The 10th Amendment: Roe vs Wade

The 10th Amendment is used by right to life advocates to justify the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning Roe vs Wade. Implying two distinct legislative spheres, it reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This is the same Amendment that was used by SCOTUS to justfy the infamous Dred Scott decision (1857), defining slave/free state boundaries. Lincoln intuited its liabilities, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation (1863).

Its history is complex, Jefferson supporting it; Hamilton, opposed. It has been cited by local jurisdictions opposing federal Covid mandates.

I believe it needs revision, our founding Fathers not foreseeing the complexities of our present times. The Constitution must always give precedence to public welfare, not factional interest, whether left or right. How else could the government have rescinded segregation in the Little Rock school integration crisis of 1957, ending with Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s employment of federal troops?

I vigorously support John Stuart Mill’s principle of “disinterested benevolence,” i.e., the right of government to advocate policy conducive to society’s welfare, not factional interest: its right to impose environmental laws, construct highways, mandate taxes, allow unions, sanction military drafts, regulate commerce, provide medical access, govern immigration, ensure the liberties of marginalized entities, etc. The list is long.

Government’s true role is to ensure not only traditional freedoms, but to promote progressive policy implementation enhancing the citizenry’s collective well-being.

Simplistic, the 10th Amendment has historically proven an impediment across many fronts, seen again in the abrogation of a woman’s right to sovereignty over her own body. Contraception access may be next.

—rj

One Mistake at a Time: Our War on Nature

The  only biodiversity we’re going to have left is Coke versus Pepsi. We’re landscaping the whole world one stupid mistake at a time. —Chuck Palahnuk, Lullaby

The year is 2060. You are gone, but your grandchild reads to her children from a book filled with drawings of creatures once abundant and a source of wonder, now the stuff of children’s story books, only not of some fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, Megalodon, or Woolly Mammoth, but of elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos, whales and monarch butterflies, now vanquished, never to grace our earth again.

Distressingly, largely due to the exponential increase in the human footprint, this is our grandchildren’s bleak future. No more condors, manatees; no more of our closest relatives, chimpanzees, orangutans, and mountain gorillas, natural selection’s vast repertoire of unique, splendid entities reaching back several million years, thoughtlessly extinguished by Homo sapiens.

Apart from the scientific community, the public appears largely unaware, perhaps even indifferent, to this unprecedented threat to species loss and the risks it imposes for its own welfare. This extends to climate change, largely human induced. A current PEW poll reveals only 41% of Americans regard it as a priority issue.

As to how many species exist, whether flora or fauna, we don’t really know. New species are continually being discovered, while others have recently become extinct or face extinction. What we do know is that many species have gone extinct even before their discovery. An estimated million others are likely to go extinct in the next several decades.

This leaves us in a quandary: do we attempt to preserve existing species for future generations or do we simply resort to preserving those serving immediate human interests? Unfortunately, our present trending indicates the latter with species everywhere in free fall.

A useful acronym for the specifics governing this decline is HIPPO: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, population growth, over exploitation:

Habitat: Three quarters of the earth’s terrestrial environment has been altered by human activity; 66% of the marine environment.

Invasive species: Since 1970, invasive, alien species have increased 70% across 21 countries.

Pollution: 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge among other wastes from industrial facilities have been dumped into the world’s waters.

Population growth: The world’s population averaged an annual 1.7 increase between 1950 (2.5 billion) and 2010 (6.9 billion). In 2022, world population has reached 7. 6 billion. (Pew Research). While the growth rate has generally been plummeting, not so in Africa, averaging an annual 2.54 increase. By 2050, Nigeria will overtake the U.S. in population (The Economist); 800 million by 2300 (qz.com).

Over-exploitation: In 1930, an estimated 10 million elephants roamed Africa. Currently, that number has dwindled to 416,000, largely due to poaching and conflict (World Wildlife Federation). On the high seas, factory ships are removing fish faster than they can be replenished. Japan continues to hunt whales. Sharks are killed in the thousands for their fins (fin soup a Chinese delicacy), their carcasses thrown into the sea. Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, hunted for meat and increasingly suffering habitat loss, are now a threatened species.

Climate change needs to be added, giving us HIPPCO. It ranks second to habitat loss in imperiling biodiversity. Largely due to climate change, we are losing our polar bears, just 31,000 remaining; coral reefs with their independent ecosystem, nourishing myriad aquatic life, are dying as the sea warms and storm intensity and frequency increase. The speed of heat increase due to reliance on fossil fuels over the last 100 years now exceeds that of the previous 10,000 years.

Extinction isn’t new to earth’s history. Geologists have noted five principal occurrences, the most famous that of 65 million years ago, when a 12 kilometer wide asteroid crashed into the Yucatan, leaving a crater 10 kilometers deep and 180 kilometers wide, killing 70% of the earth species, including the dinosaurs, ending the Mesozoic Era, or Age of Reptiles, and ushering in the Cenozoic Era and the rise of mammals after 10 million years of evolution.

Humans came late on the scene. In the 1980s, aquatic biologist Eugene Stoermer coined the term Anthropocene to depict a new epoch, human dominated. In this epoch, the Earth faces a new menace, wrought not by an asteroid, but by Man. The massive extinction of this human-centered epoch has been popularized as the Sixth Extinction.

The fundamental source of our dilemma is our disconnect from nature. We have fostered Nature as something apart from ourselves. It exists, but it’s outside ourselves, an entity to be exploited for human needs.

The truth is we exist as constituents of a vast biosphere complex of interrelated life forms dependent on one another for well-being. Remove an element of this web and you potentially unleash a house of cards scenario of collapse.

Take, for example, the chestnut tree dominating the forests of Eastern North America before European settlement. Tall, fast growing, numbering an estimated four billion, their canopy housed millions of birds and their nuts provided food for many birds, insects and mammals. Then came the Asian pathogen fungus Cryphonectria parasitica of the early 20th century. With the loss of these magnificent trees came the demise of caterpillars metamorphosing into moth pollinators, along with the plunge into oblivion of the once prodigious passenger pigeon.

116D5F72-3B99-4C13-B7D8-FA23C1DD77E8

In our earth’s nearly 4 billion year history, we estimate that of the 4 billion species evolved by nature, 99% are extinct. But such extinctions resulted from natural antecedents apart from human causation. Increasingly, Man has become the arbiter of species decline, not evolution or cyclic climate change, or asteroid collision. In the last 500 years, 900 species have gone extinct and the pace quickens.

Currently, 35,000 species face extinction risk, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species:

Among these, 1 in 7 bird species.

A quarter of the world’s mammals

40% of amphibians

34% of conifers

37% of sharks and rays

21% of reptiles

33% of reef corals

It gets worse than that. The latest UN IPBES Global Assessment report (2019) forecasts more than a million species are likely to go extinct in coming decades.

The biosphere, which includes ourselves, is Nature’s survival gift, complex and delicate, requiring balance of its constituents.  Safe-guarding it is crucial and its benefits not to be taken for granted. Healthy Plants convert the sun’s energy, making it available for other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms convert organic matter into nutrients enriching the soil. Pollinators are essential to food production. Plants and oceans act as major carbon sinks.  Did you know that of the 50,000 known medicinal plants, up to a fifth face extinction from deforestation? Or that approximately 120 drugs derived from rainforest plants are used to treat cancer, leukaemia malaria, heart diseases, bronchitis, rheumatism, diabetes, arthritis or tuberculosis? 

As the late eminent biologist E. O. Wilson pleads in his compelling Half Earth,

The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it. The organisms that surround us in such beautiful profusion are the product of 3.8 billion years of evolution by natural selection. We are one of its present-day products, having arrived as a fortunate species of Old World primates. And it happened only a geological eyeblink ago. Our physiology and our minds are adapted for life in the biosphere, which we have only begun to understand. We are now able to protect the rest of life, but instead we remain recklessly prone to destroy and replace a large part of it.

Our Earth has taken ill and we are its cause. Paradoxically, we must be its healer.

—rj

 

 

 

A Reading of Jennifer Rahim’s Poem, “Wherever I go…”

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote “You can’t go home again.” On the flip side, we never leave. The latter defines the theme of Trinidad poet Jennifer Rahim’s “Wherever I go….”

I have a liking for poetry of surface simplicity, yet iceberg subtlety offering multiple nuance.

A good poem is when everything functions: structure, rhythm, diction, imagery, etc. In this sense, all worthy poetry is ecological, each element an integral contributor to the welfare of the whole.

Good poems suggest, lending them universality.

When done well, their texts rewrite themselves, speaking to us continually in varied ways beyond spatial and temporal boundaries.

In all these aspects, Rahim’s poem does not disappoint.

Wherever I go…

there will be an island,
and an ocean will be
what rings me.

We are to the very end
a naming not our own,
though we leave to find

what is left behind
and that holds us,
more than we know,

like a small beach
has the ear of the great sea

and a trillion ebbs
are never without returns.

This flow is the staying,
though we depart.

An oyster takes a single grain
and stores it in her heart’s muscle

like a lover’s memento;
she never lets us go …

I like the unusual way Rahim integrates the title, an adverbial clause, flowing like the poem’s ocean ambience, into the lines that follow, setting up the poem’s structural elements.

That this clause ends in ellipsis, is significant, suggesting still more to be said. Reflection lies at its core.

While not specified, this is a poem about leaving home and its consequences.
That Rahim is from Trinidad may lead readers to impose boundaries on its meaning, i.e., the diaspora. Yes, emigration has been a norm for Trinidadians, 400,000 of them living in the USA; another 80,000 in Canada and 23,000 in the UK. Trinidad’s most renowned writer, the late V.S. Naipaul, resided in the UK.

Two notable novels of our time depicting the immigrant mood superbly are Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Americanah and India’s Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad.

But the poem transcends restriction to migrants in its nuance.  A well made poem coalesces its formal elements into meaning.  It is its own text.

Read this way,  “Wherever I go…”  becomes universal, topophilia, or love of place, its theme.  As Alastair Bonnett comments in his Unruly Places, “Place is a protean and fundamental aspect of what it is to be human. We are a place-making and place-loving species.”

The poem’s structural elements are binary in their conception,
three introductory tercets, followed by couplets offering amplification through simile and metaphor. In both sections, sea referents prevail, unifying the poem.

Irony pervades the structural prelude: “we leave to find”

what is left behind
and that holds us,
more than we know.

“Ring” in l. 3 suggests encirclement or entrapment. We cannot elude our origins that birthed our identity.

The amplifying examples defining this sense of dislocation are embedded in specific sea imagery in the subsequent couplets, suggesting the tidal flow of remembrance: “This flow is the staying,/though we depart.”

The small beach and echoing of sea landscape hint at constancy and safety.

Then comes the poem’s magnificent concluding oyster analogy defining the enduring strength of remembrance:

An oyster takes a single grain
and stores it in her heart’s muscle
like a lover’s memento;
she never lets us go …

Intriguingly, ellipsis concludes the poem, mirroring the ellipsis of the opening and its thematic, “Wherever I go…”

A unified poem in all its informants, we now understand more fully the persona’s opening musing:

Wherever I go…
there will be an island,
and an ocean will be
what rings me.

Archetype abounds.  Islands often represent sanctuary; the sea, the timeless and maternal. Rahim’s poem is from her new poetry collection, Sanctuaries of Invention.

The oyster has a maternal aspect, pregnant as it were with a grain (seed) becoming a pearl.

The pearl referent, however, is double-edged. In mythology, looking back imperils. Memory can embellish, recalling Proust’s sober observation, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”

And yet as Homer underscores in his epic saga of the archetypal migrant, each of us requires his Ithaca.

–rj

RJ’s Morning Musings

Mornings are best for me, sun filling every recess, my thoughts teeming into overflow. I am one with the universe and find peace in the stillness it confers. And so let me share with you my morning musings:


Good writing doesn’t come easily, but not daring it stifles who we are and wish to be, for it’s with words we share ourselves, inspire others, find ourselves, and discover we’re not alone.

Ancestral, marauding voices of nurturing hover like ghosts in the thoroughfares of the present, haunting our happiness. Only when we rebel and cease our clinging can we be free, and discovering freedom, make friends with ourselves.

Good poetry observes Dickinson’s dictum to “tell the truth, but tell it slant,” for artifice sows the sensory and when we show and do not tell, we plough the soul.

Think of good poetry as a bouquet and you’ll not go wrong, a unity of balance, imagery and shape, coalescing into what pleases and is, therefore, beautiful.

Good poetry mines deeply, unafraid to tap crevices in obdurate darkness, cutting away the unessential, with right tools pursuing every line, digging earnestly, buoyed by passion and not a little of intelligence.

I am in love with the stillness of every sunrise, elbowing the darkness and wakening the earth; its gift of new beginning, putting away yesterday’s might-have beens; the grace of another day to forgive and to love and be thankful.

A good poem likes to think, but avoiding prose, sings its truth with beauty dressed in feeling.

—+

Why is it I must pass things by without seeing a thing once? This sky, for instance, pageantry of mercurial mood, of cloud, wind, storm and calm, pink dawns and flaming sunsets, pitch fork lightning and rolling thunder, starry nights and lunar mystery—the majesty of it—our imperial dome, to which we owe the breath of life.



If that lunar beacon we call the moon borrows its silvery brilliance from reflected light, so on earth we’d do well to debit blessings often owed to others.

Poetry has an uncanny way of happening, reviving the sensory, meant for survival, not truth dulled by habit, thriving on vagary. Through metaphor, our exile ends, we find connection, and receive benediction.

In every dawn I am like a newly lit candle, my thoughts spilling everywhere. I rejoice in the cardinal’s song, emissary of a new day redolent with promise, the chance to meet up with blessings I had overlooked yesterday.

I admit to being passionate, sometimes to excess, sensitive to the disenfranchised, the voiceless, whether human or animal, strident in contesting a world that often plays unfairly and mutilates the Earth. I do not repent!

May I cherish each day’s renewed grace and seek virtue only, knowing I cannot own what was never mine to keep, and that what matters lies in the present, for the past I can remember, but not retrieve and tomorrow I may not wake to see.

Nothing wise hasn’t been said before, but the doing is hard, making it necessary to repeat.

Good writers, like all artists, celebrate their audience, and not themselves, recreating the human stream that succeeds when readers exclaim, “I’ve been there!“ All else is but an unlit candle.

Every quest begins with desire, but when desire lusts for possession, it commences our journey into sorrow.

I knew age had caught up with me when, yesterday, my doctor said, “Now if you were my father, I’d advise….”

As humans, we often filter what we perceive, influenced by our wishes and fears, born of past experience and, yes, the weight of culture and even our friends, fostering expectations as false as they are limiting. May I learn not always to believe what I sometimes think.

It’s how I draw the bow and not the target. It’s the journey, not the goal.

We are all story makers, each day our thoughts composing new chapters in life’s journey; but as in reading books, discerning between fantasy and truth, fiction and non-fiction, is essential to getting the story right and space for choosing action over inertia.

Yes, I admit to following a daily regimen that some may call being in a rut; but I much prefer its discipline, the empowerment it confers over my many infirmities, and the peace it affords in keeping chaos at bay and getting things done. I believe the passions must be made obedient to the mind. Or as Epictetus put it, “One person likes tending to his farm, another to his horse; I like to daily monitor my self-improvement.” Virtue doesn’t fall upon us out of the blue. We must toil at it.

I stumble in the darkness, the stars invisible, the earth’s silence my companion, but I do not tremble, for I know all things pass and the sun will surely rise and morning’s birds sing earth’s song.

Letting go yesterday to indulge today and sow tomorrow.

A good poem is its own immensity, tributaries of nuance coalescing into unity. It is neither more nor less. It is itself.

—rj





What Camus’ “The Plague” Teaches Us

There are times when we’re not ready for a book, especially when young. So it was when I first read Albert Camus’ The Stranger, lacking the maturation to comprehend its resonance that only experience can fully render. Since those early years, better equipped from life’s lessons, I’ve gone on to other Camus works such as The Myth of Sisyphus, which critics seem to have omitted as a fitting introduction to his sequel, The Plague.

I’ve been wanting to catch-up on classics I’ve missed over the years, despite being an omnivorous reader of humanity’s most accomplished writers, whether of fiction or non-fiction. The Plague is one of them.

I had especially wanted to read it because of its topical relevance to COVID-19. I was curious. Readers will discover, however, that the book isn’t confined to detailing a deadly pandemic. The Plague, in short, is metaphor for what ails us beyond disease. As with his The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus posits an absurd universe of randomness, annulling meaning. How then are we to live our lives? The Plague is Camus’ answer.

Plagues, or pandemics, have been intrinsic to the human experience and, despite modern medicine’s vast repertoire of advanced treatment, remain with us. Ironically, The Plague surprised me, nonetheless, with its plethora of protocol that has varied little: vaccines, boosters, masks, quarantine and, in extreme cases, geographical isolation as in China’s Wuhan City and Shanghai.

More striking to me still is The Plague’s ominous depiction of a virus’ ability to mutate and thus pose continuing menace, even when apparently subsiding, lying dormant and ready to strike again.

America’s last great bout with a pandemic came with the 1918-19 epidemic that infected a third of the human population and killed an estimated 50 million; in the U.S., 675,000 (CDC). It killed a woman my father loved. As I write, the worldwide death toll of our current pandemic is a staggering 6,309,976 (worldmeters/info.com). In the U.S., we just recently recorded 1 million deaths. With new, more resistant variants and lessened protocols, the numbers are surging again.

Camus presumably employed the Oran (Algeria) cholera outbreak of 1849 shortly after French colonization as its backdrop. (Camus was Algerian born and had lived in Oran for eighteen months, subsequently revisiting it several times.) The novel, however, is set in the 1940s, suggesting he may have had the Nazi tyranny in mind as the ultimate scourge historically confronting humanity: “Calmly they denied, in the teeth of the evidence, that we had ever known a crazy world in which men were killed off like flies…. In short, they denied that we had ever been that hag-ridden populace a part of which was daily fed into a furnace and went up in oily fumes, while the rest, in shackled impotence, waited their turn.”

It takes courage, if not resolve, to continue reading its 226 pages of grinding suffering and loss. And yet not to read it is to miss out on one of the supreme narratives of the human condition in a cosmos where mortality hovers over everything, even what we love most.

There are no saviors to deliver us, no gods descending to the earth with quixotic formulae of a compensatory afterlife of eternal bliss. Ours is an irrational, or absurd, cosmos. We have only each other and, as such, we must create our own meaning, regardless of our temporality, if we are to achieve rapport with the dissonance that confronts us.

On another level, Camus, an atheist, decries the irrelevance of traditional Christianity through the ineffectual priest, Father Paneloux, with his platitudes of resignation to divine providence, reiterating a central complaint in his The Myth of Sisyphus.

This theme of revealed religion’s impotency and irrelevance in the context of pandemic isn’t new; for example, there is Giovanni Boccaccio’s famous The Decameron where religion is mocked. Subsequently, there is Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera in which Fermina Daza, lover of the story’s protagonist, comes to loathe her religion.

Despite The Plague’s seeming morbidity, the book’s ultimate affirmation is that crisis bequeaths solidarity. Empathy is suffering’s gift in a world depicted in Auden’s memorable “Musee des Beaux Arts” indifferently pursuing its mundane interests. Camus’ “The Rebel” makes clear his resistance to nihilism amidst absurdity, setting him apart from his contemporary, Sartre. Empathy inspires collective resistance to abate a sea of troubles; namely, the myriad horrors of unleashed human tyranny not confined to temporal-spatial parameters.

An unknown editor assembles the plague’s details, gathered largely from the notebook diaries of Jean Tarrou and other documents. The principal character is Dr. Rieux, saintly in depiction, compassionately persevering in treating victims, keen in observation.

Camus hated despotism in all its myriad guises, joining the French Resistance, ultimately rejecting Soviet communism, opposing the Russian repression of the East German uprising (1953) and of Hungary (1956). As a pacifist working for human rights, he fervently sought abolition of capital punishment. The Plague’s Raymond Rambert is spokesperson for his view. In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his anti-capital punishment essay, “Réflexions sur la Guillotine.” Camus died in January, 1960, in a car accident. He was 46.

The characters in The Plague are few, but memorable. They include:

Dr. Bernard Rieux, dedicated healer and inveterate observer.
Jean Tarrou, Rieux’ close friend, whose notebooks detail much of the pandemic’s course.
Joseph Grand, the underpaid, dutiful city prefect, who takes the pandemic seriously in the context of ineffectual government.
Raymond Rambert, who foregoes escape for commitment and joins Rieux and Tarrou in their efforts to stem the disease.
M. Cottard, self-centered opportunist alienated from his fellows.
Othon, police magistrate.
Father Paneloux, Jesuit priest, representative of ineffectual Christian response.
The Plague’s unidentified editor.

The plot is readily available from many sources. I do want to comment on one scene, archetypal, that critics miss. Toward the book’s end, Rieux and his close friend, Tarrou, decide on a night swim: “Rieux turned and swam level with his friend, timing his stroke to Tarrou’s. But Tarrou was the stronger swimmer and Rieux had to put on speed to keep up with him. For some minutes they swam side by side, with the same zest, in the same rhythm, isolated from the world, at last free of the town and of the plague.”

As in baptism, they have been immersed into rebirth, and, for all the town’s woes, informed by experience, they discover mutuality and the contentment human fellowship confers. Isolation is one of the supreme agonies of the pestilence. In connection, we find meaning.

The Plague isn’t really a message of doom. Even in an irrational cosmos, humanity can find purpose. As such, the book offers respite in a collective citizenry awakened from apathy, resistant to the sources of suffering. It ends in the plague’s demise, the opening of the city’s gates, Oran’s streets filled with crowds jubilant in their reclaimed freedom, made possible, of course, through the daily, concerted efforts of organized health squads, quiet, uncelebrated stalwarts, transcending self-interest for the welfare of others. As Dr. Rieux exclaims, “…there’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency.”

The Plague also offers two admonitions: firstly, the forfeiture of freedom in resuming previous habits of material solicitude. In this sense, even before the plague’s intrusion, Oran’s populace wasn’t really free: “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.”

Secondly, we must always be awake to the lurking dangers of tyranny to mankind’s freedom. Were Camus still with us, he would decry Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and China’s growing aggression in the Pacific; and perhaps as a committed socialist, corporate hegemony and nativism as seedbeds of inequity and discrimination, marginalizing access to human fulfillment:

And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

Along with Orwell’s 1984, The Plague ranks among the most essential reads of modern times.

–rj

Books That Stay With Us: Amy Bloom’s In Love

Amy Bloom

There are some books that stay with you after you’ve read them. Amy Bloom’s In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, is one of them.

“‘Please write about this,’ my husband said.” He thought it might help others. Bloom, an accomplished writer (eight novels) did so, keeping a meticulous notebook of her husband’s Alzheimer’s journey and its ending. The right choice, Bloom is renowned for her inveterate focus in her writings on the human need to connect and capacity to meet life’s vicissitudes with honesty and acceptance.

A happy couple who met each other in their early fifties, they had walked away from existing marriages, finding affinity in the maturity time often yields. She brought three children into the marriage. Brian, who didn’t have any, became the children’s beloved Babu:

“Brian and I fell in love the way some middle-aged people in unhappy partnerships and in small towns do…. ‘I know who you should be with. You should be with a guy who doesn’t mind that you’re smarter than he is, who doesn’t mind that most of the time, you’ll be the main event. You need to be with a guy who supports how hard you work and who’ll bring you a cup of coffee late at night. I don’t know if I can be that guy,’ he said, tears in his eyes, ‘but I’d like a shot.’ We married.”

At first glance, you might wager odds it wouldn’t last, a man from a devout Catholic family wedded to a divorced Jew with three children. But for fourteen fulfilling years, it did.

They had their quarrels, but being opposites gave balance. What they shared—politics, a love for the arts, traveling, good dining, and the children—was compensation overflowing. Both were keen on helping others: Amy, also a licensed social worker; Brian, an architect with sensitivity to the needs of others, active in Planned Parenthood and with a football frame, providing escort for women past jeering protestors. They shared a commitment to humanity, not religion.

Brian was 67 in 2019 when Alzheimer’s dropped like the sword of Damocles upon their happiness. Less than a week after the neurological findings, he decided “that the ‘long goodbye’ of Alzheimer’s was not for him and less than a week for me to find Dignitas, at the end of several long Google paths.” Dignitas, a private Swiss right-to-die entity, doesn’t impose a six month terminal illness mandate or residency requirement as in right-to-die states in America. It does, however, charge a $10,000 fee, with personal responsibility for travel and accommodation expenses.

Some might think Bloom a willing accomplice. Not so, as the memoir makes abundantly clear: “Brian knew what to expect. I talked to him about living with the illness until the end—that, of course, I would love and take care of him. He was very kind and very clear. He just said, ‘That’s not for me.'”

In often alternating chapters contrasting past and present, Amy faithfully narrates the perambulations of Brian’s final journey. While an individual’s story, it’s also a genre, the stories of this dread disease’s malice retold numerous times, replayed orally in YouTube and the film Still Alice (2014), for example.

What distinguishes Bloom’s memoir from other renditions is the mastery of an astute writer and eye witness. We are present with every detail right up to the final holding of hands and last words in the austere Dignitas apartment in the Zurich suburb of Pfaffikon. It is told with blows landed, fools not suffered gladly, yet punctuated with cathartic humor.

Why read a book like this? Because in doing so, as Brian intended, it may help others know their options:

“‘Please write about this.’ He wanted people to know that they have far less choice in America about their end of life than they may think. Some of us can’t bear to think about it at all, but Brian felt strongly that people should have conversations and do more planning,” Bloom shared with a People interviewer.

Though not explicitly said, In Love implies our need to implement a new strategy of pervasive compassion over religion’s bias and even medical opposition against assisted suicide. It’s highly informative as well for Alzheimer’s co-victims who live with their afflicted loved ones, suffering daily anguish and disruption of routines and options once taken for granted.

The struggle for the right to die has been a slow, arduous one, but not unhopeful. Just a few decades ago, passive suicide, i.e., removing a terminal patient from life support, wasn’t allowed under any circumstance.

Ten U.S. states now allow for physician administered suicide, but this is a misnomer. It’s for state residents only. The patient must have a maximum life expectancy of six months. Two physicians must give approval some time apart. While a physician can prescribe the sodium pentobarbital drink, neither the physician nor anyone else, can hand it to the client. In short, the recipient is fully in charge and must be aware.

This means an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis entails racing against the clock. Bloom quips, “Right to die in America is about as meaningful as the right to eat or the right to decent housing; you’ve got the right, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the goods.”

Should early diagnosis indicate any semblance of depression, you are excluded. This is true of Dignitas as well, although it does allow for advanced age or interminable, unbearable pain, as long as you are fully aware and make your decision without coercion. In such circumstances, no terminal diagnosis is needed.

At present, nearly six million Americans struggle with the illness, its occurrence doubling among those over 65 every five years. Although you can acquire the illness at younger ages, when finally diagnosed, its onset may have begun a decade earlier, or even more. By the 2060s, it’s projected the number will triple. Two-thirds of victims are female, perhaps because of their longevity. With Alzheimer’s, one loses not only memory, but control over body functions. One may even forget how to swallow.

Bloom had noticed changes in Brian’s behavior. Normally laid back, he had become quarrelsome and withdrawn, forgetful of appointments, unable to remember names and faces, spatially disoriented, and inability to focus, culminating in his dismissal from his employer for being too slow.

Brian would tell Dignitas, “I don’t want to end my life, but I’d rather end it while I am still myself, rather than become less and less of a person.”

As is, it took five months of liaison with Dignitas before they gave him the coveted green light. Seventy percent opt out. There followed the flight to Zurich and a physician’s repeated interview to affirm that he hadn’t changed his mind and was consciously able to make the decision for himself.

In Love isn’t simply a memoir of dying, but a testimony that lends joy to life and transcends mortality:

“I take both of his hands and he lets me. IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou, I say. I love you so much. I love you, too, he says, and he drinks the sodium pentobarbital. I kiss him, all over his handsome, weary face, and he lets me.

“Middle-aged women are supposed to look for the safe harbor, for the port in the storm of life. We are supposed to look for the calm and the comfortable. You are the port in the storm. And you are the storm. And you are the sea. You are the rocks and the beach and the waves. You are the sunrise and the sunset and all of the light in between.

“I whisper to him, Every day of my life, and he whispers to me, Every day of my life.”

–rj





Space as Identity: The Plight of Bedouins in Israel

Gretel Ehrlich, in her splendid The Solace of Open Spaces, writes that “a person’s life is not a series of dramatic events for which he or she is applauded or exiled but a slow accumulation of days, seasons, years, fleshed out by the generational weight of one’s family and anchored by a land-bound sense of place.”

This brings to mind Israel’s Bedouins, a traditionally nomadic people once populating a vast desert terrain, whom T. E. Lawrence understood and celebrated. And they reciprocated.

In his own time, Lawrence lamented the increasing fate of urbanized Bedouins, their loss of place and a way of life: “The perfectly hopeless vulgarity of the half-Europeanised Arab is appalling. Better a thousand times the Arab untouched.”

Much of that traditional way of life is but memory, especially in Israel, where Jewish settlers in the Negev have frequently seized Bedouin lands and driven out their people.

A vivid example is Twayil Abu Jarwal, one of forty unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Lying north of Beersheba and off the beaten track, you’ll not find it on any map.

It has no permanent structures for its 450 inhabitants, housed in tents, and clinging stubbornly to place and a way of life.

The village and its fields have been bulldozed so many times that no definitive account exists, perhaps between 25-50 times.

Still they cling to what’s long been theirs for two millennia or more.

After each razing, they re-assess, restore their sheltering tents, and plant anew.

Ilan Yeshurun, who directs the local Israel Land Authority, interviewed in the Jerusalem Report, defends these demolitions: “This is not a village. It doesn’t exist on any map or in any legal registration. It’s only a village in the eyes of the Bedouin.”

Critics call it “urbicide,” an Israeli attempt to destroy perceived communities of potential Palestinian resistance. I think it more than that—a quest for expanding settler homesteads, akin to America’s violent history of seizure of Native American lands.

Meanwhile, some fifty illegal settler farms have sprung up and, politics as usual, nothing is done.

There are now just six Israeli authorized Bedouin villages. Presently, an extended Highway 6 thrusts its way into their traditional landscape, with Israeli plans to continue their policy of demolition and resettlement.

Understandably, Trayil Abu Jarwal villagers fear not only a loss of their land, but a way of life.

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that “you can’t go home again,” meaning that time brings evolution and experience changes us, uprooting past constituents of our nurturing tied to place.

On the other hand, his dictum locates the modern tragedy of living in a mobile society. Home is an extension of ourselves, evoking sanctuary and fostering identity..

T. E. Lawrence had promised the Bedouins emancipation from the Ottomans Turks. But with takeover of Ottoman land by a modern Israel, they languish still, their cries unheard.

–rj

Roe vs. Wade: The How of its Pending Overturn

We will not bear more!

As the late Christopher Hitchens said, “Religion poisons everything.”

We see it firsthand with SCOTUS about to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a devastating turnaround that will impact people of color and marginal financial resources the most.

We see religion’s trespass behind the daily atrocities of fundamentalists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, India and Pakistan.

We have the witness of history in the Crusader wars waged against Muslims, the bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the Inquisition, Bartholomew massacre, witchcraft trials in my birthplace, Salem, MA, Al-Quaeda’s 911 attack, ISIS and Boko Haram.

Not on the same scale, religious despotism exists right now in America, its constituency supporters of Trump. They’ve become the virus that’s brought shame to the party of Lincoln and division to our nation.

SCOTUS needs a new look, not simply by adding people of color. Six of its nine members are Roman Catholics, four of them conservative: Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Thomas.

The two liberal Catholics are Roberts and Sotomeyer. Another, Gorsuch, a former Catholic and conservative, now attends Episcopal services. Three justices, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch, were appointed by Trump.

Catholicism isn’t really the issue. It’s when faith embraces an intolerant conservatism. Evangelicals, Hindu nationalists, Muslim fundamentalists and, yes, Israeli settlers, all bear responsibility for attempting to impose their agendas on others.

My family, French Canadian and Irish, was devoutly Catholic. When my maternal grandmother deserted the Catholic church, my other grandmother, the Irish one, cut off all communication. My father was buried with the rites of the Church.

I think we’ve made progress since the election of John Kennedy, our first Catholic president, and a good one. I remember the bigotry existing at the time, compelling Kennedy to pledge his independence of the Vatican. Religion thankfully didn’t raise its ugly head in the election of Joe Biden, a church-going Catholic, and just second Catholic in our nation’s history.

Unfortunately, he’s been pursued not by Protestants, but by conservative Catholic bishops, who want to deny him communion. Sadly, the Catholic church, despite liberal reform efforts, remains a medieval institution in need of reform. Hierarchical and dominated by elderly white males, it allows no female priests, opposes homosexuality, gay marriage and, of course, not only abortion, but contraception.

Thankfully, the vast majority of American Catholics, like Biden and Pelosi, don’t subscribe to its parochialism. They are not the enemy.

On the other hand, that four of our justices embrace Catholic conservative values troubles me. One in particular, Amy Coney Barrett, has long ties with People of Praise, a charismatic group in South Bend. It holds traditional beliefs about gender and sexuality and its officers are males. Meetings are gender segregated. She served as “handmaid.”

Barrett sent three of her children to its Trinity School campus in South Bend and sat on its board for nearly three years. It also has campuses in Falls Church, Virginia, and in Eagan, Minnesota.

In 2006, along with hundreds, she signed an anti-abortion letter that accompanied a January 2006 ad in the South Bend Tribune calling for “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade” (southbendtribune.com).

The danger lurks when both religion and politics converge into concerted imposition of their views upon the public. As the NPR has pointed out, “Conservative catholics are the new evangelicals” (npr.org, Apr 20, 2020): “‘It was the Catholic vote that won those states for Donald Trump,’ according to Tim Huelskamp, a former Republican congressman from Kansas now serving as an adviser to the Catholics for Trump movement” (NPR).

In 2016, Trump prevailed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, traditionally Democrat bastions, where Catholics significantly outnumber Evangelicals, securing Trump’s victory, despite losing the popular vote nationally. In 2020, half of Catholics voters opted for Trump over Biden.

Recent polls indicate a majority of Catholics now favor Biden over Trump in a hypothetical matchup. Still, an activist conservative faction exists, sharing with Evangelicals a vehement opposition to abortion and gay rights.

Conservative Catholic media include EWTN News, the National Catholic Register and Church Militant, and CatholicVote.org.

Unfortunately, four conservative Catholic justices are on the supreme court, two of them nominated by Trump; the third, Gorsuch, is now Episcopalian, as I mentioned.

If SCOTUS enacts its reputed decision, it will have widened America’s cavernous divide, with states pitted against each other, something not seen since the Civil War.

–rj

Is Musk Libertarian?

My post on Elon Musk yesterday elicited one of the largest Brimmings audiences in its twelve year history. I endeavored to be fair to all sides in assessing this polarizing man.

But I need to do a postscript that may help clarify what lies behind his thinking and purchase of one of the world’s leading media platforms and, notably, his resistance to censorship, whether of Left or Right. As he’s told us, he’ll not please either.

You see, I view him as essentially a libertarian, not conservative. Unfortunately, many conflate the terms. Libertarians agree with conservatives in opposing government interference with free enterprise, curtailing deficit spending, mandated protocols and alleged incursions on free speech.

They also agree with conservatives on a strong miliitary, capable of responding to threats to the nation’s security, gun ownership rights, etc.

On the other hand, libertarians believe abortion is a free choice option, a huge difference indeed. They support same sex marriage, judicial reform, and ending capital punishment. While they support a capable military, they eschew bloated spending and policies of overseas intervention that have led to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They describe the Bush administration’s incursion in Iraq as “an obscene, depraved act of naked aggression”(libertarian.org).

Libertarians believe we need to follow George Washington’s counsel in his Farewell Address to avoid foreign intervention and alliances. We are not the world’s police or its savior.

Libertarians, unlike many conservatives, are hugely supportive of the environment: “We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem. Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection…..We realize that our planet’s climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior” (ontheissues.org).

On immigration, there is much that even Progressives could like: “We welcome all refugees to our country. Furthermore, immigration must not be restricted for reasons of race, religion, political creed, age, or sexual preference. We therefore call for the elimination of all restrictions on immigration, the abolition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol, and a declaration of full amnesty for all people who have entered the country illegally” (ontheissues.org).

Presently, Libertarians have grown to be the nation’s third largest party. In 2020, they took 20% of the vote in Virginia; surprisingly, 9.4% of the vote in my native Massachusetts.

As the libertarian label suggests, they advocate a live-and-let live approach with priority on personal liberty and limited government.

Musk is an enigma when it comes to his politics. He says he’s half Democrat, half-Republican; in short, a moderate. Despite his avowal, he exhibits a strong libertarian streak, emphasizing citizen polity over government imposition.

Revealingly, our space-minded mogul has hinted at what a Mars government might look like, or oriented along libertarian lines with people voting directly on issues: “I think that’s probably better, because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy” (metro.co.uk).

We know his friend and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is decidedly libertarian, as Musk admits: “I’m somewhat libertarian, but Peter’s extremely libertarian” (newyorker.com).

In January he tweeted “True national debt, including unfunded entitlements, is at least $60 trillion – roughly three times the size of the entire US economy. Something has got to give” (nationalinterest.com). Libertarians, ardent critics of social security, would hardly disagree.

A libertarian mindsets goes far in contextually explaining his vociferous resistance to censorship and government interference. As a visionary, he outdistances conservatives with his free-wielding views on needful social reforms ranging from judicial, military, environment, abortion and free trade.

Like libertarians, he exhibits affinity with Victorian Britain’s liberals, vociferous advocates of limited government, non-censorship and social reform (e.g., Bentham, Mill, Gladstone).

It may be limiting to label protean Elon a libertarian, but as American poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916) famously put it, “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

–rj

The Enigma of Elon Musk: A Candid Assessment

Whatever your opinion may be about entrepreneur Elon Musk, who shocked the social media world with his purchase of Twitter, you can’t ignore him.

Voted Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in December 2021, he happens to be the world’s wealthiest man with an estimated net worth of $253 billion, far out-distancing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at $162 billion (ceobuz.com, April 28, 2022).

He can buy just about anything and does. Coca Cola may be next.

Affluence brings influence, and Musk doesn’t shirk from peddling it. Last year his Space X’s PAC contributed a record-breaking $2.4 million to politicians of both parties; Tesla, 1.5 million (opensecrets.org).

He has donated money to the presidential campaigns of Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In California, he contributed to the campaigns of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Meg Whitman, and former governor Jerry Brown.

Though he says he prefers to stay out of politics, it hasn’t stopped him from entering the political fray. He opposes Biden’s tax credit proposal to give a $4,500 discount to consumers buying vehicles made by union workings, affording an advantage over Tesla, Toyota, and others.

He supported Andrew Yang, who advocated for a universal basic income, in his 2020 primary run.

Since 2003, Space X has secured $1.5 billion in contracts, mostly NASA related.

He vehemently opposes Biden’s proposal to close the tax loophole for billionaires to help finance his safety net plan.

His battle with the FEC over regulation has been ongoing.

He abhors union organizing.

To brand him as an ultra conservative, however, is untrue in its simple-minded reductionism. Like others such as rival Bezos, he’s pragmatic, focused on his business interests.

Musk isn’t easy to like and there exist significant foreshadowings of trouble with his takeover of Twitter. Despite his advocacy of freedom of speech, he’s been known to fly off the handle with subordinates who have disagreed with him, or engage in “rage firing.” In his just published book, Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century, The Wall Street Journal writer Jim Higgins gives numerous, detailed instances of Musk’s firing of contractors and employees out of sheer rage.

Nonetheless, he deserves credit for being a climate change hawk, if not pioneer, founding Tesla, an EV concern. 75% of EV vehicles sold this year were Teslas. Tesla solar panels are on thousands of rooftops in the U.S. Climate change hasn’t been a priority issue for most conservatives. He was among the first in line to oppose Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Musk is one of your consummate engineers, a segment to whom we owe substantial, but unacknowledged, gratitude for its contribution to the public welfare and many of the amenities we enjoy.

He revitalized a non-viable EV industry, designing a new battery and reviving a waning space program as well. Courageously championing the new technology and investing heavily, he taught himself rocketry and invented an entirely new space craft.

The pity would be that his new venture might distract him from the substantial contributions he’s made to mitigating climate change, Tesla bridging the gap on the issue between liberals and conservatives, a sentiment echoed by environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

A registered independent, Musk has tweeted, “To be clear, I am not a conservative. Am registered independent & politically moderate. Doesn’t mean I’m moderate about all issues. Humanitarian issues are extremely important to me & I don’t understand why they are not important to everyone.”

He takes Russia’s Ukraine incursion seriously and has supplied the country with thousands of Starlink kits to maintain its Internet, essential to its survival. Zelensky has thanked him for this. Critics minimize the charity component, saying the U.S. government did the financing. The reality is Space X donated thousands of kits on its own.

The Left has, nonetheless, turned him into Lord Voldemort, infamously rich, tax-dodging and a taunting critic of its activism: “The far left hates everyone, themselves included! But I’m no fan of the right either,” Musk tweeted Friday morning. “Let’s have less hate and more love” (April 29, 2022).

If he’s paid little tax, it’s the fault of the system, not Musk. A good many Democrat and Republican members of Congress, many of them millionaires, maximize their own exemptions.

Musk views government regulation as hostile to innovation and laments huge deficit spending, contributing to inflation.

Conservatives are liking Musk and enthusiastic about his acquisition of Twitter. They applauded his moving Tesla headquarters from blue state California to red state Texas. They’ve long felt that Twitter has frequently discriminated against them. Last year, it banned Trump permanently. Enthusiasts advocate a presidential run in 2024, ruled out for the South African born Musk by the Constitution.

Conservatives point out the Taliban’s presence on Twitter, yet Trump is banned. On the other hand, the Southern Poverty Law Center has criticized Twitter’s allowing right wing extremists a platform for staging the January 6, 2020 Capitol attack.

Musk says he bought Twitter to promote free speech and has plans to make it better: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”’

The problem is we don’t really know what Musk means by this. Democrats, understandably, remain fearful. Will the likes of Donald Trump and misinformation saturate the new Twitter? Many leftist tweeters have already departed.

Not much talked about, Musk has considerable business ties with China, hardly your paragon of free speech. In fairness, he isn’t alone in the business community when it comes to prioritizing profit over human rights issues. Would it make Twitter more reluctant to remove China propaganda or misinformation posts? China is Tesla’s second largest market with half of its cars produced there. Musk has been the beneficiary of several billion in Chinese investment loans.

Several leading Congressional Democrats are advocating a review of the purchase.

Truth is, many Twitter aficionados, including Democrats, adore Musk, who has 81.2 million followers.

He’s admired by the public for his fierce independence. He’ll not be reigned in. He speaks to the issue, not the political mindset. He does what many can only dream.

On the other hand, most Democrats see him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He may not be able to run for president, but were Trump reinstated and make a run to regain the office, Twitter could potentially impact the race in his favor. Twitter enjoys an estimated 300 million users worldwide, 38 million of them in the U.S.

Just the other day, Musk hinted at the possible scenario: “Time outs are better than permanent bans. A good sign of free speech is: Is someone you don’t like allowed to say something you don’t like? … Twitter has become a de facto town square. It’s important people have the reality and the perception that they’re able to speak freely within the bounds of the wall.”

Reinstating Trump would likely trigger a Tsunami tidal wave, with many skilled staff and millions of Twitter users deserting its ranks and unleashing an aroused Congress. Meanwhile, Trump says he’ll never return to the platform, no matter what Musk does.

But no need for heart palpitations just yet. The deal doesn’t close for six months, allowing for a lot to happen. Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission, announced its seeking whether Musk observed an antitrust reporting requirement when he initially invested in Twitter (Reuters).

Then, too, the UK and EU, concerned that that a Musk owned Twitter may attract extremists, insists Twitter conform to new content rules or face sanctions that would include fines or even a total ban.

Given his mercurial temperament, it’s conceivable he could withdraw from the deal, triggering a billion dollar penalty, agreed to by Musk.

In its latest issue, Time Magazine states “the lesson of Musk’s career is to take his ambitions seriously. He’s rich not because he gamed the system but because he’s a genius who uses the incredible force of his will to mobilize resources to pursue his ideas. He’s devoted himself to tackling what he views as humanity’s biggest problems, and he has decided, as he put it recently, that ‘having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.’”

And for democracy as well.

–rj

%d bloggers like this: