Friday, October 27, 2017

A Dearly Departed Rat


I just found a dead rat lying in my backyard. I don't know how long it had been there or what killed it. There are many cats in my neighborhood. Yet, the rat didn't show clear signs of trauma. But then I didn't look too closely. I've always been squeamish about handling animal corpses or scrutinizing their posthumous decomposition.

Yet, I've also felt a lifelong love for animals, even rats. Maybe I wouldn't love rats if my house were infested with them or their fleas were causing a plague epidemic. But I don't think it is, and there's no plague in my neck of the woods, even though rats undoubtedly roam my suburban neighborhood, drawn here by accessible food and shelter.

For many people, the only good rat may well be a dead rat. But the way I see it, rats are relatively intelligent, sentient beings who probably feel emotions not so unlike what we feel and who, like us, want to be happy or at least free from suffering, and to go on living. I understand that rats, at least the specially bred variety, can even make good pets. I regard them as my distant cousins and, in more "spiritual" terms, manifestations of the Divine.

So, when I see a dead rat lying in my backyard, I feel tender sadness for it and hope that it didn't suffer much when it died and that if there's a heaven for rats, it is there, and, if there is no rat heaven, it resides in painless oblivion.

May all us humans be so fortunate when we die.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Requiem For a Thai King


My wife was born and raised in Thailand. For seventy years, the Thai people revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a veritable demigod. He died last October, and Thais have mourned his passing ever since. This includes those who live outside Thailand. My wife has lived in the U.S. since 2001, and she has mourned her king probably as much as most people inside or outside Thailand.

Today the late king's remains were cremated near Bangkok's Grand Palace. This marked the culmination of a spectacularly lavish funeral ceremony which drew hundreds of thousands to the ceremony itself and millions more throughout Thailand and the world to sites where they could gather to pay final respects to the king.

My wife accompanied several from her local Thai Buddhist temple and a thousand or more other people from the Bay Area and beyond to attend one such event last night outside San Francisco City Hall. Judging from her accounts and from photos and videos published on social media, it was a solemnly beautiful, candlelit affair brimming with emotion I can only begin to imagine, since I did not grow up under a king who served as the spiritual father and cultural glue of my own homeland.

However, I do feel some vicarious grief from the mourning of the Thai people for their king. And I take some poignant pleasure in being able to modestly share in their and my wife's powerful experience of loss. A vital part of being a human inhabiting this earth is feeling intense grief and tenderness toward those communally sharing our grief with us. Perhaps the closest thing in my own prior experience to partaking in this magnitude of communal grief came in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

This, at least for the time being, supersedes my reservations against venerating monarchs and against the fearsomely harsh laws in Thailand prohibiting even the faintest intimation of insult directed at the king or royal family. It also overshadows, for now, my concerns about the potential unrest if not worse that could consume Thailand after being held in abeyance for the past year by the official mourning period.

That period officially ended today. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? I'll worry about that "tomorrow," but not today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Is Harvey Weinstein's Excuse a Sham?

...it is so easy to assume that people who behave badly in one way or another can’t help themselves when it may only be the case that they don’t want to help themselves.” ~ Paul Appelebaum, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University

Frank Bruni quoted the words above in his New York Times editorial, “The Sham of Harvey Weinstein’s Rehab,” yesterday. Weinstein is the Hollywood mogul who has made headlines and elicited widespread condemnation recently for reportedly using his wealth and power over several decades to sexually harass and abuse many women in or seeking to become part of the entertainment industry.

In a veritable flood of these accusations, Weinstein has been booted from his position as co-chairman of his own movie company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is said to be undergoing therapy in an Arizona rehab facility for sexual addiction.

Frank Bruni seems very cynical about this. He writes of Weinstein’s “self-serving” email to agents and studio executives: “Three times he used the same three syllables — “therapy” — and thus cast himself as a patient at the mercy of an affliction. Perhaps. Or maybe he’s just a merciless tyrant and creep, and to dress him in clinical language is to let him off the hook.”

Bruni then proceeds to argue that there’s a growing trend for people like Weinstein and Anthony Weiner to blame their egregious conduct on the mental illness or disorder of sexual addiction, and for people to gullibly let them off the hook to some extent because of it. And he cites psychiatrists and a neuroscientist who decry using psychopathology as an excuse for exercising one’s free “agency” by acting inexcusably badly.

Bruni and those mental health “experts” he quotes seem to believe that when people act the way Weinstein apparently did, even if there were aspects of their psychology or biology that inclined them to mistreat women, they could have chosen not to follow through with those inclinations. As Professor Appelbaum said in the quote above, it may not be the case that they can’t help themselves but that they simply “don’t want” to help themselves. And Bruni argues that when we don’t recognize this, we end up with the false and unpalatable consequence that “Free will is removed. Responsibility is expunged. Guilt is assuaged. There are no bad characters, just bad conditions.”

Well, I don’t believe in free will. I believe that when we do bad, good, or morally neutral things, factors we don’t consciously choose cause us to make the conscious choices we do and that Weinstein reportedly did. So, I think “responsibility” for bad behavior IS “expunged.” Even if, as Professor Appelbaum suggests, people like Weinstein don’t “want” to help themselves, I think it’s because they CAN’T want to help themselves enough at the time to succeed in doing it.

I believe this so strongly that I wrote a comment to the New York times arguing this, and it got published in the growing thread of comments on Bruni’s column. Of course, the overwhelming majority of comments praise Bruni and his cited “experts” for refusing to accept Weinstein’s excuses.

And I agree with Bruni and others that some people may not feel contrite about what they’ve done or resolved to stop doing it but simply use the “sex addiction” or psychopathology excuse or psychotherapy ploy to adroitly manipulate people into letting them return to their positions of power. But if this is what Weinstein is doing, I think that too would reflect his psychopathology. And while he probably shouldn’t be readmitted to positions where he could exercise power to exploit or harass women sexually, he also shouldn’t be vilified, demonized, and condemned as a person for his psychological weakness.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

To Euthanize or Not to Euthanize?


To euthanize or not to euthanize? That is the question. Well, actually, not exactly.

My Tao-Tao has been diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma that his brilliant internist says should claim his life within two weeks or so on its own. But I don't want him to suffer needlessly enroute to his inevitable demise. Yet I also want to keep him with us and to hold him on my lap, as I'm doing this very moment, and stroke him, and tell him I love him for as long as I can before taking him on his final trip to the vet.

And right now, possibly due in part to administering to him antibiotic, appetite-stimulant (Mirtazipine), anti-inflammatory steroid prednisolone, and, via syringe into the mouth, prescription cat food with extra nutritional density, he seems to be doing much better than he was a few days ago. His respiratory infection seems to be pretty much gone, although the prednisolone may compromise his immune system enough to bring his infection back in spades. And he's eating, drinking, moving around, and vocalizing almost like his old, healthy self, although the Mirtazipine may well be magnifying his vitality.

This made it impossible for me to follow though with my original plan to have him put down yesterday or today. And, yet, I know he's not and never will be back to his old, normal self. I know his seeming "recovery" is superficial at best and exceedingly temporary. And, for all I know, he's suffering in ways I can't perceive.

So, am I being cruelly selfish in postponing the inevitable another day or several days? Tao-Tao is the closest thing to a human child I will ever have. Were he human, he would no doubt be kept alive, with palliative treatment, until he passed away on his own. So, why is it that we readily resort to euthanasia for our animal "children"? If we do it for them, in order to refrain from hopelessly prolonging their suffering, why don't we do it for humans? If our human children's imminent death is inevitable, is it really doing them any favor to grant them an extra few hours or days of life the memory of which will presumably be annihilated after they die?

But then one could draw out that line of reasoning to argue that bringing any new animal or human life into the world when we have the power to prevent it is an act of inexcusable selfishness since a new creature is likely to experience more suffering than its opposite and to die and to forget the good times it experienced. At the very least, this idea could be marshaled to argue that people, not to mention animals, should be euthanized at the first sign of distress caused by a hopelessly terminal illness, especially if they ask to be or lack the ability to express their wishes.

I can't confidently answer these questions, and I'm not going to tax myself trying to. I'm just going to continue enjoying my beloved Tao-Tao's company for as long as he seems to be enjoying mine, and when he no longer does, or his suffering appears, to my best judgment, to exceed his pleasure, it'll be time to do what it will break my heart to do.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

My Cat's Dying


I just received news from my cat's veterinarian that I was hoping to God (or to whatever cosmic powers that might be) I wouldn't. Tao-Tao has high-grade lymphoma of the liver and intestine and the treatment options are prohibitively expensive and unpromising for significant extension of life, not to mention quality of life, for however long it might be extended. Without treatment, he probably has less than a couple of weeks if his condition is allowed to run its natural course. But I don't want him to suffer that long just so we can selfishly keep him with us. So, it looks like euthanasia within the next day or two at most is in the cards, and I am deeply, deeply saddened. He may be just a cat, but he's OUR cat, and more like a child to us than a mere cat. I dread telling my wife the news, although I'm guessing she pretty much expected it, just as I did. Not much more to say.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Texas and Las Vegas: A Tale of Two Similar Massacres


Remember Charles Whitman, the "Texas Tower Sniper"? The Vegas shootings seem reminiscent of that awful massacre decades ago. And what distinguished that shooting, besides it having been conducted from an elevated location, seems as though it may distinguish yesterday's as well. Neither shooter seems to have undergone religious or ideological radicalization, to have had a longstanding obsession with guns and violence, or a lingering history of criminal or domestic violence. It turns out that Whitman had a large brain tumor that arguably caused him to do what he did. Will an autopsy, if there's enough brain left, reveal similar organic causation of the Vegas shooter's "out of the blue," homicidal frenzy? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

First Impressions of "The Good Doctor"


I didn't watch "The Good Doctor" last night, because I go to bed before 10 in order to get up with my wife at 6 on weekday mornings, and I value my sleep more than ever. However, I knew I could watch it on demand on the ABC website later, and I've just done that this morning.

First, I should say that I've been looking ever so forward to this show since I first learned of it months ago and saw the trailer for it. Of course, I've always been fond of good (and even not-so-good) medical TV dramas going all the way back to "Ben Casey." But "The Good Doctor" had two additional factors to commend it. 

First, is the autistic-savant theme which has a special personal resonance, although I don't know if and where I fall on the autistic so-called "spectrum." Or whether I come anywhere close to being a savant. I would say that I don't. I'm just modestly better than average with words and like to learn and think about a lot of things, even though I harbor no illusions that I'm any kind of genius of erudition or in the profundity of my contemplations . And I certainly lack the "Good Doctor's" phenomenal "spatial intelligence." 

Second is the show's pedigree. It was adapted by David Shore from a Korean medical TV drama of the same theme and name. Who is David Shore? The creator of "House." Need I say more? 

Now on to the first episode. My overall impression is a positive one. As I alluded to earlier, I love the theme of the brilliant autistic-savant struggling to fit into a society and medical sub-culture that operate on a different wavelength than his own. 

I identify very strongly with the person who has always been and always will be on the outside looking in at society. I like the way the actor Freddie Highmore plays the title character. Did you know that he's British, like "House" actor Hugh Laurie, and naturally speaks, as you might suspect of a British person, with a strong English accent? 

I like the Richard Schiff character very much. He plays Dr. Glassman, the hospital head who recruited Dr. Murphy and fought against strong and understandable opposition to get him hired. It's said that we each have an archetype--a personification of specific qualities of character--with which we resonate most strongly based on our own nature. Mine is undoubtedly the archetype of the "wise old man" or sage. Not that I consider myself a sage or to even begin to approach sagehood. But I'm most strongly attracted to sage-like characters in life and artistic drama. Dr. Glassman represents this archetype for me.

Then there is the very pretty Antonia Thomas. It looks like she and Dr. Murphy may develop some kind of friendship and perhaps even something deeper over time. She is also British. In fact, there appear to be many very pretty female characters in the show, which certainly makes it even more appealing to me. Some of the male characters, however, appear to be jerks. I like the way Dr. Murphy, lacking as he is in so-called EQ, tells the haughty chief cardiac surgeon, and without any artifice, exactly what he thinks of him at the end of the episode, even if it probably won't enhance his medical career prospects.

I like the intelligence of the dialogue. It's sophisticated and substantive, and I'm hoping it remains at that high level and doesn't devolve into disproportionately long segments of soap operatic personal intrigue.

Indeed, about the only thing I don't particularly like about the show is the way it uses music to melodramatic effect that I find distractingly cloying and certainly unnecessary. But the show looks like it's going to be more than good enough for me to largely overlook that.

What did you think of the first episode?