Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chaim Potok books

I AM THE CLAY, story takes place during the Korean War.

Old Men at Midnight, 3 stories in one book - first, a story about a Holocause survivor; second, a story about a KGB officer during WWI and WWII; and third, a story of a man writing his memoir and remembering forgotten pieces of his childhood. Excerpts from this book are below.

p. 74 Davita (one who gathers stories) speaking to former KGB officer.
"...But I would never put anything in writing."
"Then your stories will die with you."
"So they will. Who needs stories of yet another Jew?"
"I need them. Without stories there is nothing. Stories are the world's memory. The past is erased without stories."

p. 268 (speaking of the ram in the story of Abraham and Isaac)
Davita is talking to the man in the third story. She first made a comment about the ram in an earlier conversation and he brings it up again.
"You know about rams."
She turned to look at him. "My stories are about what the world is like when there are no rams. Benjamin, as a person whose specialty is war, doesn't the ram interest you?"

(Thinking about the ram in a battle situation is quite profound.)

At the end of the book there is a conversation with Chaim Potok. The book is about the tensions Jews faced in their transition from a war-torn Europe and an emerging American society. He makes this comment (which as a sociologist I quite enjoy).

"I think I have inadvertently stumbled across a cultural dynamic that I didn't quite see clearly myself until sometime toward the end of the writing of The Chosen. I think what I am really writing about is culture war. The overarching culture in which we all live is the culture we call Western secular humanism...Within this culture there is a whole spectrum of subcultures. The basic characteristic of the over-arching culture is what I call the open-ended hypothesis; that is to say, nothing is absolute in any kind of permanent way. A model is a shifting or temporary absolute on the assumption that additional data will be discovered that will impinge upon a given model. That model must be altered. So there is a constant search for new knowledge that is built into the civilization that we live in, this overarching civilization. But embedded inside this civilization we have a whole series of cultures which come into this world with givens, with models that are fixed absolutes. If they are alterable, they are alterable only under inordinate pressure. What happens is that these subcultures clash in a variety of ways with the overarching culture, as somebody from this subulture grows up and encounters elements from the outside model."

Yes. This is not only the case with "displaced" people, but this idea can be applied to various subcultures within our country. A mormon leaving a small mormon community, an amish teenager leaving the community, adjusting to a new school/religion/family; and, we could even go so far as to say that anyone who has been isolated in any way will one day face this model when introduced to a new idea or even a new discovery. With the speed of technology we may find people facing this model as they try to keep up with a culture that feels as if it is racing away from them.

carry on.

Monday, August 25, 2008


"It's hard to make room for what is no longer there."

Mary E. Martin, poem called "Loss"
Where is the rest of the poem?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Excerpts from book on Civil War

Maybe the House and the Senate would get more done if they did things the old fashioned way. An excerpt from the book, The Civil War, A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, by Shelby Foote - (a mere 810 pages):

p. 15
(speaking of Jefferson Davis) "Returned to the Senate in 1857, he continued to work along these lines, once more a southern champion, not as a secessionist, but as a believer that the destiny of the nation pointed south. It was a stormy time, and much of the bitterness between the sections came to a head on the floor of the Senate, where northern invective and southern arrogance necessarily met...Here, too, the anti-slavery Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner had his head broken by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who, taking exception to remarks Sumner had made on the floor of the Senate regarding a kinsman, caned him as he sat at his desk. Brooks explained that he attacked him sitting because, Sumner being the larger man, he would have had to shoot him if he had risen, and he did not want to kill him, only maim him. Sumner lay bleeding in the aisle among the gutta-percha fragments of the cane, and his enemies stood by and watched him bleed..."

Another quote. This is about Abraham Lincoln. (It reminds me a bit of special interest groups, or very loud groups like the Christian Coalition, or any kind of extremist group in 2008.)

p. 68
"In early May he had said to his young secretary, 'For my part I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapacity of the people to govern themselves.' Two months later, addressing Congress, he developed this theme, just as he was to continue to develop it through the coming months and years, walking the White House corridors at night, speaking from balconies and rear platforms to upturned faces, or looking out over new cemeteries created by this war: 'The issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether...a government of the people, by the same people, can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes.'"

Something to think about...

carry on

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cancer blog

LeRoy Sievers died this weekend. He wrote a daily blog on NPR entitled, "Cancer World". For the past little bit I've wondered everday when I opened his blog if it would say that he had passed away. He had made the decision just a few days ago to go into hospice care. I read about his death in the newspaper this morning. I still opened his blog today.

I first saw LeRoy on a program on the discovery health channel several months ago. He was on a panel with Elizabeth Edwards, Lance Armstrong, and another person whose name escapes me, and they were being interviewed by Ted Koppel. It was in a theatre in the round type of setting with people in the audience who were doctors, nurses, patients, family; and, I believe the program was in two parts. It was all about people living with cancer. I learned from it. I wanted to know more, so I started reading LeRoy's blog.

I don't know exactly why I read his blog everyday. I don't have cancer. I think it's because I've always been fascinated by how people deal with adversity in their lives. In other words, how do people survive?

I will miss reading about his daily life. He took me into 'cancer world', and as an outsider looking in, I was able to see a world that hundreds of thousands of people live everday. His blog gave me a sharper perspective of life.

I will miss reading his words and feeling his experiences. He offered an opportunity for people from all walks of life to connect in a world that stripped away many of their differences and gave them an outlet to share their stories and support one another.

I feel sad. I didn't know him personally and that's why it's interesting to me that I actually feel like I know a very special part of him. Our experiences, thoughts, and feelings can be expressed in words that have great impact on people's lives. Think about it...

carry on.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I'm not dead yet

This is for thespians who love Monty Python's "I'm not dead yet". Some of it is tough to understand but "the moments" are worth it.

"I feeeel happyyyyy."

(Just learned how to embed videos so having a bit 'o fun.)

This video rocks my 70's soul.
Disco balls rule the world!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cloning dogs and organs

I just read about scientists in South Korea who cloned five dogs. This after reading the book, Never Let Me Go , by Kazuo Ishiguro. I'm not recommending the book, unless of course, you want to take a ride into Creepsville. This is a story from the perspective of a woman who was a clone. She was raised with other clones for the purpose of organ donation. Perhaps it was so unsettling for me because it didn't seem too far removed from the possible.

As the gap widens between the "haves" and the "have nots" I think there will be a lot of things that are unsettling and ringing the truth of "the love of man waxing cold".

An interesting documentary about kidney bargaining in India provides evidence that people are being used as donors unjustly. This documentary reported that the government will pay roughly $1500 for kidney donation, and then the donor can make a bargain with the recipient for whatever amount they can agree upon for the organ donation. Of course, poor people are the ones donating and the rich are basically buying an organ (or life). Is it unjust if the poor are being compensated for their "loss"? What happens when a poor person needs a kidney?

Mostly people who are in debt are offering themselves as donors. One man used his donor money to buy a taxi. He got in an accident and the taxi caught on fire. He was then in the same financial situation as before his donation (Americans are wondering why his insurance didn't pay for his taxi...think about who you are and what you have). One woman who was responsible for taking care of her younger siblings did not have enough money for rent or food. She felt like her only recourse was to sell an organ. What a fascinating picture of class structure and power.

There are those who argue that lives can be saved with the discovery of cloning organs. Is it possible to save everyone from everything? I read an interesting article several years ago by a scientist writing about what would happen if there were no deaths from draughts, famine, and other natural occurances where people can receive food, water, medicine from relief agencies as opposed to natural disasters like earthquakes, etc. where some people inevitably die. He made the point that if everyone was saved from nearly everything it would challenge the natural coming and going of life on the planet. Does that mean we just let people die? His article wasn't about humanitarian efforts, it was about the capability of the earth sustaining life for people when natural (and cyclical) death is prevented. He presented an interesting argument - one that people tend to shy away from because we are programmed to think of death as something to avoid, no matter what. Even if it means test tube babies for the purpose of harvesting organs?

Note: I'm actually impressed by the use of umbilical cords for stem cell research. I'm not sure if I'm all too keen on manufacturing, or cloning life, for the sole purpose of obtaining a particular cell. Something to think about...

carry on.