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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

MS Research

Here's a very interesting article on recent MS research shared by a reader. Just copy the link into your browser. 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/01/21/684495345/researchers-find-a-web-of-factors-behind-multiple-sclerosis. 




Belly Buttons

I posted this little comic on my Facebook page the other day. It's just a silly sort of riddle, really. It's the song that has no end (or beginning?). It's kind of like the chicken and the egg riddle, or the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. It's a matter of infinite regress leading to the question of first cause--as old as Aristotle and Aquinas. 

What's surprising is the number of comments the comic drew. People are inclined to answer the question according to their own core beliefs, whether they be religious, or evolutionist, or scientific and so on. And you might be amazed to see the wealth of literature available online devoted to the riddle. Of course none of the answers stands very well, because there really is no answer available to us. One fellow confidently answered that Adam and Eve must have had navels because the apes they came from had navels. But then, how did the first ape come by his or her navel?  Would the first aardvark, arising from the primordial soup, have had a navel? If so, he could not have been the first aardvark, right? The chicken comes to existence by hatching from the egg and the egg first comes from the chicken in order that the chicken may hatch from the egg. Lol. 

I guess the best response is to shake your head, laugh, and say "Wow, that's weird!" 



Monday, January 21, 2019

Yes, Virginia, Other Countries Pardon Thieves, Traitors and Murderers, Too

Yesterday, it was announced that Indonesia's President, Joko Widodo, would pardon convicted terrorist, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, six years before the end of his prison term. This is the man who ordered the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed 202 people and injured an additional 209. Jokowi (as the President is otherwise known) cited Ba'asyir's advanced age and ill health as justification for the pardon. 

I personally doubt whether this justification flies with those who lost loved ones in the bombing or with those who are still suffering from permanent physical and psychological injuries. I know some of these people and know them to be permanently traumatized. Moreover, As'yir continues to show no remorse for the attack and continues to refuse to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian government ideal of Pancasila--tolerance for all peoples and religions. 

So what's the deal? 

Well, it just so happens that Indonesia is days away from a national election, and in a national election, you want to please as many people as possible, whether they be Islamic extremists in Indonesia or white supremacists in America. Very good people on both sides. Given that Jokowi has been somewhat of a westward leaning progressive, while Prabowo is more the 'redneck' representative, I suppose that this pardon is meant to show that he, too, can be on the side of Jihad if you just give him a chance. 

Politics is a fairly nauseating business throughout the world, ain't it? 

Medicare

As my 65th birthday approaches, two days from now, I am disappointed to have not received a Medicare card in the mail. I had written to SSA some months ago to be clear on this matter and was told that since I am already receiving Social Security benefits (since age 62), I would automatically be enrolled in Medicare and receive a card 'about two months before my 65th birthday'. Rats. In the interim, I have written twice more to SSA and received no answer. So it appears that I will need to make a call to them, which is a real pain in the ass, given the less than stable telephone system in Indonesia as well as the long distance charges and the likely scenario of being put on hold while elevator music plays from the other end. I mean, I can't use Medicare here anyway, but I had hoped to have the card in my back pocket in case of sudden emergency. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Plastic

I read in this morning's Jakarta Post of a new bylaw that will require tourists to Bali to pay a $10  levy to help clean up the plastic waste that besieges the island's waters. 

Well … 

You know, it is my understanding that this has not been a problem so much associated with tourism as with longstanding practices in the local culture. By and large, environmental concerns, along with the legislation of laws and effective environmental education have significantly altered behavior in developed countries. Moreover, the anti-plastic measures over recent years have really been driven by outside sources, have they not? 

But at any rate, whatever. Nothing wrong with giving a little extra for a good cause. 

Strangely, I read this day as well a brief article in Kompas concerning the death of a Jakarta worker who fell into a plastic milling machine. It seems that one man works from a platform at the top of the machine, feeding the plastic in, while another deals with it at the bottom as it comes out the other end. The man at the bottom reported noticing a lot of blood mixed in with the plastic waste, and at that time realized that something had gone amiss. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Other Side

I remember having a dream a long time ago about my second wife. We had not yet married then. We had only just met, but I was falling in love with her. In the dream, we were in a crowd of people in a harbor area where cruise ships came to dock. We saw each other amid the crowd of people and we both exclaimed "Hey!" at the same time, rushing forward to embrace. 

Where are you? Where have you gone?

I've had this feeling about many people. It's a wonderful feeling, pure, full of joy, kinship, a synchrony of love. No one ever disappears. They are in the crowd somewhere. They are waiting in your heart. 

Often enough, I have dreamed of my brother. He will suddenly appear, just there. And my heart will leap. Every time. 

What are you doing here? Where have you been. I thought you had died. 

And every time, he will say, Do I look dead to you?

I'm reminded of the final scene in the Terrence Malick film, The Tree of Life. In that scene, everyone has moved on to the next life. They are all walking on the wet sand of a wide open beach, meeting one another again and again--father, mother, brother, sister, beloved--reaching out, smiling, embracing with unutterable joy, relief, rest, peace, like an exhalation as wide as the unseen sea. Exclaiming at the same time, "Hey!"

My God, here you are after all. I had almost believed you were lost forever despite your presence being forever with me.  

I dreamed of my brother on the very night of his death. He was swimming with dolphins in an ocean bay. His hair was thick and red again. His muscled shoulders with their galaxies of freckles glistened among the sleek bodies of the dolphins and the white caps of the waves. 

Gary! Gary! My God, you're alive! Everyone told me you were dead.

And he looked at me with his blue eyes, and laughed, and shook his red hair, his face full of astonishment at such an absurdity. 

And he said, Do I look dead to you?

Reading Glasses

I have long enjoyed reading the newspaper nearly every morning, enjoying a coffee and a smoke at the same time. Typically, nowadays, I will read the Jakarta Post and Kompas. I'm not saying that I read every little thing in the papers. There are subjects which really just aren't interesting to me. Like the sports news, for instance. But I read the parts that stand out for me--politics, international news, crime reports, movie reviews, social commentary and such-like. 

Of late, however, I have noted that I can no longer see the damn newsprint, often enough stopping at the headline because the smaller print is just too challenging and I end up getting ink smudges on my nose. 

So today I said 'Enough is enough', and went upstairs to the spectacle outlet at Plaza Renon. 

"I'm looking for reading glasse," I proclaimed. "Ada?"

"Oh, yes!" 

By 'Oh yes', they meant to say that they wanted me to step into the back room, have an eye examination, and get prescription glasses. 

"No, no--I can see all right with the glasses I have--the ones on my face. I'm talking about reading glasses. Magnifying glasses. Ada?"

Disappointment. 

"Oh. Iii … yaa." 

The two employees escort me to an obscure glass case containing  reading glasses. 

"The highest magnification you have," I suggest. 

"Gitu," the woman answers, squinting in sympathy. "How old are you?" 

"Sixty-five." 

"Ahhhh." 

"Sudah tua, ya."

"Yah!" 

Semangat.

"Really, I'm sixty-four," I amend. "I'm not really sixty-five." 

This earns a brief noncommittal stare. As if I had made a random comment about the difference between an inch and an inch worm.

"Try these," the woman says. "It's the highest number we have."

Well, the good news is that these rather flimsy little glasses did indeed make a decided improvement in my ability to see the newsprint. It is still necessary to hold the paper rather close to my nose, but at least the print doesn't go scurrying off the page like armies of ants. As long as you focus on what you're reading and avoid looking up, you're fine. If you look up, you can't see a damn thing.