Monday, April 27, 2009

3 Hiaku; Spring

Dark willows are floating in the room.
Outside the house my Salix Alba is budding
Hidden by the wall.

Elm branches hang in tension, weighted with downy mouse ears.
Through the blinds gold bars shine on the wall:

Magnolia petals float in the chill wind.
The path is fragrant and clouded like the sky.
Is it Spring or Autumn now?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Eye on the BI #4

As I have mentioned, I follow Paul Levy's blog "Running a Hospital" I have specifically linked to his comments about MRSA, and I hope that after the recent publicity you will read them with attention. I ask you to consider this principle, the paradox, that those who are honest and sincere about a problem; honest in confronting it publicly; sincere in actually addressing it proactively; are the very ones most likely to be vilified by a superficial public. Please read the NPR article linked above carefully, and you will find this statement

The infection control failures at Beth Israel are not believed to have caused the maternity ward infections. But the problems were discovered during that investigation.

The situation is suddenly far less sensational when you notice this statement. What did the investigation find? a range that includes possibly poor hand washing, or an infected worker. Possibly?

As some of you may know, my home and all my possessions were destroyed because my painting and furniture refinishing materials might possibly have been used to manufacture drugs. Possibly? I am very sensitive to public accusations that have been made with no reference to fact, and are completely speculative. Even NPR is not immune to this tendency. They need listeners, the papers need buyers and advertisers, and for some reason reportage of honest and sincere efforts to combat serious problems seems not to be very good at accomplishing that end. This was discovered and institutionalized by William Randolph Hurst, I recommend "Citizen Hurst" by W.A.Swanberg for an interesting history of the way he fabricated the Spanish American War in order stir up society and sell newspapers. I wont continue with my thoughts on the way the standard of public education facilitates this because I want to return to Beth Israel.

"The B.I." is different from other hospitals not because it has had some infection control problems and the others have not; it is different precisely because Paul Levy and the board of directors are committed to complete openness in public disclosure about the issues that all hospitals deal with. I will bring a personal perspective once again. I have spent seven years with a very compromised immune system, and have received all of my very extensive care at the BI yet have never experienced any sort of infection problem there. Amongst people with HIV MERSA is a rampant threat, yet I have remained completely clear of it.

I am reminded of a tale we were told in Ancient History class in grammar school. In order to illustrate the difference between the Athenians (which we identify with) and the Spartans ("Other" fascist types) the story was related about a boy who had lined up for inspection by his superiors. He had stolen a fox- it was never explained what he wanted a fox for. this story must have originated with English fox hunting types, maybe Trollope! In order to avoid discovery he stood still and motionless while the fox clawed into his chest; this monument of self control and deceit was the behavior that the Spartans admired, while the Athenians, like us, aspired to truth and social responsibility.

In what way like us? Aren't we more like the Spartans of the story, who will forgive any nefarious action as long as it is successfully hidden? Who are we in the face of the Beth Israel's policy of openness, and who in the face of other institutions who will be clawed to death under their cloaks by problems hidden by their public relations departments.

I will now link to another post from Paul's blog which rings very true for me. As you all will guess that I am more than a month old I won't have to explain that this Michael is not me!

In the mail

Given the dearth of my entries recently I thought I'd try and mend the gap with some correspondence.

The Other Reader has been on the grand tour, but being as reticent as I have lately been has only written once

Hola Senor? Que pasa, mi amigo? I'm sitting in a cafe in Madrid, about to depart for Seville, and thought I'd shoot you a quick email to see if all was well and ask if the bed springs above you creak with pleasing regularity. All joking aside, let me know how you are doing and how your health is. I'll write a longer email later with updates and descriptions of the trip so far (I've been keeping a hand written journal - gasp! - so I haven't been blogging, but will probably start soon enough). 

Lots of love,

I share with you my response, removing , of course, the names of the guilty. Let me add as an aside that I have been busy with medical stuff, of good outcome; you will learn of in this note....

Dear Friend 

How nice to hear from you! Handwritten, my goodness, I would not have suspected that a few days in the old world would have engendered pre- digital susceptibilities in you! It is good however, even kind, to leave some archaic records for a future doctoral candidate to discover in some obscure library. I often wonder what doctoral candidates are going to do in the next generation, the subjects of interest having displayed their most personal thoughts publicly in blogs and websites, leaving no arcana for doctoral theses.

The strings of your harp do not vibrate as they once did, but perhaps that is a matter of the gentleman's style. I speculate that the youth of the old world has had to develop a certain style of stealth. In any case there seems to be no lack of affection, I hear cooing and other very sweet sounds when they are reunited after work each day. A baby came to visit on Saturday, so perhaps they are practicing.

My health seems to have my friends on Brookline Avenue baffled. Last week was the dread week of tests. Here is the upshot: "T" cells returned printed in black for the first time in seven years. Dr Afdahl's tour of my nether regions was a total bore, so uneventful in fact the he called for a Cat scan because he couldn't find anything at all- I assume he meant anything bad, I'm pretty sure I still have a stomach. On my breathing test I scored "140 percent." This was my first meeting with my pulmonologist- all other visits had been covered by other doctors, he is, it turns out, a total heart throb and so I didn't explain to him the conceptual difficulties of 140%, thinking it might be rude.

I attended the "Saint Matthew Passion" last weekend, which was astounding. My public has informed me that I am lagging behind in my blog posts so I won't make any comments about yours. not just now, but like a certain ex of mine I may start chiding you the minute I bring my own up to date!

I hope you looked at El Greco

Take my love along in your travels


I suppose I ought to have added as a postscript that the gentleman in question showed a high degree of "Guyness" by borrowing a pair of wrenches so he could tighten the bolts on the "harp" in question, but thought it might sound catty.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our Ancient Brains

I have been chided by certain concerned friends about falling behind in my posts! Ah me... the pressures of modern life! I actually have a few brilliant and thoughtful posts in the works which, alas are not yet ready, and that is why, was why, all of you dear people haven't been hearing from me. However, in the news this morning I came upon this item from the BBC: "Chimpanzees exchange meat for sex." How can I not put aside my profound exploration of music and liturgy and comment on this.

The thing that strikes me is that we once again come up against the fact that in addition to the overwhelming preponderance of our genes, we share a great many behaviors with our arboreal friends. I say in addition to, I should say as a result of. My mind is deeply confused in trying to decide whether the title of the article is a not to subtle attempt to get attention from the lay reader, or possibly a very wry comment on the structure of human society and marriage. It turns out that the behavior now document is actually what happens in the traditional marriage, hubby goes out hunting and mom rewards him with a sexual adventure, offspring resulting.

Seeming at first to be prostitution, then realized to be marriage, complete with the not too unusual promiscuous interludes, it is a little uncomfortable for our pretensions. The researcher has made the connection:

"This has got me really interested in humans," she said. "I'm thinking of moving on to working with hunter-gatherers."

After we finish our chuckles there is a rather serious matter to think upon. In fact I started to think about this while attending "Dr. Funk's Tour of The Brain" a few weeks ago. She starts her presentation with a very emphatic statement that there is nothing "mental" about Mental Illness. That "it is all physical," meaning that our ideas, our behaviors, wishes, aspirations and most emphatically out transgressions of the norm are a result of the way our brains are formed, through both evolution and individual growth and development. This observation of the chimpanzees is an interesting illustration, in that shows a certain kind of hard wired evolutionary form of what many polite people would call prostitution and which they actively persecute.

There is a discussion whether Darwin and Genesis are compatible. It has come up much lately in both of the discussion groups I attend. I am amazed that in the face of conclusive scientific evidence this controversy can be considered other than an amusing footnote to the story intellectual development, yet it continues to occur with contention and I start now to understand why. I wonder if the discussion of historical verses biblical fact isn't a red herring, and the real threat to regressive religious understanding might not be the idea that in fact our behaviors are not so much within our control, but evidence both of evolutionary predetermination and the state of physical health of the organ we call the brain.

No one would think of putting a person with a heart attack in jail. Perhaps I should use epilepsy as an illustration, because it was once considered a demonic situation and often punished, thankfully now understood to be a serious illness. Likewise we learn that addiction, aggression, most human behaviors, good and bad, are not in the control of some kind of "Free Will," yet we deal with them by invoking demons and severe punishment. We now can add to the list an evolutionary predisposition to prostitution.

This I think is the real source of resistance to Darwin and modern science, that it reveals the moral stance of most religious and civil codes to be impoverished and brutal. When "anti-social" behavior is understood to be the result evolutionary forces, or of faulty wiring or physical damage in the brain, all the moral implications need to be reinterpreted, and the very foundation of the orthodox response is crumbled. There are very few, I am thankful to be able to say not all, but very few religious leaders that are willing to, have the wisdom, intelligence and grace to rise to this challenge.