the study as reported by the Washington Post:

Scientists from the University of Michigan recorded electroencephalogram (EEG) signals in nine anesthetized rats after inducing cardiac arrest. Within the first 30 seconds after the heart had stopped, all the mammals displayed a surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with consciousness and visual activation. The burst of electrical patterns even exceeded levels seen during a normal, awake state.

One reader commenting on the WP article made this point:

beacher2-

I am a fan of science but this article shows the limits of science’s “logic.” They assume that a surge of brain activity causes the near-death experience. But isn’t it also possible that an actual near-death experience causes a surge of brain activity?

As someone who has had a near-death experience. I can attest that it was certainly not an illusion. It was very real as were my interactions with spirits on “the other side.”

Bingo.

I read an interesting article years ago that theorized there is an enormous rush of endorphins that literally flood and overwhelm the brain at the time of death and that the chemical reactions cause the hallucinations we know as the near-death experience.

But even if true, who’s to say the release of endorphins is not the physiological gateway to the spiritual side? Maybe it’s not a hallucination at all. Maybe the feelings and visualizations that are triggered by the chemicals and measured in the increase of brain activity are the beginning of the transition to whatever lies on “the other side.”

I love science too but please don’t mess with my spirits and angels and tunnels and bright lights. If it is all a hallucination, it’s going to be my party anyway, so I guess I’ll see whatever I want to see.

The Little C

March 27, 2013 5 comments

Serene Lake

Well, thank you for your prayers! Looks more and more like I’ve dodged a huge bullet as medical tests continue to indicate I have a very small and early gastric tumor. I’ve seen the pictures; it kind of looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree- just a scrawny little thing.

Blood tests do show a slightly elevated level in a marker that’s an indicator of tumor growth. But a CT scan came back completely boring with nothing irregular whatsoever. This should all mean it’s at a very, very early stage which means everything in regard to stomach cancer. Basically it’s the difference between it being curable or not- the difference between a 5% and a 75% five-year survivability rate.

Within a week or so, I’ll get a treatment plan and then get a second opinion on that plan. I’m pretty sure they will still want to dive in with knives so they can eyeball things for themselves and cut the thing out, along with a hopefully very small portion of the stomach. And while an operation of that nature has risks of its own and really, really sucks for about 7 days in the hospital and then another six weeks of recovery, it’s way more important and significant that long-term survival looks like a real good bet.

My highly amusing doctor, Thomas Butler, tells his patients that the most important part of any treatment plan is looking both ways before you cross the street. Because what good do the best and most intricate treatment plans do if you’re going to go get hit by a truck?

My son has a funny line about trucks too. Last year, I sent him info on what his life insurance benefits would be just in case I get hit by a truck. His dry, one sentence e-mail response was priceless.

Dad:

Stay away from trucks.

Love,

Charlie

Election Home Stretch: But First a Hurricane

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment

(OK, this graphic could have been done more professionally but my resources are limited)

I’m not sure which hype will win the day.  The closest, craziest Presidential election race ever, or the storm of the millennium- a combo hurricane/blizzard/nor’easter more perfect in its evil ingredients than even the last Perfect Storm in 1991 that was so horrific it was turned into a popular movie.

I do know this.  Because I live in the all-important swing state of Virginia, any possible power outages will have the added benefit of wiping out several hundred political TV commercials, thus frustrating the mass media strategies of both campaigns.   Honestly, these media strategies have always been puzzling to me.

On the 833rd viewing of a particular campaign spot, is something supposed to suddenly click?  Does the viewer slap his head in a moment of unexpected epiphany?  “You know, the first 832 times I saw that commercial, I must have missed the candidate’s furrowed brow at the mention of massive deficits- but now it all makes sense to me!”

I get a kick out of the regular “people” in these commercials.  It’s not bad enough that the “small businessman/woman” is clumsily reading cue cards, but they’re also not even a small businessman/woman, they’re just bad actors.  “Ok, honey, at the end of the speech about how your kids are all in debt, give us that forlorn look, right into the camera- bingo, that’s a wrap!”

I’ve been whipsawed now for several months.  It’s Morning in America!  Millions of new jobs have been added!  No, it’s Armageddon in America!  It’s all a living hell until January 20th when everything suddenly changes!

Ok, so Hurricane Sandy’s impending visit will give us a political commercial respite, but what if the power outage also takes out the internet?  Then, what?  Where, exactly, am I supposed to find out the latest on the political polls?  My God, what happens when 1pm comes and goes and I haven’t been able to check the latest Gallup tracking numbers?   Is it really possible I may not be able to read Nate Silver for over 48 hours?

Well, the good news is that not only do I still have leftover tuna cans from last year’s big hurricane, I added to my supplies yesterday with a last-minute, late night visit to the local Harris Teeter.   True, they had run out of cheap water, but I do now have several dozen very attractive and incredibly expensive bottles of Fiji water.

I also have a very entertaining Saturday ahead of me.  From my 10th floor Pentagon City apartment, I have an excellent view of the Costco parking lot.  Storm preparation mayhem and panic all unfolding right before my very eyes as I sip my Fiji water and munch on my tuna and crackers.

God, life is good.

The Week I Didn’t Die

October 11, 2012 14 comments

(Courtesy, Jack Brauer, Mountain Photographer)

Without getting into a lot of rather gory detail, it’s been a tough week.  Almost died.  Recovered.  Came home.  Now I’m typing these words.

In a nutshell- last Wednesday, an undiscovered ulcer went suddenly and completely awry at the same time, coincidentally, a little case of pneumonia set in.  You haven’t lived until you‘ve tried to breath with pneumonia in your lungs and a bunch of staples in your abdominal muscles.  There were machines doing stuff I never imagined possible in strangely, seemingly disconnected places like nasal cavities and stomachs.

Who says antibiotics don’t work?  I’d like to thank three specific kinds of antibiotics very, very much.  You know who you are.

Spent seven days at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.  I am not the most gracious hospital guest in the universe.  My immediate goal on these sorts of occasions, is to get out and fast, which was not possible this time.   But they put up with me, saved me, fixed me, put me back together again.  Every single one of them has a heart of gold, as far as I’m concerned.

So, a week later, I walked into the faintly crisp, cool autumn air and took what seemed impossible a few days ago- a deep breath.  And I felt newly alive and grateful for it.  What an amazing gift; to be given a new life right in the middle of my favorite season- which just happens to completely represent what is now the autumn of my life.

See, that was the part in the old Sinatra song where I started getting bummed out about those damned seasons of our lives.  But, no damn it!  It is a beautiful season.  It’s pumpkins, and fresh, cold mornings.  It’s scary ghosts and little kids in ridiculous little costumes.  It’s apple cider and scare crows and romance and straw and the Wizard of Oz.  It’s not the harbinger of a fast on-rushing winter.  It’s the precursor to snow and Christmas and laughter and hot chocolate and fire places and the stinging feel of fresh cold air against the tiny little patches of skin you’ve accidently left exposed.

So thank you Commander of Fate; Oh Great, Holy Handler of the Cosmic Tumblers.  Whoever puts together these strange combinations of challenges seemingly designed to break us- but don’t.  Thank you for the joy and the utter gift of a second shot this late in life.

Thanks also to painkillers.  Winkin’ at ya.