Wednesday, June 27, 2007

becoming a positive deviant

just finished reading "better" by Atul Gawande, the surgeon/writer who does frequent New Yorker articles. his goal in this book is to suggest how medical practice can improve (his answers are not what you'd expect). at the end he gives some suggestions that could apply to anyone looking to improve whatever they're into:

1. ask an unscripted question: beyond the routine grilling, ask something off the wall -- you might learn something worth knowing about someone.
2. don't complain: why bring others down by bringing up depressing topics? it's boring and doesn't solve anything.
3. count something: be a scientist, if you count something interesting, you will learn something interesting.
4. write something: hmm, I think bloggers all know this one... "you should not underestimate the effect of your contribution, however modest."
5. change: don't be a cog, take risk and responsibility.

Monday, June 25, 2007

just compensation for unjust imprisonment

questions about our evolving legal system...

what does the state owe for it's mistakes? what about culpability of the prosecuters? what about incompetent defense lawyers? is disbarment enough? payments are being made, so where is the accountability for us taxpayers? and if there is compensation, where does it end?
should we punish juries that get it wrong?

How do they figure the payouts for people who were wrongly convicted?

sorry, I've only got questions on this one. I know it's a half-baked post but I wanted to put something here for my thirsty readers.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

have you heard these lately?

musically, this weekend for various reasons these oldies appeared:
American Pie
Good Vibrations
Earache My Eye
Garden Party

I'll update with some lyrics soon. in the meantime, ponder (or plunder?).

update 6/19:
American Pie - simple song that's easy to sing along with in a group ('cause the chorus repeats at least 5 times). the lyrics sound Dylan-esque, but I think they're just bad poetry. I did think this line was poetic; apparently I misheard it, but I like my interpretation better: "fire is the Devil's home and friend" -- interesting idea isn't it? something warm, comfortable, inviting and destructive - the metabolism of life. this was a bit hit in jr. high, made into a movie, covered by Madonna and is still getting radio play.

Good Vibrations - Beach Boys classic with like 9 chords, resulting in "good frustrations" by other musicians trying to play it. their harmonics were great and I'm thankful Brian Wilson was able to write songs like this regardless of the marketing pressures. this song came together with luck (it was recorded in three studios). according to a BB documentary I saw on father's day, the love theme was put in the lyrics later - the original inspiration was spiritual "vibrations" felt from the family dog. another whatever!

Earache My Eye - Cheech and Chong classic that I again recall from jr. high. haven't heard it on the radio, but was explaining it to my sons and had to get it -- will play for them tonight. now that summer's here, they can appreciate the luxury of staying in bed till whenever. the song itself is played by obviously good studio musicians; here are some credits I found:

Written by: Chong/De Lorme/Marin

David Sanborn - Saxophone
Gene Page - Horn Arrangements
Steve Katz - Engineer
Stanley Sheldon - Bass
Waddy Wachtel - Drums
Jai Winding - Keyboards

These are the credits given on the album sleeve,
but there were a number of rumors that Clapton
played guitar and Billy Preston played the B3
Hammond, but I have no evidence to support


Garden Party - another 70's pop song getting exposure lately and I don't know why. all I know is "you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself".

so there ya go!

Monday, June 11, 2007

ensoulment entrapment

drawing lines on imaginary slippery slopes to preserve human dignity...

this story is timely, but of deeper consequence than PH news. I'm referring to the recent mouse experiments which achieved creation of embryonic stem cells without embryos (Scientists Use Skin To Create Stem Cells).
scientists have:

"coaxed ordinary mouse skin cells to become what are effectively embryonic stem cells...all adult cells, including easily retrieved skin cells, carry dormant genetic instructions for turning themselves back into embryonic cells."
notably, the first word I heard from the church was positive:
"Morally and practically, this new approach appears to be far superior," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
his blessing is of course for the eventual avoidance of human embryo destruction while pursuing miracle cures for the already born. politically religious types applaud because human lives (the innocent, almost microscopic type) will be saved.

this opens an avenue of acceptance for therapeutic cloning.

it also points out the crumbling foundation of moral reason the church must now logically dance around.

why? because according to doctrine, people are not supposed to "play God"; yet science is shoving into our faces the fact that we do and must "play God".

if we oppose advances in modern medicine we'll tend toward the extremes like the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse even blood transfusions, prefering to let "nature take it course". but soon, for us in the mainstream, we will be able to "preserve human dignity" and also avoid debilitating illnesses.

hopefully, sometime in the near future, I will have the option of using my own skin cells (hundreds of which I destroy daily one way or another), to generate new organs for my aging body so like a classic car, I can keep going a long, long time.
as my different parts wear out I'll grow new kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, intestines, skin, bones, brain cells... where does it end?
like the story of the ancient ship whose rotted wood was replaced piece by piece until none of the original boards remained, I'll still retain my "me-ness" throughout. I won't even be a chimera, because all these new organs I grow will have my own DNA - just as the food I eat becomes "me", so will these new parts be incorporated.

so after all my parts are replaced, what's happened to the "me" that was conceived and grown in my mom decades ago?
the answer lies in viewing personhood as not a discrete object (or particle) in time, but switching to the "wave theory" view of being like my buddy Ray Kurzweil, the "patternist" describes. he sees personhood as a bundle of memories of experiences interacting with other bundles of consciousness and describes in analogy the view that "being" is less like a unit of water, and more "being" the pattern or shape of water flowing over rocks in a stream.

but back to the question about playing God...
as was explained to me, the church's philosophy is that "life begins at conception" (pro/con) because, without better evidence, that is the earliest possible moment the soul, or personhood as it were, could be incarnated. therefore, to be on the safe side, it's immoral to destroy human zygotes (the church looks at intent - if you are willing to murder what may be a person, then you for all intents and purposes are guilty of homicide).

but soon, with embryo-less therapeutic cloning there is no murder... only creation anew and the continuum of life is maintained without conception.

isn't this a problem?
well, what we're talking about is these embryonic stem cells (traditionally made via sexual reproduction). one problem with placing personhood or "ensoulment" at conception has been the fact that after a few divisions the little bundle of joy can split up and become twins. hmm, so there was one soul, one person, now two...that's a bit of a problem. but what's worse, what about of all the skin cells I'm destroying? please realize that with this newfangled procedure, each one of them will have the potential to become an embryo!
in other words, a cell of me can revert back to embryonic stem cell status from which it can proceed to become another person. so much for starting life at conception. this discrete view of being is going to be as antiquated as the view of the universe revolving around the earth.

you could say skin cell destruciton is not murder because "well it's only a potential"... yes, but isn't that what the pro-choicers have said all along? and yet the church seems to now agree!

I guess is the best defense is to keep having good intentions. that should keep us out of hell, right?

"Ordinary cells reprogrammed to mirror stem cells" (LATimes)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

the visionary is reading...

my friend Jennifer at invites us to "blog about your vision of what is possible" because "We need to imagine a world healed from its illnesses. We need to allow the images of peace and goodness to enter our consciousness, our minds, and our souls. We need to believe a world of compassion and care is a real possibility."

keeping that in mind, I was planning on doing a little book report today anyway and it kind of ties in with that meme.

"The Razor's Edge" by W. Somerset Maugham, 1944:
as Jeffery Leach writes, "'The Razor’s Edge' really has a simple message. It asks us to reflect on how we lead our lives. Do we follow the masses or seek inner fulfillment? Is it right or wrong to drop out of society and follow our inner selves?".
I can identify with Larry Darrel, the main character to some degree; however we are in very different situations. my path to enlightenment has not led me to a guru in India for one...

an excerpt dealing with reincarnation:
'Am I right in thinking that it means that the soul passes from body to body in an endless course of experience occaisioned by the merit or demerit of previous works?'
'I think so.'
'But you see, I'm not only my spirit but my body, and who can decide how much I, my individual self, am conditioned by the accident of my body? Would Byron have been Byron but for his club foot, or Dostoyevsky Dostoyevsky without his epilipsy?'
'The Indians wouldn't speak of an accident. They would answer that it's your action in previous lives that have determined your soul to inhabit an imperfect body.' Larry drummed idly on the table and, lost in thought, gazed into space. Then, with a faint smile on his lips and a reflective look in his eyes, he went on. 'Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world? If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed in our past lives we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive towards virtue our future lives will be less affected. But it's easy enough to bear our own evils, all we need for that is a little manliness; what's intolerable is the evil, often so unmerited in appearance, that befalls others. If you can persuade yourself that it is the inevitable result of the past you may pity, you may do what you can to alleviate, and you should, but you have no cause to be indignant.

they also made a movie from the book (starring Bill Murray) if you are so inclined.