The unbearable lightness of being

Shakey's had its own "pledge of allegianc...

Shakey’s had its own “pledge of allegiance” in the early 1970s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was six, I stopped reciting the pledge of allegiance because I didn’t believe in god.  I didn’t know the “under god” section was added to differentiate us from the godless communists and I could have just stopped saying that part but that only occurred to me last week.

And yes, I am an atheist who attends church most weeks.  I am a complicated person.  My Facebook profile has physics as my religion.

My already confusing stance on this got more confusing when Cheddar Jameson died.  After seeing his little body at the vet, my last thought was I really hope I am wrong about god.

Cheddar died the week of the Connecticut school shooting.  Another event that makes me want to believe in god, so that the shooter has a chance of going to hell.  In the scheme of things, his death, while important to me, was not the worst thing that week but it got me thinking about my most fundamental ideas and values.  I love Neill deGrasse Tyson’s statement that “we are all stardust.”  This idea — that there is no god but that we are still part of something so much larger than ourselves is very comforting to me.

And then the cat gives me more reason to keep my faith with physics.  As I was questioning my non belief in god, something occurred to me — neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, they can only be transferred.  I may not know where Cheddar’s energy went but I do know, it still exists somewhere.  It no longer rests with him but it is out there — somewhere.

(and then I realized, the guns, the bombs, the revolution all had something to do with a girl named Marla Singer…)

While I am being honest (when am I not?) I am going to tell you, this has been a rough few months for me.  My health issues have been, well, I am not healthy.  First it was anemia.  Next I had a seizure.  Then I was diagnosed with sleep apnea.  When I had that seizure, I re-injured my back (herniated a disk) and knee (train wreck of a knee).  My teeth should qualify me for British citizenship.  My favorite cat ever died (sorry Hobbes) and the only way to describe a recent relationship is “crash and burn.”  That might be the nicest thing I can say about it.  For the past month, my life has been a nonstop pity party.  That all ends today.  I am a lucky, blessed person and I need to get over myself.

You need to get busy living or get busy dying.  I am done feeling sorry for myself.  I am done forgetting how lucky I am.  In the words of American Horror Story’s Sister Jude, “No time for navel gazing, there’s too much work to be done.”

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  There is a big event in DC planned to pay lip service to ending this horrible disease.  Bono will be there.  President Obama will be there.  Former Presidents Clinton and Bush will be there.  It’s too bad that this comes on the heels of the announcement that for the first time since it was founded ten years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has cut funding to poor countries.  This funding is essential for programs in these countries and its absence will have devastating consequences for millions of people.  This is literally a question of life or death for millions of people.

The Global Fund now directly keeps alive 3.2 million people on anti-retroviral treatment.  (Together with other funders that means that around 6.6 million people are now on these life-saving drugs.) It has financed 8.2 million courses of TB treatment and the distribution of 190 million insecticide-treated nets to fight malaria.  We are seeing a historic turn in the progression of these pandemics.  — Jeffrey Sachs, Politicians just don’t care enough to tackle this scourge.

Health care is a basic human right.  That’s just my opinion.  That’s part of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This is not the time to withhold funding vital to programs that are working.  Malaria prevention efforts are starting to have a real impact in places like Africa.  We tend to think of certain infectious diseases as being other people’s problems.  They strike in poor countries, far away from us.  The problem with that thinking — other that the callous nature with which we view the world through the prism of how does this impact me personally? — is that is is just wrong and shortsighted.  Infectious diseases, for instance, that kill people over there, are just as deadly when they strike here.  These are often diseases of poverty, we have that here.

Over the past year, I have been working with a nonprofit health organization — they develop and deliver medicines for infectious diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis, which is nearly 100 percent fatal when left untreated.  Like AIDS, it destroys its victims immune system.  Our military personnel are being infected because they are fighting in areas where it is endemic.  New studies also show an increasing number of co-infections – -VL & AIDS.

TB is a scourge in the US, too.  Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation.  What’s worse is that many cases are of the drug resistant variety, a side effect of a treatment that can take up to two years is that people don’t follow through with the full treatment.  (Topic for another day is how our antibiotic abuse is making them less effective. short version, if your doctor doesn’t give you one for the sniffles, don’t demand one.)

Other, less famous diseases such as Dengue Fever are making a comeback in the US as well.  The mosquito that carries the potentially deadly illness has been found as far north as North Carolina.  Mosquitoes don’t care about borders.

The bottom line is that if a disease can strike anywhere, it can strike anywhere.  We risk losing important ground gained over the past decade because we lack the political will to do the right thing.

Not sad but not excited by the death of a terrorist

When something is thrown upwards, there is a point at which the object’s upward momentum and the force of gravity are equal. For some time period — even if it is incredibly small — when the object hangs suspended. That is the emotional space I have occupied since learning about Osama bin Laden’s death. Any relief/closure/positive emotion has been tempered by my normal instinct that death is bad and deaths, even of bad people, are not meant to be celebrated.

Now, I should confess a few things. I grew up on Long Island and live in Washington, DC. My emotional location vis-à-vis 9/11 had been a strange place. It remains one of the worst days of my life and few things would make me happier than seeing the towers built back exactly the way there were and despite knowing New York as well as I know any place on earth, I still get lost in lower Manhattan sometimes because I still look for the WTC when I get out of the subway. Growing up, that was my compass in the city. It may always be. These are the reasons, my liberal friends tell me my opinion of anything 9/11 related is less valid because I am too close to it.

At the same time, I will never think we should do to ourselves what the terrorists could not; destroy out way of life and take away our belief in the ideals that inspired our republic. Racial intolerance cannot be mistaken for vigilance against terrorism. We cannot convince anyone outside of the US  to believe that we believe in the importance of the rule of law if we do not apply it uniformly within the US. And the Bill of Rights is as important today as it was on 9/10/2001. These are the reasons my conservative friends tell me my opinions on this subject are less valid because I “do not understand the impact 9/11 had on America.”

You can see the paradox. One might think these opinions would give me more reason to hate Osama bin Laden but I don’t. I can’t. He doesn’t deserve that. The closest thing I have had to “joy” at seeing him be killed was when I laughed at a photo of President Obama that had the caption “I am sorry it took me so long to get you my birth certificate, I was busy killing Osama bin Laden.”

At the end of the day though, if I were to become the kind of person who celebrates any loss of life — even of someone as reprehensible as this mass killer — I just become more like them and I don’t want that.