Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm Late For Work But Had to Post this: Is Belief in God and in Evolution Compatible?

The New York Times didn't even bother to make one read the article before submitting a comment. I couldn't resist: are belief in god and evolution compatible? Since I am a compulsive commenter on that topic, here are my comments:

Creationism is not -- and can never be -- science. As a matter of epistemology, one can believe that creationism is true but cannot prove that it is true. Science makes propositions that are testable and turn out to be either true or false, regardless of any belief in their trueness or falseness. For example, believing that a bridge is strong enough to hold up a car is not the same thing as knowing that it will hold up a car: the belief may either be true or not, but knowledge that it is true or not depends on knowing that the bridge held up the car or not (or that it has the tensile strength or doesn't have the tensile strength predictably to hold up the car). With creationism, the notion of "intelligent design" is not a proposition that can ever be proven to be true. Evolution, on the other hand, is demonstrable in millions of ways, the evolution of viruses and bacteria being one example or the devastation created by non-native plant species, where it is impossible to create a balance in the complete cycle between plants, insects, birds, mammals over short periods of time, is another example.

The proposition that god exists is ultimately never provable. However, belief in god's existence does not rest on whether it can be proven to be true or not. It can simply be held in the mind and heart.

The compatibility of science and belief in god will depend on one's definition of god. A god that has direct intervention in the lives of humans is probably incompatible with evolutionary theory. However, a god that exists as inherent in the universe, a spiritual dark matter, a force that exists within all material things, from light waves, to time, to crystals, to viruses, to all forms of life, known and unknown, to a meta morality that springs from the evolutionary nature of the animal and human ways of being, is compatible with science and evolution. But neither belief is a testable or provable proposition.

— Christina Forbes, Alexandria VA

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Kept Reading About "Forbs" and Wondered What They Were

Douglas Tallamy, author of the new bible, Bringing Nature Home (see my earlier post), used the word "forbs" enough times that I had to look it up. Since my blog's name comes from plants (that live in the air, without visible means of nutrition), I had to know what my Scottish family's name came from. Here is is: a non taxonomic (feeling verbally taxed?) name for a grouping of herbaceous, flowering plants, like clovers, wild flowers, grasses and the like. Like my brain.

Here's from Wiki:
Forbs are herbaceous flowering plants that are not graminoids (grasses, sedges and rushes). The term is frequently used in vegetation ecology, especially in relation to grasslands, to refer to broad-leaved (dicot) herbs. Forbs represent a guild of plant species with broadly similar growth form, which in ecology is often more important than taxonomic relationship.

In addition to its use in ecological studies, the term forb may also be used for subdividing popular guides to the wildflowers of a region, together with other categories such as ferns, grasses, shrubs and trees. This approach is not followed in formal regional floras, which are usually organised taxonomically.

Some example forbs: clover, sunflower, milkweeds.

I wonder what my siblings and cousins will think? (My parents are dead.) Without pride of ownership, I think we need a lot more native forbs in this world!

I Think I Can I Think I Can Can

Bob Herbert in today's New York Times addresses the brouhaha created by Obama's use of the word "bitter." Herbert says it was a surrogate for admitting that some non-middle class whites in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia can't vote for a black man. And that Obama should go back to his uplifting message of hope. Two thoughts.

Below the usual Email Print Save Share links is a link to one of my most favorite groups, Young @ Heart.
(I wanted to have the same link but don't have the clip chops to get it. Oh well.) The movie is going to be shown at the E Street Cinema in downtown DC starting this Friday, April 18! I can't wait!

Bitter is a word seldom used in our happy days lexicon. But Obama was right. Herbert may be right, but I think doesn't go to the bull's eye on this one. "Bitter" is what a lot of people are. Whether black, white or any one of our multi-hued humans running around struggling in this economy. We need to admit it, say it, speak about and to it, directly.

Bitter has the connotation of a feeling that never leaves you. That stays in your gut, despite the smiles and the jokes. That includes the obligation to hide it, lest you scare people away.

And a lot of people I know are bitter. Not my well-off friends and acquaintances, not my clients with dementia. But my clients in the middle, those whom fate has pointed a dagger at and said, "not you, you don't get to share in the benefits, in the revelry, in the unbridled joy of our times."

The bitterness of the undocumented aliens who live under the myriad swords of Damoclese that the anger of those who are bitter about a variety of things have hung over their heads. The bitterness of those on the other side, those who pound the table accusingly "they have disobeyed the law," a surrogate for "I want mine, particularly because what is (was?) mine is shrinking."

The bitterness of those who were promised much but who were shoved off the train just as it got rolling. As a white woman sitting on the Metro a few days ago, tired and on my way home, I watched a black man, standing impassively, rocking with the rhythms of the train. And I saw the dual lives black people must live: the black family world and the white world. Two universes separated and in opposition, sistered together like two joists in one soul.

How can a white person -- who has no thought about race, for whom doors close only because of bad behavior or bad luck or the luck of the draw -- understand a black person -- who lives with race every nanosecond of the day, where the color of your skin elicits some kind of reaction, however infinitessimally small and "imperceptible"? And how can a black person feel the insouciant freedom a white person feels at never having to think about race, and if he or she does, it's to say, "well, race doesn't matter. We all swim at our own strength."

I wondered how hard it would be to cross that divide and look white culture in the face and say, "hey, I'm jumping over all that, I'm going to set aside the embedded racism that leaks out of every pore of white society, and play on your team, play by your rules." And I wondered about how it would feel to be solidly within a black family, or a black church, and feel the warmth of myriad common bonds that link the pains of a people, spoken and unspoken because known in the bones, that could envelope everyone. I wondered what it would be like to live in those two worlds. "Bitter" would be only one of many words that come to mind.

Not that Obama and those he speaks of and to are bitter in the overt sense. Bitter is an underlying condition, more often hidden than shown, repressed than felt. For a lot of people. For many reasons. Felt by whites and people of color, equally, for different reasons.

Bitterness is a close cousin to anger, which is born of hurt. How one feels and handles hurt.

And not to say that bitterness is an early bus stop on the road of pain, but just go to my friend Judy's blog, Remembering Matters, to read yesterday's post. A poem about hurt, Death Poem, from Poems from Guantanamo
. Hurt beyond bitterness. Bitterness includes a component that says, "I deserved better, and I got shafted." There is an element of being wronged. Death Poem and those in the collection speak of a hurt way beyond bitterness. Beyond post traumatic stress. Victims of torture. For sure. A soul branded for life.

A meditation on pain. For today. For the other end of the pendulum swing, go to Young @ Heart, octogenarians defying both gravity and time (how do you explain that, Stephen Hawking?)

Apology to all who would read racism, bitterness, one-sidedness or other tendentious feelings on my part. Pains live in mosaics of many feelings. None are bigger or better or less painful than another. Take my post at face value. I wrote about these today because these were the ones that came to mind that I could write about.

PPS: Roger Cohen in today's Wash Post looks at the brouhaha from a different angle: Obama's mistake was to link together people "clinging" (that was the poor choice of words) to guns, religion, etc. who are bitter. Truth spoken (from my vantage), but not very political. Ed Koch always supported the end of rent control in his head but opposed any measure to eliminate it with all of his political muscle.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Miracle Enveloped in a Tragedy

Juan Augustin was hit by a car. Or perhaps attacked by thugs and beaten and robbed. He was taken to a hospital. He was given a name. Juan Augustin. It may or may not have been his real name. Actually, it turned out not to be his real name.

He was sent to a nursing home, a hopeless quadriplegic, with some eye movement, living on a feeding tube, breathing though a tracheostomy tube, his hands sometimes tied to the edges of his bed to keep him from pulling out one of his tubes.

A few times Juan came down with pneumonia and would be sent to hospital where he would be pumped full of antibiotics, put on a respirator machine and left to get well. Then he would be sent back to the nursing home.

I had been appointed Juan's guardian. That meant that I had responsibility for making medical decisions since he couldn't communicate and to all outward appearances would have had no ability to evaluate the choices.

At the nursing home, I consulted with all of the medical staff to determine what the best regime for him would be. Basically, not much more than was being done. I wondered whether and when he might die. That is part of my job. The nurses, mostly men, said that in the mornings he would perk up and open his eye and respond to questions. I never saw that side of him.

He came down with pneumonia again and was sent to a different hospital. I was called and went to see him. The hospital staff wanted to know what his advance directives should be. DNR, full code, no code, what about other procedures? pain medication, antibiotics, biopsies, all of the myriad questions one faces when in a hospital today. I went to see him in his hospital bed. He was his usual very comatose self. I spoke to him. In Spanish, since he doesn't speak English. When I asked him how he was he remained still and silent. When I asked him -- as I must -- whether he wanted to be kept alive, he reached up and grabbed my hand on the side of the bed. I held his hand for a while, until he let his drop. I told the nurse, Full Code.

A few weeks later, I received a call from a social worker at the hospital. Could I help with his financial information so they could discharge him back to a nursing home. A much more appropriate place than a hospital. I had no information. A week later, the social worker called again. This time to tell me that because he was -- apparently -- an undocumented alien, the city wouldn't pay his medicaid so no nursing home or other facility would take him. He was, effectively, stuck at the hosptial.

I visited Juan sporadically. Toward the end of six months there, I discussed the possibility of starting hospice, since it didn't look as though he would be getting any better and he had been losing weight and showing other signs of "failure to thrive." He was still essentially unresponsive to my talking to him. The doctor said he would undertake an ethics consult, of several doctors, to evaluate what the longer term next steps should be. I would of course be involved.

When I visited a few months later I asked about the ethics consult. The new doctor -- they rotate in and out every month -- said with a big grin, that Juan had shown remarkable progress lately, that a volunteer had been able to communicate with him, that he was from El Guateduras, in Central America, that his name was not Augustin, but Acevedo and that he had family in the region.

I raced into his room, greeted him, found him responsive, took up the paper with the alphabet written on it, and since he opened one eye, started to talk to him. He could take a pen, as a pointer, and hold it in his crippled hand, and point at letters and numbers. He could nod yes or no to questions phrased simply. I confirmed all of the information and learned that he didn't want to stay in the hospital, that he had had a passport, that he had been robbed, not hit by a car as the hospital records said, that he even had a work permit. At one point, he also opened his other eye. Something he hadn't done in two years.

Ecstatic, I called the El Guateduras embassy and spoke to the consul. The consul said he would be willing to visit Juan at the hospital and see what he could do. He thought he could locate the family in El Guateduras, if he knew where he was born and what his full name was.

At the same time, we had to get him documented so he would qualify for public benefits so he could be moved from the hospital. It was also clear that he was very, very depressed, that his body wracking cough was due to his inactivity, and that with physical therapy he could regain some movement. He was, after all, only 37. I retained an immigration attorney.

The consul, the attorney, a relief worker from El Guateduras and I visited Juan. We talked at length with him. Near the end, the consul, who had been on his cell phone for some time, said they had located the information on his passport. He would give that to the attorney who could then use it with Homeland Security. I asked the doctor to order antidepressants, B-12 shots and provigil, a drug given to those with dementia to perk up their mental functioning.

While in my office on Saturday afternoon, I got a call from a woman who spoke virtually no English, and very fast Spanish. She was Juan's cousin. A sister of Juan's in El Guateduras had called her to tell her where Juan was, and to alert his mother, brother and sister, all of whom lived nearby. Juan's mother wanted to talk to me.

I called the number for his mother, and got his brother. We talked a long time about all of the issues. The family wanted him taken from the hospital. I explained that Juan would need insurance, qualifying documented status or a very rich relative. Because there was no safe discharge home or anywhere else without a lot of money. But, that we were working on improving his life.

His mother was at the hospital. She had persuaded the staff to allow her to spend the night with her son. His brother told me that Juan told him he wanted to die. That he was in terrible pain. What could be done?

This was now, not only a miraculous reunion, but one of many tragedies being played out in this country at this time. Whole families living under the dark clouds of fear. And this one anchored, now, to an ailing son and brother, a quadriplegic in a hospital, unable to be moved.

This story isn't finished yet. It is hard to know where it will lead. My hope is that between the El Guateduras government and my excellent immigration attorney, we will put Juan on a road to improved medical care. I see him, in my mind's eye, zooming around in a motorized wheelchair, guiding it with his right hand on a small stick, as so many are doing now. We just need the resources. And lots of luck.