Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin

I believe that the Covid outbreak is serious. It’s not just the flu and I am really sad at all the folks that are dying.  We must be taking action. But the seriousness of the problem doesn’t lend support to whatever drastic action our leaders must be taking. What if we are being asked to do a bunch of stuff that is unproven? What if what we are doing actually makes little to no difference in the outcome? That is what this doctor suggests in his NY Times editorial.  What if what we are doing causes more harm in terms of health and human suffering than it prevents?  We don’t have to look to hard in the history of medicine to see examples of this.

Sweden is not doing the same thing as the US. Read the article below for more details. Are they doing the right thing? Time will tell.  So far they are not worse off than other countries.  Yet almost all the news articles that come up on a google search involve hand-wringing accusations.

I think it will be important to have some places to compare the outcomes. What if Sweden and the handful of American States that have not issued severe lock downs have similar outcomes as the places that chose the nuclear option?  We (globally and in the US) are doing things to address this situation that we have NEVER been done in human history. I think this article in National Review expresses some things well:

“This is, in fact, the first time we have quarantined healthy people rather than quarantining the sick and vulnerable. As Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The Spectator (U.K.) last week: “The theory of lockdown, after all, is pretty niche, deeply illiberal — and, until now, untested. It’s not Sweden that’s conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone else.

”We’ve posed these simple questions to many highly trained infectious-disease doctors, epidemiologists, mathematical disease-modelers, and other smart, educated professionals. It turns out that, while you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a person of theft and throw them in jail, you don’t need any actual evidence (much less proof) to put millions of people into a highly invasive and burdensome lockdown with no end in sight and nothing to prevent the lockdown from being reimposed at the whim of public-health officials. Is this rational?” (emphasis mine)

Source: Coronavirus Response: Sweden Has Avoided Isolation and Economic Ruin | National Review

The Answers We Need vs The Answers We Want

This article is going around. Here is my first take. Wright is addressing some important problems in the Christian community. But his answer is anemic in my opinion. It is wholly untrue that “Christianity gives us NO answers.” It would be more accurate to say that Christianity gives us the answers we need, but not all, (and not always) the answers we want. And the answers don’t always remove the pain. If we study lament in the psalms we find the psalmists don’t just say “why” and “how long?” Indeed They do, and we need to be comfortable with that pain and uncertainty. But very often they turn to trusting the character of God and his promises and that is the opposite of saying we have “no answers.”

While trying to avoid rationalism, we shouldn’t ignore the many rational things God’s word says about suffering, and still make room for the mystery and pain of unanswered questions.

 

Source: Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus | Time 

It’s not supposed to

The Ignorant Math of “Saving Just One Life.”

New York governor Cuomo recently spoke and justified his actions in putting the whole state on lock down:  “All this is worth it if saves one life.”  That approach seems laudable and the logic bulletproof. Who wouldn’t want to save a life?  But in reality, this approach is sentimental and displays some ignorance about how the world actually works. Economist Thomas Sowell said, “in the real world there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”   In the real world, taking major action in one area effects change in other areas. My concern here is not to evaluate the decisions of the governor, but rather this logic, which I believe is dangerous.  Many of his decisions are good and justified. So please don’t hear this as a criticism of the shut down orders. But across the country this kind of thinking is leading some officials to ignore (or justify) the damaging implications of policy decisions as if we are playing a game with a simple scoreboard consisting of coronavirus deaths.

This concept of tradeoffs is fairly obvious in other areas. When the police pursue a deadly criminal in a high speed chase in order to keep the public safe from a dangerous criminal they put the public at risk in other ways (10,000 injuries and 321 fatalities in 2002) Widespread use of mammograms to detect breast cancer has led to an estimated 30% over diagnosis of the cancer, and all the problems that come with that diagnosis.  The real word is not a simple financial ledger with one column measured in coronavirus deaths.  It is more like a teeter totter where moving one side up or down affects the other side. 

As an example, following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 many Americans opted to drive instead of fly on commercial airlines. The reason was presumably fear. Airplanes can get hijacked. Driving a car would seem to be safer. But it wasn’t.  Use of air travel by Americans fell 12-20% in the year following the attacks, while automobile deaths increased around 1,595.  That number is about half the number that died in the terror attacks. Americans unknowingly embraced the real danger of automobile accidents to avoid the potential danger of terrorist attacks. The tradeoff was there, but not as obvious as those who died in the twin towers. 

In another example this author attempts to track “indirect deaths” from the Japanese earthquake in 2011. “Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 18,000 dead or unaccounted for, roughly 3,700 people have been recognized as victims of indirect death, including 2,250 in Fukushima Prefecture, where large numbers of people were forced to move from one evacuation shelter to another due to the radioactive fallout from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” The choice to move out of earthquake damaged buildings into shelters took lives as well. 

These kinds of numbers are the domain of public health and epidemiology. However, panic and widespread fear can distort our perceptions of reality. Fear can make us focus on one danger so intensely that we don’t see the speeding car that is about to hit us.

The massive an unprecedented steps we are taking to save lives from the coronavirus may indeed reduce deaths in this one area (and we should pursue that), but we should not be ignorant or indifferent to the impact of our actions.  It may end up that the response to the coronavirus is the largest and most coordinated disaster in US history.  Bringing entire cultural, political, economic, and healthcare ecosystems to a halt will cost lives as well. 

In my estimation this is an important part of the equation that we are not talking about. After listening to a podcast with Dr Marty Makary a public health expert from Johns Hopkins, I was concerned that the tradeoffs were given very little consideration. To be fair, he admitted that half of Americans have less than $400 cash available. This is far less than a person needs to purchase 3 months worth of food (his recommendation) to allow one to shelter in place.  Experts are asking us to deliberately cause one very certain disaster in order to avoid another very scary potential one based on the projections of experts.   We cannot carefully make these decisions without seeing the cost on both sides.   

Here are some areas where there will be a price to pay in lives. I have posed them as questions:

What is the life/health impact of shutting down all nonemergency medical and dental care for months? I worked in EMS as a paramedic in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties from 1995 to 2006. We ran emergency calls at doctor’s offices constantly. People come in for routine care only to find out they had a serious problem. What would happen if we shut down the regular non-emergency healthcare of for the whole nation (330 million people)?   And this is exactly what has already happened in California.  The shelter in place order that was issued affected around 23 counties without a confirmed case of the virus at the time of the order. 

What is the health impact of a potential worldwide depression/recession on personal health insurance, stress, and nutrition?  

What is the health impact of millions people losing their jobs, retirement savings & homes? Especially among the lower income poor and self employed?   This can lead to huge amounts of stress and all the poor outcomes that come with it (addiction, PTSD related to disaster, suicide). 

What is the health impact of people staying away or delaying care from the ER for serious illnesses out of fear of infection? (This has been happening in our town) A person with an infected appendix or gall bladder that waits an additional 12 hours to get help can become much worse off. 

What is the impact on pregnancy stress from our response on maternal and newborn health in pregnancy?  It is known that miscarriages, premature births and neonatal deaths all go up in time of national disaster. This can be related to stress and/or women not getting routine preventive care.  This article discusses the effects after hurricane Sandy.

This 2015 article suggests 4.4% loss of male fetuses (which are more sensitive to stress) following the Taiwan earthquake. 

I want our government officials to take action. But let’s not pretend that the only thing that matters is saving lives from Coronavirus. There is much more going on here.  We need leaders that can see and acknowledge the whole situation, including the devastating impact of their own policies.

What’s Wrong With Teaching 9 Year Olds To Murder?

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I recently watched the movie “The Beasts of No Nation” on Netflix. The movie was recommended on several critic top movie lists and so I was lured in. The film is about child soldiers in Africa. It is extremely violent, very graphic, and vulgar language seeps throughout the script like water from a clogged toilet. It is absolutely not for children, and in general I cannot recommend it. I had to turn my eyes away several times. For instance there is a scene in which a child is pressured to kill an unarmed prisoner with a machete while he begs for mercy.  It frustrates me when directors make movies this way. There seems to be a loss of subtlety and no concern for the imagination of the audience.

Why would the film’s creators make the movie this way? Why would they produce a film with so much gore and graphic bloodshed? I do have a little sympathy in this case because I think they were trying to reveal something of the depravity of a situation that has been hidden out of site. They were trying to open the door for the rest of the world to see what is actually happening. Simply put, armies in Africa are recruiting orphans to become members of death squads.

I spend a lot of time in my life thinking about morality and ethics. Movies like this can be a challenge for Christians because it brings up the problem of evil. How could a good God allow such things? And in my opinion this is an important question that has compelling answers. My intent is not to provide answers here, but to suggest that the people that use such questions to dismiss Christianity need to provide an explanation as well.  In my experience people of faith are the only ones that blush when faced with such questions.   But they shouldn’t be.

The atheist that uses the problem of evil to undermine Christianity (or any other religion) is also in a difficult spot. In order to shoot at theists like this he has to walk out on the quicksand. I say this because they have to assume that evil actually exists in order to use it as an argument against God. Then after they “win” the argument and the embarrassed Christian goes home, the honest atheist must face the world he has tried to articulate. It is a world in which there is no consistent reason to believe in the existence of good or evil as anything other than a cultural construct. That means that good an evil don’t really exist in the world. They are a matter of human perception much like our hatred of brussel sprouts.

I don’t mean to suggest that atheists don’t really believe in good and evil. They do. In fact they get angry if you suggest that there is any problem with their morality.  Further, they behave in ways that are often moral and virtuous, and I applaud this. I don’t mean to imply that every atheist is a monster. My point here is more subtle. At the risk of over simplifying things (I realize there is a broad spectrum of beliefs out there), the atheist narrative provides no compelling reason to believe in the existence of evil. It says there is nothing but matter in the universe. We are nothing more than complex systems of electrons colliding according to the laws of physics. From the standpoint of physics, the murder of children is no different from the killing of a rhino or a rose bush.  Just matter in motion.  A world without an absolute, immaterial standard of ethics provides a weak protest against the kind of evil in the “Beasts of No Nation.”

I remember my first day of college chemistry class.  My professor stood up and pointed to the periodic table of elements on the wall. He said, “Everything that exists is on that table. Can anyone name anything that exists that is not on that table?” The class was silent (except for me).  But if he is right, then our actions are just a bunch of chemical reactions from the periodic table. Our thoughts are just the chemical depolarization of neurons in the brain. This is true for all thoughts. Bloodthirsty ones as much as altruistic ones.  Evil and good are the same thing: matter in motion. Nothing more than that. And when we logically analyze the common atheist protests against injustice (things like wealth inequality, rape culture, or the recruitment of children into death squads) the logic sounds a lot like, “I don’t like it,” or “we don’t like it.”  Or maybe, “the brain isn’t wired to work that way.” Which of course is not true, the brains of those child soldiers and their recruiters definitely ARE wired that way. But that point aside, for a system of ethics to be meaningful it must provide a compelling reason for people to live in a certain way. It must tell the bad person why they MUST not be bad. It must tell the person that wants to rebel against the moral conventions of our society why they MUST conform.  What in the universe compels the killer not to kill? Especially when the darker dimensions of human psychology and culture seem to be compelling them to kill and rewarding them for it?

The movie was obviously intended to create outrage. And that is exactly what it has done. There is nothing quite like staring directly in the face of evil at close range to bring out our inner moralist. How could anyone teach children to be so violent and bloodthirsty?   It is hard to watch a movie like this and then conclude that your revulsion is nothing more than a personal or cultural preference.

The great question for the atheist is this: What is wrong with teaching nine-year-olds to maim and murder? If we are just animals, and there is no absolute moral authority, if there is no objective ethical standard that applies to everyone… Then what is wrong with that?

If we are simply the product of time and chance acting on matter… if we are nothing more than biology, what is wrong with people acting like animals?  This is the significance of the movie’s title. The main actor makes a statement at the end of the movie that he has become like an animal. And he’s right. Most of us don’t like it. But what is wrong with it in any absolute sense? Isn’t our outrage just an example of a ethnocentric perspective that wants to tell other people how to live?

In a material world isn’t all of this just a matter of cause and effect? Aren’t we just reactants in a global test tube? If a poor child watches his family murdered by an invading army, isn’t it predictable that he will get snatched up by a violent militia looking for recruits? Isn’t this predictable? If it is nothing more than cause and effect at work, how could we protest? Dogs hate cats. Lions kill hyenas. Humans hate other tribes of humans.  It’s all the result of DNA at work in an unfeeling and uncaring world. It can be nothing more, because nothing more exists.

We could say that people shouldn’t act like animals, that human societies have evolved social norms and mores to control our behavior.  But if we mean by that, that there are no human beings that act like animals, we would be wrong. In fact the truth is exactly the opposite.  The real problem is that a great many humans very frequently act like animals in just this sense.  And its not just Africa. Arguably, European history is far more beastly than anyone other. But why should it be any different?  To say that these things threaten our existence, or cause  psychological pain really begs the question. Of course animals engage in behavior that threatens their own existence, and causes them harm?   The history of the world is a history of extinction.

What is wrong with herds, and packs, and tribes fighting against one another for resources? What is wrong with one organism killing another organism in order to survive? Watch any nature show, this is the way of the world.  And no one ever watches animal behavior and then makes a moral protest.  We don’t say, “sharks shouldn’t kill fish.” To the contrary, in the evolutionary/atheist view of the world it is precisely that kind violence which has helped successful species (like humans) adapt and unsuccessful ones to evolve or become extinct. That kind of behavior has actually helped us to survive.

Social pundits, college professors, and cultural revolutionaries like to tell us that there is no such thing as morality. They often do this in an attempt to normalize their own deviant sexual behavior. When they say, “there are no rules,”  too often they mean “there are no rules for me.”  But if they are right, they have proven too much. “Normal” isn’t a concept that only applies to their preferred version of wickedness, it applies to all behavior. It applies to child abuse and child nurture.  Freedom and tyranny.  Gay marriage and gay bashing.  It is all common and normal.  Of course, there are a few statistical anomalies. But isn’t that the way of nature as well?

Sadly there aren’t enough voices to point out the failings of this kind of moral relativism. These ideas are only seen for what they are in the face of extreme wickedness.  And a movie like “The Beasts of No Nation” has once again reminded me of this. Christians may have trouble finding an answer for why God would allow such evil and suffering in the world.  But the atheist or philosophical materialist has a much greater problem in my opinion.

What is wrong with teaching nine year-olds to murder?

Making of a Murderer- A Good Documentary About An Ugly Problem

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This week my wife and I watched the Netflix documentary “Making of a Murderer.”  In telling you this, I feel a little like I am at an AA meeting.  Yes we binge-watched all 10 episodes in 2 days.  That is a long documentary. But I was thoroughly engrossed in the story in spite of a several slow moments.  The account was so engaging, and even outrageous, that I experienced some of those rare and precious moments of self-forgetfulness. Those moments when a story is so gripping that you are carried to a place where you forget that you are tired, hungry, or even broke.

In short, the documentary is the story of how Steven Avery was sent to prison for 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. This conviction happened in the face of ample evidence that the real bad guy was still out on the street. Eventually Avery was released after DNA evidence revealed the real criminal.  The story highlights the antagonism between the small town sheriff’s department and the Avery family. I think “bad blood” is the proper term for all this.

Sadly, several years later during a law suit against the sheriff’s department Avery is investigated and convicted of a heinous murder. I will avoid ruining the show with spoilers. But suffice it to say the story exposes MAJOR problems with the justice system, which is on display in large screen, full color, HD, stereo surround, screw-up mode.

I would recommend watching it (not for kids as it has some graphic language and content- it involves trials for murder and rape). It felt like a crime novel unfolding in real life.  The documentary footage seemed to come from live footage of the events that were recorded for some kind of court TV special.

Here are a two thoughts.

First, Our justice system has major problems. I think it is still one of the best in the world at offering protections for the innocent. But we have big problems to solve.  The fact that once someone has entered the criminal justice system they become a target for future law enforcement harassment is disturbing and in the long run counter productive. I realize that there are many career criminals, and that law enforcement efforts will need to investigate and prosecute repeat offenders. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with a system that goes too far in this respect. And honestly I don’t know the answer. I just have a deep gut feeling that the machine needs an overhaul. I hope that some brilliant and informed minds will address this problem. We also do not have enough qualified defense attorneys.  I also don’t like the fact that prosecution decisions are made with elections in mind. The plea bargain system very often has little to do with guilt or innocence, but with an accused person making a decision to plead because they cannot mount a good legal defense. I have mentioned this elsewhere.

Second, I realized (once more) how much I HATE the way the news media exploits people and tragedy for ratings.  There is such an utter disregard for personal space, polite attempts to avoid the spotlight, and basic manners. The truth is treated with outright contempt. The intersection of our culture and the criminal justice system seems to be this huge dysfunctional mess where people in power manipulate the lurid desires of media consumers through the willing help of journalists without a passing regard for what is true or ultimately helpful. The film shows that this cancer has more than a passing impact on viewers, it has the potential to corrupt the court system and destroy the lives of innocent people. In effect, the media becomes a court room from hell. It becomes a nightmare where there are no rules, no protections, and no court of appeal. And this goes into full effect when anyone experiences a tragedy that can be turned into grist for the ratings mill.

Update 1/6/15

I should add that I am aware that this documentary only provides one side of the story. Some reports are coming out presenting additional info. I have left out my thoughts on this to avoid spoilers. But I do understand there another side to this, and still think this reveals problems in the criminal justice system. 

Duty to Die: Author Says Too Few People in Oregon are Requesting Assisted Suicide

being mortal

How about this for piling on.

Here are my brief thoughts about someone else’s article. That article is kind of a review of a book review.  More like a response. And I just happened to finish that book, and I really enjoyed it. The book is called, “On Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande the Harvard trained surgeon who has produced a number of good books in the last decade. I have read them all 🙂

Anyway, Gawande’s book is about aging and dying and how the healthcare system has not done a very good job in actually helping people live better lives during the last phase of their journey. He spends a few pages talking about assisted suicide, and I would disagree with what he says (he thinks it is OK under some circumstances). But regardless of your position, he makes what I think is a compelling point. In America, and other countries, we are making huge strides in palliative care and hospice services.  And contrary to popular conception, those treatment modalities are not about helping people die as much as to live as well as they can during those difficult days.  People with painful and  incurable diseases are choosing to live out their days with family and finding more dignity than they knew was possible. And it is worth mentioning that how we live when we are dying is an important part of the human journey. How the story ends is truly important.

But it seems that in the Netherlands, the availability of assisted suicide has become the quick fix that has railroaded more promising alternatives. Rather than developing health care systems that can help people live full lives to the end, they have opted instead for something more sinister in the name of “dignity.”  Here is a quote from Gawande’s book, ”

 “I fear what happens when we expand the terrain of medical practice to include actively assisting people with speeding their death. I am less worried about abuse of these powers than I am about dependence on them.”

“The implication is that we might begin to substitute assisted dying for palliative care and hospice. He points to the experience in the Netherlands, where he says the fact that “one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure.”

The author of the article at LifeNews.com, Wesley Smith J.D. makes a point that is even more disturbing. Marcia Angell, an author who is an advocate for assisted suicide, has been quoted as saying, “I am concerned that too few people are requesting it. It seems to me that more would do it. The purpose of a law is to be used not to sit there on the books.”

Is this debate about presenting options that people want, or imposing your choice on others?

Source: Duty to Die: Author Says Too Few People in Oregon are Requesting Assisted Suicide | LifeNews.com

If We Are Unaware of Human Suffering, Does It Exist? Thoughts on Chronic Pain

My sister posted this article on Facebook recently. She suffers from chronic pain and has had trouble getting a diagnosis. This article by psychologist/ neuroendocrinologist Chandler Marrs discusses pain in terms of a philosophical principle. We don’t need to be in the forest to believe that trees fall when we are not there, and that they make noise even when no one is around to hear them.  She says that we tend to think that “awareness predicates existence,” when that is clearly not true. If we close our eyes, the world doesn’t cease to exist.

The big idea in this article involves depending on our ability to “measure” pain objectively as prerequisite to its existence. Does pain only truly exist only when the clinician can objectively perceive it? Is it possible that there are some disease states for which we do not yet have adequate tools to be able to measure it? The fact that millions of people complain of pain where clinicians cannot identify the causes should make us consider the limits of our knowledge and tools. 

Why is this important? In my experience as a healthcare provider, if someone higher in the chain of command ran all the available tests and couldn’t identify a known cause for the pain, then often the conclusion was not favorable. We thought that the patient was seeking drugs, or that they had some kind of mental imbalance. The polite term may have been “somatoform disorder.”  They were often lumped into that big diagnostic basket of “fibromyalgia,” which basically meant “you have pain and we can’t find a reason for it.”  This label could easily function as a flag to dismiss the reality of the patient’s claims.

Marrs also discusses how our perception is affected by our humility and our humanity.  Our compassion is based on our ability to believe that another person is truly suffering.  A lack of empathy can result in an inability to perceive someone else’s problems.

If we put these two factors together we may find that our insensitivity prevents us from believing someone’s  complaint, and concluding that it is not real.  And since there are real “malingerers” and drug seekers out there, we can easily put people into that category when they don’t fit. The result is tragic.

She writes:

“In the case of modern medicine, if the suffering is invisible to current diagnostic tests and intractable to medical therapeutics, it is not real. Indeed, whether cognitively or reflexively, every time a physician dismisses a patient’s complaint or prescribes an anti-depressant for pain, he denies the existence and veracity of their suffering. He denies the tree in the forest, because he does not see or hear it himself in the context necessary to recognize it – e.g. by currently available diagnostic technologies and taxonomies. Here, medical technology, and the physicians who wield the technology, assume an infallibility that precludes the existence of realities beyond their sight lines, beyond their control.”

Source: If We Are Unaware of Human Suffering, Does It Exist? – Hormones Matter

Real Men Cry, At Least In Epic Stories and Older Generations. A Brief Literary and Cultural History of Public Male Crying.

Here is a fascinating article on an unexpected subject: Men crying in public. Sandra Newman writes about the literary and cultural history of masculine weeping. She makes a good case that our current western practice of restraint is not the norm throughout history. The Greeks, the Bible, Christian history, English literature, and even Japanese literature is full of mass, public, unrestrained, and unapologetic weeping by manly men.

Based on research men today cry far less in public than women do. And the author tries to challenge the idea that this is a result of genetic differences. She does this based on her journey through history and literature. But I am not convinced. Even if men in other cultures and eras cried more than they do now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that public crying is biologically a gender neutral affair. She has made a good case that modern men do not cry as often as the men of other cultures. But that is not the same as saying men and women are identical. In fact, if anything is a cultural anomaly it is our attempt to prove biological equality between the sexes.

She suggests that the change in our view of crying can be tied to 2 things: First, we moved from an agrictultural economy into the industrial revolution. Second, we moved from living in small villages with close relationships to big cities where we lived with strangers. In I opinion, these ideas have merit.

Also interesting is the idea that crying serves an important social purpose. When we cry, especially in public, it is good for us as a release and it is a call for help to those around us.  If this is true, then failing to cry would not be good for us.

The Bible does say, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joyful shouting.” Psalm 126:5

She writes,

“However, human beings weren’t designed to swallow their emotions, and there’s reason to believe that suppressing tears can be hazardous to your wellbeing. Research in the 1980s by Margaret Crepeau, then Professor of Nursing at Marquette University in Milwaukee, found a relationship between a person’s rate of stress-related illnesses and inadequate crying. Weeping is also, somewhat counter-intuitively, correlated with happiness. Vingerhoets, a professor of psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, has found that in countries where people cry the most, they also report the highest levels of satisfaction. Finally, crying is an important tool for understanding one’s own feelings. A 2012 study of patients with Sjögren’s syndrome – whose sufferers are incapable of producing tears – found they had significantly more difficulty identifying their emotions than a control group.

“You might also suffer if you simply hide your tears from others, as men are now expected to do. As we’ve seen, crying can be social behaviour, designed to elicit care from people around you. While this might be inappropriate in the context of a performance review, it could be an essential way of alerting friends and family – and even colleagues – that you need support. Taboos against male expressiveness mean that men are far less likely than women to get help when they’re suffering from depression. This, in turn, is correlated with higher suicide rates; men are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as women. Male depression is also more likely to express itself in alcoholism and drug addiction, which have their own high death toll. Think of stoical Scandinavia, whose nations rank high for productivity – but also lead the world in rates of alcoholism and suicide.”

Source: Is there anything wrong with men who cry? – Sandra Newman – Aeon

A Girl’s Life in the Siege of Leningrad- The Russian Anne Frank

Russian women emerge from an air-raid shelter during the German blockade of Leningrad from 1941. Photo Alamy

There are too many interesting books that I will probably never have time to read. This is one of them.  So I will settle for a few reviews of the book.  The diary of Russian teenager Lena Mukhina was recently released.  She survived the horrors of the siege of Leningrad during WW2.  Over 700,000 civilians died in the battle. Some have called her the Russian Anne Frank.

Stalin said “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”  This statement sadly and accurately reflects how we respond to waves of human suffering expressed in massive statistics.  Its almost like 700,000 isn’t a real number for us.  It is too much to wrap our minds around. We get weary. We yawn. We move on.  As a result, biographies and diaries can help us see beyond the statistics to the depth of human tragedy.  An individual story can make atrocities in the abstract become concrete. 

A few things stood out from the review. The first is the bizarre nature of the propaganda pumped out by the Russians.  Socialism has been a catastrophic failure, but you would never know it from listening to socialists, even when the city is burning.

Lena Muchina [Photo: Ullstein Buchverlage]
Lena Muchina [Photo: Ullstein Buchverlage]
“By the time she returns to Leningrad at the end of August, the city is surrounded. On 8 September, the same day that the last road out of the city was captured, the Germans launched their first raid. Lena’s diary becomes a Blitz-like record of sirens, midnight dashes to a basement shelter and long, frightening hours spent listening to the thunder of explosions and anti-aircraft fire outside. Having earlier uncritically regurgitated Sovinform assurances that the Germans were surrendering en masse, she starts questioning government propaganda, scoffing at a radio report that fires are being ‘quickly extinguished’: ‘Quickly indeed, they were burning for five hours!’ News of the fall of Kiev shocks her into her only direct criticism of the leadership: ‘I’m no longer sure they’re not going to surrender Leningrad … So many loud words and speeches: Kiev and Leningrad are unassailable fortresses! … But now this.’

Also, I am struck by the horrors of the siege and the effect of starvation on the human soul. All of this is so foreign to me. I have a hard time imagining such cruelty and desperation because I have never experienced it. I can’t imagine being so hungry that eating wall paper paste would be a welcome treat.

“In the depths of the siege winter, many households disintegrated emotionally as well as physically. Lena’s held together. Her mother continued to walk to her workplace daily, bringing home and sharing whatever she was given for ‘lunch’. A windfall was sheets of carpenter’s glue, which could be boiled up and turned into edible jelly. Aka [her governess] queued at the bread shops, for hours at a time, in temperatures that dipped into the minus thirties. Both adults turned a blind eye when Lena hid the pathetic quantities of ‘meat jelly’ she brought home from school. By the end of the year, though, Aka was too weak to leave her bed. ‘Aka’, Lena records on 28 December,, ‘is just an extra mouth to feed. I don’t know how I can even bring myself to write such things. But my heart has turned to stone. The thought of it doesn’t upset me at all… If she is going to die I hope it happens after the 1st, so we’ll be able to get her ration card.’ Aka obliges, dying on New Year’s Day. A few weeks later Lena’s mother follows suit: a one-line entry for 8 February reads, ‘Mama died yesterday morning. I am all alone.’ From then on, Lena fights as much against despair as against hunger: ‘When I wake up in the morning, at first I can’t believe that Mama has really died … But then the awful reality sinks in. Mama has gone! Mama is no longer alive! … I feel like howling, screaming, banging my head against the wall and biting myself! How am I going to live without Mama?’

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Source: Literary Review – Anna Reid on the Siege of Leningrad

How Do You Face Cancer When Your Job Is To Make People Laugh?

Best of Times-2

What is it like when your child has cancer? Sad. Confusing. Exhausting. Unbearable.

What is like when your child has cancer, and your job is to make people laugh? How does a comedian cope with tragedy?

This is a very moving story, told by Anthony Griffith the comedian about the time in his life when his career was at his highest, while at the same time coping with his daughter’s cancer.

Very powerful. Some strong language. Makes you think about what is truly important.

It often takes an episode of tragedy or loss to wake us up to what is important. But, the most important things are still right there in front of us when everyone is healthy. A word to the wise…

The camera is shaky for the first minute, but it settles down. A good use of 10 minutes of your life.