Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 14, 2015

San Bernadino

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:29 am

As I meditated on what I was going to write a thought occurred to me. Of course I was going to write about the massacre in San Bernadino, because of course a pundit has to write about a tragedy that dominates the news. But there may come a day when I do not feel obligated to write about every such tragedy, because they will have become routine.

For those who’ve recently returned from a retreat in the Himalayas, on December 2, Syed Rizwan Farook, an American citizen of Pakistani origin left an office party at the San Bernadino County Department of Health where he was employed. He picked up his wife Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani permanent legal resident of the U.S., dropped their six-month-old baby off with Farook’s mother, returned to the party and murdered 14 of Farook’s co-workers.

The happy couple were subsequently killed in a shootout with police and sent to paradise where Tashfeen can argue with Syed for all eternity about those 72 virgins.

Well, I guess the family that slays together, stays together.

Too soon?

No damn it I will not apologize for that grotesque joke! It is far less grotesque than the grand guignol preceding and following this sick, tragic farce.

Neighbors told investigators that they saw suspicious activity at Farook’s house. Suspicious as in Middle Eastern men coming and going at all hours. Suspicions subsequently confirmed when the house was searched and found to have a bomb factory inside.

The neighbors said they didn’t report them because they were afraid of being called “racists.”

Somehow that house remained unsecured so we were all able to watch reporters pouring through the house and pawing over bits of electronics, driver’s licenses and checks.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper announced the FBI had released the house and the landlord said it was OK for them to come in. The landlord later disputed this.

That should not be possible. There is no way crime scene investigators could complete their investigation in that short a period of time.

New York Daily News columnist Linda Stasi angrily called one of the victims Nicolas Thallasinos a “hate-filled bigot” just like the happy couple because he was ardently religious and loud about
it. Not as loud as a pipe bomb though.

President Obama made a speech of course. And of course it was roundly condemned by conservatives.

I myself didn’t find it all that offensive, though perhaps I’m jaded. It was mostly feel good platitudes, but then what did you expect? It’s what we do after a tragedy we can do nothing about.

He did use it to make points about control of “assault weapons,” but we expected that too.

California has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, none of which mattered in the least to our happy jihadist couple and their still at large confederates.

He forthrightly declared this an act of terrorism and good for him. Then he went back over the talking point that ISIL does not represent true Islam and only a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists.

We’re eventually going to have to look harder at that cliché. The Koran does in fact enjoin Muslims to make war as a religious duty. Not all Muslims are jihadists, but it does seem awful easy to turn them into jihadists.

Obama said we shouldn’t have a religious test for accepting refugees. Except there seems to be one already – excluding Christians.

Then there were the clichéd comparisons of Islamic jihadists with Christian religious persecutions and the Inquisition.

One could argue the Inquisition was never as bad as the history of Islamic jihad, but even conceding the point would anybody want to welcome thousands of 17th century Christian refugees from the Thirty Years War?

Right now I’m waiting for passions to cool and for some painful, realistic, hard-headed discussion.

I’m also waiting for more attacks like this, but I expect to see them first.

December 2, 2015

The windows of the soul

Filed under: Op-eds,Science — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:08 pm

I’m on a road trip in New Mexico right now, enjoying the incredible scenery, the mountain air, and occasionally NPR.

That’s how I caught a program on neuro-opthamology, which is something I’m growing more and more familiar with but only now have a name for.

My nine-year-old daughter is being treated with neuro-opthamology for ambliopia, “lazy eye.” Twice a week she attends eye therapy where she does various exercises, and every day she’s not in therapy I do four different kinds of exercises with her for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Exercises include reading letters at increasing distances with one eye, reading small print through different lenses, and watching television through colored filters.

I’ve watched her ability to read rapidly improve, and it’s improving her school work greatly. In a year or thereabouts she should have highly improved depth perception as well.

The National Public Radio program The People’s Pharmacy was called “What to do About a Ghost in Your Brain,” and if you are interested in such things I highly recommend you look it up.

A highly successful artificial intelligence researcher suffered what seemed to be a mild concussion when his car was rear-ended. For the next nine years he suffered from his senses, perceptions and thoughts giving him weird and conflicting signals. He had problems with his balance and once easy tasks became almost impossibly difficult.

He recounted trying figure out what was behind a nagging feeling of something wrong by sheer force of will. After a few hours of hard thinking with sweat pouring down his face he realized he’d put his shoes on the wrong feet!

After finding a therapy program his is almost completely recovered. And the fascinating thing is, a lot of the therapy he described sounds like the kind of thing my daughter is doing.

The eyes are an extension of the brain and what goes in through them can alter the way the brain functions, help it to route around damage.

And by damage, they meant lesions so small they could not be detected by MRI or CAT scan.

There was much fascinating, and worrying, information about the effect of concussions from car accidents, falls, and sports injuries. For example a minor concussion one doesn’t think much about can leave the brain more vulnerable to a later concussion, even much later.

The good news is, the damage is treatable and we’re learning more about how to treat it all the time.

And though it’s better to start treatment soon after the damage occurs, it can still be treated years later.

One of the scientists on the program tried to give an idea of the complexity of that organ where the mind resides. She suggested an order of complexity equivalent to 100 million personal computers. The truly amazing thing is that we are starting to get a handle on that complexity.

We stand at the beginning of an age of exploration that may be as important as the exploration of space.

Best of all we have hope for those that have suffered the most feared loss of all, the loss of self.

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