Who We Are, Why We Are, and Where are We Going

I used to love it when Watchtower publications would run that Vermont Royster quote. After remarking on how far we have come science-wise, he added: “Yet here is a curious thing. In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.”

It is pretty obvious why Jehovah’s Witnesses would love those words; they make clear that a shallow world of materialism will not do. You can even think those words every time a Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain takes his life. Or anyone else. Suicide is all the rage today. People decide that ‘Hotel World’ has not that much to offer, and they line up at the counter to check out.

Isn't it a little missing the point when people look for the one factor, maybe social media, that is tipping people over the edge? Or suggest that it is all a matter of better mental health care? 

“For over half a century, as a journalist, author, and teacher, Vermont Royster illuminated the political and economic life of our times. His common sense exploded the pretensions of "expert opinion," and his compelling eloquence warned of the evils of society loosed from its moorings in faith,” read the citation when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1986.

There are few things I enjoy more than exploding the pretensions of "expert opinions."


They Welcomed Back Charlie Rose at CBSThisMoring

They welcomed back Charlie Rose on CBSThisMorning. He’d been off a few weeks for heart surgery. His colleagues made a great fuss over him. Even Trump said ‘Welcome back, Charlie. We missed you.’ Even CBS, who hates Trump, ran the clip. Who doesn’t like it when enemies come together? Image

You know, I switched to CBS mostly because of him, but I liked him better personally when he stuck with PBS. There, he had freedom to interview newsmakers at any length he chose – sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. He’s perceptive in his interviews, and that talent can’t come across on razzle-dazzle network TV. Did he sell out? Yes and no. He didn’t give up PBS. He simply went for more exposure. Goodness knows I go for more exposure. I want to sell my books, which I like.

If anyone sold out, it is Larry King years ago. When I first heard of him in the 70’s, he was interviewing newsmakers for three hours on-air. The first hour was one-on-one. The second and third was moderating questions from the call-in audience. But he sold out to someone, and pretty soon he they had him doing only puff-pieces with celebrities, which aren’t as good.

Nonetheless, who am I to say? A person can do what he/she wants with his/her career. Sometimes people tire of the present and want to move on. Is that so wrong? They wouldn’t be able to (in my eyes) degrade unless they were up there in the first place. I was furious with Mary Tyler Moore for sinking the Dick Van Dyke show by leaving for a solo career. But why should she not? She made shows of her own, which I didn’t like as well. Not that hers were bad, it is just that Dick Van Dyke’s was so good.

But is there not an overall sad component to this? Charlie once stated he has enjoyed a wonderful career because he has been able to know so many newsmakers. Are they really worth knowing? I’ll take brothers and sisters in my circuit any day.

And surely there is also something tragic about hitting maximum exposure just as you know the clock is about to run out. It is why I value the JW faith, for only they explain how that came to be, and how it will be remedied.


For Mac

“Once you learn the truth, it doesn’t change; it doesn’t flip around like worldly reasonings. Once you learn what God requires of you, just do it.” That was Mac Campbell’s reasoning, and nobody can ever say that he didn’t “just do it.” Unique even among Jehovah’s Witnesses, he died last week at age 85. He and I had kept up over the years, so I was there for the funeral. Surely, the verse was true of him:

“a name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born. Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take [it] to his heart.” (Ecces 7:1) On his day of his death, Mac’s record is his. No one can take it from him.

Mac specialized in a type of ministry rare these days - “street work.” Not the type of street work where you approach passersby, but the type where you just stand there and they (ideally) approach you. A couple dozen years ago the JW organization started to discourage that type of witnessing. Don’t just stand there like a sign post, they’d say, what can you possibly accomplish by that? Sure enough, two or three times I’d gone downtown and just stood there like a sign post. After a time, I began to feel like one. People would whiz by you - did you even exist? But when I endeavored to move and mingle and approach people - the ministry, though a bit more stressful, became both enjoyable and productive.

Still, Mac made a success of the old style street work. He did it because he was always there. Ever  immaculate in appearance, he staked out a position on Main Street and made it his own. They’ve since boarded up that abandoned doorway - I don’t know what he’d do now - but he’d been off the streets for several years, incapacitated by poor health.  He was as much a fixture as any Rochester landmark. Businesspeople would eye him a dozen times or so, eavesdrop, note that he was amiable, dignified, in no way a screwball, and would end up chatting regularly. He’d spend all day speaking with people.

Probably that’s how he caught quirky Bob Lonsberry’s attention. Bob is a radio fixture here, and was once a fixture of the newspapers. He wrote about Mac in his “Real People” series back in July of 1992: [nobody was more real than Mac]  “In friendly conversation, Malcolm is hard to reject. He is commanding of respect; he’s dignified. He is 68, married 45 years and a grandfather of 18, [he took Gen 1:28 -be fruitful and become many and fill the earth - seriously, the funeral speaker pointed out.] coming back from a stroke last year.”

His manner, speech and appearance were the match of the most prominent businesspersons, with whom he frequently spoke. They would have been amazed had they known his modest circumstances. They would have been more amazed had they known it was by design. Mac worked part-time in basic blue collar-type work, which provided enough so that the majority of time was his, and that was all he asked. Even among us, who constantly hear the virtue of simplification, few have the combination of faith and capability to simplify to that extent, particularly while raising a family. Yet, spending time with Mac made it seem quite doable and reasonable, and you began to wonder why you weren’t doing it also.

He was a frugal kind of guy. There he was, having run across this fellow who had built his own furnace from scratch, going on and on about it. Why would anyone do that? his pal responded - just call a furnace guy. But Mac was always impressed with those who could make do. Wasn’t it he who defined (in 1982) the phrase “keeping up with the Jones?” It was “spending money you don’t have, to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.” He had that green Volare - he must have driven that 100 years. One day, stopping by, there were two of them in his driveway. Identical. Same color and all. One was for parts. “You probably paid more for those shoes than I did for this car,” he told a visitor. Sure enough, the shoes had cost more.

If that impresses me, it’s because it is a quality I don’t have. Alas, with some justification Mrs Sheepandgoats has accused me of living the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, don’t fix it.” I’m not especially handy, which makes me appreciate guys who are.

Mac was also a put-together guy, again, something I am not. He told of one fellow who would pat his shirt pocket just once to find his pen. If it wasn’t there, he didn’t have it. He wouldn’t pat down his shirt pocket, then his pants pockets, then his coat pockets, then do it all over again, then pull stuff out of all pockets to make sure, like I would do. No. He was organized. There was only one place that pen could possibly be. Mac, too, had that sort of organization.

And he wouldn’t blow his horn. On the mean streets of Rochester, where people routinely block traffic so they can kibitz with their pals - not in the snooty suburbs, where “such things just aren’t done” - but in the city where they are done all the time, Mac wouldn’t blast his horn to break up the jam. “Daddy, just blow your horn,” his daughter would say, “that’s what people do.” But Mac wouldn’t. “You never know when you are the last straw,” he’d observe.

He kind of hoped - in vain, as it turned out - that his own funeral would not be a big deal. “Just put me in a pine box and lay me down quietly,” he’d say. "Don’t make a fuss over me.“ He was troubled that his death would inconvenience people, make them take a day off work, and such. (Indeed, for a time, funerals did get out of hand, with some high-profile people filling up the whole assembly hall, but I think that is not done anymore) “Mac, it’s not for you, it’s for us,” a friend retorted. “You’ll be asleep. We’re the ones who’ll be comforted by it.” He smiled, in the way that Mac did. That was the only answer that could have prevented him from going on and on.

I served with him once in one of the congregations, and had more or less kept up with him since, visiting him at home a few lengthy times, and always seeking him out at conventions. “You going to visit me again?” he asked at the last convention. “It depends on if you’ll give me a beer,” I responded. Mac was hospitable, and he liked beer. “I’ll give you a whole case,” he replied.

Six months later, in one of those strange convergences that you don’t quite know what to make of afterwards, I was mentioning to my wife how I was going to pop in for a visit - I brought the subject up several times. But I was too late. Next meeting they announced that he’d passed away.

I’ll probably hear about it upon his resurrection.

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More in the Afterword of Tom Irregardless and Me      "Black Mack, Slow Joe and Davey the Kid"


A Willowbrook Story, Part 2, with Geraldo Rivera

Director:

This month Chrstopher Batton turns 50 years of age, old enough to qualify for AARP membership. Our house staff plan to throw him a party. Christopher is a Willowbrook alumni. He would (I believe) like to invite Geraldo Rivera to his party.

Initiative Inc owes a lot to Geraldo, perhaps its very existence. Is not Geraldo, through his investigative reporting, grandfather to the entire group home movement in New York? Moreover, news reports assure us that New York State is in a budgetary crisis. Surely there will be pressure on all social agencies, including those that care for the disabled, to do more with less. A Geraldo visit might be a good thing. He could highlight the good that has been done in the last few decades as regards our vulnerable population.

A good itinerary might be to invite him to Christopher’s party, which would be informal, unannounced, and mostly, perhaps totally, house only. Next day he might be able to meet with Initiative execs and public relations people and say some things; maybe make public statements on the importance of our work, etc.

As for Geraldo, he is no doubt a busy guy, and probably can’t come. But he might….especially if we leave the timing up to him. Surely he must look upon the “liberation” of the disabled as a crowning achievement of his career. He might relish revisiting that time.

It seems like a good idea to me, but there will likely be corporate concerns with regards to family, privacy, publicity, and so forth. Yet by keeping Christopher’s party and all subsequent Initiative activities entirely separate, perhaps those concerns can be allayed. No one here would proceed without corporate approval. Should corporate agree to it, we’ll track him down.

 

Sincerely,

 

Tom Whitepebble [a colleague of mine....Sheepandgoats]

……………………………….......

Usually a guy’s crowning achievement comes at the end of his career. But with Geraldo Rivera, one might argue it came at its beginning. To thousands of developmentally disabled children….now adults….Geraldo looms as the singular most influential person for good in their lives. Alas, mentally disabled as they are, they’re not aware of it. But those who advocate for them are, and owe Mr. Rivera a debt of gratitude. In fact, most of those advocates only exist because of Mr. Rivera.

From film reviewer Dave Kehr:

'IN THE '50S, YOU DIDN'T KEEP them at home. You sent them away. Your family told you to. The priest told you to."

They were the developmentally disabled, and as one woman interviewed in Jack Fisher's documentary "Unforgotten: Twenty-five Years After Willowbrook" recalls, they weren't allowed to be seen or heard.

Instead, they were shipped off to institutions such as the one operated by the State of New York on Staten Island.

As if that policy weren't destructive enough, funding was drained from these institutions in the '60s, leading to severe reductions of staff and appalling conditions.

Robert Kennedy is seen describing Willowbrook as "a situation that borders on a snake pit" following a 1965 tour. Things had not improved six years later, when Geraldo Rivera entered Willowbrook with a stolen key and filmed residents writhing on the floor, starving, covered with filth and howling in pain.

Geraldo’s reporting provoked nationwide soul-searching. Consciences prodded. Laws passed. Policy redefined. The current policy of integrating the developmentally disabled into general society to the extent possible and placing them in small residential group homes is largely traceable to Mr. Rivera’s work. The movement began in New York, but has long since spread to other states and even countries.

Most people know Geraldo as a flamboyant news and showperson….alas, even having somewhat seedy overtones…..after all, one of his raucous talk show guests broke his nose with a thrown chair…..but I like to think of him as a Janis Joplin type: a talented & charismatic character launched by the big business people into the stratosphere, for which he was initially ill-equipped and so he careened all over the place both professionally and personally. But he’s repented of the really outlandish stuff, no longer hosting shows with themes like "Wanted: Elvis! Dead or Alive," "Drag Queens on Parade," "Exploring Satan's Black Market," "Sexual Secrets … To Tell or Not to Tell," and "Teen Lesbians and Their Moms."

From Atlantic magazine(June, 2005):

"I was sick of it," Rivera said recently of his decision in 1997 to leave the daytime talk-show format. "Maury Povich was my neighbor [in New Jersey], and he and his wife, Connie Chung, are two of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. I saw his show just a couple of days ago, and it was all paternity tests and lie-detector tests, all stuff that I pioneered, and I look at that stuff now, and I know how smart Maury is, how sensitive he is, and for him to still be doing that—humiliating all those poor trailer-trash and mostly black people, Hispanic people—I don't know how you do that, how you bear that. I could not do that no matter how much you pay me.

[They paid him a lot]

He’s signed on with Fox Network these days, a liberal balancing their prevailing conservatives. And he’s a war correspondent whenever he gets the chance, a sort of “hell for leather” one:

"That's why I said [the CNN anchor] Aaron Brown would

[ahem] shit in his pants if he had been in some of the places I was. That's true. That's absolutely true. It's the same way about all of them—every one of those Geraldo detractors. How many times have you been shot? How many times has your car been blown up? How many times have you ever been winged? How many times have you gone into it, taken a gulp, and stepped out of the airport?"

That almost reminds you of Paul, doesn’t it? Note how Paul responds to the pompous pansies of his day who wanted his title but not his work:

Are they ministers of Christ? I reply like a madman, I am more outstandingly one: in labors more plentifully, in prisons more plentifully, in blows to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep;

and so forth. 2 Cor 11:23-25

The showmanship remains: When Fox took him aboard, he pledged to personally kill Osama bin Laden and bring his head back to the United States to be bronzed. Sheesh!

"That's the story,”

he tells Atlantic. “I can't tell you how many caves we crawled into looking for that sucker."

Um….there is that cartoon showing Jehovah’s Witnesses having located bin Laden through their door to door ministry. Ought there to be some teamwork?

Actually, that Atlantic magazine offers a good synopsis of his career. I admit he is much more larger than life than I had thought….I don’t really keep up. Would it really be a good idea to invite him to Christopher’s party? Dunno. Frankly, I can’t quite picture him sharing ranch dressing and milk cocktails with Carolyn, or flipping through all the channels roulette fashion with Doug, but perhaps I am selling him short. At any rate, we’re all grateful to him. Few persons have positively impacted a population as Geraldo has benefited the country’s developmentally disabled. He sparked a culture shift toward compassionate treatment. Were it not for him, perhaps they would yet be in dungeons like Willowbrook.

...................................

Read about life in a group home 35 years later here.

And perhaps even here.


A Fourteen Year Old Wages A Blood Transfusion Battle

A 14 year old from the Seattle area recently refused blood transfusions deemed crucial by his doctors. He died. The news media picked up the story and gave it wide publicity, almost all of it unfavorable to the boy’s convictions. This post is to put things in perspective. It is what the boy would want, I am confident. He would not like to see his sincere religious conviction dragged through the mud by persons speaking from emotion.

That said, death of a young person is always tragic, no question about it. You can be sure he would have far rather lived. Yet people routinely put their lives on the line for any number of causes, and they are generally lauded as heroes for it, not deluded nuts. Which are they? Take the one who “gives his life for his country,” for example. Only some of that person’s own countrymen will think his death noble. Everyone else will conclude he died in vain.

The lad suffered from leukemia. Nobody imagined they could cure him. Instead doctors thought he would likely (70% chance) survive at least for the next 5 years with their regimen which included transfusions.* The courageous youngster, Dennis Lindberg, was assessed by a judge who interviewed the parents, his aunt (who had custody), social workers and the boy's doctor. “I don't believe Dennis' decision is the result of any coercion,” the judge stated.  “He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision."

Oddly enough, the boy’s natural parents emerge as relative heroes in the story since they opposed the judge’s ruling. The article states: “For Dennis Lindberg, most of his childhood depended on the kindness of strangers to help him survive…..It is a saga that began when he was a baby born to parents addicted to methamphetamine.” The article highlights consequent hardship the boy endured for 10 years before the boy’s aunt was awarded custody. The natural parents have lately completed a drug treatment program so as to get their lives back on track.

Okay, now for the perspective, which I know the young man would want. He would not want to be portrayed as a fanatic nor the victim of fanatics. (The boy’s father states "My sister has done a good job of raising him for the past four years,” though he feels she imposed her religious beliefs on him. The facts speak otherwise. Dennis had made the beliefs his own.

Don't more youngsters die each year in high school sports than in refusing transfusions? Each year I read a few local examples of the former. I'm not sure I would know any of the latter were it not for news media relaying any such event around the globe. Does anyone think high school sports should be banned or it's coaches judged accessories to "negligent homicide,” as some bloggers thought would be appropriate for those who may have contributed to Dennis' mindset? The number of Witness youths finding themselves in Dennis' predicament is proportionate or less to those student victims of sports.

Dennis was 14. In just 4 years he'd be eligible for the military. For every youngster who dies via refusing transfusion, there must be 10,000 who die as combatants. Jehovah's Witnesses don't go to war. So not only their 10,000 don't die, but there are 10,000 others of all faiths who don't die because there are no JW combatants to kill them. Does anyone think dying in one of the world's never-ending skirmishes is more noble than dying in process of observing one's religious conscience? If all persons refused transfusions, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, and all persons refused to take part in war, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, this would be on balance a far safer world.

Look, death of any youngster in such circumstances pushes a lot of emotional buttons. I understand that. But the hard fact is that most of those voicing strong opinions now were nowhere to be found during the first ten years of Dennis' difficult life. Nor did they lend any support to the aunt generous enough to assume raising the boy after that. Nor, had this crisis resolved itself in any other way, would they take any interest in his subsequent life. The ones who should speak for Dennis are those who knew and shared in his convictions

But one also must address the assumption, never challenged in the media, that rejecting a transfusion is tantamount to suicide. (The judge stated that "I don't think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn't something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.") How often does one read the noun “blood transfusion” not proceeded by the adjective “life-saving?” The facts suggest the label is not especially fitting.

For example, Surgeon Bruce Spiess addresses the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists a few months ago, and declares blood transfusions have hurt more people than they've helped. Transfusions, he observes, are "almost a religion" because physicians practice them without solid evidence that they help.

We all know that blood is a foreign tissue and we all know that the body tries to reject foreign tissue, even when the types match.

Another study concludes that the chemical which permits transfused blood to transfer oxygen begins to break down within hours of storage, yet in the U.S blood is stored up to 42 days.

Here’s another one which concludes transfusion triples the risk of kidney impairment, strokes, and heart attacks. Remember what happened to Merck when it was established their drug Vioxx caused similar harm?

Jehovah's Witnesses steadfastly refuse blood transfusions (for religious reasons, not medical) and have created hundreds of Hospital Liaison Committees composed of members who interact with local hospitals and doctors. As a result, some in the medical field have pioneered bloodless techniques. By eliminating the risk of foreign tissue, human error, and blood-borne diseases, these new techniques offer a safety margin that conventional blood transfusions do not. The film Knocking states there are over 140 medical centers in North America that offer some form of bloodless surgical techniques. Might the day come, or is it even here already, when the number of lives saved through such medicine will outnumber those lost by a few members of a relatively tiny religious group that stuck to its principles amidst much opposition?

And if Dennis’ death is seen in that light, it is not in vain, even in a non-JW context. He should not be remembered as some deluded kid. He deserves better.

This video is well done and has been recognized favorably at some film festivals. Leaders in the medical field are interviewed. It is food for thought.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

*After this post was written I came across two blogs by persons who actually knew people involved. Here and here. They both put a different light on matters. My post states that Dennis would likely have survived (70%/5 yrs) with a "regimen which included transfusions." If these two new sources are accurate (I suspect they are as they are the only writings that do any more than rehash and react to the newspaper report) it is the regimen that would have helped him, not the blood transfusions, which would have bought the lad only a few days of life. The treatment that would have been useful was stem cell replacement, which is said to be the most single expensive therapy in medicine (hundreds of thousands of dollars per treatment) and is out of the question for many patients on that count alone.

I also tend to believe these two new posts because I have seen this type of thing many times before. The reporter writes in the same emotional state as everyone else, and in the process omits key details that change the picture substantially.

One of the blogs (by a friend of Dennis) says this:

A related side note: I have read twenty years of the New England Journal of Medicine's articles on what he had. In the list of treatments recomended, Blood transfusion was not mentioned. The only reason they recommended it was to try to buy more time for the blood thickening drugs to bring the levels up so he could accept the continuation of chemotherapy. Also, they got to it too late. He'd already had leukemia for a long time and nothing could save him; the only thing a transfusion could do was extend his misery a couple years at most.

 

The other (by a med student who spoke to some involved) says this:

The treatment denied by the judge was not the stem cell transplant. It was a blood transfusion. Why is this distinction important? Stem cell transplants are the single most expensive procedure in medicine (hundreds of thousands of dollars just to do the procedure). We do them (and many health insurers cover them) because they work, but not all patients facing leukemia choose to be transplanted. Some cannot afford it. Some do not want to go through the pain of the procedure. Others (like this patient) have different reasons. If after providing all of the information, the patient does not consent to a procedure, the medical establishment usually respects this decision. Keep in mind that the legal decision here was related to the blood transfusion which could keep the patient alive for several days, not the stem cell transplant, which has 70% survival at 5 years as reported in the media. It's not as simple as a 750 word article would have you believe. (Although the Seattle PI wrote a good story overall.)

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Tom Irregardless and Me            No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash